BIOLOG: Joe M. McDermott
By Richard A. Lovett
Joe M. McDermott never envisioned himself as an Analog writer. “I’m a born-and-raised literary and fantasy author,” he says. Then he read a collection of short stories by Tiptree Award winner Maureen McHugh, and “it was like a switch flipping in my head.” He was already a critically acclaimed fantasy author, but by 2017 his novel, The Fortress at the End of Time, would be winning accolades as “a brilliant throwback to classic science fiction.”
Now, “Full Metal Mother” (page 63) marks his third Analog appearance in two years. “If you told me ten years ago I’d not just publish a story in Analog but start to publish a bunch of stories, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he says. “I blame Maureen McHugh.”
McDermott was born a Texan, and currently resides in San Antonio. One of his most interesting early discoveries was that one of his favorite fantasy writers, Carol Berg, had gone to his high school several decades earlier. “I thought [it] was a backwater, nowhere place,” he says.
From there, he went to the University of Houston, where, in 2002, he graduated with a major in creative writing and a minor in history. That eventually led him to the gaming industry, where he worked as a game writer. But with a successful fantasy novel to his credit, he was already planning his next step, working on a master of fine arts degree at the University of Southern Maine.
“The [university’s] Stonecoast program is one of the few programs that embraces the literature of the fantastic,” he says. “James Patrick Kelly teaches there. Elizabeth Hand teaches there. Nancy Holder teaches there.” Not to mention that telling his boss he was going home to work on homework was a lot easier than saying he was working on a book, “the intellectual property of which your company does not own.”
Prior to that, he also had the usual assortment of odd jobs. “I read a lot of biographies of writers when I got serious about becoming one,” he says, “and the ones I thought were good often listed a whole slew of weird jobs.” His own most interesting gig was working as an attendant in an art museum. “I stood in an art gallery for hours, surrounded by unspeakable beauty,” he says. “I watched grown people [who] did not appear to be out of their minds try to reach out and touch paintings of extreme delicacy from geniuses lost to time. I tried to discourage them from it. It was very boring, and very breathtaking.”
Now, he teaches composition at a community college. “I work with a lot of first-generation college students and veterans,” he says. “There’s nothing like working with someone who dropped out of high school once, got a GED as an adult, and is going to school again, despite all the other commitments in their lives. They have a breadth of experience and love of learning that’s hard to match.”
Not to mention that good writing is important, not just for those of us who love to read it. “Composition is the art of changing people’s minds,” he says. “When Martin Luther King was talking about this dream he had, he was doing composition. When Jesus stood on the mountain and spoke, that was composition. Everything begins as a dream in someone’s head, an idea. Someone thought about it and convinced others it ought to be so. Composition—that boring, stuffy requirement in all our core curriculums—is how to breach the wall of dreams and make things real.”