Spectral Memories

Spectra is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Bantam Books, where I worked happily for many years. This month, the imprint is celebrating its 25th anniversary by looking back on certain books that remain in print after all this time, year by year. They asked old-timers for their reflections, and here’s mine for a book we pubbed in 1991:

I was the head writer in the cover copy department the day Lou Aronica whipped through the revolving door at 666 Fifth Avenue with this huge grin on his face. Lou’s a pleasant-enough guy, but just then he looked like Gene Kelly in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. What ho, bro? “We’re going to publish original STAR WARS novels. I just signed ‘em up.”

This was 1990 or so*. The STAR WARS franchise felt a little historical (think about it: not much had happened since JEDI in 1983). Even I was skeptical. But here was Gene Kelly, stomping in the puddles.

A few months later, Lou and editor Betsy Mitchell asked me to write some flap copy without reading the book. Super secret. All I knew was that they’d hired a top-notch author, Hugo winner Timothy Zahn. Make it feel like an event. Betsy added a sentence or two regarding the plot. More people have read that copy than anything else I’ve ever written in my life.

HEIR TO THE EMPIRE ignited a huge pent-up demand for more stories in the STAR WARS universe. It was an instant, rabid hit. Customers were actually helping booksellers open cartons and racing the books to the cash register. We’d given HEIR a bargain hardcover price to kick off the trilogy we owned, but that turned out to be utterly unnecessary. It went straight to #1 and stayed there. It has to be Spectra‘s biggest single bestseller, even today.

HEIR affected me in two important ways: one professionally, one as a propeller-beanie-wearing fan. A couple of years later, Betsy found a great opportunity elsewhere, and I – by that time a Spectra editor myself – kind of inherited the STAR WARS property as part of my list. I edited fifteen or twenty books over the next five years, all with people who were credible sf writers first, and STAR WARS fans second. I loved it, loved the authors, loved the Lucasfilm folks. Despite a few rough, nail-chewing, deadline-sweating spots which time has now mercifully sanded away, it was a real pleasure to work on STAR WARS, and they paid me for it too! How great is that?

Secondly, the response to HEIR TO THE EMPIRE directly began the chain of events which led to three more STAR WARS movies. Without HEIR, they wouldn’t exist: even Lucasfilm agrees with that. Kids, never try to tell me books can’t make a difference. The guy stomping in the puddles at 666 knew it. Now I’m a believer too.

*Turns out it was actually late 1989.

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2 Responses to Spectral Memories

  1. Ken Houghton says:

    “Without HEIR, they wouldn’t exist; even Lucasfilm agrees to [with?] that.”

    You’re forgiven. But only because without the prequel there wouldn’t be “The Saga Begins.”

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