Talking Trek and Pirates with Author A.C. Crispin
A.C. Crispin isn’t the most prolific Star Trek novelist, but she’s penned a few of the most popular and influential Trek books, notably Yesterday’s Son, Sarek and Time for Yesterday. Those novels delved deep into the back stories of Spock and Sarek. Yesterday’s Son holds the distinction of being the first non-novelization Trek tale to reach the New York Times Best Seller list. Beyond her Trek work, Crispin has ventured into other established franchises, including Star Wars, V and Alien, and created universes of her own, most famously the StarBridge series of sci-fi books. StarTrek.com caught up with Crispin for a detailed, exclusive interview in which she recounted her Trek experiences and previewed her latest book, the Pirates of the Caribbean back-story saga, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom, which will be available on May 17.
Over the years, you've created your own universes and written books based on existing franchises. How similar or dissimilar a task is that?
Crispin: When writing a novelization, as I did with V and Alien Resurrection, you have the story in the script, and you need to flesh it out, show the story from inside the characters’ heads. You have to decide whether scenes shown in the film stand on their own in print, or whether they need more introduction or resolution than what’s shown. I was surprised, when I was writing V, to discover that one picture often did equal about a thousand words. But you have the STORY, so you don’t have to spend time plotting, or creating characters. I’d say writing a novelization is the easiest of the three, when speaking of writing novelizations, media tie-in novels, or original novels… if it weren’t for the fact that most novelizations have to be written at a really killer pace. I once did a novelization in seven weeks, and that was a lot of material to write that quickly!
When I write a tie-in novel -- which, for me, lately, has involved writing back story for beloved characters, as I did for Sarek, Han Solo and now Jack Sparrow -- that’s much more like writing an original book. You have to come up with the plot, and usually quite a few of the characters are your own creation. For some tie-ins you don’t have to do a lot of setting, or write a lot of description because you’d bore your readers. When you’re writing about Mr. Spock, or the bridge of the Enterprise, everyone can visualize them already. So you can save some words not having to describe them much. But you definitely have to create planets, or the interiors of other spacecraft, and you have to make sure you maintain both internal consistency as well as stick to the show’s canon. And somehow you have to show the beloved characters growing and changing… but in such subtle ways that their circumstances at the end of the book don’t infringe on established continuity. It can be a bit like walking a tightrope while juggling.
When I write an original novel, I’m in control of everything. I can kill anyone that needs killing. The setting and descriptions come out of my head, unless I’m writing something based in reality, such as the nautical and historical settings I wrote in The Price of Freedom. I’m responsible for it all, but I am also in control of it all, and that’s a good feeling. I am not bound by the constraints of established universe canon. Of course I must create a story readers will want to read, and it must be internally consistent.
And do you have a preference?
Crispin: Yes, I’d really prefer writing original stories. Unfortunately, they don’t sell as well, so I have to contract for tie-in projects about half the time, to pay the mortgage.
How were you first brought into the Star Trek fold? How much did you know about Trek in advance of your first book? How much research did you do?
Crispin: I was a Star Trek fan from the early days of the show. I’d watched all of the episodes many times. I had read many of the novels and all of the James Blish novelizations. So I knew Star Trek inside and out when I wrote Yesterday’s Son on a whim. I did some research to write the book, mostly about arctic terrain and survival in arctic regions. But since I used established settings, mostly I only wrote about what I already knew from watching the show for all those years.
In your Trek books -- and the comic book you co-wrote -- you really explored the inner lives of Spock and Sarek. What intrigued you most about the characters? And what do you think you added to the lore of Vulcans in general and to Spock, Sarek and Zar specifically?
Crispin: From the beginning I was fascinated -- pardon the pun -- by Mr. Spock and Vulcan. As a child of the 60’s, the idea that Vulcans were strong, and capable, anything but wimps, yet their entire planet embraced pacifism, really inspired me. Also, Mr. Spock was smart, and I identified with his intelligence, yet (also) his “apartness.” He was a character pulled between worlds… this is a characterization a writer can really sink her teeth into! So I worked very hard at being able to set inside the skin of my Vulcan characters, and write them in a way that was true to their nature, yet made them understandable and allowed readers to empathize with them. I also loved Mr. Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future. I wanted to go live in that future, and I was able to, at least for as long as it took to write my novels. As for Zar, it seemed to me when I watched “All Our Yesterdays” that the episode cried out for a sequel… so I sat down and wrote it. Regarding adding Trek “lore”… I suppose I was able to add a bit. I recall inventing a rather nasty weapon from the time of Surak that Romulans still used for Sarek… a senapa, I believe it was called. That was fun.
Let's be cruel here and ask you to do the following: please give us two sentences summing up your thoughts -- what you felt worked best, what readers responded to most, etc. -- in each of your Trek stories.
Crispin: Yesterday’s Son; I think readers were hungry in that era for stories that explored the inner lives of the Trek characters, and my book did that. Especially in the case of Mr. Spock. Time for Yesterday; I’m proudest of that book, out of all four of my Trek novels, because it was a prequel to Wrath of Khan, my favorite Trek film. Also, it was fun to write a love story for Zar. The Eyes of the Beholders; When The Next Generation aired, I decided to do something I’d never pursued before, and submitted a treatment for a teleplay about an ancient artifact that was causing a certain area of space to become a sort of outer-space Sargasso Sea. Then the Pocket editors put out a call to all their writers begging them to write a Next Gen story, and I figured a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, as they say, and converted my teleplay treatment into a novel. Sarek; I met Mark Lenard many times at Star Trek conventions over the years, and was always fascinated by the character he portrayed. We were talking about Sarek’s character at one point, and he said, “Why don’t you write a novel that tells Sarek’s story?” I felt so honored that Mark would say that, that I pitched it to my editor, and that’s how I came to write the novel.
Crispin: I’ve met Mr. Nimoy a number of times over the years, and he was always polite and gracious, but the only time he ever commented on the reading he’d done for Yesterday’s Son and Time for Yesterday was to ask me once at a party whether I’d gotten my royalties from the audio department yet that year. And yes, they were running a bit late, which wasn’t all that unusual. Jimmy Doohan did read Yesterday’s Son, and told me he liked it very much, even before he was tapped to do the reading on the audio tape. MarkLenard told me he really liked Sarek. As you say, hearing that was pretty cool.
You've frequently collaborated with other authors over the years. On your Star Trek graphic novel Enter the Wolves, you joined forces with Howard Weinstein. What did Weinstein bring to the table for you as a collaborator?
Crispin: I did collaborate with Howie Weinstein to write the graphic novel Enter the Wolves because he had the experience writing for comic books and graphic novels that I lacked. I came up with the idea, and wrote the initial story, but translating that story into effective panels for the artist to render was not something I’d ever done before, so I asked Howie to collaborate on the graphic novel to make it better. And he certainly did that. Howie was able to visualize the panels and organize the “shots” so that the story really came to life.
Did you see Star Trek (2009)? What did you make of the depictions of Spock and Sarek?
Crispin: I’m going to be honest about that film. I saw it one time, and one time only, because it annoyed me. The acting was good. All of the young actors tapped to portray our heroes did a fine job. But the writing of the film seemed as though the screenplay writers had never seen the original Star Trek and had no idea what the characters portrayed by – especially -- Nichelle Nichols and Leonard Nimoy were all about. I found it completely unbelievable that Mr. Spock would have an affair with a junior office who was one of his students. That’s completely outside all military protocol and professionalism. I also didn’t believe that Uhura would throw herself at a superior officer like that.
The “science” depicted in the film was silly, too. Why dig a hole in Vulcan to plant “red matter” when any matter even denser than dark matter, when dropped into a planet’s atmosphere, would immediately sink to its core? That made me roll my eyes, frankly. That film played so fast and loose with Trek continuity, and it seemed as though the writers were enjoying thumbing their noses at the universe and characters we’d loved for so many decades. As I watched, I envisioned plotting sessions with the writers, and comments like: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Kirk’s supposed to be the horndog, so let’s turn it on his head and have Spock being the one that gets laid, and Kirk can’t get to first base. Won’t that be hilarious?” Well, no. It wasn’t. At least, not to me. I know I’m in the minority about this. Everyone was applauding at the end of the film. My husband and I looked at each other and said, “Did they see the same movie we just saw?” But, as they say, different strokes, and all that.
It's been a long time, since 2004, that you worked on Star Trek book. First, why haven't you written another Trek book? And, if the opportunity arose, how interested would you be in doing more and what have you not yet gotten explore, Trek-wise, that you'd like to delve into?
Crispin: First of all, I don’t regret writing Trek novels. I enjoyed writing them very much at the time. However, as you say, it’s been a long time since I wrote in the Trek universe, so long that all of my Star Trek books are now antiques, at least a decade out of print, which means no longer available. I really doubt that any of the younger fans Trek have been exposed to them. I had a bit of a following for my Trek novels back in the 80’s and 90’s, and that was very gratifying. I had a heck of a good time writing my Trek novels, and got the wonderful opportunity to travel and meet a lot of Trek fans over the years.
I actually did work on another Star Trek project after the graphic novel, a sequel to Time for Yesterday about Spock and Zar going back to Surak’s era on ancient Vulcan. I wrote the first 60,000 words or so of it, but the story was never published due to some sudden changes in the Trek editorial staff. It wasn’t my decision; I regretted not being able to see the project through. But I’ve moved on. As a professional writer, I’ve learned never to burn my bridges, and to always consider opportunities. But, as I said, it’s not my decision to make.
Let's talk about your current projects. First and foremost, there's The Price of Freedom. Give us a taste of what readers are in for?
Crispin: Basically, I did for Jack Sparrow what I did for Han Solo and Sarek – wrote his back story as a novel. The Price of Freedom takes place when Jack is 25 and working for Cutler Beckett and the EITC, with flashbacks to when he’s 20 years old and living in Shipwreck Cove. In the novel, we wind up finding out exactly how Jack wound up in the situation he’s in re: Davy Jones and 100 years before the mast aboard the Flying Dutchman. The story involves the African slave trade, a lost island, a couple of lovely ladies, and, of course, treasure! Anyone interested in a taste of the novel can read excerpts and see the cover on my website, www.accrispin.com.
How strange a process was that for you? You were basically creating the back-stories for characters created for a film series that was based on a Disneyland ride?
Crispin: I based the novel on Disney canon regarding the films, rather than the attraction. At the time I wrote the book, I’d never seen the updated attraction featuring Jack Sparrow, Hector Barbossa, etc.
What else are you working on at the moment in terms of teaching, convention appearances, book signings, any other books you're working on, etc.?
Crispin: I’ve started a new novel, a young adult (story), and I’m doing promotion for The Price of Freedom. There’s an appearance calendar on my website, showing all my activities over the next few months. And, of course, I’m doing my usual work for Writer Beware, helping aspiring writers avoid writing scams. (That’s at) www.writerbeware.com.
If someone first learns about you from reading this interview, what are some of your other works that you personally would recommend to them?
Crispin: As for being proudest of certain books… that’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I do my best on all of my books. As to picking out one or two… it depends on whether the reader is interested in Star Trek, Star Wars, fantasy, or science fiction. I’m proud of my work in other people’s universes, but even prouder of my work in my own StarBridge universe and the Boq’urain universe (Storms of Destiny).
For additional information about A.C. Crispin and her past, present and future works, visit www.accrispin.com.