Two big thank you’s to kick off today’s entry. First a big thank you to Lawrence Watt-Evans, author of The Misenchanted Sword, December’s Book of the Month Club pick, for kindly taking the time to drop by and field our questions. Second, an equally big thank you to the nameless blog regular who sent me a copy of The Misenchanted Sword sometime last year, bringing the book to my attention and, ultimately, introducing me to what turned out to be an immensely enjoyable read.
Oh, and today’s entry is dedicated to Sheryl’s twins. Happy Birthday! And Happy Birthday!
Now, over to Lawrence Watt-Evans…
Tammy Dixon writes: “For Lawrence Watt-Evans: I enjoyed “The Misenchanted Sword”. It was a fun read and I eagerly awaited reading about the “clause” for the old wizard’s spell.
My two questions for you are: Did you have any fencing experience when you wrote Valder’s fight scenes?”
LWE: Not really. I had one fencing lesson in college, and that was it.
However, I’ve read extensively on the manufacture and use of swords, and I own an 18th-century Persian blade that I used to act out some scenes and make sure they made sense.
“Can you clarify the differences between Sorcery, Witchcraft and Wizardry in your book? I understand that Sorcerers, in this story, were associated with demons but I’m unclear on Witchcraft/Wizardry because they didn’t seem so benign either.”
LWE: It’s not a matter of whether they’re benign or malign. The world of Ethshar has several different varieties of magic, and they don’t generally work well together. Some of this gets explained in later books in the series; I confess I don’t remember exactly what’s in which book.
They’re largely distinguished by where they get their power.
Sorcery is powered by talismans — magical energy trapped in specific objects — and is rather mysterious to most Ethsharites, as it was largely a Northern thing.
Witchcraft is powered by the user’s own body — witches can die of exhaustion if they try to cast too powerful a spell, and it follows the laws of conservation of energy, so it’s limited in what it can do as far as sheer power goes, but it can be very subtle.
Wizardry uses charged symbols to draw on the raw chaos that underlies reality, so it doesn’t follow any rational laws — a tiny cause can have a gigantic effect, and there’s virtually limitless power available, but it can go wrong in thousands of ways. The slightest error in a spell can be disastrous, but it’s so useful when it works that people take the risks anyway.
Other major forms of magic include theurgy, which calls on the gods for help, and demonology, which involves bargaining with demons, but Ethshar’s gods and demons aren’t quite the traditional sort. Minor schools of magic include herbalism (power from plants) and ritual dance (power from shared emotion) and science (power from knowledge).
In later books there’s also warlockry, which draws on a mysterious power source in the mountains of Aldagmor.
“Thank you, for participating in this Q & A!”
LWE: You’re welcome!
AvidReader writes: “Can you tell us a little about your experience with The Spriggan Mirror and The Vondish Ambassador that were published online before making their way to bookstores. What were your reasons for doing so? Was the experience a positive one? Did it meet your expectations? If so, what were your expectations? And would you consider continuing publishing in this manner?”
LWE: Ah, this is complicated, and I suspect most readers don’t want all the details, so forgive me if I abbreviate it somewhat. It’s going to be a very long answer even in abbreviated form; some readers may want to skip ahead.
The Ethshar series was fairly successful for several years, but sales gradually declined, and after eight novels my publisher, Tor Books, decided they didn’t want the ninth one after all — my other fantasy novels sold significantly better for them than Night of Madness and Ithanalin’s Restoration did, so they wanted more of those and not Ethshar.
They had actually signed a contract for the ninth one, The Spriggan Mirror, but asked me to cancel it, and I agreed — mostly because they said that while they would pay me for it, as the contract required, they didn’t intend to publish it. So that ended the series as far as the big New York publishers were concerned.
But I’d written a few chapters before the cancellation, and I had fans asking for more Ethshar, so in April 2005 I decided to try an experiment. I announced I was posting the first chapter on the web, and would post another chapter for every hundred dollars readers sent me.
Honestly, what I expected to happen was that I would get maybe $200 or so, and that would be the end of it — if anyone asked why I wasn’t writing any more Ethshar novels, I would just point out that I’d tried going directly to readers and it hadn’t worked.
But what did happen was that it did work. Money came in very quickly, and kept coming, so I found myself committed to writing the novel and posting it to the web at one chapter a week. Six months later it was done, all twenty-eight chapters, and I sold the finished novel to Wildside Press. Wildside couldn’t afford to pay me enough to write a new novel, but when I’d written this one anyway, they were delighted to publish it.
It was fun — kind of exhausting, keeping up the weekly schedule, but fun. I decided to try again. $100 per chapter was way too little for the amount of work involved, though; I wouldn’t have set it that low if I’d expected it to succeed. So when I did it a second time, with The Vondish Ambassador, I raised the price to $250 per chapter. Which still worked, but seemed to be about the limit, as at that price it sometimes took more than a week to pay for each chapter.
I did try a third time. This time I wanted to see whether it would work with something other than Ethshar, so last year I started a serial of Realms of Light, a sequel to my 1989 science fiction detective novel Nightside City.
That didn’t go over so well. I’ve written the whole thing, twenty chapters, but only the first twelve have been posted. It’s taking a month or two to pay for each chapter. If you want to check it out, it’s at http://www.watt-evans.com/realmsoflight0.html .
When that’s finished, if it ever is, I plan to try another Ethshar story, since those seem to work better. I’m hoping to launch The Final Calling some time in 2010.
Narelle from Aus writes: “ My question for Lawrence Watt-Evans. You made reference to dates such as the year 5000, so I was wondering whether this was a world completely apart from our reality or was it set in a more dystopian future of this reality?”
LWE: In other stories in the series it’s explained that the years are counting from when the gods first taught human beings to talk — instead of 2009 AD, the form is Y.S. 5201, for “the Year of Speech 5201.”
KellyK : “Questions for the author:
1. As Joe pointed out, this book was atypical of most fantasy novels. I was wondering if you consider yourself a fan of the genre and, if yes, which authors or titles in particular?”
LWE: Oh, I’m a huge fan of fantasy, though a picky one. My favorite author, bar none, is Terry Pratchett — I’ve written an entire book about the Discworld series. I also love L. Sprague de Camp’s fantasy, and Lord Dunsany’s — I’d recommend The Incompleat Enchanter and The Unbeheaded King series from de Camp, and The Charwoman’s Shadow and The Gods of Pegana from Dunsany. Clark Ashton Smith’s short stories, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin — there’s lots of great fantasy out there. It just isn’t the stuff that most people seem to read.
“2. What kind of reception did The Misenchanted Sword receive on its publication? What was your reaction? And how does it feel knowing that your book has attained an almost cult-like status among readers?”
LWE: It was an immediate hit, which was wonderful. It never quite broke out onto the mainstream bestseller lists or anything, but it sold well and got good reviews. It had gotten positive reactions starting right from the acceptance letter from Lester del Rey — he spent a page pointing out everything I’d done wrong, how I’d kept some of the action off-stage, how the ending violated traditional rules, and so on, and then said, “But somehow it all works anyway, so I’ll take it.”
I love knowing that something I did has so many fans. It’s one of the great pleasures of being a writer, hearing from people who have enjoyed my work, and with The Misenchanted Sword I heard that a lot.
The only drawback is that I wish I could do it more often. The only book I’ve written since that came close to receiving so favorable a reception was Dragon Weather.
“3. Did you ever consider the possibility of a Misenchanted Sword movie? If so, who would you cast as Valder?”
LWE: I’d love to see it made into a movie, but that’s never up to the writer; it’s a matter of a movie producer taking an interest, and so far that hasn’t happened. As for casting, I don’t know — at one time I might have suggested Russell Crowe, but I don’t think so anymore.
Bridjess writes: “Afew q’s for Lawrence Watt-Evans:
When Valder was going round Ethshar of the Spices looking for a way out of his curse, I couldn’t stop thinking about how he had all that money he had saved and didn’t fix his eyesight, surely even if he was trying to kill himself good eyesight would have helped and even been nice, or was it that you knew he’d have them fixed at some point later and left it for a while?”
LWE: To be honest, I don’t remember anymore what I was thinking when I wrote that part. I agree that getting his eyesight fixed would make sense; maybe he didn’t realize it could be done, or just didn’t think it was worth the trouble.
TimC. writes: “A great book. Some questions for Lawrence Watt-Evans:
Was it always your intention to keep the story focused on Valder to the point where big picture elements like the war were relegated to the background? I thought it was a bold narrative decision that worked very well even though it left me very curious about some of the developments only mentioned in passing (like those demons). While you were writing, were you ever tempted to stray off course and get into the meat of these backstory elements?”
LWE: Oh, the Great War and all the rest was always just background for Valder’s story. I tend to be a small-focus writer, interested in individuals rather than big sweeping sagas. This drives my agent crazy sometimes, as the big sweeping sagas are easier to sell, but it’s what I want to do.
I wasn’t really tempted to explain any of the background; I have it all worked out, I know how it all works, but I also knew that it wasn’t part of this particular story.
“You’ve had stories and books published in the realms of fantasy, science fiction AND horror. Do you have a preference? If so, would you mind explaining what draws you to that genre?”
LWE: I prefer fantasy; I like the freedom to fit the world to the story. I usually like to be lighter in tone than horror allows, and science fiction can be limited by the need to keep the science and technology consistent with itself and with reality.
But they’re all fun.
Sparrow_hawk writes: “ Questions and comments for Lawrence Watt-Evans:
Thanks for stopping by to answer questions for us. I realize that you wrote The Misenchanted Sword more than twenty years ago, so if you don’t have answers to my questions I completely understand. After all, I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast most days.
1. I really enjoyed the book! How did you come up with the idea of the sword and its effects? At first the whole thing seemed comical but as time went on the consequences of the “misenchantment” took a more serious turn. The idea of aging without being able to die is pretty grim.”
LWE: This is going to sound stupid, but the idea for the sword came to me in a dream. Really truly, it did — I still have (somewhere) the slip of paper with the note I wrote myself that morning, so I wouldn’t forget it.
I don’t usually get my story ideas that way, but I did for this one.
Another odd thing is, that original note was only about the sword, and in fact I came up with, and discarded, two other stories about it before settling on the one I actually wrote.
“2. I loved the war being resolved off-stage, as it were. I thought it was a very unorthodox, but very effective, way to shift the focus away from the grand, historical scale and into the personal. If that makes sense…”
“3. I’m probably being a bit dense and I hate having to ask someone to explain a joke but, since the hermit botched the Spell of True Ownership can Valder eventually get rid of Wirikidor? Not that he would want to now that he has eternal youth to go with his virtual immortality.”
LWE: No, there’s no way out while he’s alive; it’s because the spell was botched that there’s a limit on how many times he can use the sword.
Airelle writes: “I wondered what became of the wizard who enchanted the sword, and was thrilled that Valder met up with Iridith, and they lived happily ever after.. Could he and Iridith have kids, would they inherit the youth spell? just wondering.. This was a nice easy read, and I enjoyed it. thank you.”
LWE: No, their kids wouldn’t inherit the youth spell. That’s an interesting idea, though. That could have some story possibilities.
PaleRider17 writes: “I notice a nice mix of original and tie-in works in your bibliography. What would you say are the pros and cons of writing tie-in novels? Would you say they give you more creative freedom since the world and its characters are pre-established, or does it handcuff you because of the publisher’s “You’re welcome to play in our sandbox, but make sure you put the toys back where you found them when you’re done.” mentality? Is there a particular tie-in novel you’re most proud of? Thank you.”
LWE: Tie-ins are fun because I don’t need to make everything from scratch — part of the work’s been done for me. Also, I get to play with characters and settings I would never have thought of on my own.
And — okay, this is probably going to sound bad, so bear with me — I don’t feel as if I need to have everything make sense.
When I’m creating my own worlds, I try very hard to make everything logically consistent; if it doesn’t make sense to me, that’s a constant distraction, something I feel I need to fix. If I’m writing, say, a Star Trek novel, though, I don’t need to worry about that; I can just say, “Well, that’s how it is in the Star Trek universe, we’ve seen it, and if it doesn’t make sense that’s not my problem.” So I can get away with sloppy science and world-building that would drive me nuts if I’d done it myself.
That’s oddly freeing.
Yes, there are other elements that aren’t freeing at all — I can’t change things that are already established in the original work, no matter how much it might improve my story — but that just makes it a challenge.
And the whole “put everything back the way I found it” angle is limiting, but it also means I don’t need to worry too much about giving my characters a lot of emotional development or complexity, because it’s all going back to square one anyway when I’m done.
Writing tie-ins is different from writing my own work, but I’d be hard put to say whether it’s really harder or easier on balance. It’s fun, but it feels shallower, somehow. And of course, while the up-front money can be good, I don’t wind up owning anything, so from a business point of view it’s a mixed bag, as well.
As for which I’m proudest of, I think my Mars Attacks! novel, Martian Deathtrap, was the most fun, as the whole point was to be over the top, but the one that I think was probably my best was Predator: Concrete Jungle. It was nominally a novelization of Mark Verheiden’s comic book mini-series, but the movie people demanded so many changes, and I had to add so much stuff to suit them, that it’s about as much mine as Mark’s, and I’m pleased with how it came out.
And thank you all for giving me some entertaining questions!