Born in New York City in 1946, Foster was raised in Los Angeles. After receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from UCLA (1968, l969) he spent two years as a copywriter for a small Studio City, Calif. advertising and public relations firm.
Since then, Foster's sometimes humorous, occasionally poignant, but always entertaining short fiction has appeared in all the major SF magazines as well as in original anthologies and several "Best of the Year" compendiums. His published oeurve includes more than 100 books.
Foster's work to date includes excursions into hard science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He has also written numerous non-fiction articles on film, science, and scuba diving, as well as having produced the novel versions of many films, including such well-known productions as Star Wars, the first three Alien films, Alien Nation, and The Chronicles of Riddick. Other works include scripts for talking records, radio, computer games, and the story for the first Star Trek movie. His novel Shadowkeep was the first ever book adaptation of an original computer game. In addition to publication in English his work has been translated into more than fifty languages and has won awards in Spain and Russia. His novel Cyber Way won the Southwest Book Award for Fiction in 1990, the first work of science-fiction ever to do so.
Though restricted (for now) to the exploration of one world, Foster's love of the far-away and exotic has led him to travel extensively. After graduating from college he lived for a summer with the family of a Tahitian policeman and camped out in French Polynesia. He and his wife JoAnn Oxley, of Moran, Texas, have traveled to Europe and throughout Asia and the Pacific in addition to exploring the back roads of Tanzania and Kenya. Foster has camped out in the "Green Hell" region of the Southeastern Peruvian jungle, photographing army ants and pan-frying piranha (lots of small bones; tastes a lot like trout); has ridden forty-foot whale sharks in the remote waters off Western Australia, and was one of three people on the first commercial air flight into Northern Australia's Bungle Bungle National Park. He has rappelled into New Mexico's fabled Lechugilla Cave, white-water rafted the length of the Zambezi's Batoka Gorge, driven solo the length and breadth of Namibia, crossed the Andes by car, sifted the sands of unexplored archaeological sites in Peru, gone swimming with giant otters in Brazil, surveyed remote Papua New Guinea and West Papua both above and below the water, and dived unexplored reefs throughout the South Pacific. His filmed footage of Great White Sharks feeding off South Australia has appeared on both American television and the BBC.
The Fosters reside in Prescott in a house built of brick salvaged from a turn-of-the-century miners' brothel, along with assorted dogs, cats, fish, several hundred houseplants, visiting javelina, porcupines, eagles, red-tailed hawks, skunks, coyotes, bobcats, and the ensorceled chair of the nefarious Dr. John Dee. He is presently at work on several new novels and media projects.
First off, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to answer these question. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.
adf: Thank you.
You've been writing for quite some time. What was your first published work?
adf: My first published work was the short story WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, which appeared in Analog in the June 1971 issue. Donald Wollheim picked it for his 1972 World's Best SF volume. I had previously sold the Lovecraftian story SOME NOTES CONCERNING A GREEN BOX to August Derleth, but his little magazine The Arkham Collector only appeared semi-annually, so the Analog story was the first to see print.
How did it feel when that first acceptance arrived?
adf: SOME NOTES was written for fun and not conceived as a story. So when Derleth's acceptance letter arrived I started frantically hunting through my file for the "story" I had sent him. When Campbell's acceptance letter arrived, that was big stuff. The Analog appearance also led to my being able to meet a favorite writer of mine, James Schmitz, who was something of a recluse.
Before you became successful enough to make a living from writing, what did you do for work?
adf: The usual writer odd jobs. I sold shoes at Sears (deadly), artwork in a Sherman Oaks (L.A. area) chain art gallery (much more interesting), did stock work at Sears, then got a job writing PR for a small Studio City (again L.A. area) public relations firm. The breakthrough came when I got a job teaching two night classes (film writing and the history of documentary film) at Los Angeles City College, which left my days free for writing. The teaching paid very little, but I had saved some money. Between my savings and the teaching paycheck I figured I got try writing for a year before I'd have to either get another real job or go to law school.
Do you ever daydream about what life would have been like if you had only chosen to become a chef? or something equally as engrossing.
adf: Doesn't everyone? In my case, I had been accepted to the University of Southern California law school, which is where I doubtless would have ended up. I suspect I would still have done some writing, but obviously a great deal less. The other option was the travel industry which, in a way, I did end up entering.
At what point did you realize you could actually make a living at this?
adf: When Betty Ballantine bought my first attempt at a novel (THE TAR-AIYM KRANG). I thought, "Well, I'm one for one...why not give this a serious shot?". In the early '70's a $1500 advance went a lot farther than it would today. I thought that if I could sell one novel and a couple of short stories a year, combined with my part-time teaching income I could at least get by.
Writing is generally a solitary task. How do you keep involved with others and the outside world and what do you do in your spare time?
adf: I usually eat lunch in town, where I see people on a frequent basis. I also work out at the local YMCA twice a week and have regular acquaintances there. And my recent, most peculiar, foray into competitional powerlifting has exposed me to an entirely new group of people whose lives and preoccupations are, obviously, very different from those of the literary world. I also have friends all over the world with whom I correspond regularly.
do you keep count or have a list of everything you've published? If so, How many?
adf: This information is also available on my website. See the biblio page. At last count there were 112 books and about 110 pieces of short fiction, plus the usual plethora of film reviews, travel articles, essays, etc.
Since you become a successful writer, what keeps you going, and is it harder than when you started?
adf: Well, the need to make a living keeps every writer going. Also, my wife's health has been poor for many years and there are medical bills. And I like to travel rather more than most folks.
Do you have any collections of short stories out in print?
adf: I don't know exactly which are still in print, but there are six collections to date.
You've written with Eric Frank Russell. How did it work for you collaborating with another Author?
adf: Well, since EFR had been dead for a number of decades, I'd have to say that the collaboration went pretty smoothly. Seriously though, Russell was and still is my all-time favorite SF writer...the only one who could make me both laugh and cry. He was also John W. Campbell's favorite SF writer. The posthumous collaboration came about because when Judy-Lynn del Rey was putting together the Del Rey "Best of" series, she asked me to write the introduction to The Best of Eric Frank Russell (I was her second choice after Arthur C. Clarke, who demurred) and to suggest stories for inclusion. One of the stories I proposed was Russell's "Design for Great-Day", which originally appeared in Startling Stories. Judy-Lynn declined it because it's a novella. It was purely a marketing decision. Include another four or five shorts or one novella. So Design didn't make it into the collection. Years later I had the opportunity to expand a story for Tor's series of such projects, and I was able to choose Design.
You've written a number of books in support of movies. How is that different for you as a writer?
adf: I view all such novelizations as a collaboration between myself and the screenwriters. My job is to put into the book all those bits and pieces of action, characterization, and plot that the screenwriters would include if only they had the time and money to do so...and those bits that I think fans would enjoy "seeing". My responsibility on such projects is first to the screenwriters, then to the publisher.
Have any of you original works been turned into movies?
adf: I wrote the treatment (the story) for the first Star Trek movie. I've been paid for script work but not living in L.A. it's very difficult to near impossible to get a story made into a film unless you raise the money and produce it yourself.
Have any come close?
adf: Several. SPELLSINGER was optioned by a Japanese anime company. Stan Winston's company was interested in MIDWORLD (which is still under option, to another company). JED THE DEAD and THE MOCKING PROGRAM are currently under option to an independent producer. Jan de Bont was close to doing MOCKING PROGRAM, but that fell through, alas.
Do you plan to do any more Polish/Sienkiewiczian stories?
adf: Now there's a question I haven't been asked in decades. I think the Polish film industry can manage those projects without my input.
In "Lost and Found," which we read this month, the dog is given the name of George. Is this taken from Loony Tunes? As in: "I will feed him, and I will pet him, and I will play with him and I will call his name George?"
adf: No. I wanted a non-doggish name for him, something sufficiently bland to act as counterpoint to his singular situation, and George just seemed to fit. The cartoon George you're referring to was one half of a comedy take on Steinbeck's George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and the cartoons were directed by Tex Avery for MGM, not Warner (Loony Tunes) Bros....although the Lenny type, as articulated by Lon (Wolfman) Chaney Jr. was a staple of all cartoons in the '40's. But I digress.
In your novels are there "inside jokes" that no one seems to get? An example would be great.
adf: Frequently. Such jokes are the literary equivalent of video game Easter Eggs. But I have to tell you that off the top of my head I can't recall a specific example. I'm sure readers can do so. I sometimes drop in references to Lovecraft, Carl Barks, animation, and other favorites of mine. In the novelization of the upcoming Star Trek film I mention a famous quote of Arthur C. Clarke's, only I refer to him as "St. Clarke."
Do you go back and read your own works?
adf: Very rarely. I have little enough time and eyesight available for reading new things. Occasionally I'll see and read a short story, but it's a rare occurrence...I know how it's going to turn out.
Are there books you've written that no publisher has wanted to publish, despite the fact that you are so very prolific and popular?
adf: Sometimes it takes a while. I have a contemporary fantasy, THE DEAVYS, that's been on the market for a couple of years now. Maybe the title's not punchy enough. But everything older than that has been published, with the semi-famous novelization of a two-part episode of the TV series MAUDE. It's the one where Maude gets an abortion. Lots of writers took a crack at it, including Buck Henry and Terry Southern. Mine was accepted, but in the end money (as is usually the case in such things) shot it down. I always wanted Norman Lear's opinion of the book.
How do you work the humor into your writing?
adf: My problem is keeping too much humor from creeping in. I'm always fighting the line from Moby Dick wherein Melville says, "There are times in every man's life when he takes the entire universe for some great cosmic joke". I firmly adhere to that. I have to fight to keep every scene from turning humorous. Humor grows out of situations, characters, and especially the unexpected. Or as Charlie Chaplin once said, "A man slipping on a banana isn't funny. A man stepping over a banana and into an open manhole...that's funny."
You've used humor in a number of your works. There are those in the "Speculative fiction" literary mindset that think humor diminishes the validity of the genre. Have you ever had an encounter with some from this persuasion?
adf: Judy-Lynn del Rey always used to tell me that humor didn't sell in SF. We argued about it several times, with me referring to Russell, Robert Sheckley, Ron Goulart, and many others.
When writing do your characters write themselves, or do you have everything outlined and controlled?
adf: The characters start out as I envision them, and very soon start to take on lives of their own. This is fortunate...otherwise I'd be bored writing about them.
How much of you is in your characters?
adf: Depends on the character. Usually I try to keep myself out of my characters lest the type become too repetitious. There's probably more of me in the thranx Truzenzuzex than in any other of my characters. No doubt Kafka would empathize.
Which character is the most like the real you?
adf: I'd like to think it's Truzenzuzex.
Which of your characters would you like to be?
adf: Ah, like Chuck Jones wishing he could be more like Pepe le Pew. I'd actually be perfectly happy to be Truzenzuzex, or his friend Bran Tse-Mallory. I have no desire or interest in being all-powerful or enormously wealthy or wildly famous. I'd just like to have the time to acquire as much knowledge as possible and try more different things. But if I had to pick an actual person, that's easy...it would have been Sir Richard Francis Burton.
How has the Science fiction genre changed from when you started?
adf: In 25 words or less? Obviously, the rise of spin-off novels, especially Star Trek and Star Wars, has had a huge impact on the field. Then there is the fact that many young readers have opted to play games rather than pick up a book, although we now have a hybrid in the form of book versions of games. And the dominance at the box office of films based on SF forms, including fantasy and comics, means that the tropes of SF have become far more familiar to a much wider audience...not always for the best.
What new technologies do you wish you had foreseen and used in earlier works?
adf: I'd say the world-wide web, but Murray Leinster already did that (along with the personal computer) in his short story A LOGIC NAMED JOE (Astounding, 1946). Another would be cheap satellite communications.
What new technology or development worries you the most?
adf: The easy availability of information on how to make chemical weapons, nuclear bombs, and other weapons of mass destruction.
What are you reading now?
adf: FOSSIL SITES OF NORTH AMERICA and DARWIN'S ORCHESTRA. Plus a number of magazines I've subscribed to for decades: THE ECONOMIST, AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHIC, PREHISTORIC TIMES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, and UNDERCURRENT.
Which new author or authors do you like?
adf: My eyes have grown so bad for reading I pretty much have to restrict my reading time to research and non-fiction.
What's the worst part of being a writer?
adf: Never being able to call in sick.
Thanks again for you willingness to respond to us.
adf: You are most welcome.