Throwback Interview: Dayton Ward (2009)

Dayton Ward is a novelist and popular Star Trek author, whose credits include Star Trek:  Vanguard:  Summon the Thunder, The 4400:  Wet Work, and Star Trek:  The Next Generation:  A Time to Harvest / A Time to Sow (all co-written with Kevin Dilmore), as well as The Last World War.  Dayton Ward takes some time out of his schedule to participate in The Ten and discuss his latest novel, Star Trek:  Vanguard:  Open Secrets, as well as writing in general, fandom, and more.

1. Your latest novel is Star Trek: Vanguard: Open Secrets. Noticeably absent on the cover is your usual partner-in-crime, Kevin Dilmore. What was his involvement in the development of this novel, and why no partnership this time around?

Kevin and I developed the story for Open Secrets intending to share in the writing duties as we have on a number of projects over the past several years. Unfortunately, fate chose mid-late 2008 to throw Kevin some curve balls from several directions. In the end, he simply did not have time to work on this book and deal with everything else going on, and opted to step back from the project. He asked that his name be removed from the cover, but he still has a shared story credit with me on the book’s title page.

Those worried that this might signal the end of our writing partnership should rest easy; Kevin and I have already collaborated on a novella which will be out next year for the Star Trek: Seven Deadly Sins anthology, and we’re starting to work on a new article for Star Trek magazine. Still, you can expect to hear about us working on various solo projects from time to time in the months to come.

2. Can you give us an overview of creation of this novel, from outline to final print?

Well, a lot of what is in Open Secrets is due to us taking cues from fellow writer and Vanguard co-creator David Mack, who wrote the previous book in the series, Reap the Whirlwind. Readers familiar with the book know that Dave left us with quite a few dangling plot threads demanding attention. After three books of introducing characters and a lot of action and big events unfolding, circumstances required a deliberate change of pace and focus for the next book in the series.

We also were given the task of advancing the overall storyline so far as Vanguard’s position within the larger Star Trek timeline. The first three books in the series take place very early in the original series’ first season, between the pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and the first production episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.” Open Secrets unfolds over a large chunk of time – several months, moving deep into the timeframe covered by later episodes of the first season of TOS.

As for the actual writing, as I said before, Kevin and I started out writing this novel together. We divided up the various plotlines and chapters, and set to work. I wrote my “half” during the summer of 2008, but even then Kevin was beginning to dodge bullets from various fronts, and it was having an effect on his writing. To give my man some well-deserved credit, he kept fighting despite what I know was a lot of pressure squeezing him from all sides. Finally, he came to me and editor Marco Palmieri and told us he was having trouble, did not like what he was writing, and could not focus on it due to other priorities having to take precedence. I had a phone conversation with Marco, who asked me if I could write the rest of the book in the time remaining before the due date, or if some sort of extension was required. Not wanting the book to slip in the publication schedule, I said that I thought I could finish the writing in what was just over a month. I ended up writing close to 72,000 words over the course of just about five weeks, all while balancing a full-time job, a wife and kids, chores around the house, and so on. I was a zombie for the last couple of weeks, and collapsed the night after I handed in the manuscript. It’s not an exercise I wish to repeat any time soon.

3. With a number of different TV and original book series novels vying for spots on the schedule, what makes Star Trek: Vanguard different from the rest? Or, to put it another way, why does Vanguard matter?

Most of the other fiction series and their respective spin-offs are set in the Next Generation era, so Vanguard helps to provide a nice balance to that. It’s also the only series where the overall storyline has been plotted from beginning to end, although things have evolved to a point that the entire saga cannot really be boiled down to a set number of books. Vanguard allows us to play in the setting of the original series, which is my personal favorite of all the shows, while not being tied to the canonical events featuring that show’s characters. Some might say there’s no real fun left to be had in this era, since what we already know of future Star Trek “history” hems us in a bit, but I don’t look at it that way. There are still lots of stories to be told in the 23rd century, be they with Kirk’s Enterprise, Vanguard station, or characters and ships yet to be created. As for the series itself, its premise and assortment of characters — very few of whom are molded in the prim and proper Starfleet image — allow the telling of stories which would feel out of place in, say, an original series or even a Deep Space Nine novel.

4. Who was your favorite character to write in Open Secrets?

I have a few favorites. A large portion of the story by necessity focused on Commodore Diego Reyes, who was arrested at the end of Reap the Whirlwind, and I enjoyed the chance to do a few new things with him. I also had fun with his replacement as station commander, Admiral Nogura, and Ambassador Jetanien is always a favorite character to write. The ambassador’s role in the series is beginning to shift, as we’ll start to see in Open Secrets, and that will be fleshed out some more in the series’ next book. One character I enjoyed writing who ended up not appearing in the final version of the book was Dr. Richard Daystrom (the TOS episode “The Ultimate Computer”). Though we had him in the original outline and I wrote the scenes featuring him for the first draft, we eventually decided we didn’t need him for purposes of the Vanguard storyline. Too bad…I think he could’ve had a fun, if necessarily short, plot arc before continuity and “canon” required him to be elsewhere.

5. Describe your writing / creative process. What tools do you use to generate and develop ideas?

I get ideas from anywhere and everywhere; something I read or see in the news, or I read in another book which I turn on its ear, something I observe from people-watching, you name it. Anything you encounter just walking down the street can be the kernel of a story idea.

As for developing plots and whatnot, at the early stage, I use a whiteboard in my home office. When I’m done, the thing looks like a flowchart, with different color markers used to indicate different characters, subplots, etc. I do most of my actual writing on my laptop, but I’ve been known to take pen to paper when I think I need a change of venue or pace. I don’t write out entire chapters in longhand as I did when I first started, but I still write the occasional scene while sitting in a restaurant, waiting in the doctor’s office, and so on.

6. You have written a number of “media tie-in” novels in a few franchises. Why do you think a stigma exists for writers who work just as hard at creating novels in this area as opposed to “original” fiction?

I suppose some of that stems from the fact that there’s no shortage of adaptations and other tie-ins which were and continue to be written by authors simply looking for a quick paycheck. There certainly have been more than a few authors who’ve admitted as much. As for other people who might hold that perception, be they writers or readers, usually they’re commenting from a position of ignorance with respect to how such books are developed, written, and published, and by whom. Award-winning novelists like Kevin J. Anderson or Max Allan Collins just to name two off the top of my head write several books a year, both their own work as well as media tie-in fiction. Everyone I personally know who works in this field busts their ass to create something they’re proud to say they’ve written, regardless of whether it’s their own original fiction or a Star Trek or Star Wars novel.

7. You have had a flash fiction serial published in installments on a couple of websites. Do you see the Internet as a viable and legitimate outlet for fiction to be published in the future?

Absolutely. Anyone who tells you otherwise has their head stuck in the sand, or perhaps lodged in some body orifice. Look at how the Internet has changed how we receive news and other information, shop, find a job or just a phone number or address, order dinner, watch movies or catch an episode of some television show that we missed; whatever. How many print newspapers folded this year? How many magazines have reduced or abandoned their publication schedules in favor of moving content to the web? How many independent book stores have given up renting space at a strip mall and instead sell their books via conduits like eBay or

Readers and authors have been connecting via the Internet for years, starting with Usenet newsgroups or online services like GEnie or CompuServe or Prodigy, to AOL and now personal websites and blogs and social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. Why not use these venues to offer writing samples if not complete short stories or even novels?

While I don’t think the printed book is going anywhere any time soon, the popularity of electronic books and magazines read via a laptop computers or portable devices is increasing. Slowly, but it is increasing. With your phone or a device like Amazon’s Kindle, you can receive content directly from providers via the Internet. I’ve seen news stories where newspapers and magazines are looking into similar delivery systems. It’s insane not to explore the advantages and potential offered by such technology. The key is not to treat the electronic version of your book, newspaper, or magazine like the unwanted stepchild of your print incarnation. Publishers at every level, from the smallest of micro-presses to the largest houses to the premiere news organizations around the world, have to put some real money, time, and effort into leveraging the Internet’s potential to maximum effect, or they’re not going to survive. The landscape is increasingly littered with the dried up husks of those who failed to realize this simple reality.

8. Fandom: Necessary evil, misunderstood beast, or something else entirely?

Fans can be awesome. They can also be damned infuriating. You’ve got casual fans, ardent fans, obsessed fans, and downright scary fans. I love the first two groups, whether they tell me they like my work or not. Fans with a passion for this stuff is the reason Star Trek has thrived as long as it has. Some of the people in the latter two groups can be off-putting, to say the least.

The problem is that fandom is not some monolithic entity; you can’t get two or more fans to agree on anything. I’ve read reviews of my work where the reader thought it was the greatest thing ever put to paper, followed immediately by another review for the same work where the reviewer was adamant that I never be allowed within reach of any sort of writing implement ever again, and that my arms should be amputated and my mouth sewn shut for good measure. Though I’ll admit I sometimes let a bad review get to me when I know I shouldn’t, I generally try to just let all of that stuff roll off my back. Likewise, I try not to get too excited or pleased with myself when I read a nice, positive review. I enjoy the momentary satisfaction of knowing I was able to entertain that person for a little while, and then I get back to work.

9. In your opinion, is J. J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie (setting, time frame, style) exactly what the franchise needs right now?

In concept, this is exactly what Star Trek needs: A good kick in its ass. Robin Hood, King Arthur, Tarzan, James Bond, Batman and Superman—to name just a handful of examples—have all been repeatedly and successfully re-imagined for new audiences. Why not Star Trek? I’ll go to my grave a fan of the original series. My earliest memories of watching television include Star Trek, and as a fan I can’t wait for this new film. I don’t care if the uniforms, sets, ships, and all of that stuff is updated. I don’t care that different, younger actors are playing the characters I grew up watching on TV. What I care about is that – at its core – this new movie retains the heart and soul of what has always made for a good Star Trek story: characters you can care about offering hope that our future is brighter than our present, and that we as a race will put aside our stupid differences and continue to mature, improve and evolve as we reach for that future. Oh, and maybe lay the flying drop kick on a bad buy before bagging the occasional hot Orion green chick.

10. What’s next for Dayton Ward?

Just getting ready to hit stores is an anthology of military science fiction short stories I edited for Flying Pen Press, titled Space Grunts. It’s the third book in their series of anthologies with the umbrella title Full-Throttle Space Tales (I just love that title). The book features 18 stories, many of them by fellow Star Trek fiction alumni. I’m currently working on the sequel to my science fiction novel The Last World War, which is scheduled for publication in April 2010. I’m hoping to write another Star Trek novel after that, but we’ll have to see what we’ll see, so far as that’s concerned. After that? Who knows? Stay tuned!

Dayton, thank you very much for your time!

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