I was born in Columbus, Ohio. My father was an English professor. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, who later started her own small art gallery. I was a nerdy stay-in-my-room with a book kind of kid.
We spent a year in England when I was 12. It was the most exciting trauma of my life. I went to an all boys school. I wore a uniform. I had to learn to write with a fountain pen. Everyone regarded me as an oddity (so no change there). My brother and I were allowed to roam around London on the tube to our hearts' content. What proved daunting at first was not so bad once you got the hang of it. It ended up being a very good year. It was the first time I had friends who were boys. It was the first time I felt grown up. It made me a permanent anglophile. I've spent some months in England out of every year since then.
At the University of Chicago we were all nerds and geeks avant la lettre
. I majored in history and wrote a senior thesis on the monarchy under Queen Victoria.
Afterwards I worked for an advertising agency in Chicago, first on the Kellogg and then on the Nestle accounts. I never knew quite what I was doing. Sugar Smacks, Cocoa Krispies and Butterscotch Morsels were the angry gods who ruled my life. This brush with the real world sent me hustling back to history, where I felt better.
I then did a PhD at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The research took me back to the UK for an extended period. Heaven was spending days in the old British Museum at the tables covered with green leather. I also went to work in the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle for the first time. If ever work was fun, that was it. My dissertation was published as DEMOCRATIC ROYALISM
in 1996. It's pretty dense reading. I don't actually recommend it unless you're delving into some of the arcane rules of British ceremonial under Queen Victoria. Or maybe if you need a soporific for your bedside table.
I ended up teaching at a small liberal arts college, Carthage, in Wisconsin. It's about half way between Chicago and Milwaukee. It has a beautiful campus next to Lake Michigan with a small river running through it. The students were very patient with me, bless them. While I was there I brought out a biography of two self-mocking aristocrats who worked for Queen Victoria, HENRY & MARY PONSONBY
. I also wrote about the era's most gay (in every sense of the word) prime minister. My biography of Benjamin Disraeli was called THE POLITICS OF PLEASURE
A big advance from Nan Talese/Doubleday led to writing on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. READING JACKIE
was a biography based on her life in publishing and her love of books. It also allowed me to become what I'd always wanted to be, a full time writer.
MRS QUEEN TAKES THE TRAIN
was my first novel. To my surprise The Weinstein Company optioned the book for a movie. I never quite know what they're doing with it, but the rumors I hear of a screenplay by James Graham and Simon Curtis as director make me happy and hopeful.
PRINCE HARRY BOY TO MAN
is my latest novel. It follows Mrs Queen's grandson on a comic deployment to Afghanistan. It leads via minor mayhem to his discovery that being a prince is actually not as bad as he'd always thought it was. I never met Harry. I'm not in love with the beard he's wearing now, but I did think he looked good when he was a twenty-something with that high red color in his hair and cheeks. I was once in a room at Buckingham Palace with his mother. It was a Christmas party for the staff. I went as the guest of a friend from the Royal Archives. Diana was as beautiful as she was in her pictures, perhaps more so. She wore a red dress and low-heeled pumps covered in red satin. If it's possible for a gay man (me) to be in love with a straight woman (her), I was in love with Harry's mother that night. She didn't speak to me. She went off to dance with one of the gardeners. But just seeing her a few feet off was a memorable moment. She shimmered. That's somewhere at the heart of my wanting to write about her son, and his relationship to his mother.