Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our thirty-third guest was a prolific Star Wars writer who was a constant presence on the blogs of the official site – Karen Traviss.
Lightsabre – Karen, welcome to Lightsabre.
KT – Nice to be here.
Lightsabre – You’ve made a great career in a relatively short space of time with your Wess’har series and the Star Wars: Republic Commando books. After your previous life, working for ITV, being an advertising copywriter, a media liaison officer for the police, a journalism lecturer, a public relations manager and a defence correspondent, as well as being in the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service , how does it feel to now be so well known for your writing
KT – I was an ITV gal, my TV career was with ITV, BBC and independent production companies. Writing is my third career. I’ve reinvented myself a few times and I admit that I took a big risk by going for fiction as a full-time career, because you only have a very slim chance – 2%, 3% maybe – of making enough to live on. But I applied the same business approach that I did in all my other jobs and it paid off. I suppose I feel relieved, really – that I took a calculated gamble, put in a lot of time, and “caught up” on a writing career in 18 months. I’m too old to spend another 20 years trying to make it, you see – I had to do it fast!
KT – I think blogs are the new journalism in some ways, and however much journalists might not like that because they feel it de-skills the profession, the availability of technology makes it inevitable. And why should we keep it all to ourselves? People blog for all kinds of reasons, but I’m a journo, so I treat both my blog sites like a daily column. I was persuaded to start a Livejournal by a book critic who believes every writer should have one for PR purposes, but then it grew into part of my daily routine. I started the Star Wars blog because fans appeared to want to talk to writers but didn’t get much chance. It’s different content to my LJ blog – suitable for a younger readership, and wholly about Star Wars and writing. A lot of people don’t care who writes the books they read, and often don’t want the mystique spoiled by actually getting to know the person behind the words. (Which is often very wise!) But Star Wars fans don’t seem like that, though. They want to know. It’s more of a community, and the writer is part of that. And I regard interaction with fans as part of my job. So as long as they don’t mind me, warts and all – what you see is what you get – I’m happy to be completely and embarrassingly frank with them. I’m very outspoken and mouthy, which is a reaction to my previous jobs where I’ve had to be careful about what I say!
Lightsabre – You worked in the media. Tell us a bit about that.
KT – I spent a few months with the BBC. I’m an ITV person – I worked for Diverse Productions (one of the first independent programme makers for Channel Four), Yorkshire TV, TVS, and some other independents. I love the BBC; it’s the finest news organisation in the world, I’ll die in a ditch to defend it, and I even made one of the characters in my Wess’har Wars books a BBC reporter. But I didn’t enjoy working for it. At the time, it was too big and monolithic. It felt like working for the civil service.
Lightsabre – So far you are the only British Star Wars author to be published. Given that so many of the actors and crew are British, and all of the films were shot here, does that surprise you?
KT – In some ways, no. Authors are selected for what they can do. When I was offered the first Republic Commando gig, Del Rey and LFL were looking for someone who could write military SF, and I’d had some early attention (pre-publication) for my first novel, City of Pearl. My wess’har wars books are published in the US, not the UK, so I think my nationality was irrelevant. LFL and Del Rey were also happy with my overtly English style. But they wanted someone who could write about special forces. I don’t think there are many UK writers who do military SF and who are willing to write in another universe. It’s quite an exacting specification. And the Republic Commando work opened the door to all the other Star Wars material that I write.
Lightsabre – You are clearly in love with the Mandalorian culture. How exciting is it to be developing the Mandalorian language?
KT – I think it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before and I did it on a whim because I needed an authentic background for my Mandalorian sergeants and the clone commandos. It just mushroomed into something far bigger and before I knew it I had a functioning language sitting in front of me. I learned a hell of a lot about linguistics doing it. I’m not an academic linguistic, although I studied classics and modern languages for a while, so I took a totally different approach to a real Linguist like Okrand (the guy who designed Klingon) but it still seems to work, and it feels like a real, breathing, living language. The Mandalorian cultural work I’ve done was also an extension of the backstory and notes for my Republic Commando books. I couldn’t believe that nobody else had jumped on the chance to develop the Mandalorians further. When I first looked at them, I thought: “Why is there so little information about them?” So I started filling in the gaps
Lightsabre – What were your feelings as the final frame of Revenge of the Sith rolled off the screen?
KT – It was: “Who’s looking after my boys now? What were the casualty figures?” I winced at every clone casualty, believe me.
Lightsabre – What would your dream Star Wars project be?
KT – Well, I always say anything in armour – Mandos, clones, Imperials, Vader, Boba, Jango. I also love exploring other media. I had a ball working with the Lucasarts guys on Republic Commando (we worked in parallel) and I’m hoping to write some comics too. It’s fun to work with people whose skills are radically different to your own – from game designers to composers – and I’m a sucker for novelty. But if you pinned me down, I would say my dream project is anything involving Mandalorians or clone troops, especially if it allowed me to work in other media as well as novels. I’d love to do radio or podcasting
Lightsabre – Tell us something more about your original novels?
KT – The wess’har wars series will be six books (in this story arc anyway) – City of Pearl, Crossing The Line, The World Before, Matriarch, Task Force, and book six, which I haven’t given a title yet. The first three are already on the shelves in the USA, and they’re appearing in France and Australia too. Basically, it’s one single story arc about the culture clash between humans and five alien species. We blunder into their neighbourhood and because we try to apply our notions of what’s right and ethical, we end up at war with them. We’re incapable of accepting that we’re not necessarily right, and it’s the first time we’ve come up against species who can kick our backsides. Trust me, this is so not Independence Day. Humans are not the heroes. There are heroic humans, but this is a distanced look at the moral relativity of first contact. It’s very English, very European, with lots of Commonwealth references. The characters are neither heroes nor villains. You can read it as a military series (there are Royal Marines in it), a political thriller, an environmental dystopia, or even a piece of theological/ moral philosophy, according to how deep you want to delve into it. In brief – it looks at the lines we draw between what is us and not us, and what we try to justify doing to life that is different to ourselves.
And there’s a lot of blowing stuff up, of course…
Lightsabre – The Star Wars TV series is just around the corner. Would a writing position on the show interest you?
KT – I’d love to write for TV but TV doesn’t work that way; they’re not going to ask a novelist to do that kind of work. And I have no idea how I’d fit it in with my existing contracts.
Lightsabre – In a brief time period you seem to be filling the shelves with your work. How hard is it to get such a large amount of content out there so quickly?
KT – It’s hard work. I put my whole life on hold and write all day, every day. And I mean all day. I start at 7am or 8 am and I’m still at the keyboard at midnight or 1 am.
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site. Any comments?
KT – Fascinating! You know I’m barred from looking at fanfic because I’m an author, but I learned a lot from the rest of the site – like John Lithgow played Yoda on radio? I never knew that! I adore John Lithgow. Fabulous actor.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. The Senate holds a vote on which language is to become the new galactic basic – Huttese, Mandoa or Gungan. Which one wins?
KT – Huttese. It’s the language of commerce and lots of people can speak it. Mando’a is for Mando’ade! We don’t want everyone knowing what we’re up to…
And Gungan…nah. I just don’t see it somehow!
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 22nd January 2006.