When it comes to the elite of Star Wars authors, Matthew Stover has earned the right to be mention in that catagory. He has written four Star Wars books; Shatterpoint, The Revenge of the Sith novelazation, Traitor, and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which was released in December. Two out of four of those books are best selling novels. EUCantina’s Andrew L. had the chance to sit down and discuss Matthew’s latest work, his past accomplishments, and his writing future. Almost all questions were submitted by fans.
WARNING: Contains Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor Spoilers.
EUCantina (EUC): Greetings Mr. Stover, and welcome to EUC!
Matthew Stover (MWS): Thanks for inviting me.
EUC: How have you been? I’m sure very busy with the recent release of Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor.
MWS: Not as busy as you might think; the plans for an author tour to support this release had to be canceled due to both my failure do deliver this novel in a timely fashion, and to some unfortunate health issues – nothing life-threatening, merely difficult and annoying. Mostly I’ve been doing interviews like this one, writing in my home office, wearing a bathrobe and balancing a giant mug of organic fair-trade Hawaiian coffee.
EUC: Now, within the few weeks it has been released it has become an instant classic– many are saying the best SW book ever. How do you feel about that? What do you think make fans feel that way?
MWS: It’s not unusual for fans to indulge in a bit of hyperbole when a new book comes out – especially if the new book offers a striking departure in tone from recent EU offerings. Each of my three previous Star Wars novels has been labeled, in some quarters of fandom, as “the best SW novel ever,” very likely due, in large part, to each of them being regarded as somehow unusual – a change in direction for the franchise. Not all of these fans retain the full measure of their enthusiasm a few years down the road.
I think Mindor is popular right now because (many, though not all) fans find it to be the kind of story that got them hooked on the Expanded Universe in the first place. One respondent said, “It felt like coming home.”
I am very pleased with the general reaction to Mindor. I really was trying to channel the spirits of Brian Daley and Alan Dean Foster, and simply produce a book that would be non-stop flat-out Deep Fried Goodness from cover to cover. Fans of my other books will understand just how radical a departure Mindor is for me.
EUC: How was Mindor “born?”
MWS: By emergency C-section. It was so late that Shelly Shapiro sent a squad of stormtroopers to cut the story out of my skull.
The genesis of the idea came from Mike Kogge, a good friend and former Lucasite; one day I was complaining to him about not having a concept for this big blockbuster hardcover I was supposed to be writing, and he mentioned that he’s always been interested in Luke’s decision to give up being a soldier so that he could become a full-tie Jedi. Looking into this transition brought me to The Essential Chronology‘s reference to an otherwise unknown warlord called Shadowspawn, and the bloody Battle of Mindor . . .
EUC: Moving on from Mindor, for just a bit, and going more into general SF, what was your first published novel? How did you feel about it?
MWS: My first published novel – my first professional sale, in fact – was a historical fantasy called Iron Dawn, about a small team of itinerant mercenaries in Phoenikian Tyre at the end of the Bronze Age. It’s a pretty good book, overall – but it reads like a first novel. To me, at least. When I read it, I see an inexperienced writer, still suffering from a lack of confidence in his skills, as well as a lack of confidence in his readers. But still, it’s pretty good.
As for how I feel about it, well . . . I think that’s pretty clear from the preceding paragraph.
EUC: At what point did you realize that you could make writing your primary career?
MWS: If I ever reach that point, I’ll let you know.
EUC: How did you become involved in the world of Star Wars fiction?
MWS: My career was kidnapped by Imperial stormtroopers.
Del Rey bought Heroes Die – along with its sequel, now known as Blade of Tyshalle – for a price that was wholly exorbitant back in 1996. They were anticipating, I was told, that Heroes Die would make me a major star in their already-considerable line-up. However, between their purchase of HD and its publication, Del Rey purchased the rights to publish Star Wars novels from LucasFilm Licensing for . . . oh, call it a thousand times as much as they’d paid me. Maybe a bit inflated, but not too far off the mark.
The upshot of this (along with the corporate restructuring that took place as Bantam Doubleday was folded into Random House and the whole shebang bought by Bertlesmann AG) was that by the time Heroes Die was actually published, Del Rey’s house publicist had neither sufficient budget nor sufficient attention available to promote it, and thus HD and Blade of Tyshalle essentially sank without a trace. However, one of the editors on those two books was also working on The New Jedi Order, and she came to me with an offer to write the book that eventually became Traitor. I took this to be an opportunity to make a little money while raising my profile with Organized Fandom, and eventually (after some initial reluctance was beaten out of me by Bob Salvatore and Mike Stackpole) surrendered to the Dark Side – uh, wait, that should read: “started writing for the Franchise.” Since then, it has forever dominated my destiny – uh, wait . . .
EUC: How does the Star Wars writing process at Del Rey work? Are different writers given a subject or sketch to flesh out, or do they submit story ideas to the publishers?
MWS: It varies. For Traitor, I was assigned a very specific chapter in a larger story; we all knew going in where the book would start, and where it would end. I took care of the details of the middle.
For Shatterpoint, I was assigned to do a Horrors of War novel starring Mace Windu. Period. I kept submitting concepts until I hit on one that everybody liked.
Revenge of the Sith is, I think, self-explanatory.
For Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, I was simply offered the last remaining hardcover slot in Del Rey’s then-current contract with LFL. They left everything else mostly up to me.
EUC: How much time is involved in writing a novel? How much time overall, and how many hrs per day are dedicated to writing for you?
MWS: When I’m in the middle of a project, I spend about three to four hours a day at my computer – before and after my proverbial Day Job. Saturdays I’m usually good for five to six hours (twelve to fourteen if I’ve already blown a deadline), and two or three on Sunday.
The fastest novel I ever wrote was Traitor, which was about seven months from concept to finished manuscript. The slowest I’ve written was Heroes Die, which was nineteen years from conception to publication.
EUC: Let’s move onto your previous Star Wars works, which of course includes ROTS, Traitor, and Shatterpoint. Many see parallels between all these stories and Dante’s Inferno. Is it really meant to parallel it or is it just a coincidence?
MWS: Well . . . the only one with actual parallels to Inferno would be Traitor, and then only in the loosest possible sense. It was intended to represent Campbell’s “Journey Through the Underworld”- Inferno is only the most famous (and extended) of literary versions of this. Traitor was influenced more by some of Dante’s sources, including the Hadean sequences of Metamorphoses and The Odyssey. Traitor‘s original title was Underworld, which was nixed by LFL because Dark Horse was already producing a comic-book SW sequence by that name.
Shatterpoint works the territory of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, along with a liberal dash of its most influential retelling (Apocalypse Now). It is considerably more grounded in “realistic” (that is, non-metaphoric) detail than is Traitor, and (in my opinion anyway) it’s a great deal darker
Revenge of the Sith is, again, self-explanatory.
EUC: Were you aware that Vergere was going to be killed in Destiny’s Way, or that she would be portrayed as a Sith in the LOTF series and the Legacy comics?
MWS: Sorry. What I knew or did not know about any story elements – past, present, or future – is covered by the confidentiality clause in my contract. Which means: I’m not gonna tell you. Period.
EUC: In the Revenge of the Sith novelization, you describe the Senate duel between Palpatine and Yoda as light versus dark. Did you have the idea for the Dark when you wrote that? If not, where did the concept come from?
MWS: The Dark is very much what I was writing about in the paragraphs that introduce each of the three acts of Revenge of the Sith (“the dark is generous,” etc.), and in the ones that close it. The Dark is the “darkness in the jungle” that destroys Depa Billaba in Shatterpoint; ordinary “dark siders” are more like Vader, or Kar Vastor – who seek to control the Force to serve their selfish ends. The Way of the Dark is, in its own way, as selfless as the devotions of the most ascetic Jedi hermit. It is madness of a very specific sort.
EUC: Did Yoda and Obi-Wan understand the Dark? Is Luke the only Jedi to fully grasp the idea?
MWS: That’s not for me to say.
EUC: Is it, or will it ever be, fully explained why Luke wanted his actions to be investigated?
MWS: You didn’t think it was clear?
EUC: Although Mindor was a phenomenal standalone story, many found one of the most intriguing parts of the book to be not only the recurrence of Shatterpoint characters, but the direct continuation of both the “heroes” and “stars” motifs from Revenge of the Sith. When writing RotS, did you know at the time that you wished to build on these concepts in future works or was it something that came about while in the middle of Mindor?
MWS: When writing RotS, I had no intention of ever writing another SW book. As far as including characters and motifs from earlier works goes, well – everything I’ve got goes into everything I do. When you steal from yourself, nobody calls the cops.
EUC: What was your inspiration to include all the stuff about holothrillers and movies into The Shadows of Mindor?
MWS: I think it might have been someone at the San Diego ComiCon in 2003 or so . . . or while on RotS tour in 2005 . . . Anyway, somebody mentioned to me that Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars mini-toons could be retconned as pro-Republic propaganda being disseminated throughout the GFFA over the HoloNet. I thought this was a brilliant idea (as well as being pretty damned funny), and it’s always stuck in the back of my mind – what if some or all of the EU stories were, well, fictionalized exploits of real people? The American West of the 19th Century provided the subject of hundreds of dime novels, many of which were written about real people – Bat Masterson, the James Gang, Wild Bill Hickok, and Buffalo Bill Cody among others, if memory serves; how many more such legendary characters took part in the Galactic Civil War?
I was also inspired by a line of Bob Salvatore’s, when he introduced me on a New Jedi Order panel. He described me as having “introduced the concept of the Unreliable Narrator into Star Wars fiction.” Now, he was talking about Traitor, which is not really an unreliable narrator so much as a narrative strategy that confines the reader’ point of view to those of Jacen, Ganner, and Nom Anor, highlighting their individual responses to having to act in the face of irreducible ambiguity. But ever since then, I’ve had this nagging feeling that there really should be unreliable narrators in Star Wars. Because there’s no such thing as a truly reliable narrator; the very act of creating a story subjects the elements of that story to prior restraint – even choosing what incidents and elements to include is an editing of reality, if you see what I mean. They will always be selected to illustrate and support the author’s rhetorical intent, whatever that may be.
I hung a sign on my office wall that reads:
ALL NARRATORS ARE UNRELIABLE. THE HONEST ONES ADMIT IT.
EUC: In the novel when you were talking about Cronal and his studies of Sith Alchemy you mentioned Dathka Graush and a King of the Sith. When referring to the “King of the Sith”, did you mean Dathka Graush or Adas who was previously the only Sith King, or at least stated as the ‘first’ Sith King?
MWS: Really? King of the Sith? I must have missed that part.
EUC: You’ve mentioned before in other interviews that you would love the opportunity to write the final adventure of the “Big Three.” In your mind, how far down the road is that adventure and do you, personally, already have an idea as to how that particular story would go down, were you to write it?
MWS: In order: Sure I would, I dunno, and I don’t have a clue.
EUC: I’m sure many are wondering– will there be a sequel to Mindor? What other works might you want to work on now in the Star Wars universe?
MWS: I don’t know the answer to either of those, either. We’ll all have to wait and see.
EUC: Last thing: What’s up next for Matthew Stover in terms of writing outside of Star Wars?
MWS: A couple more tie-ins, then the final Acts of Caine novel, His Father’s Fist.
EUC: Thank you for joining me, Mr. Stover, and I wish you continued success in the writing profession. Come back anytime!
MWS: The pleasure was mine.