Interview with David Mack

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Kopernikus, Dec 9, 2007.

  1. Kopernikus

    Kopernikus Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2004
    Location:
    Hamburg, Germany
    A Couple of weeks ago, the German Fanpage Trekzone.de made an Interview with Trek Author David Mack for our Trek-Literature-Newsletter, which is being published all three Months. After corresponding with David, we decided, that this interesting conversation should not be limited to the readers of our Newsletter, and so here's the English version of it. I hope, you find the text as interesting and entertaining as we did.
    Once again, a big thank you the David Mack, for his time,patience and cooperation, hopefully this will only be the start for many more Interviews of this kind.

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    Q:
    How did you come to write for Star Trek, and how long have you worked in the science-fiction genre?

    A:
    This is a very long story.

    I started writing science-fiction stories when I was a young boy; I think I was around 8 or 9 years old. Some of my amateur work was published in children’s sci-fi magazines, and I’ve been a fan of SF movies, TV shows, books and comic books since I was old enough to read.
    The first time I saw Star Trek was in the early 1970s, as a child watching it in syndicated reruns on daytime television. I grew up watching the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and the rest of the Enterprise crew.

    In early 1988, when I was finishing my freshman year of college at NYU Film School in New York, the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation announced that, beginning in its second season, it would accept teleplays from anyone who wanted a chance to write for the show. I immediately started working on a teleplay that I was certain would knock their socks off. I don’t remember much about that script now, but I’m certain it was awful and would have cost far too much to produce.

    I spent the next several years writing scripts and sending them in, and all of them were rejected. Eventually, in 1994, I became discouraged with being rejected by the TV shows, and I decided I might try to write a Star Trek novel instead.

    A friend of mine from college suggested I meet a new acquaintance of his, a man named John Ordover. John was, at that time, one of the editors who was buying and developing Star Trek novels for Pocket Books. John wanted to make some new contacts in the magazine industry, for which I worked, so that he could sell some freelance articles. We met at lunch one day, and he gave me a copy of the writers’ guidelines for the Star Trek novels. I went home, read the rules, and discovered that my new novel idea broke every rule on the page. So I tossed my novel idea in the trash and never spoke of it again.

    Several weeks later, after I had continued going to lunch with John and his friends, he asked if I was going to send in my novel idea. I told him that, once I realized it had violated the official guidelines, I had decided not to waste his time with it. He was so grateful for my professional courtesy that we became fast friends.

    We became a writing team in 1995, because we each had what the other one needed to succeed. John had the privilege of being able to set up meetings, just by making a phone call, with the people who ran the Star Trek TV series (which by that time were Deep Space Nine and Voyager). I had professional training in how to write scripts for film and television.
    John got us a meeting, and we made three sales in just a few weeks. The first sale was to Voyager, but that episode was never produced. (That’s another long story.) Our next sales were to Deep Space Nine; one idea they bought and produced right away (the fourth-season episode “Starship Down”). The other they had to think about for three years (the seventh-season episode “It’s Only a Paper Moon”).

    As I started to realize that my TV-writing career was not going to be a runaway success, I began looking for freelance work in the Star Trek Department at Pocket Books. I started out reading “slush” (unsolicited manuscripts sent in by aspiring writers); my job was to find a reason to reject each manuscript and write a form rejection letter. I also wrote reference materials for use in the office and by other writers (such as the Star Trek: New Frontier Minipedia, which I wrote for Peter David). It wasn’t glamorous or exciting work, but it paid off my student loans.

    That work led to me being invited to write a 5,000-word piece about the Genesis Device from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, to fill out the page count of John Vornholt’s novel The Genesis Wave, Book One. I was given three days to write that piece, and I did it. (It’s now Chapter 14 of that novel.) As a reward, I was invited to write my first full-length book, The Starfleet Survival Guide, in 2000.

    After I finished the Survival Guide, John and Keith R.A. DeCandido invited me to pitch stories to their new line of eBooks, Star Trek: S.C.E. (Starfleet Corps of Engineers). My first professional work of prose fiction was the eBook novella “Invincible,” which I co-wrote with Keith. After that project, I was hooked on writing novels. I followed that project with my eBook short novel Wildfire, which became an eBook best-seller and a critical success.
    A few months after the publication of Wildfire, I was invited by John Ordover to step up to the “major leagues” by taking on a two-novel project as part of the nine-book 2004 “A Time to...” miniseries for the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. My two books, A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal, got very good reviews, and A Time to Heal became a USA Today best-seller and a Locus Magazine #1 best-seller.
    Since then, I’ve been continuing to work on new novels every year, most of them for Star Trek, but with two notable exceptions.

    Q:
    Which of your books would you call your best? Is there a book of yours that you would like to rewrite or make vanish from existence?

    A:
    That is a difficult question to answer. I won’t call any of them my “best,” because I don’t think they can be measured that way. There is something that I like about every book or story I’ve written, and things about each of them that I don’t like.

    Wildfire is the most tragic of my stories so far.

    Failsafe was the grittiest and the most overtly allegorical.

    A Time to Kill is the fastest-paced and most action-packed.

    A Time to Heal is the most politically inflammatory and the most violent.

    Small World is the most hopeful and optimistic.

    Harbinger is the most complex, emotionally and politically.

    Warpath is the most misunderstood novel I’ve written, and the most underrated.

    The Sorrows of Empire is the one I find most inspiring.

    Road of Bones is the most physical and the most melancholy.

    Reap the Whirlwind is the most epic in scope … so far.

    None of my books so far have disappointed me so much that I would want to rewrite them. I can think of a line or two in a few of them that I might change, but overall I am quite pleased with the way all my books have turned out.

    Q:
    Next year (2008) one of your Star Trek books (Vanguard: Harbinger) will be published in Germany for the first time. What do you think about that, and do you want to say something to your German fans?

    A:
    I’m very excited to know that my work will be reaching a new audience, especially one with a reputation for sophistication and a taste for more mature, complex stories. I must confess, however, that I am nervous about the idea of my novel being translated into another language. Much of my work relies on metaphor and the use of English idioms, and because I do not read or speak German, I will have no way of knowing how well my words have transliterated into your language.

    Q:
    You are one of the principal creative partners who developed Vanguard. What can you tell us about the future of the series and the next books?

    A:
    Right now, my friends and creative partners in the series, Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, are working on the outline for book four of the series. I am told that they have not yet chosen a title. I have only the vaguest idea of what they plan to do, but they have hinted to me that it will be something grand in scope and completely different from any of the previous Vanguard books.

    I have some ideas of my own for the fifth Vanguard book, but I don’t know yet if there will be any desire for a fifth book — or, if there is, whether my editor will want me to be the person to write it.

    The one thing I would tell readers of Vanguard to look forward to is new thrills and surprises. One of the fun things about working with guys like Dayton and Kevin is that we enjoy trying to out-do each other, and we create dangling story threads and cliffhangers that we leave the other to solve. It’s kind of a sadistic game.

    Q:
    Your next great project is the crossover trilogy Star Trek Destiny. What is the story behind Destiny? Is there something you can tell us about it?

    A:
    Destiny is the biggest, most complex, and most ambitious project of my career so far. Most of its story is still considered “top secret” by my editors and publisher.

    All I can tell you is what’s already been announced: It will feature the crews of the Enterprise and the Titan (Captain Riker’s ship), as well some characters from the Deep Space Nine post-finale novels, and a number of other characters from across the entire shared Star Trek literary universe. It will build on events in previous TNG post-Nemesis novels — particularly Resistance, Before Dishonor, and Greater Than the Sum — and it will shed new light on various mysteries from Star Trek’s past.

    Q:
    Are you on schedule with Destiny? Will the three novels be published in October, November and December of 2008 as planned?

    I turned in the first book, Gods of Night, on time at the end of September, and I am currently close to on-schedule in my work on book two, Mere Mortals. If all goes well, I will finish book two and turn it in to my editors in January after the holidays, at which time I will start writing book three, Lost Souls, which is scheduled to be handed in to my editors by the first week of April, 2008.

    Barring any unforeseen disasters, all three books should be published on time.

    Q:
    With Wildfire you wrote one of the famous Star Trek: Corps of Engineers stories. Will you write again for that series?

    A:
    I wrote two S.C.E. novellas after Wildfire. The first was Failsafe, recently published as part of the trade paperback collection Corps of Engineers: Grand Designs. The other was Small World, which is about to be published in the United States as the final story in the trade paperback collection Corps of Engineers: Creative Couplings.

    At this time, I have no plans to write any further stories in that series.

    Q:
    What stories will you be working on after Destiny? Are you writing any books that are not about Star Trek?

    A:
    Glad you asked! I just sold my first original novel to my longtime Star Trek editor, Marco Palmieri. The book is titled The Calling, and it’s about a man who sometimes can hear when other people pray for help. His most recent summons brings him to the aid of a kidnapped little girl, and reveals to him his true role in an ancient and ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil. I’ll be starting work on the manuscript as soon as I finish the Destiny trilogy. The Calling is scheduled for publication some time in 2009.

    Q:
    In past you have written scripts for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Are there differences between writing of scripts and novels? Which do you prefer?

    A:
    There are many diffferences.

    TV scripts are very short, about 55 to 60 pages. They have very few words on the page. The follow extremely strict rules about formatting and content. The only senses that they speak to are visual and auditory. As a general rule, they don’t go inside characters’ heads to tell you what they’re thinking. And people who write them get paid an outrageous sum of money.

    Novels are very long, averaging 400+ pages, and they have a lot of words on a page. They are flexible in their style and format, and they can give the reader insight into characters’ thoughts and all their physical senses, including touch, smell, and taste. And, except for a rare few individuals, most people who write them get paid shit.

    Another key difference is that when one writes for television (at least, in the United States), it is a very collaborative process. Many writers on a TV show’s writing staff might make uncredited contributions to a script before it is produced. Chief among these contributors is a show’s executive producer, also called a “showrunner”. On most TV series, the showrunner makes uncredited rewrites of every script, to make sure that they all have a consistent “tone” or “voice” — i.e., so that the characters sound the same from one week to the next.

    In novels, there is only the novelist. One writer shapes the words on the page. As a result, a novelist has much greater control over the final product than a freelance TV writer.

    The only thing that I like better about TV writing is the money. In all other respects, I am happier as a novelist.

    Q:
    What kind of books do you read in your spare time? And what is your favorite book?

    A:
    I don’t read many books these days, because I try not to read other people’s fiction when I am in the middle of working on my own. I want to avoid accidentally being influenced by another writer’s voice or inadvertently channeling any of their phrases or ideas into my own work. Most of my recreational reading is from magazines — The New Yorker, Scientific American, and Nature.

    On those rare occasions lately when I do get to open a book, it is often poetry. I am an avid fan of the work of T. S. Eliot and W. S. Merwin. I have also recently taken an interest in the Coleman Barks translations of the work of 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.

    Some of my favorite authors include Richard Brautigan, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Warren Ellis, William Shakespeare, and Edgar Allan Poe.

    I don’t really have a “favorite book”. There are too many for me to even begin a list. Dozens, at least.

    Q:
    And finally our TrekZone Network question: Where do you see mankind in 100 years?

    A:
    Living on high ground, as our coastal cities will all have been swallowed by the sea.


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    Related Links:

    Trekzone network, German Star Trek Fanpage: www.trekzone.de

    The Literature-Section, including the Newsletter: http://www.trekzone.de/content/literatur

    David Macks Homepage: http://www.infinitydog.com/
     
  2. Turtletrekker

    Turtletrekker Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Great interview. Thanks for sharing!
     
  3. TGTheodore

    TGTheodore Writer Admiral

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    David --

    I already smell Hollywood coming for The Calling. Great premise!!!

    (And nice interview!)

    --Ted

    P.S. If the strike's over and you're overbooked, DIBS on writing the screenplay. Well ... I tried ...
     
  4. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Thanks for listing the interview here.
     
  5. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    That was really interesting, thanks for posting it. So Destiny's plot is top secret? I don't think any two words could have possibly peaked my curiosity any more.
     
  6. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    Yup, we've already had calls.

    Thanks! I'm about to answer another set of questions from the same folks. The second interview will also be translated and printed as part of the German-language version of Harbinger.

    Nice try. :)
     
  7. JAG

    JAG Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Nice interview.
     
  8. Smiley

    Smiley Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That's a very interesting interview. Thanks for sharing.

    One item stood out to me as I was reading the transcript. Why do you consider Warpath underrated, David?
     
  9. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

    Joined:
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    ^ When it first came out, a lot of people who commented on it, either here, on Amazon, or to me at conventions, dismissed it as nothing more than an action piece that did nothing to advance the overall storyline of the post-finale DS9 books. There are clues to future DS9 novels' story arcs embedded in different parts of the narrative, but because they will become "obvious" only in retrospect, some readers have assumed the book is just a "waste of time" --- especially since it ends on a cliffhanger.

    Other readers accused me of lifting the ending sequence from Aliens (which is ridiculous -- the parallels are superficial at best, and could be applied to many other SF films and books published before and after Aliens -- it has as much in common with the end of Return of the Jedi). In fact, the visual symbolism at work in the final Prynn/Vaughn sequence in Grennokar is rooted in the psychology of confronting depression caused by a dysfunctional father-child relationship.

    Another issue that has plagued me is that it suffers from "middle chapter syndrome". Some of my friends and family tried to be supportive of my work by reading the book, only to find themselves hopelessly lost. Warpath is so dependent upon the reader's familiarity with the complex, ongoing narrative of the PF-DS9 books that it really can't be enjoyed on its own. By contrast, my TNG duology, my Vanguard books, my Mirror Universe story, and my Wolverine novel all can be read and enjoyed on their own.

    I'm still proud of the book itself. Line by line, and in the context of its series' big picture, I think it works. The bottom line regarding Warpath is that it is exactly what I was asked to deliver. Marco hired me to write a fast-paced, action-oriented adventure ride, and that's what I did.
     
  10. T'Bonz

    T'Bonz Romulan Curmudgeon Administrator

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    I'm a big fan of the post-DS9 series and I found Warpath to be an excellent book. It was fast-paced and hard to put down once I began reading it.
     
  11. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    ^ Well, thank you. Much appreciated. :)
     
  12. captcalhoun

    captcalhoun Admiral Admiral

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    i liked it and enjoyed it having only read Avatar I and II and Unity.
     
  13. JAG

    JAG Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I too enjoyed it greatly. Thanks for asking that followup, because I was wondering that same thing.
     
  14. BrotherBenny

    BrotherBenny Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I really enjoyed Warpath. It was complex but if I wanted something simple, I would read a Stargate or Star Wars novel.
     
  15. lvsxy808

    lvsxy808 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    ^^^ Exactly - i read the DS9 books precisely for the continuing narrative aspect and I enjoy picking out foreshadowing bits here and there. I've read and re-read Warpath many times, and enjoy it every time. Yes, it's complex and dependent on what comes before and after, but that's exactly what suits me, and it's still in a way to make you think and wonder about things, not in a way to make you go WTF.

    So worry ye not, David, it is appreciated here.

    I can't believe that people said it was "not connected to the arc." It's nothing but the arc, from many different perspectives. Plus, Taran'atar really does rule in the highest as a character.
     
  16. Reanok

    Reanok Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Nice Interview, I've been extremely currious as to what will happen in future DS9 -R books storyarcs with the characters after Warpath and the hints of Ds9 we saw in the Good that Men Do.The complex story telling is what I like about this book series. :vulcan:I'm looking foward to getting the new books next year.
     
  17. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    I don't see how someone could think that. The book had a HUGE impact on the plot, and, it seemed to me at least, that it took the whole arc in an exiting new direction, and all of these things add up to make it one of my favorite DS9R books.
     
  18. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    ^ Thanks all. It's nice to hear that bit of affirmation once in a while. :)
     
  19. Scott Pearson

    Scott Pearson Writer Captain

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    Were I a big enough man to feel anything but resentment about other people's well-deserved success, I'd say something supportive now. However . . . ;)

    Seriously, well done. Here's hoping the new book gets optioned quickly. The only thing I'm concerned about is that as you move up in your career, might it not become more difficult to stick Marco with the bar tab?
     
  20. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    It's my sincere hope that I get to win (lose?) my reverse bet with KRAD (i.e., a wager in which it's the winner who has to pay up). Whichever one of us hits #1 on the New York Times best-selling fiction list first has to buy a bottle of 30-year-old Macallan and pour the other a drink.

    I look forward to paying up one day soon.... ;)