John Dunning was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, NY, and was raised in Charleston, SC. He always wanted to write but left high school in the tenth grade, partly because of an inability to concentrate and absorb lectures. Several years ago after his daughter was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), the doctor determined John also had this malady that was not imagined in his school days.
“This may explain my long affection for typewriters,” he says. “Unlike a computer, a great old manual typewriter was an honest machine. You did your work, it did its work. There was no sneaky nonsense, no hidden screens that popped up and wouldn’t go away, and at no time in my 40 years as a writer did I ever ‘lose’ anything because I hit a certain key, failed to hold my mouth right, or sneezed at the wrong moment.”
John felt he should be a poster boy for ADD. Often the inability to concentrate demanded eight or ten hours of effort for two good hours of work. Sometimes it leads a writer away from his story, causing a month’s worth of drifting, rambling around, groping. “In those times I really have to work to get my story, whatever it is, back on track.”
John earned a GED certificate from the state of South Carolina in the early 1960s. “Historically, it’s an interesting document—not because it’s mine but because it states that I am the equivalent of the average white high school grad in the state. Now if that’s not an official admission that those old ‘separate-but-equal’ doctrines never worked, what is?
“I was a raging failure early in life. Quit high school, then got kicked out of the Army with a broken eardrum after only two weeks, went on to work in a Charleston glass shop for $1.05 an hour, and looked to be on a fast track to nowhere.
“In 1964 I made my break with Charleston, came to Denver with some friends, worked in a glass shop here for a time, then got on the racetrack and went with the horses for two years. I worked for horse trainers in Denver, Idaho and California, finally hitting the ‘big time’ at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA. This was a magic time in my life.”
“In 1966 I got a job as a clerk in the library at The Denver Post, which was then the city’s afternoon daily. Eventually I became copy boy on the newspaper, and finally was given a trial run as a reporter and later put on the newspaper’s three-man investigative team.
“I worked in politics for a while: campaign press secretary to candidates for mayor of Denver, U.S. Senate, and House of Representatives. I taught writing and journalism at the University of Denver and at Metropolitan State College.
“I was a collector of old-time radio shows for 30 years. I grew up with this stuff so it was like collecting part of my own life. I parlayed that into a weekly radio show, which I hosted on Denver radio for more than 25 years. In 1973 I worked on the film, Thieves Like Us. Robert Altman’s film was based on the 1937 novel by Edward Anderson, and he wanted it scored with old radio shows. My job was to find the right sounds to fit his story.
“In 1984, with my wife Helen, I opened the Old Algonquin Bookstore in East Denver. We closed the store in 1994, two years after Booked to Die was published, and have been online booksellers ever since.”
John’s latest challenge has been a large benign brain tumor, which was partially removed in 2006, causing the loss of one eye and some ongoing neurological problems which have prevented him from completing another book. It is a frustrating time for him, but he is happy that so many people are still finding and enjoying his books.