Jeff Grubb is the author of novels, a creator of computer and role-playing games, and a man with a lengthy bibliography. Tomorrow, his first Star Wars novel, Scourge, will be released. As he enters the Star Wars universe as an author, we sat down with Jeff to talk about Scourge, its characters, and spice addiction.
EUCantina (EUC): Scourge begins with an acknowledgement that the events of the book were first detailed in the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Tempest Feud. For fans who aren’t aware of this, can you tell us a little about Tempest Feud and the role you had in it?
Jeff Grubb (JG): Tempest Feud was a 128-page “super-adventure” for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game from Wizards of the Coast, and was published about 10 years ago. It was written by me (most of the story), Owen K.C. Stephens (most of the mechanics) and Rich Redman (uncredited, but development). It was intended to be a massive multiworld adventure that could be broken down into three acts, and involves the Anjiliac clan of Hutts.
EUC: How much of Scourge was detailed in Tempest Feud, and how much of it was brand new for this novel?
JG: Tempest Feud provided the initial spine and plot of the book – the Anjiliacs, the Bomu clan, Endregaad, Angela Krinn, and the hard spice Tempest. When reframing it as a novel, I found it was much more than just pouring in protagonists and shaking. The whole question of a self-doubting Jedi, the death of his apprentice, the uncovering of the plots involved, the nature of characters and how they related, and working with material that wasn’t in the original, such as the Swokes Swokes, and the matriarch of the Bomu Clan, all came into play once it became a novel.
If you’ve played Tempest Feud, there will be recognizable things here, but as they say, the tale grew with the telling.
EUC: Mander Zuma is a very interesting Jedi, in that he’s the rank of Master – but still very unsure of his abilities. How did you approach creating his character for Scourge?
JG: The Jedi have a reputation, both within the galaxy and among Star Wars fans. They are confident, capable, and self-assured. Wise warrior monks backed up by the power of the Force. Yet Mander has that connection to the Force, but doesn’t feel self-assured. He tends to overthink, and his lightsaber, which is supposed to be an extension of himself, feels like an alien thing.
In such a world, where would Mander fit? He drifted to the back of the group, and found a place in the Archives, where he wouldn’t have to face such challenges on a regular basis. He’s good at what he does, and as we see, he has the potential to live up to the Jedi reputation, but HE doesn’t see it. At least, not at the start.
Having tucked him away, what would bring him out of that security into a wider and more dangerous galaxy? The failure of one he had taught, and the question if he himself had failed. That sets Mander onto his path and into Scourge.
EUC: In recent years, most Expanded Universe novels tend to have an abundance of human characters. Scourge seems to do the complete opposite, however, with the vast majority of the cast being aliens. Was having an abundance of alien characters something you purposefully wanted to accomplish with Scourge?
JG: I love the Star Wars aliens (I blame the original cantina scene), but I recognize that within the Empire, they have been marginalized. As a result they are perfect for the type of stories I feel comfortable with – stories dealing with the fringe of galactic culture.
And I think it is a part of my RPG background that informs this – when we were first playtesting the d20 Star Wars game, I was running a Wookiee named Whappamanga. It is easier to pour oneself into an alien role in the RPG as opposed to creating one for the big screen.
EUC: Scourge is very mysterious; just when the reader has an answer to one mystery, another mystery presents itself. As an author, how do you craft a story to successfully keep the answers to these mysteries hidden beneath so many layers?
JG: I had all my points laid out and where I wanted the parts of the mystery to unravel. Sometimes I would have a major point, then cover it with a small revelation that seems at the time to be more important. I wanted to play fair with the reader, so that, in reflection after the book is done, you can see all the clues.
The big danger in all this is when I was in revision. I moved some sections around and, late in the day, discovered that I had Mander refer to a part of the mystery he had not yet discovered. Stuff like that can create grey hair.
EUC: The novel has a plot that involves a particularly nasty spice, known as Tempest. What drew you to including spice and drug addiction into the plot of Scourge?
JG: Tempest was part of Tempest Feud, and I really like the idea that the overarching threat is not a super-weapon, but rather a social plague. Spice is treated differently in different books, ranging from a mild stimulant to a hard drug. The ability to identify that there are different types of spice, and the potential situation for abuse and lethality in spice, made it a very good subject for discussion and a potent threat.
EUC: For the most part, Scourge is probably one of the most standalone Star Wars books produced in several years. Was it a conscious effort to write a story that contained almost all original characters? Would you ever be interested in writing a Star Wars book that utilized some of the more well-known characters in starring roles?
JG: When I first approached the book, I provided my editors a list of about eight pitches, one of which was an evolution of Tempest Feud. Others include well-known canon characters (The Autobiography of Jar Jar Binks), minor characters (I’m a fan of Dexter Jettster), and totally new characters in familiar situations. I would like to write major characters, but there is a freedom in creating new protagonists. It shows that it is a big universe. And while Luke, Leia, and the rest catch long and deep shadows and influence the entire galaxy, there is room for more stories.
EUC: Scourge takes place just a few years before The New Jedi Order series. What drew you to writing in this era of the Expanded Universe, and could you ever see yourself writing in a different era (i.e. The Old Republic, the prequel era, etc)?
JG: The Rebellion and New Republic eras are the ones I am most familiar with as a fan of the original movies and the games, comics, and books that came out of them, and I think that this comfort zone helped me in telling the story (the original Tempest Feud was designed “for any era”). I feel I could delve deep into other eras, as long as I remain true to core ethos of Star Wars itself.
EUC: Was there anything you had to cut from Scourge before its final version?
Truth to be told, the first draft was light in word count, and I ended up adding material. This was great in that I got to expand out a lot of scenes late in the book, as well as get into the heads of both the Spice Lord and hench-entity Koax the one-eyed Klatooinian.
JG: What’s next for you? Are there any future plans to write another Star Wars book?
Right now my day job is as a Lore and Continuity Designer for ArenaNet, working on the upcoming (and highly anticipated) Guild Wars 2. This is keeping me pretty busy right now. I’ve also been helping Wolfgang Baur of Open Design on paper-and-pencil RPG game world called Midgard. And there is a Parella the Hutt prequel story coming up in Star Wars Insider
I currently have no plans for another Star Wars book, but Mander’s experiences in Scourge set him up as a Jedi with experience in dealing with the Hutts and the Corporate Sector. I think it would be interesting to continue his story.