I want to thank Mr. Salvatore for coming on today and answering a litany of questions about his life, writing, Drizzt Do’Urden, and much much more. His stories throughout the past couple of decades have been an inspiration for so many readers and writers, and to see that he isn’t slowing down any time soon is absolutely amazing.
Without further ado, R. A. Salvatore.
1. First off, tell me a little bit about yourself (growing up, schooling, hobbies)
I grew up in an Italian section of a gateway community in Central Massachusetts. Like Sopranos, without the gunfights and mob (maybe a little bit). I was the youngest of seven, with five older sisters – I think they inspired the drow!
It was a good childhood. We had room to run, fields to play in, and a strong community. It got worse when I hit junior high school. I was always the athlete, but I was tiny until my sophomore year of high school, and had some serious knees issues, as well. So I was bullied quite a bit for a couple of years. I think that plays into my love of Drizzt.
2. What got you interested in writing?
I loved reading and writing when I was very young. I have a bunch of Charlie Brown books from the early-mid 60’s and was devouring them before I got to Kindergarten. Then school beat the love of reading and writing out of me, so much so that I started college undeclared, but moving toward math/computer science.
I got trapped in my Mom’s home for a week in February, 1978 (the Great Blizzard of ’78), and so I read my sister’s Christmas gift: the Tolkien books. That was it. I was hooked. Tolkien reminded me that it was okay to let my imagination fly free.
3. I see you became a full-time writer within 2 years of being published. What has life been like since you made that transition?
Pretty normal compared to everyone else, I expect, except that I got to work from home, make my own hours and watch my kids grow up. That’s the biggest blessing of this career. I got to coach the teams, enjoy the games, the school projects, all of it.
4. Who are some of your writing influences? Past and present.
Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, the Romantic poets, Charles Schultz, Robert Cormier (my friend and mentor) and Terry Brooks (my friend and mentor). There are so many others – James Joyce keeps me humble and reminds me that the rhythm of words is critical to match and enhance the content; Ta Nehisi-Coates keeps me honest about the point of it all; and on and on.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my earliest editors: Eric Severson and Mary Kirchoff. They took a raw writer under their editorial wing and beat the living daylights out of me, in a good way.
5. After so many years writing, publishing, and selling novels, do you feel that you have “perfected the craft”?
God no. Never. Maybe Joyce perfected it (then he messed with critics with “Finnegan’s Wake,” but that’s another story), but no. That’s not how it works. You add tools to your toolbox, but, like with Drizzt and his constant training, perfection is an unattainable but desirable goal.
What I have learned, and it was always instinctively there for me, is to view the English language as a set of tools, not rules. Different words and punctuation allow me to convey different pacing/timing/meaning to the readers. I love and need copyeditors, but oftentimes, they drive me insane. “Yes, I get it. It’s not a complete sentence. Leave it!”
a. Sort of a branch off question: how has your writing process evolved over the course of your novels? Have you changed from architect to gardener or visa versa? Have you always written your novels in the same way?
It’s pretty much the same, but it’s constantly adapting. For example, the road to hell is paved with adverbs according to Writing 101. Or at least, that used to be true. Now, most readers grow sophisticated via the Internet, and message boards and the like require adverbs (emojis, at least) to avoid misunderstanding. That’s come back to the novels. If I don’t tell a reader that somewhat said something “sarcastically,” they often won’t catch it. This is truer now than it was in 1987.
Similarly, message boards and the like attribute all dialogue. It used to be that you could have characters holding conversations without attribution. Now, it’s harder to do that because it’s easier to lose readers on who’s saying what.
Don’t even get me started on the lack of sophistication regarding the concept of unreliable narrator.
I don’t say any of this as a put-down to today’s readers. People evolve. We are now digesting written language differently than when I was younger, just as I, a product of a childhood with television, absorbed things differently than, say, my college professors. When I started writing, I caught hell for changing point of view. It took many long and loud phone calls to convince the editors to let me try it, making the case that television is nothing but point of view change, so, no, I wouldn’t lose my readers there.
I believe that me winning that early fight is part of the reason I got a long career out of writing.
b. Do you have a certain daily routine to get the writing juices flowing?
I used to when the kids were younger. Now it’s less structured. If I’m having a hard time getting started, though, I’ll put on a few different music videos to set the mood, then go to work.
6. Your first published novel, The Crystal Shard, which was published in 1988, introduced the world to Drizzt Do’Urden. Did you expect him to be such a household name then and now?
Of course not! I just wanted to get one book published before I went back to my career as a mid-level manager in finance. I wasn’t expecting a second book at that, let alone 36 of them. Nor was I expecting anywhere near enough money for me to consider quitting a good job with three little kids at home.
Even once it got going, I had no idea it would continue. As I finished the Icewind Dale Trilogy, TSR told me to wrap it up in that third book because that was enough of these characters and we’d go on to something else, maybe.
The fans objected to that.
7. Why do you believe Drizzt has withstood the test of time? I mean, you are continuing to write stories about him 22 years later.
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because he’s the classic misunderstood and unappreciated hero – isn’t that everyone’s high school experience? I think the books continue to hold appeal because Drizzt and his many friends continue to grow through the story. I treat it as my own perspective now. I’m certainly not the same 28-year-old who wrote “The Crystal Shard.”
Writing is how I make sense of the world, and since the world is in constant flux, there are always more questions I need to answer. To myself, I mean. For the readers, my job is to entertain them, and maybe get them to ask the questions and find their own answers.
8. For those who may not be familiar with Drizzt, can you give us a little bit of background behind his creation and maybe what he has been up to for 2 decades?
That would take me another book. The basic story of Drizzt is that he courageously rejected the terrible ways of his culture and stepped forth into the wider world, despite the fact that he would be judged by the color of his skin and not the content of his character, often without any way to change that. He found his dear friends and the love of his life and has spent every book and every adventure trying to do good in the world, trying to leave his wake a bit calmer than the waves crashing into his prow.
His trials are often physical, but many times ethical, and he has to live up to his mistakes and correct his course.
The biggest reason the books continue might well be those around him, both friends and enemies. I doubt any character in the books has grown as much as Artemis Entreri, who was a cold-blooded assassin and enemy of Drizzt way back to those earliest books.
9. Tell me about your newest trilogy, Generations, that is coming to a close with the upcoming release, Relentless.
Generations gave me the chance to both continue the story of Drizzt and his friends in a logical manner from where I left off with the Homecoming Trilogy, and to go back in time to the drow city before Drizzt was born, where his father and a notable character named Jarlaxle became fast friends in the dangerous world of the Lolthian drow. Also, it finally gave me the chance to explicitly put to rest the nature-or-nurture question regarding the drow and their corruption. I’ve been building to this for a long time and Generations gave me the chance for a big payoff on it.
Definitely a Realms-shaker. (And yes, that was a sentence fragment.)
a. After 33 novels spotlighting the dark elf, is there any more gas in the tank or do you plan on transitioning to a new character/series?
There might be one more thing I feel I need to accomplish with these books, but we’ll see.
And who knows? I thought I was done with one, then done with three books, yet here I am.
10. Speaking of other series, can you give us a sales pitch on your recent trilogy, The Coven?
I’ve spent most of my career working in the worlds of other creators: Forgotten Realms, Star Wars. While I’ve been given latitude to create many big cultures and locations in the Realms, in those years when I was away from TSR, before Wizards of the Coast bought them, I embarked upon my own world-building exercise. The result was DemonWars, a huge, seven-book series with dozens of characters, spanning years and wars.
I fell in love with the world through the entire process. It’s much more human-centered. While there are elves and dwarves, all done a bit differently, and monsters to be battled, the stories are mostly about men and women navigating a troubled world. The magic system is based on gemstones, which gave me the ability to control who had the power and examine the conflicts within and without. I went back to the world of DemonWars, Corona, a couple of years after the seven-book series to write “The Highwayman,” and then the three other books that comprise The Saga of the First King. These books were smaller in scope, more Drizzt-like, and with a hero that intrigued me greatly – once again, I wanted to see the world through the eyes of someone else. With Drizzt, it was his easy identification as “the other” and the prejudice that entailed. With the Highwayman, it came down to a great physical challenge preventing him from fitting in.
And now I went back to that world again with the Coven Trilogy. I was inspired to write another hero, this time a young woman, and her journey navigating a savage and patriarchal tribe that preyed upon the other seven tribes who lived in the shadow of their mountain. Also, I had a different way of expressing the gemstone magic in DemonWars, shown through the witches of the coven.
The series surprised me, leading me to a new and undiscovered culture, and a great war that sweeps the length of the land.
The Coven is my most complete trilogy of all, I think. The scope is personal and grand, the events contain personal tragedy and triumph with world-changing consequence. Those Drizzt fans I’ve been able to pull by the nose to DemonWars (particularly now to The Coven) have almost universally thanked me.
I consider it as good as anything I’ve ever done.
A little presicent, too, I fear, for the fourth book of the original DemonWars seven is called “Mortalis,” and it’s about a plague on Corona. Go figure.
11. What are you working on now?
I’m working on virtually touring for Relentless, signing stacks of books through my e-signing, and preparing for grandchild #6 (all boys). And yes, I’m writing, but that’s between me and my computer for now.
12. Are there any books you would recommend to the audience that you have read recently, or ones you believe should have more readership than they do?
Most of my current reading has been political/current events. Sarah Kendzior’s “Hiding in Plain Sight” is terrifying and worth reading (and investigating). I just started Evan Winter’s “Rage of Dragons,” and so far…wow. Great stuff. Also just started S.A. Chakraborty’s “The City of Brass.” I love when an author is in love with the culture she’s describing, and Shannon sold me on this…and it hasn’t disappointed!
And I hope everyone who cut their fantast teeth on Terry Brooks is keeping up with his closing works for Shannara.
As one of the fantasy genre’s most successful authors, R.A. Salvatore enjoys an ever-expanding and tremendously loyal following.
His books regularly appear on The New York Times best-seller lists and have sold more than 30,000,000 copies. Salvatore’s most recent original hardcover, The Two Swords, Book III of The Hunter’s Blade Trilogy (October 2004) debuted at # 1 on The Wall Street Journal best-seller list and at # 4 on The New York Times best-seller list. His books have been translated into numerous foreign languages including German, Italian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Turkish, Croatian, Bulgarian, Yiddish, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Czech, and French.
Salvatore’s first published novel, The Crystal Shard from TSR in 1988, became the first volume of the acclaimed Icewind Dale Trilogy and introduced an enormously popular character, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. Since that time, Salvatore has published numerous novels for each of his signature multi-volume series including The Dark Elf Trilogy, Paths of Darkness, The Hunter’s Blades Trilogy, and The Cleric Quintet.
His love affair with fantasy, and with literature in general, began during his sophomore year of college when he was given a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as a Christmas gift. He promptly changed his major from computer science to journalism. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications from Fitchburg State College in 1981, then returned for the degree he always cherished, the Bachelor of Arts in English. He began writing seriously in 1982, penning the manuscript that would become Echoes of the Fourth Magic. Salvatore held many jobs during those first years as a writer, finally settling in (much to our delight) to write full time in 1990.
The R.A. Salvatore Collection has been established at his alma mater, Fitchburg State College in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, containing the writer’s letters, manuscripts, and other professional papers. He is in good company, as The Salvatore Collection is situated alongside The Robert Cormier Library, which celebrates the writing career of the co-alum and esteemed author of young adult books.
Salvatore is an active member of his community and is on the board of trustees at the local library in Leominster, Massachusetts. He has participated in several American Library Association regional conferences, giving talks on themes including “Adventure fantasy” and “Why young adults read fantasy.” Salvatore himself enjoys a broad range of literary writers including James Joyce, Mark Twain, Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, and Sartre. He counts among his favorite genre literary influences Ian Fleming, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fritz Leiber, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Born in 1959, Salvatore is a native of Massachusetts and resides there with his wife Diane, and their three children, Bryan, Geno, and Caitlin. The family pets include three Japanese Chins, Oliver, Artemis and Ivan, and four cats including Guenhwyvar.
When he isn’t writing, Salvatore chases after his three Japanese Chins, takes long walks, hits the gym, and coaches/plays on a fun-league softball team that includes most of his family. His gaming group still meets on Sundays to play.
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