I am from a small town in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee called Sparta. My family has lived in the region for generations. I have wandered a bit, but the soil of these mountains is mixed with my blood and it keeps calling me back. Mine was a typical Tennessee upbringing –my grandfather had served a prison stretch in the ‘40s for running moonshine, my adult relatives were still (quite vocally) insulted that their ancestors lost the Civil War, and my time outside was spent perched in a tree deep in the woods or riding ponies with my older cousins.
I have loved books since I was small –before I could read I still loved to look at them. I started with comic books, as most boys do. Mixed in with the Spider-man and Batman was a healthy amount of western titles such as "Rawhide Kid" and "Jonah Hex". I had read all of Shakespeare’s plays and a translation of the Odyssey before I reached middle school, but it was perhaps prophetic that my first "grown-up" novel was Elmer Kelton’s western Bowie’s Mine, when I was eight years old. I have always written.
When I was a teenager –wanting to help change the world, as youths are wont to do –I began to spend most of my time with religious pursuits. I served for years as a full-time minister, and spent time in Florida and New York City working with Haitian immigrants. As I grew older my thoughts on the subject changed –as adults are wont to do –and for many years I abjured organized religion.
I began to seriously pursue writing when I was nineteen years old. I had a part-time job buffing the floors at a K-mart. Three times a week they would lock me in overnight –about eleven hours –and the job only took three of four hours. After a few weeks of this I was bored out of my skull. I read every book on the shelves which interested me (without paying for the privilege, apologies to my writer friends whom I was unwittingly depriving of royalties!). Eventually there were no books left to read, and I had no choice but to write my own. I found it to be like a powerful drug. Once it was in my system it became a part of me and I have never been able to do without it since.
Like most writers I produced several early manuscripts (in many genres) that will never be publishable –and must now be chalked up as part of the learning process. In 1995 my first short story was accepted by Louis L’Amour Western Magazine, and I was published in magazines on a fairly regular basis in the following years. All but one of these have been westerns. The single exception was "Amber", which was a fantasy story. I consider it a great honor to be a member of Western Writers of America, an organization I have been well aware of since I was young. Another great honor I’ve had is to interview Stan Lee, whose innovative use of characterization and social relevance in comic books (unheard of at the time!) helped set a young boy on the road to literary pursuit. Another treasured honor I have is to be included in an informal group of about two dozen Western writers called The Campfire, which includes several of my literary heroes.
I started college in the fall of 2000, at the tender young age of 32. I earned my B.A. in History (with a minor in English) at Tennessee Tech in 2004. I had the honor of teaching an extended-education creative writing class while at Tech. In the fall of 2005 I began attending the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, in the history PhD program (under the mentorship of my committee: Frederick Hoxie, Vernon Burton, Bruce Levine and David Roediger.) In the 2006-7 and 2007-8 school years I was a teaching fellow in the NSF GK12 program, co-teaching history classes at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School. On June 14, 2008 I married my best friend, Robin... while I finished my doctoral work we lived in Urbana, Illinois, with our children and a big black dog. We found a (multi-denominational) church where we felt safe and welcome: I eventually had the honor of serving on the leadership of the church, and once more teaching and ministering. In 2011 I earned my PhD, and accepted a teaching position at my alma mater, Tennessee Tech.
I will close with some of my favorite quotes. From Oakley Hall (author of the classic western novel Warlock): "The pursuit of truth, not of facts, is the business of fiction." From Elmer Kelton (paraphrased, as I can't find the exact quote): "I don't write about a good guy in a white hat versus a bad guy in a black hat- I write about two guys in gray hats, one trying to institute change and the other resisting it." And from myself: "I don't write about things that happen to people- I write about people that things happen to."