Mittwoch, 23. Juli 2014

Interview with "Star Trek" Author David Mack

Seit bald einer Dekade leben wir in einer Star Trek-losen TV-Serienwelt. Zwar hat J.J. Abrams uns mit zwei neuen Star Trek-Filmen beglückt, doch das Star Trek-Universum wie wir es noch von früher kennen wird auf den Bildschirmen zur Zeit nicht fortgesetzt. Und doch, Star Trek ist nicht tot. Die Geschichte von Picard, Riker, Sisko und Janeway fanden in Büchern ihre grandiose und mehr als nur lesenwerte Fortsetzung. Ich hatte das Vergnügen für das KULT-Magazin Autor David Mack einige Fragen stellen zu dürfen. Hier findet ihr das Interview in englischer Sprache. Die Übersetzung folgt in einigen Tagen auf

KULT: What does a normal David Mack working day look like?

David Mack: Something of a train wreck, honestly. I usually sleep until early afternoon, then slouch into my day. My first priority is usually a shower, followed by coffee and something to eat. Next, I deal with errands and other personal business, such as bills, cleaning up after the cats, taking out the trash. I waste a fair amount of time reading news on the Internet, poring over Facebook and Twitter, and trying to think of something amusing to post on social media.

I’ve usually done nothing useful by the time my wife gets home from work. We make dinner, eat, and clean up. Afterward, I pour a stiff drink and settle down to try to write. This usually results in more procrastination. I tend to get working for real around 9pm or 10pm, and I work in a panicked frenzy until around 1am. Then I watch TV until around 3am, when I go to bed.

Frankly, it’s a miracle I get anything done at all.

KULT: The Showtime program Californication shows us that authors lead amazing lives full action and dirty stuff. How much of the Hank Moody myth is true?

David Mack: Depends on the writer. For some, it hits close to home. For me, not so much. My life is pretty quiet and boring most of the time, which is how I like it. I write tales of adventure, but I don’t want to live them. Mostly, I’m happy at home with my wife and our cats. We like to cook and drink wine. Once a month, I get together with a group of old pals for a friendly night of poker.

KULT: How did you become a writer?

David Mack: I’m pretty sure I was born a writer. It was all I wanted to be when I was a young boy. I loved reading books from a very young age. When I was around ten years old, I used to sketch covers for novels I imagined I would write someday. Even then I loved the idea of seeing my name on the cover of a book.

I started submitting stories to magazines when I was in my early teens. Just before I turned fifteen I submitted my first spec television scripts to the executive producer of a Canadian series called You Can’t Do That on Television. They were rejected, of course, but this led me to study screenwriting and attend NYU film school a few years later.

I pursued the freelance screenwriting angle for several years, and had some limited success in the mid- to late 1990s with stories I sold to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. My work for that show was a big part of what got my foot in the door with the folks who publish the Star Trek books, though it was several years before I took full advantage of that connection.

KULT: The Star Trek universe we know and love finished its run on television in 2005, with the end of Star Trek Enterprise. Almost a decade later, many fans are still waiting for a new show. Do you think there’s any chance a new series might be produced in the near future?

David Mack: I have no idea. I’d like to think that if someone came along with the right idea, that The Powers That Be would take a chance on reviving the Star Trek universe on television.

KULT: If it were up to you to decide, what would a new Star Trek TV series look like?

David Mack: I wouldn’t know where to begin. I guess I’d like it to be in color with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit.

KULT: In my opinion, both of J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek feature films are great blockbuster cinema, but nothing more. I’m kind of disappointed by this new, Michael Bay-ish Star Trek. What’s your opinion of the two most recent Star Trek movies?

David Mack: I think they’re the best-looking, best-sounding, and some of the best-paced Star Trek films ever made. They’ve revived the Star Trek brand and made it fun again. As I’ve said to many people over the last few years, the new films aren’t intellectual stories, they’re emotional stories. Sure, the science and narrative logic in them is a bit fuzzy, but both movies have a lot of heart, and that’s how good stories connect with an audience.

KULT: Your books seem to be more solid than Fort Knox. On Amazon, I couldn’t find a book with your name on it that had a rating lower than four out of five stars. Are you happy with that record?

David Mack: I’m not unhappy with it. Seriously, I’m glad that so many people seem to enjoy my work for Star Trek and other fictional universes, such as The 4400, Wolverine, and Farscape. I’d rather have good reviews than bad reviews. But I learned a long time ago not to obsess over reader reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, or anywhere else, because that’s a good way to drive oneself crazy.

KULT: Of all the novels you’ve written so far, is there one you would say you’re not really happy with? For instance, one for which you would now craft a different ending or an entirely different story?

David Mack: No, not really.

KULT: Which novel you think is your best piece of work?

David Mack: That’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite from among their children.  But if I had to point at one of my works and single it out as an example of what I can do, I would have to say the Star Trek Destiny trilogy, in its re-edited omnibus edition, would be my best work to date. Of course, I am hoping to write something new one day that will top it. Can’t let myself get complacent.

KULT: Can you give our readers a short summary of what is happening in the Star Trek universe after the events of the film Star Trek Nemesis?

David Mack: That’s like asking someone, “Can you give me a short summary of what happened in Europe in the aftermath of World War II?”

I guess I could try to reduce it to a handful of talking points.

• The Borg invaded, destroyed forty percent of Starfleet, wiped out dozens of worlds, killed 63 billion people, and displaced a hundred billion more. But in the end the Borg were … well, not defeated, but eliminated as a threat to the galaxy, thanks to some heroic Starfleet starship crews.

• The Federation is rebuilding dozens of ruined worlds and relocating billions of refugees.

• Starfleet is rebuilding the forty percent of its fleet and starship personnel who were lost in the battle to halt the Borg invasion.

• Several rival powers in the Alpha and Beta quadrants have banded together to form The Typhon Pact, an economic and military alliance conceived as a check against Federation power.

• Some characters who were dead before the Borg invasion are alive again. Some who survived the Borg war died afterward. Because life is both strange and unfair.

• The Federation president narrowly escaped one attempt on her life, only to be assassinated several months later when she least expected it.

• A scandal rocked the Federation president’s office during the post-assassination transition period, but it was resolved thanks to heroic intervention by Starfleet and a courageous act of career self-destruction by Doctor Julian Bashir.

KULT: Let’s talk about some of your book series. Star Trek Vanguard was an immense success. How was that saga developed?

David Mack: Well, it was a critical success, and those readers who have enjoyed it have been quite passionate about their fondness for the saga. From a sales perspective it has sold moderately well, but nowhere near the levels of my Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. Though I’m told it has been a brisk seller in Germany.

As for its development, it began in 2004 with editor Marco Palmieri, who at that time was a senior editor of Star Trek fiction at Pocket Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). He wanted to create a new series set in the time of the original Star Trek television series, but he wanted it to star new characters and depict new situations.

Part of Marco’s vision for Vanguard was to show how on-screen events in the original series affected the lives and fortunes of people elsewhere in the Federation and the galaxy, and to show how far-off events set in motion the adventures of the Enterprise and her crew that we saw on TV.

He knew he wanted to center the new series on a large Starfleet starbase, and that he wanted to use a different mix of characters than we had seen in past incarnations of Star Trek. Instead of the familiar lineup of “captain, first officer, doctor,” etc., he wanted to mix in less familiar jobs, as well as some civilians. When he approached me to develop the series’ bible and the first book, he had a few characters in mind: Commodore Diego Reyes, Ambassador Jetanien, and Doctor Fisher. Beyond them, he knew he wanted a civilian journalist, a Starfleet JAG officer, a Starfleet Intelligence officer, a lovable rogue, and an underworld figure.

My job was to flesh out the character profiles, work out their interpersonal dynamics, come up with names for all of them, conceive of the “ancient mystery” that would drive the series, plot out the series’ major story arcs, and then plot and write the first book. All of which I did.

One of Marco’s other ideas for Vanguard was to make it a multi-author series, as he had done for the Deep Space Nine post-finale novels. Because I had agreed to write one of those DS9 novels, I didn’t have time to write both of the first two books of Vanguard. As a gift to my friends and fellow Star Trek: S.C.E. veterans Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, I incorporated certain story elements and characters that made them the logical choice to pen book two (Summon the Thunder). Afterward, I was so excited to explore and build upon the ideas they brought to the saga that I petitioned to write book three (Reap the Whirlwind), and Marco agreed.

Marco decided that he liked the unique dynamic of alternating authors on one series, especially because me and the guys had such a good rapport and shared a love of that era of Star Trek. And that was how it came to be our own new corner of the Star Trek sandbox. As for me, Dayton, and Kevin — we had so much fun working that way that after Vanguard ended, we started thinking about possible new project ideas on which we could again alternate writing duties. That’s what led to the new Vanguard sequel series, Star Trek: Seekers.

KULT: In Star Trek Destiny, you brought back the Borg, and they really crashed the wedding. Was it planned by Simon & Schuster to resolve the seemingly never-ending Borg story arc, or was it your idea to bring their tale to an end?

David Mack: It was my idea. My editors and I had discussed several different story ideas for the trilogy before I pitched the “alpha-and-omega” of Borg stories. Part of what led me to propose such a dramatic change in the status quo of the literary Star Trek universe was that I noticed a number of books being published in the year leading up to my trilogy featured a renewed threat by the Borg. At one meeting with my editors, I mentioned this, and I said that they seemed to be escalating toward something catastrophic. That was when I suggested that, since they had already brought the 800-pound gorilla of the Star Trek universe out of its cage, it was time to deal with it once and for all. So the notion of an all-or-nothing, final existential struggle against the Borg, as well as how to resolve it while staying true to the ideals of Star Trek, was entirely my doing.

KULT: After the Destiny trilogy came the Typhon Pact miniseries, for which you wrote only one novel, Zero Sum Game. Were you not interested adding another one?

David Mack: My interest wasn’t a factor. It was just a matter of scheduling and editorial choice. The editors wanted it to be a multi-author series, featuring many creative voices and points of view. I also was busy working on other projects to which I had already made commitments.

KULT: What are your upcoming novels? Can you give us a little preview?

David Mack: I’ll start by reminding readers of some of my most recent titles. In my Cold Equations trilogy, starring the Next Generation characters, I spin my take on the reincarnation of Data, and what it means for him and other artificial life-forms. In my novel A Ceremony of Losses, the third book in the miniseries titled The Fall, I follow up directly on the events of Zero Sum Game, and I also resolve the long-running Andorian fertility crisis story arc from the Deep Space Nine novels.

My latest novel, Star Trek: Seekers #1 – Second Nature, goes on sale in North America on July 22, 2014, kicking off a new Star Trek book series. It’s the first part of a two-part opening story; the conclusion will be coming next month in Star Trek: Seekers #2 – Point of Divergence by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. Future installments of the series will be standalone adventures. The idea behind this sequel series to Star Trek Vanguard is to get back to the classic sense of fun and wonder — an ethos inspired by Rob Caswell’s cover designs, which he developed as an homage to the covers of the classic James Blish anthologies.

October will see the North American release of my new Section 31 novel, Disavowed. This book stars Doctor Julian Bashir, and is another direct sequel to his story arc from Zero Sum Game and A Ceremony of Losses.

I’m currently writing a new tie-in novel based on a different television series, but I’ve not yet received permission to talk about it publicly. Let’s just say it’s a gig I’ve coveted for a while, and one I’m excited to be working on.

Sometime this fall, my novelette “Hell Rode With Her” will be published in the new anthology Apollo’s Daughters, a collection of tales featuring strong female main characters, all written by men. The anthology is a partner volume to Athena’s Daughters, an anthology of similar tales written by women. My story is a companion piece to The Midnight Front, my new original novel that my agent is shopping around, but which has not yet (as of this writing) found a home.

KULT: How far ahead do you plan your novels? Do you already have ideas for stories you’ll write in, let’s say, three years?

David Mack: No, not that far out. It depends in part on how much work I have under contract at any given moment. In February of 2013, I negotiated a deal for four books, the last of which I am scheduled to deliver in September of 2015 — just over two and a half years in advance. But that’s an unusual case, because I built gaps into that schedule to give myself time to work on some other projects I had in mind.

At the moment, I have three books on my schedule: one is due this September; the next is due in mid-December; the last is due next September. My hope is that my original novel will be picked up by a major publisher, and that I will add it to my schedule, with a spring delivery date. So, for now, I am scheduled only seventeen months in advance. But that could change.

KULT: How long does it take for one book to be finished and published, from the first idea to the very end?

David Mack: As with all questions related to publishing, the answer is, “It varies.” Media tie-in books tend to be rigidly scheduled and have faster turnaround times than original novels. Even then, some have to happen more swiftly than others. My next Seekers novel took me a couple of weeks to plot and outline in depth—but I finished that phase early, to clear my schedule for another project. The manuscript will probably be written in approximately ten weeks. From the day I turn in the manuscript to when it lands on book shelves will probably be about eight months. That’s standard.

However, the tie-in novel I’m writing at the moment had to happen faster. I was approached about the gig in early May; by the end of May I had a formal offer from the editor, and my agent accepted on my behalf. I drafted a pair of one-page story proposals in a couple of days and sent them to the editor, who picked one for me to develop. I turned in a 25-page outline on June 10, and the editor gave me a tenative green light (we’re still waiting to hear from the licensor) to proceed. I am now cranking on the manuscript, which is due on September 15. My best guess is the novel will be published some time next summer.

By contrast, an original novel manuscript can sometimes linger in editorial and production limbo for eighteen months or even longer after the author turns in the manuscript. Unlike tie-ins, which are locked into schedules well in advance, publishers take more time to find the right date to publish an original novel, and to lay the promotional groundwork for its support.

KULT: In the ’90s, you cowrote two episodes of the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Starship Down” and “It’s only a Paper Moon.” I’ve read that you wrote another television story for Star Trek, as well. Can you tell us what it was about?

David Mack: My only other paid work for television, with my former scriptwriting partner John Ordover, was an unproduced story for Star Trek Voyager. We called it “Sickbay,” but they called it “Untitled Kes.” The premise was a “bottle show” — one produced using only the show’s standing sets and minimal visual effects. It’s a way for shows to save money for episodes that need bigger budgets.

Our story idea was that the ship weathers an attack in real time, and we experience it all through the eyes of the Doctor and Kes, who are patching up wounded crewmen in sickbay. Different people bring them conflicting news, and the Doctor teaches Kes emergency medicine and triage procedures as they go along. Then Neelix comes in, wounded after performing some heroic act. The Doctor and Kes cut him open to operate—and then an attack shorts out the Doctor’s holoprogram. An injured Harry Kim reboots the Doctor’s program, but all he can bring up is the Doctor’s voice, so the Doctor has to talk Kes through performing emergency surgery on Neelix.

It was inspired by a classic episode of M*A*S*H, and we thought it would have been one of the highlights of season two. Alas, for reasons we’ve never understood, they changed their minds after they had bought it, and it was never produced.

KULT: It’s pretty much obvious that you’re a fan of TV shows like Alias and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. Are there any other TV series that inspire your work?

David Mack: In fact, I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of Alias, and I was never a fan of the show. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was one of my favorites, though.

A number of television series have been influential on my work over the past fifteen years or so. A few that spring readily to mind include 24, The Wire, Fringe, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Farscape, Leverage, Game of Thrones, MI-6, Foyle’s War, and Lost.

KULT: You haven’t written for television since the ’90s. Any plans for returning to screenwriting?

David Mack: Not unless a miracle happens. I’d love to have the work and the money, but I live in New York City. The simple fact is that writers who are serious about wanting to work in American film and television generally need to live in Los Angeles, and I’m happier living in New York.

KULT: Switzerland is famous for cheese, chocolate, and neutrality. But there has not yet been a Swiss character in any of Star Trek’s episodes, films, games, or books. How much Swiss chocolate do I have to send you to give me and short cameo in one of your books?

David Mack: I can’t say Swiss chocolate holds much appeal for me. But if you want to send me a case of my favorite single-malt scotches (The Balvenie, Glenmorangie, The Macallan, Oban), let me know.

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