Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Timothy Zahn Interview

The fact that I was able to score an interview with Timothy Zahn was huge for me. I've never interviewed anyone before so to me I was starting pretty high up on the awesome scale. I know not everyone knows who he is or has read his books so I'll give a very brief intro for those of you who don't know why I was so excited. Although I'm not sure why you'd be reading this if you don't know who he is. Timothy Zahn basically started the Star Wars expended universe. He's kind of a big deal. In 1991 he wrote Heir to the Empire, and followed with 2 more books to make up the Thrawn trilogy. There was no such things as Star Wars novels before he came along. Now there are gagillions of them, but this is the man that started it all. Even if you haven't read any of them you probably know his original characters. Talon Karrde, Mara Jade, and Grand Admiral Thrawn are almost as well known as any original movie characters. He them proceeded to write 9 other Star Wars novels, and a bunch of short stories.

His most recent Star Wars novel Scoundrels was a good Han, Chewie, and Lando adventure that I recommend as a fun light read.

So pre-interview set-up: I was due to be at the interview room at 4:30, and arrived over-eagerly early. I was nervous and excited, and I knew if I waited any longer I would end up having a few to many “relaxers” before my time came. When I arrived in farthest corner of the sub-basement in the Hyatt there were only a few other people hanging out in the hallway ahead of me. There was a sort of proto-typical nerd type (probably younger than he looked, breathed heavily through his mouth when he moved around too much, that sort of thing), and 2 guys with a huge camera who were discussing whether or not they should start watching Doctor Who because they felt like they should be into it, and 1 guy laid out asleep in front of the door. The closest room to the interview room is some filking thing. The sleeping guy is snoring up a storm, and the filking is going full blast, and I'm starting to wish I'd another drink before coming down here. I'm not judging, but I just don't get filking. I can't really tell what they're singing about most of the time so I don't get how it's so different from regular folk music.

It was a very informal situation which made me way more comfortable. At the time no one was manning the door so Timothy Zahn popped his head out the door and asked if we were there for him or just hanging out. The dude who eventually showed up to monitor the process started to try and regulate telling us in what order we would go in, and such. Those of us who were conscious had already politely agreed first come first served worked for us, but he had other plans. The big guy who'd been there long before any of us was shocked to discover that he wasn't going to be allowed in until 5:40 which was an hour away at that point. Luckily the doorman was called away to other duties, and replaced by some much more laid back ladies. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Zahn only had an hour the whole weekend to give interview, and only myself and 3 other outlets got time with him. I'm not sure if no one higher on the nerd totem pole asked or if we have more pull than I generally believe, but whatever the reason I was feeling even more lucky after learning that. The other reporter (who was late and had an irritatingly loud entourage) pulled out a huge microphone, video camera, and laptop that made my phone recorder, and notebook feel pretty lame. Since they were annoying I didn't let it bother me too much though. Eventually it was my turn, and what follows is the audio transcription of my brush with fame.

BV: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I know you're a busy man this weekend as you just had a book release last night.

TZ:Yes we had the launch party last night. This is A Call to Duty. It's my first collaboration with David Weber. We're stating a series call Manticore Ascendant. For those who are Honor Harrington fans this is the same universe, but 400 years before honor herself. And it's the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore or before they become a major political, economic, military force in the galaxy. So that book started, I'm almost done with book 2. There are 3 contracted for, but David and I are thinking more in the range of 15 to 20; we've got lot of history we can cover in that era, and a lot of good stories to tell. So we're hoping it does well.

BV: Wow, that is a lot of stories to tell. That'll keep you busy for quite some time I'm sure.

TZ: David has asked me if I have any plans for the next few year so we'll see.

BV: Sounds like more than a few. So with that much going on do you have any plans to continue writing Star Wars books? Scoundrels came out just last year, and it was excellent.

TZ: Well thank you. It was Star Wars meets Ocean's Eleven. It was a fun one. I have not been contacted by Lucasfilm or Del Ray to do any more books. I don't know if they will be asking me down the line or not. If not I've gotten to do 10 novels, 19 short stories, and I'm guesstimating about a million and a half words in the Star Wars universe. If I'm done I've had a good run. If they want me to do more they know where to find me. I'm certainly game, and regardless I’ll be in the theater that first night probably the midnight showing to see the new movies.

BV: But hey, they're starting the midnight showings at 10 or even 8 on Thursday now.

TZ: (laughing) Which is better for those of us who are getting on in years.

BV: One of the things that struck me when reading Scoundrels, but really all of your Star Wars books was how well you captured the characters voices. When reading any of them I can really hear them talking in my head. How did you go about get those voices so true?

TZ: That is a piece of serendipity that nobody knew when they asked me to do these books. Back when our son was 4 or 5 or so we discovered that if he'd seen a movie enough times we could do an audio recording of the movie, we started with the Wizard of Oz, by simply putting a tape recorder up against the TV speaker. We could tape the whole movie, and then play it for him in the car tape player. And he would sit in the car seat for a couple of hours. You know, sit there happy as a clam playing with his legos visualizing the movies. So the upshot is that however many times I had seen the Sar Wars movies I'd heard them 5 or 6 or 7 times more which meant that I could get the voices without the distraction of the visuals so by the time I started the Thrawn trilogy we'd done this many times. I had a really good feel for how Han talks, how Leia talks, how Luke talks and that just naturally came out in the writing. One of those fortunate events.

BV: I can see how visuals might be distracting for a writer in a movie like that. They're such big movies with so many explosions, and so much happening you don't always focus just the speaking without anything else in there.

TZ: You're doing a bunch of sense, and this way it's boiled down to just the hearing so the stuff just kind of seeped into my subconscious. I had the rhythm down and everything. So it was just a matter of how does Han talk, okay he talks like this.

BV: So other than a really good career boost if it went well what were you hoping to achieve with the Thrawn series? Did you think that you were making Star Wars history, and becoming basically the start of the expanded universe?

TZ: No one even knew if the Star Wars fans were out there. This was a big experiment, and a big gamble on Bantam's part. In fact, I found out later that Lou Aronica who was head of Bantam Spectra basically put his job on the line to bring out the Thrawn trilogy as hard covers. This is serious work, this is not just a paperback knock off media thing, but he put his job on the line that these things were going to be successful. But nobody had any idea. The fans had been very quite because there was nothing to grab on to so we did not know, not so much was this the start of something great, we were going to be happy if we got 3 books out of it that made enough money to break even. So it caught everybody by surprise. We had 70,000 copies for the first printing. They'd wanted 100,000, but they couldn't get the orders for that so clearly no one was interested. The 70,000 we gone in I think 2 weeks, and they went back and I don't remember how many print runs they did of hard cover, but the Heir to the Empire hardcover was still being printed. It had 2 or 3 printings in hardcover after the paperback came out which never happens. Once the paperback comes out you sell of the hardcovers as remainders, and that's it. They were still printing hardcovers when the paperback was available. So yeah, it became a phenomenon because the Star Wars fans were still there. They've never gone away, and there are more of them now than ever. We've been given prequels, and clone wars, and lots of other books. Now we're gonna get rebels and spin-off movies. So yeah, it was the start, but nobody anticipated that at the time.

BV: I can't believe it's been over 20 years. I actually just got the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire for my kindle. And there's just so much new content in there with the annotation that you did.

TZ: Yeah, director's commentary kind of thing along the margins.

BV: It just blows my mind how long ago that was. I'm sure it blows your mind too though.

TZ: Yeah, 1991 it came out so a shade over 20 years. 23 years, but who's counting?

BV: So with what we know now with the clone wars, and the rise of the empire, and Vader's past is there anything that you feel like you would have changed if you knew then what you know now?

TZ: There were small tweakings, but really the books have held up pretty well considering all the stuff that's been going on elsewhere in the series. The only really major problem is that I was given a time line for the clone wars, and the following, and there was a 15 year gap between the end of the war and the birth of Luke and Leia. And then they changed that in the middle of writing book 2 so there is a 15 year discrepancy in anything I mention time wise. It would have been nice to fix that, but I don't want to go and retrofit that. The idea of the 20th anniversary was the original, here are my comments, here's where we goofed up and why or I don't remember why I goofed up but I did. But I can't think of much else I would change. Everything else has held up pretty solidly.

BV: So are you disappointed that there's been so much time between episode 6 and 7 that The Heir to the Empire isn't going to make it to the big screen?

TZ: There are ways you could do something like that. But they've already said there not going to take the expanded universe in the sequels, but if they wanted to you could jump a generation and Thrwan comes back from the unknown regions in time to deal with Han, Luke, and Leia's kids the next generation, and you could do the story that way. The other thing I hold out hope for is that even if nothing I've ever makes it into the movies Disney does have 4 TV networks they gotta fill with programming. I'm holding out hope that sometime in the next 10 years ABC TV will have the Thrawn Trilogy mini-series. Disney has paid 4 billion dollars for Lucasfilm. They're going to get everything they can out of it so I think eventually they will start mining the expanded universe. My dream TV season would be say a Thursday night starting with X-Wing, and then going on to Tales of the Jedi, and followed by The Mara Jade Chronicles or something like that . I think ABC could own that evening, but it all depends on how much they want to do, how much an episode these things cost. That's what kept Lucas from doing a live action so many years. It was just too prohibited cost wise, but special effect get cheaper every 10 minutes really. So always in motion the future is. We won’t know what's going to happen until it happens. But I have hopes. Disney has a record of having bought Pixar and Marvel and not screwed them up so I think there's a good chance that they'll also not screw up Lucasfilm. I think the future is always iffy, but it's a better future than we could have gotten with any other home for Lucasfilm than Disney.

BV: I think a lot of people would like to see Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn on even a small screen if not the big screen, but there are ways that those characters could work into the big screen too.

TZ: There are a lot of ways. I mean if they asked me for advice on how to fit any of my characters or scenarios into the movie I'd be there, and I could do it. We authors are masters of spackle and making fitting things in and readjusting. You thought it was like this, but actually the seeds are there to show it was like this instead. So if they ask advice or opinions I can certainly give them some thoughts. If they don't, that's okay, it's their property. The thing is, they know I’m here. It's not like I'll hear in 10 years “oh yeah, if we'd know you were around and were interested we would have used you, but we never did”. That's the real nightmare, but oh what might have been. But no, they know I'm here, they know what I've done. If they choose not to use my stuff or my knowledge or my abilities that's fine. That's their decision, and I'm good with that. I just don't want to lose by default.

BV: Well I wouldn't see why they wouldn't consult you if you're here and willing.

TZ: Movie people do not always think that novelists know what they're doing, and there a lot of novelists who don’t really understand how to transpose into the visual medium of film and TV. So probably every Hollywood major production has has a story about some author who did not understand how you can't translate their wonderful book into a wonderful movie directly because the media are different, and so they kind of avoid us.

BV: Well I certainly hope that we'll get to see more Star Wars from you, and good luck in your new series. I think that'll probably be keeping you busy for a while, but hopefully something to do with Star Wars again from you in the future.

TZ: We will see. I'm ready when they are.

Whew! Who knew that 13 minutes of audio would transcribe out to be so long? Oh yeah, I didn't because I've never done this before. So that's the end of my first, and hopefully not last interview. And that's also the end of my first year of Dragon Con coverage. Finally, huh? The boss is working on getting us into Walker Stalker Con, and says they’re good about interviews so hopefully I'll get another shot at this soon. Stay tuned for that, and a bunch of Halloween themed posts coming in just a few short weeks!

No comments:

Post a Comment