Checking back in here to answer questions when I have a few moments.

My short bio: I’m Sonny Whitelaw, author of five Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis novels. Born in Australia, I lived on a yacht in the South Pacific for 20 years working as an adventure tour and SCUBA diving operator and award-winning travel writer and photographer. These days I live with several sheep and itinerant family members in New Zealand, near what Middle Earth fans know as Edoras.

Musa publishing have recently released the revised edition of the novel that led to my Stargate gig, The Rhesus Factor. More info here: http://sonnywhitelaw.com. Looking forward to your questions.

My Proof: http://www.sonnywhitelaw.com/reddit.html

Comments: 89 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

MikeHasFudge21 karma

Maybe you cant answer this but what happened with Stargate Universe? I found it to be almost as good as SG-1 and significantly better than Atlantis.

Ever consider writing Stargate Universe novels?

sonny_whitelaw18 karma

I started to write a Stargate Universe novel but kept finding myself reverting back to the central Stargate characters as the Universe characters weren't formed enough in my mind. Around the same time I decided to move to New Zealand and spend two years sorting out the property and exploring the country. By the time I was ready to get back into writing, the series was cancelled for the same reason that any televisions show is cancelled, ratings had dropped.

Shadow_Prime2 karma

It was more than ratings, MGM was in financial limbo and scifi didn't want to pay 100% of the production cost when they didn't own the show.

sonny_whitelaw0 karma

Part of the reason why ratings drop are because of illegal downloads. I'm not judging or commenting on this other than to say that ratings are based on what people watch when a television show goes to air, so numbers drop away significantly when people are downloading instead. Series can become victims of their own success.

Ironeagle9813 karma

Stargate SG-1 was my favorite TV show ever. Thank you for creating such an fantastic universe. My question is how did you come up with the premise of Stargate ? Also how did come up the concept of the Gou'ld, why make them the series main antagonist, and why were they based on ancient Egyptian lore.

sonny_whitelaw25 karma

I didn't create the series, I was one of several novelists contracted to write tie-ins.

The Gou'ld are based on ancient Babylonian and Biblical mythologies that carried into modern alien mythologies. The serpent in the Garden of Eden, the motif of the serpent for everlasting life/regeneration (they shed their skins), the Babylonian creation myth and Old Testament Nephilim and so on. It's pretty ancient stuff that ties in with the idea that gods and angels came from the heavens, ergo the gods are aliens. The pyramids were built with such precision that since the late 1800s a few people have proposed they must have been built by a more advanced civilization, and since they align to Orion, the connection between Egypt and alien gods was a match made in (fictional) heaven. Heaps of storytelling potential using an endless supply of mythology.

samsg113 karma

Hello! Thank you for contributing to Stargate canon :D Who was/is your favourite Stargate character to write for? And who is the most difficult?

sonny_whitelaw29 karma

Favourite to write for...hm... That's a tossup between Daniel Jackson and Rodney McKay. Jackson embodied the scientist with a whacko theory that proved to be correct, which is always fun, plus he had a deeply personal quest to find his wife, and classic quests create driven characters. Yet I also loved writing O'Neill: lots of personal baggage plus dry humour.

In Atlantis, Rodney began as the character everyone loved to hate, which is meat and potatoes for writers. David Hewlitt was an absolute gem because he was very invested in his character's flaws and really wanted to maintain them. So talking with David and getting his ideas added an important dimension to writing Rodney, kept me from giving McKay too many redeeming qualities but also allowed me to explore the depths of his insecurities and mess with them no end.

The hardest? At first it was Teal'c, but then I started getting into that Zen warrior mode and he began flowing quite easily.

DiannaGunn10 karma

Did you ever get to see any of the Stargate sets up close and personal?

sonny_whitelaw11 karma

I didn't visit Vancouver but a lot of the guys came over to Australia at different times, which was great, because I could discuss story ideas and character development with them (when we weren't sailing around Sydney Harbour!)

DiannaGunn6 karma

By the guys do you mean the cast? 'Cause if so, I'm starstruck

sonny_whitelaw27 karma

Yeah, the cast and some of the crew came across a couple of times. Good people, very dedicated actors. Funniest (in a weird and not-so funny way) memory was Cliff Simon (Baal) playing a game of cards with my 12 year old son on the train from Parramatta to Sydney, in a section of the carriage where they were by themselves. Someone came up to me and warned me that she thought my son was with a dangerous man but she couldn't exactly place him. Didn't know whether to laugh or cry because Cliff is such a nice guy.

DiannaGunn11 karma

That's amazing! I'm extremely jealous. And such a funny story. Baal was always my favourite villain to be honest

sonny_whitelaw7 karma

This and a few other weird moments, like people asking me what it was like to go through the Stargate, intrigued and worried me a little. I was talking to Alexis Cruz about it one day (Alexis played Skaara in the original movie). At the time, he was doing a Masters in Sociology. That more or less prompted me to accept a scholarship to research what was so appealing about the notion of alien gods and how that influenced the success of Stargate. Made for some fascinating research.

hysilvinia1 karma

He might be nice but he is scary! I had a hard time going up to him for an autograph at a convention.

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

Cliff, scary? Nah, never! He's an absolute honey

PhilsophicalInfidel8 karma

Probably a super common question, but what's your advice for a wannabe be novelist?

and/or

What do you think are some essential tropes in Sci-fi books?

sonny_whitelaw15 karma

Hard question to answer in a few lines. I have some 29 students at the moment, most of whom are writing speculative fiction. If you want a bit of insight into what I think works and why, and you can cope with a bit of academic writing, I wrote a Master's thesis on what worked in Stargate and why: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/16547/1/Sandra_Whitelaw_Thesis.pdf

SueZbell8 karma

Are you planning to write more Stargate novels and/or are there any more about to become movies or tv shows?

sonny_whitelaw7 karma

No, I've been too busy working with kids writing about conservation and biodiversity, and planning a sequel to The Rhesus Factor. Sorry, but I don't know of any future plans for the Stargate franchise.

two_off7 karma

What's the process that the books have to go through to ensure that all of it follows the fiction of the world and doesn't introduce anything too ridiculous?

sonny_whitelaw10 karma

My first Stargate novel was full of footnotes and cross-references that were checked by the editor, publisher, and MGM legal people. Anything that might have been flagged had to be verified by referring to specific episodes.

PM_ME_A_HORSE6 karma

So you're a sheep farmer now? Is Meduseld still standing?

sonny_whitelaw7 karma

Not exactly a sheep farmer as I don't think 20 odd sheep and lambs count as 'farming', but it seems to be the thing to do in New Zealand.

As far as I know, Meduseld was dismantled. Bit hard to see Mt Sunday from where I live, so don't quote me.

ScottyAmen5 karma

What was the inspiration for mixing Egyptology & science fiction? Thx for your works!

sonny_whitelaw6 karma

Simple answer is the modern alien god mythology: aliens built the Egyptian pyramids. The idea has been around for more than a century and it gets recycled every few decades in different forms, but its a very cool combination.

AmblinFan265 karma

When you were young, did you ever read novels based on the big time sci-fi properties that were starting to become really big deals at the time?

sonny_whitelaw10 karma

I read all the classics by authors like Arthur C Clark, Robert Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Asimov, Frank Herbert, CS Lewis and a host of others including Tolkien. It wasn't until 2001: A Space Odyssey that speculative fiction (SF, fantasy, and horror) really began to break out of its 'B' grade and into the mainstream. I teach writing as well, and the history of this evolution is interesting in itself.

ismellliketuna5 karma

Did you attend Jordan Belfort's seminar in Auckland or see The Wolf of Wall Street and if so what'd you think of it ?

sonny_whitelaw7 karma

Nope, didn't attend. I live in the South Island.

vaccmedic4 karma

[deleted]

sonny_whitelaw9 karma

I can only give you a biased opinion of the novels, but I loved the opportunity of creating much bigger worlds and more complex stories far beyond the budget of a one-hour television series.

sonny_whitelaw8 karma

I should probably add that I have no financial ties to the franchise anymore. Royalties stop after five years. That's perfectly fair for a contract writer, because I was invited to play in their sandbox for a few years, and had an absolute ball.

NorbitGorbit4 karma

is there a series bible you must keep to? what is the weirdest restriction in it?

sonny_whitelaw7 karma

No bible as such, just needed a good understanding of the arc and characters, hence why I would often footnote my first draft with stacks of references so it looked more like a thesis than a novel. No weird restrictions, although it was hard to keep the first novel I did for them inside the 'PG' rating, as it was about the Aztecs and cannibalism. I suppose one thing that threw me at first was the use of expletives. As an Australian, the word sh!t is perfectly acceptable, and we don't tend to say crap that much. However, in the novels I was allowed to use 'holy crap' while sh!t was definitely a no-no.

NorbitGorbit4 karma

was there an interview process where they tested your stargate knowledge? which questions would you ask to see if a potential writer knew the material? are there any private in-jokes you snuck into the material?

sonny_whitelaw2 karma

No interview, just lots of very dedicated people working very hard. Tossed ideas around with people but no in-jokes, although I inserted a lot of clues into stories. People who knew their Ancient Greek mythology would have seen the connection between third party characters I created and the behaviours of those characters. Few pop culture references here and there, and a couple of minor references to places that only local Australian and Kiwis would probably identify with. We had so much canonical material to work with because it was such a vast universe, there was no real reason to deviate.

maculae2 karma

What are your favorite episodes from both SG1 and Atlantis? Do you find yourself rewatching the show when writing for it? Or do you find that you have the character's voices pretty solid in your mind?

sonny_whitelaw2 karma

When I wrote, I would re-watch episodes in related arcs, such as time travel. For example in Roswell, I rewatched episodes to pin down exactly what tech was available. Then I would watch each relevant episode purely from the point of view of a single main character: what did they say, how did they react to the situation and each other, what did they know, what did they not know that happened off scene, and so on. Then I'd re-watch the same episodes from the point of view of another major character to get their take on it. This way I'd build up a pretty solid 'voice' in my head for each character. After a while it becomes second nature.

wicknest2 karma

Hey Sonny! I'm not a big book reader as i dont find it that appealing personally, although your work seems quite interesting. What would you say to convince me to pick up one of your books and start reading?

sonny_whitelaw7 karma

Buy it as a PDF and get your computer to read it to you! That's what my son does as he's not a book reader, but he loves my stories because I have a penchant for non-stop action.

justfor1t2 karma

What is your opinion on Nolans latest movie Interstellar?

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

Loved it! Absolutely perfect classic SF.

frozen_barbie_head2 karma

Is there any crossovers that you would want to see or write about in SG-1 or Atlantis?

sonny_whitelaw2 karma

My interest is in the use of mythology so the crossover I wanted to see was the one I wrote with Beth Christensen (Blood Ties) to tie the two mythologies together while going back to the roots of all human mythology.

AdmiralKuznetsov1 karma

Which do you think would win in a fight, an Asgard ship, an Ori ship, or an Ancient ship?

sonny_whitelaw2 karma

Depends how you set up the fight strategically. Ships don't win fights, commanders win them.

Atheose1 karma

[deleted]

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

I teach creative writing, specificallly speculative fiction (http://www.nzwriterscollege.co.nz/shop/CREATIVE+WRITING/Write+a+Novel.html) so I give advice pretty much every day. There is no way I can encapsulate that advice in a few lines, other that to keep reading what you like, identify why you like it, and emulate the style until you find your own style.

Self publishing...it works for some but I'd never do it. I prefer working with other professionals: editors, publishers, and publicists.

TDA_Beefy1 karma

Have you read any of the Stargate novels that were written by other authors? If you did, what did you think of them?

sonny_whitelaw3 karma

I've read a couple by Elizabeth Christensen and Sabine C Bauer. Utterly envious of Sabine's knowledge and wit and she writes a killer Jack. Having worked with Elizabeth on three novels, I can say I am humbled by her natural talents and her ability to get inside Sheppard's head space.

klick371 karma

Thank you for keeping the dream alive. What made you pick Stargate over other fictional universes?

sonny_whitelaw2 karma

The characters and the mythology.

klick371 karma

My favorite thing about the Stargate writing is that it was always so aware of things that happened in the past. Minor devices from previous episodes became major plot points later. The earth forces steadily became more and more technologically advanced as they expanded their operations and learned more about the sophisticated technology in the galaxy.

sonny_whitelaw2 karma

It was also surprisingly robust. Often when fictional worlds are built without any real endgame in sight (which commonly happens with television series because there's no telling when it will be axed), they are filled with gaping plot holes that are incredibly difficult for writers to fill, or plaster over. Instead, we just kept getting more goodies and story arcs to play with.

DiannaGunn1 karma

Are you going to write more novels?

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

I'm planning a sequel to The Rhesus Factor but real life is a bit busy right now, so I can't say when it will be.

darkstar10311 karma

How much was your work inspired by Zecharia Sitchin?

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

The whole series was inspired by Sitchin and the many others who came up with the same alien gods mythology, although in the case of HP Lovecraft, he kept it firmly in the realm of fiction. It's one of the reasons I used Lovecraft as a key character in Roswell, as a homage.

loserlame1 karma

Im super late, but you answered someones question just a few hours ago, so maybe you are still here…

Anyways, Im more curious about your time in the South Pacific, why island did you live on primarily, and which were your favorites? Have you revisited since your time there, and do you think it has influenced your writing?

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

I lived primarily in Vanuatu, sailed to and from the Solomon Islands, then was sent as a journalist to Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and Fiji. My all time favourite island is Ambrym, because it's a massive very active volcano (my first, and you always fall in love with your first!). And sure, everything I've ever seen and done, touched and tasted, smelled and heard, and everyone I've ever met, ever person I've loved and loathed, and every experience I've ever had, influences my writing.

justfor1t0 karma

What is the camera gear you use?

sonny_whitelaw1 karma

Nikons.... but I'm also deeply impressed by the quality of the lens in my new iPhone 6.

AllThatJazz0 karma

[deleted]

sonny_whitelaw3 karma

One of the strengths of the series was its classic quest nature. Key to any great story of that kind is that the hero is reluctantly called to that quest, rather than specifically setting out to seek rewards or riches. All of the original Stargate characters were reluctantly pulled into personal quests: O'Neill to escape his personal demons and out of a sense of duty, Teal'c to free his enslaved people, Jackson so prove his theory and then rescue his wife, and Carter to prove herself in a mans' world and to her father, on her own terms. They were also part of an established and contemporary military, so they felt like people who you could very easily bump into in the supermarket in Colorado Springs. All those attributes made them very grounded and very real and therefore very accessible to viewers. Even in SF, the more 'real' the situation, the more we can connect with it, until it feels real enough that we could buy real estate in that fictional world and set up house there. Combine that with one of the modern world's favourite conspiracy theories (alien abduction), Egyptian pyramids and mummy folklore, add ancient mythology from the culture of the week, and you had a winning combination.

[deleted]1 karma

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sonny_whitelaw1 karma

Read Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces.