The Year Was 2017…
I don’t get embarrassed about baby pictures. I don’t understand why anyone would –– there’s no shame in looking like a child when you happen to be one. I do, however, get very embarrassed about my earliest writing. No matter how old you are when you start, it’s a safe bet that your first stories won’t be your best –– there’s a lot to discover, and plenty you can only learn through experience.
As such, I keep the stuff that I wrote as an eleven-year-old in Newfoundland locked in a filing cabinet in a secret corner of my office. It’s terrible, and yet some of it is etched onto my brain… especially the very first lines of the very first ‘book’ I decided to write in 1995.
Today I reveal the first page of that book, because the story is about me –– I was the main character, naturally –– and it takes place in 2017. It’s the first time real life has caught up to anything I’ve ever written… and unsurprisingly, I got almost everything wrong.
Except all the really important stuff.
Without further ado, then, I present the completely unedited first 272 words of Star Defenders, Book One: The First Mission, written by an author who watched a lot of Star Trek (and still does):
The year was 2017. I woke up to a rising sun, not knowing that that would be the last sunrise I would see without worrying about being attacked by aliens.
I was aboard the command ship of a space defense fleet, the Wolf, which I had designed 4 years before. The completion of the fleet had only been 10 months ago. We were to lift off at noon that day. I was sort of nervous because I wasn’t sure that the design would hold, I knew it would, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something would go wrong.
After getting up, showering and changing into my uniform, I headed for the bridge. I still hadn’t met my first officer yet and I was eager to welcome my family and the 16 German Shepherd puppies that we had bred over the years since my childhood aboard. I stepped towards the bridge lift and hit the key. As the door wooshed open, I saw someone I hadn’t seen for 7 years.
“Ryan?! Is that you?” I nearly yelled, “What are you doing aboard my ship?!”
“Hi Kenneth!” he exclaimed “I’m your first officer. Didn’t you know! I found the post in the Officer Posts section of the Defense Command paper.”
“You didn’t happen to notice the part in large bold print that I happened to be the commanding officer of this fleet?” I grinned at him.
“Well, yes bu…” he was cut off as the lift reached a holt at the main bridge.
As I stepped off the lift, I was suddenly filled with confidence that our mission would be a success.
So there you have it. Twenty-two years ago, I imagined that 2017 would bring alien aggressors to the Earth, and that I’d be commanding a squadron (of ships I designed?!) to go out and meet them. Obviously, my ego was as insufferable then as it is now.
Of course, unless a lot changes very quickly, none of those plot points will be realized over the next twelve months… though after all the madness we saw in 2016, I’m not going to tempt fate with strong declarative statements about what will happen. Instead, I’ll get pretentious and wax philosophical.
When I dug out that page for this post, I figured it’d allow me to reiterate that all writers start somewhere –– that the seeds of a novel can begin on the back of a napkin, in a school exercise book, or in stories around a camp fire. That’s still true… but what struck me most as I read those paragraphs (aside from the awful writing –– nails on a chalkboard, honestly?!) is how much I got right.
No, seriously. If you want to learn truths about yourself, write honestly, then look back on those writings a couple of decades later. You might see a disturbingly clear reflection of yourself.
Because if you swap out that Defense Command squadron and ‘the Wolf’ (not even italicized?!) for Iceberg Publishing, then suddenly I look a bit prophetic.
Let’s break this down:
A publishing company space defense fleet of my own design.
Seems I always believed I’d be running something that I built myself –– something that would lead to adventures. At the time, I wouldn’t have imagined a publishing company (especially in the 90s, such things seemed fanciful and beyond reach?!) but that’s how it worked out.
This year Iceberg Publishing celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. We may not possess any energy weapons (that I’ll own up to?!), but we sure do have adventures. I’ve even gotten to spend time aboard actual warships –– both in service and currently retired –– thanks to our friendship with a certain lady in Halifax.
Good call, young me.
Welcoming aboard my family (my parents).
I recall Jacqui’s comment when she first read this part of the story: do you really want your parents on your ship? She was wondering why an eleven-year-old’s alien-fighting adventure would include his parents, and in retrospect, it’s a very good question.
We’ve all watched Stranger Things –– kids don’t involve grown ups in their other-worldly adventures. Even setting aside the logistics of putting two non-combatants (and their horde of dogs?!) on a battlecruiser, including my parents was a weird choice.
And yet, look how things turned out. If you again substitute Iceberg for Wolf, then I’ve followed through with this commitment: I work with my parents every day. We’re partners in the operation of this company, they’re editors, award-winning storytellers, and we even team up to go on adventures to the edges of the map.
This summer we drove to Canada’s westernmost point (in the Yukon)… just for fun:
Even at the ripe old age of eleven, I seemed to be conscious of the fact that I’d won the lottery the moment I was born –– I had parents who defined real family as including friendship, and I could work alongside them too. As a rule, I’m pretty stupid… but even I know better than to let that go without a fight.
As for the (sixteen?!) dogs… much to the chagrin of my friends, not yet.
Best friend I hadn’t seen in seven years, but who is an essential part of the adventure.
Just refer to this note about Charlie Peters… and beyond that, the many friends who have appeared in Defense Command, and the few who have helped define Champions: Ready, Aye, Ready –– what would Mike Strong do?
Iceberg’s many adventures wouldn’t have been nearly so rewarding if they hadn’t been shared with good friends from across the country, and around the world. We’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to build great relationships with fine people, and I like to think we’ve given back a bit of joy and adventure in return.
Good call, 1995 version of me.
Unstated but notable: I figured I’d be ALONE.
Just to be clear, at age eleven, I was certainly old enough to be impressed by girls (I believe my crush at the time was Lieutenant Lonnie Henderson from SeaQuest – never could resist a woman in uniform).
Despite this, I evidently imagined I’d be a lone wolf (pun?!) in 2017. Defense Command fans might wonder about the incomparable character of Karen McMaster, but she didn’t turn up until I decided to turn the Star Defenders ‘books’ into ‘real novels’ –– the genesis of the precursor to Defense Command, which pushed the plot’s start date forward to 2024.
So in 2017, I was supposed to be single… and boy howdy, did I ever get that right. Maybe I really was a prophet.
Despite being a terrible writer at age eleven, I apparently knew myself better than I realized. I doubt I’m very special in this; if we all look back that far, I suspect we’ll find the beginnings of who we’ve become.
There’s a lesson in that: if you write your characters honestly, you’ll find they always give you hints about where they’ve come from, and where they might end up. Indeed, Fray (available today –– for free?!) is a good example: it grapples with the ambitions Emily voiced in The Frontier, twenty-five years earlier.
And getting back to the point I expected to make: if you want to write, you’re going to have to start somewhere. If you think your first attempt is awful, don’t dwell on it –– dedicate yourself to getting better. The stories you have to tell, and the characters you’ll meet along the way, deserve that much from you.
Twenty-two years later, you might even look back at what you wrote and see how right you were.
Good hunting in 2017.