O! for a blog of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.

Okay, I’ll begin with some exciting news:  Yesterday I finished the first draft of my short story, Penal Colony.  I plan to rewrite/edit PC before finishing In the Shade; I think it’ll be more fun that way, though I reserve the right to change my mind.  Completing Penal Colony first will also lead to a bit more separation between the stories’ publication dates, and I find that more aesthetically pleasing than the alternative.

Yesterday I also completed what was, for me, a traumatic moment in Unanimity.  I say traumatic because some truly terrible things happened to characters who have been in the story nearly since the beginning, and whom I like a lot.  In association with that tragedy, another larger-level horrific event happens, which will in turn galvanize the climax of the novel.  In other words, since things are always darkest before the dawn—at least in conventional narrative—that increasing darkness points toward the story’s resolution.

Which is just a pompous way of saying that I’m getting within sight of the end of the novel, and I’m excited about it.  Of course, after that, the real work begins.

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned this before, but I know a gifted local young artist, and I’ve preliminarily engaged her to do the cover designs for my next book, Neko/Neneko.  This will be a much more lighthearted tale than Unanimity, and it will also be much shorter.  I’m excited about this artist’s work; I can barely wait to see it, so I’ve already given her the rough idea of the plot, and some thoughts of what I’d like the cover to be, but I also encouraged her to brainstorm ideas of her own.  I’ll be deeply happy if I’m able to get her some public exposure that boosts her career.  She’s not a big computer/internet person, and she doesn’t promote herself.  She’s “officially” an amateur, in that she doesn’t get paid for her work but merely does it for her own pleasure and fulfillment.  At least, she was an “amateur” until I commissioned her to do work, and I’ve already paid her a bit, which is another happy thing for me.

More tangentially:  I’m seriously considering doing a second edition of Mark Red, and probably Welcome to Paradox City as well.  I’m just not quite satisfied with their current forms, and I want to make them better.  I mean to publish each of the stories in WtPC as “Kindle Singles” anyway, and I’d revise/reedit them before release, so I might as well go whole hog.  (I’ll also add my author’s notes to the books in their second additions).

In other news, I’ve almost come to the decision just to stop producing “My heroes have always been villains.”  I get few responses to these entries, relative to my other posts, even though I enjoy them very much, which becomes a bit disheartening over time.  Maybe I’m just not finding my target audience.  The love of villains—as characters and essential plot drivers, not in real life—may be more niche than I thought it was.  I would have expected that most lovers of good fantastic literature would consider a great villain essential to any adventure, and well worthy of discussion.  Maybe they do, but I just write about them in a boring way.  Or maybe I need to promote those posts in the right venues.

This leads to a personal conundrum (one that my beloved villains would not share):  It’s very hard for me to develop the functional narcissism necessary to promote my posts (and other writings) as aggressively as would probably be optimal.  For instance, I think may of my Iterations of Zero essays would get a lot of interaction and feedback if I posted them on certain Facebook pages that deal with the various subjects they address, but I feel awkward about posting them, fearing that I’ll come across as an egotistical asshole.  The peculiar thing is, I’d feel far less awkward about thus promoting someone else’s writing.

It’s a strange mind I inhabit, and I’m not sure the best way to use it optimally, despite having been its nominal pilot for almost half a century.

Well, one good principle is not to give up, so I’m certainly not going to stop writing, probably not until I die.  But I may end “My heroes have always been villains,” not as a matter of giving up, but simply to allocate my resources better—time being the most strictly limited resource.  If any of you want to argue me out of that decision…well, I’m always open to persuasion, as a matter of principle.

For now, as Forrest Gump would put it, that’s all I have to say about that.  I wish you all well.  Next Thursday is Thanksgiving here in America, so I may or may not produce a blog post.  In case I don’t, I hope those of you who celebrate have a truly happy day.  I hope you get together with your families and have a wonderful, gargantuan feast.

If possible, send a little thought for food my way when you do.

TTFN

My heroes have always been villains, Episode V: Tom Marvolo Riddle

I first read the Harry Potter books as an adult—I began them when book four was still only available in hardback—so my reaction to them and their characters might be expected to differ from how I responded to those tales that had first begun to grip me when I was younger, such as The Lord of the RingsYet, like so many millions of others, I was enthralled by Rowling’s work.  When the new volumes were published, I was one of the midnight-pickup pre-buyers, waiting in the bookstores in the wee hours for my copies the day they came out.

Unlike many of my earlier reactions to such sagas of good versus evil, I was not—at first—particularly interested in the bad guy, Lord Voldemort.  Based on the first three books, which only showed us Voldemort in fragmented or highly reduced form, he seemed a petty villain to me.  Racist and otherwise bigoted, he—if his followers were any indication—was simply a spoiled bully, a reflexive defender of ancient and unearned privilege raging against a more modern, rationalist, and egalitarian way of life, embodied most fully in Dumbledore.  I did enjoy the plays on words Rowling made with his name, but he himself didn’t seem very interesting.  He didn’t elicit a feeling of overwhelming threat and natural force like Sauron does, and I thought it a bit cheeky for anyone to call him “The Dark Lord,” a title I scarcely felt he merited.  He didn’t have the tragic sense of twisted, broken, could-have-been greatness embodied in the likes of Darth Vader and Doctor Doom.  And he certainly didn’t have the cool, detached intellect, that sense of an almost alien intelligence, that Hannibal Lecter possesses. Continue reading

Since brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will blog brief

Good morning, all!  It’s the first day of November, and the day after Halloween (funny how often it seems to work out like that).  I hope those of you who celebrated had an enjoyable time yesterday making light of the dark things by pretending to be them, and laughing, and having some candy and other treats.  Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I dressed up for work (as a dark cowboy…sort of an amalgam of the Man in Black and the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower), but I really didn’t do anything else to celebrate.  I got home too late—and was too darn tired—to participate in giving out candy to trick-or-treaters, so I basically just laid around in the evening, trying and failing to get a good night’s sleep.

My writing goes well, though more slowly than I would prefer.  Unanimity approaches one of its most terrible moments, after which events will come truly to a head, and the conclusion will be rendered.  It won’t be a happy ending, I’m afraid, but the “bad guy” will be defeated, and the surviving good people will do their best to get on with their lives.  This is often the best for which we can hope, whether in real life or in stories.  Very few characters—real or imaginary—have the option of sailing into the West, into the Undying Lands, to find healing.

I’ve thrown a little reference, or whatever one might call it, to my story Hole for a Heart into Unanimity, since some of the characters in the novel happen to pass by the site where that short story took place.  It seems that these tales take place in the same world, or at least very similar ones, and the presence of the malefactor from the short story is felt by, and may even have a slight influence on, those characters in Unanimity who come near it.

Penal Colony is now very nearly finished.  Once it is, I’ll complete In the Shade before going back to rewrite and edit either short story.  And of course, most importantly, Unanimity will continue to its conclusion.  All this is, of course, assuming nothing bad happens to me in the meantime.  We do live, in some senses, in a horror story—potentially, at least—and though for the most part we exist in the times of respite, the shadow still always takes on new forms and grows again.  The trouble with real life is that the horrors are often less easily spotted and recognized for what they are than in books, plays, movies, and the like.  They are often within us more than they are outside, and we become our own Great Old Ones, our own Crawling Chaos.

Maybe that’s part of why we enjoy dressing up on Halloween so much.

While we’re on the subject of darkness and horror, next week is the second Thursday of the new month, and I’m overdue to write a new episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  I look forward to it, really, and I think I know which villain I’m going to choose, though I may change my mind.  In any case, those of you who are interested—if such people exist—can also look forward to it.  This is, again, all and always assuming that some dark force or entity hasn’t swallowed me up whole between now and then.  We can only wait and see.

With that, short though it’s been, the time is gone, and the song is over…though in my case, today, I didn’t honestly think I had more to say.  I offer you all my condolences in facing the inevitable and abrupt onslaught of Christmas carols, decorations, shopping, and the like which will begin to rear their heads by today, if they haven’t so reared already.  Don’t get me wrong, Christmas, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice…these things are fine and fun, but the concept creep, and the time creep, of the promotional lead-in has gotten slightly out of hand.  I hope you find joy in it, no matter how overpowering or overdone it gets.

TTFN

‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and blog such bitter business as the bitter day would quake to look on.

I started this morning with no idea what I was going to write.  There isn’t much new to report with respect to my stories.  Progress on Unanimity and on Penal Colony goes on at a steady pace.  I haven’t started any new projects, and I don’t mean to do so until at least Penal Colony and In the Shade are both finished.

On the other hand, today is the last Thursday before Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.  Last October, as a celebration of the season, I wrote the first draft of Hole for a Heart, a quite Halloween-ey tale.  The story actually takes place in late spring, but its atmosphere is decidedly redolent of Halloween, and I pay lip-service to that fact during the story.

I’m not entirely sure why Halloween has always appealed to me so much.  Part of it probably has to do with its arrival shortly after my birthday, but that annual milestone hasn’t pleased me for quite some time, and I still like Halloween just as much.  Similarly, when I was younger, there’s little doubt that the acquisition of candy had no small influence on my holiday joy, but I’m not that big a candy person anymore, yet I’m still very much a Halloween person.*

Part of the attraction is that this is the most quintessentially autumnal of the holidays, and autumn has always been my favorite season, entirely unrelated to candy, to birthdays, and to any other more parochial concerns.  I simply love the feel of this time of year, especially as it is up north.  The changing of the colors of the leaves in southeastern Michigan, where I grew up, remains one of the most magical spectacles of nature.  Also, I was one of those supposedly rare kids who really liked going back to school after summer vacation (I think there are more of us than we’ve been led to believe).

Autumn has also almost always been the time of year when I restart the Tolkien cycle, beginning sometimes with The Silmarillion but often with The Hobbit, and always proceeding to The Lord of the Rings.  The fact that Frodo begins his adventure in the autumn surely contributes to my associational joy with the time of year.  That happy connection has only been bolstered by the fact that the Harry Potter books begin on Halloween (albeit on a tragic note).

Deeper than this, though, is that I’ve always felt an affinity for dark stories (in case you couldn’t tell) and Halloween is the holiday of the shadowy tale; I don’t think I’m anything like alone in this.  It’s not a coincidence that Stephen King is one of the most enduringly successful authors the world has yet seen.  Halloween is a time when huge numbers of people, at least in America, indulge their inner King, and embrace stories of the dark, the supernatural, the otherworldly.  For some people, it seems to be the only time when they use their imaginations at all.

Oddly enough, I’ve never really found Halloween scary, not even when I was a young child (no, not even the movie).  It’s just too much fun, frankly, and that’s true even of most scary movies and stories.  Weirdly, although I love most of Stephen King’s work, only two of his novels have ever frightened me (The Shining, and, more prominently, Pet Sematary).  It’s odd, but horror stories in general seem to affect me much the way Halloween does:  I feel them deeply, when they’re good, and I enjoy them; they resonate powerfully with me; but I don’t usually find them frightening.

The exceptions to this rule are interesting, and probably instructive.  Only a rare few books have literally made me feel afraid for any noticeable period of time, including the two listed above, as well as Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and—the long-reigning champion—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has perhaps the best opening and closing paragraphs of any spooky story ever.  A few Lovecraft short stories, and more Stephen King short stories—as well as some Orson Scott Card stories, surprisingly enough—succeed in this area, as do intermittent others (most notably, the bone-chilling story Nadelman’s God by T.E.D. Klein).

In movies, the phenomenon is rarer still, with crowning glory going to the original Alien (Event Horizon was pretty darn spooky, too; also—though lamentably stupid as a science fiction story—as a horror movie, Signs really and majorly creeped me out…possibly because I first watched it in a hotel room, alone, at night, far from home).

Obviously, I like writing stories that might make other people frightened, but I don’t approach the writing with the idea of doing anything calculated to build a scary atmosphere, to make people feel uncomfortable, to surprise them, to worry them, etc.  At least, I don’t do it consciously.  It’s the darkness, rather than the scariness, that seems pivotal to me, both in my writing and my reading.  The same holds for my enjoyment of other literary forms, from plays, to movies, to video games, to TV shows.

And, of course, autumn is that time when darkness is gaining ground, with Halloween its most prominent celebration.  After Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday, which is roughly at the equinox, the days in the northern hemisphere grow ever shorter, and darkness is ascendant.  In the shadows, where there is less blinding, glaring, external input entering the mind, the imagination can be brought more readily into play.  The mind’s eye sees most clearly in the dark.

Well, it seems I did have a fair amount to write today, after all.  I could probably go on and on about this topic, but that might be truly horrifying, and not in a fun way; the “Chinese water torture” isn’t very dramatic as torments go, but it does sound maddening.  I’ll spare you such erosion and hold off further discussions of darkness and stories for later times.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy your Halloween (those of you who observe it).  If you get a chance, dress up for it.  Have some candy.  Laugh at and about scary things.

But you might want to avoid going out by yourself too long after night falls.  Even the darkest of entities like to give themselves treats from time to time, and a solitary human is a juicy morsel indeed.

TTFN


*This isn’t quite the same—nor is it as bad—as being one of the Autumn People, à la Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not entirely orthogonal, either.

Come what come may, time and the hour blogs through the roughest day.

Well, Thursday has caught me off-guard again.  This really shouldn’t happen, considering that it comes every week at the same time—like clockwork, or at least like calendar-work—but I guess I’ve got a mental block in that area.  The days do all seem much the same, with very little that stands out from its surroundings; certainly, there exist plain few inherently exciting events.  Goodness knows the news cycle is too depressingly idiotic to vouchsafe much attention without losing IQ points each time; it’s probably worse for your brain than sniffing glue, though I’ve never tried the latter, and I don’t intend to do so.  If glue-sniffing is worse than paying attention to popular and social media—well, then it is very bad indeed.

Of course, there are exciting things coming in my personal future.  The writing of Unanimity proceeds well, with the story arcing gracefully (I hope) toward its climax, but it continues to be longer than I expect.  I’m pretty sure the first draft is going to be over half a million words before it’s through!  But I do expect it to be complete before the end of the year, and then rewriting/editing can begin, leading ultimately, in the fullness of time, to the release of the novel.  So that’s fun.

I also finished rewriting the original portion of In the Shade, that short story I pulled out and decided to complete.  I am not, however, going to finish writing the story until after I’ve completed at least the first draft of Penal Colony, which is going more quickly now that I’m not splitting my secondary writing time between it and In the Shade.  I expect that both short stories will be complete, rewritten/edited, and released well before Unanimity is ready to go.

I have a tentative plan to put together a new collection of short stories before long, since I write them with some frequency, and release them as the equivalent of “Kindle Singles.”  I know there are people out there who prefer to read physical, paper-and-ink books, and sympathize strongly with that point of view (though I do love being able to carry my library around in my pocket).  Since publishing even my short stories (which tend to be long) in paperback individually just makes for a product that’s probably too expensive for what you get, I like the idea of releasing a new collection of stories, like Welcome to Paradox City, but with more stories than that collection.  I’ve even started playing around with title ideas, like Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, or something along those lines.

And just now, literally, as I wrote this, it occurred to me that—going in the other direction—I could also publish the individual short stories from Welcome to Paradox City as Kindle additions.  These would be The Death Sentence, If the Spirit Moves You, and of course the titular Paradox City.  Interesting.

Of course, if I release these as individual works, it might be tempting to produce audio versions of the stories, which could be fun and rewarding, but which could reinstantiate the trap in which I use a lot of my spare time recording and editing.  I really need to find a way to dedicate more of myself to writing, and its associated pursuits, in the rapidly diminishing (and highly unpredictable) life that remains to me.  Maybe I should set up a Patreon account or something.

Discussing audio leads to an amusing little side-note.  As I think I’ve commented before, I have a longish daily commute, and I like to listen to podcasts and audio books during the trip.  Well, recently, I was fiddling through my phone and found the old, unedited recordings of some of my short stories and the early chapters of The Chasm and the Collision.  I listened to one of these on the way home the other day, and it was quite amusing to hear all my mistakes and retakes, and the inevitable copious profanity that went along with them.  But it was also surprisingly fun simply to listen to myself reading my stories, so last night I opened up the YouTube app on my phone and listened to the first part of Hole for a Heart on my way home.  I don’t know if this is the most narcissistic thing that’s ever been done, but it certainly ranks right up there in my personal experience.  It was, however, honestly enjoyable.  I wonder what, if anything, that says about me, but it’s at least reassuring in that I still find the story to be a good one, and it makes me want to write more.

I just wish I could finish Unanimity more quickly.  Sometimes I think I’m never going to live to see it published, or even to see the finished first draft.  Probably that’s too melodramatic—I do tend to be a bit dark, but then again, if you read my writing, you know that already.

And that’s pretty much it for today, on this surprisingly unexpected Thursday.  I hope I haven’t shortchanged you, but then again, if you enjoy my writing, there’s plenty of it available commercially.

TTFN!

They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time blogs many parts

Well, you wouldn’t think it would catch me by surprise—it’s something that happens every month, after all, in an entirely predictable fashion—but I didn’t realize until this morning that today was the second Thursday of October and is thus the “official” day for me to write an episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Obviously, since I wasn’t thinking about it, I haven’t given a second’s thought to what villain I should discuss today.  Rather than pick a random baddie from my memory’s hat and produce an off-the-cuff essay on him or her, I’ll push that project back until next week or next month.  I apologize if anyone out there was looking forward to a new episode today.  Then again, if there are such people, I haven’t heard from them; I’d be quite gratified if you’d make yourself or yourselves known.  I can exculpate myself a bit for my oversight by admitting that I’ve been rather worn down, tired, and slightly ill, this week (see my IoZ entry here for a brief discussion of the nature and effects of my troubles with insomnia), so I’m behind my mental curve.

Even as I wrote that last sentence, I realized that I’ve often made comment in these, my public venues, about being under the weather.  Now, I don’t think that I’m too whiny and hypochondriacal, as a general rule, but I certainly don’t seem to operate at my physical optimum much of the time.  It’s a problem that I need to keep in mind, going forward.

I will say this, in tangential reference to the above issue:  I’m glad that I decided to put my audio productions on indefinite hiatus.  It’s a melancholy gladness, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because I really do like those audio productions, and if you’re interested you’re welcome to partake of the ones I’ve made, either here, or on my YouTube channel.  But making them requires a lot of mental energy and physical time.  Since putting the audios on pause, I’ve gotten more writing done on Unanimity, and I’ve worked steadily on my two other short stories during the the hours I would have spent recording and editing the audio, leading to an increased total output of about five pages a day versus only three on average (or roughly 2500 words versus 1500) before.  This is a serious improvement.

It would be nice to be able to do all this full-time, instead of in the interstices between actions of daily necessity required to put food on the table, so to speak.  Then I could write just as much and still make my audio files, which would be a lot of fun.  I hope someday to reach that state, but I obviously haven’t done it yet.

Unanimity goes well, though, and is honestly approaching its climax and resolution (I swear!  No, really!).  I still expect—if I work on it as steadily as I ought—its first draft to be finished before the end of the year, and probably well before that long novel is ready to be published, I’ll release one or both of the short stories I’m working on, Penal Colony and In the Shade.

It’s amazing how something can take so many hours, so much effort, and yet yield a product that can be consumed within the course of, say, a few days for a novel, or at most an hour or two for a short story.  It would be nice if I could give the readers of my work as much lasting entertainment as I get durable engagement from producing them, but I guess that’s the nature of all creative arts.  Even a small, independent film is created through untold hours of effort by astonishing numbers of people, to be then enjoyed within the space of two hours.  A great painting or sculpture can take perhaps less total work, but is then enjoyed in mere tiny, minutes-long chunks by even the most passionate enthusiasts of the arts.

I wonder how many people would have to read my books to make the “man-hours” of reading surpass the man-hours of production; it’s a hurdle I’d love to cross with all my stories.  I don’t know if anyone’s done the math on such a question—I assume that the numbers would be different for different people and different works—but if they have, I’d love to know about it.  I’m sure that Stephen King, for instance, passed that milestone decades ago.  He probably passed it with Carrie, and I doubt that he’s ever caught up in the time since, despite the staggering pace at which he writes.  To match such an outcome is a high bar for anyone to set, but as I’ve long said, only those who attempt the impossible can achieve the unbelievable.

And now, I think that will just about do it for today.  I’ll say, tentatively at least, that I’m going to put off the next episode of “My heroes have always been villains” until November, unless I receive any complaints or protests from those who don’t want to wait.

I’ll close with an exhortation—probably preaching to the converted, but there it is—that you all be cautious of falling prey too much, too often, to the easy distractions of videos and memes and other short-attention forms of entertainment.  Keep reading.  Read “real” books, read e-books (they’re just two forms of the same thing), read fiction and nonfiction, read articles and blogs, read poems, read plays, but do keep reading.  Written language is the lifeblood of civilization, and stories are the default mode of human thought (or so it seems).  To read, and to write, are affirmations of and contributions to the health and longevity of the human project and are well worth anyone’s time.

So I am convinced.  I may, perhaps, be biased.

TTFN

He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not blog upon his like again.

 

Hamlet:  My father—methinks I see my father.

Horatio:  Where, my lord?

Hamlet:  In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

-Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2

 

It’s Thursday, October 4th, the day of my father’s birthday.  He would have turned seventy-nine today if he were still alive, but he died just under two years ago.  I don’t remember the exact date of his death, and I see no reason to memorialize it.

My father and I didn’t always get along; in many ways we were too alike to avoid butting heads, especially since one of the ways we were alike is a deep stubbornness.  But my father was an admirable man in many ways; he always took care of his family to the best of his ability, which was usually very good indeed.  He and my mother were married right up until the day he died, which is more than I can say about myself, and I admire them both for it.  That they were best friends and constant companions is an unarguable fact, and they got along as well as any long-married couple I’ve ever known.

It was from my parents—both of them—that I got my love of reading, and more indirectly, my love of writing, of making stories.  It was my father who received as a gift, and who proudly wore, a tee-short quoting Erasmus in saying, “When I get a little money, I buy books.  If any is left, I buy food and clothes.”  This wasn’t quite my parents’ literal attitude, but it was damn close.

I didn’t quite realize how proud and supportive my parents were of my love of reading and writing until in college I came to a point of crisis.

I had always intended—for as long as I thought about it—to become a scientist, though I’ve also always written stories, books, plays, and even screenplays (the latter too laughable to discuss).  By the time I was ready for university, I had decided that I wanted to be a physicist.  I went to Cornell as a Physics Major, and in my first year did quite well in all my physics and mathematics coursework (while also thoroughly enjoying my freshman seminars, first Fantasy and then Writing About Film).  But then, during the summer after freshman year, I underwent open-heart surgery to correct an atrial septal defect (quite a large one) that had only been discovered that year.

In later times, in medical school, I learned more about some of the central nervous system effects of open-heart surgery, and I even wrote a review paper on the nature of the (usually temporary) cognitive decline that heart-lung bypass in heart surgery frequently causes.  Its effects in triggering mood disorders such as depression (something for which I already have a familial and personal predisposition) are probably more widely known than the temporarily diminished mental capacity that comes to most people who have undergone such surgery.  The state of the art may have improved since 1988, but I doubt the problem has been eliminated.

Anyway, I returned to college at the beginning of sophomore year (only two weeks after my surgery!), and over the course of that semester and year, with the combination of a low-grade-sometimes-veering-into-high-grade depression and a dip in my mental acuity, I had a hard time keeping up with the higher level math courses (and the physics was getting into the intro to serious quantum mechanics and other areas, with matters requiring vector calculus, tensors, partial differential equations, and all that fun stuff).  I think if I’d just had the temporary cognitive impairment and not the depression as well, I might have muscled my way through, and brushed up on things once my mental clarity improved.  Alas, not only was I not so lucky, I also had no idea why I was having such difficulty; I felt merely that I was an intellectual and moral failure as a Physics Major.

I didn’t fail any classes or anything like that—I don’t think I got anything below a low B—but I could see myself having more and more trouble as I went forward, if things remained as they were.  At the time, I was already close friends with the woman I would eventually marry, and she had read some of my writing (and really liked it).  She talked to me long and hard about my options, and with her help, I came to the decision to switch majors to English.

I was mortified about this.  I felt that I was failing myself in some important way, and worse, that I was letting my parents down, but I didn’t see any alternative.  So I called them, and I very nervously told them the decision I had made…

They were practically ecstatic.  My father in particular said that he just thought that English suited me better, because I loved reading and writing so much, and was good at it.  They’d always been supportive of my love of science, too, of course, and had been behind me all the way in my goal to become a scientist, but they’d apparently thought that such a career wouldn’t fulfill me…though they were wise enough not to try to change my oh-so-stubborn mind.  I think my parents—and particularly my father—would have been prouder of having a son who was an author than of having a son who won the Nobel Prize in Physics.  I hadn’t ever thought of that before.  But the fact that they were so supportive of, and even excited by, my choice was an incredible, tremendous relief and encouragement.

I’ve occasionally wistfully looked back and wished I’d gone farther in my formal studies of physics and math, but…well, those are things I can study on my own, and I do so when the mood strikes me.  But as an English Major, I realized my deep and abiding love of Shakespeare (at one point I took two Shakespeare courses at the same time; that was fun!), and I learned of the works of Spenser and Mallory and Milton.  I read Paradise Lost (my personal nomination for the greatest English language work of all time), and innumerable other great works beside, ancient and modern.  I’ve never regretted those exposures.  Who would?  I also learned how quickly I can write at need, when I discovered that I’d mis-marked the due date for my honors thesis, and I had to write the whole thing in one weekend.  That was pretty stupid, but maybe I can blame it on the residua of my cognitive impairment, which thankfully seems to have faded completely in the intervening years.

Anyway, it was thanks to my parents’ support, and my father’s words—and the example he set—that I was able to feel good about my choice.  We had some pretty serious interpersonal problems in subsequent years, but eventually we put them behind us, and though I didn’t become an “official” writer directly after college (I went to medical school instead…go figure) I am finally now finally fulfilling my destiny, as the Jedi and the Sith are prone to say.*

I’m tremendously happy that my father lived long enough to see me publish my first few books, though I wish he’d been alive to read The Chasm and the Collision, since his advice had real, beneficial impact on its style.

And now I have my own version of his tee-shirt that reads, “When I get a little money, I buy books.  If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” It was a gift from my sister, and I come as close to embodying the words as my parents did, if not closer.  I’m more like my father, probably, than I am like any other person I’ve ever known.  I’m a little more playful than he ever was—he was quite a serious man most of the time, and he was exceeded in stubbornness only by his youngest son—but he’s still the only other person I’ve known who had the patience and desire to spend as much time in zoos and museums as I do.  He always loved to learn new things, and I consider that shared love (which also came from my mother) perhaps the greatest gift that I could ever have been given.

I miss him terribly, and my mother as well.  But as Arthur Bach said in the original movie, Arthur, “I was lucky to know him at all.”


*If there is such a thing as destiny, then surely it’s impossible to do anything but fulfill one’s destiny.