I Interviewed Kelly Gay! – A Primer for HALO: RENEGADES

I hope your calendars are marked for February 19th because we are just days away from the release of Halo: Renegades!

We’re barely a quarter of the way into 2019 and we’ve already received a wealth of amazing Halo content – from the monthly releases of Anne Toole’s Lone Wolf comic series, to Cassandra Clarke’s deep-dive into the invasion of Meridian in Halo: Battle Born, not to mention the announcement of the Halo: Outpost Discovery experience

But this is what I have been looking forward to most: the continuation of Rion Forge’s story in her search for the long-vanished UNSC Spirit of Fire.

To learn more about what’s next for Rion and her crew in Halo: Renegades, I got in touch with author Kelly Gay, who was more than happy to answer some questions and drop a few teasers for what is perhaps the best and most important Halo novel since Silentium.

Welcome, Kelly! Why don’t you introduce yourself? Where have we seen you before?

Thanks, Alex. Well, let’s see… I’ve been writing urban fantasy and young adult novels for about a decade now.

My first foray into writing for Halo was with a short story in Fractures called ‘Into the Fire,’ which led to the novella, Halo: Smoke and Shadow and now to Renegades.

What’s the story with how you got into Halo? What really drew you into the series?

My editor at Simon & Schuster (who also helms the Halo novels), brought me onboard when pulling authors together for Fractures. We worked together previously on my Charlie Madigan urban fantasy series and from that relationship he knew I was into gaming and sci-fi.

Summer of 2014 or 2015 (terrible memory), I get a call asking if I wanted to write a Halo short story. Being familiar with the franchise and the massive scope of the universe made it a huge draw as there was so much potential in terms of storytelling.

I understand that Silentium is your favourite Halo novel (same!), which of the games would you say you love the most for their story and why?

Yes! The Forerunner Saga is such a top notch origin story and really hits all the right buttons. As a reader, you already know the outcome, and seeing it all play out to the very end in Silentium is an emotional ride and very bittersweet.

I struggle to pick a favorite game storyline. 2 and 3 are so closely connected they could be considered as one and there is so much there to love, not only with main characters but with Keyes and Johnson and Guilty Spark, the Arbiter, Truth, the Gravemind…

But 4 gave us a deeper look into the past and the origins of Halo and the Forerunners. The Didact, the Librarian… Hard to choose!

It’s been said that 343 grants its authors a lot of freedom to tell the stories they want, rather than mandating an outline to them and saying “Okay, go…” When ONI snatched you up, was Rion Forge’s story the one you had at the forefront of your mind to tell?

To the first part, yes totally true. The amount of freedom and support at 343 is amazing; the team there really fosters a positive and open environment in which to stretch creatively.

To the second part: Absolutely. Once I was given the time period and asked to pitch some ideas, the John Forge/Spirit of Fire storyline immediately came to mind as the ending of Halo Wars had always stuck with me and the Spirit of Fire was always one of the most enduring mysteries in the Halo universe.

(This was before the news of Halo Wars 2 went public, so when I pitched Rion I had no idea that internally things were already underway to expand that storyline.)

Did you have any other ideas floating around? After all, Halo is a vast universe with a lot of untapped wellsprings for stories in its expansive timeline.

Not initially because I was attached to the Forge idea.

Once Rion came to mind as the character to further the storyline, her drive to find her father and the Spirit of Fire was my drive too. I wanted to know the answer. It was the only story I pitched, but I certainly would’ve went back to the drawing board if her storyline didn’t work.

Let’s do a bit of a recap on Halo: Smoke and Shadow. What was that story about, and what other stories does it connect to?

It’s about Rion and crew’s discovery of a salvage wreck, which leads them to new clues on where the Spirit of Fire might have gone. This discovery sends them to a Forerunner debris field, and puts them in direct conflict with Gek ‘Lhar. And that conflict does not end well for the crew.

The big connection, of course, is to the storyline of Halo Wars, and then some loose connections to the existing Gek ‘Lhar storyline at the time, and some of the characters have personal connections to other stories like the terrorist attack on Sedra, and Kilo-5.

Looking to Halo: Renegades, picking up with Rion and her crew, where do we begin? What do we need to know as we dive into this new story?

It picks up on Komoya two and a half months after Smoke and Shadow.

We see the fallout of losing a crew member, bringing Little Bit on board the Ace of Spades, and Kip Silas’ betrayal, which causes some hefty problems for Rion and crew.

Being in possession of a fragmented Forerunner AI and holding coordinates to a Forerunner debris field means that ONI is breathing down their necks.

Tell us a bit about Rion’s crew. The events of Smoke and Shadow really put them through the wringer, they must have a lot to deal with in Renegades

Yes it did.

The good thing is no one else is going anywhere, and despite their previous hardships, Less and Niko support Rion and her decisions. The siblings have some growing up to do and some realizations to come to in Renegades, and we see a new crew member added as well.

You’ve earned quite a reputation for making unexpected links in your writing to some very obscure Halo lore which has thrilled fans and 343 alike. In fact, I may or may not have been informed that there has been an occasion or two where 343’s writing team had to hold fire on some connections you’ve wanted to make. How do you maintain a balance?

Okay well now I’m dying to know which connections those were!

For the most part, the links seem to fall into place on their own as I’m researching a character or a setting or an event (and when I say research I mean an exhaustive search on every available medium I can find, as I want to have ALL the facts no matter how small).

The balance comes from seeing if that existing material will fit seamlessly in with the new material I’m presenting. It must make sense and be plausible within the story. To me when a connection works well it not only lends validity to the existing universe, but creates a stronger foundation and credibility for the new material.

But yeah I can’t deny I love it when a link comes together. 😉

Smoke and Shadow did a lot in just under 100 pages, whereas Renegades is three times as long. That must’ve been quite a playground for you! Can you give us any little teasers at some of the connections that Renegades might make across the series?

Yes, it was! The scope of the story is huge. It covers a lot of ground and a lot of light years. 😉

A challenge, but a whole lot of fun too.

Hmm. Teasers… well there are lots of goodies, salvagers, new ships, new settings, new technology, ONI, a one-eyed Sangheili, and the appearance of a team of Spartan-IVs who’ve been mentioned in media before, but never named or described until now.

With almost thirty published Halo novels now, there’s a sense that each book has a certain audience in mind. Troy Denning’s Silent Storm is a great book for a newcomer to jump into the franchise with, whereas the Forerunner Saga could be said to be aimed at a different kind of reader. Do you think Renegades will appeal to a certain ‘type’ of Halo fan?

Certainly, but also – because of the scope and events – the story has the potential to appeal to a wider audience as there is something for every Halo fan – action, humor, origins, lore, military engagements, tragedy, and a few surprises. 🙂

Comparisons have been made to the likes of Firefly in the ‘feel’ of your work. Do you think that’s something you consciously draw upon that goes into your writing, and do you think there were any particular influences for the story Renegades tells?

I’m very flattered by the comparison! It’s a very high compliment, (and I’m available for hire if ever there’s a season 2). 😀

Seriously though, no, it’s not something I consciously draw upon simply because there isn’t a need for me to do so. My writing style and voice naturally gravitates to similar story elements and feel – action, humor, brother/sisterhood, folks who go outside the law, drama, adventure, shenanigans…

In all my books, you’ll find me putting together a motley group whether here on Earth slinging myth and magic, or (now with Halo) out in space causing trouble.

Style-wise, Renegades sits square in my writing comfort zone, and where I believe I do my best work.

To go a little further with that, what would you say some of your ‘sensibilities’ are as a writer? Are there certain ideas, themes, character types, or situations that you gravitate towards?

I’m always drawn to flawed characters and to having my players face their inner demons. As you might already have guessed I’m drawn to origin stories, but if I had to drill down into common themes, it’s always in the end about relationships – love and hatred, pain and regret, success and failure, loyalty and betrayal…

No matter how fantastical or action-driven a story might be, finding relatable qualities in a character is gold. They’re not perfect, they make mistakes, they fail, they have insecurities – they are as human as you or I, and they can wallow like us and rise above like us.

Without giving anything away (of course), can you say anything about what some of the key themes of Renegades are?

Family. Acceptance. Learning to let go of the past and move forward. This runs through almost every character’s journey in the book in one way or another.

I love the cover art, by the way – for both of your Halo books! Did you get to have any input on that, or is that something largely left to the artists?

Thanks! It’s largely left to the folks at 343 and Simon & Schuster and the artist, but we definitely consult and my opinions are taken into account, which when writing for an IP, is a bonus.

There were a number of moments in Renegades that greatly provoked my tear ducts (four times, I kept count – I am an emotional reader and writer!) Did you have a similar reaction in conceiving and writing some of those scenes?

Well, I’d never wish anyone to cry, but in this case: YES! My work is done. 😀

The answer is absolutely. Tapping into the deep, dark, hurtful things and coaxing them out can be emotional. There were days when I felt exhausted after writing, and days I’d hurt the way my characters were hurting.

Thank you very much for your insights, Kelly. I can’t wait for Renegades to release, to see the reaction to it, and I hope we’ll be seeing many more Halo stories from you in the future! Before I let you pass back into the Domain, do you have any final thoughts to share?

Of course. Glad to share. And thanks to you and the Halo community for being so welcoming. I can’t wait for you all to read Renegades.

We’re gonna have so much to talk about!

Halo: Renegades is available on Tuesday 19th February.

You can purchase it on Amazon in paperback, audio CD, or for your Kindle (UK | US).

It is also available on the Simon & Schuster publisher site, which contains further links to other retailers, and you’ll undoubtedly find copies to liberate from local bookstores.

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