|This is the tale of PROBE: The Novel I Didn't Write. While I realize it's been over a decade since the book was published, and I've told my version of events in bits and pieces over that period of time, I wanted to finally set everything down in print and then move on.
To begin, Music of the Spheres, not PROBE, is the novel I did write. You may request a free copy by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please feel free to share it with whomever you wish. I especially ask, if you know anyone who loves STAR TREK and does not own a computer, that you print a copy for them.
WARNING: This book cannot be copyrighted. It can only be given away. I caution you: Do not accept payment for it in any way. Do not attempt to sell it, or even accept repayment for photocopying or mailing costs. If you do so, you will attract the attention of the Paramount Thought Police. You will be assimilated.
Ahem. Now, then, a little back story:
In 1979, two interesting things happened to Star Trek. First was the release of STAR TREK: The Motion Picture. Second was that Paramount Pictures, which owns STAR TREK, licensed Pocket Books, Inc. to publish Star Trek novels (which had formerly been published by Bantam Books). From 1979 through 1987, Pocket published more than 30 STAR TREK novels, many of which became NY Times bestsellers.
In 1987, another milestone in TREK history, STAR TREK: The Next Generation, premiered. This is important. There'll be a quiz later. To understand what happened to certain Trek novels in the late 80s/early 90s, it's important to understand something called a work-for-hire contract.
Usually when a writer sells a novel to a publishing company, the copyright is issued in the writer's name. In other words, while the writer has given the publisher the right to publish the book, the words themselves still belong to the writer. Those words cannot be changed by anyone without the writer's permission.
Under a work-for-hire contract, the words belong to someone else. In the case of Star Trek novels, they belong to the movie studio which leases the rights to a publishing company, which allows a writer to borrow the characters and the settings from their very successful "property" - i.e., a certain TV/film series of our acquaintance - in order to write a novel. Once the novel is finished, the writer not only has to put the characters back where she found them, but the words she has written no longer belong to her, but to the movie company.
Sidebar: It's important for me to point out that the current editors at Pocket arrived long after the PROBE debacle, and have been very welcoming. PROBE is part of the Bad Old Days, which I hope are permanently behind us. Certainly the recent publication of Catalyst of Sorrows and my being contracted to write a novel about Captain Pike would suggest that this story has a happy ending.
Now then: Star Trek spin-off novels are written under a work-for-hire contract (see above). This meant that any writer contracted to write a Star Trek novel was essentially serving two masters. Her manuscript would have to be approved not only by the editor at Pocket, but by someone at Paramount.
In the beginning, this process was very casual. The someone-at-Paramount read each manuscript to make sure that there were no egregious errors. Things like making sure that Spock had green blood, and Kirk's middle name was Tiberius, and McCoy was the only one who got to use real cusswords. The writer knew enough not to kill off (or, worse, marry off) any of the Magnificent Seven, or venture into such dangerous areas as Mary Sue or K/S fiction. (And, no, I'm not going to explain either of those terms. Most of you know what they mean and, if you don't, you'll just
have to ask someone who does.) The manuscript was usually okayed after only very minor changes.
Now, here's where I come in.
Pocket published my first Star Trek novel, Dwellers in the Crucible, in 1985. The manuscript was approved by both Pocket and Paramount, and the book made the NY Times' soft cover bestseller list for two weeks.
In 1987, Pocket Books published my second Star Trek novel, Strangers from the Sky. This manuscript also sailed through the approval process with - I remember this - exactly seven words changed. Seven words. Out of 125,000. This is important. It seems to suggest that the folks at Paramount assumed I knew what I was doing. Strangers was on the Times' soft cover list for five weeks. Obviously the fans thought I knew what I was doing, too.
In 1990, I wrote a third Star Trek novel, Music of the Spheres. Thematically, the book had a lot to do with music, and I also wanted the title to refer to Pythagoras’ theory that the universe had its own music.
My editor at Pocket said the title was too long. This was the same editor who had worked with me on Strangers from the Sky. We'll call him Rockstar. Or maybe Dire Straits. This is not his real name. But since his real goal in life was to be a rock star (y'know, money for nothing and his chicks for free), that's what we'll call him. "Nobody remembers long titles," said Rockstar.
Now, not to quibble, but Music of the Spheres has the same number of syllables as Strangers from the Sky, and is in fact one letter shorter. No one had trouble remembering Strangers from the Sky. But Rockstar announced that The Novel Formerly Known as Music of the Spheres would hereafter be called Probe. Because he said so. Even if I hadn’t been aware of what was being done to other writers’ work (wait for it), that alone should have warned me there was going to be trouble.
Probe was advertised for release in April, 1991. It was, in fact, released one year later. Touting itself as "the exciting sequel to The Voyage Home," it had my name on the cover. What was left of my manuscript comprised 7% of the words between the covers.
Yes, you read that correctly: 7%. From seven words changed in Strangers to 7% of my work surviving in Probe. Obviously I no longer knew how to write a Star Trek novel. Or else the rules had changed.
Between the premier of STTNG in 1987 and early 1990, when I was working on the manuscript for PROBE, strange things started happening to other Trek writers' work:
1. A novel by Michael Jan Friedman was almost canceled because a stardate was wrong
2. Another novel, which was to have been the middle of the Lost Years trilogy was killed in manuscript, leaving an odd gap in the trilogy, and ending the author's Trek career before it began
3. A Flag Full of Stars by Brad Ferguson, turned out to be, well, mostly not by Brad Ferguson
4. Allan Asherman's The Star Trek That Never Was was produced, shipped to the warehouses and, the night before it was due to arrive in bookstores, sent to the shredders instead.
Why were all these bad things happening? you ask. Because someone at Paramount at that time had the clout to make them happen.
So now it's time to introduce the dramatis personae who were instrumental in the Wreck of PROBE. The names have been changed, but if you're savvy, you can figure out who they are. And, no, I will not give you their actual names, even if you ask politely.
Rockstar: Star Trek editor at Pocket Books in 1990
Trelane: (as in "Power without Constructive Purpose"), an employee at Paramount
The Vampire Lady: The first rewriter
The time: 1990-1991.
Following the success of Strangers from the Sky in 1987, I was working on things other than Trek, but still eager to write another Trek novel. I sent several outlines to Rockstar throughout 1989, most of them having to do with Romulans. I'd noticed that, except for one STTNG episode, "The Defector," Roddenberry didn't seem interested in Romulans any more, so it seemed like a good place for the novels to fill in the gaps. There had also been something of a firestorm surrounding the "non-canon" idea of referring to them as Rihannsu (and I'll go on record as saying that Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally was one of the best books written in that era). So I wanted to write about Romulans.
However, none of my outlines sparked Rockstar's interest. He suggested I write about what happened to the Probe after it left Earth in STIV, trace it back to its planet of origin, and describe who had created it. Neither of us said the word "sequel." We both knew the Gospel According to Trelane, which saith: "Only what you see onscreen is 'real' Star Trek. The novels are not 'real.' Therefore no novel can be a sequel to a film. And no novel can be a sequel to another novel. Thou shalt not write sequels."
Okay, I said, I'll write about the Probe. But can I wrap that story line around a Romulan story, in which Kirk and the Enterprise are assigned to meet with a Romulan ship in the Neutral Zone and begin diplomatic relations (a theme that would be explored vis-à-vis the Klingons in The Undiscovered Country a few years later)?
Rockstar said Yes. Mindful of the unspeakable word "sequel" (not to mention what had happened to several other writers' work in the recent past), I asked him very specifically if I could reuse two of the characters I had created in Dwellers in the Crucible. (Dwellers was, in his own words "our best-seller in 1985"). Seemed to me that a smart editor would want to parlay that into future success.
After some haggling over the title, Rockstar approved my outline in October, 1989. I made it very clear that, in addition to creating several new Romulan characters, I was reintroducing Cléante al Faisal and T'Shael, the human and Vulcan characters whom I'd introduced in Dwellers in the Crucible.
All of these characters were integral to the plot, but in supporting roles. Kirk and Spock and Company still got to do all the serious work of saving the ship, the diplomatic mission, every planet in the surrounding area, and the universe in general.
The outline was sent to Paramount Licensing for approval.
About six weeks later, I received a copy of a one-page memo from Licensing. I will quote Item 2 from that memo here: "Please treat T'Shael and Jandra as supporting characters in this story, rather than major characters, as this tends to slight the STAR TREK regulars."
My initial reaction was "Whew, that was easy!" Because I knew that no way, no how could any of my little characters slight or overshadow Kirk, Spock and Company. So despite what had happened to Brad Ferguson's Flag Full of Stars and the rest, naïf that I was, I thought I was safe. I'd gotten affirmation in writing, hadn't I? I had in hand an Official Memo from Paramount, giving me permission to go forward and write my novel as submitted. What could possibly go wrong?
I was safe, wasn't I? Hoohah.
A few points about that memo. It was typed, not on letterhead stationery, but on plain paper. It was not dated. It was not signed. But I didn’t worry about such details at the time. Silly me.
The memo was faxed to Rockstar's assistant at Pocket, who photocopied it and mailed it to me. (I did not own a fax machine at the time.) I've since been told that a fax is not considered a valid legal document. However, a photocopy of that same fax is considered a legal document. I don't know if that's true, and it certainly doesn't make sense, but go figure.
However, despite the fact that I still have a photocopy of the fax of that memo in my possession, and even though if I squint very carefully I can still make out part of a fax number beginning with the area code 213, and part of a date in December, 1989, and the words "PARAMOUNT LA" at the very top, the memo doesn't exist.
Why? Because Rockstar said so.
Over a year later, when the nonsense started in earnest, I challenged Rockstar on that. "I've got the memo from Licensing right here in my hand." I quoted it back to him. His answer was "Is it dated? Is it signed? Is it on Paramount letterhead? What memo?"
But, silly me, at the beginning I actually thought I was dealing with grownups. So I started writing my novel. And then the real fun began.
I completed my manuscript, based on the outline that had been approved by both Pocket Books and Paramount, and in light of the memo from Paramount. Unbeknownst to me, some interesting machinations were transpiring elsewhere.
For one thing, six months before the deadline for completion of PROBE, a completed hardcover dust jacket suddenly arrived in my mailbox. Cover art by Keith Birdsong, my name spelled correctly, nice little synopsis inside the front flap based on my outline and, emblazoned on the back: "THE EXCITING SEQUEL TO THE VOYAGE HOME!"
Now, I was more than a little surprised to find that the dust jacket had been created while the novel was only halfway written, and I asked Rockstar about that. "Oh, no big deal," he said. "Just trying to save a production crunch at the other end."
Uh-huh, okay, whatever. But what really alarmed me was that dirty word on the back cover. You know, the word - gasp! - "sequel."
Because the Gospel According to Trelane dictated that only what we see onscreen is "real" Star Trek. Star Trek novels - even though they generate considerable revenue for Paramount - are not "real." Ergo a novel could never, ever possibly in a million years be considered a - gasp! - sequel to a major motion picture.
I mentioned this to Rockstar. "No big deal," he said. "Besides, the covers have already been printed. It would cost way too much to correct them. Nothing we can do about it now."
That set off a little warning bell in the back of my head but, after all, I did have that memo from Paramount, didn't I? And besides, there was nothing I could do about it now, except finish my manuscript.
Which I did, just under my December deadline. And Rockstar read it in a timely fashion and snail-mailed me a list of minor things he wanted fixed before he sent it out to Paramount.
I fixed everything he asked me to, got the manuscript back to him during the Christmas holidays, and he called me to say he'd approved the manuscript and it was on its way to Paramount for their approval.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. The new year would bring some interesting surprises...
Rockstar called me from home on a Saturday in early January to tell me that Licensing had refused to approve my manuscript. He said this as if I should have expected it.
When I found my voice, I asked him what the problem was. He said it was because I've reused two characters from a previous novel in PROBE, and that made PROBE a "sequel," and sequels were not permitted.
I stopped myself from reminding him that it was his idea to have the word SEQUEL blazoned across the back of the book covers. However, I did remind him that I'd been given permission by Licensing, in writing, nearly a year earlier, to use my original characters.
His answer was silence. I ask him why he had approved the manuscript and sent it to Licensing if he thought there would be a problem. (Remember: The manuscript can't leave the editor's desk at Pocket until he has approved it.)
"I didn't approve it. I just sent it out there because I was worried about making the deadline," he said, as if that made perfect sense.
"I wish you could see this letter they've sent me," he went on. "There are a lot of other things they want changed."
"They"? I thought. There was only one person in Licensing in charge of approving the novels at that time. I didn't ask him: Who's "they"? I already knew.
Rockstar started rattling off some of the things in the letter, including the "fact" that some "expert" at Paramount had determined that whales don't really sing. I asked him how soon he could send me a copy of the letter. He said "You don't need the letter."
I asked him how I was supposed to make the changes if I couldn't see the letter. He didn't answer. I never did see that letter.
Then he dropped the real bombshell: "Oh, by the way, I need this on my desk by next Friday."
I thought fast. He was expecting me to rewrite somewhere between 25-30% of a 500+ page manuscript within six days. I did not at the time own a computer. I'd written PROBE on a memory typewriter with a maximum storage capacity of three pages, so the only copy of the manuscript was the hardcopy.
I was expected to (1) delete all reference to my original characters and any scene they appeared in (2) dream up some new subplot to replace the approximately 150 pages that this and the unspecified "other things" would entail, including any references to whale song, and retype the entire manuscript. In six days.
I'm a 95 wpm typist. I could probably have retyped 500 pages in six days, if I'd ignored my husband and children and given up sleeping. But dream up 150 pages of new material as well? I couldn't do it, and I said so.
"I'll do it," I said. "But I need more time. Give me four weeks, a month, tops."
"Let me think about it," Rockstar said. "I'll call you from home on Monday."
Like a fool, I thought: That means he's going to give me more time. He wouldn't take his time deciding if he seriously expected this finished by Friday.
Well, he didn't call me on Monday. And I didn't have his home phone number, so I couldn't call him. He finally called me on Tuesday. Before I could say a word he announced: "We can't wait for you; we've decided to give this to a rewriter."
From that point on, I lost all control over the manuscript. And I later learned that he gave the rewriter three months to do what he'd expected me to do in six days.
But it was, quite literally, out of my hands. The only thing I could do at that point was wonder when or even if, I was going to get paid the rest of my advance.
Yes, now we'll talk about that dirty stuff called money.
(BTW, if you're wondering how I remember all this so exactly even after this much time, it's because not long after I was given the Six Day Ultimatum, I was asked to put some notes together for SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America, who were bringing a class action suit against Pocket on behalf of the Star Trek novelists. That's a melodrama in itself. But I kept my notes, so that's how I remember.)
So there I was, bereft of my manuscript, and then there was the issue of money.
For those of you who know how publishing disbursements work, forgive me if I provide some basic information here. For those for whom it's a mystery, let me explain:
When a writer signs a contract, s/he is paid an "advance against royalties." This is a chunk of money, payable in two or three installments, which is paid to the writer to provide a little spending money while the manuscript is being written, and which the publisher will later take out of what the writer earns when copies of the book sell. The writer receives the first payment when s/he signs the contract to write the book. If the advance is in two payments, the writer receives the second payment when s/he delivers the manuscript to the publisher.
If the advance is in three payments, the third payment is made to the writer when the book is published. Naturally writers prefer two payments, because they get their money sooner. Publishing companies prefer three payments, because they get to hold onto the money longer. But you get the general idea.
My contract for PROBE indicated that the money would be disbursed in two payments. I'd received the first payment when I signed the contract to write PROBE. Now that Rockstar had co-opted the manuscript, I had no idea when/if I would receive the rest. I called my agent. He called Rockstar, who informed him that the rest of my advance was being withheld for "non-acceptance of manuscript."
In other words, I'd been promised 100%, but so far had been paid 50%. The manuscript was "non-accepted," but Pocket intended to publish it anyway, but without paying me because it was "non-accepted." Clear so far, or have you just crossed over into the Twilight Zone? It was clear enough to my agent, who had WORDS with Rockstar.
I do not know what was said during that phone call. I do know that by the end of the conversation, Rockstar had backed down and agreed to withhold only half of the money due me.
However, in order to receive the rest, I would have to sign an addendum to my original contract. When I read the addendum, it indicated that, yes, ultimately I would receive 75% of the original amount owed me, but...well, let me quote the addendum directly:
"In addition, Publisher shall pay $10,000.00 to another writer to make editorial revisions to the Work, which sum shall be charged against Writer's royalty account. It is understood and agreed that neither these nor any other payments made hereunder shall constitute acceptance of the manuscript."
In other words, they could kill the book at any time, but if they didn't, the first $10,000 I earned from it would be handed off to the rewriter. However, if I didn't sign the addendum, I'd receive no money at all. And it was implied that, since Rockstar already had all those dust jackets for PROBE with my name on them, he could publish any damn thing under my name, and there was no way of knowing what would become of the royalties, but I sure wasn't going to see any.
Yes, I needed the money, but it was the control thing, more than anything else, that made me decide to sign the addendum. I had a fair idea who the rewriter was, and if this thing was going to go public with my name on it, I wanted at least to read the galleys before it did.
That was the other issue that my agent got Rockstar to agree to. Rockstar also - orally at least; he denied it afterwards - agreed that the rewriter's name would be mentioned somewhere in the manuscript, to let readers know that this was not entirely my work. Once I'd signed the addendum, he claimed that conversation never took place.
Ultimately, of course, Star Trek novels sell very well, and I did make quite a bit of money from this book. Minus $10,000, of course. Which, to a midlist writer, is an awful lot of money.
However, as it turned out, the rewrites cost Pocket Books considerably more than that. And that is a very interesting story, indeed. I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, the audio book.
I'd also written the script for the audio book version of PROBE. Once the novel was taken out of my hands, I was informed that my contract for the audio script had been nullified, "someone else" would be writing an entirely new script, and that "someone else" would receive the royalties.
"Fine," I said. "Then take my name off the audio book cover."
"Not my department," Rockstar said.
So I called the editor at Simon & Schuster Audio whom I'd worked with on the audio book for Strangers from the Sky. Gave her a brief rundown on what had happened, and she said "Oh, dear. Let me see what I can do."
Never heard back from her. The audio book was released a year later with my name on the cover. I have no idea what's inside the cover; never had the desire to learn.
When it was all over (and I'm jumping way ahead here), I had one final conversation with Rockstar, in which he called me a "worthy opponent. If I'd had any idea how much trouble this book was going to cause," he said, "I probably would have let you do the rewrite in the first place and we'd all be happier."
PROBE was supposed to be in the bookstores by April, 1991. Ads in the backs of all the recent Star Trek novels had been announcing its arrival as far back as December, 1990. PROBE did not make it into the bookstores until the following year.
I knew who Rockstar had working on it. She'd done this sort of thing before, most recently on Brad Ferguson's A Flag Full of Stars.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify something. I've done rewrites on other people's books. Sometimes it's just a polish, sometimes it's a complete ghosting job, where the person whose name goes on the book gives me an outline and I do the rest. The operative concept is a little thing called consent.
In each instance, I worked at the other writer's request, whether it was "Can you check my grammar and punctuation?" or "Can you take this 700-page mess and turn it into a 400-page novel?" or "Here's a 60-page movie script I couldn't sell. Can you fill it out into a novel?"
Now, granted, the work-for-hire contract did not give me the right to say "You can't rewrite my work!" So that's where another factor comes in. It's called professional courtesy.
Brad has discussed A Flag Full of Stars extensively on his site, and I will not reiterate what he has said here, except to say that the person who rewrote his book was someone Brad considered a friend. This person did not have the courtesy or the courage to contact Brad and say "Hi, I've been asked to make some changes to your manuscript. Maybe we can talk it over and I can find a way to satisfy you as well as Rockstar."
This person did not know me, so in the case of PROBE it wasn't a matter of a friendship betrayed. But professional courtesy might have prompted a phone call, a note, something. There was nothing.
The most generous thing I can say is that maybe she was lied to. I know that Gene DeWeese, who did the final rewrite, was told some elaborate story by Rockstar in order to secure his involvement. The difference is, Gene contacted me. The other one never did. Gene and I have been friends ever since. The other one, well, in addition to Star Trek, she also writes about vampires. You know what they always say in creative writing courses: "Write about what you know."
And, no, don't ask me her name. You can probably figure it out for yourself if you do a little research. Put it this way: Much later I did have a chance to correspond with her. I found her...unsettling. She rather pointedly insisted I never mention her name in connection with PROBE, and while I wasn't under any obligation to abide by her wishes, I have done so.
There's a line from a movie called The Red Shoes that goes something to the effect of "Consider how much more unfortunate it is to have to steal than to be stolen from." Nuff said.
Eight weeks after my six-day deadline, my agent called me to tell me he'd gotten galleys for the revised version of PROBE from Rockstar's assistant and was sending them overnight to me.
I no longer have those galleys, but here's what I remember:
About 40% of what I'd written was gone. In its place was an agglomeration of trailing subplots, talking heads, dialogue redistributed by literally crossing out one character's name and substituting another (in one instance, a scene from the prologue was repeated in a later chapter, with the identical dialogue being spoken by two different characters).
This was what Rockstar and his pet rewriter had produced, and intended to send back to Paramount in my name. And here was where it got interesting: These revisions were clearly the work of two people. Rockstar's adulation of Kirk was showing. He'd taken it upon himself to literally punch things up a little. Among other things, there was a scene where Kirk got into a fistfight with six - count 'em, six - Romulan security guards, and beat them all. All by himself.
And here's where it got really interesting: A minor character I'd created just as background had been transmogrified into an assassin in the employ of the Romulans, sent to murder one of their officers and frame Kirk, potentially creating an interplanetary incident.
Well, in the book he didn't. But he damn near did in real life...
Maybe those of you who have read Music of the Spheres can help me out with this. Does Sir Rodney Harbinger in any way resemble Gene Roddenberry?
I never met Gene Roddenberry. Prior to reading Herb Solow and Robert Justman's book Inside Star Trek, which was released years after PROBE, I knew as much or as little about GR as most fans did. To me, he was just some big, soft-spoken guy in a cardigan who'd created the concept of a "Wagon Train to the Stars" that, with the help of a great many brilliant, hard-working people (like Solow and Justman) grew up to be Star Trek.
Rockstar and his rewriter, on the other hand, had met and worked with GR on several occasions. So you'd think that one or the other, if not both of them, would have realized it if one of my characters resembled him, wouldn't you?
But apparently neither Rockstar nor the rewriter saw any resemblance between Lord Harbinger and GR. If they had, they certainly would never have decided to make him the Bad Guy of their "new and improved" version of PROBE.
Which is exactly what they did.
If you've read Music of the Spheres, you may remember Lord Harbinger as a minor character, a mildly annoying but essentially harmless composer with a bit of a drinking problem who, midway through the book, amends his ways and helps communicate with the Probe.
In PROBE: The Middle Version, he is a desperate, down-on-his-luck drunk who accepts a bribe from a Romulan spy to assassinate a Romulan commander and pin the blame on Kirk.
Rockstar and the rewriter had him "rip-roaring drunk" (a quote from the memo accompanying the revised manuscript) and running down the corridors of the Enterprise waving a phaser. Not a pretty picture.
Anyway, this was the version of PROBE that was sent to Paramount Licensing for approval after my version was deemed "unacceptable."
The rest I will have to report as hearsay, because I wasn't there. I can't tell you whether the official Licensing person read this version of PROBE before Trelane did. I do know Trelane read it, because of what happened next.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the "new and improved" Sir Rodney Harbinger was the protomatter in the matrix. The entire project began to self-destruct, and Trelane went ballistic. Can you imagine the transcontinental phone calls that ensued?
Trelane: How dare you send us this manuscript for approval?! Are you out of your mind? There's a character here who's a total caricature of Gene!!!
Rockstar: [stuttering] R-really? Which character is that?
Trelane: The obnoxious drunk who's running down the corridors looking to kill a Romulan.
Rockstar: [thinking fast] Oh, um, that character. Well, um, now that you mention it...darn that Margaret! Look what she did! Tsk, tsk, tsk...making fun of Gene like that, and I never noticed a thing...
Pure conjecture, as I say, based on what happened next, which was that Trelane told Rockstar he was no longer in charge. Trelane would decide the fate of PROBE from here.
The timeline gets a little murky here, because while my agent made numerous calls to Rockstar's assistant over the next several months, he got a different story every time he called.
In May he was told the vampire lady was working on "another rewrite" and the book would be released sometime in August. By July he was told that Rockstar had taken the manuscript with him on vacation, and the book would not be released until the following January.
Meanwhile, the Science Fiction Writers of America (hereafter SFWA) invited me to become a member because they were filing a class action suit against Pocket Books on behalf of the Star Trek novelists, primarily because of chronically late royalties (royalties which were supposed to be paid in August, for example, would not arrive in the writer's hand until Thanksgiving, that sort of thing), but also in an attempt to have the wording of the work-for-hire contact changed and, possibly, address individual writers' grievances.
What was unusual about this was that usually it's the writer who has to ask to join SFWA, not the other way around. But I signed up, and provided SFWA officers with as much information as I could.
Ultimately, Pocket's bean counters agreed to be more prompt in issuing royalty statements. A clause was added to the work-for-hire contract indicating that if a manuscript was rewritten to an extent that the original writer deemed "excessive," the writer could have his/her name removed from the published novel, but the novel would still go forward.
Under those circumstances, some of the writers who'd been persona non grata at Pocket managed to return. I didn't, for reasons I'll clarify in a bit.
From the Pocket Books side, it looked as if something called PROBE was going to be released no matter what. From the Paramount side, Trelane was doing his damndest to get the book killed.
How do I know this? Well, there's another memo. I can't tell you how I managed to get a copy of this some two years after it was released. Truth to tell, I'm not sure who sent me a copy of this memo. Could have been one of several people, but even if I could remember, I wouldn't tell you, because I wouldn't want them to get in trouble even now, more than 12 years after the fact.
Unlike the memo I received that started this whole mess, this memo was on Paramount letterhead, and addressed to Gene Roddenberry from Trelane. It's dated July 25, 1991. It's six pages, single-spaced, and begins like this:
"Following are some of the major areas that still need to be rewritten that were not changed, in spite of hours of phone conferences and extensive notations on the manuscript..."
There were 79 "major areas" in all, most of them having to do with music. Roughly half of them had to do with things that the vampire lady and Rockstar had interpolated into my work. Many were repetitive, some were bizarre. The tone is, to put it mildly, shrill.
According to Trelane, whale song is not music. According to Trelane, "our characters" (the original ST characters) have never expressed any interest in music in the series, so why should they now? According to Trelane, it makes no sense that the species which created the Probe should be musical. According to Trelane, whales and camels are not descended from the same parent species. According to Trelane, Australian aborigines don't sing, either. Blah-blah-blah...
While this all was going on, my agent was informed that "the Probe project is dead. There will be no book."
When he called me to tell me this, he said "You do realize that, one way or the other, you're never going to be allowed to write for these people again?"
I said, yes, I knew that. But the fact was that I'd watched four editors come and go at Pocket in the course of eight years, and I figured this regime wouldn't last much longer, either.
As for Trelane, his tenure at Paramount literally ended the day after Roddenberry died that October. By then Rockstar had found someone else to do one more rewrite.
Real life, like fiction, has its story arcs. This is where the good stuff begins.
At some point in the latter half of 1991, my agent called me again to tell me "It's on again." I can't tell you when I first heard Gene DeWeese's name mentioned, but I'd say it was sometime in the fall, six months after the book had failed to appear in bookstores and was creating quite a stir by its absence.
Not that I wasn't helping that stir, you understand. I attended a number of cons that year, and people wanted to know what had happened to the book. I told them as much as I knew, and the fan grapevine took it from there.
By this time, unbeknownst to me, the vampire lady had been asked to do a third rewrite and refused. A package consisting of the dust jacket copy, Trelane's numerous multi-page memos, and whatever had survived the rewrites was sent to Gene DeWeese, and he was asked, on very short notice, to turn this mess into a readable manuscript.
He was also told that "Bonanno was offered a chance to do the rewrite and refused," and that if he couldn't save the book, it was dead.
Gene and I didn't know each other at the time. He had been told that I was out of the picture altogether, and that his deadline was both short and inflexible. He got the job done. Only when the book was actually in the stores did he get wind of what was flying back and forth between Pocket and Paramount. At that point I wrote him in care of his agent, but that letter crossed in the mail with one he had already written to me. It was the beginning of a long-distance correspondence and, as it turned out, a fortuitous friendship.
With Gene’s permission, I’m quoting a portion of his first letter here. Only the names have been changed to match the ones I’ve been using:
April 21, 1992
Dear Ms. Bonanno:
I'm writing this in hopes that the war in whose crossfire I seem to have been caught can be de-escalated. As a start, here are a few things we can probably agree on: 1) "Trelane"... 2) Paramount (or whoever "speaks" for them at any given moment) often changes the rules without notice and you learn that you "violated" one only after the completed ms has been turned in. 3) The Trek characters in your original ms (or one of your rewrites; I'm not sure which one I have) were more vivid than those in the final manuscript (though I wouldn't go so far as to agree the final was either "schlocky" or a "300-page lecture" or that the original was without faults of its own). 4) My returning Hiran to "straight shooter" status was a good idea. 5) The cover's having already been printed was not the "real" reason they refused to take your name off the cover or to add mine. 6) The current "controversy" helps sales.
As for the war itself...After comparing what you say with what [Rockstar] has said and what I have personally seen and done, it occurs to me that the controversy could be largely the result of misunderstandings and some of the usual shifting sands of Paramount rules. As for who did what and for what reasons prior to August of '91, I know only what [Rockstar] has told me. However, one of your statements about later events seems obviously based on a misunderstanding of some sort. In "Step (6)" in "Notes," you say [Rockstar] decided to "discard all but 25 pages" and hire me "to reconstruct a novel from the ground up which conforms to the jacket blurb". What [Rockstar] actually did was ask me if I would be interested in taking the latest set of galleys and incorporating several pages of Trelane comments. The major rewrite above and beyond incorporating those comments was my idea, and much of it developed as the rewrite progressed.
In abbreviated form, here's what happened after [Rockstar] first approached me, as seen from my end of things. I was given the galleys (apparently a later version than the one you speak of, since one of the characters you mention doesn't exist in the version I saw), a copy of 79 comments by Trelane, and a memo from [Rockstar] to Roddenberry in which the 79 were whittled down to 30+. I read the comments. I read the galleys. I read whichever of your manuscripts [Rockstar] sent when I requested it. I asked how much of your original could be reinstated and was told "virtually none.” (I did, with [Rockstar]'s encouragement, manage to slip a couple of your Riley scenes back in.) After a lot more back-and-forth, I submitted an outline of the changes I thought were needed in order to have the book make sense(I couldn't find any logic in Tiam's actions in either version, for instance, and [Rockstar] couldn't enlighten me) and to inject some suspense into the second half. Someone -- Roddenberry's lawyer, I was told -- approved, and I started through the galleys, a disk of which [Rockstar] had sent me for use with my computer. I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out as well as it did in the end, particularly considering the conditions under which it was done, which is why I had the "courage" to let my name be used.
Another possible misunderstanding (or rule shift) would seem to involve what is meant by "supporting characters." For what it's worth, I'm afraid I agree with Paramount that the Trek characters didn't do much of anything to advance the plot in your version. On the other hand, I doubt that many readers would have noticed, since the Trek characters were on stage a lot and were so vividly drawn that they made a solid impression. It's only when you start analyzing and outlining that you realize the plot was carried almost entirely by the "supporting" characters.
Yet another: I was told that it was not the things "Penalt" did in the rewrite that upset Paramount but the "Sir Rod" character itself in the original.
And so on. In any event, if you'd like to compare notes or "set me straight" or whatever, I'd be happy to hear from you, by letter or phone…
Gene was paid to rewrite the manuscript, but received no royalties. He was doing me a good turn, and I will always appreciate that.
Meanwhile, a couple of fans at Shore Leave that year had asked me if they could somehow get their hands on my original manuscript. At about the same time, a friend in NY volunteered to retype the entire thing on her computer, since all I had was a typewritten hardcopy. This friend printed a couple of copies and gave me a floppy disk, on the odd chance that someday I'd own a computer.
From those printed copies I started making photocopies. My friend had formatted them almost like book galleys, so each copy was about 100 double-sided pages. I brought one of these copies to Wishcon in Springfield, Massachusetts in November '91, intending to give it to one of the fans who'd asked me about it at Shore Leave.
Well, he ended up having to wait for his copy. Because the proceeds from Wishcon were going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and while my buddy and I were at the charity auction that Saturday night, he said "Gee, it's a shame you don't have an extra copy of Music of the Spheres. I bet someone would pay a fortune for it at the auction."
Somehow he talked me into going onstage and offering "the manuscript TPTB were afraid to publish" for the auction. It was bought for $200 by a woman who's been a friend ever since.
A tradition started that night. Anytime I attended a con, I'd donate a copy of the manuscript to the charity auction. I'd added a little disclaimer at the front advising anyone in possession of it that they were free to copy it, but not to sell it, since it couldn't be copyrighted, and anyone earning a profit from it could get into trouble with Paramount.
I don't know how many photocopies of photocopies of that manuscript ended up in circulation. I probably ran off close to 100 copies of it myself. I also authorized a group in Connecticut to sell copies for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The highest single bid for it was at a con in Calgary, Alberta, where a couple of Andorians bought it for $400 Canadian. That money went to the local women's shelter.
Now, as you know, Music of the Spheres is available online. No way of knowing how well it's been distributed compared to PROBE. But it's raised money for burn centers and Boys and Girls Clubs all over the U.S. and Canada, and it's made me friends on five continents.
PROBE was published exactly one year after its original release date, in April, 1992 rather than April, 1991. Sometime in about February, my agent received a copy of the final galleys to forward to me "as a courtesy," according to the attached note.
I took the time to compare those galleys with my original manuscript. If every word I'd written that survived in those galleys were laid end-to-end, they'd add up to 7% of the manuscript. The only scene of mine that survived unscathed was the Praetor's funeral.
Understand something: PROBE is a perfectly good Star Trek novel. It simply isn't my Star Trek novel. But what was interesting was the fan reaction. To this day people write to me or approach me at cons to say "You know, it didn't sound like you. I'd read Dwellers and Strangers, and this just didn't sound like you." Naturally I tell them where they can find a copy of Music of the Spheres.
As for my being "banned," well, that's an elusive concept. Certainly Rockstar and I would never work together again. He left Pocket as editor not long after PROBE's release. I’d like to think the experience taught him what price honor, but I’ll probably never know.
His assistant eventually got Rockstar's job, but I knew I made him nervous. So nervous, in fact, that he found it necessary to make some gratuitous and inaccurate comments about me in the SFWA newsletter, something one might call an errand of vengeance. But he didn't last long as Star Trek editor, either.
In the meantime, I'd been committed to other projects. There was the Others trilogy to complete, a brief foray into Young Adult fiction as one of the several authors writing the Young Astronauts series for Zebra Books under the pseudonym Rick North, and an assist on a little something called Saturn's Child.
I noted with interest when John Ordover became Star Trek editor. I thought: Here's a fresh face, and someone who had nothing to do with PROBE. But most of the books he was producing seemed to be either one-shots by established s/f writers who didn't necessarily "get" the Star Trek universe, or shoot-em-ups geared for a 14-year-old demographic. It seemed to me that this was a universe where I did not belong.
Besides, I'd met John Ordover at a number of functions in and around NYC, including Mark Lenard's funeral, and got the distinct impression that I made him uncomfortable. Better for both of us if I just sat out this dance.
And by then I was a little busy. I'd sold the first book in the Preternatural trilogy, was ghosting a couple of thrillers, and had a bunch of other projects in development - none of which panned out, but I didn't know that at the time. But for the next ten years, Star Trek was in my heart, not on my tax forms.
Oh, except for the royalties for PROBE. Once Pocket recouped its $10,000, I did earn some money from Gene DeWeese's manuscript. Bizarre, huh? In an ideal world, there might have been a novel called PROBE by Gene DeWeese, and a novel called Music of the Spheres by Margaret Wander Bonanno - alternate tales of who created the Probe, why it came to Earth, and what became of it after it left.
Ah, well. Meanwhile, I had the satisfaction of knowing that my unpublishable manuscript was raising thousands of dollars for charity. And I found myself invited to many more cons than I had been before, because fans wanted to know "the real story behind PROBE." Word of mouth traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard, across the Midwest and north into Canada, and con committees paid my way from Asheville, North Carolina to Calgary, Alberta, and Portage, Indiana, where Gene DeWeese and I met for the first time and did a She Said/He Said panel about PROBE.
It was also at that con in Portage that I met the man I love.
Would the fans in Portage have invited me to that particular without having heard the scuttlebutt about PROBE? Who knows? But I’m extremely glad they did.
What goes around comes around. In the fall of 2001, the same fan who’d asked me at Shore Leave ten years earlier if I’d make him a photocopy of PROBE sent me an email about the PsiPhi.org bbs, and invited me to join. I’d never participated on a bbs before, so I lurked for a while and gradually got the hang of it. From there I also joined the Lit board on Trekbbs.
Marco Palmieri, who’d joined John Ordover as STAR TREK editor at Pocket several years earlier, was a regular participant on both boards. Someone started a thread about PROBE, and I told an abbreviated version of the story I’ve just told here.
Suddenly there was this groundswell among the posters: “We want Bonanno to write another Trek novel! What’s this about her being banned?”
Marco posted that he had no idea. He’d heard bits and pieces about PROBE, but it had happened long before he arrived at Pocket, and there was no “ban” that he was aware of. He ended one post with “If MWB wants to contact me about writing for us again, I’d be happy to talk with her.”
Marco and I exchanged emails. Out of that came an offer to write Catalyst of Sorrows, the sixth book in the Lost Era series. And, even as we speak, I’m working on a new book about Christopher Pike. To borrow from the Irish playwright Brian Friel, “Sometimes the longest way ‘round is the shortest way home.”
Rockstar’s career as Star Trek editor ended with a whimper. Trelane lost his job at Paramount the day after Gene Roddenberry died. A book Gene DeWeese wrote earned me a chunk of change and an interesting friendship. The book I wrote has raised thousands for charity and introduced me to someone who has changed my life. Out of one man’s malice and another’s short-sightedness emerges a story full of hope and dreams fulfilled. Gosh, sounds almost like the plot of a STAR TREK novel…
It would have been nice if I’d been able to write a few more Trek novels in those intervening years. But even if the PROBE debacle hadn’t happened, the tenor of Trek novels in the Nineties took them in a direction that I might not have been able to participate in successfully even if I’d had the opportunity. Each editor brings a different flavor to the books published under their aegis, and Marco Palmieri’s arrival on the scene made it possible for me to participate once again.
In the interim I’ve had the opportunity to work with Nichelle Nichols on her first novel, launch two s/f trilogies of my own, be paid me very well for my ghost-writing skills, and meet someone to share my life with. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Gene DeWeese passed away on March 19, 2012. Planet Earth has been rendered a touch less gentle for his departure.