After reading Life Ain't Kind, one might logically conclude that the author is either a pianist or violinist, or both. But he is not. In fact, the author has never taken a single class in music and considers himself to be nothing more than a mere dilettante.
Nelson Donley lives in Whittier, California with his Kenyan wife, Felister, and their adorable son, Harmon, who is already a professional model. The name Harmon was chosen in honor of Mr. Donley's late father, Richard Harmon Donley, who passed away in 2005, just two days short of his 97th birthday. The secret of his long life? He smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day up until 1955, never exercised, worked around toxic chemicals, and ate lots of beef and pork.
Mr. Donley always wanted to write the great American novel and finally took the initiative after retiring from teaching at the age of 55. He is now 58 and currently working on his 2nd project, a new novel based on Phil, one of the characters in Life Ain't Kind.
Mr. Donley’s childhood can be divided into two nearly equal parts and, to paraphrase Dickens, “They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.” An alcoholic stepfather made the latter part of Mr. Donley's childhood seem like a scene out of the Hobbesian state of nature: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. From the age of ten until he finished high school, he lived in different parts of Southern and Central California. His mother was always trying to get away, but the his stepfather always talked his way back, promising that things would get better, but things only got worse.
The best time of his life took place on the BD&L – his grandfather's pony farm. He taught himself so much about equine medicine that he considered making a career out of it, but changed his mind when his veterinarian asked him, “Are you good in math?” But he loved horses so much that he eventually started his own business with American Quarter Horses. In high school, Mr. Donley majored in agriculture and used his AQHA horse business as his Future Farmers of America project. He attended four high schools in all and graduated from La Habra High School at the end of his junior year in 1973. His reason for graduating early? “I can't stand being in a classroom.”
For the next two years, Mr. Donley kept busy working at odd jobs, such as a seat maker in a factory and training horses on the side. The horse business became such a liability that he was forced to sell off most of his stock. His sorrel mare, Autobiography, was racing at Rillito in Arizona, but got stolen. After doing a bit of investigative work, he found her at a stable near Prescott Downs. A stable boy told him, “The sheriff owns that horse!” but Mr. Donley was determined to get his horse back. When the sheriff told him to get out of town by sundown, Mr. Donley called the Federal Brand Inspector who verified that the horse belonged to him. When the sheriff couldn't produce a bill of sale, Mr. Donley snootily said, “No ticky, no laundry” and took the horse back to California with him.
His last horse was a chestnut colt named after the composer and violinist Paganini. Despite an impressive qualifying time in the 870 at Los Alamitos, good-ole Paganini couldn't handle the stress at the starting gate and came in dead last. The sight of that horse bringing up the rear was an omen to get completely out of the horse business and start looking for a real job.
Two things stood in the way of getting a job – a college degree and experience. His mother suggested that he become a farrier (that is, a horseshoer), but he wanted to get away from horses, not go back to them. Besides, he had no desire to take on a career in which he actually had to “work” for a living. That left only one alternative – the classroom.
Mr. Donley entered college in 1975, majoring in Administration of Justice. At that time, he wanted to become a cop. His father convinced him that he wasn't cut out for that kind of a job, so he changed his major to Political Systems of the Eastern Bloc and minored in Economics, Classical Novel, and Philosophy. He graduated from Whittier College in 1979 and began teaching as a substitute in grades K-12.
Mr. Donley did his graduate studies at CSU in Long Beach, California. After acquiring a Regular Ed. teaching credential, he went on to earn a Special Ed. Teaching credential and MS degree. He decided not to pursue a doctorate because that would have taken too much time away from what he wanted to do most – write the great American novel for a modern audience.
About the Author
The author of Life Ain't Kind and Inside Special Education with his wife, Felister, and son, Harmon. Pictured with Larry Elder, host of The Larry Elder Show