Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Dark Elf Cometh: An interview with New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore.

Life is awesome sometimes. To be honest, I never thought that this would actually happen, that today’s guest would even agree to let me interview I mean. But, nice guy that our guest is, he has and now I’m hardly stopping myself from jumping up and down like a little boy on weaponized sugar. It’s nice to be wrong sometimes. Anyway, whether you like his work or not, today’s guests is one of the most popular and respected names working in the fantasy genre today. He’s the creator of one of the most popular Forgotten Realm’s characters ever, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. And he is the author countless other books and stories both in and out of the Forgotten Realms like The Demon War’s saga and The Highwayman. He’s also worked on video games, the most recent being the popular RPG Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning on the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Creator hanging out with creation. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the very talented, R.A. Salvatore. Mr. Salvatore, thank you for joining us.

R.A. Salvatore: Thank you for having me, Will.      

Me: To start off with, how did you realize that writing was your calling? And what were some of the things that originally inspired you?

R.A.S: Tolkien inspired me. When I read those books, I remembered how much I loved escaping within the pages. When i ran out of books to read, I wrote my own. Haven't looked back since.

Me: Cool, Tolkien is one of my inspirations too (I've lost count how many time I've read his books now). But anyway Did you ever think that you would get to this point in your career?

R.A.S: Not at all. I didn't start writing as a "career." I just wanted to tell a story. I was working in finance when I got my first break.

Me: What do you do when you set out to write a novel? Do you make an outline or do you just sit there and let the story take shape as you go along (if that makes any sense)? I guess I'm interested in the creative process and how you do it.

R.A.S: I make an outline, then start writing and let the characters take over the story and direct my fingers. I look back at the outline now and then, revise if often as I go along, but really, writing is an organic thing to me.

Me:  What keeps you writing? 

R.A.S: Writing is how I make sense of the world, so I'd go crazy if I stopped.

Me: You and me both. We like our sanity too much to stop.

The First book in the Neverwinter saga.
Me: On a related subject, you recently wrapped up a new series of Drizzt books, the Neverwinter saga. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about them?

R.A.S: These books were an exploration of Innovindil's advice to Drizzt on what it is to be an elf. Live your life in shorter bursts, recreating yourself to fit the lifespans of the humans around you, she told him. So he did, but this time, he wasn't surrounded by companions of similar weal and mores. So the conflict of Neverwinter was whether Drizzt would bring them up or they would bring him down...or something in the middle.

Me: Sounds very interesting. While on the subject of Drizzt, I liked what you did with the Dark Elves of the Realms and how Drizzt rebels against that, but still has to struggle to find acceptance, even though he's among those who share his values. And it makes me wonder, if you had complete creative freedom over him and his friends (like if they were characters in one of your original works), what would you do with them? Would they still be the same or would you take them in a completely other direction?

R.A.S: I do have complete freedom, so it's a moot point!

Me: *laugh* good to know.  

Me: What's next for Drizzt now that the Neverwinter Saga is finished (that you can tell us about)?
This is what's next. 

R.A.S: "The Companions" comes out in August. That's all I will say. No spoilers on this one, though I think it might be the best book I've ever written - certainly in the top three, with "Homeland" and "Mortalis."

Me: I will definitely be on the look for that. One of the things I've always wondered is, when writing in a shared world like Forgotten Realms or Star Wars (no, this is not a question about Chewbacca lol), how much say does the owner of the world have as to what goes into the book in terms of content? I mean, do they mostly give you a freehand or do they micromanage it?

R.A.S: It depends on the world. With Star Wars, the author gets very little control. With the Realms, I get much more control. Generally speaking, if you're working on an active intellectual property that is associated with big-dollar projects like movies, you're not going to be able to do many dramatic things. Even the Chewy thing was not my idea and I was told I had to include it.

Me: I heard about that, that killing Chewy wasn't your idea I mean. It’s a shame that that overshadows the book, because I thought that Vector Prime was actually pretty good. And I hope they ask you to come back and write another one.          

Me: Getting away from shared worlds for a moment. You've also written quite a number of original series, like the Demon Wars saga, Echoes of the Fourth Magic, the Highwayman and so on. For those who haven't read them, what can you tell us about them (with as little spoilers as possible, please)? And which do you prefer, working in a shared world or your own work?

The first Demon Wars book.
R.A.S: I've done several other series.

The Crimson Shadow Trilogy is a rollicking, Three-Musketeer-type adventure with one of my favorite (funniest) characters, the Highwayhalfling Oliver deBurrows.

The Spearwielder's Tales is an analogy of my own journey into fantasy.

The Chronicles of Ynis Aielle includes my first book, "Echoes of the Fourth Magic," and details a future Earth that is its own fantasy realm.

DemonWars is my most ambitious project ever. The original series encompasses 7 large books, which tell the stories of heroes and villains a'plenty, create an entirely new gemstone-based magical system, and a logical set of societal structures to go along with it.

The first Highwayman book.
The Highwayman and the Saga of the First King are four more books set in the DemonWars world. I hope to do more. This is my Forgotten Realms, my Middle Earth, my Shannara.

Me: As a world builder myself, I can relate =). Do you plan to write more in those universes, or to create new ones?

R.A.S: More DemonWars, certainly. I doubt I'll ever create another one, but you never know.

Me: What's the world building process like for you? I mean, do your universes open themselves up to you or do you have to fight it for every little scrap of detail?

R.A.S: I spent six months building the world - geography, races, social structures and magic system - for DemonWars before I ever started writing the books. Everything has to make sense or the whole property falls apart, and that takes detailed work.

Me: Indeed. On a semi-related subject, how do you come up with a character's (original or otherwise) personality? I mean, do you know who the character is going in, or do you discover who they are gradually?

R.A.S: I float an idea about my head for a character, introduce him or her, and let the character reveal himself/herself to me as we go along. This was true of Drizzt, who wasn't supposed to have a big role in the first book, and even more true of Entreri, who showed up on a whim at the end of that same book.

Me:  Would you be open to having the Demon Wars books, or any of your original work, adapted into a movie or game or whatever? Have you even been approached about such a thing? 

R.A.S: Sure. And I have had some close calls in this regard. Nothing yet. The truth is that my most desired work by licensors is Dark Elf, and Hasbro owns the rights to the Realms, not I.

Me: I hope that that changes, because I (and many other fans I’m sure) would love to see a Demon Wars movie or an Echoes of the Fourth Magic movie (so far, that’s my personal favorite of your original work). Though I’m actually pretty surprised that Hasbro hasn’t thought to make a Drizzt movie to be honest. You’d think they’d be all over it, given the character’s popularity *shrugs*.   

Me: But anyway, the first of your non-Forgotten Realms universes (or at least one that you helped to create) that I was really aware of, was the world of Amalur; which, of course, was the setting for the video game Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning. I thought that both game and world were fantastic and had lots of potential for expanding upon, and it’s a terrible shame that 38 Studios went out of business before they could do more with it. I was looking forward to the Amalur MMO, myself. What was the process (like where did the idea for, say, the Fey come from? And the back and forth between 38 Studios and you Ect) that went into making that world? And, if given the chance, would you become involved with it again if/when someone buys the rights to the IP?

R.A.S: The Fey were an add by the BHG team to the 10,000 year history of Amalur that I and my team had created. It breaks my heart that so many people think of Amalur only in the terms of the "Reckoning" game, because that's all they can see. The truth is that Reckoning takes a tiny slice of space and time from Amalur and expands it into an RPG. The Fey, for example, only existed for a small amount of time in the world, and the concept of "fate" as portrayed in Reckoning was a brief belief among the people.

Me: Well, I would've loved to see more of the world beyond Reckoning anyway (and I know others who feel the same way). With that said, is there any chance of Amalur novels popping up anytime soon? That's just something I would personally love to see.

R.A.S: I doubt it, as the intellectual property is owned by Rhode Island. It will be up for auction, so we'll see.

Me: Indeed, I’m keeping fingers cross. Aside from Amalur, you've also worked on other video games (Like Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, Everquest 2, and Quake III) as well. What would you say the biggest differences and challenges are for writing for an interactive medium like video games as opposed to writing in non-interactive ones like novels, comics or film scripts and so on? And what role do you see the writer playing in the creation of video games in the future?

R.A.S: When you're writing for a game, the most important character will be the one the player creates. In a book, you live vicariously through my created characters. In a game, you live through your own.

Me: As a writer and gamer, I'm interested in writing for that medium myself, but I'm not exactly the most tech oriented guy in the world. What advice (if any) can you give to people like me who would want to write for games?

R.A.S: Writing is writing, and anyone who calls himself a writer should be writing. Period. There are no tricks or shortcuts; it's about finding your voice and learning to say things in the manner you wish. Then you sit back and hope other people like your choices. 

Me: Very good answer ^_^.  In other interviews, you've often talked about how things like e-books and ever evolving technology are changing the publishing industry, and it certainly has (I and many of the indie authors following this blog are living proof lol). How do you see this change affecting not only published writers but the industry as a whole?  

R.A.S: I can't even begin to predict. The changes are already dramatic, with brick-and-mortar stores falling by the wayside. Publishers and authors are continually scrambling to create a new relationship in the changing environment, and it's very hard, because that change isn't slowing. In addition, the new behemoths, like Amazon and iTunes, are trying to set the parameters and dominate the structure, and what's good for them might not be what's good for publishers or authors. Things will look very different in a few years, I'm sure.

Me: No doubt of that.

Me: What advice can you give to aspiring and indie writers looking to get published?

R.A.S: Same as always: if you can quit, then quit. If you can't quit, then you're a writer. Writing and publishing are two different things. For publishing advice, go and look at the newest edition of a periodical like "The Writer's Market." It will teach you what you need to know. I wish I could offer more, but I'm at a very different place than someone who needs this advice, and honestly, I haven't tried to sell a book in many years.

Me: it’s welcomed advice, nonetheless ^_^.

Me: Ok, This one is for the nerds: Who would win a fight: Drizzt, Rand al'Thor (from the Wheel of Time series) or Elric of Melnibone? Lol. Only joking.    

R.A.S: The character of whichever writer is writing the battle, no doubt.

Me: R.A. Salvatore, thank very much for joining me today.

R.A.S: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me.

And thanks to everyone for their undying patients. I hope you all enjoyed the interview. If you'd like to know more about R.A. Salvatore and his work, then visit him on the web at: http://www.rasalvatore.com/ 
and on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/RA-Salvatore/54142479810
and on Twitter: https://twitter.com/R_A_Salvatore

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