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Interviews -
Face To Face With The Masters

Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.

Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+

Michael A. Stackpole

May 2000, by Helen Keier

Part 2 of 3

Please note: There are discussions of topics from the New Jedi Order series contained in this interview that may be considered spoilers by some readers.

TheForce.Net has been lucky enough to speak to many of the authors of the Star Wars Extended Universe, and admittedly, one of our favorites is Michael A. Stackpole. The author of several books and comics, Mike is always generous with his time and effort to reach out to fans. We last spoke to Mike in November of last year, and you can read that interview here. Once again, TheForce.Net's Helen Keier has a few questions for Mike.

Recent months have seen the publication of Mike's Dark Horse Comics' UNION series, in which Jedi Master and perennial bachelor Luke Skywalker marries Mara Jade. Also, more recently from Del Rey, Mike has two books in the NEW JEDI ORDER series, DARK TIDE: ONSLAUGHT and coming in June 2000, DARK TIDE: RUIN.

We appreciate Mike making the time to chat with us. You can visit Mike's website at www.stormwolf.com/.

On with the part 2 of the interview! Part 1 can be read here and part 3 will appear in upcoming days.

[Note: the first question in this installment is the last question from Part 1 of this interview. It has been included for clarity.]

TFN: In the Hand of Thrawn Duology, Zahn suggested that there was a never-before-seen threat in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. Has there been any coordinating or connecting with what Zahn set up in the "Hand of Thrawn" to be brought up in NJO? Is this threat the Vong?

MAS: There has been no direct link, so far, between the threat alluded to in VOTF and the Vong. This point is expanded upon a bit in DTR.

TFN: How so? What can you tell us about Ruin?

MAS: Without the implant exploding? Some of what has been going on in the Unknown Regions is mentioned, and you get to see some of the results of same. And for everyone who wanted to know what happened to Wedge's sister and her husband, well, you get a pretty good idea from RUIN.

TFN: Regarding Wedge... he had a cult following after the original movies, but he really came to life in your novels and comics. Who is Wedge, and how have you conceptualized him? Did you anticipate his popularity?

MAS: From the first, Sue Rostoni [of Lucasfilm] told me I should seriously consider using Wedge because he had a following, but I don't think any of us truly realized how loyal it was. What I realized, in watching the films again, was that getting Wedge right would be tough. Here he is, ace pilot, good enough to live through both Death Star Assaults and years of fighting, and yet he's one of Luke's best friends, which meant he couldn't be some hard-ass commanding type. Nerves of steel, ace reflexes, an ability to command a squadron of fighter-jocks with egos locked in combat position, and enough of a heart to be a Jedi's friend. That's a tall order.

Luckily for me, this is where research really helped me. In reading about and watching documentaries on WWII and WWI pilots and their squadrons, I saw how relationships developed. This clued me into how Wedge could be all the things he needed to be... In Rogue Squadron, for example, he didn't address folks by their first names, by and large, until AFTER they had survived their fifth mission. In war, folks will refuse to get to know the new guys because they don't want to make a friend who's going to be taken from them shortly. It is cold and could be cruel, but it's also survival. So, I found Wedge's core as a survivor, who could be a great friend.

His popularity really did surprise me. Kevin Anderson estimated early on that if I didn't use Wedge, the X-wing books would sell 250,000 units. If I did, it would go up to 350,000 units. No one at Bantam expected the first novel to hit the NYTimes list, but it did. Last report I had put Rogue Squadron over 3/4 million copies in the US alone, so I guess we could say Wedge's following is big and very loyal.

TFN: You mention above that we will find out what became of Syal and her husband, Soontir Fel, and the Official site recently posted that their son, Jagged Fel, makes an appearance in Ruin. What do you see in Wedge's future? What do you hope happens when other authors start writing for Wedge?

MAS: Well, I think that Aaron Allston and I are tough acts to follow; but I'd hope any author writing Wedge would look at the depth and history we've given him, how we've developed him and will continue in that vein. One of the worst things a writer can do is to get a character "out of character." This is especially true with Wedge, since his fans are very loyal and very vocal.

TFN: The X-Wing series endures as some of the most popular Star Wars books. So far, in NJO we've seen Wedge, Corran, Gavin, and Tycho, albeit some of them appear only briefly at the end of Ruin. Are we going to see any of the other X-Wing characters in NJO? Who would you like to see included? For those we might not see, where do you think they are now?

MAS: Let's see, should only take a gig or two to talk about everyone who isn't in there. I guess I'd just like to see any of the characters, if used in the NJO, to have their histories mesh with what has gone before AND not to have them just tossed in as a name. One the criticisms I took for ONSLAUGHT, and it will be repeated with RUIN, is that none of the YJK [Young Jedi Knights] characters showed up in the books. I didn't bring them in because I wasn't going to do anything with them. The saga already has a huge cast, so there is no purpose in bringing in a character if you aren't going to do justice to him. That's the way I feel about all the pilots who have trooped through the comics and novels. If there is a book that could use them in a substantive role, great, bring them in. If not, don't, especially not if you're just going to kill them off for no good reason.

TFN: Was there anything you couldn't do in DARK TIDE? In UNION?

MAS: I got to do everything I wanted to do in UNION. In DARK TIDE I didn't get to tie off as many storyline pieces as I would have liked to do; but that was part of the nature of the project. I had to leave stuff for everyone else to do. Despite that, I was very satisfied with what I got to do, especially with Elegos, Ganner, Corran and very especially Anakin. I think I had the most fun working with Anakin.

TFN: What was fun about working with Anakin? Where can you see him going?

MAS: Well, unlike his grandfather, Anakin wasn't an only child, he wasn't a slave, and he wasn't raised in ignorance of his gift in the Force. We have someone in Anakin who has a lot of power, but it's not corrupted him and, in my opinion, he's so well suited to it, that it shouldn't corrupt him. Were I going to speculate, I wonder if Qui-Gon's vision of Anakin as the "One" weren't directed toward grandson. So, writing about someone who has innocence, smarts, restraint and power, well, that's very cool stuff.

As for where he could go. Pretty much anywhere he needs to be. And he's the sort of guy who will be there, at ground zero, because he knows that's his responsibility, to do for others what they cannot do for themselves.

TFN: Having planned the NJO, can you tell us something about the upcoming authors?

MAS: I'm not part of that selection process, but I can say that I've enjoyed working with Kathy Tyers and Jim Luceno on their links between our books. I know Troy Denning, but haven't read any of his work; I know both Matt Stover and Greg Keyes and I seriously enjoy their books. I think the talent Del Rey is bringing in to work on the books is top-shelf, so I'm very much looking forward to the books in the line.

TFN: Fan opinion has seemed to intensify with New Jedi Order in ways that might not have been anticipated. Would you care to comment on that?

MAS: I think a lot of the comments made about NJO books have been based out of a lack of understanding with what we're trying to do in the NJO. I cannot think of any other project that has been undertaken with such a high goal: a 20 something novel story arc, bringing together a lot of very good and diverse talent. As such readers don't have any model to apply to what we are doing. Characters might seem to be out of character because a conflict isn't tied up inside a novel, which is what they have expected in the past. Because they're reading it as it comes out, in real time, if you will, things might seem slow, but as it develops, it's going to be seriously cool. In five years lucky readers will be able to sit down and go from end to end through the series and will have one heck of a ride.

I also think some readers lose some perspective when they view Star Wars -- and I know this because I do it, too. When someone writes something that's not what I would have done, I grinch. However, knowing what it is to write, and how individualistic a pursuit writing is, I'm willing to cut an author some slack. I won't say he or she is WRONG, just that they didn't do what I would do in that instance. In matters of fact that can be right and wrong; but in shades of interpretation, well, that's art, not science.

Since this is a world of fiction, a reader is entitled to say that an interpretation of a character doesn't work for him, but labeling that wrong or, worse, attacking the author for it, just isn't right.

In reading over the criticism of the novels, I don't have any problem with opinions being expressed. Where I draw the line is when someone projects something on to an author that isn't true. For example, it has been supposed by some that Corran IS my alter-ego, and this is the reason why he did not die in Onslaught. He is not my alter-ego, and that is not the reason he didn't die in Onslaught. The reasons he did not die in Onslaught are simple and blatantly obvious: If he had, Shedao Shai's vow would have lost all drama AND their coming confrontation in RUIN wouldn't take place. MOREOVER, Corran didn't die because that would have been too easy on him. By forcing him to live, by having him beholding to Ganner, by being able run new challenges by him, I get to force the character to grow even more. THOSE are the reason's Corran didn't die.

(Oddly enough, the one series of books where I did have an alter-ego, I killed him in a fiery vehicle crash. Horrible way to go.)

TFN: That is a horrible way to go. Which books were these?

MAS: Um, I died in Lost Destiny, a BattleTech novel. One of the other writers, not realizing that I'd been killing off my alter-ego, resurrected that character in a game product, so I guess I'm still out there somewhere.

TFN: What made you decide to kill off your alter-ego?

MAS: It was a slow day and I had nothing better to do? No, actually, folks had begun to realize it was my alter-ego and I was getting kidded about it at conventions. I figured folks would assume, then, that the particular character was safe. Killing him would surprise them, and I'm all for surprising readers. Actually, I live for surprising readers.

In any event, I do think the lively discussions about the books are a lot of fun. I have been amazed at some of the things folks discuss about characters. THAT lets me know that what we're turning out is getting into people's minds and is making them think. That's never a bad thing.

TFN: Perhaps if fans knew what the process by which an author is brought into write a Star Wars novel was, and then what happens afterward up to when the book is published, it would help dispel some misconceptions. Could you outline this process or elaborate on that for us? What are the steps one (and their book) goes through?

MAS: The process is simple to describe but labyrinthine and sometimes agonizing in practice. First the author has to be chosen. The publisher picks a list of writers, the folks at LFL review their work and decide if they think this person can contribute to the universe. If so, you are pre-approved. At this point the only folks getting in are published novelists and the majority are New York Times Bestselling authors and/or authors with whom Del Rey is doing work.

Then the author is offered a book or books and submits and outline. The outline goes to the editor, then back for changes. Then it goes to LFL and back for changes. Finally, if lucky, it is approved at this point and the author sets to work. The book is written and sent to the editor. The editor looks it over and either asks for changes or sends it to LFL. If changes are required, the author makes them, then it goes back to the editor and if she is satisfied, it goes to Lucasfilm.

The folks at LFL go over the gook with a fine-toothed comb. They check for facts for characters being consistent, for how things tie into the whole storyline -- everything. Since LFL owns the property, what they say goes. They ask for changes. The author, editor and LFL discuss the changes, they're made to LFL's satisfaction. (Either the author makes them or LFL and the editor makes them.)

At this point the author is sent "first pass pages," or galley-proofs. These are what the book will look like when printed. The author (and LFL) go over them and sometimes the author finds things changed that he didn't change. You look for typoes, other little errors of fact, dropped lines and the like, and make sure things are done to your satisfaction. These are returned. LFL then gets "second pass pages" so they get a final look at things.

Then books arrive. That's it in a nutshell.

TFN: What would you suggest as an appropriate way for a fan to share their feelings, likes, and dislikes about a novel?

MAS: Just being polite and addressing the book and it's problems, not presuming to know what's in the author's mind -- or that everything in the book is in there at the author's instigation. For example, when I read the page proofs for RUIN (the last step before publication), I found some names had been changed, some material had been cut. Obviously, if I had not thought the material appropriate, I'd not have written it in the first place; but Lucasfilm owns the books, and they are the final arbiter of what gets published under the Star Wars title. That's their right, that's clear in all the contracts and, for my money, their editorial judgment is pretty sharp.

Just because something happens in a book with which a reader disagrees, it doesn't mean the author is stupid or malicious or mean. I remember, among weird things, seeing a comment about I, JEDI on Amazon.com that indicated I'd written the book to appease a fan group known as the Star Ladies. Folks will come up with all sorts of silly reasons as to why a book didn't turn out the way they wanted, kinda missing the key point: their vision of the GFFA and Lucasfilm's vision do not agree. And, guess what? LFL wins, hands down.

This sort of Monday morning quarterbacking goes on in any endeavor. Those of us who are out here writing this stuff have to learn not to be so thin-skinned. It becomes tough, though, because through the anonymity of the net, folks will say stuff they'd never say in polite company, and certainly not to an author's face. (And we know of no one, I'm sure, who would make an incendiary comment just to garner heated responses, knowing they've upset a bunch of folks. Never see that on the net.)

Appropriate responses, then, are to point out what you don't like, explain why you don't like it, and perhaps even suggest what you thought might have worked better. Don't presume to know what the author was thinking or was asked to do, and everything should work out right.

TFN: Have you ever received a comment or suggestion from a fan that you agreed with, that perhaps made you rethink something you've written?

MAS: It would seem, at first blush, that this must have been the case at least once, but it hasn't. Comments, overwhelmingly, fall into the "I really enjoyed the book, thanks very much" category, where the readers agree with what I did, so there would be no need to rewrite. Conversely, the few notes I've had where folks are taking shots, they've usually misread something, so, again the need to consider rewriting isn't there. Reader comments HAVE caused me to reinforce some points in later books, just to make sure we're all on the same page. What I do get, and what surprise me, are comments from readers where they pulled something from a book that I didn't expect they would. One, for example, was from a young man who was away from home at college. His girlfriend was back in his home town, and at school another girl started to take an interest in him. He was in a quandary as to what to do. Then he thought about Corran's situation in I, JEDI and decided to remain faithful to his girlfriend back home. In writing I, JEDI I NEVER would have expected anything like that. Things like that are just great icing on the cake. I write these books to entertain, but if they help someone -- even just by being a diversion for a bit -- heck, that is wonderful.

TFN: Are you writing any more Star Wars books after Dark Tide: Onslaught? What books might you like to write that have not been done yet?

MAS: Dark Tide: RUIN comes out in June, then I'm done with Star Wars novels. Star Wars is an invitation-only universe, so until I'm extended another invite, I will cool my heels writing more novels in the DragonCrown War cycle (THE DARK GLORY WAR came out in March) and more BattleTech novels. It certainly would be fun to write more in that universe. A number of folks have asked about another first-person novel, like I, Jedi; and I'd love to do that. Doing more with Ganner would be fun, too.

However, I've had my time at the plate, so it's time for others to take some pitches and swat them out of the park. It's been great, and I'd not trade the experience for anything.

TFN: Will you still write Star Wars comics? There's been a rumor floating around about a collaboration between yourself and Tim Zahn for Dark Horse that would focus on Grand Admiral Thrawn, Soontir Fel, the Unknown Regions, and some loose story line threads from Zahn's Vision of The Future. Is there any truth to this or possibility that it will happen? If it were to happen, would it be a story tie in for NJO?

MAS: Tim and I hashed out an outline for the story a year and a half ago. I definitely think we'll see something done with it, but whether it is in comic form, or a novella form, we have to see. Since Peet Janes left Dark Horse, I've not heard word one from anyone there about anything, so I don't know if anyone on the editorial staff even knows I exist. Would it tie into the NJO... darn that implant...

Click here for: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

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