by Emma Newman
We love telling stories about heroes, and as a writer, I see it as part of my job. I’m going to tell you a story about hero now, but not a superhero; a real life one. It’s an origin story too, I guess. And as fans of the superhero genre, we all love a good origin story, right?
When I was a teenager, I was pretty much obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m not going to lie; the obsession was in part born from the fact that my personal circumstances were difficult, with lots of disruption and house moves. That show was my anchor, my escape, and those characters became my family.
But the hero I want to talk about here isn’t one of the characters on that show (even though they do remain some of my favourite fictional heroes to this day). No, the hero of this story is one of the writers of that show; Melinda Snodgrass.
Back then, Melinda’s name was one of the most important in the credits. When a new episode was aired, I’d look for her credit. Every time I saw it, I cheered inside and I thought ‘look, a woman’s name! One of the writers!’
It meant the world to me. Even then I could see how in TV and film credits, the majority of name outside of the actors and costuming and make–up departments tended to be male. I was an avid reader of science-fiction from the age of nine, and most of the books stocked by the library were by men. I needed to see that a woman could not only have a career as a writer, but be one of the best writers on my favourite show.
I say the best, because I am biased, of course. Melinda wrote my favourite episode, Measure of a Man. I’ll come to why that episode was so important to me later on. All you need to know for now is that she was only a name to me, but one of the most important names in my life. She was my hero. I literally daydreamed about getting to meet her. She lived and worked in America. I was a kid in the far south west of England, with no connection to the TV or writing world whatsoever. Getting to meet her felt as likely as being able to have dinner with Patrick Stewart.
Spool forwards a good few years and somehow, I have become a published author. I went to my first Worldcon in Chicago and in the restaurant one morning, a group of people dropped by to say hi to a friend and I am introduced, so very briefly to none other than Melinda Snodgrass.
Reader, I nearly fainted. Thankfully I just smiled, shook her hand, said nothing else, waved her and her friends off when they had to dash off. I couldn’t believe I had been in the same room as my hero.
Then a year or two later I had the opportunity to go to CONvergence, one of the best SFF conventions I have ever been to, along with my editor, Lee Harris. We ended up in the bar and then Melinda was there. We all sat and chatted for a couple of hours and it was absolutely magical. Melinda left and I told my editor what she meant to me. And then I told him about Measure of a Man.
It isn’t just my favourite because it is so brilliant, you see. It was also the first episode on a VHS tape of episodes that I’d recorded off the TV. My father worked away from home, the lodger was often out and so there were many nights when I was home alone and scared of the silence. I used to put that tape in the machine and go to bed, listening to Picard advocating for Data as I fell asleep. It made me feel safe. It made me feel there were good people in the world and that intelligence and reason could win out over cruelty and selfishness. I knew every word of Melinda’s script off by heart, for it had been written onto my heart every night for so long.
Lee listened to the story and asked if I’d told her how important her words had been to me. Embarrassed, I said I hadn’t. He threw his hands into the air and told me I must! So I arranged to have breakfast with Melinda on the last day of the convention.
I can still remember sitting at that table that morning and trying to find the best way to tell my hero how their words had carried me through such a hard time in my life. Without sounding insane.
Somehow, I did. And than she cried, and I cried, and we really talked and oh, it felt like we had known each other for a very long time. I left that convention having met one of my heroes and my life would never be the same again.
Because one of my heroes actually became one of my friends. A dear friend. Melinda came to stay at my house in the year that Worldcon was in London and she was in the UK. We really got to know each other, and my family fell in love with her too. I confess, every now and again the fifteen year old at the back of my head would occasionally freak out, but Melinda is so much more than just a name to me now.
Spool forwards another couple of years and I’m invited to write a Wild Cards story for Knaves Over Queens, set in the UK. I’m thrilled! And apologies to George for saying this, but what excited me the most was the fact that I was going to get the chance to work on a project with Melinda. My hero, having become friend, was going to become a colleague. She had read my work and loved it and that was it, life changed again.
So there is the origin story for you; my origin as a Wild Cards author. But it’s more about my hero, Melinda Snodgrass and the impact that one person can have on another. And perhaps, when you’re wishing you could meet one of your heroes one day, and you feel that flicker of despair that you never will, you could remember this story and know that sometimes, even the most unlikely dreams do in fact come true.