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Interview: Fantasy Author R.A. Salvatore, Part 2
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R.A. SalvatoreIn this, the second part from my interview with author R.A. Salvatore, I explore his writings and other projects in which he is involved. I wanted to split the interview in order to create some continuity regarding the subjects our conversation covered. Being a New York Times bestselling author with more than 15 million books printed in the United States, having him take the time to answer so of my questions was both an honor and a privilege. As we talked, we kind of bounced from subject to subject as most people do when talking. Bob was very relaxed and very down to earth which enabled me to relax a bit. He is, after all, one of my favorite authors of all time. Hopefully I didn’t gush too much while we talked. If you have ever wondered how he got started in the business or what inspired him, he was kind enough to reveal that to me. He also explained his connection to the Forgotten Realms, who his favorite character is, and whether or not we will be seeing a Drizzt movie in the near future. Be sure to check out Part 1 of the interview, where he gives his take on electronic books and media, his preference between digital and physical books, and explains why he hates talk radio.

And with that, here we go…

Geeks of Doom: How did you get into writing?

R.A. Salvatore: It’s funny, it more found me than I found it. When I was very young, I used to read and write all the time. I would read my Charlie Brown books all the time. I had a deal with my mom, she would let me bag school. As long as I was getting straight A’s, she would let me bag school and let me stay home and read my Charlie Brown books, my Peanuts books. I was probably in first grade, second grade.

And then something happened over the course of going through school, they just kept giving me things to read that held no interest for me. They were not relevant in any way, shape or form. Silas Marner, Ethan Frome, Moby Dick…and it’s like “you’re kidding me, right? What is this stuff?” It got so bad that by the time I left high school I was only doing the writing I had to do to get a grade and only doing the reading I had to do to get a grade. When I got to college, my freshman year my sister gave me a four book set, a flipcase. It was the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. A few months later we had a huge blizzard up here in New England and everything was shut down for a week. I;m trapped in my mom’s house, essentially, at eighteen years old, so I pulled out those books and I started reading. I read them like four times that week. I went back to school and changed my major from Math to Communications because all my electives became literature courses.

I went from there to reading everything I could get my hands on in fantasy. I fell in love with Tolkien. I started reading Terry Brooks, I started reading Michael Moorcock and Stephen Donaldson and Terry Pratchett, you know…all of it. By the time I graduated I had read pretty much every book out there in fantasy. There weren’t that many, if you remember, back in the late seventies, early eighties.  You’d go into a bookstore and there would be one bay of Science Fiction/Fantasy. Just one bay. So by the time I graduated from college, I really had nothing left to read in fantasy. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife of many, many years, said “why don’t you write the one you’ve been threatening to write all these years?” And so I did.

I was working in a plastics factory, a mindless job, and in my head I would just start coming up with what I wanted to write. And then I’d go to work at night, I was working as a bouncer in a nightclub. I would get home from work, I’d have to unwind from that job. I’d light some candles in my room, I’d put on Fleetwood Mac and I’d write. And that’s how I fell into it.

I wasn’t trying to get published, I was trying to fulfill a creative need and to have something to show my grandkids someday. I never thought I’d get published. Then after I showed some friends the book, they said “you should send this out.” So I sent it to a bunch of publishers, this was the early eighties, and  got some awful rejection letters. And that just made me mad, so I had to prove them wrong. So I kept at it, I kept working, I kept perfecting my craft.

My break came in 1987 with TSR when I showed them the book. They couldn’t publish the book but they liked my style, they liked what I was doing. They asked me to come in and audition for the Forgotten Realms. The Crystal Shard was my first published book, though my first written book was Echoes of the Fourth Magic (finally published in 1990).

The joy I get out of writing is exploring the characters. Not just the main characters, it’s exploring the villains, too. These are the things that make writing fun for me, they make it sing for me.The stories are fun and I love the plot twists and I love all the unexpected things that happen but it’s really the journey of the characters that I’m interested in and have been since the beginning.

Geeks of Doom: Who would you say your favorite character is?

R.A. Salvatore: It has to be Drizzt, it has to be. After all these years, and all these stories, all these essays and watching him grow up…it has to be him. I should say something else and name some minor character and give some clever reason why this character is really the guy on the side that I’ve got close to my heart. That’s what I should say, but I’d be lying. For me, it’s Drizzt. There are others who have made a huge mark on me. My favorite character for humor is Oliver deBurrows, the highwayhalfling from the Crimson Shadow books, who is a combination of Inigo Montoya, from the Princess Bride, and the little French guy on the wall in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I love Oliver, I love writing him. He’s so much fun that I’m laughing out loud while I’m typing.

Having said all that, it’s Drizzt. It’s been twenty-three years, my license plate is DRKELF and people keep asking me “who is Dr. Kelf?”

Geeks of Doom: Ten Towns and Icewind Dale, how much of that is your creation?

R.A. Salvatore: All of it. That’s all mine. Ten Towns…we found a little sliver of land on the map that nobody else was near with gaming or novels and they gave it to me. That became my creation, Icewind Dale, Ten Towns, all of that. Then, after the three books were out, we got all the emails from people wanting to know where this Dark Elf had come from. I got the phone call saying we want a prequel trilogy, go back in time…I said “Okay, I have all those [Gary] Gygax modules, the Giants and the Queen of the Demonweb Pits. And I had the fiend folio, which has a one page entry on playing a Drow character but that’s all I have on Dark Elves, what else is there?” And they said nothing, so I created Menzoberranzan. That’s how a shared world works. A whole bunch of people building it, but hopefully building it within the boundaries, the flavor, that Ed [Greenwood] had originally set up.

Geeks of Doom: Regarding that and the War of the Spider Queen series, how much input did you have with that or is that just something they took off with?

R.A. Salvatore: It took them a long time to even talk me into agreeing to do it. I try to stay away from the gods in my books, it’s not my style. But they needed to do it for game purposes and they talked me into it. I had a lot of input because I was at the initial meeting when we came up with the story arc. I had a lot to do with the planning of that. They put my name on it for marketing reasons and I was heavily involved in the editing process and the outlining of the original story arc.

Geeks of Doom: Do you prefer writing in the Forgotten Realms, as a world? Is it easier to write in a pre-packaged world that you can modify slightly or do you like more open rein? I’m just kind of asking what your preference might be.

R.A. Salvatore: Oh, I know exactly where you’re going with this. My answer is they’re different but they both give me the same type of creative satisfaction. It’s a different sandbox to put my characters into. But which do I prefer? There are times I would say the Forgotten Realms and there are other times, mostly because of changes that happened, where I wish I had my own realm. Because I hate that I have to play along with some things that I don’t agree with. For example, as we’ve gone through several different iterations of the game and the world over the last twenty-three years. It really comes down to it’s their sandbox and I choose whether or not I want to play in it.

Geeks of Doom: How much do you actually follow the rules and regulations of the current edition of the Dungeons & Dragons books? Is there any consistency to that or do you just adapt it slightly as the books change? I know a lot of the spells have changed over the years. A lot of the progression of the characters, their abilities, things like that have changed. Does any of that get integrated into your writing?

R.A. Salvatore: Remember, I’m trying to accomplish two things. I’m trying to make it make sense in a novel. And, of course, have consistency with what has come before. And I’m trying to be able to help the reader, many of whom are players, understand the new setting. So, it’s a blend, it’s a fine line to walk…and it’s hard sometimes.

Geeks of Doom: It seems like it’s become more difficult over time then.

R.A. Salvatore: And some things piss me off, I’ll be honest. Some of the changes just piss me off. Infravision’s gone. What about the time clock of Menzoberranzan then? Oh, they just light it up now? That’s boring. You know, some things just irk me. But again, it’s their sandbox.

Geeks of Doom: It sounds like you do a lot of research when you’re preparing to write, even just for the battles.

R.A. Salvatore: Well, I try to stay current. There’s no way I can keep up with all the products they’re putting out. That’s why I really lean on the editors. But the core product, the rules, the magic system? Yeah, I keep up with that. I drag my gaming group along, kicking and screaming as we enter a new edition. Some of them just want to play First Edition [Advanced Dungeons & Dragons].

Geeks of Doom: Are there any special routines that you have when you sit down to write?

R.A. Salvatore: Yeah, I have to be sitting at the bottom of my pool and it’s difficult to find a laptop that will survive it. [Laughter] No, I was a lot more structured when I was younger because I had young kids. So, I had to get the kids up and off to school. Then I’d get my cup of coffee and then I would go, too. I knew I had X number of hours and I had to get this work done. Now, I’m older, I’m an empty nester, my kids are out. I take it easy. I walk around, I’ve got my laptop with me all day long. I’ll sit down and watch some TV or take a walk around the neighborhood with my wife. Or the Red Sox are playing and I’ve got tickets, so we’ve got to leave at five. Then I don’t get any work done. I know what my word count is, I know where I should be to make my deadlines and then it’s up to me to get there. It’s very informal now. When I’m really into it (at those parts where I really know I have to be at my best, there’s a lot of those) and those scenes where I’m not quite sure where I’m going with it and I need a little extra help, then I’ll bury myself in my office and I’ll put on some music. Two selections in particular: George Winston’s December album and Jonn Serrie’s And the Stars Go With You. I’ll just let them play in the background and I’ll just sit down and type. But at the same time I’m doing that, I’ve got World of Warcraft on the other screen, minimized. I’ll write for twenty minutes then I’ll pop up World of Warcraft. Ten minutes later, I’ll minimize the screen and I’ll go back to writing. It’s got to be fun, too, eh?

Geeks of Doom: We know that you’re working on a couple of games, how is that going?

R.A. Salvatore: Awesome. Wait until February. For five years we’ve been telling people that we’re working on this World of Amalur. We’ve had to go dark, we’ve had to be quiet. we can’t let too much out because when you’re making a game, particularly an MMO, things are going to change. Are you really going to have the money to put in those features that you’d like to get in? “Yeah we love this feature but be have to take these five features out to put it in.” It’s always an evolving process, so it’s crazy to go out early on and tell people what you’re doing and what you’re expecting because you’re setting expectations that maybe you can’t meet. So we’ve had to go quiet, we couldn’t really talk about it and the biggest answer I’ve given for five years is “I can’t talk about it.” And now February is coming and Reckoning comes out. That’s the first product in the World of Amalur and it’s gorgeous. I can’t wait.

Geeks of Doom: Will your books ever be adapted into films? Does that ever come up in conversation?

R.A. Salvatore: Only every other day. [Laughter] It’s hard. Hasbro owns the rights and they’re interested, they really want to do a movie. They’ve made that quite clear. But you’ve got to be really careful. A bad movie would really hurt us, it would hurt me more than anyone. They’re saying all the right things, we’re asking all the right people, we’re trying to make it work. Will a studio be interested, will somebody lay out the money to do a movie? Because you’re not going to make a good Drizzt movie for twenty million dollars, which is a lot of money anyway. So there will be a lot of money on the table, people that put money on the table want a lot of control. Hasbro’s not going to give anyone a lot of control over their franchise, I hope. So, it’s complicated. I hope they do a movie before I die and I hope they let me be a very, very big part of it.

Geeks of Doom: When you released your first collaborative book with your son, we in the book selling industry had almost no knowledge it was coming. Was that on purpose?

R.A. Salvatore: One of the things you learn in the publishing industry is that things don’t always go as planned. When Geno and I wrote The Stone of Tymora trilogy, at the time  Wizards of the Coast was building up a young adult book line. And they wanted this in the Young Adult section. They didn’t want any confusion, they didn’t want it marketed with the Drizzt books. They wanted it in Young Adult. Well, by the time the first book came out, their young adult book line was all but gone. It was an experiment, they thought they were going to be able to do more. It didn’t work out they way they thought so they still put the book over there in the young adult format. So what I’m expecting is that we’re going to take these three books and put them  into hardcover and put them over in the Drizzt section. That is what we agreed to very early on, we go the young adult way first and then move it over where it belongs later. That’s my hope anyway.

Geeks Of Doom: I’m really glad I got the chance to speak with you. You’ve been one of my favorite authors for many, many years and I look forward to reading everything you have coming out.

R.A. Salvatore: Thank you so much, this was a lot of fun. I went to your site today. Very cool. I look forward to the articles.

Geeks Of Doom: Thanks a lot! Bye.

R.A. Salvatore: Bye.

We discussed very little of the newest book Neverwinter, book 2 in the Neverwinter Saga, because I didn’t want to spoil the book for our readers. If you haven’t read his books and you like fantasy, give them a whirl. No one, and I mean no one, ever told me they didn’t like them…and I sold those books for well over a decade. I really appreciated the chance to talk to him and felt that he was genuinely a great guy. With more than fifty books to his credit (twenty-two of those have been New York Times bestsellers), almsot a dozen graphic novels, a multitude of short stories, as well as his D&D and video gaming contributions, it is obvious that he is a force with which to be reckoned. I look forward to many more books and stories, as I’m sure millions of others do, too.

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