I’m a speculative fiction girl. Sure, I like a good mystery. I can appreciate literary fiction at it’s finest. Historical fiction will keep me turning pages. And who doesn’t like a little romance now and again? But what I really love is speculative fiction in all its incarnations. It’s what I write, and its what I really love to read. So, when I met Kevin J. Anderson at Tampa Bay Comic Con this past August, and actually got to serve on a panel with him, I must admit I behaved a bit like a fangirl. Kevin is a giant in the science-fiction/fantasy world. Turns out, he’s as kind as he is talented, and he graciously agreed to be interviewed on BCB today. Welcome, Kevin!
Tabitha Lord: You’ve written for the Star Wars, Dune, and X-Files franchises, among others. How much fun was it to play in those worlds? Did you feel constrained at all? How did the experience compare to creating your own worlds?
Kevin J. Anderson: I have always been a storyteller, but I’m also a fanboy. I grew up in a dull small town in Wisconsin, but in my imagination I lived for Star Trek, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Space: 1999. I would make up my own episodes of my favorite shows. I read a lot of comic books. I saw Star Wars in the theater on its first run when I was in high school. So when I was offered the project to write three sequels to Star Wars (my first media tie-in gig), I loved it. Of course, you have to color within the lines, be true to the characters and the universe, and somebody else has the final say in what you can or cannot do. But I never had any real problems; if you have a strong enough imagination, there are no constraints.
I write my own original work, too, which allows me a lot more freedom, but it doesn’t have the “instant momentum” that a popular franchise does. Still, my own series of The Saga of Seven Suns (big science fiction) and Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. (humorous horror) have been particularly embraced by the fans. I like both kinds of writing, and I keep doing both.
TL: You’ve worked with Rush drummer Neil Peart to novelize their concept album, Clockwork Angels. Can you tell us a little about that project? How did it come about? How did the collaboration work?
KJA: I’ve known Neil since about 1990. My first novel Resurrection, Inc. was also inspired by a Rush album, so my entire career has pretty much been influenced by their music! Neil and I wrote a short story together, “Drumbeats,” (which I’m reprinting in October in my Selected Stories: Horror and Dark Fantasy volume from WordFire Press), and he wrote the introduction to one of my first story collections. We’ve always enjoyed brainstorming, and he worked with me while developing the backbone of the story for the Clockwork Angels concept album he was working on. I thought I was just doing it to help him out (brainstorming on a new Rush album? How cool is that!) but then he asked me to write the novel version of it. He and I had already developed the overall story and the characters, but then we got into real detail and I broke down the outline into chapters that wove all the songs together. I sent each draft chapter to Neil as I wrote it, and he gave his input. It was extraordinarily smooth, and the book hit the New York Times bestseller list its first week out. We enjoyed working together so well, and we loved the world and characters, that we did a second book in the same universe, Clockwork Lives, which we both think is even better.
TL: You and your wife now own a publishing house, Wordfire Press, with nearly 300 titles in print. Why the journey into publishing? How do you balance the business side of your work with the creative?
KJA: The publishing world is a lot different now than it was when I broke in. And because I’m very prolific, I had a LOT of backlist titles that were out of print. When eBooks started to take off, I got the rights back and Rebecca and I put them up for Kindle (back around 2010). They did so well, we started uploading all of my old titles we could get, and then other authors came to me to see if we would release their books, too. As things took off, we learned how to upload on other platforms, and then we started doing the books in print as well, when print-on-demand technology became usable. Just in the last two years, we have branched out into hardcovers as well. It’s a constant learning process, and you have to adapt and look for opportunities.
Publishing will never be the way it was in the heyday of the 1990s, but I’d rather be a mammal than a dinosaur and figure out how to keep my books out there. I am still writing books for traditional publishers as well, doing new graphic novels for comics publishers, making lots of appearances to sign books and meet fans. It’s not getting any easier!
TL: You’re developing an MFA program at Western Colorado State that I think is quite interesting and innovative. Can you talk a little about this?
KJA: A lot of successful working writers don’t consider academia to be particularly useful. I myself had 150 books published and 56 bestsellers without ever needing a degree, but I DO like to teach and mentor new authors. For more than 20 years I’ve been a judge and instructor for the Writers of the Future contest, and for ten years my wife and I have run the intensive business-oriented Superstars Writing Seminar, which keeps growing.
My friend Russell Davis, who is Director of the Genre Fiction MFA concentration at Western asked me to be a guest lecturer and keynote speaker, and I really liked the program. I just got my own MFA (a necessary piece of paper to qualify me to teach at the grad level), and I found that academia is an isolated bubble, focused on esoteric things that working commercial writers don’t need. The Western program, however, is not like that at all—I just taught with the two-week summer intensive and I think I learned more there than in the entire previous year of classes elsewhere. Russell and the other instructors in the genre fiction MFA are hardcore, no-nonsense instructors that really teach you how to work in science fiction, fantasy, romance, westerns, thrillers, mysteries.
For my own part, I am Director of the Certificate in Publishing. We are launching a whole new year-long concentration in *publishing*–traditional publishing, indie publishing, book design, distribution, marketing, editing. Over the course of the year my group of students will develop an original anthology, solicit stories, read the slushpile, select stories and edit them, design the book, produce it in print and ebook formats, then publish it through WordFire Press, and promote it.
The program is low-residency, which means it’s almost entirely online except for the two-week summer intensive on site at the college in the gorgeous Colorado mountains. So, I’m pretty pumped about it. You can check out the program here: MFA at Western Colorado State University.
TL: I’ve heard you talk a little about your writing process and I know that when you are drafting a novel, you carry a voice recorder with you. I’m such a visual person. I need to be able to see the text, cut it, move it, finesse it, even with a first draft, so this is interesting to me! Can you talk a little more about your process?
KJA: As I said in my first answer, I’m a storyTELLER. I am very comfortable speaking my stories out loud. I’ve trained myself over many years to dictate as I’m out hiking. I will go for walks along hiking trails and let myself slip into the zone, get immersed in my story, and write a couple of chapters. It helps that I live in Colorado, so there are countless hiking trails. I outline carefully ahead of time, so I know my chapters, and then I think of my sentences and speak them out loud rather than moving my fingers to type the words. If you think about it, that’s a much more direct process. Then I upload the audio files to my typist, who transcribes them and sends back a Word doc. That way I get to go hiking AND work on a deadline at the same time, so I never need to sulk in the office on a beautiful day (well, except for when I have to do the editing).
TL: What are you working on next?
KJA: Right now I’m finishing the final final production manuscript for my big epic fantasy SPINE OF THE DRAGON, which will be published in hardcover by Tor Books next June, my main traditional release, and with WordFire Press I am releasing a massive four-volume collection of my short fiction in hardcover, paperback, and audio. I have over 120 short stories published over the past 30+ years, so this was quite an effort. The first two volumes, Science Fiction vol 1 and Fantasy, are out now, with Horror and Dark Fantasy out in October, and a second volume of science fiction in a few months.
TL: Thank you so much, Kevin! It was an absolute pleasure.
Kevin J. Anderson is the best-selling author of over 150 books. You can find Kevin on Twitter as @TheKJA, on Facebook as Official Kevin J. Anderson, his website: www.wordfire.com or www.wordfirepress.com. He also has a readers group with news and updates, plus a free download of his first Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. story collection WORKING STIFF at //eepurl.com/hazu.