Playing in different sandboxes.

So, things have been eventful here at stately Ward Manor in recent days.

On the writing front, was it only a few short weeks ago that I finished revisions to my latest novel manuscript before getting on a plane to the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention? For the first time, I was attending a show not as a guest or exhibitor, but as part of Paramount Global’s franchise team. Basically, the same people for whom I perform the various duties that make up my rather eclectic consulting portfolio. In this capacity, I was an extra pair of hands and feet, helping out with various setup and teardown tasks before and after the show, and whatever else needed doing where I could help. Despite being there “for work,” I still managed to squeeze in participating on a discussion panel and conducted three book signings. I also got to reconnect with many familiar faces I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started, put faces to names previously seen only in the virtual realm, and make a bunch of new friends. It was a fun show all around, and I’m glad I was able to pitch in and contribute in some small way to the show’s success.

“What does this have to do with the post title, Dayton?” I can hear someone asking. Patience, grasshopper. I have to work up to it.

It was while at Mission Chicago – a maelstrom of Star Trek fandom, you understand – that I was approached by a friend and professional colleague about a possible new project. It involves an intellectual property with which I’ve not previously worked (mum’s the word unless or until the time’s right), but one I’d love to jump into if opportunity presented itself…as it seemed to have done in this case. There are wickets to navigate which are part and parcel of the process, but worry not, as I’ll be yammering about this one for a bit should it come to pass.

Skip ahead to last weekend right here in Kansas City, where Kevin and I set up shop as guests for Planet Comicon. Among the various offerings on our tables were my two most recent titles: Star Trek: Coda, Book I – Moments Asunder and Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook, but we also were able to showcase recent anthologies to which we’d been invited to contribute, such as It Came From the Multiplex and Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021. These are particularly fun because they along with stories in other collections – including two firmly in the “Coming Soon!” queue – not only present opportunities for Kevin and me to work together but also do something that isn’t Star Trek.

Don’t get me wrong, we both love our various sojourns to the Final Frontier, but it’s also nice to mix things up from time to time. Plus, short stories are can be much more fun than novels, as they burn hotter and faster at the development stage and there’s no time for one to grow complacement or even resentful of a project that seems like it’s dragging on forever and you just want to set fire to the manuscript before flinging yourself in front of a bus.

Not that this happens to me. Much. No more than once or twice per novel. Honest.

“The post title, Dayton,” I hear someone else whispering, like a producer through an earwig telling me to wrap it up before a looming commercial break.

During said con, Kevin and I were invited to participate in a new “shared universe” project that’s just getting its legs under it. The person doing the inviting is someone with whom we’ve previously worked, but this new effort is unrelated to the earlier project. Just from the material I’ve read, it sounds like a lot of fun, and our initial informal pitch for a general story idea was greeted with much enthusiasm. So, we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

In addition to that, I was also approached about contributing to yet another project. This one is a bit outside my usual wheelhouse(s), but I was told a mutual friend and colleague recommended me for the opportunity and damn it if the invidual doing the actual pitching didn’t pique my interest. Despite my hesitation, I never like to say “No” outright, preferring instead to at least have a good conversation and see where things land. Who knows? I might end up surprising myself.

So, the post title is because it was while last weekend’s shenanigans were going down that I realized I – or Kevin and I – are starting to string together a pretty decent list of other people’s sandboxes to which we’ve been invited to play.

No, not that one. Nope. Nuh-uh. Nada. Been there. Done that. Nopeville. Nopin’ all the way out.

You know what I mean. Star Trek is of course the Big Kahuna on my/mine and Kevin’s list. I am, after all, rapidly approaching my 25th anniversary of contributing in one fashion or another to that vast, ever-evolving universe. I’m fully aware it’s likely what I’ll be “known for” from here on out, regardless of whatever else I might do and no matter how long I’m able to keep doing…whatever the hell it is I’ve been doing lo these many years. As track records go, there are a veritable shit ton of worse ones to carry. I ain’t complainin’.

Then there’s the recent Jurassic World cookbook release. This is but the latest example of how the bulk of my other tie-in/shared universe work tends to go: A single visit to another IP before Trek calls my number and puts me back into the game. Yep…I still love getting those calls. It’s a very particular tingle that never gets old.

The first of these occasional excursions began in late 2006, when one of our Star Trek editors at Pocket Books asked Kevin and me if we’d be interesting in writing a novel based on The 4400, the original series which was at the time running on the USA network. As we were both fans of the show from the beginning, Kevin and I jumped at the chance to write such a book. It came at a time when we were working on a lot of Star Trek so it also presented a nice change of pace. The result of that effort was Wet Work, a novel we set during The 4400‘s second season.

Since then, I’ve been invited to contribute to the expanded universes of Mars Attacks, 24, Planet of the Apes, Predator, and (in a limited fashion) Toy Story. Compared to others who do this sort of thing, I’m a mere babe in the woods so far as hopping between IPs goes even though I (or Kevin and I) currently are waiting on word about writing for one and possibly two properties that would be new to us.

And hey! There have been a few IPs which ended up being a swing and a miss. If you follow me on Facebook, you already know that I was this –> <– close to writing the first two of what could’ve been a series of young reader novels based on the Tron franchise. The publisher with whom I’d been working had also inquired about my interest in writing a Captain America novel, as they also had a license for Marvel books at the time. Both of those projects went up in smoke when the publisher imploded. There have also been a couple of other missed opportunities along the way, but the Tron one is really the only one (so far) I really, really regret not being able to do.

Aside from work-for-hire writing for properties such as those mentioned above (and so, soooooo many others), there’s also the whole “shared world” or “shared universe” thing. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is usually a setting developed by an author who then invites other writers to join them so they can all tell stories within that “world” or “universe.” Larry Niven, George R.R. Martin, C.J. Cherryh, and Jonathan Maberry are just a few writers off the top of my head who have created fun little playgrounds to which they extend invitations to other writers. In some cases, it’s a setting in which the originating author has already spun several tales before opening things up to other voices. In others, the playground was created for the express purpose of allowing other writers to join them in this new storytelling venture.

Kevin and I have been invited to participate in a handful of projects in this vein, and they’re every bit as fun as any Star Trek story I’ve written. For example, several years ago friend and fellow writer Michael Jan Friedman created Pangaea for Crazy 8 Press. That was our first foray into such a shared setting, and we ended up contributing stories to each of the three Pangaea anthologies Mike developed in this series.

Another shared world concept from the gang at Crazy 8 was ReDeus, in which concept creators Robert Greenberger and Aaron Rosenberg posited a world in which all of the gods worshipped by humans return to Earth on the same day…and hilarity ensues. I contributed a story to the first anthology, while Kevin participated in the third volume. Like Pangaea, ReDeus is a setting that invites revisitation. The story I wrote was certainly a setup to which I’d be happy to return if circumstances allowed for it, and who knows? I’ve learned to never say “Never” when it comes to this writing thing.

As indicated earlier, I (or Kevin and I) have recently been invited to participate in other efforts like this. The concepts as pitched are pretty damned interesting, so it comes down to timing and my ability to fit them into my existing schedule. There’s a reason I have a “Wish List” next to my “To Do” list on the writing/murder board in my home office.

(Yes, it’s a whiteboard, from which I derive great pleasure as I draw lines through various items on said lists. It’s like the case board from Homicide: Life on the Street, but I’m too lazy to rewrite completed items in black.)

“It’s pretty, isn’t it? The way the board just stands there. A silent sentry to the dead and gone. I love the way the red and black meld together in harmony. A haiku of color and vengeance. Uh-oh. Look here. You’re upsetting the balance. You see, Mike, you need just a little red. This is too much. I’d do something about that. Maybe some more black. Keep me smiling Kellerman.”
— Lt. Giardello, Homicide: Life on the Street

Like working for licensed properties, there have been a few opportunities that got away. I wrote a story in response to one such invitation, but through no fault of the editor who recruited me, that project fell through. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say the project is in limbo. It’s been discussed every so often, and my desire to work with the editor overrides any desire I might have to take the story and shop it somewhere else. A similar situation happened where I submitted a story pitch that was well-received but ultimately not chosen because it smacked too closely to an idea for which another story was already written. Oh, well. You win some, you lose some.

Then there was the project for which I wrote an outline for a story and the first few chapters. It was a new concept for which they’d developed a basic premise and the skeleton of a storyline, but they gave me tremendous latitude to run with the idea. Then everything went quiet without warning, the lights seemed to get turned out, and everyone involved disappeared. My attempts to follow up were met with silence. I don’t know if the company dusted, or other unforeseen obstacles suddenly reared their ugly heads, or the people at the other end just decided I wasn’t a good fit.

“Come on, Dayton. Name names.”


Not my style, for one thing. Also – and I mean this sincerely – each of the missed opportunities cited above are things in which I was truly excited to participate. Life happens, sometimes. Shit happens, sometimes. Sure, I may have been salty for a bit, but you get over that sort of thing and move on. I mean, I still get to make a living writing stories, so I’ll just take my largely good fortune and keep steppin’.

I’m often asked why I spend so much time working in these other worlds and universes, rather than devoting that energy to something *I* own. I’m doing that, too, but the simple truth is I enjoy both types of writing. Yeah, they also pay me a decent bit to do that. I could make more money doing something else, of course, but I doubt I’d be having the same level of fun. So, I’m gonna stick with this whole word pushing thing if it’s okay with folks.

This peek into the the life of your average, unremarkable freelance writer brought to you by Mountain Dew.

4 thoughts on “Playing in different sandboxes.

  1. Great behind the scenes stuff – thanks for the insights. How often, if at all, do you actually say no to a project, and why does that tend to happen?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It doesn’t happen *that* often, but it does. The three main reasons:

      1) Timing/my availability to meet a proposed schedule.
      2) Whether I think I’m the right fit for a given project.
      3) The money they’re offering. This one also influences (and is influenced by) #1.

      Liked by 1 person

Lay it on me.

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