This is not the first time that I’ve interviewed Mr. Foster. Click HERE to read one, and HERE to read the other. In those older interviews, Alan touches on not only his work in the Star Wars universe, but Star Trek too. We also discuss his experiences with the legendary Harlan Ellison.
Well Alan, it’s been awhile since we last spoke. I understand you have a new Flinx & Pip novel called BY THE THROAT which will be released the year after next. How did that come about? Were there always plans to revisit such great characters?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: I wasn’t sure if I was going to let Flinx (and Pip) retire or not. One problem was: what do you have your characters do after they’ve saved the galaxy? Fans kept asking for more, and I didn’t quite know what to give them. Then something occurred to me in re Flinx’s particular, peculiar abilities, and that combined with a method of communication that I love, and together they became the impetus for the new book.
For readers who maybe haven’t had a chance to read the Flinx & Pip books, what’s your suggested reading order?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: There is a chronology of the P&F books on my website http://www.alandeanfoster.com The same chronology is also viewable within a chronology of all the Commonwealth books, so readers can see where the F&P books fit, time-wise, in relation to all the other Commonwealth novels and short stories.
I saw on your site they are all due to be released in ebook editions. Looking on Amazon, I noticed that some are available as ebooks and some aren’t. I assume this big re-release will finally see the entire series readily available as ebooks in its entirety?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Yes. That’s a major reason for the delay in publishing. The intent is to release all the F&P books as ebooks over the course of one year, probably with several titles packaged together in a very affordable, uniform price, and to conclude the re-releasing with the new book.
I make sure to check your site the first of every month and have done for about twelve/thirteen years now. One of the things that always amazes me is how much you get about. You wrote an account of some of your travels, PREDATORS I HAVE KNOWN. Where have you got to recently?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Due to progressive health issues, my wife can get out of the house only rarely. I am her caregiver, so I haven’t been anywhere in a couple of years. The last trip was to Dubai and Oman in 2013.
If you had access to unlimited funds, the means to go anywhere in the world, is there anywhere you’d like to visit that you might never get a chance to? I’m thinking locations that fall within the “I wish I could . . .” category.
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Not anymore. If you have the time, funds, and inclination, you can get anywhere on the surface of the planet, or under its waters. Time and good health are more important than the funds. If you’re not physically fit, spending a couple of weeks in a tent in the Amazon, for example, probably would not be a viable travel option.
Will you ever write another account of your travels? I’m sure your readers would love to learn more about your experiences across the globe. I would, at least. I’m sure you’ve found yourself in one or two amusing/alarming situations over the years . . .
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: A fan who read PREDATORS I HAVE KNOWN said, “Now you need to do the bunny edition”. Meaning encounters with non-predators. Or just a general travel book. But there are so many of the latter, it’s hard to get inspired to do still another one. On the other hand, there are tales of such things as eating barbecued cui in Peru, searching for birds-of-paradise in Papua New Guinea, getting ants out of a five-star hotel in Borneo, doing 140mph on the autobahn in a Ford station wagon, discussing Stalinist architecture in Russia…I suppose there is enough material. It’s all a matter of organizing what are basically anecdotes into a book, and finding a publisher.
Do you manage to write much when you travel? Or do you treat it as much deserved downtime?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: A lot of it is being a sponge. Soaking up material for future projects. This includes everything from observing people to just noting your surroundings. For example, I once wrote an entire travel article on the wrought iron work visible in St. Petersburg (Russia). Not in any guidebooks.
There are several of your projects I’ve been following with great interest. One of those is MADRENGA. Will that be coming out in the near future?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: MADRENGA is still in search of a publisher. But there are five other novels coming out.
I know you self-published your novella, BOX OF OXEN. Would you consider self-pubbing again?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Sure. It’s a great way to get out material (like BOX OF OXEN) that you as an author feel very strongly about, but that doesn’t fit comfortably into publishers’ niches. Especially for material of an awkward length, like a short novella.
I’m excited to see another foray into original scifi with RELIQUARY, due in 2018. Can you tell us much about the novel, and what readers can expect?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: It’s about the (presumably) last human being in the galaxy, who has been raised by aliens. More than that I’d rather not give away.
Open Road are publishing THE DEAVYS later this year – is it a departure from your other work, writing for a YA audience? Was that a conscious decision on your part, or did it just develop as YA fiction?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: It wasn’t a conscious decision. The main characters just happened to be teens (and a cat). Not like Flinx, who was always conceived as a teen.
The other project I am extremely pleased is going to make an appearance is OSHENERTH. Am I correct in saying it is a trilogy, with one of the volumes called Blue Magic? Or has that changed in the interim following your initial announcement?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: In the interim between writing and finding a publisher, another book with the title Blue Magic has appeared. So that’s out as a title, even though I could use it. At the moment, it’s just OSHENERTH. It’s written as a stand-alone. Right now, possible sequels/trilogy are only a glimmer on the water’s surface.
I know from reading your site that you have a busy life. Do you find much time for reading?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: For the past thirty years or so, my eyes have grown very bad for reading. From a foot out, they’re fine, but close-in…. It’s very ironic, when you think of it. Even reading with enlarged fonts and the correct prescription lenses gives me a headache after twenty minutes or so. But I’ll rest, and then go back to the material I’m perusing. I don’t have the time, either. But I still delve into history and biography and science whenever I can manage it.
I remember some years ago you shared some shots of your writing space. How important is it that you have a stable environment in which to write? I know several writers who do the majority of their work in coffee shops. I could never do that. I’d be wondering if anyone was looking over my shoulder. Do you view writing as a solitary act?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: I’m always put in mind of the film THE FRONT PAGE, set in the world of ‘30’s newspaper work. People writing amid the most incredible cacophony. I could never do that. I need quiet. No music, no nothing. Sometimes I’ll put on heavy earphones to shut out every bit of surrounding noise.
Is there anything in the realm of writing fiction that you’ve not tried yet? Any genre or style you’d like to give a shot one day?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: I wrote a straightforward mystery, RAW ON THE ROW, set in my hometown of Prescott, AZ (no publisher yet). It probably needs a do-over. Other than that, I love writing articles on nature and (obviously) travel, but I don’t have the time to pursue the appropriate markets. Or they’re not interested. I have done a fair number of articles on scuba diving for assorted publications. I also like writing poetry, but I’m not very good at it.
A writer friend of mine emailed the other day, and in the email he wondered if a writer can ever run out of ideas as he or she gets older. We were talking about projects, and he was saying how many different projects he has cooking at any one time. He sort of hoped that would always be the case. I’ve often pondered that notion myself. When you see writers hit their late seventies, early eighties, and they’re no longer putting out new work. Is that because they’re simply worn out, tired, ill . . . or do you think the well really does run dry one day?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: It depends entirely on the writer. Look at Jack Williamson, still selling SF novels into his early 90’s. Other writers get burned out early, and many just get tired of the time it takes out of what remains of their days. It never gets easier.
Before we move on to the last part of this interview, I wouldn’t live with myself if I didn’t mention a pretty big project of yours out in December. That would be THE FORCE AWAKENS. I know you cannot say anything with regards to the story itself, but you’re in a uniquely privileged position in that you know the whole story. Have you seen any of the movie, or did you work from the screenplay alone in writing the novelisation?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Just the screenplay, plus some concept art and production visuals. I really wanted to have access to the latter so that if I describe something, or someone, in the book, it matches what actually appears on the screen. You know how fans are. If I give someone sideburns and in the film that character appears without them, it will give rise to 468 blog entries.
You adapted both Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness. I did hope you’d do the novelisation of THE FORCE AWAKENS, and was over the moon that that was the case. I understand Lucasfilm have AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig coming out this winter, and that they’re really trying to ensure everything forms a cohesive whole in terms of canon. Did you have any contact with the Lucasfilm story group during the process of writing the novel?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Yes. I of course had to have some leeway, but the group certainly made their opinion(s) known.
It must seem a lifetime ago that you wrote STAR WARS and SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE (I have a copy of both sitting on my shelf right now). How does it feel to be adapting Star Wars again? To quote a certain Dark Lord, is the circle now complete?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Depending on one’s age, it was a lifetime ago. And yet I can see the interior of the original Industrial Light & Magic warehouse, on Kester St. in Van Nuys, CA, with the Death Star run models out in the parking lot, as clearly as if it was yesterday.
The circle will never be complete as long as fans continue to enjoy the Star Wars universe.
What is it, do you think, keeps people going back to Star Wars? Generation after generation, it seems to connect with people like no other property I can think of.
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: It reduces storytelling to enjoyable basics. Good guys vs bad guys, with a few variants to keep things interesting. Not unlike WWII tales. You sit back and enjoy. It’s cinematic/literary comfort food, like a good hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich.
When I think of the Star Wars universe, there’s infinite storytelling potential there. In my opinion the same could be said of your Commonwealth books. Would you welcome an adaptation of your stories? And I suppose the flip side of that question is, “Where do they begin?”
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Commonwealth adaptations would have to begin with NOR CRYSTAL TEARS. Which would be a story Hollywood has never really told; i.e., an entire film shot and told from the alien’s point-of-view. As to the Flinx & Pip books, that’s a related matter, and those books have been under option for filming for several years now.
There is an art to novelisations, and I’ve read quite a few over the years. Some of those have been excellent. Some have been dire, just a word for word rehash of the screenplay. Yours are never like that. Whenever I read one of your novelisations, they seem to add to the original material. Often you find a new angle to scenes from the movie, and it really embellishes what is already there. In my opinion it’s what makes your work stand out. Is that a conscious choice on your part?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: My feeling is that if the reader doesn’t get a good deal of original material in a novelization, the publisher might as well print the screenplay and let it go at that. When I do a novelization, I get to be the complete fan and do my own fuller version of the film; my own Director’s cut. Every fan does that.
So to wrap this up, a little something I do from time to time. I am totally stealing from James Lipton here, so forgive me.
These are the classic ten questions from the French “Bouillon de Culture,” hosted by Bernard Pivot. I’d like you to answer with the first thing that comes to mind, as honestly as possible.
If you’d rather not answer a specific question, that’s fine too.
What is your favourite word?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: thersitical (In German, it’s “allgegenvartig”. Eng. Translation: omnipresent)
What is your least favourite word?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: don’t have one. They all work for me.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: great music, an unblemished night sky, drifting in clear water, the rainforest.
What turns you off?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: my tribe/nation is better than yours. Bullies. Brussels’ sprouts.
What is your favourite curse word?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: fucker
What sound or noise do you love?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: waves on a beach. Distant thunder. My wife’s laugh. Any bird. Lions bellowing. Cheetahs (or any cat) purring. Pan pipes. A grand orchestral crescendo.
What sound or noise do you hate?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: People in the film industry cursing because they think it makes them appear macho. Any animal in distress. Twelve country music songs in a row that all sound the same.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Composer (classical). Sculpture. Travel guide (no, wait…I already do that).
What profession would you not like to do?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: Anything that requires sitting in a small office.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
ALAN DEAN FOSTER: “Have you heard the one about the human race…?” or… “Sam Clemens was right.”
Everyone, you can find out more about Alan Dean Foster at his site, which is appropriately named http://www.alandeanfoster.com Be sure to check there every month for updates, and have a look around. You’ll find pictures and video from his numerous trips around the world, and a wealth of other information concerning his many series and media tie-ins. Of all the authors I have had contact with over the years, Alan is by far the most gracious and humble. You can drop him a line via the message board on his site, by email, or tweet him at @thranx1