February 2004 Interview

Kevin J. Anderson answers questions from FED2k's Inoculator9.


1) As a young adult, did you read a lot of science fiction and fantasy? Which genres of literature do you feel most inclined towards?

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, TV, cartoons, movies, books, comics. The first movie I remember seeing was “The War of the Worlds” and the first novel I ever read was THE TIME MACHINE. I loved superheroes, and classic SF. I read DUNE for the first time when I was 12, I think.


2) What individual piece of literature would you say had the greatest impact on your writing? 3) When did you first encounter the writings of Frank Herbert? What were your initial thoughts regarding Dune?

Yes, it’s the easy answer, but it’s true -- I had always loved science fiction, but when I read DUNE I suddenly realized just how BIG the genre could be and how great its potential was. I loved the story, and as a relatively young reader I remember it was a great adventure story jam-packed with cool ideas. Later, when I reread it as a senior in high school I suddenly noticed all the politics and nuances. When I read it again in college, I noticed even more layers. I STILL find new things in it every time I go back.


4) Which of Frank Herbert's Dune novels would you say you enjoyed the most? Which of Frank Herbert's novels outside of the Dune series did you enjoy the most?

I still enjoy the original DUNE best. I did read all of Frank Herbert’s other works, and I think HELLSTROM’S HIVE is my favorite of them.


5) Did you ever encounter any of Brian Herbert's novels after, or perhaps before, reading his father's works?

I was aware of Brian’s work in SF, but I hadn’t read any of his books until I started talking with him about working on DUNE. Then, of course, I went through as many as I could -- especially MAN OF TWO WORLDS, the collaboration with his father (of course), SUDANNA, SUDANNA, THE RACE FOR GOD, and PRISONERS OF ARIONN.


6) When you were first contacted in relation to co-writing a Dune novel, what was the first thought that ran through your head? Who was the first person you told about the opportunity, and what was that person's reaction?

The first person I consulted with was my wife Rebecca, naturally -- she’s my business partner, first reader, career advisor, and a lot of other things. It was a dizzying prospect, and intimidating as hell, but we felt that these were projects that needed to be done, that Frank Herbert had always intended for there to be more DUNE novels, and that nobody would work harder than I intended to.


7) When co-writing an addition to such a popular and well-loved series, there is always the possibility of disappointment in those that know the books well. Initially, were you ever nervous about how fans might react to the news that a new Dune novel was being written . . . and by someone outside the Herbert family?

Frank Herbert left some immensely big shoes to fill, and when Brian and I put together all our separate experiences, educations, and areas of expertise, we hoped that our “team” could approach the incredible background that Frank himself had. It’s not easy to follow in the footsteps of a genius. But before he died Frank Herbert had asked Brian to write DUNE novels with him, preferably the Butlerian Jihad story, and the last novel he completed in life, MAN OF TWO WORLDS, was a collaboration with Brian. In his papers, Frank had left the complete outline for “Dune 7” -- so it’s just not accurate for some of the surly fans to claim that we’re concocting books that Frank Herbert never intended to write.

When Brian and I first got together, I had over sixty novels published in two dozen languages, a stack of awards and nominations, all in all some pretty decent credentials. Frank Herbert wrote several excellent books with Bill Ransom; Brian Herbert writes with Kevin J. Anderson. Nothing requires a coauthor to be part of the family (though Brian has threatened to adopt me…)


8) What began your's and Brian Herbert's writing process with Dune: House Atreides? Did you ever deviate from any preliminary plans you might have had for writing the first Dune Prequels?

When we met and discussed the various paths we could approach the project, we settled on the “House” books as the best way to reawaken interest in the DUNE series. We had plotted out the general storyline and knew where we wanted to go -- and then, within days after I had gone back home -- Brian received a call from the estate lawyer about newly discovered safe-deposit boxes. Inside, were the working notes and full outline for DUNE 7, so suddenly we had the roadmap for where we had to end up. The initial target for all this work was to build up to DUNE 7, but we couldn’t just jump right in because it had been too long since CHAPTERHOUSE was published. And now we saw that Frank Herbert’s plans for the Butlerian Jihad, and the stories leading up to DUNE 7 all tied wonderfully together.


9) When reading Frank Herbert's notes, did you ever read some excerpt or explanation that conflicted with an original concept or thought you had regarding Frank's original Dune series?

The notes were like bolts of lightning on paper. We kept seeing connections and endpoints that Frank Herbert had in mind that we had never guessed. For instance, Frank revealed who Jessica’s mother was, which was a complete surprise to us (and the fans). He also wrote the first encounter with Leto and Jessica, established what the Honored Matres are running from, and laid down the Grand Finale. Armed with all this information, we set about writing our prequels. Frank Herbert laid the ground work, and we have followed the directions he gave us.


10) What style of co-writing did you and Brian Herbert use in writing Dune: House Atreides? Did you sit together at a computer/typewriter? Exchange drafts? Or something different?

Brian and I would meet together for intensive brainstorming sessions to develop the whole trilogy, and then each book in greater detail. We knew every chapter, every scene, and then split them between us. Brian and I each have different strengths and skills, and we divided the work to reflect this. Then, we exchanged disks and drafts and rewrote each others’ prose repeatedly -- each DUNE prequel went through between 10 - 13 complete drafts, test readers, editorial revisions (both US and UK), and then final polishes.


11) In writing the Dune House Prequels, and later the Butlerian Jihad series, did you ever try and use character models from some of your other novels to map out those of the Dune novels? Were any characters based on people you have encountered in real life?

Any writer draws on his or her own experiences to create characters. Every person in the DUNE novels, or our individual novels, is an amalgam of people we have met or known over the years. But, no, nothing so completely specific as a particular “real” person to match a character in the novels.


12) After completing one of your new Dune novels with Brian Herbert, did you ever look back and find any one mistake or aspect of the novels that you personally felt strongly about correcting or changing?

I think it’s usually folly for creators to go back and fiddle with their work over and over again. I can get on my soapbox and rant about how the original versions of the STAR WARS films are far superior to the “special editions” (which are the only ones you can now buy). [Greedo shooting first? Luke Skywalker screaming like a silly cheerleader as he falls down into Cloud City? Puh-leeze!]

In looking through the original manuscripts and notes of Frank Herbert, we found several fascinating chapters and scenes that had been deleted from DUNE and DUNE MESSIAH, apparently to make them fit the word count of Analog magazine where they were originally serialized. We hope to publish those chapters separately, because we think they would be of interest to DUNE fans, but Frank Herbert himself had ample opportunity to reinsert them into editions of his novels and he chose not to do so; we’ll follow his wishes. Also, we've found some minor errors and inconsistencies in the original DUNE chronicles; we *could* fix the mistakes in future editions of the books, but we have decided not to -- the books will stand exactly as Frank wrote them.

As for changes in our own books, I just finished going over the galleys for the paperback of THE MACHINE CRUSADE to incorporate corrections and to smooth inconsistencies that did not make it into the typesetting of the hardcover edition. However, those were inadvertent oversights that fell between the cracks in the production phase of the book. Neither Brian nor I have any intention of going back to rewrite or revise any of our previous books.

It’s very easy for a few fans to be “Monday morning quarterbacks,” to get lost in the details and miss the overall story. By now, with all the DUNE novels, Brian and I are working in a story that is something like six times as extensive as WAR AND PEACE. (I’m sitting in a hotel room in Durango Colorado doing a final polish on THE BATTLE OF CORRIN, and I don’t have my copy of Tolstoy handy, so I’ll have to let somebody else do the math…and you can be sure some fan WILL.) The majority of comments we’ve received about alleged “mistakes” are simply jumping the gun, people who are leaping to incorrect conclusions before the story is over. It’s like walking out of a movie in the first twenty minutes and complaining that you didn’t like the ending. Some readers squawked about our incorporating no-ship technology into HOUSE ATREIDES, but by the end of HOUSE CORRINO they saw that it made perfect sense. Others have pointed to contradictory details in the Butlerian Jihad books, and yet somehow they haven’t seen the repeated comments and epigraphs about the fallibility of history and the distortion of facts to create myths and heroes. This was a viewpoint Frank Herbert held strongly and we have carried it through in our novels.


13) Reading through Dune: House Atreides, The Butlerian Jihad, and the books that follow them, have you ever spotted a particular character that you enjoyed more compared to others?

There are always characters that strike a stronger chord with an author. I have always felt that Duke Leto Atreides was the most powerful hero in the DUNE books, and we were very glad to give him much more of a back story in our first prequel trilogy. In the current Butlerian Jihad story, I felt a particular affinity for Selim Wormrider, and Brian really got into Norma Cenva. We both had a twisted admiration for Erasmus, who is one of our best villains ever.


14) As you said in a previous interview, you wrote many books during the time it took to write Dune House Atreides and it's predecessors. Did you ever draw on any aspects, concepts, or plot ideas from Frank Herbert's notes or any events or ideas that came up when discussing what to include in your Dune novels with Brian Herbert?

I’ve always got several projects going in parallel, as does Brian. We work on our own novels and stories when the other person is editing a DUNE manuscript. It’s an extensive and interactive process. I also read a lot of books, see a lot of movies. It’s not obvious where any particular scene or idea comes from. I would suppose that some of the seminal ingredients in my own big space epic, “The Saga of Seven Suns,” can be attributed to the overall DUNE universe, but I have taken them in different directions. I do hope, though, that anyone who enjoys the DUNE novels will enjoy HIDDEN EMPIRE or the other “Seven Suns” books.


15) Upon the release of your Dune novels written with Brian Herbert, many have spoken out against them, a few being very vocal about their negative opinions. Have you ever had times when this poor response made you want to cease your writing?

It’s an unpleasant aspect of fandom -- whether it’s in science fiction novels, in rock music, in films -- that a certain segment of “fans” seem to derive more pleasure out of tearing works apart than in enjoying them for what they are. As soon as Brian and I announced what we intended to do, some of the most vocal DUNE fanatics sharpened their knives and went after us; a small group posted repeated one-star reviews on amazon.com before HOUSE ATREIDES was even published, saying things like “I don’t even need to read this book to know how bad it is.” How can people like that expect to be taken seriously? (In fact, after HOUSE ATREIDES was published we actually received apology letters from many of those vehement fans.)

A rock group comes out with their first original CD in many years -- whether it's Metallica or Meat Loaf -- and a little mob of fans howls to the heavens that it isn’t good enough. James Patterson publishes a new suspense novel and a group of readers chases after him with their complaints. Long-anticipated films debut on screen and some group or other will find fault with it and go on at great length. President Bush Sr. commented that he didn’t care for broccoli and suddenly a group of united broccoli farmers were up in arms and marching on Washington, DC -- sheesh! It happens everywhere.

To put this in perspective, you have to remember that Frank Herbert himself was reviled by some fans for DUNE MESSIAH, CHILDREN OF DUNE, and all the books afterward. People complained that they weren’t good enough, that they weren’t the same as DUNE, that Paul was turned into an anti-hero. Reading these books today, they stand as absolute masterpieces. Obviously, the detractors at the time were way off base.

Do these complaints make me or Brian want to just give up writing? That would certainly be bowing to the will of a vanishingly small (however vocal) minority, and that makes no sense at all. One reviewer claimed that our prequels were “good, but not as good as the original DUNE.” Well, duh -- DUNE is the greatest work of SF ever published. However, the members of the Science Fiction Book Club voted HOUSE ATREIDES the “best book of the year” by the largest margin the award has ever seen. Every single one of our prequels has been nominated for awards or received starred reviews or been picked for “best of the year” lists. The sales continue to grow with each publication, and the volume of our fan mail keeps increasing. That’s the feedback we’ll listen to, not a couple of complainers.


16) Has the attention that co-writing new Dune novels has gotten you ever overshadowed another novel of yours that you feel deserved as much attention?

Not at all -- in fact, the DUNE prequels have greatly increased my readership for my original novels. For instance, my epic SF series that begins with HIDDEN EMPIRE and A FOREST OF STARS is very much along the lines of what DUNE readers will enjoy. Many of the people who enjoyed the prequel novels I’ve written with Brian have now started reading my original series. Similarly, Brian wrote a wonderful biography of his father, DREAMER OF DUNE, and the readers of our prequels are picking that book up as well.


17) At this midpoint in the release of Dune novels, between the completed prequels, in the middle of the Butlerian Jihad series, and nearing the beginning of sequels to Frank Herbert's Dune, how would you describe, as a whole, your work so far? What do you predict about the writing of "Hunters of Dune" and "Sandworms of Dune?"

Right now, preparing to do the extensive groundwork for HUNTERS and SANDWORMS, the two volumes of “Dune 7”, it’s a very exciting time. Over the past two months I have reread all six of Frank Herbert’s original DUNE novels just to get in the right mindset. After three books set in the Butlerian Jihad timeframe, it’ll feel good to jump into new and unexplored territory. The Jihad trilogy and the House trilogy each has a distinctive flavor, just as CHAPTERHOUSE feels very different from MESSIAH. We are trying different methods and telling different stories, all within the overall context of the DUNE universe.


18) What other author's work would you compare Frank Herbert's Dune novels to? What works would you compare your and Brian Herbert's works to?

Hmm, how can you compare DUNE to anything? This might sound strange, but the only other two books that I have found similarly vast and engaging are Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE and Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER -- complex, epic stories in interesting landscapes (though not science fiction), centered around people in challenging circumstances. Brian and I did not intentionally set out to copy Frank’s style, but to tell our own stories that had a similar “look and feel” to the DUNE universe.


19) What author (Frank Herbert excluded) do you admire and enjoy reading the most? All modesty aside, what author's style would you compare your own to?

Other than rereading Frank Herbert again and again, I do like Larry McMurtry, Orson Scott Card, Dan Simmons, and George RR Martin. If you insist on me setting my modesty aside, I try most closely to emulate Scott Card -- he has a clean and non-stuffy style, straightforward storytelling with surprising depth and engaging characters. I hope to do the same.