EXCLUSIVE: Kevin J. Anderson & Stephen L. Sears Discuss STALAG-X

Best-selling author, Kevin. J. Anderson (DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES, STAR WARS: TALES OF THE JEDI, STAR WARS: JEDI ACADEMY) and veteran screenwriter, Steven L. Sears (XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, THE A-TEAM) team up with artist Mike Ratera, to bring you STALAG-X.

Joe Human—is taken to a harsh P.O.W. camp on a distant planet where he will be examined, tortured, and forced to endure experiments that rip into his very mind, as the alien Krael seek to answer the question: What is human?

Writers Steven L. Sears and Kevin J. Anderson sit down with Diamond to discuss their work on their new sci-fi fantasy about the human condition. Check it out below!

STALAG-X will be available May 8, 2018.


Ashley Kronsberg: What’s the back story on how what brought you two together to work on this project?

Steven L. Sears: We had met about twenty years ago at an obscure convention and formed a friendship based on common interests. Obviously, our interest in telling stories and writing, but also our outlook toward different things including futuristic notions science fiction and fact.  Seeing as how we both were successful in our particular areas of writing, and how different each area was from the others, we soon started thinking about working together on some project.  We just had to figure out which one. 

Originally, STALAG-X was to be a TV project, so we started to chart it out with that in mind.  Later on, we had an opportunity to pursue it as a graphic novel and started restructuring it along those lines while still preserving the dynamic aspects of a live action TV series.  One of the things we keep in mind when creating our projects now is that there are so many platforms for good series ideas; TV, features, novels, graphic novels and the like.  We soon realized that STALAG-X lent itself very well to many different arenas.

Kevin J. Anderson: I came out to LA to stay with Steve and together we pitched some projects to TV networks. We were kicking around ideas in his kitchen, just looking for interesting high concepts. We came up with “Human POWs in an alien concentration camp,” with a very mysterious main character. It grew into so much more than that, but that core idea really captured our imaginations.

AK: Stalag-X incorporates sci-fi elements in its construction of the world, but also ties in deep questions about humanity, emotions, and human relationships. What led to the decision to set up these concepts to the backdrop of an intergalactic war?

SLS: All stories are, at their core, about people and their interactions.  In short, it’s about our common humanity.  But one of the places that the very concept of humanity is stretched to the limit is during war and, especially, in concentration camps.  The very act of war requires dehumanizing your opponents and the camps are the result of that degradation.  Our history is, unfortunately, filled with examples of this.

However, one hope that all victims and prisoners have is that they might, somehow, appeal to that common humanity with their captors.  You saw this in World War 2, where many artists and musicians were spared because their art and music touched that common humanity in their captors.  STALAG-X goes beyond that.  How can you appeal to a common humanity when your captor isn’t even human?  More, how can you, and your fellow prisoners, preserve your humanity when mere survival becomes a competition? 

In STALAG-X, our galactic war, one of genocide between two species, is a warning that we are only one step away from completely losing our humanity.  In the novel, the lead Krael scientist asks the question “What makes you human?”  But, in truth, it’s a question we never ask ourselves, but should.  STALAG-X does. 

KJA: Even though it takes place in the future, on a galactic canvas, with reprehensible aliens, the scenario is immediately relatable to all audiences. If you think it takes hideous aliens to act so inhuman, you have only to study what the Nazis did to their fellow human beings in World War II. That connection makes this story so clear and important for modern audiences. 

AK: What was it like working together on this project? How did your relationship together as writers translate to working with the artist, Mike Ratera, on this project?

SLS: Oh, the constant arguing and yelling!  We got to the point where we were sitting in adjoining rooms screaming at each other through the walls!  Actually…. no.  First of all, Kevin and I have been friends for well over twenty years.  Working with him is great.  In Television, you frequently have to work with other writers on a TV series and on specific episodes, but that’s not the same as having a partner on an original project.

Finding people you work well with in those cases isn’t that common.  And, when it is forced, you don’t find it being repeated with the same person.  But Kevin and I are, first, storytellers.  And, second, kids.  Some writers look at collaboration as a series of one-ups on each other.  We found ourselves getting excited and jumping on top of each other’s concepts like kids climbing on a jungle gym. We found ourselves building on each other’s contributions and that leads to what I call the upward spiral of creativity. 

Working with Mike was extremely interesting.  Although Kevin has done this graphic novel thing before, this was a first for me.  In the early stages, I found myself nervously awaiting the sketches from Mike, wondering if her would “get it” and whether it would come across on the page.  Those concerns and worries soon disappeared; Mike not only “got it”, he elaborated and improved upon our descriptions.  I loved what I was seeing and the final result is spectacular.

KJA: I had a fair amount of experience writing comic scripts, while Steve comes from the TV world, and although the specific script formats have their differences, they both require a very visual mindset when it comes to storytelling. And we are both visual storytellers in what we write, so we worked very well together brainstorming the details, scene by scene or panel by panel in a comic.

We write very detailed scripts, because we know how each page should look, and Mike was a great artist to work with. He is from Spain and brings an international flavor to the work. I loved getting his pages as they came in, seeing our scripts come to life.

AK: Aside from our lead, Joe Human, who would you say was your favorite character? Who was your least favorite?

SLS
: Favorite?  I’m not usually wired to answer the “favorites” question, but with a gun to my head, it would be Deacon, without a doubt.  She has a huge appeal to me, her backstory, her psychology, her strength and her weaknesses.  She is a strong, powerful woman who makes no excuses for who she is or what she does.  She doesn’t rely on anyone else, male or female, to define her.  For least favorite, sorry, none of my characters fall into that category.  I find all my characters fascinating otherwise they wouldn’t be in the material. 

KJA: That’s not fair, because Joe is such a complex, fascinating person! But readers will have to figure that out for themselves. We did write a separate Deacon story, which is included in the graphic novel, and I know Steve is very fond of her. Of the others, though, I think I was very interested in General Lansing and his majordomo Felix; their relationship is fascinating, and now that we know the full story (as well as a lot of background that didn’t make it into the finished pages), I would really love to dig into them a little more.

AK: What can we expect from the series moving forward? Do you two have any other projects together that fans can anticipate?

SLS: Other than the Stalag-X stories?  Yes, there are many more than one story here.  And those who read the first graphic novel will soon see the continuation of the series into the actual universe of Stalag-X.  Aside from that, each one of our main characters has a fascinating backstory, layered with adventure and politics.  The included prose piece “Deacon’s Story” implies a lot about her background.  Kevin and I have discussed doing a series of novellas on those characters and what brought them to come together in this initial story.  But other than Stalag-X, yes, we have discussed many other possible concepts, both for the literary world and the TV/Film world.

KJA:  We have a second entire arc in mind for Stalag-X, carrying forward Joe’s struggles in the concentration camp with the ruthless aliens, and how torn he is with the desire to escape and the desperate need to stay, for the sake of the human race, as well as his own life. Steve and I have known each other for 25 years or so, and we’ve got a lot of cards up our sleeves, potential projects, ideas we’d like to develop. Let’s see this one become a success first, and after that we’ll have lots of things to propose!

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