Posted May 29, 2014 by Amy in Books

Games Fiends Interviews: Ed Greenwood


With the release of his latest book, The Herald, fast approaching, Games Fiends chats with author Ed Greenwood about the Forgotten Realms, D&D, what inspires him, and what comes next.
GF: Your latest book, The Herald, releases in June. Tell us about it.
Ed: The Herald unfolds what Elminster (and his companions Storm Silverhand, Amarune Whitewave, and Lord Arclath Delcastle) did during the Sundering. I don’t want to spoil the book for readers, but let’s just say: you’ll get to see a lot of the famous monastery of Candlekeep, a little of the Shadovar city of Thultanthar, and a lot of the fabled elven city of Myth Drannor (including UNDER it). The fate of the world hangs in the balance (of course), and a cast of characters you WON’T want to miss shows up, from Mirt the Moneylender and the sinister Manshoon to a certain archlich and some Chosen of various gods. There’s lots of fighting, some dramatic destruction—and monks seasoning soup. If you’re a Realms fan, this is a book You Should NOT Miss.

GF: The Herald is the conclusion to The Sundering (a story arc in Wizards of the Coast’s Forgotten Realms that encompasses six novels by different authors). While the books each stand alone, there is a common story line that runs through each of them. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working within those sort of constraints?
Ed: The advantages are that you get to turn the usually lonely process of writing into recharge-the-batteries brainstorming sessions with your fellow writers and the creative folks at Wizards that get your imagination off and racing . . . and if you’re one of the later authors, you get the fun of riffing off what’s come before. The disadvantages center around the “broken telephone” misunderstanding potentials, especially when you’re a writer (as I was, coming last) who has to write and turn in your book before the two authors whose books immediately precede yours have finished theirs. I got to read almost-finished manuscripts of the first three books before I wrote THE HERALD, but after that, I was flying blind. Which is fun, but can also scratch the aircraft, if you take my meaning.

GF: The Herald features Elminster, arguably your most popular character. Do you find it difficult to stay true to the original character and keep all the little details straight when developing new stories for him years later?
Ed: Not at all, because Elminster is old, tired, wanting to die but not trusting anyone else to serve Mystra as he does (so he can’t “lay aside his burden” until he’s found and trained a worthy successor), grieving for his lost love The Simbul, and until recently went insane whenever he cast a spell, unless Storm was there to “steady” him (he literally drained some of her life force to keep himself lucid). So with Elminster, I’m exploring what it is to get very old, tired of it all, suicidal, but hoping to find a “new hope”—and just feeling like you’ll be darned if you let these young whippersnapper bad guys win after all. He’s a fascinating work in progress. Think of him as Conan with Alzheimer’s and a grumpy “Get off my lawn!” attitude, enlivened with a heart of gold and moments of pure whimsy—only he’s a Conan of spells, not a sword.

GF: For those who don’t know, the Forgotten Realms is a setting of your creation. Did you have any inkling when you first started writing about it that it would grow into what it is today?
Ed: In one sense, not at all. By that I mean: I had no idea it would become a game setting and fiction world of lasting popularity and literally millions of fans, that has stayed in print for decades. That’s WONDERFUL. In another sense, it’s only grown in history (tales upon tales of imaginary years of events created by many talented gamers and fiction and comic book and computer game writers), not all that much in geographical scope from my original just-for-me world (when we did add a detailed continent, recently, I got to design it). There have been lots of CHANGES, mind you, but they have in-setting explanations, so…they’re part of that unfolding history. Which is simply glorious, because it makes the Realms seem alive to me.

GF: Is it difficult to see other writers expanding and interpreting the Forgotten Realms in so many different ways?
Ed: No! Sharing the world was something I accepted back in 1979, when I started writing articles in what was then “The Dragon” (magazine), and again, formally, in 1986, when TSR and I started working together on publishing the Realms as a game setting. The greatest thing about multiple creators is that “my” world can now surprise me; it couldn’t do that when I was its lone creator. The potential for “too many cooks” is always there, but in practice it’s been a delight seeing the richness so many approaches and ideas bring to the Realms. Rather than being difficult, it’s an ongoing delight.

GF: With The Sundering now at its close, do you have a hand in what’s next for the Forgotten Realms (and if so, can you give us a peek)?
Ed: Yes, I do, and no, I can’t give you a peek. (Oh, I WISH I could; I understand the hunger to see, and I itch to share, but it would ruin the FUN.) Let’s just say I’m busy writing the next Elminster book, and when I’m doing Realms game writing right now (between paragraphs of writing that novel), we’re looking at big stories beyond the Sundering in the Realms. (And by “big stories,” I mean themes that can be the centerpieces of campaigns, not new specimens of the dreaded Realms-Shaking-Event.) I can’t wait for Realms fans to see it!

GF: In addition to writing novels, you’ve also helped bring the Forgotten Realms to the Dungeons & Dragons game. How does writing books differ from putting together game campaigns?
Ed: Novels have the word count space to explain things, to add background lore, and enrich the setting in ways game campaigns often have to gloss over. In a Realms novel I can show you how this innkeeper speaks, tell you some currently popular jokes in that village, speculate darkly about ale shortages in the next realm over, and so on. Yet a novel is a narrative; as the writer, I have chosen “what happens” time and time again in a story. In a game campaign, I have to set up situations for the players time and time again so their characters are free to make choices—and then I have to be ready to run with any of the possible outcomes, so it becomes the players’ story. One is a closed, linear narrative, and the other a web of unfolding possibilities. (So like books and movies, they’re really two different storytelling forms.)

GF: As a gamer yourself, do you think the campaign settings have brought people to the books – or vice versa?
Ed: It works both ways. There was a time, early on, when the book audience was small; only gamers knew about the then-TSR-worlds books. Dragonlance blew the doors off that, with far more fantasy readers than gamers who played D&D enjoying the saga. This continued with the Realms; there have always been more readers of fantasy than players of tabletop fantasy roleplaying games. Later on, I met many gamers who came to the Realms through computer games, and then discovered the novels and the pencil-and-paper D&D game. This last year, I met people who knew nothing about the Realms or D&D but got roped into playing the LORDS OF WATERDEEP board game—and became avid readers of Realms novels, and then wanted to try D&D in the Realms!

GF: What are the benefits and downsides of technology in roleplaying games, especially with tech handling a lot of the details (pc and console games vs imagination)?
Ed: The benefits are that shy gamers who aren’t comfortable being ham actors get to participate more, and can enjoy the fruits of the imaginations of lots of talented designers and artists. If a gamer is truly isolated and can’t find a local gaming group, technology can let them still be part of the glorious fun that is D&D. The downside is that games show you “the only” way this dragon or that wizard looks, rather than letting you imagine whatever is most impressive or scary or noble “for you.” Early games, especially, also sharply limited your choices in a situation (choose wrong and you die). Nothing has yet come close to replacing the unbridled imagination of a group of friends playing D&D and the shrewd and nuanced judgment of a good Dungeon Master handling every idea the players come up with. THAT’S what makes D&D so special; it’s not just a dungeon crawl with rules applied, it’s a shared storytelling experience that goes beyond what any computer can yet (yes, still!) handle.

GF: Starting out, what do you feel was your biggest inspiration – the book, game, comic, etc. that made you fall in love with fantasy?
Ed: I read voraciously in my father’s den when I was very young (age of two onward), and can’t choose just one book, because EVERYTHING influenced me, from Lord Dunsany and J.R.R. Tolkien to John Dickson Carr locked room mysteries and Clark Ashton Smith and E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman space operas and Fritz Leiber Fafhrd & Gray Mouser short stories in my dad’s pulp magazines. Plus every last book of classic fantasy Lin Carter got back into print with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperback series, back in the day. Howard and Burroughs, too, and Andre Norton, and all sorts of retellings of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Later, Roger Zelazny started penning the Amber series and broadened my horizons further, and still later Alexei Panshin and Guy Gavriel Kay and John Bellairs and Robin McKinley and Ursula LeGuin and Patricia McKillip and Julian May and J.V. Jones and George R. R. Martin came along and kept the flame alive. It’s still alive today.T here were games galore in our house back then, from chess to top-secret simulation games (my father did military work) to Donald Featherstone books for wargaming with model soldiers. And there were comics, too, from Timely becoming Marvel and early DC titles. I’ve been reading (and loving fantasy, in particular) since before I can remember, so there was no “one memorable inspiration.” I love it all.

GF: Do you have any advice to offer to young authors/game designers looking to make a career of their love of fantasy?
Ed: Yes. Read, read, read, and read some more. Game, game, game, and game some more. Look at what works and what doesn’t work, for you. THINK about it. I don’t mean analyze it to death like some teachers do, ruining a book or story for you, for the rest of your life; I mean after you finish a book and close the cover, come back to it and ponder: did I like this book? Love it? Would I read it again? Why or why not? Was that a great transition, or jolting? Does that death scene make you cry whenever you read it, or just shrug? HOW did this writer pull that off? What part of this game takes forever, and what part flows and is just great fun? Why? What can be tinkered with? (All gamers tinker with fantasy roleplaying rules.) Now, take this advice with a handful of salt. We’re all different, so asking questions and analyzing may not work for you. These days, I just do it intuitively—but I’m always looking to try writing a novel or doing a collaboration in a different way, to see if there’s something that works better. Never stop reading. You can never “know it all.” Life is a ride worth enjoying every moment of, until you fall off.

GF: What are you reading right now?
Ed: I read very quickly, and at my bedside usually have three or more books on the go at the same time. I just finished reading a not-yet-published fantasy novel by Marc Turner, WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL, forthcoming from Tor Books. A great read, swords & sorcery taken up a notch; I loved it. I’m still partway through Vaughan Entwhistle’s THE REVENANT OF THRAXTON HALL, in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is shaping up to solve a murder mystery with the aid of the ghost of Sherlock Holmes, and also partway through THE MASTER OF THE HOUSE by John Gaskin, a collection of ghost stories (Tartarus Press) and THE APE MAN’S BROTHER by Joe R. Lansdale, a different take on Tarzan (Subterranean Press), all published earlier this year. I also have two non-fiction books on the go, an older one (published in 2000) entitled LIFE IN THE FRENCH COUNTRY HOUSE by Mark Girouard (gamers and fiction writers should both take note of how titles were bought and sold in historical France) and a newer one (2013), SHADY CHARACTERS: THE SECRET LIFE OF PUNCTUATION, SYMBOLS, AND OTHER TYPOGRAPHICAL MARKS, by Keith Houston. There are also half a dozen current magazines, from model railroading to Renaissance Faire culture to back-to-the-land living.


U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)