Author Spotlight: J.A. TONER

LOONY ARCHIVIST: How long have you been writing fan fiction?

J.A. TONER: I started in March, 1997, a few weeks after "Blood Fever" stimulated my imagination.

What do you see as the unique challenges of writing fan fiction? How do you cope with the often widespread view that writing in an established universe--be that a television series, graphic novel series, fan fiction, or other shared worlds and collaborations--is easier than creating original characters and settings?

I would have to say it is both easier and harder, considering which aspect of the issue you are looking at. After more than 30 years of Star Trek , there' s lots of mythology already out there to pull from. A coherent world has already been made. That is easier than striking off on your own.

The hard part is coming up with something to say that's interesting and different. There have been over 500 episodes of Star Trek , nine movies, hundreds of Star Trek novels, and thousands of fanfiction stories. It's pretty amazing, actually, that anyone can come up with a fresh idea--TPTB and fanfic writers alike. One reason so much fanfiction is relationship oriented, in fact, is probably due to the relative lack of stories in this arena from the "canon" creators, leaving a bit of room for fanfic authors. Add to this that everyone has their own view of the characters, how they talk, how they would interact, and it isn't easy being a fanfic writer, or at least, a good one.

What has been your favourite television series to write fan fiction for?

All of my fanfiction has been Star Trek related, and all but a couple of stories have been Voyager stories. Even the non-Voyager stories have had a tie-in to Voyager.

What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever read?

I can't remember, but it was a Kirk/Spock piece I read sometime in the mid- 70's. I probably still have it around in the attic, someplace.

What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever wrote?

"Moonlight and Shuttlecraft," in the spring of 1997, which suggested some of the reasons for Tom's becoming more interested in B'Elanna--and also postulated that there was a shuttle bay maintenance crew just itching to build new shuttles to replace the ones that Tom, or more often, Chakotay, wrecked. So, if you want to know the names of the folks that helped build the Delta Flyer, you can check out that story.

What was the first piece of P/T fan fiction you ever read?

I'm not sure which was the very first, but I know where I read it. I found the P/T Collective message boards on AOL. In those days, the round robins and individual stories were posted on the message board. My best guess is that the first was the first round robin in the series, "Cracks in the Wall." However, one of the other, very early stories I read was "37 Chevy." It's still one of my favorites.

What is it about Voyager that inspires you to write?

I love the characters. All of them. They were very well created, with identifiable strengths and weaknesses. Their situation of being "lost in the Delta Quadrant" is also very compelling.

Who is your favourite Voyager character to write? Who is your least favourite?

My favorite? I guess I have to say Tuvok, believe it or not, with Seven a close second. I love making their voices "sound" like them and having their thoughts reflect their verbal speech and personalities. It takes work, but when they are clicking, they are really fun to write. I don't have a least favourite. I like them all. I tend to write the least of Neelix, not because I don't like him, but because he doesn't always fit into the storylines. Just like in the series, I think.

What do you believe are Voyager's greatest strengths, and greatest weaknesses, as a series?

Being in the Delta Quadrant, away from the rest of Starfleet.

Being in the Delta Quadrant, away from the rest of Starfleet.

Yup. Both strength and weakness.

Which of the four Trek series is your favourite, and why? Which of the four Trek series do you believe to be of the highest calibre?

This is really a tough question, particularly the second half. I would have to say, however, that my favourite is Voyager. There is something about the characters that is so compelling to me, I could no longer go around in a fog and "think" stories without taking that extra step of writing them down. I love the female Captain Janeway, too. She is just as strong as the other captains, but she does it a different way. She is a woman, nurturing, put into an extremely untenable position because of her isolation from other Starfleet support.

Interestingly enough, I think the other three major captains might not have done any better than she has if cast alone in the Delta Quadrant like this. Kirk would have run roughshod over the locals, tried to change the rules one too many times, and, with his penchant for saying the heck with the Prime Directive, might have left a grand mess for those following him (to be fair, Kirk might have been less of a loose cannon if he'd lived a hundred years later, as the others have). Picard, I love, but the great negotiator might have been a little too deliberate for some of what's gone on out there, or would have had to have changed his way of operating. Sisko can be very deliberate, too, but what I think might have gotten him was that if he were still struggling with personal issues when he'd gotten lost, he'd have had a very hard time on his own. Plus, he might have gotten bogged down in some of the political situations. Kathryn Janeway has made mistakes--but who wouldn't in this situation?

As for "best over all" series, I think The Next Generation still qualifies, but just barely. TNG's first season was really pretty bad and the second had lots of episodes that weren't so great. It wasn't until season three it really hit its stride, and during the seventh season, there were a few shaky eps. The quality of DS9 and Voyager has been extremely high, and the good episodes started earlier. I don't think any Voyager episode of the first season was as bad as most of TNG's first. So, to rate the series fairly, we really can't say until both DS9 and Voyager have finished their runs about this, will we?

I am excluding TOS in this discussion, because there is no way to compare television series made in the 1960's with those of the 80's or 90's. The special effects, for instance, are so far superior now. The crashing of Voyager on the ice planet was breathtaking and seamless, more than most movies could manage a couple of decades ago--including the original version of Star Wars. And while many of the TOS episodes are much admired for their social content, some could get a bit preachy.

If you want most influential Star Trek series, however, it's got to be TOS, hands down. Many give credit to Lucas for the Star Wars phenomenon relaunching Star Trek , which is true. On the other hand, a case could be made that the increasingly popular syndication of Star Trek helped make the conventions of the science fiction genre familiar enough--and upheld quality standards high enough--to pave the way for Star Wars' acceptance by mainstream critics and moviegoers.

One last note: when Voyager was first launched, the series was touted as a " return to TOS." And I think it has, in one unfortunate way. Since TOS was a network show, it really wasn't appreciated until after production had ended and it went into syndication. I have a feeling the same is going to be true of Voyager, the other "network" Star Trek show. The show really hasn't gotten its due, IMHO.

What is your favourite Voyager episode, and why?

The Year of Hell Parts One and Two. The intricacy of the plot, and the way it built on "Before and After" by allusion instead of by bluntly restating the obvious, was wonderful. There was lots of emotion between the characters, showing us what they really feel for each other that under normal circumstances they don't show. Plus, I loved the idea that in this case, the " reset button" was intrinsic to the plot. In order for them to survive, they HAD to make sure this reality never existed. Took guts to do that. The easy way out might have been to have some record or "hunch" be recalled by a cast member, but it really didn't fit into the episode anywhere. So they did the right thing for the story: it never happened. I was glad it didn't, but boy, what a ride watching it! (The yummy costume on Paris during Part Two didn't hurt, either.)

What direction do you see Tom and B'Elanna going in, romantically, and what direction would you like to see their relationship go?

I think they are going to remain a couple, but that it will remain " boyfriend and girlfriend" for the foreseeable future because TPTB don't want to rile the anti-relatiotionship crowd. I'd rather they were in a committed mating/marriage, however, because if TPTB really don't want to fuss over the relationship, then it can be just taken for granted about their feelings and activities if they are married. Besides, I can think of scenarios where there would still be romantic complications, should they want the characters to go that way. If I can, the producers undoubtedly can.

What is it about Tom and B'Elanna that draws you to them, and inspires you to write?

Many things: their complex natures, their passionate sexiness that was obvious, especially in Blood Fever, and their senses of humor. They have both had difficult backgrounds and a lot of "angst" in their histories, yet both are survivors. Anyone can identify with them, because they are like Everyman and Everywoman. Who hasn't had to live with a mistake that can't be undone, as Tom has? Who hasn't felt insecure and like no one understands or accepts them, as B'Elanna has? There's so much to write ABOUT, even when they are in a good mood!

Did you find yourself savouring P/T fan fiction more before the characters became romantically involved on the series itself, or more now that the relationship is canon? And how do you see the genre of P/T fan fiction changing since the relationship has become canon?

I didn't find Voyager fan fiction until after Blood Fever, so I can't really say about before. They pretty well romantically involved by the time I found it. I know there were some good stories written prior to their becoming a couple in canon, but some great stories have been written after, as well.

As far as how the fanfiction has changed, I do have an opinion about that. I think there are a lot of stories now which are of the episode extension type, filling in the "blanks" of the relationship because the producers aren't making it the Paris/Torres Romance Hour. Instead of "falling in love" P/T stories, as were written prior to their getting together, we are now getting their story fleshed out in fanfic. I don't have a problem with this, although I know a lot of fans do.

What has been your favourite episode strictly in terms of P/T interaction? Least favourite? Why?

Favourite is still Blood Fever, I think. So passionate! The interaction was the hottest it has ever been on screen between them--even Scientific Method didn't have that raw edge to it that the scenes in Blood Fever did. I like to think their passionate interaction in the cave, the scene in the clearing with them rolling around on the ground, and Tom's gentle comforting of B'Elanna in the caves and after the fight with Vorik are our glimpses of what the relationship probably is like in private now, when they are getting "up close and personal." It is a combination of passion, fun, and mutual comfort. I have to admit, Day of Honor, Displaced, and Scientific Method all rank pretty high, though.

Least favourite P/T episode? I guess it would have to be Random Thoughts. The producers really dropped the ball by not having the two at least be in the same room to share a look at the end, after B'Elanna had been rescued. Instead, we got the dumb Seven and Janeway scene. I know I said I don't need everything spelled out all the time, and there were some neat codas written afterwards about the present, but gee! Couldn't she at least have been able to glance over at Tom in sickbay, since he was the nurse and all and his presence could have been justified? They could have sent each other a look of relief, like the J/C moments we see all the time (and saw to some extent between P/T in Extreme Risk). Wouldn't have even needed a word of dialogue between them. But NO.

Do you find yourself identifying more with Tom or B'Elanna?

It depends upon the time of day and whether I am writing a story chapter from either of their points of view. I identify with both pretty strongly.

If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of Voyager, what story would you like to tell?

The return to the Alpha Quadrant and its ramifications on P/T, K/7, J/C, Tuvok, the Doctor, and Neelix. I may write that story, someday.

How do you see stories being shaped by their medium? For example, what do you think makes a good episode, as opposed to a novel or short story? What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks unique to the separate mediums (teleplays versus prose)?

Good episodes should have all the characters appearing and having something to do in the plot. The visual effects can be stunning. More can be portrayed by the actor's expressions than a writer can describe, even though I try. The major advantage to writing a story, of course, is the ability to portray the interior monologues of the characters. You can show Tom "thinking" I love you, even though he doesn't quite have the gumption to say it. An author has a way to explain why something happened without having to resort to plot exposition in dialogue, which occasionally gets tedious in the episodes in technobabble sequences, for example.

What do you think sets Voyager apart from the other Trek series?

Let's see: besides the fact that the captain is a woman, as is the chief engineer, that they are isolated from Starfleet and home, and don't have everyday contact with Ferenghi, Klingons (except said chief engineer), Romulans, Cardassians (unless Seska had another crony still in hiding), how is it unlike the other series? I don't know, let me think . . .

Who is your favourite professional Trek author or authors?

I have two: Christie Golden, because she can tell a good story and actually pays attention to having the characters act and sound like themselves, and the much-maligned Jeri Taylor. She co-created these characters; her knowledge about what makes them tick is unparalleled (although some people don't see it that way, I know). I like her books. Plus, after reading Pathways, I got the impression that Jeri was, at heart, a fanfic writer when she wrote that one. She was leaving the show, so she didn't have to "collaborate" on the story any more. So, we got both P/T and J/C. I liked it. I liked the backstories, too. Peter David, A.C. Crispin, and Michael Jan Friedman have written some good ones, too.

Who is your favourite fan Trek author or authors?

Wow. You want to get me in trouble here? Because I know I'm going to leave a bunch of people out here if I start naming names. Let me just list a few whose stories I always check out, okay? Terri Zavaleta, Julie Evans, Captain Jinx, P.L. Heyes, Margaret Berger, m.c. moose, Christina Wilson, Janice Leidl, Kimberann Claar, Annita Smith, and of course, my collaborator in a new story we are trying to get the time to finish, Katie Fritz. I check into the "Enemy of My Enemy" series from time to time, and I'm discovering new authors all the time. There are a bunch more "favorites" I'm blanking out on, I know. Forgive me. Hey, I'm typing this before 8 AM. Whattaya want, huh? Lucky I'm awake!

If you could change three things about Voyager, what would they be? I.e., what three things would you like to see on Voyager?

Tom and B'Elanna get married. Let Harry be friends (not necessarily romantic- -platonic is fine) with Seven, helping her with her "social skills training" and giving Harry some growth in his character. Have Voyager stay in the Delta Quadrant at least until the cliffhanger between seasons 6 and 7, so that the producers of Voyager can do what they want in their return without having to be tied in too closely to what the DS9 people did. A lot can happen in a year, and it would be neat to be like Voyager--unaware of what was happening in the Alpha Quadrant for at least a year.

What would you like to see change in the fan fiction written about the series? What trends would you like to see make a comeback or fade away never to be seen again?

I would like to see the "Tom Paris as insensitive womanizing jerk" stuff go away and never be seen again. I'm also not crazy about how some authors who want to promote a different pairing, such as K/T or C/P, have P/T break up in one paragraph because it was a "big mistake." If the authors are going to break them up, the least they could do is spend some time at it to make it believable--or just go the AU route and not even deal with it. Never happened.

That's easier for me to take. The quick break-up route always makes the two of them seem so shallow and immature. Yuck.

If you had to pick just one Voyager story you have written that you would want to be remembered for, which story would it be?

Can a mother say which of her children she loves best? This one can't.

I will confess to being very pleased I wrote "The Mercenary" and "Quid Pro Quo," however. And I had lots of fun writing "Satisfaction" and "Weekend in Tahiti" because of the humor involved.

Conversely, what one story do you think people will always remember you for?

I get the most comments about "Warmth."

What do you see happening in the series finale of Voyager? What would you like to see happen? What do you think you would really hate to see happen?

What do I see happening in the series finale? I wouldn't even presume to guess. What I'd like to see happen? Janeway and Chakotay finally let go and admit they love each other--and act on the admission. I'd also love to see B'Elanna confront Tom, upset because he's gotten her pregnant, and finds out that Tom is delighted he's going to be a father. What would I hate to see? Tom and B'Elanna break up.

What do you think the future of fanfic will hold, in both online and 'zine fandom?

It's been going on for a few decades now. I think it will continue. On line is the quickest reward, but seeing your story in print is a thrill. I think both will survive, unless Paramount/Viacom gets stupid and tries to stop it. Since fanfic helped keep the flame glowing for TOS and led to all that's happened with the succeeding series, they owe everyone to leave it pretty much alone. Frankly, I think they are doing that. In a way, it's free publicity.

All of J.A. Toner's fiction--as well as her essays--can be found at her website, Meandering with Jamelia through the Delta Quadrant

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