Jeff Mariotte: “Serpents in the Garden” Interview

Author Jeff Mariotte's next entry in the Original Series line of novels is now available: Serpents in the Garden, the follow-up to TOS Season Two's "A Private Little War". Our Trek literature expert Dan Gunther talked with the writer this month about revisiting the setting of this classic Trek episode.

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TrekCore: How did you get started as an author? What led you to the world of Star Trek fiction?

jeffmariotteJeff Mariotte: My first published fiction was a short story in the very influential science fiction anthology Full Spectrum, published by Bantam way back in 1988.

My first novel came several years later, in 1999; it was Gen13: Netherwar, a collaboration with my friend Christopher Golden. I had written a bunch of comic books by then, and we had both written Gen13 comics and were looking for a project to work on together.

That was licensed fiction, or “tie-in fiction,” as Star Trek novels are. After that I started working in the Buffy and Angel universe, then others followed. Meanwhile, I was working in comic book publishing, and got the chance to edit the Star Trek comics line for WildStorm Productions/DC Comics.

Through that experience, I met a bunch of people in the Star Trek office at Pocket, and people in licensing at Paramount. One thing led to another, as happens, and I was asked to write a Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella. A while later, I was asked to write one of the first Lost Era books.

Then, a couple of years ago, another editor at Pocket came to me to see if I would write another Star Trek novel, using any existing crew. I wanted to write the Original Series crew, the one I’d grown up on, so I agreed and wrote The Folded World. Pocket wanted another one to come out a year later, so that was Serpents in the Garden.

TrekCore: Serpents in the Garden follows up on an episode that practically begs to be explored further. What made you decide to continue the story of Neural and Tyree’s people?

Jeff Mariotte: Before tackling the second book — which I knew I wanted to make about the original series crew again — I sat down and rewatched all three seasons of the Original Series in a row. I wanted to explore something that grew organically out of the series. When I was “A Private Little War,” my first thought was, “Really? He’s going to give them a bunch of rifles and walk away? What happened next?” Then I realized I could decide what happened next, and that became the book.

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TrekCore: What was the most challenging aspect of following up on “A Private Little War”?

Jeff Mariotte: I wanted the book to be a standalone novel, in the sense that someone could enjoy it even without having seen the episode, or remembering all the details of it (some of which, admittedly, were a little goofy). I know some readers and some writers love to plumb the depths of the Star Trek universe, love the books that are loaded with references to this or that little-known fact, or that episode’s subplot, or even the other books. That’s fine, but that’s not me.

My take is that any Star Trek novel (really, any tie-in novel) could be a reader’s first encounter with that fictional universe. I want to present the universe as accurately as I can, but also to make the book as accessible to that reader as to one who’s studied every episode at length. That requires walking a fine line, trying to get across who the characters are, how they related to each other and the world, all without going into so much detail that the hardcore fan will be bored.

Ideally, when someone finishes this book who doesn’t remember every detail of the episode, he or she will be inspired to go back and watch it. Then read the book again. And buy a copy for a friend.

TrekCore: There is a lot to like in this novel. The relationship between Apella and his Klingon master, for example, was interesting to read about. What aspect of writing this story was the most interesting or fun for you to explore?

Jeff Mariotte: Kirk by himself. I love the interaction of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and played with that a lot in The Folded World. This time, I wanted to see who he was when he was removed from everything familiar — new Starfleet colleagues, and a Neural that’s virtually unrecognizable from his previous trips. Of course, he had to remain in character — Kirk is Kirk, after all — but I got to explore some different facets of him.

TrekCore: Serpents in the Garden takes place during an era in which not many novels have been set – the so-called Lost Era between the end of Original Series and The Motion Picture. What made you decide to set your novel during this time?

Jeff Mariotte: It was really a logistical choice. I wanted to send Kirk there without his usual crew, so it couldn’t be during the first five-year mission. And I wanted enough time to have passed since “A Private Little War” for the situation on Neural to have become far, far worse. That time period suited both requirements.

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TrekCore: Do you currently have any other Star Trek projects in the works at the moment? Can we expect more Trek novels from you in the future?

Jeff Mariotte: I don’t have any more Star Trek in the works right now, and I don’t foresee any in the relatively near future. I guess I’m easily distracted — I have to keep doing different things, whether they’re horror or thrillers or fantasy or westerns, or whatever. Plus, I write novels and short fiction, comic books and graphic novels, and other types of projects altogether, like the CSI DVD game I wrote a few years ago. Two Star Trek novels in two years is enough for now.

TrekCore: If you had the chance to write Star Trek in any era or setting, what would it be?

Jeff Mariotte: I’ve had that chance. My favorite will always be the Original Series, the classic five-year mission, and that great, beloved crew.

TrekCore: What other projects are you working on?

Jeff Mariotte: My most recent non-Star Trek novel was a supernatural thriller called Season of the Wolf, published by DarkFuse. It’s a long way from Star Trek, but it is — as are a lot of my supernatural thrillers — based in real science, in this case, the effects of climate change on Rocky Mountain forests, which are being decimated by bark beetles, then extrapolating from that to what the effect might be on different sorts of creatures.

I also just turned in a big novel called Thunder Moon Rising, based on the wonderful RPG Deadlands.It’s got horror and steampunk and western elements all rolled together into a delicious stew. It’ll be published by Tor, but there’s no set publication date yet. I’m working on some cool projects with my writing partner, Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell—our first collaboration, a fantasy novella called “A Soul in the Hand,” was recently published in the anthology Neverland’s Library, from Ragnarok Publications. It introduces Elin and Kord, characters we’ll be writing more about.

TrekCore: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us! We always appreciate the opportunity to speak with the creators of our favorite Star Trek content!

Jeff Mariotte can be found online at his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

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