This is an edited version of an email Q&A, with questions submitted by readers.
Why and how did you go from being a scriptwriter to an author?
The “why” is easy: I had stories to tell in the Star Trek universe, and the creative directions of the latter-era TV series (Voyager and Enterprise) were not a good fit with the stories I wanted to tell. Furthermore, because I live in New York rather than Los Angeles, I was much more closely connected to the book-publishing industry than to the television industry.
The “how” is a slightly more roundabout matter. I’ll try to be brief. I’ll fail. Bear with me anyway.
In 1999, after I had co-written two episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and had spent a few years providing research, office help, and reference-writing for the editors at Pocket Books, I was offered a chance to write a technobabble-heavy supplement for John Vornholt’s then-in-editing hardcover novel The Genesis Wave. Styled as an internal Starfleet memorandum, the “Genesis Report” was so well-received that Mr Vornholt graciously agreed to editor John Ordover’s suggestion that it be incorporated into the middle of the book.
Several months later, in early 2000, on the strength of the “Genesis Report”, I was invited to write my own first book, The Starfleet Survival Guide. One of the Pocket editors, Jessica McGivney, had developed the project, which was already approved when I was brought aboard. In many respects, it was an audition – a tryout, to see if I could finish an entire book of my own.
Well, I did. And a few months later, before the Survival Guide came out, Keith R.A. DeCandido and John Ordover launched the Star Trek: S.C.E. eBook series, and I immediately jumped on board to start pitching stories. That led to me co-writing S.C.E.: Invincible with Keith. From that point forward, I felt confident enough to write my own narrative prose, and I went solo for the first time on S.C.E.: Wildfire.
How did you get into writing Star Trek in the first place?
Ironically, though I went to film school and broke into Star Trek writing through one of the TV series, my childhood dream was to grow up to be a novelist. After many years of collecting rejection slips from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which had open-submission policies for spec teleplays), I became frustrated and decided to try my hand at writing a Star Trek novel instead. My college roommate Glenn Hauman had at that time just met John Ordover, who had recently joined the Star Trek editorial team at Pocket. Glenn introduced us, and John gave me a copy of Pocket’s writers’ guidelines for Star Trek fiction.
I raced home, read the guidelines, and was dismayed to learn that the proposal I had been crafting for weeks had violated every single one of the guidelines. I promptly threw away my proposal. That simple act, more than just about anything else, led to me and John becoming fast friends.
John, too, had been trying to get a story sold to the Star Trek TV series. John had the access to get meetings with the producers, but he lacked practical experience in scriptwriting. I, of course, had a degree in film writing and production from NYU Film School, but no access. Chocolate had met peanut butter, and a writing team was born. Within months of teaming up, we’d made our first two sales, one to Voyager (which was never produced, for reasons unrelated to our work) and the other (Starship Down) to Deep Space Nine.
So, I had started out wanting to write books; then I had detoured into film school; tried to write for TV, but hit a brick wall; tried to detour back into books; ended up making a contact that helped me make sales to TV; then ended up having the clout and credentials to write books.
Kinda makes your head spin, don’t it?
As well as Starship Down, you were involved in the episode It’s Only a Paper Moon. Was it a big risk to do an entire episode focussing on two guest characters?
Well, truth be told, the major force on Paper Moon was Ron Moore. John Ordover and I had pitched a story years before that bore only a passing resemblance to the episode that it became.
By the time the DS9 writing staff had finished “revising” our original pitch, the basic idea was in place. Ron asked us to draft a full outline based on the premise of Nog coming home after The Siege of AR-558 with a cybernetic leg, and seeking solace in the Vic Fontaine holoprogram.
What John and I added to that premise was the reason why Nog was in the holosuite: PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. Essentially, Nog had confronted the truth of his own mortality, and it had destroyed his youthful illusions about being invulnerable and about the “glory” or “heroism” of warfare.
But the truth is that it was Ron Moore who took that idea and put it into words and images, giving it such resonance and honesty. It was also Ron’s courage as a writer that enabled two supporting cast-members to become the leads for an episode. I am simply honoured to have been part of the process.
Do you prefer prose or script-writing? And do you have preferences within those two mediums – short stories rather than novels, movies rather than TV, etc?
Both prose and scriptwriting have their unique pleasures and irritations. I prefer the greater sensory range and dynamic narrative control of prose… but I prefer the grossly inflated paycheques of scriptwriting.
Within the medium of prose, I find that my imagination is not well-suited to short stories; they require a discipline and an economy of style that I lack. I can rein myself in to write novellas – but, as I’m certain Keith R.A. DeCandido will attest, even then I push the limits in terms of word count.
As far as I know, I still hold the record for the longest single-volume instalment of the S.C.E. series, with my 34,000-word action-adventure tale Failsafe. It was supposed to be between 11,000 and 17,500 words, but since I got paid the same no matter how many words I turned in, Pocket basically got a freebie. I considered that project a warmup to my next project, the duology A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal.
When it comes to screenwriting, I have no real preference for either teleplays or feature screenplays. I’ve written a fair number of both on spec, and they’re both hard. Teleplays are excruciating because you’re trying to accomplish so much in so few pages, so few lines, and usually within severe constraints of budget and location. It’s a real skill as well as an art.
Screenplays, by comparison, make me crazy because they depend so much upon structure and pacing. Unlike a novel, which can support all kinds of tangents, shifts of point of view, flashbacks, exposition, etc, a screenplay story is a lot like a shark: It has to keep moving forward or it will die. People see all the white space on a script page and mistake austerity for simplicity. Don’t be fooled; it’s a lot harder than it looks.
The hardest lesson for me as a writer, making the transition from screenwriting to prose writing, was learning to think in grander terms. Even a feature movie screenplay usually has only as much story as a long novella or a short novel. In order to develop a story that can sustain a novel, I had to learn to develop more complex storylines and interweave subplots more effectively.
As well as contributing the first novel in the series, how much of a role did you play in the long-term development of Star Trek Vanguard?
Quite a bit, actually. I co-developed the series with Marco Palmieri; consequently, I had a great deal of input on the series “bible”, which serves as the master template for the setting, major story arcs, and characters.
I should stress, however, that it was a collaborative effort. The core idea for Vanguard began with Marco, and he and I inspired each other to keep adding depth and texture to our characters, to our possible storylines, to our vision of this broader look at the astropolitical arena of the mid-twenty-third century.
I’ve since moved on to other projects, of course, and Marco continues to guide and shape the series as it moves forward. Because he is a true gentleman, and because Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore are gracious to a fault, they are letting me serve as a “creative consultant” on the second Vanguard novel, Summon the Thunder. I was able to read and offer notes on the outline, and I’ll be taking my first look at the manuscript this weekend.
So, although it might be a while before I write another Vanguard book, I am trying to remain involved in the series’ development, trying to keep its voice and tone consistent, and also looking ahead at how small details might affect its more convoluted long-term arcs.
How far ahead have you planned out the Vanguard series? You’ve been quoted as saying that you plotted some story arcs or threads for future books, but how far ahead have you gone – three novels, four, eight, ten…?
Marco Palmieri and I developed a central arc of major story ideas for the series, but the precise number of books that would tell those stories isn’t fixed. It could be compressed into four books, or expanded to ten, depending on the individual story needs of each book in the series. We also sought to make the concept large enough to permit the development of standalone tales that were independent of the central arc.
That said, we settled upon a clear idea of the endgame of the series’ central arc before we started developing the outline for the first book. However, as the series continues, that game plan will likely need to be adjusted to reflect the contributions of other writers to the series. Already, some new ideas that Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore brought to the table for Summon the Thunder have me re-thinking the future possibilities of the series as a whole.
How much did Masao Okazaki’s design for the Vanguard station shape the way you described it?
His work was incredibly influential. I had only a vague sense of the station’s interior layout before I saw Masao’s designs. Once I saw the ideas he had contributed, entire sections of the station that had been dark suddenly were illuminated to my imagination.
His depiction of the central cargo facility inspired the scene with Pennington and Langlois; his vision of the terrestrial enclosure changed the way I thought about entire sections of the story; his detailed approach to the functional work areas, such as the salvage area in the docking bay, peppered the manuscript with little touches that, I hope, brought Starbase 47 to life on the page.
There’s been some debate over T’Prynn being a lesbian – what would you say to the minority of readers asserting that a Vulcan would find same-sex relationships “illogical”?
That’s an entirely subjective application of the term “logical”. Wouldn’t that depend upon what one expects from the relationship? If the goal is companionship, why would the partner’s gender matter?
Though the culture on Vulcan eschews public displays of emotion, no-one has ever denied that Vulcans have emotions; in fact, it has been established on screen that Vulcan emotions are particularly primal and intense, compared with those of humans. The discipline of logic was needed to rein in those emotions and harness them. Consequently, not only do Vulcans love, they very likely love with a greater passion and longer duration of full intensity than humans do.
Furthermore, look at T’Prynn’s history, especially as it concerns Sten, her deceased fiancé. She was clearly revulsed by the notion of coupling with him. It wasn’t about logic, it was about her looking into the deepest parts of her being and realising that she wasn’t wired that way. On a biological level, she is sexually orientated toward women.
Vulcan isn’t underpopulated. The Vulcan species isn’t dying out. There is no logical reason for them to promote compulsory reproduction. Furthermore, their acceptance of T’Prynn’s sexual orientation as natural is entirely consistent with the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination).
A Time To Kill and A Time to Heal helped contextualise Star Trek Nemesis. What did you think of the movie? Why wasn’t it such a success?
The movie was a treasure trove of story possibilities, as I think the nine-volume A Time To… series, and my Tales of the Dominion War story Twilight’s Wrath both demonstrate.
As for the box-office performance of the movie, I don’t know what its numbers were, nor do I know what its budget was. As such, I can’t really say whether it was or was not a success. Besides, it’s not really my place to say, and I wouldn’t know what I was talking about anyway.
How did you like writing about the conspiracy in both the Klingon Empire and Federation, and the Tezwan war? Those storylines covered some controversial ground.
It was a lot of fun; I got to pretend like I was Tom Clancy or something. However, I can understand why some readers objected to my decision to paint such a dark picture of the Federation’s wartime and post-war leadership. My only response to that is, the very fact that their actions were contrary to what we know the Federation is meant to represent is what made it a story worth telling. If a tyrannical power does something terrible, where is the tragedy? Where is the lesson?
What I wanted to write about in Kill and Heal was how even a great nation can be perverted and its ideals threatened if its leaders cast aside their moral duties and adopt an “end justifies the means” mentality. I also wanted to show that when leadership fails at the top, even the best-intentioned people can find themselves thrust into situations in which there are no good options, only bad options and worse options.
What kind of things can we expect from your forthcoming Deep Space Nine novel, Warpath?
Action. Intrigue. Casualties. Epiphanies.
Seriously, I don’t want to give away any particulars of the plot, but I think it’s safe to tell you a few things about the book.
Warning – spoilers ahead for the Worlds of Deep Space Nine books, as well as for Warpath… Three characters’ stories constitute the bulk of the book: Taran’atar, Vaughn, and Kira. The epigraphs that I chose for the front of the book refer, respectively, to the three of them, in the order listed. Without telling you what the quotes are, I can tell you the sources: Paradise Lost by John Milton; Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden; and a short poem by William Wordsworth.
Important subplots involve Ro, Prynn, and a mysterious guest-star.
The book does not address the events in the Dominion / Gamma Quadrant that were shown in David R. George III’s story Olympus Descending.
Are you working on any other projects beyond Warpath that you can tell us about?
I’m just now getting started on a Wolverine novel that’s going to be called Road of Bones. It’s sort of a James Bond-style adventure that will take Logan around the world, on a mission to stop one of his old rivals from killing or enslaving billions of people. I’m looking forward to this one; it feels like it’s going to be a lot of fun to write.
After that, I have a couple of Star Trek book projects lined up, but I’m not yet at liberty to announce them.
What’s your favourite Trek series, episode, alien, and book?
Series: Deep Space Nine.
Episodes: The Visitor (saddest), Trials and Tribble-ations (funniest), and Yesterday’s Enterprise (coolest).
Alien: Too many to choose from. Klingons seem too obvious; I’ll go with Nausicaans.
Book: No comment. [grin]
What other sci-fi series would you like to write for, other than Star Trek?
I’d run naked through the Vancouver snows in deep winter for a chance to pitch stories to the Battlestar Galactica TV series. For a chance to pitch Battlestar Galactica novels, I’d burn my favourite pair of blue jeans. I’d also love to take a shot at telling some Stargate SG-1 stories, in print or on screen. Star Wars might be a fun universe to play around in. Right now I’m looking forward to writing my Wolverine novel; if that goes well, I could see myself spending more time writing about Logan.
Ultimately, I’d like to have the time to write some original novels, either SF or thrillers.
What do you predict for the future of Trek, now that the show’s been cancelled, the books are being cut back, and the website is in jeopardy?
Prediction isn’t really my business. The show’s been cancelled before; it came back. Even with the cutbacks, there are still more novels being published for Star Trek each year than there are for just about any other major media franchise. And the website might yet find a home. I also seem to recall having read recently that director Bryan Singer is interested in taking the helm on a future Star Trek movie. Perhaps I’m an optimist (“not likely”, say my friends and my wife), but I think Star Trek has a future. I just hope to continue being a part of it.
Thanks for the terrific questions, everyone! It’s been a pleasure.
A Time To Kill and A Time to Heal were released by Pocket Books in July and August 2004 respectively. Harbinger was released by Pocket Books in August 2005. Warpath will be released by Pocket Books in March 2006.