Know Your (Grown Up) Mighty Writers: Jason Fagone

Grew up: “Partly in New England, where my family’s from, and partly in the horse country of southeastern Pennsylvania. The kind of writer I am has more to do with the books I loved as a kid and the opportunities I was given as a journalist.”

What I read as a kid: “Anything by Gary Paulsen. I loved his book ‘Hatchet,’ about a kid who survives a plane crash in the Canadian forest and has to build a shelter using only a tiny hatchet. I also read a lot of Matt Christopher’s inspirational stories about odd, quiet kids becoming heroes on their sports teams. Encyclopedia Brown, of course. Roald Dahl. And Stephen King. My grandmother, who lives in remote northern Maine where a lot of King’s stories are set, owned a shelf full of old King hardcovers, so every time I went to visit her I’d grab a new horror book and read it slowly in that big quiet house of hers.”

“Make sure you have good friends who are not writers.”

Inspired me to write: “Maybe the news editor on my high school paper, Danielle Devane, who wrote a really kind and encouraging note after I handed in my first news story. Also, my high-school English teacher, Eileen Byrne, who was tough and smart and wonderful, and R. Thomas Berner, who introduced me to many of the ‘new journalism’ greats.”

Now I read: “Lately, a hodgepodge—for fun/relaxation, Dave Eggers’ ‘Zeitoun’ and crime fiction by Michael Connelly. For work, I’ve been burning through books about infectious disease and epidemiology and scientific invention… John Barry’s book about the 1918 flu, James Shreeve’s book about Craig Venter and the genome project, Randy Shilts’ ‘And the Band Played On.’ Oh, and Rivka Galchen’s amazing ‘Atmospheric Disturbances,’ a novel about love and marriage and weather conspiracies. Nathan Rabin’s memoir, ‘The Big Rewind,’ is also very good.”

All-time favorite author: “Kurt Vonnegut Jr. A lifeline, a funny and compassionate voice I could  escape to on rough days, when high school sucked.”

Best advice I can give: “Make sure you have good friends who are not writers, so that you can hang out and relax and not talk about writing. This is crucial.”

Jason Fagone (www.jasonfagone.com) lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter. He has written about science, culture and sports for GQ, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Philadelphia magazine and others. He is working on a book about the search for a malaria vaccine.

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