Star Trek, Stargate, World of Warcraft, iCarly – name a media property and there’s a good chance Aaron Rosenberg has worked for it in one way or another. But his work isn’t limited to tie-in fiction: with an ever-growing portfolio of original stories and non-fiction works, his writing is as diverse as the genres he is covering with tie-ins. Aaron kindly agreed to talk to us about his recent Eureka novels, his work on the original The Scattered Earth series and more.
If you’re familiar with the Eureka books, you might wonder what Aaron’s connection with them is, since they’re credited to Cris Ramsay. But Cris Ramsay isn’t just one person (or a person at all), rather the house name for the Eureka tie-in line – a pseudonym every author has to assume, like Franklin W. Dixon for the Hardy Boys books. But if that’s the case for the Eureka books, why were Aaron and Phaedra Weldon (the author of the second Eureka novel, Brain Box Blues) allowed to talk about their involvement? “We figured it was a marketing decision, so that all three books would show up if you did a search for Cris Ramsay,” Aaron muses. “I’m glad they let us talk about our involvement, though – it’d have been a shame if I couldn’t tell everyone how proud I am of those books!”
How did he get involved with Eureka tie-in line? “I was a fan of the show,” he explains. “I’d been talking to an editor over at Ace, and when she mentioned that they were going to be doing Eureka novels I jumped at the chance to get involved. I pitched several ideas to them, and they liked them enough to pass them along to [Eureka creator] Jaime Paglia, who agreed. So they signed me up!”
As a result, Aaron has contributed two of the three novels published so far: the very first, Substitution Method, and the most recent, Road Less Traveled. “Substitution Method takes place between Seasons Three and Four and involves a strange and spreading phenomenon – houses are vanishing from town and being replaced by other houses from other cities!” Aaron explains. “This creates a number of problems, starting with the question of how to prevent the whole town from disappearing. But Eureka’s entire existence is highly classified, so having Eureka residents appear elsewhere and non-Eurekans show up in town is a major security breach! Sheriff Jack Carter heads out of town with Henry to locate the missing dwellings, and both his visiting sister Lexi and Deputy Jo Lupo help with those as well. Meanwhile, Zoe and Fargo make an unlikely team as they try to corral the unexpected visitors, and Allison and Zane work to find out what’s causing the problem in the first place.”
Road Less Traveled is also set between Season Three and Four, and “starts out with a break-in and theft at Global Dynamics. While Carter and Jo, with sometimes-troublesome help from Fargo, try to track down the thief, a Global Dynamics researcher discovers a way to actually see another dimension. When she finds a parallel universe there, complete with an alternate Eureka, everyone is fascinated. The experience is bittersweet for some, though – especially for Allison, since in the other Eureka Nathan Stark is still alive and she’s married to him! But then people from one world start appearing in the other, and Allison realises something has gone horribly wrong. She and Zane help the researcher try to figure out what’s going on and reverse the process before the two universes collide and destroy each other. Meanwhile, Jack, Jo, and Fargo are still after their thief – and they’re worried that the stolen project’s bioelectrical nature could have added to the larger problem.”
All three novels so far are set before the game-changing events of the fourth season. Was that a decision by the authors or something that was mandated by the publisher/editor? “Heh, it mainly stems from the fact that we had no idea!” Aaron reveals. “They didn’t tell us what was coming in Season Four, presumably so as not to spoil the surprise, so we were basing our books on Seasons One through Three. When Season Four aired I was partway through writing Road Less Traveled, and I talked to my editor about it at once. We agreed that it was better to just keep the book as it was, and set it before those events occurred.”
With all three novels set in a similar time-frame, and the fact that all the books were to be published under the Cris Ramsay name, were there interactions between Aaron and Phaedra Weldon to coordinate their efforts and keep the books consistent? “We talked a bit once we’d both signed on, yes,” Aaron confirms. “We wanted to make sure our books wouldn’t conflict, which was nice.”
Often, when a new tie-in line starts, the show hasn’t been on the air for very long, and sometimes books have to be written before it’s started, which often makes it difficult for the authors of these novels to capture the feel of the show. With the Eureka novels, there were already three seasons’ worth of episodes to draw inspiration from. “It was great!” Aaron enthuses. “I knew the setting and could visualise it easily, and I knew the characters and their personalities and habits so I could write them easily as well. I like to think that I got all of their voices right, especially Jack’s, because I could hear them clearly as I was writing them.” Since the third novel’s release at the end of March, it has been pretty quite when it comes to news about further books, and Aaron reveals that “as far as I know, there aren’t plans for additional novels at this time”, but that he would “be happy to write them if they change their mind.”
In the interim, Aaron certainly won’t be idle, as he is involved with a multitude of other projects. One of those is the Scattered Earth universe, a series of stories written by several well-known authors – besides Aaron, David Niall Wilson, Steven Savile, Steven Lockley, and Keith R.A. DeCandido are attached to the project so far – which feature different races’ expeditions into space. How did this series came about? “Basically what happened was that Steve Savile, David Niall Wilson, and I got together and said, ‘Hm, it’d be a lot of fun to build a big, huge, epic space-opera saga!’” Aaron laughs. “Steve and I have worked up a bunch of other story ideas, and Steve had recently introduced me to David, and all three of us got along really well and had all done work on Stargate and other properties, and we wanted to do something every bit as big but entirely our own. So we started talking back and forth, bouncing ideas around, and came up with the Scattered Earth saga!
“Once we had the basic framework down, we each created our own corner of that setting to play in, at least to start – we showed each other what we were doing, and offered feedback, and made sure there wouldn’t be any conflict, but other than that our little corners are our own.” Despite that, there will be a coming together of the different settings used by the different authors in the end. “There is a Master Timetable, and we are sticking with it,” Aaron promises. “We’ve planned out exactly how and when the different series will come together – we took a page from J. Michael Straczynski’s run of Babylon 5 and know, if not exactly how it will all end, the major notes it will hit along that path. It’s all going according to plan.”
But until that time comes, Aaron’s corner of the Scattered Earth sandbox features the HMES Remora and its crew, a setting he choose because he “wanted to do something very swashbuckler-y, [with] lots of action and adventure.” Aaron adds that he “also wanted to get back to the feel, not only of things like Lensman and Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, but of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. So I decided to go with a very Victorian England feel to my world, complete with Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. But at the same time, this is space-opera, and we’re playing with a huge space saga, so I had room to change things up a bit. As a result, I decided to set my world as an aquatic one, which was fun – I got to combine the Nautilus, the HMS Pinafore, and the Enterprise, all in one!
“At the start of the first Dread Remora novel, The Birth of the Dread Remora, the people of that world discover that the ether beyond their home may not be quite as empty as they’d always thought. So of course they have to go investigate it. They launch the HMES Remora – ‘HMES’ stands for ‘Her Majesty’s Ethership’ – to see what’s out there. The crew gets quite a shock when they discover outer space, and an even bigger one when they learn there are other races sailing through it! And not all of them are friendly! Fortunately the handpicked crew is full of hardy souls, and they manage to adapt to their new situation, though in ways they never would have expected.”
The adventures of the Remora are almost exclusively told from the perspective of the character Nathaniel Demming, a decision Aaron made because he “felt that the old space-operas tended to focus on a single main character, usually a heroic male figure and often a captain or other leader. Nate Demming fills that role. He isn’t the most interesting person on the ship – that would probably be Molly Cuny, or maybe Quentin Watkins – but he’s a good POV character because he’s active and involved and earnestly trying to do the right thing for his ship and his crew and still hold to his ideals.”
Gist Jacobsen, another interesting character and an adversary for Demming among the crew, disappears halfway through The Birth of the Dread Remora after a setback, without being mentioned again after his exit. Are there any plans to bring him back, or has the character run its course? “Oh, don’t worry, Gist Jacobsen will definitely return!” Aaron assures us. “He’s been biding his time and dealing with what happened to him, but he’s still very much around and he won’t keep quiet for long.”
He won’t reveal when that will happen, but Aaron can reveal the tentative plans for the next instalment in the Remora saga: “I’m working on the second Dread Remora novel, currently titled The Honor of the Dread Remora. We’re currently planning that for a November or December release, so just in time for holiday presents!”
While The Birth of the Dread Remora has gotten the trade paperback and audiobook treatment in the interim, The Scattered Earth is an eBook series first and foremost. What are the main advantages of e-publishing? “The biggest advantage, I’d say, is the speed involved,” Aaron ponders. “With traditional print you write the book and it takes another year before it sees print – and that’s if it already had a publisher lined up, or was commissioned. With eBooks it can go to print within two months of final draft delivery, which means you can keep your fans happy by giving them new books every few months. Remember the interminable wait between Harry Potter books, or the Belgariad, or any other long print series? With eBooks that doesn’t exist. The only delay is finding the time to write it!”
And for a prolific guy like Aaron, finding the time might be a real problem. Besides Eureka, he has written for tie-in lines ranging from SF titles like Star Trek or Stargate, over video game licenses like World of Warcraft, to teen series like iCarly. At first glance, some of those licenses don’t seem to have much in common, so what are the main requirements for an author writing for such a diverse group of tie-in lines? “The obvious requirements, of course, are the same for any good writer – a solid grasp of grammar and punctuation, a good clean writing style, a facility with plot, character, dialogue, and setting. On top of that, any good tie-in writer has to be able to ‘write within the lines’ – you need to be able to create stories or adapt stories or both while keeping true to the existing franchise materials.
“As far as writing a wide variety of properties, you need to be flexible as far as genre and tone, of course. Some people are only comfortable with one genre, or can only do adult or children’s books. I’m good with a variety of genres, from mystery to science-fiction and fantasy to horror to action-adventure to comedy, and I can do children’s and adult without a problem. It also helps if you’re a fan of the property in question, though – I don’t mind admitting that my kids and I are big iCarly fans!”
The series all seem very distinct, though. Could you learn something writing iCarly and then find a way to apply it to, say, Star Trek? “Well, I think you learn more about your writing with every project you do, so in that sense, yes,” Aaron replies. “Plus with each tie-in project you learn more about working with licensors, identifying their needs and adapting your stories to them so that you can give them something that works with the original property and (hopefully!) satisfies the fans. Writing my first young adult novel – Bandslam, which won a Scribe Award in 2010 – also helped me get comfortable writing for that age group, which helped the Chaotic novel and the other YA books I’ve done since.”
Beside all his fictional works, both original and tie-ins, Aaron also finds the time to write articles and educational books, which sounds like it requires yet another different skill set. According to Aaron one of the main differences between writing fiction and non-fiction is that “there’s a lot more pre-writing research for the non-fiction books, and my outlines are even more detailed. With fiction, I’ll research things I think I’ll need, but once I start writing I prefer to keep moving so if something new comes up and I think I need to research it but that it’ll take more than a few minutes to figure out (details about how something works, for example, as opposed to a single historical fact or place name) I’ll leave myself a note and keep going rather than interrupt the flow of words. With non-fiction I don’t mind taking the time out to research midstream because you never know how learning that new information will affect everything else you have planned.”
So with the Eureka books behind him and the next Remora story still some time away, what is Aaron working on at the moment? “I’ve got several new projects in the works,” he smiles. “The first up is a new line I’m doing with David Niall Wilson, called OCLT. The acronym stands for ‘Orphic Crisis Logistical Taskforce’, which is a multinational unit created to handle crises of a supernatural or otherworldly nature. Think Men in Black meets X-Files meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you’ve got the right idea. I’ve got an OCLT novella, Brought to Light, coming out later this month which will introduce one of the lead characters, then David has a novella introducing two others and then we’re each doing novels that will, by the end of them, bring the core team together. After that we’ll open things up a bit to other authors, much as we’re doing with Scattered Earth – David and I are the series creators but we’ll be allowing other writers to tell their own stories involving some members of the OCLT team. It should be a lot of fun!
“After that I’ve got a modern-day occult thriller called Indefinite Renewal, about a young man who discovers he’s part of an evolutionary offshoot gifted with strange and dangerous abilities, and finds himself thrust into the power-plays of his new brethren. Then I’ve got No Small Bills, a very silly science-fiction novel about a duck-headed man’s bumbling attempts to save the universe from invasion. It’s along the lines of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though of course no-one can compare to Douglas Adams. That book is coming out from Crazy 8 Press, a new venture I’m doing with Peter David, Bob Greenberger, Michael Jan Friedman, Howard Weinstein, and Glenn Hauman. As you can tell, I like to keep busy.”
After working for a plethora of media properties and being busy with his current string of original projects, are there any tie-in franchises left he would like to write for but hasn’t had the chance to yet? “Several!” Aaron grins. “I’d love to do Leverage – it’s one of our favourite shows, and the plots, the characters, the dialogue, they’re all excellent! I’m a huge Whovian, so of course Doctor Who is high on my list. So is James Bond. If there was ever a chance to do a Burn Notice novel I’d be there in a heartbeat.”
Substitution Method and Road Less Traveled were released by Ace in November 2010 and March 2011 respectively. The Birth of the Dread Remora and Crossed Paths were released by Crossroad Press in February and March 2011 respectively.