|Margaret Weis: Dragon Team Player|
It takes two to tango -- and to create a revolution. Margaret Weis discovered that firsthand when she teamed with Tracy Hickman to create Dragonlance, the ground-breaking, bestselling universe of role playing games and game related fiction. Later Weis learned that two heads also can be better than one when it comes to creating military fiction with her husband, Don Perrin. Casting the net still further, she worked with Hickman and frequent Dragonlance artist Larry Elmore to create the Sovereign Stone game and novels.
But one is far from a lonely number for Weis, a former editor who published her first book (on Jesse James) years before Dragonlance. Her solo galactic fantasy Star of the Guardian series enjoyed great success. Mistress of Dragons, the first novel in Weis's new Dragonvaald series (scheduled for release in spring 2003), promises to do even better. At Dragon*con 2002, Weis talked to Crescent Blues about her solo ventures and what it takes when writing takes two.
Crescent Blues: Much of your fiction writing has been done in collaboration with other writers. What do you find most satisfying about working with someone else?
Margaret Weis: Writing is a lonely process. Even in a collaboration, writing is still a lonely process. With a collaborator, you've always got somebody to bounce ideas back and forth with. The other person comes up with new ideas and interesting ideas that are things you wouldn't have thought of. Each of my collaborations has been different, so that's also interesting. Tracy [Hickman] and I work differently than my husband [Don Perrin] and I do. So that also makes it fun and interesting. It involves another person in the world and the storyline, and that's something I enjoy.
Crescent Blues: From your remarks at the panel earlier today, I get the feeling that when you work with Tracy Hickman you tend to be more character driven, while he focuses more on the structural and conceptual aspects of the work. Is this the case?
Margaret Weis: Yes, that's it exactly. When Tracy and I do a collaboration, we get together -- he actually flies out to Wisconsin, and we spend three days working out the plot synopsis, which is the essential part of the story for us. We have to have the plot to know where we're going.
We work out the scenes and some of the characters. Then I do the writing. It's important for us, at least, to have one voice. I do the writing, and Tracy goes back to Utah and does all the background work.
Crescent Blues: What do you mean by background work?
Margaret Weis: Like how magic works in the world. What's going on thematically. What changes are happening in the world. What certain characters might think and feel.
Then again, if I write us into a hole -- because even the best plot synopsis will have holes in it. (We do that on purpose, because the story has to breathe and live and grow. If you've got a very rigid plot synopsis, then it doesn't happen.) So, if I write us into a hole or I discover that something simply isn't working, that the character's motivations aren't going to allow him or her to do this, then I call Tracy and we work it out.
Crescent Blues: How does that differ from working with your husband?
Margaret Weis: Don is military, a retired officer in the Canadian army. Don and I write military books together -- military science fiction and military fantasy. Military people talk to each other differently than non-military people. Don is able to capture that in the dialogue. Don and I also do a plot synopsis. Then I will say, "You need to write this, this, this and this," because "this" is all the military bits.
I start from the beginning, and Don writes all the military stuff. When I get to the point where I need one of Don's sections, I just drop it in and overwrite it so it has one voice. But that voice tends to be different [from my work with Tracy's], because Don and I have the military voice.
Crescent Blues: Is it harder or easier working with your spouse, versus someone not quite so close to you?
Margaret Weis: Don and I have a very good working relationship. We haven't gotten into any fights over the books. Once you enter this world, it's sort of like a real world. You just know when things are working right.
And again, because I do the majority of the writing, it's not like a do a chapter, then he does a chapter, and we criticize each other. That can become very tense. Writing is so very personal, it looks like you're attacking the other person when all you're doing is attacking the writing. In fact, one exercise that I remember Tracy used to do. He would hold out his manuscript at arm's length and say, "This is the book. This is me. This is the book. This is me. My editor is criticizing the book. He's not criticizing me." That's one thing that you need in any collaboration. But the fact that I do the writing makes it a lot easier.
Crescent Blues: You're famous for working closely with artists, especially in your game-related stories. Has your interpretation of your characters ever been changed by the way the artist depicted the character? Is there two-way input?
Margaret Weis: In Dragonlance, the artist had done the character concept sketches first, before we ever started writing the books. Basically, what I was doing was describing the characters the artist had drawn. That actually led me to come up with one of the series' most famous characters: Raistlin.
I knew Raistlin was a mage. He had a twin brother who was really a good-looking guy, but Raistlin was kind of thin. He had wispy white hair, and he was known as "The Sly One." Nobody really liked him or trusted him. And he had golden skin and hourglass eyes.
I said, why does he have golden skin and hourglass eyes when is brother is obviously normal and doesn't have this? And [the editor at TSR] said, "Oh, it was because the artist thought it would look cool."
I had to come up with a reason why Raistlin had this, which led me to think that maybe this had something to do with his magic, that he had to take a magical test, and maybe the magical test and the power of high sorcery had somehow done this to him. This led to the development of Raistlin's character and the whole co-dependent relationship he had with his good-looking twin brother. So the fact that the artist had given Raistlin golden skin and hourglass eyes led me to understand and create this character that became a very real character to me, and very interesting to a lot of people. In fact, I've met several children named Raistlin, which is kind of interesting.
Crescent Blues: Hmmm, I guess we'll just have to wait and see if they develop golden skin and hourglass eyes. Which brings up the whole issue of characters and how they grow. When you're not given the characters for a project, which comes first for you -- the hero or the villain?Margaret Weis: In Dragonvaald, what I'm working on now, the heroine was actually the first character I developed, then the hero, then the character that didn't even really start out to be a villain. And he's going to end up being more of an antihero.
Margaret Weis: Yes, but he came along later. Dragonvaald is a smaller work in that it is much more a story of interconnected people. It will be a story of the lives of four people and how they affect one another in a larger world situation, as opposed to Dragonlance, where you have twelve people going on a quest. Dragonvaald is something where I think you will be more personally involved with the people.
Crescent Blues: Which brings up a point about Dragonlance. It started with a massive cast of characters that kept growing over time. It must be hard to keep track of everybody.
Margaret Weis: That was really tough. For me, that was the flaw in the first series of novels. I know a lot of people really loved that first series of novels, but to me that was the flaw. There were so many characters that we really couldn't spend a lot of time and develop them all as they needed to be developed, which is one reason why, one, we split the party in the second book, so that at least we had a little smaller group to deal with; then two, why Dragonlance Legends is, to me, the better series. In Dragonlance Legends we were able to concentrate on just developing three or four characters fully, which I think is a lot better.
Crescent Blues: Are there any characters that you wish you could've developed more in the series?