TV News & Reviews

‘Star Trek’ writer Melinda M. Snodgrass on best pal George R.R. Martin, and the new TV universe

Author Melinda M. Snodgrass is in Kansas City to talk about her various sci-fi projects.
Author Melinda M. Snodgrass is in Kansas City to talk about her various sci-fi projects. Tor Books

I was interviewing science fiction writer Melinda M. Snodgrass last week when she received a text from a friend, “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin (read that interview here).

“He gets impatient if I don’t answer,” she said.

I noted the irony of the moment: Martin’s fans irrationally pester him about the release of the next book in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, and he gets impatient over a slow text response.

“He’s in love with texting,” she said.

Snodgrass is Martin’s collaborator in the “Wild Cards” shared universe of novels that are set on an Earth where an alien virus gives a few earthlings amazing powers and deforms or kills others. She is in Kansas City for this week’s science fiction and fantasy convention MidAmeriCon II (my story on that here) to help launch the 23rd volume in the series and to talk about her own work.

“I’m currently writing the third novel in my space opera series, ‘The Imperials Saga,’ ” she said on the phone from Beverly Hills, Calif. “Book 1 (‘The High Ground’) came out in July, Book 2 has been delivered, and I’m trying to get a big jump on Book 3 because I have a feeling I’m going to be very busy soon.”

That’s because Martin and Snodgrass’ “Wild Cards” is in the early stages of being turned into a TV series, something she knows a thing or two about. She served as a story editor on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” before moving on to “Reasonable Doubts,” “The Profiler” and “The Outer Limits,” to name a few.

Snodgrass took a few minutes before her arrival at MidAmeriCon II to talk with us about “Wild Cards,” her friendship with Martin and her writing process.

Q: As a former writer for “Star Trek,” how pumped are you for CBS’ upcoming new “Star Trek” series.

A: I’m very excited. I know Bryan Fuller, who is running the show. He’s a fantastic writer. He did “Pushing Daisies” and “Dead Like Me” and “Hannibal.” And he’s a fan as well. He worked on “Voyager.”

I’m supposed to have lunch with him, but things are kind of crazy right now, and we’ll have to do it later because I want to hear everything he’s going to do. I think it’s going to be remarkable. He has a way of looking at the world that’s so quirky and so kind and so wonderful.

Q: How did you get involved with “Wild Cards” — first the books and now the possible TV series?

A: George and I have been friends for 30 years. We were in a role-playing group together. One of our writer friends, Victor Milan, had given the game Superworld to George for Christmas. We were just obsessed, playing it until 2 and 3 in the morning. And George would stay over at my house because at the time I lived in Albuquerque.

One morning after a particularly late night of gaming, he came out and said, “We’ve got to find a way to turn this obsession into money.” I came up with the aliens and the virus, and we kicked it around over breakfast and then went out and found writers and said, “Hey, you want to come play in our sandbox?” Now, here we are, 30 years on, with Book No. 23 about to come out and three more in the pipeline.

Q: How do you describe George’s role in your life?

A: George is my best friend. If I’m joyful about something I’ll call him, and if I’m down about something, I’ll call him. He’s always been there through good times and bad. He’s the best friend I have and the most loyal friend you could possibly have.

And I owe my Hollywood career to George. He had come out to Hollywood to first work on the new “Twilight Zone” and then on “Beauty and the Beast,” and I was writing novels in New Mexico. He called me one day and he said, “Hey, Snod” — he calls me “Snod” — “I think you’d be pretty good at this screenwriting thing because you plot very carefully and you write really good characters and you write really great dialogue and that’s what you need for Hollywood.”

Q: What have you learned from your previous TV experience that you hope to apply to “Wild Cards”?

A: That people want to fall in love with characters and spend time with them. They want to invite them into their living room, so you have to make sure they’re approachable and in some way relevant. Even if they’re a villain, there has to be something about them that the audience is going to connect with.

The other thing that I’m really thinking about is the way viewers enjoy entertainment has changed profoundly. Partly it’s video games, partly it’s binging. I’m a binger. And that changes how you tell stories. As opposed to the old days when people had to wait a week for the next episode. I’m trying to make sure we keep that sense of energy that it works well for binging.

Q: Tell me a little about your writing process.

A: I’m what George calls an architect. Before I start writing I do a fairly elaborate outline that goes up on a cork board on 3-by-5 cards. I break my novels into acts. I plot them very carefully, just like I would do if I was writing a screenplay.

I tend to try to write every morning because I’m a morning person. There are no days off and holidays when you’re a writer. You just gotta keep doing it.

And the other thing is consistency. If you keep waiting for the muse to strike you can end up doing the laundry or “Oh, I really oughta go water the plants.” I try to treat it very much like a job. Having an outline helps me because I get up in the morning and I look at the next scene that’s coming up and I go, “Oh, OK,” and I go write it.

Q: You’ve been in the science fiction worlds of publishing and TV for quite a while. How have you seen the roles of and for women change over the years?

A: There have been huge inroads made. In the Science Fiction Writers of America, I think we actually have more women members than men. When I first joined years ago, there were not as many women. Women are starting to see that science fiction is a place that’s open and welcoming, and they can tell really cool stories there.

In Hollywood, I won’t lie, there’s a perception that we can’t write kick-ass action, and sometimes that ends up limiting our choices. And because I like to write kick-ass action, it’s been a bit of a struggle.

But I’ve learned if you show them you can do it and you can get that meeting, they’re very open to saying, “Oh, I guess she can do this.” We are seeing a lot more women running shows, creating shows, so I do feel Hollywood is aware there’s been a problem, and they’re really making efforts to improve that.

David Frese: 816-234-4463; dfrese@kcstar.com; @DavidFrese

Through Sunday

Melinda M. Snodgrass will be part of panels discussing 50 Years of “Star Trek” on Thursday, gender flipping in TV and movies on Friday, writing for TV on Saturday and more at Worldcon’s MidAmeriCon II science fiction and fantasy convention at Bartle Hall. Admission per day ranges from $40 to $70. For a full list of rates and a schedule of events, go to MidAmeriCon2.org.

On Friday, George R.R. Martin, Snodgrass and several other authors will sign and launch “Wild Cards: High Stakes” from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Count Basie Ballroom at the Downtown Marriott, 200 W. 12th St. More information can be found at RainyDayBooks.com.

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