author note: as excerpted from my pending short story compilation, Lights in the Deep . . . .
I spent a long time laboring anonymously—without publication—before I broke into the field with my first story sale: a win in the prestigious L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. If my ego in my late teens was big enough to make me think that I could be a professional science fiction man, that same ego had been pummeled and punished enough (by the time I was in my mid-thirties) for me to be grateful for any and every scrap of success or assistance I could lay my hands on.
Which is why I was both floored and delighted to receive the unexpected tutelage of a man named Mike Resnick.
Who is Mike?
Mike Resnick’s been nominated for more science fiction and fantasy awards than practically any other living science fiction writer. He’s also won more awards than a dozen bestsellers combined. He’s published tens of novels and hundreds of pieces of short fiction. He’s one of the genre’s premier historians. And he’s got a terrific sense of humor.
Basically, Mike’s the kind of writer other writers enjoy being around. Because he’s not only good at what he does, he’s quite amiable too. And he tells amazing stories that seem to span the entire existence of written science fiction, from its origins all the way up to the present—as if Mike’s been there for it all.
Which, in a way, he has.
Like Shelby Foote from Ken Burns’s classic Civil War.
So what could a man like Mike possibly want to do with me?
When I first met Mike I had precisely two story sales under my belt: my Writers of the Future Finalist that won, and my Writers of the Future Finalist that did not win; but was purchased for the pages of Analog by Stan Schmidt.
Not bad, for a brand new kid (adjectives for seniority are relative in the written arts; a “kid” in the field stands a good chance of being somewhere close to middle age.)
Maybe it was the fact that Mike was arbitrarily assigned to be the Writers of the Future judge who handed me my trophy on the stage? Maybe it was because Mike is a compulsive collaborator who greatly enjoys “paying forward” by helping new and up-and-coming writers any way he can? Maybe it was (as Mike has often told me) because I was wearing my U.S. Army dress blues the night of the big awards ceremony, so that when Mike was later asked to write a military story for a war-themed science fiction anthology, he remembered me, and thought I might be able to bring my military experience to the mix—if we collaborated?
Of course, Mike doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He likes to work with beginners, but he prefers to work with beginners who are also winners. And by the time Mike and I got around to completing our first story together—picture Rocky Balboa and Mickey Goldmill, sweating it out—I’d already sold several more stories to Analog magazine, and had picked up an Analog Analytical Laboratory readers’ choice award for my first Analog publication. A rarity, given the fact that when my story “Outbound” was published, nobody knew who I was, and the story had to win the readership on its own merits. Something I am still proud of to this day.
Mike respects the science fiction digests. Thus I think he trusted my progress. I believe he looked at what I was doing, and he decided that I was the kind of guy who would be worth his effort.
That Mike and I would go on to build a genuine friendship was purely a matter of serendipity.
Not everyone in the genre—or the business—has the kind of personality that meshes with everyone else’s. In fact, there are times when it seems like the genre is filled to overflowing with personalities bound and determined not to mesh.
Mike was never like that.
So while I had managed to brush up against a few professionals who treated me like I’d crawled out from under a rock (you have to love people who pat themselves on the back for being “open minded” and then stick their noses in the air at the first sign of actual difference) Mike was one of the first noteworthy pros in the field to take a look at me, and reach out his hand. As if to say, “Welcome to the big leagues, kid, we’re glad to have you.”
And that’s been precisely Mike’s attitude with me ever since.
I can’t ever hope to repay him for how much he’s helped me. In big and small ways. By opening doors, passing along advice, teaching me craft, giving me caveats and fair warnings about the business, as well as nudging me into professional circles where I might not have had the temerity (or permission) to tread on my own.
I said before that Mike’s a compulsive collaborator who loves to help new people just coming into the field.
I learned that there’s a phrase for such people: Mike’s Writer Children.
Not bound by flesh or blood, we are Mike’s progeny just the same.
Because he has invested in us.
Time. Wisdom. Opportunities.
And a whole lot more.
Mike Resnick has literally welcomed me into his home, where he and his lovely wife Carol have treated me like a son.
I’ve sat in Mike’s basement office with him at four in the morning, watching old recordings of World Science Fiction Convention speeches by some of the lates and the greats in the genre.
I’ve sat on panels with Mike—as both a student and a collaborator.
I’ve walked across the “name bridge” that’s formed when I mention to other professionals—in passing—that Mike knows and has worked with me.
Thus the foundation of my career is one Mike Resnick has largely helped me to construct. And for no apparent reason other than the fact that Mike just likes to help. Because Mike loves science fiction the way a sculptor loves clay or marble. The way a horse racing aficionado adores the track and follows the Triple Crown. The way an outdoorsman loves fly fishing or the Autumn hunt.
Mike very much cherishes the field, and is concerned with ensuring that the field continues to be peopled with competent, capable, talented writers who can all keep growing the genre and making it wonderful. Even long after Mike’s gone.
So, in a sense, we are Mike’s legacy. As much as his own works and publications.
And for this reason I am proud to be counted among his kids.
Mike’s selected other Writer Children since he selected me.
I’ve met and become friends with several. They are, without fail, quality people. Like Mike himself.
If the genre tends to be a bit cliquish, I think the circle of Mike Resnick’s Writer Children is just about the best kind of club one could hope to belong to. For the simple fact that being Mike’s Writer Son demands that I keep up my game! Mike’s spent time on me. I want to make sure that Mike never has to regret it. That he never has to look at what I am accomplishing in the field and shake his head, thinking, if only that boy would work harder, make better decisions, maybe take better care of his opportunities . . .
So far, so good.
Thanks, Mike, for everything.
It’s an honor and a pleasure to have you as my Writer Dad.
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