It’s hard not to be geeky with Kiersten White. For hardcore “Star Wars” fans, there are a number of questions they’ve been dying to ask since Disney and Lucasfilm Ltd. brought in White to write “Padawan”. The young adult novel, slated for release in July, will focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s formative years. To hear her say it, the Carlsbad-based writer says that not too long ago she had little hope of writing a “Star Wars” book.
“I had given up,” says White, who originally met with the “Star Wars” storyboard team more than four years ago to pitch ideas. “I just thought they had moved on and didn’t feel like I was a good candidate. Then they asked me to contribute a story to this anthology, but even after that I thought that was it.
The anthology she is referring to was “From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back”, a collection of short stories by various writers centered on monumental events from the original 1980 film, but told from the point of view of a secondary or unknown character. Then, early last year, she received an email asking if she would be interested in writing about one of the franchise’s most iconic characters.
“I was like, ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi, are you kidding me?’ It was like the one thing I couldn’t say no to,” White says.
Until she was approached to write “Padawan,” however, White says she was trying to get away from the YA genre despite being one of the genre’s most successful writers. Over the years, she’s written dozens of YA novels and series, including the bestselling “Camelot Rising” and “And I Darken” trilogies. She loved writing these stories but had long hoped to get out of the YA box to start other projects, including an adult novel.
“I feel like I got a lot braver,” White says. “Early on in my writing, I was very limiting in what I would engage with in terms of topics, tones, and ideas. As I became more confident in myself and my writing, I expanded the number of things I’m willing to engage with on the page and in storytelling.
Those things include suspense, horror and decidedly adult themes in “Hide,” her debut novel for adults due out May 24. -and-seek competition in Italy and how “deadly” it sounded.
“You invite a group of people to come to an abandoned resort in the middle of nowhere and tell them they’re going to play hide and seek,” White explains. “I’m sorry but this feels like the start of a horror movie to me.”
There are a number of reasons White cited for why she was reluctant to tackle “Hide” over the years. Some are practical, everyday things like raising a family (she has three children), but some are more nuanced. First, there’s the element that it’s sometimes hard to get out of a genre once an author is known for it.
“For years, I would approach ‘Hide’ and back, and approach and back, until I was finally in the right space to fully commit,” White says. “I’ve had success in young adulthood and it’s a very female-dominated genre. It’s an area where female writers can do well, but take the ‘And I Darken’ books – if I was a man and hadn’t been published in YA before, these would have been published as adult novels.
“It’s an interesting industry in that there’s this assumption that if you’re a female writer, you’re going to write for children,” White continues. “There’s the idea that if you’re doing well in this area, why take a chance on anything else?”
The other reason for White’s reluctance to tackle adult themes is a bit more personal. During our interview, she mentions the more conservative side of her family, many of whom still live in Utah, where White grew up until moving to San Diego in the early 2000s. Raised in the Mormon faith, White says her family was very supportive of her early dreams of becoming a writer, but adds that the Mormon community as a whole has “very rigid gender roles.”
“Telling me I wanted to be a writer was okay, but for most women it was like ‘you have to be a nurse or a teacher,'” White recalled. “It was this perspective of, ‘you have to have some kind of challenging job if you have a job at all, which you probably shouldn’t.’ That was the general consensus when I was growing up.
White no longer practices Mormonism and says it’s likely most of his family won’t like “all the swearing” and the topic of “Hide.” Still, she thinks some of them will find something to love in her “Sinister Summer” books, a new mid-level novel series about a set of twins solving mysteries at various theme parks and resorts. The first two books in the series, “Wretched Waterpark” and “Vampiric Vacation” are released in June and September respectively. She says writing for an even younger audience was just as challenging as writing for adults.
“Intermediate level novels are much more difficult to write than mature or grown-up books,” says White. “It’s much more difficult to find the right tone and rhythm. It was another moment where I felt like I had to improve as a writer before I started.
So while she’s been putting those books on the back burner for a while, White says the pandemic has given her a lot more free time to tackle those projects. And even with the internal and external voices telling her that maybe she should just stick with the YA genre, she says she’s glad to have finally achieved a lifelong dream — that she “has found the courage to take that leap into something new.”
“There’s a part that has to do with how I was raised, but I also felt like I just wasn’t able to engage with certain ideas,” White says. “As I’ve grown and matured, I finally feel like I can.”
Mysterious Galaxy presents Kiersten White
When: 7 p.m. on May 24
Or: Mysterious Galaxy, 3555 Rosecrans St., #107, Midway District
In line: mystgalaxy.com
Combs is a freelance writer.