Writers are often asked where we get our ideas. And most of us have some sort of stock reply for that question — a reply that may be snarky and humorous or studied and informative.
The thing is, though, that ideas are only one component of the fuel, the inspiration, that propels writing. The other component is energy. Every single thing that motivates us to roll out of bed in the morning (or afternoon) and set hand to keyboard contributes to that energy: the smile of a loved one, caffeine, the desktop graphic showing a favorite celebrity, the morning news with its thousand story suggestions and character tidbits, every political or cultural failing that drives someone to righteous rage, and other things as well.
For me, “other things” include the insanity, creativity, and sheer persistence of Star Wars fans and of SF&F&H fans in general.
In 2000, I participated in a funeral for Chewbacca. The noble Wookiee had died the year before in the novel Vector Prime, and, though surely there could have been no trace of a body left behind, there I was, marching beside a cardboard coffin which had flattened flaps of fur hanging out from various gaps. A Scottish bagpiper led the procession, and two different Han Solos gave heartfelt eulogies.
I’ve seen arrays of thematically painted Darth Vader helmets. I’ve seen colleagues immortalized on collector card game cards. I’ve witnessed elaborate re-creations of the climactic lightsaber duel from The Phantom Menace (one of them with a capella musical accompaniment conducted by Anthony Daniels). I’ve stood aside while parades of R2 and R5 astromechs rolled past.
I was there when Luke Skywalker married Mara Jade — not in the Union comic book, but in Las Vegas, with an Elvis impersonator conducting the ceremony uniting two cardboard stand-ups. Timothy Zahn gave away the bride.
Oh, and the costumers. Darth Maul Gungans and tie-dyed stormtroopers. Femme Troopers, setting a standard for armor impracticality that 14-year-old boys of all ages deeply appreciate. Young Obi-Wans, Bearded Obi-Wans, Old Obi-Wans, sometimes running in packs. I’ve judged a costume contest featuring Jedi and Mando Barbies in eye-gouging pink. I’ve seen startlingly effective minimalism, such as a fan wearing a red football jersey, the number “2” and the name “Antilles” on it. He could have wandered into any sports bar in the U.S. and blended right in with the patrons, such was the subtle genius of the costume.
I’ve seen my own creations come to life. Piggy saBinring, the Gamorrean, in his X-wing pilot’s uniform. Kettch, the ersatz Ewok pilot, a plush toy strapped to the front of a black TIE pilot’s uniform. Having Dod, Lod, and Fod Nobrin of Agamar, idiot brothers (actually Wraith Squadron member in disguise) spot me from across a hotel lobby and shout “Daddy!” almost sent me into a catatonic state.
Costumers… I sometimes feel like asking them where they get their ideas.
And the greatest number of costumers are those striving for cinematic authenticity — the 501st, the Rebel Legion, the Mandalorians, FanForce, other groups, countless unaffiliated individuals, many of them doing charity work in those cumbersome outfits in impossible temperatures.
Maybe this is all insanity, but it’s my preferred brand of insanity.
In a few days, I’ll fly off to Orlando for Star Wars Celebration VI. And in the hallways, panel rooms, and Exhibitors’ Hall of the convention center, not to mention the streets, hotels, and restaurants all around, I’ll recharge my personal batteries. All it takes is for me to wander around in that incredible, unlikely environment.
Where do I get my ideas? They’re all around me. Where do I get the energy? I’m surrounded by it — the fans offer it up from the boundless generosity of their natures.
Aaron Allston’s most recent novel, X-Wing: Mercy Kill, debuted on August 7. Visit his web site at aaronallston.com.