John Jackson Miller interview, Part 2
In this second part of my interview with New York Times bestselling author John Jackson Miller, we delve into Pike’s backstory and how Miller has a responsibility to train readers for further Strange New Worlds novels. Also, we discuss the difficulties with writing his new book, The High Country, and his hopes for the future.
WarpFactorTrek: How much freedom were you given to develop Pike’s backstory, and do you look at what has been developed in other media?
JJM: Well, I look at all these things. Star Trek: Early Voyages, the Marvel ’90s comic book… does that count? And I decided — why not? So, in The Enterprise War, Nurse Carlotti is in there. If you go through all the old books, there are half a dozen (chief) engineers and, in Early Voyages, it’s Moves-With-Burning-Grace. And there is even a different engineer in a previous Discovery novel, that David Mack had written.
Likewise with Pike. You have one part of a story that says he grew up off-world; we have another part of the story where we it says he is from Mojave, California. One story says his father is a scientist, another says he was a preacher. My approach has always been to not overwrite, if I can, and make all versions true. I have to honour the TV show, as that’s the main document, and then I look at it and say, ‘Can I write this and make the whole thing work?’ But some things cannot be reconciled and I think I have done okay with Pike here.
What was the most difficult part of writing the novel?
Getting to the actual writing part. The outlines always kill me. I think my method is a lot like jazz music, where I just start writing and see where I go. The story and characters will tell me what’s important and who they are. Characters that I originally think are sinister turn out differently. I originally thought this book was going to be extremely bloody but it was not. I invite someone to do a body count on this book at some time.
The book has short and snappy chapters. Was this a deliberate choice?
Yes. I don’t like switching between point-of-view characters in a chapter if I can help it. Also, the way that people read books and consume books has changed. Audiobooks have increasingly become the major way that people have been consuming these books. We know that people are listening on commutes or when they are driving and every time it comes back on.
I also did something I have never done before in a book and that is chapter titles. That’s just setting you up as a reader for a different kind of book and giving the audiobook listener a fighting chance to know where they are.
Every chapter, I say the entire name of the character that’s appearing, the point-of-view character in the first paragraph really, to help the reader and audiobook listener know where they are. There was another motive there, as people are not used to Una’s name yet. ‘Chin-Riley’ literally came up in the show and Star Trek convention says that she will be called by her last name when we refer to the characters. For years, she had no name and was just ‘Number One’, and then she was ‘Una’, and now she is ‘Chin-Riley’, and I need to get all these names in here. It’s on me being the first book out of the gate to train the reader to this name.
I feel, in tone, Strange New Worlds is an adventure series which harkens back to TOS. Is this something you aimed for?
If it feels like a two- or three-parter, that’s what I am going for.
Anson Mount was asked recently, if he could commission a script for a potential episode of SNW, what genre he would like to explore. His answer was a Western. It would be interesting to see what he would say about the novel.
Obviously, Kirsten Byer has read the book. Anson knows about the book, he actually tweeted about it. Last year, Ewan McGregor read my Kenobi novel and did a video about it. If the actors get it and enjoy, then that’s good for me. If I am anywhere they are, I get to give a physical copy to actors.
You’ve written for a variety of eras of Star Trek. If Margaret Clark, your editor, comes to you today and gives you a choice of what era to write for next, what would you choose?
I have said before I have never had as much fun as when I wrote the Rios book. Obviously, there are seven more years of Rios’ life we didn’t explore and, as far as people being concerned about Rios after the second season of Picard, how do we know that Guinan was telling the truth? Maybe she is saying something that he wants her to say, so maybe that character could have an additional chapter.
Thank you for such an informative interview and, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed your new novel.
Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book.
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!