Lunch With Alan Dean Foster, Part I: Turning Movies Into Books

Reading Time: 6 minutes

alan-dean-foster-autographalan-dean-foster-autograph

Hopefully my first of many autographs from interesting people

Alan Dean Foster, who, unbeknownst to me, has lived in my small town for thirty years, kindly met me for lunch recently to discuss his new Star Trek book, writing, travel and various other topics. He is a very nice man, and was quite generous with his time and experiences. He was even happy to give me his autograph, which was the first one in my recently acquired blank autograph book.

For the few of you out there who aren’t familiar with Alan Dean Foster and his work, he is a very prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy, having written dozens of original novels and short stories including the popular Pip and Flinx novels, Quofum, Glory Lane, Quozl and many others. He is also well known for doing novelizations of films such as Star Wars: A New Hope, all three Alien movies, Dinotopia, Clash of the Titans, Outland, The Last Starfighter, Starman and Alien Nation. He has worked with George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and countless film studios. His books have won several awards.

Below is Part I of my interview, on the subject of writing. Part II, to come later, will encompass Star Trek and what Foster is working on for the future. Part III will conclude with our discussion on travel.

Me: Do you have a writing schedule that you stick to since you’re so prolific?

ADF: More or less. It’s the only way you get anything done in life is to have a schedule. I get up in the morning, usually around 6, 6:30, take care of the animals. We have 7 cats, 3 dogs currently. And then I go out to the study and I get online and I generally read newspapers from all over the place for about two hours and while I’m doing that I sort of gestating in my mind what I’m going to do. I kind of write by sections when I’m writing a book. It might be a long section, it might be a short section. It might be a page and a half, it might be 4 or 5 pages. It’s actually more like scenes in a theater. One character enters, another character leaves, you’ve got a different scene, a different sequence. And that’s the way I try to work. And I can never seem to do two scenes in a row, unless I’m really into it. If it’s a short one I quit, if it’s a long one I keep going.

Me: Do you have a different method for when you’re writing your own original book or when you’re doing a novelization of a movie?

ADF: Actually yeah. The scenario I just described to you is for original material… for the rough draft of original material. But when I’m working on a novelization or a final draft, it’s not a scene problem because the material is already there. So I’ll just keep going until I get tired or I run out of creative steam or whatever. It’s the same thing with a novelization. The screenplay essentially is the rough draft. So I don’t have to stop at one scene or another because it’s all written out for me. So I just keep going generally. The only time that that changes is when I’m on a really tight deadline, which happens frequently. More often than not with the novelizations. And then I just have to go and go and go and go until I just can’t go anymore.

Me: Do you always have one or two or three projects going at a time?

ADF: No. I can never do two original novels at the same time because most of it stays in my head. I don’t have an extensive outline, I have a short outline which I modify as I go along. And again with a novelization that’s not a problem. But to do two original novels simultaneously, I can’t do it. It’s just too much to retain on the same hard drive. What I can do, although I prefer not to, is work on an original novel and a novelization at the same time. Even that’s very difficult. It’s generally better to keep them separate, because in my mind, everything is going simultaneously. What I can do is stop and do an article, a non-fiction piece, or a short story because that doesn’t take me very long, and I don’t lose the flow for the whole book.

Me: Do you enjoy writing the novelizations? You’re sort of constrained by their storyline but you’re free to add your own. Is that enjoyable?

ADF: It’s always enjoyable. It’s more enjoyable if it’s a good screenplay and a good movie. But even the bad stuff I take enjoyment from fixing as much as the studio will let me get away with.

Me: I read some interviews about Alien 3, how you fixed a few things in that one in your novelization.

ADF: And then they made me take it all out. Yeah. But sometimes they don’t, like with The Black Hole which had a lot of problems. I changed some stuff and they didn’t object to it. The only thing they generally fight about consistently is the ending, particularly these days. A) Because half the time they don’t know how they’re going to end it, because they’re always fighting over it, and B) these days you might have a film come out with one ending and they’ll have another ending online, and the Director’s Cut will have another ending. So the ending is always problematical. And what I’ll do in that case is try to come up with something that doesn’t contradict the ending which appears actually in the film. That’s what I did with Terminator Salvation. They wouldn’t let me see the actual ending they were going to use. It was a big secret. So I thought I came up with a fairly clever ending, that serves as an ending to the book and to the story, but at the same time, doesn’t contradict the actual ending that follows in the film.

Me: Do you find that people will see the movie and then read your books to get a different feel for it, more background, more details…

ADF: Depends on when the book comes out. Sometimes the book comes out before the movie. In fact that’s more common. And a lot of people will read the book, and you can read fan comments and reader comments online. A lot of people will read the book first because they can’t stand it and they want to know what’s going to happen, and then see the movie. And then will re-read the book afterwards to catch up on the stuff that wasn’t in the movie that they missed. Or they will deliberately hold off and go see the movies so that it’s all a surprise, and then they’ll buy the book to read afterwards, too, to fill in and to have more of the same. I think that’s the main reason for novelizations, the main justification, is just to have more of the same. If you like the film, that is. That’s why they do these Director’s Cuts on DVDs.

Me: Everybody wants more.

ADF: Everybody wants more of the same. So in a sense the novelization is another version of it, a different Director’s Cut.

Me: Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written?

ADF: People ask that all the time. I like different books for different reasons. I’m very proud of Primal Shadows, which is not science fiction, a contemporary novel set in contemporary New Guinea. Sagramanda, which is science fiction which is set in near future India based on a trip I took there. Maori, which is my one historical novel, which is about three generations of a family in 19th Century New Zealand. And my short stories, a fair number of which have been collected in different anthologies, and can be hard to find. The thing about a short story is, because I do write fast, is it generally takes me a day or two to do a short story.

Me: That’s pretty quick!

ADF: So it’s like over and done with, and it’s this little pure thought that’s just out there. It doesn’t take a whole lot of revising, and it’s just over, and it doesn’t require a lot of agonizing, it’s just over and done with.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II of my interview with Alan Dean Foster.

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