In the decades since he was first introduced, Drizzt Do’Urden has become a fantasy archetype on par with any of Tolkien’s Middle Earth crew. But unlike Bilbo, Gandalf and company, Drizzt’s adventures are still being newly minted by creator R.A. Salvatore. Neverwinter, the followup to 2010’s Gauntlgrym, is the second of six planned books in the Neverwinter Saga, a series that races ahead 100 years in the Forgotten Realms timeline. With the last of his original companions gone, Drizzt must forge new bonds while facing determined, powerful foes at every turn. While it’s anyone’s guess what awaits Salvatore’s iconic protagonist, it’s certain where the book itself will go—straight to The New York Times bestseller list, where 23 of Salvatore’s earlier books have already been.
You’ve written more than 20 novels featuring Drizzt Do’Urden. That’s a lot of books, a lot of New York Times bestseller lists and a lot of built-in and built-up fan assumptions and desires. Do you ever find your creative direction—be it for a character or an entire story—altered by the pull of reader expectations?
It’s hard to find that balance emotionally between satisfying yourself and satisfying the fans. I’ve always erred on the side of satisfying my own creative needs; I’m letting the story tell me where to go. And let’s be honest, when Wizards of the Coast decides to fast-forward the Forgotten Realms a hundred years, that forces some changes upon me that I might not have done otherwise. That’s just the reality of working in a shared world. I’m not going to be mad about it. If I don’t like it, I can go write in somebody else’s sandbox or make my own. But as far as the fans go, their reactions do have an impact.
Can you give us an example?
I wrote a book called Road of the Patriarch, featuring Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle—both villains. Entreri has been a intricate part of the Drizzt series pretty much from the beginning. I wrote a short story [called “The Third Level” that recounts] his origin—as a child he was betrayed by a relative, by his mother, by a church, by everybody around him. At the end of Road of the Patriarch, Entreri has just burned down this temple in the city and he’s got a priest up on the ledge. He tells him to go, rebuild, stop lying to the people and to follow the tenets of his god, or Entreri will come back and burn the temple down again, this time with the priest in it. Right after that, he tells Jarlaxle, “Go away, I don’t need you anymore.” To me, that was Entreri for the first time in his life not hating himself. To me, that was a proper ending for Artemis Entreri.
Then the letters started coming in. Letters and emails from people sharing really personal stories of betrayals as children where they had been similarly abused, and begging me to keep going with Entreri. They had to see him healthy; they had to see him come through the other side of this epiphany he had in that book.
That sounds like a pretty heavy load to put on a fantasy writer.
It’s humbling. It’s a reminder that when you’re writing books and putting them up there for public consumption, people are letting you into their lives just a little bit as well. There’s no other way to put it—it’s humbling.
And how do you feel about fan fiction?
I won’t be beholden to it, but I love that people think enough of [my work] to go and do that. I’m not going to read it because that would get me in trouble, but if people want to do it, fine. If they try and sell is, they’re going to get sued, but that’s a whole different ball game.
What’s the latest on a Drizzt movie?
The good news is Hasbro really wants a Drizzt movie now. [Hasbro owns Wizards of the Coast, which owns the Forgotten Realms setting.] With the Transformers movies and G.I. Joe, they’ve made lots of money in movies, so they are very interested in doing it. They are raising the profile; they are contacting people. Will anything come of it? I don’t know.
One of the things working against us? They are protecting an enormously successful and stable franchise. Every year a Drizzt book comes out, we know how many we’re going to sell. A good movie would help the franchise, but a really bad one could hurt something we all love.
You’ve written more than 53 novels in the last 20 years. That’s basically the definition of “prolific.” What’s an average writing workday look like for you?
On an average day, I get about two hours at the computer. Typically, the amount of words I can do in a day is between 500 and 2,000. Once I get over 2,000, I’ve kinda drained the battery. Every now and then, I have a 5,000-word day—usually a battle scene—but I haven’t had many of those lately. I must be getting old.
In addition to your host of writing endeavors, you’ve also been working, along with Todd McFarlane and Ken Ralston, for Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, which is releasing the open world role-playing game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning in 2012. Your title is Executive Creator of Worlds . . .
Yes, I’m a creator of worlds—a CoW.
How does lore-building for a massive multiplayer online game compare with writing a novel?
It was very much like when I created the whole world of Corona for my DemonWars books. My job is not to design a game. We have mechanics designers—very good ones—who figure out things like class balance, the merits of fast travel versus walking or riding mounts, etc. No, my job was be the historian of the world, a world I’ve created. When a player enters the world, it has to all make sense. Why are these races where they are? Why does this particular faction hate that particular faction? Does the economy makes sense?
For the first year, all we did was world-build. I had a content team and an art team. I would meet with each team every week. At first, in the meetings with the content team, they would come in and say: “Here’s what we’re doing,” and present what they were working on. My most common response? “No. No. No.” Then I would take out the green binder that is the bible of our world, slam it down and say “How does what you’re doing relate to this? Because this is the Bible. You have to go by this.” After about three months I knew my job was almost done. Instead of “No, no, no!” I was saying, “Aw, that’s cool!” because they were getting it.
So you’re working with Todd McFarlane. You’re working with Curt Schilling. You’ve been on book tours with legends like Gaiman, Pratchett and Moorcock. Who else would you love to meet or work with?
I’d like to meet Vin Diesel because I know he’s read the books and we almost did the television series at one point, apparently. (He was interested in doing one.) I’d really like to meet him and get to know him a little bit. He’s a pretty cool guy from everything I’ve heard. I’d like to work with Ronnie Howard. If Ronnie Howard ever called me up and said, “I want to do one of your books in a movie,” I’d die on the spot because I just love his work.
How often do you have a “recognized in the street” moment?
Not often—I’m a writer. But there are moments. I was at a Renaissance Fair—King Richard’s Faire in Carver, Massachusetts, about 10-15 years ago, and who showed up but Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. They are having a blast. They are hanging out with people and are as fun as you would think from watching their music videos. All day long, people are following Tyler and Perry around like little puppy dogs, including most of the people I had come with. At one point, I’m standing outside this vendor’s stall. I’m just standing there enjoying this great October day in New England. Tyler and Perry are standing like 10 feet away from me, and for some reason they are alone. Then this kid walks out of the stall, looks over and his eyes pop out of his head. He goes running up, right past them, to me. They both looked at me, so I just kinda crossed my arms and went, “Hah!” So yeah, there are moments.
Michael Burgin writes from Nashville. You can find the entire transcript of his talk with R.A. Salvatore here.