Glenn GreenbergBy Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at October 5, 2004 - 9:09 PM GMT
There aren't many people in this world that can say that their childhood passion led to a career as an award-winning editor and writer, but Glenn Greenberg can. Glenn began writing and drawing comic books at an early age, stories that featured his favorite heroes including the Incredible Hulk, Batman, and the crew of the Enterprise under the command of James T. Kirk.
Writing for Marvel Comics as an adult gave Glenn the opportunity to tell stories featuring some of the very same characters he enjoyed so much as a child. Characters like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Dracula. When Marvel assumed the license for the Star Trek comics, Glenn developed and wrote Star Trek: Untold Voyages, a five-issue mini-series that remains a fan favorite and chronicled the second five-year mission of Captain Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
While at Marvel, Glenn also worked as an editor and developed the Starlord limited series written by bestselling science fiction author Timothy Zahn, as well as the inter-company crossover project, The Incredible Hulk vs. Superman.
Glenn's writing work extends well beyond comic books. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, fiction anthologies, and Web sites. The native New Yorker is currently working as editor and head writer for Scholastic News, a weekly newsmagazine for kids. His work on that magazine earned him a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers in 2002.
Returning to the Star Trek universe with the October release of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers book The Art of the Deal, Glenn was kind enough to take the time to speak with Trek Nation about his writing experiences.
TN: Let's start by going back. I believe you started writing your own comic books when you were a child, is that correct?
GG: Yeah, when I was a kid I wanted to be an artist. I had started reading comic books at a very early age and I remember being around eight or nine years old when I started writing and drawing my own comic books. I just kept doing it until about my senior year in high school or perhaps when I was a freshman in college—which is when I started to realize that it's a lot quicker to write than to draw!
When I look back at the way I had developed and grown during that time as an artist, had I kept with it, who knows where it would have gone? But it was so time consuming and as I started college I became more and more consumed with that, and I really didn't have time to sit there and just pore over ever detail and really try to refine the artwork.
I realized that I had a way with words; I always liked writing, so I just completely shifted over to the writing. Instead of writing and drawing stories, I decided to write them.
TN: So you've been a Star Trek fan for a very long time, watching it in syndication in the 70's?
GG: I remember that it used to be on every night at 6 o'clock and my older brother and sister were first generation Star Trek viewers and they loved watching the reruns on Channel 11 here in New York City. I was a little kid and I used to fight with them all the time. I wanted to watch The Brady Bunch, but they were the older ones so they won out more often than not and I used to watch it with them.
It was actually the first movie that made me a fan; my sister took me to see it, that's when I really fell in love with it. I was familiar with the characters, but after seeing them on the big screen, that's when I really became a fan.
TN: How did a Marvel editor get the opportunity to work on Superman?
GG: Superman is published by Marvel's biggest rival, DC Comics. It was essentially like DC was Lucasfilm and Marvel was Paramount, in terms of how the characters break down. I got to edit Superman because I came up with the idea of doing a one-shot book pitting Superman and the Hulk against each other, and the two companies liked the idea enough that they reached a deal to publish the project. As the person who conceived it, I got to edit it.
I'm actually one of the few people who can say that he was a Marvel editor but got to edit a story featuring Superman. The Hulk is one of my all-time favorite characters and I've always liked Superman, so to be the one who put the two of them together was a blast. I had a good time with that project.
TN: Star Trek: Untold Voyages was published in 1998 and Marvel was publishing comics set within the more recent Star Trek series like TNG, DS9 and Voyager—Why did you decide to utilize the original crew?
GG: Well, I didn't grow up with TNG, it started during my first year of college. I was past the age where it would have made a big impression on me the way the original series had. I just never developed a love and affection for TNG the way I did the original. I grew up with them.
It meant a lot to me to be able to say that I worked on these characters that I grew up with and loved. I look at TOS as something very meaningful in my childhood and while growing up. For me to write those original characters was like slipping on an old comfortable pair of sneakers.
TN: In the second issue of Untold Voyages, "Worlds Collide," you chose to stay with what had at that point already been established about Saavik. But I understand that Paramount offered you the opportunity to take the character in another direction?
GG: Yeah, I'd read Vonda McIntyre's novelizations of Star Trek II and III, and the Carolyn Clowes novel, The Pandora Principle, which was one of my favorite Star Trek novels. Those provided the bulk of Saavik's back-story. Also, I was at a convention in 1983 or 84 where they actually showed the footage that has never made it into any version of Star Trek II, where Spock and Kirk talk about the fact that Saavik is half Romulan—that's also in the novelization. I remember thinking, "Wow why did they take that out of the movie?" This was before ST III came out and before Paramount really started cracking down on the kind of stuff they would allow to be shown at conventions.
There was also an issue of the original DC comic book series from around 1984, which did an "origin of Saavik" story that tied in with what Vonda McIntyre did in the novelizations, but also went off on its own tangent as well. So to me, there was no question as to how I was going to handle Saavik in the comic books.
TN: The Pandora Principle established that Saavik's birth was the result of a Romulan experiment. The Romulans were trying to find a way to harness the mental powers of the Vulcans by using captured Vulcans as breeding stock, forcing them to mate with Romulans in the hopes of producing Vulcan/Romulan children who would have those mental abilities.
GG: Right—and I had a line in my original script that referred to that, but what Paramount said to me was that it has never been established that the Romulans don't already have those mental powers. So I had to take that out, but I was able to maintain the rest of what I wrote.
I turned in my plot for issue #2 and we were working with a really good guy at Paramount, a guy named Chip Carter, he was the guy in charge of approving the comic book scripts. He came back and said, "You know, it's never been established onscreen that Saavik is half Romulan, so we encourage you not to be bound by the previous versions of her origins. She's never been portrayed as anything but a full Vulcan and we encourage you to come up with a new origin for her." I think I wrote back a very polite memo saying that I grew up with this particular version of her origins, the fans are familiar with this particular version of her origins, and I think it will maintain the authenticity of the series, and our credibility, if we don't spring a new origin on the readers, the fans.
I think today I've developed as a writer to the point where I would probably accept the challenge of trying to do it. Of trying to come up with a whole new origin that the fans would like so much that they would accept it, but back then, I just didn't feel confident enough that I could. But I'm grateful to Paramount for letting me do it the way I wanted to.
TN: Were there other changes Paramount wanted?
GG: I had also added a credit in my script that said "Special acknowledgement to the works of Vonda McIntyre, Mike Barr (who wrote the DC comic book), and Carolyn Clowes," but for some reason, Paramount asked that it be taken out. I think they didn't want us to refer to anything that wasn't directly connected to the Marvel series. But I wanted to give credit where credit is due, so whenever I have spoken about that particular story I've always given credit to those three people because I wouldn't have had much of a story without them. I tried to follow faithfully what they had established about Saavik, but put my own spin on it.
TN: For those unfamiliar with Untold Voyages, how would you describe it?
GG: It was a five issue limited series and each issue took place one year further into the second five year mission of the Enterprise under Captain Kirk. It picked up from the end of The Motion Picture, which ended with Kirk back in command of the Enterprise, and it's always been conjectured that Kirk took the Enterprise on a second five-year mission from that point on. The first issue took place in the first year, the second issue in the second year, and so forth.
They way I structured it was that each issue would spotlight a different character. Issue one ("Renewal") was very much a Captain Kirk story. Issue two ("Worlds Collide") was Spock and Saavik. Issue three ("Past Imperfect") was McCoy. Issue 4 ("Silent Cries") was the remainder of the crew, and with issue five ("Odyssey's End"), the focus was back on Captain Kirk.
TN: Issue four, "Silent Cries" focused quite heavily on Sulu. Why Sulu?
GG: The way it worked out, because I'd already dealt with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in the first three issues, was that with number four it was Sulu and, as they used to say on Gilligan's Island, "the rest." Sulu was basically in the command chair, so he was the dominant character. Chekov and Uhura kind of served the typical McCoy and Spock roles and Scotty, well, Scotty was Scotty! Since I hadn't used Dr. Chapel in any of the other issues I figured that instead of having McCoy fill the medical officer's role it would be a good chance for Chapel to have a moment or two.
There is a line in that issue I was sure was going to get yanked out by Paramount but it actually saw print. Just before the action starts in the story, when they still think they are on a routine mission, they are all sitting around the bridge, sort of shooting the breeze having a conversation about what they feel are the scariest missions they've ever been on while on the Enterprise. I had Sulu mention an episode from TOS and I had Uhura mention an episode from TOS and then I had Chekov mention that the most frightened he had been was when Khan took over the ship. They all look at him like he's got a third eyeball. "What are you talking about?" they ask. "You weren't onboard when Khan took over the ship." And Chekov said, "Yes, I was."
That's always been one of those nitpicker things, that Chekov wasn't part of the show back then. So I had Chekov explain that he had just come aboard a few weeks earlier and he was assigned to Engineering, but even Scotty doesn't remember him being in Engineering, so they are all like, "Sorry, Chekov. We always just think of you as the navigator, the guy on the bridge." Then Chekov says, "I can't believe it—I've been typecast!"
I was so sure that they would make me take that out, that they'd see it as a poke at the actors when it was really just an affectionate in-joke. But they were fine with it. I have to give Paramount credit. They let it go through and it's gotten a good response over the years.
But the most memorable experience I had working on that issue was when I met Sulu himself, George Takei!
I was actually working on the Sulu story when I met him, and I told him I was writing a comic book story about his character. So his eyes light up and he says to me, "Oh? You're writing a story about Captain Sulu?"
I said, "Yes, but he's not a captain in my story." So then he gives me a skeptical look and says, "Well, you know, I am a captain now." I have to point out—he said "I'm a captain," not "Sulu's a captain."
I told him I knew that, but then he started telling me the whole story about how he'd been lobbying for a promotion to captain since the second movie and it didn't finally happen until the sixth one. And I told him I knew all that, too, because he'd talked about it in various interviews. So then I tried to explain to him that my story took place BEFORE he became a captain, that it shows a younger Sulu learning what it takes to command a ship.
So he then asks me, "Well, do I become a captain by the end of the story?" And I told him, "No," because the entire series takes place years before even the second movie.
And he says to me, "Well, who wants to read that? I'm a captain now!"
That was the point where I said to myself, "Okay, time to get out of this conversation!" (laughter)
TN: Any hopes of seeing the five Untold Voyages stories reissued, perhaps bound together as a collection?
GG: I have no knowledge of any plans to reprint it, but it would be very nice. I'd buy it! (laughter)
TN: Let's talk about your upcoming Starfleet Corps of Engineers book. I must admit that when I first saw the title list for this year's S.C.E. books and I saw the title The Art of the Deal, I assumed it was a Ferengi story.
GG: That's funny! No, it's not a Ferengi story. The title The Art of the Deal is kind of an in-joke. This story is taken from some of my own experiences working at a certain major worldwide corporation or two, and it presents sort of an exaggeration of the corporate mentality—the benefits of it and the dark side of it.
The reason why I called it The Art of the Deal is because Donald Trump came out with a book several years ago with that title, so I'm kind of riffing off that, because the central character is an entrepreneurial tycoon, sort of in the mold of Donald Trump in that he has a lot of involvement in real estate. He's really a conglomeration of all the big business types that I have read about or had experience with. He has that sort of mentality and he's the central character so I couldn't resist the title.
Actually, this was originally written as a TOS story, and the genesis of the story was very much centered on Captain Kirk. It was really about him and a ghost from his past that had been established in one of the original TV episodes, and that's where the idea for the story stemmed from. For whatever reason, it didn't sell, but the original name of the story was An Empire to Build because of the efforts of the tycoon character to build his empire. When I completely rewrote it as an S.C.E. story, that title just didn't seem to work anymore, so I changed it to The Art of the Deal.
TN: So is there a heavy focus in the story on Captain Gold?
GG: I wouldn't say that, exactly—I really want to stress that when I say I rewrote the story from that TOS piece, I didn't just go in and erase Captain Kirk's name and put in Gold's. It really was a total rewrite, completely overhauled to fit the S.C.E. series, so a lot of changes were made.
When I first proposed the S.C.E. version of the story, the focus was actually on Commander Sonya Gomez. I sent it off to Keith R.A. De Candido (the editor of the S.C.E. series) and when I got his comments back he said, "The way this is written, everything that Gomez needs to accomplish in this story would really be more appropriate for Security Chief Corsi."
So I went back—this is still just the outline stage at this point—and I reworked the whole thing again so that now Corsi was fulfilling the role I had originally intended for Gomez. I remember writing to Keith, "If this was a TV show, and I was the actor playing Gomez, I'd be really, really angry right now!" (laughter)
I would say that Corsi is probably the dominant S.C.E. character in the story, with Captain Gold having a strong role, as well. Obviously the tycoon is the central character because it all centers on him. I do get to play with Gold's background a bit though, and that was a lot of fun.
TN: I've seen the cover art, isn't that a bit of a give away as to who makes an appearance?
GG: I could kill Keith for that one (laughing), but you've got to go with what will draw attention, I suppose. The cats of the bag now that the cover is out there, but yes, Captain Picard does make an appearance in the story.
TN: Mike Collins, the artist who does the S.C.E. cover art, is that the same Mike Collins who you worked with on Untold Voyages?
GG: Yes. I was really excited when I found out he was doing the cover.
I was familiar with Mike's work for DC Comics before we ever worked together and when Untold Voyages came about, our editor, Tim Tuohy, put us together. Mike lives in England so I've only actually met him once. After Untold Voyages we did talk about doing other things together, but it was shortly after that that I left Marvel so it never came to be.
TN: How did you get involved with writing S.C.E.?
GG: In a previous life, Keith used to work for a company called Byron Preiss and they had the rights to do novels and short stories based on the Marvel characters. I was still working at Marvel then, and I was one of the people that Keith invited to work on these anthologies that he edited.
After I left Marvel, Keith and I maintained our friendship and I called him three or four years ago, when I wanted to kick-start my fiction-writing career again. I'd been out of the game for a while so I asked him for advice on how to go about doing that. Over the course of our conversation, he told me that he was starting up a new line of Star Trek eBooks, and he told me all about this Starfleet Corps of Engineers concept and as he was explaining it to me, he stopped and said, "Hey wait a minute, why don't you pitch to me?" So he sent me a bunch of the manuscripts and suggested I come up with some ideas and that's basically how it came about.
TN: I understand you've also submitted a pitch for a TOS novel?
GG: Yes, I've been waiting to hear back on that. I know that the editor is a VERY busy guy, so it might take a while. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
TN: Waiting on the Paramount approval process on a proposal requites a lot of patience. Could you explain a little about how that works?
GG: The process with S.C.E. is pretty much the same as when I was writing the comic book. You turn in a proposal, a brief outline, and if the editor likes it, it goes off to Paramount and they send it back with comments; either it's rejected or "it needs work, here's what should be done." Then you turn in a revised proposal and then you wait to get approval and go ahead.
TN: Even after you get approval there is still a long wait before you actually get to see your work released isn't there?
GG: Yeah, you could say that. I turned in the first draft manuscript on December 15th 2003. I turned in the revised manuscript six months later, in June 2004, so yeah, there's a pretty long lead time.
Just this week (late September 2004), I got the page proofs for the final version. It's one last chance to read it and make sure everything is just right. You can't make any wholesale changes or anything, it's just in case there are any glitches in the manuscript and typos, that kind of stuff.
TN: Are you pleased with how The Art of the Deal turned out?
GG: I am. It was a lot of fun, it was really, really was. It was one of the most pleasant writing experiences I've ever had. Not that I'm up to Stephen King level and have 30 novels to my credit or anything (laughing). But so far, it's really up there.
I finished Untold Voyages in 1998 and I started working on The Art of the Deal in 2001, in one form or another. Just to give you an idea of how far back this goes, I sent in the story outline to Keith in November of 2002, right around the time my daughter was born. So it had been about four years since I'd worked on Star Trek professionally.
I was excited to be revisiting that universe, even though it was with different characters. I was really jazzed and I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for it, to the point where I actually finished the first draft of the manuscript two weeks early! That gave me plenty of time to sit down and really edit it tightly. You know, trim all the fat and just get it to the point to where it's a lean story.
TN: Do you think your experience working as an editor has helped you become a better writer?
GG: Absolutely! When I was done with the manuscript, I viewed it not as a writer editing his own work; I viewed it as if I was in Keith's shoes. I put on my editor's hat and had to pretend that this was somebody else's writing. I think that my training as an editor totally helped me do that. As a writer, you love everything you write. You don't want to take anything out, it's like your baby and I'm very guilty of that. But in this case, the editor side of me was more dominant.
TN: Would you be interested in writing more S.C.E.?
GG: Definitely! In fact, Keith and I are already talking about it. I've sent him an idea and he likes the basic premise, so we'll see where it goes.
The Art of the Deal was not the first S.C.E. story that I pitched—it was pretty much the last! I had pitched four or five different stories and Keith liked one of them enough to send it on to Paramount. It took about nine months to hear back on it, and ultimately Paramount rejected it. It took about that long to hear back on Art of the Deal, too, but this time we got approval. So I'm figuring this time, once I get the proposal in, it's still probably going to take that long to hear back.
TN: At this point there are over forty S.C.E. books. Did you find it difficult to keep track of what the other writers had done in order to keep the continuity of the series?
GG: What Keith does is, when he's got four or five books in, he will send them out to all the authors that are participating in the series at that time. If there's something we have to be on the lookout for, like the introduction of a new character or something like that, he will specify, "Oh, by the way, we are introducing so and so in this particular manuscript, here is the concept for this character, keep that in mind."
What happened with The Art of the Deal was that between the time I had received my last batch of manuscripts to read and the time when The Art of the Deal was drawing closer to publication, a lot of developments had come up that I wasn't aware of. So when we were going into the final revisions for The Art of the Deal, Keith sent me the pertinent manuscripts with notes pointing out things that would need to be referenced. Things like, "You didn't know this when you were writing the first draft, but since then, Gomez has had a near death experience and you might want to refer to that." Sometimes, it's something that's coming up further down the line. Like, "There is something coming up between these two characters, I'd like you to allude to it." That sort of thing.
Keith is sort of the Great Bird of the Galaxy for S.C.E. He's on top of everything. He knows where it's going. Once you get to the final revisions you can then make connections to the other S.C.E. stories, where the connections fit, and where they are appropriate. It's basically Keith sitting at the center of all of this, the master manipulator. (laughter)
TN: As a long time fan, how do you feel about all the predictions about the death of Star Trek?
GG: I know that people are predicting that Star Trek is dying as a franchise and that it should go away. But I think that when you come up with new concepts for it, like Keith and John Ordover have with S.C.E., that when you come up with these new permutations, you can get a lot of life out of it.
All I know is I've had a ball. I think I've made it clear that you're talking to a dyed-in-the-wool TOS fan. I am very much a Kirk, Spock, McCoy kind of guy and for me to have such a great time working on these characters that I didn't know from Adam, well I really had a great time. So much so that I'd love to do it again. There's a lot of life left in Star Trek and hopefully people will become more aware of all these other projects set within the Star Trek universe and come to the conclusion that it doesn't have to completely go away—even if the TV shows and movies do for a while.
TN: Are you referring to the years between the original series and the first movie?
GG: More or less. I mean, for years all we had were the books. I remember getting Yesterday's Son. I was only 13. I started reading it the day I got it and stayed up all night reading it, finishing it the next morning. I felt like my life had changed. "This is what I want to do someday!" That was during a time when the only new Star Trek you got was the novels and the comic books, and a movie every two or three years. I have a great deal of affection for the novels and very happy to now say I'm part of it—in a very small way, but I'm in there now and I'm hoping it will lead to other things.
Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers, #45 The Art of the Deal will be available from online retailers in all three eBook formats in late October.
Jacqueline Bundy reviews Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, writes monthly columns for the TrekWeb newsletter and the Star Trek Galactic News, and hosts the Yahoo Star Trek Books Group weekly chat.