“I thought, ‘Let me write something more interesting,’ ” he said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. The result is “Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events,” in which Spiner finds himself the target of a stalker whose nom de plume is taken from a classic “Next Generation” episode in which Data builds himself a daughter.
The book features memorable scenes with his co-stars, including Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton and Jonathan Frakes, whose wife, “General Hospital’s” Genie Francis, also makes an appearance. Did Burton really give Spiner his daughter’s placenta to keep in his freezer? Hard to say. But did we mention the book is very funny?
“There are elements of truth in all of it, and there’s complete fiction throughout as well,” Spiner said.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you decide to go this unconventional route with your book?
A: I’ve had this story in my head a long time. There are many people out there who would prefer to read a straight memoir of mine than the book I wrote, but for me to sit and have to write it is a different thing. I like to amuse people in general, and I like to amuse myself as well.
Q: A tantalizing mystery for readers, beyond the identity of the stalker, is whether what they are reading really happened or is fiction. The segments about you growing up in Texas with an abusive stepfather seem painfully real.
A: I wrote the book with Jeanne Darst. She’s a wonderful writer; she wrote on the TV series “Blunt Talk” that Patrick Stewart starred in. The thinking was she would operate as a ghost writer, and I was going to tell her a quick story, have a couple of glasses of wine, and I would go on my merry way and reap the benefits. But that’s not how it turned out. For one thing, there was the pandemic, so the book allowed me to fill the time in a creative way. When I told her my story idea, when we first got together, she was asking questions about myself and I told her about my childhood. She said what I was telling her was useful in that the fear being generated by the stalker begins to pull out memories and the roots of my own fears. She proceeded to act as an editor and inspiration for me. She really encouraged me to write way more than I originally intended to.
Q: It's a mixed blessing to be associated with a popular character. Leonard Nimoy famously wrote a book, "I am Not Spock," then years later wrote another, "I am Spock." Did writing your book help you in coming to terms with your relationship to Data?
A: It is a double-edged sword. The larger part of that sword has been very positive. It’s been a great job. On the other hand, what I was trained to do was to play as many different things as possible, so it has been limiting sort of in that way. I think there are times maybe I haven’t gotten a job because I am so identified with the character. I, frankly, like to think I’ve been typecast as the reason when I don’t get jobs, because the alternative is that I’m just lousy (laughs). But all that being said with relation to character, if I had to have one character that I had to be typecast as, it would be this character. There is a feeling of trust people have in the character that he’s incapable of hurting them. The confusion has been that I am that as well, and clearly, I’m not. But also, because I also got to play so many different things on the show as him, I got to try on the skin of all kinds of different types of humanity. I got to play his brother, his father, his uncle, his ancestors. It turned out to be a role that I was actually able to stretch a bit.
Q: You also mention in the book about Data being an inspiration to the autism community. There is a scene in the book when you are visited on the set by neurologist Oliver Sacks.
A: Oliver Sacks did actually come to my trailer. We didn’t have the conversation we had in the book, but he did tell me that I was the poster boy for his work. At the time, I didn’t know who he was or what he was talking about. It has proved subsequently to be a connection between that character and kids struggling with emotions and understanding themselves. Many times at conventions, kids will come up to my table when I’m signing photographs and tell me they have Asperger syndrome, and that when they were growing up, Data was the only character on TV they could relate to. That’s an incredibly moving experience. Had I known, I might have encouraged the writers to write more towards that, but it might have blown the whole thing and lost the connection.
Q: I would be derelict if I didn't ask what you thought about the "Jeopardy" meshugas and LeVar Burton not being selected as host?
A: It’s a wild story. I expect Adam McKay will make the movie. How badly could you blow it? Something is not kosher, but that being said, I’ve never wavered from the idea that LeVar would have been the ideal host. He’s Mr. Education. But I would rather him do a show created for him.
Donald Liebenson is an entertainment writer. His work has been published by the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, VanityFair.com and New York Magazine’s Vulture website.
A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events
By Brent Spiner
St. Martin’s Press. 256 pp. $27.99