Author: The Courtship of Princess Leia & various short stories
Interview: April 2018
After Timothy Zahn’s success with the Thrawn Trilogy you were one of the first writers to write a new Star Wars book. How did you get this –in my opinion- dream job?
Actually, I was approached just after Timothy Zahn finished the first book in the trilogy. My publisher, Bantam, had a license to do 12 books with Lucasfilm and was looking for authors who were Star Wars fan, good writers, and easy to work with. So my editor called me and asked “So what do you think about Star Wars.” I began to give her a literary analysis of the story, and she said, “No, no, no—I mean, would you like to write a Star Wars book?” Well, I was actually deep into another novel, and so I said, “I’d be interested, but I really don’t want to think about it until I get this book in, in about four weeks.” As soon as I finished the book, I sent it to my editor and she called pretty breathlessly and said, “NOW can you do one?”
I was actually much more excited than I sounded, so I began working on it quickly.
Your first Star Wars book was The Courtship of Princess Leia. What was your inspiration while writing this book, and what directions did you get from Lucasfilm?
With this book, I had watched a goofy old comedy with my wife called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers just a couple of nights before I was asked to do the novel. I always thought that it was an interesting plot, and when I heard that Leia and Han Solo had gotten married in Zahn’s book, my first thought was, “Whoa, not so fast! There have to be some fireworks for something that significant. So I knew that I wanted to do a “romance.” I also felt that there was a lot of humor in the Star Wars movies, but I hadn’t seen it in the novels. I think that as a writer, when you get a job like this, you often start to feel pretty serious, and your sense of humor goes out the window. So I wanted to have some big, fun ideas.
As far as Lucasfilm went, they were really very generous with the franchise. They let me come up with my own plot, but they just wanted to make sure that I didn’t do anything that would cast the characters in too negative of a light. So they asked me to create and submit an outline. I had to write it very fast—almost overnight—because they were in a hurry. So I got some ideas, had a little brainstorming meeting with some of my other fannish friends, and really was able to come up with my storyline pretty quickly. Since I already knew the characters pretty well, it saved a lot of time over writing a normal novel, where you have to develop your own characters.
For the three ‘Tales of’ anthology books you wrote the stories about the Momaw Nadon, Tessek -which is my personal favorite- and Dengar. Did you get to choose the characters? And what made you pick exactly these characters?
In those tales, it was sort of “first come, first served” for us authors. There were a limited number of characters, and a limited number of authors. It was kind of luck-of-the-draw. I actually liked Momaw Nadon as a character, and so had a lot of fun. I felt as if I really lucked out. But Tessek was much harder for me to deal with. I do remember that with Dengar’s Tale, I really wanted to write about Boba Fett, but then everyone wanted him. So I took Dengar, and I ended up feeling like I really lucked out. Sine Dengar wasn’t a huge fan favorite, I got to create his background and fill it in pretty well, and it turned into one of my favorite stories.
Just like the other Bounty Hunters Dengar is a cult figure, a fan favorite (especially back in the 90’s). How did you approach the task of writing his story?
Again, I had a little information from the Galaxy Guide (note: the West End Games book which described Dengar’s background) that I had to be consistent with, but I recall reading a book about that time from an ex-CIA agent, a physician who had done a lot of work studying how the human brain works. In fact, he won a Nobel Prize for his work, but he was talking about how some secret experiments were run on criminals in the 1960s, so that doctors could see if they could cure certain types of criminal behavior by removing parts of the hypothalamus.
This related quite well to Dengar, I thought, since I was dealing with a kind of sociopath. So I wanted to bring this out in the tale, but I also wanted it to be pretty upbeat and romantic.
As I said before, I was very pleased with how that story turned out. As a writer, sometimes when you’re working on a project, you don’t know if it will be as effective as you’d like. For example, I never did feel as if I got Tessek’s story to be as powerful as I would like. I’m happy to hear that it worked for you.
In 2014 ago 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?
Look, I’ve worked in Hollywood a bit. In fact, I was just talking to a producer who worked on the original Star Wars many years ago, and was grousing about how in Hollywood, “Nobody reads books.” So I figured that if movies were made, the books would have to go out the window. Really, if you’ve got a hundred books on a topic, you can’t ask a screenwriter to come in and try to keep consistent with what has been done.
Of course, a second problem that you have is that so many of those books were written about older characters, and the older characters are now too old to play in those tales. Sigh. We really need to put an end to aging!
You created the witches of Dathomir, which are still part of the canon. The witches have made many appearances in books and the Clone Wars TV series and have a story arc which involves Darth Maul. What do you think of the fact that something you created all these years ago turned into something way bigger in the Star Wars universe?
Oh, of course I felt honored to see so many of my creations used in games and television. Seriously, the reason I developed them was to help future writers have a fun world/characters to play with and expand the Star Wars universe. I’d love to keep on doing that kind of thing, but right now I’m doing it with my own universe.
Which existing Star Wars character you enjoyed the most writing about?
You know, I really loved working with Leia. I felt that we needed to have some stronger women in the Star Wars universe, and she really was the only major female character. I created the planet Dathomir with the idea that it could be sort of a breeding ground for strong female characters, and so I would love to make one of the “Witches of Dathomir” into a main character. I do feel like we have got some great new characters now.
Which Star Wars character created by you is your favorite?
Hmmm . . . that’s a good question. I think that with Momaw Nadon, I really got to go in and develop him in a way that made him feel that he was more “mine” than anyone else’s. I liked the idea that even though he was in this outlaw bar in the film, he was really a very gentle soul. Something about his personality just speaks to me.
But at the same time, I really liked Teneniel Djo in Courtship, and I hoped that she might serve as a model for other powerful female Force users.
What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?
After the book came out, one bookseller wrote and told me that Carrie Fisher came in and bought the book, which had a painting of her in a nice white dress. Carrie mentioned that she had to have it because “my cleavage never looked that good in real life.”
Yeah, that sounds like classic Carrie Fisher! Thanks for your time and I hope people who haven’t read Courtship or the Anthology books will pick up a copy after reading this interview!