Science fiction and fantasy author Alan Dean Foster began his prolific writing career when August Derleth bought a long Lovecraftian letter of Foster’s in 1968 and published it as a short story in Derleth’s bi-annual magazine The Arkham Collector. His first novel, 1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang, began his long-running series of novels of the HUMANX COMMONWEALTH, many books of which feature the much-loved characters of Flinx and his mini-dragon Pip. He is also known for the SPELLSINGER fantasy series and a host of novelizations. His latest novel, The Candle of Distant Earth (Del Rey) is the third book in his TAKEN trilogy. The gang at SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with him about his writing and travels…
SF Signal (JP): What influenced you or inspired you to become an author?
Alan Dean Foster: I always liked telling stories. And I was never especially happy with this world. As I child, I was quickly struck by how human beings have this highly developed ability to reason…and so often fail to utilize it. And I always wanted to travel…always. Blame Carl Barks and Uncle Scrooge for sparking my love of travel.
SFS (John): You, a deserted island and 5 books. Go!
ADF: I’m assuming you mean fiction, and no cheats (i.e., no Morton Sandcastle’s Complete Guide to How to Survive on a Desert Island); Moby Dick, The Lost World (Doyle), The Complete Eric Frank Russell, anything by Jack London, same for Jorge Amado.
SFS (JP): When you began writing the Flinx books, did you have the ultimate end already in mind, or was that something that came later?
ADF: Not only did I not have the ultimate end in mind, I had no idea Flinx and Pip would appear in more than one book. What a long and winding road it has been. The notion of some kind of ultimate end (which may in fact only be a grand climax and not an ultimate end) did not occur until, oh, twenty or so years into the self-sustaining series.
SFS (JP): If you had a mini-dragon, what would you do with him/her?
ADF: I’m assuming you mean like Pip. I’d relax a lot more on my travels, especially in certain potentially awkward places (central Africa, the Amazon, downtown Washington D.C., etc.)
SFS (Scott): Do you or the publisher get to classify your works as science fiction or fantasy (or something else) and have you ever gotten into disagreements with the classification?
ADF: Classification is a business matter between publisher and bookstore seller. However, I did have one strong disagreement with a publisher concerning one particular novel. Maori (just reprinted, Wildside Press) is a straight historical novel set in 19th-century New Zealand. The publisher wanted to market it as fantasy, so I threw in some casual “fantasy” elements, especially one sequence that might or might not have been a dream of the main protagonist. The just reprinted edition, incidentally, identifies the book as what it is: a historical novel.
SFS (JP): Which of your books or series would you like to see adapted for TV or film?
ADF: Well, all of ’em, of course. But Spellsinger would be marvelous as a series of computer-animated features. As to live-action, Mid-World certainly, The I Inside, Into the Out of, Journeys of the Catechist, Primal Shadows…and some short fiction, too.
SFS (Tim): You travel extensively. How do those experiences influence your books and stories? Examples, please!
ADF: The people I meet, the experiences I have, the things that I see invariably end up in stories. Primal Shadows, of course, is directly based on the several visits I’ve made to Papua New Guinea. Interlopers utilizes experiences from trips to Peru, PNG, and Australia. Phylogenesis would not be half the book without my visits to the Amazon. Most recently, Sagramanda (Pyr, October 2006) is based on my journey across northern India.
SFS (Tim): When writing novelizations, do you feel constrained by the already-set rules of that universe?
ADF: Certainly. I would not think of contradicting the originating author’s inventions…with the exception of correcting obvious scientific errors. Where I am allowed considerable leeway is in expanding situations and characters.
SFS (Scott): Have you ever responded publicly to a critic and what was the outcome?
ADF: in 1975, Spider Robinson did an extended review of Midworld. I thought his points well thought-out, even where they were critical. I rarely respond to criticism or reviews. There’s an old Turkish proverb: “Eschein koryonu kalabalikta kesme, kime uzun, der kime kiza”…which means, “Never cut the donkey’s tail in public…someone will say you cut it too short, and someone will say you left it too long”.
In other words, no matter what you do, you can’t please everybody.
I did have one female critic write, in her review (not long ago) that she inferred from my writing/story that I hated women. I found this amusing to the point of offensiveness, and wrote to say so. 90% of the editors, publishers, and agents I have dealt with in my career have been women, and I think they would have reacted far more harshly to such nonsense than I did.
SFS (Tim): Soup: Hot & Sour or Egg Drop?
ADF: Egg drop…the taste of hot & sour can vary too much, as the ingredients leave too much room for variation. Egg drop is pretty consistent regardless of the quality of the restaurant.