How a science fiction franchise helped me become a writer.
Space: the final frontier. My first contact with the Star Trek franchise came as a kid in the early ’90s when Star Trek: The Next Generation was in syndication, but I really became a fan in the early years of the 2000s thanks to a perfect confluence of factors: moving to another state on the cusp of becoming a middle schooler, access to Star Trek: Voyager on UPN and all six Original Series movies on VHS, and the dawn of the Internet. As the new kid in a small school where no one seemed to share my interest in science fiction, I found a community online of like-minded Trekkies—and I also inadvertently joined my first writing group.
If you were surfing the web back then, before social media as we know it today existed, you were probably aware of message boards. On a message board, you could talk with people about any topic and there were forums for just about every niche interest you could think of. After school, I would hop on our old Compaq desktop computer, dial in to the web (if no one was on the phone at the time), and connect with thousands of Star Trek fans eager to chat about our favorite fictional universe.
It wasn’t long after I got into Trek message boards that I saw someone post that they were recruiting players for a text-based roleplaying game set on a starship in the 24th century. All you had to do to play along was create a character and dive into the story. Players took turns posting messages in the forum, usually a paragraph or two, to move the story along. It was fun, but those stories took months to play out and many message boards fizzled out before the mission was over or key players would stop posting and kill the momentum. Most annoyingly to a budding young writer bursting with ideas, a lot of my fellow players were only interested in rehashing the same old plots of their favorite movies and episodes from the series—not in creating anything new.
I cycled through several groups before I finally landed on one that struck the perfect balance of reverence for Gene Roddenberry’s worldbuilding and a willingness to tell new stories in that world. The crew of the fictional USS Intrepid weren’t just fans, they were writers like me. There was attention to detail, conflict, and characters who would’ve been right at home in a Star Trek series or novelization.
For several years, we chatted online, building our own mythology and becoming friends in the process—people I’m still in touch with to this day. Being a part of the Intrepid also had a huge impact on my growth as a writer. At its core, our message board was a writing group, with the whole group engaged in an act of collective storytelling. It forced me to step into the heads of my characters1 and think about how they would react to the latest plot twist in ways that felt authentic to who they were and grounded in the rules of our shared universe. It stretched me as a writer and helped me understand the mechanics of story in an entirely new way.
Part of this open and collaborative environment was due to the phenomenal people who were a part of it, people I was lucky to find. But part of it is simply the nature of the fandom. The world of Star Trek is, after all, a utopia and it attracts a certain type of diehard fan—people who believe in an optimistic vision for the future, who embrace the inclusive philosophy of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, and who embody the ideals of the Federation in the present day. Perhaps that’s what drew me to the franchise in the first place. In a world that feels like it’s spiraling deeper into hatred and violence, Star Trek offers hope that tomorrow will be better and that we have the power to make it so.
Like most things on the internet, our message board eventually fell silent. Our crew warped off to pursue other passions. One is now a teacher, another is a popular tabletop roleplay podcaster, and another is about to publish his first novel. I think all of us look back fondly on our days serving together in Starfleet, at the friendships we made and the adventures we had, even if it was just in our imaginations.
Those days feel lightyears away now, but I still come back to Star Trek again and again. Whether it’s reruns of Deep Space Nine or new episodes of Lower Decks, TNG or Strange New Worlds, the franchise continues to be a touchstone for me, reminding me of how a young writer in a new town found a ship and a crew that accepted him just as he was and gave him the confidence to tell his own stories.
Star Trek is a large part of why I love to write science fiction and why no matter how many times I stray into historical drama or mysteries or literary fare, I always find myself beaming back to sci-fi. And with the current bounty of new Star Trek shows being produced, who knows? Maybe someday, my stories will end up on a screen near you. If Alex Kurtzman and the folks over at Paramount want to hear my pitch for a Lost Era-set show about a group of Starfleet officers who investigate missing ships, just know that my hailing frequencies are open.2
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, podcaster, storyteller, and lifelong Trekkie. He lives in Tacoma, WA with his family, a dog, and three adorable typewriters. His writing has been published in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can listen to his audio drama, The Adventures of Captain Radio, and his writing podcast, Dispatches with Jonny Eberle, wherever you enjoy podcasts.
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: For those who are curious, aside from my long-running primary role as the ship’s chief medical officer, I also collected three additional side characters along the way, including a joined Trill navigator, a hotshot junior officer with a knack for getting into trouble, and a grumpy Andorian engineer.
 I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I am not joking. Whenever you’re ready to chat, Alex, drop me a line.