Just like autobiography, for memoirs the subject of the book is also the author. For Chester L. Richards, the author of From the Potato to Star Trek and Beyond: Memoirs of a Rocket Scientist, storytelling is a passion that manifested early in his life. In this book, his first one, he recalls how he started to write and how he improved his skills.
Richards’ interest in storytelling is deeply intertwined in his interest for the genre of science fiction. Already as a teenager, he loved reading or as he puts it “roam[ing] the Galaxy during the Golden Age of Science Fiction.” (p. v)
The adventure of his first try at writing is told in the first chapter of the memoir. He was a graduate student at Irvine University at that time and was friends with Judy Burns, a recent graduate student with a talent for storytelling. Richards says about her that she could “take the most mundane situation and turn it into a work of art.” (p. 17)
Judy Burns had the goal of writing a script for the 1966 Star Trek series, which was being produced at that time. Together with Richards, they worked out a plot and started cowriting a script.
Richards was invited to audit a course Burns was taking in scriptwriting, taught by Bob Duncan, a professional scriptwriter recognized in the industry for his successful movies, teleplays and novels. For Richards, meeting Bob Duncan proved to have a lifelong impact, for he remembers still his invaluable advice: “Write your passion… Write your passion, for without passion your story will fail.” (p. 17)
Burns and Richards worked months on the script, even after it was bought by the production team of the Star Trek series. It became the story we know as “The Tholian Web” episode.
From this experience, Richards realized he enjoyed storytelling, honing his skills alongside his friend Judy and their mentor Bob Duncan.
The art of writing: a lifelong craft
Despite this first incredible experience, Richards “knew writing was not to be [his] career.” (p. 7). He continued to write throughout his life, mainly daily journals during his multiple adventures, such as his journey to Ethiopia in 1976.
He improved his skills under the mentoring of different people, notably a stern but fair philosophy professor, Dr. Wolfson, and a retired editor in his first job. Richards admits humbly that he learned “logic, rigorous analysis and techniques of exposition” (p. v) with Dr. Wolfson and that the retired editor taught him “how to unravel [his] tangled sentences, taught [him] rhythm in writing.” (p. v)
His memoir: writing as healing
It was several decades later that Richards came back to writing in a more impactful way. The passing of his wife in the recent years was an immensely difficult time, and writing turned out to be a solace.
Richards explains that Sarah, his wife, greatly enjoyed listening to his life stories and adventures, even advising him that he should write them down. Thus, he started writing his memoir as a salvation: “If writing would put me on the upward path, I would write. I would write stories drawn from my experiences. I would write in memory of Sarah. Writing worked. I began to heal.” (p. 4)
Writing this book gave him the opportunity to improve his skills even more. With his ever-present willingness to learn, Richards worked with his editor Ina Hillebrandt. She helped him bring more clarity to the stories, because what might be obvious for the author — and subject of the memoir — might not be for the reader.
This time around, not only the author was doing something he enjoyed but he was also writing to heal himself and pay homage to his late wife. This memoir From the Potato to Star Trek and Beyond: Memoirs of a Rocket Scientist is thus altogether a craft of passion, love, and hard work. With his witty tone and detailed descriptions, and his down to earth vision, Richards made a book out of his memories, bringing the reader in his world, to meet the people he knew and experience his adventures.
Make sure to grab your copy on Amazon now.