I come from a family of writers and publishers and other folks who spent much of their lives working with and around writers and musicians and producers and artists. One of my grandfathers was a poet and a publisher, and my father was a writer and a speaker. My grandmother loved poetry and novels and used to invite me to her house to play Scrabble. Words and sentences and stories have mattered most to me for most all my life.
I grew up in a small bedroom community just outside Nashville, Tennessee. I left once to study English literature in California, and again for a couple of years and a couple of cold winters to write advertising in Chicago, but all in all, Tennessee is home to me. While I was in Chicago I published my first book, Private Visions in Public Places, a coffee table book with someone else’s photographs of the city along with selections from the journals I wrote during the time when I first began to explore the city. I got off the escalator one day in Water Tower Place and saw a bookstore window with a big display of the book. I have never recovered.
In between California and Chicago, I spent some years heading up the marketing team for the family publishing company. There followed several years as a freelance writer and editor. I graduated from The Academy for Spiritual Formation, a two-year program of study and prayer in community and became a member of The Friends of Silence & of the Poor, an international prayer community.
I write two kinds of books about one thing — paying attention.
I write about paying attention for the things that can point us to the Sacred in our lives. About the longings that we have for home and community and a sense of belonging. About practice and ritual and work and contemplation and the way that such things can be constant reminders of who we are and who we are to become.
One kind of book that I write is overtly religious. They are written for readers who are interested in discussing such things in the traditional language that the Church uses — the language of spirituality and prayer and liturgy, the language of religion.
The second kind of book is less overtly religious. They are written to try and discover the Holy, if you will, that is to be found in the ordinary. They are written about more general subjects, everything from baseball to gardening to travel.
So now there is a body of work that has been published to favorable reviews from The New York Times, USA Today, and other major newspapers, acclaim from the publishing community as evidenced by the reviews in Publishers’ Weekly, BookPage, and other reviewers, and some notable comments from other writers in the field of spirituality. All of which is pretty surprising to me.
I live in Nashville still where I write every day in a small studio in our back garden, see my children and their friends every time I get a chance, and take seriously the call to participate in the prayer that sanctifies the day and the work of the world. I am married to the literary agent Sara Fortenberry, for whom I am gratefully yard man, travel companion and head librarian. And I get to say yes a few times a year to opportunities to lead seminars and retreats on prayer, silence, writing, and spirituality, subjects I have led dozens of retreats on around the country in recent years.
I have somehow managed to stumble into living almost exactly the kind of life to which I have been drawn since I was old enough to wonder about what I wanted to be when I grew up which is pretty surprising as well.