The Admission: A Rogue Academic on Fiction

AuthorThe secret is decidedly “out.” I write fiction. I even get it published. And it’s not literary fiction, either; I write young adult novels about a 16 year old boy suffering from a blood disorder (that may or may not be vampirism). But I am a scholar, too. I work in a museum. I teach a class on the history of science. I edit a medical anthropology journal. The cocktail party query “So what do you do?” is never easily answered, but I find that more often than not, I tell people I am some stripe of academic.

Let me tell you why that’s ironic. For one thing, I am an alternative academic, or “altac.” I have a PhD, but I left a tenure track job (on purpose) to pursue something else in a new field. I work as a research associate and guest curator now, in the Dittrick Medical History Center. I do public engagement, lectures, exhibit work, etc. A cursory glance at my twitter feed will tell you that I’m besotted–I love this job like none I’ve ever had before. But as my chief curator will tell you, museum staff aren’t always highly regarded by other types of historian academics. We are on the fringes, roaming, free-range mavericks. That is partly why I like it. So why–after leaving Academe proper–do I still use that as my moniker? Why not say, for instance, “I am an academic AND a fiction writer”?

I think there is a point in each child’s life when he or she wanted to be an artist. A little older, and maybe half of them would have traded artist for famous writer, just like the ones they read at bedtime… and even after bedtime, with the flashlight. Why do most people give up on that? Well, there’s the whole issue of talent, obviously. But I don’t really think that’s it. I think it’s the years of being told that you’ll starve to death. Or worse, the years of faintly patronizing refrains of “how nice.” We are encouraged to be practical and wage-earning. Pursue what will be taken seriously by others. Chase after careers with easily recognizable tags: Lawyer, doctor, accountant, investor, architect. We are not told to pursue art historian, philosopher, grocer, herbalist, writer, artist, or even home-maker. And we are completely discouraged from pursuing those careers without names, those collections of positions strung together with grant money and hope (ahem, that includes many a museum professional, by the way). So I got into the habit of hiding the fact that I wrote fiction. And this habit continued right into my academic career.

By the time I arrived in my tenure track position, I had learned that fictive output wasn’t terribly well respected even among those getting English degrees. As a matter of fact, I had a graduate colleague who claimed never to read popular fiction; what did the masses know about quality anyway? Even literary fiction is no guarantee of respect. I have a tenured colleague who, three novels later, still struggles to be taken seriously in her department. How is it that academic writers never feel safe admitting that they write? Surely we are helping to create this problem by downplaying the hours of work we’ve poured into something–oh, it’s nothing, it’s only fiction. One answer is that so many people claim to be writers, and we don’t want to get caught up in that. But isn’t that a bit like deciding not to read what’s popular just because it is popular?

So. Where do we find the proud writers? They are the ones with no inhibitions. Sometimes their work may not even be all that fabulous–but they are proud of it. Proud that they put pen to paper. We should be like them. That voice that whispers in your ear (and has since your dissertation) with derision and scorn must be gagged. This is fiction. These are the wide and welcoming plains. Sprint. Cartwheel. Stop the mincing stride that carried you through the minefields and dash with child-like abandon. We won’t always be brilliant. Our novels–my novels–aren’t going to end world hunger, but hey, my monograph isn’t going to do that either. Take the plunge. Broadcast the admission: I am a writer.

Are you?

HIGH STAKES Book I of the Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles is out now. Book II, VILLAGERS releasing soon. See the Goodreads page or find them on Amazon.

High Stakes

Listen up fiction lovers! Series editor Tabatha Hanly here, and today on the Fiction Reboot we have a very special treat: the release of the first Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles novel High Stakes by our very own Dr. Brandy Schillace!

high-stakes-frontcoverNormally these types of features would include some background on the author, maybe why she chose to write in Young Adult Fiction or why her novels focus on the intersections of myth, medicine, fantasy, and reality, but in this case I think we regular readers probably have all of those answers, and while the fascinating Dr. Schillace might be worth talking about some more, it’s more fun to get to the book right away (but here’s some Brandy-centric info for the curious).

For many of you, this is a long-awaited event- having read the first chapter here on the blog, you want her to hurry up and give us the rest already! And now she has! Available in bookstores today, High Stakes offers all the thrills, chills, and awkward teenage spills of a young not-a-vampire dealing with something much more terrifying than drinking blood: girls.

“I’m not a vampire,” insists Jacob Maresbeth, teenage journalist for the school paper. But what is a vampire, really? What happens if you have all the right symptoms, but are a living, breathing sixteen-year-old boy?

Diagnosed with a rare disease, Jake can’t help but wonder. After eight years in and out of the Newport News hospital, he’s had it up to here with doctors, diseases and dishonesty. After all, Jake’s father, respected neurologist Franklyn Maresbeth, has been hiding some of his more unusual symptoms for years… particularly that part about drinking blood.
In High Stakes, Jake records his summer vacation in the home of his maiden aunt, the bangled and be-spectacled Professor Sylvia. If that isn’t bad enough (and it is), Jake and his theatre-loving sister Lizzy must keep the “unofficial” details of Jake’s disorder a secret from Aunt Sylvia’s seductively beautiful graduate student, Zsofia. Will Jake survive a whole month pretending to be an invalid? Will Zsofia weaken his resolve with her flirtatiously dangerous Hungarian accent? Will Jake lose his heart–in more ways than one?

Speaking as one of the privileged few to have read an early edition of High Stakes, I promise it’s engrossing, entertaining, and unexpected, besides, it’s got a pun right in the title, what more could you ask for? (you know…because of the vampires… stakes… nevermind). As always, Brandy’s skill with smooth, witty, debonair characters… that’s a lie– Jake trips over his own tongue and his own head, but don’t worry, that’s even better than if he were funny on purpose. But whether it’s the protagonist himself, his clever little sister Lizzy (little sisters are always the smartest) or the fuzzy academic aunt (whose absent-mindedness may hit a little close to home for some), or even the sultry graduate student (someone has to give us a good name!), someone in The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles will leave you pestering Brandy for the sequel which will be coming out shortly after High Stakes!