Describe your latest works.
I have two Forgotten Realms novels coming out this year, along with a graphic novel about a relevant side story. The first book, The Last Threshold, was just released in March to wind up the four-book Neverwinter Saga. In this series, I explored the issue of my hero, Drizzt, falling in with a group of shady companions, with the main conflict centering around whether he would lift them up or they would bring him down. The new book resolves that — but, of course, it also opens up a ton of new possibilities.
The comic, beginning in April from IDW, will add a bit of flavor on the outside of those conflicts.
The heart of all of this comes out in August with The Companions. The only thing I can say about that book is that, for me, it's the payoff of 25 years with this character I hold so dear.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I paid my way through college as a bouncer in a nightclub. Every night was an adventure — there were fewer fights than you would think, which was a good thing, but I had to be always on guard, always alert, always with my back to the wall. I could write a book about the stories in those clubs (I worked in three, primarily, including a disco, a rock-and-roll happy-hour pit of insanity, and a strip club).
It never got boring, and, hey, I'm known for writing battle scenes. Now how'd that happen?
How do you relax?
Weight lifting/exercise/softball. I relax by getting in a sweat and working up a little (fierce) competition. When I get into this mode, it blurs out the world; I think about nothing but the task at hand. That, to me, is relaxation.
Or, on the flip side, I sit on the beach at Ka'anapali (Maui) with my beautiful wife, Chi Chi, in hand.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yes! But unintentionally. Many years ago, I went to England on a book tour and took my family with me. My kids were six, five, and three at the time, so we decided to use the opportunity to stay an extra week and explore Scotland. Our bus tour took us to the Isle of Skye, to a place called Duntulm on the northern tip.
We were close to the Arctic Circle, apparently — I remember climbing up a narrow path to a ruin atop the bluff, overlooking a horseshoe-shaped bay with several huge rocks sticking up from the water. It was nighttime, around 10 p.m., I think, but the sun was still up, hanging out over the bay.
I never experienced anything quite like that, before or since. I felt as if I had been transported back across the centuries; what might a sentry have felt like up on that hill, hundreds of feet above the bay, looking for Viking longships or returning fishermen? Scotland became to me a literary pilgrimage. When I got home, I couldn't stop writing for weeks, and that place, Duntulm, is prominent in my Spearwielder's Tale trilogy.
What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, to what sign would you change and why?
My birthday is January 20 — I was born on the cusp between Capricorn and Aquarius. A couple of friends who are very much into astrology decided to definitively determine my sign, based on time of birth and some other things. One said "definitely Aquarius," the other "definitely Capricorn."
So there... I wouldn't change it unless it was to another "cusp" position because it makes for (somewhat) interesting conversation, which, for me, is really all that astrology is good for.
Why do you write?
A couple of years ago, my answer to this would have been different, I expect. Wizards of the Coast was putting together an anthology of all of the short stories I had done for the Forgotten Realms over the years. Part of my task was to provide an introduction to each of the stories — what was I thinking when I wrote it?
Going over those stories was like looking at an old photo album. I was thrown back to the time, place, and mental state so vividly... it was like reliving the last 25 years of my life.
And then I understood why I write: This is my spiritual journey. This is the way I make sense of the world around me. I use my characters as sounding boards as I try to resolve the big questions bouncing around inside my head. I cannot imagine my life without this tool, this outlet.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
There have been so many — a soldier giving me a medal he received in a war zone; a cancer survivor explaining how my books helped him through a dark time; a high school kid telling me he had no friends in school, except for Drizzt and Drizzt's friends; a dad with a physically challenged son bursting into tears as he explained to me that his boy was going to read The Highwayman and was going to push through his trouble. Every writer can tell you these things, and we wear it like armor. I admit that I've shed many tears with my readers over the years.
On a lighter note, I got an email from a young man who informed me that he had purchased the URL RASalvatore.com. This was back when such things were being auctioned off, so I expected the next line to be his price tag. It was, but it went as follows: "I bought it because I was afraid someone else would grab it and blackmail you for it. You can have it for free, if you'll just go to the website I started for you and give me your opinion."
As it turns out, this young man had written me a letter several years earlier and I had responded, and that had touched him. I let him keep the URL — he holds it to this day and runs "e-signings" through the site. We've remained great friends (even though he's an Eagles fan!), as I get to see him twice a year when he drives up to my house with a van full of books for me to sign.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I'd have to go with M*A*S*H. To be the greatest, a series would have had to reach huge numbers of people and be a part of the "water cooler" discussion. That just doesn't happen much anymore, with so many channels, DVRs, movie sites, and other areas of entertainment, so the "best" would really have to be a series pre-Internet in terms of societal influence and effect. M*A*S*H had it all: deep messages, pure comedy, drama in the extreme, lovable characters.
That's not to say it's my all-time favorite, though. In that category, it would be a fight between Freaks and Geeks, a short-lived Judd Apatow series (with a bunch of young actors who became stars) that nailed the circa-1980 high school experience beautifully, or Rome. Rome fascinated me because the characters inhabiting this long-ago culture actually seemed real, like living, breathing folks you might meet on the street. They were relatable in a way that most characters in a period piece are not, either because of stilted language or dialect or overdone wardrobes or because they were nothing more than caricatures. The characters in Rome struggle with religion and the point of it all as much as anyone today might — the show makes you think about how you might act, or react, if you lived in a time with that level of crudity and brutality. Brilliant on every level.
Five books that have influenced my work:
I'll stick with fantasy/science fiction, since I know that genre pretty well. These are the books that most influenced me, and by that I mean "charmed" me.
• The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (of course)
This book reminded me of why, when I was very young, I loved to read. Professor Tolkien took me on a grand adventure, at a time in my life when I really needed one. To say that this book changed my life would be an understatement.
• A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
I adore this book because within its circular structure lies such a basic truth about humankind, one that lifts us up with hope, then dashes that hope against the stones. Brother Francis, in particular, just seemed so very real to me.
• The various Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber
If there is an author who most influenced my own writing, it has to be Leiber. He's the king of "buddy fantasy." These two characters are as wonderful a team of heroes(?) as I've ever read. He had me at "60-60."
• Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson
Stephen Donaldson really showed me how much more the fantasy genre could be with this series. There's so much dark truth in Thomas Covenant...
• The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
I think this is the book where Terry Brooks really got out from under the huge shadow of Tolkien and let his imagination run wild. Reading this book widened the possibilities of sword and sorcery for me.