I was recently scheduled to speak to a creative writing class at my college alma mater about my first novel and writing in general, so I’ve been debating how best to impart advice. I had to learn a whole lot of writing techniques the hard way, sometimes because I was a little oblivious, and sometimes because I accepted conventional wisdom about writing topics without scrutiny. In the hope that it will be useful to other writers, I thought I’d present the same writing truths I’m planning to cover for those students, a few kernels I wish I’d had when I first got serious about the craft.
It was Star Trek that got me interested in historical fiction. Not because I’d been watching the crew interact with historical figures on the holodeck—the Next Generation didn’t exist when I was a kid. And it wasn’t because Kirk and Spock once met a simulacrum of Abraham Lincoln. It was because, Star Trek nerd that I was, I’d read that Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry had modeled Captain Kirk after some guy named Horatio Hornblower. I didn’t think I’d like history stories, but I sure liked Star Trek, so I decided to take a chance. Once I rode my bicycle to the library and saw how many books about Hornblower there were, I figured I’d be enjoying a whole lot of sailing age Star Trek fiction for a long time to come.
Of course, it didn’t turn out quite like that. Hornblower wasn’t exactly like Kirk, and his exploits weren’t that much like those of the Enterprise, but they were cracking good adventures. Thanks to my own curiosity but mostly to the prose of the talented C.S. Forester, my tastes had suddenly, and accidentally, broadened beyond science fiction. I’d learned that other flavors of storytelling tasted just as good.
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