Award-winning Kevin J. Anderson kicked his writing career into high gear working on some of the biggest properties in the SF field, Star Wars, the X-Files, and Dune, which are probably the places most people have seen his books. I first encountered his work in the Star Wars Jedi Academy trilogy. But he created an impressive body of original work both before and after those series, and in recent years, he has branched out into film production and comics.
And with all that work in hand, soaring among the stratosphere of SF-dom, he still took the time to answer a few questions for Blogging the Muse. What a guy! If you would like to read more about him after the interview, check out his websites, www.wordfire.com and www.dunenovels.com .
TH: You’ve had a lot of success with Star Wars and Dune novels in recent years, but can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
KJA: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and I began sending my stories to magazines when I was 12 years old. I finally got a few things published in small magazines, then a first novel (RESURRECTION, INC., nominated for the Bram Stoker Award), then several more novels, and after I had established myself as a successful author in my own right, I was asked to write STAR WARS books, which I loved. I kept writing original novels during all the years I worked for Lucasfilm, was nominated for the Nebula Award on one, sold another to Universal Studios, but the SW work also vastly increased my audience. Chris Carter at the X-FILES read and enjoyed my SW work, and he asked me to write the XF novels for him. I also got into writing comics, launched my own novel series, then partnered with Brian Herbert to carry on the DUNE series. My “Saga of Seven Suns” series has been a great international success, my DUNE books with Brian keep doing very well and the two of us have just become co-producers on Paramount’s new DUNE film. Brian and I have just agreed to do three more DUNE novels, and we’ve sold an original SF series, HELLHOLE, and I’m working on a fantasy series, TERRA INCOGNITA, about sailing ships and sea monsters. I’ve done two novels for DC Comics and HarperCollins, THE LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON and the forthcoming FIRST ENCOUNTER about the first meeting of Batman and Superman in the 1950s.
Career arc? I worked hard for my dream job, and now I’m doing my dream job.
TH: What are the pros and cons of working in someone else’s universe, like Star Wars and the X-files?
KJA: Wow, that’s a few articles’ worth right there. In short, you do have the constraints of working with already-established characters in a well-defined fictional universe. Sometimes the licensor is very easy to work with and they respect you as a creative professional; other times they are very difficult and rigid and don’t understand writers at all. However, my Star Wars, X-Files, and Dune work has earned me a very large and loyal audience who have followed me to my original fiction. But I was already a devoted fan of those universes, so I loved working in them.
TH: What did you do prior to diving into writing full time?
KJA: I was a technical writer for a large research laboratory, working with scientists to do technical papers and presentations.
TH: What is The Story of Kevin? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
KJA: It’s a thick novel with lots of different plot threads. (And a very charming and heroic main character <g>)
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
KJA: After I saw the film of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS when I was 5, I was so captivated by the imaginative story, I started making up my own stories. I wrote them down from the time I was 8 years old. The stories kept coming to me, and I would watch my favorite TV shows and make up further adventures of the characters. (I think I wrote several hundred Star Trek adventures in high school.) There’s never been any doubt in my mind.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
KJA: I’ve got some, but I did manage to get a lot of it published in small press markets when I was clawing my way out of the slushpile. Of course, now when I see some of those old stories in magazines I cringe.
TH: I sift through the slush and critique a lot of short fiction for a couple of online venues, and I see a lot of stuff that simply is not publishable. Was there a point where you had an epiphany, where suddenly some major cornerstone of publishable writing fell into place for you? Or has it been more of an ephemeral/incremental evolution, an organic process?
KJA: I had 80 rejections before I had anything accepted, and even then it was still a long, gradual process. I’ve written hundreds of short stories, and a hundred novels. I think all that practice and training finally sank in.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
KJA: I’m very satisfied with my work and my career. I am writing original novels that I love, and DUNE novels that I love. I have a wonderful wife (married almost 18 years), and I live in the beautiful state of Colorado. So, I’m content with where I am. Been a long road to get here — 25 years since my first publication — but my main goal is just to keep doing better and expanding my craft as a writer.
TH: What is the biggest challenge that comes with working your dream job?
KJA: Trying to deal with all the distractions. As I get more successful, it seems that the days become a bigger and bigger avalanche of interruptions, phone calls, e-mails, visitors, travel obligations, promotional requirements. Sometimes it seems as if I never have a few uninterrupted hours of writing time.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
KJA: I like to learn new things, see new things, have new experiences. I do most of my writing when I’m out hiking or mountain climbing, and I love the wilderness. Moab, Utah is one of my favorite places in the world.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
KJA: There are so many opportunities now, the only big question is the lack of time and energy. I do have a lot of book deadlines and that’s my main priority, but of course I want them to sell well, too. I do a lot of interviews, blogs, book signings, conventions, a newsletter. It’s awfully hard to rise above the noise, with so many other books clamoring for attention.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt?
KJA: Going full time was a big step, and even after 11 bestsellers and about 20 published novels, it was still a risk. We made sure we had a year’s worth of expenses in the bank before we took the leap. But I never want to let myself be satisfied — I want to keep pushing myself to be more ambitious, more intense, more thoughtful in each book. My “Saga of Seven Suns” was my masterpiece, I think…and now I just have to do better next time.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
KJA: I think you have to treat it as a business, definitely. It’s really quite complicated and risky, because the biggest problem is cash flow — I can have 6-9 months go by without receiving any payment at all, and virtually all publishers take FOREVER to pay (though I always turn in my books on time). As a writer, you have to know the tax laws, what you can deduct and what constitutes a “business” activity.
As for being a “branded commodity”, I think that suggests a writer produces the same sort of thing every time. And some of them do, but I tend to do a lot of different books.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
KJA: The last book in my “Seven Suns” epic comes out in July — I worked eight years on that series, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Brian Herbert and I have PAUL OF DUNE out in September, and all our test readers seem to think it’s one of our very best in the series. Rebecca Moesta and I have just finished our CRYSTAL DOORS trilogy, a young adult fantasy series, and I’m writing my TERRA INCOGNITA series right now.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
KJA: I found it very moving when a mother brought her young son to one of my signings. She introduced him, told me he was severely dyslexic and that his teachers had given up trying to teach him how to read. But the kid decided he *wanted* to read my STAR WARS books, and so he taught himself how to read so he could read JEDI SEARCH, and now he’s an avid reader. That’s what it’s really about.