Greg Cox interview
Greg Cox is a veteran in the book publishing industry who has fulfilled many different roles over the decades – writing back cover blurbs, working as an editor and writing books himself. But that he is a tie-in writer at heart shows itself when he is watching new TV shows. “It’s pretty much impossible to watch a new show without thinking about the book possibilities!” he laughs. “That’s just how a tie-in writer’s mind works.” And that’s what led him to writing the very first Warehouse 13 novel A Touch of Fever, too. “I’ve been watching the show religiously since Episode One,” he smiles. “In fact, I remember I started thinking about what kind of artefacts I would want to put in a Warehouse 13 book while watching that first ep, long before I ever knew this was a possibility. Imagine my excitement when, several months later, Jen Heddle at Pocket Books asked if, hypothetically, I would be interested in writing a Warehouse 13 book for them. ‘Hell, yes!’”
The end result, the novel A Touch of Fever, has just been released and is “a standalone Warehouse 13 adventure set roughly around the time of the second season. To be honest, I didn’t worry too much about trying to pin it down to a specific point in time. It could take place almost any time – kind of like the Christmas episode. There are plenty of artefacts involved, but, without giving too much away, the main plot involves a pair of gloves that seem to be able to spread and/or heal disease.
“While Pete and Myka are out in the field, Artie and Claudia (and Leena) have their own B-plot to deal with back at the Warehouse. I even managed to work in Mrs Frederic and the doctor character played by Lindsey Wagner.” Greg promises that fans of every character have something to look forward to, although this proved to be challenging for some characters. “You can’t just write normal dialogue for Claudia. You have to translate it into ‘Claudia-speak’, which is a challenge but a fun one. And it’s always great to write a character who is so full of energy and enthusiasm.” He adds that Leena was “probably the trickiest character to write, since we know so little about her at this point. Heck, we don’t even even know her last name yet!”
Juggling the different Warehouse characters, the thought of using the character Douglas Fargo from Eureka – who was a guest on Warehouse 13 – “never occurred” to Greg. “Given that this was the first Warehouse 13 novel, I think it was better to focus on our regulars instead of squeezing in guest stars from other series. I had my hands full with Pete and Myka and Artie and Claudia and the rest!”
But getting the characters right isn’t the only challenge when writing a tie-in novel. When you write for a show that is still running strong, there’s always the chance that something in the book will be contradicted by a TV episode during the writing process How did they try to minimise that possibility with A Touch of Fever? “I had two long conference calls with the writing staff of the show, who also helpfully reviewed multiple drafts of the outline,” Greg explains. But even such a relatively tight working relationship with the staff of the show can’t prevent everything. “Even still, I kept coming up with ideas that, alas, were already in the works, which meant I had to go back to the drawing board a few times. (Goodbye, Lizzie Borden. Farewell, Rasputin.) On the positive side, I guess that means I was definitely on the right wavelength!”
Whether there will be more Warehouse 13 novels beyond A Touch of Fever is pretty much dependent on how this novel performs – “we’re taking these one book at a time at the moment,” Greg says. He “would love to write more Warehouse 13 books” though, and is certainly prepared for writing more. “Before I even started writing the first book, I filled up two pages of a yellow legal pad with ideas for artefacts.” he reveals. “I managed to get a lot of them into the first book, but I saved a few for the future, just in case! And, of course, I would also kill to write an H.G. Wells novel if she ends up getting her own show, which is apparently a possibility. I could have a lot of fun writing Helena back in the days of Warehouse 12.”
Greg’s next project, which he is actually “about halfway through writing” just as we’re doing this interview, is the Star Trek: The Original Series novel The Rings of Time, a “time-travel novel involving Colonel Shaun Geoffrey Christopher and Earth’s first manned mission to Saturn, as mentioned in the old TOS episode Tomorrow is Yesterday. Shaun Christopher appears briefly in my Eugenics Wars books and I always meant to get back to him someday. It’s also very much a Kirk novel. Probably a good half of the book is told from his POV.”
The novel is set during the end of the Enterprise’s five-year mission, a time frame that is a very popular setting among authors. “It’s just easier that way. You can refer to any previous TOS episodes without having to worry about ‘Wait! Has that happened yet? Is Kirk’s brother still alive or not? Does McCoy know about pon farr yet?’ And since NBC was ‘thoughtful’ enough to give us two unseen seasons of TOS, we might as well take advantage of that opening! I’ve occasionally set books during the movie era as well, but that’s trickier since they’re more serialised. In general, if I’m going to write ‘classic’ Trek, I’m going want to go back to that original five-year mission.”
As Greg mentioned above, The Rings of Time will feature Shaun Christopher and his mission to Saturn. This, along with his previous books featuring Khan and Gary Seven, suggests he’s drawn to writing about historical characters and events established in TOS. “To be honest, I kind of stumbled into this niche accidentally, but I find that I like exploring History According to Star Trek,” he admits. “If nothing else, it allows me to play with situations and settings that are different from the usual Starfleet milieu. The Khan books were basically international suspense thrillers, with a strong dose of sixties-era spy-fi like The Avengers or Our Man Flint, and much of this new book is set during a ‘realistic’ NASA space flight with no phasers, no transporters, and no artificial gravity!”
As he is writing the novel at the moment, the story is still in some kind of flux. “The big picture tends to stay the same, but you’re constantly tinkering with the details. Invariably, there’s some bit that seemed to make sense in the original 12-page outline, but doesn’t ring true when you actually try to write that scene. In The Rings of Time, there’s at least one character, who originally died in the outline, whom I may end up saving after all. And there are still a couple of big action scenes that I need to work out in more detail.
“Sometimes my past self passes the buck to my future self by writing something like ‘Kirk finds an ingenious way to save the day’ – which comes back to haunt me ten months later when I actually have to think of something. Thanks a lot, Past Greg!” he laughs.
If all had worked according to plan, we would have seen The Hazard of Concealing – a novel by Greg with the Star Trek (2009) versions of Kirk, Spock and co. – released last year, but due to a sudden cancellation of all four finished “new timeline” novels, it never saw the light of day. “I’m reluctant to talk too much about [the novel’s plot], just because it’s kind of an odd situation and I’m not sure how much of it is supposed to be public knowledge,” he explains, but wants to emphasise that “nobody has ever told me I can’t talk about it, but it’s always seemed more politic just to maintain a discreet silence.
“My editor called me up a few hours before they made the official announcement, just so I would have a heads-up,” Greg recalls. “I was disappointed, of course, and sulked for a weekend, but then I got back on the horse and turned my attention to The Rings of Time, which I had already written the outline for at that point. Hazard was out of my hands at that point, so I just moved on.”
Since then, it has become pretty still around those four “lost” books, and Greg isn’t sure about the chances of an eventual release after the second film hits the cinemas. “Needless to say, I would love for the book to see print someday, but, at present, I’m not aware of any plans along those lines.” Greg hasn’t thought about harvesting the book for ideas or retooling it as a TOS book, either: “At the moment, I’m just adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude and focusing on other projects.”
One of those other projects is a tie-in to SyFy’s Riese: Kingdom Falling, which is a “cool steampunk webseries filmed in Vancouver with lots of familiar faces from Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Stargate, etc. I met with the creators of the show at the NYC Comic Con last year and ended up writing a young-adult novel based on the series. The book is basically a prequel, set ten years before the webisodes, although there’s a lengthy framing sequence set during the time of the series.”
As there’s only a handful of episodes, of limited length, capturing the feel of the show and characters must be especially difficult. “Since the episodes are only about nine minutes long, I didn’t have hours of visual reference to call upon (like with Star Trek or Warehouse 13) so I was very dependent on the show’s creators, Ryan Copple and Kaleena Kiff, to make sure that I got the world of Riese right,” Greg agrees. “Thankfully, they were very accessible by email and also gave me a detailed bible on the characters and the setting. I even got to meet the actress who plays Riese, the fugitive princess.”
A book tie-in to a web series seems like a rather unusual thing. What kind of shows fit best for the tie-in treatment, in Greg’s opinion? “In general, procedural shows with missions-of-the-week tend to lend themselves more to book form than show that are more heavily serialised,” he explains. “Nikita would be easier to do than, say, Vampire Diaries.” He sees Chuck, The Human Target, and Cold Case as prime candidates which don’t yet have a tie-in line.
Over the last few years, Greg was also involved with projects dealing with classic heroes Zorro, Green Hornet and the Phantom. “I did all those for Moonstone, which does lots of fun projects involving classic pulp adventure characters,” he explains. “My motives for writing those stories are pure nostalgia. How can you resist a chance to actually write Zorro or The Green Hornet? And I’ve got my issue of The Phantom framed on the wall of my office, next to that Spider-man issue I wrote years ago.
“I don’t have anything new in the pipeline [in that vein] at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Moonstone calls on me again sometime. That’s usually how it works: I get a friendly email asking me if I have any interest in writing a Zorro story for them – and somehow I manage to squeeze it into my schedule!”
While Greg has shifted the writer/editor balance more towards the writer side of late, he still works as a supporting editor for Tor Books, too – a double-duty Greg sees as a benefit to his work. “I think it makes me a better writer,” he believes. “If nothing else, I think it makes me more receptive to editorial suggestions since I’ve been on the other side of the desk. Like pretty much every writer, my automatic kneejerk response is always ‘No, it’s perfect as is!’. But then you let that pass over you and you listen seriously to what your editor has to say. If he or she has a problem with something, chances are your readers will, too.”
If you want to learn more about Greg and his projects, why don’t you attend one of his panels – he’ll be at the thirty-third Shore Leave convention outside Baltimore, from July 8-10 – and say hi for us!
A Touch of Fever was released by Gallery Books in June 2011. The Rings of Time will be released by Pocket Books in January 2012.