How Do You Know If You've Written A Classic
Podcast Interview With Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Previous parts in "How do you know if you've written a classic?" series are:
Part 1 in this Series is about writing a "classic" illustrating the long time fan discovering new entries in a series.
Part 2, Spock's Katra, is a long answer to a request for material for an online blog. My answer focused on Theodore Bikel and his roles in Star Trek.
And here is Part 3, answers to very insightful interview questions from a Podcast host. The verbal podcast interview is very different, but here are answers done with some time to think of how to explain the invisible connections between Star Trek, my deep study of the fan dynamics of the TV Series, and my own original universe Sime~Gen novels.
It's all about the connections.
Here is the initial query on whether I'd do the podcast.
My name is Sue, and I'm one of the hosts of Women at Warp, on the Roddenberry Network. We're a podcast and associated blog that focused on the women of Star Trek - on screen, behind the scenes, and in fandom.
I'm writing because Women at Warp has an ongoing series where we talk about women in Star Trek fandom. So far, we've interviewed Bjo and John Trimble about the Save Star Trek campaign, spoken to Devra Langsam and Lynn Koehler about organizing the first conventions (and a little bit about Spockanalia, of course), and chatted with a grad student studying the Trek zines of the 60s and 70s, plus B.A. Lopez, a fanfic writer from the early days of ASC.
I'm wondering if you might be interested in joining us to talk about your experiences in Star Trek fandom? I would love to talk about the Welcommittee, the Kraith series, Star Trek Lives, and anything else you'd like to share.
Live Long and Prosper,
Women at Warp: A Roddenberry Star Trek Podcast
womenatwarp.com | podcasts.roddenberry.com
Sunday, May 5 - 10:00 AM Arizona Time
Sue posted a set of questions to me via Google Docs. I copied them into an email and answered as follows.
QUESTION: Before you became to so fully immersed in the fandom, what was the think that drew you to Star Trek?
The fact is that I've been FULLY IMMERSED in fandom since 1950, long-long before GR even thought of Star Trek.
I wrote a letter to a science fiction magazine, WORLDS OF IF, edited by Fred Pohl. He published the letter, and in those days addresses could be published without fear. So members of the N3F Welcommittee wrote me (lots of letters), and I joined N3F and took my first writing lessons from a professional writer, Alma Hill. I participated in the fiction Round Robin (an early form of RPG, on paper, by snailmail), and I grew up in Fandom.
So the premise of your question is a bit off target.
What drew me to Star Trek (before ever seeing an episode) was Bjo Trimble's letter writing campaign (the first one). Here I am with Bjo Trimble at a recent con:
I knew her, and her judgement in science fiction, many many, years before Star Trek, and trusted her judgement. I was living in Israel at the time, planning to move to New Jersey, so I wrote an air mail letter to Paramount (in fact several), to keep it on the air until I could get back. At that time, there was no way to see old shows.
I LOVE NETFLIX! But I wish Netflix would archive, and never delete anything.
QUESTION: In addition to being a science-fiction fan, you’re a professional author. For our listeners who may not know, can you tell us about your work and the Sime~Gen Universe?
Again there's an issue with the premise of the question. The N3F was founded by the same person who founded SFWA, damon knight (always writen with small initial letters).
I'm not a pro writer IN ADDITION TO being a fan. There is in fact no difference, at least there wasn't a difference when I was a beginner.
Fred Pohl was a member of N3F, bought my first professional sale which is a Sime~Gen short story, OPERATION HIGH TIME, now posted online for free reading. At that time, the sale qualified me for SFWA (qualifications are higher today, and I'm a Life Member). Later, Fred Pohl became editor at Bantam Books, and bought Star Trek Lives! which is a book about WHY Star Trek Fans love Star Trek, and who those fans are. The identity profiles we put into the book were garnered from questionnaires circulated (by snail mail), and reveal the high powered, highly educated, creative, and fiercely goal directed personalities of Star Trek fans.
Those profiles are about the same as the average science fiction fan -- except Star Trek fans came from a group who THOUGHT they hated science fiction. They were wrong. My Sime~Gen novel (my first novel) HOUSE OF ZEOR (now in e-book, audio-book, and new paper editions), was specifically structured to captivate Spock fans. I sold the expensive hardcover edition to Spock fans on a money-back guarantee and never had one returned. Perhaps that proves I understand why fans loved STAR TREK.
QUESTION: You began writing the Sime~Gen books in the late 60s, around the same time that you started writing Star Trek Fan Fiction. By my count, you’ve had works appear in over 25 different fanzines. Knowing that authors were not paid, what drew you to Trek fan fiction when you were already a published SF author?
The premise of this question is correct! I sold my first story before embarking on the Kraith series, and I do believe it's way over 25 'zines that pieces of Kraith have appeared in. I also contributed letters of comment to every zine I ran across, and it was through such 'zines that I distributed the questionnaires that became STAR TREK LIVES!
I designed the Kraith series as homework assignments for the writing course I was taking at the time (Famous Writer's School, it was called). Since I had to do homework anyway, why should I waste the time and effort on things nobody would ever read but some instructor who knew nothing about the very different literary requirements of the science fiction field. (in fact they looked down on the genre!)
Sime~Gen actually dates from the mid-1950's, though it was first written down in the early 1960's. The first REAL story, with a beginning/middle/end structure and a theme was OPERATION HIGH TIME which I wrote as the homework assignment for the 4th lesson in the course. The correspondence school's pitch was that students would SELL stories by their 4th assignment. They were sued and lost and went out of business as a jury decided the pitch wasn't true. But the thing is -- it was true for those who had spent their lives preparing for one thing only - to be a professional writer.
QUESTION: You’re well-known for the Kraith Universe of Trek stories - How would you describe these stories for our listeners who may not be familiar?
I saw Star Trek as the first real science fiction on television. But it was missing so much of the richness that characterized science fiction. The premise had so many holes in it, and lacked so much in character and relationship that makes the science fiction genre Great Literature. Being a TV Series (forced into the old anthology format by distribution/marketing requirements), Star Trek couldn't explore Relationships on the air, and tell ongoing stories with Character Arc - characters becoming different people as they learned from the beating they took during their adventures.
Novel series can do that. My best example at that time was Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Series (which has since become much longer, and more popular). Marion Zimmer Bradley is credited with THE FIRST science fiction story with a character driven plot. It was published in about 1955, about the time Zena Henderson's PEOPLE stories hit the magazines. The genre CHANGED because of these women writers. Yes Andre Norton was a prominent woman who wrote science fiction -- but under a male name.
There's a lot to say about the history of the field, but Bradley's contribution was seminal. And it encompassed precisely what was missing in aired STAR TREK. So to generate Kraith, I took aired Trek and added Darkover, spun it through my own imagination, and came out with Kraith.
I was pretty sure I understood why Trek had caught on so widely, and I wrote Kraith to find out if I was correct. Kraith, a writing homework assignment sequence, was actually an experiment to test the market for Sime~Gen. My aim was to write novels that would lay out the framework for a TV Series -- or several TV Series.
TV is written by teams of hired writers -- it is collaborative creativity, a very different sort of activity than novel writing.
I constructed Kraith to have that collaborative, open framework that would induce other writers to write in my universe, just as fans had begun writing fiction in Gene Roddenberry's universe. That invitational quality to engross and immerse other creative participants is what STAR TREK LIVES! names The Tailored Effect.
I was delighted when others spontaneously began contributing to Kraith, and accepting my editorial direction to make the stories they wrote fit onto a coherent master plan. We had 50 creative writers, artists, poets, musicians involved in creating Kraith. Many different people originated ideas we incorporated into a smooth narrative. At least two Alternate Universes were spun off of Kraith that I know of (and I've heard of others).
This indicated to me that I understood what energized Star Trek fans to create their own stories and characters.
I used what I learned experimenting with Kraith to structure Sime~Gen to allow for other writers to create their own Sime~Gen stories.
Fans of Sime~Gen began asking questions and writing stories in Sime~Gen, which generated 5 fanzines full of fiction, non-fiction, artwork, poetry, music, and handicrafts (and convention costumes!).
Right at the beginning of this, Jean Lorrah wrote a review of HOUSE OF ZEOR which was published in a fanzine. I wrote to her, and very soon sent her a draft of UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER which she sent back dripping red ink editorial comments (what is called, today, beta reading).
Jean Lorrah, author of the Night of the Twin Moons fanzines (concurrent and of the same stature as Kraith), jumped in and began writing about her OWN characters in Sime~Gen, the HOUSE OF KEON folks. Keon is designed as the literary foil of Zeor, the people I write about. We met at a Star Trek convention, and she gave me the outline for a story she wanted to write, and I said do a chapter-and-outline submission package and we'd send it to Doubleday (my hardcover publisher at the time).
She did that, and we sold FIRST CHANNEL
as the third Sime~Gen novel to be published. We suspect we were the first female-female collaborating team in Science Fiction professional publishing.
Jean Lorrah may have been the first English Professor to get tenure on the basis of a science fiction novel publication -- and a collaboration, to boot. The byline reads by Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lichtenberg. We established a convention that the first-drafter of a novel gets top billing, so the Series alternates our bylines. Now we've been joined by one of our best fanfic writers, Mary Lou Mendum (a Ph.D. in plant genetics), So 3 women collaborators get the triple byline on her novels as we all work on them.
Mary Lou is also a Trek fan, and one of the most prolific Sime~Gen fanfic writers. Her second professional Sime~Gen novel is now in production at Wildside Press.
A 4th professional has joined the Sime~Gen Group - he's a video game producer and is working on the Sime~Gen space age story, bringing up the Star Trek/Kraith space-adventure-with-aliens elements in Sime~Gen. He's aiming at graphic novels, board games, video games, and many other platforms. Jean and I incorporated Sime~Gen and the corporation is under contract to Loreful LLC giving them 150 years of our thousand year future history (Heinlein style) to play with First Contact stories. He gets to invent the aliens.
QUESTION: Your website says that these works were influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley - can you tell us more about that?
I think I jumped the gun on that question. See above.
QUESTION: Eventually, other writers started contributing to the Kraith Universe. Were you actively managing these stories? Or was there fanfiction about fanfiction?
Both, I suspect and I tried to cover that above. I was learning to do what Gene Roddenberry was doing as he managed all those writers, directors, and actors. What GR did was different from what other TV Series Producers had done -- he included science fiction novel writers who had never sold a script in his first season writers. Then he bought David Gerrold's script (Trouble with Tribbles) before David (who is still a good friend on Facebook) had sold a book. Subsequently David had many best seller science fiction novels to his credit (good ones!), and kept on working in visual media, too. GR connected different artistic media outlets and released enormous creativity into the world by doing that.
A volume of the 6 volume Kraith Collected, collected from all the scattered 'zines.
Star Trek Lives!
QUESTION: In 1970-1, you had a project called the Strekfan Roster Questionnaire, with one questionnaire for zine publishers and another for general fans. Can you tell us about the genesis and goals of this project?
I was raised in the news business. I knew a news story when I saw one. Up until Star Trek, science fiction fans wrote and published fanzines by the hundreds (I know because I got most of them!), but except for the N3F Round Robin fiction efforts (proto-RPG and more of an APA than a 'zine), science fiction fanzines were NON-FICTION. The NEWS STORY was fanzines with fiction, original fiction using non-original characters interacting with original characters).
That this shift to amateur publication of fiction (the first since maybe the mid-1800's women's Gothics), and fiction based on a TV show, was a huge news story. But none of the newspapers or magazines I saw had any mention of this development.
So I set out to write a news article, maybe for the New York Times or the local county newspaper -- just a news article I could submit, as I wasn't employed by them at that time.
To do that article, I needed the classic structural elements, "who-what-where-when-how many" -- I didn't know! So I started asking fanzine publishers (by snail mail) about their readership, and found out there were too many fanzine publishers to ask one by one and using different wordings. I needed to ask everyone the same questions the same way, like a survey.
So I created the Roster Questionnaire trying to find out the scope of the 'zine readership.
Well, I still needed to know "who" these people were. So I did another Questionnaire for the readers, got that published in fanzines, got a lot returned very articulately filled out.
It was hard to get a handle on the size of the groups of readers and publishers, writers, editors, teams of teams of people, because the number of 'zines and their readerships were growing and growing. I realized this couldn't be an article -- it was a book. And not a small one.
A bit deeper into the concept of a book, after I got Gene Roddenberry to enthusiastically say he'd write a forward if we could sell the book, I realized I couldn't do it by myself. So I took on Sondra Marshak and she recruited Joan Winston. Just like Trek itself, a book about fans had to be a collaborative effort between fans of different points of view.
Interviews with the cast and crew were Sondra's idea. She organized and executed most of that. But I did a lot of it, too. We recorded conversational interviews, then I transcribed them (back in the day, to get typescript, you had to listen-type.)
Joan Winston added eye-witness accounts of the New York Conventions as she was on the famous Committee, and ran publicity for them.
Joan sold STAR TREK LIVES! to Fred Pohl at Bantam Books while she was a Guest at a Star Trek con in Canada. Pohl had turned down STL! on first submission because they had a contract with James Blish who got that contract via SFWA connections when he became ill. Because of illness, though, Blish missed a deadline.
Publishing works like a freight train. Books ride a flatcar pulled along a track. Eventually, the produced book is slotted into a display at a book store. A publisher must fill their slots at the bookstores because the slots are automatically emptied every few weeks. If the publisher doesn't put a manuscript on the passing flatcar, headed for their wall-slot, the publisher loses that slot to another publisher, and all the sales that go with it. Publishing was and still is a slender margin, competitive business. Publishers pay Amazon extra to feature a book, just as they used to pay chain bookstores to put a book in the window, or in an aisle dump.
Book contract deadlines are set to bring the book to the slot with the inevitability of a juggernaut. Publicity is cooked up, contracted, paid for, to hit at a certain date. Publishers must fill their slots and editors feel that pressure.
Pohl needed to fill a Star Trek Book Slot at the big chain bookstores that would suddenly go empty because a manuscript deadline was not going to be met.
Hearing about Blish's delay, Joanie pointed out to Fred at the meet-n-greet cocktail party that a complete STAR TREK book was ready to go into production in time to fill that slot. He remembered liking the book manuscript, had some editorial changes and additions he wanted, but figured we could do it. Remember, Pohl had bought my first sale years prior. We were not unknown writers to him.
We signed the contract and worked ourselves to melt-down to get all the changes done.
Remember every single time some pages were deleted or edited, chapters moved around, and myriad references deleted or added material had to be changed, the ENTIRE BOOK had to be retyped by hand, without typos. The retyping was my job, and I had to rephrase many sentences on the fly.
In the end, we couldn't do it so just whole chapters got retyped, which messed up the manuscript page numbers, putting an added burden on the copyeditor and typesetter. Today, nobody has that problem any more.
There was no electronic means to email a copy to my collaborators. I was in New York, Sondra in Louisiana, and Joanie in Manhattan.
We got it done and made the deadline, and paid the huge phone bills. It went 8 printings!
My goal with the project that became STL! was to inform the world why STAR TREK was important in human history, an event as important as the Agricultural Revolution.
Sondra took that comparison as hyperbole. It's not, and that has, I think, been illustrated amply by now.
It was Trek fans playing a computer game who hooked computers together in different cities starting the internet. The Web came from another country, with the invention of the "Browser" able to read pages posted on the internet if they had code in common.
Much of what NASA has accomplished after the first orbital mission, was done (and funded by) people who caught the vision via Star Trek. Many of the changes because of social networking (web 2.0) were instigated by Trek viewers, if not actual fans. And paper fanzines moved to the web.
Socially, women's place in world history has shifted into the path Trek illustrated was possible.
Trek didn't originate any of this change. A TV show doesn't initiate change. A TV show - especially fiction - just brings everyone yearning for a particular change onto the same page.
Trek gave us a "common language" to discuss these issues, and Characters to speak for us.
Trek was (and is) Art. Most TV at that time was not Art. Trek stood out in high relief, clearly different from all other shows, while disguised as just another TV show. People thought science fiction was for kids, or just adolescent males. Trek proved them incorrect.
QUESTION: In 1975, along with Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston, you published Star Trek Lives! How did that come about?
Ooops, I answered that above.
QUESTION: STL! explored why Star Trek affected and stuck with so many fans. Why do you think that is, even today?
I haven't watched the newest CBS streaming only Trek: Discovery. Streaming is another outgrowth of the moment I understood ToS was not just another lackluster attempt at TV science fiction, and I have been an early adopter. I now prefer to binge-watch whole seasons in a row, rather than wait a week between episodes.
We live in a new world where you don't have to drop everything and rush to the TV screen before they yank away what you desperately want to savor and enjoy.
But there is a problem I have with some of the films that might apply to the new series.
Fred Pohl and John Campbell, and Heinlein and Asimov etc had a litmus test for placing a story in the science fiction genre.
I think it applies to all genres, and even Series.
If you can take the science out of a story and still have a story, it wasn't science fiction.
Likewise, if you can take the Trek out of a story and still have a story, it wasn't Star Trek.
Many of the current entries into the Trek genre are just mundane stories that could happen to any characters anywhere. And so, at heart, they lack the driving theme, the seminal statement of the nature of humanity and the nature of reality and the relationship between them, which is the core essence of science fiction. Roddenberry insisted on including the Spock character because that was the only way to make the series Science Fiction, not "Wagon Train To The Stars."
But I do think the newer efforts to extend the Trek franchise are valid, exciting, and inspiring Art in and of themselves. Mostly, they are good science fiction, too. But I think many of the stories would be better stories in and of themselves were they set in Universes of their own, designed to contain and showcase those stories.
I think what fans love about Star Trek is that it is science fiction, but the label "science fiction" has become associated in their minds (largely through High School literature courses) with dull-and-boring. Adding "adventure" just makes the genre more boring to some girls if the "action" gets in the way of the "story." It's that way for guys, too, though they don't necessarily know it until later in life.
Debate has raged for decades trying to define what is or is not science fiction. I can't settle that here, but I think Roddenberry's sense that, no matter what, Spock had to be on the bridge, shows he understood what science fiction genre actually is.
One definition says that science fiction is about the impact of science/technology on human personality/character/psychology/society/culture. That's what GR added with Spock -- a visual commentary on how humanity changes (as he always said, Becomes Wise) under the impact of new discoveries.
Science fiction happens at the collision zone between hard and soft science.
Science fiction is scientists at play.
I'm a Chemist, Jean Lorrah is an English Professor, and Mary Lou Mendum is a plant geneticist, Aharon Cagle (Loreful LLC videogames) is a high level marketer -- we write science fiction.
We are seeing the new generation gap created by cell phones and iPhone connectivity, AI, and Internet of Things (IoT). How current 15 year olds differ from current 65 year olds illustrates the subject matter of science fiction, the signature issue that sets that one genre apart from all others.