Decision time.

Those of you who read kniedzw‘s journal have already heard the news, but for the rest of you: my husband’s employer filed for bankruptcy today, putting him out of a job.

This brings into the open something I’ve been considering for a good year, maybe more. Some of you have heard me talk about it, but I haven’t said anything publicly because, well, public = real. (LJ = real, apparently.) But forming an agreement with my anthropology adviser constitutes pretty real, I’d say, so I might as well bite the bullet and type the words.

I’m leaving graduate school.

Yeah. Um. I have a whole lot to say on this topic, but to spare people’s friends-lists, I’m putting it behind a cut.

The plan, originally, was this: go to graduate school, keep writing, become an academic and professional writer. It works for a lot of people, and I had every expectation it would work for me. But the plan started to go awry — in a good way — when I sold my first two novels. Doppelganger came out two years ago this month, which happens to be right when I finished my coursework; in other words, writing moved from “hobby” to “job” right when I stopped having daily engagement with academic matters. I entered the zone that depends the most on self-motivation just as half my attention shifted elsewhere.

This could have been okay. I’m extremely good at self-motivation, as the five novels I wrote during four years at Harvard attest. Except . . . it didn’t happen. For two years now I’ve needed to get my ass in gear and arrange for my qualifying exams so I can start writing my dissertation, and I just kept not doing it. Partly because of administrative crap — if there’s one hurdle I’m bad at making myself jump, that would be it. Partly because, well, if it came down to a question of spending my time and energy on fiction or on scholarship, fiction kept winning out.

I like teaching. I like research. I would like being a professor. It started to occur to me, though, that writing novels in my summers off was a bad road to academic success, since of course you’re also expected to spend those summers working on scholarly publications that will advance you in your department. And between me and the nice tenured life stood some unknown number of years spent slaving away in crappy entry-level positions, my time and energy eaten up by teaching four courses the higher-ups in the department don’t want to bother with. (Not to mention the job hunt I’d have to go through to get there in the first place.) In other words, I probably wouldn’t have as much time to spend on fiction as I liked to believe. So I started to wonder if going into academia was really the right choice.

Then, this past fall, the next question occurs to me: if I’m not planning on becoming a professor, then what reason other than egotism (Dr. Neuenschwander!) is there for finishing my Ph.D.?

The precipitant for that choice was the continuation of the Onyx Court series. Y’see, at the beginning of March last year, my plan was to spend my summer reading for my exams (and writing whatever novel I was doing next), and then take the exams in the fall. At the end of March, I knew “whatever novel I was doing next” was Midnight Never Come, which required an amount of research approximately comparable to those exams. No way could I do both at once. So now it’s the fall, and I’m planning to do the reading in the winter and spring . . . and I go and pitch the Victorian book to Orbit. With the intention of doing more.

I stopped and thought, before I did that. You realize you’re putting yourself in a position to write a research-intensive novel every year for the next three or four years? Just when do you think you’re going to do your exams and dissertation?

(Not to mention that I really really wanted to write that YA idea I had. Also in the winter and spring. My superhuman college days when I could have done both that and the exam-reading appear to have been left behind in college.)

Then I started doing the math.

Entry-level academic positions pay decently by my low standards, but I’m not there yet, am I? I’m teaching at Collins, which is wonderful but pays crap. (And I have to apply for a new teaching position every semester.) I talked with my agent about the advances she generally gets for her YA authors, and I looked at the prospect of more Onyx Court books, and I calculated that if I dropped grad school and focused on those things instead, I would genuinely have a larger and more stable income than I do right now. Those, along with health insurance, are usually the two big issues a writer has to answer if they’re thinking about going full-time — and I don’t get health insurance through this job. I get it through kniedzw, though obviously we’re having some issues with that right now.

I can project that out about three years or so, assuming my agent is able to sell the YA (she’s shopping it around right now) and Orbit wants more Onyx Court books (there’s every evidence that they do).

Three years is a pretty good cushion, if one is contemplating a jump.

And if I’m not in graduate school, Kyle and I can move to a city where he has actual job prospects — that will pay more than he was getting here.

So this is the official decision: I’m going to jump through the necessary administrative hoops and do whatever thesis/project/whatever work they’re willing to accept, and leave graduate school with a master’s in anthropology and folklore.

What we don’t have yet is a timetable. May 6th, I fly to London, and then Kyle and I go on the cruise and we don’t get home until May 30th. July 10th, I have an appointment for lasik surgery here in town. October 1st, I have one of those research-intensive novels due. I have plans for a Midnight Never Come book launch at Pandemonium in Boston, and a con in Oklahoma at the end of July. Somewhere in there, I will finish my master’s. In the meantime, there’s the question of work for Kyle. I don’t know what we’ll be doing about that, and so I don’t know when we’ll be leaving.

But leaving will happen. It’s the Great Bloomington Exodus: like a dandelion full of gamers, we’re poofing out into the wild blue yonder, scattering our seeds across the U.S. For us, it seems it will be a little sooner than anticipated.

0 Responses to “Decision time.”

  1. jimhines

    Sounds like a scary jump, but it’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought into it. Good luck to you both!

    And hey, if this means you write more books faster than you would have, then I’m behind you 100%! 😉

    • Marie Brennan

      <g> It works mostly because I do write fairly quickly, all things considered. Doing one adult and one YA novel each year? Totally feasible for me.

  2. d_c_m

    You will both be terribly missed.

    • Marie Brennan

      And we’re going to miss this town. But the daffodil is doing its ‘splody thing, and we would have been leaving in the next year to two years anyway, in all likelihood.

      • unforth

        Dandelion. Daffodil’s don’t explode. 😉 Or at least, I really hope they don’t… 😉

      • d_c_m

        Yes. It sounds like your life is ready to leave B-ton and well, I just know that wherever you go you and k will LOVE it.

        Huzzah! Another hatched B-ton/IU chick departs!!

        (And I mean in chick in baby bird way, ya’ know. ;))

  3. d_aulnoy

    It is most *definitely* academia’s loss (thus illustrating the flaws inherent in the system – if it doesn’t fight/provide for the brilliant people, it doesn’t deserve to have them), but academia’s loss is literature’s gain. Sympathies on the company bankruptcy, kudos on the decision, and best wishes for the future!

  4. sora_blue

    Hey, grad school’s not going anywhere. It’ll still be there 3, 4, 5 years from now. If decide later you want a PhD, you can get one.

    It sounds like your decision is what’s best for you, and it’d be crazy to suggest you shouldn’t do what’ll make you happiest. 🙂

    Good luck with those hoops!

    • Marie Brennan

      Indeed, and that’s part of what made it possible for me to let go — the realization that it’s not like I can’t ever get a Ph.D. if I decide somewhere down the line that I regret this choice. I know the odds are against it — people who stop out usually don’t come back — but I know that if I feel strongly enough about it, I can make it happen.

      And really, that’s this whole thing in a nutshell. It isn’t that I’m somehow not able to finish. I just don’t want it badly enough anymore. If I did, I have every confidence it myself that I could do it.

      • sora_blue

        Exactly. 🙂

        I went through something sort of similar when I taught in Japan. It became something I didn’t want to do any more, and it took a while to understand that it wasn’t “quitting” to leave.

  5. fjm

    Good luck! I’m not one to insist that grad school is for everyone, and in the end the only reason for doing it is if you desperately want to, and you very much want to do something else.

    Midnight Never Comes arrived in my mailbox last week. Thank you very much.

    • Marie Brennan

      What makes it hard is that I really do like scholarship and the academic environment, and I have subjects I am passionate about studying. But the passion for writing is stronger.

      I hope you like the book! Turns out you were on their list to receive a copy anyway, but they made sure to get it to you asap when I asked.

      • fjm

        I can’t see how the passion for research and passion for writing is diferent. It’s just that our end product is different.

  6. danielmc

    it is indeed the great exodus, in many ways.
    may you live in interesting times, indeed.

    • Marie Brennan

      It helps me to think of it as the dandelion. Things aren’t falling apart; we’re colonizing the world, instead. <evil grin>

  7. amysisson

    Not that I know anything, but it sounds like a terrific decision for both of you. So congrats! And if you decide you’d like a bit of teaching now and again down the road, plenty o’ community colleges are very happy with a master’s degree (and may well pay more per course than entry-level or adjunct jobs at universities). And plenty o’ places are very happy to have established novelists teach some writing.

    Best of luck!

    • Marie Brennan

      Tutoring seems like a good balance for a part-time job — it’s hard to get a lot of hours, but the hours you get pay extremely well. I have every intention of looking into that as a supplement to my income.

  8. shveta_thakrar

    Yay for you for following your dreams. I wish you the best. 🙂

  9. prosewitch

    Oy, that’s a big decision… but I have no doubt that you’ll kick ass as a primary-writerly-type person.

  10. ckd

    It sounds like you have a much better handle on the situation, and realistic plans for going forward, than anyone would have any right to expect after something as sudden as Kyle’s employer’s shutdown.

    Yes, this is because (as you note) you’ve been thinking about it for quite some time for other reasons, but still…I think it bodes well for finding a situation and location that will suit you both. Should you wind up in the Boston area, there are many places looking for sysadmins; could have several employers to choose from.

    Best of luck to you both. If you make Readercon, I’ll try to say hello then; if not, I should be able to make the Pandemonium book launch.

    • Marie Brennan

      Boston and the Bay Area are leading the pack by a mile, as both places have a wide variety of job opportunities and a concentration of people we know.

      • rosefox

        I might humbly recommend New York as well, not least because it’s really a wonderful place to connect with people who write and edit and review and talk about fantasy and science fiction.

        Sounds like a very exciting time for you. I hope this leap lands you somewhere magnificent.

        • Marie Brennan

          The major determinant now, since I won’t be shackled to academic job opportunities, is job ops for my husband, and those are strongest in Boston and the Bay Area. But Boston is at least within easy striking distance of NYC.

  11. unforth

    It sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought, and you’ve reasoned it out. I think there comes a time in our academic careers where we suddenly realize just what we’ve signed ourselves up for – cause I had a similar one in the early fall – and it all becomes more real. Then it’s like, wait, what are my actual goals here? What do I really want? While Dr. Neuenschwander has a certain ring to it, I think Marie has a better – you love it and your successful, you couldn’t hope for more. 😉

    Good luck in jumping the hoops, and of course to in looking for a job – any chance of you guys joining and I on the East Coast??

    • Marie Brennan

      Bay Area and Boston are the two leading candidates.

      I knew what I had signed myself up for, but my desire for it has decreased in the last two years.

      • sapphohestia

        Yay for the East Coast!

        This is such a big leap, but it seems like a wise one, though I know you’ve enjoyed your teaching experiences.

        Best of luck and many *hugs* to both you and your boy.

  12. snickelish

    I’m excited for you – since it sounds like doing both the things you wanted wasn’t feasible, I’m glad you’re in a situation to be able to pick the one you want the most. Good luck on all those big ventures ahead.

  13. drydem

    I am not surprised. I think that you are making the right decision and I wish you every success in the future.

  14. mrissa

    Leaving grad school was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I hope it turns out to be the same for you.

    (Icon is called “and she’s off”; I’m staying right here, but it just seemed appropriate.)

    • Marie Brennan

      It feels pretty right. Trying to re-ignite my enthusiasm for scholarly work has been failing for a while now; I think it’s time to let go.

  15. sartorias

    I made that decision too, many years ago, and never looked back. (I do think fondly of seminars, but not of working like a slave in the hours around it to keep the bills paid.)

    Wishing you the best of luck.

    • Marie Brennan

      There hasn’t been too much of the “working like a slave”-ness, except sometimes in grading. (Speaking of which . . . .)

      But there will be a post forthcoming at some point about how grad school has made me an 18x better writer than I would have been without it.

  16. pathseeker42

    Gah! I’m with . I’m glad you’re jumping into the wind and seeing where it takes you. I’m happy for the adventure and the hopes and the unknown possibilities. I hate being left behind, even if I’m not technically being left in Bloomington. But all selfishness aside, I hope everything works out for you two, and if you ever need anything – in a couple of days or a couple of years, whenever – let me know.

    • Marie Brennan

      I know what you mean. The social circle here has been, hands-down, the greatest appeal of Bloomington, and seeing it unravel — regardless of how good that is for the individuals involved — is hard.

    • gollumgollum

      Thanks, you. Wanna join me in kidnapping our friends? (;

      • pathseeker42

        I’m in! Or better yet – Bloomington trans-America road trip, in which we jump in a car and drive around the States visiting Bloomington friends.

  17. eclectician

    Good luck! The act of deciding is good for the soul. Jump hardhard.

    And, from a purely selfish perspective, may you land in Boston!

  18. ninja_turbo

    Best of luck in whatever you do, wherever you go to do it.

  19. daobear

    This sounds like a good decision. Your training in folklore and anthro will do you well, as you like writing research-intensive novels. It sounds like with the books on your plate, your research-brain will be happy and well-fed, even without writing a dissertation. I’m working on a dissertation myself, and I can’t imagine also trying to write novels at the same time. One intense creative project at a time is plenty enough. And as others have said, if you get tired of writing novels, you can always go back to grad school.

    • Marie Brennan

      I doubt I’m going to get tired of writing novels — but I have recognize the possibility that they might not always do so well.

  20. gollumgollum


    Someone has to be selfish and mad about this. I suppose i’ve already staked my claim in that department, so there you go.


    (Which is to say i love you both dearly and i’m sorry to see you go.)


    • akashiver

      I’m with Kate. Fuckeroonie!!!! Frackity-frack-frack, I say.

      But now that I’ve got that off my chest…

      We’ll really miss you guys here in b-town, but I think you’ve got a clear path ahead of you in writing. And prospects, as they say, are better elsewhere.

      You will write, though, won’t you?


      • Marie Brennan

        Of course I’ll write! The whole point is that I’ll be earning —

        Ohhhhhhhh. You mean write to you guys. <g&Gt;

        Yeah, I suppose we could manage that.

    • Marie Brennan

      Well, y’know, since we might be gone ANY SECOND NOW, clearly what you need to do is maximize your remaining time with us . . . by watching a lot of Supernatural.


  21. mastergode

    I just wanted to add my voice to the multitudes.

    Good luck! I think that writing full-time is fantastic, and I’m sure that you’ll be able to make it work, financially!

    On a less enthusiastic note, your Ph.D. can wait. You know? If it comes down to it, a Ph.D. can be had at any age. And if you have a firmly-established writing career and you already have a Master’s degree, I can’t imagine that there’s a Ph.D. program out there that would turn you away if you moved to wherever your husband can find work. I think that you’re making a sound decision, and I’m really excited to see where your career goes in the future. Seriously, every time you make a post about selling books or having a new book come out or something, *I* get really excited by proxy. <chuckles> So, keep it going! =D

  22. lowellboyslash

    All things considered (and I’m shocked your school doesn’t have health insurance, but it is what it is), it sounds like this is a good choice for you. I think you have a great career ahead of you as a writer.

    • Marie Brennan

      It has health insurance, but my current teaching gig doesn’t include it. (I had it for five years, though, since I snagged an awesome fellowship package when I first came here.)

      Fortunately, I had the good sense to get married two months after my insurance ran out, to someone who had some. ^_^

  23. kwaller

    (I’m commenting in reverse-chronological order. Eep!)

    I know that you’ve put a lot of thought into this decision, and that fills me with a great deal of confidence as to its success.

    I have my fingers crossed for you guys!

  24. anima_mecanique

    Hey, um…I haven’t commented on this post yet, because I have been thinking about a lot of the same things, and…well, you’re doing exactly what I want to do.

    I think it sounds like you made the right decision — I mean, if you really can have a steady income as a writer, that’s completely amazing and you should take advantage of that.

    Academia is a really strange thing — maybe it’s just my experience, but it takes up so much of your mental real-estate that when it finally becomes clear that it’s not for you after all, it leaves a giant hole that’s very difficult to deal with.

    PEE ESS: I still have your Sandbaggers DVDs. *wibble*

    • Marie Brennan

      We should get those from you at some point. Except that I’m at something of a loss as to how . . . I have no idea where you live.

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