Quill and Quire


« Back to

Q&A: Kevin J. Anderson on collaborating with Rush, steampunk, and Fan Expo

U.S. sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson has published 115 books, including spin-off novels for popular series like Star Wars, The X-Files, and Dune. Since 1993, 47 of his novels have appeared on bestseller lists.

Anderson will be at FanExpo in Toronto this weekend, signing copies of his new steampunk novel, Clockwork Angels (ECW Press), a collaboration with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, based the band’s latest album.

When did your fandom for Rush begin?
I grew up in a very small town in Wisconsin that didn’t even have a record store. We’d get these little mailers from the Columbia Record Company that had these little perforated stamps with album covers on them. The stamps for Rush’s 2112 and A Farewell to Kings had these science-fiction-like pictures on them ,and suddenly a whole world opened up. From there I followed everything that Rush did.

How did your relationship with Neil Peart and the band come to be?
As I got out of high school, around when the band came out with Grace Under Pressure, I was writing my first novel, Resurrection, Inc. As I was plotting out the novel, I was finding things in the music that seemed relevant to the story. I shifted the novel a bit so that every song on that album had a counterpart to chapters in the book.

I didn’t know Rush at that time “ I was just a fan boy “ but I acknowledged the band in the book. I signed a couple copies and sent them off to their label, Mercury Records. I got a letter back from Neil saying he liked it. We’ve been friends for 23 years now.

How did this cross-discipline project come to be?
When Neil was developing the story for the album he was already using me as a sounding board for some of his ideas. So as the album’s story came together, I was already talking to him like a novelist. I didn’t realize I was being auditioned.

He sent me the lyrics to the album, which are snapshots of the story, so I already had it intellectually in my head, but it wasn’t until I got the rough tracks of the finished music with Geddy Lee’s vocals, the bass, Alex Lifeson’s guitars, and Neil’s drums that it all came alive for me.

What was your collaborative process like?
Neil stayed at my house in Colorado while Rush was on tour. Between two shows we climbed a 14,000-foot mountain peak. During that climb we sketched out the thematic underpinning of the novel and the order of events. I was writing chapters every day and sending them to him, really rough drafts that I wouldn’t normally show anyone. It was a fast process as he wanted the book to come out at the same time as the album. Fortunately I’m a fast writer. There’s a creative momentum when you can tell the story and write and live with the characters and getting immersed in the world.

Do you often listen to music as you’re writing?
I do most of my first-draft writing while I’m hiking outside with a recorder. I’m always off climbing mountain passes or in the middle of the forest. The story I’m writing doesn’t have to be set there, but just having all that extra colour and input is like rocket fuel for my imagination and music does that for me as well. It’s like an added dimension, instead of black-and-white Kansas, it’s Technicolor Oz. It evokes moods and images in my mind that if I’m sitting in silence don’t necessarily come by themselves.

Steampunk has become a trendy, broadly used term. What is your relationship to the genre?
Oddly enough I was writing steampunk back in the ’80s before anyone knew it should be called steampunk. I had Jules Verne* and Dr. Frankenstein in a steam-powered hot-air balloon in one of my books from 1989. I thought it was a refreshing view of the future the way the Victorians thought it was supposed to be “ instead of a gritty, dark Blade Runner kind of future. This is a fun and colourful fantasy version of science and industry.

You are no stranger to events like Comic Con and Fan Expo. What are those events like?
There are a lot of intense fans and very dedicated fans, and I happen to be one of them, but I also straddle the fence by making my living at it. I can talk for hours with other fans about the lyrics of an old Rush album or comparing different versions of Star Trek episodes or who was the best Doctor Who. I fit in with these people because I’m one of them.

What is your favourite Rush album?
Clockwork Angels because I’m so closely connected to it, but Grace Under Pressure shaped my career as a writer. I got something out of it that inspired me to do better work than I would have without it.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jules Verne’s surname.