Tuesday, 15 September 2009

INTERVIEW: Kevin J Anderson

If there's one thing that you can say about Kevin, its that he's certainly prolific. With over a hundred books to his name you know that when you get a novel by the guy that its going to contain a high quality through and through. What many don't know is how hard he's worked to get where he is, which included mowing lawns to buy his own typewriter when he was ten. With the release of Journey to the Edge of the World, along with its unique music CD we just had to get a few words with him and to learn about his Guilty Secrets. That of the Micro Brew...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

KJA: Well, it’s definitely something I “have to do,” like a compulsion or an addiction. I can’t NOT write. A day “off” when I’m not writing is not at all relaxing to me, because my mind is still creating stories. But I would still call it a gift, rather than an affliction, because I can’t think of anything else I would more enjoy doing as a career, and I love that it comes so naturally to me.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

KJA: When I was five years old. I couldn’t even write yet, but I could draw pictures and tell stories aloud. Later, when I was 8, I typed my first novel on my father’s little manual typewriter. Then I saved up money and bought my own electric typewriter.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

KJA: Oh, I think that puts much too much importance on short stories. I’ve written plenty of them, but I find that writing a novel, or a multibook series, is much more of a challenge, much more exhilarating, and allows you to dig deeper and sustain a whole universe and a large cast of characters. It’s the difference between telling a little tale around a campfire or putting on an epic extravaganza with a cast of hundreds, stage managers, multiple sets, etc. I started my career by publishing short stories, but it took me twenty years of effort, developing my craft, expanding my abilities, before I could even attempt something as ambitious as my Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy or my Saga of Seven Suns 7-volume epic.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

KJA: I write epic-sized stories with large events and lots of special effects, yet they are fast-paced with transparent prose, and very intimate characters whom readers can relate to.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

KJA: Sailing ships, sea monsters, the crusades -- and a companion rock CD.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

KJA: I’m so far behind on my reading that, even when a much-anticipated book is released, I usually don’t make it to the bookshop right away. Some of my favorites are Peter F Hamilton, Dan Simmons, and Alastair Reynolds. Outside the science fiction genre, my favorite is the great American Western author Larry McMurtry.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

KJA: Writing a big novel without an outline is, in my opinion, like trying to construct a tall skyscraper without first drawing up a blueprint. I develop all of my character backgrounds, my histories, my government structures, cultural backgrounds, and that development process often leads to new ideas and additional characters or plot threads.

In a practical sense, since I often collaborate with other authors -- such as Brian Herbert on the new Dune novels -- unless we both have a map, we can’t take the same journey. We need to both have the same detailed story in our heads before we can write it together.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

KJA: I love to go hiking in my beautiful Colorado mountains (but since I write while I’m doing that, does it count as relaxing?) I also enjoy watching movies. I’m currently reading, and very much enjoying, Peter Hamilton’s FALLEN DRAGON.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

KJA: I haven’t been too secretive about my enjoyment of fine microbrew beers, particularly India Pale Ales. I love to sit alone in a brewery/pub with a pint and a book and just relax. While this is perfectly acceptable in the US, I have found in my trips to the UK and Scotland that people tend to look oddly at a man alone in a pub. It’s not because I don’t have any mates--I like to be by myself and enjoying a bit of quiet without conversation.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

KJA: We have a cat household. My stepson and his girlfriend have worked for a long time rescuing kittens and finding homes for them, and now we’re babysitting their cats as they’re off for five months teaching at an orphanage in Africa. Of the six adult cats, each trying to define their dominance and territory (sometimes in unpleasant ways), they all have very distinct personalities. In THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, I introduced a cat named Tycho after my own beloved pet of 18 years who died shortly before I wrote that novel. (I also like dogs and other animals very much, but cats are my preferred household and creative companions.)

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

KJA: Villains are always the most intriguing. Prester Hannes in THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is one of the most violent and destructive people ever to come out of my imagination -- a devoted, fanatically faithful, determined religious spy who is honorable in his own way…and utterly murderous when it comes to people with a different belief system.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

KJA: I don’t tend to have a single principle protagonist -- my novels have a great many characters, all of whom have a different perspective on the primary conflicts. Neither “Saga of Seven Suns” or THE EDGE OF THE WORLD has a clearcut good guy and bad guy, but each one believes his or her own point of view.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

KJA: I like to hike as often as possible, and I dictate my chapters into a digital recorder as I walk out in the wilderness. The scenery, and the solitude, inspires me to create broader and more exotic landscapes in my mind.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

KJA: How do others stop them from coming? Every news story, every person I meet, every strange place I visit, all contribute to the ingredients from which I draw my stories.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

KJA: I work on several projects at once, all of them very different. They are all captivating to me, but if I slow down on one project or have a difficult time with the story or characters, I can clear my mind by working on something else. I never encounter writer’s block.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

KJA: Because writing is my full-time job, I can work at rather civilized hours. I am a morning person, so I like to get up and have my coffee at about 7:30 AM, and then I do my writing before noon, then edit in the afternoon. Not too uncivilized, is that?

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

KJA: For THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, we did something even better than that by creating a *real* soundtrack, a rock CD called “Terra Incognita: Beyond the Horizon.” Adapting one of the storylines from EDGE, my wife and I wrote the lyrics and noted keyboardist/composer Erik Norlander wrote the music for 13 tracks on the CD. Shawn Gordon at ProgRock Records produced the CD and we have fine vocal performances from James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Michael Sadler (ex-Saga), John Payne (Asia featuring John Payne), and Lana Lane. Other musicians included David Ragsdale (the violinist from Kansas), Gary Wehrkamp (guitarist from Shadow Gallery), Martin Orford (from IQ and Jadis), Chris Brown (Ghost Circus) and many others.

I have always been influenced by music; many of my stories and scenes were inspired by songs and performances. THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is itself dedicated to Neil Peart from Rush. Every time I’m at the keyboard, I have to have the stereo going.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

KJA: I thought once I finally got a novel accepted for publication that it would be Easy Street from then on. Of course I sold another novel and another and anoher; I won awards, I hit the bestseller lists, but it’s still very hard work and I still don’t feel I can slow down. There’s no such thing as “making it.” There’s always another peak to climb.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

KJA: Writing is the food of the imagination, a way to live many different lives in a wide variety of places, to experiences dramas and joys and thought-provoking challenges -- all without leaving your reading chair.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

KJA: THE MAP OF ALL THINGS is the second book in the “Terra Incognita” trilogy, after EDGE OF THE WORLD. An even bigger story, ratcheting up the action and the stakes, with more sea monsters, mammoths, and gigantic battles. That will be out in June 2010.

My next novel to be published is THE WINDS OF DUNE, written with Brian Herbert, a direct sequel to the SF classic, DUNE MESSIAH. That comes out in September from S&S UK.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

KJA: Twitter.com, San Diego Comic Con homepage, Wikipedia for Jack McDevitt, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency HBO, and Lodging near Salida Colorado for this weekend’s hike.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

KJA: I took classes in college, fiction workshops, but they proved less useful for my career as a writer than taking classes about a broad range of subjects, history, psychology, politics. A writer needs to know things to write ABOUT, not just techniques about writing.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

KJA: Through persistence. I kept writing, kept submitting, kept improving my work, and finally I found editors who liked my writing. But even after getting published, I have continued to work on getting better with each novel.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

KJA: Best: a great deal of freedom, and a lot of excitement to go different places for research and promotion. And you get to write all day -- how much better can it get?

Worst: it’s still an uncertain profession, no matter how popular you are. Like any freelancer, you only get paid when the work comes in, and so you always have to keep looking for work. I need to earn enough money to pay for all that cat food.

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