Throwback Interview: Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin (2006)

Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels are some of the most popular writers for the Star Trek novel range. Their books include The Sundered, Mission Gamma Book Three: Cathedral, and the Star Trek: Titan novels Taking Wing (a USA Today Bestseller book) and The Red King, among others. Their work extends outside the scope of Star Trek, including short stories, comics, and DVDs. They were kind enough to participate in The Ten.

Q: How did you break into writing?

Andy: I actually went to college to get an art degree to draw comics. I got my two year art degree, but started selling articles to Fantasgraphics for Amazing Heroes magazine, and discovered in my third year that I really hated doing art on deadline, but writing was very easy for me. From there, I wrote for lots of magazines, eventually moving into comic book work, and then books – both non-fiction and fiction!

Mike: I began writing terrible little short s-f stories way back in junior high, then got sidetracked and drifted out of the habit of fiction composition during college. In the early 90s I got back into it and the stuff started selling in 1995.

Q: How did you start collaborating?

Andy: I had never worked with a co-writer before, but a previous Star Trek story I did for DC had been scuttled when a Next Generation story gutted the premise of my two-parter. DC paid me for it, but it went through several editors and then faded away. When I was writing articles for Marvel Vision magazine, I asked the editor, Tim Tuohy, if I could do a fill-in on any of his comics. He suggested Star Trek. Knowing that Michael Martin wanted to break into writing professionally, AND he was a walking encyclopedia of Star Trek lore, AND we got along well, I asked if he wanted to co-write the story with me. We’ve now been writing Star Trek (and a trio of Roswell books) together for a decade!

Mike: In 1996, Andy discovered an opportunity to write Star Trek comics for Tim Tuohy at Marvel; he called me for assistance (his primary media space-opera expertise was in Star Wars), and our writing partnership took off from there, starting with a very strange tribble story that ended up in issue #14 in our half-year run on Marvel’s Deep Space 9 title. That story — which featured most of the principal characters’ inebriated speculations about the origins of the Michael Westmore-era Klingon foreheads as well as the long-standing mutual Klingon-tribble antipathy — was approved by the studio within twenty-four hours, which I’m told set a record. That sale and the next several scripts augured well for the future, at least until Marvel canceled the whole Trek comics line a few months into our run.

Q: How do you divide your writing tasks when collaborating?

Mike: With novels (our main joint pursuit these days), we generally meet to discuss and scribble down our plot beats, then one or the other of us goes off to type it all up. Once we’re both satisfied with the story outline (and after our editor and the studio signs off on same) we break it up into chapters and divide them between us so we can work on multiple sections of the book simultaneously. We read and edit each other’s chapters, though we each make the final cut on our own material (subject to editorial and studio approval, of course). Usually the final result is consistent enough in style and voice that we honestly can’t remember exactly who wrote what.

Andy: Our personalities, sense of humor, writing style, and politics are very similar… though Mike sometimes uses words so obscure even I have to look them up! We also have favorite types of things to write. Mike likes scientific stuff, while I prefer the character interaction stuff. But once we’ve both gone over everything, it really is a close collaboration. What makes writing as a pair so unique is that we can bat ideas and concepts back and forth like a ping-pong game, work out the coolest possible angles, and hopefully find all the potential problems before it ever gets to the editor. The fact that some of our stories have gotten the speediest turnaround time that have ever happened with the licensors is a source of joy for us…

Q: You wrote the first two novels of the new Star Trek: Titan series of novels. How did you become involved in launching that project?

Mike: If I recall correctly, Pocket Books Senior Editor Marco Palmieri called us up and offered them to us, on the strength of our previous work (Section 31 TNG — Rogue; DS9 Mission: Gamma Book Three — Cathedral; Star Trek: The Lost Era 2298 — The Sundered). We began working on the Titan books at the same time we were finishing up our Worlds of DS9 Trill novel (Unjoined).

Andy: It was a tremendous opportunity to do those books, as it allowed us to use “known” TV characters, such as Riker, Troi, and Tuvok, “known” literary” characters such as Vale and Keru, and a whole bunch of cool new alien characters. Because Titan is supposed to have the most diverse crew in Starfleet, with a very small percentage of humans on it, we were really able to design some cool aliens. The writer of book three, Christopher Bennett, also contributed some of the strange crew members. Of the newbies, everyone’s favorite seems to be Dr. Ree, the dinosaur-like ship’s physician, but I think the brassy Ferengi scientist, Bralik, will grow on people…

Q: Your latest novel, Last Full Measure, was recently released. Seeing as it takes place during Star Trek: Enterprise’s third season, is there any frustration in the limitations inherent with writing a novel set during a show’s run (as opposed to the work on the post-Deep Space Nine and Nemesis novels)?

Andy: Truthfully, so little was fully fleshed out with many of the concepts of the Enterprise TV show that there was a LOT of room for expansion. Yes, certain characters were locked into certain futures that were foretold by the later episodes that followed when our book was set, but there was a lot of room for characterization, and longer views of the cast. We gave Mayweather more scenes and dialogue in our book than he got in all four seasons of Enterprise. And because our book was also about the MACOs, who were walking ciphers on the show, you got to find out a lot about them as well.

Mike: Not really. Sure, it can be easier in some respects when you’re writing for a property that’s safely concluded (and therefore can’t introduce new canonical details to shoot down your own particular interpretation of the universe with which you’re working), but there are always challenges associated with writing fiction of any sort. You have to get the characters’ voices right and evoke the right “feel” for whatever milieu you’re working in. And you can think you’re in the clear with regard to canonical limitations and suddenly not be — as was nearly the case with our Tholians (which we never expected to return to the screen after their one appearance way back in 1968’s “The Tholian Web”) in The Sundered. The Tholians were surprisingly reintroduced in Enterprise just as we were completing our manuscript (fortunately, we were able to neatly incorporate Enterprise‘s new Tholian information; it didn’t wreck what we were doing, but it certainly could have). To varying degrees, all fiction is a moving target.

Q: Collaboration would, one would imagine, require a certain amount of trust and confidence in each other. Have you run into situations where you were greatly divided on a plot point, and how do you handle that?

Andy: On the few instances of great disagreement there have been, we really talk it out. A writer sometimes clings to desperately to their words. An old phrase in writing is “you have to learn to kill your little darlings.” Sometimes the things that are your “little darlings” aren’t nearly so important once they’re gone or altered. And we’ve both had things altered by each other, by our editor, or by the licensor. Nature of the beast.

Mike: We usually get all of our loud arguments out of the way very early in the process. After that we may nitpick one another a bit in terms of style and voice, or scene direction. But for the most part I think we see the Trek universe similarly enough — and have a similar enough understanding of the requirements for passing editorial and studio muster — that we don’t have a lot of fundamental disagreements.

Q: When it comes time to work on a new project, how will the creative process be initiated between the both of you? Take us through the steps of brainstorming and pitching a new novel or story.

Mike: We usually meet, sometimes at one or the other of our houses, or more often in a restaurant. We start spitballing ideas and writing the good stuff down. We pursue a few blind alleys along the way, but we often have the embryo of a book scrawled down on a few longhand pages by the end of that first meeting. Then the emails fly back and forth over the next couple of weeks as the raw story beats develop into an outline, which tends to read a lot like a screenplay treatment.

Andy: One funny element of designing the story is that I’m a real dope when it comes to hard science. If we’re doing something really science-heavy, I have to ask Mike to “give it to me in fourth grade science terms.” Ironically, when we were doing our Star Trek SCE books, once Mike had explained the “real science” to me in 4th grade terms, I was able to come up with a way for the characters to get out of the problem we had set forth.

Andy: The other thing in breaking the story is that it also depends on what you’re given to work with by the editor. Sometimes the editor has a very specific idea what they’d like the general feel of the story to be, or at least the time period. Other times, we’ve been left very free. Truthfully, I’ve found that it’s nice to have a bit more editorial input, so we don’t develop ideas that aren’t going to be wanted in the first place. So sometimes we will just give some early “springboard” pitches to see what catches the editor’s interest.

Q: If you were to give a piece of advice to an up-and-coming writer that was something no one had ever told you on your way up the ladder, what would it be?

Andy: If you want to work as a writer, you have to start working at it first. I started in the trenches writing magazine articles (and still do, to this day). I did not start out with getting book or comic book contracts. I worked my way up to those, all while: a) meeting deadlines; b) getting paid; c) practicing my craft; and d) making important contacts. Through the years, I’ve almost never turned down an assignment even if it didn’t fully interest me; I find ways to make it interesting to me, while still delivering the goods for the fans of whatever it is I’m writing about.

Mike: I would say “write as much of your own original stuff as possible.” Over the long haul, that’s the best way to build a career as a fiction writer. And don’t expect to get rich writing tie-ins.

Q: Is Star Trek still relevant?

Andy: The ideals of Star Trek still are. My favorite element of Trek is the concept that people CAN work and live together if they really try to understand each other’s differences and accept them for who and what they are. IDIC = Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. That’s the Vulcan creed, and one I wish all of humanity could adopt. To me, as both a gay man and a human, that is the most important ideal of Trek.

Mike: I think it may be more relevant now than ever before. The world has gone insane. We’re at war in Iraq for no good reason, and we’re seriously contemplating nuclear war in Iran (!). Human activity is jeopardizing Earth’s status as a class-M planet. It’s easy to sink into despair about the future in times like these, and Star Trek still stands before us as a beacon to a better future than the one being designed for us by our current crop of venal, visionless, neoconservative “leaders.” Star Trek is a banner that ordinary people can rally around to usher in a better, more equitable future. If I didn’t believe that, I’m not sure I could write it convincingly.

Q: What is next for Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels?

Andy: As a team, we’re in contract talks for another Trek book we can’t say much about right now, but you might see some clues about it in Last Full Measure. We also hope to work on some Trek comics in the future, if those come back into the realm or reality. Solo, we’re pursuing various projects. I’m doing a LOT of Hollywood work now, producing, scripting, and directing DVD Special Feature documentaries and materials. I write regularly for Back Issue magazine and other outlets, and have about a dozen book proposals backed up to pursue.

Mike: We’re committed to do another Captain Sulu/Excelsior novel (Forged in Fire), which recounts how Hikaru Sulu achieved his captaincy and tells the origin of the relationship between Curzon Dax, Kang, Koloth, and Kor. With the Star Trek franchise on the eve of a major renaissance (courtesy of Lost’s J.J. Abrams), I’m sure there will be a lot more Trek for us after that.

Andy: You can keep up with my work, and our work as a team, on my website –

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