Frank Parisi, Del Rey

TB: First, congratulations on your new position at Del Rey as In-House Coordinator for Star Wars. To fans who follow the Star Wars books, that’s not a job title we’ve heard talked about before. Can you tell us what your new role entails?

FP: Thanks, Tricia! And thank you for the opportunity, I very much enjoy and respect your blog and your writing. I’m the editorial lead for Del Rey’s movie and videogame tie-ins and I also work on Random House Worlds, RH’s transmedia division. In terms of Star Wars, Shelly Shapiro is the lead editor and she works remotely from Maine, so “in-house coordinator” means that I’m taking care of all the procedural logistics for her in the New York office. For lack of a better term, I’m her deputy on the Star Wars books. She and I, along with Keith Clayton, Erich Schoeneweiss, David Pomerico, the Marketing and PR teams – and of course Lucasfilm – brainstorm and conceptualize new series and standalones, seek out new authors, plan out our publishing schedule, review cover art, manuscripts, marketing plans. It’s a highly collaborative environment.

TB: What do you enjoy most about Star Wars?

FP: People. Professionally, I’ve been fortunate to have met so many wonderful people through working on Star Wars. And the fan community is really exciting to be part of and get to know better. This year’s New York Comic-Con was my first convention affiliated with Star Wars and I was thrilled to meet many of our readers, who are just awesome. They’re such a great, positive, enthusiastic group – smart, funny, and they seem appreciative of the work we’re doing. Obviously we love our readers, and we appreciate them. In my personal life, I’m always meeting people whose faces light up whenever I mention working on anything related to Star Wars. Everybody loves Star Wars and it’s often provided common ground where I’ve felt maybe there wouldn’t have been any otherwise.

TB: You’ve interacted with the Star Wars Books team from the Lucasfilm side. Has your previous experience with everyone helped you hit the ground running? Would you like to elaborate on your previous experience with Lucasfilm and the existing Del Rey team?

FP: Yes, definitely. I edited videogame tie-in novels for Lucasfilm – the last few Republic Commando and Imperial Commando novels, The Force Unleashed novelizations, and the Old Republic novels, as well as some Essential Guides. So I already had a pretty solid working relationship with Del Rey. They’ve always been a very collaborative and progressively-minded group. The fact I happen to genuinely like the team here as people helps. Each of us has different sensibilities, and I think that’s been a huge creative impetus. We all have kinds of Star Wars stories we’d like to see told. Everyone here is excited about what they’re doing. We’re all big Star Wars fans and enjoy the books we work on. That positive creative energy is something that was a very easy fit for me, and it’s been motivating in a lot of ways.

TB: You also worked on the Art of… books for The Force Unleashed (2008) and The Old Republic (2011), and you obviously have a deep background in the videogame/MMO side of the EU. How much of the rest of the Expanded Universe have you explored?

FP: I’m a big Clone Wars fan. I’ve read a bunch of comics, ever since the Marvel books. The novels I hadn’t really read until I started at Lucasfilm. I read the Thrawn trilogy when it first came out, and a couple of others here and there. But once I started at Lucasfilm I put myself through Star Wars novel boot camp, where I pretty much inhaled every single book that I could. I was dreaming about Wookiees after work; it was really bizarre.

TB: With your background in the Art of… books and the Insider, what’s your philosophy on cover art?

FP: I’m going to quote Troy Alders, the art director at Lucasfilm, who says that cover art should “dazzle.” I think the right word is “action.” Star Wars is action. People doing things. Even though this word gets thrown around so much in relation to Star Wars, it really fits: iconic. Something that sticks in the mind, that jumps out at the reader and makes them want to pick up the book. Something that communicates story. I’ve always loved how concept art can be both visually arresting and communicate some semblance of story. I think that’s the balance you want to strike.

TB: You wrote the The Art of The Clone Wars (2009), and your posts on the Star Wars Books page on Facebook indicate you’re still a big fan of the animated show. Recent comments from Dave Filoni, Christian Taylor, and others indicate that the TCW writers are well into Season Six in the scripts. With that available lead-time, is collaboration on tie-in material between TCW and the adult-line EU novels something that might be pursued in the future?

FP: We would love to, absolutely. Dave Filoni’s phenomenal. He’s very knowledgeable, works directly with George Lucas, and is very respectful of the Expanded Universe, and whenever possible he really tries to solidify those links between the show and the Expanded Universe material. He’d be an incredible person to work with. He gets it. He gets the sensibility of Star Wars: the humor, the camaraderie, the underdogs going up against overwhelming odds. And he’s just really passionate about Star Wars.

TB: Obviously you’re jumping into the fandom through the Star Wars Books Facebook page and were able to sit at the table for New York Comic Con.  What other ways do you anticipate reaching into the fandom, both for promoting your products to and soliciting feedback from existing and potential readers?

FP: Erich, David Pomerico, and I are the three main people maintaining and nurturing the Facebook page, and it’s great to have that forum available as fans, let alone as employees. It’s also invaluable in order to get a sense of what readers like and don’t like. I’ve always been big on reading fan blogs. I keep up with your blog, I keep up with a lot of them. It’s important to have a finger on that pulse. I want to know what’s not working, and that’s the stuff I really like reading – the constructive criticism. It’s important to know how people are responding to the books, both good and bad.

The marketing team here is headed by Joe Scalora, he’s a huge Star Wars fan. So is David Moench, who’s in charge of publicity. It’s great to have all these fans driving these different parts of the machine. They have some really cool plans in the works right now that I can’t really talk about, except to say that it involves very direct fan outreach.

TB: I really liked this quote in your interview a while back:

Our goal, and we’re still getting there, is to be able to say “No matter who you are, if you’re a Star Wars fan, there’s something for you.”

You were discussing your approach to the Star Wars Insider specifically.  Right now, some fans feel that the recently published Star Wars books and the immediate-future lineup have grown a little limited to who they’re targeting as a customer audience. There’s a lot of Sith, a lot of darker stories, male protagonists but not really anything that most women would like. Is there anything you would like to say in encouragement to those fans out there who are feeling a little left out?

FP: It’s hard to agree that our lineup is limited. I look at our output as really varied. This year alone we’ve continued to follow the adventures of Solos and Skywalkers and the Galactic Alliance era in the Fate of the Jedi series, explored the Old Republic in Knight Errant and Revan, and revisited the classic era in Tim Zahn’s Choices of One. We’ve just released Shadow Games, which is more of a genre-meld of Star Wars and a thriller, and Riptide, which I thought was a wonderful book. Personally, my own sensibilities tend to go to the more light-hearted stories. Out of all the Star Wars movies, my absolute favorite is the original. I love the wide-eyed sense of wonder, fun, and adventure. To that end, we are definitely planning to do more stories in that vein.

Have you read Darth Plagueis?

TB: Yes, I have.

FP: And what did you think?

TB: It’s a really good book. I like it. I wasn’t a person who necessarily needed more about the mythology behind Palpatine. Luckily, Luceno doesn’t really take away from the mystery. But it’s a very good book.

FP: I thought it was incredible. It was an entirely different animal of Star Wars book. It wasn’t a fast read; it’s very dense, very political, lots of business dealings. James Luceno did a great job with it. And that’s about Sith, and there aren’t really any female protagonists in the story, yet you enjoyed it, too.

At the same time, in terms of Fate of the Jedi, people who’ve been clamoring to see Jaina take on a bigger role will be very happy with Apocalypse. Personally, I thought Aryn Leneer from Deceived was a very strong female protagonist who gave the book its heart. And, of course, Mara Jade in Choices of One. As for upcoming books, a very pleasant surprise is Scourge by Jeff Grubb. It’s got endearing characters – even the bad guys – and lots of humor; a couple of scenes made me laugh my ass off. Of course, I can’t wait to read Mercy Kill.

That all said, we’re not sitting in ivory towers here. We are paying attention to what people are saying, and we are taking a lot of things into consideration with our future publishing plans. And I probably shouldn’t say much more than that.

TB: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share about your vision for what you hope to bring personally to the future of the Star Wars books?

FP: As I said earlier, I really like the original film: the optimism, the adventure, the camaraderie among the characters, who are underdogs contending against overwhelming odds. Those are the kinds of stories I want to get out there more.

People definitely respond to the darker stories that feature Sith and anti-heroes and while I understand some of the criticisms against it – and personally I really liked Darth Plagueis, the Bane books, and Deceived – the enthusiasm of the original movie is what I tend to gravitate toward. The world is a dark and hard enough place as it is, and Star Wars should be an escape. These stories should be fairy tales in which good and evil are easily defined and the former always conquers the latter. Star Wars stories should reflect the sensibilities of the films. They should be cinematic and engage all of our senses. You need compelling characters and bona fide chemistry between them. And they should be underdogs contending against overwhelming odds which they eventually surmount by depending on and helping one another while having the utmost faith in themselves. And we can use some more stories with that kind of spirit.

Thanks to Frank Parisi, Erich Schoeneweiss, Del Rey, and Lucasfilm for making this interview possible. To read more about my experience interviewing Frank, check out my accompanying blog post.