Today my author guest is a multi-genre author who dips into the western and weird western genres on occasion. He’s published over 100 books, including novelizations of several well-known science fiction films, such as Star Wars, Alien, and The Chronicles of Riddick. He’s also credited with the first ever book adaption of an original video game in his novel, Shadowkeep. He’s a New York Times bestselling author and he’s joining me here to share a few tidbits about the weird western genre, writing a novelization of a movie, and his latest book, Mad Amos Malone and other weird western works. Please welcome author Alan Dean Foster to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: The majority of what you write is science fiction or fantasy, so obviously these are your preferred genres, but you have western tales thrown into the mix here and there. What is it that draws you to the western genre?
Alan: For one thing, I have lived the past 40 years in a famous western town: Prescott, Arizona. Virgil Earp was the marshal here. Doc Holiday’s mistress, Big Nose Kate, is buried in one of the local cemeteries. The Palace Saloon, the oldest operating saloon in Arizona (since 1877) is here. And much more. You cannot live in such a place without soaking up some of the historic atmosphere. Also, like most kids of my generation, I grew up watching TV westerns in the ‘50’s. Hop-along Cassiday, The Lone Ranger, and more. My favorites were the Cisco Kid (“Hey Pancho!…Hey Ceesco!) and Disney’s Zorro.
Kaye: You have a collection of short western stories out that have a strange twist. What is so different about Mad Amos Malone?
Alan: Folks are fascinated by the mountain men who explored the American west. I thought it would be interesting to develop one who acts and lives like your typical mountain man, but who is considerably More Than He Seems. When you like a character but are never sure how he will react in a given situation it adds tension to a story. Think the character of Mike in “Breaking Bad”. Not quite what he seems. Also, in the end, thoroughly bad ass.
Kaye: In 1985 you wrote a novelization of the movie Pale Rider, with Clint Eastwood. How did that come about? Did you get to meet any actors from the movie? Did you consult with the screenwriters during the writing? What was the most difficult thing about doing a novelization?
Alan: Authors of film adaptations rarely get anywhere near a movie set (though I have, on occasion). Certainly I never met or consulted with anyone attached to the movie.
For me, the most difficult thing in doing a novelization is to expand on the characters without contradicting the characterizations in the film itself. That, and remaining true to the spirit and style of the filmmakers while simultaneously injecting a little bit of myself here and there. You always have to be aware.
Kaye: You have a story in Straight Outta Tombstone. The anthology is listed as fantasy, but its stories have kind of a western twist. Would you talk a little about that book?
Alan: The stories are fantasy with, generally, settings in what is called the American West. I think it would be more accurate to called them westerns with a fantasy twist. Fantasy or science-fictional takes on actual history are a lot of fun to do, and can often be thought-provoking. Call it the “What if the South had won the Civil War”? trope, only often with more recognizable fantasy elements.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a western novel or short story? What’s the least fun part?
Alan: Working with actual western history. Many of the Mad Amos stories take place in actual western settings and involve real folks from history. Just with the occasional witch, dragon, Chinese demon, visiting gnomes, etc.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Alan: Mornings, because I’m fresh, and also because I prefer to go to gym in the afternoon. But I will work late if and when necessary. And if an idea hits me, I’ll head for the study no matter what time it is.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?
Alan: Not getting bored with your own work. And persisting even when you are.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Alan: I think my historical novel MAORI, which takes place in 19th-century New Zealand. That’s a long way from writing science-fiction or fantasy. Very hard to research such a subject from Prescott in pre-internet days. Might also consider SHADOWKEEP, which was the very first novelization of an original computer game.
Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?
Alan: Character. If your characters aren’t interesting, then you’ve lost the reader no matter what kind of language, special effects, settings, or action you employ. True of any kind of writing, be it theater, film, prose, even commercials.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Alan: When I made my first two short story sales, to August Derleth and John W. Campbell. I figured if two giants in the field thought my words worth buying, I might have a shot at doing it full-time.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Alan: Don’t make your heroes too powerful (Campbell). You can be interested in Superman, but it’s hard to empathize with him. Hence the need to invent kryptonite.
Kaye: Which is your favorite type of writing? Short fiction or novels?
Alan: I enjoy them both, but if pressed I’d have to say short stories. Get the idea down and out fast and dirty. I also very much enjoy writing non-fiction. Essays, movie reviews, history, etc.
Kaye: What is next for Alan Dean Foster? What are you working on now? Any more weird westerns in the future?
Alan: No weird westerns at the moment. Putting together The Complete Mad Amos Malone was a bit of a project in itself.
Forthcoming: April – The Unsettling Stars – original Star Trek novel set in the Kelvin universe. Later this year: Madrenga – original fantasy novel from Wordfire Press. The Director Should’ve Shot You – non-fiction; a history of my involvement with film novelizations from Centipede Press.
Hopefully next year: Mid-Death and other tales of the Commonwealth – a collection of all the short stories set in the Commonwealth, featuring the never before reprinted Midworld novella “Mid-Death”, from Haffner Press. Short story “The Treasure of the Lugar Morto” – Analog; no date yet.
Forthcoming at a future date: the completed Commonwealth novel Secretions and the stand-alone SF novel Prodigals.
I want to thank Alan Dean Foster for sharing with us here as we delve into the weird western. It looks like his work is cut out for him for the next couple of years. Obviously, many writing tips and tricks are not restricted to a single genre, but can be applied across them all. You can learn more about Alan and his books on his website or his Amazon Author page.
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