At San Diego Comic-Con, Hypable had the opportunity to talk about the upcoming Star Trek book, The Autobiography of James T. Kirk with author David A. Goodman.
About ‘The Autobiography of James T. Kirk’
The Autobiography of James T. Kirk chronicles the greatest Starfleet captain’s life (2233–2371), in his own words. From his birth on the U.S.S. Kelvin, his youth spent on Tarsus IV, his time in the Starfleet Academy, his meteoric raise through the ranks of Starfleet, and his illustrious career at the helm of the Enterprise, this in-world memoir uncovers Captain Kirk in a way Star Trek fans have never seen. Kirk’s singular voice rings throughout the text, giving insight into his convictions, his bravery, and his commitment to the life — in all forms — throughout this Galaxy and beyond. Excerpts from his personal correspondence, captain’s logs, and more give Kirk’s personal narrative further depth.
David A. Goodman Interview
Tell us five interesting facts about yourself.
Five interesting facts? Uhhh. I’m not that interesting, that’s the first fact.
Five interesting facts… no one has ever asked me that before. Well, I’m a huge Star Trek fan, that’s a big fact about myself. I think it’s interesting.
I’m from New Rochelle, New York, which historically is the home of Rob Petrie, the character that Dick Van Dyke played on The Dick Van Dyke Show — and as such, I grew up in the town and then became a sitcom writer, like Rob Petrie. Although I never had any intention of doing that. I’ve been a comedy writer for 27 years. I never intended to be a comedy writer.
When I was in high school I wanted to be President of the United States. I was disabused of that pretty quickly.
I’m going to come up with one more… My Uncle worked on the Atomic Bomb. There we go!
Which do you find easier, writing the first line or writing the last?
Always writing the last line. Starting work is always the hardest thing for me. To sit down and write, and sort of facing the terror of a blank page is always really difficult. One of the things that I’m best at is procrastinating.
To finally sit down and do it, I have to reach a level of panic that I’m not working to finally work. And it really is just about finding that — giving yourself that permission to write, so that by the last line, I’m usually so behind schedule that I’m rushing the entire time, and I never have any trouble writing the last line. The first line is very tough.
What was your first introduction to ‘Star Trek?’
When I was a kid I had two cousins. One in particular was an older cousin of mine who was a bit of a mentor to me as a kid and he liked Star Trek. And that was really it. The fact that he mentioned liking Star Trek got me interested in trying to watch this thing. Then I had another cousin who was the same age that I was and he was a big science fiction geek, and I wanted to do the stuff that he wanted to do. That was how I found my way in.
When I was a kid in the ’70s, Star Trek was on every night. I could eat dinner in five minutes. For some reason my mother always served dinner at five to six, and I ate dinner in five minutes because we didn’t have VCRs.
I started watching Star Trek, probably in junior high school, sixth grade. I tried to watch every episode. It became very important to me to watch every episode.
How differently did you approach writing this book to ‘Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years’?
There was a similarity in the way I approached the book in that I’m dealing with years of canon, the TV shows, the movies. You start there, from a place of ‘what information is out there,’ and then I’m going to be filling in the blanks.
Star Trek Federation was much more mechanical, figuring out this piece of information or history needs to be filled in, and I’ve got to connect it to this piece of history. And I was always trying to make it interesting — bringing up quotes of people, famous people, or whatever.
With the Kirk book, I had to find a way to make a character that people already love have human depth. That was the hardest part, because there are all these events and William Shatner plays the role so well, he embodies it, you’ve seen it. You’ve seen this guy. And so the really hard thing to do is how do I add details that are going to be interesting, that are going to make him more human, that aren’t going to contradict this very strong presence of this character — this character that we’re so familiar with.
And the thing that I found, that was my first way into the book, was a realization that for the entire three seasons of The Original Series, if we look at Wrath of Khan, James Kirk is an absent father. He has a child off somewhere that he’s not seeing, and there are all these father-son moments in The Original Series — between Kirk and young officers, or Kirk and children on planets. And suddenly you see this possibility of ‘Is this thing weighing on him?’ Because, as a father and a son, you understand the power of that relationship.
I think that adds a power of character to James Kirk that we haven’t seen. What was that experience for him? And then, what led to it? How did it get there? And then it was the fun of populating it with characters that have been mentioned, characters that have been seen — like Ben Finney, who is his friend from the Academy, who eventually tries to kill him, what was that relationship like?
But it was really about finding a humanity that hadn’t been found before, that also didn’t contradict this character. That enhanced it.
Did you work as closely with CBS on this book, or did you have a little more creative freedom?
Both times I was pretty independent, in the sense that CBS understands that they’ve hired, if not the biggest, one of the biggest Star Trek fans who works professionally as a writer. So I talked to John Van Citters a lot at CBS, who is also a big Star Trek fan, and I would always run things by him if I wanted to try something that might be risky.
But they really trusted me, because when I handed them the finished product they didn’t really have any problems with it. They may have questions, but my goal is to service Star Trek, to service the fans, because I’m one of them. I don’t want to write something that would piss me off as a fan if I read it.
Did writing ‘Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years’ help as a reference point for this book?
It did. A lot of the work I did in Federation definitely helped me with this book. There was this mention in The Original Series of this disaster on a planet called Tarsus IV, and for Federation I had to figure out Tarsus IV in a way that made sense. Because that episode makes no sense in its description of Tarsus IV.
There’s this Governor on the planet and only nine people know what he looks like. Now, think about that for a minute. It makes no sense. It served the story of that episode, “The Conscience of the King,” but I had to make it make sense from a science fiction standpoint. What is a world where you can have the leader of the world, in the future, and people wouldn’t know what he looks like? That helped create that character. And that character that I created in Federation, you see in more depth in Kirk’s book. Because he’s a kid experiencing this tragedy first hand.
Are you glad that you did it that way around? That you wrote ‘Federation’ first?
Yes. I had never written a book before. With Federation I’d never written a book, and I kept saying to everybody, ‘You guys know I’ve never written a book, right?’ That was a good first book because it was in pieces, and I had to figure out a narrative, but I didn’t have to figure out a story in the same way as Kirk’s book.
Here I had to figure out what is Kirk’s story, and it was a big undertaking and I’m very glad I did that one. Because in Federation I was figuring out a lot of little stories, that created kind of a tapestry, whereas in this book I wanted a sense of who this guy was at the beginning of his life, who was he at the end, and how does that make sense for Star Trek fans watching the show?