As of now, July 1, 2008 is the scheduled publication date for Kevin J. Anderson’s “The Ashes of Worlds”, the seventh and concluding chapter in the bestselling author’s epic SF series Saga of Seven Suns. Unfortunately, that’s quite a ways away so to help pass the time, Kevin graciously agreed to answer some questions for me which covers a lot of territory including Star Wars, Dune, Dean Koontz, his wife Rebecca Moesta, “The Last Days of Krypton”, the Saga of Seven Suns, future projects, comic books, and plenty more. So many thanks to Kevin for his time and the opportunity, and readers enjoy!
Q: Your books have been published since the late 80s. As hard as it might be to believe, there are probably readers out there who have never picked up a Kevin J. Anderson novel, so where would you recommend starting and why?
Kevin: I think my best solo work is probably my Saga of Seven Suns series—seven volumes, and I just finished the last one. That series sums up everything I love about the science fiction genre.
Q: Arguably, the Star Wars tie-novels that you wrote in the mid-to-late 90s including the Jedi Academy trilogy and the Young Jedi Knights series with your wife Rebecca Moesta were partly responsible for your early success. What kind of experience was that playing in the Stars Wars universe and do you have any plans of writing another Star Wars tie-in novel?
Kevin: I had published seven of my own novels before I was offered the Star Wars gig. The very year my first Star Wars book hit the bestseller list was also the year I was nominated for the Nebula Award for an original novel (written with Doug Beason). As a fan, I loved being asked to work in Star Wars. I spent a lot of time up at Skywalker Ranch, I got to meet George Lucas a couple of times, and I had a blast working in that universe. Yes, it did bring my writing to millions of fans who had never heard of me before, and I’m very grateful. At present, it’s been so long since I’ve dipped into the very detailed SW extended universe, it would be very hard for me to pick up and do something new in it.
Q: That sounds pretty awesome
So you’ve actually dabbled in many other established worlds as well including Dune, the X-Files, StarCraft, et cetera. What are the advantages and disadvantages of writings books in already established universes?
Kevin: What die-hard fan hasn’t made up his or her new adventures of a favorite show or movie? I always did. I always felt that I lived with those characters in my imagination anyway. (When I was in high school, I think I wrote about 70 of my own Star Trek stories.) I never stopped writing my own books, but I had a great time working in these great and popular universes
Q: Focusing on the Dune books that you’ve been co-authoring with Brian Herbert, “Sandworms of Dune” was just released last year which completed the duology that brought to life Frank Herbert’s planned seventh novel in the original Dune sequence. Browsing through reviews, the novel received sort of a mixed response. What are your thoughts on how the duology turned out, and the difficulties of living up to such high expectations?
Kevin: Brian and I have now written ten novels in the Dune universe, and they have been extremely well received, winning numerous awards and being selected as New York Times Notable book (absolutely unheard-of for a novel written in somebody else’s universe), many best-of-the-year lists, etc. For “Hunters of Dune” and “Sandworms of Dune” we were more constrained than in the previous books because we had to follow Frank Herbert’s detailed outline. A lot of the things people were complaining about were the things Frank left for us to do. But we had to write the books in the way he intended for the grand finale to unfold. People had extremely high expectations—but you also have to remember that a very large portion of the readership really hated Frank’s own sequels when they originally appeared. “Dune Messiah” was labeled the “disappointment of the year.” Many readers couldn’t finish “God-Emperor of Dune”, they complained about “Heretics of Dune”, then they complained about “Chapterhouse Dune”. Now all those novels are considered classics.
Q: Good point
Now what can you tell us about the “Paul of Dune”, the rest of the next story arc, and any other plans that you & Brian have for the future of the Dune universe?
Kevin: “Paul of Dune” is the story set between “Dune” and “Dune Messiah”, the great Jihad that sweeps across the galaxy in the name of Muad’Dib, and how Paul Atreides gradually changes from hero to tyrant. We have other parts of that story we plan on telling, namely “Jessica of Dune” and “Irulan of Dune”. After that, we’re considering going back to the formation of the great Schools, but Brian and I have plans to do some books of our own first.
Q: Another title that you helped co-write was Dean Koontz’s “Frankenstein: Prodigal Son”, which was the first volume in a trilogy that should be completed later this year. How did you get involved in that project, what was it like working with Mr. Koontz, and how come you’re not involved with the rest of the trilogy?
Kevin: Dean has been my mentor for a long time, giving me excellent help and advice early in my career. When he wanted to create this new series (based on a script and TV series pilot he had written), he asked me to do the first book. He asked his friend Ed Gorman to work on the second book, and he’s doing the third one himself.
Q: Besides Brian Herbert, Rebecca Moesta and Dean Koontz, you’ve also collaborated with the aforementioned Doug Beason. What is it about teaming up with other writers/creators that you find so appealing and who else do you wish you could work with?
Kevin: I enjoy brainstorming with fellow writers, exchanging ideas, and learning from other writers’ techniques. To me, it’s a natural thing, almost like a game, to work with someone else to tell stories. You have to check your ego at the door, make sure you both have the same vision for the novel, and lean on each other.
Q: What about working with your wife Rebecca Moesta who is also a writer of speculative fiction among other things? How does such a relationship benefit you as an author?
Kevin: Since we’re around each other all the time, we are constantly brainstorming, and I’m always asking her opinion on stories, characters, plot twists. Rebecca’s main interest is in fiction for Young Adults, and by working together we can attract a whole new readership.
Q: Moving on, you also released a book last year called “The Last Days of Krypton” which “tells the spectacular story of Superman’s parents who are faced with the end of the world and the origin of a hero we all know.” As someone who’s written both comic books and novels, what are the advantages of telling this story in prose format?
Kevin: I viewed this project from the outset as an epic science fiction novel. I developed the culture, the world, the characters, just as I did for “Seven Suns.” I have a lot of credits in the comic field, too, which gave me the right sensibility for this project, but this novel was a case where it was necessary to get inside the heads of the characters, flesh out their background, and add a lot more detail than would be possible in comics.
Q: Recently, you just announced HERE that you’re working on another novel set in the DC universe called “First Encounter” which relates the very first meeting between Superman and Batman. What exactly is your relationship with DC Comics/HarperEntertainment, what are the companies’ goals for these books, and how many more novels can we expect from you in the DC universe?
Kevin: I’ve known the people at DC for many, many years and I’ve worked with them on their comics projects. When I had the idea for the “Krypton” novel, I approached them directly, and after I had written my proposal, we shopped it around to publishers. Several of them bid, but HarperCollins made the best offer. They are very enthusiastic and I enjoy working with them, but my main contact is through DC directly. After they liked the “Krypton” novel so much, they came to me and asked about the Superman/Batman project, so of course I was interested. As for other projects, we’ll just have to figure out the right one. The objective here is to firmly establish a book presence for the DC Universe. “Last Days of Krypton” was a dream project for me, and I still consider it one of my best novels.
Q: As mentioned previously, you’ve also written comic books. What’s been your most memorable experience so far, what do you feel are the positives/negatives of writing comic books compared to prose fiction, and do you have any other projects in the works?
Kevin: I love writing comics (OK, so I’m sounding like a broken record…but I do really enjoy my work)—it uses a different part of my creativity, and there’s something very exciting about seeing the pencil sketches, seeing the specific images in my mind come to life from the talents of a great artist. My most impressive work in comics, I think, is my “Tales of the Jedi” epic for Star Wars, “Dark Lords of the Sith,” “The Sith War,” and “Redemption”—establishes some important background in the ancient Star Wars universe (including the introduction of the double-lightsaber, used so famously by Darth Maul in Episode I.) I’ve also done work with Predator, X-Files, Star Trek, JSA for DC, StarJammers for Marvel, an original humorous series “Grumpy Old Monsters” from IDW, and an original graphic novel in the “Seven Suns” universe for Wildstorm. I’ve got some ideas in development, but nothing actively in the works right now.
Q: Let’s talk about your original stories. Your most ambitious project is the epic seven-volume space opera series The Saga of Seven Suns which comes to its conclusion this July 2008 with “The Ashes of the World”. How does it feel that the project is finally coming to an end, were you able to accomplish everything you wanted to when you first started work on The Saga of Seven Suns, and will there be any spin-offs, sequels, prequels or whatnot?
Kevin: I spent eight years of my life developing and writing this series, and it has a cast of characters that would make Cecil B. deMille proud, with many dozens of overlapping storylines. I wanted to put all of the big ideas that I love in the SF genre, and I created a story with enough scope to carry it all. I chronicled a galactic war, telling the story from the perspective of several races, with characters from the great leaders of empires to powerless average people. I designed the story with a beginning, middle, and end, and Volume Seven does wrap up all the plotlines. I did create a big, fully-fleshed-out universe, so I’ve got room to tell other independent stories, maybe in a few years, but right now I’m very glad to bring it to its conclusion. Time to rest after seven 700-page manuscripts!
Q: On your blog you mentioned that you were brainstorming with Brian Herbert for an original new science fiction series that was similar in scope to Dune. What can you tell us about this idea, and any other writing projects that we haven’t covered yet?
Kevin: Brian and I have done ten novels in the Dune universe together and we obviously work well as collaborators. But with my own original novels, particularly the Seven Suns books, and Brian’s own Timeweb series, we don’t need to do only Dune novels. We are just now putting together an outline and proposal for the new series, but we’ll also continue to write other Dune novels.
Q: While you’ve had the pleasure of exploring many different universes like Star Wars and Dune which have crossed over into different formats, have you had any luck with getting your own original properties adapted for anything like film, television, comic books, videogames, et cetera, and if so, could you share any details?
Kevin: Some of my books have been optioned for films—“Ill Wind”, “Captain Nemo”, and “Ignition”—and I’ve gotten even more inquiries (but Hollywood is a lot of talk and no follow-through). So far, nothing in production. I’ve adapted my own X-Files novel “Ground Zero” as a graphic novel, and I’ve done a graphic novel prequel to the “Saga of Seven Suns” for Topps. I’m always open to the possibility—but you’ve got to get the right person with the right interest.
Q: What do you think of the cross-pollination today between different formats such as film, novels, comic books, television, et cetera? Is it getting to the point where it might become more advantageous for writers to have experience in more than one medium?
Kevin: I think it’s fascinating and opens many opportunities for getting crossover audiences. Videogames into novels, novels into comics, stories into serial podcasts, comics into games, fictional blogs written by characters from TV shows—it’s all a new set of opportunities for writers trying to make a living.
Q: You have a pretty impressive bibliography. After writing as long and as much as you have, what helps you through the dry spells, what still challenges you, and what do you want to accomplish still?
Kevin: I’ve published something like 95 novels and hundreds of short stories. The ideas keep coming, and I keep developing my craft, pushing the envelope of what I can do (for example, the giant continuous story that ran over seven large volumes in Saga of Seven Suns)—which gives me a skill set so that I can try even more ambitious projects. I am just about to start a nautical fantasy trilogy with sailing ships and sea monsters, which takes me in a different direction. I love to write, and I hope to keep doing it for a long, long time.
Q: Over the years, what have you learned as a writer from your experience in working in established universes, collaborating with other authors, your original projects, and writing in different formats? Is there anything else that you would like to improve upon as a writer?
Kevin: With each project I take on, I try to improve on what I’ve done before, either in complexity of plotting, intensity of the action scenes, the clarity of descriptions, deeper themes, or even just a project that will reach a completely different audience. I’ve learned a lot from my collaborators—Brian Herbert, Rebecca Moesta, and Doug Beason—and I apply it to my other novels.
Q: Because of your experience, what are your thoughts on the evolution of fantasy and science fiction (it’s acceptance in society/entertainment/media, productivity of original ideas, the different formats, publishing, etc.) and where do you see the genres’ going in the future?
Kevin: When I was a teenager, I was just the strange geek who read Sci Fi. Today, the biggest grossing films each year are science fiction, dozens of TV shows are SF, genre books regularly hit high on the bestseller lists. It’s become mainstream—and I’m thrilled about it. It’s good not to be the weirdo anymore!
Q: You’re one of the judges for L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. What do you look for in a potential award-winning story, and are there any authors that maybe didn’t win in the past that you would recommend checking out?
Kevin: When I get the stories to judge, all of the names are removed, so I don’t know who the authors are. I can say that I have seen some terrific talent, and then when I help teach the workshop for prizewinners I get to meet them in person. Some of these winners have become extremely successful now and I’ve kept in touch. I particularly recommend Sean Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, and Steven Saville.
Q: Last year was tough for writers of speculative fiction. Several authors passed away including Robert Jordan, Madeline L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Leigh Eddings, Fred Saberhagen, Alice Borchardt, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. while Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Did any of this affect you and is there anything you would like to say?
Kevin: Don’t forget about Jack Williamson—I really admired him, and the SF field was good to him, always giving him standing ovations and making sure he knew how much we appreciated him. I used Jack as a main character in my JSA miniseries “Strange Adventures” as a young pulp SF writer in the 1940s covering the stories of the (real) superheroes. Jack himself read all those comics and he wrote me very heartwarming letters each time an issue hit the stands. I’ll miss him a lot.
But, as a general comment, science fiction has grown larger and has come of age, which means we have a lot more professional writers, and a lot of them are getting on in years. I’m afraid we’ll have a lot more sad years to come.
Q: Looking back on 2007, what would you say was the highlight of the year for you both professionally and personally?
Kevin: I had eight novels published last year, which was exhausting! And I had three consecutive book tours, which was even more exhausting. “Sandworms of Dune” sold better and faster than any of our previous nine Dune novels, and Brian and I spent several weeks on the road for that. Rebecca and I spent a month doing a signing tour in Australia and New Zealand, during which Seven Suns #6 “Metal Swarm” became the #1 bestselling science fiction novel on the continent (and in the same week “Sandworms” debuted at #5). Then I came home and spent another two weeks on the road for “The Last Days of Krypton”. I had a pretty good year.
Q: It sounds like it! So in conclusion, what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2008?
Kevin: I’m still keeping busy writing and developing new projects, but I really want to rest and recuperate a little. I’d like to spend more time hiking and camping. But new things always come up…