Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
conducted at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Aug 11, 2009
by Darrell Schweitzer
SCHWEITZER: Hello. I am Darrell Schweitzer and I will be the interviewer
tonight. Tonight we are here to talk about The Winds of Dune and our guests are
Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson. Brian Herbert is the son of Frank Herbert, the
creator of Dune. Brian is the author of numerous books that have nothing to do
with Dune. He had quite a career on his own before became involved in continuing
the Dune series. His credits include Sidney's Comet (1983), The Garbage
Chronicles (1985), Sudanna, Sudanna (1985), Man of Two Worlds (a
collaboration with his father, 1986), Prisoners of Arion (1987), Race for God
(1990), and then numerous Dune books which we will be discussing. He also
edited The Notebooks of Frank Herbert's Dune in 1988.
Kevin Anderson published his first story in 1982 in Space and Time magazine. He
is the author of Resurrection Incorporated, the Game Earth trilogy, Lifeline, The
Trinity Paradox, the Saga of the Seven Suns series, and many more, so he is indeed
eminently qualified to collaborate with Brian Herbert on further extensions of the
Dune series, of which The Winds of Dune is the latest volume.
SCHWEITZER: We are here to talk about the latest book. How many have there
been in the series now?
HERBERT: It's the 11th, and also our second sequel to Frank Herbert's Dune
SCHWEITZER: Brian, I checked the chronology, and as you were born in 1947,
that means you would have been about sixteen when Dune started to appear
serially in Analog. You were presumably about fourteen or fifteen when your
father was writing it. So, did you grow up with Dune? Did your father take you
aside and say, "Hey, look at this," and show you new chapters?
HERBERT: Paul Atreides was fifteen at the beginning of Dune, but that's about
the only comparison with me. I did grow up with it. My dad would read chapters of
it to my mother. My mother had been a creative writer and she had given up her
writing career to support our family. So she gave him professional advice. She was
his intellectual equal.
That's the short version of that answer, but I can go a lot longer.
SCHWEITZER: Go ahead.
HERBERT: Actually, my mom got terminal lung cancer when I was in my early
twenties. Prior to that I didn't think I liked my father at all, but Dad went into
another gear. He became her maid, her cook, her nurse. He built an incredible
house for her at Hana on the Island of Maui, where she could breathe easier with
lung cancer. She was a miracle survivor. Instead of six months, she lived for ten
more years. Dad and I became absolute best friends on the planet. So, from a really
rocky beginning with my father, I am really pleased that we had the time to get
ANDERSON: Let me add something, because he's not going to gush over his own
stuff much, but Brian spent years writing this wonderful biography called Dreamer
of Dune, and he went through this whole span of Frank Herbert's life, and it's
really the story of Brian growing up in the household with this incredible dynamo
of a guy. He sent me a copy of the manuscript when he had finished writing it, and
because he is my friend I've got to read it and tell him it's a great book, but I'm not
really a big biography guy. I like things with a plot, and people's lives do not
usually follow the standard story structure.
But I read this biography that he wrote, and it's incredibly captivating, the best
biography that I have ever read. It was nominated for the Hugo the year it came
out. For any of you who are Dune fans, and I am assuming there are a couple of
you in the audience, you really will understand a lot more, not just about Frank
Herbert, but also about Brian, too. It's a really excellent book.
HERBERT: Thank you. It's a love story between my parents too, and about what
they sacrificed for each other.
SCHWEITZER: Brian, were you led to being a science fiction writer by having it
in your genes, or having it in the air?
HERBERT: My wife noticed that I was writing really good letters. I would write
complaint letters and I would defeat attorneys for big corporations, and I would get
rebates on products and small-sized settlements. So she said, "Why don't you go to
your father and he'll help you with your writing. You are basically a good writer,"
she said, "but he can help you put stories together." Just about that time he and I
were getting close. So I am only writing because my wife encouraged me to do it.
SCHWEITZER: At what point did you decide to extend the Dune series?
HERBERT: When Dad died in 1986, he had just been beginning Dune 7. I saw
him use a yellow highlighter on Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune, but I
didn't know there were any notes. My mom died while that book was being
written, and she titled the book. That is her title, Chapterhouse Dune. There is a
three-page tribute to her at the end of the book. I felt emotionally that that was
where the series should end, but I knew on the logical side of my brain that there
were more stories to be told. Dad had tried to publish mystery stories in the 1950's,
and they were all rejected, but he left his series on the edge of this cliffhanger, this
huge mystery. It was up to Kevin to convince me. Other writers had approached
me, well-known writers. I had turned them down. I do manage my father's
business, the estate and I felt it should end. But Kevin convinced me otherwise. He
and I have had like a ten-minute argument in eleven years and one of us
apologized, and we went on from there.
ANDERSON: I can be persistent sometimes.
SCHWEITZER: Kevin, where did you enter into all this? How did you become
the Collaborator of Dune?
ANDERSON: Let me back up a little bit. I was a Dune fan since I was about
eleven years old. That was where I first read the original Dune. I loved it. It was
this big adventure story on a science-fiction planet with this young hero banding
with desert rebels against the big empire and riding giant sandworms. It was this
great story. Then I read it again when I was in college and got all these other
layers. I didn't notice them at all the first time I read it, the politics, the economics,
the religion, and all kinds of interest, deep layers that are in Dune. I just fell in love
with it and I started reading all of Frank Herbert's other books. Not just his Dune
books, but Hellstrom's Hive and The Dosadi Experiment and The White Plague
and The Eyes of Heisenberg and everything. I really studied how Frank Herbert
wrote, because I admired what he did so much, and I learned vicariously how to be
a writer from how Frank Herbert did it, because I didn't think anybody could do
better than Dune. I wrote stories and published them in small presses. I sent them
to various places. Darrell Schweitzer rejected a bunch of them.
[Looks to audience.] Yes, he really did.
Then when I sold my very first novel I decided that I wanted to send the very first
copy of my very first published novel to Frank Herbert. By selling the book to
Signet Books, I was able to get the Science Fiction Writers of America
membership directory, so I had Frank's home address. I had planned on doing this
to thank him for everything that he did, but between the time the book was
accepted and it was published, Frank Herbert passed away. So I never managed to
get in touch with him and I never managed to meet him. But I managed to have a
relatively successful career of writing my own fiction. I was nominated for a bunch
of awards, and then I started working for Lucasfilm and The X-Files. Finally I got
to the point where Brian was going to edit -- with Ed Kramer, the man who runs
DragonCon -- an anthology of Dune short stories. I was one of the people invited
to do it. But as a Dune fan, I wanted to know how the Dune saga ended. After
Chapterhouse Dune, Frank Herbert just left this cliffhanger. When this idea came
up, I just thought, All he can do is say no. It was pretty much a shot in the dark. I
wrote a letter describing how much my interest was in Frank Herbert, my passion
for the Dune universe, and I asked if Brian was ever going to finish the series
himself, or if he had plans to work with somebody else, or if he would be willing to
work with me. He kind of sat on my letter for a month or so, and then he called me
out of the blue.
As Darrell can tell you, most science fiction people know each other. I already
know most of the writers. We know most of the big fans, but I had never met
Brian. He was an enigma to me. He was the son of my literary hero. And he called
me up out of the blue and we started talking. Like I said, I've read everything
Frank Herbert wrote. Brian's read everything Frank Herbert wrote, and within like
three minutes - my wife was in the room and she said, "You guys just started
speaking a different language." We were riffing off of each other and talking about
nuances in Whipping Star or The Heaven Makers, or obscure Frank Herbert books,
and finishing each other's sentences. We just clicked right away.
HERBERT: Sort of like a jazz performance.
ANDERSON: Yeah. Like a jazz performance. We were just going from there. I
flew up to Seattle to spend some time with him. My wife and I went up, and we
were brainstorming, and we off and running. We had climbed up on the wild Shai-Halud and we were running off.
HERBERT: I tried to dig up some dirt on Kevin before I called him, and I
couldn't find any. Just the other day I met Bob Salvatore for the first time, and Bob
said I should have called him. [Laughs.]
ANDERSON: I spread around bigger bribes.
SCHWEITZER: Brian, I notice that the first five or six books you published had
nothing whatever to do with Dune.
HERBERT: Well, actually they do.
SCHWEITZER: All of them?
HERBERT: Sidney's Comet, my first novel, was my third book. The first two
were humor books. But that is about a world that is too much consumerism and
there is no room for garbage, there's no room for bodies and burials, so everything
is catapulted into deep space. Garbage is littering the cosmos, but it is all coming
back as a garbage comet, to wipe out the planet. So that's kind of an environmental
theme, albeit funny. Futurama did something on that. I didn't know anything about
it in time to take any legal action. But I think it was a satire. I think they did a half-hour cartoon show on Saturday morning on it.
SCHWEITZER: I can also remember a TV show called Quark, which was about
galactic garbage collectors. So there is a garbage mythos in science fiction, if we
think all the way back to Garbage World by Charles Platt - but maybe we don't
HERBERT: My Time Web series is also on an environmental theme. I made it
bigger than a planet. It's an entire galaxy that's an ecosystem, and there needs to be
a galactic expert that can take care of all that. The galaxy is disintegrating and we
can't just let it go.
SCHWEITZER: You must be in a position like Alexandre Dumas the Younger, in
that in a hundred years people will be confusing your work and your father's.
HERBERT: I doubt that.
SCHWEITZER: Did you feel any need to distance yourself?
HERBERT: That's why I wrote two humor books and lots of satires. But then, in
the 1990s I spent five years writing that biography of Dad, while I was doing other
publishing projects. So I was on a path to write a Dune book. I knew too much
about it not to.
SCHWEITZER: When you take up a series like that, how do you sense where
you need to expand as opposed to where it is too much? I might be controversial
and suggest that George Lucas was profoundly mistaken to make the second set of
three Star Wars movies - the prequels - and should have that part to the
imagination, because all we had was a trilogy in which we already knew how
things were going to turn out, and a story-arc that involves a cute kid who grows
up to be Hitler. It just did not work. So, how do you avoid this problem?
ANDERSON: Did it not work because that was the story, and you had this little
kid who was going to grow up to be Hitler, or did it not work because Lucas didn't
do it as well as he should have? I would argue that, although it's going to be dark,
the concept of this cute little kid, who had everything going for him, whose life
goes so tragically wrong that he ends up being the most hated man in the universe,
Dark Vader - or Paul Atreides, depending on which one you're talking about - I
would say that can be an incredibly compelling story.
One of the books I published a year ago was called The Last Days of Krypton. It's
the story of Superman's planet and how it comes to its end. Yes, you know the
planet blows up at the end and one little baby gets out, but that doesn't mean that
there's no story that you can tell that's interesting. And what we did with the
House books was tell the immediate prequels, the love story of Duke Leto and
Jessica, the first battles with the Baron, the planetologist being sent to Dune. I
think that when you have an immense universe that people care about, and they
have characters that they love and want to revisit, we didn't need to have a
Romulan ship and Spock coming back to reset the timeline to make it interesting. I
loved that movie, but I wanted to go back and just see young Kirk and Spock. I
didn't need to have any reason to go back.
HERBERT: We actually can see an end of the series as far as the major novels go.
But with the House series, we are staying right on the Frank Herbert timeline. We
found a chapter that Dad had written that he didn't include in Dune. It would be
back-story of when Duke Leto and Lady Jessica met. Well, Kevin and I found that
deleted chapter and we put it into House Harkonnen. So we have really stayed on
course on Dad's story. We have two more under contract and then we have three
more after that. All of them either go back to the history of the founding of the
great schools, or other stories that Frank Herbert laid out, either in his notes or in
his appendices, or just comments that he made. For example, in one of his sequels,
he said that Tio Holtzman, a man, was not the one who invented the foldspace
engine. Instead, it was a woman, Norma Cenva. So, since we knew that there
strong women in the series, in the Butlerian Jihad series we developed Norma
Cenva as the founder of the spacing guild, and all that.
Lady Jessica, by the way, is modeled after my mother, Beverly Herbert. So the
strong female characters that you see in the series - there's a lot of expansion you
can do there, and it is exactly what Frank Herbert wanted.
SCHWEITZER: At what point do you feel free to invent rather than follow his
HERBERT: He had an appendix describing in outline form the Butlerian Jihad
and he said that Abulurd Harkonnen had been a coward 10,000 years before. I
thought that was interesting, but what we did was go back to that period, and all we
had was a name like that and a couple of other names, and then we added all the
other framework. But that was the time about which Frank Herbert had said that
thinking machines had ruled mankind and we rose up in this great jihad. Well,
Frank Herbert had been a reporter, and he was flipping over the myth that smiling
robots are going to make our lives easier and save time. So I don't think we are
inventing things. We are really explaining them. Dad had spent twenty years trying
to explain why Paul Atreides went dark in Dune Messiah. We did it in a novel,
Paul of Dune.
ANDERSON: So Frank Herbert gave us the road map, but we're doing the cross-country road trip. We can stop and see things along the way and explore little side-roads, but we know the main structure of the road system.
SCHWEITZER: But he's always there as the third collaborator.
HERBERT: Absolutely. I hear his voice when I'm writing.
SCHWEITZER: You said you see an end. Are you going to stop, or just go in
another direction after that? You've got a whole galaxy full of people and all these
minor characters. It could go on indefinitely.
HERBERT: But it won't, at least not in the big door-stopper novels like Kevin
and I write. Our next book after this one will be in two years. We are alternating
years now. It will be The Throne of Dune, where Shaddam Corrino comes back and
tries to retake the throne. Then there will be Leto of Dune or maybe The Golden
Path of Dune. It will be the first years of the God Emperor. After that, maybe three
novels about the founding of the great schools, thousands of years before Dune.
That would be The Sisterhood of Dune, The Mentats, and The Swordmasters.
Beyond that, there are other stories, but we don't see them as major novels. Maybe
some graphic novels that aren't dumbed down. You know, you have to keep up the
intellectual level of the series.
ANDERSON: That's the real answer. On every one of these books that we do,
while are names are on the cover, the biggest word on the cover is 'Dune.' There's
a certain brand identity, that people expect something when it says Dune on the
cover. You don't want to do, like, The Paperclips of Dune. It shouldn't be a little
off-the-cuff adventure or small book. It needs to have the gravitas that a Dune
book has. If we can't come up with stories that have that much to them, then it
doesn't belong in the series.
SCHWEITZER: You don't want to turn out the soap opera version, which would
be called As the Worm Turns.
ANDERSON: Or the musical comedy with dancing sandworms.
SCHWEITZER: Or the horror version, Charnel House Dune.
HERBERT: Well how about Gunga Dune?
[Rising laughter from the audience.]
HERBERT: Are we Dune yet?
ANDERSON: We just want to make sure that we don't water down Dune.
HERBERT: That would destroy the ecosystem.
SCHWEITZER: At this point I think we've gotten silly enough that we should
turn for sensible guidance to the audience.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I remember reading that Frank was a lay psychoanalyst.
Toward the end of the sixth book - you said he was writing the seventh?
HERBERT: He had started to make notes on it that I didn't know existed. I saw
him using yellow highlighter, and it turned out eleven years later that there were
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Towards the end of the series, when Duncan Idaho - not
the real one, but the ghola - has a quasi-fight with a reverend mother, and then I'll
skip ahead to where they are taking off, and there are all these pictures, American
Gothic and other masterpieces, and then there's this pregnant woman - did your
father explain any of that in the notes, where he was going with that? Was he going
to go in to the reverend mothers more?
HERBERT: The estate of Frank Herbert was still open in 1997, even though he
had died in 1986. My mother had died in 1984 and her estate was still open. It was
very complicated, and an estate attorney named Walt Tabler called me and said
there were two safe-deposit boxes, so what did I want to do of them? I had been an
insurance agent for years and I always told my dad to keep copies of important
manuscripts and documents off-premises in case there is a fire. Well, I didn't know
he did it. So we went down there, and an estate attorney named Jan Cunningham
had a yellow legal pad and started writing everything down. We had to break into
the boxes legally. We had no keys. We found country and western lyrics. Dad had
written some songs. That would be good, huh? We found some recipes, some
letters, and a Tandy Radio Shack floppy disk that said "Dune 7 Notes." For the
nay-sayers, I actually put that up on our website. We actually had an NSA security
guy check to make sure there was nothing else on there except what we found with
it, which was a thirty-page printout. It was the arc of the story, of the plot. It was
various character analyses, and various focal points of what he thought were
important. So that's what we wrote.
But Kevin and I had written the Butlerian Jihad series and the House series, so
what Frank Herbert had envisioned in one novel, Kevin and I couldn't do in one
novel. So we did it in two novels, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune.
ANDERSON: So that's what answers all those Chapterhouse questions. It picks
up right after that. If you will notice in the later books that Frank Herbert wrote,
when you read Dune it's this big adventure story and it's got all kinds of great
things in it, but it has all these other layers; but as he got to other books, he got
more interested in other things. The later books are a little more didactic. They're a
little more dense and political. Frank wanted to talk about these issues that were
interesting to him. So he would just fast-forward past things. In fact in The
Heretics of Dune, when the Honored Matres wipe out the planet Dune; they turn it
into a charred ball; he does that between chapters. He doesn't even show it. The
ships are closing in and they are powering up their weapons, and then in the next
chapter there are a couple people sitting around in a garden talking about what a
shame it is that Dune was destroyed. So when Brian and I started writing his
outline of Dune 7, well, we like to blow up planets and destroy things, so we
wanted to flesh out and show all the action that Frank Herbert just alluded to,
because he wanted to speed ahead and get to the next concept he wanted to talk
HERBERT: It was sort of jumping from Dune to Dune Messiah. In the meantime
hundreds of billions of people are killed, but he starts Dune Messiah off by saying
that it happened.
ANDERSON: But we like the gaps, because they give us novels to write.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: Can you speak a little bit about your
collaboration and how you write?
HERBERT: To sell the first three books, the House series, Kevin and I talked for
four months, and then he flew to Seattle, and we brainstormed in May of 1997. We
produced a 140-page book proposal. Normally when you well a proposal you're
going to have, like eight pages, and maybe a chapter or two that you send in to the
publisher. We sent in this huge thing, because we had so much energy surrounding
the project. So we come up with very big proposals for each of the trilogies that we
put together, or other sets of books, and then, once we have sold the project to a
publisher, Kevin and I will brainstorm again, and we will divide it up into, say, 100
chapters. Kevin will take fifty based on his strengths, and I will take fifty based on
mine. He has a physics degree. He worked at Los Alamos and Lawrence
Livermore. I am a sociology guy with a degree from Cal. Berkeley, so I'll do the
philosophy, the sociology, the Bene Gesserit type things.
Then we start rewriting each other's chapters, so Kevin, for example, would send
me all his fifty, and I will go through all hundred chapters and start adding
philosophy to his action, that kind of thing. Then he'll do the reverse when he gets
it, in the next draft. It goes through about ten drafts.
ANDERSON: But we do it all on the computer, so I never see what he's marked
and changed in my chapters, and he never sees what I've marked. That's what a
collaboration's all about. You check the ego at the door. I trust whatever he's
going to do to my prose and he trusts whatever I'm going to do. We go back and
forth and back and forth so that what emerges in book form has been gone over so
it has a unified voice that we think is better than either of us could have done
HERBERT: But Kevin and I have collaborated before, and I have collaborated
with my cousin Marie Landis to write a couple of horror novels. She and I just
wrote odd and even chapters. It probably wasn't the best way to do it, but it turned
out great. We had a lot of fun. But with Dad he was always so busy, that I
collaborated on the last novel that Frank Herbert wrote, called Man of Two Worlds.
I gave him the book proposal as a very serious novel. I had written a lot of satires
before that. Then Dad was so busy that I spent thirteen months writing the entire
first draft. Then Dad took it for six or seven months and added a lot of the humor
to it. So people think that humor is mine, but it actually isn't. It was Dad's. But the
situation was different with Frank Herbert. He was so busy that we had to just
block out some time that he had to work on it. With Kevin and me, I think we have
the ideal way to do it.
ANDERSON: It depends on how your partnership works. This works for Brian
and myself. Especially in science fiction, there's a lot more collaboration than you
would ordinarily see in - I don't know - mystery historical novels. But in science
fiction, a lot of writers like to hang out and brainstorm.
HERBERT: Well, Niven and Pournelle have done very well.
SCHWEITZER: Are you the kind of writers who can talk about a story at great
length before you write it, or, if you talk about it too much is there danger of losing
it? There seem to be two schools of thought on this.
ANDERSON: We are definitely of the same school of thought, especially because
we are collaborating. These are very complex and intricate books, and each one of
them has six or seven main storylines and main characters going back and forth,
that we feel that if we just started off without working it out together, it would be
like trying to build a grand skyscraper without bothering to do a blueprint first. We
really want to map it out in great detail, so I know what he's doing in his chapter
and he knows what I am doing in my chapter. But in no way does that stifle the
creativity, because we've spent days doing the creative stuff, and drawing up the
blueprint. We feel that designing the architecture is the creative part, not putting
the bricks down.
HERBERT: Dad and I would talk about it without taking notes. I know he did that
with Bill Ransom, too, on the collaborations he did with Bill. At some point
somebody said, "We'd better get this written down, before we forget it."
ANDERSON: I find that it really energizes me to do brainstorming with Brian. It
doesn't make me tired of the project at all. It makes me all fired up because I'll
come up with this really good idea, and then he'll give something that makes it
take a left turn and becomes a really great idea. That's how you just add to each
other. It only gets better.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: I wonder if you could tell me something about
the linguistic aspects of your dad's work. I was introduced to it on a rainy weekend
in Cape Cod, never having heard of the Dune series, and I couldn't put it down.
One of the things I remember very sharply is the linguistic originality, or
borrowings as the case may be.
HERBERT: There's a poetic beauty to the words that he chose. Sihiya, a desert
springtime, and some beautiful words. He based a lot of it on Arabic, at least the
Fremen language, but then he would add Navaho and languages from the Gobi
Desert. He was just able to absorb a lot of information. He did speak Latin and
Spanish. He made up a lot of things. He liked to combine words, combine
languages, combine concepts. He said that in the future - I was writing a story
once and he said this - you can have a character named Ichuro Munoz. He's got a
Japanese first name and a Mexican last name. You don't have to explain it. It's just
detritus from the past, the way Dad put it. Look at the religions that he created, Zen
Sufi, a combination there. The Orange Catholics. That's the Protestants and the
Catholics. And others. Buddislamic. So he wasn't sticking to any one language. He
was making things up. But there are actually some real words in there too, as
certain experts have pointed out to me. There are some real Navaho words, for
Dad believed that the Native American view of the universe was the better, as
opposed to the way we live. So, for example, the character he identified with most
was Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen. Dad's very best friend in the world was a
Native American. By the way, that Native American said - I have to go to a little
bit of a different subject - but Howie was his name. A Norwegian family had
adopted him, and he was a full-blooded Native American, and Howie said, "The
Frank Herbert that you know would not have existed had it not been for Beverly
Herbert." He was there, the Native American best friend, when Dad met my
mother at the University of Washington in 1946. That's a little off the question you
asked, but that's how it is with answers about Frank Herbert.
ANDERSON: Let me throw something back at you, when you're talking about the
linguistics of Dune. Didn't you once tell me that Dune itself first started as a
HERBERT: It was a haiku. Seventeen syllables. Most of the haikus that I've seen
are about nature, these Japanese poems. The original haiku has not survived, but it
was taped to his desk for a while. I have the desk, and I've looked all over it, and I
can't find it.
SCHWEITZER: That may be the most expanded haiku in the history of literature.
[Laughter from audience.]
ANDERSON: Especially if you count all the seventeen volumes of the Dune
SCHWEITZER: Compared to that, my rewrite of The Lord of the Rings as a
limerick is nothing.
HERBERT: You can read Dune for the poetry, and then you can go back and read
it for the philosophy, the politics, all these layers. Or you can just read the
FROM AUDIENCE: Do you think we will ever see another release of a theatrical
film in the Dune universe, and, if so, who would you want to helm it?
HERBERT: I usually answer that question, but I think Kevin knows the answer.
ANDERSON: Well, funny you should ask. You are all aware of the David Lynch
movie from 1984, and then the Sci Fi Channel did two six-hour miniseries. They
each had their own advantages and disadvantages. But Paramount has now
acquired the rights to do a big-budget, big-screen version - I hesitate to use the
word "remake" - of the original Dune.
HERBERT: It's a classic interpretation.
HERBERT: This is why I answer the question, not him, because we've been told
what we can say.
ANDERSON: Instead of a remake, we want it to be done correctly in the first
place. Thanks to Peter Jackson, who has proven with The Lord of the Rings that
you really can do a movie of that big of a book and do it successfully, right now
Peter Berg has signed on to be the director. He did Hancock and Friday Night
Lights, The Kingdom. We've got some big name producers on it. We've met with
the team and we're involved in some of the creative stuff. But right now it's still in
the scriptwriting phase, and it's Hollywood, so don't hold your breath, but it's sort
of moving along.
HERBERT: Peter Jackson raised the stakes, so it has to be a good movie. You
can't get everything in Dune into a movie. So that's the challenge. But we do have
Richard Rubenstein as one of the producers, and he did the two television series,
where he followed the plot very faithfully. So we have a good team.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: A little background on the Bene Gesserit.
HERBERT: Dad said they were like female Jesuits.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information on how that concept came to be?
HERBERT: My Dad had, I think it was, eleven Irish Catholic aunts. They tried to
force Catholicism on him, and Dad rebelled. My mom similarly didn't have all
those aunts, but they tried to force Pentecostalism on her. So I had no organized
religion when I was growing up. Ultimately Dad was a non-practicing Buddhist, as
it turns out. But the Bene Gesserit came from his Irish Catholic aunts. He saw them
as a cluster of women who had this power about them and he somehow resisted it.
But also, as was mentioned previously, my dad was a lay psychologist. That was in
the early 1950s, the late '40s, when we lived in Santa Rosa California. At that time,
good friends of our family were the Slatterys. He was a professor at Sonoma State,
and he was a well-known psychologist who had studied with Carl Gustav Jung in
the 1930s. Jung and she had notes that she brought to Dad and talked to him about.
Jung had the concept of the Collective Unconscious, and so the Bene Gesserit with
their genetic memory going back for thousands of years and the voices that are
heard from within to guide that particular living sister is all based upon Jung. Then,
the strong women. My mother was an incredibly strong women, and Dad felt that
we needed more female energy in the universe, because men have pretty well
messed things up for about ten thousand years. But I think that before that, some of
the Goddess beliefs were unbalanced too. So, Dad wanted the pendulum to swing.
In books Five and Six in the series, women are running everything.
As they should.
[Laughter from the audience.]
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: I have a two-part question. You mentioned
how your mother was the inspiration for the strong women in Dune. But has there
been anyone in your life who has been the inspiration for characters in your books,
or for you Kevin?
HERBERT: We dedicated this novel to our wives. We phrased it in such a way
that we appreciate what they've had to put up with when Kevin and I vanished.
Dad was like that, too. He would vanish into his study. She was a very brilliant
person, but she would wait for him to come down out of his science fiction
universe and then they could go do something.
But in one of my early novels, Sudanna, Sudanna, I have this futuristic world that
is all covered with goo, and there are these ships floating across through the goo,
and one of the characters has problems with his wife because she keeps pulling the
covers off, and that's my wife Jan. I had a rebellious daughter at the time, and there
is a rebellious daughter in that story. But Kevin and I both have very supportive
wives and very intelligent wives, who give us a different way of thinking, so when
we write a female character wrong, they'll let us know.
ANDERSON: Very clearly. My wife, Rebecca Moesta, and I have written over
thirty novels together and we're still married, which is kind of an amazing thing.
We do have a guest bedroom that sometimes I've had to go through after
brainstorming. But we've been married eighteen years, and even when she is not
collaborating with me, she brainstorms with me all the time, and reads the whole
manuscript. She gives me the really, really tough copyediting of the manuscript
that copyeditors are scared to do. She'll just take a page and write BORING! on it.
I haven't yet gotten that from a New York copyeditor, which is good, I suppose.
She makes me be a much better writer. I think it's impressive I've been married for
eighteen years, but that's nothing. He's -
HERBERT: Forty-two years. I met her when she was very young and I was very
young. It's not so much whispering, "You are mortal," because we are not
pharaohs or anything, but one time I was talking to an audience like this and I was
talking about the female characters that I have in my other books, and I felt like I
was becoming something of a women's liberationist, and I heard my wife out there
snickering in the audience, and deservedly so, because I didn't know anything.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: First of all, guys, being a writer, you
intimidate me whenever I read your work, because it's such great writing craft. But
being a Norwegian myself, I don't have the Native American background. I see
Rachel Carson coming through very strongly.
HERBERT: That's true.
QUESTIONER: Could you guys talk a little more about the environmental
HERBERT: Obviously, Rachel Carson. Her great book had been published before
Dune, and so Dad was aware of it. But Dad said to me that he had a lot of
messages. If you look at Dune, the Whole Earth Catalogue referred to it as an
ecological handbook. That is the message that catapulted Dune. It took until about
1970. The book was published in 1965. By 1970 there was a groundswell because
of the environmental issue. Frank Herbert spoke at the first Earth Day in
Philadelphia. Ira Einhorn organized that, by the way. He's got kind of a star-crossed history, there. Then Dad spoke on college campuses all over the United
States, just on that environmental issue. There's so much more in there, the
politics, and the religion, and all these incredible things. But Dad set up a detailed
ecosystem. So, for example, at the end of the first movie of Dune it rains at the
end. Well that can't happen or it would destroy the cycle of the sandworms. Frank
Herbert explained that very carefully.
So, he understood from when he was growing up as a nine-year-old boy. My
grandparents were alcoholics and they spent all the money they had on booze. So
Dad went out fishing and brought in the dinner for the day. In the process he met a
Native American who had been an outcast. This was on Fox Island, near Tacoma
Washington. Dad said the outcast had been a murderer in his tribe, and they sent
him out to the island. Well, Dad kind of embellished things sometimes, so I don't
know if he'd been a murderer, but it made a good story. So here's this nine-year-old kid adventuring, and this Native American taught Dad how to live in the
woods, how to eat grub-worms and red ants, and how to fish, just totally another
world-view. Dad would sometimes take his nine-foot rowboat out and he would
hitch it on to tugboats that were towing barges, heading for Alaska, until he got
caught and they would cut him loose. So he was always out there in the
environment. That really comes through. Some people read Dune and they get
thirsty. Well, Dad never lived in the desert but he certainly figured out how to
write about it.
ANDERSON: There is a background in it from where I come from. I live in
Colorado and I spend most of my time when I get free time out hiking or mountain
climbing. I have climbed to the top of all fifty-four of the fourteen-thousand-foot
peaks in the state of Colorado. I have done three hundred and twenty miles on the
Colorado Trail. For years I have been a member of the Sierra Club, the Nature
Conservancy, and The Colorado Trail Foundation, The Continental Divide, all
these different things. Any chance that I get, I get out and do my writing with a
tape recorder, so I am out in the mountains, in the forests, and that's where I am
dictating things. In fact I have written a lot of Dune stuff in the Great Sand Dunes
National Park in Colorado or in Death Valley in California. My wife and I donate a
lot of money to various charitable organizations, and it's always a tug-of-war
between the two of us, because she wants to donate money to soup kitchens and
feed the orphans and save the children and all that, and I want to spend money on
The Sierra Club and The Colorado Trail, and she tells me that's being kind of cold-hearted because that's not helping people. But it's helping the whole world and the
environment. Those are the nights that I sleep in the guest bedroom sometimes.
HERBERT: The Sierra Club comment is interesting, because Dad was a
Republican speechwriter in the 1950s. I think I mentioned that he was a non-practicing Buddhist. He was an anti-war leader in Seattle, and war is the biggest
destroyer of the environment that there is. He was in the World Without War
Council. So here is this big, bearded Republican speechwriter leading thousands of
students in Seattle taking over the freeways. But Dad felt that The Sierra Club had
gone too far. They had been too extreme. What Dad said is that they were so
radical - this was back in the '60s - that a bunch of loggers just went in and clear-cut a whole, huge area because they were afraid of what would happen when The
Sierra Club got their rules in. So Dad was a pragmatist and he believed in
negotiating things from a reasonable standpoint.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: I think one of the things that makes your
collaboration so great is your adherence to the original. When we read one of your
books, it is almost the same as reading the original by Frank Herbert. It sticks so
much to the theme and the style of writing. That doesn't work with other writers.
In particular I am thinking of Arthur Clarke and Gentry Lee, where if you read any
of their collaborations, you can almost tell what Clarke wrote and what Lee wrote.
HERBERT: As Kevin mentioned, we set out egos aside at the door. But we also
have the same vision. If any of you have gone to Europe, for example, and one of
you wants to shop and one of you wants to see the history, it doesn't work. Well
Kevin and I are on this huge journey through the Dune universe, and we have the
same vision. Sometimes he will come up with an idea that's the same idea that I've
had. I've already had the idea, but I got my fax on his desk before he was able to
fax me. The last one, I beat him too. But we are coming up with the same ideas in
parallel. We don't try to outshine each other. We've talked about shining a light on
each other, but ultimately we are shining a light on Frank Herbert. That's what it's
about, going back and reading Dune again.
ANDERSON: Somebody asked us a couple days ago at a book-signing, "Did you
write this part or did Brian write this part?" We looked at each other. We can't
even remember who wrote which part, because we rewrite each other's parts so
much. But as far as the adherence to Frank Herbert, we really need to please the
toughest Dune fans. And we are the toughest Dune fans. Brian and I, we live and
breathe everything about Dune. We have immersed ourselves in these books and in
the notes that Frank Herbert left and in our own stories. We're not just picking up
an hors d'oeuvre. We're there for the whole banquet.
HERBERT: Also, before I wrote a word with Kevin, I spent a year doing a
concordance of all six Dune novels. So I know all the page references for the
Sisterhood, the eye colors of all the characters, all the details, and so we refer to
that all the time.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: You refer to the Bene Gesserit as strong
characters, but yet you have them with a computer.
HERBERT: That's a secret of breeding records -
ANDERSON: Shh! It's a secret!
QUESTION: I am not saying it's bad, but they still have a computer, which is
something they're not supposed to have.
HERBERT: But it's secret. By the time of Dune, computers are illegal because of
what they did to us 10,000 years before. But in the novel Dune, we don't know that
yet. It's like Paul Atreides - you think he is a heroic figure by the end of Dune, and
it turns out that there is a dark side to him. Well there is a dark side to the Bene
Gesserit, too. If you just take a look at the Honored Matres, which are the dark side
of the Bene Gesserit, and they are coming back and destroying all our heroines.
And Dune. They have destroyed the planet Dune. Dad was not naïve enough to
think that heroes or heroines would be pure.
ANDERSON: They're also very pragmatic. They have their end-goal in sight and
they are willing to bend some of their own rules to achieve it.
HERBERT: But the Bene Gesserit, though, are many times talking about what it
means to be human. That's an important theme to Frank Herbert. You can see that
not only in the Dune series, but in his others books. And since there are no
computers, for example, in the time of Dune, what do you have? You have
mentats, which are like Frank Herbert characters all over the place. They're
computerized brains. He's talking about human potential. Look the potential for
women, too. That's why the series has really lasted, as opposed to other big series,
nineteen or twenty-book series that were hinging on technology. This is not
hinging on any aspect of technology or science. It's about people.
QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE: When you talk about how hard you work to
follow Frank Herbert's whole universe, you do more than that. I've read all of your
father's works and all of your works, and it's hard to tell the difference between
Frank Herbert and your writing. How did you come up with the ability to write in
that style? Okay, fine, they're different. You've created these books and you have
the barest outline to go on, but then you've created a style which blends so
perfectly with the original. How did that come about? Did you work at it
HERBERT: No. Partly it's admiration for Frank Herbert, but Dad believed in the
oral tradition, and stories being passed on from generation to generation. I heard
him reading all the Dune novels to my mother. So somewhere in my subconscious,
I hear his voice reading to her. I hear his voice speaking to me, plus the details of
what he taught me about writing. He taught me the care and feeding of editors,
how to build suspense. The care and feeding of editors was kind of amusing. It was
how to send a manuscript in so it won't get thrown into the slush pile.
I sent him my Sidney's Comet novel. It was three hundred pages at the time. He
edited twenty pages, sent them back from Hawaii, and he said, "This is how editing
tightens the story. Go now and do likewise." So he was telling me from the
beginning that I had to do the hard work. But I appreciate that comment.
As for our style - Frank Herbert changed his style. As Kevin mentioned, Dune is
one style. It has this wonderful poetry and this great adventure, and beneath it are
all these messages, but by the time you get to The God Emperor of Dune and on,
the characters are talking a lot and politics and big things happen in the
background. So he changed his style too, but he was exploring the layers he had set
up in the novel Dune. As Our style -- we like to look at Dune as an example Kevin
and I never hope to match.
ANDERSON: When we started out, we discussed this, and we said that we were
not going to imitate Frank Herbert's style, because he has a distinctive style, and
we were both well established as professional writers before we started writing
together or we started writing in the Dune universe. So we didn't want to be
imitating the way someone else writes. If someone is going to be writing new
Conan novels, you don't want to them imitating sentence by sentence the way
Robert E. Howard wrote. But perhaps it comes across just because it's so many
years of constant exposure and immersion in the Dune universe. We go back and
read the Dune books, and then turn around and read them all again. So it's
constantly in our minds what Frank Herbert wrote. So when we were doing The
Winds of Dune, we both practically memorized Dune Messiah. Maybe it's just
osmosis, but we do try to write something that is respectful, and in that universe.
HERBERT: And I think that we feel like the characters are really alive.
Sometimes I have to remind myself others.
SCHWEITZER: We've just run out of time. Thank you to you both.