Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Interview with Alan Dean Foster

Alan Dean Foster is an American writer known primarily for his work in fantasy and science fiction. Born in New York City in 1946, he was raised in Los Angeles and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from UCLA.

Foster's published oeurve includes more than 100 books featuring excursions into hard science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He has also written numerous non-fiction articles on film, science, and scuba diving, as well as having produced the novel versions of many films, including such well-known productions as Star Wars (Foster was the ghostwriter of the original novelization of Star Wars, which had been credited solely to George Lucas), the first three Alien films, Alien Nation, The Chronicles of Riddick, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His latest publications include the fantasy novel Oshenerth, and the young adult fantasy novel The Deavys. Other works include scripts for talking records, radio, computer games, and the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His novel Shadowkeep was the first ever book adaptation of an original computer game. 

In addition to publications in English his work has been translated into more than fifty languages and has won awards in Spain and Russia. His novel Cyber Way won the Southwest Book Award for Fiction in 1990, the first work of science-fiction ever to do so. He is also the recipient of the ‘Faust’ - the IAMTW Lifetime Achievement Award.

Foster's love of the far-away and exotic has led him to travel extensively. Besides traveling he enjoys listening to both classical music and heavy metal. Other pastimes include basketball, hiking, body surfing, and scuba diving. In his age and weight class he is a current world and Eurasian champion in power-lifting (bench press). He studied karate with brothers Aaron and Chuck Norris. He has taught screenwriting, literature, and film history at UCLA and Los Angeles City College as well as having lectured at universities and conferences around the world. A member of the Science-Fiction Writers of America, the Author's Guild of America, and the Writer's Guild of America, he also spent two years serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission of his home town of Prescott, Arizona. Foster's correspondence and manuscripts are in the Special Collection of the Hayden Library of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.


  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your prolific writing career? 
When I was four, my parents bought me a set of small paperback books called The Golden Nature Guides.  One each for such subjects as birds, insects, etc.  They began a lifelong fascination with the natural world, and with science.  A year later I received subscriptions to a dozen or so comic books.  These came in the mail.  I learned how to read from them, especially from the great comics done by Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck).  Otherwise, I had a very normal childhood.

  1. Tell us about any childhood heroes. 
I didn’t really have any, except in books.  My parents had an old copy of one of the books by the famous world traveler Richard Halliburton, now little-read.  I poured over his tales and wanted to be like him. 

  1. How did your career begin? 
August Derleth bought a long Lovecraftian letter I wrote to him, just for fun.  He ended up publishing it, as a short story, in his semi-annual magazine The Arkham Collector.  Subsequent to that, John W. Campbell bought a short, With Friends Like These, that appeared in the June, 1971 issue of Analog magazine.  Those were my first professional sales.


  1. Tell us about your Humanx Commonwealth Universe. 
It started off as my first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang.  At that time I had no idea if the book would sell.  When Betty Ballantine asked for a sequel, I ended up writing something a bit different, Bloodhype.  By the time I was asked for a third novel, which became Icerigger but which did not involve the character of Flinx, it was easier to utilize the existing background from the first two books instead of inventing an entirely new one.  At that point, the notion of writing other books in the series on a regular basis became viable.

The Humanx Commonwealth is a political and social amalgamation between two species: ours, and the insectoid Thranx.  As someone who has always rooted for the underdog, I thought it would be appropriate if, when we do go out to the stars, the intelligent species with whom we most readily get along turns out to look like creatures we have battled throughout our entire existence: namely, bugs.  The Thranx are not terrestrial insects, of course.  It’s a matter of convergent evolution.


  1. You have either novelised or created several of the most iconic stories in science fiction, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Terminator, Transformers and The Thing. How have you developed and maintained your career for so many decades? 
As far as the novelizations are concerned, it became a matter of doing something well that others involved with similar projects also wished to see done well.  In other words, you acquire a reputation for being good at something. 

As to my original work, I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that I write in many different genres.  Those who enjoy my fantasy may not care for science fiction, and vice versa.  Those who read novelizations may not care for original fiction.  And so on.  When you go to a restaurant you may not like everything on the menu, but if the menu is large and the food is decent, you’ll find yourself returning.

  1. Tell us about your working regime. What does it take to produce such a great volume of exceptional work? 
I get up, take care of the house and the critters, go out to my study, and read the news from all around the world.  I go through my email personally.  Then I write.  Which means I stare at the computer, or my surroundings, or the scenery outside, until something forms in my mind, which I then set down in print.  As to volume, you have to work at it every day.  Doesn’t matter if it’s prose, painting, sculpture, music…do a little every day and you’d be surprised how much you can produce.

It helps that I am a fast typist, but these days you can dictate without having to type.


  1. I believe your love of adventure, travel, and exotic locations has been influential in your work. Tell us about some of the places you have visited that inspired your fictional world-building. 
Sometimes you get just a character, or a location, from traveling.  Sometimes, as with Into the Out Of (Tanzania) or Sagramanda (Northern India), you get an entire novel.   Bits and pieces end up welded together, depending on the storyline.  Interlopers utilizes locations I’ve visited in Peru, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.  The second and third books of the Tipping Point trilogy are set in South Africa and Namibia, respectively.

  1. Tell us about any underlying themes or messages in your work. 
As has been noted, ecology and the state of the natural world are of great importance to me.  Books like Midworld and Drowning World are good examples.  But I don’t preach.  It’s better to write a popular novel that reaches a couple of hundred thousand readers and makes one point than to write a critically acclaimed novel that reaches a hundred readers and makes dozens of points.

  1. Is there an existing film or story you would particularly love to novelize? 
The 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad.

  1. Tell us about your Spellsinger series. 
When I attempt something I’ve never done before, I’ll only do it if I can be different.  Having never written a fantasy novel prior to Spellsinger, I made a conscious decision not to do aged wizards with long white beards, princesses in distress, noble heroes waving magic swords: I wanted to do something different.  And there was that influence of Carl Barks and his anthropomophosized animals.  It all came together very pleasantly.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process? 
When the characters and the story take over, and write themselves on autopilot.  When I can sit back and just let them do the heavy lifting for me.  In order for that to work, your characters have to be real and fully-rounded.


  1. What do you find most challenging in the creative process, and how do you overcome it?
Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing.  It’s as if the mechanical process itself is holding you back.  When that happens, you just have to push on.  Bad writing is still writing, but it gets you from page 10 to page 15.  You can go back and fix it, revise, later.

  1. Tell us about your experience filming Great White Sharks in Australia. 
That was in 1991, with Rodney Fox.  Rodney is the world’s most famous great white shark attack survivor, and has dedicated his life to their protection.  The water was very cold, so you’re heavily weighted, and in a shark cage you don’t wear fins.  So if you have to get out, you can’t swim.  You just sink.  So you’re always wondering if the cage is going to stay afloat.  But once past that, it’s the closest thing to hanging with dinosaurs you can do today.  They’re such magnificent animals.  You can reach out between the bars and touch them as they swim past.  Given the opportunity to free swim with them now, I’d do it in a moment.  Sharks are really just big dogs.  They’re curious, and they check you out, but you’re not their natural prey, and they’re more wary than aggressive.


  1. Tell us about your collection of animals. 
All of our animals are rescued animals.  Current population is two dogs and eight cats.  I did once have a Columbian boa.  Very nice pet.  Doesn’t bark, doesn’t scratch, doesn’t  have to be walked, and easy to clean up after. 

  1. Where can we find more official information about you and your work?  Also, one of my publishers, Open Road Media, maintains a fannish Facebook page for me.  

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