Throwback Interview: Keith R. A. DeCandido (2007)

Keith R. A. DeCandido is a fan-favorite author of numerous novels for various franchises, including Star Trek, Resident Evil, and World of WarCraft, as well as an original novel, Dragon Precinct. As a freelance editor, he has worked on Star Trek and Doctor Who anthologies, as well as the editor of the Star Trek eBook series Corps of Engineers. DeCandido was kind enough to participate in The Ten

1. How did you break into writing?

The actual breaking in occurred in 1994, when I sold a collaborative short story to The Ultimate Spider-Man, a prose anthology of Spider-Man short stories. It was called “An Evening in the Bronx with Venom,” written with John Gregory Betancourt. It was a wholly nontraditional method of breaking in: John and I were the editors of that anthology (though publicly it was listed as being edited by Stan Lee), and we were getting to the 11th hour, and we didn’t have a Venom story. Venom was on the cover of the book, and was at the time Spider-Man’s most popular villain (by far), so we had to have a Venom story. Unfortunately, Marvel had rejected all the pitches we’d sent. Finally, we asked them to tell us what they wanted to see; they gave us a sentence. Because it was so late in the game, John and I just did it ourselves. I wrote a draft, John tore it apart and rewrote it from the ground up, gave it to me, I tore it apart and rewrote it from the ground up, and we had a story. That opened the floodgates, as it were, and I sold a bunch more stories, and eventually a novel.

2. How did your upcoming Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Q&A get commissioned? Could you take us through the writing process from pitch to final draft?

Margaret Clark called me into her office (I do a lot of freelance editorial work for Pocket, including editing the eBook line, so I’m there a lot), and offered me the next post-Nemesis TNG book after Resistance. Not being stupid, I said yes. Because Resistance and [the forthcoming] Before Dishonor were already doing the Borg, and because I had a Q story in the back of my head that I always wanted to tell—to wit, why was Q so interested in Picard in particular?—I pitched that. After all, TNG began and ended with Q, so to my mind, you couldn’t do the 20th anniversary without him. Margaret saw my logic, and worked with me on the proposal. My original outline was somewhat unfocused, and Margaret deserves considerable credit for tightening it up. I then wrote the book, making several changes to accommodate changes to Resistance in various drafts (like one character whose fate changed between drafts), and in the end there was a book. Pretty much the same process as usual, particularly when writing a book in an ongoing series.

3. How do you approach building drama around a guest character that is omnipotent?

Well, one approach is to keep people guessing as to what, exactly, he’s doing—Picard always assumes Q has a hidden agenda, but we never find out what it is right away. Also Q isn’t the antagonist—exactly. There’s something bigger going on, bigger even than Q. Plus, you don’t so much build drama around Q for the reason you state, but you can build comedy. Just writing the character is so much fun. Best thing they did on TNG was take the old Original Series trope of the Omnipotent Being Who Plays With Humanity (the Organians, the Metrons, the Excalbians, the swirly thing from “Day of the Dove”) and give him a really obnoxious personality.

4. With your next novel, Star Trek: Klingon Empire: A Burning House, coming out next year, and with its shift to a wider scope, what tidbits can give us not only about the novel but about your future plans for the series?

A Burning House will actually tie up several loose ends that have been floating around in the series, including a big one with Rodek. In general, A Burning House will show the breadth of the Klingon Empire: we’ll see a Klingon farm, an opera company, a slum, a medical conference, plus the usual politics and intrigue. Most of the major cast members—the bridge crew and the members of the fifteenth—will get spotlighted throughout the novel. Beyond this book—well, let’s see how A Burning House does, first.

5. With regards to the Star Trek: Corps of Engineers eBook series that you edit, what do you find appealing and challenging about the novella format?

I think keeping the eBooks to novella length helps make the stories tighter. In particular, Corps of Engineers stories are high-adventure problem-solving tales, and they work better in the shorter, punchier format. Since it’s an ongoing story, the character subplots can stretch out over several novellas, thus leaving the individual stories to focus on the plot of that particular eBook. It’s the closest the prose form comes to the format of a weekly TV series, honestly.

6. Could you please tell us about the upcoming Doctor Who anthology that you are editing? How did that come about?

Well, I’ve edited a lot of anthologies in my time. I had sold a short story to one of Big Finish’s Short Trips anthologies (Destination Prague), and I was interested in editing one. My friend and colleague, John S. Drew, actually had a notion for an anthology, but he has no experience in anthology editing, so he passed the idea on to me. My editor on Prague introduced me to the editor at Big Finish, I pitched the anthology to him, and he loved it. It’s called The Quality of Leadership, and has the Doctor’s encounters with leaders throughout time and space: King Arthur, Queen Boudicea, Martin Luther, Spartacus, Plato, etc. John’s writing the framing story that sets the whole thing up, and it’s got a great lineup of people, many of whom have never written official Who fiction before.

7. You have the new TNG and Klingon Empire novels as well an entry in the Slings and Arrows series. You are known for your high output of writing. How do you do it?

I have given up such outmoded concepts as “sleep.” Seriously, though, I write fast, and this is my day job. I need to eat…

8. For budding writers, do you think fan fiction is a good arena for them to apply and develop their craft? What other tips would you offer?

Any writing is good practice—generally you get better at something by doing it. If that takes the form of fanfic, so be it. There are significant differences between fanfic and profic—not least being that fanfic is much more free-form and flexible in terms of format and plot and structure. But in general, if you want to be a writer, you need to write. That seems self-evident, but you’d be amazed at how many aspiring writers don’t get that…

9. You are very active on various message boards, often finding yourself in the middle of the sometimes lively discussions. But be blunt: does online fandom really matter?

Not as much as the people on it probably think. Having said that, it’s a great place to discuss work with fellow fans—and that’s the thing. I participate on the Trek literature boards mainly because I’m also a Star Trek fan, and a fan of the novel line, and have been since I was a kid. The online discussions serve a dual purpose of entertainment and promotion—plus it’s good (for me, at least) to be available to discuss my work.

10. What’s next for Keith R. A. DeCandido?

Well, I’m doing one of the Myriad Universes short novels, which will be a Trek “what if” story—too soon to give specifics, but I can say that it’s lots of fun picking a point of divergence and watching the dominoes fall. I’ve also done a CSI: NY novel, which will be out next spring, and I’ve got the last eBook in the Slings and Arrows miniseries, which will actually be a full-bore TNG/DS9 team-up. And other stuff in various stages of development—I’m actually in discussions with IDW about doing some Star Trek comics work for them, though it’s also too soon to give specifics there (and still may not happen).

Keith, thank you for your time.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s