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"Just a Small-town Texas Girl"
I was born and grew up in South Texas, a few miles from the Mexican border. My grandfather had moved his family there in 1918 and had a chain of hardware stores with a partner. McAllen right after WWII was a small city with a small downtown--and Borderland Hardware was right in the middle of it. My parents had separated before I was born, and divorced shortly after. My mother worked in the hardware store until I was nine, and I spent hours and hours in the store or in other stores on Main Street. Like the other "Main Street kids," I had the chance to learn a lot about retail businesses of every kind. The first money I ever earned (at six) was for painting the fence around the store parking lot across the alley. It was a lot more work than I'd thought before I started, and I was no Tom Sawyer to talk friends into helping out. The store sold knives--I already had a taste for good metal (that later translated into swords) and spent my pay on a hunting knife.
My mother then worked as a draftsman for a small oil company and for the rest of my schooldays I had the chance to see the oil business in its heyday. I learned to use drafting tools, from a Vemco drafting machine to several varieties of lettering equipment. I still have my mother's drafting table (her own, not the one at the office) and tools, and still use them. There's something satisfying about doing work by hand that now is mostly done by computer, although the 457th little tiny hand-drawn mountain can be tedious.
I loved the outdoors as did my mother; we camped on the beach (before it had high-rises on it), went on long drives through the brush country on sand tracks, went fishing in the bigger canals. I begged rides on every horse I could find. This included the docile and the difficult, the slow and the fast, the large and small...actually a good experience for later encounters with horses of all kinds and in all places.
I also loved storytelling. I was a very early reader, and almost immediately started writing (really awful stuff, of course, but I couldn't stop.) Whenever I had a spare moment in school, I'd scribble poetry or stories on spare pieces of paper. Gradually the stories improved. But I knew no writers, and as the child of a single mother, I was well aware that earning a living was my first priority. At the time, career counseling for girls stuck to the traditional: clerk, secretary, bookkeeper, teacher, nurse. For a tomboy with a taste for adventure and the outdoors (or writing stories and poetry) none of those appealed. But the space age had started...there might be openings in science, and I had annoyingly high grades in math and science.
So off I went to Rice University as a physics major--an adventure that ended abruptly with the discovery that liking science in high school is not the same thing as having an ability to do it at a high level in a good university. Hence the first degree (1968) was in history. And all the time, on the side, I was writing poetry and fiction (mostly science fiction, at that time.) The "what next?" seemed obvious to me (not to many other people!)--military service. And the branch seemed obvious when three recruiters were encouraging and eager and told me how much I'd enjoy being in the Army, Air Force, or Navy...and the Marine Corps recruiter looked at me and said "You might make it through OCS." Naturally, I signed up with the Marines. Where, after making it through OCS and Basic School, I was assigned to work with computers.
That gave me a chance to explore a whole new ecosystem, the eastern forest, in my time off. Soon I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail, learning the trees, vines, bushes, birds along the way, and thinking how I could arrange life to have more time outdoors in the future. In 1969, I married a Rice classmate (then in the Army, just before his tour in Vietnam) and when we finished our active duty, we moved back to Texas. I started work on a biology degree, still in love with science (but this time one with outdoor possibilities.) That degree led to graduate school, but circumstances interfered with finishing the graduate degree. In the meantime, I'd found my way back to horses (learning to ride English this time), started serious singing in a church choir, went hiking, went kayaking in a Folbot we built, and continued to learn more about photography. And kept writing, filling boxes with stories that wouldn't end.
In 1979, we moved to a very small town (under 1000 population) in central Texas and I dove into community life: volunteer on the EMS (qualified as paramedic), two terms on City Council, several terms on the Library Board, one term as Chamber of Commerce president (one was enough for everyone--she who forgets to send someone to collect the cow chips for the cow-chip-throwing contest is not cut out for the job.) I started writing the Florence News column for the county weekly in about 1981--the first paid writing gig--and that led to getting serious about writing professionally. We adopted our son in 1983 and the discovery that he was autistic pushed me into learning a lot about neurology and cognition. He's now an adult and making stellar progress; I'm still involved with some online disability-parenting groups.
My first fiction sales came in 1985; the first book sold in 1987, and from then on it's been a mad scramble to get all the stories out of my head and onto paper (or into the computer.) I've been amazingly lucky with my agent, my publishers, and my editors; I've been honored with the Compton Crook Award for the first Paks book in 1989, the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2003 for The Speed of Dark, and the Heinlein Award in 2007. I'm now back in the world of The Deed of Paksenarrion, drawing maps and writing and enjoying every minute (well, maybe not the 513th little mountain on the map.) Oath of Fealty, the first of the new Paksworld group, came out in 2010; the next, Kings of the North, will be out in 2011, and I'm making good headway on the next (though the map isn't quite finished. Yet more mountains...)
When not writing or doing other writing related things (including blogging), I'm often out on the land we bought, photographing wildlife and native plants and planning the continuing recovery of this piece of former prairie. Or messing with the two pasture-pet horses. Or practicing for a choir performance. Or cooking (another favorite pastime.) Or at fencing practice, playing with four feet of pointy steel (Renaissance style: rapier and dagger, rapier and buckler, etc.)
I'm still a small-town Texas gal...I live in a small town in Texas, after all. But that's not the whole story.
Contents of these pages ©1996-2012 Elizabeth Moon