TheForce.net Books was lucky enough to conduct a semi-interview with Mr. Stover over e-mail recently. Here are his thoughts on writing, the Yuuzhan Vong, and the Force as detailed in his new novel, The New Jedi Order: Traitor:
1) How would you describe your journey to become an author? Was this something you felt driven to do when you were young?
I wrote for fun when I was young (erm, younger). I never thought I'd be good enough to make it as a pro. I still write for fun... but now I get paid for it.
2) What are your influences in your writing career? What were your favourite books and authors when growing up?
I don't really have influences. I just have people I steal from. It's not the same thing. When I find narrative techniques that I admire, I rip 'em off ruthlessly.
My favorite books (in the sense of I've read each them at least five times), in no particular order: 'THE TWO TOWERS', 'THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE', 'THE ILIAD', 'LORD JIM', 'THIS IMMORTAL', 'HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILLTRAVEL', 'ISLE OF THE DEAD', 'CREATURES OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS', 'GLORY ROAD', 'STARSHIP TROOPERS', 'CONAN THE CONQUEROR', 'CONJURE WIFE', The Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser cycle, The Change War cycle, 'THE WATCHMEN', 'V FOR VENDETTA', The "American Gothic" sequence of SWAMP THING. I could go on. And on. How much space do you have?
3) What are your thoughts on the religion and society of the Yuuzhan Vong?
For that, I would recommend reading TRAITOR. Nearly the entire novel takes place within a Yuuzhan Vong environment. I don't really have thoughts on their society and religion (which are inseparable); they are a given of my novel. An axiom. I don't really think about whether I like the sun. It's just up there, you know? The trick is to deal with it. The same with the Vong.
4) How long does it take you to write a book? Do you ever suffer from writers block?
The fastest I ever wrote a book was seven months. The slowest was three years (though I should point out that the three-year project is almost four times as long as the seven-monther).
I suffer from writer's block nearly every day. Writer's block is nothing more than a hyperactive self-editor; when all your ideas sound like crap inside your head, that's writer's block. There are two ways to move forward: you can blast through it (just write it anyway, no matter how bad it is) or you can sneak around it (come up with a new idea that sounds good). Lately I've been using the second method, which works pretty well, but it involves excessive amounts of staring off into space, and not nearly enough actual typing.
5) A monumental project on the scale of the 'New Jedi Order' is seldom seen in literature. Obviously, we fans have many expectations on the series, but what expectations do you, and your fellow NJO authors have for the series?
I can't speak for other authors. For myself, I've been expecting to finally hit some bestsellers lists. I'm also expecting to take a certain amount of crap from the fans, since that seems to be a fairly general experience for EU authors. And I'm expecting -- "hoping" would be a more honest word -- that some tens of thousands of fans will find my work so compelling they'll run out to buy everything I write.
In terms of "in-universe" expectations, I won't talk about that. I was at the story conference where we decided how it all comes out.
6) What does the 'establishment' (Lucasfilm, Del Rey and the authors) set out to achieve with the NJO -- what goals do you have? To shake up the galaxy? Passing down of the torch? What underlying themes so far have been presented? Were these themes a part of the planning, or a natural progression of the story line?
As far as I know, the only real goal Del Rey and LFL had for the NJO was to raise the bar on Star Wars: to make the books better than they have been so far. That's what we all want, right? To make each book better (more thrilling, funnier, more powerful, whatever) than the ones that came before?
Well, that and make buckets of money. It's best when quality and cash walk hand-in-hand, isn't it?
It seems to me that the underlying themes are pretty much the province of the
individual authors. Del Rey and LFL (and the story-conference writers, etc.) provide the skeleton. What the flesh looks like is up to each author.
7) Can you share with readers how you prepare for writing a Star Wars book? What material do you use to research the massive volume of backstory, history, information? What does Lucasfilm and Del Rey provide in assistance?
Del Rey and LFL provided me with all the Essential Guides, the STAR WARS ENCYCLOPEDIA, and a variety of older EU books dealing with Jacen and his friends, since he was to be my main character. And, of course, they send me all the NJO books. For my prequel novel, they have provided me with access to a massive SW database. And, of course, if I'm really stuck I can always ask the fans...
8) What is your opinion of Star Wars fans, and fandom in general? Would you agree that fans of Star Wars are a passionate group?
There's no such thing as "fandom in general." There are some fans for whom I have a great deal of respect. There are some blithering idiots. There are annoying creeps, and there are warm, intelligent folks who exhibit natural nobility and effortless charm (those would be the ones who really, really like MY stuff, for example).
On the "passionate group" front, I do think it's unfortunate that a few fans get so passionate as to appear a bit unbalanced. They not only warp the public perception of fandom, but they can drive away other fans who don't want to be associated with that kind of behavior. It's a sad truth of human nature that we tend to lump people into groups ("Ignore him, he's a Republican." "Trekkers are weirdos in rubber ears."). It's another sad truth that all groups tend to be defined by their most extreme members.
9) Can fans have an influence on the upcoming storyline?
Not as far as I know. Other writers may have other answers. I didn't even start looking at TF.N until months after I turned in TRAITOR. Which is a bit of a shame -- I came across a few interesting ideas, that I'm kinda sorry I didn't get a chance to steal...
10) What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Tell the truth. Always, always, always tell the truth. Not all honest writing is good writing, but ALL GOOD WRITING IS HONEST WRITING. That does NOT mean a slavish adherence to "actual events" or anything like it -- life is never an excuse for art. It means that characters are people. Good characters act like real people. They don't have to be ORDINARY people (in fact, all good characters are extraordinary in one way or another -- just like real people) but they have to have hopes and dreams and fears and all the rest of that human stuff inside them.
You have to believe in what you're doing. You have to be honest with yourself, and with your readers. Not confessional, but honest. Your book is a snapshot into the way you think the universe really works. It's a chance to speak mind-to-mind with thousands of people. Don't waste their time with smoke and mirrors. They get enough of that on TV.
11) What can you tell us about your non-Star Wars novels?
They're not for children. They are graphically violent and emotionally brutal. They are as honest as I could make them. I did my best to make them unforgettable, too. When I write a book, I put everything I have into it; so the more I have, the more the books become. Some people get freaked out by them: mostly the people who believe, mistakenly, that fantasy is about escaping reality.
To them I say: If you have a problem with reality, you should be spending more time dealing with your life, and less time reading popcorn fantasy.
12) You have been signed to write a Star Wars prequel novel. Without your Lucasfilm implant exploding, what info can you share with readers?
It's called SHATTERPOINT, and it features Mace Windu at the beginning of the Clone Wars. I think it's fairly safe to say that it won't be like any Star Wars book you've ever read.
13) Can you discuss a little about the Force as it is described in Traitor? Where did the revelation about the Dark Side come from? How does it impact the Star Wars Universe?
I've often been a little bit bothered by the "deification" of the Force in the EU. The Force is not God -- it's not something "out there," a unitary entity with its own will and intention. It's right here. A Jedi is part of it -- and so is everything else. Its "will" (to use an inadequate word) is expressed in existence itself.
And I don't see that there's any revelation about the dark side, either. When Luke is about to enter "The Cave of the Dark Side" on Dagobah, he asks Yoda what's in there. Yoda replies (if memory serves): "Only what you bring with you." That's a long way from anything resembling a Dark-Side-is-the-Devil kind of perspective; it was always clear to me that it wasn't intended to be a supernatural force of evil.
I'd like to quote here from something I wrote to one of the prominent members of the Lit Forum who was somewhat troubled by Vergere's teachings about the Force. He goes by the handle JediMasterAaron, and he asked me some pretty penetrating questions, that I think go right to the heart of this theme. This was part of my answer:
"It can be argued that Yoda trained Luke the way he did specifically to defeat the Emperor -- NOT because that's what JK were in the Old Republic. In fact, we now know that Luke would scarely qualify as a Padawan by Old Republic standards.
From my point of view, what Vergere teaches Jacen to become is far closer to what the Jedi are SUPPOSED to embody. Even Luke, remember, doesn't end up DESTROYING the Bad Guys -- instead he allows his mere presence to "save" the one who can be saved, and destroy the one who can't. (By my recollection, anyway -- it's been a few years since I saw RotJ.)
A war of Good v. Evil is better in concept than in execution. The division of reality into Good and Evil is a disease of modern civilization -- it's even infected our secular politics. It's okay for our armed forces to kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan, because we're "rooting out the Evil." From bin Laden's point of view, it's okay to kill innocent civilians in the USA (and elsewhere) for EXACTLY THE SAME REASON.
It is the responsibility of those who CAN look deeper to do so. I say: by the end of TRAITOR, Jacen is a better Jedi than he has ever been, because he has learned to LOOK DEEPER... I think SW is more about dealing with the darkness in your own heart -- Luke had to do that, in order to face Vader and the Emperor; and then instead of killing Vader he could lead him back toward the light.
I should also point out that "the Force is One." The darkness inside is reflected outside, and vice versa. What Vergere is really teaching Jacen is to seek truth within, because it will reflect truth without. To trust his feelings, you might say..."
That about sums it up.
The impact of Vergere's perspective... well, that depends on the other writers. I can't really say. We'll see where they go with it. I'll only say this: the Expanded Universe is a living thing. Like other living things, it must either grow (learn, adapt, change) or die. Fans grow up. Star Wars can grow with them. There'll always be room for Ewoks and Young Jedi Knights. There'll always be room for the headlong happy-go-lucky space-opera of Daley's Han Solo trilogy. The Expanded Universe can also offer stories for fans who want to move into a more challenging realm. It's a big place. And it's still getting bigger.