Author interview: Richard Baker

You've found the latest SFX author interview! Each week we're uploading tips and advice for aspiring writers, based on the features running in the magazine. Whether you're penning a story for our Pulp Idol 2008 competition, or working on your first novel, we've been able to get a variety of industry insiders to offer their guidance on the writing life.

This week it's writer Rich Baker (full name L Richard Baker III) the author of many fantasy books, and also a games designer who's worked on a number of role-playing campaign settings. He is a member of the team developing this year's Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition. The folks at Dungeons & Dragons are sponsoring this year's Pulp Idol writing competition, so we spoke to Baker about his experience of penning fantasy fiction.

SFX: What experience do you think readers get out of good fantasy fiction?
Richard Baker:
"I'm not ashamed to say that I think pure escapism is its own reward. It's therapeutic to imagine that you can fix all the problems in the world by whaling the tar out of them with a broadsword. The real world's got enough shades of gray."

SFX: What advice do you have about giving a story a good start?
Richard Baker:
"I think the best advice I could give here is this: start in the middle of something. I often find that the real start of my story is several pages in from where I started in my first draft. I try to identify that spot and discard everything that I shouldn't have put in front of it. It's easy to begin a story with long passages of character study or world exposition, but you should fight the temptation if you can. "

SFX: Do you have a tip for getting you back on track if you lose the flow of the story?
Richard Baker:
"There's an old saying: perfect is the enemy of good enough. When I get bogged down I try to tell myself, 'Okay, so it's not exactly right, but put something down and move on.' You may find that your 'temporary' patch looks better than you thought when you revisit it."

SFX: How do you keep yourself motivated to keep writing when it seems to get difficult?
Richard Baker:
"Looking back at how much progress you've made already helps - if you're already well along, that is. If you bog down right at the start, that's a bit harder."

SFX: Do your characters ever take on a life of their own and get away from you?
Richard Baker:
"I wish it happened more often. I only find the characters 'taking over' once in a blue moon, and it's usually my best writing when they do. When it does happen, I take it as a sign that I've stumbled across the story I'm supposed to be telling!"

SFX: Do you prefer to write with all the time in the world, or do you need pressure?
Richard Baker:
"A deadline is better for me, because otherwise I won't get started until I think I have to. I prefer to work well out from the deadline and write at a steady pace, though. "

SFX: What advice do you have for somebody starting out as a writer who's had nothing published yet, perhaps is getting discouraged by rejections?
Richard Baker:
"Be ready to set aside the story you can't publish, and start on your next story. Take away what lessons you can, and try something new. My first novel is sitting in a shoebox under my desk, and it's never going to see the light of day. If I can walk away from 200,000 words, so can you! And you can always revisit your first effort later on if you really want to."

SFX: How hard is it to write within an established universe - Dungeons & Dragons in your case? What challenges do you find working within a publisher's guidelines?
Richard Baker:
"I actually like writing in a shared universe. The readers' understanding of the world and its subtleties doesn't hang on my book alone. The readers are already well informed about the basics of the setting. Obviously you need to 'colour inside the lines' a bit, but I've been able to tell just about any story I want within the confines of my Forgotten Realms books."

SFX: Who are your personal inspirations - who did you read in your formative years?
Richard Baker:
"The library in my home town had a sci-fi section that hadn't been updated in decades when I discovered it. I cut my teeth on Tolkien, of course, and then moved on to stuff like Doc Smith's Lensman books, Robert Heinlein's juvenile SF, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E Howard, you name it. I think of it as my classical education."

SFX: If you could pass on one single tip about writing fantasy to a new writer, what would it be?
Richard Baker:
"'Write what entertains you.' If you like what you're creating, it's going to be your best work."

Thanks Richard!

See more about Richard Baker (and Dungeons & Dragons) on his Wikipedia entry here . His new novel Swordmage is out this year, and you can see the cover here . You might like to check out the latest rumours on the new Dungeons & Dragons release at this unofficial fan site .

Over the next few weeks you'll get more author, agent and publisher interviews while the Pulp Idol 2008 competition runs. Remember, you've only got until early June to get a story to us! We've spoken to plenty of big names from the world of SF writing and they've kindly given us their tips for aspiring science fiction and fantasy authors. Check back here regularly, and also look out for our writing features in the pages of SFX 169, 170 and 171.

We're celebrating a summer of SF reading on SFX this year, so watch out for bonus book-based features in SFX magazine and on the website too, including a free book with SFX 170, on sale from Wednesday 7 May.