I returned to my job operating telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory in February 2008. That same day, another operator also started. Her name is Krissy, and she took her leave this week because she and her husband Tom are expecting their first child. Here we are on Christmas of 2008 at Kitt Peak along with my daughters and Krissy’s dog, Sushi.
As I mentioned, I returned to Kitt Peak in 2008. I originally left in October 1995, almost exactly twenty years before Krissy’s departure, to take a job that allowed me to be home most evenings because my wife and I were expecting our first daughter, who is lying on the couch in the photo.
Krissy’s departure comes as I’m working on my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the novel’s characters is a telescope operator who happens to be a mom named Kendra. Despite the fact that they both have “K” names, Kendra isn’t based on Krissy. In fact, I created the character long before I knew Krissy would be a mom. Kendra, like any good character, is built from an assortment of people I’ve known over the years, including many amazing women who have operated telescopes at Kitt Peak, Apache Point Observatory, and elsewhere. As it turns out, two of those operators are moms, and both of them are named Karen. Another “K” name. Thing is, Kendra’s name was inspired more by my wife Kumie than it was by any particular telescope operator I knew!
The character of Kendra isn’t the first time I’ve been inspired by my co-workers. Jennifer was a telescope operator in the 1990s who coined the phrase “vampires of the mountain” to refer to telescope operators who were rarely seen except between sunset and sunrise. She also encouraged me to read Dracula and introduced me to the works of Anne Rice. All of that started me on the path to the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order.
My co-worker Bridget left Kitt Peak to pursue graduate work in marine biology. Her interest in marine mammals inspired both the whale character Richard in Children of the Old Stars and the marine biologist Myra Lee in The Solar Sea.
I’ve worked with some pretty cool guys, too, such as Doug who spent a valuable day at the observatory showing me various sword forms. That time helped me better visualize the Samurai Hoshi’s swordplay in Lightning Wolves and my other forthcoming novel, The Brazen Shark. Doug’s a writer in his own right and you’ll find one of his stories in the anthology, A Kepler’s Dozen.
People often ask if my astronomy job inspires my science fiction. I think you can see that it has, and that the inspiration goes well beyond the realm of science fiction into my steampunk and horror writing as well. It’s important for a writer to get to know people and learn from them. I’ve been very fortunate to work in a place that not only lets me explore the universe, but lets me hang out with some very talented people. Now I’m just waiting to see if synchronicity takes effect and Krissy returns in a few years!