Kevin J. Anderson talks about books "Hellhole Awakening", "Mentats of Dune" and working with Rush’s Neil Peart on "Clockwork Angels"

Kevin J. Anderson is the known best for his work in the “Dune” universe working with co-author Brian Herbert. He also co-authored the book “Clockwork Angels: The Novel” with Neil Peart from the band Rush. He is releasing his latest novel, “Hellhole Awakening” this month and working on the next “Dune” novel, “Mentats of Dune”, due next year. Kevin took out some to time to chat with Media Mikes before he hits the road to promote his new novels discuss them and also what else he has in the cards for 2013.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your latest novel “Hellhole Awakening”?
Kevin J. Anderson: Brian Herbert and I have written about a dozen other books together in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” universe. They are all international best sellers and we love diving into that universe. But after doing all those books together we decided to take a crack at our own universe. It is trilogy. “Hellhole” is the first one, which came out two years ago. And now “Hellhole Awakening” is part two and comes out at the end of March. Hellhole is a planet that is struck by an asteroid. Due to that, there are volcanoes, earthquakes, storms and most of the native life forms are extinct. Then you have a bunch of misfits that are trying to colonize it, led by an exiled rebel general. So, these desperate colonists are trying to make a new life for themselves on a very hellish place. We have a lot of various storylines with aliens, disasters, terrific space battles and some other really cool stuff. We are very excited about the trilogy. It is really epic. The story just keeps building after what the first book has set up. (I know I should have a good one-liner to describe it—HELLHOLE is about a colony trying to survive in a place where nobody would want to live.

MG: Tell us about how this collaboration with Brian Herbert compares than your other books?
KJA:  We have been doing this since the mid-1990’s and every single year we have a new book out. We have spent most of the time in the “Dune” universe, and we really know how the other person thinks. We play upon each other’s strengths and are able to describe things and tell a story we find engaging. The “Hellhole” books gave us a chance to strut our own stuff instead of using what Frank Herbert developed in the “Dune” universe. It is nice to play with your own toys sometimes.

MG: Also with Brian, How is your progress coming along for “Mentats of Dune”?
KJA:  MENTATS is the second book (after SISTERHOOD OF DUNE) in a new trilogy set about 10,000 years before the original novel “Dune”. It is about the formation of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood and the Mentats School. “Mentats of Dune” will be out next spring. Actually when the phone rang for this interview, I was editing page 100 out of page 651. Brian and I are in our fifth draft, and we will probably go through ten drafts or so until we get it all finalized. We do a book every year, kind of like clockwork… which leads me into my other recent book “Clockwork Angels,” the steampunk fantasy adventure based on the new Rush concept album.

MG: I was just going to ask actually, tell us about the “Clockwork Angels: The Watchmaker’s Edition”?
KJA:  The Watchmakers Edition is the audiobook version of the novel. Not your typical audio book. It is unabridged and read by Neil Peart (the drummer from Rush, with whom I cowrote the novel). Neil has a gorgeous voice and he wanted to do this. This novel is very close to him and me as well. And what could be better than having Neil Peart read it himself? The novel and the audiobook itself were released last September. “The Watchmaker’s Edition” is a very snazzy special edition, with a modeled clock tower with a working clock inside. It has beautiful artwork all around it by Hugh Syme, the cover and album artist. (He’s done all of the artwork for Rush’s albums dating the way back to “2112”. ) It also has a nice poster inside with a timeline for the “Clockwork Angels” project for Rush and my work as well. Any die-hard Rush fan should have this.

MG: Let’s go back, tell us about origin about how this collaboration came about with Rush’s Neil Peart?
KJA:  “Clockwork Angels” is Rush’s latest concept album, like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or The Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. It is a steampunk fantasy adventure about a Big Brother figure called The Watchmaker and a crazy anarchist who wants to destroy everything—who meet up with a naive dreamer, someone who grew up in a small town. He wants to visit the big city where the Clockwork Angels are. The world has zeppelins, pirates, steampunk carnivals, and the lost seven cities of gold. Neil and I have known each other for about 25 years. He’s already read my books and I have always been a Rush fan. We’ve worked together a few times. Before CLOCKWORK ANGELS, we did a short story called “Drumbeats.” and Neil wrote an introduction to a collection of short stories I did. When he was developing the story for the”Clockwork Angels” album, I started brainstorming with him just because it was fun. At some point along the way, Neil suggested that this could be a novel also. This novel is something I’ve been waiting my entire career to do. Rush’s music has inspired many of my stories. During their “Time Machine” tour, they came to Colorado (where I live) and on a day off, Neil and I climbed a 14,000 foot mountain—because what else do you do on your day off? During the hike up, we plotted the story and came up with the characters. So while Rush was writing the album, I was putting together the story in my head. I was able to put in little references to Rush lyrics—not just “Clockwork Angels” but the entire library of songs. If you are a die-hard Rush fan, you will catch them, but otherwise the story flows just fine.

MG:What/when can we expect from the third Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. novel, “Hair Raising”?
KJA: HAIR RAISING is the third installment after DEATH WARMED OVER and UNNATURAL ACTS, and will be out in May. I’ve also done an original story, “Stakeout at the Vampire Circus” (available in all eBook formats), and I’ll have another new one, “Road Kill,” out in about a month. This series is a humorous horror series which follows Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., set in a world where all the monsters come back and live in a part of the city called the “Unnatural Quarter”. In HAIR RAISING, somebody is stalking werewolves and scalping them.
If you can’t tell, I have so much fun with my job. I love telling these stories. I don’t have enough time in the day to put down all the words in my head

MG: Tell us about your upcoming tour to support these?
KJA: I am about to start a US tour for HELLHOLE AWAKENING (San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta, Dayton, Richmond VA, and Colorado Springs)—full tour schedule at Unlike a rock concert tour, I will be there meeting with the fans face to face, give a little talk about working with Brian and Neil, and there’ll be a Q&A, door prizes, lots of cool stuff. I look forward to getting out there and meeting the fans.

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Kevin J. Anderson talks about working with the band Rush on the book “Clockwork Angels: The Novel”

Kevin J. Anderson is the co-author of the book “Clockwork Angels: The Novel”, which is based on the band Rush’s latest album. The novelization is co-written with Neil Peart, who is the drummer and lyricist for the band. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Kevin about this collaboration and his work with Rush.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you end up collaborating with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart on “Clockwork Angels: The Novel”?
Kevin J. Anderson: Neil and I have been friends since around 1990; I’ve always been a Rush fan, and he reads my novels. My first novel, Resurrection, Inc., was inspired by the Rush album Grace Under Pressure. Over the years we’ve toyed with the idea of doing a novel/album crossover project, but the stories and the schedules never synched up. As Clockwork Angels began to take shape, though, it had that right set of ingredients. As he developed the story for the songs, he suggested that I do the novel.

MG: Since Neil wrote “Clockwork Angels” as a concept album, did that make the adapting process easier?
KJA: He’s always given me props for my worldbuilding skills, and when he started putting the songs and the story together, he turned me loose to let me develop the world, to see how the pieces fit together (like “Clockwork,” naturally!). Neil had most of the framework for the story, which is set out in the songs, but I helped connect the dots, added extra characters, fleshed out the scenes. But I didn’t change anything in the album or the songs—Neil wrote what he wanted to write, and I developed a story that captured it as best I could.

MG: What was your inspiration for the dystopian fiction featured in the story?
KJA: Oddly, we consider this a “nice” sort of dystopia. Yes, the Watchmaker controls a lot of people’s lives, which is a bad thing if you’re a square peg and the rest of the world is made of round holes, but for the vast majority of the population, this really is an idyllic sort of world. But our character is a dreamer and wants something more.

MG: How did you end up merging this story with the steampunk subgenre?
I’ve been writing steampunk since 1989 (before the term was ever invented, I think), and Neil liked that aspect. He had the idea of a steampunk motif from the very beginning, and it was always part of the canvas as the story and music took shape.

MG: Tell us about your work with artist Hugh Syme?
KJA: Hugh had already done some of the paintings for the CD booklet before I started writing. I used his artwork for details and inspiration, and he read the drafts of some scenes as I delivered them. Hugh had an uncanny knack for taking a detail or a metaphor at the core of the story (something even I didn’t realize) and pulling it to the surface, which would send me back to the draft to emphasize that part and add new scenes. We worked closely together for the illustrated booklet that accompanies the unabridged audiobook (which Neil Peart narrates), Hugh and I getting the finished content, design, and layout done for Brilliance Audio in only a few days!

MG: I think that this novel would make a great movie…(Hint Hint)!
I certainly wouldn’t disagree with you, but it doesn’t matter what I think. Some movie producer has to get that idea in his or her head!

MG: Do you feel that there will ever been another additional chapter to this story?
KJA: Not as an endless series of book after book. But Neil and I love the world and the characters, and we feel that some of the side tales might be worth exploring. Not in the immediate future, though. I have two massive books I’m writing, and Rush has this tour thing they’re on…

MG: What is your favorite song on the album “Clockwork Angels”?
KJA: It often changes as I keep listening to the album. Right now, the one that seems closest to my heart is “Headlong Flight,” which means so much to the story and means so much to me about my life.

MG: What do you have planned next? Any plans to work with Rush again?
KJA: Right now I am editing MENTATS OF DUNE with Brian Herbert, my next major novel in that series, and I am beginning a new trilogy in my gigantic “Seven Suns” universe, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS. It’ll probably be a thousand pages long, and as of today I hit the halfway point! And I have two other novels ready to be cued up in the new year. It’s too soon to think about doing anything else with Rush —they’ll be touring for quite some time yet.


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Perpetual Change: An Interview with Jon Anderson

Arguably the best and certainly the most well-know band in the progressive rock arena, Yes has always been at its forefront and is no stranger to the one constant of the genre: perpetual change.  No one knows this better than the eternal voice of Yes, Jon Anderson.  His unique powerhouse alto tenor vocal is the anchor point to decades-worth of the band’s music, from multi-part opuses like “Close to the Edge” to the MTV-era chart-toppers like “Owner of a Lonely Heart”.

In mid-2008, Anderson was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and has since made a full recovery.  While no longer the lead singer of Yes, the past year has found Jon working on a wide variety of projects including a collaboration with former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, 2010’s “The Living Tree”, and the recent solo release “Survival and Other Stories”.

Jon has returned to the stage as part of a 2011 tour that will feature acoustic solo shows and ones in which he will be joined by Wakeman.   MediaMikes’ Dave Picton had a chance to catch up with Jon to talk about his most recent work and the supporting tour as well as a bunch of…shall we say?…Yesstuff.

Dave Picton:  First and foremost, welcome back!  You’ve been sorely missed.  How are you feeling and what’s the latest prognosis?
Jon Anderson: Well, I’m a lot healthier than I was three years ago.  2008 was very, very difficult but you go through the experiences and come out the other end a lot better.  I’m a lot healthier, that’s for sure.

DP: When I listened to “The Living Tree” album, I was surprised to hear a very sparse approach:  you on vocals and Rick [Wakeman] on piano and keyboards, which isn’t what I would necessarily expect to hear from somebody who has recently recovered from a severe respiratory ailment.   Was the minimalist approach the concept from the start or was there ever at any point a thought about any musical augmentation?
JA: We just decided to keep it simple, you know? Rick is very wonderful and he comes up with some beautiful music and then I write the melody on top of the lyrics so it’s a very natural event.

DP: The tour that you’re embarking on will include shows that feature you exclusively as well as shows that pair you with Rick. I’m wondering what audiences can expect to hear and see?
JA: Well, it will be funny because Rick likes to tell jokes.  I do acoustic versions of lots of songs when I do my solo show and, you know, with me and Rick we do a lot of songs from Yes because that’s what we wrote together and we enjoy that as well as doing new songs from “The Living Tree”.

DP:  In the liner notes for your latest solo album, “Survival and Other Stories”, you state that the album is basically the result of you putting an ad up on your website that more-or-less said “I want musicians!”  What was that experience was like for you?
JA: About six years ago, I put an advert on my website and I received lots of replies. I found about a couple of dozen people who I’ve been working with ever since and, over a period of the past year or so, I started realizing that I’ve got maybe thirty songs and I have to put out an album quick or I’ll just have too many songs.  So that’s why I put out “Survival and Other Stories”.  It’s a combination of songs about what I went through in 2008 that are very, very personal and soul-searching. There are a couple of songs about the gravity of war and the madness of greed.  Thankfully we’re getting rid of the people that, you know, hoard money for no reason at all.  There’s a sense of working with different people that you get a more, shall we say, entertaining album because everybody comes at it from a different point.  I’ve been doing songs from “Survival and Other Stories” in my solo show, but it’s not something I think that I have to go on tour with a band and promote.  If the record takes off this year, maybe next year I’ll take a small ensemble and perform some more songs.  But you never know with these things.

DP:  Many of the songs on “Survival” seem to be steeped in a very deep spirituality that’s been a constant in your work both with Yes and as a solo artist.
JA: Well, generally we’re all spiritual beings.  I just like to sing about the journey that we seem to be all on and inside I feel like it comes very naturally to sing about the light that we have inside. I generally feel that I’m not doing anything other than what people have done all through the ages.  There’s always been someone singing about the journey.

DP: Going back a little ways to 2007, you performed ensemble-style shows with the School of Rock All-Stars – a show that I was fortunate enough to see at BB King’s Blues Club in New York City.  What was it like working with the kids and would you want to do it again?
JA: For sure I would do it again! In fact, I was talking about doing it again next year.  It’s a very magical experience to be up there with the young kids.  They’re very, very open and very clear about doing their work and, quite honestly, they’re just fantastic to work with as you can tell when I’m up there doing a show.

DP: Going even further back in your history of ensemble work, Yes’ “Union” tour in the early ‘90s featured many members of the “classic” ‘70s era of Yes as well as members of the ‘80s 90125-era band all on one stage with you in the center.  How was that experience?  Any interesting road stories?
JA: It was kind of magical for me because I was in the middle of the ensemble and they were all playing great.  You know, I didn’t really like the “Union” album all that much, but the idea of doing the album would enable us to go on tour and that was what I really wanted to do.  So you get working with those guys on the stage and crazy things would happen like Steve [Howe] would come over to me and say “Can you tell Trevor [Rabin] to turn down?” and I would go over to Trevor and say “Trevor.  Stay where you are. You’re doing fine.” [laughs]

DP: Have you stayed in touch with Trevor?  I know he’s become quite prolific in writing film scores as of late.
JA: Oh yeah! I see him every month.  We’re talking about working together on a project but it’s only a question of time before we can make that happen.

DP: The 90125-era of Yes was probably the most commercially successful ones in the band’s history.  When you look back on that, what are your fond memories – and maybe even not so fond ones – of that period of time?
JA: It was amazing, you know.  We were number one around the world and we were treated like rock gods and things like that.  Actually, it all fell apart for me because I went to see “Spinal Tap” and from then on I couldn’t stop laughing at everything.  I had a great time for three or four years.  And then “Big Generator” happened and it was such hard work because the record company wanted to have another hit album. It’s not my idea of creation, you know?  It’s very boring.  The future of music was more important to me, so that’s why I did Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe which I really enjoyed.  I’m actually now working on some very interesting new music which really related to what you would call the “classic Yes” style of music, that sort of long-form pieces that I love creating.

DP: Would this new music be a solo project with a minimalist approach like what you decided to do with with Rick on “The Living Tree” or be fully augmented with a full array of musicians and, if it’s the latter, any idea as to who they would be?
JA: It’s fully augmented by a full orchestra at the moment.  It’s a wonderful experience to go through.  I’m working with I guy that I met, Stephan Bordell, who is a beautiful composer and I’m also working with the young kids from the School of Rock.  They did some overdubs for me last year as well as last month and they sound great.  I’m just getting the drums put on and, generally speaking, getting people to help sing it with me.  My wife and some friends are going to help sing on it so it sounds like a big ensemble of energy.

DP: If I snagged your iPod and selected “random”, what would I hear?
JA: Well, unfortunately, my favorite music is from the ‘40s.  On the iPod, though, I often listen to [composer Jean] Sibelius.  I just have this thing about Sibelius and Stravinsky.  I love classical music when I want to listen to anything.  Here and again, I’ll hear a song on the radio that I like but, generally speaking though, I’m pretty much locked into the old classics and I don’t know why.  It’s just something I enjoy listening to.

DP:  If you had to select some Yes albums to put on your iPod – assuming you haven’t already done so, of course – what would they be?
JA:  I like a lot of the stuff that we’ve done – “Fragile”, “Close to the Edge” “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, “Awaken” from “Going for the One”, “90125”, “Talk” and the last one we did, “Magnification”.  You know, I think 80% of what we do is quite wonderful and 20% was not.

DP: What was the 20% – if you’d like to talk about it.
JA: No, I don’t.  [laughs]

DP: Fair enough. [laughs]
JA: It’s a pretty good average.
DP: Agreed.
[both laugh]

DP: It’s certainly been a pleasure talking with you, Jon. It’s great to hear your voice again in every way.
JA: Well, there’s a lot more music to come.  I wish you well.