My Life


I was born to the sound of fireworks in Beardstown, Illinois, in 1933. My birthday is on the 4th of July. I grew up celebrating it in small Midwestern towns, decorating my bicycle spokes with red, white, and blue crepe paper for the Main Street parades.

My father was a flour miller and because of his job we often moved.

I began grade school in Boonville, Missouri, where I learned to read from Dick and Jane books. But one Sunday morning when I was in fourth grade the mill in Boonville burned down, so we moved again, this time to Pittsfield, Illinois, a small town that has a beautiful Victorian courthouse with a pig statue on its front lawn. The statue has a sign under it that says, “Pittsfield, Pork Capital of the World.” I set two of my stories, Harvey the Beer Can King and Hello, My Name is Scrambled Eggs in Pittsfield as I remembered it, including not only the statue, but even the bakery where I bought fat, warm cream puffs after school.

After Pittsfield, we lived in Independence, Missouri, which yearly holds the Santa-Cali-Gon, a festival celebrating its place as pushing-off point for the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon trails. While writing Wagon Train 911, I went back to visit the new Independence Trails Museum. It’s located in the old flour mill building where my father worked.

Just before my last year in high school, we moved to Oak Park, Illinois, where, at Oak Park-River Forest High School, I had writing classes in the same handsome, fireplaced room in which Ernest Hemingway studied. That fine room didn’t inspire me to write books, though. It was well after I’d graduated from Northwestern University that I thought of it.

First, I taught junior high for a year, then wrote, produced, and acted in educational radio programs at the Chicago Public Schools station WBEZ, now National Public Radio. Then I wrote commercials for fine arts radio station WFMT in Chicago. I also wrote films and film strips for Encyclopaedia Brittanica Films and, for ten years, was a columnist for Chicago magazine.

In 1955, Jerome Gilson, who is now a trademark lawyer, and I married. We have three children, Tom and Anne, now lawyers, and Matthew, who is a photographer. No pets now. We used to have a great cat named Al E. Cat. He’s in Do Bananas Chew Gum?

I began to write novels in 1978 when our children were in grade school. I couldn’t have done it without reading the books they read, listening to them talk, seeing what it was they thought was funny.

Twenty-one books is a goodly number, but I always have ideas for more.