Interview With Patty Wright

Patty Wright is well known to Star Trek fans as a dynamo for Star Trek: Phase II, a fan based production that continues the five year mission of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise.  When she’s not hanging out in the future, you can find her in the past, sewing frock coats and surprising anyone who googles her with the breadth and depth of her life’s experiences.

1)     What is your earliest Star Trek related memory?

Strangely enough, my earliest Star Trek memory is finding the treasure of used Trek books in our local used bookstore. I don’t ever remember actually watching the episodes, but clearly I did: I knew them all by heart. Every week I would bike the mile to that corner store and lay down my 10 cents for another James Blish novelization or a poorly written original novel.

It’s rather telling that even back then I was hungry for more Trek than the television had to offer. I also remember it being my first learning experience in the difference between prose and scripts. Blish slavishly kept to the “one point of view” in his prose versions of the episodes, so you only saw what Kirk saw. I am sure that is what sparked my fanfiction passion: not only did I want to read about what happened to the other characters in the episodes – I wanted to know MORE about what they were doing than we ever saw on screen. I just always remember wanting MORE Trek…always.

2)     What was it about Walter Koenig, Star Trek TOS’s Chekov that inspired you to write fan fiction and start a fan site for him?

Wow… that’s a really involved question! When I was in middle school I had a thing for fictional male characters that were little guys with dark hair, dark eyes, and accents. I carried a torch for Tony Orlando and “Chico” (Freddie Prinze) for two years. I even published a “Tony Orlando” fanzine that had an “impressive” two-issue run, and I wrote a “Chico and the Man” episode. I actually sent the episode to Jack Komack (“Chico”’s producer) – believe it or not – hand-written on a yellow legal pad. He sent me back a hand-written note that said “Thanks so much!” and two crisp $20. The episode was filmed without a single change, but credited to the show’s writing team. It’s on the “Best of” DVD.

Orlando retired and Prinze had a gun accident, so I switched my attention to Chekov from Star Trek. I think he stuck with me when I out-grew the “teenage crush” stage because, unlike the earlier “romances”, Chekov was basically the big brother every girl wished she had. You know, the kind that would take you to the prom if your date dumped you. He was a good guy, and as I got to know him better, I found he was not only a good friend to spend time with, but I identified with his heritage. Like a lot of us nerds (who, us?!) I research ad nauseium any subject that tweaks my curiosity. In researching Russian history and culture, I gained a deep respect and admiration for the people that they are and how they’ve maintained their identity despite all the tides of history that have washed over them. They were the type of people I strived to be as an individual. And in researching Walter Koenig, I didn’t find a celebrity, but a down to Earth, self-depreciating, ridiculously multi-talented man. What isn’t he good at? He can even tap dance!

A Russian acquaintance I had started me writing Chekov fanfiction. I shared a wonderful, angst ridden Chekov fanfic I’d found with him – and as he read it he started laughing so hard tears streamed down his face. Chekov declared, “When pigs fly!” in it – Mischa explained: “the closest a Russian could come to that is ‘When pork chops grow wings’: and they’d put him in a mental hospital for saying it!” He refused to read it and told me: “YOU know Russians – and Chekov – better than that!” And so my fanfic career was born…. My first fanfic project was a Mirror Universe crossover novel named “Broken Image” that I wrote with my college friend, Elizabeth Frim, and that Shirley Maiweiski edited for us. It turned into a trilogy and the alternate Klingon homeworld we created, “Kaicamdrea” became it’s own entity with a language, card games, uniforms and clothing, maps, et al. It even had it’s own fan club!

As far as the site goes, because of my wealth of useless knowledge on all things Chekov – including having contact with everyone else writing Chekov fiction, I was considered the “Chekov go to” gal for quite awhile. My friend, Lisa Mawson, encouraged me to collect all this useless stuff into an organized place for people to access, and she helped me design and put up the first site. It didn’t really take off until I retired and had gobs of extra time on my hands. With the help of Cheryl Morris I finished the site and added sections dedicated to Walter Koenig: not just because he’s Chekov, but because there are so many varied projects he’s working on that his fans wanted to keep up to date on and there really was no where else on the internet to do that.

The Chekov site remains the single best resource on Chekov and his heritage for fanfic writers, but it’s also been used in schools as a resource on Russia and her people. A high school invited me on a trip to Russia in 2007 as their cultural expert because of the site, and it was an amazing trip. I’ve also served as a mediator with immigrants from the former Soviet Union in my community. The Walter Koenig site is now Walter’s official site.

www.walterkoenigsite.com

www.walterkoenigsite.com/chekovsite

3)     How did you go from being just a fan to administrating two websites for Walter Koenig?

Walter called and asked me to. It’s that simple. Someone had alerted him to my site and he watched it for a few months. When I heard his voice on the phone I thought he was going to tell me to stop stalking him on the Internet, but he asked if I would consider making it his official site. What made it an easy decision was how genuine and funny he is. I knew it would only enhance my life to work for Walter, and it has. He’s become the kind of friend to me that most people only hope to find in their life and I am truly grateful for that.

4)     When did you meet Mr. Koenig in person?

The story I like to tell is that I was riding in an elevator at a con talking about my latest Chekov fanfic with a friend and the guy next to me winked at me when I got off. It was Walter! What I am sure you are asking is when we first met “not as fan”. I flew out to Beverly Hills to attend the red carpet premier of “World Enough and Time” and a mutual friend, Leslie Hoffman, arranged for a lunch with Walter and his wife, Judy Levitt. They’re good people, which is a rarity in today’s world.

5)     Besides Star Trek, what other fan fiction do you like to write?

None, really. I did write two “Babylon 5” stories that focused on Walter’s character, Psy Cop Alfred Bester. It was an interesting change as the character was a futuristic version of Adolf Hitler. When they published the professional “Psy Corps” trilogy, however, they basically filled in every minute of Bester’s life so it didn’t feel like there were any more stories to tell. It was probably for the best, as it’s not a character’s mind that was a good place to spend a lot of time in. I love spending time in other writer’s worlds but have never been inspired to add to those worlds like I am by Roddenberry’s vision of our future.

6)     Could you please explain what “filk” is?  Is it fun?  Is it profitable?  Can you hum a few bars?

It’s a folk song about science fiction subjects. It’s a musical version of fanfiction. The term “filk” is credited as a typo in an early convention program. It has an honored tradition because most of the early ones were based on old sea shanties: or work and folk songs for sailors. I don’t think it’s actually that profitable because I don’t see a lot of filk singers doing it to make a living on a long-term basis, but it certainly is fun. Back in the “old days” of conventions, after midnight fans would gather in rooms and sing enmasse (off key) at the top of their lungs until dawn. And on long car trips to cons, it’s pretty much required that the trip is spent singing “Born Again Trek” until everyone in the car is hoarse and other cars race to avoid yours: and on the way home you sing “Weekend Only World” with tears streaming down your face. It’s like crack – an instant high of bonding with your ‘fan family’!

I’ve written a few of them because I follow the sea music circuit and often times songs written for ships and sailors 100 years ago speak to me about life on ships that travel through the stars 100 years from now. I could hum a few bars… but it would drive everyone off your blog! God blessed me with the heart of a folk singer and the voice of a banshee.

7)     What does Ticonderoga’s Elvis have to do with Star Trek?  You do that website too?

Didn’t you know it was Elvis who saved Star Trek? James Cawley, who was voted the #1 Elvis impersonator in the country in 97, was also the man who created “Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II” back in 2003. A professional actor and businessman, James had actually been working on making his own Star Trek TOS episodes since the age of 5: when his father built him his first bridge. His lucrative career as Elvis funded the production for many years.

With the help of Carol Fogg, I did set up the “Ti-Elvis” site as a template so that James’ large and active fan club (headed by President Gail Beckenstein) would have a place to collect all the information and memories they wanted to share with each other and the world at large. It’s also a way for his fans spread across the country to keep in touch with each other: an advantage that the Internet now provides. It was the fan club’s years of detailed newsletters that provided all the information that it contains. As such, it’s still a work in progress, but I do keep the information on James’ concert schedule up to date for his fans. www.ti-elvis.com

8)     How did you first come to be involved in Phase II?

Gary Evans, one of Phase II’s executive producers, contacted me to offer his help in the campaign to get Walter his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Walter is still the only main TOS cast member not to have one. You can find more information at: www.walterkoenigsite.com/waltersstar) When Gary learned about my costuming background he invited me to attend the BAF shoot in June 2007. I contacted Walter and asked his opinion of the production. He had high praise and explained it was a group of dedicated fans that had built the sets in an old garage and filmed their own episodes. Seriously? I told him those were the kinds of fans you AVOID at conventions. Walter tried to dismiss my concerns by telling me it was run by an Elvis impersonator and he thought I would have fun. My response? “And it’s all run by a fat old bald guy in a white polyester jumpsuit? What did I ever do to make you hate me this much?!”

My concerns remained, but I attended the shoot “for a couple days” for the sole purpose of seeing the sets once and meeting David Gerrold in person. I not only stayed for my entire vacation, James Cawley arranged for me to be relieved of my duties at Mystic Seaport’s Sea Music Festival so I could stay on until the end. (An article that Orion Press asked me to write on attending that shoot can be found here: http://www.fastcopyinc.com/orionpress/fanfilms/playingstartrek.htm)

9)     The IMDB credits you with makeup, costuming, writing, and producing for Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II, as well as countless other positions.  Which jobs attract you the most, and which jobs would you rather avoid?

Everyone in the production does a whole lot of jobs, so I am only an example of the great people involved rather than an exception. What attracts me most is the work James and I do together: costuming, writing, and being his executive assistant. These takes allow me to use what I believe are my greatest skills and work with a friend who’s like a brother to me. When James and I met, we just clicked. We have the same interests, the same approach to things, and both our personalities and work styles compliment each other…so working with him on costumes, scripts and as his assistant is a pleasure and a constant challenge for both of us to grow.

The other jobs (other than “producer”, who is a “funding” title) are ones I stepped into when someone needed to do them, but I prefer to avoid them. I am glad I had the opportunity to challenge myself (I even “directed” for a whole 15 minutes LOL), as I tend not to have ambition to do new things, but it just made it more clear to me that I’d rather stay with the tasks that bring me joy. The job I would absolutely never want to do is to be an actor or an extra. Except for interactive theatre (which I love) I have a performance phobia and, if I managed not to faint when the camera was turned on, I would start giggling ridiculously. (Called “inappropriate affect” in technical terms!) The one thing Phase II does not need is an extra wasting precious shooting time.

10)  What was your role in the upcoming Phase II episode “Kitumba”?

I was the lunatic locked in the tower room! Seriously, though, I believe that “Kitumba” was the pinnacle of achievement for Phase II in every way: including testing us to the utmost limits and showing us how things have to change as we continue on. And that’s how it was for me personally as well. Filming “Kitumba” was a massive, difficult, trying undertaking for everyone. There were over 70 extra cast, two over-night location shoots, large fight scenes, large crowd scenes, complicated new sets, many key people who either became ill or who found they were not able to keep up with the exhausting schedule: all in addition to the normal long hours and oppressive heat. I scheduled the shoot, acted as one of the AD’s on set – coordinating the daily shoot, helped coordinate the lodging and travel, found real Klingons to help decorate the sets, was James’ assistant, and was the “problem solver” on the set… in addition to a myriad of other things I can’t even remember now.

Before the actual shoot, of course, I had two main jobs. First, James asked me to “update” John Meredyth Lucas’ original two-part “Kitumba” script that he wrote for Paramount’s Phase II, as it now conflicted with Trek canon. When I read it, however, I discovered it was only a writer’s working draft. There were even scenes that were repeated verbatim several times because Lucas hadn’t decided where to put them. I ended up using only the basic premise and wrote a new story and script. Instead of making it “not violate canon”, I also chose to use it to explain the changes in Klingons from TOS to the Feature Films. It’s the only script I didn’t give to James in pieces, because I wanted him to read the new take on it “whole” before he made a decision. He ended up loving it.

Second, the script called for us to see a very large number of Klingons, both military (TOS and feature film) and civilian. For the military we called on Anne Carrigan and John Paladin to add to our stock uniforms. For the civilian, James and I studied Klingon civilian dress that had been seen in the feature films, as well as Worf’s wedding. We decided to go with Elizabethean doublets (which Worf wore for his wedding) made out of heavy upholstery fabric, leathers and furs; and sprinkled with Klingon adornments. I needed to make 59 civilian costumes and dozens of people chipped in on the marathon sewing sessions at the studio to get them made in time, or help sew people into unfinished costumes on set when we ran out of time. (You’ll actually see a Kaicamdrean uniform in this episode.) I was determined that everyone that wanted to would appear on screen in “Kitumba” because it was a unique opportunity. I supervised the same kind of Herculean efforts to make up all those Klingons and keep them looking the same from shot to shot, day to day. All those costumes and makeup had to also be transported, guarded, organized, and temporary makeup and wardrobe rooms set up.

Everyone involved in “Kitumba” went above and beyond the limits of human endurance and ability…and it shows in the final product. It taught us not only what we were capable of, but also how we had to reorganize things to make them work better in the future. It’s because of this shoot that I began “stepping back” my workload.

11)  How many hats are you going to wear for the upcoming shoot this summer?

The ones I love. I’ve been making costumes, and had the privilege of writing the script. The original story was a fanfic classic written by an old friend of mine, Shirley Maiweiski (known as “Gramma Trek” to fans), who asked James to film it. I was honored that her family trusted me to do justice to Shirley’s original vision, and pleased that feedback from her fans reflect the opinion that I did just that. It was a challenge to make basically a character story into a TOS script that would keep fans interested and still keep the basis of the story there, but I think I did just that. I’ll also be doing on-set makeup and wardrobe when at the shoot because it drives me to distraction when I see sweaty faces or twisted uniforms in footage we’ve shot and my experience as a theatrical costumer gives me a second nature when it comes to those things. James also asked me to arrange group tickets to his concerts during the shoot, so that the crew that want to attend will be guaranteed seats: so I guess arranging for the tickets and transportation to the concerts is another “job” I’ll be doing this summer.

12)  What other projects are you involved in with Retro Film Studios?

All of them! I’m a writer, producer and costume designer for RFS. The projects I’m working on that have been announced are “Buck Rogers Begins” and “Back to the Wild Wild West”. Both of them have allowed me to stretch my skills as a period costumer (for two very different periods) and as a writer. I need to be pushed to try new skills and I never would have found out I could write for different types of series if James hadn’t asked me to participate in other RFS projects.

13)  Your son Michael suggested I ask about grant writing.  What is that?  Have you done it?

Grant writing is a very intensive process that basically requires you to beg for money from the government or foundations and prove you deserve it. I did it once, got a lot of money, but hate the entire concept. Mike was more likely referring to the great bulk of the writing I’ve been paid to do – which was as a Licensed Certified Social Worker. Most of my writing you’ll never find unless you are trying to teach folks with developmental disabilities. Although I was encouraged by many people to become a professional writer, my response was always “I want to eat.” I didn’t think writing was a practical way to survive, and I didn’t want to write non-fiction because it seemed stifling. If my life has proven anything, it’s that what you’re meant to do will win out in the end no matter how you try to thwart it. I wrote entire policy manuals, press releases, mission statements, brochures, ad campaigns, assessments, training manuals, and many courses to teach people to teach: as well as seminars that I held and taught other people to hold.

14)  You do know that this whole writer/blogging thing of mine is partly your fault, right?  It was your facebook link to NaNoWriMo that inspired me to finally finish a whole, full length novel.  What are you doing for NaNoWriMoo’s counterpart, Scriptfrenzy this month?

I’m so glad that the NaNo challenge got you writing! That’s the whole point… to encourage people to take the plunge and just do it. The script I’m working on for the script challenge is titled “Wings Against the Water”. It’s a drama about a girl coming of age during the depression at the same time her community is being torn apart. I’ve wanted to tell this story literally since I was in high school. I revisit it every so often and I thought that being pushed to write an entire script will finally get me to finish the first draft of it.

15)  Many writers admit that they go through a stage where they hate what they write.  Have you experienced that?

Absolutely: all the time! That’s why I make it a point to have more than one thing in progress at once, and to have a story editor. When I think the script I am working on is complete rubbish I’ll put it aside and work on something else. I have four scripts, a Russian historical sci fi novel, and three fanfics I am working on right now. I tend to come to the conclusion that they are a waste of paper when I finish anything as well. Fortunately, I have a friend, Diane Randle, who is not only a screenwriter but also a really gifted story editor and gives me very specific and honest feedback. I’d never finish anything without her! I also rely on James Cawley, who knows Trek better than anyone else I know, and the readers on FanFiction.net for feedback. Feedback stokes my creative fires. (link to FF.net: http://www.fanfiction.net/u/587072/Andriech)

16)  How hard is it for you to switch gears between writing scripts and writing in story form?

I find it’s far easier to switch from prose to script writing than the opposite. There are a few “hooks” you have to remember in writing a script. You start scenes in the middle, show anything you can rather than speak about it, and limit the descriptions so as not to annoy the director. The latter is why it’s difficult to switch from script to prose… at least for me. I have to walk away… literally. I take a walk through the woods to immerse myself in the world so my brain can relearn to exist totally in the world I am creating so I can put the reader there too.

17)  My research for this interview kept bringing up more and more of your experience!  What has been your favorite paid position?

Qualified Mental Retardation Professional for Good Shepherd Lutheran Home of the West. (Yeah, it’s a mouthful!) I was the director of 12 group homes for people with developmental disabilities and was able to actually see the difference I made, which was very self-satisfying. When I moved to Arizona at the end of the 80’s, they were just beginning to make the changes in services that had been made on the East Coast at the beginning of the 70’s. So I was there at the optimum time to institute changes. What I developed was a curriculum course that allowed the clients to choose electives (such as cooking or balancing a checkbook) in addition to requirements (such as personal safety) – much like a college. “Habilitation” usually involves a group of workers deciding what the person should be learning based on their own values and goals. My curriculum approach allowed the people needing services to be in control of their own lives for the first time, which is a radical concept even today.

18)  What has been your favorite unpaid position?

Most definitely Mystic Seaport. I am able to share my passions, knowledge, meet people from all over the world, and learn so much at the same time. I am an expert at what it was like to live on sailing ships in the 18th and 19th century and working in the exhibits with the visitors and kids from is a great deal of fun. They gave me the opportunity to learn to climb the rigging and work the sails, work on building ships, and to sail a wide variety of boats.

It was also my first formal costuming job, and it allowed me to do so much more as a seamstress than I ever expected. I had to learn to precisely recreate period costumes from the same materials and exactly the way they were made originally in order for them to be used by the museum. My last year in the costume shop at Mystic Seaport, I supervised and costumed both their theatrical productions: “Nautical Nightmares” and “Lantern Light Tours”, with 300 actors in each. That taught me a great deal about theatrical costuming, and I also learned about film production when I assisted in costuming several movies and documentaries that shot on the Seaport grounds. (Including “Gangs of New York” and a docudrama starring Robert Sean Leonard.) I have since costumed for four more museums, and without that training, when I encountered James Cawley and his precise recreations of TOS costumes I probably would have walked away rolling my eyes at his anal-retentativeness. I never lost my love of historical costuming and now both costume for and sit on the Board of Directors for Westfield on Weekends, my community museum.

19) I was much later getting these questions to you than I usually am with my subjects. I just kept digging up more and more interesting stuff on you!  So, what did I miss?

I was a newspaper reporter and columnist for several years. Early in our marriage, my husband and I lived in a mountain hilltown in a house that was a converted 19th century grain store with our five kids. Even with our two incomes it was difficult to keep the kids fed and clothed and keep the roof over our heads from leaking. I brought in extra money by selling Avon, Tupperware, and a few other similar that have since disappeared.  When our hot water heater exploded, my best friend Rita Barlow suggested I write a human interest piece for the local paper – a follow up to year-long community drive to fund the surgery for her infant daughter that was born with a congenital heart defect. Despite my reservations, Rita was right. I sold the piece to the paper with the worst sales pitch anyone could use: “You don’t want to print this, right?” Within in a week I was a reporter for two newspapers, wrote human-interest articles, and had two on-going columns: one a weekly “Erma Bombeck” type, and one a monthly column on astronomy. There was nothing prize winning, but it helped pay the bills.

20)  When the day comes that you have to make a speech as you accept some huge award, whom will you most likely forget to thank?

Everyone. I faint on stage!

After finishing Patty’s interview, I continued to uncover more and more about her.  When I confronted her with this surplus of information, she made a very Shrek-like comparison of herself to an onion!  So here’s a little bit of what I missed:

Patty was a Licensed Certified Social Worker for 20 Years, ran programs that taught people with developmental disabilities to live independently, and did wedding and event planning.

After she took early retirement, she threw her energy into volunteering for museums, and logged over 1,000 hours at Mystic Seaport in under 2 years. 

Patty’s been married for 27 years to a man that was a blind date her sister set her up with; they’ve raised 5 kids and a couple foster kids. 

She’s lived in Western Massachusetts her entire life, except for a brief stint in Arizona.

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1qnT4-4I


About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity.
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3 Responses to Interview With Patty Wright

  1. Gary Barclay says:

    This is such a great article. It is nice to hear about how Patty is so multi-talented. Her writing, costuming and make-up skills are very impressive. I am a big fan of Star Trek so I always enjoy hearing how people like Patty throw themselves into Star Trek related projects.
    Patty also shows her love and compassion for others by explaining about raising five children, working with people with special needs and campaigning for Walter Koenig to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
    Live long and prosper \\//,
    VADM Gary Barclay Chief Of Public Affairs Starfleet Command Q1 @ http://www.starfleet-command.com
    Starbase 06 CO @ http://sb06.starfleet-command.com
    Chief Security Officer USS Endeavour @ http://www.ussendeavour.net

    http://www.myspace.com/garyfitness

    http://www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Barclay/1743705796

    http://www.walterkoenigsite.com/waltersstar.html

    http://www.starbaseindy.com

  2. Thanks Gary!
    I appreciate the links too!

  3. Pingback: Star Trek: Phase II (1978) – Kitumba, Parts I & II (Review) | the m0vie blog

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