Have you ever read Michael Swanwick? He wrote an essay called "In the Tradition..." that described what he called "Hard Fantasy," which was a type of fantasy similar to the slide rule style of hard science fiction where everything has an objective, mechanical reason for happening. Do the fantasy worlds you create follow an internally consistent mechanical process?
RS: Yes. Absolutely. But I don't explain to the nth degree. There has to be that element that can't be explained; that's why it's magic. To me, that's a very alluring part of fantasy because there's something very comforting about living in a world where not everything can be explained by science, right? It kind of gives you hope for something after, you know what I mean? But there has to be a consistency to it.
In DemonWars, I use gemstones and minerals. These things, they're in a ring above the planet, and somebody figured out how to get them by accident. This became the business for the Church because they thought these were the gifts from God.
A big part of my research in DemonWars was looking up the old superstitious magical values and properties of gemstones, and the practical manufacturing qualities of them. Serpentine for heat shields, things like that.
So, I did all of that to try and make it somewhat consistent, either through myth or what we know. There has to be a basis because otherwise what you run into is deus ex machina, right?
Then you wind up with, "Here comes the dragon! You found a new spell. Boom. Shot the dragon dead." There has to be some logic, and there have to be parameters to magic as well.
This is why I drive Wizards of the Coast crazy, especially in Forgotten Realms, because I won't do anything with the gods. The gods are very prominent on the Realms but I don't want anything to do with that. I've even had the Dark Elves say, "I don't know if it's a real god, but I follow it. I just know this is what's in my heart, and they gave her this name."
But other people are writing Forgotten Realms books and the gods are showing up and doing things. So, when they did the War of the Spider Queen books, which dealt with the pantheon for the Dark Elves, I didn't write any.
I worked as an editor on the series and a consultant and worked with the other authors. It's just nothing I do. It's not the way I work. Very rarely do you see the gods walking the world of DemonWars. And I never even answer the question. "Are those gem stones the gifts of God or is it just a scientific metaphysical glitch?"
So, you just kind of work around it? It hasn't bothered you that you're constrained by the game setting and rules that everyone knows?
RS: No. It really hasn't, because the truth is when I'm writing books, I'm writing about characters more than anything else. Many years ago, when I got my first rejection letter back in '83 or '84, I called Robert Cormier, who's from my hometown. He did The Chocolate War and I Am The Cheese. He's probably one of the most important young adult authors of the 20th century, if not the most.
He was incredibly accessible, so I called him and he kept me on the phone for hours. The one thing he told me that stayed with me forever was character is more important than story. If you have a great character in a mediocre story, you'll still have a great book. If you have a mediocre character in a great story, meh. And he just drummed that into me and I followed it ever since.
So, what are some of the techniques that you use to create your characters? Do you look at people in your life for inspiration?
RS: I would say most of my characters are at first, as a broad brush, they're composites of people I know. Every now and then I get someone who's very much based on a character. Mike Laveger for Cadderly. [laughs] Gary Leger in The Woods Out Back was me.
That was autobiographical, except I was kidnapped by a hobbit and he was kidnapped by a leprechaun. Same thing. But it's mostly a broad brush composite. But the way I look at characters is I get to know them while I'm writing them. They tell me who they are. It just kind of happens that way -- it's very strange.
Robert E. Howard talked about Conan as being a composite of various oil field bullies, bootleggers, and other people on the margins of society that he knew in Depression-era Texas.
RS: Sure. Sure. And you know, to me, if you want me to say where did Drizzt come from, I think I probably get him from 93 different places, whether it's Fritz Leiber's Mouser, to characters I've seen on TV, to who I wish I had the courage to be. It's all those things.
I heard that you had written some dialogue for Quake III Arena. Do you see yourself getting involved in the writing of dialogue for Copernicus?
RS: [laughs] My gaming group did the bot responses. A thousand different insults, we had to come up with. Well, fortunately, one of my friends worked at a prison. We had to throw out most of his, but some of them were pretty good. Yeah, that was a trip. That was a lot of fun until we got around to number 487, and then we were like, "Oh god."
But do I see myself doing that with this game? Probably not. Maybe if there's something that really, really tickles me like doing a zone or something. I don't know.
Will there be other writers that will be answering to you?
RS: There are. [laughs] By answering to me, what that means is I'm a pretty easy editor in that as long as you get the flavor, I don't want you to be a carbon copy of me. When I did War of the Spider Queen, I felt that way. You know, you don't hire creative people and not let them be creative. There's no point to that. That's why they call it "the talent". You let them be talented.