EUC Interview: Karen Miller

Writing for a franchise as big as Star Wars can be intimidating for any author. It’s been a while since a new author was ventured into the Expanded Universe scene, but Karen Miller was brought on, along with Karen Traviss, to write novels in The Clone Wars series. Karen was nice enough to sit down and chat with EUCantina about starting in SW, her first novel being The Clone Wars: Wild Space, and much more.

EUCantina (EUC): Ms. Miller, welcome to EUCantina and to the world of Star Wars!

Karen Miller (KM): Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

EUC: How have you been? Must be quite exciting seeing your first Star Wars novel released unto the world.

KM: I’ve been run off my feet, actually. I’ve got a pretty tight schedule at the moment with a lot of writing to do.

And it doesn’t help when yes indeed, it’s been so exciting to have my first Star Wars novel  released.  Probably the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment since my firstfantasy novel was published back in 2005.

EUC: Well, your first Star Wars adventure, Wild Space, has been out for a bit now and the fan reaction has to be quite thrilling for a new writer in this universe. Do you have a reaction for such positive feedback?

KM: It’s hard to answer this, because it feels that anything I say will sound trite. But truthfully, I’m so touched and so relieved and so thrilled, it’s hard to explain. I don’t think there’s a more passionate, devoted or vigilant group of fans in the world than Star Wars fans. To know that so many of these dedicated people have enjoyed  my first Star Wars novel — well, more than anything it takes a huge  weight off my mind.

As a fan, I wanted to do right by the Galaxy Far, Far Away and the people who love it. And it appears that a lot of fans feel I managed that, so — phew!  And thank you. There have been  some very kind words spoken of Wild Space — and if any of you who  wrote them are reading this now, please know you made one writer very  happy. But you know, I think it’s only fair to add that some fans
haven’t been so pleased … and I accept some of the less complimentary feedback as absolutely valid, and I’m bearing it in mind as I write the next book.

EUC: While speaking on Wild Space, can you let us know how it is, exactly, that you got the job for writing the Clone Wars novels.

KM: As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a Star Wars fan since the release of the first film when I was in high school. And of course I knew all about the publishing program — and used to sell the Star Wars novels  when I had my own spec fic bookshop in Sydney. Then I made the transition from aspiring novelist to published novelist, and the Star Wars books were still being published, the prequel trilogy was coming out, and I was still a fan.

So I wrote to the Star Wars editor at Del  Rey books and explained that I was a new fantasy novelist and a fan,  and if they were ever in the market for new authors I’d love to be  considered. There was some conversation, but nothing came of it at the time, so I just shrugged and thought, Oh well, I gave it a go. And then last year I got an email from the editor, asking if I was still  interested. And of course, I was. The fact that I’d be working with  Karen Traviss, a fabulous writer who’d become good friend, was just icing on the cake.

Karens first SW novel, Wild Space, hit stores in December of 08

Karen's first SW novel, Wild Space, hit stores in December of '08

EUC: In this Clone Wars series you are working with Karen Traviss; a well known SW author. Can you describe the relationship and how she may have helped you at the start?

KM: Well, first and foremost Karen T and I are friends, so that made life a lot easier. Collaborations are tricky if the collaborators don’t get along. Secondly, and just as importantly, I respect her hugely as a  writer — not only for her Star Wars work, which is amazing, but for her mainstream SF novels too. Karen is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s intellectually curious and she has a phenomenal work ethic. And interestingly, for the purposes of our team-tagging these Clone Wars novels, we have a  different political interpretation of events. So I think we’re able to roundly explore the ethical issues raised by the films in a way that illuminates many problems.

Karen was a huge help writing Wild Space, and she continues to be a  valued shoulder to lean on as I tackle the next one. Bouncing ideas back and forth, double-checking my facts, her reading an early draft  to make sure I hadn’t made a fool of myself — I couldn’t have done it  without her. And we were on the phone again just the other night, and  emailing, as I sorted a couple of things for the current project. I’ve got more clones in this one, and she’s the expert!

EUC: When writing Wild Space, did you feel intimidated at all by the  sheer immensity of the galaxy you were working in and its fandom?

KM: In brief moments I did, yes. And if I’d allowed myself to dwell on that I’d have ended up on the floor sucking my thumb. So I was very strict, and made myself stay focused on the job at hand and not on its wider implications. I think when any writer is working in someone else’s world, a world with so much history and so much material, that has generated such a passionate following, you’re walking a fine line between honouring that world and staying true to yourself.

At the end of the day, writers must come to terms with the fact that we’re never  going to please all of the people all of the time. When it comes to Star Wars, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ fan. Some fans are in it for the military hardware, some fans are in it for RPGs, some for the comics, some for just the movies, some for the clones, and some are purely interested in the characters.

One writer can’t possibly tell a story that’s going to satisfy such a wide variety of appetites and preferences. So I worked out what kind of fan I am, wrote the kind of book I like to read, and worked as hard as I could to incorporate elements that would still appeal to other flavours of fans. And then I tried my best not to think about it, because if you think about it too much you do end up hamstrung.

EUC: What inspired you to choose Bail Organa as a character to explore? Many feel it hearkens back to when Leia told the audience about the relationship her father had with Kenobi.

KM: It was a combination of factors. Karen T and I started working on the novels before the cartoon series – before the launch movie — were released. We got sent the scripts, and were working from those and not much else. Karen T had the job of novelising the theatrical release, and I was slated to write the first book that would somehow incorporate the tv series. So I read the early scripts and I noticed that in Downfall of a Droid all the action was centred on Anakin and  Ahsoka, and that Obi-Wan appeared a couple of times, briefly, as a hologram.

And that got me wondering what he was doing off-screen, and I came up with the idea of telling a story of his adventures while Anakin was protecting Bothawui from Grievous.  I’d been re-watching the prequel trilogy, getting my head back in that space and time, and I’d been thinking a lot about Bail as a result, about how Yoda and Obi-Wan trusted him implicitly in Revenge of the Sith. And given we know how much Obi-Wan doesn’t trust politicians, I thought that was  interesting. And of course I’d never forgotten Leia’s  line about Bail
and Obi-Wan in A New Hope.

So it all kind of came together in a big explosion in my brain and I thought, how did we get from Bail, practically a stranger to the Jedi Council, to Bail, who saved their lives and was never doubted, to Bail who after twenty years of silence sent his only child to exiled Obi-Wan for help? So I came up with the  adventure to Zigoola, and how that forged one of the galaxy’s most  unlikely friendships.

EUC: Why do you feel that you were able to write such captivating main characters of Bail Organa and Obi-Wan Kenobi without huge light saber battles, but rather, a inner battle in Wild Space?

KM: Okay, true confession time. I’m one of those fans who loves the GFFA for the characters, not the fighting. For example,  Obi-Wan is one of  my favourite characters in the whole saga. The extraordinary contrast  between the aging man we first met in A New Hope and the Padawan we met in Phantom Menace just blew me away. All that promise, all that energy and life and brilliance and passion and courage — and what happened to it?

What happened to him? Twenty years in the desert, alone, his former life in ruins, so many friends dead, everything he loved and believed in destroyed. It’s a heartbreaking journey, I think.

As tragic in its own way as Anakin’s fall. So my imagination and my emotions were captured by that.  And as for Bail, well, he became so important and yet we were told so little about him. So he was a mystery and an incomplete canvas, and that gave me such scope to  play. I’m a huge fan of buddy stories, of exploring friendships, of  trying to work out what makes people tick — and those two seemed ripe or playing with. Especially since it was a story that hadn’t yet been told.
See, here’s the thing. Films/tv are a visual storytelling medium. There’s stuff you can do on screen that just doesn’t work as well on the page. For me, the three-way Jedi/Sith fight in Phantom Menace, and the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith, they’re fantastic. I can watch them over and over and over again. And I do! But reading about those fights, it doesn’t interest me so much. Trying to write that stuff, you’re in danger of just reciting mechanical actions. They’re so fast and furious, they’re physical events, it takes longer to write them effectively than perform them. And for me, the appeal of those fights is the visual element. And I’m not sure I can do justice to them with words. And ultimately, for me, it’s less about the action and more about what the action means to the people performing it.

The Star Wars films are primarily action-based, that’s very true, but there’s also such a rich vein of character work contained within them that couldn’t be fully explored due to the time constraints of the   medium. And that, for me,  is where the novels come in. Because novels  aren’t a visual medium, they’re a psychological medium. There are things you can do in written fiction that you can’t do on the screen — and one of those is explore the inner journey of a character or  characters. You can dissect their psyches, you can explore what it
means to these people to do the things they do, how fighting these desperate battles affects and changes them.

For me, in fiction, there’s what happens — and then there’s the meaning and impact of what happens. And that’s where I most enjoy playing. The fun of writing these books, for me, is the challenge of looking at who these people are and then peeling back their layers to more fully understand them. Of course, when you do that you run the risk of making the story too internal, not externalized enough, and that’s the balance I have to keep an eye on.

At the end of the day, what I love best about writing these books is the chance to get these characters talking and arguing and overcoming differences for the common good, revealing their true selves, their hidden faces, their fears and their triumphs, against the backdrop of a dreadful civil war. I love using the written medium to add depth and texture to the wonderful visual medium of the films. And hopefully, because I love that element of storytelling so much, it means I was able to tell a different kind of Star Wars story in Wild Space. And while there’s a lot more action in my upcoming Star Wars novels, that basic drive hasn’t diminished. Everything I write, no matter what universe it’s in, is primarily driven by the love of character.

Obi-Wan fights for his life agaisnt the Sith in a new way in WS

Obi-Wan fights for his life against the Sith in a new way in Wild Space

EUC: How long did it take you to write Wild Space?

KM: Gosh. Do you know, I’m having trouble remembering? I wrote so much
last year, and this year’s shaping up the same way, that when one project is finished the process kind of gets deleted off my hard drive. I suppose, all up, we’re looking at around 8-10 weeks, maybe.

EUC: Due to you writing novels that seem to mix with the television series episodes, do you get to see the episodes in advanced? If so, by how much?

KM: Sadly, all we got were the scripts. But I’m watching the series now,
and having a wonderful time with it.

EUC: At this point, you have TCW 4 and 5 coming out. How far are you along with those?

KM: The two novels are connected, in that they’re parts 1 and 2 of a  bigger story. That means I know how the whole story starts and ends, and I know more clearly the events of book 1 because I’m writing that now. And as I explore the nitty gritty of book 1, I’ll have a clearer understanding of how that impacts the detail of book 2.

But I’ve also got some broad brushstrokes laid down for book 2. Every writer is different — I don’t do hugely detailed outlines before I start because the story comes alive for me in the writing. The act of  writing it fires up the imagination, and the story develops in unexpected ways as a result of living that adventure along with the characters. If that makes any sense!

EUC: Now, in these novels will you be exploring the Jedi characters more, while Ms. Traviss handles her usual clone insight?

KM: Certainly the emphasis, for me, remains on the Jedi and the people involved with them. So I’m playing mostly with Obi-Wan and Anakin this time around. But Bail and Padme and the Jedi Council and Palpatine are part of the story too. I’ve got more clone action this time than I had in Wild Space, but Karen T’s clone insights are so wonderful. I prefer not to muddy those waters.

Miller will be tackling the well-known, and new, Jedi of the Clone Wars

Miller will be tackling the well-known, and new, Jedi of the Clone Wars

EUC: So, we can expect to see more Bail and Obi-Wan in your future novels?

KM: Absolutely. The focus isn’t on their interactions, the way it was in Wild Space, but the events of Wild Space do have an impact on what happens next. And Bail has an important role to play because of them.

I love their friendship. I love the different side of Obi-Wan that it reveals. I love how I can use it to illuminate other characters in the story. Things happen because of their friendship that wouldn’t, if they hadn’t gone through the events of Wild Space. So I can’t possibly not play with them some more!

EUC: What episode of The Clone Wars is your favorite thus far? Why?

KM: I really enjoyed the 3-part Malevolence arc. I loved the action, and I loved that we got more space for the  story. The cartoons are so incredibly compressed, from a storytelling viewpoint. If films are the equivalent of short stories, then the cartoon eps are like flash fiction — and I struggle with that. I love novels because there’s the luxury of time. No time in the cartoons — unless they tell a multi-part story. That really works for me.

EUC: How long do you like to have to write usually?

KM: It very  much depends on the projected length of the book. Generally speaking, I do about 4,000 words a day.  So divide the projected word count by that, and you get a ballpark idea of how long I need for the first draft. The first draft is the hardest part for me, and takes the longest to complete. Rewrites are where I get to play.

For example, the book I just finished before starting CW4, in first draft it was roughly 122k, and three weeks later, once I finished the second draft, it was up to 153k. As the process continues, I speed up, because I’ve got a much stronger idea of what I’m aiming for. First drafts tend to involve much weeping and wailing and bashing my head on the  keyboard, and stomping around the house shrieking ‘What was I thinking? I can’t do this!’ Very sad, really.

EUC: Not sad, understandable. Speaking of writing in general, what book has most inspired you in your writing career?

KM: There are two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. ‘A Game of Kings’, by Dorothy Dunnett (book 1 in her famous Lymond Chronicles saga), was the first book that taught me what truly character-driven storytelling was all about. This remains one of  my favourite book series of all time, and I urge lovers of fine writing to give it a go.

‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel’, by James N Frey, was the first ‘how to’ writing book that spelled out clearly and concisely, for me, how to tackle the enormous task of writing a novel. I often go back to it, to make sure I’m not straying too far from the path.

EUC: You mention characters; if you could be a Star Wars character, who would you be?

KM: Artoo. He’s the ultimate observer of so much. The secrets he knows! And he’s a great hero, in his own quiet way.

EUC: Do you want to write for Star Wars beyond TCW? What would you like to write about the most?

KM: I would love the chance to tell more Star Wars stories. I don’t know if it’ll happen, and I certainly don’t want to be greedy,  but my love for the GFFA continues undiminished. I think the Prequel Trilogy era remains my favourite. I’d love to tell some Qui-Gon stories. I fell in love with him in Phantom Menace — such an independent, cheeky rogue.

EUC: Well, Ms. Miller, it’s been an honor! Thank you so much for joining  me and come back anytime!

KM: And thank you. Talking Star Wars is so much fun. Ring the bell, and I’ll answer, any time.

About the Author

Austin Blankenship is the webmaster of EUCantina. He is a host of our official podcast, EUCast, and also founded our sister website, SoloSound.net. Austin helped turn EUCantina from a forum into a website in 2007, and continues to operate the site and the EUC social media accounts. Austin works as a librarian in a small town above Atlanta, Georgia.