Interview by Linda Hansen-Raj
1. Ezra’s Gamble is a book geared for children, but your writing credits impressively range from comic books to kids books, to guides and character biographies. Do you find it challenging to switch gears with different genres?
No, switching gears has never been a challenge. It’s not unusual for me to work on substantially different projects at the same time, to juggle non-fiction and fiction assignments. or to proceed directly from a juvenile novel to a technical manual.
As for Ezra’s Gamble being “geared” for children, I think it’s more accurate to say that the book is marketed to young readers. I’ve read several reviews of Ezra’s Gamble, also reviews for my work on The Clone Wars: Secret Missions series, and most reviewers make a similar comment, words to the effect of “Even though this book was written for children, older Star Wars fans will enjoy it too.” Now, that’s kind of a backhanded compliment because the reviewers are either implying that they don’t generally expect much from a children’s book, or insinuating that I write to a lower standard than I might for adult fiction. My approach to all Star Wars books is pretty much consistent in that I rarely think about the age of the reader. This may sound pretentious, but I don’t write Star Wars books for children. I write Star Wars books for Star Wars fans.
2. Does your own experience parenting inform your writing voice for children’s books?
I think the only way my experience as a parent has affected my writing voice is how I approach certain characters. For example, when Scholastic hired me to write biographic novels about Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, I had the opportunity to expand on the relationships that those characters had with Luke’s uncle, Owen Lars. In previously published stories, Owen was little more than a gruff moisture farmer. But the more I thought about Owen, I understood that he took on a lot when he agreed to raise Luke, the son of his step-brother, Anakin. Why would Owen raise a child who wasn’t even a blood relative?
Think about it. Owen wasn’t in any way obligated to help Obi-Wan or the Jedi. Was he motivated by sympathy or empathy? By raising Luke, did he hope to redeem himself and his father for not being able to rescue Anakin’s mother from the Tusken Raiders? Did he ever want to raise a child with Beru? The more I thought about Owen’s motives, he became more than a one-dimensional character. But to be fair, if I weren’t a parent, and if I had no clue what it was like to raise children, help them grow, and worry about their well-being every day, I doubt I would have thought so much about Owen’s mindset.
3. How did you come up with the plot for Ezra’s Gamble? There seems to be a fair amount of foreshadowing for the upcoming Rebels. Did you have strict guidelines from Lucasfilm’s Story Group or were you given creative license in developing the young Ezra?
The short answer is that the Story Group gave me strict guidelines about Ezra, but I had a great deal of creative license with the plot. I hope you won’t mind a long answer.
Thinking back, I recall just two phone conferences with the Story Group. In the first conference, they told me that Ezra Bridger was a young thief on the Imperial-occupied planet Lothal, gave me some information about the planet, and also gave me three directives for the prequel story: don’t let Ezra meet other significant characters from Rebels, emphasize that Ezra is a loner who doesn’t trust others, and end the novel with an adaptation of a script that featured Ezra acquiring a TIE fighter pilot’s helmet.
My selfish take on the Story Group’s description of Ezra—before he meets the Rebels team—was that he resembles the Artful Dodger without Oliver Twist, or Walt Disney’s Aladdin without Abu. In other words, it seemed like I was being encouraged to write a story in which Ezra would only interact with strangers, with new characters who were entirely unfamiliar to Star Wars fans. The problem, for me, was that Ezra was a stranger too, a character we’ve never encountered before. After mulling over the situation, I thought it would be practical to bring in a familiar character, someone who would serve as a bridge between Rebels and and the Star Wars movies or The Clone Wars. A bounty hunter struck me as a practical choice. A bounty hunter immediately inspires story ideas. Why would the hunter visit Lothal? Who is the hunter pursuing? Who’s the client? How would Ezra interact with the hunter?
I asked for a second conference with the Story Group, and I proposed that Ezra should meet a bounty hunter, preferably one who was already well-known to Star Wars fans. Ezra would serve as the bounty hunter’s guide during an assignment on Lothal, but the familiar bounty hunter would also help introduce readers to Ezra. And I proposed Bossk because I imagined that his inclusion would allow for colorful banter with Ezra, and that Bossk would also help generate interest in the book, especially if he were pictured alongside Ezra on the book’s cover. Story Group agreed.
It may be worth noting that just a few weeks before Lucasfilm enlisted me to write the prequel story, I attended Rhode Island Comic Con, where I met actor Alan Harris, who played Bossk in The Empire Strikes Back. He’s a charming fellow, a great raconteur, and I really enjoyed talking with him. I can only speculate whether I would have been so quick to propose a bounty hunter for the Rebels prequel if I hadn’t met Mr. Harris, but because we met, Bossk was definitely on my mind when I got the book assignment. I wound up dedicating the book to him.
4. My daughter and I enjoy Star Wars stories that have prominent female characters and have enjoyed many of your female characters. We both couldn’t help noticing that Ezra’s Gamble has very few female characters. You wrote one poignant sequence in which Ezra says goodbye to a girl his own age, as she’s about to leave the planet Lothal. I particularly enjoyed their dialogue and interaction. Did you have a reason not to include more female characters in this particular story?
The Story Group rejected my first story proposal, which involved Ezra helping a girl whose family was about to lose their property to Imperials. They didn’t want Ezra doing anything gallant or selfless in the prequel story, and they explained why—for continuity reasons—he should be a mistrustful loner as well as a charming thief. Anyway, they really liked my proposal to have Ezra and Bossk form an uneasy partnership, and so I focused on those two characters. Everyone else in the story was essentially expendable, secondary characters who get ripped-off or blasted. A few wind up dead. I suppose the two most prominent secondary characters are an Imperial officer and a Xexto pickpocket, both of whom are male, but if I’d changed either from male to female, their fates wouldn’t have been any different.
Which is my long-winded way of saying that I deliberately avoided developing any prominent secondary characters, male or female, because I wanted keep the focus on Ezra and Bossk. I’m glad you liked the sequence with Ezra saying goodbye to the girl. That bit served to help convey information about Ezra’s personality, also Imperial activity on Lothal, and I think the girl is actually one of the few truly sympathetic characters in the story.
5. Lucasfilm’s Story Group was involved in the creative and approval process of Ezra’s Gamble, so the story is considered “Canon” instead of “Legends.” How does it feel knowing that most of your work on Star Wars books—previously considered Canon—now falls under Legends?
Whether a story I wrote is now considered Canon or Legends doesn’t really affect me, not in any way that I can think of. I just try to do a good job, and hope that my work will lead to more work. I wrote Ezra’s Gamble months before Lucasfilm announced their intention to categorize Star Wars stories as Canon or Legends, but the assignment wasn’t all that different than others. Lucasfilm explained their goals for the project, what they expected from me for the story, and after a few minor revisions, they approved my outline and final draft. Business as usual, right? Canon and Legends aren’t measures of quality, but simply marketing tools for helping readers distinguish previously published Star Wars stories from stories that will more neatly tie in with current projects, such as Star Wars Rebels and the upcoming Episode VII. Any Star Wars fan who dismisses Legends as passé will be missing out on a lot of fantastic stories.
6. You are involved with 501st as well as other costuming groups… which Star Wars character would you most like to be?
I’m intrigued by the possibility of suiting up as a stormtrooper. I doubt I could easily fit into the costume, and I know from just trying on a few helmets that visibility is awful, that it’s very difficult to walk without bumping into things. Still, when I think of the 501st Legion, I think “stormtroopers.” I should try suiting up in white armor at least once in my lifetime. It’s entirely possible that I’ll enjoy it so much that I won’t take the armor off. Ever.
7. You’ve donated over 70 pints of blood, and in June 2014, you helped organize an international blood drive for Star Wars fans. What motivates you in this endeavor?
I’ve been a blood donor since high school. When I give blood, I know that my blood will help save lives, and that’s very gratifying. In 2010, I read about my local chapter of the 501st, the New England Garrison, participating in a blood drive, and it occurred to me that my affiliation with Star Wars might help promote blood donations. I wanted to not only encourage people to give blood, but inspire children to become donors when they’re old enough.
The first blood drive that I helped organize was a great success. The 501st and I didn’t promote the event as a somber or educational experience. We promoted it as a party, and it really was a lot of fun. But instead of feeling any sense of accomplishment, it left me wanting to set up more blood drives. I became immediately addicted. Whenever I’m invited to a convention or to give a talk about my work, it’s my knee-jerk reaction to find out whether I can help set up a blood drive for the occasion.
Anyway, last year, I started thinking about the possibility of coordinating an international blood drive with Star Wars fans. It took some time and planning, but Star Wars fan clubs and costuming groups in 25 countries participated. If it weren’t for the 501st Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, Rebel Legion, and other clubs, I’d just be a writer who gives blood. They inspire me to help others, and their support and enthusiasm is fantastic.
8. How can Star Wars fans can get involved in blood drives locally?
All they have to do is contact their local blood center and find out what’s required to set up a blood drive. Most blood centers require at least three or four months notice to schedule a blood drive, especially if it requires a bloodmobile at a specific location. After that, they should contact the local chapters of the Star Wars costumer clubs, the 501st, Rebel Legion, and Mandalorian Mercs, and find out when and whether the club members are available, or submit a request for an appearance on a specific date. Once the blood drive’s date and location are resolved, the fans can help the blood center and the costumer clubs promote the event. Fans who use Facebook can find more information on the page for the World Blood Drive (https://www.facebook.com/worldblooddrive).
9. Star Wars Reads Day is October 11 this year. What are your plans for the day?
I’ll be at two events with members of the 501st New England Garrison, Alderaan Base, and Firaxan Clan. First, I’ll be at the West Warwick Public Library, which is now under the direction of my friend Tom O’Donnell. Afterward, I’ll proceed to the Barnes & Noble in Warwick, where we’re also hosting a blood drive with the Rhode Island Blood Center. This will be our third annual “Star Wars Reads and Bleeds” event.
10. What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m currently working on two projects that I can’t talk about. But I will say that one is a Star Wars project. Also, the next World Blood Drive is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, which also happens to be Ralph McQuarrie’s birthday. I don’t know where I’ll be on that date, but it’s a good bet that I’ll be at a blood drive with fellow fans of Star Wars.