Jeff has written four novels within the Star Trek universe:
- Lost Era: Deny Thy Father
- S.C.E. #4: No Surrender
- TOS: The Folded World
- TOS: Serpents in the Garden
“Serpents in the Garden” is a follow up to the season two episode of TOS: “A Private Little War”. Michael from The Captains’ Table podcast spoke to Jeff about his writing and why Jeff chose this particular story to revisit.
Michael: When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Were there any books that influenced you at a young age?
Jeff Mariotte: I have pretty much always written, from a very young age. I know I had picture books: Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Books, and the like, but the first ones I remember really having an impact on me were Hardy Boys novels. I wrote very derivative adventures about brother detectives, and I really haven’t stopped making up stories and writing them down since.
Michael: You have also written and edited comics. What did you enjoy about writing comic books and how challenging was writing a comic story compared to a novel?
Jeff Mariotte: There are two particularly unique things about writing a comic book. First, when writing a novel you’re trying to paint images in the reader’s mind using words. With a comic, the images are actually there on the page, so you don’t have that task—in fact, you have to pare back the words so they don’t cover the art. The artwork should tell the story even without the words, and the words are just there to add depth to it. The second is that, unless you’re one of those rare masters who can draw and write equally well (and they are really rare—a lot of the ones who do it really shouldn’t), a comic book is always going to be collaboration. Maybe it’s the writer and one artist; maybe it’s the writer, or a couple of writers, and a whole art team. Whatever the logistics, the point is that with a novel, unless it’s written collaboratively, everything the reader sees came from the author’s mind. But with a comic, what the reader sees is primarily the artwork, which will almost never look like the writer’s vision of it. A good artist will interpret the writer’s story in a way the writer could never have foreseen. It’s really a thrill to see what your story looks like when it’s translated onto the page by a skilled artist.
Michael: How did you discover Star Trek?
Jeff Mariotte: I don’t actually remember when I first saw Star Trek. It was probably when the original series aired (because I’m really that old), but I don’t have a specific memory of that. It was just always there.
Michael: You have now written four Star Trek stories for Pocket Books. How did you become involved with writing Star Trek stories?
Jeff Mariotte: I was assigned to edit the Star Trek comics when WildStorm Productions got the license and I was a senior editor there. Over the years, several different publishers had acquired the license, and each one put its own spin on the line. I wanted to do something different, something that hadn’t been done, so instead of publishing a regular series, I went out and found science fiction writers—my ideal was someone who loved Star Trek but had never written it—to write miniseries, each of which would be illustrated by a different artist. I didn’t want to use the same artists and writers whose rendition of Star Trek, good though it might be, would look familiar to the fans.
I brought in writers like David Brin, Kevin J. Anderson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, K. W. Jeter, and Christopher Hinz, among others. I also tapped people who were associated with Star Trek fiction but not necessarily with the comics, like John Ordover and David Mack, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Peter David, who wrote the first New Frontier comic for me.
I think we made some terrific comics, unlike anything that’s been seen before or since. More pertinent to your question (you thought I forgot, didn’t you?), I got to know Paula Block at Paramount, who ran Star Trek licensed publishing, and the folks in the Pocket Books Star Trek office. I had already worked with Keith—he had edited my first novel, a collaboration with Christopher Golden—and he asked me to write a Star Trek: SCE novella. I did that, and Marco Palmieri liked it enough to ask me to write one of the Lost Era novels. A few years later, Margaret Clark asked me to write a book set in any of the series, whether it was from one of the TV shows or one of those original to the novels. I couldn’t pass up the chance to write the original crew, so that became “The Folded World.” Then for the next one, I wanted to do something that tied more directly into the series.
This leads into…
Jeff Mariotte: As if on cue. When I was thinking about the second TOS novel, I sat down and watched all three seasons of TOS, back-to-back-to back. I was looking for a setting and characters that interested me and that weren’t played out by the end of the episode—something where there was more room to explore. Some of the episodes were, of course, very familiar, and some I hadn’t seen in years and years. When I watched “A Private Little War,” I kept going through the rest of the episodes, but I knew I had found what I was looking for. Most episodes ended with a resolution, but that one ended with an open question. The situation was ripe for deeper exploration, the characters were strong, and that open question, which was an important one during the Vietnam era, still resonates today.
Michael: For those who have not seen “A Private Little War” can the reader still enjoy the story? Was your hope that they will go back and watch the episode after reading the story?
Jeff Mariotte: That’s always the trick with a tie-in novel, no matter what it’s based on. You have to assume that most people who would pick it up are fans of the property. At the same time—unlikely as it might be with a property as universal as Star Trek—any book might be somebody’s first encounter with that world and those characters. So you have to walk a tightrope between explaining too much for the hardcore fans, who already know it all, and not explaining enough, so somebody who has never seen the show or read a book will still understand who’s who and what’s going in. In this case, I had the additional challenge of needing to tie my story to specific events in the episode. I tried to summarize those events as they came up, so a reader unfamiliar with the episode would still get why those particular moments were important. And yes, if a reader was inspired to go back and watch, that would mean that I had done my job.
Michael: The story is set between the end of the five year mission and The Motion Picture. During this period Kirk is now an Admiral and does not have the counsel of his two closest friends. Was that something that interested you, seeing how Kirk had changed over time?
Jeff Mariotte: I definitely wanted to examine the differences between young Kirk, in the episode, and the more mature and thoughtful man he became later on. I thought that difference would be more pronounced without Spock and McCoy there, so Kirk would really be on his own, having to rely on his best judgment in a case where maybe his judgment had been flawed in the first place.
Michael: During the original series we saw Kirk made some questionable decisions that often affected whole planets including arming Tyree’s people to maintain the balance of power on Neural. Having Kirk see the consequences of his actions was something that I enjoyed about the story. Did you enjoy writing this aspect of the book?
Jeff Mariotte: Definitely. That moment at the end of the episode was what really inspired the book. Had that been a good idea, or a colossal mistake? What would he find when he went back to Neural? How was their society changed by his decision? Those were the questions I wanted to dig into.
Michael: One character that stood out for me was Apella and his relationship with the Klingons. Which character apart from Kirk did you enjoy writing the most?
Jeff Mariotte: I liked writing a few of them, but I think particularly Joslen and Nyran, the next generation, kids who had come of age since Kirk’s previous visit. I wanted to see how Kirk’s rash action affected their lives.
Michael: Which parts of the story did you find challenging to write?
Jeff Mariotte: Writing Star Trek is always a challenge for me, start to finish. There’s so much history, and so many dedicated fans that if I get anything wrong I know I’ll hear about it. Fortunately, I have a very extensive collection of Star Trek reference material, but even so, I feel like I have to research every little detail. Particularly challenging in this one, I think, was working Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov into the action without giving away too early the part they would play.
Michael: If you could write a follow up story to another TOS episode, which one would it be?
Jeff Mariotte: I can’t tell you that! Some other writer might snake it out from under me.
Michael: Apart from Star Trek have you any other projects in the pipelines that we can look forward to?
Jeff Mariotte: I just finished a massive novel set in the universe of the great western/horror/steampunk RPG Deadlands. That’ll be published by Tor, but we’re not sure just when. I have a novella out in a new fantasy anthology called “Neverland’s Library.” The novella is called A “Soul in the Hand, and I wrote it with my writing partner, the very talented novelist and poet Marsheila Rockwell. It introduces two characters, Elin and Kord, who we plan to write at least one novel about, in a kind of fantasy setting we have seldom if ever seen in fiction. We have another story coming in an anthology called “Out of Tune,” which contains stories inspired by old folk ballads. And there are other exciting projects in various stages of development. We’re busy, together and separately, so there are lots more to come.
Michael: Thank you for your time. We love your Trek work and look forward to reading more in the future.
Jeff Mariotte: Thank you for your interest. I’m always happy for the chance to talk to the press and through them, to all the fans out there.