How Deep Space Nine Inspired Me to Become a Writer
I was a Niner growing up, before the term “Niner” was even coined to describe a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The series profoundly shaped who I’d become as a writer.
Because my family and I were in a religious sect that forbade television and VHS players in the homes of its members, I had to get my Trek fix in brief glimpses at my grandmother’s house. But my mom was a rebel Trekkie, and she found a way to include us kids (I grew up with two younger brothers) in her fandom. She had a tiny television hidden away, and late at night, when DS9 came on, she would record the episodes onto a Memorex audio cassette tape.
Although I had seen and enjoyed TNG at my grandparents’, it wasn’t a part of my daily life the way DS9 was. It moved me in ways that TNG, deeply as I love it now and loved it then, simply didn’t. Even though the sound was scratchy and we didn’t have visuals, we listened to those DS9 recordings over and over, getting to know the characters through the voices and the stories. We bought the Star Trek magazines when they came out, which provided us with the missing visuals.
The first DS9 episode I ever listened to, on those tapes, was “Captive Pursuit”, when I was eleven years old. Even to this day, I vividly remember that initial experience of hearing DS9. The episode had such great character development for O’Brien.
My favorite DS9 character was, and still is, Kira Nerys. She’s a strong woman who had suffered tremendously and fought for her freedom, yet was a devoted friend, a good officer, and a woman capable of growing and changing. She was a deeply spiritual person who didn’t force her spiritual beliefs on anyone but sought to live them quietly. Nerys became a powerful role model for me, as I was growing up in a misogynistic religious sect in which women were second-class citizens.
As both I and DS9 proceeded to develop, the series went from being entertaining to being formative. Perhaps the most formative of all the characters’ journeys was, at that time, young Jake Sisko’s. His dad, Benjamin, assumed for a long time that his son would follow him into Starfleet, just as my folks assumed that I would choose to settle down and make a life for myself within the sect. However, I knew that, if I did so, I wouldn’t be able to be the writer I dreamed of being. I would be restricted to writing the bland, pious, preachy morality plays that were the officially sanctioned reading material of the sect’s youth. So, like Jake, I was having second thoughts. He knew he wouldn’t be able to become the writer he dreamed of being while he was struggling to learn isolinear rods with Chief O’Brien.
In the episode “Shadowplay”, Jake confesses that he doesn’t want to join Starfleet. His dad responds, “Find something you love, and do it the best you can. That’ll make the old man proud.” That was the most definitive quote I took to heart to become a writer, aged only eleven. Also, I found that “Shadowplay” was one of the most moving episodes ever. It’s interwoven with my memories of that time.
Jake’s choice not to join Starfleet led into the episode “Explorers”, in which he instead decides he wants to become a writer. Aboard his father’s solar sailboat in that episode, Jake confides in his father about this dream, and bravely consults him about a story. Benjamin, after reading Jake’s tale, tells his son, “I think you should keep writing.” Filling spiral notebooks and hardcover journals with penciled adventures of young people my own age, I took these words to heart; Ben Sisko was saying them to a twelve-year-old me.
In the episode “The Visitor”, Jake Sisko is an old man who has written words that touch the hearts and inspire the imaginations of countless people, and yet he has stopped writing. But he gets to take the encouragement and inspiration he received from his father so many years ago and pass it on to a young woman who desperately needs it. Many older and more experienced writers can be condescending and dismissive of young and aspiring writers; Jake Sisko invited her into his home, his life, and his heart. His words to Melanie became his words to me.
First aired when I was twelve, “Explorers” and “The Visitor” inspired a young woman in less than ideal circumstances to write. But it was “Far Beyond the Stars” that encouraged me, a divorced single mom long since departed from the aforementioned religious sect, to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a writer, an ambition I had long since given up on.
The episode showed us that, in the 1950s, women and minorities of all kinds weren’t encouraged by society to be writers, to contribute, to make their voices heard. In the ’60s, one of the greatest writers in Star Trek history, Dorothy Fontana, used her initials so that her colleagues wouldn’t know she was a woman. Ever since, many other gifted women writers have also been proving that women can very capably write for Star Trek. There are still not enough women writers in Star Trek, nor writers from minorities. But I like to think that we are improving, and that there will be a place for writers like myself.
“Write the words, Brother Benny. Write the words,” a Prophet masquerading as Benny’s father in the guise of a preacher encouraged him (in “Far Beyond the Stars”), just as Benjamin Sisko had encouraged his son so long ago. Those words speak to my heart on the days when I wonder why I ever decided to become a writer. Because the words of a writer can change the world.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.