NY Times Best-selling Fantasy Author Reflects On The Role Of Real Life In Fiction
RA Salvatore’s written more than 50 books. He’s sold more than 17 million. The New York Times best-selling fantasy fiction author met fans and signed books at the Webster Groves Public Library Oct. 2. Earlier that day he answered questions about how real-world events affect his writing practice.
St. Louis Public Radio: You’ve been writing for over 30 years, produced over 50 books, and sold over 17 million copies. How have you maintained your inspiration?
Salvatore: A couple years ago they took a bunch of the short stories I’d written about this one group of characters ... and they put them together in this collector’s edition anthology. And they asked me to go back and to annotate them. As soon as I started reading the story it put me right back in in that time and place when the kids were little and I had different pets and we were living in a different place. It was almost like looking at old photo albums. And that’s when I had this epiphany about what I’m doing and what I’m really doing is: My writing is just my journey through life and my writing is how I make sense of the world. The inspiration is that I have questions I’m trying to ask myself and I ask it through the characters.
It sounds like you’re relying on real life events in your personal life, but do external real life events also influence your writing?
Salvatore: Absolutely, I don’t see how they can’t. I remember when I was writing a book back in 1990, and these are Medieval type fantasy books, and I had CNN on in the background and the first Gulf War was going on. I realized that when I went to edit the book I used the phrase “hunkered down” about 20 times because Schwarzkopf used to always say hunker down. And I had to go in and edit it all out. You try to make sense of the world around you and you ask yourself the questions and you find metaphors for that and through it in the books. There’s not like a 1 to 1 relationship between it but when you see events going on in the world it teaches you about human nature.
How do you keep readers interested and try to give them an experience that isn’t just repetitious of what comes before?
Salvatore: All of the characters that I write come alive to me. It’s almost like I’m on the phone with someone and they’re telling me their story. When people ask, I want to be a writer what advice do you have? The first thing I say is fall in love with your characters. When it’s happening and you’re in the moment and you realize that this person that’s not a person, it’s just words on a piece of paper, but he’s talking to you, she’s talking to you, it’s a very strange and wonderful time.
The focus of your current book is on a dwarf, what perspective does this book offer for readers.
Salvatore: In fantasy you have the archetypes and I don’t care if I’m writing a dwarf or an elf or a dark elf, or a hobbit or whatever, they have to be human. They have to touch you on a human level. This dwarf in particular has a heart of gold but he’s also duty bound. But this character what you get to explore is the whole is this enemy really an enemy or are we making this enemy an enemy to serve our own ends.
That sounds like it could be related to contemporary times.
Salvatore: There’s a reason that I’m writing this book now. Absolutely. It’s so easy to dehumanize. Fantasy is a little different than that though because fantasy actually embraces racism. You have orcs and goblins and they’re the embodiment of evil. Or are they? And so that’s a question that I keep coming back to because one of the things that’s always fascinated me about people and about cultures is how easy it is to demonize another culture completely. Without even realizing you’re doing it you see someone of that culture and the first thought in your mind is subhuman. And to me there’s nothing more stupid than that. And being able to explore that in fantasy gets really complicated. I don’t have the answers. But it’s fun asking the questions.
Do you feel like the idea of bringing in cultural issues like racism in terms of fantasy was part of your initial interest or something that developed over time?
Salvatore: It’s something that surprised me. My dad, when he was a kid, he was second generation Italian. And they had tons of names for us. My dad brought me up teaching me up that nobody’s better than you and you’re not better than anybody else. And that’s kind of the way I live. But I’m really kind of blind to it. It really doesn’t matter to me, someone’s background or the color of their skin. I never even see it, or I try not to. Everyone sees it, but you try not to. I’m almost sheltered from it. It shocks me whenever I see something like that. What’s really been nice or wonderful is when I get letters from somebody who relates to that character and says this is a role model to me. Thank you for that. People recognize the misunderstood-for-reasons-he-can't-control character. And they pick up on that. And it’s a very positive thing. It was done by accident then as soon as I realized it was happening I started asking the questions of myself and exploring them a little more as well.
With the book that you’ve just release and that you’re touring behind, how do you feel that distinguishes itself from the rest of your writing?
Salvatore: I think the characters for the first time, they’re not settling down because they have a war to win and they have some other big things they need to do, but they’re all starting to look long term now. And to say ok what’s the end game for me? What’s this going to mean for me in ten years. So the characters are coming to a new place in their life. I didn’t plan on this it’s just kind of coming out in the books as I’m writing it. I’m like oh, yeah, maybe it’s because I’m getting older right?