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Local author shares journey of joining an expansive universe far, far away

"Star Wars Visions: Ronin" by Emma Mieko Candon
Courtesy Lucasfilm
"Star Wars Visions: Ronin," a novel by Emma Mieko Candon

A Star Wars novel released this week gave one local author an opportunity to officially become part of a universe far, far away.

“Star Wars Visions: Ronin” is directly connected to the anthology of animated shorts “Star Wars: Visions” released on Disney+ last month. The first episode "The Duel" places its characters in a battle over a small village that evokes images of both classic Japanese samurai films and Spaghetti Westerns.

The events of "The Duel" comprise the first 25 pages of the "Ronin" novel. The subsequent 300-plus pages encompass an original story crafted by Oʻahu-native and author Emma Mieko Candon. Candon's next book "The Archive Undying" is currently in the revision process and scheduled to be released in 2023.

The Conversation’s resident Star Wars nerd Russell Subiono talked to Candon about the opportunity. Read the highlights below — Do or do not. There is no try.

"Star Wars Visions: Ronin" by Emma Mieko Candon
Courtesy Lucasfilm
"Star Wars Visions: Ronin" by Emma Mieko Candon

Interview Highlights

How did this opportunity come to you? How did it feel when you knew that Lucasfilm wanted you?

So my agent is aware that I'm an enormous Star Wars nerd. And something agents often ask their writers is "Are you interested in doing intellectual property work? And if you are, are there any IPs in particular that you're interested in working with?" So most writers I know would love to do a Star Wars thing, in part, because it's like the biggest thing you could possibly do. It's the intellectual property where the novels are like, kind of the most well known. It's also got all these comic series. So outside of Marvel and DC, the comic powerhouses, that's the one that people have their eye on. And she asked me around this time last year, "Hey, they're looking for somebody of Japanese descent to write a Star Wars book, are you interested?" And yes, of course, I was interested. But she sent them for kind of my audition — the first chapter or so of the manuscript, we were at the time trying to sell and we did sell like in the middle of this. Right after I had sold that, I got the call that Lucasfilm was interested in talking to me about doing this book. And they had to give me very little information before I said, "Yes, absolutely. Whatever, whatever we're doing here. This sounds fun." And that's why I'm in the very strange position of debuting with the Star Wars novel.

I'm one of those people where the emotions don't hit me right away. I absorb the information and then I'm not even in a state of shock. It's almost like denial that something has changed in my life. So you know, I'd be driving to pick up my wife downtown and suddenly I'd have the moment of "Oh my god, they're asking me to write a Star Wars book." So yeah, that was a lot of it. It took a while for it to sink in. But until then, I would just have these moments of delirious — okay this is where I am now.

When writing a story that takes place within a long-established universe, did someone give you a list of pre-established peoples and locations?

They let me do basically everything on my own. The only thing that was set in stone was the inciting event, which is that animation, and after that, I've likened it to them putting me in front of a pasture and going "Okay, now go build the barn." And that was kind of what it was. That's the soul of the "Visions" project as a whole I think, where they were banking on Star Wars as a narrative DNA being so strong that creators could iterate on it, and it would still very clearly be Star Wars, but also be something else. And consequently, I had a lot of freedom. At Lucasfilm, they have what's called the "story group," which is a bunch of people whose job is to maintain coherence across all of the different properties they're putting out at a given moment. And this is all the many books that they're publishing, this is all the comics, this is all the movies — everything goes through the story group. And normally, what you get from the story group is them saying, "Oh, well, you can't have that kind of ship. It's not the right timeline, or you can't tab Lando this week, he's over here." But in my case, because so much of it was being made out of whole cloth, the only notes I ever got were along the lines of like, "Oh, can we like move a little more in this direction or a little more in that direction." And otherwise, they were beautifully helpful and hands-off.

Ronin in a scene from "Star Wars: Visions" short "The Duel" on Disney+.
Courtesy Lucasfilm/Disney+
Ronin in a scene from "Star Wars: Visions" short "The Duel" on Disney+.

I was pretty constantly, like, "Oh, they're not gonna let me get away with this." And then they did. Which I think just goes to show their devotion to this thought project with "Visions" where they're like, "No, we're going to see what happens when we give creators who have a devotion to the franchise, a love for it, an adoration of it, and who are willing to study it and try to understand well what does it mean for a thing to be Star Wars?" That was just such a unique and wonderful pleasure.

What's your origin story as a writer?

Truth be told, I've been very shy about my writing for 34 years. And I've recently had to rip off the bandaid and talk to people about a book I wrote. And my journey with writing is that I don't think I let myself take it seriously for a long time — even though I was very much doing it, pretty much constantly I think from around grade seven on up when I learned that you could do that. A bunch of my friends had started this little forum on the internet and we were all writing stories, and it suddenly occurred to me, "Oh, my God, I like this." But I was really sort of trapped in that capitalist mindset of like, "Oh, but you shouldn't devote your time to anything that's not like a job that you can't make a living off of." So it was my thing I do in my spare time. And then, in college, I got introduced to people who are interested in going into the publishing industry, which was when I started to think, "Oh, okay, so I could have my job and then I could have my side job, where I do writing."

And then a couple years after college, I got very, very, very, very sick, I was hospitalized. And it's kind of funny, because what I endured is much more well understood these days, because I caught a virus, and it destroyed my internal organs, particularly my lungs. So I was on a respirator and ECMO for four months — this was all happening in Japan. And I was lucky enough to be at a research hospital where the doctors were very devoted and very ambitious about the things they were willing to try to save my life. And they did, and I'm forever grateful to them. But it was six months from the time I was hospitalized to the time I was out of the rehab hospital where they thought I was strong enough to be sent home to recover. So I spent like the next year and a half before I decided to go to grad school, like learning how to walk, socialize with people — I also had to recover language, because the socializing was not easy. And I think again, people are starting to experience this with all of our pandemic lockdowns, and like you can't socialize with people the way you used to. It's a little bit awkward, you kind of forget how to make small talk or even just to chat. And that was absolutely me in 2013. But it was the point at which I finished the revision of a novel and sent it to my agent — that was when I started to really feel like a human being again, not just alive, but like a person. Ever since then, I really made it my business to let myself write as much as possible at least a little bit every day. Because I've noticed I get anxious when I don't get to do it. Because it is so closely linked to like a gift I give it to myself to be myself. Writing for me is very much part of how I tend my health.

Listen below to parts of Candon's interview that were cut for time.

Emma Mieko Candon's favorite writers -- Oct. 13, 2021
The Conversation
Emma Mieko Candon on the book's characters -- Oct. 13, 2021
The Conversation

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 13, 2021.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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