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A Conversation With Elaine Cunningham
An interview with Don Bassingthwaite

Elaine Cunningham
Elaine Cunningham is the author of ten fantasy books, many short stories, and a lot of very bad poetry. A former music teacher, she now writes full time. Her literary role models include Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, Ogden Nash, and R.A. Salvatore, which is less confusing than one might think. In her spare time, she likes to garden, hang out at RenFaires and Celtic Festivals, and compose Realms-related ballads on her MIDI system. She makes her home in Maryland with her husband William and their two sons. The seasons of her life are defined by June fireflies, autumn colors, and the weekly bonfire parties her family hosts for the neighborhood kids. Elaine never has enough hours in the day or enough shelves for all her books, and she considers these things to be reasonable indications of happiness.

Elaine Cunningham Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Elaine Cunningham Tribute Site
SF Site Review: Thornehold
SF Site Interviews

Art: Fred Fields Elfshadow
Art: John and Laura Lakey Elfsong
Art: Fred Fields Silver Shadows
Art: Brom Thornhold
Recently, I reviewed Thornhold by Elaine Cunningham, the last book in The Harpers series from TSR. Because the series concluded with her book, I asked Elaine to share some of her thoughts on The Harpers and on her books in the series.
Is there a special place that you feel The Harpers series holds within TSR's fiction line?
I have enjoyed The Harpers books, but I must admit that they have strayed rather far afield from the concept that gave birth to them. They were originally intended to be a series of stand-alone stories, books that new readers as well as those familiar with the Realms could read. This, I think, was a good idea, but very soon the editorial direction changed. Some of the characters caught on, and there ended up being a number of sub-series within The Harpers series. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. My first Harpers book, Elfshadow, led to an opportunity for me to write a coming-into-their-own adventure for each of the two protagonists. (Danilo's story was Elfsong, Arilyn's was Silver Shadows.) But I agree that it was time for the series to end. All those mini-series and unofficial trilogies, combined with the double-digit numbers on the spine, were getting unwieldy. I've heard that some neophyte readers were finding the situation rather daunting. ("You mean I've got to read fifteen books before I pick up this one?!")

Did you find that The Harpers, as an open-ended series, gave you a special chance to develop characters or stories?
Yes, it did. I prefer smaller, personal tales to those dealing with world-shattering events. The Harpers series was the perfect forum for that sort of story.

Is there a special place that you feel your Harpers books hold among your own novels?

My first published novel was in The Harpers series. As I understand it, one of the original purposes of the series was to provide a forum for new writers. To this end, TSR ran an ad in Writers' Digest magazine advertising an open audition. Each submission would be given a blind read by three editors. This was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I did an intensive blitz on the Forgotten Realms, fell in love with the world, and turned in a submission. I was offered a contract for Elfshadow from this proposal. The Harpers series gave me my start, and for this reason, I'll always regard my Harpers stories, and the whole series, with a great deal of affection.

Is there one of your Harpers novels that is your favourite? Why?
Elfshadow was my first published book, and it's probably still my favorite. I enjoyed the interaction between Arilyn and Danilo. Of all my characters, these two are probably the most vivid and deeply personal. They are the only two that show up in my dreams from time to time, which I suppose says something. (On one notable occasion, after I attended a performance of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," I had a dream that had Arilyn and Danilo inexplicably joining the cast of the opera. The dream was entirely in arias and recitative, with Dan's new contributions sung in English and the rest in Italian. Arilyn did not sing in either language. She merely looked on in utter befuddlement, and god help Cheribino if he tried to put the moves on her. All told, it was an above-average dream.)

You didn't ask, but I'd like to add a note about the future of The Harpers. The organization will not disappear, but it is poised for change. There has been some discussion about a larger story arch that will appear over time, in bits and pieces given in various novels and game products. Some of the familiar Harper characters will show up from time to time. At present, I'm finishing up Dream Spheres, a story that reunites Dan and Arilyn in a shared adventure. And of course, such famous Harpers and Harper allies as Khelben Arunsun, Elminster, and the Seven Sisters will continue to be very much a part of the Realms.

The story of Those Who Harp has spanned centuries, and has seen the organization through a number of profound changes. The Balance is a delicate, shifting thing, and those who preserve it must adjust their course accordingly.

I, for one, am very glad that the characters and stories of The Harpers will continue to appear. Please join me in thanking Elaine Cunningham and wishing her the very best with her future books.

Copyright © 1998 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).


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