It’s day one of Dragon*Con! Nanci, Bria, Maggie, and myself are at the first big Expanded Universe panel (in costume) to cover all the fun. Aaron Allston, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, and Mike Stackpole are on hand. Highlights below the cut!
Q: Why kill Thrawn?
Zahn: You need some closure. If the villain gets away, you don’t get that. That and I wasn’t sure I wanted other authors messing with Thrawn.
Q: What’s the key to writing good dogfight scenes?
Allston: I don’t write dogfighting scenes, and that’s not a joke. What I write are life-and-death conflicts between characters that happen to be surrounded with expensive pieces of expensive machinery. It’s not a dogfight, it’s a fight to the death that is important to the people involved.
Stackpole: I played a lot of X-Wing and TIE-Fighter. Read a lot of pilot biographies and watched a lot of documentaries partly to learn the maneuvers, but mostly to know what it’s like to write a character that’s in a squadron. This played into Wedge’s characterization. He would not interact with any new pilots until they survived five flights. It’s why Wedge and Tycho are good buddies, but Wedge is distanced from everyone else. Like Aaron said, it’s characters. It’s people.
Q: Will there be more X-Wing books?
Allston: No formal plans yet, but there were conversations at Celebration VI in which ideas were pitched to Lucasfilm and Del Rey that were well received. At this point, it’s hashing out the money and contract details, but the wheels are turning.
Q: Who is your favorite Wraith?
Allston: When it’s time to have fun, it’s Wes Janson. When it’s ethical time, it’s Wedge. When it’s looking to the future, it’s Face Loran.
Q: Favorite books you’ve written?
Zahn: For sheer fun, probably Scoundrels
Stackpole: I, Jedi
Allston: I don’t have enough emotional distance from Mercy Kill yet, but right now it’s still Starfighters of Adumar.
Q: What difficulties do you face working within an established intellectual property like the Star Wars universe?
KJA: If you’re a professional writers, you know the rules. You stay within the rules. If you can’t be creative within these parameters, you can’t write in these universes.
Stackpole: You look for a corner or a place in the universe where other people haven’t played too much so you can carve out a niche and know your story will fit. As long as you’ve got a good story with good character growth, you’re in good shape.
Zahn: We’ve got Leland Chee to help us keep tabs on all of the continuity.
Allston: To echo what Mike said, it’s important to find your little corner with characters. For my previous books, Ben Skywalker allowed for some new ground to be carved out.
Q: What happened with Jacen?
Zahn: Well he was fine when I left him at 10 years old
KJA: Well he was fine when I left him at 15
Stackpole: He was set up to be Luke’s heir in NJO
Allston: We knew someone was going to fall to the Dark Side in the Legacy era, but it wasn’t settled that it would be Jacen until later into the planning process. After Traitor and Anakin’s death, it made sense for Jacen to be the most viable candidate for a character falling to the Dark Side, but even then it wasn’t decided that he would die. It was a gradual development of the decision rather than planned out from the beginning.
Q: If you could have picked someone to portray your characters on the trading cards, who would you pick to portray them.
Zahn: I have NO idea. I don’t see my characters in terms of face, but in terms of characterization.
Stackpole: I never cast Corran Horn in my mind, but for my money Tim and I were GREAT as Karrde and Corran.
Allston: Casper van Dien was sort of who I envisioned as Face Loran. I would have loved to have been Warlord Zsinj.
KJA: I don’t picture characters in my mind. They’re entities in my mind. I don’t see pictures of them in my head.
Q: When are we going to see more of the Empire of the Hand?
Zahn: Whenever I can pitch a story they’ll take. I thought there was room in NJO initially, but things got crowded.
Q: Whose idea was it to kill Mara Jade?
Zahn: Not mine, and off to Aaron!
Allston: The decision was an accumulation of decisions rather than a single decision. The whole thing began with a little detail I pitched, but I didn’t imagine it would lead to Mara’s death. Jacen was to commit an act of sacrifice, but unfortunately that spiraled out of control and culminated with someone suggesting killing Mara. It wasn’t me, but I will not say who made the suggestion. Some of us were unhappy with it, some of us were happy with it.
Q: What’s a next generation character you would love to write a story of or a story featuring?
Stackpole: Next generation of Fels! (Audience approves)
Zahn: The Horns have good potential, but you can bring in characters easily that would thoroughly fun to write.
Allston: There’s a couple ladies with the surname Antilles I’d love to showcase.
Q: Were there any particular characters you picked up from a previous author that were difficult to write?
Allston: Even though Mike and I have been working together for years, I had real difficulties writing Corran Horn. It took me years and changes in Horn’s life and circumstances before I could. I think it was because I identified him so closely with Mike.
Zahn: This is why I tend to avoid using other people’s characters, because I DON’T want to get them wrong. The person I’ve probably used the most is Kell Tainer in Scoundrels, and I’ve had to had lots of conversations with Aaron to get him right.
Stackpole: I’ve used Mara Jade in I, Jedi as well as Karrde and Thrawn in some things, but the key with working with Tim’s characters is getting a sense of what Tim sees with a character.
KJA: Our biggest problem was more of a logistical one. Rebecca Moesta and I were writing set many years after Luke and Mara got married. Well, we knew they were married, the readers didn’t because it hadn’t been written yet! So when Mara shows up at the Academy on Yavin IV, it was for conjugal visits.
Zahn: And to clarify, the authors knew that Mara and Luke were going to be married in 1993 or 1994.
In a surprise, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta (who was present in the room) were just inducted into the Rebel Legion. Rebecca seems awfully moved.
Q: How does it feel to go back in the chronology after pushing the timeline forward?
Zahn: It’s in many ways easier between A New Hope and an Empire Strikes Back. You’ve got a starting and ending point for all the major characters, I just have to interpolate where the characters are at that point in time. Chewbacca is there. Mara is there. And alive.
Allston: I think that once you’ve established a character, if you’ve written them to a standard you accept, you can go back to that specific mindset. I had three flashback sequences in Mercy Kill where I was able to do this, to go back and revisit different iterations of a character.
Q: What are some of your favorite pitch ideas that were turned down?
Zahn: It’s only temporary rejection! We’ll get them published!
KJA: We were pitching an idea where there’s a big arc that everyone’s involved with. I came up with a megaseries pitch that featured a large-scale war. Eventually I liked this idea so much I kept it for myself.
Zahn: Before Del Rey got the contract, Mike and I came up with something we called Project Montana. Ultimately this fell short when Bantam’s contract lapsed but ideas were used later in NJO.
Allston: I was approached to write the last novel in the Bantam contract. One idea I had was what became Starfighters of Adumar. Another was a Han and Leia novel in which Han learns how to cope in Leia’s political environment. Ultimately I went with Starfighters because I wanted to set Wedge on the eventual path we saw in the Union comic book.
Stackpole: The only thing I pitched that didn’t get picked up was a six issue comic for Dark Horse that would have fit between Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future.