Some people are born knowing their purpose; some find it as they go. Some know which path they mean to take from the outset, but set out at night, stumble about in the bushes, drop their flashlights, stub their toes on rocks, greet the dawn with joy and relief, and discover, much to their astonishment, that they’ve ended up exactly where they meant to get in the first place.
I’m the third kind.
I was reading at age two and started making up my own stories shortly after (the one about how the dog unwrapped and ate my brother’s chocolate bar was true, I swear). I wrote and illustrated my first picture book when I was six. At ten, I started a novel, and spent most of my middle school years carrying a notebook from class to class, scribbling every chance I got. I knew, the way some people know their age or eye colour, that I was meant to write.
Which was all very well until twelfth grade, when people (and by people I mean my eminently practical father) started asking me how I was planning on actually making a living. His exact words, I believe: “Dreams are great, kid, but you’d better have a backup plan.”
I didn’t have the first idea where to get one of those! After all, I’d only ever wanted to be a writer. Panic ensued until, not surprisingly, I found the answer in a book – Joseph Wambaugh’s The Blooding, the true story of the first murders solved by DNA fingerprinting. I was completely fascinated, by the science of genetics in general and this forensic application in particular. Which is how I found myself, four years later, with a BSc in Honors Genetics.
This is the part where it starts to go sideways.
There are jobs available to BSc’s, after all, and plenty of the type that qualify as backup plans. I even applied for one – heading up Alberta’s newly created Fish and Wildlife Forensic Lab. When I came in second to a guy with a PhD, graduate school seemed like a perfectly reasonable option.
I knew within six months that I’d seriously miscalculated. Some people love research, thriving on the problems and challenges and frustrations (oh vast universe of cursing, crying, hair-pulling frustrations). For me grad school was a interminable, Sisyphean task of unrelenting misery – the kind of misery that comes from a stubborn refusal to realize I was stumbling around in the wrong forest, never mind on the wrong path.
Somehow I made it through, and rewarded myself by diving back into creative writing. But instead of the stories and novels I’d always imagined, I found myself writing about science… which is when I discovered, to my total astonishment, that I don’t hate science after all – I love science. I just hated doing it.
Fox Talk is my eight published science book since that bombshell, and it packs all the best things about being a scientist into one neat package: it’s got DNA and fuzzy animals and cool experiments and a really great story all in one place. It’s me coming out the wilderness and realizing that what I thought were two different paths were, in fact, leading to the same place. For that reason, of all my books, this one is closest to my heart.
And what does my eminently practical father say these days? Not much. He’s too busy bursting his buttons with pride.
About The Author: L.E. Carmichael
Lindsey Carmichael never outgrew that stage of childhood when nothing’s more fun than amazing your friends (and correcting your teachers!) with your stockpile of weird and wonderful facts. Her sense of wonder came in handy during her career as a scientist, and in 2006, she received the Governor General’s Medal for her PhD thesis, Ecological Genetics of Northern Wolves and Arctic Foxes. Lindsey finds talking about science more fun than doing it, however, and now writes for kids, teens, and occasionally adults (a sense of wonder is essential for this, too). Lindsey publishes under the name L E Carmichael, and her work has appeared in Dig, Highlights for Children, Kiki, and Canadian Tales of the Fantastic. Her published science books cover everything from animal migration to hybrid cars. When not digging up obscure or wacky details for her next nonfiction project, Lindsey’s probably working on her young adult fantasy novel.
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