The latest release from the Star Wars EU, Scourge, has been getting very good reviews and author Jeff Grubb was kind enough to give us some time to answer 10 questions about the project and the fandom. Scourge is a book set well after the events of Return of the Jedi and documents the struggles of a Jedi Master, his dealings with the Huts, and his quest to unravel the mystery of a murdered Jedi.
The book is available now.
Big Shiny Robot!: One of the big selling points of this book for a lot of people is that it was based on an RPG supplement. Can you talk about what went in to creating it in the first place?
Jeff Grubb: Scourge has its origin in Tempest Feud, a game adventure I wrote with Owen Stephens and Rich Redman for the Star Wars d20 Game from Wizards of the Coast. Adventures are a tough thing for most RPG games in that they are intended for use by only Gamemasters, as opposed to all the players of the game. In approaching the game, we wanted to create the adventure equivalent of a movie – big things happening on multiple planets, with a lot of cool toys for both the players and the GMs. I wrote the story, Owen did a lot of the cool toys, and Rich batted cleanup.
BSR!: How did you approach the adaptation?
JG: Tempest Feud provided the spine for the book’s plot, but the resulting novel became more than just adding protagonists and shaking well. Gaming and novels are different media, and have different demands. The game adventure is supposed to cover as many potential options that players may take (Their PCs may like the Hutts or not, they may have their own starship or not, they may play through the adventure directly or take a break between the acts). The novel has the advantage of a single through-line, as single set of choices driven by the characters.
The novel format also has the advantage that you do not have to stay with the protagonist at all times. Within an RPG, the camera is focused on the player characters at all times. Within the larger fiction format, I can change channels to show what is happening with the Spice Lord, and Koax, and the Bomu Clan Matriarch, so that when the characters encounter them, you have a deeper idea of who they are.
BSR!: Since the point of an RPG supplement is to create the backbone of a story for player characters to explore, how did you go about creating the most interesting character possible to fit into that spine you'd already created?
JG: In an RPG, an assumption is made that the players will be interested in whatever mystery or challenge you are presenting, for otherwise there is no game. In a novel, the protagonists’ personal drives and desires power them forward. I knew I had the hard spice Tempest from the adventure, and I wanted to make it very personal for my main protagonist. Mander is a “quiet Jedi” who would prefer to stay in his archives. What would be so major an event that would pull him from his work, and would make him the obvious choice to have to deal with it? And that was the moment when it became clear that Toro Irana would have to die.
BSR!: Was it difficult for you wading in the continuity nightmare of the EU?
JG: I was the continuity traffic cop for the Forgotten Realms for many years, so I am less than daunted by the challenges of an ever-growing shared universe. In this particular case, since the game product it was based upon was established canon a decade ago, I was my own source material.
BSR!: Was it for that reason you decided to gravitate toward all new characters?
JG: New characters were not a lock for this book. I had a number of story pitches that involved more traditional characters. Once we had settled on the plot coming out of Tempest Feud, putting established canon characters into it seemed to be forcing things a little. Mander Zuma is the main character for this book because he is ideally suited for what happens in this book.
BSR!: For the aspiring writers who read this space, what was your writing routine as you worked on Scourge?
JG: I worked from a relatively tight outline, one that contained all the plot points but gave the characters enough room to evolve as I wrote it. Often a character (like Eddey) will suddenly move in a different direction, and it makes more sense to go with it than fight it. I have a day job, so my work schedule is mostly nights and weekends. I have weekly (as opposed to daily) goals, and keep a log of chapter length next to the machine to chart both progress and see what chapters are too bulky and need to be pared down.
BSR!: This is very much a mystery story, taking turns like an old noir. What films or books do you look to when you're looking for stories like that?
JG: I love noir. Raymond Chandler is a favorite author (the opening of his story “Red Wind” has been called one of the best paragraphs ever written), and I usually will watch old black and white movies on TCM. What I like about noir is that the protagonist is driven to do the right thing, even if it personally painful or destructive. So The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon are on my list, and the James Garner film Marlowe. But for wit and banter, I am a sucker for the Thin Man series (the movies are mysteries, but not noir). Oh, and Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant.
BSR!: How has it been, soaking in all the positive response the book has received thus far?
JG: Wonderful. I had been given a heads-up on how demanding the Star Wars readership can be, but I have found the feedback to be incredibly supportive for a first-time novelist in this universe.
BSR!: If you had the chance to write a Star Wars book in any other era, what would it be?
JG: Rise of the Empire, when the decay had set in but there was still hope for redemption. It is fated to be a downer (you know how the story must end), but you take the little victories that you can.
BSR!: Which Star Wars movie is your favorite and why?
JG: Empire, for a number of reasons, but one of the big ones is that Darth Vader rocks in it. In New Hope Tarkin was famously holding his leash, and in Jedi the Emperor strides onto center stage. But in Empire, Vader comes into his own as a threat, a capable leader, and someone you don’t want to have as your immediate superior.