When I got the opportunity to do an interview with Terry Brooks, I was delighted. And by delighted, I mean terrified.
I mean, I’ve been reading Brooks for roughly two thirds of my life. And now I was supposed to ask him questions?
Luckily, as soon as we started to e-mail back and forth questions, my anxiety melted away and our discussion really took off. Eventually we had an interview longer than some novellas.
So we decided to break it up into four pieces, split up between Terry’s blog and mine. What I’m posting today is the second part, the first part went up on Terry’s blog on Monday. You can find it over here.
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Pat: Do you ever go back and re-read your books? I have to in order to maintain the consistency of my story. But then again, I only have two books out so far.
Terry: Yeah, you’ve only got two. But two of yours equals six of mine! Well, maintaining consistency is incredibly important because your reputation is at stake. There is always a 10 year old kid in Boise who’s knows your work better than you do and will catch you out every time. I’ve got something like twenty-five books in the Shannara series by now, including the three that start coming out in August, so slipping up becomes increasingly easier. Not just in the details, but in the behavioral patterns of characters. So I do reread the books that chronologically come just before anything I am writing. Also, if you live long enough, the publisher says something like, “Hey, Pat! You should have a companion volume to your body of work! Let’s call it “The World of Rothfuss.” You say, “Sure, as long as I don’t have to write it.” Then you have a ready reference for all those troubling details.
Or you can make the choice I made all those years ago to write the world’s biggest historical saga with huge gaps of time between sets of books so that each set of books uses a time period and storylines only once. Helps keep you from getting mired down by using the same characters over and over. A problem, I think, with a lot of mysteries and police procedurals that seem to get stale after a time.
Pat: I think of that as “The Dune Solution.” You don’t have to worry too much about consistency when you jump forward in time 2000 years and kill off all your characters.
Terry: Can’t resist pointing out that in spite of the above plan to leave gaps in time between sets of books, I have fallen away from my policy by writing in the last dozen years about one character in six books. Grianne Ohmsford appears in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy as a girl and again in the High Druid trilogy as a grown woman. So much for keeping my promises to myself. The nightmare is a living, breathing fact of life with Grianne, and I have been forced to reread those books a whole lot more often than I would have liked because of it.
Pat: Have you ever had a significant consistency mistake creep in to a book? Not a little thing, like the spelling of a name. But something substantial?
Terry: My biggest, most horrible consistency issue was with Walker Boh in the Heritage of Shannara set. Early on, Walker lost his arm up to the elbow. Even now, I forget which one. Back then, I had to deal with him for those four books and then later in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara set for two more. What happened was I kept forgetting which arm he’d lost. Or I would have him use the missing arm or his hands (plural). So I had to keep going back and checking everything he did that involved the use of his arms. Even with at least six or eight readings of the books, I missed one or two. But the kid in Boise didn’t. So I heard all about it. Even worse, the publisher reversed the print of the cover art that featured Walker with his arm missing and showed the wrong arm gone.
There were other incidents of this sort, but that was the worst. Afterwards, I swore I would never give another character a physical affliction involving limbs. That pledge lasted about two books, and then someone had a limp or a damaged hand or something of that sort. This wouldn’t happen if I were writing cottage mysteries, I bet.
Pat: At least you fess up to it. I remember a story about how Tolkien had three different elves named Glorfindel, showing up in the history of his world, dying at least twice. Rather than admit that he might have made a mistake, he claimed it was a strange instance of reincarnation.
Or something to that effect, at any rate. The story might be apocryphal for all I know.
Terry: On a more mundane level, I latch on to at least one phrase in every book that I feel compelled to use until Judine, wife and first reader, begins crossing out everywhere. I don’t know why I do this, but I do. In the first three books, before we were together and she could act on it, it was ‘trailers of mist.’ Please tell me you have this problem, too?
Pat: I occasionally overuse a word I’m fond of. It’s usually not obtrusive word on its own, but when it crops up three or four times in the same context, it starts to look odd. In book two, I think it was ‘murmuring.’ Or maybe it was ‘susurrus.’ I think you can only get away with using ‘susurrus’ twice in a book before it starts getting weird for a reader.
A bigger problem for me is a tendency to repeat pieces of body language. I tend to use a lot of that in my dialogue to convey emotional content. Because of that, my characters sometimes end up nodding a lot. Or rather, they’d be nodding an appropriate amount if you were just watching a conversation, but reading about someone nodding 3-4 times in one scene makes them seem like a bobblehead. I trim a lot of those out in my later revision.
Terry: Here’s a different sort of question for you about your books. Even with planning, do you sometimes find yourself in a corner or up against a blank wall with where your story is going? Does the carefully laid out path suddenly lead nowhere?
Pat: Yeah. That just happened, actually. I’m working on a novella (that’s rapidly becoming a short novel) and I hit a scene I just couldn’t make work. Took me a week to figure out what was going wrong with it.
Though honestly, I’m not much for planning my stories out ahead of time. At least not in a formally outlined way. I have the shape of them in my head, and then I just run with it, making changes as the story develops.
The downside is that I have to do a lot of revision to make things hang together properly. Plus things happen like my novellas turning into novels. But the upside is that I leave the door wide open for something wonderful to happen. Some of the best parts in my books haven’t been part of my original plan.
Terry: At this point in your career, how do you feel about continuing to write books that run eight hundred pages or so?
Pat: Well… In some ways it’s nice, because it gives you room to tell a really complex story. Plus a little room for some beautiful digression.
But at the same time the problem is that it gives you time to tell a really complex story. And that’s hard. You know how hard that is.
Terry: Do you think you can sustain this given the time and effort it takes to complete one? Is this a conscious effort for you at this point or does the story dictate the size of the book?
Pat: Well. I’ve got to do it at least one more time. After that, I’m not sure.
I think you’ve hit it on the head though. The nature of the story is what decides the length for me. That’s what happened to this novella, it was too much story for 20,000 words. It’s probably going to be triple that in the end.
Terry: Also, are you giving any thought to doing a collection of short fiction? I know you are prolific writer. Does the short form tempt you sufficiently that you want to do more with it than what you are doing at present?
Pat: Yeah. I’ve been thinking of that more and more this last year. It’s a real treat to write something and be done with it in a week or two. Even a story that takes a month or so better than something that takes years. This last November I wrote a whole story in a day, and it was really fun. I didn’t know I had it in me before that.
So yeah. I’m planning on playing around with more short fiction. It’s good practice for me. When I have enough of it, I’ll probably do an anthology. I’ll throw in some of my poetry too, just to prove to people that I don’t really have a grudge against poets.
Terry: You know what? I would rather crawl across broken glass than write short fiction. I just can’t do it. Oh, I shouldn’t say I can’t do it. I should say I can’t do it without agonizing. It takes me almost as long to write a short story – say 10,000 words, which is as short as it gets for me – than it does to write half a book. I just can’t make myself operate in such a confined space. I tend to sprawl all over the place, and short stories turn into novellas or even novels. I love reading short fiction, but can’t write it.
Pat: I’ll admit it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me yet. I seem to have two writing gears: Epic Novel and Short Poem. And Blog, I suppose. But I don’t think that’s a gear, really. I just seem to produce anecdotes as a result of my engine running. ‘Blog’ seems to be my neutral gear.
Terry: Hmmm, blogging as a neutral gear. No forward, no backward, no movement at all. Works for me.
Did your teachers over the years prove supportive or not? I had much better support in elementary and high school than I ever did in college.
Pat: I was mostly a science geek in high school. I didn’t get much support, but only because I didn’t make too much noise about wanting to be a writer.
In college I got very lucky. I had Larry Watson as a creative writing professor here in Stevens Point. Not only was he an incredibly compelling teacher, but he was a successful published novelist at well. A rare find in a smaller school like UWSP.
He even went so far as to do an independent study course with me, allowing me to get credit for working on my novel, (a very early version of The Name of the Wind). He did this despite the fact that fantasy was rather out of his bailiwick, genre-wise.
I had a lot of great teachers in college, but he was one of the best.
It makes me feel guilty that I once skipped his class in order to go out to lunch with his daughter….
Terry: That’s very funny. I was a science-challenged. Never could get it down right. I was the one who would touch the two wires together to find out what would happen. I just didn’t get it. Math was great until college, when I lost interest. Actually, I spent my college years reading. I pretty much blew off everything else. But my parents were very understanding.
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Tune in on Monday to Terry’s blog to see part three. And I’ll be posting up part four here a week from now.
I’m diving back into comic-con now. Wish me luck.