An Interview with Ian Doescher

Mayst the Inspiration be with Thee: Mashing Shakespeare and Star Wars 

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Ian Doescher found inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a New York Times bestselling series, in the likeliest of places: his day-to-day life. A Portland, Oregon resident, Doescher had just finished reading a hit literary mashup, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, when he set out to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and saw “The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa”, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” which tackles the topic of gay marriage in the Midwest. Soon after, Doescher marathoned the original Star Wars trilogy with friends, and behold, an idea was born. He pitched it to Quirk Books and the rest is history. With “The Force Awakens” capturing the minds and imaginations of the world, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Doescher, and see exactly how one becomes a best-selling author. From one mashup author to Mash Stories blogger, here is our conversation.

Amanda Pleau: Ian, you are a creative director of a marketing and research firm, with a Masters in Divinity, which seems like a nontraditional path for a bestselling author! Did you always have dreams of writing a book? And do you have any advice for those of us who do dream of getting published?

Ian Doescher: Writing books was definitely something I wanted to do, but because of my academic background I thought I would write academic books. Writing the Shakespeare Star Wars books has never felt like a chore, so my main advice for writers is to make sure you are writing something you really enjoy working on.

Amanda: One thing we value at MASH is providing feedback and support for emerging writers. It seems like both parties acknowledged pretty quickly that you had a great idea, but could you talk a little bit about the process of working with Quirk Books and Lucasfilm? What were some of the permissions and provisions involved with the project?

Ian: Both Quirk Books and Lucasfilm have been a lot of fun to work with.

Quirk Books helped answer a lot of nervous (or just curious) first-time author questions, and as our relationship continues I bounce a lot of ideas off them. They also worked out the licensing contract with Lucasfilm, which was a mountain I was glad not to climb on my own.

As a Star Wars fan, working with Lucasfilm was fascinating. They reviewed and ultimately approved all of my manuscripts, and it was interesting to see what they would or wouldn’t approve. I wrote lines for R2-D2 in English, which they approved, but I had to change one soliloquy because Darth Vader was showing too much remorse at killing innocent people. Fascinating! They know their stories and characters incredibly well

Amanda: Shakespeare’s work and Star Wars both contain elements of comedy and tragedy, but your reimagining seems to lean more towards comedy: R2-D2’s asides, Yoda’s haikus, the Jabba the Hut rap. Did you make a conscious decision to play up the comedy, or was writing it just too much fun not to?

Ian: The whole enterprise is a funny idea—rewriting Star Wars as though Shakespeare had written it. It’s very nearly parody, so I always wanted people to laugh and have fun with it. That doesn’t stop me from adding soliloquies that are intended to be sad or inspiring or whatever, but I did want to keep the general tone light. And, honestly, I think my books maintain the spirit of the movies, which are mostly light (with exceptions, of course). After all, when the trash compactor is about to kill Han, Leia, Luke and Chewbacca—which, in real life, would be an utterly terrifying event—Han still quips, “One thing’s for sure, we’re all gonna be a lot thinner!”

Amanda: The companion educator’s guide (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars® Educator’s Guide) is very thorough and reads like an Intro to Shakespeare syllabus. Have you heard from any students or educators who have had success introducing their students to Shakespeare through your work?

Ian: Yes, I’ve talked to teachers, visited schools and Skyped with a handful of classes using the book. Introducing students to Shakespeare via Star Wars was definitely my second intention for these books (right after writing books people would enjoy). It is a huge honour for me when I hear from teachers or parents that their students or children became interested in Shakespeare because of my books.

Amanda: I read in an interview you did over at starwars.com that typically your audiences usually skew one way or another; one night you’re reading at a ComiCon, then you’ll be at a Shakespeare festival. Have you ever had a sense that one audience is more intense or difficult to please than the other?

Ian: It depends on what we mean by “difficult to please”! Star Wars fans are definitely pickier about how I handle certain scenes or different characters. Most Star Wars fans embrace the books completely, but there will always be people who are unhappy about this or that. Shakespeare audiences, on the other hand, often look at my work from an academic standpoint, and although my parody is decent I’m definitely no Shakespeare scholar. Again, most Shakespeare folks (and definitely theatre people) enjoy the books, but I do hear from people about how Shakespeare wouldn’t have used this word or that phrasing.

Amanda: In late 2012, Disney announced there would be a new Star Wars every two to three years, just as you were in the beginning stages of reimagining “A New Hope”. How did you take this news, first as a Star Wars fan, and second as someone working within the Star Wars universe?

Ian: As a Star Wars fan, I was excited—or at least cautiously optimistic. I looked forward to the new movies, and having seen The Force Awakens (um, four times now) I’m eager to see the next films. As a Star Wars author, originally I didn’t think much of the announcement—after all, when I did the first book I didn’t even know if I would be writing Empire and Jedi. When I watched The Force Awakens, though, I definitely watched with an eye to how I might write a Shakespearean version (if that ends up happening).

Amanda: I’m always curious about work/life balance and creative communities. Does living in Portland, Oregon play a part in being able to accomplish your writing goals, have a day job, and still have time for your family and other interests?

Ian: Portland is a fun, quirky place full of creative people, but for me it’s also just home. I’m a Portland native, so the changes in Portland in the last 20 years have been fun to see but aren’t why I live there. The work/life balance issue is always tricky: I end up writing late at night when my kids are asleep, or in the evenings when they’re doing their school reading. It’s never perfect, but it works out, and they like that Dad writes Star Wars books.

 

Amanda: Mash Stories was founded on the concept of “mashing” random ideas into a story, and it’s great to see that Ian Doescher tried a similar philosophy and found success with it. For more information about Ian Doescher and his work, please visit his website, www.iandoescher.com.

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Amanda is a junior judge and a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing. Her blog Misadventures in Portland received widespread local acclaim and lead to opportunities writing for the USM’s Office of Public Affairs and the Portland Phoenix. Follow Amanda on her blog: amandajennifer.blogspot.com

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