Michelle talks with science fiction author, Kathy Tyers about the dangers of fiction, the role family plays in fiction, and writing in the Star Wars universe.
Michelle: Thanks for taking the time to answer some of the questions below! I have enjoyed your books for years and am torn between Shivering World and Firebird as a favorite of the ones you’ve penned. I’m currently on a quest to find a copy of The Crystal Witness. I could get an e-book of it or jump over to Alibris and get a print copy, but I enjoy hunting out of print books in used bookstores.
Kathy: Thanks for the kind words, and happy hunting! One thing you should know about Crystal Witness is that the e-book version has been given a thorough edit since Bantam Books published the original in 1989.
Michelle: For those here who don’t know much about your Science Fiction series, now available through Enclave Publishers, would you share a little about Lady Firebird and the universe where her story unfolds?
Kathy: Lady Firebird is the extraneous third child of an aristocratic family, born on a world where third- and fourth-born nobility are expected to die young so family fortunes aren’t lost. She’s trained as a fighter pilot and sent on a suicide mission. She’s deeply loyal and proud of her wastling heritage. But things don’t go as her commanding officers planned.
Later in the series, it becomes vital that this is a universe in which the Messiah hasn’t been born yet. The Davidic family was caught up in a genetic experiment that created telepathic abilities, and they live under strict moral and religious codes. They and their kindred serve unaltered humankind. But there are other telepaths in the Firebird universe whose law is the survival of the strongest.
Michelle: I work in a bookstore, and recently was pulled into a dialog about the merits of fiction. The majority of the staff cited fiction’s major gift being that of escape, providing a respite for the readers. And while I agreed with them, that that’s part of fiction’s gift, I believe there is another, which makes it a dangerous and powerful medium. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either.
C.S. Lewis once wrote “…Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of romance without their knowing it.”
Lewis wasn’t talking just about romance novels; he was talking about all kinds of fiction books.
Science Fiction and Science Fantasy are notorious for being mediums where theology and worldview are “let in through the back door” of reader’s minds.
You’ve worked extensively in these two genres; how do you balance a good story with good theology as you write?
Kathy: I agree with Lewis! He also said that what a Christian author is will come through in his or her writing, whether or not she consciously tries to put it there. I concentrate on telling a good story, but since my Christianity is the ground I walk on and the air I breathe, naturally my plots develop along lines where good theology is going to (hopefully) be part of the plot.
The fourth novel in the Firebird series, Wind and Shadow, was written in partial fulfillment of my Master’s degree in Christianity and the Arts, so naturally the theological plot thread is stronger than usual. The main character, a young priest, is kidnapped by one of those “survival of the strongest” telepaths. His captor thinks that the priest just could be the long-awaited Messiah—and wants to corrupt him.
Michelle: One of the things I enjoy about your work is that of the role you give to families in shaping the destiny of people groups, nations, and planets.
Whether it is Lady Firebird (Mari) discovering how similar her family is to the family of her antagonist, or Dr. Graysha Brady-Philips standing against an influential member of her own family, or Luke Skywalker reminding his sister where they both came from, the heart of your stories revolves around the nexus of family.
How much, if any, do you draw from your family to create the powerful and fractured families that populate your books?
Kathy: Almost everyone grows up in a family, but in a lot of storytelling, the main character is an orphan, a foundling, or otherwise family-less. I have tried to buck the trend. However, the main character in a compelling story must solve his or her own problems, so supportive family members could be detrimental to the plot! That’s probably why there always seem to be antagonists in a protagonist’s family in my books.
Even a fairly normal family has its share of brokenness, including my family of origin and my first marriage. So sometimes when I write, there are things I remember from real life that find their way into my books. I don’t usually do that deliberately, but I suppose it’s inevitable. We tend to write what we know.
Michelle: You’ve written very successfully in your own worlds, and in the worlds of the Star Wars franchise. Did you learn anything writing in a universe that was established by someone else, that you were able to apply to your world building? What tools did you bring from your worlds that made your stories so strong in the larger Star Wars narrative?
Kathy: One of the most enjoyable things about writing for Star Wars was that the worldbuilding had been done, so I could concentrate on character interaction. I’ve always considered myself a character-driven storyteller; in fact, the Del Rey editor who asked me to write my New Jedi Order novel told me that was exactly why they wanted me to write that particular book.
Michelle: Recently, I had the delight of talking to my favorite author at a Sci-Fi convention. It was Friday, the only day I could attend, and the events of the day that were very light. However, my favorite author was scheduled to be there most of the day to talk with fans and sign their books. I spent over an hour talking to them about their stories and their craft. They were incredibly gracious, even as I was spastically trying to make certain I wasn’t monopolizing them. It was the highlight of my year, for certain.
As I shared how much I loved the deep themes present in their work, and they surprised me by saying that they never set out to write anything but a rip-roaring action adventure story. The themes that resonated so greatly with me, sacrifice, love, friendship, redemption and revenge shuttled in between the threads of the story from their self and into the book as they wrote. Similar themes are found in your work, so I have to ask the question: do you have an idea about what kind of refrains you want to incorporate into your work? Or do you let your heart weave its overflow into the tale?
Kathy: Lucky you! I’ve had a few of those wonderful encounters—and I’d probably tell you exactly what that author told you: My first job is to tell a solid story. Sometimes it takes writing a first full draft for me to discover what the book’s theme, message, take-away, or whatever you want to call it will be. Having discovered that, via my characters’ adventures, I can then go back and strengthen those themes in my second, third, and subsequent drafts… but never at the expense of telling a good tale. Fiction that preaches—that tells the truth instead of showing it—isn’t something I enjoy reading. So why would I want to write it?
Michelle: We’ve talked a little about the books you’ve written already, about your writer’s philosophy, and how you craft these fantastic tales; what’s next? What’s the new story or idea that you can catch a glimpse of over the horizon?
Kathy: My current project is a contemporary supernatural series that takes place in the mountains near my home in Montana. In the first book, Holy Ground, three women from different generations and different denominations buy a house that they want to turn into a spiritual sanctuary—but on their first night there, they’re visited by apparition who claims to be St. Brigid of Ireland. She wants to enlist them in spiritual warfare, with the fate of the continent at stake.