AN NEW INTERVIEW WITH TERRY GOODKIND
Author of Wizard's First Rule, Stone of Tears, Blood of the Fold, and Temple of the Winds
by James Frenkel
JF: Terry, you and I talked about four years ago, when your first novel, Wizard's First Rule, was being published. Since then you've written three more books. How does it feel to be the author of four great epic fantasies instead of just one? How has your life changed in the past four years?
TG: It's tremendously gratifying to see the series growing by leaps and bounds and to know that the books are bringing enjoyment to so many people. Writing is my passion, so my life hasn't really changed. I still spend most of my time in the world of my stories; that's what really counts to me.
JF: When you sit down to write a new book, do you go about it the same way now as you did when you first started? Regardless, what do you do to get started on a new book?
TG: Yes, the same way. I'm interested in the characters and the emotions of their dilemmas. I simply think about the story until it's whole enough in my head, until the emotions are powerfully real to me, until the story pulls me into it, almost as if I'm possessed by it, and then I start writing. To a certain extent I don't know how I do what I do. I just do it.
JF: One of the standard dictums of writing that many writers believe in is that you should "Write what you know". How closely do you identify with Richard Cypher/Richard Rahl, the hero of your series? And when you're writing about other characters, do you feel they all come from some part of you, or are they all just a product of your experience of the world and interacting with others?
TG: All of those things. I can't isolate one of them and say that that's it. Since I write so much about Richard and Kahlan, they of course have a lot of me in them both. I also gave them qualities I look up to and to which I aspire. At the same time, all the characters are a product of my life experience, and of interacting with and observing others.
JF: You've told four stories set in Richard's world, and with each one you've shown us more and more about the world. Have we seen most of his world, or have you just scratched the surface of what you'll eventually reveal about this world? And do you feel that you're going to keep taking us forward in time in this world, one adventure at a time? Or is it possible that at some time you'll take us back to some earlier time, perhaps the time of the great Wizard's War that created so many problems (or some might say solved so many problems) some three thousand years before the current time frame?
TG: When I write about a character I try to be true to them, so by default I end up revealing more about their world because everyone is shaped by the people to whom they are exposed and the world in which they live. When new characters enter the story, their unique view of their world therefore adds new dimension and texture to the world. I enjoy most learning about the world through the eyes of the characters. As far as at some point going back to an earlier time, such as the great war, it's a possibility. It would certainly be an intriguing story to tell, but I haven't really given it much thought because I tend to think in a very linear fashion. I put absolutely everything I have into the book I'm working on. I feel that if I held back or saved anything, I'd be cheating myself and my readers. I trust that when it's time to write the next book, I'll be able to do it again. I think that if I worried about books down the line it would take away from what I'm doing now and my stories would suffer. I write at the ragged edge of my ability, always pushing the envelope; I feel that I owe that to readers.
JF: When did you first start thinking about or working in your head on Richard and his adventures? How long was it from when you first started to think about Wizard's First Rule to when you first started actually writing the manuscript in something like the form in which it was published?
TG: Actually, Kahlan came to me first. I was building my house, by myself, at the time. I've always written stories in my head-characters are always visiting me-so it was nothing unusual. Once I decided that I would finally commit to my dream and write, I let the story continue to grow as I finished building my house. When I completed the house, I started writing. The writing took thirteen months.
JF: Are there any favorite writers or favorite stories that inspired you when you were a kid?
TG: If I didn't fall in love with something, if it didn't fascinate me, I'd simply go on to find something I did love. I'm a very picky reader. I was also a slow reader, and I could easily see that there was no way I would ever be able to read even a tiny fraction of the books out there, so why waste precious reading time on something that didn't grab me? It either swept me away, or it went back on the shelf.
From school I acquired an intense dislike of boring reading, and there was no shortage, or end of that every day in school, so if I was going to read something for myself, it had darn well better win me over. Now I have even less time to read, so my way of approaching reading material is much the same. I find it ironic that being a writer means I hardly have any time to read books. There is so much I wish I could read that to this day I use those same skills that I learned on my own as a kid; a book has to grab me, or I'm on to something else.
This very thing has a great deal to do with the way I write. I try to grab the reader's interest immediately. In the beginning, you have only one sentence to catch the curiosity of a reader. I try to make that sentence interesting enough so that the reader will want to read the next sentence. With each successive sentence I carefully color in a little more of the picture, but I'm always aware of how easy it is to disturb that gathering of momentum.
Just go read the first sentence of any of my books and you'll see what I mean. It's hard to read just that one sentence and then stop. You feel almost compelled to read the rest of the first paragraph. As far as I'm concerned, that first moment may be all the time I have to prove to readers that this will be worth their time.
And time is what it's all about. Everyone has time pressures in their life. They have family, work or school, and any number of other important things that demand their attention. I have always considered it an honor that readers would give me that most precious of commodities: time. I feel duty bound to give them value in return for their investment. I endeavor not to waste their time-to make it worth their while from the first sentence.
As I was growing up, I read fiction and nonfiction alike. I didn't feel a great distinction between the two; a story was a story. I read what interested me. At the time I was fascinated by the images in my head that the words created, and I'm now embarrassed to admit I never gave much thought to who had written those words. I knew the names of a few authors, simply because they were on the spine of the book and if you handled the thing long enough you were bound to notice the name, but I really didn't pay much attention.
I looked at a book because of the title, whether it was fiction and evoked a concept I found interesting or that promised adventure aplenty, or a nonfiction book or story and it was a topic I wanted to know about, such as a famous sea battle, or the story of how rockets were developed, or the tale of Daniel Boone.
I like stories about people of courage. People like Francis Lewis. His wife was captured and treated with such brutality that shortly after he exchanged prisoners with the enemy to gain her release, she died. People like John Hart, who risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him and he barely escaped into the woods. The soldiers destroyed his farm and hunted him across the countryside. When he was finally able to sneak home, his wife was dead and his 13 children had been taken away by the enemy, never to be seen again. And then there was Abraham Clark. His two sons, also fighting for freedom, were captured and taken to an infamous prison ship where 11,000 captives were to die. The enemy offered to release Abraham Clark's two sons if he would simply renounce his struggle for freedom and swear loyalty to the king. Abraham Clark's answer was "No."
JF: Do you foresee a time when you'll have written all you have to say about Richard and will write a completely different kind of book? Do you have other kinds of fantasy stories you would sometime like to write? Do you think you'll ever write stories that aren't fantasy?
TG: When you talk about fantasy, most people associate it with magic, so let me address it from that perspective. In some ways, magic is a metaphor for technology. In much the same way characters in my books have an irrational fear of magic, we live in a world of reflexive, irrational fears. Think of how we fear anything "nuclear." I used to live next door to a model solar home and the builder had a sign in the yard saying the home was powered by solar radiation. People walking by would actually cross the street because they were afraid of "solar radiation." They feared the solar house with the same irrational gut conviction that people in the past feared witchcraft and magic.
The solar house illustration seems funny to us now, but we all have within us the unwavering ability to allow fear to override logic, scientific proof, and truth. I could sit here and give you examples all day long, but let me give you just one to show how easily these irrational fears can be ignited.
Each year in the U.S. more than five thousand people die from food contaminated by dangerous bacteria, yet for many years we have had at hand the means of eliminating these deaths: irradiation. It's a process that has been studied ad nauseam and has time and time again been scientifically proven safe, yet most people would rather risk their children dying a terrible, painful, lingering death than to have them eat safe food that has been irradiated. (The spices in the grocery store have been irradiated for decades, as has much of the grain shipped overseas.) There is no end of people ready to abet such fears with junk science. Many of these people are simply in the grip of these irrational fears, others are cold-blooded users of them.
Most people refuse to hear the truth; in a recent poll three quarters of the population said they would not buy food that has been so treated. Politicians know the poll numbers and so they pass laws against food irradiation--ironically in the name of "public safety"--despite the scientific proof of its safety, despite the truth. These fearmongers stir outcry against the misunderstood solution and insure the continued needless suffering and tragic deaths of thousands-mostly children.
The next time you hear of another outbreak of food-born contamination, and you see a child in the hospital with tubes coming out of her, and you hear that she will be that way for months, and if she lives she will have brain damage, and then the reporter says that it was caused by a dangerous strain of E. coli, they will be wrong; the suffering, the brain damage, the rivers of parent's tears, and the possible death, will be caused by an irrational fear. Yet another child sacrificed on the altar of zealotry.
This is in part what I mean by magic being a metaphor for technology. Irrational human fears and beliefs are little different now than they were five hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago, or two thousand. In that sense, we have not progressed very much at all. Just to say what I just said about the nuclear irradiation of food is to open myself up to a storm of hostile emotions not so very much unlike the hostility directed at supposed witches, which is exactly my point.
There is absolutely no difference between the forensic psychology of "My joints be aching because there's a witch down the road who be casting evil spells on me," and "My joints are aching because the power lines down the road are emitting low frequency electromagnetic radiation." None.
Facts and truth mean as little now as then. It's a timeless human attribute we inherit from our ancestors--like the fear of the dark--and as such, we can instinctively identify with it. It is this kind of conflict between irrational fear and truth that gives me ideas and inspiration. I like to make people think. I also like the one about the witch down the road better.
Now, let's say that in a novel a character has to deal with the fact that she has urgent need to get somewhere--lives are at stake--and her car won't start. Do people summarize it by saying "In this story about technology gone awry . . ."? Of course not. To fail to see the true emotion and story in such a way would be a profound display of stupidity, yet this is exactly what often happens with fantasy-people say "In this story about magic gone awry . . ." I do not write books about magic. I write stories about people who just happen to have to deal with magic as one of the factors in their lives, much as we have to deal with the technology in ours. I'm proud of the stories I write; I feel embarrassed by the ignorance of those who don't get it.
Readers make a huge mistake if they come to my books because they think they will just be reading about magic. That's like going to a rock concert just to see hairdos. To think that these stories are about magic is to miss the true magic of the story. I have yet to receive a letter from a fan telling me they love the books because of the magic. They all say they love the books because they can empathize with the characters and are enthralled with the tale. Readers get it.
I think that recommendations from people who read a book is the best way to break some of these preconceived notions. My hope is to expand the idea of just what fantasy is and have more people come to enjoy it. I pursue this goal by writing the best books I am capable of writing. I'm having a great deal of fun doing it, and I intend to continue doing it with a vengeance.
I know how easy it is for people to put a book back on the shelf.
We live in one of the most politically repressive times in our nation's history. The McCarthy era was small potatoes compared to the thought-police in this dark age of political correctness. Using the wrong words has now become more heinous than murder, and punishment, both social and legal, for those utterances is pursued with more fanatical zeal.
Our legal system has devolved into little more than a lottery where the ability of a lawyer to invoke tears of irrational fear from a jury is rewarded with unimaginable sums. Truth plays only a bit part in the proceedings. Common sense plays none. Because of the astronomical costs associated with the legal system, it has become a sanctioned form of extortion, in which the defense costs against lies are so high that to win is to lose, so people are forced to settle "out of court." Innocent people bear the cost of this use of irrational fear in nearly everything we buy.
Our culture has come to condemn those who produce as heartless. Our society excuses those who steal as entitled, and those who kill as victims.
Knowing well the evils of tyranny, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution divided power among three branches of government-executive, legislative, and judicial-yet three fourths of all our laws are now made by federal agencies. Unelected career bureaucrats write these laws (as regulations), institute them, enforce them, sit in judgement of their violation, and hand down punishment of fines and imprisonment. When a court of law rules against these judgements, the agencies simply declare themselves in "non-compliance" and continue to do as they wish. They cannot be held to account.
Today in America, far more people try hard-core illegal drugs than read books for enjoyment. We have come to tolerate drug use, like so much else, with hand-wringing compassion and understanding.
We have raised a generation of feral children and in so doing have abdicated our society's link to civilization. Gangs now have control of many parts of our cities and towns and rule them as feudal empires. While largely uneducated, these people are far from stupid; they manipulate nearly every institution to their purpose. They have beaten us at our own game.
Francis Lewis, John Hart, and Abraham Clark that I spoke of? They were signers of the Declaration of Independence. How do you think they would view our debauchery? Would they have made the sacrifices they did to gain us our freedom if they knew we would value it so trivially?
It is for the spirits of brave people like Francis Lewis, John Hart, and Abraham Clark that I write.
Readers are rare people. I feel a special connection with them. I try always to do my best for them; I try to write the truth. Fantasy allows me this. The Sword of Truth is a cry of defiance into the descending storm of tyranny. It is a cry for this very special group of people-people able to understand: readers.
My study of history has taught me that no civilization can endure the kind of self-indulgent destruction of social fabric and family structure we are witnessing.
Sooner or later an enemy will come, as they always do, and they will be ruthless. They will hold a blade to our throats. They will pillage and murder and rape us because we have failed to value the hard won gift of freedom and to honor our responsibility to preserve the flame of its true meaning.
As Richard says, anarchy wears the robes of tolerance and understanding.
And you still think I write fantasy?
The barbarians are at the gate, my friends, and they are us.
Tor® and Forge® are trademarks of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., and are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.