Diana Dru Botsford is the author of the Stargate SG-1 novel Four Dragons, and its sequel, The Drift (2011) for Fandemonium Press. She has also recently completed an alternative history SF novel, Critical Past.
In addition to the actual craft of writing, Botsford teaches screenwriting as an Assistant Professor at Missouri State University. She has degrees in screenwriting and producing from Boston University, and in creative writing from Seton Hill University. Prior to joining Missouri State University, she spent 12 years in Los Angeles in the television and film industry, followed by five years developing streaming media content and community-driven Web sites for Microsoft.
Her production credits include writing, producing, and directing for a wide variety of series and films, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Spiral Zone, Harts of the West, and Nightgames. Her theatrical credits include visual effects directing and supervision for a wide variety of films including Nightmare on Elm Street VI, Tank Girl, From Dusk Til Dawn, Terminator 2 and many independent films.
Visit her blog on the Web at DianaBotsford.com!
GateWorld: Four Dragons is a novel that heavily focuses on strategy and preparation. Tell us about your strategy as you prepared to write for Stargate SG-1.
Diana Dru Botsford: Strategy is very much part of the underpinning behind Four Dragons, yes!
Before I begin a project, I start by figuring out the core themes. That’s the first part of a four-step process for me: Internal Research (finding the themes and story); External Research (the literal kind – a series re-watch, investigating the science to be used, the mythology behind the “Big Bad” in question); plotting, and then, or course, the actual writing. All four parts of the process are critical for me – they’re the strategy behind the fiction.
One of the key things I wanted to demonstrate in an SG-1 story was that Jack O’Neill is not the fool he pretends to be. There’s a terrific saying in “The Art of War” (an ancient Chinese military treatise written in the 6th century B.C.): “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” Sound familiar? It should. Jack O’Neill applies this strategy throughout SG-1’s missions. From where I’m sitting, there’s no way an USAF Colonel, and then, General could have gotten that far without having the brains to do so.
So with that thought firmly tucked in my head, the rest of the story became focused on strategies. From Yu’s entrapping Daniel and then pushing him for knowledge about ascension, to Daniel strategizing how to out-think the Goa’uld by playing him at his own game, to Yu’s testing Jack’s abilities as a leader, to most importantly, SG-1’s strategies to rescue Daniel.
GW: Four Dragons takes place shortly after the events of Season Seven’s “Orpheus” and deals with Jack’s emotions over Daniel’s return from, as he says in the novel, the Oma Express. Jack is fiercely loyal, and he expresses, in his own way, concerns that weren’t seen too much on the show about Daniel’s abilities, as far as I can recall.
DDB: Yes and no. Jack compartmentalizes his feelings–he’s had to in order to stay alive all these years in Black Ops, through torture, and then having to deal with some of the most challenging and difficult things any human would ever have to face when combating the Goa’uld and the Replicators. Losing Daniel (“Meridian“), a member of his family–which is really how Jack has come to see SG-1–that’s put pressure on him, too.
We privately know Jack keenly felt the loss of Daniel from the scene in “Revelations” when Jack is cleaning his gun. That’s a key moment of character reflection. Other, even more critical moments in Seasons Six and Seven give us further insight into Jack’s feelings regarding ascension AND Daniel’s brief time in Oma-ville.
One of those moments is in Season Six’s “Abyss” when Daniel is trying to convince Jack to ascend (to escape Baal’s torture) and Jack makes it clear that he’s not the better man Daniel thinks he is–nor is he comfortable with the idea of ascension as a goal.
Of all these moments, however, it’s the final scene in the Season Seven episode “Orpheus” which inspired my take on Jack’s attitudes in the opening chapters of Four Dragons. They’ve just come back from rescuing Teal’c, R’yac and Bra’tac and if Daniel had had his way, the mission could have gone a lot worse. When SG-1 and their support teams were up on the ridge, fully aware that Teal’c was being tortured, Daniel pushed Jack to do something, but Jack knew (rightly so) that if they attacked at that moment, their chances of survival were minimal.
Again, Jack was strategizing. Daniel, in this case, wasn’t. So when the mission finally DID succeed, thanks in large part to the rebellion, SG-1 returned to the SGC, and Daniel was congratulated for saving everyone. If you watch, there’s a pan over to Jack and he is NOT happy.
I connected Jack’s reaction back to Daniel’s attitude up on that ridge. Four Dragons explores that reaction.
GW: More than any other Stargate novel I’ve read, Four Dragons deepens and explores a Goa’uld, Lord Yu. I must say you did a masterful job tying just about every Lord Yu appearance and idiosyncrasy together, allowing us to much better understand who he is and why he differs from the other System Lords. What drew you to Yu?
DDB: Actually, I’d love to do the same for each of the System Lords. I think there’s quite the story to tell behind Apophis — talk about a nut job! He really believed he WAS a God. Why? “Serpent’s Song” only gave us a glimmer into the character’s origins. What happened to Apophis to make him so narcissistic? The answer could be quite compelling (hmm… excuse me for a moment while I go write up a few story ideas).
Seriously though, of all the Goa’uld, Lord Yu was the most enigmatic. He was almost friendly at times and even when he was our enemy, he was still sort of our friend. Four Dragons gave me the opportunity to explore his reasoning. Because much of the Stargate franchise is about taking myths and legends and bending them, there was a plethora of material to use to expand the Goa’uld’s back story to match the real Lord Yu’s story.
GW: There are canon altering revelations in this novel about Yu and his inner circle, including his First Prime. I’m not sure how this works with MGM, but do your revelations become SG-1 canon, and will future novelists need to account from them should Yu appear in their novels?
DDB: I wouldn’t call the revelations ‘canon altering’ as much as running out conclusions based off the series’ storylines. MGM had final approval at all times and there never were any problems with what I proposed. Remember, Lord Yu is pretty much toast by the time we get to “Reckoning” so I think the studio felt I was safe to explore the character’s previous story threads as I did as long as I could justify my logic. Based off reader response, I think the story succeeds.
GW: You also introduce Dr. Hopkins, a previous associate of Daniel’s who has a limited role as an archaeologist with the S.G.C. He is an expert in Chinese history, but he was more than a mere plot device inserted for the occasional info dump. He has a distinct personality and adds to the tension of the novel. What were your goals for this character, and will we see more of him in your next book.
DDB: Daniel’s former college roommate, Kevin Hopkins, was first created out of the need to demonstrate that there’s more to Daniel than what we’ve seen on screen. Getting a PhD is no easy feat and requires strategy of a different sort. There’s a running thread in the discussions between Yu and Daniel regarding Daniel being a scholar and not a warrior like Jack.
As I got further into the story, I saw the opportunity to use Kevin’s journey as a way to explore the value of each skill set (scholar and warrior) and in turn, reinforce why Jack and Daniel (and the rest of SG-1) are a success–because of the blending of those skills and talents.
The fact that I was able to also use Hopkins to share some bits of Chinese history was actually accidental. Originally, Daniel was going to be the one who conveyed all of this information, but Hopkins nudged his way in there and the rest is history (to coin a pun AND cliche!).
GW: It was also fun to see Colonel Dixon for a brief appearance. Any future plans with that character?
DDB: Stay tuned – you never know when Jayne…whoops, I mean Colonel Dixon…will show up.
GW: You are currently working on a sequel to Four Dragons called The Drift. What can you tell us about the events of that novel?
DDB: While I can’t give away too much, it’s obvious I need to share a key element of The Drift as it takes place in what I would consider to be the most alien place on this little world of ours:
Think about it … Antarctica is at the bottom of the world. It’s a continent with no native human culture, a continent of blue icebergs, extraordinary animal-life …
It is, with the exception of the 40+ research facilities scattered across its 5.4 million square miles, the most uninhabited place on the planet.
Antarctica plays a critical role in SG-1’s finding technologies which save the planet from alien devastation. Some 50 miles outside of McMurdo was once home to the Ancient ship-city Atlantis, Earth’s first Stargate (yep, earlier than the one found in Giza), and the Ancient Weapons Chair/Platform.
So obviously, the Ancients felt pretty strongly about Antarctica, too, since it was once their home.
I was fascinated with Antarctica long before Stargate and I became friends. In college I wrote a murder mystery screenplay set at Amundsen-Scott (the literal South Pole Station). A few years later, I stumbled upon South: the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 expedition. Then came Kenneth Branagh’s extraordinary film, Shackleton, and then…
SG-1′s Season One episode “Solitudes” — where Sam and Jack end up gating through to an ice planet… only to discover that they’ve ended back on Earth, in Antarctica, at the original Earth gate.
SG-1′s Season Six episode “Frozen” – where an Ancient carrying the plague which decimated her race is revived after many millenniums, only to die when she uses her advanced genetics to heal those around her who come down with the same illness.
SG-1′s Season Seven episode “Lost City” – where Jack’s mind is overwritten with the Ancients depository of information, leading the team to find the Ancient Outpost in Antarctica and a way to save Earth.
So… yeah, my mind went WHIRLING in a thousand directions when I first watched these episodes two years ago while outlining the storyline for Four Dragons. The Drift is an after story, as it were — not a literal sequel where at the end of Four Dragons you’re on a cliffhanger, but more a case of … exploring the new threads created by Four Dragons. Threads that if picked up and woven together could create a story that belonged in the SG-1 mythos and would take place in Antarctica.
And thus, The Drift concept was born, pitched to the publishers, and given a go.
But no, I couldn’t stop there.
In most SG-1 books, SG-1 travels to another world. An alien environment. As a writer, it’s my job to create a world that’s believable, services the story, and is imaginative as well.
In The Drift, that alien world IS Antarctica. And to do justice to that world, I made a crazy decision. This December, I will be journeying down to the bottom of the world on a Russian Icebreaker Research vessel to explore the Antarctic sea, the ice, the snow…
All so I can hopefully add a level of realism and depth to the story. If you’ve read Four Dragons, you know I’m a nut for details — be it Chinese history or describing what a bathroom looks like on a Goa’uld cargo ship!
GW: Are there any plans for you to write more SG-1 novels in the future?
DDB: Most definitely. I’m also working on a few other projects, but SG-1 is very near and dear to my heart. The franchise has so much untapped potential. Fandemonium could come out with a new book every month and still not come close to exhausting the possibilities.
GW: Besides your work as a novelist, you worked for many years in Hollywood and penned a script for Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you could write a two hour script for the next Stargate SG-1 movie (fingers crossed here at GateWorld!) what story would you tell?
DDB: I could tell you, but then I’d need to kill you …
Kidding — well, partially. The SG-1 movies are in the amazingly capable hands of Brad Wright and I’m just as eager as everyone else to see what happens next. Of course, if I could take a stab at a Stargate script, I’d love to see some of SG-1’s ‘missteps’ come back to haunt them. I think that was always one of the franchise’s strengths: the teams weren’t perfect, there was no “Prime Directive” to keep them on the straight and narrow, and most of the time they had to go on gut instinct and their own ethical morals. They’ve no doubt caused problems for some of the people they thought they were helping. It’d be interesting to see the fallout from those efforts come back to bite them in the proverbial tail.
GW: Thank you so much for spending some time with us, Diana. We look forward to talking with you again.
DDB: Thanks for having me! I’m a huge GateWorld fan so it’s always a pleasure.
Interview by Shaun Farrell