Q and A With Whitley Strieber On His Novel The Grays
by Sean Casteel
June 7, 2005
The publication in 1987 of Whitley Strieber’s “Communion” was a watershed event that completely transformed Ufology as well as the lives of many of its readers. “Communion” was followed by several sequels that told the continuing story of Strieber’s attempt to understand what was happening to him at the hands of the mysterious gray aliens whom he called The Visitors. Like so many others whose lives were touched by the enigma, understanding the incomprehensively complex nature of The Visitors became a kind of Holy Grail for Strieber, and that search for truth and meaning is still very much a part of his daily struggle.
As a writer, Strieber’s early works were mainly horror fiction, novels like “The Wolfen” and “The Hunger,” that were also made into popular movies with such stars as Albert Finney and David Bowie. His reputation as a writer in the supernatural thriller genre undermined his credibility with “Communion” when it was first published, but Strieber would nevertheless still write the occasional novel with the familiar vampires and hapless heroes morphing into wolves.
But it was not until recently that Strieber has attempted to address the subject of alien abduction itself in novel form. There are several storylines happening simultaneously in Strieber’s “The Grays” (A Tor Book, 2006), one of which involves an Air Force empath named Lauren Glass who is carefully selected to attempt communication with a gray alien held captive by the U.S. military. Meanwhile, a secret cabal of government intelligence officers, intent on sacrificing most of humanity to avoid what they view as the coming enslavement of mankind by the grays, begins to hunt down an extremely gifted child named Conner. The eleven-year-old prodigy has been painstakingly bred over many centuries by the grays in order to create a kind of genius that can converse with them mentally and thus make possible a world-saving bridge between the two species. Naturally it all builds to the kind of climax that would make for a great summer movie. (A screenplay is currently being written and the movie may start shooting by the fall of this year.)
Like Strieber’s 1989 fictionalized version of the Roswell Incident, “Majestic,” “The Grays” also affords Strieber the opportunity to flesh out his personal beliefs without being required to even attempt to prove the material as factual. I spoke to Strieber by phone from his current residence in Mexico, and he delivers the same kind of powerful moments of forward-looking faith and fascinating educated conjecture that we have come to expect from a true pioneer traveling the difficult path to that Unknown Country in the distance, just ahead of us.
Q: You make no attempt to hide the fact that “The Grays” is truth-disguised-as-fiction. Why did you choose that method this time around?
Strieber: I chose to make this a work of fiction because there’s no other way to communicate the way it feels to interact with the grays. Describing it in nonfiction terminology does not engage the reader’s emotions. And the emotional experience is part of the essence. Also, there’s another reason. There’s a lot of material in the book that I can't prove but I believe to be true that doesn’t rise to the level of documentation or support necessary for nonfiction. In that sense, the book is like “Majestic.” Things that I have been told or learned but without any documentary support. So, it became inevitable that I would start expressing this in fiction.
Q: How much of the novel do you intend to have us take literally? Without giving too much away, what is some of the material buried in the layers of the plot that you think is a matter of actual fact?
Strieber: Well, it’s a little difficult to answer that precisely. The most important thing is the way that the character Lauren and the little boy Conner communicate with the grays. The way the grays operate the Three Thieves as they're called in the book—operate as a triad and the way they think. And the different way that the gray that Lauren, the government empath, the gray that she communicates with thinks when he's not part of a triad. This is a very important thing in understanding the experience and interacting with them.
Also, there's a good bit of sort of secret or semi-secret military technology. Some of it, like the TR aircraft that is roughly based on a primitive attempt to emulate gray technology—that is in the book. And that is probably quite real.
Q: Well, for instance, is there really a child who was created by selective breeding to become a bridge between the aliens and us?
Strieber: There are a lot of people who are like that. Not just one child. There are hundreds, thousands of them.
Q: Indigo children in other words?
Strieber: No, I don’t think so. I think they’ve been around for quite a while, and they’re not Indigo children, no. I don't think they’re all super-brilliant and difficult to deal with like those children are supposed to be. They’re not all children. A lot of them are old. This process started a long time ago. I don’t know how long ago, but they began to actually manifest themselves in the world in the 60s and 70s. On my website, on Unknown Country, there’s going to be this whole series of journal entries from me about the communication that has unfolded already with the grays in the past 50 years. Because it’s been a big, complex communication and it has profoundly affected our world. They have had an enormous impact on our culture. But all from behind-the-scenes. They have never emerged into the forefront.
Q: You say at one point in the book that true genius, like that of the gifted child the plot revolves around, true genius is out of fashion these days. Is there really an anti-intellectual bigotry happening today?
Strieber: Oh, sure. All over the country, in fact, all over the western world, there is a strong movement to eliminate the gifted and talented programs in public schools. They’re coming back in some areas. But the great leveling experience, the wish that nobody rise above a certain level, is very, very strong, because it fits the bureaucratic need for sameness. Bureaucrats and big corporations hate differences. They want everyone to be the same because that makes people easier to address in whatever way they want to, whether it’s by extracting money from them as consumers or controlling them as governments.
Q: “The Grays” has as one of its primary premises the idea that we’re being educated to become friends with the grays, to communicate with them as equals. Would you care to expound on that a little here?
Strieber: Well, I don’t think necessarily becoming friends is the idea. Communicating as equals would be more along the lines of what is probably hoped for in the long term. The grays are not very pleasant. They’re as dangerous as they can be, and they will exploit weakness if you show it to them. We can show them weakness on levels where we can barely even understand what’s happening. So you have to be awfully careful. As you know, having been in the UFO field for years, this is a very mixed bag. It’s not all sweetness and light by any means. And if the grays see weakness, they’ll kick. So I don’t think that we’re going to be tip-toeing through the tulips with them anytime soon.
But intellectually we are their equals. We are not their equals in terms of experience, and I can be very specific about what I mean. We have not yet penetrated into what we call “the world of the soul” with our scientific instruments and with knowledge. But this is possible. And when you are able to do this, everything changes, because this richly alive aspect of the universe must then recognize you. And when it does, you begin to think in an extra-temporal manner, for example. In one of my journal entries, one that’s just up now as we’re doing this interview on June 7, I talk about exactly what that type of extra-temporal thinking involves.
We can do that, too. We can gain that knowledge. But right now, we are about where we were in 1830 with regard to radio. It was something so impossible that the idea that it could even exist was considered by science utterly absurd. And right now science considers the idea of [contacting] a conscious entity utterly absurd. But we will find it, and we will come into contact with it, and begin to interact with it. At that point, the veil that exists between the living and the dead will away, among other things that will fall away. This species will become completely new, renewed, and able to express itself meaningfully into the cosmos. Whether or not the grays participate in this or how they participate, I don’t know. But I do know this: when I said they are what the force of evolution looks like when it acts upon a conscious mind, when I said that around the time of “Communion” or maybe even in the new book, that was a correct statement. They are putting pressure on us which is evolutionary in direction.
Q: Well, what about the idea that the aliens needs us as bad as we need them?
Strieber: I think that there’s obviously something going on. I was asked by one of them once, “What could we possibly need from you?” It felt a little bit like a squirrel asking some guy in his yard what he needed from me. I felt like an idiot. You know, there’s a thing in the UFO community, a lot of fear of them taking eggs and sperm and making hybrid babies and so forth. And that may very well be true. I mean, they’re very experimental. We had a guardian who lived behind our house for years in upstate New York who was human looking but small. He was the size of about an eleven-year-old child. He had the same testy kind of frenetic quality that the grays do.
So maybe he was a hybrid. I don’t know. It’s certainly possible. With them, I would say anything is possible. Even that they could be exploiting us in ways that we do not yet understand or can't even guess at.
Q: Raymond Fowler talks about the idea that we have a sort of a symbiotic relationship with them. We share the same pond, and if one of us pollutes the pond, then the other gets screwed, too. Is there a symbiotic relationship, an interdependency?
Strieber: Well, it’s possible to think on a very large scale. It’s possible to think about things like the fate of intelligent life in the universe. And two things immediately emerge. First, intelligent life is very rare. Second, it does have a fate, it has a condition, it is in a state right now. On a very large scale, intelligence in the universe can be described if we knew what was going on in the minds of all the intelligent creatures in the universe, we could say what the state of consciousness was in the universe now.
The grays do know things like that, and the result of this is that they have a very different viewpoint than we do. As far as interdependency is concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are ultimately going to turn out to be completely indistinguishable from us. As we grow in knowledge, they will come to seem part of the same species, if you will. It could even be that we’re a little bit like butterflies and caterpillars. We’re the caterpillars, frantically eating our way into butterfly-dom, and the grays were all once human beings and have evolved into that state.
One of the witnesses who spent a lot of time at my cabin actually encountered the grays there, Laurie Barnes. Back in the 50s, she was a young woman and pregnant with her first child. The grays showed up in her bedroom in Queens. These were not the classic grays with the big eyes. These were the short, dark blue fellows, and if they are ever still, which they rarely are they have these big, bulging eyes. They’re not pretty. Let me just put it that way. They look like frogs that have gone seriously wrong. They’re not talked about much in the UFO community, because not a lot of people see them. But she did. She saw a whole group of them come up on both sides of her bed. And she was asked, “Why are you afraid?” And she said, “Because you’re so ugly.” And the being that had spoken to her put his hand on her hand and said, “My dear, one day you will look just like us.” And perhaps that was a hint that goes in the direction of an answer to the question that you asked.
Q: So instead of being simply interdependent, it may be more like being indistinguishable.
Strieber: Well, I don’t know. I’m simply saying what she was told, and suggesting that it’s not really an answerable question with the information I possess. But directionally, it does suggest something more than just some sort of unpleasant alien scientists who appeared here from another world. It suggests a deep symbiosis of some sort.
Q: The background of government intrigue in “The Grays” is fascinating. But what did you base that aspect of the novel on? There are so many different theories as to what’s actually happening behind the scenes with the government that it would seem difficult to choose which scenario to go with.
Strieber: The background of government intrigue in the novel is based on my own personal experience, and it’s an area in which I’m not going to get into in detail as to what is real and what is not. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of government intrigue going on.
Q: What do you consider to be your own real-life role in this semi-fictional treatment of the subject? You mention your own “Communion” in the novel in passing along with a lot of other classics in the field. Where do you think you fit in the basic scheme that you’ve laid out in the book?
Strieber: Well, I fit like a square peg in a round hole in the UFO community. The people who don’t hate and fear me just don’t want anything to do with me, so I’m pretty much of an outsider. I think of myself as an outsider, with MUFON and all of that stuff. I stay away from it. I live here in Mexico most of the time now and I’m much more comfortable with the Mexican UFO community, insofar as I am in association with it, which is very little.
But in any case, my place is as a communicator. I’ve participated in a number of communications. The first one, of introducing the grays as a personality, through the medium of the book “Communion.” The second, expressing in a large scale format their concerns about our possible demise due to negative environmental changes, in “The Coming Global Superstorm,” that was then amplified into the movie “The Day After Tomorrow.” The third is to personalize the grays in an entirely new way and to let people see what it’s like inside their minds. And also to show them by example what it is like to communicate with the grays. You cannot talk to them. It does not work. In fact, in order to even communicate with them in their way, it takes a lot of discipline. You can read Lauren Glass’s struggle to do that in the book as a kind of a primer about how to communicate with them.
The grays came here in 1954, and they came here a number of other times, and made attempts to communicate. The over-flight of Washington was such an attempt. And it was responded to by us with what they regarded as silence. In other words, we did not respond. They’ve now taken another tack, another long journey in another attempt to find some kind of common language with us, some kind of common ground. And the grays and the book and the movie are part of that effort.
Q: Where is it all headed, in your opinion? Is the future brighter than it is gloomy?
Strieber: No, it’s much brighter. Not at all gloomy. Believe me, the human species is a tremendous success, and we’re headed to the stars in ways that it’s difficult to imagine. A major impediment, right now, more than anything, though, is language. We have outmoded languages. They are not adequate to express the meanings that are going to become important to us over the next few years. We must develop extra-temporal means of thinking and extra-temporal means of communicating. With “The Grays,” it’s a beginning of going in that direction. Because once you begin to communicate extra-temporally, you begin to live and see extra-temporally. It is very different from simply being able to see the future. It is quite a different process.
But it is extremely important, because if the human mind is ever going to grow into its true dimensions and make full use of the physical equipment that it has, it must begin to function this way. And if there is any larger destination that we may have, it is to reach to this point. Because once we do, then, among other things, the solution to the enigma of gravity will be obvious to any schoolchild. And the machinery that we see the grays and their friends floating around in if you could call it “floating” will be as simple to us as a gasoline engine. We need to get to that point, because until we are at that point, we are trapped on this planet. And the planet is really going to pull us out if we don’t get off of it in large numbers and begin to be able to express ourselves into the cosmos. It’s a real sink or swim situation right now.
A lot of people are saying, oh, you’re going to sink. I don’t think so. We’re going to swim.
Q: You say “extra-temporally.” That means “outside of time”?
Q: Have you in your experiences felt that kind of thing? Like you were outside of time and able to communicate?
Strieber: Oh, sure. Absolutely. I learned to do it. I learned to do it over a seven-year period, from 1990 to 1997. It took that long, but I did learn to think that way. But not like the people who taught me this do. But I learned what they were experiencing, and since then I’ve had more and more experience of this. I would almost have to read you something from the journal entry that I’ve just put up on my website if I’m going to try to give you an idea of what this is like.
Q: Sure, go ahead and read it.
Strieber: (reading) “I spent the last few years of my time in upstate New York in the frequent company of seven people who would come at about eleven each night to mediate with me. They were extra-temporal in the sense that their meaning and their communications did not depend on a linear structure. Certainly, through their eyes, a tree would appear to be a tree, but they would see also the seed and the spent logs, the memory of the tree and the absence of memory. They would see from before the seed down the intricate web of trees, stretching back into the fading thunder of the past. All this at once, when seeing the tree. To live outside of time is not to be delivered from duration, but to see all duration, all the time.”
I think that’s the best expression of that that I’ve ever come up with. It is a way of seeing “being,” that incidentally, when you begin to do it with your fellow man, you find an astonishing new compassion for the human experience and the human condition. That is to say, you do not feel that you can let sins thrive, but you do feel as if you understand the desperation that leads people to do what they do.
Q: That reminds me of a verse, I think it’s from Jeremiah, “the human heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt.” Not merely corrupt, but “desperately” corrupt.
Strieber: Well, you know, the Bible was written a long time ago. I don’t really believe that the human heart is corrupt. I think it’s extremely pure. On the contrary, I think the Great Lie of history is the guilt, the intrinsic guilt of man. This Lie arose out of the fact that we were born into a difficult natural environment, and the human mind, hopeless before the ravages of nature, began to try to appeal to what appeared to be perhaps higher powers that might be able to rescue us from the day-to-day horrors of life.
When that didn’t happen, we decided we must be in disfavor. We must be guilty. We must be somehow wrong and giving the gods displeasure. We began to sacrifice, to cut the throats of our children, in an effort to attract the attention of these gods, and to attract their favor. These gods don’t exist. The personal God that we all think about so much in this culture of ours doesn’t even exist. When people say, “How could God let this happen?” God didn’t, is the answer. The God that they speak of isn’t there at all.
One of the most powerful experiences that I ever had was when one of the grays, when I was praying, said in my mind, “Listen to him. Calling on his gods.” And I understood suddenly then that God wasn’t there. As a presence radically different from what we imagine, there is an emptiness and a hunger in this universe which is completely present everywhere all the time. This is God. It is out of this need that the laws of physics arose and with them, the material world. And it is looking at it, and becoming a companion of this God, that we are really all about. We are not guilty.
[Whitley Strieber’s “The Grays” is scheduled for release on August 22, 2006.]
© 2005 Sean Casteel. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Sean Casteel