Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Hear me answer for The Calling

I’m talking again. Listen to this interview, in which I join co-hosts Max and Mike to discuss my novel The Calling — the origins of the story, the challenges and benefits of working outside of Star Trek, and the differences between writing for the page and for the screen.

trekstars

This was a fun and sprawling conversation that follows up on their show last week, in which they talked among themselves regarding my two writing credits for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Theme, or, What is your book *about*?

Over the past few months, I have fielded queries about the art and craft of writing from various would-be novelists. Some have sent me e-mails, while others have chatted with me at conventions and other public appearances. All of them seemed quite capable of following along as I talked about how to structure a long narrative, or some techniques I had learned for more smoothly integrating text, action, and exposition.

Where I seem to lose them is when I start talking about the importance of a novel’s theme.

(more…)

Is today’s Star Trek fiction guilty of “lazy” quasi-racism?

In what is generally a favorable write-up of Star Trek: Seekers #1 – Second Nature, reviewer Steve Donoghue of Open Letters Monthly makes an observation I find troubling:

“In this first volume in the Star Trek Seekers series, Second Nature, Captain Terrell heads a somewhat predictably multi-racial crew — there’s a Vulcan, a Trill, an Arkenite, a Denobulan, etc. — and, unfortunately, Mack tends to lean on these race-implications just as so many Star Trek fiction writers have done before him. (It lends itself to an egregious laziness that would be condemned as simple racism if it were being applied to people from Lithuania instead of Alpha Centauri; countless times, Mack designates these characters by their races – “the Vulcan” this, or “the Trill” that).”

seekers1Considering how eagerly I and other Star Trek authors of recent years have strived to create a more inclusive portrait of humanity and of diverse ideologies and lifestyles in the novels, this note of his gave me great pause.

Have we been guilty of perpetrating a “lazy” and “casual” form of racism by using species identifiers in our prose? I know that I and some other authors do it to avoid pronoun confusion in scenes where several characters are of the same sex, and to avoid resorting to physical attributes (“the blonde,” “the tall man,” etc), or overusing the proper names to the point of distraction.

But now I’m curious. Does Mr. Donoghue have a point? Are writers of speculative fiction (including but not limited to Star Trek) committing a sin against the inclusive philosophy many of us consider important by using species identification as a form of literary short-hand? Or is this reviewer overreacting to an innocuous trope of the speculative fiction genre?

I’m not looking to pick a fight or incite people to pile onto Mr. Donoghue. This is a serious inquiry: How can we improve this aspect of SF and Star Trek fiction without creating clunky prose problems in the process? Or is this not even really a problem at all?

Why we must strive for diversity in SF/F

I get a handful of emails from fans each week. Most of them are laudatory; a few are critical. I try to limit my responses to either a perfunctory “Thank you,” or a “Sorry that story didn’t work for you,” depending upon which seems most appropriate.

Every now and then, I receive an angry e-mail from some self-righteous, aggrieved fan who simply must let me know why he or she plans to never read my work again. One of those arrived in my e-mail today. Here is the unedited and uncorrected content of the message, with the sender’s personal information redacted to protect the sender’s privacy:

 


Subject: I will not be reading any of your books.

David Mack will probable never read this email but I am writing it anyway.

I purchased and started reading your book, Harbinger and stopped when I got to the part where the Vulcan was having a homosexual affair with the Klingon spy. I deleted the book from my E-reader and will never purchase another volume authored by David Mack. You can call me a homophobe or use any other excuse you choose to write me off but the truth is homosexually is not universally accepted and I get to decided what I read and I choose not to read any more of your work. And on top of that no Vulcan would consider the situation “logical”. You can’t just remold the Vulcan persona to suit yourself.

I am just letting you know that you have lost at least one reader I am not looking for a reply.

[Name Withheld]

 

 

Well, the author of that e-mail might not have been looking for a reply, but he’s going to get one.

If he thinks the fear of alienating a few closed-minded readers is going to stop me from writing stories that feature and promote characters of diverse backgrounds—including LGBTQ characters, persons of color, and people who belong to ideological or philosophical minorities—he must be out of his mind. vanguardI’m a fucking Star Trek writer. Hasn’t he ever heard of IDIC—“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”?

Most of my writing work to date has been for Star Trek. Although the various television series could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity, those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings. One in which love, equality, and compassion are the touchstones of civilized society.

To that end, we’ve tried to make our literary dramatis personae more closely resemble the people of Earth. We’ve tried to include more people of African, Asian, and Southeast Asian ancestry than were seen in the televised and feature-film stories. We’ve tried to incorporate characters who hail from many cultures and viewpoints. We’ve tried to imagine a future in which people of all faiths have learned to live in harmony with people of other creeds as well as those who prefer to lead purely secular lives. We’ve tried to depict a future in which people’s gender identities are no longer limited to some arbitrary binary social construct, but rather reflect a more fluid sense of personal identity.

I will never be made to feel shame for doing this. I am proud that we’ve been able to do this. I know we’ve still got more work to do, and we can do better at integrating more diverse viewpoints and characters into the ever-expanding universe of Star Trek.

The author of the quoted e-mail tries to justify his screed by declaring that “homosexually (sic) is not universally accepted”. So what? Neither are human rights of a fundamental nature. In fact, I can’t think of any notion of justice or equality that is universally accepted. Why should that limit our vision of a more open, egalitarian, meritocratic future? I reject this aspect of the author’s rant as fundamentally illogical.

As for the author’s subsequent assertion that “no Vulcan would consider the situation ‘logical’,” I would rebut that Spock himself told Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” What Spock had learned that the author of this morning’s e-mail apparently has not is that there are many ingredients to wisdom — including, but not limited to, compassion and empathy.

Another reason today’s e-mail strikes me as ironic is that I consider the doomed romance between the characters he cited — T’Prynn and Lurqal — to be one of the best story and character arcs I’ve written to date. Writing T’Prynn’s tale of agony, conflict, and heartbreak, followed by her forlorn journey toward self-forgiveness and quest for redemption, was one of the most creatively rewarding efforts of my career so far. And this guy thinks I’m going to feel bad because his world view is too small to see the truth in it? All I can say, to paraphrase Neil de Grasse Tyson, is: I prefer my universe big.

Whenever someone asks, Why do we need to keep talking about embracing diversity in stories, and seeking out diversity in the authors and creators and portrayers of speculative fiction?, I will say it’s because too many authors and artists and filmmakers still get letters like this one. We need to work toward a better future in which no one would even *think* of writing an e-mail like this.

I’m not so starry-eyed as to think that day will ever come, at least not in my lifetime. I suspect that humanity will always have to contend with prejudice in one form or another. But that doesn’t give us license to stop struggling against it. It is exactly the reason we must press on and continue to do better, to demand better, to show that it’s possible.

The effort is its own reward.

 

My stories for GISHWHES 2014

Now that the scavenger hunt known as GISHWHES is ended for this year, it’s my pleasure to share with one and all the four pieces of microfiction that I wrote for various teams.

The terms of Item #78 were to obtain from a previously published sci-fi author a story of no more than 140 words that included Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an elopus (an elephant-octopus chimera, the mascot of the hunt).

The first three I gave to teams what had one of their members send me a selfie with one of my books, just so I could know I was supporting folks who were my fans. The fourth I sent to a German GISHER who wrote me such a heartfelt letter that I couldn’t let her down, with or without a selfie.

It was a pleasure to write these tales, and I was glad to help some folks in their quest for GISHWHES glory. Let’s do it again sometime.

Now, without further ado, I present the stories … such as they are.

 

“The People’s Queen”
© 2014 David Mack

Cold wind swept over the bridge. The pistol trembled in Charles’ hand as he aimed at Diana and her lover, Misha Collins. “You’ve cuckolded me for the last time!”

Diana sprang forward, arms wide, to shield her inamorata. “Kill me, but don’t hurt Misha!”

“Save your breath. You’ll need it after I throw you in the Thames.”

He tensed to fire—then the elopus’s violet tentacle lurched over the side of the bridge and snared him in its fearsome grip. Caught in the beast’s trunk was the corpse of Charles’ mother. In a blur they both were gone, pulled down into the gray dredge of the river, their bones breaking like dry twigs in the monster’s embrace.

Misha looked at Diana. “If they’re both dead, doesn’t that make you Queen of England?”

She was positively giddy. “Yes, I believe it does.”

(written for GISHWHES team Lumptacular, requested by member Jenna Carodiskey-Wiebe)

“The Cliffs of Dover”
© 2014 David Mack

“Majesty, we’re ruined! The Spanish Armada nears our shores!”

The Virgin Queen gazed east from the Cliffs of Dover, her mien placid. “Fear not, Walsingham. I have matters well in hand.”

“But Raleigh is slain, your grace! His ships are ablaze! We must retreat.”

“Spanish feet will not touch England’s green and pleasant lands, Sir Francis. Stand fast.” She pointed into the smoky distance, toward a churning vortex in the middle of the English Channel. “Look there. Our salvation arrives.”

Walsingham’s eyes widened. “By all that’s holy! Majesty, is that—? Can it be?”

“Yes—it’s the time-traveler Misha Collins, astride his invincible elopus Gishwhes. See how its tentacles crush our enemies? The forces of King Charles have blundered into our trap.”

“It’s a miracle!”

“No, Walsingham. It is victory by design. Prepare a feast for Misha and his monster.”

(written for Team Leaphard, requested by member Daniel Leaphard)

“The Gift”
© 2014 David Mack

“What is it, Mister President?”

“An elopus, Your Majesty.”

“Begging your pardon?”

“An elopus. An elephant-octopus chimera.”

“If you insist. Pray tell, what is it doing in my throne room?”

“Eating the prime minister of Canada, I believe.”

“Allow me to rephrase: Why is it in my throne room?”

“It’s a gift. From the United States to the people of Great Britain.”

“You shouldn’t have.”

“It was our pleasure.”

“You mistake me. I spoke literally. You should not have brought this abomination here.”

“My apologies. Excuse me. … Steve! Pack it up. We’ll give it to the French.”

“Stop!”

“Majesty?”

“I hate it, but I’ll die before I let the French have it. … Sergeant Major? Put it in Loch Ness.”

“Yes, Majesty.”

“Now then, President Collins, let us retire to the castle for dinner.”

“Please, Your Majesty—call me Misha.”

(written for Team E=MCHammeredLoves37027, requested by member Paloma Figueroa)

“Scoop”
© 2014 David Mack

Misha Collins points across the fog-shrouded heath. “There.”

I focus the binoculars, and I can’t believe my eyes. A tusked, trunked, tentacled behemoth scuttles and slouches across the moor. “What the—?”

“Isn’t it magnificent? It’s an elopus.”

“I’d call it terrifying.” I spy the surrounding area. “What kind of bait-and-switch is this? You promised me exclusive photos of the Queen of England.”

A diabolical smirk distorts Misha’s handsome face. “There she is.” He notes my confusion and nods at the creature. “Elopi are shape-changers.”

“The queen’s been replaced by an elopus?!”

“She’s always been one. The entire House of Windsor is elopi.”

Visions of the front page dance in my head. “We’re going to be rich.”

I feel the tentacle around my throat and realize I’ve been deceived. Misha is one of them.

Damn him. Damn him to hell.

(written for GISHER Marina Ginsberg and her team with an impossibly long name)

The Guardian ponders Media Tie-in Writing

The Guardian has published an interesting short article about media tie-in novels, albeit one a bit narrow in its examination of the field. (It spends most of its ink on Star Wars, and the closest it gets to the Star Trek books is a hat-tip to John Scalzi‘s award-winning novel Redshirts, which is more a parody of Star Trek than a franchise novel. And while John offers some flattering remarks about the craft of tie-in writing, I wish article writer Damien Walter had actually interviewed some real, working media tie-in writers.

Sadly, the article’s reader comments comprise the usual disappointing melange — complaints that “franchise novels” are just “printed television,” or repetitions of the ignorant belief that one must have seen every episode and have read every previous novel in order to enjoy the newest books, or that franchise novels “bring nothing new or original” to the page.

I give the article’s author a polite hat-tip for trying to give media tie-in novels a fair shake, but I want to throttle some of his readers.

ETA: I received a tweet from the article’s author, Damien Walter, who explained that he normally does not interview people for “opinion” pieces, and that the only reason Mr. Scalzi is quoted is that Walter happened to discuss it with him while he was preparing the article.

#SFWApro

Media Tie-in Publishing Panel, Wed 2/26 @ 7pm

On Wednesday, February 26, I’ll be participating in an event about media tie-in publishing, as a part of GEEK WEEK at Housing Works Books. Here’s the low-down on the event:

Tied-in: The Ups and Downs and Ins and Outs of Writing Licensed Fiction

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 from 7:00pm–8:30pm

The bookshelves are full of fiction based on Star Trek and Star Wars and Halo and Batman and Doctor Who and tons more TV shows, movies, videogames, and comic books. Writing these books is a great deal of fun, but the life of a writer of media tie-in fiction is also full of pitfalls galore.

Join three tie-in veterans — New York Times best-selling author DAVID MACK (Star Trek, The 4400, Farscape, Wolverine), award-winning author KEITH R.A. DeCANDIDO (Star Trek, Doctor Who, World of Warcraft, Cars), and editor GINJER BUCHANAN (Star Wars, Conan, Leverage, Marvel Comics) — for an in-depth discussion moderated by Singularity & Co.‘s CICI JAMES.

This event is free and open to the public. Food, snacks, beer, and wine will be available for purchase from the in-store café. (Please don’t bring outside food or beverages to the store.)

Housing Works is an all-donation, volunteer-staffed, nonprofit bookstore; all of its proceeds go to fight homelessness and AIDS. It buys no books, so if you have any tomes you’d like to donate, bring them with you!