|The Apocalypse Is Coming: An Interview with Terry Brooks|
|conducted by Sandy Auden|
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The Writing Process
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.
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.
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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