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My first memory of loving books was finding the Hardy Boys series at my local library in Huntsville, Alabama when I was six or seven years old. My life has been changed by many books since– Huckleberry Finn; Absalom, Absalom; The Power Broker; everything by Elmore Leonard; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–but reading three Hardy Boys books in two days, then going back and getting three more is how it started. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to figure out how to write.
In high school, I wrote (terrible) poetry. At Duke University, I studied literature. After a short stint at a local bookstore, I moved to New York City and got a job as an assistant in the subsidiary rights department at Avon Books. It was just about the lowest job in publishing, but it paid $14,000 a year and I got to work with books. I switched to the editorial department eighteen months later and spent the next ten years editing and creating hundreds of books and series. In my spare time, I also wrote or collaborated on a dozen books under various pseudonyms, including a New York Times bestseller (uncredited) in 2003.
In 2006, I left my job as editorial director at HCI to become a full-time writer. My first proposal was for a book with Spencer, Iowa library director Vicki Myron. It was about the library’s recently deceased cat, Dewey. The day after we sold it to Grand Central, the deal was slammed in The New York Times as signifying everything wrong with mainstream publishing—a cat! In Iowa! Who cares!—but when it was published a year later, Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, was a #1 New York Times bestseller, spent six months in the top five, and sold more than a million copies. It made the list of the year’s top fifteen bestselling nonfiction hardcovers in both 2008 and 2009.
Since then, I have written six more New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 bestselling The Monuments Men, which was turned into a movie by George Clooney.
While I can and do write in many genres and styles, my books tend to focus on ordinary people. My primary theme, I suppose, is the nobility of the ordinary: the joy that comes with working hard for personal goals, even if relatively few ever notice. The heroes of my stories don’t become rich or famous; instead, they find happiness and purpose. I gravitate toward those stories, I think, because I’m a middle-class kid from Alabama who finally found contentment doing what I love at the age of thirty-five. Those stories are my story, too.
I currently live in Decatur, Georgia, with my wife and two children.