From the publication of my first newspaper article in January 1974, during my last year of high school, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I got my bachelor's degree in journalism and first began working for a local newspaper in 1978. My goal had been to become a science writer, but I quickly fell into government reporting. While advancing my education, my interest in astronomy grew throughout the 1970s. I began researching comets and meteor showers in 1973 and by the end of the decade I had compiled several notebooks of observations and papers on those subjects. By 1980, I was getting tired of sitting in city council meetings and decided to go into another line of work, something that would allow me plenty of free time for writing what I wanted to write. My first book on comets was published in 1984 and by 1985, I began a career in Information Technology that would continue for the next 30 years. I retired at the end of 2015 and my research and writing really picked up.
Comets: A Descriptive Catalog was the first book I ever wrote. While attending Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, I was working as editor, writer, and production designer of a publication out of the president's office. I was then working with Ruth Armes, the person in charge of the electronic typesetter. I told Ruth that I wanted to be a science writer and she began typesetting some of my early comet stories that would ultimately be part of Comets: A Descriptive Catalog. My boss was Pete Simpson, who happened to be a published poet. He talked to his agent and found a publisher who was interested in my book. The publisher was Enslow Publishers, Inc. I signed a contract with them and in 1982 they flew me to New York City to finish my research and directly work with some of the employees. The book came out in 1984.
Meteor Showers: A Descriptive Catalog was my second book, the idea of which I pitched to Enslow Publishers, Inc. while finishing my first book. The first book had been a lot of work for me and them because I was still using a typewriter. But in 1985 I bought a Macintosh computer, complete with a word processing program. Once I showed them samples, they sent me a contract, which I signed late in 1985. This book was published in 1988.
Cometography was the first set of books that I really wanted to have published. I envisioned it as a multi-volume set of books that would provide a comprehensive story of every observed comet in history. This was the concept that I initially submitted to Enslow Publishers, Inc., but they said it was too big a project. They did say that they wanted a comet book on the market in time for the 1986 return of Halley's Comet. So, since I had an opportunity to have a book published, I wrote what became Comets: A Descriptive Catalog. Despite this situation, I continued to work on the research and writing of Cometography, not knowing if I would ever be able to find a publisher for it.
By the 1990s, a number of astronomers specializing in comets had become aware of the project I was working on. I was frequently writing to Brian Marsden of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Donald K. Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Berkeley, California). Yeomans was writing a comprehensive history of comets and he wrote to me in 1990 asking if I would provide a comprensive list and brief description of every comet seen from ancient times through 1700. I did so and it became the 60+ page appendix in his book, Comets: A Chronological History of Observation, Science, Myth, and Folklore. Through Marsden's encouragement in December 1992, I discovered observations of the periodic comet Swift-Tuttle among Chinese observations made in 68 BC and AD 188. As a result, in October 1993, he included me as a co-author in a paper published in the journal Icarus. Through all of this I continued working on my project and wondering who, if anyone, would eventually publish it.
Imagine my surprise when Marsden e-mailed me early in 1995 to say that, while at a conference, he mentioned my project to an editor from Cambridge University Press (CUP), who showed a lot of interest. The editor e-mailed me a few days later and, after a couple of months of establishing the scope of my project, I was signed to write my dream project. CUP was well aware of the fact that most of the writing was far from done, but they were willing to work with me. Believe it or not, I spent the next 21 years on this project, with the first volume being published in 1999 and the last volume, number six, being published in 2017.