The genesis of universes – Terry Brooks interviewed

Terry Brooks has just published Elves of Cintra, the latest in the Genesis of Shannara books. I caught up with him at Fantasycon and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

With the new series you are binding together the Word and the Void and the Shannara series. How’s that working out for you and why did you make the decision to bring the two series together?

It’s working out well, I’m happy to report because I had some serious doubts about it at the beginning and more to the point readers seem to be embracing the idea more strongly than I had a right to hope for. It was one of those things that I think a lot of people believed that this was an idea I had early on but it wasn’t.

When I finished the books of the Word and the Void in the late nineties, I pretty much knew that when I went back into, I would do it in the dreams of the Knights of the Word after they had failed. That’s where I had left and didn’t think anything about it and went off a wrote another six Shannara books. But at the end of the Straken and High Druid series, I started to think about going back into the Word and the Void and how it would play out.

In the course of thinking about what a post-apocalyptic world would think about, who the characters might be and how we would deal with it, it occurred to me that this is pretty much what the world of Shannara would be after the Wars. Of course the light bulb went on so I called my editor at Del Rey and said, “how would you feel about this?” She was very excited about it and said you should try it. So I thought, all right, I’ll give it a shot and see how it goes and without making it immediately and explicitly clear, with no references to Shannara at all, just a suggestion of the possibility and we would publish that first book and see what the response was. So that was kind of how it came to pass and I’m fairly happy with the result.

You’ve created the world of Shannara in a certain amount of depth. How easy is it to come back into it? Did you feel that this took away from the mystery of the world for the reader’s imagination?

Well, no. I think that a thing about writing a large series like this is that it works for me best as a generational saga where I don’t have to spend all my time in one space with one set of characters which would be boring. Not only for me but the readers, I think, eventually. The whole construction of the universe like this I think needs to be done incrementally. Its impossible for me to sit and down and say “Well here’s how its going to play out”. I’ve learned over the years that writing one book tells you what the next book needs to be, I always know at the end of one book what the next book needs to be, where its going to go and who the characters are going to be. Its an odd thing but I think its how the writer’s mind works so you’re always thinking ahead. So you construct depth out of quality and quantity combined, I suppose. You don’t start out trying to think in vast terms how this is going to play out. I used to think that’s maybe how you had to do it but it turned out that wasn’t true. Its like writing a book: you write the first sentence, then you write the first paragraph then you write the first page and it gets to build on itself and I think that true with book by books by book and the world too.

How do you sit down and write? You said that when you finish one book, you’ve got the next one prepared.

Well I don’t have it mapped out so much as I have the sense of where it needs to go and what the story needs to be about and maybe the main characters. Then the trick is to visualise how the story will come together, first in your head and then on paper. I’m pretty much an A type personality so I plot out my stories in advance very thoroughly, plot out who my characters are going to be and what they are going to look like, how they’re going to behave and a lot of incremental pieces of the thing in that initial stage come together for me. Not all of them and I know its not going to stay the same as well. Once you start writing, then its going to change. You’re going to get better ideas and you’re going to get different ideas. The writing of the story is going to tell you in what way things are going to change, directions in which it needs to go which you didn’t foresee. That sort of thing. So initially a lot of planning and then the writing changes it all. I’m used to thinking of the next book whilst writing the current book to so its been going on in some fashion for about twelve months before I start to write it.

As the godfather of post Dungeons and Dragons modern fantasy, with people like Raymond Feist, what brought you to the genre?

Well, I actually didn’t start out to be a writer of fantasy. I experimented as a kid, trying my hand at a whole bunch of different stuff, trying various kinds of fiction and non-fiction (none of it really worked very well and some of it was pretty awful) but I found my way to fantasy by way of reading Lord of the Rings and being entranced by the idea of creating a world separate from our own but with issues that were similar and with characters who were struggling with their lives and with their place in the world. So I coupled that with wanting to do something in the nature of European adventure story writing – Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas. Those are really my influences. I wanted to write something in an experimental nature of Tolkienesque fantasy that didn’t have the baggage of all the appendices – I didn’t want all of that. I wanted it to be read straight through and that people would stay up all night reading. Those were my marching orders to myself and then of course I rattled around for six or seven years before I got it into its third draft to get it into a place where I could do everything that I could do to it and could send it off. In those days, fantasy was not what people were reading. There was hardly any fantasy out there, a little bit, and the perception in the publishing industry was that fantasy didn’t sell. With a good book you could sell five thousand copies, but if you weren’t Tolkien, you were not going to sell. My editor at the time thought that was wrong and decided to use Sword of Shannara as his example as how he could sell a book that would become a best seller. It turned out he was right, it was a big gamble. He and his wife spent several years working with booksellers to position the book. It was a big effort and of course I didn’t know any of this at the time, I was out there in the middle of the country trying to figure out to make ends meet. So I was fairly astonished when it did as well as it did. Then they published Donaldson after that and Eddings and that broke the market open.

So how to do you see the last twenty or thirty years, how have you seen it progress from your vantage points of a) a fan and b) a writer?

Obviously there’s been a huge explosion in interest in fantasy and the argument would be, and I think its the right argument, that the readers are there, they just aren’t being given anything. The market place has finally caught up with the reader interest and of course now the sales in fantasy are rival to almost anything. We routinely see books from fantasy on the lists, we see literary writers as well as writers of other forms of category fiction borrowing from fantasy all the time and ow with the resurgence of fantasy with the Lord of the Rings and JK Rowling and the young adult fiction publishing world, its absolutely enormous. Its probably as big as its ever been.

What next for Terry Brooks?I gather there is a graphic novel.

That’s all done now, the Dark Wraith of Shannara. It comes out in March or April of next year in the States and in the UK. Its one of those projects that I had some doubts about but I was given control of the project by the publisher and was allowed to approve everything that was done. I was lucky enough to find an artist and a writer who were very good and did the job well with the story that I created for them. I’m just finishing up the third book in the Genesis series, the sequel to this new one, the Elves of Cintra, and will come out about the same time next year. I hope to wrap that up in November and then I’m going to write a new Magic Kingdom book in January to try and quiet the voices of those readers who haven’t had a book in about a dozen years.

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