The genre-spanning writers turn their pens to the metaverse.
It’s not difficult to find critics of what Marvel and Star Wars have done in recent years. Given how their sprawling storytelling efforts have dominated the entertainment industry, both properties have received occasional indignant pushback and imitation. While shows like “Andor” and “WandaVision” were revered as critical successes, their influence and fandom have been met with no small amount of discontent (mainly from Martin Scorsese, but also some others).
That said, as a writer and fan, to me, what Marvel and Star Wars have achieved is breathtaking. The central story behind each property reminds me of an eternal tree: continually rising, constantly sprouting branches, and always offering places of respite where climbers can relax and admire the view. Not every effort excels (some branches break prematurely), but the mere act of telling intertwined, complicated stories — while growing fan bases — is a rare feat.
Aside from film, television, and comics, Marvel and Star Wars have also ventured into novels and anthologies. I wanted to learn more about how all that works (and suspect quite a few other writers do, too). So, I interviewed Alex Segura and Lydia Kang — two celebrated, award-winning authors who, in addition to their own work, have written for these intellectual properties (IP) — about their experiences.
How did the opportunities to write for Star Wars and Marvel come about?
Alex Segura: It was certainly something I dreamed about, but it wasn’t something I was actively pitching for.
Lydia Kang: It’s still a little bit of a mystery to me!
AS: I’d done some Archie work and my [Pete Fernandez mystery] novels, but the latter series had just ended, so I was in the process of figuring out what was next. I had loose ideas for Secret Identity, but that hadn’t completely solidified yet. Disney Books reached out and asked if I’d ever considered doing something Star Wars-related. I tried to take a few deep breaths before responding immediately. After that, we drilled down, and they let me know what they wanted: a Poe Dameron origin story tying into the upcoming film’s revelations about Poe’s past. Then we were off to the races. It happened really fast and was pretty exciting.
LK: For The Empire Strikes Back: From a Certain Point of View, I received a message via my agent that they would like me to participate. I was super nervous about it. I thought I had to be an expert in all things Star Wars to write for them, and I was concerned that I had no experience writing in this world. In the end, I said yes, but it was at the urging of my husband (like me, a huge Star Wars fan), as well as deciding that if I wrote from the perspective of the medical/surgical droid, 2-1B, at least I was writing what I knew, which was from the perspective of a doctor. Afterward, my story got some really great reviews. They reached out again and asked if I would write for the High Republic. And I said yes, although with a lot of nudging from my husband because, once again, I was worried about whether I could do it. So, you can thank him for my involvement in Star Wars!
Given that Marvel and Star Wars are each such sprawling, interconnected universes, is there a lot of care taken to ensure that your story isn’t contradicting canonical events or stories?
LK: Yes. When you’re writing in Star Wars, you aren’t alone in a galaxy far, far away. There are many others — editors and some incredibly knowledgeable people at Lucasfilm — who are keeping an eye on the canon and making sure you don’t make mistakes. For example, you have to capitalize Jedi Temple when referring to the one Coruscant, otherwise “temple” isn’t capitalized. You can’t have Jedi have powers that are unrealistic for this world. Stuff like that.
AS: For Araña, my Spider-Verse novel, it’s not “in continuity,” per se — meaning, it doesn’t have to fit in perfectly with the comics, it can just evoke them. But since I love the source material, I tried to make it fit in as best I could. For Star Wars, everything they publish — comics, novels, videogames — is part of a greater narrative, so it has to carve out a place and not contradict other work in the canon. But that’s part of the fun in playing in someone else’s sandbox — you get these cool toys and you can create stories for them, but you also have the responsibility of leaving things in the same shape you found them. Not exactly in the same position, but no worse for wear.
It seems like a dream to tell a story about not only one of your favorite creations, but a creation beloved by so many other people. Does that also come with a fair amount of trepidation?
AS: The realized dream outweighed the pressure. I always want to do a good job, and I pour myself into the work, so my only hope is that people will read the stories and enjoy them and see what I was trying to do — which is part of any writing project. You want readers to get the idea. But the difference is that you have a large, built-in audience with certain expectations for the characters and ideas, and you have to understand that coming in. Any changes or tweaks you make will get an immediate response. Hopefully good, sometimes not. That’s just the job. At the end of the day, if you believe in your story and did your homework, you’ll be okay.
LK: Yes, as you can see, I nearly said no twice! But I found that the team at Del Rey and Lucasfilm are so kind and have been incredible to work with. I feel very lucky because my learning curve was steep when it comes to writing a Star War.
What’s the best advice you can give someone interested in writing for an established IP? Are there open calls for submissions or other ways to get their work under consideration?
LK: The vast majority of the time, IP writers have a track record of writing and publishing. You have to work on your skills, follow a path that gets your work out there to show you can do it. For me, my work was all over the place: YA contemporary, YA sci-fi, adult historical, adult nonfiction. I didn’t create a pathway for the purpose of writing [for an] IP. Yet I somehow got my name out there, and it was clear from my track record that I can write fast and write well (I hope? I think?). It doesn’t hurt to show your love for that IP. I adore Star Wars, and it may have shown up here and there on social media. But there aren’t open calls for submissions. I don’t know if it works to have your agent nudge the editors at Lucasfilm or Del Rey, but it could work. For other IP, I think it might help to put your name out there via your agent.
AS: I think the best advice would be to write your own stories and become established that way, and then the IP opportunities will make themselves apparent. Or at least you’ll have the credits in hand if you decide to chase IP work.
Would you ever want other creatives to play in a universe you created? And, if so, would you want some involvement in how your universe was portrayed?
AS: I’d love that. I joke with friends that all my superhero creator-owned work, which includes stuff like The Dusk, Black Ghost, The Awakened, etc., exists in the same universe. It’d be fun to see someone tackle those characters. In terms of oversight, I’d love for people to cut loose, but I’d also like to get a sense of where the story is going. But hey, if we get to that point, we’ll be in a pretty fun position.
LK: It would be an honor for any of these worlds to be expanded and lived in. I think I’d want to have a hand in how that happened early on and then release it to the creators in that universe to keep it going. You can’t quite own a world you’ve built that’s now got a life of its own after a certain point in time. But if they did something I really found reprehensible (like if the writing all became very anti-LGBTQ, for example), I would probably flip my lid.
[Alex Segura photo by Irina Peschan.]
E.A. Aymar’s next novel, When She Left, will be published in February 2024.