Dark Tide: Ruin is going to be my last Star Wars book for a while. There are several reasons for this, and I wanted to share them with you so rumors could be put straight, anger and hostility could be defused, and no one would end up getting more anxious than they had any need to be. Having seen countless people commenting on how books are put together, how authors are chosen and speculating over why this author is or is not coming to or coming back to the line; I wanted all of you to be able to read this and learn the truth for yourself.
There are several reasons why I'm not going to be back for a bit. The first is quite simple: Del Rey has got a great line-up of authors who will be handling the line for the next couple of years. There are only so many book slots in the line and it's not fair for me to be hogging too many. Star Wars is a wonderful universe that is big enough to handle all sorts of writers and their approaches, so this new blood will be great for it.
It would be easy enough to lay the "blame" for my not returning right away on Del Rey's doorstep, but to do that would be disingenuous and totally unfair. I'm good for about three novels a year, give or take, and I've got contracts for books that extend through the year 2001. In short, even if they offered something right now, I'd have to say no because of my scheduling problems. (As a freelancer, either you're overworked or unemployed, and I much prefer the former to the latter.)
Most important of all, though, I'm kind of facing the same sort of identity crisis Corran Horn did in I, Jedi. It's not that I no longer recognize my face in the mirror, or don't hear the wind calling to me; but that I never would have thought I'd be where I am in my career at this point. Writing for Star Wars, in addition to being more fun than can be imagined, can boost a writer's career ahead of where it might be otherwise. Had I not written Star Wars novels I sincerely doubt I would have ever hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Now I have, with multiple novels, which leaves me wondering where I go from here.
I know some of the answers to that question. The first is to continue writing novels set in my own universes. Star Wars fans have been great in coming over to my own material. Granted the crossover isn't one-for-one (if only) but it's easily added half-again as much to my readership on non-franchise books. At my level in publishing, that is a significant number of readers, and has provided me with opportunities I'd not have otherwise enjoyed. To keep those readers I will continue working on new fantasy material, like The DragonCrown War cycle of stories.
Second, I need to return to BattleTech. Pretty much everything I tossed into the Star Wars X-wing novels benefited from lessons I'd learned working on the BattleTech line. Without that experience I'd not have researched Star Wars as hard, and I'd not have had any idea about how to make the stories really sing for the readers. And those great combat sequences, well, if not for years of writing similar things for BattleTech, they wouldn't have existed. I owe BattleTech and its fans a couple of books, and I intend on paying that debt in the coming years.
Third, and very important, I need to figure out where I want my career to go from here. I will be known, forever, as a Star Wars writer, and that's perfectly cool as far as I am concerned. It is kind of funny to get letters from folks saying "I've read every book you've written," and know they mean all the Star Wars books. I know that rankles with some of my peers, but I don't mind. I figure that if I can write a Star Wars novel that fulfills someone's fantasies, then when they've read all the SW novels for the second or third time and want something different, they'll trust me to turn out a good story.
My tastes in fiction are broader than just SF/Fantasy, as looking at my reading list can attest. Writers are always admonished to write what they know, and to write the sort of thing they like to read. I love reading mysteries and would love to write some, but that's a major shift of career gears. Moving to mysteries would be much akin to starting all over again, which entails a lot of risk. I like mainstream thrillers, too; and the same caveat applies there.
Figuring out what I want to do will take some time and thorough soul-searching. It's not just about money, but about figuring how I can become the best novelist I can be. To paraphrase political slogans, "It's the story, stupid." I think I tell a pretty good story right now, but I know I can be better, and won't be satisfied with work that doesn't challenge me and make me grow.
So, does all this mean I am abandoning Star Wars forever?
Not at all. I still enjoy writing in the universe, and am having a lot of fun working on comic scripts. That's an art form I'd still like to explore - it's forcing me to grow as I go. And short stories are also fun - especially when I get a chance to collaborate with Timothy Zahn - so if a market for shorter work opens up, that's a venue I'd not mind playing in at all. Working on game-based material is also an option.
There are some things you can do for me to help ensure my willingness to come back if invited. They're fairly simple:
1) Don't write me begging me to return, or expressing anger that I've quit. Working in someone else's universe is akin to an exclusive party: you can only go if you're invited. I have an infinite amount of patience to wait for another invite. If one never comes, that's the way it goes. I've had fun and will forever have the great memories.
2) Give the other writers in the line an even chance. Not everyone is going to write like Aaron Allston or Timothy Zahn or Kevin J. Anderson or me. I don't want to be the scourge used to whip up on other writers - many of whom are good friends and have talked with me about writing for Star Wars. Having me reassure them that they want to come to the party, just to have them pounded on because they're not me, well, that looks like a rather clumsy ambush. They don't deserve it and its a great way to scare off really good writers who might be lured in to play.
3) Make yourselves into part of that crossover audience if you aren't there already. The simple fact of publishing these days is this: accountants are the scorekeepers and all they look at is the number of books sold. If they note a correlation between sales of other books and a successful Star Wars novel, they'll invite folks back to the line in hopes that sales on their non-Star Wars work will continue to rise. Since most SW readers buy everything, regardless of how they feel about the work, it's only by buying the non-Star Wars work that you really get to vote on whether or not an author did a good job. And if our non-Star Wars material sells well, it means we don't have to get day jobs, so will be around to answer the call inviting us back to the party.
Ever since Del Rey took over the Star Wars line there have been rumors floating about concerning other writers and the line. Most often Timothy Zahn appears as the author in question. I'll arrogantly assume they'll be retreaded with me in the active role and deal with them here.
Lucasfilm won't have Mike Stackpole back because George Lucas is jealous of his success in Star Wars. This is so absurd it really ought to collapse under its own weight. Suffice it to say, the folks at Lucasfilm have been incredibly kind and supportive to me, and we continue to be quite friendly. Moreover, from a simple economic position, if an author turns out books that sell, there is no way anyone there will give orders barring that author from returning. And, lastly, not only does George Lucas not need to be jealous of authors, but by any scale one wants to use to measure it, his fame is so much larger than ours that we are mice to his being a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
[A publisher of Mike's other work] said they'd drop Mike if he did another Star Wars novel, since Star Wars is published by a competitor. Well, since my Star Wars novels sell ten times the copies of my other novels, and since I get to list ALL of my novels and my website address in those Star Wars novels, every Star Wars book I write is free advertising for my other publishers. For a publisher to make the above threat would be so stupid... well, that level of stupidity usually only shows up in Congress. Suffice it to say, no publisher as ever said anything like this to me, and, in fact, they've bent over backward to accommodate my scheduling.
Royalties: since Star Wars no longer pays royalties, Mike won't come back. Two problems with this idea. The first is that my Del Rey contract does pay me royalties. Second, this is a left-over from the last Bantam contract in which I, Jedi and Isard's Revenge were written for a flat fee. That fee was figured out based on two years of royalties, which were paid to me up front. I turned around and tossed the money into the stock market, where it is currently making more for me than I would have earned out of royalties.
Because Del Rey did not offer Mike [the movie novelization/prequel era novel] he really wanted, he won't be back. I've never made such demands. I wouldn't make those sorts of demands (see above for notes about invitations). If someone at Del Rey thinks a project would suit my talents, they have my agent's phone number.
For me, working in Star Wars has been a dream come true. I started thinking I'd get to write four novels. Then I got to do comics. And then I got to write short stories. And then I got more novels. I got to collaborate with Timothy Zahn. And I got two more novels. Any way you care to look at it, this has been a heck of a run of luck. I have nothing but fond memories and good feeling for Star Wars. Circumstances dictate I move on, so I move on.