On Wednesday, “Star Trek 365” hit bookshelves with an impressive collection of photos and insights from the signature sci-fi television show of the 1960s. Linda Whitmore, a Los Angeles Times copy editor and “Star Trek” specialist for the Hero Complex, reviewed the book here this week and now catches up with authors Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann for this e-mail interview.
LW: The book takes a unique approach to exploring the “Star Trek” universe. Instead of simply summarizing the plots, you’ve delved behind the scenes to look at not only what was going on with the show’s creative forces, but the social upheaval of the late 1960s (Vietnam War, civil rights movement, population explosion, etc.). What prompted you to take this fresh approach?
PB&TE: Well, to tell the truth, we couldn’t really avoid it—we lived through the era, along with millions of other baby boomers. Prior to this, we’d written some very traditional nonfiction Star Trek books, ones that focus on how the various shows exist as a part of their own universe. But this one seemed to present itself as an opportunity to take a more personal point of view, and to put the show into a perspective from that time. Those themes — social, political and religious — are what “Star Trek” was about, and the science fiction setting housed a palatable way for the producers to comment about them within what otherwise seemed like simple stories. It’s well documented that the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and his writing team were very interested in news stories of the day—the 1960s, that is. Many of those stories are evident right on screen, from tales of characters who are black on one side and white on the other, to an overpopulated world whose inhabitants struggle shoulder to shoulder for lack of space. Like “Star Trek’s” writing team — albeit way less imaginative! — we’ve always wanted our writing to be a combination of entertainment and education. This book gave us an opportunity to drop right into the center of that place. By the way, in case you’re wondering, we’re writing these answers together—another trick we’ve learned over the years!
LW: How did you do such thorough reporting considering the four decades that have passed?
PB&TE: As we were forced to admit above, we were there. Paula watched the initial airing of the “Star Trek” series while in high school — and Terry was a little older, out in the world earning a living. So we remember a lot about the ’60s, from the serious to the silly. We confirmed all of those memories—and dug up a lot more—by doing plain old-fashioned in-depth research. Which is one of the things you learn how to do as an English major in college (which both of us were). Add to that the fact that Paula used to be a professional journalist and Terry a professional publicist, and you have two people who are used to digging for answers. Perhaps the real answer to your question is “Practice, practice, practice.”
LW: How long did it take to write the book?
PB&TE: We worked for about a year between getting the assignment and turning in the final document. But a lot of the initial time was spent in looking for unique photography — which was extremely difficult considering the show has been in the public eye constantly for over 40 years. Once we knew what photography we’d have to work with, we spent the next six months glued to our keyboards.
LW: What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?
PB&TE: Finding photos that hadn’t been published before, or at least recently, or at least not very often, seemed an impossible task. Paula spent months tracking down pictures that she remembered having seen, or had heard about. She contacted fans, friends, museums, photographers…anyone or any place that might have “Star Trek” visual souvenirs. In the past, we’ve written books and then illustrated them, hoping to match some pictures to our words. But this was a new experience. We had to find the photography first and then figure out what to write about what we’d found. The text was driven by the photos. That was new. We even referred to each piece as a “caption.”
LW: What are some of the more surprising revelations that you uncovered?
PB&TE: Probably no huge revelations, but neat little nitty-gritty revelations. The people who produced the series didn’t have much of a budget considering the type of show they were making. So they were very inventive. They scavenged items to create what they needed. For example, “Star Trek’s” beloved transporter platform included “pads” that the crewmembers stood on when they were beamed somewhere. Well, the pad was actually the lens from a 10,000-kilowatt set light used in filming. Someone on the set design team realized that lens — which is composed of concentric glass prisms — would not only concentrate light to help sell the effect, but would look cool too.
LW: Who do you feel is the target audience for your book?
PB&TE: Hopefully the book will reach everyone who has ever cared about “Star Trek,” everyone who’s ever wondered about “Star Trek,” and everyone who’s only heard of the original “Star Trek” recently (like, since last year’s movie). We know that for us, looking at these photos brought back a lot of fond memories of things we hadn’t dwelled upon for years.
– Linda Whitmore
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