Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an author.
Even as a kid I was obsessed with telling stories—my mom used to bring home those square "blue books" used for college exams, and I'd fill them with tales of my own creation, written in longhand. Throughout my life, if I've been able to write I've been happy—and I've never been picky about fiction vs. nonfiction or any particular form. Essays, school papers, newspaper articles, baseball recaps, poems, short stories, novels—give me some paper or a screen and it's all good.
After graduating college, the best path I saw to making a living as a writer was to work as a journalist, so that's what I did. I wrote for an environmental trade publication in Washington, D.C., which earned me a shot at a job with the new online arm of the Wall Street Journal. I spent nearly 13 years there, doing everything from copyediting to writing technology and sports columns, and I loved it.
During my years as a journalist I started a baseball blog and wrote fiction as a hobby. My love for Star Warsand my professional background led to a gig as the books columnist for the Star Wars Insider—and that led to the chance to write Star Wars for publishers including DK, Del Rey, Disney Press, Scholastic, and Studio Fun.
Writing Star Wars was no accident. I was eight years old when A New Hope came out, and it changed my life. It was everything I'd wanted from stories but hadn't figured out could be crammed into the same story: a rousing, exciting adventure that also plucked at deep, mythic chords and asked big questions about good and evil and family and legacy. I might not have been able to articulate all that at eight, but I knew A New Hope spoke to me—and it exploded my horizons as far as thinking about what storytelling could be.
Having been a fan of Star Wars from a young age, how does it feel to now actively contribute to the Star Wars universe?
I pinch myself every day. Every single day.
I tell this story a lot, but that's because it sums up so much: When Lucasfilm approached me to write the book that became The Weapon of a Jedi, they told me that the plot would involve Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, and R2-D2 exploring a jungle planet in search of an ancient Jedi temple.
Well, I immediately laughed in amazed surprise.
See, when I was nine I saved up enough allowance money to buy my first three Star Wars figures, and I thought very carefully about which three to get. I chose Luke and the droids, which was a good choice—they had a lot to talk about—but meant I didn't have any villains. So for the first few weeks those three explored planets made out of couch cushions, LEGOs, houseplants, and the like, and they found more than a few ancient Jedi temples.
Move forward to 2014 and I told Lucasfilm that yes, I could tell that story—because I'd told it a couple of dozen times back in 1978.
That's amazing to me. It's also amazing to think that the books I've worked on are in the hands of kids who will themselves be Star Wars fans for decades. I grew up with books such as Han Solo at Stars' End and they meant everything to me; it's gratifying and humbling to think there may be fans who will wind up feeling the same way about Rey's Survival Guide or Bomber Command.
How did you find inspiration for Rey's Survival Guide, especially being male and having to write from a female's first-person perspective?
For Rey's Survival Guide, the biggest challenge was to use a straightforward format to reveal a deeper, more emotional story—one that Rey herself doesn't realize she's telling. So I gave the reader a portrait of Jakku and the scavenging life, but through bits and asides we get a sense of Rey's loneliness, her stubborn determination that her people will return, and the hard lessons she's learned about trust. It would be too raw for Rey to write about those things directly, but they peek through as she's talking about, say, her mentors in the scavenging trade or how to strip an X-wing for parts.
I don't think there's anything necessarily "female" about that perspective, but when a story demands it I'm happy to do so. All writing and storytelling demands that you inhabit very different people's lives and experiences and find commonality with them. Gender is a big aspect of that, but you approach it the way you approach anything else: you bring respect and generosity of heart. But you also need to bring the confidence that you can and will find that commonality and craft an emotional center for the story you're telling. You can't get paralyzed by worrying that it isn't yours.
Of course, it helps that you're not alone—for Rey's Survival Guide I had terrific editors at Studio Fun and Lucasfilm to catch me if I fell. If your editor tells you something's off, you listen—particularly if you're writing something pretty far removed from your own perspective.
Who is your favorite female character in The Last Jedi series and why?
Oh, goodness. All of them?
I love Rose and Paige, the Tico sisters—they're a great pair for storytelling, with very different skills and personalities and a really intense bond as sisters. (To go back to other experiences, I'm an only child but I love writing siblings—whether it's the Tico sisters, Luke and Leia, or Tycho and Yana from my own Jupiter Pirates series.)
I love Rey because I find her combination of vulnerability and strength so compelling—she's finding her way through some really interesting dilemmas. She's really capable, but the challenges she faces would be daunting for someone with far more age and experience.
Leia Organa is always a joy to write while demanding your A game—she's tough and caustic but also funny, she's had to armor up emotionally but has a warm, caring side, and she's a natural leader and formidable diplomat. That's a lot to get right even before considering that she's a character I've looked up to since I was eight.
And Holdo's a very interesting character to try and figure out—I'd say more but I'd get in trouble.
So, yeah, all of them!
What can you reveal about your upcoming release Bomber Command?
It follows the same approximate format as Rey's Survival Guide—it's written by Paige Tico, and details her training as a tail gunner aboard a Resistance bomber, the missions she's flown for the Resistance, worlds she's visited, and other good stuff drawn from her experiences.
But it's also the story of her and Rose, from the strong bond they share as sisters to where they grew up, how they came to join the Resistance, and what they're fighting for. That also makes it a great complement to Elizabeth Wein's middle-grade novel Cobalt Squadron.
What's your favorite Star Wars podcast?
Oh wow. I'm going to be a diplomat there and take the Fifth. I will say that I love how rich and diverse all the voices around Star Wars are, and it's always amazingly fun to talk writing, storytelling, and just geek out about the galaxy far, far away on a podcast. So if you want to do that, find me online and hit me up!
What's your favorite Star Wars fan website?
Oh, I better be a diplomat again—there are so many, with perspectives that are valuable for fans and creators alike.
In terms of my personal habits, it's been wonderful to see the growth of the official site into a powerhouse for news, interviews, and fun features; I treat the Literature forum on TheForce.net as my own mini Reddit AMA, answering questions or at least the ones that won't get me in trouble; and of course a lot of the conversation has moved to Twitter, which is mostly a good experience.
How many times will you watch The Last Jedi in the theater when it comes out in December?
I don't know, but it's going to be an interesting experience. The first time I see a Star Wars movie now, I'm unable to enjoy it. Not because I know the story, but because I'm sitting there with the mental equivalent of a red pen in my hand, stressing out about things in a related book project that I would have included if I'd known about them, or that I would have handled a bit differently, or what have you. So I always make sure to go back within a day or two, and on that second viewing I can relax and just enjoy the movie.
This time around, I'm the writer of The Last Jedi novelization—it's out in March from Del Rey—so I'm imagining this will be the same experience, except the dial will go to 11.
What other projects are you working on for Studio Fun?
Rose Tico: My Resistance comes out this spring, and continues the Tico sisters' story, beginning shortly before the events of The Last Jedi. This time Rose is the narrator, and I had a blast getting into her head. She's such a tough, funny character, and it's great to tell the story of The Last Jedi and see its characters and events through her eyes.
And then I have another Studio Fun project on the horizon, but it'll have to remain under wraps for a little while yet. Patience, young Jedi!
© & TM 2018 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.