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The Trek Nation - Margaret Wander Bonanno

Margaret Wander Bonanno

By Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at August 6, 2006 - 5:17 PM GMT

Writer Margaret Wander Bonanno has worn many hats over the years: author, proofreader, copy editor, ghost writer, mother, educator and now publisher.

A Star Trek fan "from the time of the beginning", Margaret's first two Star Trek novels Dwellers in the Crucible (1985) and Strangers from the Sky (1987) both became bestsellers but following the farce surrounding the publication of Probe, the majority of which was rewritten although her name remained on the cover, Margaret returned to writing main-stream science fiction producing, among other numerous titles, two well received trilogies, The Others and Preternatural.

To the delight of fans world wide Margaret returned to writing Star Trek fiction with the Lost Era novel Catalyst of Sorrows (2004).

In her newest novel Burning Dreams, Margaret tackles the inscrutable figure of Christopher Pike, the tragic former Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Pike has figured as a character in a number of novels and short stories over the years but until now we've only gotten glimpses of what made Pike the man he was.

Burning Dreams is now available and Margaret was kind enough to answer a few questions for Trek Nation about her newest foray into the Star Trek universe.


Trek Nation: Often an author brings a story idea to the editor but I understand that you were asked to write Burning Dreams. Could you elaborate on that?

Margaret Bonanno: I was sort of at loose ends for a Trek idea after Catalyst of Sorrows, and Marco Palmieri literally came to me and said, "What would you like to do next?" I told him I hadn't a clue, and he asked, "How do you feel about Christopher Pike?" Marco recognized that my stories are character-driven rather than action-driven, and he said he was looking for "the definitive Pike novel". We knocked some ideas around, and the final outline was a combination of his ideas and mine.

TN: When did you first see "The Cage"?

MB: Probably the first time it was aired on TV. I think it was in the late 80s. Saw "Menagerie", of course, when it first aired, and a few hundred times after that, and I was familiar with the history of how "The Cage" became "Menagerie", so it was intriguing to see the differences.

TN: What fascinates you about the character of Christopher Pike?

MB: We know so little about him, and yet we can guess at so much. For me the "hook" was the moment in "The Cage/Menagerie" when the Keeper is punishing him for refusing to eat and gives him the illusion that he's in Hell. The line is "From a fable you once heard in childhood", and I thought Hmmm. It's dubious in that era that he'd have been raised with the fear of fire and brimstone, but was there something else—a personal experience or memory—that made this the perfect way to punish him? He himself asks the Keeper "Why not just put irresistible hunger in my mind?" To my way of thinking, it was because the Keeper, being able to access Pike's deepest thoughts and fears, knew that fire would be more effective. So that's where I began.

TN: Did you have specific inspirations when you first began the process of writing Burning Dreams, or did the inspiration spring from your research into what others had done with the character?

MB: I did read as many of the novels (and The Lives of Dax) as I could get my hands on, and the one consistent theme I found throughout is that these writers understood the difference between Kirk and Pike. Kirk was the headstrong one, Pike the thoughtful one or, as the Suits described him, the "cerebral" one—which could possibly be a drawback in a job that sometimes required split-second decision making. So I tried to use that, particularly in the section of the book where Pike is a young officer on the Aldrin and has to make command decisions he doesn't think he's ready for. My thought was that Kirk would have charged ahead anyway and worried about consequences later, but Pike carried on this internal argument with himself even as he took action.

Additionally, I'm a proofreader/copy editor in real life, and I've had the opportunity to work on a number of book projects written by folks who are quadriplegic. One gentleman has since become a friend and my business partner. Learning what the world is like for someone whose spinal cord has been damaged and whose body refuses to respond from the shoulders down, and encountering the incredible grit and spirit and determination that so many of these folks have to keep on keepin' on, was very helpful in working with Pike.

TN: You've obviously incorporated not only was established in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie" but material from several of the novels that feature Pike. Perhaps it was my imagination but did you manage to slip in biographical information on the actors who played Pike and Vina, Jeffrey Hunter and Susan Oliver, into the narrative?

MB: Ah, ya caught me! I found out from Imdb.com that Jeffrey Hunter's original name was Hank McKinnies, so Pike's mother's name became Willa McKinnies. Susan Oliver, I discovered, had been a record-setting aviator, so it was fun to add that to Vina's character.

TN: Are you satisfied that you accomplished what you set out to do with Burning Dreams?

MB: I think so. There were points in the writing process where I wondered if I'd gotten Pike's voice right, but then I'd just go back and watch the episodes for the umpteenth time. What was really fun, too, was expanding Vina's character. In the original, she suffers from several things—the attitude toward women in the 60s, and Disposable Blonde syndrome, and Gene Roddenberry's having to put the "Menagerie" script together in such a short time. So she could easily be seen as just a bit of fluff.

Making her Pike's coequal, and stopping to think of the implications of her being the only human on Talos IV for 18 years before Pike's arrival, and for another 13 years afterward makes us realize how incredibly strong this character is. How many of us could survive something like that with our minds and souls intact?

Finally, exploring what becomes of the Talosians once Pike decides to remain on Talos IV was challenging, and a lot of fun.

TN: After some very successful Star Trek novels, you took a long break from writing Star Trek fiction after the Probe debacle. For those who don't know the story could you explain briefly what happened with Probe?

MB: Probe fell afoul of what can only be described as office politics. The whole long-winded mishegos is described on my website, so folks can check it out there. (Margaret's account of the circumstances surrounding the rewriting of Probe can be found at her site http://www.margaretwanderbonanno.com where you will find a link in the about me section.)

TN: What inspired you to write Star Trek again?

MB: I've been in love with this stuff since the time of the beginning. Nearly every aspect of my life has in some way been influenced by Star Trek, and this is my chance to give back.

It's also so much easier to write in this universe than to have to create a universe from scratch. And the rewards are incrementally greater. I've written nearly 20 other novels, but Star Trek is what people remember.

TN: Until now most of your Star Trek fiction has had a strong Vulcan or Romulan influence. Your two most famous novels, Dwellers in the Crucible and Strangers from the Sky for example and also the more recent Catalyst of Sorrows all delve into Vulcan and/or Romulan history and culture so Burning Dreams is somewhat of a departure for you. What allure do the Vulcans and Romulans hold for you?

MB: Start with the fact that I fell in love with Spock when I was 16 and a Girl Geek, and end with the fact that the man I share my life with today played Subcommander Tal in "The Enterprise Incident" and the Vulcan priest who performs T'Pol's wedding.(Actor Jack Donner)

It's also been fascinating, to coin an expression, to watch the cultures of these two peoples evolve over the decades. Gene Roddenberry just wanted a "Martian" with funny ears on his bridge. He had no idea.

TN: Your previous books have all featured unforgettable strong female characters, primarily original characters. Did you take a different approach when writing for an established male character?

MB: It was a challenge, particularly the childhood parts. For obvious reasons, it's easier for me to get inside a female character's head and understand what makes her tick. Here I had to not only try to see the world from the POV of a 9-12 year-old boy, but one who was raised around horses (because it wouldn't be Pike's story without Tango). I'm a city kid; most of the horses I've seen were either onscreen or on a carousel. Fortunately I got some very good advice from a woman who raises Morgan horses, and I've acknowledged her in the book. But, yeah, even though I've raised a son, boy children are still a mystery to me.

TN: You are also contributing to the Mere Anarchy eBook mini-series, writing the sixth and final book Its Hour Come Round that will be out next April. What can you tell us about Mere Anarchy?

MB: The series is ambitious, in that it covers a long period of time—from Kirk's first five-year mission through his "death" in the Nexus in Generations. It's primarily a story about good intentions gone awry, an instance where the Federation was just on the verge of making first contact with a promising world when a natural disaster nearly destroys that world, and Kirk is instrumental in trying to restore that world to normalcy despite further natural disasters, interference by the Klingons, and the occasional governmental coup over the next several decades.

Some of the greatest fun has been "meeting" the other authors through a humongous exchange of emails, beginning last fall when our editor, Keith R.A. DeCandido, first proposed this project. I've known Howard Weinstein for a long time, and I got to meet Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore and Christopher Bennett at Shore Leave. Dave Galanter and Mike W. Barr are the other two writers on this project and, while I haven't met them in person yet, the story tripping and the one-liners and puns have been flying through cyberspace for nearly a year, so that opening my email every morning is a surprise.

More than one of us has suggested that the emails should be published as a "The Making of Mere Anarchy" companion, but it would probably be bigger than the Encyclopedia Americana. But funnier. Much funnier.

TN: Are there any other Star Trek stories you've always wanted to tell? Or characters you've wanted to write?

MB: I've always loved filling in the blanks, asking, "What happens after the last frame of the episode/movie?" and "What did this character do between this episode and that?" and especially "What makes this character the person they are?" Whatever my next project, I wouldn't mind doing some more in-depth character study, as I got a chance to do with Uhura in Catalyst of Sorrows, and with Pike in Burning Dreams.


In addition to Burning Dreams hitting book stores and online retailers in August, Margaret Wander Bonanno's classic novel Strangers from the Sky has been reissued by Pocket as part of their celebration of Star Trek's 40th Anniversary.

This new paperback edition of Strangers from the Sky, which has new cover art and a new introduction written by Margaret, is available now.

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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.