MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing the very prolific Keith DeCandido, author of numerous novels, short stories, essays, e-books, and probably Bazooka Joe comics too for all I know. He’s best known for his Star Trek fiction, but has written tie-ins for other popular sci-fi and fantasy series as well, such as Doctor Who, Supernatural, Andromeda and Farscape, as well as comic books (Spider-Man) and videogames (World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Command & Conquer). He has also edited various anthologies, including OtherWere, Urban Nightmares, Imaginings, the Doctor Who collection Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership, and the Star Trek anthologies New Frontier: No Limits, Tales of the Dominion War, and Tales from the Captain’s Table.
Keith, you have made quite a name for yourself writing movie adaptations, novel tie-ins, and so on, from Star Trek to Resident Evil to Buffy to CSI. This seems extremely cool and fun. How did this all begin? You weren’t one of those slash writers, were you?
KEITH DeCANDIDO: No, I wasn’t a slash writer—nor, for that matter, have I written any Bazooka Joe comics. I actually got my start on the editorial side of the desk, as I was the genre editor for the late Byron Preiss from 1993-2000, where I edited a large number of tie-ins, most notably the Marvel novels that Byron co-published with Berkley Books in the mid-to-late 1990s. Through that job, I was able to get the opportunity to pitch, both for the Marvel line I worked on (someone else in the office edited me for that work) and for things like Doctor Who and Magic: The Gathering anthologies, which is where I made my first fiction sales. Eventually it snowballed into novel contracts, and now this.
VENTRELLA: Do you primarily write first and then try to sell your work or do you at this stage in your career get assignments for specific books?
DeCANDIDO: There’s never been any consistency to it. Some projects are generated in-house, some are suggested by the editor, some are wholly from the writer. Much of my Star Trek work was developed with the editor—either John Ordover or Marco Palmieri—though not all of it, but that’s always been a collaborative thing. On the extremes, my three Supernatural novels were all my own concepts, but all my work with Blizzard was very much directed by the licensor. It all varies. Sometimes people will come to me—that was what happened with Blizzard and Supernatural both—sometimes I’ll go to them—which is what happened with the new Farscape comics.
VENTRELLA: Do you find it easier to write with pre-established characters, and is that one of the reasons you can be so prolific? Or instead, do you find it somewhat constraining, in that you may anger fans who gripe and exclaim that their favorite character wouldn’t act like that?
DeCANDIDO: : I think it’s a false dichotomy. There are ways that writing your own characters is easier; there are ways that writing in another setting is easier. It depends in part on the type of story you’re trying to tell. I don’t find it constraining at all, though—it’s more of a challenge than a constraint.
VENTRELLA: Does your work get subjected to more editing and control since you do not “own the characters”?
DeCANDIDO: Again, that varies from license to license. Blizzard keeps a very tight hold on their universes—which is the source of their popularity, honestly, so that isn’t a complaint—but it also means that they do more hands-on work. On the other end of it, Tribune Entertainment was very hands-off with my Andromeda novel. With Star Trek, they tend to keep a firmer hand on whatever’s current onscreen—which currently is the JJ Abrams stuff—while letting the writers and editors be more creative with the ends of the franchise that are not being developed onscreen any longer.
VENTRELLA: Do you feel that there is any sort of bias against tie-ins in the book world? I am no expert, so correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that they often sell much better than traditional fiction, yet can be ignored by reviewers and awards.
DeCANDIDO: That bias has lessened in the years I’ve been working, which is good to see, though it still does exist. The lack of reviews is frustrating, but a bunch of us have gotten together to redress the award issue by creating our own. In 2006, Lee Goldberg and Max Allan Collins formed the first professional association specifically for us licensed folk, the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. We also created our own award, the Scribes, which is awarded at Comic-Con International in San Diego every year. I’ve had three of my novels nominated for a Scribe so far, though with no winners, and I also was blessed with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the organization, along with Donald Bain and Alan Dean Foster.
VENTRELLA: Who is your favorite character to write for and why?
DeCANDIDO: Probably Worf from Star Trek. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, and I got to do a great deal of work with the character in his post-DS9 phase, as well.
VENTRELLA: And in a similar note, what’s your favorite Star Trek series and why? And how about that new film, huh?
DeCANDIDO: Deep Space Nine. It had the best writing, the best cast, the best characters, the most complex storytelling, and it really just did almost everything right. I enjoyed the new film for what it was, and I’m glad it’s revived interest in Trek, but it didn’t do much for me—but neither did any of the others. Star Trek has always, in my opinion, been far better suited to television than movies.
VENTRELLA: Have you ever been asked to write a novel based on a movie or TV show you didn’t like?
DeCANDIDO: When that has happened, I’ve found myself able to seek out and focus on the elements of the original that I do like. It’s worked wonders.
VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on e-books and self publishing? Do you think aspiring authors should work with an e-book or POD publisher, or even self-publish?
DeCANDIDO: Well, eBooks and POD publishers and self-publishers are three entirely different things, and they only overlap in spots. I used to edit the monthly Star Trek eBook line, which were original eBooks published every month focusing on the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. I do not think that aspiring authors should work with such publishers until they’re at the point of last resort. It should be the final option, not the first one. Self-publishing is particular is fraught with difficulties because the need to print, publish, publicize, and distribute takes time away from doing more writing, which is what the writer should focus on. Finally, no author should ever under any circumstances work with a publisher who charges a fee to publish. Money flows to the writer, and any publisher that does so is a scam artist who is cheating you.
VENTRELLA: What’s the worst mistake you have made in your publishing career?
DeCANDIDO: Getting into it in the first place. This business is nuts…
VENTRELLA: And what’s the worst and best piece of advice you have received?