Greg Cox is Tied In

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JPH: Talking with Greg Cox, the author of several  franchise tie-in novels, as well as original material. Now, Greg, the most recent material that you’ve had is a STAR TREK novel called THE RINGS OF TIME (review here), and you just announced that you’re going to be doing a LEVERAGE tie-in novel. And it just went live on Amazon that you’ve got the novelization of the new BATMAN movie, although I know you can’t really discuss any details on that because of the spoilers.

How have you been able to play in so many different sandboxes? I see TERMINATOR. I see JUSTICE LEAGUE. ZORRO, GREEN HORNET, WAREHOUSE 13, THE 4400. You’re in a lot of different franchises. Did that come to you or did you go chase that?

GC: It works both ways. At this point, I’ve been doing that for a long time, so thankfully, I am now actually in the enviable position that, you know, I get phone calls saying “Hey, Greg, are you interested in doing a LEVERAGE book? Hey, Greg, are you interested in doing a WAREHOUSE 13 book? Hey, Greg, we’re doing a ZORRO anthology. Are you interested?” But in part, because everyone knows I’m a huge fan of this stuff. And I am not above, you know, getting on the phone and saying, “Gee, you know, I hear you guys are doing whatever novel. I would love to write one.”

And it’s a small world, and quite often, even though it’s a lot of franchises, most use the same editors. So, there’s a community of tie-in editors who know me and I know them, and we talk and confer, and… you know, sometimes, I will call around and say “Hi, I’ve got a hole in my schedule. What are you looking for? CSI? STAR TREK?

Thankfully, these days I’ve been around long enough that I’m at least on the list of people they think of when “Gee, we’re doing WAREHOUSE 13 books. Let’s call Greg and see what his schedule is like.”

I actually have been a tie-in editor myself. I’ve been a consulting editor for Tor Books, as well. And I can speak from the other side of the desk. When you’re doing a franchise novel, you want somebody, ideally, you know who’s dependable, who’s reliable.  “Oh, well I had a good experience with them. Let’s recreate that good experience.”

JPH: So, as a franchise editor, you’re not looking for anybody new. You want known quantities when you’re talking about writers that can come into an established story universe. Somebody that’s known, that you can rely on them. You can see some of their work before. You don’t want any newbies coming into that. Is that almost impossible to break in?

GC:  Honestly, your first instant – obviously, people do occasionally get their foot in the door. As in any career, that’s the hard part, getting your foot in the door. But yeah. As an editor, your first instinct is – especially when you’re doing a tie-in – is … Tie-ins are complicated enough ‘cause you have to deal with the folks from Hollywood, the licensors and approvals. You want to minimize the number of variables. So yeah, there’s a reason why you keep seeing the same names – me, Alan Dean Foster, Keith DeCandido, Dave Mack – whoever, doing these. Because “You know, Greg did DAREDEVIL, so let’s have him do GHOST RIDER.” And one job tends to lead to the other. I did the DAREDEVIL novelization because I had done the X-MEN trilogy for the same editor.

My STAR TREK editor knew I was a big vampire fan, so he called me up and said, “Hey, Greg, we just acquired the UNDERWORLD license. You want to do UNDERWORLD?” That’s how that worked. And four books later… you know.

JPH: Which do you enjoy more, ‘cause you do a lot of franchise work. Do you enjoy that over original novels? Or is it two completely different beasts?

GC: Well, my guilty secret is that I’ve never written an original novel (laughing).

JPH: Ever?

GC:  Uhm.. No.  I mean to. It’s on my New Year’s resolutions every year. I have outlines and drafts, and proposals all around. But – and I’m not complaining; this is a very good problem to have – the tie-in stuff keeps me busy enough that it’s hard to squeeze an original novel in.

JPH: So how did you get started with the franchises, then? I mean, you’ve got the jacket and cover copy and then … what? What was your path to get into this, then?

GC: Well, I had done a handful of short stories. I had sold short stories to things like Amazing Stories, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, etc. Plus, like I said, I actually work on the other side of the desk, in a way. I worked as a professional science fiction editor for years and years. It’s how I actually got to know the other tie-in editors. Basically, the way I like to put it, I went from being a full-time editor in publishing who, you know, moonlighted by doing tie-in novels, to being a full-time tie-in writer who occasionally moonlights editing.

JPH: OK. So you started on the editorial side.

GC: Basically, I made… I had the connections because I was already in the publishing world, knew people, and it’s sort of a case of “Oh. Greg we need this book, you know, if you could squeeze it into your schedule.” The very first tie-in I ever did was some Batman stuff I did many, many years ago, about the time the second Tim Burton movie came out, the one with Catwoman and the Penguin. I basically got a call from a friend saying, “Hi. DC Comics is looking for … is in a rush. They need lots of Catwoman and Penguin stories in a hurry. Say, Greg, you’re a comic book fan, aren’t you? You think you could dash out a Penguin story over the weekend?”

And yeah, I stayed up till thee o’clock one morning, one night writing a Penguin story. And that’s kind of how I got my foot in the door, and then the Penguin story led to a Catwoman story, and then “Oh! Greg, if you’re doing … you wrote some tie-ins for DC. Well, gee, there’s this new Star Trek series starting, DS9, and we need a whole pile of books signed up right away. You think you could knock out a DS9 outline by Thursday?” You know.

JPH: And it just started rolling from there.

GC: Like I said, I started doing it on the side, as a sideline, and it kind of became my career.

JPH: Well, speaking of STAR TREK, your new book – The Rings of Time – is out. And I have read it. At some point, we’ll be doing a review of it. But I wanted to touch on that just a little bit. Because it follows your timeline from your Khan novels. This particular one follows Colonel Shaun Geoffrey Christopher and the first Saturn mission from NASA. And it references back to some of the events from your two Khan books that are set in the 1990s. Was that a deliberate plan on your part, or did Pocket Books come back to you and say “Hey we really like what you set up here. Let’s keep going with it.” Because in the past – I know, early in the STAR TREK books timeline, there were not a whole lot of people open to doing “other character”-centric stories. Granted, this one still features Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew, but it does also go back to a time when they’re not there. Was this something that you proposed, or they came to you and said, “Hey, let’s follow up on this.”?

GC: No, this is pretty much my idea. Like you mentioned, Shaun Christopher appeared briefly in my Eugenics Wars books, which I wrote … a long time ago, it seems. I had always meant to get back to him. And this was absolutely a case of one point, me talking to Margaret Clark, who was one of my STAR TREK editors, just in general; and she wanted Kirk-era STAR TREK novel. I said, “You know. I always meant to do something with Shaun Christopher. Maybe now is the time.” And I sat down and .. basically, all I was asked for was to write a TOS-era novel. “What can you come up with, Greg?” was basically…and it’s variable. It’s very back and forth. Sometimes you get very, very specific requests from licensors. “Hi. We want a novel about Mirror Universe Picard fighting the Mirror Universe Borg.” And sometimes it’s just as vague as “Hi. We need a Voyager book. What have you got?”

In this case, Shaun had been on the top of my ‘to do’ list for a while, so it was time. I was not so nervy – they didn’t tell me I had to put Kirk and Spock in, but I just honestly felt I was audacious enough to write a novel … I thought I had a better chance of selling the book if at least half of the book was set in the twenty-third century with Spock and McCoy, and half of the book was set in 2020 with Shaun Christopher and a whole new cast of characters.

JPH: One thing that I had noted back when I was reading the Eugenics Wars books. The idea – your device of framing the whole thing in the twenty-third century and having these little scenes with Kirk going back and reading history, consulting history on the whole eugenics thing…it felt like that was almost a piece that had to be there in order to make it a TOS story, as opposed to just making it a Eugenics Wars story. Were you given any kind of a mandate on those books, that Kirk has to be in it somewhere? Or was that your own choice?

GC: My own choice, but again, for that same sort of reasoning as this here. You know, no one told me. It just seemed like a smart and commercial thing to do. I don’t know. Maybe if I’d… I don’t know what would have … if I had turned in an outline that had no Kirk or Spock at all, they might have bounced it back to me. I kind of hedged my bets by making sure that the framing sequence was, you know, that people who think it’s a STAR TREK book would get some STAR TREK, was basically … that was me being cautious and conservative, basically.

The funny thing about the Eugenics Wars books – that was something I was specifically asked for by Pocket Books. In fact, it’s kind of a funny story. As God is my witness, I did not intend to write those books. But in one of my earlier STAR TREK books, I had made a throwaway reference to the fact that Gary Seven from “Assignment: Earth” had been instrumental in overthrowing Khan. This was, I swear, just me being kind of cute and just throwing in a little odd Easter egg for the fans.  Gary Seven and Khan were kind of contemporaries.

I had no intention of writing an entire series about that, but then my editor read that one sentence and called me up and said, “Well, Greg, you want to write those books?” Oh. Well, that wasn’t the plan, but sure. And three books later, I’ve written three books about Khan. That was a case of me being… making an in-joke in an earlier Trek book that ends up a trilogy.

JPH: Right. And it’s a very impressive trilogy, especially all of the Easter eggs that you put into the first two books. How much of that was you just saying “OK. Let’s see how many I can put in here before it becomes silly, and how many of those were… because Jamie Sommers is in there, and the whole idea of tying in The Equalizer and a bunch of those little bits. Those, to me, I think were probably some of the better, little fun moments of those books. And then you go into all of the historical stuff that was going on. You had to do a lot of research for those books, did you not?

GC: Those books were a lot of work. Yeah. It was like a giant crossword puzzle, I thought of it. STAR TREK history, real history, real pop culture history, and just trying to fit them all together so that they all made one big piece. But yeah, I probably did more research on the Eugenics Wars books than I usually do for a STAR TREK novel, because usually you’re off on an imaginary planet you’ve made up yourself. And you may research the science and such, to try to get it right, but here – I was calling up the India Travel Department to find out what the name of the New Delhi airport was in 1984.

I still have an entire shelf of books on Indian history, since a good portion of Khan’s background was in India. I still have an entire shelf of books on the history of India and guides to Punjab and things. And reading up on nuclear freeze treaties and, you know, the Bhopal disaster. It was a big sort of attempt to try to get to squeeze Trek history and real history together and yeah, there was a lot of (research). And what was going on, what was on TV then, and throwing in references to the O.J. Simpson trial.

It was a fun project, but yeah. There was lots and lots of crazy research.

JPH: So, what’s next? You’ve got a Leverage book. And…

GC: A novel based on the TV show Leverage on TNT.

JPH: And how is that going to go?

GC: At the moment, I am currently working on revising the outline. The outline has been approved by the TV people. They bounced it back to me for some changes, which is what always happens. And I’m actually now just … I’m going to do another pass on the outline, expand it, and then probably start writing the book shortly. That’s due in the fall. I’m probably re-writing that book this summer and then turning it in, in the fall.

And in the meantime, I have another book coming out in June. Which is Riese: Kingdom Falling, which is a young adult novel based on a Sci Fi Channel (Syfy) web series.

JPH: Which actually started out as an original web series that the network picked up. I saw that cover on your web site. Is that property getting to be the hot ticket right now? Because I’m starting to see a lot about Riese coming off of Sci Fi Channel, and it’s getting some more talk.

GC: I certainly hope so. Basically, what happened there… I actually had not heard of Riese, but I heard from my agent that the Riese people were looking for a writer to write a prequel novel to the web series. And honestly, I hopped on a bus, went up to New York, met with the creators of the series, Ryan Copple and Kaleena Kiff, at the New York Comic Con. And we got together, had a nice meeting, and that’s when we made the plan for me to write a prequel novel. And they were very involved in the process, in outlines and the usual thing.

Got a chance to meet the actress who plays Riese, who was also there manning the Riese booth at the New York Comic Con.

JPH: Right. So when do you get to do the Guild novel?

GC: From your mouth to God’s ears. I’ve seen the first season and really liked it. I have fallen a bit behind. I would have to catch up. But what I saw was really cool and fun. And Lord knows I know fandom. I grew up in science fiction fandom, so …

JPH: The process that we’ve got now for authors to make it in the business, has certainly been impacted with a lot of self-publication, independent publication, I guess they’re calling it now. A lot of direct to e-books and going in through CreateSpace at Amazon and setting up your own Kindle stuff. Is that a good entry point for new authors? You don’t have the benefit of an editor, you don’t the additional eyes reading a manuscript before it gets out there into the public. How smart is that?

GC: You know, I don’t know. It’s no secret that the world is changing, and this is the subject of much discussion. I suspect that if you put a bunch of writers and editors in a room, the major topic would be, you know, e-publishing – a glorious new world or the end of civilization as we know it?

I’m going to throw in the disclaimer that I’m old-school here. The whole e-book thing is new and interesting and exciting and…I was actually talking about this with a would-be writer the other day, and honestly, I’m not sure. Things are changing. Clearly it works for some people. The old rules I learned when I was getting into the business years ago, are obviously changing.

Back then, there was a stigma against self-publishing, which was all just vanity presses and all that, but obviously, the world is changing. We’re going through an odd transition from dead trees to e-book publishing. I vary from “OK, I find this very confusing, and I’m just going to keep doing things the way I’ve been doing things.”  to “Oh, maybe I should look into this. Maybe I should be releasing my own books online or something.” I don’t know.

I’m being wishy-washy here, because like I said, it’s a brand new world and I’m still trying to figure it out. I do think that writers will always need editors. Editors are important. I occasionally see silly comments online like “Well, you know, real writers don’t need editors.” Even the best writer in the world can benefit from editors, copy editors, having another view of eyes.

The old school, where you had sort of a gate-keeper system wasn’t just to keep newbies out of the business. It was to make sure that the best stuff got through and just act as some sort of screening mechanism. But how it’s going to work now that people can just post things online … Are we going to get a renaissance in new writing, or is it the Internet gets turned into the world’s biggest slush pile? I don’t know.

I am sufficiently old-fashioned enough that I will confess to being puzzled and baffled by the brave new world in electronic publishing. And realizing that I’m going to have to get up to speed about this at some point.

JPH: Well, because the impact – with the Amazon/Barnes & Noble flap – you know, with Barnes & Noble saying “We’re not going to carry books that are currently available on Amazon or whatever that deal is going on … Certainly, we’ve seen the demise of a lot of book stores, that a lot of people are relating back to Amazon as a retail outlet. And then also the e-books being another way of getting material out there.  Do you, at some point, see a day when book stores are gone?

GC: I hope not, because I love book stores. I grew up in book stores. I was out browsing in my local Barnes & Noble two days ago, and I was also out sighing as we drove past these shuttered up local Borders, which I used to hang out at, quite a lot.

But there’s certainly… like I said, I remember just in the last few years e-books being statistically insignificant to e-books, you know, becoming a  bigger and bigger part of the business.

It’s amazing. They are growing faster than I ever anticipated. Just even a few years ago, a successful e-book sold five hundred copies, and really it was just gravy on top of the real sale, which was the dead tree book.  My own father was bragging the other day, that he managed to download one of my own books onto his new Kindle. He was quite proud of himself.

I don’t know how you browse. I’m not sure how you browse on Amazon. Left to my own devices, I can happily spend hours wandering through book stores and finding books I’d never heard of. It’s very dangerous to leave me in a book store for too long, because: “Oh, wow!” You know. “A complete guide to nineteenth century pulp characters? I need this!” OK. You know. I didn’t know this existed.

JPH: That’s when you –

GC: I was admiring a lovely coffee table book on Hammer films the other day.

JPH: That’s definitely one for the library, that’s for sure.

GC: But yeah. Things are changing. Even here in my own neighborhood, our Barnes & Noble is still around, but the Borders, which I used to go to, is no longer existing. And that’s one more book store that isn’t selling my books. You hope you make up the difference in people downloading Warehouse 13 and Riese and Rings of Time to their Kindles and Nooks and things, but we’ll see.

JPH: Well, we’ll see how that works out. The next book is Leverage, and then Batman? And then Riese? Is that the order?

GC: Actually, no. Riese comes out next, then probably The Dark Knight Rises and I’m not sure … I haven’t even started writing the Leverage book yet. I’ll be writing that in the summer. Publishing is a slow, creaky process. Or at least, it used to be. So there’s always – by the time a book finally sees print, it’s like “Oh right! I remember this book. I wrote this like a year ago.”

The Riese book is finished. That book is, in my head, done. It doesn’t actually come out until June, but I finished that book some time ago. At the moment, I’m finishing up certain other books, and I am … my big plan.. I’m gearing up to start writing the Leverage book.

Usually, you always want to start to plan ahead and know what your next book… I always feel more comfortable if I know what my next three books are. So, I’ve been talking to the Star Trek people. I’ve been talking to other people about other projects, so…

JPH: So, what do we look forward to from Tor, anytime soon? What’re the hot titles coming out of there?

GC: If you will involve me… fine. I will shamelessly plug a couple of my own projects.  Coming soon, we have a book called Only Superhuman, which is the first original novel by an author named Christopher Bennett, who is a prolific Star Trek author.

JPH: Yes.

GC: Christopher has written a really wonderful hard science fiction superhero book called Only Superhuman, which is coming out – I don’t have the dates in my head, but it’s coming out shortly. And by shortly, I mean months from now.

There’s also an interesting book called The Six Gun Tarot – as in Tarot cards – which is kind of a weird dark fantasy Western by a guy named Rod Belcher. I keep hyping that book as basically “Buffy meets Deadwood”.

JPH: Oh, that’ll be fun.

GC: Yeah. Rod actually won, took the grand prize in the amateur Star Trek writing contest a few years ago. Pocket Books’ Strange New Worlds contest. This is his first novel, and I’m editing it for him.

JPH: I actually submitted a short story to that competition myself, only I didn’t get in.

GC: Well, Rod actually took the grand prize one year, and now publishing his first novel at Tor.

JPH: OK, well we’ll be looking forward to that. Greg Cox, thank you very much for your time today, and we will be looking on the bookshelves for Riese: Kingdom Falls, and The Dark Knight Rises and your Leverage book.

GC: That sounds great.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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