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TWG Interview
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Michael Sweeney
Inimitably Superfluous fan fiction by Richard Merk
TWG - How long have you been writing fan fiction? What prompted you to start?
 
RAM - I'm a raw noobie. The fanfiction bug only bit me around the beginning of 2004, but before that I played in Star Trek play-by-email RPGs. That goes back to sometime in 1998. The story illustrations I do also had their start in the RPGs, with pictures for character bio pages. I was always more interested in coming up with my own ideas than following along with the game plot though, so that's what pushed me out of that field and into fan fiction.
 
The first time I ever sat down to write anything was in 1994. I had just come back from the best vacation of my life, a road trip up and down the entire West Coast of the United States during which I read Mark Twain's 'Roughing It'. I enjoyed the trip and the book so much I wanted to try my hand, so I started a travelogue of my adventure. Someday I'll finish it.
 
 
TWG - I see the phrase "Inimitably Superfluous" all over your web pages. What's the story behind that?
 
RAM - I've been using that since the early 90's when I worked at Raytheon. I even had it printed on my business cards. Originally it came from an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Mr. Peabody called his boy Sherman 'inimitably superfluous'. Sherman had no idea what it meant, but it had lots of syllables and so took it as a great compliment. For some reason that struck me as hilarious in a totally twisted sort of way. It's silly sesquipedalian self-deprecation.
 
 
TWG - As a man writing woman characters in an egalitarian future, do you push any stylistic method for showing drama? With a mostly female crew do you consider Banshee to fall under the header of "Chick Trek."?
 
RAM - Oh God no! The Banshees are definitely a male perspective! Their uniforms have high heels. No woman would write that! :)  Banshee Squadron is not a soap opera. While I take great care to develop and portray their personalities, relationships, and feelings, there is also action. Things happen. Stuff blows up. Icky monsters attack. Chairs are smashed across teeth. Jokes are cracked in the face of certain death. There's little if any soap opera melodrama. It's a male fantasy, like the whole Lara Croft thing.
 
One of the major inspirations for the Banshees' attitudes and characters is a TV show called 'She Spies'. It was a short-lived syndicated program. The best way to describe it to someone who's never seen it is 'a screwball version of the 70's Charlie's Angels'. It was campy, cheesy, hilarious, and featured 3 drop-dead gorgeous ex-con babes who are part of a clandestine organization that battles the forces of evil and crack corny jokes in the face of danger while wearing tight jumpsuits and high heels.
 
That said, I'm also a hopeless romantic. I'm a sucker for the happy ending. If a ruggedly handsome stranger happens into their lives and sweeps one of them away on a whirlwind romance, well, that's fine too.  :)
 
Can women enjoy Banshee Squadron? I don't know. I've heard that girls buy into Lara Croft because they see in her a strong central lead character that does things normally reserved for macho men characters. The Banshees are like a wisecracking girl version of 'Top Gun', so they might fit in that category too.
 
 
TWG - What does Commander Lee Carter, the Banshee Squadron 'Wing Commander', represent for you?
 
RAM - Lee Carter is definitely the most 'Star Trekkish' character in the ensemble. I imagine her cut from the same mold as Kirk, Picard, and Sisko. She represents whatever it is that Star Trek itself represents -- all those noble truths we've heard a million times: freedom, equality, honor, loyalty, goodness. She is a career officer. She is the heroic captain that would sacrifice himself to save others. She doesn't slouch, doesn't spit, and eats all her vegetables. She keeps Banshee Squadron 'Trek'. Though she often doesn't have the largest role in the stories, she is the balance for the other characters and the glue that keeps the whole Banshee Squadron premise from being buried under an avalanche of aimless slapstick and tomfoolery. It would be like the Three Stooges without Moe.
 
 
TWG - What makes the Banshee crew different from other Starfleet crews we've seen?
 
RAM - Well, for starters, the obvious -- they're an all-female group of starfighter pilots, and the stories are not based in the standard starship 'going where no man has gone before' setting. The Banshees live in an apartment on a planet in a frontier sector on the other side of the Briar Patch.
 
More importantly than that, I think the whole 'attitude' of the series is different than a lot of Trek you read, fan fiction or pro. I make it a point to keep the tone very lighthearted. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek. The characters are not your typical Starfleet officers. They are irreverent and have been known to mercilessly tease their commanding officers. While it's not a comedy, humor plays an important role in Banshee Squadron. Someone coming to my web site looking for 'serious' Star Trek is going to be disappointed unless he realizes the stories are meant to be taken with a sense of 'fun'.
 
'The Adventures of Absalom West' series of stories don't really deal with Starfleet at all. Both characters are disillusioned ex-Starfleet officers. Now they're cargo runners and general thorns-in-the-side-of-evil. Their story deals with the seamier side of the Star Trek universe out on the rough frontier.
 
 
TWG - How about your ideas? From where do they come? Do you simply sit down to write, or do you have to be "inspired"?
 
RAM - In the beginning, I drew the stories from old RPG games because that's what I knew. 'Runaway!' is entirely a consolidation of old RPG posts. 'Eidolon' is about 50/50. I got the 'Mind Rippers' idea from a movie called 'Jake Speed'. I also have vague 'master plan' of where I want the whole series to go. It usually doesn't wind up heading in that direction, but it's always a good starting point. I've gotten a few ideas from anime episodes. The continual debate over on the TrekCreative Yahoo group has sparked a story -- 'The Tourist'. Mark Twain inspired 'Vulcan Holiday'.
 
 
TWG - How often do you find yourself written into a corner, either because of established canon history or your own series background? How do you handle this, and what do you do to avoid it?
 
RAM - That hasn't happened yet. All my stories so far have been written in chronological order, which cuts down on the confusion of what happened when. As for established canon, I set the Banshee Squadron stories 10 years in the Trek future so I don't have to worry too much about what happens week to week on the TV series. But I guess that problem's been taken care of once and for all...  :)
 
On the matter of what I consider 'official' Trek canon for the Banshees, I go with the Paramount definition except in cases of extreme stupidity, but I also include some TAS, and I'm undecided on whether to include ENT.
 
 
TWG - Many authors outline their stories, even laying out several episodes ahead. What writing strategies do you use to keep track of evolving storylines and characters?
 
RAM - I write the way I live -- one nanosecond at a time. I can't think several stories ahead. I have a hard time even planning a single story out beforehand. Basically, I know how the story starts, I know how I want it to end, and I have a few things in mind that I want to happen along the way. After that, it's up to the characters to take their lives into their own hands and make up an interesting journey. Sometimes they really surprise me with difficult plot twists or new character traits I never suspected they had. When I finish one story, I usually have an idea of what needs to happen next as far as character development is concerned. At that point it's just a matter of thinking of an exciting story to wrap it in.
 
For keeping track, I've started a 'Banshee Bible'. A lot of the cold hard facts about the characters are fairly vague, and it's starting to become an issue.
 
 
TWG - Most people don't realize how arbitrary traditional television writing is. Even Deep Space Nine, which benefited from a strong multi-season story arc, was basically written episode to episode with the writer's having no grand plan for the series or characters. Do you have a grand plan or do you prefer to write what happens as it happens in your head?
 
RAM - I think I have a grand plan, and every now and then it even rears its ugly head, but my characters have a tendency to take the story into their own hands and fly it in different directions, especially Max. She has a mind of her own. Imagine my surprise when she announced she was quitting the Banshees to run off with Absalom West. The two of them started their own spinoff series!
 
I want the Smelly Jelly and the Jelly Brains to become more than pesky menaces with silly names. I want the Babylonian civilization on the other side of the Black Gate to figure more prominently. My long-term 'grand plan' involves the Ancients, the 'Q', two races I've invented called the Quothulhu and the Monoliths, Babylonian mythological figures, beings from outside the multiverse, and groups of PCs from several different time periods.
 
I think my grand plan will become more obvious as the number of stories grows. I'm only up to around 12 so far. Either that or I'll finally have to admit to myself that the grand plan is never going to happen.  :)
 
 
TWG - The word banshee is derived from gaelic terms used most frequently to describe the banshee are the "bean-si" (a female dweller of a sidhe, or fairy mound), the "bean chaointe" (a female keener, a term found in east Munster and Connaught) and the "badhb" (referring to a more dangerous, frightening bogey). Does the supernatural background for the squadrons name play any part in story and character development? Do you have any recurring elements or themes that reflect the otherworldly spirits your crews call sign invokes?
 
RAM - As you mentioned, the Banshees are named for the fearsome female fey. The mythological monster theme continues with the names of their starfighters: Manticore, Chimera, Griffon, Basilisk, Wyvern, Sphynx. The underlying motif in 'The Black Gate' was Babylonian mythology. A being named 'Enki' has appeared that will probably reappear in the future. In future stories, the otherworldliness might become more prominent because I plan on introducing the concept of 'Spacetime-6', a realm with 3 dimensions of space and 3 of time, that the characters will increasingly find themselves interacting with.
 
Will the Banshees ever meet an actual banshee? Now that you've put the thought in my head it's a certainty!  :)
 
 
TWG - As an author who has been writing for some time you recently joined the Trek Writer's Guild and the renewed Ships of the Fleet. With an established series, what prompted you to join the Guild? What elements of Guild membership do you feel your series benefits most from? Are there any areas that you think the Guild could use improvement? What suggestions do you have?
 
RAM - Well, of course, one of the reasons is exposure. Anyone who puts his stories on the internet wants people to read them. The Guild is prominent in the fan fiction net community. After joining, my daily web hits quadrupled, so in that respect I've definitely benefited. My web site's search engine ranking has also improved dramatically, so I'm getting more hits from Google. The more people read my stories the more minds I can influence. BWUHAHAHAHAHA!!!  :)
 
The Guild is also a great way to expose yourself to other authors' stories, resources, experience -- and vice versa. It's an opportunity to collaborate, to get to know the other fan fiction writers, and to let them get to know you through news articles, the forums, and interviews like this one. The key word is community.
 
And as for improvements, as a noobie, the fact that two very different looking web sites, TWG and TF, are so heavily cross-linked left me confused. I've mostly got a handle on it now, but I still think the two sides should be separated, or the cross-links clearly delineated.
 
 
TWG - The Guild's founder, Michael Sweeney recently announced the renewal of the Ships of the Fleet moniker in promoting original crew series at TWGuild.com and TrekFiction.com. In addition to adding an old school nod to the newer series members, the plan is to reward hard working and committed authors with greater permissions and responsibility. Senior members can now bypass moderator approval on story postings. What other permissions and responsibilities do you think authors might appreciate and make positive use of?
 
RAM - I'd do the same thing I do every day, Pinky... Try and take over the world!!!
 
Seriously, I don't really know. More permissions and freedom are always nice. If the time-consuming approval process can be bypassed, editing posted material becomes easier, and quality will be improved.
 
 
TWG - With the spinoff of the fan fiction directory in the from of TrekFiction.com, TWGuild.com in now free to take more aggressive role in encouraging and promoting Star Trek fan fiction. One of the first initiatives is the new Ships of the Fleet Real Simple Syndication and Javascript Latest Stories newsfeed. Part of the overhaul for TWGuild.com this summer will involved converting to a more blog style format, like Slashdot.org. In addition to posting the TWG home page will allow each Series member to have their own RSS/JS feeds featuring story updates, news and resources. Do you think you would use these tools yourself, and how might it effect how you promote your website and stories?
 
RAM - I've long tried to figure out a reliable, simple way of notifying fans of new stories or whatever. My computer crashes way too often to keep a mailing list, and a Yahoo group seemed excessive. A dedicated newsfeed would be perfect.
 
 
TWG - Have you considered opening your series to outside writers?
 
RAM - I've never considered it simply because the thought never crossed my mind, but even as we speak, Joe Manno is feverishly slaving away over a hot typewriter working on a Banshee/Liberty crossover. I was very surprised when he first mentioned to me he was thinking of doing it. I really hadn't considered my stories and characters that noteworthy, but apparently some people like them.  :)
 
 
TWG - Out of your current stories, which is your favorite and why?
 
RAM - Finally, an easy question! I have two favorites, and they are as opposite as any two stories I've ever written. The first is the lighthearted and short 'The Tourist'. In it, Dexter and Alex waste a day in the park and meet a strange alien tourist. That's about it. But meanwhile, they talk about their feelings, and we wind up learning about them. My second favorite is 'Absalom West and the Worst of Woes'. It's my darkest story by quite a margin. There's murder and betrayal, and by the end, the characters' lives are significantly changed. The funny thing is, it wasn't supposed to work out the way it did. The characters hijacked my pen and wrote it their way, and it turned out much better. I should put their names on the by-line instead of mine. :)
 
 
TWG - Do you read a lot of fan fiction, Star Trek or otherwise?
 
RAM - I read some Trek fan fiction. Whatever I'm into, I download it into my PDA so I can read it on the go. I wish I had more time because there are authors I would very much like to read. I simply don't have the time for it all. I've read no pro Trek aside from William Shatner's since the late 80's.
 
 
TWG - Who are your favorite professional authors? Did you pattern your style after anyone?
 
RAM - Oh I hate to say I pattern my style after anyone, because that would be a great insult to the other person. But I do love Mark Twain's style. His wry wit just cracks my funny bone to pieces. A certain person of my acquaintance accuses me of sometimes 'overwriting', and I think at times it's because I'm trying to sound like Twain or some other old writer. They used language a lot differently back then.
 
Tolkien was great at describing the world around him and making you fall in love with the beauty of nature. I enjoy Larry Niven's science and the straightforward way he writes. Also Poul Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Isaac Asimov, and Jack London.
 
 
TWG -Do you have aspirations towards publication? Any non-Trek work of yours around we can devour?
 
RAM - I submitted a couple of short stories to Asimov's (or was that SF&F...?), but I have yet to con anyone into actually buying anything. They sent very nice rejection letters though. Someday...  :)
 
 
TWG - So, what's in Banshee's future? Any cosmos-shaking storylines, or down-to-earth ones, we should be anticipating?
 
RAM - Short-term: A story for the near future is a character development piece for Sam Beckett (the Erin Gray character). She's consistently been the most underutilized character because I don't have a clear idea who she is. It's hard to get in her head. She'll return home, come face to face with her past, including the terrible accident that almost cost her life. Throw in family, an old boyfriend, some scary danger, and stir. My working title at the moment is 'The Ice Caves of Pluto'. Sounds like an old B-movie.  :)
 
Long-term: The 'Banshee Squadron' stories have evolved into the 'Eon & Eternity' stories. Some of the characters will be the same, but there will also be lots of new ones, this time both male and female. The idea is to have episodes from different time periods in Trek history including pre-TOS, TOS, TNG, and post-VOY, but it won't be a time travel series. It'll be a little like Michael Moorcock's 'Eternal Champion' concept, but different. It will be more traditional starship-based material. I've just finished the first story in that series called 'Eternity'.
 
 
TWG - Did you put any special thought into balancing your crew to avoid the dreaded 'super crew' curse that plagues many early fan fiction writer's?
 
RAM - Yes, that's an important issue. I read about Mary Sues, so I tried to avoid the standard pitfalls. Two of my characters have 'super abilities' -- Max is an esper and Sam is cybernetic -- so it's even more important to keep them in balance. My characters are good at what they do, but aren't automatically the best ever. None of them graduated at the top of the Academy class. They don't automatically turn every male head when they enter a room. They've been known to step into a bar and be completely ignored by the longshoremen. Carter is a great commander but only a fair pilot. Jo has an IQ of 195 but again is only a fair pilot. Max is an unbeatable pilot, but her bad attitude often gets her shot up. It's always about balance.
 
 
TWG - Do you feel you characters are larger than life? Do you make any special effort to avoid portraying them as too perfect or too conflicted?
 
RAM - Larger than life? You bet! I draw my characters that way, but that's part of the fun of Banshee Squadron -- those exaggerations that turn a humdrum event into exciting action/adventure. For example, I once had West and Carter dodge a hail of gunfire, leap out a second story window, land on the necks of another bunch of bad guys, get up and run away still dodging bullets. Realistic? Not even close! Fun? Yes!
 
There's nothing wrong with 'larger than life'. Rooster Cogburn was larger than life. He was the roughest toughest lawman this side of the Mississippi. Was he too perfect? No, he was a fall-down drunk. So was he too flawed? No, he had a heart of gold.
 
Are my characters too perfect or too flawed? While I keep them firmly on the side of right, they all have their faults. Carter is lonely, Max drinks too much, Sam is insecure, Alex is the newbie who desperately wants to fit in. They fight each other. But these shortcomings don't dominate their lives. In the end, they pull it together and woop the bad guys.
 
The key is balance.
 
 
TWG - I have heard rumors about an upcoming cross over project with USS Liberty's Joseph Manno. Care to comment or tease our readers?
 
RAM - It's a wild lesbian free-for-all! Joe's Orion animal woman Parihn beds the Banshees one at a time and then all at once, complete with a 70's porno soundtrack and Ron Jeremy!
 
Just kidding. Joe says he will beat me up if I reveal any secrets. But it's going to be great!
 
 
TWG - Do you have any problem with killing off characters if it serves the storyline? An example from canon Trek was the universally annoying pointless death of Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine. Without actors or contracts to consider, what circumstances would drive you shake up your crew in a major way?
 
RAM - The death of a main character is great drama if it furthers the story and if you can do it right. The writer has to make the reader empathize with the doomed character as well as the surrounding characters, otherwise it's no different than just another redshirt getting zapped. In addition, the death has to serve the greater good of the story. The plot has to be advanced. That's why Jadzia's death failed. We empathized, but her death served no purpose to the story. In contrast, Spock's death in TWOK was done right. We empathized with him, with Kirk, and Spock's death served a purpose -- he saved the ship. So do I have a problem with killing main characters? No, if you do it right.
 
A friend once told me he thought my stories were all about change and pain and how those are tied up with life. Looking back at what I've written with that I mind I can see where he's coming from. The Squadron has undergone many changes over the course of the stories. No one has actually died, but Kimberly Tycho left the series after she got married. Her replacement, Alexandra Dalton, left the series after she decided to stay with Dexter Gray on a planet. Max Vasser's difficult experiences resulted in her quitting the Banshees and Starfleet. Matthew Cross's true fate remains a mystery, but he's left the series. Jazz Phoenix actually died -- twice -- but her character was invented specifically for that purpose.
 
 
TWG - Any advice for aspiring writers?
 
RAM - Be a positive factor. The internet and media are overflowing with negativity and (yes, I'll use the word) evil. Star Trek was a very optimistic and positive vision of mankind's future. Keep that in mind. Your good guys should wear white hats and your bad guys should wear black hats, and they should never get them mixed up. That's why Section 31 is bad Trek. Be a force for goodness. That's also good advice for life.  :)
 
 
TWG - Of all the writing mistakes, typos, grammos or errors, what are your personal favorites? Can you list five? Ex. their vis-a-vis there, mistaking "your" for "you're," etc.
 
RAM - I'm not sure if there's any one specific type of error that bugs me more than the others, just the general attitude of laziness and sloppiness. With all the tools at your disposal, there is simply no good excuse for a lot of the errors, especially in something you're presenting to the public. It's like, "Why should I put any effort into reading something that you've obviously put no real effort into writing?" We all make mistakes, but the most important thing is that we make an effort to improve. Are we learning?
 
Personally, I have to watch out for its/it's, whose/who's, and things like that. I also have a strange tendency to leave off the ends of words or even entire words from sentences as I'm typing. It's like my fingers can't keep pace with my brain and start skipping letters to catch up. One of these days I'll learn how to touch-type...
 
 
TWG - What was the best compliment you ever received on your writing?
 
RAM - Someone once told me that the Banshee Squadron stories are what motivated him to return to writing fan fiction of his own. I ran on that compliment for a month. :)
 
 
TWG - Thanks for your time, Richard, and best of luck with your future work, both Trek-related and not.
 
RAM - Thanks. Ditto.
Posted: 2005.06.27
Evil Must Be Opposed.
-- Vedek Yassim,

(DS9: Rocks and Shoals)
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