Pouring the Pain: A Conversation with R. A. Salvatore
The hardest-working author in fantasy, R. A. Salvatore, spins his magic once again, delivering another adventure in his extraordinarily popular Forgotten Realms series, Servant of the Shard. Even though fan favorite Drizzt doesn't show his face in this installment, it still delivers an unforgettably wild, page-turning experience. Scroll down to read our exclusive interview with legendary fantasist R. A. Salvatore. Author and Barnes & Noble.com reviewer Tom Piccirilli asked him about his uncanny ability to keep his complex, simultaneously running series straight, the joys and pains that Star Wars has spelled for his career, and the difficult personal circumstances that made Mortalis one of Salvatore's most deeply felt and affecting works ever. Enjoy!
Barnes & Noble.com: You seem to have "settled into" the DemonWars world of Corona. Do you feel most comfortable here, creating and exploring this particular universe of yours?
R. A. Salvatore: DemonWars, Corona, feels like home to me now. It's the fantasy world I've always wanted to write, growing as I go into this remarkable place that holds excitement and surprises for me at every turn. I don't think I'll ever do another Tolkien-esque fantasy world -- I don't think there's any reason for me to do so. I've got everything I ever wanted to put in a fantasy world right there in DemonWars.
B&N.com: Mortalis has a great deal of poignancy and sorrow in it, probably more so than any of your other emotion-charged novels.
RS: I wrote Mortalis during the worst time of my life. I was watching my best friend, my brother, dying of pancreatic cancer. It was a long process, a terrible process, and yet one in which we two came to new understandings between us and with this existence. As a writer, I've learned, sometimes painfully, that with everything I write, I give a little bit of myself away. With Mortalis, there are times when I honestly wonder if I gave too much. However, despite saying that, I know that there's no other way I could have done the book. I remember watching one of those wonderful VH1 Behind the Music shows featuring Fleetwood Mac, when Stevie Nicks was describing the production of the Rumours album (when the band members were going through difficult times) as "pouring the pain onto the vinyl." I feel exactly the same way about Mortalis. I poured the pain, the anger, and, ultimately, the hope, right onto the page. If I write for another 50 years, there will never be another Mortalis.
B&N.com: You're such an incredibly prolific writer, with several different series going all the time. Considering that character development seems paramount to you, how do manage to keep so many casts separate and three-dimensional?
RS: I have no idea! These guys have all just become so real to me that I can hear their voices as they talk, and I know instinctively when someone is out of sync, so to speak. I usually only have two series going at once (and then get a Star Wars book, or something like that, thrown in the mix!). Right now, it's DemonWars and Dark Elf -- I'm doing one of each every year. This isn't really a hard combination to me. As I said, DemonWars is like my home, a huge and wonderful place that I'm exploring more and more with each new novel. Dark Elf, on the other hand, feels like family. So I get to live at home (Corona) and visit my family (Drizzt and his friends) once a year. Not a bad arrangement, really.
B&N.com: Your novels often have different "tones." Some are old-school barbarian adventure, and others are much more introspective. Do you start off knowing what sort of tone you'll set for each book?
RS: It's been a learning process, honestly. I used to just sit down and let the story take me where I wanted to go. I still do, to some extent. But now that I've settled into a comfortable writing routine with the two worlds, DemonWars and Forgotten Realms, I can separate the two kinds of books I like to write, rollicking and introspective, more definitely along worldly lines. I think that many of my Drizzt readers have a different expectation when they pick up a Drizzt book. They want something out of it, a certain feel, a certain tone, that might be very different from, say, a Mortalis. That line, however, is not a definite barrier. When the Dark Elf story calls for something a little different, as in The Spine of the World, I'm going to follow that call, and reader expectations be damned. I have to be true to this little voice inside my head, after all.
B&N.com: How has your tenure writing the Star Wars novel Vector Prime and your upcoming novelization of Star Wars: Episode II been for you?
RS: Star Wars has been good and bad. What an honor to be selected for the Episode II novelization! What a thrill to get to meet George Lucas, if that does happen! And honestly, working with the New Jedi Order editors has been fantastic. I have tremendous respect for the folks editing the books out at Lucasfilm. What a pleasant surprise they have been to me. And of course, in doing New Jedi Order, and with Episode II, I get to work with Shelly Shapiro of DelRey, and she's as good as it gets.
On the downside, I knew that entering as mature a series as Star Wars would not be without pratfalls, and when they told me what I had to accomplish in Vector Prime -- the death of a major character from the movies -- I nearly sent them back their money. The people of the Star Wars audience, in many instances, have already set in their minds what should or should not happen in their galaxy far, far away, and any author who deviates from that scenario is likely to take a bit of a beating. I get the same thing with my Dark Elf books, since that series is so far along, with readers having certain events they desperately want to happen, then getting mad at me if things go a different way. "Drizzt should be with Catti-brie!" and likewise, "Don't you dare put Catti-brie with Drizzt!" and "Wulfgar must be brought back!" and "Leave him dead and gone!"
It gets frustrating at times, but I try to have fun with it.
B&N.com: In your new Forgotten Realms novel, Servant of the Shard, the Dark Elf finds himself the slave of an even greater evil and must seek help from the virtuous Cadderly. How much of a conscious effort do you make to put a completely new spin on your novels and give the reader something totally unexpected?
RS: Oh, I always try to surprise readers, and Servant of the Shard is no exception. Far from it! And I'm always looking for new roads down which my characters can travel. That's the key to character growth, after all, and character growth is the key to any successful series. A caution here: One should always be careful when assuming anything from cover copy, because that's usually written before a book goes to print. You never know what might happen, or what major characters will die...
B&N.com: What new books can we expect to see hit the shelves over the next year?
RS: Well, let's see...Mortalis is out and so is Bastion of Darkness, the conclusion of the series that began with my first book, Echoes of the Fourth Magic, and one of my favorites, The Witch's Daughter. Now we've got Servant of the Shard, telling the story of Entreri and Jarlaxle. Next June begins the second DemonWar Trilogy (The Demon Awakens, The Demon Spirit, and The Demon Apostle comprised the first, with Mortalis being the bridge to the two trilogies) with the release of Ascendance. Then comes Sea of Swords, when at long last we get back to the adventures of Drizzt and the core group, the Companions of the Hall. That should be out around October of next year, I believe -- I'm about halfway done writing it. After that, in May of 2002 (I think), comes the Episode II novelization, and then it's back to DemonWars.
I've been busy. Blame it on private school.
B&N.com: Thank you, R. A. Salvatore.
RS: Thank you.