Jack McDevitt is an American science fiction novelist. He has over 20 novels available in print, ebook, and audio, stories that frequently deal with attempts to make contact with alien races, and with archaeology or xenoarchaeology. McDevitt has won multiple awards including the International UPC Science Fiction award for Ships in the Night, a Nebula for Seeker, a Campbell Award for Omega, and the Robert Heinlein Lifetime Achievement Award.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in South Philadelphia. Was a boy scout. Today I’m still in touch with the scoutmaster’s family, which is scattered all over the USA. My mom encouraged me to read, and provided books. Discovered Superman & Dick Tracy on the radio when I was about five. Enjoyed baseball. Couldn’t have had a better time during those early years.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That we don’t have friends and relatives forever. Learn to enjoy the day when you’re living through it.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I just don’t recall any.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
We were playing basketball one evening at a rec center. One of the players was the captain of our former baseball team. He passed out for no apparent reason. Asked me not to mention it to his wife because it would worry her unnecessarily. So I said nothing. A week later he was dead from a brain hemorrhage. “Nobody saw it coming.”
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
My wife Maureen has served as my in-house editor. She reads everything before it goes out. She has good judgment, and she tells me what she really thinks. My son Chris has taken up some of the work as well.
What is your morning routine?
Usually, I watch the opening segment of Morning Joe. Then I feed the cats, have a light breakfast, and used to get to work. I’ve put on a few years, though. After the light breakfast now, I’m more likely to fall asleep.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
My former boss in the Customs Service, George Tindle, talked me into developing a daily physical routine. Long walks, lifting weights, doing push-ups. He got me going thirty years ago. I don’t do as much as I used to, but I have stayed with it. I recommend it to everyone.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I had an early bad habit: Set my writing schedule by the clock. Work from ten to five, with an hour off for lunch. I realized eventually that I spent a lot of that time looking out a window at birds, squirrels, and trees. I eventually figured out that a better method would be to set aside a section of the project and get that done. It would be a single scene, or maybe a collision between two characters, or whatever. Then take the rest of the day off. It worked much better. I got more done in less time, and was able to spend a couple of hours relaxing, read, or doing jigsaw puzzles.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
- The Iliad and The Odyssey got me interested in the Greeks.
- The Brothers Karamazov asked serious questions about the religious views I grew up with.
- The Arabian Nights translated by Richard Burton ignited a passion for Middle East mythology.
- Famous Science Fiction Stories, edited by Raymond Healy & J. Francis McComas stirred my interest in SF.
- Nine Plays by Eugene O’Neill left me with a love for theater. During my time as a high school teacher, I set up and directed plays for eight years.
- A Shropshire Lad by the poet A. E. Housman. I loved his work. Have never forgotten his description of watching British troops march past on their way to war. He comments that he doesn’t know what’s in their thoughts but he wishes them well.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
When I was one and twenty a wise man said to me,
“Give crown and pounds and guineas But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies, but keep your fancy free.”
But I was one and twenty, no use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty, And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.
– “When I Was One-and-Twenty” by British writer A.E. Housman