Raggedy Man is the first work of serious fiction I’ve attempted since the Frankie Fox saga I wrote (and illustrated!) in 1955. I was 11 years old. My models were not Charles Dickens and Ross Macdonald, but the immortal Walter R. Brooks and the series of remarkable novels set on the Bean Farm and featuring Freddy the Pig and his pals, a charming, compelling collection of talking animals whose adventures and misadventures totally captivated this budding reader. (Orwell’s Animal Farm came later, when I was 15. My reaction? “What the…?”)
I’ve referred to the high school library where I lost myself (and some of my innocence). Equally important in my younger life was the Arlington, Virginia, Public Library in the Clarendon shopping area. Getting there was a serious walk from our house on Washington Boulevard, but I made it willingly on hot, humid summer days and frigid, snowy weekends to bring home treasured volumes like Freddy Goes to Florida and Freddy and the Bean Home News. What followed was laborious hunting and pecking on the old Underwood in the attic bedroom where I churned out my own stories of talking animals. When asked by my fifth grade teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up, I proudly announced, to the consternation of all the kids around me, “an author.”
With respect to biography relevant to the current circumstances, this is all that matters: I’ve grown up, and now I’m an author. Stories and characters and the ideas generated by them: Is there anything else? Well, sure. But although William Shakespeare passed from this mortal coil long ago, Malvolio, Bottom, Iago, and Juliet—and their troubles—have survived the centuries. They will carry on as long as there are readers. Likewise—maybe—Freddy the pig, Charles the rooster, and Mrs. Wiggins the cow. For me, the permanence of art stands as a bulwark against the slings and arrows of outrageous real life, and the highest, richest form of art is that which is formed from words—the first and most important attribute of humans as we strive to behave less like animals and more like gods.
Bookworm that I was (and am), it was only natural that after a childhood passed in moving from place to place as the eldest son in a Navy family (books are what you can take with you), when it came to figuring out how I was going to make my own life with some sort of guaranteed paycheck I stumbled across the notion of teaching high school English. Following college at San Francisco State and marriage to the sweetheart of my dreams, Susan Allison, this is what I did, first at Astoria High School, then South Albany High School, then Milwaukie High School, all in Oregon. This last gig, from 1986 to 2001, landed me and my family in Portland, which was in many ways the city of my dreams. This is not the place to detail my working life, but I will say that teaching high school English was enormously enriching, frustrating, exhausting, and satisfying. (I took smug comfort when Ken Kesey told an O.C.T.E. convention in Eugene that there’s a halo waiting in heaven for English teachers. Of course there is.)
It’s necessary to mention that at some point in early adolescence a guitar and a banjo found their way into my hands, and I hold onto them still. However, this is also not the place to delve into my love of and commitment to traditional music other than to say that as a fiddler and guitarist, I continue to strive to get it right. Just as important, I continue to cherish the friendships I’ve developed over the long years playing this great music handed to us by the traditions. (Readers wanting to know more about this can go to theportlandcollection.com.)
Central in my life now that I’m retired to the bayside city of Bellingham, Washington, up here in the left corner about as far as you can go without turning into a hockey fan, is this writing, this compulsion to play with words, with ideas. This I take seriously. This I take pleasurably. It’s my hope and expectation that the fun and work of making these books with Detective Sergeant Matthew Toussaint at the center of a world of murder, compassion, ignorance, commitment, selfishness, and altruism as they play out in Portland, Oregon, will produce books worthy of your interest and your dollar. As for the Frankie Fox epic: Sorry. Not available. I just about ran out the string on that one.