The Former Me

In my previous life I was an academic. Not a very successful or prolific one. I spent four and a half years researching and writing my PhD thesis, while on a scholarship and doing paid-by-the-hour teaching (what’s known in the US as being a TA) as well as IT support. After that I was awarded a three-year post-doctoral fellowship that my university extended for nine months. In that time I wrote and published one book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, and edited a collection of stories and essays, Daughters of Earth as well as writing a bunch of essays and papers (and on the sly I wrote short stories and a novel.)

Twas an eight-year-and-three-month career that ended more than four years ago. Yet, people write to me disturbingly often asking me my opinion of the field I studied, about what books I think are at the cutting edge, and curly questions about my two scholarly books which I wrote ages ago and can’t remember a thing about.

I haven’t read any scholarly work since it stopped being my job. I have no idea what the latest work on science fiction is. I don’t even read science fiction novels anymore. It was never my favourite genre and having to read it for more than eight years put me off for life. Though I don’t mind YA science fiction. I pretty much enjoy YA everything.

Not having to read scholarly work any more is one of my greatest joys. Too much of it is turgid and boring, which is why I’m so relieved I don’t have to write it any more. I hated having to second guess every possible objection to every sentence I wrote. It’s a joy not having to write as if I have constipation or to footnote every single argument.

The only things I loved about being an academic—research and hanging out with like-minded people—I still get to do. For the Magic or Madness trilogy I read a scary amount of books on mathematics and number theory (I’m not saying I understood ’em). For the book I’ll be writing after The UFB I’ve been going back and reading gazillions of ballads. I even plan to crack open some ballad scholarship. For the book after that I’ll be doing lots of research on [redacted for reasons of spoileration] and [also redacted for the same reason].

The glorious thing about research for fiction is that if the research doesn’t fit I can ignore it. I’m writing fiction—most often fantasy—so I twist the facts to fit my books not the other way round. Such bliss!

I’ve written five novels since I quit being an academic. I can’t remember my research for the Magic or Madness trilogy so I really can’t remember any of my scholarly projects. I’m not alone in this. I remember hearing Jonathan Lethem say that when Motherless Brooklyn came out he was taken up by the Tourette’s Syndrome community. But by that time he was onto the next book and had forgotten all his Tourette’s research. We writers are a fickle short-term memoried lot.

To sum up: please don’t ask me about my scholarly books. I know nothing.


  1. susan marie groppi on #

    Heh. I’ve -assigned- one of your scholarly books this semester, but I don’t think it would have occurred to me to ask you questions about it, since it seems so obvious that you’ve shaken that particular dust off your shoes years ago.

  2. hillary! on #

    What’s your favorite YA scifi book?

  3. Shara Saunsaucie on #

    I enjoy reading your scholarly books, nonetheless. But don’t worry, no questions. 🙂

  4. Justine on #

    Susan: Thank you! I hope the students find it useful.

    Hillary!: My favourite YA sf book that’s in print is Scott’s Uglies series. I know he’s my old man, but I really enjoy those books.

    I’m more of a fantasy reader though. I can give you a long, long, long list of my fave YA fantasy books.

    Shara: And I’m thrilled that people have read them and found them useful!

  5. orangedragonfly on #

    okay then, what are your favorite ya fantasy books? 😉

  6. hillary! on #

    Yeah! What are your fave fantasy books? And seeing as how I’ve already read *Uglies*, I’d like to know another one of your fave scifi novels, or you could just reccomend one to me that you think is really cool. Hopefully I’ll not have ever read it before.

  7. Rebecca on #

    blargh. i am not much for the academic-y stuff either. but eight years. 😮

    i dislike reading scholarly works as well. *shudder*

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