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I was born in the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan, on March 20,
1957. My very Catholic parents were hoping for a St. Patrick's Day baby. Then
for a St. Joseph's Day baby. I was having no part of it. Instead, I arrived on
the first day of spring, the youngest of four. Not long after, our family moved
from the city to the sleepy village of Orchard Lake, Michigan. My neighborhood
was called Harbor Hills, and it is the setting for much of my new memoir, The
Longest Trip Home.
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, 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 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.
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 good fortune of landing a second fellowship, this one
at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies 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, 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 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 that 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. Nor
that that book, Marley & Me, would go on to become an international
bestseller with some 5 million copies sold and be made into a motion picture.
But before there was the phenomenon known as
Marley, there was a career move, which took me from South Florida to rural
eastern Pennsylvania to become editor of Rodale's Organic
Gardening magazine. What can I say? I had this crazy dream of
making my hobby my job and my job my hobby. It didn't take me long to realize
how much I missed daily newspapers and, even more, writing in the first person.
A little more than three years later, I jumped back into my beloved newspaper
vocation, joining the Philadelphia Inquirer as the paper's
three-times-a-week Pennsylvania columnist, where I happily remained for more
than four years.
In February 2007, with Marley & Me
winding down from 76 weeks on the bestseller list, twenty-three of them at #1,
I decided to take a break from daily newspapers to focus full-time on writing
my new book, The Longest Trip Home. It is a story very close to my heart
because it is about a family very close to my heart — my own. I finished the
manuscript in early 2008 just as Fox 2000 Pictures was gearing up to begin
filming Marley & Me. Jenny and I were fortunate to be able to spend
several days on the movie set, both in Miami and Philadelphia, and we were
thrilled to watch the sensitive, funny, and thoughtful way in which Owen Wilson
and Jennifer Aniston portrayed us. I'm not sure I would have thought to pair
them as John and Jenny, but as soon as I saw their on-camera chemistry, I knew
that producer Gil Netter and director David Frankel had struck gold.
Frankel, being the nice guy that he is,
offered to work us into a scene as extras. I won't say what scene, but I will
say that it included, in addition to Wilson and Aniston, one of my all-time
favorite actresses, a screen legend whom I had a mad crush on for years.
Moviegoers will be relieved to hear that I had no spoken lines and was kept
safely in the background where I couldn't muck up anything too badly.
As filming wrapped up, the producers presented
me with a most amazing gift: one of the puppies that played Marley in the
movie. His name is Woodson and, as I write this, he is lying at my feet along
with our other Labrador retriever, Gracie. Both are calm and mellow and get
along just fine. We all agree they're no Marley — not that there's anything
wrong with that.
Contacting John Grogan
One of the joys of writing a book is hearing how it has touched
someone else's life. I love reading comments on my blog and at
Sharing Your Stories, but I also know that some people prefer a
less public forum to express their thoughts. To that end, I've set up
a dedicated email account. Please remember that although I will not
be able to respond to the majority of the messages, each one means so
very much to me.
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