I recently had the opportunity to talk to distinguished fantasy author R.A. Salvatore about his latest novel, “Neverwinter”, one part of the suite of Neverwinter-themed products that WOTC is rolling out this year. Mr. Salvatore has sold over 15 million books in the US, has more than four dozen books to his credit, 23 New York Times bestesellers, and numerous game credits. He has undoubtedly become one of the more important figures in modern fantasy. Here now are 1d12 Questions with R.A. Salvatore:
1. You’ve been writing D&D fiction for over 20 years, starting with The Crystal Shard, and all along the one constant has been Drizzt. How has he changed over the past 20 years, and what’s his place in the world in the current rendition of the Forgotten Realms?
He’s gone through quite a few changes. In the early books, he was quite reckless – what did he have to lose, after all? As the series progressed and Drizzt became surrounded by true friends, and thus found a home, he became much more cautious – for them and not for himself. He even went back to Menzoerranzan and certain death in a (stupid) attempt to protect them.
He fought against this attitude as he came to better understand it, but it wasn’t until now, so many years later, that Drizzt is free of the good chains. The slate is clean. He’s angry and frustrated and certainly questioning everything he’s held dear. And he’s surrounding himself with less-than-savory characters. It remains to be seen if he’ll lift them up or they’ll drag him down.
2. Tell us a bit about Neverwinter, the entire project, and your role in it. Where you involved in the early project designs, did you have a hand in the overall arch? Or were you given a blank slate to work with and told “here, fill it”?
Basically, it came down to a phone call. Wizards of the Coast called me before I began the next Drizzt book, which became Gauntlgrym, and asked if I was going to be anywhere near Neverwinter. I’m often in that region because I use Luskan,a city just up the coast, all the time. So they asked if I would do a few things to help set the stage for a new Neverwinter computer game.
It was very easy for me to add Neverwinter to the tale I planned on telling – the core of the story remained exactly the same, I just got to blow up more stuff. If you take all the Neverwinter trappings in this series and set them aside, you’ll see that I can accomplish all the things I needed to do regarding character development and putting pressure on Drizzt’s moral code, very easily with the tools available. I didn’t need the Shadovar or the Thayans; I was underground anyway and could have used drown ad mind flayers and all other sorts of assorted bad guys.
Given all of that, I was more than happy to jump in and help out in setting the stage. I know how game companies work, obviously, and understand the process, the lead times, the expenses, etc. So I knew how to do little things that I could pass on to Cryptic Studios that might help them with interesting side stories. If I had a villain who didn’t have to die, I could offer that villain and her surroundings to Cryptic to include in the game if they wanted.
3. When you sit down to play DnD, are you a DM or a PC? Do you play Drizzt?
I usually DM. I have the most time to write up dungeons, given my day job, and I prefer DM’ing. If you ask my players, the most common word you’ll hear is “suck,” but that’s because I make them earn every copper piece, every point of experience and every piece of gear. It’s not uncommon for my players to celebrate over killing a skeleton, because the femurs make better weapons than I’ve given them!
When I play, no, it’s not Drizzt. I played him once, for one week, and he was promptly killed by the DM, who told me to “play a real character.” I usually play a monk, by the way, or a mage.
4. Your son, Geno, is becoming an accomplished author himself. What does that feel like for you, to have collaborated with your son?
Geno is an incredibly talented writer, and working with him was awesome. He did most of the writing on the books and the comics; I held his hand and served as a nasty editor, mostly, although there were a couple of scenes I insisted on writing in the Tymora books because they were different angles on scenes from my earlier books. He’s working for 38 Studios now as a narrative designer, helping flash out the world of Amalur. When I created that world, I did so with my gaming group, including Geno and his brother Bryan (who is a mechanics designer at 38 and taking on a ton of responsibility with the MMO).
Geno was planning to move to LA and work on some movies with a director friend, but he went into 38 Studios with me one day to playtest Reckoning, our upcoming single-player RPG. While we were in there, Geno got to look at a couple of zones that had been white-boxed by the MMO team – zones which happened to be the ones he had worked on in the world creation. As we walked out of the building, he said to me, “This is too cool. I have to be a part of this.”
So he is.
5. How much fantasy fiction do you consume? What’s on your nightstand (or in your e-reader) right now?
Not nearly as much as you’d think, and not nearly as much as I’d like. It’s hard for me to read while I’m writing, and I’m always writing lately! I’ve got The Hobbit dog-eared at chapter 4, still waiting to be picked up again after more than a year. I’ve got Terry Brooks’ last Shanarra series in the queue as well as Martin’s second book (fortunately, he writes them about as fast as I read them…).
6. In all these years of writing DnD fiction, with its huge fan base, place in pop culture and all that its legacy brings to the table, what has been your one experience that stands out the most? Be it with a fan, a character as you’ve sat in front of a screen, or anything else.
I met a young man, a multiple cancer survivor. Blind since he was barely a toddler, he became a black belt in knife fighting (I’m not kidding). Everything in life seemed stacked against this kid. I met him when the sister of the mentor helping him through school directed me to his website. He had listed his Make-a-Wish hopes and I was at the top of the list; apparently he had found quite a bit of inspiration from Drizzt over the years.
That pales compared to the inspiration he gave me when I met him. The kid is the most optimistic person I’ve ever known, a true champion and a good soul. That my work touched him truly touched me.
I could give you dozens of other examples – soldiers who’ve given me medals they earned overseas; other survivors; the family of a woman comatose after a car accident who was reading her my books to try to help her back because she had loved them so much; the father of a crippled son who read The Highwayman and believed; a quadriplegic kid who found the will to go on…
This is the armor that writers (and other artists) wear, the reminder that what we do is about more than royalty checks. We all have stories like this, and what an incredible privilege it is to have your work let into someone else’s life on such a personal level.
7. Is it really emotional to write? Did Gauntlgrym hurt to write?
Read the forward – every word in it is 100% true. To write that book, I had to go to a very private, very dark place. It hurt like hell, every day of every week, for months on end. When you’ve been with characters for more than two decades, of course it hurts. It still hurts!
8. What’s next following Neverwinter?
I’m almost done the book for next year. After that, I’m not sure what I’ll begin working on. I’ve also got the 5-issue comic series running. The third issue should be out soon. And, finally, 38 Studios’ first product will come out in February of next year. “Reckoning” is a single-player RPG for the X-box, the PS3 and the PC and I think it’s going ot raise the bar on the video RPG genre. I really do. I can’t wait for people to see it. I’ve had to keep my mouth shut about this world for 5 years now and I can finally start to blab!
9. Who would you cast to play Drizzt in a Realms film? Do you envision certain actors or personalities when you create characters?
To the second question, no, I don’t. I don’t really know the characters when I start writing them. They talk to me and explain who they are as I go along.
As for casting…I can’t say. Even if I had someone in mind, I wouldn’t tell you. Consider the problems that might cause! If I say one actor and then they do a movie and cast another, it will be all over the place that the guy they chose wasn’t my first choice. I don’t want to get into the middle of that.
10. Lastly, and I have to ask, how does it feel to be responsible for Chewie’s death? Do you still get hate mail?
I never considered myself responsible for it. It wasn’t my choice – heck, I didn’t even know I had to do it when I agreed to write the book, signed the contract and deposited the advance check. The order came from on high, and at first I resisted. Flat out said no way. But after talking to Mike Stackpole and Jim Luceno and the other writers who were putting together the New Jedi Order, I became convinced that they were doing it for the right reasons. All I insisted on was being able to kill him in the manner of my choosing.
It’s funny, but I still regret it. I’m still not sure Lucasfilm and DelRey should have done that. If I went back in time, knowing what I know now, I probably would have declined. But no, I don’t get hate mail any longer, although I occasionally hear at my book-signings that someone else was supposed to come, but was still mad at me so he stayed home.
I want to thank Mr. Salvatore for taking the time to answer these questions. His latest book, Neverwinter, is available now.