Book Club Choice #7 Author Q & A

Book Club Choice #7 Author Q & A

An Accipiter tale – A Question of Survival

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 Miranda Fave and we’re here to talk about An Accipiter tale – A Question of Survival.

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 #7



A Question of Survival was an origin story for the character of Caitlyn Ryan who featured in my very first original fan fiction crew, The Accipiter. Yes, my fetish for bird of prey like names for my ships existed from the very start.Alas, said series was filled with fan boyism faults and resides largely only on saved files now. A Question of Survival was a challenge entry for TrekBBS contest on the theme of ‘survival’. With such a theme, my obvious character of choice at this time was that of Ryan. The challenge prompted and allowed me to explore the character history of Caitlyn Ryan.

The Book Club’s featured ‘A Question of Survival’ is that contest entry and it was also the very first piece posted up on the Ad Astra Archive. Steff asked someone / anyone to try out the software. I was that guinea pig and despite some of the faults with the piece, I leave it untouched as it is for that sentimental reason. The piece itself is hard hitting and raw and was written in a very tight moment – I think I just typed it out in one go. I believe some of that rawness comes out in the piece and despite the topic matter makes it perversely compelling. It’s unflinching in its shortened form but also only gives but a brief glimpse into the survivor’s story.

However, the story is returned to and expanded into a multi-chaptered version (still a WIP) A Question of Survival. This is the hope to tell the full story of Caitlyn Ryan and how she survived. As such, the expanded form flits between the captivity to flashbacks to life on the ship before the crew’s capture to her childhood.

In terms of the ongoing story of Accipiter, A Question of Survival is of course key to the character of Caitlyn Ryan. Part of the original inception for Accipiter was that this hard character of Ryan would climb to senior position in the ship crew and maybe build towards her gaining captaincy during the telling of the Dominion War. While the series was not focused on Ryan this would have been her character arc and a continuing story point. Accipiter had an outline for a season’s worth of stories that would span the period of the Dominion War.

Even at this stage, I was considering the future of Caitlyn Ryan beyond the story telling of Accipiter and the rich possibilities of her working in a Cardassian setting addressing the post war needs. I guess in this, the future plan and template for Cyste Ryaenn is borne.
Accipiter was my first outing as a writer. And it had many (many) different faults. Therefore, it has largely remained apart from anything written since and despite plans and hopes to tweak and revive through revisions and refinements, the stories remain consigned to computer files. Other than that, I usually tentatively acknowledge in some capacity my other stories in each other by way of nod, place names, name dropping, little hints and the like. I don’t think in-story that I have outright blatantly acknowledged anything – other than deliberately designed in-universe sharing stories such as those of the Watchtower Universe.


The story begins with a reference to horrific torture. Does this relate to your own personal experiences in any way?


Egad no! Thankfully. Mercifully.However, some of the wisest and strongest and kindest and spirited people I know are people who endure great personal pains and tribulations. Not torture by any means, but ongoing lasting troubles, burdens, strife and emotional and physical hurts. These people are a testament to people! We all know such people. Can only but shake our heads at their fortitude and strength and sense of purpose and character. It’s sounds vapid to call them inspirations but they are certainly reminders to be thankful for the lot we have been given and to strive to do our best because we don’t know what goes on behind other people’s doors, or the pain, hurt, grief, loneliness or despair someone is hiding away. Caitlyn Ryan was born out of something of that and from the lessons of history of persecuted, prejudiced, subjugated people.


For a torture story, it’s hard to know who to believe. Are you playing it straight with the reader? Or are Caitlyn’s fiancé and her unborn child more untruths by the torturer? Did they exist at all?


Oh you are quite correct. I think part of the most insidious aspect of Caitlyn’s torture is the mind games and lies played upon her. She’s toyed with emotionally. There are a lot of untruths told, particularly around her fiancé and whether he betrayed her, how or if he died, etc. However, she did indeed have a fiancé. She was indeed pregnant at the time of capture. Caitlyn alluded to this lost pregnancy in Buried History when there was something of a flashback to her captivity after investigating and discovering a mass grave on a planet. With that said, yes don’t believe everything on the page – in any of my stories.


Caitlyn is incredibly strong, reminiscent of the tortured Jean-Luc Picard in Chain of Command. Did you have that canon episode in mind, or something like it, when writing the story?


Yes, very much so. The Cardassians have been seen to be among the best villains in Trek. The actual story that inspired Ryan’s background as a tortured prisoner was a Trek-Lit book. Diane Carey’s Ship of the Line told the story of Captain Picard being tasked with a mission to retrieve MIA Federation personnel who were being illegally and secretly imprisoned by Cardassians. In the book, Madred Villages pitted Starfleet personnel against Cardassians in ‘mock’ battle situations that were an experiment of sorts and a training programme for the Cardassian military.I developed that aspect of the story to have a character who was a survivor and an escapee of such Cardassian war games and experiments. Ryan and her crew took part in war games as well as enduring trials, medical experiments and tortures, forcing them to fight in contrived battles.

(The story also made mention of the Border Patrol, imagining Captain Morgan Bateson and the Bozeman from Cause and Effect episode as part of the BP and cue my second inspiration that resulted in the creation of Kestrel.)


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


None.I don’t draw on my own experiences. I’m sure they inform my writing obviously but there’s no conscious effort to do so. In fact, my own experiences have made me reluctant to travel down certain story paths and in particular to conclude Kestrel Hunting Grounds simply because things were too raw and unresolved to write that kind of material. I have even foresworn most reading on topics of death. Only in recent times do I feel ready to step back into this. Even then, with stories and characters I have invested in reading in which I know there is character death I am still reluctant to read these.

In terms of writing however, my own experiences tend to be that I know and interact with a lot of strong personality types and with a background in am-dram I do prefer larger than life type characters. So my crews do get a good peppering of such characters. In particular, strong female presences are dominant in many of my stories because this is reflective of my life. I never thought of it as anything different or conscious, I just reflected in the diversity of crews the diversity of personalities I know.

Perhaps only by virtue of this question being asked, the only real life experiences I can bring to the table are the stories and experiences of growing up in Northern Ireland. There’s less moments or horror and trauma than that image may conjure to those who don’t know. However, it is more the daily living under a military style police state and at times the threat or potential threat of violence or terrorism. I guess this aspect may provide inspiration and fodder for the stories set in the post-Dominion War era of the Watchtower universe. Again, however, it is never a conscious choice to draw upon my experiences.

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

Kestrel.Cos well, if I didn’t mention them people would most like to lynch me. But I do love this crew. I love their world. I just think that type of setting fits better for story telling in terms of tone and characters and in ways is what might translate to weekly screens. I love their camaraderie which nevertheless often has them at logger heads, with heated exchanges and frustrations with one another. Yet there’s a connection between many of the characters, certain unwavering loyalties, faith in, friendship and respect towards as well as all the strife and drama. They’ve a lived in feel to me. It’s not gritty for the sake of being gritty. It’s just the way they are.

Also, I just love the characters. Big headed or egotistical of me, I know. But I do. And a lot of folk seem to quite like one or other of this lot – be it McGregor, T’Vel, Stan, Jex, Eddie or Molly. In addition, there’s basically a whole raft of minor and supporting characters that all could have their own story.

And … teaser alert … if I can carry it off as it is in my head, their story in Hunting Grounds should be (really merits to be!!) on a sheer trajectory of fuckery as it drives to the climax of the story. But it seems ever harder to get to that point!


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


McGregor. (cos)
(and cos he’s way more than the caricature he appears to be and when someone gets that, it makes my year)
T’Vel. (Just a wondrous character to write for and someone I feel a terrible responsibility for in the telling of her story and because she’s strong and vulnerable, and bad-ass, and Vulcan)

Molly. (She keeps McGregor in check – she rocks)

Caitlyn Ryan or her re-imagined alter ego Cyste Ryaenn (who appears in Aegolius Harrier)

Tabatha Katherine Chase (don’t call her Tabby) – cos she’s over the top, mercenary, spirited and fabulously brilliant – she says so herself.

Jex (cos Joined Trill equals fascinating possibilities and explorations)

Amelia DeWitt-Thatcher (she’s a hoot)

As for pairings, I’ve never quite set out with that intention. Some characters have lent to it. McGregor and Judy’s unrequited affection. Judy and Eddie’s unrequited affection are mere background things in Kestrel. In Aegolius Harrier, there was a magic chemistry thing that happened with Cyste Ryaenn and Anjek that was completely unplanned for but it seems to work.

In Rhapsody Rabbit Gavilán, Tabatha’s the type of girl who could scream pairing with about any of the characters. It’s got a mesh of characters who could pair and being civilians, there’s no chain of command to interfere – only backstabbing and piracy!

Honourable mention though has to go to McGregor and T’Vel as in the Multiverse Round Robin II. For this, I blame Steff. She blames me, I think. But it happened organically (as I think these things should) and it is really fitting and Steff wrote some truly beautiful stuff about this pair.


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?


Cats? Are you serious? I cause enough mess and hassle on my own without bringing in four legged creatures into the mix! No offense to any of you animal lovers out there – just ain’t my cup of tea. (My cup of tea is … well … a cup of tea)No one about me. It need not be quiet, though in the end I think it is in eventual quietness that I end up writing the best. So I may start off playing music lists but said list will eventually come to the end and if writing is successful, then I continue at the writing without cueing up more music.

Usually, writing happens and it may be anywhere in the house, at a desk, atop the bed, on the sofa, at the kitchen table. I honestly yearn for a study with a great big fuck-off desk upon which to set myself up at and be ever blissful in writing. Said table would soon accrue crumbs from biscuits and cups of tea and endless bits of paper to do with story and writing. Then the inevitable endless bits of paper and piled books that have nothing to do with writing but that somehow migrate of their own free will to ALL the flat surfaces in my house, until such time as I go ‘agh’ and clean everything back to minimalist, clutter free beauty again. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. And have tea.

(I’m a starvo. I eat incessantly – nibbling on snacks and stuff in the process of attempting to write. When really in the groove sure way to tell is when I get up from writing with pangs of hunger. (heck at this stage I am hungry in the writing up of these responses))

There’s no real rhyme or reason to my writing. If I sit down to consciously write it often fails to materialise. However, I often reread what I’ve written, I play soundtracks fitting to the scene I wish to write – usually these are film and television orchestral soundtracks or trailer scores. Lyrics are hard for me to decipher and pick out so I’m more choosy about such songs – but if they give a certain vibe for a scene (often incorrectly so once I study the lyrics!) they get put onto the playlist.

I have lots of yellow sticky pads about the house and these get scrawled on. I have numerous little hard back red notebooks that get scribbled notes. If I start a new series, the notebook starts off nice and organized, notes on characters, names, ranks, traits, ship details, etc. The same will happen on the laptop with the use of Microsoft OneNote where I’ll start a new project book on said new endeavour. Inevitably these end up being abandoned largely to me getting down and into the writing.

I will jump ahead in my writing and write later scenes or chapters, especially if a current scene is stalling me or is wanting to stew for a while. This process has worked best for me in the past and I think one other reason for Kestrel stalling was my falling into a chronological mindset of chapter writing.

I shamefacedly do not beta my stories. I have asked certain persons to check a finished chapter or two if the chapters are of particular importance or hard emotional stuff. I find it hard to share the writing until I find it is finished. Yet, conversely, I would be the first advocate any one using a beta to thrash out details. Maybe it is the fact much of Accipter was written in isolation due lack of easy access to internet at the time. With Kestrel there has come to be quite an attachment to the story and characters and l like revealing it to the small loyal readership – so tasking one of those readers as a beta would surely cost me!!

However, definite scenes and chapters of Kestrel were vastly improved by sharing them with kes7 who was fantastic and supportive in those important scenes. For a period, Steff and I made each other write some of the hard scenes for our respective series, a tit for tat type arrangement. Which makes it sound like it was some sort of choice in the matter for me. Steff cracked her whip and I jumped. However, it worked to jumpstart me on certain aspects of Kestrel’s endgames and to acknowledge some of the choices I would have to make. Steff has been sworn to secrecy however and as much as was revealed in the chapters written there’s bunch she never got. That was actually a very cool experience and it really is the kind of deadline, forced writing experience often needed to get writing done.

I would now be more inclined to share and discuss ideas pertaining say to new stories – such as the various series under the Watchtower umbrella because I’ve grown to appreciate the value of a beta and growing awareness of grammatical faults and the importance it plays.

Lastly, it is a case of reading over the writing – be it short story, prompt, chapter, scene, and finding the beats and rhythm of the writing. I visualise it – either as onscreen or if acting it out on a stage. If I feel the various players all have something to offer then I am satisfied. If I find the scene has rises and falls in pace, pitch and tone then I’m happy out. And well then there’s those bits of writing that you do and make yourself squee at. Hee, hee. Those are rare gems but a sure joy.


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


Characters. Always the characters.
That said, I have of recent, within the Watchtower Universe, set out to explore certain story avenues and then created characters fitting to these story avenues. Watchtower is geared towards a number of plots and arcs within each series/story that will tie tentatively or explicitly to other stories in that shared universe, therefore the plot aspect is more important. This is a deliberate attempt by me to hone this aspect of my writing but always the characters are what thrust the story onwards. I simply want now to ensure I frame the characters within a larger plot and community.
Largely, my own writing style is that plot and character foster this community anyway. Kestrel began as a very simple plot but the characters were primary in its design and they’ve shaped a larger story by their development.

The characters are what engage me in the writing because they tend to develop and surprise me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Whereas a planned story plot might get bogged down or become too complicated.


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


There’s movement on finishing Kestrel but it won’t start up again until I am near finished as I don’t want to have drib and drabs false starts to it.However, I have the entirety of the Watchtower Universe with a wealth of different series and stories, characters and settings within it. From a frontier colony world story, a bounty hunter, a civilian cargo freighter crew, to a joint Cardassian/Federation colonisation and exploration expedition, to a Federation ship working within Cardassian space, to various border patrol vessels on the troubled patch of space, to a possible Cardassian crew ship, along with Cardassian personnel serving on Federation crews to Watchtower and its substations having their own stories. All culminating in a number of story plots that connect them or form part of a larger galactic plot.


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?


Other than the insanity of the Multiverse Round Robin and the Gateway Round Robin on the forums I don’t believe I have. I missed out on doing so for the last Triskellion Trials challenge. Myself and kes7 did write up an insane combadges talk skit that might get us locked up as well as the beginning of a crossover with my Amelia DeWitt Thatcher as a holographic program ‘tutoring’ her Maren O’Connor.


If all impediments were removed, do you feel you’d write more? 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)?


I’d like to think I would write more. I don’t think that happens per say. I’m fortunate to enjoy lots of long breaks but there always seems to be something needing doing. I do work better under pressure.A Question of Survival for example was written as I’ve said more or less in one sitting. Often times, the best writing is such an outpouring. Now such writing merits a lot of going back on and editing it to hone it to its best. However, when it comes to big meaty scenes sometimes you have to trust your writer’s gut and write. It can all be edited later.


And to finish, we’ve had the pleasure of reading A Question of Survival. If you would recommend a story of yours to others, which would it be?
Oh I doubt I could recommend just one. I do have a bit of a stable of crews and characters. I’m missing something set in the TOS era or the Lost era but I’ve covered other the other eras. Though admittedly, a lot of these need some sort of completion so I’ll not hawk those wares just yet.Perhaps based on the reading book club, if you liked the short challenge entry you may like the expanded (though incomplete) AQoS. If you liked the character history of Caitlyn Ryan then I’d suggest checking out Cyste Ryaenn in Aegolius Harrier. She’s a re-imagined version of Ryan as such. Technically, it’s AU in that Cyste survives the prison camp but Ryan does not. So they share their history but swap fates.

Ryaenn is colder and more calculating than Ryan in ways, but she possesses an ability to garner people to her, to command and is perhaps more open to others or more open to her own faults and failings. Of course Ryaenn’s story in Aegolius Harrier, taking command of a barrel scraping ship is of course fascinating and jumps ahead in the plans originally conceived for Ryan. In addition, Ryaenn’s story has the new captain face her enemy (the Cardassians) and learn to work with and for them in their relief mission. Hopefully, it will prove fascination and compelling in time. It also serves a big role in Watchtower story.

There is of course, Kestrel. If you haven’t read it – why have you not?!

And of course, keep watching out for those Watchtower connected series and stories – Étolie Cheval: Bounty Hunter; Rhapsody Rabbit Gavilán; Aegolius Harrier; Legacy; Shepherd’s Reach; and the soon to be published pieces Cheiron and Hope Station: Watchtower.

Thank you jespah for the opportunity to talk so much and for the spotlight. And of course, it would be remiss to not steal the opportunity to thank those who participate in this Book Club, those who read and comment on my stories and of course to give a big thank you and shout out to Steff and Mike for this place.

Thanks! J


Thank you!