The OF Blog: Steven Erikson Q&A

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Steven Erikson Q&A

Gardens of the Moon

It is mentioned in GotM that Pale was under siege for 2 to 3 years. Some on this board have questioned several things most notably that there did not seem to be any case of starvation or disease which would be normal in such a siege. How did the people of Pale get their food and other supplies? (I think we are wondering how the people of Pale managed to stand up to the might of the Malazans for such a period).

The city of Pale was being supplied via Moon's Spawn for a time. Also, it's cadre of mages were formidable, providing other avenues of resupply.

Mr. Erikson,

After Laseen killed Kellanved and Dancer, she led or tolerated some purges in which nobles were killed.

Why wasn't the House Paran affected by these purges since they are nobles and live in Unta?
I considered that the noble purges happened especially in important cities like Unta.
Or were mainly nobles in the army killed, and not e.g. wine merchants like the Parans, because the Captain in chapter one of GotM says to Lorn, if he would be a noble he wouldn't be alive?

I only read book one and two until now, maybe it was already explained then I missed it and apologize!

In any case, thanks for your answers!

The purges were indiscriminate. Many nobles died, others escaped or bought their way out. If there was an ulterior motive, it may have related to the military corruption specifically.

Deadhouse Gates

Mr. Erikson, while writing about Felisin's downfall in the otataral mines, have you been inspired by the numerous accounts of Soviet Gulag survivors? Reading her passages, I had an impression as if I were re-reading Another World by Herling-Grudzinski, which IMHO is a beter book than the acclaimed Gulag Archipelago by Solzenitsyn. It also reminded me of memories of Nazi concentration camps survivors.

Have you ever read any of such books/stories? Your desciption was pretty realistic, I must say.

Thank you very much for visiting us and (hopefully) answering my questions.

I've read The Gulag Archipelago (in its entirety, if you can believe that!) As well as a number of other similarly themed works (including fiction; odd, how a short book like Cancer Ward of A Day In The Life.... could convey the same message with the same impact as ten thousand pages of nonfiction). But all that years and years ago. Influence? No doubt, but not consciously so. I think the message is, it pays to read. Things stick.

Seven cities: more steppe-ish or desert-ish?

A mix of the two. Wherever a civilisation has existed long enough, there will be a degradation from fertile plains to desert, and this was certainly the case for the Holy Desert. Steppes and worn down mountain ranges surround the Holy Desert. In other places, the distinction is mostly one of elevation, although over-farming and deforestation took their toll.

Did Quick Ben know the Crow people well enough to predict that Coltaine would pass it on to Duiker,prefering to be reborn in the traditional way of his people and thus having no need for it himself? Or was that an accident of history?

Purely an accident of history. Quick Ben's desire was to see Coltaine use the amulet. Even had he known or understood about the Wickan mythos, what value in waiting twenty years for the pay off? The Empire needed able commanders, and needed them right away!

At Coltaine's first council in ch.2, pg.79, he asks Duiker about the Seven Cities High Fist:"Tell me of Pormqual. You have met him?"
Duiker says:"I have."

But in ch.21, pg.851, when Duiker arrives in Aren, he recognizes Rel but then we read:"The man besides him was probably High Fist Pormqual..."

If Duiker met Pormqual, he should recognize the High Fist without doubts; especially if Duiker was at the Aren court some time as the talk between him and Rel (ch.1, pg.49) indicates.

Did Duiker lie at the council, did he completely forget Pormqual's appearance or is it just a mistake in the book?

Mistake. mea culpa.

Memories of Ice

Hello, Mr. Erikson.

First of all, thanks once again for taking the time to visit our site and answer some questions. It is much appreciated, as well as refreshing to see such dedication to the fans from an author.

I am wondering: when you wrote the first three books, did you have the connections in mind already, or did you add them as you wrote? For example, in GotM there are chapter-heading quotes from Felisin, who is of course a main character in the second book (though I didn't notice the connection until I glanced through GotM at a later point). Another example would be the accidental (?) drawing of Fener into the world by Heboric in DG, which affects the Grey Swords directly in MoI. And of course there is Nightchill, her past, her curse, etc., and how the third book is tied directly to the first book in this aspect. Was this all planned from the beginning, or did you come across the connections, smile, and make it fit? I am curious, since my own writing is a combination of the two, with surprisingly more of the latter.

It's a tough call, but the details you cited were set up. At the same time, without doubt others just up and wave frantically during the actual writing. In some cases, I would swear it's all in there somewhere, and as a writer the struggle comes in accepting how simple and obvious everything really is, when, dammit, it's supposed to be hard. Plot is cause and effect, line em up and watch em fall, and the pattern can branch every which way. The key is to take those ones riding out and away and gradually curl them back until everything meets nice and tidy at the end. Across the ten book series, within each novel, within each section, each chapter, each scene. I write in loops, starting with the small ones, which together make up bigger ones, and closing each loop is a matter of echoing whatever opened the scene/chapter/section etc. That's my actual writing. I plan in the opposite direction. Insane, ain't it?

Two questions on Kallor:

What is he? As in race and source of sorcerous ability.

How was he able to destroy his Kingdom? Does he have that much power, or did he access something/someone else's power.

Kallor's origin and the source of his power is never specified, because it is something that has to wait for the appropriate moment.

House of Chains

Both Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice were swimming in human circulatory fluid - mmm, Tenescowri, mmm

Before HoC was released, I had come to the conclusion that to out-bloody MoI could lead to your parodying that book, if you were not careful.

Whilst the ending of HoC was very bloody, we didn't experience it in anywhere like the same fashion. Was this just the way it came out, or were you aware that you really had to try a less bloody approach?

If so, will you maintain the DG/HoC style of reporting mass blood-letting, return to MoI style or try something else entirely?

Interesting question. Yes, House of Chains was to have a messy battle, but always off-stage, because you're right, it's too easy to fall into the trap of needing to outgun what went previously. The real story of House of Chains was a personal one, between Tavore and Sha'ik. It seemed imperative, incumbent in fact, that the closing conflict would reduce to the two of them, alone on the field.

As to future tales. All right, here goes. For each book, there's a movie in my head, or, rather, a short clip. A scene, an effect, an atmosphere, and that scene appears first, before anything else. Anything. It takes shape and demands that it be the dominant moment of the novel. Not necessarily the most dramatic or bloody or violent. Often not, in fact. That scene has certain requirements before I give it the stamp of approval. The entire story has to exist in it, via some form of resonating symbol. It has to manifest, in a single image, the heart of the theme. Most of the time, that scene is what I am writing towards, meaning it shows up near the end. The only exception was Gardens. Quiz time. Find it.

In Memories of Ice, the rise of Moon's Spawn near the end was the image that arrived first and foremost. So, the known and the unknown, the past rearing massive and deadly into the present, power unveiled and in its unveiling destroying itself, and so on. In Deadhouse Gates, there was an arrow.... In House of Chains, the two sisters. Granted, there are other big scenes, and some fought with the principle ones for dominance. Writing these things is a melee of the fiercest order....

Future novels have their own scenes, the only one not in very sketchy mode is the one I'm working towards now, in Midnight Tides. As for messy battles, battles are messy. There are times to show it and times not to, and I do my best to get it right. If I can stay mindful, it'll never be gratuitous. Fingers crossed.

Heboric was attacked and wounded by three of Korbolo's Talon. Who saved him and dealt severely with the Talon?

I thought Cotillion and either Lostara Yil or Apsalar, as the male uses "lass" when talking to his colleague, but then why would Cotillion's shoes smell of the grave?


I don't have the scene at hand, but if I put something in like shoes smelling of the grave, then it's likely the temporarily active dead Bridgeburners.

One little bit struck me as I'm re-reading HoC now: The apparent attacks on the Theloman by the T'lan Imass and Icarium's intervention. Will we be seeing more and more of Icarium's forgotten past, like we have in the first four novels, in upcoming books like MT?

Icarium and Mappo will certainly feature in subsequent books. But not in Midnight Tides.

That vision Heboric has - is this directly related to the rift that brought the Crippled God into the world, or something else?

I would like to give you an answer, but then I'd be giving too much away. Honest. As it stands, though, it certainly seems that way, don't it?

Blood Follows

After reading this novella last month, I was struck by how similar the basic religious beliefs seemed to be to those of the Malazan-controlled regions (same pantheon, comments about how people "worship" Hood, etc.). Will we see in the future novellas more divergence in religious practices (e.g. will there be a god/goddess that these people hold as a Patron)?

Also, will the future novellas help explain more how Mancy and the necromancers arrived outside Capustan in MoI?

Theft is not very far from the Malazan Empire, backwater though it may be, and there no real isolation apart from inertia between the various cultures and belief systems. Other parts of the world, however, have very different systems....

How did Mancy and co. end up on Genabackis? They show up in the damndest places, usually at the damndest times. There will be additional novellas forthcoming....

General Questions

Hello Mr Erikson,

I was wondering as to your approach to writing. Do (or did) you develop the ideas for the plot first and then fill in the characters or are you more character based with those coming first? Or was it a combination of both?

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

I've touched on some of the process I undertake in writing in a previous question, so apologies if this sounds like I'm rehashing old stuff. Most of the impact I am looking for in any given scene is intended to come from characterisation. Plot provides the structure and the mechanics in which personal revelation, epiphony, conflict or meaning is found -- in which the human condition is given a context. Which drives which is sometimes a little unclear, which I hope kind of reflects the real world. Individual scenes can weigh in on either the character side or the plot side, depending on the effect desired. There's times to ruminate, then there's times to let fly (I would have said 'let er rip' but you're a Brit and that means something else to you, don't it?).

Anyway, as I go on I find it harder to separate the two elements of fiction. Some overall plot arcs took shape early on, but so did some characters. While on a page by page basis, some characters are invented on the fly, as are some plot-lines. Gotta keep myself entertained.

So tell me, you missing a good bacon battie as much as I am?


Who is your favourite character? Is that the same as your favourite to write about?

From the interview you did for us (thanks) I imagine it would be someone along the lines of Kruppe or Iskaral Pust?

Generally, my favourite character is found in the work I'm presently writing. If that wasn't the case, I'd be in trouble. I certainly enjoyed Kruppe and Iskaral Pust, but their games make specific demands on the writing; whereas, someone like Mincer, or Cuttle, or the Mott Irregulars, or Lady Envy, they're a bit more relaxing. I am sometimes overfond of understatement, and I enjoy inarticulate characters if only for the mystery of their presumably murky thoughts. It's hardly un-noticeable, but I like working with pairs, usually opposites in some way, but perfect for each other in others. Like Lostara and Pearl. Is that proving a problem or will it become one? I have no idea but I hope not.

Hello, Mr. Erikson.

Though I see your books as firstly entertainment, is there perhaps a hidden meaning or message you are trying to convey through your books, or would you rather leave it up to the reader to interpret the meaning, if any? Thanks.

If by hidden meaning or message you mean theme, then yes, there are themes driving the novels. The great advantage to writing fantasy over other genres is that you can (and I'm sure I've said this before, somewhere) you can make the figurative literal. You can animate symbols and watch them clash (that's a pun, and yes, it's bad). Anyway, while I am interested in and so aware of themes, I also try not to think of them too much. Subtext should be just that: beneath the text.

At the same time, regardless of my intentions, readers will take what they take from a story. Which is why it needs to work on all levels, beginning with flat-out entertainment. It's an erroneous but common belief among 'serious' fiction writers that big themes can stand in stead for entertainment. It can't. Never could. And then they complain when no one reads their stuff.... yeesh.

1) Will we get to visit the Assail continent in a future book?

2) Approximately how many pages will "Midnight Tides" be?

3) You've stated that "The Bonehunters" will focus on Tavore's army, and "Toll the Hounds" will be a return to Darujhistan. "The Crippled God" is pretty self-explanatory. The only books we know nothing about so far are "Reaper's Gale" and "Dust of Dreams". Any teeny-tiny hints you can give us? Does the Queen of Dreams feature prominently in "Dust of Dreams"? Is the Reaper a new character, or someone we've seen before?

Keep up the fantastic work! Your books are amazing.

How many pages? Hard to say. The usual. Hints, eh? Very difficult to do, as much as I might like to. Midnight Tides is the middle book in the series. It's a mountain range full of peaks, and much of what will follow in subsequent books derives from this particular story. Not to say I've forgotten all that came before. Everything's headed in the same direction. No lie.

Anyway. Nobody named Reaper. Queen of Dreams is a name that has no direct bearing with Dust of Dreams, the title. Not to say she's ever very far away....

I made a post down the mb about this, but think I should ask the author:

1. how do explosives work in the world?

2. are Moranth the only people with knowledge on making explosives?

3. what are the different types of explosives, and what are their, um, "special purpose". (cussers=landmines, etc.)

As far as anyone knows thus far, the Moranth have a monopoly on alchemical munitions. Here and there in the first four books there's been a few details on their nature, and their names which are somewhat self-explanatory: cusser (the big one, the one nobody should ever throw), sharpers (shrapnel grenados), burners (incendiary), smokers (smoke), and sharpers (shaped charge). Generally, exposure to air ignites the contents of each munition. The fun lies in devising means of piercing the clay shell (or spike, in the case of a sharper). Throwing's simple, but slow-fuse stuff is a bit hit and miss.

Special purpose? Well, the Moranth liked dropping them from high overhead. Later variations were created via the demands of the Malazan sappers (ie the sharpers). Originally, before the dominance of the Silver caste among the Moranth, the munitions existed to counter sorcery, or, rather, to kill sorcerors. Now, since the Silver are mages, the munitions are strictly export items only, and it seems supply is drying up....

Many of your charatcers throw out intriguing/philisophical thoughts. Do you always agree with these thoughts, or do you just throw them out and let the readers think on them?...or is just what you think the character would be thinking in a certain situation (Duiker's thoughts turn rather cynical while on Chain of Dogs)?

That's what happens when you abandon certainty. The flaw of trying to see things from every possible angle turns out to be useful as a writer of fiction (while irritating people with strong convictions no end, sigh), and I suppose there's a cheery optimism to seeing the bright side that sadly often evades my self-awareness.

Opinions and perspective are malleable things, irrevocably contextual. I try my best to walk in the character's boots/moccasins/three-toed feet, and so narrow my vision until I see things from their eyes.

At the same time, who am I kidding? Everybody has views, after all, and a writer without some strong (possibly twisted) sense of injustice is a writer with little to say. But I'm suspicious of black and white views, on anything, and it's no secret that that suspicion shows up in my fiction as a kind of ambivalence. Gardens portrayed the Malazan Empire as the bad guys. Deadhouse had them the good guys. Which one's right? They both are.

As for a character's philosophy or world view, I try to keep it distinct and internally consistent, while recognising that people change their minds all the time. Even so, Duiker's growing cynicism was certainly a product of the ordeal he was suffering on the march. While Felisin's inability to recognise people who cared was a direct result of the betrayal that sent her to the mines and her experiences once there.

So, keep an eye out in case various characters start seeing the world in unison -- give me a shout of warning, because that's the last thing I'd want.

Hello Mr. Erikson,

Is Cotillion called "The Rope" simple because a rope is a common tool for an Assassin, does the name refer to his use of a garotte, or to something else?

His weapon of choice is a rope. See him at work and play in House of Chains.

Many powerful, high-ranking people (both Adjuncts, Paran) are young...why is this?

Also, what is the average lifespan of a Malazan (or does being a mage, touched-by-a-mage increase longevity?)

Never really thought about those three. All soldiers, though. Paran reached rank of captain, but that was during a serious dearth in combat capable officers, following the purges. Tavore's initial acumen was political in nature, a matter of positioning herself. Lorn was slightly older, and in the prime of her martial skills.

Mages can slow down their ageing. Alchemies are available. Some people are too stubborn to get old.

Can we expect to see the other members of this select band of the Emperor's Old Guard in more than vignettes, as you progress through the books? The Crusts for example. Assuming of course that the Captain of the Ragstopper and the Keeper are Cartheron and Urko Crust.

Aw you guessed. Bigger appearances? Maybe.

In GotM, the Sorry/Apsalar thread deals with one stratagem by Shadow to get even with Surly/Laseen. The overall impression I got was revenge on Laseen for what she had done to Kellanved and Dancer.

In DG, Shadow is still lending support for the Bridgeburner's revenge on Laseen.

In MoI, the revenge issue is really muted.

In HoC, there appears to be almost common cause between Shadow and Laseen as part of a much wider strategy against the Crippled God and what he/she/it represents.

Is this change in emphasis:

1. Simply another example of your delightful way of forcing us to change judgement as you offer additional information?

2. Along the way, Shadow realised that there were bigger issues to deal with, and the manner of their realisation will be made clear to us in later books?

3. You changed your mind after GotM?

A twisted mind never changes. really. Shadowthrone, don't forget, isn't entirely rational. Or he doesn't appear to be. Not yet, anyway. See my comments regards ambivalence.

Mr. Erikson,

Some characters in the books have "normal" names like Dujek, Ganoes or Crokus and some have names with a meaning, e.g. Sorry, Topper or Surly.

In the first talk between Topper and Paran, Topper mentions "chosen names" which are not very formal names. Topper seems to be his chosen name, but Paran doesn't want to tell him his chosen name since "Paran will do".

This indicates that chosen names are something like a common custom in your world. Everyone can choose a name which fit their personality and describe it a bit.

Is this right, and has every character, who has a name with a meaning, also a real name? Or am I wrong, and chosen names are just the first names, some with a meaning, some not?

Some people end up with chosen names, others keep their originals. There were trends.... Also, I'm a huge fan of Dickens.

I'm only on Memories of Ice, but is there something special about Pearl as a name ?

In Garden of the Moon, there's Imperial Demon named Pearl.

In Deadhouse Gates, there is a Claw named Pearl.

In Memories of Ice, there is a mage named Bluepearl.

Is Pearl the Malazan equivalent of John or do you just REALLY like the name ?

The Claw named Pearl and Pearl in House of Chains is the same man. As for the demon, I wanted a name that would strike contrary to its physical appearance,and Pearl seemed to fit. Wait till you meet Garnet.

This is just my idle curiosity peeking through - hope you don't mind.

In general, what time of day do you prefer for writing? Also, do you write your first drafts directly onto a computer/laptop, or do you write by hand to begin with?

One more thing: I've noticed that your writing style includes many more one-line paragraphs than most writing I've encountered. I'm wondering if editors mind this at all, since my own writing tends toward the same (if not quite to such an extent as yours).

As always, thanks again.

I used to write from about ten in the evening till two or three in the morning. Having a kid changed all that. Now I write from about noon to five or so, composing on a laptop (except Blood Follows, which I wrote by hand). Session begins with a read-through and edit of the previous day's work.

Someone told me once about someone else saying that someone who writes at night writes from their heart and gut; whilst someone who writes in the morning writes from their head (presumably their brain, too). Is it true? No idea. I write with my hands.

Single line paragraphs? My editor's never commented on it. It sounds crass, but it's important to pay attention to how text looks on a page. Big blocks tire the eye and slow the reader's pace (and maybe the writer's too). I tend to shorten my sentences and paragraphs when writing action sequences, or when doing internal monologue, with the latter usually as a closer.

Just one more question, Mr. Erikson.

I think I have read in another interview with you that your world has a system of meritocracy which doesn't distinguish between men and women. Though I like this, how does this impact the birth rate in your world? A women takes nine months (I assume it is the same in your world) to have a child, yet men can have make dozens and dozens in that time. And so I would expect the thousands and thousands of women as well as men dying throughout the Malazan Empire to have a very negative impact on the birth rate. Is this the case, and if so, to what extent?

Thanks in advance.

It evens out. While there are women in the military, it's not in such numbers as to seriously affect birth rates. Armies generally comprise a very small portion of a total population. Everyone else is getting on getting on and whatever.

The Malazan Encyclopedia: is it possible to give a few hints as to what might be put in? just a few?

Well, we're thinking more maps. Lots more maps, in a variety of scales and various degrees of reliability. Full character descriptions to date. A timeline. A list of sources of quotations. Illustrations.

I have a dim recollection that the Paran siblings were supposed to provide a common thread in the series. Is this still the case? If it is, you have been a bit careless in losing one of the three, or does Felisin Younger replace Felisin?

BTW, if I have not said it before, thank you for creating the series. I won't gush, as I have recently finished re-reading the four, and am now in severe withdrawal.

They remain a thread. Which in my mind at least does not necessitate their presence in every novel, nor even that they stay alive.

First of all, I don't know whether you have already answered these questions at, but I haven't had much time to read them lately. If you have, please say so and I will go there and read your replies.

1st problem:

Jaghut Wars. In GotM Tool says he fought in all 28 jaghut Wars, whereas the prologue to MoI implies there were 33 of them. Could you tell us if that difference is intentional or it's an editing mistake? Personally, I loved someone's suggestion that Imass are counting backward, with the number indicating the remaining Jhags living

2nd problem:

Dragnipur. It may be just a matter of interpretetion or simple semantics, but at the end of book 4 of GotM, K'Rul tells Kruppe that at the time it was forged, nobody could oppose it, but it had been a long time ago, even before his time. In the prologue to MoI, however, Draconus says he is almost done with Dragnipur and that dialogue is in fact the beginning of K'Rul's end. Is this also a bug?

As always, thank you for your time Mr. Erikson.

Gardens will haunt me to the end of my days....

In GotM Tattersail is said to be 219 years old, Is this do to her being a sorcerous? If yes are all people who deal with warrens expected to live longer? If no then could you please explain why she is so old?

Most mages live longer than your average Pearl.

What is the current status of Midnight Tides? How many pages have you written so far? Is it still on target for a December release? Any idea of what will be on the cover?

Any news on the U.S. publishing front? Why are American publishers so short-sighted and brainless to pass up on publishing your fantastic books?

I think I'm on schedule. About five hudnred pages done and counting.

I believe a deal's been done for the US, with a reissuing of the books starting in 2004.

Thank you for writing an enjoyable story, and thank you for taking the time to actually answer the questions people have. Please keep writing as high quality as up to this point.

Oh, and a question, do you enjoy the praise?

It's the nature of the beast that every criticism stays in the head longer than praise (mine, at least). But I try to stay mindful. I am delighted to have found people who enjoy the fantasy fiction I enjoy, and I'll do my best to keep delivering.

I've heard many people give plenty of reasons to read your series. As I have yet to purchase the books, what would be the one reason you'd give as to why I should buy and read your series.

BTW, I think it's great that you're taking the time to do this. It truly shows you care about your fan base. That in and of itself does set you a bit apart from most.

Ack! I have no idea. It depends on the kind of fantasy fiction you like, and I don't know what kind that is.

But here:

Damsels and princes and ogres and farmboys and kidnapped or abandoned royalty and mystified reincarnated wizards and god-chosen heroes and elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, and evil and good and white and black and helpful sidekicks.

Forget it.

I just want to say I LOVE your books. I volunteer at my local public library, and I got them to order all of the four books of the Malazan Series. Now they're the only books in my state that have them.

Dang it! When will they be available on the American market?

As mentioned earlier, 2004, I think.

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