When asked what inspires me, I think of the 1985-92 television series Ray Bradbury Theater. During the intro segment, Ray Bradbury walked into an old cage elevator and came out in an office full of memorabilia and toys. He referred to it as his “magician’s toyshop.” All he had to do was look around and begin. As it turns out, I first met Ray Bradbury in 1983 and he encouraged me to go through life with eyes wide open, because an author never knows where inspiration will strike. The image below is a peek into my magician’s toyshop.
As with most writers, books can be an inspiration for me. Several years ago, I read Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and John Nichols’ The Magic Journey back to back. Both told stories of life in a frontier. In Time Enough for Love, the frontier was space. In The Magic Journey, the frontier was New Mexico. As I read the two books, I thought of my grandparents and great-grandparents who homesteaded New Mexico at the end of the nineteenth century. I wondered what it would be like to tell that story in space. Ultimately, that became the genesis of my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro from my Space Pirates’ Legacy series.
My “day” job is operating telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Not only do I have the opportunity to contribute to world-class science, I find myself awash in inspiration, and sometimes in very unexpected ways. Back in the 1990s, one of my fellow telescope operators was a fan of vampire novels. She loved everything from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice and hooked me on the genre. We used to joke that telescope operators were the vampires of the observatory because we were only visible from sunset to sunrise. This made me ask what if a vampire really was a telescope operator? As I considered that question, I wrote down what would ultimately become the first chapters of Vampires of the Scarlet Order.
Of course, working at an observatory, having the opportunity to see planets, stars, and galaxies regularly also inspires me in more expected science fictional directions. One night, while observing the heart of our own galaxy in the infrared, a visiting astronomer remarked that we were seeing further into the center of the galaxy than any human had seen before. I began to imagine ways humans really could visit the center of the galaxy and that started me on a writing path that ultimately led to my novels Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth which conclude the Space Pirates’ Legacy series.
Another book I’ve written also takes some inspiration from my job at Kitt Peak. The 4-meter telescope is housed in a 17-story tall skyscraper on a remote mountain in Southern Arizona. At night, the building is mostly empty. Stairways go off in unusual directions. Doors open onto odd-shaped, closet-like spaces. What few lights there are, are typically red and dim. Astronomers often remark how scary the building feels. Because of this, I wrote a novel that imagines a terrifying night at a haunted observatory called The Astronomer’s Crypt.
Over the years, I’ve been building my own magician’s toyshop. I collect things that grab my eye, build models of spaceships that capture my imagination, and buy prints from science fiction convention art shows that depict alien worlds. On the wall in the picture above, you can see a model I built of a solar sail, a type of spacecraft NASA and other space agencies are trying to build. It’s the thing that looks a little like an old farmhouse windmill. Imagining travel aboard a solar sail spacecraft led to my novel The Solar Sea.
In general, inspiration comes in favorite songs. It comes when I spend time with my kids and my wife. Sometimes inspiration finds me while I’m taking a walk through my neighborhood, hashing out an idea. I’ve found Ray Bradbury’s advice to me all those years ago to be absolutely true. A writer must go through life with eyes and ears open, because inspiration is everywhere.
Inspiration comes from exploration and in that vein, I want to mention that the first book of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series is part of the Exploration StoryBundle. It’s an opportunity to load up your e-reader with some great new fiction. You can get all the details at: https://storybundle.com/exploration
5 responses to “What Inspires Me”
I remember Ray Bradbury Theater. I think I still have the DVD collection around here somewhere. I remember inspiration, too. It tended to strike from nowhere, and for the most part, I enjoyed it. I even began an eclectic collection I called “The Museum of the Weird.” I still have a few pieces to brighten up my game room.
I don’t write much — meaning at all — anymore, but I still read, and let me tell anyone who’s reading this right now that The Astronomer’s Crypt is one of the best spookers I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. Fans of the haunted house genre should snap it up at once; this one carries the Blimprider Seal of Approval. And note further that while I’ve hardly read everything David has written, anyone who can write a story like that is top-drawer material, and you can’t go too wrong with any of his offerings. Happy reading!
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Jack, your endorsement means the world to me. Among other things, those works you have written are top notch as well. For my own selfish reasons, I hope you find more inspiration and a desire to write again, because I’d enjoy reading more fiction from Jack Tyler.
That said, another piece of advice Ray Bradbury had was to never force your writing. “If the thing you’re working on isn’t coming,” he said, “go do something else. I don’t put up with nonsense from my work.” Writers are under a lot of pressure to “write every day,” but as much as I find writing fun and a necessary part of my life, I also find I need to take a break from time to time and live other parts of my life.
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Thank you for these words, my friend, more than you’ll probably ever know. The thing about writing is that you can never say never again. You might decide to quit, you might have quit-dom imposed on you as I have, but all it takes to return is the simple act of picking up a pen. Maybe… maybe…
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Great post, David!
Inspiration is all around us. You just need to have the imagination to see it.
Thanks for writing!
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Thanks, CW. I appreciate the encouraging words!
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