Star Trek and other licensed properties
Every now and then over at the Tumblr I wind up chatting with people about various aspects of writing, the writing business, and technique — usually under the “writing advice” tag. Some weeks back (don’t ask me when, it’s been busy around here) a question came up about outlining, and various people suggested that they’d like to see what one of my outlines looked like. So I made a note to myself to find an outline at some point and post it for those who might be interested.
Today I was going through one of the smaller portable expansion drives we keep around the house for temporary data storage, with an eye to cleaning it out so it could be used in updating my old laptop to run Windows 7. While I was sorting through the directories (and again and again muttering “Why the hell have I been hanging onto this…?!”) I came across what appears below. This is the outline for the Star Trek novels Swordhunt (later subdivided into Swordhunt and Honor Blade) and The Empty Chair.
This is an example of one of the ways I outline. It’s not a “beat outline,” in which every scene is laid out in book-chronological order and with considerable detail about action and sometimes even dialogue. I suppose it could be considered more of a “pitch outline”, intended to indicate both a story’s background and its foreground issues and action in broad strokes. It’s also intended for an editor already thoroughly familiar with my writing style and the way I handle a given license and its characters (in this case Star Trek).
One of the reasons I allowed myself to submit something so (relatively) relaxed in format is that I knew my editors — first John Ordover and then Marco Palmieri — were confident enough about what I would do with the actual novels to not mind an outline of this kind. It does however begin with a brief recap of previous work in the series for the benefit of anybody in the Trek offices (either at the book end in NY, or the licensing-and-approvals end in LA and elsewhere) who might need to be brought up to speed on the background; as Trek editors in general and the faithful and long-suffering Paula Block (routine overseer-of-things on the licensing side) always have so much other work on their plates that a reminder of the details might be welcome.
The outline weighs in at just under 3700 words, or about eight single-spaced 8.5″ x 11″ pages. Needless to say, if you have not read the Rihannsu sequence of Trek novels and you’re planning to, and you don’t want to be spoiled, then you should avoid reading any further….
If the above (and below) images look a little bizarre, well, they should. They’re from long-ago German editions of My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way into which the publisher inserted soup ads.
The story came up again briefly in a series of posts over at the forums at Mark Reads, and I thought I’d store the images here now that I’ve got the scanner seeing sense (short version: disagreement between new printer and old legacy TWAIN driver, never mind the long version, too annoying, solved now).
To quote the original posting:
…It was in or near this chapter of the German translation [of Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids (“Pyramiden“) that Peter ran into something that made our conjoint blood run cold: a soup advertisement.
Maggi Soups were at that time in some kind of pestilential relationship with Heyne Verlag (then the German publisher of Terry’s books, BUT NOT FOR LONG), and Maggi had taken to inserting little soup ads into the plots of books Heyne were publishing. I knew this because they had stuck one into the middle of the German edition of The Romulan Way (a.k.a Die Romulaner.* One minute things are normal on the Bridge… the next minute, Mr. Sulu is wishing he had a nice cup of soup. GOD I wish I was not making this up. …The altered passages were instantly identifiable by page-wide black spacer bars inserted into the text to make them fit into the flow of the printing.
So we picked up this copy of Pyramiden as we were passing through Zurich, and we were on our way to the Jungfrau, and in the hotel that night in Interlaken Ost, Peter was paging through the book… and there were the Black Lines. And so he called the Pratchett residence, and Terry was out, but he got Lyn.
And Lyn, being a sensible woman, didn’t believe him at first. Because who would dare pull crap like that with Terry? So Peter read the altered text to her, translating as he went. And Lyn’s mouth fell open, audibly. She said, “I’ll tell Terry when he gets home.” And when Terry got home, he straightway called Colin the Agent of Doom, and Colin called Heyne, and shortly Terry was not with Heyne any more. AND SERVED THEM RIGHT.
It was a pleasure to do Terry that service, but a pain in the butt that it had to be done. Seriously: SOUP??
…We no longer have that copy of Pyramiden, alas: it was sold long ago at a Discworld convention charity auction. But we still have the Rihannsu books in question, so now you can see what the pages looked like. Behold: one of the more sordid yet somehow mean and small and pitiful examples of corporate greed you’re likely to see.
*I keep thinking the “a” here should take an umlaut. …Never mind.
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…
There is a moment in Sherlock‘s second-season episode “The Hounds of Baskerville” in which the world’s first and only consulting detective is attempting to get to grips with the fact that his senses, the tools of his trade, utterly reliable for all his past life, have apparently turned on him and are no longer to be trusted. As have many other artists in similar situations — painters who suddenly can’t paint, sculptors who can’t find the shapes hidden in the stone any more — Sherlock briefly comes a bit undone under the pressure of the untoward circumstance.
INT. CROSS KEYS -- NIGHT
Sherlock sits by the fire in the pub. His breathing is labored as he stares into the fire, and he’s squeezing his eyes shut and opening them again as if his vision’s giving him trouble. This behavior continues while John sits down with him and briefs him on Henry Baskerville’s condition --
Well, he’s in a pretty bad way. Manic. Totally convinced that there’s some mutant superdog roaming the moors. And there isn’t, is there? Because if somebody knew how to make a mutant superdog, we’d know. They’d be for sale. I mean, that’s how it works....
John shares a little more info about what may or may not be clues to the present mystery, but Sherlock isn’t engaging with him. His face works a bit bizarrely as he tries to hang onto his composure. And after a moment’s pause he says something that costs him a great deal:
Henry’s right. I saw it too.
I saw it too, John.
Just a moment. You saw what?
A hound. Out there in the Hollow. A gigantic hound.
He blinks again, the trouble-with-my-eyes expression: but the trouble they’re giving him is that they’ve shown him something he cannot possibly believe. John too is having trouble believing what he’s hearing from the 2012 finalist for the title of Earth’s Most Rigorous Thinker.
Um. Look, Sherlock. We have to be rational about this. And you, of all people, can’t -- Look, let’s just stick to what we know. Stick to the facts.
Once you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be true.
What’s that mean?
Sherlock picks up the glass of whisky sitting beside him and stares at it: stares in horrified fascination and loathing at the shaking of the hand holding it.
Look at me. I’m afraid, John. Afraid.
Sherlock takes a big swig of the whisky.
Ought to be able to keep myself distant. To divorce myself from feelings.
He holds up the glass. His hand shakes worse. John’s eyes rest on it, on his friend’s desperately working face as Sherlock struggles for control.
But look. You see? The body’s betraying me. Interesting, yes? -- emotions? The grit on the lens, the fly in the ointment --
(concerned but gently ironic)
All right, ‘Spock,’ just take it easy. You’ve been pretty wired lately. You know you have. I think you’ve just gone out there, got yourself a bit worked up...
It was dark and scary --
Me? There’s nothing wrong with me!
…Sherlock then veers into a fairly emphatic anxiety attack with a side order of unusually driven and angry off-the-cuff deduction. But I had to roll the recording back to get back into sync with it, for the narrative had unseated me at the word “Spock” and kept right on running, leaving me sitting there a bit dazed. I’d expected a lot of things from this episode, but seeing two of my favorite fandoms cross the streams with such flair left me shaking my head and grinning.
Sherlock and Spock. I’ve been a friend of the one since my teens — maybe earlier — and an off-canon chronicler of the other for twenty or thirty years. As such, the confluence of the two universes was hardly news to me: Star Trek (and Star Trek writers) have had the hots for Holmes for a long time, and dialogue references and outright cameos are commonplace. Nick Meyer, the director of arguably the single best of all Trek movies until the Great Reboot, is probably the best-known of the Holmes fans to become involved in Trek’s newer, younger Canon. Data routinely goes sleuthing in the original Holmes’s gaslit London on the holodeck (and Moriarty has escaped from it, creating the predictable mayhem). There’s even the line referred to in the tumblr gif below — which, since all Trek film is canonical, makes the connection concrete: either Spock and Sherlock Holmes, or Spock and Arthur Conan Doyle, are (it says here) related. But whether or not you accept that last statement as gospel truth or a Vulcan “exaggerating”, there’s no denying that 1701/1701A and 221B are thematic and spiritual neighbors. The Trek universe has been nodding amicably toward Doyle’s creation for many years.
But this was the first time the other universe, in mass media at least, had ever nodded back. I don’t know how other Trek fans felt, but I was seriously tickled: as if in some obscure and very satisfying way, a circle had closed.
And of course early in January news got out that Benedict Cumberbatch will have a major role in Star Trek 2. And by all reports, he’s settling into the new job nicely. So as one circle is closed, another one opens. What a world…
…It’s nice to see the two universes on mutual nodding acquaintance, though. For the great core relationships at the heart of each of them have resonances to each other that may or may not be entirely accidental. The correspondences naturally aren’t exact (and it’d be boring if they were), particularly because in Trek the core relationship is a triad and in Holmes’s world it’s a dyad. But the strength of the similarities is striking.
In both worlds, you could make a case that it’s the rational, logical creatures inhabiting them that give the Enterprise and the upstairs flat at 221B Baker Street their spice and potential drama… for acting reasonably and rationally isn’t normally a favorite occupation of human beings. Though logic is unquestionably a good thing, years and years of Star Trek episodes and many of the Holmes stories remind us that in either past or future, unless tempered by human qualities, the logic becomes a serious pain in the butt and occasionally a stumbling block, or even a liability. So in each world, the most committed humans/”normal people” slowly educate the local logician in the usages and usefulness of the human heart; and along the way, the logician normally manages to teach the humans something about how to really think. Everyone benefits from this arrangement… assuming that they don’t kill each other first. (Cue the iconic music from “Amok Time” here.) But the meat and drama of the stories arises mostly from this learning process, and the ways it goes wrong, or right.
I hardly need to get into the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic very deeply at this late date: the way the characters interact is so well known. Outside of fiction, I’m sure endless reams of material have been written about the putative relationships between the characters seen as id/ego/superego or parent/child/adult or Moe/Larry/Curly or Roddenberry-only-knows what else, mostly as attempts to explain where the Logician fits in and how the others manage to affect him. Some of these theories may actually have some application. On my own time I’ve normally felt that all three characters are too complex to reduce to such simplistic formulae. But there are certainly themes that recur when Kirk is interacting with Spock (in terms of looking past the rigidity of logic toward ways to push out the boundaries of the envelope, or break some otherwise deadly paradigm to save everybody’s lives) and when McCoy is interacting with him (in terms of forcefully putting the emotional/ethical side of a situation and getting up in Spock’s face, sometimes quite rudely, until the message gets across to best effect). And if anything, these tendencies have become stronger and more effective in the reboot, with the reincarnation of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the personas of younger characters making it plainer that they’re all in the same learning experience together — a three-part work in progress, but with the foundations of a lifelong friendship now firmly laid.
In Sherlock’s boot-forward into the 21st century from the 19th, the same situation obtains, with serious benefits. For example, the unnerving scene above would never have played with a middle-aged Holmes and Watson: to make it work you need two younger men who’re still learning the extent of their powers and settling into their roles. These might at first glance look simpler than those of the Trek core team, since this team’s built for two rather than three — but it actually makes their dynamic even more complicated. Watson, as both doctor and military man, combines the opportunities and challenges of the Kirk/McCoy roles… and winds up being able to affect his opposite number in two entirely different ways.
His own complexities aren’t to be dismissed. Here you have a man disciplined and tough-minded, deeply wounded by his experiences in Afghanistan but not conquered by them — a crack shot possessed of what Sherlock quickly (and almost inopportunely) identifies as “strong moral principle” and “nerves of steel”. But perfectly balancing this is Watson’s slight, charming diffidence, unfailing kind-heartedness, and gentle bedside manner. (Close inspection of the DVD makes available some useful and rather diagnostic background information on him, including his interest in a career in advanced A&E with an emphasis on laparoscopy and other associated styles of “bloodless surgery”. Click here for screencaps with some light clinical commentary.) John’s underlying compassion positions him perfectly to understand and support his scary-smart, “high-functioning sociopath” roommate day by day. Yet he’s both willing and able to kick Sherlock’s butt physically if circumstances require, or to administer him a succinct no-holds-barred tonguelashing that would do McCoy proud. This is no mere sidekick: this is a teammate, well along in the process of being/becoming a rock-solid friend.
And John’s presence and qualities point up another of the resonances between the Starship and the upstairs flat. Just as you could make a case that the real narrative of James Kirk’s greatness in Starfleet doesn’t get started until he and Spock meet, realize each other’s strengths, and come to initial terms, you could also say that Holmes is just an Annoying Incredibly Smart Guy until Watson’s transformative influence starts having its effect — tempering that awesome intellect and processing ability with more regularly expressed humanity, taught the best way: by example. In all these characters’ cases, the temptation to employ the way-overused line about “they complete each other” has to be resisted at all costs, because any “completing” in the case of these two teams of characters is decades away… if it can ever happen this side of all their graves.
In particular, the Holmes and Watson story, as it’s been reframed, isn’t about completion at all. It’s about growth, and what each of these men has to teach the other over time. It’s equally tempting, in service of this theme, to reach for the old no-brainer mind/heart-duality model and say that each man brings one half of a whole to the table. But there’s nothing so simplistic about this character dyad, who come to us with many layers of history and complexity laid on in various media over the last century, like a much-loved painting that the artist just can’t stop working on. It’d probably be more accurate to say that John has as much to learn from Sherlock about the arts of thought and observation as Sherlock has to learn from John about the uses of concern and compassion. Each man is going to make the other whole — though there’ll be the usual missteps and kicking and screaming along the way. But this is what makes for great and satisfying drama: characters who change each other and are changed themselves — not running together like two drops of water into one, but each growing more perfect in the exercise of some unique gift — say, the conduction of light or the reception of it — simply because of the other’s continued and reliable presence in an otherwise unreliable world.
Maybe that’s a clue to why both these worlds have rebooted so cleanly into this century (besides the fact that both have good solid writing teams, hard at work and intent on taking the time to get it right). Both Star Trek and Sherlock’s world still speak on a very basic level to people who — besides a little adventure and excitement — want and need stories about how friendship and intelligence, working in tandem, have a fighting chance at conquering the world and making a difference, on the small scale or the very large. In both cases you may hear the usual noise about old wine in new bottles. But this presupposes an audience that still thinks the old wine’s worth drinking… and who’re willing to take the chance to see if the new bottles might actually make it taste even better this time round. For such people, it looks more and more like there’ll always be somewhere to beam up to: and a door on Baker Street that, when they knock, will always be answered.
It had to happen, didn’t it? (As a commercial product, I mean. Heaven knows it’s been around SF conventions in one form or another forever.) And naturally, it now happens as an energy drink.
“Romulan Ale Star Trek Energy Drink will not make you drunk. What it will do is ramp up your body for anything. It’s got vitamins (like B6 and B12), ginseng, and loads of caffeine (84 mg per easy-to-drink-in-one-sitting-because-it-tastes-so-good can), all wrapped up in a yummy berry taste. And it’s blue. Aaaand, it comes in a six pack, just like you’d get at your local Romulan Quickie Mart. Romulan Ale Star Trek Energy Drink is full of alien technology and taste to keep you awake and alert. You know, so you can keep on trekkin’ (sorry, we had to).”
(headclutch) Oh well.
Which would be (originally) Independent Pizza Co. in Drumcondra, but (even more so) its younger sister-facility, Gotham Café in South Anne Street. The excellent Adam Kuban of Slice, the pizza lovers’ website par excellence, has just kindly posted a note I dropped him about the place.
Gotham Café is one of our favorite places to eat in Dublin. We’ve been going there ever since it opened, and have (by now) probably eaten enough pizzas there to completely pave South Anne Street. It’s also where the Star Trek novel Dark Mirror was conceived in 1991 (as the book’s acknowledgement page notes) secondary to a long and wide-ranging discussion with Peter about Starfleet uniform styles, over a large pizza with extra Mozzarella, extra sauce, pepperoni, and hot chiles, and a medium with extra Mozzarella, double garlic, hot chilies, and onions, along with two bottles of Orvieto Secco and a whole lot of Ballygowan water. (The framed cover commemorating this slightly crazed event still hangs, I believe, in the owners’ office.)
Last time we were passing through, we took some pics of what we were eating and sent them along to Adam. With luck, many more transiting pizza lovers will now grace David and Jackie’s front doors and sample what we firmly believe is the best New York-style pizza on the island of Ireland.
(BTW, I take no responsibility for the article’s slugline. “When Irish Pies Are Smiling”? Ow ow ow ow ow ow.)
(ETA: Someone’s posted a Flickr image of the Gotham menu page that features their “specialty” pizzas.)
Turns out I have one more hardcover copy of Spock’s World available. These are hard to find now in decent condition. The book’s dustjacket is in good condition — slight bumps to top and bottom of spine and corners: otherwise perfect. The book inside I would rate as good / very good quality — tight, clean, page edges clean, no wear. So: $60.00. Email me and it’s yours. (Signed and personalized, of course.) Goodness, gone already! Thanks to the buyer.
Also available: a spare hardcover copy of Dark Mirror. It has very slight bumping/cracking to the bottom of the dustcover’s spine, otherwise in the same shape on the inside as the book above. Slightly more available out there, so $50.00. As above, email me: first email wins.
Postage on each of these (via registered mail: I don’t ship books of any value any other way these days, as transatlantic parcels seem to be showing an unnerving tendency to go missing in transit) will be about USD $25.00. A little more for Asia / Australia.
As the rest of the books offered for sale a while back get their final fates and destinations worked out, here’s one that is now free again to be sold. Gone now: thanks to the buyer!
…I have a spare first edition hardcover copy of Spock’s World. These are hard to find now in decent condition. The book has its dustjacket, but this is a little beat up — top and bottom wear, an incompletely torn-off (price?) sticker: otherwise OK. The book inside I would rate as good / very good quality — tight, clean, page edges clean, no wear. $60.00. If anyone’s interested in this one, email me and it’s yours. (Signed and personalized, of course.)
Some of you constant readers may remember this message of last spring when I was in the process of getting rid of / cleaning out some old books.
The process got badly messed up by the numerous health problems of the later spring and the family losses of the summer and fall. As a result I still seem to have a lot of these books around, particularly copies of Rihannsu: Bloodwing Chronicles, The Empty Chair, Wizards at War, and some proofs and so forth which I think were put aside for people, but the sales were never finalized.
Can I ask those of you who who queried me about the availability of books (and/or I told that books had been set aside for them) but the sale was never completed, to get in touch with me here? And we’ll get it all sorted out over the next couple of weeks.