Tribbles, Trek, and Terrifying Infestations; We interview Author David Gerrold.
Famed author David Gerrold is possibly best known for his indelible addition the Star Trek universe – The Tribbles. But, chances are if you’ve been enjoying Science Fiction since the 60’s you’ve come across his work. Writer, director, novelist, voice actor, consultant, and all around pleasant chap Gerrold has been involved in some of the most influential franchises of the past half century. Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Ghostbusters, Fist of the North Star, not to mention a slew of original works, are just a few of the things he’s done in his career. Mr. Gerrold was kind enough to briefly chat with us about his career and what he’s working on now.
There has been a slight shift in the art world with the internet – artists are having the freedom to self publish and do what they want vs what an audience or publisher/producer expects of them. Filmmaker Kevin Smith has embraced this of late and it seems you have as well. What are the challenges and rewards of going this direction?
I’ve created a Patreon page (www.patreon.com/DavidGerrold) which allows me to bring back old stories, publish essays and rants, and serialize a new novel. In the future, I’ll be sharing some unproduced scripts and bits and pieces of some other works in progress.
The advantage is that it gives me an immediate connection to the readers. Several have caught typos or even a couple of scientific errors, one person felt one section of the serial sagged a bit, so having that feedback allows me to make quick corrections.
I’m not sure that Patreon is for every writer, you need a fan base to support your continuing work. But I’m finding it to be a great incentive for working on each new project.
One of your book series that I see with a rather devoted fan base is your War Against The Chtorr. The reviews on Goodreaders are very favorable and people seem to really enjoy the mythology you built in this world. Can you tell our readers who don’t know much about this series a bit about it?
THE WAR AGAINST THE CHTORR is a story that outgrew itself. I wanted to explore the concept of an alien invasion as an ecological infestation. It seemed to me from the beginning that it won’t just be an invasion, it’ll be a colonization. That requires the whole ecology. The more I thought about how the ecology might work, the more it grew. I needed all kinds of ancillary species to support the apex predator. Even today, the more questions I answer, the more questions I have to ask. Right now, the Chtorran Bestiary is more than a hundred pages and I suspect it’ll end up at least three times that size. Maybe more.
The real fun of the story, however is watching the hero, Jim McCarthy, grow up. There are some terrible challenges he still has to confront.
But, I do have large parts of the final books written, including much of the last chapter. So I know where it goes and how it ends.
You kind of have a George R. R. Martin thing going on where it started as a planned trilogy but got bigger and now fans are eagerly awaiting Nest for Nightmares and A Method of Madness but they’ve yet to come out? Any idea when we can expect these next installments?
I expect to have some kind of announcement in the next few months, but a lot depends on the scheduling priorities of the publisher.
You have had a pretty extensive career in sci-fi. In fact you’ve written for several of the shows that shaped my tastes in fiction like Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Sliders, and the Twilight Zone. Do you have a favorite episode you’ve written?
My favorite episode of anything is always the one still taking shape in the keyboard. Right now it’s the pilot script for … ummm, I can’t tell you that.
A new pilot you say? That sounds exciting – is there ANYTHING you can tell us?
No. There’s an NDA.
You’ve written for both live action and animated series, is there much of a difference between the two when writing? Do you have a preference?
Animation gives you the freedom to write explosions, monsters, alien critters of all kinds. It doesn’t cost any more to draw them. I prefer to write live action because actors bring nuance to the characters that isn’t possible in animation. Sometimes actors discover marvelous ways to bring a script to life.
I’ve been aware of your writing for a while but according to IMDB you have some rather extensive work in voice acting, is this accurate? Or is there another David Gerrold out there and IMDB doesn’t know it and the two got combined?
William Winkler had a contract to do the English language soundtracks for a whole bunch of Japanese animation films. He asked me to do a few voices. I did so well that he kept calling me back. It was a lot of fun. One time I got to do both sides of an argument — the Ice Giant vs. the zombie eyeball.
I mentioned you had written for Star Trek before -I read an article that said you were at a Star Trek convention around the beginning of Next Generation when Gene Roddenberry was asked about openly gay characters on the Enterprise, is that true? Supposedly he felt it was time to do that with the show – Do you remember what he said?
The story is accurate. We were at a convention in Boston. A gay fan asked if there would be gay crewmembers on Trek. Gene said it was time to do that. He said yes. I don’t remember his exact words, but he was quite definite that it was in keeping with the Star Trek theme of including everyone. He repeated the same commitment in a staff meeting a couple of months later.
I had also read that in the staff meeting you mentioned someone disagreed with Roddenberry’s feeling on gay crew members and he was maybe – a little short tempered with them? Is there any accuracy to that?
Yes. Bob Justman made a bad joke and Gene snapped at him.
Even after he openly said it was time for gay characters, it never materialized in his lifetime. You even wrote an episode Blood and Fire for The Next Generation and every iteration of it was refused. Why do you think Star Trek has had such a hard time with LGBTQ representation when it has an otherwise stellar history of pushing social boundaries?
You would have to ask the people who were there after I left. I wasn’t in the room when those decisions were made.
You eventually directed a version of your story Blood and Fire for the fan made series Star Trek: New Voyages, I was impressed, the directing was quite good, how did that come about?
James Cawley called me and asked me if he could do “Blood And Fire.” I said yes. When he asked me to direct it, I said yes. I spent at least two months rewriting the script and another two weeks planning a rigorous shooting schedule. After that, I depended on a terrific cast to bring their A-game. They all did.
I must also mention that the behind-the-camera crew were remarkable. They demonstrated enthusiasm, commitment, morale, and a sense of the true Trek spirit. And they did an incredible job of duplicating the look and feel of the original series.
Did you enjoy directing?
Very much. It’s fun to have the ability to bring your own words to life.
You were also credited as consultant on the fan movie Axanar. What did you help do there?
That was a courtesy on the part of Alec Peters. I read an early draft and gave him some notes. I suggested that he look at a lot of WWII movies as well, to see how the various generals and officers made their tactical decisions. Alec had an ambitious vision. I wanted him to succeed the same way I want all fan efforts to succeed — it’s evidence that Star Trek is something more than just another franchise.
Did you have fun working on all these fan stories? Would you want to do it again?
Depends on the project.
Axanar famously had to be reworked due to a lawsuit brought about by Paramount. As someone who’s worked on both official and unofficial Star Trek and who does a lot of self-publishing how do you feel about the new restrictions on Star Trek fan movies? Do you think it is more important to protect an intellectual property or to allow a fan base to enjoy and play in it?
Gene Roddenberry felt that fanzines and cosplay and conventions demonstrated that Star Trek was something special. I think he would have approved of fan films as a further expression of fannish invention. As long as the fan films remain in the fan domain, I think they’re good for everyone. A lot of people who do fan films are practicing for the professional careers they’re aiming for.
You wrote the novel The Martian Child which became a movie. It is not uncommon for authors to be dissatisfied with the changes to their work. But you had some experience with Hollywood going in, did that prepare you for the changes do you think?
I think that people who make promises should keep them.
The movies has received a bit of backlash since then for making the main character, who was gay in the book, straight in the movie. Were you surprised that the change happened or where you kind of expecting it?
I saw it in the script. When I published the novel version, I was candid. After it was published, one of the producers called me and told me I might take some flack for that. I told him that the failure of the film to address the true story would be a much greater problem for them. The backlash against the straightwashing was pretty much what I expected.
Do you think today’s audience and film industry would be more willing to keep something like that intact?
I think so, yes. There’s a story still to be told about how gay people have to invent themselves as parents. It’s no longer about one’s sexual identity — it’s about one’s entire identity as a complete human being. That’s what’s been missing in too many films about LGBTQ+ people.
Musicians will often talk about how they get tired of their hit songs, playing them, talking about them, etc. You are responsible for one of the most iconic creatures in Star Trek history and by proxy sci-fi history, the tribbles, do get sick of the little furry guys by now or do you still enjoy your creation there?
Tribbles make people smile. If that were the only thing I had ever accomplished, it would still be something to be proud of. It was a great head-start for my career and I’m grateful for the doors it opened.
Do you have anything in the works that we haven’t covered that you’d like to tell our readers about?
Well, I just finished a sequel to the JUMPING OFF THE PLANET trilogy. It’s called HELLA and I serialized it on my Patreon page. (www.patreon.com/DavidGerrold). I’m also expanding a novella called IN THE QUAKE ZONE. It’s kind of noir, it’s about a gay time-traveling detective who ends up discovering himself. It’s almost a sequel to THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF. And, of course, I’m finishing up the editing on A NEST FOR NIGHTMARES.
Anyone who follows me on Facebook or my Patreon page will have the latest information as fast as it develops.
Our site is all about the weird little passions we have for things and stories and what not – what do you geek out about? What are you passionate about? (aside from literature and your work obviously)
Specifically, I think Rick And Morty is the best science fiction show on television. I’ve enjoyed The Orville a lot too.
But my biggest passion is music. I love listening to cover versions of the Beatles’ songs. I love a lot of classical symphonies — Dvorak, Saint-Saens, Copland, in particular. I’m working my way through Mahler these days too.
We are fans of Orville here as well, Rick and Morty too. I think both shows have done a great job of balancing good science fiction with comedy. Do you have a favorite episode of either show?
There are too many favorites. I did like the one where Rick outsmarted all the virtual realities and the aliens blew themselves up.
Covers of Beatles songs? That’s an interesting one. Why covers and whats your favorite so far?
All This And World War II is an amazing collection of Beatles covers by Helen Reddy, Leo Sayer, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Frankie Laine, and more.
Mr. Gerrold, thank you very much.
You can read more from David Gerrold and get updates on his work by following him on Facebook.
WGN writer and editor KJ McDougall was constructed in a lab in the early 80’s. Held together by little more than grit, sheer determination and a staggering amount of neurotic tendencies, Mr. McDougall spends most of his time reading, watching movies, tending to his navel lint collection or obsessively gambling on televised reruns of extreme ironing.