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Column Profile
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TWG Interview
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Michael Sweeney
Celebrating 5 years of Liberty
MS - How often do you find yourself excited by what you're writing, only to realize it's not consistent with some other element of the story or background? This happened all the time on Voyager and Enterprise. They ignored canon and just did whatever was cool. How do you deal with this?

JM - I write Star Trek: Liberty employing a certain premise: If Paramount/Viacom came to me tomorrow and said, "Dude, your stuff is literary ambrosia, and we'd like to make Liberty into the next Trek series," I'd be able to say, "Cool. It all fits into canon, with nary a continuity wiggle necessary. Take the whole kit and kaboodle and start pre-production."

MS - Do you find yourself often reworking story elements to maintain consistency? Do you catch yourself in the middle or wait until the end?
 
JM - I edit constantly. No story is ever finished. I tweak material years later; it's one of the benefits inherent with web publishing, in my opinion.

On the other hand, I'm fortunate in that I have a fairly accurate internal Okudapedia. I don't find myself thinking, "Oh, crap. This doesn't work because this."

In addition, the fact that I don't write chronologically allows me to insert ideas and pieces wherever they work best.

MS - When you started making decisions about your early series, what drew your attention to the character traits you imposed on your new
crew?
 
JM - I set out to write a series about "the best of the best"---a crew in many ways the near equal of, equivalent (and in some cases superior) to, Picard's. I respect the various Enterprise crews (with the possible exception of Archer's), but my characters in no way bow to them. I could certainly see Enterprise charging to Liberty's rescue... but I could just as easily see, and convincingly write, the reverse. After all, she's a Sovereign-class starship, one of only three in the fleet as of 2374 or so. They don't people these types of vessels with the hoi polloi.

MS - Did you try to balance the talents of your crew?
 
JM - Not really. They're individuals, and their abilities overlap somewhat, as do those of real-world officers and crew. Sera MacLeod can do just about anything, of course. Starfleet officers really aren't specialists, for the most part. They're, instead, incredibly well rounded. In some ways, Mantovanni himself is the least capable officer: he's a tactical badass---as he might put it, a "break glass in case of war" type---but he's no scientist.

MS - What was the inspiration for the Liberty name? The names of the crew?
 
JM -  I recall reading one of Diane Carey's novels (either Dreadnought or Battlestations) some years ago; the vessel in which her protagonist, Piper, took the Kobayashi Maru test was named Liberty. For some reason, it stuck with me; I love the name. I also have some associations with (and the unofficial endorsement of) a few former crew from the real world USS Liberty (AGTR-5), an American intelligence ship unjustly attacked by Israeli air and sea forces in 1967. It has nothing to do with Chakotay's Liberty, I assure you.
    I'm blessed with a good sense for naming characters, it seems.
    One can see the name "Manno" embedded in "Mantovanni," of course. Though he's not my Trek analog, certainly he takes elements of my personality as his own---especially that ferocious pride in his Sicilian heritage. Sera MacLeod's name finds its origins in my wife's love of Vulcans and her Scottish heritage. T'Vaar, Parihn, King, most of the others... no extraordinarily arcane process. I simply fiddled until I liked what I had.

MS - Several of your crewmembers could be descibed as 'extraordinary.' What other qualities did you choose to portray that keep your characters from becoming unbelievable?
 
JM - I concentrate on storytelling. It's not as if we haven't see amazing characters in Trek before. Picard, for example, is the ultimate Renaissance man: I challenge you to name something he's not good at. I think amazing abilities lend themselves to more extraordinary problems and pressures; so long as that's conveyed, you're on solid ground.
 
Parihn's a character who was supposed to be of little significance---there to provided background color, if you'll pardon the pun---but the adorable little imp clamored for my attention. Who was I to deny her? Slowly, she told me about herself... and I realized that she might well be Liberty's most "extraordinary" person. Yet she's one of my readers' favorite characters, precisely because she's overcome so much in her pursuit of life and happiness.

MS - Over time you have developed a significant body of work; do you have any special tricks that you use to keep track of everything? Cheat
sheets, character timelines?
 
JM - These people are real to me, in some sense... but they evolve in my mind. Since nothing is graven in stone, if a change is vitally necessary for the purpose of better storytelling, I make it. Agonizing over whether someone's 43 or 46 just isn't my style---not when I can alter it with the stroke of a key.

MS - You prefer to write out of sequence. How has this helped or hampered your abiltiy to tell the stories you want to tell?
 
JM - Helped, immeasurably. It gives you the leisure to tell more stories... and in my opinion, better ones. You simply find the period in which the story will fit, and go to town. Huge advantage over chronological writing.

MS - You've opened your series to outside writers, drabbles, and your annual contest. How has this impacted your own writing, or how you view
your series and crew? Have you found yourself inspired or annoyed by the direction other writers chose to take?
 
JM - Both... but I think that's the nature of the beast, if Parihn will pardon me. If you don't want other authors contributing their vision, then don't hold an annual writing contest. It really doesn't affect my vision of the characters, though. I see them with a certain clarity, and that's not wavered much for some time.

MS - Your most recent work is based on the canon The Next Generation characters. Do you have a particular set of episodes that you reference
to define those characters core personalities? Any recommended viewing for other TNG fan ficition writers?
 
JM - I have favorites, to be sure, but I try to consider the entire canon, as it smolders/festers in the labyrinth of my brain. My favorite TNG eps are "The Defector," "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Face of the Enemy," "Tin Man," among others. I very much like the Romulans, as you may have gleaned from this list. That's why Nemesis was so incredibly disappointing. What a suckfest.

MS - When you switch between writing your own series and writing stories with canon characters, do you make a conscience effort to keep the
personalities separate, or do you prefer to let the story influence how the characters react?
 
JM - I've never differentiated. I simply employ the "What would Mantovanni/Picard say/do at this point?" method of writing. It seems to have worked thus far.

MS - What prompted you to start your Liberty short story contest? Why did you begin accepting drabbles?
 
JM - I wanted to read stories about these people, too... and when you're actually writing them, it's just not the same. In addition, it's nice to take a break, yet still have material to post. I've received some interesting stuff over two years, and imagine this year's contest will be even more competitive.The Sons of Liberty Project evolved out of the same desires.

MS - As the series goes into its 5th year, are there any elements that you wish to revisit, reinvent or retell?
 
JM - Liberty is in its sixth year, actually.
    I'm doing some preliminary thinking about "Cataclysm," which will complete Tales of the 13th Fleet, before I return to the "present" with the novel Suffer to Sing, in which a trio of old friends---the Orions, Arellians and Magna Romans---will return. First , though, I plan on a flurry of desperate composition to finish both the novels Belief System and Lucifer in Starlight, both of which are currently in production. Somewhere along the line, I'll also work on "Winning the Exchange," a "Mantovanni at the Academy" story, and "Secrets Best Kept," the long-anticipated Liberty/Farscape crossover.

MS - Out of all the stories you have written which is your favorite? Why? Which is your least favorite? Why?
 
JM - I differentiate between my favorite stories (sorry, I can't narrow it down to a single favorite) and the ones I think are best written... but I'll not distinguish between my babies here. "All's Fair," Nature of the Beast, "Orphans and Strays," The Reckoning's "Jurisprudence" and "Parthian Shots," "Roman Holiday," "Tiger by the Toe," "Tribble in Paradise," "A Week in the Life of Sito Jaxa," and the as-yet-unreleased "Pretty Maids All in a Row" hold special places in my heart. Of those written in part or primarily by a guest author, I'd have to say "A Room of Her Own" (Julie Raybon), "Pax Libertas" (Michael Gray), and "Rules of Engagement" (Jaeih t'Radaik) lead the way.
 
My least favorite, and the one for which I have the lowest literary regard, is "Draconian Measures," both because Geri Behrens and I had a brief falling out over it, and because the result just wasn't worth our anguish.

MS - If you had to opportunity to 'retell' the Star Trek universe, starting from scratch, what would you keep, lose and throw in?
 
JM - I would certainly have handled Enterprise better in its initial season. I'm sorry... the ship does look more advanced than Kirk's vessel did, and that just doesn't work, whether the Powers that Be (or the clueless fanboys) want to admit it or not. Even Jolene Blalock thinks Enterprise shit the bird. Roddenberry would have been appalled. It should have had a much more retro feel than it did.

MS - Who is your favorite canon character? Given the fact that forty and more writers contribute to those characters, do you feel that any character (except Janeway, we know how you feel about her) has benefited or been damaged from the diversity?
 
JM - I'd have to go with Picard---not the "action hero" Picard of the movies, but the dignified statesman of the series. Worf runs a close third, after Spock. There are two Worfs, you know: He's somewhat ineffectual on The Next Generation, and a badass on Deep Space Nine. People could have said it was an evolution---unless they saw the cinemagraphic abortion that was Nemesis, where they exploited the character for cheap laughs. Pathetic.

MS - On a television show the writers are pressured to write character driven stories centered more about the actor's pride than to drive the story arcs. Have you felt any pressure from your own inspiration to tell character-centered stories to balance the 'air time'?
 
JM - Are we talking about Patrick Stewart's growing hubris, here? I've heard he and Spiner had gotten intolerable over screen time. Well, they've certainly plunged the franchise into the box-office toilet with their greed, haven't they---assuming the rumors are true, of course. 

MS - The web is filled wih sub-quality fan fiction and you have pointed this out on many occasions. Do you think there is a better way to shepherd writers from their beginnings to a more mature standard? Do you feel you short story contest is helping?
 
JM - I don't think the contest has helped in the least. I'm not, right now, looking to mentor anyone; I have enough problems of my own. I appreciate that many submissions come from experienced fanfic writers. Even one or two profic authors have expressed interest in entering this year's contest. As to whether there's a better way to encourage new/young writers, I agree with Stephen King, who said something to the effect that there are two ways to improve as a writer: Read a lot... and write a lot. I'd extend that to "Listen a lot," as well: take what rings true to you, incorporate it, and ignore the rest.
Posted: 2005.04.26
Evil Must Be Opposed.
-- Vedek Yassim,

(DS9: Rocks and Shoals)
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