Strange New Worlds: D.J. Stevenson interviewed

IAMTW President Jonathan Maberry chats with D. J. Stevenson, Executive Vice President of the IAMTW, chair of the Scribe Awards, and administrator of Pennwriters’ annual writing contest.

D.J. earned her degree in Journalism and German after which she worked as a technical writer and technical translator. She has written for corporate newspapers and magazines. She enjoys travel across the U.S. and overseas, something that she can’t recommend highly enough and wishes everyone had the inclination—and ability—to do. She attended school and worked in Germany, which is also where she began studying Shotokan karate, in which she earned a black belt. She’s worked backstage at local theaters, running lights and sound, and stage managing—and, once, keeping sets from falling over during a show. Most importantly, she’s a doting mother to her beloved, rambunctious, totally adorable cats.

TIED-IN: What was the first media tie-in work you remember reading?

D.J. STEVENSON: The novelization of Star Wars. It added so much richness to the movie and made a huge impression. After that, the floodgates opened. Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (the original) in English and in German. James Bond. The Saint. Modesty Blaise.

Did write any fan fiction?

Of a peculiar sort. I didn’t write stories with, for example, Kirk and Spock on the Enterprise off on an adventure. When I was little—and I’m talking in the darkest depths of history, here—I took my favorite characters and shuffled them all together like a tossed salad and wrote stories in my own world that had nothing to do with the settings where the characters belonged. I had everyone from James West to Judy Robinson to Luke Skywalker to Nancy Drew in the same story. It was tons of fun and absolutely ridiculous and my very first series. I wrote one story a year in school.

What was your first media tie-in gig? How did you get the job? 

I won it courtesy of Simon & Shuster’s Strange New Worlds contest. My first media work was also my very first professional sale in 2007. Pocket Books published “Brigadoon” in their Star Trek anthology Strange New Worlds 10. I made it under the wire. That was the very last volume they published until revisiting the contest for the 50th anniversary of the original series.

I’d always been interested in the contest, but I never entered until that last year because the words just wouldn’t come. Until they really did. Over the course of six weeks, things really clicked—finally. It became a mission. First, I wrote one story for each series. I tended to pick one character to focus on. Then I’d get another idea, but if I wrote one more story, I had to write five more to keep the number per series even. But the time I’d finished, I’d written five stories for each of the five (at that time) series, and then eight more stories that crossed over with two or more of the shows.

I ended up sending Pocket Books thirty-three entries—a record, as far as I know. Even people who sent numerous stories over the years never hit that number. And the editor liked them! I got a wonderful note back from him that all the stories were well-received. He picked five for the book (one and four alternates, because each author could only win once per volume) and one got in.

Talk about your experience working with that license. 

It was absolutely fantastic. Everyone involved was a great pleasure to work with. The process ran smoothly and there were no issues at all. Through the whole thing, I was just so thrilled to be an official Star Trek author.

I’d watched the show my whole life and still remember how excited I was when Paramount announced The Next Generation. I devoured every bit of pre-publicity I could find. The show started a bit slow, then just got better and better.

Then Deep Space Nine came along, taking Trek to a whole new level and introducing fans to the best character in Star Trek and one of the best characters in all of fiction. Kira Nerys. And for her to edge out incredible, magnificent characters such as Spock and Kirk, and Sisko, and far too many more to mention—that just shows how highly I regard Kira.

Then came Janeway. Groundbreaking. Historic. Uneven though the show could be, I loved the whole cast, but especially Janeway. Finally, a woman got to helm not just the ship, but the whole show. After that, Enterprise gave a fascinating look at the ‘past’ and the founding of the Federation.

I got to write all those characters. I knew every episode of every show. I felt like the characters were actual acquaintances of mine. It was a dream to tell stories with all of them, and to have one of those stories published.

What kind of creative risks have you taken with your media tie-in projects?

My Shadowrun story was very dark. It’s a style I almost never write, so that was a risk for me. My philosophy is to write what I like, what I’d like to read. I prefer optimism to pessimism, lighter fare to darker. That’s not to say I dislike serious stories, but I prefer to avoid bleak and hopeless.

Therefore, “Kaboom, Ka-bye” was a huge departure for me. I went for tragic, and cold, and cynical. All those things I normally avoid. But the story worked out better than I could ever have imagined.

What media tie-in work that you’ve done are you most proud of?

It’s way too hard to pick. I’d have to say various stories, each for a different reason.

Shadowrun used “Kaboom, Ka-bye” as the lead story for the sourcebook Seattle 2072, which was a huge honor. Any acceptance is good news. Finding out they thought so highly of the story that they put it at the beginning of the book made it that much more satisfying.

I’m still beyond thrilled that I’m a Star Trek author. I could rave about that subject forever.

And it was great fun writing for Story Portals. That was a contemporary shared universe, which made it different for me at the time. Normally I write science fiction or fantasy. Contemporary? Talk about strange and different! It did still have magic, though. Contemporary magical realism, but it was still a stretch for me then.

Which media tie-in project was way outside of your normal style?

“Kaboom, Ka-bye” definitely, because it was so dark, pretty much the opposite of my usual.

In addition to that, though, is some non-fiction. I’d done nonfiction before: articles and interviews, even some reviews, but it’s been a long time. Revisiting it was very much outside my normal style.

I wrote three essays for the Outside In review series by ATB Publishing. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel. Writing nonfiction challenged me to come up with a unique voice each time. And it’s a whole different animal than a short story or a novel. Each of the three ended up very different. The review for The Next Generation’s “The High Ground” was an apolitical treatise on politics. “Once More, With Feeling” for Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired a musical script. And a dragon wrote my review of Angel’s “Not Fade Away”.

What are you writing now? How did that project come to you?

At the moment I’m working on original fiction. So many ideas constantly compete for attention. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I have over half a dozen works in progress, in various stages of completion. Two of them are each with a different co-writer. Plus there are always plenty of concepts that I haven’t even started on yet.

Right now, the two I’m concentrating on are a short story and a novel. The short story is for a YA anthology featuring girls using science and technology to overcome the challenges facing them. The proceeds will benefit girls pursuing careers in STEM fields. The novel focuses on a ragtag band of superheroes who triumph due to skill, knowledge, and ingenuity. They don’t have magic or superpowers, just their own brains and brawn. It’s set in its own corner of the universe, but the characters—so far—are human despite great disparity in size. The novel shows their origin and how they forge themselves into a team.

Otherwise, the Tales of Mimion are always calling. And finishing up my Angel Cat stories so I can combine them into a collection. More adventures with the Lady Pirates.The list goes on. Truly never enough hours in the day.

What’s your fan experience been like? 

I have great fun meeting the fans at conventions. They’re always friendly and enthusiastic. I love the panels, and getting a good dialog going with the audience, and among the panelists. The joking and camaraderie are wonderful.

Part of what makes conventions such fun is the common point of reference. Everyone comes together out of a love of the same books or movies or television shows. But within that framework is such a diversity of opinion and experience that it’s always eye-opening. Everyone expresses such different points of view. What one person loves, really annoys someone else. Someone’s favorite character is someone else’s least favorite. I always say, ask ten fans a question and you’ll get thirteen different answers.

Will you be at any upcoming conventions?

I always try to attend Shore Leave and Farpoint in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Plus, I plan to be at Confluence in Pittsburgh, PA. I’d love to attend more, but logistics don’t always cooperate.

Tell me about the writing you do outside of media tie-in.

At the age of seven, I wrote my first ‘novel’— seven whole pages! —and haven’t stopped since. I don’t remember a time when I’ve ever not written. In that first story, The Haunted House on the Hill turned out to be infested by smugglers instead of by ghosts. I created a cover and table of contents and was quite proud of my first book.

Fantasy and Science Fiction were always my favorites: they provided the ultimate blank canvas. I could create any world I wanted and make anything I wanted happen. They’re still my first loves and the bulk of what I write, but I’ve branched out into almost every other genre. It’s all great fun.

The Tales of Mimion take place on the planet Mimion, a feudal world where the social structure is based on telepathic and telekinetic ability. Gender issues are a subject of great interest to me, and I wanted a world that turned gender roles completely askew. The reason, or foundation for that, though, had to be not just interesting and organic to the story, but essential to it. Telepathy worked because it negated the advantage of men being physically larger and stronger on average. Plus I could make pregnancy a distinct advantage instead of a potential physical disadvantage. A writer friend of mine called it “anthropological sociological science fiction.” Basically it’s a ton of action adventure with political intrigue and the occasional romance thrown in.

I’ve written Breakaway, a hockey novel about the first woman to play in the NHL. That’s the only book I ever had a lawyer review before publication. I didn’t want to get in trouble with the NHL or any of the teams. After much research, he assured me there were no legal issues with mentioning actual teams by name.

I’ve co-written a historical novel set around the year 900, depicting Vikings visiting Ireland. Much swordplay ensued.

I set a romance during the run of Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That was great because it let me tap in to the work I’ve done in theater. Hopefully readers will enjoy it and recognize a lot of authentic touches.

And pirates. Pirates are always most excellent. I sold four different pirate stories to a publisher for three anthologies. Unfortunately, those anthologies ended up not happening, as is sometimes the case in the industry. But it left me with four exciting stories featuring some fantastic characters. So naturally, I created three more pirates, made sure I had two stories apiece for all seven of them, and published two Lady Pirates anthologies. The stories span the ages and the globe. One pirate is an ancient Amazon. Another is a space-faring con artist. One contemporary pirate even stole a nuclear submarine.

Trillionaire is a thriller featuring, you guessed it, the world’s first trillionaire. I tried to twist a lot of tropes with that one, not just with the characters but also with the core mystery. Continuing the super-rich trend, The Vagabonds’ Adventures follow married multi-millionaires who live in (and drive round in) an ultra-luxurious double-decker RV. For me it’s all about the characters. I do my best to make them vivid and distinct, and give them strong, unique voices. That series includes two novels and a short story so far.

Common lament, I know, but did I say there’s way too much to write, and way too little time? And, I went crazy with pen names. I have five, each for various genres. ‘Jess Barry’ is for drama and romance. ‘Reid Alan’ writes mysteries and thrillers. ‘Azure Avians’ writes fantasy, including co-authoring the Sorcery and Steel series with book three in the works. Almost all ‘Kris Katzen’s’ stories are set in outer space, except for some dark paranormal stories. ‘Rigel Ailur’ also writes science fiction, and some science fantasy.

Rigel Ailur also writes in two languages, not just English. I wrote (not translated) one of my Tales of Mimion stories in German. Eventually I’ll translate it into English.

What’s the most fun thing about writing media tie-in stories?

The feeling of creating a piece of a much larger whole, of sharing in something that so many people love. It’s such a joy to be able to explore beloved characters and expand on their adventures. Sometimes that goes in new or unexpected directions. Other times it can be continuing a story already shown on screen and seeing what comes next. The characters are so richly drawn that they’ve already taken on a life of their own and being able to add to that is not just fun, but a great privilege as well.

What’s on your media tie-in wish-list? What licenses do you want to tackle?

Wow, tough question. Way too many to say. Do they have to be active licenses now? Just to name a few, active and otherwise:

Doctor Who, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (the original), The Bionic Woman.

Sheena and/or Jana. Remember them? Both Queens of the Jungle, one in Africa, the other in the Amazon.

Something in the Marvel cinematic universe. And with the current incarnation of Wonder Woman.

The characters were so appealing in Leverage, White Collar, Remington Steele, and Quantum Leap, they’d be a blast to write. I’d love to continue The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

More Star Trek.

Where to find D.J. online:

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