Meet: Steve Englehart
Author, Countdown to Flight
Two of the things I've always liked are history and entertaining kids. I wrote Countdown to Flight because the idea that humans had never, ever flown until two brothers decided to change that was monumental in itself and seemed like something kids should know more about. Moreover, my mother's uncle had tried to invent a flying machine at the same time as the Wright Brothers but died in a farm accident before he could succeed. Would he have been the first to fly? We'll never know. But his attempt made humanity's attempt that much more real to me.
I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. My dad was a highly-respected newspaperman in the Midwest, working most of his career as Indiana editor for the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal. Maybe because he wrote at home most nights, or just because I inherited his DNA, I started writing very early. I actually wanted to be an artist, but writing and art went together (especially in comics). So I read, wrote and drew all the time. In the beginning I wrote my own Hardy Boys stories and drew my own Mickey Mouse comics, then moved on to my own creations. Most of what interested me was action-adventure, but I definitely wanted a story involving interesting people. I learned pretty quickly that normal people--say, two brothers from Ohio--could have an adventure just as big as anything Batman faced. The good thing about both writing and art is you can learn a lot by just doing them. In college (Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut), I took art and writing classes, but most of what I know is self-taught.
When I was ready to go to work I moved to New York and started doing freelance comic book art. After about a year I was offered a staff job at Marvel Comics editing other people's writing and art. Part of the job involved my own art projects... and we all soon realized that although I was okay, I was never going to challenge the artists already working in the field. But when Marvel gave me a writing job, we all liked it, and the next thing I knew I was the writer of Captain America and The Avengers. In the years that followed I worked for most of the major companies and wrote The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, Batman, Green Lantern, Coyote and Night Man, among many others. These days I hardly ever draw.
Comics was a wonderful training ground for a writer because I had to produce a complete story for each of my series every month. That meant I had a lot of opportunities to see what interested readers and what didn't while learning to deal with every writer's nightmare: deadlines. It was my success there that showed me I could make writing my life's work.
After that, I started exploring the different forms of writing mentioned above. My first games were for Atari, my first movie was the first Batman movie (based my Batman comics), my first Saturday morning cartoon was Street Fighter and my first book for kids was Countdown to Christmas, which tells the history of that holiday in 25 chapters so you can read one a day during December. That led to Countdown to the Moon, a book about Apollo 11, and then Countdown to Flight. After that, my wife Terry and I began a fictional series about 13-year-old twins who travel in time called The DNAgers.
One of the greatest things about writing is when you send a story out into the world, you have no idea who will see it or what it will mean to them. As I said before, you hope that what interests you will interest your readers, but when I set out to tell kids about the Wright Brothers I had no idea that I would end up working alongside the National Aeronautics and Space Administration!
My most recent medium is television, and it came about like this: in 1992 a comic book company called Malibu asked me and six other writers to create a universe for them. One of the characters I created was the Night Man. In 1996 Night Man was bought to be a television show (and renamed NightMan). The show is syndicated, which means it's not on a particular network like Fox or the WB; it's on one of your local stations, but you'll have to look for it. I wrote one episode in the first season and two in the second. It was an amazing thing, after years of writing words for people to hear in their heads, to hear my words spoken by actors for the first time. But that's how writing takes you places you never thought you'd go.
My wife Terry and I have two sons, Alex and Eric. They're now 16 and 12, but when they were very little I started reading to them and soon began creating stories for them. That led to thinking of stories all kids would like, which is what led me to the Countdown books. We are cat people, always having one or two around (at the moment it's one, a female named Quicksilver), and for several years we've had a painted turtle named Sam. My main hobby is learning as much as I can about the world. If I get interested in history, I go to the library or get on the Internet and read all about it. My whole family loves to travel, so we've been all across North America and central Europe, and we'd love to visit all the rest of the world. I enjoy photography, music, movies, games...
My main goal is to keep writing, which means exploring new characters and situations. Since television opened up for me, I've been interested in pursuing that, but I'll never give up any of the other areas I work in. One more great thing about writing is, you don't ever have to quit. As long as you can entertain people you can entertain yourself.
If you want to be a writer, my advice would be to read and write as much as you can. You need to know the rules of writing--spelling, grammar--and these are easiest to get from school. But writing as a way of interesting readers comes from all the things that have interested you. So fill your head with stories, from fantasy to real life, from the future to the past, from boys to girls, from kids to adults.... Life has a lot to offer, and writers get to explore it all!