I've been asked on a few occasions the question that every author hates and fears – where do I get my ideas from. The traditional answer is some sort of stuff about 'inspiration and perspiration', and there are certainly elements of that, but another answer – on occasion – is frustration. More often than not, I am inspired to write because I've seen an idea done badly, or that there is something that has disappointed me and inspired me to do better. That's where the 'spark' comes from – the perspiration comes when I have to fill in the gaps and turn a one-line tag into a proper story concept, and later a novel.
First example – Battlecruiser Alamo itself, which really started with Enterprise. I actually looked forward to that show after Voyager; I suppose it's fine to admit that I am a huge Trek fan, and watched all the episodes until the middle of Voyager, and only stopped because I was without a television for ages. I even enjoyed Voyager – there, I said it. When Enterprise came around, I managed to get hold of a copy of the first tie-in novel, the Broken Bow adaptation, before it aired in the UK; I read it and enjoyed it. Then I watched it.
There's not easy way to say this, and I apologise to Enterprise fans...but it was not good. The next few episodes were worse, and though I am told that it improved later on, I do not know that for myself – as I have never seen them, and have no real intention of so doing. There are so many interesting things that Enterprise could have done, but that would have required originality and the willingness to take a little risk. Nine years later, I finally got the first of the Alamo novels down on paper – because I loved the idea of taking those first steps into the dark – taking them with some optimism, and seeing what was out there. The idea has evolved an awfully long way from that, but it is where the original seed came from.
Another one, this time a character – Quinn. This is a series about a spaceship we're talking about, and it needs a Chief Engineer. Though in this he is called a Systems Officer. I knew I wanted a distinctive character, and then I recalled a disappointment from earlier on...Wesley Crusher. Now I know what that should have been – they wanted a character that the late-teen audience could identify with, and that isn't that bad an idea. Make him a Midshipman or something like that, have the series show his development as an officer and as a person. That would have been an interesting arc to follow. Instead they turned him – with poor writing – into some sort of a know-it-all whizz kid.
And yet. That idea had legs. Except...what happens next? What happens to the whiz kid when he grows up? So I took the core idea – of a teenager piloting a starship. The Triplanetary Confederation is born in a massive war, it makes sense that they would draw crew from wherever they could, and if that sixteen-year-old is a good helmsman, why not use him? There's a war on, after all! (Especially if they don't know his age when he joins – a little selective hacking. One thing to say 'he's too young' when he turns up, another when he's been doing the job for six months.)
So the character concept and history – he spends two years at the war, serving as a low-ranked officer at the helm, then goes to school and returns to the fleet as an Engineer. Young for his rank, but still with ten years of fleet experience...and where does he go then, with the fleet all he has known for his entire adult life? There's a lot to play with there that I have hardly scratched the surface with, but I do know that 'Quinn' scenes are a lot of fun for me to write. Almost as much fun as the 'Espatier' scenes.
Naturally, this is not where it all begins. I think the Triplanetary series first began in my head at about age eight when I read 'Spacecraft 2000-2100 AD' and another book called 'Flight to the Stars' at about the same time...but that's another story...