There’s a secret tucked away in Ticonderoga, New York, in the southern end of the Adirondacks. An incredibly precise and loving recreation of the set of the Enterprise, crafted by referencing blueprints of the Desilu set, screenshots, personal interviews with Matt Jeffries, and all manner of behind-the-scenes sources, has turned a former department store on the sleepy mountain town’s main thoroughfare into a fan Mecca. Siterunner James Cawley, a professional Elvis impersonator with a yen for all things Roddenberry, enlisted the help of friends both inside and outside the film industry to create the set recreation to film fan episodes for his YouTube project, Star Trek: New Voyages.
My parents-in-law were among those building the sets, learning the ins and outs of filming a TV show, and appearing in episodes. Thanks to them introducing me to the set, I’m proud to say that I’ve also thrown my hand in and helped build it when I’ve had the chance to get up there.
Now, thanks to CBS looking to legitimize some of the fan ventures surrounding the franchise, the site has been licensed – not as a closed, working set, but now as a tour destination open to the public. It’s the centerpiece of the now annual Trekonderoga festival. Portions of the set are still under construction, notably the biolab, but in large part the Enterprise is fully functional in the most minute detail, right down to switchable jumpers in a lit-up electrical access panel in the hall.
I’d already spent a day at the studio earlier in the week, helping build a roof for a large display case and a wall for the dressing room. That’s when I heard that about a dozen writers of Star Trek novels and comics would be spending their Saturday at the set, taking a tour and then sitting at tables in the gift shop area to sign books and hang out together. This is a tight-knit group of authors who were brought together by their shared passion for Trek writing. How could I miss it?
I woke up early on Saturday and brought my eldest daughter with me to Ticonderoga, about a ninety-minute drive. By the time we got there, James was already leading the authors on their tour of the set, and they were having a blast. I could hear them ooh-ing, aah-ing, and laughing all the way from the hangar bay doors to the warp core. When they got to the bridge, I was worried that someone might need to be hauled out on a stretcher from having a faneurism*.
My daughter and I joined a general-public tour group guided by her grandmother. It’s always nice to wander through the set and remember straining my arms to hold up one of the four overhead arches in the conference room while the construction team scurried to secure the crossbeam, or to try to figure out which of the flats in McCoy’s office I had bled on. (Yeah, the construction crew folks are all part of the set in literal terms.) After that, we hit the local lunch counter. When we returned, the writers were all set up.
All of the writers were outgoing, engaging, and generally fantastic people. My daughter is shy, but they put her at ease and made her feel at home. We ended up buying seven books and got them all signed, including an anthology that now has half a dozen signatures inside.
Several authors were kind enough to talk to me about working with a licensed franchise, in particular David Mack, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore. I had a brief fanboy moment when I saw Michael J. Friedman. I know his work from his novelization of the TNG finale, “All Good Things…”. I read the book before I had an opportunity to see the episode, and when I finally watched the finale, I felt like there was something missing, because the book was so much fuller and richer. Friedman showed me that you can work new magic even if you’re telling a story that’s already been told before. Keith DeCandido was a larger-than-life presence who made sure that all the authors knew how to spell my daughter’s name when they were signing the anthology he edited, Tales of the Dominion War (my daughter has a thing for DS9, and so do I). Robert Greenberger happily talked about his Trek work, but it wasn’t until I looked him up later that I realized he was such a powerhouse in all kinds of geek culture.
In fact, that goes for most of the authors who were there. Almost all of them are major players across multiple fan streams, and many of them have editorial experience. Several of them have worked in writers’ rooms as well as writing individual episodes for TV series. Everyone was so personable that I had no idea that I was in a room full of giants. Well, except for Glenn Hauman, because that guy’s, like, eight feet tall. Very genial. Eye to eye with Darth Vader.
Finally, I also got the awesome opportunity to talk to Jordan Hoffman, who brought ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast to the studio. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions about podcasting and being licensed. Like everyone else there, Jordan was down-to-earth and affable.
It was an amazing time, and I’m grateful to all the authors and casters who showed up, supported the studio, and were willing to talk to my daughter and me.
*I was hoping that I’d be the first to coin that word, but a quick Google search shows that I’m just late to the party. Damn.