As the creator of the Forgotten Realms, Elminster, and countless game books and novels (seriously, we couldn't even begin to count them all), Ed Greenwood is one of the most influential figures in fantasy gaming. Now that folks are finally getting a chance to check out his new Pathfinder Tales novel, The Wizard's Mask, we thought it would be fun to do an all-new interview with the wizard himself, asking questions about both his new book and his not-so-humble origins...
In your own words, what's The Wizard's Mask about?
It's about being a misfit in society, and finding your own way (your own life, how you can fit in and meet the world on your terms as much as possible, not just accepting one of the lowest rungs on society's ladders—a slave or a shunned individual). Not just for major characters, but (if you ponder this while reading) for darned near every character in the novel.
Without spoilers, what was your favorite aspect of this novel? What was the most fun part to write?
The banter between the two main characters, as they (rather uneasily) got to know each other, then started to slide into friendship.
Who's your favorite character and why?
I can't choose one. The Masked is a mystery man and I love mysteries, and Tantaerra is a feisty escaped slave literally looked down upon by most people she meets, and they clash but are forced to work together. If I'm forced to pick a favorite character, it would be the team/partnership the two of them form, however uneasily and reluctantly, to stay alive in the rather harsh claws of adventure. (By the way, no weak female leads in this book!)
What drew you to this particular region of Golarion as the setting for a novel?
It was one of half a dozen areas that intrigued me enough to suggest them as settings for a novel. As a storyteller, the "rebels in the woods" aspect of Nirmathas appeals to me (lots of room for adventure and for individual heroics), and as a game designer, I need to see how a militaristic, authoritarian land like Molthune looks and feels when you're living in it. Does everyone "cheat" authority in small ways (i.e. as much as they dare)? Are the leaders corrupt, or do those under them cynically see them as corrupt? Do citizens chafe under the laws and those who keep them, or see them as the foundations of peace, prosperity, and personal safety? (And why hasn't this military powerhouse conquered Nirmathas yet?) Both lands should be changing under the goad of drawn-out war, and I want to see that, AND experience how it feels to travel through where they clash.
What's your favorite part of Golarion that you haven't written about yet?
I have several candidates for a favorite, depending on what mood I'm in. The Mana Wastes offer a GREAT setting for episodic, "Conan-like lone wolf or pair of travelers" adventures, but I also love to explore intrigue among nobles or within a guild, or gritty urban adventures in large, sinister cities, like Kaer Maga. And I can't resist any chance to explore the idea of adventurers setting up their own realms or holds, as I did in the Border Kingdoms in my Forgotten Realms setting, or that Golarion offers in the River Kingdoms. And then there's... heh, as you can see, pinning me down to just one "favorite part" is going to be as tough as "favorite character." I want it ALL.
How did you first get into writing?
I started by asking my father for sequels to books I read in his den as a very young kid (I was reading books for grown-ups when I was four years old), and writing those sequels whenever he told me the pulp-era (or earlier) writer whose book had grabbed me was dead, so if I wanted to read any more, I'd have to write them myself. Most of my attempts were dreadful, but I was starting to write about the Realms by age 6, and was published by then, too, (not Realms fiction, but romance and "smart-aleck first person narrator space opera"). No, I'm not going to name titles and publishers. Most of my early work is BAD. (Hey, you in the back there, I HEARD that observation about the quality of my later work!)
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Everything, not just the genre or styles of writing you're most interested in. See what "works" for you, and what doesn't. Then write, write, write. Set what you write aside for a few months while you read and write other stuff, then go back to it, read it, and fix it. As in, rewrite anything that seems weak and awkward. The age of computers means we don't have to throw earlier drafts away; always work on clearly dated copies, but never think your words are perfect. Don't be afraid to rewrite. (Just learn to stop rewriting and FINISH something, too!) Lather, rinse, and repeat. But try new things all the time, to avoid falling into a rut and burning out. The famous elder-days SF editor John Campbell was famous for telling writers, "Good story, but this time tell it from the point of view of the airlock (or the spaceship's computer, or the hero's blaster gun) and I might buy it." Try that. You'll never know if you're the world's greatest winemaking and tuba-playing cheese sommelier if you never try any of those things. (And if you suck, well at least you've tried making wine and judging cheeses and playing the tuba—you've LIVED!)
What's an interesting bit of trivia that our readers might not know about you?
In my youth (as in, when I still had knees that worked), I often explored caves, and fenced (usually not at the same time, and by "fenced" I mean swung swords, not fixed fences, which is the only sort of fencing I do these days). Before I had throat surgery, I could sing (deep basso profundo), too. And I had nicer legs than I do today.
Last but not least: if you had only 30 seconds to convince someone to read this particular novel, what would your pitch be?
Want to read a fun adventure yarn where magic isn't center stage, but realistic people who verbally spar a lot are? Want to meet a lot of unpleasant people and see them get killed or at least taste comeuppances? Want to read a swords & sorcery book written with humor? Want to read the unlikeliest of "buddy" novels? Ever wanted to see a female halfling star in a fantasy novel? Then read The Wizard's Mask!
Convinced? Check out Ed Greenwood's The Wizard's Mask, on sale now!
James L. Sutter
Fiction Editor/Senior Editor