Panic View: Richard Lee Byers

On of my favorite fantasy world to visit is the land of Faerûn.  Sadly I have not found the portal to get there, not for lack of trying though, so any contact I get with the world is largely through the novels.

I’ll find that portal one day.

Today I have the wonderful chance to post an interview done with Forgotten Realms author Richard lee Byers.  This Faerûn heavy-hitter is responsible for such books as the Year of the Rogue Dragon, The Haunted Lands Trilogy, The Brotherhood of the Griffon series and Dissolution, Book 1 in the War of the Spider Queen, just to name a few.

In recent years you have become a powerful voice in the Realms.  You have been referred to as the Herald of Faerun and even been compared to Ed Greenwood.  How you respond to such praise for you writing?

Somebody actually called me the Herald of Faerûn and compared me to Ed? Damn, I’m sorry I missed seeing that.

But I have seen some praise over the years, and obviously, I’m profoundly grateful that people saw fit to give it. When it comes to writing in the Realms, though, I’m very conscious of the fact that anything I accomplish builds on the ideas of the many gifted creators who either worked on the setting in the past or do so currently, Ed first and foremost, of course, but all the others as well. So whatever kind comments my stuff receives, I share the accolades with them.

You have written major Realm affecting issues like The Dragon Rage and the Thay civil war.  Where these events your idea or where they pitched to you?  If they were your idea how did you come up with these ideas?  If they weren’t how did you approach these events?

In both instances, Wizards came up with part of the premise, and I came up with the rest. In the case of The Year of Rogue Dragons, the publisher asked me to write a trilogy showcasing the dragons of the Realms and suggested it center on another Rage of Dragons. I came back with the notion that the trilogy would deal with a Rage that had the potential to be worse than any that came before it, like, end of civilization worse, and that the story would finally solve the mystery of why Rages happen at all. I also came up with the idea that Sammaster and the Cult of the Dragon would play a central role in the story

In the case of the Haunted Lands trilogy, I suggested we follow up on the trilogy focusing on the dragons of the Realms with one featuring the undead. Wizards thought that was a good idea but had already come up with the idea that the Realms were going to jump ahead 100 years and that the intervening time would make Thay a different place. Since Thay was already crawling with undead anyway, they suggested I write a story that would both feature my monsters of choice and explain the evolution of Thay. I then came back with the notion of Szass Tam’s megalomaniacal scheme and the War of the Zulkirs, and things proceeded from there.

So you can see how these Big Event projects tend to evolve. The publisher proposes a basic topic or asks that a big change to the setting be explored in a work of fiction, and then the novelist builds from there.

A little story is needed for Question 3:

I was DMing a 3.5 DND game that circled around hunting and slaying multiple dragons across the world.  After reading The Year of the Rogue Dragon, I surprised my wife by having a villain remove an arm and leg off her character and replace them with golem parts to try and control her (the controlling failed).  She was vexed until she saw the strength bonus.

How does it feel to know your writing is influence players and DM?  That DND players are trying to imitate or creating homage to your writing through their own characters?

It’s another form of praise, and thus, it’s gratifying. I just hope nobody blames me if a beloved PC attempts some heroic feat one of my characters performed and comes to a gruesome end because of it. Characters in novels can get away with things that gaming characters at the mercy of the rules and the dice may not be able to pull off.

Through your writing you seem to have a deep understanding of the DND game (both 3.x and four).  I’ve read your characters and recognized spell, classes and items.  Seeing how Faerûn is based on a book (or two) of actual rules, how do you approach the rules and source material when it comes to your writing? 

It’s important to be true to the essence of the Realms as defined in the sourcebooks. Red dragons should breathe fire, clerics should have special powers in relation to the undead, dwarves should be tough guys who can see in the dark, etc. Otherwise, you’re not really writing about Faerûn.

On the other hand, a novelist needs to know that some aspects of the source material are purely gaming conventions that don’t import well into fiction. In the real world, people don’t have levels, hit points, or armor classes. These are abstractions that allow us to simulate the fluid complexity of something like a sword fight with numbers and dice. In so doing, they simplify and distort. For gaming purposes, that doesn’t matter as long as we’re having fun. But they can make fiction read very peculiarly if the writer insists on incorporating them.

During my read of The Haunted Lands I found myself impressed by the way Aoth Fezim, as warmage, felt like a very different caster then a wizard did.  When writing in Thay, a place so filled and reliant on magic, was making each class seem different important to you?

This gets back to striving to be true to the details of the setting. At the time The Haunted Lands begins, Thay is very much a land of magical specialization, and I needed to represent that by making a big deal out of the various orders of Red Wizards. And since Aoth was never initiated into any of those orders, his magic needed to be different again. Luckily, that wasn’t hard. If I simply made him a warmage as described in the source material, voila, he was different.

You have written almost exclusively for the Realms.  What about Faerûn do you find so desirable as a writer?

Actually, if you follow the admittedly faint trail of my career back far enough, you’ll find I’ve done a lot of other things. But you’re right that in recent years, I’ve done the majority of my writing in the Realms.

The glib answer to why is that WotC is the publisher that’s wanted to publish my stuff. But there really is more to it than that. Thanks to all those creators I mentioned in a previous answer, the Realms is one of the richest, most detailed worlds in all of fantasy. Why wouldn’t a writer want to play with this particular set of toys?

I ask this for my readers and not because I’m a fan of the Year of the Rogue Dragon series – I swear.  Do you think you’ll ever return to the lives of Dorn and Kara or Taegan Nightwind and Jivex?

As you know, the Realms moved forward a hundred years after the events of the trilogy. That makes it problematic to write about any characters who, even if they survived the chaos of the Spellplague, would logically have grown old and died before the current batch of novels started. Sure, in a fantasy world, one can come up with magical cheats to keep characters young. But it would make the new Realms look stupid if every single writer found excuses to bring all his pet characters forward across the time jump. So, while I did it with Aoth and Bareris to make The Haunted Lands work, I’m reluctant to make a habit of that.

Of course, there are non-human characters from The Year of Rogue Dragons who could still be alive in the new Realms, and I’d enjoy writing more about them. But the other issue is that I have to write what WotC wants to publish. Here lately, that’s been books about Aoth and the Brotherhood of the Griffon, and that’s fine, because I love those characters, too. But you may see more of Taegan and Jivex eventually. If you read the Brotherhood books, you know I already worked Brimstone back into my stuff, so there’s always hope.

What is next for Richard Lee Byers in Faerûn?

Prophet of the Dead, the next Brotherhood of the Griffon novel, is due out in February, 2013.

In your E-riginal book The Imposters, you write a highly original superhero story.  What was it about the super-hero fiction genre that drew you to it?

I’ve loved superhero comics ever since I was a kid. I like the wild and crazy anything can happen quality of a superhero universe. And when I decided to experiment with electronic self-publishing, I wanted to do something different than sword-and-sorcery just because I spend so much time writing that already. So I went with the superguys of The Impostor.

Your bio has said when playing DND you mostly GM.  In your mind what makes a good GM?

A good GM needs a sense of story so that adventures and the campaign as a whole feel like they have a point and are going somewhere. You have to be able to keep things moving and keep the players making choices that relate to the objectives of the scenario without making them feel like they aren’t in control of their PC’s. You have to be able to improvise, you have to make sure nobody’s left out for extended periods, and you have to know your goal is to entertain the players, not defeat them.

Are you able to give me the contact information to Faerûn’s immigration department?  I’m looking to move to Waterdeep.

I think only Ed [Greenwood] has that information. You should probably ask him.

Up next are my two 42 Webs ‘signature questions’.  There are small questions that while growing up I always wondered about authors?

What is your favorite book/author? Why?

This is one of those questions where the answer will vary according to my mood. But unquestionably, one of the supreme masters of fantasy, science fiction, and horror was Fritz Leiber, and his Gray Mouser and Fafhrd stories are seminal works of sword-and-sorcery. The Swords of Lankhmar is the only full-length novel he ever wrote about the duo, and it’s a gloriously entertaining fantasy adventure. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid and reread it several times.

What is your most memorable comic trade/graphic novel? Why?

Again, the answer depends on my mood, but if we’re talking of all time, I’ll go with the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run of Amazing Spider-Man. But it’s tough to compare comics from the 60’s to contemporary ones because the storytelling has evolved so much (largely due to trends Mr. Lee and his collaborators began.) In current comics, I’m a big fan of pretty much everything Grant Morrison does, especially his work with the Batman mythos.

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4 Responses to Panic View: Richard Lee Byers

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