R.A. Salvatore is an author of over forty books as well as graphic novels, comic books, video game stories, as well as a self-confessed Dungeons & Dragons player and DM. Involved with several game titles over the years, both video and tabletop, he’s also a player of PC RPGs and MMOs. With a few things coming up, including the fourth entry into the Neverwinter books, The Last Threshold, Crpytic’s Neverwinter, and another Drizzt book that kicks off The Sundering event, I got the chance to interview R.A. Salvatore while he was prepping for his upcoming book tour that starts this week. As always he was fantastic and was more than ready to answer my questions about the book, the industry and gaming.
DHGF Ashe: The Last Threshold starts off on a much lighter note than the other books in this series. Was this more Drizzt not wanting to really deal with what he’d been thinking about and just trying to right a few wrongs he’s seen in the region to hold off thinking about his past and current position?
R.A. Salvatore: I think it was his way of trying to elevate the people around him, you know, to try and give them purpose and meaning. I think you’re referring to going to Port Llast for example, I think that was Drizzt way of trying to teach Entreri a lesson, you know, a positive lesson. I don’t think it worked, but he tried. Maybe it worked a little bit.
DHGF: Drizzt did seem to find an awkward cohesion with the group with Artemis, Dahlia, Ambergris, Afafrenfere and later Effron, could we be seeing more of their adventures or is this the end for them as a party?
RAS: No, I think you’ll see more of them. I think their still kicking around. How long they stay a party, I mean I don’t think it makes sense for all of them to be there but it certainly makes sense for some of them to be there. So we’ll see how that plays out as we go forward.
DHGF: Is Afafrenfere similar to how you’d play a monk in tabletop? Specifically fighting unsuspecting patrons to fleece their coin for the dwarf?
RAS: In tabletop I suppose it would depend more on alignment, right? I don’t think Lawful Good monks run around beating up people for money, but yeah, I think that in a world where everyone is using a sword, if you can use your hands as well as the monks in Dungeons and Dragons can use their hands, it seemed like an easy way to make some money. So if you are, morally ambiguous, or more of a lawful neutral type of attitude about the world, then I suppose why not. Besides, the dwarf liked it.
DHGF: Pwent’s fate is left open as we never really see that in the book itself, will we be seeing that in the comics or in future novels?
RAS: Other novels, certainly. The comic series, possibly. But certainly in novels, yeah. You’ll be seeing him again.
DHGF: Drizzt definitely seemed to have an impact on his companions, all of them pulled from dark walks of life. Do you think a seed has been planted with them that’ll carry on, especially with characters like Artemis or Dahlia?
RAS: I thought it was until Dahlia surprised me at the end. And now I just don’t know.
DHGF: So that part wasn’t planned that just kind of happened, kind of see an opening an go for it kind of thing?
RAS: Well I plan out all the books and then I throw the plans away and let the characters tell me what’s going on and I get surprised all the time. This book surprised me.
DHGF: Overall the Neverwinter series has been about reflecting on Drizzt past even while trying to work out his place in this new setting. Does that reflect on events in your own life as well as this series or is that more relegated to Drizzt?
RAS: I don’t think anything is just a Drizt thing with me,or just a Wulfgar thing or just an Entreri thing. I think everything I do when I’m writing, is um, almost my own way of asking myself questions, so I definitely, when I see my characters going through a choice or having themselves in a situation where they should probably be taking a good look at their behavior and what the best course forward is, it’s probably got something to do with something in my life somewhere that I need to look at. The writing is almost like my way of making sense of a crazy world. So I don’t think it’s ever just a Drizzt thing with me.
DHGF: Are there any plans you can share in store for Tiago Baenre and Gauntlgrym beyond what we see in this book or are they relegated to the Neverwinter game?
RAS: Oh they are, I’m working on the book for next year, next March. And I can tell you that I find myself in the Underdark, a lot. Like every other chapter. There’s a lot coming up with the characters from that group, the Xoralarrin and Tiago, all of them. Big, big things going on there. So yeah, they’re definitely carrying on.
DHGF: You’d mentioned in a past interview going onto forums or some news feeds to get a full inventory of Jarlaxle’s goodies. Did you have to go back to reference that for this book and his daring raid?
RAS: I actually have him, no. I know him a bit better now. I’ve used him more,especially after the Sell Swords Trilogy where he was the star through it. I know most of them now, and every once in awhile I might need a refresher course, but not as much as when I first wrote Servant of the Shard.
DHGF: Jarlaxle really had to do some coaxing to really get Bregan D’aerthe on his side. Is his sway with the mercenaries starting to wane a bit?
RAS: There’s a lot of big things going on in the Realms, obviously. There’s a lot of big things going on with the Gods of the Realms and so there’s a lot of big things going on in Menzoberranzan and a lot of them will really be beyond the control of Jarlaxle which he’s really not going to like very much. But as far as within Bregan D’aerthe goes, yeah you’re getting a hint in The Last Threshold that there’s a lot going on with Kimmuriel even outside. I mean when, well, it’s pretty obvious in one of the scenes of the book that Kimmuriel’s got friends outside of Bregan D’aerthe who are very powerful and when you look at it that way, Jarlaxle is controlling him, but he’s never really controlled him, so there’s a power struggle. Absolutely. But he’s Jarlaxle so he’ll win in the end, right?
DHGF: Right. And he always watches his back so Kimmuriel coming at him wouldn’t be all that surprising anyway.
RAS: Well I will tell you that going forward Kimmuriel might be the least of his problems, I’ll leave it at that.
DHGF: As I was reading I realized that while he’s been trying to give Dahlia the advice of the elf he’d worked with, Innovindil, Drizzt has never been able to follow a life cycle of mortals and cut all ties clean. Do you think that has something to do with the strength of his initial companions or is there something else driving that?
RAS: I think that different people have different ways of looking at the world and his way of looking at the world, no matter how much anyone might tell him should have been differently never really synced up with what Innovindil told him. And right there is the central conflict of this whole series, right there. Can Drizzt shake off the past and move forward? And if he does, how is he going forward? Is he going forward with people of like heart or is he hanging out with the wrong crowd? And if he’s hanging out with the wrong crowd, which he obviously is, is he making them into the right crowd or are they making him into the wrong crowd? Or is it somewhere in the gray area in the middle? And of course there will be consequences for whichever way that goes for him.
DHGF: In the book, once the initial run to secure Port Llast is complete, Drizzt really begins to seriously self-evaluate from his previous adventures and recent events. Was this a conscious choice to have him go so heavily inwards after the success early on in the story, or is that something that progressed naturally?
RAS: I don’t think it was a conscious choice on his part, as if you look at the events that happen right after Port Llast, when he winds up, oh, well I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll shut up there. But if you look at the things that happen around him, he almost got put in some situations where you have to. There wasn’t much else to do for awhile there.
DHGF: Without getting all spoilery about the last moments of the book, the ending can be held to the reader’s interpretation of what ultimately ends up happening and obviously leaving wiggle room to continue on. Was this the ending for this series you had in mind or did this come about more because of upcoming events in the Forgotten Realms?
RAS: No. This almost happened organically through the writing of The Last Threshold and when I saw it starting to open up is when I realized that The Last Threshold was a Neverwinter book. That it belonged in that Saga. So a little bit of both, but it definitely happened organically. Surprised me. And like I said, when I saw the conflict that had been occurring through Neverwinter was really resolving, definitively resolving in this book is when I realized that it was really the fourth book and the Neverwinter Trilogy became the Neverwinter Saga.
DHGF: So this actually started off as separate from the Neverwinter story and as you wrote it you realized it tied more into that.
RAS: Yeah. Remember I was writing this book last year, and you know this whole thing with The Sundering and all the big stuff going on, I didn’t know most of that when I was writing this book. The other thing is logistically when you’re working along side a project, Cryptic’s and now The Perfect World’s coming out with the Neverwinter game. The game was originally supposed to be out alongside Guantlgrym, three years ago, or two and a half years ago. And it got delayed when Cryptic got sold and after that happened it kept getting delayed. So, if that game had come out, I don’t know that we would have included it in the Neverwinter Saga, just logistically it’s hard to do that when you’re playing side by side with something else that’s out there. See what I mean, because you could be messing people up. With all the Drizzt books, from the beginning, the story has organically developed. I’m just writing the next book in line and then TSR, now Wizards of the Coast breaks it up into trilogies and quartets and quintets and all of that. I just think of it as one long story.
DHGF: When we’d last talked about Charon’s Claw you were already well into The Last Threshold, and had a few more books planned. I would guess that you’re already done with the next in line and I was curious what your current count is beyond Neverwinter book IV?
RAS: Well The Companions is done, absolutely done, it’s edited, it’s probably on its way to the printer. And I’m about halfway done with the book for next year at this time. I don’t have a name yet.
DHGF: So The Sundering is the next major world event for Forgotten Realms, an event you get to kick off with The Companions. Is this going to be as traumatic as the events of the Spellplague and should we be investing in tissues?
RAS: I think it will be as dramatic as what happened with the Time of Troubles. I think it’s a major play in the world. There probably will be some tissues involved for different people. Keep in mind the way we’re doing The Sundering and I love it, is that the six authors,it’s almost like, think of the Sundering as World War II. I’m writing the Battle of Britain, Richard Lee Byers is writing the North African Campaign, and Erin Evans is writing about the Holocaust, and Ed Greenwood is writing about Hiroshima and Troy Denning is writing about the Normandy Invasion, and Paul Kemp is writing about the Pacific War or something like that. We’re all writing about different events about different people all taking place about the same time, in the same time period of The Sundering. While there were things in my book that I wanted Richard Lee Byers in particular to see,and the other authors to see, things in The Companions, and there were things in their books I needed to be aware of, the second book of The Sundering is not a sequel to my book, it’s another book about the same events that are going on in the world with different characters and a different place. This is really ambitious. The Sundering is really ambitious. It’s huge and I really love the way Wizards of the Coast did it because instead of handing me a booklet and saying ‘here you’re going to love this, this is what we’re doing’, they brought us in and said ‘these are the changes that are coming to Dungeons & Dragons and this is what we’re thinking about for the world, but how would this affect the world?’ and then let the author’s be a part of that process of redefining the Forgotten Realms in Fifth Edition. And this is the first time that it’s happened like that to this extent and I think it worked out great. We’ve had two summits, three summits, I wasn’t at the one at GenCon last year unfortunately, but it’s worked out pretty good.
DHGF: Did The Sundering throw a monkey wrench into your plans for Drizzt or did this flow along with what you’d already planned?
RAS: I don’t think it threw nearly as big a monkey wrench as Fourth Edition threw into my plans when they advanced the world a hundred years. And of course I was writing the Neverwinter Saga and that all really takes place before The Sundering or during The Sundering in the last book, a little bit. So,no. There were things that I had planned a long, long, long time ago that I was not expecting to happen now, but did. And that’s ok.
DHGF: You said the novels, The Sundering novels themselves are going to be more self-contained, are they going to have an over-arching narrative, but each one will not necessarily affect the others, so that if you opt for just one you’re not completely lost?
RAS: Well I think you can but if you’re interested in what’s going on in the world, each one is going to be telling very important parts of what’s going on that will affect the character’s going forward in all the world. The Companions is the first book of The Sundering but it’s really the first book in the next series of Forgotten Realms books I’m writing. The same is true with every other author there, that they’ll go forward with their book after The Sundering book to tell the continuing stories of those characters. And certainly what’s going on, like Richard Lee Byers, for example, I know for a fact that what’s happening in his book is going to have a huge impact on future books with one of my characters if they happen to go back to that place. It’s all interconnected. I’m sure you can read any one of the books and get an enjoyable experience, it’s a beginning, middle and end. For the complete picture of the world hopefully you’ll want to read them all.
DHGF: On the topic of The Sundering, I’d heard that you had been included in the planning with a few other author’s of adventure modules that would tie into the novels. Anything you can tell us about that?
RAS: I’m not sure if they’ve announced or what they’ve announced, so I don’t want to be cryptic about it but yeah one of the things I’ve asked is to be more involved in the modules and being part of that. They’re really trying to. For many years there’s been this kind of love-hate relationship between the games department and the book department. They were separate departments reporting to separate people with separate revenue trees and all the rest of it. And now it really seems like they’re trying to integrate the two. So that the people writing the books have a better idea what the people in the games department is doing and the games department are building future things off of the books. So if events happen in the book that the games department thinks would make a great module, they do a module, and if they want to do a module, why not at least have the author help or consult with the module.
DHGF: You mentioned that part of the world building initiative for Forgotten Realms continuing on, that initially when we’d talked before it was a few conversations, but now it sounds like they’re going to keep moving forward and doing that. Is that what you’d like to see going forward and how well is that working out?
RAS: Yeah I think we’ve pretty much decided on two meetings a year. One at GenCon and one up at Wizards of the Coast in the winter. I just got back from Seattle a couple of weeks ago. Ed Greenwood was there and Troy Denning, and Richard couldn’t come because he hurt his back, but he Skyped in and Paul Skyped in and Erin Evans was there. She couldn’t be there last year. She had to Skype in because she had a new baby, but she was there this year and so yeah we’re getting together. And then at GenCon we’ve got a panel together. We’ll all be out there. Hopefully all of us. When they first started talking about Fifth Edition, they asked, they didn’t tell, they asked, ‘what do you think is missing?’ and I mentioned to them that when we used to have GenCon back in Milwaukee, back in the early nineties, the panels we’d have all of the Realms authors on the same panel. That was great because people could go in to talk to any of us or all of us and ask us questions. But what was even better about that was that we could hear about what the other person was doing. And every now and then we’d see that someone else was doing something that was going to have an impact on what we were doing if we wanted it to and so we ‘d enrich our own stories by pulling in from the side on what Ed’s doing in Cormyr or something. And they’re trying to get back to that. So, it’s a much, much better way to do a world, when the people writing in the world know who each other are and how to get in touch with each other. I mean, there are a lot of Forgotten Realms authors I don’t know at all. I’ve never met them. I don’t have their phone numbers or e-mail addresses or vice versa. But we’re trying to get away from that. We’re trying to get back to the way it used to be. I remember when at the beginning of the Realms, it was me, and Troy Denning, and Doug Nyles, Scott Ciencin and Ed Greenwood and Elaine Cunningham, and Jim Lowder and Jeff Grubb and Kate Novak. It was a small group. We knew each other very well. We met every GenCon, we were together on panels, Jean Rabe joined in and the other authors who came into the Realms as we went along and they came in as well. We all knew each other. We all talked about what we were working on. We got away from that for a lot of years. And now they’re working very hard to get back to it and I think it’ll show. I think it makes the whole world stronger.
DHGF: As far as reading material goes, do you prefer a more traditional paper copy or have you embraced digital?
RAS: The only book I’ve read on computer screen are my own as I’m writing and editing them. I still prefer the paper, but it’s getting harder and harder. I mean the digital formats are taking over whether I like it or not.
DHGF: So you see the future of books as digital, or more of a balance between paper and digital?
RAS: It’ll be a mix of both I think. What I think you’re going to see is I think you’re going to see hardcover books in particular go back to the old style where they’re really almost like a work of art, with a nice binding and a more expensive look and feel almost like a piece of furniture and I hope it stays that way. To me when you walk into someone’s house and you see a library there, it gives you a an idea of who you’re with. It says something about the person. So I hope that will continue and I think it will. But I think the sheer convenience of having an ereader with twenty books on it, like when you go on a trip. If you bring a book with you and you’re on a six hour flight out to California and you’re at thirty thousand feet and you start reading the book and you realize, ‘I don’t want to read this book,’ and now you’ve got nothing to do. If you’ve got an ereader then you flip to the next book. Right? So I see the writing on the wall. I think it’s going much more, I mean, the biggest thing driving it is that they’ve shut down so many bookstores. There aren’t that many bookstores anymore. So if people are going to be online ordering books now they’re going to order ebooks. I think ebooks are taking over. They’ll probably be the vast majority of the market in short order. I never thought it was going to get this big, and I can tell you now that well over half my backlist sales are ebook.
DHGF: You mentioned Neverwinter and Cryptic earlier. Have you had a chance to get hands on with it yet? I know last time we talked, they had tentatively called you about it.
RAS: I have not gotten my hands on the game yet. They sent me a video of the toolkit, and I’m getting my hands on the game very, very soon. I’m going to be meeting with those guys out at PAX East in March, and we’ve had a lot of contact. A lot more contact now as they’re getting close. There’s a time, and you have to understand I went through this with the other video game company, them dealing with me would have just been, you know,extraneous to what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to build a game. And they don’t need to be talking to me. They had what they needed from me and if they needed more, Wizards of the Coast would say to me, ‘Bob, what have you got going on over here?’ and I’d tell them. So, it worked out very well. I’ve been very happy dealing with Cryptic.
DHGF: Have they tapped you for any more ideas at this point or is it pretty much locked down with what they want to do content-wise?
RAS: I don’t know. We’re talking about having an ongoing relationship. I’m working with IDW now in the comics, and doing these little side things is kind of refreshing instead of just writing one book after another year after year after year.
DHGF: I noticed this book is getting a really short tour. Where are you headed and are they saving a longer tour for The Companions later this year?
RAS: Book tours are getting hard. They’re getting hard because there’s just not as many stores. So they’re trying to get more creative. Last year for example, I did a stop at a Renaissance Fair in Connecticut. I did a signing there and it went great. It seems like more conventions might be better venues than a lot of the bookstores. But this one’s short and I think it’s only because I’ve got two tours in a row. March and August. I’m back on the road again in August. The one in August is supposed to be big. It’ll probably be West Coast, some Mid West stops, some stores that I had to cancel last year, GenCon will be part of it. I was kind of surprised this tour turned out as small as it did. I don’t know if it’s budget, I don’t know if it’s just last minute stuff, I don’t know what happened. They just decided that this would be a smaller tour. So we’ve got three stops, Baltimore, two stops in New Jersey, and then PAX East. But it’s getting harder. It used to be, I’d go into a town and before I did my formal signing at the Barnes & Nobles or the Borders or the Waldenbooks or wherever I was doing it, I would go to ten to fifteen bookstores and sign stock. I’d go to them all and there’d be a Waldenbooks in the mall and a B.Daltons, and a Brentano’s, and maybe an independent store and a Barnes & Noble outside, and in that one stop we’d hit five stores, meet five store managers, the people who sell the books, sign twenty copies of the book in each store, and then go on to the next mall. You can’t do that anymore. If I’m doing a signing at seven o’clock at night or eight o’clock at night in the city, if I’m lucky during the day we can get to two or three other stores that sell books. It’s crazy. So book tours have fundamentally changed. And now so I’m doing more military bases now, hopefully more conventions, and doing some things that are more off the beaten track like the Ren. Fair.
DHGF: Along with the tour your website offers e-signings.
RAS: We’ve been doing those for twelve years, fifteen years actually.
DHGF: Would you recommend that as a better way to guarantee a signed copy especially considering the changing tours?
RAS: Yes and no. I post the tour on my Facebook page along with the e-signing. And if I’m not coming to your area and you want a signed book, that’s a great way to get it. It’s been great like I said. I actually own the copyright to the term e-signing. That’s true. We actually copyrighted it when I had my Seven Swords company back in 1998. They work out great. I sign five hundred to fifteen hundred books. Some people just want them signed, other people want them signed and personalized, other people get them as gifts with like ‘Happy Birthday Joe’ or ‘Merry Christmas Fred’ or something. And that works out great. We’ve been doing it, like I said, for a lot of years and people are happy. They get books that they otherwise wouldn’t see me. I’m not in their area or whatever. But I always post the tour on the Facebook page as soon as I get it so a lot of people actually wait on the e-signing to see if I’m going to be in their area before they do the e-signing. For the guy who runs the site it’s been a side business going because of it. It’s been a win-win all around for everybody. Those are at rasalvatore.com by the way. I wanna get that plug in for Joe. It’s not my website by the way. It’s my official website, but the guy who runs it owns it. I let him keep it. He’s a good guy.
DHGF: Well thank you for your time. I’m sure you’ve got more going on today. It’s always a pleasure.
RAS: You too Ashe. Good talking to you again.