Oct 11, 2009

Author Spotlight: Joe Schreiber

Tuesday, October 13th marks the debut of a highly anticipated novel in these here parts: Joe Schreiber's Death Troopers. Look at that cover; what's not to be excited about? It's a Star Wars horror novel and the first Star Wars horror novel at that. It's also Joe Schreiber's first Star Wars novel. I didn't know a whole lot about Joe other than Del Rey was really throwing their support behind Death Troopers so I approached him to see if he was interesting in answering a few questions here on Stomping on Yeti to help readers get to know the man behind the book.

Joe graciously took some times out of his busy schedule (he's going on tour) to answer some questions about Star Wars, his current projects, and his opinions on writing horror.

SoY: October 13th appears to be a big release day for you. Can you tell us a little bit more about your two new books?

JS: No Doors No Windows is a novel that I’ve been working on, on and off, for almost five years. It’s my attempt at a haunted house novel, somewhere between Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Shirley Jackson’s Hill House. On the other side, Death Troopers is an amped-up, high energy horror novel set in the Star Wars universe. I feel that it ought to come with its own action figures; apparently that wasn’t in the budget.

SoY: What else are working on right now? What can we hope to see from you next year and beyond?

JS: Another Star Wars horror novel in the fall of 2010, along with an original horror novel based on the characters from TV’s Supernatural. I’m doing that one for DC Comics.

SoY: Your debut Star Wars novel is just about to his shelves (if it hasn't already). Star Wars hasn't really done horror before so a lot of fans aren't sure what to expect. How did you approach writing a horror novel written in the Star Wars universe?

JS: We jumped off the idea that this would be a George Romero story set in a George Lucas universe. From there, I wrote it like I wrote my other books, focusing mainly on crafting a compulsive impossible-to-put-down reading experience. I really wanted to take the reader by the throat and take them for a ride. Getting to play in the Star Wars sandbox gave me extra thrusters; it was also a hell of a lot of fun.

SoY: Star Wars has some of the most complex continuities of any cross-media franchise out there, not to mention a fanbase that can be "less than kind" to authors who rock the metaphorical continuity boat. Was the transition from writing within your own creative worlds to writing in such a massive universe difficult? What did you do to prepare yourself?

JS: It wasn’t difficult at all, actually. I got nothing but encouragement and support from my publishers and from Lucasfilm, and I really got the idea that they wanted to try something new—that they trusted me to give them something really scary and a little bit subversive. I wrote a couple outlines, ironing out the plot until we were all pretty comfortable with it. Then I plunged in. As far as continuity, Lucasfilm supplied me with all the reference material and resource guides I could ever need, and I made sure to keep them right next to my desk as I moved through the story.

SoY: Based on your first few books you seem to blend supernatural horror with psychological horror as they feature apparitions as well as abductions. What's your preferred subgenre of horror (if you have one)? Do your two new books continue the hybrid trend?

JS: I don’t tend to think in terms of subgenres and categories—I read all over the map, and I guess my writing reflects that. If anything I’ve always worked to create a believable world with sympathetic characters, people whose anxieties and thoughts resonate in a familiar and human way. You need to do that before the reader trusts you enough to follow along…whether you’re writing about New Hampshire or a Star Destroyer. To that extent, I guess these new books uphold those same basic themes.

SoY: To get an idea of your own sense of horror, what (characters, concepts, locations) do you find scariest? What's the scariest movie or book you've ever seen/read?

JS: Sometimes the scariest situations are the familiar ones with some element of the unexpected thrown in. Lying in your own bed at night can become unbearably frightening once you hear that first thump from downstairs…the one that you know is coming from your living room. As a parent, I can tell you there’s nothing scarier than a mall, the moment you realize you’ve lost your child.

Although I’m a sucker for horror movies, there aren’t many good ones…and even fewer scary ones. I think the last good scare I got was watching The Descent. And that was probably because I was watching it with someone who screamed like crazy every time something happened. It heightens the experience. I found Exorcist III pretty scary…the one that William Peter Blatty directed. I don’t read much horror fiction these days, although the stories of Thomas Ligotti are quite disturbing.

SoY: Is writing a horror novel any different than normal fiction? Do you have to place yourself inside the story/setting more when writing horror?

JS: No difference for me—it’s all fiction. It either gets you off, or it doesn’t.

SoY: When writing a horror novel, what kinds of literary tools do you use to make the novel frightening, creepy, etc, and how are you able to effectively shock/surprise your readers in as non-visual a medium as the written word?

JS: Again, so much of this depends on creating people that the reader wants to spend time with. Nothing’s less scary than a zombie on page one. You can structure short chapters with single-sentence paragraphs in an attempt to simulate shock and surprise, but without establishing some recognizable sense of place and emotion, it’s all joy buzzers and whoopee cushions. Like the horror movies soundtracks that insist on blasting a sudden sharp squeal to startle the audience rather than genuinely unsettle them.

SoY: What's been the highlight of your career so far? In the statement "If I could write a book that ________________, I would consider my career a success." what would you put in the blank?

JS: I used to want to write a book that would inspire a pinball game. Now I want to write a book that inspires a haunted house.

SoY: Do you have any weird writing habits that somehow work for you? (i.e. sitting in a recently dug grave in a cemetery writing by candlelight with the blood of a Trekkie)

JS: Coffee. Silence. Time. Ass plus seat equals book.

SoY: Del Rey/Lucasbooks was so happy with Death Troopers that they've asked you to write another unrelated SW novel to be released October 2010. Can you provide any information at all about the new story idea, even if it’s a teaser word or two? Has the time frame been established? How is the writing coming?

JS: It’s scary. It won’t be a sequel. I sent in my first draft of the novel to my editor yesterday.

SoY: During your SW research, did you find any other Star Wars horror concepts that jumped out at you (pardon the pun) as needing a story of their own? Ancient Sith abominations or rituals? Imperial bioengineering gone wrong? In other words, if you were offered a SW novel, what story would you write?

JS: I’d love to do an “acid Western” style story of Imperial deserters on the run, trying to get work as outlaws. Kind of a stormtrooper version of the movies Robert Benson and Hal Ashby were making back in the ‘70s.

SoY: There's been an ongoing contest to create a suitable Book Trailer for Death Troopers over on Suvudu.com. If I’m not mistaken, I believe you were in one of them as a Storm Trooper. Have you seen any of the other trailers? What's your opinion on book trailers in general?

JS: I love them. I love the idea of creating something relatively cheaply that people can look at and get a sense of what the book is about. I’ve seen all the Death Troopers trailers and I can tell you that I loved them all. Some of them gave me chills.

SoY: Recent "horror" movies seem less scary and more just torture porn, Japanese remake, or Halloween knockoff/remake film 231,138. What is Hollywood Horror doing wrong? Are they doing anything right?

JS: As always, Hollywood is making money—they do that right. As far as quality goods, I think it’s great that they chose not to remake Paranormal Activity and promote it as an ultra-low budget scarefest that really delivers the goods. It looks pretty good. The others….eh. I know the guys who make the Saw movies, and they’re nice guys, but I don’t think we need much more of that.

SoY: This will be many Star Wars fans first foray into the horror genre. Suppose someone loves Death Troopers and immediately churns through your catalog of books. If they enjoyed what they read, what other authors would you recommend? What's the best thing you've read recently?

JS: I’d suggest the stories of Richard Matheson and the crime novels of Duane Swierczynski, Peter Abrahams and Jason Starr. Everyone should read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Also E.L. Doctorow’s Civil War novel The March is excellent.

SoY: Where can we keep an eye on you and your work?

JS: I’m on Facebook and I’ve got a website: http://www.scaryparent.blogspot.com/

Go buy Death Troopers. Seriously.

You should be scared if you don't.

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