Andy Mangels Talks Trek Novels
Andy Mangels’ connection to Star Trek goes back further than even most serious Trek fans probably realize. Though he’s best known as the co-author of more than a dozen Trek novels, among them TNG: Section 31: Rogue, DS9: Prophecy and Change, Titan Book 1—Taking Wing, Enterprise: The Good that Men Do, and Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru, all released between 2001 and 2008, Mangels actually first entered the Trek realm in the early 1990’s when he worked on a couple of TNG comic books that went unpublished by DC. A few years later, he tapped out text for the packaging and inserts of Trek statuettes and ornament from Applause, and by 1997 he, along with now-former writing partner Michael A. Martin, was writing DS9 comics for Marvel. And from 1998 to 2000, Mangels and Martin wrote copy for the Atlas Editions Star Trek Universe card programs, which ultimately led them to Pocket Books and their many Trek novels. During a recent, extensive interview, Mangels discussed his Trek work, contemplated how his status as the franchise’s only openly gay author impacted his work, chatted about his non-Trek efforts, and caught us up on what he’s doing now.
What were the challenges of working within an existing framework, particularly a franchise about which readers knew pretty much everything?
Mangels: Almost my entire career has been playing in somebody else's sandbox, whether you're talking Freddy Krueger or Star Wars or Star Trek or other properties. One of the key elements I've learned is it's important to be as true to continuity as you can, otherwise fans won't believe you have the wherewithal to write the story properly. For that reason, research is vitally important, as is being a fan of the property. Then you start to look at the edges of the stories we already know, to see what elements we don't know about. Expanding on minor references or unseen backstories can lead to an exceptional grounding; emotionally, politically, socially. It's like looking at our own history. The more we find out about the motivations and realities of things that have happened in our own world, the more fascinating those can become. Multiplying that in the future universe with aliens and Treknology can be a lot of fun. The only restrictions are making sure things “match up” to the known history and, if they don't, having a good explanation as to why they don't.
Once some of the (Trek television) shows were off the air and we were able to evolve the stories into “What Comes Next?”, that freed things up even further. But even then, I always felt “What Came Before” should be well-respected. I'll make one caveat and note that there was an exception: the supposed death of Trip Tucker as shown in the holodeck program. Everyone involved at Paramount, Pocket Books, and we as authors felt that bit of “holodeck history” should be dealt with, and I think we did so in a manner that was fully appropriate.
Which Trek universe were you most comfortable in? Which characters interested you most?
Mangels: I have attachments to different shows based on different elements. I watched TOS reruns when I was young, but didn't study it. I loved the Filmation cartoons, though. On the whole, my favorite is probably the latter half of TNG, though DS9 was perhaps the most sociologically interesting. I wanted Voyager to be a lot more like its early episodes, but felt they too often put on the brakes when they could’ve gone for real conflict. Enterprise I enjoyed for its rawness, plus I’d met several of the cast and liked them. That said, the TNG (characters) was probably my favorite to write, but I absolutely loved working on Titan. It had some of my favorite TNG (characters), I got to add Tuvok, my favorite Voyager character, into the mix, and I got to bring some of the sociological conflict into the stories a la DS9 and the early Voyagers.
What else did you bring to the Trek books that perhaps no one had before?
Mangels: Well, since I'm the only openly gay man who has ever worked on Trek books, some would argue it was a “gay agenda” that I brought, and very early on, I’d always planned that there’d be gay or lesbian characters in everything I wrote, even if they were minor. Beyond that, I had a “characterization” agenda; being an outsider myself, when creating new characters, I’d ask, in a general sense, “Is there any reason this has to be a straight white male?” If they were humans, I’d choose different areas of the world for them to come from, and research how their gender or race or attitudes might change in a Trek future. I also put a lot of characters of faith in my books, as I come from a religious background. It was equally important to me to show that faith survived in the future, in not only alien races, but humans as well. Trek was great at using “alien allegory” to tell morality tales, but not so good at examining how the “faith-based” parts of the human race had evolved. So, I tried in all my writing to make the characters well-thought-out, to give them emotions, feelings, beliefs and lives beyond what rank they were.
I think that was the strength I brought to my collaborations; I wrote a significant amount of the more character-oriented stuff, as well as a lot of the fight scenes. The material that was more related to internecine political intrigues, alien world-building, and Trek-mythology tapestry-weaving were more Mike's arena. But we also crossed over all the time. Much of the alien-ness of the Tholian hive/caste system was mine, and I came up with the pseudo-scientific solution to terraforming Venus in our S.C.E. duology, Ishtar Rising.
Which of your Trek novels is most popular among fans, and is that one your personal favorite, too?
Mangels: I think our debut novel, Section 31: Rogue, will always be considered one of our best, just because of the intense social aspects, and the political quandaries we were dealing with in a fictional sense that may have mirrored real-world issues. It also garnered huge amounts of worldwide attention for “breaking the Trek closet” by featuring a gay lead character. There are some fantastic scenes I love in Mission Gamma: Cathedral and Worlds of DS9: Trill and Excelsior: Forged in Fire, mostly in dealing with people in crisis and how their actions affected lives around them. But my personal favorites will always be the first two Titan books, which are also quite well-received by the fans. Only Rogue and Titan Book 1 made the best-seller lists, and I never see them for sale at used bookstores, so I think the fans really liked them.
Your last Trek novel was Kobayashi Maru. How interested would you be in penning more Trek books?
Mangels: I’d love to work on Trek again. I pitched with Tim Russ to do a Titan series at IDW, but they passed. The book line has been whittled down so much due to sales that I don't know how or when I might have that opportunity, but I'd jump into it in a heartbeat. It's one of the reasons I've kept writing for the wonderful British Trek magazine, and I stay in touch with many Trek professionals and fans.
For StarTrek.com readers not familiar with the breadth and depth of your Trek work, please give them a feel for that…
Mangels: I mentioned some of the Trek comics and other work, but Mike and I did do a short story for a Wildstorm Trek comic that tied in to not only Rogue, but some of our future work. We actually linked many of our works through characters and references, planting Easter eggs for fans to enjoy if they found them. For several years I did DVD special features, and when Paramount did the TAS series on DVD, I proposed to do the special features. They passed, but I did end up providing a lot of material they used for their set and documentary. And I'm currently co-writing the autobiography of Lou Scheimer, Filmation’s founder; it’ll have some cool Trek stuff. I've written for StarTrek.com, covering a lot of the animated series material, as well as Titan’s Trek magazine. For a glimmer of a moment, I wrote a William Shatner comic for BlueWater, but that ended. Most recently, I was an extra in an episode of Leverage, directed by Jonathan Frakes! He complimented me on my kilt, and featured me in several scenes.
Beyond writing, you’re an activist, documentarian, Wonder Woman aficionado, frequent convention guest, and more. Tell us about some of the other hats you’ve worn…
Mangels: My career has been all over the map in the entertainment world. If I lived in Hollywood, I'm sure I'd be a bigger cog in that machine, but I'm happy in Portland, Oregon. It's a very liberal climate, so I feel comfortable in my 15-year relationship with Don Hood, and I actively do a huge amount of charity work, whether as a stage performer, emcee or producer. The fifth Wonder Woman Day event I did a few weeks ago in Portland and Huntington, New Jersey, topped over $40,000, raising my five-year mission total to over $100K for domestic violence programs.
Lastly, what are you working on now?
Mangels: I'm co-writing the aforementioned Scheimer autobiography, which will be out at Comic-Con in July 2011, and have proposals in at various comic book companies. I may also be working on more DVD sets, and I write semi-regularly for Back Issue magazine and Star Trek magazine. And, I have a screenplay I'm working on and a few books of my own in process. Finally, I'd like to say thanks to the fans for your support - and even some of your criticism - over the years. As a fan who grew up in the last 40 years, it's been a true honor to be part of the history of Star Wars, Star Trek, and so many other cool fictional worlds. I hope you all Live Long and Prosper.