Josepha Sherman & Susan ShwartzBy Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at August 13, 2004 - 10:49 AM GMT
"No man succeeds without a good woman behind him." In the world of Star Trek literature that quotation could apply to the character of Spock. Over the years novels that focus on the beloved half-human, half-Vulcan character have been extremely popular and the most successful of those novels have been written by women. In 1997 authors Josepha Sherman and Susan Shwartz joined the ranks of Star Trek authors and choose as their subject, you guessed it...Spock.
The success of Vulcan's Forge and Vulcan's Heart, both critically acclaimed national bestsellers, brought Josepha Sherman and Susan Shwartz to the attention of many Star Trek fans for the first time although both were already familiar names to readers of the science fiction and fantasy genres.
Among Josepha Sherman's numerous writing credits are The Shining Falcon, for which she was awarded the prestigious Compton Crook Award for best fantasy novel. Over the years she has also penned such books as Child Of Faerie, Child Of Earth, the national bestsellers Castle Of Deception and A Cast Of Corbies (with Mercedes Lackey), A Strange And Ancient Name, Windleaf, Gleaming Bright and the national bestseller The Chaos Gate. Also a noted folklorist, Sherman's credits in that area are equally impressive and include such titles as Once Upon a Galaxy, Trickster Tales and Merlin's Kin: Tales of the Hero Magicians.
Twice nominated for the Hugo award and five times for the Nebula, Susan Shwartz has also built up a long list of writing credits. Among her most recent books are Second Chances, a retelling of Lord Jim and a collection of short fiction called Suppose They Gave a Peace and Other Stories. Other works include The Grail of Hearts, a revisionist retelling of Wagner’s Parsifal, and for Tor publishing the Byzantium novels Shards of the Empire and Cross and Crescent.
They have both been pretty busy ladies of late, individually contributing stories to the New Frontier anthology No Limits and collaboratively the tale "Blood Sacrifice" to the just released anthology Tales of the Dominion War. As if that wasn't enough, they have also just released Exodus, the first book in their much-anticipated Vulcan's Soul trilogy.
Josepha and Susan were kind enough to take the time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions about their writing.
Trek Nation: Your first Star Trek novel, 1997's Vulcan’s Forge, was I believe not only your first Star Trek novel, but also your first collaboration. How did your writing collaboration come about?
Susan: John Ordover had asked us both to come up with Trek ideas. Josepha and I were both swamped, and she suggested collaboration. We both were silly enough to think that it would mean half the work. Hah.
Josepha: The rest is history.
Trek Nation: Right from the beginning, you seem to write with one voice. That's something many writing teams have to work hard to achieve. How did that develop?
Susan: Editing and re-editing, writing and rewriting.
Josepha: We alternate chapters, and then edit each other's work.
Susan: Our actual styles are quite different, so this was tricky. For Vulcan's Soul, however, we divided the threads by time period. I'm doing ancient Vulcan and the Exile, which calls for a different style than the story that takes place after the Dominion War.
Trek Nation: Is this the first time you've divided the writing by thread? Or has that been the case with your previous books as well?
Susan: This is the first time we've divided the writing by thread. It's kind of interesting.
Trek Nation: Why did you choose to write about Spock?
Susan: I have always been a Spock fan. Always. Besides, as a researcher, I've always gravitated toward the center of any subject, and Spock is at Star Trek's core.
Josepha: He's a fascinating character, being of two worlds, with a good deal of mystery below that calm surface.
Trek Nation: Could you expand on that a bit Susan — why you feel that way?
Susan: It's probably an illogical feeling, but Spock is the son of one of the most eminent figures in Federation history. Non-canonical Trek-tradition says that he's of the same house as Surak, so keeping that as subtext makes him even more central. There's his entry into Starfleet and his work toward Unification. And some of it is simply writer's instinct because he really is a fascinating character.
Trek Nation: How influenced were you by the writings of fellow Star Trek novelists like Ann Crispin, Margaret Wander Bonanno and Diane Duane, authors known for their writings about the Vulcans and Romulans?
Susan: They're all friends and colleagues. I'd say I personally was influenced in that we've tried to create a continuity that is friendly to what Ann, Margaret, and Diane have written.
Josepha: Actually, I tried not to reread them. I didn't want to be too influenced.
Trek Nation: 1999's Vulcan's Heart included an event many fans had long hoped for, the marriage of Spock and Saavik. Were you surprised when that was approved?
Josepha: You betcha!
Susan: Surprised wasn't the word for it! I'm afraid I grinned and giggled. Then, I started thinking of ways to maximize complexity. "Pon farr in the middle of the Romulan empire" came to mind far more rapidly than it should have for any sane life form.
Trek Nation: Vulcan's Soul was delayed when the plot of Star Trek: Nemesis became known. That must have been frustrating. Could you clarify what happened?
Susan: It was definitely frustrating. Because of the film, we had to plot and replot, which was also frustrating — not to mention some perfectly lovely continuity that we couldn't use. Then, I realized that we would get to do the retroactive continuity for Remus as it appears in Nemesis, and that I'd have to do some scientific research to try to create a scientific rationale for it — and that sounded like a whole lot of fun. I'm very close to the part when I start to work on that now. I'm really looking forward to writing that part.
Josepha: Paramount wanted to be sure we weren't treading on any toes. We got to read the script (after signing a confidentiality document) and were able to assure them there was no conflict. But time is often different in Hollywood!
Trek Nation: Vulcan's Forge explored why Spock choose to leave Starfleet and serve as an ambassador and work toward a reconciliation of the Sundering. Now in Vulcan's Soul, you are telling the story of the Sundering. Did you have any idea when you were writing Vulcan's Forge that you would have the opportunity to tell that story?
Josepha: Not really. One can but hope.
Susan: Never. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity. I can't begin to say how excited I am by the plot lines we've been permitted to develop — straight up the center of the Star Trek consensus.
Trek Nation: Which plot line have you enjoyed the most?
Susan: All of it. I really see it as one continuing story. Personally, I'm the sort of writer who works with a long, detailed time line and histories of each character I'm writing, so there's background material on each of them that readers will probably never see, but that I know and that I dip into each time I need a plot point. I know that sounds like an incredible wuss-out, but it's really how I write.
Trek Nation: Vulcan's Soul, like your previous two novels features the Romulan Ruanek, a character many fans have grown quite attached to. What was the initial inspiration for Ruanek?
Josepha: Ruanek started life as a spear-carrier in Vulcan's Forge. Then he took on a life of his own. This does happen to writers!
Susan: We needed a spear-carrier on Obsidian to whom Avrak could give orders, a minor officer in charge of other Romulans. I did the first draft of that chapter, so I remember. I was happily creating an oppressive heat, too much light, and a really terrible desert for this Centurion to find himself in the middle of. Then, I realized that the officer was nervous. He was one of the honorable Romulans, like Mark Lenard's Romulan Commander in "Balance of Terror", so he was seriously unhappy about the situation. He knew he was going to be used and thrown away. And he was very young: too young to be that disillusioned. Then, after Ruanek and his team kidnapped McCoy and he managed to keep almost level in one of McCoy's games of insults, Jo and I realized we had something here: one of the sorts of secondary characters to whom people become attached. And he sort of grew from there.
Trek Nation: Spock, as a character, has evolved in many ways over the years, he now seems at peace with his dual nature. In your novels that evolution has been very pronounced since you've explored both his past and his present. How important has it been for you to have the opportunity to explore that evolution?
Susan: Seeing as he's an even more prominent figure in the Federation than his father, I'd say it's critical. And personally, as someone who's been a fan since the late 1960s, I regard it as a tremendous privilege to be entrusted with these characters and told, "You get to deal with these things."
Josepha: Very important! As I said earlier, he's a fascinating character with so much material for a writer to develop.
Trek Nation: I couldn't help but notice that he has lightened up even more in Vulcan's Soul, and he is obviously still very attracted to Saavik. There is a certain, shall we say, sexual tension between the two. How much fun is it to portray their relationship?
Josepha: A lot of fun! I got a personal kick out of the scene in chapter one of Vulcan's Soul, where Saavik runs that finger across his hand.
Susan: It's a riot. Purely and simply, it's a riot to show two characters that love each other profoundly, but are constrained by Vulcan control. Technically, it's an exercise in nuance and restraint. But face it, he's half-human; she's half-Romulan. They're crazy about each other, but their Vulcan halves make them behave before McCoy can tell them to get a room.
Trek Nation: Any chance that there might be the pitter-patter of little feet someday?
Susan: I never thought anyone would be allowed to marry Spock off, much less allowing the lady to survive, and LEAST OF ALL that I'd be one of the people writing the story! I think, though, that it's best to leave the family planning to Paramount.
Trek Nation: You have also contributed a short story to the new anthology Tales of the Dominion War. How did you decide what story you wanted to tell for that anthology?
Susan: It seemed — pardon the expression — logical to tell a Spock story. The entry of the Romulan Star Empire into the Dominion War is a crucial moment in history, and Spock's on Romulus, so he must have done SOMETHING. And there was Cretak, who is a character I rather like; and we had the old Emperor, and one thing followed the other quite logically…that is, if you think in a peculiarly twisted fashion.
Josepha: I think we both wanted to resolve what became of the late Emperor. And Ruanek seemed the logical choice for an avenger.
Trek Nation: In the New Frontier anthology No Limits you each tackle telling a story about the past of one of the New Frontier characters. It wasn't surprising to see Susan choose to tell a Soleta story, given her heritage, but Josepha why did you choose Si Cwan?
Josepha: I find Si Cwan a fun character in the old-fashioned romantic sense: the nobleman in exile who is secretly a good guy.
Trek Nation: I know you are hard at work writing the second book of the Vulcan's Soul trilogy, Exiles, which is due out next year. What else are you each working on?
Susan: I've just finished the galleys on Hostile Takeover (Tor), which is a novel in which I put my twenty years of financial-services experience on Wall Street to work. It's a novel of First Contact, interplanetary investments, the Asteroid Belt, and some seriously crooked traders. It's probably the most satirical book I've ever written, and it's even kind of funny — a book that's a love story, a detective story, a techno-thriller and a satire all rolled up into one.
Josepha: I just finished a children's book on an eighteenth century scientist, Henry Cavendish, who was a strange genius. (He may have had a form of autism.) I have Magic Hoofbeats, a book of horse folklore coming out next month, and Andromeda: Through the Looking Glass coming out in December. Sometime in the next year, a fantasy collaboration with Mercedes Lackey, Stone Souls comes out. And I am meanwhile running my small business, Sherman Editorial Services.
Vulcan's Soul, Book One: Exodus is now available in bookstores and at online book retailers in both hardback and audio. You can learn more about Susan Shwartz at her web site www.sff.net/people/SusanShwartz/ and Josepha Sherman's site can be found at www.josephasherman.com.
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.