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To Hollywood and Beyond

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, February 1998)
Vonda N. McIntyre
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Vonda N. McIntyre was one of the first Clarion graduates (1970) to become a successful professional. She won the Nebula Award for her 1973 novelette ''Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand'', and her second novel, Dreamsnake, based on that story, won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards in 1979. Subsequent novels include Superluminal (1983) and the four-book ''Starfarers'' series, Starfarers (1989), Transition (1990), Metaphase (1992), and Nautilus (1994). She has also written novelizations of the three of the Star Trek movies. Her latest novel, The Moon and the Sun (1997), is set in 17th-century Versailles.

''I spent 1994 in Hollywood, in a screenwriting workshop. ... So I wrote this screenplay that would turn into The Moon and the Sun without worrying about how much it would cost to film, or how difficult it would be to cast, or whether a bankable actress would be willing to play Marie-Josephe. The screenplay may never be made into a movie, but the result was what I think is a pretty good novel. I'm really pleased with the way it came out.''

''You have to do much more research for a novel than for a screenplay; in a screenplay, if you wonder what they're wearing, you think, 'That's the costume designer's job.' In a novel, you have to create everything the world, the texture, the character and dialog, and the setting especially in science fiction, where you don't have a real world to just refer to. A screenplay is often called a blueprint or an outline. A screenplay is not anything in and of itself. It's a very collaborative process. One of the mistakes new screenplay writers often make is planning in all the camera shots. This just drives directors wild. Even if you put in a good camera shot, it makes them so annoyed they won't use it. That's their job, to figure out what it's going to look like, how to shoot it, who's talking to who. And the same with the set design and the costuming.''

''My 'Moon and Sun' screenplay was one of those where everyone loves it but no one wants to make it into a movie. 'We don't know how to cast it, we don't know how to shoot it....' One reaction was, 'We'll be in touch with your agent about a deal' that's an exact quote. I realized after a while that in Hollywood that translates as a brush-off. I received the Hollywood No on this screenplay so often the Hollywood No is hysterical enthusiasm followed by endless silence, and anyone who has worked in Hollywood will recognize it.''

''I'm one of those writers who think that if you talk about a book too much, then you won't write it, but I just got back from a research trip to Crete, and I'm working on a very alternate history novel, seriously alternate, SF in that alternate history fits within science fiction. The book takes off from a point where a lot of things changed, and what I'm trying to figure out is what would have happened if this big change had not taken place. The result is that we would have had a very different history. People ask, 'When is it set?' and I cannot answer that question, because all the marks of time we think of don't exist, because they never happened. Maybe it's more of a science fiction novel than The Moon and the Sun, just because there's way more speculation in it.''

''I did three movie novelizations for Star Trek. I also did the first Pocket Books original Star Trek novel, The Entropy Effect. That was written from a teleplay I wrote in 1967. I started writing a screenplay for Star Trek during the first commercial break of the first episode I saw, in September 1966, the week before I went off to college! I watched that show and thought, 'I've never seen anything like this in my life. It's wonderful. I want to write for it.' I actually got a copy of this screenplay to the production offices, and they were reading it when the series was cancelled. I was heartbroken. When Dave Hartwell asked me if I would write a 'Star Trek' novel, I went back to this teleplay, which is surprisingly close to the plot of the novel version. It was like collaborating with myself from the age of 18 vs. the age of 32.''

''Something that worries me about some of the writers' workshops I've seen recently is that people go in there with this relentlessly professional attitude, when they should be experimenting. When I think of all the different weird stuff we wrote at the Clarion Workshop in 1970, I think there's still people who go to workshops to do that, but I also think there's a contingent that goes there to be relentlessly professional, and I wish they wouldn't do it. This isn't meant to be a slam at workshops, because I wouldn't give up either the Chesterfield or the Clarion Workshop for anything. They were wonderful experiences for me, and for many people. But it really troubles me when I hear of situations where the stories are workshopped by saying, 'If I got this in the slushpile, I would stop reading at page five.' You would never send a Clarion story to the slushpile, because they're first drafts! You need to le!!arn your craft, and then you can be relentlessly professional. Or you can just go off on your own and do your own thing.''

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.