The Round Rock author and former video game designer has just penned his ninth Star Wars serialization, Legacy of the Force: Fury.
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When (and how) did you first start writing Star Wars novelizations?
I actually don’t do novelizations. I do what are referred to as tie-ins, spin-offs, or any number of other terms that range from the neutral to the derogatory. Of the derogatory ones, I find the term “sharecropper fiction” the most charming. Anyway, set the Way-Back Machine to the early 1980s. At the time, I was in a different but related industry, the field of adventure games—the category that Dungeons & Dragons falls into. I was editing a small gaming magazine published in Austin, and doing some freelance writing on the side. I met a fellow gaming pro, a guy from Arizona by the name of Michael A. Stackpole. Mike and I ended up collaborating on a hero-pulp game called Justice, Inc. By [the mid-1990s], Mike and I were both doing mostly fiction work, and Mike had just finished four Star Wars novels, the X-Wing series for Bantam. The series was a big hit, and Bantam assigned Mike a hardback, which became the novel I, Jedi, then asked him to do four more X-Wing novels. But with his other assignments he couldn’t make the deadlines work, so he suggested that they get another writer for three of those novels. I was on the list of writers he recommended.
How many other writers produce Star Wars fiction?
I’m not certain. Dozens. Scores. Tie-in novels and comic books for Star Wars started coming out while the original trilogy of movies was still being produced, so the program has been in existence for more than a quarter-century, with new writers added every year since the early 1990s and others leaving.
What cachet does your connection to the Star Wars galaxy afford you in the realm of SF fandom?
Well, individual reader reactions, when I meet them and they learn I’m a Star Wars writer, tend to fall into one of three categories—eyebrows go up, eyebrows go down, or eyes get big. With science fiction fans in general, the eyebrows go up and they have an “Oh, that’s cool” reaction—many SF fans are either aspiring writers themselves or simply like meeting writers.
How daunting is it to be an architect of one of the best-known epics in modern popular culture?
Well, if to be daunted is to be put off or discouraged, then it’s not daunting at all. But being a contributor to the Star Wars universe does come with a big sense of responsibility. The fans are very protective of the characters and the universe, and they’re vocal about it. As a writer, you can come up with a situation that puts Han Solo in a squirrel costume, using only a giant candy cane to fight his way out of a scented potpourri factory—but every action he takes, every line of dialogue out of his mouth, had better recognizably belong to the Han Solo the fans know and love.
Who reins you in if you cross that line and send Luke back in time to join the Ballets Russe?
Lucasfilm has a division, Lucas Licensing, which deals with licensed products like the books, and one of their jobs is to preserve continuity as much as possible—meaning they watch over the books, comics, and so forth to make sure that none of their content strays too far from what has been established previously or from the kid-friendly standards of the setting.
Any instances worth relating?
Nothing too significant. I had a scene where a couple of characters—characters originating in the books, not from the movies—who had just gotten romantically involved were discussing how they were going to spend their night together, and I was asked to make the dialogue a little less, um, frisky.
How does writing games differ from writing book-length fiction?
In just about every way imaginable. They both require about the same amount of creative effort, but the skills they draw on—the tools from the writer’s toolbox—are all different. Basically, fiction is experienced as a mostly uninterrupted flow of events, and it’s immersive. By contrast, a role-playing game or adventure is a textbook. It doesn’t have to be a dry, boring textbook, but any way you look at it, it’s an instruction manual. One easy-to-explain difference between the two types of writing lies in characterization. In fiction, you express the personality of a character…through dialogue. In game writing, you’re telling a game master how to portray the character in actual play, so you summarize the character’s personality and outlook. Another difference lies in plotting. In novels, you generate a plot that takes the characters from Point A to Point Z. In gaming, you have to factor in the pesky free will of the players: sometimes they just won’t follow the plot you have so laboriously created.
What compelled you to try your hand at indie moviemaking? And how does the (ongoing) experience compare to your expectations?
Like a lot of writers, I spent the occasional moment over the years saying, “I’d really like to write a screenplay some day, I’d really like to get it made into a movie.” So in 2004, I wrote my first script, a low-budget horror. As for the ongoing, protracted post-production experience…it’s been frustrating, chiefly in trying to coordinate the efforts of unpaid collaborators, myself included.
Are you contracted to continue writing Star Wars series?
Not currently. With Fury, I completed a three-book deal, and there’s usually a gap between finishing one multiple-book assignment and getting a new one.
Is there any sign of the public’s interest waning?
Oh, hell no. Attendance at Celebration 4, the convention marking the 30th anniversary of the first movie, was huge. There are two new Star Wars TV series coming out, one computer-animated and one live-action, which are helping keep interest high. And then there’s the degree to which Star Wars is just part of popular culture. I can’t predict that Star Wars will be around a century from now, but, hey, Sherlock Holmes just reached 120, and he’s as well known as he ever was. Dracula’s 110. I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Wars has those kind of legs.
How deep (or shallow) was your Star Wars fan hood before being enlisted to write the novels?
I was acutely aware of the flavor and sensibilities of the original trilogy. It was pretty clear, not just from Star Wars but from the Indiana Jones series and even things like Radioland Murders, that George Lucas had been inspired by a lot of things that had inspired me as a child: space exploration movies like Forbidden Planet, movie serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, the hero pulps, dramatic radio series of the 1930s and 1940s, and so forth. So I always felt at home in the Star Wars universe.
Would it be unfair to say that you’re getting paid to enjoy a protracted adolescence?
No, it wouldn’t be unfair. I do take my job seriously and approach it like a grown-up, but there’s definitely a gee-whiz factor to it, too.
What’s the coolest toy you’ve bought in the last couple years?
Well, the ones I’ve bought are nowhere near as neat as some that I’ve been given by friends and by fans. For example, a set of Legos Star Wars figurines modified to resemble the pilots I wrote about in the X-Wing series. Or a 12-inch Emperor Palpatine action figure with a selection of Hawaiian shirts to wear, as I’m known at conventions for my Hawaiian shirts.
Is there a dream project—print, game, video, cinema, whatever—that you’d like to pursue if time and circumstance allows?
Not exactly, no. A while back, I decided to purge the word “dream” from my professional vocabulary. That said, sure, I’m working on a bunch of projects dear to my heart. But my intention is to talk less about these projects and work more to accomplish them, and never to say “I wish” or “Someday I’d like to” again.