Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

On Being Named a Grandmaster…

IAMTW Logo on Blue Background

Over the weekend, the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (IAMTW) issued press releases announcing the nominees for its 2022 Scribe Awards (a list that includes my novel Star Trek: Coda, Book III: Oblivion’s Gate in the Best Novel-Speculative category) and its 2022 Faust Award, which recognizes outstanding career achievement in the writing of media tie-in works by naming the recipient a Grandmaster.Star Trek Coda, Book 3, Oblivion's Gate, by David Mack

Much to my surprise, I was told late on Saturday night after a long day of driving home from vacation with my wife that I had been named as the IAMTW’s 2022 Grandmaster.

Part of me thinks, “How can I be getting this award?” and “Might this have been a clerical error?”

Then the other part of my brain shushes the insecure half and whispers, “Relax, it’s not a mistake.”

It feels strange to receive an award honoring my “career achievement” when I still consider my career as a work-in-progress. But I imagine that’s also how past recipients of the award have felt. Most of them — including my friends and fellow Star Trek scribblers Greg Cox, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Kevin J. Anderson, and Peter David — went right on working after winning the Faust Award. Which is exactly as it should be.

As writers we all learn not to rest on our laurels. Experience teaches us not to dwell on the work we’ve done, much of which takes months or sometimes years to be published after our share of the work is done. By necessity we are always looking ahead, beyond the project we’re writing now, and asking, “What am I doing next? And after that?”

No award changes that, but I have to admit it feels good to be recognized among such luminous company as the previous recipients of the Faust Award. Who wouldn’t want to share such an honor with Timothy Zahn, Alan Dean Foster, Diane Duane, Ann C. Crispin, Donald Bain, Nancy Holder, Terrance Dicks, William Johnston, Jean Rabe, and the venerable Max Allan Collins?

It would be the height of hubris to claim I earned this honor all by myself. I have come as far as I have only thanks to the support and encouragement of my wife, Kara; the wise business counsel of my agent of 20 years, Lucienne Diver; the camaraderie of my many peers and fellow travelers, including (but certainly not limited to) Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Glenn Hauman, Aaron Rosenberg, James Swallow, Scott Pearson, Kirsten Beyer, and John Jackson Miller; the abiding faith of editors Ed Schlesinger, Margaret Clark, and Marco Palmieri; and those wonderful folks out there who have been buying and enjoying my stories for the past twenty-odd years. My love and respect goes out to you all.

What else is there to say, really?

Time to get back to work.


Musical Inspirations of Star Trek: Coda

No one has shown the least bit of interest in guessing at the inspirations/connections between my recent novel Star Trek: Coda, Book III – Oblivion’s Gate and its hand-curated Spotify playlist. I am, therefore, going to blather on about it anyway.

But before I dig into the tracks on the public Spotify playlist, I want to share an unreleased track that, for me, has been the unofficial “theme song” of the Star Trek: Coda trilogy: Cue the Violins,” by my pal Friday’s Child front man Tom Walker.

Star Trek Coda - Moments AsunderNow, onward to the Spotify playlist tracks. Leading us off is Goodnight, Saigon by Billy Joel. For me this song served as a tribute to all of the story’s redshirts and other characters slain in the line of duty (or as collateral damage).

Entry two on the playlist should be easy to understand: Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult alludes, obviously, to the story’s main villains and their engineered temporal apocalypse.

Now we get into the character-specific inspirations on the playlist: Against the Wind by Bob Seger felt like a great summary of the life of middle-aged Traveler Wesley Crusher, reflecting on centuries of chasing an unknown enemy.

Next up is Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game,” which for me evokes Worf’s angst and conflicting emotions over meeting an alternate K’Ehleyr in the Mirror Universe in Oblivion’s Gate.

Continuing the playlist is Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms,” which for me feels like a perfect distillation of Benjamin Sisko’s spiritual journey in this heartbreaking trilogy.

Life is a Long Song by Jethro Tull, for me, captures the optimism and kindness of spirit of Geordi La Forge, as well as the sadness of dying in one’s prime.

Hurt by Johnny Cash brings a more somber note to the playlist. In this context, its lyrics feel to me like an eerie commentary on the story of the time-madness-stricken Admiral William Riker, and his desperate plea to his wife Deanna Troi.

Star Trek Coda - The Ashes of TomorrowFeel-good music? Not for this trilogy (not yet, anyway). Next up is Dust in the Wind by Kansas, which on the Star Trek: Coda playlist is meant to evoke the deep despair felt by Vedek Kira over the terrible sacrifices she has been compelled to make.

Ramping up the drama and tragedy of the playlist is Queen & Michael Kamen’s iconic ballad from Highlander, Who Wants to Live Forever? (Heather’s Demise). For me, this is the theme of Mirror K’Ehleyr’s story, including its heroic/tragic end.

Have courage. We’re almost done. Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce felt like a great song to represent the sort of timeless POV of the functionally immortal androids Data Soong and his resurrected daughter Lal.

The most inspirational song on the Star Trek: Coda playlist is The Garden by Rush. It set the tone for Chapter 40, and it established themes & motifs throughout Oblivion’s Gate, which is meant as an homage to the late Neil Peart.

Oblivion’s Gate ends on an epilogue that I call a “Grace Note.” Its title is “What Remains to Be Seen,” an allusion to a lyric from “The Garden” — “Hope is what remains to be seen.”

The Grace Note of Oblivion’s Gate, which occurs on the date of Star Trek‘s 1966 TV premiere, on W. 136th St. in Harlem (“Far Beyond the Stars” was the 136th episode of DS9) is represented by Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.”

Finally, if a novel trilogy could have ironic end-credits music, Star Trek: Coda would conclude with a hat-tip to the franchise’s newly expanding canon, with (Just Like) Starting Over by the great John Lennon.

Postscript: If you’re just looking for suitable background music for reading, check out my Star Trek: Coda – Reading Music playlist on Spotify.

Star Trek: Picard’s Temporal Mechanics

Because I need a shorter link to which I can direct people when I try to explain why the temporal mechanics in season two of Star Trek: Picard are actually quite well done, I am making this blog post. It is an updated version of content I have previously posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Some fans I’ve seen talking about the latest developments on STAR TREK: PICARD seem confused about the temporal mechanics of the whole thing. (SPOILERS follow)


Feliz quinceañera, Star Trek Vanguard

Fifteen years ago saw the premiere of Harbinger, the first book in the Star Trek Vanguard series, which I co-created with Pocket Books senior editor Marco Palmieri.

What was Star Trek Vanguard? Dayton Ward sums it up thusly:

Vanguard as created by editor Marco Palmieri and author David Mack is a series of books that served as a “literary spin-off” of the original Star Trek television series. Running in parallel with the original show, Vanguard was set aboard a space station in a hotly contested area of space called “the Taurus Reach.”

In the years that followed, I wound up alternating writing privileges on the series with Dayton and his hetero life-mate and frequent writing partner Kevin Dilmore. This, among other things, led to them becoming two of my closest friends, with whom I shared the most artistically satisfying creative endeavor of my career to date.

Photo of Dayton Ward, Marco Palmieri, Kevin Dilmore, and David Mack
The Vanguardians of the Galaxy: from left, Dayton Ward, Marco Palmieri, Kevin Dilmore, David Mack. Taken at Shore Leave Convention, July 2011.

Marco, who left Simon & Schuster after editing the fourth Vanguard novel, subsequently returned to the saga as an author, contributing the novella “The Ruins of Noble Men” to the Vanguard anthology volume Declassified. And acclaimed international best-selling thriller author James Swallow took Vanguard into the Mirror Universe with his short story “The Black Flag,” in the anthology Shards and Shadows.

Furthermore, we had the amazing good fortune that all of our series’ cover art was created by the brilliantly talented Doug Drexler. Every single one of his covers is worthy of being enlarged to billboard size and plastered onto the side of a skyscraper.

Dayton has done an amazing write-up about Vanguard — what it is, how it came to be, and what it has meant to all of us who were fortunate enough to work on it. I doubt I could improve upon it; I would only end up paraphrasing it. So I’ll just say, go read his excellent tribute to this series we built with love, sweat, and imagination.

If you’ve never read the Star Trek Vanguard saga, here is your guide:

Star Trek Vanguard Bibliography

Harbinger – David Mack
Summon the Thunder – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
Reap the Whirlwind – David Mack
Open Secrets – Dayton Ward (story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore)
Precipice – David Mack
Declassified – four novellas by: Dayton Ward; Kevin Dilmore; Marco Palmieri; and David Mack
What Judgments Come – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore (story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore and David Mack)
Storming Heaven – David Mack (story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore and David Mack)

There also are a few additional stories that, while not essential to enjoying the main “saga,” might be of interest:

Distant Early Warning – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore (a Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers story and Vanguard prequel)

In Tempest’s Wake – Dayton Ward (sort of a coda to the Vanguard series)

The Black Flag” – James Swallow
(Included in the anthology Star Trek: Mirror Universe – Shards & Shadows)

You can also load up on SPOILER-FILLED, behind-the-scenes goodness with my Vanguard Finale page.

Dayton, Kevin, and I have agreed that we have no intention of ever re-opening the toy box that was Star Trek Vanguard. From the outset, the saga had been planned with a clear beginning, middle, and ending, and ultimately we hewed fairly closely to that original plan. What’s more, we ended the saga on our own terms, by design rather than by necessity, a privilege one is rarely afforded in the world of media tie-in writing.

Sometimes I daydream of seeing Vanguard as a new Star Trek TV series. But then I remember that it likely would never be as good on the screen as it is in the theater of my imagination, and I’m content to leave it where it is.

As Pennington wrote at the saga’s end, “Let the world forget; I’ll remember.”

I’m begging you: Please buy THE IRON CODEX

Some of you folks might have seen other authors posting about the crushing effect the pandemic has had on book sales.

Everyone thought people stuck at home would buy MORE books, but that isn’t what’s happened.

Truth is, most people lost their incomes. Many people in the publishing industry have been laid off or let go outright, resulting in many titles being delayed for months or longer.

Worse, the supply chain for book production and sales has all but collapsed. Printing companies are running out of paper; trucking companies that move paper and books are losing drivers; many retailers, both virtual and brick-and-mortar, who used to sell books are now closed.

The result has been a calamity for publishers and authors. Some folks thought readers would embrace eBooks and bypass the paper/shipping problem. But that hasn’t happened. For all the talk of eBooks supplanting print, the dead-tree format remains the dominant format for sales.

What has all this meant to me? My sales have been slammed, just as many others’ have. I’d like to say “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” but that’s not really true anymore. Truth is, my sales could use a bit of help, too.

Tuesday, May 12, is my birthday. I would be grateful if, on that day, anyone reading this who hasn’t already bought a copy of my fantasy-thriller The Iron Codex would please buy a copy in any format from the retailer of your choice.

If you already have The Iron Codex, then I’d be grateful if, on May 12, you’d pre-order a copy (in any format, from any retailer) of my upcoming Dark Arts series finale, The Shadow Commission (coming Aug. 11 from

Not to be too melodramatic about it, but my future as an author of original fiction might well depend on this. So any support you can find it in your heart (and finances) to provide at this time would be potentially career-saving. Thanks in advance for your support.

Art is a Kind of Magic, Magic a Kind of Art

Making good art is hard.

That turned out to be a key concept in my new epic fantasy novel about a secret war between Allied and Nazi sorcerers during World War II, but I didn’t know that until after I had started writing it.

When I began working on The Midnight Front, my goal was to tell a secret-history adventure that transplanted Renaissance-era ceremonial magic into a 20th-century setting. For those who are unfamiliar with the precepts of ceremonial magic from the Christian tradition, its central idea is that all true magic (as opposed to stage magic), from the smallest trick to the grandest miracle, is predicated upon the conjuring and control of demons. The terminology of this style of magic is highly technical and antiseptic, and its practitioners treated the exercise of magic like a form of science (possibly because magic during that period was connected closely with the practices of alchemy, the forerunner of modern chemistry).

To make my novels’ system of magic more cinematic (and therefore better suited to a fast-paced action narrative), I grafted onto it the concept of “yoking,” in which a magician binds one or more demons to his or her mind and body and, for as long as he or she is able to maintain control over the spirits, wields the demons’ powers as if they were his or her own.

In the interest of limiting my characters’ ability to wield such powers I imposed certain consequences upon this practice. My characters soon learn that yoking demons is a miserable experience, one that comes with such side effects as headaches, nosebleeds, intestinal distress, obsessive-compulsive habits, self-harm such as cutting and hair-pulling, nightmares, and other such unpleasantness.

Consequently, my characters swiftly take to self-medication to mitigate the side effects that come with yoking demons. Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, opium—whatever dulls the pain and quiets the voices, my characters make use of it so that they can yoke more spirits, gain more power, and try to win the war. So far it seemed to be shaping up into a well-balanced and narratively workable system of magic.

Then, one night a few years ago, I was describing the magic system to a friend at a party, and I experienced a revelation: the system of magic I had concocted, and the manner in which my characters coped with its deleterious consequences, mirrored my own creative process.

When I stepped back from my story and examined its moving parts, I realized that magic, which my characters sometimes call simply “the Art,” was a metaphor for all types of creative art. The notion of having to perform exhaustive research and preparation, and to master the fundamentals of the process before being able to use magic professionally was no different from the learning curve experienced by any artist. Writers, painters, musicians, actors, sculptors — any artistic discipline that I could think of fit this paradigm.

Then I thought about what demons represented beyond the context of my story, and I saw that they were metaphors for those forces that drive artists to create, to reshape reality. Some of those forces are benign, but others are not. How many artists have spoken of grappling with their “personal demons” during the act of creation? How many of us find the inspirations for our art in the darker corners of our psyches?

Even my characters’ coping mechanisms are hauntingly familiar to anyone who knows people who make their living in the arts. The creative professions sometimes seem almost synonymous with substance abuse. Opiates and music have a long shared history, as do writing and alcohol. I’ve never made any secret of my own proclivity for drinking; I have long practiced the edict “write drunk, edit sober” (a saying often attributed, possibly in error, to Ernest Hemingway).

The most vital parallel between my perception of artistic expression and the depiction of magic in my Dark Arts series lies in my main character’s moral conundrum: How can he do good in the world when his power is derived from a source considered to be the ultimate incarnation of evil?

The answer, both for my character and myself, is that what matters most is not the source from which one derives power, but what one ultimately does with that power. That’s as true for artists as it is for magicians. Even when our inspirations are drawn from the darkest places, what’s important is that we use our gifts to shed new light — and that we do our best to burn brightly.

The Midnight Front: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

This blog post originally ran on the Unbound Worlds blog in January 2018. That site no longer exists, so I have reposted my essay here.

On Creative Burnout (#SFWApro)

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about creative burnout and self-care. Because I think sometimes we all push ourselves too hard, and we all deserve a break.

There’s nothing wrong with stepping back from our work once in a while. Digging into one’s soul to tell stories, craft images, or to create anything, can be an exhausting process.

But life takes its toll on all of us. Health concerns, financial worries, family obligations, other full-time work … they all put stress on us. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I sometimes feel as if our field puts too much emphasis on the need to make measurable progress every day. Write “X” words every day. Post a certain number of tweets. Produce, produce, produce.

Artists are not machines. We need to recharge. To rest. To think. To dream. Sometimes, what we think is “writer’s block” is more than just a sign of a problem with our project: in some cases, it’s a warning of burnout.

Too many of us have been conditioned to stigmatize the idea of stepping away from our work, not just for a day, but maybe for weeks, or months, or longer. There are those who make us feel like failures if we do.

I’ve been my own worst critic in such situations. Beat myself up emotionally for not working when what I really needed was to embrace the downtime. I needed time this past year to process bad news on multiple fronts.

What I’m trying to say is, cut yourself some slack. If you can afford to do so, be willing to walk away from a blank page. Self-care — whether physical or psychological — is not sloth. Downtime is not a sin.

When you’ve healed, when you’ve regained your strength, your focus, your time … you’ll know it. Your muse will return. Ideas will flow again. But first you need to care for yourself and those around you.

There’s no sure-fire, one-size-fits-all formula for recovering from burnout. Maybe you need medical care, or talk therapy. Or the right chat with a friend. Maybe you just need time and solitude.

But when it comes to survival, you owe it to yourself to be a little bit selfish. As they say on airplanes, put your own mask on first before you try to help others. Catch your breath.

Remember: the creative life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pace yourselves, my friends.