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Mack, Palmieri, Dilmore and Ward on Vanguard: Declassified

Mack, Palmieri, Dilmore and Ward on Vanguard: Declassified

There’s a lot happening on and around Starbase 47, a/k/a the Vanguard, so much so in fact that it’s taken four Star Trek writers – David Mack, Kevin Dilmore, Marco Pamieri and Dayton Ward -- to bring the latest events to life. And bring them to life they have with Star Trek Vanguard: Declassified, a collection of novellas that will be released today by Pocket Books. Mack penned “The Stars Look Down,” while Dilmore contributed “Hard News,” Ward delivered “Almost Tomorrow” and Palmieri, a veteran editor making his debut as a Trek author, offered up “The Ruins of Noble Men.” recently engaged Mack, Dilmore, Ward and Palmieri in an informative roundtable conversation in which they spoke about the joint project, revealed details about their individual stories and previewed upcoming endeavors.

First, to date, what's worked best and/or been the most interesting aspect of the Vanguard series?

David Mack: Well, I think it’s been something different for each of us. I know that my favorite parts of the saga have been those that deal with the characters T’Prynn and Cervantes Quinn. And I have to say, it was also fun writing in a more ornate style when telling parts of the story from the Shedai point of view. But I think what works best about the series overall is that it’s about the very real struggle between our needs for security and the demands of our ideals.

Kevin Dilmore: My draw to the series from the beginning was Marco’s and Dave’s decisions to select characters in non-traditional roles (judging at least from previous Star Trek storytelling) as the primary points-of-view in the saga. Not everyone in the 23rd Century serves aboard a starship. Not everyone is a member of Starfleet. Yet many of the adventures of Captain Kirk and the U.S.S. Enterprise crew should have—and would have—yielded repercussions powerful enough to ripple throughout the Federation and affect the lives of all citizens. Despite the secrecy with which our characters attempt to shroud the central plots of our stories, the Vanguard saga aims at reflecting just that sentiment.

Marco Palmieri: Vanguard started out a lens through which to explore the era of the original Star Trek from a wider perspective, and to do it a new way. Rather than go the route of other book series that have one author at the helm, or a different writer on each novel, Vanguard takes the unique approach of alternating between two sets of authors who have turned their joint creative efforts into a friendly rivalry. Vanguard has an overarching story, but how it unfolds has always been pretty flexible. So each novel tried to raise the stakes in some way, challenging the next book to top it. It turned into a kind of game, but it’s resulted in some pretty dramatic storytelling, with plot twists and character arcs that have surprised readers time and again. That, I think, is one of the main reasons for Vanguard’s continuing popularity these last six years.

Dayton Ward: Vanguard provides what I see as the best of two worlds so far as writing media tie-in fiction in general and Star Trek fiction in particular is concerned. First, I’m able to play in a universe I’ve enjoyed my entire life, using all the familiar technology and toys, but doing so with a cast of characters which largely are creations of the novels themselves. We’re able to take them and the plots and situations we develop in all sorts of crazy directions. We have a greater degree of freedom than a series that’s explicitly based on characters from a film, television or gaming property. In short, we get to have a great deal of fun.

How well did you know each other before starting on Declassified?

DM: Really well. I’ve been friends with Dayton and Kevin since before we first met at Shore Leave in 2005. Dayton and Kevin and I started collaborating indirectly on the Star Trek S.C.E. eBooks back in 2002 or so, and we also had a lot of e-mail contact while we were writing our books for the “A Time to…” miniseries back in 2003 and 2004. I met Marco around that time, but we didn’t actually work together until he contacted me in 2004 to talk about developing Star Trek Vanguard. Since then, we’ve become good friends. We all have. Probably thanks in part to Shore Leave, a con we all go to every July, down in the Baltimore area.

KD: Our work on the Vanguard saga knit us all pretty tightly before we all threw in on the Declassified anthology. Dayton and I met Dave and Marco in person about six years ago, but we had struck professional connections that led to friendships even before that. Our storytelling sensibilities, our senses of humor, our tolerance for libations (okay, their tolerances), everything all fell together for the four of us from the first time we sat together at a science-fiction convention outside of Baltimore, MD. But had we never put our heads together on creating a Star Trek story, these are guys I still would want to hang with.

MP:  Well enough that we probably should have known better.  All joking aside, I’d already worked with these guys on a variety of projects by the time I’d stopped editing Star Trek fiction, and in the years since then they’ve all been great about staying in touch. Like Dayton and Kevin, Dave and I live in the same city, and we get together as often as circumstances allow. But anytime all four of us of are in the same city, we make a point to hang out together. Working on Star Trek, Vanguard especially, has forged a friendship among us that might not otherwise have come to be, and it’s something for which I’m very grateful.

DW: Kevin and I have been writing as a team for more than a decade now, and even before Vanguard came along, our paths crossed with Dave’s on the odd project. It wasn’t until Marco invited us to write the second Vanguard novel, Summon the Thunder, that our friendship and this extended team effort really kicked into high gear. So, you could say that Declassified is the culmination of a collaboration that really started back in 2005.

What was the process of working on Declassified? Did you stay in contact with each other to help maintain a through-line, or was it four separate novellas on the same theme, and thus you never consulted each other?

DM: I started talking with Dayton and Kevin about it a couple of years ago. We thought it would be a cool idea, but we never really thought the editors would go for it. Then they did, and we had to figure out what to do. The three of us knew we each had our own favorite characters and favorite types of stories, so we just kind of called dibs on those from the start. Then we decided it’d be really cool if Marco, who used to be the series’ editor until he got laid off at the end of 2008 because of the big economic meltdown in the U.S., wrote one of the stories, too. So we asked him if he wanted in, and he was like, “Hell, yeah.” We got lucky, ’cause none of us wanted to do the same kind of story or use too many of the same characters. So we figured out that we wanted to do stories that would cover the whole saga, from before book one to after Precipice, which was the most recent book in the series back then, and we decided to present the stories in chronological order. After that, we shared all our outlines and stories with each other, and I talked a lot with Dayton and Kevin about making sure all of it worked with what we had planned for the next two Vanguard novels, What Judgments Come and Storming Heaven.

KD: We discussed the project and swapped emails to land on our individual preferences for characters and chronology. As far as a theme, we made no agreements to adhere to a common one when we wrote our proposals. Our shared goal was to create stories that served the complete narrative rather than simply filling a gap. Whether by advancing a plot or providing insight to a character, I’d like to think we accomplished that.

MP:  After I signed on to the project, the guys clued me on their plans for the next two novels in the series, the ones that would follow Declassified. This allowed me to better understand the context in which I could craft my novella. Our shared agenda was twofold: to tell engaging stories that shined a light on specific characters, and to do it in a way that would serve the novels that came next. And because we also wanted to zero in on different characters, I think the writing process was very satisfying for all of us.

DW: Dave, Kevin and I batted around the possibility of pitching some kind of Vanguard anthology late in 2009. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember some talk about where the series was after the conclusion of the fifth book (Precipice), and how it might be nice to throw a change-up or two before plunging ahead with the next big chapters in the “Vanguard saga.” Our main concern was not appearing like we were trying to milk the series or play with readers’ by not getting on with the continuing storylines. One of us hit on the notion of telling stories set before, in and around, or after what had already been done, but doing so in a fashion that didn’t make them simple “gap fillers” or easily dismissed. We wanted to make them as fun and relevant as the rest of the books in the series, yet take advantage of the anthology approach to offer tales that might not get a chance to shine in the longer novel format. We stayed in regular contact with each other throughout the process. I suspect Dave and Marco were in even greater contact with each other than with Kevin and me, owing to their stories taking place after Precipice and therefore requiring more coordination. I kept in touch with Dave while writing my story, as it dealt with aspects of the characters from before, Harbinger, the first novel in the series, which he wrote.

What kinds of advice/guidance did you give each other along the way?

DM: All kinds of stuff. We talked about characters’ motivations, or plot details, or nitpicky stuff like the color of a certain character’s hair, or whether their name had a more formal version than what we already knew. Marco helped me out by pointing out a couple of major flaws in a big action sequence in the middle of my story, and thanks to him I was able to rewrite it during copy editing. I offered some general story notes to the other guys, and they returned the favor. There was a lot of give-and-take. It helps that we all know and like each other and that we’ve already been doing this on these books for a while now.

KD: I brought up the tail end of the project as far as completing my story. When I submitted it to Pocket Books, I copied Dayton, Dave and Marco with the request that they check it out and offer any guidance they had the time and inclination to give. Everyone was very encouraging and very helpful. Mine is certainly a better story because of that.

MP: We each had a chance to review the others’ stories and offer comments or corrections, and I got some very valuable feedback that helped me to smooth out a couple of rough spots in my narrative. Dave, for example, suggested the perfect turn of phrase that improved a line of dialogue immeasurably, and he also correctly pointed out that a paragraph I’d written for a key moment in the story was a little too “on the nose.” All the feedback I got was very helpful.

DW: Just the usual sort of feedback, pointing out errors or inconsistencies, along with things that needed tweaking to better serve the overall Vanguard narrative. We’ve been working together on the series for something like six years now, talking about everything from major story arcs and plot points to how one character might say a particular line of dialogue, so this sort of back-n-forth is old hat by this point.

Each of you, please give us a sense of your story, both in terms of what people will read in Declassified and how it builds upon previous entries in the Vanguard saga.

DM: “The Stars Look Down” is an action-driven tale of espionage in the Taurus Reach. It centers on the recovering alcoholic Cervantes Quinn and his partner (in more ways than one), Bridget McLellan, also known as Bridy Mac. They get sent into Gorn territory to steal some vital intel that Starfleet needs, and the op quickly goes south. After they pull their butts out of the frying pan, they plunge straight into the fire. In other words, exactly what readers have come to expect of a Vanguard story. Its ending serves as a springboard for the next two full-length novels, the first of which is coming this fall, and the second is coming next summer, in 2012.

KD: “Hard News,” is my shot at doing something within the saga that would not have fit elsewhere: a hardboiled investigative reporter story in a first-person narrative. Having worked as a newspaper reporter for 15 years, myself, Tim Pennington speaks to me in ways that other Star Trek characters cannot. I really wanted to get inside his thoughts and portray not only his professional motivations but also his passion for “telling the story.” In regard to its place in the big picture, my hope is that it contains some additional insight into Pennington’s personal journey at a time that I regard as a turning point in his life. I intended to offer some of that insight in the Vanguard novel Open Secrets, as I originally was committed to write that with Dayton. Personal matters I found overwhelming at the time pushed me into stepping—more like jumping—out of the project. That choice and the resulting pressure it placed on my dear friend is something I’ll always regret personally and professionally. Dayton never once let that affect our partnership or our friendship, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Writing “Hard News” and revisiting Pennington in that part of the saga (between Reap the Whirlwind and Open Secrets) is something I have wanted to do for my own sake ever since.

MP: “The Ruins of Noble Men” is a braided narrative: two thematically linked stories told in alternating chapters. The primary story is set in the immediate aftermath of the most recent Vanguard novel, Dave Mack’s Precipice, and it focuses on Dr. Ezekiel Fisher and JAG officer Rana Desai on mission to a mysterious Federation colony. It’s interspersed with flashbacks set nine years earlier aboard the U.S.S. Dauntless, when the ship was commanded by Diego Reyes. “Ruins” is a very character-driven story, and my hope is that it’ll give readers a new appreciation for some of Vanguard’s protagonists as well as members of its supporting cast. It also makes use of characters not seen or mentioned since the earliest novels in the series. I think readers will find that, because these are novellas, the stories in Declassified are more focused and more intimate, illuminating the Vanguard characters in ways we haven’t seen before.

DW: “Almost Tomorrow” is set before the events of the first Vanguard novel. When developing the story, I borrowed an idea from the television series The Shield, of which I’m a big fan. They ran an episode during their second season called “Co-Pilot,” which takes place during a period of time that leads up to the events of the show’s first episode. It’s not a big story that works on its own; you have to be familiar with the characters and storylines that have evolved by this point in the series in order to get the most out of it. I loved the idea of doing something similar with my Declassified story, taking some of the Vanguard characters and plot points and rewinding the clock a bit in order to add some heretofore unseen context and backstory. I got to show certain characters’ motivations and the circumstances that put them where they are when readers first meet them in Harbinger. I also got to plant a few seeds which will be picked up when the series returns with the next two novels.

What else is each of you working on at the moment, in terms of Star Trek and/or anything else?

DM: I’ve recently finished vetting the copy edits on my upcoming Star Trek Mirror Universe novel, Rise Like Lions, coming out this December, and I’ve just started working on the manuscript for my next Vanguard novel, Storming Heaven. After that, I’ll be hammering out the details on the outline for a new Star Trek: The Next Generation trilogy. So far it has no title, and I can’t talk about what I have planned. But I’m hoping it won’t suck. I guess we’ll find out next year, though.

KD: Currently, Dayton and I are writing “That Which Divides,” a novel taking place during Captain Kirk’s original five-year mission in command of Enterprise that is scheduled for publication next year. After writing Star Trek fiction for more than 10 years, I’m very honored to play a part in telling a story with my favorite crew of Star Trek characters—some of whom I have loved from the first moment I saw them as a kid. After that, I plan on continuing my job as a senior writer for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo., and easing up on my fiction-writing projects during my daughter’s senior year in high school and her preparations for college.

MP:  I’m primarily an editor, and in that capacity I stay very busy. By day I’m on staff at Tor Books, working on original science fiction and fantasy. I also maintain Otherworld Editorial, a consultation service for writers of SF&F. In addition, I’m a contributing editor for Star Trek Magazine, published by Titan, whose July issue has an excerpt from “The Ruins of Noble Men,” and an article I wrote on the art of Vanguard, profiling the station designer, Masao Okazaki, and the cover artist for the series, Doug Drexler.

DW: I just recently wrapped up the last little tweaks for a short story, “Going My Own Way,” which will be included in the forthcoming superhero-themed anthology Gods of Justice from Cliffhanger Books, due out in July. Meanwhile, Kevin and I are finishing up some final edits on What Judgments Come, the sixth Vanguard novel, which will be out in October. We’re also currently writing a Star Trek original series novel set during the Enterprise’s five-year mission, which is supposedly scheduled for publication next summer. And there’s always one or two other things in various stages of gestation.

Marco, you co-created Vanguard with David. How pleased/honored are you to now officially join the ranks of author?

MP:  It’s pretty amazing. This isn’t a role I ever imagined for myself, and I’m immensely grateful to Dayton, Kev, and Dave for asking me to join them on Declassified. It’s certainly not something they needed to do, and the fact that they extended the offer anyway says as much about the quality of my friends as it does about their dubious judgment.