It’s just over ten years since Dayton Ward’s first Star Trek tale was published. Since his short story Reflections earned him a slot in the first Strange New Worlds anthology, he’s revisited the Trek universe on over 20 occasions, often with writing partner Kevin Dilmore.
His latest project, though, is a little different. Rather than pushing the boundaries of the final frontier, he and Dilmore are taking a trip to modern-day Seattle, writing the second tie-in novel based on The 4400. The book, entitled Wet Work, is set during the show’s second season, and Dayton has kindly agreed to discuss the novel with Unreality SF.
Dayton and Kevin first discussed the possibility of writing a 4400 novel with editor Margaret Clark at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2006. They were working on a Star Trek story called Age of the Empress for her, and once their work on that was complete, she invited them to pitch for the 4400 books she would also be helming.
“Kevin and I batted around several ideas for a month or so before writing up a proposal and sending it in,” Dayton explains. “Margaret worked with us to smooth out story problems and ensuring the pitch would pass the approval process at CBS Licensing.”
By August 2007, the approval process was complete, and the pair started work on the manuscript, which was turned in earlier this year. The book’s now on schedule for a release in the autumn. What can fans expect from the adventure?
“The story begins in 1992,” he reveals, “from the viewpoint of an international assassin who’s on assignment in Baltimore. Unknown to the public, this assassin, who’s known in the papers and such by the sensationalist nickname ‘the Wraith’ since so little is known about them, is actually a freelance mercenary on the CIA’s payroll. After carrying out this latest assassination, the Wraith is abducted as one of the 4400. We follow this character from the moment the 4400 return, through NTAC processing and their release, and then several months later, we catch up to the Wraith as the assassinations begin once again. When authorities suspect that the assassin is a 4400, Tom Baldwin and Diana Skouris are assigned to the case, and hilarity ensues from there.”
Viewers of the show will no doubt be pleased to hear that the series is in good hands, as both Dayton and Kevin were followers of The 4400. “[We] were fans from the start,” Dayton confirms. “I watched the original six-hour miniseries when it first aired, then watched it again when it was released on DVD. I watched each new season every summer, and picked up the DVDs as they were released.” He also re-watched particular episodes to help with the writing of Wet Work.
“The plot was totally ours,” he says, when I ask how restricted he was in terms of creating the book’s premise. “We were given a lot of latitude so far as our particular story was concerned. We received some helpful notes from Paula Block at CBS Licensing so far as maintaining consistency with the series continuity as well as the various ongoing arcs, but otherwise we were left alone to write the book.”
Even with full creative freedom, plotting the story might’ve presented some challenges, due to the nature of The 4400’s storytelling. Particularly as its second year began, the series was quite serialised, with a lot of ongoing arcs making each individual episode heavy on continuity. When I interviewed Greg Cox about his 4400 novel, The Vesuvius Prophecy, he mentioned that weaving a standalone story into such a complicated tapestry was difficult, and I wonder if the same was true for Wet Work.
“At first it presented a challenge,” Dayton confirms, “because at the time our book as well as Greg’s first book was being developed, the series was still in production. It wasn’t until after Greg’s book had been turned in and we were almost done with ours that the decision was made to cancel the series. So, finding a way to tell a story that didn’t impact the ongoing storylines and yet still involved the main characters proved to be a bit of a challenge at first. I must’ve watched the same four or five second-season episodes a dozen times, looking for any kind of clue to help determine the span of time in which the episodes unfold, how much time there was between certain episodes, and so on. Once I nailed down a rough timeline, we were able to set our story between two specific episodes, Carrier and Rebirth, confident that we could tell our story within the period of time that supposedly transpires between those two episodes.”
Another challenge presented by the show’s format is its large ensemble cast. Episodes of the television series usually chose to focus on Tom Baldwin and Diana Skouris, with other main characters appearing in large or small supporting roles as dictated by the story. The Vesuvius Prophecy took a similar approach with, for example, Maia Skouris appearing more heavily than Isabelle Tyler. Dayton confirms that Tom and Diana play significant roles in Wet Work, also promising that “Marco Pacella factors into a few key scenes, as does Nina Jarvis. A good portion of the book is also told from the viewpoint of our antagonist, the displaced assassin who’s now a 4400.”
As this is his first visit to the universe of The 4400, I ask Dayton how he and Kevin approached the book. “Well, except for the 4400 elements, we tried to treat the story like a mystery or thriller,” he smiles. “We’ve got good guys hunting bad guys, bad guys doing bad things, but… are the bad guys really bad? Are the things they do really good or bad, or is it because we don’t understand the bigger picture (in the case of the 4400) that we’re forced to label such actions in that manner? We also tried to play into the series mythology a bit, with all the mystery that entails, since at the point in time in which our story is set, the characters know very little about the truth of the 4400 and the reasons for their being returned.”
It sounds like Dayton really enjoyed writing this story, and his passion for the series as a whole shines through. “I’d love to do another 4400 novel,” he enthuses. “In fact, we were offered a chance to write one of the first two ‘post-series’ novels (which currently are being written by Greg Cox and David Mack), but we had to decline because we’d just committed to writing the fourth Star Trek: Vanguard novel and couldn’t accommodate both projects. If the opportunity to write another 4400 book was to come about, Kevin and I have a few ideas about where to go now that the series is off the air. Another thing I would’ve liked to do is explore other 4400s not based in Seattle, and perhaps other NTAC offices.”
Moving away from Seattle, it’s time to talk about Dayton’s aforementioned Star Trek work, for which he’s perhaps best known. He made his Trek debut in 1998 with Reflections, his entry to the very first Strange New Worlds contest, and followed up on that with stories in the second and third anthologies too.
“I’m sad to see the contest go,” he says of Strange New Worlds, which was wound up after the tenth anthology was released, “but I understand the business reality which dictated the decision not to continue the contests. While it may not have made any real money on its own for Pocket Books, I’d like to think it helped in other ways by introducing Pocket to new writers who in turn have gone on to write for other projects which have been profitable.”
He offers Ilsa J. Bick, William Leisner, Geoff Trowbridge, and Geoffrey Thorne as examples of writers who got their big break in Strange New Worlds and went on to higher-profile Trek projects. I ask Dayton where he thinks he would be now, had it not been for his successes in the contest.
“I seriously doubt I’d have a writing career,” he speculates, “at least not one that’s been this rewarding. The contest opened several doors to me that I’m certain I’d never have been able to open on my own. Beyond the writing itself, I’ve gotten the chance to work with some very talented people, including more than a few whose work I’d read and loved for years before ever submitting to that first SNW contest. I’m very proud of my association with SNW and grateful for the opportunities it brought about.”
One such opportunity is the Star Trek: Vanguard series, to which Dayton and Kevin Dilmore have contributed a novel and a crossover eBook, with a second novel to follow in 2009. The series seems to have fallen into an alternating pattern between books by Dayton and Kevin, and by David Mack who helped to conceive the series with editor Marco Palmieri. Despite not being involved in Vanguard from the start, Dayton has helped to shape its development.
“When Kevin and I were approached to write the second Vanguard book, Summon the Thunder, the idea of how many writers might contribute to the series was still in flux,” he explains. “While brainstorming various aspects of our book’s plot, we were encouraged both by Marco and David to throw ourselves into the setting and not simply follow whatever guidelines were already outlined in David’s very detailed Vanguard series bible. We ended up suggesting several things which either took ideas from the bible in totally new directions, or else just simply turned a few things on their ear. Marco and David seemed excited by a few of our ideas, and in fact it’s resulted in more than a few changes to the overall ‘metaplot’ the two of them originally conceived. We didn’t throw out the bible and start over; rather, we took advantage of a few areas that hadn’t been fleshed out to begin with, which in turn altered a few other notions along the way, and so on. It was because of this, and the subsequent brainstorming sessions with Marco and David, that Marco decided to leave the Vanguard series as a sort of ‘one-two punch’ with Kevin and me alternating with David on the books. That’s not to say other writers won’t be added to the mix down the line; it’s all about what’s best for the stories and the series as a whole.”
As well as the fourth Vanguard book, Open Secrets, Dayton and Kevin have written a short story for the upcoming Mirror Universe anthology Shards and Shadows. “Ill Winds is our contribution,” Dayton elaborates. “It stars the Mirror Universe versions of Robert and Sarah April, but otherwise there really aren’t any other recognisable faces from Trek lore in the story.” Can we get a juicy titbit that no-one else knows yet? “Let’s just say that Robert April has the reputation for being the one to be feared,” offers Dayton, cryptically, “but in reality he leaves a lot of the more distasteful duties to his wife. Make of that what you will…”
Dayton and Kevin’s names have also been attached to a story in the Seven Deadly Sins novella collection which was announced at the Shore Leave convention in July. “Marco asked us to pitch a story about the Romulans and pride for the [book],” he explains. “We can’t really divulge too much at this point, but I’ll tease a bit by saying that the pitch we submitted (something like a year ago or so) features at least one character seen in Summon the Thunder, as well as sets the stage for one of the more interesting yet little-explored aspects of the original Star Trek series. Yes, I know that’s vague, but considering how few original-series episodes feature the Romulans, it won’t be hard for fans to figure out…”
Like many of his fellow Star Trek writers, Dayton has also written original fiction in a setting of his own creation. The Last World War was his first original novel, in which the discovery of an alien on Earth by some US Marines leads to the planet becoming embroiled in a conflict between two warring alien races. The book was phenomenally well-received, and readers have expressed interest in a sequel.
“Nothing even close to definite has been decided,” Dayton explains when I ask if there’s been any progress on this, “but I was given good news recently: the original book is going back for a seventh printing this fall. This of course prompted some brief discussions about the fate of the book and any potential sequels, and the only thing I can say at this point is that the notion is not dead. I did also write a short story using the setting, which I published last year via Amazon.com’s ‘Amazon Shorts’ programme. I might do one or two others as time permits, but I’d really rather get going on the second book!”
Finally, I ask Dayton about any other stories he and Kevin are working on. “We’ve had some preliminary discussions about other projects, both with Pocket as well as other publishers,” he replies, “but none of that is at a point where I can talk about it. In addition to the writing Kevin and I are doing, I’m in the midst of editing an anthology for a small-press publisher, Flying Pen Press, for the third installment of their Full-Throttle Space Tales anthology series. The book’s working title is Space Grunts, and all of the stories will focus on various aspects of space-based soldiers/Marines/etc. The anthologies are a sort of celebration of old-school pulp SF, but hopefully with a bit of a modern twist. I’ll be going through the stories during October and November and making the final selections for the book, which is targeted for publication in the spring of 2009.”
And with so many exciting projects on his plate, it certainly looks like Dayton’s next ten years as a writer will be every bit as successful as the first.
Wet Work will be released by Pocket Star in October 2008. Open Secrets will be released by Pocket Books in May 2009.