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How Did Kevin J. Anderson Build Your World?

The prolific sci-fi and fantasy writer has given more to the craft helping other aspirants find their way than anyone in the business.
anderson dune

Have you ever wanted to live in a Rush lyric? Explode a sun? Attack nothingness itself? Download your consciousness into another body? Creep into the mind of Fox Mulder? Solve a mystery with a slowly decaying zombie? Meet Benjamin Franklin? Study the alchemical properties of a steampunk fortune teller? Save Superman from greedy commie thugs? Build a light sabre? Or, ride a sandworm across the desert?

If you possessed the mind and soul of Kevin J. Anderson, you could experience all of these. Thankfully, we do not have to invade Anderson’s mind or soul or any of his personal property to enjoy his outrageous and seemingly unstoppable imagination. After all, he has made a decent career out of sharing his joys and his wonderings. As the author of 140 novels, Anderson has reached the best-selling lists (often at the top) 56 times, and the Congress of the United Mexican States (Mexico) recently honored him with its highest award for creative genius. Other countries and peoples—the Czech Republic, even more recently than Mexico—have also celebrated the author. Like the traditional prophet, only his home country has failed to award him as openly, at least outside of science-fiction circles. Well, except in sales.

I must admit my personal connection to Anderson. I’ve never been shy about my loves. And, among favorite authors, I have long crushed on J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Tom Clancy, and Stephen King. Yes, I very much realize I’m not alone in my admiration of these authors. They did not become massive sellers by hating on the public.

More personally, tried my hand at fiction as a high school student and, later, as a graduate student. Writing fiction did not come naturally to me, but through the exercise of creative writing, I came to admire my heroes all the more for their achievements and their perseverance. Coming into adulthood in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was also quite curious about the current crop of writers. I started following closely the careers of Dan Simmons, Vernor Vinge, J. Michael Straczynski, and Kevin J. Anderson. Especially the latter two. I was not just interested in what they were writing, but how they were approaching the publishing industry itself, especially when they branched into innovative formats such as script writing and comics.

Much, much later in my life, when I arrived in Colorado in the summer of 2014, taking over the Visiting Conservative Scholar position at CU-Boulder from the mighty (and unreproducible) Steve Hayward, I immediately reached out to the state’s two residents I most admired, Simmons and Anderson. Certainly, I wanted to meet my heroes, but I also wanted them to speak for the CU Conservative Thought and Policy program. I had absolutely no idea what the politics of either author was, and, frankly, I didn’t care. I wasn’t inviting either for their political savvy. My later guest, Stephen Moore, could provide that, and wonderfully so. I was asking Simmons and Anderson for their imaginative power. Simmons never responded to me, sadly, but Anderson answered my request within minutes of my invitation.

I quickly found out that he and his wife, the well-known author Rebecca Moesta, were and are as gracious, generous, and charitable with their time and ideas as they are creative. Anderson delivered a brilliant and heartfelt speech on the meaning of perseverance and success. Not surprisingly, the CU audience and donors responded with proper and immense appreciation.

Whether Anderson would put it quite this way or not, I’m not sure, but I can state that his rather inspiring speech that night possessed equal parts ancient Stoicism and Epicureanism, a demand for excellence as a good and true thing in and of itself. Why would anyone, Anderson asked, do anything without doing it fully, completely, and to the absolute best of one’s ability? To do otherwise, would in so many ways, be akin to offering the world a lie or, at the very best, a half truth.

In this as in many other things, Anderson demonstrated how real creativity is something ante, anti, and apolitical, thus demonstrating Russell Kirk’s belief in the 1950s that real conservatism is the negation of ideology, the essence of activism, and the negation of ego. Whatever Anderson’s politics, he knows what must be conserved from our past and what must be reformed, sometimes radically so, for our future. In all things, whether speaking or writing, Anderson is nothing if not deeply humane.

Since speaking at CU, Anderson has earned his MFA in creative writing, despite having already outsold every creative professor in the United States combined. I like to think that his visit to CU inspired him to earn this degree, but I’m not going to ask. As with his politics, I like some things about my heroes to remain a mystery!

Anderson’s (b. 1962) route to publishing success proved rather direct, though not without innumerable rejections and struggles. Beginning at age eight in small-town Wisconsin, he knew he wanted to tell stories, and he never stopped. He purchased a typewriter at age ten and taught himself to type. After college and a job in the PR-department of a vast government agency, he published his first novel, Resurrection, Inc., a novel inspired by his love of Rush’s 1984 album, Grace Under Pressure. The novel not only garnered nominations for awards, but it also, much more importantly, earned the respect of the notorious perfectionist, lyricist, and drummer of Rush, Neil Peart. The two became close friends as well as co-authors and world builders.

Since writing Resurrection, Inc., Anderson has written novels, short stories, graphic novels, comic books, screenplays, encyclopedias, and almost everything else in the publishing industry. In asking about his success, he’s quite frank. First, he argues, never, under any circumstances, turn down an opportunity to publish a book, article, or any contribution. Second, always meet your deadline. Anderson credits these two rules with much of what he’s so brilliantly accomplished.

As though endowed with supernatural energy, Anderson’s success does not end here, however. Aware of changes in the publishing and print industry due to the Internet, Anderson and Moesta founded WordFire Press long before mainstream publishers understood the massive changes in the industry. Smartly, they have cultivated a number of budding as well as established authors, purchased the exclusive rights to the literary estate of notables such as Allen Drury, and allied with much more established presses which have benefited greatly from Anderson and Moesta’s entrepreneurial tenacity.

Following their success as publishers, Anderson and Moesta have also taught an entirely new generation of writers and publishers through a series of seminars founded in 2010—Superstars Writing Seminars—featuring best-selling authors, agents, graphic and web designers, and established publishers. Never ones to seek conformity, the pair use these seminars to teach budding writers the basics of the industry and the profession, but they do so by leavening the talent within those attending, not stamping their own personalities upon them. The power couple even raise scholarship money for those unable to pay their way.

It would be hard to describe Kevin J. Anderson as anything other than a nexus. Everyone who knows him thinks he is as brilliant and kind. When asked about his role in the publishing industry, science-fiction author, Nathan Dodge, responds with what most who know Anderson would say about him:

“I consider Kevin a genuine friend, as, I’m sure, do hundreds of other authors whom he has started on their way. The amazing thing about Kevin is that as great a writer and motivator as he is, he’s also a really nice guy. I try to get together with him for lunch (or dinner) each summer . . . I always look forward to that get-together with great anticipation.”

For those who have yet to experience the pleasure of Anderson’s fiction, it might seem a bit daunting and overwhelming to begin. Over the last several months, Anderson has just published three volumes of his short stories, simply called Selected Stories (science fiction; fantasy; and horror and dark fantasy; with a fourth volume soon to be released). These are each delights. Anderson has not only curated his own stories, but he also annotated each one with autobiographical details as well as the story’s connection to larger universes he’s created. There’s not a dud among them and they offer a great jumping-off point for anyone who wants to know Anderson’s fiction.

For those willing to take the plunge, there’s Andersons’s vast and bountiful Saga of the Seven Suns and the even more intriguing and immersive follow-up, Saga of the Shadows. Taking place over ten novels, several short stories and novellas, and even a graphic novel, nothing in current science fiction even compares except for the fantasy worlds of Brandon Sanderson. In terms of world building, however, no one has rivaled Anderson since Tolkien began his mythology in the 1910s. High praise, to be sure, but high praise well earned and well deserved.

I have no hesitation in suggesting you pick up one of Anderson’s stories in 2019. You might just find 2020 arriving faster than you’d thought possible.

A huge thanks to Nathan Dodge and Raymond Bolton for their kind responses and help with this piece.

Bradley J. Birzer is The American Conservative’s scholar-at-large. He also holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College and is the author, most recently, of Russell Kirk: American Conservative.