At his Star Wars: Scoundrels signing in San Diego on January 12, Timothy Zahn gave a talk on how the novel came to be and then held a Q&A session. He discussed the real world publication timeline he worked with, his initial idea to make it a heist using a who’s who of the main characters and top smugglers in the GFFA (Luke, Han, Leia, Mara, Lando, Corran, Mirax, Talon and more) just before the New Jedi Order, and how even the cover art influenced the final story.
The video of the author talk also includes a little bit about Vision of the Future‘s cover art and his side of the story on the move of the release date from Christmas to New Year’s Day, and more on his collaboration with David Weber in the Honor Harrington universe. At the end, Zahn touches on what the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm might mean for the book line, and for him.
After the author talk, Tim answered questions from the audience gathered at Mysterious Galaxy. Below is a summary of the Q & A session, both Star Wars and non-SW. If enough people clamor for it, I may upload the video of the Q&A session (though I may break it up as it clocks in at over half an hour).
- While the Ocean’s Eleven series and The Sting were influences on Scoundrels, Timothy Zahn has not watched the TV series Leverage, the heist show that just finished after five seasons on TNT, but it is on his radar.
- The voice Zahn imagined for his character Talon Karrde was the voice of the Blake’s 7 character, Kerr Avon, played by Paul Darrow.
- He’d love to see Mara Jade in the upcoming sequels, and he recognizes that there have been rumors that the main protagonist may be female. However, he’s avoiding all the internet speculation and will wait until he sees the credits.
- On writing more for the youth market: his agent says that Young Adult (teenager years) are dominated by female writers and angsty vampires while the middle grades (8 to 12 year olds) are better because the readers are still interested in science fiction; boys are still reading, and it fits his style very well. Zahn has 4 or 5 ideas for middle school fiction and may yet refine 1 or 2 for pitching when he gets time. He’d like to get back to that age group, which fits his PG style and is fun to write for.
- On his plate – seven novels under contract: three Honor Harrington novels, two Cobra novels, and two more in the Sybil’s War trilogy (first book is Pawn).
- On how he churns out so many books: As writing is his full time job, he cannot wait for the mood to strike. He tries to write 1,000 to 1,500 words per day of more-or-less final copy. About 60-70% into the book, he picks up speed (2,000 to 2,500 words per day). His best week was 21,000 words, while his best day was 8,000 words at the end of a book. At those times, he wakes up really early to start work (but can’t eat breakfast until 6:30 when it is time to feed the cats). He typically budgets 4 months for a book (3 books a year), but he’s done a book in three months thrice.
- On casting characters like Mara Jade or Grand Admiral Thrawn: He doesn’t see the characters visually – Mara is an attitude or personality. Aside from the bare minimum (Mara: red hair, green eyes, dancer physique; Thrawn: blue skin, red eyes, blue-black hair), he doesn’t have faces so any competent actor who can stick the attitude can be that character. As people have suggested Tommy Lee Jones or Jeremy Irons for Thrawn, he could see that – if he were casting, probably the last person he saw would get it. He would like to witness a casting session just to see how it works.
- On Disney ownership means much more potential opportunities for Star Wars on screen: X-Wing, tales of Mara Jade, animated series of the Thrawn trilogy, etc. With Disney’s capital (aka Scrooge McDuck’s vault), the live action TV series does not need to worry so much about episode cost. He is optimistic about Disney handling Star Wars, considering their track record with Marvel and Pixar: buying companies and not messing up what makes them valuable while being able to bring in the talent to make something grand. “Disney has the funds and the common sense to do it right.” He used the example of Pixar’s John Lasseter working on Wreck-It Ralph to show the benefits of all being under one roof.
- On not being involved in the maxi-series: New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force or Fate of the Jedi. He turned down some books in the NJO for three reasons: he wasn’t happy with the darker tone of the series, the outline was already finished (he would be writing someone else’s story and not his own), and being locked into a series hinders his style of being able to make changes and introduce cool ideas if it will mess up things downstream especially if later books are already in production. With the collaboration with David Weber, Zahn will be taking the lead, and Weber will be doing final edits. For similar reasons as avoiding multi-author book rotations, he also does not like to do novelizations, though he allowed himself to be put into the ring for the novelization of The Dark Knight Rises.
- On the David Weber collaboration in the Honor Harrington series: He had been asked to write a novella for an Honorverse anthology, and at Origins in 2012, he had joked in an email about doing a full trilogy and not just a novella, and Weber loved the idea and was able to sell it to the publisher. There may even be a fourth book to the trilogy for Tim and possibly some Young Adult works in the Honorverse, based on the character Travis Long as a teenager.
- On working again in the Terminator franchise: Felt that Terminator: Salvation choked at the end by using the same ending as many of the other movies, but enjoyed receiving the script and all the changes, while working on related novels. He would like to see more Terminator movies, and would like to do more Terminator books. While Star Wars is like a giant mural, Terminator is a tiny cameo: very compressed time/space/set of characters. But both have the same themes: love, survival, courage, sacrifice, so writing in that universe is as easy as writing in the SW universe.
- On pleasure reading: He can’t really read fiction anymore because he starts analyzing the plot and characters and it becomes work. He does read non-fiction for pleasure, including histories (kingdoms, WWII). His fear is that if he gets into TV or movie work, he may not be able to enjoy watching.
- On Tolkien and Peter Jackson: Jackson did a good job of translating the Lord of the Rings books into film, and cleaning up a lot of Tolkien’s average plotting by showing major things that Tolkien only had happen off camera. He pointed out other examples of good writing from Jackson’s movies, and also from The Princess Bride.
- What he watches on TV: A lot of USA network: Burn Notice, White Collar, Psych. Reruns of NCIS. Previously, Chuck, Eureka, and Firefly. Fringe didn’t hold together for him, mostly when they fail at the real science and would tell but not show key character traits. He’s written a couple of movie scripts and a TV script on spec, but none have gone anywhere.
- On Basil & Mobius: He’s written a couple of short stories for inclusion with the graphic novel series about Basil and Mobius, (The Devil’s Handshake), about two British thieves. Ryan Schifrin’s graphic novel has also spawned a low-budget short movie: No Rest for the Wicked, with Zachary Levi, Ray Park, and Malcolm McDowell.
- On a dream project: he would love to do a movie of something he’s written: Cobra, Star Wars, Dragonback, The Green and the Gray. Dragonback could make for a good movie or TV series. Quadrail series. Some of the best movies from books are when the author is involved: The Princess Bride, Holes.
- On living in Oregon: They used to live in Illinois but grew tired of flat cornfields, hot summers, and cold winters, so trading up for the more temperate Oregon coast worked, and an advantage of being a writer is that one can live anywhere with just electricity and internet access.
For more with Tim Zahn, check out my exclusive interview, where I ask about some of the different characters from Scoundrels, as well as check in on the status of a Star Wars collaboration with Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston.