R.A. Salvatore is famous for his Forgotten Realms series and the DemonWars Saga, most notably his series of books about Drizzt Do'Urden. I feel a little chagrined to admit that I haven't read any of them. I played Dungeons and Dragons myself, back in the early 1980s, and by the time the Forgotten Realms books came out, I dismissed them as something I had outgrown. And I very well might not have picked The Stowaway to read, if left to myself. But fate intervened.
The Stowaway was written deliberately to bring a younger audience into the Forgotten Realms. It is marketed as a Young Adult title more to make it visible to the older readers than because it has "young adultish" themes or content. The book should easily engage its target readers-- boys--and since girls are happy to read books about boys, many girls may well enjoy it too.
The Stowaway was nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy Category. I am one of the panelists charged with picking shortlists of books, and so a copy duly arrived for my reading pleasure. I enjoyed it, much more than I thought I would.
12 year old Maimum seems to pursued by violence. Orphaned early in life, he was raised by a wise woman in the woods, until she too is murdered. A mysterious stranger helps him flee, and gives him a magical stone, telling him it is his birth right. But others want the stone--a demon attacks, gravely wounding Maimum's protector. Running for his life, Maimun stows away on a pirate hunting ship, where he meets the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, and a host of other characters, some good, some not so nice...
Maimum tells his own story, and it is a fast-paced, action packed one. A lot happens, much of it exciting. On the down side, in my opinion, there's not a lot of emotional resonance, or character development, or the moments of beautiful writing that lift a story above the quotidian world. But I'm not a 12 year old boy.
One of the criteria that I bring to judging a book is whether I will keep it, or pass it on to the library. This book is not exactly perfect for me, but I did put it on the "keep" shelf, selfishly thinking that in a few years it will be just right for my oldest son (who's now 8).
And so it is a great pleasure to welcome R.A. (Bob) Salvatore and Geno Salvatore here today, for the final stop on The Stowaway blog tour. Many questions have already been asked and answered at the earlier blogs stops (see below). Here on this final stop I wanted to talk to the authors about how The Stowaway fits into the larger picture of current fantasy for younger readers.
Me to Bob: "Why did you decide to write for a younger audience? It's not as if your other books weren't read by teenagers, and even ten-year-olds, the intended audience for this book, but this is your first book specifically targeting kids. Did you have to keep reminding yourself, as an author, who you were telling the story to? Did it help that you were working with your own son, who, even though he is of course a grown up, is still your kid?"
Bob: Honestly, the idea came from Wizards of the Coast, and I expect, from the bookstores. For years now I’ve been hearing from various bookstores that they want to give the kids and young teens who have just finished Harry Potter one of my books, but they don’t know where to start. So we decided to make it easier on them by offering an obvious starting point. I absolutely agree that my Dark Elf books are read by many younger readers – I always have that in mind when I’m writing the books, so there are times when I draw the shade, so to speak, on certain encounters.
The easy part of this project was that no, I certainly did not have to keep reminding myself of the audience. Geno and I just told a story; we told it through the eyes of a 12-year-old to make that immediate connection with a younger reader, but make no mistake about it, the older readers who enjoy the Drizzt books are missing out if they don’t read this one.
As for working with Geno on this, I never really thought of him as my son on the project. He’s my co-author. I do believe that the fact that he’s only in his early 20’s didn’t hurt the process, as he remembers vividly the perspective of a bright and curious 12-year-old – certainly better than I (I’d have to think back to the days of Richard Nixon and Vietnam!).
Me: I am an avid reader of fantasy, and I have been so happy in the last couple of years with all the lovely new fantasy books shelved in the children's and young adult sections of the book stores. I hardly bother to see what's in the "real" science fiction section any more (which could be a sign of my own mental weakness). Whether we have Harry Potter to thank or not, I'm glad of it. From what you say above, this trend in fantasy publishing to actively reach out to young readers, played an important role in the birth of The Stowaway. And while the two of you were writing it, were you reading other books being written for the 10-year-old boy target audience? If so, are there any that stuck in your minds?
Bob: Here’s the thing, the reason I keep writing, the very best part of my job, is when I get letters that begin with, “I never read a book until…” or “I couldn’t get my son/daughter to read until I gave him/her one of your books.” That’s it for me. That’s my motivation. That’s when I feel like maybe I’m doing a little good in the world with this work.
I remember that feeling on the other end, after all, when I was a freshman in college and Tolkien whisked me away to a wonderful place and a wonderful adventure.
And sure, Harry Potter sticks in my mind. I’m completely jealous of J.K. Rowling, of course, but I also want to thank her from the bottom of my heart. Not only has her work taught millions of kids that it’s okay to use their imaginations, not only has her work widened the fantasy genre as a whole and brought a new audience to my work, but I truly believe that she has done as much for the literacy rate in this country as all the money we dump into public education. Just like I’m convinced that July 20,1969 (“one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind) did more for science and math scores on SATs than any classroom ever could.
Me: The Stowaway is only a teensy bit colored by Dungeons and Dragonish elements. There are character types and monsters and settings that are D. and D. ish, but this didn't feel at all to me like a book tied to gaming. How deliberate was this?
Geno: Setting is detail, in my mind, and not story. The story can function in other settings, or without setting at all. That this book is set in the Forgotten Realms determines certain things – geography, history, religion – are predetermined, but the story is enhanced by, not determined by, these aspects.
Me: Fantasy seems to be a great way to get boys to read (girls too, but somehow that is less desperate an issue). I'd call The Stowaway a Boy book. To illustrate what I mean by that, here's a few snippets the now somewhat famous quote from a 13-year-old from Publishers Weekly a few weeks ago:
"However much I mock the literature of yesteryear, it definitely had it right when it came to vampires. The vampire was always depicted as a menacing badass. That is the kind of book teenage boys want to read. Also good: books with videogame-style plots involving zombie attacks, alien attacks, robot attacks or any excuse to shoot something."
Obviously, you all weren't writing a vampire book. But a "boy" book to me is one that is heavy on action, with a lot of things, often violent, going on—The Stowaway. So is this sort of book what you had in mind?
Geno: The book we had in mind was a Drizzt book aimed at a younger audience. This does not necessarily mean a “boy” book – there are plenty of female Drizzt readers, and hopefully plenty of girls will find and enjoy The Stowaway. But it does mean a book high on action.
Bob: Also, I think vampire books are more aimed at teenage girls now, by far. Fantasy is almost becoming gender neutral, which is a great thing. When I started writing, I’d guess that more than 90% of my readers were male. Now, it’s probably closer to 50-50. When I started playing Everquest in the late 90’s, you always knew that the female character you ran into was being played by a guy. Now, if you see a female in World of Warcraft, it’s probably a female player.
Me: That being said, I liked the strong girl character very much, and I trust we will see more of her in the next book (or books)?
Geno: Oh yes.
Me: The Stowaway is the first book of the Stone of Tymora series; I see at the Random House website that this is a trilogy. How are the next books coming? Will you kept all three at the same age level, or does the series become progressively for older readers (perhaps ending with a nudge to the grown up sci fi section of the bookstore)?
Bob: We’re constantly evaluating that and trying to make the best decisions. There was indeed some confusion in the Drizzt readership – they couldn’t figure out where to find the book (and those giant bookstores can be kind of confusing, after all). There will certainly be debates about where or when to position the books. Is it better to launch one of these alongside a Legend of Drizzt novel, as we did this year, or would we be better off moving them apart, particularly in a tough economy?
It’s not my call. All I can say is that Book Two is written and going through the editing process now.
Me: I've already confessed that I haven't been keeping up on my adult science fiction/fantasy reading (although by the end of today I will have read 100 2008 books nominated for the Cybils). What about you two? What good science fiction/fantasy (for kids or grown ups) have you read recently?
Bob: I’m just starting ”The Hobbit” again – it’s been four years since I read it, so I have to go back. That’s about it. One of the problems with being a busy author is that I don’t have much time for reading, and the reading interferes with my own work.
Geno: That’s so true. I was reading a book a week until I started writing. I hardly remember that last book I read. I’ll recommend Terry Brooks’ “Running with the Demon,” though. I think it’s his best work.
Me: Thanks, Bob and Geno! And best of luck with your future projects.
Monday, Dec. 8 Becky's Book Reviews
Tuesday, Dec. 9 Bilge Munky
Wednesday, Dec. 10 SF Signal
Thursday, Dec. 11 SciFiDimensions
And if you want to read it yourself, leave a comment by December 31st, to be eligible to win one of two copies with signed bookplates...