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The Horrible Truth About Me

When I was growing up in South Carolina, all the kids in my neighborhood said I was "retarded." 

I was pretty sure they were right, because I didn't fit in with them at all.

They'd tell this apparently hilarious joke: "Hey look! Peggy-Lynn just peed her pants. Hahahahahahahaha! Get it?"

I never got it. That just didn't seem funny to me. So we all thought there was something horribly wrong with me.

Life was hard.

Luckily, I had other friends to play with. I swung through the jungles with Tarzan of the Apes. I rescued French noblemen with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. I watched Barsoomian battles on Mars.

All my friends lived in books.

But I met my coolest friends in a book called The Mad Scientists Club.

Maybe that's why I majored in chemistry when I went off to the College of Charleston. It never occurred to me that chemists were weird people. Sure, one of my profs had no eyebrows, no hair on his head, and (it was rumored) no hair "anywhere," but big deal, right?

Anyway, I was pretty sure that studying chemistry was the quickest route to joining the Mad Scientists Club.

After I graduated from college, I went off to Berkeley for graduate school, but the prof that I had planned to work with took early emeritus. I couldn't find anyone else who interested me, and I had discovered this fantastic woman named Amy back home.

I took a couple of years off to teach high school while I waited for Amy to graduate. I persuaded her to marry me and we moved to Wisconsin so I could take another stab at grad school.

Wisconsin has one of the best biochemistry programs in the world. The university owns a ton of patents (ever heard of Warfarin or xxxxxxxx?). So they have money to burn for research.

I taught myself to write software in C and developed a tool to automate the determination of the 3-D structure of proteins from NMR. This is even cooler than it sounds.

After I got my Ph.D., Amy and I moved to the Bay Area where I worked as a postdoc at UC San Francisco, working on rational drug design.

I worked with some super smart people who design pharmaceuticals. The funny thing is that none of us would take anything stronger than aspirin.

Right around then, I started thinking about all the people I'd hung out with as a kid. Not the ones who laughed at Peggy-Lynn. The ones I'd met in books.

I got it into my head that maybe I could write a novel someday. I had taught myself to write software. Why not fiction?

So I went to a local writing conference to learn about how publishing works. By chance, I met a guy there who was like me in certain ways and unlike me in other ways. His name was Randy Ingermanson and he had a Ph.D. in physics.

The nerd-herding instinct kicked in and we hung around that whole conference. We've been buddies ever since.

I'm good at starting things. Randy's good at finishing them. I have trouble focusing. Randy has amazing focus.

After a couple of years, I came up with this idea for a novel about Mars and twisted Randy's arm until he agreed to coauthor it with me.

That turned into my first novel. I couldn't believe it when an editor got interested in it. I was shocked when his publishing committee made us an offer. My mother almost fainted when we actually finished the book.

That novel got published in 2001 and won a Christy award the next year. Randy and I were launched. It's been a wild ride ever since.

Whoa, that reminds me, I completely forgot to mention this, but I have ADD. It's hard for me to read nonfiction because I start reading and immediately get bombarded with ideas that want to take me in a thousand directions.

Some of my friends think I'm creative. I have no idea if I am. All I know is that it's painful to have so many ideas coming in at me. That's why I'm not such a great finisher.

Now where was I? Oh yeah. Fiction. Randy. Writing. So Randy and I wrote another book together.

Right around then, I got promoted at my day job. I had been hired as a programmer at a biotechnology company in the Bay Area. I did well at that, so they punished me by promoting me to be a manager.

That went extremely well, so they kept tormenting me with more promotions. Eventually, I got to be a Principal Scientist at my company. I was a director, a manager of managers, and I was running the major project for our company.

And I hated it. Whatever I work on, I go all in. I'd work at the biotechnology for twelve hours and then come home and have nothing left.

Trying to write was horrible. By this time, Randy and I had quit writing together. Nothing personal, just business. My job made it impossible, and his was pretty intense too.

We were still close buddies, and we kept in touch all the time. By 2005, we were making bets on which of us was going to bail out of our job first.

Randy won. He got laid off in October of that year. I quit my job three weeks later.

I've been doing my own thing ever since then. I wrote several novels. I began developing some cool web technology. Randy and I started a company named DitDat, which we envision as a supertribe for writers. I created another company named CodeNinjas for teaching high school kids how to write software. 

Oh hey, back to that ADD thing. It was messing up my focus, but I didn't know what it was for a long time. When I finally figured it out, I went to see my doctor, described my symptoms, and told him what prescription to write for me. I'm cautious of drugs, but I desperately needed to be able to concentrate.

The meds have worked out amazingly well. I've never been this focused in my life. Randy and I are planning some new novels together. We're putting our old novels back into print as e-books. I'm having fun writing software for my web sites.

Life is good.

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