Growing up, I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. By middle school, I’d settled on getting a Ph.D. in cosmology and learning about stars, galaxies, and the origin of the Universe. But I also loved going anywhere and everywhere on my single-speed bicycle and reading about mountaineering, polar exploration, and history. And, more than anything, I dreamed of being a science fiction writer, though I figured that was a long shot.
I chased astrophysics all the way through college…but in the process also got near-minors in history and economics, while dabbling in criminology, law, and geology. On the side, I edited a student paper.
It would take me another decade to put this all together. Along the way, I would collect a law degree and a Ph.D. in economics, teach law, work for an engineering consulting firm, and teach undergraduate environmental studies. But by 1986 I was starting to sell newspaper and magazine articles. In 1989, I took the plunge and made freelancing my day job.
As a way to get rich, it is not. But the joy of it is that you learn that anything you’re interested in is worth writing about.
My first book was about a solo bike trip across America that revolutionized my life. But in the course of nearly 4,000 publications, I’ve written about history, law, environment, health…and ultimately science, sometimes even cosmology.
Then, two more events intervened, each as life-changing as the bike trip.
First, I got a contract to write the first of what would turn out to be two books with distance-running legend and Olympic coach Alberto Salazar.
As a kid, running was something I hated. At the 100m dash, I was doomed to be last. At the 400, I might outlast a couple others, but that was it.
Then, during summer internship in Seattle, I decided to climb Mt. Rainier. To get in shape, I started running three miles, three times a week. A hundred miles later, I made the summit…and promptly quit.
Months afterward, on a perfect afternoon in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I realized I missed it. I found my running shoes and went out to explore autumn-bedecked parks and waterways, basking in the crystalline weather that only a Midwest autumn can serve up. A dozen Forest Gump miles later, I was exhausted, but hooked.
So, when I was offered a chance to write books with Alberto Salazar, I snapped it up.
Soon, I was using his lessons to coach a running club, then writing for running magazines, and ultimately, coaching competitors in the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials. If you had told 12-year-old me that I would wind up doing anything like that, I would simply not have believed it.
The other life-changing event was an “impossible” dream come true.
In 1999, I started selling science articles to Analog Science Fiction and Fact (the magazine in which Isaac Asimov made his start). A few years later, I was persuaded to submit a science fiction story, and since then, I’ve sold 53 more stories, mostly to Analog.
A while ago, I realized that my life sounds a lot like a popular Facebook game. If you could meet 12-year-old you and impart one line of advice, what would it be?
“Prepare to be surprised” is all I could say.