An Interview with Terry Brooks
Q: You've written 13 previous novels in the past twenty years, each one a
New York Times bestseller. Has your success come as a surprise?
A: I wrote my first book, over a period of years, while I was going to school and practicing law, and I sent it to Lester del Rey at Ballantine after it was rejected by DAW. Lester picked it out of the slush pile, and wrote back to me. He compared my book to The Lord of the Rings, one of my favorite works and one that most influenced me, but he wanted a rewrite. Anyway, several rewrites later, Del Rey Books did publish my first novel, and it did become the first work of fiction on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list. I dont think I knew enough to have any particular expectations. I thought that was a normal experience. Of course, I know better now, and I'm certainly pleased; it's worked out pretty well.
Q: You've had a great deal of success writing in the worlds of Shannara and the Magic Kingdom. What made you switch to our world?
A: I spent forty years of my life in Sterling, Illinois, which became the prototype for Hopewell, where Running with the Demon takes place. If you spend forty years anywhere, it tends to have some sort of effect. In my case, I think the effect was a good one. Growing up, I didn't have a lot of toys, and personal entertainment depended on individual ingenuity and imagination--think up a story and go live it for an afternoon. In Running with the Demon, I wanted to say something about the nature of childhood, and what it's like to grow up in a small town. I wanted to explore how, for children, the line between fantasy and reality is nebulous, how make believe is real for children, and a part of everyday life. Running with the Demon is a very different book for me. It's contemporary and dark. It's set in my hometown, or one very much like it, and it's a book about the apocalypse and one man's attempt to stay its coming.
Q: Why does fantasy have such a great appeal for you, as a writer and as an individual?
A: Again, the answer is in my childhood. When I was a kid, we had to rely on our imaginations for entertainment. I remember one winter, when I was about five or six, I spent three days with another boy, tracking a bobcat that had been sighted in another county fifty miles away, but which I was sure had come into our neighborhood. One summer we played for a week at being Knights of the Round Table, using broom handles as swords and lances and metal garbage can lids as shields. In bad weather, I spent hours drawing action figures on paper, coloring them, backing them on cardboard, then cutting them out and creating whole stories around their lives. What I learned from this, early on, was that if you could imagine it, you could create it. And if you could create it, you could live it. Fantasy is the only canvas large enough for me to paint on. It lets me capture the magic I felt reading my favorite books, and imagining my own worlds. A world in which elves exist and magic works offers greater opportunities to digress and explore. I think that it gives both the reader and writer more room to play.
Q: What writers have influenced you most?
A: The books I grew up reading were adventure stories, bigger than life, but with characters you could understand and admire. I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey, and I read H. G. Wells and James Fenimore Cooper. In seventh grade, I began reading everything I could find in science fiction--Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein and Lester del Rey; the field was a lot smaller then. My breakthrough as a reader was when I discovered the European adventure story writers--Alexander Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, to name a few. The thing they all had in common was that the stories were so large and wonderful and the worlds they wrote about were so compelling that weeks after reading one I was still living it and imagining how it might have been, wondering what the characters were saying to me about my own life. Later, of course, I discovered and loved J.R.R. Tolkien, for many of the same reasons.
Q: What about the future--will you keep writing in the contemporary world, or will you go back to Shannara?
A: For a writer, its very attractive to stay in one world for a time. After all, you put a lot into creating a universe and everything that goes with it, and it seems a shame to use it only once. I have two more Shannara books planned, but they won't be out, or even written, for a few years, and I have at least that many books planned to follow Running with the Demon, with some recurring characters, most notably Nest Freemark and John Ross.
Q: What are your goals as a writer?
A: Well, I think that as a country, we've drifted away from appreciating the importance of imagination. Nonfiction outsells fiction almost three to one. We are obsessed with true-crime stories and tabloid journalism, and we're fascinated by tell-all biographies. We forget that what matters begins with the imagination. Writing fantasy lets me imagine a great deal more than, say, writing about alligators, and lets me write about places more distant than Florida, but I can tell you things about Florida and alligators, let you make the connection all on your own. I want you, as a reader, to experience what I experience, to let that other world, that imaginary world that I have created, tell you things about the real world. I want to kick-start your imagination and let you discover the places it can take you.
Want to hear more from Terry Brooks? Read the transcript of his live-interview event on AOL's The Book Report!