Raymond E Feist
“Have you read this?” asks a friend, eyes agleam with manic fervour as he waves a dog-eared copy of The Magician in your face. That’s the way most readers are introduced to the world of Midkemia and the prolific writings of Raymond E Feist, through the enthusiasm of an addict. “I keep telling HarperCollins they should give the first book away for free. Get ’em hooked.”
The Midkemian books are what Feist himself likes to describe as “historical novels about a place that doesn’t exist,” filled with humour, intrigue and well-rounded character which result in a good read where the reader isn’t subjected to the author’s politics. That his books avoid soapbox didacticism is something the author is vociferously proud of...
“As soon as you start writing polemics,” reckons Feist, “or writing broadsides, you get away from the entertainment. I think what you can do is throw ideas out there and see if they stick. Like the young man in a wheelchair who came to me in Manchester and said, ‘I want to thank you for writing a book with a disabled character in The King’s Buccaneer . It made me think a lot about my own circumstances...’ You see, I never looked at it that way. As a writer, I looked at Nicky as a fully-fleshed interesting character with a problem. And part of the interest in the story is how he overcomes this problem. I told this young man, ‘Look, that came from you. You arrived at those insights. All I did was provide something that triggered a response.’
“So in one sense, I think I can put things out there that just might make people stop for a moment and think. If somebody stops for a moment and goes ‘Oh wow!’, and looks at something differently or feels a new appreciation of something, then great, but that’s never my intent. My first and foremost mission is to entertain.”
Born in 1945 to a musician father and a singer mother, Feist has more than his fair share of artistic genes. His father died when he was just five, and after his mother’s remarriage, he was raised in Hollywood by Felix Feist, a movie producer, writer and director. The environment proved a fertile one for someone of Feist’s imagination.
“I was a consumer of media,” remembers the author. “So my father was in the business that I was obsessed with as a kid: television and films. And I read a lot. So I’ve always been aware of, and tuned into and receptive of, entertainment. I guess that’s the big influence of my life.”
He went to college in the ’60s, to stay out of Vietnam, but when he discovered he was ineligible for service for health reasons, he dropped out. Somehow he never got round to telling the army there’d been a clerical error; he was actually physically sound. “I did a lot of things. I have the usual writer’s resumé of 15 failed undertakings, six firings and half a dozen really dumb ideas.”
In 1973, he returned to college and got a degree. A job with Health And Human Services, working in the education and health fields, lasted until 1978, but then funding was cut and he was out. “I guess that’s the point where I got serious about writing. So I wrote The Magician and sold it to Doubleday in 1980. As they say, the rest is history.”
But it’s a history that’s still being made. Another Midkemia series, and more books on Krondor, are already being planned, along with other new ideas. However, it’s the fact Feist’s latest book Krondor: The Betrayal has its origins in – shock, horror! –a computer game that’s caused such a stir.
“It’s based on the PC title,” explains the author pragmatically. “I took the essence of the game, without following it slavishly. I thought just narrating the game would be bloody boring.”
And now a second title, imaginatively entitled Return To Krondor , is joining the first just before Christmas. So does Feist have any control over how these games are produced?
“Oh yeah; I get to yell at people,” he smiles. “‘You twit! Didn’t you read the book?’ And the answer’s always ‘No, I was too busy.’ And I say, ‘Well, he doesn’t wear pink... except on holiday.’” Feist starts chanting: “The Pink Magician! I’ve been hanging around Palin and those guys too long, I swear.”
But despite his intervention, things can still go awry.
“I’ve got a story element left over from the first book; my friend Neil Alfred – the maniac! – killed off The Upright Man. In one line! Quite literally in one line! There’s a sentence in the game which starts, ‘The Upright Man is dead, and we must...’ This is one of the most momentous things that ever happened in the history of Krondor’s crime scene, and it’s blown off with a line. I said, ‘No, no, no... That’s got to be developed.’
“What I have to figure out is whether it will be an entire book, Murder In Krondor , about the death of The Upright Man, or a set-up opening sequence in the next game-related book; or a large prologue about his death weaving its way into the next novel. I’ve already been thinking about how I could do it as a ten or 15-page prologue starting with Lim, the boy thief, running for his life through the sewer, trying to find a way out, and reaching Jimmy to tell him The Upright Man is dead. The question is whether I can do what I need to do while setting up the tension with the Crawler for the third game, which is really getting down the road.”
So are the computer games going to be Feist’s new domain or will the lure of the papery medium forever hold his attention?
“They aren’t a substitute for books. Books have been around for 800 years and are going to be around for a long time after that. I’m not burning to take my $1,100, flat-screen portable and try to read it in the bath... They’re a complement. Just like if I did films. You’ll never see me stop doing books to go and do films, unless they make me head of the studio and my wife approves – my current wife would leave me in a New York minute if I said we were going to LA. And the way I look, Kathy would probably have a lot less trouble getting a date than I would... so I think I’m going to keep her for a while.”