David "Dutch" K.:  Anyway, two silly questions:

1) Myself and a friend at work found one distinct similarity between your writings and Orson Scott Card's, and that is the emotionally exhausting levels of experiences the characters go through. Apart from the Gap and Covenant books, the most emotionally-charged books I've read were the Ender books by Mr. Card. Have you read them and if so, what are your particular thoughts on the writings?

2) (Silly question) You mentioned you weren't too keen on fanart, but what about comics, online or otherwise that at least speak about or lightly parody the Covenant/Gap books? Would you read them? :D

Two quick answers:

1) I don't read Card because I don't approve of his stand on censorship (he's all in favor--as long as the Mormons get to do the censoring).

2) I have no objection of any kind to fanart, or to comics (online or otherwise), regardless of how they treat my books. I'm just not particularly interested. And yet I do seem to have my own peculiar taste in parody. For example, I really enjoy "Heatherly and Julie's Fantasy Bedtime Hour". <grin>


Pam Chinery:  Mr. Donaldson,

Although I have dearly loved all your books that I've managed to read, the "Covenant" series is something I regard as a work of genius.

So, needless to say, I've read them many times. And maybe I'm reaching here, but do you find you draw somewhat from current events as you write? For example, in the First Chronicles, the loss of Lena's innocence and the fallout to the Land from her rape echoing the death of the optimism of the 60's and Watergate, etc., the cult mentality of the "Second Chronicles" echoing the televangelism of the 80's, and the post-911 security conciousness in "Runes"? (If the "Runes" part of the question raises too much of a spoiler issue, please don't reply to that part.)

I heard somewhere once that you don't write allegory, but as most writers do use personal experience to some extent, isn't it almost impossible to avoid?
On an unconscious level, of course, drawing on personal experience (in all of its guises) is impossible to avoid. Nor should it be avoided: without personal experience, the writer can't grow. But on a conscious level, as I've said a number of times, I do *not* draw on "real life" (and certainly not on current events). The exceptions are (very) few: the information on and examples of leprosy in "Lord Foul's Bane," the description of Haven Farm, the game of hop-board (checkers) in "Mordant's Need," the karate tournament and martial arts information in "The Man Who Fought Alone." As a general rule, if I don't feel like I'm inventing EVerything, I can't write at all.


James Hastings:  I apologize because I told you I wouldn't write you after my last long message, but this was rich. On my recomendations page I was recommended "The Passion of Christ." Confused, I wondered why they would possibly think I wanted that. When I clicked on the link that explains such things, it told me that since I told it I owned "White Gold Wielder" and "The One Tree" it intuited that I wanted The Passion. Thought you'd like to know in case you wanted to join your book tour up with Mel Gibson at some point...
Bizarre--and yet strangely inappropriate (despite the obvious parallels). Just another demonstration that there's nothing as literal minded as a computer.

On the other hand, if Mel would agree to fly me around in his private jet.... <grin>


Andrew K:  Do you find that technology has affected the way you write, in terms of your relationship to your audience? Specifically, does this have an affect on your narrative style--at least consciously?

I just cannot help but think that the audience of 1977 is different than the audience of 2004. The internet has grown and the way we read has as well. I am not sure we read less, but I do think we read "shorter." I imagine that this has made readers less patient. (I know I am less patient than 15 years ago when I discovered TC). I tend to think video games have had the same effect, and in fact they have changed the way many see entertainment, with its emphasis on visuals and action.

The gravamen of my question is whether these changes have affected your writing.

Thank you very much for taking the time read my question and for doing this gradual interview.
The technological changes since 1977 are as obvious to me as they are to you. And in one specific way, I have been consciously affected in the way I write. I rewrite more now because--thanks to computers and word processing software--rewriting is just plain *easier* than it once was. All that retyping I used to do! Looking back, I'm amazed I got as much done as I did.

But in terms of my relationship with my audience: well, for example, the fact that my readers can so readily make their concerns known to me (via this interview) does make me--almost involuntarily--more sensitive to what they want or expect. This, as you can imagine, has its advantages and disadvantages. But the undeniable fact that we've all been trained to pay attention "shorter"? That has no *conscious* affect on me (except to the extent that my editor thinks I take far too long to do and say everything). And yet it *must* have an affect on some level: I'm a product of my culture, just like everyone else. I certainly don't live in a cave, cut off from mainstream society. <grin> And I'm very aware of things like: I seldom enjoy old movies, even ones I once loved, because they seem so ^#$%# *slow*. So it follows that there has to be a change in my writing. I just don't notice it myself. The changes *I* notice revolve around my shifting priorities as a storyteller, not around my writing itself.


Steve Malpass:  Stephen,

First off, a sincere thankyou for bringing the Land back to life after all this time.

I went to your book-signing in Manchester (UK)last night, and asked you a question - "What do you think makes the difference between a 'great' fiction writer and a 'good' one?"

Part of your response - that the writer must use "their own voice...(by definition unique)" prompted me to ask you to write "Remember : a unique voice" when you signed my copy of Runes of the Earth. This was to serve as an inspirational reminder as I continue writing my first novel, but I didn't want you to think I'd missed the point.

I have a further question - when you are reviewing your own work, how do you decide that it is 'great' and move on as opposed to 'good' and set about rewriting it?

Many thanks and good luck with the Final Chronicles. I sense that you will have a lighter load to carry when you've told us all the whole story.

Steve Malpass
Merciful Heavens! I *never*--by which I mean NEVER--decide that anything I've done is 'great'! I lack the arrogance, the ego, or the simple stupidity for that. I desperately *hope* that what I write is 'great': I try very hard to *make* it 'great'. But I'm painfully aware of my human limitations--and of my very human talent for screwing up. So I don't confuse myself with questions about 'greatness'. When I write, I give myself permission to write badly (because movement is more important than quality at that stage). And when I rewrite, I chew over every sentence, character, scene, or description until I can't think of a way to make it better. Then I shrug and move on. And when I rewrite *again,* I repeat the process. And when I rewrite AGAIN, I repeat the process. And when I reach the point where I'm in danger of merely shuffling words without making an obvious improvement, I declare the job done. Not because it's 'great,' but because it's the best I can do with what I have and who I am.



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Stephen Allange:  Stephen...thanks so much for answering my previous question. This question is pertaining to the naming of Lord Foul. The name in itself is something that doesn't quite fit with my imagination of the various names associated with the Land. His other names given to him by the various races seem to be better fit for origin in a society like that I imagine that would populate the Land. (The Gray Slayer, Corruption, Fangthane, A-Jeroth of the Seven Hells, the Despiser). It just makes me wonder why such a being would be named as Lord Foul. Did he give himself this name? I cannot imagine that was his name when he gained Kevin's trust and infiltrated the Council of the Lords. Was there another name that Kevin knew Lord Foul by? And why such a mundane name for such a powerful and malignant being?

Thanks again for the time that you put into this allows insight to that which has been written by an author in a way that I have never been a part of (or have encountered) before.


I'm sorry to say that the best answer I can give you is: I was young. From my present perspective, "Lord Foul the Despiser" seems like a crude and overly-obvious choice. But at the time, way back in the early 1970's when I was first planning the story and characters (more than half my life ago), I particularly wanted to emphasize the archetypal nature of the character. I didn't want to go the Tolkien route: pick a name like "Sauron" and *pretend* he isn't Evil Personified. Because of the themes around which the first trilogy in particular revolves, I felt I had something to gain by--in a manner of speaking--putting my cards face-up on the table. After all, Milton wrote about Satan explicitly. Why shouldn't I be equally daring, since my ambitions were certainly comparable to Milton's?

Nowadays, of course, I'm used to the name, so it doesn't bother me. But if I were starting the first "Chronicles" today, I would take a more subtle approach.



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Darran Handshaw:  Hey again Dr. Donaldson,

I recently reread a few of your short stories and many of the same feelings that arose in me the first time were dredged up again. During one of the short stories especially, 'The Djinn Who Watches Over the Accursed', I was able to imagine the scenery and storyline in my mind with such fluidity that it almost felt like watching a movie. Have you tried having any of your short stories put into film ever? Some of them would make excellent films I think. And the short stories would not be so long and demanding like a Covenant or Gap Series film series. Oh and thanks for answering posts so quickly on this gradual interview!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Writers don't choose to have their stories made into movies. Unless the writer happens to be someone like Stephen King or Tom Clancy, with all the clout in the known universe. <grin> Movie people make those decisions, for reasons entirely their own--but usually involving money. Writers can hope or not hope, as they see fit. But the only real power the writer has is to say yes or no IF he/she is approached by movie people.



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James M.:  Stephen, thanks so much for answering my first question. Here's another one:

In preparation for "Runes" I've re-read the first two Chrons, and I ran across quite a few similarities between characters in your books, and characters in Robert Jordan's "Wheel Of Time" saga. Similarities that were entirely too alike to be simply coincidence. The ones that were the most similar were the ur-viles and Jordan's "Myrddraal" characters. Also there are some striking similarities between Saltheart Foamfollower and Jordan's "Loial" character.

Since you recently made some remarks about borrowing vs. stealing from other authors in the G.I., my question is A) Have you read the Wheel Of Time books and B) Have you noticed any similarities?. I'm wondering if you're aware of this. If so, what are your thoughts? Thanks again for your time.

James M.
As I've said before, I don't read Jordan. And since his books were published after the first six "Covenant" books, I think we can safely say that I haven't been influenced by him. <grin> Naturally I would have no idea what influences may have affected him.


Paul:  I wonder if it takes a particular type of person to read your Covenant books. I have recommended the Chronicles to various friends and colleagues and I have noticed a bizarre co-incidence.

That is, the people who like it tend also to have a taste in 'dark' music. I don't neccesarily mean metal music, but the subject matter/music is 'darker' in a similar way that the Covenent books are 'darker' than LOTR.

The last colleague I gave the book to got to page 30 of Lord Foul's Bane, had a bad dream that night about 'that horrible leper' that night and returned the book to me. She also happened to listen to the likes of Coline Dion so go figure!

I doesn't seem bizarre to me. My own taste in music tends toward the "dark": tragedy instead of comedy; articulation of pain rather than expression of pleasure. I discussed this somewhere earlier in the GI; but briefly--

As an extremely broad generalization, I think there are two types of readers: those who are repelled by expressions of pain; and those who feel a sense of recognition. Everybody is familiar with pain. But some people manage their own pain by denial, or by some other form of self-absorption (narcissism; a sense of victimization; etc.), and so they--in effect--have no patience for alternative approaches to pain. However, other people manage their own pain by every technique imaginable *except* denial and self-absorption, and so they feel recognition and even empathy when they encounter open expressions of pain from sources outside themselves.

Well, with occasional exceptions, Donaldson stories are pretty much all about pain. So it seems natural that people who respond to pain in other art forms would also respond to Donaldson stories.


steve cook:  from what i've been able to discover it looks like 'Runes' is going to be a huge critical, and maybe more importantly, commercial success. i can't say for certain it's deserved because despite (no pun intended) having two copies on order from my bookclub i'm still not in receipt of it. as if a 20 year wait isn't enough!
Question 1: lots of authors appear on tv/radio plugging their books, anything i should listen out for whilst your in england?
question 2: (topical) bush or kerry? I'd guess your a democrat. don't know about your politics but having bush as the most powerful man on the planet scares me
1) My own experience of radio and tv suggests that they aren't worth listening to on those very rare occasions when they do occur. It was not always thus. Back in the early '80s, I encountered a couple of extraordinary radio interviewers who got more out of me than I would have believed possible. But nothing like that has happened since.

2) I consider my political convictions--like my religious convictions--irrelevant to the purposes of this interview. Only the stories themselves matter. However, a number of valid inferences can be drawn from the established fact that I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war.


Michael from Santa Fe:  In your employment info it lists:

1973-1975: Associate Instructor
Ghost Ranch Writers Workshops
Ghost Ranch, N.M.

I like the Ghost Ranch, interesting place. How was the experience in teaching Writing Workshops? This was early in your career, even before "Lord Foul's Bane" was published, did this experience help you in anyway with writing your own novels? Or was the opposite true, and it took time away from writing?
<sigh> Sometimes it's the simple questions that really get you.

The effect of working at the Ghost Ranch Writers Workshops is difficult to explain. I got the job without a credential to my name (except my MA in English lit) by attending one of those workshops, learning a vast amount of crucial information (mostly of a practical kind which eventually played a vital role in helping me get published), and impressing the hell out of the man who ran the workshops (Roland Tapp, a former editor turned freelance editor/agent). Roland and I became friends (in part because we actually lived quite near each other); and he saw in me someone who could fill a useful role at his workshops: a teacher of writing mechanics and theory (a job which didn't particularly interest him), and a reader who could and would tell his students that their writing was *bad* (by nature Roland preferred to encourage *everyone*, whether they had ability or not, but he recognized that doing so was a disservice to the bad writers in his workshops). So there I was, a rather young man with passion, education, and intelligence, but no particular credibility, facing students who were without exception significantly older than I was and trying to explain to them why their writing was demonstrably bad.

This, as you may perhaps be able to imagine, was not easy. It certainly "put grit in my soul," as the missionaries used to say. On the plus side, it forced me to clarify and codify my beliefs about writing in a way that has served me well ever since. On the minus side, it made me into a bit of a pedant (and sometimes a brutal one); a judgmental True Believer in the cause of skillful, honest, non-manipulative, empathetic writing.

Naturally, all of the untalented (or unserious) students hated me. After every workshop, someone tried to get me fired. And eventually I learned another lesson: I'm really not wise enough to tell other people what they're doing wrong--even when what they're doing wrong is screamingly obvious (I vividly recall one student who could not be bothered to remember the *genders* of his own characters). Which is why I no longer teach writing to anyone, or read anyone else's manuscripts. Now I *have* credibility--which only makes the True Believer in me more dangerous.

Sure, teaching those workshops took time away from writing. But what I learned was well worth it.


Drew Bittner:  Mr Donaldson-
An earlier question about the distinction between "lore" and "power" had me thinking-- apart from the health sense, which seems common to all, is the ability to use Earthpower relatively uncommon among the people of the Land? Is it akin to having artistic talent or natural athletic ability?
To the extent that "talent" can be defined as "a desire to do x, y, or z, where the desire is strong enough to overcome natural inertia and/or indolence," it's probably true that "the ability to use Earthpower [is] relatively uncommon." (G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." But even *that* isn't permission enough for most people. Under pressure, most people seem to consider very few things "worth doing.") But *could* they use Earthpower if they wanted to hard enough, or in the right way? I like to think they could: in my view, the Land was created to be the kind of place where health, beauty, and effectiveness are accessible to everyone. Therefore--by extension--it is also a place where it's OK for anyone to *not* use Earthpower if that decision suits his/her natural inclination.


Anne Tally:  First a comment -- the Gap Series was the most fantastic, imaginative, series of books that I have ever read. When will it continue? I long to read more about Angus, Morn, Davies and especially the Amnion.
I've said it before: I'll say it again. I can't tell the future. But I don't foresee any future stories in the Angus-Morn-Amnion "universe" because I simply don't have any ideas which would enable me to write such stories.


Sean the Anonymous:  Sir

Easy question: what is your impression fo Cyberpunk novels and have thought about writing one.

Give my regards to Angus if you ever hear from him again, :)
Easy answer: I don't know what a "Cyberpunk novel" *is*. And I don't choose my stories: they choose me.


Phillip Dodson:  Hello again Mr. Donaldson!
It is a pleasure and an honor to ask you a third question, and hope ardently for a response. It's so interesting, being able to ask a question to someone who has had such an impact on me.

I have two questions... I know that your responses to movie questions are generally similar (sure, I might make a movie, if I had a million or two dollars and the spare time, and interest) but in light of the most recent movie announcements, I was wondering if you had any further comments? Specifically, I was curious as to whether or not the possible movie adaption to the Chronicles will actually include villains from Saturn, as has been rumored on certain websites? That was most disturbing.

One more comment, and actually the reason I wanted to submit this question (the movie question was an afterthought), I just wanted to thank you for writing your books, because they bring people together. Very recently I found Kevin's Watch, and I've made a host of new friends there. The conversations I have are incredibly stimulating, and it is a source of support and enjoyment that I would have never had if you had not decided to become a writer.

I'm taking this question as an opportunity to say that the only *accurate* source of information about possible movies is the "news" page on this site. But I'll go further here: the people who are seriously interested in making a "Covenant" movie have assured me in no uncertain terms that there will be no "evils from Saturn". That uniquely bizarre bit of misinformation was fabricated out of pure stupidity.

On a much more positive note, I'm glad you've found so much to enjoy in the Kevin's Watch e-community.


Peter Hunt:  Mr Donaldson,

thank you for 20 years of wonderful and immersive storytelling. I was lucky enough to meet you during your visit to San Francisco last month, but was too awe-struck to be coherant when you signed my copy of Runes. So please accept my thanks retrospectively <g>.

Can you help me understand the relationship between Law, Earthpower and the Staff of Law? Am I right in thinking that the destruction of the Staff weakened the structure of Law? Did that destruction make existing Laws easier to break, and Earthpower easier to corrupt?

Did the creation of the new Staff at the end of the Second Chronicles restore the broken Laws (of death, Life, etc)?
These matters are all so intuitively, well, obvious to me that I find it difficult to actually explain them. <sigh>

Let's start with Law (structure, rules, governing principles) and Earthpower (energy, vital substance). Think of our solar system. If the planets weren't in furious motion (energy), they would fall into the sun and burn up: if the planets weren't tethered by gravity (structure), they would simply sail away. Without that balance between energy and constraint, nothing could exist. (Of course, to a physicist, it's all energy in one form of another. But still the energy of gravity has to balance the energy of motion, or else nothing could exist.)

Now. The Staff of Law was created as a means to wield the energy of Earthpower safely--i.e. without violating the various constraints of Law. But because this is magic rather than technology (because it deals in symbolic unities rather than in discrete mechanisms), the Staff cannot be inherently separate from the forces and rules which it exerts. It's not a light switch, essentially distinct from the flow of electricity which it enables. In a certain sense, the Staff *is* both Law and Earthpower, just as white gold *is* wild magic. In fantasy, in magic, the tool cannot be distinguished from what the tool does.

So. Even though the Staff was never essential to the original existence of either Law or Earthpower, the simple fact of its creation means that it participates in both, and can therefore: a) strengthen both, or b) weaken both (by being destroyed). So yes, the destruction of the original Staff weakened the structure of Law.

But. This is does *not* imply that Linden's creation of a new Staff *automatically* restores the structure of Law to its original form. A tool has to be used to be effective; and the person using the tool has to know what he/she is doing. Linden, and then Sunder and Hollian, clearly have the spirit and the heart to use the Staff effectively; but they don't necessarily have the lore, the knowledge, to accomplish everything that the Staff is capable of doing. (The absence of runes on the new Staff is not an accident.) Also the new Staff is profoundly different than Berek's original creation. It was formed, not from the wood of the One Tree, but from one sentient (Findail) and one quasi-sentient (Vain) being, each of whose nature affects the inherent qualities of both the new Staff and what the new Staff can do. (And then there's the interesting question of whether Sunder and Hollian would actually *want* to heal the broken Law of Life, since by doing so they might undo themselves.) And in addition: when the new Staff was created, it became an inherent participant in both Law and Earthpower, just as Berek's did; BUT the *condition* of Law and Earthpower when Linden created her Staff was different than it was when Berek created his; and therefore the *condition* of the new Staff is also different.

So. The creation of the new Staff did not *in itself* restore the broken Laws of Death and Life. Presumably it *could*. If the right wielder used it in the right way. But that hasn't happened yet.



Hilda:  Hello Mr. Donaldson

First, thank you.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending your book signing in San Diego in October. You were generous, kind, gracious and yes, charming - publisher obligations not withstanding. I felt as if I had met someone who had known my good friend Thomas Covenant. I hadn't realized how much I had grown attached to him!

As well, somehow listening to your voice has now added a new dimension to my reading of Runes - I hear you as the story-teller - hmm. I have attended my share of book signings but that has never happened before.

To my question: Covenant and now Linden have been the main protagonists thus far and I am especially enjoying Linden now (you have brought her back faithfully as I mentioned during the Q&A session)however, I have always felt a longing to know and experience more of The Land. I think that The Land is what initially captured my curiosity and my heart when I first picked up the first book. Can we look forward to being in the land a bit more? It is as much character/friend as Covenant has been.

Another thank-you for taking time - a precious thing I know - to indulge your reading public. You are generous and kind.


And thank you! I don't think you realize how much readers like you give back to me. For me, at least, writing is a necessarily isolated occupation. One reason I've put so much time and effort into this interview is that contact like this with readers like you helps me feel less alone.

To your question. I don't want to give anything away. And my thinking about some aspects of this story, especially in the middle volumes, is still in flux. But with those warnings in mind: I don't foresee leaving the Land at any point during "The Last Chronicles." I think you can count on seeing a fair amount of it. <grin>


Bryan:  It seems daunting at times to create a story of such magnitude as the chronicles. I have been working on a story and would like to know if you develop your character stories and history before you write your story? Thanks
My methods vary from situation to situation, according to whatever aspect of the story in front of me is giving me the most trouble. I've been known to write essays about particular characters entirely for my own benefit, so that I'll know where they come from and where they're going as characters. But in general it's fair to say that I design my stories first, and then discover my characters while I'm writing what I've designed.

It's also fair to say--as I've said before--that there is no *right* way to plan and carry out stories. Every good storyteller is different. The only *right* way is the way that works for the particular individual who is creating the story.


Laura:  Mr. Donaldson:

Your books were passed around my college campus (never *mind* how many years ago that was!). They astonished me - they still do. As soon as I heard that The Runes of the Earth was out, I purchased it and immediately called in sick for the next day, knowing I would be up all night reading. (For the record, I made it until 2:30 AM, and sheepishly went in to work anyway. Love that protestant work ethic and all...) I find myself stopping every once in a while to laugh in delight and chagrin. Thank you.

I had a kidney transplant a few years ago. After having been desperately ill for so long (and feeling my mental faculties slip away as my blood became a toxic soup), I re-read Mordant's Need, overjoyed that what had been beyond me for three years was finally back within my grasp. Thank you for that, as well - it kept me sane.

My question is this - where and how, oh please!, tell me how?, did you acquire your incredible vocabulary?

My second question is a bit more complex. How did you learn despair? And how did you find your way to hold it at bay?

I've already discussed vocabulary in this interview. The short answer: I compile word lists when I read; then I look those words up and try to become familiar with them. Recently Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" has been a rich source.

How did I learn despair? And how do I hold it at bay? Gosh, we could spend days on such topics without necessarily shedding any light. I'll be cryptically brief. "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you." Well, I'm too bright, and I've experienced too much abuse, to be able to avoid looking into the abyss. Regularly. But when the abyss looks into me, it sees a fighter. The fact that this is *not* what most people see when they look at me is irrelevant.

Or approaching the question from a different direction: I think there are basically two kinds of people in the world, those who are diminished by their pains, problems, and losses, and those who learn and grow because of what they suffer. Long ago I chose to be one of the latter. Not because I possess any particular wisdom, courage, or strength, but because I found the sense of helplessness that I felt when I looked into the abyss intolerable--and I disliked my only obvious alternative (suicide). So I decided to believe that there are no conditions under which it is impossible to give battle. This is not a statement about "conditions" (many of which might legitimately be described as hopeless): it's a statement about *me*. If a situation appears hopeless to me, that simply means I need to learn how to perceive it differently: as an opportunity rather than as a blank wall.

This ain't easy, and I don't do it gracefully. Nevertheless my theme song is Simon and Garfunkle's "The Boxer," the last verse of which (if memory serves) goes like this: "In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade; and he carries the reminder of every glove that put him down or cut him 'til he cried out in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving!' But the fighter still remains."

And *that*, my friends, is more personal revelation than I usually allow myself.


chris deveau:  I just finished re-reading "PENANCE" from REAVE THE JUST AND OTHER TALES. It was very refreshing to read a tale about a vampire that sought redemption and tried to make a difference in the lives of others. My favorite part of the story is Scriven's pleading with the priest to be baptized, when he utters that great line: "If the grace of Heaven is without end or limit, surely it holds a place for such as me?" Talk about lobbing the ball into the other guy's court, if you follow my meaning.
Anyway, I've read many vampire stories in my lifetime(films also), and they all seem to have stock characters and situations. The same bloodthirsty creatures of the night stalk their helpless prey, then they are pursued and eventually killed by a Van-Helsing-type character and the world is safe again.
My question is this: Have you also noticed this trend? "PENANCE" is the only story I know of that dares the reader to explore the possibility that a vampire can also be a victim and can be worthy of our trust and friendship. If I had to guess, I would say that you deliberately discarded the hackneyed plot devices found in that genre to tell Scriven's tale.

Well, "Penance" doesn't seem all that unique to me. Writers like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Fred Saberhagen have written about sympathetic vampires for years. And vampires have become stock erotic figures in certain kinds of "romance" novels. But I do find that stereotypes paralyze creativity; and I never seem to get story ideas that don't in some form involve discarding preconceptions, prior expectations, and stereotypes. In other words, discarding stereotypes isn't so much a conscious choice as a creative necessity.


Dave P.:  First, a rhetorical question, one a lot of us on this site can relate to. Is it harder to read each book of "The Last Chronicles" when it is published, and then wait (im)patiently for the next to be published? Or is it harder to wait for the entire series to be published before you start reading any of it? I didn't start the "First Chronicles" until the entire series was in paperback. That was easy, just read one book after another. I read each book of the "Second Chronicles" as it was published, and the wait for the next in the series was awful. When the "Gap" series came out, I waited until the entire series was available before starting. That wasn't so easy either, but I was able to go from one book to the next. Right now, I have "Runes" sitting on my bookshelf, and can't decide whether to read it and wait, or let it gather dust until all four books are done. HELP!!

Then, just a simple question for you (I hope) - how do you like to be addressed? Should we be calling you Stephen? Steve? Mr. Donaldson? Something else entirely? What do you like best?
If reading these books is a pleasure, then I say, Why wait? A pleasure deferred is a pleasure missed. I follow this method myself: Steven Erikson's "Malazan" books are a case in point. After all, what's the worst that can happen? Increased impatience--which can be salved by re-reading the previous book before the next one comes out (more pleasure, presumably).

How do I like to be addressed? What's that old joke? You can call me anything you want as long as you don't call me late for dinner. I'm not keeping score here.


Sean Casey:  How would you feel about being known as the guy who wrote the Thomas Covenant books? (As opposed to any other books, that is. I almost put 'remembered as', but, of course, that no longer applies :) )

Or to put the same question a little more subtly, if you met someone who hadn't read you but wanted to and who had moderate interest in all genres, which story, book or series would you recommend they read? Why?

To be known *only* as "the guy who wrote the Thomas Covenant books" would sadden me. I'm proud of all my books, and would like, in a manner of speaking, to "get credit" for all of them.

But when people ask me where to start reading Donaldson, I always suggest one of my short story collections. As I like to say, "That way you can find out if you like what I do without making it your life's work."


phillip andrew bennett low:  You've always been somewhat reclusive in your personal life -- for years, the only knowledge I had of your background was the tantalizingly scant information in the backs of your books, that you'd been a conscientious objector in Vietnam. I have to confess, that tidbit always rises to my mind when I read the opening of "The Wounded Land," where Covenant purchases a gun to defend Joan but finds himself unable to use it.

This sense that power is both dangerous and paralyzing arises frequently in your work; and if you're comfortable speaking about it, where do you stand politically, and how do you feel that that influences your work (if at all)?
In various forms, I've already discussed how my beliefs, experiences, and personality influence my work. And I keep repeating that my political views, like my religious convictions, are essentially irrelevant to the purposes of this interview. But since the question of politics keeps coming up....

In general, I think that anyone who wants to hold political power should be automatically disqualified from public office. Only people who distrust power profoundly, and who have no desire to wield it, should be entrusted with running the country.

Doubtless this is completely unworkable. But as a step in the right direction, I think we should all try to give up our enthusiasm for electing people who we know *in advance* will betray the ideals of this country, and who feel no qualms at all about lying through their teeth.

Just my opinion.


Mark Morgon-Shaw:  I have read that research has been done into storytelling from different cultures and across every form of fiction which has stated that there are only seven basics plots on which all stories are based. It is said that whilst many stories may not seem similar on the surface that, at a deeper level, they all seemed to unfold round the same general pattern.

I'm no story teller, I write songs ( based around the same 12 notes ! ) so as a one of the best story tellers around have you heard of this theory and what do you make of it ?
Sadly, I can't comment on this. I've heard the "there are only seven basic plots" idea put forward in various contexts; but I've never seen or heard a discussion of what those "seven basic plots" are. Which is probably a good thing. In my view, the essence of storytelling is particularity: very specific people with very specific emotions in very specific situations. If I knew that everything I want to write is "just another example of x, y, or z basic plot," the information might have a negative effect on my concentration.

In addition, there's the very real possibility that the whole idea is bogus. Just because musicians in the West only have 12 basic notes to work with doesn't mean that all compositions are basically the same--or even basically comparable. Theoreticians love to "deconstruct" acts of communication into various components, and then generalize about those components. Which is, I suppose, a valid use of intellect, and (at least potentially) a useful aid to the comprehension of particular stories, of storytelling in general, and of the functions of the human mind. But I suspect (fear?) that such an approach leads people to lose sight of what makes particular stories worth reading in the first place.


Kevin:  Hello Steve,

Long time reader, 1st time question writer.
Is there any chance of seeing a book of artwork of the any of your series? While I own 2 copies of the atlas of the Land, they were not that strong from an artwork perspective.
It would be a welcome sight to see a talented Fantasy artist's interpretation of all things Covenant.
As matters stand, I'm not popular or successful enough for any publisher to contemplate such a project. "The Atlas of the Land" sold dismally, and quickly went out of print; and nothing has happened since then to convince anyone that I'm "worth the risk" (art books, after all, are very expensive to produce). Putnams has already gone out on a limb by releasing an audio version of "Runes". They aren't likely to go farther.

A "Covenant" movie could change the situation, of course. But that's in the Department of Don't Believe It Until You See It With Your Own Eyes.


Graeme Sandford:  As a purchaser of the 22 CD audio set, my 2 questions are: did you consider recording, or were you asked to record, the volume for audio release yourself? Did you have a say on whom was chosen to record the CD of the book?

Personally, I think that the reading of the book should be the reader's starting point and, ultimately, the end point for where the story is obtained (apart, perhaps, from your priceless authorial insights). Film versions, adaptions and abridgements have, unfailingly, in my opinion, served to corrupt the vision of the reader that is created by the words on the pages.

The book is my starting point, the CD set is there to re-inforce the book.

Thank you for the reading experiences and visions that you have provided for many, many people. Graeme
I was never asked to do the reading for the audio version of "Runes"--and I had no say in Scott Brick's selection for the job. But if I *had* been asked, I would have refused. Never mind the fact that I lack the time. I lack the skill. Much as I might question some of the cadences of Brick's reading, I can assure you absolutely that his work is more clear, comprehensible, consistent, and generally professional than anything I could have done.


Anonymous:  Hi. I'm going to write my own set of books; or am certainly thinking of it. And I was wondering if you had any tips. Where do you start? I have a lot of ideas; but I've never done anything like this before, got any tips? How did/do you write your stories? I mean it must take even a genius like you some time to figure it out, do you write down points, how do you build?

thanks a lot for answering these questions for us fans. It is amazing, I've never heard of any other author doing it before. God bless.
There are a fair number of tips scattered throughout this interview; but the most important of them is this: you have to figure it out for yourself. (God knows *I* did.) There are as many different approaches as there are writers, and all of them are only as good as their "fit" for the specific writer using them. I know it's hard; but you'll never get where you want to go if you don't figure out how to get there for yourself.


Jonathan Atkinson:  Hello Stephen,

Just finished reading Runes, absolutely excellent, and am not sure I can wait the 2 or so years to get hold of Fatal Revenant......

My question - in the Gap series, is Maxim Igensard's surname similarity to Isengard (the city in Lord of the Rings) a large coincidence, or intentional?

Good luck with the writing of Fatal Revenant (quickly).

Well, it isn't exactly a coincidence; but I wouldn't be in a hurry to ascribe meaning to it. I liked the way "Maxim Isengard" sounded; but I knew I couldn't use "Isengard"; so instead of throwing the sounds away I juggled them until I came up with a combination that pleased me. The result was definitely *not* an intentional reference to LOTR.


Grant:  Hi,

Many thanks for the recent book signings in london..You commented to em on the day that you feel 'alive' when writing Covenant books and I am sure all of us fans of your books would agree we certainly feel alive when reading them !

2 questions if I may.

(1) Sometimes on book covers you are named Stephen R Donaldson and other times Stephen Donaldson - do you have a preference and what is the reason for the inconsistencies ?

(2) Were you skeptical at the time of releasing the mystery novels under a pseudonym and would you do it differently in hindsight ?

Many thanks, Grant
1) There are no inconsistencies. In the US, I'm always "Stephen R. Donaldson": in the UK, I'm always "Stephen Donaldson". But since *I* always use the "R," the question is: why did the Brits drop it? Apparently that's their standard usage. (William R. Shakespeare? Joseph R. Conrad? Charles R. Dickens?) Unless the author uses *only* initials (J. R. R. Tolkien; G. K. Chesterton; C. S. Lewis), the Brits never use the middle initial.

2) The pseudonym for my mystery novels was forced on me--the original publisher, Ballantine, refused to publish the books without it--and I always hated using it. If the decision had been left to me (or if I had believed that I had the power to make the decision), I never would have invented "Reed Stephens." And I'll always be grateful to Tom Doherty and Tor Books (not to mention Malcolm Edwards and Orion) for giving me the chance to "come out of the closet."