The Voyager crew is back in action in Children of the Storm, a new novel set for release today – as a 432-page mass market paperback and e-book– from Simon & Schuster. Kirsten Beyer, who has penned the most recent installments in the Voyager saga, did the honors on Children of the Storm as well. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Beyer for an exclusive and extensive interview in which she previewed Children of the Storm, looked back at her career to date and previous Trek work, and hinted at things to come.
Let's start with Children of the Storm. Give us a preview. What's the basic premise and what are the main characters up to?
Beyer: Children of the Storm builds upon a unique species that was developed by David Mack in his marvelous, Mere Mortals. We got a brief glimpse of them there but they were so interesting, particularly since he established that they had managed to clear their space of the Borg without conventional weapons, that they demanded a follow-up. It was established in Unworthy that three of the fleet's ships, the Quirinal, Planck and Demeter, would be investigating the Children further so this is essentially the story of what happened during and after that encounter.
The main characters are tasked with unraveling the mystery of their three lost ships when they don't report in as scheduled. Everyone is settling into their new and old roles within the fleet after the events of Unworthy, and in every case, there are new challenges presented beyond the immediate mission. It's also worth nothing that new crew members serving aboard the three lost ships are presented and given some pretty significant development. Of course the bulk of the story remains centered around our core crew, but it seemed a waste to just use the other ships as window dressing, so as Galen and Hawking got some fleshing out in Unworthy, so Quirinal, Planck, Demeter and Achilles get similar treatment here.
What would you say is the emotional core of the story?
Beyer: There are actually several, but all of them seem to come down to what we are going to allow to define us and our actions. The thought that led me to my development of the Children was taken from my own experience of the world today, in that there is so much noise in the atmosphere. Daily there are so many people speaking to us, trying to get us to accept their version of what is happening in the world. They don't use their thoughts to illuminate truth. They use them as weapons to try and shape opinions and too few of us really seem aware of the impact our thoughts can have. It's easy to imagine that they are harmless, but thoughts can so easily lead to words and actions that are unthinkable. There's a carelessness in our public discourse these days I find truly troubling, so I chose to take a new species and using the cloak of science fiction, try and develop a direct line from our thoughts to our actions so that we can ask ourselves who are we? What do we really value? And are our actions right now really a reflection of who we can be and who we want to be?
Compared to your previous Voyager stories, how easy or tough was it for you to tap out Children of the Storm?
Beyer: It was comfortable to return to characters I now feel I know so well and to push them a little further on their journey. The tough part was actually related to my personal life now. I gave birth to my first child six months before I started writing so I went from having all day every day to write as much as I needed to a few hours each night when she first went to sleep to cover as much ground as I could. It was actually kind of terrifying. I had to make myself write every single chance I had, rather than building much needed breaks into the schedule because frankly, I never knew, night to night, how much writing time I'd have. Now I don't know about other people. I have heard tell in my travels of people who have babies that are sleeping through the night within days or weeks of being born. I don't have a baby like that. She is now at an age where the hard work of helping her learn how to sleep is really paying off, but from six to twelve months...well, that's when we were doing the hard work. I had to focus in my writing sessions like never before, but as I'm pleased with the results, I have to say it was worth rising to the challenge.
What sort of game changers/stumbling blocks for you were the whole Tuvok-to-Titan storyline and the death of Admiral Janeway in Before Dishonor?
Beyer: I think it's fair to call them major stumbling blocks. In the first place, these were two of my absolute favorite characters to write. Having to imagine future stories without them was incredibly difficult. But once you get past the disappointment you just try and figure out what you will need in their absence. You can never replace characters. Others may rise to fill their former jobs, but there can never be another Janeway or another Tuvok. Frankly, I still miss them both more than I can really say. Had I been onboard with this work prior to those decisions being made I probably would have requested that things went a little differently. But that was not the case so I did the best I could with what I was given.
Without spoiling too much of the story, in what ways would you say it lays the groundwork for subsequent Voyager stories?
Beyer: This book continues the adventures of our crew right from where we left off. It builds upon the possibilities for the fleet in the Delta Quadrant and introduces many new characters who can now add to the richness of this little corner of the Trek universe. Everyone continues to grow as individual people in ways I hope feel organic to the readers and with that growth comes new potential. While I think we are still remaining true to the aspects of Voyager that drew fans to the television series, apart from the obvious absence of Kathryn Janeway, we are still mining the themes of exploration, wonder, family and the upholding of Starfleet principles that defined the series beyond the characters. There are still unresolved story issues that have been raised in previous novels but since when you are writing one of these you never know if you or someone else will be taking the story forward in the future, you try to leave those issues open enough so that anyone could pick them up and run with them should they choose. Or not. I certainly have the feeling after writing Children of the Storm that Voyager's potential for thrilling and unique stories remains bright. We've opened a lot more doors than we've closed.
How open/eager are you to spinning more Voyager tales? And are you officially on board to do so?
Beyer: I remain very eager to continue writing Voyager, but at this time I am not officially on board to do so. I do, however, expect that official word regarding future Voyager stories will be forthcoming eventually.
For those not familiar with your background, how and why did you get into writing, and what of your other work might you steer someone toward if he or she takes an interest in you thanks to Children of the Storm?
Beyer: I have always been a storyteller. My earliest memories of playing as a child were spinning vast, elaborate stories for my dolls. I was given the opportunity to begin performing at a very early age, first as a dancer and later as an actor. My writing during those years wasn't particularly creative, but it was a skill I continued to hone. Once I had finished school and began pursuing a professional career in acting, all of the down time I had between shows left me without a satisfying creative outlet, and so I turned to writing. Voyager was actually the first thing I tried to write, but that work soon led to the development of other original stories. Though I continue to act when the opportunities arise, most of my creative work in recent years has been writing, but what I've come to realize is that it's really all the same. I'm still just spinning stories. The only difference is the format, whether I am inhabiting characters on stage or film, or bringing them to life on a page.
My other Trek works are the two novels preceding Children of the Storm, Full Circle and Unworthy. In addition I wrote the middle volume of the String Theory trilogy for Voyager, called Fusion, and contributed the short story, "Isabo's Shirt" to the Distant Shores anthology. Beyond that, I wrote an Alias novel, Once Lost, and the last Buffy book ever, One Thing or Your Mother. I also contributed the story "Widow's Weeds" to a science fiction anthology called Space Grunts, edited by my dear friend, Dayton Ward.
You were no stranger to Voyager before heading into the book end of the equation, as you'd pitched stories to the show's producers. How close did you come to having a story of yours transformed into an episode?
Beyer: I have no idea. Almost every time I pitched, I was told that one or more of the stories I'd presented would be floated past the rest of the writers, but as I never heard anything beyond that, I can only assume that's as far as it went. It's nice to imagine that they came really, really close to buying one or more of them, but the truth is, I'll never know.
You didn't let anything go to waste. Didn't a couple of your pitches wind up serving as the basis for String Theory #2: Fusion and also the "Isabo's Shirt" story in Distant Shores?
Beyer: They did, though more directly with Fusion. The Tuvok arc of that book was an episode I wrote on spec called "Siren Song." I actually pitched it twice to the Voyager writers. The first one hated it but the second one loved it. Still, it seemed destined never to see the light of day until Heather Jarman suggested we incorporate it into Fusion.
"Isabo's Shirt" was a little more complicated. I had always felt as a fan of the series that there was an unresolved romantic potential between Janeway and Chakotay. I could see that the producers were intentionally steering clear of it, but I thought it was worth proposing an episode where they would be forced to confront it more directly than had been the case in "Resolutions." While that episode had fanned the flames, as long as Kathryn was engaged, as she was at that time, I don't think she would have seriously considered another romance. Once her engagement ended, however, I thought we needed some follow up, even if at the end of the day, their relationship remained essentially the same. I had pitched another story that fulfilled the same purpose in a very different way. It was Marco's idea to take the core idea, however, that we create a situation where these two characters would be forced to sit down and have an adult conversation about their relationship, and for that to arise from an innocent misunderstanding, that led to "Isabo's Shirt." So, really, yes and no.
When you started to write Voyager novels, you not only had to build from events and characters depicted in the show, but also from what Christie Golden had done with her Voyager books. How precarious a task was that for you?
Beyer: What Christie Golden had done in her books was the easiest part of the job at hand. The precarious part was the appearance of several other Voyager characters including Janeway, Seven, Tuvok, and the Doctor in various other novels that were set between Christie's last book and what would be the beginning of Full Circle. Of course Christie's books had developed a number of storylines that had to be resolved. That would have been significantly easier if at the same time I was trying do that work, I didn't have to account for and leave characters available to have also fulfilled the actions that were shown in maybe ten other novels.
In terms of Christie's work specifically, however, the biggest issues were what to do with the B'Elanna/Miral plot, the Changeling plot, and the various new characters she had added to the crew and to the lives of our core characters. I would never disregard what someone else has written. Once I knew where all of the core characters were going to end up, namely together and back in the Delta Quadrant, I had to develop plausible ways to get them there that also had their own organic truth. I also had to look at the mix between the core characters and the new characters and figure out what I needed going forward. In some cases, I was able to keep characters she had created. In others, I didn't feel they were going to serve the story well going forward, so I tried to find the best possible ways to let them go. I would have liked the opportunity to spend more time with some of them, but I had so much to do in such as relatively short time, I had to move more quickly than I would have liked in some cases. But that's just how this works sometimes.
Back around the time of Full Circle and Unworthy, you'd not ever met or spoken to Golden. Have you had that opportunity between then and now, and, if so, how'd that exchange go?
Beyer: I have not, but I would certainly welcome the opportunity. She is an extremely successful and talented writer.
At this point, how much more comfortable were you writing Children of the Storm? Was there, in a sense, less pressure?
Beyer: There is always pressure, I think probably more with each successive book. You want to keep what's been working and you want to improve upon things that may have fallen short. But there is undoubtedly an ease that comes with familiarity. It's kind of like sitting down in a room with people you know well and catching up on what's happening in their lives. Yes, I'm creating what's happening, but it really comes as much from who they are as the new circumstances I'm putting them in. What makes the work more fun with this much experience behind me is the fact that the characters can still surprise me. There's an almost intuitive connection now that frankly, I don't spend too much time thinking about because I worry that would wreck it. But often as not these days, I may start writing a scene, thinking I know how a character is going to handle something or how it's going to end and right in the middle, something completely unexpected will happen. If that something hits my gut in the right way, I usually go with it. In fact, the last scene between Seven and Cambridge in Children of the Storm happened exactly that way.
What else are you working on at the moment?
Beyer: For the last several months I've been back at work on an original novel that is some sort of mix between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Frankly, I still don't know how to categorize it, but, really, that's for the people selling it to decide eventually. I've been working on it for more than three years, but have had to leave it on the back burner while I was working on Voyager. The more I write it, the more complicated it's becoming. And I mean that in a good way. But it's nowhere near done.