The Goodreads Star Wars Reads DiscussionOctober 7, 2012 at 6:52 am | Posted in Events, Star Wars Books | Leave a comment
Tags: chris alexander, jason fry, jeffrey brown, matthew reinhart, randy stradley, ryder windham, star wars reads day, timothy zahn, tom angleberger
Goodreads held a Star Wars Reads Day discussion that ran all day Friday and into Saturday. You can check out all the discussion here, or you can look below for our full recap of the authors and writers. There was a ton of discussion with some really nice answers all around. Participating authors/writers included Jason Fry, Ryder Windham, Randy Stradley, Tom Angleberger, Chris Alexander, Matthew Reinhart, Jeffrey Brown, and Timothy Zahn. Be sure to check it out.
Hey guys, I’m interested to know how you all got started writing Star Wars books? Were you fans of the movies from the beginning?
Jason Fry: I saw the original Star Wars when I was eight years old and have been a fan ever since. I got my start writing for the Star Wars Insider in the late 1990s, and that led to Star Wars writing jobs for DK, Penguin, Scholastic and Del Rey. All of which have been enormous fun.
Jeffrey Brown: I first saw Star Wars when I was 3, not that I remember much – but growing up with two older brothers, I was immediately pulled in with a collection of toys, cards, books and seeing the movies more times than I can count. I drew lots of Star Wars pictures growing up, but didn’t ever imagine I would ever work on an actual Star Wars project (especially after the Star Wars Tales comic book series ended).
Ryder Windham: My introduction to Star Wars was by way of the sixth issue of Starlog magazine, which came out months before the movie’s release in 1977, and featured an article illustrated with two concept paintings by Ralph McQuarrie. I was twelve years old. I also read the novelization and the first three issues of the Marvel Comics adaptation before I saw the movie.
I loved Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but was very disappointed by Return of the Jedi. Part of the problem was that Empire is a great, great movie, and had set the bar very high for a sequel. Also, I was more cynical at age nineteen, when Jedi was released, so no one could blame me for seeing Jedi as little more than an expensive advertisement for Ewok plush toys.
After college, I worked as a graphic designer and freelance cartoonist. In 1992, I landed a job as an editor at Dark Horse Comics, which had only recently acquired the publishing rights for Star Wars and Indiana Jones comics. One of my first assignments was adaptations of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. That led to an assignment to co-develop a new Droids series with editor/writer Dan Thorsland. I worked on other licensed titles, including Aliens and Predator, but eventually, I was focused entirely on Star Wars.
During my time at Dark Horse, I wound up writing a few scripts for Star Wars comics. Dan Thorsland and I had put a lot of time into developing outlines for the Droids comics, and it was easier for us to write them than to hire another writer. Other projects fell my way because the story and art needed to be done very fast, and I could write a script complete with thumbnail layouts faster than it would take me to explain the project to a freelance writer. That might sound self-serving, but I really wasn’t trying to create more work for myself, just trying to prevent wasted time, so I wouldn’t have to make corrections if the artist didn’t leave enough space for speech balloons. Writing the scripts and drawing the layouts was just an expedient solution to get the job done.
I left Dark Horse in 1995 to be with my fiancée, who’d moved to New York City. I didn’t have any plans for a new job, but I had some savings, and I spent several months honing my drawing skills. I thought I might write and draw my own comic book or children’s picture book. But then my main editorial contact at Lucasfilm, Allan Kaush, asked if I’d be interested in writing Star Wars books, and he began recommending me to editors. I’ve been working on Star Wars books ever since.
What do you like best about writing in the Star Wars galaxy? Is it the characters, the stories, the adventures, the fact you can battle Good and Evil?
Jason Fry: I love a couple of things most of all about writing Star Wars:
1) It’s always been a “lived-in” universe. The spaceships are dirty, the droids are dented, the characters obviously have pasts. That feeling makes you always wonder what’s around the corner, so to speak, and writing Star Wars “non-fiction” such as The Essential Atlas and The Essential Guide to Warfare has given me a chance to peek around those corners.
2) Star Wars is fun. Yes, it deals with questions of good and evil, family legacies and destiny, and other deep questions. But it’s also outer-space car chases, gunfights at corrals featuring blaster-toting space cowboys, monsters and much more. Who can resist any of that?
Jeffrey Brown: For me, the best parts about working on Star Wars is getting to draw incredibly fun characters and scenes, and getting to find humor in playing around with the iconic scenes and dialogue.
Me and my friend have been reading your books, well, since we started reading Star Wars books regularly. How many more books do you plan on writing?
Ryder Windham: I hope you and your friend have enjoyed the books. I can’t say I have a set number of books that I plan on writing. I hope to continue writing for as long I can.
Mr. Brown, my son would love to see more books from you, especially Star Wars related. Do you have any in the works?
Jeffrey Brown: Yes, I’m actually working on two Star Wars books right now. The first is Vader’s little princess, the sequel to Darth Vader and son, which will be comics about Leia being four years old and then being a teenager. The second book I can’t talk about much, except to say it’s new fiction, a mix of comics and prose, aimed at younger readers and very different from anything I’ve done before. Vader’s little princess should be out in the spring, and the second book will be out around September.
What kind of hoops do you have to go through when writing a Star Wars Novel. Are there requirements you are forced to abide by? I realize that…”
Jeffrey Brown: A lot of you have asked about the process for writing a Star Wars book – being a humor book, my own experience has probably been a bit different, but I’ll try to cover all the aspects everyone has brought up.
I have a general question about creative license. Since the Star Wars universe is essentially from the mind of George Lucas, is there anything you absolutely cannot write about? Does George Lucas have to approve your book (sounds silly, I know) before it goes out to publish? How exactly does that work?
Jeffrey Brown: I don’t know if George Lucas actually sat down and approved my book, but each stage of writing – basic ideas, thumbnail sketches, pencils, final full color artwork – had to be approved by Lucasfilm. I worked with J.W. Rinzler basically, and I would guess he showed things to some of the other people working in Lucasfilm’s publishing and licensing division. I know that in order for me to write the book and get it properly licensed, the publisher (Chronicle Books) had to take my pitch to Lucasfilm, where it was presented and discussed before they gave the green light.
Ryder Windham: Yes, there are some things Star Wars authors can’t write about. A good example of this is Yoda, whose species and origins have remained a mystery for over 30 years because Lucasfilm discourages writers from even hinting at such information.
I don’t assume George Lucas personally approves every Star Wars book before publication because he has so many other business concerns. But editors at Lucas Books and Lucasfilm’s publishing licensees are very involved and committed to the approval process. Every project is different in how they get started, but typically, a project begins when an editor asks a writer to produce an outline. I should note that for legal reasons, most editors refuse to review unsolicited outlines, so about the only way one gets to work on a Star Wars book is by invitation of an editor.
After the outline is approved, it goes to Lucasfilm. After Lucasfilm approves the outline, it goes back to the writer, who is then responsible for the manuscript. The manuscript goes through the same approval process as the outline, first to the editor, then to Lucasfilm. That may sound simple, but because there can be various concerns about continuity, and numerous requests for specific revisions, the approval process can be time-consuming. Still, it’s a necessary process, as all involved are working toward the same goal: producing a Star Wars book that will be uniquely entertaining while meshing well with many other books.
Ryder, have you changed your opinion about Return of the Jedi since 1983? I do agree that of the three Episodes in the Classic Trilogy, Jedi seems to be most viewer’s least favorite films.
Ryder Windham: Yes, my opinion of Return of the Jedi has changed since 1983 (I probably should have mentioned that earlier!). In 2003, Scholastic hired me to write junior novelizations of the original trilogy, which meant I was obliged to watch Jedi for the first time in twenty years.
My daughters were only 3 and 5-years-old in 2003, but they watched the movie with me because (a) they were home and (b) I had to get work done, and trust me, I did consider watching Jedi as “work.” Naturally, my darlings adored the Ewoks, but the real surprise for me was that the movie wasn’t as dreadful as I’d remembered. It’s not that the movie itself had improved, just that I could finally put my disappointment in perspective.
Keep in mind that I’d loved Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, had high expectations for the sequel, and waited THREE YEARS for that sequel. Those three years gave fans a lot of time to think about story possibilities and build expectations.
Now, to be really objective… If one watches Jedi immediately after Empire on home video, without much waiting or wondering in between, Jedi is relatively painless. When I watched Jedi with my daughters, I could finally appreciate the quality of various sequences. And instead of loathing Jedi as I had in 1983, I saw it all through an oddly nostalgic lens. They don’t make matte paintings like they used to.
Are you ever scared of/worried about offending star-wars movie fans or more importantly, George Lucas? Do you study the movies extensively to look for plot hints or ideas?
Jeffrey Brown: I did study the movies extensively – as well as looking at other Star Wars material, even if it didn’t relate directly to my project; I watched a lot of Clone Wars and re-read a bunch of the novels. I was never scared of offending fans or George Lucas, because I knew how much I loved the material I was getting to play with (and I certainly wasn’t going to sabotage my chances of getting to draw and write more Star Wars material!)
Randy Stradley: If I ever offend any fans, I just hope that it’s the right fans who are being offended.
Seriously, I’ve been doing this long enough that I have a pretty good idea of what will be acceptable in a Star Wars story, and what won’t. If you’ve watched the movies, I bet you have a pretty good idea, too. You’ve seen what degree of violence, what level of sexuality, what kind of “swears” are allowed. If you keep that in mind, and you don’t go out of your way to violate continuity, you’ll probably be fine.
Re: studying the films, I think that after so many years, every little off-hand remark, or every hanging question from the films has been answered in EU fiction (sometimes more than once!), so I don’t feel there’s anything to be gained by doing that. Also, to me personally, those kind of stories are the most boring. They usually just end up explaining a situation or filling in a missing chunk of time without really revealing anything new or interesting about the characters or the overall mythos.
I like the kind of Expanded Universe stories that actually expand the universe — introduce new characters, new arenas of interest, or reveal aspects to existing characters which the readers didn’t know existed. Those kind of stories require more effort, but they’re more rewarding for the readers (and for the writers!).
How difficult is it to create your own stylistic vision within such an established universe as Star Wars? Describe any frustrations or limitations you have overcome while working within the Star Wars universe./I was wondering what specific rules you must follow when writing in the Star Wars universe (for example, the well-known ban on killing off the main characters)? Are there many, or do you pretty much have free run of the universe? Have you ever had story ideas that were completely shot down by Mr. Lucas, and if so, what were the criticisms he offered?
Jeffrey Brown: So far, my experience has been great – there really hasn’t been anything I’ve wanted to do that has been shot down, and Lucasfilm has really let me bring my own vision of Star Wars to the material I’ve written and drawn. The most frustrating part has been the occasional waiting for approval on sketches, because I’m always itching to get to work drawing the final art.
There haven’t been any explicitly stated rules for me to follow, but I think my editors and I are already so much on the same page that it’s never been a problem.
A question on writing. Do you script the stories before writing, or, like Ray Bradbury, start writing from a basic idea and see what develops?
Jeffrey Brown: I always have a detailed script before writing; for Darth Vader and son this was less of an issue because it’s essentially a collection of one page gags and drawings. We did, however, actually have a pretty set flow to the book in terms of which gags would be placed where. I think it’s important to know the key points of a book – how it starts, what you need to happen, how it ends – before you start writing. At the same time I try to leave room for things to change and lead new places within that framework. One of the Star Wars books I’m working on now involved about a dozen outlines of varying detail, and two fully drawn rough drafts.
For any of the authors to answer: I am wondering how much work it takes to create a Star Wars related book. How much research do you have to do before you sit down and write? Is all this research done at The Ranch or do you send specific requests and wait for responses?
Jeffrey Brown: There’s always a lot of research involved – whether it’s for fact checking details, making sure things are consistent, or getting the look or feel of something just right. I use the films themselves, trading cards (the original Topps sets as well as the newer sets), a ton of books (Simon Beecroft’s DK Character Encylcopedia is a favorite) and Wookiepedia. I get a lot of feedback from my editors and the people I work with at Lucasfilm as well. I did get the chance to visit the Ranch, but that was more for inspiration than research.
Randy Stradley: Well, as much as we’d all like to spend time in the Lucas library at the ranch, the truth of the matter is that research is almost all done from our offices. We read books, scour Wookieepedia and other online sources, and rely on the vast knowledge and accumulated information of Leland Chee, Lucasfilm’s Keeper of the Holocron.
The amount of research required totally depends on the kind of story you’re trying to tell. If you’re trying to weave your story through a continuity-filled part of the timeline, then you probably need to know what and when happened before, during, and after that time. Other times, when you’re working in a less explored period, it may be that all you need to know is whether a particular kind of spaceship has been developed yet.
[Kaylin:] Have any of you played a game in the Star Wars franchise, and if so, which has been your favorite?
Jeffrey Brown: I used to play games more regularly – Rebel Assault, Battlefront, Shadows Of The Empire – but my absolute favorite is still X-Wing (along with the companion Tie Fighter game).
Ryder Windham: In 1996, I spent/lost weeks of my life playing Star Wars: Dark Forces, the first version. I’m also fond of Pit Droids. Do you have a favorite Star Wars game?
[Kaylin:] Yes, my favorite Star Wars game is Knights of the Old Republic. It was the first “real” game I played, and I still enjoy it. I also like Jedi Academy and The Force Unleashed games.
What are your thoughts on CN’s The Clone Wars series? Do you think it has had a big impact on your ability to write inside the official canon? I’m wondering because my all-time favorite Star Wars author, Karen Travis, was forced to stop writing her Republic Commando series, which is one of my all-time favorites, because of it. Has anything like that ever happened to anyone of you, due to The Clone Wars or otherwise?
Ryder Windham: I think The Clone Wars TV series is terrific. It hasn’t in any way negatively affected or discouraged me from writing Star Wars books. It has only generated new ideas and more work.
George Lucas is much more involved with the stories in the TV series than he ever was directly involved with most of the books and comics. Because Star Wars and The Clone Wars are his properties, I respect that he can do what he wants with them. Even though I’ve always made an effort to stick with published continuity, I really don’t get frustrated when The Clone Wars contradicts some previously established detail from a novel or comic. I realize this may sound ridiculously diplomatic, but I find the inconsistencies interesting. They surprise me.
I also know many fans want and even expect every detail to mesh, but with The Clone Wars, I’m more concerned about whether the stories are entertaining and compelling than if they’re totally consistent with the comics, novels, games, etc.
In The Clone Wars, Anakin has an apprentice, Jabba the Hutt has a son, many Mandalorians are pacifists, and Darth Maul lives. All of these “facts” either contradict or stray from previous stories, but… as I said, I think the series is terrific. Do you?
[Alden:] Ahh… that’s not actually the response I was hoping to hear I love Karen Travis’s work, particularly on the Mandalorians, so much that I am actually kinda prejudice against the Clone Wars. Portraying Mandalorians as pacifists is as far from not just her, but ALL the “facts” (or as I prefer to call: “REAL STAR WARS”) as you can possibly get. And the fact that it has George Lucas’s rubber stamp of approval makes it worse, because it means that many of her characters no longer exist, thus discontinuing her work. For this, I shall never forgive the Clone Wars.
So, to put it briefly, no, I do not enjoy or appreciate the Clone Wars in any way, shape, or form, whatsoever.
[Petter:] I agree and sympathize with you, Alden. It is excruciating to see a work of fiction you love be overturned by officialdom and replaced with something that runs counter to your idea of that universe. With all the care that authors must take not to collide with canonicity, I think it is only proper that LucasArts does the same vis-à-vis established Star Wars EU. If they don’t, then why even accept EU at all? Oh, I forget, it enriches the franchise.
This contradiction is ever present: Star Wars is big enough for all of us, versus Star Wars suffers from ever greater inconsistencies because enough care is not taken. I know where I stand, but I am troubled about it because at core I hate limits in artists’ freedom of expression.
Ryder Windham: George Lucas and Lucasfilm have been revising previously approved story aspects since the beginning, and this has led to numerous contradictions and conflicts. Such stuff happens for various reasons, usually because the editors and writers overlooked or were unaware of some detail, or because George Lucas chooses to revise something. In other words, detours are sometimes taken even when there wasn’t an accident. I acknowledge that Star Wars fans, including myself, are baffled and even outraged by some revisions, but I also trust that the revisions aren’t made to deliberately baffle or outrage anyone.
Can Luke Skywalker swim? He could in the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, but not in at least one Marvel Comics story. Marvel also introduced Jabba the Hut (not a typo, Hut was the original spelling) as a biped before the character was reinvented for Return of the Jedi. After The Empire Strikes Back was released, some fans grumbled that the movie didn’t incorporate any mention of details from Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which had been published two years before Empire’s release.
And so I ask without anger or any great irritation…
Are you enraged that Lucasfilm couldn’t keep those “facts” straight? Do you think Lucasfilm should have been contractually obliged to keep Jabba the Hut (sic) as a biped in order to honor the contribution of the comic book artists? Or that Lucas should have produced a movie version of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which he’d conceived as a low budget sequel to Star Wars, instead of The Empire Strikes Back? And why should he have done that? Because Alan Dean Foster wrote a very entertaining novel, and Lucas had no right to change his mind?
Or do you allow that “things change,” and that Lucas has the right to do what he wants with his property?
Alden, you wrote:
“And the fact that it has George Lucas’s rubber stamp of approval makes it worse, because it means that many of her characters no longer exist, thus discontinuing her work”
Petter, you wrote:
“I know where I stand, but I am troubled about it because at core I hate limits in artists’ freedom of expression.”
While I understand and appreciate that you two prefer Karen Traviss’ previously-approved version of the Mandalorians in the novels instead of Lucas’s revisionist version in The Clone Wars TV series, the bottom line is that Lucas owns Star Wars. Furthermore, every Star Wars story, except for those written by Lucas, places “limits in artists’ freedom of expression.”
Are artists and writers entitled to do whatever they please with Star Wars characters? No, because they don’t own the characters. Should they expect Lucasfilm will respect their creative contribution always and forever? No, because again, their contribution is not their own property.
Petter, not to nitpick, but… “… at core I hate limits in artists’ freedom of expression.”
As much as you might love certain novels featuring Mandalorians, would you allow that George Lucas might have regarded those same novels as limits to his freedom of expression? I don’t mean to quibble, but I get the impression that you’re less concerned about the artistic integrity of a novel that was work-for-hire assignment for Lucasfilm than you are outraged that Lucas had his own ideas for The Clone Wars.
I guess that doesn’t really get us anywhere as far as a conversation goes. You both likely remain outraged that The Clone Wars TV series didn’t embrace the version of Mandalorians that you prefer. Me, I still enjoy watching The Clone Wars. It’s not that I like every change in Star Wars continuity, just that I generally accept the inconsistencies as interesting rather than annoying.
If nothing were more important to me than Lucasfilm maintaining and never changing every established “fact” about Star Wars, I would have given up on Star Wars in 1978. For whatever it’s worth, I’m glad I didn’t.
My question is for Randy Stradley. I love the direction Dark Horse is taking with the upcoming Brian Wood Star Wars comic, but I’ve seen a lot of fans online worried that this is going to reboot or overwrite current EU continuity.
I recall seeing interviews after it’s announcement that this series wasn’t a reboot, but when Wood says something like “As far as I’m concerned, in terms of this series, there is no Expanded Universe,” some EU fans get worried.
I took that quote to mean that since this comic takes place in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back that there is no need to tie deeply into EU concepts like Han and Leia’s children, the New Jedi Order, Legacy, etc., because those things haven’t happened yet. It’s not that there is no Expanded Universe, it’s just that the EU doesn’t really impact this series too heavily because of the time period it is set in. This is meant to be a good entry point for Star Wars fans that might not have dipped their toes into the EU yet, similar to Del Rey’s upcoming Rebels books that focus on early adventures of Luke and Leia.
Is that the idea you guys are trying to get across? I’m hoping it is and that hearing the answer straight from you will help get other people a little more relaxed and accepting of this new series, because it’s something I’m really looking forward to.
Randy Stradley: Simply put, you are correct in you understanding now what Brian Wood was saying. On thing he said which many readers seemed to not grasp at all was that he was approaching the writing of the series as if there was no The Empire Strikes Back and now Expanded Universe for the characters .
That does NOT mean that the new Star Wars series is a reboot. It means that Brian is working hard to forget all that he knows of the EU when writing the characters because the characters don’t know anything about it. Luke, Leia, Han and the rest haven’t read their futures, so Brian is just trying to get in a mindset that allows him to write the characters as they would be in that period of time right after A New Hope, and not write to an event that hasn’t happened yet.
So, no need to worry. We’re not tossing out continuity. We may not mention it, or tie stories directly into existing continuity (or stories that were written thirty-some years ago), but that’s not the same as contradicting history. We’re just giving you history you haven’t seen yet.
Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify this!
Jason Fry: My fellow authors have already tackled some of the questions I noted, so I’ll throw in some general thoughts in hopes that there’s something of interest there:
Stories vs. EU: What I value above all is good storytelling — characters I care about, interacting with other characters in ways I find interesting, and facing challenges that make me want to know what’s going to happen. I love the new Clone Wars show enough to forgive the occasional bumps with the EU: For example, Anakin having a Padawan of his own may have struck us veteran readers as odd at the beginning, but seeing Anakin struggle with being a teacher even as he struggles with his own past and his emotions adds depth to him as a character and makes his eventual fall even more tragic and interesting. At least IMHO.
Do I groan when there’s a continuity bump? Sure. But IMHO it’s more than a fair trade for having weekly stories in which George Lucas is involved. When I was a kid I had to wait three years for George to tell a new Star Wars sty. Now I have to wait seven days. That’s pretty cool.
Mandalorians: As the show has gone on, its portrayal of the Mandalorians has become increasingly complex and interesting. Even within the show, they’re far from just pacifists. This also lets me plug two books I wrote or co-wrote: The Essential Atlas and The Essential Guide to Warfare both examine Mandalorian history, incorporating both the established EU and the CW material. Reviews of how we made it all fit together have been pretty positive. Check ‘em out!
Deleted scenes: This happens to writers, yes. I mostly work on the “non-fiction fiction” side of the house, but there’s often cut material. For Warfare, in fact, I wound up writing about 60% of an additional book, and dropped a lot of stuff I’m still hoping one day finds a home. Which brings me to my next point….
Outlining: If you want to be a writer (or already are), please take my advice and make a robust outline part of your process. Plunging into a story and hoping for the best seems more fun, but a good outline/treatment will let you see holes in the plot, neglected characters, logical bumps and other problems earlier in the process, when they are much, much, MUCH easier to fix. Plus you won’t underestimate how much material you have and, say, wind up writing 160% of your word count for a project. [blushes]
Additional Scenes: Sometimes it works the other way. An upcoming project of mine is Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy from Scholastic — a novelization of the Darth Maul arc of episodes from Season 5 of the CW. For that one I wrote one scene that doesn’t appear in the scripts, addressing something I thought TV viewers wouldn’t need but readers would want to know. That was fun to do. And of course there was the chance to delve more deeply into characters’ thoughts, motivations and histories than you can visually.
Thanks for such good questions!
Jeffrey Brown: Personally, I really like The Clone Wars. As for continuity, I grew up with Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, so I have no problem with changes, paradoxes and contradictions. Of course, since my book lies essentially out of continuity, I may have a bias in favor of leeway for that kind of thing…
Ryder Windham: Jason Fry commented on the importance of outlines, and I agree. A strong outline is crucial for Star Wars stories, not just sso the editors involved can keep track of details, but so they writer can focus on the story’s direction, how it ends and/or leads into another story. However…
What do you do when the ideas come that lead you off your outline?
Ryder Windham: That happened with The Clone Wars—Secret Missions series that I wrote for Grosset & Dunlap, but it wasn’t entirely my doing. Initially, I was asked to write an outline for a three-book series. After I submitted the manuscript for the first book, the editors encouraged the idea that Nuru Kungurama, the young Jedi character I’d created, should be an alien. Grosset & Dunlap’s art director decided Nuru should be a Chiss, so I re-examined my outlines for books 2 and 3, and then got rid of them because I realized the Chiss aspect created possibilities for very different stories.
While all this was going on, Grosset & Dunlap decided that they wanted Secret Missions to be a four-book series. Although I wrote very rough outlines for the “new” versions of books 2 and 3, also 4, I pretty much made up the stories as I went along, which was very liberating. I should note that I did this with the approval of the editors, and also valued their input. Grosset & Dunlap editor wasn’t crazy about my original ending for Secret Missions #4, and I agreed with his reasons, so I revised the ending.
I know this is somewhat like asking which child is your favorite, but what Star Wars project have you been involved that you really enjoyed or are especially proud of?
Ryder Windham: I’m very proud of The Clone Wars—Secret Missions series. I’m hoping I’ll be hired to write more adventures for Nuru Kungurama.
When you write a book are you told at the beginning which characters can live or die? Who makes that decision?
Randy Stradley: Usually it’s up to the writer. Sorta. Say a writer proposes a story in which such-and-such character is to meet an untimely end. It’s then up to the writer’s editor(s) at the publishing company to approve or disapprove the idea. If the editor agrees with the writer, it is then sent to the story editor at Lucasfilm to say either yea or nay.
But if it’s a big enough character — say somebody gets a wild hair and wants to kill Chewbacca — then it goes all the way up to Mr. Lucas.
But it usually all starts with the writer proposing events he or she feels they need to tell a good story.
That said, I recall when I was writing the comics series Jedi Council: Acts of War, word came from Lucasfilm that I should kill some Jedi during the course of the story to show that Jedi were not untouchable super-men or -women. As it turned out, that fit right in with Darth Sidious’s plans…
Ever since I was young, the Star Wars verse has intrigued me and inspired me to write stories of my own. Where do you find inspiration for new characters? Do you base them off of real people, people you know, or do they just come to you? Also, in regards to canon characters, where do you find inspiration for stories regarding their younger years?
Randy Stradley: I can only speak for myself, but yes, I have based some new characters off of people I know — even if those characters don’t always stay true to their originating persona.
I rarely go into a story thinking I want to create a character who is just like my friend X. It’s more like I am inspired by the spirit, or intelligence, or sense of humor displayed by someone I know, and I try to come up with a character who will embody those traits. Often, you will end up borrowing from several different people to create an amalgam personality. Of course, with comics, it’s easy to ask an accommodating artist to draw a particular character to look like a specific person…
When writing existing characters — especially characters from the films — I try to remember back to my first impressions of them from the films and build from there. It’s important to me that I be able to “hear” in my head the actor saying the lines I’m giving them in my script. Hopefully, if I believe the character could or would say the line, the reader will too.
Which would you have killed off first if you could: Gungans or Ewoks?
Randy Stradley: I’m sorry, but your question assumes facts not in evidence. What make you think that any of us would want to wipe out entire populations of any species, let alone either of those?
We’re too busy killing our own “darlings” to engage in that sort of carnage.
Do you ever sit back and think about how unique the community of Star Wars EU authors and editors is?… Do any of you ever take the time to thank yourselves for respecting, as well as adding to a universe of such depth?
Ryder Windham: That’s quite a compliment to all the Star Wars authors, thanks. I do feel very fortunate that I wound up working on Star Wars books, not just because of the editors and other writers involved, but because the readers are wonderful too. I think the readers know and trust that the writers are Star Wars fans too.
I haven’t really thought much about what I’ve added to Star Wars, about my contribution, so to speak. Back around 1996-97, I met with Archie Goodwin and thanked him for giving me so many story ideas by way of his work on the Star Wars syndicated comic strip. I got the impression he was amused as well as a bit flattered that I thought so highly of his work, that I couldn’t resist culling obscure characters from it. Archie’s influence was huge.
I have really enjoyed the Dark Times comics series. The time period is rife for adventure and danger and a cool transition of the Republic into the Empire. Dass and Bomo and the gang are all so unique.
How much do you work with the artist as you are writing a storyline? Do you both work together to create new alien species and the “look” of the characters?
I have also seen many stories where a new group of characters (not Han, Luke and the gang) are tooling around the universe in a YT-1300, so I appreciate you creating new ships! It’s great for those of use that play the Star Wars RPG’s to have more choices.
Randy Stradley: From the beginning, Doug Wheatley and I worked closely on the look of the various alien members of the crew — trying to make each one of them break that “all (name of aliens species here) are (insert character trait here)” mold, and to make each of them fully-fleshed-out personalities.
As for the ships, the designs are all Doug’s doing, but I always push for something new. I’ve never wanted to use the same ships from the films, same aliens, same planets, etc., from the films (except for established characters or institutions). It’s a huge galaxy. New is exotic and exciting!
Anyway, it’s gratifying to know you noticed!
How much input do you get on your stories? Do you get hired and then are tasked with writing what you’re given? Or do they give you a logline/premise and task you with expanding it?
Jeffrey Brown: The idea for Darth Vader and Son actually originated with Google – they wanted to do something with their logo for Father’s Day, and asked if I could do some sketches playing on how awkward every day father/son moments would be between Luke and Darth. My son was four at the time, so I built on that idea. Google ended up not using the idea, so I was able to take it to Chronicle Books who pitched it to Lucasfilm for me.
The Star Wars book for younger readers that I’m working on now was something the publisher pitched to Lucasfilm, and having just finished Darth Vader and Son, Lucasfilm suggested me as someone to write and draw the project. I was given the basic concept, the main character and a general idea of themes or subjects to tackle. From there I developed an outline, which got feedback from editors both at Lucasfilm and the publisher. I drew two full drafts of the book, and all the editors went through those as well. So essentially I’ve been expanding that original idea – coming up with new characters and specific situations and whatnot – while the editors have guided me along, making suggestions and ensuring the book goes in the best direction.
Ryder Windham: For me, Star Wars assignments vary as far as how much input or instruction I get from the outset. For Star Wars: The Clone Wars—Secret Missions (Grosset & Dunlap), I proposed a series about a young Jedi boy leading a team of clone troopers. Lucasfilm decided the boy should be an alien, that I should incorporate the Malevolence and Cad Bane, and also introduce a “good” droid commando in the first book. In the second book, I was instructed to incorporate Bossk into the story. Aside from those details, the overall story was my idea.
For The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader (Scholastic), I was encouraged to stick with details from the movies and Expanded Universe, and not expand into “new” adventures. For The Wrath of Darth Maul (also Scholastic), I was encouraged to develop Maul’s childhood, and also specifically instructed not to reveal exactly how Maul survived his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace. So, I usually get input from editors, letting me know what they expect, how much I can create, what I should avoid, etc.
I have a rather broad question directed to those of you authors who have had the privilege to work on both novels and comics: What is the main differences between the two forms when creating plot lines and characters?
My preconception is that novels have the possibility of greater depth thanks to more text, plus the readers can to a greater extent create their own images of events and characters. Comics have less space for that but can tell so many things just by one perfectly made panel. A picture can be worth a thousand words, after all.
Jeffrey Brown: As much as prose can do things that comics can’t, there is lots that comics can do that prose can’t do the same way – for example, inserting visual symbols into backgrounds that have some significance, in a way that is both subtle and unobtrusive.
I totally agree about limits on length – the standard monthly comic book is limited to 20-24 pages of story, which can be restrictive, but can also help keep the story focused and free of unnecessary or extraneous material.
I think you can find examples of alternative or literary comics that have as much depth as any novel – the work of Chris Ware is probably the best example I can think of.
As for visuals taking away the reader’s ability to imagine, I would point to the fact that people don’t make that argument for film versus books – I mean, we love our Star Wars books, but ultimately, we still want to watch the movies the books are all inspired by, right?
Ryder Windham: That’s a good question. Obviously, novels and comics are different creatures, so I appreciate your specific interest in plot and characters.
Besides the obvious differences of a text-only story compared with a words-and-pictures story, the big difference is the page count. When I’m hired to write a Star Wars juvenile novel, I might be asked to write a manuscript that’s approximately 25,000-30,000 words. How many pages will the published book contain? That’s up to the editor and designers, and depends on how many words they want to put on each page. With comics, an editor tells me the exact page count at the outset; e.g., “a three-issue series, and each issue will feature 22 pages of story and art,” or “a one-shot comic with 72 pages.”
That said, when creating a plot for a comic, a writer has to keep in mind that the story must be paced over a very specific number of pages, and must also consider how those pages face each other, how the story literally unfolds. I once reviewed a script by a writer who essentially indicated the following for a comic story:
Page 1 introduced characters on a spaceship.
Page 2 had the characters approach a distress beacon.
Page 3 was a big explosion, the apparently booby-trapped distress beacon blowing up the spaceship.
Page 4 featured characters talking inside an escape pod as it tumbled away from the ruined spaceship.
Pages 5 and 6 contained one big panel of art, the escape pod being snared by an enemy ship’s tractor beam.
So… the problem with putting a big explosion on page 3 is that the readers, after turning page 1, would have opened up to pages 2 and 3, and would have known that the characters on pages 1 and 2 were doomed. Why? Because the readers would be unable to avoid seeing (peripherally) the explosion. As for the splash panel across pages 5 and 6, that’s physically impossible because pages 5 and 6 don’t face each other.
When novelists develop a plot for a story, they don’t have to worry about how the pages face each other. Novelists can write a sequence of dialogue between two or more characters for several pages, and so long as the dialogue is compelling, readers don’t mind if the characters are sitting in the same room the whole time. If I read a comic that features a sequence of more than two pages of characters inside a room, talking to each other, I not only get bored, but I wonder why the writer didn’t write a novel instead.
Novelists can also indicate what characters are thinking, which doesn’t generally come across as gimmicky as “thought balloons” in a comic. I think it was comic artist/writer/teacher Will Eisner who described thought balloons as a “desperation device,” used when there wasn’t any other way to communicate what a character was thinking. Relatively, Walt Disney’s animators maintained that the audience, at a glance, should always be able to know what every character on screen was thinking and feeling just by the characters’ facial expressions and body language. When I write comic scripts, I indicate facial expressions and/or poses for characters in every panel.
I wouldn’t say that more text necessarily equals greater depth. Consider: Have you ever read a long novel that featured shallow or forgettable characters? With both novels and comics, there’s a lot to be said for economy, for telling/presenting the story clearly, and for keeping the story moving.
[Petter:] I had never thought about the difficulties involved with making the proper comic pages facing up simultaneously. Quite a revelation! Also, it makes sense to me that illustrated characters should have revealing body language, but that too was something I hadn’t considered before.
Perhaps I’m expected to launch a fire-eating tirade on how page limitations infringe on free creativity, but actually I won’t. When beginning a work of fiction, my own being mostly RPG adventures, it helps me focus if there are clear boundaries. Art through adversity. How do you experience this yourself?
Randy Stradley: I would say art IS adversity. At least for me, writing is hard work, and I struggle with each sentence. But I think limitations are important. It gives you a basic “shape” for the work, and gives you something to mentally push against. I can’t tell you how many times I have been forced to rethink a solution to a problem facing a character in a story simply because there are not enough pages for my planned solution. And, almost every time, I realize that the new, tighter, more compact solution is better than my original.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but austerity is the mother of reinvention.
Timothy Zahn: As long as we’re doing quotes: “Necessity is the mother of invention; MacGyver is the father.”
[Petter:] MacGyver: Necessity never told you what happened to your father.
Invention: She told me enough! She told me YOU killed him.
MacGyver: No, I am your father.
Timothy Zahn: “I’ll never join you!”
“Of course you will. Let me take this paper clip and stick of chewing gum…”
My question is for Ryder, first of all, your visual guide is AMAZING!!!! I am so blown away by the ammount of information I got by reading it. I am in love with all of your stories, especially the Star Wars omnibus. But my questions are about the Complete Star Wars visual guide. How did you get all that information? When you make a guide to Star Wars, do you have to get permission from George?
Ryder Windham: Thank you, I’m delighted you like Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide (DK) so much!
Because you asked if needed permission to write the book, I should clarify how I work. I don’t write Star Wars books on my own and then try to get permission to have them published. Various publishers are licensed by Lucasfilm to publish Star Wars books, and these publishers’ editors contact me (usually because the nice folks at Lucasfilm recommended me), offering assignments such as writing a novel, a comic script, technical manual, or text for an illustrated guide.
An editor at DK Publishing offered me the assignment for the Ultimate Visual Guide, and we sorted out that the book would include a chronological guide to the Expanded Universe as well as sections about the movies, cartoons, and merchandise. After Lucasfilm and DK Publishing approved my outline, I began selecting illustrations and photos.
I’ve been working on Star Wars books for almost twenty years, and in the process, I’ve gained a library of Star Wars books that I use for reference. I also have a good memory for details from Star Wars comics and games as well as the movies. Working on the Visual Guide, the biggest challenge was deciding which images and photos worked best, and also writing text to fit very specific areas alongside an image. I indicated all my sources for information in my manuscript, so Lucasfilm could see exactly where the info came from.
The first edition of the Ultimate Visual Guide took me about four months to write, mostly because so much research was involved! Again, I’m very glad you like it. Thanks for letting me know.
I have another question for all the authors. Is there any major event in your own lives that caused you to write about different events then you orgiginaly planed? or maybe something that triggered the creation of a new character?
Ryder Windham: in most Star Wars stories, including Star Wars: A New Hope, Uncle Owen is depicted as a gruff guy, more interested in his moisture farm than anything else. When Luke asks a question about his own father or the possibility of going to the Academy, Owen changes the subject. In a few Expanded Universe stories, if Ben Kenobi strays near the Lars homestead, Owen tells him to get lost, and doesn’t bother giving any reasons. In other words, Owen doesn’t seem very likeable, and comes off as very anti-social.
But when I was working on The Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Scholastic), I thought it was important to emphasize that there was more to Owen Lars than being a curmudgeonly moisture farmer. After all, he’s a man who agrees to raise a boy who isn’t even a blood relative. I probably don’t need to remind you, but technically, Owen and Luke’s father Anakin were stepbrothers. And how well did Owen and his wife Beru know Luke’s parents? Well, they all met in Attack of the Clones, but that was it. Not much of a friendship.
So I started to think about Owen. Why would he agree to raise Luke, even after he learns Darth Vader might come looking for the boy one day? Owen doesn’t owe Obi-Wan or the Jedi any favors, right! I figured, maybe because Owen had cared for Anakin’s mother Shmi, he felt guilty that he’d been unable to prevent Tusken Raiders from abducting her, and he wanted to redeem himself. Or maybe he and Beru wanted a child of their own, but couldn’t conceive one. Maybe he even specifically wanted a son. But was he prepared for all the worry that comes with raising a child?
And that’s where I drew from personal experience. Being a parent (I have two daughters), I know what it’s like to feel responsible for the lives of children, to worry about their well being, and to want to protect them.
I subsequently wrote A New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker (Scholastic), in which I created a sequence that had young Luke sneaking off the farm in the middle of the night so he could have a good view of a meteor shower. When he returns home, Owen mistakes Luke for a trespasser and almost shoots him. I was mulling over what would happen next, whether Owen would give Luke a stern lecture or put a lock on his door (I really wasn’t sure, as I was straying from my outline a bit). So, the morning after the sneaking-away incident, Luke is expecting to be punished, but instead, Owen announces that he can’t protect Luke all the time, and he proceeds to teach Luke how to handle a blaster rifle and defend himself. This just made sense to me, and I thought readers would also accept Owen’s actions as practical.
I’m not a total slouch in the Imagination Department, but I doubt I would have written Owen the way I did if I weren’t a parent. I probably would have written him as a gruff old man, which is quite possibly how some people see me. Ha ha.
Randy Stradley: It’s true. Ryder is not really an old man.
Jeffrey Brown: Almost my whole book is basically based on my own experiences as a father – how I draw four-year-old Luke is basically how I draw my son, with a slightly different haircut. So the idea to draw Luke at that age probably wouldn’t have occurred to me if my son wasn’t that age.
Question to all really, what is your most enduring memory from the Expanded Universe and why, be it new or old?
Jason Fry: my most enduring EU memory is the first Star Wars book I ever loved — Han Solo at Stars’ End, by the late great Brian Daley. In fact, I just wrote about it for the official Star Wars site’s blog: http://starwarsblog.starwars.com/inde…
I won’t paraphrase my entire post, but Daley’s a terrific, funny writer, and what’s so great about his book is that it’s such a good character study of Han.
Timothy Zahn: Hello, everyone. Hmm…I was given to understand that this would be a Friday chat, but from the number of questions (and answers) I see apparently the party started without me. Apparently I was misinformed.
I’ll get busy now with some of your questions. I’ll start right now and work backwards, with preference being given to new questions, and see how many I’ve got time for. Please understand that I can’t answer *every* question here, but I’ll get to as many as I can.
My question is for Timothy Zahn. Firstly, yours were the first SW novels I ever read; I have every single one in hardcover and re-read them constantly I fell in love with the characters you created and I especially love Mara Jade. I was wondering what your inspiration for her was, how she came about. Thanks so much — and I am really looking forward to Scoundrels! (I confess I pouted when I found out it had been pushed back…)
Timothy Zahn: Mara was originally set up as a way to link the rescue of Han in RotJ with the rest of the Rebellion plot line — I reasoned that Palpatine wouldn’t take kindly to Vader’s offer to join forces with Luke in TESB and send an agent to Jabba’s to deal with him. The agent would have to be a Force-user, out of the chain of command (lest Vader get wind of it), and someone who Palpatine could trust. From that came the idea of the Emperor’s Hand, and from there came Mara. As I developed the plot, her character also developed to the person you saw in the novels.
I am kinda late on the Star Wars book train as I have just started reading the books this year. Currently starting to read the third of the Thrawn trilogy. So my question to Mr. Zahn is: what other Star Wars books (penned by him or other authors) can he recommend that I tackle after I finish the Thrawn trilogy? Thank you for your time.
Timothy Zahn: I would of course recommend my other books, starting with Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. After that you can go with the order they were written (Survivor’s Quest, Outbound Flight, Allegiance, and Choices of One) or else go in chronological order, which would put Survivor’s Quest at the end of that list. Scoundrels, which comes out in January, can be read pretty much apart from any of my other books.
Unfortunately, I haven’t read enough of the other SW books to be able to make recommendations.
I am an avid reader of all things Star Wars, and was always wondering which character that any of you have created have become a personal favorite of yours? Also, among those you have created, are there any story arcs which you did not participate in that evolved your characters that are your favorites?
Timothy Zahn: For me, Mara and Thrawn are my favorites — they’re both fun to write, though in very different ways. Close behind them are Karrde and Shada.
My question is for Timothy Zahn: With many of your Star Wars novels being so intricate and full of strong creative characters (Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Jorj Car’das, ect.), what was your creative process concerning the story lines of each of the novels involving Thrawn? Was it one hit of inspiration or did you develop the ideas over time? Did you find that it was hard ensuring that all the novels concerning Thrawn fit together? Also, I would just like to say that your writing is FANTASTIC! Heir to the Empire was the first EU novel that I read and why I continue to read them.
Timothy Zahn: Typically, I work on plot first, with the characters starting out as largely cardboard “placeholders” (Here’s a villain — we’ll call him Thrawn. Here’s a more ambiguous character — we’ll call her Mara.) As the details of the story flesh out, so do the characters, and by the time I’ve finished the outline the characters are real people in their own right.
Then, as I write, other details get added in or smoothed out — how this particular battle works, how the characters get from Point A to Point B, etc. Sometimes links to other books get put here, too, as well as ideas to plant that occur to me might link to future books. It *is* a complex undertaking, but when it’s done in bite-size chunks it’s not too hard.
My question is for Timothy Zahn: Where did you go for inspiration when creating Mara Jade? Was there any icons or other powerful females you thought of, or was she just an idea you had? Also, how do you feel about creating a fictional character that so many people admire or look up to?
Timothy Zahn: Mara wasn’t based on anyone in particular, but like all my heroes/heroines there were certain qualities I wanted in her: Loyalty (though that was rather strained throughout most of the Thrawn trilogy), intelligence, competence, a sense of humor (rather dry, in her case)– basically, I wanted her to be someone I’d like to know, or at least would grow into a person I would like to know. I assume those aspects of her character are part of what make her so popular with the readers, as well.
As to seeing women dressing up as Mara (or men *and* women costuning as Chiss), it is always an amazing and gratifying thing to see. We never know how well a given character will click with the readers, and it makes all those hours sweating over a book in a silent office worthwhile.
I’d like to read about the VERY old republic, like how the Jedi Order was formed, if there isn’t already a book on that. It would be really cool if one of you guys did a story with two main characters that alternate narrating the story, but one is a Jedi, and the other is a Sith. I also think there should be less stories where the main character is human. I’d like to read stories where the main character is some other Humanoid speicieas, like Twi-lek, Tagruta, , Wookie, N..umm..(whaterver Kit Fisto is), or something like that…maybe not even humanoid? Wait…One sugestion?…oops.
Randy Stradley: There are no novels currently set in this time period, but Book One of Dawn of the Jedi goes on sale in December. It collects the first arc of our comic book series of the same name. Also, the comics for second arc begin arriving in comics shops everywhere in November.
How’s that for quick service?
I loved your Thrawn Trilogy! It was a great continuation of the Star Wars Movie Saga. I loved that the characters introduced in the movies felt alive and authentic in your books. How difficult was it for you to continue on with the story and remain true to the universe while still making the trilogy your own? Did you have a foundation to work with in addition to the world created in the movies or did you build that all on your own?
Timothy Zahn: One of the greatest advantages of writing the Thrawn Trilogy was that I had a basically blank canvas to work on. Up until then no one had been allowed to write past RotJ (Dark Horse was working on the Dark Empire series at the time, but it wasn’t something I necessarily needed to coordinate with), which meant I had free rein (within LFL constraints to do what I wanted. My background material consisted of the movies, the Marvel comic series of the late ’70s and ’80s (most of which didn’t really impinge on what I was doing), and a big stack of source material West End Games had developed over the years for the SW roleplaying game.
That said, striking out to do a Star Wars book was a terrifying endeavor. I had to come up with a story that *was* Star Wars, yet wasn’t just a rehash of the movies; capture the movie characters closely enough that the reader could hear the actors’ voices reading my dialog; and find a way to create new characters that would feel like they were part of the universe.
Those are challenges that still face the authors today, with the added risk of stumbling over something another writer has already done, either duplicating a scene or (worse) contradicting it. Fortunately, with Leland Chee watching over continuity from his lofty perch at LFL, that’s not as much of a danger as it once was. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t sometimes happen…
The Star Wars movies have a lot of clearly defined “good guys” and “bad guys” but there are many EU characters who fall somewhere in between. How do you write a character who might be morally ambiguous in a way that makes them likeable for the reader? (e.g. If Mara Jade’s working for the Empire, how do you craft a story where she’s not evil and unrelateable?)
Timothy Zahn: I start by trying to make the character understandable to the reader; ie, to give them motives and a worldview that the reader can understand even if he/she doesn’t agree with that worldview. In addition, most of my main “gray” characters have a core that the reader presumably *can* agree with. Karrde is a smuggler, but he has an intense loyalty to his people and a code of honor; Mara is working for the Empire, but she sees her job as meting out justice to evil people (and most of the time they *are*, indeed, evil.) Other characters often grow to the “good guy” side, much as Han did.
Now, Sith … I’m not sure how well I would write them.
I’d like to know what the EU authors reactions were to some of the retconning that happened with the release of the prequels and related materials. Midi chlorians? rule of two? Cloning without Spaarti cylinders? Any other whammies on EU material you noticed?
Timothy Zahn: Actually, I think the Spaarti cylinders survived the prequels pretty well. They weren’t identified as such during the movies, but they certainly had the right feel and look to them (and “Spaarti” may have started out as a trade name for a particular brand of cloning tank). Even better, my idea that there was a limit to how fast you could safely grow a clone was implicitly there, though that was probably more because of the needs of George’s timeline than because of my reasons. Still, I think I can call this one a win.
How did you ever create not one, but two characters (Thrawn and Talon Karrde) who can get the jump on anyone and everyone as far as planning and thinking on the fly?
Timothy Zahn: When you think about it, people like Thrawn and Karrde *have* to be good at thinking on their feet; otherwise, they’d be dead before the book ever started.
I do see big differences in the characters, though. Thrawn is better with tactics and large-scale strategy, whereas Karrde probably more the Han Solo play-it-by-ear type. (Or is that Indiana Jones? I always forget…)
Mr. Zahn, I just love your books, especially the Star Wars ones. My favorites are the ones that feature Thrawn! He is just an amazing character and would love to read and learn more about him and his origins. Any more Thrawn books in the future for you? And what are the chances we’ll ever see “The Thrawn Trilogy” turned into movies…maybe a trilogy?
Timothy Zahn: At the moment, Thrawn’s last appearances are Choices of One and the novella in the Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, with nothing else scheduled. However, I do have more Thrawn stories in mind. It’s just a matter of persuading Del Rey and LFL to let me write them, plus finding an open slot in the publishing schedule.
Question for Timothy Zahn: I read that you were dismayed to learn that Mara Jade had been killed off in the (less than mediocre) New Jedi Order series. Have you come to terms with this decision or is there any chance for the event to be retconned in future novels – or will we see more Mara Jade in novels set before her death?
Timothy Zahn: Much as I’d like to see Mara come back, reviving dead characters strikes me as very comic book and not really fair to the readers. Future Mara stories, therefore, will have to focus on her earlier life: Rebellion Era and possibly pre-NJO. I do have a follow-up to Survivor’s Quest simmering on the back burner, which I may pitch to Shelly sometime in the near future.
And Survivor’s Quest *does* have a small dangling plot thread; ie, who (if anyone) was manipulating events in the story. I’ve got a couple of ideas on that …
Can the authors tell us what they are working on next in the Star Wars Universe?
Timothy Zahn: My next Star Wars book is Scoundrels, now scheduled for a January 1, 2013 release. After that, I have nothing planned, but will probably be pitching ideas to Shelly early next year.
To Mr Timothy Zahn: To be very frank, you have always been one of my favorite sci fi authors, not just within the Star Wars universe. Your creation of Grand Admiral Thrawn was brilliant to say the least. Can you tell us a little more about the background to the building of his character and the universe he eventually opens up?
Timothy Zahn: Thank you for the kind words! As to Thrawn’s origin, he started out basically as a “not-Vader, not-Emperor.” That is, I wanted a different sort of villain than we’d seen in the movies. Since Palpatine and Vader both rule by force and intimidation, I decided I wanted someone who could lead by loyalty. How does a military leader inspire loyalty? By being highly competent tactically, by caring for the lives of his troops, by never wasting them in a doomed effort, by never letting pride or ego color his decisions, etc. Put all of those characteristics together, and Thrawn basically falls out of the equation.
Timothy Zahn – Your books are my favorite! Were you disappointed that your character, Mara Jade, died in the New Jedi Order series?
Timothy Zahn: I think it was a bad idea, not just because she was my creation, but because she was an extremely useful character, with the kind of background, skills, and relationships that made her a good protagonist, antagonist, foil, etc. On top of that, I don’t see Star Wars as the sort of universe that habitually kills off major characters (unlike, say, Aliens or Battlestar Galactica)– if it was, Lando or Wedge would have died in the second Death Star.
Still, when all is said and done, Mara and all the rest of the Expanded Universe is owned by LFL, and if the editors and owners decide to kill someone off (or promote someone to queen, for that matter), then that’s how things will be. We all know this going in, and we accept it as part of the price for getting to play in George Lucas’s sandbox.
You seem to write most of your SW books around Luke and the gang close to and after the end of original triology. Is this because it’s where you feel comfortable and the part of SW you like? or is it restrictions? It would be cool to see your kind of writing in the universe but with an “unknown character” (no beef, as said, love the books, just wondering:) )
Timothy Zahn: I’ve mainly kept with the Rebellion and New Republic eras because, as you surmise, the characters and overall galactic situation are interesting to write. In addition, in the early days of the EU, it was also believed (and there was some evidence of this)that books with movie characters sold better. I would have no problem writing a book with unknown characters (and after all, everyone I’ve written besides the movie people *have* been unknown characters); it would just be a matter of selling the idea and storyline to Del Rey and LFL.
To all the authors, what is your favorite book/series outside of the Star Wars Universe?
Jeffrey Brown: There’s a lot to choose from! I just finished reading his newest book, so I’ll mention Haruki Murakami as one of my favorite authors. In terms of science fiction, I like reading the Horus Heresy series of books from the Warhammer 40,000 universe. For Star Wars, the Rogue Squadron series is still amongst my favorites.
Jason Fry: Hmm. I love series that give me a world to explore in loving detail. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, for instance, or Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori. Am trying to do the same in my own forthcoming series, The Jupiter Pirates.
Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Michael Chabon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Perrotta. How’s that for an odd list?
I have a question for Timothy Zahn. We all owe a debt to you for kick-starting the EU in a big way for Star Wars novel writing. How has your immeasurable contributions to the EU changed the direction of your writing career, and where would you see yourself if you hadn’t taken that first step with Heir to the Empire?
Timothy Zahn: I owe all of *you* a debt for your enthusiastic (and continuing) support of my SW books, from Heir onward. Thank you all!
My guess is that without the Thrawn Trilogy I would still be writing science fiction, but in a quieter, more under-the-radar way, a lot of opportunities that have since come my way would have been lost along the side of the road.
Also, given my love of Star Wars, I would probably have been on the other side of this chat today, asking my own questions of the Star Wars EU authors.
My question is for Timothy Zahn – Thrawn became one of my most favorite characters in the Star Wars universe as soon as I read Heir to the Empire. How much creativity were you allowed to develop such a strong and intriguing character? I’ve always been curious what sort of prompting the authors of all of these Star Wars books may have gotten from George Lucas and others in charge.
Timothy Zahn: There was really no prompting of any sort from LFL regarding Thrawn or any other characters. Typically, in my experience it works like this: we authors tell Del Rey and LFL what we want to do, and they then tell us what parts we can do and what parts we can’t. At that point the negotiations and diplomacy begin, and nearly always we’ve come to a compromise that leaves everyone happy.
Occasionally, they’ve asked me to put something specific into a book, but it’s always been something minor (a third-tier character, say) and easily done.
Mr. Zahn, what inspired you to begin writing science fiction in the first place? Why not fantasy, mystery, or anything else?
Timothy Zahn: It was mostly writing what I liked to read. I had read a fair amount of fantasy in my youth, but the harder science/tech of SF appealed to me more. The first story ideas that occured to me were SF, and I’ve been traveling on that path ever since.
I have a question for anyone, or everyone (I always appreciate multiple views), to answer. My dream-come-true would be writing Star Wars for a living. As a fledgling author who’s barely gotten his feet wet in the publishing world (meaning TODAY), naturally I’m having delusions of grandeur about becoming a famous author (but realistically I know that I have, at the very least, taken my “first step into a larger world”). Reading many Star Wars authors’ websites, I’ve gathered that looking to get noticed by Lucas Films is a lot like looking for Chuck Norris: you don’t find him, he finds YOU. That being said, how long/how many novels did it take to get noticed? Do you suggest any trees I should be barking up? Any butts I should be kissing? Any advice would be would be fervently followed and greatly appreciated!
Timothy Zahn: As far as adult Star Wars novels are concerned (I can’t speak for the children’s books, comics, or other areas) you basically have to be an established novelist before Del Rey will be interested in offering you a SW book. This is partly because of supply and demand — there are more novelists than there are publishing slots to be filled — but also because they need some assurance that the candidate can turn out a finished book that’s of decent quality and will be delivered *on time.* That latter point is crucial: they have to know that when the author promises to get the book in, the book sill be in. Otherwise, the entire schedule is instantly screwed up.
So if you want to write Star Wars, your best bet is to write and publish your own original work first.
Jeffrey Brown: My advice would be to just keep working and writing – as much as you can, in as many places as possible – both to hone your craft, and to get your work out into the world. The way I ended up getting to make Star Wars books was because of my other comics, and basically having built that career led to various opportunities which led to the opportunity to do my first book for Star Wars, which led to the chance to do more work in the Star Wars universe. I self-published my first book, and kept a day job for another seven years before becoming fully devoted to making a living from my art and writing. I’ve been really fortunate to meet a lot of the right people at just the right time, but I’ve also worked hard to be in a position where I can take advantage of opportunities as well as showing people that they can trust me with those opportunities.
Jason Fry: My advice for new writers who want to write Star Wars is that working in an established universe almost always comes after having a long track record of being reliable producing good work of your own. I’m a bit of an exception, it’s true, but even I was a journalist with 10+ years of experience when I got my first Star Wars gig. That can be frustrating to hear, but it’s the reality, and I think folks need to know that upfront.
Ryder Windham: I’ll second Timothy Zahn’s comment: “… if you want to write Star Wars, your best bet is to write and publish your own original work first.”
Another option is to land a job at Dark Horse Comics, let them assign you Star Wars titles, write a few Droids stories, leave Dark Horse after a few years, and then goof around until a friend from Lucasfilm asks if you want to write Star Wars books. It might help if you jumped in a time machine so you could do that twenty years ago, but then where would I be now?
I jest, sort of. Considering how hard it is to break into Star Wars, that the work really is by way of “invitation only,” I do feel very fortunate that I get to write SW books. But I’d encourage any aspiring writer to work on their own stories, their own creative properties, as getting published by that route is more likely to gain attention from editors looking to hire writers for work-for-hire assignments.
Randy Stradley: Establishing your credentials is an absolute must. No editor wants to hire a writer (or artist, since I also hire them) who hasn’t proved they can do the job. Part of it is just common sense — editor’s don’t want to create extra work for themselves. But a larger aspect is that Star Wars is the Gold Standard of licensed properties. The work has to be of a certain quality.
So, if you want to write Star Wars, the first thing you have to do is establish yourself as a writer through other properties — either a lesser-known licensed property, or a creation of your own.
But here’s another thing, and maybe this is specific to me: as an editor, I am extremely (EXTREMELY) cautious about hiring writers who LOVE Star Wars. With artists it’s a different story. Let the artist wallow in their love of the franchise. But writers, in my experience, need to be able to approach Star Wars dispassionately. They need to be able to put the concerns of the story they’re telling first, and their appreciation for the franchise second, or even third.
Why? Because it’s easy to adding the trappings and set dressings of Star Wars to a well-constructed story. But if the story isn’t there, all of the lightsabers and starfighters in the galaxy won’t save it. In my experience, writers who “desperately” want to write Star Wars fall into three categories: 1) They want fix or explain what they see as holes or gaps in continuity, or 2) They want to put their fingerprints all over the franchise — to be the one who introduces the Super-Duper Star Destroyer, or to be the one who establishes the secret origin or Mace Windu’s lightsaber, etc., or 3) They just want to regurgitate what they saw in the movies. But none of those things is a story — they don’t reveal anything new or interesting about the “world” of Star Wars or the characters in it.
So hone your craft. Learn what storytelling is all about. And learn to love other things in addition to Star Wars, so that you can bring something more than just your love for it to the franchise.
Ryder Windham: To everyone who has expressed interest in writing Star Wars, with the specific goal of being a published Star Wars author, I’d urge you to read Randy Stradley’s message (above), and take special note of this remark:
“… as an editor, I am extremely (EXTREMELY) cautious about hiring writers who LOVE Star Wars.”
I totally agree with Randy. If an editor knows you’re a rabid fan of Star Wars, it can actually work against you. Editors may enjoy meeting fans, but when they’re in any position to hire a writer, they want an experienced professional.
At Dark Horse Comics, I wound up editing Star Wars titles, and that experience led to writing on books, but I stress I never had a career plan. If some huckster ever published book titled, “How to Become a Professional Star Wars Author,” I’d advise you not to waste your money. There is no guaranteed path to this line of work
If you want to be a writer, then get to work and start writing. If you want to write Star Wars books, build a reputation writing your own books, and keep your fingers crossed. I don’t mean that to discourage you or crush your dreams, just hoping that no one wastes that most precious commodity of time.
Years from now (no specific number of years), if you curse your luck because you were never hired to write a Star Wars book, I hope very much that you didn’t spend all those years writing Star Wars stories and wishing someone would discover you. I hope that you used your time wisely and well, and that you wrote a bunch of your own books.
And if years from now, an editor does contact you, and says, “I’m familiar with your work, and I was wondering whether you might be interested in writing a Star Wars book,” it’s possible you might not even be interested in that time. You might be enjoying working on your own books so much that you can’t imagine making time to work on Star Wars.
But if you are interested, I wouldn’t encourage you to start babbling about how much you’ve always loved Star Wars and that this moment is a dream come true. Instead, I would advise you to respond:
“What’s the estimated word count for the Star Wars book, what’s the deadline, and how much does it pay?
Why is it so hard to introduce new characters in a Star Wars book? At some point we all get tired of seeing Luke, Han, Leia and all the gang feature in every single book.
Ryder Windham: Introducing new characters isn’t hard. Introducing new characters readers care about is the challenge. Also, it’s arguable that “we all get tired of” books featuring characters from the movies, as many readers do want to read stories with those characters.
Because there’s a commercial aspect to every Star Wars book, marketing is also a consideration. If the story doesn’t feature a prominent character, who’s going to appear on the book’s cover? Will the new character help sell the book?
I was still an editor at Dark Horse when they began publishing Tales of the Jedi, stories that predated the SW Trilogy by thousands of years. My one contribution to that series was encouraging the editors and designers to consider putting at least one character holding a lightsaber on every cover, because lightsabers were the only obvious visual “link” between Tales of the Jedi and Star Wars.
In an earlier post, Randy Stradley wrote, “New is exotic and exciting!”, and his work on Dark Times certainly bears that out. New characters, new vehicles, new worlds to explore, etc. And it doesn’t hurt that the story and art are great.
But I think there’s also a lot to be said for some familiar faces and locations. One of my favorite Star Wars comic stories is The Jabba Tape by John Wagner and Kilian Plunkett. They literally resurrected two minor characters, the swoop bikers Big Gizz and Spiker, who’d been killed off in Shadows of the Empire, and made great use of Tatooine too. Another creative team might have been tempted to introduce two entirely new swoop bikers, but I was glad to see Gizz and Spiker again.
For Randy S. – has “coming out” as the writer of Dark Times changed anything for you as a writer? That is, is do you feel more pressure? Has fan response / letters been different in any way (more or less critical, etc.)?
Randy Stradley: Just a quick aside, for those not in the know: I wrote a number of comics series under the pen names “Welles Hartley” and “Mick Harrison.” I won’t get into the long, complicated reasons for why I thought the pseudonyms were necessary. Suffice to say, I eventually dropped them.
Josh, the interesting thing is, Welles Hartley used to get actual fan mail. Not just mentions on a message board or an occasional email, but actual handwritten letters from fans who had taken the time to sit down and craft them. Stories I wrote under my own name usually got an “oh, yeah” kind of response.
Since I have “come out,” as you called it, I generally get a more positive response from readers. Perhaps my writing was actually better as Welles. Or maybe Hartley had something to prove…
Jeffrey Brown – My wife bought me Darth Vader & Son for father’s day. It is awesome! My son is 3.5 year old and loves Star Wars. Any comments on the significance of Star Wars being able to be loved by several generations?
Jeffrey Brown: One of the motivations for writing Darth Vader and son was realizing that a lot of the people my age, who grew up as kids with Star Wars, were now having their own kids. With the books, prequels, animation, toys and everything that’s come out after the original film trilogy, Star Wars has managed to not only keep its audience, but build and strengthen it. One result of that is that I think Star Wars is kind of a modern myth, where even if you’ve never seen Star Wars, you probably have an idea of at least who Darth Vader is and what R2-D2 is like.
I think it’s also great that there’s so many ways to experience the Star Wars universe – there’s something for every age and interest, whether it’s watching Clone Wars or reading Timothy Zahn’s novels or just snuggling into your tauntaun sleeping bag…
On the topic of “Darth Vader and Son“, any possibilities of making “Darth Vader and daughter”? I’d sure love that! I’ve grown my own daughter into a veritable Star Wars fan! When she’s old enough, she’ll have to read the A New Hope: Infinities comic as mandatory reading.
Jeffrey Brown: Thanks, you’re in luck – one of the two Star Wars books I’m currently working on is the follow-up to Darth Vader and Son – Vader’s Little Princess. It’ll start with Leia as a four year old, and then show some of her teenage years. It should be out next spring, so keep an eye on the Chronicle Books website for more.
Hi Timothy. Have thoroughly enjoyed your reads so far. I just wanted to ask as a man who encapsulates sc-fi so well on paper, what other science fiction apart from Star wars has inspired you. I love the Alien films and am loving the new direction the Prometheus has taken that.
Timothy Zahn: Really, all the character I create (and, I think, characters that *all* authors create) capture my attention and imagination to one degree or another.
And you never know who is going to appeal to the audience. Ghent, who was mostly a throw-away character, has developed a certain following among computer tech-type readers. The moral is, always take care with even the minor characters.
Hi Timothy, I´ve read all of your Star Wars books and plan to read your other science fiction as well. So I ask how you compare the experience of writing for a beloved shared universe like Star Wars to create your own worlds and mythologies? Do you think is more difficult to create different characters knowing that they will be used bu other authors? What do you think? Thank you and keep the good work, that I´ll continue reading!
Timothy Zahn: There really isn’t all that much difference between writing Star Wars and writing in my own universes. The goal either way is to create memorable characters, believable worlds and scenarios, and intricate, gripping plots. In Star Wars I have some ready-made characters, worlds, and tech, which I don’t have to explain or introduce to the readers; in my own universes I have more freedom, but need to take the time to introduce everything so that it’s understandable. Both have different challenges; both are enjoyable.
Timothy-I love your Thrawn series, not only for how well it was written but also because it continued with the core group (Leia, Han, Luke) and how their lives progressed after RotJ. The idea of Leia & Han having twins especially tickled me. How did you decide on their names (and any of the “new” names you came up with ei: Mara Jade). Are you pleased with where the other authors took the story of Leia & Han’s children (killing them off)? Thank you again for writing such wonderful stories to lead the new SW generations!
Timothy Zahn: Some names are easy. Mara Jade — “Mara” means “bitterness;” “Jade” is a hard stone (and, according to one of my old dictionaries, had an additional meaning of a discarded woman). Jacen was named after our son’s best friend at that time; Jaina was more of a problem, and we went round and round before we settled on it.
As to how the characters have fared since I birthed them … as I mentioned before, all the EU is owned by LFL, which means that they have the final say on what happens. If LFL and Del Rey decided to do X with one character and Y with the other, that’s their right. We all knew that going in, and we just have to take deep breaths where necessary and accept it.
To Carla and Timothy, nice exchange on how characters are named! Can we perhaps expand this further? Do the venerable authors have any particular methods for coming up with names for characters belonging to exotic/alien cultures and species?
Randy Stradley: Names are important. There are times when I have been derailed for hours trying to come up with an appropriate name for a character. For me, it’s important that the name have some resonance with the character’s personality. Either a name that phonetically sounds like a descriptor of the character, or a word, pair of words, or a compound word in one or more foreign languages that says something about the character.
A secondary concern is that name be easily pronounceable — because even seemingly easy-to-pronounce names can give readers trouble. (I recall an exchange between one of our staff and a fan at a convention. The fan insisted that Jaina Solo’s name was pronounced Jah-EEN-uh, and would accept no other answer.)
Timothy Zahn: It is “JAY-na,” in case there was still any doubt.
I have a whole slew of foreign dictionaries which are highly useful for getting a general feel of a culture/alien language, including names. One other consideration, besides pronounceability: names must *look* reasonably different on the page, since most readers identify the characters visually instead of by sound.(Books on disk fans, of course, do it the opposite way.) You don’t want a Henderson and a Halverson in the same book if at all possible.
I have to say that what I always loved about the EU books were that they were neatly wrapped up in 1 to 3 books, the good guys always won, and I got to “travel” to exciting new places. In other words, they were an escape from reality.
That’s why I was so disappointed in The New Jedi Order series. Losing Chewie was hard enough, but I was downright upset over Anakin Solo. My perfect little escape mechanism was gone. We kept fighting the same enemy over and over and over again with no resolution. The bad guys kept winning; the good guys kept dying. It got too depressing.
That’s when I quit reading SWEU books altogether. I had enough going on in my life that I didn’t need the emotional baggage of fictional characters to carry around too. I get way too attached to the storyline and it was no longer a “healthy” attachment.
I know there have been other books written since then and there are probably some good stories out there that I can once again turn to for my escape from reality. So I am going to try to get back into them.
Thank you to all the authors for providing this source of entertainment for us. Your skills are greatly appreciated!
Timothy Zahn: I have to say I’m on your side on this one. Growing up, I always preferred the stories where the good guys won out and didn’t die. That was also the case with the Classic Star Wars movies — it would have been easy for George to kill off Lando or Wedge in the final Death Star explosion, but he didn’t.
Still, Star Wars is whatever LFL says it is. I know the NJO was supposed to bring a darker, more realistic tone to the EU, and it definitely succeeded. But like you, I want my novels to be fun and satisfying and an escape. Realism and heartbreak I can get from the news.
To any of the authors: Did you ever feel apprehensive about sending out your writing when you were first getting published, and do you still feel that apprehension now? (I’m a creative writing student, and I have a story that I think could get published, but I haven’t found the courage to send it out.)
Timothy Zahn: Every single time. I *never* know whether what I’ve written is good or even half-way decent — I know it’s the best I can do, but there’s no way for me to judge whether anyone except me is going to like it. You just have to take a deep breath, remember that a rejection is for your writing not you personally, and send the thing out into the world.
Jason Fry: The apprehension never goes away!
But you have help, provided you’re not a diva. Writing is a solitary process; getting something in shape to be published is a collaborative one. Work with readers, editors and everybody else involved, and keep in mind that they, like you, want the best for the work. Especially when changes and questions make you want to cry/scream.
Even a rejection letter can be helpful — unless it’s just a form letter, someone’s taking the time to explain WHY something didn’t work for them. And that can help you look at what you’ve written critically and explore why it didn’t connect.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes, I have felt apprehensive, and still do. Even as a relatively ‘established’ author, I still have things that I pitch only to get rejected, and finished work that I feel good about but am unsure of how an editor or audience will fell. Rejection is part of the process -whether it’s publishers, critics or fans – and the sooner you just accept that coming with the territory, the better off you’ll be. It’s the good and bad to sending your work out into the world.
Question for Jason Fry: I’ve always wondered, when an author signs up for a big project such as the Essential Atlas or the Guide to Warfare, is there some huge library of reference material somewhere that you are allowed access to? I always picture something like the Library of congress but filled with Star Wars books, comics, magazines, and other memorabilia.
Jason Fry: There is — it’s my study.
With a cpl of very recent exceptions, I have every SW book, comic, RPG guide, and what have you. That was essential for a project such as the Atlas, where Dan Wallace and I tried to include every single star system ever created for the SW galaxy. (As it turned out, to my shame we initially missed a few dozen.)
But the Atlas was a work of OCD love, and so something of an exception. (This also describes my study.) For other stuff, Lucasfilm is an enormous help — they can supply background material and references, and are there to answer questions. For Warfare, LFL folks were a huge help in figuring out everything from capital-ship classes to how the heck you flip a switch on a blaster and change from straight bolts that blow holes in things to blue circles that stun people.
Despite all this, though, take a look at Randy’s great note about storytelling vs. SW retcons and trappings. He’s absolutely right — storytelling always has to come first. It’s essential in fiction, but also important in “non-fiction fiction.” Sure, the Atlas and Warfare are full of geeky explanations and retcons and stuff. But I also think/hope they work as narratives.
Questions for Ryder Windham: Is it more difficult to author a Star Wars reference book or a novel (or a comic)? How is the process in creating them different?
Ryder Windham: The process in creating/producing the books is definitely different. In an earlier post, I wrote about some differences between writing novels and writing comics, also the amount of research I have to do before and while I’m working on reference books.
But which is the most difficult to write? Without hesitation, I’d say comic scripts are the most challenging, and for all the reasons I mentioned earlier. With comics, a writer has to consider how much content (words and pictures) can fit on each page, how the pages face each other, how many pages per issue, etc. When I collaborate with artists on comics, I usually draw thumbnail layouts for entire stories, clarifying the positions of each character and every speech balloon.
I wouldn’t say writing a prose fiction story is a walk in the park, but it’s a lot less labor intensive than scripting comics. At least for me. When I worked at Dark Horse Comics, whenever an aspiring writer asked for advice on breaking into comics, I’d say, “Learn to draw. Even if you can only draw stick figures, that’s a good start. I’m not saying that ever comic writer has to draw layouts, but aspiring writers who aren’t willing to learn the basics of drawing and composition should probably stay away from comics.
As for reference books, my approach on those is that I’m more of a creative editor than a writer, in that I glean information from dozens of previously published books, and work with artists to collate the information into something “new.” For example, the Millennium Falcon Owner’s Workshop Manual (Haynes Manuals and Del Rey) drew information from movies, numerous novels, roleplaying game books, toys, and assorted technical manuals. All that research was time-consuming, but it’s nothing compared to the hours artists Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas put into the book.
Ryder Windham – You’ve pretty much authored more Star Wars books than anyone else in the business. What’s the method to get your books published? If I wrote a book, how would I get it to print?
Ryder Windham: I don’t have any method of getting “my” Star Wars books published, and please trust I don’t mean that in a snotty way, that I’m just hoping to explain. With few exceptions, every Star Wars book I wrote began as an assignment that came from an editor. It sort of goes like this…
“Dear Ryder, Are you interested and available to write a coffee-table art book about R2-D2?”
“Dear Editor, What’s the estimated word count for the R2-D2 book, what’s the deadline, and how much does it pay?”
Okay, so maybe the exchanges aren’t quite as blunt as that, but you get the idea: I’m hired to write Star Wars books. I don’t sit around thinking up ideas for Star Wars books, which I then write and shop around to different publishers.
A few projects did originate from me. The comic story “Thank the Maker” was my idea, as were the series Star Wars: Adventures in Hyperspace and Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Secret Missions. In each case, I knew the editors who might be interested, and we discussed the possibilities. But with all those projects, I didn’t begin work on the manuscripts until I had my contracts, and the editors and Lucasfilm had approved the outlines.
So, Jared, if you wrote a book, how would you get it published? I’m not sure, because I’ve never written a book unless someone asked me to write a book. You could try submitting your book to editors who accept unsolicited book proposals from writers who don’t have agents. Or you might find a literary agent who’d be willing to represent you, and that agent would be responsible for getting your book read by editors, who might obtain publishing rights. You might investigate self-publishing, or digital publishing.
But if your question is, “If I wrote a Star Wars book, how would I get it to print?”, that’s different. Lucasfilm owns Star Wars, and publishers and editors aren’t allowed to review unsolicited manuscripts. In other words, you could write your own book featuring Star Wars characters, and no one affiliated with Star Wars publishing would be allowed to read it. There’s nothing stopping anyone from writing fan fiction, but for reasons that involve everything from time to legal ramifications, that fan fiction cannot be read by editors at Lucasfilm or their publishing licensees.
Sorry, I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture for anyone who aspires to getting paid to write Star Wars books, but the odds are against it happening. I’d be a liar if I said, “Work hard, and someday, you too might work on Star Wars books.” So much about this business involves luck, timing, making connections, but there’s no method to it.
Jared, I encourage you to work on your own stories, and I sincerely wish you good luck.
How does a person be one of the lucky people to get selected to get ARCs
Timothy Zahn: I actually don’t know the complete process, but one usually has to be a reviewer or some such to get ARCs. Your best bet would be to email the publisher and find out what their criteria are.
I am an aspiring author, and once I am finished writing my debut series, I have been considering writing a Star Wars book. As a result, I have been wondering what the process would be? What kind of stories, or guidebooks, do the Lucasfilm publishers look for? Do they have any specific tastes?
Chris Alexander: First let me say I’m not a Star Wars story writer. I wrote the Star Wars Origami book. Not much of a plot but this is how I broke into the field.
I made my first Star Wars origami models (B-wing and X-wing)over 15 years ago and showed them to a friend in the movie industry. He was very very impressed and told me I should write the Star Wars Origami book. I said I didn’t know how, and he said “teach yourself” So I started experimenting and eventually came up with 15 models which I passed the tests of “foldabliity” and my friends approval. The other 40 or so which didn’t pass(looking back I have to admit weren’t very good)were near and dear to my heart and it was depressing to have them Poo-Pooed. So depressing in fact, that I nearly quit the project several times.
During this time, I bought the Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
and started writing to agents (10 at a time) and any publisher even remotely interested in arts and crafts, sci fi, mathematics.. any other subject which I thought might have something to do with origami or Star Wars. The responses I received fell into three categories.
1. Not interested
2. Send me a story outline list of characters and the first chapter (obviously a form letter and not they weren’t interested)
3. If you can get permission from Lucasfilm and find a publisher, I’d be happy to represent you. (I.E. You do all the work and get to the publishing stage, I’d be happy to take a cut)
It took three years to go through every agent in the US and abroad so I gave up on finding an agent. It was very depressing and I came close to quitting the project several times.
I wrote directly to Lucasfilm over and over and was rejected over and over. Lucasfilm’s stance was an origami book wouldn’t sell and wasn’t interested in letting a publisher have the rights to an origami book. I tried several different approaches. Different book formats, Selling the origami designs as individual files on the internet, an origami kit with special paper, anything I could think of. For the last 15 years the answer has always been “no”. I was very disappointed and almost quit the project several times.
I started volunteering my time Star Wars conventions and Star Wars Museum events all over the US. Lucasfilm was happy to have me teach my designs and entertain as long as I realized it wasn’t a path to getting publishing rights. At one of the events I met the editor of the Star Wars Insider and talked him into featuring 4 of my designs in one of the issues. I’d been interviewed in web magazines and an L.A. Magazine. Still Lucasfilm’s stance was the origami book wouldn’t have enough interest to be worth publishing.
I even met George Lucas himself and gave him a special Star Wars Origami gift. He put me in touch with the licensing department. Lucasfilm still wasn’t interested and I nearly tossed the book project.
All of this did have one cumulative effect. My name was associated in the minds of
Lucasfilm with an origami book. After the success of Tom Angleburger’s Origami Yoda book, (Don’t ask me how he managed to achieve publication. I’m sure his path was just as arduous as mine) Someone at Lucasfilm finally decided it might be worth taking a chance on an origami book. Lucasfilm contacted a publisher and said we’re thinking about doing an origami book, and Chris Alexander might be the guy to talk to. The publisher contacted me and asked if I was still interested. The rest is history
The point of all of this is it took 15 years from start to finish, and I really have no idea what worked and what didn’t. The only real advice I have is be willing to put up with years of rejection, don’t take it personally, and keep your fingers crossed.
Ryder Windham: You wrote: “Finally, I was a little confused by Mr. Windham’s response. If I get this straight,does this mean that the Lucasfilm contacts writers if they want them to create a piece of literature for them, but it can’t be the other way around?”
RW: That is correct. It can’t be the other way around, and it never will be. No offense. Just hoped to clarify.
“Well, if the opportunity ever came around, it would be nice, but if such a thing does not happen, I guess it is what it is. I can still work on my own series, read other exciting Star Wars books, and enjoy the movies.”
Yes! Work on your own series! And please keep enjoying Star Wars books, and keep your fingers crossed. (I just noticed both Chris Alexander and I have been encouraging finger-crossing. It really may help.)
Timothy Zahn: LFL certainly starts the literary ball rolling in a lot of cases, certainly with new writers to the GFFA (who, as noted above, are pretty much always established writers in their own right). But once you’ve done some SW work you can certainly pitch ideas and projects to them. (That doesn’t mean that they’re always accepted, for any of a number of reasons.)
Also note, for whatever it’s worth, that even being asked to write a Star Wars book doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be published. As also noted above, LFL is extremely picky about what goes out under the Star Wars name — and rightfully so — and if the final version isn’t up to snuff it can still be rejected. I know of at least two finished books that never made it to publication because the authors wouldn’t or couldn’t make the changes LFL requested.
I have a BIG question (and I really hope you will be able to answer it!): Have you heard *anything* about more movies that LFL/George Lucas plans to release? We have the prequels so would he/is he considering to make a set of movies following RotJ? I know I would personally LOVE for him to make the Thrawn series (Heir, Dark Force, Last Command) into movies. Have any of you been approached (or really, just heard any rumors!) about a possible project like that?
Timothy Zahn: I haven’t heard anything about new movie projects, but don’t read anything at all into that. Novelists are *way* down the list of people who know what’s going on in the planning departments at LFL. (We’re lucky if we’re told when they’ve released one of our books in South Korea.) Bottom line: if/when new movies are decided on, the LFL custodians — and you — will probably know before I do.
Already all is said about the characters and books, but I’m also impressed by the way you are able to create various plots with a lot of characters that are played simultaneously, but are not confusing to the reader. It’s actually exhilarating to the reader. Overall pace in your books is great, not only SW ones You talked about making a storyline from point A to point B and filling up the gaps, but is it something more to it? For example I’m working in a game making business and just to keep the player interested and at the same time tell an interesting story with facts that would give more structure to it is a tricky thing to do. Even for relatively small games made for casual gamers.
Timothy Zahn: It’s a little hard to describe my plotting method, but I suppose the closest analogy would be doing a jigsaw puzzle. I have various pieces — plot threads, characters, etc — and need to make them all fit together in a way that creates a final picture. Part of the trick is to break the different plot threads up into sections, moving from one to the next, to the next, and so on. You’ll note that same technique in most of the Star Wars movies, particularly the climactic scenes. (Think of RotJ, with the Luke/Vader/Emperor line, the Han/Leia Endor line, and the Lando/Wedge space battle, and how the action kept going back and forth.) In many ways it’s something you learn to do by doing — all I can do is point out my method, and encourage you to find an approach that works for you (and which might *not* be the same one I use).
There are a lot of authors writing about the Star Wars universe. Which books do you consider the “canon” of Star Wars? Which books do you use as references when you write? Have you ever had a storyline all plotted out only to have another Star Wars book come out and preempt your story?
Timothy Zahn: I don’t think any of the books are considered “canon,” at least not to the same extent that the movies and CW TV series is. (General rule of thumb: If George Lucas had a direct hand in it, it’s canon. If he didn’t, even if his people authorized it, it’s a lesser canon.
I’ve never had a whole plot superceded, but I have had scenes that were similar to ones that had been already been done. (A swoop gang attack, for instance.) At that point you either rework the scene, or else assume that it will be different enough from the other author’s scene that no one will really think to compare them. (Which is, really, how it usually works — no two authors take an idea and do the exact same thing with it.)
Ryder Windham: Because of various changes to Star Wars movies and fiction over the years, I’ve kind of given up on the idea of Star Wars “canon.” Some stories hold up well, others don’t, and I still have to check in with Lucasfilm from time to time to confirm whether a story is regarded as anachronistic.
But there are several Star Wars books I think of as indispensable and something resembling sacred. They are…
• The Star Wars Portfolio by Ralph McQuarrie (not a book, but this portfolio is the Star Wars benchmark).
• The Empire Strikes Back Portfolio by Ralph McQuarrie.
• The Star Wars Sketchbook by Joe Johnston (again, benchmark stuff).
• The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook by Joe Johnston and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.
• Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster.
• The Han Solo Trilogy by Brian Daley.
• The Star Wars Radio Dramas by Brian Daley.
• Various issues of the Marvel Comics Star Wars series, because frankly, some issues are better than others.
• The Star Wars syndicated comic strip by Russ Manning.
• The Star Wars syndicated comic strip by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson (specifically the Russ Cochran edition, which reproduced the strips in their black and white glory).
I’m not dismissing other Star Wars books, just indicating the ones I consider pure gold. I also have a soft spot for The Wookiee Storybook because it’s fabulously awful.
“Which books do you use as references when you write?”
All of them. Seriously.
“Have you ever had a storyline all plotted out only to have another Star Wars book come out and preempt your story?”
The only time that happened was back in the 1990s, I was working on the Star Wars Missions series for Scholastic. I’d already been given the go-ahead to write a story featuring Darth Vader, and which was set almost immediately after the events of A New Hope, when I found out that Dark Horse Comics was developing Vader’s Quest, which was set in roughly the same period. I had to change a few details, but nothing major. No one fought or cried. Ha ha.
For Mr. Zahn: First what inspired you to make Thrawn (one of my favorite characters in the EU) non-human? I do think it adds a lot to his story, but obviously it does seem to run counter to Imperial doctrine. Obviously making the exception is worth it for a being of his brilliance.
Also I’d love for you to expand on your creation of the Noghri. As a race I find it fascinating that they were erased from Imperial archives to keep hidden and just how single minded they are as a collective group, in addition to their more obvious skill as hunters and warriors.
Timothy Zahn: You’ve largely answered your own question. Given the Empire’s bias against non-humans, having a Grand Admiral who’s an alien simply undelines his brilliance and the respect that Palpatine holds for him and his abilities.
As for the Noghri, I’d definitely like to do more with them. Maybe someday.
I am re-reading the Thrawn trilogy for the first time since high school, and what’s striking me so far is how well you visually created worlds that did not previously exist in the Star Wars universe. When Lucasfilm began work on the prequels, were you consulted at all as the storyboards were drawn up for Kashyyk, for example? It seems to me that the world depicted in the films closely resembles the world you describe in vivid detail in “Heir to the Empire”.
Timothy Zahn: I wasn’t brought into the movie-making process at all — George has excellent people for that sort of thing, and doesn’t really need my help. As to Kashyyyk, the description I used was already on the books, from the West End Games source material and other places. I just added in a few pieces of my own to the existing work.
Jason Fry: I gotta drop out — the playoffs are calling, but wanted to thank everybody for taking part in a really fun all-day chat. Hope you’ll come out to a Star Wars Reads Day event tomorrow — find one here: http://www.starwars.com/news/star_war…
Timothy Zahn: Like Jason, I’m done for the day. Thanks to all of you who submitted questions, and I hope you enjoy Star Wars Reads day tomorrow!
Jeffrey Brown: I’m also finished. Thanks everyone for asking questions, and for reading. Have a good Star Wars Reads day!
Randy Stradley: You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll stick around for a while.
Ryder Windham: I hope everyone enjoys Star Wars Reads Day too. If you’re in or around Providence, Rhode Island, please come to the Rochambeau Library at 708 Hope Street, where members of the 501st and Rebel Legion and I will be expecting you.
And if you’re over the age of 16, I hope you’ll bring blood, because the Rhode Island Blood Center’s largest bloodmobile will be waiting for you too. Will there be free Star Wars giveaways for everyone? Yes, and special premiums for blood donors and their families. http://www.provcomlib.org/calendarofe…
Randy Stradley, you’re a brick.
Randy Stradley: You too, Ryder.
And to everybody who is attending Ryder’s event tomorrow — perhaps I will see you there . . . on Skype!
Chris Alexander: And for my part, I hope everyone enjoyed the questions and answers.
I also hope you’ll join me on Star Wars Reads day. I’ll be teaching SW Origami in two places. Come learn how to make some simple origami from my book. There will also be giveaways, photo opportunities and a chance to win great Star Wars prizes.
At 10 AM I’ll be at
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101
and at 3:30 I will be at
Mysterious Galaxy Book Store
2810 Artesia Blvd 2810
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
I hope to see you there, and….
MAY THE FOLDS BE WITH YOU….
Tom Angleberger: Hello everybody, this is Tom Angleberger author of the Origami Yoda series! I’m trying to participate via an iPhone from the Bath (UK) Children’s Book Festival. I’m having trouble replying to individual posts, so I’ll just write here…
I am so happy, honored and proud to be a Star Wars author, even though I am not canon (or at least not in the tope 4 or 5 levels of Leland’s canon).
But writing and drawing about Star Wars characters is just about the best job in the world…. I certainly don’t want the fun to end. And to that end, I’ll have a new book coming out in March starring R2D2, with C3P0 on hand to help/complain of course.
Working with Lucasfilm is great, if you’re wondering. They are amazing people and very supportive, enthusiastic and helpful!
I hope ever one has a great SWRDay and… may the Force be with you!
Howdy! Yes, I do love Dr. Who…. not sure exactly how it has influenced my writing, since it’s a long way from McQuarrie Middle School silliness. But both Dr. Who and The Clone Wars have reminded me what it’s like to be part of watching an amazing story unfold… just like when we were all waiting on ROTJ!
The best skills of a writer are patience and hopefulness in the face of black darkness…. it was 15 years from my first rejection letter til my first book was published. So just keep on doing what YOU love and what YOU think is fun. And may the Force be with you!
These questions are for Tom Angleberger: I know you just came out with a new book in the Origami Yoda series. Are you planning to write more books for the series? Also, have you ever thought of writing picture books? I know my second grade students would love that!
Tom Angleberger: Yes! R2′s book will be out in March and more to come after that…. I hope! Thanks for sharing my books with your students!!!!
Dear Mr. Angleberger, I have read Origami Yoda and the Darth Vader book. May I know what inspired you to create Dwight?
Tom Angleberger: Dwight and I …. we have a lot in common. While the book isn’t my auto-biography it is a sort of fantasy… what IF I had had Origami Yoda when I was a walking social disaster in middle school?
A question to Tom Angleberger: You’ve written three fabulous Star Wars books so far. Are you going to continue the fingerpuppet stories. I love them.
Tom Angleberger: Thank you so much! Yes, I’m not at all done with Dwight’s story. There is more to come….first up is R2 in March!
First I want to say thanks, what a wonderful idea make this board! Matthew, I’m from Mexico, and I hace a question for you. I imagine you never get boring about all Starwars stories but… Do you imagine a final-final chapter? How the massive story would ends?
Randy Stradley: I know you question was for Matthew Reinhart, but I hope you don’t mind if I jump in with an answer — at least from my perspective.
I can imagine that one day, in the far distant future, interest in Star Wars will dwindle, and novels, and comics, and books, and TV shows will go away. But that galaxy far, far away is just too big for there to be a story that ends it all. To end it, the entire galaxy would have to be destroyed, and you’d need a million-million Death Stars to even begin the job.
I think that as long as there’s still one fan out there still thinking about the Jedi and the Sith, about the eternal struggle between good and evil, Star Wars will live on.