What can you tell us about The Measure Of The Magic?
Measure is the second book in a two book set that began with Bearers of the Black Staff, published last year. It is the fifth book in an as yet undetermined number which will eventually chronicle the prehistory of the Shannara cycle, beginning with the time of the Great Wars which destroyed the Old World and ending with the formation of the First Druid Council.
So the topical issue you’re tackling this time around is religion, right?
It might seem that way, but that isn’t what I am getting at. The idolization or deification of Hawk, who has been dead for five hundred years, by some of the people in the world to which he led their ancestors, is my vehicle for examining a phenomenon that we see and recognize instantly as being endemic in our own world. Which is, the lemming-like way we accept what we are told and often blindly follow without stepping back long enough to question where we are going and whether it is worth the journey. We see this in a lot of places. Religion, yes – sometimes. But we see it in celebrity worship, in the embracing of political demagogues, and in our all too frequent willingness to ignore facts and embrace fictions because the latter are much more accommodating and responsive to our needs. Measure is really about finding your way in a confusing and dangerous world where not everyone is what they seem.
Why is fantasy the best genre for you to tackle these worldy issues with?
A long time ago, I found out that my writing was best suited to big stories. I was enamored with and drawn to sprawling sagas, mostly of an historical nature. So when I conceived Shannara, I set out to tell the story of a world through more than a thousand years of history. At the beginning, I didn’t know that I would end up connecting it to our world and left that part of things unresolved until writing the Word & Void series. But good fantasy is grounded in reality – a lesson I learned from my first editor and mentor, Lester del Rey. Good fantasy, given the parameters of the world in which the story takes place, should read in a way that makes the reader believe it could happen in the way it does.
Are the eras and events of this huge universe mapped out in your head and it’s just a case of visiting each of these in turn, or do you embellish it as you go along?
In the old days, starting out, I knew everything about my world and its characters. I kept charts, drew maps, wrote out timelines – the whole bit. Now, almost twenty books in Shannara later, I am less able to se the whole picture. Or even to remember it. Maybe my brain is full. Or maybe it’s shrunk. In any case, I have to go back and reread all relevant books before starting new ones. I have to look at the companion volume The World of Shannara. I have my Web Druid to call on and a few others who have read and apparently memorized everything. I still do a lot of preplanning on each book, but it’s a little harder to do each time out.
How do you come up with the names of all the creatures, people and places?
Mostly, I steal them. I keep long lists of interesting names. I find them all over the world and in every conceivable way. Sometimes they are towns or places. Some are taken from street signs and shops. Some I get at book signings from people coming through the line. Some are off of maps or out of ancient texts. I keep some as they are and some become hybrids. When I start a book, I pull out my lists and start looking for names that resonate. It is important to me that a name say something to the reader about the character, creature or place. I want the names to feel right.
What keeps you hooked on this series?
Huge amounts of money! There, I’ve always wanted to say that! Okay, not true. I just think that’s what people believe. But I’ll give you the real answer. Readers keep asking for more, and you don’t ignore your readers. That’s part of it. And I still like writing in the Shannara world. That’s another part. If the readers stop asking or I lose interest, that’s it. The trick is in staying fresh and not letting down. To help with this, I started out with an historical saga approach, as I’ve pointed out above. That meant I could have new characters and changes in my world on a regular basis. Things weren’t locked in time. You don’t want a new book to be any less interesting and compelling than the ones before. Reader expectation demands that each book be at least as good as the last.
Do you have a number of books you want to reach or will you keep writing a book a year for the foreseeable?
I will keep doing a book a year, at least, for the foreseeable future. At some point, I might not have it in me anymore. But I am comfortable with that schedule for now. If fact, in 2012-2013, I hope to do a little more than a book a year.
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