Inspirations

What type of science fiction do you write?”  “Who’s your favorite author?”  These are usually the types of questions I get whenever people find out that I’m a writer.  They always want to know who inspired me to write and why—100 times out of 100 they’re thoroughly surprised by my answer.  Of course, I start off by saying that when I was a kid, Star Trek and Star Wars were heavy influences into what I thought science fiction was or should be.  I saw Star Wars for the first time on November 19, 1977—months after many of my friends had seen it five or six times—we were dirt poor back then—and it was just Star Wars—there was none of this Episode IV business, get real.  I was literally knocked out of my seat when that Star Destroyer flew overhead.  I had never seen anything like that before in my life—and I think that the movie going public hadn’t ever seen anything like that.  Think about it; the movies of the 70’s were—being a classic movie fan—the movies of the 70s are my least favorite period.  Those movies weren’t about heroes doing daring deeds in the face of staggering opposition.  They were serious downers.  Make no mistake, there were a few that went against this trend—not many though.  Most of the movies of the 70s were out right bummers; slow paced, dark, very adult in their unflattering starkness.  Jaws changed that attitude somewhat—but I was way too young to see that flick when it opened in theaters.  Star Wars blew the lid off it.  And for better or worse, the summer Blockbuster was born.  But you already knew this right?

I was also a big fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I didn’t understand it as a kid.  But I could easily recognize its grandeur and staggering intellectual magnitude.  And had I known at the time that many adults didn’t (or don’t) understand 2001, I wouldn’t have felt so bad about my lack of mental agility as a kid.

During the Star Trek and Star Wars crush, I was also a frequent viewer of Space:1999.  Say what you will, I thought the series was great.  I loved its special effects, the acting was spot-on, the action was good, it was entertaining.  I also watched Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica.  I thought BSG was a little corny, even as a kid. . . The A-Team, Knight Rider and The Hulk were much better.

Now, as far as authors went . . . well, I didn’t read too much science fiction as a kid.  I mean ‘real’ science fiction.  I got into those move-tie-in novels, most of which seemed to have been written by Alan Dean Foster—who also wrote Star Wars, or so I’m told, but I didn’t know this at the time.  I read Star Wars more than fifty times before I was fifteen.  Maybe more.  It got to the point where I’d ask a friend to open the book up to any page, read a couple of words and I’d finish the sentence for them with my eyes shut.  I invented Obsession way before Calvin Klein did.  When my friends and I were reading these books, we naively thought of them as regular novels that they just made into movies like Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Lolita, etc.  So we thought we were reading great works of science fiction in Star Wars, The Blackhole, Alien, Close Encounters of The Third Kind—no internet back then.  When I realized what these books were I was mildly upset and quit reading them.

I started writing my novel . . . I mean, seriously focusing on the craft of writing, when I was a junior in high school.  At the time I seriously considered being an illustrator for Marvel, because I loved comic book art so much.  It didn’t matter what it was: pencils, inking, coloring, I loved it all.  But it was hard and drawing took a lot out of me.  When non-artist saw my work, they’d say, “wow, that’s really good.”  But I’d be thinking, it took a long time just to get the outline right and I don’t want to draw another picture again for at least a week.  I always admired those artist who could just sketch and sketch for ten or twelve hours straight without a break.  I wasn’t one of them.  Writing on the other hand was an art where I could expend a tremendous amount of time at doing it, then do it all over again the next day and the next . . .

I continued to write throughout high school and when I entered college and even when I dropped out and joined the Air Force.  But writing in the Air Force was difficult at best, but I kept pressing.  The discouraging thing wasn’t the writing, but the fact that I couldn’t find any decent science fiction books to read.  If it wasn’t a Star Trek novel it was either campy or flat dull.  I wanted to read a space opera that rivaled Star Trek and Star Wars in magnitude and pure imaginative vision.  I wanted a space opera with all the trimmings, something that delivered the goods.

A friend in my squadron recommended Robert Ludlum’s The Matarse Circle.  Now, it wasn’t science fiction, but he thought I’d enjoy it because it was well written and had a lot of action.  “Try something different,” he said.  So I did, and it was like being transported back to the theater when I saw Star Wars the first time—it opened my eyes and knocked me out of my seat.  I couldn’t believe how good it was.   I honestly didn’t think that a spy novel could be so . . . entertaining, bursting at the seams with action, imagination, violence, intrigue and suspense . . .  I was hooked.

After The Materse Circle I read The Aquitaine Progression, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy—they’re nothing like the movies by the way, although the mini-series with Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith are pretty true to the literary work.  There was no turning back now.  Then another Air Force friend recommended Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.  I’ve heard of it—who didn’t in the military—and it was a bestseller, but I was skeptical,  I didn’t want to read a book about the ‘red menace’—I thought it’d be nothing but low-brow hate-mongering propaganda.  I always thought it wouldn’t be a book that I’d get into—I mean, it was about the navy after all.  A friend let me borrow his copy and it was a struggle to get past the second chapter!  I put it down.  Tried again, and put it down for a second and a third time.  I just couldn’t get into it.  I didn’t have the energy to pick it up a fourth time.  So another friend suggested Red Storm Rising.  At this point I was like, enough with the Clancy already—I’m sick and tired of Tom Clancy, his stories are boring.  He ain’t no Robert Ludlum.  Then I reluctantly picked up Red Strom Rising and by page three I’d fallen off a cliff.  I couldn’t put the damned thing down.  That book scared the hell out of me.  Why—because the situations were so real, the characters were real, the action intense.

So then I picked up Patriot Games—damnit, the first few pages were just as boring as The Hunt For Red October.  But I forged ahead and soon I found myself in the middle of a taut international spy thriller.  The action was frantic, but well paced and I found myself reading until 2 AM.  It turned out to be a good book . . .I was slowly becoming one of the converted.  I moved onto The Cardinal of the Kremlin and The Sum of All Fears.  Like Red Storm Rising, The Sum of All Fears scared the hell out of me back in 1993!  I don’t think I need to go into why—the history of this past decade should supply you with ample reasons.  But I was floored and becoming a big Tom Clancy fan.

So these are the two authors who inspired my writing.  Ludlum and Clancy.  These are the two that made me consider things to include in my writing that I never would’ve thought twice about.  These are the two who made me think that I could actually write a novel and not just make journal entries.  Not that either of them is a great literary giant.  But they have the power to mold action around believable, flesh and blood characters and make the reader think about what’s going on in the narrative, what’s going to happen next—and damn! It’s already 3AM, I have to be at work tomorrow!

Because of Ludlum and Clancy I always thought why can’t you have two or three, or maybe even a dozen superpowers vying for control of a galaxy?  Why does it always have to be 'Wars' or 'Trek'.  Why not something else that also makes use of the grandest of stages?  And let’s see the action.  Put us on the bridge, or in the cockpit, or in the foxhole.  I don’t want to read chapter after chapter of admirals moving counters on a table and talking about what they’re planning to do next.  Do it—put the reader into the scene where they’re not mere witnesses to the action, but are actually living it with the characters.  Write about spies flying from one star system to another carrying out assignments, dealing with customs, setting up safe houses, making data drops, engaging in clandestine meetings, stealing hardware.

I think you should be able to do all of that while writing to the best of your ability. Focus on the craft of writing well and telling a damn good story.  Don’t cheapen the art and don't cheat yourself.  If you’re not happy with a scene—write it again, then write the damned scene twenty more times until it’s right. . . Or, get rid of it. Someone said, "you don't write, you re-write." It's true.

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