You’ve probably been at a convention, or a book event, or maybe even a cocktail party, where someone asked an author: “Where do you get your ideas?”
   
It’s a legitimate question; we hear it a lot. And you’ve probably noticed that most authors provide a response along these lines: “Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. Stories in the newspaper. An argument at the next table in the café. Memories of childhood. Ideas surround us. The hard part is in deciding which one to use.”




That’s the nature of finding ideas for fiction. But while we do write fiction (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Lust’s Latinum Lost [And Found] and the upcoming Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Rules of Accusation), we more often find ourselves writing nonfiction. And for that, there’s generally a different answer. It is:

The phone rings.

Really.

Take, for example, Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion From the Final Frontier. We were just sitting there, planning what to do with our glorious leisure time (Head to the multiplex to see some early Oscar contenders? Drive to the coast? Sleep?), when that jarring jangle from the landline interrupted our thoughts.

“Answer it.”
“No, YOU answer it.”
“I answered it last time.”
“It’s probably a robot from a foreign country. You answer it.”
“It could be your brother.”

Paula reluctantly picked it up on what likely was the last ring and discovered that it was not a robot. It was a familiar voice. “What are you guys doing for the next few months?” it asked.

Paula responded, “What did you have in mind?” Terry’s curiosity—he could only hear her end of the conversation, after all—sent him into another room to pick up an extension.

And that is where the idea for our latest book came from. In fact, it’s where the inspiration for most of our nonfiction books come from. A surprise phone call. We know we’re very lucky—or unlucky. The dark side is that every time we’re offered one of these wonderful opportunities, we wind up spending several months — and in some cases years — at hard labor.

Over the next few days, details rolled in. The familiar voice (a longtime acquaintance at CBS Consumer Products) put us in touch with Chris Prince, an editor at the publishing company Insight Editions. Chris and his colleagues envisioned a photo-heavy coffee table book featuring Star Trek costumes. It would be published to coincide with our favorite franchise’s fiftieth anniversary.

Sweet! we thought.  Who wouldn’t want to read a book like that? We certainly would. So we said “yes.”

That was the easy part. The rest was like leaping into the abyss: fun and frantic, but an abyss, nonetheless. We were given a deadline of three months. Ninety days. So much for the early Oscar contenders.

The first step, we decided, was to find photography — high-quality, high-resolution, photography — to illustrate this special book. At the same time, we’d need to find and interview the men and women who over the decades had designed the costumes. Plus the people who’d actually worn the costumes. And, of course, we’d need the actual costumes—

Oops.

The folks at CBS Consumer Products were tremendously helpful. They opened their Los Angeles-based image archives to us, making hundreds of thousands of photos, slides and tiffs from the Star Trek productions available to us. But, alas, the studio no longer had the actual costumes. All those wonderful garments from all those television shows and movies had been auctioned off to the highest bidder in 2006.


Thankfully, the auction house (Christie’s) allowed us to use their catalogue photography from that event. We managed to obtain some additional photography from an earlier Bonhams’ auction (which highlighted The Original Series’ designer Bill Theiss’s iconic creations). The libraries of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Harvard University provided costume sketches by designer Robert Fletcher (who re-imagined the look of Starfleet, the Klingon Empire, and Khan for the first four Star Trek films).

And then came the biggest bonus. CBS put us in touch with local collectors who’d purchased some of those pieces of Star Trek history from the various auctions. Hallelujah! Chris hired a professional photographer, who rented manikins and went to work on the photo shoots. The results were glorious.

But as we made a list of the people we wanted to interview, we realized that there was a vital individual that we hadn’t yet tracked down: Robert Blackman, the designer who’d headed the Star Trek costume department for sixteen years. By sheer volume of work alone, Blackman is undoubtedly the most prolific contributor to the Star Trek couturial pantheon. We needed him! Unfortunately, following the demise of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, he’d gone on to other projects, and his location was difficult to pinpoint.

But the Trek gods were, apparently, smiling down at us. A former Enterprise staffer tipped us off that Blackman was back on the Paramount lot — working on Glee, a lavish, costume-heavy TV show. By happy coincidence, he was set up in the same office space as he’d occupied for Star Trek.

We hadn’t seen Bob in nine years, and we heard that he was incredibly busy working on the Glee finale. We couldn’t reach him by phone.

So we ambushed him.

Yup. Walked into his office unannounced. Luckily, we’d interrupted him in much the same manner so often over the years (for other book projects), that he greeted us as old friends, and gave us what he assumed would be a few seconds to say “Hi.” But we jumped from “Hi” to an enthusiastic flood of information about this amazing costume book we were working on, and Bob began to light up. Those Star Trek years were, after all, a highpoint of his career. He leaned back in his office chair and started to tell us stories. We took notes. When we left his office nearly an hour later, we were armed with ideas, suggestions, and a commitment for an extended interview via phone. We were ecstatic—and quite relieved. There would have been quite a large hole in the book if we hadn’t been able to corral the most important person associated with wardrobe of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise

We went on to contact dozens of other people: designers, actors, craftspeople. And in a last minute coup, we spent an hour on the phone with J.J. Abrams, director of the two most recent Star Trek films. Whoosh. All within (well, almost) our specified deadline.

We have few memories of last autumn; we spent most of it in our home office, occasionally taking breaks to eat and walk the dogs. Winter was dedicated to revisions and the arduous layout process. When Chris finally told us that the button had been pushed — that the contents of the book had been sent off to the printers — we could scarcely believe it. 

As we sprawled in our La-Z-Boy recliners, finally able to breathe, we debated once again the wisdom of answering the phone.

“I don’t want to do this again for a loooong time.”
“Me neither. Why don’t we go someplace with no phone service?”
“Oooh — how about —”

And then the phone rang.

-----

Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion From the Final Frontier will be out on October 20 from Insight Editions. Visit www.amazon.com to pre-order the book.

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Terry J. Erdmann
Paula M. Block
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