Author of Wizard's First Rule and Stone of Tears
by James Frenkel

JF: I'd like to talk about how you became a writer. People often wonder how writers get started.
You've done a lot of different things in your life to earn a living, and finally, after somewhere between 20 or 25 years on your own, you decided to turn to writing. When did you first think about writing as something that you wanted to do?
TG: It's not so much that I pursued all these interests before I turned to writing; I think I was pursuing all these interests in search of writing. I was looking for the thing that was truly my bliss, and in the back of my mind I always knew that it was writing. I've always been interested in writing, and I've always written stories in my head.
JF: How early in your life did this begin? When do you first remember making up stories?
TG: Some of my earliest memories are of characters. I didn't think of it as making up stories, but as people who would come to me in my head and tell me their stories. They were always characters in great emotional turmoil, and they would tell me their problems, their troubles. They were very important to me; they were my friends, people I worried about. I would go to sleep each night listening to their tales.
JF: Do you recall any particular influences on you that got you interested in fantasy, or in any other kind of stories? Favorite authors, or a favorite kind of stories? Westerns, pirate stories, cops and robbers? Anything in particular that engaged your imagination?
TG: I've always been interested in the characters, primarily: interested in the emotions of their dilemmas. Fantasy touches something deep within me, makes a connection more than any other genre. The characters in fantasy are somehow deeply embedded within me. I like all different sorts of stories about anything, fiction, non-fiction, whatever, but there's something special about fantasy that's always touched me.
JF: Do you recall any book or author that you read when you were younger that inspired you?
TG: I have a form of dyslexia, and I misinterpret words. This makes me a slow reader because I have to work at reading the words correctly. From the beginning, teachers dealt with this learning disorder by ridiculing and humiliating me. That I understood what I read was of no importance. What they actually taught me was to hate reading. Reading became a form of punishment. It was a process of quantity over quality, and to me that eviscerated the story. It made me dislike shool and reading.
I felt like I was being told by the adults that I wasn't good enough to read, that I wasn't trying hard enough. Well, if I wasn't good enough to read, I certainly wasn't good enough to write my stories down. All this drove the stories deeper within me.
So I secretly went off to the library and read, because I felt embarrassed to read. I always read in secret. I remember hiding in my closet and reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I would go off to the library and read things like Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series, and other adventure stories. Then I would devour all the non-fiction books in the library about astronomy, and rocket science, or whatever subject the story I had read involved.
But I loved most being taken away to those worlds. I loved the way this alternate reality created a reality in your mind. I never knew that other people felt the same way when they read. To me, it was a very secret thrill; it was magic.
I knew very well that what I was reading was not the kind of thing I was supposed to be reading. I read mostly in the library because I was afraid to check the books out, afraid of being caught reading "those" kind of books. I had been taught that it was only right to read incredibly boring things. But to me, what I was doing wasn't really reading; it was . . . story magic. Reading was a chore; this stuff was fun. It was a clandestine indulgence. As time went on, every English class I had drove home the point that reading was not to be enjoyed. Life seemed to be telling me that growing up meant giving up reading for the joy of it, and so as I grew older, I read less and less.
JF: Did you do any writing back then?
TG: Just in my head. I did that all the time. But writing stories down, no. My teachers kept on sending the message that what you wrote was irrelevant; the story was irrelevant. It was only the spelling and construction that mattered, the technical aspects. Because of my dyslexia, I'm a lousy speller. So everything I wrote down was simply more fuel for ridicule. I wasn't about to add more fuel to that fire.
JF: When did things finally change, your attitudes about reading, and writing your stories?
TG: It wasn't until I was a senior in high shool that I had an english composition teacher who really made a difference. I was starting again to read those things that took me to other places. I read a lot of science fiction, books by Philip K. Dick, Daniel F. Galouye, among others. I liked the sea adventures of C. S. Forester, and other adventure stories. I was older, and starting to read what I wanted, but I still knew it was wrong to do so, and so only read when nobody knew it.
This teacher read the stories I wrote for her class and saw something more than a collection of misspelled words. Although she admonished me over my poor spelling and grammatical errors, she also told me that there was something beyond the mechanics of writing that was profoundly important. She saw the story. She encouraged me to write stories. She let me touch something noble.
This changed my world.
She would have me stay after class. She talked to me about the assignments I had written. I think she read every one of my assignments to the class. I was astounded that other people wanted to hear what I wrote. If I wrote something incredibly gory, she would read until she could go no farther, and then she would have me get up and finish it. She never once told me what to write about, only helped me to write it better. I could hardly wait for class to end each day so I could talk to her about books and writing. I felt like I had found the only person in the world besides me who felt the power, the emotion, of words.
After class one day, she told me she thought I needed to read Franz Kafka. I did, and he had a tremendous effect on me. I read everything he wrote. She made it valid to read, to read for the joy of it. She wanted to know about the things I read. She didn't want to know how long it took me to read, she just wanted to know what I thought about the stories, the characters, the emotion. To her, there were no limits on what one should or could read. She was a pariah to some of the other teachers, but to me, she was a hand in the darkness.
I wrote stories outside of class, and she would read them. After school she would talk to me about them, and encourage me to do more. That was the thing I remember most, her giving me that one message: write. To me, writing was like being taken to those worlds I first discovered when I was younger. It was an alternate reality; magic. It was then that I knew that someday I would be a writer. At the time, it was a secret, private dream, but I knew.
JF: Did you keep writing from that point?
TG: After high school I didn't write stories down, but I made up stories all the time in my head. To me, it's almost the same thing. I was so used to writing in my head that I didn't see writing on paper as any different. It was also less restricting because I could write in my head whenever I wanted. No matter what I'm doing, driving, eating, whatever, there's almost always a story running in the background.
I think, too, that writing stories down was a commitment I wasn't ready to make. I have a good friend who told me that he figured out the reason it took me so long to start writing. He said it was because writing was so overwhelmingly important to me I couldn't risk failing, and so I couldn't start until I knew beyond a doubt that I was ready, and it was time. I think he is right.
JF: Did you do that with Wizard's First Rule, write it in your head first?
TG: Parts of it, yes. When I was building my house in the woods, I was doing it by myself. I would write scenes in my head while I worked. That was when I decided the time had come to write, that I was ready. So I let the story build. Kahlan and Richard were there with me, telling me their troubles, their terrors, their stories. Some of the scenes I had written in my head several years before I could finally write them down.
JF: Do you have any trouble remembering the things you write in your head?
TG: No. As a matter of fact, I can't get them out of my head until I write them down. I think it's because they're about the emotions of my characters. It's the emotions that I keep in my head, and to me that's so powerful I can't forget it. It's kind of hard to explain, but when I write the scenes down it's almost as if I translate them into words. I guess you could say that it's a little like seeing a movie, and then writing down what you saw. Some of it is in words, and some of it is in pictures. I can't rid myself of these emotional scenes until I translate them into words and write them down. But of course, then new ones are constantly coming to me.
JF: I know you've been an artist. You painted the endpapers for Wizard's First Rule, and you drew the map. When did you first start being a professional artist?
TG: I started selling paintings when I was in high school. I've painted ever since I was really little. I've always liked drawing, and I was always encouraged because I was good at it. It was also an escape from the rest of school. I think it was a case of ability triumphing over passion.
Art, for me, was always a way of seeking to express the emotion within me that writing lets out, but at the time I didn't realize that writing was the way I really wanted to do it. With painting, I was trying to do what I now do with my writing: express those emotions, tell stories. I enjoy painting, but it's not my passion. Writing is my passion.
Art helps me with my writing, though, and is part of it. In order to paint, you have to see what is really there. For example, to paint chrome some people just paint silver, because they think chrome is silver. They aren't seeing what is really there. Chrome isn't silver, it's something that reflects what's around it, sky or ground or whatever. When I write these things in my head, and it comes time to write them down, that artistic ability helps me to describe in an accurate way what I'm seeing, what is really there. I think it helps me bring texture and life to my writing.
JF: I know that you've said that the thing you enjoy most is what you do now, writing fantasy. Is there something, other than writing, that you do for pleasure?
TG: I like to go walking in the woods. I'm surrounded by vast forests and I really enjoy being in the woods, climbing mountains. But even then, I'm writing. Sometimes when I need to think about something I'm writing, I like to go walking in the woods.
It's like I can take my characters with me, go for a walk with them, and let them tell me more about themselves, or what's coming next. In some ways it's like visiting their world, the forests of the story. The isolation helps the story run in my head. It helps me with my writing.
In that way I don't feel I'm wasting time. When I'm not writing, I generally feel I'm wasting time. I guess that's because writing is my bliss. It's the thing I absolutely love to do more than anything I've ever done in my life.
Writing is magic for me. Maybe that's why I feel such a deep connection to fantasy, to magic.
A friend of mine did a lot of detective work, and found my high school English teacher. She told her I had written a book, and said, "It's a fantasy." My teacher said, "Well, of course it is. What else would it be?" I think that back then, in her class, when I harbored the secret that someday I would be a writer, I think one other person knew my secret.

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