Rick Chambers is both a writer and a public relations practitioner. He has published a science fiction novel, Radiance, as well as four novelettes and a number of award-winning short stories. He is the owner and president of Rick Chambers & Associates, LLC. Rick brings 30 years of experience in corporate communications, public relations and journalism. Rick began his career as a newspaper reporter, winning awards for investigative journalism and news reporting. He entered the public relations field in 1987, working in the pharmaceutical industry, where he gained broad experience in both internal and external communications, holding key leadership roles ranging from local community relations to global media relations.
Rick is also a lifelong fan of Star Trek. His screenplay for the Star Trek: Phase II episode Bread and Savagery was filmed this June in Port Henry, New York. His next script The Holiest Thing will be filmed for Star Trek: Phase II next June.
1. How much writing did you do before being published?
I’ve been writing stories since I could put words on paper. It became a way to create adventures when I couldn’t play-act them, like during school. I used to blast through my school assignments so I could write stories on loose leaf paper or in spiral notebooks. I would watch a lot of television then–not so much these days–and writing was a way to create new episodes of my favorite shows. I wrote “Lost In Space,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and, of course, lots and lots of “Star Trek.” My first official publication was a memoir I wrote as a teenager about a little boy I knew who died. Unbeknownst to me, someone submitted it to an international church magazine, which gave it a full page and illustration.
2. Have you always considered yourself to be a writer, or was there a time in your life when you decided that is what you were?
I’ve always considered myself a writer, but there were a few events in my younger years that underscored my conviction. The first writing award I ever won was in fourth grade, when I took second place in a school poetry competition–which is funny, because I’ve never considered myself a poet. As the years went on, I started getting a lot of compliments from my parents and my teachers for my writing. I also found that I enjoyed essay assignments at school better than others, which served me well all the way through university. I wrote a lot of fiction during those years, but not for publication.
One of the other highlights was my exposure to C.S. Lewis. I read his Narnia books and his Space Trilogy around age 11, and they sparked my imagination. I remember thinking, especially regarding Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, “This is what I want to write!”
Finally, when I was in high school, I mentioned my desire to write as a career to an academic counselor, who promptly told me, “Well, must be you want to starve, then.” I was deeply angered by that statement. You don’t go around quashing someone’s dream. So I was all the more determined to write, both as vocation and avocation.
3. What is your earliest Star Trek related memory?
Watching “The Corbomite Maneuver” during the first season of The Original Series. I was about five years old, and when Balok’s alter ego appeared, along with that frightening voice by the late Ted Cassidy, I did a “Doctor Who” move and dove behind the couch. I didn’t watch Star Trek again until 1970, when it went into syndication. Not only did I fall in love with the show, but I finally learned that Balok was a little wuss and I could’ve taken him easily!
4. What prompted you to write a script for Star Trek: Phase II?
One of the other early Star Trek memories I have is watching the TOS episode “Bread and Circuses.” That last scene on the bridge, when Uhura tells Kirk, Spock and McCoy that the “sun” worshippers of the Roman planet were actually “Son” worshippers, just bowled me over. It was a fantastic twist, very much in line with the stuff I loved from Lewis. In my opinion, it begged for a follow-up story. Ironically, I’m not a big fan of sequels, but this was one I wanted to tell. I was well aware of Phase II and the high quality and love they lavished on the show. So I pitched the idea, and to my delight James Cawley and his brilliant team accepted it.
5. What surprised you the most when you first saw the Retro Films Studio?
I was impressed with the resourcefulness of the RFS team. When you drive by the studio, it’s not a place that catches your eye. But inside is this magical world that Trek fans once thought was gone forever. And James and his group have made it happen, with all the quality and commitment to detail that rivals–and beats–any big West Coast studio. It’s to the eternal shame of a writer to admit to being speechless, but when I first stepped onto the bridge set, words failed me. It was incredible, like stepping into a dream.
6. How did you survive the long hours and hot days?
I’m a hot-weather guy, so the heat really didn’t bother me. The hours, on the other hand, were a challenge. My body craves eight hours’ sleep nightly, but there was none of that going on during the shoot! And I didn’t have the time to exercise, which I sorely missed. But the excitement of making Star Trek, real Star Trek, got me and everyone else through the short nights and long days.
7. Were you at all worried about how Phase II would handle the topic of religion?
I think any writer who offers up his or her “baby” for filming secretly frets whether the original intent of the tale will translate to the screen. That’s not limited to topics like religion. What I found in my experience with Phase II was a shared desire by everyone to make a great episode of Star Trek, period. I also found a great respect for the writer’s vision within that context. The process of honing the final script was collaborative from the beginning. Mark Burchett, the outstanding director of Bread and Savagery, had me at his side for every scene and frequently asked my opinion on certain actions or tweaks to dialogue. And the actors constantly sought my view on whether they were doing the script justice. (For the record, they all went above and beyond!) I was blown away by all this, because I doubt that’s the norm in Hollywood. Phase II sets an example of respect and collaboration for everyone involved that the industry–any industry–would do well to emulate.
8. What do Star Trek and CS Lewis’ works have in common?
Both Star Trek and Lewis’ fiction use allegory to challenge people’s assumptions, to get them to look at life in a different way. I’m all for rocking one’s preconceptions, and I do it often in my short stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean trying to change their thinking; it means getting them to understand why they think the way they do, and whether their convictions stand up to their own scrutiny. Lewis used to complain when people assumed he set out to create allegorical tales, particularly with the Narnia books. He claimed that wasn’t true; he simply tried to tell a good story, and the “thought bombs,” as I call them, materialized on their own. I think he was being partially honest, but I suspect he also knew his convictions about humanity, faith and existence would ultimately drive his stories in certain directions. In any event, he got people thinking. Star Trek, at its best, does the same thing.
9. How did you become involved with Voice Of The Martyrs?
As a Christian, I was dumbfounded to learn that more people were killed during the 20th century for being followers of Jesus Christ than in the previous 1,900 years combined. I couldn’t understand why we didn’t hear about this on the nightly news. VOM works to raise awareness and provide support for those imprisoned and tortured for their faith, and to support the families of those who are killed or jailed. They report each month on the work they’re doing and the real people they are helping. When I published my novel, Radiance, I gave 100 percent of the first 16 months’ royalties to that organization. No one should be imprisoned, tortured or killed for their religious beliefs, be they Christian or not.
10. How much of yourself did you put into the main character of your novel Radiance?
Almost none. That surprises most people, because the main character, Tristan West, is an ex-PR guy. But for most of the story, he’s a reluctant protagonist–bitter, resentful and a bit of a selfish jerk. I’d like to think I’m not that kind of person. In the end, when his shell of bitterness is stripped away and we see who he really is, a man of integrity, loyalty and faith … that’s the kind of person I hope I am. Or at least I try to be.
11. What is the value of myth?
Let’s define the word first. These days, “myth” is synonymous with “lie” or “false assumption.” They’ve become things we “bust.” But in the beginning, myths were traditional narratives used to share ideas, morals and perspectives. In a way, that’s exactly what Gene Roddenberry did in creating Star Trek. It’s a modern myth that uses the tool of video to make a point, to prompt discussion and introspection. We should not underestimate the value of myth. C.S. Lewis described it like this: “The value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity.”
12. What’s behind the door labeled “Police Public Call Box?”
A bunch of jackets and a 6-inch Dobsonian telescope. (I repainted the closet door in my home office last year to represent the TARDIS.)
13. Can you wear a brown coat with a red shirt?
Only if you’re offering yourself on the menu for Reavers.
14. What social media do you use? Do you combine the personal and professional, the writer and the PR pro?
I’m on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ (though rarely) and Pinterest. I also have my own website for my public relations agency,www.rickchambersassociates.com, which includes a blog that I try to update at least weekly. In my view, writer and PR pro are intricately linked. No one who can’t write will cut it in public relations. And I’m talking about public relations in its true sense, as a means of building relationships, sharing perspectives and generating dialogue–not the unfortunate (and false) stereotype of the slick-haired, glad-handing propagandist.
15. Which comes more naturally for you, screen writing or novelization?
For me, I’m not sure I can draw a sharp line between the two. Most of my short stories are written like TV shows–a teaser aimed at grabbing the reader, and multiple acts that build toward a climax. As i look back at Radiance, even there I see similarities to the structure of a screenplay. I was thinking recently that I would love to take Bread and Savagery and novelize it. Wouldn’t it be cool to see a Phase II episode among the steady stream of Star Trek novels? (Actually, we’ll get that wish when Dave Galanter’s excellent novel Troublesome Minds is filmed for Phase II this November!)
16. Why did you transition from journalism to public relations?
Journalism was a natural step for me in pursuing a writing career, and I loved it. I was co-winner of a national award for investigative reporting, and I won a number of state awards as an editor and beat reporter. I had lots of great experiences and met many fascinating people, too! But then, as now, it wasn’t a particularly lucrative field. That didn’t really matter to me until I got married. Then I had an offer to join a reputable pharmaceutical company–back in the days when the industry was respected–and I made the switch. It was a nice move because I was doing many of the same things I did as a journalist, only I was doing it for employee publications. Over time, I became involved in other internal communications, as well as on-camera news reporting, speechwriting, media relations, community relations, philanthropy and a bunch of other roles. As a journalist, I worked hard to be fair, balanced, accurate and reputable. I brought those same convictions to my PR job. I’m proud and grateful to say that when I left the corporate world to start my own business, I heard from a lot of folks who affirmed that.
17. You have a long list of awards to your credit! Which is the most meaningful to you?
The most meaningful was being named 2011 Community Trustee of the Year by the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Regional Chamber of Commerce. It recognized my professional accomplishments, including the leadership role I played for my employer at the time, as well as the work I’d done for community nonprofits aiding those in need. I was surprised, touched and humbled by this award. It meant I was making a difference in people’s lives, which is the greatest service one can render.
18. What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
My aging desktop computer gets the greatest workout, though I often hammer away at stories or blogs on my laptop.
19. What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
Paper and Fisher Space Pen! That’s where most of my stories begin.
20. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Han, of course. Han Solo was a bad ass who was ultimately redeemed by his love for Leia and his realization that life was more than the credits he could beg, borrow or steal. The only way I might accept the notion of Greedo shooting first is if, in the next revamp of Star Wars, Lucas has him learning his sharpshooting skills from the Imperial Stormtrooper Academy. We all know stormtroopers can’t hit the broadside of a barn.
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Any interview that references Firefly is a WIN in my book! So, when a teacher or adult dismisses your dream to write, do you get to go back after publishing and make them write an essay on the importance of not imposing their own failings on others? If not, then I think this is a tradition that should be established immediately!
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