I am the author of many
articles. I am a retired college professor. I have been married for over
35 years and am the father of four grown children
(ages 23 and 28--this is a puzzle; figure it out). We live near Tucson, Arizona.
Like Julian Drew, I was born in
Wheeling, West Virginia. I have also lived in
Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, and New
I have a Bachelor's degree in language arts from the
University of Kansas and taught high school English and French for three years. After
earning both a master's degree and a doctorate in reading education at the University of
Michigan, I began teaching college students. For twenty-seven years, I taught reading and
study skills to underprepared college students; I retired to write fulltime
in early 2003. My favorite things to do are
spending time with my family, reading, researching, writing, and traveling.
I became a writer in the fifth grade. Sometime
during the winter of that year, I was playing with a group of friends in the woods behind
our houses when we came across some strange tracks in the snow. They didn't look as if
any familiar animals had made them (they were big
they didn't look human either. They looked like some kind of monster tracks--and I knew
just what kind: space aliens had made them after their spaceship had crash-landed in our
woods. Well, we never found out what they were that day (and the snow had melted
by the next day) but we had a great mystery for one day at least.
That day when I went home I took out a notebook
and began to write a chapter book. After all, I had read every Hardy Boy book, and I knew that
those tracks would make a great story. I wrote a title at the top of the page (The Strange
Tracks Mystery), and then I wrote one page and stopped. I had the idea but not the ability
to follow through at that point. But that's how I began my life as a writer. I wish I
still had that first page, but I lost it.
A year later, I tried again, this time with a short
story. I loved science fiction movies, and so I created a story called The
Green Eyed Monsters. This time I finished it. I went on to write for school newspapers
and yearbooks. By the time I got to college, I had decided to become a teacher to pay the
bills. At first I taught high school English, but after I received my master's degree, I
switched to teaching college students. For twenty-seven years I taught them how to develop their reading,
vocabulary, and study skills--and I can think of no more rewarding work, except perhaps
writing for children.
subjects I write about
I write both nonfiction and
Nonfiction: During the early part of my career, I chose to write about
fanciful subjects that interested me as a
child: ghosts, UFOs, treasure,
ESP, and mummies.
I chose to write about ghosts first,
because I was petrified
of them when I was little. Before I was born, my
grandfather had died of a heart attack while sitting on my grandmother's green damask sofa
with the caned back. I remember the first time I heard this fact: I was seated on that
very sofa when my grandmother mentioned that I was sitting in the exact spot where my
great grandfather had died. That experience convinced me to make a nightly ghost check: under
the bed, in the closet, behind the door. I had to shut the closet door tight and make sure
that no clothes were hanging over my desk chair (they might turn into a ghost at night).
As my career continued, I changed direction and
wrote about historical and scientific subjects that I discovered
as an adult: bog bodies, Pompeii,
caves, and glaciers.
Most recently, I have chosen to write about the Holocaust (specifically, a death
camp known as Auschwitz and a
four-day pogrom called Kristallnacht),
a subject that is difficult--but very important--to read about. What's next for
nonfiction? Faces from
the Past: Forgotten People of North America!
I was in high school, I secretly began to write what was to become some
twenty-seven years later a novel eventually entitled 3
NBs of Julian Drew. The first draft of that novel, which was an
untitled stream of consciousness narrative, is nothing like the novel that was
published, but it was the beginning of a story that I knew I had to tell.
Divided into three notebooks
(or NBs in the special abbreviated and coded language of the narrator),
the book tells the story of an emotionally (and sometimes physically)
abused teenager who addresses his NBs to a person named U,
a person he has not seen for four years. The reader senses that Julian
is in great pain because of U, and his memories of U spur him to begin
keeping the notebooks. As he does, he invents a code to keep some of his
innermost (and most disturbing) thoughts safe from the prying eyes of
two people that he labels 43 and 543.
don’t like to describe events in my books that are better left to
readers to discover on their own, so I cannot say much more about 3
NBs. Still, I have been asked many times if the novel is
autobiographical. My answer is always a carefully qualified “yes.”
The book was based on some of my childhood experiences, but I did not
live the life of Julian Drew.
For example, at one point Julian
writes “The Story of His Life” for an assignment in his English
class. The facts that he
relates include these: he was born in Wheeling, West Virginia; his
mother died a few days after fifth grade ended; three months later his
father remarried a woman who had two children; his father and stepmother
began to treat Julian badly in West Virginia. After the family moved to
Arizona, he was treated badly there as well.
these facts are also true about my own life, I
allowed my imagination to wander freely beyond those factual boundaries.
I created U (a different U than my own U), the NBs, and many other parts
of the story about Julian. Just like our similar initials, our lives
shared certain events, but our behaviors and outcomes were very
different. I had been writing stories since the sixth grade; Julian
didn’t like to write or even speak. That change alone made us very
dissimilar people. My own teenage years were also not as poignant as the
life I devised for Julian. By reinventing the facts of my life for a
character, I was able to tell a better story.
I used the same technique in
my novel, The Very Real Ghost Book
of Christina Rose. I created twin characters (Christina and
Danny) that faced an unexpected, tragic loss when their mother died.
Then I let my imagination loose; it began to create all sorts of ghost
stories that belonged in the book.
Initially, writing the book
was a challenge for me. I thought at first it would be narrated by
Danny, but Danny didn’t like to speak, and I knew that he wouldn’t
want to write. . . . so that left me with Christina to tell the story. I
had no idea how to write a book in the voice of a ten-year-old girl,
until I began to hear my own daughters’ voices in my head; as soon as
I imagined that they were telling the story, the book began to write itself.
with James M Deem
Here are links to interviews that I have done:
with Author James Deem posted on Harold Underdown's The Purple
Q&A: James M. Deem posted on The New York Times
with James M Deem posted on Voicu Mihnea Simandan's website
with James Deem posted on Allison's Book Bag