Lightsabers and a Philly Cheesesteak
By Basil Sands
Combining the wonder of The Midnight Library, the inventiveness of Ready Player One, and the artistry of Cloud Atlas, THE ENDLESS VESSEL by bestselling author Charles Soule explores the ways we’re all connected and offers a true path to joy.
Born in Milwaukee, Charles spent his early years in Michigan before moving to Asia, where he lived in Hong Kong, Manila, and Singapore (probably not all at once). The wandering Soule did a few stints along the East Coast before finally settling in Brooklyn, New York for the long haul…probably.
Charles is a #1 New York Times bestselling novelist and comic book writer, as well as a musician and former attorney. He has worked for DC Comics and other publishers but is best known for his work at Marvel Comics writing Daredevil, She-Hulk, Death of Wolverine, and various Star Wars comics including Star Wars, The Rise of Kylo Ren, Darth Vader, Poe Dameron, Lando, and more. He’s also created series such as Eight Billion Genies and Curse Words (with Ryan Browne), Undiscovered Country (with Scott Snyder & Giuseppe Camuncoli), Letter 44 (with Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque), and the Shrouded College series (with Will Sliney), which started with Book I, Hell to Pay, just this past November 2022.
Charles is also a creative consultant for Lucasfilm, Ltd, and one of the founding architects of Star Wars: The High Republic, a multi-platform Star Wars saga that started with Light of the Jedi. He also worked as the legal consultant for the 2022 Disney+ television series She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law. Not only is Charles a prolific comic book writer, but he is also a novelist, publishing The Oracle Year in 2018, Anyone in 2019, Star Wars: Light of the Jedi in 2021, and THE ENDLESS VESSEL in 2023.
Here, Soule sits down with The Big Thrill to discuss adding personal touches to his tale, his success in the world of comics, a love of music, and lightsabers.
Charles, your story kept me awake several nights in a row until I could finish it! Can you share with the readers a little bit about ENDLESS VESSEL?
Well, that’s the job, isn’t it? Keeping readers up late until they get to the ending. This is my fourth novel, and I put a lot into it—story, personal elements, and twists and turns. I wanted to take a big swing, and this one took me about four years from concept to release, so I guess that counts. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder on any story I’ve ever told, and I hope it shows.
THE ENDLESS VESSEL follows a woman named Lily Barnes working as an engineer in Hong Kong. She comes across a piece of impossible technology and goes on a worldwide quest to find its source. As this happens, she comes into contact with two groups. First, the Lazarenes, a secret society of geniuses that have been sailing the world non-stop for two and a half centuries aboard their incredible, constantly modified ship in an effort to defeat death. Then, there’s Team Joy, a bunch of what I call “happiness terrorists” who are trying to convince humanity to let go of its hopes for the future and just embrace the moment, using some extremely destructive methods. As the story develops, we learn that long ago, the Lazarenes found the greatest treasure in human history—the true secret to happiness—and have been protecting it ever since.
Those three elements come together in a truly exciting, page-turning way as we build to the end. This book is full of ideas, but it never loses sight of the engines propelling the story. I’m really proud of it.
Of the characters in THE ENDLESS VESSEL, do you have a favorite?
It was only after carving out a career at Marvel and DC Comics that I decided it was time to stretch my prose muscles again.I really like Peter Match, a rock star singer who has lost his voice to throat cancer. He links up with Lily and decides to help her on her quest in the hope that they might find a cure for his illness. As the story progresses, Peter becomes central to the whole thing, and his journey is one of my favorite parts of the book. He’s just cool, you know?
I’ve been playing music since I was really young, and love writing about it. Peter was my latest attempt at capturing what it feels like to be up on stage performing, and it was always fun to see what he was going to do next.
Have you ever sailed across the open ocean with a group of scientists, engineers, and rock stars? If yes, why? If no, why not?
I wish. The Lazarenes are a group of the most fascinating people in the world, methodically gathered together over centuries to try to figure out what happens to us after we die. I bet it’d be one hell of a voyage.
The closest I’ve ever come was a five-day cruise some years back with a bunch of luminaries from the comic book, film, and TV worlds—like a Comic-Con at sea. It was a total blast, though I’m sorry to say we didn’t spend much time considering the deepest questions of human existence.
With such success in the comic book world, when did you say to yourself, “I’m gonna write a big, world-shaping novel”?
I was actually a novelist before I was a comic book writer. I wrote a book before I started working in comics. It’s currently in a drawer and likely to stay there, but I did get decently far with it. I had an agent who sent it out on submission, but it didn’t sell. Not uncommon for a first novel, but that book took me years, and I wanted to do something that was a bit less solitary as a follow-up…which brought me to comics.
It was only after carving out a career at Marvel and DC Comics that I decided it was time to stretch my prose muscles again. This was around 2016. I dug back into a partial manuscript I’d been working on when that first book didn’t happen, and eventually, that became my first novel, The Oracle Year. I love novels and don’t imagine I’ll ever stop writing them. I’ve already broken ground on my next two!
What is the second most common question you get asked by interviewers, panel watchers, and people in line at the coffee stand?
How do you say your last name? Though that one’s happening less and less, which is cool. I always figured that a way to benchmark my success would be when people knew how to say my last name without needing to be prompted. (For the record, it’s pronounced like “soul.”)
Do you create the drawings in your comics?
If this isn’t the most common question I get or the second, it’s up there. I can’t draw—I’m terrible at it. I like making little doodles sometimes, but I have no real skill. I work with truly incredible artists who make my words look good and wouldn’t change it.
Have you ever dressed up as a superhero to either fight crime or impress your daughter?
Never! She’s more of a horror movie kid, so…superhero no, vampire…yes!
Do you have a real lightsaber, or do you just pretend with a flashlight and a bunch of glow sticks tied together?
The lightsabers (yes, plural) I have are about as close to the real thing as current technology allows. I have a number of the high-end fancy ones you can get at the Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars park at Disney (I may have a problem), and several fan-made ones for sabers used by characters I’ve created. Those are incredible—that kind of thing always makes me happy.
Now for a scenario in which we reveal the mysteriously deep philosophical questions at the core of everyone’s mind, whether they realize it or not. This scenario is set in the Universe that lies three doors down from the Marvel Universe and will give us a clearer representation of the flesh-wrapped Soule of Charles.
You awaken to find yourself standing in a large room surrounded by a dozen doors. Each is several inches off the ground and appears to be custom-made in the Victorian-era style. Some of the doors have shiny brass plaques engraved with labels in different languages. Seelengarten (German: Garden of Souls). Svafstens Dimension (Swedish: Brimstone Dimension). Didžiųjų Sumuštinių Vieta (Lithuanian: Place of Great Sandwiches). Then you see one that simply says “DC” in a big bold font. And another with MARVEL in all CAPS. Between those last two are two more doors—one decorated with a carved dragon and the other with a 3D relief of a smiling Troll with a knobby club. Their brass plaques contain only a ‘?’ in the center. You suddenly have an overwhelming desire to open a door and step inside.
- Which door to you choose?
- What happens when you enter?
- How/Can you get back to the room?
Ha! I didn’t know I’d be writing a novella as part of this interview. I do like the choice of location, though. For me, right now, because I am starving, there’s only one choice: The Sandwich Door. I know exactly where it would take me, too. I went to college in Philadelphia, where I acquired a taste for that city’s most hallowed bread-and-fixins combo, the notorious Philly cheesesteak.
My travels take me down to Philadelphia semi-regularly these days, and whenever I go, I stop by my new favorite spot, a joint called Dalessandro’s. That’s where the door would open to—and I’d get to skip the line. What would happen next is pretty obvious, I think—I’d have a cheesesteak, maybe a bag of chips, and a soda. It’d be great, and honestly, the last thing I’d be worried about is finding my back to the Doors room. I mean, why would I? I’d have everything I needed right there.