Nathan Dodge: Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Nathan Dodge

I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer—mainly science fiction—since I was twelve years old. Problem is, life always seemed to intervene.

I grew up, well, not exactly poor, but certainly what would be called “lower middle class.” Often it certainly seemed that we neared the poverty line. I was an only child, certainly not coddled or spoiled, and my parents were loving, nurturing parents, but we didn’t exactly live in the lap of luxury. So, as I was good at math and science, I decided on a career in electrical engineering, for which I seemed to have an affinity—I wanted to have a career where money would not be a problem. Eventually I earned a Ph. D. Along the route to finishing my education, I got married, and children appeared on the scene. Suddenly (a couple of marriages later), children were out of school, I had retired from industry to a teaching position at the University of Texas at Dallas, and I was seventy years old. So far, no writing career.

In 2011, I took a one-day seminar at UTD by Tony Daniel and Bob Sawyer, two amazing authors and speakers, got a few compliments from Tony on a writing exercise, and decided, okay, it’s now or never. It’s not like you’ll be around another fifty years. I started writing and looking online for courses or studies about writing and saw an advertisement for SuperStars Writing Seminars sponsored by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. By golly, I had heard of them! Famous writers that were willing to share their secrets with amateurs like me!

So I signed up—and shortly, I’ll be attending my sixth SSWS. These last five-plus years have been amazing. Whereas a half-decade ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe, with maybe a smidge of talent, I am now a somewhat experienced writer, with lots of wonderful friends and colleagues via SSWS. That talent, though still far from perfected, is at least refined a little. I have even published a bit, though my main accomplishment is writing two series of novels and discovering that I really like writing young adult science fiction. I have two novels submitted to a publisher and I continue to write, although at my age, I realize that I have a limited future in writing (as I am fond of saying, I have a fairly short timeframe in which to become an “overnight sensation”).

As the senior member of the SSWS tribe, (even older than Don Hodge, who was generally regarded as our “elder statesman”), I may be an old fogey to many of the younger members, but I sincerely love and appreciate all of them and treasure my opportunities to interact with them. I am fortunate enough to count Kevin, Rebecca, and Dave Farland among my friends, and David has even edited some of my work. His editings of several of my books have been highlights of my short “career” and major learning experiences in term of our craft. Another huge plus is that I have persuaded my youngest daughter (and superb author) Sharon to join the tribe, so that each February I not only get a chance to renew old friendships but also spend time with her.

The last twelve months have been a real breakthrough year, as I placed a story with Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and saw my writing style hit a major maturation point. Do you believe in the “10,000 hour rule”? I do, and as my six-year experience in writing approaches that mark, I can see that my ability to coax emotions out of the written page has improved a good deal. I’m not a Kevin or Rebecca or Dave by any means, but maybe I’m not a million miles off anymore. Daughter Sharon and I are readying an anthology of stories on alien contact for publication and discussing with some other writers a second anthology on science fiction stories about religion.

Though semi-retired, I still teach an engineering course at UT Dallas, trying to stay active and on the go. I treasure my interactions with tribe members, and one of the highlights of the day is getting on Facebook to see what fellow writers are up to. I thank my lucky stars that I found the SSWS website and for the friendships and relationships that followed. How many men can say that they share a passion for something with a daughter who is nearly forty years younger, plus have an encouraging wife who says “go for it”? Pretty amazing, right?

So, only about sixty years late, I am “living the dream,” finally practicing the profession that I aspired to when I turned twelve years old and wrote long, involved, truly terrible 200-page novels that have long since turned to dust. I look forward to early February about as much as I do to Thanksgiving or Christmas because it gives me the chance to reunite with many friends and colleagues. I offer thanks to all of them—Monique, Vicki, John David, Jason, Phil, Lissa, and so many more—who have befriended and inspired me, and in doing so, made an old guy feel far younger than his years.

The saying goes, “Do what you love in life, and you’ll never have to go to work.” I’m lucky enough to be living that truism, and even if my time horizon is more limited than most, I plan on living what’s left with zest and joy. How lucky can one guy get?

Thanks, Kevin, and Rebecca, and Dave, and Eric, and James, and all the rest who make SSWS so inspiring and fulfilling. I’ll see you in February—and every February to come, so long as the future allows.

 

Bio

After receiving a BSEE from Southern Methodist University and MSEE and PHDEE degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Nathan Dodge practiced engineering in industry for nearly 30 years, retiring from Texas Instruments in 1998. He also worked at General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Joining the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas, he taught full time for 16 years before retiring a second time in 2014, serving as a senior lecturer, teaching four courses per semester and working full-time through the summer season. For five years, he also served as manager of undergraduate electrical engineering laboratories. He still teaches half-time at UTD.

In addition to activities listed above, he also served as a member of the Executive Board of the SMU School of Engineering and Applied Science, a member of the USC School of Engineering Board of Councilors, and a member of the Advisory Board of The University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory.

He was for many years a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas. AT UTD, he was awarded the Electrical Engineering Department Faculty Outstanding Teacher Award in 2005 and 2011, and the UTD President’s Outstanding Teaching Award for Senior Lecturers in 2007.

 

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