An Interview with Fantasy Author Richard Lee Byers – By Michael Giovannini

Editor’s Note: I am aware that an interview with an author doesn’t generally fit into the theme of this magazine, but budding screenwriters may find some value in reading the thoughts of various authors, so I’ve chosen to include this interview in the magazine with the hopes that you will find it interesting and perhaps in some ways helpful and informative.

First of all, perhaps the most asked question of writers, where do you get your ideas? Are they characters/campaigns from your own personal games or influenced by some of your players?

That is the most asked question, and to my mind, the most difficult to answer. Some ideas just seem to pop into your brain and have no obvious source. Others are suggested by things that happen in real life, or that the writer learns about through studying history, science, folklore,
or any other field that sparks his interest. Still others result from pondering the frequently used elements and cliches of a particular genre, and considering how to put a different spin on them. The key, I think, is to stay awake, and develop the habit of looking at whatever input comes your way with an eye to making it part of a story. One thing I can say with a fair amount of certainty
is that nothing from the games I’ve run or played in has never made an appearance in my fiction. My head just doesn’t seem to work that way.

You mentioned in the back of “THE RAGE” that you are a gamer. How long have you been playing and what other games do you dabble in?

I’ve been playing RPGs since the days when D&D was three beige pamphlets in a white cardboard box (plus Chainmail, if you wanted to run big battles.) The games I’ve run or played include (in addition to D&D) DC Heroes, Call of Cthulhu, Champions, and Vampire: the Masquerade. I also used to play Magic: the Gathering.

Now you have written book 1 for “R.A. Salvatore’s The War of the Spider Queen: DISSOLUTION” as well as a short story based on Monte Cook’s work. Are you chosen to do this ahead of time or do you have to submit works and hope to be picked?

For Dissolution, I was picked. For the Monte Cook anthology, I was invited to submit a proposal, which was then green-lighted. In recent years, these are the ways things have generally happened with regard to my shared-world projects. I have submitted non-franchise works to certain markets, simply hoping to be picked. There’s no doubt it helps to have an in or an understanding with an editor ahead of time, but often, that’s just not the situation you’re in, especially when you’re starting out.

I have heard a rumor, again I must emphasize the fact to our readers that it is only a rumor, but supposedly Ed Greenwood has final say over anything that may reconstruct or otherwise have some sort of lasting effect on Forgoten Realms. Is this true and what kind of damage will Year of the Rogue Dragons ultimately yield to Faerun?

If Ed has veto power (and I wouldn’t have any problem with it if he did), no one at Wizards has ever communicated that fact to me. I’ve never been told, “Ed is reviewing your proposal or your manuscript to see if it’s kosher.” But I guess it’s at least remotely possible that he does evaluate everything, and I just haven’t heard about it. But if it’s true, he’s even more insanely busy and productive than I thought. And I’d already concluded that he’s some sort of alien or higher being who doesn’t need to sleep. As for how the Year of Rogue Dragons is going to change Faerûn, I’m not going to tell you. I don’t want to spoil the story. I’ll simply say that there will be some changes, and you’ll start to see them in book two.

Do you get very many fans writting you? What seems to be the most common email you get?

I’ve gotten fan mail fairly often over the past couple years. The most common message is some version of: “I liked Dissolution.”

Do you have any plans to turn any of your stories into campaigns? I had mentioned before that I am working on converting “THE RAGE” into a playable story, but I run into some blocks due to my not wanting to copy, and I don’t want my players to all be Dorn[s]
or Teagan[s].

Nope, no plans for that at present. If Wizards wanted to pay me to do it, I’d consider it, but really, all things being equal, I’d rather devote the time to writing new fiction.

Speaking of “THE RAGE,” I loved your writting style. I loved how you introduced a group, got us hooked, left us at a cliff hanger and redid it again with another group. By the end all the groups have been woven together and you have several favorite characters. How did you discover this style and why do you think other authors don’t use this?

How did I discover the utting-back-and-forth-leaving-cliffhangers-in-my-wake trick? The real question is probably, where did I swipe it from, since I’m hardly the first author to use it. (Movies do it all the time, also.) But after decades of reading fiction, I no longer recall in whose work I first
encountered it. Why don’t more writers use it? Beats me. We each have our favorite ploys, and what works for one author may not work for another. Of course, if you don’t use a bunch of protagonists and then split them up, there’s little reason or opportunity to structure a story this way. I’ve also heard from a few irritated readers who find it annoying. If a writer happened to have an audience largely comprised of readers who felt that way, he’d obviously be well advised to do things differently.

What are some of you favorite novels out there right now, fantasy or otherwise? Have you fallen into the hype of “The Davinci Code” or been swept into the whole political aspect with “Unfit for Command?”

I haven’t read either of the books you mention. I recently read Song of Susannah (by Stephen KIng) and Utopia (by Lincoln Child) and liked them both quite a bit.

Salvatore, although great with the early Realms books, seems to have slipped a bit and Greenwood seems a bit winded for my tastes. Who are your favorite authors right now and who would you most like to work with?

Favorites: Stephen King, Bernard Cornwell, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Stark, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (either working alone or collaborating, as they often do.) I’m also hooked on George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” sequence, and I loved The Briar King by J. Gregory Keyes and am quite pleased that the sequel has just come out. But who do I want to collaborate with? No one person in particular springs to mind. Or, to look at it differently, anybody who’s a really big name and whose fans will buy the book in huge quantities, resulting in a nice payday for yours truly.

Are there any works out there by you that aren’t in the mainstream? What I mean is I have read “Black Boquet,” “The Rage,” “Dissolution,” the works in Dragon Magazine, and the short story in “Children of the Rune.” What else should I look for fantasy based?

I did a “Scarred Lands” trilogy for White Wolf. The novels are Forsaken, Forsworn, and Forbidden. I’ve written fantasy short stories for a number of anthologies. In addition to fantasy in the swords-and-castles sense, I’ve done a lot of supernatural horror. My books Dark Kingdoms,
Netherworld, On A Darkling Plain, and Caravan of Shadows take place in the World of
Darkness setting. My novels Dead Time, Dark Fortune, and The Vampire’s Apprentice are non-franchise books. I’ve also done horror short fiction for various antholgies, several young adult horror books, an X-Men novel entitled Soul Killer, and a couple short stories for anthologies set in the Marvel Universe. To my chagrin, all the horror novels and Marvel-based stories are currently out of print, but those who care can get them from used-book dealers.

Do you have a personal favorite amongst your works? Which one of your books/stories do you look at and just grin knowing that it is pure perfection?

I don’t think of any of my stuff as constituting “perfection.” If I’m masochistic enough to go back and reread it, I can always see things that might have been done better. For that reason, when I have a favorite story, it’s not because I imagine it’s flawless, but for some other reason. I can’t help but like Dissolution, because it was the most challenging of all my novels to write, and also the most successful. Soul Killer was so much fun to write that I remember the experience fondly. Several of my short stories were likewise a lot of fun to do, embody what I still think were very nifty ideas, and did a pretty good job of presenting those ideas for maximum dramatic impact.

Care to let us in on some dirt in the business? You know, like is T.H. Lain a pseudoname? Is Wizards a bunch of money grubbing game whores? Where’s all the dirt?

T. H. Lain is a house pseudonym. A bunch of different writers have written Lain books. I have nothing but good to say about Wizards. They treat their authors well and genuinely care about pleasing the fans and putting out a good product. Sorry I couldn’t say something scandalous.

When you got into this sort of business, did you ever think you would blow up as much as you have?

At the risk of sounding like an egotist, I thought, or at least hoped, I’d be more successful after having been at it this long. But who knows, maybe I’ll hit the big time yet.

Let’s go ahead and steer this a bit towards film. What are your thoughts on the D&D film (Oh how I hate you Wayans!) that’s out there now and the rumor of a sequel with Salvatore as
advisor? (On a side note to our readers, please again note the word “rumor.” This means there is no data to support the FACT and thus should be advertised as such!)

I didn’t think the D&D film was an artistic success, but you know, heroic fantasy seems to be a hard genre to translate to the screen. Sure, the Lord of the Rings movies are amazing, and the Harryhausen films have their charms, but did you ever see The Sword and the Sorcerer, The
Beastmaster, Ator, Krull, or even Arnold’s “Conan” movies? When you look at the sense of excitement and wonder that the best heroic-fantasy novels stir in us, you have to acknowledge
that each and every one of those movies fails utterly to evoke the same. Thus, it’s no wonder the D&D movie was bad. The surprise would have been if it had succeeded. By that reasoning, it’s difficult to get unduly excited about the prospect of a second D&D flick. Although if they’ve got Bob working on it, that at least is grounds for hope.

Do you know what ever happened to the Forgotten Realms T.V. series that was supposed to come out?

I believe the option expired, so you’re never going to see such a show unless somebody else options and develops the property.

Were you ever contacted to write for anything like that or any other Movie/T.V. Show? Is this something that would interest you and where could a producer or director get a hold of you if you are?

I’ve never written a movie novelization, a script for movies or TV, or anything like that. I would certainly be interested if the chance came along. I assume that if the Hollywood folks ever feel a
desperate need for my services, they can hunt me down through my publishers, my web site, the SFWA Directory, or something like that.

With only a couple of questions left, let’s bring this back to Mr. Byers. What’s your life like? Meaning what do you do besides write? Does your spouse get into the whole D&D or FR world with you?

What’s my life like? Well, my big hobby is fencing, which I do twice a week. I hit the gym three times a week. I love to play poker, and enjoy shooting pool. I go to the movies pretty often, and belong to a science-fiction club that puts on an annual convention. I’m not actually married. The women I’ve dated over the years have liked fantasy, science fiction, and the like, but haven’t
been hardcore gamers or D&D fanatics.

Hurricane Charley came dangerously close to nailing your part of our fine state, instead it wipped around and spanked me silly without even buying me dinner first. How did you deal with tat threat? Are you from Florida originally?

My housemates and I coped with the hurricane by laying in bottled water, flashlights, batteries, canned goods, and all that. We brought all the loose junk in from the yard and piled sandbags in the doorways to the barn. You know, the usual drill. Then, nothing happened where we are. Now, another hurricane’s on its way. Hope we’re lucky a second time. I’m originally from Ohio, but have lived in Florida since the early 70s.

Trekker or Star Wars geek. Which are you and why? (catches Mr. Byers with a surprise Sci-Fi question from nowhere. Muahahahaha)

Neither, really. When it comes to the fantastic in a TV or movie series, my taste runs to Buffy, Angel, and the HBO series Carnivale. More than that, though, I’m a lifelong superhero-comics geek.

Well Mr. Byers, I am sure I have a hundred more questions I would love to ask, and I am positive I will get hundreds of emails telling what other questions I SHOULD have asked, but they will have to wait until part two, that is if you are willing to do such. My final parting question will be one that plagued us for eons. One that your answer may very well shape the world around us. One so pivotal that it may … Oh the hell with it. If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be? Just kidding. What can we expect to see from you in the future? I know you wont give previews but what about hints? Something that wont give away too much.

“The Year of Rogue Dragons” continues with The Rite in ’05 and concludes with The Ruin in ’06. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll see some actual changes to the Realms in a big story that showcases most of the different kinds of dragons roaming Faerûn and visits many settings that haven’t had much play in the fiction hitherto. Book Two takes us to Damara, Thentia, and Thar. Readers should also look for Realms of the Dragons 1 and 2 for other authors’ takes on the events of the Year of Rogue Dragons. I have a story in 1 that bridges the gap between The Rage and The Rite and ties up a dangling subplot from the former. There will also be more YoRD-related fiction in Dragon Magazine, along with gaming writeups of some of the characters. I believe the next story and first set of character profiles is set to run in the January, 2005 issue.
I have a short story in the new horror anthology; Small Bites. This is a charity anthology, with all the proceeds going to help pay the huge medical bills of the renowned horror author Charles Grant. So everyone should buy a copy to help out Charlie as well as to enjoy some nifty material. People can order it at this Web address: http://www.apfuchs.com/cgrantsmallbitesordering.html. You’ll be able to get it other places, too, but if you order from the above site, every penny of your money will go to Charlie. If you buy from Amazon or someplace like that, only some of it will. End of commercial. I’ve got other stuff coming out, too, eventually, but I’m not at liberty to talk about it yet.

Thanks again Mr. Byers and I look forward to seeing you at the book signing soon. Oh, and don’t forget, you owe me one D&D game! (smiles)