My father printed books, my mother bound books, and I write them; this may be an improvement over the guild system, but my 91 year old father and 86 year old mother wouldn't think so. As a writer,
I began by thinking of myself as a poet, then wrote three books of criticism,
but discovered novel writing fifteen years ago and haven't looked back.
Most of my work is historical in theme or setting; my sole aspiration,
however, is to create works of art that will entertain and instruct a literate
audience. The subject I keep returning to is the American West in all its
violence, its formal and vulgar language, and its freaky and haunting beauty.
But I don't wish to box myself in, and reserve the right to write about
whatever curiosity unearths. If it didn't sound too dreary, I'd call myself
a scholar novelist in the European mode of Umberto Eco, Milorad Pavic,
or Jose Saramago, rather than a historical novelist. I research each book
extensively, stitch together fiction and research, crank it up into the
imagination, and zap it with a thousand volts; the result is the Frankenstein
monster called a novel. It has been my habit to correct certain major errors
of history in my books. For example, in Peter Doyle, I arranged
a meeting between the two greatest American poets, Walt Whitman and Emily
Dickinson, who never did meet in the granite of history. Recently, however,
I've conceived of a desire to stick to brutal fact and see whether that
hinders or helps imagination's tendency to cause trouble.
Biographical information: born in Cambridge, Mass.,
educated at Boston College and the University of California, currently
teach at Binghamton University (S.U.N.Y.). Occasional reviewer for The
New York Times Book Review, and recipient of two National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowships.
Current projects: my forthcoming memoir, A Book
of Reasons, is about my brother's death and its relationship to the
history of everyday life. In a sense, this book reverses the process of
my novels, which digest research into story--it takes a true story, recent
and personal, and refers it to the past, to the surprising and irregular
upheavals of history.
And I am just launching a novel about John Wesley
Powell's 1869 voyage down the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the
Grand Canyon, provisionally titled The Great Unknown.
Binghamton, New York 13902-6000