He was born in Santa Monica and raised on a cattle ranch near Durango, Colorado. In 1951 he attended Boston University intending to become a minister, and got a degree in 1957. While at BU, he studied poetry with Robert Lowell, who quickly persuaded him that he had no future in that field, and turned to studying prose with Gerald Warner Brace, who encouraged him to write fiction. He taught English and Journalism at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts from 1962 to 1965, and at Wheelock College in Boston until 1999, at which point he retired to become a full-time writer.
He was invited to join the Olympic fencing squad, but had to decline due to a knee injury.He died May 8, 2007 after a brief fight with cancer. He is survived by his wife Shirley, two children (Kimberlie and James) and five grandchildren.
His first novel, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, was published in 1969, and is not a part of any series. His second and subsequent novels have all been a part of the J.W. Jackson series, all of which are set on Martha's Vineyard. J. W. Jackson is a true 20th century hero. J. W. Jackson fights evil in the guise of corrupt land developers, the odd nefarious tourist, and people who kill or threaten his friends or acquaintances. Although J. W. Jackson never asks for his idyllic life on Martha’s Vineyard with his lovely family to be disrupted, he consistently finds himself having to clear his own name, his friends' names, and keeping his family safe. Yet, in between his happenstance crime fighting, J. W. Jackson enjoys the fine but simple things in life: freshly caught seafood, cooking, good friends, family, outdoor showers, and a job well done. J. W. Jackson is quite reminiscence of John D. MacDonald’s hero Travis McGee. To be sure of tasting J. W. Jackson's delightful recipes, look at Delish: The J. W. Jackson Recipes.