Hello everyone. I’m just back from a week in Iowa (convention and reading). Settled into a café-bookstore in the James Bay neighbourhood of Victoria, B.C., Canada, and ready to tackle your questions. I am contemplating offering up a treat (I hope) for you most-loyal readers, still on-board with this re-read, but that will have to await the end of this session.
By way of introductory comments, regarding Reaper’s Gale, looking back on it now, years later, my sense of this novel is that it was about, mostly, how things never turn out the way you think they will: that reality imposes, with utter indifference, its own rules, yielding nothing to one’s expectations, hopes or desires. Multiple story-lines work out that way in this novel (as Bill Capossere has noted in Tor.com’s Malazan reread). If I try to recall the actual writing process, my memory tells me it was loose, relaxed, but thematically heavy, as I sought to juxtapose rather extreme emotional contexts; but more than anything else, I view this novel as the set-up for Dust of Dreams and then The Crippled God. (Toll the Hounds had another purpose, another function, but maybe we’ll get to that once the re-read addresses that novel.)
In any case, it feels far behind me now (as does the series itself, dwindling into my wake step by inexorable step), and I wonder how I will feel about the Malazan Book of the Fallen in the years to come. Needless to say, I do appreciate how these re-reads bring me back, and reading the commentary, chapter by chapter, is always rewarding. So, many thanks to you all.
1. Vicki Fairman: Iv just finished this book, this was seriously amazing! I actually love these books so much I think it’s on par with the wheel of time series which is my all time favourite. Just started toll the hounds! Xxxx
Steven: Well, thank you. It’s nice to be considered among your favourite series. I hope you enjoy the books to come.
2. Tufty: In light of Abyss’ recent account of his meeting with SE, my question is: Mr. Erikson, would you care to share any stories of fan meetings that were especially memorable? Anyone ever really surprise you or pass out from anxiety? (I’d be in the latter category if it ever happened…)
Steven: I am always surprised by the depth of emotion that comes across on occasion. I have no specific stories, beyond noting that there is a nine or ten year old boy somewhere in England, who is named Caladan (and while the parents’ inspiration was indeed the character from my books, I seem to recall discovering, by chance, that there is a place-name of Caladan (or Caladin) in Herbert’s Dune). There is a sailboat somewhere in the Med called Anomandaris, and a UFC fighter has Malazan quotes on his trunks. Tattoos abound, of course, and there’s a band called Chain of Dogs which I think is inspired by Deadhouse Gates. In person, fans tend to get, uhm, monosyllabic, but then, signings will always put pressure on fans to move on once the books are signed. I always prefer the Q&A sessions and more than once, it’s been the bookstore owner shutting down such sessions, while I’d be happy to add another hour or two to those engagements.
3. Nimander: Greetings Steven!
I normally don’t follow the re-read but i’ve just finished Reaper’s Gale for the first time and i must say that these books are some of the best i’ve ever read (if that would matter to you… sorry) but anyway.
I’ve read in some of your interviews and on your blog (I must seem like a stalker) that themes are a really important aspect of your writing, so I was wondering how do you manage (if you think you do) to make a balance between the plot and the themes?
Do you focus on one aspect over the other?
When you begin writing a book do you have one universal theme for the whole novel or do you have individual themes for individual plotlines (if first answer what did you set out to write with Reaper’s Gale)?
Steven: Every teacher of fiction writing will tell you that a story should never serve theme, for to do so is to produce the weakest form of fiction there is (didactic). Indeed, they might well insist to the beginning writer to forget about theme entirely, to suppress it, in fact. Finally, they may add that a story’s theme only arrives after the fact—not in the tale’s composition, but in its completion, and if one wants to address it as the author, then the time to do so is between the first and subsequent drafts—where you fine tune details to reflect said theme.
In essence, I don’t disagree with any of that. It is probably the safest way to approach story-writing, as a beginning writer. That said, once you’re past that beginning stage, once you’ve got some kind of handle on the process of writing, once you begin to truly comprehend the vast possibilities awaiting you as a story-teller—the sheer potential of language as a vehicle to serve both the intellect and the inner spirit—then to continue to subsume all notions of theme strikes me as obdurate and self-defeatist. Because, to arrive at that place as a writer is not to stop the journey of exploration and discovery: everything that’s led up to that moment was the warm-up to the marathon, not the marathon itself. In other words, to deny the relevance and importance of one crucial element of narrative structure (theme) is, to me, downright dumb.
So. Theme is a player, but it hides behind a screen, a veil, and there it should stay.
Consider it the dealer, unseen, throwing out the cards to the players, and the game itself a combination of what’s on each card in one’s own hand, and the decisions made by each player. Those two elements are the plot. Chance and decision: two fundamental truths to the human condition.
That said, in instances where characters sit down and seek to interpret what’s happened to them, or what’s happening, or what might happen, the notion of pretending that theme doesn’t exist in the real world, that it is a concept alien to real people, is equally obdurate; and often it’s where an author commits the ultimate crime of looking down on their characters (‘sure, as writer I’m smart, I know the themes, but you characters, you people living in the mess I’ve created, well, you’re too thick to comprehend what it all means’). Well… no. Some of them will damn well know exactly what it all means. Once you accept this (with humility) as a writer—that your characters can indeed be as clever and self-aware as you are—then you’ll discover a whole new level to the creation and engagement of characters in your story. You can, in fact, end up arguing with them, or even end up being convinced by them, by their take on the world. But the point is, you have no choice but to treat them with respect.
The contemplative sections in my novels are infused with all that: the extent of a character’s self-awareness is an added level of authenticity, of veracity, that in turn helps convince you, the reader, that they are real people—these fictional characters—and more to the point, that they are, heart, soul and mind, utterly engaged with the world they live in.
Nimander: And as an aside, what are your favorite movies?
Steven: In no particular order: Ran, Black Hawk Down, Idiocracy, Amadeus, Top Secret, Airplane!, The Big Red One, Apocalypse Now, Apocalypto, The Lion in Winter, The Warriors (the gang one, though Warrior was pretty damned good, too), Sleeper, Galaxy Quest….
Nimander: Thank you if you’re reading this and for an possible answer.
4. SirExo: I love reading your books and I am rebuying them for my ereader (cause the physical ones are falling apart after reading them 3 or 4 times), but since I found out that you have writing more K&B novellas I have been unable to find them in canadian stores. Now that I have a ereader, Crack’d Pot Trail is finnaly available in physical copy. Do you know when you will have a epub version available in Canada?
Steven: I am afraid not. Contact Random House Canada.
5. palaeologos: I don’t know whether Steven found her memorable or not, but there was a certain woman at his latest SF signing who took the discussion in rather…interesting…directions.
Steven: These things happen. No harm, no foul.
palaeologos: And Vicki, on par with WoT? I’d say it’s clearly superior! ;)
6. Buddhacat: First of all, thank you for a wonderful story you have told over the last decade or more. I have enjoyed this series multiple times over the years, especially the early books.
After the Bonehunters, I was eagerly looking forward to one of the story threads (among others) for Reaper’s Gale. While I loved the book and the threads that converge in it, I was a little taken aback that the Eresal made but a fleeting (no pun intended) appearance (in Bottle’s pants, as I recall.) I was looking forward to learning more about her, her powers, provenance, motivations, etc and really found nothing. She was instrumental in saving the Bonehunters, getting them to Malaz City (compelling Bugg!), saving them again in MC, saving the Imass Throne (and saving Shadowthrone’s plans in the process), and so on … and then nothing. This abrupt disappearance seemed odd to me—can you please expound on her origins (in your gaming), and how she evolved over the tale, and if she will reappear again? Thanks.
Steven: She never appeared in the games, but was, rather, a creation for the novels. I was doing a lot of reading on the latest discoveries regarding various hominids, and was myself mulling over the many assumptions being made based on the evidence being found (it’s always a problem with archaeology and paleoarchaeology: that where people look is as dependent on accessibility as it is any particular theory, and not just accessibility, but also the conditions of preservation). Excavators look in places where fossils are likely to a) survive and b) be exposed through weathering. Thus: dry scrubland/arid environments, or caves. Through analysis of pollen and so on, the local climate conditions are determined, and from this, they say: early humans arose on the savanna, but also lived in caves. But the caves being explored, containing early hominid remains, are not exclusive to arid regions, or savanna environments. And the added problem is that, say, rain forest environments, are not conducive to bone preservation, exposure of fossils, or modern excavation (except when caves are being exploited). There was a push back then regarding coastal adaptation and coastal dispersion routes out of Africa (thus explaining early hominids in Asia, including the islands), especially when offshore artifacts started turning up. Anyway… all this was stewing in my brain, and from all that, the Eresal were born. If you consider Imass to be Neanderthal, then the Eresal are H. Erectus, or even some slightly earlier habiline form. From there, it was then a matter of considering that creature’s point of view, in a world where the spirit realm is active, with all the powers implied.
I’ve not left the Eresal behind. There’s plenty to come from me in regards to the Malazan world and its many tales.
7. KallorAndAshes: Thank you Mr. Erikson for taking time to answer our questions!
I was wondering how one gains such extensive knowledge of real life. Like regurgitating after death, warfare, how someone feels when they are stabbed or are about to die, swordfighting, being an assassin etc.
How to know what an expert assassin would think?
How would he approach conflicts?
and similar things.
Steven: There’s no real secret: what you haven’t experienced personally you borrow—not just from others, but also from yourself. This is what I mean: emotional states are universal. They even extend beyond human beings, and it feels ridiculous even having to say that, since it strikes me as both self-evident and an immense conceit to imagine otherwise, and the dismissal of such idea as mere anthropomorphism strikes me as a convenient accusation that obviates the need to feel mindful of the consequences of many of our actions, particularly when we directly or indirectly slaughter animals. I have a friend whose beloved pet is dying right now, and his anguish—even from a distance—is palpable. Now, one might be inclined to dismiss what he’s going through as incomparable to losing, say, a husband, a parent or a child. But I don’t think it is at all: his emotions are genuine, authentic. Grief just is: the object of that grief simply gives it a face, but the emotion is real and it’s immediate and can be crushing. So, say you’ve lost a much-loved pet. Do you remember how you felt? Now, as a writer… mine those feelings. Discover them all over again but this time plant all those emotions into the mind of a character who is, say, losing a friend. I know, it sounds so exploitative, and in a way it is, but that’s what writers do (the question of whether we’re nice people is one I won’t go near, but thanks for asking).
With respect to the experiences of others, this is where both psychology and imagination come into play. I recall, a few years ago, watching an extended UK series recording the WW1 war-stories as told by survivors approaching their last years of life. There’s something of the voyeur to the extent to which I watched those men (and women): not only did I see the cost of those tales they relived for the camera, I made an effort to step outside myself, to see and feel what they felt—and any effort in that area, able or not, involved my imagination, or, more precisely, whatever ability I had in being able to step outside myself.
Without that proclivity (I wouldn’t call it a talent as such, since so many ‘qualities’ of being a writer can be curses, too), that inclination to disembody the self and to seek to occupy someone else’s flesh, the whole process of creating characters in fiction is pretty much a lost cause. If you cannot be someone else, then writing fiction is probably not for you.
One last note, by way of warning: this act of becoming someone else, of feeling what they feel right down to the core of your soul, is an act of immense vulnerability. Emotions rarely trickle into a consciousness—they flood in, arriving in a torrent, and one can drown in them. The more extreme the emotion, the more devastating the flood.
KallorAndAshes: Also, Tavore seems quite irresponsible here. She arrives at Lether without knowing anything about the political situation there. Had she come to Lether just so that the soldiers could be busy? The soldiers are marching on Lether without even knowing who they are actually supposed to help. What were her motivations for coming to Lether?
Steven: the question of what Tavore knew, what she didn’t know, what she believed, and so on, are topics for discussion, for opinions, interpretations, and not a small measure of faith. All I can say is, heed well the thoughts of the people following her, and decide for yourself.
KallorAndAshes: What does Ganoes Paran think about the Cull of Nobility?
Steven: Well, I would imagine he’d be conflicted, with not a small amount of guilt gnawing away at him.
KallorAndAshes: And is Cotillion really so busy? He does try to be different but so far has only managed to disappoint me. What did Pearl do to get on his hitlist?
I find the series epic not only in the scale of events but also the variety of characters from slaves to Elder Gods. Udinaas is my favourite character by far. Felisin Paran and Pearl deserved better (or so I feel). :-(
Steven: So many people deserve better, don’t you think?
8. Dafthoser: First I would like to thank you for making such wonderful books. My question is about Reaper’s Gale. For those of you who have not read it please stop here. I think almost all of us had a strong emotional response to Beak (oh Beak). I think he is a great example of how you are a master of your craft. In the course of one book I personally grew very attached to Beak, and was very moved by his death. I was wondering if he was more of a challenge to write knowing that his time with us was short? Thanks again for such a great book!
Steven: The only pressure on Beak’s story was ensuring that everything that was needed was in there (needed in the sense of the reader understanding him, and more to the point, understanding the nature of his final gift, and what followed on from that). It’s all down to deciding what to include and what not to include—I can’t really explain it any better than that.
There was no particular challenge setting him apart from any other character: but his story was short (many others are much shorter), and yet, somehow, complete.
9. SaltManZ: Buddhacat @7: I’ve been thinking about this since we finished TB, and I’ve come up with a theory I like: Remember that the Eres’al “reawoke” back in MT when blood was spilled on sacred Nerek ground or whatever. Anyway, she wakes up and starts jumping around, manipulating events. What does she accomplish? She boosts QB’s power through Bottle so the Bonehunters survive the Edur fleet. She saves Tavore from the Claw. And then she saves QB from Icarium. Where do Tavore, the Bonehunters, and QB all end up by the end of RG? Why, in Lether, overthrowing the Letherii empire, the people who had wiped out the Nerek, worshippers of the Eres’al.
Steven: Yeah, what Saltman said, too.
10. BDG91: I posted it another thread haha
My question would have to be about Redmask, because a) it was always a storyline I identified a lot with (being a Cree man) and b) because I’ve always thought the books in Lether were always more direct commentaryon modern day. Anyways my question is what was ultimately the point of adding the Redmask storyline? Was to fill a thematic arc you thought was lacking in the book or was it to introduce elements that would become important later? Or both? Niether? I would also just like to thank you, I find your books to have a certain empathy for ’the other’ not many fantasy books have and I find it refreshing to read.
Steven: ‘Empathy for the other’ hmm, interesting comment. I think you may be onto something. I suppose another way to look at it is, we’re each ‘the other’ at some time or another: the disregarded, the trampled over, the subject of unjust irrelevance. It refers also to the voice of the ‘other,’ which so often remains unheard, unheeded, which I tackled with the ‘regulars’ in The Crippled God. But in a more general sense, inclusion necessitates exclusion, and where the former comforts, the latter alienates. The source of all group conflict, I guess. Now, extend that beyond the individual a little further, and we see cultures in conflict, where each is the ‘other’ depending on your point of view.
Redmask… ah, I knew his would be a problematic tale, primarily (I suspect) because it ended so badly, ended with virtually no sense of satisfaction. His identity makes absurd the notion of the ‘other,’ of course, which was not accidental, since it was the point I was trying to make (reinforced with the final battle in mud that left the combatants indistinguishable). If one were to consider themes here, then we might note the idea that the risk always exist that each side in a conflict becomes as bad as the other: that atrocities slide back and forth between the sides; that the ultimate, pathetic idiocy of said conflict is, even if recognized, insufficient to stop the madness.
His entire story is madness—the whole, pointless war, all ratcheting up to campaigns of genocide, where the victims end up acquiring the heartlessness of the oppressors. But the essential point is, it took a man like Redmask to drag the tribes into annihilation, and the crux to that is his hidden origins (from a system that knows no other language of living, no other way of viewing the world). Without Redmask, the Awl would have continued to retreat, continued to crumble on the edges when contacted by an overbearing, autocratic, self-obsessed society—one with the military might to impose its will, and the quasi-religious certainty that it has the right to do so.
There is anger in that tale, and it is unresolved, which is probably why readers find trouble with it (conversely, why you probably don’t, because if it was meant to speak to anyone, anyone specific, it would be those who, from whatever circumstance, will on occasion see themselves as one of the ‘others’). The madness I speak of is that inevitable progression of history, by the way, because above all else, history is senseless, and the need to rail against it is universal (unless you decide to just float through, but then, that is a privilege not shared by everyone).
Redmask was my Oliver Stone moment. I took out the sledgehammer and started wailing. I probably pounded it so many times you all got uncomfortable. But maybe a few of you just… smiled.
11. Martin T Cahill: Hello Mr. Erikson, as always thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Always a pleasure to have you here.
In your Malazan books, there has never been just one specific storyline per book. There is an overarching narrative throughout the series, but every book happily divides its time between a myriad of players. My question is, how did you decide on which story arcs to follow per book? Did you base their inclusion on theme, character, location, timing etc?
Steven: A good question but a hard one to answer. There’s instinct involved, in terms of advancing the story, of giving characters the room they needed, of establishing juxtaposition of themes, of setting up convergence (or setting it up only to be deliberately denied), and, finally, of determining which stories would prove intrinsically interesting to the reader. I could deconstruct the book, maybe map out how the multiple arcs bounced over each other, delineating the whole dance, but such a diagram would really tell us not much, beyond the mechanics involved.
The only point I would make is that, each section within a chapter is in conversation with the other sections (same for each chapter, and then each book). Like knitting with twenty needles.
Martin T Cahill: Secondly, I’ve been looking at a ton of MFA programs, but I can’t determine if it’s the right move for me. I know you attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for your MFA. Could you tell us a little about your experience in an mfa program, and if there are any qualifiers for knowing when you’re ready for one? Also, would a genre writer’s work be taken as seriously as other writers? Or am I just being neurotic, and it all boils down to story in the end?
Steven: Interestingly, I just talked about that in Iowa last week. At its most basic, a creative writing program gives you two more years to write (in a context you can reasonably legitimize). Have you taken an undergraduate creative writing degree? Many MFA programs begin with the presumption that you know the elements of narrative structure (although to be honest, a lot of the students’ work suggests otherwise): in other words, they don’t teach those elements.
A lot of it comes down to the workshop instructors: some you will find useful, others you won’t. Some can be outright damaging to your process (longstanding teachers, in my experience, are fairly burned out—and I sympathize: it takes a lot out of you, and without the gift of enthusiasm, a teacher’s value is seriously suspect). So do your research and don’t decide on the basis of a program’s reputation (without first checking the commentary from students recently graduated from the program). For what it’s worth, I learned a lot more from my undergraduate writing degree than I did from Iowa.
Martin T Cahill: Thank you for your time Steven! Loved Forge of Darkness, can’t wait for the next one!
12. Billcap: Hi Steven,
As always, thanks for taking the time out to join us here. I have a few questions—feel free to pick and choose.
One is about intent. In my wrap-up I mentioned two aspects that had caught my notice. One was how the Ruin’s group so played against all the usual tropes of the typical quest story. The other was how the ending played against many expectations of “big scenes”—no huge on-screen battle, no huge fight between Karsa and Rhulad, Ruin never getting a chance to land, and so on. I’m wondering if either or both of these were intentional on your part—purposely upending what readers might have thought was coming. If so, could you speak to that choice/process and if not, looking back at it now do you see it in this fashion and could you speak to why things might have turned that way.
Steven: Refer back to my opening comments. I was well into the notion of setting up and then subverting tropes by this point. If memory serves, this was a time when rendition, torture and so on was in the news, and I probably was thinking once again about how two opposing sides to a conflict can, regardless of avowed differences, end up converging, at least in practical aspects. I first caught a sense of that many years earlier in Central America, bouncing between left and right ideologies as I wandered between countries—the reality on the ground was virtually identical, regardless of the ideology, and seeing that opened my eyes. So, in returning to Lether and its neighbours, and considering the imposition of a foreign power with the aim of bringing down the kingdom—was all very much a dialogue with our real world. Desire and expectation can drive one forward, but outcome is never controllable, and there is no end to the victims left in the wake of such things.
Billcap: The scenes with Janal caused, as I’m sure comes as no surprise, a lot of discomfort to readers. Can you talk a bit about how as a writer you feel your way through such scenes, walking that fine line (if you agree there is one) between what you’re trying to do/achieve and crossing over into gratuitousness or worse, into “torture porn.”
Steven: As noted above, torture was in the news, and was starting to appear commonplace on television and in films—as if via this ‘torture-porn’ there was an effort to legitimize acts of torture in the real world. Well, I felt the desire to counter that ‘porn,’ which meant being explicit but in no way reveling in the scenes—accordingly, I used the point of view of the victim, to counter-balance that of the torturer, and left it to the reader to decide which point of view held the most legitimacy. If it was an uncomfortable experience… thank God.
Billcap: One of the aspects of the Lether storyline I really enjoy is the focus on the economics of injustice/inequity, not just how it served as a plot device but actually enjoying the many conversations characters had on the subject. Did you ever have any concerns how readers might react to this aspect, either in the sense of them not wanting to be pulled away from the “action” for a mini-lecture on economics or in responding poorly to the politics itself or to politics simply being part of a fantasy novel?
Steven: Oh I have a thousand concerns regarding everything I put into these novels, but I end up writing about what I feel I need/want to write about. There are always levels to a decent story, and sometimes the currents move across, under or over: sometimes they turn right around and create a standing wave in the torrent. Water/storm imagery ran through this novel, from the title inward. The Bonehunters arrive from the sea. The Champions do the same. The Awl and the Lether sink into a quagmire. There is water undermining the capital, and so on. Now, to continue that… ideas create currents of their own, and often those currents grow powerful, unstoppable, and end up driving a civilization into a new state of being, a new sense of itself. But even such currents are opposed, and those ones fight against change. The political and economic discussions in the novel bob on the surface of these streams, but they can also be seen to be the driving forces themselves. Imagine this tale with a complete absence of such discussions. How could it feel real? In what way would the characters be engaging in their world, in the lives they are living?
I will always broach those topics, because they are real topics. They are issues we all end up thinking about, sooner or later.
Billcap: Thanks again!
13. Slynt: Hi Steven, and once again thank you for taking an active part in your (I suspect) growing fanbase. It is very much appreciated, and you set an example for other authors.
I’m not sure if you want to answer this question but I’ll give it a shot anyway and hope you don’t take offence.
As you probably have realized, there are many readers who think the Redmask plotline kind of “goes nowhere” when it is eventually revealed who Redmask was (kind of). Personally I didn’t mind, but I see many readers feel that this plotline didn’t feel like it “belonged” to the tapestry of story threads you wove in this book. So my question is, is there anything (thematically perhaps) that we haven’t caught on to as to the whys of the Redmask story? What did you intend with it, and how do you feel about readers finding it an unnecessary part (well some readers think so anyway)?
Okay that was one more question, to sum it up I’d say, “Could you give us some insight into the Redmask storyline”? :-)
Steven: See above.
Slynt: Again, thanks. And thanks for “Forge of Darkness”, such a thought-provoking read!
14. Mayhem: My only question this time would be to do with some of the allusions to what *really* happened in Kharkanas back in the day that start to appear in this book. Kind of a chicken and egg question really, more did you actually have a good idea of the events that now unfold in the Forge trilogy at this stage of writing, or did planting the referential seeds kick off the desire to explore that history in more depth?
Steven: A bit of both, I suspect. The more I touched on those early events, the more intrigued I got, especially when facing the challenge of how to actually portray a cosmology yet retain a ‘human’ level of engagement. The allusions, then, served to entice me as much as it may have enticed you, and that part at least was intended, since I was indeed thinking about what was going to follow after the tenth novel.
Mayhem: Being as you still had 2-3 more books to write at this point in the main sequence, I’m curious to know if the sideplots were starting to take over some of your thinking.
15. Andrew1975: Hello Mr Erikson, thanks for taking the time to answer questions. I’ve been reading Malazan books and nothing but Malazan books since August, and I’m just about to start Dust of Dreams for the first time. I’m looking forward to reading the last two books immensely!
I too am fascinated by the character of Beak. He’s one of my favourite characters in the whole series, and yet he’s ’on screen’ for such a short space of time. I suspect its that winning combination of tragic back story, naivety and self-sacrifice. Did you know when you created him that he would strike such a chord with readers? Were you ever tempted to keep him around for longer?
Steven: Well, I hoped it would strike a chord with the readers. As for keeping him around longer… no. As I mentioned before, his was a completed tale, with the only ending possible (as far as I was concerned).
Andrew1975: And tied in with that, do you ever feel bad over what you do to your characters? After all he’s gone through to get where he is, Trull’s demise is so senseless and so sad… I know happy endings have to be both earned and rationed, but how do you decide which characters get to walk off into the sunset with kittens and rainbows and true love and which bleed out alone in an empty arena? Is it as simple as killing the ones that mean the most to people?
Steven: Not ‘bad,’ but ‘sad.’ Narrative creates a kind of inevitability to the life-arcs of characters: and often the author isn’t aware of that end-run until it’s too late (this was the case with Trull), and then, at that moment of comprehension, it becomes important to look back and discover all those inexorable steps—and from there to actually accept how things are going to turn out (which is often the hardest part). Accordingly, I didn’t want Trull to die, but he had to die. When I realised that, I introduced his killer into the novel.
Andrew1975: (I’m fully aware of the fact that both of the above questions are essentially me pouting about you killing my favourite characters… but I suspect, at least with Beak, that it’s the very fact that he dies—and the way that he dies—that cements him as one of my favourites).
Finally, and perhaps more flippantly, if Braven Tooth were to rename you, what name would he give you? And, given my tragic lack of inspiration with regard to a commenting name on this website, perhaps more importantly what would he rename me? ;-)
Steven: Braven Tooth named me many times. Even when he wasn’t specifically named Braven Tooth. Braven Tooth is simply the physical manifestation of the sensibility that inspired the creation of the Malazan world, so in a sense all the characters I played was named by him, and all the characters Esslemont played was named by him.
As for you acquiring such a name. Take a close look at yourself (physical and personality) and then choose something opposite all that, or sly in a referential, wink-of-the-eye sense. Give us all a list and ask for votes.
Andrew1975: Thanks once again for a spectacular series.
16. Billcap: Hi Steven,
Since I know authors are sometimes reticent to discuss why they do some things or what they want readers to “get”, just in case, I’d like to just offer up one reason I actually like the Redmask line and see if that might tease something more than “it is what it is” out of you. If not, no problem.
One of the things I liked about the Redmask line was its depiction of an alternative. I’ve said repeatedly how it appears to me that if I had to pick a singular overriding theme to this series (not saying one should, mind you), for me it would have to be the idea of compassion/empathy. In RG, we see Toc sacrifice himself for the children of a group who had betrayed him, we see Fiddler inviting the Edur into their circle of safety, and so on. In other words, we see one way of choosing, one predicated on those ideas of compassion and empathy. In the Redmask line, we see another choice—people who ignore compassion/empathy and choose the path that eventually leads to mutual/self-destruction. Bivatt has a sense of empathy/compassion for the Awl, finds much of what she is asked to do distasteful, yet marches on. Redmask, who could be a bridge (being both Letherii and Awl) marches on. Brohl, disgusted by what he witnesses, marches on. Their lack of empathy or unwillingness to act on it, despite the “they look the same” effect of the mud on them at the end, leads where it inevitably has to—death for all. One reader’s “get” . . .
Steven: Your reading certainly fits with what I’ve already described regarding Redmask’s tale. That absence of compassion is surely a quality of the madness I mentioned.
17. burnbridger: We see that the houses and the holds spread of power depends on geography too.
How does that work and why don’t Letheras souls go through Hood’s gate.
Steven: Death was suspended in the region of Letheras (see prologue, Midnight Tides… was it Midnight Tides? Can’t remember).
18. Taitastigon: Hi Steven,
not sure whether these count as questions, but here goes:
User colleagues here already mentioned that RG does not go for the big convergence, but rather a flow of…well, *anti-convergences* ? Whatever we might call them. But I remember your dedication to Glen Cook specifically in this volume, and yes, this book has a definite tBC feel to it—the grunt´s view of a series of messy events with an unclear conclusion. Did you write RG in the truest spirit of Glen Cook´s *Black Company* ?
Steven: I settled on the dedication after finishing the novel, and yes it did seem to fit. Also, I was going through a list of people I wanted to dedicate novels to, and Glen was up.
Taitastigon: The end of RG: A series of smaller events, more of a *falling-apart* than a *blow-up*. More often than not, this seems the destiny of empires that have run their course: No dramatic end, but simply a falling apart because of the rot through and through. The way you wrote RG may be against all tropes of the genre, but reflects real history way more accurately. And as a colleagues commented here a few sessions back—Lether does remind me more of the Chinese empire in the 1800s than the US. How would you see this ?
Steven: ‘Not with a bang…’ I wasn’t looking at any particular earth-empire; rather, I was looking at every earth-empire.
Taitastigon: When you describe military campaigns like the Bonehunters in Lether (or the Chain of Dogs, etc.), do you draw inspirations from real military campaigns as described thru history ? Would there have been a precedent for the Bonehunter campaign towards Letheras ?
Steven: In details, none come to mind. It was, in fact, gamed that way.
Taitastigon: This whole sequence of *non*-convergences seems designed to force the reader into one direction: Reevaluate the Crippled God. Or: Reevaluate what a Crippled God can actually do. It´s in the name, isn´t it ? It was always there. But since we think *in tropes*, we projected God knows what into that name. The Crippled God is your biggest trope-buster, isn´t he…?
Steven: Save that for the last dance, will you?
19. captaink: Thanks for answering questions Steve!
Did you ever consider any alternate resolutions to the Icarium and/or Karsa versus Rhulad story? If so, what? Their impending encounter added tension throughout the whole book, especially as you realize what a disaster Icarium versus Rhulad may have set off. I liked that feeling of doom hanging over everyone.
And this book has somewhat less resolution than previous books. A lot of stuff in the Redmask story doesn’t really bloom until Dust of Dreams, and the Icarium story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, plus there’s definitely a feeling that the Bonehunters are not yet finished. Though we do wrap up the sad story of the Sengar family, and most of Lether. Comparing that to the endings of Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice, there’s less of a feeling of relief or rest at the end. Intentional, consequence of books just not being big enough to fit more story, or some of both?
Steven: No, I would say it was intentional, for all the reasons already discussed in the answers above. But you’ll note that, in Reaper’s Gale ending in a state of exhaustion, the next novel steps away rather dramatically (Toll the Hounds). In terms of tone and style and intent, this author needed a break (but, in keeping with one’s plans not meeting one’s expectations, etc, not the one I got).
20. Capetown: Hi Steven, thanks for answering our questions. I have a question about your internalized death scenes. You know, the scenes where we follow someone’s thoughts as he/she is slowly or suddenly confronted with death. How do you keep them original? Do you have a method for that? I mean, there are so many characters in your books that bite the bullet, I expect it to be very difficult to keep track of how you have described their demises.
Steven: Well, if you have reached a point where you know the character’s personality, and history, then if you choose to touch on a few details to close that character’s life, then you should have no trouble coming up with something appropriate. Conversely, if this is a character we’ve just met, then a final image or memory can serve the purpose of humanizing that person (a common memory, of, say, one’s mother) and making a comment on that ‘other’ person being, well, one of us, too.
21. stevenhalter: Hi Steve,
Most of my questions for this book are tied to later events. So, I have a couple of more general questions.
First, the name Icarium is similar to Icarus (Mare Icarium is the sea where Icarus is supposed to have fallen). Both Icarium and Icarus had rather well versed fathers and both ended up possibly reaching for too much. Were these parallels all intended on your part? Just curious.
Steven: Sure, but not rigidly so. Just the sense of ambition and folly. I was plucking and inventing names from any and every source (or no source at all, that I was conscious of), but I can’t recall if my initial selection had the story of Icarus directly mind—that said, it seems unlikely that I wasn’t immediately aware of the name’s literary legacy, and decided to riff on it.
stevenhalter: Second, we have all noticed (delightfully) how you are able to make us care for characters who are on screen for even the briefest of moments. The demon Pearl killed in GotM is the first real apparant instance of this. Some authors have trouble establishing readers compassion even for major characters. Care to unveil any writing secrets about getting readers to feel for minor characters?
Steven: By feeling for them yourself, as the writer. That sounds easier than it is. By ‘feeling’ I mean with utter honesty, with absolute adherence to the truth of their lives, their existence, their right to exist, in fact. Your question goes back to so much of what I’ve written here in my responses: the necessity for a writer to step outside him or herself. A writer who approaches his or her characters without compassion, will create flat, lifeless, unbelievable characters. That absence in the writer will taint everything that writer writes. Feel, and let the tears flow.
I’ll drop in again for a follow-up if it’s warranted.
Note from Tor.com: Steven did end up leaving a treat for everyone at the end of this questionnaire, but we’ve decided to unveil it next Wednesday, November 21st at noon, since the Malazan reread won’t return until November 28th due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
(It’s a very interesting piece of fiction!)