Chatting with Fantasy Author R.A. SALVATORE
In 2006 I had the great fortune of interviewing author R.A. Salvatore, as a fantasy fan it was a dream to interview one of the big names in the field of writing fantasy stories. And now, 5 years later I am writing some myself... I present here for your enjoyment, an interview from 5 years ago...
How did you move from role playing great characters to writing them?
This is a common misconception. I didn’t.
Sure, I began playing D&D just before I started writing but mostly it was a creative outlet for me. DM’ing a game was writing for me at that time. Drizzt, Wulfgar, Bruenor, Cattie-brie and Regis didn’t start out as game characters; in fact, I’ve never played them once in any game. Well I tried playing Drizzt once (and this was back before there were many dark elves as PC’s). My DM killed him horribly in the first encounter and everyone around the table told me to play a real character!
The only novel character who started ina game was Oliver Deburrows, the highway halfling from the Crimson Shadow trilogy. Oliver is a combination of Inego Montoya from “The Princess Bride” and the little French guy on the wall in “Monty Python’s Holy Grail”. I wanted to see if I could make him annoying enough. After a few weeks he died horribly (a common theme) and at that moment I knew he had to go into the book, because everyone stood up and cheered.
Do you still play? If so what do you play?
I still play D&D (1st edition, mostly, sometimes 2nd or 3rd) on Sunday nights, with pretty much the same gang who have together for more than a decade. Now, though, my two sons join in every once in a while, when they manage to get home from college. Also, once a week, several friends and I get together online for Everquest, or World of Warcraft.
You have a BS in Communications and BA in English, how do the both of them intermingle in your writing success?
The most important part of the BS in Communications was that that particular program allowed me to take literature class for all my electives, and even a few for the majors course of study. The most important thing for a beginning writer to do is read. You don’t how to tell a story by having some frustrated-writer creative writing professor tell you. You learn by reading those who did it best.
It’s funny, but of my college courses, the ones that helped me the most in my career, other than the literature course are the math classes. I keep a spreadsheet of al my books, tracking trends and sales, and of course, keeping track of the publishers and their payment schedules.
What fantasy authors did you read prior to entering the field? Who do you read now?
Tolkien, of course. Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson still rank among my favorites, and all for very different reasons. I love Lieber's characterizations, and the pace of his many Fafhred and Mouser novellas. Donaldson was the first to show me the wider boundaries of fantasy, as in the story of Thomas...
CRYSTAL SHARD was among the few books I have collected and widely shared with other fantasy fans. I wonder at what point did you realize the tremendous success you had with the books and what it felt like to know that.
Have I? Seriously, none of this has ever sunken in, and given my thick head, it never will. (I hope). I’m just telling stories, and thankfully, some people seem to be garnering enjoyment from them. That’s all I can hope for. I’m having fun, doing what I love to do, and, they pay me for it. Hard to complain, so I won’t.
I’m still surprised whenever someone shares a personal story about one of my books. I’m still thrilled every time that someone was turned on to reading through one of my books. I’m still stunned and giggle like a little kid when I see my books in other languages. It’s like watching it all happen as if it I was a reporter covering my own career. I don’t know how else to explain it.
In the cast of the series of Icewind Dale you manage to, rather quickly, create a sense of camaraderie and even love and friendship. How much of that came via knowing the characters through role playing, and how much was original creation?
Well, see above. It really had nothing to do with role-playing, unless, perhaps, my love of gaming clued me into the feelings of connectedness that makes a shared adventure thrilling. At one of those many conversations writer and editors share we sit down and try to unravel the truth of the world, (usually in a bar about the time the staff starts washing dishes and opening the broom closet), my editor commented that she thought the driving factor in the success of the Drizzt books was I had created a party of characters with whom the readers wanted to upon an adventure. People read Drizzt and the gang because they wanted to be part of that gang. They wanted to be in the Icingdeath’s lair with Drizzt and Wulfgar, or stand on the line besides Bruenor Battlehammer against the swarm of charging barbarians.
There’s probably some truth in that theory. I know that I wanted to go along with the nine to destroy the One Ring at Mount Doom in Mordor. I know that pulling a job in Lankhmar beside the Mouser ranks high on my list of things “to do”.
Creating this type of a group comes as naturally to me as putting together a softball team for the local league. I’ve always surrounded myself with people I know I can count upon, and, who know they can count on me. When I am writing, these characters become as real as living friends. These are characters I interact with whenever I join them on an adventure. I know, I’m crazy, but don’t tell the authorities to lock me away until I’ve paid for college for my three kids okay?
Drizzt is becoming a literary charter, worthy of entering the greater pantheon of Conan and the like. If there is one quality about him you think is vital to his popularity is it his morality in the face of evil, the appeal as that of an outsider, or his sword skills? Which specifically would you choose if you could pick just one?
People ask me if I’m Drizzt. No, I’m not. Drizzt is who I wish I had the courage to be. We live in a world where too many people think that the hero is the guy with the biggest sword, but in truth, the hero is the hero is the guy with the biggest heart. The hero is the guy who sticks to the path of his moral compass when easier roads present themselves to the side. The hero is the guy who always looks at the world in terms of common good, and community, and loyalty. Drizzt is a hero in the classic sense, before we got hijacked by villains disguised as heroes, who wield the biggest guns and kill with abandon. That’s not being a hero. Being a hero is living a life with purpose, and leaving the world around you a little bit better than when you discovered it.