Your readers know you best for writing duologies. Some think they aren't
much more than one fat book sliced in two by a publisher. Now with The One
Kingdom, you've written the first volume of a trilogy, a more traditional
format. What was there about this story that made you decide to do a
It's true, to some degree, that my earlier books are really single stories
divided into two books, though as single volumes they would have been over
1000 pages which is exceeding the practical limit for the glued bindings of paperbacks.
The occasional reader complains about multi-volume series but they don't
seem to realize that an author gets paid per book -- the size of that book is
not taken into account. Which is to say that I can make as much money
writing a 100,000 word book as I can writing a 250,000 word book, yet the
250,000 word book takes at least two and half times as long to complete.
When publishers split a book into multi-volumes the writer has the potential
to make a little more money. It's really fair to the writer, who probably
isn't making a lot of money anyway.
The project I'm working on now, The Swans' War, just seemed in conception
to be longer than my previous works, thus the dreaded trilogy. I've made a
lot of effort to give each book a complete story arc so that there is
satisfaction to be had in reading each volume.
A large amount of recent high fantasy is steeped in gore yet most of yours
happens off-screen. Was it a conscious decision to do this?
No, I don't think it was conscious. I just happen not to like graphic
violence unless it's absolutely justified. I don't read fantasy to get
drenched in blood -- I can get that from the movies -- I read fantasy for
There is little magic in your previous books; I guess they would fall more
under the banner of "near-history" that most other fantasy novels. More
magic is evident in the The One Kingdom but it still plays only a secondary
role. When starting a book, do you decide on what relevance such devices
as magic will play or do they surface by chance?
I do think about magic and its place in the books. I don't really like
what I think of as the D&D approach to magic -- almost everyone can perform
magic all the time. Magic becomes just another special effect. It loses its impact; for me,
I'm really a great admirer of Tolkien, and one of the things about the Lord
of the Rings is that there is very little overt magic in it. Sit down and
make a list of all the times magic is used in Lord of the Rings and you'll see that
Tolkien employed it very sparingly. The practitioners of magic were not
all-powerful and they used their abilities only in certain situations. I liked that
approach. Yet Middle Earth seems charged with magic all the same. Magic
should be kept mysterious -- that's what I think. Let the world you create be infused with
magic and wonder. That's one of the challenges of the genre.
One of the most fascinating elements in The One Kingdom is the river. The
tributaries that open only to some but not others and may not be of the
story's world is setting device I don't recall another author using. Where
did it come from?
It's a variation on what my friend Sean Stewart calls "secret geography."
The Tales of Narnia are an example -- you pass through a gate (or wardrobe in
the case of the Narnia books) and you're in another land. There are any number of
such books. I used this device before in the Farrland books (World Without
End, Sea Without a Shore, Beneath the Vaulted Hills, Compass of the Soul).
Only in that case the stories were set in the other world -- and characters
passed through into that world from our own. It was never stated, but
that's what was happening -- characters were accidentally passing through
into this 18th/19th century world and taking science with them,
but it was not told from their point of view. The story unfolded from the point of
view of the characters born into that other world. A secret
geography story from the other side, so to speak.
The idea for the river with its hidden but more or less parallel branches
was really a throw-away idea in the first draft. One of the characters says
that people have gone down the river, assuming they'd take three days to go
from point A to point B but take two weeks and see sections of river they've
never seen before. It was a way to make the river seem mysterious and a bit
threatening. By the time I got to the end of the first draft I realized
that this had to happen to my characters. I sent the first draft to my
editor to read and she said the same thing. I rewrote the river sections of
the book seven times to get them right, so I'm glad you think they worked.
We've spoken often of the role of agents. Yours is one of the best. Do
you think it important for a writer to have an agent?
I think it is. For one thing, I believe writers should concentrate on
writing, not on selling books and reading contracts. It's a lot of work
when you add in foreign sales, etc. I can't imagine any writer is as good at all this
as a really good agent can be. The best agents keep their finger on the pulse of
the industry, and they have negotiating skills that few of us will ever
master. One of the other benefits of having an agent is that my
relationship with my editor is completely editorial -- we never talk about
money or contracts. We never have any of the bad feelings between us that
can sometimes be left over after a particularly tough negotiation.
At what point in their writing career do you think a writer should hire one?
As soon as possible, would be my answer, though it's tough to get a good
agent, if you haven't published. If a writer has an offer on their first
novel, they can always call up a good agency and ask them if they'd negotiate
the price and the contract -- after all, much of the hard work of selling a
first novel has been done. The agency will usually say yes, and then might
take you on as a client.
When an author switches publishers like you've done recently, their books
are often orphaned by the other publisher. I suppose it is to encourage
loyalty in authors. What's going to happen with your other books?
DAW has just re-released my backlist to coincide with the publication of The
One Kingdom. DAW has always done a great job on their backlist, and I'm
still on good terms with them.
A unique way of writing I read about recently is an author who writes a
quick draft on computer, a slower one on writing pads and then a third in
journals with a fountain pen. Could you tell us about how you go about the
process of writing?
If I had to go back to writing by hand I think I'd take up a new profession!
In my case, every book is a little different. A couple of books I've
written in one draft and a polish. Other books, like The One Kingdom, were
torn apart and stitched back together and rewritten and rewritten and then
torn apart again, etc. It often depends on how valid your original
concept was. I often find better material than my original ideas as I'm
working and this means throwing a lot of sections out and replacing them.
How you write a book isn't important -- it's the finished product that
If you do it well, the reader will never be able to see where you've cut ten
chapters out and sewn the narrative back together with a whole new plot
line. You do whatever you need to do to make it the best book you can.
That's the only thing that matters. When you're done the book should be the
best you could write at that time.
Writing is one of the more reclusive avocations. Some writers are more
interesting through their work than in person. They may be shy or
socially inept or they may struggle in dealing with those in society they
find less interesting than them self. You are not but I suspect you know
some who are. What is it about writing that attracts such folks?
Hey, what are you saying about writers? Actually, most of the writers I
know personally are pretty sophisticated people and don't really fit into
that stereotype. There are writers who fit your description, I'm sure. One
thing about publishing is you're valued for what you can do. It isn't like
corporate culture where
you have to fit into the company and work with other people on a daily
basis. Wearing the right suit and tie just isn't critical to your success
as an author -- the reviewers will savage you anyway. Authors sit in rooms
by themselves and don't have to interact with
anyone until they send the book off to their editors. A writer can get away
with being a little reclusive or eccentric. There's some license for this.
The wonder is probably that most of us are pretty normal.
In science fiction and fantasy, many writers follow a journeyman's path of
learning their craft by writing short fiction, getting published in the
magazines then the more prestigious digests, finally submitting a novel to
one of the major publishing houses. When you began, did you consider this
I've never actually written a short story. Well, maybe I wrote one in high
school but not since. It always seemed to me that many writers who started
out writing short fiction had trouble making the leap to the novel. Their
first books were often very episodic, as though they were just a series of
short stories cobbled together. I went right into writing full length
books. Having said that, I've agreed to write a short story for the next
World Fantasy Convention collection. I didn't tell them I'd never done it
There might be some advantages to learning your craft on short fiction --
after all you're working with smaller more manageable units -- but it's a
different discipline in many ways. When you finish writing short fiction
you still have to learn to write a novel. It's not a natural step for many.
I've read a lot of books over the years. But if I were a writer and could
pick a title by somebody else but it would be credited to me, I think
it would be Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein. Is there a
novel like this for you?
I wish I'd written Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, my favourite books as a
child. Anna Karanina and Lord of the Rings for obvious reasons.
Which contemporary writers do you admire?
Well, I think there are some very fine writers working in our genre. I
always find it disheartening how little serious attention is given to
fantasy. The New York Times or The Globe and Mail will review crime
fiction -- most of which is abominably written -- yet they allot almost no
space to our genre. But look at the people working in fantasy: Ursula K. Le
Guin, Pat McKillip, Robert Holdstock, Stephen R. Donaldson, Jeffrey Ford,
Patrick O'Leary, Sean Stewart. That's only the beginning of the list. Some
of these people write as well as anyone in the mainstream.
Outside the genre: I really liked Pat Barker's three World War I books which started
with Regeneration. I liked many things about The English Patient. Neal
Stephenson's Cryptonomicon was great. There's a writer with an imagination!
Sean Stewart's Galveston is brilliant. Gardens of the Moon (Steven
Erickson) is impressive. Kate Elliott is underrated, I think.
Copyright © 2001 Rodger Turner
Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head
and say, "So many books, so little time."