A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, for many years I earned a living sculpting superheroes and cartoon characters for Nickelodeon, DC Comics, Warner Brothers, Pixar and others. I once flew out to George Lucas’s ranch in California with a sculpture of Jar Jar Binks and for years I worked with the creator of Miss Piggy at Children’s Television Workshop. For a long time everything I owned was embedded with tiny pieces of clay and my clients all knew which sculptures were mine because they were embedded with dog fur.
As a writer, my short fiction has appeared in The Sun Magazine, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. I was the 2009 winner of the Robert Olen Butler Prize for Fiction and I’ve written extensively on the link between language and art including for The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and Ploughshares.
A finalist for the Massachusettes Book Award, my debut novel, All We Had, was published by Scribner – Simon & Schuster. Now a major motion picture, produced by Tribeca Films, All We Had, was optioned by actress Katie Holmes before the book was published.
I had always wanted to be a writer, but I have had no formal education as a writer. In addition to that, I’m dyslexic so I never took my prospects seriously.
But I discovered that the years I spent adding and subtracting and carving away bits of clay proved to be exceptional training for the work of writing. In many ways the process of finding a character in a hunk of clay is the same as finding a story on a blank page. You must
work a piece from all angles, and recognize the dangers of
focusing too quickly on details when the structure and form have not yet been fully established. Life as a sculptor taught me how be alone and how to maintain focus. I learned to be patient, persistent and disciplined and to sometimes let a character emerge on its own.
Fiction writing is many things. It is a mining and sifting through of the raw material of life until something of substance emerges—a story line or character worth pursuing. But the true job of a writer is to elicit an image—a rich and expansive picture of the world written on the page. In many ways, writing is a visual art because we see not only with our eyes, but also, and sometimes more powerfully, with our imaginations. The craft of writing for me has less to do with the study of literature, or even with writing proficiency, and much more to do with the disciplined skill of seeing; a skill I have been honing as a visual artist all my life.