Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kevin J. Anderson Interview

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader's Choice Award, the American Physics Society's Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre.
D.L. Snell: Hey, Kevin! Thanks for joining us!!!

Kevin J. Anderson:  Thanks, David—I’m on a radio interview right now, with 5-minute commercial breaks at (in)appropriate times, so I can type answers to the questions during the breaks.

DLS: Kevin, you have been working as an author for a long time, and have produced volumes upon volumes. But… what about your first story? Not the first one you ever published, but the first one you ever put to paper. What about that story? Was it crappy? Or the best thing you ever wrote? 

KJA: Oh, it was delightful—I wrote it in fourth grade about a mad scientist who invents an injection that can bring anything to life, but when the other scientists don’t believe him, he breaks into the wax museum and brings all the monster figures to life, and then goes to the natural history museum and reanimates a dinosaur skeleton, all of which go on a rampage.  The writing wasn’t very skilled, but the story was pretty cool.

DLS: You’re an editor as well. What projects have you worked on? Who are some of the authors you have edited?

KJA: My first anthologies were for Star Wars, Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales from Jabba’s Palace, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and those are still (I believe) the best-selling SF anthologies of all time, so not a bad way to start.  Then I did War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, spinoff stories about the Wells Martian invasion.  I thought I had given it up for good, but HWA asked me to come up with another anthology, and I suggested Blood Lite…humorous horror stories.  That’s been a lot of fun, allowing me to work with some of the biggest names in the genre—Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kelley Armstrong, Heather Graham, LA Banks, Sharyn McCrumb. Of course, when someone is at that point in their career, they don’t need me to edit them; they turn in good stories in the first place.

DLS: I’m an editor, too, and have had a couple… “funny” experiences. The funniest had to be when someone publically accused me of inserting rape into a novel. What’s the “funniest” editing experience you’ve ever had?

KJA: Sad more than funny, I suppose.  I had one person submit the same (awful) story to all three Blood Lite anthologies, as if I wouldn’t remember it. They think I have skyscraper offices with dozens of staff…I have a house and the stories come through the mailbox, and I read them. I’m not senile yet; my memory lasts more than a few months.

DLS: I found the following in your bio: “Practically unheard-of in the field, Anderson released all seven large volumes [of The Saga of Seven Suns] on time, year after year, and he completed the series with Book #7.” Many writers struggle to be prolific, let alone punctual. How do you do it?! Can you describe your typical work schedule?

KJA: Due to a confluence of deadlines, I recently found myself finishing three book manuscripts in two weeks—The Key to Creation (Orbit/Hachette—172,000 words), The Sisterhood of Dune, with Brian Herbert (Tor—181,000 words), and a YA space adventure Star Challengers with Rebecca Moesta (Catalyst).  Two solid weeks of 12-hour days, 7 days a week.  Not quite the stereotypical image of a writer lounging around all day.

I have an office in my home, or I occasionally take the laptop and hide in a local coffee shop.  When I have a particularly heavy slate of writing/editing to do, I’ll go to an out-of-the way lodge where I can work uninterrupted.  The workload changes all the time, depending on the projects, but I generally write a couple of new chapters in the morning, edit in the afternoon, do correspondence, blogs, etc. throughout the day and in the evening. Everybody else with a high-end career—doctors, lawyers, restaurant managers, business CEOs—has to put in a full day at work.  Why shouldn’t an author?

DLS: Okay, here’s something a little different—a question from a horror writer familiar with your work…

  • Bobbie Metevier: Kevin, how has publishing . . . the process . . . changed since you started?

KJA: It took them quite a while, but they finally take my computer files and typeset from that, rather than retyping the whole manuscript. The physical production process is a lot more efficient.  The business side, however, is what’s changed the most, with distribution being completely scrambled, online bookstores, authors being expected to do the lion’s share of publicity.

DLS: Dean Koontz was one of my biggest writing influences growing up—and this was back when he was Dean R. Koontz. We’d love to hear about the novel you co-authored with him, and about your co-authoring process in general. How do you make collaboration work?

KJA: Dean had written a script for his own version of the Frankenstein story, which was made into a TV movie so awful that he took his name off of it and wanted it released as a book instead. He asked me to help him novelize the script as the start of his series. Ed Gorman worked with him on the second book, and then he has gone off to finish the series on his own. That was different from my usual collaborating method, because Dean had already written the story and much of the dialog.  For my work with Brian Herbert, Rebecca Moesta, and Doug Beason, it’s much more interactive from the start: we brainstorm the whole book together, develop the chapter-by-chapter outline together, and then write our separate chapters, before combining it all into one manuscript and then editing it repeatedly.

DLS: It seems like every time I do a book signing, I run into at least one… “interesting” person. For example, this lady in a muumuu—she took one look at my book cover and started backing off, saying, “That book’s from the dark side.” You’ve been on national book tours and have attended countless conventions. Any interesting people you can tell us about?

KJA: Oh, always interesting people.  I have plenty of unique fans, some eccentric, some a little odd or intense, but they’re still my fans and readers, so I’m happy to have all of them.  They come in costume, some have even named their children after my characters, and it’s great to see the impact my stories have had.  I’ve written over a hundred books, and it’s amusing sometimes that someone will come up and ask me about a minor detail in a novel I wrote 15 years ago…I really don’t remember!

DLS: Your new novel Hellhole, co-authored with Brian Herbert, looks stellar. What’s it about?

KJAHellhole is a big SF colonization epic, about a rugged world that’s nearly been destroyed by a massive asteroid impact. Not a pleasant place, earthquakes, volcanoes, terrible storms, the whole ecosystem wrecked, yet a bunch of misfits try to make a new home there…and they find remnants of an alien race wiped out in the impact.  Lots of characters, adventures, politics, a very big story.

Hellhole (The Hell Hole Trilogy)

DLS: Let’s say you committed a crime that landed you in Hellhole. What kind of crime would it be? I mean, if you were a criminal in the Hellhole universe, what kind of criminal would you hope to be?

KJA: In true Hollywood fashion, I would be innocent, I swear!  Falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, but because of my heart of gold, I will work to make life better for my fellow colonists.  (Fortunately, the characters in the novel itself aren’t so clich├ęd.)

DLS: Here’s another question from the outside, this one also from another writer…

  • Zombie Zak: Kevin, I understand you carried on from AE van Vogt's work with Slan Hunter (2007); what was that like for you?

KJA: My collaborations with Brian Herbert have led to a great resurgence in the popularity of Frank Herbert’s works.  Van Vogt was also very popular with me when I was younger, and I was thrilled when Van’s widow Lydia got in touch with me to ask if I would be interested in finishing the last book her husband had begun before his death.  Slan is such a classic, with such an impact on the whole SF genre (you’ve seen it copied a million times, though Van doesn’t always get credit).  That one didn’t take off as much as the Dune books did, but it did lead to the reprinting of other van Vogt classics and a new readership for Slan.

DLS: Any upcoming writing or editing projects?

KJA: I’m just wrapping up the manuscript and starting the boring production parts of Blood Lite 3: Aftertaste, and that’s the only editing project I have going right now.  Next month, Tor will release this year’s Nebula Awards Showcase, which I also edited.  In coming months I will be releasing a lot of my short story catalog as mini ebook collections, three stories for three bucks; most of those stories have never been seen beyond their original magazine publication, so it’ll be new stuff for most readers.  I’ll also be giving away free stories and book excerpts on our website,—check there in a couple of weeks (as soon as the web guy gets all the details fixed).

DLS: Thanks for humoring us, Kevin—it was great to have you!!!

KJA: Thanks for being humored.

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D.L. Snell writes with Permuted Press. He edited Dr. Kim Paffenroth three times, John Dies at the End once, and provided a constructive critique to Joe McKinney for Apocalypse of the Dead. You can shoot D.L. Snell in the head at

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