Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Star Wars fan. You are free to hate me now, but keep reading, because I’m about to introduce you to a writer who not only loves Star Wars, like the majority of sentient humanity, but actively augments its vast mythological universe with his own fiction. On top of that, he credibly compares its massive fandom to an organically grown religion. (For me, that would be Twin Peaks, but in my view, freedom of religion is as important as freedom from it).
Besides sci-fi, Ed is also incredibly well-versed in the fields of Westerns and fantasy, with numerous acclaimed notches on his literary gun belt.
I’ll let him take the reins from here, because he is effortlessly eloquent as well. Saddle up. It’s going to be a long, pleasant, entertaining, and very informative ride…
Obviously, bending and blending genre perimeters is a specialty of yours, your "Judeocentic/Lovecraftian weird Western series” being a major case in point. Do you arrive at these combinations organically or even randomly, or is there a specific artistic scheme in play?
I started out writing straight westerns. The first two novels I wrote, Buff Tea and Coyote’s Trail were, I thought, sort of traditional historical fiction, if admittedly dark and pretty violent. But after doing a couple signings and feeling out that scene, I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t writing in the readily accepted, popular style, i.e., the white hat black hat variety. There are some amazing westerns being written, but the mainstream, in my experience, remains beholden to Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour – who are great, seminal writers, but not known for the sort of thing I gravitate towards. I had played around with weird westerns in high school, and injecting ghosts and ghoulies into my historical stuff was what seemed to get a reaction out of people, so I ran with it.
My two greatest real world interests are history and folklore, so I think it’s just natural that in my non-fiction reading, I’ll constantly find myself formulating avenues for the two to intersect. What was the real reason for Hadrian’s Wall? Why was ‘Mysterious’ Dave Mather called so? What if Wallace became Vice President instead of Truman and what if there was a sinister reason he didn’t get the nomination? These have all been prompts for stories that have come to me in reading.
You are also heavily involved in filmmaking, including as a screenwriter. Can you describe and distinguish this aspect of your career vis a vis your fiction?
Well, I haven’t been as heavily involved as I’d like in recent years. I studied screenwriting and film in college and came out to Los Angeles with that in mind as a career, but I was sort of like George W. Bush not being able to find oil in Texas; I just couldn’t get anything read. I wrote a dozen screenplays, did a little bit of script work on some micro budget horror movies, and produced and directed my own feature in 2009, a $10,000 western with no horses called Meaner Than Hell, that nobody saw. I turned to fiction as for years I was writing screenplays with no idea if they were any good or not, simply because there was never any response when I submitted. I had no audience, no real feedback beyond writer’s groups and friends.
I sold my first short story to a UK magazine in 2008 or so and started seeing little reviews for it pop up here and there online. I quickly got addicted to that audience response, and started devoting more time to fiction solely for that reason. Of course, then I grew to really love the freedom of it. Scriptwriting can be very confining. It’s very focused. With a novel you can blow out your concept and shine light in little nooks that would be left on an editing room floor if they ever made it to a shooting script at all.
Now I’m trying to get back to the film and TV aspect slowly. I’ve really gone the long way around the barn, turning stuff that began as film concepts into novels and then seeking to get them adapted again. I opened up Final Draft for the first time in a long while and did a short I’d like to try to produce. This time though, on somebody else’s dime if I can manage it.
As both a fan and a respected contributor to various anthologies, can you explain the generation-spanning cultural appeal of “Star Wars”?
I guess for a lot of people it’s replaced religion. Pop culture has really replaced religion. Star Wars and now comic book heroes. More people know how Steve Rogers became Captain America now than they know the story of the Nativity (which is funny because I can remember wearing a Cap shirt to pick up my son from school and the other parents asking me if I favored Puerto Rico in the World Cup). More people glean a spiritual feeling from Darth Vader pitching the Emperor into the abyss to save his son than they do the story of the Crucifixion. I’ve come to think that it’s because at its core, Star Wars encapsulates these epic themes of spirituality and redemption without asking anything of the audience. Star Wars requires no strictures of conduct or lifestyle or belief. It’s for everyone. Absolutely everyone. Rogue One was wonderfully inclusive, I thought (and, I hope, indicative of how Star Wars will evolve to assimilate other genres). But I’m not just talking about the ‘good guys.’ I think there are probably alt-right guys who love Star Wars. I used to think the talk of innocent Imperials getting blown up on the Death Star was just ironic Kevin Smith stuff, but I know there are people who cheer Ewoks getting blown away. I can’t help but feel they’re missing the point of Star Wars, but that’s their interpretation, their fandom. Didn’t a bunch of people make Jediism one of the top three religions on the UK census a couple years back?
I also think much of organized religion has been co-opted in recent years, at least in popular opinion, by the very worst snake oil salesmen the human race has managed to cough up. Francis Ford Coppola joked with George Lucas sometime around Return of The Jedi that with the Force he had the makings of a religion, that he could be a spiritual leader if he wanted to. I sometimes think the midichlorians were Lucas taking a deliberate step back from that, as a Catholic. Maybe deep down that’s why he ultimately stepped away from the whole thing. Although yeah, fans can be exasperating. But as we become cynical about God, whether by the antics of His so-called believers or in our embrace of empirical rationality, in the absence of a driving cultural mythology or religion to emulate and inspire us, Star Wars (and comic book culture) is sort of filling that vacuum.
Star Wars continues to be popular too because people want to re-experience that excitement they had as a kid watching the originals, and a friend of mine made this point, to the point where they can be extremely forgiving of the fallacies of the modern iterations. How many tearful reactions videos do you see posted to Youtube whenever a Star Wars trailer goes up – and I’m a huge fan, but I gotta admit that the first Last Jedi trailer was…just not much to look at, compared to Force Awakens, or even Phantom Menace, the trailer for which I must have watched a hundred times when it came out. It looked like a Doctor Who teaser, where they just show somebody running from random blaster bolts cause they haven’t actually finished the thing yet.
But parents want to share that ’77 high with their kids. I know I do with mine, so the appreciation becomes an inheritance.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
Writing wise, Robert E. Howard is a major one. Cormac McCarthy, Alan Moore, Mishima Yukio, Larry McMurtry, Joe Lansdale, Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Kazuo Koike, Patrick O’Brian, George McDonald Fraser, Mickey Spillane. The movies of Michael Mann, John Ford, Sergio Leone, Anthony Mann, Takashi Miike. Paul Schraeder. I find a lot of art very affecting and inspirational - Gustav Dore, Franz von Struck, William Blake, John Martin, NC Wyeth, Geoff Darrow, Charles Russell, Bill Sienkiewicz, Goseki Kojima, Frazetta. I’m not the biggest music guy, but I find myself going to certain artists for inspiration a lot; Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Scarface, Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, GangStarr, Bob Dylan. I could probably fill up a book with names.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got my first fantasy novel coming out next year, The Knight With Two Swords. I love Arthuriana, and this is a retelling of Malory’s Tale of Sir Balin and Sir Balan, about the doomed, but well-meaning knight who loses the Holy Grail. I’m re-publishing Merkabah Rider starting with the first two books, High Planes Drifter and The Mensch With No Name. New covers, interior art by M. Wayne Miller, and some extra stuff. Golden Goblin Press is putting out a collection of my Zora Neale Hurston stories sometime in 2018. I did a couple of them for their anthologies, where the Harlem writer encounters Lovecraftian horrors and comes out on top (Of course! It’s Zora!). So there’ll be previously published stories in that as well as a novella where Zora and Orson Welles encounter the King In Yellow, and probably two never before seen new stories. I’ve got four or five short story appearances slated so far. Also working on the TV front to get something of mine adapted, but you know, on that front, it’s really nothing till it’s something.
May the force be with you, Ed!
PHOTO: ED ERDERLAC
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of twelve novels (including the acclaimed weird western series Merkabah Rider) and dozens of short stories. He is an independent filmmaker, award winning screenwriter, and sometime Star Wars contributor. Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and a bona fide slew of children and cats.