RA Salvatore: Charon's Claw (Neverwinter Saga Book III), Authors at Google

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 23.08.2012

>> Announcer: With over 15 million books sold in the United States alone, more thank four
dozen books to his credit and numerous game credits, Bob, yes, you can call him Bob, has
become one of the most important figures in in modern epic fantasy. He's probably most
well known for his iconic forgotten realms character, the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, whose
story continues in his newest book. I'm getting close, like I said, I'm the Star Wars fan.
I'm just coming in by proxy. The third volume the Neverwinter Saga, Charon's Claw. And please
join me in welcoming him to authors at Google, we'll have time for some Q and A at the end
and I present to you Bob. >> Bob: It's good to be here, ah a great place.
I was a little blown away coming in as. I texted my friend whose using my Red Sox tickets
with his kids today and I said "Hey I'm at Google" and he goes, "What do you mean you're
at Google?" I said "I'm at Google, you know holy Crap, you should see this place." He's
like "What are you doing at Google?" I said "I'm doing an event" He goes "Are you searching
for things?" I'm like "Nah, no no." Anyway, it is good to be here. Yeah, I'll
tell ya, I'll tell ya a little bit what's going on and really open it up for questions.
We could talk about anything, we could talk about Star Wars, we could talk about the Dark
Elf books, we could talk about 38 Studios, Big Sad, we could talk a little bit about
that before the lawyers get me. This book amazing thing happened to me a couple of years
ago, when I was doing the collected stories of Drizzt and all the Forgotten Realm stories
I had written. And when I was writing them, I mean when I was doing the book, putting
them together, I had to read all the stories again, because they wanted it annotated, they
wanted me to say what, why I wrote this story, what was the point of this story? And so as
I'm re-reading all these stories, every time I would read one it would put me right back
in the time and place I was when I wrote it. And that's when I realized that what I'm really
doing here over all these years is, it's almost like this is my journey and I'm just using
the books to ask myself all the questions that everybody asks themselves. I'm using
the characters as my sounding boards for all of that. So it's this is very cool epiphany
for me that this isn't like my job, this is the journey of my life. Which is kind of scary
too, I think. And then the other thing I realized as I was going through it from the from the
letters I continually get is what these books have become for a lot of people who have been
reading them for many many years now, is kind of a of a lifeline back to maybe a simpler
time in their lives. You know there's a great quote when they had a pro hockey player and
they were talking about where hockey was and they said "What is the what is the golden
age of hockey?" And he looked at the guy and he shrugged and he said "When you were twelve."
And I think that's true. Doesn't matter what year it was, when you were twelve. And so
for a lot of people I think when they read these books and they open up the next dark
elf book it just puts them back to 1989, or 1992, or 1995 or whatever when they were playing
Dungeons and Dragons with their friends. So it's almost like a lifeline home for a lot
of people and it is for me as well when I'm writing. So it's been it's been a couple cool
epiphanies that have happened as we've gone through and. So if you and the other thing
is last month, July, marked 25 years ago, last month, July 1987 is when I started writing
the Crystal Shard. 25 years ago, last month is when Drizzt was born, essentially. It's
been that long, I'm old. And it's very cool that it's still going, still going strong.
So anyway, a few years ago, Wizards of the Coast asked me "You going to be anywhere near
Neverwinter, with your next book?" And I'm usually in that area with my books because
that's where the cities, Luskan, Icewind Dale is there, the cities and the areas I usually
use in the books are in that part of this vast Forgotten Realms world. So I said "Sure
why?" And they said "Well, Cryptic Studios is doing Neverwinter Nights III, new computer
game. It'll be coming soon." And you know, "Are there some things you could do in your
books to, to help them get the region the way they need it for the computer game?" And
I said "Well what does that mean exactly?" And they said "Well basically can you blow
up Neverwinter?" And I was so excited because in the shared world you rarely blow up cities.
So I got to blow up Neverwinter and it was very cool. And then the other thing and this
is when you work shared world, this is the fun part of it, right? Because now as I'm
writing in the book, I've got all these bad guys and these heroes and all this fighting
going on and there's always one or two characters that, you know you could either kill or leave
for another adventure, right? The recurring characters and I had a couple of really really
kind of bad villains that I liked and I they they didn't really have to die, so I got in
touch with Cryptic and I said "Ok, do you, you know, ok I can kill this character, or
I can leave her alive if you want to put her in the game, what do you think?" And they're
like "Leave her alive, leave her alive!" So it was this back and forth and that's the
way writing is now, because of the multi media, because everything has changed and everything
really has changed. Two years ago I track, I was in finance, I was a financial analyst
when I, all of a sudden writing found me and I had published books and things and I retired
and like 1990 to just be a writer but I track all the books. Like the publishers hate me
because if my check is a $1.50 short I know and I let them know that I know. But so one
of the things I've been tracking lately is electronic book sales. Now my backlist is
pretty huge. It's, there's a lot of books out there on backlist. This book right here
is the 33rd I think book I've written in the Forgotten Realms. Like the 25th about this
character. Which is really weird. But anyway, two years ago two percent of my back last
sales were electronic books. The year after that it was 19%, first half of this year was
41% and now it's over 50. So it's just incredible, you know the world's changing. And just to,
I had a an interesting contract negotiation a couple of years ago and the publisher was
trying to play hardball with me and they said, instead of doing the old formula for books
is royalties, right? They sell the books and they give you royalties, they wanted to go
to profit sharing. And I'm smarter than that because I worked in finance. Profit sharing
means they never show a profit. And so I was resisting and we had this big argument going
on and they said "More and more of the books are going eBooks and you should, you know,
you should want profit sharing." With eBooks, profit sharing makes more sense. And I said
"Ok we can do it with just the eBooks". They said "Yeah but now 95% of our sales will become
eBooks and you're going to wish that you had done this contract for profit sharing." And
I said "If 95% of the sales become eBooks why exactly do I need you?" And the whole
tone of that conversation changed. I always, I find that like amazing the changes that
are going on in the world and with the video games, working with a video game company,
working with a game company. Wizards of the Coast for example is coming out with another
version of Dungeons and Dragons which I really love. Because they're throwing it back quite
a bit to what it was. Fourth edition, they're already up to fourth edition which is really
five editions. And fourth edition was a dramatic change, it really became a tactical game more
than a role playing game in the fourth edition and a lot of people didn't really like that.
So they're coming out with a new edition that allows you to still play that way but is really
throw back. And whenever you're working in a shared world like that, when things like
that happen to the world you have to be a part of it. You know you have to because the
books are how we tell the story of the world and if they're changing the game, it's going
to make changes in the world. So you got to be on your toes when you're doing these shared
world things. I've increased my pace. The next book after this one will be out in March
of next year instead of a year away. Well basically what happened is I was working with
a video game company for several years, 38 Studios, I created the world for them. 38
Studios had this spectacular collapse a couple of months ago. So that's all done and so I
threw myself into more of the Forgotten Realms for the next year while I clear my head. some
of you may know my other work I've done, Demon Wars Books, which I love that world. I did
the Highwayman and I'm happy because the Highwayman just came out on audio from a company called
Graphic Audio. And when they do audio books, they don't just have someone reading it, they
have a bunch of actors and it's like a mo- they call it a movie in your mind and it really
is. And I just listened to the Highwayman it was very cool, it just came out. And you
know as I try to figure out whether I'm going back to Demon Wars, whether I'm doing the
Highwayman books or whether I'm doing more Demon War books, Seven, the others, while
I'm doing all of that and clearing my head, I'm just throwing myself into the Forgotten
Realms. So I've got this book, Charon's Claw, it just came out. It's the third of four in
the Neverwinter saga, fourth books going to be in March. In between that, in October I
did three books, they were young adult books, but they're really Drizzt books, with my son
and they came out a couple of years ago, but then October all three are coming out in a
single volume. And the other thing we're doing is comics. I'm now writing Drizzt comics,
which is slightly different way to look at everything. And I, it's very cool. I'm having
a lot of fun, it's been a lot of years, you know, 25 years doing this. And it, I'm really
not slowing down, I'm actually going faster, which is kind of incredible to me, so with
that, I think I've covered everything coming in the near future. I'll open it up to questions.
Like I said I could talk about anything, even about the writing process, if anyone here's
writing, you know a writer and they want to talk about it.
[inaudible] >> Bob, oh they going to get formal with this,
ok. So yeah, we could talk about Star Wars, we could talk about 38 Studios even and or
just about the writing process, if you're a writer, or, what, go ahead.
>>Male 1: Do you have any idea what's going to happen with the IP from 38 Studios?
>> Bob: That's the $21 Million Dollar question, isn't it?
>>Male 1: Is it interesting to you, is that something you'd want to-?
>> Bob: Of course, I mean, here's what happened. In 2006, I was sitting at my house, I got
a phone call, I'm a Red Sox fan and it, I pick up the phone and a guy on the other end
says "Can I talk to Bob Salvatore?" I said "Speaking" He goes "Oh man, I can't believe
I'm talking to you, you're my favorite author. This is cur-chilling." I was like "Screw you".
You know, and my wife's laughing at me because this publicist had called earlier and she
knew it really was him. So when I finally figured out it was him I'm like "I can't believe
I'm talking to you bloody sox guy, I can't believe I'm talking to you." "I can't believe
I'm talking you." We did that for about twenty minutes. And then he explained to me that,
you know, he's getting ready to retire and he didn't want to go sell insurance and he
should've, apparently. But he didn't want to go sell insurance and what he really loved
were video games, a big EverQuest player, a big World of Warcraft player. And he wanted
to start a video game company and he wanted me to create the world for it and it turns
out we live like an hour apart. He had no idea I even lived in Massachusetts, but I'm
like an hour from him. And where we put our first office in Maynard, Mass was like halfway
between our houses. So I came in and I I didn't want, it was a start up company and video
games were expensive. So I didn't want to take any money up front, at all. I didn't
get paid, but I worked with the team, I created the world of Amalur and they the entire like
this 10,000 year history working with the team for this world and. You know as it went
on my job was pretty much done by 2009, you know and after that pilot, point I just became,
I had two roles, I was an editor for all of the narrative guys working at 38 Studios and
the content team and all of that. And I would work with the art team to make sure the art
fit, you know what I was thinking of when I was when I was creating it. And then I was
a part of the dog and pony show that went to the conventions, essentially and sold the
IP to the, you know, to the people, to go out there and just talk it up. And so I never
got anything. And the only way that I'm ever going, for four years of work, the only way
I ever recoup anything, but even more important than that, the only way I protect my name,
if that IP gets sold is to become a part of it. Again, with whoever buys it. And EA just
signaled the other day that they really want to publish a a Reckoning 2. Reckoning did
really well; it sold like $1.3 million or something. For a new IP on a brand new engine
that's not bad. >>Male 1: Did the idea of like a character
that has no predeterminate fate did that play out a lot in the 10,000 year history.
>> Bob: Do that was actually something Big Huge Games brought to the table. The idea,
in Reckoning you're fated, or everyone is fated except this one guy is not. And that
was something Big Huge Games brought to the table but we always argued about that. I never
looked at it, that the people were fated. What that whole world meant to me was that,
because of the things that were going on with magic at the time. So if you're a cobbler's
son and you're making shoes all day, right, you're being trained to make shoes. The magic
would reinforce that, so you become really good at making shoes. Because of the, this
is the time of heightened magic. And they interpreted that to be you're fated. And I
always thought of fate in the world during that very small slice of time, you know, this
was 2,500 years before the MMO. But fate in the world was more like the opiate of the
masses. So the king's loved it, right and the landowners loved it because it's keeping
everybody, you know, you're a cobblers son, you have to be a cobbler. You can't usurp
my throne. Right? So it was like that's what fate became in that world essentially and
that's the way I always looked at it. That was an ongoing argument between, you know,
my side of it and the other side of it. And that's what made working for that company
so much fun, is that we would fight all the time. And in a good way, a respectful debate,
with lots of swear words, it was fun. So, yeah, that I thought we could've done more
with it in the game than we did but we were going to, now we're not. Yeah.
>> Male 2: Can you talk more about working in the shared world and how much of it you
actually get to drive? It sounds like Neverwinter currently you're just sort of doing you own
thing and then got approached, but I feel like Drizzt and Alminster in particular are
sort of the main plot quote unquote of the realms to a large extent. So how much of that
do you drive proactively and what's the process like for that, vs. how much is you writing
and forming people and how does it all work? >> Bob: Yeah, the ah, it depends. Who is working,
I've gone through so many different, over 25 years, so many different teams up at Wizards
of the Coast. So it depends on who's there at the time and the way they're doing it,
but generally speaking what I've done in this vast shared world is hide. You know, I stay
off in the corners, I remember set, the first book, you know I've got this, first I thought
they wanted me on the Moonshae Isles that's an entirely different story, but when I found
out I had this vast world and I had to set a book and I said "This area looks good, I
want to be here" Although that's Cormare and that's where Eds' going to be working with
his Elminster books and I go well how 'bout here, "Well that's the Bloodstone Lands and
Doug Niles up there, well how about down, oh no no, that's Calimshan, and we're doing
this game product down there." And he's got this giant map and every place is filled up
and I finally looked at the map and they had these mountains up top and there was this
little strip of land I said, "See that little typo between the mountains and the sea of
moving ice?" "Yeah?" "Is anyone there?" "No" "That's Icewind Dale, leave me alone" And
so I spent most of my time hiding, of course from there I went underground to the dark
to create the dark elf race in the world and by the way, that was a trip because after
I, when I finished the Halflings Gem, which was the third book of that series. The fourth
book I had planned was going to send my heroes back to recapture this dwarven homeland. And
TSR, it was TSR back then, this was before Wizards of the Coast called me up and said
"You know we think people are sick of these characters so just tie it up in this book
and we'll go do something else.' And that was 1990; and we're still writing them so
they were wrong and so I agreed and I tied it up in that book. And then all of a sudden
I got a call "You know we're getting a lot of letters about this dark elf guy, so maybe
we should do a series about where he came from." And so I thought that would be great
and I had these old modules by Gary Gygax, the Scent of the Depths of the Earth, you're
nodding, the classics the ones that followed the Giant series. The Scent of the Depths
of the Earth, Queen of the Spider Web pits, and you know and I, so I took the old modules
and they had all this information about dark elves, just a little bit here and there. And
the theme folio, one of the first edition monster books had just come out and they had
like a one page entry on dark elves. And so I had all of that, I gathered all of that
and I'm reading it and I'm like "Oo that's not a lot" So I called up to TSR and said
"ok I've got all these things, what else are you going to send me?" And they said "That's
all there is" I said "Wait a minute what are you talking about?" And they said "Oh no,
we're giving you carte blanche you're going to created the dark elves in the forgotten
realms" I go "Ok" so I went and I got out one of my favorite books of all time the Godfather,
Mario Puzo's The Godfather. And that is the, that is basis for the structure of the dark
elvin city. Well that and the fact that I have five older sisters. [Laughter] They always
come up to me and say "I'm the good one, right?" There really isn't any good one. But yeah,
that's and that's where it came from. But I spent so much time hiding. And it always,
we always get in trouble when they pull me out, because when I was doing the Thousand
Orcs, they say "You know, you're hiding too much, but we need you to do more with the
realms. So you know, can you use some characters from the campaign setting." And so I'm looking
through and I'm finding characters that fit like King Obould - Many Arrows of the Orcs.
And I'm like "Oh this is cool can I use?" "Yeah yeah yeah" "Well look I'm warning you
if I use him, I can kill him" "Yeah, of course, of course, no problem" So I write the book
and I send it in and my editors like "Bob we got a problem" "Well what's the problem"
"Well on the timeline, your book is actually set before the campaign setting, so you can't
kill him" Like "Wait a minute!" This always happens because you have so many hands in
this giant pot, you know. And with Neverwinter I was, I was happy, I'm always happy to play
with others in this sandbox, as long as it's not going to hinder on what I wanted to do.
I have a reason for writing all of these books. There's something that I want to explore.
And with the new books, Gontal, Grim through the book that's coming in March. For most
of the books, my main character is surrounded by people of similar wheel, right? Anyone
of that group, Cattie-Brie, Bruenor, Regis, Wulfgar and Drizzt, anyone one of them would
take an arrow that was aimed for somebody else. And now here's my main character and
he's alone, he's depressed, the world's gone dark, it's all cynicism, he's wondering if
his whole life and his entire moral code was nothing but a sad joke after all. And now
he's surrounded by people who not only wouldn't take the arrow aimed for him but would pull
him in front of them to block the arrow. So, it's like the kid you know in high school
who falls in with the wrong crowd, or if you have a friend, who starts dating someone and
they're getting serious and you know this persons really bad for him but there's nothing
you can do about it. And you can only hope that they're going to lift this person up
instead of getting dragged down, right? And that's what, that was the story of the Neverwinter
saga. And then they just said, "So for the icing on the cake, can you blow up a city?"
Yep. "Can you add some characters to the city?" Yep, I can do that. And when it works like
that, it's awesome, shared world is awesome. Because you are standing on the shoulders
of giants. Best example of that I'm writing Streams of Silver the second book. And I've
got to get from Icewind Dale go about a quarter way across the world to the Silver marches.
And I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do. You know, when you're doing a travel
book, it's hard to, you know, have a random encounter table, like you do in the games.
So it's hard to make it interesting. And there was this one town along the way called Long
Saddle. And so I looked in my grey box at, my 25-year-old Forgotten Realms box set and
this was 24 years ago, so, and they talk about this town and all it said was that Long Saddle
is ruled by a family of eccentric wizards who reside in the Ivy Mansion. That's like
all it said. So, now the wheels start turning, how can I make this fun? And so I come up
with the Harples I think it said the Harples. But I came up with the main the actual characters
and I started having them do really goofy things, like the wizards house was surrounded
by an invisible wall and so everyday someone would have to come up and scrape the birds
off it. Right? And one guy turned, he had this brilliant spell that would turn him into
a statue and he had another spell to take them out without realizing that once he turned
into a statue he couldn't do the other spell. So he's standing there. And they had a bridge
that you don't walk over you walk under, right? It's all these weird stupid things and it
was so much fun. And I called Ed Greenwood and Ed Greenwood was the guy who created the
Forgotten Realms when he was eight years old and that's true. And I said "Ed, I want to
read you what I have about Long Saddle, what do you think?" And we just had the best time
going back and forth about that. That's when shared world works and it is so much fun.
>> Male 3: I'm really curious about the writing process, I'm not a writer I've never been
a writer, my dad taught English in high school. Ah, but I always wanted to write and never
been able to. But I'm curious about how you actually go about writing, it sounds like
you're much more structured about how you approach the story, you sort of figure out
the the arcs and the small arcs and you fill in the details. Whereas like, for example,
Terry Pratchett I've heard talk and he said he just goes into his office and writes 500
words a day, like boom boom everyday and just comes up, the story just emerges. It sounds
like you are much more structured. >> Bob: I fooled you. Hah hah. Here's what
I do, I have to an outline for a few reasons, whether I'm doing a shared world or my own
books, I have a lot of books in my own world, so I can blow up everything, right? And I
have to do an outline, the publishers demand an outline, because they want to know, you
are actually thinking about it and working. So I write my outline and I send it in, because
I want to get paid and then I start writing and I throw the outline away. And the characters,
the characters tell me what's next. And I often don't know, I am often shocked at things
that happen in the books. They surprise me all the time. You know, oops I accidentally
just killed that person, oh, wait a minute, you know. This is the way it works and I think,
I think I write the books the way other people read books. And that's what makes it fun for
me, without that it'd be boring. Now there are times that it doesn't work like that.
Star Wars, you have to tell them exactly what you're going to do in Star Wars and I remember
when I signed on to do Vector Prime, the infamous one, you know I wrote the outline and I sent
it in and I'm in a conference call with Lucas Film in Del Ray. And, you know, "Aw, this
is great, this is exactly what we want." They had told me the overview of this new Jedi
order, like A to Z and I was supposed to to A to B or A to C and I had certain things,
beat points that I had to hit and I had to leave everything in a certain way. I just
had to come up with a story that made it through those beat points. And they go "This is great,
this is exactly what we wanted, but didn't anyone tell you?" I said "what?" "You have
to kill Chewbacca" and I was like, next words that came out of my mouth I'm never going
to say on camera, but it wasn't nice. Oh no this is from on high, the Wookie gets it.
And So that was much more structured, working in Star Wars, but no, I, they tell me. That's
what makes it fun. >> Male 3: Quick question, where you actually
ever a dungeon master? >> Bob: I still am.
>> Male 3: Oh, ok. >> Bob: I just started running a game again
and it's funny because my son was running so we're playing fourth edition as soon as
I take over we're playing first edition again. That's my edition. So yeah, yeah, I have been
playing since 1980, if you want to have some fun, just to kind of insight into my D and
D what they're like, my D and D sessions. A few years ago I addressed a Mythic, Mythic
was doing the Warhammer game they were doing Dark Age Camelot at that time and I was at
their Round Table in Las Vegas. And I told a story called Wubba Wubba, so if you get
some time and go to Youtube and look up Salvatore Wubba Wubba and it's about a wand of wonder
in my group and what happened and it's pretty, it, if you're a gamer you'll get, you'll get
it. If you're a gamer, you'll get it. Yeah. >> Male 4: So you mentioned, a number of ways
in which new media is kind of changing things for you and for the industry. How does the
majority- now that the majority is going towards eBooks, how does that change the dynamic of
book signings? >> Bob: I sign a lot of kindles. No. The book
signings haven't changed a lot, they've actually gotten bigger because of social media. Because
if I'm going somewhere now, it's real easy to let, you know, 100,000 people know like
that, right? So the signings have gotten a little bigger but people still like, especially
the hardcovers. The book signings are really only for hardcover books, that's when you
go out, you don't go out with a paperback comes out; you go out when the hardcover comes
out. And people like having that. And you know, as much as eBooks are convenient, especially
if you're going to go, if you are on vacation, right? You are not going to pack ten books.
If you've got your kindle and you start reading a book and you don't like it, you just go
to the next book. Or you get your nook or whatever reader you're using, right? So there's
a lot of convenience there. But to me, that hardcover, particularly a hardcover book,
or paper books too. They're really a piece of furniture and if you've got that bookshelf
in youre house, that's a statement about who you are. So people come in and they look at
that bookshelf and that's like an icebreaker, you know? If you're a fan of of my books,
for example and somebody comes over and they see that, you've got the Crystal Shard and
the Dark Elf trilogy and all this, that's like a connection. They're not going to go
through your kindle and see what's on there, now that's like an invasion of privacy, right?
But, so, people still buy hardcovers and the book signings haven't changed all that much.
I'm sure that, except well one thing that I do on my website, I have a RASalvatore.com,
this is a cool story, a guy, back when the internet was first coming big, I was getting,
I got this letter from this kid in High School basically and he's like, remember when people
were buying domain names and getting the domain names and selling them back to people for
lots of money. And this guy writes to me and he goes "I own RASalvatore.com" and I went
"Oh here it comes" and he said "I'm going to give it to you for nothing if you look
at this website I set up for you. Just come look at it and I'll give you the domain name.
I just bought it because I was afraid someone would buy it and try to blackmail you." I'm
thinking "This is a cool kid, right?" And I went; he had a really good website. And
so I let him keep the name and we do things called e-signings through the website and
I actually have the copyright on the term e-signing, I actually copyrighted it to me.
Because I thought this is going to be a big thing. And so what happens is, people order
the book through my website, he gets them from the distributor, through Baker and Taylor
or whatever and he, he puts his order in a few days, he can't ship them until the day
the book comes out. But he gets, you know, he fills his van up with books and drives
up to my house with it from Pennsylvania, he and his buddy they make a day of it out
my way and we sign the books. Because when you order the book, you can say you know "To
Matt, Happy Birthday, RA Salvatore" or I'll just put something in. And so Saturday we
did the e-signing for Charon's Claw. He drove up to my house with 900 of them. And 100 of
the last hardcover and 140 of some other books I had bought on remainder that we could sell
cheap, hardcovers for 7 bucks type of thing. So I sat there and signed 1,150 books, on
Saturday of last week and that's kind of cool. Because, you know, people always say "How
come you're never coming to Utah?" I do go to Utah. "How come you're never coming to
Idaho?" You know, I don't know, I don't make the tours, to go on a tour where everybody
wants you to, I'd be on the road 51 weeks a year and that's not going to happen. So,
you know, it's that has actually helped a lot and it's really great when you have guys
serving overseas, because you can ship to the APO's, right the army post office, so
that's really great, when you get all these orders from Afghanistan and stuff, that's
very cool. >> Male 1: Another question about writing,
particularly your mention of the new multi media setup, how do you see that a
effecting newer authors, like if you're established and have the publishing company relations
and can sort of pull rank it works very well I'm sure and has for you, but if you're newer
now and trying come on to the scene in sci-fi fantasy how does it work with the newer market
world? >> Bob: I probably don't have a good answer
for this, but I'll tell you what I've learned. You know, now that it's so cheap to self publish,
a lot of people are doing it, that's good and bad. What's good about it is a lot of
people who were never going to get a chance can do it and they can get their book out
there and you can even print, you know, back when I started, if you were going to print
a book, you had to print 10,000, the costs were just so unreal, if you were under that
number of the print run. But now they change those big web presses, they change right on
the fly you know, I need 73 of this book, boom, I need 15 of that book, boom and it
just completely just switches over automatically. Before that, they had to shut everything down,
you know, put the new plates in and everything, so it wasn't worth it. Now you can go and
print on demand at you know minimal cost and plus you have eBooks, where you can sell them.
The problem, however, is that instead of having, you know 50 or 60,000 books a year being printed
in the US, with self publishing you have 200,000 and that means that, the, you know any prospective
readers, how are they going to find you, over the noise of everybody else? So there are
people, you've, I'm sure most of you have heard of Chris Paolini he wrote the Eragon
books and he was self published, his parents self published him. And they would take him
all around the Northwest and go to like junior high schools and stuff to give talks and he'd
be in costume from Eragon. When, he was like 20 at the time. And they would go all around
with the book and through that he found a publisher, so a lot of people now, it is so
hard to go to a publisher because the book industry with all the changes is in such flux,
you know, the margins are razor thin, so it's so hard for a new author to find a publisher
now. A lot of them will self publish, try to build some kind of a following then try
to go the traditional route with that. I don't know how it's working for most, I do have
several friends, several of the guys at 38 Studios actually I edited books for them and
then they they put them out there on eBook format. So it's better because you can be
published but I think being published and being able to like, make any money at it is
much harder. It was always hard, I mean, it was always a brutal business, but now it's
you know, if you self publish and sell a few hundred books that's a lot of work for a few
hundred books. You know? >> Male 1: Thank you.
>> Male 5: Thanks for coming to Google. I grew up in New England and fondly remember
seeing you at a few gaming conventions in the late '80's and early '90's and you talked
about going back in time. One thing that has changed for my life and interaction with the
fantasy genre is it's become much more mainstream. When I was a kid, you know, the local churches
expressed their disapproval of me playing. >> Bob: Bad about D and D, remember that organization.
>> Male 5: and today, you know, my sister in law in Appalachia, plays World of Warcraft
everyday. >> Bob: Sure.
>> Male 5: I'm curious, has that mainstreaming has that effected you and I'm curious, how
how has it effected your life and your career? >> Bob: I think it has, I'm not sure yet what
the end result of it's going to be, I'll put it that way but what's really cool to me by
the way, is playing an MMO and then seeing some variation of my characters come running
by. I was playing EverQuest many many years ago and I played a character named Thibbledorf,
right, the Shield Dwarf and I walked out of [Caladeem] and I was like a third level warrior
or something, I walked out of [Caladeem] and some guy was playing a character named Brunner
and so I go "I got to torment this guy". Right? Brunner is the king, he's Thibbledorf's king
and so I ran over to him and I kept typing "Me king, me king" right and he's like, he
would start a fight and if you remember EverQuest you could kill steal, and he was like first
level character and I was third. So he would start a fight down on and I'd run "I'll save
you me king" and I'd kill steal him. "Do that again and I'll report you" "I'm saving you,
me king!" You know, and he's like "What the heck" and this was going on for like a half
hour, this poor guy couldn't get a kill. I was just making his life miserable. Finally,
he starts running, trying to run away, I'm chasing across, shouting out the zone "Me
king! Me king!" "Leave me alone" right? So he reported me. We get to G. Fay; we ran all
the way from [Caladeem] all the way to Greater Faydark. We get to Greater Faydark and the
GM shows up and I know him, because all the guys at Sony knows me, right? And he sees
my account and he's like "Bob is that you?" [Laughter] And I'm like "Hey Rumble Belly
how you doing?" His name was Rumble Belly, the GM, right, like my Halfling character.
No it was Rumble Tummy, he did a variation of my the nickname of my Halfling character.
I'm like "How you doing Pat?" And he's like "What are you doing? This guys like got this
four page ticket open against you wanting you banned" And so the GM made him milk and
cookies and made me promise I'd leave him alone, but that happens all the time. I, so
I love that stuff. But as far as it going more mainstream, you know that's hard to,
it's hard to say, because even still, where it's at is that certain things have made the
leap to mainstream, but then they always say "Oh but that's different from the rest of
it" Peter Jackson does those wonderful Lord of the Rings movies but that's different,
that's Tolkien that's classic stuff, that's not this fantasy genre thing. And a lot of
the other fantasy authors who become mainstream, I'm thinking, [Marger That], Terry Goodkind,
they're immediately no longer fantasy authors, you don't call them a fantasy author, right?
Oh no no, I don't, I'm writing speculative fiction, mainstream fiction. What? Recently,
however, George Martin, of course made the jump with that HBO series Game of Thrones.
If you went up to George Martin and said "You write fantasy"' he'd say "You're darn right
I do" so because, and it's mostly technology that's driving it, right? If you look at the
fantasy movies of the 1980's, some of them were pretty good, but you know, the one I
keep going back to is Dragon Slayer, which had this wonderful special effects for the
time, but they just couldn't do the things in the movies to make it as fantastical in
someone's minds as the book would be. Now they can and so with the World of Warcraft
and it's much more accepted particularly like on college campuses and in academia. I spent
the first 15 years of my writing career arguing with high school teachers. As much as anything
else saying "Look it" the biggest, the biggest trouble you're having in teaching kids to
read and write nowadays is distraction. There's so much more for them to do, everything's
coming at them a hundred miles an hour. It's not like even when I was a kid, when I was
a kid, you know, the big devil to the English teachers was television, right? TV's, no ones
ever going to read another book when TV came out, that's what they used to say. And I remember
when I was over in England with Tom Dehaven, we were being interviewed by BBC and they
said "How come your books are outselling Tolkien's books?" They were very mad at that and that
was before the movies. The Tolkien books has really kind of fallen off, then the movies
came out and everybody realized how wonderful they are again, which I'm glad because they're
my favorite books. But anyway, Tom told them, he said "Because we grew up with television
and so we're doing things in the books that the people before television didn't do" Like
I change point of view all the time in my books. And when I first started doing that
my classically trained editor said "You can't do that, you can't change point of view" I
said "Why not?" He said "Well you'll confuse the reader?" "Were you confused?" He's like
"No, but I was trained to looked for this stuff, you're going to confuse the" I said
"Eric, we're not going to confuse the reader because they watch television and all television
is is point of view shifts." And so the books are faster and think about it, when when Melville
was writing about Moby dick what percentage of his readers had ever seen a whale? Or even
a picture of a whale? So he had to describe it, right? Front to back, that's a big front
to back to describe. When Tolkien was writing the Lord of the Rings, he had to describe
the dragon. Now if you're writing a fantasy book and you say the word dragon you're reader
has the image in his mind already, ok? So that's one way it's all changed, it's got,
the whole worlds gotten smaller in a lot of ways, shared experience, shared understanding
of what fantasy is. So the books get faster paced because of that. So for the first 10,
15 years I would argue with the high school teachers, "The way you teach someone to read,
is to give them a book that he or she falls in love with. I don't care whether it's Steven
King, or one of my books, or Terry Brooks, or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, or a crime
book, give a kid, a teenager a book that he or she will fall in love with and get out
of the way. Your job is done." And I see it all the time. My friend has twin daughters
who are dyslexic and they wouldn't read because it was it's a chore and they found the Twilight
Books and they love them. And now they're reading like six or seven books a week because
of that. Because they found something to love. They, if when you read that first book that
you love and you're so involved in it, that's an experience; it's hard to explain that experience
to someone. Now for me, when I was very young, I used to read all the time. I was reading
in kindergarten and I had this collection of Peanut's books, the old Charlie Brown stuff,
first edition, still have them, you can't have them, I'm never selling them on eBay
either. These are mine. And my mom had, I had a deal with my mom, that I could bag school
as long as I was getting A's. She'd let me bag a lot of school to stay home and read
my Charlie Brown books. And but then as I went through school they beat the love of
reading out of me. I'm in the eighth grade and they're giving me Ethan Fromm and Silas
Mariner and Moby Dick, Right? Now you can argue with me that those are good books now
that I'm an adult I'll probably still argue with you, but when I was in the eighth book,
those were awful books. They're totally irrelevant to anything in my life. I really, I don't
even remember them; I don't want to remember them. You know, Moby Dick I thought if you
took out about 68 chapters, it'd make a great short story. You know, and then, it was so
bad that I actually started college as a math major. I was undeclared, but I was going for
math computer science, because that was my strength was Math. But then my freshman year
of college, my sister for Christmas gave me a copy of the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
And they were in their little white Ballentine slip case from the '70's, right, from the
late '70's. I'm looking at it, I wanted money, because I had this really nice '69 Cougar
that broke down everyday. And the car was draining my pockets, I just wanted money and
she gave me books. What am I going to do with these? Books. So I kind of threw them aside.
Well a month and a half later in February of 1978, and you say you're from New England,
well, you had to have heard of the blizzard of '78 if you're from New England. Because
what happened, it was Monday night and I'm going to bed and the weatherman said that
we might get a little snow and of course being a student, I hope we get school cancelled.
Even though I was in college at the time I'm still hoping we get school cancelled. Might
get a little snow. The next day I wakeup and I look out and my car was missing and I freaked
out because I thought somebody stole my car and I go running downstairs screaming "Somebody
stole my car" And I realized that little spot I saw wasn't the driveway it was the roof
of the car. So school is cancelled for the week. You couldn't leave your house, there
were no roads, you were stranded, in fact, you would be arrested if they found you on
the road in a snowmobile. You were stuck. So here I am, 19 years old stuck in my mom's
house, oh joy! But I wasn't stuck there, because of the Christmas present my sister Susan had
given me. And all of a sudden I went to Middle Earth with a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins and
I read those books like three times, all four of them and the next week, I couldn't stop
reading. And I went back and changed my major at school. You give a kid, when somebody finds
that book that gets them, whatever it is, that just pulls them in and won't let them
go, there's nothing you will ever teach that person about reading again that they won't
teach themselves. So that's how it's changed and now fantasy, the schools are accepting
it, which is really cool and about time. >> Male 1: So sort of a follow up to that,
in addition to fantasy and sci-fi becoming a lot more mainstream, they've also become
a lot more standardized as you were saying there's very clear picture now, not just of
what a dragon is, but also what a elf is what a dwarf is. It gets emulated almost to the
point of esthetic, essentially being identical, do you find that constraining, do you feel
that innovation in the genre has gone down? Like what do you feel about the state of the
genre right now? >> Bob: I think the genre is a thousand times
better now than when I first started. The reason I started writing books is because
I ran out of fantasy books to read. Because back in 1981 I had read the Terry Brooks,
the Stephen Donaldson's, the Michael Moorcocks, the Fritz Leibers, of course Tolkien and Anne
McCaffrey, I was out of fantasy books to read. So I wrote one. Seriously, now you couldn't
have that problem, but back then, I think the genre was actually more standardized by
the mid '80's because and it was very limited, because like there, the female characters
were either damsels in distress or chicks in chain mail, that doesn't work anymore,
at all. It's made the genre better because you know what? I don't care whether you're
writing about a trip to go reclaim a dwarven homeland or to destroy a magic ring or to
land on mars or whatever, whenever you're writing a novel it's about the characters
period. When I got my first rejection letter at the beginning when I was introduced up
here, Leominster is known for four things, right? We're the plastic pioneer city, we're,
we've got Johnny Appleseed and I'd say three things, and the third would be Robert Cormier
who was one of the most important twentieth century young adult writers out there. I mean,
the Chocolate War, I am the Cheese, The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, these are brilliant young adult
novels, he's he's well regarded and he's still taught in most schools in the country. When
I got my first rejection letter, I called him up, because his phone number was actually
in the movie, I Am the Cheese, that was actually his phone number in the movie and I knew that.
Because he had come to talk at my school. And I called him up and said "You don't know
me, but I got to talk to someone, I just got this awful rejection letter today" And he
kept me on the phone for like two hours and what he really taught me was that, character
is more important that plot. Because you, if you have a really great plot but your characters
stink, no one will care, you have a mediocre book. But if you have really, like, a hero
that the people will fall in love with you give them a hangnail and they're really on
the edge of their seat. And I think of the only author I've ever read, or recently read
who, that seemed to go against that was Michael Crichton, because his plots were, they just
grabbed me. I didn't care who the characters were, I just wanted to go to Jurassic Park
or whatever. But, so you know, whether you're writing a dwarf or a dark elf or even a dragon
there has to be a human aspect to that character that touches the reader or you've failed.
And I don't think, you know, I maybe it's becoming more homogenized but that's only
because it's everything you can do is being done, so it's starting to seem cliché. I
remember this great time when EverQuest came out there was they had tier dal, the dark
elves, right? And of course they were very, "This is our world, we created all of this
stuff" and, I always got to laugh at that, because it was clear that they're a bunch
of D and D players, I mean, the trolls regenerated, I mean it was D and D. Right? And one guy
who would, you know you could write your own stories for the characters in EverQuest, he
had written his story. And, he got banned because it was just he was a wretched drow,
I mean and then the people came back arguing with Sony about "You shouldn't ban him. You
know these drow elves are supposed to be evil and look at the quests you give them in the
game, these are not drow elves these are tier dal. They are different, they have their own
thing and blah blah" And then I posted on this big fight that was going on on one of
the message boards under my own name and I said "Then why do they all have V's and Z's
and apostrophes in their name" [Laughter] Sony didn't appreciate that, but, so, you
know, it, if you were to take the archetypes, you know the big, the broad strokes and kind
of twist them around you got to be really careful how you do it. The George Martin does
that very well and he twists them around because by killing everyone basically. Wait a minute
you just killed every character in the last book and there's another book? Oh yeah. But
but you can't, if you started having dwarves dancing under the stars and elves mining in
dark holes, it's just, it's become so familiar to people now there's a comfort level of of
having a basic understanding of who these character race types are. And that comfort
level is very important. Even if it's, you know, China Mieville writing about moth people,
right, in Perdido Street Station, they're Orcs. They, he's changing the name and the
description but he's using the same archetypes, so you can get away with that. But there's
a familiarity level in fantasy now because there's been so many books over so many years
I mean my book signings look like Fleetwood Mac concerts, you've got a grandfather with
his son and his granddaughter and they're all reading the books, right? It's multigenerational
now. And so there's comfort food in that. There's an elf in a book people have a feeling
of what that character is. And every now and then something new will break out, I mean,
I know that better than anyone, all of a sudden dark elves became really popular, right? Right
after I started writing about Drizzt I got letters from DM's all over the country cursing
me. Because every player in my group wants to play a scimitar, wielding drow ranger and
you've ruined them. I said "Do what I do; we don't let drow in our groups. You can't
play a drow in my D and D game." "Really?" "Yeah, really." "Why?" "Because they're the
coolest monster in the game and I don't want to ruin it, what's the matter with you?" but
every DM hated me for years on end. So every now and then, something will break out, but
you know, being different just for the sake of being different can get you really no where.
So, I don't think, I don't think it's a big deal.
>> Male 1: Thank you. >> Bob: You're welcome.
>> Announcer: I think we have the time for one final question. I was personally wondering
how you keep track of continuity in cannon especially among, you know, your series of
books and then as you said playing in other peoples worlds. How do you make sure that
everything is described properly and get those allusions that harken back?
>> Bob: I don't. No, I'm only kidding. it's hard. I mean, people come up to me and they
start talking about like Streams of Silver, right? And they start "Aw that part in this
book when this happened" and I nod stupidly and pretend I know what they're talking about.
I wrote that book in 1988. I've done, you know, 30 books since. I don't re-read them
every year. But you know, we do have a wiki, the wiki is saving me. I'll go to Google,
I go to Google and I say, you know "Brunner, scar" and the search comes up and brings me
to a page that'll tell me where Brunner's scar is and how he got it and when it happened.
And so it's like the entire fan base is doing your research for you and they're putting
it up on all these little forgotten realms wiki all over the place. And this is a true
story, many years ago I was writing a book called Servant of the Shard and what I thought
was really cool is I have this character who was just a lark, his name is Jarlaxle. And
Jarlaxle is a, if you are familiar with the literally term deus ex machina, right? A good
example of deus ex machina the dragon shows up, it's killing everybody in the town; I've
got a better one, actually, War of the Worlds, right? The Martians show up, they're throwing
everything at them, they can't do anything and then all of a sudden they all die of colds,
right? The common cold wipes out the Martians. Or the dragons ravaging the town and nothing
can stop it and our hero falls down against a rock, the rock moves and he finds a sword
that was crafted by the elves 3000 years ago to kill that dragon. So he stabs the dragon
and it dies. So that's deus ex machina the gods intervene essentially. Jarlaxle is my
walking deus ex machina and he would show up in cameos in the books and no matter what
was going on he had his little Jarlaxle Batman utility belt and he had something, some weird
magic item to counteract what was bad, what bad was about to happen. It was a blast to
write. But he showed up in all weird places in the books, the first books of the series
and now I'm psyched because he's going to be a main character in this book. And then
I'm terrified, because I've only got four months to write the book and I have no idea
what this guy has for equipment. And I'm looking at this pile of my previous books and I'm
like "Oh no, you know, where, which books was he in, where am I going to find this stuff?"
And, so I was about to call TSR and ask for an extension, but instead I went online to
a message board anonymously, right? And I started a thread that said "Hey lets do an
inventory of Jarlaxle's cool items" and two days later I went back and I downloaded this
like ten page thread. And they were putting in like, it was all footnoted, you know, in
legacy, in the Legacy, page 227, they talk about this item that Jarlaxle has and it does
this and I think it's hinted it might do. So I grab the Legacy and I go to the page
and "Yeah, there it is" And there it was, that's how I kept continuity. other than that,
it's up to, that's like some poor soul at Wizards of the Coast gets assigned or at Lucas
Film they hire some guy and say "You are the continuity editor" "Oh you know I've got this
great job" And then four truck loads of stuff back ups to his house and dumps stacks of
books and DVDs and everything else on his front porch and it's like "Here's the new
book check it for continuity". And he's got this mountain of stuff, this poor guy. But
they, so it can get problematic and of course the real secret to doing long term in the
shared world is being able to retrofit things seamlessly and make it look like you planned
it all along. We cheat, not often, but because we try hard to keep things straight. So, we'd
start anonymous threads on message boards. >> Announcer: Alright well thank you very
much, we'll have a book signing in the back so thanks for speaking at Google.
>> Bob: Thanks for having me here! [Applause]