Shelly Shapiro, Del Rey

Linda: I understand you are a World of Warcraft fan. Have you played Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Shelly: I have played SW:TOR. Not recently – I’ve been away, and I’ve been busy. But I like it a lot. Much more than I expected to. I was very surprised at how excited I got when my Jedi character left Tython for Coruscant: I was like, “Wow, I’m walking around Coruscant!!!”

Linda: Do you think SW:TOR engages the science fiction reader, whereas WoW (or other games, like EverQuest) engage more of the fantasy reader?

Shelly: I originally assumed SW:TOR would be more for sci-fi fans, but playing it was a surprise that way: It doesn’t really feel more sci-fi to me than WoW did, I guess because the play mechanics are so basically similar. Blaster/gun/crossbow, lightsaber/sword/dagger, Force/spells – it all feels pretty much the same to me. I just think my familiarity with all the details of the Star Wars universe brings an added bit of fun.

That said, I’m not convinced that Star Wars specifically engages science-fiction readers; there are many, many SW fans who don’t read other sci-fi, and many sci-fi readers who won’t pick up a SW book. The movies especially had a feel of fantasy in sci-fi trappings, unlike, say, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. The sci-fi elements in Star Wars don’t affect the characters and the cultures in the way they do in science fiction: they’re more like ornaments on the story tree. Star Wars is really more fantasy than science fiction, despite the setting and the tech trappings. So I’d say that WoW and SW:TOR are pretty much tapping demographics that hugely overlap.

Linda: I’ve enjoyed the game much more having read Deceived, Revan, Fatal Alliance. I love the references in the game to the stories. I believe you edited those books? The three authors come from very different backgrounds; did you find editing them to be very different?

Shelly: I did edit the SW:TOR-related books. I had a lot of fun with them, too. Each author is an individual, of course, so each editing experience is individual, as well. That’s one of the things that keeps my job interesting!

Linda: I imagine it also keeps your job challenging, with different styles and personalities yet keeping it within EU standards?

Shelly: Interesting, yes, but I don’t think I’d use the word challenging. All my authors are fans who do their homework and are eager to work with me to make sure their books have the right Star Wars “feel.” And their different styles and personalities help to keep the books fresh for readers, too – at least, I hope they do!

Linda: Your family has a medical background. Being an editor, I imagine, is a bit like being a physician – you can have a fondness for your book, but have to remain objective and look at it critically?

Shelly: You know, that’s an interesting and surprisingly apt observation – which I’ve never made before myself! An editor does, indeed, look at a manuscript objectively and critically – even while liking it – to see where it is “hurt” or “broken” or otherwise not in optimal health, and what can be done to help it become the healthiest it can be. As it were. ;-)

Unlike a physician, however, we editors sometimes need to remind ourselves (for our own mental health) that we are not saving lives…

Linda: Without violating “editor-manuscript confidentiality,” have you had a manuscript that was DOA?

Shelly: Never “on arrival.” Yes, after some attempts at revising. Canceling a book because the manuscript just doesn’t work for some reason is something I hate to do. It’s a decision that we never, ever enter into lightly. I also feel very strongly about never revealing any of those details in public, because all the authors we work with are good writers who do not deserve to have their careers tinged with ‘failure’ just because their attempts at writing Star Wars didn’t meet our expectations.

Linda: Have you seen trends, over your career, how female characters have changed in fantasy and science fiction in general?

Shelly: Honestly? Not really, except that it’s become more common to have strong female lead characters. When I started reading sf/fantasy as a child – the adult stuff, not the kids’ stuff, which almost always, oddly enough, had strong female characters (Edward Eager’s books come to mind, as well as Madeleine L’Engle) – it’s true that most of the books I read centered on boys: the Danny Dunn books, a book I loved called The Forgotten Door, Heinlein’s younger adventures, Alfred Bester’s books, etc. Even then there were strong female characters in a lot of great kids’ books: Eilonwy in Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain and the girls in Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia come to mind. By the time I was in college, I had plenty of good reading with Anne McCaffrey’s books and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, among others that I can’t bring to mind at the moment.

So it looks like I’m saying that I don’t feel female characters have changed all that much. What has changed is the perception of them: more talking about them almost as if they make up a genre in and of themselves.

Linda: To me the characterization of strong female characters has changed. In the past, they were more tomboys; now, being strong, athletic, etc.,d is more a norm for girls/women. It’s interesting what you said as strong female characters discussed almost as a genre. What do you think is driving that?

Shelly: It’s being driven by women, mostly, I suspect. As part of the push for equality in all areas, it comes out of a desire not only to depict girls/women as being strong, but to celebrate it, to make a point of it.

Linda: Do you feel as an editor this is something you contribute to?

Shelly:I don’t generally think that way. My interest is in strong characters that draw me in and keep me hooked; I don’t personally care if they’re male or female. As an editor, I do, however, try to see that male and female characters are treated the same way: meaning, given the same importance and the same depth of personality development. (I’m not sure I always succeed…) It’s not easy, especially with books that have large casts of characters: it’s hard to develop that many characters with that much depth in one book, and to give all of them equal page time. And Star Wars has a huge cast of characters that continues to grow. Star Wars also has a passionate and dedicated audience: multitudes of fans who have attached themselves emotionally to a large number of characters. Trying to satisfy everyone in one series – the Luke fans, the Han fans, the Leia fans, the Jaina fans, the Jag fans, etc., etc. – is an enormous challenge. Especially when I’m looking at the overall storyline. If that storyline happens to call for more activity on the part of the male characters, then sometimes we end up looking as if we’ve sidelined the female characters. I don’t like when that happens, so I am learning to look at the balance more closely at the story development stage. That’s something I’m really trying to do for the fans, because my personal gut reaction to stories is: Do I like it, does it draw me in, does it satisfy in the end, not so much Who is this story about?

Does that answer your question?

Linda: Yes, and then some! Speaking of Han Solo fans – the new Tim Zahn book, as well as Aaron Allston’s Mercy Kill is coming out.

Shelly: I’m super excited about Mercy Kill and Scoundrels. I love the Wraith Squadron guys, and Aaron’s trademark blend of action and humor, and the twist that Face Loran’s crew has to deal with in this book is great fun. Scoundrels… Well, it’s just awesome. I had to finish reading/editing over a weekend, and I never even felt like I was working. I loved Ocean’s Eleven (the remake; never saw the original, I confess), and a Star Wars version replacing George Clooney with Han Solo… Hey, how could that possibly miss? Tim has done a great job of coming up with a complex heist and a really great mix of characters to team up to pull it off. Sometimes my job is just too damned fun.

Linda: Del Rey just announced future Star Wars books at San Diego Comic Con:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Star Wars: Crucible
Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void

Shelly: The Last Jedi and Crucible are mine; Frank Parisi is editing the Dawn of the Jedi novel. (Hey, I can’t do it all!)

I fell in love with Lorn Pavan and his nutty droid, I-Five, back in Michael Reaves’s first Star Wars novel, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, so I was happy to see him propose bringing I-Five back and uniting him with Jax Pavan, Lorn’s Jedi son. It’s been a while since the first three Coruscant Nights books were written, so spending some time adventuring with Jax and I-Five and the funny/sad Sullustan journalist, Den Dhur, was a really welcome diversion!

Crucible will be beyond awesome. After all these years of huge-cast, multi-family Star Wars series, I wanted to focus back on our three original heroes for one more exciting adventure (at least one more!) before they’re so old that the action won’t sustain suspension of disbelief. This seemed like the right time to do it. I haven’t read a word of it yet, because Troy is still writing it, but I can’t wait to read it. I’m looking forward to spending some serious time with Luke, Han, and Leia – the older, wiser ones, who have so much experience to bring to bear to an epic quest. Remember the movie Space Cowboys, where NASA had a problem that only a few of the old-time, retired (if memory serves) astronauts could handle? I loved that movie. That’s what comes to mind when I think of Crucible, except that Crucible will have a lot more action and derring-do!

I can’t say much about Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void since I’m not editing that one, but I’ve seen and approved (wholeheartedly!) the proposed outline for the book, and I also am thrilled to have Tim Lebbon join our Star Wars team. He’s a talented author who, I hope, will bring exciting life to a Star Wars era that has so far only been explored in the comics.

Linda: Are you attending any conventions?

Shelly: I’ll be at Celebration in August. That’s a great con!