This is an edited version of an email Q&A, with questions submitted by readers.
Over the last year and a half, you seem to have become the Cardassian expert among the Star Trek authors! Was this intentional or just something that happened along the way?
I’m not sure I’m really the expert – don’t forget A Stitch In Time! I do love writing about Cardassians, though, and all their moral intricacies. So I played to what I thought were my strengths when I was pitching Face Value, and The Lotus Flower came directly out of that.
Is it fair to say they’re your favourite aliens?
Yes, I think they’re my favourite aliens. They have a dark sense of humour, they’re ironic and oblique, they have something of a bad track record when it comes to imperialism… hmm, when it’s put like that they sound a bit British.
Thinking of other aliens… I like the Narn from Babylon 5 (I wonder what it is about these reptilian aliens?). And I’m very excited about that Army of Wookies in the trailer for Revenge of the Sith!
You seem to be a big fan of Garak in particular. What attracts you to him, and what’s he like to write for?
Yes, I’m a big fan of Garak – he really is endlessly intriguing.
I think that secrecy has to be a large part of the attraction. His dialogue is always witty. And the other thing I really like about Garak is that he has some really awful things happen to him – quite a few of them self-inflicted – and yet he still keeps bouncing back.
When I write him, it’s often as if he’s trying to take control, and since he’s so enjoyable to write (I get to use vocabulary I wouldn’t in everyday life!), it’s easy to let him take charge. But it’s important not to get carried away – Garak does a lot of bad and cruel things, and I certainly don’t want to glamourise them. That’s the challenge of writing the character.
Have you always had a love of writing, or did that develop as a result of your sci-fi fandom?
I used to love writing stories when I was a kid, but I stopped during my teens (although I remember doing an awful lot of essay-writing!). When I started writing again, in my early twenties, it was through Blake’s 7 fandom.
The first really long story I remember was written when I was an 11-year-old schoolgirl, and it concerned an apocalyptic battle between the forces of Light and Dark, with Light admirably aided in its struggle by… an 11-year-old schoolgirl. I think I had just been watching some Doctor Who stories about the White and the Black Guardians, and I’d almost certainly been reading a bit too much Tolkien.
Have any other Star Trek writers particularly inspired you?
Most of my favourite episodes are written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Peter Allan Fields… I like these writers for their consistent and interesting characterisation, thought-provoking subject matter, and surprising plotting.
What’s it been like to jump from being a fan of those other writers to having fans of your own work?
I’m not sure I really know what it’s like to have fans, but there really is nothing better than to have people read your stuff and say that they liked it, and I’ve been incredibly lucky in that respect. People have been very kind. Anyway, I still think of myself as a fan. I met a writer a couple of years ago that I really admire, and I could hardly string a coherent sentence together.
Your first professional Star Trek credit was Face Value in the Prophecy and Change anthology. Very few Star Trek authors are non-Americans – how did that first story come about?
They came to me! Someone saw some of my writing online (I still don’t know who!), and recommended me to the people at Pocket Books. Who then approached me and asked whether I would like to pitch for the anthology. “That would be very nice, please!” is a rough summary of my reply!
Why did you choose to build on The Dogs of War for that pitch?
What attracted me was the combination of the characters – Garak, Kira, and Damar – and the setting: it’s a very intense, dangerous situation in which three people who not only don’t like each other very much but have genuine grievances with each other (Ziyal’s murder, never mind the Occupation of Bajor) have to rely on each other completely to stay alive. I had always wanted to see more of that whole situation on the show.
With no more DS9 on TV, the authors of the books set after the series must be given a lot of freedom. What’s it like to be able to control such a large part of an increasingly complex universe, and what were the boundaries for what you could do in your relaunch story?
The most immediate constraint was that I had to keep events consistent with what had happened in the other relaunch novels, and also with Andrew J. Robinson’s book A Stitch in Time. That meant doing my background reading – being up to speed on the details, like knowing the episodes of the show. Marco Palmieri (the editor of the range) also asked me to include several specific characters, such as Garak, the O’Briens, Vedek Yevir, and a couple of others. So I tried to create the drama out of that particular set of people, and also from what I thought would be the main tensions on Cardassia; for example, the presence of aliens in the rebuilding efforts, and the renewal of religious sentiment and its open practice.
From a storytelling point of view, one constraint was that we already knew something of what would happen on Cardassia in the future (from Andrew J. Robinson’s short story The Calling, in Prophecy and Change). That could have taken quite a lot of the punch away from my own story, but I tried to write in such a way that anyone who had read The Calling would find some pathos in my own story; for example, in knowing what eventually happens to Alon Ghemor. I think that’s one of my main writing rules-of-thumb – if something appears to be a constraint, try to find a way to turn it into an advantage.
Apart from that, Cardassia was mine to work my wicked way with! And what was that like? Bloody brilliant!
If you’d written for Deep Space Nine on TV, is there anything you would have done differently?
I have enormous sympathy for people writing to deadlines, and writing for television must be incredibly tough in that respect. If I had to pick one thing that I would have done differently – I would have been much too soft-hearted to kill off Damar. Having said that, seeing Damar get killed (and thinking about what a loss that was for Cardassia) was the thing that made me run off and start writing DS9 fanfiction, so I can’t exactly complain!
Miles O’Brien and Garak didn’t interact much on DS9, but they shared some brilliant scenes in The Lotus Flower. What made you choose them as a pairing?
Thank you, I’m glad you liked those scenes – I really had a lot of fun writing them. Like I said in answer to an earlier question, I often try to create story by thinking of interesting combinations of characters. Given the history that Garak and Miles have together, most particularly after the events of Empok Nor, I really couldn’t resist putting them together in The Lotus Flower.
Would you ever be interested in writing for other Star Trek series?
If I ever visited one of the other series, it would be The Next Generation, which I consumed with a passion when it was first transmitted. I particularly love Q.
What can you tell us about your next book (Hollow Men) or any other projects you have lined up?
Hollow Men has a really fantastic cover. Have you seen the cover? I think it’s fantastic. That’s all I’m saying right now! [smiles]
In the Pale Moonlight [to which Hollow Men is a sequel] is one of my favourite ever pieces of television (and trust me – I watch a lot of television!). It’s about one of the things that most interests me: how much of their principles are people willing to surrender to defend those principles? I watched most of it with my mouth hanging open. I couldn’t believe that Garak just kept on asking Sisko to do more and more, and that Sisko would struggle with his conscience, and then each time decide to go just that little bit further… when Vreenak said, “It’s a fake!” I think I actually yelled out loud! I think the episode pushed the boundaries of Star Trek; it was a brave episode to make, very dramatic, and brilliantly acted.
Right now I’m working on a radio play, and also on an original SF novel. I also have an idea for a fantasy novel that I’d love to get started on some time this decade…! (I would also like to know how Garak and Graython Tolar, the holoforger from In the Pale Moonlight, first met.)
Please thank everyone for their questions, they were great, and I really enjoyed answering them!
The Lotus Flower was released by Pocket Books in May 2004. Hollow Men will be released by Pocket Books in April 2005.