Please Welcome...Kathy Tyers
What a joy to have Christian author Kathy Tyers as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
After our great four-month series of interviews with fantasy authors (the Fantasy Four) I'm pleased to bring you something from the realm of science fiction.
Kathy has been writing science fiction since 1983. She almost single-handedly blazed the trail for SF in Christian publishing. She has also written two Star Wars novels, which is one of the many reasons I'm proud to call Kathy my friend. Look up the Star Wars titles The Truce at Bakura and New Jedi Order: Balance Point and you'll see Kathy's name there.
With Steve Laube as her champion (see the interview with Steve here) she published her Firebird series of Christian science fiction: Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire at Bethany House. Any editor who knows anything about Christian speculative fiction knows about Kathy and the SF series that started it all.
Three of her SF novels were originally published by a secular company
(Bantam Spectra) but Steve brought them to the CBA in his role as
acquiring editor at Bethany. Kathy likes to say that one of her
novels, Shivering World, contains probably the only Communion
service in secular SF.
Kathy is a popular mentor with the
Jerry B. Jenkins
Christian Writer's Guild and is earning her Master of Christian
Studies degree at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what's going on in your life.
Kathy Tyers: I’ve been a widow since 2004. To call Mark’s last years “stressful” would be an understatement. This is why I haven’t published a new novel in so long. After his struggles were over, I spent a year re-examining my own life, and then—to my surprise—I realized how badly I wanted to go back to school.
Regent College in Vancouver, BC, is one of the few places in North America where people who aren’t looking to go into full-time ministry can study alongside Master of Divinity and Th.M students. The Master of Christian Studies degree, with an emphasis on Christianity and the Arts, looked like something I wanted to try. That’s a long stretch out of a fifty-something widow’s comfort zone, but I kept thinking “if not now, when?”
I’ve been here for two of the richest years of my life. To complete the degree, I’ve got to prepare an “Integrated Project in the Arts and Theology” or IPIAT. This will include a publishable work in my field and a theological paper analyzing its sources and themes. God willing, there’ll be a new Firebird-universe novel out looking for a publishing house next summer. The working title is Wind and Shadow.
WhereTheMapEnds: How exciting, Kathy! I'm so glad to hear you've found your center. And that you're writing again. So what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Kathy Tyers: I discovered speculative fiction in junior high, via Lord of the Rings. At that time, the pleasure of having a secret life in another world was probably its greatest draw. I kept calling it my favorite SF work when I started writing. By then, my reason was the depth and excellence of its worldbuilding.
It’s still my favorite, even though I can’t read it anymore—I’m too familiar with it, in both book and filmic versions—but once again, my reasons have changed. Tolkien’s deep faith shines through that epic in a way that is subtle and absolutely convincing.
Our Western culture is built on two Christian pillars. Go back enough generations, and you'll find that all of our ancestors were Roman Catholic—and the Protestant Reformation shaped the political and economic framework that now operates the globalizing society and the way each one of us perceives the world. Deep, deep down behind all of that—and above it and around it—and in each of our lives, Christ is still building His church.
Trying to write an essay (or an interview answer!) that makes this readable and believable is much too difficult. Showing it in an epic fantasy, though—without mentioning His name, but showing Him as Lord of creation and providence—was part of Tolkien’s subtle genius.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Kathy Tyers: I wanted to write speculative
fiction—not Christian speculative fiction. I am a Christian.
Where the market places my work isn’t my responsibility.
There’s the art—what comes out of your heart—and that can’t be taught. Then there’s the craft, which requires study and discipline. Finally, there’s the business, which is how the stories will (hopefully) reach the thousands of Christians who love to read speculative fiction!
WhereTheMapEnds: I love the way you've broken it down. That's so true. So, Kathy, how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Kathy Tyers: I’d gone through one of those maddening spells of throwing myself against closed doors, and I’d finally decided that no one was publishing Christian science fiction in 1997. So I came to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference with a proposal for a real-world, contemporary women’s novel. I was determined to do whatever God asked me to do, even if it meant giving up my dream of reviving and finishing the Firebird series. That was the conference at which I met Steve Laube.
That introduction was the meeting of desire-to-write and
desire-to-publish that writers dream about. Its rarity is why it has
always been hard to break into print.
WhereTheMapEnds: Those of us who love Christian speculative fiction all owe a debt of gratitude to Steve, not only for what he did for you but for what he did and continues to do for the industry. So what is your favorite speculative genre to read, Kathy? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Kathy Tyers: One of my profs recently took me through a guided study of books he considered science fiction classics. The list included Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, and Mary Doria Russell’s chilling Sparrow and Children of God.
I concluded that I’ll probably never write sociological SF—my education is just too shallow. But I remember enough science from my undergrad days (my first degree was in microbiology) to speak that language, as well as the languages of love, wonder, and adventure.
For the moment, therefore, I’m returning to space opera (like the Firebird books). Wind and Shadow focuses on the pre-Messianic themes of the Firebird series. When I wrote the original series, I knew perfectly well that I wasn’t qualified to touch on deeper theological themes. After two years in theology school I feel even less qualified. Fools rush in, though—so here I go!
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Kathy Tyers: I’ll recommend three books for people
who want to write science fiction:
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, Orson Scott Card’s
Characters & Viewpoint, and a little treasure on
imagining believable planets by Stephen L. Gillett and Ben Bova,
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Kathy Tyers: Read well-written books. Read deeply in your field and widely in other fields. Write your passion. And be willing to re-write it until it shines.
Also, keep your priorities straight: your relationship with God comes first. Your responsibilities to others, especially your family, are next. Writing, like any other profession, comes third!
That's All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Kathy Tyers. Be sure to visit Kathy online.
And if you missed the previous months' interviews with other speculative authors, including Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins, Karen Hancock, Tosca Lee, and Ted Dekker, you can read them here.
And be sure to come back next month for an interview with another mover and shaker in the world of Christian speculative fiction.