Kirsten Beyer has accepted a job that certainly can’t be described as the easiest in her field. She’s reviving a series that’s been on hold for more than four years – the Star Trek: Voyager post-finale novels – but with previous Voyager prose stories under her belt, and a history of pitching to the TV series, she certainly has the credentials to pull it off. Kirsten’s kindly agreed to talk to Unreality SF about her current and past work.
Her Star Trek prose career basically started on a fateful day in Baltimore. “My writing partner, Heather Jarman, was working with Marco [Palmieri, editor] on the Mission: Gamma project for DS9,” Kirsten recounts, “and the first thing she did was to find out who, at the time, was coordinating the Voyager novels. I contacted a nice lady named Jessica and submitted my materials, and 24 hours later we were on the phone planning what I hoped would be my first Voyager novel.” But life isn’t always that easy, as she found out a short time later. “In the middle of that work, however, she moved on to other things and no-one seemed to know what was up with Voyager. That same year, Heather invited me to attend Shore Leave with her in Baltimore, and there she introduced me to Marco who also asked to see writing samples. Shortly after that, the decision was made that Marco would do the String Theory project, and I was invited first to contribute the short story to the [Distant Shores] anthology, and later that afternoon, to write the second novel [in the String Theory trilogy, Fusion]. That was a big day.”
During her work on String Theory and Isabo’s Shirt (her Distant Shores tale) she had the benefit of being able to draw inspiration from her previous pitches to the Voyager TV series. “The Tuvok arc in Fusion was based on a pitch called Siren Song,” she reveals. “Isabo’s Shirt was based on a kernel of an idea I also pitched, but was developed quite differently under Marco’s direction. And much better, I might add.” And it wasn’t only Kirsten’s own work that was influenced by her pitches, she explains. “The B’Elanna/Seven arc from the novel Cohesion was based on a pitch Heather Jarman and I developed together. Bryan Fuller had been asking me for years for a good B’Elanna/Seven story. Naturally, Jeff[rey Lang] fleshed it out in his own fabulous and surprising way, which was fun to see.”
However, her pitch backlog wasn’t much help in developing her two Voyager post-finale books this year, Full Circle and Unworthy. “All of the characters are in such different places now that you really can’t take the old stuff and have it make emotional sense. Plot, which can sometimes be easily translated, is dependent upon the thematic elements we want to explore and those that seemed relevant when the show was in production feel too stale now to recycle.”
Kirsten’s Full Circle is the first Voyager post-finale book since Christie Golden’s Enemy of my Enemy in late 2004, and it’s hitting the shelves of bookstores right now. Despite this long hiatus she doesn’t really fear that the series has lost its momentum. “I think all Trek stories that are well-told will find their audience,” she believes. “The fan base is large and diverse. My job is not to worry about whether or not there is a market for my story. My job is to tell the best story I possibly can and let the people who hired me worry about things like momentum. Though it is impossible to accurately measure, I will say that in these last few months, there has been so much controversy among some of the more vocal fans of the books that if anything, people seem to be anticipating the novel more than I expected.”
Said controversy mostly stems from the death of Admiral Kathryn Janeway, in Peter David’s 2007 The Next Generation novel Before Dishonor, and as Kirsten points out, it led to a good deal of pre-release buzz for Full Circle. “Normally I would think that buzz is a good thing but it’s been hard to go through with this one,” she admits. “I was very surprised, not by the passion of the Voyager fans (I knew someone out there had to love the show as much as I do) but by the inflexibility I found in some quarters. It turns out for some that there are story developments that are deal breakers. ‘Kill my favourite character and I don’t want to read any more.’ I thought Stephen King was letting his imagination and ego run a little wild in Misery but I have a whole new appreciation for that story now. Where I part ways with these fans, both as a reader and a writer however, is in the assumption that a story featuring plot or character developments I don’t like will automatically result in something I cannot imagine enjoying reading or watching. They are turning away from Full Circle on principle, which I can’t understand, rather than because of execution, for which I could fault no-one. It was very hard to refrain from correcting some assumptions and very sad to see the leaping to conclusions, especially from fans who supposedly really liked my work prior to Full Circle. Still, it has become clear that the segment of fans who I expected to appreciate aspects of Full Circle the most are choosing not to read it at all and I can’t help but think that ultimately it’s their loss.”
Voyager fans who choose not to let the controversy get in the way of reading Full Circle can expect a novel which brings the series back up to speed. Summarising her aims when writing the novel, Kirsten says: “Full Circle tells the story of the two and a half years in the lives of Voyager’s characters after their return from the Delta Quadrant. Apart from continued character development, our goal was to set the stage for future Voyager novels in a way that was organic to the wider Trek universe but still remain grounded in what is unique about Voyager. Since the last post-series Voyager novel was published, several events have occurred which affected our characters. These events were portrayed in TNG, Titan and Destiny novels. The task at hand was complicated by the need to bring Voyager fans who might not have read those books up to speed. Thankfully, before the most dramatic of those, the death of Admiral Kathryn Janeway, there was still time to create one more story where the Voyager crew is united against a common foe. Knowing where they were heading made the experience bittersweet, but it was still nice to tell a classic Voyager tale before the universe begins unravelling all around them.”
Asked how hard it was to cover such a big time frame and encompass so much storytelling potential in just one novel, Kirsten replies, “By far, this was the most complicated and ambitious novel I’ve ever attempted. Step one was to re-read every novel that has been published since Homecoming that features any Voyager characters and place those events on a timeline. At the same time, I was coordinating with David Mack whose Destiny trilogy was impacting events at the far end of my novel, but I had to determine early on where the seeds that would bloom in Destiny would be planted earlier in the timeline and how they would develop. I initially outlined the story chronologically and intended it to cover two novels. My editor decided that he really wanted the finale of what I originally conceived as ‘Book Two’ to happen at the end of ‘Book One’, and the only way to do that was to condense and re-structure the stories. I think the result hangs together dramatically but can be jarring and feel a little disconnected structurally. But this was an unavoidable trade-off given the mandate to cover all two-and-a-half years on one book.”
Despite the fact that she didn’t have the chance to talk to Christie Golden before or during the writing process, Kirsten tried to keep the connection between her books and Christie’s tight, whilst telling her own story. “I have done my best to resolve many of the dangling threads left by Ms. Golden,” she explains, “even though I have no idea where she planned to go with them. Some are dealt with at greater length than others. The bigger story mandated that some of them simply could not be addressed, particularly individual arcs she had begun for some of the newer characters. There just wasn’t time to give many of those characters the focus further exploration would have required. I do hope that fans of her books will feel I did justice to what she established, though as they will soon see, I was interested in taking Voyager in my own, quite different direction.”
That prompts the question of how the books might have looked if Kirsten had had carte blanche, without Christie Golden’s books and the Titan series already determining the direction of the cast. “Item number one would have been developing a work-around for Janeway’s promotion as portrayed in Nemesis,” Kirsten considers. “Also, had I been asked, I would have pitched a fit about losing Tuvok to Titan. I simply love writing him. That said, I think we needed to spend some time with everyone getting re-acquainted with their lives in the Alpha Quadrant, and I think it’s logical to assume that after those seven years, many, if not all of our characters, would have wanted some time away from one another. But the reality is, if we’re going to continue telling Voyager stories, the crew we all know and love needs to be more or less together. Or we have to shift the focus to new characters. Given the developments of the other series, I’ve had to do a little of both.”
Full Circle is the first of two Voyager post-finale novels penned by Kirsten hitting shelves this year. Later this year, the aforementioned follow-up novel Unworthy will be released, and Kirsten is able to share some early information with us. “People are already asking if it is a continuation to Full Circle and I guess in some ways it is. There are character arcs that are left unresolved in Full Circle that are completed in Unworthy, but as in everything I seem to write for Voyager, there are also unresolved issues and some new potential mysteries and directions are opened up. How I or anyone else will follow up on those remains to be seen. Full Circle has set a new direction for Voyager, at least for a while, and Unworthy is the first in what I hope will be many novels exploring that direction. I will also say that two characters who I felt received the least attention in Full Circle, the Doctor and Seven, are given much more to deal with in Unworthy.”
The fact that Kirsten has been hired to do two consecutive post-finale novels doesn’t mean that she has taken over Christie Golden’s place as the sole author of the series, though. “My first editor on the project, Marco Palmieri, indicated that he intended to open the universe up after Unworthy to a number of other authors,” she reveals, “though he was kind enough to say that he would include me among them going forward. Now that the project has shifted to Margaret Clark’s control, I have no idea how she plans to proceed.”
This change of the editor was necessary after Marco Palmieri, senior editor for Star Trek fiction (amongst others) at Pocket Books was laid off in December due to the financial crisis. “I was very sad to see Marco go,” Kirsten says. “He is someone I consider a friend, and as the man who gave me my first professional job, he will always have a special place in my heart. But the work must continue. I had spoken a little with Margaret Clark before, though we had never worked together, and she was wonderful from the very beginning about contacting me and making sure we could stick to a schedule that would get both Full Circle and Unworthy done on time. Now that I’ve worked through Margaret’s revisions on Unworthy I see that she and Marco had very different sensibilities, which is interesting, and true of every editor I’ve ever worked with. I feel like there’s a big difference in the two, but I will be most interested to see if anyone else sees it in the final product come October.”
It might be fair to suggest that Kirsten is a proponent of the Janeway/Chakotay romantic relationship in her fiction, albeit implicitly so. “I wouldn’t call myself a proponent of it,” she counters, when offered this interpretation, “or a J/Cer as I understand the term. To me there is an implication there that I am projecting something I want to happen onto the characters and using them like my own personal Barbie dolls. Obviously, I’ve never read any fan-fiction, but my understanding of that world is that it has a lot to do with wish fulfillment and less to do with what was established onscreen.
“That said, I don’t think you can argue that hints were dropped, either in the actual text or in the subtext and performances of Janeway and Chakotay over the years, that suggested there was an unresolved attraction between them. I never found it inappropriate that the potential wasn’t fulfilled on the show, given their circumstances, but I think both characters would have been better served had they confronted the issue at some point as adults and allowed themselves and the fans to move on in their heads. Despite the title, I don’t think Resolutions ever really did that for us. I think it made things worse. But this was typical of Voyager, this sort of unresolved character potential. It’s part of what made the show frustrating for so many. Since part of what we get to do in the novels is tie up some of those loose ends, and since for me it was always one of the most glaring ones, I’m pleased to have had a chance to explore that relationship in all of its implications. I think for fans who never liked the idea of it for whatever reason, they would just as soon have left it alone. But I don’t think anyone who really followed the show can say there was never anything there – perhaps just something that was never fully realised.”
Despite such strong opinions about the show, Kirsten doesn’t want to limit herself to Voyager fiction. “I would love to write for the other series but apart from telling Marco after String Theory that I would love to continue telling Voyager stories, I haven’t pursued the other Trek series. That said, I would write for any Trek series set after TOS. I enjoy TOS as a fan, but don’t feel connected to it in the way I need to in order to write for it. TNG or DS9 would be more appropriate for me, especially given how tight the continuity has become between those series and Voyager and how fresh it all is in my head now.”
And whilst she hasn’t had a chance to write for other Trek series just yet, Kirsten has left her footprints in the literature of other media franchises, including Buffy and Alias, “which were challenging and fun in their own ways.” She describes working for these lines as “a blast” and adds, “My editors on those books were fantastic and a lot of fun. As stand-alone episodes set within the confines of the series, they were easier to create than something like Full Circle. Looking back, had I known when I was writing One Thing or Your Mother, that it would be the last Buffy book ever, I’m sure I would have felt more pressure than I did, but in both cases, I’m really pleased with what I created. I loved both shows and to play with those characters was a treat. I was always a bigger fan of Buffy. [Creator] Joss Whedon is one of my idols. To write Buffy was more fun than ought to be allowed.”
At the moment, there are no immediate plans for Kirsten to return to Star Trek or other tie-in writing in the future, but there are two other projects on her plate right now. “Just before I picked up Voyager again last year, I was nearly done with my first original novel. I’ll be going back to that when my plate is clean and hopefully finishing it up in the next few months. I guess technically speaking it’s a paranormal romance, but the mythos I’ve developed for it is pretty textured and rich and meant to lay the groundwork for a whole series.”
But, as Kirsten also reveals, there’s something more important right now going on in her life. “Apart from the original novel, the thing occupying most of my thoughts is the baby girl which is due to enter my world in August. I’m pregnant for the first time and baby, my husband and I are doing great so far. It’s a big change and one that I am now free to give more time and attention since the bulk of my writing commitments are complete for now. I’m really excited about this new adventure and can’t wait to meet her!”
The team at Unreality SF wish Kirsten all the best with her books, and even more importantly with the birth of her daughter.
Full Circle was released by Pocket Books in April 2009. Unworthy will be released by Pocket Books in November 2009.