Interview with Author LJ Scott
The following is a reprint of an interview by author Patrick T. Nelson back in 2020. To see the archived original post, click the link directly below:
I had the distinct pleasure to interview LJ Scott, and ask her some questions regarding writing, success, and Star Trek.
What’s your biggest writing success/disappointment?
My biggest writing success? My accepted Star Trek: The Next Generation submission might seem the obvious answer. But while I never ended up with a high profile writing credit, I have been able to apply my writing skills to various organizations and non-profit groups over the years. I’m very proud of that work.
My biggest disappointment would be the failure of my best manuscript to sell. The problem with constantly pushing the envelope with everything you write is, it makes publishers and television shows nervous because they’ve not seen something like it before… Then the years pass and your work then looks like it’s filled with clichés because everything you came up with has since been done by others, making your work look like a knock-off.
I’m really hopeful about the wealth of self-publishing options, nowadays, as a creator can stake their claim and allow their work find its audience over time, rather than sit at the bottom of a file cabinet where no one will see it as commonly happened in the 20th Century.
What was your first work in television/movies?
I started to serious write in 1984, first in narrative form, and soon after in script format. You know the saying ‘Always a bridesmaid, never a bride’…? I seem to often be the one helping to make the bridesmaids’ dresses.
Given Doctor Who was the only science fiction show in production at the time, I first aimed my work for them, even ending up with an extended meeting with producer John Nathan-Turner. He seemed very positive about my pitches but, sadly, the mid 1980s cut in yearly episode count closed the door on fulfilling that opportunity.
My first significant work in the industry was an uncredited role of ‘film gopher’ for Hick Trek: The Moovie. After finishing principle photography using Kodak Kodachrome film, they entered post production special effects filming only to discover the film stock had been discontinued at the consumer level. They initially tried to film the effects with Kodak’s Ektachrome film, but were very disappointed in the results. They need two rolls of film, but without Kodachrome, they were openly talking of abandoning production.
While I entered their orbit too late to participate in principle photography, finding out about the film problem, I scoured Colorado trying to find any leftover rolls I could. No luck. Then I noticed an obscure camera store tucked into the corner of the strip mall across the street from my apartment. Walking there, I discovered they had the last two rolls of Kodachrome and I snatched them up to donate to the production. I was very happy with the completed film. In my younger days I suffered from too much humility and turned down a credit for my help. In retrospect I wish I had accepted it.
How long do you like to mull over an idea before executing it?
That’s a great question because any answer would be wrong! Some ideas grab you in the middle of the night and I’ve been compelled to leap out of bed, warm-up the computer, and type away until it’s done. Other ideas are 70% ready and you need to take a few days, weeks, or even years to have it 100% figured out before placing your fingers on the keys.
When is your favorite time to write?
When I was young I loved the idea of riding the ‘midnight horse’ and typing away until the short story was done. But this method caused issues in my real life as I then hadn’t had much sleep before going to college classes and daytime jobs.
A longtime writer friend of mine noted that when she got great ideas in the middle of the night, she kept a note pad next to her bed. She’d wake up, jot it down, then get right back to sleep. In my case, writing by hand has not been my friend, so in the 1990s I got into the habit of calling my work phone and leaving voice messages as late night inspirations occurred. This was very effective. Now with smartphones, voice memos would make the most sense.
Looking back over my work, now, I find my best (most praised) was written in the cold light of day whereas my midnight tales were sometimes a little half baked but I didn’t realize it at the time given my lack of sleep!
Watching the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ‘The Quality Of Life’, I notice your credit was ‘Based On Material By’, I hadn’t heard of that term before. What was it about?
Oh yes, the infamous ‘Based On Material By’ credit. Gene Roddenberry’s original vision was to include viewers in the production of the show at one level or another. The ‘Based On Material By’ credit was created by Star Trek: The Next Generation to acknowledge when a viewer was involved in the creation of an episode. Apparently covering anything from a fleeting idea a production spouse may have had, to someone who wrote a complete script, I fell into the latter.
As the term wasn’t a traditional Hollywood credit, there was debate how to reflect such people’s contributions when it was entered into the Internet Movie Database. In the 2000s, we were assigned a ‘story by’ credit in IMDb. For some reason, by the mid 2010s, it was changed to ‘idea by’. Now that Amazon.Com owns IMDb, the original credit text of ‘ Based On Material By’ is now associated with my name. What I can say is: Paramount told me Naren Shankar’s script would be based on the outline of my script and, indeed, scene for scene much of the same thing happens during the final show. The only significant plot changes are the poker game at the start of the episode, and the twist toward the end when Picard & La Forge are trapped in a radiation field and need the help of the exocomps to escape.
As for why Naren is now given a ‘story by’ credit in 2020s IMDb.com, I don’t know. It wasn’t reflected in the show’s original broadcast credits, nor is it credited in the home media or currently streaming version, that I can find. Perhaps it was added by accident when Amazon.Com took over the site.
Are the robots in the final show very different from yours?
It was fun comparing my original script, “The Underground Circuit”, to the production draft, and then the completed episode.
Starting out with all the charisma of central heating units in mine, the robots were gradually anthropomorphized as the story passed from hand to hand. In Naren’s production draft, they were modified to mobile shoebox-like units, then realized as something not unlike footballs wearing sneakers by the design department. Under the direction of Jonathan Frakes, they gained little dips and hesitations in movement which denoted emotions and thought processes.
While some of my science fiction friends felt the story was purest with the robots being boxes that could not be identified with, it’s clear that the final rendition of the robots greatly helped audience acceptance, allowing this to become one of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s more popular episodes. My original script is also different as it drew parallels to similar situations in Earth’s history and ended the show with the crew creating a method to determine if the Enterprise computer might itself become self-aware at some point in the future.
So why didn’t you get an official ‘story by’ credit, or at least co-credit?
I’ve lived a long life of irony. I primarily didn’t get it because, of the six speculative scripts I wrote, my agent, Carolyn Hodges, refused to represent me on this one as it dealt with the character of Data. She strongly felt a good script would be focused on a real person and since it wasn’t, in her eyes, she refused to represent me. I called and tried to explain how Data was a core character of the show but she was having none of it, assuring me she would not represent me on it. She sarcastically added I could always send the script in on my own and, after the call, I thought about it and saw no downside sending it in myself. I’m glad I did.
I found many years later that she had been taking personal credit for the sale of my script to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I guess she rationalized her ‘advice’ that I could always send it in on my own was how she had done it!
Given this was Naren Shankar’s first credited solo script, how do you feel about his subsequent success?
What I admire most about Naren is his generosity. Many writers and producers fall into the trap of focusing solely on their own initiatives and fading into obscurity. But Naren has used his success to bring other people’s work to the screen. Beyond science fiction staples of the 1990s such as The Outer Limits and Farscape, he helped to bring Night Visions to life, sadly a short one, but a show I felt held a lot of promise. Grimm and the American version of Almost Human were must see shows for me. And I’m a complete fan of The Expanse; there is so little hard science fiction on television, or even the movies, and yet he’s not only brought it to the small screen but helped to make it a success. I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring to us, next.
Did you pursue any other work in the industry?
Part of my deal with Paramount was the potential to write for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They provided a copy of the pilot script, and character descriptions, to work from. I started to get my thoughts together for the coming series but soon after landed my Fortune 500 dream job and, instead, focused my energies on that.
Still, my name was now ‘out there’ in Hollywood and I received the occasional phone call or email. I ended up with some significant experience with television sitcoms, though uncredited.
In 1999 I was contacted by a representative of J. Michael Straczynski. I was told he had heard of me through industry contacts and wondered if I’d like to contribute to the back half of his new show, Crusade… But production was halted before that came to fruition. Yet, I was told they would keep me in mind. And indeed, I was short listed to write for his next Babylon 5 spin off series, Legend Of The Rangers, once the pilot went to series… It didn’t. Did I mention I live a life of irony?
How do you feel about things you wrote decades ago?
Either I was very talented in my younger years or my judgment is very poor in my older years, but I think my work holds up well.
My most visible screw-up was on the Doctor Who comic serial I wrote for the DWIS Newsletter. Robb Carnes, an artist, came to me in the late 1980s wanting to do a Doctor Who themed comic serial and we brainstormed ideas until we found one he loved. He also wanted to use the brand new 7th Doctor and his companion Ace. Even though those shows had not yet aired in the United States, I had plenty of experience with Doctor Who to know how the typical Doctor/Female Companion relationship works…
Once Sylvester McCoy’s episodes did come to America, we discovered what a different relationship he and Ace had, even including the name the Doctor was called. As a result, the first few installments of the comic serial are way off, though we fixed that in the subsequent installments. I was very proud of how we landed that story arc, in the end. Though I still wish I could go back in time and fix my scripts for those first few installments.
What is your opinion on where Star Trek is currently headed?
You won’t believe what a historically loaded question that is. When there was only the original crew, Star Trek: The Next Generation was universally hated by the fans in the 1980s. They labeled it as not being ‘Real Star Trek’. Now we live in a world where Star Trek: TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager are ‘Real Star Trek’ and the 21st century new shows are found wanting by fans.
What will people think by 2050? Will the 1990s episodes be ignored given their lack luster special effects and the new shows deemed ‘true cannon’?
We can always nit-pick various continuity flubs, but there were continuity issues in the first season of the original show as it was just finding its voice as it created a new television format. Ultimately, for me, I ask: Do we find the stories compelling? Do we learn something new? And do we see the world around us in a different way? If so, then it’s real Star Trek in my eyes.
Download the free PDF eBook here!