Interview with Harold Schoen

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I wrote about it in Growing Up. I was in second grade. My teacher had us write a story about "anything that was of interest to us." At the time, my fantasy life was mainly populated with cowboy heroes like the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. So, when charged with writing about a topic that "was of interest to me," I wrote a story about the Lone Ranger with a plot similar to what may have appeared in a cowboy comic book in the 1940s. I don’t remember the details, but I ended the story with a shoot-out in which Tonto and the Lone Ranger decimated the bad guys. To describe the shoot-out, I included every noise used in comic books for gunshots or fist fights I could think of like bang, blam, kerblam, ping, blast, biff, pow, and so on.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I was an unsophisticated farm kid with parents who were not college graduates. Starting elementary school in 1947, my heroes were movie cowboys and, later, sports personalities. I began to read comic books and big little books soon after I learned to read. The first full-length book I remember reading was Gene Autry and the Big Valley Grab. Not very sophisticated literature, but I got caught up in the story and knew I would want to read a lot more. I also remember thinking that I could write stories, too.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on a small family farm in west-central Ohio in a family of 15. No one in my family before me had attended college, but I was fortunate enough to get a basketball scholarship from legendary University of Dayton coach, Tom Blackburn. In my junior year at UD, 1962, I was starting forward on the NIT championship team. The story of my childhood through by undergraduate years is the subject of my first attempt at popular writing, Growing Up Farm Life & Basketball in the 1940s & '50s.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I have always enjoyed the writing process, even the textbooks and other professional writing that I did as a college professor. Writing my memoirs has been a special experience, however. As I wrote, I thought of the memoirs as an extended letter to my grandchildren and their descendants to let them know about the long gone world in which I grew to adulthood. More than I expected, reflecting over my life during the writing process was like therapy for me. As I reflected and wrote, I felt again the idealism, simplicity, enthusiasm, and occasional scares and disappointments of my youth. Even now as I revisit the book, it puts me back into my past in a profound and joyful way. Another joy for me has come from the gratitude of readers of my generation who see so much of their own lives in the story of mine.
Who are your favorite authors?
I read all of John Steinback's books when I was in my twenties and thirties. I always liked history and read several of Will and Ariel Durant's volumes of The Story of Civilization in the 1980s. Michael Lewis attracted me with Money Ball, and I have read several of his books since it came out in the early 2000s. A few days ago, I finished The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and was floored. I also like the off-beat stories of George Saunders. I love good biographers like David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and David Chernow. On a lighter note, I also like John Grisham and any good detective story.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
A tough question. There are so many great books, but Crime and Punishment is one of the best ever. The psychological drama in it is just unmatched in my reading experience. I always liked John Steinbeck's work; Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are probably my favorites. The social commentary agreed with my views, and his writing style always seemed crisp and dramatic to me. More recently, I loved Money Ball by Michael Lewis, as it brought back many memories of my youthful love of baseball and its statistics. Sophie's Choice was a very powerful book for me about the Holocaust. That's five, but I could go on and on.
Describe your desk
In Indianapolis, my desk is in a den/office. It is a table, about 4 x 6 feet. There is a bookshelf in the den which contains some of my math textbooks and a subset of professional references from my days as a professor of mathematics education as well as other books. In Florida, I have a built-in corner desk with built-in cabinets above. The den/office in both locations contains a Murphy bed that swings down from the wall to make a guest bedroom. Our grandchildren have made lots of use of the beds over the years when they came to Grandpa and Grandma's house.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a Kindle which some of my grandchildren gave to me for Christmas. I still prefer reading from a print book, but the e-reading is beginning to grow on me. I especially like being able to adjust the print size, and the storage capacity of the Kindle means I always have plenty of books with me on a trip.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Besides my extended family, which is huge, and the people who live in the area in which I grew up, Mercer County and the Dayton area of Ohio, I have found that people of my generation are my most interested readers, especially those who grew up on farms or are college basketball fans. I do my best to reach people in assisted-living centers and retirement homes directly and through their media centers. I have done several readings at libraries, too, and they have been well received by attendees, many of whom bought signed copies.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
At 76 years of age, I don't need much motivation other than to be thankful that I have another day with reasonably good health and a loving wife and family. Everything else is gravy, so to speak.
Published 2017-04-14.
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