Talking Comics with Tim: Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson‘s latest novel, Enemies & Allies, will be released tomorrow by William Morrow/HarperCollins. The prose novel is set in the 1950s and tells of the first meeting between Batman and Superman. As detailed by the publisher: “As America and the Soviet Union race to build their nuclear stockpiles, two extraordinary heroes must form an uneasy alliance. These studies in opposites—shadow and light—must overcome their distrust of each other to battle evil and injustice.” The publisher’s website offers consumers a chance to watch a brief video interview with Anderson, as well as a chance to browse inside the book. As detailed by the publisher: “Kevin J. Anderson is the author of the internationally bestselling and award-winning Dune prequels (coauthored with Brian Herbert), and has carved an indisputable niche with science fiction epics, including his own successful Saga of Seven Suns series and The Last Days of Krypton.” In addition to discussing this new novel in this email interview, I also found out about his upcoming epic nautical fantasy series (part novel/part musical CD), Terra Incognita. My thanks to Anderson for his time.
Tim O’Shea: How much did you try to draw from the real world politics of the 1950s in writing Enemies and Allies?
Kevin J. Anderson: I wanted to capture a vivid setting for the novel, to make the backdrop of the 1950s an integral part to the story. I did add certain real-word political events into the story, but I was more concerned with setting the stage than giving a history lesson. After all, we didn’t really have a Superman and a Batman in our version of the world, so the newspaper headlines would have to be different.
O’Shea: Did you have to do a great deal of research to tap into elements like Werner von Braun?
Anderson: I have long been fascinated with that period, especially the movies (all those alien invasion flicks) and the Cold War. I’ve been doing research for quite a while, but I still had to fill in some of the blanks for details in ENEMIES & ALLIES.
O’Shea: Over the course of working with the Batman and Superman supporting cast, did you develop an affinity for writing certain characters?
Anderson: Jimmy Olsen (and to a certain extent, even Clark Kent) remind me a lot of myself, and so I had a great time walking in their shoes. And Lois Lane was also near and dear to my heart, a woman fighting for respect in a man’s world.
O’Shea: Were there any unique spins you were able to give to some of the established characters and/or the villains that allowed you to gain new insight (for you as a writer and/or the reader) into what motivates the character or the dynamics that make some characters tick?
Anderson: I don’t think I had a crystal clear grasp of Lex Luthor (he’s been portrayed so many different ways), until I actually got inside his head and started thinking the way he thinks. Instead of just being a grouchy rich guy or a bald version of Wile E. Coyote Super-Genius, I saw him as powerful, narcissistic, sexist (a man of his times and position), but most importantly, he wants to be seen as the savior of the world, the man who can Make Things Happen . . . and he hates Superman for all the love and applause he receives.
O’Shea: As a person who creates his own universes and characters, how challenging is it to work within corporate/editorially mandated characters like Batman and Superman?
Anderson: The real challenge was not that I didn’t have enough material, but that there was so much, a lot of it contradictory. I’ve had a long history of working in established universes with established characters, as well as cerating my own. Working with DC, and HarperCollins, this was really a team effort and I got a lot of support and suggestions along the way — as well as all the comic reference material I needed.
O’Shea: The Bruce Wayne affinity/utilization of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels–how/why did you come up with that plot element?
Anderson: It fit in perfectly with the time period, and I realized that the persona of James Bond — suave, womanizing, dashing — would particularly appeal to a supposed playboy like Bruce. I think that aspect of Bruce’s personality is all an act, and modeling himself after James Bond gives him a handle on it.
O’Shea: I caught the following Twitter update: “Howard Stern on air: Says he’s reading ENEMIES & ALLIES, seems to be loving it. There’s an endorsement I didn’t expect.” Could that be classified as the oddest or most unique endorsement you’ve received–or does someone or something else earn that classification?
Anderson: It certainly was a surprise — all of a sudden, I received a flood of e-mail from my friends and fans telling me about it. It’s not all that unusual, since Stern is well connected with pop culture and what people are interested in, but it was great because it was so unexpected. I’ve had unusual endorsements before though, with astronauts bringing my books up on the space shuttle, rock stars mentioning bits of my novels in their lyrics, master brewers at microbreweries being fans of my work.
O’Shea: What motivated you to tackle a work, Terra Incognita, as both a novel and musical project?
Anderson: My work has always been heavily influenced by music, especially progressive rock—but Terra Incognita truly takes this into new territory. After finishing my seven-volume science fiction epic, The Saga of Seven Suns, I turned to a complex fantasy that’s been on my back burner for many years — sailing ships, sea monsters, the crusades, the Age of Discovery, the search for Prester John … all set in a fantasy world that looks very much like 1400s Europe and Asia Minor. This is a big story with a great deal of passion, stories and characters and themes that mean a great deal to me.
We’re doing a unique crossover project that (as far as I know) has never been done before in fiction and music. I have always believed that SF/F fans and rock music fans share a great deal of interests. So, working with ProgRock Records, I have created a rock music CD companion to the novel, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. I wrote all the lyrics with my wife, bestselling author Rebecca Moesta, for the 13 tracks on the CD, which adapt one storyline from the novel. I also wrote original connective text in the CD booklet, which has interior illustrations by multiple-Hugo-winning artist, Bob Eggleton. The music itself was written by accomplished keyboardist Erik Norlander, and we’ve got performances from some of the greatest names in progressive rock.
O’Shea: In terms of music, who do you consider to be some of your influences?
Anderson: Rush, Kansas, Styx, Dream Theater, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, Brian Tyler’s movie soundtracks, and newer releases such as Tool, Coheed & Cambria, Sylvan, Lana Lane, GPS, Within Temptation, Evanescence, Nightwish
O’Shea: In a recent blog post you wrote a “Last week, with the large draft manuscript of Terra Incognita #2—The Map of All Things—looming in front of me, I went away for three days to stay alone in a lovely and peaceful cabin in Estes Park, at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park…In three days, I managed to polish 170 pages, 29 chapters.” How often on an typical project do you try to detach yourself from the busy world in a similar manner?
Anderson: Funny you should ask — I’m back in the cabin right now, finishing up the edit on MAP OF ALL THINGS. I try to get away a couple of times during key points in a project. I write big epics with many storylines, many characters, and lots of complicated details and interactions. Sometimes I just need to sink in and concentrate for a few days. My schedule is busy enough that I can’t always get away, and I have a few favorite places I like to go — Moab Utah (if I have more than a few days) or the much closer Rocky Mountain National Park. My wife Rebecca Moesta also has numerous projects under way, and she enjoys the time to work on her own schedule as well.
O’Shea: What were the biggest challenges and most enjoyable moments in the two years of making the Terra Incognita CD?
Anderson: I have collaborated quite a lot, and in a novel collaboration there’s only two people who need to decide. On a project like Roswell Six/Terra Incognita, we had a total of fifteen people working on the CD, and because we had such big names, they all had busy schedules of their own, touring with their own bands. Fortunately, all of these people were in love with the project and delivered their best performances.
Eight of us just got together to have dinner in LA and receive the very first finished copies of the CD. I have really loved getting to know some of my favorite vocalists of all time — James LaBrie, Lana Lane, Michael Sadler, John Payne — and finding out that they are all great, friendly, warm people.
O’Shea: What other projects are on the horizon for you?
Anderson: My next DUNE novel with Brian Herbert, THE WINDS OF DUNE, comes out in August.