The answers have come in from Steven Erikson regarding your Midnight Tides questions. Usually these answers appear in-thread, but when they get fairly lengthy we parse them out into a separate post for a nice bit of lunchtime reading.
All answers include their originating questions. A big thank you to Steven Erikson for taking time out to answer! We’ll be back on Wednesday with your regularly scheduled Malazan reread of The Bonehunters.
1. Tel_Janin. How much of the Letherii storyline did you have planned out before hitting HoC and MT? I know there are small bits of it floating around in DG and MoI, but I think I read somewhere that the Lether/Kolanse continent was added to the world later on in the creation process. Thanks again! I can’t wait for Forge of Darkness.
Steven: In terms of gaming, we played a lot of the Malazan history before the invention of the Letherii continent, but towards the end of that period I drew up the map and ran Cam through a short campaign on that continent (his character was Rhulad and no, he had no idea what was coming). The thing about the Malazan world was that it always remained open to new material, and the challenge then was to weave the new stuff into the matrix of existing histories and stories.
When the time came to write the books, then, the Letherii situation was already in place. Later gaming ventures with a group of players provided the foundations for Reaper’s Gale and the final books set on Letherii. Those games wrapped up before my first move from Canada to the UK, so they would have come before I sold Gardens of the Moon (although the manuscript existed and, I believe, my group of players had mostly all read it.
This is probably a good opportunity to advise potential readers of the Kharkanas trilogy: there will be a shift in style going on, and accordingly if you expect a seamless continuity of style between the Malazan Book of the Fallen and the Kharkanas series, you may be in for a surprise.
2. djk1978. Midnight Tides is Trull’s story to the T’lan Imass. I anticipated on first read that we would see the exact final straw that leads to Trull’s shorning and being chained in the Nascent. Yet for all his doubt and indecision and the varying degrees of hints as to what the cause of his shorning will be, we don’t see that final event in Midnight Tides. For me at least that was a surprise. I should probably have expected it from you. I guess in terms of a question did you always intend to leave that part out or did the end come as a natural break with anything to follow resonating as a bit anti-climatic?
Steven: It was always intended to be left out, because it was, by that point, inevitable. Also, in telling his story, Trull’s own emotional context had to play a fundamental role in what he was prepared to describe. Also, the conceit of the framing device was undermined in the narrative, since part of Midnight Tides described events Trull could know nothing of, but I’ve done that before (This River Awakens), so I was prepared to run with that contradiction. In a sense, the audience always sees more than the characters, and that’s always the point behind this structural conceit.
3. shalter. What did Bugg see in Tehol to become his servant and just what was he doing as an embalmer in Letheras?
Then, have you read A Path to Coldness of Heart the next Dread Empire from Glen Cook yet (or seen that it is out)?
Steven: I honestly couldn’t answer regarding Bugg’s motivations (although embalming strikes me as an amusing profession for an Elder God, or, if not amusing, then ironic), or his choice of friendships. These things just happen. The Worster/Jeeves trope is a common one (mostly in other genres) and Tehol and Bugg were a play on that, where the servant was much more than he seemed, while his ‘master’ was, well, much more than he seemed. The double-blind thing was, as you might imagine, great fun to write, and behind everything lurked the questions of who know what about the other?
Believe it or not, friendships are difficult to write in fiction. They can easily come across as forced, particularly if they involve too much explication and too many overt gestures of affection. People are both complicated and subtle, and often that subtlety is expressed in subconscious ways: as an exercise, pick out groups of people at a table in a restaurant or café or pub (although in pubs, booze can confound things), and try to work out relationships, and then degrees of closeness and familiarity between people. When two people are paying close attention to each other, check out the others in the group and see who’s observing. Human dynamics are amazing, but so much that you might learn is subconscious interplay. In fiction, one needs to somehow convey all of that with only a few words, for it to work, and one quick way in, is establishing a private language between two characters. Do that and you convey long familiarity, privately shared experiences, and a whole host of other details.
I’ve not yet read Cook’s last Dread Empire novel, though I look forward to it (once I am settled again).
5. McflyCahill90. My question then is, as an aspiring writer, especially in the epic fantasy genre, I find I’m having trouble really outlining and planning my story. In a series such as MBOTF, what was your process or your frame of mind when planning such a massive undertaking? Book by book, character arc, story arc? I feel I’m being swept up in too many ideas and not concretly planning my story step by step. Any thoughts would wonderful.
Also, just a hopeful secondary question, any tips when it comes to worldbuilding? I find yours was some of the deepest and best in the business. Any tips or ideas on worldbuilding would be super cool, but totally fine if you can’t get to it. I imagine you’re going to have a lot of questions!
Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions and thanks again for a wonderful story. Best of luck with all your new writing. Can’t wait for Forge of Darkness!
Steven: By all means look to my recent Reddit experience, and to my essays on writing at lifeasahuman.com. Every writer has a different take on such things: some map out beforehand (at the risk of unplugging the impetus to actually write the thing), while others play it by ear as far as they’re able to. Most find a middle ground between the two. Map out broad arcs, figure out where characters need to end up, decide what’s at stake for everyone in the story, but leave open just how the characters reach that final place. If you have maps you can work out lands crossed, places visited, and who know what might happen on that journey? That said, maybe certain things need to happen, so make notes on those, but all the in-between stuff should be wide open, so as to allow you as much spontaneity as possible, and don’t be worried if that invention-on-the-fly spins the character’s story in an unexpected direction. These things happen and are no cause for panic.
Best of luck in your writing endeavours.
6. dustingm. My question, which may or may not have been addressed prior, is this: As a devoted devouer of audiobooks, is there any chance that we might see your Malazan series on CD/digital audiobook at some point? And who would you like to see (hear?) read your novels? (I’m partial to Steven Pacey, but I’ll settle for… well, anyone)
Steven: My agent tells me negotiations are underway. Once I know more I’ll let it be known.
7. james lockwood. Thank you for such a great series. Our there going to be more books in the malazan saga?
Steven: Cam has more to write in the Malazan saga; while I will be returning to that world when I tackle the Karsa trilogy. And, of course, there’s the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas.
8. Tufty. Do you envision the civilizations of Wu having a common calendar and seasons, such that the start of a new calendar year is the same in Darujhistan as it is in Unta?
Midnight Tides shows us the extreme effects a lone Jaghut ascendant can have on the climate of a quarter of a continent, lasting millenia—would this cause problems between, say, northern and southern Lether if they can’t agree on what time of year the kingdom has “winter”?
The basis of this question is that as an obsessive fan I’ve realized that a bunch of supposed “timeline issues” aren’t problems at all if Quon Tali and Darujhistan have opposite seasons a-la North/South hemisphere, but more importantly I’d just like to hear your opinion on the whole idea of international calendar sharing on Wu.
Steven: Can you see me running away as fast as I can from this question? All right, we used the Jaghut to create glaciated regions where none should exist, since it justified ice-fields showing up in the strangest places. This world didn’t start with a world map: it started with an island just off a continent, and built up from there. The whole process was ongoing and haphazard in our first years of gaming, but it coalesced over time as details accrued. As for seasons, to be honest, we kept things too free-flowing in our minds to assert some kind of global consistency in seasons and so on. Most of the people living on the Malazan world haven’t a clue which hemisphere they live in. As for a pan calendar, well, time is more our modern obsession than it is a Malazan one. One of the most fascinating anthropological subjects you could read up on, is that of the concept of time in other cultures (especially cultures not bound to agriculture; and even agricultural cultures, when non-industrial, think differently about time. Blame the Cartesian mindset for our obsessions with time and measuring it.
9. SamarDev. Your writings are very layered often, and you hide clues about peoples identities or plotlines along the road, before finally giving the last obvious info which definately resolves it. For example, in MT we had all those little bits about Bugg/Mael, like snoring like the tide in a cave.
When you write this, are you (chuckling or not) guessing about at what point an alert reader should be able to connect the dots? Is it kind of a game to be obscure about it for as long as possible, but obvious enough to create a ’slap-my-forehead-I-didn’t-see-it-before’-moment when you look back as reader?
Steven: Of course it amuses me. Besides, what better way to reward a careful reader? Of course, the risk is making a reader almost paranoid about missing clues, which was never my intent. I know Amanda early on in this re-read ended up hyper-primed to hunt through every line: but no-one can sustain such a venture. Whatever rewards come from all those hints are there for re-reads, because at that point you know what to look for. I would never want a reader to beat themselves up for having missed something. That’s not what this is all about. Also, bear in mind that such hints serve me as well, in that I assure that I am consistent with what I know is coming, or will at some point be revealed. If I’d been lazy, for example, Bugg’s snoring might have been described as a, say, old bear in a winter cave, and that would not have fit, would it? Accordingly, details are consistent with the truth, even when it’s only me knowing that truth (at that moment), and they pretty much have to be, or I’ve messed it up.
9. SamarDev. In the comments of the last chapter, there was a nice discussion about the qualities of the Beddict brothers. I take the liberty to quote Taitastigon’s summary of this discussion.
* Brys = martial crafts, Tehol = economics, Hull = cultures.
* Brys brings his physical opponents down, Tehol brings economies down, Hull brings cultures down.
* Brys does it as his duty, Tehol on devious purpose, Hull inadvertently.
And all three are highly idealistic about their activities. Three interesting outcomes for idealism…
Could you say something about whether / how this fits to your own ideas about the brothers?
Steven: Interesting observation (which is an author’s way of saying ‘huh, never thought of it that way,’ but not ready to confess it publicly. So, the next time you see or hear an author use that phrase, well, now you know .). But no, really, it’s an interesting observation (insert appropriate emoticon here). I don’t think I was commenting on idealism, and thinking on it, I don’t think it’s quite as consistent as it would be had I been thinking about it at the time. The thesis falls with Brys: specifically, the final outcome to his sense of duty, which is then wholly undermined by how he dies. Granted, one could blame an errant push on that careless drinking of the wine, but even still, what message would be delivered, in terms of idealism? That it is doomed to fail? That it is a fool’s course? Rather nihilistic notions, if you ask me, and not consistent with the series themes at all. Rather, think of those three in terms of desire, and how each one reconciles (or fails to reconcile) with reality. Maybe that’s a theme regarding idealism, but if so, it’s only a discussion in general terms, and no conclusions are drawn barring that of Hull’s (and that one was no conclusion at all, since reality intervened to cast judgement upon him at the end, a judgement he could only have viewed with bafflement, despite whatever sense of relief he might have also experienced).
10. Taitastigon. You seem to love your dynamic duos, especially for the lighter side. Iskaral Pust/Mogara, Telorast/Curdle, kinda Fiddler/Hedge, kinda Quick Ben/Kalam, Kruppe basically with himself ( ;o) ), and last but not least Tehol and Bugg. To come up with the dialogue, have you been influenced by some classic comedy groups in the past – like Monty Python or the Marx Brothers ? Because specifically in the case of Tehol and Bugg, I always got the *groove* that their *gig* was the Marx Brothers at their wildest, with a pinch of Unabomber and Lenin chipped in for spice (measured as an average of MT and RG). Am I too far off ?
Steven: Hard to say. Many of the examples you cite are actually me and Cam in our gaming sessions, which is why pairing up was so prevalent in this series. But also, in terms of fiction, pairs provide the function of explication and foil both, but rarely conflict unless it’s with a third entity or force. As for inspiration, well, hard to say. I am a fan of all sorts of comedy, from the farcical genius of the Marx Brothers to the absurd inanity of Airplane or Top Secret! But I also adore the original Get Smart series, and like so Canadians, I grew up with Monty Python on the CBC and then the home-grown Second City Television (which, incidentally, leaves most Brits bemused), as well as Saturday Night Live.
Tehol and Bugg are not modeled, in terms of comedy, on any one thing, beyond the basic trope mentioned earlier. And Tehol very much arrived in my mind with his opening scene, on the rooftop, with only a blanket.
11. Toster. My question is about demons in general, and lilac in specific. you’ve presented us with demons who don’t quite fit the trope before (Pearl), and now you give us Lilac, who is nothing more than a caster of nets, and yet everyone who knows him refers to him as a demon and allows that to colour their perception of him. we’ve had in-book discussions about the use of the word demon (Karsa and the Teblor after discovering Calm), so I want to put the question to you: is you’re characterization of certain demons as more ’human’ just an attempt to flip the trope, or is there something deeper at work? Specifically, I’m wondering if you think that ’humanity’ as we understand it, is an inherent quality of all life, even that which we might refer to as ’demonic’?
Steven: The notion of demon, as it applies to the Malazan universe, is just a take on the ‘other’ and the ‘us versus them’ motifs of identity, and self-identity. They are simply strangers, visitors, who look very different from humans, and their world of origin is mostly a mystery, but presumably they have to live out their lives in that world, doing whatever is necessary to survive and persist as a people. So, they must have cultures, and professions, and relationships, and so on.
Nothing in the Malazan world acted as your typical D&D monsters: not in the games, nor in the written works. That was a very conscious decision from us. From the earliest AD&D modules we came across, our question always was a variation on ‘but what are those goblins actually doing down in those dungeons? I mean, when there’s no intrepid adventurers (interlopers, invader, looters) around? What do they eat when they run out of human flesh? Who takes out the garbage? Do they ever dance, or hold hands?
A human flung into a demonic realm would indeed be considered a ‘demon’ to that realm’s inhabitants.
12. Karsa. Hi Steven — could you comment on the epilogue of MT? Mael kicks the CG’s ass…but that is in retrospect that is a particularly large failure of “compassion”. does Mael just not get it? or was it simply “you messed with mine, now you have to mess with me?” when you wrote it, did you expect (or hope?) people to realize how Mael fell into a trap that we all fall into and that when we first read it, we cheer…but in subsequent readings we realize that Mael’s behavior was as “inappropriate” as the CG’s lashing out.
Steven: All of the above, but mostly Mael’s act was to close with some sense of immediate satisfaction to carry away the reader. No need to read much more in it, I think.
12. Karsa. If Trull went to Lilac’s home, would Lilac’s family think Trull is a demon? would they be right?
Steven: See above. Yes.
13. Mrglum. This book is definitly not a story of a monstrous culture of faceless brutes fighting a civilized and heroic culuture, though that is a theme which comes up all too often in both fantasy and sci-fi. Was it hard to humanize both sides of the conflict, in that in both of the cultures there are things both disgusting and inspiring?
Steven: I wouldn’t describe it as hard. In fact, I pretty much can’t help it. It’s just how my brain works, and how my creativity finds expression. Somehow, it just feels more ‘realistic.’ I always wondered what the Dark Lord would do once he’d won his empty, bone-filled wasteland? And what if that cadre of heroes, having bested the evil enemy, then began an age of oppression and debauchery, subjugating their own people in the name of pomp and the endless revisiting of past triumphs? What if those heroes, having killed the evil enemy, then send the people the tax bill?
13. Mrglum. For much of the book, many of the characters felt helpless to stop a headlong slide to war. Does it take a special kind of person to step outside of the zeitgeist of their own culture? Why do so few wonder why the us versus them mentality has gained such momentum, and even among those that do, why do so few try to make a difference?
Steven: Because ‘us versus them’ simplifies, and we are at our core a lazy species. As for stepping outside the Zeitgeist of a culture, well, it’s lonely out there, and besides, by standing apart you cease being one of ‘us’ and therefore become one of ‘them,’ and next thing you know, your head’s on a plate.
13. Mrglum. Is it worse to not be aware at all, like some of Rhulad’s friends or many of the Letheri officials, or to be someone like Seren, who understood what was happening but felt both powerless and apathetic?
Steven: I honestly don’t know which is worse. Thing is, once you understand things, you can’t go back.
14. Isoroku. My MT question is: how old are the Tiste Edur? I guess this is really two questions – the first being how old are the actual characters like Rhulad, Trull, Fear, Uruth, Mosag, etc and the second being how old can they live? They do seem a lot more human-like than the millenia-old, ennui-filled Andii from MoI.
Steven: That’s an issue we kinda avoided, to be honest. For the purposes of the story, those characters you mentioned are as old as they appeared to be, in terms of their actions and their maturity, or lack thereof.
15. Billcap. Now that we’re a big chunk into the series, I had a more general question. Are there any characters in these first books that surprised you? Did you begin writing in a character thinking they weren’t going to do much and then find them becoming more integral or entertaining and thus “forcing” you to write more of them? On the flip side, I was wondering if you recall any “failed” characters—those you came up with that for some reason didn’t work or worked but needed to be edited out to streamline things? Finally, in this same vein, are there any characters in these first novels where the fan reaction to or reading of the character surprised you?
Steven: Udinaas pushed his way onto the page and into the story. Feather Witch fell away and, for quite some time, stayed that way, though I knew I’d have to come back to her at some point, so I couldn’t completely dispense with her. Yan Tovis and the Shake came out of nowhere, so much so that they forced their story into the final two books of the series; same for the Yan’s brother (still to come). That last one was probably a spoiler, but not much of one, I think. If people think it is, however, feel free to delete or hide.
Fan reactions to characters always surprise me: I read a lot of ‘Udinaas and Seren are boring’ comments after Midnight Tides (echoing the Mhybe and, to come, Redmask). It turned out that, rather often, characters I really got into writing, proved the least interesting to readers. Not always, of course, but enough times for me to take notice.
I also, and later on in the series, set up characters to be obvious magnets to the readers, only to then undermine the readers’ expectations on their arcs. I’m a perverse bastard, at times. Don’t know why.
16. ChrisK. Shortly before Udinaas and Feather Witch pay their first visit to the refugium, you mention T’lan Imass present in dust form all over the place crossed by the advancing Edur. Does that mean the Imass inside the refugium are actually dream-like projections of those T’lan Imass, and do Ulshun Pral and his tribe essentially exist in two places simultaneously?
Steven: The dust of their essence on the paths the Edur took need not be complete, and can exist as mere remnants, fragmented identities and fragmented memories. The manifestation of the refugium was a combination of the Mhybe’s created realm, and the deathless aspects of Lether.
16. ChrisK. If that’s the case, is leaving the refugium synonymous with waking up?
Steven: Only if dream worlds don’t exist.
16. ChrisK. And finally, is there a connection between the refugium and the Mhybe’s dream world (although I’d guess no, given that the refugium is apparently older.)
Steven: The Mhybe’s world only seems older, in that it recaptured a memory of an older age, a time when the Imass were dominant. I’ll edge as close to a timeline issue as I dare here, to say that the refugium’s final, concrete manifestation, actually follows the Mhybe’s creation.
17. Mythical. It almost seems counter intuitive to ask any detail or plot orientated question about specifics within just this book. Part of the strength and depth of the series is that sense of mystery regarding certain plot points and devices. We quickly realised, even halfway into GotM, that we would not be “spoon-fed” and that some work and even trust, on our part as readers, would be needed to enjoy this world. You, yourself have always seemed patently against any sort of “meta” type question. Whenever I read a question in this vein (“Was that acorn not supposed to be brown instead of green?!”, “How many ghosts actually trail Karsa Orlong and would I be able to tell this by reading through HoC very carefully?”), I cringe.
It seems that you have attempted to impart feeling and emotion, telling a story rooted in a surprisingly realistic portrayal of relationships, dialogue, actions and reactions. The specific details of the story are intended to be less important, particularly when weighed against this as well as the overarching themes and narrative. Do you think this is a fair assessment?
Steven: A most fair assessment, thank you.
18. Taitastigon. here a quickie one: What is ist with the Crippled God and his tent ? Why does Withal have to rip it off to be able to escape ? What is the connection between CG, that darn tent and his power ?
Steven: The tent is the only manifestation of his realm the CG is capable of achieving.
20. Mayhem. On a related note, in MoI it is mentioned that the Crippled God’s warren ’is known to wander’, and access to it was found near Pale.
Can he be in more than one place at a time?
Does he have control over where the realm wanders to? Is there any significance to the fact that the realm seems to be located somewhere near Lether for the duration of the book?
Steven: Gateways into realms do indeed wander, like oceanic currents. The CG’s realm (his tent) can both wander and be summoned, since it’s not very big.
21. Sanctume. Are Warrens a separate space and time with the Malazan planet?
21. Sanctume. Or are Warrens more a separate dimension (with its own timeline) that exists parallel to the Malazan planet?
21. Sanctume. Are Warrens like cities, and are Holds like states?
Steven: No. Warrens are younger version (2.0) of Holds.
21. Sanctume. Is the CG’s tent like a small mobile city that can exist in other states (Hold like Mael’s) ?
Steven: Sort of, see above.
21. Sanctume. Does the Jaghut ritual done on Lether act like a road block made of ice that prevented travel or use of warrens? But not Hold magic?
Steven: No, the ritual simply stalled the progression of time and, incidentally, roadblocked the appearance of the Realm of the Dead as it exists in the minds of people everywhere else.
22. Robin55077. My questions were nearly identical to Bill’s. So I will just ask you which characters so far where you most surpised by the readers’ reaction (either positive or negative).
Steven: The Mhybe, Udinaas, Seren Pedac, on the negative side. Oh, and some readers really don’t like Kruppe, either. On the positive side: I don’t know. I suppose I got surprised at the very first novel, with the response to Anomander, and thereafter just left it all alone. Whatever worked.
22. Robin55077. Another general question: You write about the Malazan world with such depth that even many of the cities become characters for me as a reader. I sense that this is one of the main differences between this series and many others that I have read. As a reader, it seems that many writers write an action placed in a scene they are picturing, where it seems as if you are writing about a real place, thus we get so much depth into the Malazan world.
The skill with which you write about it makes it seem to me that it must have felt real to you. Did the Malazan World become “real” for you?
Steven: Absolutely, in the same fashion that an ancient prehistoric site becomes real to me, when I am standing on it, when I am looking around and peeling back the landscape, building a vision of what it once looked like, and how that must have felt. It’s the same imaginative process and Cam and I were immersed in it as archaeologists, as a way of thinking and of seeing any landscape. It was impossible to look on anything and be blind to history (it still is), and so that aspect of imagination was engaged again and again, and exercised incessantly. To then build a fictional world, well, it proved surprisingly easy. We knew what details to highlight, and those details were the ones we hunt for as archaeologists seeking to make sense of another culture.
Cheers for now.