A Choice of Catastrophes
By StarTrek.com Staff - August 22, 2011
It should be well worth the wait. The U.S.S. Enterprise and her crew are back in action in the upcoming TOS novel Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes, due out on August 30 from Simon & Schuster. The new adventure, penned by the tandem of Steve Mollmann and Michael Schuster, centers on Dr. McCoy, who must spring into action – in ways he never imagined – when all around him officers suddenly lapse into comas for no apparent reason. The mass-market paperback will run 352 pages and cost $7.99. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Mollmann and Schuster for an email interview – since Mollmann lives in Connecticut and Schuster is based in Austria – in which they talked about graduating from Trek short stories to a novel, how they collaborate long-distance and, of course, what readers can expect from A Choice of Catastrophes.
How and when did you guys meet and become collaborators?
Schuster: Back in 2004, I really wanted to write some published Star Trek stories, and the S.C.E. line had traditionally been a place for new authors to show what they could do. I knew Keith DeCandido from online conversations and one day simply asked him if I could send him some story pitches. Surprisingly, he said yes, which then left me to come up with story ideas good enough to send on to him. I think it was about then that I contacted Steve (we'd already known each other online) and asked him if he wanted to help me. A big part of it was that I didn't feel confident enough to write an entire story on my own from start to finish, and in English, too. Too many opportunities to make mistakes and screw the thing up completely!
Mollmann: It's worth pointing out that we never even met until July 2006, I think, a few months after The Future Begins was published. Thankfully, we liked each other!
Your first published Trek works as a tandem were The Future Begins, which you just mentioned, as well as The Sky's the Limit and The Tears of Eridanus. Was there anything before that, Trek-wise, that you wrote but that went unpublished?
Mollmann: I used to participate in play-by-e-mail Star Trek games, and later I ran one myself. I would take the posts people made and compile them into "novels" -- the combined posts of the six or so of us created some honking big books. But The Future Begins was the first Star Trek fiction I ever wrote with anticipation of publication; I never submitted to the Strange New Worlds contests or anything like that.
Schuster: Same here. I wrote some fan fiction, first in German, then in English, but I never thought I'd get published, so I didn't think too much about it. Strange New Worlds was never an issue for me, but if I'd been in the U.S., I would probably have tried to get into one of the anthologies.
Take us back to the moment when you made the sale on The Future Begins, for the What's Past collection? That's every fanboy's dream.
Mollmann: It was actually kinda weird, because it was a slow realization. We sent a whole slew of S.C.E. story ideas at Keith DeCandido, and he indicated he liked our Scotty one the most, and he would pass it on to Paramount Licensing. Then there were months of tense silence, where we wondered whether or not it was all real. Then Keith off-handedly mentioned "a Scotty story" as an upcoming S.C.E. tale in an interview, and we began to think it might happen. (I think this was the moment I cryptically posted just the words "YES!" to my LiveJournal.) Later, Keith sent out an e-mail to all the participants in the What's Past event asking if we had ideas for a name for the miniseries. That was the first we even knew we were part of the thing! And still, we had this suspicion that maybe it wasn't real. I think someone finally sent us a contract, and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Schuster: Steve remembers more of this than I do, it seems. I do remember the long wait between submitting the pitches and knowing that we'd sold the story. Those were nine long months, I have to say. We had pretty much given up hope when we got the news. But then, when we did get them, we were elated. It was unbelievable, really. Something we'd both dreamed of had come true. Just goes to show that you shouldn't stop dreaming.
What's your process for writing? Also, a lot of people are surprised to hear that you're so far away from each other, but with phones, Skype and email/IM, is it safe to assume that you could just as well be down the hall from each other?
Schuster: We try to make use of the current technology if it makes writing easier for us. Our stories were designed in such a way that we were able to write our respective parts simultaneously. We'd swap them when we were done, edit the heck out of them, and send them back for another round or two of edits. A Choice of Catastrophes, we still wrote the two story threads separately, but we used Google Documents to always have access to each other's latest version. Email's still our main medium, though, mostly because it isn't as dependent on us being online at the same time. We live in different time zones, so when I get home from work, it's not yet lunchtime for Steve.
Mollmann: The time zone thing is actually kinda nice, since Michael can write something when he gets off work, and it's done it time for me to look at it when I get off work! I couldn't convince him to ever get on AIM, and now no one uses AIM, so it's a moot point.
Now, with A Choice of Catastrophes, you're making the leap to full-length Trek novel. In what ways, if any, did the writing/collaboration process change? And how different, for you guys, is spinning a full story versus a short story?
Mollmann: Well, the Star Trek work we've done before this has been fairly simple, structurally. The Future Begins and our tales for The Sky's the Limit had two distinct halves, so we could each tackle one, and even in The Tears of Eridanus, the plots alternated chapters and didn't move chronologically at the same rates. A Choice of Catastrophes still has two plot threads, but we wanted them to be more interwoven, and we also wanted the book to be strictly chronological. After we finished the second draft, I made an index card for each scene (white for the Enterprise, yellow for Kirk's shuttle, blue for Spock's shuttle, red for something else) and spread them out on the floor of my apartment until I finally had an order that worked. We also used Google Docs for the first time, since we had to be working on the same chapters simultaneously, which meant we couldn't just trade files.
Schuster: We adapted our process to our needs and those of the story. There was no way we could get something together that we were both happy with as quickly as with Google Docs. We had separate files for each chapter, and often one of us would add words to one chapter while the other was busy taking them out of another one. Once we got the hang of the application, we made as much use of it as we could.
Let's talk specifically about A Choice of Catastrophes. What excites you most about the story you’re telling? About giving Dr. McCoy that A-thread?
Schuster: McCoy in a starring role certainly is something we both wanted. It also was a lot of fun to separate him from both Kirk and Spock, because that made it very apparent how much each of them depends on the others. And then, of course, we separated Kirk from Spock to see how that would turn out. Also, after our previous stories that were rather dependent on characters and events from other stories, it was liberating to be able to make up just about everything ourselves.
Mollmann: Also, just getting to write a five-year mission story is a total blast. I mean, this is real Star Trek, not that namby-pamby spin-off stuff. (I like the spin-offs, but the older I get, the more I enjoy the original, which is clearly the best.)
Mollman: McCoy is basically my favorite kind of character to write: crabby and irritable, but he secretly loves what he's doing, and he might even like you, too. One of my friends once characterized the narrator of a semiautobiographical piece I'd written as "in love with the universe and in love with complaining about the universe," which I think sums up McCoy nicely. He's grumpy, but he can also be so cute some time, especially in "Friday's Child." With an ex-wife, an estranged daughter, and a father he euthanized, he has some dark stuff in his past, but despite all his complaining, he'd never complain about that stuff because it actually matters. Plus, he's funny. And though I loved Karl Urban's McCoy, it was definitely Kelley's voice in my head the whole time.
Schuster: It's Kelley's McCoy for me, too. What Steve said about the character's appeal is also true for me: there isn't that much known about his time before the Enterprise, which let us come up with a back story that explained who he was and how he got to where he ended up. What makes him tick? We got to figure it out and spend more than half a novel's worth on getting inside his head. That's what writers enjoy, and even more so with such a great character.
There’s a lot of Trek history, a lot of McCoy back story out there in all the different Trek media, not to mention your own viewpoints/ideas on the character. What other McCoy-centric stories did you look to for background, for inspiration?
Mollman: The most important ones were probably an excellent pair of linked McCoy novels that came out in the early 1990s, Michael Jan Friedman's Shadows on the Sun and Howard Weinstein's The Better Man. We contradicted both, but they're still great; they just didn't fit with the story we were telling. The latter especially is hugely underrated; Howie writes an excellent McCoy in all his novels. My favorite McCoy story, though, is Carmen Carter's Dreams of the Raven, which is both a gripping story and a smart look at McCoy.
While a good chunk of the book follows McCoy, it's not all about him. What other characters were you eager to write?
Schuster: Kirk, of course, and Spock. They're like the Holy Grail of fan writers. Personally, I was also looking forward to writing Scotty again. I had a blast with The Future Begins, which is almost entirely told from his perspective, and we wanted to continue our exploration of his character, so we made sure we included him as much as possible.
Mollmann: Let's not forget the greatest unsung hero of the Enterprise, Mister Leslie! Also, Chekov turned out to be fun. On the other hand, I kinda avoided Sulu because I was tired of the guy after The Tears of Eridanus, though I did reuse some points of characterization between the two universes.
The book is done and ready for the world to read it. How satisfied are you with the finished product?
Schuster: There were a few difficulties to overcome that required us to rethink part of the novel, but in the end I believe the book is something we both can be proud of. Of course, there's always something to improve. It's been said that a book is never finished, only abandoned. We could have kept working on it, but a deadline's a deadline, and at some point you just have to leave the story be, let it stand on its own. All in all, it's our best work, I think, and it taught us a lot about plotting and writing a full-length novel.
If you had carte blanche to write more Trek stories, what would you want to write?
Mollmann: Of all the ongoing Trek fiction concepts, I would most like to write a Titan story. I feel like we're always coming up with story ideas that would work perfectly for Titan. We were talking about one with Marco Palmieri before he left Pocket, and no one's bitten on our ideas for that since. If I could write any Star Trek story, it would be either a dark, literary take on the Next Generation crew during Season One, or a rollicking space adventure about mercenaries in the aftermath of Star Trek V.
Schuster: Titan, yes. Also, there's that Kelvin concept we put together --I liked that a lot. It was one of two pitches that Jaime Costas, our previous editor, liked. The other was A Choice of Catastrophes. I'm not complaining that it didn't get picked, but I would've liked to put the ship's crew together, develop the characters' back stories and relationships, and figure out how it all works within the Star Trek universe.
What else are you guys working on now?
Mollmann: I have my first solo fiction publication in Wildthyme in Purple, coming out sometime soon from Obverse Books. It's about a 19th-century boy imperialist, the origins of steampunk, and the benefits of gin and tonic. We're also almost always working on stories set in the Systemic Territories, a science-fiction milieu characterized by charming criminals, vague ennui and space ducks.
Schuster: In addition to my ongoing collaboration with Steve, I'm writing some stories on my own. I'd like to be better at short stories, so that's what I'm trying to do. My problem is that I need a lot of words to say what I mean, so I need to learn to rein myself in a bit. It's a learning curve, but a fun one, most of the time.
To learn more about Steve Mollmann and Michael Schuster, check out their official joint site, Exploring the Universe. Click here: http://www.exploringtheuniverse.net/
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