The OF Blog: 2003

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Warren Ellis Interview

Since Keith's a lazy bastard who claims to have "no time to edit and post" this, I agreed to do with with great weariness and trepidation. Well, actually, I volunteered to post this because while it's short, it definitely is...interesting, to say the least. But first, a info bit that Keith wrote in his post about the parameters of this interview:

Okay, for all those websites that have been bugging me for
interviews all year, it's the end of the year and I feel like
tying off its bloody stump today, so here's the deal:

I'll answer a four-question interview for any website so long as
it reaches me within 12 hours of my sending this email. It's
about 11am GMT right now. The other condition is that I
won't answer any questions about late books (for the simple
reason that I'd be answering the same two or three questions
a dozen times or more) and will throw out the entirety of
any submission that includes such (for the simple reason
that stark stupidity should not be rewarded).

Send your filthy questions to me here at [ADDRESS].
And for God's sake, try to make them interesting or funny,
rather than the same bloody questions I always seem to have
to field...

-- W

With that in mind, here are the questions and answers:

In a message dated 12/29/03 10:32:55 PM GMT Standard Time, writes:

1) A lot of our readers are new to the graphic novel medium, or seeking a way to introduce friends to comics - what would you say are the Essentials? What works (both of yours, and of others), are simply the best (overall, and as introductions)?

Please: just go to I consult to
the site and it's been designed to serve that very purpose,
so that I don't have to answer this question ever day of
my life.

2) This next one is kinda traditional - You have 5 pet monkeys. What do you call them?

"Get," "Away," "From," "Me," and "Shiteyes."

3) Seeing as the email that you put out calling for interviews asked for questions you'd have fun answering - what is the single question you most wish you had been asked, and how would you have answered it?

Q: "Would you like to stop now, Warren?"

A: "Oh dear God yes."

4) What's your take on the growing number of webcomics - both those aping the traditional daily strip, and the rapidly rising set that seem to ape the conventions of larger comic book style story arcs?

Well, for every Justine Shaw and Patrick Farley, there seem to be about twenty people who don't have the faintest idea what they're doing. Which is about the same ratio as in print comics, really. I'm happy for there to be an absolute explosion in webcomics. The more there are, the more good work the ratio will allow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

David Wolverton Interview


David Farland (pseudonym of David Wolverton) was born in Oregon in 1957, and currently lives in Utah with his wife and five children. He has worked in a number of occupations: as a prison guard, missionary, business manager, technical writer, and pie maker. Currently, he is writing novels full-time. Since becomeing an author he has won numerous awards, been published over 38 books and been translated into as many as 17 languages, hit the New York Times Bestseller list half a dozen times under two different names, and worked on dozens of major multimedia tie-in projects which included such intellectual properties as Star Wars, The Mummy, Xena, and StarCraft. Currently he is continuing to work on writing his series The Runelords, as well as adapting the novel to movie format. In addition to this, Wolverton is working on "The Young Olympians" storyline, which will be used for an upcoming videogame, comic book, and young adult novel series. Several movie and television companies are currently vying for the rights to turn the story into a television series and a feature movie.

He loves the outdoors and counts fishing and camping among his favorite activities. He likes animals, and recently began raising purebred Irish Setters. In the next few years, he plans to start his own kennel.

For more detailed information on David Wolverton, check out his own biography found at

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The books:


The Runelords

  • The Sum of All Men

  • Brotherhood of the Wolf

  • Wizardborn

  • The Lair of Bones

  • Serpent Catch

  • Serpent Catch

  • Path of the Hero

  • Golden Queen

  • The Golden Queen

  • Beyond the Gate

  • Lords of the Seventh Swarm

  • Mummy Chronicles

  • The Mummy Chronicles

  • Revenge of the Scorpion King

  • Heart of the Pharoah

  • The Curse of the Nile

  • Flight of the Phoenix


    Star Wars

  • The Courtship of Princess Leia

  • Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice

  • The Rising Force

  • The Hidden Past (with Jude Watson)


  • On My Way to Paradise

  • A Very Strange Trip


  • L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future

  • L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume X

  • L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XI

  • L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XIV


  • Peter S Beagle's Immortal Unicorn

  • Tales of the Bounty Hunters

  • Peter S Beagle's Immortal Unicorn 2

  • War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches

  • Christmas Forever

  • David Copperfield's Tales of the Impossible

  • Tales from Jabba's Palace

  • Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina

  • Return to Avalon

  • Year's Best SF 2


  • My Favorite Christmas

  • A Free Quarren in the Palace: Tessek's Tale

  • In the Teeth of Glory

  • The Sand Tender: The Hammerhead's Tale

  • The Stone Mother's Curse

  • We Blazed

  • After a Lean Winter (Nebula nominee)

  • Payback: The Tale of Dengar

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    Synopsis – Runelords: The Sum of All Men (The Runelords, Book One)

    The very Earth is in pain. Its wounds must be healed. There must arise a new king: the Earth King must be reborn. Only then will humanity have a chance to survive.

    Young Prince Gabon Val Orden of Mystarria is traveling in disguise on a journey to ask for the hand of the lovely Princess Iome of Sylvarresta when he and his warrior bodyguard spot a pair of assassins who have set their sights on the princess's father. The pair races to warn the king of the impending danger and realizes that more than the royal family is at risk--the very fate of the Earth is in jeopardy.

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    First of all, let me say that we at Other Fantasy welcome you and greatly appreciate that you are taking time out of an extremely busy schedule for us. You are an author who we are all greatly interested in hearing from - thank you for giving us this opportunity!

    You're more than welcome.

    1. First of all, could you share with us the basics of you and writing? How much do you write on the average day? Do you set yourself a target that you set out to achieve for the day, or the week, or even the year?

    I don't write every day. That would be too exhausting. I like to give my stories time to grow. By that I mean that I spend months thinking about characters, possible conflicts, new plot lines, and so on. I use some ideas, and throw many others away. I set high goals for myself. Before I write a novel, I very consciously say to myself: I want every scene to be vitally important, and to do three or more things. I want to my reader to become immersed in each scene, to smell the air, feel the chill, visualize the landscape, become lost. I want my characters to feel more alive than the reader's closest friends. I may set as many as a hundred specific goals for a novel. Often times, I may refer to some other work as an example of what I'd like to accomplish. For instance, I may say, "I want this battle to be more engaging than Tolkien's battle for Helm's Deep."

    When I'm ready, I begin to write quickly. I work long days--twelve to sixteen hours, and I need to have time to concentrate, so that dozens of plot lines, images, and themes can be interlaced.

    Nothing is sacred. My openings are especially tough to come by, and I may throw away the opening hundred pages a dozen times, rewriting, consolidating the things that I like, discarding the rest. I try to write at least twenty pages per day. I usually meet that goal pretty easily with six hours of work. The middle of a novel speeds up for me, and the endings come very fast. I've written as much as 80 pages in a single day, and kept them all.

    Beyond that, I like to think about long-term projects. I have some ideas that have been fermenting for years.

    2. When publishing, a commonly accepted fact is that good editing leads to good results. How much of your writing do you personally edit out after completion, in general? How much and what sort of things does your editor usually edit out?

    I edit out anything that I don't think works. I'd say that on an average book the opening hundred pages have been thrown out six times. The middles have been worked through three or four times, and the endings have been rewritten once or twice. Once I've done that, it goes to my editor. I've had books that go through with almost no changes, and I've had some that have required me to rewrite as much as 1/3 of the book.

    3. This must be a cliché and obligatory question by now, but: which authors have had the largest influence on your writing when you were starting your career?

    Reading is a feast. Some stories are roast beef, heavy and satisfying. Others are tarts, light and sweet. I like a lot of authors for many different reasons. My favorites in fantasy and science fiction include Shakespeare, Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Borges, Gabriel Garcia Maquez, and Lucius Shepard. But there are hundreds of other authors that I've learned from, and many are not in the genre.

    4. Do you keep up with what other authors in the genre you are putting out, or do you tend to read material from outside of the genre on your own time? Are there any authors that you are particularly fond of at the moment?

    To tell the truth, I try to keep up, but in the past year I've been a bit overwhelmed by some family issues, and haven't been reading.

    5. Many of our readers are aspiring fantasy / Sci-Fi writers. What tips would you give them for submitting a work that's more likely to be accepted?

    Gauge yourself against the best in the business. Look at what you're writing, and ask yourself honestly, "What am I adding to the genre?" "What am I doing that's new, exciting, and different?" If you can't think of anything, you have to try harder.

    I especially believe that you have to dig inside of yourself and discover what you as a person have to bring to the genre. To some degree, that requires you to live a life, to ponder it, and to come up with some original thought. If you're not willing to do that (and most people retreat from life, from strange, exotic, or dangerous experiences), then you should look for a job in fast food.

    6. When you start a novel, do you know the ending already, or do you let it come naturally from the story as you write?

    Sometimes I have an inkling of the ending, but to tell the truth, I almost never use the ending that I originally anticipated.

    7. Do you think being a parent impacts your writing? Do you seek the opinions of your children of the books as you write them, or are they your biggest critics?

    Being a parent has its impact, all right. It's tough to write with children sitting on your lap. It's also tough to write when your teenagers are doing drugs or attempting suicide.

    My children have just started reading my books. I don't use them as critics yet, but often they are inspiration. For example, a few years back, I got a helium balloon for my five-year-old. He lost it a few minutes later, and as we watched it drift off toward infinity, he asked, "Dad, whose job is it to collect all of the balloons that get lost?" Immediately I knew that I had to write a story about "The Balloon Catcher."

    8. What advice would you give to a young and aspiring writer? Also, similarly, what advice would you give to would be world-builders?

    For young and aspiring writers, don't think that this is a job for lazy people. If you're not a self-starter; if you're not passionate about this work, don't get involved. If you are passionate about it, then nothing that I say will dissuade you anyway.

    As for would-be worldbuilders, I think that we learn to build worlds by studying the ones around you. There are a lot of worlds around you. I recently went to Turkistan, China, and Tasmania. Each was a very different world. But there are levels within those - differences in culture, say between the Chinese in Turkistan and the Turks or the Russians. And there are differences in economy and social structure. And there are hundreds of eras that you can set your stories in, in any given

    So I study all of the sciences to some degree, and I study a great deal in the anthropological, political, and philosophical arenas.

    9. What did you find the most challenging aspect of writing RUNELORDS? Was it the vast scientific background to the Reavers, human interactions and relationships, or something else?

    Seriously, the most difficult thing to do when writing a fantasy is to keep the magic levels in balance, so that no one character overpowers all others. A similar difficulty is maintaining focus on the characters when magical elements want to take center stage.

    10. How did you come up with the idea for the Runelords series? Did it just “come to you” so-to-speak, or was it a gradual progression of ideas?

    If you look at mathematicians, you'll find that for many of them, the idea just came to them, almost as if by revelation, after pondering a problem for weeks or months or years. That's how I felt it. I knew what I wanted to do with my magic system, but couldn't come up with it. When it hit me, I understood the general concept, but what surprised me is how the specifics of the system fell so neatly into place, and added so many possibilities for the story.

    To tell the truth, I was driving with a friend in Scotland, when I experienced a full-sensory hallucination, in which a young woman whispered to me, "Shhhh! Beware, a runelord is coming." I couldn't understand why she was so pale, so frightened, until I saw the Runelord ride over the crest of the hill, and saw the brands burned into his own flesh, and that of the horse. Then I recognized how terrifying this man was, and that he could tear me apart as easily as if I were tissue paper.

    So, it came in a vision. But I believe that what really happens is that for some of us, the right side of the brain, the creative part of the mind, is far more powerful than the logical side. And when we concentrate hard enough, we can cause that part of the mind to think independently, until it solves our problem. So when the solution is triggered, it feels almost as if the ideas are flowing from outside of us, rather than being derived from internal argument and reasoning. Thus, the creative side of the brain, rather than whispering, "Hey, Dave, what do you think of this idea?" gives me a full-sensory hallucination.

    11. Your website,, is similar to the one here at in-that there is a discussion forum where your fans passionately discuss the Runelords series. How often do you look at it, and what do you think of the attitudes expressed there? How valuable a tool is this for interacting with your fans?

    You know, I don't go on very often. It's not that I don't like to, it's just that I feel guilty talking to people when I have so many other things to do.

    12. Do you ever let compassion for a character affect or influence plot development?

    Yes. I think that as we work, we tend to develop favorite characters, and there are times when I've created a character and decided to let him live, while I knew that others must die.

    13. Your works, especially RUNELORDS, are now constantly being compared to Tolkein, Jordan and Terry Goodkind. Do you these comparisons have affected your writing? Do you think there is any truth in them, or do you feel your styles are incomparable?

    I wasn't aware that I was being compared to them. I think that we each have different writing styles, but that we're all very interested in writing huge epics set in worlds that are fascinating, places where our readers want to be. So I'm glad to be in good company.

    14. If we could ask for an opinion, what did you think of The Phantom Menace, and then Attack Of The Clones?

    Let's not go there, please.

    15. How much do you work with the editors and other Star Wars authors for projects like Jedi Apprentice #1: The Rising Force and Star Wars Missions from Scholastic?

    Lucasfilm has some very good people who act as content editors, helping us authors to keep from stepping on one another's toes. Beyond that, each publisher hires editors who become experts in the Star Wars Universe, too. I think that if you're going to write in that universe, these people are great resources.

    But you can dig into it deeper--play with other authors' characters, read their books, and so on. I think that its important to mine for material. So I've read a number of books by the other Star Wars authors, and I've read through gaming manuals and through the Star Wars Encyclopedias.

    And I talk to other authors. Kevin Anderson, for example, has always been a big help in coordinating materials.

    16. How has working with the Star Wars Universe affected your career and your writing?

    It's been a big help. The money that I made by writing "Courtship" helped me get through a time that was very difficult not just for me, but for hundreds of other writers in the industry. And that money was used to free up time so that I could write my own works.

    But beyond that, there is a value in studying big franchises to see how they are created, what works, and what doesn't.

    17. Your Star Wars book, The Courtship of Princess Leia, introduced a lot of elements into the Star Wars Universe that are still used today, such as the Hapans and the Witches of Dathomir, and you've been listed in the "Acknowledgements" section of many other Star Wars writers since. Did you expect such a wide reception of your ideas when you wrote the book? What role have you/do you play in the Expanded Universe? Have you read the New Jedi Order up to this point, and if so, what do you think of the saga's new direction?

    When I was asked to write my first Star Wars book, Timothy Zahn had just finished his first novel in the series, and I had no idea how popular these would be.

    To tell the truth, I write what I want to write. I loved the first Star Wars movie. I saw it 37 times in the first six months that it came out.

    So I wrote the book because I thought it would be FUN. I haven't worried about it beyond that point. I've read a few Star Wars books, but I haven't been keeping up with all of them, and I didn't know that I had been mentioned in the credits on other books.

    That said, I've got to say this: In writing some of my little Star Wars Adventures books for Scholastic, I feel that I not only did some of my best work, I also had a wonderful time. It was great to work other people's characters to a large degree--to write about Dengar, or the Ghostling Children. It's kind of like going over to someone else's house, and playing with all of their neatest toys.

    And I'm delighted that others have thought that I built some fun toys, too.

    18. Finally, what’s next for David Wolverton/Farland?

    Currently I'm in the process of producing a movie based on the first Runelords book. That has been exhausting. I'm also starting a children's series, called "Of Mice and Magic," that I hope to turn into a franchise of animated films. And of course there is still the Runelords. Book number four ends the tale of Gaborn and Iome, so book five in essence acts as the start of a new series, as we dive into the tale of Gaborn's children. Quite frankly, I've been thinking about this series for several years now, and I'm very excited by the scenes and characters that are coming to me. I think that book five will be my best novel yet.

    Thank you one again for your time and we all wish you the best of luck and success in the future. In addition to this, we would like to extend our apologies for the amount of time it took to get this posted, but complications from the site going down and responsibilities in real life prevented the organization and posting of the interview. So once more,


    There are many people who I’m sure you’ll all join me in thanking for this Interview. First and foremost, there is of-course David Farland for the excellent answers.

    Next, we have our very own Greg (§ol), for setting up the Interview. It is because of him that the Interview occurred, and so many thanks to him.

    Then we have the people who helped actually write the Interview. ngallagher, Druid, CNRedDragon and Spoonman are the all-star cast of assistors this time.

    I hope you enjoyed it, folks!


    Thursday, August 28, 2003

    Tad Williams Q&A


    What is the single writing achievement that you're most proud of? Also, if you could go back and re-write any part of your published work, would you? What would it be?

    I don't think I would go back and rewrite anything -- I put in enough work on the darn things the first time through. Seriously, you learn to move on. Yes, we could all find things in our work (or lives) we'd do differently, but that way lies madness, or at least not sleeping very well.

    I think I am, at this point, proudest of my OTHERLAND books, because they are my most ambitious undertaking and something that (I flatter myself) are most peculiarly mine of anything I've done. Nothing else quite like them. (Certainly nothing with the exception of Jordan's multi-volume opus that you would as much want to avoid dropping on your foot.)

    Do you like writing action-y, fast paced and exciting scenes, or do you prefer dealing with human emotions and character interaction?

    Hate to be wishy-washy, but both make a very nice refuge from each other. It's nice to work with the nuances of character, to show the minutiae of human (and sort-of-human) interaction. Then, when one has had enough of that, it's great fun to kill something. Or a bunch of somethings.

    I don't necessarily recommend this as a real-life approach, however.

    Have you ever had a go at writing comedy?

    Only my tax returns.

    Do you believe that the Internet has already started to change the way people 'view' books?

    What made you decide to publish Shadowmarch exclusively online?

    I think the internet has changed a lot of things, but the effect on books is still minimal -- for now. I mainly wanted to do Shadowmarch as an experiment, not so much an internet experiment as a Tad experiment: I wanted to find out what it was like writing a novel in serial form, with frequent deadlines. I liked it, although I still have a few twitches I haven't got rid of...

    I'd be happy to do it again one day, maybe with something that was designed just to be fun and silly, the written equivalent of a cool cartoon.

    I notice that in your author's description that you have had much experience in many areas. How does this influence your writing, both in choice of what to use, and in how you view the world?

    The most important thing, for a writer, about doing lots of different kinds of things in the real world is that you learn about a lot of stuff you wouldn't otherwise know (or at least enough to fake it) and you meet many different kinds of people. Even if you're not the kind of writer who bases characters directly on real people (I'm not) you deepen your pool of experience with live, breathing folk, which can only help you create more realistic characters and situations.

    Hi Tad. Thanks for answering our questions.

    Now this may be an impossible question for you to answer but, well - here goes...

    I've been pondering the bad guys in your books and the similarities and differances of their various motivations. While Ineluki, Uttuku, Jongleur,Dread and Pryrates have fairly clear (however complex ) motivations for their actions, Lord Hellebore seems to be purely and simply power hungry.

    His snatching of power from the king and queen and ruthless killing of rivals paints him in a light which is, to my reading, far more self-serving than the others.

    So my question is was there any intent on your part when creating Hellebore to strip away the complexities of pain, sorrow, fear and madness which help define your other villains and create a simpler arch-villain purely motivated by greed?

    Alternatively do I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about?

    Finally, the terrible child, Dread and Pryrates are all side kicks who get too big for their boots and wind up much the worse for wear. All 3 are disturbing yet so intriguing they are constantly draw my thoughts and attention. Is this coincidental or a tactic you employ to create particularly nasty characters we love to hate and then kill them off to resounding cheers from your readers?

    Thanks again!

    The "sidekick" notion is an interesting one, and probably true in that they are often the ones in each cases who are the interface between the more unknowable evils and the rest of us. We can understand Pryrates better than Ineluki, if only in that Pryrates is more human.

    I think Hellebore in the new book was the most practical (with the possible exception of Felix Jongleur) of all my bad guys: he's simply doing what's best for him and the hell with anyone else.

    I guess what I find most truly frightening are not ultimate evils -- the standard cardboard Satan-figure -- but the Lucifer types who had their reasons and valued them more than they value folk like you and me.

    Unfortunately, the world is all too full of that kind of evil, which is what makes it even more frightening, at least for me.

    Yanks or Red Sox?

    I'm a West Coast boy, so for me it's the Giants or nothin'. However, my agent is a Yankees fan (he used to be a Met fan, but he's not stupid or he wouldn't be my agent) so I can't hate the Bombers, much as I'd like to. But I always liked the Sox, back to the Yastrzemski days, and I have a certain sentimental thing for them, as so many others do...

    I don't know. If I had to pick who I wanted to go to the Series, between the two: Sox, I guess.

    Darn. I always stuck up for Memory and the Rest of that stuff, but if you're a BoSox fan -- sorry, bud! I'd read that Ann McCaffery or whatnot chick first.

    It's not so much being a BoSox fan, it's that, well, if you're going to make it Sox versus Yanks, New York has won, what seven thousand World Series? C'mon, you gotta unbend a little. There are grown men and women in New England still walking around weeping decades later, saying "Bucky Dent! Bucky Dent!" over and over.

    Be nice. (We won't even talk about the men who have to live in cardboard boxes because they were crippled for life by the Buckner thing, the poor bastids.)

    It often seems that the right name can make a character more or less memorable, so I was just wondering how you decide what your characters will be called.

    I'm always facinated by how authors come up with names for their characters. Is it something you have think about to find the right fit, or does it just come to you?

    That's a hard one to answer because there is no one way. I can say that I probably may as much attention to names as anyone, because I am driven crazy by bad ones.

    I also hate overlapping cultural sources -- that is, stories where characters who grew up in the same village have names that are clearly derived from disparate real-world sources, Celtic, Norse, whatever. This usually indicates sloppy research or thinking to me. Yes, I know it's a fantasy world and thus anything's possible, but the writer has to take into account how the reader sees things. If you're going to have a bold troop of male berserkers whose names are Mary, Felicity, and Trixie, it better be a joke. Otherwise, the disconnect is too great.

    Now, it may not be quite as painful for everyone to see "Owain" and "Ralf" and "Mercurio" or whatever growing up together, but it sure makes ME flinch.

    I also tend to drop small jokes or descriptions into names, but that usually requires the readers to be either very well-read or to dig a little, because I don't want to interfere with the pure reading experience for everyone else.

    Fantasy is frequently viewed as a children's genre, with many people (the majority of whom never having read a fantasy novel) ignoring it, or insulting the genre. As a grown adult, and a writer of fantasy that is nothing close to children's books, what are your thoughts on this view?

    It's not so much that fantasy is a children's genre that's the problem, it's that it's a GENRE. In other words, because it's a -type- of story, and there's a large commercial market for it, there is a lot of material in the genre that is probably published even though it doesn't deserve to be, and that drags down the reputation of everything else.

    Also, we as proponents of the genre are often guilty of reading things just because they approximate an old thrill instead of looking for new pleasures, which means the writers get away with recycling tropes and slightly embellishing old ideas.

    Like every other kind of writing, there is a decent amount of good fantasy, a very small amount of truly fine work, and a huge amount of mediocre work. But because it's a successful and popular genre, the numbers of the latter category are huge and make an easy target, just as the millions of pages of space opera written in the last hundred years make it easy to overlook the works of real science fiction geniuses.

    I've never read any of your books. Sorry.

    OH WAIT, I lied, I read that thing in legends, I liked that.

    But anyway, on to the question.

    I was wondering which series or individual book (if you write those) would you recommend me to read/start off reading?

    (If it's a terribly good book, I may end up having to make some crazy fanwebsite about you and framing a picture of you somewhere.)


    First TW. I guess I'd now suggest the newest book, WAR OF THE FLOWERS, because it's complete in one volume. My other two best known works, OTHERLAND and MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN are only a bit less long than WHEEL OF TIME, so you might want to test the water before strapping on the scuba gear.

    However, since it's only available in hardcover at the moment, you might also consider going to a library for a copy of THE DRAGONBONE CHAIR, first in the MS&T series, and closest in genre to Mr. Jordan's material, (which I'm assuming everyone here likes.)

    Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

    Will there be any more tales from Osten Ard? I seem to recall something about you writing a short story for the upcoming Legends 2, but...uh...I guess you would know more about that than I would. Heh.

    Actually, that's not necessarily a good bet, about me knowing more about my writing than you. I'm not only middle-aged now, but I'm the parent of young children. My brain is FRIED.

    I've actually written an OTHERLAND story for the new Legends, called "The Happiest Dead Boy In The World." I'm currenly at work on updating and revising (and, yes, lengthening slightly) the online Shadowmarch material for publication as the first volume of what should be a three-volume story.

    I plan to get back to Osten Ard one day soon for a collection of linked stories tentatively titled "A Chronicle In Stone".

    With the large success of the LOTR-movies...what if someone would like to make a movie out of the M, S + T series (which I loved)? How would you think about that? Would you like to work on the script? Are you a fan of making a movie from a book at all?

    If someone decided they wanted to fling a great deal of money at me personally, and spend many millions of dollars getting a visualized version of the MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN books -just right-, a la LORD OF THE RINGS, I guess I would have to allow my arm to be twisted.

    In other words, heck yeah, sure.

    I love movies. I would, as I did with the LOTR movie, simply have to remind myself that a film is not a book, and that even a film made from MY book wouldn't be MY film. If such a thing ever happened, I'd be happy to chip in my opinions, but I'd also just as soon let someone else take on the hellish task of boiling down a million words into something suitable for the modern attention span.


    In Otherland, the use of Virtual Reality seems very believable: did you do a lot of research to achieve this? If so, how *did* you research?

    VR was one of the few scientific subjects I felt qualified to write about, even in a science-fictional sort of way: I actually worked in interactive multimedia for Apple Computer back in the late 'eighties and was around at a lot of the conferences of the era on what the future of computer interaction might look like. So -- unlike, say, terraforming or intergalactic propulsion -- I felt I had a fighting chance of writing something entertaining without looking too stupid.

    That said, I also spent a lot of time reading books and magazines and papers on the internet, and also just trying to -think- about the problems and how some of them might be solved in the big shiny future.

    "This scans majorly", muttered Orlando.

    Does this expression derive from the modern day scanning of images into machines?

    Slightly, mostly from the actual action of scanning, whether on a tv screen or whatever -- the zipping back and forth, reading what each little bit is doing. The idea of endless zipping back and forth hoovering up little bits of information that made no sense by themselves seemed like a good metaphor for crazy/stupid/boring. But I also thought of "scanning the horizon" with the idea of looking for something that probably wasn't there -- another aspect of nuttiness or waste-of-time. I also just liked the word "scanny" and its various possibilities for compound use, "scanmaster", "scantagious", etc.

    Mostly, the Otherland slang isn't meant to have one specific meaning, though. If it's too obvious where it comes from, it's probably nothing like real slang.

    Do you actually feel that the Internet will ever reach the level described in the books?

    Not all at the same time. I purposefully underestimated the day-to-day stuff -- ease of usage, power and memory, etc. -- that we'd probably have in the middle of this century to keep it close and familiar to present-day readers, while equally OVERestimating how good VR could be (at least in the Otherland network.)

    I wanted a disparity so that the readers would feel the characters' astonishment at how powerful and realistic the Grail network was once they finally entered it.

    How much about !Xabbu's legends and myths did you make up or what did you find out through research?

    I loved this series! Thank you for letting Paul survive in last second!!!! He was my favorite character!

    Pretty much all the bushman legends, with the exception of !Xabbu's family story about baboons on the rock, were based on real folklore from the peoples of that culture. I made them my own in a number of small ways, of course, and was also influenced in part by the (sympathetic and highly spiritual) interpretations of bushmen myths by the South African writer Laurens van der Post.

    In reality, the people of those cultures can have varying folk traditions within a matter of a few miles, although many of the stories are recognizably related.

    As the books go on, many of the characters recount stories from his/her childhood; stories that in essence define who they are.

    How much about the characters did you know before even starting to write the CITY OF GOLDEN SHADOW?

    Did you ever let compassion for a character influence plot development?

    Thanks for giving such pleasure by writing a truly fantastic series.

    I learned much about the characters as I went along, although some of them -- Renie, !Xabbu, and Paul, just to name a few -- I knew a lot about before I ever started.

    However some of them definitely developed as I went, or at the very least deepened, such as my understanding of what made John Dread who he was. That kind of discovery is part of the fun of writing these long-winded, multi-volumed stories.

    I don't think I ever let compassion get in the way of killing off a character or having something terrible happen to them. I never do it lightly and I never "resurrect" someone just to make readers happy. I always have a reason that, to me, feels integral to the story.

    I enjoyed the series, quite a bit so, which is quite the accomplishment (in my own opinion)for a sci-fi fantasy writer. However, if there was any one thing, that I really did not understand in the series, it was the final wrap up. So, I would like to know whether or not the ending was just a wrap-up of loose ends, a thematic conclusion, or something that is totally eluding me?

    I would love to know your explanation of your thoughts for the finale.

    Hmmmm. I'm not sure I can answer that one here, and simply, and especially not when I'm on about my fifteenth or twentieth question-and-answer. The ending of OTHERLAND is very, very complicated, but it's all meant to make sense, albeit in some cases with a little thinking and considering.

    Since I'm not sure exactly what aspect you're asking about -- there are literally dozens of different plotlines wrapping up at the end of that story -- perhaps you could either email me separately ( or post another more specific question (with appropriate spoiler warnings) which I could try to answer here.

    I understand that the ! in !Xabbu's name is supposed to be a clicking noise, correct? Is that something that is commonly practiced in parts of the world, or is that something you made up?

    Oh, it's very common -- there is a whole family of "click languages", mostly found in Africa, as far as I know. In fact, the people I'm rather sloppily referring to under the ethnic umbrella of "Bushmen" have at least four different vocal clicks, and anthropologists and linguists have had to come up with a whole set of marks to indicate them when transcribing speech. I was being lazy (and kind to my readers) and only used the most obvious click and its mark (!).

    The War of the Flowers

    Applecore seems to be a tougher, more mouthy version of Tinkerbell, and so the kid in me has to know: was the little Disney sprite the original inspiration for Applecore?

    Oh, and do I even want to think about the "cosmetic surgery" Cumber Sedge will be going through?

    Well, it will be magical surgery, so although it may be painful and debilitating, it will probably be in entirely different ways than we mere mortals can imagine. Still not something you probably want to do with a vacation day, I'm sure.

    I suppose it's hard to write a handheld fairy gal these days without evoking Tink, so I can't say she wasn't in the mix. But to my mind 'Core is just as much one of those wise-cracking, gum-chewing female characters in the noir films and screwball comedies of the thirties and forties, the ones who spend most of their time getting all the good comebacks and referring to the male protagonists as "you dumb lug" or "you big galoot".

    I really liked the setting in War of the Flowers. Are you planning any direct sequels or stories set in this same world?

    Honestly (no one ever believes this, for some reason), I never, never plan any sequels while I'm working on something. It's usually the last thing on my mind, I'm just so happy to be done when it's finally over. In my MS&T books, a pair of notable twins are born to two of the protagonists, and everyone said to me, "That's going to be the sequel, huh?" Really, I'd just put them (and the prophecy about their birth) in to show that the world of Osten Ard would continue to be interesting after the current story ended.

    I enjoyed Theo's adventures in Faerie a lot, so there may be something else set there someday, but I haven't planned anything or even thought about it.

    Other Books

    I'm just wondering if you still plan to write the collection of Osten Ard stories. If so, is the title still "A Chronicle in Stone"? When will it be published? Is there any other information you can tell us about the book? Thanks.

    Yes, I still plan to do it, but it's on hold at the moment while I deal with Shadowmarch, which has kind of taken over my life at the moment.

    I'm itching to do this project, though, so it won't disappear.

    I haven't read Shadowmarch yet (though I've heard it's coming out in actual novel form, which is good news for people like me), but I do have experience with serial novels - I'm writing one myself. Do you set deadlines for yourself, a time that each chapter has to be finished by (and if so, do you always follow them? )? Or do you let the writing set its own pace?

    Also, how much of Shadowmarch was planned out when you started, and how much did you develop as you went along? I ask this because in my own internet serial novel, I have a few major plot points and character events mapped out, but the spaces between these are almost empty, with only a vague sense of direction until I actually write it.

    Oh, and thanks for doing this. It's writers like you who make writers like me want to be writers like you.

    Good luck with your project.

    SHADOWMARCH was a chapter-ever-two-weeks kind of thing. I set it up that way and then labored mightily to get it done on time each episode (while writing WAR OF THE FLOWERS at the same time.) It was great fun but rather...strenuous.

    I couldn't let it shape its own writing speed, because of the deadline, but that's not the only way to do it, by any means. It was one of the things that interested me (the deadlines, I mean) so I made it a feature of the project.

    I also didn't think the story through much beforehand, because I wanted it to be spontaneous. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, however. It was difficult, even with twenty years' experience, to make it feel like a real book without much time to plan things out and no preparatory planning before I started, either.

    I just picked up the DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction anthology (blatant sycophancy imminent), mostly because of your name on the cover - the rest looks like it could be good too, but come on, we all know why we're really here. This short story is very interesting. I love the idea of an internet chatter trying to explain emoticons to "God".

    But since this is supposed to be about questions:

    1. The smallish internet community you depicted seemed, from my experience with this community, to be fairly accurate. Did you base any of the characters on chatters you've known, or are they all just from various conglomerated internet experiences?

    2. Is it merely convenient that the community in this story is literate and grammatically correct, or could you just not bring yourself to include the myriad typos, abbreviations, and other internet-speak-things?

    3. The best part of the story for me - when the Moderator asks if Wiseguy believes that anything based on the hopes and dreams and writings of humanity would wish to enslave and destroy them, and Wiseguy responds first with an emphatic "No!" ... and then with "I hope not." You skate a nice line between optimism and pessimism - but do you personally, outside of your author persona, lean one way or the other on the issue?

    4. Fair warning: this one isn't actually a question. It's just me saying that the thoughts, themes, and/or ideas of this short story are the type that can't really be expressed outside of the story. In my mind, those are the best kind. Thanks.

    It's nice to have a question on this story.

    The community was based on many I've either been part of or have witnessed from outside. Yes, perhaps a bit more literal than usual, in part to make it easier for non-BBS people to read the story without freaking out.

    As far as whether our own human creations would be nice to us or not, I don't think I have an answer: too general, too many different possibilities. If we made something that was just like a human, there would be a fairly small statistical chance it would be brilliant and kind, and a probably similar statistical chance it would be a sociopathic engine of destruction, but the shortest odds are that it would eat a lot of junk food and watch Seinfeld reruns and hardly ever call home except when it needed money.

    Dear Sir,

    If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?


    Kucumber Joe.

    PS: I enjoyed Otherland a lot, thought it was excellent. Cheers.

    As far as I know, you can't own midgets, since they're human and there are laws about that (not to mention that Civil War we fought.) As for monkeys, I would have five, and they would be named:

    See No Evil
    Hear No Evil
    Speak No Evil
    Do Pretty Much Whatever The Hell You Want
    Expensive Attorney


    Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the intelligent queries and the many kind words. I had so many questions to answer that I didn't take the time to respond individually to most of the nice things people said, but I am indeed appreciative.

    Also wanted to extend the invitation for any interested WOTMania folks to come visit us on the Shadowmarch bulletin board and the Shadowmarch site ( Although the whole Shadowmarch story is no longer available (since I'm turning it into a book) the prologue and first five chapters are still available for free reading, and there are lots of nice, fantasy-friendly folks on the BB who'd love to meet you and discuss stuff.

    Thanks again!

    Monday, July 14, 2003

    Tad Williams Interview


    Tad Williams has held more jobs than any sane person should admit to -- singing in a band, selling shoes, managing a financial institution, throwing newspapers, and designing military manuals, to name just a few.

    He also hosted a syndicated radio show for ten years, worked in theatre and television production, taught both grade-school and college classes, and worked in multimedia for a major computer firm. He is cofounder of an interactive television company, and is currently writing comic books and film and television scripts as well as novels.

    Tad and his wife live in London and the San Francisco Bay Area. They spend their occasional microseconds of leisure time engineering world peace and making sarcastic remarks about their pets.

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    The books:

  • City Of Golden Shadow

  • River Of Blue Fire

  • Mountain Of Black Glass

  • Sea Of Silver Light

  • Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Series.
  • The Dragonbone Chair

  • Stone Of Farewell

  • To Green Angel Tower

  • Other
  • Tailchaser’s Song

  • The War Of The Flowers
  • New!

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    Otherland Review ~ By Nathen Gallagher

    It started in mud, as many things do.

    Otherland, a four-volume stir pot of science fiction and fantasy, begins when Paul Jonas finds himself in a World War I trench, slowly going mad from the mind-numbing monotony of constant mortal danger. He climbs a beanstalk into the sky, where a giant machine rules a castle, and meets a beautiful angel in a cage. When he wakes in the trench with his companions Finch and Mullet, it all seems a dream - until he finds the bright, shining feather in the mud.

    Thus opens a true showcase of imagination, character, and storytelling, a tale that spans not across time and not across space, but across boundaries more wonderful still.

    In South Africa, in the near-future, Renie is trying to balance a job with a little brother and a drunken father, but all of that is shattered when her brother logs onto the Internet (now a full virtual reality playground of ideas and temptations) and doesn't log off. Little Stephen has fallen prey to a mysterious syndrome that seems to put him in a coma while still plugged into the Net. Renie and her student/friend !Xabbu, a bushman, strike out to find the truth.

    Elsewhere on the Internet, young Orlando Gardiner is Thargor the Barbarian in a massive virtual Baldur's Gate style online game, but in reality he's a sickly kid who will die before his twentieth birthday. He and his best friend Sam stumble across a strange picture of a huge golden city, and Orlando becomes obsessed, bending all of his failing energy to finding it somewhere on the Net.

    And at the same time, Paul Jonas has fled his trench, with his two "friends" in angry pursuit, and somehow manages to pierce the line between worlds ... worlds that never existed.

    All of these disparate forces come together in the mind-blowing virtual simulation known as Otherland, a simulation so real it might just be real. A shadowy group of wealthy businessmen, the Grail Brotherhood, has built this world in the ultimate bid for true immortality - and slowly, it seems to be stealing the minds of Earth's children.

    The worlds of Otherland are amazing, and too numerous to name them all here. In what other book can you visit Mars, the Chessboard world from Through the Looking Glass, War of the Worlds Britain, and an Ice Age all in one sitting? How about a Kansas ruled by the tyrannical Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man? Visit a giant kitchen where the matchstick Chief Strike-Anywhere journeys to rescue his son; face the Cyclops on an ancient Greek isle; ride a leaf down a river with dragonflies the size of airplanes; hunt the deadly spider-buffaloes across the Old West; storm the gates of Troy at Achilles' side. This series takes imagination to the next level. But beware, for Dread, the sociopath is minion of the Grail Brotherhood and one of the best villains ever, hides unseen in the group and could strike at any moment.

    Some have complained that the entire first book of this series is an 800-page set up for the rest - and I suppose if you think of everything that happens in later books that this could be true - but it's till a great book in its own right, and what it's setting up is not to be missed. I won't kid you: the ending is a little strange. But Tad Williams is my favorite author, and this is, in my opinion, his best work to date. Character, dialogue, description, and story are the most important parts of writing to me, and this series has them all in something more than spades - diamonds, perhaps. The word choice is perfect, and the characters are more than memorable. This series has everything the fantasy genre needs, with an imaginative edge that just might leave you cheering while you force back the tears. Otherland comes with my highest recommendation, and you can get all four books in mass market paperback now.

    And remember - the angel in a cage waits atop a black mountain that pierces the clouds of forever, and those who journey to Otherland may not ever return.

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    First of all, let me say that we at Other Fantasy welcome you and greatly appreciate that you are taking time out of an extremely busy schedule for us. You are an author who we are all greatly interested in hearing from - thank you for giving us this opportunity!

    Section 1 ~ Questions from Dodge

    1. First of all, could you share with us the basics of you and writing; how much do you write on the average day? Do you set yourself a target that you set out to achieve for the day, or the week, or even the year?

    I used to be much more methodical about this stuff than I am now. I'm a bit more freeform these days, partly because I'm trained enough that I can write pretty much whenever I get the chance -- not much ramp-up time needed. The other factor is that we have kids now, which has grossly curtailed my freedom to write. I used to work in the evenings and at night, but that's much harder now.

    Anyway, I try to do something every day. Some days I'll have hours to work and I'll do a commensurate amount -- ten to twenty pages. Other days I'll have to duck in and write three to five in the hour and a half that family and fate hand me.

    The fact that it's my occupation, the thing that puts food on the table and a roof over our heads, keeps me focused quite well: if I need time to work, I'll find it somehow, even if that means going back to the keyboard at midnight (like I'm doing now), or putting the kids in front of a video and disappearing into the office for an hour.

    2. When publishing, a commonly accepted fact is that good editing leads to good results. How much of your writing do you personally edit out after completion, in general? How much and what sort of things does your editor usually edit out?

    In my case, my editors -- and we're talking mostly about my American editors, Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, although I have a very good relationship with my British and German editors as well -- act more as a focus group for me. (President Bush may not like 'em, but I do.) That is, they tell me what it was like to read the manuscript, what was slow, what didn't work. I argue with them a bit -- well, not always, because quite often they're absolutely right -- and then I go back and do my rewrite. But my editors don't ever line-edit me (which means to make actual changes) except during the thrashing final stages of proofing and typesetting, and even then they'll call me and say, "We need another word -- you left the sentence dangling incomplete. I'm going to put 'he walked out the door.' Is that okay?"

    As far as my own editing during writing and rewriting, there's no rule. Some work gets a lot of chopping, some not much at all. (Many would argue that none of my books get chopped sufficiently.) What I mainly try to do is simplify, prune out all the unnecessary explanations and "he said"s, and unnecessary adverbs and like that. In some cases I'll take a machete to a whole chunk, but I write fairly careful first drafts, so I seldom make a lot of large changes during my rewrite.

    3. Many of our readers are aspiring fantasy / Sci-Fi writers. What tips would you give them for submitting a work that's more likely to be accepted?

    Stop reading SF and Fantasy, or at least make it a minority of your reading. Immerse yourself in non-fiction. Be fascinated by science and history. Read a lot of different kinds of fiction when you do read fiction. Have you actually read any Dickens, or do you just tell people you have? Have you ever actually sat down and read Shakespeare or Jane Austen, not to mention more recent writers?

    Here's another tip: forget about the market, or what looks like the market. Write the book you want to write, about things that interest you. That way, if you don't sell it, you haven't spent a year doing something you hate. Also, if you DO love what you're writing about, I believe it comes through.

    Lastly, please finish writing something before you start extensive rewriting. Most beginning writers write and rewrite the beginning of their magnum opus until its more recursive than a Mandelbrot set. Learn ALL the lessons, which includes the lessons of finishing a story or novel so you can see what shape it wants to be. That makes for much more effective rewriting.

    4. Lastly for this section, what advice would you give to a young and aspiring writer?

    Writing is like a sport. If you love it, do it. If you love it and want to make a living at it, go for it. But the chances are frankly very slim and the competition fierce, so you'd better have talent and a huge amount of ambition and get joy out of the pure exercise of writing. If you don't want to work hard at it with little reward, at least at first, or you're only interested in becoming a best-seller, you'd probably be better trying something else like accounting or taking political bribes that has a fairly straightforward career track.

    People actually ask me sometimes, "So if you're a writer, what kind of money do you get when you start?"

    "Nothing," is what I tell them, of course. "And that's all you may get for a long time." Most of the professional writers I know make a few thousand a year -- it's not a self-supporting career. That's why you'd better love it.

    That said, it's something you'll never get tired of, never learn all the ins and outs of, and never get complacent about (if you're smart.) That's a nice thing to have in front of you -- a lifetime's worth of challenges.

    Section 2 ~ Questions from ngallagher

    5. You've commented before that, in your experience, middles are harder to write than beginnings and endings. Yet many of your readers on our web site believe that your middles are the best part of both the series and the stand-alone novels. What accounts for this? Is it extra effort because of the difficulty?

    I think it's more likely just a matter of individual taste: because in those volumes there's less pressure to start things out or finish things out in a certain way, fewer structural necessities, the middle books can be less formulaic in a way. It may also be that I have a better handle on the material and the characters by that point, although I would hope that in general I'm more capable than that, even in a first volume.

    All that said as to possible reasons, I try to give readers a sense that something weird and exciting will happen in -any- book of mine, that just because the formal ending or beginning is not included in that volume doesn't mean it will be some kind of also-ran.

    In fact, now that I think of it, a few of my own favorite moments are definitely in my middle books -- I've had three of them now, and am soon to embark on another. Maybe it's just the smell of possibility: I've got room to try things, and I'll worry about making all the plot strands tie together later.

    6. In The War of the Flowers, you portray a traditional fantasy world that is forced to mimic our own world too closely, and in so doing becomes a much less appealing place. Fantasy worlds have often been viewed as far more idyllic than ours - is this book in part a warning that our way of life may corrupt even the beautiful places of our imagination?

    The whole idea of Fairyland as a modern, sort of depressing place -- which I wouldn't dare claim was original to me -- started for me as I was reading the Brothers Grimm or something similar and thinking about the fact that Faerie was always pre-industrial because the stories were created largely by pre-industrial folks in pre-industrial times. (There are exceptions, of course, things like gremlins which came out of wartime aviation.) So it seemed fairly obvious to wonder what would happen if Faerie evolved and became what we would think of as more modern in parallel with our own societies.

    I don't think there's anything in WAR OF THE FLOWERS that I would classify as a warning, although there is a bit of a political subtext, of course. Certainly (as Ray Bradbury has made a focus of his work for decades) we sometimes seem to be involved in a wholesale demystification of the world -- a process that almost seems purposefully designed to numb the imagination -- but it could be that it only seems that way to us because we're in the middle of it: future generations of cultural historians may agree that we simply moved into an entire new kind of public credulousness as vast and creative as any fairytales or myths.

    7. In Flowers, does the continued existence of the Remover indicate that you may one day return to Faerie? Or is it simply your way of saying that the world doesn't cease to be turbulent when no one is writing about it?

    It's certainly a credo of mine that fantastic worlds should give every impression of being set to remain that way even as the writer is stepping away from them. As far as revisiting this story, I've learned never to say "never", but I have not yet written an adult work of fiction with the idea of returning to the world. (The exception for children's fiction, THE DRAGONS OF ORDINARY FARM, is something I'll talk about in another answer.) If I did write another work located in or around the City and its inhabitants, it might very well be that the Remover would show up. But it honestly wasn't something I thought about when deciding his fate. It was just clear to me he wouldn't be that easy to bump off, especially keeping in mind his background.

    8. There seems to be a growing trend in speculative fiction, perhaps led by George R.R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire series, to kill off major characters to keep interest high. You very seldom kill characters, however, and the biggest death in your writing was, for all intents and purposes, reversed. Do you feel the pressure of this trend at all?

    Actually, I don't think that's strictly true with me. I killed off a major character -- the Gandalf-surrogate, you could say -- quite early in my first multivolume fantasy, and then proceeded to kill dozens more focal-point characters. As for OTHERLAND (I'm assuming that's what you're referring to) I felt I was playing metaphysical (if not metafictional) games with the whole idea of protagonist-survival. "Hey, that character survived!" "No, he actually died -- this is just someone who started out as the same person, but isn't the same as the version you spent all that time with." Or, in the case you're probably alluding to, "Yes, this character survived an apparent death, but he's still really dead. He can never go back to his home. He has to live forever in an environment more artificial than a fish tank. And if there's such a thing as a soul, he hasn't got one. Is that a net plus or a net minus?"

    (By the way, I'm publishing a story in the next LEGENDS anthology that follows directly on the alive/dead/huh? aspects of OTHERLAND, and features that very same living/dead character alluded above.)

    In the larger sense, I don't feel much pressure at all, because THAT'S when you find yourselves doing things that are unnatural. I'm not George and he's not me. If I couldn't BE me, I'd be very happy to be him -- he's a great writer. But the world doesn't need another just like him, because he's handling the job fine as it is. And I promise -- characters will die in my books, and they won't all just be red-velour-shirt guys, either.

    9. This must be a cliché and obligatory question by now, but: which authors have had the largest influence on your writing?

    Tolkien, Bradbury, A. A. Milne, Ernest Shepherd, Barbara Tuchman, Roger Zelazny, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, Hunter S. Thompson, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Charles Dickens, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr., Russell Hoban, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Leguin, Cordwainer Smith, to name a few (and in no particular order.)

    10. I'm an admitted sucker for an emotional charge, but only twice have I almost cried while reading a book, and one of those was near the end of Mountain of Black Glass, my favorite of your novels. So many story relationships are rushed or unbelievable when examined, but Orlando and Sam's development is perhaps the most patient and convincing I've ever seen. Is writing love a fine line to walk?

    Thanks. Writing about love is a challenge because it's such a powerful (and common) emotion that it's easy to portray it badly and still get results -- the famously clichéd "love-montages" in films being an example: running together on the beach, making funny faces in the photo booth, blah blah blah = True Love. In other words, just as with death, it's easy to get a cheap thrill. (Why do you think most really juvenile songwriters focus on love songs and death songs? And I know, because I've been there: almost all the songs I wrote when I was a teenage rocker were about tragedy and death and people being eaten by mutants.)

    So you have this incredibly powerful thing and thus, as a writer, a responsibility to treat it respectfully. I think one of the main reasons I like writing long stories is NOT, as many probably think, because I love the sound of my own authorial voice, or can't edit myself, but because I like the freedom to develop people and relationships over time. You don't have to telegraph things with a couple of symbolism-fraught moments, you can actually show a kid growing up or two people finding each other in naturalistic increments.

    11. While we're on Otherland, Dread has to be the most disturbing villian you've ever created (though the Terrible Child comes close, I'll admit). As a writer, you generally have to get in your characters' heads to make them convincing. As per Dread ... what was it like in there?

    Disturbing, needless to say. I think in order to write any character in depth, you have to find at least some small part of yourself in that character. I have no urge to kill anyone and I really like women (alive), so I had to extrapolate from some not strictly serial-killerish parts of my personality. I looked into my need for control, among other things. In my case it has to do with wanting to be the one driving or planning everything rather than tying people up and tormenting them, but I think there are places where the compulsions overlap. Anyway, you try to find those connections, but you also try really, really hard to imagine how the character feels and thinks, no matter how alien and disturbing. After that, you just do your best.

    12. The last Otherland question, I promise: given the marvelous diversity of worlds in this series, which were your favorite to conceive and write? And remember, if you say "All of them" I'll have to plot a gruesome revenge.

    I would say the Endless House was probably my favorite because it was the most my own, and had the most scope for invention. (I could see myself writing some stories set there, no problem. Maybe I'll get around to that one day.) Almost all of them were fun, though, and the historical recreations and the literary reinterpretations had their own charms. House first, I guess, with Egypt and Oz and Eight Squared tied for second -- at least those are what jump to mind. (I liked historical Venice and Bugworld, too, now that I dredge my memory a bit. It's been nearly ten years since I wrote some of them, which is weird to think about.)

    13. Do you keep up with what other authors in the genre you are putting out, or do you tend to read material from outside of the genre on your own time? Are there any authors that you are particularly fond of at the moment? What are the last 3 books you have read?

    Yes and yes. I read lots of other authors in my own field, although somewhat selectively these days. I'm sure there are lots of good, new folk I'm not reading, but there's only so much time. I can't remember the last three I've finished, but at the moment I'm reading Gene Wolfe's new one The Knight (in galley form), Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, and Lord Kinross' book about the Ottoman Empire, Alan Bennett's The Laying On Of Hands, and Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers (Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and that lot.)

    Other authors in the field I keep up with regularly that weren't mentioned under "Influences" above -- these are just the few that pop into my mind tonight, there are dozens altogether -- are the aforementioned Mr. Martin, William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Alan Moore, Dan Simmons, Greg Bear, Scott Card, Connie Willis, and Steven Brust. Again, just off the top of my head.

    In mysteries I like Ruth Rendell, Lindsey Davis, Ian Rankin among others.

    I read a lot of non-fiction, as mentioned -- history, and Science For Dummies Like Me (Gould, Diamond, Stephen Levy, Dawkins, and suchlike.)

    In mainstream or literary fiction, as far as people still publishing, I keep coming back to Updike, Pynchon, Roth, and Thomas Berger.

    I'm certain I'm leaving out half a hundred of my favorites...

    14. Caliban's Hour is one of the finest short novels I've ever read, with its eloquent focus on language and humanity, but it's received sadly little attention, especially compared to your larger works. Are there any plans to re-release it or otherwise get it into the hands of more people?

    I think eventually it would be nice if it was obtained and re-released by my main American publishers, because I think they'd repackage it and keep it on the shelves, allowing it to find new readers. It was a book that got orphaned in some irritating ways having to do with the deal, the times in publishing, and a number of other factors. Also, I think people who read short literary-type works don't tend to think, "Hooray, a Tad Williams book!", and people who read my longer works and things like them are not always certain they want a literary-length swiftie based on a play they may or may not know very well.

    15. When you start a novel, do you know the ending already, or do you let it come naturally from the story as you write?

    I'm a bit too much of a structuralist, and my books a bit too complicated, to start something without having at least some kind of ending in mind. (The exception was my online serial novel, SHADOWMARCH, which I literally wrote week to week without excessive preplanning, and now that I'm fiddling with the first section of it for publication in book form I can see where it wasn't as focused as I'm going to make it, at least at the skeletal level of the overall arc, the big themes. I don't know that the readers would notice, but I do -- I have pretty sensitive antennae.

    16. I was going to ask what the best advice you could give to aspiring writers is, but instead I'll break my no-more-Otherland promise - are !Xabbu's string figures actually possible? Some of those were crazy.

    The aspiring-writers question has had a finger-wagging workout above, so don't feel bad about asking something else. The idea of string-figures as the basis both for storytelling and mathematics -- that is, conceptual purposes far beyond "Here's the cat -- and here's the cradle!" -- is based on real stuff, and the Southern African bushmen do (or at least did) indeed use them quite extensively, to the best of my ability to determine. I magnified and modified, of course. It's fiction, damn it. That means we get to make things up.

    17. If loving Applecore is wrong, do I want to be right?

    Interestingly, the main thing I hear from reviewers and readers (mostly male) is a certain -thang- many of them have for Applecore. What can I say? I like a woman who kicks ass, and Applecore is definitely a first class foot-to-derriere distributor -- as Theo says, she's probably ounce for ounce the nastiest gal you'll ever meet.

    Some people have complained that she didn't turn out to be the romantic interest for the main character, but I've always had lots of female friends and it felt perfectly normal to me. (Not to mention that you might have to have a little bit of the masochist in you to hook up with 'Core on a permanent basis.) Also, I think Poppy is just as strong, but in a different way, from a different background. And she's way taller, which saves someone a lot of cosmetic surgery.

    18. And the question we've all been waiting for ... what's next on your proverbial plate?

    As mentioned elsewhere, I'm turning SHADOWMARCH into a full-length, multi-volume story, because I'd really done a volume's worth in the first year online without being anywhere near the end of the story. I'm working as well (with my wife, Deborah Beale) on a couple of other books, an animal fantasy called URCHIN'S LUCK (the main character is a raccoon with family issues) and a kid's book -- which I hope will be the first of a series -- called THE DRAGONS OF ORDINARY FARM. I've got a couple of other projects on the fire as well, but I always have to fight against the urge to do too much at once so I can't get too interested in them right now.

    Section 3 ~ Questions from CNRedDragon

    19. What have you found to be the most difficult aspect of your books to write? The interpersonal relationships, the characterization, the plot - or something else?

    The most difficult part for me is probably trying to tell a real story about real characters and (if we may be so bold) important themes while delivering what is essentially a genre work -- that is, an action/adventure entertainment, which is basically a contract between book-buyer and writer that every few pages someone's going to get eaten or stuff's going to blow up. Reconciling those contrasting impulses is never easy (although it's one of the challenges that makes writing genre fiction fun) and I'm never ever going to be completely satisfied with the balance, I'm sure.

    20. Can you tell us whether or not the Sithi will be playing a significant role in the upcoming Osten Ard book? Please?

    I can't imagine writing a book about Osten Ard that didn't feature the Sithi in a major way, and in fact when I get around to putting together the book in question, I promise there will be many things revealed (and actual stories set in) the history of the Sithi pre-dating the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn books.

    21. Finally, similar to the question regarding Caliban's Hour, are there any plans to raise the publicity level for Child of an Ancient City, another sadly under appreciated work?

    It had much the same kind of muddled inception and publication as CALIBAN, so I'd love to see it get some more attention as well. Then again, since I write such long (and thus such comparatively infrequent) books, there has to be something around which my readers can play Tad Trivia, and for now those two books and a half dozen or so short stories are it. Well, and sound files of my old band. And shocking rumors about my Very Bad Pets and Children.

    Thank you one again for your time and we all wish you the best of luck and success in the future.

    Thanks for the questions -- they were fun. I hope you find the answers mildly informative...or even interesting...



    I’m sure you’ll all join me in thanking CNRedDragon and especially ngallagher for this ‘package’ review and interview deal, and for all the hard work they’ve put in for you guys to make OF a better place.


    Sunday, June 01, 2003

    Michael Gerber Interview


    Over the past decade, Michael Gerber's humor has inexplicably appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He has also written for PBS, NPR, and Saturday Night Live. You might think this would‘ve satisfied him--you might think he could‘ve left us alone--but no, he had to go and write BARRY TROTTER.

    Born in 1969, Gerber began writing humor at an absurdly early age; he attributes this to lax parenting and National Lampoon magazine. Early influences included classic humorists like Robert Benchley and James Thurber; Doug Kenney, Henry Beard, and Michael O'Donoghue from the Lampoon; and the British humorists Peter Cook, Alan Coren, and Monty Python.

    While at college, Gerber was able to resurrect The Yale Record, America's oldest college humor magazine. He remains active with the Record, as president of its alumni group. Donations are accepted, but donors are hereby warned that they may be spent on liquor. (Now you see why The Record had to be resurrected.)

    Singly and with his writing partner, Jonathan Schwarz, since 1996 Gerber has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal,, The Village Voice, McSweeney’s and certainly a few I'm forgetting. Their commentaries have been aired on WNYC, New York's NPR affiliate. A 1998 piece, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Doughnuts," was recently collected in Fierce Pajamas, The New Yorker's anthology of humor writing. During the late ‘90s, the pair compulsively contributed to the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live, and also created a seldom-seen, somewhat legendary 20-page parody of The Wall Street Journal.

    BARRY TROTTER AND THE UNAUTHORIZED PARODY is Gerber's first book. Less than a year after it was self-published, it skyrocketed to the almost-top (#2) of the London Sunday Times Bestseller List, where it squatted rather rudely for six months. Nearly 300,000 copies of the book are in print, and its many foreign editions (Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, German, and Estonian, with more on the way) prove that immaturity is truly a universal language. Gerber lives in Chicago with his wife and three cats, and is finishing several new books, including the inevitable Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel, out later this year. When he's not offering unwanted advice to callow Yalies or hawking cheesy spoofs, his hobbies include watching Fellini movies, listening to Beatles records, and setting off fireworks. Oh, and rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, not that it helps them win."

    The books:

    Barry Trotter Series
    *Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody
    *Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel : The Book Nobody Has Been Waiting For - Hits stores this September in both the US and UK


    First of all, let me say that we at Other Fantasy welcome you and greatly appreciate that you are taking time out of your schedule for us.

    It's my pleasure. It gives me an excellent excuse to avoid doing a pile of dishes sitting in the sink.

    1. As a first book, how pleased were you with how "Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody" turned out, and how worried were you about other's opinions on touching Rowling's work?

    Well, I think I'm like a lot of creative people in that I naturally prefer whatever I'm working on at the moment. This is what keeps all of us churning stuff out, but it can also lead to John Lennon saying things like "Look, Yoko's stuff on this album is loads better than any of that crap that I put out with the Beatles.' So sometimes the person that creates something is a lousy judge of whether something's any good. What I can say about Barry the First is that I really enjoyed it as I was writing it. But my wife likes the sequel better. I love both of them equally--but you know, the audience is the only opinion that really matters.

    Yes, I was very concerned about people's reaction to my parodying JKR. She is a beloved author, and rightly so. I enjoy her books immensely, and as I learn more and more about writing novels--as opposed to the magazine and TV stuff I'd done loads of in the past--my respect for her grows and grows. What I hoped would happen has (generally speaking) come to pass: readers have recognized Barry Trotter as a fan's book, an irreverent, but complimentary work. That doesn't mean I don't tease a little, but the satirical portion, the annoyed or castigating portion, is aimed at the over merchandising of the phenomenon, not the books themselves.

    2. Did you set yourself specific times in which to write, or write as the ideas came to you? How much did and do you write on the average day?

    Ideas often come to me right when I wake up in the morning, from pixies whispering into my ear; if I'm good, I'll throw on some sweatpants and start right in, mining whatever weird stuff my subconscious has cooked up until the vein runs dry. But what I usually do is write down some notes, then check to see if the roof's fallen in somehow, get breakfast, pet the cats, procrastinate mightily. Then, after lunch, I'll write for several hours.

    On an average day, I'll come up with three or four "keeper" ideas, and write a page or two, single-spaced. (Single spacing seems to help, somehow--you have the line right there above to give you support, you're not skimming off into the blank white of the page/screen with every return...) Five pages is a great day, rare. If things are really tough, I'll sit down and write something out longhand in a spiral notebook. Nobody sees this, it's totally raw material, so I can experiment and screw up and try things that are inane. I carry a plain spiral notebook around all the time and jot stuff down in it. When I need to be presentable I carry a little moleskin book--my wife gets them for me, I have no idea where. The Wife Store.

    3. I've read that you are a fan of the Harry Potter series yourself. Would you say that the idea to write Barry Trotter came from your closeness to the series, or due to its success and thus a greater understanding for readers?

    Well, liking it was the first step. To parody something properly, one must immerse oneself in its world. If you don't like being there, it's very difficult to do the necessary research--that's why most parodies that slag the original are short. But I can't deny that part of it was thinking a parody of Harry Potter could sell. A parody is most effective if it shares the same medium as the original, and it's very, very rare that any book garners a readership big enough to justify a full-length parody. For a print humorist like me, HP was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. On top of all this, I know the US publishing industry well enough to know that sooner or later, somebody was going to do it, and since I liked HP, I felt it deserved to be parodied well--and from a position of affection, not mindless tearing down (which is the standard approach to written humor in the States). Finally, after I started shopping the first few chapters, and receiving the maddening response of "yeah, it's really funny, but we can't touch it," it became a point of honor to finish the book, do as good a job as I could, and see it through to the bookstore shelves. (If only for the five minutes before the WB got it pulled off!) Americans talk a lot about freedom of speech, but the fears and requirements of the huge corporations who actually print and distribute the stuff have a tremendous winnowing effect. Our rhetoric aside, American media shows a fairly narrow range of what is possible, and since *I* had read and loved tons of Barry Trotter-type stuff back in the 70s and 80s, I felt obligated to do my best to get the next generation of it out there. Parody is cheekiness in the face of authority, a quality that I think we should all be cultivating these days.

    I'm sure lots of people had the thought, "I'll parody Harry Potter." However, I was the only one stubborn enough to write an entire novel, then publish it myself. There are a limited number of comedy writers who have the print chops to even consider doing a full-length parody of HP, and the other guys have easier ways to make a living, and had more at stake financially, than I did. So there was, after ten years of Ramen Noodles, definitely in a "right person-right time" thing. And I was very lucky, especially in the UK, with the publishing and marketing. But I seem to have strayed from your question...

    4. Do you think that the many recent film adaptations of books have caused an increase in the popularity of parodies? What effects do you think the recent increase in the making of films of fantasy novels has had on the genre?

    Well, if you take "Bored of the Rings" as your model, it had sold over a million copies in the first fifteen years after it was published, without a movie. This was due to the Harvard Lampoon college humor magazine being something of a brand name in the mid- to late Sixties--Bored was just the latest in a string of very successful print parodies they had done. So Bored's re-emergence with the Jackson films shouldn't be too surprising--it's been building a readership for 34 years and counting without them.

    Speaking as a bit of an outsider, I think readers of fantasy and science fiction have a natural affinity for humor; they have a tendency to splinter into subgroups which know a great deal about a certain property--say, the world of Dune, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer--and that makes them ripe for humor. Each created world has a series of well-defined rules, stated ("Vulcans have pointed ears") and un-stated ("If you're wearing a red shirt, you die"), and that's fertile territory for rule-breaking, that is, humor. All jokes are inside jokes, and fans of fantasy and SF often use their love of a certain property to knit themselves together. So parody of specific fantasy and SF stuff is extremely thick on the ground. And there is the habit of fantasy and SF readers to read widely within the genre, which allows for moe general things like Terry Pratchett. Although to restrict TP with the label of "parodist" is unfair, I think--as it would be with Douglas Adams. Those guys were/are comic novelists, just as much as PG Wodehouse or anybody else you care to name--they just happen to toil in the fantasy/SF genre.

    To be honest, it might simply come down to intelligence and imagination. The more things you know, the more things are apt to strike you funny in juxtaposition. And the better imagination you have, the more easily you'll be able to do the complex work that's required for reading parody and humor. So maybe the affinity between SF/fantasy and parody/humor is simply a function of what SF/fantasy readers are like.

    The structure of Hollywood is driving studios to look not just for movie ideas, but "properties" that can be turned into a world of merchandising opportunities. It's only natural that they'd look to fantasy/SF to do so, whether the original was a novel, TV show, or comic book. And since movies are the 800-pound gorilla of our current pop culture, parodies are a natural "brand extension," if I can be permitted some odious marketing talk.

    5. Were the sudden plot-twists a mockery of modern writing tools, as case of throwing things as they came to you, or the result of actual planning?

    There were two things going on with that. The first was that yes, I was mocking the preciousness and micro-managing and solipsistic self-absorption that I despise in so many current novels. THE NOVEL, all-caps, the story of my life, my magnum opus, the thing that makes me a Cultural Figure--I'm so tired of it. My opinion is: first, a book should entertain (and one hopes enlighten) the reader. Attention--anybody's attention--is a precious thing, and I personally feel obligated to reward it.

    There's a lot of pomposity about novels and people who write novels and a definite High Culture/Low Culture sorting process that I don't like. Over here in the US, there's an almost compulsive positioning--and it is like a product, like a detergent--of the Next Important Writer. And meanwhile, most people are reading so-called "trash," past and present, and loving it. So in the plotting of Barry there was some sense of "I know you'll dismiss this as trash, so I'm going to revel in it a bit, just go nuts." Novels don't have to be "lapidary and labrynthine," which everything in the NY Times Book Review seems to be. Novels can simply entertain, and there's no less art in that.

    There was also another thing afoot, which is related to my wife's being immersed in the culture of improv comedy here in Chicago. There is an aesthetic--which belies the form's roots in the 50s--of creativity on the fly, of trusting in the natural connective powers of your brain in medias res. It's a kind of Romantic attachment to expression in the raw. I like this; I also like jazz a lot (thus, the centaurs). So as I was writing Barry, I was going wherever my intuition told me the most laughs would be. The sequel is plotted much more conventionally, because I wanted to make some jokes about the repeating elements in JKR's plots. It will be interesting to see what people think of that.

    6. Do you ever feel parodies aren't accepted as "proper" writing, and merely a cheap knock-off? If so, does this annoy you?

    Yes, and yes. I believe that writing should be judged--as much as you can judge writing in a macro sense, which is usually nothing more than the tastes of the time--by answering this question: did it do what it set out to do? But instead there's all this crap about what's proper, and what's simply mucking about--which has to do with conforming to either fashion, as I say, or social norms, many of which are completely arbitrary.

    James Thurber one complained that writing humor meant always sitting at the children's table. That's the bad news. The good news is that people actually read your stuff, unlike the latest "novel-as-puzzle-for-grad-students," so you can really reach people. And really reaching people is a lot more important to me than being asked to be a member of a club that I'd probably hate anyway.

    If you're doing it right, comedy's a way to exxpress thoughts that are threatening; it's a way to encourage people to be imaginative and free. As such, it's completely, totally opposed to the current cultural trends. It's unruly, when standardization is rewarded; it's personal, when mass-appeal is rewarded; it's honest, when conformity is rewarded. So while it annoys me that I'll never be buried with the Poets, I think there are things a lot more important than the burnishing of my ego.

    7. Did making the characters older make you more comfortable while writing? (Both in terms of familiarity with the older generation and also giving a greater gap between the characters and their counterparts.)

    Yes. Because I advise the student humor magazine at Yale--our dear President's alma mater, so don't say we don't know a joke when we see one--I have a stream of college-age kids passing through my life more or less constantly. So I had more models. And also, older kids can do funny things without the undertone of unseemliness that having younger kids doing it would create. Writing about an 11 year old having sex--blech.

    8. Ron's equivalent; Lon, is the most obviously changed character. Was there a specific reason for this?

    Well, it came from the comic characteristics I was setting up for each--Barry was somewhat smart, but lazy (and a bit venal); Ermine was very smart, and lusty; and Lon was good, but very dim. Once you've set up those characteristics, then interaction takes care of itself. Lon is the most exaggerated of these, yes. He's also the most popular--because he's the sweetest, too. I love dogs and think they're very funny, so he was my way to get that kind of character in the book. I like to write in the voice of animals.

    9. Many of the characters, such as Bumblemore, display characteristics which one could imagine are present in Dumbledore's character, but simply not stated. Do you often think of other possible aspects of characters whilst reading? (Not specifically Potter)

    Yeah, sure. My mind naturally thinks of what takes place after the movie fades out. Doesn't everybody's? Nobody poops on TV. Once again, this plays into one of the larger subthemes of the book: drawing attention to the artifice of writing a book or telling a story. Revealing the magic trick. Which brings us back to Bumblemore...

    10. Film adaptations of books seem to be increasingly popular. Are you concerned about film adaptation, or do you expect it shall encourage more people to read? Or are they just a useful method for a plot?

    No, there was genuine concern there.

    I think that movies can help swell the audience for a particular book, temporarily. That's certain. But I think that book people--I'm talking about the publishing industry, primarily, but also authors--are a bit naive when it comes to getting books adapted. The real benefit is one of publicity, and that's a huge advantage for any book; the scale of most books is dwarfed by the least-successful movie. But a movie and a book are two distinct things--they aren't equivalent. And furthermore, it may not do a book as much good as we think, if there's a more easily consumable form out there, that is, a movie. It's a gamble--how many will see the movie, and simply say, "I know what happens, that's enough. What's on the next channel?"

    I would hope that BT would give its readers a healthy distaste for the passivity that movies and TV insist upon. That's really the satirical point of the parody--that a movie ISN'T a book, and that in our current age, a movie can easily supersede a book. I know kids here who watched and loved both HP movies, but haven't read the books. That's the US, we're over stimulated and dopey, but it's worth thinking about. Watching a movie takes less time and imaginative input than reading a book does, and for Americans at least, both factors are very attractive. All this isn't to say books should never be turned into movies, but that we should be cautious about it. They are not equivalent.

    11. Did studying Harry Potter for a year and writing a parody upon it make you at all cynical of the world that has been created, or warmed you to it?

    Definitely warmed me to it. I was able to see the elements the JKR borrowed from other writers, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment--nor dim her achievement--one bit. She's done a tremendous job of creating a logical, and very "deep" world. That's why I did a sequel--there simply wasn't enough room in the first book to discuss it all.

    12. How difficult did you find writing Barry Trotter? Is Harry Potter a good source material in terms of having plenty to parody?

    It was difficult, because keeping a reader's attention for one page is difficult--much less 200! And if you make a really excellent joke on page 50, you might have to deal with the plot ramifications of that on page 150, and get into quite a pickle.

    Harry Potter is excellent source material for parody, in that it's very logically consistent, and also very fully imagined, as I said. But there were serious problems to solve, from a parodist's perspective; first, it's funny itself. It's always much easier to parody something that takes itself relentlessly seriously--like Tolkein, for example. Second, HP's audience is very diverse. A parody written for ten-year-olds is different from one aimed at 40-year-olds. My solution to this was to build in several simultaneous levels of humor, and hope that each group would find something that satisfied them. It's a technique I haven't seen before, but I think I pulled it off. All things being equal, I think Doug and Henry had an easier job with "Bored of the Rings"--but that's easy for me to say, I didn't have to write it! And also, I had their work as a model, which was helpful. So it was probably equally hard.

    13. Do you ever see "Barry Trotter" as how the characters of "Harry Potter" could turn out in terms of character rather than actual events?

    Meaning, Harry turns into Barry as a result of the incredible attention that he was shown at a young age? Absolutely. When I was planning out the character of Barry Trotter, I started thinking about big-time college athletes over here are treated: they get EVERYTHING given to them, because they have a unique talent; rules don't apply to them; women (and men, if that's their thing) throw themselves at them; but they don't have any money themselves, and they are still quite dependent on adults. So that was the background thinking--if you took an 11 year old and told him that he was basically the Messiah, and he was a natural genius at everybody's favorite sport, too, what kind of person might that create? Who Barry Trotter is, isn't simply a black-equals-white version of Harry Potter, and it gives me a moment of annoyance when people assume it is. It's character-as-commentary, a deeper level of parody, which people can take or leave as it amuses them. And it's particularly satisfying to me when somebody notices that Barry changes over the course of the book, from a totally self-absorbed, incredibly shallow individual to somebody with a little more to him (while retaining those narcissistic tendencies).

    14. Sleaze and corruption seem integral to the humour. Was this due to the story being based upon children's books?

    Yes. The world of children's books is antiseptic, while the world of children is often anything but. (Heard the language used on a playground recently?) And part of my "point"--gosh, this weird little book is getting heavy, eh?--is to draw out and heighten this.

    There's a certain type of kid--maybe all kids go through this--that defines him/herself against the prevailing opinion, or their parents, or what they liked when they were "little kids"--two years ago! MAD Magazine has existed for 50 years on this phenomenon. I think Barry very much appeals to kids who are just starting to question the world and the adults who control it. And if Barry can be a bit of a grubby guy sometimes, that's even more delicious--"Look, this character throws up--like a real person!" Someone recently called JKR's style "naive," in the sense of "pre-adult"--and while it works splendidly well, there's a type of kid (and adult) who glories in the messiness and eccentricity of the world. I think that type of person loves Barry Trotter--just as American kids in the 50s loved MAD. It's like a secret message confirming that yes, the world is nuts, you're not the only one to think this, you're not alone.

    15. How important is the opinion of Potter fanatics on your book?

    Highly important. Extremely important. I know that there will be some that will be outraged that I've had the temerity to "make fun" of Harry, but generally HP fans understand that I'm making fun *with* HP--the rules of the world, the characteristics of the characters--in a fundamentally affectionate way. My book's a bit like a teasing older brother to the HP series.

    16. Did you find the difficulties you faced attempting to get the book on the shelves worry you as to how much quality may never be seen by the public due to publishing rivalry and fears?

    Yes. Listen, quality is only one part--and often not the major part--of what gets bought by an editor, much less published, much less distributed and publicized widely enough to sell a reasonable amount. I had a lot of nice credentials, and a lot of contacts in the publishing business (I lived in Manhattan for most of the 90s) and it still came down to this: if the technology of print-on-demand publishing, and the internet, hadn't existed (or had simply been where it was in, say 1997, when I did a parody of The Wall Street Journal and lost my shirt), Barry Trotter would still be sitting on my goddamn computer! And in the UK, I was tremendously fortunate that Orion had just published Bored and was selling nice numbers of it. So I've been tremendously, tremendously fortunate with this project. If these next few books I'm working on do all right, I'm planning to turn my attention to creating something--a magazine, a publishing house--that will help identify, train, and champion all the terribly funny writers out there who haven't gotten the break, or gave up in disgust, which I almost did many times. The only thing that saved me was my utter inability to hold down conventional employment. Salvation can take strange forms.

    17. I've been unable, despite my best efforts, to get a friend to read your book because she is a huge Harry Potter fan. (It's scary really). Do you have any suggestions as to how to get her to read it?

    Give her time. Part of being a fan of anything is making that part of your self-image, and if loving HP is a large portion of how she presents herself to the world, she may feel like a hypocrite or somehow unfaithful if she reads and enjoys Barry T. When I was younger, for example, I LOVED the Beatles. I submerged myself in everything Beatley for years. Then that ran out--I knew it inside and out--and I got to look for stuff sort of around the Beatles that I hadn't looked at yet. I stumbled on to The Rutles (Eric Idle's loving spoof of the group) and loved it. And now I can entertain both in my head without having the parody destroy the original. In fact, the parody demonstrates to me why I love the original so much. I suspect that your friend will get to know Barry when she's ready. He'll be waiting, and probably practicing his spitting for distance AND accuracy.

    18. Are there plans for more books in the Barry Trotter series? And will you be parodying any other fiction works?

    You mean besides Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel? Well, I didn't plan on writing a sequel in the first place, but then the publisher asked. And I might not have done it even then, except that I got a ton of email from fans asking me to do another, "why didn't you talk about x event or y character?" I thk Lon is grate!" and all that. (Lots of letters in Lon-speak.) I suspect that Books V, VI and VII will provide plenty of grist for my goofy little mill, so it will really depend on whether I feel that readers want and would enjoy another. Writing books is a lousy way to make a living, but it's a great way to connect with people, and that's what I enjoy most. To know that I've written something that gives people pleasure--just as so many things other people have done, give me pleasure--there's no better feeling. So if Son of Barry Trotter does okay, and people start clamouring for another like they did after the first one appeared, I'd be tremendously pleased to try again. Barry's fate is in your hands as much as mine!

    Other parodies....this comic novel is a parody of sorts, set at a college humor magazine. And I'm noodling with a parody of the history of the United States. Meanwhile, I'm always scanning the skies for another target...Any requests?

    Thank you one again for your time and we all wish you the best if success in the future.

    And to you, Dodge. It's been great fun.


    Remember: ”Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel : The Book Nobody Has Been Waiting For” Hits stores this September in both the US and UK
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