Interview: Joe Schreiber on Maul: Lockdown

Joe Schreiber.jpgWith Maul: Lockdown on sale this week, I had a chance to have author Joe Schreiber answer a few questions about his new novel. Joe was gracious enough to discuss the character of Maul and other aspects of Lockdown, including his collaboration with Jim Luceno to have it connect with Darth Plagueis. Having previously brought the living dead to Star Wars in Death Troopers and its prequel, Red Harvest, Schreiber is no stranger to the darker side of the galaxy far, far away.

Jawajames: The character of Darth Maul has resurfaced in the past few years, with a greater role in the Star Wars galaxy. What do you think the appeal is with Maul’s character?

Joe Schreiber: From the moment we meet Maul in The Phantom Menace, he projects a silent but indisputable sense of menace. Visually, he’s one of the most striking characters since Vader – and I think in the beginning a lot of his appeal was the fact that he was silent most of the time. So often, dialogue (especially villainous mustache-twisting “I’m so evil” monologues) deflate the sense of menace that a character projects. We saw the exact opposite in Maul’s duel in Phantom Menace, where he’s literally pacing like a tiger with barely contained intensity and rage. More recently, in The Clone Wars, we see a new and equally compelling dimension of his character – that show managed to give Maul a voice without diminishing his sense of focus and cold determination.

Maul: LockdownJames: How do you see Maul in this story – he’s still Darth Sidious’ apprentice, but he’s more than just what we saw in The Phantom Menace?

JS: The Maul we meet in Lockdown is utterly on his own, in an environment where he has to rely on his training and physical prowess without revealing that he’s a Sith, or why he’s been sent on this mission. My hope is that we see a more resourceful Maul – a character who is able to take advantage of every aspect of his environment just to stay alive, and who is single-mindedly fixed on his goal. He cannot be stopped.

James: When we chatted back in 2011, you mentioned that you liked writing dark characters and that bad guys were your favorite, and Maul: Lockdown brings a slate of the worst of the worst. Who are some of the more interesting characters in the space prison Cog Hive Seven?

JS: One of the great things about writing a prison novel is the cast of characters that you get to explore. Cog Hive Seven has its share of murderers, thugs, mercenaries and cannibals, inmates with extremely checkered pasts – but my favorite might be the father and son who find themselves there. The old man is a former pit-fighter, he’s made a living breaking bones, and he’s now come to the end of what’s been a brutal life, and he’s realizing that he can’t protect his son anymore, and that his boy is not ready to stand alone. His son is going to be vulnerable.

How do you react to a moment like that, especially in a place where inmates are eventually expected to fight one another to death?

James: The prison is home to more than just the inmates and guards – what else lurks in the shadows?

JS: There’s something living deep within the infrastructure of the prison, a horrific parasitic organism called the Syrox, the so-called Wolf Worm. It lives on the blood of inmates. I wrote a bit about it in a story for Star Wars Insider [Issue 146, Jan 2014,] how it came to be there, and what the implications of its existence are. It’s kind of this living, slithering purgatory of all the personalities of its victims that live in ongoing eternal torment within what passes for its mind. It’s pretty awful.

James: For Star Wars readers who might not be into Darth Maul, what might appeal to them in Lockdown?

JS: My hope is that Lockdown is the kind of thriller anybody can pick up and start reading, regardless of how they feel about Maul as we’ve seen him up till now. In some ways I wrote it like a Lee Child book, you know, if Lee Child was writing for the Star Wars universe. “Maul said nothing.” That’s a Jack Reacher type line, but it applies to Maul’s approach to survival and asserting himself, gathering information, just standing there – I’m the threat, and I don’t need to say anything else about it. If nothing else, I tried to create a pressurized environment where there’s no way out, where the story moves along fast enough to keep the reader’s interest.

James: The novel is described as a follow-up to Darth Plagueis. Did you collaborate with Jim Luceno on how best to connect the relationships between Maul, Sidious and Plagueis?

JS: Jim was an enormous help as we prepped this book. His novel was the Rosetta Stone for grasping the Sidious/Plagueis relationship. That book just gets their voices perfectly – I got the audiobook of it and just drove around listening to it for a period of several weeks, listening to the way he handled the dynamic between these two incredibly ambitious, ruthless powerhouses. Jim was also looped into the early emails as I discussed with Frank Parisi at Random House about how Lockdown was going to relate to what we saw in Plagueis. From the beginning I wanted Lockdown to be a shadow version of that book, completely compatible with what he’d done there.

James: You’ve mentioned previously that The Empire Strikes Back was your favorite Star Wars film – would this explain the presence of a certain denizen of Hoth?

JS: That, yes… and the fact that – as always – I approached this book like it was my last chance to write in the Star Wars universe. That’s how I’ve tackled every one of the books I’ve done for Star Wars, like it’s my own personal everything-must-go sale. If I never get another chance, I want to swing for the fences, every single chapter.

Maul-Lockdown-Vong-FightJames: Also, it appears you incorporated some elements from other Expanded Universe sources, including some video games. How familiar were you with those materials?

JS: Hardly familiar at all, because I’m not a gamer. I should say, I enjoy every aspect of video games — except for the game play itself. Graphics, music, narrative, I love all that, all the work the designers put into it, but after a few minutes sitting in front of the screen with a controller in my hand, I’m done. Fortunately, I have a good friend who’s incredibly smart and well-versed in Star Wars lore and he was an incredibly helpful. He went out and bought the game, played it and told me everything I needed to know.

James: How did the concept to do Maul: Lockdown come about?

JS: It started with an email from Frank Parisi at Random House, a one-liner: “Would you be interested in writing a Darth Maul prison novel?”

My answer was even more direct: Absolutely!

James: And we are glad you accepted that offer! Lockdown is highly enjoyable. A big thanks to Joe Schreiber to taking time to answer questions about Maul: Lockdown, and the staff at Random House for helping arrange this interview.

For more info on Maul: Lockdown, check out my review posted earlier this week. It is now on sale in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook (CD and download), and to help tease you into checking it out, Del Rey has put out an audio excerpt from the novel, read by Sam Witwer, the voice of Darth Maul on The Clone Wars (and he gets to also do several other voices, including Sidious!).