Interview with Dave Gross
Given below is an interview conducted between the Scribes of Candlekeep and Dave Gross. Dave is the author of the Forgotten Realms novel from the Sembia Series: Black Wolf. This interview was carried out on 30th December 2002 following the success of this novel. The author also talks a little about his exciting upcoming novel of the Sembia Series, Lord of Stormweather.. This material cannot be reproduced without permission.
Interview with Dave Gross – Author of 'Black Wolf' (The Sembia Series, Book 4)
1. Where did you find the inspiration for the story of Black Wolf?
To a lesser degree, I found inspiration in horror and monster stories. Also, my love of theater and theater people had a lot to do with the Wide Realms Playhouse and its inhabitants. My fencing days inspired me to include a couple of deadly swordsmen (and a couple of not-so-deadly ones), and my affection for dark stories with a strong humorous element certainly colored a lot of the characters and dialogue.
More than any of these, the campaign setting inspired me, especially the gods and religions of the Realms. While I don’t care to write about the gods themselves, I love the cults of the Realms and their distinctive followers. As soon as I knew my hero was a werewolf, it was a natural progression to decide that the cult of Malar and the clerics of Selûne might become involved in his story.
2. Which authors of the Sembia series did you have to work closely with for Black Wolf, and how much involvement did you have with these and other staff during the project?
When the series was first proposed, Phil Athans and Ed Greenwood created an impressive starting point with a file describing the Uskevren family history, their rivals and allies, and the city of Selgaunt. Then Phil asked each of us to write a few pages on our characters, their secrets, their enemies, and their feelings about the other members of the family. We also included an outline of the novellas we planned to write for The Halls of Stormweather. Then Phil took the whole bundle and ironed out the spots where there was conflict. Remarkably, there was very little. By and large, we Sembians seemed to be in tune with each other from the very start.
From that point, there was relatively little interaction between the authors. Occasionally I’d send an email to Phil or Lizz Baldwin, or to Richard Lee Byers or Ed Greenwood asking a question about their characters. For Black Wolf, I think, I spoke most often with Richard to coordinate on a few details about Stormweather Towers. Otherwise, we left it to Phil and Lizz to alert us if we were heading in the wrong direction with someone else’s character.
Now, after Black Wolf was finished, I had a lot of contact with Paul Kemp and Ed Greenwood in preparing an outline for Lord of Stormweather, since they generously loaned me their characters for significant roles in that book. In return, I added some key events that would lead into Twilight Falling and Pride of the Lion, though the latter book was later canceled and some of its events added to Lord of Stormweather. Writing Thamalon and Cale was one of greatest pleasures of the book. Thamalon is such an influence on both Talbot and Tamlin that it was great to get his side of the story, since we’d seen his sons’ lives already. And Cale is just a great character, one who can offer a striking counterpoint to the relatively pampered Uskevren children.
3. Were you already familiar with Sembia and FR prior to the novel and how much research did you have to do for the novels setting?
Until about 1993, I was a hardcore Forgotten Realms expert, like some of the folks on Candlekeep. After that, I began falling behind on supplements and adventures, not to mention novels, and now I’m just moderately knowledgeable about the world.
As for Sembia, practically no one knew anything about the place before the series began. Originally, as many of the folks reading this board probably know, Sembia was reserved for DMs to create their own version in the FR campaign setting. Later, when Jeff Grubb and Ed Greenwood wrote the Forgotten Realms Adventures hardcover, the cities and government suddenly appeared. Personally, I was glad to have that information, since I’d done very little to create my own Sembia in the Realms.
As for research, it was largely a matter of brushing up for me. I used the Sembia author’s bible, the campaign setting, and - perhaps most importantly - Faiths & Avatars as my trip to the library.
4. Did you create Talbot’s lycanthropy yourself, or was this presented to you by WotC designers?
At the time the book editors conceived Sembia series, I was still working at Wizards of the Coast, and my department (Periodicals) shared space with Books. One day I spotted the bare-bones description of the seven Sembia characters on the printer. Most of them were extremely simple: noble patriarch, elegant matron, firstborn son, secondborn sister, maid, and butler. The only one that had a significant detail attached was the third child, whose secret was that he was a werewolf.
Some authors might have balked at that character, since there was automatically one requirement attached to the character, limiting the writer’s choices. But I love werewolves and monsters of all sorts, so immediately that was the only character that interested me. I pitched the “Thirty Days” story when Phil announced that interested parties could make a proposal to join the series.
At first, I decided not to make Talbot’s lycanthropy the main thrust of the story but to let it be a supporting problem for another main plot. The more I thought about the way that lycanthropy works in D&D and the Forgotten Realms, and the more I noodled over the potential influence of Selûne and Malar on a werewolf, however, the less I felt I should downplay the curse. By the time I’d finished the revised outline, it had become at least as important as the other plot elements.
While the WotC designers weren’t directly involved with the Sembia stories, one of their creations had a big affect on Black Wolf. Before the revised Forgotten Realms campaign setting was finished, I’d gotten a look at the People of the Black Blood entry. Instantly, one of the main antagonists of the novel became a Huntmaster for this evil cult, giving me a chance to tie the story even more closely into existing Realms lore.
5. Are you a fan of the werewolf legends, and did you have to do any research into this for your novel?
One of my earliest passions as a kid was for Universal horror movies. Along with ghost and horror stories, those are the kinds of fantasies that most charged my childhood imagination. My favorite costume for Halloween was often a werewolf getup, complete with realistic hair glued strand-by-strand to my painted face! So yes, definitely, I’m a fan of the werewolf legends.
Some keen-eyed readers have spotted my nods to some of my favorite Universal flicks, including Talbot’s name (for Larry Talbot, the main character in The Wolfman), Chaney (for Creighton A.K.A. Lon Chaney Jr.)—but there are at least two more that I’m astonished no one has pointed out! Actually, Neal Barrett Jr. spotted one of them, but he had uncanny expert knowledge and thus an unfair advantage. I’ll even give a hint to the other two homages to werewolf movies: Both are names, and one belongs to a human character, the other to a nonhuman.
I didn’t really do any werewolf research for the book but just drew on my memories of all the werewolf stories I’d ever read or seen. Where I did do significant research was in how lycanthropy works in the D&D game and in the Forgotten Realms. That presented me with some rich opportunities to make it more “Realmsian.”
6. Darrow played quite a major role in the novel, sometimes seeming on a par with Talbot as the main character, are there any plans to write more on this character?
At the moment, no. Actually, for a little while I had an idea for a follow-up story to Black Wolf that involved Darrow and Talbot and a very nasty change in a former friendship, but I let it fade away when I started working out some other plot events for Lord of Stormweather. Of course, now that you mention it, you’ve got me thinking about him again!
Darrow took on a life of his own, but originally he was just a tool that let me show what the bad guys were doing without having to get inside their heads. What I really wanted were villains in some cases and grayer antagonists in others, and I didn’t want to make it obvious which was which by revealing their thoughts to the reader.
On a side note, the original outline for Black Wolf was a very different story, one that put Talbot and one of his antagonists in direct contact for most of the story. After the editor’s feedback, that changed substantially, but suddenly I had another problem: Talbot wasn’t with the antagonists for most of the story, so I needed someone who was present to hear their points of view. Originally I thought I’d use two or three different henchmen—one for Radu and Stannis, one for Rusk, and one for Maleva. That seemed like too many disparate perspectives for this book, so eventually I found a way to have Darrow serve as the POV character for most of those other characters. What occurred to me then was that he also gave me an opportunity to show what happens to the average Joe who becomes a werewolf in the Forgotten Realms. Unlike Talbot, Darrow doesn’t struggle so successfully against the beast, but since he’s only recently become cursed, he can still be horrified by what he’s becoming.
7. What is the story behind the cancellation of Pride of the Lion and how has this affected the original plot/content for Lord of Stormweather?
Pride of the Lion was cancelled to allow Ed Greenwood a little breathing room in his fantastically busy schedule. Even when the Sembia series began, he was so tied up with other writing projects that it was clear that he would write the last book, so he could finish other things first. Since the man is in such demand, however, his schedule became more full, not less.
When I first learned this, I’d already begun writing Lord of Stormweather, and Phil Athans, Paul Kemp, and Ed had given me some great threads to pull through the novel and, in some cases, to leave hanging at the end for resolution in Pride of the Lion and the upcoming Erevis Cale trilogy. Learning that Pride wasn’t coming after Lord did require some fairly substantial changes to the book, but as is often the case, they offered cool opportunities more than hassles.
Unlike Black Wolf, Lord of Stormweather unfolds through the eyes of four different characters. One of them is Tamlin, the heir to the family; another is Thamalon, his father, and the character who would have lead Pride of the Lion; another is a surprise I’m not ready to spoil; and the last is Erevis Cale. Now the journeys of the mystery character and Cale are quite important - especially to Cale fans who want to see the events that take him from Shadow’s Witness to Twilight Falling - but the story is really centered on father and son, Thamalon and Tamlin, and a great big secret about Stormweather Towers that nobody but they could discover.
8. What are your upcoming projects for WotC and the FR product line? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Currently, I’m finishing a non-FR book, but I’ve just signed up to do another Forgotten Realms book scheduled for release in the summer of 2004. It has a title, but I don’t think I’m meant to reveal it yet. (I normally prefer to come up with my own titles, but this one is such a cool title that I can’t complain.) I haven’t even written the outline yet, but I have been steadily filling a notebook with ideas as they occur ever since Phil first described the parameters. There’s a good chance it will include two or three characters from Black Wolf and/or Lord of Stormweather, though it won’t be a Sembia story, and it’ll have deep, deep connections with some pretty big recent events in the Realms. I’d love to say more, but all I’ll say is that I’m poring over Faiths & Pantheons again for ideas on some of the characters. Ask me again in a year!
9. How did you get into being a writer, and how long have you been writing for WotC?
The first time I wrote fiction for a paycheck was when I pitched a short story that made the cut for the Realms of Magic anthology, sometime around 1994. I pitched another story that made it into Realms of Mystery, and then the publisher asked me to contribute An Opportunity for Profit to the Double-Diamond Trilogy. After that I shot myself in the foot by pitching both a Realms novel and a Ravenloft novel at the same time, and I got the nod to write the latter. I was halfway through the first draft and had finished a related short story (with a werewolf, ironically enough) when the line was suddenly cancelled. That experience taught me the value of being faithful to the Forgotten Realms. She’s a jealous setting, I tell you.
10. Do you play D&D and the Forgotten Realms campaign? If so, do you play or DM, how often and for how long have you been playing?
I began playing D&D back in 1978, and I played a lot in high school, college, and beyond. Perversely, I began playing less after I began working for TSR in 1993, and in the past couple of years I’ve played practically none except for electronic games like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights. Most of the time, I was the DM for our tabletop games, but the most rewarding gaming experience I ever had was in college, when practically everyone in our group took a turn DMing in his or her “reserved” portion of the Forgotten Realms. I bought the original Forgotten Realms campaign the day it hit stores, and it’s been my principal campaign world ever since, though I tend to roam a lot among other settings, including some home-brewed.
11. What is your favorite D&D character class and race?
My favorite class as a player changes every few years because I’m so fickle. For a long time, I tended toward really violent or reckless paladins because I liked playing lawful good heroes who didn’t fit into the exact stereotype of the pompous, by-the-book crusader. Then for a long time my favorites were wizards or bards, because of the great variety of abilities they have. When the 3rd Edition rules came out, suddenly fighters were a lot more interesting than they’d ever been before. Rogues are great fun, too, because of all their skills and their special abilities.
My favorite race has always been the same: humans. Probably that’s because they have the most options available to them, making them freer from the obvious stereotypes. Also, in 3rd Edition, you’ve got to love that bonus feat.
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