Our Star Wars author interview with Matthew Woodring Stover (January 2, 2009).
Was there a reason that in the ROTS novel, the part on the Invisible Hand is so long but the rest seems shorter?
MWS: First, there was a purely technical consideration, which was that in the script that I was working from, the Invisible Hand sequence—from the opening starfighter battle through the death of Dooku, the fight with Grievous and the landing of the fragment of the ship—took up almost a third of the total page count . . . which, in movie terms, usually translates to a third of the total screen time. So when I was working on the novel, I understood that the opening battle would be a great deal longer and more detailed. It just happened that Mr Lucas decided to trim that part down for the final screen version.
Second, I used that sequence to do the bulk of the character and situational set-up; on a re-read, you might be surprised just how much of that sequence is taken up by character bios, back-story and the establishment of the fundamental conflicts that would drive the rest of the story—elements that might have become very dreary and dull if they hadn’t been sandwiched between the episodes of an extended action sequence.
What would be the one era in the SW universe that you would like to write in (if you haven’t already).
MWS: I’d like to work in the Dark Times—in fact, my original plan for the project that is now Luke Skywalker & the Shadows of Mindor was a Dark Times novel focused on the teenage Leia working undercover for the Rebellion . . . but LFL, at the time, wanted to stay away from the parts of that era that my concept would have covered. If LFL decides to open up that part of the EU, I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at that Leia story. I also have some characters left over from Shatterpoint of whom I am very, very fond; they could have some spectacular adventures in that time-frame.
Have you ever been offered, and/or considered, writing a trilogy in the SW universe, and/or maybe be an author in a multi-book series?
MWS: I was an author in a multi-book series—the New Jedi Order. As far as contracting for multiple books in a single series, or a trilogy of my own . . . well, I just don’t write that fast. I’ve still got a day job, and I can only spend 2 to 4 hours a day writing without burning myself out.
Of the four Star Wars books you’ve written so far, which did you enjoy writing the most? Which did you enjoy the least?
MWS: That’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite – except I don’t have children. The easiest to write was Traitor; the hardest was Luke Skywalker & the Shadows of Mindor. The most interesting to write was Revenge of the Sith. The most fun was Shatterpoint.
Is there any difference in your writing style when you write a Star Wars book as compared to when you write a fantasy book?
MWS: Not on purpose. I suppose the best way to find out would be to pick up a couple of my non-Star Wars books and see for yourself.
On second thought, pick up all of my non-Star Wars books.
Which character did you enjoy writing the most in your Star Wars books?
MWS: Palpatine. It’s a lot of fun to write his dialogue (even in books where he is not a major character, such as Shatterpoint), which is always freighted with double meaning. Palpatine, as I see him, thinks of himself as an honest man. He only very, very rarely indulges in outright lies or deliberate deceptions; he simply speaks (and acts) in ways that allow others to see in him what they want or expect to see.
Probably the single most entertaining sequence to write in all four of my Star Wars novels was the bit in Revenge of the Sith where Palpatine reveals himself to Anakin.
When you wrote Traitor, did you have an answer to the mystery of Vergere? Or did you think of her as only an enigma?
MWS: There’s a mystery of Vergere?
After the upcoming Luke Skywalker book, do you plan to continue writing Star Wars books?
MWS: As long as Del Rey and LucasFilm Licensing are willing to keep paying me. There may very likely come a point when they decide I’m not worth the trouble of multiple blown deadlines and suchlike difficulties; of my four novels in this franchise, only the first—Traitor—was delivered on time, which does occasionally put a strain on our working relationship.
Who is your number one favorite character in Star Wars?
MWS: Before writing Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, TSOM, my favorite character was unquestionably Obi-wan Kenobi. In the writing of the most recent book, I’ve discovered that I really, really like both Han Solo and Lando Calrissian – for different reasons . . . which will likely become apparent to those who read the book.
How did you come to write Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor? Was it your idea or were you approached to do it?
MWS: I was approached by Del Rey (with the approval of LFL) to fill the last remaining hardcover slot in their current contract. Unlike any of my other Star Wars titles, they only asked for a hardcover-worthy story, as opposed to assigning a premise (as they did with Traitor) or a character (as they did with Shatterpoint). What it might be about was left up to me. There were, however, certain constraints that I learned about only because several of my proposals were shot down for one reason or another. I found myself wholly at a loss for a premise, until a friend of mine who is also an ex-LFL employee, Mike Kogge, mentioned that he’d never seen a story about Luke Skywalker at the very beginning of his ongoing quest to find and train more Jedi . . . which led me to a minor incident recounted only in The Essential Chronology, called the Battle of Mindor . . .
In Traitor, did Jacen actually see a Force ghost Anakin Solo, or was it a manifestation of his mind or possibly Vergere?
MWS: Does it matter?
What book are you reading now? (Anything?)
MWS: I’ve been switching back and forth between McCullough’s John Adams and Wm. T. Sherman’s American Civil War memoir.
What is your favorite type of Star Wars character to write? (Jedi, Sith, Smuggler, etc)
MWS: I don’t write about types, I write about individuals—any of whom might follow one or more of the proposed life-paths. The character in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Minor who was the most flat-out fun to write was Han Solo . . . with Lando Calrissian close on his heels. I also had a great time writing R2-D2.
Shatterpoint is often considered one of the more graphic Star Wars novels, sometimes to the point of being labeled a horror novel. Did you know you were going to be breaking new ground and getting such a reaction with this novel, or did all of that come as a surprise when you were finished?
MWS: I was ordered to break new ground with Shatterpoint. My original concept for a Mace Windu novel was going to tie tightly into the ANH era, and provide Mace with a fairly standard array of sidekicks including a dashing pilot, a strong-minded warrior woman, and a droid for comic relief. The good folks at LFL shot down this idea with a request that I write something more along the lines of All Quiet on the Western Front or Cold Mountain, which didn’t seem likely, since the latter is a tragic romance and the former is a coming-of-age-in-the-trenches tale in which everybody—everybody—dies. So after much deliberation, I offered to write a kinda-sorta Heart of Darkness-slash-Apocalypse Now with Jedi in it.
They thought this was a good idea, and so here we are.
How much pressure to appeal to a larger audience was there when you wrote Revenge of the Sith? Were you specifically targeting a younger audience (compared to Traitor or Shatterpoint)?
MWS: The only pressure was what I put on myself. There was no need to target a wider audience—the book did that automatically, by virtue of being a novelisation of the top-grossing film of the year. Nor did I have to target younger readers, as there was a specifically Young Adult version that came out from Scholastic Books. So I was free to tell it more or less however I wanted, with the sole restriction coming from George Lucas himself: “Just make it good.”
Do you have any (non-confidential) Star Wars novels planned that we don’t know about?
MWS: I’m moving on from Star Wars for a while. I have a couple more hired-gun projects for different franchises, then the fourth Acts of Caine book, then a non-genre project or two I’ve been trying to get started for about five years now.
Every author has their own personal method as to what part of the novel they plan out in advance or what they left flow. What is most important to you before you start a novel- characters, plot, both or something else altogether?
MWS: For me, what’s really important is character and premise. That is: who is/are the protagonist(s), what is his/her/their problem, and who is trying to stop them from solving it?
Once all that is in place, I create an outline that I describe as a “chain of necessity.” I try very hard to have my characters start the story by taking the smartest action available to solve their main problem, given the constraints of their knowledge, abilities and temperaments. Then I chart how that action plays out in the wider world of the story, and how the antagonist(s) respond, then the protagonist(s) response to that, and so forth. After that, it’s primarily a matter of constantly raising the stakes—charting how the solution to the protagonist(s) problem becomes more and more important, and the situation increasingly desperate. That’s most of the work right there.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
MWS: Without sounding too pretentious, I’d have to admit that most of my favorite authors are found in the realm of what LitCrit types call “the classics.” Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain. Tolstoy. Chekhov. George Bernard Shaw. Shakespeare. Homer, Euripedes, Archilochos. Diogenes. The poet of Ecclesiastes.
Of the more modern types, I like John Gardner (the October Light guy, not the Bond-franchise guy), Russell Banks, Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, William Goldman.
In the genre: Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert E. Howard, Thomas Disch, Theodore Sturgeon, early to mid-period Michael Moorcock. Joe Haldeman. Alan Moore. John Ostrander. Scott Lynch. Greg Keyes. CJ Cherryh.
It’s actually a much longer list – these are just the names that popped to mind in the time it took to type this. As a general rule, I get along with most any writer who can crank out an engaging story without too many limbs and outward flourishes. If they can take that story and use it to show me some wider truth about the world in which we live, all the better.
Who’s your favorite Star Wars character from the EU, compared to your favorite from the movies?
If you could write about any one Star Wars topic of your choosing, what would it be?
MWS: I’d like to write about the early, pre-Galactic Civil War days of the Rebellion . . . when they were little more than a small group of desperate conspirators.
Which was your favorite of the seven (including The Clone Wars) Star Wars films?
MWS: The Empire Strikes Back.
Who do you feel is the most relatable Sith Lord or Lady?
MWS: I pretty much like ‘em all.
Do you intend to write any more novels in the “current” (Legacy) era?
MWS: That’s not up to me. I’m more interested in the Dark Times, but if LFL and Del Rey come to me with another bathtub full of money, I’m likely to write whatever they’ll pay me to write.
What’s the future of the Caine novels?
MWS: Beyond the one I’m already working on, there may not be a future. I have a sketch for a trilogy to follow His Father’s Fist—the Act of Faith trilogy—but to make that possible, the sales numbers have to be considerably better than they have been. Alternatively—if I can make a really good living writing other projects—I may be able to carve out the Act of Faith in my interstitial time. As a hobby.
Would you be interested in writing, if you were approached with the idea, Jacen’s 5 year sojourn between NJO and DN?
MWS: Not so much. I’ve already done my Jacen novel. I’m not sure I’d have anything fresh to add.
With a Star Wars writing background that has focused on either a tight group of core players during the NJO or the prequel heroes, how come it took so long for you to finally get to write the Big Three in their prime?
MWS: Because I didn’t want to. So much has been written, re-written and over-written about these characters that I didn’t think I could bring anything new to them. The turnaround in my attitude came slowly, over the course of some years, until I finally realized I didn’t have to bring anything new to them—what they needed was for someone to bring something old. That is: to take these characters back to a time when they were still young, optimistic and just flat-out fun to read about. The Skywalker and Solo clans have taken about six lifetimes-worth of Beat Down in the EU of recent years; I thought they—and the SW fans—might benefit from one more old fashioned pulp-style space opera adventure.
Do you imagine that, if he hadn’t become the mechanical Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker would closely resemble Caine? And do you see parallels in any of your Caine characters to those you have written in your Star Wars books?
MWS: Not that closely; Anakin has magic powers. As I have pointed out elsewhere, Mace Windu is very much like a light-side version of Caine . . . but again with the magic powers. And Caine has a better sense of humor.
What’s your favorite Star Wars novel, excluding your own?
MWS: Han Solo at Star’s End.
What is your writing schedule like on a day to day basis?
MWS: Health permitting, I get up around 5:00 AM, and start writing between 5:30 and 6:00. I write till 8:00, at which time I have to switch over to my day job. After work, I write again from 6:00 to 8:00, but PM. I go to bed between 9 and 10 pm, then get up and do it over again. On weekends I can write six or seven hours on one or both days. Again, assuming my health permits.
Do you have any tips for an aspiring writer?
MWS: Get yourself a real job. That is: find a career that will give you enough money and freedom that you can write books in your spare time. There’s only one JK Rowling, and there’s only one Stephen King. The rest of us often have a hard time paying the bills with only our writing income. Should you find success so spectacular that writing becomes a more lucrative endeavor than being a doctor, a lawyer, tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, whatever, then bully for you. Feel free to abandon your non-literary career and have a ball.