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TFN Interview: Karen Miller

Posted By Mandy on March 13, 2010

And we're back! This week I had the pleasure of putting no-longer-a-rookie, Star Wars author, Karen Miller in the hot seat. Let's see how she did...


MandyB: Thereís an obvious love of the franchise within your books and in the sheer enthusiasm you display during the writing process. When did you become a fan?

Karen Miller: In August 1977, as I sat in the Hoyts Cinema in George Street, Sydney, when the original Star Wars film made its Australian debut. The son of a family friend and his girlfriend had just come home from a trip to Canada, and they were raving about this new film they'd just seen. They thought I'd enjoy it, so they took me -- I was 16. The music crashed over us, then the rebel blockade runner flew overhead, and then the Empire's star destroyer ... and I was lost. I fell in love with the film in those opening moments, and I have loved the Star Wars story ever since.

MB: For those unfamiliar with your non-tie-in work, which book do you recommend to start with in order to familiarize themselves with your writing style?

KM: Well, my style tends to shift around a bit depending on the kind of story I'm telling. My first mainstream fantasy novel, and the book that got me noticed, was The Innocent Mage -- book 1 of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. For something a little bit darker and more challenging, there's Empress, which is book 1 of the Godspeaker trilogy. And my first Rogue Agent novel, as K E Mills, is The Accidental Sorcerer. There's a lot more humour in those books, even though they're still dramatic fantasy. You'd be hard pressed to find a bigger difference than what you get between Empress and Sorcerer, but it's all me. I just like to play around a lot within the fantasy genre.

MB: According to your previous statements, Karen Traviss was a great help during the writing of Wild Space. Have you two remained friends? Also, do you have any thoughts regarding her departure from writing for the franchise?

KM: Yes, Karen T and I are still mates. As for her departure from writing Star Wars, well, while I'm sorry that the GFFA has lost her unique voice, I respect her decision to move on. I think it's important for everyone to know when it's time to listen to the inner voice that tells you a change is needed, and then act on it.

MB: Tell us about yourself. According to various bios youíve held some interesting positions over the years.

KM: I have lived a very disjointed life, really. Before I really found my place, as a writer, I bounced from job to job, always knowing that writing was what I wanted to do, never sure I'd see the dream come true. In hindsight, I realise that all that swapping and shifting and restlessness meant that I experienced life from many different perspectives, all of which have fed into my work as a writer. At the end of the day, no matter how odd things get, if you're a writer it's all good copy. So when I was working in the horse business in the UK, being treated with less care and respect than any of the horses I looked after, that taught me a lot about human nature. When I worked in a variety of customer service jobs, I was bumping into many different kinds of people and problems. When I worked in educational publishing I was getting a crash course in how the industry operates. When I had my own bookshop I was learning the book trade from another angle, most particularly the relationship between readers and the stories they love. When I worked in local government I got exposed close up to political corruption. Every single job I've had, every person I've met and worked with, they taught me something important I've been able to put into my work. So while there were times when I felt totally lost, I don't regret a minute of it!

MB: Iíve been keeping up with your LiveJournal blog over the past couple of months. The breakneck pace youíve been keeping seems terribly difficult. How have you handled it?

KM: Oh, by the skin of my teeth! I'm pretty tired now, I can tell you. In hindsight of course it's easy to see I was nuts to take on that kind of workload but it's so hard to say no when you're essentially self-employed and the writing game is so fickle. And anyway, how could I have turned down Star Wars? I just couldn't. And when the original 2 book deal expanded to an offer of 3, again, how could I say no? I just couldn't. And then other chances came along and of course, you say yes to those too. Because you just never know when another chance is going to come along. Mind you, having said that, once I've got the current new project put to bed things will slow down. I'm slated to write 2 books this year -- and given that I wrote 5 last year, well, I'm looking forward to the slower pace. Basically, by the time Blight of Mages is done, I'll have worked 2 1/2 years straight with pretty much everything else in my life put on hold. Seriously, I have done almost nothing else but write for the last 2 1/2 years. And that's not a pace any sane person can sustain. I'm lucky that my health is holding up pretty well. But I am at the point now where I need to step back, rest that part of my brain, and go back into the world seeking new experiences, new information, new adventures, that can inform the work that's to come. The stories I've been writing since 2005 (when I was first published) are stories that have lived inside my head for a very long time. When they're put to bed and my head is a little emptier, then there'll be room for new stuff. And it's time for that.

MB: How do you approach writing tie-in fiction? What are the biggest challenges you face writing in a shared universe?

KM: I think the key is the fact that it's shared. When I'm writing Star Wars, or Stargate, I'm playing in a communal sandbox. And that means accepting, up front, that I am never going to please every other fan playing in the sandbox with me. Even though we're all starting from the same source material, our individual experiences mean that we're not all going to interpret that source material in the same way. The best I can and do hope for is that there are fans playing with me who see what I see, and share my vision of the original story. Fans are a passionate group of people. We love these shared stories deeply, often very personally, so feelings can run high when it comes to people other than the original creator putting in their 2c worth.

When it comes to Star Wars, there are other issues -- because the EU has become so complicated, with so many people working in it, and because more and more is being added to the original story every day. Continuity becomes an issue, of course. So it's tricky.

In terms of writing it, for me there is no difference in writing original work or tie-in work. Every story deserves the best, most committed effort an author can give. In many ways I think a tie-in work is deserving of even more commitment, because I've been trusted with somebody else's creation. To then do less than my utmost to serve the interests of that creator, and all the people who love the work -- well, I couldn't. It's just too important.

MB: Other than the sequel to Stealth, are there any other Star Wars projects you are working on or can confirm?

KM: Actually, as a result of the 7 book deal I've just done with Orbit, I'm done with Star Wars for the next little while. Which makes me sad, but like I said before, I need to slow down for a bit! Maybe down the track I can revisit Star Wars -- if people still want me! *g* I'm sad, because I love the story so much, but nobody gets to have everything they want.

MB: How has working within the franchise affected you as an author?

KM: I've really learned and grown as a writer, thanks to Star Wars. I will always, always, always be a character-driven writer -- I tell stories about people, about their relationships and their lives and thoughts and psychologies and fears and triumphs and loves and failures -- but that doesn't mean there's not value and excitement to be had in stories that contain a great big dollop of heart pounding action. That's been a challenge for me, I've never felt totally confident writing action scenes, but with Star Wars I had to move out of my comfort zone. The needs of the Star Wars audience forced me -- no pun intended! *g* -- to stop chickening out and tackle the challenge head on. It's been hugely valuable, and something for which I'll always be grateful.

It's taught me how not to take negative feedback so personally. Anyone who works in a creative field, be it writing or performing or art, is risking themselves when they put their work out into the public. I think it's hugely important to learn how to distance yourself from criticism, so you can look at it objectively and grow from it, if you need to. There was criticism of Wild Space, that it was too talky without enough action, and that was important feedback to take on board. Fans are passionate and opionated and they often don't stop to think that what they're saying might be hurtful to the author -- and that can be a salutary thing. It's a reminder not to get too precious and self-important about the work. When someone spends their own hard-earned cash on a book I wrote, that means they've also bought the right to say whatever the hell they like about it, in whatever language they choose.

It also reminds me that we all see the world through our own filters, and that sometimes stopping to look at the world through someone else's eyes can really teach us things. It can show us blind spots, or open us to looking at life from a new perspective that can help us grow as people. I think a writer needs to remain curious and open to challenge, and the sheer variety of people who love Star Wars has been fabulous in that respect.

MB: Because fandom can oftentimes be fickle, particularly within niches, do you think your LiveJournal post on the nature of subtext within Star Wars titles will alienate some readers?

KM: I have no doubt that some people were offended and possibly even hurt by my stand on the subject. That's what happens when you express an opinion, though -- not everyone is going to agree with it. And the people who don't agree with me are free to say so, in any way they care to. I think it's important to stress that my purpose in stating that opinion wasn't to hurt people, it was to make very clear my position on the subject. And I did that, and I make no apologies for it. I don't expect anyone to agree with me, I don't expect anyone to change their position because of mine. But I'll never back down from holding an opinion just because there's a chance that someone else might disgree with it.

MB: As an author, who or what books were an influence on your writing?

KM: Probably the writer who's had the most influence is the novelist Dorothy Dunnett. Her Lymond Chronicles opened my eyes to complex, nuanced and character-driven storytelling in a way that no other writer ever has. I strive to reach her brilliance every time I tell a story. Haven't come close to it yet, but there's always hope!

MB: Personally, I love your portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I feel that youíve given readers a glimpse into his innermost psyche. What have the reactions been to your character-driven representations of certain, beloved characters?

KM: Thank you! I'm glad you've been enjoying it. The whole experience of writing for Star Wars has been really, really interesting, on that score. As I said, I'm first and foremost a character-driven writer. When I'm telling a story it's the psychological dissection of the characters, the pulling them apart to see what makes them tick and putting them through hell to learn the core truth of them that excites and motivates me to keep on writing. I'm a character-driven reader, too. When I'm watching film/tv, or reading books, the action sequences never engage me in the same way that the character moments do. That's just the kink in my pscyhe, it's one of my particular filters. It's not the only way to tell or read a story, but it's mine.

So what happens, with Star Wars, is that the fans who share that filter with me enjoy the stories I tell, and the ones who don't, don't. But even then, not everyone filters the characters in the same way that I do. For example, I have zero interest in an infallible hero. For me, a character who is impervious to fear and pain and doubt is boring as all get-out. I am attracted to flawed characters, to hurting characters, to characters who reflect the fragility of the human condition. And I see flaws and fragilities in Obi-Wan, even though he is a hero, and it's those hairline fractures in his psyche that make him attractive to me, and make me want to dig a little deeper to see what might make him tick. Same with Anakin -- so courageous and so afraid, in the same heartbeat. He's this extraordinary dichotomy. Obi-Wan too -- he goes on about being detached, yet is so attached to the people in his life, to the point where either he is blinded to what' s going on, or has allowed himself not to see what's under his nose. These are the textures that engage my interest, and it's this aspect of storytelling that is meat and drink to me. But there are fans who don't see these things, who don't read the story or the characters the same way I do, and so my work will be less successful for them. Which brings us back to the challenge of writing in a shared universe!

MB: We see very little of Ahsoka in your novels. What is your opinion on the newest addition to the GFFA?

KM: Oh, Ahsoka. Have to say I wasn't at all impressed when I first learned of her. The addition of her character came completely out of left field and I couldn't see the point of her at all. But in the course of writing her, I've come to really appreciate her as a character -- not only in her own right, as an interesting person, but because of how useful she is as an observer and a commentator on the Anakin and Obi-Wan friendship. It's been really great to be able to stand with her on the outside and look in on the guys and notice stuff. Also, I think she's a great role model for younger readers. She's a smart, incredibly talented and courageous young woman/female -- and that's a good thing to show to every reader, male or female. So Ahsoka's an excellent example of where my initial reaction proved to be short-sighted.

MB: Do you have a message for all of the folks reading your books?

KM: I guess just this -- first and foremost, I'm a fan. So while you might not agree with how I'm telling the story, please don't ever think I told it that way out of disrespect for you or your take on Star Wars. We just see the story differently, is all. And for the folks who have enjoyed my Star Wars work? I'm so pleased!

MB: What does Karen Miller do for fun?

KM: These days, not so much! Too busy! But I do enjoy walking my crazy puppy Wilson, and directing plays, and sitting down to a meal with friends, and watching great films and tv, and reading a good book.

MB: Sam, Dean, Obi-Wan and Anakin walk into a bar. What happens next?

KM: Somebody's going to emergency and somebody's going to jail.

MB: Karen, thank you so much for joining us. I hope you'll join us again when Siege is ready to hit stores.

Remember! You can pick up your very own copy of Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth at your local bookseller or online merchant.


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January 4, 2011   TFN Interview: Michael Golden





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