Category Archives: Allston

Talking Tahiri Veila

Being raised by Tuskan Raiders and being shaped by the Yuuzhan Vong should make for a compelling character. Unfortunately, for Tahiri Veila, she’s cast into role of the pining lover, moldable apprentice and slave to her desires. As likeable as Tahiri is, the unfitting uses of her character threaten her position on the list of female heroes in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Tahiri began her role in the EU as friend to a reluctant Anakin Solo. Orphaned and raised by Tusken Raiders, she has a vastly different background than her best friend. Tahiri and Anakin during the Junior Jedi Knights books act as children their ages often do as they go through their many adventures. She’s bright, bubbly and intelligent.

Tahiri pops up again during the New Jedi Order first in James Luceno’s Agents of Chaos II: Eclipse in a minor role. When the Yuuzhan Vong attack Yavin IV during Edge of Victory: Conquest by Greg Keyes, Tahiri doesn’t accompany most of the other students. Naïve about how the Vong truly are and feeling stifled by her age, Tahiri stays behind to fight alongside Anakin. Instead of the glorious adventure she envisions, she ends up captured by Shapers.

The shaping of Tahiri is one of the most horrifying and interesting events in the EU. The Vong Shapers have no qualms with eradicating Tahiri by replacing her with memories of another. They treat her as a science experiment, a game. The extent of the damage Master Shaper Mezhan Kwaad and Nen Yim inflict on Tahiri when they inserted the Riina Kwaad identity into the young Jedi trainee’s mind comes forth the strongest during the Force Heretic trilogy. While readers saw some of the effects before those, it’s only then does she have to fight the conflicting parts of her mind.

Tahiri and Anakin’s relationship turns from friendship to love during this time. It was short-lived, however, when Anakin died on Myrkr. Tahiri refused to kiss Anakin, telling him that he needed to return to receive it. It’s a common request seen in movies and books that the hero often fulfils, yet in this case, it adds another layer to the tragedy of Anakin’s death for Tahiri.

Tahiri appears to be recovering somewhat during her mission to Coruscant with Luke, Mara and several others including former Wraith Kell Tainer. Though subdued, Tahiri successfully contributed to the mission, especially when dealing with Lord Nyax. In addition, “Aunt Tahiri” and Kell’s interactions provide much-needed comic relief.

When Riina’s personality attempts to take control of Tahiri, she is forced to retreat into her mind to battle to deal with her two parts. She eventually merges the two and becomes a new mix of Riina and Tahiri. She’s harder, rougher, yet still maintains some of Tahiri’s brightness. It’s somewhat off-putting at first, but it makes sense with what has happened to her. During The Final Prophecy, Tahiri’s characterization continues to strengthen.

When the Killik crisis occurred, Tahiri became a Joiner. Despite that she suffered from depression from the loss of Anakin and that the Yuuzhan Vong part of her was known for blind devotion, Tahiri as a Joiner didn’t make much sense. Here was a woman who’d undergone a transformation into a more mentally sound person. She’d had her mind invaded once. It’d be logical for her to create some type of metal barriers against that happening again and be alert to it. This change would take time to become comfortable with, but it wasn’t as if Tahiri spent those five years on Zonoma Sekot in constant combat. She’d have time to recover. A world so rich in life and the Force seems like ideal healing grounds.

Moving past the Joiner kerfuffle, Tahiri’s characterization takes a major hit when she joins Jacen. Jacen manipulates Tahiri’s remaining feelings for Anakin to draw her into his trap. When it comes to dabbling in the Dark Side, Tahiri lacks the finesse of other Sith. While her fall to the dark side can be understood given the history, it’s the revelation during her trial for the murder of Gilad Pellaeon in Fate of the Jedi Allies by Christie Golden that Tahiri and Jacen were physically “involved” that does more damage to her—and her Sith Master. Tahiri pining after Anakin and then sleeping with his older brother is simply uncomfortable. It takes Star Wars to a place that it doesn’t turn to. In addition, it adds nothing to the story but sputtering by fans. The final verdict in her trial would have been the same without that particular development.

Tahiri returns to her role as a hero in Troy Denning’s Fate of the Jedi Apocalypse. She fought one of Abeloth’s forms with the help of Boba Fett. The alliance, if it can be called such, between such vastly different characters worked well. Tahiri also fights alongside the Jedi in the Temple towards the end of the book. In both cases, she shows the Tahiri unseen for years. She’s an assertive, decisive woman capable of holding her own in most situations.

Tahiri is yet another female character in the Expanded Universe whose potential is repeatedly misused. She’s stuffed into the box of the lost love and self-pity. While she received closure during Allies, I’m not convinced that the Anakin card won’t play again in her future. No one wants to see a depressed, wallowing Tahiri.

Tahiri’s destiny links with Anakin long after his death. Rather than force her to stay tied down to a ghost, let her move forward. She can still have fond memories of him without them dragging down her spirit. The relationship is a part of her, but shouldn’t define her entire life. Aaron Allston sent her in the right direction during Conviction and Troy Denning pushed it farther along with the events of Apocalypse. It’d be a terrible loss if Tahiri faded into the background.

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Filed under Allston, Anakin Solo, Expanded Universe, Fate of the Jedi, female characters, FotJ, Jacen Solo, NJO, Star Wars, SWEU, Tahiri, Troy Denning

Origins: Aaron Allston talks “Mood and Style”

Imagine if Jacen Solo sounded like a character from one of Jane Austen’s novels.

That didn’t settle well with me either. Fortunately, that’s a problem editing can fix.

At his Mood and Style seminar at Origins Game Fair on Friday, Aaron Allston cited this example from his career when discussing “style chameleons.” A writer becomes a style chameleon when his writing style matches or resembles another author’s style. This usually happens when a writer reads a book with a strong style and then goes to write.

Copying another author’s style doesn’t work. No one wants to be that person who sounds like a bad Mark Twain or Michael Stackpole. Emulating another writer stifles writing.

Everyone falls into this trap. I asked Allston after the panel how he fights back. His solution? Read a “palate cleanser,” a novel where the author uses a transparent prose.

“A transparent prose doesn’t call attention to itself,” Allston stated. Particular phrases, wording and other quirks with the words themselves shouldn’t draw attention away from the story. The goal is to use a transparent prose.

Allston offered a variety of techniques for good quality writing. Start with strong writing. That doesn’t mean action-packed writing. One of the key parts of strong writing is to avoid the clutter. As stated by many writers, show, don’t tell. Allston used an example stating, “I was sad” versus “lip trembling.” The latter provides a clear picture to the reader and conveys the emotion of the scene clearer.

This rule relates to the whole passive/active voice issue that plagues journalists everywhere. Passive voice (the use of “to be” verbs), slows down writing. Pick up any textbook. It contains sentence after sentence of passive voice. While there are times to use “to be” verbs, relying on them too much will stilt writing. Allston also recommended that writers avoid the present participle.

One common temptation when writing is to increase the word count for the sake of it. Focusing on word count can become an enemy. Adding in unnecessary adjective and adverbs may add pages, but it’s boring and kills style. Allston recommended keeping paragraphs short unless necessary and avoiding long sentences. He cited that 12 words is the length for human retention.

Descriptions can harm an author’s style. It’s easy to tell someone that she should feel scared, but that doesn’t create terror. Allston used the rather graphic example of how his back felt during a plane ride (I’ll spare the squeamish of the details). Instead of saying that she was dizzy, say she felt as if the room were spinning around her.

Perhaps it’s because I have to use he said/she said when I write articles, but I cannot stand adding in those two words unless there’s no other alternative. Dialogue attribution is a must and one of Allston’s points about strong writing. The easiest form of dialogue attribution appears during a conversation between two people. All the writer needs is a mention of who talks every four or five statements. Instead of saying he said/she said, or other euphemisms, use descriptions of what the person’s doing.

Tracy pointed to the crates against the wall. “It’s in one of those.”

Use particular word choices in dialogue to establish character and provide attribution, Allston said. He used the example of writing a character using particular Southern phrases he spoke. As he was the only one in the scene who spoke that way, readers knew who was talking without direct attribution.

One way to establish mood in a story is through structure. Allston said that shorter paragraphs could tense a reader up without him realizing why he feels that way. The ways details come forth to the reader also affect the mood of a scene. If the reader knows that the killer stands outside the kitchen door with an axe moments before the main character, it creates dread, suspense and tension, for example. If the killer pops out without the reader knowing he was there, it creates surprise and fear.

Allston listed multiple examples of how dialogue can establish mood. Two characters using banter while running from danger removes some of the nervousness from the scene. I can’t help but think of the way Gary Ross used Caesar Flickerman during The Hunger Games movie. Flickerman provided commentary during the Games, making it appear more like a sporting event than a gruesome fight to the death. During the clip of a past Games when he discusses how thrilling the moment is when a tribute realizes he is the victor removes the horror of watching one child beat another one to death with a brick. It captures the way that Capitol and its citizens view the Hunger Games. His words change the mood of the scene to horror at how casual the Games appear to Capitol.

Allston not only gave tips of how to establish your own mood and style, but also described what happens when a writer makes mistakes. He’s advice is to write first, edit later. Editing is when it’s time to take out present participles, rewrite “to be” sentences and fix other style problems.

One aspect of Allston’s seminars that I appreciated was how frank he was. There was no sugarcoating, no softening of the blow. This especially came into his Ruining Your Career Before it Gets Started seminar. More on that one later. The best advice isn’t dragged down by fluff and pageantry.

Just like strong writing.

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Origins Day 2 Recap

Yesterday started out with a walk around the convention center before attending a panel by Aaron Allston, hearing Allston, Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn talk about the Star Wars novels and listening to the first three chapters of Scoundrels.

Today was much different.

After deciding which panels to attend, I went to the Library to see if the Time-Traveled Tales anthology had gone on sale yet and to see who was around the area. I talked with Bryan Young for a while about his new book Operation Montauk, the frustration with losing a writing notebook, historical places to visit and other topics. Later, I stepped over to Aaron Allston’s table to have Outcast signed. I learned so much from him between our two conversations today and his panels. If you ever have a chance to attend one of his writing panels, go. Don’t think twice

At noon, I attended Michael Stackpole’s Characters panel. It was incredibly informative. Stackpole not only provided tips for creating good characters, but also described the pitfalls of each. His most important message of the panel was that a character must grow in the story.

Allston discussed Mood and Style this afternoon. Some highlights included tips on descriptions, dialogue and prose. Not only did he provide information on how to do it, he also explained how to edit to fix the prose and other problems.

It’s always an experience to walk around the exhibition hall at a convention. I don’t play any of the games that I saw, but the merchandise is quite a sight. In one corner was a Dr. Who wonderland while other area contained a company with great quality costumes. I didn’t make any purchases there. I did buy two books: Time-Travelers Tales by authors at Origins and West Ward Weird, a collection of sci-fi meets the old west stories.

If you are at Origins tomorrow or Sunday, be sure to check out all of the authors in the Library.

Look for coverage and discussion of the panels over the next several days.

Check out Toche Station for a recap of “Steal an Hour of Timothy Zahn’s Life” and the impromptu Q&A with Allston.

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Filed under Allston, bryan young, Michael Stackpole, operation montauk, Origins2012

Star Wars Dream Team (Allston, Stackpole, Zahn) talks Star Wars novels

Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn provided an hour of side-splitting hilarity at Origins this afternoon. Not only did we learn that Bantam didn’t know if the X-Wing series would sell—especially given that the main characters of the film weren’t leading the stories, but also that the release of The Phantom Menace had a major impact on the beginning of the New Jedi Order. Below are some of the highlights and discussions.

Fun facts and funny quotes:

Krytos Trap knocked a Stephen King book off the best seller list for one week.

Zahn wanted to call Scoundrels “Solo’s 11” instead, but Lucasfilm said there might be issues.

Stackpole: “Boba Fett is in my car!”

Stackpole on giving Booster the Errant Venture: “It’s like giving an air craft carrier to a Somali pirate.” “I’m doing this because Tim is going to use it in his next book. And so they said ‘okay’.”

Stackpole’s second Errant Venture footnote: “By the way, I realize the best name would have been Enterprise.” (as it’s a business)

Specter of the Past, I, Jedi and Visions of the Future were sort of a trilogy. Zahn had introduced Elegos and pitched Stackpole the pages. Zahn saw what Stackpole did with him in I, Jedi and continued on with character. Zahn needed a “hotshot Imperial pilot” for Visions. He talked to Stackpole, who said Baron Soontir Fel. The two created Fel’s entire back story in one phone conversation.

Zahn explained that he tried to establish in VotF: “That you can either get maximum guidance from the Force or use maximum power of the Force, but you can’t do both. The more power you do, the less wisdom you have.”

Allston on the ignored Wraiths: “I was kind of looking forward to someone screwing up my characters.”

Highlights

Stackpole and Allston compared on their experiences working large projects:

Stackpole and James Luceno studied what made the Original Trilogy so popular while creating the perimeters for the New Jedi Order. Some of the events were moved around later on, which negatively affected the series.

Stackpole sent in an outline that used the Horns, which was rejected and he was instructed to lose Corran and the secondary characters. He knew that those were the characters we readers liked. After the release of The Phantom Menace, he was told to bring Corran back into the story. Stackpole went through two edits of Onslaught. He was told to add R2 into the scene with Luke and Jacen on a Vong-formed planet. The idea was R2 could scan the plant. Stackpole argued that if they found evidence that R2 could and had scanned plant life before, then he would add it in. In addition, Onslaught was thought to be the intro for many to NJO because some fans wouldn’t want to pay for Vector Prime in hardback.

The beginning of NJO was affected by the buzz about The Phantom Menace. Not only was the movie receiving criticism, but Vector Prime and R.A. Salvatore faced serious backlash for killing off Chewbacca. Stackpole was a huge defender of Salvatore.

Stackpole explained why Chewie had to die: “We looked at all the major characters and said if we ranked them top to bottom, whose death hurt the most. We realized with all the major characters, any death would hurt a lot. We knew equal impact there. So we had to ask ourselves a second question: From which character’s viewpoint can we best tell the story of that hurt and Chewie is the only character that you can’t tell a story from his viewpoint. Therefore, Chewie had to die. That is what we had to do to set the New Jedi Order apart.”

By the time Allston joined in, he said everything had calmed down quite a bit. He cited that it’s hectic and overwhelming at times, with all the emails constantly being passed around and details to keep up. In addition, if the authors don’t click, some subplots seem difficult to write in his books.

“When I was working on my two books there were rumors all over the ‘net saying they brought Allston in to kill Wedge. So I wrote a scene that made it look like I was going to kill Wedge,” Allston said.

In the midst of the discussions, various ideas started flowing. Allston, Stackpole and Zahn joked about each writing a book that took place in a different era, but where one trilogy. In addition, Zahn wants the Vong war stories never told, including the Baron Fel clones “ripping up the rear” in Chiss space during the Vong war. Allston also joked about pitching one book with three stories in the Vong war, one from each of them, among other fun ideas.

On Mara’s death:

“Mara should have never died that way, for many reasons,” Zahn said.

Allston admitted to bringing up the idea of a sacrifice in Legacy of the Force. “During the meeting, I floated the notion that there would be a category of Sith who believed that they were maintaining integrity…by devoting themselves to a pattern of self-sacrifice. If they are always sacrificing.”

The discussion eventually went to Mara. Zahn then asked if the decision was made then to tell Zahn, which led to a hilarious confession by Allston.

“No one was happy with the notion. It became the decision,” he said. Zahn learned two months before publication. Zahn cites the Mara situation as the reason for the four year gap between his Star Wars books.

Allston said that they decided Jacen would fall, but his death wasn’t known at the beginning.

A huge thank you to Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole and Timothy Zahn for a great panel.

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Filed under Allston, chewbacca, Fate of the Jedi, Michael Stackpole, NJO, Origins2012, Star Wars, SWEU, Timothy Zahn, Uncategorized

Mercy Kill cover updated

The Star Wars Books Facebook page announced that the cover of Mercy Kill received a bit of an update.

Original cover

Even though the font looks a little odd, the artwork is stunning. It captures the essence of the X-Wing books. It feels open, like space. An enemy can approach at any angle.

New cover

The addition of the symbol makes the cover look a bit crowded. The space seems too closed off. The white/silver coloring makes it appear somewhat washed out at parts. It also reminds me of the anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire.

The question is why it was changed. Using a cover design that reminds fans of books they loved makes more sense marketing-wise. If someone quit reading the books for whatever reason, and then saw a cover at a bookstore that looked kind of like a set of books she liked, it seems more likely that she’d pick up a copy.

If anything, the new cover further separates the book from previous X-Wing novels.

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Mercy Kill Excerpt (probably) in Apocalypse: Does it mean anything?

Erich Schoeneweiss of Del Rey announced on Twitter last night that the excerpt in Troy Denning’s Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse comes from Aaron Allston’s Mercy Kill. Back in the summer, we were told that we would see a preview of the next Star Wars series. Long before that, Del Rey stated that another long series wasn’t in the near future. Of course, this could change.

The inclusion of the first chapter of Mercy Kill at the end of Apocalypse can mean a multitude of things. While it’s possible that we’ll see an X-Wing trilogy, the idea of previewing the next series could have been easily abandoned. We simply don’t know what book deals and ideas are discussed or thrown out.

It’s not a surprise that Mercy Kill is the excerpt. It’s the next major—and only—release in this era of the EU. If it’s not the sign of a new series, then perhaps it leads into the next. It’s no secret that the fans desperately want this book. Building up as many sales as possible is vital.

Given that there has yet to be an announcement stating that Mercy Kill is the flagship book of a series or news of a new series in this era at all, I’m hesitant to believe it. It’d make sense, given the attitude of many EU fans, to publish a couple books that shy away from the Jedi v. Sith conflict. It adds a bit of variety, some breathing room. That said, I don’t want to wait years to find out what happens to the main players in FotJ.

No matter what it means, it great to hear that we will have a taste of Mercy Kill before August.

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Mercy Kill Cover and SWTOR new early access date annoucement

Yesterday was a quite a Star Wars news filled day. Del Rey released the cover of Aaron Allston’s Mercy Kill and BioWare/EA announced that early access will start two days early. I think you can guess the reactions to each.

The Mercy Kill cover looks fantastic. It fits in well with the other X-Wing books even though it’s a standalone. The iconic X-Wings are on the front, locked in combat, giving the cover an exciting, adventurous feel. Even though I’m not crazy about the font used for the title (little too Microsoft Word Art for me), the overall appearance matches the subject matter.

Suvudu released this information yesterday:

Founded decades ago, Wraith Squadron was Wedge Antilles’s boldest creation: a covert-action unit of X-Wing fighters, its pilots drawn from the dregs of other units, castoffs and rejects that were once outcasts and misfits, spies and warriors, pilots and troublemakers given one last chance. After thrilling adventures during and after the Rebellion that destroyed the Empire, this elite intelligence unit was disbanded at the end of a catastrophic galactic civil war.

Now, reunited by former leader Garik “Face” Loran, Wraith Squadron must find out whether one of the galaxy’s most powerful military officers is a traitor… and whether anyone can stop him if he is. To succeed in their mission, the Wraiths must become thieves, pirates, imposters, forgers, and liars, staying just one step ahead of their enemies and the law!

Written by prolific Star Wars author Aaron Allston, Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill is a book sure to excite fans of the X-Wing series as well as readers who are new to Star Wars.

The plot sounds fun, exciting and different than what we’ve seen recently. A little skullduggery is always fun in Star Wars. I hope that we see a healthy mix of old and new characters in the story. August certainly seem far away!

BioWare alerted SWTOR players yesterday that early access now begins on Dec. 13 rather than the 15. As with every single other piece of news that comes from BioWare regarding this game, some people are happy and others are spewing out angry rants.
I understand the frustration of some. Those who took days off work for the release may find themselves stuck. It’s annoying; we all understand that, but is that really a reason to throw in the towel? You get to play the game you’ve been waiting to for years two days early (depending on when you put in the code, of course). So you hit level 50 two days later than planned. It’s not the end of the world.

Think about it this way. If JK Rowling announced that Deathly Hallows was being released two days early, would you have complained? Sure, you have to work and can’t spend all day reading like you planned, but you can’t say that you would have picked up the book on your lunch hour the day it came out and read it that night. It’s the same thing. Is it inconvenience for some? Sure, but that’s life. It’s impossible to schedule something that fits everyone’s schedule. Look at it this way, if you took off Thursday or Friday and have the weekend off, you still get a long TOR weekend.

It’s not all that surprising that BioWare moved up the date. Perhaps they looked at the preorder numbers and felt it would be more efficient to allow players to enter the game in smaller groups at a time for the sake of the servers. I admit I don’t know much about gaming servers, so maybe it wouldn’t make a big difference.

How they stagger the admission into the game remains a mystery. Will there be a cut of by hour? For example, if you entered your pre-order code by 5 p.m. CST on Day Two of ordering you are in on the Dec. 13?

Guess we’ll find out next week!

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