More About the Author
NEWS FLASH: Happy to report that my 4th novel, the long out-of-print, MASTERS OF ILLUSION: A Novel of the Great Hartford Circus Fire, has been air-lifted from obscurity and optioned for a film by Amazon Studios. If you caught the Golden Globes, you saw this band of brothers and sisters win for the most wonderful "Transparency." I do believe the world is ready for a new circus movie.
MASTERS OF ILLUSION will be back in print soon--will keep you posted.
Meanwhile, this is a biography so here goes: I was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut and have lived in Connecticut all my life except for the two years I served as a Peace Corps volunteer on Mt. Cameroon, an active volcano rising nearly 13,400 feet above the equatorial sea. I have a most lovely family and a labradoodle named Salty.
My grandparents on my father's side immigrated from the north of Italy, and on my mother's, Quebec. My fondest childhood memories are of sweltering summers blue-crabbing with my French-speaking grandfather from 5 A.M. until 5 p.m., my grandfather wearing a worn three-piece suit and cap, and me, my underpants. When I told my Italian grandfather that I would be going to Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer he told me there were very good grapes in Africa.
My brother was autistic, a savant, who would not allow singing, laughing, sneezing, electronic sound (including television, radio and anything that produced music), and the flushing of the toilet except when he was asleep and he never seemed to be asleep. He had a library of over two thousand books all on WWII. As his adjutant, I attained a vast pool of knowledge on such things as identifying fighter bombers from their silhouettes and why we dropped the atomic bomb: "To win the war," Tyler told me. Then: "It didn't work so we dropped another one. Victory at last." Once he tried to kill my cat by dropping his latest acquisition, Jane's All the World Aircraft on its head. I rescued the cat in the nick of time as Tyler shouted, "Prepare to drop depth charges, men!" As an autistic person, his senses were fine-tuned to a state none of the rest of us could possibly understand: bright colors (especially red), odors (especially perfume) and noise (particularly a cat meowing), sent him into paroxysms of agony.
The relationship with my brother was one of three influences on my writing; the second, my father's bedtime stories consisting of poetry and prose. Right after the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary," he would recite: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair!" The third influence was the shelf of classic children's literature my mother kept stocked with such gems as The Swiss Family Robinson, Bambi, Tom the Water-Boy, Silver Pennies, King Arthur and the Round Table, The Child's Odyssey. Somehow, The Bedside Esquire (1936) found its way to the shelf and before I was eight years old, I'd read the extraordinary short fiction within including Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Paul Gallico's "Keeping Cool in Conneaut," Salinger's "For Esmé with Love and Squalor," Ben Hecht's "Snowfall in Childhood," and my favorite, "Latins Make Lousy Lovers," by Anonymous. In the collection was an excerpt from the novel, Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato which so bowled me over that I decided then and there that I would be a writer, too, just like all the writers who wrote fiction for Esquire Magazine in 1936.
Instead of studying at college, I read and wrote. I graduated with a 2.01 grade point average not knowing I'd fulfilled my academic requirements until graduation week when my dean called and asked why I hadn't picked up my cap and gown. When I told him my grade point had fallen under 2.0 he told me it was a good thing I hadn't majored in math or it certainly would have. Together we recalculated and I finally believed him when he told me it wasn't 1.89 as I'd thought. To this day, I can't remember my multiplication tables six through twelve, and even though my fourth grade teacher wrote in my report card, Mary-Ann will not be able to function in life if she does not learn her six through twelve tables, I have. Also, I have come to learn that there is a dysfunction called something like dyscalcula, the math equivalent of dyslexia, which I obviously have since if you say to me, "What's 6 times 7?" my palms will start to sweat, my knees get wobbly and I start having a heart attack. This recent revelation of my learning disability has allowed me to stop fantasizing about studying math all over again starting with Algebra I, which I managed to pass with a D though I failed Algebra II, since I'm discalulic.
After Peace Corps service, I taught, worked as a librarian and got my first freelance writing job with Reader's Digest. The Digest editor assigned me sports and games for How to Do Just about Anything, a book which sold 50 million copies world-wide. Reader's Digest made a vast fortune on that book alone, while me and the other writers earned $25 to $75 dollars per article. I learned economy of language writing such pieces as "How to Play Tennis" in fifty words. My first writing collaboration with my son began with this book: I described how to play "Hangman" and the Digest used his piece of paper with a name I couldn't get--yacht-- and so I was hung. This made me feel guilty since the games I played his older sister didn't make the Digest cut, so unfair since she taught her brother how to read when he was three.
I have published nine novels: THE BOOK OF PHOEBE, LAMENT FOR A SILVER-EYED WOMAN, THE PORT OF MISSING MEN, MASTERS OF ILLUSION, AN AMERICAN KILLING, the Poppy Rice Mysteries--LOVE HER MADLY*, SHE'S NOT THERE*, and SHE SMILED SWEETLY--and THE HONOURED GUEST*. My memoir, GIRLS OF TENDER AGE*, is a favorite of book clubs. (The paperback edition has a great book club guide.) In addition, I collaborated on a novel with my son, Jere Smith, DIRTY WATER: A Red Sox Mystery, which centers on the 2007 World Champions.
*available in e-book editions.
In 2010, I was awarded the Diana Bennett Fellowship at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. When I wasn't at MGM Grand being disappeared by David Copperfield, I spent that academic year writing the first draft of The Honoured Guest, a story of the commencement of the American Civil War.
My books have been reprinted in seven foreign languages.
I have also had short fiction and essays included in several collections.
I have taught fiction writing at Fairfield University and has participated in writing seminars throughout the country. In March 2001, I was guest teacher-writer at the University of Ireland and on the Aran Islands; and writer-in-residence at Suomi College in Michigan.
Come spring, I will be teaching memoir writing at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.
And finally, I am now working on a new memoir: My Décolletage Has a Scar.
So Happy Reading. And remember: "It's not what you read, or how you read, but that you read."--me