My Life In Words
Who I am. What I do. Why you might like it…
HI! I’M STUART, YOUR FELLOW ADVENTURER.
I’m a real southerner, I’m from South Dakota, where the Wild West and the Space Age rub elbows with relics of the time of the dinosaurs. My teachers thought I’d become an engineer. I wanted to terraform Mars or be an astronaut or a billionaire who hires astronauts to terraform Mars–or something. I grew up roaming prairies and ghost towns, hiking ancient trestle bridges and poking around old dumps and mine claims and hearing family lore like pages from a Steinbeck novel. I made “radio dramas” on reel-to-reel magnetic tape and animated shorts on 8mm film. Then it was on to junk yard robots and ill-conceived flying machines made of lawn furniture and swing set parts.
Naturally, I became a writer.
That’s worked out pretty well. I won the prestigious Writers of the Future Contest and got flown to LA for a week long writers workshop taught by (among others) Tim Powers (whose book, On Stranger Tides inspired the Pirates of the Carrebean) and Orson Scot Card (Ender’s Game). Then I won the Jim Baen Memorial Award and went back to LA, where I met Rod Roddenberry, Harry Hamlin, and the renowned scientists Dr. Frank Drake and Dr. Freeman Dyson. I was also a finalist for Interzone’s James White Award and I’ve won the Analab Reader’s Poll for best novelette at Analog Science Fiction and Fact, where I’m now a regular.
Along the way, I’ve become a Quora Top Writer for my science writing, and an editor of scifi anthologies, and I’ve just been booked for my first speaking engagement, so that’s cool.
SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW…
I once played Dracula on stage
I am often told I have a light footstep….er, I mean, it was only a college production and I scared a little kid at intermission, but I learned that nothing is too frightening if it’s a role you’re prepared for, and most of life is a role. Also, capes are awesome, just awesome.
I almost went into filmmaking
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Ray Harryhausen. I organized the neighborhood kids to make animated films on 8mm film using borrowed Star Wars toys, garage sale equipment, and whatever special effects we could dream up. We made pyrotechnics from fireworks and rocket motors and used a camera with a broken shutter to send the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace.
The science fair changed my life
Growing up, I was a bit of a goof-off, the underachiever who just squeaks by on brains without working very hard. Then, in the eighth grade, my best friend contracted encephalitis after I’d helped him build a robotic arm for the science fair. He survived but was unable to return to school the next year, and mostly out of loyalty to him, I completed the project alone. This required that I design, build, and program a simple microcomputer. I didn’t go on any dates that year, but I grew the hell up. And yeah, I went to state. Thanks, Kirk. I’ll always love ya, man.
I’m a software designer
My first salaried job was at Softdisk Publishing. I sat with John Carmack, the flipping genius who would later write Doom and Quake. The gamer guys were crazy talented and had the moxie to go for broke, but they played their music loud–really loud. My writing and programs were sold through bookstores in malls throughout the land. Which was–and remains–fairly surreal.
For my part, I had read about the NASA programmers who saved the Voyager spacecraft after its main dish failed by reprogramming it–millions of miles out in space–to use newly invented data compression techniques. Now, that was cool! I ended up in corporate IT, leading an application development team. That was a blast. I got to use creative design to help people work faster and save money. It was really all about communication, though, and soon I was writing about it for TechTarget.com.
I taught myself to type
By the time I won the science fair, I was earning a tidy income writing educational software for the Apple Iie. In school, I wrote games on the TRS-80s in class and copied typing assignments from the other machines. When Mrs. Murphy had finally had enough of my shenanigans, I went home and wrote myself a typing tutor based on a one-page magazine article about touch typing. A week later, I could type as well as anyone in class.
My mom was a prophet
A schoolteacher who never gave her literary dreams a shot, she named me Stuart because she thought it a good name for a writer. She also taught me the importance of clear, concise communication, “Son,” she said, “the next time you see a snake, don’t yell Mommy, Mommy–yell Snake! Snake!”
My dad was a professional killer
Once, he lectured me for an hour about the poor people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I didn’t realize until after he’d died that he wasn’t too keen, as bombardier/navigator on a B52, on his role as gatekeeper to Armageddon. But he did his duty in the great cold-war sand off, and the gates stayed shut. He taught me how to make things, he kept us safe, and despite his considerable failings, I was proud of him.
My dog thinks I’m magic
My Aussie dog is smart, but she has no concept of the machinery behind the elevator doors. She once stayed with us at a hotel and quickly adapted to riding the lift. Now, if I walk her up to any wall, she’ll sit, look up, and wait for it to open.
I married an aquanaut
Yes, my wife used to be a mermaid. And a science teacher. And an Army combat field medic (and a crack shot with an M16). And a park ranger. And a health and safety manager for a billion dollar ship–among other things. She’s special that way.
A manatee once ate my shorts
Manatees are big, beautiful creatures with otherworldly bad breath. Just sayin’. You’ve been warned. You know–in case it ever comes up.