Book Club Choice #2 Author Q&A

Book Club Choice #2 Author Q & A

Once again, we find ourselves sitting in a book-lined library, a crackling fire nearby (none of the books are on fire), a tray of lovely canapés nearby. I am sitting here with Michael Garcia and we’re here to talk about Agamemnon.

Q: Why an Expanded Universe? How does this story fit in with your own plans for your universe? Is this a corner, or more of a cornerstone?


Book Club Choice #2 Author Q & A
A: I think in order to answer that, I have to talk a little bit about why I wrote Agamemnon in the first place. Just prior to writing The Quarterdeck Breed, I had finished writing The Misadventures of January McKenna, which was an alternate universe novella about a young ensign starting her career right as the entire universe is yanked out from under her. It was a fun story to write, and when I’d finished it, I kind of found that I had a lot of free time and motivation to write, but I hadn’t really landed on any projects that interested me. I had also just paid a metric ton of money to be enrolled in a writing workshop with Orson Scott Card as the instructor, so I got indoctrinated in his methodology of writing.The OSC experience opened my eyes on approaching my writing because I realized that I hadn’t thought about organizing myself in such a fashion. I’d taken a few dismal courses in creative writing at the local community colleges, but they weren’t helpful to me… in fact, one of them seemed to be more about the professor’s works than about me learning to write. So, my studies at this workshop kicked open a door to another plane of philosophy with respect to writing, and The Quarterdeck Breed was the fruit of those sessions. But, in order to meditate on that new philosophy, you need a focal point and Agamemnon was the point I chose. I wanted to try a character sketch rather than a story, and that’s what the episode turned out to be.


Expanded Universe provides a great opportunity to come up with something original while also staying within the warm Jacuzzi of the Trek universe. I think that writing Expanded Universe can also help a writer move into writing an entirely original universe story should she or he feel the desire to do so. I often use Expanded Universe stories to springboard to writing original fic, and vice versa… I think it’s a great opportunity to use forward momentum to produce. Also, fanfic is a great avenue to test out some experimental methods of writing and then use any acquired techniques for your original works.


Agamemnon was the beginning of The Quarterdeck Breed series to be sure, and both Hank Grayum and t’Aimne show up in some of my other works, but I don’t necessarily draw a line from one story to the other within my other works such as Full Speed Ahead. Clearly, those characters couldn’t possibly exist in the Borg-infested story line since I was trying to write within the scope of the canonical universe. I guess I don’t really think of my stories as being Expanded Universe as much as I like writing stories that weave into events that have already been seen on screen.


Q: The story begins at least with what can only be described as Richard James’s shell shock upon seeing the condition of the ship and the crew’s somewhat unconventional arrangements and relationships. He is, in some ways, a fish out of water. What sort of personal experiences did you draw upon for Rick’s discomfort and his baptism by fire?


A: My personal experiences with fish out of water situations is pretty legendary, but that’s because I like trying new things. I like to intentionally meet new people, embrace new roles in volunteer work, learn new skills, and turn things on their ear from time to time. I think you learn more about yourself when you’re put in those situations, and I also feel that as a writer, it really helps you draw from those experiences when trying to write different characters to give them a lot more depth than simple a new name or a gender.


Q: And what of the other side of it, the people in the apple cart he’s about to upset. Halley in particular has gotten, as you so succinctly put in your own review of the piece, her cheese moved. Is there someone or a group of someones that her behavior is based upon?


A: I think everyone’s experienced having their cheese moved from time to time, and it can be an upsetting ordeal depending on who or what was changed to a degree to cause the reaction. But, once you figure out the core emotional reaction, what you need to do is figure out how it manifests and how a character will express those emotions outwardly. Are they going to hide it? Are they going to be open? Maybe they think they’re hiding it and doing a poor job?


Halley isn’t based on any specific group or even a specific person, but I will say that I’ve definitely encountered her reactions several times in the past. It’s not unusual for pettiness and immaturity to come out in times like this.


Q: And what of the Romulan character, t’Aimne? It can be difficult to make characters such as that sympathetic. But the challenge can lead to great rewards if pulled off. Do you think you pulled it off? If you were going back and drawing up that character today, would you change her? How? And what of her future? Would you care to tease us with some ideas for her future?


A: She was the first Romulan character I really spent time in developing. When I wrote her, I wasn’t attempting to make her sympathetic within the scope of that particular story. I think Sacrifice is written far more in giving t’Aimne sympathy than in the original short story. I don’t think I would (re)write her any differently than what I’ve already done, because she served her purpose for the first story and became the hook we needed in later stories, especially when it came to To Triumph and Not to Mourn.


Her future is very unclear right now, because neither I nor A.J. have talked about using her again. The focus of most of our Rihannsu stories will center around the House of Tei and their integration into Federation society in Full Speed Ahead. But, I would say that her current role as a spy for Starfleet Intelligence within the Galae is about as far as I’ll tease her future. So, I would say that we haven’t seen the last of her.


Q: You certainly seem to understand the reality of military service, probably better than most of our writers. How much of those experiences inform your writing? Which story or stories parallel it best? Which deviate the most?


A: One of my minors in college was American History, specializing in Military History. With that, I ended up really researching a lot of the Royal Navy and understanding where a lot of the military traditions we see on television come from… and also how they’re misused. I would say that my first responsibility as a writer is to ensure that my story has credibility in order for my readers to invest in that credibility. I think that Full Speed Ahead exemplifies the military aspects of how naval vessels operate, though I also feel that I try to express that level of understanding in most of my stories.


Bellerophon deviates from that somewhat in that I don’t accurately portray Academy life, just the malformed Trek standard we see on the screen. I would probably rewrite that story if I had the inclination to do so, but I tend to not bother with revisions of such a drastic nature, lest I spend all of my free time in constant revisions anytime I felt I’d reached another level with my craft as a writer.

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

A: Full Speed Ahead in both closeness or pride. AJ and I spent a lot of time working on character sketches and personalities to provide layers of depth… to make them all seem like real live people in how they react or perceive the events going on around them.


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


A: That’s tougher than the previous question. I don’t know that I have a favorite character, because when you spend so much time working on each one so much that there are endearing aspects to all of them. My favorite pairing is one that hasn’t been written yet, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will say that it involves Ariel and explains more about her before she dies in The Chains of Error.


Q: 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 (dog, parakeet, gerbil, I’m not picky) on your lap? Do you scribble down stories on napkins?

To Triumph and Not to Mourn


A: Stories get a new folder in Google Drive, with a separated plot outline, character sketches, and then some scene ideas. FSA especially goes through a collaborative process with A.J. as she will provide substantial input on my ideas and I hers. FSA definitely follows major arcs that will cover an entire season or seasons of episodes. Sometimes, we’ll end up with an arc that appears as if from nowhere, but that’s rare.


My writing environment is usually with a TV on in the background. I find certain show’s dialogue patter to be helpful. I like Aaron Sorkin’s television shows (Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60, etc) the best, because he is an example of how good dialogue can be in exposition of an idea without it becoming plodding or pedantic.


I don’t need to be in a special physical place to write… I just need to be in a special mood to write. When you’re a pro writer, anyplace that’ll let you break out your laptop or tablet long enough to write is fine by me. I don’t get the writers who need every little thing to be just so in order to get a respectable word count out; environmental control is just not possible sometimes, and there are only so many hours in a day that I can use for writing.


I like to be free of interruptions, and I don’t like people breathing down my neck while I write. I mention that last part because I recall being a pro freelancer and having the managing editor kibitzing while I was putting words down on a page. It was harrowing, but it was money. :)


I use Evernote for scribbling thoughts down before I bring them to the table of collaboration or the actual document I’m writing in. I tend to think of the story document as what I want my final draft to look like. Deleted scenes never get deleted, just moved to a document called Deleted Scenes, in case I need them for another story. The beauty of Evernote is that I can use it for cross-document searching, in case I forget which doc I used to write some fragment of text I might need or re-purpose for another story.


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


A: Characters, always characters. I get the idea of focusing on plot, but I’ll sacrifice plot to tell a good character story because as a reader I prefer to learn more about the people I’m reading about than anything else. Reactions, perseverance, relationship dynamics… all of those are very important to me. The lack of a good character in any story will kill a story for me as a reader. If there’s no one to invest in emotionally, then it’s too thin for me to want to keep reading.


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


A: For FSA, there’s about 80 more episodes coming, plus a couple of novels and novellas we’re working on. This includes our second Task Force Vanguard story, and also a Starfleet Academy story involving Dominic Leone and Teelis as midshipmen. Non-fanfic, working on a couple of cool ideas, one of which has moved from the nebulous idea phase and into putting-words-down-on-paper phase.


Q: A lot of your United Trek experience is, I am sure, collaborative. Have you collaborated specifically here on Ad Astra (I’m not seeing it; please point me in the right direction if I have missed it)? Is there a universe you’re dying to write in?


A: Specifically on Ad Astra, no. No one’s approached me for a collaboration, nor have I approached anyone else for collaboration. I think I’m perceived as way too foreboding for collaboration with any of the non-UT authors. Of other universes I’m dying to write in? Maybe Stargate or perhaps rewriting all of Voyager and Enterprise so it doesn’t suck, if I weren’t working 60 hours a week and was financially independent.


Q: You’ve mentioned that you’re taking a break from creating new works. We all know that you can’t manhandle the muse. But if all impediments were removed, do you feel you’d go back to it? Do you need the pressure of a lot of other balls in the air? Or is it something else (if this is too personal, feel free to ignore this set of questions)?


A: I’m taking a break from fanfic to work on original stuff for a bit. I’m sure I will return to fanfic at some point; as I mentioned above, I use it for experimentation and also to rebuild momentum when I hit the various walls of writing that appear. I don’t know that I’d need the pressure of other balls, but I have it already with various commitments on my free time like Starfleet International (where I’m in the middle of a massive international election), developing training materials for my primary occupation, and also running/maintaining Ad Astra takes up a lot of my time (responding to support tickets, fixing database issues, running upgrades on our software, creating new blogs for users, making it so people can see the calendar, etc).


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


The New Threat


A: For FSA, I think To Triumph and Not to Mourn is an excellent character story and is the fruit of the first collaboration between A.J. and I.


For my non-FSA work, though I always point to Agamemnon, I will also point to The New Threat, which is a crossover between Doctor Who and Trek that’s been a monkey on my back for a good long while now. Also, Dallas, which was the fourth story in The Quarterdeck Breed, and has a special guest appearance from a character introduced in Agamemnon.


Thank you!