Barbara Hambly Online Interview
Barbara Hambly is the best-selling author of several fantasy and historical mystery novels, including the popular "Winterlands" series, which grew from her much-beloved Dragonsbane novel, as well as the "Benjamin January Series" which featured the acclaimed A Free Man of Color. She is the author of two Star Wars novels: Children of the Jedi and Planet of Twilight. She also wrote three short stories set in the SW universe: "Nightlily" (featured in Tales of the Mos Eisley Cantina), "Taster's Choice: A Tale of Jabba's Chef" (featured in Tales of Jabba's Palace), and "Murder in Slushtime" (featured in Star Wars Adventure Journal Number 14).
This was an email interview that Ms. Hambly graciously granted to me recently... Thanks to Ms. Hambly, as well as Deb, the webmistress for the Official Barbara Hambly Site!!
Were you a fan of the Star Wars movies before being asked to write in the SW universe? Which was your favorite movie?
Was I a fan of the Star Wars movies before being asked to write? Absolutely! My favorite was the first movie, with EMPIRE as a close second.
How did you come to write for SW?
I met Kevin Anderson at a small sf convention in Utah when he was editing the TALES FROM THE STAR WARS CANTINA anthology - he asked me to do a story (which turned into "Nightlily" in the book - really just an extended joke about the perils of interspecies dating) and the editor of the Star Wars novels for Bantam called my agent and said, "I didn't know Barbara liked Star Wars." I was offered a contract for the book that became CHILDREN OF THE JEDI, and it was the editor who said, "I'd like you to do the story of the great love of Luke's life." I figured out a way to merge that with the ghost ship story that I had in mind, and there we were.
One of your greatest strengths in your writing has been your vivid characterizations. This showed clearly in your accurate portrayals of the "familiar" characters like Luke, Leia, and Han (thank you, thank you for getting Luke's and Leia's personalities "right"!!). Since you were working primarily with characters who were created and developed by someone else, did you find this made the writing more difficult? How did you make the characters "your own"?
From seeing the films so many times, I didn't have much difficulty writing "someone else's characters" in the way that you might think. I've been told I'm a pretty good mimic. The difficulty in writing someone else's characters is usually in the stuff you're not supposed to talk about. Fortunately, Lucasfilms is VERY good about giving the writers guidelines up front: Stay away from this, don't say that. (Other licenseholders of licensed characters have not been so forthcoming with help and information). I watched STAR WARS and EMPIRE again a couple of times to get the speech patterns of the characters more firmly in my mind again, to watch how they move and interact with each other.
Which of the established characters did you enjoy writing the most? Which one was the most challenging to write?
My favorite character is Luke. He's also the most challenging to write, because it's difficult to make a truly good person interesting and convincing - it's far easier to write scruffy vagabonds with checkered pasts. It's also difficult to write someone who has great power, because you very quickly run into the "Superman Syndrome": How do you make a story suspenseful if your character can just use the Force to get himself out of a mess? The answer is - or was for me - a)put him in a position where he can't use the Force, or where he's using all the Force he can muster for his own life-support and has to use his wits to handle the rest, and b)make the main problem something that you can't use the Force on: the loss of love, mortality, growing up, change. Luke will be a wise old man one day, a great wizard and a great swordsman, but it's wonderful to see him when he's not yet there. When he's learning, for the first time, just how many things you can't - er - "Force."
I also enjoyed, in CHILDREN OF THE JEDI, swapping the usual droid/human pairings - it's Threepio who goes with Luke this time, and Artoo (who's usually Luke's robotic squire) who stays with Leia and Han. In PLANET OF TWILIGHT (to which I gave the working title, PLANET OF THE DISGUSTING BUGS) I had the most fun with the droid storyline, having them just interact with one another as they hitch-hiked across the galaxy.
Another thing I love about writing the Star Wars universe is talking about stuff that most adventure stories don't talk about, like cuisine and fashion and spectator sports. You KNOW Han has to be a fan of SOMETHING.
How much "elbow-room" did you have to develop your storyline for your own SW contributions? Was there a general story arc you were asked to follow, or were you able to follow your own story ideas?
At the time I wrote the SW novels, we were told to sort of pick a time - how far out from the movies? -- and to familiarize ourselves with the plots of the books that came before "our" time. The editor told me to put in the love of Luke's life. (The next editor told me to write her out, but that's another story). They said the story had to be "big" - galaxy-wide implications of peril, etc. We could then come up with whatever story we wanted, but had to check it out with the editor and then with the Lucasfilm folks (who are lovely to work with, as were the editors at Bantam). The Lucasfilm folks would send us about a cubic yard of material from West End Games about all the different planets of the galaxy, weapons, spaceships, etc. so you didn't have to come up with the technobabble yourself.
If you could create your own "dream" storyline for SW, what would it be?
I won't talk about my "dream" storyline because I've already pitched it to the editor, who looked at me like I was crazy and said, "-I- like it, but I'm not sure it's what Lucasfilms has in mind."
You created a such beautiful and memorable character in Callista: a rare heroine who not only had great strength and honor, but warmth and humor as well (very much a female version of Luke! :-)). Did you have any particular inspirations for her character, either in personality or appearance? Also, one of the fun discussions we Callista fans have had among ourselves is which actress would be ideal to portray her, should she ever be "brought to life" (so far Ashley Judd seems to be winning the poll :-)). I read somewhere that you had pictured her much like Uma Thurman in your mind. Would she be your choice to play Callie?
In creating Callista I wanted to create someone who was Luke's spiritual partner. Who has the same sort of background as he does, and understands him as others don't because she understands the spiritual dimension of the Force. Someone who, like Luke, will be wise in old age; who is striving for wisdom rather than power. And who is basicly sweet-natured. As I've said before, I pictured a young Uma Thurman in the role: I'm not familiar enough with Ashley Judd (I'm not sure I've even seen her - I don't get out to movies often) to say yes or no. Winona Ryder could probably do it: somebody both tough and sweet.
Would you consider writing again for SW? And if so, would you consider bringing Callista back? (I know there are many of us--who have had to settle for reading or writing our own fanfics of her--who are crossing our fingers that you'll say yes to both questions!!)
As is clear from the above, I've talked to the editors about doing other SW stuff. We'll have to wait and see. At the moment, I'm horribly burdened down with other committments, but I'd love to go back to the SW universe even insofar as writing other stories about Callista for the SW Adventure Journal (if it's still being published - I don't even know that!) or some other publication.
You always have remarkably vivid detail in your writing. Do you have most of this "information" worked out ahead of time before you sit down to write, or do your worlds and characters come to life as you get further into the story? Do you usually have an outline before beginning a story, or do you simply start with a general idea and "discover" it as you write?
I find my writing goes much better if I have a clear outline before I start writing. I'll generally diverge from the outline as I go, but I at least want to know where I'm heading. I ask myself, What is this story ACTUALLY about?
How long does it usually take you to finish a first draft? How many drafts does it take you to get to a final draft?
I write about three drafts of a novel, and then do about three polishes. In the first draft I'm basicly concerned with getting the story established. Later I clarify and personalize the dialogue, and feed in details about place and mood - it sort of grows together, once I've got the armature of the plot in place. I generally have an idea of what the world is like (desert, semitropical, heavily populated, level of technology, is there magic? etc) and am doing research reading all the time I'm writing.
Your stories are filled with innovative characters and inventive plots and settings. Where do you get most of the inspirations for them?
Characters, plots, and settings? Some of the characters are amalgams of people I know, or characters I come across in books and movies - many times I "cast" a character, so that I can hear his or her voice as I do the dialogue. Others (like the people in the vampire books) come out of nowhere, fully-formed and talking. Since I was trained as an historian a lot of settings are either straight historical (antebellum New Orleans or Edwardian Paris), or based on places I've read about or been.
You've written in a variety of genres (and managed to do superbly in all of them!). Is there a genre in which you have yet to write, but which you would love to tackle?
I have, for years, had a plot in mind for a very silly Western; and, there are two women about whom I'd love to do straight biographical historical novels.
Time is long, and the world is a wonder-filled place.