From the Vault: The Long, Strange Voyage of a Novella from Pitch to Publication

Part I: Four Strikes and You’re In [originally posted on Live Journal, 10/29/2010]

Shattered LightIn honor of the impending publication of my novella Honor in the Night in Myriad Universes: Shattered Light, I’ve decided to recount the difficult and oft-delayed journey of my first novella from my feverish mind to bookstore shelves. Yes, there still are bookstores, and some of them even have books on the shelves. Fix yourself a beverage, it’s a long, strange story, as you may have surmised by the title.

It all started back in 2008. On May 22, lo, those many years ago, Marco Palmieri, raconteur and man about town, invited me to pitch for the third Myriad Universes collection. I was, of course, excited to do so. Marco had previously acquired my short story “Among the Clouds” for the Star Trek: The Next Generation twenty-fifth anniversary anthology The Sky’s the Limit. Bumping up from a short story to a novella was a good step for me, and I was hopeful that I would come up with a pitch that would get me into the book.

At the end of June 2008 I turned in four pitches. I felt pretty good about them. Pitch A was set shortly before Star Trek: The Motion Picture and focused on Kirk, whose Starfleet career had taken a different path. Pitch B was a sprawling tale about the Borg that covered over two hundred years, from Archer through Picard. Pitch C revisited Gary Seven’s encounter with Kirk and the Enterprise. Pitch D focused on Picard and had a significant Vulcan angle.

The weekend of July 11–13, 2008, brought Shore Leave 30, my third time around as a writer guest. At Friday night’s traditional Pocket publishing schedule panel, Marco announced the third Myriad Universes, writers to be determined, to an excited crowd—the first two volumes were fan favorites. At an alternate timeline panel later that weekend, Keith DeCandido said that some alt ideas were more obvious than others, although that didn’t make them bad stories necessarily. As an example he mentioned “the Borg win” as an obvious alternate timeline. That would basically be my Pitch B. Hmmm.

In early September 2008, Marco called me. He’s not going to call me to just shoot me down, I thought. This is going to be good. Marco started running through my pitches. I’ll paraphrase: “Pitch A . . . this one didn’t work for me. Didn’t really diverge enough. Pitch B . . . I like that one. But somehow it seems too similar to Brave New World, Chris Roberson’s android story from the last anthology. Pitch C . . . just didn’t work for me. Pitch D . . . I really like this one, but I’ve already got a story with a Vulcan angle.” So I’m thinking, That’s all four down. Why are we having this conversation? Then Marco says, “I suppose you’re wondering why we’re having this conversation?” He went on to explain that he’d liked B and D enough that he thought I deserved another crack at it. He was making no promises, but I had another chance. I told him I’d have three ideas for him in a week.

I didn’t tell him I had two other deadlines I was up against. I was wrapping up “Finders Keepers,” my submission for Space Grunts, edited by Dayton Ward, which was due at the end of the month. I was also working on a mystery story to submit to a regional anthology, also due the end of the month. I just followed the freelancer code: say yes, and then figure out how the hell to make it work. I did ask Marco if he had any specific things he was looking for . . . or not looking for. Marco said he didn’t want a story tied to a specific series. Some of the main crew of a series could appear in cameos, but the focus of the story had to be elsewhere.

As I tried to concentrate on my day job after getting off the phone, DeCandido’s comment at Shore Leave kept echoing in my head. Some alternate timeline ideas were obvious. What’s the least likely idea? I found myself wondering. By the time I was on the bus ride home, I was focusing on “The Trouble with Tribbles.” One could argue that it’s not an unlikely starting point, being one of the most popular episodes of the original series. But I was thinking about how the issues behind the episode were dead serious: Klingon secret agents, poisoned grain, a colony in the balance. That’s serious stuff, but the episode was a comedy. I would do a serious alternate sequel. And I would make the lead Nilz Baris, the obnoxious prig who was a thorn in Kirk’s side the whole episode. Why Baris? Because here’s the thing: Baris was right and Kirk was wrong. So, obnoxious lead, serious sequel to a comedy . . . how can I make it more unlikely? Well, I was already thinking that I wanted a long time frame to fully develop the repercussions of the change in the time line, and just doing a straight chronological telling of that could get a bit tedious . . . so it hit me I could steal the framework of the classic Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane and have a reporter develop the story in bits and pieces. Heck, I even had a reporter character, Marta Jensen, I had introduced in my Strange New Worlds 9 story, “Terra Tonight.” So, there we go: serious, Baris, Citizen Kane . . . the hat trick of unlikely.

Now I just needed to write that and two more ideas in a week. I fiddled with the Baris idea during the work week, and when the weekend came I thought I was ready to finish that pitch and move on to some more ideas. But I worked it and worked it. Saturday came and went. Still writing Baris. Sunday was zooming by. Still writing Baris idea. I decided I would not go to bed until I finished that pitch, then I could email it to Marco for Monday morning and tell him I’d finish the other two later in the week. Although I still didn’t actually have any other ideas. Finally I finished it . . . at three in the morning. I emailed it to Marco, got three hours sleep, and got up for work. At nine Marco called.

“How’re you feeling?” he said. Clearly he’d noticed the time stamp on my email.

“Tired.”

“Let’s talk about the pitch.” He liked it. He asked a few questions about story points. I answered. He said, “Let’s do it . . . unless you want me to wait and see the other pitches.”

“No, that’s okay, this is my best one.” Another part of the freelancer code: you’ve always got more than one pitch. If you don’t, well, say you do. And you’ll get the rest to your editor on Tuesday.

So, my pitch was sold. Next I had to write an outline, and I still had to finish those other two stories by their deadlines. Oh, yeah, and, you know, write my first 50,000 word novella in about three months.

Part II: It’s a Book . . . Maybe [originally posted on Live Journal, 12/15/2010]

In Part I: Four Strikes and You’re In, I covered the long, strange story of my first novella—much of the text of which is just the full official title, Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light: Honor in the Night—from invitation to acquisition. But I still had to write the thing, not to mention actually see it in print before it was a book. Easier said than done in this economy, especially since publishing was already going through some major transitions. The book biz is teetering on the same precipice that the music industry was before iTunes almost single-handedly monetized digital delivery. The shake up between websites and brick-and-mortar book stores combined with the rise of the e-book has everyone scrambling for new business models. But I get ahead of myself.

Back in September 2008, Marco had accepted my pitch. I was also under deadline for two short stories. I wrapped up “Finders Keepers” and sent it off to editor Dayton Ward for Space Grunts and, woo to the hoo, got accepted. First non-Trek sci-fi short story sale. I also finished a mystery story called “Of Murder and Minidonuts” for possible inclusion in a theme anthology set at the Minnesota State Fair. It featured Kate Sheridan, the lead character of my story “Out of the Jacuzzi, Into the Sauna,” published in Resort to Murder. Unfortunately, the anthology was canceled.

Short stories done, I was ready to let it rip on the novella. Following the pitch, which was around 600 words, I had to put together an outline, which ran about 1,800 words. Marco had some comments here and there, revisions were made, CBS gave it the thumbs up, and then I was able to get going. I had three months until my deadline. I figured I’d write about 5,000 words a week and hit the 50,000 word goal with a couple weeks to spare, enough to have some people read it and make suggested revisions. But that weekly 5K had to be pretty solid, because there would be no time for substantive rewriting. I dug in some weeknights, but mostly on Saturday and Sunday. Things moved along according to plan, except I noticed all my chapters were coming in remarkably close to 5,000 words; since I had eleven chapters (counting the prologue) that made for a total of 55,000 words, 5,000 over the contracted word count. I contacted Marco, and he gave me a thumbs up to come in 5,000 words long. Cool. I got back at it.

Flash forward to December 2008. After a couple months of writing, I was still on track to make my deadline and word count. Fab. Then came December 3. At work I get the Publishers Weekly email newsletter. That day it announced thirty-five people had been laid off at Simon & Schuster. I called Marco and got an outdated message. I emailed him as well. No response. I emailed some of the other Trek writers and waited. The day dragged out with no responses. Not good. The only explanation that made sense to me was that Marco was gone, and the writers I had contacted knew it and were not at liberty to discuss it. Other publishers had also announced lay offs that day, which was being called “Black Wednesday.” Late that afternoon, one of the writers dropped me a short email confirming Marco was among the thirty-five. Holy shit, I was 30,000-plus words into a novel, I had not yet received a contract, and my acquiring editor was gone.

I didn’t have to live in limbo for long. Marco called me up the next day and confirmed I still had the gig. There’d been a simple mix-up with my contract that had been exacerbated by Marco’s untimely exit, but it was soon sorted out. Marco, being the great guy that he is, apologized to me for my momentary fear, even though he was the one who had lost his job. When the contract arrived, the due date had shifted to February 15, an extra month. I could have easily made the original date, but this gave me some breathing room during the holiday season—as in, I could actually take some days off—and it would give my beta readers more time as well. Of course, it was also the beginning of the sliding pub date. November 2009 would become some time in 2010, maybe spring, maybe summer, and eventually it settled down to December 2010.

But, again, I get ahead of myself. I finished the manuscript on schedule and sent it off to Bill Leisner, author of Losing the Peace and other Star Trek stuff, and Jeff Ford, an old high school buddy. Both had some good suggestions, which I incorporated, except for some bigger changes for the opening scenes that Bill suggested and I was running out of time to resolve. I figured I’d just see what Margaret Clark, my new editor, thought. Off it went, in February 2009. As the release date slipped around and the publishing industry tried to catch its breath, I had no news. Then, before I knew it, it was July and I was off to Shore Leave 2009. I eagerly awaited Friday night’s traditional announcement of the coming year or so of books . . . but Margaret wrapped it up with summer 2010 without mentioning Myriad Universes. My book still didn’t have a solid pub date. The next month, August 2009, there was another round of lay offs and Margaret was gone. Was this book ever going to make it to bookshelves?

So now I was on my third editor, Jaime Costas. She contacted me in November 2009—the original pub month—and told me the book was set to come out in December 2010. A year late. Ouch. On the upside, she told me if I had any revising to do, I had plenty of time. Cool. I went back to Bill’s notes about the opening and cut a scene. I had a couple more people read it: Jeff Ayers, author of Voyages of Imagination, and Paul Simpson, editor of Star Trek Magazine. Made a few more tweaks, and sent it in to Jaime on March 1, 2010. Jaime sent it along to Marian Cordry at CBS for their approval. Oh, and there was another little wrinkle . . . Jaime was soon going on maternity leave, and wouldn’t be able to helm the project. So she brought in a freelancer: Margaret Clark. Margaret coordinated the approval process. Marian had a couple good questions about character development, and it was decided I should add a short scene or two where Baris was slightly less annoying than usual, to round out the character a bit and demonstrate how McCoy could like the guy. It was a great suggestion, and I was able to show the very moment where McCoy and Baris became friends.

By the end of April I had written the new scenes, made a few more revisions here and there necessitated by the new scenes, and sent the story back to Margaret. A couple months went by, and I heard from Emilia Pisani, an editorial assistant who would be my contact until Jaime got back from maternity leave. Emilia sent the manuscript off to a freelance copyeditor, who turned out to be Marco. Fabulous. I actually got to work with Marco on the manuscript. Everything was going smoothly. I sent off my copyedit review early in July, just before heading out to Shore Leave 2010. Meanwhile, things were going very well for Jaime at home with her new baby . . . so well that she realized she wanted to stay home. In fall 2010 Jaime resigned, and Emilia became my de facto editor. That’s editor number four for those of you keeping score at home.

Author CopiesSo Emilia ended up shepherding the manuscript through the last few stages. I reviewed layout pages near the end of August 2010, and sent back my mark up. I also got the chance to review the corrected pages. After the long, bumpy road, my work on the text was done. I also got to give feedback on a few versions of the cover. As I wrap up writing this, my author copies have finally arrived and the book has been sighted in stores, although I haven’t had a chance to get into a store to see it myself. Heck, I’m ready to do it all again, although I could use a few less bumps.

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