With the resurrection of “Shades of Gray: from the Adventures of Alex Winger“, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Alex’s history.
A LONG TIME AGO…
I loved Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but the universe created by George Lucas flew off my radar after Return of the Jedi (RoTJ) left movie screens in 1983. It wasn’t until 1992 when I was browsing for something to read that I discovered Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, volume 1 of The Thrawn Triology (TTT). And shortly after that, I devoured Dark Force Rising. Tim’s books resonated with me and I pulled out my Star Wars‘ VHS tapes and rewatched all 3 movies over and over. Then I re-read vols. 1 & 2 of TTT, knowing vol. 3 wouldn’t be available for months. As Darth Vader says in episode III, “NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”
It was a crazy time in my life. So what did I do? I decided to write a novel. I’d never written a novel. I wrote a short story way way way back in high school. My novel would be a sequel to Tim’s vol. 3 even though I had no idea how he’d wrap that up. In today’s world, that novel would be called fanfiction. In 1992, it would’ve been fanfic, too, though I’d never heard that term or seen any online until several years later. A dear friend read my novel and encouraged me; she even sent a letter to Bantam on my behalf and we both learned that unsolicited manuscripts weren’t being accepted. (That’s still the policy today at Del Rey, for those Star Wars writer wannabees.)
It was quite by chance that I stumbled across role-playing games material. Buried in the back of one of the Star Wars sourcebooks was a call for short fiction for a new journal from West End Games (WEG). The stories would include role-playing statistics. Blaster, 2D, anyone?
GUIDELINES? WHO NEEDS GUIDELINES?
The call for fiction said, “Write us for guidelines.” (This was before e-mail was an everyday thing, folks!) So I wrote them. Four weeks later, nothing. I got brave and called, got an apology that they’d missed my letter, and was promised the guidelines would be in the mail right away.
My jaw dropped open when I opened that letter. My novel had broken nearly every rule: it was too long, it used Luke, Leia, and Han extensively, and it was set in a time period beyond TTT. At that time, the guidelines stated submissions could include events
“…between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beginning of Tim Zahn’s novels. [Other time periods] are in very early stages of development by everyone (Dark Horse, Bantam and West End), so writing for these periods is much more difficult. Beginning authors should stay away from these…periods.”
Sigh. Beginning authors. Yep, that was me. Time period: my story referenced characters in Tim’s novels and was highly dependent on the politics of the galaxy at that time and my assumptions of what might occur post-TTT. And role-playing stats? The only thing I knew about role-playing were the words “Dungeons & Dragons.” Really? A Star Wars role-playing game? How the heck does this work?
But…but…but… I had an original character with an incredibly rich background. Alex was cool – I saw her as a mix of the best and worst of Luke and Leia. Okay, maybe the best. Yes, she was beautiful thanks to interpretations of my written description by artist Mike Vilardi & later by Cat Scaggs. Intelligent, sassy, a great pilot, and an ace with a weapon in her hands. I know a lot of readers loved her though, looking back, I still had a lot to learn about character development. (Still do.) I feel blessed that WEG editor Pete Schweighofer overlooked my writing inexperience and saw a glimmer of hope (no pun intended) in my storytelling abilities. Thanks, Pete.
REBELS ON GAROS IV
I fleshed out Alex’s background and changed some of the history I’d created in my novel so it wouldn’t conflict with WEG guidelines. And then I sat down to craft a story under 10,000 words. I maintained my post-TTT setting. I eliminated the big 3 (Han, Luke & Leia) except to reference a sandy-haired, blue-eyed guy who appeared in Alex’s dreams. Rather than Alex fighting with the big 3, she hoped they (well, the Rebels/New Republic) would show up and help eliminate the Empire on her homeworld. Garos IV became the base of my stories rather than a known planet, a known Rebel base or ship. This was Alex’s life in the Rebel underground on her own world, keeping her loyalties hidden from her Imperial Governor father. A young woman who’d only heard about Yavin, Death Stars, and Jedi but knew the Empire’s atrocities firsthand.
Fingers (and lightsabers) crossed, I submitted my first short story, “A Glimmer of Hope.” Thanks again, Pete, for publishing Alex’s adventures in that short and others that followed.