Archive for the ‘writing’ 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.


STAR TREK novels I’ve written

I started writing books for Star Trek in 2000, when I was hired by Pocket Books editors Margaret Clark and Jessica McGivney to write The Starfleet Survival Guide. My first prose fiction for Star Trek was the two-part Star Trek: S.C.E. (aka Corps of Engineers) novella Invincible,” which I co-wrote with series editor (and my pal) Keith R.A. DeCandido. Shortly after that saw publication, I undertook my first solo work of prose fiction, the two-part short novel Star Trek: S.C.E. #23/#24 – Wildfire.

The success of Wildfire led to me being invited in 2003 to write a pair of back-to-back full-length mass-market paperback novels for a 9-volume The Next Generation miniseries called A Time to…. Those two novels — A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal — earned me a lot of critical acclaim, and the latter title landed a spot on the USA Today extended bestsellers list.

Nearly all of the 29 novels I’ve written for Star Trek have been part of its shared, serialized literary post-finale continuity. (You can read more about that in this other blog post.) In a little over two months’ time, Gallery Books will publish my newest Star Trek novel, CODA, Book III: Oblivion’s Gate — which will be the last novel in that 20-year-long serialized continuity.

For those who are generally interested in immersing themselves into that massive creative undertaking, I recommend using the Trek Collective’s Trek Lit Reading Order Flow Chart as a guide.

However, for those who are merely curious about where and how my 29 Star Trek novels (plus 3 novellas and one non-narrative book) fit into this ambitious, multi-author shared universe, I present here a brief primer (i.e., introduction) to my oeuvre in the universe that Gene Roddenberry built. (more…)

STAR TREK: CODA – The End Is Nigh

Star Trek Coda - Moments AsunderThree weeks from today, STAR TREK: CODA, Book I – MOMENTS ASUNDER by Dayton Ward will be published, marking the beginning of the end of more than 20 years of shared, serialized continuity in the Star Trek novels.

The beginning of the “post-finale” continuity in the Star Trek novels generally is considered to have begun in 2001, with the Deep Space Nine novels Avatar, Book I, and Avatar, Book II, by S.D. Perry. Once the shared-continuity books began to grow in popularity, a number of pre-2001 Star Trek novels were retroactively incorporated into it, including the TNG novel Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman.

Before long, the shared literary continuity expanded to encompass nearly all new Star Trek book titles, except for those based on The Original Series. It also helped fuel the creation of several literary-original Trek series, including Stargazer (about Picard’s first command); The Lost Era (stories set between the TOS and TNG eras); S.C.E. (aka Starfleet Corps of Engineers, a monthly eBook novella series); Titan (Riker and Troi’s post-TNG careers); Section 31; Department of Temporal Investigations; and Vanguard (a gritty 23rd-century series set parallel to The Original Series).

For more than 20 years, the editors wrangled over 25 authors, most working alone, some in partnerships, to weave a complex web of Star Trek narratives that explored consistent storylines across two centuries of story time. One reason our publisher and licensor (aka Star Trek Licensing at CBSViacom) let us do this was that, at the time, it seemed unlikely that there would be new Star Trek films or TV series set in the 24th century anytime soon.

We pushed the limits of the Star Trek literary universe. Shattered the status quo again and again. Moved characters’ lives forward. Brought others to an end. Returned others from the grave. We threw out Trek‘s “reset button.” It made for an exciting era in which to be a Star Trek novel author or reader.

Alas, as TNG warned us long ago, “All good things must end.” The harbinger of our experiment’s ending was the announcement of Star Trek: Picard.

We knew that once a show featuring Jean-Luc Picard went into development, it would almost inevitably establish events and character actions that would be irreconciable with our literary continuity. Which put us in a tough spot. Star Trek tie-in fiction, like that of most other licensed properties, is required to be consistent with the canon version of the property, as it exists at the time the tie-in material is written. The more we learned about the back story of Picard, the more we realized there was no way to reconcile or retcon our 20 years of narrative with what was coming. One way or another, our communal literary project was soon to end.

I and others behind the scenes knew we had to make a choice. Either let the story be abandoned in medias res — or steer into the wave and craft an ending worthy of two decades of work.

We chose the second option.

Star Trek Coda - The Ashes of TomorrowI began scheming and daydreaming about the story that would become the spine of the STAR TREK: CODA trilogy at about the same time that my friend and frequent partner in literary mischief Dayton Ward was doing the same thing. During the July 4th weekend of 2019, I persuaded the initially reluctant James Swallow to team up with me in pitching the idea. We hashed out the story in broad strokes over BBQ with Trek-author pals Keith R. A. DeCandido and Glenn Hauman.

When I shared our pitch with Dayton the following week at Shore Leave Convention, his idea and ours were eerily similar. Except, because of his new job with CBS Licensing, he was privy to details about Picard that James and I were not. After hearing me out, Dayton summed up the challenges we faced because of Picard with a chilling caution: “Dude. It’s so much worse than you think.”

As it turned out … he was right.

Star Trek Coda, Book 3, Oblivion's Gate, by David MackDayton, James, and I hammered out a story that we felt was a worthy swan song to two decades of work, an encomium to our fellow authors, and an act of gratitude to the readers who had stuck with us all these years.

Coda proved to be the hardest writing experience of my life. While working on it in 2020, I was shaken by three deaths: the first, in January, was that of my longtime idol Neil Peart of RUSH; the second, in April, was the loss of my mother; and in December, the death of my friend and fellow Trek writer Dave Galanter.

This trilogy was a difficult and emotional project for all three of us writing it, each of us for our own reasons. But just as the application of pressure over time can turn coal to diamonds, I think our hardships have made Coda shine.

All three books of the STAR TREK: CODA trilogy are available for pre-order in trade paperback, eBook, and digital audiobook formats, from most book retailers. Trust me, Trek fans, this is an epic story you won’t want to miss.

STAR TREK: CODA, Book II – THE ASHES OF TOMORROW by James Swallow is scheduled for publication on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.

STAR TREK: CODA, Book III – OBLIVION’S GATE by yours truly will be published on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.


The Shadow Commission Spotify Playlist

In the past couple of years, I’ve brought you Spotify playlist guides for my first Dark Arts novel, The Midnight Front (see its Playlist Guide), and its sequel, The Iron Codex (see its Playlist Guide). To complete the trifecta, I bring you the series’ third playlist, for book three, The Shadow Commission. (Visit its Spotify playlist now.)

Music is invaluable to me as a storyteller. It inspires me with new ideas, and when I’m working, movie soundtracks often help me maintain a consistent frame of mind and emotional state that’s suited to whatever I’m working on.

Once again, to give you a look into my brain’s creative relationship with music, and how it connects to the stories that I write, I have assembled this guide to The Shadow Commission’s playlist. Not all chapters or scenes have specific tracks associated with them, but those that do, I’ve done my best to annotate accordingly.

A review of the playlist reveals that the biggest musical influences this time, as with book two, were spy-movie soundtracks. Specifically, Skyfall and Spectre by Thomas Newman. Also making numerous appearances are tracks from the various Avengers movies’ soundtracks, as well as from some sci-fi classics and cult films, such as Children of Dune by Brian Tyler, Donnie Darko by Michael Andrews, and Stargate by David Arnold, among others.

The Shadow Commission will be published on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, by Tor Books.

Nota Bene: Not all of the listed tracks are available for playback on Spotify, due to ever-changing licensing permissions, etc. Those of you who collect movie soundtracks might own one or more of these discs already. If you can compile your own local playlist based on this, all the better.

Also note that the playlist guide contains spoilers, especially for the end of the book. This is meant as a companion piece to be enjoyed after reading the novel.


Murder in the Morning
“Even for You”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


Cade and Anja Get Bad News
“Wish You Were Here”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


The Kennedy Assassination
“War Begins”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)

A Cardinal Demands Answers
“Child Emperor”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)


Cade’s Fears Made Manifest
“Sins of the Mother”
Children of Dune (Brian Tyler)

Dallas Ambush by Hammers
“Exit Mr. Hat”
The Matrix (Don Davis)


The Dark Circle Begins
“Je Suis de Sole”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


Exploding Mirrors
“Quartz Shipment”
Stargate: The Deluxe Edition (David Arnold)


The Siege of Naxos
“Fighting Back” / “Uprising” / “Outlook”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


Talking to Oswald
“Keys to the Past”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)


Stealing from the FBI
“Springing Erik”
X-Men: Days of Future Past (John Ottman)


Briet vs. the Golem
“Man vs. Beast”
Kong: Skull Island (Henry Jackman)


Zona Rosa
“Welcome to Cuba”
Die Another Day (David Arnold)

Searching Rocha’s Pad
“Unauthorised Access”
Casino Royale (David Arnold)


Luis’s Vision
“Living an Illusion”
Dark City (Trevor Jones)


Silo Under Siege / Frank’s Death
“A Lot to Figure Out”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Miles Is Summoned / He Says Good-bye
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


Miles Underground
“What Did It Cost?”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Demonic Delivery
Blade Runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch)


Razing Monte Paterno
“I Am the Storm”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)

Plotting Cade’s End
“Carpathian Ridge”
Donnie Darko (Michael Andrews)


Ammo Factory Showdown
Thor: The Dark World (Brian Tyler)


Cade & Briet in the Lake
“Camille’s Story”
Quantum of Solace (David Arnold)

Luis’s Disciples in Rome
“Goodbye, My Son”
Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer)


Cade & Anja by Moonlight
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


The Bank Job Begins
“Frankenstein’s Monster”
X-Men: First Class (Henry Jackman)


Cade Faces the Old Man
“Kite in a Hurricane”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)


Yasmin Conspires with Niccolò
“Recruiting Psylocke”
X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)



“The Mission Is Terminated”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


Cade Breaks Free
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


Monks and Mages Arm for War
“Steps Ahead”
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)


Alpine Combat / Hellhounds
“Snow Plane”
Spectre (Thomas Newman)

Violent Attrition
“The Bloody Shot”
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


Cade & Lila / The Old Man
Iron Man 3 (Brian Tyler)

The Betrayal and the Sacrifice
Spectre (Thomas Newman)


Spirit Hammer
“Can You Stop This Thing?”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Danny Elfman)

Cade Dies
Mad Max: Fury Road (Tom Holkenborg)

Anja & Briet Take Revenge
“Darkest of Intentions”
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler)

Leveling the Chalet
Stargate: The Deluxe Edition (David Arnold)


A Tragic Return
“I Feel You”
Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)


A Bittersweet Homecoming
“What Beach?”
X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)


Anja’s Warning
“The Grim Reavers”
Logan (Marco Beltrami)


Three Sisters Scatter
“Don’t Be What They Made You”
Logan (Marco Beltrami)


End Titles
“Gimme Shelter”
The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed

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.

The Iron Codex Spotify Playlist

One year ago I brought you the Spotify playlist guide for my first Dark Arts novel, The Midnight Front. I’ve chosen to reprise that effort by putting together another Spotify playlist for the second book in the series, The Iron Codex.

Music is invaluable to me as a storyteller. It inspires me with new ideas, and when I’m working, movie soundtracks often help me maintain a consistent frame of mind and emotional state that’s suited to whatever I’m working on.

Once again, to give you a look into my brain’s creative relationship with music, and how it connects to the stories that I write, I have assembled this guide to The Iron Codex’s playlist. Not all chapters or scenes have specific tracks associated with them, but those that do, I’ve done my best to annotate accordingly.

As a quick review of the playlist will reveal, the biggest musical influences this time around were spy-movie soundtracks. Specifically, Kingsman: The Secret Service, by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson; Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace by David Arnold; and Skyfall by Thomas Newman.

Also, a fun bit — at the end are two “bonus tracks.” Neither informed any particular scene, but they were instrumental to me in defining the “headspace” for two characters in particular: Cade, whose heartbroken, soul-shaken state is evoked by John Fullbright’s earnest “Until You Were Gone,” and Briet, whose need to earn some kind of redemption is expressed by Brandi Carlile’s hit “That Wasn’t Me.”

Nota Bene: Not all of the listed tracks are available for playback on Spotify, due to ever-changing licensing permissions, etc. Those of you who collect movie soundtracks might own one or more of these discs already. If you can compile your own local playlist based on this, all the better. (more…)

FREE FICTION: “Hell Rode With Her”

Hell Rode With Her,” an original novelette excised from the manuscript of The Midnight Front, details events that befall Russian-born sorceress (aka “karcist”) Anja Kernova after she deserts from the Red Army in late 1943.

This was in fact the first part of the Dark Arts series that I wrote, and Anja’s confrontation with her countrymen during the Great Patriotic War sets the stage for the series’ second book, The Iron Codex, in which Anja is the chief target of an international magickal arms race in 1954.

The good folks at Tor Dot Com are hosting the publication of this story, which first appeared in the anthology Apollo’s Daughters. Please head over to Tor Dot Com, enjoy the story, and leave a comment so that the good folks at Tor will know people are actually reading it.

The Iron Codex will be published on January 15, 2019, and is available now for pre-order in both trade paperback and eBook formats.