Barnes & Noble.com: For the benefit of those who've yet to discover The Riftwar Legacy, please set your new series up for us.
Raymond Feist: The Riftwar Legacy arose as a concept when I was first contacted about doing a computer game (which became Betrayal at Krondor). After the game was published, I began to believe the concept underlying the game was one that really needed to be told in a novel. There were story elements from the Riftwar that carried over to the game: What exactly did the Tsurani think about what went on at Sethanon? What were the moredhel up to now that Murmandamus had vanished? By the time RETURN TO KRONDOR was in production, I found myself considering this "story arc," to use a Hollywood term. Not only could I wrap up elements of the Riftwar (hence the "Legacy" part) but I could also set the stage for events that would foreshadow my next series, The Conclave of Shadows, which I'll start work on in early 2000. Besides, the stories featured some of my favorite characters and some interesting new ones, so it was irresistible.
bn.com: Since J.R.R. Tolkien is the "granddaddy" of modern fantasy fiction, how would you compare and contrast your Riftwar, Serpentwar, and Riftwar Legacy novels to his Lord of the Rings?
RF: Well, to start with, I wouldn't. I think that sort of comparison is often done, but Tolkien began with a pair of missions that are alien to me: to write a "myth for Britain" and to create a world predicated upon linguistic differences, a very "Whorfian Hypothesis" (linguist Richard, not "Star Trek" Klingon) approach. I set out to tell "ripping yarns." There are obviously common elements, and in part, that was deliberate. I even borrowed a couple of words from his lexicon (moredhel, eledhel, and so on) for my elves, to give them an almost familiar feel. That was due, in the main, to my desire to set up a very familiar environment in the first half of Magician before hitting the reader between the eyes with the very alien world of Kelewan. Tolkien wrote in a style very reminiscent of the 19th-century writers, which is not surprising given his age, background, and education. His stories are most enjoyed if you're thinking of them being read aloud by your favorite old uncle. My stories tend to be very modern and probably don't sound anywhere near as elegant if read aloud. Were I to pick a writer who I feel is far more akin to the role of "stylistic grandfather" to my generation of writers, it would be Fritz Leiber, not Tolkien.
bn.com: Have you always wanted to be a writer? What drew you to write fantasy fiction in the first place? Have you ever considered writing in other genres?
RF: I never wanted to be a writer as a kid. I hated English class and despised writing papers. I didn't realize I could write until I was in my late 20s, after returning to college. I then discovered that I could churn out "A" papers and skip the finals in a lot of classes. It made for a very relaxed finals week at the University of California, San Diego. I "dabbled" with story ideas until I started to write Magician, and that book took on a life of its own. It grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let me stop work for 14 months. After someone paid me money to publish it, I started to get the idea I might, indeed, be a writer.
As for other genres, I have written in them. Faerie Tale is a modern, dark fantasy or "light" horror novel. But as far as something farther afield, yes, I'd love to do a thriller, or a police procedural. I even might -- someday. I will do a science fiction novel or two before I'm done. I've got two ideas that have been stuck in my head for over ten years and I'm tired of them being in there. I've got to get them out and down on paper one of these days.
bn.com: What was the worst job you've ever had?
RF: The worst job I ever had was between my freshman and sophomore years in college. You know those souvenir slide packs they used to sell at Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo? You know -- long strips of ten slides for people who didn't bring their cameras? Well, I "loaded them," put them together. I'd get these stacks of film and have to slip them between the cardboard frame, then slip them through a hot sealing machine and get them out the other side. I got paid one cent a slide. If you really hustled, you could do 125 to 150 an hour. It was the most mind-numbing, stressful, boring job I've ever had. I lasted a little over a week.
bn.com: Your fantasy has developed an enormous following. How does it feel to have such a large and enthusiastic fan base? Does it add pressure or comfort, knowing there are so many people who are waiting for each new release?
RF: The size of my readership is a constant source of amazement to me. When I wrote Magician I still thought of my writing as "something on the side," while I continued my "real work" in the health-and-human services field. Little did I know.
As far as whether I find it to be pressure or comfort -- well, it's not really either. I grew up in the entertainment industry -- my father was a producer, director, and writer; he was best known as the producer of Peyton Place the year of his death. I know how fickle the reading public can be. But, as Stephen King observed, "writers have a long arc." That being so, it takes a while for the public to totally give up on you after you hit a certain level, so in that I'm very reassured (comforted) that I'll be doing this for a while longer. As far as pressure goes -- not really. If I start worrying about what my readers want, I'll probably start writing grim stuff. I write what I like to read, and that's always been the key. I just find it astonishing that so many other people like to read the same stuff, in so many different languages.
bn.com: Do you read other contemporary fantasy series? Or do you intentionally avoid reading other fantasy for fear that your writing will be influenced by what others are doing?
RF: I've read very little, actually, and that includes fantasy. Not that I don't enjoy reading, but I basically have very little time after the day is done (not to mention I'm blind after eight hours in front of the word processor). When I do have time to read, I usually stick to nonfiction -- history, books on wine. But I do squeeze in fiction here and there. For example, I'm reading Stephen King's Bag of Bones right now, which I started two weeks ago on a business trip; if I can get a couple of pages a night, I'm doing okay.
I don't care to read much fantasy, simply because it tends to fall too close to my own stuff. There are writers for whom I make exception, friends and colleagues whose work I enjoy too much to let pass, but I usually save those for those rare lulls when I'm not currently working on something.
bn.com: Even though fantasy fiction is loaded with magic, dragons, elves, demons, and other goodies, many characteristics are also grounded in reality, specifically medieval European history. What type of research do you do in preparation for each new novel?
RF: Well, the "history" is all gloss, actually. There is no recognizable model from Earth in my work as far as social structures go. There are things I've used as a basis. For example, the Kingdom of the Isles believes in the concept of the "Great Freedom," which was the central pillar of the Polish kingdom of the 13th to 15th century -- the idea of a shared responsibility and freedom among all, from royalty to peasant. But no Earth nation had nonhuman sentient races as neighbors, especially those few trying to obliterate them. So I use no "research" in the academic sense. But everything a writer reads "sticks," as it were. So my Eastern Kingdoms will look a bit like the Italian or German states of the 17th century.
bn.com: Do you have a favorite character to write? Or, do you love them all equally? I have to say, James is my favorite.
RF: Well, Jimmy/James is an easy character to write. I guess that's the key. Some characters are easier than others. Jimmy, Amos, Nakor, to cite three, all have unique and colorful "voices." In the sense they make it easy to write, I guess you could say those three (James, Amos, and Nakor), plus Roo, Jimmy, and Dash, and a few others. I'm discovering that William, Pug's son, who's a major character in Krondor: The Assassins, is turning out to be a lot more fun to work with than I had imagined he would be. With other characters -- even Pug at times -- I have to work at what they're going to say and do.
bn.com: How much involvement do you have with the production of the Krondor-based computer games? Can we expect more as the Riftwar Legacy continues?
RF: I had some input in Betrayal at Krondor, and more with Return to Krondor. Both production houses asked lots of questions. Irrespective of the games themselves, in terms of play, quests, and action. I felt both did a fine job of "feeling" like Midkemia. If we do a third game, I'll probably stick my oar in again.
bn.com: What do you think is the appeal of epic/high fantasy fiction? Have you heard much about the massive, live-action Lord of the Rings film that's slated for next year? If so, what do you think?
RF: I think fantasy has always been around. Look at The Epic of Gilgamesh. There are lots of gods and magic in that. I think for a while we became "too hip for the room," as the comics say. By that I mean science fiction (which is really a subcategory of fantasy -- fantasy about science) dominated, but over the history of humanity there's always been the fantastic to consider. Fairy tales and myths abound in every culture. The modern fantasy writer is merely plugging into that very human, very well-established appetite. I think fantasy is appealing because it strikes right to the core of a very human concern: how to function in a larger reality where many other "powers" impact and control your life. In real life, it's Congress, the IRS, international terrorism, the stock market, your employer, street violence -- but the risk of alienation is there every day. In fantasy, we see "little guys" overcoming huge adversaries on a regular basis. That's very appealing stuff for many of us. I think fantasy will always have a following, and the rise of major fantasy films reflects that appetite in the larger audience.
bn.com: When you aren't writing, what do you do to pass the time?
RF: I write a lot, so I don't have a lot of free time. I spend time with my kids, who are growing so fast I can't believe it. I drive them to school/camp every morning. I spend time online, especially with my mailing list, and on several football-related groups and boards (Go Chargers!). I live and die (mostly die, lately) with the San Diego Chargers and am a season ticket holder. I drink wine and have wine tastings on a regular basis with friends. And I travel for business (though when the kids are older, it'll be for pleasure). My favorite destinations are Australia and the British Isles. Sometimes I manage to steal a nap.
bn.com: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions, Mr. Feist. We're already looking forward to the third volume of the Riftwar Legacy.
RF: Well, just in case readers would like to know what's coming: After finishing Legacy, I'll be working with three other writers -- William R. Fortschen, Joel Rosenberg, and S. M. Stirling -- on a collaborative three-book series called Tales of the Riftwar. We'll write a "Tsurani-and-Kingdom-forces-facing-the-moredhel-together" novel (with Bill); a murder mystery during a blizzard in LaMut (with Joel); and a Jimmy the Hand novel (with Steve). They'll all be set during the Riftwar. And I'll be doing an atlas of Midkemia with my old friend Stephen Abrams. It's an atlas "written" by Macros the Black, that we're "translating." And I'll be starting the new series, Conclave of Shadows, early next year.
Thanks very much for the interest and enthusiasm.