Ryan Thomason

WPR Talks to R.A. Salvatore, We Are Humbled

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WatchPlayRead got a chance to talk to someone we consider THE modern fantasy writer of our time, R.A. Salvatore! We talk about the Neverwinter Series, D&D, Killing off Chewbaca for George Lucas, and more from the brilliant author. The second book in the new Drizzt series (Neverwinter) actually releases TODAY so pick it up! Our review will be up of the book soon, so keep your eyes peeled! (yes, I’ve had a copy for weeks, I’m a slow reader!)

WPR: What’s it been like working in the Forgotten Realms for such a big part of your career?

RA: Like everything in life, it’s had its ups and downs, but mostly (I’m happy to say) it’s been a real pleasure. Working in a shared world can be a nightmare. There are so many designers and writers working on projects at any given time – and of course, the different projects have different lead times – so it’s easy for inconsistencies to wriggle their way into the world. We do the best we can, but there are so many outside pressures that we often have to go back and fix things.

That said, there is also an amazing advantage to working in this environment. I get to stand on the shoulders of creative giants. When I’m hanging out with Ed Greenwood and he’s telling me some of the cool things he’s working on, how can I not get inspired? The best parts, of course, are when I and another writer or designer are nearly intersecting. We can build off the edges of each other’s work; it can add tremendous flavor to what otherwise might have been a flat scene.

WPR: Do you actually play any Dungeons and Dragons?

RA: I’ve been playing pretty regularly since 1980-81. I used to play a lot more in the early days, when I was in college and the real world never got in my way. But even after getting married, having kids, working long hours, I always managed to find a night for a D&D game. I’m still playing with guys I met in 1989, and occasionally with some of the folks from my first group, more than three decades ago.

We play all the editions. We just finished a 4th Edition campaign, but when we go back, I’ll likely be DM’ing, so it’s back to our 1st Edition – 2nd Edition (with added House Rules) version.

WPR: What was it like when you were told to kill off Chewbaca in the Vector Prime novel?

RA: Yikes. They’re going to put that on my tombstone, I’m sure: “Here lies R.A. Salvatore… He killed Chewy, the bastard.”

Oh well. Here’s the deal: I came aboard the project, the New Jedi Order, after DelRey got the license to do the Star Wars books. I was working on my DemonWars Saga for them at the time, but they asked if I would take a break from it and do this first book. They needed it done fast, and I’m able to deliver a pretty clean first draft. I was also working on the Drizzt series, but Wizards of the Coast was gracious enough to push back a deadline so that I could do Star Wars – they were actually
quite happy for me.

So I signed the contract and flew out to meet with the folks putting this enormous series together. After I had the basics down and knew, generally, what they wanted from me, I went home, put the advance check in the bank and worked up an outline for the first book.

A couple of weeks later, I was on a conference call with DelRey and Lucasfilm. The editor from Lucasfilm was very excited about my outline. She thought I had nailed it, but after saying so, added, “Wait, didn’t anyone tell you that you had to kill Chewy?”

The next words out of my mouth remain unprintable, even on cable. I didn’t want anything to do with that. After a few days and several conversations, including with Mike Stackpole, who was my go-to guy for everything Star Wars, I was convinced that they were doing it for the right reasons, and so I agreed. “But,” I insisted, “you have to let me do it my way.”

WPR: In Gauntlgrym, what made you decide to have such big time jumps measured in decades between arcs?

RA: Well, that’s one of the drawbacks of working in a shared world. The Forgotten Realms isn’t my world; they just let me play in their sandbox. Wizards of the Coast told me what they were doing at a big meeting at GenCon a few years ago. After that, I got my say, in the form of a multi-page letter addressing my concerns and offering some suggestions. A couple they took, most they didn’t, but that’s fine. It’s their world, as I said.

So when they finally sorted it all out, they had advanced the world a hundred years. So if I wanted to keep playingin their sandbox, I had to follow suit. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was painful, but it was also exciting, opening up all of these new possibilities for the character. So in the end, no complaints from me.

WPR: After some 20 books featuring Drizzt, how do you try to keep the character fresh? Is he almost like an old companion to you now?

RA: What do you mean, “almost”? He’s as comfortable to me as a 20-year-old dog at the foot of my bed. I was 28 when I first met him. I’m 52 now.

I keep him fresh the same way I try to keep my own life fresh: by moving forward, always forward. Writing isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. I use my work to ask myself all the important questions of life, so a character like Drizzt becomes a sounding board for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing an autobiography or anything like that, but the truth is that I see the world differently now than I did when I started writing these books. Then, I was 28, invincible, immortal and knew everything. Now I creak and limp and know the true timeline and know I don’t know anything else.

So by writing my perspectives onto a character like Drizzt, he has to find his own answers, too, and finding answers is what life is all about. It keeps us learning and growing. It keeps us form getting stale.

WPR: My introduction to your work was with The Demon Awakens in the DemonWars Sega when I was a freshman in high school, what was your inspiration for that series?

RA: I love that series. I consider the 4th book, Mortalis, to be the best thing I’ve ever
written. I wrote it during a very difficult time in my life; I was watching my brother wither away from cancer. That book saved my sanity.

My inspiration for DemonWars? It’s the world I always wanted to create, my Forgotten Realms or Shanarra, or Middle-earth. I wanted to write a big world with some big books. Dozens of characters, hundreds of subplots going on around the main action, and all of it introducing the reader to a wonderful fantasy setting, full
of magic and mystery nad danger and adventure.

DemonWars was supposed to be the world for Luthien and Oliver of the Crimson Shadow Trilogy, but I didn’t have the time to sit back and flesh it out when I wrote those books. And I’m glad I didn’t, because by the time I got to writing DemonWars, I was ready to do it. I’d been thinking about it for so long – the magic system with gemstones, the church and kingdoms, the bloody cap dwarves, the Jhesta tu mystics, all of it – that by the time I started writing the books, I felt like I knew the place as well as I knew my hometown.

I’ve already gone back there as the setting of my novel The Highwayman, and the Saga of the First King trilogy following that book. I expect to return toDemonWars many times in the future. I hope so, anyway.

WPR: Killing off the hero was huge for me in The Demon Apostle, it was the first time I’d read a book where a main character died, do you think it is something that more writers need to do?

RA: Do more writers need to get bloodthirsty? No, I don’t think so. Writers need to follow the story, to go where it takes them, honestly and courageously. Some characters will survive, some will die. It’s as simple as that; be honest to the story.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing Drizzt books, but that doesn’t mean Drizzt will be in them. If the story tells me it’s time for him to go, he’s gone. The Drizzt books will continue, though, because that’s just a generic name I tag on my Forgotten Realms work. There will be a logical continuation of the Drizzt series, book to book, even if he meets his demise in one of them. The road to adventure continues, as it did in DemonWars.

Something struck me profoundly after the death you mention in that series. I realized only then that this wasn’t that hero’s book, but Pony’s story. Because of the events in The Demon Apostle, I was able to write Mortalis, which is a book about coming to terms with death and getting through the grieving process. Without The Demon Apostle, there would have been no Mortalis, and that would have been a shame, particularly from my perspective, because that’s a book I needed to write.

WPR: Neverwinter releases soon, after the action of Gauntlgrym how do you try to top it?

RA: Just watch and see. Neverwinter is a revenge book. The end of Gauntlgrym makes it clear that Drizzt and Dahlia have a dangerous road ahead of them. There are so many factions battling for control of the region, each with its own agenda, and some aren’t quite what they seem. I was constantly surprised when writing Neverwinter and so were the characters, and usually at the wrong end of a blade or the business end of a magic spell.

Going forward, I can tell you that I’m almost done writing the next one after Neverwinter, and the pacing and action doesn’t even slow down for a deep breath. That’s usually a good indication that I’m having fun.

WPR: Would you ever consider doing a new series on Aydrian of the Demonwars Saga or is that storyline locked up for good?

RA: Absolutely, I would! I’m considering it all the time. I went back to that world to

tell the story of the Highwayman and I’m sure I’ll go back again – and yes, when I do, I expect that it will pick up after the original DemonWars Saga, with all the surviving characters. I don’t know when that will be, but I’l be very surprised if it doesn’t happen in the next few years.

WPR: How do you take a break from the giant mass of books you have written over the years?
Do you ever fear that you will burn out?

>RA: No. Like I said, writing isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. Writers write. Wen Andy Rooney announced his departure from “60 Minutes” the other day, he insisted that he wasn’t retiring, because writers write until they die. I get that. I know he’s not kidding. Being a writer means that you can’t be happy unless you’re writing.

I do try to mix things up a bit, though, by taking on other types of projects, like creating the world for the video games of 38 Studios along with Curt Schilling, Todd McFarlane and an incredibly talented group of writers, artists, designers and engineers we’ve brought into the project.

Also, I tried my hand at comic writing, working with my son Geno on a 5-part Drizzt series for IDW. Who knows what might come next? A movie? A television series? If anything like that breaks, I’ll be there to help out, keyboard in hand.

It’s not what I do, it’s who I am.

Thank you so much for talking with us Mr. Salvatore, and don’t forget to go out to your book retailers today and pick up Neverwinter! If you’re hoping to get some signed copies from him, you’re in luck (if you live in the right city) a book tour starts today also!

West Coast

October 4th

Burbank, CA – Emerald Knights Comics & Games (1:00 – 3:00 PM)
Los Angeles, CA – Meltdown Comics (6:00 – 8:00 PM)

October 5th

Redondo Beach, CA – Mysterious Galaxy Books (7:00 – 9:00 PM)

October 6th

San Diego, CA – Mysterious Galaxy Books (7:00 – 9:00 PM)

October 7th

Tacoma, WA – Joint Base Lewis-McChord (3:30 – 5:30 PM)
Seattle , WA – University Bookstore (7:30 – 8:30 PM)

East Coast

October 10th

Chicago, IL – Barnes & Noble at DePaul University (6:00 – 8:00 PM)

October 11th

Columbus, OH – Barnes & Noble at Ohio State University (7:00 – 9:00 PM)

October 12th

Cincinnati, OH – Joseph Beth Booksellers (3:30 – 5:00 PM)
Lexington, KY – Joseph Beth Booksellers (7:00 – 9:00 PM)

October 14th

New York Comic-Con – Neverwinter Panel (4:00 – 5:00 PM)
New York Comic-Con- Neverwinter Signing (5:30 – 6:30 PM)

October 15th

Leominster, MA – Barnes & Noble (12:00 – 2:00 PM)

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