Between 1999 and 2009 brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our one hundred and forty-fourth guest was a prolific Star Wars author – Troy Denning.

Lightsabre – Troy, welcome to Lightsabre.

TD – It’s a pleasure to be here.

Lightsabre – You’ve been writing in various genres since your first book back in 1989, writing D&D and fantasy.  What similarities do you find between those stories and the themes of Lucas’ Star Wars films?

TD – I’m asked this question a lot, and I probably answer differently every time. But, at it’s core, I think that epic fantasy is about man’s relationship to his spirit, whether he is learning to truly know himself, or resist the forces of darkness, stay true to his own heart, or some similar question. There’s some of that in Star Wars, but there’s also an emphasis on technology, and on how it interacts with one’s spirit. That’s a very relevant question for our time, and I think it’s what makes Star Wars so popular. Deep down, Star Wars is about the interplay between spirit and technology, whether we will find a way to have a healthy relationship to our technology, or be seduced by its power and fall victim to its corruptive side.

Lightsabre – Which of the Star Wars movies stands out as your personal favourite, and why?

TD – The Empire Strikes Back, no question. I think it’s the deepest, grittiest, and cleverest. And I like that it didn’t have a happy ending – it had a challenging ending, one that left us wanting more from the characters, one that said “these characters are going to grow or die.”

Lightsabre – You made your name working on roleplay tie-in novels. That’s a very fertile ground and has brought a number of authors to the Star Wars arena.  What attracts you to roleplay settings and stories?

TD – I started roleplaying in college in – well, let’s just say it was when AD&D 1st Edition was the latest cool thing. TSR happened to be very close to where I went to college, and a friend went to work there. So I drove over and interviewed, and a couple of months later I was a game editor. It was great training for a young writer, and it put me into contact with a lot of people who knew a lot about something I’d loved since I was 12 or 13 – fantasy fiction.  Everything else grew out of that – I started writing Forgotten Realms novels because I’d been working on Forgotten Realms game product, and I knew and loved the world. I wrote the Dark Sun novels because I co-designed the campaign world with Tim Brown (and Mary Kirchoff, who brainstormed with us every week for a year, and Brom, who contributed a lot to the feel and texture of the world through artwork he had done prior to becoming involved. Obviously, there are other worlds that I’ve had nothing to do with creatively that I admire and enjoy very much (for instance, Battlestar Galactica, 24, Serenity). It’s hard to say exactly what attracts me to those worlds, but I think it’s probably a fast-paced, suspenseful story with engaging characters. Give me those three things, and you’ve got me hooked.

Lightsabre – In your opinion, what makes for a good book, sci-fi, fantasy or otherwise?

TD – At its heart, I think every good book answers the question, “How should one live?” The best books always engage on a ethical level, because that’s where our spirit interacts with our animal, and that’s where the most intense conflicts lie. If a book doesn’t have a conflict there on some level, I’m bored silly no matter what else happens. But put the character’s values at stake, and you have me hooked.

Lightsabre – From where do you draw your inspiration? What forms the first thoughts that leads to that first tap on the keyboard.

TD – Inspiration comes from so many places that it’s hard to give an answer. I’m never really aware of it, but I do try to be aware of the world around me, and give some thought to anything that catches my interest. Then, when I need an idea later, I’ll remember something I saw or a thought that was triggered by something I saw, and I’ll put it to work in a story. As far as the first thoughts about a story – usually it begins with an assignment. Shelly and Sue – who are GREAT editors to work with, by the way, and who contribute more to the stories than an author’s acknowledgments can ever convey – will say something like, “Would you be interested in writing a story about X?” or “could you do a story with Y?” and then I’m off and imagining.

Lightsabre – You have delved into the Star Wars universe in a number of different time periods, from the New Jedi Order to Fate of the Jedi.  Which era is your favourite?

TD – I’d have to say New Jedi Order and Legacy (they kind of flow together for me because of the Dark Nest series). I think it’s mostly because that’s the era that gives me the most freedom to help shape the future of Star Wars, and I’m such a fan myself that it’s a temptation I just can’t resist.

Lightsabre – If offered the opportunity to write a story centred around any Star Wars character, whose story would you tell?

TD – My first choice would be Yoda. He’s a mysterious, enigmatic character, and I could do something very special with his coming of age story.

Lightsabre – You worked on some of the classic West End Games Galaxy Guides back in the late 80’s.  As someone with a sizeable knowledge of gaming systems, which did you prefer – D6 or D20, and why?

TD – D6, because that’s what I learned first. Everything else has been “relearning,” and that’s just not as much fun. This isn’t to say that D20 is a bad system, because it isn’t. D20 has its own strengths and makes more sense in a lot of ways – but more refined isn’t always better for me. I prefer things with character – I like my trucks scratched up, my beer cheap, my dogs loud.

Lightsabre – Tatooine Ghost was a very popular novel, focusing on the classic characters just prior to Heir to the Empire.  That novel bridged the gap between prequel and classic trilogy themes.  How exciting was it to be able to formalise those links, which the fans were aware of but had never seen worked in so deftly?

TD – It was great fun, but also a bit of a nightmare. When Shelly and Sue suggested writing a book in which Leia discovers her grandmother’s diaries, my first reaction was “Me write a chick book? Are you sure you didn’t dial the wrong number?” But one of the cool things about writing shared worlds is that there’s always some catch that you’ve got to work into the story, and I’ve learned through experience that the more challenging that catch is, the more I learn about writing. So I said “okay, I’ll do it,” and I wasn’t wrong. The first draft was a bit – well, saccharine. To begin with, it was the first time Chewbacca was going to appear in a book since Vector Prime, and I was so thrilled at being able to write him that I stuck him in way too many scenes, and made him a lot more important than he should have been. The second factor was the nature of the diary – I’d given a lot of thought to how Star Wars technology would influence the practice of journaling, and so I used more diary than I should have. I had Shmi using it all day, commenting on really uninteresting stuff.

In any case, I finished the first draft and handed it to my wife, all proud of what I’d done. A day later, she came back to me and said, “You can’t turn this in…”  because it was so boring. So I called Shelly up and told her I needed some time to rip all that stuff out, and by the time I’d cut out 30,000 words of Chewbacca and diary, it was a decent Star Wars story.

Lightsabre –  – We’re now in the television era of Star Wars.  What are you hoping to see from The Clone Wars and the live action series, and if you had any control over it what other settings would you like to see delved into?

TD – I just want them to be as good as The Empire Strikes Back. Whatever it takes to give me that, do it.

Lightsabre – A quick question about our site, Lightsabre.  Any comments?

TD – Well, best not to offer advice until I get my own site up and running. Seriously, though, it looks great to me, full of cool stuff, easy to navigate, and a heck of a lot bigger than what I intend to do (when I get time, so don’t hold your breath out there!).

Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre.  Just one final question.  You are given an impossible deadline to complete a stand alone Star Wars novel, and the publishers have given you only three characters to work with – Wicket W. Warwick, the Rancor and Sy Snootles.  Given the limited options available with those characters, do you make the story;

1 – A revenge tale

2 – A road movie

3 – A passionate romance

TD – All three. While on a trip to Dantooine, Wicket and the Rancor fall madly in love, throwing Sy into such a state that she kills Wicket in a fit of jealous rage. She spends the rest of the book hiding from the furious Rancor aboard a deserted freighter, and finally realizes that her only hope of survival is to make the Rancor fall passionately in love with her. She succeeds, but dooms herself to a life of virtual imprisonment when the Rancor turns out to be as jealous and possessive of her as she was of Wicket…

Article originally posted on on 9th August 2009.