|The following is an email interview with Joseph Manno, creator and primary writer for Star Trek: Liberty.
Interview with the Vampire
(we're all feeding on the carcass of Trek, after all)...
MS - In your most recent effort, "The Trial of Kathryn Janeway," you take a major Star Trek character to task for actions you disagree with. Given Star Trek's popular image as founded in strong moral and ethical standards, do you feel that these character indiscretions jeopardize the Star Trek franchise, as an example to its fans and followers?
JM - I think Voyager in general, and Janeway specifically, fell into a UPN miasma of ratings ploys and channel-wide promotional asininity. This is the same network that considers WWF Smackdown family entertainment, bear in mind. As many long-time fans of Trek are aware, Janeway was probably one of the most inconsistently written characters in the history of television. The woman was alternately egalitarian and tyrannical... reasonable and inflexible... child of the Enlightenment and action heroine... in spite of all this, I never got the impression she was a Renaissance woman (even after she started palling around with, and outsmarting, DaVinci---which, as a Sicilian, made me want to puke). I just thought, "Gee, will the real Kathryn Janeway please stand up? I'd like to shake her hand... or knock her on her ass."
Overall, I think Voyager hurt Trek tremendously, far moreso than Deep Space Nine---which did damage of its own.
MS - When you came to the decision to write this particular piece, did it occur to you that many fans might disagree with you---some very strongly?
JM - That was one of my primary motivations, actually. I assumed it would be a controversial tale. I'm not exactly a shrinking violet; I thrive on confrontation, if the end result is a refined perspective for all concerned. It's my understanding that certain of the Janeway- and Voyager-oriented sites are tracking the progress of the story.
MS - Did this realization have any effect on the story you decided to tell?
JM - Only in that I feel it my responsibility to be as even-handed as I can manage. The fact that some---or even many---might not like the conclusion doesn't affect my commitment to write it that way in the least.
MS - Did you structure more carefully the various elements you planned to lay out?
JM - I like to think I carefully consider all my stories (with one or two exceptions that will remain nameless; you're all welcome to guess, if you like)... so if you mean, "Are you taking especial care with this one?" the answer is "No." While I believe "The Trial of Kathryn Janeway" an important story, it's no more significant than others, and less so than some, insofar as what I'm trying to accomplish with Liberty.
MS - Now that parts of the story have been out of the box, so to speak, for some time, how has the Liberty reader base reaction been? Are you surprised? Do you plan to make any changes based on this reaction, long or short term?
JM - I've yet to read a single negative piece of email concerning this work, other than stuff that begins, "Where's the next freakin' post, Manno, you slacker SOB... I need my fix!" I've yet to receive anything from an offended Voyager fan; it remains to be seen whether such will occur.
MS - As a writer, how much reader criticism do you take to heart, and let affect your future writings? Do you like to respond to particular comments, or just in general?
JM - As I've told other writers: Listen carefully to any criticism which seems genuinely formed and expressed. Take from it what to you is valid; discard the rest.
I have a number of critics whose comments I immediately heed: My wife, lest I be beaten into unconsciousness---seriously, she has an impeccable sense for what does and doesn't work, and won't hesitate to snap me back when I'm determined to baffle with bullshit instead of bedazzling with brilliance; Jay Hailey is a bit brutal, but his critiques are incisive and constructive; Julie Raybon is always gentle with her observations---which, of course, make them even more noteworthy; Paul S. Gibbs constantly points out our stylistic differences, but in doing so asks questions that refine my perspective.
MS - Have you had the opportunity to address any particular reader complaints or praise in any stories that you have written?
JM - I answer almost every piece of email I get regarding Liberty. I enjoy interacting with the people who've chosen to take this journey with me. Liberty and her crew are, in many ways, almost as much theirs as mine.
MS - What are your thoughts on the new Enterprise series?
JM - Sad to say, I'm not holding out a lot of hope, because: This is still going to be aired on UPN; it'll still have many of the same people who rui--... er, ran Voyager, in charge; I'm not overly fond of Scott Bakula.
Enterprise could breath new life into the franchise, or it could be the coup de grace.
MS - What are your thoughts on fan fiction in general?
JM - Well, so long as you don't try to profit financially in any way, I think it's wonderful---either as a cathartic creative release, or as training wheels for those who have "higher" literary aspirations.
MS - Are there any particular fanfic series or authors that you enjoy yourself?
JM - I've become an overnight fan of Domenico Bettinelli, and would recommend his work unreservedly: "Boosters" and "A Planet too Far" are both excellent. I read The Adventures of Argus, and think Alex Thompson's vision is unique and intriguing. Julie Raybon is enormously talented, and I have no doubt will eventually make money doing this; Johnny R. Call of Liberator has made impressive leaps as an author over the last two years. Jay Hailey's Star Trek: Outwardly Mobile reminds me on occasion of Robert B. Parker writing sci-fi (and believe you me, Jay will eat that shit up!). There's a tremendous amount of good work out there.
MS - Have you ever had a time when you were reading someone else's fan fiction and you forgot that it was fan fiction?
JM - I'm not sure I agree with the assumptions that seem to underpin this question. There's plenty of fanfic that smokes canon Trek. I don't really need to forget it's fan fiction. If it's superior to the canon product, I give the stuff its proper due. I mean, let's be honest: Who hasn't read fanfic they'd prefer to Star Trek V, "Spock's Brain," "The Omega Glory," "Code of Honor," "Threshold"... or, for that matter, much of TNG's first and TOS' final seasons?
MS - Moving forward with Liberty, do you have any plans for crossovers with other fan fiction series?
JM - Well, Julie Raybon and I shall no doubt continue to interweave Liberty and Star Trek: USS Adventurous. As a matter of fact, "Star Crossed" is already written, and we plan on another tale about which I'm excited, called "What the Thunder Said." Argus, Way Station 242 (an upcoming series from Matthew Pook), and Liberator will be involved at least peripherally in Eagle Ascendant, my look at the Roman Empire of the 24th century. Domenico Bettinelli and I just started considering a crossover between Liberty and USS Timber Wolf [That really is a better way to spell it, Domenico. Capisce? :-)].
MS - The captain in your series is openly characterized as "larger then life." This can be a real turn off to many seasoned fan fiction readers, since so many newbie writers tend to make their crews and ships "bulletproof." What elements of story telling and techniques have you used to overcome this? How have you approached the character in order to make him seem real, while not weakening the legend you want to convey?
JM - Mantovanni is an interesting fellow... he does, indeed have qualities that some might prematurely (that is, before reading a sufficient amount of the prose) label "Mary Sueish."
The only effective method of combating the tendency for "larger than life" to become "can't touch this" is the stories themselves. Does the character invariably do the right thing, or do we see them fuck up once in a while? Does she always have the "best lines," and the last word, or does she put her foot in her mouth on occasion? Do they do everything well, or do they have obvious weaknesses, whether physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual?
There are innumerable examples of compelling characters who nevertheless do many things well: James Bond (who may be the King of Mary Suedom--with the possible exception of Doc Savage); Batman; David Weber's Honor Harrington; Mantovanni. Hell, Jean-Luc Picard, as far as I can determine, does everything well---he even related to children (which was supposedly his Achilles heel) in "Disaster"---yet he's rarely, if ever, mentioned in this company, when he clearly belongs amongst them. Don't get me wrong... he's a character I enjoy immensely, and by whom I'm entertained... but let's call a spade a spade.
Ironically enough, I don't consider all of the aforementioned Mary Sues, because they encounter real difficulties in the course of accomplishing their goals. They can be knocked down; they simply get back up and formulate Plan B. I don't care if a protagonist is particularly gifted... Is he or she challenged, either physically or in some other substantive manner? Do we care about what happens to him or her? Look at the character who may be one of the most powerful in fiction: The Silver Surfer. He can pretty much do just about anything (he was very intentionally designed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to be angelic, near-Christlike), but he has a conscience, he has conflicts, and he has foes worthy of him.
MS - Have you ever gotten into the middle of writing a story or scene and found you just plain hated it?
JM - I can't say that I have. I write and edit simultaneously; rarely do I have a "this shit sucks" stage, since I'm constantly rewriting during even the initial process.
MS - Or worse, that you'd just copied some scene from a show/movie? Do you ever find yourself using famous dialogue from other movies and TV shows without realizing it?
JM - In the words of the Roman writer Terence, "Nothing has been said that has not been said before." I think it all depends on the style with which you present your material, and the unique slant you put upon it.
My salutes to movies and TV are invariably intentional. There are a number of them in Liberty... I like to think, though, that my prose isn't redolent with them. :-)
MS - Liberty is obviously an established series with a strong fan base; just glancing at the traffic that comes to TWGuild.com from USSLiberty.net is telling enough. How does being popular affect the stories you choose to tell, and the characters you play with?
JM - I certainly listen to fans who say, "I like so-and-so, he or she is cool. May we see more of him or her?" Since each Liberty character speaks to me in at least some way, that's not usually a problem for me.
As far as storylines go, I pretty much write what strikes my fancy. If a fan suggests something, and I think, "Hey, that's a neat idea," I'll utilize it... with their permission, of course.
MS - Many Star Trek fans get very excited when they read Liberty and the other popular fan fiction series at TWG. What would your advice be to them if they wanted to start their own series, or tell an exciting adventure?
JM - Edit, edit, edit. You'd be amazed at how merely competent prose will be given a solid chance to impress by serious readers if they don't have to plow through grammatical mistake after spelling error after syntax glitch.
Tell a story that compels you, and not what you think will interest someone else. That way lies mediocrity. As an example, look at Voyager. It was geared for appeal to a certain group---adolescent boys---and I'm not even sure it accomplished that.
MS - Of all the writing mistakes, typos, grammos or errors, what are your personal favorites? Can you list 5? Ex. their vis-a-vis there, mistaking "your" for "you're," ect.
JM - How about yours, Michael? It's "five," not "5," when the number is ten or below. It's "etc.", not "ect." :-)
Ribbing aside (Michael sent me these questions via email, which doesn't have strict grammatical rules, so one can't ding him for such things), I don't have any "favorites," per se. While I'm merciless in correcting or indicating them, I'm certainly not immune. No doubt something slipped past me herein; I just think it a laudable goal to minimize them.
MS - Thanks for your time! I greatly appreciate it!
JM - The pleasure was truly mine. Best of luck with the Trek Writer's Guild.
Check out more about Star Trek: Liberty at USSLiberty.net.
Read stories by Joseph Manno in the TWG Archive.