John Grogan Author of Marley and Me
Photo © Adam Nadel
John Grogan
Copyright 2018 © Barry M. Baker
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
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.