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    Interview with Steve Sullivan
Interview by Ciara Grey


Fiction Factor - How did 'Legend of the Five Rings'(L5R) get started?

Steve Sullivan
- I wasn’t one of the game authors, so I’m not the best authority on that.  The game actually started a number of years before the book series and, therefore, before I had anything to do with it.  To my understanding, the game was created by John Wick and some of his friends who were interested in a far eastern game setting.

The book series was conceived of when Wizards of the Coast acquired the game and was looking to expand the novel line.  The devotion of the game fans made books seem a natural extension for the RPG and the card game series.

FF- Do the authors of 'L5R' work closely together?

SS - Again, speaking for only the book authors, we don’t have much contact with each other at all.  The Clan War series of books was coordinated through book editor Rob King, who kept us all on track and in line with existing continuity.  He’s the one who had most of the contact with the game writers and producers.  It’s easier as a book author when you only have to listen to one person -- and the book editor is the logical choice to be that person.

Now, having said that, we book authors did supply each other with story synopses for our books.  And we have socialized together during the few times we’ve all been in the same place at the same time.  I also had more direct contact with Ree, when she was one of the continuity people for the series.

FF - How do the authors decide who writes what?

SS - Actually, who writes what is mostly decided by the publisher (and the editor).  Since the series was naturally broken down into seven clan-based segments, that tended to dictate what was in each book.  Now, there was some overlap between the books, and it was up to the editor to work with the authors to solve any conflicts.

Writing The Lion was tricky for me, in that the book wraps up all the storylines and uses many of the characters from other books.  Because of that, it also had more overlaps with the other books.  There was one point where Ree (who wrote The Dragon) and I had some nearly identical chapters.  However, Rob, Ree and I got that worked out in the end. She got the stuff that was mostly Dragon related; I got the stuff that had the most to do with the Day of Thunder.

FF - With several different authors, is it difficult to keep a character like Empress Kachiko in character when she appears in the other novels?

SS - The wealth of game material helped in this regard.  We knew a lot about the characters coming in, so the differences were mainly in the slant of how the characters were played.  Because I wrote the Scorpion, Kachiko -- for instance -- tends to come across somewhat more sympathetically in that book and my subsequent work.  She’s more villainous in the work of the others.  Conversely, I thought the Crane were real villains much of the time I was writing.

It’s only when the clans assemble in the end that I tried to give all sides of the story.  Characters I didn’t previously like -- such as Hoturi -- became sympathetic to me in the end.  It’s hard to hate someone when you’ve crawled inside their head to write them properly.  I was gratified to hear from fans that they felt sympathy for Shoju after reading the Scorpion.  Though the world history may portray him as a villain, I always saw him (and those of his clan) as heroes, doing jobs no one else wanted or was brave enough to do.

FF - In your experience, what are the benefits/drawbacks to collaborative writing?

SS - Coordinating with continuity and the other authors can be very tricky -- and at times it was frustrating.  That’s the
difficulty.  The benefit is that you get ideas and points of view that you may never have thought of on your own.  You can
make your own stories better by listening to other people and recognizing good ideas, ideas you can use.

FF - Was it difficult getting the chain bookstores to put the 'L5R' novels on the mainstream SF/Fantasy shelves, rather than the fantasy role playing game section?

SS - Is that where they are in most stores?  Honestly, I don’t know anything about that because all that is handled by the sales & marketing departments of WOTC.  Most of the stores I’ve been in have the books shelved with the book series, like Star Trek and DragonLance.

FF - Do you or any of the other 'L5R' authors retain any rights to the 'L5R' game?

SS - All the L5R books are “work made for hire,” which means nearly all the rights are owned by the publisher -- WOTC in this case.  The game rights are handled similarly.  While I may hope that the fans like the work I’ve done on the series, it’s really up to the publisher what happens next.

FF - What are some legalities of collaborative writing an author should be aware of?

SS - Well, most series like this are “work make for hire” ventures -- which means that the publisher keeps most of the rights and therefore handles most of the legalities.

It’s important that any division of rights is spelled out and known by both parties before beginning any collaboration.  I’d recommend letting lawyers handle it.

FF - What advice would you give to an author thinking about getting into a collaborative situation?

SS - My advice would be to keep the communications lines open as much as you can, both with the editor(s) and with the other writers.  Try to be generous to the other writers in terms of helping them and making sure they have good stuff to write.  (Don’t hog all the best parts of the story for yourself.)  Try to keep your sense of humor, because the last thing you need is everyone fighting like dogs when a conflict arises.

And make sure that you have good agreement on who’s doing what, and a good person (usually an editor) to sort things out and settle disputes.

FF - Are there any plans in the future for more novel series like 'L5R"?

SS - I know that WOTC is doing at least one more L5R book -- a bridge to the next game story.  They may do another series as well.  Whether they do or not depends on both fan support and legal issues.

If people like the series, or like my work on the series, they should let the publishers know.

FF - I thank you for taking the time answer my questions.  Good luck to you with your future projects.

You’re very welcome.  Fans of the L5R series will be able to buy the last of the Clan War books, The Lion in November of this year.  After that I have a short story in Children of Sol at the beginning of 2002, and a DragonLance book that should be out near the end of 2002.

Stephen D. Sullivan -- An Alliterate
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