Few sci-fi or fantasy authors are as legendary or prolific, or have spent more time paying their success forward to up-and-comers than this week’s guest, Kevin J. Anderson. No other I am aware of owns his own publishing house, and I think you’ll agree, if anyone was ever born to write, it was this man.
Kevin started writing at age eight. A magazine accepted one of his manuscripts two years after he had entered high school and he received the first monitory payment for his writing in his high school senior year and sold his first novel, Resurrection, Inc., at age 25. In addition to creating his own Saga of Seven Suns series, his Nebula Award nominated Assemblers of Infinity and dozens of others, he has co-authored numerous works that include Star Wars, X-Files and Dune spin-offs. Not content with those accomplishments, he has written several comic books and authored novels delving into the histories of such super heroes as Batman and Superman. It can be said that Kevin has expanded and enriched the fabric of the genre at large. To date, fifty-two of his works have become best-sellers and there are more on the horizon.
Kevin, you are noted for writing complex epic tales told from multiple viewpoints. Do you have any other such books in progress, especially your own original works?
Oh, I always do! Right now I am finishing up my last edit on Navigators Of Dune with Brian Herbert, our grand finale in the Schools of Dune trilogy, and then I will turn immediately into polishing up Eternity’s Mind, the last book in the Saga of Shadows trilogy (which is set in my popular original Seven Suns universe). It is full of characters and storylines and much mayhem—like a Game of Thrones with planets. Obviously, dealing with such a big story and large cast of characters is exhausting. Wrapping up both of these big trilogies at once is making my brain tired!
An intriguing device you employ is the insertion of real world cultural and musical references into some of your tales. The Saga of Seven Suns’ Ross Tamblyn is a tad too similar to cinema’s Russ Tamblyn to be coincidental, as is his Blue Sky Mine to Midnight Oil’s identically titled song—I give a nod and a wink to Chairman Wenceslaus. At first, I thought you were just having fun with your readers. Then, when I found Clockwork Angels rife with Neil Peart’s lyrics and subsequently learned it evolved as a collaboration between the two of you, I wondered if there wasn’t something more that led you to use them. Would you care to expand on this?
Honestly, Ross Tamblyn is just a coincidence. I had developed the whole Tamblyn clan, and didn’t much think of the resonance. The Blue Sky Mine, though—you nailed it, and I didn’t think anyone would remember! Music is quite an influence in my work however, most predominantly the music of Rush, with lyrics by Neil Peart. My very first novel, Resurrection, Inc., is entirely based on my own vision of the Rush album “Grace Under Pressure” and because of that I got to know Neil quite well personally. We have collaborated together and inspired each other in small ways, but we really pulled out all the stops when Neil asked me to novelize their new concept album, Clockwork Angels, a novel that became a New York Times bestseller and a multiple award winner. We liked the universe so much, we adapted that story to a graphic novel and then just branched out to a new companion novel, Clockwork Lives, which I personally think is the best book I’ve ever done.
When I’m out in the big spectacular Colorado landscape, it frees my mind to think up big ideas. If I go far enough out, I can walk for hours without seeing anybody but the characters in my head. I am a storyteller, and I dictate as I walk… and when I can walk in a landscape like that, there’s no better office in the world.
I have to congratulate you on Clockwork Angels’ hardback edition, from its striking cover and the beautiful end papers, to the wonderful illustrations and the subtle use of color printing to enhance the appearance of its pages. How pleased are you with the final result and how did it come about?
I couldn’t be more pleased, and Clockwork Lives is just as striking a book with its embossed leatherette cover, marbled endpapers, color printing, line art illustrations by Nick Robles, who did all the artwork for our graphic novel. I had shopped the original Clockwork Angels around to my primary publishers in the US, but even though I’ve had over 50 bestsellers and Rush is one of the biggest-selling music groups in history, they just didn’t get how one could do a novel connected to an album. But the Canadian publisher ECW (who had released Neil Peart’s non-fiction books) was very enthusiastic, and they really showed off what they could do. Even though Clockwork Angels became a bestseller, Neil and I never had a second thought about handing them Clockwork Lives, and they certainly outdid themselves. I have also edited an original anthology, with John McFetridge, for ECW titled 2113 and is filled with stories by major authors, all of them inspired by Rush songs. That one comes out in April.
On a more personal note, a mutual friend tells me you’re a big fan of IPA. Care to talk about this particular passion?
Over the past two decades, high-quality microbrew beer has become just as popular as good coffee in the US. I shudder to think of the swill we used to drink (both beer and coffee!) I am a big fan of both. My tastes in the microbrew beer have really focused in on the extra-hoppy India Pale Ales (named because in the British Empire, the kegs of ale being sent around Africa to India had to use a lot of hops as a preservative so the beer would remain good throughout the voyage). The other advantage of drinking an IPA is that it’s so bitter most other people don’t like it, so that way people don’t raid my stash in the fridge!
Hah! I love IPA and I like that strategy enough I may have to adopt it. Our friend also told me you wrote a book telling Mormons how to write about beer.
Not actually a book, just a talk to other writers. I viewed it as an alien contact scenario! While I’m not a Mormon, I have a LOT of LDS writing students, have lectured at BYU and many Utah conferences as well as being a writer-in-residence for a Utah writing retreat, where I was the token non-Mormon. I made the point that writers need to know about various things, to put the information into their creative repertoire. For instance, I told them, how many of you are experts in opera, or classic jazz? Nobody raised their hand (heck, I don’t know anything about opera or jazz), but they all agreed that it might be useful information to write a character who likes opera or jazz. Same thing, I explained some basics about wine and beer to people who had absolutely no experience in social drinking… not to convince them to try it, just so they would have a better understanding. I compared different kinds of beer to bread (Coors Light = Wonder Bread, Guinness stout = dark Russian rye, my hoppy IPAs like sourdough or a tangy caraway rye…) They seemed to find it useful. Like I said, writers should know about other cultures… and I have learned a lot about theirs, too!
You promote aspiring writers, especially as centered around NaNoWriMo and have compiled several books to help them succeed. Please tell us about your work with Storybundle.com.
I’ve always believed in paying it forward. I had some very major mentors when I was a new writer (namely, Dean Koontz and Terry Brooks) and I want to do the same. I have given countless workshops at science fiction conventions over the past 20 years, and each year my wife and I run the high-level Superstars Writing Seminars, which focuses on the business of writing.
As an offshoot of my workshops and lectures, I have written several books on writing and published them through my own house, WordFire Press. (Yes, I’m a publisher, too.) Each year for NaNoWriMo, I have worked with storybundle.com to but together a “bundle” of writing books, The Nanowrimo Writing Tools bundle—this year, we have 25 titles on all aspects of writing craft, careers, and business, for a name-your-own-price (minimum bid of $25 for all 25 books). Storybundle is an innovative way of distributing books, mostly by indie authors—a grab bag of eBook titles for all platforms. I have a good working relationship with storybundle and have done many bundles for them. In fact, right now I have a Holiday Fantasy bundle running as well as a really big “bundle of trilogies” so you get as much reading material as your eyeballs can handle, for a very low minimum bid. All of these bundles go down at the end of the year, though, so if anybody’s interested they should check out http://storybundle.com to see what’s available.
Life as a publisher and life as an author offer differing rewards and place different demands on one’s life. A glance at your published works and accompanying release dates shows a not unexpected decline in frequency of your own books since you launched WordFire Press. How do you strike a balance between the two and keep one from overwhelming the other? For that matter, how are you able to maintain a personal life?
What’s a personal life? Actually, the key to that question is that my wife and I are both writers and we are the co-publishers of WordFire Press…so our LIVES are wrapped up in what we do. We live and breathe writing and publishing, so that’s pretty much all we do. It’s a little more nuts than you think, though, because the frequency of my book releases hasn’t actually declined—I had five books out in 2015, five books out in 2014, and I should do the same for 2016. At this very moment, I am doing Navigators of Dune and Eternity’s Mind simultaneously, both of them 600+ page manuscripts. I wish I could slow down a little!
WordFire Press began by republishing high-demand out-of-print books, including your own extensive backlist. Over the years it has expanded its directions by featuring new works by bestsellers and award winners such as Alan Dean Foster, Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McCaffrey, Frank Herbert, John A. Pitts, and Mike Resnick. Now, it also boasts a stable of rising new talent. How have you discovered these up-and-comers?
I’ve done a lot of work in the field with many other authors over the years, and I have a pretty good reputation. Even big-time authors are hungry for the experience that they can be involved directly in the process as a partner. Our newer authors often come from the ranks of people I’ve worked with, writing students, award-winners from the Writers of the Future, people who have the spark that makes me think they can hit the big time.
Is WFP looking toward any new publishing directions you’re free to discuss?
Publishing is an old business with a lot of established traditions, but a lot of those have gone out the window with the warp-speed changes in technology. From our inception, WordFire threw out the “it’s always been done this way” model and looked at it from a fresh, objective eye. Maybe we can try this, or this, or this. Sometimes it doesn’t work, other times it blows us away. Distributing our books through Storybundle or Humble Bundle generates a lot of sales for the included authors, but that’s not something traditional publishers even consider. We feature our authors and autograph and sell a lot of physical books directly to fans at pop-culture shows, which is also something most big publishers don’t do. At present, though, we are growing and expanding so quickly that my main objective is to keep all the gears turning smoothly.
WFP maintains an active presence at major cons across the country each year, not only selling its books, but also providing readers with an opportunity to meet many of its authors. Would you care to enumerate some of the venues where readers can connect in 2016?
These big comic and pop-culture shows are huge venues, and they feature media celebrities for fans to meet. We present our authors in the same way: As actual celebrities for fans to meet. And for an average fan and reader, even someone with one or two books published seems like a celebrity. A very abbreviated list of places we’ll be in the coming year includes Miami Supercon, Planet Comic Con (Kansas City), Pensacon (Pensacola), Emerald City Comic Con, Dallas Comic Con, DragonCon, Salt Lake FanEx, IndianaCon, C2E2 (Chicago), Phoenix Comic Con, Denver Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and enough others to make my head spin.
Thank you, Kevin, for agreeing to participate. I shall remain ever grateful. I always conclude my interviews with what I call a Lightning Round, since the responses often yield unexpected insights. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:
My best friend would tell you I’m… The most-fun workaholic he’s ever seen.
The thing I’m most proud of is… My own novels—and the published novels of my writing students, so I must have been teaching them right.
The one thing I cannot do without is… My imagination
The one thing I would do over is… Hmm, that’s the good thing about writing: you can always edit your past drafts as much as you like.
The thing that always makes me laugh, right down to my gut, is… My demanding cats, whose cheerful need for attention trumps any thought of deadlines
Visitors can follow Kevin at the following social links:
Some Book Buy links are as follows:
WordFire Press: http://wordfirepress.com/our-books/