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Interview: February 8, 2018

Whether you're a teen or an adult, there's no doubt that you've seen all of the tremendous buzz around the new Star Wars films. As the films have recaptured our attention, science fiction has also made a huge comeback in the book world, especially in YA. One book that has recently been getting tons of praise is Michael Moreci's BLACK STAR RENEGADES, a fantastic mashup of all of our favorite sci-fi elements with perfectly flawed characters and tons of action. Our reviewer, Matthew Burbridge, recently had the chance to speak with Moreci, a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd, about the inspiration for his book, transitioning from writing comics to novels and where his characters will go in the sequel. Read an excerpt here and read below to see his answers! BLACK STAR RENEGADES is a compelling mashup of all of our favorite science fiction films (Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.) with a dose of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and lots of classic pulp fiction; it has also been called a “love letter to Star Wars.” Can you tell us where you got your initial inspiration for this book?

Michael Moreci: Inspiration is a funny thing. How BLACK STAR RENEGADES became a book is a bit of a strange tale. See, I’m a huge—HUGE—Star Wars fan. I have a million action figures, I know every detail, have a tattoo on my arm, I write for, etc…. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the galaxy far, far away. One of these people is Marc, an editor at St. Martin’s --- an editor I’d been pitching (unsuccessfully) novel ideas for years. One day, Marc called me up and said, “Mike, you love Star Wars; write me something like Star Wars.” I had a pitch ready in 48 hours, and it was approved within a month. It was the easiest thing I’d ever conceived, and it writing it has been the most amazing experience of my entire creative life.

TRC: In addition to being an author, you are also a comic book writer. Can you tell us about any difficulties or challenges you faced when transitioning from comic book writing to novel writing? Is one easier or harder than the other?

MM: Writing novels is way, waaaaaaaay harder. There’s no pictures to help tell the story! I mean, I’m lucky because I do have a background in writing prose. Prior to writing comics full-time, I’d been writing prose fiction (I wrote a literary novel that, mercifully, went unpublished), and I even have my MA from Northwestern University in creative writing. So writing a book wasn’t entirely foreign. But, I was very, very rusty, and I had to, ahem, “unlearn what I had learned.” And I also had to understand how to go about writing BLACK STAR RENEGADES, making it fun and poppy and moving at the clip I wanted it to move at. All of which is to say that there were challenges, but part of the fun is figuring those challenges out.

TRC: You accomplish many things in BLACK STAR RENEGADES, but one of the most important is the breaking of the “Chosen One” trope, perhaps best known from the Luke Skywalker storyline of the original three Star Wars films. What made you decide to focus not on a chosen hero but on the guy standing next to him? When writing Cade, did you pull any character traits from people you know in real life?

MM: It’s funny to think about that, because that idea of breaking the Chosen One trope wasn’t in the initial draft or even the initial idea for the story. But after writing the first draft, one of the big questions I had to ask of myself was what this book was trying to say, beyond being a loving rendition of Star Wars. What I noticed in reading the draft was this strong Arthurian thread, with the weapon of destiny and all that. One of the interesting things about Arthur is that he filled the round table with people who were his equals if not his betters. I love that idea of valuing the power of community, of strength through unity and togetherness and the skeleton of that existed in the first draft. So, when I went into draft two, that became a really big part of the story, and what went hand in hand with vaunting this theme of unity was dismantling the idea that one person, and one person alone, should be relied upon to save the entire galaxy. And Cade --- who is me in many ways, a perpetual underdog who has a lot of self-confidence issues --- became the perfect character to show that real power is in many, not in one.

TRC: Your villain, Ga Halle, is one of the most menacing and omnipresent of any villain I’ve read in a long time. The oppressive nature of this villain and her empire hangs over every detail of the story, sometimes even more effectively than we’ve seen in some of the classics. What was it like writing this villain? Do you have a favorite part?

MM: Ga Halle might be my favorite character in the book. Which is hard to say, because she’s so evil. But you’re right, she hangs over the entire story in such an inescapable way, and I think it’s because she feels so real. My favorite scene of hers doesn’t even have her in it --- that’s how powerful of a presence she has. When we learn her backstory --- which I won’t spoil here --- and what happened between her and the Well, at least to me, she became way more relatable than we could have ever imagined. Granted, she’s an evil dictator, but after you see what she went through, it’s easy to understand why she went down a certain path. No one is the villain of their own story, and this is true for Ga Halle; she doesn’t think she’s the bad guy, and her point of view is just understandable enough to make her all the more intimate --- and, thus, all the more terrifying.

TRC: Speaking of Ga Halle, when reading BLACK STAR RENEGADES, I was really fascinated by your names and invented words. Did you draw from roots in another language or was this all your own creation? What is it like inventing words and names that sound real?

MM: A lot of the naming draws from samurai culture (Rai being directly taken from samurai, in fact). Some of the names are references to Star Wars (for instance, Cade is the name of a descendant of Luke Skywalker in the comic series Legacy) or other nerdy things. But when in doubt, my editor and I always made sure that the planets, weapons, characters, that all the names were as digestible as possible. Let’s face it: There’s nothing more annoying than having to read a name like Aeoirlgaeth a hundred times in a book. It stops you dead in your tracks, and we didn’t want that; our aim was to have every bit of the book as easy to process as possible so the pages keep on moving.

TRC: Your pacing in BLACK STAR RENEGADES never falters or stumbles at any point the novel, and it’s especially noticeable during the description of tech, weapons and machinery, which can be a classic pitfall of a great many science fiction works. How much research into technology and weaponry did you have to do? How do you balance this research with your own writing?

MM: Zero research! I mean, I hate to sound cavalier, but it’s the truth. I have zero interest in how an FTL drive works or the effects of g-force on the body or any of that speculative science stuff. Maybe it’s blasphemy to say, but I wanted to create a specific experience for readers, one that was totally unencumbered by paragraphs that read like they’re lifted straight out of Popular Mechanics. BLACK STAR RENEGADES is all about propulsion and movement, and that isn’t so different from any other pulpy space adventure. How can all the passengers aboard the Falcon stay inert while traveling at light speed? How can like every planet be habitable? We don’t know, and we don’t want to know. All that stuff just is, leaving us to focus on what’s most important --- the story, the characters and the overall experience.

TRC: Many of our readers are aspiring writers themselves, and they love hearing about a writer’s process. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process --- are you a plotter or a “pantser” (someone who flies by the seat of their pants)? How was this book different from when you finished it from when you started?

MM: I’m a plotter, thoroughly. The three-act structure is the cornerstone of how I approach crafting stories, and I always take the time to break my plot into these specific beats. I have a corkboard that I use --- pretty simple --- and I break the story down by acts and by chapters. And in each chapter, I break down what’s happening visually, what’s happening with the characters thematically, stuff like that. Don’t get me wrong, I let the story go where it takes me once I’m on it, but I like to have a clear roadmap to help see me through.

TRC: Your book is not technically YA, but has tremendous crossover appeal. Can you tell us a bit about why you think teens should pick up your book? Do you think this is a book that parents and teens can enjoy together? What do you hope younger readers will take away from BLACK STAR RENEGADES?

MM: It’s weird, because before the book was even released, my editor dabbled with marketing the book as being YA. There were a couple things that prevented that, internally, but none of them had to do with the content of the book. The thing is, at its core, BLACK STAR RENEGADES is a coming-of-age novel. That’s really all it is, just like Star Wars was a coming of age movie. Lucas intended it to be a family film from the beginning. I think when it comes to coming-of-age stories, there’s a lot of mileage there; everyone, whether you’re an adult or a kid, is always coming of age. We’re always growing and evolving into the next thing, or if we’re parents, we’re watching our kids grow and evolve into the next thing. And I’ve had a lot of parents tell me how much they’ve enjoyed sharing this story with their kids, from six-year-olds to thirteen-year-olds, and I love that. I think we all need a reminder that life is always in flux and changing, and --- especially kids and teens --- the most important thing is to stay true to yourself and the people you care about no matter what life brings your way.

TRC: Do you enjoy reading young adult works? Can you recommend anything to readers who enjoyed BLACK STAR RENEGADES?

MM: I read lots of YA --- it’s some of the best genre fiction being written right now. Some of my favorites, well --- surprising no one, my favorite YA of the past few years was LOST STARS, Claudia Gray’s YA Star Wars book. It’s so good! A great, great read for Star Wars newcomers and longtime fans. THE BOOK OF THREE --- though that’s probably more middle grade --- shares a lot in common with BLACK STAR RENEGADES. ENDER’S GAME, that’s a big for me. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, by Beth Revis, is a series that I love. And anything by S.J. Kincaid.

TRC: Lastly, can you let us know what you’re working on now? Any hints about what we can expect from the sequel to BLACK STAR RENEGADES?

MM: I’m actually looking at the edits from editor for BLACK STAR RENEGADES 2 as I type this! They’re on my desk, right next to my computer. As for what to expect…well, it’s a little darker. The humor is still there, but the characters go on journeys that challenge them in deeply personal ways. We’re going to see more new worlds, more new characters. And Kira --- Kira is basically the main character of this next book, and I loooove how her story plays out. But other than that, it’s the same cast of misfits trying to find their way in the galaxy while saving it at the same time.