BORN AT THE RIGHT TIME

This blog is all about writing fantasy, and so far I’ve done stuff like suggest a book you should have in your library, and I’ve given you permission to start sentences with the words and and but. I’ve told you how inspired I was by that Conan comic book, and will talk lots more about inspiration here and in the upcoming book, but it wasn’t until just now that I thought of something else any author, writing in any genre, should have on his or her side, and that is support.

Yesterday, September 7th, was my birthday. At my age birthdays have lost all their luster, and I’d be just as happy to ignore it than celebrate it, but when you have kids, you can’t be a total party pooper so I opened presents and ate some cake. I share a birthday with the great songwriter/musician Buddy Holly, one of my favorite artists of all time. It’s not weird, actually, to share a birthday with all sorts of people if you were born in the first half of September. After all, it is about nine months after drunken unprotected New Years Eve sex (hi Mom). For that same reason, it’s not weird to meet lots of other people born in early September. That time of year also happens to be when the “Big Three” Detroit auto makers (when they used to be big, and there were only three of them, and they actually made cars in Detroit) introduced their new models. This is when they bought a lot of TV commercial time, so the networks would premiere their new shows in September, paid for by ads for the new models.

Forty-three years ago today, September 8, 1966, Star Trek first aired to a nationwide audience, and a baby girl was born in suburban Chicago.

I don’t remember the first episode of Star Trek I ever saw. I doubt that the whole family sat around the TV watching that show (and back then we only had one TV, and it was black-and-white . . . my father was never described by anyone as a “first adopter”). Even at the time Star Trek was considered kinda goofy. I was all of two years and one day old, so even if it was on, I probably had no idea what was happening. Like most Trekkies I discovered Star Trek in syndication, and have been a fan as long as I can remember. Maybe it was that, growing up in the sixties and seventies, there was always a sense of change in the air, but as a little kid I happily accepted what Star Trek had to offer, blissfully unaware of how groundbreaking it was. I had no idea that Nichelle Nichols, as Lt. Uhura, was breaking down walls both for African Americans and women. It never occurred to me that a black woman couldn’t be a Star Fleet officer. It always seemed perfectly logical that there would be an Asian guy there, even a Russian, though I think we were all a little confused by Scotty. James T. Kirk was an ethnically ambiguous white guy, so who knew the Coolest Man in the Galaxy was a Jew? Who cares?

Thanks to Star Trek I grew up assuming at least some level of diversity might be common in a group of adult professionals. Okay, Lt. Uhura was the ship’s receptionist, and even in Corporate America in 1966 there were black receptionists. This was a Hollywood production, so it was hardly a stretch to imagine at least for the cast and crew that the guy in charge was Jewish. Sulu was played by a gay Japanese American who spent time in a relocation camp in World War II, so giving him the helm was actually pretty enlightened for ‘66. The guy who played Chekov wasn’t really Russian, but the accent was a big breakthrough for Cold War America.

Star Trek has inspired me to be a . . . well, to not be a racist, actually, and further, to become an author and editor of science fiction and fantasy. It has informed my storytelling style, and has colored my view of the people around me and the future of the human race in indelible ways. It’s impossible even to put it into words without making this silly little sci-fi show into some kind of grandiose social experiment, but damn it, Star Trek was a grandiose social experiment, and a successful experiment that helped change this country, and me, for the last forty-three years.

If I was too little, at two years and one day, to understand the first episode of Star Trek, that little baby girl was even less likely to have caught its first airing. She was a little busy at the time, being born. Her parents named her Deanne, and little did any of us know at the time but a little less than twenty-one years later, on July 18, 1987, then college student Deanne would go to a party with a friend of hers and meet me. I didn’t know she was coming either. She was the ex-girlfriend of a friend of my brother Pete’s and we hadn’t even heard of each other until we met that night. We didn’t like each other right away, but eventually got to talking, and have literally been together ever since.

Like Star Trek, Deanne has inspired me in all sorts of ways, but ultimately that’s not what I have to thank her for most. What I need to thank her for is her literally undying support, for the last twenty-two years.

No one has been more supportive of my writing than Deanne, and that’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. This is a tough business, and any limited success you may find will come after years of banging your head against the wall. If you’re lucky enough to have someone who’ll stand by you while you struggle through a succession of day jobs, stay up late tapping away at a computer, spend all day Saturday at work just to get a few thousand words in . . . that’s at least as important as any book on your bookshelf, or what word you choose to start a sentence with.

Writing is, at its heart, a solitary pursuit. Some authors have described it as a competition between you and the blank page. Others see it as a dance, or a seduction, or just plain hard work. For me its been a little bit of all those things. Its been blissful joy and god-awful torture. And as hard as writing itself can be, the business can be even harder. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have someone in your life who loves you even if your last book failed to turn a profit. Trust me, few publishers will keep that glow about them.

It’s hard to put in words—and it’s my job to put things in words—how much Deanne’s support has meant to me over the years. I couldn’t imagine doing it without her. She’s encouraged me to try new things, kept me on track when I’m suffering through an impending deadline, and just been there. She’s been there through many more lean times than the times that were a little less lean, and loved me just as much when we struggled, living unemployment check to unemployment check, than she did when we (we, not I) got those New York Times best seller royalty checks.

To Star Trek and Deanne, on their forty-third birthdays, it’s time for me to say, in public for once, thank you, and I love you.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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One Response to BORN AT THE RIGHT TIME

  1. Pingback: EXERCISE TWO . . . ATTEMPTED | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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