Brent Spiner has been an icon for nearly 35 years, thanks to his role as the android Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. And non-Trekkers recognize him from dozens of other roles, including Independence Day, The Big Bang Theory, and Warehouse 13. He’s also quite the crooner, having released several covers of classic standards. And now, you can add author to his resume.
St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Spiner’s new novel Fan Fiction: A Men-Noir Inspired by True Events tells a fictional tale with a comedic bent, one about a noir mystery set during the glory days of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1991. Although the story is fiction, Spiner fills the book with several true autobiographical details from his own life—and with his equally iconic castmates from TNG. We got to chat with the sci-fi legend, and he told us the origins of his unique and supremely entertaining first novel.
Nerdist: Where did the idea for crafting a half autobiographical/half fictional story come from? And is this something which was percolating in your mind for a long time?
Brent Spiner: Yes, the story has been percolating in my mind for quite a while. A literary agent asked me if I would be interested in writing a memoir, and I wasn’t particularly interested. So I said, “No, no, I really can’t write a memoir. I have another story. I’d rather write something entertaining. And I can add elements of my life, my true life, into it as well. But it’s all going to be heightened and turned into fiction, if I have my way.” Fortunately, St. Martin’s press was interested in me writing it. And then a pandemic came along, so I had nothing else to do. And that facilitated my writing it as well.
When talking about your Star Trek castmates in the book, you said “long hours and repetitive work either form lifelong friends or bitter enemies.” Clearly, you and the rest of the cast are the former and not the latter. But did you have a hard time in getting anyone’s permission to become fictional versions of themselves in your story, or was everyone completely down?
Spiner: Everybody was totally cool. I mean, certainly, I sent everybody a copy of the book to make sure that they’d be okay with the way I depicted them. And nobody had a problem with it. I was really happy about that. I think they understood that it was a comedy and that I had heightened who I was to comedic effect and that I was going to do the same with them. And everybody was cool with it, which was really a relief.
Just as fans, we love that you guys love each other so much in real life, because there are other movies and shows where you’re like, “This is depressing, because everyone knows they all hated each other in real life.” But it’s kind of nice when we watch Next Gen, because we know It’s not fake.
CBS / Viacom
Spiner: No, it’s really true. And we’re all still very good friends. We’ve been really good friends now for 34 years, and that’s a long time. And our friendships have a lot of ups and downs for all of us. But we still work together, and we still enjoy a meal together. We talk on the phone. We email each other all the time. I spoke to Jonathan Frakes this morning. So yeah, I agree. I think that is the number one element that I am grateful for, for having done the show, is the friends I’ve made.
Obviously, this story has a strong 1940s noir influence to it. You name drop movies like Laura and Key Largo and Vertigo. Was there a specific film noir that influenced you the most?
20th Century Studios
Spiner: Well, I don’t want to give that away too much, but I tried to cover sort of the bases, I guess, a little bit of Vertigo and a little bit of Psycho and a little bit of Dressed to Kill, and Otto Preminger’s film, Laura. So yeah, I love those films obviously. And then there’s a nod to comedians too, the great comedians like Stan and Ollie, who I mentioned with love, and Buster Keaton and on and on.
In the documentary Trekkies, you’re interviewed extensively about your ardent women fans, the “Spiner-Fems.” And you take it all in good stride in the documentary. You have a good laugh. But I’m wondering if you drew inspiration for the novel on these fans, the whole idea of a “Spiner-Fem” gone bad?
Spiner: I’m sure there was a little of that in there. When I say “inspired by true events,” there were a lot of things in those years, and a lot of mail and a lot of odd occurrences—ones that I tried to use and fictionalize and put together in this piece. But in total, it really is sort of a love note to fandom in a way, and not just Star Trek fans, but all fans, because that’s what we all are. We’re all fans of someone. And in the book, I think I make clear that I’m a fan too. So that’s sort of what the real inspiration was.
The story told in the book coincides with the death of Gene Roddenberry. And we just passed what would have been Gene’s 100th birthday. Gene was a complicated man, and you touch on that in the book. But he also obviously changed your life. You describe the moment where you all learned about Gene’s death so well. How was it going back to that moment in time?
Spiner: I was thinking this last night about Gene, and how on several occasions we crossed paths, certainly during the audition process. And then after I got the role and the parties at Gene’s house and the times he would come to the set. And I remembered that I had lunch with him once, just the two of us. He was always enthusiastic and kind to me. And I think we weren’t expecting his passing to have happened right at that moment, so it was a bit of a surprise, but it wasn’t shocking like it is when someone who seems perfectly healthy comes to an end.
I do vividly remember that morning that we all gathered, that we were all called to the soundstage for some reason we didn’t know. And it turned out to be everybody, and not just the actors getting a reprimand, which is what I had expected. And Rick Berman, our executive producer came, and he’s the one who told everybody that Gene had passed away. It was a really difficult speech he made. It was simple, but to the point, and very sensitive.
The book is generally lighthearted, despite the heavy subject matter. But there’s stuff in there that hits really hard. Specifically, all the stuff dealing with your stepfather Sol. What made you decide to include all that? You could have told this story without it, but chose not to. You don’t hold back with any of the details.
Spiner: It was all included because I really think if there were another title for this, aside from Fan Fiction, I would call it Fans and Fear or Fear and Fans. Because, really, what’s going on in the book is this event that is happening, that is frightening me in the book, kind of awakens in my subconscious the roots of fear in me. And those came specifically, I felt, from my stepfather.
Celebrity stalkers are a huge aspect of this book. And it’s obviously still a big problem. And not just for celebs. Do you think the era of social media has made it worse? Because now everyone feels like they have direct access to the object of their obsession. That’s not something they would have had 30 years ago.
Spiner: Well, I think maybe it has made it worse. I think particularly, as in the book, because of anonymity, the ability to write under an assumed name, saying horrible, frightening things has become very easy. At least in the old days, you had to force yourself to write a letter and mail it. Now, all they do is hide behind a phony name and throw darts. And so, yeah, I think it’s worse, although, as you say, it’s somehow less concerning, because there’s so much of it. It doesn’t have quite the impact as it did back in the day when it was a rare thing to get a frightening letter.
Now that you’ve written a novel, do you have the bug to write more? And do you have any other books already planned? Or was this a one-off for you?
Spiner: I do have an idea for another one. And I’m sort of working on it for now. It is sort of in the same genre of real-life turned into fiction. But we’ll see if I have time. I mean, hopefully, I’ll be acting so much, I won’t have time to write another one! But I’d like to.
Before we go, we have to ask at least one Star Trek: Picard question. I know that the first season saw the final goodbye for Data. But we also got a new character for you, Dr. Altan Inigo Soong. Which I think is the third Dr. Soong you’ve played in the franchise. Will we see you return as Soong in season two?
Spiner: Well, I can tell you this: no. But Star Trek, for me it was a great job. And it still remains a great job. When I hear about the positive impact it had on people, it always moved me.
Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir Inspired by True Events is available on October 12.