DENHAM SPRINGS -- Before she became Claudia Gray, a New York Times bestselling author who has penned numerous “Star Wars” novels, she was Amy Vincent, a young girl who fell in love with the universe George Lucas created.
Gray was 6 years old when she saw her first “Star Wars” movie, leading to a lifelong obsession with the galaxy far, far away. She still has the “Star Wars” books she “read to death” in the late 1970s, and she still has an old Galactic passport she got when she was 12.
During a recent visit to the Livingston Parish Library, she recounted her love for “Star Wars” and more.
Gray, the pseudonym for New Orleans native Amy Vincent, was the featured speaker during an author talk dubbed “An Evening with Claudia Gray.”
Gray, who has penned several titles set in the “Star Wars” universe in addition to her own original science fiction novels, detailed her writing process and how she manages creating stories for beloved characters in the wildly popular franchise.
During the visit, she also read an excerpt from one of her latest Star Wars novels, “Leia: Princess of Alderaan.” The book explores the beginning of Princess Leia’s participation in the Rebellion and the origin of her friendship with Amilyn Holdo, a character played by Laura Dern in the 2017 film “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
It was a book Gray said she always wanted to write. When she finally got the chance, she could hardly contain her excitement.
“One nice thing an editor said to me was, ‘We really see you as the guardian of Princess Leia,’” Gray recalled. “At that moment I split into two. The professional author side of me considered it an honor that I wanted to take seriously. Then the 13-year-old fan me was like, ‘That is correct. I’m glad you got that cleared up because I’ve known it for many years.’”
The author talk was part of the Livingston Parish Library’s “Universe of Stories” summer reading program. Here are some of the questions Gray fielded from other “Star Wars” enthusiasts during her visit to the Denham Springs-Walker Branch.
How is it writing in someone else’s sandbox like “Star Wars” versus writing original work?
“With original work, you’re answerable to nobody but yourself. The great part of that is you can do anything, and the bad part of that is you have to do everything. Also with your own books, it’s a constant battle to get people to hear of them and buy them and read them, unless you’re at the very top of the writer food chain. It can be a struggle.
“When I’m writing ‘Star Wars,’ if I need something, [Lucasfilm sends] it to me. There are tons and tons of toys in that sandbox that you get to play with. The only problem is other people are also in that sandbox.
“Even though I was a fan, I did not understand how many people read ‘Star Wars’ books, and I was not prepared for the sheer scale of the response on that. Both of them [writing ‘Star Wars’ and original work] have great advantages and serious things you have to work around. They’re very different pleasures.”
How carefully do you research “Star Wars” to make sure you get the elements right?
“Most of my research I’ve done for my ‘Star Wars’ books comes from a lifetime of being a huge nerd. I was always a ‘Star Wars’ fan. I saw the first movie when I was 6, the exact age to have your relationship to reality broken forever, and I still have books from the late 1970s that I read to death. I found my old Galactic passport from when I was 12.
“So I know a lot of the stuff on my own, and the stuff I don’t know, either I look it up or I go to Lucasfilm and they help me out. I don’t have to do it alone, but being a huge nerd, a lot of it is already done for me.”
What is your daily writing process?
“I don’t have a strict writing schedule. I kind of wish I did, but I don’t. On the average day when I’m really writing, I put in a good 3 1/2 hours because there’s so much work with writing other than writing. Sometimes I wish I had more time to write.
“Events and travel and exchanging emails and going over copy edits and talks also play a role. As anyone who writes knows, there is a big part of it where you’re just walking around talking to yourself like a crazy person. That’s the way it gets worked out sometimes.
“There are days when I work less and a lot more. ‘Star Wars’ deadlines are pretty tight. [For example], ‘Bloodline’ was written in 40 days, and there was a day when I wrote 14,000 words from 8 a.m. until midnight. I stopped to eat, and that was about it.”
Did you ever get to meet Carrie Fisher (the actress who portrayed Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films)?
“I wish, but no. She passed away after I outlined ‘Leia: Princess of Alderaan’ [in December 2016], so I never did get the chance to meet her, but I would’ve loved that.
“I did see her once when I lived in New York. She did a New York Times talk around the release of one of her books, and I got to be in the audience. She was hilarious and incredibly sharp. That was a beautiful experience.”
What are you working on now?
“I’m working on my second graphic novel, which is not for ‘Star Wars.’ We haven’t been able to announce it yet, but we’ll probably announce it at New York Comic Con in October.
“[Writing a graphic novel] has been a learning experience because it’s a completely different kind of writing and it’s much more collaborative. But it’s been really good. Working on the comic collaboratively is really the first time where I’ve been like this will help me up my game.
“It’s good to see how other people generate sparks and ideas. You always want to feel like you have something to build on, and collaborative work with the right people does that.”