Lumberjack, stevedore, merchant seaman, naval officer, spy, cowboy, Texas Ranger, forest ranger, Foreign Legionnaire, premier danseur, mountain guide, prizefighter, parfumier, tightrope walker, astronaut, deep sea diver, sommelier, alligator wrestler... These are just a few of the many jobs David Dvorkin has never had, never will have, and with one exception, never wanted to have.
Switching to first person now!
And probably going into far more detail than you really want to know. But you can stop reading at any time. Really.
When I was a fairly little boy, I wanted to be what I called a spaceman. In my mind, that would have been SPACEMAN! (This was long before the term "astronaut" became known to the general public.) That would be the exception mentioned above. However, just thinking of being surrounded by vacuum, protected only by a spacesuit or cramped spacecraft, gives me the heebie jeebies, and I'm claustrophobic, so the astronaut gig wouldn't have worked out even if it had been possible, which it never was. I settled for working at NASA on Apollo missions from the inside of a very roomy and very airconditioned building. In old age I'm still nuts about space travel, but I no longer think about it in capital letters with exclamation marks. Also from an early age, I wanted to be a writer, and that I did accomplish. Since you're reading this, I'll assume you know that.
I was born in Reading, England on October 8, 1943. I had two older sisters, seven and nine years older than me. Perhaps I was an accident, something to do with wartime stress. My father was a rabbi. He was also an air raid warden and had the title of Chaplain to the Troops, which I gather meant that he and my mother provided a place for Jewish soldiers stationed in the area — not just British but also American and other Allied troops — to come for home-cooked Jewish food and suchlike comforts of home before they were shipped across the Channel to you know what.
After the war, in 1947, seeking sunshine, abundant food, cheaper housing, etc., we moved to South Africa. I was three years old. We moved around quite a bit in South Africa. In 1952, we moved to Chicago. After just under two years, in 1954, we moved back to South Africa. In 1957, we moved to the US again. I was thirteen. We spent a year in Chicago, my freshman year in high school. Then we moved to Elkhart, Indiana. You may have noticed a pattern. My mother liked to joke, somewhat bitterly, that we were the true Wandering Jews.
Having escaped from high school* in 1961, I attended Indiana University** in Bloomington, Indiana. I loved everything about being in college except for classes, homework, and tests. In 1965, I somehow ended up with a BA in math, with minors in physics and astronomy, and was accepted into IU's graduate school in math.
But much, much, much (repeat many times) more important than that, at IU I met a languages major named Leonore Hardy. (That's foreshadowing.)
Incidentally, during this time, my parents kept on moving, first to Huntington, West Virginia, then to Valdosta, Georgia, then to Florida, the Jew-magnet, where my father eventually retired and they spent the rest of their lives, regularly urging me to move there so I'd be close to them and could enjoy the wonderful climate. It was all very stereotypical. I suppose I should add "Oy, vey!" or something of that sort.
In 1967, I was recruited by NASA to work on the Apollo program. I moved to Houston in September. Leonore stayed in Bloomington to complete her undergraduate degree. The following April, we married in Houston, but she wasn't able to join me there until June. Our son, Daniel, was born in Houston the following February. I hadn't completed my graduate work at IU, so I enrolled in the University of Houston, where I earned an MS in math in 1971, not long before we left Houston for Denver. I've written a short memoir about that period of my life: When We Landed on the Moon: A Memoir
By 1971, or even earlier, it was becoming clear that Apollo was dying, murdered by politicians and loss of public interest. Layoffs (Reductions in Force, a pretty euphemism) were coming to NASA, and as one of the last people hired in my area of the program, I thought my days there were numbered. In addition, although we really liked Houston as a city, we hated the climate. We wanted to live in Colorado, which we had both visited, separately and together. I was able to get a job at Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) in Denver, working on the Viking Mars lander. I started there in the autumn of 1971.
We moved to Denver, and we loved our new home — rather, we loved the mountains, where we spent as much time as we could in the early years, with Denver as a very convenient base. Three years later, with the software development and mission planning for Viking complete, Martin M. patted a few hundred of us on the shoulder and said, "Good job, fellas! Good luck on your next job." Which, for an aerospace engineer, translates into, "Good luck finding your next job."
By this point, I was a pretty spiffy FORTRAN programmer***, and I fortunately stumbled into a new career, what was then called scientific programming. Professionally — i.e., to pay the bills — I did that sort of thing for the next few centuries, or until 2009, whichever came first. I did software development and tech writing for a number of companies, big and small, nice and nasty, in various programming languages and numerous industries. I was also laid off a lot. The last time was in 2009, when I was 65 and the Great Recession was well under way, and it soon became clear that there was virtually no chance of my getting another full-time job in the software industry. I did some Web development and tech writing contract work and started thinking of myself as retired, or perhaps semi-retired.
Oh. Writing. I should say something about that, shouldn't I?
I was always the nerdy, pudgy kid whose nose was buried in a book and whose social skills were non-existent. I wore glasses from around eleven, and that was in South Africa, a country where it sometimes seemed no one else wore glasses and no kids read books. (Had I lived in, say, Johannesburg or Cape Town, I'm sure I'd have had a different impression, but my father's rabbiing was almost always done in small-to-medium sized towns.) The last place we lived in South Africa was in the Afrikaner homeland, so as English South Africans, we were in the hated minority. Antisemitism was rampant there, among both the Afrikaners and the English, so we were members of a hated minority within the hated minority. In the modern world, the rabbi and his family are often regarded by other Jews as oddities, expected to be more religiously observant and viewed with suspicion and the fear that they're constantly sitting in judgment of the rest of the congregation. (Of course the truth is that my sisters and I didn't give a damn about how observant or not the members of the congregation were. We were just waiting until we could escape.) In short, I was the loneliest little introvert you can imagine. Of course books were my real world, where I lived as much as I could. It was mostly Westerns and science fiction, plus comic books. Naturally, I fantasized about writing such books myself, and I started a few stories that were intended to grow into immense space operas but always fizzled after a page or two.
In spite of the above, I loved South Africa and didn't want to leave. Had I been old enough, I would have stayed when my parents moved to the US in 1957, but I was only 13, so I had to bid a very tearful farewell to my beloved dog and my country and go. Homesickness overwhelmed me during my first years in America. I longed to return. I was still the pudgy introvert with his nose buried in weird books, and even though I wasn't English-hated-by-Afrikaners, I was foreign, and strange just because of that. If it were possible for social skills to be less than zero, mine would have been.
This is turning into a memoir, which was not my intention. How I do love talking about myself. Oh, my goodness, would you just look at the time!
I didn't start writing seriously until I was at NASA in Houston. One day, I was yet again whining to Leonore about the pointlessness and aimlessness of my life, how trapped I felt, etc. She asked me what I really wanted to do. Shyly, I said that I had always wanted to be a writer. She said, "Well then, why don't you write?" The loudest DUH! in the history of the universe exploded in my head. So I started writing — short stories, this time, not the beginnings of immense space operas.
The result was a quick education in rejection slips, which in those days were printed on small pieces of paper and came in the postage-paid, self-addressed stamped envelopes you included when you submitted stories to rejection machines, I mean magazines. One of those short stories grew longer every time I rewrote it and turned into a novel. I sent the novel out to publishers (which one did in those days, the early 1970s; nowadays, you approach agents instead). Same flood of rejection slips. Same despair, hopelessness, depression, and all of that artistic emotional stuff.
When faced with a brick wall, your only recourse is to keep beating your head against it. Either the wall will eventually give way, and you'll be able to get where you wanted, or your head will give way, and you'll no longer care. (You could also try climbing over the wall or finding a way around it, but those images are far less colorful.) Fortunately, the wall gave way before my head did. Pocket Books liked my novel, The Children of Shiny Mountain, and published it in 1977. At last I was on my way to fame and fortune!
TCoSM was, as my editor kindly put it, quietly received. Fame and fortune receded. I kept working for a living. My writing career floated along, up and down, sometimes sideways, through periods when I sold books and felt optimistic (fame and fortune were near!) and periods when I was sure I'd never sell a book again. (Fortunately, I was wrong. Eventually, seventeen of my books were published by traditional publishers.)
In 2009, the year I effectively retired, I started republishing — i.e., self-publishing — my previously published books. The ease and satisfaction of self-publishing were a revelation. I then self-published a science fiction novel, Time and the Soldier, that I hadn't been able to interest anyone, agent or publisher, in. Like almost all self-published books, it didn't sell a lot of copies, but I was delighted by the fact that it was out there and by the degree of control I had over the entire process. I decided to stick to self-publishing from that point on. That decision reinvigorated me. Nowadays, I'm again full of writing ideas and energy, both of which had declined a lot before 2009. Onward into the beautiful land of self-publishing — as is depicted on the cover of my book about how to do it yourself.
For the complete list of my books, both the old, traditionally published ones, and the newer, self-published ones, please click here.
Also in 2009, Leonore received her first job editing a book for another author. Not long thereafter, we helped a friend of a friend self-publish his children's book. Leonore did the editing, and I handled the layout, cover, e-book conversion, and uploading. Word spread. People approached us, wanting us to edit their books and handle the self-publishing for them. A business was born. It acquired a name and a Web site, DLD Books, and a constantly growing list of clients and their self-published books.
And that's where we are now. Thank you for reading thus far, assuming you did. If you want to contact me, my e-mail address is at the top of the page. It's a link; just click on it.
* "Oh, Elkhart High we will be true
Forever to your white and blue
And in our mem'ries will remain
The hope of coming back again.
To wander through familiar halls
And so on."
However, the school was demolished years ago.
** "Gloriana, frangipana
E'er to her be true.
She's the pride of Indiana
Hail to old IU."
Why do I remember this stuff? Was it that traumatic?
*** By which I mean an exceptionally good one, if I do say so myself, and I do.