Congratulations, Jennifer Heddle!

Yesterday Suvudu.com officially announced the hiring of Jennifer Heddle as Senior Editor of the Star Wars adult fiction publishing program at Lucasfilm. Congratulations!

Interestingly enough, Jennifer had tweeted on September 7 that she had left her position at Simon & Schuster and was joining Lucasfilm. She made the move to the San Francisco Bay Area from New York City before starting her new position on September 19. (So I guess that means Jennifer deserves an extra congratulations for managing to fly under the radar of the entire online Star Wars fanbase for over a month. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible!)

Although Jennifer may be a new face to Star Wars fans, she’s a well-established editor in the publishing industry. It didn’t take me long at all to read up about her on the internet and pick up a few big takeaways:

  • She has an impressive breadth of experience in editing different kinds of stories, including fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, “chick lit,” and teen fiction. She’s also work on many tie-in properties, including Serenity, Prison Break, Star Trek, and Harry Potter.
  • The list of authors she’s edited is equally impressive. It includes acquiring Jim Butcher and Barb & J.C. Hendee for ROC – you may have heard of them. For Simon & Schuster she edited, among others, Kevin J. Anderson (another familiar name), Marjorie M. Liu, the late L.A. Banks, and Christopher Golden.
  • She’s “a die-hard Fringe fan” – serious enough to write an article about the show for Io9 last fall. But her pop culture interests go beyond the genre; in recent weeks she’s also tweeted about Castle, Gossip Girl, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and Survivor.
  • She’s a lifelong Star Wars fan who saw the Original Trilogy in the theaters and bought Heir to the Empire when it first came out. And she has a special affinity for Obi-Wan Kenobi. (I like this fangirl already.)
  • She craves dark chocolate and celebrates her birthday with a Ginormous Ice Cream Sundae. Oh yes, Jennifer definitely is a wise one.

Okay, so all of this is interesting, but is any of it actually important? The fact that she loves Star Wars and has seen the publishing house side of the process, absolutely.  More significantly, the recent hires of Frank Parisi by Del Rey and now Jennifer by Lucasfilm demonstrate that the higher-ups in New York and San Francisco have made a significant investment toward infusing more staff, new energy, and different perspectives into their adult fiction program. We’re already witnessing positive steps toward change – dynamic covers and highlighting Jaina’s role in the upcoming book Apocalypse. Broadening their team is a commitment, in my eyes, to making Star Wars Books into a Force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry, as it should be.

Star Wars Books had struggled over the last four or five years with the social media aspects of marketing and also keeping up with the ever-changing trends in publishing. I view Riptide’s underwhelming debut on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble scifi bestsellers list this week as further confirmation that dark, gritty, quasi-hero stories aren’t hitting the right chord. The books and comics have been stuck in the Prequel-era mindset of exploring the villains and morally-complicating our heroes.  It’s important to remember that Episodes I-III would never have been made without Episodes IV-VI, which were pretty much straight up black-and-white.  The Star Wars EU needs to get back to its Star Wars roots, and for that reason it’s notable that Frank and Jennifer are from the generation that saw the Original Trilogy as children.

One of the most popular characters in the EU – Anakin Solo – has been gone ten years, but to this day still has a passionate fanbase.  It’s probably not a coincidence that he’s also one of the few characters in recent years to have a pure Jedi heart. That’s not to say that I want a cloned Anakin to show up in the Star Wars EU – but he’s good proof of the type of characters who most grab hold of our imaginations and prove highly successful with the readers.  It’s like we’ve been holding out for a hero… (Cue Bonnie Tyler.)

Fortunately, I think these recent changes bode well for good things to come.  Jennifer brings with her a completely different network of contacts; hopefully we’ll see some fresh names on the upcoming roster. (And maybe some returning old names, too.)  And it looks like she isn’t going to be afraid of a little romance in her stories. The Star Wars movies appeal to so many fans because they incorporate a lot of diverse storytelling elements, and it’s been so one-sided (and outright depressing) in the recent EU that the shine wore off for many.

Hopefully they built Jennifer a set of Imperial Knight armor, because I don’t think anyone can be prepared for the fandom until they’re dropped into the middle of it. We can be demanding, opinionated, and always think we can do it better. My advice to Jennifer – Listen to the Force.

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