I want first of all to thank the IAMTW for honoring me with this award. I don’t think of myself as particularly grand, and mastery is a goal I’m usually convinced is a long way off; but it’s nice to be disagreed with so publicly.
I really hate it that I can’t be with you to accept this. But work at the European end of things is keeping me at home, and I’m pretty sure that that incredibly prolific and committed storyteller Frederick Faust, who wrote as Max Brand and under so many other names, would back me up in saying that the work comes first.
In any case: in accepting this let me chiefly thank the readers, fellow writers, and editors who make it so very worthwhile. You’re the ones whose constant support and friendship over many years have proven that the challenge of working in other people’s worlds is far outweighed by the privilege and pleasure of it — and that playing in those extramural universes, as long as you give your all to the storytelling, is just as honorable and fulfilling a way to spend your life as playing in your own. To my fellow pros and the fellow fans in all the worlds where I work, canonically or otherwise, all I can say is: thanks again, and (until I kick the present project out the door) I’ll see you online! (@dduane)
I’ve really been intensely unhappy that I wasn’t going to be able to be in San Diego to speak the above words myself. There’s much to be said for knowing you’ve won an award before the fact — especially that you don’t have to sit there in a roomful of people twitching about what might or might not be about to happen. I’ve done that a couple/few times, and I can’t really recommend it. Scrubbing in on brain surgery has freaked me out far less.
But stress issues aside, there’s also considerable pleasure in merely having this kind of work acknowledged. A lot of professional writers are ambivalent about doing novel work that’s based on films or comics or somebody else’s storytelling in some other medium — often a more visual one, or one positioned higher up on the media totem pole. (Since there’s been an unspoken perception among creatives for a long time now that film beats TV, TV beats music, music beats any print medium, and so on down the line, with new forms of visual media squabbling amongst one another as they try to wriggle themselves into the longer-established peer structure.) There are writers who avoid such work because they feel it’s beneath them, or because other people will assume that they’re only doing it for the money – not that the money’s routinely all that great, if the truth be told. Or else they’re afraid that people won’t take the work (or them) seriously if they do it.
I would not be one of those writers. My experience is that if you as the writer treat the work seriously, it will be taken seriously… at least by anyone who takes the time to judge it on its own merits rather than their own preconceptions. (And if someone won’t do that, why would you care what they thought?) As a result I’ve spent a significant portion of my life working hard in other people’s universes, and the only reason I do that is because I feel strongly about what’s come out of them in the past, for good or ill or sometimes both. Routinely, this is not work I get into unless there’s something I really love about the source material.
Star Trek would be the best example of this, of course. I loved it from the moment it turned up on the screen, and I loved it after it fell off the screen into what (up until then) for any other series would’ve been a fairly quick oblivion. But Star Trek had a couple of things going for it that other TV shows hadn’t had until then. It had content that could be syndicated afterwards (for which we have the inimitable Lucille Ball to thank: Desilu, the production company that she ran with her husband Desi Arnaz, invented the concept of syndication.) But more than that, it had a committed, passionate and quick-witted fandom that refused to let it die. They saw — as I saw — something in Star Trek that in terms of its storytelling and its vision was too good to lose. It was that too-often-indefinable thing that makes you want to keep on hearing (or seeing) the stories. This is in its way the purest and most basic of fannish impulses… the gut-deep response to a world you come to love so much that you want to become a part of it, no matter what that looks like, just so long as it keeps going.
In my case it would never have occurred to me in any dream, regardless of its wildness, that the Trek fan fiction I wrote in my late teens was laying the groundwork for other fiction that would eventually plunge me into the media-based fiction world. Or that I’d wind up working right back in the Star Trek universe that I’d loved for so long, and eventually — though much later — in canonical Trek as well. Both sets of circumstances sent me off down kind of a crazy zigzag career path, dizzying sometimes as a switchback road race in the Alps… but the views have been fantastic. On one side, I’ve written for Jean-Luc Picard and Batman and Siegfried the Volsung and Scooby-Doo. On the other, I’ve written novels based on comic characters, novels based on computer games, novels based on RPGs, and most of all, novels based on TV shows — some just being born, some long active, some long defunct. But in all cases they’ve been properties that I’ve been fond of. So maybe if there’s a message here, it’s that for maximum effect — and certainly, maximum satisfaction at your end — you should write about things you love.
That doesn’t mean that while you do it you should lose sight of the economic realities. One very gifted tie-in writer of my acquaintance used to refer to some of his work by sobriquets such as “Conan the Hot Tub”, “Conan The New Roof…” You do your best to make sure you do your work in places that you not only love, but that are going to pay you a decent wage and treat you honorably. Because the work itself is honorable. There is nothing wrong with writing straightforwardly to entertain, and you have (and should never be afraid to claim) the right to take your payment afterwards with a clear conscience and walk away with your head held high.
…Always assuming you’ve done the work as well as you can, and work to do it even better the next time. The writer who incorrectly assumes that because you don’t own all the rights to it, this is work you can take fewer pains with or “phone in”, won’t be doing this kind of work for long… because the readership will smell it on them, and word will get around. If you’re going to take what we refer to around here as the King’s Shilling, then you must stay bought for the duration of your contract, and give it your full attention and effort. Your unwritten contract with your readers, who’ve spent what Robert Heinlein used to call “their beer money” on your words, demands as much. Fortunately, the more you write, the better you get, as a rule… and the Work For Hire does you the favor of honing skills that will later be turned to your own work, all the sharper for the extra use.
Anyway. Lately I haven’t been doing that much work in other people’s worlds: original writing both at the film and prose ends has been keeping me busy. But my tie-in work has been a great joy to me — the source of much fun and many friendships and (last but most certainly not least) even a factor in the events that led me to the man who married me, and who’s sometimes since done tie-in work at my side. (That Star Trek novel that we wrote on our honeymoon? There’s a statement of commitment if you needed one. It’s not like we didn’t have other things to do.)
So to have that work so acknowledged is a tremendous pleasure, one I accept with thanks.
And it’s not as if there isn’t just one more Trek novel lying around in the back of my head, waiting for other work to get handled so that I can find out who I need to talk to at Pocket Books these days…