Plotting Backwards and Forward

Contains major spoilers for Star Trek: Picard

In the commentary for Serenity, the movie follow-on to the short lived and much beloved series Firefly, Joss Whedon became particularly animated at the pivotal moment when we see River posed with a pair of axes while, strewn around her, lay the bodies of fallen Reavers.

This moment, it seems, was the starting point, the inspiration for the entire movie. And it was the climax. From that moment, Whedon worked backwards, answering for himself the question, “What led to this point?”

I suspect the plot for Star Trek: Picard S3 was similarly driven by the moment when the reunited TNG crew exited space dock in a newly reconstituted Enterprise-D. This was the moment the writers had to get to. Now, what led to it?

There would have been many questions. Why would they need an old, Galaxy-class starship? Well, they would need it if there was a problem with the newer models. What problem? And so on. The Enterprise-D launches in episode 9 of 10, and I would argue that, no matter what happens in episode 10, this represents the climax of the story. The rest — stopping the Borg attack, expunging the Borg portion of the young drones, rescuing Jack — is part of the tidying up that has to happen before we let our heroes go forth to Live Long and Prosper.

All this to say that a good story doesn’t necessarily stem from a vision of the start of it all. You might think of a moment that occurs at the end of Act 1, Act2 or near the end of Act 3. It doesn’t matter. From that moment, you can work backwards and forwards until your story is complete.

One last comment about Star Trek. I was never a huge fan of TNG (he says to the sound of collected gasps). But there certainly were some classic episodes, in particular, “All Good Things”, “The Inner Light”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, and “The Best of Both Worlds.” Star Trek: Picard S3, meanwhile, all of it, is a Very Good Story. In fact, I would argue, as of episode 9, that it represents the best that Star Trek has ever been. Why is that? Because of the story. Because of the script. A because the cast has matured into actors who can believably portray complex emotions and pull us along with them.

The Unravelling

One of the reasons for the success of Doctor Who over its nearly sixty years of history is the variety of stories the show presents. The stakes can be small or potentially universe-ending. The setting can be the past, present, or future, or a combination thereof. And within a given story, the tone can change from light-hearted to deadly serious in a pair of heartbeats.

I have a particular fondness for the third Doctor’s era, and as a writer, I enjoy writing in a variety of styles, from serious character studies to light-hearted affairs. Recently, I wrote a light-hearted, third Doctor story called “The Unravelling.” What I was going for here was to provide an amusing, in-universe explanation of why the walls at UNIT HQ were occasionally prone to wobble. And, why it was that the quality of light indoors was quite different from outdoors.

It’s been published by The Doctor Who Project, which posts two kinds of stories. On the one hand, they continue the adventures of the seventh Doctor past the cancelation of the series. These can be considered to take place in an alternative universe. The Doctor has regenerated several times in this universe.

The other stories are tales of the classic Doctors under the umbrella, Brief Encounters. Herein you’ll find “The Unravelling” among many other Doctor Who short stories.

Please give it a read and let me know if you enjoy it. And do check out the other fine stories collected here.

The Time Conspiracy

For a long time now, I’ve been itching to take my four-story fan fiction saga that linked the Firefly, Castle, and Doctor Who universes, and combine them into a single volume. It’s called The Time Conspiracy.

It all started back in 2012 with my fanfic story, “Goodbye.” In that story, I introduced time travel to the Firefly universe because—hey! It’s me. After the events of the movie Serenity, Mal and company meet up with someone from their past who should be dead. And they’re not the only ones who have been seeing ghosts. Something is wrong, and it’s up to the crew of Serenity to put it right.

This story led, inevitably perhaps, to a couple of FireflyCastle crossovers. In “A Firefly in the Castle”, Mal visits Castle’s Earth. In “Castle Serenity”, Castle and Beckett find themselves in the far future and join the crew of Serenity. In these stories, we learn that Mal and Castle are clones, inserted into their respective time streams to nudge events in a direction favourable to the Alliance.

The conclusion of the saga came with “Miranda” in 2016. This story brings the eleventh Doctor and Clara to the Firefly universe to get to the bottom of why the Alliance is meddling with time.

It’s interesting and gratifying to see how my writing improves along the way. And there are other things. The closing scene of “Castle Serenity” is, I think, the most touching thing I’ve written. To this day, it continues to makes me misty-eyed. And from a plotting perspective, “Miranda” is the most complex story I’ve written, telling its story while fitting into the events of “Castle Serenity” and the movie Serenity.

I also have to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading this adventure. I hope you do too.

To get your hands on the EPUB file, see my blog page, The Time Conspiracy.

Mysterious Photograph

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine has a great monthly contest. They print a photo and your job, as contest entrant, is to create a short crime story around the photo. And by short, I mean 250 words or less. I submitted for a story for the Nov/Dec 2022 photo but wasn’t selected. I like the story though, so I’m going to post the photo and the story here.

Mysterious Photograph

“Was it just yesterday that we hiked to the summit?” said Ellen Mordew. “We were so foolhardy.”

“Perhaps,” said Ajay Singh. “Or perhaps we were celebrating life, as Stuart would have wanted.”

Wiping away a tear, Ellen said, “Nothing was too crazy for Stuart. You knew him longer than I did.”

“Best friends since high school.”

The pair sat in silence as the lava descended the slope, steam rising as it meandered towards the surrounding flatlands. 

By now the lava would have melted the gun that Ajay had buried under some rubble on their descent. The police hadn’t found the murder weapon, and now they never would.

Ajay smiled as he sat in companionable silence with the woman he’d loved in secret for years.

Vampire Justice

If you watch The Rookie: Feds, you’ll have finally caught a glimpse of character Brendon Acres playing Vampire Cop. This was the titular character of a defunct TV show in which he starred prior to joining the FBI.

We all want more.

Sadly, I can’t give you more, but it turns out that in my short story, “Don’t Ever Change”, there is a similar story within a story. It concerns actor Alan Fitts playing the justice-dealing vampire Charles Wardell.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.


A slow knock at the door. Angelika Labelle’s eyes widen. She is seated upon a divan in front of the hearth, her face illuminated by the blazing fire within. The camera pulls back, and we see that the apartment is lit with candles, yielding areas of light and shadow. This is accentuated by the stark black-and-white photography. Decorations include antique cabinets and clocks, a hand-woven Turkish carpet, an intricately carved coffee table, and small Renaissance-era oil paintings. Another knock and she stands, adjusts her close-fitting dress, and sashays to the door. 

She opens the door slowly. There is a man standing in the corridor, hands folded behind him. He wears a black suit with a dark-grey shirt and a grey-and-black-striped tie. The corridor light is garishly bright, causing the woman to blink and raise her hand over her eyes.

A smile comes to Angelika’s face. She lowers her head slightly and looks up at the visitor, eyes half lidded. “Well this is a welcome surprise.”

“May I come in?” says Charles Bardell. 

Angelika steps back and waves her arm. Charles enters, and she closes the door behind him.

Stepping in front of the hearth, Charles regards the flames; the light dances in his dark eyes. 

“Wine?” asks Angelika, moving to the buffet. She reaches for a decanter filled with red liquid. 

“No,” says Charles. “No, I’m here on business.”

“Business,” says Angelika, as she moves towards Charles. “Well now I am intrigued.”

Charles turns rapidly and grasps Angelika by the forearm. 

“Charles!” Angelika’s eyes widen. “What are you doing?”

“You killed them. Those men. Why?”

Angelika blinks and her mouth opens slightly. Then, composing herself, she looks away. “I’m sure I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You seduced Doctor Boreanaz and blackmailed him. He provided you with the insulin and syringes you needed.”

“My, you are fanciful. Why on earth would I do such a thing?”

“They uncovered the truth about your past. As have I.”

Charles lets go of her then, and Angelika backs away, eyebrows raised. “What are you going to do?”

“Deliver justice.”

Angelika laughs. Moving to the buffet again, she pours a glass of wine, giving away a slight tremor in her hand, and takes a sip. “So,” she says, “you’re a policeman now?”

“I’m no policeman.” His words sound like a low growl. Approaching her once again, his face is dark with both anger and sadness. And something else. Hunger?

Angelika tries to back away but bumps into the buffet. Setting down her glass, she rests her shaking hands on the surface behind her. Charles approaches and bends so that he is very close to her neck. The camera closes in, showing the pores of her skin and his open mouth with its white teeth. 

“Charles, this is hardly the time,” Angelika says weakly, her body trembling.

“This is the only time,” Charles whispers.

His canines grow, and when they reach full length, Charles bites down on her carotid and drinks deeply. The camera moves to his eyes. They’re alight with energy. The camera pulls away and focuses on the roaring fire in the hearth. 


In “Don’t Ever Change,” people are inexplicably dying after meeting Alan Fitts, and someone starts to wonder if he mightn’t actually be some kind of vampire. You can find the story in my collection, Something Special, available at Amazon.

A Sneak Peak at “Happy Enough”

We met Will Fallon in the short story “Remember Me?” in my collection Something Special. Will encounters a woman named Susan Follows who can travel between worlds and who has come looking for his cat, Sam. Sam, it turns out, isn’t from around here. And in the world from which she came, she can talk. Will and Sam travel with Susan to many worlds until they end up back home, and Susan continues her travels on her own.

“Happy Enough”, a sequel to this story, appears in my new collection , The Woman in Red. In this excerpt, Will Fallons encounters someone who shouldn’t exist–a fictional character of his own making.

The second incident happened on Tuesday of the following week while Della was away at a conference. I was to meet some friends at a nearby Irish pub that evening. Being the first to arrive, I scanned the patio for a free table. They were all occupied and I was about to head indoors when a woman rose and walked towards the exit in my direction. I was about to thank her when I realized it was the dinosaur-dress woman from my story, “Under the Sand.” She was Black, her hair arranged in ringlets falling to her shoulders, and she wore a close-fitting cotton dress decorated with dinosaurs. I was stunned. Recovering a moment later, I decided what to say.

“Hi,” I said, when she was closer. “I was going to thank you for the table, but I think I know you.”

The woman said nothing, and instead raised a skeptical eyebrow. Interesting, I thought. If this is a show for my benefit, why does she look like I’ve just given her a lame pickup line?

“You work at FLIR, don’t you?” I continued. “I saw you speak at a defence conference.”

The skepticism on her face was quickly replaced by surprise.

“I’m Will Fallon. I used to work as a technical writer. You’re … Briana?”

“Briana Davison,” she said with a smile.

And that’s when the blood drained from my face. I hadn’t used her last name in the story, something that I’d kicked myself for. But that was the surname I’d chosen as part of her backstory, as was the defence conference. I had to force myself not to sway on my feet.

“Nice to meet you,” she continued. “You live in Kingston?”

“Um, yes. Are you here on business or sightseeing?”

“Bit of both. I’m collaborating with a professor at the Royal Military College. Well, I must get on. Nice to meet you, Will,” and she extended her hand.

“Same,” I mumbled, and we shook. Watching her leave, I whispered, “Stay clear of San Diego.” Then I took a seat at the empty table and ordered a large whiskey.

It was earlier than planned when I got home. Despite my best efforts, I’d only paid half-hearted attention to my friends, and when they noticed, I pleaded lack of sleep. Sam was waiting for me just inside the door. That was unusual. She went out most nights through a second-floor window that I keep open, leaping from the window ledge to the maple tree and returning home the same way.

Sam came up to me and rubbed her head against my leg. Kneeling down, I scratched behind her ears and looked into her eyes.

“You know, don’t you?” I said. “That something’s wrong. You always know.”

The Woman in Red is available from the Amazon bookstore.

A Christmas Sneak Peak at “The Tinselator”

What follows is a brief excerpt from “The Tinselator”, a story included in my latest collection, The Woman in Red. Here, Kaylee encounters a second visitor to her home on Christmas Eve.

After noticing that the sounds on the roof had stopped, Kaylee felt rather than heard something soft and heavy landing on the floor somewhere in the house.

Once again, she peered out the bedroom door, considered waking her mother, and instead crept towards the living room. It hadn’t changed very much since she was five. Her mother had bought some new curtains. Or rather, she’d bought some material and had fashioned curtains from them. They were still thin, though, and she could easily see the contents of the room from the streetlights shining in.

All was as it should be: sofa, chair, coffee table, the TV and the plant stand. It’s just that there was something there that didn’t belong:  a man, dressed in red, with snow white hair and beard, and wearing white gloves. Next to him on the floor was an enormous, bulging sack, standing about five feet high, tied-off at the top with rope.

The man was snuffling and scratching his head as he looked at a long piece of paper.

“You’re not Santa Claus,” Kaylee pronounced.

The man started, dropped the paper, and stood up. “I’m not?” he said.

“No. You’re not Santa Claus because there’s no such person.” Kaylee said as she crossed her arms.

The man looked down, scratched his head again, and said, “That’s funny. That’s very funny. Because I’m quite sure that I was Santa Claus when I left the North Pole. Yes, I definitely remember Mrs. Claus fastening the top button of my coat before I left. She said, ‘Now then Santa, you’ll be just fine without me. After all, you’ve been doing this for over 2,000 years.’ So, you see, I must be Santa Claus. The problem is, even though I have been doing this a very long time, things always change. People move around, new children are born, other children grow too old for my toys, it all becomes such a muddle.”

His eyes began to tear up and he withdrew a handkerchief and gave his nose a loud blow.

Finding that she was starting to feel sad for the man, Kaylee spoke in a softer voice. “But how do I know that you’re Santa? You could be anyone in a red suit with a big sack.”

Now the man’s eyes began to twinkle. “Oh, but this isn’t just any old sack. Come here and I’ll give you a peek inside.”

The Woman in Red is available from the Amazon bookstore.

The Woman in Red

The Woman in Red

Phew! It’s finally out there. When you finish a writing project, it can feel like you’ve just finished the last exam of your final year at university. You’re completely spent, happy that it’s over, but also satisfied that you’ve done the best that you could do.

I’m talking about my second short story collection, The Woman in Red. As I found with my previous collection, Something Special, writing the stories is just the beginning. When you go the self-publishing route, you are in fact the publisher. It’s up to you to either do the necessary work or delegate it, and that includes editing, copy editing, layout design, and, well, you have to do it all. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) tools help a lot, but it’s up to you to make the finished product as perfect as it can be.

As for the stories themselves, they have a theme, one I wasn’t conscious of as I wrote them. Sometimes you don’t understand what you’ve done until you’ve done it. In The Woman in Red, the theme is, what if you found out that everything you thought you knew was wrong and your understanding of the world was completely upended. What then? I explore that theme in multiple genres, including crime, horror, fantasy, and children’s.

The titular story, “The Woman in Red”, has a particularly interesting history for a couple of reasons. First off, it was actually completed years ago, but subsequently sat in an editor’s in-basket for a very long time. I finally decided to liberate the story and present it here. Also interesting is the fact that it was initially meant to be another of my Castle fan fictions. To discuss how the concept grew from a fanfic to an original tale would be to spoil it, but I explore this in the postscript following the story. The funny thing is, now that the story is out there, I’ve an almost irresistible urge to write the fanfic as I originally intended. That probably won’t happen, but never say never …

This is a much shorter collection than my previous book, Something Special, because my next project will be longer form prose. You get a sneak preview of that novel here with the first chapter of A Familiar Voice, the sequel to the story “A Voice.”

If you do pick up a copy of The Woman in Red, I certainly hope you enjoy it. The beautiful cover art is courtesy of @VIIIJohannes.

The Revisited Frontier

I’d like to tell you a story, a true one, about Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

STTMP was released in December 1979, a decade after the TV show was canceled. Up until then, those of us who loved Trek had been subsisting on reruns and novels. The first Trek novel was fittingly written by James Blish, who had novelized the TV episodes. Spock Must Die was derivative but with a twist and it was an enjoyable read. I recall tremendously enjoying The Price of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, a book that made clear the untapped potential of Star Trek.

But then word came that a movie was in the offing, and fans held their collective breath. This was in the wake of the massive success of Star Wars, and the studios were looking for intellectual property they could leverage to reach similar heights. Science fiction movies, after all, were suddenly “in”, and a Star Trek movie must have seemed a no-brainer.

Ottawa’s Elgin Theatre

And so, after a long buildup and a seemingly endless wait, it was released. In Ottawa, Star Trek: The Motion Picture opened at the Elgin theatre downtown. This was in the days before cineplexes. When you entered a movie theatre, there was a small area in which you could purchase tickets and snacks, and then you proceeded directly to the auditorium. When there was a lineup, you waited outside. Now, we’re talking about Ottawa in December in the 1970’s. Winters were very cold. There was a lot of snow. And the night my roommate and I walked to the theatre, it was cold and dark with tall piles of snow all around us. As it turned out, although we arrived early, the showing was sold out. So we and a lot of other people stood outside and waited to get into the next one. Why? Because this was STAR TREK. And we were highly motivated. And young. That helps too.

I want to emphasize, in case it isn’t obvious, that the audience was really was up for this. I don’t mean that expectations were sky high, but rather, that it would have been easy to make us happy. An above average episode would have done it.

After a long wait in the cold winter night, we took our seats. The lights dimmed, and there was applause before the movie even left dry dock. The opening credits rolled on the screen. William Shatner. YAY! Leonard Nimoy. YAY! And so on.

Sadly, that enthusiasm waned rather quickly, and at times the audience laughed at the movie. Not with the movie. At the movie. “[Bones.] I need you. Badly.” Laughter. Later on, “You mean this machine wants to physically join with a human?” Decker and Illia exchange longing glances. Laughter. There were probably other examples, I don’t remember. In the end, as the grumbling, disappointed audience left their seats, the feeling was that the plot was derivative (see the episode “The Changling”), the script was wooden, and the actors spent far too much time staring out the window in wonder.

William Shatner was among those unhappy with the result. After The Wrath of Khan was released to near rapturous reviews, he pointed out that STTMP had a much higher budget (in fact, it was the most expensive movie ever made at the time) but “it wasn’t a good movie.” His words. TWoK, he said, had a smaller budget, but was a much better one.

There are some positives, of course. One review at the time said that STTMP was nearer in tone to 2001: A Space Odyssey than to Star Wars, and that this was the ultimate compliment. In retrospect, it’s quite something to see the cast looking so young and fit. William Shatner had gained quite a bit of weight after Star Trek was cancelled, but to his credit he got himself back in fighting trim for the movie. There were certainly some amazing visuals. In the Director’s Edition, the special effects were completed and missing scenes reinserted. These helped to make sense of the thing. In particular, the scene where Spock realizes that V’ger is incapable of understanding the simplest (of human) feelings was one of the best in the revised movie.

If you like STTMP, I’m not trying to tell you that you’re wrong, not by any means. Obviously, there is no concept of wrong. Art touches everybody differently. But I have to be honest and say I’m puzzled by the number of very positive comments I’ve seen lately, particularly since the 4K version was released. I’m well aware that a movie shot on film can appear quite spectacular in 4K, but improving the visuals does nothing to solve the problems listed above. For a generation who was hungry for more Trek, we who viewed the film upon its release felt that STTMP limped out of dry dock on impulse power alone. The Enterprise didn’t achieve warp speed until the release of The Wrath of Khan.