The Big Idea: Kevin J. Anderson

Dudes! Kevin J. Anderson worked with Neil Peart of Rush on a novel! How cool is that? Seriously, that’s all I’ve got by way of an intro here. The novel is Clockwork Angels, which is also the title of the latest Rush album, and no, it’s not a coincidence. Not a coincidence at all.

KEVIN J. ANDERSON:

As the Muse sings…

“In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.”

For some writers, their muse is an ethereal, feminine voice that whispers inspiration, a hint here, a metaphor there.  My muse, on the other hand, has always been a lot more aggressive. In this particular case, it’s three guys named Geddy, Alex, and Neil with their vocals, bass, guitars, drums, and lyrics. Yes, it’s the progressive-rock band Rush.

The music of Rush has inspired many of my stories and novels over the years, but with their new album (and my new novel) Clockwork Angels, the music was more than a mere catalyst for inspiration; the songs were a full-blown kick in the teeth (umm, in a pleasant way). My book is a novelization of the intricate steampunk fantasy story told across the tracks of the album.

Like young Owen Hardy, the main character in Clockwork Angels, I grew up in a very small town (mine was in Wisconsin, while Owen’s is in the imaginary land of Albion). I was surrounded by cabbage farms that serviced the local sauer kraut factory; Owen is an assistant apple orchard manager—but we both had dreams of grand adventures and imaginary lands.

I wanted to be a writer and tell stories like the ones that inspired my overactive imagination. Our town didn’t have a record store, but I did join the Columbia Record Club—15 albums for a dollar. There were sheets of tiny stamps, each showing an album cover; you peeled off the stamps to choose the ones you wanted and affixed them to the membership sheet.  With so many albums to choose from, how to decide? I’d never heard of many of the bands, but something intrigued me about “2112” from a group called Rush, and another one “A Farewell to Kings,” and “Fly by Night.”  They seemed to have a science fiction or fantasy flair—so I took a chance.

They were wonderful! Songs that covered vast imaginative landscapes and told epic stories, rather than the tedious “oooh, baby baby” pop songs on the radio.  (As a nerdy kid with bad haircut, thick glasses, and a fascination with monsters and aliens, I didn’t have much experience with girlfriends anyway.)  As I created my stories, I drew inspiration from the music of Rush, feverishly writing down the scenes that those songs evoked in my head.

My first novel, Resurrection, Inc., was inspired by the Rush album “Grace Under Pressure,” which eventually got me in contact with the band’s drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, and we’ve had many exchanges over the past twenty years about creativity and inspiration, adding a few more ingredients to each other’s imagination.  (Once, during a soundcheck for a concert, my wife Rebecca and I were listening to the band practice a few songs, including “Red Sector A”; Rebecca was test-reading one of my novel manuscripts at the time, and she recognized the connection. She looked over at me and said, “How many stories are you going to get out of that one song?”  Several, actually!)

To me, music and prose are two different ways to convey a story, and I’m intrigued by the crossover.  For my Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy, I worked with ProgRock Records to do two CDs that highlighted storylines from the novels; Rebecca and I wrote the song lyrics, and the music was performed by some of my rock heroes from the groups Kansas, Asia, Dream Theater, Saga, and others. (Neil’s schedule didn’t allow him to join the project, which we called Roswell Six.)  The CDs added an entirely different dimension to the story.

A few years ago, Neil approached me as he was developing the overall story for a new Rush album. He had visions of a steampunk world and a grand adventure, and he had read my old “Gamearth” novels that featured Jules Verne, steam-engine cars, hot-air balloons, even a steam-powered atomic bomb, although those books were published years before anyone invented the term “steampunk.” I helped as a sounding board as he created some of the scenes, characters, plot twists, but it was obvious as it grew that this was a much bigger story. Could it be . . . a novel?  Why, yes—yes it could.

Neil and I wrote a short story together years ago and were looking for a larger project to merge our different creative toolkits. Clockwork Angels seemed to be that project. When Rush played two shows near my home in Colorado, with a day off in between, Neil and I climbed a mountain together, 14,265-ft Mount Evans, brainstorming Clockwork Angels all the way. That was where the rest of the story came together (amidst gasping breaths and plodding steps). We were off and running, as Neil finished writing the lyrics to the songs, and I fleshed out the characters and mapped the details of the plot.

The outline was the bare bones of the story, but it wasn’t until I heard the rough tracks of the music that I really added rocket fuel and a match to my imagination. The music was that extra dimension that brought the story to life for me, shifting it from a black-and-white Kansas farm to Technicolor Oz.

I started writing the draft furiously, sending Neil draft chapters every day (and listening to the music constantly). I’ve collaborated many times before, but always with other writers. Neil Peart is a creator who approaches a story from a different direction, with a rhythmic/lyrical mindset. The project was very smooth and all the pieces slipped perfectly into place (and let’s not forget the fanboy joy of slipping in about a million little Rush Easter eggs in the prose!)

I love this novel, and I feel I’ve been preparing to write it for more than twenty years. I have always been inspired by music, but I previously had to slip in my lyrical nods in a stealth fashion. With Clockwork Angels, I could come out of the closet with an unabashed celebration of music and words.

—-

Clockwork Angels: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|AnderZoneShop

Read an excerpt. Visit the Author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

45 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Kevin J. Anderson

  1. Oh, wow! Just wow! Two of my favourite things join forces once again. Prog Rock and SF. Peart has written such great songs. I am going to buy this NOW!

  2. [Pedant] As a point of historical order, whe Kevin writes that his Gamearth series was publishd before anyone ever thought of the word “steampunks”, that’s not entirely true. It looks like the first book of Gamearth was published in 1989. Author K.W. Jeter is credited with inventing the term “Steampunks” in a letter to Locus Magazine published in 1987. I do believe, however, that it was several years before the term caught on. (I wasn’t familiar with the term until the mid-aughts, myself, though I was already somewhat familiar with the tropes of the genre.) [/Pedant].

    That said, this sounds like a potentially cool book.

  3. “Columbia Record House’…. Now that’s something I’d forgotten. I might have bought the Moving Pictures album that way.

    And speaking of SciFi-related albums of the past does anyone else remember Klaatu?

  4. “There were sheets of tiny stamps, each showing an album cover; you peeled off the stamps to choose the ones you wanted and affixed them to the membership sheet.”

    Wow–does that bring back memories. I’d forgotten what it was like buying music through the record clubs back in my youth. I can remember agonizing over which of the records shown on the tiny stamps to order–ones I knew I’d enjoy that I’d already heard, ones that I was pretty sure I’d enjoy based on radio airplay of a track or two and friends’ recommendations, or taking a flyer on something new and undiscovered. Looks like Mr Anderson did the last, and it changed his entire life.

  5. To Mr. Anderson:

    Without, in any way, meaning to lessen or deprecate the hardships you have undoubtedly suffered in your time in this Vale of Tears, I have only this to say:

    “You must have done something really good in a past life.”

  6. Having been a Rush fan for 30+ years, I’ve always imagined that a lot of Rush songs and entire albums had the potential to crossover into books and films. I’m pleased that it’s finally happening. I’m looking forward to reading the results.

    Also, Columbia House record club stamps! That’s how I got my first copies of 2112, Exit … Stage Left and Signals (though I was already a Rush fan by then after someone in my high school drama club lent me a cassette of Moving Pictures and said, “Listen to it.”

  7. Simply put, this is going to be awesome. Kevin is a great writer, I’ve read everything of his from Gamearth, to his Star Wars novels, and especially the continuation of the Dune series- which is amazing. Can’t wait to pick this one up!

  8. “You got a Rush album in my science fiction novel!” “You got a science fiction novel in my Rush Album!”

    Two great things that go great together. Almost like chocolate and peanut butter. (Almost). Both have been ordered.

  9. On another day, I wouldn’t comment. But this is today.

    “For some writers, their muse is an ethereal, feminine voice that whispers inspiration, a hint here, a metaphor there. My muse, on the other hand, has always been a lot more aggressive. In this particular case, it’s three guys named Geddy, Alex, and Neil with their vocals, bass, guitars, drums, and lyrics.”

    Reaction: Oh, hey, it’s a Big Idea about rock and SF/F and oh gawd, that sounds so cool; I love rock operas and concept albums and I was pretty fond of Rush when I was a kid too–wait, what? Why does this dude feel the need to make sure we all know that his muse is not at all ethereal, feminine, whispery, hinty, or metaphory? (And… Rush is aggressive now? Am I thinking of the right band? [Peruses memory briefly; remembers "Roll the Bones" and "Limelight" and the suburbs song; shrugs.] Ooo-kay. Maybe other people have different ideas of what aggression is.)

    (All of the above takes a fraction of a nanosecond. Reading continues.)

    “I wanted to be a writer and tell stories like the ones that inspired my overactive imagination. Our town didn’t have a record store, but I did join the Columbia Record Club—15 albums for a dollar. There were sheets of tiny stamps, each showing an album cover; you peeled off the stamps to choose the ones you wanted and affixed them to the membership sheet. With so many albums to choose from, how to decide?”

    Reaction: Empathy floods back instantly. I can see the stamps (okay, stickers in my time) like yesterday. I remember my favorites and I remember which stories I was writing to which songs and how hard it was to choose; I didn’t have the allowance to actually join, even if I’d been allowed, so it was cut out a stamp and save it and stick it to the Christmas/birthday wish list–

    “(As a nerdy kid with bad haircut, thick glasses, and a fascination with monsters and aliens, I didn’t have much experience with girlfriends anyway.)”

    Reaction: …Wait, what?

    (I go on. Read rest of the article. Skim the parts about the author getting to hang out with Rush; sounds pretty awesome. But something’s still itching at the back of my head. I start again at the beginning.)

    (As a nerdy kid with bad haircut, thick glasses, and a fascination with monsters and aliens, I didn’t have much experience with girlfriends anyway.)

    Oh, right. Your generic gendered geekdom. That’s what was bugging me in the first paragraph. Sigh.

    Rock-meets-writing is still an amazing concept, and I will check out the excerpt and while I’m at it I think I’ll see what Rush sounds like now, because I didn’t know they were still alive and kicking, and I’m sure everyone involved in the project is awesome, but… Sigh. This day, in today’s mood, I found the female-gender stuff sadly jarring.

  10. Been listening to the Album for Months, Been a Rush fan and an Anderson fan for years! I just got the book, going to the very first show of the new Rush tour to support the Album tomorrow…Wish I had time to read the book before the show

  11. I may pick this up however I’ve avoided him ever since the butchery (IMHO, sorry james) that was the Dune prequels. Since grudges are a bad way to decide on quality I’ll give him another chance. Plus there’s Rush and Neil Peart! :)

  12. I’ve always liked Rush’s sci-fi stuff – both the concept albums and the individual songs. But I always thought that there was something missing. Like details. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. It lets you use your imagination more. It’ll be interesting to see how Anderson fills those in the gaps with prose.

  13. Was able to get the book directly from Kevin at DragonCon last weekend and finished it the day I got back. It is an awesome book and it makes the album about 100 times more entertaining. I highly recommend it.

  14. Decided to sample a few pages at Barnes and Noble Tuesday when the book arrived. Eight chapters and eighty eight pages later I finally closed the book, brought it to the counter and made the purchase. Now as I approach page 200 I continue to enjoy the story. Great writing style, easy to read and at the end of each chapter its hard to put the book down because you want to find out what happens next knowing eventually this story is going to come all together. Very much enjoy this book. Can’t wait to see the band next month!

  15. @maskirovka:

    I got the feeling that Kevin Anderson was referring to the somewhat traditional view of a muse (the Greek goddesses in their flowing dresses) and the fact that in historical culture, popular culture, sf culture they can often be found sporting the same general look and feel as those Greek Muses.

    On an entirely separate note, I am very much looking forward to seeing Rush in 3 days. :) Can’t wait!

  16. First, “Clockwork Angels” sounds like it should be a Doctor Who episode–which doubles the coolness factor for me. Second, Columbia Record Company! I belonged too in the late ’70’s and early to mid ’80’s! I too discovered Rush 2112 this way! Looking forward to reading the book!

  17. I do have to say that I wish they had chosen a different title, rather than the also popular book “Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare as part of the Infernal Devices Trilogy. Kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth, honestly.

  18. Because I am as old as dirt I remember reading an article about Rush in Cream magazine. They were talking about their new album 2112, which had a side-long title track that was essentially a science fiction tale. Geddy also complained that some expected “just because I have a high voice and we play heavy music, they think we should do Whole Lotta Love.” My brain went hmm “sounds like Zep, sci-fi epics…MUST HAVE THIS RECORD”. Bought it just as I started a job as a summer camp counselor and played it every weekend on the camp system. Just before college started up in the fall I caught Rush opening up for B.O.C.. I clearly remember Geddy saying into the microphone, “This is side one from our latest album, this is 2112.” And my brain melted down…

    And thus, I’ve been with Rush for a long time, almost as long as I have been reading sf/f. Seen them a number of times over the years and not once did they deliver a dud of a show. There has been some criticism in prog circles that the band has fallen into a mid-tempo rut the last few albums but by the gods Clockwork Angels ROARS.

    So yeah, I’ll be getting this book.

  19. Just want to say: I was a music club member back when cassette tapes were the “big new thing” … :-) Heheh. Book club member for the first time around the same time. Anyway, this is both a book AND and album that shall be added to my wishlist :-)

  20. @maskirovka: I had exactly the same reaction you did to the sexist passages. It doesn’t endear this author to me at all. It makes him sound like a creep.

  21. Some of you are really overdoing it a bit. “sexist passages” — really???? same name as an older book ???? really??? who cares? The album is amazing and i decided to read the book to gain a better understanding of the story before i see them in concert. Its called entertainment folks. Enjoy it! These posts of deep over analysis border on both ridiculous and pathetic. Do you read deep offensive meaning into Bugs Bunny episodes too? For those looking for entertainment, both the book and album are superb!

  22. @ maskirovka

    Why does this dude feel the need to make sure we all know that his muse is not at all ethereal, feminine, whispery, hinty, or metaphory?

    I read that as distinguishing his muse not from those things in and of themselves, but from the traditional Greco-Roman notion of muses in general. The notion itself is sexist, rather unsurprisingly given the cultures of antiquity, but I’m not sure the rejection of the stereotypical muse is sexist. YMMV.

    Oh, right. Your generic gendered geekdom. That’s what was bugging me in the first paragraph. Sigh.

    Well, unless Mr. Anderson isn’t heterosexual (which seems unlikely in light of his being in a heterosexual marriage), his childhood indifference to love songs would stem from inexperience with girlfriends. Presumably a girl who is a nerdy kid with a bad haircut, thick glasses, and a fascination with monsters and aliens wouldn’t have much experience with boyfriends. Exactly how does discussing one’s personal inexperience with the opposite sex equate to gendered geekdom?

  23. This is where I note that the conversation is in danger of running off the rails. Let’s avoid implicitly denigrating other people because their opinions differ from our own, please. On that path lies unpleasantness. Which will displease me.

  24. I still have Rush’s first album. They were the the first “concert” venue band I saw – Massey Hall some time in the mid 70s.. The flash pots blew my mind. This collaboration sounds great so I will add it to my library list.

  25. Yet another reason I enjoy coming to “Whatever” – I feel safe letting my Rush flag fly :) And you can add another tick mark in the column labeled “got 2112 from Columbia House” for me.

  26. Huge Rush fan, concerts every year. Brought my son to see them last year for the first time. Adding this to my go get this book now task list.

  27. My wife and i are going to see this very concert tonight at the Verizon Center in Manchester, NH! And now I get to order a new book, too! This qualifies as a pretty good day!

    And the Columbia house Record Club! Yikes! how old am I now? Can’t be…

  28. Hmm, I find it very difficult to appreciate K.J. Anderson as a writer since… you know, he doesn’t write his books (http://kjablog.com/?p=747). And the Dune prequels are just terrible, but perhaps that’s just me. I probably would have enjoyed them more when I was 13.

  29. Sebbie:

    “you know, he doesn’t write his books”

    That’s an awfully stupid thing to say. Whether the writer types them or dictates them to be transcribed, the words are formed in the same place, i.e., the writer’s brain. If you’re going to disqualify Mr. Anderson on this score, you’re going to need to disqualify Mark Twain, who dictated his memoirs, and several currently working writers who dictate their works because severe repetitive strain injury makes it difficult or impossible for them to type for any length of time.

    It’s one thing to say you don’t like his work. It’s another thing to suggest that a writer’s work isn’t really writing because he or she initially records them in a manner not of your pleasing. The first is an opinion. The second is an exhibition of ignorance. Please don’t do that on my site again.

  30. There has been a lot of science fiction reading I have done over the years while listening to Rush.

    Its great to have the forces of the universe align in such a way. I will run and get copies very soon.
    <3

  31. As far as dictating vs.writing: I understand that a number of writers will read their work aloud as a check on awkward phrasing, bad dialogue, &c. Dictating the first draft just reverses the process.

  32. Through the miracle of DVD I have been able to rediscover Rush. First exposure was All the World’s a Stage, a double live album. One of the first groups we listened to that had “freaky lyrics”. Weirdly enough I don’t think Rush influenced my interest in science fiction that much, they are essentially an ongoing experiment that asks the question “what would happen if a premiere 1970s hard rock group never broke up and just continued for 40 years ?” Answer: the second testament of the hard rock bible. This new book to go with the “record” is a welcome balance for the story, and perfectly matched to this point in the times of Rush.

  33. One other point – the publisher has a very nice offer, free ebook (epub or pdf) if you buy the hardcover and send them the details on where you bought it. I’d love other publishers to do that.

  34. Actually, to whoever said it sounded like a Doctor Who story, it WAS. Two or three years ago, in the comic book version, The Doctor ends up fighting clockwork angels in New York, with Martha Jones and UNIT, set in his time after leaving a brainwiped Donna back with her family.

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