Photo © Adam Nadel

A Personal Note From the Author

(Meet John in person at one of his upcoming events).

I was born in the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan, on March 20, 1957. My parents were hoping for a St. Patrick's Day baby; damn, three days late. My life story. I was the youngest of four in a very, very, very Catholic family. The church was just three doors down -- no coincidence -- and my earliest memories are steeped in the fragrances of devotion … incense and sacramental wine, beeswax and musty pews. I was an altar server and later the office boy at the church rectory, where I earned a dollar an hour answering phones and doorbells.

Like just about every other dad in the neighborhood, my father worked with cars, as an engineer for General Motors. Mom was a full-time mother and housewife, and proud of it. When not cooking big meals or ironing our blue Catholic-school uniform shirts, she worried about our moral fabric and prayed a priestly vocation would be in the future for at least one of us. (Sorry on all counts, Mom.) She had a sharp sense of humor and a wonderful, effortless gift for storytelling, some of which she concedes wore off on me.

I got into writing by default because I was so bad at everything else. Algebra, geometry, French, chemistry, physics -- they all escaped me. But writing, now there was a subject I could have some fun with. By eighth grade I was penning parodies of the nuns just for fun, and in high school, besides writing for the school newspaper, I started an underground tabloid, which earned me a celebrated trip to the principal's office.  From there it was on to Central Michigan University, where I earned the princely sum of twenty-five cents per column inch writing for the campus newspaper while slugging away at a double major in journalism and English.

My first full-time writing job came immediately upon graduation in 1979 when I was hired as a police reporter for the small and laughably lackluster Herald-Palladium in the Michigan harbor town of St. Joseph. I rode all night with cops, photographed murder victims, picked my way through smoldering house fires and sat over coffee with grieving parents. I also summoned the courage to ask out a willowy and tart-tongued reporter on the staff whose name was Jenny and who eventually would become my soul mate, lover, and wife, in that order.

In 1985, I won a fellowship into the Kiplinger Mid-Career Program in Public Affairs Reporting at Ohio State University, which would become my ticket out of small-town journalism. After earning my master's degree at OSU, I had the immense good fortune of landing a second fellowship, this one at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I gained a keen appreciation for an aptly named local rum concoction known as The Hurricane. Faced with the prospect of returning to unemployment and freezing temperatures in Michigan or staying in Florida to soak up more rays and Hurricanes, I took a job at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Jenny quickly followed, landing a position as a feature writer at The Palm Beach Post. I bumped my way up from a bureau reporter to a projects writer and, finally, to metropolitan columnist, a job I found suited me better than I ever imagined any job could. Not long after arriving in steamy South Florida, Jenny and I married, bought a little bungalow together a block off the water, and brought home a wildly neurotic Labrador retriever who we named after a certain famous reggae star. At the time I had no idea our loopy, attention-deficit dog would someday provide me the inspiration to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing a book.

Unable to leave well enough alone, I quit the Sun-Sentinel in 1999, walking away from my beloved column writing to try my hand as editor-in-chief of Rodale's Organic Gardening magazine. As my friend David Beard at The Boston Globe put it at the time, “An interesting, if rather unorthodox, career move.” What can I say? I had this crazy dream of making my hobby my job and my job my hobby. Big mistake. I learned the hobby ceased to be fun and the job ceased to be rewarding. A little more than three years later, missing newspapers and column writing more than I thought possible, I jumped at a chance to join The Philadelphia Inquirer as the paper's three-times-a-week Pennsylvania columnist, where I happily remained for more than four years. Perhaps almost as importantly, gardening is fun again.

Jenny and I live in the Pennsylvania countryside with our three children and a surprisingly calm Labrador retriever named Gracie. We all agree she's no Marley -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

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An Interview with John Grogan


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