Book Club Choice #1 Author Q&A

Book Club Choice #1 Author Q & A

Q&A with jespah

Technically, this is more QQQ’s and whatever A’s I can get from jespah. But I imagined myself sitting down in front of a crackling fire in a book lined library with my dear associate jespah and conversing with her about her writing.

Here then, is some of those ponderings.

Beginning with Paving Stones, why the Mirror Universe? Why Doug? Simple enough questions, but given the wealth and range of your own expanded universe, why did you seek to explore the Mirror Universe too? In relation to that, why the focus here and elsewhere on a character who was only a recurring character for a season on Prime ENT?

I adore Steven Culp and I think he had the potential to be more. Culp himself says he was originally hired for a 10-episode arc, and then it was cut to 5. And there are a few Xindi arc episodes where I can see they were probably originally considering him, but someone else was thrown in, possibly to save $$ or maybe to not move his little arc-let along. In order for Hayes to live, I had to either go the AU route or the MU route, or write him earlier (which I also do). 

This story also stems from the first really serious fan fic story I wrote, Reversal, which pairs the prime universe with the MU, as they alternate. The MU representative there is Doug. A bit of his history is mentioned, particularly his schooling, but it’s not much, and I had wanted to expand upon it. Paving Stones was also written for the pathways challenge and I had thought of more positive early days experiences for characters but I could not get the idea of indoctrination out of my head.

So Doug gets his back story or at least some of it as the MU is expanded upon. My own prime universe was, at the time, large but not quite as sprawling.

You’ve taken a certain delight in writing Empress Hoshi, creating her own little harem that uses as a means of control. Empress Hoshi only appeared in the one episode and in many ways the Prime Hoshi was sorely underused in canon. So what made you take on the role with such relish? Was it a greater challenge with so little material to work from or did it afford a greater liberty with the storytelling opportunities?

All of that. I see the MU as a rather totalitarian state, and the idea of a futuristic female Caligula was very appealing. Plus there’s the obvious contrast to Prime Hoshi, who was originally the show’s screamer character, afraid of a little turbulence. With very little broadcast on either version of Hoshi,  it wasn’t much different from creating my own character. As for her harem, they exist to serve her, as bed mates, as sires and as officers. The six royal children correspond to the six O’Day-Beckett-Madden-Reed children, and most of them even meet, in Temper.

One of the most striking aspects of the piece for me was the 5 tenets. It was chilling that there was such a degree of indoctrination. It offered a truly dark underbelly to the Mirror Universe and goes some way to explain how the Terran Empire got such a grip on Earth. In a way, if offered a Big Brother type aspect to the proceedings. I know you’ve talked before about their basis but what prompted you to devise the five tenets? How did you decide on these particular signs?

The Big Brother aspect is definitely intentional. The MU, to me, should combine concepts such as 1984, where language and the media are perverted to the ends of the state; Tacitus’s look at the early Roman Empire, where Livia in particular slaughtered all sorts of people ruthlessly in order to get her son, Tiberius, into power; the history of Sparta, which was a militaristic state where families lived more or less in barracks; Hobbes’ The Leviathan, which is a dystopic society where everyone is out for themselves; Machiavelli’s The Prince, where the idea is to just sort of plow through people until you get your way; and Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, which teaches subtlety and looking at the big picture. Plus canon, of course.

Some of the five signs come out of Reversal. The concept of not telling someone you love them was in there. So was the idea of not showing physical weakness, and in that respect I also thought of chicken coops, where chickens peck at spots of blood on each other and that of course opens up more wounds. Delacroix being hot to get ahead, and Doug being somewhat cooperative, also come out of Reversal. He’s not called the old man in Reversal for nothing; he’s literally outlasted a lot of people, and it’s come from, eventually, learning how to step back and also how to cooperate a bit. In a piece like The Leviathan, people who work together are clearly at an enormous advantage over those who don’t, but most people in the MU, I feel, can’t let their guard down long enough to do so. Therefore, they stay small and powerless. This also keeps the Empire going. If the masses start to unionize, they’ll foment a revolution. And the Emperor, or Empress doesn’t want that.

Obviously, given that you’ve written a number of stories set within the Mirror Universe it something you are fond of and interested in exploring. Likewise, it is clear that Enterprise, that sorely maligned series, is a particular favourite of yours.

I love the redheaded stepchild!

Which of your story universes are you closest to or most proud of? (Choose a baby or all of them will perish!)

Eek! Must … choose! /Shatner.

I think the way I handled the E2 arc was good. The overall series is called Interphases but it doesn’t just include the E2 stuff. Interphases also includes Concord, Day of the Dead and Crackerjack, and I really adored putting those stories together. I will definitely dip into that again as the idea of plonking people into the past is just hard to resist.

Expanding on that some have you a particular favourite character or pairing within all your stories?

Book Club Choice #1

Lili O’Day by SLWalker

Lili O’Day by SLWalker

Lili O’Day is in a lot of ways my surrogate, and in other ways she isn’t, but she has the most dimensions. As for my favorite pairing with her, I’ve paired her with, ahem, six different guys – Doug, Jay, Malcolm, Ian (Malcolm’s counterpart), José Torres and José’s counterpart. In some ways, I think I prefer her with Jay the most, as it’s doomed.

When you do write, do you have a particular process? Do you plan the story? Do you beta the story or run the idea past someone? Is there an arc to your characters and stories or is it more organic? Do you listen to music as you write? Must you retire to the study and curl up with a cat on your lap? Do you scribble down stories on napkins and use lipstick on the mirror?

I am all over the place. Sometimes the prompt just compels me, and I just type. Other times, I hand write, or I will do that as a practical activity because I don’t like having a hot laptop on my lap (no cats; I’m allergic) and I’m not in the computer room for some reason. I do have arcs but they aren’t necessarily too clearly thought out. When I wrote Fortune, I completed a lot of character arcs so these days a lot of In Between Days short stories consists of filling that in. Times of the HG Wells was a fairly well thought-out series. I would start a book and ask myself, “What are you trying to accomplish here?” And then I would work toward that goal. I also keep a file of story ideas to reference, but they often turn out far differently when they’re done from how I’d originally envisioned them.

I don’t do the beta thing but I read my stuff to my husband. Admittedly, sometimes that’s after it’s been posted, so it’s not generally to change or replace things. When it is before, it’s part-sanity check, part-dialogue check. If he asks me too many questions about something, e. g., it means I need to explain things better.

What do you seek to explore when you write? Is the focus on characters, plot or theme?

I am much more of a characters person than probably anything else. The essence, for me, is to allow the reader into the characters’ various heads. Some are more forthcoming than others. Some come out with their language (the Daranaeans certainly do), others with their activities (the HG Wells people tend to come out this way).

It’s been said that writers reveal their own struggles, fears, dreams, etc. through their work. Which of your novels reveals the most about you?

Oh, man. On the Radio, which I think only partly succeeds, was written as I was processing a death that just kinda really hit home. Candy is a meditation on aging. I’m terrified of what happens to Josie, but how Kevin handles her is so loving – how do you deserve a love like that? A lot of feeling was put into Spring Thaw, too; it’s a story that covers a lot of ground. It, and Day of the Dead, are ways I’ve tried to process the Holocaust.

You are one of the most prolific fiction writers of our archive. What keeps you going? Where do you get your inspirations from?

Egad, lots of places. Truth is, I’m a little out of gas these days. What I try to do are some thought experiments. What happens five minutes after a canon episode ends? What happens after one of my own stories? Where did a character come from? Other inspirations are means of taking real-life current events or conditions and bringing them into the Trek era. We were talking about Orion slavery on a recent Skype call and I wondered about an Orion Underground Railroad, that sort of thing.

You’ve told us some before in a blog (Where Did it All Begin?) about writing Trekfic but how did you come to Ad Astra?

I was Googling quality Star Trek fan fiction. I had been posting at Trek United, but they have gotten smaller and there is support in the sense of kindness but not in the sense of education or constructive criticism. To improve, you need more than people just saying, “You’re awesome!” It’s lovely to read that, but it doesn’t help people get better.

Care to tease our readers with any story plans you have in the pipeline?

Sports and Trek, right now. I have a Tellarite sport that crosses competitive eating and table tennis, no lie. But right now that series is really incoherent, and it desperately needs a direction. I’ve got unfinished stuff, and then there’s things like the underground railroad that I just mentioned which aren’t any further along than just a gleam in my eye.

Recently, you’ve been involved in the Multiverse Round Robin II. How have you found the experience? What has the collaborative aspect been like?

It’s been a trip and it’s been fun. Collaborating has been hit or miss, but that’s likely more because of my own schedule than for other reasons. Right now, I’m not working, so I’m uber-available. That means I have a draft and I’m able to get it out and then I sit back and wait. Also because of my schedule, I was free when others weren’t. Steff (if I recall correctly) had asked if I could make a bad guy, and if it could be Otra, because she was being presented as the sanest and most normal of the three of my people. Hence making her evil would throw in a very large monkey wrench. I ran with the idea, and then I screwed up by landing her in Maine instead of Montana. It worked out, though, because showing her trek across the continent gave depth to the post-nuclear US, I feel. I didn’t and don’t want this to just be a romp, where everything is made perfectly wonderfully luxurious and easy. The clearest way, I feel, to do this is to show the common people. So they come out, as addicts, or the guy tied to a chair on a median strip, or the diners serving increasing poor and radioactive and spoiled fare. 

There was a mentioning of carrying on something similar, where a group would work together and would continue producing. I assume this would be almost like United Trek, where authors band together, supporting and plotting together. I think that would be fun and it would also be the kind of thing that I feel could help to take me to the next level. I know there are plenty of places where I screw up, where I’ve had missed opportunities. To be reined in, in some ways, to be constructively critiqued but also not hobbled – I think that would be really helpful.

Which stories or authors or characters by other authors here on Ad Astra are your favourites? Obviously, we all are! But again, choose or all will perish. (Note to internet moderators, I have no actual powers to make anyone perish but ssssh!)

So much pressure! I read Captain Sarine’s and Intrepid Sovereign’s works recently, as a part of one of the challenges, and I loved a lot of what they did. They had characters who stayed with me. Same with funngunner. I haven’t read enough trekfan or kes7 but love what I have read. I think I like Steff’s MU work the most of hers. Templar Sora generally brings it, and I had not thought I would like his stuff initially, because I didn’t think I would care for anything out of STO.

I should add I also have loved CeJay’s work. The recent Twelve Trials reviewing challenges were some great ways to see stuff I had not seen before. I would recommend doing them maybe quarterly because this absolutely shook me up and the payoff was terrific.

The Three of Us

And to finish, we’ve had the pleasure of reading Paving Stones. If you would recommend a story of yours to others, which would it be?

Are you going to make me choose now? ;)

I think it would be the E2 arc, which is four books. Probably the crowning glory of that arc is The Three of Us. Lili, Malcolm and Jay are just all there, and the way they intertwine, I think it all works. The anti-version of that is the one that comes afterwards, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.

Thank you for asking! :)

Lastly, I want to give a big special thank you to jespah for being our guinea pig for the Book Club Choice. Thank you too for taking the time to answer my ramblings and of course for being so active in archive, forum and blogs. It was both intriguing to read the piece chosen as well as the following debate the rich material Paving Stones provided. However, it is thanks to its author who was so willing and so good spirited about her story being subject to such exposure and kicking off in such style.

Thank you jespah.

Boldly Reading, Miranda Fave