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The Apocalypse Is Coming: An Interview with Terry Brooks
conducted by Sandy Auden

© Sandy Auden
Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks
With the publication of Sword of Shannara in 1977, Terry Brooks became one of the most popular authors in the industry. He has published more than 14 consecutive bestselling novels since that first book.

Terry Brooks Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Elves of Cintra
SF Site Review: Straken
SF Site Review: Tanequil
SF Site Review: The Elfstones of Shannara
SF Site Review: Sometimes The Magic Works
SF Site Review: Morgawr
SF Site Review: Ilse Witch
SF Site Review: A Knight of the Word
SF Site Review: Running With The Demon

Gypsy Morph
The Elves of Cintra
Armageddon's Children
Straken
Tanequil
Sometimes The Magic Works
The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Morgawr
Ilse Witch:  Book One of The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara
A Knight of the Word
Running With The Demon
Terry Brooks' Shannara books have been entertaining readers for over 30 years with tales of elves and demons, evil deeds and heroic rescues. It's a richly detailed milieu he has created and now he's exploring the origins of his world in his current series, The Genesis of Shannara, an exciting mix of Shannara history and Brooks' Word & Void characters. The new series follows Knight of the Word Logan Tom as he battles across a post-apocalyptic countryside with a group of street kids, fighting to reach the rendezvous with the mysterious and magical Gypsy Morph; meanwhile elf Kirisin must find the blue Elfstones and lead his own reluctant race out of the Cintra Forest; and street kid Hawk embarks on his own voyage of discovery -- about himself.

With the second book in the series, The Elves of Cintra, being released this month and the concluding volume, Gypsy Morph, about to be released, it's a good time to go back to the beginning and find out how it all started…

The Genesis of a Series

How did you know it was time to write book one, Armageddon's Children?
I had just written six books in Shannara and I was sick of it. I had fully intended to write the next Landover book but at the same time I was thinking about Word & Void and I got side-tracked by thinking what was supposed to happen with it, which I hadn't really resolved. I felt maybe I wasn't ready to write the Landover book after all, even though it was overdue.

The more I thought about Word & Void, the more intrigued I became at the possibilities and it just caught my fancy. One thing led to another and all of a sudden I thought I'm going to have to do this. It's the time to do it and I need a different kind of challenge now. I had another series of stories -- that I may write further down the road -- but I wasn't as invested in it at that point. So I had some choices but Genesis is the one that rose to the top, especially after the publisher got excited about it. I thought well, it's always a good sign if they're excited about it.

When did you realise you want to merge Shannara and Word & Void?
Once I thought about the possibility of making the current set of books fit into the existing 15 or 16 Shannara books, then it became a question of how to make it work which meant I had to take all the things I had established about the future worlds and show how it happened. We can't just assume that suddenly science is gone and magic has taken its place and that's that. Where do the druids come from? Where did the magic come from? And what about all this other stuff that took place?

So I had to cover all the periods of time because I'd carefully set out in Shannara book one that there was a thousand years gap in time from the end of the old world to the beginning of the first Council of Druids. I'd pretty much decided it had to be done incrementally and I wouldn't be able to do it all in the first set of books. It would take the first set of books to establish the destruction of the old world and the way in which it would be gone, the way science would disappear. The next set would talk about what happened next in the process.

It's a very intuitive selection process. Would you ever go against that instinct about the next book and, in this case, written the Landover book instead?
I probably could have because at this stage of my career, I can really write just about anything I want and it's going to find a willing audience of some sort out there. But I'm also conscious that readers and publishers alike do not want me to stray too far from Shannara. They get antsy about that so I try not to get more than three books away from writing a new book in that series. Which is a fair enough deal, that's the one everyone really wants. But I still like writing Shannara, it's not like it's a chore. If it did become a chore, if it felt like I didn't have good stories to tell and it became an assignment rather than a labour of love, then I'd probably have to drop away from it for a longer period or maybe altogether.

That fortunately hasn't happened and the trick is to keep re-inventing and re-working where they're going. With Genesis I was really able to do that. I'm writing a Shannara series book but it's not really a Shannara series, it's more Word & Void-like and some parts are entirely new so that's intriguing. I do like writing new things rather than too much of the old.

The Approach to Armageddon's Children

Did you approach Armageddon's Children any differently to your other books?
No, anytime you start a new book in a series where you're in a different time period you have to re-invent things, you have to think it through more carefully, think about the whole set of books as well as what you're writing. You have to pretty much lay all the ground rules down in the first book, because that's going to set the tone for the books that come after.

I'd envisioned the landscape while working on the Word & Void books, so it wasn't entirely foreign. It was mostly a case of how do I do it? For example, you sit down and think, well, I want to start with the lowest common denominator and work my way up. I'll do this, do that, but wait a minute what about the elves? They're out there somewhere, where are they?

You have to think about what's going to be and about the fact that somewhere down the line you're going to have to explain why magic became the dominant power and where the druids came from. So where did they come from? Who are their ancestors? We also have to establish why the races split apart and where did they all come from. And of course there are a few mis-directions in there too, for the people who think they've got it figured out but it's actually something different to what they believe.

It took a fair amount of thinking about how much stuff to cover and how much to worry about later. But I've done this long enough that I trust the process pretty thoroughly and know that I don't have to have all the answers at once. I need to have the general direction and the big answers to start with and the rest will fill itself in.

How much information do you need in advance?
I need about 50 percent of the details worked out. I try to think about most of it to some extent but even in writing the book I don't know all the answers when I start. I think that would be quite presumptuous. The writing of the book always determines how the story is going to go and things can change no matter how much you think about it beforehand.

Which characters arrived first for this series?
The street kids. I knew up front that there'd be a hierarchy. If civilisation is destroyed and we don't have any order, order will reform in different ways. The walled compounds became the way in which the greater number of people would live because there would be safety in numbers and there would be protection from the elements and from sicknesses and plagues and all the things we don't like touching us because that's the way we are. We'd get into a siege mentality.

All the people that are of no use or were diseased would be cast out and kept out. So the croaks and the lizards and the people who are mutated, they would be consigned to the street. Children without parents or protectors would be useless too so they'd be cast out and become the street kids and form their own little tribes that would allow them to survive as best they could. That was my initial thinking.

Which characters arrived last?
The elves, they were a later realisation. I'd forgotten about them entirely and then I thought you can't suddenly have them re-surface later on or they're going to be destroyed along with everyone else in the apocalypse that's going to come at the end of the book.

What inspired you to create this vision of the future?
For me it's always a case of getting upset about something. I've been thinking about it for a while and we've been less than happy with the political situation in the US for the last six years, it's not getting any better. We've had all kinds of outbreaks of sickness and epidemics, poisoning of our resources and the general tone of things is getting very combative. It's an Us or Them mentality that's really taken hold, not just in the USA but in much of the world.

I just began to think about the possibility -- what if the perfect storm comes and all these things go bad at once? What if we do have a complete weakening of the environment? What if an epidemic of plagues comes and it triggers a response that results in a nuclear attack and governments collapse, armies are destroyed and militias take over? Suddenly you've got this perfect Mad Max kind of world where everybody is just trying to survive the best way they can.

Some will look for order of course -- there will be some sense of trying to salvage the world. It's very biblical in a way. The flood comes and a few will survive. How will they survive?

In Genesis of Shannara, it's all about this Gypsy Morph creature who is now manifesting himself as a child. And the child will lead them to a better world, another place where they will survive the coming fire. They'll have the chance to start over again and rebuild and then the question becomes how much success will they have and will they be able to work together? How will they overcome the difficulties? You know, one thing builds on another, just like that.

Is it quite therapeutic for you?
Yes, it is. I like thinking about these things because then you're the master of the whole situation. There is a great satisfaction in saying: well I think that something decent will come out of it. I don't know -- it's playing god.

As "god" you get to create new monsters and demons…
Yes and for me the function of the creatures is two fold. In this book, it's to show where the races come from, because over the course of the story the Shannara Races will grow out of some of these creatures. But the second purpose is to test the mettle of the heroes against the challenges they'll be confronted with, which will include things like the once-men and the demon armies, the rogue militia and bands of croaks and lizards on the streets.

Would you ever create a monster for the hell of it?
No, I think that part of your job as a writer is to have reasons for things happening -- nothing ever happens without a reason. Any time you create a monster either for the purpose of creating an artificial situation or introducing a deux ex machina into the environment then you've got trouble. I'm a big believer that less is more in usage of magic and it should be used sparingly. What sells a fantasy book is the conflict between the characters, the depth of the characters and the struggle that you put them up against. It isn't the horrific-ness of a particular monster or the number of times a sword is drawn to cut down a monster or something of that ilk -- that's Conan the Barbarian stuff and it's not my kind of writing. I know that for some people that's the right thing but it's not the right thing for me.

The Writing Process

How do you keep yourself interested in each new book?
The longer I'm in this business, the more I like to experiment with the writing in general. Almost to the point where, about once per book, I will write myself into a very difficult situation just to see if I can write myself out of it. I think you need to keep yourself challenged in order to produce writings that keep the readers interested too and that's a constant challenge especially after this long where you could just call it a career, walk away and let it go at that but then my wife would have to put up with me hanging around the house!

Do you ever wish you could undo any events in a previous book?
Periodically, I have certain regrets of that sort, yes, where I think I could have taken this a different way and that would have solved the problem. But that's just part of the challenge. You're locked in, now what are you going to do about it?

What do you do?
When you find yourself locked in with a situation you've created, where you've put the characters in a precarious situation or you've created a puzzle that needs solution, you have to figure out logically how to resolve it. Sometimes those solutions are easy to find if you give it a little thought. Sometimes they take a long time to figure out because no answer readily presents itself.

For example, at the end of Armageddon's Children, at the compound the people throw Hawk and Tessa from the walls. Gone! I had that picture in mind a long time before I got there. I said that's how this book is going to end because people are going to go Oooh! ...[sharp intake of breath]... Look what happened to them!

I thought that was so cool but then I thought well, this is good, they've been thrown from the walls, now what? Do they fall down below and this hand reaches up and grabs them and gentle lowers them to the ground? Does Hawk have magic that saves them? What is the solution to this? But I knew also that the survivors were eventually going to work their way to the King of the Silver River. This was probably where Hawk learns the truth about himself and what he's meant to do and he learns it from the King of the Silver River who's in fact bringing him home with the survivors. So the King was the one that would save them but nobody would know that, they would just go into the light and be gone and we would not know until he woke up in the gardens. That was a situation where the solution took some time to manifest itself but that I knew I would have to have by the time I got to that last chapter of volume one.

Do you do anything specific to help generate these ideas?
I tell everybody that when I'm stuck and I'm looking for ideas or even when I just want ideas to come, the best thing is to either take a long dive where your mind is freed up and you can just let it go; or get in a situation where's there's water -- showers are great. I get lots of ideas in the shower. It's amazing. In there it's like a white-noise state and your mind just suddenly releases and you begin to follow all these possibilities in your head. It's real magic! Although sometimes nothing happens and you have to try again later.

And finally, the end of The Elves of Cintra is very tense. Do you find yourself in a similar emotional state when you're writing?
No, I'm very cool and collected, separate from the story -- the puppet master manipulates! I think it's just the way you have to be. You can be passionate about what you're writing but you have to be very clear headed about the way you do it. The construct part requires that you distance yourself from your material.

It's the same thing when you kill one of your characters, do something horrible or you have a moment with intense emotions. If you can't break away from all that, you probably can't write it the way it needs to be written, I don't think. At least I can't, because I'm sure other writers would say 'are you crazy, of course you can, I do it all the time!' But for me at least, having distance seems to work best and then I get all involved later when I read it over after it's finished.

Terry Brooks' next project is a Landover story due for release in Fall 2009.

For all the information you could possibly need about the author, plus a little more, check out the Official Terry Brooks website.

Copyright © 2008 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.


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