Author: The Truce at Bakura, Balance Point & various short stories
Interview: April 2018
I read that in the summer of 1977 you were such a big Star Wars fans that for two weeks, every day you took a friend to see the movie. What was it that you liked so much about Star Wars?
The story was uplifting. The music was fabulous. The visuals were amazing, especially for the era. Most of all, I loved watching their faces when the Millennium Falcon went into hyperspace. That was an amazing visual effect in 1977!
You once said that after you heard you got to write your first Star Wars novel your handprints were on the ceiling. Are they still there?
You certainly did do your homework! I don’t live in that duplex anymore, so I have no idea. But it would be fun to go back and see.
Your best known Star Wars book is of course The Truce at Bakura, which takes places almost directly after Return of the Jedi. What was your inspiration while writing this book, and what directions did you get from Lucasfilm?
When I got the call from my editor at Bantam Books, Janna Silverstein (shout out to Janna!), she asked for 4-5 story ideas to pitch at a conference call four days later. The idea that wouldn’t let me go was that somewhere in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, our heroes would end up fighting alongside Imperial troops for just a little while. What, I wondered, could make that happen? And once the threat was neutralized, would they turn on each other… or would each side emerge with a little more respect for the other side?
My directions were to include as many main characters as possible, to set the story immediately after Return of the Jedi, and to make sure nothing in my novel contradicted anything that was shown to take place roughly five years later, in the books that Tim Zahn had already contributed to the series.
Fortunately, the Powers That Be liked my favorite idea. I was asked to develop a longer outline for the book, and since I write from an outline anyway, that was a familiar pleasure. I felt that I already knew the characters well, and it wasn’t hard to imagine what they might do next. The good people Lucasfilm offered a few tweaks to the outline and turned me loose to write the book! They also had to give it a final OK, of course.
For the three ‘Tales of’ anthology books you wrote the stories about the Cantina band, Oola and Bossk. Did you get to choose the characters? And what made you pick exactly these characters?
I begged to be able to write about the Cantina band, since I am also a musician and played wedding gigs for years. It was a chance to get a little snarky about how difficult this can be! Kevin J. Anderson, who coordinated the anthologies, also let me choose Oola – again, because I have a bit of experience dancing (long ago…). But he told me rather sternly that I wouldn’t get first pick on the Bounty Hunters anthology. Fortunately, I had a great time writing Bossk.
You said that writing for Star Wars was a bright spot during a dark time in your life. I fully understand it if you don’t want to talk about the negative part, but I would like to ask what made writing for Star Wars so bright for you.
The exciting story lines – the smart, creative people I worked with – the chance to contribute something that would be read and remembered, at least for a few years. And I really did love the Galaxy Far, Far Away. I love the “space opera” genre and have written my own five-book space opera series, starting with Firebird.
Most of your Star Wars work was in the period 1993-1996. Five years later you returned to write Balance Point for the New Jedi Order series. What made you leave in 1996… and what made you return in 2001?
Back in the 1990s, the Star Wars novels were being written by invitation (they might still be; I don’t know). It was an honor and a privilege to be asked. I also was asked to write for the Adventure Journal, but sadly, they stopped publishing. And my personal life got pretty complicated in the late 1990s, so I focused on other projects. In 2001, once again I received an invitation to write a Star Wars novel—from Shelly Shapiro at Del Rey Books, this time (shout out to Shelly!). Once again I was delighted and deeply honored.
When you returned for Balance Point in 2001 the Star Wars universe had changed a lot since you left it in 1996. How did you prepare for this novel? Since it was part of a series, did you read the previous New Jedi Order novels?
I definitely had catching up to do! By 2001, the Star Wars Role-Playing Game had become a major part of Star Wars fandom, and the good people at Del Rey sent me a crate of reference materials, sourcebooks, etc. I had the almost-unbelievable privilege of being flown to Skywalker Ranch for a planning session (at which I mostly sat quietly, since I had just been brought on board!). Those of us working on New Jedi Order novels cooperated closely with the authors whose novels came just before or just after ours. I had the privilege of reading several New Jedi Order novels in manuscript form, so I would be able to pick up the story right where the previous authors left it. I was expected to do the same thing, and I provided manuscripts to those who came after! Kudos to Del Rey and Lucasfilm for coordinating a series with such a rapid succession of release dates.
Which existing Star Wars character you enjoyed the most writing about?
Maybe it sounds a little cliché, but I really enjoyed writing about Luke Skywalker. He was so endearingly earnest, so determined to do the right thing no matter what it cost him. So horrified to learn he was descended from evil (since I’m a Christian, this speaks loudly to me about our fallen nature and our need for redemption!). He truly loved his friends, and he gave his all to his cause. The most delightful compliment I was ever paid, regarding my Star Wars novels, came from people at Lucasfilm who told me that I “really got Luke.” Wow.
Which Star Wars character created by you is your favorite?
I liked Gaeriel. Like me, she’s a woman of faith—and she struggles with what that will mean in her life. I wasn’t allowed to let her return Luke’s affection (Tim Zahn had already created Mara Jade!), but at least I could show this earnest young man struggling with his own highest priorities. Showing each of them walk away from a potential relationship because each one felt a higher calling… that was important to me.
In 2014, Disney declared the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing all of your work suddenly become non-canon?
Those of us writing the EU were always told, all along, from the very beginning (have I stressed that strongly enough?), “Only the Movies are Canon.” Sure, it was disappointing. And I hope the EU books aren’t all taken out of print, because many of them are outstanding explorations of all that Star Wars means to the fans. And fun to read, besides!
I agree. To be honest, I think the old EU is far, far superior to the new canon!
You have a degree in Christianity and the Arts and you taught a Sunday school course about The Lord of the Rings. Suppose you would do that about Star Wars…. what would you talk about?
Lord of the Rings was written by a devout Catholic who had a great deal to say about friendship, sacrifice, loss, and loyalty—from an understanding of the human metanarrative that was grounded in God’s revealing himself to one nation and then through one Man. Star Wars is grounded in a more universalist worldview, and it addressed many of the same big issues—friendship, sacrifice, loss, loyalty, etc. Although sometimes it shows characters coming up with the same answers (if there really are deep truths, we would expect that!), sometimes their answers seem quite different from the answers I think Tolkien would have shown. So, I think I would spend time talking about the differences and similarities in the way the different authors’ understanding of truth is SHOWN (another saying among writers is “show me, don’t tell me”—and this is a huge part of the power of story).
A friend of mine is a huge Bossk fan and he asked me to ask you this since you wrote Bossk’s backstory: a couple of years after you wrote Bossk’s story for Tales of Jabba’s Palace Bossk’s ship (the Hounds Tooth) was visualized. Was it the way you envisioned the ship?
I enjoyed what they did with the Hound’s Tooth. I’m such a strongly character-driven writer that while I can see my characters (and especially listen in on their conversations!) pretty easily, I find that creating the settings, including their ships, requires me to sit down and draw pictures. I love it when people take the ideas that come out in my stories and expand on them.