Questions by Fans. Answers by Terry Brooks

Carissa Dawson writes: Terry, I am an aspiring writer. I have many works on paper and in my head but I cannot seem to finish any of them. Other than discipline and a writing schedule, is there any advice that you could give to someone who desperately wants to finish at least something and get it out there?

Terry Brooks replies: I can try, Carissa. When I was going through this — lo these many years ago &mash; I was in my teens and early twenties. Don't know quite where you are. But at the time, I was struggling to find something to write about that could hold my attention. I would start dozens of stories, but never finish any of them. Even the Star Warsian space opera only got through three hundred and some pages before I gave up on it. What changed was when I began writing the book that consumed my every waking moment — which was The Sword of Shannara. I think mostly you have to find the right subject and the right way for telling it. That takes a lot of trial and error, and I don't think there are any shortcuts to getting there. You can keep trying until you find something you love enough that you HAVE to finish it. Just keep at it.

Bruce Van Dyke writes: Why are most of your books only ~350 pages when so many other writers are 400 to 600+ pages? It's frustrating. I always have purchased first editions but it is a lot of money for a short story

Terry Brooks replies: Well, Bruce, I don't think 350+ pages constitutes a short story. Maybe 30 pages or less. Then there are novelettes and novellas. More to the point, I can't be held responsible for writers who choose to write large books. I used to do that, but these days I prefer to write my stories in short series or 2 to 4 books. Just my preference. I might also add that in my opinion far too many writers of 500+ page books don't seem to be able to edit the way they need to. A lot of those books just go on and on, treading water without getting anywhere. But maybe that's just the curmudgeon in me speaking.

Charles Clark writes: Do you ever, in your spare time, read and critique budding or aspiring authors' works?

Terry Brooks replies: I don't. I just don't have the time. I used to offer classes on this from time to time, but I have cut all that out. Now I just write and do events where I speak about writing. If I open the door to doing critique work, the flood of requests will drown me. It nearly did that when I was limiting myself to teaching at conferences. So while I do read books sent to me by publishers hoping for a promotional quote, I don't critique new writer's works anymore.

Jeff Hutchison writes: I recently finished writing my first novel and I'm hard at work on the sequel. I've done some research and have been told that due to the economy, book sales are down. For this reason, publishers aren't willing to take a chance on a new author. Is there any truth to this? And if that's the case, what about self-publishing? I know that you've said that is a last resort, but what other options are there to get my work out there?

Terry Brooks replies: The publishing field is vastly different than when I broke in back in the 1970s. For one thing, much of what is appearing comes to us from the internet. A lot of self publishing is being done there, often in increments and often for free, just to build an audience before seeking more traditional forms of pubishing. Yes, the economy is down and so publishers are not being quite so free or experimental in choosing what they want to publish. But unsolicited submissions are still being picked up and turned into books, so you don't want to abandon that route entirely. For every generation, there are always obstacles to finding a publisher and always those who will tell you this is the wrong time to try. But if that stops you, this is the wrong business for you, anyway.

David Salchow writes: Dear Terry, I believe you've admitted that your political opinions and persuasions influence your characters and story lines. What do you say to a long time reader like me who would rather you didn't? Aren't you afraid of alienating a segment of readers? If I were the hotshot author, I'd sell as many books as I could, then donate to whatever cause or candidate I chose in a more private manner. What do you think?

Terry Brooks replies: This question keeps coming up, David, although you are the first to call me a "hotshot author," and frankly I am a bit confused. Right from the get-go with The Sword of Shannara I was writing about behavioral issues. Sword and Elfstones were about personal sacrifice. The Heritage of Shannara was about what might happen if the environment collapsed. So for me, infusing my stories with hot button topics doesn't seem all that new. That said, I don't see myself taking sides in these stories. What I see myself doing is calling attention to issues I think we all need to address. I want readers to be aware and to consider, but I don't tell them what to think. I leave that for the talking heads and political analysts. I also want you to know that mostly what I am trying to do is what I was taught to do by Lester del Rey all those years ago — Write A Good Story. That always comes first and foremost. Anything after that resides on another level of storytelling. Still, good writers address the topics of the days in which they live. From issues of moral responsibility to quests for redemption to standing up for what you believe in to self-destructive behavior, I try to do just that.

Ginnie Samson writes: I've noticed that it's split about half-and-half for fantasy authors who introduce religion in their books against those who don't—whether its an actual religion or completely made up. Unless I can't remember right, you never really mentioned religion in your novels (at least for Shannara. I haven't read Landover.). Some other authors base their books heavily on some sort of religion. I'm also trying to write a book, and I'm thinking about introducing religion in the plot. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it's best that I leave religion out completely?

Terry Brooks replies: I think it depends on the book and on your author's instincts. I wouldn't put it in if it wasn't integral to the story. That, or anything else, for that matter. I would also remember that once you start, you are in it for the long haul. I learned that lesson the hard way with the way I addressed a couple of my characters awhile back. If you introduce something in the beginning of a book or series, you kind of have to stick with it. So give it some though and decide based on how important a religious aspect is to the story. Also, you might consider the nature and purpose of any element of religion. Do you need something specific or something general? Do you want something already established or will you create a new form. There are a lot of questions to be answered, so take your time before you put pen to paper.

Angela Marie Willis writes: About two years ago I started casually looking into self-publishing companies. They like to charge lots of money for different publishing package deals, and though I am a poor lowly college student, that's not my biggest concern. My biggest concern is, are they even worth it? I have heard mixed reviews concerning such companies as AuthorHouse, iUniverse, etc. What do you think is the best way to go about getting my book out there? Going through a publishing company or a self-publishing company?

Terry Brooks replies: Well, Angela, I always think that going with an established publisher is the best choice, if not the easiest. The whole idea of writing professionally is for if for someone to pay you, not the other way around. Those who have gone outside the box to find a publisher have established online websites and relied on word of mouth to alert potential readers to a new writer's work. They do this initially for no charge, then wait for the number of hits to skyrocket. But I like the idea of going to conferences and conventions, writing in hand, and speaking to agents and editors about what they have to offer. Sometimes, personal contact is the best way to open a door. Mostly, editors and agents at writing venues are looking to find new talent and will speak with you about what you have written. I think pay to print with your work is sort of a last resort.

Trudy Rushton writes: Would it be writer's suicide to try out different genres? For example, if you decided to try your hand at writing a historical novel and it failed, would that hurt your career as a fantasy writer? If you were to do that would it be safer to use a different name?

Terry Brooks replies: I wouldn't call it suicide. Lots of writers of one genre dabble in others. But mostly their fans don't follow them there in the same numbers as the original. When readers bond with a book and its writer, they do so for very strong reasons. They usually want you to write more of the same. So most writers do. My own experience teaches me that if I keep shifting around from one fantasy form to another, I can satisfy my urge to do something new. I haven't really found anything yet outside of fantasy that I feel strongly enough about to write — save my book on writing. I always seem to end up putting my ideas into fantasy form. But stick around. You never know what might be coming.

Alexander Noriega writes: I'm pretty sure that Shannara and all the characters therein are trademarked to you, but my question for you is this. May I use a name from one of your characters? Without sounding too rude, conceited or desperate, the one that I've chosen for my charcters name is Allanon.

Terry Brooks replies: I always think you are better off coming up with your own names. All of the material in the Shannara books is protected, and the publisher is pretty aggressive in enforcing this. You can use one of my names in private, but you want to be sure it doesn't ever become public. Besides, you can probably do better than me, anyway.

Tou Pheng Xiong writes: I have trouble writing dialogue that includes more than two characters. It always turns out awkward. I can write great dialogue with just two people, but I just can't seem to do it with more than two. Do you have any tips?

Terry Brooks replies: Practice, practice, practice. The best thing is to find a way to distinguish your voices so that by the words along the reader can recognize who is speaking. Read some books which are dialogue driven — Elmore Leonard is the master — and see how they manage it. Choose some writers from your own field of writing and really study how they differentiate between characters. Most of what I know about dialogue I learned by reading other writers.

Joshua Stewart writes: You have been an established writer for some time so everyone knows your work. It seems harder for new authors to get a hold in the writing business. What would you recommend for those of us trying to get our foot in the door?

Terry Brooks replies: It's getting harder and harder to know what to tell anyone, Joshua. I used to have a better handle on the answer to this question than I do now. So much has changed in the "getting published" department. Many writers are finding their way through publishing first on the internet and building an audience. Some are going ebook right off the bat. Some are even blogging their way to publication. But I guess I still think the best chance you have is by personal contact with an agent or editor who reads and believes in your work. Go to a writer's conference or convention or festival where there are people who buy and publish the kind of book you are writing and talk to them face to face. Tell them what you have written and ask if you can send them your manuscript or some part of it. Of course, you need a manuscript to send them, so be sure you have one before you take this step. Editors and agents will almost always agree to take a look. Be sure when you send something you remind them who you are and where you met.

Jonathan Ryan writes: Hey Terry, big time fan from Ireland. My question is: When your writing your fight scenes, have you choreographed them beforehand or do you just let the battle play out while you write? One of my favorites has to be Angel vs Delloreen, their first encounter.

Terry Brooks replies: It's a combination of the two, Jonathan. I do a walk-through of the battle or fight scene in my head before I write it, noting the high points, emotional and physical responses of the combatants and the impact I want to convey. Oh, yeah. Knowing the outcome helps, too. Then I write it. But the writing of anything almost always changes the way it comes out. Not always in a big way, but in the smaller, important points. I always find a better way to set it down in the doing of it.

Daniel Kearns writes: I write a little bit myself. I have a nearly full notebook but I have a problem. How do you stick with a story for so long? I quickly lose intrest in a story.

Terry Brooks replies: That's fairly typical of beginning writers, Daniel. I was the same way for many years while I was experimenting with different kinds of stories. The problem is always the same—what can I write about that will keep me interested for an entire year or more? I didn't find that something for many, many stories. Not until Sword of Shannara. So you might be facing the same problem. You have to find the right story, the right voice and the right passion. It may take awhile, so be patient and try to have some fun with the experimenting.

Jason Macasso writes: My question is how does one decide if writing should be a profession or merely a past time?

Terry Brooks replies: Well, you don't always make that kind of decision yourself, Jason. Mostly, life and luck make it for you. You set out to write because you love doing it. We all have that at heart when we start. But then luck and circumstances connive or contrive or whatever to make writing for a living possible. You can't control whether or not people will like your work. Or an editor or publisher. You can't control if sales will make writing as a profession possible. All you can do is give it a try. This is why everyone says, "Don't quit the day job." It might be that writing will be an avocation rather than a vocation. But either way, it's worth doing.

Peter Rundle writes: What do you feel about authors continuing the series of another writer after he/she dies?

Terry Brooks replies: That's a very individual call, Peter. I don't have trouble with it as a concept. But it really depends on how faithful the new writer is to the work of the old and how dedicated the publisher is to seeing that the new writer toes the line. The trouble is that it is almost impossible for a new writer to capture the voice of the old exactly. So what the new writer needs to do is be faithful to the intent and thematic structure of the old writer's series. Maybe we can all decide how it's working for Robert Jordan when Tor releases his new book. I hope not to have to find out personally for quite a while yet.

Kenny Young writes: Terry, as you have grown as a writer and matured how has your approach to outlining changed? How have the outlining stage of writing novels improved, and developed, over your career?

Terry Brooks replies: I am less dogmatic about outlining than I used to be. Some of that is due to experience and practice, after 32 books. Some of it is due to changes in my thinking as a writer and the need to evolve. I still outline my books, but I don't spend as much time on the details. I am more fluid in my approach. It has to do with trusting the process and my writer's instincts. So far, so good.

Michael Carpenter writes: Hi Terry! You've said before that you draw a lot from your own experiences when you write, but several of your main characters are female. Do you find it more challenging to write stories with female main characters? How do you do it? What sources of information or experience do you pull from to create a convincing female character when (obviously!) you've had no direct experience? Thanks!

Terry Brooks replies: It helps if you live in a matriarchy, which I pretty much do. I spend a considerable amount of my life around girls and women. Writers are supposed to observe and reflect. We are supposed to be able to create any sort of character from those observations and from an ability to imagine what those characters might do in any given situation. Also, my wife is my first reader, and my editor is my guiding light, and both are female. Don't think they won't call me out if anything sounds false.

Nick writes: Hi. I am almost done with rewriting my urban fantasy novel and am wondering how much do editors and agents care about punctuation and how accurate must it be? I can't wait to read A Princess of Landover. Landover was the first book I read of yours.

Terry Brooks replies: Well, here's the thing of it, Nick. If you want to be taken seriously, you want to come across as competent and professional. You can help yourself by demonstrating that you know how to spell, punctuate and research things that require it. An editor's job is to determine how well your story holds together and what you can do to make it better. It is to help package and market the book so that it will reach as many readers as possible. All the rest is secondary. I have found in this business that you better approach it with the mindset that you are your own last, best line of defense against errors that will mark your book as flawed. So do the work. You won't regret it.

David Salchow writes: Dear Terry, as I'm eagerly anticipating your next work and hoping your tour brings you close my town, I'm readlng the Wheel of Time series by the late, great Robert Jordan. I've learned that Mr. Jordan would make slight revisions or corrections between book printings. Have you ever done anything similar? Thank you and I hope to see you in the fall!

Terry Brooks replies: I do make changes between printings, mostly in response to reader comments on errors they find in their own readings. I don't tend to go back and read my own work after it is in print unless it comes right before a new set of books I am working on. We do make changes when we find them, although I wouldn't bet that we've gotten them all, even after so much time has passed. I don't, on the other hand, ever think about going back and rewriting something already written. It is what it is.

Christopher Vaughan writes: Hello! First, thanks for your inspiring works. I was curious, what is your secret for producing so many books at such an astonishing speed? Other authors (I won't name names, but there are a lot of them) tend to take up to a few years to finish a highly anticipated installment, and by that time I have forgotten the prior plot development, or even why I was interested in the book. How are you able to work so quickly on such massive amounts of work? Thanks!

Terry Brooks replies: Writers all work at their own pace, me included. I know some who do two and three and even four books a year. I can't imagine that. I do one a year, and that seems about right for me. Once in a while, I do one and a little more, but that is rare. I find that the one book a year pace is comfortable and doesn't leave me feeling rushed. The publisher only wants to put one book a year out in any case, although now and then they do two, if there is something other than a Shannara. But I see the value in doing one every three years or so. By then you've lost the old books in the set and have to buy all new! Maybe I should try that!

Jake writes: What does one of your sample outlines look like?

Terry Brooks replies: It looks like this: %#@*&^%@%*. Only angrier and longer. Okay, kidding. It consists of three parts. A chapter by chapter synopsis of the story, each chapter reduced to maybe one paragraph cover basics—action, characters, setting, voice and mood. A set of profiles on the main characters, which include not only what the readers need to know but what I know and am not telling. A map and accompanying geographical description of the main settings in the story. Oh, and sometimes a set of pictures of places I've been that inspired the story.

Anonymous writes: What do you do if the publisher or editor shows lack of interest in your manuscript?

Terry Brooks replies: I send Guido around to make them an offer they can't refuse. What do you think? Actually, I haven't had that problem since book two almost thirty years ago when Lester del Rey turned down my offering and told me to start over. You can read about it in Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, if you want more on this. Since then, I've been living a charmed life. What usually happens is that my editor will suggest ways in which I could make the work stronger or improve the presentation or something of that sort. I get helpful suggestions every time out, which I am not ashamed to say I definitely need. But no one has shown a lack of interest and told me about it.

Anonymous writes: Have you ever thought of writing a book in first person?

Terry Brooks replies: Who is this anonymous person anyway? Is that a pseudonym? Okay, I'll try to get serious, 'try' being the operative word. Sure, I've thought about it. But in series, you don't change horses in mid-stream. So since all the previous books are in third person, it might be jarring to suddenly have one in first. On the other hand, I am thinking about a couple of new books unrelated to anything I've done before. For one or both of those, I might go to first person. It depends on a lot — too much to go into here. You have to consider the limitations of first person balanced against the closeness a reader feels to that form of narrative, just to begin with. It goes on from there.

Anonymous writes: I recently lost a flash drive with copies of my work in progress. The flash drive was password protected so I should be OK. I am thinking of copyrighting my work to protect it just in case someone either breaks into the flash drive and finds them or if someone steals my PC and finds them. I realize this might be a bit paranoid, but I have high hopes for my work. When should a book being written be copyrighted?

Terry Brooks replies: Normally writers don't copyright their own work until it is accepted for publication and then the publisher does it for them in the author's name. The reason for this is copying or stealing from unpublished work is rare. Mostly it happens from published work and takes the form of plagiarism. If you have copies of your work and have dated and defined them, I think you can prove the work is your own just from that, should someone try to steal it. Even now, I don't bother with copyright until I turn in a finished manuscript. But if you are worried and want to do this, you can copyright your work on your own. There are forms you can obtain from the government and fill out and submit. Or you can ask the help of a copyright lawyer.

Sean Thiesfeld writes: I grew up reading your work and have always admired your writing style. I aspire to be an author myself and have written a few short stories and am currently working on my first novel. I was wondering if you could go into a little detail about what it was like for you to write your first novel. How you felt, how much time it took you to complete it, if you ever envisioned yourself becoming as popular as you are, and just your process for laying out the story.

Terry Brooks replies: Let me start by suggesting you read my book Sometimes The Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, which covers all this in greater detail than I can manage here. But I will give you the Reader's Digest version as a starter. I wrote Sword as a challenge to myself and because law school was driving me crazy and I thought writing a fantasy might help keep me sane. It took me six years, working on and off, to finish the book. Mostly, I was just trying to get the story down on paper and make it sound interesting. I didn't really know what I was doing technically. Not then. Now, I have a better handle on the matter. But just starting out, you are mostly learning your craft and seeing what you can do. I wasn't particularly well organized, and I rewrote the first half of the book several times, once completely. I worked nights and weekends and whenever I could fit it into my schedule. I had one goal—get it to someone who would publish it. I didn't have any expectations beyond that. Fantasy wasn't hugely popular back then, and I didn't know enough about the business to have expectations that made any sense. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

Later, you do have expectations of yourself, but that's another story for another time.

Josh Wise writes: During the past year, you've hinted at the possibility of writing something entirely new. As always, you regale us with tidbits, enticing us with scintillating morsels until we're drawn out to ask: What will you be working on?

Terry Brooks replies: Well, here's the thing, Josh. Some writers (me, for instance) do not like talking about something they haven't written yet or even outlined yet because talking about it seems to leach away some of its magic. I have the shape of the thing, and it is different than anything I have written before. This does not mean it isn't a fantasy, because it is. But a different sort of fantasy for me in the way that Word & Void was different from Shannara and Magic Kingdom. So you will have to be patient on this and give me some time to finish working it out and getting started on the writing. Then I will be willing to talk about it some more.

Julian Barr writes: Hi Terry. Just a quick question: What are your personal feelings about fan fiction?

Terry Brooks replies: Well, I understand the lure of fan fiction. Readers who love the books of a writer want to see more than what a writer can produce and want to be part of the mix. So if someone wants to try their hand at copying writer and taking the story in a direction that appeals to them, I don't think that hurts. Unless, of course, they try to sell it or use it in a way to makes them a profit, in which case they will hear from the publisher's attorney's pretty quickly. I always thought that it meant more to write something that belonged to you and you alone. That's just the selfish part of me talking, of course. Doesn't play well with others, all the report cards said. Not much has changed.

Anonymous writes: Greetings Terry. I am a beginner writer, and I have been working on a fantasy book for two years. During the process of writing, I love what I have written, then when I come back several weeks later to read through what I've written, I want to add things in, and change it up a bit. I usually end up adding new vocabulary, and rewriting whole scenes. So, here is my question. Since I am so picky, would it be better to trust what I've already written, and move ahead, or should I keep rewriting to where I'm satisfied?

Terry Brooks replies: I think there is a danger in going back over the same ground too often in an attempt to get everything right. Using my own experience as a guide, I find that it works best to write a chapter, give it a once-over, and move on without going back. Momentum is important in finishing what you start, and so I leave a thorough edit and rewrite for the very end of things, when the book is complete and I can work on a cohesive whole. But every writer has to find their own path; you will, too. Still, you might try my way in an effort to get through the initial writing of your story.

Katy Cameron writes: Have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? You try to write a 50,000 word novel in one month (November), and it's really fun. Do you think you might do it next year or anytime after that?

Terry Brooks replies: Not unless I lose my mind. I admit that I haven't heard of NaNoWriMo before, Katy, even though I have to tell you that those of us in Washington State, if asked, might guess it was the name of a Casino. Anyway, I think it is a good idea, but I won't be doing it mostly because I don't have the time. A whole month given over to a project like that doesn't make a lot of sense for a professional writer. Too many other commitments take precedent. But for beginning writers who are still working on their technique and do have some time to write, I would think this would be a good exercise.

Michael Fenn writes: Do you think it is good for a beginning writer to plan out a whole series if his/her story dictates that it might take him/her that long to tell the whole tale? Because I'd hate to have to cut out large chunks to condense it into one volume.

Terry Brooks replies: This is a really tough call. On the one hand, your story dictates how large it has to be. On the other, for a beginning writer with no guarantee that the first book will ever find a home, it is a gamble. I sort of lean towards the first choice. It is always better to assume the best and think the story through, even if it never gets written. You have to assume that you will write it, no matter what, because it interests you sufficiently that you want to get it down on paper. A truncated novel is never going to be your best effort, so cutting out large chunks is not acceptable in any case. At best, you would have to find a way to shorten down the story without changing what's necessary. I would suggest that you find a way to make your first book feel as if it has reached some important resolution rather than leaving everything hanging.

Amanda Scholze writes: Terry, do you ever find yourself caught up writing a part in a book that you can't stop? Do you ever have to force yourself to "put down the pen" and walk away? I find myself having that problem while reading them (staying up all night long) and I was wondering if you got as caught up in your books as your readers do.

Terry Brooks replies: I do get caught up in my writing, and I find that if I walk away without reaching a reasonable stopping point I just keep thinking about it until I come back and wrap things up. But when you have those moments - and they don't happen every time you sit down to the computer - you have to go with them. I will write until I am written out. Then I will walk away. These days, it doesn't take that long for me to tire out. Three hours is about all I can give to any session. So I have adjusted my thinking to fit my dwindling capacity to stick with things. I seems to be working.

Julian Adorney writes: I recently finished a short story, in which I killed a character I absolutely loved. Part of me wanted nothing more than to let him walk out alive, but I still killed him. A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me why: if I loved the character, and I held his life in my hands, why did I let him die? Now, I still don't know the answer to that question, so I'm turning it over to you. Why do you kill off characters? Even though you must love them, why did you kill Garth and Helt and Keltset and any number of others?

Terry Brooks replies: Mostly because I am sadistic and evil. No, no, kidding! Tough question, Julian. To begin with, the type of story I am writing only works if it is believable. I think we all know that in the worlds I write about (Magic Kingdom aside) some of the characters are not going to make it. The dangers they face and the struggles they endure are going to put some of them down. The question always becomes who will live and who will die. I never kill a character without a reason. Their death has to advance the story in some measurable way. I also have to take into consideration who is most likely to die given the extent to which all of them are in harm's way. Sometimes, it isn't easy to determine. My rule of thumb is that no character is safe; the reader can never assume I won't kill off a main character. That keeps the story edgy and exciting.

Russ Wilkerson writes: You have mentioned that you outline your plots, then fill in the details to make a novel. Have you ever been surprised or taken back by the unscripted or unplanned actions of a character, almost like they have a life of their own?

Terry Brooks replies: Well, I'm fond of saying that when your characters take on a life of their own, you need to rein them in. Who's running the asylum, anyway? But I know what you mean, Russ. Sure, sometimes things don't work out the way you planned them. A good deal of the time, actually. You never know how an outline is going to work until you write the book. You get better ideas along the way, and new paths open up to you. Sometimes characters grow in stature and interest as you write about them, so their place in the book might change. You need to be open to that. But you also have to remember the first rule of writing. Everything that happens has to have a point. It has to advance the action and it has to illuminate the characters. If that doesn't happen, then you have to rethink your character's insistence on scene-chewing.

Deborah Nolan writes: In Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, you write about your editor and his importance in your work. My manuscript has been picked up by a New York agent. He loves the characters, the writing, says he loves the book but wants such major changes in plot that I am unable to write, I am so disheartened and stuck. Help!

Terry Brooks replies: Well, my own personal feeling is that making major changes for someone who isn't going to buy your novel is a crapshoot. Some agents are good at helping writers, but some don't know more than the writers do about what will sell. After all, it's an editor's call when it comes to picking up a book, not an agent's. If you feel strongly enough about your book as it is written, you might have to tell your agent you can't do it. It's a hard, hard call. You don't want to give up a chance, but you have to be true to your art as well. Has anyone else told you they think you need major plot changes? Have you gone to any writing conferences and had an editor look at your work? Maybe that would help you make up your mind.

Carl Dunkling writes: What has driven you and what still drives you to think of all the stories and to deliver them to us?

Terry Brooks replies: At this point, I am inclined to say habit. This marks fifty years or so of constant storytelling, so habit must have something to do with it. But if you want a more nuanced answer, Carl, I guess I would say that I write mostly because I love the process. I have always loved putting words together to make something come alive, and fortunately that hasn't changed. I've said in the past that once a book is done, I move on right away. Those books belong to you, the readers, once they are published. What drives me is the expectations I have for the next book, the one I haven't written yet or am in the process of writing. I really do love it.

Chris Defossez writes: Hi there, Terry. I hope to have a future in writing ahead of me and I was wondering how you deal with critics of your work. Do you ever read reviews of your books, or do you tend to stay away from doing so? I suppose what I'm trying to say is, how do you manage to take criticism without being too influenced (or offended!) by what critics tell you to change?

Terry Brooks replies: Wait a minute! Are you telling me I have CRITICS, Joseph? You mean there are people who don't like my books? Let's find out where they live and send Guido over for a visit! Okay, seriously. Sure, I read the reviews when I get them. I like it when they speak well of my work, and I don't like it when they speak ill. But that's the nature of the business, and as a writer you have to remember that no matter who does the reviewing, it is only one person. Doesn't matter whether it's Stephen King or Joe Blow (no offense), it's still only one person's opinion. You can't please everyone, and you won't ever find a way around that. I write first for myself and for what I perceive to be the market. I know what my readers like, and no review or critic is likely to change my mind on this. My toughest critic is my editor, and since she is the representative of my publisher and a skilled professional, I tend to pay attention to what she has to say.

Rich Stowe writes: I just heard that Robert Jordan just passed away while he was working on the 12th book in his Wheel of Time series. I know he was a trooper by trying to finish the book while dealing with the illness. His passing brought to mind a question. Do authors have any plans in place for this kind of situation (a ghost writer to finish etc)?

Terry Brooks replies: Word is Robert Jordan's wife, who was also his editor, will finish the last book. Could be she will do a few more, too, if there is interest. What usually happens with a successful series is that the publisher and often the deceased writers own family will try to find a way to keep the story going. Lots of authors—Robert Ludlum and V.C Andrews among them—are still writing from beyond the grave. I think this is very much a personal issue with each writer. I don't let anyone work in my world at present, and that's not likely to change while I am alive. But after I am gone, who knows?

Mark Baer writes: I was wondering if you have ever stumbled upon an unpublished authors work and felt compelled to help them get published?

Terry Brooks replies: I wouldn't say I stumbled on anyone who deserved to be published, but I've encountered a few in classes I taught and in manuscripts I was given to read. But it really isn't my call. I might feel someone is deserving, but it takes a committed editor and publisher to make it happen. Now and then I pass something along to my editor for a look-see, or I send something on to an agent for a glance. Less so these days because I am not reading unpublished manuscripts anymore. I just don't have the time. The most I do is make suggestions about where a writer might try to strike gold.

Sherry House writes: Do you write books for other people if they tell you their story? I always wanted to tell my story to someone but don't know even how to get started. I don't have the ability to write it, nor start on searching an author to write it for me. But I am sure it would be a great #1 bestseller! Can you help?

Terry Brooks replies: Well, I've got all the work I can handle with my own books. Also, as I am fond of saying at events when asked about working with other writers, my school report card always said, "Does not play well with others." This means I am captain of my own ship, and pretty much I just want to work on my own ideas. This is true, so far as I know, for most writers. The only ones who work on other people's stories are those who freelance to the publishing houses and are chosen to do celebrity or personality ghost work. This won't help you, I am guessing. Writing your own ideas into stories is one of the requirements of being published, I'm afraid. Sorry I can't help. Maybe you should give it a try on your own. You might surprise yourself.

Fabio Piras writes: I'm looking for a publisher for my first book and already had some answer from a small publisher that asked me for money to publish it. Since I had a good answer from them should I try the bigger publisher?

Terry Brooks replies: Normally, you shouldn't pay a company to publish your book - they should pay you. When you pay, it's called a "vanity press" which alludes to the implication that you are desperate enough to see your book in print to pay for it yourself. I would keep trying for awhile before I went that way. Send it in to some major publishers working in your area. Try to go to a writer's conference or a convention where you can meet and chat with agents and editors. Mostly, if you speak with them and ask if you can send them your work, they will be happy to tell you where and when to mail it in. Don't try to give it to them there. But a personal connection always helps. Getting published takes time and effort and a lot of patience. It also involves a bunch of reject experiences along the way. Hang in there.

Seth Strong writes: I definitely feel a connection between your books and the descent of our government's competency. The rising tension of Running With the Demon and the notion that victory isn't one big thing it's the culmination of little events ring similarly to the downfall of U.S. competency in foreign affairs and the dying faith in our officials. Do you consciously use the tension of the times to empower your writing pen?

Terry Brooks replies: Yes. Good fantasy always reflects the world of the writer through the writer's eyes, but it also allows the reader space to interpret. So what you are seeing is something of me, but also something of you. That should be true for every reader. Good fantasy makes a reader step back and think anew about his or her own world and life and how it really is. As a writer, it isn't up to me to think for the readers. but it is up to me to try to find ways to make the readers think.

Shane Cash writes: Hi Terry. Do you deliberately leave points open on a story that when you finish a series, you know it leaves it open for you to return to when you have the right follow on story?

Terry Brooks replies: Yes. This is always deliberate. Sometimes it is because I intend to do something more with it down the road - or at least think I intend to. But often it is because I want the reader to decide what happened afterwards and not rely on me. I am a big believer in the interactive function of books. Readers should be able to imagine much of the story for themselves. I try to let readers have some space for forming images of characters and monsters and places. But I also don't like tying up loose ends too thoroughly. Part of my enjoyment in reading books as a kid was not knowing everything that happened afterwards and having to make up my own mind.

Lauren A. Catron writes: When you write a book (especially your first 3 books), how much material, in terms of pages, is actually cut out of your original manuscript after the many edits a book goes through?

Terry Brooks replies: There was a great deal more editing early on than later. Maybe I actually learned from my mistakes. Or maybe they just gave up on me. The first three Shannara books were heavily edited with extensive rewrites. After Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!, the rewrites dropped off significantly and haven't been required since. What's interesting is that although I rewrote Sword extensively and Elfstones completely, neither saw much in the way of cuts at any point. Nor have I done much of that since. Mostly, I get my changes made before it gets to the editors and what is required of me after that is mostly rewrites. So what you see in the published edition content-wise hasn't changed all that much from draft one.

Justin Vanwely writes: Terry, how does your life change as soon as you write a bestseller? Is it a roller coaster ride, or just nerve-racking? And what sort of celebrity treatment do you receive as a result? Most authors usually seem to prefer a quiet, secluded life away from the spotlight. Why is that?

Terry Brooks replies: Fiction writers, at least, tend to be less interested in celebrity. Writing is a very solitary enterprise, so too much publicity about the author sometimes isn't a good thing. I was taught years ago by Lester del Rey that the author should never come between the readers and the books. I know what he means now. Its the books that matter, not the author. Some pretty good authors have gone downhill after too much attention has been paid to them. It interferes with the writing, and there's enough of that sort of thing already! I think I was lucky. Sword got a lot of attention, but I really wasn't aware enough of it to be influenced. I was living in a small town in Illinois writing the next book. If I had gotten massive attention the way first time writers do today, I don't think I would have lasted thirty years. It's just too overwhelming. For years, I could go anywhere. Now, that's pretty much changed. I get recognized all the time. But now it doesn't matter. I'm pretty well immune to it. I hope.

KJ Shankweiler writes: Terry, do you think that your college education was necessary in preparing you with the skills necessary to be such a successful writer, or do you think if one were interested and read enough that would suffice?

Terry Brooks replies: I don't know the answer to that one, KJ. It is always easy to look back and say, "Well, I could have skipped all that and just begun writing Sword of Shannara." But could I? Everything we do has an impact on what's to come in our lives, so I don't know that it would have worked out the same way for me if I had not gone to college. That said, it isn't the same for everyone. Some very good writers didn't go to college. So you never know. But going to college is a way to grow and to learn to see the world through different eyes and to study some very great writers. That isn't wasted time, no matter what. One of the problems with trying to write something too early in life is that you aren't seasoned enough yet to appreciate the depth that is needed for a story to work. That's why most of us write a lot before we write anything worth talking about.

Troy Cafferky writes: Terry, in March's questions you mentioned that some readers didn't pick up Armageddon's Children because they didn't realize it was a Shannara book. How important are the sales numbers of your books to you personally? Is it a figure you look at?

Terry Brooks replies: I do pay attention to my sales figures. It really is the only accurate measuring stick for how well a book or series is received. Best Seller lists can be manipulated and depend to a great extent on how well other writers are selling. Also, sales numbers are what the publisher cares about. My ongoing goal is to increase those numbers whenever I can. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't. The good news is that all of my books are still in print and still selling regularly. Very few authors can claim that. All in all, I don't think I could ask for much more.

Seth Strong writes: During a revisit to the lore of Middle Earth, I noticed that the evil races were 100% evil whereas the forces of good had betrayers among them like Saruman. Additionally, the teams of good and evil fell across race lines. Granted the orcs of Middle Earth were created to be evil, but I still hoped that somehow regardless of their nature that in the proper environment some of them could adapt to live in peace. You redeem members of the "races of evil". My favorite example is Slanter. I would like to know your thoughts about stereotypes even within your worlds. Is that effort conscious in order to address modern social considerations, or does it just come as a package with the rest of your style?

Terry Brooks replies: Goodness, what a great question. Very deep. Let me see what I can do with it. Stereotypes are always bad, as we know. People don't fall easily into categories based on race, religion, nationality, education, you name it. There are always exceptions. That's the nature of the human race. Now, if you are writing about orcs or demons, that's another matter. The writer defines what those creatures are like, and maybe their composition doesn't allow for anything approaching what we would deem to be goodness. That would be my take on Tolkien's world. In my world, everyone save the Elves grew out of the old race of Man. So they have to exhibit human traits of behavior. Elves, it turns out, are more human than not. But demons and creatures subverted by the dark magic, lose their humanity and their sense of right and wrong and become creatures hungry only for the power of the magic they crave. I think good epic fantasy always holds a mirror up to civilization and makes us take a look at what we are like and rethink whether that's good or bad. So there is a mandate, in my opinion, to address social considerations in my writing.

Scott Zimmerman writes: Hello Terry, I know you said in Sometimes the Magic Works that you outline each book before writing. But do you outline or pre-determine the ending (or a potential ending) too a trilogy of books as a goal for the process?

Terry Brooks replies: Hey, Scott. The ending is perhaps the most important part of the book or set of books. It's the payday for the reader, who has stuck with you for pages and pages hoping for a great ending. So I always know what my ending will be in both the first book and the last of any set I am working on. I have a lot of trouble writing if I don't have that ending to write to. If the ending doesn't excite me, doesn't make me want to hurry up and get there, then I need to go back and start over.

John Church writes: Do you ever lose a little interest in your story after you have already started it? If so, what do you do to correct this situation?

Terry Brooks replies: Every now and then I find my interest in a story waning. Not the whole story, usually, but a certain part of it. To some extent, this is due to the fact that plotting a story only gets you so far. You can't see ahead to how things are going to shake down once you start writing. The outline changes, your thinking about the story shifts, everything is different in the writing. So you have to expect that at one point or another - or maybe more than once, you are going to lose steam. This usually indicates that you need to rethink your plot. You've reached a point where some sort of shift is needed to get back on track and your instincts are telling you that your story needs a shot of adrenalin. I look for a way to change my approach, first, and if that doesn't do it, I look for a way to increase the tension.

Jay Nelson writes: I was just wondering what your personal views on self-publishing are?

Terry Brooks replies: I think if that's what it takes to get you out there and find you readers, then fine. I think you have problems with distribution that are hard to overcome, and sometimes it is difficult to get the mainstream media and bookstores to pay attention to you. Most successful self-published books took a great deal of effort on the part of their authors and no small amount of luck. It also take a great deal of self-confidence to put your own stuff out for sale working without a net. But there are new and better ways of doing it these days, including using the internet.

Rick Magsanay writes: I am currently writing a book myself and sometimes I stop here and there and say to myself that this will never work out. I find myself wanting to quit but after thinking things through I continue on. While writing The Sword of Shannara did you go through a similar thing?

Terry Brooks replies: Not only while writing The Sword of Shannara, but while writing almost every other book, as well. You never get past the doubt and the nagging feeling that you might have screwed up. You always think about quitting and starting over. That's a built-in insecurity all writers weather. Mostly, I have learned to trust the process and not over-react. Sometimes I step back from my work for a few days to let things sort themselves out. Sometimes I back up and rework what I have done. It's hard, but it's a part of the writing life.

Devin Leshin Writes:
Not asking you to give out any trade secrets here but I've had swirling thoughts in my brain for a decade now for a series to write. What would you recommend be some starting steps from the writing process standpoint?

Terry Replies:
That's a hard one, Devin. You should read some books on writing by other authors, just to see how they work. Then you just need to jump in. You have to find the process that works best for you, and its a little different for everyone. I would start with some sort of outline about your book. Lay it out so that you can see where it is going. Spend some time thinking about your characters and how they look and act. Live with it awhile before you write it. You may have already done this. You can get a better idea of my process by reading my book on writing, Sometimes the Magic Works.

Jeff Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, I'm curious about the editing process. You have an impressive writing resume with lots of experience, skill, and hindsight. I would imagine by now that you know all the tricks and traps to avoid in the editing process. So when you send your novel to your editor, is there much left for him to edit? Does he edit simply to edit? Hypothetically, how would your work be different if it wasn't edited (as in story or structure)?

Terry Replies:
Wish I could tell you that not much editing is needed after I finish a manuscript, Jeff. I can tell you that it isn't as bad as the good old days when Lester del Rey had me rewrite entire books! But this is the good thing about editors. If you get a good one—and I have been lucky my entire career in that way—he or she can make the book so much stronger. No one writer, no matter how talented, can see everything that a book needs. More to the point, after living with it for a year, you get so close to the material that it becomes hard to be objective about it. So I do my best, but my editor always finds ways for me to make the book stronger. Sometimes, I miss things and need to be reminded. Sometimes I just don't express myself as clearly as I think. These days, I don't usually have to rewrite large blocks of text. But I do have to make some changes, usually in the form of a page to two or even half a chapter. In the current book, I needed to go back and rewrite parts of eight chapters. But the book will be much better for the effort.

Jay Forcelle Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, I was wondering from your own perspective how you feel your writing has evolved and changed over the years since The Sword of Shannara was published. I have read pretty much all of your published works and absolutely enjoy each one, but the newer releases to me seem shorter, abrupt, and more straight to the point in style. Was this merely the evolution of your writing style or more of a conscious decision?

Terry Replies:
You are right on target, Jay. I started work on Sword when I was twenty-three. That was almost forty years ago. So you bet I've changed more than a little. My books these days are shorter, more concise, more to the point and less cluttered with extra words that don't need to be there. I was talking about this with Christopher Paolini not long ago. He is still writing those huge books like I did at his age. I just don't have the inclination to do that now. It's the way we evolve as writers. Some of it is conscious and some of it is just growing in a different way. Neither is right or wrong. But as a writer, you have to follow your instincts and please yourself in the writing process or you won't write anything good.

Savanna Joy Writes:
Ever cried while writing your own material? Embarassing, isn't it? It's not like your crying because you're so awesome but, do you ever just get so wrapped up in the moment, pounding furiously at the keyboard, tears welling up? Maybe I'm out in the dark on this one, but I know I've been too long on the computer when I get a little too tangled in a character/situation etc. and end up just as frustrated as the individuals in my stories. Some people just don't understand what emotional journeys writers take!

Terry Replies:
Well, I don't think I would be too embarrassed to cry over my writing. I don't tend to do that, but I wouldn't feel odd about it. My problems tend to run more towards the frustration side of things. I get caught up in a part of the story and can't stop agonizing over it. It drives Judine and my kids nuts. But when I start looking for a way to get it right, I am a dog with a bone. I chew on it until it's all mushed up and perfect. That doesn't make me cry, but it does make me sleepless in Seattle sometimes. Music makes me cry. Movies, sometimes. Especially those little art house flicks with ordinary people struggling to find a place in the world.

Michael Fenn Writes:
Hey, I am a devout fan of your works. They're all great and worth reading from cover to cover more than a few times. I am a writer myself. Now, my question is, do your friends and loved ones give you honest feedback? Thank you, and can't wait for the next 2 books.

Terry Replies:
My wife Judine is my first reader, and she is pretty straightforward about what she likes and doesn't like, mostly with an eye towards pointing out things she finds troublesome in the storytelling. I rely on her pretty heavily to tell me when I'm not getting the job done. I don't hear much from the rest of the family. They tend to leave well enough alone. Same with friends. The real feedback, the one that matters, after Judine, comes from my editor.

Steve Fernaays Writes:
Beyond the commercial success of your books how do you hope your works will be remembered/evaluated - as epics or fantasy fiction or something else?

Terry Replies:
You know, Steve, I don't think I have any particular expectations on that front. I won't be around to know anyway. Best to leave that to future generations of readers - always hoping, of course, that there will be some. My job is to tell a good story each time out, and if I can do that and be remembered for that, I will be more than happy.

David Simonds Writes:
Mr. Brooks, what do you do when you're writing and you get really tired? Or if your're really tired beforehand, how do you deal with it? I can't think very well when I'm tired, much less write! It becomes ten times as hard to think clearly and produce coherent ideas. Also, my second question is, do you take breaks while you write? Again, I don't think I could write for eight or nine hours straight. I can't do anything for that long! Could you please enlighten the tired and braindead?

Terry Replies:
Well, I don't write for eight or ten hours at a time either. I might work during that period, but I am taking frequent breaks. Sometimes I just sit and stare at the computer screen, waiting for something to happen. (It seldom does). If I am tired, I take a nap or go to bed. If I am tired early, I just don't work that day. You have to be flexible. But some of this, in my case, is a function of age. I can do more in a shorter period of time, but I need to because my level of concentration is limited. I tell you, it's always something!

Aaron Volner Writes:
Have you ever had a major argument with your editor/publisher over whether or not a certain change to one of your books should be made during the editing process?

Terry Replies:
Regrettably. Lester Del Rey and I argued about changes all the time. He had a firm rule. If I could convince him that my way was better than his way or give a reason for what I was doing that trumped his objection, he would let it stand. I seldom succeeded in this. Sometimes, I just rewrote sections until he grew tired of me. Sometimes I just gave in to him. Once, I tried putting something back in after it went off to the line editor and after Lester was through with it. When the book came out, there was his change, right back in place. These days, my editor and I are much more likely to seek a compromise.

Brian Crawford Writes:
My question to you: How were you able to balance work, family and writing to the extent that you managed to write (and often rewrite) three successful books? What habits did you keep in order to keep yourself on track? Do you feel that your family life suffered as a result of your obsession?

Terry Replies:
Geez, Brian. Cutting right to the chase, are we? Yeah, my family would probably say they suffer because of my obsession with writing, not only then, but even as I write this. I have a tendency to disappear into my work and my own private worlds. But they understand. Judine brings me down out of the attic every so often to reintroduce me to the kids and bring me up to speed on what everyone is doing. Mostly, I remember who they all are. She also insists I take her out to dinner and to the theatre every now and then. Sometimes, we have company come over, and I have to come down for that, too. The balancing act is a tricky one, though. You have to be able to manage your time and it really helps to be organized. I have my favorite writing times and I try to make the best use of them. I have learned to be flexible when things don't work out. I have learned after thirty years as a professional writer to trust the process - meaning that I don't panic about getting behind or finding the right path for the story.

Jonathan Rachowicz Writes:
I see you get plenty of praise in these boxes people fill out when asking questions, so to keep it short, I'll cut right to the chase. I saw a book at the local book store with a review on it by you. So, my questions are: (1) Do people just send you an advance copy and ask you to read it, or do you read a book and send a letter to the author? (2) If the former is the case, how exactly does that work? If the latter is the case, how do you decide which books deserve a letter to the author?

Terry Replies:
I get asked to give a favorable quote to a lot of different writers, both by the writers and their publishers. Because of time constraints, I have adopted a set of rules. I don't give quotes to books that are not set to be published. I choose ones that interest me. Sometimes they are not fantasy. I don't agree to read a book unless I think I will have time to do so, and even then I sometimes never get to it. I try to respond to writers and editors who are friends. If I feel strongly about a book, I will actively promote it, as I did with Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. That said, I am so overwhelmed with my own work and life that I just don't do much of this. I really want my spare time to be given over to books that I have selected for myself, ones that give me pleasure and relaxation and have nothing to do with the business.

Mark Gale Writes:
Hi, Mr Brooks, I have been a fan since reading The Sword of Shannara too many years ago. I have enjoyed all your work and it has helped me at times, when my own creations have stalled. I have written nineteen novels, only three fantasy based, none yet published. I realise you have probably been asked this before, and I know all about the Writers' Market handbook etc, but I was wondering why publishers never say why they have turned my work down? I have been writing for twenty years now yet I am still faced with the same obstacles. Do you have any advice.

Terry Replies:
That's a good question, Mark. Rejected writers have a tendency to think that publishers turn them down because they don't like their work or consider it to have any merit. But much of the time it has to do with an editor's personal taste - very much the same reason readers pass on a book. Editors publish the books that they think will work and make money for the company, and there are a whole bunch of reasons that this might be so. Most editors have a strong set of rules about what they think will sell. The Del Reys were notorious for this. Didn't matter what you wrote, if you didn't fit their idea of what fantasy should be, you wouldn't get your foot in the door. All you can do is keep trying. Many writers have written dozens of books before writing the one that sells. Stick with it.

Katie Ross Writes:
How do you manage to breathe life into so many characters without the characters becoming predictable and a stereotype?

Terry Replies:
I have no idea. Okay, I do have a small idea, but it is hard to put into words. I just know when a character is working and when it isn't. If you do this long enough, you get a sense of it. I spend a lot of time with my characters in my head before I even begin, so I know them pretty well. I am also ruthless. If a character isn't working or doesn't feel right, out of the book they go. Mostly, I try to make them feel like the people I know in our world, to react as we would, to behave in ways that are consistent with what we know to be true about people in general.

Jacob Fiegl Writes:
First off, I would like to thank you for inspiring my creativity and allowing me a place to escape from reality - whether it be for ten minutes or a whole day. I have read the original Shannara series at least ten times and can't wait for your next series. I am trying to write a fantasy novel involving two unlikely friends, an elf and a troll. I am having considerable trouble dictating how much of their battles to describe. I feel as if i am dragging them out. How do you determine how much detail to include in a battle scene?

Terry Replies:
Well, Jacob, you put enough in to keep from getting in your own way. It is a tricky call, and it is what makes us writers. We don't have a standard by which to judge how much of ANYTHING we put in a book - we just have to use our own judgment. I can't tell you how I do it. I just know when it feels right. Some of that comes from having written for fifty years. Some of it comes from paying attention to what other writers do in their books and how that makes me feel as a reader. Mostly, you don't want to bore your readers by bogging down. If your own stuff doesn't excite you, then you probably need a rewrite. That's my rule.

Wesley Chang Writes:
From what I've read from your's and other author's responses, writing is very hard work and demands discipline. What advice do you have for those people who are, for lack of a euphemism, lazy and weakminded but want to improve their situation? It is a very difficult matter to become someone or achieve something if you do not have the sheer willpower and drive that great people like you have!

Terry Replies:
If you are not strongly self-motivated and driven to write fiction, this is probably the wrong choice of careers for you. No one should do it who doesn't love it, even on the worst days. Lazy writers don't write as much or when they should, and that is a sure path to failure. Discpline and a schedule are essential to the writing process, no matter who you are. All the major writers I know have a schedule for writing each day and they stick to it. So, anyone who is lazy better reinvent themselves first, then see about writing.

John Rego Writes:
Like you before your career change, I am an attorney. I have also been addicted to fantasy novels since I was a teenager (triggered when I stumbled upon Elfstones back in 89, so thanks for that). My question is this: How would you answer all those people who view fantasy as a second rate form of literature, or as a form fiction for "young adults" only? Since I am never found without a fantasy novel someplace close by (often in my briefcase) and I am surrounded by stuck up business professionals, I find myself answering that question too often. To me the criticism seems outrageous. I was just wondering if you had some words of wisdom that I can hit the next fantasy critic with the next time I hear the same stupid question?

Terry Replies:
I've got lots of words about fantasy critics, John, but I can't repeat them here. Let me just give you a few quick thoughts. People who view fantasy as second rate or childish are usually people who don't read or understand it. I like to tell them that good fantasy is social commentary combined with good storytelling - Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, the Oz stories and so many others. Sure, the stories take place in an imaginary world. But those worlds mirror our own and tell us things about ourselves that need to be said and understood. I also like to tell them how often other forms of literature use fantasy as the bedrock of their own stories. Fantasy transcends its own form in wider scope than any other type of writing. So those who don't like it probably haven't found the right story or storyteller and need to give it another shot.

Patrick Sanborn Writes:
Mr. Brooks, I love writing. I have to say that it has a lot to do with you. When I was young I disliked reading and anything associated with it. When I was exposed to The Sword of Shannara, it captivated me in such a way that I began to read as if addicted. I finished the Shannara series and now read any and all authors who catch my eye. This has led me to study large amounts of history and myth, which I consider to be another, huge inspiration. I later discovered that a hardbound copy of Sword had been in my father's rather large collection of books since before I was born. I hope to be a writer some day and I owe it, in part, to you. To get to my question, do you ever read unfinished works for growing authors? If not, why?

Terry Replies:
I don't read unpublished work except when teaching a class, Patrick. It isn't that I don't think there is any merit to it or that the authors don't have talent. Far from it. But my time is being eaten up by other things, and I can barely make it through my own work schedule without taking on someone else's. I am asked to read new work being published almost weekly, and I try to do what I can there. But even so, I only get time enough to read a handful. In an effort to be fair, I have pretty much said I don't do it for anyone these days unless it is sent by an agent or publisher or an author I know. I wish it could be otherwise.

Albert Hoyt Writes:
As an aspiring writer and someone who has read each of your books at least 3-4 times, I want to know what your opinion of borrowing from or being influenced by another author is. For example many themes in not only your works, but also in the works of other authors such as Stephen King, David Eddings, R.A. Salvatore, etc. can be directly connected to Tolkien's works. Do you find it flattering if you see something in another author's works that mirrors your own or do you see it as cheating and have you ever consciously done it yourself?

Terry Replies:
Someone once said that there are only four (or maybe it was five) major plots in the entire world and everything else is a derivation of one of these. My long time editor and mentor, Lester del Rey, said that it was pointless to try to come up with some new idea, that all the ideas had already been written about. What mattered, he said, was how you told the story and the voice you used, which needed to be your own. Finding that voice is the tough part, from my point of view. It took me a long time to find it and I am still working on perfecting it. As authors, we all use similar ideas, plotlines, characters and what have you. It can't be avoided. But no two of us write the same book or tell our stories from the same point of view. So unless you are deliberately lifting material from another book, I think you are pretty safe. If someone wants to imitate me, good luck. I don't even know anyone I want to imitate.

Jeffrey Nilez Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, first of all I love your books, especially The Scions of Shannara which I read in three days. Anyway my question is, how do you know when to start or end a chapter? I'm in the middle of writing a story but I have no idea when to end a chapter.

Terry Replies:
It isn't always easy to know this, Jeffrey. I try to end a chapter at a place where it almost demands that the reader continue to find out what is going to happen next. Cliffhangers are best, but sometimes just setting up an unanswered question will do. It helps to outline your story first, at least in rudimentary form, so that you can see how the story might be broken down into chapters. This trick with my kind of fiction is to arrange the story so that it makes it hard for the reader to quit reading. Mostly, its practice, practice, practice.

Julian Adorney Writes:
Dear Terry, where do you get your ideas from? I read your books, and I marvel at the strange, fascinating concepts within them (a sword of truth, magical stones to draw upon the wielder's own inner strength). These concepts are unique without being bizarre, and I am curious as to how you come up with such great ideas.

Terry Replies:
That's a harder question to answer than you think, Julian. A part of the more complicated answer can be found in my writing memoir, Sometimes the Magic Works. The short answer, for here, is that ideas are more difficult to develop than they might seem. Seldom do they just come to me. Mostly, I have to work them around for weeks or even months to figure out just how they might work. This is particularly true of anything involving the magic. The magic has to be consistent in the way it works and never intrusive into the story. There are lots of ways to make magic work, but you need them to fit the story you are telling and to feel right to the reader. For example, the Elfstones initially were simply a way to help the characters find what they were looking for. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that they needed a defensive capability, too. The more I thought about that, the more interesting it seemed if they reacted directly to the strength of the user. So I tied them to heart, mind and body, the characteristics that determine much for all of us. That means that sometimes the user can fail. Isn't that how life works?

Emma Neighbour Writes:
Hi Terry! Firstly want to thank you so much for sharing Shannara with us....the most fantastic books ever read and subject of much discussion down the pub on Friday nights. When the characters in your books pass on it mostly leaves me absolutely devastated - in particular when Walker left. I was wondering how it affects you? Also wanted to ask whether you have in mind that a certain character will be leaving the story or do they kind of leave of their own accord as the story pans out?

Terry Replies:
I pretty much know in advance what is going to happen to my characters when I start a story, Emma. Not always, though. Sometimes the writing of the story requires that I change my plans. That said, I don't kill off characters just for the heck of it. I do so when the story requires it and when it feels like the right thing. Druids are high risk for obvious reasons, and they live a long time, but they all come to pretty much the same end. That feels right for characters who are always on the front line. Same with the characters who are warriors. But a death has to fit the story and feel right to me or I don't do it. Admittedly, it is a judgement call, and I know lots of readers who don't agree with my decisions.

Tou Pheng Xiong Writes:
Books aren't all about brilliant moments. There is all of the stuff that happens in between. You do a great job on these parts, and they lead to the great parts in style. I have problems with these in between parts as I write. How do you over come these moments?

Terry Replies:
What are you saying, Tou? That all of my moments aren't brilliant? This is a real set-back; I have to leave now to see my therapist. Okay, so some are more brilliant than others. The trick is in pacing. Pacing is the ebb and flow of the novel, a journey that makes the reader always feel like he or she is moving right along, but allows for both quiet moments and action scenes. Best to remember that the times when we learn most about the characters and form our attachments to them are in the quiet scenes. So I try to reveal something about the characters and their thinking in those scenes, while setting up for the more exciting stuff that will follow. But, of course, a lot of it is practice, practice and more practice.

Tia Taylor Writes:
First of all I have to say that I love your writing style and I'm still sad that you killed off Tay. Also sad that you killed off John Ross. My fear that you had actually killed off Pied was so intense that I had to search the book to find if it was true, I didn't find it until I actually got there by reading it and then I was so happy that I couldn't read anything for a while. My question is do you have any tips on how to create such genuine attatchment to characters like that?

Terry Replies:
See the answer above, Tia, for a partial response. Really, we become attached to characters because we feel we know them. This happens in the scenes where they reveal themselves in small ways. Spending time with anyone is how we get to know them and decide how we feel about them. I give you that chance in scenes where the characters talk about their lives and feelings. There is also the trick of not letting you see too far ahead about what's going to happen to them. If you aren't certain who is going to make it through the book, it creates a certain tension. The characters are almost always in some sort of danger, and that fosters a sense of protectiveness in the reader.

Dwayne Walker Writes:
Hello Terry. I have read your entire Shannara series to date and just started the Word/Void series. I am certainly a devoted fan. I understand that when you started writing you were also a full time professional attorney. I am currently a full time business professional and have always wanted to be a writer. I have been kicking around a story in my head for quite some time now and every time I want to sit down to write I cannot seem to get my thoughts down on the paper as I tend to get distracted by one thing or another. Two Questions for you: How did you find time to write while holding down a full time profession? And how were you able to eliminate distraction from interfering with your creativity?

Terry Replies:
The only way to find time to write is to make time to write. You have to carve out a piece of your day and set it aside for writing. If you can do it every day, that's best. But you must do it at least three times a week. Nothing can interfere with that time - not family, friends, business, whatever. I did it late at night and on weekends for years. There just isn't any other way to get the work done. You have to commit in the same way as if you were an athlete training for the Olympics. If you don't work at it, you won't get there. When you are working, no interruptions. None, not for any reason short of fire or the like. Everyone has to know - when you are working, stay away.

Roger Sampras Writes:
Terry, I have read that actors like playing the role of villains because it is �fun.� Do you find writing from the perspective of the villain and getting into their minds to be fun and enjoyable as well?

Terry Replies:
I don't know if I find it to be fun, Roger. I find it to be interesting and sometimes illuminating to get inside the heads of the bad guys. It really depends. I liked writing about Shadea a'Ru because I thought she was typical of a lot of real life people who use power for personal gain, but mask it as a way to better the lot of the general public. Can you say 'Politicians?' I suppose the most interesting characters for me are those who straddle the line between doing the right thing and the wrong. Conflicted characters are more representative of who we all are.

Amy "Lou" Shepherd Writes:
Just wondering if you are human like the rest of us and ever had a computer systematically delete a story half way through before you decided to get back-ups on it? (Needless to say, I had to learn the hard way.) So, Terry, are you human, or is my assumption correct that no faulted person could concoct the wonderment of such brilliances as Shannara?

Terry Replies:
Okay, Amy "Lou," you found me out. You must have been talking to my kids. I am not human. I am sub-human and worse, depending on the day of the week. But that issue aside, my computer is no different than anyone else's. Yes, it has deleted my work on occasion, although I have automatic backup these days and can only lose a few pages at a time due to lock-up or shut-down. What is far more likely is that I get drafts confused and inadvertently eliminate the wrong pages. That I have done quite recently. And entire chapter, lost. I sat down in a fury and rewrote it immediately. Still, computers are better than typewriters for obvious reasons, and I wouldn't want to go back.

Chris Yerkes Writes:
First of all, I thoroughly enjoy your storytelling. It is rich prose with tangible detail. I am an aspiring writer (aren't we all) and I was wondering about the process you use to develop the names for your characters. In the Shannara series, the names you created are not too fantastic that they sound "cheesy." They fit the characters and their ethnicity very well, completing the feel and the visual of each character. Where do you find the inspiration for names like Par, Shea, Panamon, etc.?

Terry Replies:
Names are crucial to a reader's connection with and belief in any character. Or creature or place, I should add. I have always been disappointed in books where the names don't quite fit or measure up to my vision of what they are intended to describe. So I work hard to make my names fit their usages. I keep a list of names that I scrounge up during my travels, names I just like the sound or look of, names that say something to me beyond the obvious. When it is time to do a book, I sit down with the list and extract those names in original or hybrid form and assign them a place. Mostly, this works. But now and then I have to work harder than that to come up with something that fits. In the next book there is a character named Delloreen. It took me awhile to find that name, and when you meet the character, you will see why.

Angela Price Writes:
I first stumbled onto your Magic Kingdom series as a teen (I'm 21 now) and have just been excited (and daunted) to begin The Sword of Shannara and other series. I think you are a brilliant writer, and recommend you to everyone I know. As for my question: I once heard that if (as a writer) you don't write an idea down in the first 10 minutes of receiving it, it is gone forever. Do you find this to be true? I write stories, etc., myself and have lost ideas before because I didn't capture them when they first occurred to me on paper, but maybe it's just me. I've gotten so paranoid since I heard this that I never go anywhere without paper and pen.

Terry Replies:
Intriguing concept, Angela. There may be some truth to it. On the other hand, I decided some years back that if I couldn't remember a story idea for at least twenty-four hours, it probably wasn't all that great to begin with and certainly didn't hold my interest. I used to wake up in the middle of the night with great ideas and write them down on a pad next to my bed. When I got up the next day, I almost always wondered how the cat had gotten hold of my pen. Couldn't make sense of any of it.

There certainly isn't anything wrong with jotting down a few notes to yourself about an idea. You should carry pen and paper with you everywhere for that very purpose. But really good ideas, the ones that hold your interest and will sustain it for the time it will take you to write an entire book, usually don't disappear overnight.

Lee Mann Writes:
I have read The Heritage of Shannara at least twice and am on my third reading and dabble in the art of writing myself. What do you think are key attributes that a good Scifi/Fantasy writer or any writer might need?

Terry Replies:
Insanity might be a good start. Kidding. Writers essentially work alone, so being comfortable with that is a must. I sit at the computer for hours without anyone around. I don't talk to anyone, except maybe myself, and I don't take phone calls, etc. that might interrupt my train of thought. As well, you need a strong sense of commitment to the process so that you can follow through from beginning to end. Finally, and most important, you need a good sense of storytelling. If you can't tell a story, you are in trouble when it comes to writing any sort of fiction.

Paul McCarthy Writes:
Do you ever yearn to write more stand-alone novels as opposed to trilogies? Can you comment on the pressures from publishers to produce trilogies and do you feel it changes the way you write?

Terry Replies:
There is always some pressure to write more of what readers enjoy and buy. This pressure comes from the publisher, but also from the readers. And to a degree, from the writer, as well. After all, the writer wants to be read, so the impulse it to write something that the readers have shown they like and want. But the balance to this comes from the writer's need to respond to artistic and creative impulses, to try something new, to do something that is fresh and different. Every writer handles this differently. I like writing in groups or clusters or whatever, so even when I try something new, I don't think of it as a stand-alone. I am so used to writing large stories, ones that spill over from one book to the next that I expect that a stand-alone at this stage would be somewhat difficult for me. The trick is to write what you want to write within the context of what works. For me, that means multiple books in different worlds and series.

Jesse A. Clark Writes:
Terry, I've read your book Sometimes the Magic Works and I was impressed, but in the novel I'm working on I'm having trouble finding the right place to write the history of past events, wars, and just plain back story, is there a right place to put this?

Terry Replies:
You don't want to plunk down huge blocks of expository text in a work of fiction. It slows the story to a crawl and bores the reader. The trick is to reveal things incrementally and in places were there is either something else happening or some impending conflict and tension generated by the telling. I like working out what it is I need to say, then looking at where it might best be brought out and by who, but always within the context of the regular storytelling. There is nothing to say you have to tell it all at once or in the beginning. Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing for the reader, even with back story.

Helen Beupre Writes:
Dear Mr.Brooks, I'm a huge fan. Your books are absolutely amazing! But I was wondering what inspired you to write your books, and why you choose to write this certain genre.

Terry Replies:
I have said for a long time now, in person and in my book on the writing life, Sometimes the Magic Works, that you don't choose the writing, the writing chooses you. Really, all writers work hard at "finding their voice." In part, this refers to their struggle to discover what it is that speaks to them, what it is that they can translate into a piece of writing that readers will care about. I wrote a lot of other stuff before I began with fantasy. But fantasy is what captured my imagination in a way that wouldn't let go. It gives me a large canvas to paint on, a million different ways to go, and the ability to incorporate aspects of almost every other form of fiction. Now and then, I think about writing something else, but every time I come right back to where I started.

Ronald Steelman Writes:
When publishing comes around for me should I go the route of an agent, send straight to the publishing companies, or what?

Terry Replies:
That's a hard one to answer, Ron. It depends. If you reach a point where you have something you feel confident enough about to submit, I think you should take whatever avenue seems best at the time. Right now, it depends in part on what sort of fiction or non-fiction you are talking about. Some won't ever see the light of day without an agent. Some, like genre fiction, can find its way pretty easily. The best bet, I think, is to attend a few writers conferences and make some connections. Let the editors and agents in attendance know who you are and what you have written. Try to get a one on one. Then offer to send them what you have. You'll know if there is interest and if the person you are talking to is the right one. Publishing is a lot like entering into a marriage - you don't want to hook up with the wrong person.

Anonymous Writes:
I have read all of your Shannara books and I have never ceased to be amazed. Recently I decided to go back and read your first, The Sword of Shannara. I'm constantly spellbound at the extensive history you've created as a base for your books. My question is how did you do it? Was it all in your head or was there some research and outside influence involved?

Terry Replies:
Well, there was quite a lot of outside influences on me, not the least of which resulted from reading a ton of books over the twenty odd years that came before I started writing Sword. Later, it was Lester del Rey who influenced me most. As for the history, the idea for the backdrop probably comes mostly from the years I spent reading and studying mythology and ancient civilization, both in and out of school. Much of that carried over into my own writing and in my approach to that writing. My strength still lies in an ability to assimilate most of what I want to say in my thinking before I sit down to write. Live with your story first, I tell writers in my classes. When you know it well enough to stand up and talk about it at length and answer questions, you are ready to go.

Raymond Blocher Writes:
When you first started writing did you have a map of the land, and lists of characters or did you just start writing and realize later that you might need such things?

Terry Replies:
I started with a map of the Four Lands and a rough outline, although in the beginning days I didn't much know about outlining in a way that made any difference. But the map was crucial. So was a list of characters and a description of each. I still do that for a ready reference. I tend to forget more quickly these days. I also like having a story arc in place - that is, a chart that gives me a beginning, middle and end with high points and thematic structure. I like to know what it is that means something to me in the larger world sense before writing a story.

Patrick Sanborn Writes:
I have been writing for the past 7 or so years. I'd like to know if you ever read over your work in progress and feel disappointed; have you ever considered just scrapping and starting over?

Terry Replies:
After more than twenty-five years of being a published writer and twice that as a writer, period, I still reach a point - and sometimes more than one point - in the course of writing a book when I know I have written a piece of junk and should just throw it out. When that happens, Patrick, I have learned to walk away for a few days and then take another look. It might be that it needs some work, but I have yet to decide that my first instinct was right. I just think it's a gut check that writer's perform on themselves to make certain they haven't screwed it up too badly, a way of keeping themselves honest. I find it worrisome these days if I don't have a point where I wonder if it's all gone bad.

Julie Sanchez Writes:
Why do you always leave your books with cliffhanger endings? I know that it is a great way to keep your readers reading your books, but sometimes it does get a bit annoying to have to wait another year or two just to resolve one books climax. And what if something were to happen to you, for example if you decided to stop writing, then all of your readers would not ever be able to find out what happens to the poor characters you have so desperatly gotten twisted up into some weird plot line.

Terry Replies:
Good question, Julie. I will admit to have struggled with this over the years. I began writing self-contained books, and I thought that I always would do so. But as I kept writing in the Shannara series, it became apparent that I was either going to have shorten up the plots and stories or split them into more than one book. So I opted for the latter. I think readers like the longer stories anyway, where epic fantasy is concerned. The tradeoff is that it takes me longer to write them. So do I publish one book every three years or one-third of a story in book form every year. I haven't missed a year of publication since 1989. On the other hand, Magic Kingdom books are self contained, each book it's own story. So you do get a little of each. Also, to help allay your fears, I work about a year in advance on each book. So by the time this year's book comes out, the book for 2006 will have been completed. And an outline of the remaining books will be in the hands of my editor, in case I meet with a Lemony Snicket sort of end.

Mark Lavallee Writes:
Over the years I have noticed how the environment plays a big role in your stories; not just a "place or setting" but almost a character all to itself. Morrowindl, in The Elf Queen of Shannara for example, had it's own sense of awareness and life unique to that location. I just moved to Seattle, and now that I'm here I have to ask: Does the climate and environment here in Seattle play into the environments in the world of Shannara? Do you ever travel to other places just to view a potential setting? Now that I've seen this place I feel like I've been reading about it my whole life in your books; walking around here I almost feel like I'm in a forest you've written about. Thanks!

Terry Replies:
Your observations are right on target, Mark. Environment is a character in my story and almost always plays a major role in affecting the story's outcome. I have always believed that fantasy, in particular, because it takes place in an imaginary world with at least some imaginary characters, needs to make the reader feel at home in the setting. That means bringing the setting alive for the reader, which is what creating environment as a character is really all about. Also, I am an admitted Greenie, so I spend a lot of time working to protect the environment and worrying that not enough is being done. Stories like those of the Heritage series directly address the question of what happens when the environment is thrown too far off nature's intended course. You will see this again in the new series in 2006.

Magnus E. Larsen Writes:
After you have written the story down do you read through it once, twice or more, before you send it to the publisher?

Terry Replies:
This is how it goes, Magnus. I finish the first draft and then proof it myself, front to back. Then I give it to Judine, and she does the same. Then I proof it again, print it out and send it off. My editor gives it a read and makes suggestion for improvements. I make the changes. Then the manuscript goes to the line editor, who reads it for grammar, punctuation and consistency. More changes. Then it gets type set and printed out in what are called Galley Proofs, which a unbound pages as they will appear in bound form. Again, Judine and I both read them through and make final changes. Even so, we always seem to miss something. You wouldn't think it was possible, would you?

Scott Bring Writes:
I'm writing a novel. My world sometimes seems so vast I have trouble narrowing the plot down. Do you ever really know the whole plot of a story before you begin or just part of it?

Terry Replies:
Narrowing down your story is one of the most difficult lessons a beginning writer has to learn. Or some experienced ones, for that matter. What you have to remember is that your audience identifies with what is personal, not what is universal, in your storytelling. So everything needs to be reduced to a smaller, more intimate basis. Readers need to experience everything through one character's eyes each chapter. That character's reactions and feelings are what readers connect with. If you think of your story in these terms, the larger picture recedes into the background, where it belongs. All the small details about your larger world will creep in on their own if you focus on your individual characters. I don't ever start out a story knowing everything about the plot and characters. I know the central story and usually the beginning and end. But all the in-between stuff happens during the writing. What you write today will frequently tell you what needs to happen tomorrow. Don't let the larger world overwhelm the story. Stick to the smaller story, the more intimate story, and you may find things a little more manageable.

Joshua Lewis Writes:
I've just started writing my own novel (still in progress). I wanted to know if it is imperative to have a substantial picture of everything within the novel (settings, characters). Usually I create the picture, but it's hard to see. Is it a problem if I can describe something, but can't see it myself detailed?

Terry Replies:
Well, Joshua, I don't know that you need to have a substantial picture of everything in your book, but I think you need to have one of most things. How can you describe them to your reader if you can't see them in your mind? Certainly characters require specificity. You can skate on some of the background stuff; a few quick brush strokes here and there are sometimes sufficient to give the reader enough of a picture that he or she can imagine the rest. And you don't want to over-describe or you take away some of the reader's pleasure in making the interpretation. Maybe you need to spend more time with your ideas and characters and settings in your head before trying to commit them to paper. I find that allowing sufficient Dream Time before writing is crucial to being able to know how things are. You never want the reader to feel that you don't know what you are attempting to describe. You might try reading my writing memoir, Sometimes the Magic Works, for more on this subject.

Erik Brooks Writes:
Hello Terry, I am a young writer, who like yourself was hooked on fantasy writing by the Lord of the Rings. My questions are how long does it usually take you to complete a chapter in a book, and do you read other books while you write your current book, or do you find that an annoyance to the process?

Terry Replies:
It takes me about a week to do a chapter, but that varies considerably depending on how deeply involved I am in a book at any particular time. Sometimes, I can do a chapter in three days. Sometimes, it takes two weeks. It takes as long as it takes, and you have to look at the larger picture in terms of getting somewhere. On reading other books, Eric, I am always reading something. Writing is just one facet of my life; reading is another. Doing one doesn't preclude doing the other. I do make an effort to read things that will entertain or challenge while I am writing, though. I need reading that keeps me excited about the process.

Katherine McAllster Writes:
I am 18 (about to graduate) and have been writing bits and pieces since at least sixth grade. Finally, I have found a story that feels right, and I am finishing it to the end. I know that Christopher Paolini was published young, and I was wondering how difficult that really is. Do I have to be exceptionally "eye-catching" to be accepted by publishers? What I mean is, are young writers generally taken less seriously? I am willing to try again and again to call attention to myself if necessary. What can I do to make myself stand out in the crowd?

Terry Replies:
Christopher Paolini's story is unusual, but it happens now and again. He self-published first, with help from his family, before being discovered by a major publisher. But in the final analysis, what matters is the book itself. If Eragon hadn't been sufficiently entertaining that it would find a readership, the public and publisher alike would have moved on to someone else. Also, I don't think anyone knows what it takes to be "eye-catching." That's one of those personal things. What's eye-catching to one person is just plain annoying to someone else. If you think you have something good written, then you have to test the waters by sending it off to a publisher or two and seeing what they think. Or by going to a writing conference and asking a few editors if they would take a look. It really is all about being in the right place at the right time. It is about finding someone who believes in your work who is in a position to help you. Christopher found that person by trudging from school to school until someone noticed what he was doing. There are lots of other ways to accomplish this. You have to find the best way for you. Read some books on the subject. Try out a few ideas and see.

Drew Mackenroth Writes:
You often talk about the significant role that Lester Del Rey played when you started your writing career, and the importance of working with a good editor. So my question is, how does a new writer find a good editor.

Terry Replies:
Oh, good. An easy question. You find a good editor, Drew, by luck of the draw. A good editor, first and foremost, is someone who likes your work and wants to publish it and is willing to stand behind it. That's a good editor. Really, editors for the most part all know something about editing a book or they would be selling bricks. They have become editors because they want to work with writers. So all of them have something to teach. The trick is in finding one who is interested in teaching you.

David Rincon Writes:
I am in the middle of writing a story (I'm actually 103 pages into the story), but I have hit a wall. How do you get through writer's block to continue a story?

Terry Replies:
Well, David, I have said for years that I don't really believe in writer's block as a living, breathing entity. When you get stuck, it usually means one of two things: First, that you are trying too hard or working too hard and need to take a break before you try to continue. Second, that you have taken a wrong turn, and your instincts are telling you to back up and see where you made it. I think outlining a book in some manner or other so that you know the gist of your story often helps with this problem. Writing a book is hard; there is an awful lot to consider. So having the plot down and the characters in place gives you a few of the pieces you need to work with and lets you concentrate more on the form of telling.

Shanna Stichler Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, my first question concerns your feelings regarding fanfiction. I personally have no interest in writing any, but I know some authors support fanfic, while others do not. Do you have an opinion on this subject either way?

Terry Replies:
I think fan fiction is a nice complement, on the one hand. On the other, I think writers ought to write their own stuff and not usurp the creative efforts of other writers. If you want your writing to be your own, you can't start out by writing about or in another writer's world. But if its done for the pleasure of the writer and other readers and not to make money, I don't see that there's any harm in it. So I guess you can draw your own conclusions and in the meantime maybe I can figure out what mine are!

Keith Bushman Writes:
Do you feel that in order for an individual to be a successful author he or she must be gifted with an amazing intellect, or is it possible for the common man (or woman) to produce a readable book through tenacious effort?

Terry Replies:
Although I, of course, am gifted with an amazing intellect, Keith, not all successful authors are. Even the lowest of the low can write a readable book. Okay, I'll get serious. An amazing intellect will help with some kinds of books and writing, but not all. Mostly, writers need to be good observers and tenacious workers. They have to be fearless with the truths they believe in and ready to go to the wall to write about them. That, and if they write fantasy, they need to be good storytellers. My first editor, Lester del Rey, always told me that if you tell a good story, you can be forgiven for almost everything else. I think he had it right.

Stuart Crickmer Writes:
Terry, I am revisiting the world of Shannara after many years and am thoroughly enjoying it. I likewise enjoyed Sometimes the Magic Works. When reading your comments about the importance of outlining a story, I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps instructive for aspiring writers, to see an actual outline from one of your books. Would you consider offering that type of glimpse into your writing process?

Terry Replies:
I don't think so, Stuart. My notes are working papers, and I don't like letting that sort of thing out, even though some writers do. I don't know how much help it would be in any case. The notes are so peculiar to my work that they probably wouldn't have much to do with anyone else's. Selfishly, I should add, giving them up would require typing them up from reams of yellow paper covered in long hand scribbles. I don't think I am up to it. I would also say that the form of outlining is peculiar to each writer, and what works for one probably won't work for another.

Cole P. Chapman Writes:
Howdy Mr. Brooks! I've been reading your novels most of my life. I am currently wrapped up with Straken, and loving every minute of it. I have always wondered how you go about writing a new story. Which generally comes first: the characters or the story?

Terry Replies:
Hard to say. Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Sometimes neither. Often, its an idea or a setting or even a question that gets me started. The forming up of a story, with plot and character at its core, is a bit of the mysticism I find in my own life (see above). It happens, but I can't always explain how and I can never count on it happening the same way twice. That's what writing is about.

Anonymous Writes:
When you write, are there strict deadlines or is it flexible to some degree?

Terry Replies:
I write under contract, which means that I am given an advance and a submission and publishing schedule for each book in the contract. That means that the publisher - forget about the readers - is depending on me to produce a book on schedule. Is there some latitude for being late? Sure. You never know. To counter that, I write and turn in each book a year ahead of its scheduled publication date. That gives me leeway against some unforeseen glitch that throws me off schedule. So right now I am just finishing up the book that will publish next year in August/September.

Marjorie Haynes Writes:
Hello Mr. Brooks. I have been a long time fan and I wonder how you pick the locations in your books?

Terry Replies:
Some of the locations are predetermined because of the series setting. Certain things have to take place within the parameters already established in other books. But when I get a chance to re-invent the wheel, I use my own travel experience to do so. One good thing about traveling the world - it gives you exposure to differently places and geographies. I am constantly amazed at what is out there. For instance, if you look at the short note I attached to the recent England pix of Kenilworth Castle, you will notice that one of the settings in Voyage of the Jerle Shannara was inspired by those ruins.

John Timmis Writes:
Several years ago the writer Stephen Donaldson did an author's tour of Australia to promote the release of his novel White Gold Wielder. I was there when he spoke at a local university and at one point he made the comment that his first novel, Lord Foul's Bane was submitted thiry-five times before a publisher picked it up. Is this fairly common with writers of Fantasy and SF?

Terry Replies:
It is common, John. Actually, it is common with all writers, not just those who write science fiction and fantasy. I've heard Steve tell that story. Word was he submitted the book to every publisher twice before Del Rey picked it up. I remember Lester telling me about it. He loved that series and thought it was an amazing piece of writing. I agree. Now Steve has just sold rights to four new books in the series, and readers are waiting to see where the story will go. You will find out in the fall of 2004 or early 2005.

Johnny D. Writes:
Greetings from the Emerald Isle! Hi Terry, I was just wondering, having been looking at this webpage for some time now, how you manage to maintain inspiration over an extended period of time. I mean in your answers to readers' quetions you seem to have your next few books planned already. How do you know if you will still be interested in writing such and such a book when the time comes round? Also i have just finished my first year studying law, should I get out now while i'm still young?

Terry Replies:
Flee now, Johnny D, while you still can! No, maybe not. I liked practicing law. I didn't like law school much, but I liked being a lawyer. I quit mostly because the writing was eating up all of my time, and you cannot be a master to two demanding mistresses and stay sane. Writing was my first love. It always will be. I stay interested in what I am going to write several years down the road mostly because I don't think too much about it. What I mean is, I know where I want to go in each series at some point in the writing of the previous books. Then I just let the ideas percolate for a time until they're ready to grow up into real books. That doesn't happen all at once. So, I can get as excited as I want about an idea. But the real work gets done when the idea evolves into the story. I don't go there until I am ready to write the book.

Zachary R. Williams Writes:
I recently finished my first fantasy novel and I am not sure whether or not to send it to agents or publishers first, have you any advice for a first timer?

Terry Replies:
I have lots of advice, but I don't know how much of it is any good. There is some debate in the field about whether you need to have an agent before you have an editor or publisher or whether you can just go straight to the source and then find an agent. I think you need to try both. You should read Writers Market 04, or whatever the latest edition is, to see about packaging and presentation. Also, all editors and agents and their addresses are listed. Send your manuscript off with a query letter to perhaps two or three and get on with your life. It could easily take months.

Of course, I assume that you have something worth showing. If it isn't your best work, don't send it. Go back to the drawing board or keyboard or whatever and get it right. You don't want to go out there with something that isn't publishable.

Also, if you can make direct contact with an agent or editor, this is best. This means going to a writing conference or science fiction/fantasy convention and speaking with professionals about your work. You will be surprised at how receptive they are. If you can, ask to submit your work at a later date. When you do, remind them of how you met.

Finally, I am against submitting anything for publication that isn't finished. If you are in the middle of writing it, then sit down and finish it first. Because if you are lucky enough to find an agent or editor who wants to see your work and you tell them you're still writing it, they might not stick around mentally to see how it turns out. Always go in with something finished.

Tony Obfenda Writes:
What is a typical day like for you when you are writing? Do you write in your own office or anywhere that's confortable?

Terry Replies:
I have offices in both Seattle and Hawaii which are set up to suit my needs. They are different, but they have a familiar feel to them. I use the same computer in both places, a Mac Cube, and the interior setting is similar. In both places, I can close off the outside world when I am deep in a story. Both have my stuff around me. Both have proximity to food and drink. Let's see - oh, both have great views, although the computers are never turned towards the view.

I never write on the road. I never write while traveling. I seldom write anywhere but in one of those two offices. A typical day begins at around 6:30 am and ends around 3:00 pm. That's the creative apex of my day. After three, I am pretty much brain dead.

Robert Dean Galloway Writes:
In the book Sometimes the Magic Works you discuss rewrites. How much is actually invested in a new book before publishing?

Terry Replies:
On average, it takes six to eight months to write a Magic Kingdom book. I rewrite heavily on the computer during this time, so the rewriting blends in pretty closely with the actual writing. I will do a chapter, with rewrites, then go back and do it again. When the book is done, I do a line edit with Judine, and that's pretty much it. I don't do heavy rewrites after the first draft is done, like some writers. It works better to just do them along the way. But the book does get worked over pretty good by a me, Judine, my editor, and the line editor alone the way.

Shannan Perry Writes:
How do you decide who lives and who dies? Cuz it seems in these newest novels of Shannara there is a whole lot more death than I remember.

Terry Replies:
You might be right about the death thing. I don't have the same perspective about this because I don't look back to see how many characters I knocked off in a previous book to decide how many ought to go in a current one. Really, it is a function of what I feel is appropriate and what works with the story being told. Shannara sees a lot more deaths than the other books because that is the nature of the story. Life in the Shannara world is a good deal more dangerous than in the other series. That will change with the new Word & Void, so look out.

Kristopher Mark Jones Writes:
First let me take you back, twenty some years or so. A much younger Terry Brooks pursuing a career in law. Wakes up one day with a thought of a story. Thinking of story lines and races, plots of good and evil. Then suddenly the thoughts are written down, months and months go by and now little ideas become larger than life. A passion for this fantasy world grows into an incontrolable obsession. O.k. End it there. Well that's where I am now. Since December 2003 I have been writing my first fantasy novel. One day I woke up with an idea and for three months I did nothing but think. Before I picked up a pencil or turned on my computer. I thought about many things in that three months. Until I thought of so much and got so excited I had to start writing the story. I was very organized about it did it to the best of my ability. Right now I'm going over it again. I know that it will be ready for me to send it away to a publisher soon. My passion is still thriving on my storyline and I know if it takes years of editing I know it will be worth it. What should I look for in a publishing company and how many copies should a first timer send out to companies?

Terry Replies:
Good work, Kristopher Mark. There are several things you can do to help yourself. First, pick up and read the latest edition of Writers Market. It will tell you all about the dos and don'ts of submissions to publishers. It will also provide you with a comprehensive list of agents and editors with contact information. Then, go to your local bookstore and see which publishers are putting out work that resembles your work. Those are the ones to look at most closely. Then, send your manuscript to one or two at a time, choosing those that seem best suited to your kind of work. Don't be misled by the information in Writers Market or elsewhere that says they don't accept unagented material. That is frequently out of date. If you have doubts about sending something out to a publisher, send a query letter and a few chapters first and see if they want the rest.

But the best thing you can do for yourself is to attend various writers conferences, such as the Pacific NW Writers Conference held here in Seattle every July, or any of the hundreds of SciFi/Fantasy conventions, where you will have a chance to take a face to face with an editor or agent. Nothing beats meeting someone face to face and asking if they will look at your work. Mostly, they will.

Then, prepare to learn patience.

Stephen Writes:
What has been the most enjoyable book you have written, in terms of the actual writing process?

Terry Replies:
Geez. I really love the writing process, so each time out I get excited all over again. But maybe the right answer to this question is Sometimes the Magic Works. I did it on spec, no contract and no particular expectations, just a stab at trying to understand why I do what I do and if it taught me anything. Each chapter was like a mini-version of an earlier period in my life or a lesson learned. I really liked doing it, just writing something down when I wanted to, revising and reworking as I went.

Francisco Hernandez Writes:
Are you going to combine the Word/Void books into a single hardcover book like you did with the Shannara trilogy?

Terry Replies:
I have not heard anything about this from the publisher yet, but my guess is that this will happen. They are doing combinations of all the Shannara books, eventually. But look for more on this in 2006. I will keep you updated when I hear something.

Anonymous Writes:
What do you feel is the most important part of the creative process?

Terry Replies:
The most important part of the creative process is getting through it! Every new book takes about a year. So when you start out, you are looking twelve months down the road. That's a long time to do anything. Even if you are excited when you start, it gets old and you get bored. The temptation to cut corners is huge. So you have to remind yourself that you won't be happy if you come back and find that you didn't do the best you could. It really is a mind game that you play with yourself. So, how about perseverance as the single most important aspect of creating?

Theodore George Janiszewski Writes:
How much experience do you think that a person needs before they can write passable literature - how much reading others' work, studying English, and practice is necessary?

Terry Replies:
Tough question. I just turned fifty-nine, and I am still reading other authors and learning new techniques. I don't think you can measure your needs versus your creative drive. You write when you must, and somewhere along the way you get good enough at it to find a publisher - or not. I always tell young people the same thing - read as much as you can, read as often as you can, read as many different kinds of fiction as you can. The stronger your background in English Literature, the better your chances of finding something important to say. Let me add one more thing to this assessment. I don't think you want to write passable literature. Aspire to something more, whether you get there or not. Write something amazing.

Anonymous Writes:
I am trying to write a fantasy -science fiction book. What advice can you offer me?

Terry Replies:
How much time do we have, Web Druid? Oh, oh. He says keep it down. So, read some books on the writing life. I like the ones by Stephen King and David Morrell, but I like my own better. What advice I have to give is pretty much contained in Sometimes the Magic Works which is due out in about two weeks. You may find some of what you need in its pages. I think this is a craft in which practice is required. Plan to write a thousand pages and throw them away down the road. Plan to write several books before anyone notices you've written even one. Your mother and father will love everything you do. Don't trust them. Don't submit anything for publication that doesn't represent your best effort. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Persevere. All are necessary to your success.

Misti Chavmen Writes:
When writing books (especially your first), did you ever feel frustrated, like it was taking too long to finish or it wouldn't get published? When you have difficulties writing, what do you do to help continue the book?

Terry Replies:
Well Misti, I am frustrated by my writing pretty much every day I do it. But the trick is to trust yourself and to keep slogging along. I try to set a goal of several pages a day when I am working. I don't always make that goal, but it helps to have it. I never decide if something is good or not until twenty-four hours have passed. Sometimes, that's not long enough either. If I get too blocked up, I take the day off. If that doesn't help, I back up to find out if maybe I took a wrong turn. Usually, one or the other gets me moving again. Oh, yeah. Outline, outline, outline. Map your journey, save yourself some heartache.

Samuel Merrifield Writes:
I am only 13 but I have read most of your books plus many, many other fantasy novels. Your books in particular inspire me to write more often but I have trouble starting anything. Do you have any tips for me?

Terry Replies:
Here comes another plug for Sometimes the Magic Works. What I know about writing, including the troublesome matters of getting started and keeping going, are contained within those pages. So take a look, Sam, and see if there isn't something there that might help you. If nothing else, you might have fun reading about what I went through to become a writer.

Francesco Cafaro Writes:
How do you manage to write a complete book? I mean, I try to write sometimes but while I am writing about a subject I lose my interest being attracted by something else?

Terry Replies:
What you are describing, Francesco, is typical of what happens in the beginning of most writers' careers. It certainly happened to me more than once. You start a project, work on it a bit, decide it isn't all that interesting or all that good or whatever, and move on. I did that for the better part of ten years when I was starting out, never finishing anything but short stories and one science fiction novel. It just means you are still looking for the right thing. It seems so easy when you start out. You are all excited and eager. But somehow all that enthusiasm drains away over time. Of course, it gets easier the more you write, particularly if you are doing it for a living, which means you are doing it every day. I wouldn't worry to much. I would just keep at it. Unless you are over thirty, in which case you need a more disciplined work schedule.

Evan Hershman Writes:
I just finished reading Sometimes The Magic Works, and I was very impressed. I especially enjoyed reading about your experiences adapting both Hook and SW: The Phantom Menace, and how different those two experiences were. My question is, what are the differences between writing your own, completely original work and writing an adaptation? Do you go about writing the book differently? Do you still outline the novel like you do with your own work?

Terry Replies:
The main difference between writing an original piece of fiction and writing an adaptation from another medium, like a screenplay, is that your approach to the outlining process is a little different. When you are writing something from scratch, you have to start out by inventing everything and incorporating it into your outline. When you adapt, you tend to spend more time blocking out scenes and considering point of view and voice. After all, you already have plot, character and setting. So presentation becomes the difference, particularly when you appreciate how movies versus books work.

Mike Wincek Writes:
I read your book Sometimes The Magic Works this week and loved it! My question is about dialogue - is this something that comes easy to you? How do you keep a character on track without rambling on and on...kind of like my question :)

Terry Replies:
Good question, Mike. I have trouble with dialogue. I have to really work at it. Frequently, the trick is knowing what it is you want to say before you start writing it, so you have a destination in mind. Then, after I've written it, I start to cut. I take out every word that I don't think is essential to conveying the feeling or mood or information I want the reader to have. I probably rework dialogue more than any other part of a book, and still I'm usually not satisfied.

Ian Smylie Writes:
Hi! I Started writing a fantasy novel, and it is really fun... So far. I was just wondering if you had any tips, any important things a fantasy needs. Thanks!

Terry Replies:
See the above question. Most of what I have to say about writing fantasy or writing in general is contained in my memoir, Sometimes the Magic Works. There's just too much to try to lay it all out anywhere else. What I usually tell someone who asks your question is that you need to learn patience and perseverance. That, and if you don't love it enough to do it whether you get published or not, it's probably not for you.

Justin Cox Writes:
Mr. Brooks, as an aspiring writing, I've always found the relationship between writer and editor very interesting (and in many cases, inspiring). I particularly enjoyed the chapters in Sometimes the Magic Works in which you detailed some of your experiences with Lester del Rey. I know Betsy Mitchell has recently joined the Del Rey team, and her efforts to help one of your peers, J. V. Jones, break into the realm of published authors is well documented. Are you working with Betsy? What's that like? Is she busting your chops despite your status as Ard Rhys of fantasy authors? Thank you.

Terry Replies:
Owen Lock has edited my work since the early 1990s, but recently Betsy worked on both Sometimes the Magic Works and Jarka Ruus. From those experiences, I think she is pretty capable and I hope to work with her again. We do a lot of back and forth on story ideas and plot developments, so we talk frequently. I wouldn't describe her as one of those editors who wants to bust your chops. She's been very supportive and helpful to me. As you know from reading Sometimes the Magic, I have been fortunate in editors and think of them as partners in the development of each book, not as adversaries.

Heidi Pogner Writes:
I just finished reading Sometimes The Magic Works. It was wonderful, and answered so many of my questions about writing, especially on outlining. I noticed you mentioned you have taught classes on ficition writing. Do plan on teaching again the future? I know it is highly highly unlikely, but I wanted to ask, since I would genuinely be interested in taking your course. Thank you so much!

Terry Replies:
I teach at the Maui Writers Retreat every year, taking a class of eleven or twelve students who are writing fiction from an idea they bring to the class. Other than that, my teaching is sporadic. This year, I taught a class at Pacific NW Writers Conference, but instead of running five days as it does on Maui, it ran about four hours. Eric, from question number four below, was in attendance. I teach at bookstores sometimes and at other conferences and conventions, but nothing steady. Even though I like doing it, it takes too much time out of my writing life.

Eric C. Henrickson Writes:
I have enrolled at the Pacific Northwest Writers Confrence in Seattle July 24th - 27 and signed up for your "General Fiction Critique" of a "A Legend in Thars" a novel I am working on what can I expect durring this session?

Terry Replies:
Too late, Eric. You already know what you can expect by now. Hope you got something useful out of it. Eric, by the way, is writing a faith-based fantasy that has some pretty good ideas incorporated into it. His first five pages were pretty exciting. I sent him home to work on structure and organization. We will see.

Michael Palmer Writes:
I have been noticing in several books that I have read that characters names are just a string of consonants with a couple of vowels thrown in (ex. "Maentwrog", "Morgawr"). How much thought goes into naming characters and what makes you say "OK that's it, that's the name?"

Terry Replies:
Well, Michael, I don't know that I would buy into the 'string of consonants with a couple of vowels thrown in' theory, but I can tell you that most of those names come out of English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish languages or as derivatives thereof. I look for what I think are interesting or memorable names when I travel and take down those names for future use. A lot of thought goes into naming characters and creatures and places, since the name often makes a difference to the reader's connection.

Daniel W. Writes:
Do you ever get tired of writing?

Terry Replies:
I get tired at the end of every day and sometimes at the beginning before I have written a word. But when writing defines your life, you are impassioned enough about it not ever to consider giving it up completely. I can't imagine that, no matter how tired I get.

Cpl Jeffrey Karns USMC Writes:
I recently have been all around the Pacific region of Asia and have witnessed unbelievable events that inspire me to write. Have any of your books been inspired as a result of situations you've been in or places you've gone to?

Terry Replies:
My work is continually inspired by the places I travel to. Quite often, a place will suggest a story. Or if not a story, at least a scene. I use the geography of places in the real world to buttress the places I write about in my books. You can find Hawaii, Canada, Wales, England and much of the continental US in various books. Nothing gets my creative energy up and running as quickly as travel. It is one of the reasons I am gone so much.

A.G. Thorley Writes:
What aspects of your approach have to change the most when you write a short story like Indomitable, as compared to a novel (and might we perhaps see more stories like this one)? Despite your familiarity with the characters in Indomitable, the elements of the story would seem to be different if for no other reason then the limitations of a shorter story format.

Terry Replies:
I find it much harder to write short stories than long fiction. I feel cramped by the lack of space and the dictates of the form. There is considerable difference in long and short fiction disciplines, and I am not good with the latter. I hope not to have to do many more of them, but you never know. I must have written Indomitable anywhere from four to five times, each effort different. Give me a five hundred page sprawl as an assignment any day.

David Kepes Writes:
When do you have your writing sessions and seminars?

Terry Replies:
My writing classes vary each year. I usually teach at the Maui Writers Retreat for five or six days in late August. That is the longest and most comprehensive of my classes. I have taught at Book Passage in Corte Madeira, California, north of San Francisco, several times, and will do so again this coming April. Look for the announcement on the site. Other than that, I teach when the opportunity comes up and the situation feels right. I have done so at Pacific NW Writers and a few other venues. The best way to know is to keep an eye on the website for an announcement.

Amy Lynn Brewer Writes:
When you write, do you have a special place to think or to be alone to write your books?

Terry Replies:
Yes, Amy. I have two writing spaces where almost all the creative writing work gets dones. One is in Seattle, the other in Hawaii. I work in both places. I was raised to study alone and in quiet, so that has carried over to my adult life. No music, no distractions. I am the sort who arranges his pencils each time he sits down. Obsessive/compulsive. But it works, so I don't mess with it. These days, I mostly write in the mornings, starting early.

David Thompson Writes:
Terry my name is David Thompson and I am thirteen and I have read all 12 of your books with Shannara anywhere in the title. My favorite overall was The Elfstones of Shannara and I liked your most recent book, The High Druid of Shannara - Jarka Ruus. All your writings have inspired me to write a book of my own. My question is how do you find or choose the names in your books? And I would like to say that I have heard that you liked the Count of Monte Cristo that was my favorite book until I read The Elfstones of Shannara.

Terry Replies:
Well, I loved all of Alexander Dumas' works, including Count of Monte Cristo. That was what drew me to the adventure story format that I still write to. Anyway, names. I keep a list, an ongoing list, that I add to all the time. The names come from all over the place, frequently from traveling to other countries. I take them off street signs and buildings and out of phone books and lists of all sorts. Some of them I use the way I find them. Some I change or combine to get the desired effect. What I am always searching for are names that fit the character, creature, place or whatever and that say something to the reader about each.

David Taylor Writes:
After reading your book Sometimes the Magic Works, I was very surprised to discover that your original attempt at a second novel Song of Lorelei, did not make it into print. I know you related in SMW that you finally agreed with Mr. Del Rey that it was unpublishable. Is there ANY chance your fans may one day get to see this mysterious piece?

Terry Replies:
No, David, that book is dead and gone. I ended up cannibalizing large parts of it for use in The Wishsong of Shannara, but the overall story was just not salvageable. I am not much good at keeping stuff around once I have discarded it. That book was a learning experience and served its purpose as such. I don't think we need to bother with it beyond that.

Cindy Murphy Writes:
Terry, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate you on the success of your works and thank you for sharing your wonderful imagination and talent. Your books are some of the most cherished in my collection. I'm curious to know how painful it was to have your first novel "scrutinized" by an editor and if this process ever gets any easier, since I know firsthand how intensely personal our stories are to us. Would you mind sharing?

Terry Replies:
Some writers had the intervention of editors. I value it. Of course, I have had only positive editorial experiences, so that colors my response. Not that they haven't been painful. Lester del Rey was very hard on me for the first three books of the Shannara series, requiring monstrous rewrites for each book. But his approach was hard to argue. He never asked you to change anything without giving a reason. If you could talk or argue him out of his position, he would relent. I might have done that a couple of times. More important, he would ask for and accept your changes without imposing his own. He understood whose book it was, and his only concern was in making it a strong book. Fair enough, I think. Even the best writer can see only so much without needing a fresh pair of eyes. I value that sort of help, even now.

Nathan Bauder Writes:
I have read all of your Shannara books and I am now glancing at the cover of Antrax. As a Fantasy reader and hopefully a future writer. How do you put your characters in such circumstances that it seems impossible for them to escape with their lives. Then, pull them out with out leaing too heavily on magic?

Terry Replies:
The trick is in the planning. I spend a lot of time thinking my story through before I write it, particularly the tough situations where things seem darkest for the characters. What I don't want to see happen - ever - is that they get out of a mess because some magic comes along from out of nowhere to save them. I don't think readers buy into this and it always feels false to me. Magic should be used sparingly. Besides, what we are really interested in our characters is how they respond on an emotional level to tough situations. That's what we have to do all the time, isn't it?

Matt Rowley Writes:
I couldn't help but notice a significant change in the tone of your writing from Sword of Shannara to Elfstones. I loved the original Shannara novel, but with Elfstones your writing had a more confident, mature feel that you've maintained since. What made such a difference those five or so years?

Terry Replies:
It took me seven years to write Sword of Shannara, and I mostly wrote it in my spare time. I had no particular agenda and nothing to prove. But none of that was true with Elfstones, which I wrote under contract and with a great deal to prove. At least, to myself. I wrote Elfstones after a failed second book you will read about in a memoir I will be publishing next year. It took me about eighteen months to write that book. Also, remember that Sword was a first book, the first I wrote and finished. So it taught me a lot about being a writer. I was more confident with Elfstones, and I think better able to use the lessons I had learned from Sword.

Web Druid Writes:
Often on this website people ask about writing and how to go about it, how to get published, agents, etc. But I have a very simple question: How does it feel to put that last word down in the last chapter of the book? Do you celebrate it's completion? Or is it just another day?

Terry Replies:
I always feel very good about finishing a book. It never changes. It isn't the Let's Celebrate! sort of good, but just a private satisfaction that I have another one finished and I think it is pretty good. As I have said before, it is the writing process I really love, not the books. When the books are in print and on the shelves, I lose interest. Writing is everything to me.

Joshua Gates Writes:
Dear Terry: Sorry for such an odd question...while writing your books, what do you use to write? A word processor, typewriter, etc? And then when submitting a manuscript, do you also print this at home? Sorry for such an odd question and thank you for your time.

Terry Replies:
I use a Mac Cube these days, and ever since Wishsong, have used Mac computers for all my writing. Before that, for the first two Shannara books and all that went before, I used a typewriter. Typing was one of those summer high school courses my parents forced me to take that I hated, but was awfully glad I took later on. I outline and doodle thoughts on yellow legal tablets, but write on a computer. Same with editing and printing out of the manuscript. I can do both in either Seattle or Hawaii, depending on where I am working.

Bethany Flores Writes:
I am currently a senior in college. If I continue, I will graduate this time next year with a teaching degree. All of my life, I have had the gift of writing, and an endless well of ideas to draw from. In my very first semester of college, I was fortunate enough to have an English professor who took an interest in my then, unfinished book. He became very excited and assured me that one day I would be on the "Today Show". I have since finished the book, and have continued to write. However, I'd like to get my book published, and be able to write for a living. How realistic is it? What path should I follow? Should I consider leaving school to devote all of my time to this pursuit? In a nutshell, what is your advice?

Terry Replies:
Okay, Bethany. A serious question deserves a serious answer. The hard truth is, no one can tell you what to do. This is something only you can decide. I am not in favor of anyone leaving school without a degree. Keep writing, but do it on the side and in your spare time. Life is a long time. You can find the space to write if you want, now and later. Things never change. You have to do something anyway while you are trying to break in. You can't predict when that will happen. So you go to school or you work. Stay in school. You never know. By the way, pick up and read a copy of my book on writing and life when it comes out next April. It may give you some insights. Meanwhile, read some other books on becoming a writer by other writers. See what they went through. Good luck.

Anonymous Writes:
Hello Mr.Brooks, first I'd like to say love your Shannara series, I've read most of them more then once but am now reading them all over again, I was wondering how many pages you usually write in a day, and for the fun of it whats the most pagesss u've ever writtebn in one day? Thanx

Terry Replies:
I would say that I average about five to eight pages a day when I am working. It varies somewhat, because some days the words come more easily than on others. I think my maximum output might have been around fifteen pages, but that is a lot. I try to pace myself, since burnout is a threat. At least to me, these days - brain-dead by midafternoon.

Adam Joseph Walsh Writes:
How do you know when you've written a piece to really be proud of, does that feeling of success come after personally reviewing it, or after you've received good reviews from family and friends?

Terry Replies:
Truth is, I don't trust family and friends. They have too much at stake not to tell me they love what I do, even when they don't. Judine is honest, but actually I don't let anyone read what I am writing until the book is finished. Not even my editor. I take this approach because I don't think you can judge a book in pieces - you have to read it as a finished whole. So mostly I rely on myself. I do this by finishing a chapter and then putting it aside for a day before reading it again, whether I think it is any good or not. Mostly, that one day gives me enough distance to be able to judge its merit. I can tell if it works or not. Then I know whether to go on or go back. But you have to remember it is a constant process, this editing business, and the book will be revised and edited several times before it goes into print.

Tom Writes:
Every time I finish one of your books I say to myself; "Oooh that was much better than the last one". Do you find that, as a writer, your skills naturally improve with every novel or do you conciously and deliberately work harder than ever before to make the next novel you write your best ever?

Terry Replies:
I always try to make each new book better than the ones that went before, even though I don't think that is entirely realistic. As a goal, it works, though. The thing of it is, readers determine which book they like the best, and the writer can only present a set of choices, not determine the vote. I think my writing skills are better now than they were when I started out with Shannara, but I don't know that my story skills are better. I think the old books work as well as the new ones, don't you?

Terry Albert Writes:
The Sword of Shannara was the first book I ever bought and I had to get the whole Shannara series after. I think your work is awesome. In your Shannara books you jump from one person's perspective to the other. My question is, when you write the book do you write that person's story all at the same time or do you write it as we see it in the books?

Terry Replies:
I work pretty much in linear fashion. The way the story reads is the way it was written. If I don't do it that way, I can't control the pacing of the story as well. Besides, I don't always know one person's story all the way through until I have written everyone else's story as well, piece by piece. What happens in one place often determines what happens in another. It is a big puzzle with a lot of little pieces.

Emerson McAfee Writes:
Hi, I am a big fan, and I am trying my own hand at writing a book. I had a plot in my mind, and everytime it starts becoming a tangible plot, I end up finding a flaw and changing it. How do you go about thinking up a plot and then developing it, and do you have a lot of major changes in your book plots while you outline the book? Thanks for so many great books and thanks for the help.

Terry Replies:
When plotting a book, and then outlining it in preparation for writing, you have to remember that this is only a blueprint for what you are going to try to do and it will change. It is impossible to get it all right before you actually write the book because the writing of the book will tell you a lot about what needs to happen. Also, you will get better ideas about your story. So don't break your back over getting all the details down. Get your story arc together as best you can - a sense of beginning, middle and end. Get your characters established in your head. Understand what the destination of your journey is supposed to be.

Next April I will be publishing a book on writing and my writing experiences entitled Sometimes the Magic Works. Keep an eye out for it, those of you who are interested in writing and the lessons I learned about being a writer. It might help.

Benjamin John Forsberg Writes:
When you write, and your mind wanders to another story idea (if it does), how do you get back to writing the initial story?

Terry Replies:
Tell you what, Ben. I have a firm grip on my mind, so far, and I don't let it wander too far. What I do, is I write down the essential information about the idea and leave it for later on. Sometimes later on is that same day, after I'm done writing on the current book. Sometimes later on is down the road. But I don't leave one story to work on another. What that does, besides distract me from keep my pacing solid, is to risk mixing character voices. The temptation is there to want to pursue the new idea, but if it is really a good idea in the first place, it won't go away.

Tug McGroeen Writes:
Have you ever written something and thought it was total junk, submitted it and then found out that the publisher/readers thought it was great?

Terry Replies:
I never write anything for publication that isn't my best effort and that I won't be prepared to defend at some later date. I've been lucky enough not to have to write anything under so much pressure that it didn't matter what I wrote just so long as I wrote it. I set my own schedule and work at my own pace. Sometimes, I think I will get jumped on by the publisher or my editor for trying something out, but that hasn't happened in awhile. Mostly, we argue about titles. I can tell you that sometimes I go to bed thinking that what I wrote that day was crap, then wake the next morning and discover that it wasn't so bad after all. That always surprises me. But if you are a professional writer, you do good work no matter how you are feeling or what sort of day you are having.

Anonymous Writes:
How much literary control does your publisher give you?

Terry Replies:
My editor will offer suggestions about what he thinks could use improvement in my writing or storytelling. Beyond that, the publisher doesn't do anything. They leave it entirely up to me. So whether you like it or not, I have to bear the blame or accept the kudos. Most publishers don't get involved in what writers write unless it invites litigation from a third party.

Simon Martin Lewis Writes:
Why did you choose fantasy as your first attempt at writing a novel?

Terry Replies:
Actually, I wrote a whole bunch of other stuff before I began writing Sword of Shannara. I tried my hand at science fiction, westerns, war stories, you name it. All those efforts had two things in common: they weren't very good, but they were a learning experience. I don't think you actually choose what you write. I think you find your way to what works for you. That's how it was with me. I found my way to fantasy/adventure. When I got there, I knew I'd found a home.

Amberle Elessidil Writes:
Is it hard for you to create names for your characters? I have friends who are interested in writing and have trouble in this area. Any tips?

Terry Replies:
Names are tough for me, especially if I have to come up with a whole set of them all at once. So I keep a list of names that I refer to at the start of every book, choosing among them for the characters, places, creatures and what have you. Mostly, this works. I find what I want, or I find a derivation or combination, or I am only left with one or two to work out. I get the names from my travels mostly. I find them on street signs and storefronts and cities and phone books and all over the place. If I see one that is interesting, I write it down and add it to the list. I even get names from autographings. Several names I have used have come from people who came out to buy one of my books. You never know.

J.S. Gorham Writes:
Mr Brooks, I have always wondered what kind of commitment professional writing needs... I understand the commitment to the writing part... But I am curious about the commitment of deadlines... I guess my question is: Who sets the deadlines, yourself or the publisher?

Terry Replies:
Deadlines are a part of publishing life if you work under contracts that provide for advances. Advances are earnings against royalties, and they are paid based upon completion of deadlines - for example, outline, first draft, first printing hardcover, first soft, and so on. My deadlines are arrived at by mutual agreement between myself and the publisher. They are based on what I think I can do from experience and what the publisher would like to see happen. If I run early or late, it usually doesn't cause trouble, although to date I have always submitted my books ahead of schedule.

Daniel Elliot Writes:
What books or resources would you recommend for learning good outline writing and practice?

Terry Replies:
I'm not sure I would recommend any particular resources for outlining. I really think what you do to prepare to write a book should vary from person to person. It should fit your personality and your writing habits. There isn't any uniform practice that will work. Like writing a book, it varies from one to the next. So best just to sit down and figure out what you need to do to prepare yourself. Certainly, you need to begin by thinking your book all the way through - at least the major plot points. You need to know who your characters are and be able to tell yourself something about them. It helps to get a sense of how the action in your story will unfold. Then write it all down in some way. I use a chapter by chapter breakdown that consists of a paragraph for each chapter. I like writing down character sketches. I usually do several pages that tell me about the thematic structure. But like I said, you should find out what works for you.

Steve "Vale Shade" Wood Writes:
I'm beginning to write a novel again. I've tried many times before and never got past the ideas and a few paragraphs. I've just finished my second chapter! I'm concerned about infringing on someone elses copyrights. Is there some resource available where I can check to make sure I don't step on any feet (or pens)?

Terry Replies:
There really isn't any way to check on whether what you are writing is borrowing from others. Chances are you are, and chances are it doesn't matter. There is some similarity in all fantasy writing, so being completely unique is unlikely. What you want to avoid is copying someone else's story. If you find a published, the editor will likely know if you have. It is best for now just to write you story in the best way you can, tell it in your own voice, and keep your focus centered on finishing it.

Cassandra Nehf Writes:
I am very exited about the idea of writing, but when I actually get down to it, or even think of actually writing, I get scared and chicken out, even finding excuses not to write. I don't understand why, because I really love writing. What is wrong, and what should I do to get over this???

Terry Replies:
Writers are compulsive people, for the most part. Writing is a problem only when you think too much about what it entails. If you think about it as an entire project, with so many pages, and so many characters, etc., it can be so intimidating you can't get started. It is best if you approach the writing task with the idea of just doing a few paragraphs or a page or two. Don't make yourself crazy by thinking about doing more. Also, be sure you have some sort of outline completed that tells you what it is you are going to write. This makes the doing of it a lot easier as well. It sort of greases the skids. Don't over think what you are trying to do. Just sit down and write something, good or bad.

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Last Updated: December 9, 2009