Archive for May 16, 2012

Don’t retire from – retire to!

Sue Ann Bowling

I spent most of my life as a researcher in atmospheric sciences, teaching atmospheric science and physics for non-majors (mostly astronomy.) I did research, wrote scientific papers, and for a while even wrote a popular science newspaper column published throughout Alaska. And I read – and made up my own – science fiction.

I didn’t seriously think about changing careers, primarily because I had excellent health insurance and retirement benefits and I knew that as a Type 1 diabetic changing jobs would not be simple. Besides, my specialty of ice fog and urban weather in a cold climate was not very portable. But I loved to write for non-scientists, and I loved to make up stories. Eventually, during the last decade of my employment, I began going to local writers’ conferences, taking classes in fiction writing, and writing down some of the stories that filled my head simply to get them out of there!

Fourteen years ago, the university was pushing early retirement. I’d contracted a common diabetic complication, diabetic retinopathy, and I was having severe trouble driving. The bus line in my area had been eliminated, and taxi fare to and from work was prohibitive. I was mostly getting rides with others who worked at the university, but things were getting difficult enough that I decided to retire early and write.

The writing started out just because I enjoyed doing it. The first two books started as one, became three, and finally became Homecoming and Tourist Trap. The first drafts were definitely written while I was still working, but at this point I can’t even find some scenes I later eliminated in the drafts on my computer. I’m sure some were eighteen years ago, and probably twenty years and about five generations of computers was more accurate.

I continued to make up stories in my head, but couldn’t get everything to come together for another novel until I realized that my stories would go together just fine if I changed the sex of one character. Eventually that group of stories became a trilogy. Over the next few years I sent the first two books out to several publishers, collecting rejection slips while writing the first draft of the trilogy.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’m not very good at sending things out, and the cancer and a session on self-publishing at Festival of the Book made me realize that if I ever wanted to share what I’d written I would have to self-publish. I published Homecoming through iUniverse, with the help of the editor who I’d worked with me on the Alaska Science Forum. It received 5-star reviews and took second place in science fiction in one of the contests I entered. The sequel, Tourist Trap, not only took first place in science fiction a year later in the same contest, it won best fiction book of the year.

I have to admit that I enjoy writing a good deal more than I enjoy marketing. And I’m not making any profit at all. But I still get a warm feeling from hearing from people who love my books, and I’m still hoping to publish the trilogy and possibly another novel, now in the planning stage. A second act? Not a very profitable one, but very fulfilling.

Oh, and all the indications are that we caught the cancer in time.

The first six quotes are from Year of the Unicorn, by Andre Norton. All of the quotations were tweeted from @sueannbowling in the last 7 days. As this book was written in 1st person, all of the sentiments are Gillan’s.

“How does one know coming good from coming ill?” It’s a time of change, with the end of the war with Alizon.

“Dared I hope for a wind of change?” A break in the usual routine at Norstead Abbey has Gillan hoping for something new.

“She who expects neither good nor ill has an equal chance of either.” Gillan speaking to Lord Imry when he discovers that she is not Mariamme.

“Why do you deem that which is unknown must likewise be ill?” Gillan to the other brides, before they meet the Were Riders who are to be their husbands.

“To look diligently to shadows is to find them.” Gillan to the other brides, trying to break their fears.

“Perhaps it was better to face that end than go mad of terror.” Gillan’s nightmare, shortly after she has fully realized Herrell’s ability too shape-change.

“If I’d just taken a look behind me now and then…” Sue Ann Bowling, Tourist Trap. Timi, blaming himself for not seeing the storm that strikes the sailboat halfway across the lake.