A few decades ago, in a city far, far away, a young girl began reading a lot of books.
She had a decent number of books in her Baltimore home, but the collection wasn’t extensive, so sometimes she read them over and over again until she had practically memorized them. And, of course, she watched Star Wars movies.
Later, the girl became a doctor and then an author, penning a diverse catalog of adult historical fiction, plus young adult and nonfiction books.
But even with 10 published volumes to her credit, Dr. Lydia Kang was a bit intimidated when the publishing arm of Lucasfilm Ltd. asked her if she would be interested in writing a Star Wars novel.
Kang, an internist with Nebraska Medicine, said she initially had the same reaction she’d had in 2020 when asked to write a short story for a 40-story Star Wars anthology. “The Empire Strikes Back: From a Certain Point of View” celebrated the 40th anniversary of the blockbuster film.
“My initial instinct was, ‘Absolutely not, I can’t do this,’” Kang recalled of her 2020 response. “Because I know how deeply loved this world is, and I know how very intense the fandom can be. And I was so worried that I wouldn’t do a good job.”
“... And my husband, who’s a huge Star Wars fan, looked at me and said, ‘You have to do this. Lucasfilm is asking you to write something. How can you say no?’”
She wrote the story, called “Right Hand Man.” Like others in the anthology, the story was told from the point of view of a lesser character in the movie. In her story, that character was 2-1B, the surgical droid tasked with giving Luke Skywalker a robotic hand after he loses one in a lightsaber duel with the evil Darth Vader.
Kang said she felt comfortable writing the story from the droid’s perspective because it was a familiar one. “I know what it’s like to take care of people who are hurt, and who are in a lot of pain, a lot of different kinds of pain,” she said.
But a novel was, well, a novel. Again, her husband, Dr. Yungpo Bernard Su, encouraged her. The couple have three children, two in college and one in high school.
So Kang wrote. Her new Star Wars novel, “Cataclysm,” will be released in April. It’s a sequel to “Convergence,” part of a new phase called the High Republic, which is set several hundred years before the events of “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.”
“Convergence,” by Zoraida Córdova, was released last week.
Kang said she can’t say much about her novel. But it involves a character named Axel Greylark and two chancellors of the Republic, one of whom is Greylark’s mother, Kyong Greylark.
Axel Greylark is featured on the cover of the novel. Kang said readers can infer from the cover that Axel is trouble: He’s not a Jedi, but he’s holding the lightsaber of the Jedi on the cover of “Convergence.”
“There are a lot of characters in the book with a lot of different, pretty important story arcs, and it was definitely a challenge to make sure they all entwined right,” she said. “... I would say it’s probably one of the most challenging works I’ve ever had to write.”
Star Wars, she said, comes with a lot of canon and tradition that an author has to respect and work around. “But at the same time, you’re creating something new, and it’s a very dynamic experience,” she said.
Readers also can gather from the cover that Axel Greylark is of an Asian ethnicity, something Kang, 51, didn’t see a lot in Star Wars or other movies while growing up.
“I can’t tell you how remarkable that feels to me as someone who grew up with these stories as part of my culture ... finally seeing somebody on the cover who looks like they could be my son or my family,” Kang said.
Another perk: Kang was able to give Greylark’s mother the same name as her own, Kyong. “It’s a Korean name, and that feels incredibly special,” she said.
But while Kang has long been interested in writing, it took her a while to try her hand at it.
She didn’t try in earnest until she was an attending physician, starting with essays about patient care after moving to Omaha in 2005. From there, she branched into poetry. In 2009, she read some young adult novels, which were engaging and fun to read. She recalled thinking, “Maybe I could do this.”
Her husband, a medical oncologist with Nebraska Cancer Specialists, told her to go for it. “He never questioned for a second that this was a waste of time or some silly hobby,” she said. “He was just always very supportive of it.”
She wrote one book and then a second, but couldn’t get an agent. But she kept getting little bits of positive reinforcement along with the rejections — so many rejections.
The third book, a science fiction novel called “Control,” clinched her career as an author. It’s set in a future where genetically altered people are shunned by society. She got a literary agent and sold the book to a publisher.
“I just kept trying,” she said. “I just really wanted to do this.”
And she kept working at it, going into it with the mindset that the only way to get better was to work on her craft.
“I’m still learning,” Kang said. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning, really. That’s how writing is, I think. It’s constantly a challenge, which is what makes it fun. The second that it gets boring and easy, I wouldn’t want to do it anymore. Half of the fun is the challenge of it, which is also probably why Star Wars was a particularly fascinating experience, because I was so scared to do it.”
As for the future, Kang has more contracted writing for Lucasfilm Ltd.’s publishing arm still to come. She also has a contract to write another nonfiction book about pseudoscience with Nate Pedersen, her co-author on two previous nonfiction books: “Patient Zero: A Curious History of the World’s Worst Diseases” and “Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.” The pseudoscience book, which will debunk things such as crop circles and a flat earth, probably will come out in 2024.
She set her four adult historical novels in New York City, where she spent about a third of her life to date attending college, medical school and then training and practicing for the first few years. Her dream now is to write an adult novel set in Omaha or rural Nebraska.
“I’m ready to start writing about where I live now,” she said. “... Omaha is very near and dear to my heart now, and I’d love to do that.”
As for Star Wars fans, Kang said, they have been very welcoming. She hopes to have a book-signing event in Omaha in April.
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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.
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