GRADUAL INTERVIEW (August 2004)
Jonas Kyratzes: Dear Mr. Donaldson,
I would like to begin by thanking you deeply for your books. They have had a significant effect on my life and especially on my views as an artist.
You say that your main responsibility as a writer is to your ideas, to expressing them as they come to you, as fully as you can. I realize that your ideas are of course just a part of you, but I fully agree with the concept of the artist as an interpreter of ideas (even though, of course, I do not mean to force anyone into this system - it just works for me). Have you ever wondered what would happen if you came up with a story, an idea, which really seemed to make sense to you and which demanded to be written, but which actually expressed an opinion with which you deeply disagreed? Have you ever been faced with this situation?
[I'm thinking of Clarke's "Childhood's End" here, and of my own personal experience with a story of mine, which I like but disagree with.]
Thank you for your books.
||I'm sorry. On some fundamental level, your question doesn't make sense to me.
If a story comes to me to be written, it does so for a reason--presumably because it fits me in some way, or I fit it. And if I can't commit myself fully to the writing of that story, giving it (in a manner of speaking) everything I've got, I have no business writing in the first place. So. Then it exists. It has become a thing separate from me, a thing as particular and as self-contained as, say, a human being. How, then, is it *possible* to "disagree" with it?
The analogy to a human being may help. You can disagree with a person's opinions; dislike a person's personality; disapprove of a person's actions. But in what sense is it possible to disagree with the person him/herself? That person simply *is*. Even if you are that person's *parent,* that person is still separate from you; that person still simply exists for his/her own reasons, in his/her own way. Therefore saying you disagree with a person sounds to me like the same thing as saying you disagree with a tree, or a force of nature.
So no, I've never had, and never will have, the experience of "disagreeing" with a story I've written. (Opinions such as those expressed here are entirely another matter. <grin> I change my mind all the time. Otherwise it gets grubby.) I certainly don't want to *meet*, say, the characters in "The Conqueror Worm." I think that zone implants are probably immoral by definition. But such issues are far removed from actually disagreeing with the substance of a story I've written.
Lonnie Thompson (AKA Amok): Thanks again for sitting down with us last Saturday and answering our questions. I had a great time - your thoughts on the work you have done and the subsequent reaction from your fans were very interesting to me. Unfortunately, during the Q&A I could think of nothing to ask you - but of course since then, I finally came up with a couple and here they are:
1. If the 2nd Chrons had been titled: "We are the Elohim, hear us ROAR - How we would have handled the Sunbane (instead of having to deal with those pesky White Gold Wielders..." I mean, what was their plan? As you can probably tell, those type of people REALLY annoy me - you know the all-powerful, all-knowing 2nd-guessers.
2. I was in college when the One Tree was published, and I seem to remember that it was delayed due to the original manuscript being lost in a plane crash. Is that correct? Or was the sleep deprivation getting to me...
||1. In what sense did the Elohim *need* a plan? Do you mean, what would the Elohim have done if white gold and its wielder(s) never existed? Nothing, probably--since the Elohim themselves would never have existed, since I would not have written the story. In other words, you have to take white gold wielders as a given when you think about the Elohim. You have to take the whole created (and implied) world in which the Elohim exist as given. So for them, plan A was that Linden has the ring, therefore doesn't need a Staff of Law; she beats the shit out of Lord Foul, and no one else has to worry about it. Plan B was Findail. Who was so reluctant because from the perspective of the Elohim his role should not have been necessary at all.
2. Yes, the manuscript of "The One Tree" was lost, not in a plane crash, but by airline incompetence. (From San Francisco, Braniff sent my luggage to Bogota instead of L.A.) Of course, I had another copy at home. But I had been on the road for over a month, and while I was traveling (another ^#$%^$ book tour), I did a lot of rewriting. So only the rewriting was actually lost. But having to redo all that work *did* delay the publication of "The One Tree" somewhat.
Anonymous: I was interested by the prey/victim paragraph, and I don't necessarily disagree, but it seems in your formulation that the only way to become a victim is to "give up on yourself" and quit trying to resist a "predator." Which is causing me some definitional confusion (if that's a word) when it comes to, say, natural disasters. People are often described as "flood victims," and I feel that ought to be an accurate desctription, though the people involved may never have stopped trying (for example) to sandbag their town. Further, a natural disaster has no will or intent of its own. But I guess my question is, in this philosophy, is there any way to be a "victim" without being "self-victimized"? It's really just a question of semantics and my trying to picture how exactly you're defining the word "victim." The answer I think I've arrived at for myself is "victim" in this is a state of mind rather than an outcome, so there may not be a quantitative difference between two people who have been beaten up, flooded out, whatever, but a qualitative difference between their mental responses.
||It's true: my (very) personal definitions for words like "victim" cause confusion because they, well, you might say *interfere* with the way people normally use those words. When I came up with my personal definitions, I was thinking pretty much exclusively of human interactions: there are predators (e.g. rapists) and there are prey (e.g. the targets of rapists); and the prey is not in any sense responsible for the actions of the predator; but the only way to be a victim is to, in essence, victimize yourself (i.e. to submit to the actions of the predator as if they had some form of moral or psychological authority: e.g. refusing to fight the rapist on the grounds that you might be hurt worse if you do fight). In this context, being a victim is very much a state of mind: every victim is by definition self-victimized.
When I proposed such ideas, I wasn't thinking of things like forces of nature. (Flood victims, for example.) Yet I believe that the concepts I'm trying to explain can be generalized rather broadly. The person who sees the flood coming, screams, runs around in circles, and drowns, is very different than the person who figures out how to use his/her front door as a raft REGARDLESS of whether or not the latter person drowns. To call both of these people "victims" creates just as much confusion as my personal definitions do.
Or a completely different kind of example. I know a woman who broke her toe. Her doctor told her, "There's nothing we can do about that. Just tape it to the next toe and stay off it until the pain goes away." So five months later the pain goes away, and five years later the pain comes back because now she has arthritis in her toe. Meanwhile I broke my toe. And I rejected the whole "There's nothing we can do about that" concept. I got adjustments to realign the bones and tensons; I got laser treatments alleged to speed healing; I got (very painful) myofascial (sp?) massage treatments to eliminate internal scarring; I took lot and LOTS of herbs, vitamins, minerals, enzymes to combat imflammation and to heal cartilege and joints. In two months my pain was gone, and five years later I have no arthritis (actually, the arthritis I had before the injury has now gone away). So which one of us is a victim? We both suffered identical injuries: we were both the "victims" of comparable accidents. There was no predator involved, and the only force of nature at work was gravity. Yet I maintain that she is a victim and I am not.
This is my complicated way of saying that I agree with you: "victim" is "a state of mind rather than an [event or] outcome." That's why I say that all victims are self-victimized. And that's why a victim is always a victim, regardless of the outcome.
I was hoping for a little more clarification on your explanation of there not being a killing stroke. You'd stated that if you choose not to be killed, your attacker becomes the instrument of your own will.
But in the situation as in The Killing Stroke, where the shin-te's attacker was more skilled and *could* have killed him, even if the shin-te had chose to fight on -- how is the attacker the instrument of the shin-te's will? Or, are you saying that in choosing to fight on, he is electing to die?
I like the broad strokes of this philosophy, but am a little shaky on that point :)
Or to pose the question in a way that follows the rape example: if the woman is raped despite her best efforts to fight off the attacker, she has been 'victimized' in that her will to not be raped was overridden by the rapist's will. But would you say she isn't truly a victim because she never gave in? That the key of being a victim is giving in, and the actual occurrence of what happens doesn't determine her status as 'victim' or 'prey' or 'survivor' or whatever word might be suitable there..?
||As I've just demonstrated, it's hard to be clear about these things, in part because our use of certain words ("victim" in this case) precludes clarity: we use the word to refer to too many different things.
I'll try again.
The point that the shin-te makes in "The Killing Stroke" is *any* outcome to the fight which leads to his death is the result of his own choices: he might choose to fight on and be killed, or he might choose to stop fighting and be killed; but in either case, he CHOSE. Therefore he is not a "victim" ("there is no killing stroke"). Instead he has created a situation in which his attacker can only impose his *own* will by choosing NOT to kill. (Anyone who has studied the martial arts for a while knows that the attacker is always at a disadvantage. This is one demonstration of that principle. The attacker chose to offer combat [in that sense he is not a predator], he chose to conduct the combat in a life-threatening fashion [in that sense he *is* a predator]; but he can only choose the outcome by withholding a fatal blow.)
As for the rape example: this is a very different question morally than the situation in "The Killing Stroke" (except insofar as the shin-te's attacker chose to try to kill his opponent). There both fighters chose to fight. Where rape, and similar crimes, are concerned, no one (well, no one sane) *chooses* to be prey. But everyone *can* choose his/her response to being treated as prey. Therefore the prey always determines the meaning of his/her own life REGARDLESS of the outcome. As for the poor (he said sardonically) predator, he/she can only regain his/her freedom of choice by refusing to continue the attack.
Perhaps this is becoming less and less clear as I explain it more and more. I should probably stop....
Mark A. Morenz: Mr. Donaldson:
Thanks for answering our questions.
Here are two more-- #1-At the request of a co-worker, she and I exchanged our favorite pieces of literature. She gave me C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. I gave her Book One of The First Chronicles.
The Space Trilogy is pretty good. But I was struck how Lewis (generally considered to be a Christian apologist) explicitly says in a foreword that his work isn't allegorical. It reminded me of how you (rather forcefully) respond to questions of artistic intention by saying that you aren't a polemicist. However, you do say in your essays/interviews that you indended your Covenant works to be both "archetypal" and that you wanted to return Epic Fantasy to its pro-humanist roots (I apologize if that isn't a fair enough paraphrase). Anyway, these seem to be indications of "agenda" beyond just the telling of the story for its own sake. I'm not trying to play 'gotcha', just seeking clarification for the benefit of all the other artists out there.
If I could hazard a guess: is it a case of keeping ones eyes on the prize- that is, concentrating on the medium (crafting/discovering of the story) and letting the message (the trascendant art of the subtexts, bla bla) take care of itself? The sports analogy would be playing games the best way possible, the way they are supposed to be played, and letting the winning take care of itself...??
#2- As a former HS teacher, I found that your recent comments on education were so unerringly accurate that I laughed out loud upon reading them. You, sir, nailed it.
So my question is this-- if one cares enough-- at what point does one seek to reform systems from within and at what point do you attempt to end-run and try to affect them from the "outside"?
This is asked in the context of education, or politics, or especially the publishing industry. Some authors are backing e-publishing in a big way, for example.
(You don't seem shy about critiquing the publishing industry, so I felt safe in asking...)
||1) It seems to me you're making this all more complicated than it needs to be. Stories come to me to be written. I write them, bringing (I hope) all of my resources to bear on the challenge. Then people ask me questions about them, and I answer. In other words, these answers always postdate the stories: they shed light on who I am and how I think, but they are fundamentally separate and distinct from the stories themselves--or from the writing of those stories. For example, I wrote "Epic Fantasy and the Modern World" to explain what I had done. I did *not* write it first, and then write, say, "The Chronicles" to illustrate the points I made in my essay. Essays of that kind are pretty much by their very nature polemical. I have a very obvious polemical streak in my personality. Here I'm being polemical about stories I've already written; but that does NOT mean that I had any kind of polemical agenda when I actually wrote those stories.
Putting the same point more crudely: I write stories, and then (if someone asks) I rationalize them. I do NOT rationalize them before I write them. In fact, they don't need to be rationalized at all. I'm just doing so because, well, you asked.
2. I'm not wise enough to know when a given system (public education, publishing) can be reformed from within, and when it should be torn down and completely rebuilt. But I do know that reform of one kind or another tends to happen when the need becomes great enough. Private schools appear to perform functions which have been abandoned by public education. Small presses (and independent publishing of all sorts, sometimes Internet-based, sometimes not) appear to perform functions which have been abandoned by large corporate publishers. Americans opposed to Bush are registering to vote in numbers previously unknown in modern politics. Somehow human societies find ways to keep themselves alive in spite of their own worst impulses.
James: Also -- I realized while writing the previous question that I see elements of this philosophy (No killing stroke) in the Second Chronicles (Brinn at the One Tree, Covenant 'accepting' Foul, etc.) and in the Gap Series, where victims learn to become rescuers or victimizers.
How conscious was the process of illustrating this concept through your different writings as time went on? Since Gap is so much later than the 2nd Chrons, I assume your realization of the idea was much more firm then than back then. ?
||Please read my answer to the previous question. Both as a person and as a writer, I learn and grow as I go along. Therefore the resources that I bring to bear on my stories change. But the point of the previous answer remains the same. I don't write stories to illustrate ideas or concepts. I write them because I care about the stories themselves: these particular people, with these particular emotions, experiencing these particular events. Everything else is, well, literary criticism--which as we all know is a very different process, with different purposes and goals.
Mark A. Valco: Dear Mr. Donaldson,
Question 1) While reading the Covenant books, I admired the Bloodguard's (and Harachai's) sense of honor and their devotion to duty. At the time you were writing these books, were you contemplating the possibility of one day studying martial arts?
Question 2)I come from an English background in college, where I studied and enjoyed many of the classics. The entire Covenant trilogy was every bit as good as any literature I was forced to read. For reasons I cannot specifically explain, I loved THE ONE TREE the most. For me, it was like taking a swim in a sea rich with language and ideas. I was spellbound during the visit with Elohim and chilled by the lure of the merewives. After reaching the end where the quest for the One Tree yields no Staff of Law to use against Lord Foul, suddenly the plot of the entire book seemed a sad and ironic waste of time. Were you, perhaps, trying to say that sometime life takes us in wrong directions but the lessons we learn are still valuable and worthwhile?
Question 3 for next month)Thomas Covenant's greatest fear seems to be other's dying for his sake, while Linden's greatest fear seems to be the possession of another being's body. It's it fair to say that both of these fears made their perils worse? (It's probably fair for me to say it, but is it a point you were trying to make?)
||1) I never gave a second's thought to studying the martial arts until about the time I began working on the GAP books. And when I did consider the idea, my reason were entirely personal: they had nothing to do with anything I had written, or anything I intended to write. (Some day, long after I appear to have died--because we all know I'm not *actually* going to die--I'll write an essay about "The Writer as Warrior." But don't wait up. <grin>)
2) Personally, I don't consider anything in "The One Tree" to be "an ironic waste of time"--and I certainly don't see anything "wrong" with the directions my characters took in that book. One reviewer described the ending of "The One Tree" as "a subtle victory disguised as defeat," and I agree. For example, without Findail, without Linden's possession of Covenant in Bhrathairealm, and without Vain's "damage" at the Isle of the One Tree, Covenant's victory over Lord Foul, and Linden's creation of the new Staff of Law, would never have been possible.
3) The fears that you describe for Covenant and Linden are both fears that involve concern for other people. Such fears may very well increase the peril of the characters: they certainly make life a lot more complicated. But Covenant and Linden probably wouldn't be worth reading about if they didn't care about issues larger than their own survival. God knows I would not have considered them worth writing about.
Peter B.: Happy July Fourth, although personally I wish there was more to celebrate nationally speaking.
Regarding the Chronicles and time: (don't worry its not a plot question) Is the time setting for events in the "real" world always our own present day. For instance, is the year roughly 2004 in the Runes Prologue? (Sorry, so far I've avoided temptation and have not read it.) In the earlier Chronicle novels events in the so-called "real" world seemed to be set in the current readers present day. I seem to recall a typewriter or electric typewriter referenced in Lord Foul's Bane. Perhaps this is a minor point, but I am just curious. I know one cannot keep ahead of time but making the attempt to keep pace could add an additional sense of relevance for the reader, at least initially. If this is not the case, and the time setting in the "real" world is say 1997, how does this help or hinder the narrative? Are there advantages to having only general time references?
||I've tried to avoid too many time-specific references. After all, ten years pass within the story between the first trilogy and the second, and another ten years between the second trilogy and "The Last Chronicles". But in *my* life much less than ten years passed between the first trilogy and the second, and much more than ten have passed since the second. I don't want to clutter up the story with such details, especially since Linden's "ten years" don't match mine (which would create the danger of a wide range of anachronisms). But some things I haven't been able to avoid. E.g. the information on leprosy was current when I wrote the first "Chronicles". And I wasn't able to escape the necessity of giving Linden a pager in "The Last Chronicles." In other ways, however, I've tried to avoid being too specific about *when* in "our" world these stories occur. Partly, as I say, because anachronisms would undermine the story. And partly because such time-specific details aren't particularly important. (Except in the case of the information about leprosy.)
David Wiles: Dear Steve; Do you find it more or less difficult to write story line or dialog as compared to the songs and poetry in your stories.
When Mhoram gives the eulogy for his parents or the Forestalls song in White Gold Wielder, all seem so full of emotion and it seems that so much is said in so few words.
Thanks for being the best damn story teller around.
||Without question the songs and poetry are the most difficult for me to write. When a particular kind of inspiration strikes, they flow fairly well; but I can't just sit down and "force" them out: I have to wait for the right energy. Which, btw, doesn't come along very often at this stage in my writing life.
Where story-line is concerned, I plan (far) ahead, so that aspect of story-telling is probably the least difficult for me. And dialogue often comes very spontaneously while I'm writing. Yet dialogue is the single most rewritten aspect of every story I publish. For some reason, dialogue that makes perfect sense to me when I write it seems to make no sense at all when I reconsider it months (sometimes many months) later. I suspect that this happens because I've gotten to know the characters better as the story goes along; so when I start to rewrite I realize that their earlier dialogue no longer fits my perception of them.
Lono: What are the actual titles of Covenant's books that he has written?
||Sorry. Since I've never read any of them, I don't know what their titles actually are. <grin> But seriously: I just never felt a need to flesh in that particular detail of Covenant's life.
Clayton: Mr. Donaldson-
Thanks for answering my earlier query, and again, I heartily appreciate your accessibility in this forum.
My question is regarding your writing methods from early TC days to now. Back when you started, did you write longhand or use a typewriter? How/when did you transition to word processors? I read here that you conduct your days when writing sort of like an office job - get there at a preset time, work x hours with a few breaks, etc. Do you experience any pains when writing for so long each day (i.e. carpal tunnel, etc.) and how do you deal with them?
||I've always composed at a keyboard of some sort. From my original manual typewriter, I progressed to electric typewriters (I wore out several) for the first six "Covenant" books, "The Man Who Killed His Brother," and "Daughter of Regals and Other Tales." For (as I recall) "The Man Who Risked His Partner" and "Mordant's Need," I switched to a dedicated word processor; an IBM behemoth that chewed my files onto 8 1/2" floppies. "The Man Who Tried to Get Away" was the first novel that I wrote on a PC: as it happens, a Toshiba laptop with no hard drive was my first computer. So now, of course, I use computers exclusively. But I will never EVER forgive the world for abandoning DOS in favor of GUI-based applications. DOS made sense to me: it involved words I could understand, like "format" and "chkdsk," and DOS word processors also relied on language. (I used WordStar 2000, and I'm very bitter that I had to give it up because it become obsolete.) "Icons" never make sense to me; so these days I always have to hunt through the menus until I find words I can understand. All these years of "progress," and we're reduced to cave drawings just like our (very) early ancestors.
I don't have problems like carpal tunnel syndrome and eye strain when I write because I move around so much: it's rare for me to remain in one position for more than two sentences at a time, and while I'm moving around I use my hands and eyes for so many other things that they seldom get tired.
Peter Hunt: Mr Donaldson,
You've mentioned Colin Baker a couple of time in this interview (and dedicated Forbidden KNowledge to him). Are you referring to the same Colin Baker who played the sixth Doctor Who?
If so, do you know him personally, or did you just used to watch a lot of Doctor Who? :)
(Sorry for the personal question. I am an unabashed fan, and do have a lot of questions about your writing, but I'm curious about this, too.)
||I think I answered this earlier. Yes, I'm referring to the Colin Baker who played Dr Who, and yes, I'm proud to call him a personal friend. During a certain extremely difficult period of my life, my large collection of bootlegged Dr Who tapes was my emotional security blanket; and no Doctor did more to help me stay sane than Colin Baker's character. Imagine my astonishment when I discovered that he's a "Covenant" fan and wanted to meet me (!).
robby littlefield: i just got through reading books 1-6 for the second time. i read it when i was about 12-13 and now i am 35yrs old. i must say that this time it was even more incredible. i don't really have a question about the book, just curious about your command of vocabulary. i have never read a book that has introduced me to as many new words as ttcc. was that intentional and where did you acquire such a vast vocabulary?
||I've already discussed vocabulary earlier in this interview. But the short answer is: yes, I used exotic and unfamiliar words deliberately (in an attempt to make the Land feel "real" through sheer language); and I acquired my vocabulary by making word-lists when I read other people's books.
I'm glad I found this site! I've been a devotee of Michael Moorcock's Q+A since 1998 and it is great to see another of my favorite authors doing the same thing.
I wanted to give my own fantasy nominations for Covenant: Billy Bob Thornton. After watching "Bad Santa", I have to say that no one does self-loathing right now better than Billy Bob.
I also wanted to make a comment about "The One Tree". It is by far my favorite book in the entire Chronicles, even though it might be the "slowest" in terms of action. The handling of the at sea scenes (which had a huge potential for being dull), was perfect. And every time the crew makes landfall, things get weirder and weirder. It is like an extended fever dream, and given that Covenant is ill throughout the novel, I'm sure this was an intentional effect on your part (the old "externalization" thing again). I think this book was took some serious stones for you to write- you take Covenant out of the Land, and then you have his quest "fail". Did your editors cringe?
A final comment- I hope the 3rd Chronicles will be even weirder than the 2nd. I'd love to see more of the world beyond the Land (I have a feeling it goes on and on like one of those houses in nightmare where every room seems to lead to more rooms and each one has a secret door or passage), and of course, more Raver fun is always welcome.
Thanks for your time!!!
||I'm glad you liked "The One Tree." I can't comment on my "stones," "serious" or otherwise <grin>, but I can tell you this: Lester del Rey did more than just cringe. After a long fight about the book, he told me that Ballantine Books was no longer willing to publish me. The sticking point was not leaving the Land, however: it was Linden Avery's role as the protagonist (POV character) of the book. During the course of the fight, he said such things as:
"You can't have a Tarzan book with Jane as the main character" and
"If I publish this book the way you've written it, it will destroy my publishing program" and
"You don't need to understand why I want the book rewritten. You will rewrite it because I'm your editor and I so say."
So how come Ballantine Books remained my publisher? you may well ask. Because six or seven hours of this fight took place in the presence of Dick Krinsley (then president of Ballantine) and Marc Jaffe (then editor-in-chief). And when I refused to abandon my position (my artistic integrity), they simply informed Lester that he was no longer my editor. Instead they appointed a new editor for me, and told Lester that he could, in essence, "like it or lump it."
Neither Lester nor Judy-Lynn del Rey ever forgave me (although I think Lester came close after reading "Mordant's Need"). If you'll look at any printing of "The One Tree" in paperback that occurred before Lester's death (he out-lived Judy-Lynn by some years), you'll see that his personal "griffin" symbol (his imprimatur, his seal of approval) does not appear on the cover--although it *does* appear on "White Gold Wielder" (probably because the "The One Tree" was a massive bestseller, and he and Judy-Lynn didn't want to make themselves look foolish).
A strange situation in a number of ways. Lester and I had several significant fights about the first "Chronicles," as well as about "The Wounded Land"; but in each case he just kept on explaining himself until I finally understood his criticisms--and then he allowed me to find my own solutions to the problems. Why he changed his approach for "The One Tree," I'll never know. The only "explanation" he ever gave me was pure gender stereotyping: he said that women are inherently "internal" while men are inherently "external," and that therefore no woman could ever be an effective POV character for world-building. Go figure *that* out.
Anonymous: Hello. Will Michael Whelan be doing art work for the collectors edition of Runes of the Earth? Thank you.
||I believe that Hill House will be using the art that Michael has already done. And I believe they're also trying to get more art out of him in order to enhance their edition. But I have no idea whether or not they'll succeed. Michael is in *huge* demand, and he has to pick and choose his commitments with some care.
Peter B.: As a Doctor Who fan, are you excited that the BBC is bringing back Doctor Who to the tele in 2005?
||Depends on how they handle it. The Fox made-for-tv movie some years ago was atrocious. If the BBC can't remain true to the original spirit of the series, I won't be interested. And since I don't trust corporate mentalities of any sort, I'm inclined to assume that the BBC will botch whatever they try to do.
Mike: In what part of the country are the "real world" parts of the Covenant books set? For some vague reason I always think of Haven Farm as being in New Hampshire.
||As it happens, Haven Farm is a near-exact replica of the place where I was living when I wrote the first "Chronicles". It was called Anchorage Farm, and it was in south New Jersey. (Incidentally, it no longer exists. It was plowed under to make room for a housing development many years ago.) For the town, however, I was thinking of unspecified places considerably farther south.
Sean Casey: Do you read poetry? And if so, who do you like? Do you write poetry? And if so, where has it been published (if anywhere)?
On a related note, there's something I've always wondered about. Are you aware of the Metallica track 'To Live is to Die'? It's an instrumental, but it has a spoken passage which shares lines with the poem Thomas considers writing at the start of the Chronicles:
When a Man Lies He Murders
Some Part of the World
These Are the Pale Deaths Which
Men Miscall Their Lives
All this I Cannot Bear
to Witness Any Longer
Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation
Take Me Home
||Sorry, I'm not aware of ANYthing Metallica has done. I don't listen to the radio, and my tastes in music are a bit, well, out-dated.
As an English major in both college and graduate school, I naturally read and studied a lot of poetry. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Willian Butler Yeats, and George Meredith (his sonnet sequence, I believe it's called--memory, don't fail me now!--"Modern Love") all speak to me eloquently. But I have a bit of a "thing" for Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His "Idylls of the King" strikes me as one of the sovereign artistic creations in the English language. (Of course, one reason I love it so much is that it is an "epic": story-telling in the grandest of the grand old traditions. In addition, however, as I argued in "Epic Fantasy and the Modern World," "Idylls of the King" is, in essence, an epic about why it's no longer possible to write epics. As such, I find it especially poignant.)
My published poetry, such as it is, is listed in the bibliography on this site. (I don't think I missed anything: if I did, it's a bit of verse published in a student magazine--now defunct--sponsored by the English department at the College of Wooster.) I've written a small handful of poems which have never seen print. Hmm. Perhaps I should post them on this site.
Mike White: Dear Mr Donaldson,
Hello once again - and thanks for answering my previous questions. Once again I am astonished, humbled and extremely grateful for this opportunity to communicate with you in such a direct way - how on earth you find the time is quite beyond me!
My question - such as it is - involves the Gap books. I was very disappointed to note from one of your previous responses that this set of books did not sell as well as others. Personally I feel that they are the best novels that you have written, and apart from "Reave the just" certainly your best to date. Re-reading the first Covenant books recently I was astonished to see how much your writing style has developed over the years - the short story restrictions showing this in particular.
Anyway, I ramble - my question: in your foreword to "reave the Just" you refer to losing your way between gap novels - bearing in mind your words on developing characters "backwards", as it were, could you explain what you meant by this?
My thanks in anticipation and I wish you and yours health, happiness and success - and may they always be in that order.
||As you may have guessed, that comment in the foreword to "Reave the Just and Other Tales" refers in part to the cumulative effects of the fact that the GAP books were not selling. As the disappointments surrounding the sales mounted, I became increasingly discouraged. Writing "The Woman Who Loved Pigs" when I did--a story short enough that I could actually "see the end" (the end of the writing, not of the story itself: as I've said before, I don't write at all unless I can see the end of the story)--helped me regain my belief that I would eventually reach the end of the GAP books.
But I was also referring to another issue. The simple fact is that writing science fiction (or indeed any genre that isn't fantasy) doesn't come naturally to me. The GAP books placed a number of demands on me that I've never had to face before (e.g. creating plausible hypothetical technologies, or changing POV characters so often). The strain of trying to meet those challenges undermined my self-confidence in a way that was quite distinct from the stress of disappointing sales. For that reason, returning to fantasy for "The Woman Who Loved Pigs" *refreshed* me so that I could continue with "Chaos and Order".
Unfortunately, that novella also caused a fair amount of trouble. Putting the problem crudely, it broke my concentration on the GAP books, causing me to drop some of the balls I was juggling. As a result, "Chaos and Order" was a much more difficult rewrite than, say, "Dark and Hung". I had to find all the balls I'd dropped and somehow get them back in the air without letting the reader see that I'd dropped them.
Because of that experience, I've sworn off (eternally, of course) writing short fiction while I'm in the midst of a big project like "The Last Chronicles".
Mike Sales: Like many others here, I stumbled on your writing by way of the Covenant novels. I was in high school at the time. They immedeately became my favorites.
As I get older, though, I feel more affinity for the short stories found in REAVE THE JUST. Both stories that feature REAVE, in particular, move me in some way almost every time I read them.
~ What or Who was the inspiration for REAVE?
He is probably one of the most UNIQUE characters I have ever read. He conveys so much, without saying much of anything, and comes across as this wild cross between an old school COWBOY/SAMURAI and ROBIN HOOD. Yet, he employs NO VIOLENCE, which makes him remarkable.
~Why no violence?
~And did you consciously set out to make him a sort of 'empowering' figure, or was that a natural outgrowth of his character.
~ Any chance of MORE STORIES about Reave?
||The story "Reave the Just" was inspired by the first sentence. I can't explain this: that sentence just fell into my head one evening (typically these things happen to me while I'm starting to fall asleep, or when I've been hypnotized by driving--which is not necessarily the same thing <grin>). There is a sense in which I knew the whole story as soon as I "heard" that sentence, especially the names Reave the Just and Jillet of Forebridge.
I suppose you could call Reave an "empowering" figure. He certainly isn't the protagonist of either of his stories: instead (a bit like the Angel in "Unworthy of the Angel") he is whatever the other characters need him to be. He's a catalyst rather than a "real" character (i.e. he has no story of his own; he simply intrudes on other people's stories). You could say that he encourages other people to grow up by nudging them toward accepting responsibility for their own lives and circumstances.
I hope this explains the fact that he himself doesn't use violence. He doesn't exist to solve problems or impose his will on events. Rather he exists to confront people with problems: the actual solutions to those problems depend on the people he confronts.
I suppose it's possible that there will be more Reave stories (although I have a horror of repeating myself: hence the fact that Reave's name is never used in his second tale). "By Any Other Name" also grew out of a single sentence that just fell into my head: "But necromancy and the fatal arts were Sher Abener's province, and at last I fled from them." However, the mental context into which that sentence fell was more complicated than it was for "Reave the Just". Some years had passed since I wrote "Reave the Just"; I loved the character; and on some deep level I was actively looking for another opportunity to write about him. For all I know, the same thing may happen again.
jerry mcfarland: Ah...a Dr Who fan! Any remote possibility of submitting a novel? Being a friend of Colin just might make an interesting interpretation to what really happened to cause his regeneration to McCoy.
Anyway...for the GAP mini-series...I think the FARSCAPE guys would do a marvelous job. How about Claudia Black as Morn?
||I think I've covered this. I don't consciously choose my ideas: they choose me. (However, I do often choose the order in which I tackle the ideas that come to me.) So if an idea for a Dr Who novel ever chooses me, I'll do it. Otherwise there's no chance.
Sorry, I can't visualize Claudia Black. I'm not sure I've ever seen her.
Jonathan Meakin: Dear Mr Donaldson,
Thanks again for responding to my questions. As I said before, undertaking this gradual interview is such a generous undertaking on your part and enlightening one for your readers. Someone commented earlier that you had responded to a "fan" letter so promptly; you did so with me, too, and were kind enough to gently turn down my request to act as a "pen-pal" -- "Art is long and life is short," you said. As I pursue my own writing career, that aphorism rings true.
Anyway, the Covenant books will always stand out for me as formative and enriching influences and I look forward to the release of Runes. As for all of the discussion of casting choices for TC and Gap movies ... ultimately I can't help but hope that movies *aren't* made as I think readers of your work will likely be disappointed (as I think you suggested earlier in this interview).
Whoops. There's no question here. Err ... When do you anticipate getting stuck in to writing the next Last Chronicles? (Yeah, that'll do.)
||I assume you're referring to Book Two of "The Last Chronicles." Believe me, I want to start working on it. But my publishers keep coming up with more and more and MORE promotional chores for me to do, all with stringent (not to mention implausible) deadlines; and it would be *very* unprofessional for me to refuse to help my publishers promote my books. So for the time being I'm stuck. <groan> This is *not* why I became a writer; but it sort of goes with the territory.
Ritu: I have two questions actually:
1] Would your book tours ever include India, so that I may get my books signed?
2] Have you ever heard the Urdu couplet 'Aag ka dariya hai, doob ke jaana hai'?
||Sorry, there's no chance on God's created earth that I would ever visit India again. Nothing personal (to India, I mean: it's obviously personal to me). I just have too much Western Missionary Imperialism guilt to face it.
Since the language I grew up with was Marathi, I have no acquaintance with Urdu at all.
Mike G: Again, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions...this is incredibly interesting...
Q. What happened to Earthpower? The people in the Land were attuned to it in the first trilogy, but weren't because of the Sunbane in the second trilogy(right?). But once they went down into Sarangrave and beyond, shouldn't they have begun to feel it again? And none of the people they met in their travels seemed to have any affinity for it. What causes (or prevents the affinity for Earthpower? And (thinly veiled digging for hints) can it return?
Or, having read your response to a recent question, if it is all a construct of Covenant's imagination, did he subconsciously change his own rules in resonse to his 'reality'? Ack, this could give a guy a headache...
||I think of the Sunbane as being what you might call an imposed perversion of Earthpower. And I think that the reasons people like Covenant and Sunder didn't become aware of it once they had passed east of Landsdrop are: a) they didn't have enough time for their senses to become reattuned after the assault of the Sunbane; b) Earthpower is effectively weaker east of Landsdrop because of the toxic effects flowing out of Mount Thunder, the consequences of Lord Foul's long residence there (admittedly farther south), and the fact that the human slaughter of the One Forest began in the east (more likely north of the Sarangrave than south). So no, Covenant did not (unconsciously or otherwise) "change his own rules" between the first and second trilogies.
Todd: You said that you were/are under considerable pressure to reduce the original manuscript of "Runes" by 200 pages. I'm surprised by that, given the recent trend of lengthier books, all of which seem to be selling pretty well. You've said that one publisher said you were "washed up", I believe, but I have a hard time imagining that publishers don't realize what they have here. You enthralled millions of readers with Covenant, and for twenty years we've been waiting with zero patience for The Last Chronicles (that's a good thing, because people like me will be standing at the bookstore waiting for the doors to open to buy "Runes"). If Robin Hobb, George Martin, and Robert Jordan can write 600+ page books (and Martin has written one 900+ page books - granted, it was marvelous), why is Putname so stingy with you?
Heck, even Goodkind is writing long books, and selling them, although that certainly defies all common sense. But he's hardly the first writer of any genre to fill the pages of his books with nonsense and make money from it.
You write good books. No - you write *exceptional* books, and you proved that Covenant is more than marketable. So - what gives? Perhaps I just don't know anything about the publishing industry, but I'm more than a tad confused. I would have thought your rein would have been rather free.
||Leaving aside all discussion of other writers and "what sells"....
My editor now is the same editor I had for the GAP books; and she was not then, and is not now, "stingy" with me. Her over-riding, number one concern with "Runes" (as I assume it is with every book she edits) has been to publish the best possible book; and she believed that "Runes" would be stronger, more effective, and--ultimately--better art if it were made tighter, leaner, cleaner. Well, once she had explained her reactions and reasoning to me, I agreed with her--about 80%. The roughly 20% that I disagreed with her revolved around the most obvious, fundamental difference between us: she moves MUCH faster than I do.
I've said before that I write very slowly. And I read slowly as well. If I were to sit down and read "Runes" as if it had been written by someone else, I would take 4 or 5 times as long at it as my editor would if she were not thinking about editing. Well, this difference in speed has a profound effect on perception. Look at it this way: when you are walking past a tree, you actually see a very different tree than you would if you drove past it at, say, 50 mph. Walking you see many more different leaves, many more different branches, from many more different angles. This does *not* mean that you don't see the tree when you're driving: it simply means that you see it differently. By some standards, you see the tree *more* accurately when you're driving because you see it whole, you get a gestalt perception of it, instead of being bogged down in details. Then--to extend the metaphor--consider that the writer is the person walking and the editor is the person driving.
Therefore those of us who are walking pretty much have to revel in the details because we're going to be looking at the same ^#$% tree for quite some time. Broadly speaking, however, readers are driving. Hence my editor's concern for making the book as taut and precise as possible. On the other hand, a lot of readers may not "drive" as fast as she does (I obviously don't). Hence my concern for making sure that the details repay prolonged observation.
But (since I'm already making this answer complicated) this does not mean that when my editor asked me to cut 200 pages I actually cut 160. I really cut only 120. Why? Because sometimes the only good way to make scene x tighter (more vivid, more effective) is to make preceding scene w (or r or h) longer. In other words, some scenes can only be made shorter by preparing the way for them at greater length. So that extra 20% difference between what my editor asked for and what I actually did happened, not because I disagreed with her, but because I was--in essence--moving words to an earlier part of the book. You might say I was causing the highway to run a bit closer to the tree.
I hope this relieves your concern. When my editor pressured me to cut "Runes," she in no way pressured me to *damage* the book. She simply looked at it from a very different perspective than I do--or can. And she certainly made no attempt to impose her will on me. Lester del Rey did such things: she does not. And finally, I'll say--as I have before--that I simply don't make changes or cuts unless I agree that they are necessary for the good of the book. So relax. "Runes" is *better* because my editor pressured me.
David Lomax: I wonder if you're aware that the full text of both the first and second chronicles of Thomas Covenant are available on-line? They are. Just check out (link removed by webmaster). If you check out the guy's other links, you'll find out that he doesn't want anyone taking away his guns, distrusts psychic hotlines and, apparently, isn't too fond of apostrophes.
All kidding aside, I wondered if I should just notify geocities or Harlan Ellison, but I really thought you ought to know. I feel like a sort of tattle-tale, but gun-nut copyright violators who refuse the apostrophe just knot my shorts up everywhich way.
Your books had an unutterably huge influence on my soul when I was young -- only fifteen when I read _Lord Foul's Bane_ -- and I have been vibrating like a tight-rope ever since I learned you are going back to the Land. I'm not exactly as malleable as I was twenty-three years ago, but I half-wonder if you'll do it to me all over again.
Thanks for the books.
||Thank you for this information. As it happens, Ballantine Books (current holder of the publication rights, and therefore the "wronged party" in a stricter sense of the term than I am) is aware of this particular case of piracy. No doubt the Ballantine legal department will eventually take some form of action.
Ross: Dear Mr. Donaldson,
In one of your interviews, you mentioned that you were a little disappointed with the accuracy of the science portions of the Gap Cycle. When I read that comment, I was a little amazed, because I had completely bought into the science behind the story… it seemed so logical and believable.
Of course, I’m no scientist. I’m just one of the hundreds of writers who it seems were first inspired to write by your example. So that could pretty easily explain why I was “fooled.” But how did you – another non-scientist – even go about creating such a complex, seemingly science-based, universe? Do you have a physics background? Or did you just do a lot of studying to prepare yourself for the writing? Did you first come up with the plot, and search for the scientific knowledge to make the action plausible, or did the knowledge you already had make it easier to create the plot?
Also, I wanted to add my thanks to all the others whose questions you have answered here. You’ve said that you’re very grateful for your fans, but we’re the luckier ones, really. And it’s amazing to me that you’d open up this communication channel to us – I get probably 200 emails a day, so I can only CRINGE at the number I imagine you must be getting.
||I'm no scientist or engineer, so I did a fair amount of research to back up the hypothetical science/medicine/technology in the GAP books. (Incidentally, I did my research on a need-to-know basis: if I needed to know something, I went looking for it. I didn't do any research in preparation for the story, except my usual "research" into the structure and implications of my own ideas.) But it was simple old Newtonian physics that tripped me up (thanks to Hawking and a few of his, well, I'll call them fans, I was able to avoid really sophisticated screw-ups). I can't calculate rates of acceleration and deceleration--and I certainly can't calculate them as multiples of g--and I absoLUTEly can't calculate the effects of such stresses on undefended organic tissues. So during the course of the first three GAP books I occasionally made the mistake of suggesting how *long* certain amounts of acceleration and deceleration would take, only to have indignant readers point out to me that so much g would reduce human beings to grease smears on the bulkheads. (In my own defense: I actually had a NASA engineer read those books before they were published; and I gave him explicit instructions to help me avoid such bloopers; but he let me down rather badly.) As a result of what those readers told me, you won't find the same mistake in books 4 & 5: I learned my lesson.
Clint: Do you have any plans for a world tour to promote your new books? We would love to see you in New Zealand (aka Middle Earth).
||It is conceivable that my UK publisher may someday send me to Australia and New Zealand on tour. They did so back in '83. (That's 1883, for those of you who are keeping track.) But so far there has been no active discussion of the possibility.
Sean Casey: TC might be described as a part time solipsist. What about you - how's your faith in reality? Do you think that kind of introspection is essentially bound up with the urge to create?
||I know plenty of writers who wouldn't recognize a moment of introspection if it had big teeth and smelled bad. But generally speaking I think that the best writers (and the best artists of all kinds) search deep within themselves for their subject-matter. *That*, I hasten to add, does not make them solipsists. Or me either, for that matter.
If we actually want to discuss solipsism (or George W. Bush), however, we need to define our terms--and I don't have my dictionary with me (I'm on the road at the moment). Certainly there is a useful distinction to be made between questioning external reality and doubting one's own existence. Artists (of all kinds), I imagine, are particularly prone to feeling unsure of their own substantial existence. Narcissists, on the other hand, are quite naturally inclined to doubt that anyone *else* is real.
If you want to argue that Covenant is a solipsist (part time or otherwise), I might counter that his apparent rejection of external, tangible reality is in fact a defense mechanism designed to protect an extremely fragile sense of self. And as his sense of self grows stronger, his need to challenge the reality of the Land declines. After all, he's no philosopher: such questions aren't abstract intellectual queries for him. In very "real" terms, he's fighting for his survival.
Steve Anderson: Hello Stephen,
Thanks for your answers to my earlier questions. I wonder if you would tell us what makes you laugh. Personally I like Terry Pratchett and Monty Python, as do many others, but what about yourself. As widely appreciated as your works are, I think I would be right in saying that rarely, if ever, has humour been your intent.. Having said that, the confrontation between Nick Succorso and the Amnion where the latter just repeated "I wish to sit".. for some reason I found that very funny indeed.
||Well, there's a pillow fight in "Mordant's Need." And some unexpected humor in my mystery novels....
But of course you're right. I don't really *do* humor. Which sometimes surprises people who know me: in person I have a very active sense of humor. For reasons I can't explain, however, the humor bone is not connected to the writing bone. Or the reading bone: I very rarely find "funny" things worth reading (although writers as diverse as Mark Twain and Carl Hiessen [sp?], Dave Barry and Terry Pratchett, have taken me pleasantly by surprise). What makes *me* laugh? Monty Python, certainly. Eddie Izzard. Sabotage (a local comedy duo). Danny Kaye. As a general rule, however, tv and movies don't strike me as funny.
Todd: I believe it was in The Real Story you mentioned that one of the most powerful scenes in The Power that Preserves (or maybe the whole set of six books) was inspired by an arisol can in a bathroom at a truck stop.
What scene was that?
||This question has come up before, and will, I'm sure, come up again. I wish I could explain how the human imagination works--or even how in one case one idea leads to another, but in another case nothing happens. All I know is that I was in that truck stop restroom reading the label of the disinfectant can while I used the facilities, and one particular word--it may be been "putrefaction," although my memory is no longer clear on that point--started a train of thought which rather quickly "gave me" the scene where Lena saves Covenant's life after they're driven out of the Ramen covert. But I was young then, full of energy, and in some sense I was always trying to mine the world around me for ideas. Actively looking for idea-triggers whenever I was awake. Now I'm not "on" all the time. Usually I leave work at work.
Harry Kanth: Hello again, Mr Donaldson
I have started reading 'The Man Who...' series of books. I really like them. In fact I have started to slow down my reading of them because I don't want them to end! How strange is that!
Anyway my question is whether you plan to write any more books in this series? I think it would be a shame if you didn't.
||Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying those books. Especially since comparatively few people have read them.
If I live long enough--oops! excuse me, of course I mean *when* I live long enough--I intend to write one more Axbrewder/Fistoulari novel. However, this could conceivably change. The question is: are Brew and Ginny ready for their big showdown with el Senor, or do they need to (for lack of a better term) "grow up" more first? If they *are* ready, then one more book: if they are *not*, I'll need more than one more book.
Paul Mitchell: Thanks again for doing this gradual interview...what else would we be reading while waiting for Runes?!
Simple questions: how, if at all, will the day Runes goes on sale be any different for you from an emotional perspective, and if you had to use a single word to describe the process between finishing writing and publication, what would it be?
||Actually, these aren't simple questions at all.
My reaction when "Runes" goes on sale will probably be intense anxiety. As a general rule, throughout my career the publication of my books has been an occasion for excitement--although the degree of excitement varies a lot according to my expectations (do I expect, or hope, that the book will sell well--the GAP books, for example--or am I aware in advance that the response will be relatively modest--my mystery novels, for example, or my short story collections?). But there are unique factors at work in the present situation. 1) At my age, with several kids in college and lots of other demands on me, I'm more concerned about money than I used to be. I *need* "Runes" to sell well--and before the stock market crash in 2000 I didn't have that problem. 2) My career has been in decline for the past 20 years. As I've mentioned before, finding a publisher for "Runes" wasn't easy because these days a number of publishers believe I'm a has-been. What if they're right? The success of the "Covenant" books 20 years ago was rationally inexplicable: it appeared to be a function of the zeitgeist. But the zeitgeist has obviously changed since then. *Now* what's going to happen? 3) Putnams and Orion are publishing "Runes" much faster than any other book I've done. As a result, all the stages that take place between submitting a manuscript and publishing an actual book have been squeezed into a painfully short period of time. This whole year has been one long mad scramble to try to get extremely complex tasks completed far too quickly. As a result, my nerves are frayed as they've never been before during the preparation of a book. 4) Because Putnams and Orion are publishing "Runes" so quickly, I haven't had a chance to start on the next book--and being immersed in a new book is my best single coping mechanism for dealing with the uncertainties of publication and sales. Storytelling helps me survive--but only when I'm immersed in it.
As for "finishing writing" vs "publication": first we have to define our terms. What do you mean by "finishing"? First draft? Second draft? Third draft? Final editorial approval? Copyediting? Proofreading? I always get depressed after the first draft: I'm very tired, and very aware of how far the book has fallen below my aspirations. Finishing a rewrite usually prompts relief. If the rewrite meets with approval, I feel relief and pleasure. But copyeditors hate what I do, so going over copyedited manuscripts fills me with frustration and even fury. Proofreading brings back the depression (I can't proofread well if I allow myself to get caught up in the story; and if you don't get caught up in my stories, they aren't worth reading at all).
I'm afraid you'll have to extract your own "single word" answers. <rueful smile>
Michael from Santa Fe: Have you ever considered doing a story or novel with another writer, or ever been offered/asked about doing one?
||Strangely, I keep trying to answer this question; but whenever I do, my answer disappears, and the question remains. I'll try one more time.
I've been invited to collaborate on a few occasions. The offer that tempted me most was to do a "samurai" novel with Midori Snyder: I was tempted because she's such a fine writer, and because we share an interest in the martial arts. But the only offer I ever accepted was from Fred Saberhagen; and that was a special case. He asked several writers to write completely independent "berserker" stories (in mine, "What Makes Us Human," the word "berserker" never appears); and then he cleverly wove those stories into an apparent novel called "Berserker Base." So I had to play by his "killer machine" rules, but everything else was entirely up to me.
I suppose you could say that I don't collaborate because I'm too much of a control freak. But it doesn't feel that way. From my perspective, the problem is that I simply can't get excited about other people's ideas. They may sound interesting, but they don't come to life in my imagination. So what it feels like is that I don't collaborate because I can't.
Layne Solheim: Mr. Donaldson:
In preparation for the upcoming release of "TLCoTC", I've been rereading the Covenant series (the 5th time). My question revolves around the chapter structure of "The Illearth War." I'm curious who made the decision to bunch the chapters focusing on Hile Troy and the war and then go back and follow the tale of Covenant and Elena? In "The Power that Preserves" you jump between action at Revelstone and Covenant. I was just curious if that was a decision on your part or an editorial decision. Not being familiar with the publishing world, do they have a right to do something like that...just wondering.
Love your work--the most profound SF&F work ever! I look forward (as I'm sure everyone else here) to the release.
||I'm solely responsible for the structure of everything I write. By contract, editors do not have the power to make "substantive" changes without the author's consent--and structure is certainly "substantive." (Of all the editors I've worked with, only Lester del Rey ignored the contractual restrictions on his "authority"--and he only did so in situations which I considered gratuitous and stupid.) In fact, the editor's only real power is to accept or reject the book. But that's huge, so it's hard to ignore. However, as I've explained elsewhere, I've been known to defy my editor when I believe that the quality of the book is at stake.
But to give you an example of a non-substantive change which an editor *can* impose: when I planned "The Second Chronicles," I designed it in four books; but Lester believed that a trilogy would sell better, so he made my four books into three. HOWEVER, he did so without altering a single word, or touching any aspect of the story's design. He simply took the 8 "parts" of my story and published them 3-3-2 instead of 2-2-2-2. (A situation, btw, which I've cleverly avoided in "The Last Chronicles" by the simple expedient of not telling my editor anything about what I mean to do. <grin>)
Paul Mitchell: Like many others here I guess, I am re-reading the first six books (the literary equivalent of athletic training perhaps?) and one thing I have noticed is (hmmmm...how to say this in a way that doesn't sound impolite...) that at the beginning of the second and third books, there appear to be a lot of 'memory joggers' (and I am not referring to the 'What Has Gone Before section!). Stuff that helps the reader remember but doesn't actually add anything new. So my questions are:
1. Is that a deliberate writing tool that you choose to use, or does it flow more organically from the story?
2. Is the presence of memory joggers the reason you dislike the WHGB section...as they actually make it unnecessary or at best a rather unsubtle, blunt tool?
3. In the theoretical world where you are never going to die and where all your readers have perfect memories, would you write the opening chapters differently if memory joggers were not required?
||I use "memory joggers" both deliberately and organically because: a) my own memory is imperfect; b) therefore I assume that my readers' memories are also imperfect; and c) memory jogging is not the only function of a "memory jogger" (among other common possibilities, "memory joggers" can be used to control the pace of the narrative, or to enhance thematic development, or to enrich the emotional context of a given passage). Indeed, I probably couldn't write such long and complex stories if I didn't use "memory joggers."
So given that I usually write in a way that makes WHGB sections unnecessary (they certainly don't appear in the GAP books, or "Mordant's Need"), why are they a feature of the "Covenant" books? Beats the by-products out of me. Lester del Rey insisted on them; he (and my subsequent Ballantine editor) wrote them; so there they are. Which occasioned considerable debate about "The Last Chronicles." On the one hand, WHGB sections tend to be superfluous. On the other, they have become an accepted part of the "Covenant" canon, and are therefore a reasonable part of the readers' expectations. In the end, we--my editors, agent, and I--all agreed to go ahead with new WHGB sections because so much time has passed since the previous "Covenant" books were published, and we didn't want readers of "Runes" to feel lost if they didn't re-read--or haven't ever read--the first six "Chronicles."
Derrik S: Thanks for answering my last question
Now I understand about the deserts
Well this is my next question:
Will the map of the Land have anymore cities (and will we be introduced to anymore cities) added to it or anything?
And will the map be in color?
||I fear you'll be disappointed by the maps in "Runes." They aren't in color; they are deliberately fragmentary (I have some extremely self-serving reasons for doing this); and I don't particularly care for the style (I can't draw usable maps myself, so I'm pretty much forced to rely on "artist's interpretations" of my rough sketches; and time constraints have prevented me from negotiating maps which I might consider ideal). On top of all that, the Land itself isn't exactly prone to cities. But I hope you'll find the story worth reading anyway.
Sean Farrell: Hi Mr. Donaldson. Not a question, just a comment - don't know how else to reach you. I am lucky enough to work in bookselling in the UK (my desire to do so due in no small measure to reading your books twenty years ago)and have thereby come by an ARC of Runes of the Earth. (Actually I have two and have had several others offered to me - my love for your work is very well known...)
For what it's worth - and I've only read about half so far - I humbly offer my praise. So far it's the best in the series: for depth, consideration, pace, prose... I'm no critic, but I've come a long way in my reading habits since Lord Fouls Bane, and the quality of writing in Runes of the Earth ranks alongside the best I've ever read.
For what it's worth - thanks.
||Thank you! I'm posting your comments in an attempt to reassure readers who may be awaiting "The Last Chronicles" with some trepidation. Sf/f is littered with examples of writers who returned to their earlier successes after long absences--and did so with massively disappointing books. An innocent reader might well be forgiven for wondering if "The Last Chronicles" is just one more (doomed) attempt to recapture lost popularity. For that reason, your opinion of "The Runes of the Earth" may be especially valuable.
Michael Dalton: Mr. Donaldson,
I had heard rumors of the Last Chronicles for several months now and I found your official website by accident today. I immediately choked up with tears. OK, obviously your writing has been a bright light in my life, so I should ask you something, compliments aside:
In the trailer put together for The Runes of the Earth, it mentions that "Despite cannot be killed..." (Forgive me if I paraphrase). Would that beg the question that Hope also cannot be killed? Covenant made his sacrifice for Lena in the "real world", yet what Covenant truly is couldn't really die. Hell, leprosy couldn't kill him. Again, thank you so much. For everything.
||I can't honestly say that I understand your question. I think it's probably logical to argue that if "Despite cannot be killed" then Despite's opposite also cannot be killed. (Light and darkness are meaningless without each other, etc.) But is "Hope" the opposite of Despite? Personally, I doubt it. I'm tempted to claim that "love" is Despite's opposite--but then I'm also tempted to claim that the opposite of love is apathy, and apathy is clearly not the same as Despite, so that doesn't help.
It's a curious intellectual conundrum. If we say that "Good" is the opposite of "Evil," what exactly do we mean by those terms? "Evil" seems comparatively easy to define: "Good" is not. And simply defining "Good" as "the opposite of Evil" isn't particularly helpful.
You see the problem.
Incidentally, the fact that leprosy couldn't kill Covenant doesn't really shed any light. Leprosy itself doesn't kill anyone: in itself, it isn't fatal. Lepers are killed by the side-effects of their illness (which, when you think about it, actually does shed a bit of light).
It might be more useful to think of Creation as the opposite of Despite. Certainly in the "Covenant" books the Creator is no more likely to be killed than Lord Foul is. But that doesn't make the plight of the story's more mortal characters any easier.
Janey Roberts: Hi Stephen,
Remember me? Sorry - bad joke. I wrote to you twenty years ago, enthusing about the “Mordant’s Need” series which I had just read, but moreso about “ The Chronicles of Thomas, Covenant”, both “unbeliever” and “second”, the first of which I actually read while still at school.
I am married now, and when my husband and I first met he lived miles away, in London, which necessitated several train journeys, for him. I had begun to read your “Gap” series, and my husband read these (he is a bigger fan of SciFi), and others, on his return train journeys, being an absolute convert. He read my “Covenant” books after we married, and loves them just as much as I do.
However, I digress. As a result of multiple sclerosis I suffer from double nystagmus. Because of this I have not read a book since 1996, and “Chaos and Order” remains unfinished for me as do the rest of the “Gap” series. It was not like this when I first wrote to you all those years ago and I drew comparisons between myself and Covenant – “they can’t do this to me” etc. Ah well; older and wiser. I read the “Runes” PDF prologue two days ago, or got the text reader to read it to me, and was absolutely blown away. I just can’t wait for this, and therein lies my problem. I read computer text by enlarging the font and making it bold, so how the hell am I going to read this book, which is a completion of something which has defined and illustrated my life?
Any thoughts? They would be vastly, vastly appreciated.
||I'm posting this in the hope that someone who sees it can come up with a better suggestion than mine. The only solution *I* can think of is to get "Runes" when it comes out on CD and listen to it instead of reading it.
Russ: As much as I love your work, I am surprised by my ambivalence about the upcoming series.
I have considered the idea of delaying purchase of the books until they have all been published just to insure that I will be able to read the entire series. To be honest I am not sure I could hold out.
Have you considered writing a synopsis, executive summary, precis, whatever of the upcoming series and giving it to your lawyer for release in the event of an untimely demise.
A lot can happen in 12 years.
||Even if completing "The Last Chronicles" only takes me 9 years (which is what I've contracted to do), a lot can still happen. And it probably will. Unfortunately, I'm either unwilling or unable (and on this subject I can't tell the difference) to follow your suggestion. At this stage in the project, I need to keep as many of my options open as possible; and as soon as I start to write down a synopsis/executive summary/precis I limit those options, if in no other way than by hindering the freedom of my subconscious mind. And make no mistake about it: good storytelling is profoundly a function of the subconscious mind. I've tried telling stories which were exclusively (or almost so) a function of my *conscious* mind, and I didn't like the results. (Oh, they're craftsmanly enough, so I'm not ashamed of them; but they lack the kind of resonance I live for.)
As it happens, "Fatal Revenant" (as it exists in my imagination) has gone through some significant modulations in recent months. Thanks to my subconscious, it has already become a much stronger book--and I haven't even written it yet. Hence my unwillingness to "dictate terms" to the secret operations of my creative impulse.
And what would a synopsis/executive summary/precis be *good* for anyway? If "God (or the Devil) is in the details," then the value of storytelling is in the telling. Do you imagine that someone else would finish my story for me? Would you really want that? Or would a bare synopsis ("Oh, *that's* what happens to so-and-so") satisfy you? I suspect not.
The plain fact is that life is what it is, and we all have to take our chances.
Mark O'Leary: Firstly, my thanks for taking us back to The Land.
You've mentioned editors often suggest plot lines to you, but do you encounter much feedback from your readers where they specualte on the future of your characters? If so, did reaction to the first chronicles have any impact on your plotting of the Second, or Second to the Last? How do you feel about the sub-creations of fans?
(You see, I have this recurring picture of Covenant standing in Andelain, with the ring threaded onto the centre of the Staff of Law under his hand, empowering the Law but exerting the paradox that maintains him to wield it...)
||For some reason, when readers have sent me their speculations (or their appeals) for more, their ideas have always involved going backward in time rather than forward. I've received hundreds of requests for Berek's story, or Loric's, or even poor Kevin's; and I've received dozens of suggestions for those stories. But no one has tried to tell me what to do *after* "White Gold Wielder" (or after "The Power that Preserves"). I can't explain this--but I'm grateful. The last thing I need in life is a Lester del Rey surrogate. <grin>
Guy L: I would be glad to offer some suggestions to Jane Roberts regarding visual aids. You may provide my e-mail address to her.
||Several considerate readers have already offered to provide suggestions for Jane Roberts. I'm impressed! And I ask you to contact her directly (her e-address is above). Being in the middle gets messy. And there's always the chance that I won't understand your suggestions.
James: A couple of months ago you wrote:
"There has never been an audio version of the first and second 'Covenant' trilogies, and I doubt that there ever will be.
Did you mean that there has never been an audio version of the "entire" trilogies? Or did your comments refer to excerpts as well?
I ask because a few years ago I acquired a copy of the following audio cassette (ISBN: 0898450691):
Stephen R. Donaldson reads from his White Gold Wielder: The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant "Winter in Combat"-Book Three (Part I: Chapter Six).
Side A is 27:48 minutes in length, and Side B is 27:02 minutes.
In came in a little casing, with an illustration on the cover (by Real Musgrave).
The audio cassete itself was put out by Caedmon (1983).
Is this authentic/legitimate?
||Yes, your Caedmon cassette is authentic--although I myself only have the LP version. I did that reading. But I tend to forget that it ever existed, since it was only a fragment anyway, and had such a short shelf-life (it sold so poorly that Caedmon quickly cancelled their plans for a whole series of "Covenant" recordings). And Real Musgrave is a dear personal friend, so don't blame him if the cover-art seems a little, well, "de trop".
Many thanks for sleepless nights!
(hm, don't get me wrong) :)
I've read the 2 chronicles about TC many times now, but only the translated versions (swedish).
I'm thinking of reading them in english now,
to see how true the swedish version is to the english?
Have you ever heard any complaint about the translation of your books? And can you as an author or your publisher do anything about it?
||I think I've already answered this question. But briefly:
The only responses I've ever received have been to the original French translation of "Lord Foul's Bane"--a translation so egregiously bad that the book's title was dropped entirely in favor of "The Chronicles of Thomas the Incredulous", and "Saltheart Foamfollower" became "Briney the Pirate". Usually when I'm contacted by readers from non-English-speaking countries, those readers have read my books in English anyway.
No, the author (and his original publisher) have no power over translations--and no recourse except to refuse to do any more business with foreign publishers who offer lousy translations. So it's perfectly possible that a bad translator can cost an author an entire language-group of readers.
J. Kevin Calkins: Hi Mr. Donaldson, I love your works! I am wondering what you think of the possibility of the "Into the Gap" series being made into a movie? I think it would totally rock, and even, in some respects, would be totally appropriate for the times.
Have you considered doing such a thing?
Cheers and hope the creative juices keep aflowing for this next Chronicles, really looking forward to it.
J. Kevin Calkins
||Personally, I think that the GAP books could more plausibly be made into good (or at least watchable) movies than any of the Chronicles. SF, I think, lends itself more naturally to an "external" medium like film than fantasy does. But surely you understand that none of this is up to me? Oh, if I happened to have $200 million I could easily spare, I might be able to make a movie happen. But in the real world I have absolutely no say in the matter.
Well, that's not completely true. In the case of the GAP books, I do have the power to say No if anyone asks me. (In other words, I hold the movie rights.) But I have no power to make someone ask me. And in the case of the first six "Covenant" books, the movie rights are held by Ballantine Books, so there I don't even have the power to say No. (Not that I would. For the author, movie deals are "found money." All the author has to do is cash the check--and pray that something good happens. Everything else is Somebody Else's Problem.)
Paul S.: I was reading the paper "Variations on The Fantasy Tradition" by W.A. Senior, posted on your web site. In it he mentions Michael Moorcock's "Wizardry and Wild Romance" where he states that:
"Michael Moorcock, who for the most part has little good to say about the Chronicles in Wizardry and Wild Romance, claims that the heroics of epic fantasy are generally children, or are at least childlike creatures such as hob- bits, but concedes that Donaldson's characters are adults trying to deal with adult concerns (82, 91)."
On a lark, I went searching for that book and found Michael Moorcock's website -- and on a further lark did a search on your name...
Quoting Michael Moorcock: "I, too, think those books" [referring the the Chronicles of TC] "are above average, though I was a bit harder than I should have been on him in Wizardry and Wild Romance, tending to lump him in with Tolkien imitators about whom I had become a bit grumpy at the time."
My question is: did you know of Moorcock's original criticism and if so did you ever give it much thought or consideration? What do you think of Moorcock's work (although having read all of this interview my bet is that you've never read his stuff, right?)?
||I've had the pleasure of making Michael Moorcock's acquaintance. And I'm familiar with some of his work. He's clearly a highly intelligent writer who has put a great deal of thought (and no small amount of talent) into what he does.
At the time that I wrote the first two "Covenant" trilogies--and "Mordant's Need"--I was unaware of Moorcock's literary criticism (although I had read a few of his books); so his views could not have affected my thinking about my own work. Today I don't necessarily agree with all of his views, but I consider him an important literary critic. We definitely need *somebody* who's willing to cast aspersions on a veritable mountain of blatant Tolkien imitation.
John P: There have been so many searching questions posted on this site that I feel mine fall into the realm of the banal, but nonetheless:
1) Why has Foul not simply summoned Joan to the land and convinced her to part with her ring? She does not seem to have the same fortitude of will as TC. I realize that the paradox of wild magic revaled in White Gold Wielder might mean that Joan's ring would not have possessed the power, but I'm not sure. Perhaps answering this treads too close to Runes, but perhaps not.
2) Why does Seadreamer, while still alive, not write down what he wants to say? I remember in Lord Foul's Bane that Llaura couldn't write down what she was forbidden to say because her hands were shaking too uncontrollably, but it doesn't seem as if Seadreamer is similarly afflicted.
1) What makes you think that Joan is in a condition which would *allow* anyone to "convince her" of anything? One of the disadvantages of being Lord Foul: he's already done Joan so much damage that she's almost entirely unreachable; therefore inaccessible to persuasion.
2) Is there anything in the "Covenant" books to suggest that the Giants possess a written language? Surely one of the long-term side-effects of writing things down is that people then talk less; tell stories aloud less. But I see no evidence that the Giants talk less than they once did. So why would they *need* a written language?
Zenslinger: I wonder if you’d care to engage a bit of discussion on your essay “Epic Fantasy in the Modern World.” Although it was written some time ago and, by its modest secondary title (“A Few Observations”), we aren’t to expect a monumental thesis, you still refer to it to answer some of these questions you so generously answer. But I can’t help but find your definition of fantasy literature to be unsatisfactory.
To say that fantasy is literature in which characters meet their own internal struggles personified as external forces is a definition that fits the Covenant stories very well. The health and ill of the Land are congruent with Covenant’s view of his own illness (if not the illness itself). His victory over the Despiser at the end of the first Chronicles is directly related to his gaining the moral courage to let go of fear and despite and finally to be able to laugh at illness.
But I cannot see Sauron “as an expression of Frodo.” What can be seen as an identification between them arises from the fact that they both suffer from the corruption of power, but this would apply to anyone who handled the Ring. They do not have the same kind of close relationship that Covenant and Foul have from the time of TC’s first summoning. Frodo and Sam’s victory is one of perseverance, friendship and loyalty, and doesn’t particularly dwell on confronting personal demons, despite their internal struggles.
I see Tolkein’s world as one that is like our reality, only a different reality. Ditto most fantasy. Even in Zelazny’s Amber, the nature of Shadow is such that Corwin meet expressions of his psyche – but I don’t see his whole universe this way. It seems that Zelazny created a reality like our own but expanded out. The fact that an Amberite can find themselves in the infinitude of worlds expresses only the breadth of Zelazny’s milieu.
I’m afraid I don’t have a better definition of fantasy to propose – Orson Scott Card has said that SF and fantasy place setting above character, a notion that garners some credence but isn’t really defining either. Perhaps it’s simply literature that takes place under in a setting ontologically different from the reality we inhabit?
||Sorry, I'm not particularly interested in a discussion of the ideas in "Epic Fantasy in the Modern World." You see things differently than I do. Good: you probably should. Not being a polemicist--as I keep saying--my primary interest in "ideas" per se has to do with whether or not they shed any light (for me, since I'm the one typing this response). I don't really want to convince anyone that I'm "right," and I'm certainly not troubled if someone--you, for instance--believes that I'm "wrong" ("inaccurate" might be a better word). Remember, the ideas in this interview--like the ideas in "Epic Fantasy"--are essentially after-the-fact rationalizations. They only exist in response to the questions which elicited them. Without the questions, my "answers" (such as they are) might never have crossed my mind.
(For my part, I have no difficulty at all seeing Sauron as "an expression of Frodo"--or, if you prefer, as an expression of the idealized weltanschauung embodied by the Hobbits, and by Frodo as the most idealized Hobbit.)
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. But art of all kinds is always about character (about what it means to be human) in one form or another. I prefer to think that SF and fantasy use setting as a means to probe character. And sure, virtually every form of serious fiction does the same to some extent. (Look at Sir Walter Scott's best novels, or Joseph Conrad's, or Henry James', or William Faulkner's, or--well you get the idea.) The distinction, as I see it, is one of degree. (Of course, "Differences in degree become differences in kind.") SF and fantasy exaggerate this technique (using setting to probe character) in an attempt to shed light upon aspects of the human definition which might otherwise remain inaccessible. ("Dune" is an obvious example, as are C. J. Cherryh's best novels.)
Tony Powell: From the very beginning, some 23 years ago when I first began "Lord Foul's Bane," the way you "formalized" the tale jolted me into a literary snobbery so intense that even now I have yet to find anything to compare.
It was your dogged adherence to no contractions from the mouths of the inhabitants of the Land that struck me so. To this day, I pick up a fantasy novel and flip to some dialogue --- any dialogue. And as soon as I see the hero say "can't" or "won't" instead of "cannot" or "will not," the book goes back on the shelf.
You ruined me with this stunningly effective convention. I never read high fantasy with any heart again.
But, what ho? There is now hope? Four more books? I pray you have once again spurned the contractions, because I really would like to get into a good fantasy again.
||Well, if "no contractions" is your definition of Good Fantasy, then I think we can safely assume that you'll like "The Last Chronicles." <grin> But I suspect that you're having me on. Either that, or your tastes are unnecessarily self-restricting. "Formalization" is only one of many techniques that a writer might use to create valid and interesting fantasy. (Steven Erikson leaps to mind.) And it is equally available to writers whose only aspiration (or ability) is to produce mental junk-food.
Here's how I look at it: there are no bad techniques--or bad ideas--there are only bad writers. A good writer so inclined can spin gold out of damn near anything.
steve cook: I've been off-line for a while and i've just caught up by reading the last couple of months Q & A. Now i'm feeling a bit guilty...having read your views on people selling the ARC of 'Runes...' Can i justify myself by saying that i own practically everything you've written, read everything at least 2/3 times, and i only put in a bid for the ARC cos i'm so impatient! My buying this book will not impinge on your sales as i still intend to buy the hardbound book on day of release (can i say, without sounding like a stalker, that ideally i'd love to come to one of your book-signing appearences and have a copy signed). So to the question, should i retract my bid for the ARC?
what's a little negative feedback on ebay against 20 years of literary pleasure???
||Please do whatever seems good to you. I'm neither wise nor arrogant enough to tell other people how to make their own decisions.
Jeremy Haines: Thanks for answering all of these questions -- it's fascinating to read your responses. I'm a fan of most of your work, but I have to say that "A Dark And Hungry God Arises" is easily my favorite fiction book of all time. I'm surprised to see that the Gap books are so underappreciated around here!
My questions regard "The Man Who Fought Alone". Unlike the earlier Axbrewder books which kept you guessing all the way through, TMWFA seemed to give away the identity of the villain about 1/3 of the way through the book (though Brew didn't pick up on this until much later). Was this accidental or intentional? If it was intentional, what were your motivation and goals for giving it away early? If it was accidental, how do you feel about that in retrospect -- and have you ever considered altering that early scene between Brew and the villain for future editions of the book?
Thanks for your time. I'm looking forward to "The Runes Of The Earth"!
||I can't honestly say that I "telegraphed" the identity of the bad guy(s) in "The Man Who Fought Alone" deliberately. But I'm not surprised: I happen to think that I telegraphed the identities of the bad guys in all "The Man Who..." books. The sad fact is that I'm not particularly good at constructing puzzles. So instead I've simply tried to "play fair," both by giving the reader all of the information that Brew and Ginny have uncovered, and by telling the truth about what Brew understands when he understands it.
You're certainly not the first reader to "guess" (all right, deduce) the identity of the villain in "Fought Alone" early. (I know you aren't because my agent did the same, and he was the book's first reader. <grin>) But other readers have been just as "surprised" in that book as they were in Brew and Ginny's earlier adventures. And still other readers had no difficulty figuring out promptly whodunit in some or all of the previous books. What can I say? Certain pieces of information jump out at certain readers: other readers have a different experience. And I realized long ago that the only way to avoid telegraphing of one form or another is to "cheat" by withholding crucial information, by "hiding" whodunit by, say, never bringing the character on stage (vide the Perry Mason books), or by operating under the (obviously false) assumption that all characters are equally capable of committing all crimes (virtually all Agatha Christie books). So I stopped worrying about it, and concentrated instead on simply trying to write good books.
Brad M: I am currently suffering from a debilitating case of writer's block. (Also known as the Oh Da%$ Syndrome) I have tried nearly everything I can think of. (Writing odd short stories, reading my favorite authors, including you of course, even just visiualizing myself strangling the problem <grin>) Any ideas? I could use some help.
||At the core of writer's block, of course, lies fear. Usually fear of the challenge, fear of making a mistake, fear of disappointing yourself, fear of proving that you're actually a lousy writer. The form this usually takes, however, is an elevated sense of self-criticism. Stating it baldly, you can't put anything down on paper because you can't convince yourself that what's in your mind is good enough.
(If that's *not* your problem, you may not be suffering from true writer's block. You may have some other difficulty, such as what I call "life block"--where your daily life leaves you so drained and frazzled that you simply can't summon the energy and concentration for writing--or a form of emotional blockage, a condition in which other fears completely occlude your creative impulse. What "other fears"? you may ask. Well, just to pick one example from my own experience: fear of loneliness.)
Bruno Betelheim's important book on creativity (I can't remember the title) discussed this problem. He argued--and I agree--that any form of self-censorship is death to the imagination. The imagination simply can't function unless it is allowed to function in absolute freedom. For the imagination, there are no bad ideas, bad sentences, bad stories: there is only the process of generating ideas, sentences, stories. The whole point of "brain-storming" is to reject nothing, dismiss nothing, criticize nothing. Good ideas only emerge when all ideas are free to emerge. Saying it another way, you have to start putting words down on paper and just let one thing lead to the next WITHOUT WORRYING about ANYTHING except LETTING one thing lead to the next.
Personally, I handle this dilemma in four different ways (which is why I've never suffered from true writer's block). First, I go to work (I mean go into my office where I work) faithfully. No excuses, no delays: if it's a work day, I go to work. Second, every day when I go in to work I give myself permission to write *badly*. It DOES NOT MATTER if it's good: it only matters that I WRITE. Third, I often spend a fair amount of time writing ABOUT the problems that I'm having writing. And I don't mean, "Why can't I write?"--although you might find that useful. I mean, "Why am I having trouble with what I need to write *now*? What are my uncertainties about this particular story? What questions do I need to answer in order to go ahead?" In other words, I write about writing in order to ask myself concrete, specific questions about what I want to write, and then to attempt answering those questions. And fourth, I do virtually no rewriting of any kind (no self-criticism) until after I have the whole story or the whole book on paper. Self-criticism stops the flow of words, and my #1 priority is to keep the flow of words going.
Naturally, this approach produces a fair amount of gibberish. THAT'S OK! One of the great blessings of writing is that you can rewrite as much and as often as you want, until you're satisfied with what you've done. Just don't rewrite until after you're done being creative.
If, on the other hand, your problem is *not* true writer's block--well, you're still going to have to face your fears somehow. For that fundamental aspect of the human dilemma there is no cure except courage.
JP: I knew there was another question I meant to ask: it's about the need that Covenant's ring be given voluntarily in order to be usable (as Kaseryn explained). I understand this, and it's adhered to fairly consistently (i.e. Foul doesn't simply use his power to wrest the ring from Covenant, but rather tries to "persuade" him to turn it over, even in the First Chronicles; Troy was given it voluntarily, and Linden is able to "possess" him to use it). But then how was dead Elena able to wield it? It certainly wasn't given to her voluntarily...
||I'm afraid I can't answer your questions without more specific information. When was Covenant's ring given to Troy? (A page reference would be useful.) When did dead Elena wield Covenant's ring? I'm afraid I'm confused.
Fist: We've been debating ak-Haru Kenaustin Ardenol's origin. Any chance you're willing to help us out? I don't know if it would be a spoiler to do so. Some think the Guardian was not aHKA until Brinn "conceived" of him that way. Some think aHKA was not originally a Haruchai. Some (me :) think aHKA was always Haruchai, and took on the job as the Guardian after Berek met him somewhere or other, and explained how important the job was.
And, again, THANK YOU for meeting with us at our Elohimfest!!!
||More interesting, I think, is the question of how the Haruchai even know of Kenaustin Ardenol's existence. Nothing in the record (i.e. the first six "Covenant" books) suggests that the Haruchai were aware of the Lords in the Land prior to Kevin's time--and if they had ever had any dealings with, say, Berek, they certainly *would* have been aware of the Lords. So we can probably assume: a) Kenaustin Ardenol him/her/itself was not Haruchai; b) the Haruchai know of the existence of this being (which, by the way, is not the same as knowing of the existence of the Guardian of the One Tree) through some interaction outside the known history of the Land; and c) this interaction gave rise to the supreme Haruchai honorific "ak-Haru". More than that I can't say at the moment. The Earth is a whole lot bigger than the Land, and (like the Land) it's full of stories. I can't possibly tell them all.
Thank you for the contribution your works have made to me. I'm glad to find myself among such a multitude.
I noticed something some time back - Thomas Covenant belongs to no family. I'm not dismissing Joan and Roger here; their importance to Covenant is clear. Their absence from his life makes them a profound presence in the books. Likewise the friends, associates and acquaintances of Covenant's home town and career are present (if glancingly) in their absence - the 'By Hell!' severance of normal human contact and interaction that underpins Covenant's fury at his fate, and shoves his clay feet into stride.
Yet there is nothing (ever, unless my memory of the story fails me totally) of Covenant's life prior to his marriage. No person, no recollection, no souvenir - not an absence but a non-existence.
This could be just structure and logistics. You've stated clearly that the character of Covenant was born as a man for whom a fantasy world was utterly, almost unbearably desirable - and whose life required that he reject it. And there's no question that Covenant is busier than the one-legged man at the arse-kicking party throughout the narrative. Opportunities for nostalgia are few.
Is this it? Or is there a story behind this?
Footnote: I reread the opening chapters of Lord Foul's Bane before writing, to ensure I wasn't just dribbling shit, and was struck by the coincidence of your friendship with Colin Baker. Since my first reading of the books, the voice of Lord Foul that rings in my head (and I hope this won't offend) has been that of my favourite Doctor - Tom Baker.
||Broadly speaking, it's amazing how few characters in Donaldson stories--or in fiction generally--seem to have families. Still speaking broadly, families are such messy subjects that when they're introduced they tend to take over stories, regardless of what the original purpose of the story may have been.
But in Thomas Covenant's case, the absence of family (or other past connections) is deliberate. It's part of his profound isolation--an isolation which many people feel even when they're *with* their families and friends, but which always has to be *explained* when it's included in a story. I didn't give Covenant parents or siblings (or aunts and uncles, or etc., not to mention friends or colleagues or even an editor) because I didn't want any of us to be distracted from the central themes and development of his plight.
Variol son: I was reading White Gold Wielder again and I started asking a couple of questions about the Waynhim and the ur-Viles.
We know (from Hamako) that there are only two kinds of Demondim spawn; the ur-Viles who loathe what they are and seak the power and knowledge to become what they are not, and the Waynhim who seek to give meaning to what they are by providing service to what they are not.
So I started thinking. Surely not every ur-Vile hates itself? Surely not every Waynhim chooses the path of peace and service? Surely not every ur-Vile serves Lord Foul? This lead me to ask how ur-Viles and Waynhim are created to be so different from each other.
We also know (from Hamako again) that the ur-Viles continue their breeding programmes in the catacombs beneath Mount Thunder, and that some of their creations are ur-Viles, some Waynhim. But why would the ur-Viles create more Waynhim? Especially since the Waynhim aren't considered the pinacle of the Demondim spawn. It just seems like a waste of time. Also, if the difference between ur-Vile and Waynhim is genetic, thenwouldn't breeding programmes produce more strange hybrid creatures? Yet the only other Demondim spawn we see is Vain.
Perhaps, I thought, the ur-Viles simply produce a Demondim spawn, but have no control over which genetic variation they end up with. A kind of luck-of-the-draw thing.
Or perhaps, when each individual Demondim spawn is created, it looks at itself, realises that it "lacks the justification of birth", and then either loathes itself, or sees that despite the fact that it was made and not born it has the potential to give meaning to its existance through service, therefore deciding by its own choice whether it is ur-Vile or Waynhim.
So which one is it? :)
||In my opinion (just an opinion, as I keep saying), your last explanation comes closest to the truth. If these were SF novels, simple genetics would require more variation than the ur-viles and Waynhim reveal. But they are created by lore (magic), and such rules don't apply.
They *all* loathe their own forms, for the simple and sufficient reason that (drumroll, please) they were created out of self-loathing. (It even tends to work that way with human beings.) The difference (the magically significant fact) which causes some creations to be ur-viles and others to be Waynhim lies in their attitude toward what they are not: the ur-viles seek to appease their loathing by destroying what they lack, while the Waynhim seek to redeem their loathing by serving what they lack. And because we're talking about magic (which is at its heart a metaphor), this difference manifests physically as well as behaviorally.
From the perspective of the Demondim, therefore, the Waynhim represent "failed" attempts to create ur-viles. But seen from another perspective--that of the Land, for example--the ur-viles represent "failed" attempts to create Waynhim.
David: Mr. Donaldson,
Were you at Kent State during the fatal riot. If so, what are your recollections about that event?
||I usually try to avoid answering such questions because the memories disturb me.
The facts are simple enough. I was attending Kent State during the shootings as a graduate student taking evening classes while I worked in Akron City Hospital as a conscientious objector. I was not on campus during the actual shootings (which took place around noon) because I was at work ten miles away. However, my apartment was a block and a half from the campus, so I lived under martial law for three days after the shootings (virtually the entire study body and faculty--well over 20,000 people--were evacuated within four hours of the shootings, so they were spared that aspect of the experience, while I was spared the experience of being evacuated under threat of lethal force).
I have many recollections, all painful, some horrific. I'll only mention four. 1) Living under martial law meant that a helicopter shone its searchlight into the windows of my up-stairs apartment every 90 seconds for three nights in a row. 2) Within half an hour of the shootings, virtually everyone I worked with in the hospital believed that the National Guard had fired on the students because the students were urinating on the Guardsmen (quite a trick from a distance of nearly 50 yards). 3) Within four hours of the shootings, every gun shop in a 75 mile radius was completely sold out; and for the next week I never left my apartment without at least one of my neighbors aiming a firearm at me as long as I was in sight. 4) Three days after the shootings, a Kent citizen was quoted by the local newspaper as saying, "If my son had long hair, I'd want him shot too."
I'll spare you the other 20 or 30 things I'll never forget.
Will: Dear Mr Donaldson,
One thing that always intrigued me was the size and demographics of the Land. As far as I can remember (sorry, I don't have the books in front of me right now, so feel to correct me if I am way off), the Land was roughly 500 miles on a side. That's a large area no doubt, but would only constitute the size of an average country in the real world. As for the population, I don't think you ever gave an estimate, but it always seemed fairly sparse to me. In my mind, the Stowndowns and Woodhelvens numbered more in the dozens than the hundreds, and each contained maybe a couple thousand people at most? So what would the total population of the Land be, if you consider all the humanoids -- Stowndowners, Woodhelvinen, Giants, Haruchai/Bloodguard, Wayhnin? By my reckoning, there wouldn't really be more than a couple hundred thousand.
That always bothered me for two reasons. First, and this may sound silly, but I always liked to think the battle against Despite was a battle against world domination at the scale of the world I am most familiar with -- 21st century earth. But with such a small geographic size and a small population, the scale of Foul's threat and evil seem, somehow, trivialised. The other thing that bothers me is more a question of internal consistency. If, in the Illearth War, the Land was able to field an army under Hile Troy large enough to defeat Foul's army of a couple hundred thousand ur-viles and warped creatures (sorry, again cannot reference the exact number from the book), that would basically mean signing up *every single* able-bodied male *and* female in the Land. What are your thoughts on this?
||Such questions aren't answered in the "Covenant" books because I don't think in those terms. If you don't mind my saying so, they seem more appropriate to SF than to fantasy. But since you raised the issue of internal consistency, I'll make a few points.
1) The distance from Mithil Stonedown to Revelstone is given as 300 leagues (900 miles). For purposes of convenience, we'll call the Upper Land roughly square--although the Lower Land needs to be considered also. So we're talking about 810,000 square miles (not counting the Lower Land): a small country, if you choose to think so, but still substantial.
2) If you want to destroy the planet, you don't necessarily need to launch your attack from a large platform. One really good nuclear missle silo, and you're well on your way. And remember this: Lord Foul's wars against the people of the Land are simply a means to an end. His real goal is to manipulate Covenant into a Time-shattering blast of wild magic. For such a goal, it isn't the *scale* of the body-count that matters, it's the *quality*.
3) The Land appears sparsely populated because I can't afford the narrative space to spend several hundred pages simply "touring the set." Putting the issue as crudely as possible, when you've seen one Stonedown, you've seen them all. Ditto for a Woodhelven. So what would be the point of writing more of them into the story? I have--crudely again--more important things to do. Instead I trust my readers to assume that an Earthpowerful place which has been significantly healed since its most recent devastation both can and will support a healthy (if not particularly crowded) population.
4) Hile Troy's army did *not* defeat Lord Foul's. Indeed, much is made of the fact that he has no actual hope of defeating such forces. Without the intervention of Caerroil Wildwood, Troy's entire army would have been slaughtered.
Dan Brown: I was thrilled to find your website recently after having been an avid reader of the TC series for many years as well as the short story collections and Mordant's need. I even have the Gilden Fire volume (blame my SciFi Book Club addiction at the time!)I was introduced to "The Wounded Land" through my SFBC membership while in college and had to get the first trilogy at the local Waldenbooks after reading just one chapter so I could catch up with what was going on. I read all four over a very intense weekend. I've also thought your short stories are excellent and, to a point you've made before on how you write, I've always been emotionally engaged with them to where my wife makes fun of me when I sniffle during a particularly poignant passage. I just got "Reave the Just" in paperback a few months ago and had to read it one sitting as well. As a short story affectionado(sp?), I also agree with other posters that "The Killing Stroke" and "Penance" rank as among the best short stories I've ever read.
My questions touch on how you recently described stretching yourself as a writer. With many other authors going to the well to keep their series alive, and are commercially successful at it, does that evoke any feelings of jealosy at all? Tery Brooks, Katherine Kurtz, Allan Dean Foster, and Anne McCaffrey come to mind as authors who have developed these worlds that inspire a huge amount of reader loyalty that also started publishing about the same time as you did (who also have series that I read regularly). I believe Brooks, Foster, and McCaffrey were also at Ballantine in the late 70's in looking at my worn paperbacks. I'm partial to Ballantine since I bought a huge amount in college and still enjoy the authors from that time more than current ones. Did they take Lester's admonitions to heart more than you in building their "franchise"? Did Lester ever have all his promising writers together in one room for business sessions or just work with you all individually in getting you published? I can just see a late '70's authors softball game! Given your nature, it appears to me that you would place the consideration of the story above commerce. Do you have any regrets about the road travelled or, like Covenant, prefer to do something that appeals to your artistic sensibilities and money be damned?
Dan Brown(not to be confused with the best selling author!)
||I'll take this opportunity to try to be clear about one specific point. Discussions of other writers' work--where that discussion raises even the remotest possibility that something other than complete admiration might be expressed--are at best pointless and at worst actively hurtful. I've seen how this game is played: before the ink is even dry on my opinion (and its JUST AN OPINION) of writer X, someone has already contacted writer X to report, "Did you know that Donaldson says thus-and-so about you?" in the process usually taking thus-and-so entirely out of context; then writer X, feeling attacked--as who wouldn't?--replies, "Oh, yeah? well, Donaldson is a this-and-that"; writer X's response is immediately relayed to me, again out of context; and the next thing you know, we're back in grade school.
As it happens, I've met Terry Brooks, Katherine Kurtz, Alan Dean Foster, and Anne McCaffrey; I think they're all good people; and if I don't happen to read their books regularly, well, so what? They probably don't read mine regularly either. Who has time?
That said, I can inform you categorically--and none of them would dream of contradicting me--that Lester del Rey never got us all together for any reason. (He and Judy-Lynn did introduce me to Terry Brooks and, I believe, Alan Dean Foster. Anne and Katherine I think I met on my own.) He worked with each of us individually, and I'm sure he had his own individual methods for working with each of us. (Come to think of it, I'm not sure that Lester ever worked with Anne. She may have been Judy-Lynn's author.)
But do I have any regrets about what I've written? None at all. I don't write for money. I write for love: I *sell* what I've written for money. The distinction is important. As a matter of historical fact, readers have not consistently loved what I love. Consequently my career has followed a less successful trajectory than, say, Terry's or Anne's. And, being human, I naturally wish that my career had been more successful. On the other hand, I do NOT wish that Terry or Anne or Alan or Katherine had been any less successful. They work hard, and they deserve what they get. What more needs to be said?
Tom O'Toole: Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions. I suppose you realise that now you can never, ever, stop :)
In a previous answer you said that you had just finished Patrick O'Brian's "The Fortune of War".
Did you read the previous 5 books in the series, and do you think that you will be continuing with it?
||Yes, I started O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series at the beginning, and I'm sure I'll stick with it for the foreseeable future. Those books have given me a great deal of pleasure.
Elisabet Liljeblad: I have a question again.
When I was little, I read a lot of fairy-tales and fantasy-stories. Two that got stuck in my mind was Mio my Mio and The Neverending Story.
Even you have been a little boy and you were certainly affected by your surroundings, and maybe you, as I, read a story that got stuck in your brain.
Now, here's my question: Is there any author or any story that has influenced your life a bit?
I can say that The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has influenced me much.
Thank you for answering my previous questions!
My thanks to you!
||I answered your question more fully in my essay, "Books that Made a Difference," which you can download from this site. But the short answer is: at the time that I read them (middle school), C. S. Lewis' "Narnia" books seemed to transform my brain. No book that I read before high school had as profound an effect on me. (At the time, I was also transfixed by Jim Corbett's "Maneaters of Kumoan" series. But those books had nothing like the lasting effect of "Narnia".)