One day when I was about 7 years old, I  picked up a hammer in my father's garage and brought it down on an innocent nail. It jumped out of the way.

I took a couple more whacks at it, managing only to bend it flat and frighten the thumb of my other hand.  My father came to my aid and kindly put an end to the carnage.

He sent me into the house to see Mom, who patched me up and introduced me to her typewriter. Since that day, I've done most of my damage with a keyboard.

My first foray into the world of journalism came in the early '60s, when my older brother and I, with help from my father, opened a news stand on the steps of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Schiller Park, Illinois.

Every Sunday for six years, we would get up at 5 a.m. and stuff the inserts into hundreds of newspapers — about 500 Chicago Tribunes, Sun-Times and Chicago Americans — and head off to the church. Dad would help in the transport, but his most important role was to get us out of bed.

We were there for every Mass — four of them — and the parishioners learned not to drop all of their change into the collection plate, leaving a little for the boys outside. Bless them. It was a simple but valuable lesson to learn early in life: that you could earn money at the steps of the temple.

It was during those early mornings in the garage, too, that I discovered how quickly newsprint ink can rub off on the skin. Little did I know that it was working its way into my blood, as well.

I worked on newspapers in high school and college—at the Burnian at Blackburn College and then at the Daily Egyptian at Southern Illinois University. I worked in backshops in Downers Grove, Illinois, and, because I needed a job, I sold ads, too. But most of my work was on the beat and in the newsroom, as a reporter, editor and columnist.  I have worked for the Wabash Plain Dealer, The Southern Illinoisan and The Kansas City Star.

In 2000, I linked up with photographer Dan Overturf, and together we researched and documented life along the Illinois Waterway.  Our book, A River Through Illinois, was released in April 2008 by Southern Illinois University Press. We continue to work together on other projects.

With the downsizing of newspapers in the 21st century, I jumped to book publishing, first with Kansas City Star Books and now with Chandler Lake Books. A fair amount of manuscripts not affiliated with those publishers flows across my desk as well.

The arc of this career was broken once, early on. For one year, after leaving the Plain Dealer in Indiana, I put the typewriter aside to help my brother build a business. We worked out of Homer, Illinois, rehabbing old houses and designing custom decks. I loved the work.

During that year my father would visit from Chicago, spending weeks at a time, and I would work at his side.  And that’s when I learned the thing I’m most proud of: How to drive a nail.

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Collected written works  |  Gary Marx

“I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.”