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An Interview with Paul S. Kemp and John Jackson Miller

23 Feb

Reading John’s Lost Tribe of the Sith stories, the Fate of the Jedi novels and then Paul’s Crosscurrent brings it home that Del Rey has a pretty comprehensive plan for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, post-Yuuzhan Vong and post-Darth Caedus. Not only does each story arc link together, but each story is made better by these links, in my opinion.

In the New Jedi Order, we were treated to a story that stretched over five years, included hundreds of characters and events, but which, ultimately, revolved around the Core characters; what Del Rey and its authors are doing now is going one step further – Fate of the Jedi focuses on the Core characters, but both Crosscurrent and Lost Tribe of the Sith work alongside FotJ, and work well, without having the Core characters in them. Sure, Lost Tribe is set 5000 years before the Battle of Yavin and Crosscurrent was set after the events of the Legacy of the Force, but didn’t bring in the characters we are used to reading about and expecting. How these story lines mix and intertwine (and they will probably continue to do so, with Paul’s sequel to Crosscurrent and the rest of the Fate of the Jedi novels still on the way) perked my interest mightily, and I decided to get Paul and John together for a kind of round-table interview. :-) Here’s the result!

::

Please tell us a bit about yourselves, how you got into writing, etc?

John Jackson Miller:
I started writing comics and prose stories about the same time I started reading them. Reading good stories inspired me to try my own hand at it, and I kept at it over the years, writing my own short stories and producing my own small press comics and magazines. It’s funny, but later on, when I started writing professionally, I found I was drawing on a lot of those experiences when I was just writing things for myself. You need to write for more than just yourself, but you’ve also got to be happy with the work you’re doing, or nobody else will be.

Paul Kemp:
I’m Paul S. Kemp. I’ve been married for seventeen years to a lovely redhead (think Mara Jade, peeps) and we have twin five year old sons. We live in Michigan with a couple cats. My day job is corporate lawyer, which makes me evil. My night job is entertaining writer, which makes me good. So on balance, I guess that makes me about a neutral.

I started writing in law school, when I realized that law was for suckers…er…when I realized, rather, that only practicing law would not lead to a fulfilling life for me. So, I submitted some material to Wizards of the Coast (they had an open submission policy at the time), they liked it, and asked me to submit to an closed call they were having for what would become The Sembia Series. I pitched them Erevis Cale, priest and assassin, they dug that, and here we are. :-)

What does Star Wars mean to you?

John Jackson Miller:
Quite a lot. The movies and the comics based on them were a big part of my childhood and teenage years, and obviously the whole milieu has been a big part of my working life. I even edited a Star Wars collectibles magazine in there somewhere.

Paul Kemp:
Setting aside the fanboy glee I feel for being able to participate in a small way in Lucas’s brainchild, (and here speaking of the movies) I think it’s one of the best fictionalized demonstrations of the Campbellian Hero’s Journey ever made. It’s really a modern myth, which explains why its such a phenomenon from generation to generation.

Considering that Fate of the Jedi, Lost Tribe of the Sith, Legacy and Crosscurrent all borrow characters and share intersecting plots, can you tell us about how this all began – who decided what, and what your roles were in creating these tales? (Without spoiling us, of course)

John Jackson Miller:
I’d been doing more writing in the EU, including some short fiction, and I was always looking for an opportunity to do more. Del Rey and Lucasfilm approached me in early 2009 about creating a supporting storyline that would fill in background about the Lost Tribe of the Sith, right from their beginnings.

The authors of the Fate of the Jedi series had come up with a fairly detailed look at what the Lost Tribe was like today, along with details about how they got stranded in the first place. Most of the intervening years were left available to interpret. We did some coordination to make sure that nothing we came up with caused problems later on, and that “Crosscurrent” and “Lost Tribe” worked together properly.

Since I was starting back five thousand years earlier and working forward, I saw part of my role as illustrating how the Sith got from Point A to Point B. The Sith we saw in the Golden Age of the Sith stories really didn’t have complicated infrastructures or military bureaucracies that we saw — but they needed underlings to be able to run missions like bringing back the Lignan crystals, and of course, the Lost Tribe evolves a fairly detailed command structure. There was also the matter of species to deal with, since the Tribe that we saw was not just human, but also striving for human physical perfection. Both of those things suggested that there was a lot more differentiation in the Sith than we initially saw in the comics — there had to be humans in the mix with some level of contact with outside cultures, even in the “hidden empire” years. The Lost Tribe had lightsabers without power packs; they had to get them from somewhere.

That was the sort of thing I’ve sought to address, while trying to tell an engaging story. Many of the changes that help make the Tribe what it is spring from choices — and unintentional consequences of choices — that our characters made in the past. “Paragon,” the upcoming story, is pretty pivotal in this regard.

Paul Kemp:

My contribution here is pretty small. In my original pitch for Crosscurrent, I had included the existence of an ancient Sith ship carrying Force-enhancing ore (what would later become Lignan) that found itself flung into the future due to a relativity shielding malfunction. My editor (I think), saw some possible connections in that to the story the team was developing for Fate of the Jedi. So she asked me if I could include a second ship that doesn’t jump into the future but instead just misjumps in some way — all of this became Lignan, Harbinger, and Omen, which are the “connectors” between Crosscurrent and the much larger story in Fate of the Jedi.

After that decision was made, I traded emails with some of the authors doing FotJ and JJM (John Jackson Miller), just to keep the various details correct. It was a great experience. Christie, Troy, and JJM (not to mention Sue, Leland, and my editor) were awesome to this Star Wars newbie.

The stories you write are separated by thousands of years of history – how do you give a tale the hallmarks of the Star Wars universe while also giving the tale its own era-specific flavor?

John Jackson Miller:
Oh, I think the trappings of Star Wars are always there. Beyond the physical things like the lightsabers and phenomena like the Force, a lot of the same themes are in play —good versus evil, redemption and betrayal, etc. Whatever the time period, it’s all Star Wars.

Paul Kemp:
Historical touchstones, mostly. Obviously there are some technological differences that get highlighted (ancient lightsabers are not “modern” lightsabers, for example), but little references to current events in the particular timeline can also ground the narrative in an particular era.

When you sit down to write tales in the Star Wars galaxy, what’s the most important aspect of the Galaxy Far, Far Away that you want to capture?

John Jackson Miller:
As I’ve said above — you want to make sure it feels all of a piece with the movies. It’s OK to branch out and explore new kinds of stories, but you don’t want the story to feel completely out of place and unconnected. The feel of stories is pretty important; Star Trek stories have a different feel from Star Wars stories, and so on. Readers tend to know when something feels like it belongs in a particular milieu.

Paul Kemp:
For me, the sense that Star Wars (and the EU) is a setting for myth-making. What I mean by that is that Star Wars touches on foundational moral questions by exploring through the lens of the Force (a kind of Manichean moral construct, really). Its themes are universal. I wanted to at least try and take a stab at that with Crosscurrent.

Also, blasters. And lightsabers. :-)

Coming back to the current EU: with opinions divided on whether or not the Legacy of the Force series worked –comparing it to the New Jedi Order- do you think that the editors and authors of the EU now have a better understanding of how to handle these complex storylines?

Paul Kemp:
Dave, my experience is so limited that I can’t speak to that at all. I’ll say only that the folks I’ve worked with have been extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful. It’s been a real treat.

What would you say to writers out there who want to someday write in the EU? Any advice or warnings?

John Jackson Miller:
Most licensed properties are invitation-only and don’t look at unsolicited submissions, and Star Wars is no exception. So the important thing is to get established — and that means writing for a variety of places and really polishing your skills. As a former journalist, I think all kinds of writing are important practice, from blogging to covering the sports for your local paper. It’s all about learning to communicate clearly, and to hit your deadlines.

Paul Kemp:
The same thing I say to any aspiring writers: read widely (and not just in genre), and learn what you can from great writers. Then, stop talking/thinking about what great ideas you have. Instead, put yourself in a chair and just friggin’ write. This is a craft. You only get better by doing it.

Finally: what would be the one EU story you would like to tell, if you could?

John Jackson Miller:
Heh! I don’t know – maybe a reality show following Lando’s life might be entertaining!

Paul Kemp:
I mentioned this in one other place, but I’d love to write Luke’s epic finale in the EU (if that finale were ever to come).

::

There we go, hope you all enjoyed that. :-) It goes without saying that the guys took time out of their busy schedules, and I thank them for that. :-)

Want more info on the authors and their work? Click on the links to head over to their websites: John Jackson Miller, Paul S Kemp.

I’ll be reading John’s third Lost Tribe of the Sith story, Paragon, this week or next week, and then I’ll post a review of all three stories.

Until then,
Be EPIC!

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Posted by on February 23, 2010 in Interviews

 

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3 responses to “An Interview with Paul S. Kemp and John Jackson Miller

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