What follows is an interview with one of my favorite authors, Alan Dean Foster. You’ve no doubt heard of him, and probably have read at least one of his books if not more.
As far as novelisations are concerned, he has done Star Wars, the new Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator Salvation, the Alien films, Alien Nation, The Black Hole, The Thing, Dark Star, Starman, Clash of the Titans, all of Star Trek: The Animated Series, and the Chronicles of Riddick.
When it comes to his own material, he is just as prolific. He has written 8 books in the Spellsinger series (my personal favorite), his Journeys of the Catechist Trilogy, The Taken Trilogy, The Icerigger Trilogy, The Damned Trilogy, The Founding of the Commonwealth Trilogy, 8 Commonwealth novels, 14 Pip and Flinx novels, 23 stand-alone novels and 7 Short Story Collections. He has recently completed The Tipping Point Trilogy, and The Oshanurth Trilogy, as well as a new fantasy tome called Madrenga.
INTERVIEW – ALAN DEAN FOSTER
Firstly, a big welcome to you Alan. I’m really grateful for you agreeing to this interview. I first started reading your books when I was about 12 or 13, when my uncle introduced me to Spellsinger and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’d like to start by talking about The Tipping Point Trilogy (the second volume due out the end of this year) can you tell us how you came about the ideas behind the trilogy and what spurred you on to write it?
ADF: What if you could look like anyone…or anything…you wanted to? And have the modifications made cheaply and quickly? Who would be distinctive? Would people simply grow bored with the novelty and elect to remain as they are? Or would everyone opt for some kind of change? Modern primitivism attempts what changes it can, but science will soon be able to make far more radical changes. I was intrigued by the kind of society this might produce. The books also deal, peripherally with the effects of global warming…and something else entirely.
You’ve recently completed a fantasy novel (Madrenga) – can you tell us something about it without spoiling it for us?
ADF: I wanted to write a longish, utterly traditional heroic fantasy. That lasted about five pages, and then a couple of new ideas shoved their way into the story, including one that’s a bit radical for traditional fantasy. Might be too radical for publishers. We’ll see.
You said on your site that you split from tradition with this one by writing it without a plan. How did you find the experience and do you normally like to plot a novel before you sit down to write?
ADF: I no longer fully plot out a novel, but I do always have a general idea how it’s going to end up. Not with MADRENGA, and deliberately so. That’s what led to the bit of radical intervention. As far as not planning it out much in advance, it was wonderful fun. I just trailed along behind the characters and went wherever they happened to take me.
So far your Oshanurth Trilogy has yet to get a publisher – is there a lot of upheaval in the publishing world at the moment?
ADF: People getting fired right and left as publishers “downsize”. This is a euphemism for “We’re controlled by a multinational corporation now and so it’s accountants and not editors who make the most important decisions.” And Oshanurth, which takes place entirely underwater, isn’t exactly your standard fantasy trope either.
You recently published Predators I Have Known which covers some of your travels over the globe and your encounters with some of natures more extraordinary animals. How did that project come together?
ADF: Over the years people would ask me repeatedly why I didn’t write a travel book. I could never think of an approach that interested me enough to get me started. I didn’t want to do the standard “Here we are in London at Westminster Abbey…over there is Big Ben, over there is….” It occurred to me that everyone loves animal stories. I’ve been fortunate enough to have made the acquaintance of a fair number of critters. Restricting to the book to those that are more than typically dangerous seemed another way of drawing interest.
Where do you think the future of publishing is headed? Do you see us moving toward an entirely digital realm or do you see a mixture of digital and paper books? Will there still be a place for traditional books?
ADF: I think there’ll always be room for traditonal books. The number of people who read a digital edition and then decide to buy a hardcover copy for their permanent library is surprising. And of course there will always be serious collectors.
You recently self-published Box of Oxen on the Kindle. How did you find the process?
ADF: Very easy, actually. You follow the instructions on Amazon’s site and hey presto, your digital edition appears on their site. Putting together a cover was more problematical since it involved downloading and using new software.
Do you see yourself publishing on the Kindle again? Or perhaps writing a book with that specific purpose in mind? Some authors like Barry Eisler and J A Konrath have foregone traditional publishing altogether and are self-publishing their latest work direct onto the Kindle. Do you think this is a good thing, or do you think it lowers the standard of what’s being published when you take editors, etc out of the equation?
ADF: I’d like to keep a mix. I still prefer traditional publishing. What’s wonderful is that if a project is repeatedly turned down, authors now have an option. What will be difficult is for beginning writers to get their work noticed. Formal review sites help but aren’t always available for more esoteric material.
Predators I Have Known covers some of your travel experiences. I know from visiting your site on a regular basis that you travel a lot. When did you first become fascinated with travelling the planet and learning as much as you could about it? Was it from an early age?
ADF: When I was four, my parents bought me subscriptions to a dozen or so comic books. That’s how I learned how to read. My favorite was Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge. Oftentimes a story would take up the entire comic. Barks sent Scrooge all over the world, and researched the destinations he used. So I owe my initial wanderlust to the business trips of a short, old duck.
And is there anywhere you’d like to visit that you haven’t yet?
ADF: Dozens of places, if not hundreds. Tibet, mainland China, Vanuatu and the Solomons, the Marshalls, the Middle East, central Asia…tons of places. My first choice would be the Chagos Archipeligo, but that, sadly, is off-limits.
Where are you off to next? Have you picked your next destination?
ADF: I’m going to London in July for the BBC’s production of Havergal Brian’s Gothic symphony. From there I go to the Ukraine, where I’m a member of the USA team that will be competing in the Eurasian RAW powerlifting championships. I plan to visit Chernobyl, the Crimea, and Moldova while I’m there.
I am a huge fan of Arthur C Clarke’s work. I remember reading a post about him on your site just after he’d passed away. What was he really like to meet in person?
ADF: Charming and incredibly enthusiastic, especially where advances in technology were concerned. He truly loved his adopted home of Sri Lanka. He was also a killer ping-pong player.
They say that Clarke stipulated in his will that none of his private work be released until thirty years following his death – do you think we’ll ever see an unpublished masterpiece come out of the vault when that lapses?
ADF: It’s possible he worked off and on on something private. It wouldn’t surprise me. He was always involved in a dozen or more projects. I’d bet there’s a story or two lying around. But not much. Anything with an Arthur C. Clarke byline on it was a pretty could bet to find publicatin.
I also noticed you managed to work a little nod to AC in your Star Trek novelisation…
ADF: I think he would have liked what I did.
A little while back you had another Star Trek book scheduled to come out, following on from your novelisation of the new movie. It got pulled, along with a few others which were also due out – do you know if we will ever get a chance to read it? Is it a case of the publisher wanting to wait for the next film to come out to make sure they’re not stepping on anyone’s shoes?
ADF: I believe the decision was Paramount’s, to pull the books so that there would be no chance anything in them could contradict, or more importantly restrain, possibilities for the second film. I hope they do see publication one day. I’m very pleased with what I did, and it’s not the sort of story that’s likely to run roughshod over the new iteration of the show.
In the late seventies you were involved with Star Trek Motion Picture. How did you become involved in that? Did you have much to do with the late Gene Roddenberry as the story for that film was developed?
ADF: That’s a long, complicated, and ultimately sad story that’s been researched in detail in a number of books. Fans can find oodles of material concerning it on-line.
>FYI you can read the Wiki article for Star Trek The Motion Picture HERE
What would you like to see Star Trek do that it hasn’t done before? And for you, when do you think it’s at its best?
ADF: It’s at its best when it combines true sense of wonder with the interaction of characters we’ve come to know and love. Always a tough trick to pull off, in any work of SF. As to what hasn’t been done yet, I’d really like to see some crewmembers who are alien and not just people in prosthetics. Although M’ress, from the animated ST, would be fun to work with…and immensely popular, I think.
The sequel to 2009’s Star Trek should start shooting soon. Perhaps you’ll do the novelisation for that as well. Where would you like to see the next Star Trek film go? They’ve got the family together, the ship… everything is in place. I suppose it’s a case of ‘where do we go?’ ‘what do we do?’ for the writers.
ADF: Well, I wrote the sequel novel. That pretty much expresses where I would have taken the story. Of course, these days in Hwood everything has to be “bigger”. Not necessarily better…just bigger.
Alan, as with all of my interviewees, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you five questions:
1. Favourite book/series of books
ADF: Mine? Impossible to choose. Different books for different reasons. But as to a series I reckon I have to go with the Commonwealth stories. That’s a nice piece of galaxy.
2. Who would play you in Alan Dean Foster: The Movie?
ADF: Never been asked that one before. I’d go with Robert Downey.
3. If you could stipulate an inappropriate song choice for your own funeral, what would it be?
ADF: That’s easy. The march section from Brian’s Gothic symphony, last movement. Maybe with less than the requisite thousand performers, though.
4. Which website would you say you visit the most on a regular basis?
ADF: NYTimes and BBC.
5. And last but not least, what do you see yourself doing in five years time?
ADF: Exactly what I’m doing right now.
I think everyone would love to see Pip and Flynx make it onto the big screen – do you ever think it will happen?
ADF: The world is full of surprises, but the odds of anyone’s work making it to the big screen are abysmally low.
Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtsman, whose work you’ve adapted a few times now, have recently brought Joe Hill’s Locke and Key comic series to TV. I think it airs this year. Would you be happy with some of your work being made into TV series, if done correctly and respectfully with regard to the source material?
ADF: Sure…MAORI in particular, which is structured in six parts and would make a nice mini-series. I always thought Peter Jackson would like the book…and it would be a change for him.
I for one would love to see some of your work hit the screen, as long as whoever wrote the script stuck to the original novels. Well, that brings us to the end Alan. It’s been a pleasure. I hope you’ll be willing to chat again soon. There’s so much I could ask someone like you. I didn’t get a chance to ask you about Star Wars and The Black Hole… but I’ll save that for another time if that’s alright!
ADF: Any time.
By the way, before I go… any chance you can tell me a little bit about what you have in-store for Jon-Tom and Mudge? Is there going to be more Spellsinger?
ADF: I hope to have some mildly exciting news concerning those two before the end of the year…perhaps in time for the Rainfurrest convention in Seattle in September.
Thank you for your time Alan. It’s greatly appreciated.
You can find all of Alan’s books available for purchase as both traditional paperbacks and ebooks HERE
You can catch-up with Alan, and interact with him, at his site: www.alandeanfoster.com