Troy Denning – Part Two

FG: When someone raised the issue of the potential deaths of the Big Three at the Del Rey panel yesterday, I loved your response. You just put both hands to your face, as if to say, “No!” That was a fabulous reaction. Is that because you really don’t want to “go there”?

TD: Well, it’s for a lot of reasons. Number one, before I was ever a writer of Star Wars, I was a fan of Star Wars. I don’t mean someone who really knows everything about it but I was a fan. I would pick up the Star Wars stuff that I saw, and I would read it and enjoy it. So I, too, had this relationship with Han and Luke and Leia and Lando – everybody – since 1977. I just loved them, like we all did. So I wouldn’t want to kill them.

And believe it or not, I didn’t set out to kill Anakin or Jacen. Those were just necessary for the story. Now, I have developed this reputation as someone who kills characters rather often and I’m a little sensitive about that one – to be seen as doing that.

FG: Were you just the unfortunate author who was chosen for those jobs?

TD: I don’t know that I’d say “unfortunate” – I’m writing Star Wars novels for a living, after all! But yes, I’m just the guy it fell to, and both times I thought, “No, I don’t want to kill him.”

The first time, with my first book: I wrote to Shelly before I was actually contracted to write anything for her and said I was interested in writing Star Wars. She asked me to send a sample and said she would get back to me. So I sent her a sample, and called her about every month or so and said, “Did you like the sample?” She’d say, “Yeah. Don’t have anything yet.” So after about three months, I thought it just isn’t going to happen, she’s just being polite.

Seven or eight months went by and I received a call from Shelly out of the blue: “Okay, we’re ready to make an offer.” I said, “Uh…okay, I’ll develop a story proposal and send it in to you.” Shelly replied, “Oh, no, you don’t have to do that. We’ll tell you what to write. You just have to say yes or no.” So I said, “Uh, okay, well, ‘Yes’. What am I going to write?” Shelly said, “Can’t tell you that. You just have to sign the contract.” And I said, “Oh. Okay. I guess I’ll sign the contract.” A few weeks later, I received the story bible for NJO.

I was reading through the things that happen in the first book, which later became Vector Prime. When I read the part where Chewbacca dies, I think I phoned my friend Bob Salvatore and said, “Bob! I just read you’re killing Chewbacca!” He kind of chuckled and said, “Yeah. And wait until you see what you’re doing.” Then I was thinking, “Oh my God!”

So I read, and I get to the part where I’m killing Anakin and I did say, “Oh my God!” But it really seemed to me to be a crucial thing to do in the story at that point. You needed a bit of heartbreak to drive home the point that this was not the old Star Wars. The NJO was a new, riskier place to be.

Skip ahead several years to Legacy of the Force. We were sitting around in the brainstorming session. We already knew who was writing the books just because of the way schedules worked out, and we’re planning all the plot lines. When we get to the end of book nine, somebody said, “Jacen dies,” and I nodded, “Yeah, okay. Jacen dies, that makes sense.” Then all of a sudden I realize that I’m writing that! I looked up and I said, “Wait a minute! So, I’m going to kill two Solo kids?” Everyone else in the room said, “Yeah.” So I said, “Uh-uh! I don’t want to do that!” We had a bit of discussion about alternatives but then we realized that it had to be done, and that I was the one who had to do it.

So, yeah, it’s just happenstance.

FG: Your next book is Crucible. I know you can’t say very much about it, but after spending such a long time writing series and working multiple plot lines out with other authors, are you enjoying writing a stand-alone book again?

TD: You know, I enjoy both, but a steady diet of one or the other can get a little bit “old.” Plus, the thing about writing a nine-book series is that while they’re a lot of fun to write but they’re even more work. By “work,” I mean about twice as much per book as a stand-alone just because of all the coordination. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I might have about 10,000 emails for Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi on my computers. I keep them all. It’s huge, but if you think about it, every time you explore a subject, it’s not one email, it’s ten or fifteen. So it’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun to have all that interaction and energy when you go to the brainstorming sessions – you just can’t resist it. For a writer who works alone most of the time, the opportunity to actually work with people is very tempting.

That having been said, given the chance to sit down and write a book without having to worry about what somebody else is doing with characters at the same time – just to write what you think – is a really nice change of pace.

One of the things I really wanted to do with Apocalypse was to open up the story possibilities for the whole EU in that era. With the Jedi being so tightly related to the Galactic Alliance, we had really been limited, especially in the kinds of epic stories we could tell. There was a reason we kept drifting back into the “war” thing and that was to have something big enough to involve the whole Galactic Alliance. While you can tell engaging stories of diplomacy, you can’t really make a nine-book series out of them, so we ended up going back to war, time and time again. We got away from that in Fate of the Jedi to a certain extent, but now, by separating the Jedi from the Alliance, we’ve opened up all kinds of story possibilities.

I think that showed at the Del Rey panel [at Celebration VI] when you see the kinds of stories that are coming up. I know a little bit about a few of those things and I get even more excited when I think about it. It’s not going to be the same old thing, time after time. There are just all kinds of neat stories that are coming up.

FG: Then as you take the Big Three into a new adventure in Crucible, have you used a new or different approach compared to the tried-and-true, Han-Luke-and-Leia-save-the-galaxy story?

TD: Oh, yes. I think I can safely say that it’s a small adventure that spins wildly out of control, and before they know it, they’re in – I don’t want to say “galaxy-shaking” because that’s not what it is – but they’re in territory that is equal to their statures.

FG: That sounds a lot like the Original Trilogy.

TD: Yes, to a certain extent. I would say that the OT had a fair amount of control because there was Rebel theme and the Alliance theme. This one doesn’t have that. This one is just like, “Oh. What is going on now?”

FG: That sounds like Han Solo’s life.

TD: Yes, exactly! That is it. When I was thinking about this book, one of the things I kind of felt was that there had been “Leia-driven” books and we’ve had “Luke-driven” books, but it’s been a long time since we had one that was “Han-driven,” and one of the things I really tried to do with this one is have Han’s spirit drive it.

FG: I think fans would love that.

TD: I hope so! We’ll see!

FG: Since we’re talking about characters, I’m sure you’ve been asked to death about the Jaina-Zekk relationship. Could you tell us instead a bit about why Zekk is so compelling to you – as a character and as a potential mate for Jaina – aside from the fact that he would likely keep Jaina in Known Space?

TD: Well there is that – that was a practical thing and we’re past that now.

But what I liked about Zekk was that he was a street urchin who came up the hard way, and I always have a “thing” for underdogs. I really liked that about him and who he was despite his upbringing. He actually rebounded from a short flirtation with the Dark Side and became almost “born again,” so Zekk has always had, to me, a very strong moral core.

The other thing is that I have a soft spot for childhood sweethearts, and it was that aspect as well that I really played into. I met my wife in college. We’ve been together forever, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. So I guess I ended up projecting that aspect onto Jaina and Zekk’s relationship. So there were all kinds of things going on.

For several years I did want Zekk and Jaina to end up together, but that was easy to put aside. The big reason, the one that I had a harder time setting aside, was seeing Jaina pulled away from the Jedi Order when/if she married Jag. That was my professional motivation for wanting to see Jaina and Zekk marry, rather than Jaina and Jag. Once we worked that out – and we did, a couple of series ago – I was fine with it. I really was.

FG: What do you think of Zekk’s life now? Do you believe he’s happy?

TD: I think he’s very happy now because he’s found a mate, or a girlfriend, who thinks that she is his superior. But he has this smirky little thing:  “Yeah, yeah, you are – but I know I’m an equal.” I love that interaction. It’s a fun couple to write and sometimes it comes down to something that simple. It’s a lot of fun to write them together and that’s why I love that couple.

FG: They have some great “little” moments together, Zekk and Taryn.

TD: Yes, Taryn. Trista’s sister. See? I can’t remember everything!

FG: You told me that Jaina is one of your favourite characters. I think she appeals to the biggest, broadest portion of the female audience as well as a large portion of male fans. In retrospect, it did seem to me that at the end of Apocalypse you were freeing the galaxy but also freeing her character, in a way. When you married Jaina and Jag, it was liberating for her.

TD: Yes, well, I didn’t marry her really – you guys did! But it was time for her to get married and rightfully so. She was at that stage in her life. I think in Invincible she went through a tremendous transformation from the irresponsible pseudo-teenager to a serious young woman who understood what her responsibilities were to the galaxy and to her fellow Jedi. And I think from that point on, she has become the paragon of the Jedi Order – what I think a Jedi should be. So it was a lot of fun to write her through Apocalypse that way, as this really tough, dedicated Jedi, and then to give her the reward that she really deserved – probably a few books after she deserved it.

FG: My favourite moment in Apocalypse was when Luke called her “Master.” It was very subtle and it was very touching.

TD: Thanks. That one brings a tear to my eye. It was a lot of fun to write. I think I had asked Shelly, or somebody, could I make Jaina a Master in this book because I think it’s about time, and the answer was, “Oh yeah, it’s about time.” But there was no really great place to do it, because Apocalypse was paced so fast and there was no place to actually have a ceremony. So it dawned on me as I was writing that the ventilation-duct scene was the place to do it. It was one of those little things that happens in the process of writing.

FG: Which of the younger generation characters do you think are best suited to moving the EU forward? Aaron has used Myri Antilles so well in Mercy Kill, for instance.

TD: I guess that depends on what you mean by younger generation. If you take the Big Three as the older generation, then I think Jaina and Jag and their peers are the “middle” generation. Ben and everybody at his age would be the younger generation.

My personal view is that Jaina is going to carry the weight of that section of the EU on her shoulders for, my guess is ten years or so, at least. Don’t read any knowledge into that – it’s strictly a guess –  but I think she’s going to be a big, big part of what makes and keeps the EU strong and moving forward for the foreseeable future.

FG: That makes sense, but in the last five years or so some fans have worried that the “middle” generation, the children of the Big Three and their peers, were being somewhat overlooked?

TD: Right. Well, in my mind, they are just coming into their age of leadership. They’re in their thirties now, and that’s about the time when they need to start stepping up. They may not be Grand Master material yet, but they’re at the point where they need to start leading the Bens and the Antilles. I have intentionally created some younger generation characters just to have people to fill those roles, and Jaina, Lowbacca, and perhaps Raynar – once we get him back – are going to be the people that need to step up and take the leadership roles and train the younger generation to be Jedi.

But that’s just my best guess – Jaina is going to be the one to carry the weight. The thing about the EU now is that I think that it can surprise anybody. Tomorrow, somebody could write a new character that just blows us all away, and all of a sudden there’s a new leader in the galaxy.

FG: Do you have any thoughts about a long-time character like Kyp?

TD: I think Kyp is a very deep river, and he’s barely keeping himself under control most of the time. If he loses control, it could get bad.

FG: That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about him in that way since the early Kyp stories, since he destroyed Carida.

TD: Of course there are a lot of interpretations, but the way I see Kyp is that he’s still got that deep, deep, explosive core. He’s just become better at keeping it in control.

FG: There are so many characters in the EU that we haven’t seen in dozens of books. For example, I miss Talon Karrde. But from a practical standpoint, it’s impossible to use all the characters that exist.

TD: It is. It really is. From a writer’s perspective, when I’m writing a book I take the characters I need. If I needed, for instance, Talon Karrde, I would call on him in a heartbeat.

FG: Do you think there are any characters that have overstayed their welcome?

TD: Characters that have overstayed their welcome? Well, as long as I still need them, they are still welcome, and if I don’t need them, I’m not pulling them in. So it doesn’t really work like that. There may be characters that are appearing in book after book after book, but I think that tends to be because they are popular characters and the majority of fans want to read about them.

FG: You obviously enjoy your work.

TD: Oh, yeah. I love it.

FG: Your colleague, Aaron Allston, is fairly widely considered to be the humorist in Star Wars, but fan perception of you seems to be pretty serious.

TD: Yes, I have this reputation for being the “hit man.” That’s a function of that luck of the draw because I killed a couple of pretty big names, but also because I tend to write a grittier, more action-oriented story than Aaron or a lot of other people. Action tends to be one of the main things that drives my stories and that’s good. You need action, you need humor, you need variety in the diet – otherwise it’s going to get pretty bland and monotonous.

FG: Yesterday at the Del Rey panel, you were linked with James Luceno as the authors who are “into minutiae” – detail-oriented writers.

TD: Yes, and you know I take that as a compliment. That’s just a reflection of me being a fanboy. I read the stuff, I enjoy it, and I’ve been doing that for a long time. But I never sit down and say, “Oh, I want to insert a lot of details about this because I want to demonstrate that I’m a fanboy,” because that’s just way too much work. Every time I use a detail, that detail has to be verified. I’m not just writing from memory.

Some people may think that I insert details because I want to show my knowledge but those folks don’t really understand what a writer does. If you think about it, a writer sits alone at his desk in front of a keyboard, and that’s ninety-nine percent of their life. So the less time I have to spend doing research that isn’t fun, as opposed to writing, which is fun, the better. Nobody wants to do the research, that’s not the fun part of the job, so I can definitely promise that I am not adding it for no reason. It comes out because I think it has a place in the story. I try to put nothing into a story that isn’t needed.

FG: If you had to choose, would you prefer the Millennium Falcon, or the Parting Gift?

TD: Oh, boy. Millennium Falcon. I’ve just had too much fun on the Millennium Falcon.

FG: I think most fans would agree with you.

TD: Yes, I think they would.