I have just returned from what was a truly glorious weekend in New York City, where I attended the annual conference of the American Historical Association. Now, as a veteran of AHA conventions and someone who attended many of the conferences as a frightened graduate student interviewing for jobs and presenting papers in an attempt to make myself look more attractive to potential employers, I know that “glorious” and “AHA” don’t often appear together in a single sentence. But this weekend was very special for me.
I was at the convention to speak on a panel about writing fiction as a trained historian no longer working in academia. Our panel, which was chaired by agent Jennifer Goloboy and included Andrea Roberston Cremer, Laura Croghan Kamoie, and me, was tremendous fun. We had a large, engaged audience, and our discussion touched on matters of craft and business, as well as on ways in which we all use our history backgrounds to enhance our writing. (I talked about the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I write as D. B. Jackson, and which are set in pre-Revolutionary Boston.) I also sat in on a career fair, where I spoke with graduate students and employed academics alike about ways in which they might incorporate creative writing into their careers.
Long ago, when I made the jump from academia to writing fantasy, I had no interest in maintaining close ties to the academy. I didn’t enjoy scholarly writing and I don’t believe I was especially good at it. I know that I was not yet mature enough to be an effective teacher, and I believe my lack of passion for history crept into my pedagogy. (I am a much, much better teacher of writing than I ever was a teacher of history.) I left the academy with an excellent academic job offer in hand, and I did it to pursue my true passion, a profession I love. It was the right choice and I have never had any regrets. And yet there was a part of me that felt as though I had “failed” at history.
So there was something redemptive about this weekend. It took going back to the AHA as a professional writer to make me realize that I hadn’t failed after all. I left on my own terms and as much as I enjoyed the weekend, I realized more forcefully than ever that my life would not be as rich as it is had I stayed in academia. More, the weekend affirmed for me something that I’ve come to realize as I’ve written the Thieftaker books. I still love history. I don’t want to be a historian, but I still enjoy the discipline, and in blending my interest in it with my passion for writing fantasy, I have, at long last, found a bridge between the two professional worlds in which I’ve lived. I suppose that was part of what this weekend was about for me: realizing that I can still call myself a historian even as I continue to be a writer of speculative fiction. It was a deeply satisfying experience.
Of course, the best part of the weekend was catching up with a couple of my closest friends from graduate school, and then spending a memorable evening with my two closest friends from college and their families. I also caught up with some cousins I hadn’t seen in years. Fellowship, love, laughter, and an exploration of history on so many levels — intellectual, personal, familial.
So, yeah. A glorious weekend at the AHA convention. Who would have thunk it?