This summer a brand new series of Stargate SG-1 novels kicks off with Trial By Fire, an original story set in the same Stargate universe that fans have come to love. It’s also the first published novel for author Sabine C. Bauer, who tells us in this exclusive interview how she went from a long-time fan of the TV series and a writer of SG-1 fan fiction to a published novelist.
Trial By Fire and other forthcoming SG-1 novels from publisher Fandemonium are currently available throughout the English-speaking world beyond North America, including Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Find out more about the new series at the publisher’s official Web site, StargateNovels.com!
GateWorld: Tell us how you got connected with Fandemonium to write their first Stargate SG-1 novel.
Sabine C. Bauer: Actually, it was the other way round. Fandemonium got in touch with me. They were specifically searching for authors with a solid knowledge of the show, and looking at fan fiction sites was a logical step, I suppose. Based on what they read, they contacted a number of writers, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
Needless to say, this kind of thing never happens in real life. I’m still feeling pretty gobsmacked.
GW: So what writing experience did you have before this book? Have you had any other novels published?
SCB: I’ve been writing fanfic — SG-1 only — for several years, with a recent hiatus because I started working on an original novel (which was put on hold when Trial By Fire came along). Other than that I’ve done a fair amount of academic writing — nowhere near as much fun! — some of which is going to be published later this year. I’ve also written a play, which I got to direct by ways of a punitive measure. Right now I’m back on the original novel, plus a half-finished short story.
GW: So you a fan of the show?
SCB: Absolutely! I’ve been watching since 1999. Stargate SG-1 still was a year or so away from U.K. syndication, but I happened to be working in the U.S. at the time. Channel-hopping, as one does in the middle of a Saturday night, I suddenly see the name “Richard Dean Anderson” plastered across the screen — at which point I drop the remote (and yes, I am a MacGyver addict). The episode was “The Nox.” Anyway, I was hooked from then on, and not just because of RDA. There aren’t that many sci-fi shows around that are intelligent, well written, well to superbly acted, and don’t take themselves too seriously.
GW: Where did the inspiration for Trial of Fire come from?
SCB: I don’t think there’s been a single inspiration. That usually doesn’t happen for me. As a rule I come up with a situation, sometimes just a line even, and the story grows around that. Part of what kicked off Trial of Fire was this sudden notion of Jack O’Neill having issues with a certain mode of transport, and that gave me some ideas as to location. Another (larger) part was that I wanted to explore some of the fallout from “Abyss.”
Having gotten that far, I started to do a lot of research, specifically into mythology, which was a bit of a new departure. In my fan fiction I hadn’t much used that aspect of the show, but one item in Fandemonium’s “mission brief” is that they’d like to see an emphasis on it. In the end it worked like a charm, because the Phoenician / Carthaginian mythology I settled on allowed for a rather nifty — and historically accurate — twist in the tale.
GW: Tell us about the story! When is it set in the show’s continuity?
SCB: It’s set in the first half of Season Seven, some time after “Birthright.” For obvious reasons I don’t want to give away too much detail, but it’s very much a team “episode,” if you will. You get some classic elements — for example the discovery of a new culture (well, two new cultures, in fact), Jack getting himself into hot water, and the team scrambling to get him out of it.
On the other hand, I’ve also tried to play with preconceived notions a little, so perspectives have shifted a bit from what you might expect. For instance, Daniel isn’t really firm on Phoenician culture, which makes it more tricky for him to put two and two together — not helped by the fact that he’s struggling with his past, both recent and more remote (represented by an original character in the novel). Similarly, Jack finds himself in a situation that’s normally Daniel’s bailiwick and forces him to be as diplomatic as he knows how — great fun to write, especially as his hit rate is somewhat less than stellar. Teal’c discovers that there are certain expectations invested in him by the first culture SG-1 encounter and turns out to be quite proactive for reasons other than a “Jaffa revenge thing.”
Last but not least, Sam has to assume command under very difficult circumstances, and the situation is such that she can’t really solve it through scientific genius or standard operating procedure. So we get a slightly off-kilter look at everybody, which hopefully also provides one or two new insights.
GW: How important is the show’s established canon in writing a novel like this?
SCB: Hugely important. It’s the ultimate benchmark, because you mustn’t step outside of it. The novels have to fit into the framework the show has established, be it with regard to the characters or with regard to the situations. You can’t kill off Jack O’Neill and expect MGM to say, “Great, let’s run with this.” On a different, less obvious level this also involves a certain amount of crystal gazing because you can’t, in a novel, set up a scenario that contradicts canon as written by a future episode. Of course, season planning is by nature a pretty fluid affair, so things can change quite rapidly and radically.
I did fall foul of it a little bit when it turned out that a character constellation I was using in the novel suddenly clashed with events as projected for a Season Eight episode. It occasioned a — thankfully minor — rewrite to accommodate that particular episode.
Of course, there’s a fun part, too, namely when you can use catch phrases, events, gags that are part of the canon, and in some instances take them further. Stargate SG-1 is incredibly rich in that respect, and it can be quite exciting (in more than one way) to grab an element of canon and develop it. For Trial of Fire the largest such borrowing came from “Window of Opportunity” and turned out to be a tad more challenging than anticipated. (And no, I’m not talking about Jack’s back-swing.)
GW: Tell us about your planning and outlining process. Coming from fan fiction, did you find it a challenge to sustain a single story for so long?
SCB: Planning and outlining were a bit like shoving square pegs into a round hole — I cringe to admit it, but I don’t normally do either. Suffice it to say, I’m a Libran, and Librans generally don’t do structure. For Trial of Fire I had to, because MGM (understandably) wants to see an outline before they give the go-ahead for a novel. Obviously, once they okay the outline, you need to stick to it, which was a whole new discipline for me. A bit worrying, too, because I knew before I even started writing that I was going from A to E via B, C, and D.
In my normal, chaotic mode of writing, half of what drives me through a story is the fact that I don’t know the route, sometimes not even the destination. I tend to let the characters go wherever they think they need to go and do the necessary research as needed, which actually works reasonably well. It also keeps me interested because, unless I sit down and physically write it, I won’t find out what happens next.
So, Trial of Fire was a very different process in that I had to map out the main events and thrust of the story beforehand. A lot of it fell into place through the research. As for sustaining the story, it turned out to be much easier than I’d expected, despite the outline. I think the crucial point was that only the major plot elements were written in stone. In other words, the characters still had plenty of leeway to keep me entertained by throwing in their unannounced little detours.
GW: How long did it take to write the novel? Any rewrites required in the process?
SCB: The first draft took about six months, start to finish. I tend to have a relatively low daily output, but that’s partly because I revise as I go along, and in this instance I did so in close collaboration with the editors at Fandemonium. On the upside, it meant that there weren’t any massive rewrites as a result of the editing process proper. The only major change was the removal of an original character who featured in the opening gambit and unaccountably vanished into oblivion after Chapter One. So, rather than adding a whole scene at the end, more or less to prove that I hadn’t forgotten the guy existed, we decided to drop him altogether.
GW: How do you feel about writing for pre-established characters in a pre-established universe, versus creating something entirely original? Are there advantages or disadvantages?
SCB: Both advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is precisely that the universe and characters are established, so you don’t have worry about working out the kinks, coming up with back-stories, “inventing” the internal plausibility, “fleshing out” the universe. You can concentrate on the nuts and bolts business of writing instead — which, by the way, is why I consider fan fiction such a terrific training ground for anyone who’s interested in learning how to write.
As far as I’m concerned, there also is a certain comfort element: I know these guys pretty well. I’ve been playing with them, on and off, for five years, they fit me — or I fit them. I genuinely enjoy writing them.
On the downside — and that’s really a negligible downside in the case of Stargate SG-1 — you are, of course, restricted by who these people are and by the specific universe they inhabit. There are certain things they wouldn’t do or say. There may even be things you don’t particularly like about them, which theoretically means they could get boring after a while. Luckily, with the foursome we’re talking about — Teal’c, Daniel, Sam, Jack — they’re too well conceived and too complex for that to happen anytime soon. The same goes for their universe, and to a practically unlimited extent: because of the concept of what the Stargate system is and does, you can go anywhere you like — so, strictly speaking, you actually are creating parts of their universe from scratch, I suppose.
GW: So do you find it easier to write for one character over another? And how much of your own personality can you inject into the dialogue?
SCB: I find Jack incredibly easy to write for, and I think a lot of people who write fanfic would agree with me. It has nothing to do with the character being simple — quite the opposite, in fact, which probably explains it. His certainly is the most distinctive voice. He’s closely followed by Teal’c, whom I also love to write, and that may just put me in a minority of one here. Some fanfic authors find him very difficult and there are instances where the poor guy ends up in a state of chronic kel’no’reem. But I like the very deliberate, precise way in which he uses language — typical for a non-native speaker, by the way, and I know a thing or two about that. That aside, I also like the fact that he’s a bit of a dark horse.
My general rule of thumb with all of them is that I need to be able to hear them. If they are actually talking to me, I know I’ve got them right. And yes, I am the nutcase who trots from Farringdon Station up to Smithfield every morning, conducting conversations with the little people in her head!
As for injecting my own personality, I consider it largely a no-no — certainly for the canon characters. Of course, there are occasions where, say, Sam’s and my opinion on something will coincide, and I also happen to feel the same way about bugs as Jack, but that’s neither here nor there really. The characters are their own people, so how they express themselves needs to reflect their own personalities, not mine.
It’s slightly different with original characters, and despite the fact that these guys, too, have a right to their own personalities, there’s a little more room for maneuver. Within limits, they can be a great vehicle for saying things to and about the canon characters you’ve always wanted to say.
GW: What do you think of Fandemonium and how they’ll handle the new novel series?
SCB: Fandemonium truly knows and is enthusiastic about the show, and that’s a huge asset for both authors and readers. Perhaps even more importantly, there is no agenda above and beyond going to enormous lengths to ensure a product that does the show and its characters justice — which, lofty considerations of artistic integrity aside, makes pretty good business sense. If professionalism and standards of quality count for anything, the novel series is bound to be a success.
On a personal level, I simply enjoy dealing with people who are highly motivated, fun, and love the show as much as I do. Of course there also is the wee little fact that Fandemonium was willing to take the risk of commissioning writers who (in their majority) aren’t published yet, thus nudging open a door that most people have to bash their head against for years.