With Hunt The Stars (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Jessie Mihalik is kicking off a new — and shhhh, romantic — sci-fi space opera trilogy called Starlight’s Shadow. In the following email interview, Mihalik explains what inspired and influenced this series, and why she might want to take a certain masked stranger to dinner to thank him for the idea.
To start, what is Hunt The Stars about, and when and where does it take place?
Hunt The Stars is about Octavia “Tavi” Zarola — bounty hunter and starship captain — who reluctantly ends up taking a job from her former enemy, Torran Fletcher. She thinks it’ll be easy money (or at least easy-ish) that’ll help keep her crew fed, but when they uncover a plot that threatens the galaxy’s fragile peace, she’ll have to decide how much she’s willing to risk — and who she can trust.
The book is set in the far distant future when humans have found additional habitable planets and wormholes to make exploring space faster. Of course, those wormholes led to discovery of the Valoffs, human-like aliens who have developed mental abilities like telepathy. The Valoffs didn’t appreciate humans encroaching on their territory, so it led to a decades-long war that was only recently ended. Both Tavi and Torran fought in the war — on opposite sides.
Where did you get the idea for Hunt The Stars?
I got the original idea for the book while watching The Mandalorian. Mando had such great supporting characters, but he was so often alone, which I didn’t want for my main character. Found family is one of my favorite tropes, and one include in all of my books, so then I had to start thinking about who my bounty hunter would have around her, and why. The story grew from there, and it didn’t change too much from my original idea — but my original ideas are all kind of nebulous things in the first place.
Mando isn’t the only bounty hunter in science fiction. Heck, he’s not the only one in The Mandalorian, let alone Star Wars. In deciding how Octavia would behave, and do her job, did you base her on anyone in particular?
I wrote Hunt The Stars during the beginning of the pandemic, so I probably based her on the best parts of humanity — hope, compassion, kindness, and love — more than any one person, because that is what I was craving while I was writing. I was definitely influenced by the bounty hunters who came before, especially in Star Wars and Firefly, but my story is smaller in scale, just a single job, because I wanted time to build the personal connections between the humans and Valoffs in the crew.
It sounds like Hunt The Stars is a sci-fi space opera story…
I generally call it space opera romance, but I know “romance” can send some people running, so maybe my publisher is being a little more coy, but I’m proud to write romance. There’s plenty of action and adventure, but it’s also the story of two cautious people learning to trust each other — after a few bumps along the way.
Hunt The Stars is not your first novel. Not by a long shot. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Hunt The Stars but not on anything else you’ve written?
All of my books are influenced by writers who came before, especially those writing science fiction or paranormal romance like Linnea Sinclair, Rachel Bach, Ada Harper, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, and Ann Aguirre, to name a few.
I’ve always been deeply fascinated by fictional mental abilities like telepathy and telekinesis, and both Nalini Singh and Ilona Andrews have excellent series with characters with the ability, so they were definitely an influence on Hunt The Stars. And their books are absolutely incredible, so everyone should go read them. Nalini’s is the Psy-Changeling series, and Ilona’s is called Hidden Legacy.
How about non-literary influences; was Hunt The Stars influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned The Mandalorian and Firefly already.
Yep! I grew up on a steady diet of sci-fi television and movies, and all of those stories churn into the slurry that is my brain until a new story pops out. Star Wars in general is, of course, a big influence, as is Firefly. But maybe the surprising influences are things like Community and The Good Place because they had such a focus on found family which I adore.
Hunt The Stars is the first book of a trilogy called Starlight’s Shadow. What was it about this story that made you realize it needed to be told in three parts as opposed to one or two or thirty-seven?
The honest answer on why three books instead of one or five is because my publisher likes to buy trilogies. But even my Rogue Queen books, which I self published, ended up a trilogy because there is something satisfying about a three-book arc. Three books give me enough time to tell a deeper story over the arc while focusing on a smaller piece during each book.
A three-book series is also easy for readers to pick up, because I don’t know about you, but when I see a new book is number fifteen in a series I haven’t started, that’s a lot of reading I need to do in order to catch up, and these days I rarely have the time. But if it’s a series I’m already invested in, I want the author to write infinitely more books, so it’s a balancing act, and three books hits about right for my writing style.
You’ve also already said that the second book, Eclipse The Moon, will be out July 12th. Do you know yet what the third book will be called and when it’ll be out?
Yes, I know what it’s going to be called, and no, I’m not revealing it yet. [grins] I believe it’ll be out early in 2023, but I don’t have a firm date.
Starlight’s Shadow is not the first trilogy you’ve written. You mentioned the Rogue Queen series already, and there’s also your Consortium Rebellion saga. In what concrete ways do you think the Starlight’s Shadow trilogy, and especially Hunt The Stars, benefitted from you having written two previous trilogies?
Every single book benefits from the ones before it. If I’m doing my job right — and I hope I am — then I’m growing as a writer with each new book.
I also have the confidence to know that no matter how hopeless it seems, how stuck in the plot I am, that I’ve already completed two trilogies, so I can do it again. Nothing is more terrifying and invigorating than a blank page and a deadline, and now I know that both terror and excitement are just part of my process.
Given that all three books of the Starlight’s Shadow trilogy are being released so close together, there are people who will undoubtedly wait until the third is out before reading any of them, and some may go further and then read them in rapid succession. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait? Or should but not binge them?
First and foremost, I know that some people like to wait, and that’s cool, you do you.
But I don’t think you should wait because, from a story perspective, each of my books stands alone, so you’re getting a complete story each book. There are some overarching threads that tie the stories together, but you don’t need to wait. Plus the world has been really difficult for the last couple of years, so you deserve to take a break and escape into space with Tavi and crew.
Earlier I asked if Hunt The Stars had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip the script, as you kids probably don’t say anymore, and ask if you think Hunt The Stars — and by extension, the Starlight’s Shadow trilogy — could work as a movie, show, or game?
It could absolutely work as a movie or show, though I think a television series would be best because that gives the viewers the most time to bond with the crew. (Netflix, call me!) And for a science fiction show, it wouldn’t even be that expensive because a lot of the first book takes place on Tavi’s ship, so they wouldn’t have to have a huge CGI budget.
I think it could work well as a cooperative board game, too. Each player could be a different member of the crew, with strengths and weaknesses, and everyone would have to work together to catch bounties and prevent a war.
A video game is trickier because the first book is focused on a lot of relationship building before the main action kicks in. But if you wanted to back up a few years, the Valovian war would be an ideal video game environment. (Microsoft, call me!)
And if the people who called you were Netflix because they want to do a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Octavia, Torran, and the other main characters?
I very specifically don’t match my characters up with actors, so I couldn’t say. That and actors’ names fall out of my head the instant I hear them, so even if I wanted to, I could probably only name a handful of actors in sum total, and none of them would be quite right. But I’m always fascinated by who readers think would be best, so if you have an idea, let me know.
So, is there anything else that people interested in Hunt The Stars and the Starlight’s Shadow trilogy should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
You can read the first three chapters on my website to see if it sounds like something you’re interested in.
Finally, if someone enjoys Hunt The Stars, which of your other novels would you suggest they read while waiting for Eclipse The Moon to come out, and why that one?
Start with Polaris Rising. Not only is it the first book in the Consortium Rebellion series, but also Ada, the main character, is sort of like a younger, more impulsive version of Tavi. Tavi has seen some shit and has come out the other side while Ada is still in the middle of it. And then you can read Aurora Blazing (Bianca is one of my fave MCs!) and Chaos Reigning to finish out the series.