Author: 11 short stories for the Star Wars Adventure Journals
Interview: January 2021
Everyone who was still a Star Wars fan in the 90’s knows them: West End Games’ Adventure Journals. Filled with new short stories (and supplements for the RPG) these books (along with the Expanded Universe novels) kept the franchise alive for years. One of the authors who contributed to the Adventure Journals was Charlene Newcomb, who wrote no less than eleven stories and introduced the character Alex Winger to the Star Wars Universe. In the following exclusive interview she looks back at that period; the 90’s, the golden (literature) age of Star Wars.
I’d like to start at the very beginning: what got you into writing and how did your career take off?
I wrote a short story or two for English Lit classes in school, but nothing more until I was in my late 30s. I loved the original movie trilogy, but lost track of the Star Wars universe after 1983. I stumbled on Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in a bookstore in 1993 and devoured it around the time his second book was published. His novels fired my imagination. I wanted to write my own Star Wars novel, picking up where I thought Zahn was going to end the Thrawn Trilogy.
How did you get to write 11 Lucasfilm approved Star Wars stories? I read it had something to do with discovering the Star Wars Adventure Journal?
Back to that bookstore… I discovered West End Games’ RPG materials in 1993. In the back of one of the books, there was a call for short stories for a new magazine West End Games planned to publish, the Star Wars Adventure Journal. I snail-mailed for the guidelines and soon learned that the novel I was writing violated most of the guidelines. Whoops! The journal wanted stories no longer than 10,000 words. Stories weren’t to include main characters from the movies, or take place in the period following Return of the Jedi. So I took a character I had created and built her world, minus Han, Luke, and Leia. I did manage to write in the post-Return of the Jedi era. I guess the West End Games editors and folks at Lucasfilm liked that first submission, which ended up appearing in the very first issue of the journal.
Your stories were published in West End Games’ Adventure Journals. I was wondering where you got your inspiration for the stories and if you used the various RPG books from West End Games?
George Lucas created this fabulous playground in his original trilogy, and Zahn opened up – for me – the idea of stories that extended that universe to other events and wonderful characters like Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Talon Karrde. I built up quite a collection of the West End Games sourcebooks, and frequently used them as a reference for people, places and things.
You created the character Alex Winger, who appeared in several of your stories. What does this character mean to you? And is there a bit of yourself in Alex?
There is a scene in Whispers in the Dark where Alex and her rebel comrades are monitoring Imperial communications. I was a cryptologic technician/interpretive in the Navy, and that scene is based on work I did, so I guess you can say there is a bit of me there. Alex’s skills with a blaster far exceed anything I ever did on the rifle range in boot camp. (Never had to pick up a weapon after that.)
I read that your 1995 story A Certain Point of View had to be based on the art of the RPG book Riders of the Maelstrom from 1989. Writing a story based on one single image. How did you do it?
I frequently conjure up scenes around a specific incident, something I have visualized in my head. For example: standing on the battlements of a castle, watching for enemy boats from a fog-enshrouded coastline – that became the basis of the first short piece I penned before I wrote my medieval trilogy. But I had never written a story based on an actual image.
Usually a writer has a blank slate and must determine everything about characters they create – not just their motivation and backstory, but what they look like. But I had three unique images from Riders of the Maelstrom, not one of whom is mentioned in the sourcebook. To me, it seemed only natural to use the rich setting from the sourcebook to round out their roles. Who are these three individuals? Are they friends? Enemies? What are they doing and why is the redhead’s hand on her blaster? The little guy is clearly worried – he must see the reflection of the stormtrooper in the big guy’s glass! It is one of my favorite stories.
What is your own personal favorite of these 11? And why?
My stories with the Force-sensitive Alex Winger included a sandy-haired man with blue eyes. Remember those guidelines from West End Games: don’t use characters from the original trilogy. That man could have been anyone Alex went mountain climbing with. West End Games editor Peter Schweighofer made no promises that I could use Luke Skywalker in a story, but when I submitted Rendezvous with Destiny, he sent it to the Lucasfilm story editors team – they approved it! That story, with Luke and Alex infiltrating an Imperial base and rescuing an important scientist, is my favorite.
How do you look back at your Star Wars contribution? And why did you never get to write a Star Wars novel?
Writers who get contracts to write Star Wars novels generally have a track record of successful published novels in science fiction/fantasy. I didn’t publish a novel until 2012, and of the five I have published since then, only my latest is science fiction.
I am thrilled that I can say I contributed to the Star Wars expanded universe, or Legends as those materials are called now. Some might call my work fan fiction, but every story was vetted by editors at West End Games and Lucasfilm for an officially-licensed RPG magazine. Great art work was commissioned for each story, too. It was an honor to be part of the Star Wars Adventure Journal. I’m even in the Wookieepedia!
Everyone remembers the first time they saw a Star Wars movie. So I’m curious which one you saw first, when, and what you thought of it.
I saw A New Hope in 1977 and was completely enthralled. I don’t recall how many more times I saw it that year, but I bet I’ve watched it a hundred times, maybe more, since then.
In 2014 Disney declared the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing almost all of your Star Wars work suddenly become non-canon?
I understand why they did it, and still have a secret desire that they pull bits and pieces into new works/movies they are creating. There are dozens of great stories and fabulous characters created in the Star Wars Adventure Journal that Disney could draw on. Their loss.
You have written several other books. Which one stands out as your personal favorite?
My new science fiction/space opera Echoes of the Storm has a very Star Wars feel to it, and I was thrilled to bring that story to life after I let it languish on the hard drive for so many years. It’s a much better story than it would have been if I’d published it 20 years ago. Writing medieval action/adventure/romance has allowed me to hone my skills as a writer, so because of that I’ll say that Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I) is a favorite.