Interview: Lydia Kang on joining The High Republic, being a doctor, and writing Star Wars

The High Republic: Cataclysm. Image courtesy
The High Republic: Cataclysm. Image courtesy /

The High Republic publishing initiative is still going strong. With next week’s release of Path of Vengeance, the series will have released a total of three books in less than 30 days. The author of one of those books is brand-new to the initiative, but that didn’t stop her from writing one of the most thrilling books in the series thus far.

Lydia Kang, author of Star Wars The High Republic: Cataclysm, sat down with Dork Side of the Force to discuss her new Star Wars book, what it was like to join the growing team of High Republic writers, and how working in medicine has influenced her storytelling.

Dork Side of the Force: So first I wanted to say congratulations on Cataclysm. And welcome to The High Republic! It’s really, really exciting whenever we have a new face among the team of Star Wars authors in general and we’re all just so excited that you’re here.

Lydia Kang: Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be here — it’s been quite a process. It’s been

DSOTF: You just got back from Celebration, and you were there with the other authors and you got to meet so many fans and other creators. How was that?

LK: Oh my gosh, it was incredible. I think I’m finally just getting over the jet lag, which is nice. It actually wasn’t that bad. I didn’t really suffer. Probably one of the most amazing parts of being at Celebration was meeting all these fans that I had, and not just fans, but also like people who work in Star Wars or in and around Star Wars or do work like you do, like people who are podcasters and bloggers and all that stuff, who I’ve known on Twitter or I’ve known on like websites and stuff like that, and then meeting them in person. It was really, really incredible to put faces to names and Twitter handles. And the enthusiasm was just utterly joyous, I’ve got to say, it was just wonderful.

DSOTF: I remember the High Republic panel they did at Celebration last year and it was the first one they’d done because it was the first time there’d been a Celebration since The High Republic started. And even just being in that room and seeing not just the excitement, but like all the cosplay and everyone just like, an entire room full of people celebrating Star Wars books, I think is probably one of the coolest things I’ve. ever seen in my life.

LK: You know, I really am just — I shouldn’t say astonished, because that makes it sound like I’m surprised that people are reading. I’m not surprised that people are reading, but — every day that goes by there’s so much content out in the world, there’s so much streaming, there’s so many
different places vying for your attention. And to see the sheer number of people who are enthusiastically reading Star Wars and gobbling up more books and excited about more books too, it just makes you so happy because you’re like: OK, something is still right with the world. People still love books. I think everybody behind the scenes, we were all just like floored with happiness over the enthusiasm. It was incredible.

DSOTF: It’s just amazing when you see everything online, you see the enthusiasm there and you see everyone on Twitter being like, oh, I love this book, but when everyone’s there in person together talking about the things that they love and how cool it is that we have these books and we’re getting so many more, it’s great. I hope there are many more opportunities for that to happen because it’s it’s also fun to see all the authors together and all of you just hanging out and, you know, you work together. And you put all these books together. As a team. But when you’re all together and just like, vibing, it’s great.

LK: It is. It is. And like, I’m one of the freshmen of the group. You know, everybody else has been together since pre-Phase One. So with the story architects putting everything together and all that, as a newer member of the group, it was just wonderful to be able to spend more time with them in person and not just on Zoom and. And yeah, the numbers were really shocking to me as an author because I, you know, if I do like a book signing or something like that, like, I’m used to, if it’s a really successful book signing, you’ve got like 20 people there, like 30 people there. That’s like fantastic. And meanwhile, like we filled an auditorium of, like, what was it like, three or four thousand? I mean, incredible. It’s just incredible.

And I’ve been hearing from people who are like. “Oh I have your book. It came in the mail. But I’m getting the Celebration edition, and I’m also getting the Goldsboro edition, but I wanted to
listen to it on the flight over, so I got the audio!” So I had people who bought Cataclysm four times
coming to get them signed, and I’m like, I love you. You’re the best fans ever. It’s amazing.

DSOTF: Well, I mean that’s, when you’re collecting them, you have to have them all. You can’t just have the one. [Editor’s note: This editor has four.]

LK: I know, you’ve got to have them all. But they’re in short supply. So like people really sort of
snatched them up while they could.

DSOTF: I wanted to ask, because all of the authors working on The High Republic, you have your characters and you have the characters that you create in your own stories that are original to you. But then — using Convergence and Cataclysm as an example — you have characters who are in one book that like. one author gets to kind of lay the groundwork for. And then in the next book, there’s another writer, and they’re working with the same characters, and there will be new characters and things like that, but it’s so seamless between the characters you get in the first book and the characters that you get in the continued story in the second book. What is the process that you all go through to make sure that — you know, you’re putting your own spin on the characters, it’s your own voice — but these characters feel like, from one story to the next, they are, you know, the same?

LK: Right. Well, Zoraida [Cordova] and I and our editors and the team like, you know. We we put a lot of thought into say, Xiri and Phan-tu like, just knowing what kind of people they were. Not just what they look like, but — what was their background? How did they grow up? What kind of training have they been through? Where are they in their sort of journey, where are they in their place? In their own worlds? And so we shared a lot of the backstory together, knowing what we
wanted to to lay out, but then, you know after Zoraida had written Convergence, I was sort of reading along every step of the way to see how Xiri and Phan-tu were talking to each other, what
kind of voices they had, what kind of personalities they had. So it was really just me being able to get to know them really well through the writing and making sure that wherever they left off, there were lots of strings for me to pick up and weave together for the second book.

DSOTF: And it turned out very well. And I love seeing that. I love seeing how even just, you know, keeping a close eye on each other’s work, you’re able to bring these characters to life in not just one story, but many stories. That’s one of the many things that makes The High Republic so amazing and so unique in terms of everything that we’ve gotten in Star Wars publishing so far.

LK: And these were fun because in these stories, they were both expansive in a certain way, because we’re looking at this very early young Republic expansion and you’ve got the two chancellors sort of trying to deal with all the politics around it and around the galaxy. But then you also have these really small stories, you know, between Xiri and Phan-tu and they don’t know each other well and they have to get married. And now they’re married . And we have Aida Forte and Creighton Sun from Battle of Jetta coming in  having to pick up those lines and like somehow they all have to weave together. So it was an interesting kind of juggle between these very macro stories of what was happening in the galaxy. And The Path of the Open Hand and then these
micro stories of these different. characters that were thought out. Wen I wrote them, you know, there were basically these dyads all the time. There was, like Creighton and Aida, and there was Xiri and Phan-tu, and there was Gella and Axel. There was a lot of finagling, a lot of juggling. A lot of checking in Zoraida, checking in with George Mann and checking in with Cavan Scott because Cavan was writing Path of Vengeance, which takes place at the same time and in some of the same places as Cataclysm. So there were many conversations happening behind the scenes to make sure that everything was sort of matching up and that we were balancing these things pretty well.

DSOTF: Cataclysm is your first Star Wars novel, and that’s a big thing — to come in to this, and it’s a High Republic adult novel which a lot of people are reading. However, it’s not the first story that you’ve contributed to Star Wars. You started, as many of the authors that we know and love do, with a short story in the From a Certain Point of View [The Empire Strikes Back] anthology. And I wanted to ask how starting with a smaller story that’s still set in the same universe prepared you for working on a whole book.

LK: I mean in some ways it prepared me, but in a lot of ways it did not. Going into writing From a Certain Point of View, it was difficult. It was challenging in that I’m not usually a short story writer. And short stories require a certain different set of skills as far as keeping the story going and the arc nice and tidy. So that was hard. And then I did it. I was also just extremely nervous, never having written in Star Wars at all, about like what if I get the details wrong? You have to say everything right. That is all part of the rules of of the universe. So I was really, really nervous about that. The team at Del Rey [Random House Worlds] and and everybody at Lucasfilm Publishing, they were just like: “No, No, you’re gonna be fine.” And I told them what I wanted to write. They were like, this is a great idea, you’re good.

So I thought it was kind of done there and I thought that was going to be the end of it. I did not know or expect that they were going to offer me a shot at writing a Star Wars book. So I was really caught off guard by that. And then immediately went into panic mode. Like: I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if it’s like writing a short story which I wasn’t even sure I could do, but like it’s another thing, writing a whole book. And let me just say for the record, that I go through this
panic every time I start a book. I’m always like, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to write a book. What am I doing here? I’m like what? How can I do this? I don’t know. It’s kind
of funny, but it is nevertheless a very recurrent theme. I think a lot of writers have this problem. Some of them just aren’t worried about it. But every time I face a blank page, I I have a bit of a panic. But this was again a whole other thing because it wasn’t just in the Star Wars universe, it was in the High Republic and a wholly different thing that I had to get to know. And I had to, you know, all the Luminous Authors are really, really wonderful. But I hadn’t worked directly with them before. And so this was also a little bit different.

And so I guess when it came down to it, somehow it all worked out because the book got written, everybody was fantastic on the team. So, so supportive. I think everybody writes books really differently. Everybody’s got their own kind of method and ways of doing things. And somehow this team is used to working with a lot of different authors that have different ways of doing it, and I had a way of doing it. And they worked with me hand in hand throughout the whole thing, and I learned so much. So much about everything Star Wars writing this book. I felt like in a lot of ways it was more like basic training than writing. The short story was so many layers of, you know of things that I needed to do. To make sure the book was done well and to the standards that I really wanted it to be at. Yeah, I think after now that it’s sort of all over, I’m kind of like I can look back in the year where I was writing this and be like, wow. I can’t believe that actually happened. You made it out alive and everything went great.

But it was definitely challenging, I would say, and I don’t shy away from saying this is like one of the hardest books I’ve ever written for sure, but I think that I’m so proud of how it came out though. I’m so proud of the work that went into it and I’m so pleased that, you know, the people who are reading it are are happy with it, or at least the ones that I know about. I’m probably not going to look much deeper. But no, it’s been wonderful. Like it’s been really fantastic review, so I’m I’m very, very happy.

DSOTF: My philosophy is: I see a tweet praising the book. I like it, and we keep scrolling.

LK: Yes, that’s a good idea. Just keep going. You can’t sort of live in that moment all the time because it’s a weird, very bizarre place for your brain to be in. Probably not healthy after long periods of time, you know. Just like lots of cookies or sugar, shouldn’t be swimming in sugar all the time. Sometimes you need vegetables.

DSOTF:  By day you are a physician. And just because of the nature of the job requires
interacting with a lot of people. I’m curious about how that work has influenced your storytelling in fiction.

LK: That’s a good question. And I can answer this question in a lot of different ways. So one
thing that seeing a lot of people all the time because of my schedule, because of my clinic and I’m seeing patients and stuff like that, is that you have interactions with a large number of people that aren’t necessarily like you, and didn’t necessarily grow up like you, and have different perspectives on everything — on healthcare, on pills, on this disease, on what’s going on in the news. And you
have this really, really privileged ear into the world of many, many people. It’s a very special space to be in. We keep it very, very private. I never write about what happens in the room, in my writing for obvious reasons.

That being said, the exercise in empathy and looking beyond your own world is incredibly valuable. And I think that informs my writing a lot because I feel like it gives me the empathy I need to write characters that are very, very different from myself. So there’s certain characters like Kyong Greylark, which I was very — it was very easy for me to write. We have a
lot in common. So that is a real, you know, write what you know kind of situation, but there are
other characters in the book that are really unlike me. And it was, it’s important, I feel like, to
have that kind of exercise. And and in opening yourself up to the real broad range of human experience. So practicing medicine really helps with that in a lot of ways, I have brought the medical aspects and scientific aspects of my doctoring world into my writing, and not necessarily in Star Wars. I mean, it comes in really handy in fight scenes. Wounds and such. Poisonings and all that. But it also comes in handy in a lot of my other books that I write, so I’ve written about the history of medicine in my nonfiction books. I write these murder mysteries, and there’s a lot of chemistry and pathology and pharmacology and herbology and all that kind of stuff in those books. And it’s very easy to do the research for them, because it’s where my scientific brain

And then I would say in the the way that it’s really informed my writing is that they balance each
other out a lot. So practicing medicine is really very: Treat someone sick. You need to figure
out why they’re sick. Need to figure out how to make them better. And the publishing world is
not as concrete in some ways, and it can be very, very frustrating for a variety of reasons. It is like, no joke, it is a huge emotional roller coaster to be on. And so sometimes the very solidity of like practicing medicine is a perfect antidote to that. But on the flip side of that, sometimes it’s a lot to work in healthcare, it’s really a struggle sometimes, there are a lot of challenges and so — on a day
where I’m not in clinic and I’m opening up my laptop, you know, I’m working in a world where I can kill people and I can save people. And I can create creatures or I can just decide the fates of all
these fictional characters. And I am the God of this little mini-universe. It is incredibly freeing.

So weirdly enough, they balance each other quite nicely. People used to ask me all the time. They were like, how come you didn’t quit medicine when you started writing books? They have really meshed with each other quite nicely. I didn’t expect to have a dual career like this. It’s been pretty astonishing and surprising and so far right now it’s working really great, so I can’t complain.

DSOTF: I had a creative writing instructor tell me once that one of the best ways you can train yourself to be a better writer is to live and experience life and meet people and go places. And it works.

LK: I totally agree.

DSOTF: And it’s really cool that you get to, you know, do that in your everyday life. Just in the nature of what you do. And you get both. You know, you get both of those things and it’s very good.

LK: Yeah, it is. And you know otherwise I think that I would sort of hold myself up in my home like seven days a week and never see anybody. So it actually forces me to get out and be social,
which is helpful. I’m actually really late to the game when it comes to writing. I mean it’s never too late to the game, but I didn’t actually start writing until I was close to. 40 years old, so I had been
practicing as a physician for, like, well over about 10 years. And I had three kids before I started writing. And I I definitely think that my life experiences inform my writing. All the time.

So just, for anybody out there who’s actually thinking about writing or something like that, and they’re sort of like, oh, you know — like, I see these young whipper snappers starting to write when they’re 18 or getting their first book deal when they’re like 19 years old, and you think that everything is too late for you. It’s not really ever too late. My dad actually started writing when he was 70.  So it really isn’t ever too late and it’s probably a very important thing not to directly compare your career or your writing journey with other people, because — it’s like, you know that roller coaster I was telling you about, like, that’s where some of the big lows come from. I think it’s from comparison. So yeah, just a little unsolicited writing advice from yours truly.

DSOTF: I’m so glad that you’re here writing things, writing Star Wars things — I really hope
that you keep doing that. We want more Star Wars from you because you’re doing a great

LK: Oh, thank you so much. That is fantastic to hear.

DSOTF: Thank you for joining the wonderful team of writers working on this particular project. And thank you for taking the time to come and talk to me about it. This has been very, very fun.

LK: Oh, you are so welcome. And thank you so much for having me.

Star Wars The High Republic: Cataclysm is available now wherever you get your Star Wars books.

Review: Lydia Kang’s Cataclysm is an incredibly intense convergence of violence against the The High Republic Jedi. dark. Next

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