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Attitude toward tie-ins

A reader says, "I know you've spoken before of how seriously you take writing tie-in/franchise books. But I was wondering what your thoughts were on the attitude of many in the book industry (other writers and book sellers for instance) as well as readers, who view any writer who has done a tie-in negatively. Of course, I think it's silly, because both you and Karen Traviss, my favourite contemporary authors, have done both tie-in and original works, both spendidly. And for instance, Timothy Zahn, who has written both for Star Wars and Terminator, has won a Hugo. So tie-in writers certainly aren't subpar writers. So what's your thoughts on that? What can be done, if anything, so that writers of tie-in are viewed more positively? (And, as well, that readers of tie-in aren't looked down upon as readers.)"

I don't really pay attention to those people! To start with, most of my favorite authors, the authors who changed my life and those of others around me, who have a profound impact on the culture of average people, have never won Hugos or Nebulas. Katherine Kurtz, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brian Daley, Diane Duane, and many others I admire and emulate don't win those kinds of awards or get termed "important" writers. So I don't particularly care if I am or not. I'd rather be at the party with the people I admire than at the party with the people whose work I don't care for and frankly don't read but who have been termed "important writers."

Let me give an example. When I was fifteen I encountered an incredible book that introduced me to a real world living culture I had never thought about before and whose strong central female character spoke to me as a role model. This book showed me an imaginary world and culture that was amazing, and that taught me how to worldbuild and how to take a story and carry it one step beyond. If I were listing ten books that made me as a writer, this would be one, and it's certainly the absolutely most critical to where we went with the Legacy series. That book is Diane Duane's The Romulan Way, and it's a Star Trek tie in.

But let's go back further. The first "adult" book I read when I was nine wasn't grown up because it was full of sex and violence, but because it introduced me to adult characters who were different from anyone I knew, a noir world of drifters and shady characters, a night world of outlaws, pirates and mutants that began my lifelong obsession with the night world. It showed me a different way to be an adult. I didn't have to be a good girl. I could walk on the dark side of the street and it would be more comfortable over there. I wasn't a princess. I was a pirate. That book was Brian Daley's Stars End, and it's a Star Wars tie in.

I tell hero stories. Sometimes they're old stories about Aeneas or Alexander. Sometimes they're new stories about John Sheppard or Samantha Carter. But hero stories are the same, and they matter to people. They speak to the heart and show us how to live. They help us figure out who we are. They show us the world around us, reflected through the prism of fiction. That is incredibly worthwhile. And if there are people who look down on it because -- what? Tie ins are read by "the common herd" rather than the right people? Really all I can say to that is, "Whatever." I have no patience with literary snobbery and I'm certainly not going to cater to it.



( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2013 05:40 pm (UTC)
Diane Duane's Romulan books were formative for me as well. Wait...d'you mean the Romulans have their *own* culture and ideas? They have a point of view? That might not match ours? They're not a monolithic bunch of bad guys?

Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song had a similar effect on me. I don't know if I can blame my anthropology degrees entirely on them, but I can't deny they were part of it.

I've always said that there are good tie-ins and there are bad tie-ins, just as in any other group of books. There are tie-ins I read once and gave away, because they didn't grab me or were poorly written and I have tie-ins that are in my list of "I'm sorry, I can't loan this book to you unless you mortgage your house" list.
Feb. 13th, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC)
Exactly! The Romulan Way was so different and such a turnaround from anything I'd thought about before. Of course the bad guys are -- well -- bad! The idea that they might have a point of view and a culture that appealed was a brand new idea.

I hope the Legacy series will do the same thing with the Wraith. I've very consciously tried to take this in the same direction that Diane Duane did with the Romulans.

You're right -- there are good ones and bad ones just like any other group of books.
Shawn Edwards
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed the tales about the Rihannsu and Ael. I bet she was that strong female protagonist! It was nice to read the Romulan POV. It's a shame canon ST went another direction about the Romulans.

Uhura's Song is one of my favorite ST books. It was such a comedy but it was a coming of age novel as well as a commentary on how to define emotional maturity. I wonder what it would be like to have a prehensile tail? Those alien points of view can be an eye opening experience for me. The Vahni Vahltupali race in Deep Space 9 novels were another alien pov that was awesome!

That is something I have appreciated about the Legacy series, the Wraith have become a sympathetic species. We can understand where they come from even if we don't agree with them. We can ALL blame the Ancients for their screw ups!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
I loved Ael! And that's still my personal canon about the Romulans. I didn't like what was done later and I'm sticking with Diane Duane. ;)

I like Uhura's Song. I also particularly liked Ishmael, The Vulcan Academy Murders, and Sarek. (Can you tell I love the Vulcans and Romulans?)

I'm glad the Wraith in the Legacy series are working for you. They have a tough choice in the beginning -- to feed or die. Given that choice, what would you do? Some of them die. And the rest come up with ways to live with it. Ten thousand years later most Wraith don't think about it anymore than I do when I bite into a big, juicy burger!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:33 am (UTC)
I loved *The Romulan Way*!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
Isn't it a fantastic book?
Feb. 13th, 2013 07:07 pm (UTC)
My family had Star Trek TNG tie-ins worked into our budget, I think. ;D But my real introduction to what a tie-in could be was the Quantum Leap series. It was a universe perfectly suited to the format: borderline original stories that just happened to have the "Sam Leaps In" framework. My grandmother is a huge fan of the Monk tie-in novels.

Excellent post, by the way! Nice to have the author's point of view on this sort of thing :D
Feb. 13th, 2013 07:32 pm (UTC)
That's beautiful Geonn....wish my mom had thought to budget in books in any capacity when I was growing up! ;)
Feb. 13th, 2013 07:35 pm (UTC)
I'm not really sure why, but I know that our reward for being good while grocery shopping was that we got to go to the book section of WalMart before we left. :D It was a small price to pay for good behavior from a kid who (and this is true) once shouted "MY MOMMY CAN BEAT ME IF SHE WANTS TO!" in the middle of the store. It really, really, really wasn't as bad as it sounds out of context. ;D
Feb. 13th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC)
s'all good! You're in good company - I got my head stuck once in the sliding glass doors of a grocery store b/c I was too stubborn to move when my mom told me to....moral of the story is my mom laughed at me! I tell the tale to my children today as a cautionary tale of existence!
Feb. 13th, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC)
Indeed! My mother laughed the whole time she was rushing to get the heck out of the store. ;D The fact it was a tiny town was both good and bad... good because everyone knew that it wasn't as bad as it sounded, and bad because EVERYONE heard about it. And the person I was yelling at was my great-grandmother. Maybe I deserved a swat or two after all. ;D
Feb. 13th, 2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
Hindsight IS a bit clearer, huh! :)

And so we don't completely "thread-jack" Jo's post.....my favorite tie-in of all time has to be the novelization of Revenge of the Sith. The movie was just ok in my opinion, however, the book looked a bit more closely at the motivations and psychology behind the characters actions - and I loved every bit of it!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of Star Wars novels I love -- Barbara Hambly's Children of the Jedi, AC Crispin's Han Solo trilogy, anything by Kathy Tyers, and of course the Brian Daley trilogy!
Feb. 14th, 2013 02:35 pm (UTC)
I've tended to stick with the ones "after" the original trilogy so I haven't read those yet, but I have a file on my PC called "Books to Read" and I will add those. It's always fun to talk Star Wars novels with other fellow nerds.....most times people's eyes just glaze over when I start to talk about them!
Feb. 14th, 2013 02:43 pm (UTC)
I haven't read them all -- but there are some I've really enjoyed!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks! There are a lot of good tie ins I've enjoyed over the years, and I certainly don't think less of authors for writing them!
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't think it's any less work1 NOOOOO! A Stargate novel is just as much work as a more modern setting novel to me. Yes, an ancient world one takes longer in terms of research, but not in writing.
Feb. 13th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:08 pm (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)
I'm afraid I have kind of mixed feelings about tie-ins. The problem is that I don't watch a lot of TV/Movies. I'm going to date myself here and admit that I gave up on Star Trek tie-ins about the time New Voyages (the first one that wasn't by James Blish) came out. I got frustrated with the fact that the characters by definite would never get character development that didn't get rolled back to the starting point at the end of the episode, and at that point no one was branching out into stories in that universe that didn't involve the major characters and thus *could* be the kind of story I enjoyed. By the time they came along I'd acquired a healthy blind spot where the value of the Trek subgenre was concerned.

I don't look down at people writing tie-ins per se. But I don't generally buy them, because I haven't watched the shows and don't care about the characters. So my reaction to seeing that an author I enjoy like yourself, or Diane Duane, among others, has written a media tie in is to selfishly sigh and think about all those hours they spent on it when they could have been working on their own original characters, which I'd much rather be reading.
Feb. 14th, 2013 12:09 pm (UTC)
It's funny, I tend to look at media tie-ins done by authors I already know as a chance to discover something new - if someone whose taste I know runs well with mine is doing a tie-in to a show I don't know, the odds are decent that I'll also like it. Sometimes that doesn't work, of course, but often it does, and since my problem is usually shortage of new material, I'll take what I can get. :-)
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:14 pm (UTC)
The reset to zero is frustrating to me too -- which is one of the reasons I loved doing the Legacy series. Because it's "season six" there isn't a reset to zero, just the continuation of a prematurely cancelled series to actually wrap up the plot lines and bring closure. So that's quite a thrill and very fun to do!

I do see what you mean about people not reading them because they don't know the show. But I've also gotten a lot of new readers who found me through the Stargate books, just as I found Diane Duane through The Romulan Way. I'd never heard of her as a teenager and I bought the book because it had Leonard McCoy on the cover and he was my favorite character in the original series. Ditto the first thing I read of Barbara Hambly's was Children of the Jedi, and then I went on a Barbara Hambly binge! So I hope that readers are finding Lost Things, for example, via the Legacy series. I think readers who like Stargate will like the Order of the Air, and this is a way to introduce myself.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 14th, 2013 07:17 pm (UTC)
Exactly! If you read something because of what it's about, you discover a new author.
Feb. 14th, 2013 12:12 pm (UTC)
Some of this ties in with fanfiction, and some of the points that my fellow panelists and I will be making about how yes, you ARE a real writer if you write fanfiction. In some ways, writing fanfic or media tie-in novels is harder, IMHO, because while yes, you do have the borders of the sandbox you're playing in fairly well-defined, you have rules that are set and known characters that you don't have to do much info-dumping on to let people know who they are, those same borders can also make it more of a challenge. Something that challenges you can hardly be considered lazy writing or writing that isn't valid or isn't "real writing", somehow. You're still having to build a story that will catch the reader's imagination and heart, just like you would with an original story.

The trick with the tie-in novel is that you have to do this by another's rules, so where you might want to go with a character or characters, the adventures you might want those characters to have, the rules on the sandbox you're playing in might not allow you to do that, the borders may not allow you to throw a bit of sand outside the box and expand your play area even a wee bit. If anything, I think media tie-in novels require more thought and care in some ways than original novels because the author or authors are not the ultimate lords of the universe - Paramount, MGM, Lucasfilm, Universal, etc., they're the ones who rule from above, not the writer.

Not to mention that when a tie-in novel is done well, with just as much care and thought put into it as a writer would put into their original work (if not more because of needing to play nice in the sandbox) it can add SO much more to that universe, add so many layers and so much texture to that world. That is what the Legacy series has done for Stargate Atlantis, and I for one feel blessed that I have hopped on the ride from beginning to end, and can't wait for Inheritors to be released. As sad as I will be to see this trip reach its final destination, the journey has been well worth it. You, Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold have crafted a wonderful six-book story, and I thank you for it.

Edited at 2013-02-14 12:14 pm (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:32 pm (UTC)
That's very true -- the rules are tight and it's a lot like writing historical fiction that way. You have to stick with what's "true". I'm so glad you've enjoyed the Legacy series and I hope you enjoy The Inheritors!
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC)
I know I will, the whole series has been a wonderful ride! :) :)
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )