Joe, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. First, tell us about yourself. How did you find your way into writing?
I’ve always written stories, all the way back in grade school. Except for a brief time in my childhood when I wanted to be a Hollywood stuntman--probably encouraged by the movie Hooper or my Hal Needham Stuntman Set--writing is the only gig I’ve ever dreamed of in any serious kind of way.
Now, for the question probably lingering on many minds right now: why write a Star Wars horror novel? How did it come about? Did you pitch the idea, or vice versa? Did you burn through any absolutely horrible ideas first: like vampire Ewoks, or chainsaw toting Wookies with hockey masks?
My editor at Del Rey was also very involved in the Star Wars expanded universe books. They’d been kicking around the idea of a Star Wars horror novel for a while, and when they mentioned it to me, I pretty much started begging for a walk-on. The only real advice I got from the outset was that they wanted George Romero in the Star Wars universe. I did one outline that nobody liked very much, but once I got that out of my system, we were in business. We’re saving the chainsaw Wookiees for the sequel.
What was it like getting to play in a galaxy far, far away? Was it a dream come true, or just an interesting opportunity?
It was huge, fantastic fun, like getting invited over to play with the kid who has all the coolest toys and lets you play with all of them for as long as I wanted. From the beginning it was a blast, and it never stopped being a great time.
You have another novel debuting alongside “Star Wars: Death Troopers”, “No Doors, No Windows”. Did you write both at once? If so, how did a typical during that stretch look?
No Doors goes way, way back for me. I actually started writing it before Chasing the Dead came out, back in 2005, and put it aside until I felt ready to work on it…a process that went on for several years of rewrites and revisions. In contrast, Death Troopers was done in an extremely intense, sustained burst of productivity. They both just kind of came into the finish line around the same time. The astute reader may find a bit of crossover between them, however.
Have you always been a Star Wars fan, or did you find yourself in need of research before launching into this one?
Like a lot of people my age, I loved the first three films and acted out all the scenes on the playgrounds of my youth…back when you could make up the details yourself. When it came time to actually write within that universe, though, the research that I did came from the massively detailed chronology and reference guides that Lucasfilm provided, and it was essential to doing solid work and staying true to all the things that make the franchise great.
I saw on your blog you'll be writing a novel based on the TV Series “Supernatural” (one of my favorites, which puts that book on my wish list, BTW). How did that come about?
I was chatting one day with Chris Cerasi, the licensing editor at DC Comics, about doing a Batman novel, a Silence of the Lambs type thing where Bruce Wayne goes out and does detective work on a cold case. Nothing much came of it, but then Chris emailed about the Supernatural novel and I pitched him a few ideas. We found one that we all liked and I got cracking.
You're a working and writing parent of two children. What would you say are the ups and downs of this?
That’s a great question. Having kids definitely brought certain common fears into sharp focus, and as a parent I’ve been able to tap into a lot of that in a very visceral sense in some of my books—all my greatest fears have to do with something bad happening to my children. Before that, I think my sense of personal jeopardy was a more nebulous thing. It ain’t so nebulous anymore. And kids are a great audience. My kids, especially, have an insatiable appetite for narrative. It’s like nonstop batting practice.
The other side of the coin is, you now have these small people who rely on you not to mess up, financially, emotionally, physically. There’s no more sense of, wow, I’m publishing books now, bye-bye day job. You need to think unselfishly, and historically, writers aren’t so good at doing that.
Are you much of a Con-goer? What conventions – if any – can you be found at?
I’ve been to San Diego and I hope to go back, maybe next year. The New York Comic Con is fun too. It’s exhausting, though. It’s that sense of total sensory immersion, like being dropped into a constantly bonging pinball machine of nonstop pop culture.
You've already signed for another Star Wars horror novel, scheduled to release in 2010. Does this mean readers can expect a whole line of Star Wars horror novels?
I honestly don’t know. I was certainly grateful for the opportunity to do another book. We’ll have to see what happens.
Any devices: movies, books, television shows, music – that helped put you in the right frame of mind for Death Troopers? Personally, I think the novel's beginning invokes a very creepy, chilling “Aliens” vibe.
I did end up putting together a playlist of songs to go along with Death Troopers, and although I don’t write to music, I spent a lot of time listening to it during the editing process. Alien is certainly a big influence on my view of the “dirty” future, with all its untrustworthy technology and corporate branding. For the Star Destroyer, I kept going back to the hotel in The Shining. I also spent a lot of time looking at pictures of old shipwrecks, big sunken freighters, getting a sense of the emptiness and why it’s so scary on a low, fundamental level.
Any other future plans or ideas you're toying with?
I’m co-writing a screenplay now. It’s something completely different—a Western, of all things. And I’m outlining a new horror novel which I think will freak a great many people out in a couple years.
Final question: Halloween is coming up. What are the Schreibers going as?
My daughter is going as Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. My son is going as Mario from Super Mario Brothers. I’m just the scary writer guy. Every day is Halloween for me.
Thanks for spending some time with us, Joe.