Greg Keyes is the author of the recently released ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm‘ which bridges the gap between ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ and ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes‘. If you’ve been wondering what happened in the eight years between films this is a book that you are going to want to check out! If you’ve already read through it or his previous work this is the interview you’ll want to check out to learn more about the author himself! Within you’ll learn more about the book, his writing style, and more!
ScienceFiction.com (SF): First if you could share with our readers a little bit about what ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm’ is about?
Greg Keyes (GK): It’s about the first couple of weeks after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes – how Caesar and his troop learn to survive in the Muir Woods and escape the humans trying to capture them. It’s also about the beginning of the pandemic hinted at in the end credits of Rise.
SF: How did you get attached to the novel? Were you pitched it or were you actively trying to work within the franchise?
GK: An editor from Titan contacted me to ask if I was interested in doing the book. I was a fan of the movies (and original book) and so I agreed.
SF: The novel takes place between ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ and ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, how many times did you watch ‘Rise’ to prepare for the novel?
GK: At least four. Then I would watch parts of it to get specific details as I was writing.
SF: How much information and direction were you given to bridge the gap between the two films?
GK: I got to read the script for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,‘ which was immensely helpful. We also had a big conference call early on, in which we discussed the boundaries and possibilities for the book. It was important that there be no spoilers for the movie, which is one reason it’s set closer to ‘Rise’ than ‘Dawn.’ Beyond that, I was able to submit questions about anything to the folks at FOX. They responded quickly and thoroughly each time, and I had plenty of questions.
SF: What kind of research went into building the world you were writing?
GK: Well, we’ve just discussed a lot of it. The world of ‘Firestorm’ is still essentially ours, but it’s coming apart fast. The other elements – the science fiction elements – were provided by the two movies and the original movie. My University degrees are in Anthropology, and I brought that knowledge to book, along with some specific research on apes and the humans that interact with them. In particular, I had long talks with friends of mine who have worked extensively with apes. They were able to give me personal experiences as well as point me toward the pertinent literature. I also brushed up on my history of some African countries and their history, notable the Democratic Republic of Congo. I read a good bit about pandemics, and built a model of what the epidemic in the book would look like in terms of transmission and mortality based on what we know from ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn.’
SF: If they end up making another film in the series would you be interested in writing what takes place between the next two as well?
GK: Sure. This was fun.
SF: When writing the Ape portions of the novel did you put yourself in any kind of a different mindset to keep their patterns different from the humans or did you attempt to humanize them as much as possible?
GK: I tried to get into their heads. This was at time exhausting, especially with Koba.
The trick actually was to not make them too human, because even though they’re becoming smarter, they aren’t turning into hairy humans – they’re becoming smarter versions of chimps, gorillas, and orangutans.
SF: You’ve written quite a bit in both the science fiction and fantasy genres. What is the draw for each of them for you?
GK: The shortest, honest answer is that I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy and as a result, that’s what I want to write. But if I were to intellectualize that predisposition I would say that science fiction is a game of ideas, and like most games, it’s fun. Fantasy allows me to play with really ancient tropes, the stuff of our collective dreams and nightmares – mythology, epics, folktales, and so on, all of which really speak to me.
SF: Speaking of previous works you’ve done both original work and working in established franchises. What do you enjoy from each side of the creative spectrum here?
GK: My original (published) work is constrained by the expectations of publishers and their perceptions of what people want to read. I also feel like I’m answering to possible future critics, sometimes – so when writing ‘The Age of Unreason,’ for instance, I felt that I needed to get the details of the eighteenth century right, even though it was an alternate eighteenth-century. So while I feel very free in writing my original stories, I’m still working within an envelope, at least if I want to be published and appreciated.
When working with a franchise, the envelope is narrower, the constraints more limiting. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing – a haiku has a very narrow structure, but working within that structure forces you to really distill what you want to say.
Sometimes It’s actually freeing to work with a franchise. If I had tried to write and sell a space opera trilogy back in the nineties, I’m not sure how much luck I would have had publishing it. But writing for ‘Babylon Five’ gave me exactly that chance. The same is true with the ‘Planet of the Apes.’ I got to do some things in this book I couldn’t have done elsewhere. As well, I’ve been a fan of all the properties I’ve worked with – ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Babylon Five,’ ‘The Elder Scrolls’, and ‘Planet of the Apes.’ It’s fun and an honor to have been asked to contribute to these movies, books, and games.
Bottom line, I’m excited about everything I decide or agree to write, and I try to write the best book I can. With licensed work the biggest challenge is often time. For valid reasons too complicated to go into here, these books often must be written very quickly. Like writing a haiku (or a news story, for that matter) it requires that I decide what’s most important it get that done within deadline. There is little time for dithering.
SF: What current projects do you have in the works?
GK: I’m finishing up a novelization of ‘Interstellar,’ the upcoming film by Christopher Nolan. If the script is any indication, the movie should be fantastic. When that’s off my plate, I a few of my own projects lined up.
SF: What is your ideal writing environment?
GK: I don’t know. I used to do best holed up in my office (which is in my house) but lately I’ve found that switching it up by going out into the backyard increases my productivity. I need to be solitary, though. Having people around distracts me because I want to watch and listen to them. When I’m around people, I can become pretty social, which obviously can’t happen if I need to get some work done.
SF: For readers who enjoy your style do you have any particular authors that you’d love to suggest that they would also find enjoyable?
GK: That’s tough. I haven’t read a lot by my peers in many years, mostly because I feel guilty when I read – I feel I should be writing. And if I am reading, it should be for research. I’m not sure who a “write like” or who “writes like me”. My deepest influences probably lie with authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, Vance, Tolkien, Andersen, LeGuin, and so on. I will say two writers I have read and enjoyed in the past few years are Joe Abercrombie and James Enge. But there are probably dozens of young (or at least current) authors I would recommend if I ever got around to reading them. The world is not lacking in talent.
SF: Do you have any advice to upcoming authors out there?
GK: You have to write, not think about writing, not talk about it, but write it and finish it. Then you have to find someone who has valid criticism of your work (and does not charge for it), and you have to learn to listen to that criticism. This will not usually be another wanna-be writer, and sorting valid from nonsensical criticism requires a clear head and some subversion of ego. When I was twenty, I thought everything I wrote was perfect, and anyone who didn’t agree was obviously too dense to understand my genius. It was only after I got over this attitude that I started getting anywhere. And reading that old stuff now — if I was a literary genius at twenty, at fifty-one I’m way to dense to understand my former brilliance.
And do not major in creative writing.
SF: Thank you for your time. In closing would you like to say anything to your fans or those interested in learning more about your work?
GK: Every writer hopes that if a reader likes one of his books, they will read them all. I’m no different.