Taking Stock of 2009

With a few hours left in 2009, now seems as good a time as any to take stock of what I have accomplished during past year.

The year got off to a pretty good start. After participating in the ScienceOnline09 conference I decided to get serious about science writing, both on blogs and "dead tree media." Among my first formal efforts to be published outside the blogohedron were an article about spotted hyenas for Antennae and a review of A History of Paleontology Illustration for Palaeontologia Electronica.

What I did not expect, however, was the appearance of "Ida." I won't recapitulate the whole affair here (I am presently working on a paper covering the controversy that will, hopefully, be published in an open-access journal in 2010), but my reaction to the famous fossil landed me a pair of editorials in the Times and two appearances on BBC Radio 4's "Material World." Fortuitously, I had just started to work with my agent, Peter Tallack, at that time, and we used to hubbub over "Ida" to help find a publisher for my first book.

I have been working on what is now called Written in Stone for over three years, and in September it finally found a home at Bellevue Literary Press. The manuscript should be finalized by the end of January 2010, and with any luck the final product will hit shelves in the fall of 2010. By that time I should also be a good way into writing my second book, too, but I am going to keep quiet about that one for a little while longer (though I will say fans of Pleistocene megafauna will be pleased).

Admittedly there was much I wanted to do which I was not able to complete. There was an academic paper on the history of early Basilosaurus restorations, another on the snout of Sivatherium, and still another on the history of evolutionary thought in paleontology between 1859 and 1959, but those and several other papers will have to wait. They all sit, in varying degrees of completion, on my hard drive, and I hope that I will be able to make some more progress on them in 2010. Likewise, some of the popular articles I wanted to write (such as one about John Daniel, the "civilized" gorilla now sitting on the third floor of the AMNH, and another about the ongoing debate over sauropod neck posture) were rejected by the likes of Natural History and Scientific American, but I am keeping those ideas on the shelf for another time. And, sadly, I did not get to put together a "Best of Laelaps" essay collection as I had hoped. I started it, including rewrites of several essays, but Written in Stone quickly took precedence. I have not abandoned the idea entirely, though, and if I can establish myself as a science writer perhaps I will be better able to bring some of my favorite essays to a wider audience.

So, overall, I am fairly pleased with what I have been able to accomplish in 2009. I did not do everything I wanted to do, but at least I gained the confidence to start submitting article pitches, book proposals, and academic papers. Balancing my academic projects with popular ones is still difficult, but I hope to continue to do both. Many thanks to everyone who has helped me with both lines of work.

So what is in store for 2010? Right now it is difficult to say, but I have a number of goals. I have a few academic papers I want to finish/submit, I would like to write a few popular articles, and it would be marvelous if I could at least start formal work on my second book. Outside of writing I plan to engage in a bit of regular paleontological fieldwork this spring, but I might not remain in New Jersey for too long. This past summer I visited Wyoming and northern Utah with my wife for the first time, and we both loved Utah so much that we are planning on moving there. I figured it would be wise to go where the fossils are (as well as to escape the awful suburban sprawl of New Jersey), so, though it is a long shot, we are hoping to move to northern Utah sometime in 2010. (The trouble will be finding a job!)

I still feel like I have not done enough in 2009, but I am fairly pleased with what I have been able to do. I plan on working even harder in 2010, and speaking of which I had better get back to writing that paper! Happy new year, everyone, and thanks to all who have helped me with my work!

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Not a bad year then? But you did some other stuff too... After all, you wrote a great blog, one that was about interesting discoveries and problems. And that educated and excited a good many of your readers. For this reader it re-awakened long dormant (but not quite fossilised) interests in paleontology and natural history, got me interested in evolutionary theory, and - in the weird way that these thing happen - to a conference plenary address on the ways that politicians use ideas about evolution when they talk about technological advances in healthcare. Thanks for your blog and good luck in 2010 to you and yours.

Utah is indeed a beautiful place, and there are so many different places to visit within the area. I've been there 5 times now (driving or flying in from Northern Canada) for hiking, biking and photography. If I lived in the states I'd be very tempted to move to Utah too (I'd pick the north-east over the south because there are fewer RVs clogging the roads).

Besides, some of the best pictures I've taken came from Utah...how can you not love a place that makes you look like an excellent photographer? :-)

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 31 Dec 2009 #permalink

Thank you, Carl! I am glad you enjoy this blog, and I hope you continue to do so for some time to come.

I didn't list my posts on Laelaps as "accomplishments" for a few reasons. Since I can post whatever I want whenever I want to it does not carry the same weight as a piece published by someone else, and it is also difficult to tell what effect, if any, I am having on readers. From my stats I know I reach between 500 and 800 people on any given day, but unless they leave a comment I have no idea what they are thinking. Blogging is a little lonely, in that sense, in that it is often difficult to tell what people think of your work unless they explicitly tell you (thanks again for sharing, by the way).

Furthermore, I feel like my blog has somewhat stagnated. I don't so much mean this in a creative sense as in the fact that since the time I started blogging on Wordpress my monthly traffic stats have not changed much. I get about the same number of visitors as I always have. The blog is not so much growing as continuing to just chug along, and that is why I have been putting more effort into other projects. I still like blogging and will continue to do so, but I know Laelaps is never going to be as popular as Tetrapod Zoology, Not Exactly Rocket Science, Neurotopia, or other blogs here that I admire. Darren, Ed, and Scicurious are the best at what they do, and I am just not at that same level. I am going to continue to do the best I can, absolutely, but since my blog is holding steady rather than really growing I don't think of continuing to write posts as being worthy of note.

I am glad to know that you have been inspired by what I have written here, though. That is really the highest compliment that can be paid to a writer like me. I write because I love to do it, and when I know that it is making a difference that is so much better. Many thanks to all of you, old readers and new, who continue to enjoy this blog.