Michael A. Stackpole Interview
Michael A. Stackpole is a New York Times bestselling author of over forty fantasy and science fiction novels. His best-known books were written in the Star Wars universe, including I, Jedi and Rogue Squadron and has the unique distinction amongst all authors in that he wrote Union, the novel in which Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade are married. He has won awards for his editing, novels, graphic novels, game designs, computer game designs, screenwriting, and podcasting.
The Age of Discovery Trilogy is his latest complete series, with A New World released mid-2007. The Crown Colonies is his current effort, a new original trilogy that re-imagines the events of the American Revolutionary War. The first book, At The Queen’s Command, was released in November 2010, the sequel, Of Limited Loyalty, was released December 2011.
Other than a good story and memorable characters, what makes a good book? Do you feel it is necessary that some sort of message reside in the pages? Or can story alone carry a work?
Writers forget that, first and foremost, we’re entertainers. Anything that gets in the way of that, like a message poorly delivered, hurts our work and our credibility. Story must carry a work. If you can get information in or get readers to think about an issue, that’s a bonus. And there’s nothing wrong with going for the bonus, as long as it doesn’t overshadow the story.
How often do you use people you know in real life to inspire characters in your work? Or do you do that at all?
I don’t use folks I know as models in stories for a variety of reasons. Foremost among them is this: I’m tough on characters. I’d hate to have a friend think I don’t like him because I’ve killed him off in a book. The only times I have used folks in books is when appearing as a character has been auctioned off for charity. That’s happened a few times, mostly in BattleTech novels.
Which of your novels was your favorite to write? Which one gave you the most trouble?
It’s tough to pick out a favorite book to write, but I, Jedi would have to be close to the top of the pack. I was talking with Timothy Zahn every day as we coordinated things back and forth between his novels and mine. Plus, it was first person and a lot of fun. On the trouble side would be the Age of Discovery novels. No outline survives contact with the characters, but by the end of the second book, I’d so warped things that the outline for the third was rather meaningless. I remember folks saying of the second book, Cartomancy, “I can’t wait to see what you do in the third.” And I was thinking, “Me, too,” since I had no clue. However, everything came together and those books form a solid trilogy.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about his or her work?
I have lots of authors whose work I enjoy. They all share some common aspects to their work. They write in worlds with a lot of depth, they write about complex characters who grow instead of just change; the book have humor, action, romance, suspense, politics, realistic warfare, magick or technology and they never take the easy way out of difficult situations. I’d like to think my work shares those same traits. Failing to deliver on those things is, in my opinion, not playing fair with the readers.
You travel about to numerous conventions every year, teaching others the craft of writing. If you could select one bit of advice to aspiring authors here, what would it be?
The most basic one: You CAN do this, so sit your butt down and write. Perfection is the product of multiple drafts, so don’t sweat it on the first one. Get that first draft written, then you’re a novelist. Only a novelist can make a novel perfect. Writing is what writers do: HOW we do it is highly individualized, but if you don’t write, you’ll never be a writer.
I have it on good authority that in your career writing within the Star Wars universe, there have been only a few times in which you have had a “freak-out” moment. Perhaps you could share one with us?
Well, the most recent was after Phoenix Comicon in 2012. I’ve known Jeremy Bulloch and his wife, Maureen, for years. After the convention, we hopped into my car to go off to dinner. As I was driving, I looked over and it hit me, “I’ve got Boba Fett in my car.” Somehow that thought does not fail to bring a smile.
What are your current projects?
I’m currently working on a World of Warcraft novel, and working on the design for Wasteland 2, a sequel to a computer game I designed 24 years ago. I also have some shorter fiction projects to do, a screenplay to complete, and some digital original novels to finish production work on. There are also a couple of consulting gigs, and conventions (Gencon, DragonCon and GeekCon being the next three in order), so I’m kind of busy. Which, when you’re a freelancer, is not a bad thing.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I play indoor soccer on the weekends, and like to go dancing (East Coast Swing). I read a fair amount, do some blogging and all; though those can be work related.
You have not written a Star Wars book for years, yet readers and fans associate you with the property to this day. Is that something you embrace?
Absolutely and completely. Star Wars fans have been universally kind and positive with me. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any Star Wars work, but they all treat me as if my last book only came out a month ago. The Star Wars family is unbelievably generous and wonderful. It’s an honor to have been able to work in the GFFA, and even more of a one to be remembered fondly after so many years.