Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our one hundred and thirty-third guest was the author of The Clone Wars: Wild Space, Clone wars Gambit: Stealth and Clone Wars Gambit: Siege – Karen Miller.
KM – And thank you very much for the invite. It’s so not a hardship to chat about Star Wars! *g*
Lightsabre – You’ve been an author for a while, building up your own stories and characters in your Godspeaker and Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series of novels and tackling the beloved characters of Stargate. Now you’ve entered the Star Wars arena. How daunting is that?
KM – Hugely daunting, let me tell you. I’ve been a Star Wars fan myself since I saw the first film in high school, and I’m a fan in general of quite a few media properties. So I’m pretty familiar with how passionate fans are. *g* Bottom line is, I don’t want anyone to feel that I don’t love these films or care about the characters. Because I really do. I don’t think it’s possible for every fan to agree with my interpretations of what we’ve all seen on screen and I certainly don’t expect everyone to love what I write. I’d love it if they did, of course — *g* — but that’s not being realistic. I just want folk to know that if I do disappoint them it’s not because I don’t care about Star Wars, or the love they have for it.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How and where did you begin in writing, who inspired you as a writer growing up and what led you to where you are today?
KM – I’ve been scribbling stories my whole life. I fell in love with telling stories in composition class back in primary school. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I studied professional writing at university for my BA in Communications. Then I knocked around the world doing various different jobs — the one thing about writing is that everything you do is research. That means no experience is ever wasted. Even when something truly horrible is happening to you, there’s always the consolation that it’s really good research. *g* But even though I always wanted to be a writer, it took many years before I became the person I needed to be, to tell the stories that were in my head. That person turned up a few years ago, when I finally finished my first fantasy novel and got an expression of interest from my Australian publisher, Voyager. And now I have more stories to tell than I have years left to tell them in! But I suspect that’s a pretty common experience for most writers.
Every book I read, every film and TV show I watched, growing up, inspired me. Every time I fell headfirst in love with a fictional character, I was reminded that I wanted to be a writer. Those things continue to inspire me today. Every time I watch an Aaron Sorkin episode of The West Wing I’m reminded of the power of story, and character, and words. Every time I read a book by George R.R. Martin or Kate Elliot or Lois McMaster Bujold or Kage Baker I’m reminded of what it is I love to do. Probably the first writer I consciously learned from while reading is the late Dorothy Dunnett. She wrote brilliant historical fiction with such skill and passion — every time I re-read her books I learn something new.
Everything in my life led me to where I am today. Every book I read, every drama I watched, every triumph I celebrated, every devastating loss I survived, every person I liked and loved and hated — they all helped to shape me into who I am right now, and gave me material to work with when I write a story. Also, I’m the right kind of peculiar to be a writer — we spend most of our time alone inside our heads playing with people who don’t exist, you know. *g* That’s peculiar. So it’s lucky I enjoy doing that.
Lightsabre – The Clone Wars has been a great success, from the launch of the film to the blockbuster television series. Your novels are dropping into that great war and filling in the lost tales. Is there an overarching plan that needs to be adhered to or is there a fair amount of latitude to get from story point A to story point B?
KM – Well, the overarching story is defined by the films, I think. We know the journey that Obi-Wan and Anakin started together, and we know how that ends. But within that framework there is an enormous amount of space where writers like me get to play — and so I’m playing for all I’m worth! *g* Really, provided I don’t ever forget that framework, I’m quite free to construct a self-contained story within it, provided it meets with editorial and Lucasfilm approval. And now with the TV series, there are more signposts along the way that help me to understand new things about the Star Wars universe and its characters and give me more ideas to bounce off, which is great. I mean, I was as surprised as most people to learn about Ahsoka — we never knew Anakin had a Padawan. But she’s turned out to be great fun to write. She’s a wonderful way of exploring fresh aspects of Anakin’s character. He’s a different person with her than he is with Obi-Wan, and that contributes to great depth and complexity for him.
KM – Well, as we discussed earlier — daunting. But also, even more so, it’s an enormous privilege. Star Wars literally helped shape the course of my life. I’ve met really amazing people because of those films, and began to believe that I too could be a storyteller. So now, to be invited into that world, to be a part of it, to be allowed to tell a story, with Wild Space, about Bail Organa and how he became so important to the Jedi, and to Obi-Wan? Huge. It’s a huge thing. I will be forever grateful to the folk at Del Rey and at Lucasfilm who have trusted me to do this. And I’m hugely grateful to the fans, too, for taking the chance on a newcomer like me. And with two more books to write, to be given more chances to explore those characters … I’m a pig in clover, trust me. *g*
Lightsabre – Revenge of the Sith wrapped up the story of the Clone Wars, bringing us Order 66 and the creation of the Galactic Empire. Looking back, what are your feelings on the final episode, and as a writer how does it feel knowing where your stories will eventually end up?
KM – Oh, Revenge of the Sith breaks my heart. I’m a sucker for tragedies and angst, you understand. Huge emotional themes, sacrifice and nobility and villainy and betrayal and all that stuff, which is what the third film is about. Love it, love it, love it. And of course, as a writer telling stories in the lead-up to that final, dreadful fall, you get to play with all kinds of wonderful subtexts and themes and foreshadowing and stuff like that. So I love that I know what I’m writing towards, that I have such a powerful ending to play to. It’s brilliant.
Lightsabre – Becoming an official Star Wars author obviously raises your profile. Has that had a positive knock-on effect on your profile with your wider readership?
KM – Well, I’d like to think it will, but it’s too soon to tell yet. But having said that, I’m not writing Star Wars because I think it’ll boost my mainstream book career. It’s a labour of love, it really is. I can’t possibly express how much I love these characters, how much I love spending time with them and writing stories about them. It’s an end in and of itself, it really is. Still, having said that — do you know something? Many of the folk who write Star Wars novels do write mainstream fiction — Karen Traviss, Sean Williams and Kevin J Anderson, to name only three — and their mainstream stuff is really, really good. Award nominee and winning good. So I’d urge Star Wars fans who love great stories to check out the mainstream works of the Star Wars authors, because there’s just no such thing as too many fabulous stories to read.
Lightsabre – There’s a huge team working on The Clone Wars, which is logical given the scale of the show and the length of the war? Are there regular story conferences at The Ranch? How do you guys work out which directions the story will flow?
KM – I’m afraid I can’t talk with authority on that at all. The Clone Wars novels that I’ve been working on, in tandem with Karen Traviss, haven’t been conferenced at The Ranch. We did that ourselves on the phone, her in the UK and me in Australia, burning up the long distance fibre optic cables thrashing out our views of character and story and stuff to make sure we were on the same page. It was great fun. She’s brilliant to work with.
Lightsabre – If you could choose any story project other than Star Wars what would it be?
KM – If you mean media-related — there isn’t anything really. Not currently. I love a lot of stuff, but haven’t had the yen to write it beyond Stargate and Star Wars. Where my mainstream fiction is concerned, well, I have a new series just launching in the US and the UK under a pen name — K E Mills. That’s the Rogue Agent series, The Accidental Sorcerer is book 1, and I love the world and the characters a lot. So my fingers are crossed that I get to play with them for a lot of books to come. Otherwise, I’ve got my hands full with contracted Karen Miller books right now. But there’s something tickling the back of my brain that I hope I can get onto in a short while.
Lightsabre – Tell us something about your way of working. How do you come up with your plots and ideas, and what’s your process of constructing and writing each novel?
KM – Story ideas are sparked by so many, many things. A snatch of overheard conversation. A photograph. A song. A story told in a bar. A piece of historical trivia. For Wild Space, two things collided to give me the story. First was the scripts for the two TV episodes I reference, where Anakin fights off Grievous at Bothawui and loses Artoo. Obi-Wan only appears twice, as a hologram, and that got me thinking. What was he up to while Anakin was off with his first battlegroup? And why didn’t he go with Anakin on that important mission? Secondly, there was the whole question of Bail Organa. He’s a kind of distant figure in Attack of the Clones — we see him, but we don’t learn much. And then, in Revenge of the Sith, he’s working with Padme to save the Republic, and he’s the one person that Yoda and Obi-Wan turn to when they need help. He runs looking to help them — and then he’s trusted to adopt Leia. And I wondered how we got to that point. So I combined those thoughts and that was how Wild Space was born. For the other Star Wars novels I’m doing, well … let’s just say there’s a small scene in The Phantom Menace that has sparked a lot of stuff that I’m working up into another adventure. *g*.
My writing process is fairly simple. Once I know where the story starts, and where it ends, and who the characters are, what they want, what or who wants to stop them, and what they gain and lose and learn as a result of their adventures, I start writing the first draft. In the wonderful words of Terry Pratchett, the first draft is the writer telling him or herself the story … so it’s a bit rough and ready, a bit dodgy. It’s the basic framework, the nuts and bolts of the book. For me, it’s the hardest part of the process — like nailing fog to the wall. I’m literally uncovering and creating the story as I write, developing and expanding the various scenes and ideas I’ve had in the thinking stage. I’m learning the characters, I’m exploring the world, I’m finding out what I don’t know yet, that I have to learn.
Once I’ve got a first draft I immediately start rewriting to second draft, and that’s where it gets to be fun. With the story now having a basic shape I can really hone it, explore it, expand it, tell it properly. And I make it better — at least, that’s the plan. *g* Once it’s at second draft it goes to the editor for feedback. Then I do a final rewrite and if everyone’s pleased with it, the manuscript goes into production. I rewrite again after the copy edit, the book goes forward to typesetting, I fall over for a few days and then start the next one.
Lightsabre – What lies ahead for you in the future?
KM – More books. *g* I’m literally glued to the computer until the middle of next year. But in and around that I’m on track to see Jude Law as Hamlet in London this August, and maybe a trip to Comic Con in San Diego just before that. Mainly though, it’s writing, writing, writing. Good thing I love it!
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. Captain Rex, Commander Cody and Commander Gree are playing poker, helmets off. They’re down to the last hand of the game, and all are staring at each other to see if they can ‘read’ what the other is thinking? Which one has the best hand, which one folds and which one calls, and most importantly, why?
KM – It’s been wonderful being a guest. As for your bonus question, I absolutely cannot answer it. I can’t play card games to save my life. Sorry! *g*.
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 25th January 2009.