As typical type-A parents, we were pushing our son to seek out some sort of internship this summer - we have friends in the medical field that were offering some type of job.

To his credit, my son pushed back.  He said he was not interested in medicine, and was not really interested in math and science, though he does well in them.  He wanted to pursue something involving writing and perhaps history and literature, which are definitely his strongest activities.

So we talked things through.   One interest he has had since 5th or 6th grade has been dystopic fiction.  In 6th grade he found a list of top dystopic novels and started hammering down the reading list (1984, Brave New World, etc).  In his writing assignments he typically writes some sort of dystopic or alternate history fiction.  And in current events, he has a particular interest in some of the worst states, particularly North Korea.

So with some discussion from his teachers, he is going to try to pursue a writing project this summer, though I specified that he had to have some goal / forcing device, such as a submission for a student or youth fiction contest.

To help start to to gather background and refine his thoughts for the project, he has created a new blog --  Doublethink:  Totalitarianism in Literature, History, and Current Events.  He is pretty early in finding his voice (and on hold for a few days as he finishes finals) but I encourage you to check it out sometimes.  In particular, if you see something interesting along those lines, hit his email in the header of that site.


  1. Vangel:

    Nice blog. How old is the kid again?

  2. Brad Warbiany:

    One of my good friends from college has started a speculative fiction magazine...

    It might be something your son may want to submit his writing to (obviously not sure if he'll get anything accepted). Or, it may be something he wants to start reading. Either way, I thought I'd pass it along.

    Now, my advice to your son would be different. If he has the aptitude, and it sounds like he does, he should learn a highly marketable field (i.e. math/engineering/science). Then, I'd couple that with a minor in History. He's more likely to be credible as a sci-fi writer (if he goes that route) if he has a technical background and as an alternate history writer if he's studied history in greater depth. At the very least, getting that sort of a minor is a great way to meet girls. I majored in electrical engineering and minored in philosophy, which was a lot of fun but sadly not as full of females as I'd hoped! As a result, I have a great job that provides for my family, and still have the ability to pursue things like writing on the side. Writing is great fun (as guys like you and I well know), but it's not likely to pay the bills unless you're *really* good at it. Engineering will pay those bills comfortably.

    Writing is something that can always be done on the side, and like most joyful hobbies, it may cease to be joyful once he actually does it for a living. I've heard from fellow homebrewers who become commercial brewers that once it is your every-day job, brewing loses a lot of the allure it had as purely a hobby. So I'd make sure that he understands that if it's something he truly loves, he *MIGHT* want to keep it a hobby.

  3. larry Sheldon:

    Learned a new word--or re-learned one I'd forgotten, since I read many on the list 50 or 60 hears ago.


    It is a bad day that I don't learn something.

  4. Pat Moffitt:

    And hopefully in a few years you won't hear -- "Why did you let me do this? I can't find work and all my friends make more money than me and go out more often."

    An economics minor can't hurt---can it?

  5. Kyle Bennett:

    Good for him. I wish him luck. The blog looks great, he's already got a voice.

    And while history and literature and a niche literary interest might seem like an economically unsound pursuit, I expect that the synergy of those particular areas combined with a rapidly accelerating rate of future social, technological, and economic change could create a lot of knock-on opportunities.

    Pat's right, though, economics will help him not only make more money in a pinch, but understand his chosen interests far more deeply. War is politics by other means, but politics is economics by other means. Every dystopia is, at its root, a failed economic plan.

  6. Ted Rado:

    With all due respect to writers and other liberal arts types, there is the problem of making a living after college. I have known too many young people who pursued studies that did not result in a skill for which there is a commercial demand. One young man I know got a fine arts degree, and after designing belt buckles for minimum wage, went back to school and got an architecture degree.

    One friend of mine advised his kids to take eighteen hours of accounting, so that they could get a job in an accounting office if their main interest didn't pan out financially. One has to face reality. Many of the subjects taught in university, while intersting and stimulating, do not enable one to make a decent living in that field.

    I believe it is up to parents and advisors to point these realities out to young folks entering college. One has to temper their interests with reality. Unless you plan to be a starving artist in a Parisian attic, look at the career opportunities before picking a major.

  7. JR:

    Tell him to set up a tip jar!!

  8. el coronado:

    take it from someone who can write (a little): beat the kid, whip him, *drug* him if you have to, but do NOT in ANY way let him think he's going to make any money as a writer.

    in a world where....
    1) literacy rates are falling like a rock
    2) TV and video games and youtube and twitter has reduced the attention span of young people - his presumptive market - to around 60 seconds or 140 characters, whichever comes first
    3) poor or nonexistent reading habits are now seen as a badge of honor (see: the chris rock riff on "i'm jus' keepin' it REAL!")
    4) borders and barnes & noble are switching over to coffee sales and cd's/dvd's and calendars (or just plain closing up stores) in a vain, futile, desperate attempt to stay in business
    5) copyright and royalties protections are eroding faster than ice in july via file-sharing, and the brazen prediliction of our chinese "friends" to view such things as a joke (see: multiple chinese versions of 'larry trotter and his adventures at warthogs school of magic' available dirt-cheap at any shanghai bookseller stall)
    6) the fact that the competition for this shrinking market is so overwhelming that it'll take a miracle or an already famous name to get your book published. J.K. Rowling is the best selling author *ever*, based on sales per book, and we all know (the legend [?]) of how the only reason the world knows about harry potter is because a copy editor wanted something to read with his sack lunch in the park, so he grabbed the first book off the top of the 'unsolicited/unread' stack. fun with maths: the odds of HER book being on the top on THAT particular day -10,000 to 1? more? the odds someone would pick it up on a lark - 200 to 1? the odds of that editor being in the mood for kid lit AND astute enough to realize what he was reading - 500 to 1? what are we looking at - a billion to 1 or so? he'd have better odds in vegas with a 'foolproof' baccarat system. or lottery tickets.
    7) "you know the best way to go broke? keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. (...) you know, at one time there must have been *dozens* of companies making buggy-whips. and i'll bet the last one around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy-whip you ever saw. now how would you have liked to be a stockholder in that company?" - 'larry the liquidator', from "other people's money"
    8) average starting salary of a newly-minted journalism grad: $20K, plus or minus. (estimated) number of journalists laid off (or had jobs outsourced to erudite, hyper-literate indians in bangalore) in last 15 years: 50,000+. average stock price/value of major newspapers (NY times; Wash post; LA times; Houston chronicle, et al) over the last 15 years: from "pretty damn good" to "major, once inordinately relevant-and-powerful 'newsweek' sold today for one (1) dollar". good sign for scribes? i think not...

    i believe those'd qualify nicely as 'portents of doom'. tell the kid to go be a pharmacist. 6 figure salary, 3 or 4 day workweek, and - due to perpetual pharm. shortages, just like nurses - he can work ANYwhere, ANYtime. look around: in any drug or grocery store, or any big-box retail store (walmart, target...) the highest-paid, most job-secured person in the place is *always* the pharmacist. and he can still write/blog on his many many days off.