Latest Updates: Thursday, November 20, 2008
TUCWS recently had a chance to sit down and speak with Wild Space author Karen Miller about a variety of topics. Read it here.
TUCWS: Hi Karen, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
Karen Miller: No, thank you. This is so much fun!
T - First things first, you're a newcomer to the Star Wars universe - the obvious first question is when did you first become acquainted with Star Wars?
K - Okay, outing myself here as no longer a spring chicken. *g* I saw the original film when it was first released in 1977. I was in high school, and the son of a family friend was back in Australia after being in the US. He started talking about this amazing film he and his girlfriend had seen, it was opening in Australia, and they'd take me to it because they thought I'd love it. Nobody knew anything about it really in Australia, then. So we went into town, into the big Hoyts complex in George St Sydney, and -- this was in the days when there was a short film in front of the feature --we sat through the short film (I'm telling you, I got so sick of that film. Let's just say I went back and saw Star Wars a lot!) and then ... bang. That magnificent explosion of John Williams music ... the title crawl ... the rebel blockade runner coming overhead ... and then, holy moly, the star destroyer. It was a defining moment in cinema, and it was a defining moment in my life. I fell in love, head over heels, jaw-dropped to my knees in love. And *then* we got the cantina sequence, and the introduction of one Han Solo. Harrison Ford all smartmouthed and sexy, lounging in that booth ... I whispered to the friend's girlfriend -- 'Now he's a bit of all right' and really, that was it. I was a certified Star Wars fan from that moment in 1977 and I've never stopped being one. Some stories are timeless. Some true loves never die.
T - What was it like to be asked to write in George Lucas's sandbox?
K - Exciting, and terrifying. It's a huge compliment. Having loved the Star Wars story for so many years, being given the opportunity to play in that sandbox, to actually contribute to the extraordinary tapestry that is Star Wars ... I'm not even sure I can articulate how privileged I feel. But the flip side of that is, oh dear lord, I'm writing Star Wars. And being a fan, I know how passionate fandom can be, and how unforgiving. So I'm kind of girding my loins right now. I have no idea what's going to happen next. Really, at the end of the day, I consider myself one of the luckiest people writing.
T - Karen Traviss's The Clone Wars was the first step at bringing the Star Wars Clone Wars series to prose - how does your book follow with the series? Is it an adaptation from the series, or is it an original work with the same constraints and inspiration?
K - Wild Space follows on from Karen T's Clone Wars novel, in so far as it -- broadly speaking -- picks up after the events of the film/her novelisation. But having said that, there are some flashbacks to Attack of the Clones too, which I had the most fun writing, I can't begin to tell you. Anyhow, what I've done is weave a new adventure for Obi-Wan -- and Bail Organa -- in and around a pivotal event in the tv series -- namely, the loss of Artoo in the field. The folk at Lucasfilm and Del Rey have been so wonderful -- I asked if I could get a bit creative, and they fully supported me. So there are some scenes from the tv episodes that I retell from a different point of view, that tie Wild Space in with the series but leave me free to tell a new story. If that makes any sense. *g* As for the next two I'm writing, well, they're bubbling away in the back of my mind right now. No spoilers!
T - Have you seen the Clone Wars series? Any thoughts on its execution as compared to the films?
K - I saw the theatrical release when I was in New York in August, but nothing beyond that. I have read the scripts for the first season, though. I think, given the format that's been chosen to tell these stories, the guys are doing an amazing job. Visually, the work is just beautiful. But I have to confess, my first and last love will always be live performance. I can appreciate the artistry and expertise of the animation -- and I do -- but I love actors. I love the human element. I love watching Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen bring such heart to their characters.
T - Any favorite moments or characters that you've come across while writing the books?
K - Well, for one thing I've fallen madly in love with Bail Organa. *g* See, when it came to writing Wild Space, I was looking for a way into the Clone Wars saga that expanded the story a bit, and gave me room to play. And I noticed in the episode 'Downfall of a Droid' that Obi-Wan appeared in a couple of holograms, and that was it. And Obi-Wan's my favourite character, I'll admit it now, with Anakin a close second. And I wondered -- hmm, what's Obi-Wan up to while Anakin's off doing his mission with Ahsoka? And *then* I got to thinking about Bail Organa, because we know so little about him. We got that cryptic line in 'A New Hope’, about Obi-Wan serving him during the Clone Wars. We met him briefly in Attack of the Clones, where it was clear he had an important government role but was a bit in the background. And then, in Revenge of the Sith, we saw that Yoda and Obi-Wan trusted him with their lives. When everything was falling apart, he helped save them and they never once doubted him. And to top it all off, he took Leia. They gave him the child of their greatest hero, and failure. So I was thinking -- hang on, how did we get from there to here? And it seemed to me that this first novel was the perfect chance to explore the beginning of that journey. After all, Bail's a good guy but he's also a politician. Obi-Wan's default setting is don't trust any of the bastards. I wanted to play with that dynamic. So of course I threw them together in a mission that goes horribly wrong, and let the sparks fly. Which they do. *g*
The surprise for me was how much I loved writing Ahsoka. Like most of fandom, I suspect, I was bit taken aback when I learned that Anakin was getting a padawan. Didn't see that one coming! But she turned out to be such fun. Karen [Traviss] wrote her so brilliantly in her first book, which I read before seeing the film, and really helped me get a sense of who she was. And when I started writing her, something just sparked and I found the dynamic between her and Anakin to be enormously entertaining. Plus, she's really useful because she lets me look at Anakin from the outside, in ways that he doesn't look at himself. The same with the dynamic between Obi-Wan and Anakin. She's the outsider in that relationship, she's the observer, so I've been able to look at their tragic friendship from a slightly different perspective. The other thing I had enormous fun with was looking at Obi-Wan and Padme, as well as Anakin and Padme. I find those two dynamics intriguing. I love her, she's such an interesting person, with so many facets. So I was really happy to have the chance to play with her, as well.
Oh yes, and can I just say I had way too much fun crawling into Palaptine's head? I love me a good villain, and he's so - so -- appalling. But in a good way!
In case you hadn't caught on by now, for me, it's first and foremost about the characters. *g* The space battles are fun, the lightsabres are fun, but for me the heart of Star Wars lies in those people whose lives are so battered by the dreadful events around them.
T - Most authors who come to the Star Wars universe have a fairly extensive bibliography behind them, and I've seen some of your books before in stores - how did you get into writing in the first place?
K - I have wanted to be a writer all my life. I loved composition class in primary school, and on into high school. Professional Writing was one of my majors in my first university degree, a BA in Communications. I have had a love affair with story ever since I could make sense of my first story, in print and on TV. Story is my ruling passion. Being able to tell stories full time now is so surreal ... absolutely the hoary old 'dream come true' cliché.
T - What can you tell us about your other books prior to the Clone Wars series?
K - Well, because I am the most useless person in the multiverse when it comes to maths and science, plus I am a passionate history buff, my mainstream spec fic work is fantasy. My first duology, Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, was published in Australia in 2005/2006. It then came out in the UK and the US in the last year. That was followed by the Godspeaker trilogy, which is completely released in Australia, and finishes releasing in the UK/US in January. As well, I have a fantasy series under a pen name, K. E. Mills, the Rogue Agent series. It's a bit different -- continuing characters having stand-alone adventures, and the cultural background isn't epic historical, but slightly more modern. Think late Victorian/early Edwardian England. The first book, The Accidental Sorcerer, is out in Australia now, with bk 2, Witches Inc, out next April. Accidental Sorcerer releases in the UK/US in January. I've also done a couple of Stargate novels, and am currently working on the sequel to the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books. And of course, there's the next Star Wars novel which I'm due to turn in next year. Basically, it's a good thing I don't have a life. *g*
T - Earlier this summer, it was announced that Karen Traviss had to drop one of her entries in the Clone Wars series, which you in turn picked up - was the shift into writing an entirely new novel a difficult one?
K - Oh no. I mean, I haven't started writing it yet. I'm still thinking about it. But saying yes was a no-brainer. I just love Star Wars, and in particular the prequel era. It's such a rich source of great stories, great characters, epic and sweeping tragic backdrop, heartbreak, honour, courage and sacrifice. All the themes and elements of story that make me weak at the knees, really. I've always thought Star Wars was one of the most human stories ever told in spec fic, so the chance to play in the sandbox again was thrilling. Of course, I'm sorry Karen [Traviss] had to step aside, because she's brought such an important and unique perspective to the game. But on the other hand, she's done me a huge favour!
T - How has the fan reception been thus far for the book after it was announced that you were penning three novels?
K - Pretty subdued, and I'm not surprised. I'm barely a blip on the radar, really. I've had some success with my original work, but I really am still a very, very new writer. What I have noticed, though, is a really encouraging willingness for the fans to give me a go, and I appreciate it enormously. There's so much emotional investment in Star Wars, all around the world. Really, at the risk of sounding silly, this is a sacred trust I've been handed. So I am very conscious of not screwing it up for people who love these films as much as I do.
T - Some of your other novels have been original, that is, not in an established franchise - what differences do you see in prose between an 'original' novel and a 'tie-in' one? Some authors tend to look down on such work, while others praise it - what are your thoughts here?
K - Differences? None. First and foremost for me, it's about story, story, story and characters. There are differences in the approach you take, writing your own created world and writing in someone else's, but the idea of writing less than your best work because it's 'just a tie-in' is beyond abhorrent to me. It's insulting to the people who created that world, and insulting to the people who love that world. Not that I think the folk who specialise in tie-in fiction think that. I know a few of them, and they are hands down as dedicated and committed to their craft as any mainstream writer. But it's true some other writers like to point fingers and look down their noses and bugger them, I say. They are speaking from a place of ignorance, as far as I'm concerned. Oooh, see, you pressed one of my hot buttons! *g*
Tie-in work is not peculiar to spec fic. They do it in literature all the time -- The Wide Sargasso Sea, anyone? And the work is treated with respect. So the idea of sneering because it's spec fic, well -- get over it. I'm not interested in all the artificial barriers and hierarchies and crap that get perpetuated in the world of literature. If it’s good story it's a good story, and that's all that matters.
Also? What do people think a scriptwriter is? Show writers who are on staff for a tv drama they didn't create are writing in other people's created worlds every day of the week -- and they are lauded for the work they do. But it's not original, is it? Who wants to call Harlan Ellison a hack? Or Ronald D Moore? Paul Cornell? Steven Moffat? Tim Minear? Sera Gamble? Jane Espenson? David Mamet? These are writers who have produced some of the most brilliant, searing scripts in tv -- for worlds they did not create. And you’re going to tell me they're second rate? I don't bloody think so!
T - Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
K - Well, it's about a million times harder to do than it looks. So be prepared for a long apprenticeship. Be prepared to get a lot of knock backs. Leave your sense of entitlement at the door, and focus on making yourself the best writer you can be. Too many aspiring writers get caught up in the idea of being published, instead of keeping their focus on the work. And the work is all we have - it's the only thing we as writers can control. And it all starts and ends with the work. You have to love story. You have to love the act of creating, even when it's killing you. And truly, it is often heartbreaking. You have to immerse yourself in words, and ideas, and learn to read analytically. I love the internet, it's brilliant, but the downside is that anyone can write anything and put it on the net ... but without rigorous critical analysis and feedback, you'll never develop your writing skillset to a publishable level. Also, publishing is very competitive. So while you should never give up, and always strive to grow and improve, be aware that the odds are stacked against you and that if you don't love the actual process of writing, as opposed to the idea of being published, you probably won't make the distance. Commitment to excellence, perseverance, passion for story and a willingness to surrender ego in the pursuit of improvement -- you need those things. And bloody truckloads of luck.
Finally -- and I know this isn't a popular thing to say -- you need the spark. You need the talent. At the end of the day, while some things can be taught, the facility for storytelling is a gift. A great singing voice is a gift. You can't teach someone to sound like Josh Groban, he was born with that voice. You can't teach someone to paint like Picasso or Caravaggio, or sculpt like Rodin. You can't teach someone to swim like Ian Thorpe, or Michael Phelps. Those gifts are inborn. They can be honed, they can be polished, but they can't be taught. Writing is one of the arts, and that means there's an element of mystery. One of the greatest disservices done to young people these days is the idea that's pushed on them that they can be or have or do anything they want. It's a lie. Nobody can. I can want to be a prima ballerina until my eyeballs bleed, but it was never going to happen. I can want to be a supermodel -- and again, dream on, cupcake. Not in this lifetime. So I think people who want to write for publication need to be brutally honest with themselves about whether they have that indefinable something that marks them as storyteller. But the flip side of that is -- hard work and dedication count in the end far more than talent. A lot of people are talented, but for whatever reason they never follow through and they never achieve their potential. A spark can't grow into a flame without nurturing. So if you believe you have that inherent spark, keep working. Talent gets you started, but it doesn't get you over the finish line. The rest of it's just bloody hard work.
T - Any parting thoughts?
K - Well, firstly, thanks for this chance to talk about writing and Star Wars. At the end of the day, I've just got my fingers crossed that the fans enjoy the stories I'm telling. I hope they believe me when I say that I really do love this world, and that if I've missed getting it right for them, it was never because I didn't love it, or didn't try my hardest to tell a great Star Wars story.