Never ask a writer how they get their ideas. There’s rarely a real answer. But inspiration struck Jonathan Latt at a moment of intense stress that anyone can relate to: being stuck in traffic. And not just any traffic, but Los Angeles traffic. Latt set out on what was supposed to be a 90-minute trip, only to find himself caught in a five-hour traffic jam. Miserable and trapped in his car with no idea of when and how he’d finally get out, Latt realized he knew what he wanted to write next: a story of a lone space traveler, Bevil Cyrex, put on a ship programmed to drift out into deep space until it runs out of power, leaving any inhabitants dead and unable to call for help.

But just when Bevil is about to lose hope, he sees it: an old abandoned space station, from a design that he happens to know well. A real antique, a “Starlite” space station:

Bevil knew he was nowhere close to being out of danger but he just couldn’t help feeling excited. He whistled with each step, walking along the top of his ship and over the curve to the other side. He squatted down, disengaged the magnetic soles and launched himself toward the station. He flipped and activated the boots again just before his feet made contact with the side of the station’s outer ring.

Bevil walked up the side of the ring, made his way to the nearest spoke and in ten minutes was standing on the edge of the hub. If he was inside the station, the walk would have taken less than two minutes from ring to hub. However, what he was doing now was incredibly dangerous. The soles of his boots were magnetized, but without something to tether him to the station, one misstep could send him floating away into deep space. Slow, deliberate, careful navigation was the key to survival in situations like this.

He scanned ahead looking for the small ladder he knew would be poking up somewhere. Spotting it, he made for his target. He could envision the layout of the space station in his mind and knew exactly where he was going, because Bevil knew the design of the Starlites by heart.

Starlite is both the name of the station and the name of the novel itself. Kirkus Reviews calls Latt’s science fiction series opener “an entertaining and promising beginning for a neo-retro spacefaring adventure series.

Latt, who has traveled extensively as well as lived overseas, now resides in the same city where he grew up: Los Angeles, California. Appropriately for an LA native, Latt has spent most of his career in the entertainment industry. After starting off as a page for CBS, he worked in production for TV and film, trained at a top talent agency, and eventually opened up his own agency.

But despite his professional success, Latt didn’t feel entirely fulfilled until he tried writing his own material. He’d taken a seminar or two over the years, so he understood things like how story structure works. He also studied a few scripts to learn format. “I wrote a pilot just to see if I could do it,” he says. “And I’d never had more fun.”

Latt sold that pilot, went on to sell a few more, and had some projects move into development. Eventually he started getting jobs as a script consultant doing creative work that he enjoyed, albeit on other people's projects—enough that he was able to stop working as an agent.

One day, a friend of his suggested that he take one of his ideas and turn it into a novel instead of a script. “So I did, and it was challenging at first, but man, writing a novel is so much fun!” That book became Latt’s first novel, The Geek, and his initial success led to playing around with ideas for the book that eventually became Starlite.

Armed with his years of experience in the TV and film industry, Latt seeks to entertain his readers above all else. “You’re writing something that’s completely immersive, or you hope it is,” he says. “You’re performing for an audience of one reader at a time. I certainly don’t think I do it well all the time, but I try. I don’t describe my characters all that much because I want my readers to be able to picture themselves or someone they know. I want them to find themselves in the novel.” If his stories can make someone’s day even better when they’re happy, cheer them up if they’re down, or just add some fun to their lives, then he feels he’s done his job.

Starlite is a science fiction adventure story that features pirates, a civilization of deep-space explorers, sinister government militaries, and an AI that shows itself to Bevil in the form of his grandmother, Nan. As to whether Latt succeeds in taking these enticing pieces and making them into the immersive, entertaining story that will keep his readers turning the pages, Kirkus Reviews not only gave Starlite a starred review but also named it one of the Best Indie Books of 2023, praising the novel as “purposeful, the pacing relentless, and the action virtually nonstop; it all has the glorious sense of wonder associated with golden-age SF. Cyrex is insightfully portrayed as a young man trying to find his place in the universe, and the supporting characters are all brilliantly developed—particularly Nan, an artificial intelligence that’s learning, sometimes quite humorously, what it means to be human.”

Latt has been incredibly touched, grateful, and “pleasantly surprised that people seem to like Starlite.” He’s very comfortable with the fact that there will always be people who don’t love his stories, and just grateful to be doing creative work and sharing those tales with readers.

Much of that gratitude comes from his journey to over ten years of sobriety with the help of everything from a rehab facility to his love for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, where he savors the process of the sport rather than trying to reach any level of physical mastery. “If you’re having a bad day, you’re angry or whatever, you can go in there, and someone who weighs sixty pounds breaks you down like a basic math problem,” he says, laughing. “It strips your ego. It resets you.”

Just like creative work, no one can do sobriety in exactly the same way, but Latt finds that for him, approaching life and writing with a sense of humor and gratitude give him the best results. As he continues to find joy and fulfillment in writing, Latt has more plans for the fictional world he created in Starlite with a collection of short stories in the works, a prequel, and more books to follow his first novel, The Geek. “I’ve got tons of stuff planned,” he says. “I love writing books.”

He says that after writing two novels and balancing that with his other work in TV and film, he has a good sense of how to juggle everything. At least, mostly. “I don’t know,” he says, chuckling as he contemplates all the projects he wants to work on. “Five or six years from now, maybe I can schedule a mild mental breakdown?”


Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.