GRADUAL INTERVIEW (December 2009)
Matthew Baldwin: Steve,
I've always wondered where the title to your short story, "The Kings of Tarshish Shall Bring Gifts" came from and what meaning it had to the story. I came across a verse in Psalms 72 which was almost an exact replicant of the title. It says: "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts (Ps. 72:10). This Psalm is allegedly David espousing the future glory of his son, Solomon, so I was wondering if the title was related in the story because the prince was thought to have a bright future due to his dreams?
Thanks for answering my previous questions and for your work in your writings. Like others, they have been a source of enjoyment and inspiration to me.
Tim Brieger: Thank you so much for answering my earlier question about your reaction to your destruction of Kevin's Watch. Recently, I was rereading many of the questions submitted and began thinking about readers favorite characters. Outside of the obvious, Covenant, you get characters like Mhoram, Saltheart/Giants, Bannor/Bloodguard, Pitchwife (personal favorite)...the Top 5 if you will. My question is, was/is there a character you wrote that did not recieve the attention/fan appreciation you thought they would have when you wrote it? Do you sit and read the GI going, "come on people, more questions about X...he is a heck of a character and you are all missing the boat!"
Just wondering, because, as a teacher I have been known to prepare certain lessons that I thought would be homeruns, only to be duds with my high school kids.
Luchog: I've read your work only fairly recently (this decade) despite being aware of its existence for far longer; but have devoured all that I could find, in a fairly short time. I greatly appreciate the nature and quality of your writing. Particularly your characters, who clearly do not fall into the standard hero/anti-hero moulds too common in epic fantasy and sci-fi; and the profound departure from, or subversion of, the overused Campbell-esque myth tropes.
One comment and one question. First, I find the names used by the Ravers (moksha, turiya, samadhi) for themselves to be interesting. You've noted in the past that they reflected both the nature of evil to consider itself to be a "higher good"; as well as an ironic use of terms that denote enlightenment in a particular mythology. Interestingly, the concepts embodied by those terms are more complex than that, and carry an additional meaning beyond what most westerners would consider "enlightenment". Rather than adding to, or raising up, levels of consciousness, they're a negation of individuality and identity. A loss of "selfhood" which in most Western value systems would be considered evil (or at least undesirable) in and of itself. As you've said before, this all happened decades ago, so I won't expect you to comment on whether you had that in mind when you chose them.
Regarding my question, for which I was unable to find an answer in the GI, a preface is necessary. I found the GAP cycle to be one of the most difficult works I've ever read. The sheer dark, gritty, grimmness of it was quite challenging. Even as a fan of psychological horror, and "grimdark" works in general, I often found it very disturbing, and had to take frequent breaks. That is not a criticism per se, since as others have mentioned, it's one of your best-written works; and I'm well aware of the difficulty of creating that sort of darkness without devolving into either ridiculous camp or polemical diatribe.
I am simply wondering, and I accept that you may have neither the willingness nor ability to answer this, if you found that writing the GAP books, and the major characters in particular, involved any sort of personal catharsis or "purging of demons"; or if it was simply a device used to tell that particular story. Either way, it's very well done; and it's a story I do plan to re-read eventually (once I've worked myself up to it).
Mike S.: Regarding your observation on consulting time for the Gap option: "So why did I agree to any of this in the first place? Well, frankly, I can use the money. But here's the real issue: even a crap movie gives a major boost to book sales (which is what I really care about)."
Well said! Whether you love or hate the book and it's author, I'm sure L. Ron Hubbard would agree with you on "Battlefield: Earth". That was the absolute worst so-called "adaptation" of a scifi book ever made (could Travolta have possibly picked a more terrible movie to "star" in?). But I'm also certain that the movie enticed more than one viewer to take his wheelbarrow to the local bookstore and bring home the book (physically, it's a monster that should have been three or more volumes).
Anyway, as a reader I have no vote in any such arrangements. However, should either your Gap or TC options get picked up I hope that you exercise as much firm creative control as you can over YOUR stories and characters.
Why? Well, bad movies from good books make good money, but as a fan I would hate to see either series become the laughing-stock parody that Battlefield: Earth became for the late Mr. Hubbard.
Without your guidance, I see no way either "movie" could succeed. With your guidance? Well, I've already mentioned one bad example. You could also ask Mike Straczynski if exercising creative control over "Babylon 5" helped make it a success (it did). Conversely, Joss Whedon can tell you just how fast a good story can turn into a bad train wreck when you lose "creative ownership" of YOUR idea to a studio ("Firefly" and "Dollhouse" come to mind...).
Intellectually, I understand the need to earn a living. Emotionally, I hope to never see any of your characters or stories needlessly prostituted into "crap films" because a studio thinks that mucking with the story can make them MORE money.
Anyhoo, thank you for sharing your stories with the rest of us, and I look forward to reading the next installment of TLC.
Joe Higgins: I was catching up on the GI and noticed your explanation of how Teenage mutant ninja turtles affected your life. I thought you might find this amusing. Years ago an old friend of mine told me that his daughter when she was a toddler referred to the turtles as "teem-mate neutered injured turtles."
Bugley: Would you consider using hurtloam on Stave's eye socket? Maybe he could gain earth sight to discern the insequent. Ps I love the word 'surquedry'
Darren Churchill: Hi Mr Donaldson,
I noticed on the `news` tab that you had considered doing reading from AATE in San Diego last May. Did this reading ever take place in the end? If you were giving this consideration at such an early stage, what about the people from all over the world who could not of made it to SD to attend? How about throwing the provberbial dogs a bone by uploading a teaser onto this site from the first chapter? Which brings me on to a 2nd point. God forbid that you should ever fall under a bus or some such other calamity. But should anything ever happen to you (and I am sure we are all aware of our mortallity)does anyone apart from you have the remotest concept of where you see /saw the story ending in the final LCTC book? Would you sooner the final book remain unwritten? Or if not which author would you most trust to do your story justice? I hope you do not find this question to morbid to contemplate. I like many hundreds of thousands of other readers have the utmost concern for you well being and health. I am sure you will appreciate this even if its admittedly for a selfish reason. Thanks Mr Donaldson you really are one of the greatest story tellers in history in my humble opinion.
Unpech: Is Linden's own percipience more acute/effective/powerful than that which "once informed and guided all the people of the Land"? I.e. her health-sense unaugmented by other powers, periapts, etc. It 'seems' to be more powerful, but I do not recall any passage(s) where this is clearly stated.
Very much looking forward to the next installment!
James DiBenedetto: Not sure if this is a question or just an observation, but here goes...
I saw Gotterdammerrung performed live for the first time recently (Washington National Opera - it was truly spectacular), and something struck me.
In the first scene of Act II, Hagen is possibly awake and possibly asleep, and he's talking to his father Alberich, who may or may not really be there. Alberich regards Hagen as his "tool" and after urging Hagen to obtain the cursed Ring, he ends the conversation by admonishing Hagen to "Be true."
Interesting echoes to the First Chronicles and the beggar's words to Covenant, arne't they?
David Cronin: Hello Steve,
Firstly, my thanks for your many marvelous books over the years. I have been reading your work for around 25 years. At times you have made me feel like laughing, crying, screaming and cheering... sometimes all at the same time!
My question: The story of Thomas Covenant seems to me an intensely personal journey. To what degree do you see parallels between him and yourself (or any other person)?
Alex Finney: Stephen... While with great anticipation awaiting AATE, I recently decided to read again all your books. In a recent post (thanks again for answering) I commented how much I had enjoyed The Gap Series, with this reading being more fulfilling than any before. Now half way through the Chronicles once again (middle TWL), I am similarly enojying the books in every aspect more than previously. Given I am reading most of them 25 years after my first foray, it begs the question from me... do you have an age (or maturity) in mind for your ideal reader when you write the books? Would you automatically expect a 40yr old to get substantially more from them now than when he was 15?
Anonymous: Was Jeremiah orignally planned to be a central character in 3rd chronicles as you wrote the 2nd chronicles? Or was he "mined" as you went through and reviewed the 2nd chronicles and throught about what to write in 3rd chronicles?
Please more updates in the "news" section. I love knowing the status of where you are in the process. It somehow builds the anticipation.
Robert K Murnick: Finally digging into the GAP series. I tried to once before, back when TRS first came out, but couldn't get into it.
Just read about the public humiliation scene on the main deck halfway through FK. Had to put the book down. Cascades of thought masquerading as insight are occuring here. I have no right to pollute the GI with my mental excreta, but heck, that hasn't stopped me before.
First thought: Covenant, despite his rape of Lena, isn't difficult for a male reader to identify with. We (by which I mean us guys) are all handicapped heroes struggling against our own personal despisers, both internal and external. Question: Did you intend for Covenant to be every male reader's avatar?
Second thought: In the GAP (at least up 'til the point I've just read to, and I see no reason for this to change), there is no stand-in for me. I'm entirely a spectator. Is there a female reader somewhere who can identify with Morn? I guess that's possible, but I would think that an exhaustively violated woman wouldn't care to read about the exhaustive violation of a fictional woman.
Third thought: 1) Covenant rapes Lena, engendering Elena and much of the subsequent action. 2) You (Stephen) are taken to task by some of the public for your treatment of Lena. 3) Now you write the GAP, where your hero is no longer the rapist, but the rape victim. I cannot help but conceive that there's some connection between 1, 2 and 3. Care to comment?
Extra thought that doesn't want to go away: Terisa Morgan and Geraden seem like more likely candidates for readers to see themselves as than any of the GAP characters. How do you feel about the reader-will-identify-with-character-X meme and how it has evolved over your career?
dennis glascock: I am curious as to how the last two Covenant books have sold compared to the first 6 books. Right or wrong, I have the impression that the last two books did not receive as much publicity as did the previous 6. If so, could this be because of the time lag between book 6 and 7? Or perhaps the publisher not promote them adequately? Obviously, I am a fan of the series and believe that all eight books are very extraordinary.
Ronald Anselowitz: Mr. Donaldson, I first read your books when I was a teenager, eagerly awaiting each new volume. Yours were the only stories that could keep me up reading until four in the morning, and they will always hold a place of honor on my shelves right beside the works of Professor Tolkien. I write to you today to let you know how important it is to me to have digital versions of your work. I plan to invest in a Kindle, and no matter how many books will be contained therein, it will seem incomplete without the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I have seen you state that you don't have much interest in the e-book format and negotiating the rights seems to be a tricky thing, but I hope that you will pass my wishes on to your publishers and let them know that while I have all of your Covenant books in traditional print form, I will buy them all again in digital form to be able to carry them with me on my Kindle. Over the years, I have come back to these books several times, and I suspect I will several times more before I am done. Thank you, sir, for all.
Drew (drew): Hello.
I'm wondering about book dedications. Is it necessary to dedicate each and every book to somebody, do publishers demand it?
Do you remember to whom each book you wrote was dedicated?
Are some books easier to find people to dedicate them to?
Has anyone (to your knowledge) ever dedicated a book to You?
William: I've just started reading the Axbrewder novels, and I love them. I wanted to ask; to me it seems that the feeling of the Axbrewder books is more casual. While not being any less serious, well written or interesting, it gives a feeling that you had more fun writing it, or that writing it was alot more natural to you.
Is there any vague truth in that poorly worded sentence, or am I just going a little crazy?
MRK: First, I'd like to comment on how you have mentioned that you don't really write "funny" scenes, at least not consciously. I just wanted to say that I found the scene in "The Wounded Land" where Vain rips up the tree and then uses it as a ramp to climb into Covenant's room/cell in Revelstone struck me as hilarious. I'm not sure if you intended it that way but it still cracks me up (in a good way).
I'm not a fan of the Twilight series but I was still intrigued by the somewhat-recent story (I don't know if you've heard this or not) of how Stephenie Meyer's 5th novel in the series was "leaked" to the internet and therefore the general public in an incomplete and unedited form. Her response was to simply let it go but give up on finishing her work on the novel altogether, apparently. Given the state of things with AATE, what would your response/reaction be if that book, or any future volume, was "leaked" to the public in its raw, unedited state? (fates forfend)
Dave: Hi Stephen,
I am one of your very many UK fans. I recently read in the news section of your website about the mistakes in the UK edition of the TC Chronicles and having not re-read the first and second recently, decided to purchase the US versions. I have also just been given an ebook reader and wanted to purchase the US versions in ebook format. I searched hard but could only find legitimate copies of the Third Chronicles. I did however easily find pirated copies which I am not interested in.
I read in the GI (March 2008) that you were in discussions with your publishers about this but perhaps this is still ongoing. Is there any chance of an update on this issue or perhaps I am just looking in all the wrong places and they are already available somewhere.
Best of luck with the last 2 books.