Karen Miller Discusses Being a Female Star Wars Writer

As a fandom, we’ve had plenty of reminders that there’s often a stark gender divide in Star Wars. Emily and I have sounded off on the topic in the past. It can be tough for female fans, but it’s just as tough (if not worse) for writers. Expanded Universe author Karen Miller sat down with Tor’s Liz Bourke to talk about that and other topics today.

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 is onto something there. It’s a big reason that things like Fate of the Jedi sell well while more intimate books in the same universe struggle to keep pace, despite the fact the former books aren’t as critically well received as the latter. Another key quote from this interview:

Looking at this, thinking about it, there’s a temptation to castigate the fandom as being unwelcoming to female writers and, by extension, female fans. And to an extent, I think that is the case, which breaks my heart. Some of the vitriol and virtual violence flung at Karen Traviss, for example, is horrific. Absolutely, there is a segment of the male fanbase that resents any incursion by a woman. But since that’s true on a wider societal scale, really, all that proves is that fandom is a microcosm of society.

Let’s just get the Traviss thing out of the way first. The only issue I take with this entire interview is that Miller misses the mark on why there was fan backlash towards Traviss. It was largely to do with Traviss’ professionalism towards fans and her employer, but in fairness to Miller, I have no doubts that there were a minority of fans that did take issue with her gender.

But the macro point Miller is making is spot-on. As a fandom, Star Wars hasn’t felt very welcoming towards female fans and authors. The mere suggestion that the EU creative staff needs to do a better job crafting and utilizing its female characters incited an over-the-top defensive firestorm from fans and necessitated a bunch of followup retorts to illustrate that, yes, there is a problem with how female fans, writers, and characters are treated (see the links above).*

*Required reading: John Scalzi’s post entitled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting

What’s the takeaway here? I don’t know. When in doubt I usually go with the philosophers Bill and Ted. Just be excellent to each other, okay?  If what Miller said gets a knee-jerk, negative reaction from you, take a minute to analyze why that is. Nothing she’s said here is particularly inflammatory. They’re issues that we, as a fandom, need to discuss and take seriously.

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4 thoughts on “Karen Miller Discusses Being a Female Star Wars Writer

  1. It is sad because her intimate character work was really good. I loved all of her books and when I was working at B&N made them my staff picks. Her kind of work is what we need to see in the EU, not another Galactic crisis but a look inside the characters and what makes them tick. Hoping for more of this in the post-ROTJ and Clone Wars eras

  2. Maybe I'm an exception here, but, I personally love reading more about the characters than the big fights and battles (not that I don't enjoy those too). I also love seeing female SW fans being more and more abundant. I loved getting my wife and daughter "into" SW. I really enjoyed Traviss' RC novels until her pro-mando/anti-jedi views got just overwhelming. I've also enjoyed all of the other female SW authors and wouldn't mind reading more from them. I'd love more Leia, Mara, Jaina, Jysella, Myri, Mirax, Winter, etc. After all, if there were no women, there'd be no men. 😉 Well...unless, of course, all of the men were clones.

    • I enjoy action, but I much prefer character-driven stuff. That's a big reason I cite Starfighters of Adumar as being one of my all-time favorite books. Not just Star Wars books, books period.

  3. This may sound idealistic and simplistic, but I love a story that incorporates both. The action is exhilarating for me, but I like to be able to relate to any of the characters on some certain level, whether the character (male or female) seems to be living out my life, or merely one certain aspect of life that I am passionate about.
    I had an English Literature professor who once said (and I'm inclined to agree) that "good literature" is considered "good" because it tells the truth. He wasn't talking about absolute truth, but about how we all know life really works out; if you listen to comedians talk about their comedy, telling the truth is usually the basis for their routines.
    If the action in the book is weak or insignificant, then I feel like I'm not really getting a taste of the "universe" underscored by the whole concept of star wars. Thus I choose the star wars concept because I like the flavor of action and science fiction. But I still want to relate to the characters on some level of reality. If I can't relate, then I'm not as likely to return to the story, because, who cares? On the other hand, it can be overdone, I mean, I would prefer to learn about a character as "life" within the story plays out vice all at once like some authors do sometimes.

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