During the course of the conversation Zahn was inspired to drop a few dad-jokes, including the one in the title. When asked why he started writing Zahn laughed and said that he had been watching a lot of badly written sci-fi shows and thought he could do better. With such offerings as “Space Patrol” and “Captain Video and his Video Rangers” on the air who can find fault with that outlook?
Zhan’s first published story appeared in Analog Magazine in the mid 1970’s. I got a quick look at the cover art, a young man in black and white, when a fan brought the bookmarked magazine in for Zhan to sign. He continued to write as a freelance author until his agent contacted him saying that Lucas Films was interested in his work and would he be interested in writing for the Star Wars universe? Thus were born some of the most iconic characters of the Extended (now Legends) Universe.
When it came time to write his central character for the original books Zhan said that he was looking to write a character that fit seamlessly into the existing universe, one that felt right in that context, but that hadn’t been done yet. Vader ruled through fear and raw power, Palpatine ruled through political machinations, what else was there to make an Imperial officer who was a real threat to the growing New Republic? Zahn envisioned a commander who maintained his rule through loyalty; a tactical genius who inspired respect, one who valued the lives of his men and would not waste them needlessly, someone the men would continue to fight for and obey even if he was not breathing terrifyingly down their necks. Thrawn took shape and his officers fell into place around him, including Pealleaon to serve as a Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock.
For the new books however Zahn needed a new Watson. Pealleaon, the established Imperial officer, had already been done. Also Zahn had learned that the powers-that-be were shifting away from the concept of the Empire as being plagued with xenophobia to the concept (as originally developed by Lucas) of the Empire as being plagued with cultural elitism. Coruscant and the Core Worlds look down with distain on the Outer Rim and Wild Space, something like the view of Flyover Country from the New York and L. A. sets. Such uncultured planets, full of uneducated rubes, hardly count as proper Imperial planets at all. They might pay their taxes but that is all they are good for, if that. For this new Watson Zahn created Eli Vanto, an honest, hardworking kid from Wild Space. His family hopes that the Imperial Academy will give his chances in life a boost. In part to illustrate Vanto’s position the voice actor for the “Thrawn” audio book gave Vanto an American southern drawl. This placed both the Sherlock and Watson of this new pair solidly on the bottom of the cultural pecking order; one from Wild Space and one from beyond that in the Unknown Regions.
As my time with Timothy Zahn came to an end I wrapped up the meeting and left with a few signed books and a wish that I could stay longer. Zahn is an engaging conversationalist and has been in the writing industry long enough to watch an author’s problem solving methods go from avoiding the typewriter till it’s time to compose the final draft, to making sure to always keep a backup flash drive in your pocket. The man has some stories to tell.
From the looks of it his next published story, the sequel to “Thrawn”, will be released around the same time as the San Diego Comic-Con. The rough draft is done and has been sent into get comments from the overlords at Disney/Lucas Films. Zahn estimates that he might need to add no more than five-thousand words at this point. But we authors know how those estimates go.
Here’s looking forward to the next book and hoping for a Thrawn movie!