I am the author of over 25 books and a retired college professor. I have been married to my wife Susan for 42 years. I am the father of four children (ages 30 and 35--this is a puzzle; figure it out) and grandfather of three. I currently live near Tucson, Arizona. I have also lived in West Virginia, Kansas, Michigan, and New York.
I earned a Bachelor's degree in language arts education from the University of Kansas and taught high school English and French for three years in Kansas and Michigan. After receiving both a master's degree and a doctorate in reading education from the University of Michigan, I began teaching college students. For twenty-seven years, I taught reading and study skills primarily in New York City. Now I write fulltime.
My favorite things to do are spending time with my family and friends, reading, researching, writing, and traveling.
To learn more about me, read my photobiography below:
One Month Old
I was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on January 27, 1950. My mother included a news clipping in my baby book that this was the fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
My mother, Mary Virginia, had wanted to be Shirley Temple when she was little but went to secretarial school instead. She dropped out after a short time and became a 1950s housewife, eventually having four children, two boys and two girls; I was the oldest.
My father, James Sr., enlisted in the Navy near the end of World War II and used his skills to land a post-war job with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He worked nights as a dispatcher, communicating with train engineers by telegraph, telling them when to pull off on a siding or when to speed ahead.
My First House
We lived in an old Victorian house on Leatherwood Lane. It was a scary place with a large attic and a secret passage in my bedroom. By the time I was four and learned about ghosts, I was sure that my house was haunted. By the time I was in third grade, I was making a nightly ghost check: under the bed, in the closet, behind the door.
The Bedtime Stairs
My house featured an impressive stairway leading to the second floor. Every night at bedtime, my parents would tell me, “Time to climb the golden stairs.” Somehow that made bedtime much more appealing.
Besides my parents, the most important person in my young life was my grandmother. She insisted that I call her by her name, which was Ardis. She lived 90 miles away in Parkersburg, and we visited often.
A Haunted House
I was sure that Ardis’s house was haunted. She had an unused room (with a locked door) at the bottom of her stairs. I knew a ghost lived in that room. The problem was that it was right next to the only bathroom in the house. At night I was scared to go to the bathroom there for a long time, for fear that the ghost would get me.
We went on vacation every summer, usually to the Carolinas: either Myrtle Beach or Nag’s Head. Such a long ride meant that my parents brought a potty chair for my rest stops.
As a young child, my most favorite winter activity was playing outside in the snow. Since we lived in West Virginia, there seemed to be plenty of snow every winter. Once I built my snowman, I would go sledding.
My Favorite Books
I loved to look at picture books long before I could read. Some of my favorites were Scuffy the Tugboat; The Bingity Bangity School Bus; Number 9, The Little Fire Engine; Gerald McBoing Boing; and Marge’s Little Lulu and Her Magic Tricks.
Helping in the Kitchen
I always liked to help in the kitchen, especially if cake batter, icing, or cookie dough was involved. My favorite meal as a child was a sweet onion sandwich with lots of French's mustard.
Dressing Me Up
As I got older, my parents believed in dressing me like a little man...from another century? Here I am in my tweed double-breasted coat and cap. They also made me wear bow ties and short pants with my Buster Browns.
Of course, I wanted to grow up to be a baseball player...but the uniform didn't quit fit. My favorite team then was the Cleveland Indians, but I was also a big Brooklyn Dodger fan. If I couldn't be a baseball player, I wanted to be a cowboy.
Future Dreams 2
My third choice was to be a race car driver, but this was as close as I ever got.
My First School Trip
My kindergarten class made a special trip on the B&O Railroad one day. I don't remember where we went, but I do know that it was my first train ride. I am the young man in the front row wearing the double-breasted camel coat.
Learning at School
I went to Steenrod Elementary School in Wheeling. Is that an angelic or a devilish look on my face? I'm not quite sure myself. I wasn't a very good reader in first or second grade, but I discovered mystery books like the Hardy Boys series when I was in the third grade. I liked to read after that.
I also loved to read comic books. They only cost a dime. My favorites were Superman and Richie Rich.
A Movie I Remember
One summer's day between 4th and 5th grades, my mother took me on a special trip to the movies. She didn't tell me what we were going to see until we got to the theater: The Diary of Anne Frank. I knew about World War II, but nothing about the Holocaust. The movie left a lasting impression on me, especially when I realized (many years later) that I was born on the fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Tracks in the Snow
One snowy Saturday morning during the winter of fifth grade, 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 tracks) but they didn't look human either. So there was only one other possibility that occurred to me: a creature from outer space!
A Crashed UFO
I was sure that a flying saucer has crash landed in the woods, and a space creature was trying to get help so that he could fly back to his planet. My friends and I searched the woods for the flying saucer but didn't find it. As I thought about it later that day, I knew that those tracks would make a great story. I got out a new notebook and wrote a title at the top of the first page (The Strange Tracks Mystery). I wrote all the way down to the bottom of the page...and ran out of ideas. I didn't have the ability to follow through at that point. But that's how I began my life as a writer.
Escaping from Reality
Looking back at this episode, I know that there was a very good reason my imagination had gone into high gear. At home, my mother was sick. I was told she would be fine and was getting better, but I could hear her in pain. Getting out of the house and creating adventures for me and my friends was one way to avoid her illness. This dream-like out-of-focus photo of her, taken when she was in high school, captures her essence. It is one of the few photos I have of her.
On the first of summer vacation at the end of fifth grade, I went to the city swimming pool with my friends. When I got home that day, my father called me upstairs and told me that my mother had died. No one had told me that she was dying, so the news was even worse because I was unprepared to hear it. Within a year, my father remarried, and we moved to Tucson, Arizona.
My First Typewriter
One of the ways I learned to feel better was to write stories. My grandmother gave me an old typewriter for my 11th birthday. I was able to begin creating my own stories. I loved science fiction movies, and so the first complete story I wrote was called "The Green Eyed Monsters." Yes, it was about space creatures who tried to conquer planet Earth.
My Awkward Years
I went through my awkward stage in middle school. My new, blended family had seven children, and we didn't have much money. I went to four different middle schools (and lived in four different houses) in two years as we kept looking for more affordable housing.
High School Reporter
In my fourth and last middle school, I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Wolfe who asked me to write for the school newspaper. By the time I entered high school, I wanted nothing more than to be a journalist. So I took journalism courses and began writing for the Catalina High School newspaper in Tucson, Arizona. I wrote a humor column for the newspaper in 10th grade, though it wasn't very funny.
High School Teacher
I surprised myself (though not some of my high school teachers) and became a teacher myself. Here, in 1972, I was teaching classes of English and French to juniors and seniors in Michigan.
Meeting My Wife
I met Susan, my wife-to-be, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, when we were working on our master's degrees. She became an elementary school librarian.
I completed my M.A. and Ph.D. in reading education at the University of Michigan. I taught reading and study skills to college students in Detroit, Utica (NY), and New York City for 27 years.
Our First Twins
In 1985 Susan gave birth to our first set of non-identical twins: Anna and Rachel. We could tell almost immediately how different they were from each other--even by the sound of their cries. Their first favorite movie as children was Lady and the Tramp.
A few years after Anna and Rachel were born, my first book, How to Find a Ghost, was published. I wrote about ghosts first, because I was petrified of them when I was little, and I didn't want Anna and Rachel to share that fear. Unfortunately, they were also afraid of ghosts--and some of my ghost stories!
Our Second Twins
In 1990 Susan gave birth to our second set of twins: David and Chloe. Sometimes people asked if they were identical. We were very polite when we told them no. (HINT: how could a boy and girl twin ever be identical?) For a long time, Chloe wanted to be a princess and David wanted to be a knight. Now that they have grown up, they have other interests (though it would have been nice to visit their castle).
A few years after David and Chloe were born, my novel, 3 NBs of Julian Drew, was published. It had taken me 27 years from the time I started it in high school to complete it. In the 10th grade, I knew I had a good idea for a novel, but I didn't have the ability to write it the way I wanted. I had to develop my skills and my writing talent.
The Best Dog Ever
One of our most important family members was Bobby, our Norfolk Terrier who lived to be fourteen and a half. He liked to chase lizards...the bigger, the better. He even caught a few. He was the best dog ever!
Once I began to be published, I visited schools to talk about my books, writing, and research. I have spoken to tens of thousands of students from kindergarten to 12th grade over the years.
Traveling to Pompeii
One of the most exciting experiences I've had as a writer, was researching my book, Bodies from the Ash, at Pompeii. I was able to visit many times and was even given a special tour of some buildings that are closed to the public. It was an incredible opportunity.
Hiking to Vesuvius
As I worked on Bodies from the Ash, I also hiked up Mount Vesuvius two different times. It is still an active (but currently dormant) volcano, and the views from the top are terrific!
Atop Mont Blanc
In researching Bodies from the Ice, I spent some time in the Alps, visiting mummies and glaciers. One of my most scenic adventures was going to the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain inthe Alps.
I have visted Auschwitz six times now, researching my books on Auschwitz and Breendonk. I have also gone for personal reasons, since my wife Susan had two relatives who were transported from Paris in the summer of 1942 and murdered there.
In 2010, I came across Fort Breendonk while we were on vacation in Belgium. I had never heard of this unofficial concentration camp, the only one of its kind in Belgium. That visit, on a rainy September day, inspired me to research and write the book, The Prisoners of Breendonk.
Enjoying our Family
Of course, family is the most important part of my life. Besides our four children, Susan and I have three grandchildren: Declan, Olivia, and Parker.
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