GRADUAL INTERVIEW (August 2006)
Brad M:  Hi Stephen,
First let me say like so many before a sincere thankyou for your wonderful stories. I have read everything you have written - The Chronicles and Gap series dozens of times - in my life you are the most important author ever.

My questions regard the Hurachai. I have always enjoyed the Hurachai as characters and feelI understand them somewhat. We all know of their intense underlying passion, and reference is often made of the difficulty they have expressing certain concepts in verbal speech that is unnatural to them. Is your understanding of the natural Hurachai form of communication as allowing scope for expressing the great passion within these men (and women I assume) or do you think they are as cool and emotionless in their silent communing as they are with verbal communication?

Secondly how do you think Cail, and Bannor for that matter what respond to the choices there people have made leading to their position in Runes? I see these 2 characters as probably the only Hurachai to have learned the lesson of what the harsh judgemental nature of the Hurachai ultimately yields...any thoughts?
I think of the mental communication of the Haruchai as a sort of "gestalt" transmission: they share the *whole* experience--thought, emotion, image, sound, everything. Of course, the way they de-emphasize emotion in ordinary speech is bound to be reflected in their conscious mental discourse. They have made an explicit "moral" commitment to detachment. But on some level, their passions are conveyed--and shared--directly. Otherwise they wouldn't be doing what they're doing now.

From my perspective, the "lesson" of their own nature is one that the Haruchai have had to learn over and over again. This is because, on some very deep level, they just don't get it ("it" being the lesson you refer to). Perhaps this is an effect of the fact that races and peoples in fantasy novels tend to be fairly static. Or perhaps there's some other explanation. In any event, it seems likely to me that Bannor and Cail would understand and even support both Stave and Handir. (Which is about as vague as I can make this answer without straying into spoilers. <sigh>)

(08/06/2006)

Allen:  This is a bizarre question but here goes - Is fantasy literature as it is currently written getting better or worse or remaining about the same?

Of course there are time periods involved. Let's pretend that William Morris invented modern fantasy. Since Morris have we seen a great rising with its inevitable peak and a decline? Or is it all down hill from there? Or is it a mixed bag?

Thank you so much for your hard work. The payoff comes with the bitter-bright glory that covers the name Donaldson.

Allen
Yes? No? Maybe? Of course? Impossible? All of the above? How would *I* know? But your proposition--"Let's pretend that William Morris invented modern fantasy"--is pretty much dependent on the word "modern," since we can probably all agree that Morris didn't write "Beowulf," or "The Epic of Gilgamesh," or even "The Tempest". In other words, we've had fantasy about as long as we've had story. The mere fact that you've asked your question implies that fantasy as an essential form of human communication swells and ebbs in recurring cycles. Well, I don't have a crystal ball: I can't define where we are in the current cycle, much less predict where the cycle is going. But the fact that McKillip, Erikson, and Powers are all our contemporaries suggests to me that we may be living in a Golden Age of "modern fantasy". (Or conversely--<sigh>--the fact that McKillip, Erikson, and Powers don't sell very well may suggest that we're living in a Golden Age of Dreck.)

(08/06/2006)

David Linehan:  Hi Mr D,

As a personal observation for readers who have never met you. I thought I would relate my experience of your Q & A and book signing for ROTE at the Waterstones bookstore in Manchester, England, 11th November 2004, when you kindly signed my hardback copy of the 1983 Richard Drew publication of the First Chronicles, among others. ;-)

From the bio's in the dust jackets of your books I had always assumed that you were a somewhat austere and reserved person. So what an amazing and delightful contrast you proved to be as an engaging, passionate and entertaining speaker that night. You infused the evening with your fervor for writing and your animated responses to the questions posed, put flesh on the bones of the author! This was all the more surprising as I'd previously read on the G.I. that you didn't necessarily relish such events. So thanks so much for that.

A couple of questions. What dictionary or dictionaries do you use? And have you ever tasted a beverage and thought 'this could be Diamondraught'?

P.S. Thankyou so much for 'Also love in the world'.
OK, I admit that I'm mostly posting this for the gratification of my own ego. <rueful smile> It's nice to think that I succeed at something which I find draining to the point of debilitation.

On a day-to-day basis, I use any dictionary I can get my hands on. But in emergencies (!) I turn to the Oxford English Dictionary (complete with magnifying glass).

I don't know if it qualifies as diamondraught, but I have very fond memories of Black Bush Irish whiskey.

(08/06/2006)

Raymond L. Yacht:  1. Thank you for recommending Stephen Erikson. Good fantasy is my favorite genre to read, but unfortunately I think much of what is out there is unreadable. What is your opinion of authors who are still recycling old stereotypical races, such as elves and dwarves?

2. Have you ever played role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons? You would be great at playing or especially running one of these games. I realize these games have a stigma of being for dorks, children, and dorky children, but then, so does fantasy literature, and I don't care.

3. The Final Chronicles are 4 books instead of 3, bringing the total of Covenant books up to 10, which seems to be a magic number for epic fantasy series. Was this part of the decision to expand to 4 books?

Thanks for all you have written, keep it up.
1) I hardly ever read such books myself--so I suppose that reveals my opinion clearly enough. I prefer writers who have the ability and make the effort to come up with their own material. But Tolkien himself demonstrates that "recycled" "stereotypes" can be made fresh and glistening by a writer with the right gifts. And writers like Janny Wurts and the lamented David Gemmell prove that there are still nuggets to be found in old gold-mines.

2) No, I've never played D&D. For me, it's, well, "too much like work". I prefer very different recreations.

3) I'm unaware that "10...is a magic number for epic fantasy series." In any case, I came up with my ideas more than 25 years ago: long before there were any comparable epic fantasy series. And to complicate matters further: left to myself, I might have ended up with 11 "Covenant" books rather than 10 (as I've explained elsewhere, "The Second Chronicles" is a trilogy because Lester del Rey made it so, not because I did). For some unconscious reason, I appear to prefer 4-part structures. "Mordant's Need" is in four parts. "The Second Chronicles" (like "the Last Chronicles") was planned in four (sub-divided) parts. The GAP books can be seen as four parts with an extended prologue.

But the short answer is No. I've *always* intended "The Last Chronicles" to be four books.

(08/06/2006)

Peter "Creator" Purcell:  I was intrigued by an answer you gave to a question today. Paraphrasing: None of your characters are your inspiring spirit.

Then who or what is your muse? Or is it different for each Series? Each story?

Am I correct in associating 'muse' with 'inspiring spirit'

Thanks!
The existence of obsessively-recurring themes in my work might suggest that those themes are my "muse," my "inspiring spirit." But I don't think that way. In fact, I don't think about Muses or Inspiring Spirits at all. However, I suppose that my Muse is the God of Language: the mysterious power of words in sequence to convey vast riches of meaning and emotion. (Note to self: insert innumerable examples.)

(08/06/2006)

Jason D. Wittman:  Mr. Donaldson,

I am currently re-reading your Gap books, and I recently came across your relation of the death of Godsen Frik. I was a bit surprised at how you had the death occur off stage (I remember being surprised the first time I read it as well). Considering the ramifications it had on the story as a whole. Why did you treat that part of the story in that particular way?

Regards,

Jason

The short answer is that having it happen off-stage saves narrative space. Blowing him up in front of the reader would have added several pages to the book--especially when you consider that first I would have had to create a scene in which witnesses were present for good narrative reasons.

The more subtle (therefore more difficult to explain) answer has to do with Frik's "weight" as a character, both in itself and as it compares to the "weight" of every other character in the book. Multiple POVs always demand a complex balancing act (e.g. do I want to give Frik's death the same stature I've assigned to the attack on Vertigus?), and in the end I suspect that every writer does it by "feel". I did what felt right to me, or harmonious, or appropriate. However, I could argue that--from the perspective of the larger story--the primary significance of Frik's death does not reside in Frik himself, but rather in the fact that Dios can now put Hannish in Frik's place. (Sure, we learn something about Fasner in the process--but we probably already knew that.)

In other words, I wasn't trying to dis Frik as a character: I was trying to keep the story moving both efficiently and harmoniously.

(08/07/2006)

HarriK:  I recently re-read "The Man Who Fought Alone" after coming home from an exhibition where I assisted my Martial Arts teacher and seeing the book on the shelf. It seemed to be a good time to reread it because fate had conspired to make me notice it.

It actually surprised me how the book seemed completely different to the first time I read it. I scanned through your other books quickly - The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Gap series. I only looked at a page or two per book. Again I noticed that the book seemed different. Other than of course that it was a test of will power to stop reading, lol!

I think my question is that do you actually actively attempt to create several different levels in a book you have written, or do you think that this is something that naturally happens as the individual who is reading evolves in terms of character and experience? Perhaps they are able to see things they have not before?

Secondly I have to note with a degree of amusement that when I thought back to the Martial Arts exhibition that I could indeed spot a number of "true believers" - perhaps even myself if I look in the mirror. Are you now or have you ever been a "true believer"? I guess my interpretation of a "true believer" is someone who clings to the crutch of Martial Arts as a means of bolstering their self-identity. What is your interpretation?

Respectfully yours and still waiting with anticipation for "Fatal Revenant". To the point where my friend and I are refusing to complete the last 50 pages or so of "The Runes of the Earth" knowing we still have to wait for the next book!
Yes, I do try to work on as many different levels as I can when I'm telling a story. Some of this happens--in a manner of speaking--spontaneously: I just have that kind of mind. And some of it happens because I spend so much time *thinking* about the story: while I'm planning it, when I'm writing, during the various stage of rewriting. One way or another, I'm always trying to weave a few more threads than I'm actually capable of handling. <rueful smile>

I'm a missionary kid: I was raised to be a True Believer. It's bred in the bone. Which is only one of many reasons why I wrote TCOTCTU the way I did. That story is both an affirmation and an antidote. ("Gee, Martha, what is he on about *now*?") I've learned that if you (speaking generically) are inclined to be a True Believer, you had better be very careful--not to mention critical--about what you choose to believe *in*. The martial arts are a good example. Funakoshi wrote, "The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." Well, that's certainly an attractive notion. But after a few years in the martial arts, I couldn't help noticing that some martial artists spend decade after decade becoming lousier and lousier human beings. In those cases, the study of the martial arts hasn't produced perfection of character: it has merely exposed the underlying meanness and brutality of the student. Ergo, the study of the martial arts does not *inherently* lead to perfection of character. Therefore being a True Believer in the martial arts is--if I may say so--misguided. As is (just to pick a random example) being a True Believer in Jihadism.

If, on the other hand, you choose to believe that "perfection of character" is worth striving for, then the martial arts can be a productive road toward your goal.

I'm a True Believer about all kinds of things, one of which I'll call (for the sake of convenience) Selfless Storytelling: storytelling which exists for its own sake rather for the gratification of its author. Of course, nothing is ever truly perfect. I have as much ego as anyone else: I like gratification as much as anyone does. But underneath all of my natural confusion (not to mention rot), I don't write because I want to be read, or because I want to make money, or because I want to be famous. I write because I'm a True Believer. Because I believe that the story is worth telling. For its own sake.

(08/09/2006)

Alun H Brown:  Hi Stephen,

You explained recently in the GI that the Creator 'respects the integrity of his own creation' and therefore has to work indirectly around such integrity.

You've often talked about having a similar attitude yourself to your characters, stressing the importance of their 'dignity'. (It is one of the things that makes your writing a cut above, IMHO). So my question is this...is the Creator in the Chronicles (as opposed to the Creator OF the Chronicles) also you?

Or did he just choose you in his own image? ;-)

Profoundest thanks for your wonder-full work.
Let's be honest. What could I possibly know about "God"? I have no conceptual tools, no aids to understanding, which are not inherently anthropomorphic; therefore inherently false. All I have to work with is my imagination. Hence my rather frenetic assertions that the "Creator" in "The Chronicles" is a *character*: I made him up, and any attempt to draw conclusions OUTSIDE THE TEXT is doomed to error.

So, keeping rigidly in mind the fact that "The Chronicles" is a work of fiction; that I invented everything in it: in fact, I used myself as a model for the "Creator". I don't mean myself as a person--or a personality. I mean myself as a storyteller. I invented the "Creator" on the assumption that his attitudes and convictions about creation are pretty much the same as mine. Which, I freely admit, sounds rather grandiose. (Less courteous descriptions also come to mind.) But what else was I going to do? Throughout history, human beings have clung to notions of "God(s)" which are *more* rather than less anthropomorphic than the one I chose for "The Chronicles".

(08/09/2006)

Gene Marsh:  Mr. Donaldson,

I hope this finds you well. It has been several months since I have written.

My question is one of structure: In the detailing of the work you have "mapped out", do you find typically yourself drawn to "fleshing out" the conclusion of a piece and working your way back, or do you write in much the same manner the story unfolds, following your map? I would think the latter would/could lead to more changes in the work as you go.

Best regards always,
Gene Marsh
As I've said many times, if I don't know how a story ends, I can't tell it at all. The ending is my reason for telling the story. Once I know the ending, I plan backward (sometimes vaguely) until I reach a viable starting point.

But that doesn't mean I "flesh out" the conclusion before I do anything else. Far from it. My sense of an "ending" involves some sort of intersection between ideas, events, and emotions; but I make no attempt whatsoever to "pin it down," to make it concrete or tangible. All it has to do is feel important and, well, "real" to me. After that, I write "in [exactly] the same manner [as] the story unfolds": I experience the story along with my characters. In my case, however, this process doesn't "change" the story as I go: it "gives definition" to the story as I go. I "flesh out" the specifics of my conclusion only when I'm intimately familiar with all of the processes which lead to and enable that conclusion.

(08/09/2006)

Reed Byers:  Dear Stephen:

Long-time reader, first-time writer. Heh.

I've been trying to reconcile some of the things you've said about the "reality" of The Land. (I imagine this topic is becoming almost as popular with you as "Creator" questions!)

You've explained several times that the Land's "reality/unreality" is no longer relevent to your story -- and I guess the way I see it is, that's fine, so long as subsequent events don't force us to revisit the issue. A while back, you said something that really stuck with me:

===
It really would be cheating if I suddenly announced, "OK, I was just kidding about that whole maybe-it's-not-real, you-are-the-white-gold shtick. Let's pretend it never happened."
===

By making the "unreality" of the Land virtually impossible, it feels to me that you WERE kidding about the whole "maybe-it's-not-real shtick". It can't possibly "not be real" anymore, can it?

Thank you (as always) for some of my favorite fantasy novels, as well as for your generosity in sharing your thoughts with us in this forum!
I disagree emphatically with your central assertion (that the "reality" of the Land has been absolutely confirmed). When I said that "unreality/reality" is no longer relevant, I was speaking of the themes of the story: in crude terms, after the first trilogy Covenant and Linden don't *care* whether the Land is real or not. But I insist that I'm still playing by the same rules which govern the first trilogy. I believe that there is nothing in Covenant's/Linden's "real" world which unequivocally confirms the Land's independent existence (I mean independent of their perception of it). Sure, there are a number of people in the "real" world (in both "The Second Chronicles" and "The Last Chronicles") who behave pretty strangely. And sure, no one in Linden's "reality" knows how Joan keeps getting out of her restraints. But "the Land and Lord Foul are 'real'" is not the only *possible* explanation for those things. Meanwhile, what happens to Covenant and Linden in the Land never has any material, physical effect on their subsequent "real" lives--a detail which implies the "unreality" of their experiences in the Land.

Of course, I'm well aware that the sheer tangible specificity of what happens to Covenant and Linden in the Land positively begs for the reader's "belief"--or, to be more accurate, the reader's "suspension of disbelief". But that suspension of disbelief is essential to the experience of reading *any* fiction, not just sf/f, and certainly not just "The Chronicles".

We could probably discuss specific details (e.g. how did Linden end up with Covenant's ring?) for hours. But *I'm* confident that I haven't violated any of the rules on which the first trilogy is predicated.

(08/10/2006)

Joshua Kirch:  Dear Mr. Donaldson,
I'm a huge fan of your work, especially the Gap Cycle. The first two Covenant Chronicles were huge influences in my decision to become a novelist- or at least attempt to do so.
I'm writing for two reasons. First of all, I know that your decision to write the last chronicles was made in the face of a lot of fear. I wanted to let you know that at least one fan thinks this to be your best yet.
My second reason for writing is that, as a struggling writer, I'd love to know what allowed you to break through that fear. Were there any thoughts that you found especially helpful?

Thank you,
Josha
Of course, age is a factor. I've had my nose rubbed in my mortality. If I'm not going to face my fears now, when do I propose to get around to it? How much longer do I have? Can anyone really afford to wait?

But in my case the process started 20+ years ago. As soon as I became aware of how completely fear ruled my whole life, I began trying to change that dynamic. I don't *want* to be ruled: I want to be the master of myself. Which means that I have to accept responsibility for determining the meaning of my own life.

I've been through many stages, all of which have to be repeated for each fear. First I have to identify each fear; to call it by its true name. Then I have to validate each fear; to understand where it comes from, and why it is--for lack of a better term--normal. (Pathologizing fear only strengthens it: a point which is made repeatedly in the GAP books. Life is full of situations in which fear is the best friend we'll ever have.) Then I have to define a concrete, constructive choice which is different than the one suggested by each fear.

I've never found a simple method for doing any of this. In every single case (of which I seem to have an endless supply), I've had to work it through arduously, one small step at a time. I know people who make progress by intuitive leaps, or with personal mantras, or through the intelligent use of medication <grin>. But I'm not one of them. In my case, fear isn't something I "break through": it's something I carry kicking and screaming on my back. Rather like Morn Hyland.

(08/10/2006)

Anonymous:  Steve,

Exactly what makes a book a best-seller? An article published in May of 2006 stated "[Terry] Brooks shouldn’t worry about a lack of interest in his work. Straken: High Druid of Shannara, Book 3 has sold 72,000 copies since it was published in September 2005." For some reason I didn't expect this...I expected more (I guess as a people we simply don't read).

So: what *is* expected in sells - hard or soft cover - for a book to be considered a 'best seller'?
The term "bestseller" refers to speed of sales, not quantity. And it's relative to all the other books that were published at the same time. A book that sells 72,000 copies in hardcover in, say, two months can be at the top of the bestseller lists--if all of its immediate "competitors" sell fewer copies in the same time period. Or 72,000 copies can leave a book nowhere to be seen on the lists--if all of its competitors sell more. In other words, luck plays a huge role. In the long run, the only reason "being a bestseller" matters is that it actively promotes sales: people are more likely to buy a book if they know it's a "bestseller"--especially when the purchase is impulsive rather than premeditated--and reviewers are more likely to review a book if they know it's a "bestseller" (which increases public awareness of the book).

(08/10/2006)

J C Bronsted:  I have read in the GI that your publisher forced you to have your Mystery novels published under a pseudonym. Is this common, so far as you know?

I ask because I am writing [among many] two primary novels, one which would undoubtedly be classified Fantasy, and another which would be more "mainstream" (under 'Fiction' at the bookstore?). I imagine a scenario in which my books are located in two different sections of the bookstore! My second question is, How do publishers (again, in your experience/to your knowledge) react to authors who wriggle out of their neat little cubby holes?

Thank you again for this forum.
It's not common for books by one author to end up in two (or more) different sections of a bookstore (although that's happening to me now). On the other hand, imposing pseudonyms by publishing category *is* common. So in practice books by one author *do* commonly end up in two (or more) different sections of a bookstore--but no one knows (including the bookstore) because the books are by different "authors". I know writers with four or five pseudonyms: that's just how the business works. Even Stephen King was forced to use a pseudonym in his early years simply because he was "too" prolific. <sigh>

As a rule, publishers don't like it when writers violate their categories. From the publisher's perspective, a pseudonym is usually (not always) mandatory--which in turn means that promotional efforts for one book don't help sell the other. The publisher is "forced" to waste money, time, and energy promoting "two" different authors.

(08/11/2006)

Jonathan Atkinson:  Hi Steve,

I was just wondering whether when you think of a name for a character in one of your stories, you ever do a web search to see whether the name has already been used by someone else? I ask, because I have just started to read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, and was stunned to find that there is a character called "Marillion" in it (if you don't know, Marillion is a long established British progressive rock band who have had worldwide success). When asked if he chose the name intentionally (the character is a singer), Mr Martin admitted he had never heard of the band and that it was just a coincidence! Methinks a search on the name before he decided to use it might have made him reconsider whether it was wise to use the name.

Kind regards
Jon Atkinson
No, I've never done as you suggest. And I don't see the problem. Where is the harm if a writer accidentally stumbles on a "real" name? (Personally, I'll be astonished if our planet doesn't hold at least one person named "Davies Hyland".) Indeed, leaving aside issues of libel, where is the harm if a writer deliberately uses a "real" name? There are only so many letters in the alphabet, and they can only be combined in a finite number of ways.

There are times when the Internet offers us *too* much information....

(08/11/2006)

raymond luxuryyacht:  Here's a strange one for you. I was watching the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships, mixed martial arts fighting that is a blend of every type of martial arts you can think of) the other day and was thinking about how a fighter, no matter how good, can not compete in a full contact fight if they have no skills on the ground. You can put a guy who has been doing Karate for 20 years against someone who has done jiujitsu for 2, and the jiujitsu fighter will consistantly win by taking the fight to mat and forcing the karate guy to submit. Not a knock against karate, it just doesn't prepare someone to fight on the ground. My question is this - are the haruchai versed in this type of fighting, or would they be out of their element if the fight went ot the ground? I'm guessing the answer is you have never thought about such a silly point, but I was curious.
Of course you're right about "ground skills" (unless you have more than one opponent). But let me just say that anyone who has been studying karate for 20 years and hasn't learned how to avoid being taken to the ground hasn't been paying attention.

However, I think we can assume--at least for the purposes of "The Chronicles"--that the Haruchai are *complete* fighters. How could they not be?

(08/11/2006)

Anthony:  Dear Mr. Donaldson:

When all has been written on the life and death of Thomas Covenant, will there be anything personally written on the life of Stephen R. Donaldson? A memoire?

Thanks,
Anthony
Not if I have anything to say about it. My life is *my* business.

On the other hand, people have been known to change their minds. I may change mine someday. (Perhaps before it rots altogether.) Who knows?

(08/11/2006)

Sturgeon's Lawyer:  Sir,

Thanks, great books, etc.

Observation on the value of the GI: A few months ago I had read the various Chronicles (repeatedly) but never read another word of your fiction -- though _Daughter of Regals_ had sat on my shelf for years. I found this site, began reading the GI, and said, "H'm." Then began reading _DoR_. "Well," I said, "There's clearly more to this Donaldson guy than Covenant's clenchings." And last week I ordered the entire GAP series.

Onward. Rather than questions, as such, let me try poking at some of your disingenuousnesses (is that a word?) and see if I can shake something loose.

1. In a not-too-long-ago GI answer, you said that the title of _Runes of the Earth_ referred to the fate graven in the very rock, blablablah. I assume you don't think we're dumb enough to believe that the guy who plays on Worm/Wyrd/Weird/Word/etc. wasn't playing on "Ruins?"

2. Bahgoon and Thelma -- yeah, that's a RAFO, all right, but you write in a very structured and deliberate (though passionate) way. I invoke Chekov's Law: that gun was polished in Act I and loaded in Act II; you're too good a writer not to fire it in Act III.

3 and last. It's no spoiler as such to note the long-ago statement that the FC ends with "Covenant becoming Foul." Seems to me that the only way that can make sense is if Covenant, Foul, and Creator all become each other in some way. Yeah, I know, RAFO... and you may even choose to delete this non-question as too spoily, and I'll understand.
1) "Dumb"? Who said anything about "dumb"? I was asked a literal question: I gave a literal answer. If I had been asked whether the fact that "runes" sounds like "ruins" has any significance, I might have replied that the word "runes" itself can have a variety of applications. (It is, after all, a form of written language. Which takes us back to words. Which takes us back to Word/Wyrd, etc.) If that seems disingenuous to you--well, of *course* it is. But what are my alternatives? Would you really prefer an endless run of spoilers?

2) "The Last Chronicles" is all about breaking Laws. I'm too good a writer *not* to question the validity or usefulness of things like "Chekov's Law". (What? *More* disingenuousness? Is there no end?)

3) I can think of quite a variety of scenarios which would lead to "Covenant becoming Foul" without bringing the Creator into the equation. (And there's nothing disingenuous about *that* assertion: it's a plain statement of fact.)

(08/12/2006)

Matt Baldwin:  Keeping up with tradition and duty, I must thank you first for your works, they are truely superior to almost all in the fantasy genre. I do have a question relative to the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and hope that it is not a spoiler for future novels. I'd like to know a little bit more about the Illearth Stone, where it came from, how it came to be, and if Lord Foul had the entire stone in the first chronicles or just a piece.
Also, on a different note, I'd like to know what you consider, personally, your masterpeice. Thank you for your time in reading and answering these questions.
I've always assumed that the Illearth Stone was made by Lord Foul (or a-Jeroth, as his friends call him) while he was interfering with the process of creation; before the Creator finished his work by sealing the Arch of Time. If you accept that assumption, then it probably follows that LF retrieved *all* of the Stone. I mean, since he already knew everything there is to know about the Stone, and all....

(08/12/2006)

Dennis Wise:  I spent a fair amount of time last summer in the Kent State Special collections, browsing through your collection. On the GI you mentioned that you had your "juvenalia" stashed there -- i.e., pre-Lord Foul's Bane stuff. Questions:

1. You made mention in an interview somewhere that you'd written an early spy novel set in some invented African country. Yet I didn't see it there.

2. Wooster has a copy of your senior thesis, but not KSU, sadly enough. (I was never able to make it up to Wooster!)

Anyway, so I just wondered if you left these things out intentionally, or if the spy novel even exists anymore, and whatnot. And, yes, I actually would have been interested in these things, plus anything else there might have been. :)

Thank you!

I must have misspoken in some context--or made some assertion which was too easy to misconstrue. No, my "unpublished" work is NOT at Kent State. I'm sorry I gave you the impression that it was. It's still in my filing cabinets somewhere--unless I managed to lose some of it, which is always possible. Kent has a complete (I think?) collection of manuscripts for every story I've ever published. Unpublished work I've kept to myself (although there is some on this web site). I regret misleading you.

If I'm ever fortunate--or unfortunate--enough to see my death coming, I intend to empty my filing cabinets by sending everything to the Kent State University Libraries. But that day, I piously hope, is far in the future.

(08/13/2006)

Michael from Santa Fe:  How did you come up with the idea of making the Giants impervious to fire? Since you have stated before that you only "invent the things you need" was it just so Saltheart would be able to carry Covenant through the lava at Hotash Slay? Or did that plot point come from the invention of the "caamora" fire cleansing ritual? Some other reason?
Would you believe "it just seemed to fit"? Really, nearly 30 years later, I can't remember the genesis of every single detail.

(08/14/2006)

Martin Bennett:  You recently mentioned that 'Runes' sold very well in England. Can you speculate at all as to why that should be? Yes, I am English - I was honoured to get your signature in my copy of 'Runes' in Forbidden Planet, having stood patiently behind a man with at least 5 copies of every book you've written - but I don't personally know any Americans that I can compare book-reading tastes with.
Of course, all I can do is speculate. I don't have any particular insights into "national character"--even my own. But it's a fact that the UK "consumes" far more books per capita than the US does. And I wouldn't be the 1st--or even the 100,001st--to observe that US culture is profoundly anti-intellectual (not to mention anti-cultural) in many ways. The conceptual poverty of our public discourse is a case in point--as is the "ghetto mentality" of people who consider themselves intellectuals.

But some people argue that the Brits are just "tougher" than we are: less afraid of pain; less likely to shy away from challenging texts. Maybe losing an empire has something to do with it <rueful smile>.

(08/14/2006)

Peter B.:  Hi Stephen.

I noticed you stated in a earlier response that you were "saddened" and "disappointed" that your later works have never matched the success of the first 6 Covenant books.

How did the sales of Runes compare with Mordant and the Gap series? I keep wondering why Runes has never been released in a mass paperback format (as opposed to the trade paperback). Is this sales related or perhaps some other consideration?

For what it's worth, as a long-time reader who has enjoyed all your works, I have a good feeling that the Last Chronicles will keep rising artistically and commercially.

"The Runes of the Earth" compares favorably with "The Mirror of Her Dreams" and "A Man Rides Through". Sales of the GAP books were--and still are--much lower.

(08/14/2006)

Walter Langendorf:  You've mentioned several times that the Ravers are named after states of enlightenment, and further that these names are the ones they give themselves.

Further you've mentioned that they have no hierarchy. They started out as brothers, became Ravers as brothers and serve LF as brothers.

My question is this:

When you feel inspired to put a Raver in a scene, do you have any reason specific to the Raver itself for choosing one over another? Basically, do you have individual traits and chracteristics for each of them? Are they interchangeable (with the exception of the one that got rent, obviously)?
From my perspective, the Ravers have always been pretty much interchangeable: more of a "gestalt" concept than actual characters. I suppose I think of them as Lord Foul's hands.

(08/14/2006)

Mike , Missouri:  First, I must thank you, for the millionth time, for the worlds you create for us. Now to make this short , Eremis sent Saddith to Lebbick(and we all know what happens), after Terisa was attacked in the bazaar and feinted, Geradan told her Saddith was trying to suduce him while she was sleeping. Was Eremis to blame for this also? Nobody seemed to make the connection in the story. Thank you again, for all you give us.
No, Saddith is just a natural-born seductress. She doesn't need prompting (except perhaps in the case of a man as unappealing as Lebbick). Seduction is her definition of "female" power. Unadulterated sexism--if that's not an oxymoron <grin>.

(08/14/2006)

Jeff:  My question is about the Giants. Most of them have names that are based on "normal" English words that evoke something about their character... Saltheart Foamfollower, Wavenhair Haleall, Gossamer Glowlymn, Cable Seadreamer, even the Giant-Ravers... but not Grimmand Honninscrave. There are echoes in it (grim, rave, crave), but it's not straightforward like the other Giant names are. Was this intentional? If so, why; what does this say about him or his relationship w/ the other Giants? Or was this a case where, as you've talked about, you just liked the sound of the words?

Maybe it's Giantish for "Briny the Pirate" ? ;-)
Thanks and Be True,
jb
Sadly, the truth is less interesting than your speculations. I started with something along the lines of "Grim-hand Honors-crave," but that seemed rather (if I may say so) heavy-handed, so I blurred the syllables. I didn't want to make it *too* obvious that he had a special fate. To be consistent, of course, I should have thrown in a few other similar names; but alas....

(08/14/2006)

Peter Bejmuk:  Hello Mr. Donaldson,

I read the Gap sequence six or seven years ago and just recently learned about the "Der Ring des Nibelungen" link. It seems that in my voracious appetite for the storyline, I skipped your afterward in the Real Story and went straight on to Forbidden Knowledge. After finally reading your afterward a few days ago, I have much deeper insight and appreciation into the Gap books.

First off, I know that you have a dislike for hypothetical questions, and I know you always encourage writers to make "their own worlds". That said, there is a chance that - in the near or distant future - some writer (hopefully a good one!) may take your published material and form another story about the structure - perhaps in written form, or perhaps in another medium - in the same way you retold parts of Der Ring into the Gap Cycle. Does that idea appeal to you, or does it make you a little hesitant?

If someone retold (say, for example) the Thomas Covenant saga in a new way (in space, in the same way you retold Der Ring, for instance) a century from now, do you believe that your work would be viewed differently than if such an event would not occur? Obviously, as such a project would include credit to you (and, unlike my original read through the Gap Cycle, the reader *would* read the author's note on the link between the works) it would generate new interest in your published works, but do you think it would do *more* than just that?

Completely unrelated note - I originally picked up my copies of the TC trilogies in England, and having since moved back to the USA have noticed that there are quite a few editions with varying covers floating around out there. As the Author, do you personally have a collection of the various covers (or copies of the actual artwork) that have been made for your books across the globe? I know you have no control over what goes on the various editions of your books, but do your publishers ever give you a copy of any of the newer editions (or even show you all of the covers), especially the international editions?

Once again, thanks for the books.
What's that old line? "Bad writers borrow. Good writers steal." The point is that any good writer (any good creative artist) draws on pre-existing material in one form or another, consciously or unconsciously. ("Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun.") Most readers don't ask, "What were Tolkien's sources for LOTR?" even though some of his sources were obviously the same ones that Wagner used for his "Ring" cycle. Why? Because Tolkien *transformed* his sources as he used them: he "made them his own".

So it follows, I think, that LOTR--and the "Ring" cycle--did not inspire many people to go read the "Elder Eddas". The value of both works lies in what their sources were transformed *into*, not in what those sources actually *were*. (Of course, those sources have their own distinctive value. But that's a separate issue.)

In my (very limited) experience, no other author has "announced" his sources as blatantly as I did for the GAP books. However, that announcement is irrelevant to the essential question: did I succeed at truly transforming my sources, or didn't I? If the former, then knowing about Wagner's "Ring" may enhance the reading experience, but isn't essential. If the latter, then knowing about Wagner's "Ring" will simply underscore my failure.

(So why did I do it? you might well ask. Why did I set myself up to be more easily judged--and possibly dismissed--than most other writers? The explanation, sadly, is rather mundane. I mean, apart from sharing my love of Wagner. My publishers insisted on an "afterword"--because, they said, "The Real Story" was too short to stand on its own--and I couldn't think of anything else to write about.)

Well, all of the above applies to whatever may happen decades or centuries from now. I'll be long dead, so I won't be in a position to express my opinions. But the test will remain the same. If some creative soul uses my work as a source, does he/she transform it? Or not?

(In either case, there's nothing "obvious" about giving "credit" in these situations. We're back to "borrow" vs "steal". Very few writers--or creative artists of any kind--acknowledge their sources.)

Ah, cover art. No, I have nothing like a complete collection. Often I'm not even informed when a book of mine is translated--or simply repackaged. Publishers are just too busy. And I have none of the original art. If "art" is the right word for some of the covers I've had.

(08/15/2006)

James Hastings:  I'm having trouble figuring out how to phrase the question I want to ask. Please pardon me if I plod a bit.

I believe that anybody can grace themselves and their lives by learning an art. By art I generally mean any craft that one can devote themselves to deeply. I draw and paint. Others might play basketball or fix cars. So long as someone loves that craft and commits themselves to understanding it on a deep, detailed level, I have no problem calling them art. And I think learning one art form benefits a person's entire life.

Your craft is writing (among others that you've mentioned). As such, you must understand it down to a level of detail that even those of us who have studied literature will probably see half of what you see in any passage of text (as can be seen in some of the funnier questions you get).

These insights into the minutiae of arts-practice are what really interest me. So I was wondering how technically you dissect the process of writing. Do you see it as a series of separate but related tasks that taken together make up the discipline of writing? Do you know what your specific strengths and weaknesses are (like say, "expository dialogue is always a pain to me" or whatever). Do you ever "practice" to get better at certain things or challenge yourself in specific areas? Is there any one aspect that you are particularly proud of your improvement with over your career? (One of the reasons I wanted to ask this is because there is a huge shift in the flow of the text from your early work in the first two chronicles and the latest installment. I was curious as to what exactly had changed in your writing and to what extent it was conscious.)

When you read others' works do you view it more from the point of view of a writer, viewing their methods and tactics, or are you able to lose yourself in the characters, events and ideas of the text as much as any of us outsiders?

Finally, at this point in your career, despite the fact that you've said writing can be a painful process, have you come to love it for it's own sake, and the breadth of knowledge you have of it, or is it still more of a means to get the ideas you have to express out?

I understand that this might be too big a subject to address in this forum and won’t be offended if you skip it, but I wanted to at least get these big questions out there.

Thanks!
I've been putting this off because your questions are even more difficult to answer than they were to ask. I want to be able to make some kind of "statement" about the process by which one learns a craft/art as subjective and open-ended as storytelling (where there are no "right" answers--unlike, say, repairing cars). But I haven't been able to think of an approach that satisfies me. By now, I must've tried out--and discarded--six or eight. No doubt the problem arises from the fact that I don't actually want to spend the rest of my life writing about writing. <rueful smile> Anyway, I'm going to address your questions literally, even though I know that probably won't answer your *real* question.

In order, then:

Over the decades of my study of writing, I've dissected it in every way I can think of (both as a reader and as a writer). At one extreme, I've spent many X many hours analyzing how Shakespeare evolves patterns of imagery to enhance meaning, insight, and emotion within a particular play. At the other, I've practically made a career out of watching how other writers use "-ing" words. (What do they gain--or lose--by using the same sound, and the same means of describing an action, over and over again? Under what circumstances does repetition "work"? When does it detract from content?)

Any art/craft requires learning a certain (usually wide) array of discrete skills/tasks and then integrating those disparate elements into an organic whole. Studying "separate but related tasks" isn't enough: those tasks have to be studied both separately *and* in context.

I'm aware of some of my specific strengths and weaknesses. (Here my study of writing is very different than my study of karate. In karate, I have teachers who help me understand and work on my weaknesses. In writing, all I get are critics who find fault with my results, but who can't tell me where those faults come from.) I often "'practice' to get better at certain things or challenge [my]self in specific areas." "The Man Who Fought Alone" took me practically forever because I was challenging a number of my weaknesses simultaneously. However, there are certain weaknesses that I have (so far) simply given up on. For example, I can't write "dialect": a very useful tool, if you've got it; but I ain't got it.

The areas in which I feel that I've improved the most are what I call: a) "organizing large narrative structures"; and b) "giving my characters dignity". The author of the first six "Covenant" books could not have accomplished what I did in the GAP sequence. And yet, on a minute-by-minute basis, I spend most of my attention and energy on how my sentences "flow". (What *is* it, exactly, that allows or enables one sentence to carry the reader irresistably into the next?)

Without question, I read as a writer rather than as a reader. I don't even try to turn off the part of my mind that studies how the author of whatever I'm reading does what he/she does.

If I didn't believe in writing/storytelling for its own sake, I would have quit eons ago. Just because I find writing arduous and even painful doesn't mean that I'm not passionately engaged with it. And for a "language" person like me, writing can never be separated from what I'm writing. For me, writing isn't just a means of expression: it *is* what I'm expressing.

(08/16/2006)

JD:  Steve,

Another author, lets call him XX, post on his web-site, "if he isn't working on something new", he quickly becomes bored with what he is writing.I thought to myself, "No wonder I can't read his crap any longer... if it eventually bores him, how does he expect his readers to stay interested?" (With that in mind, I can't understand how he is so financially successful--his works are very popular, somehow.)

Two questions:

1. Would you consider such a author as providing a disservice to his readers? Shouldn't they expect more, or perhaps they simply don't want more?

2. Have you ever become bored or somehow put off by what you have writing?

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
I can't honestly say that I understand the basis for your question. Is XX working on more than one book simultaneously? But with that confusion in mind....

1) A writer who is bored by his/her own work is doing a greater disservice to him/herself than to the reader. After all, the reader has the option of not reading the da*n stuff. <grin>

2) Bored by what I'm writing? Never. Put off by it? Sometimes. But invariably that's because I've screwed up somewhere; followed a false trail into a narrative cul-de-sac. The fault is always in me, not in the story I'm trying to tell.

Lester del Rey used to say that he was two writers. (He actually used names for both, but I don't remember what they were--except that neither one was "Lester".) One was lazy, always looking for the easy way out. The other was gifted and strict. His (Lester's) on-going dilemma was that the lazy one regularly seduced the gifted one, substituting counterfeit coin for true currency. So he (Lester) always had to be able to tell the difference between counterfeit and true--which wasn't easy, given a clever counterfeit.

In one form or another, every creative artist or craftsman faces the same challenge.

(08/16/2006)

Andrew, Rio, Brazil:  Dr. Donaldson,

You've mentioned Lester del Rey several times in this G.I. but I don't remember you ever commenting on his own books. I was wondering, do you like his style of writing and storylines?

Somewhere you commented that he read LFB around 1976. At that time he'd recently released (1973) a longer version ("The Sky Is Falling") of his 1954 SF story "No More Stars", in which the main character Dave Hanson also suffers a sort of transition between worlds. Do you think this may have made him particularly susceptible to the theme of TCOTC ?

One last question. Was it Birinir who caused subsequent problems for the Giants when he called on the Bodach Glas, while replying to Foamfollower and Osondrea in LFB? (or is that a spoiler?).

Many thanks for your excellent work, long may you continue !
I've read a number of Lester del Rey short stories, but none of his novels. In my opinion--and this is just my opinion--he was an intelligent craftsman rather than an inspired artist. I have no idea what effect his own work may or may not have had on his receptiveness to "Covenant".

Whatever it was that poor Birinair did, he is in no way responsible for anything that subsequently happened to the Giants. (Incidentally, I seem to recall that "Bodach Glas" has a source in English literature; but I no longer remember what it is.)

(08/17/2006)

David Wiles:  Mordants Need and A Man Rides Through were very new to me. Not since Zelazny's Amber series had a story come out that did not need magic rings and sorcerer's as a main thrust to the story.
Mirror's. What was your inspiriation for mirror's? Terisa needed them to prove to herself that she exisited. It seems that alot of your protagonist's are lonely.
The lines from "Silverlock" quoted in "The Mirror of Her Dreams" and "A Man Rides Through" were my immediate inspiration. But of course I also drew on "Through the Looking Glass" and Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions". There's nothing original in the basic concept.

What, *lonely*? *Donaldson* characters? Surely you jest.

(08/17/2006)

David Wiles:  Steve; I need to here of Scroll the giant. Joy IS in the ears that here after all. If you would dig it out and share it we will listen.
I was going to blow you off (no offense). I'm not particularly interested in the contents of my wastebasket. But then, almost inadvertently, I stumbled on a copy of "Scroll the Appalling". In fact, it has been published: back in June, 1982, in an Australian fanzine called "Wahf-full", issue 9, variously referred to as "Volume 4, No. 1" and "29 vi 82". So here it is, "a song sung by Pitchwife in contemplation of the Soulbiter." I think you'll see why I cut it out of WGW. And even if you don't, I do. Looking back, I'm reassured to see that I made the right decision.

"Scroll the Appalling"

Scroll was calm, though beset as ever.
Mishap found him in all weather,
For which he has been sadly sung.
Vessels sank beneath his feet;
Balmy winds were changed to sleet;
His life grew weeds instead of wheat,
For which he has been sorely sung.
But Scroll was not dismayed by doubt.
His calm was never tossed about.
"This little wind," he said aloud,
When gales every Giant cowed,
"Will pass"--
For which he has been sung.

Once a reef took on his ship
And would not let the dromond [ital] slip,
For which he has been faintly sung.
But Scroll was not a whit distressed:
With calm he was extremely blessed.
He ordered every sail dressed,
For which he has been wanly sung.
Top-heavy in an icy blast,
His Giantship capsized at last.
"This reef is beaten now!" he cried.
In such victories he took pride
And sank--
For which he has been sung.

Upon a time he fought a war
With whales beached upon the shore,
For which he has been slightly sung.
His losses there were rather dear:
One ship, two longboats, and a spear.
But Scroll could not be reached by fear,
For which he has been wrily sung.
Dead fishes could not him affright:
He flailed at whales all the night.
And when the tide bore them away,
"How bravely we have won today!"
He said--
For which he has been sung.

Now Scroll would not submit to death,
Though Giants begged for his last breath,
For which he has been darkly sung.
He said that he would walk the world
With all his victories unfurled
'Til Time itself was bent and curled,
For which he has been grimly sung.
So he was locked up in a rock
And sealed tighter than a crock
To stop him. Yet he bravely called,
"I will be calm and free!" Appalled,
They fled--
For which he has been sung.

So there.

(Incidentally, some of the formatting seems to have disappeared. A web site eccentricity. Each line that ends in "sung" should be indented.)

(08/17/2006)

Michael from Santa Fe:  When you published "Gilden-Fire" (which I get the impression you somewhat regret now - probably because you get crazy questions about it like the one I'm about to hit you with) you mentioned that "The Illearth War" was originally split into four parts, not the three in the published version of the book. The missing Part II dealt exclusively with the Lords trip to Seareach. I understand why it was removed, you have covered that in detail. But "Gilden-Fire" seems to me to be only one chapter of that lost Part - the other Parts of "The Illearth War" (Revelstone, The Warmark and The Blood of the Earth) are all made up of multiple chapters. I understand that the important parts of that story you had the Bloodguard bring back and tell to Covenent (the chapters: Runnik's Tale and Tull's Tale). I guess my question to you is, just out of curiosity and I totally understand if you must <sigh deeply> and refuse to answer either because you don't remember, you don't want to, or it's buried in your notes, but how many chapters were in that removed Part II, what was the Part's name and what were the names of the chapters, besides "Gilden-Fire"?

Most of what you want to know, I don't remember. All the "high points" of what I cut out have been covered in one way or another, either with "Gilden-Fire" or through Runnik's and Tull's tales. The rest exists only in my manuscripts, which are all at the Kent State University Libraries; so I can't even refresh my own memory, much less answer your questions.

(08/17/2006)

Phil:  So what happens to the Gradual Interview after the current Covenant series is done? I often wonder how much of what is submitted as a question actually makes it to the GI, and whether or not this is just a very fancy marketing vehicle (in other words, the bad stuff is filtered out and the glowing praise of your work is posted). If it goes away after this series, so be it. That's so long from now that I don't think it would be inappropriate anyhow. I suppose if someone is reading the GI, they're probably a die-hard fan, so that explains the lack of negative posts.

So does this thing get dismantled? Does it get saved and archived somewhere? If I spent all this time responding to people's questions, I'd probably want a copy of it somewhere.

You really do handle these questions with grace. How much thought do you put into these responses? I get the feeling you're really at peace when reading your responses.
Hmm. It seems I must try to dispell (again?) some misconceptions about the GI. In general, I only delete questions which have been asked repeatedly, and to which I have no answer (e.g. when will the next book be published?). Some questions I delete because they're simply too personal (I mean about the person posting the question, not about me) for a "public" forum--but when the question includes an e-mail address, I send a reply that doesn't appear in the GI. I only delete "bad stuff" when it takes the form of a personal attack (oddly, the people who post such messages *never* include an e-mail address), or when I cannot imagine what a useful reply might be. However, very few criticisms are ever posted, in part (obviously) because I discourage them, and in part (I think) because people who don't like what I do don't consider it worth their time and effort to tell me so. I do "prune" messages from time to time to save space: more often than not, what I cut out is "praise". Is the GI a "marketing vehicle"? Of course. But I also hope that it's informative. It certainly is to me.

I haven't given any thought to the eventual future of the GI. But I don't want it to go to waste: I've put too much of myself into it. For the present, I intend to start sending printouts to the Kent State University Libraries. And at some point I hope we'll figure out a way to archive the entire site at Kent State. Other than that, however.... I suppose I'll keep going until the difficulties start to overwhelm the benefits.

(08/17/2006)

Dave:  I've got a question similar to one you answered recently when someone asked if you find yourself working (writing) faster as you get to the end of a story. My question is a little more specific.

Do you find yourself writing faster now that you don't have to lay the ground work for more Covenant sequels? I would guess that you still have to put together the foundation for books three and four, but you don't have to worry about what's beyond that any more. You've gotten to culmination.
The short answer is: no. Sure, the Land already exists (for the purposes of storytelling, anyway). The back-story already exists. But I still "have to lay the ground work" for two more books. My intentions for "The Last Chronicles" require a large amount of research into the previous volumes. And with each new story, I have to, well, re-invent the wheel: I have to provide enough re-description, re-explanation, etc., to refresh the memories of older readers, and to bring newer readers up to speed; and I have to account for 3500 years of "absence" in ways that enable me to tell an entirely new story without sacrificing the relevance of the previous story. <whew> Makes me tired just to think about it. <grin>

(08/17/2006)

Ethan from NoCal:  Hi Stephen, I hope things are going well.

Recently watched a documentary which described the the ancient Aztecs relationship with the Sun as being a very bloody one. They believed that the blood from thier victims was responsible for the Suns power. Did you consciously have this in mind when you were making up the Clave or was that another example of your unconscious mind involved in your decision making(or am I totally off the mark on this)? Secondly(perhaps related), I've always envisioned the Haruchai as having South American features.

I did have some vague knowledge of the Aztecs, but I didn't make any conscious reference to it, so this could easily be another example of an unconscious influence. Since the influence (if any) was unconscious, however, I can't tell you whether you're "off the mark" or not. I don't know.

Broadly speaking, I wanted you to envision the Haruchai in any way that suits you. The images in my mind are more Asian than South American (which is totally predictable, considering my background).

(08/17/2006)

Dave P:  Thanks once again for all your works, and taking the time to answer my questions, and the questions of others. Now a couple more:

How would you rank your works based on how happy/proud you are of how they came out? Are there some you are extremely proud of, and others that you wish never went to publication?

And how satisfied are you with your career? Can you say that you've had a full, complete career, and if you retired now, you would be happy with the way things turned out? Or would you say that you've got things that still need to be accomplished - other than finishing the current series?
It has already been observed that I tend to be most proud of my most recent work (although this only applies to big sagas, not to short stories or stand-alone novels). But there's nothing that I "wish never went to publication". Granted some inevitable unevenness--and some strange publishing circumstances--I'm prepared to stand behind everything I've ever published.

Satisfied with my career? I wasn't born to be satisfied: I'm always striving for more. But that doesn't change the fact that I've been extremely blessed. Successful movies and endless bestseller lists create the illusion that the typical writer wallows in abundance; but the truth is far otherwise. I've been more fortunate than 99% of my peers. How much more can one man want? Without seeming actively churlish?

(08/18/2006)

Chris:  Hi, I was wondering if your experiences with the natural world have influenced your description of the Land? Have hikes or other outside activities inspired some of your descriptions of Andelain, the effects of the Sunbane, or something else? In a similar thread, have you had certain bonding experiences with nature that helped develop the idea that (at times) the Land’s inhabitants can see their surroundings on a deeper level?
Not consciously. As I keep saying, I don't "write from life": I make it all up. I'm sure that the beauty and exoticism--and the poverty and degradation--of India affected me profoundly. But I'm not *conscious* of any of that when I write. And in my personal reality, I'm more a theoretical than a practical nature-lover. As a kid, I did enough hiking and camping to last me for several lifetimes. <sigh>

(08/18/2006)

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Daniel Wolf:  Mr. Donaldson. Thankyou.
Of your books,I first read The Wounded Land, after recieving it from a non reading friend of mine. I skipped the "What has gone Before" and went straight to Chapter one.I thought at first that the Doctor and Leper were going to take on a religious cult in North America. Not having the background or expectations I am now equipped with, I was astonished with the Land. The references to The First Chronicles(which at the time I honestly never knew existed) made it even more mysterious and deep. I read very slowly and the Second Chr. took me about four months. Then I found the First Chr. and it all happened again.

The question I most want to ask is. Does T/C calling the Sandgorgon remind you of Angus turning the Amnion cannon against them when he blocked it? Both actions remind me of Aikedo.
Also you mentioned that an element in the Gap came from a disinfectant bottle. Was it the Symbiotic crystal communication procedure?

Dan
Frankly, it never occurred to me to make a connection between Covenant/Sandgorgon and Angus/Amnion cannon. Although I have some small acquaintaince with Aikedo, I don't really think in those terms. And I don't see the comparison. Both Covenant's action and Angus' seem like direct attacks to me, not "turning the energy of your enemy's attack against him".

Ah, how stories change in the telling. <sigh> My "disinfectant bottle" story refers to a scene in "The Power that Preserves," not to anything in the GAP books.

(08/23/2006)

Will:  Is there any artwork to go with the series? I have looked all over the internet trying to find some but alas i have found none. so i was wondering do you have any stashed away somewhere?
im looking for Art of The Bloodguard and Banner. so if you stashed some please share with us, if its not asking to much.
Sorry, there's no source of "Covenant artwork" that I know of. Years ago, a book called (I think) "Realms of Fantasy" offered two or three paintings; but I'm sure it's long out of print. Doubtless some "personal use" art exists somewhere, but I wouldn't know how to track it down. *I* certainly don't have a collection of such artwork.

(08/23/2006)

Jon:  Mr Donaldson,

Throughout the Gradual Interview you have made several references to the fact that you are a slow reader. If I have understood you correctly, you seem to suggest that the way you read (slowly and consciously) was instilled in you by your years of academic study. I found this admission particularly interesting and would like to offer a few personal remarks, which I hope are not too long-winded and which do have relevance to the question that follows.

My own experience is not dissimilar, in that I also learned to read carefully and consciously as a student of literature. However, I have come to realise that this may have been a bit of a mixed blessing. Prior to my exposure to literary theory, I was an avid reader of stories, particularly fantasy but also of the classics, and especially those greats who seemed most concerned with storytelling (I’m thinking of Dickens, Conan Doyle, Haggard, then, rather than Proust, Joyce, Mann etc.). Academic study opened up whole new dimensions for me in my appreciation of fiction in that it made me much more conscious of, particularly, the language, craft, themes, and context. Applying the tools of psychoanalysis, for example, brought the reading of a text to a wholly different level. I also found I could appreciate poetry, something that had hitherto been closed to me. However, I found that I had in some way lost my “innocence” as a reader. I was no longer finding myself being swept along by the story, as I had previously been, and found it much harder to read certain kinds of book (popular fiction and fantasy especially). Theory based study had made me not only more conscious but, unfortunately, more cynical, more inclined to deconstruct than, in the words of Lawrence, “to trust the tale”.

Now to my question. It regards your own training as a literary critic and your admission of being a slow reader. Did you also, in a sense, lose your innocence as a reader? Were you also a quicker, and more trusting reader, more willing to suspend disbelief for want of a better term, before you got your literary training? And, like me, do you have the experience of having gained much but also of having lost something significant through the experience? Further, do you agree that textual theory tends to foster a cynicism in the reader and a hostility towards the fantastic, as well as a distrust of mere “story”? This may, of course, also be extended to your experience as a writer; meaning, does your training as a lit critic ever hinder your storytelling impulses? (Despite the preponderance of question marks I think there are essentially two questions here).

Apologies if this was a bit long. Thanks for writing the best modern fantasies, and good luck with the rest of the series.

Jon

(Forgive the pruning. I hope I haven't distorted the essence of your question(s).)

Here's another question I've been putting off because there are so many things I *could* say but I don't know where to start with them, or which of them would be most useful.

Certainly "the loss of innocence" has been a theme of Western literature pretty much ever since we've had literature--and I won't even mention Western psychology, Western politics, or Western religions. It's one of the undergirding themes of LOTR, as it is of "Idylls of the King". And Wagner's Ring cycle. And at least some Mann. And (arguably) Cervantes.

And yet "the loss of innocence" is not a theme which moves me. I've often thought that the loss of innocence was a natural and inevitable consequence of growing up, and that "feeling bad about it"--don't take this personally--was a symptom of not wanting to grow up. Contrarily, I've often thought that there *is* no such thing as "innocence" (not even in wee babies), and that mourning over something we never had is symptomatic of a deeper dilemma, the fundamental conundrum of being human ("the absurd" according to thinkers like Sartre, "the abyss" according to thinkers like Nietzsche). Since I come from a "Calvinist" background where people believed that babies who died at birth roasted in the fires of Hell eternally, it probably makes psychological or spiritual sense that I'm inclined to doubt the existence of "innocence".

But none of this directly addresses your question(s). So, to continue avoiding you.... <grin>

One martial arts style with which I'm more than peripherally acquainted is Kajukembo (even though I can never remember whether it's "bo" or "po" <sigh>). As part of its philosophy, Kajukembo asserts that there are three levels of skill: primitive, mechanical, and spontaneous. In "primitive," we blunder through the techniques and katas because we don't really know how to do them, or why we do them that way instead of some other way, but we're carried along by what we're learning. (In practice, we need to describe a stage that comes before "primitive". After all, a young reader can't be swept away by a story until he/she has reached a certain level of reading fluency.) In "mechanical," we know what the techniques and katas are, we know how they work, we even know why they work--but we can't *use* them without making a conscious choice to do so. We have to think about every step, every action, whether proactive or reactive. (At this stage, some karate teachers--keeping it simple--say "Thinking is stinking.") In "spontaneous," the techniques and katas have been so deeply integrated into the mind/body/spirit that they appear to "just happen," and their use is almost literally as natural as breathing. At this level, the conscious mind hardly appears to be engaged at all, although it does make deliberate, continuous choices on such subjects as "degree of force". (I could go on and on about this, but I'll "choose" to control myself. <grin>)

I find this analogy useful because it fits my personal experience, both as a reader and as a writer. Each stage has been valuable and necessary. And--at least for me--none has involved "the loss of innocence". Certainly none has deprived me of my ability to appreciate "story". (On the other hand, I'm satisfied by fewer and fewer books every year. I value "story" too highly to enjoy watching it done badly. Simultaneously I value "story" too highly to enjoy watching it be ignored as unimportant. And because I consider "story" and "character" inextricable, I don't enjoy books that either gloss over or sneer at their own characters.)

As it happens, I know a lot of scholars, academics, and intellectuals. And over the years, I've observed a rising tide of cynicism in them. From the perspective of Kajukembo, these individuals are all willingly, even eagerly "stuck" in the "mechanical" stage of development. First they're obsessed with the "mechanics" of literature (and at that point they aren't cynical). But then a certain frustration sets in (the actual problem is that they aren't moving on to the "spontaneous," but the perceived problems are a) that the "mechanical" stage of reading does not qualify anyone to write, and b) that there's no practical reward for progressing beyond the "mechical," especially in academic settings). The individuals I'm describing move from observing the "mechanics" of literature to observing the *process* of observing the "mechanics" of literature. For them, "story" then becomes a necessary burden: necessary because without it there would be nothing to study; burden because "story" distracts us from studying the *analysis* of "story". Critical theory takes the place of literature. And this is where cynicism sets in. The more a reader expends his/her energy thinking about thinking about "story," the further that reader is removed from the human sustenance which is (I believe) the essence of "story". It may be a law of nature that a lack of emotional sustenance breeds cynicism the way rotting flesh breeds maggots.

As I say, stuck.

In my particular case, my training as a literary critic was essential to my deveopment as a writer. BUT. At a certain point (in graduate school, after seven years of "lit crit" training), I became aware of the problem you describe. I realized that my training had stopped carrying me toward my goal. Instead my training was carrying me away from my goal. So I "dropped out" at my earliest opportunity. (Even then, I had to spend some time flushing the negative effects of "too much" literary criticism out of my system. But fortunately I escaped in time to do so.)

I hope this is clear enough. I'm sort of addicted to karate analogies. <sigh>

(08/27/2006)

Matt:  I hope you don't mind answering a question of a technical nature, that might be of help to aspiring writers. The question concerns *pacing*.

To me, the most difficult (technical) thing about writing fiction is that I *write* so much slower than a reader would *read*. And...because...it...takes...so...much...longer...to...write, it's hard to tell if the pace (for a reader) would be exciting at all. An action sequence, for a reader, might take 5 breathless minutes to peruse...but the writer might have worked on those 5 pages for a week or more.

I don't have any solution to this myself, other than re-reading what I've already written ad infinitum, pretending that *I* am the reader. But at some point my brain becomes desensitized to what's on the paper. (After all, *I* wrote it.)

Do you have any rules-of-thumb in your own writing, such as "Well I need to describe the scene, a room (say) in Revelstone, so I'll force myself to describe it in x number of words/sentences, then move on to something juicy happening..."? Or do you work on a more intuitive level? I guess what I'm asking is, what advice do you have for a writer who is having trouble seeing the forest for the trees?

Thanks for considering my question!
I think this is a huge challenge for any writer. Yes, writers move through the story far more slowly than readers do. Yes, this causes enormous problems of "translation" (accomodating the reader's perspective within the writer's): "pace" is only one of the difficulties. And yes, reading your own prose *as if* it had been written by someone else is both numbing and, ultimately, impossible. And no, there aren't any "rules". Each writer solves the problem(s) in his/her own way. (Try to imagine a Patricia McKillip novel "paced" like a Stephen King novel. But don't give yourself an aneurysm. <grin>)

I think of my own approach as "trained intuition": I do it "by feel". Years and years of practice and study permit me to proceed *as if* by reflex. My only advice if you can't "see the forest for the trees" is: look at a different forest; stare at different trees. Instead of obsessing about your own work, study someone else's. Observe, for example, how Stephen King "slows down time" for the reader whenever he writes a Big Scene (which, incidentally, is one of the keys to his success): the faster and more urgently events move, the more words (details) he uses to describe them. The more you're able to see in other people's work, the better qualified you'll be to make decisions about your own.

(08/29/2006)

Perry Bell:  Hi Stephen,
I was wondering, have the haruchai met their dead in Andelain? I went back through every single chapter of every single book ( I love rereading the chronicals, who dont??) but cannot seem to see any such encounters. I wonder because it seems like Bannor would be a good choice to slap some sense into the masters. Any thoughts on the subject?
Thank you very much!
Perry Bell
The Masters in particular, and the Haruchai in general, are pretty good at keeping their secrets. They could party with their Dead on a regular basis, and none of us would ever know about it--unless one of my POV characters happened to witness their revels.

(08/29/2006)

Charles Adams:  You have spoken of your love for language, vocabulary, structure, etc. Even how when you read you study what "it" is that makes a reader want to continue to the next sentence. Obviously such passion goes into the stories you craft.

My question is this: When you respond to a question in the GI, do you craft your response as carefully as you do your stories? Or are we seeing freeform Donaldson, Donaldson-unplugged?
Depends on the question. In some of my answers, I think it's pretty obvious that I'm just winging it. (Those are usually the short ones.) In other cases, I put quite a bit of thought into my answers. And I'm a compulsive self-editor. However, it's probably fair to say that nothing in the GI has been "crafted" to the same extent as my stories. If I did that, I'd still be answering questions from 2004. <rueful smile>

(08/30/2006)

Paul S.:  On the question of POV. In an earlier post you said

"You may have noticed, however, that I *never* use "third person omniscient": that's where the writer takes the reader inside the head of every character in every scene. As a technique, I find it jarring and disruptive at best, utterly implausible at worst. And for very different reasons I've never done a "present tense" narrative. Only a supreme master could make a technique with so many inherent disadvantages convincing."

I re-read all of your novels recently -- as I am wont to do when a new novel in a series I love comes out. I've done the same with a couple of other authors who use the Third Person POV -- where they choose a single character (per scene, chapter, whatever) from who(m?) to relate the story.

My question is -- have you found works where 3rd Person Omni worked well and why do you think that authors do in fact chose this voice when it is so clearly fraught with peril?
It wasn't an uncommon approach during the Victorian era, especially among writers inclined to satire (if memory serves, Dickens, Thackery, and Trollope). Readers--and writers--expected different qualities from their novels in those days than we do today. The sort of narrative detachment (for lack of a better term) imposed by "3rd person omniscient" suited the purposes of the writers and the desires of their readers. In particular, satire demands disengagement of one form or another.

And (again I'm relying on my fallible memory) both Doestoevsky and Solzhenitsyn wrote powerful novels that included "3rd person omni". As I recall, however, they used that POV while they were first deploying their characters and setting the stage: later in each novel, they focused in on single POVs.

Any technique which imposes a distance between the reader and the characters can be useful, if it fits the intentions of the writer. Speaking purely for myself: when I want distance, I prefer to rely on tone.

(08/30/2006)

Roy Miyamoto:  Thanks for taking the time to interact with your fans through this GI.

Question: In the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, once the Laws of the Land are broken, can they be mended?



Life is process. The word "mended" sort of implies "returned to its original state". About that I'm skeptical. Everything has moved on. And the whole notion of "mending"--or even "healing"--broken Laws troubles me: it could so easily have the unintended effect of diminishing the significance of the earlier stories. "Well, the Land was in trouble, but now everything is fine. No problem. Ergo: no reason to read the previous books. Or even this one." The past made us who we are. I like to think that I can find a better solution to the dilemma.

(08/30/2006)

Chris:  Hi Stephen,

While reading Runes, I was curious at the absence of certain forms of technology, particularly cell phones and computers. It seems that Linden would want to have quick, ready access to Sandy.

Two possible explanations: 1) Linden is a technophobe 2) Runes take place in the past.
Or is there another reason why you did not include technology references?
My primary reason was that I wanted to preserve the emotional tone of Linden's and Covenant's "real world": I didn't want to change too many of the terms and conditions of that reality. After all, the more I change the "real world," the more time I have to spend explaining it before I can get to the main event. Many people already consider a Prologue that goes on for five chapters excessive. <sigh>

However, my "secret" purpose was to give Covenant's and Linden's "real world" a certain timelessness; a certain detachment from the social/political/technological details of our "present" (whenever that "present" happens to be). Putting it another way: I wanted the "real world" to appear seamless from story to story. Literally, of course, that's impossible: circumstances have to change in order to enable each new story. But in "tone" or "flavor" I've given it my best shot.

(08/30/2006)