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March 30 2009

I grew up in Glenview, Illinois, in a family that loved books and baseball.  My father, a mechanical engineer, was a salesman who traveled a lot, but when he was home he’d read to me and my big brother Billy before we went to bed.

Dad also made up stories featuring a talking cloud who stopped by the bedroom window of two children named Anne and Billy at night and flew them to places like Alaska or the Amazon, where they had exciting and dangerous adventures.

Just as Billy and Anne were about to be captured by a pirate, by the guardian of an Egyptian temple or by a charging bull, the “Cloud Car” would appear and glide them back home to bed.

In the morning Billy and Anne would wake up thinking they’d had a dream, until they discovered a remnant from their trip, like a pair of Alaskan mukluks or a carving of an Egyptian asp.

My father, a lifelong subscriber to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, was also the one who got me started reading mysteries, which led to writing them.

In the first short story I ever put on paper, a man has been convicted of a serious crime and condemned to death in the electric chair.  On the day he’s to be electrocuted, he expects to have his innocence proven and his conviction overturned.  In his cell he hears footsteps and the clank of the prison doors.

Hopeful that the footsteps are the messenger’s who will arrive with the release order, but fearful that the visitor might be the guard who will lead him to the death chamber, the prisoner decides to wash his hands and face to keep cool.  With his dripping hand he reaches for the light switch, and ZAP!  He is electrocuted.

Pretty harsh plotting for a skinny little pre-teen.  I can honestly say it’s the only short story I have written that has not been rejected by someone somewhere—because I never submitted it to anyone but my father.