Villordsutch interviews Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, authors of the ongoing Dune book series…
Villordsutch: Mentats of Dune has just been released to the world and now you have a small amount of breathing room before you begin book 3 in the Schools of Dune Trilogy. What are you doing just for yourselves?
Brian Herbert: When I’m not writing Dune or Hellhole books with Kevin, I’m working on other writing projects. I recently wrote the novel OCEAN, based upon an idea from my wife, Jan. And it’s not just “an idea.” It’s the best idea I never had! She came back from Hawaii, where she’d been swimming, and said to me, “What if the ocean were to fight back against us? What if it declared war on us?” By that she meant that the creatures of the sea, and the spirit of the ocean itself, have become upset about the pollution that humans have dumped in the waters, and are going to do something about it. In our new novel OCEAN (published by WordFire Press), the dangerous sea creatures declare war on humans. They clear swimming beaches by infesting them with poisonous jellyfish and stonefish, and then create a military force of very dangerous marine animals to drive humans out of the entire ocean—fast-attack sharks and barracudas, swordfish and needlefish (capable of impaling Navy frogmen), huge blue whales (capable of beaching large ships), poisonous jellyfish, Humboldt (jumbo) squid (with sharp, flesh-eating beaks), sawfish, lampreys (clamp onto human faces and digest flesh) , cookie-cutter sharks (cut off chunks of flesh), vampire-like sea spiders, sea snakes (more venomous than cobras), bluefish (go into piranha-like attack frenzies), warrior crabs, and a lot more. They even have giant sea creatures thought to be extinct, such as plesiosaurs (Loch Ness monsters), 50-foot long sharks, and huge crocodiles with bone-crushing jaws. The armada is led by an officer corps of Sea Warriors (hybrid fish-humans), one of whom is capable of generating immense tidal waves that slam into the coast of the United States (the world’s biggest polluter). The Sea Warriors are ocean-activists, and one of their tactics is to use the marine animals to push all human garbage in the ocean (plastics, sunken ships, automobiles, military planes, refrigerators and other junk, etc.) back onto the beaches of the United States, forcing humans to clean up their own mess. The ocean is no longer going to be a dumping ground for human garbage.
Kevin J. Anderson: I’m doing a lot of convention appearances to promote not only MENTATS but several other books. I have THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS–a new novel in my Saga of Seven Suns universe–coming out soon, as well as THE DRAGON BUSINESS, a new book in my Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series. And Brian and I both have HELLHOLE INFERNO (just delivered). And I’m running my own publishing company, WordFire Press. So, not a LOT of breathing room.
V: Do you both have you a long-term goal with where you’re heading with the epic Dune saga (in general, not just the Schools) or do you occasional have a spark of inspiration and from that grows a new Dune tale?
BH: Our long-term goal is to explore Frank Herbert’s incredible Dune universe, filling in details of magnificent realms that he mentioned in the six novels that he wrote, and in the outline he left for “Dune 7,” which we wrote as Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. We do have sparks of inspiration, but we always want to remain true to what Frank Herbert envisioned, or to what we believe he would have approved of as the Dune canon.
KJA: Now that we’ve finished the entire Hellhole trilogy, we’ll be turning our efforts to NAVIGATORS OF DUNE. After that we haven’t made any definite plans, but there are plenty of places to go.
V: Taking Brian’s late father (the great Frank Herbert) as already accepted, who would you say are the inspirations for your writing styles of today?
BH: You are correct that my father was a huge inspiration to me. However, I attempt with all of my non-Dune writings to be as original as possible. With that in mind, I don’t read the works of most other contemporary authors—although I do read classic works. Much of the time, I’m reading biographies, scientific works, history, and other non-fiction books, doing a tremendous amount of factual research.
KJA: We’ve both had so many novels published, I think we’ve each developed our own style, but we still read a lot and try to improve with each project.
V: When it comes to writing a novel together how does it work? Does Brian complete a chapter and the Kevin suggests changes to Brian’s chapter and vice versa? If this is the case have you ever come to verbal blows as one person changes another’s work?
BH: Before we begin writing any collaborative novel, we brainstorm and prepare a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. Then we assign half of the chapters to each of us, depending upon our strengths. I tend to write the Bene Gesserit and Atreides chapters, for example, while Kevin will do more of the high-action chapters. We both have similar visions of where we are going with stories, and sometimes we come up with the same ideas independently of the other! We exchange computer files, so we do not mark each other’s manuscript pages in red pencil. After each of has completed a first draft of our half of the book, one or the other of us will take all of the chapters and work on a second draft. When that is completed, it goes back to the other author for a third draft, and so on, until we feel that the manuscript is polished enough to send to an editor for further comments. In the 17 years that Kevin and I have known each other, we have had perhaps an hour or two of argument (total!), and it’s never been over manuscript changes. It’s only when we’re on a long book tour, and we get extremely tired!
KJA: (See Brian’s comments above). It’s a system that works very well for us–no blows yet after fifteen novels.
V: Have of you ever looked at bringing any other authors into the Dune fold? If so, who? Or if not, would you ever consider it and who would you like to bring in?
BH: The Dune universe is extremely detailed, and the Dune fans are very particular about keeping the details straight, so it would be very difficult to bring another author in. We might have to spend more time editing their work than it would take to write new stories ourselves. I’m not saying it would be impossible to bring in another author, but that person would have to be extremely knowledgeable about the entire Dune canon – which now comprises 18 novels and millions of words (plus the non-canonical “Spice Planet” novel in The Road To Dune).
KJA: Same as above.
V: Does the term McDune bother you or has it always been a phrase which you’ve brushed away?
BH: I might have heard that term previously, but it’s so infrequent that I can’t recall when. It’s an obvious reference to the sheer number of Dune novels that we have written. One fan recently asked me if we use ghost writers. (No, Kevin and I write the novels ourselves.) Despite the number of novels, and the fact that they comprise millions of words, Kevin and I take each novel VERY seriously, and we put a great deal of work into each writing project, to make certain that it is worthy of being included in the Dune universe. Because of the amount of work that we put into each novel, we would rather think of each one as a full-course gourmet meal, instead of fast food.
KJA: And we’d rather pay attention to the millions of readers who love the books than worry about a tiny subset who complain.
V: What’s next for you two? Is it a single project each or another joint venture?
BH: Kevin and I often talk about future joint ventures, but we have not settled on a project yet. It looks like my 1985 novel SUDANNA, SUDANNA is going to be adapted to a graphic novel format, by one of the top companies and illustrators. So, I’ll be working on that—at least giving my advice and approval to the illustrator, who will also be writing the script. (I haven’t signed the contract yet, or I would provide more details!) As a follow-up to OCEAN, I have another high-concept environmental novel that will be published by Tor Books in July – THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA. For all of my novels, I hope to get more involved in the social media than I have in the past—but I have done so little of this that it’s going to be a major learning effort for me. I’m going to need a lot of help and advice from family and friends (including fans), because I’ve been spending so much time in my study, and have not participated in social media realms.
KJA: See answer #1 above.
V: Is there any possibility you could tell me and the readers of FlickeringMyth.com what the next “School” book will be entitled and which school will our sights be turned upon (I myself believe we’re going to be looking at the Spacing Guild)?
BH: It is one of the writing projects that Kevin and I have discussed, although we have not made arrangements to publish it yet. In the Dune universe, it will be our next novel, entitled NAVIGATORS OF DUNE. This will, as you surmised, be about the founding of the Spacing Guild, thousands of years before the events in DUNE.
KJA: Brian and I plotted out NAVIGATORS OF DUNE in some detail right after we finished writing MENTATS.
Many thanks to Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson for taking the time for this interview and thanks to Byron at DuneNovels for helping set things up.
For more the latest information on forthcoming Dune novels visit www.dunenovels.com and you can find more information on WordFire Press over at www.wordfirepress.com. And be sure to follow Kevin J. Anderson on Twitter @TheKJA.