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The worlds of psychology and science fiction collide

  • William McIntosh:
    William McIntosh:  To date, he has published six novels and 50 short stories and has been nominated for 13 awards.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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William McIntosh is living a dream as a science-fiction author, spending his days writing, revising and brainstorming new ideas for stories — some of which may soon be on television.

The William & Mary adjunct lecturer of psychology’s transformation from full-time professor to full-time author, however, is a story in itself.

After receiving his doctorate in social psychology at the University of Georgia in 1990, he immediately went to work as a professor at Georgia Southern University. He would go on to spend 22 years at GSU in a tenured position and began writing only as a hobby.

“I had an interesting dream, a science fictiony kind of dream, and decided, ‘I’m going to write that as a story,’” he said. “So, it kind of became a hobby, and the hobby grew. But I really didn’t have any intention of changing careers.”

According to McIntosh, from an outside perspective, it appears that he left the security of his tenured position to pursue his dream. However, he says it happened differently than one would expect.

After the birth of his twins, McIntosh and his wife realized that rural south Georgia was not the place that they wanted to begin their family. Several factors inspired the move from south Georgia to Williamsburg, Virginia.

“I was seeing enough success [in my writing]; I had just gotten a two-book contract to write two science fiction books,” McIntosh said. “So we kind of looked and said, ‘Now is as good a time as any.’”

After his wife, Associate Professor of Kinesiology Alison Scott, secured a position at W&M, he submitted his resignation to GSU and gave up the tenured position for writing, an act that, according to McIntosh, was nerve-wracking. But they decided that they wanted to call Williamsburg home.

The move allowed him the opportunity to devote the majority of his time to writing.

“It was really a quality of life move, and it just so happened that my hobby was something that I could transform into full-time work,” he said.

To date, McIntosh has published six novels and 50 short stories and has been nominated for 13 awards.

Two years before making the move to Williamsburg in 2012, McIntosh was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Short Story and was nominated for a Nebula after the publication of “Bridesicle” in 2009.

According to McIntosh, having received both reader- and writer-nominated awards, there is no award that he desired more than the Hugo. After being told by fellow authors that his chances of winning were slim-to-none, he surprised even himself when he won it at the World Science Fiction Convention in Sydney in 2010.

“I was stunned,” he said. “But, what it really said is that the people voting just read the stories and voted for the ones they liked best. It wasn’t a popularity contest. So, that was really gratifying.”

Where it all began

From a young age, McIntosh was drawn to books and movies about science fiction.

“I was about four, and my grandfather had me for the day,” McIntosh said. “We were doing errands around his neighborhood in Manhattan. We went into a little store with a little black and white TV that was on, and it was showing the original ‘King Kong,’”

“And I looked at it and I thought, ‘What is that? I must see this.’ It’s my first memory of this very intense fascination with things that are science-fiction.”

And it was one of these original “cool, science fiction” dreams that he had later in life that would eventually become his “labor of love,” Faller, McIntosh’s most recent novel released in October 2016.

“Basically, it’s about a guy who wakes up with no memory, and he’s on a chip of Manhattan that’s floating in a blue sky,” McIntosh said. “He goes to the edge where pipes are torn out and the road just crumbles, and there’s nothing as far as you can see in every direction, including down, but blue sky. And everyone who’s with him has no memory of what has happened.

“Eventually, he figures out how to make a parachute and he jumps off of it and falls for three days and lands on another little chip of North America and starts to drop to try to learn what happened.”

Faller is told from the view of a brilliant physicist, a scientific area with which McIntosh is unfamiliar. But with the help of W&M Physics Professor Marc Sher, McIntosh was able to craft a reasonably accurate story based on physics and science.

“He sat down with me and really helped,” McIntosh said. “I mean, he really had to do a lot of work with me to get it to where this guy sounded like a physicist and the stuff that happened, as much as it could, make sense from a physics point-of-view.”

Combining two worlds into one

McIntosh’s writing differs from typical science-fiction, which is characterized by discussions of technology, physics, genetics and other out-of-this-world sciences, he said. Instead, he mostly bases his tales on psychological and social sciences — topics he knows best.

Currently, he has two books set to be released this year: Watchdog, a middle-grade book, in October and his second young adult book in June.

In years past, Defenders and Love Minus Eighty were optioned to become movies. Unfortunately, at the end of the options, which last only 18 months, producers decided not to pursue either film due to perceived high budgets and other reasons, McIntosh said.

However, Watchdog, which has not even been released yet, and Love Minus Eighty have both been optioned to become potential television series, with Watchdog being actively developed as a possible Netflix series.

For McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty, based on the Hugo-award-winning short story, “Bridesicle,” is still the story that he holds closest to his heart due to the overlap of his beloved psychology and science-fiction worlds.

“It wasn’t my idea to turn it into a book,” McIntosh said. “It was actually the publisher’s … What they said was, ‘Expand it by exploring love and courtship in the future.’ And I thought, ‘That’s awesome! I love that idea.’ I was doing research on internet dating, and I thought, ‘Okay, I can sink my teeth into this.’”

Love Minus Eighty was chosen by National Public Radio as one of the Best Books of 2013 and was voted best science fiction book of the year by the American Library Association in 2013.

McIntosh currently spends his days trying to come up with an idea for a book series. For aspiring authors, he has just a few pieces of practical advice.

“Write a lot and get feedback,” he said. “And the other advice I would give, it’s not necessarily positive advice, but have a fallback plan.”