Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our interviews kicked off in July 2000 with a most prolific guest, Kevin J. Anderson.
KJA – Ah, so I’m to be your first interview, eh? I’ve always wanted to be a guinea pig Jedi.
Lightsabre – What are your first memories of Episode IV – A New Hope?
KJA – I grew up in a small farming town in the state of Wisconsin, a place where the cows and the barns outnumber the people. We did have a rather large city within a half hour’s drive, so I did manage to see a great many movies (this was in the days before videotapes and easy film rentals), but we didn’t hear much about them ahead of time. I was in my last year of high school when A New Hope came out and I dutifully went to see it because I loved science fiction. But I had no particular expectations. I certainly didn’t expect to be so blown away! From the very opening scene I knew I’d better sit up and pay attention. Never did I dream that I would make quite a career for myself working inside George Lucas’s universe.
Lightsabre – Which of the four films stands out as your personal favourite, and why?
KJA – Empire, because it’s the darkest and most dramatic. Everything works perfectly in that movie, while I think a few rough edges show in the other three films. As many of your readers know, I’m working with Frank Herbert’s son to continue the DUNE saga based on notes Mr. Herbert left behind upon his death. This autumn our second book, House Harkonnen, will be released in the US and the UK, and I intentionally followed the model of Empire for this second book. High tragedy and big surprises and many things that are dark and grim and depressing — does it get any better than that.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How did you begin as a writer and what is your main source of inspiration?
KJA – I have always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was a 5-year-old boy. I started drawing pictures and telling stories out loud, and then I finally learned how to write and how to type. While I have worked in a great many other jobs — tending white lab rats, waiting on tables, bartending, writing numerous technical manuals — I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I wrote short stories and sent them around to magazines, then I wrote novels. Even after hundreds of rejection slips it never occurred to me to give up. I stuck with it and now I can say that I’m an “overnight success” after twenty years of trying. I published my first novel, Resurrection, Inc. in 1988 (reprinted last year by HarperCollins in the UK) and I had ten novels published before I received a delightful phone call from my editor asking me if I liked Star Wars.
Lightsabre – I once read that you speak your stories into a Dictaphone and write it up later. Why does this system work for you? And does your wife Rebecca Moesta work in a similar fashion?
KJA – I love hiking and mountain climbing; I find it very inspirational to be out in dramatic scenery, stark deserts, spectacular mountains. The very fact of walking helps my creative juices flow, lets me ponder scenes and dialog. I have taught myself to “tell” my stories out loud into a tape recorder as I hike, and then our assistant transcribes them. After all, it’s not fundamentally different from thinking up a sentence and moving your fingers to type on keys on a computer — I think up a sentence and speak the words out loud. In fact, it seems a lot more natural to me.
I’ve done much of my Star Wars dictating out in Death Valley, the California desert where parts of the original films were shot. Hiking through the real Tatooine certainly helps me to think up details of color and smells and landforms as I dictate a story. In my second Star Wars novel, dark Apprentice, the opening scene takes place on the polar ice caps of Coruscant; I wrote that scene while I was trudging through heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, watching the cold steam curl out of my mouth, hearing the crunch of ice underneath my feet. I love being able to hike and write at the same time — it doesn’t get any better than that!
My wife Rebecca also dictates her fiction, sometimes while on the treadmill exercising, other times while out walking. For her, though, it became more of a necessity than a convenience. She had suffered from severe carpal tunnel syndrome and had undergone four operations on her wrists and elbows. She is supposed to cut down on her typing, and using a tape recorder has proved to be the best solution for her.
Lightsabre – In your opinion, what makes for a good book?
KJA – A good story with interesting characters, well written. It sounds so simple and straightforward it’s surprising that many authors don’t manage to do it.
A secondary question, though, is “what makes for a good Star Wars book”? I feel that a writer working in an established universe has a very specific contract with the reader — he or she has to write a book with the “look and feel” that’s expected from the property in question. If you are going to write a Star Wars book, then you must capture the humor, the monsters, the space battles, the epic feel, and give the fans another dose of their favorite movie. This isn’t the place to try something really experimental, to change Luke Skywalker into the character you’ve always wanted him to be. Do that in your own book if that’s what you want, but if you’re going to write a book that is advertized as a piece of Star Wars, then you must use the correct ingredients.
Lightsabre – Have you ever actually met George Lucas? What were your impressions of him?
KJA – I met him a couple of times at Skywalker Ranch, though I never had to work closely with him or interact at any great length. He is a very intense, very smart man who is (understandably) extremely busy.
Lightsabre – How large a part do you think fandom and the Internet has played in the success of the Star Wars films?
KJA – Fandom and the internet is certainly the best source for preposterous rumors. Fandom, and the response to Timothy Zahn’s first SW novel, proved to all the sceptics that there was still a great love for the original films. The continuing frenzy over new novels showed that it wasn’t going to go away. Internet discussion groups have carried the various debates (sometimes out to the most maddening hair-splitting one could imagine).
My one regret is that, alas, there are a surly bunch of very rude fans on the Internet boards who need to learn better manners. They have driven me and virtually all of the other professional SW authors away from the fan discussion boards from their sheer vitriol over everything. We like to contribute back to the fans, but not under those circumstances.
Lightsabre – Have you any plans to write new Star Wars material? You’re obviously very much at home with the universe that Lucas has created, so how would you feel writing in the post Phantom – pre-A New Hope era?
KJA – If I ever did another big Star Wars project, it would have to be very interesting and ambitious. By my count, I have done 54 novels, anthologies, comics, art books, pop-up books, etc. based on Star Wars. Frankly, unless I ventured into new territory and new characters, I have mined out most of the imagination I can find based on the universe as portrayed in the original three films.
The space in between the two trilogies, though, does seem to have more interesting things. My own writing schedule is pretty crammed with many projects and many deadlines — which is why I took so long to answer all of your questions! — but I love Star Wars very much and I would never turn down a chance to play in George Lucas’s sandbox again.
Lightsabre – What do you foresee in the future for yourself outside of the Star Wars universe? Your books continuing with the Frank Herbert Dune novels seem set to be a great success?
KJA – Star Wars was a very intimidating universe in which to write, but Dune is my favorite science fiction novel of all time, and I considered it to be even bigger shoes to fill. House Atreides, my first Dune prequel written with Brian Herbert, promptly became an international bestseller when it was released last year; we also got astonishingly good reviews and numerous mentions on “best of the year” lists. The second book, House Harkkonen, is even better, I think. Brian and I are now finishing the final draft on House Corrino, the third volume in this prequel trilogy, and we have several other stories we want to tell.
I have also written a new book to relaunch the Fantastic Voyage series (based on the original idea from the 1964 movie where a miniaturized team explores the human body) — in my book, though, they explore a UFO alien’s body…
Lightsabre – Many fans have expressed their dissatisfaction with Episode I – The Phantom Menace. We here at Lightsabre loved the film: It was the ideal addition to the Star Wars cannon, a new beginning to a new trilogy and a perfect film to end the last millennium on. What are your thoughts on Episode I?
KJA – Gee, now that you’ve told me what you all think. All right, I believe that Episode One is the weakest film of the four so far, but I still enjoyed it very much. It was certainly one of the best SF movies in many years, and it was certainly state of the art, and it certainly should have won several Academy Awards, though plainly politics must have gotten in the way. I could quibble with a lot of plot points that *I* would have done differently, but that doesn’t diminish my admiration for the film. I think Episode II will be even better.
Lightsabre – And the age old question – Jar Jar Binks, zero or hero?
KJA – Hmmm, is zero the lowest number you’re willing to go?
Lightsabre – What surprises are you anticipating when Attack of the Clones arrives on Thursday May 16th 2002?
KJA – I think Episode II will be seen as a miracle; people will love it for two reasons: (1) after Phantom Menace, their expectations will be *realistic* finally, and (2) after all the flack that TPM has generated, I think George may pull off a better film. As I said above, Empire – the second film in that trilogy – is by far the best. Maybe we’ll have the same experience with this trilogy
Lightsabre – Any thoughts on our site? Constructive criticism is more than welcome
KJA – Personally, I love the sabre spelling; too bad I couldn’t get Darksabre spelled that way for the British edition!
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question – If George Lucas had gained the rights to make a Flash Gordon film from King Features Syndicate, what do you think you would be doing with your life right now? Would Kevin J Anderson be writing about Ming the Merciless, or is history better the way it is?
KJA – No matter how history is changed, I still see myself as a writer. Star Wars was a great boost to my career and gained me millions of new fans, but I did have ten novels published before Jedi Search. I’d be writing science fiction books, no matter what.
I don’t know if I could have made a living writing Flash Gordon books, though…
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 14th July 2000.