SDCC 2016 ‘Colt the Outlander’ and the Aradio Brothers: Never just a Bounty Hunter

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to an alternative post-apocalyptic future, the struggle of daily living on the mining wastelands of Neb-6, where the only thing you can be certain of is that there is absolutely nothing certain in these brave new worlds.

Colt the Outlander, the fast-paced adventure series of rogue bounty hunter Colt and his deadly lady companions Jenna and Brem, as seen in the pages of the world’s premiere illustrated sci-fi-fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, comes to us in written-story format from a leading sci-fi author, Kevin J. Anderson!

Colt the Outlander has been around in some form or fashion, both story and art, since around 1995, first featured in Heavy Metal in the 2001 fall issue and many times since then, crossing over with other well-known properties like Rifts, Colt has an ever-growing and very loyal fan-base.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the creators of Colt at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the Aradio brothers, Dominic and RC, and Dante Pacella at their booth. Excerpts from the new Colt story series by Kevin J. Anderson were being touted at the booth, and even as I stood there and watched, fans of Colt from Heavy Metal came and went, eagerly anticipating their favorite gritty Colt in a brand new series.

Dominic was kind enough to explain the series to me more in depth, talking about planetary fallout and ancient technologies brought back for new and unique uses, with far-spanning deserts and wastelands, bounty hunters and assassins, Colt and his badass female companions have their daily struggle to just survive cut out for them. Dominic laughingly confided that his sources of inspiration come from everywhere, from the long-running writings of horror laureate Stephen King, to the binge-watching of the show Supernatural with his kids. The boisterous Aradio brother delightedly explained that Kevin J. Anderson himself had expressed interest in writing the novella adaptations of the Colt series, and that Aradio himself was a huge fan of Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns series and, of course, his Dune adaptations. “There are very few similarities between Dune and Colt, so it was kind of a challenge, but Kevin Anderson can write the hell out of nearly anything sci-fi.”

The comfort that understanding, in any medium, can bring, is often astounding in its effectiveness. More than once, I saw fans who were military members approach the booth and thank the Aradio Brothers and Pacella for their realistic, accurate, and totally empathetic portrayal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in those who serve in the military, or have served previously, inside the ongoing Colt the Outlander  storyline. Dominic proudly informed me that, “A whole bunch of our Colt fans are servicemen and women,” and the women especially love their strong portrayal of lady bounty hunters Jenna and Brem, who accompany Colt on his scavenging and hunting rounds.

Now, the story of Colt and his pals and their heartaches and adventures, are brought to printed life by the same author who dared to take on a partnership to make more Dune stories, Kevin J. Anderson. Aradio Brothers Studios has ambitions to make Colt a multimedia platform featuring visual entertainment, video games (I see shades of Borderlands, that would be cool), comics and of course, books. To keep up with Colt the Outlander updates and maybe even find a copy of the new novella to purchase, go to the Colt Facebook page here.

 

Dragon Con 2015: Jody Lynn Nye, the (Wo)man Behind the Myth

by Agent Amanda Grefski (a.k.a. Madame Helleveeg)

Jody Lynn Nye’s life has been steeped in myth for many moons, and she can hone into a story’s core like a missile … or, should I say, “Myth-le.” Nye has been telling stories for most of her sentient life, and certainly since before she could write them down. She is truly a natural born story teller, from imagining and telling stories to her siblings and family to the wildly successful, and hilariously funny MythAdventures series she authored with her late writing partner, Robert Aspirin. Nye has also worked with such greats as Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, and Todd Johnson, and also created worlds and adventures that are entirely her own. We caught up with the dynamic Nye this past weekend, just before another installment of her two-day workshop at Dragon Con in Atlanta.

Before MythAdventures, Nye wrote companion books for Dragonriders of Pern and the Magic of Xanth series, as well as several choose-your-own-adventure, or CYOA, books for the Crossroads adventure series. Several of her series are “in limbo,” as she puts it, since the Meisha Merlin Publishing company ceased operations in 2007. MythAdventures has endured, however, because of its sheer moxie (and there is plentiful moxie in these stories), engaging storylines, and delightfully flawed, but ultimately lovable, characters.

The unfortunate part of this success story is that the late Robert Aspirin wasn’t able to see the enduring success of this wonderful series and world he created in 1978. Aspirin died of a heart attack on May 22, 2008, with a Terry Pratchett book by his side and an upcoming convention in a future that was cut tragically short. Nye recalls, “I still miss him very much; this was my loss, but also a huge loss for the writing community. I lost one of my best friends that day … we could not have been more different, but ultimately, we shared this wonderful sense of humor, a deep love of these characters, and a deep love for writing.” Nye began working on MythAdventures with Aspirin before his death, and decided that she would carry on both his legacy and the Myth-verse. So, in continuing the development of these delightful characters, and thus keeping them alive, Nye has carried on the important task of keeping the spirit of her friend and integral sci-fi author alive as well. This is a task Nye takes on with grace, love, and great pride.

If you’re new to MythAdventures, you may be asking what is the Myth-verse? Well, it all starts with who and what inspired MythAdventures and the Myth-Verse. “This may not be familiar to our younger readers, but these books were based on a fantasy version of [Bing] Crosby and [Bob] Hope’s Road to… series [of films], and the original title was a nod to Oliver Hardy’s [of Laurel and Hardy] ‘Another Fine Mess.’” Indeed, these books have all of the satire and spunk of these classic movies. They are also loaded with a mix of sophisticated and slap-stick humor; one equally as hilarious as the other. Is that a hint for young nerds to check them out? Could be, could be.

But what makes MythAdventures so special is not its fantastical setting, also known as the Myth-verse, but it’s the characters, with their believable dilemmas emotions and struggles. These are characters you will grow to love: You’ll laugh with their mix-ups, cry with their heartbreaks, and cheer with their triumphs. And the puns … the fabulous puns.

“The main character of this story is Skeeve,” Nye explains. “Skeeve is apprenticing magician, and he is also estranged from his family. Through some interesting circumstances involving an inter-dimensional prank, he meets up with Aahz, a magician who lost his powers and is trapped in this dimension. And part of the humor is that you have a powerless magician trying to teach a less-than-perfect, budding magican.” And true to Nye’s word, this dynamic between Aahz and Skeeve creates the original tension that drives the story forward. Despite their awkward beginning, “Skeeve won’t admit it, but he develops a real affection for Aahz. These two form a bond, and over time, the characters develop a kind of surrogate family.”

They’re not the only inhabitants of the Myth-verse. Some examples are Don Bruce, the fairy godfather, and his niece Bunny. Nye adds, “Bunny, though she hates to admit it, was a gift to Skeeve from Don Bruce; essentially Skeeve’s assigned moll. She resents being owned by Skeeve, though he doesn’t treat the situation that way. And in a way, she appreciates not being under the thumb of Don Bruce; because it’s allowed her to shine as her own person — because she’s a talented bookkeeper and accountant in her own right, and she never would have discovered that unless she was with Skeeve and Aahz. That’s really the thread that connects all of these characters and stories together; each character is given the chance to develop into the best and most whole being they can be. They may not be perfect, but they find the perfect place for themselves [in this universe]. They become the best selves they can be when they are together.” This is the underlying message that weaves these stories together: You don’t have to be perfect to be in the perfect place for you, and it’s all about finding that space where you’re your best self. And, like these utterly lovable characters, we’re all on our journey to get to that place.

Continuing the legacy of Robert Aspirin and creating her own unique, sci-fi worlds is not the only contribution Jody Lynn Nye makes to the journey of fellow readers and writers; she also gives back to the SFF community in many ways. She has taught at workshops, such as the Fantasy Writing Workshop at Columbia College Chicago. She teaches the Writer’s Two-Day Intensive Workshop, an annual two-day science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshop here at Dragon Con. Nye puts her heart and soul into, as she puts it, “giving something back to the writing community by helping beginning writers.” Teaching isn’t the only way Nye gives back.

Nye has become a writer in the Purple Unicorn Anthology: An anthology written to help young and emerging writers afford to attend the Writing Professionalism Workshop, both of which are sponsored by Kevin J. Anderson. Nye relates, “Kevin [J. Anderson] mentioned that he wanted to do an anthology for charity, and someone bet him that he couldn’t write a short story about an purple unicorn.” But Anderson did one better: He created an entire anthology based on purple unicorns, with contributions from the premier writer of unicorns, Peter S. Beagle. Anderson was also challenged with the task of selling sci-fi anthologies, which are notoriously slow-sellers. He met that challenge, too, by donating all of the profits to the Writing Professionalism Workshop. Since then, it’s one of the few anthologies they can’t keep on bookstore and virtual shelves.

When Nye discovered this project she replied, facetiously raising her hand like an eager middle-schooler, “Ohhh, pick me! I want to write about purple unicorns!” Her signature spark of humor peeks through her otherwise poised, professional exterior, forever solidifying her place in this wonderful anthology for a wonderful cause. Other Purple Unicorn contributors include Quincy Allen, Vivian Trask, and Keith Olexa.  The anthology’s title, One Horn to Rule Them All, is a play on the description of Tolkien’s one ring. This anthology is rich in talent, and in its overall purpose to help beginning writers on their journey. Nye’s pride and affection for the project was nearly palpable — not only in the work that she submitted and the exquisite talent she had worked with, but also in all of the good the anthology does and continues to do.

Her perpetuation of the beloved Myth-verse and its colorful, lovable characters, her unique, vibrant voice and humor, as well as her constant involvement in the enrichment of new writers makes Jody Lynn Nye a tour de force in the writing world. Nye has had quite a journey, but her dedication, talent, and love for the craft leave no myth-tery to this natural-born storyteller’s success.

XXX

Worldcon 2015: Kevin J. Anderson Goes the Extra Mile for Fans

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Kevin J. Anderson is one of the most prolific science fiction novelists of our day, with more than 50 bestsellers to his credit, an average of five to six full-length novels a year, and the ability to write 756 pages in just six short weeks. Part of what allows Anderson to produce such an amazing volume of premium work is his method of writing, which does not, in fact, include any typing at all on his part.

Anderson explained in an exclusive SVN interview at Worldcon, “I write by hiking and dictating. I have trained myself to be an oral story teller, so I am telling the story, but I outline my stories very, very carefully. It’s like I want to do a blueprint before I build a house … The Dark Between the Stars is 128 chapters long, or something like that, with 34 different viewpoint characters. So, I outlined it in very great detail, chapter by chapter by chapter, and organized it.

“I will take the notes for a couple of chapters, chapters five through nine or something like that, and then I will go out [on a hike]. We live in Colorado, so there’s lots of national forests and national parks, and I will just go out hiking, and I will know what happens in Chapter Five, and I will dictate it … In my mind, it’s several steps shorter than doing all of the process [of typing the manuscript out]. Then, I have someone transcribe it, and then I edit it online to polish it up … The novel I just finished was 750 pages, and 132 chapters, and I wrote the whole thing in about six weeks. I go out hiking every single day, write three or four chapters, then hand it off to the typist who then lets her fingers get worn down because I am dictating faster than she can even transcribe.”

Anderson said of his unorthodox method of writing, “I get inspired by the mountains and waterfalls and canyons … beautiful scenery, and I get to go out and hike all day long, and I get to write, so it’s not choosing one or the other. I get away from the distractions … sometimes I go up where there’s no cell service … I don’t get the doorbell ringing, or the phone ringing, or anything else. I just get to walk and concentrate on my story and get immersed in it.”

Whether he’s working on a Dune novel, one of The Saga of Shadows or Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, or one of his many other projects, Anderson is obviously very passionate about his writing, and is lucky to have found a way to combine his two loves. “When I was writing, and I would come up with a difficulty in my story, whether I didn’t feel I knew the characters well enough, or I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I liked to go out for walks. Like, some people get inspired in the shower, I just like to go out walking and letting my mind wander. Sure enough, I would be a mile away from home and come up with these brilliant, complicated solutions, and by then I would run home to start writing it all down, I would have forgotten most of the details. So, I started taking a digital recorder, actually it was a micro-cassette recorder at the time … just so I could dictate notes. It became so useful. If I’m creating a character, I’ll just walk for a mile and talk about who his parents are, what his interests are, what his hobby is, and what the name of his favorite pet when he was a kid was, just sort of free-associate, and I would gather all those things onto the recorder. I got more and more detailed as I practiced it, and I realized I was sort of writing first drafts. Then, I really did write firsts drafts, but now, I am so well trained in it that what comes off of my recorder is really fairly clean … If you play my original recording it’s like I’m doing a reading of the story. It’s a lot of practice.”

Although this skill may require a lot of practice to master, Anderson has had plenty of time to do so. He has been writing since he was eight, and wrote his first story, “Injection.” He has moved on to bigger and better things since then, publishing more than 125 books. He’s also hiked all 500 miles of the Colorado Trail, and climbed all 54 of Colorado’s mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet in elevation! Some of his success may be due, not only to his personal style of writing, but to his ability to finish a book without letting other ideas distract him. “I’m a very focused and goal-oriented person. Especially if you have a deadline for your novel coming up, you don’t get distracted, you just finish it.”

Anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing Anderson’s work played out on the big screen should know that they are not alone. “I would love to have it happen.” Anderson has one small stipulation however, “I would love to see it happen, but it has to be the right studio. I’ve had lots of my stuff optioned, or treatments [done], but there are so many complicated steps to go through to get a movie made, and there’s so much money involved, hundreds of millions of dollars of budget, that they don’t just make [movies] lightly. They spend a lot of time with them. I’m hoping, maybe one of these days.”

Having a book adapted into a movie is a lot harder than many people realize: “The author is the low person on the totem-pole. All we ever do is write the story that they make the movie of. Once the studio takes it, then they’ve got their own director, their own script writer, their own casting people, and if, say, John Travolta wants to play a character in one of my books, then they write the whole thing around John Travolta, even if that wasn’t the main character in the book, because he would be the big star in it. I’m okay with that, because the more people that see the movie will turn around and buy the book, and that’s the one that I can by proud of.”

Anderson’s books are set — in fine sci-fi tradition — in altered dimensions. They may kind of resemble our own universe, but never enough to make any definite bridges between them. When asked if he would like to live in the reality that he has created for any of his characters, he responded, “Definitely not. I do terrible things to my characters. You don’t write a story that says, ‘and they lived in a wonderful world and everybody was happy and content. The end.’ That doesn’t happen in a story. Things go wrong in stories. They had a perfect world, but something went wrong, or Godzilla showed up, or the asteroid hit the earth, or the survivors of the zombie apocalypse had to make their way across the world. Characters in books don’t always have peaceful, uneventful lives. I think I would rather live in my own universe, and just commute to some of my other universes that I’ve created.”

Although he may feel sorry for a character that he likes, that won’t earn the character any favor from Anderson. “I’m a huge, complicated plotter, and there are things you [do to] set all the wheels in motion, and this is what happens. There are a lot of tragedies that happen, a lot of romances go wrong, or lots of miscommunications. It all tells a good story, but I feel, when I’m crafting a story, all of the plot lines, characters and settings and everything, when it all comes together, just perfectly, it’s like all of the Tetris pieces falling into place. That’s a real rush for me. Its like, ‘Ah! That’s exactly where that was supposed to go, and that’s exactly who was supposed to do this, and that’s the perfect twist for the ending!’ Sometimes it feels like this accidental winning of the lottery, when everything comes together right. I’ve been working hard for decades writing books, so now I kind of see the Tetris pieces and know how they can all come together right, and that’s what I really enjoy. It’s never like I’m making it up and hoping that it works out at the end. I’m very good at the plotting and the world building, so that it all comes together right, and that’s what I enjoy.”

He may be a master plot builder and weaver, but even a master needs a little grounding sometimes. “[The outline] is my blueprint of the house, and I need to have the blueprint to refer to where the wall goes, and where the electrical outlets go. When you’re writing a 700-page novel, there’s a lot of little tiny details. It’s not just this sequence of events: There are tons of little connecting tissues, and background details, and everything in chapter 110 has to be consistent with chapter seven … It’s like an orchestra conductor, trying to make sure that those instruments play together at the right time. It’s not just a street performer with a flute.”

When he is not busy plotting the demise of your favorite character, hiking and dictating at the same time, or enjoying the sheer bliss that comes from successfully twisting all the different plot threads into a beautiful ball of yarn, Anderson is busy meeting face-to-face with his many fans. “We do a lot of Emerald City Comicon, Denver Comic Con, Dallas Comic Con, these huge fifty- to seventy-thousand-people conventions, and they come up to our table, and they see my Star Wars books, or my X-Files books, or the Dune books … there is something for everybody, and the fans will come up, and I just love seeing their expressions … I’ve had many people say that they’ve learned to read reading my books, or they first got interested from reading the Star Wars Young Adult books, or that the first book that they ever bought was one of my X-Files books, and it’s kind of neat to see that influence that you have on a whole group of fans, and they still remember it. It’s very gratifying.”

Life with fans isn’t all peaches and cream though. People who used to idolize an author can turn against him for doing harm to a character that they liked. Sometimes, the fans get out of hand and do something that is not appreciated, or sometimes they just love the work to much and want to see more of it.

Anderson reports his progress on the newest installment in the hit series, Dan Shamble: Zombie P.I., “Well, I’ve got a lot of fans who are after it. I’ve got the outline written, and the title will be Tastes Like Chicken. I just published a collection of all the Dan Shamble short stories, but then I’ve written two more stories since then. I had to write a Dan Shamble Christmas story, and then Jim Butcher asked me to write one for an urban fantasy anthology that he’s doing. I’ve got the outlines on it, I just have to find the time for it because these are books that I do for myself. I mean, I don’t have a big contract for them that I have to turn it in, so I have to fit it in between my other books. We are looking at maybe Kickstarting the next one to see how that works. I’ve never done that before, but I know I’ve got a hug fanbase for this character, so, we’ll see. I like writing books where I can just sort of be goofy and funny instead of gigantic, serious, end of the universe type of books.”

Any writing at all seems to suit Anderson just fine, and he keeps plugging away at the growing list of demands his fans pile on. Sometimes it is fun just to write for the sake of writing, however, and it is a nice change to see his humor shine through in full force, when his funny bone elbows its way to the surface. Whatever the story though, Kevin J. Anderson is always on top of his game and ready to throw us off of ours with a surprise plot twist. We can’t wait to see what this mastermind will have in store for us next!

XXX

WonderCon 2015: Kevin J. Anderson Comes Full-Circle

by Special Agent Laura Davis (a.k.a. Hex Quillion)

One of the best things about getting to hear writers speaking at a con is that it’s one of the few times many fans get to hear them actually talk about the craft of writing, and their particular stories of becoming writers. At WonderCon this past weekend, Kevin J. Anderson shared his own story with fans: his beginnings as a writer, and the precipitous chain of events that has led to Anderson publishing more than 120 books, at least 50 of which have been best-sellers.

Anderson grew up in Franksville, Wisconsin, which, at the time, had a population of 250, and its only industry was a sauerkraut factory. He mentioned how the factory would release its wastewater into open drainage ditches, and that water would rot when the weather turned warm. “We lived downwind from the sauerkraut factory. And now I write zombie fiction. There may be a connection there.”

He revealed his earliest influence toward becoming a writer: “When I was five years old, my parents let me watch The War of the Worlds … and I remember, I’m watching, and my eyes are like the size of an anime character, watching the Martians come in with their space ships with their heat rays, and they’re leveling the city, and they’re destroying buildings … And then, all the Martian ships just sort of waver in the air and they slowly crash and they land. The hatch opens on the bottom and this three-fingered Martian hand comes crawling out, and it’s got blotches all over it because of some disease, and [it turns out] that the atomic bomb doesn’t kill them, but the common cold killed them off because they have no resistance to Earth organisms.

“That was it for me. As soon as I saw that, I thought, ‘I want to write stuff like this. I’m into science fiction. I want to be a science fiction writer.’ The only problem was, I was five, and I didn’t know how to write anything. But that didn’t stop me. So, I got the notepad from beside my parents’ phone with little scrap sheets of paper, and I started drawing pictures. I drew pictures that I remembered from the movie … and I laid them out on the floor, and I told the story of The War of the Worlds to anybody who would go by. It was like my first foray into comics. That was it. I was hooked. It was the bug: the bug of writing.”

It was another three years before young Anderson decided he was ready to write his first novel. After reading Arthur C. Clarke and plowing his way through the adult science fiction section of the bookmobile, and devouring the 125-book collection of classics his parents bought for him, Anderson took over his dad’s study, his stack of bright pink scrap paper, and his manual typewriter. “Now, for some of you, a typewriter, it’s kind of like a steampunk version of a laptop. I was eight and a half years old. I sat down and I rolled one of those pink pieces of paper in the typewriter, and I started typing away. Over the next three or four days, I wrote my first novel. It was three and a half pages long. I write longer ones now.” He holds up a hardbound copy of The Dark Between the Stars: a 700-page tome. The audience titters.

“It was called The Injection. It was about a mad scientist who invents an injection that can bring anything to life. The other scientists don’t believe him, and so he gets mad and he gets his revenge. Because even at eight and a half years old, I understood character motivation and archetypes, and I knew that mad scientists always get their revenge. So, he goes to the wax museum and uses this injection to bring to life all of the wax museum monsters … and then he goes to the natural history museum and brings a bunch of dinosaur skeleton’s to life. They go on a rampage through the town. Because, again, I understood character motivation; mad scientists go on the rampage. It’s actually a cool scene: we’ve got these movie monsters from the wax museum marching along, and dinosaur skeletons, and our mad scientist is riding the back of a triceratops skeleton as they’re leading this army of monsters into town. I liked the idea, but I also understood that characters have to have a character flaw. My mad scientist had the character flaw of hubris … he didn’t remember that re-animated triceratops skeletons have a tendency to rear up at inopportune times. And this triceratops reared up right when it was under the electrical wires, and it electrocuted my mad scientist and he dies and that was the end. That was my first novel.” He pauses and smiles. “I think it’s better than some movies I’ve seen recently.”

By age 10, Anderson had saved enough money to buy a new bicycle, “like any normal kid,” but, instead, spent his entire savings on a high-end Smith-Corona electric typewriter. He kept writing stories and honing his craft, and when he was a sophomore in high school, he took a world history class. Anderson managed to convince the teacher to allow him to write a story, rather than a term paper, for class credit. It was a heart-wrenching saga of two brothers during the time of the plague. He got an A on the paper, and when he gave it to his mother to read, he came back to find her sitting on the sofa, reading his story, with tears pouring down her face. “And I went ‘Holy cow! I wrote something, and it made that much of an impact on somebody!’ So, I thought, ‘This must be a pretty great story! I got an A on it, and it made my mom cry! I’m going to send it somewhere to get published!’ I mailed it off to Boys’ Life magazine, which seemed the obvious place to send it. And after about six weeks, I got my very first form rejection slip. The first of many, I might add.”

It was also during this time that Anderson discovered two things that would shape his career in huge ways: the Dune series and the music of Rush. He went on to college, earning a degree in Astronomy with a minor in Russian history, all the while writing and submitting more stories and attending writers’ conferences, and won his first writing award. “I went to a writers’ conference and I got a trophy. Big trophy, marble base, with fluted columns and the golden-winged Victory on the top, and an engraved brass plate on the front that named me ‘The Writer With No Future,’ because I had more rejection slips than any other writer at the entire conference.”

While working as a tech writer at Lawrence Livermore Lab (LLL), Anderson wrote his first real novel. While the novel was in development, Rush came out with their Grace Under Pressure album. “All of these songs are science fictional songs, and as I’m listening to these songs, I thought, ‘Hey! That fits right in with my novel! That fits right in with my novel! I can use that for chapter 12!’ And as I started realizing that, I thought, ‘I’m going to make every song in this album fit into my novel, Resurrection, Inc. I’ll get it, but nobody else will get it.’”

Resurrection, Inc. was the first novel Anderson sold, and selling it qualified him for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). “The coolest thing about that was that by joining it as a professional, I got their membership directory. And their membership directory had Frank Herbert’s home address in it … I decided that I wanted to send my very first copy of my very first novel to Frank Herbert because he had influenced me so much … about two months before my book was published, Frank Herbert died.” Even all these years later, Anderson’s voice strains a bit as he continues, “So, I wasn’t able to send it to him. I also put in the book that it was inspired by the album Grace Under Pressure, and I listed in it that I thanked Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, who had created that album that had inspired the book. When the book did finally come out, I packaged up a copy for each member of the band, and sent them off to Mercury Records, where it promptly went into storage with the Ark of the Covenant.”

A couple of years later, Anderson, still working at LLL, had a really bad day. There were foul-ups at work, which caused him to get chewed out by his boss, twice, and a reviewer from Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine tore Anderson’s second novel to shreds. “They absolutely eviscerated it, hated that novel. So, it was an awful day. I went home and I got the mail and there were Safeway flyers and bills, and there was a letter with the return address of Neil Peart. I opened it up and there was a seven-page, single-spaced letter from Neil Peart, the drummer from Rush, the guy who wrote the album that inspired the novel, telling me how much he loved my novel.” Anderson pauses, then chuckles. “No longer a crappy day! We corresponded, we’ve been friends for over 25 years, now.”

He explained how his editor got him involved with writing the Jedi Academy trilogy, and how that led to him writing the introduction to the Dark Horse Star Wars Dark Empire collection, which, in turn, led him to working on the Ralph McQuarrie art book, the Young Jedi series, and, eventually, the X-Files novels. Throughout all of that work, Anderson kept writing and publishing his novels of his own, and, of course, his love for the Dune series never diminished.

“When Frank Herbert wrote his last Dune book, Chapter House Dune [co-written with his son, Brian Herbert], it’s this whole new section of the storyline, and it just ends on a cliffhanger. And then Frank Herbert passed away. So, it was clear that there was more to this story. Somebody needs to tell this. I contacted Brian, made this whole pitch letter, and here’s my writing credits and how much I love Dune, and are you ever going to finish writing this Dune story, and if you’re not going to finish writing it, can I work with you on it?”

Brian Herbert did his homework, then called Anderson to discuss the project. As Anderson explained it, “My wife was sitting in the room as I’m talking on the phone and she said, ‘After like 30 seconds, you guys just started speaking another language.’” And so the magic began.

Herbert told Anderson that his father never wrote any outlines, and there were no notes to work from, so there was no way to tell what he’d planned to put into the story. The pair plotted their first trilogy, House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Corrino, wrote up a proposal, sent it to publishers, and got a significant offer on doing that trilogy. They were about to start writing in earnest when, “the estate lawyer for Frank Herbert called up Brian and said, ‘It’s been 10 years since Frank Herbert passed away. We’re going to put everything into storage, we’re closing out the files, and what do you want us to do with these two safe deposit box keys that are in the file?’ Brian said, ‘What safe deposit box keys?’ They took them to this bank in downtown Seattle, in fact, it was so old, and so unused that they had to drill out the lock. Inside the safe deposit box, there were some letters, some jewelry, some recipes that Frank Herbert had written down, and the full and complete outline for the grand finale of the Dune series. So, that’s what we used as our background for a bunch of these.”

As amazing as that was, Frank Herbert had one more gift for his literary heirs and their readers. “Brian came out to visit me at my house in Colorado. I’ve been a full-time writer for a very long time, and Brian was still working, he ran his own insurance agency. But, now, we were going to be full-time writers and he just had a little corner of the desk in the den off the kitchen. I had my own full-size writing office. He saw my office and decided he needed a writing office, too, because, you know, testosterone. He has a three-car garage at his house, and, like most people with a three-car garage, that means you park cars in two of them and pile junk in the third one. Well, the third garage was the perfect thing to be remodeled into a writing office for him. So, they’re cleaning out everything, taking out all the old bicycles and lawnmowers, and baby clothes, and clearing out the garage, and they find a Xerox paper box, stuck up in the rafters, who knows how long ago. [It has] Frank Herbert’s handwriting on the side of it that says ‘Dune Notes.’ About 3,000 pages of Frank Herbert’s Dune notes: character backgrounds, histories, those epigraph quotes from the beginnings of the chapters. All of this stuff that we were also able to use.”

To bring the story full-circle, Anderson explained how his early inspiration in the music of Rush led to his involvement in their latest project, Clockwork Angels. Neil Peart is a huge fan of steampunk, and had read Anderson’s steampunk work, and one day he called Anderson to ask whether Anderson thought steampunk was going to be around for a while. “I said, ‘Yes, I think it is.’ And he said, ‘Cool, because we’re thinking of a concept album that’s like a steampunk fantasy adventure, and I wanted to bounce some ideas off you.’ I’m sure when Neil Peart wants to bounce ideas off you, most of you would say, ‘OK.’ So, we’re bouncing and brainstorming ideas, and he’s got this idea for this steampunk carnival and a watchmaker, kind of a Big Brother guy who watches over the world, makes sure all the trains go on time … I’m a Rush fan, and he’s sending me lyrics as he’s writing them, which is really cool!

“My wife and I have lunch with [Peart] in Santa Monica, and he’s just bubbling about this project and he’s thrilled about everything they’re putting together … it’s going to be not just an album, it’s going to be a Broadway musical, and it’s going to be a novel, and it’s going to be Ice Follies, and I’m like, ‘Rush fan. Cool. Ice Follies.’ My wife, though, goes, ‘Um, ‘scuse me. Did you say novel? Who’s going to write the novel?’ And he says, ‘Well, Kevin is, of course,’ and then he goes on about the Ice Follies. So, Neil and I did Clockwork Angels, the novel.

“It came out, and it hit the New York Times Bestseller list on Neil’s 60th birthday. So, I was able to text him, just before he went onstage for the beginning of a concert, to say, ‘Not only are you an adequate drummer, you are a New York Times bestselling author.’

“Because that sold so well, Neil and I just finished a sequel called Clockwork Lives, which will be out in September [2015], but also, the publisher of Clockwork Angels was able to re-issue my very first novel, Resurrection, Inc., the one inspired by Grace Under Pressure. They re-issued it with a brand new cover by Hugh Syme, the guy who painted the cover for Grace Under Pressure, that inspired the whole book in the first place.” Anderson pauses for a moment as the audience catches up.

“So,” he concludes, “I have the coolest job in the world, and you don’t.”

XXX