Words with Fantasy Novelist Lawrence Watt-Evans

Today I have a real treat for all of my readers. I was just browsing through my old book collection the other day and I happened to pick up a copy of "The Unwilling Warlord" by Lawrence Watt-Evans. If you haven't ever read Lawrence Watt-Evans, I highly suggest you run out and pick up one of his books...RIGHT NOW! I would have to say that of all the books read back in the mid-eighties and nineties, his are the ones that have really stood out in my memory (so do yourself a favor and read them).

Anyway, as I was finishing up "Warlord" I decided to do a web search on Mr. Watt-Evans (just to see what the critics were saying, etc.), and I happened to come across his marvelous web page "The Misenchanted Page" (the title references his most popular novel "The Misenchanted Sword" which is another must read--in fact, if you're just hearing about Lawrence Watt-Evans from this interview, THAT would be the book to buy).

"The Misenchanted Page" has all kinds of great articles and information both for fans and for those interested in the craft of writing. In fact, I plan to use some of his articles in my English class when I start student teaching this January. Also on his page was a link with an urgent message saying "email me!" so I took it as an invitation and sent him some questions. Amazingly, I was treated to a response within about 20 minutes!

So here is the question and answer session I just had with Lawrence Watt-Evans. Enjoy!

1. Many authors find their opinions of their own works change over time. How do you feel about "The Lords of Dus" series now versus the impression you had of it when you first wrote it? Are there things in it you would change?

I started working on that series when I was nineteen, sold the first volume when I was twenty-four, and finished it all up when I was twenty-eight. I'm fifty-six now. I would HOPE that my opinion of it has changed!

At the time I wrote it I thought it was brilliant and original. Now I look at it, and over all I think it's pretty good -- some nice bits in it, not bad for a kid, but rough in spots. I can see a lot of stuff I did wrong.

I can also see, though, an energy and freedom that I wish I still had. There are a lot of things in there I wouldn't do now because I'd have part of my brain telling me, "That couldn't work."

Back then, I didn't know enough to realize it couldn't work, and if I had, I might not have cared.

As for anything specific in there that I'd change now -- well, I started to list a few possibilities, but you know, I don't think I would change anything. The person I am now wouldn't write that series in the first place, and I'm not going to second-guess the writer I was then.

2. Garth is one of the few characters I've encountered in your books that is "superior" to other people. Most of the time you seem to go out of your way to establish how ordinary your heroes are (which is very refreshing). Was there something about how "Dus" played out that provoked this change? If not, what did?

Ah, here we get into the matter of literary influences. When I wrote the Lords of Dus I was playing with ideas from several sources, and one of them was Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone, who isn't quite human. I'd also been reading a bunch of non-fiction about human evolution, and old science fiction (e.g., A.E. van Vogt's Slan) about "homo superior," and I put all that together and came up with the idea of a fantasy version of "homo superior" -- overmen.

But five years later I was much more impressed by L. Sprague de Camp than by Michael Moorcock, and de Camp usually wrote very down-to-earth characters, so my later fantasy followed that model, and having tried both, I've generally found I prefer the more human, less exalted characters.

3. Your web page "The Misenchanted Page" is filled with great advice for both new and established authors. How much time do you spend maintaining your page, and what positive and negative things have come from it?

My web page is a mess. It's been accumulating for sixteen years, and every so often I try to beat it into shape, but it's gotten away from me. Honestly, I don't know what all is on there anymore, or how out of date some of it is.

How much time I spend on it varies. Sometimes I'll devote all my spare time for a few weeks to updating and improving it, and then sometimes I'll just let it slide, neglect it completely for months at a stretch. For a long time I'd put together a page about each of my novels well before publication, but I still haven't done one for A Young Man Without Magic, which came out last year, let alone Above His Proper Station, which will be out next month.

But on the other hand, I've been doing weekly installments on my latest serial. It's all very uneven.

As for positive and negative results, they've mostly been positive, or I wouldn't keep it going. I'm easy to find -- google my name and you'll find the Misenchanted Page, which has e-mail links on virtually every page, so anyone who has trouble contacting me just isn't trying. As a result I've gotten fan mail from readers, editors have been able to reach me to offer me work, and I've been able to sell off some of the books cluttering up my basement. I've been able to profitably self-publish online serials of novels my publishers didn't want. It's been fun.

On the negative side, not everyone who finds me is someone I wanted to hear from. I've probably wasted a lot of time tinkering with pages no one ever looks at -- the whole thing is more or less hand-coded, I don't use a modern WYSIWYG web design package. And because it's all just me messing around, I don't know how good an impression it actually makes.

But it's fun, and I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

These days, of course, it seems as if all the action's on Facebook, so I'm gradually trying to shift some of my activities over there.

4. Ethshar is an ever increasing world and I think the more you write about it, the more people are going to want to hear. I've always enjoyed how characters spring up again and again and heroes from one novel are referenced or appear in another. Can you comment on Ethshar's ever-expanding nature? Is there any chance that we might get a novel about Fendel the great (might he secretly be a "King in Yellow" type character)?

Actually, Ethshar isn't expanding so much as more of it is being revealed. I started designing it in high school -- possibly as early as 1968, I'm not sure -- and the basics of the World haven't changed in any significant way since 1981. I have reams of background information and dozens of story ideas I haven't yet used, much of it dating back before the advent of home computers -- it's typed or hand-written, and stuffed in manila folders. And it was all there before The Misenchanted Sword was published in 1985.

The setting has advanced in time, though; when I first created it I had its history worked out up to YS 5221, with a rough outline of the next five years. Now I'm writing a story set in YS 5236, so I've added another ten to fifteen years.

As for Fendel the Great, I know his entire history, including where he is now and what he's up to, and although he has plenty of secrets, he's not really a "King in Yellow" type. Whether he'll turn up in future stories I don't know; it's possible. I have lots of other stories I want to tell first, though.

1 comment :

  1. I think my husband would LOVE these books! And then I'll steal them and read them. :) Thanks to both of you for a fantastic interview with links!