Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Raymond Feist

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Raymond E. Feist!

His first novel was published in 1982, and recently he finished his massive Riftwar Cycle of thirty novels and is now embarking on a completely new series in a new RaymondFeistuniverse. His works have appeared on numerous Best Seller Lists, including the New York Times, the Times (London), and Publishers Weekly.  His books have been translated into more than twenty five additional languages and published around the world in more than a hundred countries.

Raymond, What books were your favorites when you were young, and how do you think they influenced what you are writing now?

RAYMOND E. FEIST:  I remember Mom reading to me as a small child and the usual stuff in school from Dick & Jane.  The first book I remember Mom reading was Doctor Suess’s first book,  AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET.  The first adult book I can remember reading was TOM SAWYER, followed the day after I finished by HUCKLEBERRY FINN.  I fell in love with story telling.   I read “Boys Adventure Fiction,” a category that no longer exists, but besides Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys, and lesser known works.  I migrated into more adult story telling, people like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan-Doyle (the Challenger Books more than Sherlock, and The White Company), Anthony Hope, Howard Pile, and the pulp writers, A. Merritt, H. Ridder Haggard, E. R. Boroughs, etc. and then into historical fiction, Mary Renault, Samuel Shellenbarger, Rosemary Sutcliff, and my favorite, Thomas Costain.  All of had one thing in common, other places and times, great heroic adventure.

Then when I was in about the 8th grade, I discovered Science Fiction.  My first taste was Hall Clement’s CYCLE OF FIRE, followed by Eric Frank Russell’s WASP, and I was hooked.  Joined the SF Book Club and grabbed anything off the spinner at the drug store.

Fantasy I didn’t really get into until college when Tolkien first took off around ’65 or so.   Fell in love with Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorecock’s work, the former for the great character driven shorts and novels, and the latter for the sheer brilliance of scope and the complex interweaving of the Eternal Champion myth.  Since then anything good.

VENTRELLA: What is it about fantasy that attracts you and makes you want to write in that genre?str2_ttraymond_covers_ma_3

FEIST:  Simple.  There was no market for “Boys Adventure Fiction” when I decided to write, and I had a ready-to-go fantasy world I’d help build, Midkemia.  It was a no-brainer for me.

VENTRELLA: One thing many fantasy writers don’t pay enough attention to is creating a realistic and logical magic system. How did you go about making sure yours worked with the plots you wanted to explore?

FEIST:  That’s a tough one. It’s a bit intuitive, and a bit logical. You can’t have a guy who can rip down a mountain unable to blow a door off its hinges, unless there’s a compelling reasons, i.e. “I can tear down a mountain, but if I open this door, it will tear down the entire castle!” Also, some sense of the individual and social consequences need to be shown, else you’ve got a potential Superman and then everyone else gets to stand there and watch Superman solve every problem.

VENTRELLA: Do you usually start off with a basic idea or a character? How do your plots develop?

FEIST:  Ideas always come first, often with zero story attached.  My current book started with a question, one of those weird half-asleep just waking up thoughts, “Who is the King of Ashes?”  I had no flipping idea, but I loved the question. As I craft story, characters emerge and as they do, they shape the narrative, often taking it in unexpected directions. I know the end of a story—one has to, in my opinion—else you can wander though the wilderness for forty years like Moses, but you have to know where you’re going to end up. The fun is figuring out how to get there.

VENTRELLA: There is no correct way to write – I tend to outline fairly heavily before I delve in, but I also go way off that outline if inspiration strikes, for instance. How do you organize your writing?

FEIST: “Organize?” What is this word? Seriously, I’m about as unorganized as you can get and still get words on paper. I just sit down and make stuff up.

VENTRELLA: Is there any one character of yours that you identify with the best, who really has your personality?raymondefeist-silverthorn

FEIST: Common myth promulgated by generations of Lit professors. I wish I was as clever as Jimmy The Hand, as competent as Prince Arutha, as charming with the ladies as Laurie of Tyr-Sog, as certain of what’s right as Pug, etc. But none of them is “me,” in any meaningful way.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read these days?

FEIST: Not much. It’s partially an age thing; at 71 my vision isn’t what it used to be, so after a long day in front of the computer, I’ll watch sports or politics on TV so I’m looking at something across the room. Eye fatigue is a myth when you’re 20, or even 50, but now . . . ? It’s why I moved up to the 12” iPad from the 9”. When I do read, it’s while I’m traveling, of if I take a day off and just sit in my home and read something for a few hours. I tend to prefer history and biography.

VENTRELLA: Like many authors (myself included), you started off as a gamer. How do you think that influenced your writing style and the way you structure your plots?

FEIST: Not at all. Two entirely different entertainment constructs, with different narrative requirements. Perhaps the backstory of the environment, insofar as you need to know how the bloody dungeon got there in the first place, and maybe the lore over some of the mythic loot, but the only thing gaming gave me was a rich physical environment in which to work. Game plots are pretty repetitive and boring, “kick down the door, kill the monsters, loot, heal, next door; rinse and repeat.” The part that did influence me wasn’t the gaming but the postmortems. “Remember, that time, when we went down into the desert and ran into that bunch of outlaws, who chased us into the ruins where we found the entrance to . . . ”  over many beers.  Some of that stuck, but most of it is just learning how to tell a story and write a coherent English sentence.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important for your books to be read in any specific order – for instance, should one start with the Magician series and then go on to another?

FEIST: Ya, it’s sort of a 30 volume trilogy, as we joke around here. However, it is broken up into five “riftwars,” Riftwar, Serpentwar, Darkwar, Demonwar, and Chaoswar, and each has its own “jumping in’ book. 8664327 So you can start with A KINGDOM BESIEGED, the first book of the Chaoswar, and it’s a complete arc, though a lot of characters and their backstories may be less than they would be had your read the earlier series.

Some of the books, like the Jimmy The Hand/Krondor titles, can be skipped or read at any time, as can the Legends of the Riftwar, the three books I collaborated with Joel Rosenberg, S.M Stirling, and William Forstchen.  The Empire Series I cowrote with Janny Wurts comes in half-way through MAGICIAN and ends after A DARKNESS AT SETHANON, but also can be read at any point.

VENTRELLA: Your books inspired the Krondor video games that I remember playing way back when – were you happy with the results?

FEIST: For the most part. Nothing is ever as you imaged it would be, and there were serious corporate problems during Return to Krondor that make me glad it finally saw the light of day. Betray was for its time a massive hit with players, and I still get complements about it.

VENTRELLA: Will we ever see any other computer games based on your books?

FEIST:  All someone has to do is make an offer.

VENTRELLA: Do you like to play computer games, and if so, which ones do you prefer?krondor-the-betrayal

FEIST: My one black hole for time is World of Warcraft, which I play long distance with my kids, one in Northern California, and the other in Massachusetts. I play it alone to say at the computer until I feel guilty then go back to work, because if I get up and turn on the TV or pick up the book, there’s a high probability I’m done working for the day.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also inspired some tabletop and on-line RPGs. Tell us about them! Are you happy with those results?

FEIST: Not really. We had a long running texted base Mud/Mux type online game. As for the RPG stuff, it came first. Midkemia Press was publishing our system and supplements while I was writing MAGICIAN.  I’m  happy that people enjoyed them.

VENTRELLA: You haven’t avoided politics on your Facebook page – do you worry about how your readers may react?

FEIST: Not any more. I got scolded back when I first joined because of a remark I made about something Bush did, when someone felt it his job to take me to task and warn me I might lose some readers. Then I realized I have a max of 5,000 “friends” and maybe 20,000 followers, only some of whom might be annoyed by my opinion. I’ve got 15 million books sold over 30+ years, so if I lost all of my Facebook folks, I’d survive. While I don’t thing a stand-up comic and former-Playmate should be giving medical advice to people, I do think just because someone is a musician or an actor they’re supposed to pretend they have zero interest in larger issues. Same for writers.

VENTRELLA: Do you think new writers who are trying to gain a following should avoid discussing controversial issues?

FEIST: There’s no one size fits all answer, I guess. Controversy might actually sell some books; I do not know. I do know that I’m a dinosaur in publishing, that how I broke in is impossible to duplicate today. Over 30% of my first sales were through independent bookstores, and we had no Amazon, on-line blogs that reviewed books, etc. It’s a different world.magician_apprentice

VENTRELLA: How much of writing do you believe is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?

FEIST: There are two skills. One, writing, can be taught. Most people who got out of college can write a coherent English sentence, a report to their boss, a love-letter, a contract proposal, or any number of things that communicate clearly.

Telling a story is a whole other thing. I can maybe help a young writer learn how to tell a story, but I can’t teach them if that makes sense. You either have the knack or you don’t.  If you have even the tiniest bit of the knack, then you can learn to improve on it. If you have no knack, then it’s hopeless. It’s like that guy everyone knows who just can not tell a joke, no matter how he tries.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important to start by trying to sell short stories or should a beginning author jump right in with a novel?

FEIST: Is there even a short story market today? Back in the pulp days you could pay the rent at a penny a word, which is why so many writers from the 1930s to 1960s did both. But short fiction and novels are two different critters with entirely different structure rules. at-the-gates-of-darknessSome of us can’t do one or the other. Me, I can do both, but I’m far more comfortable with novels. Short stories are much harder for me to do.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing, especially for a beginning writer?

FEIST: I have none. I am 100% ignorant of the self-publishing reality now. When I broke in there were vanity presses, people who would print your book and send them to you and a lot of unhappy wannabe writers had garages full of books no one would buy. Today, I really know nothing about self-publishing, because I’ve never not been published by a traditional house. As of two years ago, I am HarperCollins’ senior writer.  They have books in print before MAGICIAN, but none by a currently published author.  I’ve never had a book go out of print in English, so I’ve never been interested in spending time learning about self-publishing.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best advice you would give to a starting writer that they probably haven’t already heard?

FEIST: Butt in seat, fingers on the keyboard, or pen in hand, or pencil and yellow legal tablet, whatever. Write. Keep writing until you get good. If you stop, you’re not a writer.


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