SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author/Screenwriter Melinda M. Snodgrass
Melinda Snodgrass has been a writer for Star Trek TNG, Wild Cards, a lawyer, an opera singer and run a natural gas company. Her Star Trek Original series novel The Tears Of The Singers (1984) was 19th in the novel series and predated her TV work for TNG. In television, she also worked on Profiler and Reasonable Doubt and is currently developing a Wild Card screenplay. Her novels include the Circuit trilogy of sciencefiction novels, the Edge series of urban fantasy novels, and several Wild Card novels and collections. As well as the fantasy Queen’s Gambit Declined and the romance Santa Fe. She can be found at her website and blog MelindaSnodgrass.com, on twitter as @mmsnodgrass and on Facebook.
SFFWRTCHT: What got you into speculative fiction?
Melinda M. Snodgrass: I was an unhappy lawyer. Went to a BBQ at Fred Saberhagen’s house. The writers rocked, wanted to join them. I wrote in secret on the first Circuit book while I learned to finish books with six romance novels. I was able to tell Fred before his death that his hospitality and friendship changed my life.
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?
MMS: My Dad read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea aloud. Loved it. Then I discovered Burroughs, Norton, Heinlein. John le Carre, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austin and Tolkien.
SFFWRTCHT: How did you hone your craft, once you started writing? Creative Writing classes? Trial and error?
MMS: Trial and error. I taught myself. Also you write a lot as lawyer, but no courses.
SFFWRTCHT: What inspired the Circuit book? Did you start with an idea, a character, a world, or what?
MMS: The question was whether Constitution follows the flag which made me wonder about space colonies.
SFFWRTCHT: Where’d the idea for The Tears Of The Singers come from? I really enjoyed the musical angle. Love the original characters. It feels very much like a TOC episode.
MMS: Always felt Uhura under-utilized. and she was a singer.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you write the whole thing on spec before submitting it or submit sample chapters and a synopsis?
MMS: Outline and chapters.
SFFWRTCHT: Then you wound up joining the writing staff of TNG at the urging of your friend George R.R. Martin. What was that like?
MMS: GRRM didn’t push Trek particularly. He said if I’d write a script – any script – he’d show it to his agent. GRRM was on Beauty and The Beast so I avoided that. Didn’t want to put pressure on friend if I wrote bad script. GRRM’s advice – “Never hoard your silver bullet”. So I wrote Measure for TNG. You almost never sell a spec script, but I did. Got hired. That was Measure of a Man. I got nominated for WGA award for outstanding writer. It was like getting hit by lightning.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you write for Star Trek TNG before or after your Star Trek novel came out?
MMS: I wrote the novel years before TNG.
SFFWRTCHT: Having done both, do you prefer working within a pre-created universe, like Trek, or from scratch?
MMS: A pre-set universe is easier. But less satisfying. Prefer my own worlds. Also an editor advised me never write a second Trek novel. Otherwise I’d end up just a Trek writer.
SFFWRTCHT: What drew you to straight up Urban Fantasy in your newest series?
MMS: I felt that most urban fantasies missed the halls of power. Wanted to address that. Vampire’s would have real influence in the world. Writing urban fantasy is hard, many genres in one. Mystery/romance/science fiction/fantasy. I love my Edge series. The third book is at Tor. Waiting. It’s a trilogy.
MMS: Outline all the way. Pantser’s often end up in swamps. I find swamps before I stumble in. I outline either on white board or 3X5 cards. Prefer cards now. Erasing a white board is tedious.
SFFWRTCHT: What are the major differences, process wise, between writing screenplays and novels, in your experience?
MMS: Plot and dialogue are key to scripts. You need tight, taut scenes. A two page scene is a loooong scene. Brief is better. I hate description, so I prefer scripts to books. It bores me. I don’t even like to read it. I skip to the dialog and action.
SFFWRTCHT: Has working in the collaborative, structured storytelling environment of Hollywood influenced how you approach novels?
MMS: Yes. I learned to “break” stories in LaLa, and so I do the same thing on novels and stories now. Also, I use different colored pens for each character so can see if they drop out of story. It’s a visual clue. I break novels into three acts. Start with act outs, plot backwards from big moments. If you know the final scene, you’ve got it made.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you approach writing short stories any differently than you do novels?
MMS: I think of short stories as 30 min. episodes. They focus on the most important moment in character’s life. Short stories scare me. I need all the help I can get.
SFFWRTCHT: You and George created Wild Cards and have edited and written it with several other writers. Where’d the idea come from?
MMS: That grew out of an RPG George ran for us. We spent way too much time on Superworld. Then turned it into fiction. We wanted a serious look at the real world consequence of superheroes. Only a few game characters made the cut to the books.
SFFWRTCHT: What are some of the advantages and challenges of a shared universe?
MMS: There’s an advantage in seeing how other writers view your character. A challenge is helping writers hand the story off to next writer.
SFFWRTCHT: How has collaboration worked out? Is it conflict ridden or has it been a lot of fun?
MMS: Mostly fun. Occasionally egos collide – whose character is most powerful – but not often.
SFFWRTCHT: WHAT? Writers w/ egos? Surely you just? Geeks fighting over whose character is more badass? Pshaw. NEVER happens. Also, you’ve written a screenplay for a Wild Cards movie or is it a pilot?
MMS: It’s a feature film. If goes well may become a series and more films. Fingers crossed.
SFFWRTCHT: When you write, which comes first–plot or characters? Theme? World?
MMS: Plot and Character simultaneously. Who is this person in this dire situation? Then I outline all the moves.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like–specific block? Write ’til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
MMS: I’m an A.M. writer. I aim for page count: 3 for novels, 5 for screenplays. I try to write every day.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music?
MMS: I compose on my computer. Used to write in longhand, but learned how to type and compose. It saves time. I use Pages for shorts. Scrivener for novels. Final Draft for scripts. I write to music. Mostly classical.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
MMS: Best from GRRM: “Never hoard your silver bullet.” “Just say the words,” Maurice Hurley. Worst – “Words are the enemy.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
MMS: The Wild Card movie, 3rd Urban Fantasy, proposal for a big space opera. Hope to sell Edge 3, which I then have to finish.
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