|The following is an email interview between Joseph Manno and Julie Raybon, creator and primary writer for To the Stars Through Hardship.
Something about 'Chick Trek'
A TWG Interview
TWG - How long have you been writing fan fiction?
JR - I started writing the Adventurous series in 1988. To be honest, it started as a joke, but quickly developed into something more serious. I found myself striving to write my own vision of the Star Trek universe.
TWG - Do you think there are recognizable stylistic differences between most male- and female-written Trek material? For example, I know for a fact a certain author friend of yours is known to tease you about what he calls "Chick Trek."
JR - I haven't seen a great deal of original (non-series based) fan fiction written by women. In fact, I personally know of only two others. Still, it wouldn't surprise me to see stylistic differences that are due to author gender. It may be that us girls don't tend to put as much focus on all that "icky boy stuff" like ship combat and tactics. :)
TWG - What does Erika Donaldson, Adventurous' commander, represent for you?
JR - She represents in large part my ideals of loyalty and perseverance. With Donaldson, I've attempted to show a person who has had the strength of will to stand by decisions she knew to be right, even though those decisions have significantly affected her life. I have tried to portray her as someone whose loyalty to both her principles and the people in her life override her own personal well-being.
At the same time, I've tried to present her as a human, with human failings. She isn't always happy about where she is in her life, and she can be downright bitter about her decisions; yet when it comes down to it, she will stand firmly by the people and ideals in which she believes, no matter the cost to herself.
TWG - Sounds like a starship captain to me.
Her officers seem an intriguing bunch. Doug Roese, her X-O, is an interesting combination of "geek" and "rebel without a cause." Is that planned, or did it just develop?
JR - A bit of both, actually. Doug Roese is a character who, in large part, has written himself. While I had originally intended him as the sort of character that everyone loves to hate, a foil for Donaldson, he apparently had other ideas... and has developed into the usually endearing and often infuriating man you now see-someone who is being forced to live up to the potential from which he had tried to hide all his life.
TWG - How about your ideas? From where do they come? Do you simply sit down to write, or do you have to be "inspired"?
JR - My ideas come from everywhere. I'll read a science story, or see something on TV or in a book, and my mind will veer off on a tangent. Sometimes even just a phrase will trigger it. I'll see a line in a poem, think, "Hey, that'd make a great story title," and my imagination takes over. It's both a blessing and a curse, since I'll just start writing on one good idea and another one appears. It forces me to really discipline myself and stick to one idea at a time.
There are days I can sit down and bang out 1,500 or 2000 words without a thought, and days it takes me hours to drag out 200 words. Unfortunately, there tend to be more of the latter days than the former.
TWG - Do you read a lot of fan fiction, Star Trek or otherwise?
JR - I closely follow the work of the rest of the Tetra-Luminaire group, especially Star Trek: Liberty, given the ties between my and Joe Manno's work. I also read three or four other series regularly. Unfortunately, I can't keep up with more than that, or I'd never get any writing done.
TWG - Who are your favorite professional authors? Did you pattern your style after anyone?
JR - I've never consciously patterned my style after any particular author, but I have always been a fan of Diane Duane's work, especially her Star Trek novelizations. There are certain details of her stories that I consider canon for my work, over those of the series canon (her descriptions of Romulan culture, for example).
As far as mainstream fantasy and science fiction is concerned, I very much enjoy the work of Robin McKinley, C.S. Friedman, George R.R. Martin, Jack McDevitt, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. I wouldn't be surprised if aspects of their style have crept into mine from time to time.
TWG - Interesting.
Do you have aspirations towards publication? Any non-Trek work of yours around we can devour? ;-)
JR - I do have aspirations toward publication. One of the reasons I am as slow as I am in getting new Adventurous work out is because I'm also trying to focus on non-Trek short fiction.
I did recently have a piece published in the September issue Aphelion Webzine (www.aphelion-webzine.com), a long-running amateur webzine. It's called "The Not So Hero", and is under my married name, Julie Winningham. I also keep an online writing journal (potameides.com/grace), which I use to procrastinate from any actual writing. :)
TWG - So, what's in Adventurous' future? Any cosmos-shaking storylines, or down-to-earth ones, we should be anticipating?
JR - I don't know about cosmos-shaking, but sometime next year there will be a three-part storyline that will delve into the details behind Donaldson's court-martial and the events that led to her receiving command of the Adventurous. It will be a bit of an experiment-two stories, one past, one present, that will be interwoven over the course of three parts. That will set up certain events that will lead to a story, currently titled "A Crown of Fire and Roses," that will irrevocably change the lives of the crew.
As for more down-to-earth stories, you'll see a number of those, including "Star Crossed" and "What the Thunder Said," both Liberty/Adventurous crossovers. Others will focus on individual Adventurous crew; Shana Arland will be a significant focus of "Daffodil Lament" and Doug Roese will be the main feature of "A Life in the Day." The current mission, "Here Be Dragons," is really Brennig Tethyan's story, and it isn't the last you'll see of the Vor'Desh.
TWG - Christina Moore asks, "Well, naturally I'm curious as to how she came up with [both] the ship design and her characters."
JR - Well, the Auspicious-class was meant to be an experimental, even throw-away class, conceived of entirely as a platform to continue experimentation with transwarp. As a result, what came out was basically a stock ship frame, the sole purpose of which was to hold the nacelles apart and house the drive assemblies. State-of-the-art it's not, except for engineering. The over/under nacelle placement just came out as the idea developed (this was before I ever saw the USS Stargazer in TNG). I did get a significant assist on the technical details from Markus Nee, a good friend who has been building Trek models for years. He even did an excellent model of the Adventurous.
As for the characters, I've been writing/developing them for years, so I've had a chance to let them grow as individuals, at least in my head. There's definitely some of me in Erika Donaldson. As for the other main characters (Roese, Arland, Tethyan, Maxwell, Vhekla), each of them really has taken on a life of his or her own. I try to give each character a significant issue/flaw/skill, and that will often give me a framework around which to build the character. For example, Taylor Maxwell has a borderline personality disorder, and this has had a great effect on how I write the character. And the unlikely friendship between the saurian Brennig Tethyan and the muselid Lakshmi Vhekla has really been a centerpoint for development in both characters. It wasn't planned, either. A scene between the two in "Angels in Black and White" just popped into my head one day, and I went with it.
Simply, I think of the characters as real people, with all the problems and flaws inherent in being such. Yes, they have heroic qualities, but that is only one dimension of who they are.
TWG - So "larger than life" is OK as long as it includes all aspects of life?
JR - Exactly. Perfect characters are boring characters, no matter how heroic.
TWG - I know that your crossover with Liberty, "A Room of Her Own," garnered some excellent critical acclaim. How did you handle having another writer write your characters so extensively? Was it uncomfortable or an adjustment? Does Joe have less hair now from the frequent flamings?
JR - Joe respects my characters and my vision, and that shows in his use of them. Thus, it wasn't that difficult an adjustment to let him do so. Frankly, I consider it a sign that I have been able to create well-developed characters, that another author can so easily speak through them.
And I never flame Joe. Harass, maybe... infuriate, definitely... but never flame. :)
TWG - I note that you're starting a new series, USS Sagatauk, and that another, USS Blackwater Draw, is not far behind. Tell us a little about those.
JR - For some time I've wanted to really explore the more anthropological side of Star Trek exploration, to examine just how difficult and dangerous first contacts are (or should be). In the televised series, they needed to be neatly resolved in an hour, but in written fiction, such events can be examined more deeply, and may not be resolved so neatly. That's where Sagatauk comes in. It will be set ten years after Adventurous, in 2387, and focus on Commander Molly Ainsworth (who can be seen in the Liberty story "Introductory Offer"). Ainsworth is assigned to the Sagatauk to test the First Contact Specialist program she pioneered. It won't be easy, though. She's been behind a desk for years, and not everyone on the Sagatauk is happy they've been chosen for this experiment.
Blackwater Draw is still in the nebulous stages of development. In the current plan, it and will fall between Adventurous and Sagatauk, and will act as sort of a transition series. It will focus on Commander Philomene McAllister, first officer of the USS Blackwater Draw, one of the new Cahokia-class science vessels. I don't have many details yet, but the Vor'Shan and Vor'Desh (from "Here Be Dragons") will likely be major players.
TWG - Any advice for aspiring writers?
JR - You can't just want to be a writer. You have to decide to be a writer. Don't just think about it, do it. Write. Read. Talk to other writers. Find reliable readers to give you feedback. Buy a copy of Strunk and White's. Read some more. Write some more. And most important, don't give up.
TWG - Thanks for your time, Julie, and best of luck with your future work, both Trek-related and not.
JR - You're welcome, and thank you for this opportunity.
Check out the fan fiction of Julie Raybon at To the Stars Through Hardship