Margaret DiCanio, the author of Memory Fragments from the Armenian Genocide: A Mosaic of a Shared Heritage (Mystery and Suspense Press, 2002) has been a freelance writer for 17 years, during which she has published 10 nonfiction books.
Among the ten are three encyclopedias. They are: Encyclopedia of American Activism: 1960 to the Present (ABC-CLIO, 1998); Encyclopedia of Violence: Origins, Attitudes, Consequences, (Facts on File, 1993); and Encyclopedia of Marriage, Divorce, and the Family, (Facts on File, 1989, iUniverse, 2001).
DiCanio’s short mystery “The Bag Lady Caper” appeared in New Mystery in the summer of 1999 and was reprinted in Mystery in Mind (Parapsychology Press, 2003). Her short story “Tunnel of Malice” appeared in Futures in the fall of 2001 and was a finalist for the Derringer Award given by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Two short stories, “Heaven’s Triage” and “Legacy of Glass,” were both 2002 New Century Award finalists, as was an excerpt from a mystery novel entitled Operation: Kick Butt. Her short story "The Guardian" will appear in the July\August\September issue of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine.
DiCanio served four years as the president of the New England chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and has functioned as the editor of the chapter’s newsletter on and off for seven years. She is also a member of the Authors Guild, the Private Eye Writers of America, and ARTSalem.
She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Florida and an M.A. in Psychology from Boston University. After a stint of teaching in universities, she served as the director of two mental health centers in Massachusetts before becoming a fulltime writer.
By training, I’m a medical sociologist, which means I studied the people, the places, the organizations, the situations, and the dilemmas that make up everyday life in medicine. As a consequence, my first book, Encyclopedia of Marriage, Divorce, and the Family, included many entries about health and medical issues. Those entries probably led my agent to assume I knew more about science than I did.
She asked me to take on an annual 100,000-word yearbook about science in the news. The target audience was middle and high school kids. Being a freelancer—translate that to mean without a steady income—makes you brave and foolhardy.
The yearbook’s three divisions, life sciences, earth sciences, and physical sciences and mathematics, were subdivided into thirteen subcategories. Each subcategory had two stories, plus a quickie story, making a total of thirty-nine topics. The life science stories didn’t worry me, but the earth sciences and the physical sciences plus mathematics made me anxious. The six-month start-to-finish schedule didn’t give me time to indulge my anxiety.
For those of you who would like to sidle up to science writing instead of plunging into it as I did, there are many readable resources. Several large newspapers have weekly science sections. A must on your reading list is the Science News, a weekly available by subscription or in many libraries. Other readable magazines include Discover, Omni, and Smithsonian. If your local library doesn’t carry science magazines, check the libraries of local community colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and medical centers. Many let you use their facilities. Some even let you borrow from their collections.
Earthwatch, a membership organization, puts out a journal and a newsletter. They will inspire you to learn more. If you can afford to go on one of Earthwatch’s two-week research trips as a working volunteer, you’ll not only contribute to science, you’ll have a fascinating, off-the-beaten-track vacation. Maybe you can even find an editor who will help pay for your trip by paying you for an article about it.
Learning about science is comparable to learning a foreign language or doing a daily crossword puzzle. Think of it as one more fun way to ward off Alzheimer’s.