An Interview with Marisha Pessl & Ian Doescher

“I’m obsessive about my reading list, protective of my reading time, excited about my current reading pile. It was reading so much that made me want to write, to try out some of the things I was seeing, to believe that I, too, could take on a book-length project of my own.”

When I heard the phrase Star Wars and iambic pentameter I had to talk to Ian Doescher. I randomly came across a description for his books on Amazon—“Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon…”—and was immediately smitten. I was impressed not just by the artful mash-up that he created—replete with Dramatis Personae page, Darth Vader saying “Aye,” various Anons and Asides—but by its very conception as something unabashedly geeky.

In a modern world where art is drowning in commerce, Doescher’s books are a rare cry of unabashed, intellectual fandom. Reading these plays—I await the day one will premiere off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop—requires concentration and quiet, yet they are ingenious petit fours of heroism and humor.

We talked about inspiration, the afterlife, and everything in-between.

What is the one book that saved / saves your life?

Douglas Hofstadter’s books in general, and his book Le Ton Beau De Marot specifically, have given me so much. He’s a computer science professor at Indiana University interested in artificial intelligence, but his books range in topics from music to mathematics, from philosophy to—particularly in Le Ton Beau De Marot—language. He is brilliant, thought provoking and funny, and his books are both challenging and pleasurable.

If you could change one thing about popular culture, what would it be?

This is probably a curmudgeon’s answer, but I think I’d say our obsession with celebrity. I see too many people who long for their lives to be something other than what it is, simply because they see a lifestyle they perceive as somehow better (more wealthy, more glamorous, more famous, etc.).

Who or what do you love above all else?

The “who” is too easy—my wife, my kids—so I’ll answer the “what.” Though the written word is (obviously) important to me, both writing and reading, singing is what I love above all else. I have been singing in choirs since high school and cherish every chance I get to sing in a group. Consequently, I’m a big fan of musical theater, of contemporary a cappella music (like Pentatonix), of choral music and, yes, even barbershop music. If you want to see the real geek in me come out, get me talking about music.

What do you think about critics?

Generally, I think critics are harmless. For me, they fall into the “to be expected” realm. I knew there would be people who didn’t like the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. Criticism generally only really gets to me if it feels overly personal, or if a critic points out a failing in my work that I end up agreeing with. Do I wish people were nicer sometimes? Sure. But I wish all kinds of people were nicer sometimes, not just critics. (Politicians, you listening?)

What do you regret?

I regret various life choices that have hurt people close to me. Exes, sure, but more importantly my children and my wife. There are are times as an adult when I’ve realized my life story isn’t going to be what I thought it was going to be—I’ve had two or three of those sobering moments.

What is your current sentiment toward your published books—contempt, deep affection, horror, indifference, everlasting love, etc.?

Gratitude, mostly, but more because of what writing books has done for my life than because I think the books are so wonderful. Publishing books has opened up an exciting chapter of my life that, four years ago, didn’t seem possible. My books aren’t perfect, and in particular I wish I could go back and tinker with the first one, but I am grateful for the experiences they have given to me.


What is the thing you love most about readers?

The enthusiasm I’ve heard from readers is such a joy, particularly when I hear from young readers (or their parents) who have been inspired by reading my books. I love that readers are out there reading, because if they weren’t my books would be less fun to write. Art for art’s sake is its own reward, of course, but I have enough theater nerd in me that I still appreciate an audience.

What do you prefer: writing or having written?

Having written, hands down! The books I write are totally fun, so writing itself is never a chore. That said, my life is busy enough—with children and a full time job—that rarely is writing a sanctuary or a refuge. I most often write when I am tired, or rushed, or busy with other things. Having written, on the other hand, is a great feeling. The payoff—which, for me, is getting to see my books on the shelves of bookstores and hearing from people who enjoy my books—is worth the work.

They say, ‘You can’t take it with you,” but if you could? What three personal objects would you take with you into the afterlife?

My computer, my Complete Works of Shakespeare, and a piano. The computer both for the music on it and to be able to keep writing, the Shakespeare to have an eternity worth of reading material, and a piano to be able to keep making and writing music.

Is there a song that brings tears to your eyes? Which one?

There are probably fifteen songs that do, and about half of them are on the Hamilton cast recording. The one that made me cry hardest was probably a Quincy Jones song called “Grace,” because I heard it at a time in my life when I was at my lowest and was in need of some grace.

What are the words that you live by?

The words I probably live most by are—depending on whether you want the 20th century version or the 21st century version—Robert Frost’s “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep” or Daft Punk’s “Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger / More than ever hour after [h]our work is never over.” In other words, I keep myself in constant motion, always looking for the next project (of any kind: writing, reading, athletic, etc.).

If God were found to exist beyond a reasonable doubt, what would say to Him / Her?

Probably “Thank you.” Let other people complain or ask hard questions—I’ll try to be the one who’s grateful.

When you hit a snag / roadblock / writing what do you do?

When I hit a roadblock, I generally go away and do something else entirely. Watch a movie, read a book, play a game with my kids, lose my mind in another activity. I have written enough in my time (not just books, but papers, speeches, and so on) that I know my subconscious will work on whatever problem I’m facing, so when I come back to writing the next time the block tends to go away.

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

The writer in me says no. In my day job, I work for a marketing agency and am our primary copywriter. I’m often disheartened by the value we put on the design of our ads versus the words in them. Words matter! That said, some pictures are worth a million words. When I got the first proof of The Jedi Doth Return in my email and saw the illustration of Admiral Ackbar dressed as a sea captain, I thought, “That picture alone is worth the price of the book.”

Why write?

My path to writing began at my love of reading. My passion for reading didn’t take off until after college, but once it did it has been like a fire inside me. I’m obsessive about my reading list, protective of my reading time, excited about my current reading pile. It was reading so much that made me want to write, to try out some of the things I was seeing, to believe that I, too, could take on a book-length project of my own.

The Free Association Corner (Please write the first word that comes to mind)

Inspiration. Madness.
Muses. Sirens.
Editing. Refine.
Character. Acting.
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Shakespeare.
George Lucas. Star Wars.

About Ian Doescher

Ian Doescher is the author of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. He has a B.A. in Music from Yale University, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Ethics from Union Theological Seminary. Ian lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family.

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