Forty Years, Forty Posts #28

In 1993 I went to the University of Maine for an M.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. I proposed to write a tough book about (and possibly for) kids, and was accepted on the strength of a short story about a kid living in rural Minnesota whose father works at a dairy which I meant to turn into a novel. I expected New England to be rustic, pastoral, and cultivate my artistic sensibilities — the perfect environment to write about this small town boy — and I wasn’t disappointed. The University is a footprint in the forest, surrounded by trees and craggy hills, and it’s easy enough to slip off into the woods with a volume of Thoreau or drive to the coast to admire waves crashing on stony shores.

An English professor back in North Dakota had told me about this new-fangled electronic mail, and I set up an account as soon as I arrived in Maine. It’s odd to think that 15 years ago a text-only World Wide Web seemed miraculous, and an afterthought to the far richer world of usenet (text-only discussion threads) and email listservs. When I wasn’t trying to write a novel (mostly in longhand for the first draft) in the drafty wooden house I shared with four other grad students, I was in the computer lab, sending emails to old friends, sharing the chords to REM songs with other fans, and chatting up girls in English Lit usenet groups. I also joined a team of students who were developing multimedia kiosks for the campus, and took to Apple Media Tool and Macromind Director.

I found it all really interesting, so when my groundbreaking novel about troubled youth faltered, I abandoned that project and wrote instead a high-tech thriller that took ten years in the future… it was basically about Second Life several years before it existed. In retrospect, I had the timing more or less right.

That novel never made it into print (Ace and Daw both rejected it), but my interest in computers and this new-fangled Internet paved the way for my day job in educational technology. So I guess if any readers are interested in a high-tech career, you might consider going to a grad program in creative writing off in the woods somewhere.

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