Mark Sanges:  Hello again Mr. Donaldson,

My wife, after years of writing is finally setting off on the road to being published. So my question is, what if you were a new writer starting out today but had the knowledge and experience your long career has given you? Would you still approach publishing by pursuing a publisher or an agent with your work, facing repeated rejections? Or would you pursue more direct and modern means to publication such as self-publishing, publishing eText exclusively, or some other approach, perhaps the on-demand publishing solution you mentioned in your answer to my original question?

As always, thank you so much for your wonderful books and for taking the time to answer so many of your fans questions. Best of luck with the fourth, and final Covenant book.

Mark Sanges
The world of books is changing rapidly, I don't know where it's going. But I still believe that traditional publishers (and agents) perform valuable services, in part for the writer (obviously viable alternatives now exist), but moreso for the reader. When a reader buys a book from an established "house," he/she can be sure of one thing which does not apply to any form of self-publication: the book has been screened (and even proofread) by *somebody* who is NOT THE AUTHOR. The book has been selected from among hundreds of manuscripts because the publisher believes that readers will like it (and that therefore the publisher will make money). This detail cannot be over-emphasized. Imagine the alternative: a hundred times as many books as there are now, all entirely indistinguishable from each other except by the author's name (and as those authors die off...), or by reader reviews (which have always been dramatically unreliable, if for no other reason than because the typical reviewer has nothing at stake except his/her own ego). If that future ever comes to pass, I fear that reading books will evaporate entirely. We'll all have hundreds of thousands of choices, and we'll have no reason to want any of them.

And on a much more personal level, the possibility of rejection can be good for the soul. It teaches humility. It reminds us that nothing we've written is *inherently* an effective piece of communication. It doesn't "work" simply because we wrote it. Writing is little more than self-indulgence (or self-therapy) unless it can bridge the gap between the writer and the reader--and publishers are valuable (if fallible) reader-surrogates.

Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without risk.


Andrew Kennedy:  I wonder how you, as an artist, feel about those who view novels and the like more akin to just a piece of intellectual property rather than a literary work. Through the GI, it seems to me that your sensibility is more of that of an artist.
When I think of a literary work as a piece of intellectual property, the question really is always on how to exploit it to its fullest. James Bond is probably the king there, with films, games and (almost forgotten) a series of authors continuing Ian Fleming's "literary tradition." LOTR is not far behind, and the transformation to exploited intellectual property will be complete if a sequel to The Hobbit is made, comprised completely of new material derived from Tolkien.
I assume that literary critics consider such things monstrosities, and perhaps some authors do as well. But it seems that the trend is toward extracting every last revenue stream out of the initial creative endeavor, and it is now impossible to ignore. Do you think that this trend harms the creative process?
As an author, do these competing visions affect your view of your work?
I don't really know what to say. Intellectual property rights cut both ways (to coin a phrase). Sure, they enable certain kinds of exploitation (if the owner of the rights feels so inclined). But they also block other kinds of exploitation (e.g. stealing). In fact, without intellectual property rights, anybody who felt like it could try to take over *my* creation--for any imaginable purpose. So it seems to me that the real issue is not intellectual property rights themselves, but rather what the owners of those rights choose to do with them. And the owners of those rights are as diverse as the general population. Some exploit: some don't.


Anonymous:  Your love of opera is well known. I wonder what you think of popular musical theater, such as "Les Miserables?"
"Les Mis," like "Rent" and Elton John's "Aida," is an opera. (By strange coincidence, I was present on one occasion when the original producer of "Les Mis" said, "Of COURSE it's an opera. But if we called it that, no one would go to it.") I love them. Although some "popular musical theater" reveals more musical sophistication than others, I love that direct expression of passionate emotion in beautiful sound.


Matthew Yenkala:  OK, I know, I know, I recently submitted a question, but I had another good one and I didn't want to forget it. So please forgive my indulgence.

So--in these pages you've spoken, at length, about books you've loved or that have made an impression on you; authors who have influenced you; films, tv shows, music and even comic books that you've enjoyed or that have moved you. And by and large, everything you've listed has been--frankly--good stuff. Stuff that no one could fault you for liking, whether it's to their own personal taste or not.


We *all* have some guilty pleasures. Maybe it's that Wilson Phillips CD on the back of the shelf, or that copy of "Grease 2" you try to pretend you don't own. We ALL have a few "cheesy" loves--things that are either so bad they're entertaining, or else, AREN'T bad (in our opinion at least) but are--misunderstood. Or maybe are "noble failures". Or perhaps we have a nostalgic or childhood fondness for them. Or maybe we just like them because we like them, what other people think be damned!

We all have them. So what are yours? Books, music, movies, TV, whatever--Out with it, man!

Matthew Yenkala
Hmm. Why would I think about any of my pleasures as "guilty"? Sure, there are (for example) movies that I think of as "comfort food": they satisfy me, but I don't really expect them to satisfy anyone else. "Underworld." "Constantine." The "Matrix" trilogy. "Face/Off." (OK, so maybe I do feel a little embarrassed about "Mr & Mrs Smith." <grin>)

But such pleasures (guilty or otherwise) are nothing if not, well, private. So why would I want to talk about them in public?



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C Collins:  (This is a Thomas Covenant question.)
I've read that Joseph Conrad is one of your influences. This strikes me as particularly interesting when thinking about how power is presented in the Covenant novels and power in Heart of Darkness. Is there a parallel between Covenant's rejection of power and Kurtz's acceptance of it? (In that Covenant saves himself by rejecting it and Kurtz loses himself by accepting it.) I see it clearly in numerous instances in your Thomas Covenant novels but I may just be over-reading things.

Thank you very much for your time.
It would be foolish for me to pretend that I was not influenced by Conrad. If I had stayed in grad school, I would have written my dissertation on Conrad. "Heart of Darkness," in particular, is an important work, seminal in the formation of my own ideas. In fact: hidden away in my filing cabinet somewhere is a journeyman novella in which I tried explicitly to apply "Heart of Darkness" to--of all things--playing varsity tennis in college. <bemused shrug>. What can I say? I was young. And I was trying to exorcise a very personal demon. Anyway, that experience taught me that imitation may or may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it *is* a highly effective means of self-education.

But (as always) I wasn't *consciously* thinking of Conrad, or of "Heart of Darkness," when I first worked on "Covenant." As I think I've said before: when I'm actually writing, I don't think about What It All Means. I think about the internal logic and necessities of the characters, and about how those things interact with events. Only in retrospect (e.g. while rewriting) do I attend to the thematic implications of what I've done. At which point the relevance of "Heart of Darkness"--as well as much other Conrad--becomes pretty obvious.


Catcher:  Writing is a lonely activity that must feel isolating. You have earlier in the GI said that one thing that helps here is simply being read. I suppose getting questions through the GI, participating in things like the fantasy bedtime hour, and perhaps even corresponding with your editor and agent help too. Still, this should be far short of a typical job where you get peer company everyday at an office.

Do you employ any other means to feel less isolated at work? I ask more than casually since I am in a similar situation presently, where I am doing some solitary research in preparation to launch a company (which would then have a few employees). Perhaps there's no avoiding it, and one should compensate by spending more time with friends and family? Any thoughts much appreciated.

I think I've mentioned from time to time that I cope with my sense of isolation in a variety of ways. Listening to music makes me feel less alone. I place a (very) high priority on the people I love (family and friends). I study karate, which is a group activity. (Gets me out of the house, encourages me to interact with other people, gives me something to think about that isn't writing.) And I have private readers who help anchor me in the real world of communication during the INTERMINABLE process of writing my books.

Each of these things provides only partial relief from the ways in which isolation erodes my self-confidence. (How do I know that I even exist, when I'm the only one here?) But taken together, they are fairly effective. I only collapse occasionally.


Unpech:  Dear Stephen,

Over the years I have sincerely enjoyed reading (and even participating once or twice) in this Grand, Gradual Interview! Your courtesy in addressing all manner of questions, from the ridiculous to the sublime has been, well, like a drink at a mountain stream.

On the frequent occasions that I re-read your works, especially the Covenant and Gap series, I often conceived of things I might like to ask you, but the hilarious antics of Angus, Hashi, Pieten, Kaseryn, the Harrow et. al. distract me, and invariably push those questions right outta my head.

But here's one last one in advance of the impending Rapture and Submission deadline:
Your bio seems to indicate that you are , as am I, a non-equestrian pacifist and landlubber, but your descriptions of the Ranyhyn, (and horse-lore in general), military tactics (especially those of Hile Troy) and the sea-faring Giants and their dromonds are exquisitely vivid. Was this skill achieved merely through research (book-learnin'?), or do you have any experience in these fields?

"Hilarious antics"? Angus? The Harrow? Surely you jest!

But never mind.

Don't underestimate the value of book-learnin'. It can be a powerful catalyst for an active imagination and an eager sense of empathy. Especially if the books are fiction (which is virtually all I read). Good fiction is simply more visceral and vivid than non-fiction--at least for me.

As you observe, I am a non-equestrian pacifist and landlubber. But nothing is really that simple. For example, I do have some extended experience with horses. (Experience which taught me to dislike them vehemently. Which in turn makes me singularly proud of my "success" with the Ranyhyn--such as it is.) And I do love the sea--although I've pretty much only been a passenger. Any actual knowledge I may possess comes from books. (Conrad, of course. Stirling Hayden's "Voyage".)

The other factor--surely I've said this before?--is that I write to engage the reader's imagination, not to (for lack of a better term) educate the reader about somethingorother. (Leprosy is an obvious exception.) As a result, my readers do a fair amount of my work for me.


Jon Smith:  Hi Stephen
its really sad to see the GI go as it was fascinating to dissect an discuss your fabulous work with the creator himself :) before it disappears completely i would like to ask a question on the nature of Covenants relationship with Elena
For me this was the key to falling in love with your work, the interplay between these two characters and their impossible situations made for such emotional and compelling reading that i almost speed read through the warwards march on dooms retreat to get back to the high lords quest. In lots of ways for me the issues, stakes and drama with the quest party exceeded the major battles going on at dooms retreat, i did feel a personal growing connection to the characters and their revealing flaws, vunerabilities and in a strange way the symbiotic relationship between Elena, Covenant and the Bloodguard. All three of the seperate parties pasts and futures were being shaped on the quest as if it were a crossroads. It spurred me on in a compelling way almost like a mystery novel and i felt i was always just around the corner to another profound surprise. I loved it.
To the questions:

Throughout the Illearth war he goes from anger at his summoning to being afraid of her effect on him, passionate desire for her, being at peace by her side, nurturing a daughter relationship and then just before they enter Melenkurion Skyweir after she shaves him an almost profound love for her. Just before her fall and certainly soon after he acts almost desperately to save her and proclaims he loves her and then as he leaves Mithil stonedown in The Power that preserves when Lena asks to marry him he shouts internally that she is crazy and its her daughter he loves. Does he still love her that way? Elena obviously had a huge impact on his change of attitude to the Land but covenant seems to almost forget her in future novels (yes i know she is dead) maybe i am too nostalgic :)
How does Covenant feel about his daughter?

There are some among the watch that castigate Elena as reckless, arrogant and someone who lacked the capability to perform as High lord. Personally i
I don't believe she was reckless, it was a one chance opportunity that could have made the difference in the war, she believed she had a responsibility to the land, her lordship and her beloved to use any weapon against despite, remember TC had no idea and had refused to wield the wild magic. Was she supposed to shrug and march back to Revelstone leaving such a potent weapon behind, knowing that the warward were fighting a desperate battle at the same time? I think she was definately sure of herself but not arrogant, as a highlord in a time of war and crises I think she needed to be, it was part of the reason she was chosen as highlord, as the other lords said she had inner mettle. I don't read arrogance in her character leading up to the tragic mistake she made. I read nothing but admiration for her in the other lords and people of the land. Even Covenant loves her, her affection for him and his abuse of that which he so desperately needed broke him. Amok may have cautioned it's use but he led her there because he knew the land was in danger, she was given a power without the necessary wards that were designed to stop this exact thing happening. She was responsible and she knows that but i believe Amok, Foul and Covenant pushed her to the edge of the precipice. She made the jump. I have only empathy for her, I really think she is misunderstood and unfairly judged by some.
Was this the way you wrote her motivations and character or was she the reckless and arrogant high lord some view her as?

Thank you so much for many fantastic novels, im sure you don't need me to tell you that reading the GI and having discussed many things on the watch that your work has touched a great many people in a very profound and personal way.

Here Endeth the Gradual Interview: a chance once again to return thanks to my readers. I'm grateful for all of the people who have stayed with me!

(But I'll continue to post news, progress reports, etc., whenever I have something of substance to convey.)

Perhaps it's fitting to end the GI with a question about Elena. (Of course, you've actually asked several questions.) First, the character herself. I think it's fair to say that she was "reckless" (rushing to use a power which she had never studied, never learned to understand) and "arrogant" (trying to solve the whole problem at one stroke by herself, so eager to save the Land herself that she never looked closely at the nature of Kevin's flaw). But that does not in any way invalidate your own response to her: a response which is widely supported by the text. Her fellow Lords were not fools. The Ranyhyn were not fools. Even Covenant, in his tortured fashion, was not a fool. They all saw in her the potential for greatness. "Save or damn." I see her as a tragic figure misled by her own virtues, her own unquestioning capacity for love. (One of the "points" of her story is that questions need to be asked, but she doesn't ask them.)

As for Covenant's feelings toward his daughter. I think it's important to remember that at this point in the story he is still significantly driven by a form of selfishness. He's still trying to "bargain" with a situation he finds intolerable. Even more than Lena (and by implication, Atiaran), Elena is teaching him to love. And that love is--in a manner of speaking--cleansed by the fact that she is his daughter. In his case, at that point in the story, parental love is less selfish (and hence more relevant to his relationship with the Land) than other forms of love. But he isn't *there* yet. He still sees in Elena an opportunity to avoid responsibility for his circumstances. He hasn't yet become the man he needs to be.

So why does she play such a diminished role in his emotions later on? Well, how could it be otherwise? a) Much of what he learned from her has been transferred to the Land: that love has gained a larger and less selfish outlet. b) Life goes on. People move on. After ten years in the "real" world, years during which he has no reason whatsoever to think that he'll ever see the Land or any of its people again--well, there would be something profoundly wrong with him if he had *not* moved on. Certainly he would not have become a man who could love Linden, a "partner" rather than a daughter: a love *chosen* rather than one determined by parental instincts.

(And thank you, Google! <grin>)