To coincide with the release of the final volume of The Bronze Canticles trilogy, Mystic Empire, I had the opportunity to interview the authors. Since I was introduced to the fantasy genre by the original Dragonlance novels, I have to admit that it was a bit of a thrill for me!
Let me begin by thanking you both for taking some time off your indubitably busy writing schedule to answer our questions. It is with great pleasure that I welcome this opportunity to do this Q&A.
- For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of THE BRONZE CANTICLES.
(TRH) Thrice Upon a Time, there were three worlds ... actually, three incarnations of the same world! Each has its own history, societies and races developing on independent lines and, until recently, completely unaware of the existence of each other. Now, through newly emerging magical forces, they are coming to discover that their worlds will be in collision; one world will rule, one will submit and the third will die ... but which world will fulfill which destiny? And, more importantly, how do these global events affect the lives of the individuals who live in them? I think the thing I like most about the series is how it explores life and its most personal level in the face of global issues.
- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write the series in the first place?
(LCH) Tracy and I went hiking one day in a canyon near our home. We live in the desert south-west of the United States – a place of stark and powerful beauty. If you’ve ever see one of those American Western films with the towering red rock bluffs and cliffs then you have some idea of where we live. We were following a stream and came to an ancient, toppled tree whose roots were exposed. The knots and gnarls of those roots reminded us both of a passage to another world – and the concept just grew from there.
In the same vein, what generated the idea behind the sundered universe of THE DEATH GATE CYCLE?
(TRH) Interestingly while both ideas appear to have similar themes, they are fundamentally different. The worlds of the Bronze Canticles were never ‘sundered’ as the Death Gate worlds: being separate incarnations was their original state. Death Gates world started as a single world and was broken into its classical component parts. However, both do deal with multiple incarnations of a setting in the same space. The idea for Death Gate, however, came as a result of my musings on the troubles in Northern Ireland. The question of a war being conducted for so long and so bitterly that people no longer remembered what the original conflict was about struck me as central to Death Gate.
- Throughout all your series and novels, are there characters that you particularly enjoy/enjoyed writing? Why is that? By the same token, are there characters that you absolutely don't/didn't enjoy writing about? For what reason?
(TRH) Laura always sensed that I enjoyed writing about Dwynwyn in our Bronze Canticles series. As for me, I think I could write about the goblins in that series any day!
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
(LCH) The structure of story is our specialty. We firmly believe that without a solid foundation in story structure much of the rest of a tale’s telling is just so much chrome. You need the strong frame to make a story really work.
- What authors makes you shake your head in admiration?
(LCH) Ray Bradbury – his prose is poetry.
(TRH) Stephen King. I don’t always like what he writes but I LOVE the way he writes it. His book ‘On Writing’ is, I think, the best on its subject available today.
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the younger Tracy Hickman concerning his writing career?
(TRH) You know, I wouldn’t change a thing. Life has its ups and downs – and sometimes those downs can be pretty horrific – but on reflection everything that has happened in my life has lead me to where I am today: and I wouldn’t want it any other way. As for other writers, however, I would advise first – don’t quit the day job. Second – everyone has ideas, it’s the people who do something about them that make a difference. No one can write your story for you – start writing. Third – you have not yet written your best work. Your first efforts will be terrible and clumsy, just like your first steps as a child – but also just as important for you to learn from. Get over the idea of the perfect book. Fourth, nothing is ever wasted. And fifth: drive, craft and discipline can get you through a lot.
- Is a World Fantasy Award something you covet?
(LCH) You know, we never think about awards. We both write for the love of it and for our readers.
- How does working with your wife Laura differ from working with Margaret Weis?
(TRH) Every partnership is unique: they have their different strengths and ways of making it work. The important thing, however, is to put the integrity of the work first – before egos. If you are asking ‘what is best for the book’ and stop asking ‘what is best for me’ in a collaboration, you’ll have much better success both with the book and the collaboration.
- How does it feel to have the possibility to share your books with people from around the globe, in different languages?
(LCH) The Russian language translation was the first to license our Bronze Canticles. We were both thrilled. We believe that modern fantasy has its ancestral roots in world mythology and therefore speaks to and connects the global audience in ways that other literary forms do not.
- Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
(TRH) I think that depends upon who one credits as granting such recognition. I’ve had numerous students over the years write to me, telling me that their assignment was to do a report on an author of literature but that their teacher told them that what I write isn’t ‘legitimate literature.’ I’m always curious as to what they mean by ‘legitimate literature’ and by what standard they are using to make that determination. From what I have seen thus far, I’m not certain that I crave the ‘respect’ of the academic community as I once might have done.
(LCH) The whole question of legitimacy doesn’t make sense – mythology is the most ancient of literary forms. Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ I would think of as legitimate and yet it is every bit as much a fantasy as anything written today.
- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters (and God knows there have been many!) did you find the most unpredictable to write about?
(TRH) Lord Soth from our Dragonlance series! Every time that character made an appearance in one of our books he would try to run off with the story. We practically had to beat him off the page with a stick.
- How would you like to be remembered as an author?
(LCH) That’s an interesting question. When I think about being remembered I think only of our progeny; I’d like my grandchildren to know how much I love the arts.
(TRH) Fame in terms of the world is such a fleeting thing. When I think about being remembered, I think about those wonderful, sincere people who have come up to us and shared how our books somehow changed their lives. When a huge, bearded and long haired man in a leather motorcycle jacket stands speechless in front of you, grip your book with both massive hands as tears roll down his cheeks struggling to tell you how your books saved his life – that’s when you remember why you write and are grateful that God gave you the opportunity and talent.
- After what can only be called an illustrious and prolific career, what motivates you to keep on writing?
(LCH) When Robert Frost was asked that same question, he answered ‘the money.’ That helps, of course, but there has to be a daily blissful drive – the kind of drive that when you hear the doorbell ring at noon, you look up in alarm from your keyboard, realize that you’re still in your PJ’s and that you’ve literally been in another world since 6 am! That’s love.
(TRH) There’s a joy that comes in creating something worthwhile – the act of creation itself is alluring.
- How strong is the temptation to return to the worlds of your previous series? You have already done so in the past. Do you have any plans to do so now?
(TRH) The great thing about going back to a previous setting is that you don’t have to spend as much time explaining the world to the reader – you can assume much of the setting and get about telling the story of the book. The problem is that there are so many new and fascinating worlds for us to explore that we keep moving into new ones.
- In light of the current market, are you tempted to write one of those enormous fantasy epics which continue to be the most successful series at the moment? To a certain extent, you and Margaret opened the door with the success of THE DEATH GATE CYCLE.
(LCH) Well, in our Bronze Canticles we have three books in print now – and for us that represents only a third of the story we would like to tell. We’ve always seen this complete story as a trilogy of trilogies. Ah, so many worlds and so little time!
- After producing all those bestsellers and selling millions of copies worldwide, is there added pressure when it comes to writing new series/novels, knowing that the expectations will always be high?
(TRH) No matter what you do, you will always be compared to your previous works. When Bronze Canticles came out, there were a lot of people who wanted to compare it to Dragonlance – even though they are very different worlds and very different stories basically. I don’t know if one can address audience expectations; it may be a better place to write the best story you know how on a subject that you dearly love. Bronze Canticles is a good example of that: everyone expected it to be a ‘typical trilogy’ of books – but each of these books is a self-contained and complete story with many years separating different characters in the same world. It was new and different but everyone keeps trying to hammer our square peg into their preconceived round hole. I think it better to not worry about high expectations and concentrate on making the best story and book you know how with the craft you have.
- DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT was first published in 1984. How does it feel to see it still in print and on bookstores' shelves after more than 20 years?
(TRH) Fabulous! It means that we are still sharing our stories with more and more people!
- Readers from the 80s hold you and a number of other authors in high esteem. But the "new" generation of fantasy readers doesn’t always consider your novels with the same regard. Admittedly, the fantasy market has changed dramatically since the emergence of writers such as Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, George R. R. Martin, Terry Goodkind, and many others. But do you feel that this "new" generation gives your books and those of Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, etc, the respect they deserve? Because without such authors to pave the way, there is no Jordan, Martin, Erikson, etc.
(TRH) I didn’t know I was such a venerable old sage! (Please don’t tell my wife – she still is under the impression that I am perpetually twenty-six years old.) Truthfully, I don’t think that respect is ‘deserved’ – I think it is earned with every book, every day.
- After creating a number of fantasy universes, what part of world building do you enjoy the most?
(LCH) I love weaving the story into the society of the books. But, for Tracy, that has got to be the maps!
(TRH) I love maps. I have an eight foot cork board above my writing desk just to pin up huge maps I create on my computer for the books we write.
- In recent years, although you have continued to work together, you and Margaret have also devoted a lot of time to your personal projects. After collaborating for so many years, is that just a natural progression for you both?
(TRH) I think that times change and that we all have to change with them; relationships also grow and we have to grow with them. Change and growth are what keeps us alive – and that includes exploring new avenues of creation. Laura and I do a monthly podcast now because it’s a new direction and channel by which we can communicate with our audience. We are also exploring the idea of podiobooks.com and making our works available in new ways. Laura wants a new professional microphone of her own for Mother’s Day.
- What can you tell us of your future projects? I know there is a new Dragonlance series on the way. . .
(TRH) Yes, Margaret and I are doing the ‘Dark Chronicles’ – those parts of the original Dragonlance Chronicles which we removed for space considerations. It’s been a delight going back to that world in an age when our heroes were just ‘making their bones’ and were not so sure of themselves. The first book in that series, ‘Dragons of the Dwarven Depths’ is scheduled to be out in hardback this summer. Of course, the third book in our Bronze Canticles series by Laura and I has just come out this spring. We are now working up proposals for our next books, including a series by Laura.
(LCH) Yes, I’ve been working up a proposal for a book series as well – one that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. But we’re also exploring new things, as Tracy said. We have a podcast called ‘DragonHearth’ which is available to anyone on the internet. You can search for us online at DragonHearth or in the podcast section of iTunes ... or just visit the website at dragonhearthproductions.com to link up and listen to our voyages across the sea of possibilities. I also have a couple of podcasts of my own that I’d like to create. We will also be releasing one of Tracy’s early books in audio through podiobooks.com in the very near future. So, I guess being creative can take up a LOT of one’s time!
Many thanks again for doing this! I wish you continued success in your career, and may the release of MYSTIC EMPIRE bring even more readers into the fold.