The Dragonlance Nexus

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Mary Herbert Fan Interview

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


This is a fan interview the fans on the boards conducted with Mary Herbert on Feb. 19 – 20, 2005.


The following is a fan interview the fans on the boards conducted with Mary Herbert on Feb. 19 – 20, 2005. Note that the fan interview has been edited so that Mary's answers follow the questions being asked so that the reader can follow along better.

Dragonhelm: Greetings, friends and fellow companions, and welcome!

This weekend, we will be conducting a "fan interview" with Dragonlance author Mary Herbert. Mary is author of several Dragonlance novels, such as Clandestine Circle, Dragon's Bluff, the Linsha trilogy, and more.

Here's how this will work. You, the fans, will be the ones who get to interview Ms. Herbert. Feel free to ask her questions on her Dragonlance novels, or general author questions. Then Ms. Herbert will pop in and answer those questions.

After this weekend, we'll be posting the interview on Dragonlance.com.

So please join me in welcoming our special guest, Mary Herbert!

I'll get us started here with a question I tend to ask all Dragonlance authors.

Mary, how did you got started as an author and how you got involved with Dragonlance?

Mary Herbert: Good afternoon, everyone!

Thank you so much for inviting me to the Forum for this interview. I appreciate your interest!

Wouldn't you know, the one weekend I wanted to be sharp and have a good computer handy, both our main computer and I get sick. Our computer rolled belly up and refused to speak to the internet, so my husband had to MacGyver an internet connection to a secondary computer for me, and I have taken a boatload of OTC drugs to stay upright. I'm glad I can do this at home and not infect the lot of you! But if I sound a little loopy, forgive me.

Okay, the first question was from Trampas. How did I get started as an author: I've always enjoyed reading ever since my mother had to pry LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS out of my hands and suggest that I read something else. I started writing stories in high school for fun and good grades, and a friend of mine and I actually swept a writing contest for first and second places in several catagories. From high school I moved to college and wrote some BAD poetry, many papers, and a few short stories.

When I got married, my husband said I didn't have to work outside the house. He's a great guy if a little old fasioned. So I took advantage of the time to try a book. With alot of luck, persistence, and work the book was eventually bought by TSR and published under the title DARK HORSE. The great thing about that book is it's still in print and is selling like bratwurst in Germany.

TSR went on to publish four more Dark Horse books before the company was sold to Wizards of the Coast. It is because of the people I knew at TSR who moved on to Wizards that I was able to get involved in Dragonlance. One of the book editors called me one day and asked if I would be interested in writing a Dragonlance book. I had to admit I'd never read one. I took a quick crash course in Ansalon and dragonriders and said 'yes'. Since I was so new to the series, the editors gave me several book plots they were thinking of doing and let me chose. I had to take Sara Dunstan. She really appealed to me and I liked the idea of a chromatic dragon turning his back on his kind and chosing a good human to be his companion. I wrote LEGACY OF STEEL knowing what it's like to be a mother and to get creaky knees. But I've always admired Sara for her courage and her willingness to continue in the face of tremendous odds.

dalamar_thedark: Can I also ask a question? "What gave you the ideas for your books?"

Mary Herbert: Everything. That doesn't always mean they are good ideas, but you should write about what you know (or can research and make -up) and what you are passionate about. I write fantasy because I love history and folk-lore and make-believe. I get huge doses of reality everyday in the school where I work and on the roads of metro Atlanta and on the news. I want escapism. So I draw my ideas from things I like in many sources: the news, books, other stories, snippets of information, TV, movies, other people. Of course, working with Dragonlance, much of the world and its storylines are already constructed. As a writer, you have to stay within the parameters of the world. Sometimes the editors will suggest something that has already been alluded to, like Sara's story, and other times they'll just say "We need a story about Ulin. What have you got?"

Phoenix555: Are there any dragonlance projects you are working on at the moment?

Mary Herbert: Maybe. Contract negotiations can be tricky.

Dante: What is the hardest part about writing a Dragonlance story?

Mary Herbert: For me I think it's keeping the continuity of the stories and the world. There are so many sources of background information for Dragonlance, it's hard sometimes to keep everything straight. Gaming people are creating new things every day. Other authors write novels that could have an influence on what is happening to the world and therefore to your characters. For example, I killed two major dragonlords and left the Plains of Dust exposed. That could have a huge impact on someone else's story. I try hard to keep up with the big details and to include the little details in my story, but I also rely heavily on my editor at Wizards to help keep me straight, answer questions, and fix any continuity mix-ups I have. By the way, the editors at Wizards are awesome.

OMeGA_FReaKY_7: It's always cool to have characters with great names. So what do you do to find the inspiration for great names?

Mary Herbert: I do one of several things. I use the ones already devised in Dragonlance; I switch letters around in common names such as Helene (my daughter) to Kelene (the character in CITY OF THE SORCERERS), and Notwen the gnome in DRAGON'S BLUFF is actually Newton spelled backward. I also have a great Anglo-Saxon dictionary that has some wonderful words in it, and when all else fails, I just throw in a name knowing full well the editor will probably change it. Once in a while a name will just come to mind and will be the name perfectly suited for a particular character. At that point I stick to my guns and insist we keep it.

relmatos: I guess I'll ask a variation of the question I asked Richard Knaak on his fan interview. "If asked, all singers and actors love Portugal and enjoy coming here. When will you be going to Portugal on a book signing tour or something like that?"

Mary Herbert: I would love to go to Portugal! Any time. Unfortunately, someone else would have to pay for it and no one is stepping forward. The realities of life are expensive and although I love to travel, I don't get to nearly enough. Thank you for asking though.

Green_Cloaked_Sorcerer: Where do you see the future of Krynn going?

Mary Herbert: Somewhere peaceful for a little while, I hope. Those poor people have been through hell and back. Let them relax! Learn a bit! Have babies that survive! But peaceful doesn't make for good drama. I imagine there will be some good stories to come out of Ansalon about the major characters and their attempts to find peace and normalcy, and then Margaret and Tracy will come up with something particularly nasty and drop them in the crapper again. After all, Paladin is still out there. And do you really think Palin has really given up magic forever? And what about Takhisis? Maybe someone will wake up, find Takhisis in the shower and discover the whole thing was a dream. (for any of you who are under 25, that is a famous scene from the TV show "Dallas" and "MacGyver" is also a TV show from the early 80's starring Richard Dean Anderson a.k.a. Col. Jack O'Neill). Linsha also still has the Keena Tome.

quake: I realize its kind of early but do you have any plans to write a book or books to follow up on the Linsha tril.?

Mary Herbert: Yes. But . . . contract negotiations can be tricky. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Green_Cloaked_Sorcerer: How much say does Maragret have for what goes in your books?

Mary Herbert: Margaret has approval rights to the plots and any big story developments. Beyond that, it's the editor who carries the red pen.

Talinthas: if we find out that takhisis was just a dream, i will personally take every dragonlance product i own and burn them in front of wotc's offices. Individually. As i have a full set of DL products, i imagine it will take at least a week or so.

That said, Welcome, Mary! I have a handful of questions for you.

You've basically been tasked with writing the next generation of Majeres. What do you see as their drive and modus operandi?

With regard to Ulin, who decided to kill his first wife and kids? Why Lucy? Why a whole novel dedicated to her? Why in flotsam? Why that turban? and were you as dissatisfied with that hideous cover as i was?

What do you use for your DL research?

Linsha- I have to admit, Mary, that when i first read Clandestine Circle, i thought it was terrible. I'm really really not into romantic fantasy at all, though i can understand and appreciate that there are others who really like it. Its just that i really didnt like the whole girl and animal companion in the big city type of story, especially with those silly drinking coffee with your girlfriends scene. I guess i'm just not the right type of reader for it. However, as the trilogy progressed, i really started to enjoy it, and the ending was a blast. You really really understand the fifth age =)

But yes, back to Linsha. She is the youngest rose knight in history. That means that she progressed through all the levels of knighthood and performed two separate quests of valor and all that. Yet when we meet her in your novels, she's totally a maverick renegade with no real knightly qualities about her. While i understand the nature of her clandestine mission, She totally acts like a 23 year old college kid and not like a trained and disciplined knight. Had she just been tossed out of the knighthood early on and been a legionaire the whole time, it would have been a different story. Why did you choose to write her in this style? I realise that the renegade hero who follows her own rules and damns the system is a good standard, but seriously, every knight of solamnia hero we've had has been like that.

The Plains of Dust are my favorite locale in Ansalon. I just want to say that i absolutly adored your descriptions of it both in the Bertrem's guides and the Linsha Trilogy. But why a desert (in the traditional sense)? Isnt the plains of dust a tundra? Of course, Iyesta may have had a lot to do with the change...hmm.

I love what you did with the missing city, though i wish the illusions had lasted a little longer. We were debating who came up with the idea for the tarmak invasion. I like how they now have a foothold on the continent. Can you elaborate abit on that, like who is in charge there?

Dragon/human relations are proscribed in Dragonlance. they always end in sorrow and stuff. it's the huma curse. Any thoughts on this?

Your characterization of Bight was fantastic. What did you draw on for his persona?

Who named the Tarmak?

Where is the Tarmak continent located in relation to ansalon and taladas?

You really captured the feel of mystiscm in your books. Indeed, more than any other author, you really harnessed the fifth age and all of its uniqueness. Where do you see these unique elements going from here, now that 'traditional' magic is back? Personally i hope that linsha stays a mystic and that ulin stays a sorceror, but that's the fifth age freak in me.

I think this is enough for a part 1, wouldnt you say? -=)

Mary Herbert: First, I'm certain Margaret will allow no shower scenes. Sigh. So your collection is probably safe.

I do seem to have inherited the Majere children, haven't I? As for where they are now, Ulin has sworn off magic to become an inventor (think Leonardo here) and Linsha is happily married in Sanction. BUT, where they go from there depends on many things. And we're back to that tricky contract again. To start with Ulin, I picked him up after the story of the destruction of the Academy of Sorcery, which I believe was in the anthology, SECOND GENERATIONS. Unfortunately, I've misplaced my copy and I don't remember who wrote that (sorry), so I can't tell you who decided to wipe out his family or lose his dragon, Sunrise. The story in DRAGON'S BLUFF is about both Lucy and Ulin, and if I put a little too much emphasis on Lucy, perhaps it was because I liked her. Anyone who is rather chubby and not particularly beautiful, yet still wins the heart of a Majere, has to have something going for her. They went to Flotsam because no one had written about Flotsam at length and it seemed like an interesting place to set a story. (if you sometimes wonder why a character in Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms or any other shared world decides to go some place odd, it's often because the editor has said to the author, "Everybody writes about __________. Why don't you try __________?") The turban came from an old game book. I used it because I thought it was rather funny, like having a cat perched on your head.

And DON'T get me started on covers.

What do I use for research? I use other author's books, gaming products, old maps, and Mark at Wizards who has access to the DL files and can find just about anything I need within a day.

Linsha: CLANDESTINE CIRCLE may not be one of the best things I ever wrote, but I liked it.

I based her character on the descriptions of her in the story "The Valley of Crystal" in THE ODYSSEY OF GILTHANAS. She is young, she hates her job because she can't behave like a Knight, and she is the first to admit she has terrible luck with men. She also has a strong belief in her interpretation of honor. She doesn't mean to be a rogue knight. Things just don't happen the way she would like. She matures and grows in the War of Souls and eventually becomes a woman to her full potential. Heck, Lord Bight likes her.

I didn't really base Lord Bight on anyone in particular. I just wrote him the way I thought he should be: arrogant, intelligent, controlling but still a bronze dragon at heart. I liked the dichotomy of a large dragon who likes small fluffy animals, dolphins, and water, and who has a tender spot in his heart for humans. Why else would he bother to rebuild Sanction? If he wanted a lair, he could have driven everyone out and kept the place for himself. But he didn't. He loved Sanction, and in the end he also found he could love Linsha. Will they live happily ever after? Has anyone ever seen the musical "Into the Woods?" Has a romance in Dragonlance ever gone on without travail? We shall see.

I'm glad you liked the Plains of Dust. I felt a real affinity for the place. I have spent many years in Wyoming, and the solace of the open spaces is something I really miss around here where the population of Metro Atlanta is way beyond my comfort zone. If you read the description of the Elves' flight through the Plains, you'll see where I got the desert.( I try for continuity) Yes, the Plains were originally tundra, but according to the experts, the vast swamp to the east and the forests to the west, changed the climate to something more temperate. Iyesta's realm became more like grasslands and the interior of the Plains grew warmer. Fortunately deserts can be hot or cold or both as long as they're arid. So I tried to strike a balance.

My background for the Missing City also came from the ODYSSEY. There is an entire section in the Appendix about the city. I honestly don't remember who came up with the idea for the invasion. I had to use a locale and villains that did not interfere with Margaret and Tracy's books, and Mark S. and I talked for quite a while about this. I wanted to use the Tarmaks, because I thought they had great potential. He agreed. I suppose it was a mutual decision. (Mark, if this was your idea and I'm not giving you credit, forgive me! My aging memory needs a serious upgrade!) At the moment, the Tarmaks control the Missing City and are slowly spreading out from there. The destruction of their fleet and the death of the warlord put a damper on their plans, but they have regrouped and do not intend to lose their hold on the Plains. As for who named the Tarmak, it may have been the author of "Ariakan's Notes on the Isle of the Brutes". Did someone say that was Don Perrin? All of the established background information I had on the Tarmaks came from that segment, some information in the AGE OF MORTALS, and whatever I could glean from the DRAGONS OF THE SUMMER FLAME. The rest of it was from my head and Mark S.'s use of an Etruscan dictionary to come up with some of those tongue-twisting words. He said I wasn't being gutteral enough. The Tarmak continent is far to the east of Ansalon along the equator somewhere, which why is it is more tropical. Just over the seas and far, far away. I never could get a really straight answer on this, so I guestimated.

Does anyone have plans to make a really good, updated map of Krynn? If so, will you send a copy to me? All I have are some coffee stained, torn old relics from ancient games.

I would imagine the qualities of the Fifth Age will last for a while and eventually assimilate the old ways and magics and yield something new. Linsha is and always will be a mystic to the best of her ability. Ulin has sworn off magic for now, but whether that will last now that magic has returned, I don't know. It depends on how badly he is motivated. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Thank you very much for your questions. I hope I answered most of them to your satisfaction.

Talinthas: Golly. there's a lot here to take in.

Well, it was in REBELS AND TYRANTS, and the story was penned by Margaret. I'm not sure how i feel about this news regarding Ulin and Sunrise (ok, i am sure, but that's for a different post), but i appreciate you sharing this. it's a lot to think about. the reason i asked is because the Lord Toade stories are set in flotsam as well, and i wanted to see how the stories fit together. It's the curse of the fanboy =)

Oh, don't get me wrong. Everyone else loves CC. i'm perfectly aware that i'm alone in this, and it's ok. Dragonlance needs to have stories for everyone, not just me. Linsha's maturation was a brilliant bit of development on your part.

Well, in March or so, Sov.Press is putting out a brand new set of dragonlance maps, which we've all been eagerly awaiting. And i gotta say, i really really like Tancred alot =) I forgot to mention it earlier, but man, your scenes around the World Tree are fantastic.

Thanks alot, Mary. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer this fan's questions.

Mary Herbert: You are so right, it was REBELS AND TYRANTS (sorry, Margaret). Ulin had his test in SECOND. Didn't he? I have got to find that book! And no, not everyone loves CLANDESTINE CIRCLE. But that too is the fun of a shared world series: you have different authors writing in many different styles and somewhere there is a book or two for every kind of fan.

I liked Tancred, too. Which is why he is not the one who is killed at the end of the book. He has potential!

Take care and thanks again.

Phoenix555: how long does it take you to write a book, can you/do you do a few books at a time or just one by one

Mary Herbert: Since I have to work full time (my husband changed his mind about outside work as our kids moved toward college!) I usually write just one book at a time. I have written a novel in one world and a short story in another, and it was tough to have my brain jumping around two fantasy worlds and the real world at the same time. One of my favorite quotes is by Terry Pratchett: "My mind wanders so much it sometimes brings back souvenirs." Mine does. I admit I am a slow typist and dragging those words out of my head is not always easy. I have written a first draft in three months and taken as long as a year (on my first one). I prefer the luxury of four to six months.

Raven15: I was wondering if you have any plans to revisit Sara and co. and write about the early days of the Legion of Steel?

I loved your short story in Betrem's Guide to the WOS II about Kelena and Cobalt, but you left it rather ambigious as to whether or not Cobalt was dead. Is he?

Mary Herbert: At this point there are no plans to revisit Sara and the early days of the Legion. It would be fun, but events blew right on by her and the next thing I know The Powers that Be want me to write about Linsha.

Is Cobalt dead? I think so. He and Sara should be together.

Tremaine: Do you find it easier to write a short story then a novel? Will you write anymore adventures about Teza?

and has anything humorous happened to you when writing a story?

Mary Herbert: Believe it or not, I find it easier to write a novel. I can't seem to condense things down to a short story. I recently wrote a short story for Monte Cook's latest anthology, and the editor wanted a story around 6000 words. I sent her one that was 8000 words, because no matter how hard I tried I could not shorten the story enough to fit the limit. Bless her heart, she took it anyway, since she couldn't cut it down either. My first book, DARK HORSE, began as a short story that eventually expanded into five books. Writing a short story is an art form that I just haven't practiced enough.

I would write more stories about Teza if I was asked. And had the time.

Has anything humorous happened to me while writing? Nothing that really leaps to mind. I write alot of my first draft in long hand because I can take it anywhere and don't need electricity. People are not as likely to steal a tattered looking notebook. So I have written my books in McDonalds--some of the kids I have talked to in the schools think that is funny--at the airport, in line waiting at pre-school, in quiet moments during work, on planes, in cars while stopped dead in a Georgia traffic jam, by candlelight during power failures, in theaters while waiting for band concerts to begin, and of course at home. One night, I was up way too late typing a manuscript on the computer when I happened to look over and see our daughter's hamster come shuffling into the office (the room with all the electronics!). Anyone who knows about hamsters knows they prefer dark, quiet places and they love to chew wires. But for some reason, this one got out of her cage and chose the only brightly lit room in the entire house and came in to see me. I just thought about what my husband would say if I told him the hamster was loose in the office and pounced on her like a hawk. She was back in her cage with the door wired shut before she knew what hit her. Oh, and someone once called me "The goddess of litrature". My friend, who found this online, thought it was hysterical and has never let me forget it.

Jamie Chambers: This one is a bit more basic...

How do you compare the experience writing in a shared world like Dragonlance different than the earler novels that you wrote for TSR Books? What kind of writing do you prefer?

Mary Herbert: I really enjoy both styles of writing. A shared world novel has restrictions of course. You have to be careful of keeping the continuity and adhering to the rules of the world. On the other hand, you have access to a vast world of new ideas from the minds of some very creative people and you can give life to places, characters, and ideas that before were only brief mentions in a game book. It also helps to like the people you work with at the publishing company. A free novel or a series you develop yourself has the advantage of being just that: free. You don't have to worry about continuity with anyone but yourself, and you can do whatever you want with your world and your characters. I don't think it hurts an author to be comfortable in both styles.

Tenneba: Mary, I have been a fan of yours since I first found Dark Horse at the local bookstore, and decided it might be fun to have a book actually signed by the author, even if the cover was a bit far from my usual taste. What was between the book's covers just blew my socks off.

You have since written a number of books on a variety of subjects, all simply wonderful. What I wonder is if there is some unwritten book hiding in your brain just dying to see the light of day? Is there some new genre you wish to explore, or a character that is knocking on your synapses demanding release?

Not that I (and possibly even you) have any say about it, but I would love to see the Dark Horse family saga continue. Is there any chance of this?

Mary Herbert: Rubbing it on just a bit thick aren't you, Oh, Second Mother to my Son and Coffee Pal of Many Hours? However, your questions are worthy of consideration.

I hope there are many books hiding in my brain waiting for the light of day, particularly the one that catches the world's imagination, sells millions of copies, makes enough money so I can quit my day job and get the kids through college debt-free, and is made into a movie staring Richard Dean Anderson. Or Viggo Mortensen. The other genre I would like to try is historical fiction. And perhaps some young adult stories.

As for the Dark Horse books, I have two more I would like to write, but that depends on publishers and my agent. The Dark Horse books are selling extremely well in Germany, so who knows?

(Shameless Plug to anyone but Tenneba who has multiple signed copies: the Dark Horse books are still available through the Sci-Fi book club)

LoK_Gilean: Greetings, Mary, and thanks so much for sharing your time!

I admit to having passed by the Clandestine Circle on the shelves, but after having just finished the Linsha Trilogy, I'll definitely be picking it up! The trilogy was a very engaging read and has definitely spurred my interest in the Tarmaks...(although Iyesta will be sorely missed)

That being said, I had a few questions/comments I'd like to toss into the mix:

1) I absolutely loved Varia! Although I'm very curious as to her "origins"... while there have been mentions in other books about similar sentient owls (hailing from Darken Wood if I'm not mistaken..), I was wondering if there was an intended "relationship" to them, or whether Varia was a "bird of a different feather"? I'd love to hear more about these types of creatures and what their origins are, etc. The relationship strikes me as being similar to that of a dragon and rider, or a wizard's familiar, yet it's not quite either. A very intriguing and lovable character!

2) The World Tree was an interesting touch - and certainly not in a place I would've expected. Was this something drawn from another source, or your own invention?

3) I'm always interested in the origins of "created culture" and especially languages.. What were some of the elements you drew from to create the Tarmak society and language?

4) The city of Mirage was one of the most creative "scenery" ideas I've seen in this series.. What prompted the invention of the 'dual-city', and will we ever find out exactly what caused it to vanish (or appear in the first place)?

Thanks again for your time, and hoping the contract gods smile upon thee!

Mary Herbert: Yes, I will miss Iyesta, too. I really hated to kill her!!!!

1) I have a lot of fun with Varia. She is the quintessential animal companion, both guardian and friend. Her origins are mysterious and are meant to be, but that might change in a future book. At the moment she is one of a kind.

2) the World Tree was mentioned in the Fifth Age game "Heros of Hope". I wish I could say it was my own invention. Half the fun of writing in a shared world is blending all the different elements you can find in the other books and games. It would help if my memory was more cooperative, because there is so much out there!

3) The Tarmak language is supposed to be gutteral and harsh, and since I wasn't harsh enough, Mark S. used an Etruscan dictionary to rough it up a little. I also put the Tarmaks together out of a little South Sea islander with little bits of Minoan and Spartan, and used some architectural aids from the Forbidden Palace (the courtyard of the palace and the gardens)

4) Does anyone know who came up with the idea for the mirror image over the Missing City? Is that a gaming invention? And no. No one knows why it appeared, and I merely hinted that the power of the vast storm and its evil may have been responsible for erasing it for good. It added a touch of melancholy and dread.

You're quite welcome and thanks for the questions!

Pyrexia: hi! ok, i haven't read all of your books, but i read the Linsha Trilogy and loved it. I plan on getting the Clandestine Circle sometime soon, but i haven't got any money... anyways. i have some questions for you..How did you come up with some of the strategies and plans, like when Linsha escaped from the tarmaks? how did you manage to link Hogan Bight and Crucible together and make it believeable? i loved your books, but some of these things kind of amazed me, the way you manged to link them together.

Mary Herbert: I'm glad you liked the books, and I do understand about a shortage of money! It happens time to time.

Working out events like escapes, battles, duels, or any action in a book can take careful planning. You want the action to sound plausible and not TOO contrived. Sometimes I make it sound right and sometimes I don't. But I keep trying. I am not good at writing personal fight scenes, so I read books by authors who are good at them, try to learn about weapons, and strive to imagine what it would feel like, smell like, sound like to be standing in front of a large hostile crowd while holding an axe and wearing nothing but a little leather and some blue paint. (and don't get me started on THAT cover either!!)

Hogan Bight and Crucible were linked before CLANDESTINE CIRCLE. I just took the character and made him someone I would like to spend three years with while I wrote the trilogy.

Mary Herbert: Good night, everyone. Thank you for your interest and for your questions. It has been fun. If anyone gets to DragonCon in September, come say "hi". I am usually there and am always pleased to talk to a Dragonlance fan.

Dragonhelm: Thank you, Mary! It's been an honor having you as our special guest and I hope you stop by to visit when time permits.