I’m getting more requests for interviews from students, as well as emails from folks who’d like writing advice and/or want to write Star Wars. This page is my attempt to try to answer those questions more efficiently.
Students: You can use anything on this page or that’s linked from it in a school assignment. If you have questions that aren’t answered here feel free to email me, but a few warnings: a) I’m probably busy writing; b) I may not be able to respond as quickly as you need; and c) I will ignore your questions if you could find out the answers with a bit of Googling.
I was born in Charlottesville, Va., in 1969 and grew up on Long Island. I graduated from Yale University in 1991 with a degree in American Studies. I’ve lived in Virginia, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Louisiana, California, Florida, D.C. and Maryland. (That seems like a lot of places to me too.) I now live in Brooklyn, N.Y., with my wife and son.
I always wanted to be a writer and can’t remember a time I wasn’t writing short stories, poems, or other things to entertain myself and — I hoped — others. My mom used to bring home “blue books” that her students used for exams and I would fill big stacks of those with stories.
I became a newspaper reporter because I liked writing and was curious about things. I was an intern at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Fresno Bee, worked for an environmental publisher in Maryland and got a job in 1995 for the online arm of The Wall Street Journal. I spent nearly 13 years there and did most every job you could imagine — I was a rewrite guy, editor, reporter, columnist, ran the tech section, served as the first blogs guru, etc. I co-wrote columns called Real Time and The Daily Fix and wrote a front-page story (called an “a-hed” at the Journal) about why people yell “Freebird” at rock concerts. It was a great education in writing and the business of digital journalism, and I loved it.
After WSJ.com I worked for a maker of publishing software and as a digital-media consultant, then struck out on my own as an independent writer in 2009. I’d written a couple of Star Wars books and decided to take a year and see if I could survive financially as an independent writer. I did, barely, so I decided to try it again. I’ve now written or co-written more than 40 Star Wars books and short stories as well as my own young-adult space fantasy, The Jupiter Pirates.
I also write about travel, music, genealogy and family history and most anything that interests me. I’m a huge New York Mets fan and have co-written the blog Faith and Fear in Flushing since 2005 with my friend Greg Prince.
Favorite writers: Larry McMurtry, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Vance, Flannery O’Connor, Roger Angell, Michael Chabon.
Favorite book: Don’t have one, but here’s my list of influential ones.
Favorite book that I’ve written: I think The Jupiter Pirates: Curse of the Iris is my best book. For Star Wars, it’s the four-book Servants of the Empire series and The Essential Atlas.
General writing advice
How do you become a writer? Well, it depends on your definition of “writer.” To me, what makes you a writer isn’t that you can find your book in a bookstore or on Amazon. It’s that you’ve written something, finished it and shared it with someone else. Which means you’re a writer already.
If you want to get better at writing, the first thing is to read a lot. Reading will teach you how to tell a story, create good characters and settings and develop a style by reading and soaking it all in. While you’re reading, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t for you — you’ll learn by exploring those hits and misses. Underline, highlight, take notes or just thumb down the corner of a page. Nearly every book I’ve read has thumbed-down corners and years later I can pick up a book, find one of those pages and usually remember why I marked it.
The next step is to write a lot. Be aware that it’s going to take years and years of daily work to develop your style and skills. This never stops — I’m still learning new things and trying to break bad habits. A key to a happy life is to find something you love, whether it’s writing or some other pursuit. That way all those thousands of hours of work will be something you want to do.
How I write: I put my butt in my chair and write. That’s the most important thing. I don’t believe in the muse — as a newspaper reporter, I would have been fired if I’d told my editor an hour before deadline that I just wasn’t feeling it that day. Writing is work; you need to be your own muse.
I write a treatment or outline before I work on anything longer than a page or so. Sometimes these treatments are very detailed — I’ve written 7,500-word treatments for a novella. I highly recommend this step — it lets you discover plot problems and other things that aren’t working much earlier and fix them much more easily. I’ve also written novels by simply plunging in and seeing where the story takes me — if that method works for you, great. But having tried it both ways, I firmly believe that planning saves time and leads to a better results.
Where do you get your ideas? I wish I knew. Every work of fiction — mine or anyone else’s — is a weird mash-up of life experiences, things the writer couldn’t stop thinking about, real-world events and influences from other stories that stuck in the mind for whatever reason. The best idea generator is to live life and take a look at what’s going on around you.
Here’s a writing exercise I use in school visits — buy a newspaper (an actual paper one), take a page and look at the stories, ads, classifieds, etc. Now start thinking about how you could give that material a twist or two and turn it into an interesting story idea. You’ll be surprised how much you can come up with.
Dealing with criticism: Feedback about your writing will make you a better writer. Criticism from your editor or any reasonably sane, well-informed reader tells you that something in your writing didn’t work for them. You need to listen to that. But while you should take the problem seriously, you don’t have to accept the proposed solution. Figure that out on your own.
I read reviews, but with a skeptical eye — many online reviews aren’t actually reviews, but reactions that say more about the reader or a book’s marketing than they do about my writing. Whatever you write, some people will love it and some people will hate it — for your own sanity, learn to accept that as soon as possible.
If you don’t like someone’s online review and are thinking of engaging that person, don’t. I can’t say this firmly enough: DON’T.
General writing resources
I recommend reading Chuck Wendig’s blog Terribleminds and John Scalzi’s Whatever. Chuck is a terrific teacher and has written a bunch of books on writing you should check out. (Be aware that he loves his profanity.)
You can also find writing and storytelling discussions on my Tumblr, Jason Fry’s Dorkery.
My Star Wars writing
I saw A New Hope when I was eight years old in Lake Grove, N.Y., and by the time I saw the engines of Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer I knew my life had changed. I was a big fan throughout my childhood and kept up with the books, comics, etc. as a teenager and into my twenties.
In the mid-1990s I met my friend Dan Wallace on an America Online discussion board dedicated to Star Wars. We both loved Star Wars geography, and Dan had landed a gig writing The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons for Del Rey. I had a database of Star Wars planets that I’d created, and wanted to send it to him but hesitated because I was worried he’d think I was trying to step on his turf. When I finally did send it Dan was basically done with the book, and he was like, “Man, this would have been really helpful – why didn’t you send it before?” Whoops.
Dan suggested that we team up to work on some articles for the old Star Wars Adventure Journal from West End Games, and Lucasfilm vetted me as part of that. I was so excited – but then the Adventure Journal folded. Happily, I got another shot – the Star Wars Insider was looking for a books columnist, and took a chance on me. My first column was about Vector Prime, which I read under a vow of silence before interviewing Bob Salvatore. That was my first Star Wars publishing credit, back in 1999.
After that I put my hand up for any Star Wars job I could get. I wrote RPG material for Wizards of the Coast, relying on what I could remember of first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and spent years as the Insider’s book columnist. Then I got a big break when DK hired me to write the Clone Wars Visual Guide (which came out in 2008) and Del Rey let me and Dan try to turn a crazy idea about mapping the entire Star Wars galaxy into The Essential Atlas.
I want to write a Star Wars book. How do I do that? Please read this.
How do you feel about the “reboot” of Star Wars canon? I answered that one in this interview soon after it happened. My opinion hasn’t changed.
The Jupiter Pirates
OK, I know where the idea for this one came from. I was walking through Hudson River Park with my wife Emily and mused that it might be fun to write a kids’ book about space pirates. We chatted about that and the ideas just fell into place. “Space pirates” became “a family of space pirates.” Then “a family of space pirates” became “there’s a family starship – the mother’s the captain, the father’s the first mate, and the children are midshipmen.” And then the last domino: “As a ship’s crew, the children have to cooperate. But they’re also competitors. The rank of captain is handed down from one generation to the next, and only one of the children will be the next captain.”
Emily and I looked at each other. That did sound like fun. In fact, it sounded like a lot of fun.
Starting with that little idea, I layered in ingredients inspired by stories I loved. Star Wars was in the mix, of course. I loved Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, and they were an inspiration. I’d also been binge-watching “The Sopranos,” and found myself intrigued by Tony Soprano’s dilemma. His father had been an old-time mafia boss, his children wouldn’t be mob figures at all, and he was caught between two very different worlds. HarperCollins marketed The Jupiter Pirates as “Treasure Island meets Battlestar Galactica,” and that’s not wrong, but I’ve always thought of it more as Patrick O’Brian meets “The Sopranos.”
When Tycho Hashoone was a baby, there was a big battle in which warships from Earth ambushed and destroyed many of the Jupiter pirates. After that the Jovian Union outlawed piracy, but gave some of the surviving pirates letters of marque as lawful privateers. The family patriarch, Huff Hashoone, was so badly injured that half his body was replaced with cybernetic parts and he had to step aside as captain. His daughter Diocletia was raised a pirate but became the captain of a privateer. And her children – Carlo, Yana and Tycho – would grow up thinking of piracy as a thing of the past.
That made for a fundamental family conflict beyond the competition to be the next captain. And that, in turn, showed me the path I wanted for my protagonist. At the beginning of Hunt for the Hydra, Tycho Hashoone is 12 years old, insecure about his skills and whether he can live up to the family legacy of his legendary grandfather and formidable parents. In Hunt for the Hydra, he learns he has capabilities he hasn’t guessed at, and that some of his skills are more important to commanding a starship crew than he thinks. But as the series continues, Tycho discovers things about his family’s past that make him question the value of the family tradition, and wonder if privateering is the right course for him. You’re not the same person at 18 that you were at 12, and that’s as true for Tycho as it is for any of us.
The first three books of The Jupiter Pirates are out now, as well as a short story, with the fourth and fifth books yet to come. There’s a lot more about the series on the official site.
Visiting Your School, Con, Etc.
I’ve spoken and signed books at numerous conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and Star Wars Celebration, and visited schools from Washington State to Louisiana. Writing is a solitary way to make a living, so I’m always happy to get to talk with readers — and I love watching kids get excited about reading, storytelling and writing.
For school visits, I’m comfortable with classes K-12 and can talk about books and storytelling, share tips for a happier writing process, or address most any subject you can think of. Since time spent visiting is time not writing, I do need to charge for school visits — my baseline is $500 a day depending on location, situation, and so forth. If that’s tough in this era of stretched budgets, let me know what you have in mind and we’ll see if we can figure something out. (I also do Skype visits.)
Reading your work
I’m sorry, but I can’t read your short story, novel or idea. I don’t have time to do unpaid work, and I’d be exposing myself and my clients to potential legal trouble by doing so.
If you want to pay me to edit your material or give you feedback, that might be different — but there’s still the legal question above. Feel free to inquire, but the closer your story/book/idea is to what I do, the more likely it is that I’ll say no.