Tom Hoeler, Del Rey Intern

Summer interns are usually a break to gain real world experience during the summer break. What was your internship a break from?

My internship was a break from my second go around with graduate school. Well, not really a break, since it is a requirement of my program that I have a summer internship. I study “Professional Writing” at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I say my second go around because I’m actually in the middle of a massive career overhaul. I previously worked as a tax accountant. (No joke.) As you can guess, that wasn’t exactly the most thrilling career path and so when I decided to make a u-turn, I realized I’d need to head back to school for some additional training.

A lot of inquiring minds are going to want to know this – a perhaps you don’t want to give away all your secrets – but how did you get to intern with Del Rey and specifically work on Star Wars books?

My internship was very much a product of luck. I know Obi-Wan didn’t believe in it, but it’s true. That might not be the most comforting answer for anyone trying to replicate what I did or get into the business. While I think I’d rather keep a few of the specifics to myself – and just for clarification, my internship wasn’t a product of nepotism or anything like that; none of the team members knew me prior to my internship – it all came down to having a chance to talk to some members of the team, and I guess I impressed them enough to get them to think about making me an intern. In sort of standard internship fashion things progressed from there. After some discussions with a member of H.R., I scored an interview during my Spring Break. On the day of my interview I took a plane, train, car, and ferry all within about a four-hour period. Quite the ordeal in order to get to New York and the Random House offices, but I would have walked there from Pittsburgh if I had to. I also offered to sit under someone’s desk in case there wasn’t room in the office. Basically I said that I would do anything to be the intern.

Tax accountant to Sith apprentice Darth Internous doesn’t seem like that big of a stretch. Accountant and tax jokes aside, this career change seem like a shift away from left brain oriented work toward right brain oriented work. Are there things you learned as an accountant that you were able to apply in your internship?

You know, I never really thought about it in terms of “left brain” vs. “right brain” work, though I suppose that’s correct. I’ve always been just as comfortable and enamored with numbers and words, though some of my current classmates would clearly point to that as evidence of my fall to the dark side. As for what I was able to translate and apply, a lot of it comes down to the meticulous nature of accounting. Working with complex transactions and lots of numbers requires a specific attention to detail which helps when you go into designing a poster, reading through a manuscript or helping to do some sort of research into a character. There were also other skills like being extra proficient in Excel which helped me when the team needed a spreadsheet put together. Beyond those things, having been in high stress, fast paced environments has made me especially adept at working under deadlines and managing multiple projects at once. Erich and the other members of the team kept me busy and while the Del Rey offices are definitely more chill than what I’m used to, it helps to be able to manage the expectations and pressures that come with having multiple duties thrown at you simultaneously.

I’m assuming they didn’t make you sit under a desk. What kinds of things did you work on?

Nope, they gave me my own cubicle and everything! I could probably spend hours answering this question. Working as the Del Rey intern I ended up doing all sorts of different projects sprinkled between marketing, graphic design and editorial work. Some of it wasn’t even related to Star Wars, since Del Rey has a whole range of Sci-fi/Fantasy properties beyond the EU. For brevity sake I’ll stick to my work on Star Wars. As people probably noticed, I was heavily involved with the Facebook group, trying to drum up conversation and helping with announcements. I’m glad that even now that my internship is over that I still get to help out and chat with fans. I got a lot of satisfaction out of getting to interact with the fan community.

I helped to create some of the promotional material and media that the team used at San Diego Comic-Con. Even working on little things like that was a blast, like putting together the PowerPoint for the Del Rey panel. That kind of work spilled over into Celebration VI and even a tiny bit into some of Del Rey’s participation in Star Wars Reads Day, which is coming up in October and should be a ton of fun. As a quick aside, I plan on crashing my local Barnes & Noble celebration and acting like Buddy from “Elf” if any authors or members of the 501st show up.

Erich, Frank, and everyone else really let me help out all the over the place with projects related to Star Wars, which I can’t thank them enough for doing. The one that I was most excited about is the research that I did to help with the ESSENTIAL READER’S COMPANION. I compiled information for some of the artwork and character portraits in that book, as well as helping out with the appendices. I think the end result is brilliant and can’t wait for it to be released.

They also let me sit in on a few meetings where they discussed upcoming book ideas or projects. This mostly consisted of me sitting in the corner trying not to giggle out loud. I doubt I was very helpful since most of my comments were “That’s awesome!” or “Oh my gosh! Really! Yes!” Though I did try, there were moments where the fanboy inside got the better of me.

Then finally, there’s the Celebration VI poster, which probably was the crowning achievement of the summer for me. The team really gave me a lot of free reign to be creative and develop a direction for that poster. They gave me some guides and initial ideas about using the book covers and trying to give people a sense of the whole EU, but I had a lot of latitude. From the start I had this idea of a timeline to give people a sense of where all the books fit into the grand story of Star Wars, and how the different time periods interact with one another. I couldn’t be happier with the end result and luckily the team was pleased with it as well. Hopefully fans are pleased with the poster.

Compiling information for Star Wars artwork isn’t as easy as it seems. Why don’t you explain how that worked and what type of information you sent to the artists?

Well, for the ESSENTIAL READER’S COMPANION, there were two types of artwork that I helped do some research on. First were the larger images that depicted important or memorable scenes from some of the books. Erich and the team have released a few of those over the last few months. In those cases I would actually comb through the novel that the scene was from and create a really detailed summary of the scene. Who was in it, what does the room or environment look like, how are the people and things arranged. This sometimes led to further research to give the artist an idea of how the characters in the scene were dressed or what a particular alien race looks like. I can remember one instance where the room that a meeting was taking place in wasn’t really well described, but the overall building and aesthetic had a good description earlier in the book, so we had to piece a bunch of different information together to construct a good enough description for the artist to draw the scene.

The other artwork were the individual character portraits that are sprinkled through out the book. I did similar research for these, but many characters have multiple appearances, not just in novels, but across various media. In those cases I’d get some direction about which “version” of a character we wanted, in terms of their age or affiliation or current point in their career. For example, I did a little of this research for the new ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CHARACTERS as well. Erich showed a few images on the Facebook group including Ben Kenobi. In that instance it was decided that we wanted to go with Old Ben rather than Padawan Obi-Wan, or Obi-Wan during The Clone Wars, etc. After we figured that stuff out I’d go to the books or other media we had available (even Wookiepedia sometimes – so helpful) to find descriptions or images from a comic or stills from a movie or The Clone Wars. All of that would be put into a massive file with a bunch of the characters and get sent off to the artists. I made sure to be as complete as possible, even including individual reference images for equipment or types of blasters. Even if those never made it into the final artwork. What was so cool about all of this is that there are a few instances in the ESSENTIAL READER’S COMPANION where characters are going to be depicted who don’t actually have a canonical image. They’ve never been in a game, movie, comic, etc. So I was helping to create what will become the first real image of the character. Obviously the one that everyone was excited about was Cal Omas. I remember searching around the Internet reading thread after thread of fans talking about how they envisioned him and being really excited about the photo coming and thinking, “Oh crap, I better help get this right.” All these great sketches and artwork are the reason that I keep saying how excited I am for the READER’S COMPANION.

I know my summer internship working in the Air Force’s Space Program office influenced and shaped my career choices. Do you think your time in New York has shaped your vision for your future?

Yes and No. I’ve always known that New York was where I wanted to be. I grew up near and around the city, I lived there and worked there for a while, it just feels like home. When I left my accounting job and hit the reset button on my career, working for Del Rey and Star Wars Books was the dream, it was the goal. I never imagined I’d get a chance to work with them so quickly. The summer really affirmed how much I want to be in editing and publishing and work specifically on these books. I guess, it has shaped me a little bit because to be completely honest I was really nervous when I started. I wasn’t entirely sure that I could do “this” – publishing. The first few weeks I felt tense and anxious. I had difficulty speaking with some of the team members, not because they are mean or unapproachable, quite the opposite. They were as welcoming and kind as you could ask a group of co-workers to be. It was that I was sort of overwhelmed by the moment. These guys publish Star Wars! Most people don’t get a chance to work with their heroes, so there was an adjustment. Yet, once I got settled in and started to really get involved with the work I realized that I was made to do this. Every day I jumped out of bed an raced to the office.