The Birth of “Wild Helicopters”

A little while ago, I did a bit of a profile on Airborne, the anthology one of my stories appears in. The launch party for it was last week. It was fun. I did a reading of my story, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” and we all ate cookies and talked nerd fiction and signed books. People seemed to really like “Wild Helicopters,” which is a friendship story about an artificially intelligent helicopter and a newly graduated aerospace engineer set on a floating wind farm in the outback of Australia. Everyone was surprised to learn that I’d never actually been there (Australia).

For today’s Random Friday article, I thought I’d give you a bit of background on where “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback” came from, since “where do you get your ideas?” seems to be the #1 most popular question asked of writers by non-writers.

The short answer: me dunno.
The long answer: my brain makes a mishmash of stuff I hear about and sometimes it gets interesting enough to write down. To illustrate this process I’ll show you the doodles from my notebook that started “Wild Helicopters.”

I loooooove blimps. I’ve wanted my own personal car-sized airship for forever.

Katrina Nicholson's doodle of a personal sized blimp

My brother Jared is in training at Ryerson University to become an aerospace engineer. I’ve been hounding him for ages to make me my blimp but so far he hasn’t obliged (some brother, eh?) He’s more concerned with doing his homework assignments, one of which he told me about: designing aerial wind turbines. I love wind turbines too, and I know a bit about physics, engineering, and flying from college/Air Cadets, so those three little words spawned a picture in my head that combined blimps and turbines. Jared told me later my made up version actually looked a lot like what he had in mind.

Katrina Nicholson's doodle of an aerial wind turbine

Of course, you never have just one turbine. You have a whole farm of them. And where in the world is there a lot of empty space to put a whole farm of wind turbines? The Outback, of course, which I was reading up on after watching Rogue, a horror movie set in the Northern Territory. So that one floating turbine turned into the Beckett’s floating wind farm.

Katrina Nicholson's drawing of an airborne wind farm

This was the first appearance of a helicopter in the mix. It turned up because:

a) I also love helicopters
b) Greg McLean, the director of Rogue said in the DVD commentary that some cattle/sheep farmers use helicopters to herd animals and it gives them mad skillz
c) The people who worked on the farm had to get around somehow.

But since the turbines were airships is made sense for their personal vehicles to be airships too, like the one I wanted for myself. So I messed around with how to make them “green” powered.

Katrina Nicholson's drawing of a green airship

Then of course I realized they could just charge up on the turbines, and the charging spawned thoughts of power poaching which created a spot for the helicopters in the story – as mooches, like rabbits on a real farm. But of course people know better than to steal, so having them be piloted helicopters makes the story too dark. Insert primitive AI into the mix and voila! You’ve got a cute but annoying wild machine to create some conflict at the farm.

And the rest of the story flowed from there. If you want to read it, I think the Cape Breton Regional Library has a copy, or you can order a copy of the book. It comes in old fashioned paper and newfangled e-book formats, and the e-book one is only 7 bucks.

Of course, my story is only one of sixteen short stories in Airborne. To find out about the others, you can get the skinny on the publisher’s website.

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One Response to: The Birth of “Wild Helicopters”

Clinton James
Commented:  18 October 2010 at 00:50()

Very interesting process!


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