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QUESTION: I was wondering if you could write me back a brief response of some important events in your life, when they occurred and where. Also, if they influenced your writing at all that can also help.

-- Submitted anonymously

OSC REPLIES: - December 16, 1999

Events in my life in different places. I'll just list every place I lived, with a brief list of important stuff (important to me, that is) that happened there:

Richland, Washington (SE section of state) August/September 1951: I was born there on August 24. My father and uncle both worked for Hanford Atomic Works, the nation's first commercial nuclear reactor. My dad was a sign painter. Many, many years later I was phoned by some people doing a scientific study of people born near the Hanford Works during that time period, tracking, not health problems of those people, but problems with their children. Since I have a son born with cerebral palsy, and we had several miscarriages that may have been caused by defective embryos, it is quite possible (but also far from certain) that some of these important events in our lives might have been caused by where I happened to be born, and when.

San Mateo CA, 1951-1954: My dad started a sign company there, but back problems that had plagued him since before his Navy service in WWII finally resulted in such debilitating pain that he could no longer continue the company. The financial problems stemming from the collapse of the sign company (my parents refused to declare bankruptcy) were a burden on our family for many, many years. But this put my father on track to change careers completely. Though he has continued to make money painting signs throughout his life, for his career he finished college and became a college professor. This meant that instead of growing up the son of a small-business entrepreneur, I grew up the son of a college professor and in the shadow of a university.

Salt Lake City UT, 1954-1957: We lived in several apartments during this time while my dad was finishing his bachelor's degree. In one of the apartments, my grandmother used to walk me to Temple Square, where I became familiar with the buildings at the center of the Mormon Church -- and with the gardens there. (My grandmother sang to me "Little Purple Pansies.") As a four-year-old, I learned that when I sang, people really really liked it. (This is because I could not only carry a tune, but could harmonize, which is relatively rare in kids that age. My mother would play the piano and I would sing duets with her. I imagine I was too cute to bear, singing "Old Man River" at the age of four ... but that's what I did. Music has been a vital part of my life ever since.) Also, I remember my retarded Aunt Donna reading to me from a book. She was hard to understand, but I knew she loved me and I loved her. Our last year in SLC we lived in Stadium Village on the campus of the University of Utah, married student housing where there were lots of kids of lots of students attending school on the GI bill. It was there that my mother worked with me on the alphabet and my sister Janice taught me to read sentences from her Nancy Drew books. I remember reading about a 'colored woman' in a passage from that book; I had no idea what that phrase meant, and conjured up the idea of a woman with skin of many colors. Years later, when I realized what the term meant -- along with the meaning of other terms I heard at that time from people outside my family -- I realized that I lost something by growing up in a situation where I knew little to nothing about people of other races. That would help as my wife and I decided where to raise our own kids. Meanwhile, I began my lifelong love affair with books -- in large part because my family was very much a family of readers. No intellectual pretensions, but lovers of good stories. I also attended kindergarten on the U of U campus and had my first experiences with school -- where from the start I got along much better with the teachers than with the other kids. It was while we lived there that my cousin Sherm, whose family lived on a farm in Benton City, died in a tractor accident. We drove to Washington for the funeral. It was my first experience with the death of someone that I knew. Finally, another odd experience: I was up with my parents watching a television show on our black-and-white tv -- a movie. There were several scary scenes that absolutely terrified me. I got so upset I could hardly sleep. I had nightmares. And, for the first time that I could remember, I wet the bed, thus beginning a long humiliating struggle to overcome bedwetting. I rarely invited friends to my house because they might see the rubberized sheet that I had to sleep on. It kept me from feeling honest with anyone -- I always knew that no matter how smart my teachers thought I was or how well I sang or did anything else, if these people knew I was a bedwetter, they would scorn me. So everything was a lie. Thus does a pattern of self-hatred begin <wince>.

Santa Clara CA, 1957-1964: While we lived here, my dad taught at San Jose State College while earning his master's degree. Then he worked in development of training manuals at Lockheed. This is where most of the formative experiences of my life took place -- the books, the experiences at school, the musical instruments I learned, and many family experiences. Some key experiences: It was while at Millikin Elementary that I had my first experiences with bullies, and learned that I had no desire to fight, even to defend myself. I was also identified as "gifted" and put into a special class that met a couple of times a week, where we learned a bit of Spanish. Much more important to me, however, were the music classes (clarinet for a year, then French horn) and the experiences with reading. The bookmobile was a marvel, but even before that the visiting librarian would meet with students in a tiny closet of a room where she'd talk to us about books and introduce us to such wonders as Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson and a book about Lewis and Clark by Dougherty (I think). I read "Wheel on the School" and many other books that taught me what books could be. However, it was at home that I found the best books. My mother had been a fan of Elswyth Thane's "Williamsburg" series and the book "Dawn's Early Light" and "Yankee Stranger" gave me a taste for historical novels and romance. "The Prince and the Pauper" by Twain made me an anglophile -- for many years that was my favorite novel, period. I also read the Thornton W. Burgess books that our family loved. And when my parents bought World Book, I read it from cover to cover (I had already devoured most of the one-volume encyclopedia they owned before). When I was old enough, I'd ride my bicycle down to the Santa Clara public library and after going through William Altsheler's historical novels, I snuck over to the adult section and began reading science fiction -- "Call Me Joe" and "Tunesmith" were some of the most important to me. I also saved my lunch money to buy books from Scholastic's Teen-Age Book Club -- even books that ordinarily would hold no interest for me, like "Candy Stripers" and "Black Flag at Indianapolis." Also, I wrote poetry and one poem of mine was published in a teachers' newsletter. Not everything I learned was literary, though. I was sorely tempted by shoplifting as a child of nine or ten. After being caught by my parents I vowed never to steal again -- the adventure of it wasn't worth the shame. I've been clean on that ever since. During that time I also learned that while I loved to run and play outdoors, I was lousy at all possible sports and slower than every other kid who wasn't actually crippled. Being bad at physical activities took the joy out of them for me. Even though I loved basketball, I almost never played it again. And I avoided running. Not till the past year and a half did I finally overcome these early experiences and become seriously dedicated to a pattern of running, biking, and other physical exercise, which I intend to pursue for the rest of my life. But the intervening years were a long struggle with serious overweight, and because of my body type, there was no hope of my keeping the weight off without serious exercise. So the cost of failure-avoidance was a long saga of even more body-shame than I'd had as a bedwetter. Bedwetters don't have to buy their clothes in big-and-tall stores <grin>, and they can fly economy class without earning hate stares from the people sitting next to them. In junior high I switched from French horn to tuba.

Mesa AZ, 1964-1967: I got to Mesa in time for the 1964 elections. Even though my parents were conservative and I favored Goldwater, no one in our junior high was willing to take the part of Lyndon Johnson in the mock debate. So I took his part and did a bang-up job, I thought. It wakened me to the fact that even when somebody is "wrong," he can still come up with persuasive reasons for his point of view. It taught me that I didn't understand somebody until I had expressed his views in terms he'd use. Thus the beginning of my political education. Unfortunately, in the archconservative culture of the Mormon community of Mesa, the John Birch society seemed pretty reasonable and in the fervency of youth, I thought Goldwater's slogan "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice" was dead on. It took about six more years for me to make a major swing away from rightwing politics to the moderate views I have now. Well, moderate in the sense that if you average them out, they end up in the middle. On some topics I'm pretty far left, on others pretty far right. But basically I've come to despise the whole right/left package, since there's no particular reason why somebody who favors gun control should also favor gay marriage, or somebody who opposes the death penalty should also support abortion. In Mesa I also became serious about genealogy, though by using bad sources -- which no adult warned me about -- I ended up wasting all that time and effort. I wrote a school assembly and had many good friends -- my views of friendship were most firmly formed there, along with all my knowledge of being part of a close, coherent group of friends who were loyal to each other.

Orem UT, 1967-1971: My dad became a staff employee and then a professor at Brigham Young University. I attended Brigham Young High School, a lab school where students progressed at their own rate. In this cliquish school, the only people who were open to a new kid were the theatre kids, and I became an actor. I also graduated a year early, and even during that one year of high school I aced out of Spanish and took a college Spanish class at the sophomore level -- and got A's. I was ready for college -- eager for it -- and after a brief flirtation with majoring in archaeology (still a passion) I became a theatre major and, eventually, a playwright.

Sao Paulo Brazil, 1971-1973: I served as a Mormon missionary here. The influences are obvious to anyone who knows my work.

Utah, 1973-1981: I finished college, married, and we had our first two kids. I worked as a book editor, magazine editor, and began my freelance career by writing novels, short stories, and audioscripts.

South Bend IN, 1981-1983: I worked on a doctorate at Notre Dame, until the recession put an end to that.

Greensboro NC, 1983-present: I moved here to work as book editor for Compute! Magazine, but that job ended before 1983 did, and I've been continuing as a freelancer here. Again, the influence of this locale has shown up obviously in my fiction over the years.

There it is -- every place I've lived and something about what happened to me there. Hope this helps with your assignment.

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