Sarah Kuhn is the author of the audio drama Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original. She answered a few questions via email for this interview for 365 Star Wars Women.
When were you introduced to Star Wars? What appeals to you the most about the galaxy far, far away (favorite characters/movies, etc.)?
I honestly do not remember a time when Star Wars wasn’t in my life — it feels like part of my DNA. I loved how it swept me away as a kid — I was one of the only faces of color in my really white small town, and I was always looking for escapes, a sense that there was something bigger out there. Star Wars made me feel transported — and still does! It was one of my first fandoms, and I remember being really into the novelizations and carting them around at school and hiding them behind other books. Because at that time, it was definitely not cool to love Star Wars. Character-wise, I was always obsessed with Princess Leia — I loved how badass and aggressive she was from the jump. I think she changed my idea of what a princess could be, and what a heroine could be. And I really wanted that cinnamon roll hairdo, but my hair never cooperated even a little bit.
How did you find out you were going to write the audio drama Doctor Aphra? Were you looking to write a Star Wars project or was it a happy surprise?
Like most Star Wars-obsessed writers, of course I wanted to write Star Wars! But that definitely seemed like a “they’ll call you, not the other way around” kind of situation. And then they did call me! Well, they called my agent. And she called me. I knew it must be about something important, because she usually emails. So I picked up and just heard “you have an offer for Star Wars” and I don’t know if we even got to the Aphra part before the screaming started. But then there was definitely another round of screaming for Aphra, because she is maybe the best character ever.
Have you ever written an audio drama before? Was your writing process much different for an audio drama than it usually is for a novel?
I hadn’t! It was a cool process, and I am very indebted to my editor, Elizabeth Schaefer, and audio producer Nick Martorelli, because we were a true team. Ultimately, I felt like the writing of it was sort of like a combination of several different mediums I’ve written in — novels, comics, screenplays. Because you don’t have visuals, so you still have to describe things for the listener. But you also don’t want to get bogged down in tons of prose-y description, because you want that flow of dialogue. Elizabeth really encouraged me to take advantage of the audio medium as it specifically applies to Aphra — we have this framing conceit where she’s recording a log of some kind, and since she’s such an unreliable narrator, naturally she’d manipulate that. So we have all these parts where she deletes bits of the recording, or embellishes to make herself seem more awesome. I love all that stuff.
How familiar were you of Doctor Aphra as a character and the comic arc that your audio book retells? How would you describe Aphra to fans just getting to know her.
I was a huge fan of Aphra, going back to the moment she was introduced — I loved how Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca envisioned her, she’s such a vibrant presence and she pretty much immediately demands your attention. I always say she’s chaos personified — she craves thrills and danger, but she also has a hardwired in survival instinct, and those two elements are almost always at odds with each other. I also feel like she’s having the most fun out of anyone in Star Wars — living her best life and loving it.
Why do you think an audio drama made sense for this project?
It’s a fun way to re-tell this story from a different perspective — and who doesn’t want to hear Aphra’s voice?
I think the audio drama is very approachable for Star Wars fans even if they have no idea who Aphra is. Was that on your mind while you were working on this project?
Hmm, not really? I mean, I was definitely aware that this would be some folks’ introduction to the character, so I made sure to include things like a basic physical description of what she looks like, stuff like that. But honestly Aphra is a character that is so consuming and so vibrant, I wasn’t really thinking much about how is she positioned, how is she coming off — I just felt like I was channeling her voice.
I’m curious which characters (besides Aphra) you enjoyed writing the dialogue for the most.
Of course Triple-Zero is great fun because everything he says is completely awful. One of my favorite things was getting to write a short monologue for Padmé — it’s a recording she makes expressing some of her final wishes when she knows she’s pregnant and she also knows she might not survive. That was very poignant and moving for me, and it brings out the more vulnerable, mushy side of Aphra that she’s always trying to shove down. It was also an exciting challenge because in general I definitely sound more like Aphra than Padmé.
Did you have any input about the casting for Doctor Aphra or were you able to hear any of the audio recordings along the way – or did you go from turning on your text to hearing the finished product?
No, I knew nothing of the casting until it was about to be announced — but a very happy surprise was Emily Woo Zeller playing Aphra. Because just a week or so before, she’d been hired to do the Heroine Complex audiobooks, and I did choose her for that! I was sent samples from a bunch of different actors and was asked to choose a couple of options. I listened to them all and then wrote back and was like, I’m sorry, but there’s only one option — it’s Emily. Please get Emily for me! And they did. So when I found out she was Aphra too, I was over the moon. And she absolutely killed it — she is Aphra. I was sent a few bits of the recording as they were working on it, and hearing her say these words I’d written for Aphra was so emotional. It just felt so alive.
Would you enjoy writing more Star Wars books in the future? If so, are there any specific characters or time periods you’d love to get a chance to write about?
Of course! I’m very open on what that would be — it’s a big, beautiful galaxy with so many possibilities. I’d love to write something for Jess Pava, or the Tico sisters. And I’d love to write more Aphra. I still think about her a lot.
For Star Wars fans who have only listened to Doctor Aphra is there another book or series of yours you feel is the easiest to recommend?
I believe the Heroine Complex series is the reason I was chosen for this project, so I would say that! That’s my series about Asian American superheroines in modern day San Francisco, saving the world from things like demonic cupcakes and supernatural karaoke, bonding and eating a lot of junk food, having fun and falling in love. The voice is similarly irreverent, and the characters are also very chaotic and messed up in their own ways. And there’s romance, but unlike Sana and Aphra’s romance, there’s always a happy ending.
You can check out Sarah’s interview about the Aphra audio drama at StarWars.com here!
Sarah has also done a few interviews with podcasts – please check them out!