My father, Woodrow Ryan, was stationed at the Naval Airbase in Corpus Christi, Texas, during the latter part of the Second World War. My mother, Ruth, came down to Texas and they were married. I was born in 1943. We moved back to the Akron area in Ohio after my father got out of the Navy. We lived first in Macdonaldsville and my first memories were of our home in East Liberty. My parents bought 5 acres in Green Township and we lived there until after I was in the ninth grade. My brothers, Dan and David, were born while we lived there.
I began “reading” before I could read. We had a battered copy of a book known as “The Volume Library.” I spent a lot of time “reading” it – looking at pictures of spectra and the transparent pages showing the various innards of frogs and people. When I started grade school and learned to read I eventually read all the books available in the Akron Public Libary’s Bookmobile for my grade level and was allowed to read whatever I pleased.
Somewhere along about the seventh grade I began to write and illustrate short adventure stories — analogs of some of my favorite television shows. Also about that time my maternal grandmother, knowing of my interest in science, began to pass on to me her copies of the science fiction magazines that she read – Galaxy, Astounding, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and perhaps some others. I was immediately engaged. I didn’t write any science fiction, but I read all the SF that I could get my hands on.
After my ninth grade, we moved to a farm in Atwater Township, 20 miles east of Akron. When my Senior year came around, I was faced with a decision: What did I want to study in college? Because of my interests in science and science fiction, I chose Astronomy. I obtained a small blue booklet called “Careers in Astronomy” and read it to see what I should expect. I knew there was all that looking through telescopes, but I was astounded when I read that one thing astronomers do a lot of is to teach. Teach! No Way! I was too introverted to be able to stand up in front of a room full of students and teach. So I decided on, of all things, Pharmacy. At the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy I took classes in Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. I even squeezed in an introductory Astronomy course. I liked to think of myself as something like A. E. van Vogt’s “nexialist.”
My interests in science fiction waxed and my interest in Pharmacy waned as I edged toward my Bachelor of Science degree. I was still reading SF and wanting more and more to write it. But to write science fiction about aliens and life on alien worlds I felt that I should know more about the nature and origin of life on Earth. By my Senior year in Cincinnati, I had decided to go to Graduate School somewhere to study Biochemistry. Somehow, I obtained a copy of a book edited by Sidney W. Fox which presented the papers from a conference on the origins of life. I realized that someone was doing research that would help me to answer my questions about the nature and origin of life. In fact, the editor, Dr. Fox, was the head of The Institute of Molecular Evolution at the University of Miami in Florida. You might guess that I was accepted into graduate school there with Dr. Fox and eventually got a PhD in Biochemistry. I also married a fellow student, Janet, while there.
While in Miami, another interest of mine bloomed: photography. I enjoyed wildlife and outdoor photography and, as a result, became interested in protecting the environment. So I decided that, instead of a researcher in Biochemistry looking for the origin of life, I would be come a freelance writer and photographer after graduate school. Janet and I finished our graduate work within a week of each other. She had been offered a postdoctoral position at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We decided that she should take it — she could do the biochemistry research that was her interest and I would become a freelance photojournalist.
My career in photojournalism lasted about three years before I decide that I wanted a more reliable source of income. A position teaching Chemistry at El Paso Community College became available in Texas. Contrary to my thoughts at the time that I decided not to become an Astronomer, I enjoyed teaching. Except for a chemistry textbook for my students, I didn’t do much of photojournalism in the five years we were in El Paso. Just before we left for El Dorado, Arkansas, my first son, Clint was born.
At Southern Arkansas University – El Dorado (which eventually became the independent South Arkansas Community College) I contined to teach Chemistry, plus Physical Sciences. Personal computers were born during those years and I had some publications about the Sinclair ZX81 and the Commodore 64, but my writing for publication gave way to creating various alternatives to text books for my students. My interest in reading science fiction never waned, but I didn’t try writing any. My second son, Scott, was born four years after Clint.
At some point, I had the notion that perhaps I could incorporate lecture concepts and lab exercises into some science fiction scenarios to make them more interesting. Star Trek in its various incarnations and Star Wars were popular. So I took, along with Janet and Scott, a course in Creative Writing offered at the college by our colleague, Dana Washington. Most of the short stories that I completed as assignments occured in the same “universe.” After the end of the course, Dana organized those of us from her class into a local critique group. As I continued my short stories, still in this same “universe,” Dana said to me, “Jack, you’re not writing short stories. You’re writing a novel.” So I found a timeline for my stories, filled in some missing details, and wrote until I got to the end of my “novel,” which eventuall got the title of “Silver Threads.”
I started to look for an agent to present “Silver Threads” to publishers. But I got cold feet after a couple of rejections. “Silver Threads” was not the traditional type of story in which the main character is introduced, he has a problem, he solves the problem. My novel started off as a bunch of short stories connected only by a timeline and the fact that they each introduced a character or a situation which would only become woven together, like silver threads, toward the end of the novel. So I began a second novel, a prequel to the some of the characters in “Silver Threads.” But after just a few chapters I realized that I was doing it again–short stories set along a common timeline which would eventually be tied together at the end. So I put “The Windward Sea” on hiatus and began my third novel, “The Centaurian Bud Vase.”
Like all of my short stories and novels, “The Centaurian Bud Vase” is set in the same “Stellar Economic Community.” The main character is a character in “Silver Threads.” But this time I’m following the traditional start my main character at the beginning and carry him along to the ending.
Actually, I haven’t found anyone who feels that my assembly of short stories format that I used in “Silver Threads” is a problem. So I’ve come around to thinking that it’s a fascinating and viable novel. Once again I’m giving serious thought to finding an agent and publisher. My Stellar Economic Community web site and this blog are part of the platform that I’m developing to get readers, agents and publishers interested in my short stories and novels.
In 2010, after 37 years of teaching, I retired. I’d like to invite you to come along with me on my next career as a writer of science fiction.