Best of the Blog: Writing Star Trek Novels, or, Why don’t you get a morally acceptable job?

Editor’s note: We’re reprinting some of our favorite blog posts from the last five years. This week: Vonda N. McIntyre on writing Star Trek Novels. This one first appeared in 2009.

By Vonda N. McIntyre

The Entropy EffectBack in the 1980s, I wrote a bunch of Star Trek novels. I thoroughly enjoyed writing them. Pretty much the only drawback was that some of my colleagues took exception to my polluting my precious bodily fluids with evil tie-in novels. You’d’ve thought they believed they had to save my soul, blathering about the improvement in my moral character that would result if instead I took an honest job as a waitress. (A job that to be done well requires character traits that I both admire and am well aware I don’t possess.)

The tie-in novels subsidized one heck of a lot of my original fiction.

I’d been a big fan of the original Star Trek when I was in college (class of 1970); I wrote a teleplay that (I was told) got all the way to Gene Roddenberry’s desk before he left the show and the series changed in the third season to something I didn’t recognize. (To this day I haven’t seen most of the third season episodes.)

My teleplay, The Entropy Effect, was rejected soon thereafter.

Years later, the opportunity to write a Star Trek novel came along The folks who invited me to write it knew I’d been fond of the series and they trusted me to treat the characters with some respect.

The deadline was very tight and I never would have been able to manage it except that I’d just bought, with my two housemates, a computer: A tan-case Osborne I with a four-digit serial number. It had 64K of memory and you could fit a whole chapter on a 5.25″ floppy disk — nearly thirty pages! And the disks only cost $10 each!

Thanks to my housemates, who not only didn’t kill me for monopolizing the new machine during all my waking hours for six weeks, but also occasionally took me away and fed me and sent me to bed, I hit the deadline for The Entropy Effect. (It was very interesting to collaborate with myself between the age of 18 and the age of 30.)

My editor happened to be coming to a convention in Seattle just before the book was due, and asked me to give him the manuscript there, so I did.

(It was on paper; writers might have begun creeping into the computer age, but publishers hadn’t yet, very few people had email, and once rudimentary email did come along, sending anything but plain ASCII that way was a triumph of binhex and encoding and I forget what-all.)

To my surprise (and not a little discomfort), my editor sat himself down in the middle of a small party and started reading. After he’d read fifty pages or so, he said, “Paramount will either love this, or they’ll really, really hate it.”

Fortunately, the former.

I’m quite fond of the book. I’m displaying the original cover rather than the more dramatic new edition because the original has Mr. Sulu in piratical mode, with long hair and a mustache. (He gets laid, too, which a lot of readers don’t notice, to my astonishment.)

The Wrath of KhanAfter Entropy, I wrote three of the movie tie-in novels. Wrath of Khan was the first of these, though it wasn’t called that to begin with. Considerable discussion went into the subject of the title. (I had a great idea for the title, so great that I can’t remember it now.)

Somebody in the licensing department at Paramount called me and said, “What do you think of The Revenge Vengeance of Khan?”§

This was just about the time The Return of the Jedi was scheduled to debut, though the title hadn’t been released yet and the gossip was that it would be called Revenge of the Jedi.

“Gosh,” sez I, “I guess it’s OK as long as you don’t mind if somebody from Lucasfilm comes to LA and chases you around the desk with a baseball bat.”

“Oh, no, no, no problem, we’re all good friends.”

They sent me a copy of the cover. It was quite handsome, with The Revenge of Khan in gold embossing (which is expensive and takes longer).

About 1.001 days later they called me again. “We’re changing the title.”

[beat]

(as they say in the movies)

“Nothing to do with the Jedi movie title! Nothing at all!”

“OK,” sez I. I didn’t actually care what they called it since they weren’t going to use Demon Warrior (I knew I’d remember that eventually).

A few weeks later I saw an article about The Return of the Jedi, with a quote to the effect that it had never been going to be called “Revenge,” nuh-uh, because Jedi knights don’t indulge in revenge.

I fell on the floor laughing.

But I was kind of disappointed that the title on the new cover for Wrath was neither embossed nor gold.

Enterprise: The first adventureWhen I had barely finished the manuscript of The Voyage Home, which I researched by going on a pretty darn cool whale-watching trip, my new editor came up with the idea of a 20th anniversary Giant Novel.*

“What do you think of the idea?” he asked.

“Sounds like a plan,” I said, or words to that effect.

“Great! What’s the plot?”

“Um. Call me tomorrow?”

So he did.

“What’s the plot?”

“Jim Kirk gets his first command and expects to be sent out to save the universe and instead gets sent out on a USO tour.”

“Sold,” he said, or words to that effect.

Of course Jim Kirk still saves the universe and introduces the Klingons to Shakespeare as well, but that wasn’t in the original proposal. The funniest thing about the proposal was that everybody was in a big screaming hurry to get the book out in time for the 20th Anniversary Star Trek book. So I dutifully started writing before I received a contract, which anybody with any sense would tell you never to do; but my editor is a trustworthy guy and if I didn’t start writing till they got around to sending the contract, I would have had thirty-seven seconds to write the book.

A few weeks later my editor called and said, “Paramount approved your proposal.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” sez I, “considering I’m halfway through the book.”

“Um,” he said, with the good sense to be embarrassed, “they want a detailed outline.”

[beat]

…as they say in the movies.

“A detailed proposal, huh? Here’s the thing. Please tell them they can have a detailed proposal or they can have the book in on time, but they can’t have both and they have to pay me the same either way.”

He cracked up and I never heard another word about the detailed proposal — I have no idea what heroic measures he had to take to accomplish that — and the Klingons got Shakespeare, and George Takei got to read the audiotape including the completely baffling “translation” of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

And the next time I saw George he said, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” and laughed his great laugh.

— Vonda

————

§ Email correspondent asks if title might have been “vengeance” rather than “revenge” and is quite correct — VNM.


*Enterprise was the first Giant Novel, the only one that came out only in paperback because they were testing the waters — it sold a whole lot of copies but the folks who came in my wake with hardcovers made one heck of a lot more money. (Correction note: Correspondents inform me that some years later the giant novels began appearing as original paperbacks only.)

Vonda N. McIntyre writes science fiction.

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10 Responses to Best of the Blog: Writing Star Trek Novels, or, Why don’t you get a morally acceptable job?

  1. Since the original publication of this blog post, Book View Cafe has published my backlist in ebook form. You can find the titles on my BVC bookshelf. They include Dreamsnake and The Moon and the Sun.

    They were fun to write, too.

  2. Momentary says:

    I loved your Star Trek novels. Especially Hikaru getting laid =) And Hunter!

  3. Faith says:

    Way back when…I read tie in novels for Star Trek and Star Wars, I found the writing horrid and almost gave up until I found yours and Barbara Hambly’s. It was so obvious who was a novelist first and tie-in writer second. I never again wasted my money on any tie-in book in any genre that wasn’t written by a novelist known for her/his other work. Thanks for rescuing those stories for me.

  4. Thanks for the kind words. I believe the reason my editor asked if I’d like to write a Star Trek novel was because he was familiar with my original SF (Dreamsnake and The Exile Waiting had already been published), and he knew I was very fond of the original series, so I would do my best to write a good story and respect Gene Roddenberry’s universe, and the characters.

    I always wanted Mr. Sulu to have more to do in the original series, and it didn’t seem all that fair that it was always Kirk, sitting on somebody’s bed putting on his boots in the morning, so.

    Vonda

  5. Way back before it ever occurred to me that I’d someday be A Real Published Author, I use to write stories in my head. You know, as you do. And though I tried Star Trek stories? I couldn’t pull it off. I just couldn’t come close to getting the character’s voice right.

    Now that I’m A Real Author, I still don’t think I could even begin to do that. But I love it when someone else can pull it off — I think the best of the tie-in novels are much better than the actual show. To name just a couple, I love Diane Duane’s MY ENEMY MY ALLY and John M Ford’s THE FINAL REFLECTION.

    I also liked seeing Sulu get to step up in THE ENTROPY EFFECT.

  6. Cat Kimbriel says:

    I have never seen Kirk’s first adventure. I must seek it out!

  7. Bill Smith says:

    As someone who has read and loved many of your Star Trek tie-in novels, THANK YOU for being both a fan and an author.

    I think tie-ins are wonderful when people approach them with dedication and enthusiasm and are professional enough to write a good story while being mindful of the details that ensure their story fits into the larger fabric of that fictional universe.

    In a way, tie-ins are harder IMHO because the audience has tremendous built-in expectations, whereas in an original work you can do anything you wish.

    I believe that most people who degrade tie-ins are simply pompous and narcissistic.

  8. Mike Harris says:

    Vonda, big fan of your work and delighted to see you in the comment section.

    Was a bit disappointed to discover your “Enterprise” giant novel wasn’t available for Kindle, despite other giant novels being available. Any chance we’ll see it as an eBook someday?

    Thanks so much for your novels — they’ve been a source of enjoyment for many hours.

  9. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m afraid I don’t have any say in what Paramount and Pocket Books do with the Star Trek tie-ins. You might see if there’s anyone to ask over at the Pocket Books website.

    Best,

    Vonda

  10. Pingback: McIntyre Interview with Quintin Kreth | Feminist Science Fiction Seminar