Keith R.A. DeCandido interview
Keith R.A. DeCandido has been a household name in the tie-in world for over a decade now. In this time, he has written novels, novellas, short stories and comics for numerous franchises including Star Trek, Buffy, Supernatural, and many more. In 2009 he received the Faust - the Grand Master award of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW), an award that recognises writers for their extensive and exceptional work in the tie-in field. Building on his success, the next few months will see another batch of his projects hitting the shelves, and Keith kindly agreed to talk to us about what he has in store for his readers.
2010 started with the release of the first issue of the Starcraft: Ghost Academy manga, a tie-in to the indefinitely-postponed video game Ghost and Keith’s 2006 prequel to the game Ghost: Nova. The title character of that novel will also be the focal character of the manga. “The Ghosts are the elite telepathic operatives of the Terran Dominion,” Keith explains. “The Ghost Academy is where they’re trained, and this manga series will show what the lives of the cadets are like, primarily through the eyes of Nova Terra.
“Nova’s time at the Academy is mentioned very briefly in Nova,” he adds, “only taking up a few pages of space. This manga will provide more details of her time there.” The fact that the game was put on hold without officially being cancelled creates the question of whether the planned storyline for Starcraft: Ghost still restricted him for this manga. “Not really,” Keith reveals, “since Ghost Academy, at least for now, takes place prior to the timeframe that would’ve been covered by the game. Actually, what affects the storyline more is what’s planned for StarCraft II…”
Next in line is Keith’s third Supernatural novel Heart of the Dragon, which will be published in February. This time, he took a different approach – whereas both his previous novels, Nevermore and Bone Key, were standalone tales, this time the story has closer ties to the TV show’s ongoing story. “[Heart of the Dragon] is very much tied into what’s happening in the fifth season of the show,” Keith acknowledges, but also points out that he “made an effort to fill in the gaps, and it really only affects one third of the book in any case.” This is because the novel covers three different time frames – 1969, 1989 and 2009 – of which obviously only the 2009 portion will be influenced by the current events in the series.
Talking about the plot of the book, Keith explains its division into those time frames. “The novel involves a spirit that was created when a ronin [a masterless samurai] in 19th-century Japan was killed by the members of a village thanks to the machinations of a demon. Said demon wanted to cause a hero, a pure spirit, to be blamed for a rape and murder, and be killed by honest people for the crime he didn’t commit. This results in a powerful spirit that the demon is holding in reserve for the inevitable war between the angels and the demons. However, a descendant of the ronin can also take command of the spirit, and one does in 1969. The Campbell family faces the spirit and banishes it for 20 years. When it returns in 1989, it’s John Winchester who deals with it, and also is able to send it away for two decades. In 2009, the war has begun, and the demon has to contend both with the descendent and Sam and Dean.”
So the book has basically three different batches of “head-hunters” – with the Campbells, John Winchester (and his young sons Dean and Sam), and finally the grown-up Winchester brothers – each with different methods. “The Campbells are a nuclear family of hunters, who work well together, but also act like a fairly normal family in that they bicker, they have routines, they have traditions, and so on. John is a much more solitary hunter, more unpleasant to be around, and still only six years removed from the death of his wife,” says Keith, delineating his take on Sam and Dean’s forefathers, and adding that he sees the pair as “somewhere between those two, with a much more dysfunctional relationship than the Campbells have with each other, but also with less baggage than John (though they’ve got plenty), and they also deal with the baggage they do have better because they have each other.”
The split also means that one third of the novel doesn’t feature the series’ main characters at all, begging the question of whether spin-off books with other hunters would be a worthwhile effort. “Well, the boys’ role in the 1989 part is very small, as well, though at least there the main character (John) is a major supporting player from the first season and his presence has continued to inform the subsequent seasons, and Bobby also appears in the ’89 part,” Keith points out. “Anyhow – I think that Sam and Dean really are the heart of Supernatural, but there are plenty of supporting characters – John, Bobby, the Harvelles, Rufus, the Campbells, Gordon, Henricksen, etc. – who would probably do well in the spotlight every once in a while.”
With Heart of the Dragon his third novel in the Supernatural universe, did the experiences from the previous novels help him with this one? “Not so much with this one,” he admits. “Nevermore was much more of a learning experience, and I think Bone Key was stronger for the mistakes I made with Nevermore. But while those lessons carried over to Heart, I don’t think there was anything particularly new I took to writing it.”
Heart of the Dragon is one of three Supernatural novels this year, the others being The Unholy Cause by Joe Schreiber and War of the Sons by Rebecca Dessertine and David Reed, but nothing’s been announced beyond that right now. “The books have a new publisher in Titan Books, so whether or not there are any more books beyond that will depend on the sales of these three,” Keith explains when asked about more releases, and shows great interest in continuing to add to the Supernatural lore. “If they do well, I would love to do more, absolutely. I love the show, and I’ve loved writing the three novels I’ve done.”
There are rumours that the TV series could come to an end after the current season, which could also have an influence on the decision to produce more tie-in novels. While Keith believes in the stamina of Supernatural beyond its TV run, he also knows about the dangers. “I think [that Supernatural has staying power], yes, though that’s always a hard road to hoe – very few tie-in lines survive the end of the show, and those that do don’t always survive for very long…”
One tie-in line which has managed this task more than once is the Star Trek line, the home of Keith’s next two releases after Heart of the Dragon. First is The Unhappy Ones, his novella in the anthology Seven Deadly Sins - in which each of the seven sins is represented by a Star Trek race – set for a March release. Keith’s story covers wrath and features the Klingons.
“In the 23rd century, the workers in a mine engage in civil unrest after two murders,” says Keith, giving us a short teaser for the story. “A QuchHa’ (no forehead ridges) is murdered, but it’s ruled an accident with little investigation; in retaliation, the HemQuch (with forehead ridges) who likely killed the QuchHa’ is also murdered, but his killer is condemned to death. This leads to riots and violence beyond the capaibility of the mine supervisor and his security chief to handle, so the Klingon Defense Force sends in three QuchHa’ captains to deal with it: Kor, Kang, and Koloth.”
While the Klingon/wrath decision was already decided when Keith came on board, he was very eager to write this combination. “Marco Palmieri came to me and said, ‘How’d you like to write 23rd-century Klingons for a change?’ I jumped at the chance, especially given what we learned in Affliction and Divergence on Enterprise about how the smooth-headed Klingons came about. Besides, I’ll always jump at the chance to write Kor, Kang, and Koloth.” Even if the chance to connect the Klingons another deadly sin had been presented to Keith, he probably wouldn’t have done so. “You could probaby put Klingons together with pride, but of the seven possible sins, wrath really is the best fit,” he contemplates. “You could also put the Nausicaans, Chalnoth, Tamarians, or even, if you wanted to get entertaining, the Vulcans (in the pre-Surak days) with wrath.”
The fact that the original editor of the anthology, Marco Palmieri, wasn’t able to accompany the project all the way through the production process due to being laid-off in December 2008 didn’t have a big influence on the final version of the book, in Keith’s opinion. “I doubt [that the book would have looked much different], since most of the stories were turned in to Marco before he was laid off,” Keith reveals. “In fact, doing the paperwork to pay me for it was one of his last duties as editor! But all the authors were assigned, and only one changed after Marco left, and it’s perfectly possible that that would have happened even if Marco had remained on staff.”
Also in March, his Star Trek: Alien Spotlight II comic Four Thousand Throats… will be re-released in an omnibus edition of the five part series of comics presenting the Star Trek races. Four Thousand Throats…, which recently was named Best Single Issue Star Trek comic of 2009 by TrekMovie.com, presents three different takes on the proverb the title is derived from told by a familiar charcter. “At three different points in his life, Kang tells a story, the ‘moral’ of which is the proverb ‘four thousand throats may be cut in a single night by a running man’. The first is right after the Organians stop the war with the Federation in Errand of Mercy, the second is in the early 24th century, and the final story is told shortly before Blood Oath.”
Telling three stories in a single issue comic sounds like a difficult task, but while Keith agrees with that, he also is very happy with the final product. “Oh, it was a challenge,” he has acknowledges, “having to tell, in essence, three seven-page stories. I had to really boil each story down to its essence and not waste any time. I’m actually quite pleased with the results.”
While the single issues of the comics series by IDW often are re-released in a paperback omnibus within roughly a half year after the first issues release, the gap between the release of the single issue of Four Thousand Throats… and the Alien Spotlight II paperback is almost a year. Does that have any effect of the sales numbers of either the single issue or the paperback in Keith opinion? “Nah. The standalone nature of Alien Spotlight meant they didn’t need to crank out the second volume’s worth of material in five months, and I think the appeal will be the same regardless.” With his Star Trek bibliography in mind, Keith was the obvious choice to create the Klingons’ moment in the spotlight, but he would also have been open to work with other races. “Well, two other species I’ve done extensive work with in novels – the Ferengi and the Cardassians – would have been fun to do.”
Fans of his Star Trek comic work will be happy to hear that Four Thousand Throats… is only the latest of his Star Trek comics, not the last. “There is one [more Star Trek comic project], but it hasn’t been announced yet. And I’m hoping to do more…”
One comic project he can talk about is his gig as the scriptwriter for the Farscape comic line. Since 2008, he’s written the stories of the four-issue miniseries based on plots by Farscape creator Rockne O’Bannon. “There were three miniseries that served as ‘Season Five’ of the show – picking up where The Peacekeeper Wars left off,” Keith explains. “They were sufficiently successful that BOOM! Studios has transitioned it into a monthly comic – though we’re still doing four-issue story arcs. Each miniseries, and now each four-issue arc, gets collected into a hardcover volume. So far we’ve got The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, Strange Detractors, and Gone and Back. The first arc of the monthly, still going on as I type this, is called Tangled Roots.” The plot for the monthly is planned out well in advance, Keith reveals: “In terms of general storyline, [Rockne has] got the next year or so planned out.”
Beside the stories set after what was shown on TV, they also have several miniseries set during the series. “In addition, we’ve done three D’Argo-focused flashback miniseries: D’Argo’s Lament, D’Argo’s Trial, and D’Argo’s Quest,” Keith states, and doesn’t rule out more flashback stories despite the change to an ongoing series. “I’m sure there will continue to be more flashback stories done after D’Argo’s Quest is finished.”
The comics are created in a collaboration by Keith and Rockne O’Bannon, but how exactly does this work? “Rockne writes a very detailed plot, and then I put the script together based on that,” Keith explains. “But he doesn’t just write a plot and walk away – it’s a very collaborative process. I’ll make suggestions to add to the story and he’ll make suggestions to the script once it’s done. It’s been wonderful working together,” he smiles.
Readers interested to see the changes from the plot to the final script in detail have a chance to do exactly that, Keith points out: “BOOM! released the Farscape Script Book, which has the entire plot Rockne wrote for the first miniseries, and that was also included in the hardcover of The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, so folks can see exactly what Rockne sends me and what I’ve done to it.”
With his work for both the Farscape and Star Trek comic lines over the last few years, the focus of Keith’s work has changed somewhat from novels to comics, which raises the question if this was a deliberate choice by Keith. “Not as such,” he admits, “just a case of opportunities presenting themselves. I’m hoping to do more comics work in the future – we’ll see what happens.”
Between all his tie-in works he also works on original projects, two of which will also see the light of day soon. “I’ve got a short story in the same universe as my original novel Dragon Precinct coming out in the small-press anthology Dragon’s Lure in May from Dark Quest Books, and, outside the genre entirely, I wrote an article for Maple Street Press’s Yankees Annual about the New York Yankees baseball teams of the past decade.”
And if Keith continues at this pace, the IAMTW might have to create another award to recognise all the work he has done after receiving his Faust…
Starcraft: Ghost Academy #1 is out now, Supernatural: Heart of the Dragon will be released next month, and both Star Trek: Seven Deadly Sins and the Alien Spotlight II paperback will hit the shelves in March. New Farscape comics are available monthly.