Interview with Terry Brooks, Part 2

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.


This entry was posted in Me Interviewing Other FolksBy Pat36 Responses


  1. Zombiesheep
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:23 PM | Permalink

    I believe your repeated phrase is “ramsden steel”. Everything is like a blade of ramsden steel. :)

    • cromotocciano
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:33 PM | Permalink

      Very true.

    • XTVB
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Permalink

      [Potential spoilerish comment removed.]

    • MatrixM
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

      I’ve entertained the thought that the prolific use of that comparison was to foreshadow something, as ramston steel is strong yet brittle.

      I’ve noticed that some character’s eyes ‘dance’ quite often. Perhaps That’s simply because i’ve re-read the books frequently and within short time frames. :P

    • bookwyrmpoet
      Posted July 20, 2012 at 7:19 AM | Permalink

      I think you mean Ramston steel?

  2. IvoryDoom
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:27 PM | Permalink

    Sweet – I like this interview format, so much more personal than the usual.

    And I never knew Terry Brooks was a lawyer either, pretty interesting. I wonder what the ratio is of best-selling authors who continue to work there old job vs those who quit to work full time as a writer.

  3. chaelek
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:29 PM | Permalink

    You know, I too squeal like a little girl when I get to say surrurus. or sarsaparilla.

    • Illessa
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

      Me too! As far as I’m concerned susurrus should be used at every opportunity, it’s one of my favourite words :D.

      I empathise with the guys with red pens though. One example of obscure word reuse that really stuck with me for some reason was from Perdido Street Station. When Mieville used ‘peristaltic’ to describe moving caterpillars I thought it was a neat and evocative word choice. Then it popped up again and I just found it distracting – way too obscure a word to be wheeling out multiple times unless you’re actually talking about gastroenterology ;).

    • bookwyrmpoet
      Posted July 20, 2012 at 7:20 AM | Permalink

      I would like “s” words more but I have a lisp so I can barely pronounce them slowly, much less use them in conversation >.>

  4. cromotocciano
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:34 PM | Permalink

    Who is interviewing who? They just seem to be having a beer while casually talking.

    • Bibliophile
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:57 PM | Permalink

      Whom (sorry, it’s a pet peeve of mine). And you’re right, I don’t think those roles are designated. It seems very unofficial (which is a good thing, since it also seems to work).

      • cromotocciano
        Posted July 14, 2012 at 8:39 AM | Permalink

        Sorry if this sounds dumb. Whom is interviewing whom? Whom is interviewing who? or Who is interviewing whom?

        • JoBird
          Posted July 14, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

          Who is interviewing whom?

          As in: He is interviewing him.

        • tikamajere316
          Posted July 21, 2012 at 11:11 AM | Permalink

          Whom is always an object.

    • XTVB
      Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:13 PM | Permalink

      They’re both interviewing each other, it says so on the first part of the interview on the other site. I do like the format though it’s a pretty nice way to interview people, much more laid back and genuine.

  5. radynski
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 3:40 PM | Permalink

    You are partly correct about Glorfindel. He only died once though:

    • Estelindis
      Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:13 PM | Permalink


      FYI: while Tolkien didn’t originally intend these Glorfindels to be the same and added his/their reincarnation later, such reincarnation was already consistent with the metaphysics of elven life. In Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, elves are said to live as long as the world, but to have no idea whether they have any existence beyond it. Humans in the opposite situation. Of course, elves usually dwell in the Halls of Mandos if they are slain, but could be permitted to leave them if there was sufficient reason (though this was extremely rare).

      • imprimus
        Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:18 PM | Permalink

        Sadly, I actually made an account in order to comment on the Glorfindel issue after reading Pat’s comment in the blog. I feel like a complete nerd. Oh well.

        Both of the above posters are correct. The original Glorfindel was sent back from the West (possibly at the same time as the five wizards) to assist in the battle against Sauron. Which, when you think about it, makes you realize exactly how much of a badass that dude must have been.

  6. Kara J
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

    Haha! That cartoon had me in stitches – I can envisage you both doing that :D

    I also latch onto a phrase or a word during writing and only when I re-read it do I realise I’ve used the same thing several times in one short piece and have to change it :P

  7. Robin the Acolyte
    Posted July 13, 2012 at 4:33 PM | Permalink

    Regarding Larry Watson: He is such a wonderful author. I’m jealous that you studied under him. OMG I loved Montana 1948. Looking forward to getting American Boy soon.

  8. Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Permalink

    I’m loving this interview, it’s totally spontaneous, it doesn’t matter if it was a conversation accompanied with a beer or not :)
    Enjoy the Con, Pat, I’m wishing to read these other works you are working on, short stories, poetry, for all the lyrics in NotW and WMF I bet you are a poet! and a musician :)

  9. Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

    I hate to be that girl who pimps out her measly blog on someone else’s site but I just blogged about Rothfuss’ use of the word susurrus a couple weeks ago. Here it is:

  10. Crim
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 12:37 AM | Permalink

    Awesome post Pat! I’ve always liked reading your interviews with other authors. Thanks for the signing of ‘you know who’s’ book. Not only did it make for a hella good story, but you made Paolini want to sign as well, but once Sanderson saw both your sigs he had to join in as well!

    Hats off for being as cool as you are in person as you are on your blog.

  11. cageo
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 2:41 AM | Permalink

    I’ve noticed you use ‘nonchalant’ and ‘cute as a button’ a fair bit, though the second mostly appears on your blog. It’s okay though, they’re like your little signatures: “Hey, hey there! It’s Pat here, hi!” :)

  12. lykashii
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:31 AM | Permalink

    Terry Brooks is who inspired me to be a writer. Surprisingly it wasn’t the shannara books that did it either, it was running with a demon. Absolutely loved that book as a kid.
    Pat and his blog are what keep kicking me into gear and reminding me to get off my lazy arse and write something every time I read it.

    Love the interview, love the men in it. This has made me so very happy!

    • lykashii
      Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:39 AM | Permalink

      Tell a lie! It was the Landover series that hooked me at first, I believe the first one I read was Wizard at Large, I remember finding it in my house and loving it.

      Don’t know why it matters but I wanted to correct that anyway.

  13. sirgavin7
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 5:36 AM | Permalink

    Pat, I didn’t catch any repetitive wording in either of your books.

    Unfortunately, I cant say the same for Twilight.

  14. Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:00 AM | Permalink

    I figure “producing anecdotes as a result of my engine running” sounds like exhaust. If exhaust, then “Blog” is onomatopoetic.

    Also loved Terry’s math joke at the end of this one.

  15. IvoryDoom
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 11:18 AM | Permalink

    Just read Part 3!

    I would be excited for you to write an Urban Fantasy series. I love High Fantasy – thats my genre, and I rarely find much enthusiasm for Urban but I think your writing style could really suck me in and give me a different perspective for the entire genre.

    Oh yah, and dont stress too much about the third book! When it comes out I want it to be just as wonderful as the others, so take your time man! Reading that part actually made me think what it must be like to write for a living, I could not handle that shit. God Bless Accounting. LOL.

  16. cookieleib
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:03 PM | Permalink

    Pat, you mentioned that you’ve written short stories. Is there anywhere online I can read them?

  17. Ivi
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Permalink

    My first encounter with the word “susurrus” was in The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, and I’ve loved it ever since. I think everyone should feel free to use it as much as they like!

  18. Elly Walker
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 3:50 PM | Permalink

    I loved the interview! I’m going through revising my novel and a couple of weeks ago I found a chapter where everyone was nodding too! It seemed like every time someone spoke to another person, that person would nod. I’m happy everyone was so agreeable to the situation at hand, but it was getting ridiculous. Another chapter I noticed I used “little” lots of times, waaaaay too many times. I was a little peeved about this…just a little. *give a little nod* :-D

  19. beto552005
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Permalink

    So all my favorite authors keep breaking my little reader’s heart, and shattering my glasses with disappointment, by continually through circumstance and just the length of time required to write a book and whatnot, not yet having finished their books. So I was wondering if anyone had lists of other recommended authors, or cool books to check out.
    This is mainly just to give me more reading material, and I understand how a good book takes time, and I’ll wait years and not really mind or whatever, so keep your pants on, anyone who might hypothetically think I’m griping at the author or something. So…yeah.

    • beto552005
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:55 PM | Permalink

      Now that I think about it, that last comment might not belong in this blog post [heretofore referred as the blopo]. I really enjoyed reading it, btw [the blopo]. But I don’t know how to erase it yet [my comment to the blopo], and I’m not sure I want to.
      But seriously, it’s entertaining to read how the authors have gone on about and thought about their writing.

    • Amanda
      Posted July 19, 2012 at 1:41 PM | Permalink

      Pat’s got a whole category of recommendations of good books for just such situations :)

  20. Posted July 19, 2012 at 4:06 AM | Permalink

    Hi Pat,

    I really love (fawn) the interview with you and Terry Brooks (fawn)–it is more like two guys having a beer (envy).

    One of these years I’m going to make it to ComiCon (desire). Did I go the 30+ years I lived in Los Angeles? (Stupidity.) No, I did not.

    I did, however, meet you when you came to Reno and Renovation last summer, and I got a hug, an authograph, and a picture with you. (Swoon) You are very funny in person. (Seriously).

    I work as a freelance editor, and, alas, I was diagnosed with eye cancer in May. Not the best cancer to get as a reader/editor. (effed) “Snakes. It had to be snakes.”

    I start radiation on Monday (ugh), will lose some vision in that eye, but according to my oncologist, the other eye will “pick up the slack.” (Please)

    I know cancer has touched your life, so if you could slay an orc, goblin, dracus, Chandrian *monsterofyourchoice* on my behalf, I would be very grateful. (truly)

    Keep writing and having fun.

    Sparkly Jules

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