An Interview with Raymond E. Feist for FantasyCon XXIII.
by John Bunting
Q. Have you always been interested in fantasy and what motivated you to write Magician, your first book
A. "Always" Not really. I was more an "boys adventure" reader as a kid (knights in shining armor, pirates, lost temples in the jungle, etc.), and didn't start getting into fantasy until 1966, while I was in college, when Lord of the Rings became wildly popular. Through that I discovered R. E. Howard, A. Merrit, and Fritz Lieber, who was a big influence on me.
As for what motivated me to write Magician, that's a long story. The short version is I was "dabbling" at telling that story when I lost my job. Having lots of time to fill, the book got finished relatively quickly and against any expectation it sold. The rest, they say, is history. As for why the subject matter, that's another long story, but the short version is that fantasy was the only choice if I wanted "daring-do, swashbuckler stuff." "Boys adventure" as a category no longer existed in publishing.
Q. Did the title for Magician, come before you wrote the book, or after
A. After. Originally the book was called Riftwar, but that sounded too "science fiction-ish," so I cast around and discarded a dozen titles. Then the "keep it simple, stupid," logic presented itself, and that's when I decided on Magician.
Q. Did you originally plan to write the Riftwar Saga as a trilogy, or did it grow from your success with Magician
A. I had it planned as a 2 book deal, actually, with both books being divided into two "sub-books." The second book would be A Darkness at Sethanon. Doubleday short-circuited that by asking me to split it into two volumes, so the overall narrative turned out larger than my original plan. If you are curious as to what's different, imagine Arutha & Company finding the Silverthorn then getting chased north into the arms of the Armengarians and Black Guy rather than returning south. Lots of extra material now that wouldn't have been in a single novel. As for planning, though, I didn't write Magician so that it screamed "sequal" because I didn't know if I'd ever sell another book. The fact they wanted more came as a pleasant surprise.
Q. Since writing Magician in 1982, have you been surprised at how popular it and its successors have become, I understand you are now published in over a dozen languages around the world
A. Yes, it's been something amazing, from where I sit. We figure that we're pushing 2 million copies of Magician world-wide now, perhaps more (lag time in royalties reporting is the big problem in knowing where we are; we know where we were a year ago, and that was just a bit under two million). More than a dozen languages, by the way, I think fifteen now, including English.
A. Actually two different questions. I had the idea for the "other side of the Riftwar" a couple of years before I met Janny, and it was more than a year after I met her before I suggested we collaborate. I wanted to do this story of "Lady Mara," who I knew very little about, except she had this horrible responsibility dumped on her at a very tender age. I asked Janny to work on it with me because when I would talk to her about the story, she'd come up with so many good suggestions I realized that if I wrote it alone, I'd probably not get it "right." So I pestered her for almost a year before she said yes.
Q. Are there any plans to write any further stories in Kelewan, where the Empire Series is based
A. No. Kelewan is a "literary" world, i.e. whatever you see in the books is all there is. Midkemia, on the other hand, is a virtual world, with a dozen creators along the way, and many unplumbed resources. I could write another fifteen novels on Midkemia and not scratch the surface.
Q. Was there any special reason for your departure from the world of Midkemia, to write your dark fantasy 'Faerie Tale'
A. A change of pace, mostly, and this odd notion I had that was the underpinning of the book that I couldn't shake. If an idea won't go away for five years, it's probably worth doing.
Q. Do you have any plans for other Dark Fantasy books Or would you like to try something else, away from the world of Midkemia
A. Yes, to both. I have some more dark fantasy ideas, a haunted rock & roll band, a demon setting up a Corporation, a place where urban myths come true, etc. Some of them actually may get turned into novels. And I want to do a couple of science fiction novels, at least one of which is a time-travel story.
Q. With the Serpent War, you wrote another great saga, in the world of Midkemia. How were you able to create such a rich landscape of places, people and action
A. Thanks, but if I'm to be honest, if the places are right, it's familiarity with the places and ten years of writing experience under my belt. The action stemmed from the people, and the people were interesting because I was interested in them. I wanted Roo, Erik, and Calis to be very different from Pug and Tomas, so right there, I was off on a different footing. And they weren't "connected" or "powers," so we were dealing with young men in a different context.
Roo was especially fun to write, because he was so terribly flawed as a human being, and despite his finally "getting it," his foibles along the way made him far more interesting than many other characters I could have chosen.
A. The "why" was because I liked the story John and Neal came up with. And I wanted it as part of the "cannon." The Betrayal was central to why interaction between the Kingdom and the Empire of Tsuranuanni was always limited after the Riftwar. And it was fun to do a story about those older characters. I'm finding the new one, Krondor: The Assassins, equally diverting. It's an original novel, and bridges between Betrayal, and Krondor: Tear of the Gods, the story based on the game "Return to Krondor." It's also fascinating to retro-fit some history and create a foundation for things I've done in the Serpentwar, already, and things I'm going to do in my next series, The Conclave of Shadows.
Q. With so many books in the Fantasy Genre, why do you think that your formula has been so successful
A. I don't know. I think if there's a single reason, it's because I give the readers someone to care about. Too many writers fall in love with their ideas, or vision, or how clever their structures are, yet they forget that that's all "landscapes" without people in them. The only writers I've ever seen who could slight characters because their ideas were so darn fascinating were Arthur C. Clark and James Mitchner. Having no vanity to think of myself in those gentlemen's class, I figure I'd better work on characters. So, the formula, if there is one, is to take someone interesting and toss him/her/it into a terrible set of circumstances.
Q. You consider yourself a storyteller, and evidently, you convey a story well. If you had been born in the Middle Ages do you think you would have been a Bard, travelling the world, reciting your stories
A. Probably not. I'm pretty change adverse by nature, so I probably would have been someone's lackey, tending the critters in the barn, or out in the field breaking my back for some landlord.
Q. What do you do for enjoyment in your spare time
A. I love wine, movies, and football; all of which comes after my wife and kids, so my family has a wine cellar, large disc collection, and season tickets to the San Diego Chargers. After that it's "what's spare time"
Q. What plans do you have for the future
A. More work. More stories. More fun, and games.
This reproduction of the interview is copyright 1999 by John Bunting.
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