Goodreads Star Wars Discussion

October 6, 2013 at 8:11 am | Posted in Books, Events, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , ,

As part of Star Wars Reads Day, Goodreads hosted a Star Wars discussion online with the participation of several Star Wars authors. You can check out the full discussion here, or scan below for our edited transcript.

Hi everyone, Hans Jenssen here. Richard Chasemore and I will be dipping into this conversation today and if anyone has any questions about illustrating Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections we’re happy to answer. Ryder is your man if you want to know about the writing, although we worked very closely together for the project. He’s really good to work with and mighty knowledgeable about Star Wars! Basic facts about the Cross-Sections illustrations: Most of the vehicles took between 200-300 hours to complete. Some of the locations artworks took over 600 hours. We work at home and use traditional media for these, paper, pen, ink and paint. Want to know more? Just ask!

How long did the cover art take?

Hans Jenssen: I never kept an exact track of most of the artworks, but my best guess for the AT-AT would be about 250 hours. This would have included a separate small cutaway of the “head” which I think is in the book although I haven’t actually seen a real copy yet.

Do you base it off what’s seen in the movies and is the rest all from your imagination?

Hans Jenssen: Yes, anything you see in the movies is drawn and painted as accurately as possible right down to getting the battle damage and paint scratches right on a particular vehicle. But anything you don’t see in the films is designed by Rich and me with input from the author, and approved by Lucasfilm before it goes to print.

For Hans and Richard: Really great work! I enjoy looking at the plumbing of fictional things, often literally! So I have to ask the question I ask most often in real life- where’s the bathroom? And do you ever think, when you’re finished- Gosh, what about the (something important)? I forgot to put one of (those vital things) in there! If so, do you always have enough time to make the correction? Keep up the awesome work! 

Hans Jenssen: Great question…Where’s the bathroom? Well, there was a general consensus when we did most of the books that we left bathrooms up to the imagination of readers. I did sketch one in on the Millennium Falcon on the original sketches, but it didn’t make it into the book. I can reveal however, that in the Complete Locations book, the Lars Homestead spread does show the bathroom, which as far as I know is the first, and possibly only bathroom visible in the Star Wars Universe so far. Do we ever forget something vital? To be honest, not usually. There are several brains at work on these illustrations all working to prevent that sort of thing from happening. The authors we’ve worked with and people at Lucasfilm like Leland Chee are a massive safety net to make sure us illustrators don’t make silly mistakes. And thanks for your kind words! The Complete Locations of Star Wars: Inside the Worlds of the Entire Star Wars Saga

Richard Chasemore: So usually there is a tiny part I forget to paint and weeks later I remember it in the middle of the night grr the bathroom has been contentious point but it was finally added to the blockade runner, Hans will be able to tell the story as it was his art! There might be facilities on Slave 1 if you look hard enough ;-)

Hans Jenssen: I don’t remember putting a bathroom in the Blockade Runner….. Don’t think there’s one in any of my vehicles. I will go back and have another look though!

Simon Beecroft: I was the editor on most of Hans and Richard’s Cross-sections books for DK and I remember that we used to discuss the issue of bathrooms, and in fact they did put one into one of the cross-sections they did for their locations books (the companions to the vehicles. Books) but I forget which one! There was also a shower!

Hey. I want to be a member of this group. I’m a huge fan of Star wars. So what’s new?

Richard Chasemore: We have completed four new arts, including Luke’s land speeder and my favourite speeder the 74Z, we also completed the medical frigate and another cruiser :-)

Do you guys do sketches first before diving into a cross-section for a particular vehicle/location? Also, how do cross-sections for Star Wars differ from other cross-section work you have done? (ie. is there more research involved, it is easier, etc) 

Richard Chasemore: Great questions, we do quick sketches to explore angles and how we can cut away the vehicle or location to show the maximum amount of info! We will be gaining reference and information all the while, Lucasfilm will be feeding us information and approving each stage as we tighten up the art. DK of course and the author are all involved as page design, back stories and the holy grail, the film itself all need to be correct.

The real world arts are easier in a lot of ways as the reference is usually available but not as fun, there is no question that doing real world art has helped us make out Star Wars art much better :-)

Hans Jenssen: Yes, all the artworks are preceded by many sketches from tiny thumbnails through several stages of drawing, always getting more detailed and accurate along the way. Where Star Wars differs from real world cutaways is that of course we get to make up cool stuff! We get to design anti-gravity generators and laser power couplings and repulsorlift projectors etc etc… That’s really fun!

One I just want to say you’re pretty awesome if I do say so myself, two are they any plans for a sequel to Kenobi? I think that a collection of either short stories that take place turning the gap of the 19 years, or another novel (or two) would be wonderful. 

John Jackson Miller: Hey, thanks! I’d certainly be interested in writing more about Obi-Wan as he evolves into Crazy Old Ben — Kenobi was a lot of fun to write. There’s a lot going on in the Star Wars universe right now, so it’s just a making sure it makes sense for everyone involved — but sure, I’d enjoy writing more. There are many, many years on Tatooine left to show!

Thank you for writing Knight Errant. I haven’t read many Star Wars books, but so far this is my absolute favorite. 

John Jackson MIller: Thanks! Writing the Star Wars: Knight Errant novel and the three graphic novels (starting with Aflame was very fun to do — being able to tell one story across two media gave us some interesting opportunities. Hope to write more of Kerra Holt’s adventures one day.

Was the inspiration John for The Lost Tribe of the Sith novellas?

John Jackson Miller: I was asked to write a history of the villains from the Fate of the Jedi novels written by Aaron Allston, Christie Golden and Troy Denning. For the planet itself, I drew ideas from a number of places, including some historical stories.

I have written production notes about every story in the book on my website, which get into a lot more detail on where the ideas came from.

How much freedom are you given by the Star Wars overlords, with characters, events and plots? Have you ever had a plot struck down or edited out? 

John Jackson Miller: They’ve been very easy to work with. In nine years I’ve never really had a problem. They provide guidance all along, so there’s little chance we’ll bump into something else that’s planned elsewhere.

Hey. I want to be a member of this group. I’m a huge fan of Star wars. So what’s new?

John Jackson Miller: My latest hardcover novel, Star Wars: Kenobi, released a month ago; it deals with Obi-Wan’s first few weeks on Tatooine after the end of Episode III as he learns how to be a hermit.

There are also new comics, novels, and books about Star Wars coming out all the time.Hope you’ll check them out!

Live to be a hermit. I never thought about that. Obi Wan wasn’t really gregarious but he wasn’t an introvert either. He had to make a big transformation, didn’t he? And it it was all to watch Luke from afar and be known as crazy old Ben. That would be fun to write. Lucky. 

John Jackson Miller: It certainly helped me that I was writing the novel over the winter in a tiny Wisconsin town — I felt the isolation to a degree. And like him, I had moved from the big city — a lot of lessons he learns about life in a small town and at a much slower pace are ones that I had to learn myself.

John Jackson Miller: Okay, folks — back from my Madison bookstore event. Great turnout — special thanks to Barnes & Noble and to the 501st and Rebel Legion. I’ll try to catch up with some of the questions now…

Would you view Annileen as a love interest for Obi-wan, on the same scale as Siri and Satine? Because I wouldn’t but some others might. What do you think?

John Jackson Miller: Well, I don’t want to get into spoilers on this. But definitely it was a different kind of relationship than those others, and we find Annileen herself evaluating what she thinks of it in the story. The rest is left to the reader’s interpretation.

I think in a lifetime most people have several different kinds of relationships, and not all of them are necessarily just alike or reciprocal. This is simply a different kind of relationship than those others.

I loved Kenobi. I’ve read the book and also listened to it narrated in the audiobook. I was wondering how the authors (everyone willing to comment) got started. I am an aspiring Star Wars writer, I’m sure like many of us here. Is there a direction we should take to begin? Or a certain place to contact? Thank you very much. 

John Jackson Miller: I wrote my own stories and comics from childhood. What got me writing professionally was journalism — that was my degree in college, and then I worked for a living editing magazines about the comics and games industries before I ever submitted any stories anywhere.

Folks can find out more about my path here — I also have a “behind-the-scenes” page on my site there about most every book/comic I have ever written, which can also provide some background. Just follow the links to comics and books when you’re there.

I was NOT impressed with Kerra Holt or her insubordination but that’s just my opinion.

John Jackson Miller: That’s fair. Insubordination is, of course, central to Knight Errant and the graphic novels: for those unfamiliar with this ancient time period, the Republic has officially given up on the Outer Rim, leaving it to the Sith Lords who are warring with each other. The Jedi have reluctantly agreed. Kerra Holt has spent her entire life training under a high-profile Jedi dissident so that she can reject that policy and return home to take up the battle.

So, no, she never bought into the official line. It’s her case that after a thousand years of darkness, the Jedi aren’t acting as Jedi should by going on the offensive. It’s only when she goes out on her own that she realizes the best course is somewhere in between. There really is no fighting the Sith in this period, but sitting it out isn’t the right path either. The responsible Jedi act is to get as many people out of the way of the battling Sith lords as possible. That really is one of the messages of the Knight Errant books, I think.

I want to start off and say a warm, hearty, “THANK YOU” for the Lost Tribe series. I haven’t enjoy a Star Wars novel liked that in so long! WOW! Do you have plans to continue the Lost Tribe series, either in comic book form or in novel form?

John Jackson Miller: We did pick up events about one year after the end of Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories in the graphic novel from Dark Horse, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith – Spiral — that is as far as we have gotten in that continuity thus far. Certainly there are a lot of years left to cover and I have some ideas, but I took time away to write the Kenobi novel and my recent Overdraft: The Orion Offensive book, and in the meantime, we found out about the sequel movies that will be on the horizon.

So I’d like to get back to it, but am not entirely sure when that will happen: the good news is that as with all these different parts of the timeline, it’s possible to come back to them at a later time. It was something like 11 years between X-WING novels — hopefully we won’t have to wait so long.

And glad you enjoyed the book!

Kenobi 2???

John Jackson Miller: See my answer above about the sequels. It really is a matter of scheduling and fitting in with whatever plans Lucasfilm has in the works. I certainly would be interested — Tatooine was a nice place to spend the winter!

How many times have you watch every movie, a true Star Wars fan would know that. Please be specific.

John Jackson Miller: I generally know times I saw each movie in the theater: probably four times each for Star Wars and Empire, two or three for Jedi and some of the others. When Star Wars came on HBO back in… 1983, was it? … I kept a running count of how many times I watched it then — and stopped counting at 25!

Who is your favorite character of all time from SW?

John Jackson Miller: I’ve always been a huge Lando fan. Never have written him, though.

But the experience writing Kenobi may have changed my favorite. It was enlightening seeing the galaxy through his “point of view.”

How much research into real-world history and mythology do you do before writing a new Star Wars story?

John Jackson Miller: I draw on some. I have a degree in comparative politics, and a lot of Knight Errant is about life under different kinds of totalitarian systems. There are echoes of North Korea and Turkmenistan’s regimes in Lord Daiman’s realm, for example.

And then there are some little touches — I named all the ships in a particular Republic ship class in Star Wars Omnibus: Knights of the Old Republic – Volume 1 after ships from a British ship class during the Napoleonic Wars.

Obviously we never completely copy real-world events, but certainly history is full of events that would have parallels in the context of a galactic war. We take inspiration where we find it.

Again, I suggest checking some of the notes pages on my website (the parent page for the comics series is here) — I talk on some of those pages about real-world connections to various stories.

When you first got the green light from George Lucas to write a Star Wars novel did you just totally freak out? Would you be in the middle of something and think,”You know what? I’m gonna write a Star Wars novel!” Did you just want to grab strangers in the street and shout it out of your car window while you blew down Main Street? 

John Jackson Miller: I had just written Iron Man for a year at Marvel before I got my first Star Wars gig, so I had already gotten some of my freak-out out of my system. But yeah, you never really forget how cool it is to be playing in this sandbox. It’s hard work, but it’s fun.

As writers of Star Wars fiction what three elements do you think are crucial to have in order to make your story feel like a “Star Wars” story?

John Jackson Miller: Everyone’s mileage may vary, but here’s my list:

1) Camaraderie — a lot comes from the fun of the characters interacting. The heroes in Star Wars may bicker, but they’re ultimately friends and family.

2) Some kind of challenge that seems far above or beyond the abilities of the hero, which causes him or her to reach beyond limits; that’s really what Luke does in the beginning.

3) Humor. Go back and watch Star Wars and count the jokes in the Death Star escape — there’s a funny line almost between every blaster shot. I really try to capture that whenever I can.

Note that I didn’t list lightsaber duels, blasters fights, or space battles in there — those are part of the setting and inform the story world, to be sure, but not every story has to check the box on every one of those things. Kenobi certainly doesn’t — there’s no space battles, and there are only two lightsabers on all of Tatooine and one is in Obi-Wan’s trunk! But it definitely still deals, I think, in all of the character things which make a story feel like Star Wars. That’s always everyone’s goal.

How long did it take you to write Knight Errant?

John Jackson Miller: The novel? About ten weeks. That’s turned out to be about par for me on later books.

How’s the Star Trek book going?

John Jackson Miller: It’s written! There’s no page on it yet here at Goodreads, but they have just listed it on Amazon for a Feb. 24 release here. It’s a novella, e-book only, focusing on Will Riker, captain of the Titan: title is Star Trek Titan: Absent Enemies. More about that in the future — any updates to my website should appear here on my Goodreads feed.

Ten weeks? Goodness that’s a short amount of time. I am very impressed. I don’t have a question but I just wanted to say that I own your other Star Wars books and I can’t wait to pick them up and read them. I just have to go home first. Also can I thank everyone for answering questions because I’ve really enjoyed reading your answers. 

John Jackson Miller: Hey, thanks. And I should say that ten weeks is just the actual writing — the plot synopsis and then all the proofreading rounds add more time.

Did you have free range on what you could write? Were you given strict guidelines you had to adhere to? Were there areas that were taboo and untouchable?

John Jackson MIller: There weren’t any specific instructions — I really just tried to keep the interactions to what had previously appeared in places like Ryder’s Star Wars: The Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I wouldn’t have wanted to go much beyond that — it gets hard to accept Obi-Wan as “keeping his distance” if he’s in the Lars’ backyard all the time!

When you wrote Knights of the Old Republic the issues were released over the course of four years. Did you have a master plan for the main storyline that you didn’t waver much from, or were you very flexible and changed your mind often as the story progressed?

John Jackson Miller: I had a general idea where I wanted things to go, and then we adapted as things went along. Writing a comics series is much like sailing a ship: you have a port in mind, but sometimes the wind takes you in some different directions.

From where did you draw inspiration for your main characters’ personalities, backgrounds and peculiarities (like Zayne’s ‘special relationship’ with the Force and Camper’s illness)? They actually feel like real people rather than bland action heroes with Powers and Looks.

John Jackson Miller: It was my intention to go against type to the degree that I could — a less than competent Jedi, violent Ithorians, a peaceful Trandoshan — as it really served to underline the degree to which we were dealing with a bunch of misfits. And, yes, I did look to try to give them some weaknesses that would work as challenges for them to overcome; I figured it would make them all seem more human (even in the cases when they weren’t human to begin with). I think giving them some problems that readers might be familiar with in their own lives made them somewhat easier to relate to.

John Jackson Miller: That’s Star Wars Reads Day, folks. Thanks for dropping in. You can see my photos from today’s signing on Facebook.

You can also find me on Twitter at @jjmfaraway — and here on Goodreads, of course!

For All the Authors: I recently heard a writer bring up a really good question – How do you make all the bad ideas fall away when you write? (this was in counter to the typical ‘Where do you get such good ideas?’) 

Jason Fry: This is one of the many things editors help with. It helps to be able to look at your own work critically, but your editor will do an enormous amount to shape the story, identifying plot points, character motivations etc. that are confusing or seem to be missing the mark.

I like to say that it’s kind of unfair that just one person gets their name on the cover of a book — every book benefits from the efforts of editors, proofreaders, artists, designers, production folks, marketing people, etc. It takes a lot more than just the author!

When you first got the green light from George Lucas to write a Star Wars novel did you just totally freak out? Would you be in the middle of something and think,”You know what? I’m gonna write a Star Wars novel!” Did you just want to grab strangers in the street and shout it out of your car window while you blew down Main Street? 

Jason Fry: I haven’t written an adult Star Wars novel myself, but getting to do official work in the Star Wars galaxy is worth freaking out about. I definitely pinch myself when I think that I get to do this for a job.

Plus sometimes it makes my kid think I’m a rock star, which I am so totally not.

How much research into real-world history and mythology do you do before writing a new Star Wars story?

Jason Fry: This is a very good question. It depends on the book. If you really want to draw parallels to something in the real world the answer might be quite a bit. But other times you let your imagination be your guide, drawing on what you know about something and then reshaping it as your interests and your story dictate.

This is true of Star Wars or any other story.

For instance — apologies for the plug — I have my own series starting in December called The Jupiter Pirates. I have read a bunch of books about pirates and seafaring to educate myself about things, but the primary inspirations for the series were memories of pirate movies, nautical fiction, and other things I’d read or saw and enjoyed.

That stuff we know in common — say, eye patches and parrots and the Jolly Roger and going into battle with fuses clenched in your teeth — makes for a powerful starting point in imagining a world and telling a story. And often specific research comes later.

As a writer, what is your favorite Star Wars book?

Ryder Windham: Although not exclusive to Star Wars material, my favorite book is The Art of Ralph McQuarrie (Dreams and Visions Press).

Who is your favorite character to write?

Ryder Windham: Han Solo.

What made you want to participate in molding the Expanded Universe?

Ryder Windham: I’m in it for the money.

What is your favorite Star Wars movie?

Ryder Windham: The Empire Strikes Back.

What is your favorite Expanded Universe novel and why?

Ryder Windham: Han Solo at Stars’ End by Brian Daley because it’s a great adventure story.

What is one thing you’d like to see in the Sequel trilogy?

Ryder Windham: The Millennium Falcon.

How many times have you watch every movie, a true Star Wars fan would know that. Please be specific.

Ryder Windham: Please trust that I’m a true Star Wars fan, but I have no idea how many times I’ve watched Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back from start to finish, uninterrupted. As for the other movies:
Return of the Jedi: 3 times
The Phantom Menace: 2 times
Attack of the Clones: 2 times
Revenge of the Sith: 2 times
I realize those numbers may seem ridiculously small to many fans, but the fact is that it’s not my habit to re-watch the entire movies from start to finish. However, when working on Star Wars books, I typically review selected clips from all the movies to refresh my memory or confirm specific details.

When you first got the green light from George Lucas to write a Star Wars novel did you just totally freak out? Would you be in the middle of something and think,”You know what? I’m gonna write a Star Wars novel!” Did you just want to grab strangers in the street and shout it out of your car window while you blew down Main Street? 

Ryder Windham: About 20 years ago, I was an editor at Dark Horse Comics when my fellow editor Dan Thorsland and I were assigned to develop a new Droids series featuring C-3PO and R2-D2. Because I’d been a big fan of Star Wars when I was a kid, I did feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to work on Star Wars stories, but I can’t say I freaked out. At the time, I was already editing other licensed movie titles, including Aliens, Indiana Jones, and Young Indiana Jones. Although I was excited about the prospect of working on Star Wars comics, I also knew that the assignment would indeed involve work. Freaking out doesn’t get work done. Ha ha.

In other words, I never planned on becoming a writer, never had any great ambition to work on Star Wars stories. I became a writer by way of circumstances and professional experience as an editor. But if a time traveller went back to 1977, and told me that I’d grow up to write many Star Wars books, I suspect my 13-year-old self would have freaked out.

As writers of Star Wars fiction what three elements do you think are crucial to have in order to make your story feel like a “Star Wars” story?

Ryder Windham: 1. Interplanetary or interstellar travel, preferably through hyperspace.

2. At least one blaster fight or space battle.

3. Droids.

Surprised that Jedi and Sith didn’t make this list? Don’t get me wrong, Jedi and Sith are great for Star Wars stories, but they aren’t crucial. If you don’t take my word for it, read Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy.

How much research into real-world history and mythology do you do before writing a new Star Wars story?

Ryder Windham: That’s a very good question. I do a lot of research for every Star Wars story I work on, but I primarily research previously published Star Wars books, comics, cartoons, etc. For example, I recently wrote the Death Star Owner’s Workshop Manual for Haynes and Del Rey, and I used many Star Wars books for reference. But I don’t scavenge real-world history or mythology for ideas for Star Wars stories, or rely on real-world science books to explain fantastic technology. I want readers to be fully absorbed in the Star Wars galaxy, not distracted by even slightly vague allusions to our own world’s history and cultural mythology.

How hard is it to get an okay to write a Star Wars novel? Do you have to pay Star Wars any money?

Ryder Windham: Here’s how it works.

Lucasfilm owns Star Wars. Book publishers pay Lucasfilm for the rights to produce specific types of Star Wars books (novels, comics, game books, etc.). The publishers employ editors who hire writers to write Star Wars books. Typically, editors offer very specific assignments to writers.

For example, an editor might contact a writer and ask, “Would you be interested in working on a book about Darth Vader?” And then the writer, because he thinks and talks like Han Solo, will reply, “Sure, I’m interested. What’s the word count and deadline, and how much does it pay?”

So, writers don’t give Lucasfilm money to write Star Wars books. Editors select writers to write Star Wars books, and then the publishers pay the writers. Because there are many writers who WANT to work on Star Wars, most writers who actually get hired to write Star Wars books feel very, very lucky.

Do you get a lot of criticism from die hard Star Wars fans who don’t think the story was “true to Star Wars”?

Ryder Windham: At the risk of sounding pompous, I’ve received very little negative criticism about my work. My impression is that most die-hard fans appreciate that I’m a fan too, and that I strive to write stories that are “true to Star Wars.”

Ryder Windham: I hope you enjoyed this exchange on Goodreads. Your questions were great, and did my best to answer a bunch. I’m sorry I couldn’t answer questions earlier, but fellow Star Wars fans at Barnes & Noble in Warwick, RI, kept me very busy today.

My friend Jason Fry wrote:
“I like to say that it’s kind of unfair that just one person gets their name on the cover of a book — every book benefits from the efforts of editors, proofreaders, artists, designers, production folks, marketing people, etc. It takes a lot more than just the author! “

I totally agree, and I’ll add READERS to that list. Books would be collecting dust without you. Thanks for reading and for caring about Star Wars books, and for taking the time to write questions and comments. For all who hope to become writers too, you have my best wishes.

Posted By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

1 Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. […] of Lucasfilm’s Story Group, Leland Chee and Pablo Hidalgo, about a range of topics. Roqoo Depot recapped the Goodreads chat with several Star Wars authors, and Star Wars Bookworms had some interesting […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: