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Interview with Kathy Tyers

Kathy Tyers first penned the groundbreaking speculative fiction Firebird Trilogy partly in response to her young girl’s sehnsucht, a “sweetly painful longing for paradise” and the name of a record by Igor Stravinsky. Kathy’s current release is Daystar, the fifth and last novel in the Firebird series.

Kathy, for those who have not yet read the Firebird series, please share how you created the alternate universe and developed the characters that populate it.

Lady Firebird first appeared in a mini-book that I wrote and illustrated in early elementary school. Her story was a space adventure based on a vivid dream. In 1983, right after “Return of the Jedi” was released and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds came to my home town, I discovered that Lady Firebird had grown up and become a fighter pilot … and she wanted to be in a book. It was originally Star Wars fan fiction and utterly unpublishable, but after I finished the first draft, I liked the story and set about rewriting it. I deleted Mr. Lucas’s copyrighted characters, planets, and situations and created my own. When Brennen Caldwell appeared, I knew Firebird had found her real match.

I’ve been asked whether Firebird’s nemesis, her middle sister Phoena, is based on my own sister. Not at all! Firebird’s character had been unconsciously based on “what I would like to be like, if I had reckless courage,” but Phoena’s character was based on “what I might be like, if I were utterly self-centered.” I didn’t do this deliberately, but it became obvious in hindsight.

Phoena’s love interest, Count Tel Tellai, was a gift to me – he appeared in my mind’s eye, standing at the edge of a landing strip near the end of Firebird. Once I realized who he was, I knew I would have to go back through the book and add his story. He came forward as a character in his own right in Fusion Fire.

Kiel and Kinnor Caldwell were predictable fraternal twins, opposites at birth. But because I started writing Wind and Shadow when I was a brand-new theology student (Regent College, Vancouver BC), I made Kiel a student priest – a God-geek like many of my friends. And again, based on some of my own interests.

As Kiel’s opposite, Kinnor became the young action hero. He matured into Daystar’s military loose cannon while Kiel faced the messiah’s arrival as a ranking priest. It was up to Kiel to decide whether this gifted upstart was the real thing or a pretender who might lead Kiel’s loved ones into damnation.

Your story opened the door for other Christian writers in speculative fiction. What do you think of some of the writers’ work that followed you through that door?
The breadth of imagination and the range of theological speculation are wonderful. I keep learning all the time!

What techniques help you maintain realistic characters when writing about an alternate universe?
I’ve already hinted that authors draw on their own nature when developing original characters. Who was it that said, “Writing is easy. Just open a vein”? Whether or not blood is spilled, you splash part of yourself onto every page. There you are for the world to see. That’s one thing that makes rejection so devastating and publication so intimidating.

What sparked your idea for Daystar?
Having set the Firebird story in a messianic family, I had wondered whether I should try and write that tale. But I’d seen messiah novels done badly, with characters who stood one-to-one for John the Baptist, Caiaphas, etc. – and the same miracles Jesus performed in first-century Palestine. After 2 ½ years at Regent, thinking through Jesus Christ’s relationship with His creation on a deeper basis than before, I started to feel obligated to try writing a story that showed the same essential character, in the same relationship with creation, living out a different story under different circumstances.

You have many fans that will be sorry to hear that Daystar concludes the series. As the writer, how does it feel to say goodbye to this world?
I feel sad but strangely content. There’s a sense of mission accomplished that I didn’t expect. Some day, I would love to go back and read all five books in order. But first, there are many other authors whose work I want to read now.

Any new sehnsucht experiences? Do you have a novel in progress?
My years at Regent were full of sehnsucht. My theology was deconstructed and rebuilt on a stronger and deeper Biblical foundation. The sehnsucht mystery—the heartbreakingly beautiful sense of faith and wonder—is back!

And yes – I have a new space adventure novel barely started and a contemporary rural fantasy all but finished.

When I read reviews of your Firebird series, a recurring comment is how your readers enjoy that the Scripture does not get in the way of the story. Other readers look forward to the Biblical references. How do your faith and spiritual life integrate with your storytelling?
C.S. Lewis said that what a writer is will show up in his or her writing, whether or not he/she tries to put it there. My job is to tell a good story, using every tool in my writing toolbox – point of view, vivid verbs, etc. – and to let my worldview inform my characters’ words and actions. I also enjoy teaching other hopeful writers to use those tools.

I’m excited to ask you…If I could go back or forward in time….
I’m grateful to live exactly when and where I do. How’s that for an unoriginal answer? But especially after Regent, for me the adventure is right here.

Any parting thoughts?
Thanks for this chance to show how Firebird’s saga has been the story of my heart. I’ve loved the journey. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Thanks for sharing with us, Kathy!

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