Nov 9 2012 1:00pm

Ask Steven Erikson Your Reaper’s Gale Questions!

Reaper’s Gale Malazan Q&A with Steven EriksonNow that Amanda and Bill have concluded the emotionally-fraught reread of the seventh book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Reaper’s Gale, we’re opening the floor for questions to Steven Erikson!

The procedure is pretty direct. Steven will do his best to answer your questions in the below thread as soon as possible. Keep in mind that the timing of the answers is subject to Steven’s schedule, of course. (And whether he’s scaled to the top of our office again.)

There are no strict guidelines for questions, but concise and well-composed questions are always always always best! And once again, a big thank you goes to Steven for taking time out of his schedule to engage in depth with fans of the Malazan series!


Vicki Fairman
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
Vicki Fairman
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...)
Vicki Fairman
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)?

And as an aside, what are your favorite movies?

Thank you if you're reading this and for an possible answer.
Eric Desjardins
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 pots trail is finnaly available in physical copy. Do you know when you will have a epub version available in Canada?
Matthew Weber
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.

And Vicki, on par with WoT? I'd say it's clearly superior! ;)
Rajesh Vaidya
7. 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.
Vicki Fairman
8. 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.

Also, Tavore seems quite irresposible 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 here motivations for coming to Lether?

What does Ganoes Paran think about the Cull of Nobility?

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). :-(

Thank you.
9. 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!
Chris Hawks
10. 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.
Vicki Fairman
11. 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 commentary on 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.
Vicki Fairman
12. 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?

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?

Thank you for your time Steven! Loved Forge of Darkness, can't wait for the next one!
Bill Capossere
13. 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

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.”

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?

Thanks again!
Vicki Fairman
14. 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"? :-)
Again, thanks. And thanks for "Forge of Darkness", such a thought-provoking read!
Brian R
15. 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?

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.
Vicki Fairman
16. 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?

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?

(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? ;-)

Thanks once again for a spectacular series.

Bill Capossere
17. 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" . . .
Vicki Fairman
18. 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.
Tai Tastigon
19. 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* ?

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 ?

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 ?

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...?
Keel Curtis
20. 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?
Emiel R
21. 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 Halter
22. 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.

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?
shirley thistlewood
23. twoodmom
Hello Sir
Not many books I want to reread but yours will be read many times over.
Was the apparent lack of heart thumping climaxes at the end of RG an intentional break from the usual fantasy pattern? I liked it.
Vicki Fairman
24. Kanese S's
Hi, thanks for answering reader questions!

This is more a general question about the series and I guess your writing process than specifically about Reaper's Gale, though it is somewhat related.

Reading Deadhouse Gates the second time actually took me longer, because the sections with Felisin were much harder to read knowing what happens to her at the end of House of Chains. Similarly, Trull dies at the end of Reaper's Gale, and so reading his parts in earlier books have become a bit more emotionally heavy/tense/loaded.

Since I'm guessing you plan things out in advance quite a bit, you would know that a character's going to die later on, even if it's going to be a few books later. Does that make it more difficult to write that character? Sorry if this is a bit of a dumb question, it seemed a bit more coherent before I typed it out.
Sean H
25. PorusReign
Even though a lot of the books are self contained, to me, it feels like they are all part of something bigger and they are at their most magnificient when viewed that way. No two battles, campaigns, convergencies, fights, confrontations etc are quite the same... (I'm reminded of Peter Jackson wanting the Battle of Helms deep to look and feel different from the Battle of Gondor; the battles in these book all feel different to me and I've no idea how many we have!) Were you conscientious of this as you wrote? Did you need to work hard at creating different climaxes/anti-climaxes or did your overall story ARC already provide the diversity? Did you worry that the anti-climaxes could piss your audience off? (You? worry about pissing people off? what kind of fool question is that?) Was it always a joy thinking of something different? Did it ever become a burden?

General Questions. Did you ever need to re-write any major sections of the MBOTF ie throw out a weeks worth of work? If so, what, when, why etc?

Do you now think the MBOTF is too short?

Do you still play games? If so what?

Thanks heaps.

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