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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson is the bestselling author of 100 books and innumerable short stories. From Dune and Star Wars tie-ins to original books like the Saga Of The Seven Suns series and his latest, Hellhole, Anderson is known for being prolific. He’s been married nineteen years to author and frequent collaborator Rebecca Moesta. He also spends a lot of time mentoring other writers. You can find him online as @TheKJA on Twitter or at his website:

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you become a writer?

Kevin J. Anderson: I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. I wrote my first story when I was eight, bought a typewriter when I was ten, and got my first rejection at twelve.

SFFWRTCHT: Was it always Science Fiction?

KJA: Yes, it was always Science Fiction…monsters, aliens, other planets. I grew up in small farm town, so other worlds were much more interesting.

SFFWRTCHT: Your latest, Hellhole, book one of a trilogy written with Brian Herbert, is the saga of a General who lost a rebellion and was banished to a barely habitable planet by a ruthless regime. You’ve created quite a Universe. Do you envision doing any more beyond that and how did that idea come about?

KJA: Hellhole is plotted as trilogy, beginning, middle, end, with a grand climax. But it’s a big universe. I’m not saying we’d never do more. The idea came from expansion of American West, colonization of hellish places, pioneers getting away from corrupt governments. Like our Dune books, my Seven Suns and Terra Incognita, it’s a tapestry of people and stories and lets you see the whole landscape. After twelve Dune books, we felt we were practiced enough to create a big universe of our own.

SFFWRTCHT: Hellhole has a very large casts of characters. What are the challenges in balancing so many POVs? Any tricks you’ve learned?

KJA: It’s like a big complicated dance number, every character doing his or her part in perfect sequence with precise timing. I’ve developed a very useful technique of mapping the storylines and character interactions with color-coded text in an outline skeleton. I teach some of that in more detail at the Superstars Writing Seminars.

SFFWRTCHT: You and Brian have collaborated on a number of books. How do you collaborations work? Do you outline together first? Do character sketches? Set a daily word count goal?

KJA: Brian and I outline heavily beforehand, so we can keep storylines straight with two writers in the same big story. It’s our blueprint. We brainstorm in detail, outline until we’re happy, chapter by chapter, then each write half, according to storylines or characters. We do full character bios for reference, but we’ve also already talked through it all. On an average day, I do 3-10,000 words per day. Brian is close to the same. When we’re in a project, we dive in.

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you get involved writing Star Wars books?

KJA: I was writing my own books, doing well, and my publisher brought them to Lucasfilm’s attention. They called me.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you handle keeping track of a world so diverse and well developed as Star Wars and getting it right?

KJA: I had shelves of reference materials, blueprints, maps, histories, and I read all the books and watched the movies constantly.

SFFWRTCHT: Does Lucasfilm give you the story or do you devise your own and work out the details with them?

KJA: I had a lot of freedom with Lucasfilm. I pitched stories and worked with them. Now I think it’s a little more mapped out.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you think you’ll ever dive back into the Star Wars universe again?

KJA: I loved my work in Star Wars. I did fifty-four projects for Lucasfilm. Depends on what projects they have in mind as to whether I’d do another.

SFFWRTCHT: How did your involvement with the Dune books happen?

KJA: You can find the full story in the intros to House Atreides and Sandworms. Each time I reread Dune I admire a different aspect of it. I still think this is the greatest Science Fiction novel ever. Brian has blessing of other Frank Herbert heirs and Frank asked him to do more books before his death, so we didn’t want the Dune saga to be left incomplete. Next up is Sisterhood of Dune, in final edit right now, about formation of Bene Gesserit after the Butlerian Jihad.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have a favorite character in the Dune saga?

KJA: My favorite character is Duke Leto, and favorite book in series is Dune. Of ours, my favorite is Machine Crusade.

SFFWRTCHT: Let’s touch a bit more on craft. How much of any Science Fiction book is ecology, world building, inventing of critters?

KJA: It depends on book: some are about the world, some are character studies, some are survival stories against an environment and/or critters.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve talked about how you dictate and have the recordings transcribed when writing. How did that practice come about? Is it difficult to compose prose that way i.e. has it taken a lot of practice?

KJA: I’ve been dictating for years, started because I wanted to preserve thoughts as I walked while pondering stories to myself. I find dictating to be very natural way of writing. It’s how the original storytellers did it.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re often described as writing “large scale Science Fiction.” What makes it so?

KJA: Edge of the World (Terra Incognita trilogy) is large-scale fantasy, but same plotting as my Science Fiction epics. It’s about the story, the world, the characters, not the genre label on the spine. (I’m mostly known for Science Fiction, though.) The same goes for large-scale fantasy. It’s a big choreography w/characters, storylines and worlds.

SFFWRTCHT: You spend a lot of time mentoring other authors through your Superstars seminars. Who were some of the people who mentored you along the way?

KJA: Yes,, 5 bestselling authors teaching the biz. Important to pay it forward. For those interested, the price on the next seminar goes up by $100 May 1st, so you can take advantage of a discount now. Dean Koontz was a big help early in my career; Greg Bear, David Brin, and Gregory Benford all offered advice; most prominently, I learned with my other newbie writer friends Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Robert J Sawyer — we all taught one another.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you considered collaborating on books with Brandon Sanderson or Dave Wolverton or Eric Flint? Your Superstars partners?

KJA: We haven’t talked about it, but we’ve all known one another for a long time. It might be fun, but because we’re all busy successful authors, it’s very hard to find the time when two of us have our schedules clear.

SFFWRTCHT: What other projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?

KJA: Brian and I will be plotting Hellhole 2 during our book tour and start writing that soon thereafter. Sisterhood is first in a trilogy plus Brian and I have two more Hellhole books. That takes us to 2016. Haven’t planned beyond that.

SFFWRTCHT: We’ve touched on all of the others. Any more Superman novels coming beyond Enemies and Allies and Last Days of Krypton?

KJA: Not yet but I’d love to do more.

SFFWRTCHT: Random question: Can democracy work in space or off Earth?

KJA: Big question! I think toughest part would be the time and distance involved. Democracy seems local.

SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite authors?

KJA: In the genre, Frank Herbert, Dan Simmons, Orson Scott Card, KJ Parker, Peter F Hamilton, Jack McDevitt. Outside the genre, my favorite writers are Larry McMurtry, James Clavell, Martin Cruz Smith.

Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter.