A versatile, modern writer about life at the turn of the century, Jon Katz has gone from "suburban mysteries" to cultural criticism to personal memoir. His spirited, often humorous musings have earned him both fans and critics; as he wrote in his last column for the web site HotWired: "If the quality of my work was sometimes uneven, my determination to rant was unwavering."
"I really don't know anyone in media who's been given the freedom I've had to spout off on a wide range of subjects," Jon Katz wrote in his 1998 farewell column for HotWired. As a writer for web venues such as HotWired and Slashdot, Katz has waxed enthusiastic about Internet culture and championed "geek life." As a contributor to Wired and Rolling Stone, he's written articles on technology, politics and culture. And as a book author, he's penned mystery novels, memoirs and more, at the rate of nearly one per year since 1990.
Katz began his career in traditional media, as a reporter and editor for the Boston Globe and Washington Post and as a producer for the CBS Morning News. His experiences in television became fodder for fiction in his first novel, Sign Off, which Publishers Weekly called "an absorbing, well-paced debut" about the corporate takeover of a television network.
Disenchanted with the world of old media, Katz signed on to the cyber-revolution as a contributor to Wired magazine and its then-online counterpart, HotWired. As pundit and media critic, Katz became a prominent voice of the libertarian, countercultural, freewheeling spirit that prevailed on the Web in its early years. After HotWired underwent a corporate transformation, Katz moved to Slashdot, a free-for-all e-zine that allowed him to continue spouting off on a wide range of subjects (for Katz, "open source" is not just a method of software development, it's a metaphor for free expression).
Meanwhile, Katz began a series of "suburban detective" books featuring private investigator and family man Kit DeLeeuw, who operates out of a New Jersey mall. The intricately plotted mysteries serve as "a framework for the author's musings on suburban fatherhood, a subject on which he is wise and witty and honestly touching," wrote Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times.
In 1997, Katz's digital-age pontifications took book form in Virtuous Reality, which tackled censorship, online privacy and the shortcomings of the media. Katz struck a more personal chord with Geeks (2000), a work of gonzo ethnography that follows two computer-obsessed teenagers and their struggle to escape the Idaho boonies. "Katz's obvious empathy and love for his 'lost boys,' his ability to see shades of his own troubled youth in their tough lives, gives his narrative a rich taste that makes it unlike other Net books," said Salon writer Andrew Leonard.
Katz turned to himself as the subject for a meditation on middle age, Running to the Mountain (2000) which chronicles the three months he spent alone in a dilapidated cabin in upstate New York. The result is "a funny, moving and triumphant voyage of the soul," according to The Boston Globe.
Then there's Katz's other pet subject: dogs. In A Dog Year , Katz writes about a high-strung border collie -- a canine "lost boy" he adopted and gradually bonded with. "Dogs make me a better human," said Katz in an interview. Given his recent contributions to The Bark magazine, dogs may make Katz an even more versatile and prolific writer, if that's possible.
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Katz is so persuaded of the power of interactivity that he's refused to have his work printed by publishers unless they'll run his e-mail address with it. His published e-mail addresses include firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a Slate writer made a disparaging comment about Katz's basement, Katz wrote a column describing the basement office where he works. Its accoutrements include a wooden cherub, portraits of Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln, and a collection of gargoyles. A Haitian voodoo "frame thingy" (in Katz's words) graces his computer.
In our interview, Katz told us more fun facts: "I see every movie that comes out, usually alone in a megaplex. I love the New York Yankees because they win a lot. My one brilliant move in life was marrying my wife Paula."