Oh, the power of social networking. A couple of weeks ago, I was attending the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold writers’ conference, learning about things like social networking, promotion, etc. Since I launched into the Twitterverse and punched the ion engines back in March, I’ve been getting a steady, daily stream of new followers. That’s just how it works.
So I was monitoring my incoming followers between panels at the conference, and then I see James Kahn come through as new follower.
When I was twelve, I read the novelization of Poltergeist. It scared the crap out of me. I think I read the whole thing in two days. Soon after that, I was so stoked about the upcoming release of Return of the Jedi that I could not wait, and I bought the novel and read it before the movie arrived. Both of those books were written by James Kahn.
But being a kid in the days before the internet, I mostly lost track of this guy who wrote two of the biggest books from my early years.
And now, here he was on my Twitter feed, out of nowhere, with a creative life that has gone in a number of directions, as you’ll soon see. A few tweets and couple of emails later, we have an interview. All hail social networking.
His first science fiction novel World Enough and Time, has just been re-released. And it’s available for$0.99 on Amazon for one day only, September 27.
JK: A soap opera. Or at least a picaresque novel with many chapters. There was the suburban growing up/rock’n’roll band chapter. The med school chapter. Getting married and moving to LA, working emergency rooms while I wrote novels and spec scripts, getting a foothold in the TV world. Moving to the Sierras to raise our kids, my Mountain Man chapter. Moving back to southern California to dive heavily into the TV world, Melrose Place, Star Trek, writers’ rooms and production deadlines. Then as that career faded away, getting back into practicing medicine, writing novels again, and rediscovering my early love of making music, writing and producing two CDs of folk/Americana. And now the latest chapter, helping to create the first ever Community Film Studio, and producing my first feature film, The Bet, a teen coming of age rom com, hopefully to be released next March.
TH: What was the Mountain Man chapter?
JK: My wife, Jill Littlewood, didn’t want to raise our young kids in L.A., so we moved to a little house on the side of a mountain in the Sierras. I wrote, worked in the local E.R., chopped wood, let my beard grow a foot long, sang songs, put a claim on a gold mine, found $1.67 worth of gold (which I still keep in a matchbox), and generally took on gruff ways.
TH: What were your first serious creative impulses that led you to a creative career?
JK: Reading Amazing Stories, and Strange Tales comic books at age 9, and rewriting the endings of the stories I had ideas about.
TH: Every artist has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc., but you’ve had a career spanning over thirty years. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
JK: Want to do another CD, this one of kids’ songs. Want to finish the new horror novel I’m working on. Want to write and direct my own low budget feature film.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
JK: I love falling into new worlds and meeting new characters in my mind. The best part is when they really start to live, get lives of their own, so they tell me what they’re saying and doing, and I just transcribe it, the work feels like it’s flowing through me.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as an artist, whether it be writer, musician, or TV producer? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
JK: I’ve never exactly had that feeling. I’ve always just written because I love to write. It’s something I can’t not do. Of course there have been moments of “career” elation. Being assigned the novelization of Return of the Jedi, seeing it go to #1 on the NYT bestseller list, rising to co-executive producer on Melrose Place, being in charge of producing major TV shows, completing my first CD – these were all thrilling milestones. All punctuated by waking up the next morning with an urge to write something else.
TH: What circumstances brought about your being assigned the Return of the Jedi novelization? It’s only one of the most important movies in film history.
JK: Two things. I was recommended by Spielberg, who loved my novelization of Poltergeist – and who gave me the Poltergeist assignment based on reading (or maybe it was Frank Marshall who read it) my novel World Enough and Time. I was also recommended by Judy Lynn Del Rey, wife of legendary sci-fi author Lester Del Rey and editor of the Del Rey imprint for Ballantine Books. Del Rey first published World Enough and Time, which Judy Lynn loved – and Del Rey was also publishing Return of the Jedi.
TH: Some say that artists have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
JK: I’m trying to do that a little more now, for the first time in my life. No agent, nobody knocking on my door, trying to organize my writing priorities and realizing if I want people to experience my art I have to get out there and market it. Not quite sure how to do that yet.
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
JK: None yet. Just discovered Twitter. I’m on Facebook, but don’t quite get how to exploit it yet. Went to Chicon to promote the re-release of my old sci-fi novel, World Enough and Time, but nobody seemed that interested yet. So I’m just exploring the world of self-promotion.
TH: Can you recall a moment when a two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
JK: Don’t know where my inspirations come from. They just seem to crawl into my head, and I wake up with them.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an artist?
JK: Probably when Kathleen Kennedy called the ER where I was working and asked if anybody there could help her figure out how to resuscitate an alien. Several of us went down to the set of E.T.[: the Extraterrestrial], wrote the med tech dialogue and donned hazmat suits in the E.T. death scene, which led to me getting the assignment to novelize Poltergeist. I’d call that first phone call a memorable moment.
TH: So you also contributed to E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (another film that made box-office history). What were the memorable moments of that experience?
JK: Watching Spielberg direct was pretty awesome. Pounding on ET’s chest felt kind of silly, in a gleefully Hollywood way.
TH: Your career shows a quite a number of different phases and creative pursuits. Is it fair to say that writing has always constituted your primary creative drive?
JK: Yeah, I’ve always thought of myself as a storyteller. Short stories, novels, scripts, songs, they’re all stories. I tell jokes too.
TH: In what ways do your creative efforts feed one another?
JK: They don’t feed one another so much as relieve one another. After I’ve spent half a year writing a script it’s a nice change to focus on songs or novels.
TH: What brought you back to L.A.?
JK: The lure of a television career and the need to expose my kids to more culture than they were getting on a mountain top.
TH: Is it fair to say that many of the turning points of your career have come because you were in the right place at the right time? In retrospect, are there any near misses?
JK: Hollywood success is largely a combination of being in the right place at the right time, and then being able to take advantage of it because you have the chops. Lots of near misses. One of the disheartening things about Hollywood is the sense that you’re always at least metaphorically waiting by the phone hoping you won’t miss that ring that might be THE RING. That waiting can steal your life.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
JK: A reincarnation thriller novel, a heist screenplay, a Community Film Studio feature film, a new CD of children’s folk music early next year, the release on October 2 of World Enough, and Time, and the release a year from now of its sequel, Time’s Dark Laughter. All books and music available on my website, www.JamesKahnWordsAndMusic.com.