CVI Interview with Timothy Zahn

September 4, 2012 at 7:40 am | Posted in Celebration, Interview, Star Wars Books | 2 Comments
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Due to popular demand, we bring you our Star Wars Celebration VI interview with author Timothy Zahn covering his upcoming novel Scoundrels as well as his timeless characters like Mara and Thrawn. The audio didn’t come out the best, so we went ahead and provided a transcript as well.

Interview Transcript

What do you think is responsible for the enduring love for Thrawn?

TZ: I guess probably that he’s a clever villain.  People like reading about clever, interesting opponents to our heroes.  People who are able to outthink, outmaneuver as well as outfight. Ultimately the heroism of the hero is measured by the villainy or power of the villain and with Thrawn I wanted something different than Force using Vader or Palpatine.  Somebody who doesn’t have Luke’s Force Powers, but can run him around in a maze whenever he really wants to.

Now while his death is very well done, do you wish at times you’d never killed him?

TZ:The main reason, well two main reasons I killed of Thrawn.  First of all if the villain escapes there’s no closure.  Vader escaping from the Battle of Yavin, we all knew “Okay, the saga’s not over yet.”  Lucas didn’t know he was going to have the ability to make the next two movies but still you knew it was not closed yet.  The villain’s still there.  I wanted these books to have a closure, end this section of the New Republic history.  And secondly if Thrawn escapes, realistically the New Republic is doomed because he will eventually beat them, and I knew that’s not really what the fans were really looking for in Star Wars.  

Now you have said that if ever he was needed for some reason they could bring back one of his clones, and lately Paul Kemp has been doing a lot of stuff with clones.  Have you ever felt the need to do another clone story?

TZ: Not really.  I mean the idea of clones lends itself to cheating as in the comic book thing; you never kill off a villain. No matter how bad it looks for Dr. Octopus you know he’ll be back eventually.  The ability to make clones means again that closure thing.  If you can bring back a clone of your villain or a clone of your hero, it diminishes it in some sense, so I would rather have not had the clone things at all.  However since George had already talked about the Clone Wars it’s clear that technology exists and you can’t simply ignore it.  The best you can do is try to use it in a way that’s not cheating to the readers.  With that said, you know there are things you might be able to do that would be interesting.  It wouldn’t just be bringing back the villain or hero, and if I came to something like that, it might be something to think about.

How do you say Pelleaon?

TZ: Pelleon or Paylleon.  You notice a great vowel shift in Star Wars.  You’ve got Land-o, Landau, Hawn, Han, Leeia, Laya.  Clearly whether it was intended that way or not you can see there are differences in pronunciation throughout the galaxy.  It’s actually a nice little touch.

How does it feel to be the creator of two of the most universally popular EU characters: Mara and Thrawn?

TZ: Oh, it feels exciting, gratifying and humbling all at the same time.  A writer never knows which of his characters or books is going to capture readers’ imaginations, and I tried to make Thrawn and Mara as memorable and real and as emotionally connecting as I could.  But there’s no guarantee that that’s actually going to work so it’s always a surprise and really cool when something like that happens.

Now Scoundrels is set to come out in December; it’s been touted as a Han Solo-Ocean’s Eleven story.  Stepping away from Thrawn and Mara, how fresh did this story feel?  Was it a nice change of pace?

TZ: It’s a nice change of pace.  I talked about clones being easy to cheat with.  That also happens with Force powers.  It’s sometimes a little easy to use a Force power to get out of whatever problem you’ve got.  Scoundrels has no Force users.  It’s got normal people and it’s a little bit different sort of thing because it’s a heist book.  It’s very much, as you said, an Ocean’s Eleven.  In fact my original title was Solo’s Eleven before we changed it to Scoundrels.  Heist books and movies tend to be puzzle box type of things: how are we going to arrange everything to get through these defenses, this impenetrable safe or whatever, and I like doing puzzle box stories. I like the manipulations, the setups, trying to have the villain and the heroes equally clever except the heroes are a little bit more clever so they have the edge, so it’s a bit of a departure.  

The other thing we were going for because it’s set right after A New Hope all you need to know are the classic Star Wars movies.  You don’t need to know any of the other Expanded Universe.  Han, Chewie and Lando are the three main characters.  Most of the rest are original characters.  Winter has shown up in some of the EU books, and Kell Tainer has shown up in some of the EU books, but you don’t need to know anything about them.  If you don’t know their names, fine; you’ll get introduced to them here.

Now one thing that shows up in your works a lot is the use of new alien species and new worlds.  People have noticed that and said it makes the universe seem larger.  Is that intentional?

TZ: Oh yeah.  George did the same thing in the movies.  If you look and count how many you come across in the whole series, how many worlds you actually see, it’s really not as many as you think it is because we’ve got throwaway lines.  We’ve got talking about Dantooine, we’re talking about Ord Mantell, we talk about several of them so it gives the illusion that the stage is bigger than is actually shown.  And that’s again the sort of the thing you can do even more cheaply since you don’t have to have a special effects department in a book.  You can throw out other planets, you can visit them briefly to give this sense of size in the galaxy and that’s part of the excitement of Star Wars.  It’s such a huge place to work and play.

In your opinion who’s the funniest Star Wars character?

TZ: Oh the funniest has to be Threepio, although if you want to talk about witty, Han is pretty good up there, but Luke and Leia and all of them get some good zingers every once in awhile.  I have a suspicion that Artoo is a lot wittier than we think.  We’ll never know.

Kell Tainer shows up in Scoundrels and Aaron Allston has remarked that he’s kind of sorry that no one has used his characters he created in Wraith Squadron, so what drew you to pulling Kell Tainer out of the toy box?

TZ: I needed an explosives expert/pilot/someone who knows something about droids, and I wanted to bring in someone from the EU if I could that wouldn’t be confusing to people who hadn’t read any other books.  So I looked through the Wookieepedia article on Wraith Squadron, narrowed it down to Kell, and at a convention I asked Aaron if these characteristics would work for a young Kell, and he seemed to think it would.  We discussed a little bit of what I was going to do with him, and again it’s just kind of a first appearance type of thing.  He would go on to be in Wraith Squadron so we’ve sent the book to Aaron.  I don’t if he ever had the chance to read the Kell parts, but I know if he did, he hasn’t had any feedback or said I got anything wrong.  Hopefully I didn’t get anything wrong.  But just kind of a link there for those who know the character, but again something that’s not distracting to newcomers.

There’s going to be some new faces in Scoundrels.  Do you think any of them will become fan favorites?

TZ: As I said about Mara and Thrawn, I have no idea.  I hope so.  There’s some good characters there, there’s some people who should capture the imagination, and should connect to, but I would not ever suggest that “Oh, yes this person’s going to.”  I will hope or keep my fingers crossed; sometime in January I’ll start getting the feedback.

So what’s the best thing you’ve seen at Celebration VI so far?

TZ: You want me to narrow it to one (laughs)?

Well, you can say several.

TZ: We just did the Rancho Obi-Wan experience; that was great fun.  I don’t know, just seeing everything, all the Star Wars fans.  It’s kind of after you’ve done a lot of conventions you start, at least I start looking around and something Star Wars will catch my eye, some person in a Star Wars outfit or whatever.  Well here that’s an easy game to win cause everything is Star Wars.  It’s just nice to kind of occasionally just do the whole Star Wars thing.  See the stormtroopers, see the Leias and Hans, the costumers, all the cool merchandise that we can’t afford all of it unfortunately or couldn’t get it home if we did.  It’s fun to do this.

In telling a story, what do you do to keep it fun?

TZ: Well, it has to be fun for me.  If it’s not fun for me, it’s not going to be fun for the readers.  I just try to be enthusiastic, excited about what I’m writing, and generally that’s not a problem even on occasional books where I’ve started in with “Oh, I don’t know, I’m not really excited about this book.”  I’ll work through the outline, work through the details, and start building the characters, and invariably I start getting excited, “Okay, this is going to be a fun story to tell.”  Some stories just pop right out of the box, “Oh this is going to be fun.”  Scoundrels is one of those.  But if it’s fun for me, it’ll be fun, I hope, for everybody else.

Now what part of the writing process do you find hardest?

TZ: Hardest is the whole thing of translating my vision into words.  I generally have an idea of what I want to do, and then getting that out so that other people can see what’s in my head.  Making the whole thing coherent, making it all hold together, making it logical, putting in all the foreshadowing and the pieces the readers will need because the reader needs to be able to solve the problem when the characters do.

Now is that all during the outlining process or afterwards?

TZ: It starts in the outlining.  Major stuff is fixed in the outlining.  Some of the pieces, if I’m not sure where they’ll go, I’ll work out those in the final writing of it.  A lot of pieces, I come up with those later on.

What part do you find easiest to write?

TZ: Well once I’ve got the whole idea and everything…actually dialog is one of the easiest things for me. It used to be the hardest when I first started out, but now it’s one of the easiest. Especially when I know exactly what needs to be said in this conversation.

Now when you go and write stories whether it’s Star Wars or not Star Wars, do you ever try and challenge yourself with something different?

TZ: Well, Scoundrels is a little bit different, again thievery sort of thing.  Different in what sense?  I mean I try to tell an exciting story where the heroes are up against a big problem, they solve it after going through all sorts of difficulties on the way.

My mind’s blanking on the book.  The one where it’s told from a first person perspective, the guy has a ship…

TZ: Icarus Hunt?  Okay not a Star Wars book.  


TZ: Okay, well different not just Star Wars books but different books…yeah, I do things a little bit differently, with the Conqueror’s Trilogy, the first one is human point of view, second is the alien point of view, and third they go back and forth. First person books are a little bit different because I don’t get to switch points of views, everything that’s seen is seen from one character’s point of view. That can be a little limiting, and it can also be more challenging. So yeah, and playing with ideas in short stories is also fun to do.

So do you like changing it up in between projects?

TZ: Yeah, changing it up, trying things a little bit different. I wouldn’t want to do Star Wars  exclusively because I know I’d get burnt out and then it stops being fun and then it stops feeling fun for the reader. And I wouldn’t want to do a whole series of Cobra books back to back. One Cobra every other year, a Star Wars every two, three, four years, and I can stay fresh on whichever project I’m on next.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TZ: No I think we about covered it.

Once again we’d like to thank Mr. Zahn for taking the time to answer our questions. Scoundrels will be out on December 26 in hardcover, digital, and audio formats. You can check out Tim’s Facebook page to find his latest event updates and future conventions schedules.

Posted By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.


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