What's Up in YA

080717 Beth Revis on Writing A Star Wars YA Novel: A “Dream Job”

We’ve got something special this week, YA lovers!

This week’s “What’s Up in YA?” is sponsored by Textrovert by Lindsey Summers from KCP Loft

It’s bad enough when high-school senior Keeley mistakenly swaps cell phones with a stranger. It’s even worse when the stranger turns out to be an obnoxious boy named Talon … who’s just left for football camp with her phone. Reluctantly, the two agree to forward messages for a week. As Keeley gets to know Talon through their texts, she finds out he’s more than just an egocentric jock. In fact, the two fall for each other, hard. But Talon has been keeping a secret. One that makes their relationship all but impossible. Will Keeley ever be able to trust him?

I’m really excited to share a guest post for this week’s newsletter. Knowing how wildly popular the recent crop of Star Wars YA novels has been, I had an idea it was something worth talking about with some more depth.

This week’s newsletter is a guest post from author Beth Revis. You might know her from her books Across the Universe (her first trilogy), A World Without You, and the recent Star Wars: Rebel Rising.

Beth Revis is a NY Times bestselling author with books available in more than 20 languages. Her latest title, Star Wars: Rebel Rising, tells the story of Jyn Erso before the movie Rogue One takes place. A World Without You is a semi-autobiographical story blending the supernatural with mental illness. Beth is also the author of the Across the Universe series, The Body Electric, numerous short stories, and the nonfiction Paper Hearts series, which aids aspiring writers. A native of North Carolina, Beth is currently working on a new novel for teens. She lives in rural NC with her boys: one husband, one small son, and two massive dogs.

I was not expecting a call from my agent that day. I was in a bit of a downtime in terms of projects—one thing turned in, another thing too new to turn in—so when her name flashed up on my iPhone, I had no idea what it was about.

It was about Star Wars.

I still remember the way my heart started pounding, a tight thrumming of excitement. Before she could even finish telling me about the project Star Wars was pitching me, I was saying yes. I didn’t care about any of the details: I wanted in.

I honestly had no idea what to expect, but within about a week of initially hearing about the offer, I was on a plane to San Francisco, where I and other authors who were writing works linked to Rogue One would find out details about the movie and start the process of writing. It was incredibly fast timing, but I was so eager to dive in, all I could think about was how grateful I was that I could start immediately.

I was given directions to the offices, nestled in the Presidio National Park of San Francisco, and told to look out for the Yoda Fountain—which, frankly, “turn left at Yoda” is so serendipitously awesome that I still can’t get over how cool even directions to this dream job was. My eyes drank in everything—the lobby with Boba Fett and Darth Vader costumes on display, the halls lined with movie posters from around the world throughout history, the alcoves with shining display cases that highlighted the Holy Grail of Indiana Jones’s fame alongside awards and knickknacks, the windows that all seemed to perfectly frame the Golden Gate Bridge.

The very first thing I and the other authors did was read the script for Rogue One. This project was for Star Wars, so I knew it was going to be special. But I cannot describe the moment when I read the end (that ending!) to the movie. I could picture Scarif so vividly, and as the final moments for the main characters ticked down, I kept thinking, Will they do it? Will that actually happen? It was so beautiful and perfect for that story—and for me. Rogue One is the kind of Star Wars story that I love not just because it’s Star Wars, but because it has everything in a story that I adore. Complex characters who aren’t black-and-white, conflicting goals even among friends, and a jaw-droppingly perfect ending to a story I never saw coming.

My novel—Rebel Rising—gives the background of the main character, Jyn Erso, from the moment she’s orphaned as a child to when the movie starts with her as a young woman in an Imperial prison.  From the moment I read the script, I knew I had to do whatever it took to showcase this character to the best of my abilities. I threw myself into the project, writing quicker than I’d ever written before, but also reading, reading, reading. I was able to get my hands on early copies of other novels coming that dealt with Jyn or her time period. And I scoured the comics and novels that had already been published, looking for details that I could add to my story to make it more real.

Weirdly, in many ways, writing Rebel Rising was similar to writing a historical biography—except it’s fiction and takes place in the future (or at least in a galaxy far, far away). The details I researched are the same sort of details I’d research for history. People are people, across time and space, but how they do things, the tools they use, the histories they react to—that’s what changes, and that’s what I had to research. And, like in a biography, the character’s life was already established. There are books that are set before my own—most notably Catalyst—that already defined some of her past. And the movie itself encompassed what happened to Jyn after. So while I had total freedom to do with her what I wanted, there was a definite Point A where she started and a Point B where I had to get her.

Some people ask me about the work that goes into this sort of novel, but to me, it never felt like work. In the same way I’d research NASA or Russian cosmonaut articles while writing the Across the Universe trilogy, I’d throw myself at Star Wars comics and novels and shows. It was never work because it was always fun and interesting.

For example, I’d seen The Clone Wars cartoon when it was released when I was in high school. But I rewatched it in anticipation of Rebel Rising, paying close attention to Saw Gerrera. While my novel was about Jyn, she spends a significant part of her life with this veteran of the Clone Wars. He had such a lasting impact in the show, but relatively few episodes focused on him. When I watched it the first time as a kid, I didn’t spend hours scrutinizing his face, parsing out everything he said, considering what happened to him after. His appearance in that show and the way he became in Rogue One forced me to be a detective, following the tiny breadcrumb trails to figure out not just who he was, but why he was.

This is exactly the kind of thing I love about writing—any writing, not just in Star Wars. Digging deep into the characters, discovering their stories that shaped their lives…that’s the kind of thing I love to write about and read about and watch in the theater.

As I said before, this was definitely a dream job. Star Wars was one of the major constants of my childhood, a rare movie that my brother and I could agree on, and a story that, to this day, fills me with wonder. Being able to be a part of that galaxy, even a small one, is an honor I will never forget. I couldn’t have been prouder than if Princess Leia herself had placed a medal around my neck on Yavin 4.

Thanks for hanging out, YA Riot fans, and we’ll see you next Monday.

–Kelly Jensen, @veronikellymars