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Novelist R.A. Salvatore crosses over into his newest magical realm and brings along his favorite character


By Kathie Huddleston

N ew York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore has discovered a brand-new magical realm to explore—the video game. Tackling this new frontier, the master storyteller lends his talents to Atari's Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, bringing along his favorite character for a new type of adventure.

The Demon Stone action-oriented video game is set in the Forgotten Realms fantasy world in an original story by Salvatore and features many recognizable characters, including the beloved dark elf Drizzt, the legendary mage Khelban "Blackstaff" Arunsun (voiced by Patrick Stewart), the formidable Slaad Lord, Ygori (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan). Designed by Stormfront Studios, the game is available for the PlayStation2 computer entertainment system and is expected to be available for the Xbox and the personal computer in November.

Salvatore's love affair with fantasy began more than 20 years ago, when he was in college and his sister gave him the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a Christmas present. After devouring every fantasy novel he could find, he decided to write one of his own. In 1988, he published his first novel from TSR, The Crystal Shard, which featured Drizzt. He has gone on to publish 42 novels, including the Icewind Dale Trilogy, the Dark Elf Trilogy and The Cleric Quintet. His newfound video adventure hasn't dampened his love for the written word: Salvatore has a new fantasy novel coming out next year.

Salvatore chatted with Science Fiction Weekly about Drizzt, the one thing he hates about video gaming and why Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming inspire him.



Tell us about the story you've created for Demon Stone.

Salvatore: One of the things we wanted to do with the game was show off Forgotten Realms, a sprawling world with a lot of varied details. So the story that I came up with really was a method to logically take these characters through this adventure, and not in a straightforward manner.

I didn't want it to be a linear story in that you go find the first piece of the Rod of Seven Parts, and then you go find the second piece, then you go find the third, and just going into a deeper level in the dungeons. I wanted to see people playing the game even though, let's face it, the type of game that Demon Stone is, it's the gameplay that really counts.

That whole action sequence really is on account of the players. But while they're doing that on a different level, I wanted them to feel like they were in the middle of an adventure, the type of adventure you might read about in a novel.



Which you've had a little bit of experience with.

Salvatore: A little. Yeah. [Laughs.] You know, the kind of adventure where you're discovering things that you really didn't expect along the way. Your road, instead of being straight and narrow to the end, your road kind of goes around corners.



Have you worked on other games?

Salvatore: Video games, no. I've been working with Sony on the novel line for EverQuest, and I've played a bunch of video games, but this is the first experience in working with video games.



How is this different than writing a novel?

Salvatore: There are a lot of differences. First of all, it's collaborative. In the very beginning, I'm part of a team, and that's the way it had to be, and that's the way I wanted it to be. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I came up with the storyline, actually, on a plane on my way out to Stormfront. Once I got there, we had seven people sitting around the table, and I bounced the storyline off of them. They all digested it, and they came back to me with suggestions and comments, which levels they really wanted to focus on in the game, and the story became a living, breathing thing that would be altered as we needed. Very different than a novel. I don't have the room to elaborate. You know, the dialogue is going to be quick short bursts.

One thing I hate in video gaming, I hate when I'm playing and then the game stops, and a movie clip plays for 20 minutes or whatever. You know, I just want to get on with playing. And I tried to avoid that.



What's special about this story for you?

Salvatore: There're a few things. A lot of players are going to see their gaming experience in the Realm come to life, [something] they've been wanting for a long time.... And for people who don't know Forgotten Realms, the storylines take them to all these exotic locales along with these amazing characters.



It says in the press release for the game that they're going to try and make this more accessible to the "mainstream consumer audience." Do you think this does it?

Salvatore: I'm not sure how to define mainstream, the fantasy audience as opposed to the mainstream audience. The real trick for Atari and Stormfront, and for me, was to make sure that we didn't put in so much Forgotten Realms jargon that the uninitiated to Forgotten Realms would be lost. And the person coming in has to play in the Realms, which is fantasy. The elements have to be presented clearly, up front. The fantastical elements. And I think, everything I saw, they did that.



Did you play the game while it was being developed?

Salvatore: I played a couple games as they were working on it, and then it was out at GenCon and they had a demonstration, and they said, "Here." And they offered me the controls, but I won't play in public, cause I'll look like an idiot. I'm still trying to figure where the buttons are. When I used to play the console games ... I haven't played console games in a while. Those controls you held didn't have 45 buttons [laughs].



What made you want to write this story?

Salvatore: I believe that fantasy's future will be heavily invested in video gaming, as it's been invested in paper gaming, card gaming. Now I think the future of fantasy and video games are not in any way divergent. So I think it's where the audience is coming from, the people coming into the genre. I think it's where the genre's going. And I've been curious—because I've been watching this for a few years now—I've been curious to figure out where the authors fit. You watch the massive multiplayer online games like EverQuest and they've got thousands of stories and a general overarching story to explain the world, really with game designers stepping into the province of the author. And so I've been curious if the author would step into the province of the game designer. And the opportunity presented itself.



Would you like to do another game, then?

Salvatore: I've got a long way to go to perfect it, and I am certainly convinced there's a generation of writers that have a better video game sensibility than I do. I can take it to the next level.



Writing is such a solitary thing. What was it like working in this collaborative environment?

Salvatore: I'm not a stranger to that part, because I've been working in shared worlds. It's the same type of thing where you really have to recognize that people that are working on it are amazingly talented and creative, and you've got to let go. You can't let your ego get in the way when you've got these incredibly talented people there. But no, I've never had a problem. I would never write a book with someone else, but that's different.



This game also features some famous characters, including one you're pretty familiar with.

Salvatore: Yeah, Drizzt.



Tell me about Drizzt.

Salvatore: The character first appeared in 1988, The Crystal Shard.



Your first book.

Salvatore: First published. And it was funny. I had sent the manuscript to TSR. They liked the manuscript. One of the characters [had to be changed]. The editor called me at work and said, "I've got to go to a marketing meeting to sell the book, and we can't use [that character], and I really need to be able to tell marketing." I said, "Give me a little while. I'll call you back." She said, "Oh, no. You don't understand. I'm two minutes away from where I have to be five minutes ago." And off the top of my head I said a Dark Elf. And there was this long pause. "Yeah, a Dark Elf Ranger, that's cool. Nobody's done that." And there was a long pause, and she said, "There's a reason why no one's done that." I said, "No. It will be all right. It will be all right. It's just a sidekick character." And another pause. "What's his name?" And off the top of my head I said, "Drizzt Do'Urden?" Then a long pause. "Can you spell it?" I said, "Not a chance." It came to me off the top of my head.

The character's gotten more popular as time's gone on. After the third book, around 1990, people really wanted to know where this guy came from, and so I wrote the Dark Elf trilogy, a prequel to the other three books. And in doing that I created this society of Dark Elves, the Drow, in Forgotten Realms. And he kept going like the Energizer bunny. It's amazing to me. I don't know how. I don't know why. I try not to ask too many questions. [Laughs]



Obviously you love this character, or you wouldn't keep writing stories for him.

Salvatore: Well, the 17th book is coming out.



Are there places he still can take you?

Salvatore: You know, there have been a couple of times where I would have said, "Maybe not." But then he surprises me, and right now I have a book coming out that adds more growth to that character than most of the others.



What can fans look forward to in the next book about Drizzt?

Salvatore: Well, this is a trilogy within the bigger series. I left Drizzt in a very bad emotional place. In this book, one thing I promised to readers was the love triangle had to be resolved, and it finally is resolved. They can expect lots of action, angry Dark Elves and resolution on that love triangle, finally.



When you start writing a new novel, what's your thought process for fleshing out the story?

Salvatore: It depends. Am I working on the Demon Wars books, which is my own world that I created, or another original novel? Which character am I working on? If I'm doing a Dark Elf novel, I've got this entire body of work behind me that I have to pay attention to. I know who these characters are like they're my own family. It's funny when you talk about inspiration, but if I had to look at literary inspiration for the Dark Elf books, I would have to look at someone like Arthur Conan Doyle or Ian Fleming. Because unlike many of the epic fantasies that are going on now, the Dark Elf books are individual novels tied together by the adventures of the characters. And so what I don't look for, I don't look for bigger and badder monsters to kill.

There's a way to build an action-adventure story that would make one or more of the characters grow in some way. Not necessarily grow better, but grow as characters. Their perspectives are going to change. But when I'm writing a book about villains, like the one I'm working on now, they're much less known. There's much more mystery about them. So I am spending a lot of time really figuring out who these two guys are.

And when I'm writing a book set in one of my own worlds, like The Highwayman, when I'm writing a book like that, I'm creating new characters from scratch, trying to figure out who they are. And in all the books I'm just trying to come up with a good, fast-paced story that will have a beginning, a middle and an end. They have to have resolution.

The new book, 17 books in, people are going to pick it up who have never read any other [book in the series], and I've got to be able to catch those people and show them a good time, as well as trying to give a good time to the people who have been there from the beginning, since 1988. If I had done it differently, it'd be one big evolving storyline. There's no way I could still be writing this storyline after 17 books. Every time I sit down to write a book, am I going to go back and read 16 novels? My notes would be three books long. Not only that, but it's not the way I like to read. I don't want to invest myself that deeply in a through-the-years basis. I invest myself in the characters, and they're overarching story.



You've had a fascinating career so far. What has surprised you most over the years?

Salvatore: That I've had a career so far [laughs]. I never expected to be a professional writer. I always thought if I could just get one book published, I'd be happy.



And how many books later?

Salvatore: Forty-two books. It's been an incredible ride. I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened. I'm just glad it happened.



It's amazing that you started writing because you couldn't get a good job when you got out of college.

Salvatore: It's strange the way things work out, isn't it? I mean, look, when I sent my manuscript to TSR, the one that got me the audition for The Crystal Shard, if I had sent it in three months earlier, they weren't looking for writers. If I had sent it in three months later, sales numbers for the first Forgotten Realms books were coming in, and all a sudden all of the TSR writers were saying, "Hey, I want to do one of those." So I would have been competing against people they knew, who had written books for them before, and who worked at the company. I would have been basically working in finance for many years to come [laughs].

All these little ifs that happened along the way shape a career. When you look back on it, there are many. If my sister hadn't given me The Lord of the Rings in my freshman year of college, if we hadn't had a winter storm I probably wouldn't have read them. I'd managed to leave them aside for two months. If I had gotten a job as a tech writer or whatever job right out of college, instead of working in a plastics factory where I was just sitting there, day after day, bored. That's where I wrote my first book. You know, if, if, if, right along. You look back on it and say, "How did that happen?" I don't know. I just don't know, but I'm glad it did.

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