R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers, Part 1

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers, Part 1

Q: Kathy, thank you for agreeing to this interview. And also, thank you for answering my fan letter all those years ago with such a gracious response. Who knew we’d end up here decades later? Did you receive many fan letters back then?

KT: Right … who knew? There was a steady trickle of those letters, and they were mostly about the Firebird books or Star Wars. It was a pleasant surprise to hear from you about Shivering World.

Q: How did the Lady Firebird Yahoogroups list come about?

KT: A fellow who goes by the online name TZ Maverick asked for permission and invited me to participate. That was a new experience! I still think of the folks on the group as friends, though I don’t check in as often as I used to.

Q:  How did this daily exposure to fandom discussion and dialog differ from the pre-internet fan response? How did it affect your writing if at all?

KT: It was a world of encouragement when I needed it. I was living a real-life horror story, and someday I’ll tell that tale. But fandom discussions were quick, fun, and personal. They were also distracting, when I needed to be writing.

Q: As a midlist Bantam author, you received an invitation to contribute original fiction to the Star Wars novel and anthology titles—what would be for many SF authors a “dream gig.” How did that come about and what was your reaction at the time?

KT: Truce was a dream gig. I’d been a Star Wars fan since the first film’s release. Bantam Books originally acquired a license from Lucasfilm for Timothy Zahn’s first set of three Star Wars novels. Their phenomenal success proved there still was plenty of interest in Star Wars—so Bantam acquired a license for an additional book series. At that time, I’d published the first two Firebird novels with Bantam Spectra, another space opera called Crystal Witness and Shivering World. That meant I was “known” at Bantam—and my editor Janna Silverstein was a fellow Star Wars fan. One February day, she called to ask if I would like to be a Star Wars writer. I can still hear the grin in her voice, and it took me quite a while to wipe the grin off my face.

Q: When interacting with fans, do they fall into different camps—that is, Star Wars readers and Lady Firebird readers? Secular fiction readers and Christian fiction readers? Do you find your readers exclusive to one interest over the other or are they overall “well read” on all things Kathy Tyers?

KT: Every reader has favorites. Some of them overlap. What I have in common with all my readers is our enthusiasm for imaginative fiction. But I enjoy meeting them as people even more than discussing books.

Q: Explain the history of the Firebird books at Bantam, Bethany House…..and beyond!

KT: I started writing Firebird in the summer of 1983. It was acquired by Bantam in August 1986 and published in June 1987. Fusion Fire appeared in November 1988. My Bantam editor then asked for a stand-alone novel, so I set the series aside.

I never gave up hope of finishing it, even though I had no idea how it would end. I simply felt committed to the characters and their story. I met Steve Laube, then at Bethany House Publishers, at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in the spring of 1998, and we hoped to make it a five-book series. Within Bethany House, it was cut to three books (Crown of Fire is based on the outlines to books 3 and 5; book 4 simply went away). Those three were published in late 1999, early 2000, and later in 2000. Bethany House reprinted an omnibus three-in-one version in 2004.

In the following years, I met Jeff Gerke at a different writers’ conference. He worked as an editor and author, and we talked science fiction.  We corresponded irregularly then, but he consistently mentioned—or hinted—that he would like to be professionally affiliated. The hints and encouragement got thicker after he founded Marcher Lord Press as an independent, internet-based publishing house for fantasy and science fiction. So in 2010, having finished writing a new Firebird-universe novel (more about that below) and having started a final book in the series, I emailed him a proposal: the whole Firebird series, with no exceptions (except for that unwritten “book 4,” since the events I proposed aren’t possible now). He accepted—immediately! – with his own stipulation: he wanted the republished trilogy to include some features that aren’t available elsewhere. He suggested I read the Annotated Chronicles of the “Dragonlance” series as an example. I did, and then The Annotated Firebird took shape.

It was wonderful to reminisce my way back through Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire. I dug out the notebook of charts, maps, family trees, linguistic brainstorming and other notes I accumulated when writing the series, and I looked for things that might make interesting annotations. Since I also work as a writing teacher, other annotations are writing-method oriented … so readers who aren’t interested in the niceties of point-of-view etc. are welcome to skip those! MLP has scheduled The Annotated Firebird for April 2011 release, to be followed by Wind and Shadow in October 2011 and Daystar some time in 2012.

As they say here in Montana: Yeehaw!

Concluded Friday, February 11

Kathy Tyers Interview Intro

Introduction to R.J. Sullivan Blog interview: Kathy Tyers

I’m breaking format from my “Team R.J.” series to present an exclusive interview with author Kathy Tyers. Kathy is arguably best known as the bestselling author of several mid-1990s Star Wars-related projects, including her novels The Truce at Bakura and Balance Point. Fans of her original fiction are quick to express much love for her Firebird books. The first two titles were released in the late 1980s as Firebird and Fusion Fire by Bantam Books. She released several other original novels in that same time frame, including my personal favorite, Shivering World, in 1991 (more on that).

Tyers partnered with Christian Fiction publisher Bethany House in the early 2000s to produce a rewrite of the first two Firebird books and the new volume Crown of Fire, creating the Firebird Trilogy. (plus a rewrite of Shivering World.) Crown of Fire, for those who followed Kathy’s work closely, read like a thinly veiled confessional as the heroine struggles between embracing fame and glory or answering the call to use her “powers” to serve a greater good.

Now, following a multi-year sabbatical, Kathy is poised to reintroduce herself to both her anxious fan base and to new generation of readers in an industry that’s changed greatly since her previous career “peak”.

I see I haven’t talked about myself in three paragraphs, so to remedy that, here’s my personal story about Kathy. *grin* I discovered Kathy Tyers’ work through a bittersweet circumstance. Her Bantam novel Shivering World was included in my “swag bag” of free goodies at a science fiction convention—typically the efforts of a publisher burning off inventory of an underperforming title and an act that generally does not set a reader’s expectations high. That said, Shivering World completely blew me away with its engaging main character, hard science conundrum and masterful, suspenseful plotting.

Though a lifelong science fiction book reader, I did something after reading Shivering World I’d never done before or since—I composed a gushing fan letter to the author (back then, that meant taking pen to paper and using the snail mail method of delivery). What followed after was a friendly on-and-off correspondence for next several years. Fast-forward to the late 1990s, when the internet and Yahoo-Fan-Groups were developing, and I stumbled upon the Lady Firebird Newsgroup. I plugged in and interacted with Kathy and many of her most enthusiastic fans as she prepared to re-release the Firebird novels. Interaction within the fan group led to many *ahem* passionate discussions, fun friendships, and of course, the “inside scoop” on all things Kathy.

On this forum, I also “met” my mentor, friend, and peer editor Dr. Debra Holland (read our blog interview here), a friendship that has as lasted over a decade.

Then, Kathy suddenly took an extended sabbatical from writing, and for the last few years, and the Lady Firebird group has run on autopilot. But now it appears our patience has paid off as Kathy has plans to launch several exciting new project in 2011 and return in a big way! But I’ll let her tell you.

(The Kathy Tyers Interview parts one and two post Wednesday and Friday)

The NIghtmares Before Christmas Booklist 2010

Tis the season, time flies, and I got caught up in too many things to do this up in a big way. Excuses, excuses.

Still, it’s not too late to support your local horror authors, and here’s a list of books I can personally recommend for that slightly disturbed (but i n a good way!) reader on your Christmas list.

Look up these titles on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites:

The Butterfly Killer (Book 1 of the Monica McDowney Thrillers) by James W. Kirk (paperback and ebook)

Skull Full of Kisses by Michael West (short story anthology) (trade paperback and ebook)

Kingmaker Book 1: The Knights of Bretton Court by Maurice Broaddus (mass market paperback and ebook)

How to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing (paperback only)

Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder (mass market paperback an ebook)

These are not only great books by awesome authors, but great people, too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

“Team R.J.” Blog interview series #2: James Ward Kirk

Welcome to the third in a series of short interviews focusing on “Team R.J.”: people who have influenced, worked with, or played some other vital role in taking me where I am today.

Throwing practical matters out the window, I pursued a creative writing degree at IUPUI. James Kirk and I met as fellow undergraduates, first in creative writing classes, then as co-staff members of the university literary magazine. James also worked in the university library, and after I’d graduated, James went on to receive his masters in literature. He taught literature for the university for several years.

Throughout the time, James remained dedicated to his writing, probably with at least as much passion and focus as I had in my own work. Horror was his genre of choice even then (I saw myself as more of a sci-fi guy, and still do), and his approach of unsettling the reader by dropping them into the viewpoint of mentally unstable characters did much to distinguish his stories. And it’s an approach he continues to use to this day.

Many years and a Facebook connection later, I caught up with James a few months ago and found he was returning to his writing after a long break. Since then, he’s released his first novel, the Butterfly Killer, and has had some success with his short stories.

James W. Kirk will be joining me December 18, noon-3 pm at Artesian Books in Martinsville, where he’s signing his novel The Butterfly Killer. Visit http://www.monicamcdowneythrillers.com/ and http://www.rjsullivanfiction.com for details.

Q: You were a driven, passionate writer when we first met almost…yikes, OVER…20 years ago. When did you get the writing “bug” and what drives you to keep pursuing it?

A: I remember a writing assignment from the third grade.  The teacher read the short story to the class, a comedic kind of story.  It was a hoot.  My classmates loved it and the teacher praised me.

Q: What writers inspired you? What made you pick the horror/psychological thriller genres as “your” genres?

A: I really enjoy John Connolly.  He incorporates the supernatural with the private detective genre.  Of course, I grew up with Stephen King—not literally, dang it.  My favorite film genre is psychological thrillers and horror.  The music I listen to relates well with psychological thriller, horror and the supernatural (Goth Industrial, Goth Metal, Symphonic Goth Metal).

Q: What circumstances caused a break in your writing, and what were the challenges when you returned to it?

A:  First comes love, and then comes James pushing a baby carriage.  Work and family came first.  After the kids were out of the house, I picked up the pencil and paper again.  Creativity never left.  I encountered no problems with the creative process and writing the novel.  The challenges came with the mechanics.  Grammar, sentence structure, passive sentences, bad words: “that” and “had,” and so on.  Thanks to RJ for jogging my memory.

Q: You attended a university campus for many years, worked in the university library, taught classes in your alma mater. How do you think the university environment affected your approach to the publishing business, good and bad?

A: I don’t remember a single instance of an instructor teaching anything at all about the publishing business, even while working on my Master’s degree.  I worked with genesis, the university’s student literary journal as a board member, senior editor, and as faculty advisor.  I did learn about the publishing business to a small degree while working with genesis.

Q: Describe your unique approach to your characters. How do you “psyche yourself up” to get into the bizarre mindset of your characters?

A:  I just be myself.

Q: Tell us about The Butterfly Killer. Include an excerpt.

A: The Butterfly Killer is the first novel of a planned trilogy.  I’ve finished two-thirds of the follow up novel.  I am incorporating Christian spirituality.  The protagonist is chosen by God to metamorphose into an agent against evil.  The protagonist, female, is beginning to catch on by the novel’s conclusion.  The first novel focuses primarily on human evil.  The second novel incorporates the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, demons and saints in addition to just plain mean people.  Excerpt:

——

Engelbert didn’t believe in God. But, of course, God believed in him.

Engelbert pondered this truth, momentarily, as the flames of his life burned cruelly, just like his mother’s final moments, and as his arterial blood sprayed into the very shadows he’d considered his fortress, from his surgically cut throat by the hand of God, He who rules the darkness and its violent dramatis personae, he whispered: there is a God, Momma.

—–

In this instance, “God” is self-proclaimed, the master puppeteer of other serial killers.


Q: Like I did, I know you’re re-approaching old stories from years ago and brushing them off for rewrites. Tell us what that’s like.

A: Taking old short stories and rewriting them was a lot of fun.  I got to see where I was and where I am now.

Q: I remember back in college, a singular science fiction piece in your group of short stories. Do you think you’ll continue to experiment with genres?

A:  I think you’re speaking of the short story entitled Joe.  I don’t think the story was science fiction in the way the novel 1984 is science fiction.  The piece was more of a commentary on society than anything else.  I don’t see any science fiction in my future unless, of course, I turn Joe into a novel.

Q: One consistent aspect to all your fiction is an element of faith and religion. How does your faith affect what you write and how do you weave it into your narrative.

A:  I haven’t been to church in at least a decade.  There’s a lot about organized religion that gets on my very last nerve.  However, I am spiritual and believe in a higher power.  For example, our planet is around three billion years old.  Think about the trillions of events and nonevents leading to me sitting here talking about God.  I don’t believe in coincidence.  The Butterfly Killer contains graphic/adult material.  I don’t think “God” has given it much thought.

Q: Tell us about your sequel novel and anything else going on.

A: I’ve mentioned above the sequel.  I’m also working on an anthology of short stories, some new and some revisions of old short stories.

Follow Indiana Horror Writer and my friend, James W. Kirk, at http://www.monicamcdowneythrillers.com/

“Team R.J.” Blog Inerview Series #1: Debra Holland, Ph.D.

“Team R.J.” Blog Interview Series #1: Debra Holland, Ph.D.

Welcome to the first in a series of short interviews focusing on “Team R.J.”: people who have influenced, worked with, or played some other vital role in taking me where I am today.

In early 2001, “Dr. Debra” and I began an email correspondence after “meeting” on a Yahoogroup for fans of Kathy Tyers. (More about Kathy, I hope, in a future blog interview) Dr. Debra’s genres include science fiction, fantasy and romance. Her line editing skills were miles ahead of mine and I nearly re-learned the craft of writing during our editing sessions. (She is probably still ahead of me …by a few yards. *grin*) Our early manuscript exchanges led to a peer editor partnership that continues to this day, nearly a decade later.

I say in all humility that over this past year, two of my peers released recent novels dedicated to me, specifically for my editing. I’m going on record that any skill I acquired is a direct result of working with Dr. Debra.

Deb’s novel Wild Montana Shy won the prestigious Golden Heart Award in 2001. Her fantasy effort, Sower of Dreams, received praise from none other than the “grand dame of science fiction,” Andre Norton. But it was her expertise as a psychologist that ultimately landed her a recent breakthrough writing deal.

Q: Before we met, where had you acquired your knowledge of fiction style and editing? I remain amazed at what your feedback brings to my stories, and in such an approachable, friendly manner.

A: Aside from being in school for a million years…

I owe my editing skills mostly to Louella Nelson, a wonderful writing teacher. When I started to write fiction, I attended her critique group. Lou spent one half of it teaching us about writing, and the other half critiquing our manuscripts.

My last agent was also a great editor, and I learned a lot from her.

I’ve also read books and articles or attended workshops to improve my craft.

Q: Tell us about your recent book deal!

A: To make a long story short… A writer friend emailed me that agent Jessica Faust had posted on Facebook that she was looking for an expert to write a book on grief. I emailed Jessica, and she invited me to send her a bio. I sent more than a bio. I also included the first chapter on a book on grief in the workplace I’d started, then put aside. I also included a handout I’d composed on Coping with Grief in the Workplace, as well as an article I’d written for the survivors of company-wide terminations. Plus a page on what I thought should go in the book.

The publisher is Alpha Books. They do the Complete Idiots Guides, and are coming out with a new line for more sensitive topics called Essential Guides.

Jessica thought it was great and forwarded everything to the editor. A week later, she emailed me saying I’d gotten it. I was SO excited, but then learned I have a 5 month deadline! So my celebrating is cut short for now while I focus and draft as fast as I can.

My title is: The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, with a tentative release target of October 2011

Q: I notice in your non-fiction, you approach psychology from a decidedly biological approach. Is that a fair comment, and what training/background does this come from?

A: A little. I use a lot about the brain, especially the male and female differences. I’m going to have some of that–a couple of pages–in the grief book. But that’s only 2 out of 320.

I started with the work of John Gray, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, and just kept researching.

I love the work of Daniel Amen: http://www.brainplace .com

Q: Any hopes/plans to return to fiction?

A: Yes. In a recent SF/Fantasy contest entry, the judges gave me a lot of great feedback that I’m itching to apply to Sower of Dreams. But I have to wait…

Q: To me, a Golden Heart-award-winning novel and a fantasy novel with an endorsement from Andre Norton should be no-brainers for any publisher. What do you think your frustration in this area says about the state of publishing?

A:  I don’t know if it’s the state of publishing or my writing… J My historical romance was traditional, not sexy, and that’s just not the market nowadays.

I changed my fantasy and added sex. It actually turned out better. But we never sent it out again.

Q: Okay, enough about you; say something nice about me. J

A: I’m so grateful to have you as a critique partner. I can’t wait until your book is out!

Q: Thank you very much Dr. Debra. A final, personal note: Of my electronic partners, I’ve known you longest and yet, uniquely, we’ve never met in person. Does this amuse you as much as it does me, or should I instead take it personally? J

A: Lol. Take it personally! J Someday…

Follow my good friend Dr. Debra!

http://www.drdebraholland.com

Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s talk Old…er….classic films!

Where do you draw the line between old and modern horror films? It’s easier, perhaps, to pick out classics from any era, but some of my younger peers have an annoying habit of tagging movies I saw in high school as “old.” (Hi, Ash) So okay, let’s discuss.

I base my definition of “modern” on a study of technique, technology, and modern mass appeal. Taking all of those into account, I traditionally draw the line between “classic” and “modern” horror at 1973–specifically, THE EXORCIST. I would argue that except for some funky haircuts, THE EXORCIST could be projected in a theater today and hold the attention of modern audiences without many outdated elements distracting from the experience. It’s shot in modern widescreen, offers a modern soundtrack mix, features editing, pacing and special effects still acceptable today (though it lacks that frustrating quick cut element of the most modern films–which is good thing) and maintains most of its shock value and horrific nature.

If you go back a few more years from 73, you hit the wonderful Roger Corman era with Vincent Price‘s over-the-top antics and pop-off-the screen technicolor that clearly shows its age. And as much as I love the Hammer Films, the cheesy acting and four-chord four-octave music progressions are dead giveaways they go back quite a while.

Sure, the 80s were known for an extended “slasher” period, and I suppose that forms it’s own “classic” subgenre, but I maintain more movies from that era would pass muster than not.

Of course this is just one old(er) man’s opinion. What’s yours? Feel free to discuss in my comments.