Steven Erikson has so much to tell us, reddit could barely contain it all! He’s nearing the end of the second novel in the Kharkanas trilogy, Fall of Light, which he hopes to finish “sometime in the next two months.” Plus, he took a break from working on that book to write a seventy-five thousand word Star Trek spoof called Willful Child (read an excerpt here). From the author himself:
“So here you all thought I’d spend this time writing and talking about Fantasy novels, huh? Wrong. This Trekker’s come out of the wardrobe closet, in public for the first time! Eat tribbles and die!”
In his comprehensive AMA, Erikson talked about Willful Child, the intricacies of Malazan, and his overall writing process. He also mentioned that he’ll be appearing at next year’s World Fantasy Awards Con in Saratoga Springs, so mark your calendars now!
Elquesogrande: Love seeing the passion you have for Star Trek and your new novel! How was the experience in writing this novel versus your previous works? Freeing? Similar in some ways and not in others?
StevenErikson: Writing Willful Child was a definite release: all the valves broke open with that one. It was a fast write (and you’ll see why) and more fun that is probably healthy (considering my other writing commitments).
ILIKERED_1: I just want to thank you for Tehol Beddict. The single greatest character I have had the pleasure of reading. Komsomnidah.
StevenErikson: Tehol blinks in modest surprise, then quickly reaches for his blanket.
Ominus666: Who is your favorite Bridgeburner and why is it Fiddler?
StevenErikson: Like how you ask and answer questions: makes it easier for me. I don’t know why Fiddler became the dominant character for this series. Perhaps because he’s just an average guy, not much with a sword, no real magic, nothing scary in his demeanor. Keeping his head down most of the time.
JediMasterZao: I have to ask: What is Kruppe?
StevenErikson: Kruppe is a character appearing in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. He’s also my conscience, my critic, and a general pain in the ass (but look for the wink), and the voice of the series cypher. More on that later.
HiuGregg: What made you decide on the scale of the malazan world? I mean, ‘epic’ seems like a bit of an understatement when you consider some of the things that happen. The world just seems so vast when you read the books. Did you always mean to create such a huge and detailed world, or did it just happen?
StevenErikson: One of the things that happens when you study history is you come to recognize that clash of perspective between the parochial and the vast sweeps of empire, age, and time. As satisfying as it may seem to read, say, a history of the Roman Empire, or the Assyrian or Egyptian, or Chinese, these create an illusion of completeness, as if an entire people and all its generations of life can be reduced to incidental elements of a grand narrative. But it’s not like that. Accordingly, the notion of ’epic’ in fantasy fiction is always problematic. You build a story from scenes, from distinct and immediate moments, from faces and voices you come to know, and choose to live with for a time. I don’t think Cam or I were thinking of ’epic’ when we built up the Malazan world: we were just dancing around the globe, place o place, culture to culture, and then we began messing with the idea of cultures clashing … and everything fell into place from there.
MikeAWants: First, how did you keep track of all the things in Malazan? I’m writing stories much smaller in scope and I’ve sometimes got problems with this or that detail and have to look it up again. Malazan is so sprawling that it boggles my mind. Second, is there any plan (there probably isn’t, but I’d not forgive myself for not asking) of writing a history of Malazan, kinda like Tolkien’s Silmarillion? I love history books and Malazan would lend itself to such a book perfectly.
StevenErikson: How did I keep track? Badly. And it’s worse the older I get. That said, there was an arc for the series, which meant that certain things needed to happen, in a certain order (more or less). So writing was simply a process of reaching to the scenes, step by stumbling step. A History of the Malazan world? Man, how many lives do we have?
Therrester: What was your process for planning out the general timeline of your books, and how accurate did those relate to your gaming sessions with ICE? From my understanding, the two of you often played with two characters, hence all the duos in the books. Did those sessions overlap with one another? Were they isolated? Did you play with one set of characters, and when you two switched, you’d play within the same world, taking into account the actions of the first group? Or did you pick isolated gaming sessions and put them as neatly as you could into the books, basing the tales off of them?
StevenErikson: The general timeline for the ten volume series had beginning and end points that were gamed (the latter not with Cam, but with five other gamers). In between there were a few other gamed sequences, but a lot of the interim stuff originated as fiction—as the novels you read. Things were pretty organic in terms of slipping between gamed events and inventing fictional ones. It’s interesting you point out the prevalence of duos in the novels, and yes, I do think that came in part from the one-to-one gaming Cam and I did: all those dialogues invoke the tone and atmosphere of our games, so to return to such pairings was for me an act of nostalgia, I suppose. That said, writing workshop instructors might well look grave and slowly shake their heads, since it’s always more dramatic to have three characters rather than two. But I would counter, if the setting becomes a character, then two is actually three, so piss off. Gaming campaigns went wherever we felt like taking them. Sometimes there was overlap: on a few occasions, we played out both sides of a conflict (as with Darujhistan and the events of Gardens of the Moon).
GaslightProphet: What obstacles exist for writers like myself who want to introduce readers to new settings (i.e., inspired more by Native American than European mythos), and what are potential ways to circumvent that?
StevenErikson: The obstacle is every novel previously written in the genre of your choice. Go back and analyse them, carefully. Find the common tropes. Then decide that you hate them, well, most of them. Then think of ways to fuck them up. Ask your characters for help. They love fucking things up, trust me. As for culture-based inspirations, I would think anything goes. The key is to not draw too closely, or make the parallels blindingly obvious (unless, of course, you’re Guy Kay, who’s done very nicely doing just that): once you begin to transform and mutate that inspiration, it becomes yours.
RuffiansAndThugs: You’ve spoken on multiple occasions about the role-playing origins for the Malazan universe. Do you have any great non-Malazan related stories about games you’ve played with friends? Also do you prefer to be the GM or a player?
StevenErikson: Cam and I once played in a game where he elected to make a six foot two hundred pound thief (shades of his take on Manask?) and I chose a four foot nothing illusionist with Art Garfunkel hair. We got arrested on a street and I created an illusion of a spell that backfired, blowing my head off. The guards arrested my headless corpse. Yeah, amusing, I guess, but also a lesson in how not to run a game (and, by extension, in how not to write a novel—you can’t force characters into things that make no sense to them).
PromisedPrince694: If you could choose to access one warren, which would it be?
StevenErikson: The one dealing with time (never mentioned that one did I?). I could do with the energy levels I had twenty or thirty years ago,
ESGunslinger: Would you rather fight one Havok-sized Gumble or one hundred Gumble-sized Havoks?
StevenErikson: I see no need to fight either when running away is an option.
Bodjree: My question for you is what ideas do you have for future book series in the Malazan world?
StevenErikson: I’m signed to do the Karsa trilogy after the Kharkanas trilogy.
There were several Star Trek-related questions from redditor Tatemae, wich we’ve numbered for easier readability:
1) Why do you dislike Star Trek: The Next Generation?
2) Why do you like Voyager and Captain Janeway? Personally, I think she’s insane.
3) What are your thoughts on the in-between films, Wrath of Khan to Nemesis?
4) What are your thoughts on the Prime Detective of Star Fleet and Gene Roddenberry’s ideology on mankind’s supposed “evolutionary” betterment? Do you feel all of that is just another form of dogma?
5) I know this is such a petty-stupid nerdy question, but Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?
6) Will Willful Child be similar in tone to Galaxy Quest? Aside, what did you think of Galaxy Quest as a movie, if you’ve seen it?
1) Why did I dislike STNG? I understand it was Gene’s desire to reveal a future without conflict—I get that—but talk about hamstringing both the actors and the writers! Even more frustrating, one can still deliver that message about a better future, where humans are wiser, etc, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be little shits when the mood strikes us. The original series had the perfect triangle to create conflict among the main characters: logic and emotion and the delicate balance between the two. Spock, McCoy, Kirk. Perfect. Inspired, in fact. So WTF happened? That bridge got turned into a damned collective, with group hugs at the end of every episode. Anyway, I won’t get into that too much, as it’s what I’ll be mining in the next Captain Hadrian novel (The Wrath of Betty).
2) Janeway was insane? Did they write that in and everything? If so, I like her even better.
3) The films were hit and miss. But Wrath of Khan was brilliant. Nemesis? I barely recall it.
4) Dogma? No, I don’t think it was. It was a desire for optimism, and the need for hope. These seem laudable, don’t they? I think dismissing it as dogma misses the whole point, in fact, and sounds both cynical and nihilistic. How can the desire and the wish for human betterment be viewed as some kind of devious propaganda?
6) I loved Galaxy Quest. I’m not sure if the tone is similar. You decide.
MikeOfThePalaceWorldbuilders: I’d love to hear a quick summary of the episode of TNG you wrote.
StevenErikson: A giant last surviving alien in a sleeper ship over a dead planet. Enterprise inadvertently awakens him. In so doing, the alien informs them that he represents a flytrap for an old enemy, who’s now on the way. On the planet below, cities rise from beneath earth, revealing a vast thriving civilization. The old enemy appears—the Doomsday machine. Picard and co beg the alien to save the planet below, but the planet is the honey in the trap, and the planet-killer must be in the act of destroying it for the alien to strike at its heart, which he does. Picard rails against the terrible loss: only to discover that the civilization is a chimera—not real. The alien sacrifices himself destroying the planet-killer. Bear in mind, either I knew nothing of fictional precedents set regarding the Doomsday machine, or they weren’t around yet. Anyway, that was it, pretty much.
RibaldRemark: I am very much looking forward to Willful Child and have already read the excerpt on Tor.com. I was wondering if you had any concerns about Hadrian’s character being misogynistic or appearing so? Given the controversies and discussions about sexism, misogyny and harassment in gaming culture, fandom and in SF and Fantasy in general, did these considerations enter your mind at all when writing?
StevenErikson: It would be easy (and wrong) to assume that with Captain Hadrian I’m commenting on the sexist sensibilities of the Sixties. I’m not. I’m commenting on the sexist sensibilities of right now. My point being, nothing has changed much, alas, or perhaps it’s even reversed, with a backslide into misogyny under the guise of machismo—but why, to use their own language, do so many male dinosaurs whine and cry like little girls?
Rollak: I love to write for a hobby but I’m hoping it turns into something more in the future. To tell the truth after reading your series, I’ve somehow become intimidated by its originality and have had trouble coming up with ideas for a good story. It’s as if, now that I’ve read something so amazing, I’ve become overly critical of my own writing. I start to write but then scrap what I’ve done because I feel it is just a rehash of something that’s already been done. Have you ever had this type of experience and if so, how have you moved past it? Thanks again! I’m looking forward to grabbing a copy of Willful Child.
StevenErikson: Think of everything you write as necessary preparation to writing—you have to do it, can’t quit, can’t go back and get all critical—you just have to do it, and keep doing it. Also, even if you begin something that seems like a rehashing of something else, keep going: it’ll find itself sooner or later. But quitting kills. Write!
XD00175: You’ve probably been asked this a lot (so sorry if I’m asking something that’s been answered somewhere else), but what is the key to effective worldbuilding? I’ve only recently begun writing, and I’m a bit intimidated by the feeling that I need to differentiate my setting somehow. However, everything I produce seems far too close to “like X but different”. Any tips on making something truly unique? Also, how do you manage to imbue such powerful emotional movements in your stories?
StevenErikson: If there is a key to worldbuilding it may have to do with maintaining the sense that what’s off screen is just as important and what’s on screen, because the former drives the latter. Hold onto that sense of mysteries beyond the horizon, and then take us there (via characters). With respect to differentiating your creation from all those that have gone before, steal what you like and but make sure something gets twisted in the translation: in other words, look for what inspired you in those other books, and see if you can find the same inspiration. The uniqueness will come as you find your writing voice and style. As for emotions, well, less is more. Also, you need to feel them first, before you can hope to make anyone else feel the same way. And that demands a lot of honesty, inward looking, and ruthlessness, from which (following a period of mourning) something like compassion emerges. Without compassion, you can’t feel. It’s as simple as that. Characters need conflict to come alive. Walk in their shoes, think the way they think (make sure it’s wholly different from what you think), and see the world from their eyes … and then let yourself feel what they feel. This process immediately and automatically sets up a conflict, even if this is a conflict between you and the character (it has to start somewhere). Doesn’t mean you can’t be sympathetic, but you must be prepared to let your character argue with you, or take a stand, or even defy you. Writing is all about letting go of your control over the characters you create: you become a witness, you transcribe like a court reporter, missing nothing that’s relevant.
Toastedtrue: Any plans of a pen and paper RPG adaptation/set in the world of Malazan the Fallen?
StevenErikson: Funny you should ask. Cam and I have talked about collating and organising our notes with the aim of creating a world-book for pen and paper gaming. Not sure what angle we’ll take on its publishing and distribution: we’re in talks with a couple companies right now. Either way, we might have to launch a kickstarter, if only to justify our taking time away from (money-making) writing in order to do it justice (and keep bread on the table).
NoFortress: Hello, Mr. Erikson! I read somewhere that you initially began writing Memories of Ice as the second novel, but suffered some sort of hard drive failure and thus wrote Deadhouse Gates next. Is this true? And if so, did it have any other implications on how you approached the rest of the series?
StevenErikson: Yeah, I lost the first three hundred or so pages. But it worked out fine, as inverting books two and three allowed me to do something with the end of Memories of Ice that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Beyond that, no effect on the rest of the series.
HateYouLoveBooks: I am having trouble finishing stories, sometimes even working my way through the middle of my stories… What keeps you in the loop and sticking to one story when writing, and how do you plan or outline so you don’t lose the story in free writing?
StevenErikson: The first rule to writing is this: finish what you start. It’s when it gets hard, grinding, blood-on-the-keyboards, that you learn about writing. The rest of just warm-up. Don’t jump scenes, don’t jump stories—push through.
hanzzz123: I think you mentioned in your other AMA or somewhere else that you played Star Trek Online. Is that still something you play, and/or have you found any other video games that have caught your interest?
StevenErikson: I do play STO (also Civ IV Caveman to Cosmos). Glad you brought up STO, though. I wrote to pointlessly complain a while ago when I discovered, upon uploading a new season, that some modelling adjustments had been made in regard to the female avatars in the game. Naturally, I got no response. So I went and named my new Romulan character Captain Impossible Thigh Gap, and her ship, the Creepy Modeller… Oh, you may also find a USS Steven Erikson out there. And an IKS Willful Child. And a USS Captain Hadrian. Hmm, I seem to have a lot of ships…