This interview was performed 1998-02-24 in Tucson, Arizona. It has been edited a bit to improve readability.
Hans Persson: I was reading this [Babylon 5 3: Blood Oath] on the flight into Tucson and got to the last page and it says ''lives in Tucson, Arizona''.
John Vornholt: So you gave me a call.
Hans Persson: Exactly. Two weeks in a boring hotel room, so I have to do something. I liked Blood Oath.
John Vornholt: Good.
Hans Persson: I'm usually dubious about things tying into other things. I like the TV series but I was a bit dubious before picking up the first book.
John Vornholt: I don't know if everybody can write tie-ins like that, but I've always been pretty good at it. I think it's a question you got to have fun with it and you got to look for bigger stories than they can usually tell in an hour TV show.
Hans Persson: It was a while ago since I read the first one so I don't remember exactly, but I think this one was pretty much the feeling that it might have been an episode.
John Vornholt: Good.
Hans Persson: The same feel, possibly a bit longer.
John Vornholt: Yes. I always think of books like that as probably the equivalent of a double or maybe even a triple episode, something like that.
I started off writing books like this, came out in 1993 but there's so many TV shows now and it's become such a big business, these book tie-ins.
Hans Persson: There's nine or something of these now, I think.
John Vornholt: I do Star Trek books too.
Hans Persson: I saw that at the back of this one.
John Vornholt: I've done about a dozen of those.
Hans Persson: And there's an infinite number of them out there.
John Vornholt: There's quite a few.
Hans Persson: Actually, on the channels I have available in Sweden, the only thing I've seen really is The Original Series, and that would be in the 70s, so Star Trek and I are basically not acquainted.
John Vornholt: I do a lot of kid's books too. We have a cable channel available called Nickelodeon which has a lot of stuff like Alex Mack. I have been doing Alex Mack books also.
Hans Persson: Have you written more ''normal'' books, non-tie-in sf/fantasy?
John Vornholt: I've written a lot of normal, non-tie-in kid's books. I wrote one called How to Sneak Into the Girls' Locker Room which was popular about five-six years ago and I used to write a lot of non-fiction books before.
In fact, it's funny, I used to write a lot of non-fiction, I used to work for Hollywood Reporter when I lived in Hollywood and I used to write computer books and kid's books and I wrote about mummys. One of my books about mummys has been published in Denmark a couple of years ago. I think writing media books is very similar to writing non-fiction in my mind. You have to do research and you have got source material. You want to put your own spin on it, you want to tell your own story and give it a twist that only you can give it, but on the other hand, you got to be true to the source material and that way the tie-in books and writing non-fiction are very similar.
Hans Persson: I can understand that, because G'Kar has to be G'Kar even though you're writing him.
John Vornholt: Even though I'm giving him something different to do and maybe different characters in his life and stuff like that but it still has to be true to what's gone on before.
Hans Persson: How much freedom do you have, really?
John Vornholt: It depends on the kind of book it is. I had quite a bit of freedom when I wrote the Babylon 5 books. Usually, the very hardest thing is you have your characters like G'Kar and you know that you can't kill them off and you can only do so much with them. Generally you populate a book with what I think of as guest stars. Your characters who are in there and of course you can do whatever you want to with them. I like to visit weird planets in that sort of books, because in Babylon 5 because of the constraints of TV budgets they generally don't go to a lot of planets and when they do go to a planet it's sort of an interior. They're in somebody's palace or somebody's office or something like that. Generally, they don't do a lot of location shots when they're outdoors, they don't do that kind of thing. I always think with these tie-in books, I want to do something different that they can't do on the TV show.
Hans Persson: Like you show the outside of this Narn slum, I don't remember the name.
John Vornholt: I don't either. Yes. To my mind, what separates the books from the TV show is that in the book I don't have to worry about the budget. I can do anything I want, I can go anywhere I want, so in some respects I have more freedom than even Joe Straczynski who writes the show.
Hans Persson: Because he has to pay for it.
John Vornholt: He has to show it and that show in particular is very dependent upon its sets. They do a lot of matte painting and they do process shots and they do trick photography and stuff to make you think you are other places but you don't actually go anywhere so I always look for stories that have lots of scope and lots of chance to go to weird planets like Voices for example.
Hans Persson: Yes, that was on Mars.
John Vornholt: Yes, and there were also parts on Earth and there were parts on Babylon 5 itself, so I sort of got around.
Hans Persson: That was before anyone from Babylon 5 traveled to Mars.
John Vornholt: Yes. I just knew Garibaldi was from Mars. There was some question about there was something to do with PsiCorps on Mars but at that time I didn't know exactly what it was so I sort of hinted around about it because it had been hinted around at in the show but, that kind of stuff is cool, gives you a chance to go places that on the show they can just only talk about.
Hans Persson: In this one [Babylon 5 3: Blood Oath], you're describing two earlier attempts on G'Kar's life. Is that your idea?
John Vornholt: No. One was in an episode. I'm not going to remember what it was. It was in a first-season episode.
Hans Persson: Ah yes, he gets the black flower.
John Vornholt: Yes. And they do try to kill him there and basically his assistant Na'toth stops him but that's when I thought it didn't flesh out why these people were trying to kill him, only that he had wronged this family and they send an assassin and we also heard mention of this brotherhood of assassins but we don't see them much, so that's what you try to do, you try to pick things that have been mentioned in passing and form them into a story.
Hans Persson: When you do this, do you have to go to Joe Straczynski and say ''I have this and this and this and I want to do something like this, is this OK?'' because he has the overall control of everything?
John Vornholt: In his case, he does approve everything.
Hans Persson: He has a plot for all the five seasons. I suppose he wants to make sure that you're not saying something in a book that he will contradict three episodes later.
John Vornholt: Yes. He may still contradict things later, in fact, even though he's read them. I remember in Voices that stars Talia Winters, the telepath. When she was in there we didn't know much about her family so I gave her a family. Later on, there was a show that basically contradicted what was in my book, even though Joe had read it he still slipped up. It's really hard. You mentioned you watched Star Trek with Kirk and Spock and those guys, it is much easier to write those books because those books are now frozen in time.
They even stopped making movies with those guys. They aren't in a universe that's constantly changing. I wrote one called Sanctuary which takes place in the original five-year mission of the Enterprise and that time period isn't going to change. When you try to make Babylon 5 or Deep Space 9 or something where the TV shows are ongoing and constantly changing it's really hard to keep up with them. It's very hard because you don't know what they're doing and their lead time for a book is much greater than the lead time for a TV show. They'll be shooting a TV show and then in about a month, it will air. I've been writing a book and it won't be in the book stores until at the very least maybe six months after you finish it, closer to eight months or a year.
Hans Persson: Then it will take you a number of months to write it.
John Vornholt: Yes. You got maybe eight months or a year lead time, and by that time who knows what's going on in that show? So you really have to have some kind of ESP and plan ahead.
Hans Persson: Choose some remote spot no-one uses.
John Vornholt: In Voices, I have Talia Winters using this thing that she thought there
was somebody inside of her and it did turn out, I don't know whether Joe read my book and decided to do it that way or not, but I sort of foresaw the ending for Talia Winters, that she had been a double agent without knowing it, an unwitting double agent the whole time, so that was basically in Voices and I didn't know that was going to happen but it happened anyhow.
Hans Persson: Might have been your fault. Do you feel, is there a difference writing for Star Trek, say Deep Space 9 or something that is still on and Babylon 5? Babylon 5 has this giant plot, four or five seasons, as far as I know, Star Trek doesn't.
John Vornholt: No. Babylon 5, it's funny, the books are sort of anathema to the TV show, there's the TV show as an ongoing story but in a book, you've got to freeze it for a moment, step out and do a large self-contained story.
Hans Persson: I assume you can refer to previous episodes.
John Vornholt: You can refer to previous episodes. When I say self-contained, I don't mean it has nothing to do with anything but it's not going to progress the arc, so to speak, they do episodes like that now and then too, episodes that are just for their own sake, they're not really progressing the overall story.
Hans Persson: They're getting fewer.
John Vornholt: Yes, I know. I haven't actually watched it much in the past few months. I don't think I've watched it at all since it went off regular TV and went on to TNT, went on cable.
Originally, Joe wanted my first book to be about the Earth-Minbari war which he ended up making the first TV movie about, essentially. Dell, the publisher, wanted it to be a current story. Actually, Deep Space 9 is now more like that now, Deep Space 9 has pretty much ongoing arc now too. Voyager, I don't know if you get that one.
Hans Persson: We will, pretty soon.
John Vornholt: I haven't written any Voyager books, I haven't gotten into that one. It's funny, because some of these things, like there's a show called Are you afraid of the dark which is a kid's show. I write Are you afraid of the dark books but they're anthology shows. Basically the only thing that happens every show is that some kids sit around a camp fire and tell spooky stories to each other, but the show itself is the spooky story, so in a book you only have a page or two of these kids sitting around and then you have a story with characters that you have made up completely. Just as long as it's a ghost story, a spooky story that's a TV tie-in, even though you don't use the characters and settings and so on.
Hans Persson: It's like The Twilight Zone.
John Vornholt: Exactly, it's like The Twilight Zone. Some of these TV tie-ins give you quite a bit of freedom, they're like regular books, they just say something on them.
Hans Persson: It's just a label.
John Vornholt: Right.
Hans Persson: Is there a difference publishing-wise? I imagine it would be easier to sell something like this, to sell copies of it, though perhaps not to sell it to a publisher.
John Vornholt: What happens is that a company like Dell makes a deal with Warner Brothers who owns Babylon 5 and Dell will do a deal for a batch of books, maybe six books or ten books, so you know there are going to be ten books written. It's just a question of we don't know what they're going to be about, we don't know who is going to write them. They now ask certain writers they know, certain writers they heard about or maybe somebody will submit an idea and you submit an idea. An outline may be somewhere between six and ten pages long, something like that, and so they'll take those they like, run them by Joe Straczynski and he'll pick the ones he likes. It's a little bit of a competition thing but that never bothered me because I'm pretty good at writing outlines and coming up with good stories. It works like that, I don't really have to deal with any of the rights or any of that stuff, it's all settled before I get involved. On a regular book, your name is going to carry the show and the publishing business is changing until a point where it's harder and harder to sell just regular books. It's too bad.
Hans Persson: Unless you're Stephen King.
John Vornholt: You know, if you're Piers Anthony or somebody like that you can sell anything. It doesn't matter what it is, they don't even care if it's good or bad or anything, just as long as your name is on it.
Hans Persson: Isaac Asimov's such and such.
John Vornholt: Exactly. Oftentimes it's somebody's name who hasn't written a word, somebody who's dead, even. V. C. Andrews is still writing books although she's dead.
Hans Persson: There are Foundation novels being published now.
John Vornholt: Yes.
Hans Persson: Greg Bear, I think.
John Vornholt: The publishing business gets more and more owned by big conglomerates. They're thinking ''product''. For them the product is like a box of cereal and they're fighting with the other publishers for shelf space so it's harder to sell regular books unless your name on the book means sales. We're getting too many media books now. I wrote an Earth 2 book, that was a Stephen Spielberg TV show which ran about a year and everybody thought they'd be real popular but they weren't real popular. In other words: everybody thinks the media books are sure-fire but they've gotten to the point where there's so many of them that they aren't sure-fire anymore. I mean, obviously Star Trek, Star Wars and some of them are but it's harder to say with some of these others. Science fiction has gotten huge. Some of the old-time writers have been moaning all this time, they wish it was like it was in the 60s and the 70s.
Hans Persson: 40s, probably.
John Vornholt: 40s, but you know, even the 60s and 70s science fiction was the purview of maybe 50 writers, 50 novelists all writing a book a year.
Hans Persson: Not many of them being full-time writers.
John Vornholt: Not many of them being full-time writers either and in the rest of science fiction in those days there maybe was a few low budget movies every year. But now science fiction is the biggest action genre there is.
Hans Persson: Even more in movies.
John Vornholt: And TV.
Hans Persson: Exactly, because a science fiction movie, anybody will go and watch that but not everyone will pick up, not necessarily a tie-in but a regular book. Not many people pick up science fiction books even though they read books, but they do watch the movies.
John Vornholt: It's bizarrely ironic that at the same time that science fiction has gotten huge in the general culture, in the general pop culture, it's actually gotten smaller in the book store.
It's almost like westerns were in the 50s, there were westerns everywhere, half the movies made were westerns. It was one of the action genres that did well all over the world.
Hans Persson: We used to have Bonanza for a number of years.
John Vornholt: Exactly. The spy movies are the same thing.
Hans Persson: American movies are selling everywhere.
John Vornholt: American movies are selling everywhere, but they want something that will travel well. I used to write comedy, years ago when I lived in Hollywood and comedy was one of those things that often did not travel well.
Hans Persson: No, because we're not laughing at the same things.
John Vornholt: What people in England or Germany may find funny, Americans may not find funny and vice versa, whereas a good action movie is the same, everybody is going to enjoy that wherever so I think that's the big difference and of course nowadays the computer animation stuff has gotten so much cheaper. It's not just Jurassic Park and the big things. Low-budget TV shows can afford good computer animation, lots and lots of it.
Hans Persson: Just comparing a series one episode and a series four episode of Babylon 5, it's almost ridiculous when you compare the amount of it and the quality of it.
John Vornholt: Although the problem with computer animation is that the stuff gets boring after a while. Remember when we first saw Terminator 2 and we had the guy turning into liquid. All the sudden it was in every TV show and movies had this liquidy, morphing type guy, then it got old and the same thing's happening now with Babylon 5. Babylon 5 pioneered that the screen is full of 400 space ships, since once you made one it's pretty easy to duplicate it and make about 300 more but now we've seen that so often, the sky with space filled with all these space ships, even that's beginning to look humhumhum, another big battle, so they have got to find something else.
Hans Persson: Usually, we don't see creatures animated. Now and then you do, but they still have a bit of trouble with that. They seem to float slightly above the floor, usually, or something like that.
John Vornholt: They don't have any weight. There's something about them that they don't look like or move like, although they try, they still don't quite move like creatures that weigh something.
Hans Persson: Once they finish that, we can get another batch of interesting stuff for a while, I think.
John Vornholt: Maybe.
Hans Persson: I haven't actually seen Dragonheart, but then you can do really good fantasy movies with all the creatures, all the magical creatures animated.
John Vornholt: That's right.
Hans Persson: Now you have to do it in a cartoon way or expensive real-life animation or something like that.
John Vornholt: I don't know what the next thing will be, but science fiction sure is big now. It's amazing.
Hans Persson: How did you get into science fiction writing?
John Vornholt: Well, I've been a writer since I was 13 so I've really been a writer 37 years.
I've always liked science fiction but how I got into this novel tie-in stuff was really strange. Although I was writing non-fiction books and children's books at the time, my agent said Star Trek: The Next Generation has just started up and they're looking to do a book series and I was definitely a long shot, he had some science fiction novelists lined up to submit ideas and he said ''Do you want to send in an idea too?'' and he said ''You got to work on it tonight'' so I went home that night and I worked out my first book that's called Masks which was a Star Trek: The Next Generation book and it was the first one of those books to make the New York Times bestseller list and it was reprinted three times the first month, but that was very strange. I only really wrote a six-page outline and mine was the only one of 22 outlines that he sent in that they bought. The only reason I got the deal was because I'd written a computer book for Simon & Schuster, the same publisher, so they knew that if they gave me money, I'd give them a book which is the first immediate concern. They'll worry later if the book's any good or not, but first they need to get the book.
Hans Persson: They knew you could keep a schedule.
John Vornholt: Yes. That was a planet where everybody wore masks all the time and their whole status in the culture and their job and the way everybody looked at them all depended on the kind of mask they wore and that was the first book. I pretty much broke all the rules at that time because I didn't know them. Now I probably wouldn't be able to sell that book, because they've gotten a bit tighter on Star Trek books. It had many things in it that they don't really like now.
Hans Persson: What happens to this kind of book? Do they normally get reprinted or does it sell for like a year and then drop out of existence?
John Vornholt: Star Trek books stay around a long time, although this one's only in its second printing [Babylon 5 3: Blood Oath]. I signed some books exactly like this at the book fair I was at and they were in their fourth printing. In fact, the problem is regular books are not tied in with TV shows or anything, they go out of print really quick, they go out of print in six months or a year, I mean it's really disheartening to work that long on a book. The whole book business is just throwing shit on the wall, essentially, for the most part. They're fighting over shelf space, so all the publishers bombard the book stores with as many books as they can. I will get more space than the competitor. It's funny with the book business, the authors are doing worse all the time, for the most part unless you fall into something like I did with these kind of books, you fall into something that's really popular and booming, if you're a romance novelist that goes through cycles, you know, sometimes it's on a rise and sometimes on a low, but essentially the book business itself is harder and harder for the writers although it's really good for the book stores -- I don't know in your country but we have all these big superstores -- now, we have bigger and bigger book stores opening up all the time.
[End of first tape]
John Vornholt: The book publisher himself may do fine if he sells three Star Wars book a year and the authors will do great, they'll sell millions of copies each but their publisher eventually figures, hey, if I do 15 or 20, each individual title will sell less but in total I'll sell more, so what happen is, if you start thinking about it, the authors are going to make less. Even though the book publisher may be selling more I guess aggregate of Star Wars books or Star Trek books, they're not selling as many individual copies.
Hans Persson: It's eating itself.
John Vornholt: It is.
Hans Persson: Why is this book [The Fabulist] written by himself?
John Vornholt: In first person?
Hans Persson: Yes. Or rather, it's hard to explain, but how come it is written from the present?
John Vornholt: Did you read this book?
Hans Persson: Oh yes.
John Vornholt: Oh, you did. That a very good question and I always thought I would get around to explaining that, some day. I thought it would be real popular and I thought there would be a sequel and it was only moderately popular although it will be popular when this musical version is done in New York but I thought I would explain that in the second book but there never was a second book so I don't really know how that's working.
Hans Persson: Now and then, every 50 pages or so, there's a reference to something that happens today.
John Vornholt: That bothered a lot of people too, that bothered some reviewers of that book, although the editor liked it and several people liked it, a lot of people did not like it and it's funny in a way this book, anachronisms in fantasy novels are one of those awful things that people either like or hate.
Hans Persson: It intrigued me, because I kept thinking we'll probably get to the bottom of this on the last page but we didn't.
John Vornholt: And you didn't, no. I thought I would explain that in the second book, what he'd been doing and what had happened, that he had managed to stay alive with the help of the gods, but I never got to write a second book so I don't know how the hell that happened, to tell you the truth. Just one of those things that I didn't get around to explain because after he dies the book is over, there didn't seem like much reason to keep the book going so I sort of ended it there.
Hans Persson: Actually, I wasn't even looking for this one.
John Vornholt: Where did you get that, by the way?
Hans Persson: This one I got at Bookman's. Actually, they had two of them and I wasn't even looking, I just generally looked at the shelf and went ''I know this name, now'' and I picked it up and actually I was out in Casa Grande and looked in a bookstore there and they had this many [about 20] of them
John Vornholt: I heard about that, I got to go to that big bookstore out there, it's also sort of a used book...
Hans Persson: It's remainders, I have a stack over there.
John Vornholt: Will you go to any science fiction conventions here, you probably enjoy those.
Hans Persson: Yes. I couldn't find one that were here this particular weekend.
John Vornholt: There's going to be one in Phoenix in about May. The one we have here, early November.
Hans Persson: Do you usually go?
John Vornholt: Yes, I go to local conventions. I used to go to a lot more, I used to go all over the country to science fiction conventions but now I just go to the ones that are close to home. I sometimes go to one in Los Angeles, there's a big one in Los Angeles called LosCon. That's always on thanksgiving weekend.
Hans Persson: You said you started writing at thirteen, I think. When did you get published first?
John Vornholt: I got published when I was about nineteen or twenty, I actually went to Europe, Spain and Italy, for three years and I sent out travel articles, so the first stuff I ever got published was travel articles and I used to take my own photos for them. It wasn't until I got back to the United States and then to Los Angeles that I was writing scripts and plays and TV and lots and lots of non-fiction and as I say, I started writing kids books, but I had not really been writing adult books until that sort of fluke that I wrote one of the very early Star Trek: The Next Generation books that became very popular and so then that sort of gradually took over and I stopped doing everything else and since I was only writing books, my family and I said we move to Tucson because it's not that far from Los Angeles but we wanted to get away with little kids and stuff. Really not a lot of planning here, except that I always wanted to be a professional writer. I was always determined to make money out of it. Even though I really had five or six entirely different writing careers, I always managed to find something.
Hans Persson: Have you been a full-time writer for a long time?
John Vornholt: I've been a full-time writer since 1981. Before that I was selling a lot of stuff.
Hans Persson: How's the proportion now, fiction/non-fiction? Are you still writing non-fiction?
John Vornholt: I'm not writing any non-fiction, basically. I'm not writing any original books anymore either, I just write books based on TV shows and movies. Nobody would ever set out to do that, really, because it's not something you would think ''I'm going to make a career doing that'', it didn't even exist when I first started writing.
Hans Persson: There is Alan Dean Foster and then there is nobody.
John Vornholt: Yes, there's Alan Dean Foster. Even Isaac Asimov wrote the novelization of Alien, The Black Hole and lots and lots more. Asimov wrote Fantastic Voyage, it was the novelization that he wrote. He wrote one and there was a period where movies were novelized, but original stories like this, I mean, that something that's just in the last not even quite ten years, more like eight or nine years.
Hans Persson: It started with Star Trek novels?
John Vornholt: It basically did start with Star Trek novels, and then when Star Wars started to get so popular of course people were starved for that stuff because they hadn't seen anything so they were absolutely starved, now they've got comic book, video games, you got so much ancillary publishing that goes on with these things it's amazing.
Hans Persson: How does it work with a regular novel when you sell it?
John Vornholt: Like that one, if you haven't got a name you basically got to do like I did with that book, sit down and write it and then try to sell it.
Hans Persson: Yes. You get advance against royalties and then you hope to collect more?
John Vornholt: Yes, that right.
Hans Persson: And you might. How do tie-in books work?
John Vornholt: It's advance against royalties, except the royalties are smaller percentagewise. On a regular book your royalties might be 6% running up to 8%, on a hardcover maybe 10%, really nobody gets much more than 10%, even Stephen King, but on Babylon 5 or something your royalties might be 2% but you sell so many more copies that you make it up.
Hans Persson: It's the same procedure anyway.
John Vornholt: It's essentially the same procedure, except, you wouldn't sit down, people do this, of course, but a professional writer wouldn't generally sit down and write a Babylon 5 novel without knowing he was going to sell it.
Hans Persson: I was under the impression that tie-in novels were novels were normally sold for a flat fee.
John Vornholt: No, not really. Not usually. Occasionally.
Hans Persson: That you'd sell them for a higher amount than the regular advance but then you got nothing more.
John Vornholt: No, generally speaking, they're not. They generally know, nowadays, they have a pretty good idea how many copies are going to sell. The days have passed when they get really surprised by a media novel and have to reprint it three or four times the first month or something like they did with my first one and like they did with the first Star Wars books and stuff. Generally speaking, they have a pretty good idea how many they are going to sell, so the advance they give you is usually about all you make, you may end up two or three years later seeing a few more bucks but chances are it's not going to be one of those things that goes through the roof and surprises everybody, not now. It's no longer an unknown quantity like it once was.
Hans Persson: They have figured out how much each Babylon 5 novell will sell. The first Babylon 5 novel sells fine for a while and then they slow down.
John Vornholt: Thats right and the more they come up with, the fewer of each copy they sell but they're selling more and more, if they start out doing three a year, then they work up to six a year, then one every month. That's the way it works.
Hans Persson: Do they supply you with stuff to write these books, background material, this kind of thing?
Star Trek and to a lesser extent Star Wars is pretty easy because nowadays there's all these reference books, you know, these coffee-table encyclopedias. When I started out there was nothing, you had basically what you remembered from watching the TV show and any notes you might take as you went along.
But for Star Trek books in particular it's really easy now because you have encyclopedias and computer programs and CD-ROMs. You no longer remember anything, you can look up a characters name or so, you just look it up and find it.
Hans Persson: Now they have Babylon 5 ones.
John Vornholt: When I wrote my Babylon 5 books there was no research material, there weren't any CD-ROMs. Joe's a decent guy, I know him from before when he was a cartoon writer and I was also writing cartoons and I sent him email and asked him a couple of questions but I got pretty short replies, no reams, people think you get like tons of information or so. On a new TV show, you might get what's called the bible which is the writer's and director's guide but usually that thing is only useful to everybody when the show's in its planning stage.
Hans Persson: Then of course you can't use episodes because there aren't any.
John Vornholt: There aren't any, exactly, the bible just basically says this is the setting, these are the main characters, these are the kind of stories we hope to do. It's basically a selling tool or something that everybody uses before there's anything to look at.
Hans Persson: And then you don't have quite as much a picture of the characters, the characters in Babylon 5, we know exactly what they're doing, we know who they are so you have to be reasonably close to that.
John Vornholt: That's right, if you've seen several years of the TV show, you know those people, they're much easier to get right.
Hans Persson: And much more lethal if you get them wrong.
John Vornholt: Exactly. Although you can't ever fail that, I always feel like I'm pretty good at this, I always feel like I got to get the known characters right, that's the thing I try hardest to do. You know that if you don't get them right, if it doesn't sound like G'Kar, doesn't sound like Kirk or whoever, nothing else you do will work and you don't have the actors saying these lines.
Hans Persson: You don't have the voices and so on.
John Vornholt: I don't have the voices. Where the scriptwriters can say ''The guy that plays G'Kar, he'll make that sound all right.'' He'll say that right if it's not quite right.
Hans Persson: They might ad lib a bit.
John Vornholt: Right, and you don't have that, you have to get it right yourself.
Hans Persson: I heard from a friend at work that you're teaching writing as well, how about that?
John Vornholt: No, I haven't been teaching writing. Who was he thinking of, maybe Simon Hawk?
Hans Persson: I don't know, I said I was meeting you, he thought he had seen you do creative writing.
John Vornholt: I occasionally do a seminar, it's funny, I speak to a lot of classes but I don't consider myself to be a teacher, in other words, I guess this is just my own thing, I guess I think of myself as a speaker, every now and then but not as a teacher.
Hans Persson: OK. You walk into an existing class?
John Vornholt: And talk creative writing, exactly, so I guess I do do that but I don't think of myself as a teacher.
Hans Persson: It's not your class.
John Vornholt: No, it's something I may do just one time, do a writer's conference and speak on something or that sort of thing.
Hans Persson: What's the secret?
John Vornholt: What's the secret... Ah... Well, I think writing is like anything else, you have to practice it and work very hard at it and the more you do it the better you get. There isn't any secret, it's just hard work. It's 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.
Hans Persson: Is that Mark Twain or who is it?
John Vornholt: Yes. It's great to be inspired but you have a deadline in a month and you have to write a book, you can't wait to get inspired, you got to sit down and do it and that can be very hard, it can be like any other job, some days you don't feel like doing it, some days you do feel you can hardly wait to get at it, but you have to go in and do it anyway. The secret is that if you are going to make money out of it, you have got to think commercially, you got to program your mind. Most beginning writers make the mistake that they sit down and write a book that is the book they always wanted to read, they always wanted to see, but they're not thinking if there's anybody else in the entire world who will want to see it or not. A lot of writers do, writers do this too, they do things that are cross-genres, they want to do a science fiction murder mystery, they think that's really cool, they want to see more science fiction murder mysteries so then write one.
Hans Persson: They fit in neither genre
John Vornholt: They fit in neither genre, the publisher won't know what to do with it and the sales force won't know how to sell it.
Hans Persson: Quite often they end up writing either with the trappings of the other.
John Vornholt: Right.
Hans Persson: Either it's a mystery that happens to take place in space but it might just as well have been here or the other way around.
John Vornholt: Yes, usually, that's just one example, there are dozens of examples, I see that all the time. People come up to me and they want me to read their book and they're beginning writers and they're telling me about their book
and I know this book may be really fascinating to them, maybe their wives like it or whatever, but it's just not a commercial idea, it's not something you can explain easily to anybody, people are not thinking commercially. I don't know if that's something you can train people to do.
Hans Persson: I suppose you can.
John Vornholt: I don't know, because some writers like to write the same book over and over again, they got a formula going.
Hans Persson: Sometimes it sells.
John Vornholt: Sometimes it sells and sometimes thats what there readers want to see.
Hans Persson: David Eddings.
John Vornholt: I can't stand him, I don't like his stuff.
Hans Persson: I only read the first set of five, and then from everybody else that I know who has read more of them they say that the next five are the same five once again, so I stopped there. I can't say they're bad, but, well, chewing gum for the mind.
John Vornholt: That's right. All these fat fantasy novels are on the upswing, definitely.