‘Xena’ writer pens fresh spin on the female action duo with epic YA space opera

LOS ANGELES – Among the ancient ruins of a distant planet lies a girl’s diary, the first entry a warning: If you’re reading this and I’m not dead, then get out of my stuff. With that brusque alert, begins the epic adventure in R.S. Mellette’s space opera, “Kiya and the Morian Treasure” (April 26, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press). Mellette, who worked on “Xena: Warrior Princess,” took his experience in the television and film industries to craft a female-led YA sci-fi novel that will captivate readers of all ages and genders.

The aforementioned diary belongs to Nadir, the daughter of a peacemaker and diplomat, who has lost her mother, and whose father, Janus, is quickly dying of a space plague ravaging the universe. Janus hires freelance space pirate Kiya to arrange safe passage back to their homeland and plans to turn himself over to Admiral Ghan, leader of the council of pirates, in the name of peace. But all does not go according to plan. Kiya’s ship is attacked by fellow pirate and Kiya’s Ex, Derek, who’s looking to collect the bounty on Janus himself. With Janus’ capture, Nadir and Kiya are left to fend for themselves all while Kiya seeks to recover the memories erased by her father, which she’s convinced hold the key to finding the mysterious Morian Treasure.

Action-packed and quick-witted, “Kiya and the Morian Treasure” is a journey through the galaxy like readers have never seen before — and the ending is sure to astonish all those who venture into this exciting new universe.

“Stirring and deft curtain raiser to a mayhem-filled, girl-powered YA/SF saga that doesn’t talk down to readers.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Kiya and the Morian Treasure”
R.S. Mellette | April 26, 2022 | Elephant’s Bookshelf Press | YA Sci-Fi/Space Opera
Paperback, 9781940180267, $14.99 | Ebook, 9781940180250

R.S. MELLETTE, originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, now lives in San Clemente, California, where he toils away at turning his imaginary friends into real ones. While working on “Xena: Warrior Princess,” he created and wrote “The Xena Scrolls” for Universal’s New Media department and was part of the team that won a Golden Reel Award for ADR editing. When an episode aired based on his “Xena Scrolls’” characters, it became the first intellectual property to move from the internet to television. Mellette has worked and blogged for the film festival Dances With Films as well as the novelist collective, From The Write Angle, and he is on the board of the L.A. region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Follow R.S. Mellette:
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @rsmellette | Website: RSMellette.com

In an interview, R.S. Mellette can discuss:

His experience as a writer on the “Xena: Warrior Princess” television series
His background in film and television and how it’s influenced his writing
How his 80-year-old novelist father helped him hone his writing craft
The importance of writing female protagonists in a genre often led by men
His unique audiobook distribution plan to create access for more readers
Being a dyslexic writer and the importance of authoring accessible books

An interview with R.S. Mellette

You previously worked on the popular television program, “Xena: Warrior Princess.” How did that come about and what was your job with the show?

In short, a fax came to the wrong number. I was temping on the lot at Universal in the studio rental department — aka, the least Hollywood place in Hollywood — and someone handed me a fax. “Here, this came to the wrong number. Throw it away, would you?” I looked at it and saw it was a note from Eric Gruendemann, the line producer for “Hercules.” It said, “Since we’ve gotten the green light, I guess we have to do it for this.” A general episode budget for “Xena: Warrior Princess” was attached.

Instead of throwing it away, I called Renaissance Pictures and asked, “Are you waiting on a fax from New Zealand?”


I wrote on the cover, “If you need a script coordinator or writer’s assistant let me know,” with my phone number and forwarded it along.

A couple of week’s later, Rob Tapert’s assistant hired me to work for head writer, R.J. Stewart. Besides typical assistant stuff in the writer’s office, I also wrote the ADR — dialogue that’s recorded after picture has been locked — created and wrote “The Xena Scrolls” for a brand new thing called a webpage and unofficially moderated the netforum as user “XenaStaff.” We won a Golden Reel for ADR editing when I was writing it. I remember calling Bernie Joyce, the post-production producer, to congratulate her. She said she’d rather win that than an Emmy and told me part of the award was mine for the writing. I’m proud to have been a part of that.

How has writing novels differed from writing for film and television? Are there any similarities that surprised you?

Every screenwriter-turned-novelist — and there are a few of us, some better than others — has screamed at the top of their lungs, “Where’s the art department?! Where is wardrobe!?” Writing a screenplay is like writing a symphony, the only people who read it are professionals who all speak the same language. Writing a novel is like playing a symphony all by yourself. There’s nothing between you and the audience. That’s not quite true of course. We depend on writer’s groups, friends, editors, agents, etc. to help, but in the end, every scribble has to be ours.

Your father is a novelist as well. Can you tell us a bit about how he’s helped you with your own writing career?

As a kid, I remember falling asleep to the sound of my dad tapping away on his Selectric typewriter working on manuscript after manuscript. Packing them in boxes with carefully constructed query letters and return postage to be sent to agents. I remember his down, melancholy persona when they came back in the mail. This went on for years. He finally did get an agent, which 98 percent of novelists never achieve, but wasn’t traditionally published.

“Kiya And The Morian Treasure” started as a screenplay titled “My Adventures With Hannah In Space.” (Before Hannah Montana and every other character named Hannah). When I finally caved into my Hollywood friends telling me it should be a novel, I knew it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. Being a novelist is no one’s stepping stone. I had to respect the medium, so I turned to my dad for help. He did a deep dive on editing every sentence. Teaching me about active voice, syncopating dialogue tags, cutting adverbs, etc. Finding my voice. This book would not exist without his help.

There are quite a few popular sci-fi stories out there — “Star Wars,” “Dune,” just to name a couple. Why was it so important to you for your story to have a female heroine?

“I like hot chicks kicking ass” probably isn’t an appropriate answer, huh? Back in 1996, when I first decided to write this, all of the hero’s journey adventures were male-oriented. I thought twisting those archetypal stories for female heroes was the gold mine “Xena” hit on, so why not do what George Lucas did and move it into space? Plus, it seemed like it’d be a lot of fun.

What makes your character Kiya different from Rey or Jyn Eros in the “Star Wars” sagas?

Well, one, I wrote mine first. And two, Nadir, Kiya’s sidekick. Those “ ‘Star Wars’ heroines” — and don’t get me wrong, I love me some Star Wars — all had a man. Kiya has just gotten free from an abusive man and is starting to learn from Nadir that there is a different kind of life out there. Over the arch of the series of books, Kiya is going to learn her own value, what she brings to the table.

Going back to the female heroes of the past up until “Xena,” female heroes have been created under the insane morals and mores of Western culture that preached women as the weaker sex, or somehow inferior to men. I’ve always felt that we are one species, and so each of us are equal — in good and bad ways. Nadir helps Kiya see the good ways to be strong.

You’re planning to release the first half of the audiobook via podcast. How are you looking to provide more audiobook access for readers with this rollout?

I’m a huge fan of the Dumas books — “Count of Monte Cristo,” “The Three Musketeers” etc. — as well as Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (I played Marley’s Ghost in a national tour) which were all published serially. When the internet was young and Stephen King and (I think) Neil Gaiman were playing around with serial releases online, I thought that would be a good outlet for my story. Once I knew I’d have an audio book, it wasn’t a big leap from a serial book to a podcast audio book. The first half will be released as a free podcast — one chapter a week for nine weeks — as a promotion. After that, the whole audio book will be for sale, since, you know, I’ve got bills to pay.

With the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in L.A., you’ve been working to facilitate communication between publishing and the entertainment Industry, can you tell us more about that?

This might get a little bit inside baseball, but…

In the spring of 2019, pre-COVID, I put together a meet and greet with traditionally published SCBWI members and various working executives from the screen industries. There were no rules. I had no plan. I just kept inviting people and they kept saying “yes.” Folks from several branches of Disney, Paramount Animation, The Gotham Group, The Jim Henson Company, Universal, down to independent producers and a woman’s theater company. The authors and artists had a similar range of experience and properties. Results were mixed. One poor Disney executive was followed around like Scarlett Johansson at a frat party. While I don’t think the majors got anything from it, the smaller production companies made some deals.

We were going to do it again the next year, but … 2020. We plan to put the band back together — this time with a little more structure — as soon as it’s feasible for a bunch of people to hang out and talk again.

How did this come about? I’ve worked on both the print and screen sides of the entertainment industry. From my somewhat unique vantage point, I’ve been able to see into the blindspots of both. It was/is my hope that, using my position on the board of directors of the L.A. region of SCBWI, I can facilitate an education and networking program for professionals on both sides.

The major studios and production companies know all about the Big 5 publishers and their authors. In most cases, they’re owned by the same corporations.They read the same trade magazines and are all fighting for the same intellectual properties. But where does that leave smaller production companies? The up-&-coming A24’s or pre-Twilight Temple Hills of the world have about as much chance of getting the rights to the next Dan Brown or Stephen King property as any of us have at winning the lottery. And what about the young novelist whose only work is published by a company specializing in auto repair manuals? How are they supposed to navigate Hollywood? There are filmmakers who don’t have their own stories to tell. They just want to make movies. There are novelists who desperately want more people to experience their stories. It just seemed like a good idea to put them together.

Who, or what, are your influences?

You mean who else am I stealing from? “Doctor Who” is a favorite. An anime TV series from the ’70s called “Star Blazers.” “Robin Hood” — the Errol Flynn version, “Xena,” of course, “Star Trek,” “Dune.” All of the great sci-fi from Larry Niven that got me through high school.

If you actually mean who are my influences, that’s more subtle. There was an acting teacher my freshman year at UNC-Charlotte. Her name escapes me, but I had a crush on her, so I asked her for some advice on writing a play. She said, “I don’t know anything about writing, but I do know that a Broadway ticket costs $75. You have to write a story that’s worth $75 to someone who works for a living.” That’s always stuck with me. Any art I’m involved with, I try to make it worth what the consumer pays for it, or maybe a little more.

There are others, of course — like my three best friends in high school, Hilton, Richard and Jeff. You know, the same kind of people everyone has in their lives, who shape us in ways we probably don’t even notice. They are our real heroes.

Why is this book so important to you personally?

When I first wrote it in 1996, I was trying to sell out. Many people had tried to copy what made “Xena” a success, but they were getting it wrong, going for the gimmicks. I figured I’d had a good inside look and I could repeat it. I’ve failed miserably at selling out. It’s harder than you might think. I’ve also fallen in love with the characters and the world they inhabit. Like a cook who has just made something new, I want to run up to everyone and say, “Taste this. I made it!” I started out to prove that taking an action story with a strong, silent-type, female hero and her female sidekick/narrator — and not making an issue of their gender — can work in pop culture. Now it’s time to find out if I’m right.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

Just. Pure. Fun.