Wars: Myth & Magic — 1. How did you get started as a writer?
Matthew Woodring Stover — Same
way everybody else does: by writing. Every day. And by deciding,
from a very early age, to keep on putting my stories in front of
people who have the authority to 1) publish them, AND 2) write checks
to me, the larger the better (the second is fully as important as
the first), and to keep on making my stories better and better until
those aforementioned people can no longer resist. Once these decisions
are made, the rest is mostly a matter of not giving up. I never
SW:MM — 2. What led you to write science fiction?
MWS — Gravity.
Which is another way of saying: for me, SFF is an inexorable law
of character. There's no escape. I don't write SFF for money, I
just want to make money writing SFF, which is not at all the same
thing. I can't NOT write SFF. Believe me, I've tried. My agent refers
to me as "One of the Afflicted."
SW:MM — 3. Were you a Star Wars fan when you
MWS — I saw [A
New Hope] twenty-three or four times. In the theater. I
Strikes Back], if memory serves, twenty-eight times. Likewise
in the theater. Does that answer your question?
Hell, I'm still a fan. I am absolutely hooked on Ostrander's
REPUBLIC comics; Quinlan Vos is one of my favorite characters.
SW:MM — 4. What inspires you when working on
MWS — It is nearly always the "feel"
of the story — what you might call the emotional texture.
Not the feel for the audience so much as for the characters themselves.
For me, there is something irresistably magnetic about a character
who finds the strength to keep on fighting in the face of the worst
the universe can throw at them, even certain failure, death, destruction
on a Biblical scale, whatever; and there is something irresistably
tragic about a character who needs that strength and just can't
find it, so he breaks . . . and is destroyed by his surrender.
It gets even better when you have a character who breaks and is
destroyed, and finds in his destruction the seeds of a new strength
that lifts him up so he can rise and fight again . . .
Y'know, I was thinking of my novel BLADE
OF TYSHALLE when I wrote that last sentence, and I just realized
that it applies even more directly to TRAITOR.
SW:MM — 5. How did you get involved in writing
MWS — This is a story I've told
in detail other places; I'll give the short version here. I was not interested in writing for Star Wars when
I was originally approached by Shelly Shapiro at Del Rey. At the time,
I thought of Star Wars novels as touch-football SF: purely light adventure where nobody's
ever in real danger and you know going in that it'll all turn out okay in
the end. That is not, as anyone who's read any of my novels will attest, my kind
of story. Nothing wrong with that stuff — it has its place — but
if you look at my answer to the previous question, you'll understand why that kind
of book just doesn't really interest me as a writer.
But then they explained what the NJO was going to be. And they
explained which part of the story they wanted me to write. And Bob Salvatore
and Mike Stackpole explained to me how many copies an NJO paperback would
And here I am.
SW:MM — 6. One of the things that made that
story stand out was the manner in which it was told. It largely followed only one character, which
was very unique in Star Wars terms. Was this your choice, or part of
the mandate set by Del Rey?
MWS — It was entirely my choice.
That's how I like to write: I keep my central cast small, so that
I can focus on their experiences in detail. And it was a choice
dictated to some extent by the nature of the story itself. TRAITOR
was Jacen's metaphoric Journey Through the Underworld; when Vergere
says, "You are forever lost to the worlds you knew," the
story has to make it feel that way. To have brought in "Meanwhile,
on the other side of the Galaxy, Luke Skywalker was . . ."
would have fatally undercut that feel.
SW:MM — 7. The other issue was, of course, the
"alteration" of how the Force is understood. Personally, I've always thought that the books and comics
had mistakenly interpreted the Force into a very narrow view. Traitor
seemed to break those barriers away. Was this an issue of "changing"
the view of the Force, or bringing the EU interpretation of it more
in line with Lucas' vision as it relates to the films?
MWS — What Vergere did was transform
JACEN's view of the Force, and she did it by (among other things) forcing him to confront certain contradictions
in the general EU version of what the Force is and how it works; for a
number of readers, the reaction was "Yeah? So what?" — they'd
already come to many of the same conclusions that Jacen was struggling to reach.
Vergere opened Jacen's mind to possibilities beyond the simplistic
dualities he had been taught; the effect of these possibilities on the EU
is out of my hands, and hers.
SW:MM — 8. Ganner's death in that novel was
outstanding. A noble end to a likable character. Was this one of the required elements that you
were given, or did you choose to kill him?
MWS — Lucy Wilson had a list of
Jedi that LFL thought were essentially played-out as characters,
and she wanted them eliminated. Ganner was on the list. I said,
"I'd be happy to kill him. I can't stand that stuck-up son
of a b***h." In the meantime — between the story conference
and when I began writing TRAITOR
— Ganner was developing as a character into someone a great
deal more likeable, as you said. It didn't change my plans at all.
His personal growth in the meantime just made his Last Stand more
meaningful for the fans, and for me. He was always going to go out
with a bang; it would have been a terrible disservice to his character
to have him die any other way.
Jedi should not die in bed.
Also — in one of those remarkable coincidences that I cannot
explain — the "more grown up" Ganner turned out
to be absolutely the perfect point-of-view character for the final
third of the novel; he became, in a sense, Jacen's student —
and found Jacen as inexplicable and frightening as Jacen had found
Vergere . . .
SW:MM — 9. Were you surprised by the amount
of debate that rose from the view of the Force promoted by Traitor?
MWS — Nope. I expected it.
For exactly one reason: you never see inside Vergere's head. You
never know how much of what she says is what she believes, and how much is
just a tool to break down Jacen's preconceptions and expand his limits. You —
as a reader — are put in exactly Jacen's position: you have to take what she says
and decide for yourself how much to accept and how much to reject; you
have to decide for yourself what she's really trying to achieve with the, ahem,
unconventional training she puts Jacen through.
So a lot of people like to argue about it. I think that's great.
Debate, insofar as it remains a rational act (as opposed to name-calling
and flame wars and that sort of thing), is a wonderful practice: it exercises the
mind. Stating a position and then detailing an argument supporting it can be a
Western style of meditation. Poking holes in someone else's argument can
be a kind of intellectual judo. I'm very much in favor of both.
But of course there are also those sad types who don't really argue
so much as complain. They simply cannot bear not knowing; it drives them
crazy that some questions will never have a Final Answer. Sometimes I think
of those people and chuckle.
I'm just vicious that way.
SW:MM — 10. Writers vary widely in how they
break up their novels. Some simply use numbers, others don't have chapters at all. Why did you elect
to use chapter titles?
MWS — I vary, myself. It depends
on the needs of the story. In HEROES
DIE, each chapter is a day, so they're just numbered: Day One,
Day Two, etc. In BLADE
OF TYSHALLE, the chapters aren't even chapters; each is kind
of a story of its own, and so it just gets a number. The introduction
is "Zero" and so forth. In the forthcoming CAINE BLACK
KNIFE, there aren't any numbers, there are only titles.
The chapter titles in TRAITOR
are exceedingly significant to me; I often can't start writing a
chapter without having a title for it. The titles represent thematic
concerns — or symbolic images or metaphors — that apply
specifically to the events in that chapter. I put the titles on
because I want those words to be lurking in the back of your head.
You can think of them as messages from the author: "Psst .
. . this is what I want you to be thinking about when you read this part . . ."
SW:MM — 11. The NJO changed as it went along
compared to the original outlines that were created, and I understand you were involved in some of
the planning. Now that it is over, can you give us a little insight
into what kinds of changes occurred as the story developed?
MWS — Most of the changes that
I participated in came about as a way of handling things that unexpectedly cropped up in the first couple
of years. We were just nailing down details of what would happen in which book, that
kind of thing; nothing earthshattering.
SW:MM — 12. How was writing Traitor different
MWS — Writing TRAITOR
— while still being some of the hardest work I'd done up to
that point — was something of a luxury. All the heavy lifting
had been done for me: I was writing a pivotal part of a well-established
story, using characters that were already developed; beyond back-creating
some beasties for the seedship and figuring out what the Vong would
do with Coruscant, I really didn't have anything to do but tell
a story. The hard part was compressing it into 80,000 words (my
books tend to run 160,000 and up), and to keep the intellectual
pressure, emotional distress, and physical danger balanced at a
high enough level to give the book suspense.
was exactly the opposite: here I was charged with giving life to
a character who'd had (at that point) onlya few lines in one film,
and had appeared in a handful of comic books. Not only did I have
to work out the nature of Mace Windu as a man and as a Jedi, I had
to basically guess how the early months of the Clone War would be
fought — i.e., how you fight a Galaxy-wide war with an army
roughly the size of North Korea's. And I ended up creating his homeworld,
and the culture that gave him birth, based on just a couple of lines
TO MALASTARE. So in a sense, it was a LOT more work.
On the other hand, it was my first hardcover. So it SHOULD be a
lot more work.
SW:MM — 13. When you first were offered the
gig to write Shatterpoint, you have said that your first pitch was rejected because it was more of a
traditional, light-hearted adventure story. Were there any elements
of that story that made it into the final novel?
MWS — Nope. Not even close.
SW:MM — 14. With the New Jedi Order series,
and now the Clone Wars novels, the Star Wars books have shifted into much darker territory. Violence
and gore are much more prevalent than in the past. Why do you think
the books have made this kind of transformation?
MWS — Look at the Prequel movies.
That's where a lot of this has come from; slashing through Obi-Wan's empty cloak is a lot different from a
lightsaber blade sticking through Qui-Gon's chest. Also, there has been an
increasing willingness to admit just how violent the OT was — from the
smoking corpse outside the door of the Lars moisture farm to severing Luke's hand to .
. . well, you get the picture.
We all grow up. Part of growing up is realizing that the world
— or the universe — is darker, more dangerous, and vastly more complicated
than we were led to believe when we were children. Which is not to say that the
good guys never win; sure they do. It's just that every fight has a winner
and a loser, and part of the maturation of Star Wars has been in the willingness
to accept that the Bad Guys are people, too — people who love and hate
and cry when they're sad and have families and bleed when they're cut (well,
unless it's by a lightsaber . . .).
That being said, however, I don't want to give people the impression
that there will never be more SW books that have that touch-football
sense of good clean fun. I'm sure there will be. I just won't be the one writing
SW:MM — 15. Knowing the fate of the galaxy,
and perhaps that of your main character, did that affect how you approached Shatterpoint? In that
while there may be some sense of victory, there will ultimately
be a defeat?
MWS — The common knowledge of what
precedes Ep IV would have made any kind of huge, triumphal victory
in the book completely hollow; it would have been a cheap irony,
and I try to avoid that kind of easy effect. Also, my (eventual)
mandate from LFL was a war story along the lines of ALL
QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and COLD
MOUNTAIN. As anyone who has read those books can tell you, they
are not exactly Happily-Ever-After stories.
So the real victory in SHATTERPOINT
had to be internal, not external: wisdom rather than warfare.
SW:MM — 16. You are writing the novelization
for Episode III. Since this is the first time you have written a film adaptation, how has that process
differed as compared to writing a story that is solely a novel?
MWS — It is, for me, immensely
more difficult. Though working from Mr. Lucas' script is not dissimilar, in many ways, from my own usual habit
(which is to work from an exceedingly detailed outline), doing a novelization
entails a lot of what Harold Bloom might call "anxiety of representation."
In other words, I'm constantly focusing on Getting It How George Lucas Would Want
It If He Were Writing It Himself . . .
SW:MM — 17. When can we expect a new non-Star
MWS — I had been hoping that the
third of the Acts of Caine, CAINE BLACK KNIFE, would be out by the time the Ep III novelization hits the
stores — but right now it looks like Caine will be on the back burner for a while
longer (the book's only half done). So you might see CBK in 2005, and you might
not. It is a question of my productivity and the whims of the Publishing Gods
. . .
SW:MM — 18. Which is more important, story or
MWS — There is no distinction between
them. Character IS story. It has to be. And the reverse. If it's not — if the story would be the same
regardless of who the characters are, of if the characters would undergo the same
changes regardless of what they do or what happens to them — well,
that's just shoddy writing.
SW:MM — 19. What is it about Star Wars that
has made it such a prominent part of American culture?
MWS — Damned if I know.
My best guess: a combination of headlong storytelling, archetypal
characters, and a substructure of potent pop-cultural introduction
to the most important mystico-philosophical concept in world history.
But that's just a guess.
SW:MM — 20. If you had Jedi powers, what would
you do with them?
MWS — I do have Jedi powers. I
use them for knowledge and defense.