The Unplag team has recently had a chance to conduct an interview with a fantasy author Philip Athans who embodies a versatile personality being interested in music, movies, magazine creation, and many more things.
Philip Athans shares with us his success story, the way he made his dream come true. He started his career writing stories and playing in a punk rock band, but soon a desire to create compelling science fiction and fantasy novels prevailed.
Today, Mr. Athans is a professional writer who creates a series of fascinating stories like Baldur’s Gate, The Watercourse Trilogy, and a co-author of the Forgotten Realms. He reveals some secrets of keeping a reader engaged, writing long-running series, and a new project.
Explore a number of smart tips while reading one of the most sincere authors’ interviews on writing and get even more information about the author on his blog.
What fantasy world would you live in and why? (I will not limit you by providing some options)
After fifteen years working mostly on Forgotten Realms novels at TSR and Wizards of the Coast, I’d definitely be most comfortable there. Maybe settle in the town of Dagger Falls and try to stay out of trouble! Though there are monsters and other evils lurking around every corner, there are also more “safe zones” than, say, Westeros. Heroes don’t die as easily in the Realms.
How to stay creative if you write a long book series?
Though this might clash with my previous answer, keeping a long-running series alive and fresh requires some sacrifice. Though some authors—most notably George R.R. Martin—might take the killing off of favorite characters to an extreme, you also can’t be afraid to, every once in a while and with careful thought, really kick the crap out of your characters, your world, and your readers’ expectations. Going to TV for an example: Star Trek from the Next Generation onward was pretty good about introducing new villains in particular, and some, like the Borg, really did some damage while others, like the Cardassians, added a whole new spectrum of political commentary.
If you aren’t challenging yourself as an author, if you’re just phoning it in, your readers will get that pretty quickly and though they might yell and scream at the death of a character or some other big event, that’s always better than another book coming out to be met with a disinterested shrug. I’d rather be hated than ignored!
What was the best piece of advice on writing you have ever received?
Honestly, the best advice I’ve gotten, I only saw fairly recently and it’s been a Godsend to my own writing, and that is to start out every project by making the decision to write a short, bad book. That came from Dani Shapiro, but also matches up well with advice from the great Ray Bradbury. What both are suggesting is to take the intimidation factor out of it. Of course everyone knows that a novel is a huge undertaking—looking at a blank file and trying to imagine filling it up with 90,000 or more words is terrifying. But if you set aside any sort of word count limit and just tell a story it’ll flow out of you without that particular fear at least. Who knows how long it will be when you get to the end? If it’s a little too short, by then you’ll likely have identified a bunch of missing scenes to go back and add. If it comes out too long there are probably things waiting to be edited out. The trick is to just write as fast as you can, which is where the “bad” book comes in. Don’t worry about grammar and style and spelling—just write. Let the story pour out of you. There’s no grammatical or spelling error, no detail, no bit of extra research, that can’t be done later, in your revision.
I’ve called this: Write in ecstasy, edit with intent.
What is your favorite book of the Forgotten Realms series? How many books of these series have you read? (please, be honest!)
Oh, this is impossible to say. I haven’t read every one but I’ve read maybe all but three or four that were released from about 1996 onward. Picking a favorite would be like picking a favorite child. Instead, I can throw out some recommendations for a few that might have slipped in under the radar.
If you’ve never read anything in the Forgotten Realms setting and want to see what it’s all about with a single book, not part of an ongoing series, etc., the stand-alone novel The Lost Library of Cormanthyr by Mel Odom is a great place to get a reasonable dose of Realms. If you’re a fan and know the world and want to get deeper into the lore, find a copy of Blackstaff by Steven Schend and the Cormyr series: Cormyr: A Novel by Ed Greenwood & Jeff Grubb, Beyond the High Road by Troy Denning, and Death of the Dragon by Ed Greenwood and Troy Denning. Those books showcase the immense depths of this massive setting. And I guess I’m assuming that you’ve already read all of the Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore!
Please, tell us about the project you are currently working on
I’m always working on a bunch of stuff at any given time. For my own writing I’ve gone back to writing more for fun than for profit, so look for some pet projects coming out very soon, including a series of jungle pulp adventure stories coming very soon from Pro Se Productions. And of course there’s the big fantasy work-in-progress, which is in too early a stage to really talk about yet. I still keep busy mostly as an editor and educator, with online courses running almost continuously from Writer’s Digest University.