When I was a first-year law student, my seatmate and I survived the terrifying boredom of our civil procedure class by trying to reconstruct the line-up of every National League baseball team of the late 1950s and early 1960s. That should have been a sign that I wasn’t cut out for the practice of law, but I went on to get a degree and join the bar. Happily, though, I defected to journalism before I could do any damage to a client or myself.
I grew up in a household full of books and aspiring actors—my small Illinois hometown featured a glorious old opera house where my siblings performed—so a career working with words didn’t seem terribly far-fetched. I started in journalism at a mid-sized newspaper, covering everything from school-board meetings to municipal elections to murders. The editors at the paper, under the misapprehension that because I had a law degree, I had a broad knowledge of civic life, kept promoting me into an editing role. Several times, I talked my way back to reporting, but finally I went with the flow. As a rather crabby editor realizes in one of my novels, “Being an editor is the perfect job for him. Coaxing, nitpicking, spotting holes, cutting excess, sharpening logic, recognizing talent, turning cynicism into something productive, acting like a know-it-all. Editing is what he was born to do.”
I spent a decade as an editor at New York magazine and then two decades as editor in chief at Chicago. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I never lost the hankering to write. So starting when I was at New York, I would get up early in the morning and write fiction for an hour or so before heading into the office. Over the years I published three novels, Martha Calhoun, Bow’s Boy, and Are You Happy Now? (a fiction finalist from the Society of Midland Authors) and a handful of short stories.
I never found any discord between my day job—editing (and occasionally writing) stories built entirely on fact—and my dawn patrol in the world of the imagination. Both good fiction and nonfiction rely on lively, precise sentences and well-constructed scenes. Both must maintain an internal logic. And all my books, including Absolution, coming out in Summer 2025 with Regal House, are based on substantial reporting, which furnishes the fact infrastructure for the underlying story.
Law school wasn’t a waste—several of my books involve lawyers and legal issues. But I promise you won’t read any lessons gained from that long-ago civil procedure class.