Following your dreams can take you to some strange roads that might not have anything to do with your dreams, at all.
We can’t all have our first dreams, of course. America really wouldn’t function with fifty million actors, one hundred million singers, and two hundred and fifty million lottery winners. What do those all have in common? Long odds.
Still, it’s important to pursue a dream, even if it isn’t the dream you end up with. My grandkids want to be ninjas. It’s probably not on the average college curriculum, but who knows? I’m saving back some masks and black pajamas, just in case.
My first dreams were to be a scientist, or an astronaut … or better yet, a combination of the two: a Science Officer. Yes, I was a Trekkie, why do you ask? But I had to give up those dreams because, it turns out, both jobs require being good at math.
A writer doesn’t have to be good at math.
Or so I told myself. By the time I was halfway through high school, I settled on a career plan: I would become a firefighter, and on my days off I would write best-selling novels. My backup plan would be a forest ranger, thus putting me in a position to battle forest fires in between writing books.
I cheerfully ignored the results of counseling tests, which revealed I would be ideally suited for a career in the food service industry. Years later I realized food service was actually not a bad career path from the standpoint of employment opportunities and management paths. I mean, how many astronauts get hired every year?
My guaranteed career path fell short, due to shortsightedness. Or is it long-sightedness? Whichever it was, my eyesight didn’t meet the standards at the time for full time firefighting. This was despite my discovery as a volunteer that once you got into a burning building, you couldn’t see a darned thing anyway.
It’s the only time I ever cried at the optometrist office.
Now here I am, in my twenty-third year with the Noble County Sheriff Department, two decades of that as an emergency dispatcher. While I was too busy trying to find a career to notice I had one, I had one.
Irony is my middle name. And the irony didn’t stop, because for over three decades I continued to work toward establishing a fiction writing career. While I was busy writing novels and short stories and not selling them, I became a humor columnist, newspaper reporter, and finally non-fiction book writer, none of which have anything to do with fiction. It was totally by accident. Accident is also my middle name. I’ve never asked my parents why.
Irony is a gift that keeps on giving, because just as I finished another novel manuscript, my wife and I began to discuss doing a humor book about national or Indiana state history. Within weeks of us discussing it, I was put in touch with a publisher … a history publisher.
Arcadia Publishing has a long history of books about, well, history, and they were looking for someone to do a photo-heavy book about the history of Albion and Noble County. (Not humor related, you’ll be unhappy or happy to know.)
As it happens, my wife and I had done a history book the year before, a photo-heavy book about the Albion Fire Department. But this book was going to be even photo-heavier. After a month of talking and filling out paperwork, I signed the contract for Images of America: Albion and Noble County.
True, I’ve just published my fourth work of fiction. Just the same, Arcadia is the first large publisher I’ve signed with, so my writing is, well, history.
It’s as if, while training to be an astronaut, I fell into a career as a deep-sea diver.
Now I’m asking you, all fourteen of my regular readers, to help me with this project. My attempts to be a scientist didn’t pan out, so I don’t have a time machine: I need historical photos from around Noble County, and they have to be prints. Emily, my wife/editor/webmaster/technical director/computer whiz, will scan the prints with your permission and then give them back to you (along with the scanned image on a disk, if you’re interested). Your historical photo, along with another two hundred or more others, could appear in the print and electronic versions of the book, but otherwise would still be yours.
It’s a pretty cool project, and a great way to hold onto history and maybe get kids interested in it. Who knows? Maybe it’ll put some of them on a path to being historians.
It’s never too late for a career change.