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The Trek Nation - Keith R. A. DeCandido

Keith R. A. DeCandido

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 30, 2008 - 11:41 PM GMT

Keith R. A. DeCandido is the author of numerous novels and story tie-ins with shows such as Star Trek and its spin-offs, Supernatural, Dr. Who, Andromeda and Farscape among others. His latest novel Four Walls breaks new ground: it's his first foray into writing a tie-in for CSI: New York DeCandido talked with TrekToday's Kristine Huntley about how his writing career got started, his latest projects and his thoughts on the new Star Trek movie and the SFWA/Nebula controversy.

TrekToday: You have a long and impressive bibliography! How did you get your start?

Keith R. A. DeCandido: In a way that really isn't replicable! I used to work as an editor in charge of a bunch of science fiction projects. My first short story I wound up writing out of necessity. At the time I was an associate editor working with a senior editor and we were kicking off a line of comic-based story anthologies and we needed a story for an anthology at the last minute because a character that was on the cover was not in the book. We had a bunch of stories featuring this character that Marvel had rejected. Finally they gave us a one-sentence summary of the type of story they would like to see and I just wrote it. That was my first sale, and then I did a couple of other short stories and then I wrote a Spiderman novel.

The opportunity to write a Dr. Who story presented itself--the guy who was editing that anthology was doing a story for me. Then a couple of other things happened here and there and then I wound up helping out Chris Golden and Nancy Holder on the first Buffy the Vampire Slayer Watcher's Guide. And that gave me the opportunity to do the Buffy novel. It's just one of those cases where it's a snowball rolling down a hill--each thing builds on the previous thing you did. So that gave me the opportunity to do a couple of the Hercules books. Once I'd done those, the editor of the Star Trek novels--who'd actually known me for years but didn't actually ask me to pitch to him until after I'd established myself--said, "Hey, how'd you like to do a Star Trek novel?" And that's where I've done most of my work actually. I've done more than a dozen Star Trek novels.

The Andromeda novel [I did] actually came about because I did a Farscape book. And the Farscape book I lobbied for. I got that and on the strength of that, the editor of the Andromeda books came to me and said, "Well, you did a nice job on the Farscape book; how'd you like to do an Andromeda book?" And I said sure. It was one of the TV licenses I got to kick off--I did the first Farscape book, I did the first Andromeda book and I did the first Supernatural book. But the only one I'm going to do a second one in is Supernatural!

TrekToday: You've done a lot in the Star Trek world especially.

DeCandido: Until the line came to an end earlier this year, I was the editor of the monthly series of eBooks, Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers.

TrekToday: Why was the line ended?

DeCandido: Part of it was just that the line never increased its profile. It had a good, steady number of readers and it never went down and it never went up. And it ran for seven years, which is pretty good. We put out over seventy eBooks and all good things must come to an end. They just felt it wasn't really growing enough to be worth sticking the money into it. We're still going to be putting out print compilations of the eBooks--we've still got a ways to go before we run out of those. I still do some freelance editing on Star Trek books for Pocket and I still do anthologies for them. With Peter David, I also did a New Frontier anthology.

TrekToday: It seems like there are quite a few anthologies coming out now, and that there have been quite a few in recent years. Why do you think the trend is towards anthologies now?

DeCandido: There's still a novel [being published] every month, where there are maybe one or two anthologies every year, so it's only a small fraction of the line. I think the reason we keep seeing more of them is a variety of reasons. One of them is that it's a good place to get a different type of story. There are some stories that just work better in shorter form than long form, especially with the cutback to twelve books per year from the twenty-four that there were for the ten years between 1995 and 2005. It gives you the opportunity to use different writers and a variety of types of stories. And they're fun to do! It's about variety. One of the things about the Star Trek fiction world, partly because there are five TV shows and other types of Star Trek prose like New Frontier and S.C.E., is that there are a lot of different types of stories to tell and anthologies allow for that. It's a different way of telling stories.

TrekToday: How long does it take from pitch to publication for a Star Trek novel or anthology?

DeCandido: It varies. It's about a year, but even then, it varies wildly. To give you a more extreme example, the New Frontier anthology No Limits that Peter David and I put together sprung into existence at the end of February in 2003. It was published in October of 2003, which was an appallingly fast turnaround! Usually it's not that fast, but it varies wildly. Sometimes you have a nice leisurely time to do it and sometimes things get delayed. Like the Mirror Universe anthology that was supposed to come out this month has been pushed to January. Part of that is just the available slots.

TrekToday: Do you have a favorite series or group of characters that you particularly like to write for?

DeCandido: Of the TV shows, my favorite is Deep Space Nine. Having said that, I like all of them to some degree or another, but I think Deep Space Nine was the strongest of the five shows. As for what I like to write: I love the Klingons, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers--the Gorkon and Da Vinci crews. I really enjoyed Articles of the Federation. It's hard to narrow it down. One thing I've noticed with the Gorkon crew is that writing them comes ridiculously easy to me. The third Gorkon book, Enemy Territory--the words just flew out of my fingers when I writing that book.

TrekToday: Are there any characters from the television series you particularly enjoy writing for?

DeCandido: That would be Worf and Kira. Amusingly, for my first two novels, the first one focused on Worf and the second one focused on Kira. It's ironic that it worked out way. And then the second one I followed up with a story that was entirely about Kira called "Horn and Ivory" [in Star Trek: Gateways: What Lay Beyond]. So those two probably, and then I've also enjoyed dealing with the main characters from Corps of Engineers and Gorkon, Klag and Sonya Gomez. But then again, I could pull out a bunch of characters! But of the on screen characters, I'd have to go with Worf and Kira.

TrekToday: Do you have any thoughts about the new Trek movie, Star Trek XI?

DeCandido: I think in general the idea of going backwards is a bad idea. I think Star Trek has been successful when it's moved forward. Having said that, that doesn't preclude the possibility that this will work. And I certainly have faith in [Alex] Kurtzman and [Roberto] Orci, who are geeks of the highest order. I've been fans of their writing since their days on Xena. They have affection for the material, which is certainly an important ingredient. I don't really have any issue with any of the casting. I'm not really familiar with the guy playing Kirk, but I think Zachary Quinto is perfect for Spock, and Karl Urban (McCoy) can pretty much play anything. So I'm more than confident about that.

The thing is, you can't judge a film until you actually sit down in the theater and see it. I learned my lesson on that years ago! I read the scripts for both Men in Black and the first X-Men movie. I was one of the people being considered to write the novelizations [of the movies]. So I got to see the scripts and I thought they were terrible. I thought Men in Black was awful and the X-Men script was an unfocused mess. In the case of Men in Black, the casting of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones can cover a multitude of sins and in the case of the X-Men script, everything I didn't like in the script wound up being cut from the final movie. For that matter, I [read] the first six scripts for Earth: Final Conflict, and I thought it was going to be the best science fiction show ever produced. And boy was I surprised! It was the same script I read, but they managed to drain all the life out of it.

Typically rumors are worth less than the pixels that are being used to light them up, so the only way to really judge the movie is to sit down in the theater and watch it. I hope it does well for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a successful movie will mean more interest in the novels and comic books.

TrekToday: The other big news in the Star Trek universe is the Nebula award nomination of a fan film, World Enough and Time. What are your thoughts on this?

DeCandido: In my mind that was a controversy within SFWA, not in the Star Trek universe. My issue with that has nothing to with Star Trek at all, but with SFWA not following its own rules. As wonderful as New Voyages/Phase II is--it might be, because I haven't actually seen it--my issue is that it's not a professional publication. And in fact as James Cawley himself said in the midst of all of this nonsense, it can't be a professional publication legally. That's the reason why CBS lets them do it is because it's not a professional production. So if [a film] doesn't need to be [a professional publication], then that codicil to the rules needs to be changed.

TrekToday: Would you like to see the rules changed?

DeCandido: The thing is that based on the rules, fan fiction can be nominated in any of the other categories, so it seems to me they should be consistent about it. Honestly, I'm not that invested in it one way or the other. My feeling is that if they're going to have the rules say that, then they should follow it, and if they're not going to, they should rewrite the rules. It's more a case of consistency than anything. I also object strongly to people saying, "Well, it's got professionals working on it, so it must be a professional production!" No, it isn't. If Kobe Bryant plays a pick up game on the streets of Los Angeles, that doesn't make it an NBA game. And the fact that you've got Marc Zicaree and George Takei and various others involved does not change the fact that it's a fan film. That doesn't make it bad. I've written fan fiction, I've enjoyed fan fiction--I think fan fiction is cool. In fact the people who are saying it's not real are being insulting to actual producers of fan fiction.

TrekToday: You're writing some of the Star Trek comics?

DeCandido: IDW is doing a second alien spotlight miniseries. The one that just finished was really successful, so they're doing a second one. I'm doing one that focuses on the Klingons. It will be out sometime this fall. The [series] is standalone issues that can go in any order. The other aliens [in the series] are the Gorn, the Vulcans, the Romulans, the Andorians, the Borg and the Orion. The others that have been mentioned are the Betazoids, the Klingons and the Ferengi. And I love [writing comics]. I've been talking with IDW about some other projects. There's nothing set yet, but I'm hoping to be doing a lot of other stuff for them.

TrekToday: Is it very different, writing a comic as opposed to a novel or story?

DeCandido: Yeah, it's much different for a number of reasons. First, you've got a limited amount of space on each page. You have to really boil down the story because you've only got a limited number of pages to work with--our series only has 22 [per issue]. I was harder on myself because it's actually three stories in one. So it's basically three seven page stories in one issue, which was an even bigger challenge. So you've really got to boil away the excess and focus on the basics of the story. You're also depending on the artist for a lot of things that you don't have going for you when you're writing prose. You have to think a little more fully, and you don't have to worry about the visuals and just focus on the dialogue.

TrekToday: Are you involved at all in the inking?

DeCandido: It depends on the situation. In this particular situation, I talked to the artist before I wrote the script--he'd seen the proposal. He and I talked about some things and we went back and forth on some stuff. So yeah, I've been working very closely with the artist. That doesn't always happen. Sometimes you write the script, hand it in and leave it at that.

TrekToday: What's the next Trek project we'll see from you?

DeCandido: It will be one of the Myriad Universe books. Like last year's Mirror Universe trade paperback, this is going to be three short novels in a trade paperback and then another trade paperback [with several more stories]. They are all going to be 'what if?' stories. As an example--this isn't one of the stories--'What if the Borg had won in "Best of Both Worlds"?' The one I'm doing is called "A Gutted World." It involves, among other things, the Cardassians never having pulled out of Bajor. There are other [issues] as well, but that's the one that's most apparent from the cover copy and the first chapter is that the Cardiassians are still at Bajor and at Terok Nor. And there are other consequences as well. I don't want to say what the divergent point is because that's something you don't find out [right away]--it's a plot point. It's going to be in the second volume called Echoes and Retractions.

The first volume is going to be in July called Infinity's Prism and it's going to take place during the Original Series and the change is that the Terra Prime movement from Enterprise actually won. Earth never got involved in the Federation, and this takes us about a hundred years later and Earth basically would like to join this huge coalition of planets that did form involving the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites. That's William Leinser's story. Christopher Bennett's story: think of a decision Janeway made--she will make a different one. I don't want to say which. And James Swallow wrote a story called "Seeds of Dissent" in which Khan won the Eugenics war.

The other two stories in the second volume: one [involves] the only other alternate reality we've seen on screen, the Original Series' "Yesteryear." There was an alteration in the timeline where Spock died as a young child and the first officer on the Enterprise was an Andorian. And the story is going to follow that timeline. And the [other story is called] "Brave New World" in which Noonien Soong was not derided as a quack and created androids successfully. That's the next thing that will be out.

I should say about "A Gutted World" by the way that it is by far the most depressing story I've ever done! That cover copy, the last phrase in it is, "Even victory may not bring salvation," which is pretty much the theme of the story. There's a lot of upsets in this.

This fall there's going to be a big crossover trilogy called Destiny by David Mack. Huge, massive crossover trilogy bringing together elements from all over the Star Trek universe and will have serious ramifications for anything beyond that. Basically any novel that takes place after Destiny will be affected by that. It takes place a year and a half after Nemesis. So Star Trek fiction will be forevermore affected by what happens in Destiny.

I'm doing the first follow up, which is more of a political novel--very similar to Articles of the Federation and The Art of the Impossible, two of my previous novels. It will deal with the political fallout from Destiny. People who have been clamoring for a Tom Clancy style Star Trek novel--this is going to be that! There's a lot of Hunt for Red October in it, only without the gory technical details about submarines.

TrekToday: Your latest published novel, Four Walls, isn't science fiction--it's a CSI: New York book. How did you come to that project?

DeCandido: It's not my usual thing as far as genre goes because I usually write science fiction and fantasy, but it is my usual in terms of being a TV show tie-in, which I've done many. I've written Star Trek novels, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Farscape, Andromeda and some others and I've written some stuff that would qualify as a mystery even though they were published as science fiction. I did a novel called Dragon Precinct which was a part fantasy mystery, and I've done a couple of Spiderman novels that could qualify as mysteries, as well as my Supernatural book. So I've written stuff that has at the very least mystery undertones. I'm also a big fan of stories that take place in New York City. The two Spiderman novels I've written [are set in New York], my first Supernatural novel also takes place in New York, I wrote a Buffy novel that takes place in New York in the '70s--one of the previous Slayers operated there. Just in general--I love writing stories that take place in my home town of New York.

So the editor of the CSI: New York line was aware of this. I had actually originally asked to work on the books when the show first started, however the editor at Pocket preferred, for perfectly understandable reasons, to go with the Edgar-award winning mystery author! Stuart Kaminsky did the first three. The Pocket contract only calls for four books. Stuart ended up not being available for the fourth book so the editor, who was someone I worked with before, turned to me and said, "Would you like to still do it?" And I said yes. So that's pretty much how it happened.

For more from Keith R. A. DeCandido on his CSI: New York novel, please see the other part of this interview at CSI Files!

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.