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Interview With an Author: Brent Spiner

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Brent Spiner and his debut novel Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir
Brent Spiner and his debut novel Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir. Photo credit: Andy Gotts

Brent Spiner is an actor, comedian, and singer best known for playing the android Lieutenant Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1987-1994. He has appeared in numerous television roles, in films, and in theatre on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in Los Angeles. He currently has a role in the T.V. series Star Trek: Picard. His debut novel is Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir?

I wasn’t exactly inspired to write the book. I was encouraged to write a memoir by a literary agent. That didn’t appeal to me, but I had a story I wanted to tell, so I weaved some events of my life through it and was able to convince him it was worth pitching to publishers.

Fan Fiction was “inspired by true events.” How much, or little, did you embellish/embroider what really happened to tell the story you tell in your “mem-noir”?

I embellished everything. And that includes the events of my life. It’s a work of fiction.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any people or occurrences that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I’m not exactly sure how to answer that. I think everything we wanted to write made it into the book. Of course, things were finessed and tightened along the way, but basically, it is still the story we set out to tell.

How did you and Jeanne Darst determine you wanted to write Fan Fiction together?

Jeanne was recommended to me by the wonderful writer, Jonathan Ames. We had both worked for him in different capacities. I worked as an actor on his series, Blunt Talk, and Jeanne wrote for the show. We met, I told her the story, and she got it, immediately.

What was it like to co-write Fan Fiction? How did you collaborate on the writing process? What was that like? Would you consider collaborating on another project together? Are there other authors with whom you would like to co-write a book?

It was a heavenly collaboration. Initially, I think it was assumed she would ghost-write the book, and I would put my name on it. But it didn’t turn out that way. Jeanne inspired me to write as much as possible. We both wanted the book to reflect my voice and my sense of humor. There were times she would send a sort of truncated version of a chapter to give me an idea of what was wanted. I’d take that and rethink and write it on my own terms. It was very helpful. That’s not to say that her words and thoughts are not in the book. They most certainly are. But she encouraged me to write and that’s what I did. I would definitely collaborate with her on a book or anything else for that matter.

Are the events described in Fan Fiction a conglomerate of multiple experiences with multiple people or based on a single series of events with a sole perpetrator? Was this the only troubling experience you had with fans while you were working on the series?

I’d prefer not to answer this. I think part of the fun of the book is trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. If, indeed, anything is real at all. Remember, I say in the prologue, the story is not true.

Were you the only Star Trek: The Next Generation cast member to have a fan experience that got this far out of control?

I think every “celebrity” has their share of unusual experiences with the public. Some, obviously, are more bizarre than others. But, I think they would all agree the vast majority of “fandom” is supportive, and a wonderful ancillary gift of being a public persona.

Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how Star Trek, both overall and specifically The Next Generation, have become so ingrained in western culture and continue to be beloved by legions of fans?

I’m not really much of a philosopher on this subject. I regard Star Trek as terrific entertainment. I think that’s what Gene Roddenberry had in mind. Of course, he used that entertainment to instill some of his beliefs, most of which are quite admirable. But I think the reason the show is so popular, and I think this is true of a lot of sci-fi, is because we live in a very frightening time. People aren’t sure we’re going to make it much longer as a species. Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. tells us that there will be a future. And that’s comforting, I think.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

At the moment I’m reading James Lapine’s book Putting it Together. Very insightful. It details the difficulties in mounting a Broadway musical. It particularly interests me because I was in that production. It’s been an enlightening deja-vu for me. I also just finished Mark Harris’ biography of Mike Nichols. Easily one of the best show business biographies ever written.

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

I guess the most surprising thing to me is the amount of work to be done even after the book is accepted by a publisher. Like for example, answering a myriad of questions for various outlets. Like, say…this.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Five? I don’t think so. That’s like telling you what my five favorite foods are.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

How old do you mean? If we go back to when my mother was reading to me, Winnie the Pooh had me mesmerized.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Not books. Magazines, certainly. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Only school books.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Not so much for the cover, but for the title. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Graham-Smith. I haven’t read a lot of fiction in the last few years, but that title just screamed that it had to be read.

Is there a book that changed your life?

I know this is a cliche, but I believe every guy my age was affected by J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It let us know at a very vulnerable stage of life that we weren’t the only ones experiencing those feelings.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Not really. I don’t think there’s one book that would satisfy all tastes.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

I don’t think so. I already had that experience. I like to experience new things. I’m also not one of those people who go back and read the same book again and again. I’m sure there is much to be gleaned from a second or third reading, but there are so many wonderful books I’ll never have time to read in my lifetime. I’d rather push on.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

Ken Burns documentary, Country Music. I’ve never been a huge fan of the genre, but his vision is so comprehensive, it just enveloped me into what is undoubtedly an essential art form.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

I’d like to go back in time and hang out at the beginning of the motion picture business. I’d like to watch the great silent comedians doing their thing up close and personal. Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

Don’t ask.

What are you working on now?

I’m back to being an actor now. I can’t tell you what I’m doing. I signed a non-disclosure agreement, and if I tell you, we both go to jail.

Book cover for Fan Fiction: A Mem-noir Inspired by True Events
Fan Fiction: A Mem-noir Inspired by True Events
Spiner, Brent