There’s a lot going on in the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons this year. In celebration of their 40th anniversary, there are multiple projects releasing in the coming months, not the least of which is The Sundering. It’s an apocalyptic event that’s reshaping the Forgotten Realms and it’s being kicked off with a 6-book series.
The series features six of the finest authors writing today and it just so happens that I got the chance to interview Richard Lee Byers, the man who penned The Reaver, fourth book in The Sundering. We talked about a variety of D&D-related topics and I even got to ask him a couple of questions about his interests and influences. Read the interview here below for more about this remarkable author and his works.
Geeks of Doom: You’ve written extensively in the Forgotten Realms prior to The Sundering, how are things different now as opposed to what the Realms once were?
Richard Lee Byers: If you mean, how does The Sundering change things, I can’t get too specific. I don’t want to give away the surprises in my novel, and Bob, Paul, Erin, Troy, and Ed would surely take exception to me spoiling theirs. I will say that several years back, in the service of creating new opportunities for stories and adventures, the publisher opted to change the face of the Realms with a cataclysm (the Spellplague) and advance the timeline a hundred years. In retrospect, it’s clear that some of what emerged from this strategy was exciting and effective, but at the same time, the setting lost certain elements that fans prized. Some people even decided the new version didn’t feel like “their” Realms anymore. The Sundering fixes that. Without throwing away the cool elements that emerged from the Spellplague, it brings back aspects fans loved that had temporarily left the stage and moves the setting forward into an exciting new era. Of course, when discussing how the Realms changed and continue to change, I should also indicate what doesn’t change. The Realms has always been a complex, richly detailed world of high fantasy and high adventure, and I trust it always will be.
Geeks of Doom: I’m told there is a brand new character for The Reaver. How would you describe this new protagonist [antagonist?] that you’ve brought to life?
Richard Lee Byers: Anton Marivaldi is one of the most infamous pirates operating on the Sea of Fallen Stars. He’s fearless, dynamic, a master swordsman, and a resourceful strategist and tactician. He’s also ruthless, cold, sardonic, and burdened with a secret melancholy he keeps well hidden from everyone else. Even his fellow buccaneers don’t like him very much. Naturally, there are reasons for his deficiencies of character, and the reader discovers them as the story unfolds.
Geeks of Doom: How does writing in another person’s creation differ from a more open-sourced version of a worldscape? I guess what I’m asking is for your take on the pros and cons of writing in the Realms with so many other folks who are also sending their characters through there. Are there many restrictions on character usage (if you involve another established character) or what you’re allowed to change?
Richard Lee Byers: No editor has ever had a problem with me using characters from the gaming sourcebooks as secondary characters in my fiction. This may be because I mostly leave them as I found them. I haven’t used characters derived from somebody else’s novel in my own fiction, and I probably won’t. Even if the other novelist gave me his blessing, there are just too many potential problems related to inconsistent characterization and snarled continuity.
The fundamental principle is that anytime you make real changes to a shared world, the publisher does have to sign off on them. Fortunately, the goal of many fantasy heroes is to fend off a threat and maintain the status quo. Victory means things don’t change. In my experience, the truly big changes often happen because the publisher has decided they should. That was the case in the Haunted Lands trilogy (Unclean, Undead, and Unholy.) The Forgotten Realms gurus knew how they wanted the realm of Thay to evolve, then hired me to write a story that would show how it got to where they wanted it to go.
Geeks of Doom: As far as The Reaver goes, how much structuring was given to you as far as pushing the agenda of The Sundering, as a book series?
Richard Lee Byers: I knew going in that The Sundering was supposed to accomplish certain changes to the setting, and that my particular novel had the job of revealing a couple of those changes. But it was up to me to conceive a story that would get that job done. Subject to editorial approval, of course.
Geeks of Doom: Are you using this new series to also jumpstart your own series as a long-term goal or was this a one-shot?
Richard Lee Byers: I want to continue Anton’s adventures, and I hope the publisher will agree that they ought to continue. Having said that, let me assure Brotherhood of the Griffon fans that I’m not abandoning Aoth Fezim and the gang. I hope to continue that series as well.
Geeks of Doom: How did it feel to be chosen as one of just six authors to kick off this big change on Faerun?
Richard Lee Byers: It felt great. It was an expression of confidence in my abilities and an opportunity to participate in an exciting, high-profile project. And who wouldn’t be psyched to work with fine writers and great people like Bob, Ed, Erin, Paul, and Troy?
Geeks of Doom: I’ve read a bit of your work, how do you feel this compares to say Dissolution? I pick that book because War of the Spider Queen was also a collaborative venture between authors.
Richard Lee Byers: To my mind, taken as a whole, The Sundering is a bigger story that makes bigger, more significant changes to the entirety of the Forgotten Realms. (And I say that remembering full well that we did some pretty big stuff in Spider Queen.)
In terms of story structure and the writing process, the big difference is that each volume in The Sundering is a separate story with its own protagonist, plot problem, beginning and end. You don’t have to read the previous books in the sequence to appreciate what’s happening in the next one, although if you do read them all, you’ll view the grand panorama of the changes occurring all around FaerÃ»n.
That sets it apart from War of the Spider Queen, which is all one story, a six-part serial where the same protagonists progress through a single humongous adventure and each new novelist picked up where the last one left off. That required an even higher level of communication among the participants and restricted us a little more. A novel absolutely had to end where and how the overall series outline said it should. If it didn’t, it threw everything out of whack for the authors of subsequent volumes who were writing based on the outline.
Geeks of Doom: On a different note, rumor has it you’re a big fan of the Preston & Child books (I sold those hand over fist when I ran a Waldenbooks years ago). I also heard that you like Joe R. Lansdale’s work [fun fact: I live in the same small Texas City he does]. I mention these because I see some of the wry humor in your writing that might be influenced by these authors. However, you do have a very unique way of rendering the story that is very much you. Do you have anyone that you consider a direct influence?
Richard Lee Byers: I suspect writers are most influenced by the authors they loved when they were young. In my case, that list would include Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Karl Edward Wagner, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Jack Vance, Raymond Chandler, and John. D. MacDonald.
But I hope I’ve never stopped learning from the good stuff I read. If you see anything in my work that reminds you of Preston & Child or Lansdale, that’s awesome. (I’m currently reading Lansdale’s The Thicket, by the way. It’s every bit as brilliant as one expects a Lansdale novel to be.) Another contemporary author on my read-whatever-he-writes list is the historical adventure novelist Bernard Cornwell. Whatever works in my stories involving whole armies fighting on the battlefields of the Forgotten Realms probably does so because I’ve devoured his stuff. (Right before starting the Lansdale book, I read Cornwell’s newest, The Pagan Lord. It too is absolutely terrific.)
Geeks of Doom: What’s your favorite book you’ve written? How about your favorite that someone else wrote?
Richard Lee Byers: My favorite is usually either the one I’m currently writing or the one I just wrote. I think that’s a good attitude for an author to have. If you’re not psyched about what’s going on in your career now, why are you still pursuing it?
That said, I’m very pleased with The Reaver. That’s partly because the early reviewers say it’s an exciting epic fantasy with fully realized characters who evolve over the course of the story. That means they’re getting out of it what I worked hard to put into it.
I’m also very pleased with Blind God’s Bluff: A Billy Fox Novel, an urban fantasy published a year or so ago. Again, I think it came out really well and urban fantasy made a nice change for me from sword and sorcery. I love sword and sorcery and always will, but you can still go stale if you write the exact same genre all the time. Or at least that’s true of me.
Besides, that book is all about poker, and I love poker. So it was fun to write about it.
Geeks of Doom: Anything you would like to tell our readers about you or your work?
Richard Lee Byers: You can find pretty much everything I’ve written by visiting my Amazon Author Page: Richard Lee Byers. I write a monthly opinion column for the SF news site Airlock Alpha. You can find that here.
I invite everyone to add me to your Circles on Google+, follow me on Twitter (@rleebyers), and Friend me on Facebook. Facebook is where you’ll find me mouthing off most often.
A big thank you to Richard for taking the time out to answer some questions for us. His new book, The Reaver: The Sundering, Book IV, is out on February 4, 2014 in hardcover and a week later for the Kindle edition.