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December 05, 2006

An Interview With Karen Traviss

Author interview week over at By The Way continues with what I think is a really good interview with Karen Traviss, she of the "wess'har" series (the latest installment of which is Matriarch) and a number of Star Wars titles, including the most recent Bloodlines. Traviss is a fun interview, primarily because she's largely unfiltered and has very definite points of view, particularly on the subject of writing media tie-in books (she's for it, naturally enough). You're gonna enjoy reading this one.

Posted by john at December 5, 2006 04:17 PM

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Chang, who gets nothing done without BRAINZ | December 5, 2006 05:58 PM

I think this is my favorite interview you've done to date. The woman is smart, well-spoken (or typed) and says more about the craft than most people. Thank you!

Chris Billett | December 5, 2006 07:30 PM

Karen is superb, she's been one of my favourite authors and people for a couple of years, and that's a great interview too. Hats off, John!

Eddie | December 5, 2006 07:37 PM

A writer who doesn't read? Interesting.I guess I just wonder if a writer who doesn't read could possibly write ANYTHING I might find entertaining.

I would never read a Star Wars anyway.Tie-ins are the epitome of suckdom for the most part.

Why isn't she writing for television?She sounds eminently qualified.

This comes off sounding harsh.She obviously is successful and very organized about practicing her craft.I respect that.

Not my cup of Starbucks.

PixelFish | December 5, 2006 08:29 PM

Darn. If I wasn't feeling a bit of a financial pinch, I'd skibble over to Borders and pick up the first of her series. I'm now intrigued enough to add it to my list.

(Plus...that's really PURTY cover art, speaking as an artist and graphic designer.)

Steve Buchheit | December 5, 2006 09:20 PM

She sounds hillarious. Gee, a writer who wants to make money in the business instead of going for the literary. Shocked. Shocked, I am, to find out that authors want paid!

Media tie-ins don't bother me. I'm not sure where I've posted this but I made a similar argument about how even if we don't like media tie-ins, people are reading them. Lots of people are reading them. Ten years ago they had one or two shelves. Now they have whole shelving units. No store does that unless they sell, and no publisher is going to keep printing the things unless they sell. Or as someone was once saying how Dan Brown and Stephen King are hacks and I replied, "May I be so cursed."

As for being a "media tie-in author," thank the Gods I don't have that predjudice or I would have never read Terry Bisson (one of the authors that I've read and said, "you can do *that*? Cool.").

Curse you Scalzi! My guilt stack grows because of you!

Chang, who gets nothing done without BRAINZ | December 5, 2006 10:04 PM

Buchheit, him say:

Curse you Scalzi! My guilt stack grows because of you!

Guilt Stack. I love that term. I have two cases of guilt stacked right next to the bed. While I watch LOST on DVD.

Marc | December 6, 2006 03:14 AM

Traviss has recently become a target of extremist Star Wars fans, which should be a point in her favor. Anyone who can piss those guys off so completely has got to have something going.

Karen Miller | December 6, 2006 04:10 AM

I always laugh at folk who diss media tie-ins. Do they diss the folk who write the scripts of their favourite sf tv? No. But it's the same thing. Sheesh.

Karen's a top gun. She's smart, she's thoughtful, and she takes no prisoners. She wears integrity like armour, she is the most unflinchingly honest person I know. Thanks for the great interview, John. The more people who read her work, the better the SF genre will be as a whole.

Kit | December 6, 2006 06:04 AM

What do the extremists have against her? She sounds nice enough to me...

Anonymous | December 6, 2006 07:05 AM

Some people don't like her intepretation of various elements of the Star Wars universe, which is nothing new. The fans regulary flame each other over the same things.

Eddie | December 6, 2006 08:52 AM

I can wholeheartedly relate to the subject of getting paid adequately for one's work.

I have respect for all of you who are working writers and aspiring writers.

I have also read a MOUNTAIN of trash fiction.My guilt stack is a landfill or at least a couple of used book stores.

I'm just posting here as a fan of John's and because you guys say funny stuff that makes me laugh.

I haven't read a word that Karen Traviss has written and have no basis on which to judge her work(not that my opinion counts for anything anyway.)

Based on your interview,John, I am able to discern that Karen is somone that I'm not interested in checking out.She is very obviously more of a craftsman than a true artist.

Literary merit is an ephemeral thing but as a fan I feel I'm entitled to seek it out.

I am disappointed in the search more times than not. At my age (51) I find myself laying more books down unfinished than I once did.

Nevertheless the search is what makes me buy books.Entertainment for the sake of entertainment is certainly something I indulge in, but it is literary TALENT and GENIUS that move me as a reader.

Fortunately I still run across those things from time to time.

The interview's great by the way.

Steve Buchheit | December 6, 2006 10:26 AM

Chang fortified with BRAINZ, yep, I have a guilt stack beside my bed. I've cancelled most of the magazines I used to read (but, he said waving an ancient flintlock over his head, you'll have to take my National Geographic from my cold, clamy, dead hands). I have to admit that some books in my book cases I haven't read (yet). The stare at me, accusingly. They whisper and murmer in the dark night. It's really had to sleep with that going on. They learned from my mother how to guilt me.

Eddie | December 6, 2006 10:55 AM

Is the guilt stack the books you are holding onto thinking "I should get around to reading that" or is it the stack of books you read for pure pleasure and then feel guilty about later because they are meaningless pulp?

I have both those stacks but I was thinking about stack number two earlier.Guess I misunderstood.

Steve Buchheit | December 6, 2006 12:09 PM

Eddie, it's the first one. A stack of books next to the bed, and some in shelves, that I really need to read, but haven't had the time. Yet. There's Graham Joyce in there, another Scalzi will soon join its ranks, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Joe Halderman, Katharine Briggs, and many more.

I don't think I have much of the latter, but I don't classify my reading that way. If it's a good story, written well, engaging, I don't care what other people say about it, I'll read it/watch it. If it doesn't grab me (stolen from the Slushgod), I don't read it/watch it. That includes stuff that everybody is raving about and stories in the "Best of Year" anthologies. If it doesn't work for me, I used to read it because I found it easier to dissect the writing. Then I realized I was doing that for stories I didn't like and how silly that was. So now, if it doesn't work for me, I don't waste time with it. It might be fabulous, it might change my life if I get to the end, but I doubt it. My time is more valuable to read what I like or actually write than to read/watch what somebody else thinks I should.

Miscellaneous Steve | December 6, 2006 02:09 PM

I had Karen Traviss on my "To Read" list, but after the interview I have to agree with Eddie: A writer who doesn't read? [...] I guess I just wonder if a writer who doesn't read could possibly write ANYTHING I might find entertaining.

Which doesn't mean I won't read her eventually, it just means I'm less inclined to now.

I don't really care about her monetary motives for writing (I believe wanting to get paid for what you write in no way negates artistic expression), or about her writing media tie-ins (personally, I don't like 'em and won't read 'em but that doesn't mean I hold it against good writers who write them). It does bother me, though, that she makes such an issue of not reading. It gives her something of a contemptuous air that rubs me the wrong way: "I, personally, never waste my time reading but for you little people who do, here read this little thingy I just tossed off." That may not be her attitude, but that's the way it comes across to me.

Graeme Williams | December 6, 2006 03:02 PM

One phrase in the interview struck a chord with me, reminding me of something that I noticed while reading The Android's Dream. Karen mentioned that she tried to write in "plain English", which I take to be a good thing. Her claim is that this increases her potential audience.

I liked The Android's Dream a lot, just like John's previous books, but it struck me that the style was different to the previous two. It seems to me that a lot of science fiction is written in a particular heightened style, but TAD was a lot closer to plain English.

So I have many questions: Is the prose style in TAD different or am I merely hallucinating? Is plain a good thing? Does it change the appeal of the book to a wider audience?

John Scalzi | December 6, 2006 03:05 PM

Graeme Williams:

"Is the prose style in TAD different or am I merely hallucinating?"

It's different, but only to the extent that it's closer to my own narrative voice (remember that OMW was structured very much like a Heinlein juvy, and some of that structure is going to carry over to the tone, and that tone has to be consistent across the series).

Mark DF | December 8, 2006 04:26 PM

Sorry this is so long, but I had a fairly negative reaction to the interview. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to hear an author talk about book publishing like the business it is. On the other, where’s the love? I don’t get a sense that Traviss enjoys writing books any more than, say, working in a fish market. While it’s all well and good to talk about art and commerce mixing—which I think is perfectly fine—I come away from this interview with the sense that Travis thinks art is commerce, i.e, that the whole or main point is to simply sell lots of a product that happens to be books or see what new “product” (ebooks, comics) she can apply her skills to.

And there’s an underlying contempt here. “not a vegan, not a liberal, not my characters” Who’s that directed to? Her readers? Critics? Competitors? Obviously, she doesn’t read if she thinks she’s unique in sff. “Plain English”? Isn’t that just downmarket rejoinder to the upmarket “literary” folks?

If she doesn’t see the difference between writing a media tie-in and Wicked, then she’s absolutely clueless about books and, yeah, literary analysis. And her idea that readers care more about, and maybe only about, character is a howler. Maybe her readers. Not most of the readers I know. Plot and character are not either/or propositions. And don’t get me started on her contention that she doesn’t have an opinion on whether her characters are “good” or “bad.” You either create good characters or bad characters or ambiguous characters. You’re the author that makes those decisions and those decisions are based on, here it comes, opinions.

And either we’re getting some revised memory or a glimpse at an enormous ego: “But there was head-shaking from the literary folk when I took the Lucas shilling. “ How? Why? She was unpublished when she took the job. Why would these literary folks give a damn what she wrote? In this business, you are a completely unproven entity until you prove yourself. Nobody cares about you until then.

I don’t get the positive reactions I’m seeing here. Blunt’s nice. I don’t mind blunt talk about managing writing as a career. But I just think there’s an awful lot of cynicism here.

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