GRADUAL INTERVIEW (March 2009)
Vader: Hello and Merry Christmas from Germany.
My question might have been asked before (couldn't find anything in search though), it might be answered in the "Last Chronicles" (just re-reading the 2nd Chronicles after 20 years before starting TLC) or it might be completely irrelevant, but anyway ...
The Elohim's "Würd" can also be read as "Worm" and this "Würd/Worm" can be seen as part of their nature. When the Nicor of the Deep are said to be "offspring of the Worm of World's End" what is the connection between Elohim and Nicor? Or did I misunderstand the explanation of "Würd/Worm/Word" as presented in the 2n Chronicles? If not, wouldn't this also let the Nicor be "Offspring of the Word" and would this be a similar conception of "Word" as presented in the Bible Genesis?
A happy, successful and prolific 2009.
||It always sounds like a cop-out to say so, but I never intended any of this to be taken literally. My stubbornness about equating “Worm” and “Word” and “Weird” and “Wuerd” (I don’t know how to make this software do umlauts) was never meant to imply that those things are all identical. They are all thematically/morally/symbolically/archetypally relevant to each other; conceptually interwoven. But that doesn’t mean the physical or practical manifestations of those ideas are interchangeable. So: any relationship of relevance or meaning that exists between the Elohim and the Worm does NOT entail a relationship between the tangible Elohim and any mundane offspring which the Worm may (or may not) have produced in its slumbers.
If “Word” has Biblical resonances, however, that’s no accident.
Dale Cebula: Okay, I have a rather silly question but it has always bothered me at some level. In TWL, Covenant follows Vain while inside Revelstone and they arrive at the secret room where the Clave has put all of the lore from Kevin through the New Lords safely away.
Why on earth didn't Foul's Raver just destroy all of that stuff? Why build a secret room wherein future people could discover this stuff and use it against Foul?
Also, I think I asked this question before but something got lost in my asking: In other fantasy works, we often have human beings who forsake the good and decide to work for evil. (I'm thinking of the "Mouth of Sauron" as an example). Leaving aside the ravers (who aren't people) or the unknowing dupes who joined the Clave or even the tortured child (Pietten?) would there ever have existed a person in the Land who would want to join up with Lord Foul for any reason? I really doubt anyone would, but, well you know humans do some really stupid things for some really stupid reasons.
thanks for your works!
||“Why on earth didn't Foul's Raver just destroy all of that stuff?” Because you never know what’s going to come in handy? (At one time, LF got a lot of mileage out of the Staff of Law.) Because maintaining the illusion of beneficence is important to the Clave’s show of moral authority? Because Vain was formed by UR-VILES? (How can any purpose of theirs *not* serve the Despiser?) Because even if Vain does not serve the Despiser, he can sure mess with the Elohim; who can sure mess with Covenant and Linden? Because it’s no fair asking people like the Clave to justify their decisions when *you* know how those decisions are going to turn out and *they* don’t? Because maybe it’s just inherently TOXIC to a Raver to handle (never mind destroy) “all of that stuff”?
Personally, I think that destroying the contents of the Aumbrie is just too obviously EVIL for an organization that evolved from the Council of Lords, claims moral authority over the Land, and still has true believers (Memla) among its members.
As for your other question: I guess “person” doesn’t mean “sentient being”. In one form or another, the Viles, the Demondim, and the ur-viles all joined up with LF for their own reasons. So did the Cavewights. But where human beings are concerned, many seem eager to do LF’s dirty work (e.g. decimate the One Forest, wage war against Berek)--as long as they don’t know (or don’t care) that’s what they’re doing. One possible exception is Kasreyn of the Gyre.
MRK: Recently I was reading up on ancient Greek philosophy, and noticed that the concept of there being, somewhere, one ideal, perfect example of *everything*, one ideal tree, one ideal river, etc, with all subsequent trees, rivers, etc being but shadows/reflections of those ideals, sounded a lot like the basis for magic and power used in "Daughter of Regals". Is there indeed a connection?
Hope you had a Happy Hogswatch.
||It sure seems obvious, now that you point it out. But it didn’t cross my mind while I was actually working on “Daughter of Regals”. And I can’t pretend that I was unaware of Plato, since studying “The Republic” was mandatory where I went to college. So I guess I have to call this yet another “unconscious influence”. In this case, I do so with some chagrin because in retrospect your point seems SO obvious. How could I have missed it? <sigh>
Fangthane's Pimp: I was searching through some old answers you posted for an answer to a different question (which I will not ask now because I'm still searching) and I found that you said this:
"That said, I find I *do* want to respond to Card's silly assertion that 'SF and fantasy place setting above character.' Sure, junk SF and fantasy make that mistake."
Jeez. That's a pretty absolute statement. I always thought that fantasy that puts place and setting above character can be good or bad. (ditto for fantasy that puts character above place and setting) I'm interested in why you think that it is necessary for fantasy to put character above place and setting in order to avoid being "junk." Can you think of any instances of non-junk fantasy or science fiction that put setting and place above character? I guess I should probably see if I can find a way to ask Card the exact opposite question...
||<sigh> I suppose it’s always a mistake for me to say things as if I really mean them, even though I really *do* mean them. Your question is a good example. The answer is so screamingly self-evident to me that, that…well, that I can’t figure out how to put it into words. I’m too busy gasping in shock.
But, trying not to tear my hair, or beat my forehead on the table….
Maybe this will work. Sure, every story requires characters, settings, and events/conflicts. But the characters are what make the settings and events interesting and meaningful. Without the essential passions of characters, settings rapidly devolve into mere scenery, and events/conflicts soon become empty activity. When character becomes subordinate or subservient to setting or event, the result is reliably trivial.
That’s theory. In practice, I’ve read plenty of books--historicals and westerns as well as sf and fantasy--that place setting above character; and each and every one of them was junk. I’ve also read plenty of books--thrillers and mysteries as well as sf and fantasy--that place events above character; and each and every one of *them* was junk (although it is true that activity is usually more interesting to watch than scenery).
Think I’m wrong? Show me.
Before you try, however, I will admit that in the VERY BEST stories, character, setting, and event (not to mention narrative voice) show a remarkable tendency to become indistinguishable from each other.
Thomas: Hi Stephen,
Don't want to be overlong, but first I've *got* to say how much your stories have meant to me over the years, especially the GAP books. I share your opinion that those are your best work. I've read them countless times, and they still take my breath away. Thank you for that.
On to my question. In one of your responses you say this in regards to the editorial process:
. . . The hard part has been convincing my editor to leave the "feel" of the prose alone. She's a modern woman, much younger than I am, who hasn't read any previous "Covenant" books, and who lacks my background in the study of Conrad, James, and Faulkner. Instinctively she prefers the kind of lean and ambiguous prose which never calls a spade a spade (never mind a ^#$%# shovel), and which certainly never identifies any of the emotions of the characters. Nor does she like the pacing of Covenant-style prose: to use a musical analogy, she would rather jump from key to key without modulations, which, she feels, "bog down the narrative." So my biggest technical challenge in revising "Runes" has been to preserve the stylistic essence of the previous books without outraging her sensibilities.
Well, it seems to me that your editor should be someone with your best interests at heart -- like a midwife of sorts, helping to bring your "baby" into the world. And I certainly feel that, in regards to an epic series like Thomas Covenant, an editor should be somewhat familiar with "what has gone before." No?
Here's what John Irving has to say on the subject:
"A novel is a single voice, made better by an editor who has the author's interests and intentions at heart -- an editor who knows the author's interests and intentions as well as the author knows them. That is a creative relationship."
So, I guess I'm wondering how an editor is assigned. Do you have any choice in the matter? How much editorial advice do you feel compelled to follow when clearly your editor isn't on the same "page" as you are? Do you have the ultimate authority, the power of "final cut," or can an editor overrule you? Clearly you were unhappy with some of Lester Del Rey's *suggestions*, but, it seems at that early point in your career, you had to comply with his wishes. Is that still the case? Do you agree with Irving that the editorial process is a "creative relationship," or do you feel it's more of a one sided relationship -- you're the creator, she's the one who tidies things up a bit? If you could elaborate on the entire process, I would be very curious to know how it all works (or you could point me to a previous entry, if you've already covered this).
Sorry to be so longwinded (I must have Giant's blood in me!), and thank you again for the stories.
||Sometimes I really ought to just keep my mouth shut. 1) In today’s publishing world, editors aren’t “assigned”. They simply have every book in the known universe dumped on their heads. They can hardly be blamed for being hasty--or ill-prepared. 2) The woman who bought TLCOTC for Putnams moved to a different publisher soon after working on “Runes”. She is no longer involved, so it seems churlish to critique her. But it’s worse than that because 3) she bought TLCOTC after three other publishers said--in so many words--“No, thanks. Donaldson is a has-been.” Admittedly, my circumstances made gratitude problematic. But the editor we’re talking about certainly *deserved* some. Yet it’s even worse than *that* because 4) she was my editor for all five of the GAP books, and in those days she was *the* ideal editor, a perfect example of John Irving’s observation. Back then, I was in author/editor Heaven for the first and only time in my writing life. (Which in fact explains some of my dismay regarding “Runes”. I was expecting a return to author/editor Heaven: instead I found myself in Purgatory. She had changed *so* much….) I really should not have complained about her in public.
My dealings with my current editors are certainly congenial. Their involvement improves the quality of my books. And they don’t try to micro-manage my chosen style of prose. But their involvement is necessarily brief: by the time they’ve sent me a 2-page letter (Lester del Rey used to send me 20-page letters), they’ve fallen a week behind with their other duties. And I’m inclined to think that they’re *too* respectful. When they’re really unhappy about something, they don’t tell me: they tell my agent. As a result, I wouldn’t describe our dealings as “creative”.
In any case, my contract assures that I get the final say about every detail of my text. (I may have to work for it, but I get it.) Lester arrogated that right to himself: no modern editor of my acquaintance would do so. On the other hand, the same contract assures that my publishers have the final say about whether or not the book gets published. I can’t afford to forget that fact.
Diane Warde: Mr. Donaldson:
How do you keep yourself motivated to write a story so filled with despair? I am reading the Second Chronicles in which Covenant is so depressed -- and depressing -- that sometimes I can hardly stand it! Even the irrepressible Giants are affected. I hope that Covenant will evolve enough to have some belief in himself by the end of the final chronicles. I seriously don't know why all his companions have not already slit their wrists!
||Some people wonder why all of my READERS haven’t already slit their wrists. An editor once expressed the forlorn wish that at least *one* of my characters had a “can-do” attitude. I asked, “Seriously, can you *imagine* a Donaldson character with a ‘can-do’ attitude?” The editor, even more forlornly, admitted, “No.”
Asking me how I keep myself motivated is essentially the same thing as asking me why I write what I write; why I write these kinds of stories and not others; why my mind and imagination work the way they do. But I have no real answer for you. When Ross MacDonald (if memory serves) was asked why he wrote mystery novels instead of “serious” literature, he replied that the form and requirements of the mystery were what made writing *possible* for him. One of Stephen King’s many answers to the question, why do you write what you do, was, “What makes you think I have a choice?” Both of those responses make sense to me. Both also seem inadequate; but I can’t put my finger on where the inadequacy (if any) lies.
I’ll just say this: I write what I know. And if what I write discomfits you, maybe--I’m only speculating here--that’s because I write what *you* know, too.
Mark: I just got finished reading all 2150 entries in the GI after discovering it two weeks ago. There's definitely something wrong with me.
On to my question. Between college, where it seems your work was panned, and the time you started TC, how much work did you put in to improve the quality of your writing? According to a study reported on in the NY Times, a 20yr old virtuoso violinist put in about 10000 hours of practice time. I've read other articles that it generally takes about ten years of concerted effort to master any craft (mastery being the top 1-2% of practitioners). As an accomplished "justenougher", I can say that I've never mastered anything (except maybe work avoidance), but recently I've decided to put in the effort on one of my myriad hobbies to try to become a master at something. So how many stories were sacrificed on the altar of writing practice before you produced the Chronicles?
The NY Times article I referenced is here: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D00E1DC1F3DF932A25753C1A962958260&sec=&pagewanted=all
||It’s difficult to draw valid comparisons between (I know this is a crude oversimplification, but bear with me) physical and mental skills. Assume for the purposes of discussion by analogy that both playing the violin and writing fiction require the exercise of muscles; the training of muscle-memory. Nevertheless playing the violin depends largely on *external* muscles. You can count how many hours a student spends practicing because you can (to a significant degree) see and hear them practice. Not so with writing. Sure, you might conceivably be able to read a given writer’s “practice” work; but that work, no matter how substantial, represents only a tiny portion of the effort the writer put into it. In effect, the only thing you can observe in any external sense is the typing. So. What I call my “journeyman” work certainly totals less than 1000 pages of fiction. It probably totals less than 800 pages. But that does NOT provide a meaningful comparison with the “virtuoso violinist” you mentioned.
In any case, “mastery” is an elusive concept. In a very real sense, the more you know, the more aware of your own ignorance you become. I suspect that if your goal is “to become a master at something,” you’ll never get there. Just my personal opinion, of course: I don’t know you. But I strongly suspect that this is one of those subjects where “You can’t get there from here. You have to go somewhere else and start.” Mastery, I believe, is something that happens as if by accident along the way to something else. God knows *I’ve* never “mastered” anything. Putting it another way: mastery is a process, not an objective. I’ll be astonished if the virtuoso violinist doesn’t agree with me.
Petar Belic: Hi Stephen
I looked at my bookshelf and realised I had not read any of your short stories in some time, and looked forward to re-reading some.
How different is the process of writing a short story as opposed to a novel for you. Do you take a break from novel writing by tackling a short story idea you've had 'on the boil' so to speak? Or must you write it as soon as the idea occurs to you? Finally, have the recent novels given you more enthusiasm for short story writing, or do they simply 'suck up time' you would have otherwise had?
Thanks again for all your effort, I am looking forwards to the next installment of the 'Chronicles!
||I’ve discussed the circumstances under which I write short fiction elsewhere. And I’m sure I’ve explained before that I have a one-track mind. No matter when or how ideas for stories occur to me, I can only think about and write one at a time; so the others simply have to wait their turn. If one of those ideas for stories happens to take 10 or 12 years, so be it: the others still have to wait their turn. Many years ago, I *once* made the mistake of interrupting a novel (the GAP books) to write a shorter story (“The Woman Who Loved Pigs”). Doing so did severe damage to the novel, and I’ll never make that mistake again. (Meanwhile, thank God for rewriting! Many many MANY hours were required to undo the damage in question; but I believe I finally succeeded.)
Other than that: it’s a curious fact (one which I cannot explain) that I was unable to write an effective short story until after I written a viable novel. But one day after I was done with the first “Covenant” trilogy, I suddenly thought: Oh, *now* I get it! A short story is just a novel with fewer characters and less background. Sounds silly, I know; but that recognition made shorter fiction possible for me for the first time. Until then, in shorter fiction I had consistently tried (and failed) to write something so fundamentally “different” than a novel that I couldn’t make sense out of it.
Dangerous Dave from Denver: Here's something I want to discuss while we're hanging around the water cooler waiting for the next 'Last Chronicles' installment...
Something that's bothered me since WGW is the 'resurrection' of Hollian.
My religious background teaches that resurrection is a permanent reunion of body and spirit; never to be separated again (i.e., will never experience physical death again). Christ comes to mind.
But we learn that Hollian died again, after being brought back to life by the Forestal. This reminds me of the raising of Lazareth. As I understand it, even after ‘coming back to life’, Lazareth was still subject to death since he was not "resurrected".
Am I splitting hairs here?
||If you want to think in Biblical terms (which are not necessarily relevant to "The Chronicles"), the hairs are already split. The New Testament does posit two different *kinds* of resurrection: the Lazarus example, where a dead person is restored to ordinary physical life (including ordinary physical mortality), and the Armaggedon/Judgment Day "final" example, where the redeemed ascend unto Heaven as immortal souls with immortal bodies. Hollian's resurrection obviously follows the Lazarus model. Whether or not anyone in this story will ever follow the other model remains to be seen.
Rober Bush: Mr. Donaldson, Hello!
The more I have read of your GI the angrier I have become. Had I really wasted countless hours for over thirty-five years with my own ideas? Was I that foolish? I felt betrayed.
I have read in your GI that unless I have a resume centered on (“publishing”)? And are also at least SOME sort of published author, I have very little hope of ever seeing my personal vision in commercial print. No one anywhere would probably ever even give my ideas a first look. At first I came close to burning, and I do honestly mean building a funeral pyre and tearfully standing by weeping while hundreds of pages of notes and histories went up in smoke. This is now past. I have my inner world; it’s with me every day of my life. I can go there anytime I want and see its wonders. It constantly grows and develops. It is truly the greatest achievement of my life. But I must accept the fact that it will be only mine, visited only by me. It will never have an audience. Must this truly be? Surely that was not what i had intended to type, the words somehow got reversed. Somehow a bold statement of “This must surely be!” turned into a quiet question oft repeated by many.
I personally feel it will unfortunately remain mine and mine alone.
I thank you for the time and this place.
And I do so hope to see this in the GI.
||I find your message very distressing. It has never been my intention to discourage anyone else's creativity. Quite the contrary. In my view, if you believe in what you're doing, you should do everything in your power to pursue it. Sure, getting something you've written into print is hard. Anyone who says otherwise does you a disservice. But so what? Everything in life that's really worth doing is hard. And as I've said many times, in the GI and elsewhere, "More things are wrought by stubbornness than this world dreams of." In fact, I'm the Poster Boy for people who succeed when the odds are stacked dramatically against them. A massive epic fantasy about despair and LEPROSY? Which was rejected 47 times (including by every fiction publisher then in the US)? How can *that* turn out well? But it did. I like to say that we live in a *possible* world. Everyone can tell you horror stories. On any subject. But good things happen too.
As with everything else in life, there are more practical and less practical ways to go about trying to break into publishing. Much of the advice on my site deals with being practical. Being practical is more likely to succeed than being impractical. But there's a side to modern publishing that I probably haven't talked about. Because of the relentless, uncaring pressure for profit that megacorporations put on struggling editors, it is frequently *easier* for a complete unknown to get published than it is for an established "mid-list" author who has consistently not delivered the scale of profit demanded by the megacorps. With a complete unknown, the editor can think, "Ah HA! Here's my chance for a breakout book." But with an established mid-list author, the editor is more likely to think, "I sure like this writer's work, but he/she has already spent 10 years proving that she/he will never produce a breakout book. I have a better chance of appeasing the megacorp with a complete unknown."
Here's the cold truth. If you give up, you guarantee failure--and have no one but yourself to blame. If you *don't* give up, you at least keep the door open--and who knows? something good may walk in.
Michael: Hi. did you know or ever meet any of the innocent people at Kent State (Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, Jeff Miller, Bill Schroeder and Doug Wrentmore) who were murdered by the National Guard in 1970 while you were there? How did you react to the Grand Jury acquittal of all the National Guardsmen involved in the shootings? Did you read James Michener's book on the subject? What did you think about it.
This is unrelated to the former question but did you ever consider yourself to be a "Hippie" or smoke marijuana at the time, I don't think you ever mentioned the Beatles before. Were you politically active as a student?
||I have no desire to discuss my personal life, opinions, and experiences in the Gradual Interview. As I've said before, if you include an email address with your message, you will probably get a (brief) personal reply. You may even get an answer to one or more of your questions. But I'm not going to use the GI for such things.
This question has been hidden since it is listed in the following categories:
Spoilers - Fatal Revenant
To view this post, click here.
You can choose to bypass this warning in the future, and always have spoilers visible, by changing your preferences in the Options screen.
David : Mr. Donaldson:
Today is Jan, 4th and I've just finished
"Final Revenant" Well done Mr. Donaldson.
I felt like Liand when he tells Linden how he
can't comprehend how much knowledge her experiance can contain or even fathom. like him,
I am truly astonished buy your imagination.
I literally flew through your last two books
with ravening hunger. Your writing is even more
effortless to read, the pages turn themselves.
But, Now I am done and I at least have something to look foward to in the future. Thanks again.
If I had one question to ask you it would be,
How did you like Tolkiens LOTR?
||[Heavily pruned to conserve space and privacy.]
Here's another message which would have received a personal reply if you had posted an email address. Naturally I'm grateful for your good opinion. But the Gradual Interview is already absurdly long. And I've already commented at length on LOTR.
Paul Oakley: Hi Steve, I have read the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and am now reading Fatal Revenant. I really love this series and am wondering if you have considered doing illustrated editions?
||As I'm forced to say on so many subjects, it ain't up to me. My publishers own those rights. And from a publisher's perspective, these books just don't sell well enough to justify the expense of illustrated editions.
John Lee: Dear Mr. Donaldson:
I wanted your opinion on the following subject: Lena, and Elena's mental illness.
Both Lena, and Elena, suffered from mental illness. They were both delusional.
In Lena's case, she couldn't deal with having been raped. It overwhelmed her. In her world, rape is unheard of. She became delusional, through no fault of her own. She thought Thomas Covenant actually loved her, and that she would stay young forever.
In Elena's case, she couldn't deal with having a mentally ill and delusional mother. It overwhelmed her. As a child, she became mentally ill, and delusional. She believed that High Lord Kevin, brought back from the dead, would save the Land.
For Lena to have been healed, someone would have had to tell her that it wasn't her fault that she was raped.
For Elena to have been healed, someone would have had to tell her that it wasn't her fault that she had a mentally ill, and delusional mother.
I wanted your opinion on this.
||I’m not sure what to say. I don’t think of Lena as “delusional” (although in some sense she obviously is) because I don’t use words like that when I think about her. And I don’t think of Elena as “delusional” at all. I suppose, if we have to label her, we might say she suffers from a neurosis, a kind of perceptual blind-spot which doesn’t interfere with her ability to function supremely well in every other area of her life. But it’s important to remember that most (all?) neuroses are simply survival-skills which have outlived their usefulness. Weaknesses are strengths misapplied, just as strengths are weaknesses appropriately used. At one time in her life (her childhood), Elena’s blind-spot enabled her to emerge with far fewer scars than she might otherwise have borne. For that, she and everyone around her ought to be proud of her. Such blind-spots/neuroses only become problems if they aren’t unlearned when they’re no longer needed. By my reasoning, if Elena fits your definition of “delusional,” then I’m at the top of your list.
In any case, the power of hearing “that it wasn’t her fault” doesn’t come from the words: it comes from the *hearing*. I doubt that Lena would ever have been able to *hear* what those words mean. I’m confident that Elena would have dismissed them as utterly irrelevant.
Worm: What does "fist and faith" mean? Does it mean the Bloodguard have faith in their abilities, or does it have something to so with faith in their Bloodguard vow or some other belief system that adds structure to their lives?
||????? Some questions are hard to answer because the answers are too obvious. (E.g. “Why do you write in words?”) “Fist” because the Haruchai have a martial culture with a strict martial code. The point of combat is to demonstrate ability, commitment, and rectitude, not to kill or otherwise eliminate opposition. Hence the ban on weapons: weapons make killing too easy. (And hence the emphasis in many martial arts on “perfection of character” rather than on victory or defeat.) “Faith” as in “keeping the faith,” remaining faithful to oneself and one’s commitments against any and all adversity. “Fist and faith”: prowess and fidelity.
But I can’t help feeling that all of this is explained much better in the text.
Mark: Hi Stephen,
In October, I posted a question about the Haruchai women and you replied -
"OK, you got me. I am completely bumfuzzled by the sheer perseverance of this recurring question. Why in, well, Someone’s Holy Name (at the moment, I can’t think whom to invoke) do you care? Apparently a number of people do (although the GI as posted probably doesn’t reflect that fact). But I can’t imagine why.
And since I can’t imagine why…."
I've been "pondering" your response and have another question...so, please bear with me.
You create such intense imagery with your writing and the many interpersonal relationships that are carefully woven through the tapestry of your story add SO much more to it. To name a few - Pitchwife and the First, Lord Shetra and Verement, Mhoram's parent's, Trell and Atrian, even to the male/female interaction with the Elohim. So to me, the natural question extends to the Haruchai. I think it would add to the complexity of these already somewhat enigmic characters - perhaps shed a bit of humanness on them. We(I) can only speculate on how different Bannor would've been had we known about his wife/family.
Does this interest seem odd to you and if so, why?
Thanks for taking the time and looking forward to the next book!!
||OhmiGod! You want to ADD to the complexity? Does it not occur to you that we’re already drowning in the stuff? And if you aren’t, *I* certainly am?
Maybe you should get a life?
(No, stop: bad Steve. Pull yourself together.)
OK, *this* time I’m serious. Honest.
Obviously you’re right--at least in theory. The more dimensions/complexities I can add to my characters, the more real or human or believable they may become. But in practice the theory can easily become an illusion. The *real* reason you want to know more about the Haruchai is that I’ve succeeded at sparking your imagination. So how did I do that? By describing them literally (in any amount of detail)? Or by describing them enigmatically? By *suggesting* who and what they are rather than by definining (and thereby limiting) every conceivable dimension of their lives?
The creation of characters in storytelling is always a tricky balancing-act. Too much information (or the wrong kind of information) clogs the reader’s imagination. Too little information (or information that’s too static) gives the reader’s imagination nothing to work with. In both cases, the characters stubbornly refuse to come to life.
So when I put it that way, your interest in--say--Haruchai women does *not* seem odd to me (except in the sense that I always consider it odd when I succeed at what I’m trying to do <rueful smile>). At the same time, however, it certainly doesn’t inspire me to fill in any of the gaps. Instead your interest demonstrates that I’ve already said enough on the subject.
This question has been hidden since it is listed in the following categories:
Spoilers - Fatal Revenant
Spoilers - The Runes of the Earth
To view this post, click here.
You can choose to bypass this warning in the future, and always have spoilers visible, by changing your preferences in the Options screen.
Lidia Tremblay: Hello, Mr. Donaldson:
There are two questions that have been at the back of my mind, and I would very much like to hear your answers to them:
1. From the first draft to the final product, how much does your story change? Do the rewrites alter your first conception markedly?
2. Immersed as you are in the alternate worlds you create, do you find yourself dreaming of these worlds? Have you ever had a writer's block (if you have writer's blocks) dissolve because you've dreamed the answer?
Thank you for your time and patience. And thank you again for sharing your great talents with us.
||1. My stories never change after the first draft. And I mean *never*--at least 95% of the time. Once I’ve determined the order and nature of events, I do not change my conception. (Except on occasions so rare that I can’t remember any.) In that sense, the story is set in stone after the first draft. No matter how strenuously my editors object.
Nevertheless I rewrite a *lot*. And I can tell you without hesitation that the single most rewritten facet of my first drafts is always the dialogue. Always. I may not change the lift of an eye or the twitch of a finger; but I frequently change every single word that every character says in a particular scene. (Or not: the problems come and go.) In my first drafts, I really flounder to express what my characters need to say. Because--duh--I’m still getting to know them in their new circumstances. So obviously the *second* most rewritten facet of my first drafts is the interior description: who’s feeling what why when--and how often have I already said the same things? (Or contradictory things.) In that respect, my rewrites are often *very* different than my first drafts.
2. It’s probably fair to say that I never dream about the worlds or characters of my stories. On one--and only one--occasion, I dreamed about writing the next day’s work; and the next day I did exactly what my dream told me: it felt more like taking dictation than actually writing. Other than that: nada. Dreaming plays absolutely no conscious role in my creative life. I’m very aware that my unconscious mind does a lot of my work for me while I’m asleep; but that work never takes the form of dreams. Once every mumblemumble years, my dreams shed some light on my personal life; but that’s an entirely different issue.
James McMurrey: Dear Mr. Donaldson,
The Covenant series has been a great traveling companion of mine over the years. I even have a set in which when I open any one of the books a little bit of Iraqi sand (from my Desert Storm experience) trickles out -- generally onto my chest – while reading in the bed.
I recently introduced my 13 yr old son to the First Chronicle’s and he has raced all the way through to FR.
I asked Daniel (my son) as to what were his favorite parts of the books and he mentioned the story of when FoamFollower and TC first met sailing down the Soulease River. Since this was really one of my favorite parts of the story in LFB, I though it was fairly amazing my son identified this section, too.
Whenever, I begin LFB’s for the umpteenth time + 1, I always find myself re-reading the passage in which Foamfollower asks TC if he is a storyteller. Foamfollower’s subsequent response of “…. Say no more --- with one word you will make me weep.” – is such a great piece of dialogue. That was probably the hook that forever sold me on TC.
I am sure that the miracle of weaving plot, character and dialogue is part of your genius and calling. However, within that one piece of dialogue, did it have any special significance when you wrote it? Was there an “ Aha! moment “ ? ; Or a self-congratulatory chuckle?; Or even a “Genius-at-work, Movin’ on!” attitude?
BTW, my son and I have named you WordFriend <humble and hopeful smile>.
God Bless and Good Health! Looking forward to more of your grand work!
--James and Daniel
||Saltheart Foamfollower (and then his time with Covenant between Andelain and Revelstone) is one of the VERY few occasions while writing when I felt that something was arriving in the story from outside the boundaries of my own imagination. (This is a fairly routine sensation where the ideas that inspire my stories are concerned. But it seldom occurs while I’m at work on the actual telling of the story.) One way to put it is that when Foamfollower came sailing up the Soulsease, I had planned what he would do in the story, and how he would contribute to the larger narrative; but I had never met him before. For me, he seemed to sail into the story from an entirely different dimension of reality (I mean “reality” as it applies to “character”). And my reaction was one of awe. Not, I hasten to add, Gee-I’m-great awe. It started as Gee-he’s-great-whoever-created-him-must-be-a-real-genius awe and moved quickly into Gee-this-is-why-people-write-so-they-can-experience-this-kind-of-miracle awe. I do live for those moments, rare though they are, when I somehow succeed at writing or creating better than I know how. So I’m not surprised that Foamfollower’s first appearance in the story has a special luminence for some readers.
Dave P: As my reading of your most recent Axbrewder novel gets further and further in the past (a couple years ago), I find myself wishing more and more for another.
You haven't mentioned this in the GI for a while. I'm wondering if any ideas for another Axbrewder novel have come to you. You have said before that you don't think about the next project until you finish the current, but you probably can't stop the mind from wandering sometime either.
So, is there any new hope yet for another "Man who..." novel after the Covenant series is done? Just wondering.
||For quite some time now, I’ve had a general idea of “where the story goes”. But I’m still effectively drawing a blank (God, what a gift for a phrase!) on “how the story gets there”. From time to time, ideas occur to me; but so far they’ve all rather quickly demonstrated themselves to be unworkable.
I’m not worried about this. Eventually my unconscious mind will sort things out. Meanwhile I do have other things to keep me busy.
J P Wedge: I read Lord Foul's Bane when it first came to the SFBC, of which I have been a member forever. It was the best purchase ever made having led me to your writing. Each time a new volume of the chronicles comes out I reread the entire saga and enjoy it just as much as the first time. We are of an age, you and I, so I fully expect to live long enough to have the joy of reading the conslusion to it all, though do try to finish while I can still sit up and take nourishment from a spoon. I'd appreciate it.
Just a short question. Has the way you keep your focus on your writing changed or stayed basically the same over your career. I can only believe that the mechanical aspect of keeping focus is much easier than the mental, and the former would change more than the latter. No need for details. I'm a simple man, so if it interests you to answer, keep it simple.
Keep up the excellent work, you are the best.
||Life is change. We all change. Among other things, we’re all older now. I’m trying to do more difficult work than I’ve ever done before. And there are (far) more external demands on my time, energy, and attention than ever before. Naturally how I keep my focus has changed.
Nevertheless some things remain the same. I keep notes in the same way that I always have. I start each day’s work by reviewing/revising the previous day’s work. I isolate myself by playing music loud enough to prevent the outside world from impinging on my senses. But in other ways....
I probably don’t make your distinction between “the mechanical aspect of keeping focus” and “the mental”. From my perspective (or perhaps I should say my perspective *today*, since I may think very differently tomorrow), the mechanical *is* the mental in the same way that the body *is* the brain. There is considerable evidence, I believe, that the brain inhabits the entire body, not just the skull (neurons everywhere, etc.). And as I get older, I find more and more reasons to suspect that the body “thinks”--not independently of the brain, perhaps, but as a facet of the brain with its own specialized functions.
Well, assuming you accept any of that, I’m not sure I can explain how it applies to the question of keeping my focus. But I can tell you that if you were able to secretly observe me while I work (and if you can, just shoot me now!), you would see me approach and enter the physical act of writing in ways which are visibly different than they once were. Part of the difference is a side-effect of the fact that I care about different things (or I care about things differently) than I did years ago. Part of the difference is that I experience *way* more anxiety about writing now than I did when I was younger. (For reasons too personal and complicated to explain, I’m no longer able to simply trust that I *will* be able to write on any given day.) And a big part of the difference is that I’m MUCH more ADD than I once was (no doubt because there are so many more external demands on my time etc.), so naturally I need different coping skills to manage my ADD.
You said there was no need for details, so I’ve probably already told you more than you wanted to hear....
Anonymous: Having recently become employed by a book publisher in a financial position, I had been mystified reading your comments in the past regarding "best sellers" and how sales were calculated. No more. The is issue is a not as easy as just tallying books out the door. There are elements of sales, returns, discounts, e-books, and foreign sales that are tricky and it does take a numbers of months to get a true picture of what the sale truly is. Having Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book seller returning books anywhere from 3-24 months after the initial sale and try to screw over book publishers in very inventive ways does make the sales figure a bit more complicated than it should be. Your written statment that best sellers are calculated by rate of sale is correct and the self-perpetuation of an author selling in the past and then being pre-ordered in that manner in the future is also correct. And who can figure how the NY Times and other best seller lists are developed. From what I hear that is not as straight forward as you would think. All the best with AATE! Would love for us to publish you but my University Press is strictly non-fiction. I don't think the advisory board would go for Giants and magic rings!!
||[posted for confirmation from an independent source]
Jerry Erbe: Greetings Mr. Donaldson,
Have you actually stopped lately to do a comparison between the real world, and what is happening today with our environment and economy, and how closely (or not) it parallels the fictional world you created in The Gap cycle? I would think that even the presence of a little bit of ego might cause one to try and connect the dots between the two worlds. Yes?
||No, actually. a) I’m too busy coping with my present story. b) I’m too busy coping with my present *life*. And c) I’m too aware of all the things I *wish* I had thought of (most of them medical) to congratulate myself on the few things I *did* think of. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that I lack ego. It just means that my ego has been trained (mostly by my parents) to focus on different things.
I haven't found the answer to this question anywhere else in the website or here on the gradual interview part.
When is the next book in the Chronicles coming out and will it be the last??
||Is it that time again already? It must be: I’ve just read several varients of the same question.
Of course, you could just check the “news” page of the site periodically for updates. Or you could go to the “publications” page and click on either “The Runes of the Earth” or “Fatal Revenant”. That will take you to a page which includes the hoped-for publication dates for both “Against All Things Ending” and “The Last Dark”.
Patrick: GAP cycle tv series? I read your responses about movies and took your point about how its not really up to you, but maybe you could talk to a couple of people about doing a tv series, Showtime (i think) is making programs like Dexter, and it is popular, which means that Angus could probably be tolerated on tv. Plus tv series are getting to be really good quality nowdays, each book could be its own series.
So do you know anyone that would be interested in the project? All the sci fi on tv is star trek! The GAP series would really push tv forward.
||Who do you imagine I could possibly talk to? Seriously? Who do you think would accept a phone call from a mere novelist? (Never mind from a novelist who shudders at the mere idea of having his work taken over by a committee?)
Let me remind you, however, that there is an active option on the GAP books (Fully Loaded Pictures). I don't doubt that the people involved have considered/are considering the tv idea.