John Jackson Miller interview, Part 1
With the impending launch of his new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds novel The High Country, l had the pleasure of interviewing author John Jackson Miller. In Part 1 of this in-depth two-part interview, John discusses his new novel and the creative process behind it.
WarpFactorTrek: How would you describe your Star Trek: Strange New Worlds novel, The High Country?
John Jackson Miller: It’s a science fiction novel with horses in it. There is a very serious science fiction element to this story, what’s behind everything and making everything happen.
I wanted to come up with a situation where even Pike and Spock are going, “What is the right thing to do?” and debating just leaving this place this way, or is there anything in the rules we can use to get our way out of this.
What was your starting point for this novel?
I wanted to do the inverse of the first Star Trek novel I wrote, Takedown, which I wrote eight years ago. When I got to the end of that novel, I realised the characters had not set foot on a planet in the entire book.
I said, “What would it be like to do a Star Trek novel where it is exclusively on the ground?” It’s one planet, but it’s four or five or ten or twenty different mini civilizations. And from that point, I started delving into what I wanted to do with it.
After I agreed to take the novel, the basement wall of my house fell in, and over the course of the fall in 2021, we physically lifted my farmhouse off the ground and I had to evacuate for several days, whilst we were replacing the walls to make it something from the 21st century not the 19th century, from when it was built. So, displacement was on my mind and there are all sorts of Star Trek episodes where the stories bring us to people who are displaced, plucked from their planets, from their time or timelines, or any combinations of these things.
What I wanted to do was to tell a story that told the next day, the next chapter. What would that really be like? What if we had multiple sets of people in these places? What would the motive be for these people to be together? How would they act? What would it look like if you’re landing on the planet and realizing, ‘Where am I? How did I get here? How did all of this get here? What’s over the horizon? What are we going to find next?’ Some of the best reveals we put in the book especially are that. Particularly with Spock, it is something that anyone reading wouldn’t have expected.
Reading your book, it was very cinematic. With your writing process, do you think of visual ideas first and then bring that into a narrative?
I am all about the big reveal, the big scene, the big crazy thing, Spock’s reintroduction into the story and the big reveal at the fourth section of the book that Hemmer has to do with. It’s all about the visuals having to be amazing.
I always have to think about how we put these things together logically. And how do I get everyone where they are going, and how do I make the book function? And this is one of the reasons why this book took me three outlines.
It’s not a spoiler to say we have four main characters whose journeys we are following. The book has almost eighty chapters and every other one is Pike.
It became clear to me that, for the dynamic of this book to work, I couldn’t leave Pike for more than a chapter. Then it became a bit of spreadsheet work, as I had to make sure they were all at the same point in time when they are having their individual dramas. Una is finding things out, Uhura is finding things out, and that has to dramatically work for the reader. You want the mysteries to stay as long as possible.
You capture the new crew’s voices perfectly. When you started writing this book, the series was still in production. How much access did you have to scripts and episodes?
I will say that they gave me what I needed. It’s like spy craft — I don’t get into sources and methods of what I am allowed to see or brought in to see or am shown.
I will say it was very clear to me to write Uhura, for example, much younger. I was made aware of the issues that had been added to her origin story. Her parents had died in a shuttle accident, and that’s a meaningful part of the book that she is struggling with at the beginning of the story.
This book ties into a specific episode of another Star Trek series. It enhances the canon of the series and it makes the universe feel more connected. Are you encouraged to tie into existing canon?
It was never a case with this book that I was going to write a sequel to this particular episode. Even though I do a lot of stories that elaborate on or add to episodes, my role is never to fix episodes or to retell them in some way to fit with what I am doing.
I try to do something which allows the story that exists to stay as it is but there is this new way of looking at it, that if you ever had a question about why these people did this, that or the other thing, now you have got a story for it.
End of Part 1
In the second part of our interview, John will discuss the many backstories of Captain Pike, the many names of Una Chin-Riley, what other eras he would like to write for, and much more.
Jamie Flint has been a Star Trek fan since he was four years old and caught the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on television. He quickly devoured the other movies and TV episodes and can fondly remember being the youngest person in the cinema watching Generations.
Thirty years later, you’ll find him watching all the series — both new and old — with his little family. Oh, and he is a big defender of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier!