We’re kicking off our summer reading a little early with this Original Series adventure, Star Trek: Agents of Influence! We couldn’t be more excited for this brand-new TOS novel by veteran Star Trek author Dayton Ward. In this thrilling tale, we learn that, for years, Starfleet Intelligence agents have carried out undercover assignments deep within the Klingon Empire. Now three agents are in mortal danger after a botched extraction attempt, and Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew must attempt a daring rescue. Can they avoid an interstellar incident with the potential to ignite a new war between the Federation and one of its oldest adversaries?
We had a chance to catch up with Dayton Ward about his new novel, being a Star Trek writer, and other things Trek.
StarTrek.com: You’ve written several Star Trek novels. What do you like most about writing in the TOS timeline? What do you like most about writing Star Trek novels?
Dayton Ward: I’ve enjoyed each of the Star Trek novels I’ve written, but I have a special love for The Original Series. It’s the one I grew up watching, leading into the first movies and later the spin-off series. Making new stories for these characters is something I did when I was a kid. Back then, I used action figures to create those adventures, and now I use words for the same effect.
(Okay, I might still use the action figures once I a while. You know, to choreograph a fight or something. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
Even when it comes to the “TOS-adjacent” novels I’ve written or co-written, like those for the Vanguard or Seekers series, each of those was approached with a reverence for the original show and a fervent desire to respect what it established.
What was the most challenging part about writing Star Trek: The Original Series: Agents of Influence?
DW: Hitting my deadline. Cop-out answer? Okay.
As with the other Original Series novels I’ve written or co-written, the big challenge is bringing something new to the table. Writing any Star Trek novel set at a point in time when you know the characters have lots of adventures ahead of them is always a challenge. We can’t really move the needle too far when it comes to developing the known characters. At best, we can hope to introduce a little something you didn’t know about them before you read the latest book, but even those things must abide by what’s been officially established. So, you’re left with telling a story you hope is something new and unique; something the reader hasn’t encountered before either on TV or in some other novel, while at the same time evoking everything they love about the show and those characters. One of the biggest compliments I can receive is that a reader heard William Shatner’s voice while reading the Kirk dialogue I wrote.
In particular, “the five-year mission” era from the Original Series is a very, very well-mined period. There are literally hundreds of stories set during that span — episodes, novels, comics, computer games, and so on. I’m not 100% certain, but I think every episode of the original show has had some form of sequel, prequel, follow-up, or tangential tale associated with it somewhere. Even those episodes we might consider “subpar” have likely been revisited in some manner. Then there are the tales which feature the familiar characters and yet are wholly original.
Even with all of that to consider, I still love that period, when Kirk and the others are in their prime and they’re out there in the deep corners of the final frontier, exploring and seeking out and boldly going. Still, whenever I sit down to develop a new story, I do sometimes find myself asking, “What’s left to do?” Where can I go? Will anybody care? Well, I do, and I know a lot of fans feel the same way. To those readers, I say, “I’ve got your back.” At least, that’s my intention. Whether I do it right is for them to decide.
Star Trek fans are quite familiar with Klingons. Without giving too much away, what will readers be surprised to learn in this novel? Will there be Klingon characters in this book that we’ve seen before?
DW: I’d like to think readers will like how I’ve managed to tie this story into the larger Star Trek framework, not just of The Original Series, but also other areas of the franchise, from the screen as well as other novels. I’ve added a few small new wrinkles to the established lore, but nothing which made my editors or CBS send their ninjas after me (you know…again). Yes, that’s right; they each have their own teams of ninjas they dispatch from time to time. It’s possible I wasn’t supposed to reveal that.
I introduce a few new Klingon characters, but savvy readers may recognize one or two from other Star Trek novels set in the same timeframe as this book.
You recently wrote Star Trek: Kirk Fu Manual. How did you come up with the idea? How was this process different than writing a novel?
DW: That book was insanely fun to write, and a total departure from pretty much everything I’ve done to date. I pitched the idea to my editor at Insight Editions, complete with a pitch document and a rundown of the various moves I wanted to depict, and he told me he didn’t even read past the first paragraph before he was sold on the idea. Even though it’s not a novel, most of what I wrote is “inside the box,” like you’re a Starfleet Academy cadet and this is your training manual. A good portion of what I wrote is also from Kirk’s point of view in the form of log entries and personal anecdotes. Much of that material is delivered straight with no humor intended, and then it’s contrasted by the utter hilarity and absurdity of the various illustrations and descriptions for each of the Kirk Fu fight moves. I’d like to think I managed to slip in some decent reflection and introspection on behalf of the good captain while you’re having fun with Christian Cornia’s truly wonderful art.
How did you first come to Star Trek?
DW: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Star Trek fan. I grew up watching reruns of The Original Series in the afternoons after school. That hour was the one exception to my mother’s rule of “No TV until your homework’s done!” I was in first grade when the animated series premiered, so I got to watch it first run on Saturday mornings. Now I’m really dating myself. When I was in elementary school, that was when things like the AMT models and the Mego action figures were popular, so I played with those and read whatever Star Trek comics and books I could find. I remember begging my mother for the dollar needed to buy each of those magazines that unfolded into a big Star Trek poster. The first Star Trek books I ever owned were thanks to a school book fair, and the fact my mother was volunteering at the school and set aside copies for me.
What is your favorite Star Trek moment?
DW: I don’t even know where to start. Just one? A favorite personal moment for me was learning I’d sold my first Star Trek story to Pocket Books. I’d never written anything for professional publication prior to that, but I entered Pocket’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contest and they picked my story as one of the winners to publish in the resulting anthology. I’d written a Star Trek story that was going to be in a real book, and they were going to pay me for it. I never thought I’d win that first time, and I certainly never expected everything that came after, leading right up to the release of this latest Star Trek book more than twenty years later.
Do you have any book recommendations for Star Trek fans?
DW: Everything I’ve ever written. Too self-serving? Okay. Just to pitch this all the way back to where it started for Simon & Schuster with Star Trek forty years ago, I’m going to recommend The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McIntyre. It was the first original Star Trek novel Pocket published back in 1981, and to this day it ranks as one of my all-time favorite Star Trek tales across all platforms. As a runner-up, I’ll give a shout out to Strangers from the Sky by Margaret Wander Bonanno, another personal favorite to which I love making sly references in my own Star Trek novels.
What are you working on next?
DW: I have two major projects I’m currently working on. One’s a novel and the other is very much not a novel. I can’t say much about those just yet, as they’ve not yet been announced by their respective publishers. Aside from those, I’m teaming up with my best friend and frequent writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, to work on a couple of short stories for different anthologies that’ll be out next year.
Star Trek: The Original Series: Agents of Influence is available now in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook download. Learn more here.