Preview: Starting Lines

(From the Author’s Note) Sometime between claiming my first Social Security check at 62 and signing on with Medicare at 65, I heard an offhand comment by a fellow writer on running from the same age-group. Rich Benyo, editor of Marathon & Beyond, had finished writing his life story and urged me to get going on mine. “Our age is the best time to write memoirs,” he said. “We’re old enough to have had the experiences, but still young enough to remember what they were.”

My second big push was a cancer diagnosis. Doctors found this disease early and treated it well, but the episode still left me thinking: Better get going on this book now, when the successful treatment has renewed my appreciation for the life I’ve led.

Writing on this memoir began in 2008, shortly after hearing the three chilling words: “You have cancer.” I wrote and wrote and wrote that year, and only took the story as far as 1967. This became Starting Lines, covering my growing-up years in the Midwest. Two more books (Going Far and Running Home) would follow in the next two years.

The processing and polishing of this memoir series took three years. But in a sense I’ve been writing this story almost as long as I’ve lived it. The rough draft runs to more than 50 volumes. Since 1959, I have been a journalist in the truest sense: one whose writing all starts on a daily journal page.

My first and most enduring literary hero was John Steinbeck. He taught me to read and inspired me to write. The first non-sports book I ever read for pleasure, without a teacher’s grade hanging over me, was Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. The best writing instructions I ever seen were in his Journal of a Novel, which solidified my habit of journal-keeping.

Fittingly John Steinbeck influenced the format of the three books. In one of his minor novels, Cannery Row’s sequel called Sweet Thursday, he wrote lines that stayed with me: “Looking back, you can usually find the moment of the birth of a new era, whereas when it happened it was one day hooked on the tail of another. There were prodigies and portents, but you never notice such things until afterward.”

I’ve known days like this, and I revisit dozens of them here. Each chapter of Starting Lines (and its two sequels) opens with a journal-like entry from one of my big days, then I append an instant epilogue (called “Update”) that tells where the events led. New-era-openers abound in every life. I’ve been lucky enough to keep a written record of mine.

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