2003: Merritt Interview

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2003: Merritt Interview

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Interview: Kevin J. Anderson
by Byron Merritt © 2003

Kevin J. Anderson has written over eighty novels, 130 short stories, and been
on the NY Times bestseller list fifteen times. His most popular books to date
have been the Star Wars: Jedi Academy trilogy, but his Dune prequels
(co-written with Brian Herbert) are catching up fast. Before he was a famous
author, Anderson was a waiter, bartender, did rat research, technical writing
and spent years as an editor for a large research laboratory. He's been married
to Rebecca Moesta for twelve years: she is a successful author in her own right
(her works include the Young Jedi Knight series - coauthored with her husband -
and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel). Kevin will be launch his latest novel, A
Forest of Stars (Book 2 of his Saga of Seven Suns) with a booksigning at San
Diego's Comic-Con International, July 18-20. More information about Kevin
Anderson can be found at his official website
(WordFire.com), or at DuneNovels.com.

Byron Merritt: Thank you, Mr. Anderson for taking the time out of your
very busy schedule to do this interview. I know that you are a work-a-holic
(write-a-holic?), so I'm very pleased that you gave me the opportunity to do
this interview.

Kevin J. Anderson: Hey, I'm WRITING the answers, and I'm talking about
the books I write...so, it sort of counts.

BM: You started a new series (Saga of Seven Suns) last year with the
release of Hidden Empire. This July the next installment of that series comes
out - A Forest of Stars. How far in the future does this second installment take
place after the end of Hidden Empire? Do we have a new list of characters to
fall in love with?

KJA: A Forest of Stars is set about five years after the end of Hidden
Empire, and all the big bad trouble our cast of characters faced has now gotten
a lot worse. The Saga of Seven Suns is supposed to be an Epic, with lots of
storylines and lots of characters. Because it's a gigantic war among several races,
some of them don't survive every story or every book. So, even though some
people didn't live all the way through Hidden Empire, new people pick up the
story threads and run. I have such a blast writing this series because I can
cover a canvas the size of the whole galaxy.”

BM: I've read a lot of your work (my personal favorite being Blindfold).
How does this new series differ from those other earlier storylines?

KJA: It's a lot bigger, and I will need at least six or seven fat novels to tell
the whole thing. No, it's not being padded to keep stretching book after book
- that's how long the plotline extended in my original outline. But it keeps
growing as I write each book and the characters add other things I never
planned ahead of time. The first draft manuscript for Book 3, Horizon Storms,
ended up over 1,300 pages long, and I hadn't put everything in that I wanted -
so I gave it the space it really needed to do the full job...and split it into
Book 3 and 4.

BM: How long did it take you to write A Forest of Stars? Was it tougher
or easier to write than the first novel (Hidden Empire)?

KJA: I write several novels a year, all of them at different stages at
different times. I was writing the first draft of Forest while I was editing a
draft of Dune: The Machine Crusade...and then I was editing Forest while I
wrote the draft of Mr. Wells & the Martians. So, the actual writing of the first
draft of the chapters took two months or so, but because I leapfrog the
projects, a calendar year passed from the time I started page 1 to the time I
finished the final copy-edited manuscript.

BM: How did you come up with the story idea for Saga of Seven Suns?

KJA: I noticed all of the continuing mammoth fantasy series - Robert Jordan,
Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks. I read them and I enjoy them, but I'm really
more of a science fiction sort of guy. There have been other big SF series -
David Brin's Uplift series, Greg Benford's Galactic Center series, Peter Hamilton's
Night's Dawn books - but I didn't see anybody doing a huge continuing epic in SF.
Brian [Herbert] and I, with our Dune novels, are about the only ones doing an
"annual SF epic". Since that's the thing I like most as a reader, I wanted to tackle
it as a writer.

BM: In the past you mentioned that your previous writing endeavors
helped prepare you for this new series (Saga of Seven Suns).
Can you elaborate on that a bit.

KJA: This series is a lot like Blindfold, with its worldbuilding and its
wheels-within-wheels plots, but also I played up all my strengths that I learned
from writing 50+ Star Wars projects for Lucasfilm and from writing the Dune
prequels with Brian Herbert. So, if you liked Blindfold, Star Wars, or Dune, I
think you'll find something you enjoy in The Saga of Seven Suns. Best of all,
since I'm spending so much time working on it - this series is a distillation of
everything I've loved about the genre, the best parts of science fiction that I
have read and watched voraciously since I was a little kid.

BM: Does your wife, Rebecca [Moesta], help inspire you during your
writing? Does she give you feedback before sending stories out to your

KJA: She's a best-selling writer in her own right, but she also raises the bar
very high for my own work. As I get more popular and more successful, I try
to improve my writing with each book. That means going through more and
more research, more and more drafts, extremely careful editing. Rebecca is
my sounding board for brainstorming, my closest editor, and a big dose of
common sense.

BM: When you started writing the Saga of Seven Suns series, did you do
much research into cultures, societal structures and religion?

KJA: Because I'm a science fiction writer, I have always done extensive
research on different traditions, societies, lands, cultures, and history. I've
traveled quite a lot, going to Morocco (as Dune research), Ecuador (for Ai!
Pedrito!), the Maya ruins in the Yucatan (for X-Files: Ruins), Spain, Germany,
England, Scotland - and a lot here in the US. I've spent a great deal of time in
Death Valley and the Great Sand Dunes (Star Wars and Dune), Aztec ruins in
the Southwest. I live in Colorado and I have climbed all 54 of the peaks over
14,000 ft high. I've been aboard aircraft carriers, inside a plutonium
processing facility in Los Alamos, NM, and I've been out at the Nevada Nuclear
Test Site, as well as behind the scenes in FBI headquarters in Washington DC.
The point of all that rambling is that I try to see and experience unusual and
new things, all of which goes into the database in my head, the writer's
"ingredients box". When I work on a Seven Suns novel, I stir up all those
details and create vivid new worlds.

BM: Which books made you want to start writing and which ones continue
to influence your writing?

KJA: Dune by Frank Herbert is of course my favorite SF novel of all time
- I read it first when I was twelve, then read everything Frank Herbert wrote.
His complex plotting and wheels-within-wheels schemes were a great influence
on my writing. I grew up as a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy,
but now that I spend all my time up to my elbows working in the genre, I am
most influenced by books outside the standard reading. For instance, Lonesome
Dove by Larry McMurtry and The Godfather by Mario Puzo are terrific novels that
helped me see writing techniques I haven't seen in science fiction.

BM: You've been writing with Brian Herbert for several years now, and the
Dune prequels have done very well for both of you. Your next installment in
that series, The Machine Crusade, is due out this Fall. How far in the future is
The Machine Crusade set from the last Dune novel (The Butlerian Jihad)?

KJA: The Butlerian Jihad is a multi-generational war against the evil
thinking machines, spanning more than a century. We're covering the whole
story in three books, which forces us to fast-forward a little in time. The
Machine Crusade begins about 23 years after the end of The Butlerian Jihad,
but spans several decades itself. Brian and I just finished the draft of Book 3,
The Battle of Corrin, which takes place another half century later. We also
wrote a short story, "Whipping Mek," set in the time period between Book 1
and 2; that story will be available as giveaway booklets in many bookstores
sometime in July, and we'll also put it up on the DuneNovels.com website.

BM: Given the complexity of Dune, as you and Brian continue the books,
does it become more or less of a challenge to create new and fresh concepts?

KJA: The Dune universe is huge, spanning thousands upon thousands of
years. Frank Herbert left so much material for us to draw on, it's like having
a giant pantry in the kitchen and a shelf full of cookbooks. We aren't going to
run out of things to cook! So far, our two trilogies have been set in such different
timeframes that we don't worry about the story getting stale. House Atreides,
House Harkonnen, and House Corrino are all set immediately before Dune, in the
scenario so familiar to fans of Dune, with characters most readers know. In The
Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, and The Battle of Corrin, we're set 10,000
years earlier in "history." The planets, cultures, people, and technology are
completely different. Brian and I had to create that world from scratch (using
Frank Herbert's notes and details). The thinking machines, the planets, everything
is vaguely recognizable, but new and different. As you read these prequels, you
should get a regular dose of "Aha! So that's where that came from.”

BM: Which of the Dune chronicle books is your favorite and why?

KJA: Of the ones Brian and I have written, I am very pleased with them all,
but I think I'd have to say House Harkonnen - it's the darkest and most
Shakespearean of the bunch. Of Frank's Dune chronicles, I like Dune the best.
I enjoyed all six and found much that was thought-provoking and fascinating
even in the later volumes, but Dune succeeds best on all levels.

BM: Do you see an end to the Dune stories?

KJA: As long as we can think of worthy, epic stories to tell, we will keep
writing them. Brian and I know we want to do another four or five books after
The Battle of Corrin, but we're taking it one step at a time. These are very
large stories and very difficult to write, especially with the quality and the
expectations involved.

BM: Any hints you can give us on Dune 7 ?
Or any books on Paul's early years?

KJA: We have Frank Herbert's outline for Dune 7, which ties together all
of the threads he laid down in his original Dune chronicles - and Brian and I
needed to do our House trilogy and the Butlerian Jihad trilogy to set up many
of the necessary details for the story. After the Jihad books, Brian and I will
probably put together a book of Frank's unpublished notes, excerpts, and other
Dune material, while we gear up to write Dune 7, which we plan as our next
major project. The outline and all the loose ends will require a story that's so
large it'll probably need two volumes. We'll see - right now we've got quite a
bit more polishing to do on The Battle of Corrin. We'd also like to do a novel
or novels about Paul's younger years, a story that would fit between House
Corrino and Dune, because a lot of things still have to happen in that time
period. All of these ideas will keep us busy for quite a while.

BM: How did you feel about the new Children of Dune miniseries and its
musical score?

KJA: Brian and I, and our wives, were invited to Hollywood for the premiere
of the Children miniseries, and we all thought it was incredible. The producers,
script writer, director, actors, all the crew put their whole heart into this
production and it really shows - it was the third highest rated show in Sci Fi
Channel history (after the first Dune miniseries and Spielberg's Taken). This
miniseries has supercharged interest in the whole Dune universe and we've
gotten a lot of new readers from it.

BM: Any other projects that you're working on that we need to watch out for?

KJA: I just had two new paperbacks out in the past few months, Hopscotch -
a very Frank Herbert-esque SF story about body-swapping, and Captain Nemo,
a fantastic historical novel that tells the life story of Captain Nemo from Jules
Verne. For a lot of other details, you can get more information on our website,
Since it's getting to the summer, people need a lot of things to read on the beach -
I hope they try one of my novels.
Speaking of which, I have to get back to editing Horizon Storms...

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