Monday, 9 August 2010

Ed Greenwood - Author Interview

From the Wizards of the Coast page for Elminster Must Die.

When the goddess of magic was murdered, Elminster’s world shattered. Once the most powerful wizard in the world, immortal, beloved of the goddess of magic, and the bane of villainy, he is now a tired old man. He is powerful but mortal, and with all the enemies a man who makes a habit of saving the world tends to accumulate.

To make matters worse, Elminster has needs—feeding powerful magic items to the Simbul, his lover, is the only thing that keeps her sane—but their increasingly risky collection leads his enemies right to him.

Questions and Answers with Ed Greenwood.

What is the easiest/hardest thing about writing in a shared world?

The hardest thing about writing in a shared world is getting everything just right. Not forgetting someone’s aunt’s name, or that a particular baron was actually killed off in someone else’s book two years ago, or that Prince Roragryn’s underwear is always red. Not just the facts, but the tone. Your angry old Au

nt Wrothindra should look, act, and sound like angry old Aunt Wrothindra as handled by all the other writers who’ve written scenes with her, in a dozen other books. She shouldn’t change to make your plot work more easily, and in fact any changes are wrenching if sudden (and usually disliked by the fans) or must be slow and very carefully accounted for; a shared world is like a huge ocean liner: turning her is a slow process involving a lot of pushing, and hopefully some very careful piloting, for very good reasons.

Aunt Wrothindra and all the other established facts about the world can be straitjackets, hemming in storytelling and forcing it in particular directions.

Conversely, that’s also the easiest thing about writing in a shared world: there’s so much established detail that a writer/designer doesn’t have to invent on the spot, and fans/readers “know” and understand characters and places and the implications of events or threats or possibilities without the author having to always stop and announce them. A story can gain a lot of importance, weight, and excitement because readers already understand what hangs in the balance, and are looking ahead. “The King is FINALLY going to fall in love with Aunt Wrothindra? I KNEW it! Oooh, this’ll be good!”

With regards to the previous question, how is writing on your own different? Which do you prefer?

Writing outside the Realms, Middle-Earth, Amber, and the other shared settings I’ve written in (yes, I’ve published writings set in all three of those) gives me more freedom to tell tales; I can tailor characters and settings to more clearly set forth a short story, for example. At the same time, I have to do what the vast majority of writers have to do: explain EVERYTHING I put into the story, because I can’t depend on the reader knowing anything about this new place that I’m setting before them for the first time.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

When I was young, fit, and hungry for adventure, maybe. Now, not so much. My characters tend to dwell in dangerous medieval-era fantasy settings where the monsters and villains are many, medicine is poor, and . . . hey, wait, magic WORKS.

And I’ve always wanted to be the best swordsman in several kingdoms, have beautiful princesses swoon before my manly handsomeness, and reduce sneering barons to cringing, groveling apologists. However, I suspect “making that so” in writing is a lot easier than actually DOING it.

Well, maybe if I was the head cook in the royal castle of a rich and powerful kingdom, threatened by no rival and with no shortage of food coming in. A warm safe bed, lots of minions to do all the real work, all the food and drink I wanted . . .

No. It’s tempting, but I like being me. Even without the minions.

How do you discipline yourself to write?

I hurry to get bills paid and other “things that MUST be done soon” done, and firmly squash myself from procrastinating (I can’t write Book X until I find that baseball short story I read once, and I know it’s somewhere in THAT stack of books, and I really should put them all in order and tidy them up while I’m looking for the baseball story, and hey look, another week went past somehow, and I still haven’t started Book X).

I don’t force myself to write a certain number of words a day, or even to write every day, because real life happens. To us all. Weddings, funerals, dirty laundry, and grocery shopping. But I do TRY to sit down and write something every day, and follow two tricks: it’s always easier to edit or rewrite something you’ve already written than it is to start putting something on a blank page, and it’s always easier to sit down again to write and get back into the writing if you left something unfinished last time, instead of neatly ending a chapter or a book or a short story.

When you finish something, save it, back it up, print it out, dance with joy, AND THEN START RIGHT IN on the next project, even if it’s just opening a computer file, typing in a working title, and then hammering out a few sentences of vague nonsense. It’s a beginning, and it gives you something to go back to, fix, and move on from.

In another sense, I don’t have to discipline myself to write, because I’m ALWAYS writing. At least in my head (and yes, I keep a notepad and pencil in my pocket to jot down ideas that my mind spews up into my face when it’s ready to). Why not a PDA? Or magicthingummyphone? Or laptop? Because pencils and paper never run out of battery power or start to roam, never die when they get dropped or wet, and never distract me from just getting the idea down.

Any advice for hopeful writers?

Sure. Read, read, read, and write, write, write.

No, I’m not being flippant. I mean just that: read voraciously, in fields you want to write in and genres you don’t think you’ll ever want to go near. See how writers handle death scenes, revelations, starting a story, weaving plots and subplots together, and pacing. (Just to name a few things . . .) Don’t copy what they do, but see what works and what doesn’t. What authorial “voices” do you like reading the most? Can you pull off that voice, or that one? And so on.

Which leads me to the writing. A fortunate few get to be bestselling “authors” because they slept with the right president, happened to be standing beside someone famous when something important (and usually dreadful) happened, and so on. The rest of us actually have to write the books, and writing is like everything else: some of it is inspiration and luck of timing or location, but most of it is craft and work, hard work. Those last two things improve with practice, practice, practice, so put your behind on some sort of seat, your fingers on a keyboard attached to something, and write. A lot. Often. Taking breaks to breathe and exercise and see enough of the real world to have something to write about (your hero is going to leap on a horse and gallop away, vividly and excitingly described by you? Great, so have you ever gone near a horse?). Keep at it, don’t get discouraged (everyone does, but don’t let it get to you; don’t stop). Maybe you’re not cut out to be a writer, but you’ll never know if you never get around to actually writing AND FINISHING a book and getting it to publishers. I’m living proof that it can be done. I started out as one of the most shy people in the world, and 130-some books later, I’m . . . not (very) shy anymore.

Be sure to check out the rest of Ed Greenwood's Blog Tour:

Tuesday, August 10

Wednesday, August 11

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