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The SF Signal Gang Talks with the Salvatores about Fantasy, Elves and Swordplay

We recently had the oportunity to question the father/son writing team of R.A. (Bob) and Geno Salvatore (The Stowaway) about various topics as part of their current blog tour. Here’s what they had to say…

SF Signal: How did you divide the work on The Stowaway? What was work break down for the writing process? Did you see yourselves as colleagues and did the father/son relationship come into play?

Geno: I did most of the grunt work, as in the actual writing of the story, but my Dad was a great resource and surprisingly easy to work with. As far as the father and son thing, the only thing that came into play was that we knew each other so well that we didn’t have to spend time learning each other’s habits. That was a good thing.

Bob: I always viewed this project as Geno’s story, and my role as that of hands’-on editor and adviser. I was there from the very beginning on structuring the story, for example, since I know better than anyone what pacing and structure my Drizzt readers desire. I also tried very hard to make sure that the whole “father/son” thing never came into play. Geno was my colleague on this, and while I could pull rank both as the guy who created Drizzt and company, and, I suppose, as his father, that wouldn’t have been fair, and would have been very counterproductive to the creative process. As I said, this was Geno’s story. I just helped him fit it into the larger context of my story.

And of course, there were a few scenes I wrote for the book – with one in particular, an old favorite that came straight from The Halfling’s Gem, I claimed “dibs.”

SF Signal: Geno, This is your first novel. What pressures were brought about by adding to the world your father had built in his books?

Geno: I never really saw myself as “adding to the world” someone else had built. To my mind, the world exists, and these characters exist within it.

In that respect, there is some pressure to be faithful to the existing world, to function within and around the stories others have told before. But I don’t think that pressure is any greater than it would be writing in, say, the real world.

SF Signal: Bob, why write a young adult novel when your previous novels have been aimed at adults? Do you think YA is more of a marketing category than anything else?

I do think that YA is more of a marketing category, but then again, so is science-fiction/fantasy. I have to start by challenging your premise: that my books are aimed at adults. I don’t really “aim” at anyone; I tell a story and hope that the people who choose to read it enjoy it. In that context, I don’t think The Stowaway is radically different from any other Drizzt novel – certainly we didn’t dumb anything down for a different target audience. The only real difference is that this novel is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old. A very smart and observant and mature 12-year-old, to be sure, but a kid nonetheless.

I’ve been getting letters from pre-teens and teens since I started this journey with Drizzt two decades ago. In fact, I would say that the audience was far younger then than now. Fantasy was a fairly new genre and the core of the audience in the late 1980’s was the teenage boy. Now that audience has widened and aged (kind of like, well, me – and yes, on both counts!), but the reason I’m still writing is for the joy of those letters that begin, “I never read a book until…” or, “I couldn’t get my son/daughter to read a book until I gave him/her one of yours.” Those are the letters that keep me typing.

SF Signal: The Stowaway is the first book of a planned trilogy. Do either of you envision the story exceeding beyond that, or does the story have a definite end?

Geno: Every story has an end, else it is not a story. But that does not mean the characters necessarily do. So there could be more. We’ll see.

Bob: What he said, and remember, this is coming from the guy who wrote The Crystal Shard as a single book in a one-book deal, the guy who tied up the entire story in The Halfling’s Gem because we were all convinced it would be the last we’d see of Drizzt and the gang, and who went away after the Dark Elf Trilogy (to do The Cleric Quintet) because of my and the publisher’s belief that readers had seen enough of Drizzt. Never say never, I guess.

SF Signal: Geno, do you see the characters in the future parts of the trilogy interacting with other characters from your father’s books? A chance meeting with Cattie-Brie or Wulfgar, or perhaps a chance encounter with Artemis Entreri?

Geno: No encounter with Artemis Entreri is “chance”. But yes, the story we’re currently telling runs alongside Drizzt and company’s adventures, so further meetings are possible.

SF Signal: Bob, how difficult was it to jump all the way back to Drizzt’s roots/beginnings for The Dark Elf Trilogy after spending time on the Icewind Dale books? Were you trapped by events you knew would eventually transpire?

Bob: The Dark Elf Trilogy was very difficult to write, but not for that reason. I mean, I knew that Drizzt would survive it, and knew that the reader understood that, as well, and so the series was more about explaining how he came to be the guy we saw in the first series. In that sense alone, I was trapped, I suppose, but the harder part of it all was defining the dark elves in the Forgotten Realms. It was quite a task they put before me, and the weight of it was daunting. I had very little detail about who these dark elves were. I had a couple of wonderful old Gygax modules and a Fiend Folio entry on drow, and well, that’s about it.

Regarding what I had written before, Icewind Dale is so far removed from Menzoberranzan that there really wasn’t all that much cornering me as I wrote. Just the pressure of knowing that I was creating a major part of someone else’s world.

SF Signal: How do you write swordplay scenes that remain fresh?

Geno: I find fight scenes interesting and difficult, largely because I’m not a spatial thinker the way my father is. At any given time in a scene, he knows exactly where everyone is. I, on the other hand, tend to focus more on the character — on where everyone is internally, not physically. Which is mostly useless in a sword fight. So for me, writing swordplay scenes is a long process of write, edit, write, edit, until I feel the motions of the fight have truly been displayed. Of course, what that really means is, I talk to my father and get his take.

Bob: It always seems to come back to the fight scenes for me. I think I missed my calling as a karate instructor, or a battle choreographer for movies, or something like that.

The most important part of a fight scene is the pacing. Period. Short sentences. Fast and furious. Keep them moving. Keep punching the reader with visual cues. I do it instinctively and actually watch the battle in my head as I type.

SF Signal: Geno, are you a game player? What types of games do you play? Did your father’s exposure to Dungeons and Dragons spill over to you?

Geno: I play anything and everything, from World of Warcraft to Dungeons and Dragons to Magic: The Gathering.

SF Signal: Bob, most of your work falls squarely in the fantasy genre, but you have written at least one book in the SF realm, the Star Wars novel Vector Prime. Do you have any plans to return to science fiction? Why or why not?

Bob: Actually, Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It’s heroic adventure…in other words, fantasy. I’m pretty sure that George Lucas thinks of it in that way, as well, or at least, that was the distinct impression I got when we talked about my novelization of his screenplay. I’ll leave science-fiction to the Ben Bovas and Kim Stanley Robinsons and Greg Baers. While I love the genre, I don’t consider myself expert enough to go there. Science fiction readers are pretty savvy folks, and they know their stuff – much better than I do. If I were to write a science fiction book, the research would be extensive.

SF Signal: What upcoming projects do you have planned?

Geno: Besides the follow up to The Stowaway, I am working with Ryan Schifrin on a second arc of the Spooks graphic novel. I also have a few personal side projects, a novel and a screenplay, which are simply for my personal pleasure and not necessarily ever going to see the light of day.

Bob: I’ve just finished The Dame, which is the third of four books in my current DemonWars series, featuring a character known as The Highwayman (I love this guy!). I’m now working on next year’s Drizzt release, The Ghost King, and of course, there’s the continuing work on the Copernicus computer game with 38 Studios.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

1 Comment on The SF Signal Gang Talks with the Salvatores about Fantasy, Elves and Swordplay

  1. erik o'koon // December 10, 2008 at 2:46 pm //

    i love bob’s books and have devoward all of them but The Stowaway , star wars and tarzan keep up the good work bob

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