R.A. Salvatore Interview
Project Fanboy recently spoke with acclaimed creator best known for The DemonWars Saga, his Forgotten Realms novels and the controversial Star Wars: The New Jedi Order novel Vector Prime. on his past, present an future works.
Ashton Gage: What have been two life altering experiences that have changed the way you write?
Salvatore: I'd have to go back to Christmas of 1977, my freshman year of college. I had lost my love of reading and writing by that point - I was a math major. That Christmas, however, my sister gave me a very special set of books by JRR Tolkien. The following February, New England got buried by the worst blizzard of the 20th century. I was stuck at home for week, it seemed....but I wasn't, because a hobbit named Bilbo took me on a very special journey.
The second? Writing Mortalis, the fourth book of DemonWars. I was going through the most difficult time of my life in 1998 and 1999, watching my best friend and brother, Gary, withering away with cancer. As chance would have it, Gary passed away around the same time Vector Prime, the Star Wars book in which I was tasked with killing Chewbacca, came out. Watching the fans grieve for a fictional character while I was grieving for my brother was a surreal experience, to say the least. So with the cathartic aspect of writing Mortalis, which I consider the best thing I've ever written, and then watching the reactions of Star Wars fans, so similar to my own, truly reinforced to me the power of writing and of words.
Ashton Gage:Are there any characters from your stories that you modeled after your family or close friends?
Salvatore: Not really. I always say that Drizzt is who I wish I had the courage to be. Almost all of my characters are composites of people I know, or characters I've read about or watched in movies. Cadderly is probably the closest modeling of all, base don a dear friend of mine who moved to Alaska. Brilliant guy - too smart for his own good most of the time.
Ashton Gage: How did you land the deal for your first book?
Salvatore: In early 1987, after finishing yet another rewrite for Echoes of the Fourth Magic, my first attempt at a novel, I sent it to several publishers including TSR. At that time, TSR was known (in novels) mostly for the incredibly successful Dragonlance line. I didn't know that they were creating a new world, The Forgotten Realms. They were also looking for an author to do the second book in the line. Doug Niles was doing the first, but he couldn't get the sequel done in time for it to be the second. My manuscript landed there at exactly the right time. I couldn't adapt my original work to the Realms, but the editor liked what she saw and asked me to audition. So I did, and won that second spot. I got the phone call in July of 1987. "Good news and bad news," the editor told me. The good news was that I had won the spot. The bad news was that I had three months to write The Crystal Shard. I had a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old at home and my wife was seven months pregnant. I was working full-time an hour from home, so I was gone ten hours a day. But when you get that chance, you make the most of it or die trying. Fortunately, I didn't die.
Ashton Gage: Are your kids or wife, fans of your work?
Salvatore: My sons have been reading my books for many years. I've employed them as copy-editors, as consistency editors and just generally to go back and find me the entries I need from the previous books. They are so in tune with what I've tried to accomplish and how I've gone about it that I jumped at the chance to co-write a new young adult Drizzt book with Geno. Now I'm trying to convince Bryan to write a tie-in series, as well, but he's so busy with his game designer job at 38 Studios that it's a hard sell.
My wife reads the books, as well, but mostly the DemonWars novels. She's the driving force behind me continuing with the Highwayman character. As for my daughter, she considers me the king of the geeks, a mantle I wear proudly.
Ashton Gage: What has the biggest road block in writing been for you?
Salvatore: It's a tough road with no guarantee of success. It's hard to stay at your craft year after year when the family responsibilities begin piling up. From 1982 to 1987, I spent hundreds of my free hours working on a novel. That wasn't paying the bills and my family was growing, so it was a fairly exhausting journey. I always tell beginning writers, "If you can quit, then quit. If you can't quit, you're a writer." I mean that. If you're a writer, you have to write. It's not a choice. If you don't write, you won't be happy. At the same time, those hours and hours are brutal for someone who hasn't yet published, because you simply do not know if your work will ever pay off.
Ashton Gage: Any real life experiences you've adapted into one of your comics?
Salvatore: No, the closest I've ever come to something like that would be with my Spearwielder's Tales trilogy. Gary Leger was living my life, in my old neighborhood. He was kidnapped by a leprechaun in the same way that Tolkien's hobbit kidnapped me (only literally for Gary). But that was me, playing softball and working in the plastics' factory.
Ashton Gage: Who out of all of the characters you've created over the years is your favorite, and why?
Salvatore: It has to be Drizzt. I've been able to say so much through him; writing his essays has often allowed me to clarify my own thoughts on some issue. For humor, my favorite is Oliver deBurrows from the Crimson Shadow books. My favorite villains are Entreri from the Drizzt books and Marcalo De'Unnero from DemonWars. And there are so many others I've come to love over the years. Pony and Bruenor, the Bouldershoulder brothers, Jarlaxle....it's like listing your friends. Still, it has to be Drizzt. We've been together for so many years. I even put DRKELF on the license plate of my new car - it was a long time in coming. I guess my daughter is right about me being a geek.
Ashton Gage: Is there anyone in the comic book industry you view as a true friend, or mentor?
Salvatore: I've made quite a few friends in the comic book industry. Ron Marrs, Josh Blaylock, Andrew Dabb and Tim Seeley, to name a few, and I'm sure I could name many more. One guy who's been like a mentor is Jim Lowder, an old friend from TSR. Jim knows the comic industry inside out and has been generous with his knowledge in educating me.
Ashton Gage: As a kid did you read comic books, and if so which were your favorite?
Salvatore: My favorite was and remains Charlie Brown. I've loved Charles Schultz's work since kindergarten! And the older I get, the more I realize how true Charlie Brown rings. I was also a Fantastic Four fan and had quite an eclectic collection, with everything from Archie to Spiderman to Superman to Charlie Brown. That said, other than Peanuts, I wasn't what you might call an expert on comics, and it wasn't until I got involved on the other end that I came to realize the brilliance and the depth of storytelling that's going on out there.
Ashton Gage: Where did the inspiration for Drizzt Do'urdan come from?
Salvatore: I have no idea. I came up with Drizzt off the top of my head, under pressure from my editor (we were on a very short deadline). I had never played a dark elf in D&D and had never thought to use one in a book. So I blurted it out, convinced Mary Kirchoff, my editor, to let it go through and started writing The Crystal Shard. The first chapter I worked on had Drizzt running across the tundra an getting ambushed by yetis. By about the third page, a strange thing happened. I knew. I knew that the book wasn't about Wulfgar, as I had planned, but was about this guy, this rogue dark elf. He literally stole the show.
Ashton Gage: Have you ever had a dream that heavily influenced one of your current published stories, and if so what was the dream like?
Salvatore: No - and that answer surprises me. I daydream all the time; often when I'm driving somewhere, I'm surprised when I arrive, because throughout he journey, I wasn't there, but was in a world of my own imagination. I remember mentioning this in an interview a long time ago, and for a while there, my daughter wouldn't ride with me!
Ashton Gage: Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons, and if so what was your favorite character?
Salvatore: I've been playing fairly regularly since 1981. I can't wait to try 4th Edition, which looks wonderful at first glance. I generally play monks; for some reason, I love the class.
Ashton Gage: Are you planning on expanding the Forgotten Realms comic book series further then your novels?
Salvatore: As of right now, we're just adapting the novels. If we were to go further, I'd have to get a lot more involved in the writing, obviously. We've talked about it, but mostly it's a scheduling problem. Between my novels for WotC, including the new ones I'm co-writing with Geno, my DemonWar/Highwayman novels with Tor and my work with 38 Studios, I'm quite busy.
Ashton Gage: Are there any projects coming up in the future for you, that you can hint at?
Salvatore:I think I've covered them in the previous questions. More Drizzt, more DemonWars, new young-adult Drizzt books (which I think the older Drizzt readers will love, by the way) and that gigantic video game with 38 Studios.
Ashton Gage: For new aspiring writers like myself do you have any personal advice that you would like to give in helping them get their foot in the door?
Salvatore: Perseverance is required. This is a tough business. Many writers are vying for every spot on every schedule. I think if I were starting out as a genre writer, particularly fantasy, I'd take a look at the tie-in series that are out there. I'd find one based on a property I love, then research the books fully and come up with a story that would fit and add to the line. I'd go for a lesser-known series - you won't get a Star Wars novel or a Star Trek or Forgotten Realms novel, likely, but you might find a place with a lesser-known series. Other than that, if you can quit, then quit. If you can't quit, you're a writer!
its a nice conversation...