Creative Colleagues: Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I’ve been an Ed Greenwood fan since the gray-box release of the Forgotten Realms. His name was familiar from Dragon Magazine, but seeing the entire setting described in a single product solidified my image of him as something between Elminster and Volo. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ed, you know that’s a fair approximation of his persona.

In a way, Ed helped me get my first job at TSR, since the editing test was a deleted chapter of his novel Spellfire. It was there I discovered his love of page-and-a-half compound-complex sentences with nested parentheses, copious em-dashes, and idiosyncratic semicolons. Ed’s elaborate thoughts often needed such architecture, and the work he sent me for Dragon often made me think of Thoreau’s words: “I am large, I contain multitudes!”

And so he does, expressing an unprecedented multitude of ideas with his new publishing venture, The Ed Greenwood Group. On the occasion of the launch of its second setting with his novel Words of Unbinding, Ed agreed to answer a few questions about it.

What’s the origin of The Ed Greenwood Group? What’s the Stormtalons setting?

For years, I’ve been so caught up in working on the Realms every day that a lot of the other ideas that pop into my head all the time have simply been tossed into a “get to someday” pile.

With the Realms product line getting streamlined in 5th edition, I finally have some spare time, so out comes that huge pile of ideas. Story ideas. SF stories, space opera stories, sword & planet stories, modern mystery stories, Gothic horror romances, steampunks, James Bond-ish modern spy thrillers, Cthulhu-like period horrors, urban fantasies, the works.

Now, I could happily sit down at my keyboard and write novel after novel all on my own; that’s just what I’ve been doing for decades, after all. And that’s just what I am still doing, working my way down my idea pile. However, one of the things I’ve learned over the years as a writer, designer, and avid reader is that with sole-source settings, no matter how fast the creator is, that creator becomes a bottleneck; fans of a series or setting inescapably fall into long periods of waiting for the next offering. I’ve also discovered down all of the same years that I like collaborating on big creative projects; my desire for absolute control isn’t as strong as the high I get from seeing talented creative people having fun in a sandbox that we all expand and renovate together.

So was born the immodestly named (but not by me) The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG): a transmedia publishing collective that will eventually bring to the world over thirty settings in a wide variety of genres in which I and fellow creatives—writers, artists, game designers, artisans, musicians, voice actors, and more—will work as equals to bring to life settings, in all formats we can muster.

So you can read novels and short stories set in Setting X, listen to audiobooks and original audio dramas and music set in Setting X, play roleplaying and board games that use and bring to life Setting X, and enjoy maps and art for the setting that are the usual two-dimensional drawn or painted images, but also extend to sculptures, wearable artifacts, collectibles, and more. In short, you can immerse yourself in the setting.

TEGG’s first setting is Hellmaw, modern-Earth gritty urban fantasy in which humans gradually become aware that there are daemons dwelling among us, treating us like cattle; to them, we are food. There are eight Hellmaw novels out so far, and they range from grim and blood-splattered through love stories and police procedurals to zany comedies. Gamers will recognize some of the authors: Chris A. Jackson, Erik Scott de Bie, J. Robert King, and me.

Cover by Eric Belisle

Cover by Eric Belisle

And TEGG’s second setting is Stormtalons, broad-tapestry heroic fantasy/swords & sorcery in the medieval-cum-Renaissance world of Asmer, where transforming mists roil and shift, mighty sleeping dragons stir, and magic is sparse and firmly controlled (a tyrant archwizard forces all lesser mages to work for him or die, and he is locked in détente with the priests of the Six who rule the land of Rheligor as a peaceful place of stiflingly strict order).

There are many ways in which the Realms and Stormtalons differ, but the most important one is that I designed the Realms to be high magic (lots of powerful magic in many hands) and I designed Stormtalons to be low magic (if you don’t keep your use of magic secret, and if you do anything too powerful, one of the Heirophar’s hit teams is going to be hunting you fast). So there’s plenty of room for just plain folks with their wits and fists to have adventures, not just wizards battling world-shaking menaces.

Stormtalons is not a D&D setting, though you can use the setting for roleplaying games; things that D&D gamers expect to be “true” for a setting, such as the widespread use of divination and teleportation, details of monsters, character “classes,” and so on, just don’t hold true in Stormtalons. Unlike the many, many gods of the Realms (a root design decision of mine, made a good eight years before the Dungeons & Dragons game existed), Asmer has only six gods (though there are cults of others, including dead gods subsumed by the Six). The metallic and chromatic dragon types of D&D are unknown in Stormtalons, which has “brute” dragons that humans hunt as monsters and (rarely) tame as steeds or eat as food, and the legendary Sleeping Dragons, who when they wake might just tear asunder the current balance of power and transform the world.

Stormtalons begins now, launched by my novel Words of Unbinding. It will be followed by a steady stream of novels and short stories; there are 150 novels scheduled so far (but don’t worry that your wallet’s going to get emptied in short order; the plan is that nothing will ever go out of print!).

A month after Words of Unbinding, Gregory A. Wilson brings us Grayshade, the first book in the Gray Assassin trilogy; a month after that, Dileep S. Rangan’s very different The Pirate King’s Daughter appears, the first book in the Jayasudhera trilogy. And in the next month (November), Richard Lee Byers brings us The Ghost in the Stone.

All of these Stormtalons novels will be available as ebooks, as trade paperbacks, as mass market paperbacks, and (whenever we accumulate 250 pre-orders) as collector’s edition deluxe hardcovers. The first three chapters of each are serialized online at Amazing Stories Magazine, and introductory and followup short stories, and other Stormtalons short stories, appear in each issue of Onder Magazine and are narrated for Onder Radio for TEGG Audio.

In short, I formed TEGG to give a lot of talented folks the chance to play together building worlds that we hope many will fall in love with and become fans of. As time passes and many of my favorite writers die, a lot of the “good pulpy fun” that I used to enjoy steady streams of has died to a trickle or faded away altogether; in part, I want to bring it back. New worlds for old, as the saying goes, We have new worlds here! Come see!

How does the creation of The Ed Greenwood Group differ from your creation of the Forgotten Realms? Especially, how does the creative aspect differ knowing you’re bringing in other writers from the start?

If I’m going to open up the sandbox for more than just me to play in, I’m immediately caught in the same struggle that has faced all shared-world creators and projects; the desire for consistency in lore (“canon,” guarded by some degree of editorial control) versus letting creative people BE creative and tell stories with as few fetters and impediments as possible.

And if it’s just me, helming every setting (especially when we get up to twenty-some settings running all at once), I will inevitably be a bottleneck, overwhelmed by reviewing all of the stories flooding in and the queries about flags of these countries and chamberpots of those countries, of how this detail of magic works and where the potatoes (are there potatoes?) are grown that the people in the Dread Pirate Isle eat, and how said potatoes get to them before they starve.

So, each one of our settings has a Lore Guardian (for Hellmaw, it’s Samantha Murphy, and for Stormtalons, it’s Cat Jarrett). These are creative whirlwinds who steer all of the stories in a setting, keep Creatives communicating with each other, and deal with the practical real-world matters of scheduling. If settings get wildly busy, we’ll have Lore Wardens to assist them.

And every setting also has its own Art Director; for both Hellmaw and Stormtalons, that’s Eric Belisle. In TEGG, artists are equals with writers and game designers, not illustrators-for-hire. Art Directors may create all of the covers for a setting, as Eric has done with his daemon portraits that formed the inspiration for Hellmaw, or they may coordinate other artists, but they establish the “look and feel” of a setting.

TEGG is different from a traditional publisher; it is a Sessorium of Creatives using all feasible formats or media to connect stories with fans. We already have TEGG Brazil, publishing our Hellmaw and Stormtalons tales in Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish; we hope to be in many places all over the world, not just English-speaking and -reading ones, involving local writers and giving newcomers a chance to story-tell alongside veterans. We’re setting up mentoring programs, and encouraging cross-pollination where characters and items from one writer’s tales appear or are mentioned in those of other writers; it’s about giving everyone a chance. TEGG Creatives are already of seemingly all races, genders, geographical locations, and backgrounds (yes, a lot of them are my friends and acquaintances, and I hope that through TEGG, many more will become new friends!).

What are the advantages to shared-world settings? How about some of the drawbacks? How do you bring together the best of both?

The major advantages include the richness that many creative voices (as opposed to just one) bring to the table, and the rapidity of output that multiple creators can achieve. For instance, we have an upcoming setting, still secret for now, for which we want twelve novels completely ready before we launch. This can bring forth nuanced, detailed stories fast enough to satisfy most readers and reassure them that this isn’t going to be something they’ve fallen in love with that abruptly ends without warning, or dies away, just when they’re really wanting more!

The main drawbacks are the inconsistencies inevitably introduced by too many cooks at work in the same kitchen, and the very human oneupmanship/“arms race” tendencies of authors trying to outdo each other, and too-similar stories being spun at the same time or in swift succession—all problems that the Lore Guardians have been put in place to try to prevent from the outset, so no creative time is wasted and the fan gets to enjoy the best and most consistent tales we can spin. We’re encouraging our creatives to talk with each other, to hang out together and work up ideas together, so as this thing gets rolling we will all be familiar with what’s going on in every setting, and tales can grow from each other, so the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

What influences from literature and other media are you most aware of?

I grew up voraciously devouring everything in my father’s den, in a family of readers and book collectors. Nothing was censored or hidden away from me, and I was what’s sometimes called a “child prodigy,” reading and writing (mostly terrible pastiches) of what struck my fancy from age five or six, usually because I ran to my Dad (my mother died when I was six) waving something I loved and asked where the sequels were, and he often told me I’d have to write them myself, because the author was dead and gone. Television was just getting going in those days (yes, I’m that old), and movies were a rare treat, but comics and books and magazines of all sorts were available in plenty, and I devoured everything. Notable early influences were Kipling and Lord Dunsany and P.G. Wodehouse and Leslie Charteris (the Saint books) and John Dickson Carr (locked-room mysteries) and Baroness Orczy (the Scarlet Pimpernel) and Robert Louis Stevenson (The Black Arrow) and E. R. Burroughs and E.E. Doc Smith (the Lensman series). Then I discovered Fritz Leiber and then Weird Tales, and Tolkien hit big in North America, and Lin Carter started republishing all the classic fantasy he could lay hands on, and Roger Zelazny rose from the pages of Fantastic (the first magazine I ever subscribed to) and I plunged into sf and fantasy and mystery reading in a big way (Asimov, Harry Harrison, Clarke, Heinlein, James H. Schmitz, et al). I have always been an avid book collector, and have worked in public libraries since age 14 (I’m 57 now), so I have been surrounded by stories, stories, and more stories for as long as I can remember. Everything from Popular Mechanics magazine to the Decameron, the original gory Brothers Grimm fairy tales to Victorian novels of manners; it has all influenced me, as has trying things in real life from diving into water-filled caves to riding bareback at dawn; everything.

In a world of peak television and near constant movie blockbusters, what does prose fiction have to offer that film and comics can’t?

The intimacy of painting mental pictures in solitude (the reader’s imagination turning shaped squiggles of ink on a page into a movie in the mind, images of characters and beasts and places, ordinary and fantastic, and “hearing” dialogue uttered as the imagined story unfolds). This is the reason behind our Stormtalons covers, in which we see the torsos of protagonists but not their faces; we’re leaving readers greater scope to fill in the blanks, in a way that television and film don’t allow.

The time and space to re-read and think.

The time to savor and recast—whereas the moment images are provided, the mental space to envisage a character in the reader’s own way is lost, and the timing of a filmed story is imposed and inflexible; it can rush past moments a viewer wants to slow and savor or sort out.

In other words, if you read a prose story, you can still make it yours, a tale you participate it, and shape in your mind; a television program or movie is pre-shaped and set, and you experience it but can’t participate in the same way. Our imaginations are muscles that need to be used if they are to flourish; young readers of today are learning to imagine, and from imagineers will come the ground-breaking television and film creators of the future.

You’re both prolific guys who’ve worked with a lot of other editors, writers, illustrators, and other creative people. What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned from those colleagues?

Different ways of doing things (the craft of making stories; processes, discipline, and so on). How different people can read the exact same words and envisage very different things. That creatives work at different paces, in very different environments from each other, and that there is no “one right way”; there are only better or best ways for this individual, on this project, at this time. How universal emotions and conveying humanity can be, across barriers of language and culture and age and gender. How important individual words, gestures, and moments can be—resonating and being remembered for decades. And how slippery creativity can sometimes be, something morphing as it’s worked on in ways that surprise creators.

Keep an eye on Ed’s Blog or the Onder Librum for all things TEGG.

Care to comment?