What were early influences for your writing?
My maternal grandfather, Johnny Igoe, read Yeats to me as soon as I could understand language. My paternal grandmother, Mary E. King Sheehan, a bookbinder for over 60 years at Ginn & Co., in Cambridge, MA, brought coverless books, production rejects, with her on every visit. We had full shelves. My father had me reading 2 hours a day until girls and football came on the scene.
There were a few teachers who got in the way of my early foolishness, all English teachers who must have seen my real desire for writing, such as Albert Moylan, Ashton Davis and John Burns. John passed away two years ago at 93, well after we had borrowed $60,000 from the local bank to print a book not yet written (10 of us signed on the dotted line). We put the book together, 453 pages, printed 2000 copies, sold 500 the day of release, and printed 500 more and sold them all. So we did a second book, all 2000 now gone. Copies of our books went to 47 states, 8 countries and 3 territories, with a copy of book 1 in the National Library in Paris. John Burns was 63 years in the Saugus High School English Department, and when he put out the word, former students responded, many saying he was the best teacher they ever had at any level. We had over 150 contributors of material – — Biographies, timelines, color and B&W photos, poetry, nostalgia, great historical moments in our small town. Nowadays I hear a few people have found copies via eBay or Craig’s List.
I once saw on Public TV an NYU creative writing prof tell his students that everything he had been trying to teach to them was in the first few pages of Angela’s Ashes. I had been saying that for a number of years about the first few pages of A Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price.
What were you reading early in life?
The authors I read early one were wide and varied: I feasted on R.L. Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Richard Lovelace, Tom Wolfe, Zane Grey, Ambrose Bierce, Shakespeare, The Maid of Amherst, H.D. Thoreau, J.F. Nims, W.B. Yeats, A.E. Housman, the pulp magazines such as G-8 and His Battle Aces, Doc Savage, The Shadow, and the wild west cowboy magazines by the pound.
When was your first publication and when was your first reading?
They each came at the same time; in the second grade class with teacher Marleah Graves (for whom that old school building is now named and is a cultural center.) At a recent special ceremony for John Burns in the same classroom were two of my second grade classmates the day in 1936 I stood beside my little green chair to read my first story and the girl beside me jumped up and kissed me on the cheek. I knew then what I wanted to do, and now and then still manage to get kissed.
Where does much of your material come from?
Much of it centers on my comrades in Korea in 1951, an unforgettable cohort, and from current writers and speakers of written material that shakes me loose from sworn duties, like Dan’l Shanahan, Mike Hood, Rick Amante, teammate Don Junkins, and Seamus Heaney whom I introduced to a standing-room crowd at Boston College in the early 80s.
What are you working on now, what is in line?
I have three novels being fine-combed now ( Murder from the Forum, Death by Punishment, Death of a Lottery Foe), three collection proposals in the works, all while trying to move 10 books worth of cowboy stories, flashing back on my Depression Years of reading, and not yet have I mounted that horse.
What intrigues you?
The person who has carried a most marvelous story or poem around in a memory bank for 60 or so years and cannot get it down on paper … and may never do so, cheating us of some great work. Many of them are around us.
Are you rushing at anything?
I am not hungry, but I only have so much time. I like to share, like to read at a few favorite spots, like Out Loud Open Mike at the Beebe Estates in Melrose, MA. Perhaps I do that best, share. I hope so.
Any slogans or advice that stays with you?
I’ve told my children, “We come with two things, love and energy, and we damned well better use them up.”
My grandfather said, “Listen for the words with handles.” My father said, “Crow a little when in luck, own up, pay up, and shut up when you lose.” My mother said, “Keep the grass trimmed.” She was saying something else. I still hear her.