Today marks the end of a journey. If you’ve read my Bio page, you know that I’m a medical editor for my day job. That’s not going to change, but as of this morning, I can announce that I am no longer employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) , where for the last 10 years I have been an editor for the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development (JRRD).
So why are you telling me this? What does this have to do with your fiction writing?
In many ways, my experience with the journal has shaped me as both a writer and as an editor. I started out as a contractor in December 2005, a few months after graduating with my BA in English. I was in the midst of working toward my Masters in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and I’d landed the perfect job–one that (in theory) used my editing skills and an awesome boss who was okay with me doing graduate school work during my downtime. A good chunk of Steel Victory was written at my first desk tucked away in the corner of a giant office that overlooked downtown Baltimore’s Holocaust Memorial.
Once I officially had my graduate degree in hand, I was offered the chance to apply for a full-time Federal position, which I accepted. In 2008, I went from assistant editor, prepping articles and verifying references, to technical writer-editor, the person who worked directly with doctors and clinicians editing their articles for publication. I loved it. I still love it. No matter whether the content is a fantasy novel or an article on the effects of wheelchair vibration on the body, my passion is helping authors make their writing be the best that it can be.
And though I have no formal medical training, you pick up a few things after a decade of reading articles on rehabilitation. It’s why I’ve been commended for the realism in my fiction on dealing with injury, and why I have a passion for such topics as PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), mental health, and accessibility issues for people with disabilities. (I got chewed out once for “staring” at a person with a prosthetic leg. After the initial awkwardness, I had a lovely conversation with the veteran about his experiences with different shock-absorbing feet.)
But about a year ago, higher-ups in the VA started wondering why, exactly, a Federal department had been funding a publishing an international, peer-reviewed academic medical journal, despite it’s focus on rehabilitation topics that could be helpful to U.S. veterans (which at this point can be anywhere from an 18 year old with a spinal cord injury to a Vietnam War veteran with diabetes and hearing loss). Over time, I’d also become a bit disillusioned with the VA itself, based on my experiences with the bureaucracy that seems much more concerned with “doing things by the book” than with helping veterans. When my first supervisor resigned, I saw the writing on the wall. JRRD was eventually going to disappear. Even though they couldn’t “fire” me, as a Federal employee with a perfect record, they could reassign me to some admin job in DC where I would be miserable.
The thing about Steel Empires book 3, Steel Blood, that I am most proud of doesn’t have much to do with the book itself. I’m impressed that I managed to write it while still working full-time for JRRD and job-hunting like a maniac. I was lucky enough to have enough lead time that I actually turned down a few positions before I found one that was still in my chosen field of medical editing. I know enough about myself that even with an editing job, I wouldn’t be happy working with boring technical manuals or writing grant proposals. Medical editing appeals to me because in a small way, I’m helping to make the world a better place.
I’m going to maintain my privacy again and not tell you where I’ve landed. Sorry. I’m no longer editing for a journal, and the focus is more narrow than the broad scope of rehabilitation. Luckily, the position is also in Baltimore and I will avoid the dreaded commute to Washington DC! Leaving my first “grown-up” job is hard, and I will definitely miss the coworkers who have been an important part of my life for so long. I think my nervousness is more about fear of change than anything else. But I think I’m going to be happy in my new position.
Here’s to the next adventure.