When you walk into Charlene Simser's office at K-State's Hale Library, it's difficult not to notice that she's a fan of "Star Wars."
There's the 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Darth Vader in the corner; a poster of Yoda, the Jedi master, hangs on the wall behind her desk; a coffee mug that looks like a storm trooper's helmet holds writing implements on her desk; and a number of "Star Wars"-inspired figurines line her bookshelves.
"I was a fan of the movies since I saw the first one in 1977," said Simser, the head of cataloging and serials for K-State Libraries. "I've always been an action adventure fan, and I love the story of a farm boy exploring the universe."
But Simser is more than just your run of the mill "Star Wars" fan -- she's a contributor to the vast body of literature that followed the "Star Wars" movies. She's written or co-written nine short stories in all, with another to be published at http://www.StarWars.com in the near future.
For Simser, it all started in the early 1990s. She'd started graduate school, was raising three kids on her own and was settling into a new part-time job. Times were stressful and Simser was looking for a way to relax.
"I needed some escape, so I started writing a 'Star Wars' novel in my spare time, never knowing what I was doing or whether there was any chance that I could ever get published," she said.
At a friend's suggestion, she sent a letter to a big-name publisher who was putting out "Star Wars"-related fiction at the time, only to learn that they didn't accept unsolicited manuscripts from unknown writers.
Then Simser stumbled upon a bookstore selling materials for a "Star Wars" role-playing game.
"I picked up a book and inside the back cover there was a call for short story submissions," Simser said. "The company, West End Games, had been authorized to put together a journal that would include short stories with role game playing tie-ins."
The call for submissions said that the stories couldn't feature any of the series' primary characters -- like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or Princess Leia -- and that the story line couldn't contradict any of the existing "Star Wars" saga.
"So I took one of the original characters I had developed and wrote a short story about her," Simser said. "Within a week I had a phone call -- not a letter, but a phone call."
That first story, "Glimmer of Hope," was featured in the premier issue of the The Star Wars Adventure Journal, alongside work from an already well-established "Star Wars" novelist.
Much of Simser's work, written under the pen name Charlene Newcomb, is about the trials and tribulations of Alex Winger.
"Alex was a young freedom fighter on her home world. She lost her parents -- well, she hadn't seen her father since she was 5, she thinks he's dead, he's not," Simser said. "Alex is adopted by an Imperial Governor -- one of the bad guys -- but, at age 15, she starts working with the Rebel underground. The stories are centered on her fight against the Empire on her adopted home world."
Alex's adopted home world of Garos IV is referenced in novels and other publications about the "Star Wars" universe. Novelist Timothy Zahn was familiar with Simser's Alex character, too, and even asked to incorporate her into one of his works.
"That was an honor," Simser said. "If he hadn't written those first three novels and reintroduced me to the 'Star Wars' saga, I probably wouldn't have written anything."
Simser, under her pen name Newcomb, has her own page in Wookieepedia -- an online "Star Wars" encyclopedia put together mostly by fans. She also has been given the rare treat of featuring Luke Skywalker in one of her stories. In "Rendevous With Destiny" Luke recognized Alex's talents and that she, too, was "force sensitive." Alex's ultimate destiny, Simser said, is to go to Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy to be formally trained.
As for Simser's destiny, her days dabbling in science fiction may be coming to a close with only a couple more stories waiting in the wings about Alex.
But that doesn't mean Simser is done writing. She's been working on a novel -- a modern-day coming-of-age tale -- and is researching a time-travel novel set in the 18th century American colonies.
More on Simser and on her Alex character are available at: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Charlene_Newcomb http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Alexandra_Winger or follow Alex's blog at http://alexwinger.wordpress.com/