December 1999, by Helen Keier
Our own Helen Keier recently had the pleasure of meeting R. A. Salvatore at a book signing in New York. After the meeting, she was fortunate to be able to chat on the phone for quite a while with Salvatore. This is the fourth in a multiple part interview with the author of Vector Prime. The interview below is transcribed directly from the tape of the conversation. This is probably one of the most in depth and honest interviews we've posted on the site, and we very much appreciate Helen and Salvatore for taking the time on it.
Salvatore has visited the TF.N forums and even addresses particular concerns, praises, questions, and criticisms. Also, when you're done here, be sure to visit RASalvatore.com. On with the interview!
Be warned that spoilers from the Vector Prime novel are discussed openly in this interview. If you haven't read the book, go read it, then come back here!
TFN: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
RAS: If you can quit, quit. And if you can't quit, you're a writer. I love when I hear people say "He just did it for the money" in referring to me or some other writer...There's just no concept among people that would say such a thing of the amount of pain and the giving involved in this profession because every time you write you give a little piece of yourself away. It comes with the territory.
TFN: What did you give away with VECTOR PRIME?
RAS: It's hard to put a quantitative or a qualitative measure on what you give away. You give away your insights, about the world, about life, about character. You put that about you into the book. You give away your style of telling a story. [Do]...you ever remember what it was like being in the second grade and writing this wonderful piece and turning it in and the teacher gives it back with red marks all over the paper? Authors go through that all the time. It comes with the territory. You have to sit back and take it, and you get it all the time. And the bigger you get, the more people will kick you....In addition to that, [to] even the people who like you as a writer, and like your style, love your style, you're giving away intimacy. You're letting them into private parts of your mind and heart. All the time. There are people I believe in this profession who are in it just for the money. They don't last. At all. They go away, and usually very miserably. You do this because you can't help but do it. That's why you do this. You don't do this for fame because that gets old very fast. I mean, there are times I've gone to book signings and hoped no one would be there.
TFN: I hope that wasn't the other night [at the December New York area signing].
RAS: No. [Not] the other night. I hadn't really done many [book signings for VECTOR PRIME] because of the situations I have been going through at home so I hoped there were people there, absolutely...[However] I have gone to book signings, particularly if I've been on tour for a while, and I've done 20 books signings and I've got to go do number 21, and I've answered the same questions 20 times...I'm tired and I just want to go home and be with my family, which is where I really want to be all of the time. [There are times] when I just hope no one's there so I can get out of there early, and every author does. There are other times I hope there's five hundred people there so I can feel really good about my ego. You go through these things. This a painful, painful business.
TFN: You mentioned your family. What can you tell us about the person that is Bob Salvatore?
RAS: Nothing. That's me. How's that? I'm a father, and I'm a husband. First and foremost. This is the real life. Writing is RA Salvatore. He's a different person. He's the guy I leave up in my office and on the road. I'd rather be at one of my kid's hockey games or watching my daughter ride her horse than writing any day of any week.
TFN: You've talked a lot in the course of this about how being a father has influenced your writing of the Solo teenagers.
TFN: How so?
RAS: I know teenagers. I know them very well. I love teenagers. I think most people who don't like teenagers are jealous because they want to be teenagers again. I also know that it's a time of incredible change, physical and emotional. It's a time of upheaval. It's a time where view points can shift 180 degrees overnight....The other thing is I respect teenagers tremendously...When I write my books, I always write my books with the awareness that teenagers, even young teenagers, might be reading them...At the same time I say that, I never write "down" to teenagers, because that's a mistake. You don't write down to a teenager. That's a misnomer.
TFN: How did your children influence the Solo children?
RAS: ...I think there are a lot of similarities between my 15 year old and Jacen and my 14 year old and Anakin, in terms of action versus introspection. I think there are different phases of life kids go through, and young adults go through. A 14 year old might be able to get on that black diamond trail and go down the mountain at full steam ahead, [where] a 15 year old might actually stop and take in the view here and there.
TFN: ...We've covered everything that was in my notes and a lot much more. The last thing I want to ask is if you have any other comments? Is there anything else you would like to comment on, a general issue [perhaps]?
RAS: Well, one of the questions I've been asked a lot is are you going to write another Star Wars book?
TFN: Would you, given the experience you've already had?
RAS: I don't know...The reason I'm saying I don't know is I don't know how indicative some of the negatives...are of the general population of the readers. It's certainly a tough audience...The comment was made to me in an email and I've seen it posted [asking]... "Are we supposed to blindly accept everything?" That wouldn't be giving the authors any respect...There's a difference between accepting and liking...It seems to me that if I come to the conclusion when all is said and done that there are more readers in Star Wars who refuse to be accepting of anything but their particular take on a situation, then I don't know that I'd ever jump back into that hornet's nest again. On the other hand, as I've said, you have to be very careful not to skew your opinion of something with message boards, which is pretty much why I'm staying away from them now. There's a huge world out there, and...people I see on the street have a different take on Star Wars than the people who are regularly attending message forums at THEFORCE.NET. Having said that, this hasn't been a completely pain-free and enjoyable and enlightening experience. So I don't know.
I know we've talked about maybe the novelization for Episode II. I may be on the list of potential authors for that. It would be a hard thing to say no to. I'd get to meet George Lucas. Who wouldn't want to meet George Lucas? I'd love to meet George Lucas, despite the fact there have been a couple of bumps because of the big event...Some of that reaction and some of the bumps that are necessarily going to happen whenever you change something that has been as - static might not be the right word - but consistent in tone as Star Wars up to this point. You're going to get bumps when you change that.
Aside from that, however, is the fact that I was so pleasantly surprised. Here we go, taking that company line thing again. I was pleasantly surprised working with the people at Lucasfilm. I had huge reservations about working with people who generally deal with a different medium, and I loved working with those people up there, and the editors at Del Rey. I mean, I got to work with Shelly Shapiro doing this book. Shelly Shapiro is one of the most respected Science Fiction editors in the world. She's a staple in the business. Who wouldn't want to work with her? She's a great person too. And you know, I've had dinner with the people from Lucasfilm several times. They're wonderful people. I enjoyed working with them. There I go, taking the company line. You got to earn those brownie points...[However] it's the truth. Believe it or not, it is the truth. I loved working with them and it was a thrill to write the dialogue for Luke Skywalker and Leia and Han Solo. It was a thrill. So there's the definitive maybe.
TFN: So would you say then overall, the experience has been positive? Or maybe more positive than negative?
RAS: The experience was incredibly positive in the creation. It has been very good for my career. My back list is certainly [doing] much better since VECTOR PRIME came out because people that normally had no idea who I was or the style that I wrote in and actually liked the style have come over and started reading some of my other books. I've been getting a lot of letters about that, and the numbers certainly show it. So yeah, that was all positive. It is frustrating to me though to be working in an audience - and I don't want to generalize here - that is so willing and able to dissect in the negative...[As] I've told you before, [and as] I told you when we started this interview, you give me any book and I will utterly trash that book, and sound very convincing doing it....[However], I'm an author, and I learned a long time ago that 50% of an experience in reading a novel is brought to you by the writer. You bring the other 50% yourself, at least 50%. If you want to hate something, you will. If you want to be angry about a big event, nothing I as the author can do or say will change your mind about that. If you want to see a certain character in a book that's not going to be in that book, there's nothing the author can do about that.
TFN: Would you say then...maybe some of the people who didn't like VECTOR PRIME wouldn't have liked it anyway?
RAS: I don't think you can please 100% of the Star Wars audience. I don't think anybody could. I've seen message forums that bash Tim Zahn around. I've seen message forums that bash the X-WING series. I've seen message forums that bash Kevin J. Anderson. You can't please the entire Star Wars audience. That's the fault of the Star Wars audience, by the way, more than the writers. That comes back to... proprietizing [a series]. Like I said, you may not like everything, but you have to accept everything, because that's the domain of the creator, to take it in different ways....It seems to me that a small portion, but a very loud portion, of the Star Wars audience, is not accepting of anything that's different from their vision. You can't please the Star Wars audience, on total. No one can. I couldn't, Terry Brooks couldn't, Robert Jordan wouldn't. George Lucas wouldn't, if he wrote a book. George Lucas won't - with every movie he makes, from here on out, Star Wars or otherwise - please the entirety of the Star Wars audience.
TFN: Well, he didn't with THE PHANTOM MENACE.
RAS: There you go. People ask me, "Did you like the PHANTOM MENACE?" It's not my favorite Star Wars movie. My favorite Star Wars movie is EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But I liked PHANTOM MENACE more than I liked RETURN OF THE JEDI.
TFN: That's a very common sentiment. That's pretty widely shared, from what I've seen.
RAS: A big part of that sentiment is because they wanted their Star Wars virginity back. The thirty and forty year-olds who went to see THE PHANTOM MENACE wanted to be watching it like a ten or a twenty year-old would watch it. Is it the movie that changed so dramatically, or is it the experiential knowledge of the person sitting down to watch the movie that changed? I suspect it's more of the latter than the former and there's nothing George Lucas can do to please that. There's certainly nothing I can do please it. So you're not going to please this entire audience, ever, ever, ever. I think what bothers me in what I have seen in the Star Wars audience - without falling into the domain of writing here, I mean of whining here - is I have never in my life encountered an audience so ready, willing, and able to tell you why you suck. It is mind blowing to me that people will spend hours composing a ten-page email to tell me how horrible my book is...The other thing that I really do not accept...on the part of people who are so doing things like that to me and to other authors [is]...the refusal of them to accept the fact that what they are stating is in effect opinion.
TFN: What do you think it is about Star Wars fans that make them so strident?
RAS: Well, I wouldn't say Star Wars fans, I would say the core of Star Wars fans. It's because they are so wrapped up in Star Wars...You're writing a book about Luke Skywalker, [and] to some people you might as well be writing it about their brother. I think that's true of Star Trek, and I think that's true of Babylon 5 to some extent. [Also] X-Files to some extent. It's another part of the series phenomenon that we see in literature and other media today, and the truth of it is, that the specifics of character and plot twists always has to be the control of the creator, whether it's an individual author or the creator of the overall series. It can never be in the control of the audience. That's called fan fiction, and fan fiction is chaos. Fan fiction by definition will be chaos, because you're not answering to anybody when you do fan fiction. I'm not saying fan fiction is bad. I love fan fiction. I consider it the highest compliment as an author when someone does a fan fiction piece on my characters. Wonderful. [This raises] something else that people should appreciate about authors that are writing books. They're going through an editorial process, with people that are trained, and in this case...many people very highly trained....So if you're going to make a statement about this plot point being fundamentally wrong, you're talking about opinion at that point, because there is nothing out there today that is more scrupulously edited than Star Wars. Nothing.
TFN: But we can't say fans aren't entitled to an opinion.
RAS: They're absolutely entitled to their opinion. Absolutely. Which is why I don't go on message boards any more because I realize they're not for me - they're for the fans. They're absolutely entitled to the opinion but when I hear people being persuaded that they didn't really like a book that they liked? That's ridiculous. That's absurd, and in a lot of ways, I find that obscene. Did you like the book or not? That's the only real measure.
TFN: Personally, I would agree.
RAS: ...When I hear fans posting messages that say "This is a bad book because of..." and then they...list all these reasons that sound very plausible and very logical and they're very wrong in many cases because the criticisms are based on assumptions that just aren't true, that's frustrating. That's incredibly frustrating. Of course it's frustrating. Again, another reason why you don't go to the message boards.
TFN: I personally sometimes tend to stay away from [the Forums]... because the opinions I post on TFN are mine, and I don't want...to [bias] my thinking on any level [when reporting news or writing a review. It's an issue of objectivity].
RAS: Well, when I see a post that says "Tim Zahn is not writing for Star Wars because George Lucas is jealous of Tim Zahn", how can I help but laugh? When I then see that post transferred into that's why they gave Mara the disease, because they're jealous that Tim Zahn created so great character and they want to kill her off, I laugh even harder...Then...I see that metamorphose into "Salvatore didn't like the character, that's why he did this, to get rid of her." Someone wrote me an email and asked me about that with Mara Jade...I wrote back saying that Mara Jade was my favorite character in the book. [She] became my favorite character in the book, and the reason Mara Jade became my favorite character in the book was I based Mara Jade on my dying brother, who was my best friend, my closest friend, in the whole world. I am absolutely full of nothing but admiration and love for him, and I watched him fighting a terminal disease. I've never seen anybody in my life handle it with the dignity and the independence that he did, and I tried to reflect that in Mara Jade, and the condition that I gave her...I wrote back to this person saying "Here's the answer to that" and I gave her her answer and then she posted it on a message board...Subsequent posts after that said "He's taking the company line." I've got a two word answer for that, and they're not very pleasant words...That is a shot that I just will not accept, because it is so absolutely ludicrous, ignorant, and just plain mean.
RAS: [It's] another reason I stay away from the message boards now. That passes beyond the realm of acceptable opinion and into the realm of just pure meanness because when you get sucked into a flame war you can't for one minute consider the fact that you might be wrong. [You've] got to be right at all costs. Well, I don't need to play that game.
TFN: That is mean...It's not reading it with an open mind, and I completely agree with you...[For someone] to take that kind of stand because you're bringing a very personal experience into a character, and you're taking the risk of bringing that personal experience into such a popular character...to then bash that? [It] denigrates the experience you were drawing upon.
RAS: What did I tell you a little while ago about my advice for being a writer? How every time you write something, you give a little piece of yourself away? There you go. There's something I gave away in VECTOR PRIME - a very personal experience. I had to apologize to my brother two days before he died, because the Washington Post had put in an article that listed his condition. That was nobody's business. There it was, in the public domain. You really want to be an author? Think about it real hard before you say yes.
TFN: When other web sites posted [the story about your brother], even though they were posting [it] in support for you, I was still a little shocked to see that it was posted.
RAS: It became public domain very quickly because I had to cancel a tour because of it. But...this understanding that [I'm] taking the company line? Anyone that would say that about authors really should really go right to the X-Files, because any publisher out there...will tell you that dealing with authors is like performing oral surgery on yourself. Authors don't take company lines, very often. It just might be, like I saw with the Stackpole interview, that when you accuse someone of taking a company line - because they don't necessarily agree with what you've been spouting - that maybe they just have more information than you do about what really happened? And with that additional information, they might have a different opinion? Or understand more of what happened than you do? Then it's very easy to say he took the company line because if you don't say that, guess what? You're wrong. Ooohhh... can never have that. You can never be wrong, right?. That's what the Internet is all about. I'm getting sarcastic here... I'm sorry.
TFN: It's ok. I am rather enjoying this (laughs). Again, I think I have gone through everything I have. So I guess that makes this wrap-up time. Any last comments?
RAS: No. I think we've covered a lot.
TFN: Everything you wanted to know about VECTOR PRIME and more!
RAS: Probably a lot more.
TFN: I have one last question.
RAS: Aha! See?
TFN: It's just because this came up the other night at your appearance and I wanted to get this in...[ here]. What in Vector Prime did you want to do that you were not allowed to do?
TFN: I have to get this one in because I think people are going to love it.
RAS: [In] taking a look at Anakin and who he was becoming...he wanted to be the Lone Ranger of the Galaxy. I think [that] is where Anakin is fast heading, in terms of his understanding of what it is to be a Jedi. I had him install some new cannons on the Falcon. Quad-Super Jacks, I called them, and they were really bad. It was a pod that came up above the bridge...It had these quad...laser cannons [on it], and they were just toasting everything...Lucasfilm came back at me and just said "Do not mess with perfection. Do not alter our Falcon. Period."
TFN: (Helen laughs)
RAS: Yeah, they slapped me pretty good on that one.
TFN: I just think people are going to love that.
RAS: I loved it. I loved it because I think it was Sue Rostoni or Lucy Wilson (I don't remember which one) who came back at me with that, and I felt like I had just tattooed their child or something. It was beautiful...That's why I think when I see posts that claim the folks at Lucasfilm are just in it for the buck and don't care, people don't have any concept of the [folks] out at Lucasfilm. They love this galaxy far, far away. They love these characters. I am sure that many, many tears were shed up at the ranch about Chewbacca. I know that for a fact.
TFN: I'll admit I want to grow up and be Sue Rostoni, but...
RAS: (laughs) I've never met her in person. We've talked several times and she's just a fantastic editor. I can't say enough good things about her.
TFN: That's the job I want.
RAS: Yup. I'm sure a lot of people do.