Walter Jon Williams

Our Star Wars author interview with Walter Jon Williams (January 16, 2009).

Was it your idea to write Ylesia? Or did LucasBooks ask you to write it?

WJW: I was offered the opportunity by LucasFilm, and promptly jumped at it.  There’s a gap in the chronology of Destiny’s Way, where I had to skip several months, and I was happy to be able to fill in at least some of the gaps.

Would you love to do more SW novels? Anything post-Legacy of the Force or Legacy era or especially with the classic characters?

WJW: It must be admitted that my heart belongs to the classic characters, though I’m certainly open to other ideas.  Right now my writing schedule is extremely full, so even if Del Rey is willing, it will be some time before I can work in the Expanded Universe again.

Did you feel at all daunted about not only jumping into the Expanded Universe with this book, but also in regards to this being book 14 of a 19 book series?

WJW: I’ve worked in collaborative series fiction before— the complexity of Wild Cards makes the Expanded Universe seem almost elementary by comparison.  What really daunted me, though, was the 185-page, single-spaced series bible, shortly followed by several boxes appearing on my doorstep, all full of books with titles like The Official Guide to Droids.

Fortunately I quickly became friends with all these sources, and was able to come up with many ideas just by browsing through them.

Who did you enjoy writing for? Who did you dislike writing for? Why?

WJW: I enjoyed writing all the characters, though some were more frustrating than others.  Jacen had very little to do for much of the novel, and I couldn’t change that— he was between two arcs, and I really couldn’t start anything new, because that was the next writer’s job.  But he’d just escaped from Vong custody, and had been tortured by Vergere, and so I thought I’d write a scene that showed Jacen healing, and I put him and Danni Quee on a boat.  Some readers complained that the scene didn’t advance the action, but I think it helped to complete Jacen’s previous arc by showing him regain his awareness of the natural world.

My favorite character to write was Han Solo, because he’s allowed to be rude and sarcastic.  Whenever anyone gets too pretentious, you can count on Han to cut him down to size.

This book is known for, amongst other things, the return of Ackbar. Can you discuss the process you went through in regards to him in this novel?

WJW: For this you can credit my young friend Spenser Ruppert, a huge Star Wars fan.  He felt that Ackbar needed to come back into the story, and fortunately I was able to oblige him.

Because Ackbar had been out of the action for so long, I figured he’d be able to come into the action fresh, and to see things that weren’t obvious to people who had been so completely caught up in the war.  So I gave Ackbar the scene in which he pointed out that the Vong’s major strengths were actually  significant weaknesses, and to develop the winning strategy from that revelation.

How was it for you writing Onimi’s rhyming dialogue?

WJW: This was great fun! I think everybody has an Inner Bad Poet, and I just unleashed mine and let him run!

Could you discuss the Sword of the Jedi prophecy? Obviously at the time this novel was being written, <em>Legacy of the Force</em> was not even a thought, but was there any specific purpose or “endgame” for this prophecy or was it left deliberately vague and ambiguous?

WJW: I know I’ll have a hard time getting anyone to believe this, but the Force actually dictated that scene.  I had no intention of writing it, but as I worked I got into some kind of Zen mode where I was open to cosmic influence, and the scene just blossomed, right there on the page, while I watched in amazement.

Looking back, I see that the scene showcases a lot of my ideas about Jaina.  She’s fearless, she’s been to the Dark Side and back, and she chose the role of a military officer as well as that of Jedi.  Also, there’s a part of her that remains a little dark— not Dark in the sense of evil, but dark in the sense of being aware of her remorseless fate.

As for some of the elements of the prophecy, they weren’t hard to devise.  The bit about her never finding peace— hey, she’s a pulp series character.  Nobody in that line of work ever has a peaceful life!

If you had one book left to write in this world what would you write about?

WJW: Wow.  Actually I’d go back to the very beginning and write about the very first Jedi.

How was it writing Vergere’s character and death?

WJW: I knew from the series arc that both Tsavong Lah and Vergere were going to die in the climactic battle, and so I was able to foreshadow these developments.

As for Vergere herself, she was a self-made master, and she possessed pride in her accomplishments and deceptions, as well as the master’s talent for asking inconvenient questions.

When you wrote Vergere, did you have any feelings that she was a Sith or had fallen to the dark side?

WJW: No idea.  That notion was developed after my time.  But I was able to make her ambiguous and mysterious enough so that the idea seemed plausible.

If you could recommend one of your books to someone who has read<em> Destiny’s Way</em>, which one would it be?

WJW: I get to choose only one?  No way!

My three-book series, The Praxis, The Sundering, and Conventions of War are large-scale space opera that Star Wars fans may enjoy.

My last book, Implied Spaces, is a rip-roaring adventure with a touch of philosophy, which devotees of the Force may find intriguing.

And my next book, This Is Not a Game, will be out in March.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the utterly cool world of Alternate Reality Gaming.  Check it out.

Destiny’s Way shows the first true detailed glimpse of the Yuuzhan Vong high society. Was this your choice, or were you asked to do it?

WJW: I was asked to introduce Shimrra and Onimi, so I knew that I’d have to show the Vong world at its highest levels.  I enjoy writing scenes of powerful people and their intrigues, so I was happy to develop the story in this direction.

Considering that before you wrote Destiny’s Way you had not read a EU novel how did you manage to reference so much of previous facts into your novel? And was it challenging?

WJW: The series bible helped.  And so did all those reference materials— I could page through them and find minor characters that hadn’t been developed (like Cal Omas), or that hadn’t been seen in a long time (like Keyan Farlander).  Online encyclopedias also helped.

I’m a person who enjoys doing research, so for the five months it took to write the book I lived, ate, and breathed Star Wars.  There was really no down time, not unless I was asleep.

How up to date are you with the Expanded Universe? Do you still read the novels?

WJW: I’m far behind, unfortunately.  I finished the NJO, but since then all my reading has been centered on my other projects.

What is your favorite Star Wars character? What is your favorite Star Wars film? Which character did you enjoy writing the most?

WJW: My favorite character is Han Solo, for reasons described above. And I think A New Hope is still my favorite film.

Destiny’s Way introduced the potential relationship between Danni Quee and Jacen Solo. Were you asked to include this in your novel?

WJW: I wasn’t asked to, but it seemed they were compatible in certain ways, so I gave them a moment together.  I didn’t let it go any farther, since at that point LucasFilm has plans for Jacen that didn’t involve any relationships.

A small debate arose upon the release of <em>Destiny’s Way</em> about Tenel Ka’s name. In many books she is referenced as “Tenel Ka”, though in DW it is “Tenel”. Was it a common mistake or is Tenel nickname?

WJW: I don’t actually remember my reason for this, but I imagine that I assumed “Tenel” was her forename, and “Ka” her surname, and her friends would address her by her first name.  Other than that, I have no idea.

How difficult was the task of writing the return of Jacen Solo? It was a big thing in the NJO, and many characters revolved around the return of this man. Also, would you say that off screen, Tenel Ka and Jacen had their own reunion (I’m a big fan of their relationship).

WJW: DW wasn’t really Jacen’s book— he was coming off being the central figure in <em>Traitor</em>, and was scheduled to start another arc shortly.  DW ended up being much more Jaina’s book.

I decided that after the harrowing events of Traitor, Jacen was going to need time to heal and to work out Vergere’s “new dispensation,” by which I mean her ideas about the Force.  So I tried to depict someone who, going about his life, was nevertheless working out these ideas.

I’m afraid I’m not qualified to speculate about Jacen and Tenel Ka, since I didn’t know about the ins and outs of their relationship when I wrote DW.  I wish someone who knew better had told me, and I would have given them some time together.

Were you able to pick who would be placed upon the Jedi/Advisory Council during <em>Destiny’s Way</em>? Or was this predetermined?

WJW: It was all my doing, though the LucasFilm folks had to approve.

Your book features one of the only elections in a novel. How was it to write?

Since I enjoy writing about power politics, I had a lot of fun.

One of the things I tried to do in DW was to give the opponents of the Jedi reasons for their attitudes, Fyor Rodan in particular.  Given the heroism and virtue of the Jedi, why would any politician oppose them?

Because, I reasoned, the last time the Jedi had power, they gave us Darth Vader.  I think that’s a pretty compelling reason for not trusting them.

I attempted something similar with Pellaeon.  Some readers complained that I’d made him a baddie, which wasn’t my intention.  I wanted to make him a head of state, operating within a sphere that would make sense to a politician.  I figured that Pellaeon had reasons for being loyal to the Empire— he actually believed in the Empire, and believed in what it stood for.  So I showed him as a convinced Imperial who was nevertheless sympathetic to the Republic in its plight, and gave the Republic the information that resulted in its victory.

How is your daily schedule as a professional author? How long does it usually take you to write a novel?

WJW: It depends on how long the novel is, but I’ve averaged one novel a year throughout my career.  I’m not a particularly fast writer, I’m just dogged.

DW was an exception— I wrote it in five months of very intense labor.   Since one of the common flaws of working fast is, ironically enough, to use far too many words (you throw words up onto the screen because you don’t have time to pick them carefully), I deliberately chose to write it in a very minimalist style.  I tried to make every word count.

Normally I work late at night, when I’m free from distractions.  Sometimes my best work is done after midnight.

Overall, any regrets?

WJW: Remarkably few.  I wish I’d had more time with DW to really polish it and iron out a few of the wrinkles, but I had a terrific time writing the book, and I look at that time with great affection.

I got more positive fan reaction from that one book than from anything else I’ve ever written, and I’d very much like to thank the fans for reading so carefully, and for caring.

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