Transporting Down to Planet “Star Trek”

Many people like Star Trek in one form or another. Plenty of people love Star Trek. At this point, I live Star Trek.

A fan of science fiction, my father watched the original series with relish. After being canceled just three seasons in, the show went into syndication and quickly became wildly successful in its stripped, rerun episodes—more successful, even, than it had been during its initial run on prime-time network television. Introduced to the show by my father, I grew up watching and loving it. The spaceships and the aliens were cool, the transporters and the phasers too, and the series featured a compelling triad of heroes. But even when I watched the show as a boy, the reason Star Trek appealed to me so much derived not from its trappings, but from the themes built into its makeup. I might not have had the language to describe what I saw, or even the awareness to fully understand it, but I felt the impact of the show as it looked forward to an optimistic future for humanity—a future that promised inclusiveness, that offered a positive version of a just and equality-minded society.

At the same time, I learned to love reading, a never-ending gift bestowed upon my sister and me by our mother. And not long after I began reading novels for pleasure as a youngster, I felt the desire to tell stories, and more specifically, to write them. I think most of my wanting to put my tales down on paper (or on a computer screen) came from my enjoyment of reading, but I don’t doubt that my father influenced me as well, given that he earned a living, at least in part, by writing stories. In fact, my father’s father also wrote, penning a short novel called Death Meets the Deadline. (Oddly enough, the thin book was billed as—wait for it—a Vulcan Mystery Paperback Digest Original.) Even my great uncle got into the act, having three nonfiction books published. So maybe in addition to being nurtured as a reader and prospective storyteller by my mother, my nature came prepackaged with writing genes.

Whatever the case, my love of reading, my impulse to write, and my appreciation for Star Trek soon blended—or would melded be a better word to use? I don’t know when I first started to write a Captain Kirk story—a tale I envisioned as a full-length novel—but I might’ve been ten or twelve, perhaps in my early teens. I still remember a lot about it. For one thing, I called it Earthbound, and much of the story unfolded in Jim Kirk’s youth, exploring the circumstances of his childhood and the passions that propelled him into space and onto his path to become the commanding officer of a starship. I knew even then that I wanted to be a writer, and I genuinely believed that I would someday sell a Star Trek novel—perhaps not even a distant someday, as I fully expected to see Earthbound in print. (I also harbored no doubts that I would get my James Bond novel, Absolute Zero, published.)

Cut to years later, to the office of Michael Piller, nestled in the Hart Building on the Paramount Pictures lot. At the time, I resided in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I had flown down to Los Angeles so that my Los Angeles-based friend and I could pitch to the newest entry in the Trek franchise, Voyager. I owed that opportunity partially to my friend, who worked on the show, and partially to Mr. Piller, who, unlike virtually every other television show runner in Hollywood—then or now—maintained an open submission policy. Voyager had yet to air, but production had begun on the nascent series, and my friend procured the show’s bible. Amazingly, we sold the first story we pitched, which we initially called “Metathesis,” and which eventually came to be known as “Prime Factors.” It aired as the tenth hour of Voyager’s first season.

After that, we decided to pitch to another of the Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine. It turned out that one of the actors on the show—Armin Shimerman, who portrayed Quark—also wanted to write. Armin had already co-written a then-soon-to-be-published novel, The Merchant Prince, and he had the urge to do more. My friend and I got together with Armin and crafted three or four stories, which we eventually pitched to the show’s writer-producers. That time, we didn’t make a sale. On the way out of the Hart Building, though, Armin suggested that we try turning one of our stories into a novel. Our friend had no interest in such an endeavor, but I contacted Simon & Schuster, the company that held the licensing rights to publish Star Trek fiction. I spoke with a man named John Ordover, who at the time worked as an editor on the Trek line for Pocket Books, an S&S imprint. I tried to sell Mr. Ordover on having the name of one of Deep Space Nine’s actors on the cover of a DSN book, but while he liked the idea, he also informed me that we would have to go through the same process as anybody else attempting to sell him a Trek novel: we would have to submit a narrative outline, providing a full story, with a beginning, middle, and end, as well as fleshed-out characters arcs for our heroes (and, presumably, for their antagonists). If he liked the outline, Mr. Ordover would then require us to write the first fifty or so pages of the novel for him, at which point he would decide whether or not to hire Armin and me.

That sounded like a lot of work, with potentially no reward, but Armin and I decided to give it a shot. We got together numerous times over about three weeks in order to expand the story we had chosen to write, a tale that featured Armin’s character and would function as an allegory for the immoral detention of Japanese-Americans in the United States during World War II. We knew that writing a television story to fill forty-five minutes of airtime differed greatly from writing a three-hundred-page book (and the novel would ultimately end up clocking in at 135,000 words and 425 pages!). For one thing, we needed more story. For another, we would have to get inside the heads of the characters in a way that we couldn’t in a television episode.We also recognized that having so much space in which to unfurl our tale would allow us to spin a more complex yarn.

Finally, Armin and I completed the outline and I sent it to Mr. Ordover via facsimile (remember, this was the 1990s). We called our tale War Is Good for Business. We fervently hoped that the editor would like our story enough that he would ultimately solicit the first fifty pages of the novel, which would then help us sell him the book. Instead, fifteen minutes after faxing the outline to Mr. Ordover, he called me and offered to buy our novel. Surprised and a bit confused, I asked about the requirement that Armin and I produce the first fifty pages of the book. Mr. Ordover told me that would no longer be necessary because he could tell from the outline that we knew how to write. That made us feel good. Signing a contract shortly after that made us feel even better.

Armin and I had already discussed how we would write the novel. We would largely follow the plan we’d used in creating the outline: I would write a draft of a chapter, then give it to Armin so that he could read it, edit it, add to it, delete from it. He would then pass it back to me, and we would go back and forth with each chapter until we both agreed to move on to the next. I believed that process would work for us. Even though I had never written a novel—my abortive attempts at Earthbound and Absolute Zero notwithstanding—I felt confident that I could deliver. For his part, Armin had already co-written The Merchant Prince, so it seemed reasonable to think he had a handle on how to finish a book.

But then something happened—something wonderful. I set to work on the first chapter, rounded it into shape, then e-mailed it over to Armin. Soon afterward, he left a message for me on my answering machine (again, this was the ’90s). I wish I still had that message. Armin offered praise for my prose, declaring that he loved my writing and saw no reason to change any of it. I called him and thanked him. We spoke about what we should do, and we agreed that I should just move on to the second chapter. After I sent that to Armin and he read it, he suggested that I simply write the book myself. Unexpectedly, I greeted the proposition with relief. When we’d begun actually working on the novel, I’d thought I would have no problem doing so as part of a team. I quickly discovered that, at least for me, writing in long form is best accomplished as a solitary undertaking.

I agreed to write the novel on my own. Early on, I changed the title to The 34th Rule, which Armin liked. I also reminded Armin that both his name and mine would be on the cover of the book and on its title page, and told him that he probably shouldn’t reveal to people that he collaborated only on the original story and outline. But that didn’t stop him from telling people that I had written the book by myself; I’ve heard him say so in public many times. I appreciate his honesty. For the record, he’s almost nothing like Quark (but for his rakish good looks, of course)!

Anyway, that’s the story of my first foray into writing Star Trek literature. I would make many more. Not that long ago, I completed my eighteenth Trek novel, currently scheduled as a January 2018 release, meaning that it will be out at the end of December this year. So how did I end up writing seventeen more Star Trek novels after The 34th Rule? Well, that’s a tale—or many tales—for another time.