Book Club Choice #5 Author Q & A

Book Club Choice #5 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 Funngunner and we’re here to talk about Their Finest Hour: Fire and Rain, Part One and Their Finest Hour: Fire and Rain, Part Two.

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 #5 Author Q & A

Star Trek: Enterprise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their Finest Hour was placed in the expanded universe for several reasons. The first, quite simply was it provided more freedom of movement than focusing on the existing characters, and it allowed more facets of the characters to come out. The characters are – I hope – not always right, they don’t always have the answers, and sometimes, like in “Fire and Rain,” things just go wrong no matter what they do. As for how it fits in my own universe, “Fire and Rain” and the Xindi attack are a turning point really. It’s the moment where the general public begins to see Starfleet less as a military arm, less as an enormous budgetary expense, and more of a necessity, as a protector.


These two stories are a good opening into your universe (although I believe you’ve got some prequel writing out there, too). What inspired you to create these characters and put them into this particular situation? While this is certainly a story that is glossed over and rushed in canon, it definitely begged to be told (and Enterprise wasn’t equipped to tell it, as they didn’t have a character in that place/time and they wanted to get the Xindi arc going immediately). Are there any other insights you can provide re why this group, this story line, this time period were chosen by you?


One of things that annoyed me about Enterprise was that they would gloss over critical moments, and just continue on with the traditional Trek story-telling. At the end of the day, their story arc with the Xindi, and the temporal cold war, just lacked the emotional impact. The attack in particular was just a badly-done CGI intro, then really ignored. When I watched the scene I just was stunned by that choice, you have a giant beam slicing through Florida, killing millions and it’s almost a footnote?

So, I grabbed hold of it for a Monthly Writing Challenge and ran with it. As for throwing the cadets into it, it helped for the story. They aren’t full-fledged officers, they don’t have experience dealing with this sort of thing, and it let me play more with the emotions being closer to the surface. They are doing their duty, but are really riding the raggedy edge of mental and physical exhaustion.


I loved Part 1’s look at the Xindi attack from the ground, particularly from a military standpoint. What sort of experiences or history did you draw on, to set it up? For Part 2, shifting the action to survivors, there are parallels to 9/11 but are there more? I am specifically thinking about the Fall of Saigon. Did that inform this story at all?


As a military history nut, I draw a lot of things from historical events. And, the first part is very much driven by the events of 9/11, the confusion, the response at the higher levels of government. The second part, which deals with the evacuation and the rescue efforts stemmed out of several things: The evacuation was inspired by Hurricane Katrina and there was a lot more of that part that was left on the cutting room floor, specifically seeing cadets and others searching houses to make sure people weren’t left behind. But, as I was writing it, I was becoming more and more aware that there was no real way to evacuate that whole area, I mean, the logistics of that would be mind-boggling. People would be left behind and it would be horrible.

The aftermath of the attack itself, and the survivor accounts stemmed from the Tokyo firebombing in 1945. It was a devastating event, and actually killed more civilians than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The survivors’ trying to cross the river, the heat and flames, all of that was inspired from Tokyo 1945.


Carmichael here comes across as a cocky cadet. Is he based on anyone you know/knew? McClusky comes in as almost the guy to not so much save him but to pull his bacon out of the fire while getting some of the glory. Has he got a real world parallel?


Carmichael? Yeah, to be honest, initially, he was based in no small part on myself. Only with the arrogance turned up to 11. But, over time, I’ve gotten more comfortable with him, and he’s developed his own personality. It took me a long time to realize that, but it really dawned on me through in the Round Robin exercise. Meanwhile, McClusky had a similar arc, he was based on the one of my oldest friends. But, Seth too has developed into his own man with time, and comes across more likeable than J.J.


How many of your personal experiences inform your writing? Which story or stories parallel it best? Which deviate the most?


At some level, the main arc of Their Finest Hour is derived from the story arc of my own life. Single-parent home, troubling teenage years, booted out of college, discover something I’m good at (graphic design), and then growing up into my own person. But, that’s true of everyone. I guess I’m a big fan of origin stories, sometimes seeing how a person developed is more interesting than what they did when they had matured. But, the parts that parallel my own experiences hasn’t been written yet. (Although they will soon). We’re going to see J.J. truly discover something he is naturally good at, and also be wounded deeply by a betrayal, and it will begin the transformation of him from a arrogant young man into a adult.

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

Well, they are all in the same universe really, so that’s difficult. But, if I have to choose one? It’s definitely “A Sense of Honor,” only I didn’t realize it until I had almost lost it. It took that – and realizing how much blood, sweat and tears had gone into it – to really make me appreciate it. That said, it’s also the most problematic, too. It’s hard to find events to serve as a climax to the story to help wrap things up with, and I found it really hard to figure out how to advance the plot at times. I’m hoping that Book Two doesn’t have the same problems.


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


It used to be that my favorite paring was J.J. and Seth, they pretty much got the lion’s share of the dialogue early on. But, after the training exercise, Pierce and Pitkin really came to life. They have a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern element to them. They are also the first time I have really incorporated sexual orientation into a character, and it’s been a learning experience trying to blend it in without making it scream out. It’s so sad that I’ve come to like them so much, especially considering what the future holds in store for them.


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?

English: Original plaque commemorating the 4Mp...

English: Original plaque commemorating the 4Mps and 1 Marine who died defending the U.S. Embassy Saigon on 31 January 1968. The plaque was left at the U.S. Embassy during the Fall of Saigon and was later on display at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon as war booty before disappearing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I don’t have much of a writing process, although I’m trying to get more disciplined in developing one. I see the events in my head first, usually while listening to movie soundtracks and mull it about and play with the angles before it goes to paper. It actually doesn’t get beta-read either, although I bounce ideas off of people a lot.

The story is pretty planned out though, there’s an arc to it for sure. And, like life itself, it’s not always going to be pretty. I’m certain people will get upset over some of the choices that are made, some of the things that happen. But, some characters won’t always be around by the time this comes to a conclusion. But, it’s all planned out.


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


In a lot of ways, the focus of the story is the characters and how they grow. At least, that’s the case in Book One, but the overall arc of the storyline – and really what its exploring – is the beginning of Starfleet and the lead up to the Earth-Romulan war. It’s very derived from World War 2. Book One doesn’t show much of this, because in a historical sense, it’s around the 1930’s. There are rumblings – the faint sound of drums in the distance – but, it’s there, along with other little events that are alluded to: the Earth First movement, a anti-piracy campaign against the Orions, they will all be playing a role.


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


Well, I just concluded Book One, although it was earlier than I had planned. So, Book Two is starting up soon, and I’m still in the process of selecting what events are going to occur. But I can say there’s going to be some real upheaval coming very quickly. At least two characters are going to be gone real early on. The rivalry between J.J. and Nolte is going to heat up, with them going to go head-to-head. And things are going to get darker – much darker — around the cadets. The drumbeat is going to get louder. In addition, we’re going to see Vanessa’s storyline really take-off in Book Two and reach a devastating conclusion.

As for the bigger picture, we are going to see J.J. rise, fall and rise again. But, his life is not going to be easy, particularly after graduation. The war with the Romulans is coming, and it will not be pretty.


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?


I really haven’t done a lot of collaborative work, short of the Round Robin. Part of that is out of fear. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there and I’m not sure I would match well with the existing writer’s narrative style. It also comes from a point where my world-view in TFH is a lot more militaristic than most Trek. There’s not a lot of exploring new worlds going on. So, it requires a big shift in my thinking, one that I’ve been reluctant to take. Besides, I’m happy letting people tell their own stories their own way.


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)?


If I had a million dollars, I’d probably write more. I write in my free time, but it’s a very private activity for me, so I try to do it when my wife is asleep. Writing is low on the priority list, behind work, my freelance stuff and the household chores. Which is really a pity, because I really enjoy writing.


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


English: Logo from the television program Star...

English: Logo from the television program Star Trek: Enterprise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Truly, the only other thing to read is “Sense of Honor,” itself. So I guess I would recommend that. It really puts the pieces in motion for “Fire and Rain,” and is sort of interesting to see even how the cadets have changed between their plebe year and their third year. That being said, some of the events in the Round Robin might be worth a look, too. Writing from the point of view of Francis Howell was a lot of fun, and some of that may even make it into Their Finest Hour canon.


Thank you!
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