Interview with Robert Shaw by Robert Raker

RR: Your first novel “The Scare” is an homage to ‘80s and ‘90s horror films. Do you feel those were strong decades for that genre?
RS: My goodness yes! Although I’m sure many of today’s younger generation would disagree. Nowadays we have Saw one through ten million or whatever it is (never seen any of them) and James Wan making the same film over and over with different titles (Dead Silence, Insidious etc), awful stuff like Jennifer’s Body and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – they rely on loud orchestral hits and jump scares with lousy acting. In the 80s and 90s we had wonderful horror outings such as the House movies (both by Steve Miner I think?), The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, the wonderful (sometimes cheesy) Nightmare on Elm Street installments, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Poltergeist… the list of marvelous horror movies from those decades is endless and far greater quality. I think the best scary films from the 2000s were The Ring – very creepy and oppressively terrifiying, and maybe the first couple Final Destinations.

RR: How long did it take you to write “The Scare?” What is “The Scare” about?
RS:The Scare is about a group of friends living in a seaside town who encounter a supernatural foe that goes around killing people and then using the dead bodies to do its evil deeds – it’s sort of a zombie tale using the original definition of a zombie, which was not some apocalyptic virus-driven flesh-eating crazy (or an entire town full of those) but a dead person who was brought back to life by a Voodoo spell to do the dastardly deeds of the person casting the spell. I lived in my truck for 4 years from 2001 to 2005 and I took about 2 of those years to write The Scare, scribbling by long-hand first because I had no laptop or place to plug it in (I’ve still got the handwritten MS) and then later sitting at the food court in a West Los Angeles mall when I did get a laptop – there were power outlets in this places and it became like my office and friends would stop by my table to see how the book was coming along.

RR: Your third novel “Thunder Rising” is a Western with Sci-Fi influences. What inspired this particular work?
RS: I really love strong female leads and I was very impressed by the character Cate Blanchett played in Ron Howard’s The Missing and of course by the Ripley character in the Alien films – one day I wondered what it would be like if Ripley lived in the Old West and had to fight a monster with no tech or fancy weapons. She’s a tough woman and I sort of combined her with Maggie Gilkeson from The Missing and created Emeline Bransford in Thunder Rising. Then I remembered a favorite episode of Lost in Space where a creature crawled out of a meteor pit and came after Judy Robinson. I sort of went from there and wrote Thunder Rising.

RR: The original working title for “Thunder Rising” was “Jaws on a Prairie in the Old West.” Why did you decide to change the title?
RS:It was only ever intended to be a working title. Thunder Rising started out as a script that I wrote, and that was what had the working title. There are scenes where the monster is chasing people across a prairie and I thought of that as an ocean of grass and imagined it to sort of be like the shark in Jaws chasing Quint’s boat. I was working at DreamWorks at the time also and there were some people there who thought they could get Jonathan Liebsman interested in the script (he likes westerns and sci-fi) so I thought let’s pitch it to him with that crazy title so he gets a distinct image in his mind. Nothing ever came of that and eventually the monster theme took a lesser role than the western aspects of the story anyway, and there’s a theme about thunder and lightning throughout the story so the new title seemed more suitable. It’s also a play on the fact that Emeline’s anger builds through the story to the (thunderously) explosive scene where she rescues her girls from the brothel. Plus I think Jaws on a Prairie in the Old West is kind of silly, and even if it’s not it’s definitely too long!

RR: Who are some of your favorite authors?
RS: Definitely Dickens and Wilkie Collins – I love Victorian novels. Thomas Eidson (he wrote the novel of The Missing and also St. Agnes’ Stand (both featuring very strong women). John Steinbeck, L. M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. Avi, Robert B. Parker. I don’t have too many favorite contemporary authors. It’s hard to find books that really grab me nowadays.

RR: What is your favorite genre to read?
RS: I love historical fiction. The Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell is a fantastic book. Victorian novels, although I’m going off the simpering female characters featured in some of them. Of course they are a product of their time, when women were “Ladies” and needed to be looked after or rescued by “Gentlemen”, but Collins wrote a couple with strong female leads: No Name and The Woman in White. Dickens tended to write more feisty females.

RR: What is it that you like the most about the writing process? The least?
RS: Strangely it’s the same thing… the writing. Sometimes I love it and sometimes it’s agony. My favorite saying is sometimes it flows and sometimes it blows. I do much prefer writing novels to screenplays though. There’s so much more freedom and you can really let yourself run wild writing prose. No worrying about the economy of stage direction or having the “audience” know what the story is about by the first ten minutes of the movie – I think that was a Syd Field rule and I don’t agree with it anyway.

RR: When did you first decide that you wanted to write?
RS: I was the kid in high school who loved the creative writing assignments. I’d always still be scribbling my story when class was over. My English teacher predicted that I’d be a writer – she was right… I just wish she’d predicted that I’d be a successful writer. I wrote a novel in longhand when I was about nineteen – a sort of Dirty Harry set in Melbourne Australia (where I was living at the time) – but I decided it was crap and threw it away. Then I started writing scripts – my first script was a horror called The Inheritance and then I wrote a 250 page monster called The Realm of Fantasy that went through about ten drafts and eventually became the script that I finally adapted into The Scare novel. I also came up with an idea for Mad Max III and wrote a letter to the producer Byron Kennedy about it. He called me at home one night and he liked my idea and suggested that I flesh it out into a treatment and send it to him. His office called me to tell me he’d read it and wanted to meet with me when he got back from a trip he was on. Sadly, he died in a helicopter crash while on that trip. I called his office but his assistant was gone and they said they had no idea about my treatment. There were some elements in Thunder Dome that I feel could have been “borrowed” from my treatment – I had a pit fight, they had the dome fight. I had a bunch of kids living at an oasis village in the mountains, they had the plane wreck kids living in a desert oasis – but what could I do? I was about 24 and had no idea how to file a lawsuit back then. Anyway, I wrote my treatment into a stand alone script called The Steel Prince and sent it around town. I got some great feedback from Film Victoria but that was about it. Now I see there’s a new Mad Max film being made so I’m adapting my script into a novella to publish on Kindle before that movie comes out. If there are any more elements from my treatment in there I want my book out before the movie so I can say “well I did it first!”

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