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01 May 2011 @ 04:44 pm
Ishmael - Let me Say This About That  


            People have asked me, Have I ever written fan fiction?

            When I started writing Star Trek stories for my few friends in High School in the fall of 1966, as far as I knew there WAS no media fan fiction. I had two friends, both struck with that first season of Star Trek as I was. We wrote Star Trek stories for each other, but there was no network of fans and no way we could have gotten in touch with them if there had been. As far as we knew, it was just us.

            Ditto with a sort-of Western called Here Come the Brides, which included in the cast Mark Lenard, the actor who played Spock’s father in the Trek episode “Journey to Babel.” (And the Romulan Commander in the previous season’s episode, “Balance of Terror.”) OF COURSE a cross-over story was inevitable. (MANY other fans came to this conclusion independently, as I later learned). (These weren’t the only TV shows we wrote stories about, either. I blush when I think of some of them).

            When I started writing Ishmael, I was still living in Riverside. My agent called me saying that Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) had acquired the Star Trek franchise, and were looking for already-published science fiction authors who had Star Trek stories sitting around in their files. I dug out the manuscript of Ishmael that I’d written for my friends, about the first third of what it later became. I knew MUCH less then about how licensing worked, but I wrote to the editor of the new Trek line explaining that it was a cross-over, and saying that I could easily and cheerfully re-write it in a generic Western milieu – a cow-town in the 1870s, I think.

            I’m glad I kept a carbon of that letter. (This was slightly before the days when photocopying was easy and cheap).

            The editor (the second one of the line already – the Star Trek line at Pocket went through four or five editors during the time I worked with them) told me, “I checked with the Legal Department and they say there isn’t enough of a similarity for us to worry about.” I was surprised, but very pleased.

            I worked on Ishmael in between drafts of Ladies of Mandrigyn. I remember working on it in that corner study in the Riverside apartment, listening to the wail of the train-whistles from the tracks a few blocks away. That was the novel that taught me, “Do not start boiling eggs in the kitchen and then go back to the typewriter.” I sent it off shortly before I moved back to Ontario, but my memories of the condo in Ontario aren’t as linear: I was extremely isolated and unhappy there, and there was a tremendous amount going on in my life. It’s hard to sort out a timeline. I remember very clearly this enormous, battered brown-paper package of galleys FINALLY showing up on the doorstep of the condo one morning, not long before I moved out, which had to be back in New York in less than a week.

            And I remember being extremely annoyed, because at that point Pocket had had the manuscript for almost two years. It was eighteen months before I even got a copy-edit. For many, many months I heard nothing from them, though during that time I made a special journey down to the Nebula Awards on the Queen Mary to speak to the editor and ask specifically, “You’re SURE doing this cross-over is okay?” I was assured, specifically, that it was. I wrote Dragonsbane – and went through all the re-writes and cutting and re-thinking that book involved – and every now and then something would surface about Ishmael, and I’d have to set Dragonsbane aside and do work on Ish: copyedit, galleys, etc, with LONG periods of inactivity (once over a year) when I figured the book had simply vanished.

            In between all that I started writing cartoons, so there was a LOT of driving back and forth to North Hollywood in my rattly little red car that didn’t have a radio, and going to Michael Reaves’s parties. Because of a warning talk with David Gerrold, I phoned the editor at Pocket a few days before Ishmael went to press (they’d changed editors yet again), to ask in a panic, “Are you SURE this is okay?” and was assured that it really was okay.

            I’m told Ishmael was one of the most popular of the early Trek novels.

            Almost a year after the book appeared (and there was yet another editor in charge of the Trek line), I received a phone call. “Hi. We’re the Simon and Schuster Legal Department. Who told you you could do that?”

            I said, “The editor.” I think I offered to send them a copy of the original, I’ll-rewrite-it letter I’d sent to Editor #1.

            They said, “Thank you,” and hung up.

            That is all that I actually know of my own knowledge.

            Nobody ever told me anything officially. Of course it’s not anything I’d do these days. I acted originally out of ignorance, but I well and truly learned my lesson. Evidently Pocket didn’t hold anything against me, since they took two more Trek novels from me. And of course, editors are far more savvy and careful, having had twenty-plus years of media fandom to deal with.

            I’m told (again, unofficially) that the S&S Legal Department also got a phone call from a fan-writer accusing me of stealing HER idea of having Mr. Spock cross over into Here Come the Brides (like four other fan-writers that I subsequently heard of hadn’t had the same extremely obvious idea). The Legal Department said, “Oh, you mean you were violating Paramount’s licensed characters without permission?” End of that conversation.

            Though it’s a cross-over (with walk-throughs by various other time-and-space travelers in the bar scenes), I wrote it as though the reader had never watched either show: I wanted it to read like a “real novel.” I’m told it does, though Gabriel Garcia Marquez probably does not have anything to worry about. A number of readers have enthused to me about it who clearly had never heard of Here Come the Brides, and Mark Lenard later told me that a copy of it had been passed around among several of the alumni of Brides, to their great amusement.

            It’s still one of my favorite of my own books.

Current Location: home
Current Music: no
Kristinsplendidissima on May 1st, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
It's one of my favorites of the early Star Trek novels! It's sheer fun to read, and I love the way you write Spock (and Kirk) as well--perfect characterization. Really interesting to hear about the legal ramifications, though...
Lebannen Luitreath: links of steel and lightlebannen on May 2nd, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)
'That was the novel that taught me, “Do not start boiling eggs in the kitchen and then go back to the typewriter.”'

My boyfriend apparently made a similar discovery when writing his dissertation. I hope your incident didn't result in having to clean the kitchen ceiling afterwards.
barbara_hamblybarbara_hambly on May 2nd, 2011 01:52 am (UTC)
It did.
Carla: Mystery lady (theodosia)beledibabe on May 2nd, 2011 12:16 am (UTC)
Loved it then, still love it now. Thanks for the backstory!
shakatany: SnoopyEnterprise iconshakatany on May 2nd, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)
I loved, loved, loved, "Ishmael" (and still do). I bought it when if first came out and finished it that day; over the course of the next several months I reread it practically daily and it's one of my three favorite ST novels (there may be other good ones but I stopped reading ST novels years ago).

I always wondered how you got away with crossing ST with HCtB as the latter was owned by Screen Gems not Paramount - did they both get swallowed by the same conglomorate?

Karenklwilliams on May 2nd, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
It's my favorite of the Star Trek novels I've read, even more so than John M. Ford's, which is saying something.
incandescensincandescens on May 2nd, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
I'd never heard of Here Come the Brides till last year, but I got Ishmael when it first came out, and it has always been a favourite of mine. :)

Edited at 2011-05-02 01:09 am (UTC)
becajoy on May 2nd, 2011 01:47 am (UTC)
Not only is it one of my favorite ST novels
. . . it's the reason I Netflixed Brides a couple years ago. Gave me a whole new appreciation for the Seattle characters.

I have re-read my copy so many times it's falling apart. Again -- I've taped it back together a few times.
Elizabeth McCoyarchangelbeth on May 2nd, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
I hadn't seen Hear Come the Brides, though I think my mom knew about it and was giggling to herself over that part. I just liked the book. Because, c'mon, SPOCK! O:D

I think Ford's How Much for Just the Planet, Kegan's Uhura's Song, and your Ishmael are my three favorite Star Trek books. I continued to poke at the things hopefully for quite some time, lured by the thought of finding a similar gem, till I learned that I had to author-track very assiduously.

Condolences over the eggs!
barbara_hamblybarbara_hambly on May 2nd, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
Well, I've encountered people in the Realm of Azeroth who see my name and say, "Whoa, haven't seen THAT name in a long time...!"
Elizabeth McCoy: Warcrack - Emria and her dragonarchangelbeth on May 2nd, 2011 03:30 am (UTC)
It's amazing how many people, with how many different, esoteric fandom-interests, can be found on WoW. (I have seen Foreigner fans, ElfQuest fans...) Yay for finding the appropriate "hey, that's familiar!" fans! O:D
handwornhandworn on May 9th, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
Where did the names in Ishmael come from, anyway?
handwornhandworn on May 10th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
Umm, never mind; I see that they're actually from HCtB. I notice the Wikipedia page for it mentions Ishmael.
barbara_hamblybarbara_hambly on May 10th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
Good heavens!
lilacsigil: hermionelilacsigil on May 2nd, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
I loved that book, and I hadn't seen any Star Trek, let alone Here Come the Brides! (I read about 50 of the novels before I ever saw an episode of Star Trek - it was hard to be a Trek fan in rural Australia in the early 80s!)
barbara_hamblybarbara_hambly on May 2nd, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
I'm here to tell you, it was even harder to be a Trek fan in rural Australia in 1967!
Which was where my family picked up and went, in the middle of the second season of the show's first run.
Since this was LONG before the invention of home videotape machines, my dear lovely friends would type up synopses of each episode as it was aired (with descriptions of how Mr. Spock looked shirtless, and the best bits of dialog), and mail them to me on very expensive (for 1967 high-schoolers) airmail "aerograms". I lived on those things for MONTHS.
No wonder I turned out weird.
lilacsigil: 12 Apostleslilacsigil on May 2nd, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
it was even harder to be a Trek fan in rural Australia in 1967!

I bet it was! Your friends were awesome! My family did have a VHS, but sadly Star Trek wasn't licensed in Australia at the time and was only available for exorbitant prices at speciality shops in the city. Then I moved to Melbourne for university and people had bootlegged, frequently copied, semi-worn-out tapes and everything was awesome!
cheveux sable with earworm rampant: bookslcohen on May 2nd, 2011 03:08 am (UTC)
oh how i love this book--i reread it every five years or so. but i'll never forget that sneaky feeling of delight that came over me as i realized that the world that spock had entered was that of "here come the brides"--one of my guilty pleasures from childhood. (i didn't read ishmael until i had read several of your other books and was trying to read everything you'd ever written ;-) -- i think i've read about five star trek books, total, in my life.)
David Newgreen4thofeleven on May 2nd, 2011 04:51 am (UTC)
Ishmael was the first book by you I ever read - it's still one of the books I get out and re-read on a regular basis.

Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on May 2nd, 2011 07:50 am (UTC)
This is one of my favorite books as well. I still re-read it from time to time.

When I flew into San Francisco during the day for the first time (second time visiting the city), I saw the shape of the hills and started to cry. I knew I was home. I mistook it for Spock's eerie recognition at first. I'm living there now, and it is home.
sue_bursztynskisue_bursztynski on May 2nd, 2011 10:53 am (UTC)
This is one of the few of my Trek novels I'll never part with. I've still never seen HCTB, but I had great fun working out who all the other characters floating through were. And I had read some of your other stuff at the time. I remember thinking, "Ooh, Barbara Hambly! Great!"
Melody C. Wildemelodywilde on May 2nd, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
I have no idea how many times I've reread Ishmael since it came out. It's such a wonderful blend of two series I loved dearly, and everyone's character is so right that it's one of the few ST novels I consider canon. One of my all-time favorite books, and thank you so much for writing it!

handwornhandworn on May 10th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
I always assumed it was kind of inspired by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which I had seen. Never saw Here Come the Brides (a little before my time, I guess) but it turns out it was inspired in part by SBfSB, so there's a story genealogy there, I suppose.

Anyway. Always loved Ishmael; it really did work quite well as a story even if one didn't know the references.

Why did your family move to Australia?
2ndsoprano2ndsoprano on May 12th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
Ok, so I gave up on ST novels really early. I've only read maybe 4 or 5 total, but How come I never knew about this one??? Two shows I watched religiously, by one of my favrotie authors? I must have been living in a hole! Now, I am off to find a copy. Now.
kimurho: Neil Gaimankimuro on May 21st, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
It's well worth the reading. As others have said, the characters are spot on and well-written, very believable. I love who she ships in the book - not what I'd expect, but it's perfect!
kimurho: Neil Gaimankimuro on May 21st, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
btw - Here Come the Brides / Star Trek cross-over
sorry about forgetting to put up a topic line - I hate it when someone comments on something long after I've forgotten about it - I don't like having to go back to find out to what they're referring. I should know better.
Barbara Krasnoffbarb_krasnoff on July 26th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC)
Just a note to say that I was another who really enjoyed Ishmael and who was thrilled when I first "got" that it was a Star Trek/Here Comes The Brides tie-in -- and that your view of the characters was almost identical to my own. It's got a valued place on my shelf of older and well-thumbed novels. (And yes, I loved picking up on all the other characters in the bar...)