Author Diane Duane Talks Trek, Wizards & Soda Bread
Diane Duane is as prolific as a writer can be, having penned novels, comic books, television shows, films, short stories, audionovels, computer games and more, including an upcoming cookbook. While she’s best known for her long-running Young Wizards series, Duane also spent many years in the Star Trek universe, writing TOS and TNG tales, the Rihannsu adventures, Trek manga and a TNG graphic novel, as well as the TNG episode “Where No One Has Gone Before.” StarTrek.com recently caught up with Duane in Ireland, where she lives with her husband, author Peter Morwood, for an in-depth interview in which she discussed her career, Trek output and upcoming projects.
How, when and why did you choose to become a writer?
Duane: I’m not aware of choosing, as such. I’ve just always written. It was to amuse myself, at first: I did my first novel when I was about seven, in crayon. Illustrations and all. Like a lot of little kids at that point, I thought that if you wrote a book you had to do everything yourself: the illustrations, the cover, the whole thing. Later on when I’d go to schools to speak, in the days before home computers and printers, very small children would ask me, “How do you write so small?” I started bringing manuscripts and page proofs with me so I could show them what was going on. Anyway, I wrote all through grade school and junior and senior high, mostly Tolkien-influenced fantasy, stuff which would eventually be the groundwork for my first fantasy novels.
Early on, you worked as David Gerrold’s assistant. What did you learn from that experience?
Duane: Mostly not to be scared of writing as a business and a daily avocation. If I had any illusions about airy-fairy notions like “wooing the muse” and moping around waiting for creativity to strike, having a chance to watch David work dispensed with those in short order. He just made coffee or got himself a Coke, and then sat down and wrote, and that was the size of it. His straightforward professionalism and no-nonsense attitude were, as we’d say now, very grounding. I watched him and thought, “I can do that. I will do that.”
Plus, David also did me huge a favor: he got me mad. When I told him I wanted to be a writer, he did what turned out – for me -- to be exactly the right thing. He rolled his eyes and said, “Oy, another one.” I got absolutely furious and went off thinking, “You just wait, you SOB: I’m going to show you I’m not just some wannabe.” Which, in time, apparently I did because after he read my first novel he sent it off to his publisher, and they bought it about two weeks later. That was the book that got me nominated two years running for the Campbell Award. And about two months later an agent came looking for me – Donald Maass, still my agent after 30 years: both a very gifted writer and a great powerhouse on the agenting and teaching side of our field. So I have a lot to thank David for.
How did you first hook up with the world of Star Trek books?
Duane: I’d been reading them for a while before my first novel was published. I was lucky to be coming into the professional side of writing during what some have described as the golden age of Trek novels – new voices, writing the Trek they really wanted to without feeling crippled by too much oversight, though all the writers I knew personally were very committed to staying inside continuity. Anyway, one day I read a Trek novel that really annoyed me. I thought it was so… substandard. I went off thinking, “I could eat a ream of typing paper and barf a better novel than that.” Whether that’s turned out to be true, I leave to the fandom to discuss. But I loved Star Trek – have loved it since I was a teenager – and wanted to see it treated properly, with respect.
What were the unique challenges of writing for Trek, in the sense that for the most part you were dealing with an established franchise and established characters?
Duane: Well, the challenges aren't completely unique; it’s something you run into whenever you’re dealing with a universe that’s owned by someone else. Don’t forget, I was also writing for Hanna-Barbera at that point, (which was) my first TV work. The money I made writing for Scooby-Doo and Scrappy and Captain Caveman was directly responsible for keeping me eating while I was writing So You Want to Be a Wizard. And even at that level of TV you learn not to mess with the continuity, and how to stay inside it while also pushing against the walls to see how much “give” they have. So it wasn’t news to me that I was going to have to “color inside the lines” in this slightly different region of novel-writing. If anything, I was happy that I had so much continuity to support me. I was one of those old-school Trekkies who could quote (and still can quote) large amounts of the dialogue in given episodes. I knew the Trek characters better than I then knew some of my own. I knew – I thought – how the Enterprise crew should sound, and how they should act, and I did my best to being that sense into the fiction with me.
You’ve written TOS, Rihannsu and TNG books. You wrote Trek games and comics. Within which Trek "universe" are you most comfortable?
Duane: Tough, tough call. Let me come at it backwards. There are some of the Trek scenarios that I haven’t cared for all that much. They didn’t hook me emotionally, for whatever reason. Voyager and Enterprise never caught my interest the way TOS and TNG did. As regards DS9, I’m sort of on the fence. So it’s fair to say that TOS and TNG were my favorites, with TOS having a slight edge. As regards the Rihannsu books, they were always a special case. I was very aware that Paramount had “ring-fenced” this particular part of Trek for me to play in, and that knowledge always charmed and frankly awed me a little. It was a relief to complete that storyline, which had been hanging fire for a very long while. But I was also sad to say goodbye to the characters.
Which of your Star Trek works would you say were the most popular/best reviewed and which were you personally happiest with?
Duane: Spock’s World is probably my favorite, for all kinds of reasons. Yes, it spent eight weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, which admittedly was a trip. But there are other reasons more private. That book scratched a creative itch I’d wanted to deal with for a long time, for I was always a big Spock fan. But also, sometimes it’s the work that gives you the most trouble that you love the best. I lost what should have been the final draft of that book to a disk crash – my backups turned out to be corrupt – and I had to reconstruct the entire book in about two weeks to hit my deadline. This may have been one of those blessing-in-disguise things, in that I think the rewrite/reconstruction was better than the original. In any case, Spock’s World is sort of the gift that keeps on giving, to its author anyway. I could hardly believe it when I heard that Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were passing out pages from Spock’s World to the cast on Star Trek (2009) in lieu of script pages, to show them how they wanted certain characters to interact. That blew me away. Beyond that, I have kind of a soft spot for Doctor's Orders and Dark Mirror.
How did you wind up with a "written by" credit on the TNG episode "Where No One Has Gone Before"? And what did you make of the episode?
Duane: Michael Reaves and I co-wrote the screenplay. My husband Peter Morwood and I were guests at Michael’s while Michael’s then-wife Brynne Stephens and I were story-editing separate animated series at DIC. At that point, the Trek offices were only accepting pitches from writers who were Writers’ Guild members and had live-action drama under their belts. I wasn’t in the Guild and had no live action at that point. Michael did. After some days’ work on a pitch he came to me and said, “No matter what I do with this, it keeps coming out like Wounded Sky. Do you want to come with me and we’ll pitch this as a team?” I was completely astounded. That was a tremendous offer, incredibly gracious and generous, (and) absolutely in character for Michael. So that’s what we did. We went in and pitched it to Gene Roddenberry together – a high water mark for me as regards sheer nervousness. Even the first time I scrubbed in on brain surgery back in my nursing-school days didn’t freak me out as much as that pitch did.
But Roddenberry loved the story we told him, and Bob Justman later described the pitch as “the Star Trekkiest Star Trek story he’d ever heard.” High praise. So Michael and I went through the usual stages of premise and outline, taking notes from Gene and our line producer each time, and then went off and wrote the script. It took us a couple of weeks. We turned it in, and got paid, and that was that. As of a couple of weeks later we were “cut off at first draft,” as the saying goes. The script was handed off to another writer for rewrite. Much later we discovered that some obscure power struggle was going on inside the TNG offices, and like various other writers working TNG at that point, we got caught in the crossfire and were chucked out when the production associate who’d brought us in was let go. The rewrite was very complete: of our original script, only one shot (by Duane) and one scene (by Reaves) remain. It’s the kind of thing that makes TV writers shrug at each other and say, “Oh well. The check cleared.”
If someone reads this and decides to check out your non-Trek works, what novels, shows and/or movies would you recommend they look at to get a real feel for you and your writer's voice?
Duane: Well, I have a number of voices up and down the range, so to speak. Some of them are a little less serious than others, like the TV movie Lost Future, which aired a couple of months ago on SyFy. (That was) straightforward post-apocalyptic action-adventure, with the added enjoyment of getting to watch Sean Bean run around in leather pants. At the fantasy end – or science fantasy, maybe – the Young Wizards books are a great favorite of mine. The world and its characters have been getting increasingly complex over recent years. They’ve always been as much intended for an adult audience as a young-adult one, and I’m preparing to revise the four oldest books so that their tone will better match the later ones. Book nine, A Wizard of Mars, came out last spring, and the paperback will be coming out in April. I got to indulge a truly indecent amount of Mars geekery in that one. And then there’s Omnitopia Dawn, which is -- as they used to say on Monty Python -- something entirely different: a projected MMORPG platform for a new decade. I can’t wait for the technology I extrapolated in there to actually come along. Or rather, maybe it’s a good thing that it’s not here just yet, because if it was, I’d never get any work done again.
You've got Omnitopia: East Wind coming up. How's that coming together, and what else are you working on?
Duane: Omnitopia: East Wind is in its final stages, which it had better be, considering it’s coming out in August. Meanwhile I have several book projects in progress, some that have been in process for a long time, some quite new. And there’s some film work in various stages of completion at the moment, a couple of movies with differing amounts of science fiction or fantasy in the mix. And Peter and I have a pitch for a historical drama series that’s making the rounds out in LA at the moment. We’re waiting to see who goes for it.
Oh, and a cookbook; just a small thing. As a hobby, Peter and I have been managing a website called EuropeanCuisines.com for some years. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches each year, the site gets thousands and thousands of hits from people looking for his late mother’s soda bread recipe. So we’ve put together an Irish cookbook around it from recipes that we’ve posted there over the years. Just more writing, but this time we get to indulge our foodie side instead of the strictly literary urge. It’s always fun to do some creative work that the Times book editor isn’t going to get to critique!
To learn more about Diane Duane and keep track of her upcoming projects, visit www.DianeDuane.com.