Exclusive Interview: Kevin J. Anderson on Clockwork Angels
Kevin J. Anderson is the multi-award winning author and collaborator on such novels as Resurrection, Inc., Climbing Olympus, Blindfold, Hopscotch, The Gamearth Trilogy, Star Wars: Darksaber, The X-Files: Ruins, Star Craft: Shadow of the Xel’Naga, Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius, The Young Jedi series with his wife Rebecca Moesta, and 14, and counting, Dune novels with Brian Herbert, as well as numerous short stories. His newest novel Clockwork Angels, which came from a story and lyrics by Rush’s Neil Peart, will be coming out this September. Mr. Anderson was good enough to field some questions from SciFiPulse.
SciFiPulse: What’s the last book you read and what did you think of it?
Kevin J. Anderson: I read David Farland’s Nightingale and enjoyed it very much. Dave is a friend of mine and I’ve read many of his books in the past, but he told me this was very special to him. I put it at the top of my “To Read” stack and wasn’t disappointed.
SFP: With eReaders starting to become so common, do you use one or do you prefer to have a “hard copy”?
KJA: I read books in hard copy when I have downtime in the evening or when relaxing in the tub. I use an eReader when I’m traveling (which I do a lot), and I listen to audiobooks on my iPod when I’m working out or driving; that way I can be reading all the time, in any situation. It’s the story that matters, not the delivery system.
SFP: Your output of work is constant and strong. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you combat it?
KJA: Never get writer’s block, primarily because I work on several projects at the same time, so if one stalls for any reason, I can switch to a different project that is more fresh and exciting. There are too many stories to tell to waste time with writer’s block.
SFP: Which is easier for you to write: collaborations or solo work? You do both very well.
KJA: I enjoy both; I like the “game” of working with another writer, sharing ideas, brainstorming, building with each other’s imaginations, but I also like to be doing things for myself. I expect to continue writing both.
SFP: How did you first meet Neil Peart?
KJA: My first novel, Resurrection, Inc., was inspired by their album Grace Under Pressure, a fact that I included in the acknowledgements. I autographed copies to the three members of Rush and mailed them in to the record label; about a year later, Neil had read the novel and wrote me back. We’ve been in contact ever since, nearly 25 years now.
SFP: How long did it take for the two of you to create your short story “Drumbeats”?
KJA: Neil and I talked a lot about writing, and he also sent me his very vivid descriptions of exploring isolated African villages. I was invited to contribute a story to a horror anthology with a rock theme, and I thought I could use Neil’s settings and descriptions. The story didn’t take particularly long, a week or two, since he had already written most of the descriptions. The story is still available as an expanded eBook.
SFP: Did you get to hear the songs from the Rush album as you were writing Clockwork Angels, or were you going from Neil’s notes?
KJA: Neil and I discussed the story of the album as he developed the songs, and so the plot came together as the lyrics were finished. I read the song lyrics as he completed them, but the last pieces didn’t gel until I heard the rough mixes of the songs, music and words (back in February). Then I started writing.
SFP: Which would you tell people to do: read the novel first, listen to the album first or read and listen in tandem?
KJA: Note that they are independent. You can enjoy the novel fully without listening to the album, even if you’re not a Rush fan. But if you are a Rush fan, you’ve probably already heard the CD. I think you can hear the CD a couple of times, and play it while you’re readeing the novel. The two should be greater than the sum of the parts.
SFP: Fans of Rush can expect to find several lines from many songs in the text. You did this very smoothly without winking or hitting the fans over the head. Did you keep track of how many you used?
KJA: No, I don’t have a complete listing. I have been immersed in Rush music and lyrics for most of my life, and so when I wrote the prose, I found many natural ways to drop in familiar lines from songs. But I wanted it to be “natural” rather than a clunky nudge and wink. If you aren’t familiar with the lyrics, I doubt you’ll even notice the nods. But if you do know Rush, you’ll appreciate them.
SFP: Dystopian novels are so popular right now, was it just luck that one of the lands in this book is one?
KJA: Rush’s most famous concept album 2112 is a big dystopia, so there’s a long-standing tradition. And while the plot of Clockwork Angels follows the format with many tropes of dystopia, we don’t really think it’s a terrible world to live in. Most of the places have their beauty and drawbacks. As for our timing being lucky with the popularity of dystopian novels…Well, we were just interested in doing a steampunk fantasy!
SFP: The lands in this novel are so unique and different from one another that I felt as though I could run around for hundreds of pages in each if you had wanted. Was there one land in the novel that you preferred over others?
KJA: Oh, that’s tough to choose! I think I was particularly fond of the journeys with Commodore Pangloss, and I liked the desert surroundings of the Seven Cities of Gold, or maybe Chronos Square and the Clockwork Angels…or the Wreckers’ floating island, or…
SFP: Do you believe that many people like your protagonist Owen Hardy are “brought up to believe” certain things before they know who they are?
KJA: I think we all are. That’s the discovery/maturity phase of our lives, brought up to believe in a perfect world, in certain things, and we question them as we get older. Sometimes we run away and want to escape them entirely; sometimes we learn they are completely wrong, and sometimes we return to our roots.
SFP: The Watchmaker and the Anarchist are such strongly opinionated characters that neither can see/understand the other’s side. Do think society is becoming, or has become, like these characters?
KJA: I can see the widening polarization, the orthodoxy of politics, in that people only want to hear a certain point of view. I wouldn’t tell which character represents which politics, though!
SFP: The carnival is an amazing place for Owen and the reader. It gave me wonders I hadn’t experienced or thought about since I’d read tales by Ray Bradbury. What can a carnival provide or represent that other locales cannot?
KJA: Everything seems magical there! And I did love Bradbury’s Something Wicked and The Illustrated Man–and the carnival seemed the perfect balance between anarchy and order. But Neil had the vision of the carnival as one of his first images of the album.
SFP: Without revealing the ending, I was truly moved by its conclusion. I know some authors create their characters and go where they take them, while others have a clear ending in mind. I have to know, was Owen’s ultimate fate always known to you and Neil or did it come as a surprise?
KJA: The concluding song on the album, “The Garden”, is truly a poignant summation, so we always knew we were working toward it. I outlined the book by connecting the dots of the songs, but this ending emerged naturally from the plotting. It wasn’t a surprise, but it sure felt right.
SFP: Outside of the cover jacket illustration, your novels are often not illustrated. Artist Hugh Syme illustrates this book. How do you feel about his work and what he brought to the novel? Did Syme make suggestions or provide inspiration as you and Neil corresponded?
KJA: Hugh contributed tremendously; he read parts of the drafts and found focal points that I hadn’t seen (he was the one who picked up on the honeybee as a perfect symbol for the Watchmaker). Hugh was doing the illustrations for the songs, which appear in the CD booklet, as we were drafting the novel, so each image gave inspiration and setting for the scene. And then as we gave him drafts of certain scenes, he created new art exclusive to the book–particularly the clockwork gypsy, the alchemy college and the steamliner scoutship. Hugh and I worked together to crate a beautiful booklet to accompany the unabridged audiobook from Brilliance. I should also note the additional cool thing: Neil narrates the audiobook himself.
SFP: In addition to Clockwork Angels which will be coming out next month, are there any other upcoming works of yours that you’d like fans to be aware of?
KJA: I’ve got a very busy month: immediately after Clockwork Angles is released, Kensington will release Death Warmed Over, the first book in my humorous horror series about Dan Shamble, Zombie PI. I love this series! And then two weeks later, Titan will release my H.G. Wells steampunk novel The Martian War, in which young Wells heads off to Mars with his college professor T.H. Huxley to prevent the Martian invasion. And, we just reissued my first novel Resurrection, Inc., which is based on the Rush album Grace Under Pressure. So, yes, did I mention it’s a busy month?
SFP: Thank you for letting SciFiPulse.net talk to you about your work!