Author Kevin J. Anderson has had a storied career as a novelist, most often in the science fiction/fantasy genre. With Titan Books re-releasing his book Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius, I got the chance to sit down and ask the man himself about the process of writing Captain Nemo, and a little bit about being a sci-fi/fantasy writer.
THE DAILY ROTATION: A good portion of your novels fall into the fantasy and science fiction genres. What exactly pulled you onto that path as a writer?
KEVIN J. ANDERSON: I have been fascinated by strange worlds, exotic adventures (and alien creatures) since I was just a boy. Maybe it was because I grew up in arather dull rural area with very little to do other than let my imagination go where it wanted. When I read stories, or write them, I want to go someplace very different from everyday life.
TDR: Captain Nemo: The Adventures of a Dark Genius is a basic biography of
the life of Jules Verne, with a heavy fiction slant thrown over the actual events
of his life, to explain exactly where he got all of his ideas that led him to
be one of the first hugely successful science fiction writers. Obviously, you know the life of Jules Verne well, but what exactly inspired this novel? His biography? His fiction? Both? At which point did you decide this was going to be your approach for a novel?
KJA: I always thought that Captain Nemo was a fascinating and mysterious character
in his appearances in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious
Island. And I’ve always been a Verne aficionado (and I confess it was sparked by all of the wonderful, if not particularly faithful, film adaptations from when I was growing up in the
1960s). One night I started wondering about the background of the man who built his destructive submarine and declared a War on War, and as I rewatched the Verne movies and reread the Verne novels for inspiration, I decided I wanted to try to pull all those ideas together into one great adventure. But to ground it in reality, I researched Jules Verne himself who was a fascinating (if not particularly adventurous or likeable!) man in his own right. Bringing the two ideas together seemed like the natural way to write the novel.
TDR: How long of a process was the writing of this novel? How long did you research and create structure as opposed to actual writing, or did the two go hand in hand?
KJA: I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into! I spent three years researching this book, getting all the details right and putting all the pieces together. Not only did I have to research the biographical details of Verne, but I also had to read or reread stacks of his books to get the “feel” right, and I had to familiarize myself with the history of the period (a fairly turbulent time in French history) and then do all the “normal” work of fleshing out characters, plotting the story, writing and editing the manuscript.
TDR: You managed to capture the essence of Jules Verne’s writing style, a strict dichotomy of scientific fact spiraled into high fantasy that makes the book easily relatable to modern audiences. Was it difficult to adapt that language and style to a fast paced swashbuckler
KJA: I immersed myself in the Verne oeuvre so I could tap into his adventures, his style, and capture the essence of what people think of as “Jules Verne” however, Jules Verne’s books are often travelogues of things that might have been fascinating to readers at the time, but are rather mundane now. In 20,000 Leagues, for example, after Prof. Aronnax and company are taken aboard the Nautilus, Captain Nemo spends a few hundred pages just showing them around under the ocean. The sinister prison camp in the island of Rurapente is from the Disney film, not from the book itself. I had to pull out that colorful and innocent sense of
wonder and tie it to a fast-paced adventure story that the modern audience would want to read.
TDR: The book skips around both chronologically and geographically, as dictated by the stories Verne wrote throughout his career. Was it difficult to form the structure around these works and still set the book in reality?
KJA: It may seem strange, but the more I researched the biography and read the original Verne adventures, all the pieces just fell naturally into place, like gears fitting together.
TDR: Andre Nemo is portrayed as the ultimate hero, a veritable bad ass, while Jules Verne is stuck with the safe life. This changes the perception of Andre Nemo, sometimes in contradiction to Verne¹s Captain Nemo character, but it also builds a realistic foundation for Verne¹s artistic license. Was it tough to take that same type of artistic license with Jules Verne, exposing his fears and insecurities since he actually lived? What¹s your thought process in doing that?
KJA: When I started working on this novel and reading about Verne’s real life, I was rather surprised to find that (sorry) I didn’t really like him. He was a homebody, a stick-in-the-mud, who did not have a very happy life, rarely went anywhere or did anything, got into bitter arguments, had extreme difficulties with his son, and was not at all like the great heroes in his novels. So I wanted to hold up my imaginary Andre Nemo as the flip side, the adventurous contrast to the real Jules Verne.
TDR: The story has a good scientific backbone to it, tying in many advanced concepts for the time period. How much research did you have to do on actual engineering of the time? Did you have to make a timeline to keep the advancements true to the time period of their changing ages?
KJA: For much of that, I relied on the technological extrapolation that Verne himself did in his novels. We think of him as a science fiction visionary now, but he was really writing the 19th-Century equivalent of techno-thrillers, taking available technology and scientific advances, then pushing the envelope a little. My own degree is in physics and astronomy, so I tried to concoct adventures that made a reasonable amount of scientific sense (although you can’t justify following a cave down to the centre of the Earth, it was a valid theory at the time). I didn’t want a rigorous modern-day explanation of Verne’s imaginings, but to put them into the context of *his* time.
TDR: What advice do you have for aspiring writers, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres?
KJA: Don’t quit your day job 🙂 Seriously, it’s a very rough time to get into publishing…but then, people have been saying that to me since I started out, so there probably is never going to be a good time. To become a professional writer, you need to WRITE (not *talk* about writing), and you need to keep writing, keep honing your skill, and read as much as possible so you can see what other writers are doing, and learn from them.
TDR: You’ve done a similar type of work about the adventures of H.G. Wells in The Martian War. Are there any plans to do further novels like this in the future based on other authors?
KJA: Titan Books also plans to reissue the HG Wells book (which we’re retitling Mr. Wells and the Martians) along with an anthology of other War of the Worlds stories, War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches. They’ve done a lovely job with Captain Nemo, and I am thrilled to see these books targeted to the right audience. I have quite a few other big futuristic SF epics in the works right now, which will take up most of my writing time. These “fantastic historicals” require a great deal of research, as I mentioned above, but I do have a few other ideas…if only I can find the time.
TDR: You have Hellhole out, which you co-wrote with Brian Herbert, and you also have The Sisterhood of Dune coming up, are there any other projects we should look out for on the horizon?
KJA: My most popular original series is The Saga of Seven Suns, a 7-volume SF epic, and I will be returning to that universe to write a sequel trilogy, The Saga of Shadows, which I have just begun. I’ve also just completed a prequel Seven Suns novella, Veiled Alliances, that was released as an original eBook in the US and will be out in the UK in a month or so. And Orbit just released The Key To Creation, the third and final novel in my Terra Incognita trilogy about sailing ships and sea monsters (see, I recycled my Captain Nemo research!). Brian Herbert and I have two more novels in the Hellhole trilogy, and our Sisterhood of Dune comes out early in the new year. Enough to keep me, and my readers, busy for some time!
Check out my review of Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius right here.