Here's a special treat for all you fans of Dungeons & Dragons: an interview with Margaret Weis! Though well known for her work on the Dragonlance series for TSR, Inc., she has also done numerous other projects. Maybe you've seen some of them. It would take much too long to list everything she's written, so follow the link at the end of the interview to her web page. You can also learn more about her there than here, so please visit her site.
As you probably know by now, the 5/1/98 update featured The Lost King in Tomes of Starhopping, the first book of four in the Star of the Guardians sequence, and the others followed after. If you haven't read the reviews yet, you can look for them in the Archive.
The interview that follows comes from e-mail messages sent back and forth between myself and the gracious Ms. Weis. I've filtered the interview down somewhat, but all with her approval. Enjoy!--XS
XS: Before we begin, I have to know. How do you pronounce your last name?
MW: It's Weis as in mice.
XS: Someone once said that people with miserable childhoods can only write about related topics, while people with happy childhoods can write about anything. To study your list of works, it seems fairly evident that you had a wonderful childhood. What was your family life like as you were growing up?
MW: Actually, I was a silent, lonely, depressed child who spent a lot of time in my imagination. It wasn't my parents' fault. They didn't know what to do with me, other than take me to the library every week! Reading was my greatest joy.
XS: I'm glad they did! Was it, then, your childhood that drew you towards writing?
MW: I think it was my love of story-telling that led me to writing. I was the class story-teller in kindergarten and i was the one who thought up the "plots" for our neighborhood play-time.
XS: Who was the biggest influence on your life as you grew up? Someone involved in creative writing, I imagine.
MW: I had several influences, career-wise. D.R. Smith, my high school English teacher, and James Drummond, Ph.D, a professor of creative writing were the two major ones.
XS: The biographcial information at your site mentions a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing and Literature. Has your degree helped you in anyway? Actually, what are your views on education in general?
MW: Education is something you do for yourself, to improve your mind and your quality of life.
XS: I couldn't agree more. Tell me, what sort of awards or accomplishments have you received?
MW: Just a BA degree. Oh, I made the dean's list one semester. I wasn't much of a student!
XS: I find that really hard to believe. I assume you took creative writing classes at the University of Missouri.
MW: Yes. I took nine hours of creative writing--poetry and short stories. They were invaluable. The poetry taught me to consider the importance of every single word and to hear the music of the written word. The short story courses taught me a lot about plotting, character development, etc.
XS: I ask because recently there have been debates about the worth of creative writing programs in a college curriculum. I'd like to know how you feel about writing programs.
MW: I recommend writing courses to every potential writer--if for no other reason than they encourage you to write!
XS: I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels this way. Let's see. I noticed on your website that for some of your writing credits you appeared as "Margaret Baldwin" and one entry as "Susan Lawson." Were these pen names, or your real names, or both?
MW: Baldwin was my married name. Susan Lawson was a name that Roger Moore wrote under originally. He wrote that book together and neither of us wanted to claim it!
XS: Your biography also mentioned you were a divorcee, had remarried, and have two children. Their last names are Baldwin, so I assume they came from your first marriage.
XS: What effect did motherhood have on your careers? Speaking of careers, you've done a lot! Advertising, management, editor, director, and now co-owner of a business chain. Top that off with being a freelance author--and one of the best known names in the business--and you've got one impressive resume. What effect did motherhood have on your careers?
MW: I had children early in the marriage, so that I was able to go on with my career. I enjoyed my children, particularly as they grew older. Now my daughter is a book editor at TSR and my son is a Harley Davidson mechanic. They lead interesting lives and it's fun to know them. As to my resume, I enjoyed working in advertising because of the creative aspect, but I had always wanted to be a writer. When the opportunity came to work (and write!) at TSR. I was glad to take it. My husband [Don Perrin] and I started the business because we thought it would be fun!
XS: Do you feel you played a significant role in helping your children mature and grow?
MW: Since I ws a single parent, I played a large role in my children's education. It wasn't easy, but we all survived!
XS: What is your greatest goal or dream in life?
MW: I think it would be fun to have a movie made out of one of the books.
XS: And you have a lot to your name to work with. I suppose, to be entirely fair, I should also ask what your worst fear is. You don't have to answer that if you don't want to.
MW: My worst fear is that the cancer will return.
XS: What? I had no idea you once had cancer! If it isn't too painful a thing, could you possible explain about it?
MW: In 1993 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation. I am going on five years cancer free! It was a traumatic experience, but lots of good things came out of it.
MW: For one thing, Don and I discovered that our love could stand up to anything!
XS: Ahem. Maybe we should move on to something less personal. How did you come to live in a converted barn, and why? Gods, that sounds offensive! Still, daytime television has glamorized it, actually. Stuart Chandler on All My Children lives in a carriage house, and Victoria (Newman) Howard from The Young and the Restless lives in a tackroom, so I'm sure a barn--being much roomier--opens greater options for decorating. How do you like living there?
MW: The barn is actually great! I fell in love with it when I first saw it, and I couldn't beleive it when it came up for sale. It is one hundred years old, stone- and cedar-sided. Don and I have our offices in the loft, which has a balcony overlooking the living room. We love it.
XS: Now that I hear about it, it sounds like a dream come true. When is the easiest time for you to write?
MW: I write every day from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The rest of the time is think time.
XS: What are the easiest and hardest things about writing?
MW: Dreaming the dreams is the easy part. Putting those dreams on paper is the most difficult.
XS: Where do you draw inspiration from?
MW: I eavesdrop on conversation in restaurants a lot.
XS: What sort of fodder does restaurant small talk provide you with? Do people ever notice you eavesdropping?
MW: No, I just sit there and listen and eat. Actually, it's not plots I get so much as knowledge of the human condition.
XS: That's an interesting way to do research. It sounds much more fun than the kind of formal research I imagine goes into writing science fiction to make everything plausible.
MW: I have always enjoyed research. It's like solving a mystery. I feel very exhilirated when I come across information I was looking for or I discover some interesting material I wasn't expecting.
XS: Gods, I envy you. Do you have any favorite authors, past or present? Or, which authors do you feel most influence your works?
MW: I have a lot. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Alexander Dumas, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Renault, Chaim Potok, Patrick O'Brian--to name but a few!
XS: Let's move on to the mechanics of the writing/publishing process. Your website lists an impressive array of your works. Is everything there, or have you deliberately omitted some things?
MW: I have lots of early work that will never see the light ofday--sitting in boxes--but I believe that everything which has been published is on the list.
XS: Did you ever have anything rejected? If so, does it ever get any easier to receive the rejection slips in the mail? How does an aspiring writer cope with such things?
MW: I have had so much rejected! Everyone does, starting out! You learn from them, toss them, and star over.
XS: I've heard that having an agent can sometimes improve the chances of publication. Still, I've also read that sometimes you need an agent to get published, but need to be published to get an agent. Do you have an agent? What can writers do to improve their chances of finding an agent?
MW: Yes, I have had an agent from the beginning. They are invaluable. It is possible to be accepted for publication without having an agent, but I would recommend acquiring one as soon as possible. Having short stories published helps; newspaper work not so much. Sometimes agents wil take on an unpublished author if they think his or her work shows promise. A good way to meet agents and editors is to attend conventions such as World Con and Dragon Con, etc. That's always a help!
XS: How can an aspiring writer protect him or herself from other people claiming submitted work as their own?
MW: Don't sweat it. In the thirty years I've been in the industry, I've only heard of one case and that ws the famous romance writer who stole another's work. Don't be afraid that some publisher wil steal your material and put it out under another name. Why should they? What do they gain? They stand togain a lot more by developing you as a writer than by ripping you off.
XS: I never thought of it that way. Very sensible. Now, I'd like to talk about your Star of the Guardians sequence. Before The Lost King you seemed to do a lot of collaboration work. Speaking of which, is it easier or more difficult to work with other authors?
MW: Well, it's easier in that you have someone to help you with the plots and characters. And it's harder because you have someone to help you with the plots and characters.
XS: I see...I think. Anyway, let's go on. The Lost King is about just that: a lost king. The "hidden king" story is a fairly old and common one, yet you use it to great effect, with neat little character flaws that present the story in a new light. Still, why use this old story?
MW: Because I have always found it fascinating and intriguing. if you come down to it, all stories we tell are "old" stories.
XS: How did you conceive the idea of this sequence?
MW: I had the central two characters--Maigrey and Sagan--but I couldn't think of a plot for them. I mulled it over for months and then suddenly, in the space of forty-five minutes, the plot line for all four books came to me.
XS: Two things about that bothers me a little. Is Dion Starfire the main character, or are the readers supposed to focus--despite the titles The Lost King,King's Test, and The King's Sacrifice--on Maigrey and Sagan? Also, why expand the set with Ghost Legion? The trilogy seemed complete enough to me as it was.
MW: First, there are three protagonists, rahter like a dysfunctional family. Second, there were always meant to be four books. Sagan's story has to be resolved. Bantam thought a trilogy would sell better for some reason.
XS: Do you have any plans to further expand the series? I know you've begun--and nearly completed--the Mag Force 7 set, but do you plan on doing more with Dion [Starfire] and his circle?
MW: Yes, I'd love to do one more book about Maigrey and Sagan in hell. I just haven't got the plot down, though.
XS: I don't want to give away too much about the books, but I have to know a few things. First, I like the way you juxtapose the Orders of Adamant and the Black Lightning, but I'm curious: were both orders comprised of the Blood Royal or just the Black Lightning? If both were, then how come the Order of Adamant--a strong soudning name if ever I heard one--didn't have as much strength as its opposite?
MW: Mmmmm. I've never given it much thought. And it's been some time since I read the series, so I'm really leery to try to explain.
XS: Maybe its a possibility for a future novel. Second, did you ever decide what would happen if Mendaharin "Tusk" Tusca used a bloodsword?
MW: I think he would be able to use it, but he would still be subject to the penalty, But then, Tusk had way too much survival instinct to try that!
XS: True, true. Third, those Corasians are so chilling! Wherever did you come up with them? You weren't, by chance, watching a volcano documentary while eating gelatin, were you? I don't think I'll be able to eat Jell-o again.
MW: No, I needed a really horrific alien and these seemed to fit the bill.
XS: What was the hardest thing about writing these four novels? What was the easiest?
MW: These novels were a joy to write. The hardest part was knowing that I had reached the end.
XS: Is there anything about the sequence that you now regret doing, and given the opportunity would you rewrite or remove entirely anything from the works?
MW: I would always rewrite anything I've done, but no, I really love those books.
XS: What lies in store for you now?
MW: Right now Don and I are working on a sequel to the Soulforge, a military fantasy about Raistlin's mercenary years and Kit's rise to power in the Dragonarmy. The last Mag Force 7 book from Del Rey, Hung Out comes out in August. Legacy of the Darksword is released in paperback in June. Tracy [Hickman] and I are writing a 5th Age trilogy for TSR. Don and I are also working on a special project, but it's secret so I can't say anything about it at the moment.
XS: Not even a hint?
MW: Not even a hint.
XS: Oh, well, it was worth a try. Has writing become easier or more difficult for you since you started writing?
MW: Writing is never easy. It's always a challenge, but it's a challenge I enjoy.
XS: What advice would you offer to anyone thinking about becoming a writer?
MW: Do your homework. Know how a manuscript should look, how to send it, know the publisher you're sending it to, know the name of the editor, spell the name of the editor correctly, spell the words in your manuscript correctly, be patient, keep your day job.
XS: Good advice. Are you where you want to be?
MW: Yes, I'm where I want to be. I couldn't be happier!
I hope you enjoyed learning more about this outstanding author. I know I did. Please visit her site at www.mag7.com. You'll find a full listing of her published works there, as well information about the story she and her husband own and operate!
Comments? Suggestions? Just click here to send me e-mail.
Also, if this interview prompted you to read some of Margaret Weis' works, then let me know. I appreciate knowing I made a difference in somebody's life.
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