Interview with Jeff Ayers, author of Voyages of the Imagination
Jeff Ayers, author of the forthcoming Star Trek novel companion, was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself and the book.
You've been reviewing books, mainly thrillers and mysteries, it appears, for a number of publications. Had you reviewed any Star Trek books before this project?
I have been reviewing suspense/thrillers for Library Journal since 1999. I started writing columns and eventually grew into writing feature articles and interviewing authors for them. At the same time, I started interviewing authors for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I just had my first interview for Writer Magazine appear in their July 2006 issue. Prior to Voyages, I did write one piece of Star Trek. I submitted a DS9 screenplay to Paramount between the second and third season. It got looked over, but ultimately rejected.
Had you already read many Star Trek novels? Were you a longtime fan of the show?
I’ve been buying all of the Trek books since junior high school. The bookstore owner knew me and would immediately say, “The new Trek book came in.” (This was before preordering on the Internet. I figured out the pattern of Pocket’s publication schedule and then haunted the store until I got it). So, I have been reading them since the late 70s on a regular basis. (And I got to go back and reread them for this project).
Do you have a particular favourite series? Without getting negative (or specific), was there any series you weren't too enthusiastic about dealing with?
I have loved the show since I discovered it and I even have them all now on DVD. (Season sets rule). The original will always hold a place in my heart though I’m a hardcore Trekker of all levels. Voyager didn’t live up to its potential, though the Doctor rocked. Enterprise had problems too, but I thought the 4th season was terrific. (Don’t get me started about the last episode of Enterprise).
How did this book come into existence? Was it as easy as pitching the idea to Pocket, or was it more involved?
I frequently lurk the Trek book bulletin boards and I kept thinking that a companion book to all of the novels would answer a ton of the questions that people were asking. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to write it! So, I wrote a proposal, got an agent, and six months later, Marco called my agent with an offer.
The book includes a wide variety of Trek fiction, from Mission to Horatius through the Bantam novels, including Pocket's various YA books. Was that part of the plan from the beginning, or did the scope of the book grow and change over time?
The original plan was for a 25th anniversary of Pocket having the Star Trek book license. The more I thought about it, and after talking to Marco, we both decided it would be better to be an all inclusive book covering the entire history of professionally published Trek fiction. I think the reason I had the honor of writing this book is I was the first person to say I wanted to interview the writers of the books and discover the “stories behind the stories.” The YA books were included after I had signed the contract and the William Rotsler books were included after you and I chatted. :-)
Looking back at nearly forty years of Star Trek fiction, do you see any patterns or eras? For example, some fans and writers talk of the Richard Arnold years, when there were considerable constraints on the writers, and every fan has a different idea of when the golden age was (or is), and of course different editors have done things in different ways.
The books during the “Richard Arnold era” were primarily cookie cutter style stories. Any conflict had to be brought in from external sources. I think John Ordover brought a sense of the comic book mentality to the line, creating multi-part sagas and crossovers. Now the novels have opened up entire universes with brand new characters in the various Star Trek eras. There has never been a better time to be reading the novels! The storytelling possibilities are truly endless.
How long has this taken? Now that you've nearly reached the finish line, how has the experience of writing this book compared to your original expectations?
I had no idea how time consuming and how much fun the whole process of creating Voyages would entail. The whole process of reading all of the novels, tracking everyone down for comments and other odds and ends took almost two years.
Did you encounter any surprises? Any stories from the novelists or editors that you wouldn't have expected? How hard a time did you have tracking the novelists down?
The biggest surprise for me came right away when I discovered that Pocket Books did not have current contact information for any author who had written a novel prior to 1996. I ended up being a detective and when I found one person, I would ask if they knew any of the other authors I was looking for. You would be surprised how close knit a community the Star Trek writers inhabit! I was amazed how many stories the authors revealed was more than just “I came up with the idea.” Heartbreaking and sometimes shocking details were unveiled. (And some of them won’t make the print version of the book).
Did you find yourself discovering forgotten gems, particular novels or novelists you think the fans should rediscover?
My biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed Mike Friedman’s Shadows on the Sun this time around. My personal favorites, like Federation and Q-Squared, were just as good the second time. My personal hope is that readers of my book will actively seek the novels that are out of print and maybe Pocket will reprint some of them. (Like they are doing now for the 40th anniversary).
How's the book organized? By series? By author? Chronologically?
I used David Henderson’s book list that used to be in the back of the novels as a template. So, you have the Bantam titles, the Ballantine titles, and then the Pocket titles. The numbered ones are first, followed by the unnumbered books.
How is a typical entry organized? Do they vary much in length or detail?
Title of book/author/publication date/pagination
Summary of book (as spoiler free as possible)
Author and editor comments
Each entry varies based on how much information I could get from the various sources. Each page will be double columned. With the timeline and index, the book is over 800 pages.
What are you most proud of about this book?
Besides the book itself, which is still a dream until I see it in the store, and even then it will probably seem unreal. This book has opened doors both professional and personal that I never imagined. I’m another living example of Star Trek changing their life.
What's next? Will you be keeping up with the Star Trek books with an eye to doing a second edition?
I will always be reading Star Trek books and it will be weird to not be trying to track down information when the books come out next year. I hope that fans will want another edition down the road and I would be happy to do it!
Do you have any thoughts, plans, or dreams of future Star Trek-related projects?
As a result of this book, I found a writing partner and the two of us just had our first Star Trek novel proposal rejected. We will keep trying! Marco was an amazing editor and I hope to work with him again in the future which is why I’ll keep trying for future Trek projects.
Any projects that have nothing to do with Star Trek?
My writing partner and I have a proposal for a Young Adult mystery series being looked at and I hope to be writing another non-fiction book in the near future. I also have a thriller that I hope will see the light of day.
I’m still staying active in my various reviews, interview writing, and book stuff while trying to juggle family time with my full time job.
Voyages of the Imagination will be available from Pocket Books this fall.