GRADUAL INTERVIEW (April 2004)
Erik S:  Please comment on the process you go through to write a series of books. Do you tightly plot the entire series and then go back in and fill in the verbage or do you have a good idea where the series is heading but the story evolves as you write? Also, do you write as the passion strikes you or do force yourself to write X amout of words per day or pages per day? Last question, please comment on characters you have created that have struck a note with you and why and characters that in retrospect have disappointed.

Glad to hear about the new series....
I'm always reluctant to answer questions like yours simply because they're so complicated. <rueful smile>

First, let me say that there's only one way to be a writer, and that is to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and write. Everything else is just talk. So: 1) I don't force myself to write a certain amount every day, but I also don't wait for inspiration to strike. I write every day, and every day I give myself permission to write badly. If it *is* bad, I can always improve it when I rewrite. The important thing is to keep writing. As the music critic Newman once said of Beethoven, "Great composers do not compose because they are inspired. They become inspired because they are composing." 2) I learned long ago that it's important to avoid burnout. I write five days a week. And when it's quitting time, I quit, no matter how inspired I may be feeling. I don't write on weekends, or in the evenings, or on vacation. Rest refertilizes the brain.

When I was new at this, I plotted everything. Before I had written very much of "Lord Foul's Bane," I could have told you in detail the entire story of the first "Chronicles." But after years of experience I've learned that I can trust the part of my imagination that "plots" without having to give it so much conscious attention. So now, in "The Last Chronicles," I could give you a general description of where I'm going and why, what the characters are about, how they fit together, etc., but I couldn't tell you the story: it still contains vast unspecified areas which I will discover as I tell the story. HOWEVER. One thing is absolutely essential to me: I have to know the ending (where I'm going, and why), or else I can't even start. In the case of the first trilogy, that meant the ending of "The Power that Preserves." In the present case, that means the ending of "The Last Dark." The ending is my reason for telling the story. If I don't have that reason, I can't write.

One quixotic detail about how I work: I take lots and lots and LOTS of notes; I keep them in deliberately disorganized fashion; and I throw them away as soon as I've used them. In other words, when I plan ahead I force myself to review everything I have in mind; and when I need to check details for internal consistency I force myself to go over everything I've already done. This is--to put it politely--labor intensive; but it helps me keep the whole project in mind at all times.

I don't really like to discuss my feelings about my characters. I've already written entire books about them. If I haven't succeeded in being clear, I can't improve the situation at this late date. But I mentioned earlier that I've always had an idiosyncratic fondness for Hashi Lebwohl. And my most disappointing character is Davies Hyland, not because he disappointed me, but because I think I disappointed him. He deserved a better author than he got.

(04/13/2004)

Don (dlbpharmd):  Mr. Donaldson, as many have said above, thank you for writing my all-time favorite story, and thank you for continuing that story. I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for Runes to be published!

It seems, particularly in the 1st Chronicles, that so much of what is happening to Covenant physically is mirrored in the Land. For example, when his leprosy is at its worst, the Land is suffering under Foul's winter. My question: Is there any correlation between the onset of Covenant's leprosy and the enacting of the Ritual of Desecration?
When I planned the first "Chronicles," the relationship between Covenant's leprosy and the Land's plight was foremost in my mind. In fact, I designed the Land as a reverse reflection of Covenant's dilemma; and as the story progressed I consciously brought those two opposing images closer together until they were virtually superimposed.

However, the specific detail that you're asking about never actually crossed my mind. It's embarrassing, really, since it seems so obvious now that you raise it. But I didn't think of it for the same reason that I can't write prequels: as I suggested in an earlier answer, all of my attention is focused *forward*, on the ending. So I set up my reflections and then pursued their implications. I never asked myself about the implications of what might have happened *before* my starting point.

Everything that I've ever created about "the past" in any of my stories is there because it helps me get where I'm going: it doesn't exist for its own sake. In this important sense, if in no other, the Land is less "real" than, say, Middle Earth. Its history does not exist independent of "current events."

(04/13/2004)

Earl Craine:  Mr Donaldson,

Firstly I must say that your Thomas Covenant novels in particular and your writing in general have had a profound effect on me. Never before have I read characters so real and true to themselves and their beliefs, and so willing to follow those beliefs to wherever their destiny takes them. I first read the TC novels after I finished Tolkien, at the tender age of 11. TC and his trials later gave me the courage to continue through a difficult adolescence, as he didnít give up on himself and so neither would I. Your work has been an inspiration to me. Thank you!

Two questions.

Could you tell me your top ten list of your favourite fiction (any genre), with a sentence or two about each as to why each story makes the list?

Iíve given many friends of mine the TC novels to read, and some of them gave me Lord Foulís Bane back after TC rapes Lena, saying that they will not read a story where the main character is a rapist. What would you say to people who want to quit reading at that point of the story?

Thanks for your time.
Earl.
With all due respect, I have to say that "top ten" lists are too subjective to be explained. And--at least for me--such things change constantly. So, without explanation, here's today's list in no particular order:
1) Faulkner's Snopes trilogy
2) Erikson's Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen
3) Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
4) Scott's Raj Quartet
5) Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"
6) McKillip's "Book of Atrix Wolfe"
7) Powers' "Last Call"
8) Meredith's "The Egoist"
9) James' "The Sacred Fount"
10) Cherryh's "Downbelow Station"

I'm always saddened to hear that someone has quit reading when, say, Covenant rapes Lena, or Angus brutalizes Morn. I certainly understand such a reaction. When I get the chance, I say several things. 1) I write about tormented characters because no one else could possibly *need* the story as badly as they do--and it is in the nature of tormented characters to do tormented things. 2) If you quit reading, you'll never find out *why* I wrote what I did. If you do go on, you'll discover that what I did is not gratuitious; that, in fact, the whole subsequent story is about the terrible consequences of such violence. 3) Terrible things happen in the real world all the time. God knows they happen to me. If I'm not willing to write about those things, I pretty much have to give up my claim on being a serious writer.

I've been known to say other things as well, but only when I get really worked up. <grin>

(04/13/2004)

Jon-Ross Mallon:  First off, I just wanted to say, that I have not read another book which compares to yours in any way... I have read both series of TCOTC many times, and they are by far my favorite books. I have been hoping ever since reading the 2nd series the first time, about 5 years ago, you would come out with another series, and I couldn't be more happy that you are.
My question is about the marrowmeld that Elena made for Convenant, could you elaborate on the symbolism of the cross between Covenant and Bannor in the marrowmeld?
Think of it as the sort of cryptic warning you get from an oracle. The warning to Bannor is fairly straightforward. Look at what happens to Korik, Sill, and Doar in "The Power that Preserves." The warning to Covenant is more subtle. Elena's sculpture hints at the danger for Covenant in the moral absolutism/purity of the Bloodguard.

(04/14/2004)

Joey:  The Killing Stroke, Unworthy of the Angel, and Penance (while being short stories) are easily 3 of the most powerful and addicting pieces of literature I think I've ever read. I know you release a short story collection every few years (or decades, lol); Any new collection on the radar?
Sorry. I have two problems (well, two that are relevant to your question). First, I have a one-track mind. When a major project like "The Last Chronicles" is on that track, I don't write or even think about other stories. Second, I've never had a particularly fecund imagination. In other words, I don't get a lot of ideas. Which explains why I have to milk the ones I do get for everything they're worth. <grin>

(04/14/2004)

Ian Johnson:  Hi. I'd like to know if your childhood in India has had an influence on your work - whether you drew on Indian culture in the creation of the Land. Also, are the Hindu terms used as names for Foul's Ravers deliberately in contrast to their Land and Giant names? - and is there any reason why you chose those terms and not others? ~Ian
Does India influence my work? Absolutely. And absolutely not. It has a profound effect because it helped shape who I am as a writer and as a person. India is a very melodramatic country, full of stark contrasts between exoticism/mystery/beauty and destitution/pain/cruelty. BUT. I *never* (by which I mean only once, in "The Man Who Fought Alone") draw consciously on personal experience when I write. I don't base characters on people I've known; I don't base settings on places I've been; and I certainly don't base situations on problems I've experienced (not in any literal sense, anyway).

Yes, the Hindi (or, more properly, Sanskrit) names for the Ravers are deliberate. Moksha, turiya, and samadhi refer to various states of enlightenment. This reflects how the Ravers think of themselves. Their other names reflect how other people think of them.

(04/14/2004)

Johan:  I once read an interview with you where you said that after each major undertaking (such as writing the GAP series), you were burnt out, and needed lots of time to get back in "normal" working shape. Do you have a special strategy for recovering from such exhaustions, or how do you manage to get back once again for another extremely lengthy and intense project?

I wish you all the best for your ongoing project!
My method for recovering from creative exhaustion has several stages. First, of course, I collapse. I simply don't have the courage to write ANYthing. But after some time (three months? six? a year?) I begin to feel capable of writing something short; something that I can actually imagine finishing. So I spend another unspecified period of time writing short fiction (hence my two collections, "Daughter of Regals" and "Reave the Just"). During that time (and I cannot explain this) I begin to feel that it would be important to write a mystery novel (hence the four "The Man Who..." books). And somehow working on a mystery novel helps me feel brave enough to tackle another big project.

For close to 30 years now, this sequence has been perfectly consistent.

(04/14/2004)

Tracie (Furls Fire):  "Wrestling with an Angel of the Lord." Oh, Mr. Donaldson, my gratitude and appreciation for your work has just been increased 100 fold. I have been patient for the last 20 years waiting for the rest of this amazing and heart-wrenching story. So, I can wait however long it takes for its finish. As a reader of fantasy, I've spent the better part of my years waiting for books, (yours included, back in the early 80's) sooooo, it's nothing I'm not used too. <smile>

My mind is full of plot questions for the new books, but I know you can't answer those. (Not sure I would want you too either!)But, I would like to ask you this. If you were to start all over from the beginning, would the choice of Covenant's disease still be leprosy? Or would you go with the socially devastating disease of AIDS? This question has also been kicked around a bit on the Watch. It would be great to hear your thoughts.

Thank you so much for answering my previous question! And since you don't really know what his "bane" is, I'm going to stick with my earlier claim and go with the Stone. I love this stuff! <smile>

Peace,
Tracie
If I were starting all over again now, would Covenant's illness still be leprosy? I'm not sure that question has a meaningful answer. If I were starting all over again now, I would be a different person (and writer) than the man who wrote the original "Chronicles." I might not write those books at all. But consider two things. 1) Where I grew up, leprosy was extremely familiar. My parents worked in a leprosarium. They hired lepers. I encountered them every day. Even today, my personal knowledge of, say, AIDS is trivial compared to my knowledge of leprosy. 2) In the context of the original "Chronicles," leprosy "works": it has an organic relationship with the characters, the themes, and the world. A different illness would demand a different story: different characters, different themes, different world. And (see (1) above) a different writer.

As a side note: this appears to contradict an earlier answer in which I claimed that I don't base my writing on personal experience. That remains true even where leprosy is concerned. I was "familiar" with it; but I was a kid, and I never gave it a moment's thought. Covenant--and, by extension, the Land and the first "Chronicles"--is based, not on my experience, but on my father's. He was the one who knew and cared what it was like to be a leper. And he supplied me with all of the "facts" I needed for my story.

(04/14/2004)

Anonymous:  Come on. Do you *really* base nothing on personal experience?
OK, I just remembered another exception. Haven Farm is explicitly based on Anchorage Farm, the place where I lived when I wrote the first "Chronicles." (I wrote the trilogy in an actual garret.) I had never written fantasy before, and I needed, well, an anchor.

Incidentally, Anchorage Farm no longer exists. It was bulldozed for a housing development years ago.

(04/14/2004)

Esther Freeman:  I have read that you wanted the 2nd Chronicles to be four books, but the publisher insisted on three.

To make three books out of four, did you cut large sections? If you did, I would really like to read the original version.
Or did you divide the four books into three larger ones with the ends of the books in different places? In that case, where were those endings originally?
Or was this decision made while it was still in outline form?
Yes, I planned "The Second Chronicles" in four books, but Lester del Rey refused to have it on that basis. With him in those days, it was a trilogy or nothing. However, his demand did not change my actual story in any way. If you look at "The Wounded Land" and "The One Tree," you'll see that each is divided into three parts. But "White Gold Wielder" is in two parts. That makes a total of eight. If I had been allowed to make the decision, I would have ended the first book after the soothtell in Revelstone, the second after the escape from the Elohim, and the third after the sinking of the Isle of the One Tree. But, as I say, my story remained the same: Lester merely insisted on a 3-3-2 trilogy instead of a 2-2-2-2 tetralogy.

Things became much more peculiar when the French published the first "Chronicles" as a tetralogy (!) and "Mordant's Need" as a trilogy (!!). Until the stories were completed, none of the books ended: they just stopped.

(04/14/2004)

Tom Cummins (TOM C):  Mr. Donaldson,

This is my first contact with you so I would like to thank you for the contributions you have made to my literary enjoyment. I anxiously await the release of Runes.

My question concerns fan fiction. I confess my ignorance with regard to how a published author might view the use of his or her characters and environments in this way. I contribute to a fan fiction site and I have been known to post short scenes on Kevinís Watch purely for fun. I would like to know your thoughts on the subject. Is this a case of harmless fan flattery or do you feel uncomfortable with the practice?

Thank you very much for your time.
I'm sure every writer is different. Tolkien was notorious crochety about any "use" that other people might want to make of his work. But personally I always feel flattered when what I've written inspires creativity in someone else. When I was much younger, I wrote one entire novella based on Marvel's "Thor" comics, and another on Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."

Of course, there are moral and even legal issues to consider. The legal issues typically involve money. If you, or the fanzine, or the fan site, gets paid for any use you might make of my world or characters, you have a problem. That's a copyright violation--unless you happen to have permission from the holder of the copyright. (For practical purposes, the holder of the copyright is not me: it's my publisher(s).) The moral issues involve giving credit and accepting responsibility. As long as you make it clear that what you've written is based on *my* work, but that *you* (not I) wrote it, you're covered.

(04/14/2004)

Dustin A. Frost (Syl):  I know before you've stated that you are not a polemicist and you're just trying to tell a story, but when it comes to understanding the motivation of the characters or the "why's" and "what's," is it more important to take into account the logical series of events leading to an action or the ideas surrounding them.

For example, a much debated topic at Kevin's Watch is, "Was Kevin right?" Many have argued that Kevin made the wisest choice, stopping Foul from harming the Land for millenia. Others would argue that following Mhoram's example, even in the face of superior odds, a way could still be found to overcome foul without desecrating.
"Is it more important to take into account the logical series of events leading to an action or the ideas surrounding them?" Yes. Both. A good story is an organic whole, and the "events leading to an action" cannot be meaningfully separated from "the ideas surrounding them."

I look at the issue in a very different way. As I see it, my job is to communicate who my characters are and what they're going through as clearly as possible. It is *not* my job to decide whether what my characters feel and do is "good" or "moral" or "right." That, if I may say so, is a job for the reader. (In the real world, of course, some readers care and others don't.) Now, it seems to me that any reader who cares about what he/she reads, or about living a life consistent with his/her values, needs to ask her/himself questions like, "Was Kevin right?" I certainly do. But I ask myself that as a person. As a writer, I don't. Instead, I ask myself to understand and empathize with Kevin--which isn't the same thing at all.

(04/14/2004)

Matthew Reed:  While I love the Chronicles and absolutely can't wait for the new book, the Mordants Need series is actually my favorite of your works. I loved the characters and the setting and identified with Geradan more than I care to admit.

Do you think you might ever revisit Mordant? Maybe even if just in a short story?

Either way I hope you keep writing short stories, I love them and re-read Daughter of Regals and Reave the Just all the time. Thanks for entertaining me for the past 30 odd years. :)
Thank you! As it happens, "Mordant's Need" feels "finished" to me, so I will probably not go on from there. I certainly don't have any story ideas that would be in any sense based on "Mordant's Need".

Please accept my regrets.

(04/14/2004)

J.R.:  Why did the Urviles make Vain, when his purpose went directly agaisnt that of Lord Foul's who they serve?
The ur-viles created Vain *because* his purpose directly opposed Lord Foul's. Somewhere between the first and second "Chronicles"--we must assume--they engaged in a radical reinterpretation of their Weird. Hence the Despiser's attempts to destroy them in "White Gold Wielder."

It's possible the ur-viles realized that they represent(ed) what we might call an evolutionary deadend. It's like this: in the name of their self-loathing, the ur-viles serve Lord Foul, who desires the destruction of the Earth, and who will therefore (if he succeeds) bring about the destruction of the ur-viles. As reasoning goes, that's nice and tidy. But it has a flaw or two. As a form of suicide, it's quite labor-intensive, and demonstrably unreliable. And self-destruction is not the only possible response to self-loathing.

Conceivably the ur-viles were "corrupted" (in a manner of speaking) by the example of the Waynhim, creatures who clearly found a different use for their heritage of Despite.

(04/14/2004)

Arturia (Yorkshire):  I think I read somewhere that the Last Chronicles involves the corruption of Time. Presumably Foul has found a means for this particular corruption (with all this corruption around, I think we need Serpico on the case) because Covenant became, to all intents and purposes, the Arch of Time; following his immolation in the Banefire, he became an amalgam of venom (I almost submitted this having typed "Vernon" - doesn't sound too scary to me!) and white gold, not dissimilar to the way in which Foul was able to corrupt the Earthpower following the destruction of the Staff of Law.
In the 2nd Chronicles, a vital support had been removed (the Staff); in the latter, the support has been weakened by the amalgam of venom and white gold.
More my musings than a question I suppose, but your thoughts would be welcomed.
By the way, the whole series to date has given me hours of joy and escapism through beautiful narrative (sometimes my thesaurus is my only defence), thought provoking dialogue and dilemmas, and deeply thought out plotlines that make sense.
I can't really give you my thoughts on this without "spoilers." But consider this: when Covenant surrendered his ring to Lord Foul at the end of "White Gold Wielder," Foul's subseqent attack on him burned away the venom. Hence there is nothing inherently flawed about Covenant's role as the keystone/defender of the Arch of Time. (Yes, even granting that white gold is an alloy, and in the Banefire Covenant transformed the venom into an element in the alloy of himself. The venom still represented a danger--a flaw--which is why Covenant then gave up using power altogether.)

(04/14/2004)

Beverly (caamora):  Mr. Donaldson

I have been a devout fan since the first edition of Lord Foul's Bane was released and I cannot wait for the Last Chronicles. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing them!

My question: Thomas Covenant is one of the most unique characters I have ever seen. Was he inspired by someone you knew or met? How about Linden Avery?

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, no characters in any of my stories are based on people I've known.

(04/14/2004)

Phil:  I've just discovered your Reed Stephens books and I'm trying to read them in the "proper" order. Any comments about that series and/or advice on the best order to read them?
Mystery novels are supposed to stand alone, but--fortunately or not, depending on your point of view--I'm not that kind of writer. There is an underlying or sub-text story which unites the stories of the particular books; and so the order in which they are read *does* make a difference. The correct order is the order in which they were written:
1) The Man Who Killed His Brother
2) The Man Who Risked His Partner
3) The Man Who Tried to Get Away
4) The Man Who Fought Alone.

Incidentally, I didn't actually get to pick the titles of the first two: they were imposed on me by a rather inattentive editor. But by the third book I figured out how to make the "formula" work for me.

(04/14/2004)

Luke (Variol son):  You have often said when asked if you would write about any of the various races of the Land that you wouldn't as your work is story driven. However, you did for various reasons publish Gilden Fire, and I was wondering if there was a specific storyline/character/anything at all other than what took place in Gilden Fire that you would have liked to write, or would have liked to write in greater depth, but couldn't because it didn't drive the key story.
Sorry, no. As I've said elsewhere, "Gilden-Fire" was an aberration. It was a natural part of the original text of "The Illearth War." Lester del Rey convinced me to cut it out, for very good reasons. Well, there's nothing sacred about my outtakes, and I would cheerfully have left that material in my wastebasket. But Underwood/Miller, a publisher of collectors' editions, persuaded me that it would do no harm to make "Gilden-Fire" available to an extremely limited specialty audience. (My mistake.) Unfortunately, Underwood/Miller was a rather unsophisticated (albeit extremely honest) operation, and they sold the rights (which they did not own) to the Science Fiction Book Club. In fairness to Underwood/Miller, they did everything in their power to make the situation right. Nevertheless I was outraged by the idea that unsuspecting SFBC readers would pay $10+ for something that I got out of my wastebasket. So, in an effort to reduce the scale of the ripoff, I included "Gilden-Fire" in "Daughter of Regals".

As you can imagine, I've been aproached many times for Covenant/Land related stories--not to mention prequels--but I have no inherent interest in doing such things. In addition, I have no ideas which might persuade me to change my mind.

(04/15/2004)

David:  Will I ever be able to purchase the Covenant books on tape?

And what did you think of the film adaptation of the "Lord of the Rings."
As far as I know, the first six "Covenant" books don't now and won't ever exist on tape. However, there are plans afoot to release "The Runes of the Earth"--UNCUT--on CD. If that happens, and the (enormous) project makes a bit of a profit, other volumes in "The Last Chronicles" may follow.

In my opinion, the film(s) of Tolkien's trilogy are about as good as they could possibly be, given the constraints of commercial movie-making, and the inherent impossibility of accurately reflecting such books in a visual medium.

(04/15/2004)

David Bowles:  Upon reading the two chronicles for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the near epiphany that Covenant's paradoxical perception of the Land is identical to my own understanding of morality. Though I'm an atheist, I do not hold with those moral relativists who dismiss all morality as totally illusory: I understand and agree completely with their reasoning, but I simultaneously embrace an ethical system, as insane and indefensible as that might seem to my friends. But there, in the center of the paradox, I have found my balance, my purpose and sanity.

Do you by any chance view morality similarly? If it isn't graven in every particle of the universe or set up by some god, isn't ethical behavior, that which is good and right, essentially the Land for each of us?
As far as I can see, my personal views on "morality" or "the existence of God" aren't particularly germane. I did my part when I wrote the books. Thinking about them--if you choose to do so--is your job.

However, I will say that in my view the underlying purpose of all literature--and perhaps of all art--is to answer the question, "What does it mean to be human?" This question can be rephrased in dozens of different ways (e.g. What is the meaning of life? or, Why are we here? or, Who is God and what does She think She's doing?), but the point remains the same. To the extent that my books justify your questions, I'm pleased and proud. And I'm very glad to have readers as sensitive and thoughtful as you obviously are.

(04/15/2004)

Nark W, Tomlinson:  The Thomas Covenant series (which I first read starting in 1977) has profoundly affected me, as well as proving to be vastly entertaining. Some of the 1-paragraph-or-less philosphical statements ("Peace, my friend. Do not torment me. I have already learned that I cannot be justified.") I have quoted (with credit!) on numerous occasions.

However, to be blunt, the Gap series left me feeling disappointed, to the extent of outrage ("I bought this because it was Donaldson! And it's %^&*!"). (Sorry, but it's bothered me for years, and I've finally found a way to communicate it.)

Number one, is that just me? And, number two, will "The Runes of The Earth" bring back the "operatic", if you will, Donaldson storytelling? I realize that time has passed, language itself has changed and the impetus of the author may well be different than it was almost 30 years ago. Whatever the case, I look forward to a return to the Land and the challenges that await us there.

Regards,

Mark W. Tomlinson
I've answered some of your questions earlier in this interview. But where the GAP books are concerned--

You are, of course, absolutely entitled to your opinions and reactions. I would (sadly, I admit) defend to the death your right to hate any of my books. But as far as I personally am concerned, the GAP books are the supreme achievement of my writing life so far. They are, it's true, less "operatic" in their methologies. But they are considerably more complex and subtle than, say, the "Covenant" books. And I believe that they probe more deeply into the nature of good and evil.

(04/15/2004)

steve cook:  having recently watched the movie version of 'lord of the rings' i noticed a lot of similarities between that and the first chronicles. am i losing it or did tolkien's work have any effect on your output. (i don't just mean that they both feature a ring).
love your work by the way and would love to see a film version of any of your books.

secondly there are also many paralells between mordants need and the chronicles. was mordants need some kind of re-write?
Actually, when I wrote MORDANT'S NEED I was trying to do a very different kind of fantasy than the "Chronicles": gentler and somewhat less magical, with a much greater emphasis on character and complexity.

Of course, Tolkien had an enormous influence on me. As I like to say, he made the kind of work I do possible, in part by re-creating an entire genre (epic fantasy), and in part by demonstrating the existence of a market. And in fact LOTR first inspired in me the *desire* to write fantasy.

When I'm asked to compare what I do to LOTR, I like to say that I'm playing in the same ballpark Tolkien did, but he's playing softball and I'm playing hardball. By which I do not mean IN ANY WAY to diminish or minimize LOTR. I'm simply pointing out a difference in the themes and intensity of my work.

(04/18/2004)

Peter Hunt:  Do your characters often do things that surprise you, taking the story in an unexpected direction, or do you keep them on a pretty tight rein?

I've enjoyed all your work immensely. I found the most recent Axbrewder novel *impossible* to put down, and I'm looking forward to the first installment of the Last Chronicles.
I'm glad you liked "The Man Who Fought Alone"! That's good to hear.

As I get older, I'm more and more often surprised by my characters--but not because they do things that surprise me, or because they take the story in unexpected directions. As I said earlier in this interview, I can't write at all unless I know exactly where I'm going, so unexpected directions (and, to a lesser extent, unexpected actions) are not an option.

No, my characters surprise me--how shall I put this?--by becoming more and more helpful. I mean helpful to me. More and more, they seem to materialize in the narrative for reasons which appear to be entirely functional (e.g. I need to have SOMEone standing right *there* or else *this* spot won't be in shadow) and local (once the moment in which that shadow is necessary has passed, the character who cast the shadow no longer has a role to play). But once they have materialized, they--apparently--decide to help out with the rest of the story as well, taking on depth and significance as they go along. I can almost hear people like, for example, Castellan Lebbick saying to themselves (after their intial function in the story has been fulfilled), "Oh, dear, it looks like our god (the author) really doesn't know what he's doing. I'd better get busy and help him out, or else this story is never going to work."

Of course, this is what people in literary studies would call a "conceit": a fanciful metaphor. Obviously everything that I write comes out of me. Therefore when I say that a character has surprised me I'm really saying that I've been surprised by the activities of my own mind. Nevertheless the conceit expresses a truth which the literal facts conceal: the work which my subconscious mind does on the story *feels like* it has arrived from somewhere outside or beyond my conscious mind; it *feels like* I've been handed a gift. As a result, these surprises are a humbling--as well as a gratifying--experience.

(04/18/2004)

Revan:  Hi! I was wondering which bad guy you've created is your favourite? I like Holt the best. And what character you've created do you hate the most?
I don't hate any of my "bad guys." If I did, I would consider that a failure on my part. As the author, it's my job to understand, and to empathize with, every character I create. But "favorite" bad guys? Well, I'm quite proud of Sorus Chatelaine. And I'm rather fond of Master Eremis.

(04/18/2004)

James Killeen:  Mr. Donaldson,
The thing that sticks out most in my mind about Thomas Covenant was his transformation upon entering the Land. It was a moment which was setup so beautifully. Will the new book explore the emotional wilderness of Covenant primarily, or Avery? And how much of a role will Covenant play in the new series? Hope you are well. Thank's for sharing your adventures with me. I'm glad to see you are still commited to beauty.
With newfound anticipation,
James Killeen
Well, with four books I'll be able to explore a variety of wildernesses. <grin> But, as you might expect, the story starts with Linden Avery. Who else *could* it start with?

(04/19/2004)

Jeff Smith:  First, a quick thank you. I've enjoyed reading your work through the years immensely! And, while I have a special fondness for the Covenant books, I find that my favorite is the Mordant's Need duology.

With that said, I would like to ask two related questions: First, how did you develop the idea for translating images through mirrors, which is, indeed, changing the very nature of mirrors as both a social and physical construct? Secondly, have you ever considered going back to that world to pen another tale? I, for one, would very much enjoy hearing more about that land and its inhabitants.
As I said earlier, "Mordant's Need" feels *finished* to me, so I have no plans to revisit that world in the foreseeable future. Sorry about that.

There is, of course, a tradition of "mirrors" in fantasy and science fiction. I'm thinking of books like "Through the Looking Glass" and (memory, don't fail me now) Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions." (Gosh, I hope I got that reference right.) But in my own thinking, the ideas for "Mordant's Need" started with Myers' "Silverlock." I was stunned by the lines, "Steeped in the vacuum of her dreams/A mirror's empty till/A man rides through it." That reminded me of Vonnegut's book, which in turn reminded me of "Through the Looking Glass." Then all I had to do was follow the suggestions those other writers had left for me.

(04/19/2004)

Mark Jeffrey:  Mr. D.,

First, thanks for the supreme reading experience of my life -- 20 years later, Covenent reigns unchallenged as my favorite of favorites, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Runes. :)

There seems to be a lot of themes of 'shared identity' throughout the series -- "You are the white gold"; Foul is Covenant's dark side, the side that despises himself. Foul is also the "brother" of the Creator. So, in a sense, they are all really One. This seems to be a rather gnostic or buddhist viewpoint (though i hate to label it like that) and the idea of these identities being separate is actually an illusion of the material world. Would say this is right, or rather your intent? And were these philosophical traditions the ones you drew on in constructing your mythos?

If anything, the tradition I was drawing on was Christian (because of my background in fundamentalist Christianity, not because I am in any useful sense a believer): the Trinity, God in Three Persons. Except I obviously wasn't thinking of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. More like Creator, Destroyer, and Holy Ghost (wild magic). Or Creator, Destroyer, and--what shall we call Covenant as the protagonist of the drama?--Acolyte. But you're quite right about the "shared identity" theme. I was explicitly thinking of the Creator, the Despiser, and wild magic as aspects of Covenant himself. And the part of himself which he denies--wild magic, his own personal power to assign meaning to his life and experiences--is the part which must mediate his internal conflicts (the struggle between the creative and destructive sides of his nature). Hence the thematic development from the first to the second "Chronicles." In the first, Covenant opposes his--dare I say it?--Dark Side and wins (an expensive--and temporary--victory). In the second, he surrenders to his Dark Side, and thereby gains the power to contain it (another expensive--and temporary--victory). "The Last Chronicles" will explore this theme further as Covenant's quest to become whole continues. (Linden Avery is also on a quest to become whole, but hers takes an entirely different form.)

My general view of the kind of fantasy I write is that it's a specialized form of psychodrama. Putting the issue as simply as I can: the story is a human mind turned inside out, and all of the internal forces which drive that mind are dramatized *as if* they were external characters, places, and events. This is easier to see in the first "Chronicles" because the story is simpler: the Land and everyone in it is an external manifestation of Covenant's internal journey/struggle. Everything is more complex in "The Second Chronicles" because there are *two* minds being turned inside out. Which means that there are actually three stories at work: Covenant's, Linden's, and the interaction between the two.

<sigh> And if I wanted to say more than *that* on the subject, I would write dissertations instead of novels.

(04/27/2004)

dlbpharmd:  Do you plan to tour to promote Runes?
Sadly, I *will* be touring in both the US and the UK to promote "Runes." (I say "sadly" because for me tours are arduous, lonely, and--in the long run--soul-destroying experiences.) But it's *way* too early to tell exactly where I'll be touring. Those decisions (in which I have no say at all) probably won't be finalized until a month before publication--which is currently scheduled for mid-October in the US and early November for the UK. (I say "currently" because they keep changing their minds.)

(04/27/2004)

David. G.:  What happens to bereks white gold ring? surely he would have passed it to his son damelon giantfriend and he would've passed it to his son so that all of the olds lords would have inherited it, but there is no mention of what happens to his ring, will there be an answer to this in the third chronicles?
Excuse me: does Berek *have* a white gold ring? If he does, it's news to me. Perhaps you would care to cite chapter and verse so that I can check the reference for myself.

(04/27/2004)

Sean Casey:  Stephen

Thanks for being a brilliant writer!

In the last year or so I've read your four detective novels (and enjoyed them immensely). I was quite amused by the fact that about 15 years passed between the writing of the last two, but only a few weeks had gone by in the story. This meant that while previously Mick and Ginny were ringing their answering service every ten minutes, they could now use cell phones. How did you feel about writing this? Why did you decide against having the last book set in the mid-eighties?
Clearly, there are anachronisms in the four Axbrewder/Fistoulari novels which will be obvious to any attentive reader. In fact, the four novels together appear to take place in less than a year of "internal" time; and yet they reflect a world going through twenty years of changes. This, of course, makes no sense--a fact of which I'm well (not to mention painfully) aware. But the simple truth is that I wrote them the way I did because I had no choice. Nothing external caused this: it reflects constraints within me, constraints which involve my reasons for writing the books.

This is difficult to explain. I don't fully understand it myself. But it's clear that the impulses which drive me to write mystery novels are fundamentally different than those which produce my other stories. And I do *not* mean that mystery novels themselves are fundamentally different than my other stories--although of course they are. No, I mean that mystery novels meet a unique need in me. On the one hand, they are more--you should forgive the term--autobiographical than my other stories; more private. (Private eye, get it? <groan>) And on the other, they serve a unique personal function: they consolidate what I've already done in my other stories, thus enabling me to write more of those other stories. Therefore I need them to be an expression of where I am at the time I write them--which, unfortunately, means that a number of years must pass in *my* time even though mere days or weeks have passed in the mystery novel's time.

Not a very clear explanation, I realize, but it's the best I can do.

(04/28/2004)

Peter B.:  First of all, let me thank you for all of your creativity and imagination through the years. Your stories and characters, especially those in the Chronicles, continue to touch me.

What are your thoughts concerning Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and stages as it relates to the writing process? Author Neil Gaiman once said that he stopped reading Campbell's explanation of the steps because he didn't want to consciously be limited by them.
I don't actually have any thoughts on Campbell because I've never read him. I did, however, read an article in which he was quoted as saying something to the effect that there are no heroes in literature after World War I, and that if we want to understand "The Hero's Journey" in modern times we have to watch movies. I have nothing against movies, of course; but Campbell's assertion (always assuming that I understood it) was such rampant bullshit that the man lost all credibility with me.

(04/28/2004)

Daniel Fishback:  Have you ever thought of making a movie/movie series about any of your books? Although, a Thomas Covenant movie would be compared to Lord of the Rings in too many places so my personal oppinion is to make a movie of the Gap series.
Making movies isn't up to me. I don't happen to have $100 million just sitting around. But if I *did* have the money, and could choose which of my books to film, I wouldn't choose "Covenant." Too complex; too interior; too operatic. Personally, I think "The Mirror of Her Dreams" and "A Man Rides Through" would make good movies. The GAP books also have possibilities; but my second choice would be to expand a novella like "Penance," "The Killing Stroke," or "Daughter of Regals."

(04/28/2004)

Drogo:  G'day Mr Donaldson. Thank you sharing you worlds with us. Can you describe your writing day/week to us?
Well, I'm a very emotional, intuitive, and (secretly) dramatic guy; so in an effort to keep my balance I treat writing like "a job." I get up at 6am, get into my office by 8, take an hour for lunch, and quit at 5pm. I don't work weekends or evenings. I take vacations.

Of course, the amount of actual writing that I get done while I'm in my office varies a lot. This is due in part to unreliable levels of mental acuity, and in part to interruptions both practical (e.g. my car breaks down) and personal (e.g. someone I love needs me). But I stick to it as if it were what people persist in calling a "real" job.

Incidentally, reading is a crucial part of writing. I think it's fair to say that people who aren't dedicated readers don't amount to much as writers. I call the process "filling my head with words," but what I mean is that other people's creations spark my own creativity.

(04/28/2004)

Darth Revan:  I was wondering... because I've had several discussions on this topic with my fellow members on Kevinswatch, Who is the "Dark and Hungry God" that you call book three of the Gap series? I think it's Holt. But others think Joshua.

If it is Holt. Then why is it called "Dark and Hungry God Arises?" Because he doesn't actually Arises... He has already arisen. He doesn't actually arise to anything.

Thanks for listening. - Darth
It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but sometimes titles are more intuitive than literal. Ferinstance, what *exactly* is the "forbidden knowledge" in "Forbidden Knowledge"? Have fun with that one. But working backward in the GAP books, "This Day All Gods Die" clearly refers to--gasp!--both Holt Fasner and Warden Dios. Joshua isn't really a candidate, except in the sense that "transformation" (and Angus *is* transformed) is a form of death. So the "Dark and Hungry God" must be either Holt or Warden. Both of whom have literally already "arisen" before the story begins, but who "arise" to prominence *within* the story in book three. And of those two, Holt is plainly darker and hungrier than Warden.

Strangely, there is a bookstore where I live that uses title abbreviations on their price-stickers; and the abbreviation this store used for book three was "Dark and Hung."

(04/28/2004)

Thomas Ferencz:  Dear Mr. Donaldson,

throughout the Chronicles Lord Foul behaves like a "local villain"; he seems to concentrate on the Land, and seemingly people outside the Land do not know much about him, although he has a status of the Creator's brother, a god himself if you like. Was this concious planning on your side all the time, or maybe the Erath just expanded as your story evolved and you did not want to make Foul more "universal"?

Another question:

The two cosmogonic myths in the story, the Creator forming the Earth and the Arch, making the Rainbow and sealing it, and the myth of the Worm of the World's End seem to contradict - at least to me (the Worm isn't even a myth as we meet it "personally" in The One Tree). How would you reconcile these two facets of the same mythos to us?

Thanks in advance for your answers,

Amanibhavam
Ah, complicated questions. As if writing books weren't complicated enough. <grin>

Here's how I look at it: the Land is the main "arena" for a struggle which obviously has implications for the entire Earth. Clearly there are important side-struggles taking place elsewhere (I'm thinking of the peril Kastenessen was Appointed to stop). But clearly, also, unique beings like the Elohim are aware of the Land and Lord Foul. And the first six books hint in various ways that Earthpower (while arguably universal) flows closer to the surface, or is more accessible, in the Land than elsewhere. Hence the Land has become the main battleground.

Personally, I don't see any inherent conflict between the two main cosmologies presented in the "Chronicles." After all, life necessitates death. Anything that lives carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. (And our own bodies demonstrate just how *many* seeds there can be.) The alternative is stasis. Indeed, anything that doesn't both grow and die (usually in that order) can't really be described as being alive. So if the Creator wanted to make a living world, he pretty much had to supply the means for the eventual ending of that world. Hence, to my way of thinking, the tangible existence of the Worm of the World's End doesn't conflict at all with the general cosmology put forth by the Lords.

(04/29/2004)

Tim Barham:  I've always wondered how much thought was put in to the names of the characters in the Gap books. It seems to me that each one was very deliberately thought out and chosen for specific reasons. The implications of a name like Warden Dios or Holt Fasner are far to obvious to ignore. I was wondering what went in to choosing those names, and if you could indulge us with the background of some of them?
Very broadly speaking, I do names "by ear." I'm sensitive to the feeling and color (the "music," if you will) of sounds, and I want names that sound apt for the people, places, and things they represent. Then, assuming I can satisfy my ear, I look for names that have relevant meaning ("Sunder" in the second "Chronicles" is a good example), or that convey appropriate--if sometimes very private--suggestions ("Holt Fasner" in the GAP books: very few people will realize that the dragon who sequesters the ring of power in Wagner's "Ring" cycle is named "Fafner," but that detail was explicit to me when I chose the name for *my* Dragon).

But the GAP books are a unique case. There, for the only time in my writing life, the inspiration for the books started with names. One day the name "Angus Thermopyle" arrived in my head. For no apparent reason. But I chanted that name to myself like a mantra for six months or so, and then it was joined by another name: "Morn Hyland." So I chanted those two names until they were joined by a third: "Nick Succorso." The perfect story triangle: victim, victimizer, and rescuer. And the perfect opportunity to study how victim, victimizer, and rescuer can all change roles in the course of a story. That was the seed from which the whole GAP sequence eventually grew.

And throughout the life of the GAP books as I considered and wrote them, names played crucial roles as sources of inspiration and insight. Angus (bullheaded) Thermopyle (famous battle where a few warriors struggled against insurmountable odds). Morn (morning) Hyland (the Highlands of Scotland). Warden Dios (the caretaking, defending, imprisoning god). Godsen Frik (Hagen in my favorite recording of "The Twilight of the Gods" is sung by Gottlob Frik, and Godsen Frik is the "dark and hungry god" Holt Fasner's moral son). Lane Harbinger. Koina Hannish. Hashi Lebwohl. Sorus Chatelaine. Min Donner. Marc Vestabule. Vector Shaheed. The names positively *sing* to me, telling me who these people are, where they come from, what they care about.

In other words, I put a GREAT DEAL of thought into the names. But sometimes the "thought" was purely intuitive or musical rather than rational or explicit (Nick Succorso, for example, or Koina Hannish).

(04/29/2004)

Paul Mitchell:  Would you ever consider giving permission for other authors to use The Land as the context for developing their own additional, parallel or historical stories relating to the characters and races that you have introduced. I know that this has been done with Jack Vance's Dying Earth and probably many others, but perhaps it works for those settings simply because there is no strong temporal element linking event A to event B and so on. Not sure if I think giving permission would be a good idea, but has the thought crossed your mind (and has anyone ever asked - particularly in the hiatus between the second and third series?)

Thanks for all your books over the years!
That would depend on what the hypothetical you wanted permission *for*. Permission to write stories for your own pleasure and the entertainment of your friends? Sure, go ahead. Permission to publish stories set in my world, conceivably using or at least referring to my characters and my situations? Absolutely not. If you (still using the hypothetical you) want to make money or build a reputation, you should do your own work, not borrow mine.

(04/29/2004)

Derrik S:  I am wondering will the last chronicles be more like the first chronicles or the second chronicles?
(to make it more clear: at the end of each of the first chronicles, covenant goes back to his Earth. or is it like the second chronicles where the character stays in the land all throughout the trilogy.)
"The Last Chronicles" will be like the second, "through-written": one continuous story from beginning to end, with no interrupting returns to the "real" world.

(04/29/2004)