Author of the new Alien: The Cold Forge, gives us an interview after the release of his book. Thank you so much for being a part of my Creatives series. You can listen to my podcast with Alex here: Creatives: Alex White – Episode 10 -Yutani Podcast.
Clara Fei-Fei: What was your first encounter with Alien (as in movies books or comics)?
Alex White: When I was in 3rd grade, my parents let me watch Terminator 2 because of the groundbreaking special effects, and I was instantly in love with action movies. One of our family friends had a huge library of movies on tape, including Warlock, Predator, and most importantly, Alien. Seeing that creature for the first time blew my mind. I was instantly in love with the whole franchise, including the oft-maligned Alien 3.
CF: What is your favourite Alien/sci-fi movie/book or comic?
AW: My favourite Alien movie is still the original Alien. When I was in talks with Titan to write THE COLD FORGE, my first question to the editor was, “Which do you prefer? Alien or Aliens?” because that would give me a good sense of how to shape my pitch. He told me they were both good for their own reasons, which was fair, but a bit political. I unabashedly prefer the first one, because it lines up with my experience of the corporate world.
If you told a major CEO you could shift their stocks up twenty percent next quarter for the cost of a starship crew, I think most CEOs would be happy to do it. Look at the ones that actively suppressed information about the lethality of smoking in the middle of last century, even created misleading information campaigns that got more people killed. And even if those plans backfire, there’s rarely ever any accountability. Just look at the Union Carbide Bhopal incident. Furthermore, this isn’t just a corporate thing, it can be a governmental thing—Chernobyl was completely preventable, but cost lives and homes. You can trace almost every major set of wrongful deaths to an unfeeling, monolithic entity that decided to enhance their profits and took a risk.
So yeah, when I see those poor space truckers getting eaten on Weyland-Yutani orders, I can’t help but sympathize and say, “I’ve had jobs like that.” It’s still so chillingly relevant even now.
CF: What authors inspired you to become a writer?
AW: I started out writing screenplays because I used to complain about movies so much that my friends would say, “If you think you can do better, do it, but stop whining.” However, screenplays only allow you to tell a very small portion of any story—you have to leave room for the director and actors to do their jobs. With a novel, you can channel a lot more raw emotion into it, and once I tried writing one, I was hooked. Also, getting a movie made is the most ridiculous process of all time, and that became less appealing to me the older I got.
I will say that I used to love reading tie-in novels in the 90s, and I read everything Dark Horse had to offer about the Xenomorphs. When those ran out, I read everything about Predator, then switched genres to Star Wars and Star Trek. And I’m not too proud to admit that I read every one of the cheesy TekWar series.
What sort of advice do you have for people wanting to do your line of work?
You can’t write for fame. You can’t write for publication, or to catch up to your friends who are popular writers. You can’t even write to be read. Those are all things that are decided by a fickle and ever-changing marketplace. When you set out on your authorial journey, you can’t know when someone will finally take an interest in your work; even when you sell something, that’s no guarantee of future interest from editors and readers.
You can only choose to write or not to write—to put your stories out there or hold them close. You should write because you love telling stories… and because you potentially suffer from a pathological addiction to making them.
How long does it take to write a book generally?
I used to write one book a year, really taking my time. The average time allotted by the publishing industry is eight months. I was given four months to write THE COLD FORGE after my pitch was accepted and cleared through 20th Century Fox. The short deadline was surprisingly fun and kept me moving faster than I’d ever gone. Weirdly, it forced me to only write the critical bits and stay focused up at all times, making for a pacy story. Despite rushing through, THE COLD FORGE is among my favourite things I’ve ever written.
CF: Where do you get your ideas from to form a story?
AW: JC Hutchins gave me the best piece of horror writing advice I’ve ever received: “Horror is about weakness. If you’re writing about killer shadows, make your main character nyctophobic. If you’re writing about zombies, make your main character immune-compromised.” I wanted to write about a character who was bedridden, trying to survive a Xenomorph outbreak, and was having a lot of trouble figuring out that angle.
I was at UX Week in San Francisco when Double Robotics debuted a new telepresence robot, and my story coalesced right then and there. I could have a character who is terminally-ill, too weak to stand, but I could get them around their environment through telepresence! That’s how Blue Marsalis came about. The rest of the story pretty much wrote itself once I had that piece.
CF: How do you go about picking a name for your characters?
AW: I always pick something representative of their origin. Dorian Sudler takes his name from THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, by Oscar Wilde. I think it’s a beautiful name, even if I’m a little worried that it’s on the nose. Blue Marsalis takes her last name from one of the great improvisers of our time, Wynton Marsalis.
CF: What other projects have you worked on in the past?
AW: Too many to count. Though, as published novels go, I’ve got EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW, the story of an autistic woman getting revenge for her only friend’s murder, and The Salvagers space opera series, which kicks off this June 26th with A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE. A famous race car driver is framed for the murder of a fellow driver and has to team up with a con artist to clear her name. In the process, they uncover the galaxy’s most extensive conspiracy.
CF: Which was your favourite book to write?
AW: That’s like asking who my favourite child is! Sometimes I write to alleviate difficulties in my personal life, and those books can be among the most rewarding. THE COLD FORGE was important to me because I know so many people dealing with chronic illness, including my spouse. I have a friend watching her child suffer through terminal illness. My fears and feelings hit the page pretty hard on this one.
AW: I compose music! I like to write sweeping orchestral scores for my books and give them away as promotions. I also play a ton of Overwatch on PC.
CF: What is your favourite variation of the Xenomorph?
AW: Honestly, the reintroduction of David’s Xenomorph in Covenant really struck me. By working up through the neomorphs, Ridley Scott was able to remind me why these are the most dangerous creatures in the galaxy. The shot of it riding the cargo lift gives me chills.
CF: Which Alien character in the movies or comics is your favourite?
AW: I really identify with Gorman, actually! Here’s a guy fresh out of officer candidate training, still wet behind the ears. He’s expected to show leadership, but literally, everyone in the squad is a better leader than he is. He has been taught all of these rigid plans, drilled on doctrine, and when it comes time to adapt, he chokes. I like him so much because you can see how he’s trying, how he doesn’t want to be there, and how Apone keeps throwing him a bone to get the troops to respect him. That dude was under the constant stress of letting everyone down, and it’s so poetic that he gets to be one of the squad at the very end with Vasquez. Like she ribs him in the same way that she teases everyone else, and it’s beautiful.
What sort of robotic enhancement would you get for your body and why?
There are too many good ones to count! I think I’d really like robotic eyes. They could tell me when someone is trying to pretend to be interested in my rambling when they’re actually super-bored.
CF: Which robot/AI character from any Alien/Scifi movie is your favourite?
AW: I like Ash. For starters, he’s played by Ian Holm, which allows him to do that friendly-to-creepy thing so fast… a talent we’d later see at the beginning of Lord of the Rings when he tries to snatch the ring from Frodo. Secondly, I don’t think Ash wants to do anything he does. If you watch the sequence where they’re begging him to bring in Kane, there’s a huge amount of hesitation, followed by a decisive action with no regret. I feel like the Company told him to acquire that specimen at any cost, and he doesn’t want to hurt the crew.
Consider also that Ash is supposedly an upgrade from David/Walter—two synthetics that are ultra-strong, yet he fights Ripley with a rolled-up magazine. He’s clearly going haywire, and his directive to harm the crew is causing too much emotional strain. I’m 99% sure that he loses that fight on purpose, and the relief on his face in the last moments is absolution. He’s no longer on the hook for what he’s done. He can’t hurt the crew anymore.
CF: Which human character from any Alien/Scifi movie is your favourite?
AW: My favourite sci-fi character is Spike Spiegel. His incredible violence balanced against his goofy movements always kills onscreen. I love that he spends most of the series failing to collect bounties, but he keeps the mask of a careless joker the entire time. He also has the disturbing potential to walk away from anyone.
Which Alien movies do you like?
Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Covenant. I’m going to go ahead and count Alien: Isolation because holy hell that game was good.
CF: What did you think about Prometheus and Alien: Covenant?
AW: On the upside, they’re the most beautiful movies of the series and show the brilliance of their photographer. The way Prometheus wrestles with Mary Shelley’s classic question, “What if we’re unwanted by our creator?” has a lot of potentials, and kept my friends and I talking long after the movie ended. I liked the Covenant crew more than most, and Danny McBride crushed it.
On the downside, I think that the scientists in these movies are extremely unwise in most cases, and I’m disappointed that they didn’t follow quarantine procedures anywhere they went. Prometheus, in particular, suffers from unprofessional science, a point which my scientist friends are unable to let die. Holloway’s willingness to give up after being on the planet for less than a week is frustrating, and Charlize Theron is woefully underused.
CF: If there was something you could change in any of the movies?
AW: Just let me rewrite all the science bits of Prometheus and two-thirds of Holloway’s lines. Prometheus has so much potential!
CF: What projects are you currently working on? What would you like to work on in future?
AW: I’m writing the second two books in the Salvagers series, and I’m so excited for that book to release on June 26th!
Make sure you read his book ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE which comes out today!