Karen Miller on being a female Star Wars writer

Tor’s Liz Bourke has a great interview today with author Karen Miller, where she addresses some of the harsh realities of writing licensed fiction and, in particular, Star Wars and the differences with a female-dominated fandom like Stargate.

The Stargate fan audience is small, compared to the Star Wars audience. The Stargate fan audience is also, overwhelmingly, female—which means that it is far, far more accepting of a female writer and a female writer’s particular POV (and I think there is one). The Star Wars fan audience, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly male. At least as far as I can tell. The vast majority of writers who do the tie-in novels are also male. There is a definite predominance of male voices and male POVs in Star Wars novels. And that makes a huge difference in the reception of the material.

Everything I write is grounded in character. Everything. It’s the people that make a story for me. So my Star Wars work is as much a character study or exploration as it is an action adventure romp. For some readers, that was brilliant. For others, it wasn’t. For a lot of Star Wars fans—the guys in particular—the story is about fighting and space battles and stuff like that. For them, that’s the whole point. For them, the intricacies of psychological investigation are boring and unwelcome. And I completely accept that. But it’s not what floats my starship—and I felt strongly that I can’t be the only one who is in love with the story because of the characters, not despite them. Or who wants to take a breath and spend some time with them as human beings, who wants to explore what makes them tick, the relationships between them, the strengths and fragilities they contain and share.

She goes on to defend Karen Traviss, among other things, though I really must disagree that gender was the only aspect which garnered Traviss venom from fandom. (Though I’m sure some of it was, I’d hesitate to call it the main issue. The lesson one should take away from Traviss’ tumultuous time in this fandom? Don’t feed the trolls, and be respectful of your audience.)

But that quibble aside, it’s so refreshing to hear a Star Wars author actually be in it for the characters. There is nothing else here I have any issues with – it all needs to be said. Though not so much to label it as a niche, even though it’s probably true. Club Jade has been fighting that fight for so long…

16 thoughts on “Karen Miller on being a female Star Wars writer

  1. Lucien Lockhart

    So what about Jude Watson (Judy Blumdell)? I guess because they were YA books it didn’t receive the spotlight and fanfare of an adult SW book but she is a female that wrote in the SW universe with a pretty positive outlook on it. They even added on books for her to write. I wish she would do an interview or go to a con so I could meet her.

  2. ImperialGirl

    I can state with authority that for ME, my problem with Karen Traviss had NOTHING to do with gender.

    I don’t know that it’s a male/female issue, the question of “space fights” vs “character. I find Aaron Allston a charcter-driven writer and last time I checked, he’s a he. Likewise Timothy Zahn is very character-oriented. For me, I don’t mind a good space fight–IN A VISUAL MEDIUM. My problem comes up when a writer really tries to ‘storyboard’ instead of write a fight scene. I can think of some male authors (and at least one female I AM LOOKING AT YOU TRAVISS) where the action scenes read more like a second-audio-track description for the blind rather than writing a story.

  3. Dunc Post author

    I think maybe the same applies to Watson? But again, with them being juvie books, that’s even more of a niche. But most of the effusive praise I hear about her stuff is from other women.

  4. Pabawan

    Character-driven or action-driven, if it takes up too many pages, it’s dull. Tighten mercilessly, pace and focus. I miss 180-page novels.

  5. beccatoria

    Yeeeeah, not gender with the Traviss thing either. When she was first writing SW stuff and there were some dramatics, I do recall that either gender played a part for some fans, or at least, that was the narrative that got relayed to me, and it had the effect of increasing my interest in her work, wanting to like and defend her. Of course, then, I got to witness her disrespectful treatment of her readership and the subject matter she was working with (the latter being more subjective and less important to me than the former) and I just…got tired of being insulted by someone who was asking me to help finance their life. So I stopped buying her stuff. Certainly by the time she flounced out of the EU, I didn’t get the impression that the majority criticism of her was gender-based. Still, I agree with Miller that the SWEU is kind of a boys’ club. Which is a damn shame. Where is my Nomi Sunrider novel, dammit?!

  6. Dunc Post author

    Character-driven or action-driven, if it takes up too many pages, it’s dull. Tighten mercilessly, pace and focus. I miss 180-page novels.

    Which some fans then claim are too short, because apparently plot is measured by the pound? Fandom. >:(

    I’d love to see a series of small pulp-inspired SW novels ala the 70’s Solo trilogy. Maybe as tie-ins to 1313 or the live-action series? The themes might fit, anyway.

    Where is my Nomi Sunrider novel, dammit?!

    Which was, it ought to be noted, being written by a man. Not that that means it was necessarily going to be a bad novel, or not do justice to Nomi, but… Boys club.

  7. Lucien Lockhart

    I do appreciate character driven books so it is no surprise that “Wuthering Heights” is a go to almost annual read for me. But is this avenue mainly traveled by the female authorship? I don’t think so necessarily. I am not the majority, large and far but the books I tend to read (both male and female authors) focus on developing character with a balance in action. I really don’t want to read 300 pages of action. It makes me want to draw and I can’t draw. :D In the SW, as someone stated, Zahn and Allston are well known for their character development. Stackpole also develops a lot of his characters in the duration of a novel. I hope Karen Miller sticks to what works best for her and if it is a good product, the fandom supports her with the typical purchase, celebration, welcome at conventions and then degenerate into nitpicking her entire life as is the norm. :D

  8. Dunc Post author

    I don’t think she’s saying all men like/write X, and all women like/write Y. Just that that’s the way these things often trend.

    Which, honestly, fits with my own experience. An overwhelming number of my favorite books are written by women. That doesn’t mean there aren’t male authors in my favorites: Just that the numbers are skewed in favor of women, for various reasons.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to read two books by Miller: One SW, one not. I didn’t finish either; neither were really to my taste. (The SW book was PT, of course, and I rarely get far into those; I found the main character and world of Empress through unlikable.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with and appreciate her comments.

  9. Pingback: EU Author Karen Miller Interview

  10. jedifreac

    Having been on Jedi Council Forums for a very long time I’ve seen several women authors and how they have been treated by the fans. Obviously Vonda McIntyre and Barbara Hambly never stood a chance. But when A.C. Crispin and Kathy Tyers tried to interact with the fandom they were also met with a level of vitriol that frankly, male writers did not really have to go through on those forums. It was a different kind of vitriol than what R.A. Salvatore got for killing Chewbacca or what Troy Denning got for killing Anakin Solo. Even though fans did not appreciate those decisions and vocally said so, there was a begrudging respect for those two. Poor A.C. Crispin was slammed for writing a Mary Sue (Bria Tharen) while Mike Stackpole’s Gary Stu is lauded. It’s just very sad to see this pattern play out on the forums. Gosh, when Dark Journey came out…

  11. Aaron

    To be honest, I think Miller’s statement is completly outrageous. Oh the poor women and the evil men… Come on, do we need to listen to that old record again?
    I personally hated Karen Traviss – and still do -, because she warped Star Wars into a Mando loving violence orgy that had absolutely nothing to do with the essence of the saga. I didn’t like Vonda McIntyre because her book was simply terrible (though to be fair: compared to some of the stuff released in recent years, the Crystal Star isn’t that bad). I loved Ann Crispin and still think that her Solo books are among the best Star Wars books ever written. And yes, Ms. Tharen was a Mary Sue. So what? Luke Skywalker was one, and who ever gave a damn? I liked some of Zahn’s stuff (esp. Survivor’s Quest) and was bored by a lot of the rest (Hand of Thrawn, to give just one example). The comic books that Jan Duursema contributed to on a story level are – for the most part – wonderful. The comic books Haden Blackman wrote all by himself are – for the most part – too lame to be true. How in the world is this about gender? And how in the world do we need yet another gender discussion?
    Write good stuff, people will read it. Write bad stuff, people will hopefully thrash away at it. With Traviss they didn’t, and look what happened: Mandos everywhere. Oh, the horror…
    Anyway, stop politicizing bad writing. Thank you.

  12. Dunc Post author

    I won’t claim to be an expert on TFN, but as I recall it most of the worst Crispin/Bria hate was coming from (female) Han/Leia shippers. (There were threats that definitely were.) A lot of these people – or their pals – were equally harsh on Zahn and Luke/Mara, which I DID pay some attention to. (Most of the Zahn haters in that case? Women.)

    The same thing happened to Hambly and Children of the Jedi, though I will say this L/M shipper thought the book was pretty good on the whole. I do see a lot of gender-based dismissal on the part of guy fans there, but not so much on the Crispin books. Most of the praise I see for Crispin is from guys; it seems to be the women who aren’t all that impressed with her stuff.

    Shipping – that link is for any dudes who have no idea what I’m talking about – can get very harsh and very virulent among female fandom. You get in the way of someone’s ship, it can be very not pretty. I knew there are folks who are less than fond of Corran, but he was never really in-between any established ships, thus he didn’t get a lot of hate from the same quarters.

    I never saw much hate on Tyers (aside from some of the standard Mara haters) or Cunningham, but I wasn’t really looking at the time, and I didn’t run in the Jaina circles at all. The one Tyers thread I watched on TFN was mostly (happy) Mara fans, as I recall it.

    Girl on girl fandom crime is a real issue in addition to the one we’re actually discussing, we’re just so splintered in this fandom that it doesn’t get as much play as it did in, say, Harry Potter.

  13. eliz

    Something to keep in mind through all these discussions is the examples people refer to and use are only a relatively small sample of the book buying public. We’re extrapolating and assuming the most vocal in public fans are true representatives of the whole. While there is always a chance it could be, odds are not.

    What the whole discussion comes down to is this – before engaging in fandom, especially online, one needs to work on being mature and accept their own biases. One can not expect to enforce their biases on others.

    It’s almost like humans as a whole can never be content with anything, especially if it challenges your perspective at all. The whole point of literature is to challenge your perspective- even fiction writing. To make you think and reflect – recognize the Mary Sues and why you consider them so, to see life and decision processes from another angle, to enhance your own understanding.

    Those are the reasons why female fans express their desire for more strong female characters. Perhaps if it wasn’t such an odditiy, more women would feel empowered to stand up and be strong in their daily lives as well.

    At the end of the day, haters gonna hate because it is the easy way to respond. Easier to hate and dismiss than to try and understand.

  14. Pabawan

    Dunc, on the shipping front, was anyone anywhere for Ackbar and Winter? Honestly, not an entirely flippant question.

  15. Carla Lute

    I read the full bit on Star Wars from the article. I can’t comment directly on Miller’s or Traviss’s work as I haven’t read them. While I loved much of what she said on writing… I was left with the impression that she thought character development and action were things that vie for page space. While you can certainly have one without the other, I think the best Star Wars books marry both. Not saying they need to keep up a constant break neck pace, but character can be built through the action. Characters don’t just do stuff and blast things, they reveal their temperments, values, intelligence, etc. by how they solve the problem before them.

    That’s what I loved so much about the duels in the original trilogy…yes, pretty flashing sword play, but there was a also a deeper connection and higher stakes between the combatants each time. Why they start the fight, how they conduct themselves, how it ends, all moves the story forward and speaks to the nature of the combatants.

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