An Interview With NY Times bestselling author Terry Brooks
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzyMag.com. With me today is Terry Brooks, DragonCon‘s guest of honor, and the New York Times best-selling author of nearly 30 books in the “Legends of Shannara” series. Welcome, Terry.
Terry Brooks: Thank you, nice to be here.
JMW: I’ve got to ask, you’ve had 28 books, almost 30, soon to be 30, in the “Legends of Shannara” series. After so many books and so many adventures, how do you keep the writing from becoming stale?
Terry Brooks: Well, there are a couple different things you can do, and one of them is when you get bored, is to walk away and do something else. So, over the years, I’ve written a couple other series, “Magic Kingdom For Sale”, and also “The Word & Void”. In addition, I’ve also got a book on writing called “Sometimes the Magic Works” and I took the “Star Wars” project when George Lucas asked if I would be interested in doing that for “The Phantom Menace”.
All those things are interspersed with writing the main series in my professional career, and that helps give you a chance to recharge your batteries in between sets.
JMW: Do you ever get surprised by your writing? Or are you one of these people who sit down to the keyboard and say, “I know what’s happening every step of the way”?
Terry Brooks: Well, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it, if I could actually say that I knew what was happening every step of the way? I don’t live like that, number one, and even professional it’d be hard to do. I think writing is fluid. What I write suggests what needs to be written next.
So for me, from in a book and from book to book actually, it’s a process that tells me what I need to do as I go along. So, I try to put enough together that I know the beginning of the story and my characters, and I always write to a particular ending. In between it’s what it needs to be as I’m going along.
JMW: So, you don’t particularly work from an outline? You carry it in your head, and you know the beginning and the ending?
Terry Brooks: Well, I write from an outline, but not from a concrete, set in stone type of outline. So, I know my characters well enough that if you were to ask me what they would do in a situation, I could tell you, in a particular situation. I’m working in a certain level when I write about where the story needs to go and what it needs to be about, and that’s what is kind of my guidepost for getting through it.
JMW: When you sat down to write the “Sword of Shannara” did you know that you were positing a future instead of a past?
Terry Brooks: No. When I started that series, I was writing in the imaginary world of the four lands about peoples and conditions that were totally unrelated to this world. That was my mindset at the time. It was only – what, a dozen, 15 books into the series, that I began to think about the possibility of it being a future of this particular world after the cataclysm of the Great Wars. Even though, I will say that for years, readers have been asking me, “Is this, this world that you’re writing about? Is it this world you’re writing about or some other world?” My standard response was, “Well, what do you think?”
JMW: Yeah, that’s always a good response because they will think of plenty, plenty things. I understand that the “Sword of Shannara” has a very interesting publishing history. That you sold to somebody who didn’t buy fantasy.
Terry Brooks: Well, I don’t know about that. What happened – and I have to give you the 25-word version – was after it went to one publisher, he told me to take it to the del Reys, Lester and Judy-Lynn, who had just come in at Valentine Books to run the science fiction/fantasy division. Judy-Lynn had been hired as editor in chief, so I sent the book to her on the recommendation of Donald Walheim. She took it home to her husband, Lester, and he was not at that point working for them, but had been asked to come in as an editor specializing in fantasy and so forth.
So, to make a long story short, Lester decided that he wanted to make this a trial balloon in the field of fantasy. Which in general, publishers believed was not a major best-selling field, but was just kind of a minor field, and you could sell 5,000 copies, 12,000 copies maybe, of a book, but that was going to be it. Lester believed they could be best-sellers, just like anything else, and he used “Sword of Shannara” to prove that.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.