William F. Wu
Author: And then there were some: The Gamorrean Guard’s tale (Tales from Jabba’s Palace)
Interview: December 2020
The 90’s were the golden decade for the Star Wars Expanded Universe. One of the most popular books was the Tales from Jabba’s Palace anthology novel with stories from various authors. One of them was Chinese-American author (and Hugo, World Fantasy and Nebula award nominee) William F. Wu. Fans of the Twilight Zone might know him from the episode Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium, which was an adaptation of the story he wrote in the early 80’s. His contribution to Star Wars was the short story about Gartogg, one of Jabba’s Gamorrean guards. In December 2020 this site had the privilege of him answering several questions about his work.
I’d like to start at the very beginning: what got you into writing and how did your career take off?
I made up stories from the time I was very young, before I could read and write. My mother would write them down, usually only five or six sentences about a routine day. My mother was a published poet and her mother had written and published a novel about her marriage to my grandfather. So creative written work was in our family history. I wrote all through the years I was growing up, including poetry. I’ve often said the only thing I learned by writing poetry is that I’m not a poet. When I was twenty-two years old, I decided to aim for becoming a professional writer of prose fiction. I made my first professional sale in 1975, when I was twenty-four, to a British anthology that never had an edition in the United States. My second sale was to a follow-up anthology to that one. My third sale, to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, was my first in the U.S. I was writing and submitting a lot but most of the work was rejected. In 1982, I sold a short story called Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium to Amazing Stories magazine. It appeared in 1983 and was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards in 1984. It didn’t win any of them, but it raised my level of name recognition. In 1986, I had a story titled Hong’s Bluff up for the Hugo and Nebula. Again, it didn’t win, but book editors started asking me if I had a novel to submit. I was already working on my first published novel, MasterPlay, and it was published in 1987.
When and where was your first encounter with Star Wars? And what did you think of it?
I happened to see the trailer for the original Star Wars several months before the movie came out. I liked what I saw, but I remember that when the trailer ended with the announcer saying it would be released in May, the audience laughed. It seemed so far in the future. I happened to be visiting my parents back in the Kansas City area when the first weekend came along. I planned to see it, but I was in no particular hurry. Then I discovered that everyone I knew in the area had plans of their own that night. With nothing else of interest to do, I went to see Star Wars alone. It happened to be opening night, at least in that area. I really, really liked it.
How did you get the assignment to write a short Star Wars story for the Tales from Jabba’s palace book? Was it editor Kevin J. Anderson who asked you?
Yes, Kevin invited me to submit a story to the anthology. We knew each other through science fiction conventions and through other writers we both knew. He had read some of my earlier short stories.
You wrote the story about Gartogg the Gamorrean Guard. Did you choose this character yourself? And if so; what made you pick him?
I created the character of Gartogg. I chose to write about a Gamorrean Guard because I felt they were fun. They look somewhat like green pigs and were described as the least intelligent sentient species in this universe. That struck me as an interesting idea to work with. Looking back, I think I should have put more action into the story. Still, I had fun with the concept in And Then There Were Some: The Gamorrean Guard’s Tale.
What was your inspiration to write his story; in which he tries to solve murders in Jabba’s palace?
Because Gartogg is, by definition, not too bright, a story that required a degree of intellect gave him a tough challenge. I’ve always liked reading crime fiction, though I have to say I don’t think it had much influence in this particular case.
What did you think of the story and how do you look back at it?
I like the humor in the story. Writing a humorous story is always a challenge because different people prefer different kinds of humor. So I know it doesn’t appeal to everyone. I like the fact that the atmosphere is different. It also has a scene that crosses over with the story written by Deborah J. Ross, under her earlier byline Deborah Wheeler. That was fun to work with, too. More action would probably enhance the story, so if I was writing it now, I’d add some.
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?
I’m ignoring moves of this sort by Disney. It’s still canon to me. I’m not a fan of most of Disney’s choices regarding the Star Wars universe. In fairness, I should add that I never thought prequels to the original movie were a good idea. After all, no matter how good a prequel could be, we already knew where it would lead. I wanted to see sequels to Return of the Jedi.
Even though Disney declared everything non-canon, there’s still a fanatic hardcore group of fans (and I count myself as one of them) who feel that those stories are the best and hold them in high regard. In fact, the Tales from Jabba’s Palace book is among the most popular titles. Were you aware of this and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
I am aware of this and I’m glad fans are so loyal. When a movie franchise is extremely successful, the people who are devoted to it have a deep emotional investment in what happens next. When Disney declared so much to be non-canon, I think it was not only insulting to fans but of course disrespectful to all the earlier work. My contribution is very small but I think fans should be respected.
For the 80’s Twilight Zone series your short story Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium was adapted. Were you happy with the way it turned out?
Yes, I’m happy with the result. It was adapted by Alan Brennert, who understood the original short story deeply. Alan’s also an old friend and a best-selling author and an Emmy and Nebula winner. He knew what he was doing.
For me, the story was about second chances, recovering lost emotions and ultimately helping others finding it. What is, in your own words, the meaning of the story?
When I attended the six-week Clarion workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers in 1974, Harlan Ellison was one of the instructors. He gave us an assignment to write a story “about where lost things go.” I wrote one at the time that didn’t work. I found the idea fascinating, but for seven years, I never came up with a story for the idea. One day in 1981, I decided to lie down for a nap. Instead, the basics of the story came to me. Instead of relaxing, I got out of bed and started writing down notes.
To me, the story has meanings on a couple of levels. First, of course, it brings out the concept of what’s lost and therefore the question of what’s important. That, of course, is universal: regret and a second chance. Another is that the protagonist is an American of Chinese descent, like me. He’s angry about the racism he’s experienced to the point that he’s lost his compassion – and yet he wants it back, because he does not like the person he has become. I was never that angry about these matters, but giving the protagonist a more extreme mindset was a good way to dramatize the concept.
The story became important to me for all these reasons, the original assignment, the universality of seeking something lost, and the personal connection – though it’s limited – between the protagonist and me.
You have written many other books. Which one stands out as your personal favorite?
I have a tough time picking only one, I suppose because so many are very different. I’ll give a few examples. My first novel, MasterPlay, comes in part from my two interests since I was young, history and games of strategy and tactics. It’s about people in the future (as seen from the 1970s and ‘80s) who play computer wargames. At that time, the term virtual reality had been created but was not widely known. I think in a sense, it came out three years early in 1987. Several years later, virtual reality was a hot topic in science fiction, but MasterPlay missed that wave. At the same time, if I was writing it now, it would be very different. I hope I’ve grown as a storyteller.
A Temple of Forgotten Spirits is an episodic novel that first appeared as ten short stories. It’s a novel in that it has full character and plot arcs. The subject matter includes historical and cultural subjects of Americans of Chinese descent and the protagonist’s sense of humor is taken partly from mine. So this is special to me, too.
I shouldn’t drag out my answer, but I will say that Hong on the Range is also a favorite of mine. It’s lighthearted, as the title suggests, written for the Young Adult category. The critical response went to extremes. It received one very hostile review and it was also selected for several best-of-the-year and recommended lists from the literary world.
Looking at the future: do you have new titles coming up? And what would your ‘dream assignment’ look like? Is there any franchise you’d love to write a book about for instance?
I’m shopping around a new novel that’s Asian steampunk. It takes place mostly in Shanghai. This novel is based in part on a novelette called Yellowsea Yank, which was published in an anthology of original science fiction stories titled, There Will Be Liberty No. 1, Defiant, She Advanced. The novel is an adventure story that also deals with matters of race and gender in the late Victorian period.
Right now, I think a dream assignment would be to sell the novel I mentioned above and be able to expand it to a series.
I’ve been fortunate to write in the Star Wars universe and a six-book Young Adult series in Isaac Asimov’s robot universe, among others. Right now I don’t have a desire to write in another franchise, but maybe that’ll change some day.