Another 10-question, topic specific, interview format, and today we have horror novelist Joe Schreiber. Schreiber is writing the forthcoming Deathtroopers, a Star Wars horror novel scheduled for a late 2009 release. Schreiber is the author of two previous novels, Chasing the Dead and Eating the Dark.
This is my shorter form interview feature that’s topic specific that you’ve seen here before with the likes of Jeff VanderMeer, Chris Roberson, Paul S. Kemp, and other.
Fear, anger, suffering; today we talk the horror of Star Wars with Schreiber. As most Star Wars fans know — and even more so people in publicity — there is a balancing act whenever talking about forthcoming EU work. So, no details on Death Troopers here, but we will find out the when, where, and the William Gibson of Schreiber’s Scary Star Wars stigma!
Jay — I had Paul S. Kemp recently talking Star Wars under a very similar situation (having a Star Wars debut coming out not-so-soon), and I’ve got to kick this session off much the same way I did then. When and what were the circumstances of your first exposure to Star Wars, and do you remember your initial impressions?
Joe Schreiber — My most vivid ’70s memories of Star Wars had as much to do with Kenner toys and TV ads as the movie itself. I was seven years old when the movie came out, and the only time we went to the theatre was to see Disney movies and odd “In Search of The Bermuda Triangle” type pseudo-docs. HOWEVER, at some point my parents must have caved to the whole Lucas cultural avalanche and took me, and I distinctly remember arriving late — my first glimpse of the film was the concourse of the captured Rebel transport, clogged with blaster-smoke, and two robots whose names I didn’t know chattering about dangers that I didn’t understand, but was instantly fascinated by.
Then a dark incredibly menacing presence moved into the screen…
Jay — Your forthcoming contribution to the Star Wars EU, Deathtroopers, has the tag of being a bit of a Star Wars ‘horror’ novel. Looking at the films from the perspective of not only an observer, but as an observer with a horror perspective what is the most horrifying moment in Star Wars?
Joe Schreiber — Certainly to a child’s eye, the first appearance of Darth Vader is a terrifying moment — his towering, unrelenting blackness, the soulless skull-like design of his face, and perhaps worst of all the constant respiratory gasp of machinery compensating for the maimed thing that lurks inside his armor. I’ve heard Vader’s uniform described as a kind of walking coffin, and it’s a perfect description. I think it summarizes why his presence — so familiar now after thirty-plus years — was so immediately chilling back then.
Jay — I’m rather excited about the possibilities of a project that seems so angled to go a different route in the EU, and always wondered why there weren’t much more focused but yet still general forays in the EU. You know, like why isn’t a Thomas Ligotti writing a EU horror collection or a Ken Bruen writing some EU Crime book, or Tim Powers writing whatever he wants etc ,etc? How did this project come together?
Joe Schreiber — Actually they’ve already got Danielle Steele writing a Star Wars romance — kidding.
As far as I can tell, the project came together because Keith Clayton, my then-editor at Ballantine/Del Rey for Chasing the Dead and Eat the Dark, was also involved in the Del Rey SW lineup. A while ago he approached my agent with the idea for an EU horror novel. I instantly jumped on it.
Jay — Fear is a significant concept in Star Wars. Fear of government, fear of change, fear of feelings, of attachment. What is the most interesting application to you as it applies to the setting?
Joe Schreiber — I always enjoyed the idea of the “uncanny” as both familiar and unfamiliar mixed together. Despite the fact that Star Wars has its own universe of technology, history and culture, fear makes everything immediately more familiar, and the plights of the characters become more sympathetic and universal. Also, fear — and the narrative suspense it creates — is the ideal narrative engine for driving a lean, mean story forward without getting mired down with space-opera melodrama.
Jay — How would you describe your level of immersion into Star Wars, and specifically the EU?
Joe Schreiber — I’m a total newbie when it comes to EU — so I just plunged right in. I enjoyed the films, I collected the action figures on eBay, but when the time came to sit down and draft an outline, I spent hours with stacks of research material, sorting through everything from planets to Bantha patties.
Jay — Is it fair to call Deathtroopers a Star Wars horror novel or is it merely a Joe Schreiber Star Wars novel, and you just happen to have written horror in the past bringing with you that sensibility? The outcome I’d expect to not be different, but the expectations — especially when dealing with such a large and rather active fan base — intrigues me. Is it a consideration at all?
Joe Schreiber — My hope is that Deathtroopers will be received — and enjoyed — as a Star Wars horror novel, one that just happens to have been written by me. Although my editors offered me the job because they liked my previous horror novels, I didn’t make any deliberate attempt to brand the writing with any particular stylistic stamp, except an ongoing commitment to keep the action moving briskly and not bore the reader. I set out to create characters that you hopefully care about, and evoke situations that will create genuine chills. I didn’t worry about whether it came off as a “Joe Schreiber” novel or not.
Jay — So fans may be able to do some gauging. What element do you think every horror novel has to have — what Deathtroopers will have to have — to be successful? I ask because horror, like many other genres, often times, is given this very small, and what I think is an inadequate definition by many readers.
Joe Schreiber — To my mind horror succeeds best when it creates people you recognize, flaws and all, and subjects them initially to the kind of real-world terrors that any of us could potentially have to deal with on the worst day of our lives — an encounter with a psychopath, a child abducted, the threat of insanity. I think the best horror uses narrative tension and the characters’ reactions to it to segue more smoothly into the more supernatural tropes of the genre, whether we’re talking about ghosts, werewolves or demonic talk show hosts.
Jay Tomio — There are many SF/ Horror hybrids in fiction and film from Event Horizon, Alien, or a China Mieville novel. What are some that you enjoy?
Joe Schreiber — The first Alien film is among my favorite horror/SF blends because it’s such a great ’70s character-driven horror film, replete with paranoia and distrust for corporations, synthetics and technology in general. Harlan Ellison’s short stories, particularly I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a terrific example of SF/horror so transgressive it’s almost counter-cultural. I also love J.G. Ballard’s story Manhole 69 — a terrific, terrifying take on sleep-deprivation and madness.
Jay — Favorite Star Wars moment and why?
Joe Schreiber — I love the scene where Obi Wan is on the platform trying to disable the tractor beam, and two Stormtroopers wander by making casual shop-talk about some newly installed piece of equipment. It’s an odd, perfect glint of behind-the-mask humanity that only heightens the tension of the scene.
Jay — If ever attacked by some horror and finding oneself laid out in a hospital about to be administered with “a dose of William Gibson” — exactly what is somebody getting put into them?
Joe Schreiber — I would assume it would be some piece of sentient, wholly untrustworthy corporate-designed advertising, possibly co-opted by fringe-dwelling Goth hackers.