I grew up in Santa Clara Valley, a place that no longer exists under that name. I attended school in Cupertino when there were still some prunes, cherries, and apricots, but no apples then. In my junior year of high school, I dropped out. For my parents took us (me, my two brothers and my sister) on a world cruise. We left San Francisco on the 58-foot schooner Fairweather. We sailed west across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, then up the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. From there we sailed across the Atlantic and Caribbean, passed through the Panama Canal, and then, after four years, returned to San Francisco. This cruise is the basis for the novel, The Cruise of the Jest.
Except for service in the US Navy, where I was awarded two medals for defending a country that no longer exists, I have been an academic. I received my Ph.D.in English from the University of California, Davis, after writing a dissertation on The Pragmatics of Fiction. A few years later I wrote another theoretical work, Narrative Explanation. But I came to realize that literary theory is like religion: either you get or you don't. So once I was beyond the publish-or-perish stage of my academic career, I tried to branch out: I started writing about more popular topics, but it was years before I finally broke the academic mold and turned to fiction.
The basic story in The Cruise of the Jest had been on my mind for a long time, but the novel itself is not entirely based on my own experience. My mother kept a journal during the cruise on Fairweather, a journal that I later inherited. Actually, I started writing The Cruise of the Jest after I began transcribing and editing my mother's journal, because I realized that the journal didn’t tell a story–journals rarely do. And I knew that if I wanted to describe what it was like to sail around the world, I needed a story. I think this need for a story is an example of fiction being more believable, and certainly more compelling, than simply telling the facts of what happened. The facts of what happened have their own place in my memory, but it takes a story to convey to others a sense of your own experience.