David Farland’s Runelords series of books, published in the US by Tor, is one of the more successful fantasy series currently being published, both critically and in terms of sales. On the Web site for the serieshttp://www.runelords.com, fans postulate what will happen in the next volume in various discussions and polls started by the forum members. The third and most recent book in the series Wizardborn, was published earlier this year, reaching the extended New York TimesBestseller list. The first two books in the series are Runelords: The Sum of All Men and Brotherhood of the Wolf . In the following interview, we discuss the monstrous creatures, The Reavers, the complexities and fun of successful world building and Mr. Farland’s future plans for the series.
Q: Do you have a title for the next book?
A: I’ve got several that I’m toying with, but haven’t decided on a final title yet. I understand that fans at the Runelords web site are calling it “The Adventures of Stompy the Reaver.” I kind of like that, but think my editor would have a heart attack.
Q: Wizardborn focused more on Averan and the growth/development of Raj Ahtan. Will the next book(s) continue to feature those two or will we see more about Gaborn or new characters?
A: The next book will be a big book, with focus on Gaborn, Iome, Averan, Borenson and Myrrima. There may be new characters, but I don’t anticipate that I will put more focus on them.
Q: The two obvious Questions: when can we expect the next book and how many books do you intend the series to be?
A: I plan on finishing book four this summer, so it should be in stores next spring. I don’t like the idea of having an “endless” series. So book four offers a major break in the series. It will finish the tale of Gaborn and Iome, let them draw to a close, and serve as the foundation for a new tale. The next series will feature their children. That series will have five books, I think. It’s a larger tale.
Q: That said, when you complete this series, would you return to the world and maybe tell some stories about Daylan Hammer, Earth King prior to Gaborn or prior human-Reaver encounters
A: I don’t know for sure. I do have a couple of other large stories that I’d like to set in the Runelords world, but I also love world creation, and I think that by the time I finish these two series, I may be ready for another large world to create. Or I could split the difference. I may, for example, set stories in Indhopal, Inkarra, or other more exotic areas in the Runelords world.
Q: The Reavers are a very complex group of creatures. Initially they can be seen as simply malevolent magical beasts. In Wizardborn, we learn a good deal more about them and their society through Averan. What kind of challenges and research did you face when, essentially, you created a “new” creature?
A: As a teen I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, following in my brother’s footsteps. At sixteen I wrote my first book: a text on mammalogy. I used to skip classes in high school and go to Oregon State University to attend classes on marine biology. So, for me, creating new creatures is a blast. Basically, you have to adapt the creature to its environment.
As you may know, we keep finding new types of bacteria on the ocean bottoms near thermal vents. DNA analysis shows that some of these bacteria aren’t related to any other creatures on earth, and many biologists now believe that life may have evolved dozens of times . My basic concept for the Reavers is that they and their kin evolved separately from the plants and animals on their planet’s surface.
As you may have noticed, these are not insects. They have interior lungs to breathe with. However, in order to cope with the abrasive environment, they have developed a skin so thick it almost seems to be an exoskeleton. At the same time, in order to squeeze through tight places, they can compact their bodies down in the same way that a giant Jamaican water roach does.
They communicate chemically, as ants do, though their vocabulary is much larger even than a human vocabulary. Beyond that, unlike ants, they are able to “erase” their scents, so that they can communicate effectively. And they see in the electro-magnetic spectrum, much as sharks do.
Within the scope of the books, I haven’t been able to deal with the subtleties of Reaver society very well. It’s one of those things that you create, but which my human characters still don’t know about. More of that will come out in book 4
Q: I guess that goes to show you still need to know a good deal of scientific facts if you are writing fantasy. Sounds like the most difficult part of the Runelords was the Reavers. Is this true or do you find it more difficult with other things such as the human interactions/relationships
A: Actually, for me science isn’t difficult, it’s fun, and most of the time writing is play. Creating creatures and worlds is sometimes easier for me than creating characters. But for the story to really work, you have to have great characters with powerful conflicts
I’m not even sure that I like the word “creating.” When things are going good, when I’m really hot, I don’t feel like I’m “creating” the world so much as I am “discovering” it. There are times when I’m imagining a scene and it takes on a life of its own, it twists away from me and surprises me, and then I sit and type as fast as I can, trying to keep up. But getting to that point is the hard part of writing. I have to immerse myself in the fantasy world night and day, and if I try to go back to the real world for a bit–say to calculate my taxes or take care of my family–then I lose it. Getting back to that point where I’m re-immersed can take days
When I’m writing, my wife has learned to put up with me. I’ll be driving along and miss an exit–and not notice it for twenty minutes. Then she’ll gently ask “Where are you going?”, and I’ll sheepishly admit that I was thinking about a scene that I wrote today, planning the rewrite, or I’ll tell her about the scene I was in as I drove. As I’ve told her a dozen times, “Being spacey more than just an occupational hazard for a science fiction writer, it’s a job requirement.”
So, if you want to know what the hardest part is, half the time I feel as if it’s getting completely immersed. But that’s not the roughest part. Being inside is beautiful, but the really tough part, the real hell of this job, is when I’m forced to withdraw and re-enter the real world. Not because it’s so hard, but because it’s so painful. Every time you withdraw, you feel as if you’ve lost something.
Q: Any advice for would-be world builders?
A: Yes. I think that you can try to build worlds that stretch too far, that require too much imagination for your reader or which stretch your scientific credibility. (By that I mean that even when you believe you have a firm understanding of a science, at the upper echelons you’ll usually find lots of diverse opinions. For example, a few years ago I was giving a talk on cloning, and several people raised their hands to object that “cloning wasn’t possible.” Well, according to a few hair-brained articles that had been recently published, it wasn’t. But I explained to them that it was, and that it would happen. Thankfully, the creation of Dolly was announced a couple of weeks later. But even when you think you understand the facts, others don’t, and they’ll argue about it ad nauseum.
But back to world creation: I think it’s important to ground your reader in your world using real details. In fantasy, it’s important to use details drawn from our world. In my world, I talk about birds and grasses and trees not for lack of imagination, but in order to create a door into the fantasy world so that the reader can enter.
So my advice is to get to know this world–the biology of its organisms, the history of its cultures, the way people speak–and to use it as a tool when shaping your own fictive universe.
Q: I have read that Runelords was also going to be a video game for Nintendo’s Game Boy. How is the video game coming along?
A: Actually, I think that is on hold for a while. There will be a new hardware platform for the Game Boy, and it may come out on the new platform, but I’m not sure.
Right now, I’m working with some partners to fund a movie development company, and Runelords is slated to be our first picture. It looks as if this will happen within the next couple of weeks, so I’ll keep you posted.
Q: On your website, www.runelords.com, similar to the one here at sffworld.com, there is a discussion forum where your fans passionately discuss the Runelords series. How valuable a tool is this regarding interacting with your fans?
A: I think it’s great. Writing is a performance art, but when compared to other arts, like dancing or singing, it’s often very difficult to judge your audience’s estimation of your performance, to find out what they like and what they don’t. The Runelords site allows me to have some interaction, to find out a bit more.
Q: Wizardborn made the extended NYT Times bestseller list. Has this, along with the critical praise of people such as Orson Scott Card and Terry Brooks and comparisons to Jordan affected your approach to writing or is it just great to know people really appreciating your work
A: It doesn’t affect my writing. I’m happy that the series is building such a large readership, but I don’t try to compare myself with anyone else. I’ve been getting thousands of fan letters, comparing me to Tolkien, Jordan, Brooks, Eddings, and so on. The fans naturally compare me to the writers that they most enjoy, but I think that I’m very different from any of them. Really, what they’re saying is that “I like your work as much as I liked Tolkien’s or Jordan’s.” But I think that we are very different writers, and each of us has our own strengths.
Q: What books/writers, speculative fiction or otherwise, have been enjoying lately?
A: I like a number of different things. I like Orson Scott Card for his storytelling ability, and I’ve been admiring Dean Koontz lately for the breadth of his stress-inducing techniques. However, in the past few months I’ve primarily been reading poetry–Leslie Norris, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare. I find that I need to ground myself in it from time to time.
Thanks for your time Mr. Farland. I along with the rest of your fans will be looking forward to the next book in the series!
The official Runelords website: http://www.runelords.com
Tor Books Publisher of The Runelords