Hi, readers! Today I’d like to introduce you to Karen Harris Tully, author of The Faarian Chronicles, a fun YA sci-fi series with a strong female protagonist, and environmental and racial issues that seem quite pertinent to our current world.
Karen, please tell us what your series is about, and what inspired it?
The Faarian Chronicles is about a teen gymnast, Sunny, who finds out she’s half-alien and has the worst custody agreement in the universe. She has to go live with her mother on another planet where she has to fight giant, mutant birds, blood-sucking kidnappers, and a mother who only wants to give orders. Needless to say, there’s a lot of teen angst going on.
I get a lot of my ideas from these crazy vivid dreams I have. I started writing them down, years ago, and some of them fit together, telling me a story about this teen girl from Earth who has to go to another planet and fight these crazy, man-eating birds, and I wanted to know what happened. But of course the dreams didn’t tell me all of it. They gave me the basis of Sunny’s story, her character, the premise, the environment, and some key scenes. So really quite a bit, and then I started imagining, awake, how those scenes fit together, the other characters, how Sunny got to be there, and what happened next in her story. And how it ended, because I really wanted to know how it ended.
Some people might say that sounds like an easy way to do it, but it was only an easy way to get started. I had bits and pieces from what turned out to be three books, only I didn’t know that at the time. I just thought I was writing one book and it became way, way, way too long. Still, I love my dreams, well not all of them, seriously I have some doozies, but so far I don’t have problems coming up with story ideas.
That’s fantastic! Let’s now talk about one of the cool details in your story. Your main character, Sunny, has green hair because she is part alien and her hair contains chlorophyll, which reflects only the green color of the light spectrum. What informed this and other cool aspects of your characters and environments? What kind of research did you to do create these fantastic worlds?
Well yeah, Google is my friend. And the library, of course. Once I had the idea of a ravaged, low-oxygen environment that still barely supported human life, a Goldilocks planet orbiting in a binary star system, and humans (originally from Earth) who over thousands of years had developed this chlorophyll mutation that helped them to thrive with two suns, and then that mutation became necessary as deforestation became a major problem, well I had a lot of research to do. And I guess I was stubborn in asking and imagining answers to the question “How could that be possible?” rather than saying, “Oh no, that’s too far-fetched.”
My recollection from science class was vague on how chlorophyll works, how some plants, like the red maple, are partly green and partly red, etc. So I Googled it. I was not able to come across any studies of people with chlorophyll in their genes or how that could work, but, hey, it’s fiction and I ran with it anyway. I did come across a study from a top university (which one I can’t remember at the moment) that showed, purely theoretically, that binary star systems could produce more Goldilocks planets than other types of solar systems, so I used that for justification that I could keep my planet with two suns. And so, so many other things were combinations of science that I looked up, smooshed together with my dreams and imaginings.
Wow. I also love the way gender roles are treated in your books, especially how women and girls are expected to be strong and fight, and how Sunny’s mom is a high-ranking warrior official. Why is it important for you to write strong female characters?
You know, I don’t think I even noticed it growing up, that most action-adventure stories were male dominated, it’s just the way it was. And I loved Harry Potter so much, seriously, that’s what made me want to be an author (yes, my dream started a bit late). So, that’s when I started writing, and I realized that as much as I love Harry Potter, it’s 2/3 male. For every major female character, there are two males in equivalent roles. And I was kind of pissed, because I didn’t notice it for a long time, and it seemed like no one else noticed or cared. So then I started seeing it everywhere in books and movies that I loved: Ender’s Game, Star Wars and Star Trek, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Princess Bride, super hero stories, and so many others. I felt like there were so few girls and women to look up to in action and sci-fi, we were just tokens. But no one seemed to notice. And I thought, if an action novel was female dominated, people would definitely notice. And it would probably limit my readership, but I did it anyway. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised that men I know who’ve read it have had super nice things to say, and yes, they totally noticed that there are few male leads.
That’s probably why I loved Trixie Belden, and then Sara Paretsky, and later Xena and Buffy and Dark Angel. A female lead who kicked butt and didn’t take any crap? Yes please. And the Ancient Greek myth of the Amazons had always stuck with me. What happened to these women warriors? That was another piece that got a lot of research. Were they ever real and where did they go? The archeological evidence seems to point to yes, that women warriors were real, though highly fictionalized by Homer. And they probably eventually assimilated into other Mesopotamian cultures through constant war and conquering. But that was just sad, and my brain kept asking, what if. What if, instead of constant war with patriarchal societies, the Amazons got a better offer to go someplace else? What if they could have lived and produced their own dominant culture? What would that look like now? And there you have Sunny’s people, the Faarians.
The environmental and racial issues in your books are so timely, and the books present issues for examination without being preachy. What kind of discussions about the environment and race do you hope your readers will engage in after reading your books, and where do you hope those conversations will go?
Whoa, that’s tough. And thank you. If I’ve succeeded in not being preachy, it’s probably because I don’t have any answers. I started out with questions and wanted to explore the world of “what if”? Because it seems to me that maybe our patriarchal society wasn’t the only option at one point in history. Nor our racial relationships, nor our relationship with our environment. I really like the idea of alternate realities. What if, through a series of other, long ago choices, humans took a different path? Could there ever have been the possibility of utopia? Peace between diverse peoples and our planet? Obviously I have not written a utopia. These people have definite prejudices and problems. What I’ve written is just a different, severely imperfect path.
So, I guess I want readers to ask themselves, are we, is our society the way we have to be? The things we take for granted as “the way it is”, between men and women, between races, and between humans and the planet we rely on, how much of those relationships are choices that we consciously and unconsciously make every day? What if we chose differently until there was a new “normal”? With all of humanity’s strengths and obvious weaknesses, is some better world even possible? I think asking these questions, over and over, is important. I don’t claim to have a formula for a better world, but I have faith that one is possible.
Sunny, your protagonist, was a competitive gymnast back on Earth. Are you a gymnast as well, or did you research heck out of gymnastics for your story? And how do you know so much about fighting/martial arts?
I did gymnastics for about a minute as a kid, and was terrible at it, so that’s a big, laughing no. But I’ve always admired the heck out of elite gymnasts, the men some, but mostly the women. They’re like the female super-heroes of sports. The muscles, the flexibility, the sheer toughness, and the amazing tricks! I’ve always been fascinated watching them, especially during the Olympics. So I did as much research as I could online, I follow some gymnastics tumblr accounts, etc, but in the end, I really just got lucky. I went to the PNWA conference in 2014, when my first book, Exile, was on its 3rd or so draft and met a writer who used to be a gymnast at a pretty high level. Michelle agreed to give my book a read-thru and critique the gymnastics specifically and my writing in general. She was super helpful.
And the martial arts answer is sort of similar. I did several general martial arts classes in college, mostly Tae Kwan Do and self defense, but never reached any sort of level. But I’m lucky that my good friend and critique partner, author Bethany Maines, is a 4th degree black belt. There have been times when she’s said to me, “Um no, that would never work. Here, try this.” And then she makes some amazing suggestion that’s way better than what I had. I’ve learned a lot from both of them.
Will there be a third book? If so, when do you think it will come out?
Yes! I have the first (very rough) draft of the third book done to finish up The Faarian Chronicles trilogy. It needs a ton of work, but I’m aiming for fall 2017. I’ll post updates on my website: www.karenharristully.com and readers can find me on Facebook at Karen Harris Tully.
Karen, thanks so much for spending time with us today.
It’s always a pleasure, G.G. Thank you for having me!
Readers connect with Karen at the links below!
• Website: www.karenharristully.com
• Facebook: Karen Harris Tully
• Twitter: @KHarrisTully
Karen Harris Tully creates elaborate worlds for her novels aided by her bachelor’s in political science and economics. She’s the author of The Faarian Chronicles, published with Blue Zephyr Press. After growing up in the snowy mountains of Colorado, Karen experienced the traffic nightmare of Seattle before accidentally realizing she’s a small-town girl. She happily lives in Raymond, WA, singing karaoke with her amazingly supportive husband, beautiful son and daughter, and one disgruntled feline.