I recently interviewed Kathy Tyers, who is the author of several science fiction books, for Christian Fiction Book Reviews. Her Firebird trilogy is being re-released as a one-volume special annotated edition by Marcher Lord Press in April.
CFBR: Have you always been a fan of speculative fiction?
Kathy Tyers: I first read SF as a fifth grader, browsing the junior high section of the Dana Branch Public Library in Long Beach, California. I read Ben Bova’s The Star Conquerors and was hooked! And one of my friends gave me a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time that summer. I didn’t know exactly what that book was—I didn’t think it was science fiction, since there weren’t any rocket ships—but I loved that too.
CFBR: You have a degree in microbiology. So what led you to write fiction?
Kathy Tyers: I’ve always been a reader. To me, getting carried away reading a good book was the finest of pleasures. I even wrote some little books as a young child, stapled them together along the left side and drew my own cover art. When my son was two years old and I wanted to do something “just for Kathy” during his naptimes, I started writing a Star Wars fanfiction novel … just for fun … and found myself hooked again by writing.
CFBR: When you wrote Firebird, did you always intend for it to be part of a series?
Kathy Tyers: I think I always knew she wasn’t the kind of person to peacefully “live happily ever after.” I liked her—and Brennen—well enough to want to know what adventure came next.
CFBR: You have a new edition of the Firebird trilogy coming out with Marcher Lord Press this year. For those of us who own the one published through Bethany House, what will be different about this new edition?
Kathy Tyers: The new edition will include beautiful maps, adapted by the gifted Jamie Upschulte from my hand-drawn originals. It also features annotation notes throughout: comments on word origins, bits of music that inspired me while drafting certain passages—and lots of writing-craft remarks, since I’m also a teacher (I mentor apprentices through the Christian Writers Guild). It’s second nature, for example, to point out my own struggles with the process of “how much information to reveal at what part of the story.” Crown of Fire also got a significant copy-edit. It was originally written and published almost simultaneously with my second Star Wars novel, and with two deadlines looming I simply ran out of time to give Crown a loving, careful last look. I’ve learned a bit about dancing in the last year, too—so there are some slight but satisfying changes in the choreography of Esme’s ball. Oh – and the cover art is (IMO) spectacular.
CFBR: Can you tell us a little bit about the two new novels that you will have published over the next two years?
Kathy Tyers: Wind and Shadow was written in partial fulfillment of my Master’s degree in Christianity and the Arts at Regent College in Vancouver BC. It’s more theological than the first three novels, since I was a theology student when I wrote it! WS skips ahead to the saga’s next generation, and it introduces a new cast of characters. For those who have wanted to know what Kiel and Kinnor would be like as they reach adulthood—here it is! The final Firebird novel—Daystar—will finish the series by introducing one more generation. Our Heroes have starring roles, though! I enjoy writing “older” characters, showing that the adventures in life don’t end when we hit thirty. Or even fifty.
CFBR: Marcher Lord Press is a rather unique publisher. How has it been different working with them as opposed to working with the more “traditional” publishing houses?
Kathy Tyers: I’ve enjoyed both experiences. Since MLP is an independent house, the feeling is particularly close and friendly—not just with editor/publisher Jeff Gerke, but also with other MLP authors.
CFBR: One of the challenges of writing science fiction is coming up with and keeping track of various worlds, technologies, ships, etc. How do you deal with this?
Kathy Tyers: I have a fat looseleaf notebook full of notes on topics ranging from “Sentinel Families and history” to “word derivations.” I drew on that notebook for many of the annotations, maps, and charts that will appear in The Annotated Firebird.
CFBR: Are you more of a plot-driven writer, or a character-driven writer?
Kathy Tyers: I consider myself character-driven, since I believe that strong Point of View creates a story that’s satisfying for both the writer and the reader. I plot thoroughly, though, before I write anything. The exception was Wind and Shadow. I simply sat down and started writing that at the beginning. About 1/3 of the way through, with all three main characters (Kiel, Kinnor, and a love interest for one of them [enough spoilers for now!])in mortal danger, I stopped and outlined a possible plot for the rest of the novel. Working with three main characters made it a more complex novel—and I wasn’t sure which, if any, of the three would survive.
CFBR: Do you have a specific “message” in mind for each book, or does it develop during the writing process?
Kathy Tyers: I find purely message-driven fiction (in my hands, anyway) too sermonic. My job is to tell a good story. After finishing the first draft, a book’s main theme often becomes clear. During the second draft (and successive drafts—I take much longer to self-edit a book than to write it) I make a fairly conscious effort to bring the theme forward. Never at the expense of the story, though.
CFBR: It’s been suggested that speculative fiction (fantasy, s/f, etc.) are not appropriate genres for Christians to write. What is your response?
Kathy Tyers: My studies at Regent College pretty much put that suggestion to rest. Let me recommend the fine books on the topic of Christianity and the Imagination by Dorothy L. Sayers, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Maxine Hancock, Jeremy Begbie, Madeleine L’Engle, James L. Sire and others –these people say it better than I could. Roughly quoting Sayers, my standard answer is that we are created in the image of a creative God, and so we are never more truly ourselves—nor more truly living in His image—than when we are engaged in creativity. I strongly believe that includes the big what-if questions of speculative fiction. Paraphrasing again—C.S. Lewis, this time—what we are will come through in our writing whether or not we consciously try to put it there. Lewis wrote extensively about sehnsucht, the longing for an unseen world that God put in our hearts. The true fulfillment of that longing will only happen in God’s presence—but we can explore aspects of that longing, along with other deep hopes and fears, in speculative fiction.
CFBR: What are some of the speculative fiction titles that you have enjoyed enough to read over and over?
Kathy Tyers: Lord of the Rings, of course. More times than I care to confess. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan novels. C.S. Lewis’s deep space trilogy and Narnia Chronicles. Karen Hancock’s Guardian King series and Zenna Henderson’s stories of the People.
CFBR: What advice would you give to Christian authors who want to write science fiction?
Kathy Tyers: Respect your readers. Everything else is part of that, including good research. For example, if you’re going to write about an evolutionary biologist, then find out what they really believe, how they talk, what they do during the day, and what their personal (and research) goals truly are. Never write a character who’s a two-dimensional doof, but be fair to all viewpoints. Read as widely as you can within your field. Yes, it’s impossible to keep up with what’s being published these days—but do read some of the books your readers will be familiar with. It’ll refresh your mind, suggest new ideas, and give you something to talk about when you get together with your own readers. Finally, just as with any profession, keep your writing in perspective. Your relationships with God and your family come first.
CFBR: Do you prefer to write with music playing, or with only quiet?
Kathy Tyers: Since I’m a musician, music has a deep effect on me. The right music can help propel me through the difficult process of writing a rough draft by setting just the right mood. I need quiet when I edit, though, to make sure the emotions I’m feeling come from what’s on the page—not the background music.
CFBR: Thank-you for the interview Kathy! I’m looking forward to reading the annotated edition of the trilogy as well as the next two novels in the series!