Elizabeth Schaefer is the Creative Director at Del Rey. She’s also written quite a few Star Wars stories herself! Elizabeth was kind enough to answer a few questions via email for 365 Days of Star Wars Women.
What was your introduction to Star Wars?
I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen Star Wars. It feels like most of my important childhood milestones have a Star Wars movie playing in the background. I even still have my copies of the 1995 VHS releases—not that I have anything I can play them with! But I have so many fond memories wrapped up in those plastic rectangles.
Who are some of your favorite Star Wars characters and have those favorites changed much over time?
It’s such a boring answer, but I love Luke Skywalker. As a kid I loved him because he was the hero. I mean, who doesn’t want an awesome laser sword when they’re six?!
As a teenager, I was moved by his choice to reject the “wisdom” of his mentors who tell him that destruction is the only way to save the galaxy. Luke refuses to stop loving his father, even though it would be so much easier just to give in to anger and hatred. That’s rebellious, and brave, and someone I want to be more like.
As an adult, well…if I can get personal here—I’m asexual. And when I watch Luke on screen, I don’t think it’s a crazy stretch to interpret Luke that way, too. Luke’s perceived lack of sexual charisma is the butt of many misguided jokes, but the fact that the hero of the biggest sci-fi franchise of all time can read as ace is important to me. Even more radical—an ace person who saves the galaxy with love.
Though some may dismiss him as a simple Cambellian cipher, in every season of my life, I’ve found new things to admire about Luke Skywalker.
You’re the Creative Director at Del Rey. Can you explain what that role entails and what you might be up to on a typical day (if typical days exist for you!)
Haha! There’s definitely no such thing as a typical day. But that’s what makes the job so great! Some days I’m editing a new manuscript. Some days I’m pulling together a proposal for a new novel. Some days are focused entirely on brainstorming new marketing plans (pins! The answer is always: what if there were cool pins?!). There’s rarely a dull moment.
What’s the favorite part of your job?
I am very lucky to have the most amazing team in the business. Del Rey really is a family, and it’s a gift to work every day beside such brilliant, talented people.
What was the first young readers Star Wars book you wrote and how did that come about? Do you have a favorite of the young readers Star Wars books you have worked on?
The first Star Wars piece I ever wrote was a short story in the Star Wars Storybook Collection—all about the time Leia rescued Han and Luke from the Death Star’s detention block. I was an editor at Disney Press at the time, and it seemed like a fun side project. Turns out, writing Star Wars is pretty addictive!
My favorite book I’ve written is a toss-up between Rey’s Story and Tales of Hope and Courage. The former because getting to tell The Force Awakens from Rey’s perspective was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever written. The latter because Holy Expletive—did I really get to write, Padmé, Sabine, Leia, Jyn, Rey, and Ahsoka all in one book. Is this real life?!
You wrote the young readers versions of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. I’m curious when you wrote these if you had seen the movie and/or read the script or the adult or junior novelizations before you started your version. I’m also curious what ages these books were geared towards and about how long they are.
Thankfully, I did get to read the script before writing both of those retellings. Because it takes quite a while to print and ship books, novelization writers almost never get to see a film before they finish their manuscript. I was lucky enough to see a lot of beautiful concept art and other renderings, though, which is always helpful in trying to capture the feeling of a film.
The retellings of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi I wrote are for kids 6 and up—about 130 pages long and gorgeously illustrated by Brian Rood.
Did you get to pick the stories you wrote for 5 Minute Star Wars Stories? (my copy of this book is lost in my son’s room so I’m not sure which stories you wrote but this is a favorite bedtime storybook in my family and I’m curious how this collection of stories came about)
This warms my heart!!! I adore that book too. The art style is that perfect mix of fun and beautiful, which is so hard to pull off. I did get to pick which stories I wrote in that one because I also edited the book. I got to write the two Force Awakens stories because almost no one else had access to the script, so there weren’t a lot of competitors to challenge my claim! (Side note: my working title for the Rey on Jakku story was “The Girl Who Waited” but we obviously couldn’t use that in final.)
Can you explain a bit to Star Wars fans how Star Wars books come to be? Is it a combo of people at Del Rey and Lucasfilm pitching ideas to each other about different books? Or do you ever get pitches from authors? How long is it usually between the idea of a book and when that book actually hits bookstores?
Between movies, video games, comics, adult novels, children’s novels, TV shows, and more, it’s a herculean task to keep all of Star Wars continuity straight. Thank god for Story Group! Because there are so many moving targets when it comes to plot, we typically work out the basic idea for a novel with the Lucasfilm team before we reach out to an author to grow that story seed into something amazing.
It’s usually about a year between when an idea for a book is finalized and when the book hits shelves. Which is muuuuch faster than is typical in publishing, but when an opportunity comes up for a great book, you just have to jump on it!
How are novelizations different for you as an editor as opposed to novels not based on a film? Is one more challenging than the other? For people who haven’t read novelizations can you explain why someone who loves a movie should also try reading the novelization?
The most challenging part of novelizations is that we have to lock our manuscript long before the final cut of the film is completed. We do our best to update every dialogue change and story tweak along the way. But no matter what, there are always a few moments that are a little different in the book vs. the movie. I choose to look at this as a feature, not a bug. As a movie nerd, I love getting a glimpse into the creative process of other writers, and puzzling out why they made one story change or another.
What does Del Rey having coming up in 2019 that you can talk about for Star Wars fans?
There are still a few exciting surprises on the horizon that I can’t talk about yet. But I can say that I am so excited for Claudia Gray’s upcoming Star Wars: Master & Apprentice. We haven’t seen a new book about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in years, and Claudia absolutely nails the interactions between this iconic pair. All the clichés apply: You will laugh. You will cry. You will finish reading and immediately go rewatch Duel of the Fates for the billionth time.
Note: Shortly after Elizabeth gave me these answers Del Rey announced another Star Wars book for 2019 – Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn.
Check out the entire list of women in 365 Days of Star Wars Women in the Women in Star Wars Index. It includes highlights from each post plus notes which posts include new 365 interviews with actresses, writers, artists, and more.