Raymond E. Feist will be visiting South Africa from 17 to 25 September and I was lucky enough to get to interview him via email. I had hundreds of questions, but I managed to contain my fanboy glee and limit them to a far more manageable ten. (Wouldn't want to scare the author away...)
If you aren't geographically disadvantaged like me you’d be crazy to miss out on this rare opportunity to see one of fantasy’s greats! You can find his full tour schedule over here.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?
I’m a native Californian, and pushing an age where you’d think I’d know more, but I don’t. Still, I find out new things every week. I began writing just after graduating from the University of California, San Diego, just to see if I could do it. I guess I showed I could. That was over 32 years ago. My books for the most part are about the mythic world of Midkemia, and follow the very long progress of a lad named Pug and his evolution into the most powerful magic user on that world.
The Riftwar Cycle spans 30 novels which can be quite daunting prospect for newcomers. Is there a preferred reading order or certain novels that would be a good point to jump in without necessarily starting at the beginning?
I call it the world’s longest trilogy. The reading order thing has been discussed enough there’s a small article on it on my website, Crydee.com. One is publishing order, the other is “if you want to make some sense of the time line” order. I’ve also written some “jumping in” books for those who don’t wish to start at the very beginning. Magician, obviously, is first, but you can also start with Shadow of a Dark Queen, Talon of the Silver Hawk, Flight of the Nighthawks, Rides a Dread Legion, or A Kingdom Besieged. The later you start, the less the backstory makes sense, but not to a debilitating level. I tried to make the start of each series a good entrance, and each series within the larger arc, a complete series.
The world of Midkemia apparently started out as part of a D&D campaign. That's an unusual origin for what became such an epic series. Can you tell us how that came about?
Not quite D&D, but rather our own game system, predicated on D&D. Anyone who remembers the original D&D three pamphlet set know it was semi-incomprehensible, as it was originally a supplement for a medieval miniature models, table top war game system called “Chainmail.” The world was build as a response to the need for coherency among a half-dozen or more game masters who needed to keep things standardized from campaign to campaign, so dungeons needed overland routes to get player’s characters from one place to another, and that meant villages, towns, and cities, and that led to rules how to travel overland and interact in urban environments, etc. So we all built different bits. I created Novindus and the Far Coast, while my friend Steve Abrams gave us Krondor and the Principality, his roommate at the time Jon Everson gave us LaMut and Yabon. So it went.
What drew you to becoming a fantasy author? Do you think fantasy as a genre gives an author more freedom to play around with ideas since there are no boundaries to what could be possible?
Actually I was drawn to it for two reasons. It was selling. And it was as close as I was going to get to the “boys adventure fiction” I read growing up. There are plenty of boundaries in fantasy, though they may not be apparent. It’s axiomatic the reader will accept the impossible in fantasy, but he or she will not accept the improbable any more than in a detective novel, a western, etc. You’re magic has to “make sense,” in an intuitive way or the reader will sense a cheat.
As a long-standing fantasy author have you seen a shift in how fantasy as a genre is perceived? Do you think the popularity of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones has made fantasy more mainstream?
It has been for a long time, just most people weren’t aware of it. There’s a common confusion between genre and publishing category. They are not the same thing. So it’s become mainstream in the sense we have smashing great movies and TV series about fantasy now, but fantasy novels have been hitting both Times (NY and London) best seller lists for decades now. What has happened more recently is it’s now considered “worthy” by mainstream critics and readers who in the past had looked down on it. Look at how many copies Terry Brooks, Steven Donaldson, and others were selling thirty years ago when I was breaking in and you see the reading public had already begun to move more towards fantasy.
People often have this romanticized view of authors. What would you say is the best and worst thing about being an author?
The best thing is you’re creating something, which most people can relate to, I’m certain. On a short tangent, you can be creative in many ways, including parenting, mathematics, cooking, managing a warehouse, picking trucking routs and schedules, and many things most of us never consider, so many people get the rush of creating something good. End of tangent. Also I’m my own boss, and set my own hours.
The worst thing is the risk of living alone too long inside your own head. It can be a highway to clinical depression if you’re prone, and I discovered I was and battled mind numbing, soul crushing depression for more than seven years. Like anything else you love doing, if you get too deeply into it, you can sacrifice other things in life that are vital. Finding a balance can be difficult.
A note on the romanticizing of authors. People often wrongly assume things about the writer from the writing. Big mistake. I’ve met some lovely people who were terrible writers, no matter how mightily they struggled in their craft. I’ve met some total horses’ asses who are brilliant writers. Be cautious.
When readers meet me they are (I hope) for the most part amused and feel it worthwhile, but from time to time I get a shocked reaction when they discover I am a sports junkie and watch pretty much anything (I even have an autographed Boke jumper from the ’95 World Cup team, sadly lacking the world cup badge—I have one of those with the Lion Lager badge), I drink single malt whisky instead of claret, Champagne, or cognac (I’ll drink if offered, but I order Glenfiddich most times), or I’ve written a TV pilot project, not fantasy, but a crime drama centered around a strip club in Miami (well, maybe that’s fantasy after all). So, when you’re meeting with an author you admire, park your expectations at the door and you won’t be disappointed.
Magician's End brings the Riftwar Cycle to a close after more than 30 years. Is it difficult to leave behind the world and characters you've spent so much time bringing to life?
Difficult only insofar as I know the rules. Midkemia is as real a writing environment to me as Missouri and the Mississippi River was to Mark Twain, or Victorian London was to Charles Dickens. With my new world of Garn (name subject to change at whim), I have to re-engineer the politics, magic, economics, technology, etc. That takes a bit of getting used to.
You are already working on a new series. Can you tell us anything about it?
A bit. Garn is a world with six continents, the larges of which is Ilinthia. On that continent, Five Great Kingdoms dominated for centuries, and a less than gentle peace had existed for over a century, because of the Covenant. That consisted of pledges by each king and their Oathmen—sworn nobles—and the Free Lords, nobility not affiliated with any Kingdom. The Covenant also refers to a stretch of land running across the entire continent, unclaimed by any ruler, a free zone where the peace was insured by all five Kings.
The first book, King of Ashes, begins when the Covenant is broken, when four kings betray the fifth, and a orphaned child sets forth on a life journey to bring revenge on those who murdered his family. I will say no more.
If you could own any magical item what would it be and what power would it bestow?
Tough one. I’m torn between a whisky glass that rejuvenates, I would love to have my 31 years old body back (best shape of my life), and throw in my 19 year old endurance. Or a magic credit card with no limit where everything I charge is instantly paid. Very tough choice.
And lastly, is there anything you’d like to say to your South African fans in particular?
I am very much looking forward to my first visit to South Africa. I have always wished to visit and like many Americans denied myself the pleasure under the old government, but since 1994 I have been conspiring for a way to come and see the “Beloved Country.”