Secrets Of The ‘Firebird’ Story
With this month’s release of Daystar, one of the most popular Christian space-opera series ever, the Firebird novels, is now complete. Now, author Kathy Tyers (who also wrote Shivering World and the Star Wars expanded-universe novel New Jedi Order: Balance Point), shares more about the story behind the story.
I didn’t start writing science fiction for the Christian market. I was a young mom who needed a creative outlet, who’d just seen the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly an air show, and who’d left the third Star Wars movie disappointed because there was no love interest for Luke Skywalker. So my original story spark wasn’t particularly spiritual or intellectual, but the emotional need for a good story. It grew in directions I didn’t expect, and I’m grateful! The spiritual elements in the original Firebird (Bantam Books, 1987) were subtle. It was a cultural conversion story, not a spiritual parable – but I’ve always written in “layers.” Once I know who my characters are and what predicament they’re in, I hear them speaking to each other long before I see them. Settings come even later. I write multiple drafts of everything, even emails. Layering makes me a slow writer, but it’s important to my process.
So teasing out Firebird’s underlying history and spirituality, and layering it into the novels as I rewrote them for Bethany House, was a natural, organic part of what I do.
Reading the discussion that ensued here after my first interview [April 29, 2011] at first I just sat back and shook my head. It’s a space opera—essentially an adventure-romance story—and the primary story is the characters’ story. Whatever back story has been layered in, it’s primarily the historical aspect of the setting, an attempt to give the characters’ lives the richness of reality.
But for better or worse, fascinated as I was by the Hebrew language, I drew on Hebrew words for my “good guy” character’s family history. In early versions of the Firebird books, I deliberately separated my story world from reality. Later, my thesis professor at Regent College challenged me: Since I’d fallen to a temptation common to Christian speculative novelists by borrowing Hebrew words, I should link the Firebird universe more solidly with ours. By then, I’d already invented the telepathic Sentinel group. I’d already been challenged by some of my friends to make sure I didn’t claim that God hadn’t originally made humans “good enough.” The idea that the Sentinels were survivors of genetic experiments, duty-bound to use their unusual abilities for the good of others, seemed to work. Naturally there would be individuals who used those gifts for evil. They made Firebird all the more fun as a space opera. Real villains!
To create the continuity Loren Wilkinson (my prof) wanted, I added a richer alternate history–but it’s so far in the dim past that my characters don’t know it.
In this alternate universe, when Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary, she focuses on the shame that her pregnancy could bring upon her loved ones, and she declines the honor. The same Lord who let Adam and Eve rebel also allows Mary this choice. (Human freedom as the greatest gift after life itself is a major theme in Daystar.) Her decision utterly changes human history. Within a year, an Earth-orbit-crossing asteroid that would have bounced harmlessly but dramatically off Earth’s atmosphere (with angelic help), guiding the magi to Bethlehem, slams into the Mediterranean instead. Civilization barely survives. The human race develops technology without Christianity. We despoil Earth and leap to the stars in a great wave of space colonization. The Davidic family survives simply because God’s promises will not be broken.
The cycle repeats on Ehret, a world where the Sentinels’ ancestors are genetically modified … and yes, Ehret is derived from the Hebrew eretz, “earth” or “world.” I still don’t know why Jewish settlers had such a strong influence on that world’s settlement. But the sacrifices offered in the Ehretan temple – that memory the Sentinels pass down telepathically, as recounted in Daystar and Fusion Fire – testify that some Ehretans represent faithful descendants of Earth’s righteous Jews.
Also note that the fictional the holy books Dabar and Mattah don’t include any of our familiar prophets. In this alternate universe, Mary’s refusal – like Adam’s fall – was anticipated, and so God inspired different prophets.
The idea that the same God might demonstrate his unchanging character differently under different circumstances was another impetus behind Daystar. There’s no character who’s supposed to be John the Baptist, for instance. I tried to write parables that would be meaningful to this Messiah’s audience, and to show miracles that would demonstrate his authority over creation—and love for it—in a different setting. Have I missed some details? Yes, I’m sure! But it’s a messiah tale, not a gospel. It focuses more closely on the people around him than on his life story, like The Robe or Ben-Hur, stories I enjoyed years ago.
I wanted to tell another emotionally satisfying story—and give people a fresh perspective on how wonderful Jesus is. I also had a bit of fun in both Wind and Shadow and Daystar with the creeping Gnosticism I see around me. Both books challenge the Gnostic idea that if something is non-physical, it’s intrinsically superior to ordinary, physical, created matter. Including our bodies.
Thanks for reading.
The Annotated Firebird (Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire), Wind and Shadow, and Daystar are now available from Marcher Lord Press. So is an inexpensive, limited-time offering of the first book in the five-book series, Firebird: Book One of the Annotated Trilogy, for Nook or Kindle. Daystar or Wind and Shadow can be read on their own, since they focus on new characters in new generations. For details, visit KathyTyers.com or MarcherLordPress.com.
I love to read how different authors found their story. Good post, Kathy 🙂
Okay, this is all absolutely fascinating! Now I must read your book. 🙂
Just bought it on Kindle. *rubs hands eagerly* Can’t wait to read it…
Oooh, this is fascinating! I love playing with alternate history, and I’d wondered since reading Fusion Fire (way back in 2004, I think!) if Ehret and Netaia’s histories were related to ‘ours’ at all! Glad to know my suspicions were correct 🙂
I just want to say, though, there are two stories that have impacted my decision to write – Lord of the Rings inspired my imagination, but the Firebird series (the first three, haven’t had chance to read the new ones yet) were the ones that made me need to tell my own stories.
I thought I read Firebird…maybe it was a different novel with the same name? Because the one I read had a woman with a genetic disorder who had come to another planet in hopes of under-cover treatment…
*sets off to Google*
Galadriel, try our Library author page for Kathy Tyers. You may be referring to Shivering World, at least based on your description.
AH-HA! Thanks. Now to find a proper copy of Firebird.
I really enjoyed reading the first 3 years ago, especially that first one! It was such a beautiful picture of God’s love and His amazing design of marriage! I’m eager to read these new ones now too! I have the old ones sitting on my shelf – treasures I found at library booksales. 🙂
Now, did Firebird start out as a Star Wars novel? Because the good guys are very Jedi and the bad guys are very Sith. Also lightsabers. 🙂
Also, I noticed that you beat up on Brennan a LOT. Is he your favorite character? I had to stop reading after book 2, because I liked Bren so much, and I was becoming distressed about the awful stuff he went through in book 2. (Like, watching-Toy-Story-3-for-the-first-time distressed.)
Oddly enough, I had recalled a lot of violence done to Brennan in book 2, Fusion Fire, when I first read that volume (Bethany House all-in-one version). When I re-read the book, though (Marcher Lord Press The Annotated Firebird), the violence seemed less. My guess is that little changed in the substance; I had simply become “desensitized.”
Hi Kathy — it’s me again 😀
First, @ Burnett, Brennen gets beat up in every book he’s in 😀 — from Phoenia and her sonic stuff on. He tries to die so many times 😀
@ Kathy — now that it’s officially finished, any chance you would be willing to release onto your website some of your Brennen backstory? — what did happen at Gemini?
Now that you are done with this series – I can’t wait to read this last book that I’m saving for vacation – is a continuation of the Shivering World story something that you’re considering? I’ve always wondered what happened next!
[…] “what-if’s?” of a situation. Kathy Tyers, a long-time favorite author of mine recently did a guest post on the Speculative Faith blog. In it, she describes some of the “what-if” behind her ideas for her Firebird […]