My first 15 years as a “professional writer.”

Well, that flew by, didn’t it?

June, 1998: My first ever professional writing work, a little short story called “Reflections,” is published in the first ever Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology.

For those wondering who they should blame for this milestone, look no further than the names at the bottom of the cover.

Prior to the contest’s announcement in 1997, I never had written anything with an eye toward professional publication. I wrote stories that were included in fanzines, or might still be buried somewhere in an online archive, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine, Deb Simpson, essentially dared me to submit a story to the contest. So, I took a story I’d written before, and reworked it. Then, I printed it, stuck it in an envelope, and mailed it to Pocket Books in New York, because that’s how you did this kind of thing back in those days. Once that was done, I went on with life, because I knew it would be months before any results were announced. For the first year’s results, contest editor Dean Wesley Smith and Pocket Books Star Trek editor John Ordover revealed the winners in a chat room on America Online, back when America Online was a service to which you connected via your computer modem.

Ah, the good old days.

Dean and John announced 18 names, and I punched the air when I saw “Dayton Ward, ‘Reflections’” pop up on the chat screen. In the days to come, I’d receive my first-ever publishing contract in the mail. I’d get my story sent back to me with a few marks and notes intended to tighten up the thing. I still have the cover flat I received in the months before the book’s publication, and even the bound galleys of the entire book, printed up on 8.5″ x 11″ paper, landscape-style, in which we newbies got our first look at what our stories looked like in a “real book.” Then, finally, the book started showing up in stores, and I just had to go see for myself. Though I still get a thrill from seeing a new title of mine on a store shelf, nothing has quite equaled that first time.

Since then? What an odd, yet so very rewarding journey it’s been.

First among the many positives which have come in the wake of that first short story sale is my friendship with Kevin Dilmore. We likely never would’ve met if not for the way Fate saw fit to have him interviewing the first batch of SNW winners for the Star Trek Communicator magazine. Fate also had him decide to ask me to meet him for a beer after work so that he could conduct his interview in person because we lived within 45 minutes of each other. He could’ve just as easily eMailed the interview questions to me, as he did with the other 17 winners, and that might well have been that.

(Sometimes, I have to wonder if Kevin regrets that choice 😉 )

Anyway, Fate’s a funny dude, sometimes.

Along the way, I’ve made numerous friends, be they fans, other writers, artists, or other publishing professionals. I’ve enjoyed several very rewarding opportunities, and had more than a few “Holy shit! Did that really just happen?” moments bestowed upon me. It’s been tremendous fun — more than I likely deserve — and every day I do my best to remember and appreciate the good fortune that’s come my way.

Of course, most if not all of that good fortune can be credited to the people who’ve expended time and even money to read the stories I’ve written since “Reflections.” Maybe that’s you, reader of this blog posting. To you, and all of the editors, publishers, and readers who at some point have taken a chance on me, I thank you.

I wonder what the next 15 years will bring? Judging by how a couple of early dominoes are lining up, it could be interesting, or at least fun. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?


24 thoughts on “My first 15 years as a “professional writer.”

  1. Dayton, Happy (shared) Anniversary!! That was my first pro sale, too, and I can hardly believe it’s been 15 years. It seems like yesterday, and a lifetime ago – both at once.


  2. Dayton, let me add my congrats as well. Dean and SNW were my launch pad too. SNW IV, V, and VI for me. I received my announcements via answering machine (remember those?). Saved the tapes for years! Looking forward to more of your work.


      1. I was so paranoid about the snail mail. I sent all of my entries Delivery Confirmation (so that Pocket didn’t have too sign for them, but I knew they were there.)


  3. Dayton, I’ll always remember how encouraging you were to all the neophytes struggling to get our stories into the Strange New Worlds anthologies in the chat rooms and message boards of AOL’s Star Trek club. (Not to mention your first email to me, responding to my first email to you, which said in its entirety: “That had better be a joke.”). Evidently oblivious to how well you slang words from the jump, you kept telling us: “If I could do it, anybody can do it”. This frustrated the heck out of those of us who did not make the cut for volumes I, II, & III.
    There’s a reason you’re the only Trek writer to have an award named after him. (Still treasure my virtual “Wardy”. It occupies a place of honor on one of the 100s of floppy disks in the box at the bottom of my closet.) Your whole career has been an inspiration to SNWers everywhere.

    [Aside to Bob: I had forgotten we were in the same three SNWs together]


    1. I get odd reactions from time to time when I tell people that I “write Star Trek stories” and that I started by entering “a Star Trek writing contest,” but I don’t care. I had (and continue to have) great fun doing it. Yes, they pay me, but not so much that I wouldn’t walk away if it ceased being fun.

      One of the many great things to come out of SNW was getting to know people like you, Kevin, and everyone else who found their way to the AOL Trek club or the SNW Yahoo! group. People have come and gone, done their own things (whether that’s writing or something else entirely) and yet we still have that shared experience.


  4. I remember the Star Trek Club on AOL and “meeting” you in the chat rooms. I was the most active in the USS Fortyish with our stories like the Macs vs. the PCs. lol I remember how cool it was that someone that I knew had actually made it into that first SNW book. When I read your “Reflections” I could see why you had been chosen and looked forward to things to come.

    As they say, you’ve come a long way baby. Happy 15th anniversary Dayton. Here’s to another 15 more!


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