A sizable portion of “The Ruins of Noble Men,” my novella in Star Trek Vanguard: Declassified, is set nearly a decade prior to the current series continuity, when some of the characters served together aboard the Federation starship Dauntless. Because I wanted something to visualize while I was writing, I looked to the work of fan starship designer Masao Okazaki for inspiration.
Masao’s web site, the Starfleet Museum, is his personal interpretation of the design lineage for the ships that were first seen in the original Star Trek TV series. Because of the clear influence his work draws from Star Trek Production Designer Matt Jefferies, as well as the work of Franz Joseph Schnaubelt—the man behind the Star Trek Blueprints and the Star Fleet Technical Manual, two publications that fed my geek needs back in the early ’70s—I’m a longtime fan of Masao’s work. When David Mack and I developed the Vanguard series for Simon & Schuster, Masao was the guy I hired to design the space station, as well as the scoutship Sagittarius. Those interested in finding out more about Masao’s Vanguard work, as well as his aforementioned influences, Matt Jefferies and Franz Joseph, should be sure to check out Star Trek Magazine #35, which is out right now. In addition to containing features about those talented individuals, it also has some great articles by my friends and fellow Vanguard conspirators, Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, and an excerpt from my story, “The Ruins of Noble Men.”
Which brings me back to my original reason for this post. To visualize the Dauntless while I was writing the story, I fixated on one of Masao’s designs from the Starfleet Museum, the Pyotr Velikiy. In addition to Masao’s various elevations, the ship page also had some great CG images, rendered by another fan artist, Thomas Pemberton. And when I was handed the honor of having my story previewed in Star Trek Magazine, I thought it would be fun to illustrate the excerpt with one of those renders, renamed and renumbered for the Dauntless. So I contacted Tom Pemberton, and to my complete surprise, he not only agreed to do it, he actually created an entirely new render of the ship from scratch, completely different from the ones on Masao’s site! How cool is that?
Star Trek Magazine published the image in monochrome to fit their overall design for the spread on which the excerpt appeared, but I wanted to share it here in all its original glory. Enjoy!
I’m not going to offer up a list of his many awards, honors, and editorial credits. If you don’t know who he is, I urge you to look him up. What I really want to say is that it was Marty, together with then-Bantam editor Robert Simpson, who bought my first story, back before I got my first job with a publisher. That was in the late ’80s, when I was just a grunt at the now-defunct 59th Street branch of Forbidden Planet in Manhattan. Marty visited New York City around that time, and I got to meet him in person. He even took me to lunch to discuss some editorial opportunities he had for me. To this day, I have no idea what he saw in me, but I never forgot his kindness. And when I became an editor myself, I always tried to pay it forward.
I remember Marty as a vibrant, enthusiastic gentleman with great patience and great vision, speaking with pride and excitement about his new baby daughter. I remember the chance he took on me, a novice, and I remember that he was one of the people who gave me my first big break in my chosen profession.
Marty’s passing makes the publication of my new story bittersweet. And when I start the new week at Tor on Monday morning, I’ll remember it was Marty who opened the first door.
Inspiration tends to strike like lightning. It’s what happens when our brains make unexpected connections between different ideas, resulting in a flash of creativity. This often occurs spontaneously, when we’re going through the motions of our everyday lives and some random observation or experience sets off a chain reaction in our imaginations.
We don’t have to wait around just hoping it will happen, however. We can help the process along by going in search of ideas and experiences that don’t ordinarily intersect with us, daring ourselves to re-examine assumptions we may have previously taken for granted. For writers, this practice of seeking out new and wider perspectives is absolutely essential to those hoping to grow in their craft.
Human nature being what it is, though, this is usually harder than it should be. We tend to stick with what we like, with what’s familiar. It’s just easier to play it safe, to not broaden our horizons. Consequently, many of us read only certain kinds of books, watch only certain kinds of movies, or eat only certain kinds of food.
A few years ago I was in San Diego, taking part in the annual organized mayhem of Comic Con International. One evening, after a typically grueling day behind the Simon & Schuster booth, my coworkers and I hosted a dinner at one of the great local restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter, where we were joined by a group of authors and game developers. I’ve been to lot of these dinners and honestly, after a while they tend to blur together. Even when the company is scintillating and the food impeccable, the overall context is generally the same each time, and so it’s easy to forget who was where and when it took place, or what was on the menu.
At this particular dinner, I did what I always do when dining out: I scanned the menu for things I recognized, and selected from among those options whatever I was most in the mood for. I ignored everything else. I didn’t even notice the fact that the menu offered Antelope Terrine until the woman sitting next to me muttered, “John’s gonna order the antelope.”
John was one of her coworkers, a game designer sitting at the other end of the table. John wasn’t his real name. I can’t remember his real name. All I remember is the antelope, and the prediction that this guy would order it, whereas I didn’t even know what Antelope Terrine was, and I didn’t want to know. The woman who’d made the prediction went on to explain, “Whenever John goes to a restaurant, he always orders the most exotic thing on the menu.”
And he did. I subsequently learned that John had never tried antelope, but he ordered it, he ate it, and he enjoyed it. With gusto. With enthusiasm and excitement. I’m pretty sure I had a pasta dish.
I thought a lot about that evening afterward, about what John’s dining habits said about him. He wasn’t just open to new ideas and experiences, he relished them, and he had fun doing it. And this was a guy who made his living building worlds.
Complacency is the enemy. It’s the mother of stagnation. Yes, venturing deliberately beyond your comfort zone can be unsettling, but in my experience it’s the surest way to find inspiration. Creativity comes from having your cage rattled, from being reminded that there’s a bigger world out there than the one you’ve created for yourself. Instead of seeking experiences that validate your preconceptions, make the choice to challenge them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn just how often lightning can strike.