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Julian Wangler (jw), Jörn Podehl (jp)26.12.08

Kirsten Beyer's New Course for Voyager

TZN Exclusive Interview With the Trek Novelist

TrekZone Network talked exclusively to Star Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer. We spoke about Trek in general, her tie-in fiction for Voyager and her latest novel Full Circle in particular and Kirsten Beyer was kind enough to share some details of her private life with us, too.

TrekZone Network: When did you start writing as a professional and for how long have you been a professional author?

Kirsten Beyer: My first professional sale was to Pocket for the novel Star Trek Voyager: String Theory: Fusion. At roughly the same time I was asked to contribute "Isabo's Shirt" to the 10th Anniversary Voyager anthology, Distant Shores. So, I've been getting paid to write for about five years now.

Of course, I've been writing a lot longer than that. I really started writing seriously about thirteen years ago, creating stories for Star Trek: Voyager when it was in production. I had a number of meetings there but never made a sale. Beyond Trek, I've also completed a number of screenplays, plays, and have two original novels in the works. None of those have yet been produced or sold, but in a couple of cases, I expect that to change in the near future.

TZN: Who is Kirsten Beyer? Is there anything you would like to share with our readers about yourself, your hobbies and interests? What do your family and friends think of your work - and, of course, of Star Trek?

Beyer: I've been performing on stage since I was two, when I began training in classical ballet. When I was about fourteen and it became clear to me and the ballet company I had joined that I was just never going to have the figure of a ballerina, I transitioned to acting. I've done hundreds of plays since then, in college, graduate school - where I earned a master of fine arts degree in acting - and since then in a number of productions here in Los Angeles. I've appeared in a few feature films, soap operas, and a number of commercials. Last week I shot a new commercial for Amazon.com which I hope will be airing next year.

The thing I realized when graduate school ended is that my love of performing was really a love of telling stories. I already had a degree in English literature and started to use my down time between acting projects to explore writing. I try to maintain a healthy balance in all of my creative pursuits, and after a few years of constant production work have spent the last year or so really focused on my writing.

I'm also married to a fellow actor and composer, and we live in Los Angeles.

My family and friends are incredibly supportive of my work. I couldn't do any of this without them and I look forward with each new publication to hearing their thoughts, which are usually biased, but nice, nonetheless. Some of them have followed Trek through the years in its multiple incarnations. Some of them have become fans, particularly of Voyager, since I started working for Pocket.

TZN: Novels of which kind of genre next to science fiction do you enjoy most and which TV shows do you like to watch?

Beyer: I read all the time in a wide variety of genres. There are a lot of classic works that I adore and re-read from time to time - Austin, Dickens - that sort of thing. And I love a good history or historical fiction novel. Lately I've been reading a ton of non-fiction stuff, biographies, current events. And, of course, keeping up with Trek. Then there's what I call my bubble-gum reading or airplane books - one-off thrillers or mysteries or recent bestsellers that pass the time on long trips.

TV is tough because I watch a lot less of it than I used to, simply because there are only so many hours in a day. In the past year my default station is CNN. Currently backlogged in my DVR are last season's Battlestar Galactica, House, Pushing Daisies (I'll watch anything Bryan Fuller creates), Life, Heroes ... gosh, it's exhausting just to think about how much TV there is to catch up on right now.

TZN: Until now your Star Trek focus has been on Voyager. Could you tell us why exactly this series? What is it that makes Voyager different compared to other Star Trek shows and is Voyager your most famous series?

Beyer: I have a special relationship with Voyager because it is the first thing I ever tried to write. I knew a few people who were working on the show when it premiered and I discovered the unsolicited submission policy so that's where I cut my teeth, developing two teleplays that were rejected, but then creating dozens of other stories which I was able to pitch to the producers. One of those stories ultimately became one of the central arcs in Fusion.

I'm fond of TOS because I grew up watching it with my older brother. It was one of the few shows we could agree on without arguing and losing TV privileges for the night. I always enjoyed TNG, though I watched it sporadically in its first run because I was still in school. I missed DS9 altogether until my dear friend, Heather Jarman, starting writing DS9 for Pocket. In order to be able to help her with her manuscripts, I felt I needed a working knowledge of the show so at one point I sat down and watched the whole series on DVD. It was simply fabulous and I stay current with the DS9 fiction just as a fan.

But Voyager is the only show I ever followed when it was airing, week to week, primarily because I was trying to write for them, but also because I truly enjoyed it. I liked what they did well, but was also, at times, frustrated by choices they made that glossed over some of the deeper character work that a show like DS9 just did so brilliantly. Voyager became the show I really know inside and out - something that's terribly important when you're writing tie-in fiction - and the show where I could see the most potential for additional stories to complement what aired, as well as great potential for ongoing stories post-series.

And yes, it's probably the most famous sandbox I've played in. I've also written for Alias, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I also loved for very different reasons.

When I started this work, Voyager was definitely the series I was most prepared to write, but now I'm more well-versed in all of Trek, and would definitely branch out beyond Voyager should the opportunity present itself.

TZN: According to a comment by your colleague Keith R.A. DeCandido Full Circle will start initially where Enemy of My Enemy ended and progress to Destiny and beyond. Is that true? If the answer is yes, isn't that really very demanding?

Beyer: Yes, it is true, and yes, Full Circle is by far the most ambitious tie-in project I've tackled to date. Bear in mind that after the Spirit Walk duology ended in mid 2378, Voyager characters made appearances in several other novels - TNG, Titan, Articles of the Federation, and we had a Janeway cameo in Nemesis. Then came Destiny which is set in the first two months of 2381. So I was looking at a gap of almost three years that needed filling and that still had to line up with what had already been published and what David Mack was working on in Destiny. There were a number of unresolved story threads left by Christie Golden, but most important of all, we needed to figure out how to most effectively weave Voyager into the wider Trek universe. They needed to have their own special purpose, a creative direction that makes their stories unique, and that would set the stage for the future in a really compelling way.

Now that I look at it, I'm amazed I even decided to give it a shot.

But the good news was that once Destiny was in the works, the editors at Pocket put all of us who were working in the same time-frame or writing significant pre-Destiny material: myself, David Mack, Christopher Bennett, William Leisner, Michael Martin, Andy Mangels, and Keith DeCandido, in regular contact so as we were working, we were able to help one another with all of the world and character building and continuity issues necessary to make all of these books as cohesive as possible. That part of the process has truly been a joy. All of the authors I worked with as I was writing Full Circle were incredibly generous with their time and valuable knowledge and our peer review process is a big part of what made this undertaking both possible and manageable.

TZN: If the story told in Full Circle ranges from Enemy of My Enemy to the aftermath of Destiny the USS Voyager will be catapulted into a very dark era of Star Trek. Recently the Federation has suffered terrible damage by a Borg invasion unlike anything seen before. Why is that the right setting for a Voyager continuation? What outstanding role can ship and crew play in the future?

Beyer: Yes, the period of 2378 - 2381, particularly from June of 2380 through February 2381 are pretty dark for our heroes. But that doesn't bother me. Conflict and obstacles are a prerequisite for these kinds of stories. Sometimes those conflicts are internal, and sometimes the universe comes along and just starts beating the living crap out of you. These are good problems to have as a writer, though less fun to experience (I would imagine) as a character.

But it's the right setting, not just for Voyager but for all of Trek in that I think it resonates with some of our larger challenges as a planet right now. As long as I've been alive, it feels like we've been careening from one disaster to another, constantly on the brink of our own annihilation. Yes, I know that the decades right before I was born, the 50's and 60's had their challenges, but I look at some of the accomplishments of those decades, the prosperity and sense of optimism, the civil rights movement, and landing a man on the moon, and I wonder if our more recent accomplishments, like the technological advances we've seen in my lifetime, have done as much for our morale as a people and actually improved our quality of life as decisively as they were meant to.

Star Trek has always had allegorical undertones. It's not that we just shift our current problems a few hundred years in the future and watch them play out, but at its best, Trek has a way of shedding light on our struggles, though in a vastly different context. The darkness of the Borg invasion, the despair, the devastation, and ultimately the power of hope in the face of fear is something I think is worth meditating upon, particularly right now.

What's wonderful about Trek is that it has always presented us with one vision of what is possible. It's not a perfect future. Humans are still human and a lot of the alien races they encounter share our collective baggage, but there is hope. There is a willingness to stretch ourselves beyond parochial and outdated views and to embrace the universe's mysteries. There is a desire, always, to try and do the right thing, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. I believe we all share those desires right now but that we are faced with such daunting challenges that it may be hard to imagine how we're going to get from here to where we really want to be. I'm not saying that Trek is any kind of blueprint for our future, but by placing our heroes in really difficult and dark situations from time to time, and by watching their struggles, we can more easily relate to them, and hopefully, find inspiration in their solutions.

TZN: In Before Dishonor something happened which could be called sacrilegious: a protagonist had to die, at least in the physical way. That is something we've never seen before in a Star Trek novel. How does the loss of Kathryn Janeway affect the continuation of the Voyager story? Isn't it a burden if such a protagonist is suddenly missing?

Beyer: The loss of Kathryn Janeway was definitely shocking. As you said, we've never seen the permanent death of a major figure like her and I know that a lot of Voyager fans took it pretty personally either because she was their favorite character, or the first female captain of her own series, or because they just don't ever want to contemplate the death of a beloved character.

However, one of the good things about the ongoing fiction, for the readers and writers, is that because the shows and films are no longer in production with these characters, we are no longer bound to adhere to the status quo when we conceive of a story. It used to be that when we were done playing we had to make sure all of the toys were back on the shelf where we found them. That limits the kinds of stories you can tell. Those restrictions no longer exist.

Don't get me wrong. No one is considering the wholesale destruction of the universe that has been so painstakingly developed for over forty years now. No one is going for mere shock value and the decision to kill any character, be they large or small, is never undertaken lightly. These people exist in our imagination and it is painful to let them go.

But the time has finally come when it is no longer safe to assume that when you start a Trek novel, everything is still going to be in the same place when you've finished it. We can go deeper with characters and their evolution than ever before. We can challenge them in new ways. And we can explore stories that would be impossible given the budgetary realities of filmed Trek.

The decision to kill Kathryn Janeway was not made simply to force readers out of their complacency. It was made because it presented us with uncharted ground that we were interested in exploring. Yes, it's hard. But there's no point in doing this if it's easy. And yes, the death of Kathryn Janeway is treated in great depth in Full Circle and has major repercussions for all of the Voyager characters.

Personally I don't see it as a burden to continue the series without her, so much as a challenge. It remains to be seen if readers will be able to embrace the changes that are coming. For me, Janeway was always the center of Voyager, and definitely one of my favorite characters to write. Now, we have to find a way to shift that center and still remain true to what has always been best about Voyager.

TZN: Let's talk about the other main characters. At the end of Enemy of My Enemy they had been torn apart into several groups. Janeway became an admiral, Tuvok accompanies Captain Riker on the Titan, Annika Hansen is working for a think-tank in Starfleet and even the Doctor leaves Voyager. Captain Chakotay remained with a few other established characters (such as Harry Kim) and a lot of newer ones we have not truly come to know yet. Can we expect that the old protagonists to reunite? And will the newcomers be developed in greater depth?

Beyer: We have now reached the part of the interview where I'm going to have to start getting pretty vague and I apologize for that in advance. I can tell you, though, that all of these questions will be answered for you in Full Circle.

All of the characters you mention and a few brand new ones have a part to play in Full Circle. It's a huge story and great care has been taken in moving all of them forward in an organic way. As to what happens - you'll have to read it and see for yourselves.

TZN: In Germany the story about B'Elannas baby is regarded as the highlight of the Voyager relaunch up until now. The mysterious prophecy that circles around the unborn child is an exciting idea. Do you think this story arc is worthy to be continued?

Beyer: I do. It was one of the more obvious dangling threads that required resolution and is dealt with at length in Full Circle.

TZN: What can we expect from Libby Webber, love of Harry Kim and intelligence officer?

Beyer: You can expect to see her again. She was a character I was surprised to see given so much attention in the early relaunch books, but once that was done, you can't continue the story without honoring the significance of that relationship for Harry. As to how that relationship unfolds ... you'll have to wait until the book is released to find out.

TZN: We are curious: what will be your next Star Trek novel? Can you image to write for one of the other Star Trek relaunches?

Beyer: October of 2009 will see the release of my next novel in the Voyager series. The title hasn't yet been made public, but it will continue the story begun in Full Circle. At this point, once that novel is complete, I'll be returning to work finishing an original novel. As I said earlier, I would definitely enjoy the opportunity to work on other Trek series, but I have no definite plans yet for future Trek, Voyager or otherwise. I look forward to seeing what the future has in store in that regard.

TZN: The final question we like to put in front of our interviewees here at TrekZone Network is this: where do you see mankind a 100 years from now?

Beyer: I don't know, but I'll tell you what I hope. I hope that we will have found a way as a human species to realize that despite arbitrary lines on maps, we are essentially one. The beliefs and traditions and world views that right now seem to divide us should be recognized for the rich and diverse traditions that they are, but should not stand in the way of our ability to work together to solve larger problems.

Our world has abundant resources and right now, most of those resources are controlled and allocated among a relatively small percentage of the world's people. We tend to look to our own preservation first and with what's left, try and help others. What we have to realize, and what is slowly happening as "globalization" becomes a more common concept, is that we're all in this together. The accumulation of personal or national wealth and power should be less important to us than ensuring that all humans can exist and thrive without fear. I hope that we will direct our efforts toward peace, stability, and mutual support. History suggests to me that it may take a lot longer than a hundred years for humanity to evolve to this point, but I do believe we'll get there eventually. At least, I hope.

TZN: Thanks very much for taking the time to answer our questions!

Beyer: My pleasure.

(jw, jp - 26.05.09)

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