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+
Star Wars Q&A with Sean Williams & Shane Dix -
Co-Authors of NJO Force Heretic Trilogy
Following on from the interview published on February 4th, 2003, Michael Potts of the TFN Books staff once again had the opportunity of interviewing Sean Williams & Shane Dix, co-authors of NJO Force Heretic Trilogy.
How have fans reacted to your Force Heretic trilogy?
[SD] It's been mixed, really. But that's hardly surprising. As I have said right from the beginning, we were never going to please everyone. With the large fan base that Star Wars has, we were always going to have our detractors. And I have no problem with that, either--although I have to say I don't have much time for those that offer vitriol instead of criticism. It's almost like these people are offended that we dared to come trespass in a universe that they feel is theirs. You know? But the other side of the coin is that there has been some amazingly welcoming fans out there, too--even some who haven't liked our books. It's nice to see that some people out there can appreciate the work that actually goes into writing these things, even if they're not particularly fond of our writing style.
[SW] I've just been please that *anyone* liked our books. The writer's fragile ego takes in the enormous and demanding readership of the EU books and quails. :-) But looking at it objectively, I had to figure that if we liked them, others would too. There'd be no point doing them, otherwise.
How has interaction with fans influenced your writing, if at all?
[SD] I guess during the writing of the books, there were contacts with people who had such a background knowledge on all aspects of SW that they had to influence us to a degree. We had all the essential guides and what-not, but there's nothing quite like having people who know their stuff. I was very apprehensive when first starting writing, because I was aware of the fans out there and nervous about stepping into a very fast flowing river, but the assistance from those like yourself, Michael, made me feel a lot more at ease with the whole process... If that makes any sense?
[SW] Talking to fans influenced me in the sense that I became more aware of events and characters that had been left unresolved in the EU. This is an area in which TimeTales was particularly inspirational. Without wanting to take anything away from the tremendous team at the Ranch, the giant, searchable timeline was great for hunting down dead-ends and dangling story arcs that were just begging to be reconnected. That's to a fair extent how the Ssi-ruuk ended up in the NJO.
What projects are you currently working on? Do you have any further joint-projects in the works?
[SD] Sean and I are working on a duology right now, although this is mostly Sean's work. The publishers wanted something with both of our names on the covers, even though we both felt we needed a break. So this was a way of doing that as well as having our break. I guess it's our way of having the cake and eating it, too! :) Other than that, I am editing a horror book I've been writing for the last couple of years, as well as working on a mystery/thriller involving a serial killer. I have no publisher interested in either project at the moment, but I really don't mind. I am a long way off finishing, and I am a very slow writer. If I take another 3 years, that's cool. I also have an idea for a haunted house story I am just itching to write sometime, too--and just last night I had the notion of turning my horror idea into a script. We'll see. Anyway, plenty of things to keep me busy. And somewhere down the track I am hoping to write the next Evergence trilogy with Sean--something we've been talking about since we finished A Dark Imbalance.
[SW] I'm working on the first book of the Geodesica duology at the moment, as Shane says, as well editing _The Crooked Letter_, the opening volume of a new fantasy series (The Books of the Cataclysm, which will revisit and expand on the world of the Books of the Change). I'm also mucking around with a bunch of other ideas. As well as more Evergence books, there's a YA space opera series I'd like to write, plus a Crichton-style thriller that keeps niggling away. At this stage, time is the only limitation.
Have you had a chance to read 'The Final Prophecy' and 'The Unifying Force'? What do you think of the progressing storyline?
[SD] I haven't had chance yet to read either, which sounds slack, I know. But after that time when I had to read all of the NJO books I told myself I didn't want to read anymore of the books for a long time! It's sort of like anything, really. Eat too much chocolate and there'll come a day when you'll shout, "Halt! Enough!" However, I have read the detailed synopsis of the final book and my curiosity has been piqued enough to make me reconsider. Then, of course, we have Tahiri on the cover of Final Prophecy, and I have to admit I am very curious as to what happens to this character, as she was developed quite considerably through the writing of Force Heretic. Strange feeling. It's like your own child, you know? You want to see what happens to them...
[SW] I've been looking forward to reading these books for a long time, and have been absolutely thrilled by the way they turned out. Greg and Jim had a difficult job, picking up the baton from us and taking it down the final straight. That they did it so well--and that fans seem to love it too--is testament to all the hard work they and the rest of the team put into it.
Retrospectively, which of the three Force Heretic novels is your favourite?
[SD] Interestingly, I enjoyed the second one the most, which seems to be the one that the readers liked the least. Oh well. Everyone has different tastes--and for different reasons.
[SW] I too like the second one, _Refugee_, but I'm becoming increasingly fond of _Reunion_. It's the culmination of a lot of threads we had so much fun developing--and it also represents a great deal of very hard work. I'm proud of that book because we were really up against the wall in some ways, and I think we delivered. Just like the characters in it. :-)
In an interview with 'Star Wars En Direct', you stated that you felt you got better with each book. Why do you think this?
[SD] From my point of view it was simply because we became a lot more comfortable in writing Star Wars as we went along. Like I said earlier, we were nervous in starting out, and I felt we were being extremely self conscious and hesitant. But by the second book, we were a lot more at ease. I guess a lot of this is because of the publishers and editors being happy with what we presented them in Remnant, you know? It was kind of a great weight off our shoulders. But also we were getting used to the characters and the universe itself. And the research was coming along a lot smoother. Checking through the illustrated guides, encyclopaedias, and the Holocron became almost second nature by mid way through the project. And, of course, we had a lot of establishing of situations and characters to get through in book one, so book 2 was just a case of getting right into it--which was why we went with the opening we did, with Luke et al being pursued by the Krizlaws...Nice and fast and exciting... Well, we thought so, anyway...
[SW] Writing for Star Wars is different to writing for Evergence or the Books of the Change or the Orphans Series, or whatever else we've worked on in recent years. Every project takes a bit of time to settle in, and in this case there was so much extra stuff surrounding it to get used to. I was also juggling two other projects at the same time, so I think just getting into that kind of headspace was particularly difficult. But it was a return to my childhood in lots of ways, and it was a very refreshing experience. Eventually I learned to just let go. The adult in me just had to sit back and go along for the ride.
Which was easiest novel to write?
[SD] Again, from my perspective, it seemed to be book 2. We were getting into the swing of it and had a lot of fun with it. Book 1 we were still finding our footing and trying to establish the setting for what would be the trilogy story arc. Book 3 we were trying to wrap those threads up, and it's always harder finishing a series than just finishing a single book.
[SW] Definitely _Refugee_, for lots of reasons, professional and personal. _Reunion_ was a nightmare in some ways, but all the more rewarding for it.
Which character of your own creation did you enjoy writing the most?
[SD] Hmmm...Of our own creation, I'm not sure... But a personal; fave for the whole series was Tahiri. I like mental landscapes a lot, and this was fun going through Troy Denning's fabulous book and working backwards through the adventures on Myrkr and incorporating it into Riina's emergence through Tahiri's mind. I also liked the complexity of that character by the trilogy's conclusion. She really had to change a lot, and I think she ended up as something of a character that will just be so cool to develop even further. Again, this is one of the reasons I'm very keen to read Final Prophecy, because I am curious as to what does happen with her.
[SW] I feel a certain loyalty to Nom Anor, as his story arc was such an important part of our books. We didn't create him, but I think we took him on a highly complex and unexpected journey. For a writer, that's a great payoff. The Krizlaws, however, were fun, and my favourite personal creation was Han Solo's bizarre game of sabacc at the beginning of _Reunion_. That was a joy to write.
Following on from your previous interview with TF.N, you stated that pizza was a large contributing factor to the Williams / Dix collaboration. Did this trend continue during the Force Heretic trilogy?!
[SD] Alas, no. Age and obesity has forced me in particular to be more wary of what I eat. Actually, I haven't had a proper pizza for so long now I'm starting to forget what they taste like! It's not as though Sean and I now get together and have tofu salads instead, though. I just have to be more careful, that's all. Pita pizzas are the order of the day. Hmmm, this should be interesting to see how this impacts upon our writing. With Bowie and his music, I always said that the 70s were the most creative for him and that the 80s were woeful, and I often would mutter grumpily to people that maybe he should have stayed on the drugs. Maybe people will say the same about us, that our writing has deteriorated and that perhaps we should get back on the full fat pizzas! I hope not, though. Personally I think we're writing better than we ever have before.
[SW] I still eat pizzas, and did in fact eat too many of them when I was recently in the US. It's a source of constant shame. :-)
The Cold Ones are unusual beings, even among the aliens of the GFFA. How did they come about?
[SD] Leave that one for you, Sean, as it was from your imaginings they came...
[SW] Ah, yes. I do like these guys. They just emerged in the process of writing, and like so many good ideas it's hard to pin down exactly where they came from. I think I wanted to explore life on a gaseous world, but not one that was a gas giant, as that's been done many times before. The idea of a cold, dying world adrift in space was one I'd read about in science magazines shortly beforehand, so it seemed natural to use it when the opportunity arose. Speculating about what sort of creature might live there was the next step. The undersea images, particularly of the Falcon swishing around like some not-even-remotely-hydrodynamic submarine were fun to write. And the idea that waste heat could kill innocent life forms was a powerful one. Science fiction remains a great way to explore realms of speculation that haven't been touched on before.
Brrbrlpp - was that a bodily outcome of too many pizza's and beer???
[SD] That's exactly what it reads like, eh? Another one of Sean's outrageous offerings. See, I would have been reluctant to write something like this, for fear of it being thought ridiculous. And when I first read this I thought this was exactly what would happen, and that the editors would bin it immediately. But surprise surprise, they didn't object and it stayed. I have come to trust Sean's judgements over the years in things like this. But yeah, it does have that bodily explosion type of look to it, doesn't it? Have to feel sorry for the race. They'll probably go down in Star Wars mythology as the race with the most offensive sounding name...
[SW] I was trying to capture the sound of data burbling over a modem, but knew that it did look biological rather than mechanical in origin. I figured it wouldn't get through the first pass, but let it go for the time being as I couldn't think of a better name. I was secretly glad it got by everyone, as I thought it a suitable name for a very strange race.
Have either of you been keeping any tabs on the development of Episode III? If so, what do you think of the plot so far?
[SD] No, I haven't really kept abreast on anything that's been happening. Knew one guy who got to go on the set for a day, and I was jealous as all get out. Maybe I'm pouting because of this. Not going to take an interest cos I didn't get an invite... Yeah, well, it's my party and I'll cry if I want to...
[SW] I'll wait to see it in the cinema, if I can. The odd spoiler comes my way, but I'll try to be strong!
What was the most enjoyable story arc for you to write, ie: Tahiri, Nom Anor, etc...
[SD] Again, Tahiri's for reasons stated above.
[SW] Nom Anor, because bad guys are always the most fun to write. :-)
Who are your favourite authors to read?
[SD] Not sure if you were meaning Star Wars authors here. If so, then I would say Michael Stackpole and Troy Denning. If authors outside of SW, then Samuel Delany, Ian McEwan, Tom Robbins and Doris Lessing... Probably not the authors you might expect from an SF writer (except for Delany, of course), but my reading is fairly diverse. Which harks back to what I said earlier about not wanting to read anymore SW books! It got so that I really, really wanted to read something else, you know? I even went and bought some McEwan books as a carrot to dangle in front of me, the promise of something different to read once the project was finished.
[SW] I've been reading a lot of space opera at the moment, particularly Scott Westerfeld and Al Reynolds. When I get into fantasy mode, as I will in January, I'll be reading books along those lines to get me in the mood. Not sure who it'll be taking in at this stage, but the to-read stack is taller than I am already, and has developed an alarming lean.
What are the most important elements to a story, and why? Ie: character, plot, situation, background, etc...
[SD] Well, the plot is extremely important, obviously, but without the characters then you wouldn't have much of a compelling story. The plot is the stage upon which we strut our characters. They're both integral to a good story. But hey, it's all important, you know? Actually, this is going to sound trite, but the fact is the words are the most important thing for me when I'm reading a book. The books that I have become so immersed in because I have forgotten about the words that created it's world, they're the ones I simply love. As Joyce was reputed to have said, "I've got all the right words, now I just have to get them in the right order." A setting shouldn't come across as the author throwing some words together to describe a grassy bank in a glade where our characters are sitting, it should be natural and transport the readers to the spot. And when a character talks, the reader should feel that this is a real person, and the only way to do that is to get the order of those words just right. Unfortunately, I haven't mastered this yet myself. Which is why I find working with Sean so helpful! :) But I'll get there, I'm sure. And the way you get there is to read the works of good writers and see how they do it...
[SW] This is a really difficult question to answer, but a very important one, so I hope my wild stab at it makes any sense. My feelings are that it's all *equally* important, but at different stages of the process. It's a bit like asking a sprinter which part of the race is most important: getting off the starting blocks, pacing yourself throughout the course, or the final sprint as you come to the finish line? The answer is: they're all important. At the start of working on a novel, for me getting the setting right is crucial. Then comes a vague outline of the plot, as that will fuel opportunities for characters--and vice versa, as the process unfolds. Structure emerges during the writing of a synopsis, and if that isn't right I have real trouble moving forward. Style and actual words are paramount during the first draft phase, as is fleshing out setting and character. Of course, everything that goes into the book at this point--style, structure, character, plot and setting--can change at any point during and after that first draft, but it needs to be there before I get going. Then there are other elements like subtext and theme that can creep in unseen--but that's a whole other issue. :-)
The world has changed dramatically during the past few years: 9/11, Bali Bombings, War on Terror, Religious Fundamentalism, etc... do current world events influence your writing?
[SD] I think any events in our life effect our works to some degree. It's only natural. I don't think we have consciously written anything about those things you've mentioned above, but I think anything that has such a profound effect upon you must impact itself upon your work--whether you be a writer, musician, poet, painter, movie maker, etc. I know in the story of the serial killer I'm currently working on, local news stories are creeping into the text. More in a way of seeing a major story hit the news, then considering the impact this would have upon society, and then making sure your story reflects that change. This is more relevant in more contemporary settings, though, which is what my story is. But for things set long ago in a galaxy far, far away, you have to be more clever about it... Use allegory and metaphor, etc.
[SW] Ditto with what Shane said about the real world inevitably affecting us. Sometimes it's not obvious; other times it's overt. You have to be very careful about the latter for two reasons: (1) it can seem clumsy if poorly handled; and (2) it can date very quickly. The writer's task is to tease out either the universal themes or the timeless aspects of a current event and weave it into a different environment completely. Honestly, I don't think the world or the people who live in it have changed much at all in the last decade, just the fingers we point and the language we use.
Out of the following, which is most important to an author: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopaedia.
[SD] Thesaurus, most definitely. Because God knows I need something to make sure I have a selection of words to use to vary the text. Otherwise you get stuck on using one word to describe something. Like, oh I don't know, having characters 'gesture' all the time... :)
[SW] Can I change Encyclopaedia to Google? If so, I'd probably use that more than the others combined. But all three are very important, as is a style guide and a large personal library.
Sean, have you had any recent opportunities to DJ or write music?
[SD] Writing music, no, alas. And DJing has wound down a little this year, due to the amount of travelling I've been doing. My next gig will probably be at Conflux (the National Australian SF Convention) in Canberra next April. Come along and shake your bootie. :-)
[SW] Have either of you had the chance to read any of the Clone Wars novels? Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover was a huge hit with the fans. Would you like to write in this era of the Star Wars Universe?
Sean, have you had any recent opportunities to DJ or write music?
[SW] Writing music, no, alas. And DJing has wound down a little this year, due to the amount of travelling I've been doing. My next gig will probably be at Conflux (the National Australian SF Convention) in Canberra next April. Come along and shake your bootie. :-)
Have either of you had the chance to read any of the Clone Wars novels? Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover was a huge hit with the fans. Would you like to write in this era of the Star Wars Universe?
[SD] I haven't read any of the books myself, although I would happily do so if it meant getting the opportunity to write in this, or any era of the SW universe!
[SW] Not yet, but it's on my teetering to-read pile.
What did you think of the artwork for your trilogy?
[SD] In all honesty, I liked the first cover, although wasn't overly impressed with the other two. Not that they were bad, just that I didn't felt they captured the feel of the books. Then again, what was on the cover of book 1 didn't actually have anything to do with the story, but I just liked it for some reason.
[SW] My favourite cover related to the Star Wars books is on the SF Book Club hardcover omnibus edition. It's a tasty blend of the first two books and has pride of place on my brag shelf at the moment. Jon Foster does great work.
In your trilogy, you make reference of 'trinary'. Can you elaborate on this concept?
[SD] Sean? You're better at these things.
[SW] This is one of those things that I was *sure* already existed in the canon but turned out to be a figment of my imagination. It's like binary but with three digits instead of two. I must've dreamt it, I guess.
Each of the books in your trilogy was broken up into 'segments' rather than traditional chapters. Why did you choose this method?
[SD] I remember Sean saying he wanted something to set these books apart from the others, on an obvious level. The visual difference with our books with the absence of chapters is fairly obvious, and whether they liked it or not, people still talked about it, so I think it achieved what it set out to do. But on another level it feels right for the type of books they are. The SW movies jump from story thread to story thread seamlessly, and as we were writing the books it felt that the method we had chosen seemed--to us, anyway--to capture this best. I mean, the chapters are still there, they just aren't indicated as chapters. But if in the mind's eye a person imagines the words 'chapter 1,2,3' etc when they come to a break in the paragraph, then I'm sure they'll be able to find a place to put the book down for the night.
[SW] Terry Pratchett uses a similar technique, and I find it very engaging. Chapter breaks do just that: they break the flow. I wanted our novels to be hard to set down, so figured it was time to give this technique a go. Some people didn't like it; some people did. Experimentation is fun in its own right, I reckon. :-)
Have you seen any of the previews of the Clone Wars cartoon series? What are your thoughts? Would you like to see this format adapted to the Expanded Universe novels?
[SD] No, I haven't seen any of these. Not a great lover of cartoons, although I know they have their place. But I'd say they will eventually find their way into the EU novels. Only a matter of time...
[SW] I'd love to see some of the EU novels made in any visual form. Some of the graphic novels would work really well, and so would books like _I, Jedi_. I cant think of anything more exciting than an NJO series. That would be awesome, on a fannish as well as professional level. There are many scenes in Force Heretic that I'd love to watch.
There have been a number of Star Wars novels cancelled. From the old Bantam line (Heart of the Jedi, Legacy of Doom), to the NJO (the Knightfall trilogy) and the Clone Wars (Escape from Dagu). How would you feel if you completed a novel, only to find it was cancelled?
[SD] Very frustrated. But hey, the ideas can always be incorporated into another project. We were half way through writing book 2 of the Cogal series (book 1 was "The Unknown Soldier") when the series was cancelled. Sean suggested we revamp book 1, rework what we had of book 2, and just restructure the whole thing and try and resell it. We did that, managed to sell it overseas. That was the Evergence trilogy, obviously, which ultimately resulted in us getting the Star Wars deal. So, I guess if you want to be optimistic about these things, everything happens for a reason. Or to put another way, shit happens, but sometimes it might just happen to your advantage...
[SW] My degree of frustration would depend on whether I was paid to write the book or not. I can't afford to waste a few months of my life unpaid, these days, as writing is my sole income. As Shane says, the ideas would eventually find a home, whether the book appeared in its original form or not, or I'd come up with entirely new ideas. Ideas are as common as muck; hours in the day, however, are in very short supply.
After the conclusion of 'The Unifying Force', there is still a number of relationships that are still unresolved, such as Danni Quee and Jacen Solo / Jaina Solo and Jagged Fel. Where do you envision these relationships going?
[SD] Danni and Jacen, nowhere; Jaina and Jag, Somewhere--probably the altar on some distant planet ringed with tremulous moons and star spangled maroon skies... And they shall give rise to a whole new generation of SW kids. The sad thing is, Luke will probably still be around, fighting evil on crutches and a walking frame... :)
[SW] This is purely speculation, of course. We have no idea what's actually going to happen. I kinda liked the pairing of Jacen and Danni, as it's signalled right in the very first book of the series. If it doesn't go anywhere, that might be a shame.
Now that the NJO has concluded, who do you think that the TRUE Force Heretic is? Tahiri, Jacen Solo, Nom Anor or Onimi? Personally, I felt that throughout your trilogy, the Force Heretic was Tahiri, however, the revelations of 'The Unifying Force' strongly point to Onimi. What are your thoughts?
[SD] I always saw it as Nom Anor. Be interesting to hear what you say on this, Sean...
[SW] It's never been any one person for me. It's always been a mix of Nom Anor, Jacen Solo, and Tahiri Veila. The fact that we can now add Onimi to this list makes the title even better, as it shows we've tapped into a productive thematic vein.
How do little slip-ups like the Widowmaker appearing in two places at once occur? ;) If you need more proof readers, I would be the first to volunteer!
[SD] This is the strangest thing, because these books are read by so many people and yet these glitches still get through. I can't explain why it happens. Certainly from the writer's point of view you stop seeing the words after so many read throughs. In your mind you know what's supposed to be there, so I guess that's what you read. But with this, you'd imagine that someone would have picked it up on first read through. But this happens all the time. Seriously. With "The Unknown Soldier" we had a number of people reading, and the night before it went to the printers we were sat at the editor's place going over the manuscript. When the books arrived from the publisher's, Sean picked up a copy, rifled through it, stopped at a page, and said, "Oh, damn, there's a typo!" Weird, but funny at the same time. On the night there would have been no way imaginable that any of us would have spotted that, and yet at a glance Sean spots it within seconds.
[SW] I can only sigh and say that mistakes do happen. I hate it, but it's a fact of life. You didn't see the many other mistakes we *did* pick up. :-)
Sean, Shane - one of your first creative efforts was linked to role playing games (the precursor to Evergence); would you like to be involved with the Star Wars RPG?
[SD] I think I'd like to be involved with Star Wars in any capacity at this stage. Just great being involved in something as awesome as the SW universe. However, having said that, have to also say that I would like for there to be some creative freedom involved in the process as well. Writing the books we were kind of restrictive in what we could and couldn't do, which was fine, because when you're writing for an already established universe these are the kinds of restrictions you're forced to live by. But if there were even more restrictions imposed from the role playing people as well as the publishers, then it could get very frustrating indeed... This is, of course, if you were meaning would we like to write some novels based on the RPGs... If it meant just being involved in the games themselves, then I'd have to say no, because I know squat about them...
[SW] I'm always keen for fresh challenges, and writing for an RPG isn't something I've tried yet. It doesn't matter so much to me what the role would be, as long as it's a new experience. I can always turn down a second chance, if I didn't like it. So bring it on, I say. :-)
If you had the choice - would you choose genocide or appeasement with the Yuuzhan Vong, if you yourself were faced with destruction?
[SD] Oo-er, ending on a deep and meaningful one, eh? Hmmm, I guess I'll go with the quote from Princess Bride when Wes is confronted by Prince Humperdinck and told to surrender. With his arm around his gal, and a sword held out in the direction of the Prince, clearly outnumbered by the Prince's guards, Wes barks, "Death first!" Hear, hear...
[SW] That's a hard one. Part of me thinks that death is pointless, that living to fight another day is always better than being needlessly slaughtered. But if appeasement meant being enslaved or having my race and human biologically corrupted, I might think twice. Here's hoping we never have to make that choice.
Thankyou Sean and Shane for once again taking the time out of your busy schedules to talk with TF.N Books!