The interview is from early June 2021.
You create not only in Duniverse. You are a very prolific writer. You have over 120 books in your account, you still write. About Star Wars, about Superman. And you have a whole lot of your own worlds. In which of them do you feel best? Creating which of them give you the greatest pleasure?
Well, the total is now up to 170 books! My brain is happiest when it’s creating stories. When I was just a small child, HG Wells and The War of the Worlds inspired me to be a writer and I have done several projects based on that. Dune was a huge influence on my life since the first time I read it, at about age 12. I grew up with comics characters like Batman and Superman, and getting the chance to write their stories was very meaningful to me. Especially close to my heart are the fantasies I write with my friend, mentor, and idol, Neil Peart—Clockwork Angels, Clockwork Lives, and (forthcoming) Clockwork Destiny. I very much like to create new works, wherever they take me, and I don’t want to do the same thing over and over.
Tell me briefly about the work on one of the Dune volumes. How do you share your work with Brian Herbert?
Right now, as I answer these questions, I have spent the evening proofreading the final typeset pages of THE LADY OF CALADAN, and Brian and I have nearly finished the writing outline for THE HEIR OF CALADAN, the last book in the trilogy. We have had several Zoom calls to brainstorm, and many emails, and we have worked out the 70 or so chapters for us to write. In normal times, I would just fly up to visit him and stay with him for several days as we mapped out the new novel. Once we have the outline more and more detailed, then we will divide up the chapters half and half, and we will each go write our draft chapters. When we are all finished we will put the whole book together and take turns editing the manuscript (anywhere from 6-12 times), until it is polished and ready for publication.
Is such coauthorship easier or more difficult than writing alone? And for what reasons?
It’s different, easier in some ways and harder in others. When I have my own original novel, I can write whatever I like without any compromises. When I write with a collaborator, however—like Brian—we can also pool our experiences and knowledge, and the two of us create something neither of us could have done ourselves. Brian and I have worked together for nearly 25 years, written over 3 million words together, and are still best friends.
What is your favorite Dune character? And why?
I will pick two, one from Frank Herbert and one of our original creations. For our original characters, my favorite is the independent robot Erasmus, an earnest but twisted thinking machine who wants to understand humanity… and he will dissect thousands to understand. He was so much fun to write, and is possibly our most popular character.
From the original Dune, my favorite character to work with is Duke Leto Atreides, perhaps the greatest hero in the series, a man who loves his son and his concubine deeply, who is rooted in honor, who knows he is trapped and yet still faces the greatest challenge. After THE HEIR OF CALADAN, Brian and I will have written six complete novels with him as a main character.
Source: Kevin J. Anderson and my humble person in Lublin, Falkon 2013
The new Dune was to hit theaters in 2020, on the 100th anniversary of Frank Herbert's birth. There is a one-year delay. However, despite the situation, did you and Brian celebrate his father's birthday somehow?
I actually didn’t know that was the reason for the timing. Frank’s birthday is in October, and the original release date was in December. Regardless, each year on the birthday we make sure to post something special across our social media, to help the fans remember as well.
Before the pandemic, there has been talk of a Dune tv show. More specifically about a story unfolding among the Bene Gesserit. Is this plan still valid, under consideration maybe? Or has the pandemic caused it to be completely abandoned?
CAN’T TALK ABOUT THIS
You are finishing another Dune trilogy. Are there any plans for further volumes or are you planning to close the series now?
After NAVIGATORS OF DUNE, we took a five-year break (working on lots of other Dune projects) before we began the Caladan Trilogy. THE DUKE OF CALADAN was one of the best-received of all our new Dune novels, and LADY OF CALADAN comes out this fall. We’re just about to start writing THE HEIR OF CALADAN. We have many other Dune comics, games, film/TV possibilities. But Brian and I are writers, first and foremost. We don’t know exactly what we’ll do next, but I’m sure we’ll keep working together.
More and more Dune comics appear. How do you work on a comic book script? Is this job very different from working on a novel? And how does the interaction with illustrators look like?
I have written a great many comics, from Star Wars, Predator, X-Files, DC and Marvel superheroes, and I love working in the format. Dune is such a VISUAL series, it seems perfect for adapting in the comics format. Writing a comic script is very different from a novel, because you have to tell the story in a series of static images, constrained to a specific number of pages…but a good artist removes all the boundaries. We try to give good specific direction in the script but also allow the artists the freedom they need to do their best work.
The work on the new film caused Dune to reappear in various spheres of pop culture. New computer and board games and figurines are created. Even Poles create one of the games. How did it even happen? What does the cooperation with Poles look like?
I honestly don’t know because I’m not involved in the game licensing.
Are there any other branches being considered to expand on the Dune theme in 2022? Was anyone already asking you and Brian for anything?
With our continued novels, and the large expansion into comics, and numerous games (both tabletop games and online games in development), and of course the film and TV possibilities…that’s quite a lot.
For years I have been dreaming about a Dune cookbook. I even started collecting names and descriptions of dishes from the Dune novels myself. There are such books on the market, e.g. from the world of Game of Thrones (I have it and use it from time to time). Have you and Brian thought about creating a similar position?
It sounds like an interesting idea, and in Frank Herbert’s papers we also have some of his own favorite family recipes. Right now, however, our plates are so full with numerous projects, that won’t come up to the top of the list anytime soon.
I once wrote a short story in the Duneverse. There are probably many such people. Are you considering the possibility of someday gathering stories from other authors (fans rather than famous writers) and publishing them together? Or is this completely out of the question?
The amount of work that would entail on our part, just trying to watch over the continuity, not to mention the legal and rights issues, pretty much makes that impossible.
I love your novel The Last Days of Krypton. As a little boy, were you fascinated by the Superman? How did it happen that you decided to leave a mark in this world as well? Did you like writing this book?
Oh yes, I grew up reading so many of the core comics. I loved Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk. Interestingly, The Last Days of Krypton came about because of Dune—the executive vice president of DC Comics was a big Dune fan, and I got to know him in publishing and at comics conventions. I would send him copies of each new Dune book that came out, and he’d send me new DC comics. Then one day I had the idea for the story behind the fall of Krypton, like The Last Days of Pompeii…and I called him up and proposed the book. He loved the idea, and I wrote the novel, then a second novel, Enemies and Allies (about the first meeting of Superman and Batman). I really loved working on those projects.
What was your beloved childhood book anyway? Is there a title that has left a permanent mark on you? Did any of the books you read during your school years made you decide to become a writer?
Well, Dune is the main one, for obvious reasons, but I also fell in love with the works of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. When I was in high school, I adored all the John Carter of Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I just read anything I could get my hands on.
Personally, I'm not a Star Wars fan. I've seen all the movies, but it’s unlikely I will see them again. However, I’m quite sure you have a large group of SW fans in Poland. Therefore, I will ask – which title from this universe do you like the most? Both from your own novels and other authors’.
I saw the original movie Star Wars (now called A New Hope), in the theater when I was in high school. That movie CHANGED science fiction forever. It was the first mainstream, worldwide popular film that made everybody see the potential in science fiction. I had written seven original novels of my own, never dreaming of working for Star Wars, when someone at Lucasfilm noticed my work, and I was contacted to write in that universe. My first books, the Jedi Academy trilogy, remain my best-selling books of my entire career, and those allowed me to work in comics, in X-Files, in Star Trek, and eventually led to me working with Brian in Frank Herbert’s wonderful Dune universe—so, yes, you should be thankful for Star Wars!
Source: Kevin J. Anderson's archive
The latest movie also connects with Star Wars. I have Oscar Isaac in mind, of course. Do you think Villeneuve’s Dune will be a blockbuster? Even aside from the pandemic. Will it appeal to the fans, will it interest those who don't know Dune?
Sorry, I can’t talk about the movie.
You give classes on creative writing, you have your own publishing house, you still write a lot. What do you like to do most in your spare time? And how much spare time does the busy man like you have for his loved ones?
Fortunately, the thing I love to do most is writing and telling stories, and helping other writers, so all of that heavy schedule and hard work also feels like my best things. I live in a very beautiful part of the United States, with lots of mountains and natural scenery, and I really enjoy hiking…but I also dictate my stories while I walk, so even that is writing time. My wife Rebecca (thirty years married this September) is also a writer, so our conversations are usually about writing projects, and I have three young grandsons – I do spend time with them and make sure they are also interested in science fiction!
Source: Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson's archive
You are active in social media. Tell me, how do you picture your contact with your fans over the next few years if the pandemic doesn't go away as quickly as we would like it to go?
Well, social media has KEPT me connected with fans around the world, even in the pandemic. It used to be that I would travel every month (often several times a month), so I could meet my fans directly. Right now, I have not gone to a convention to meet fans for a year and a half, and I am really getting anxious. I am vaccinated and hopeful. But in the meantime, I make many postings (Twitter @TheKJA, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KJAauthor), show photos, and I even do virtual appearances at conferences by Zoom (though I really don’t find that a satisfying!)
You like mountain hiking. Can you say the mountains are your desert? Silence on the one hand, and constant challenges on the other?
I love the desert, too, and go there as often as I can. In fact, my inspiration to contact Brian Herbert about continuing the Dune saga came to me while I was in Death Valley, one of the largest deserts in the U.S. I enjoy nature, the beauty of the landscape, and that not only gives me solitude but also inspiration to see the grandeur all around me. It helps me to extrapolate on what an alien world might look like.
In 2013 you were in Poland, in Lublin, at the Falcon convention. What did you like the most about Poland and Poles? What surprised you? I remember that you were really surprised that one of the ingredients often used by Poles in baking are poppy seeds (we were eating marcińskie croissants then). Something else?
I loved the people, the fantastic food, the culture. I have always been fascinated by Eastern Europe, and this was my first visit there (I have since been to the Czech Republic and have a trip planned to Ukraine). In addition to Falcon in Lublin, I also spent some time in Warsaw for some book signings and appearances. I think Polish vodka is the best! But what interested me the most is that even on the other side of the world, we still have so many common connections in the books we love, the movies we watch, and the science fiction that inspires us.
Source: Kevin J. Anderson and Michał Skalec, at our house, November 2013
Are you planning any trips to Europe, of course taking into account the end of the pandemic? Or maybe even to Poland? Is there even the slightest hint of hope that Brian will also visit us one day?
Everything depends on how soon things get back to normal after the pandemic, of course, but I do already have trips planned for Ukraine and Italy. I very much hope I can come back to Poland again – it’s a big country, and I saw only a small part of it, and I made many friends and memories in just my brief visit.