Factor - How did 'Legend of the Five Rings'(L5R) get
Steve Sullivan - I
wasnt one of the game authors, so Im 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
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
FF- Do the authors of 'L5R' work closely
SS - Again, speaking for only the
book authors, we dont 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. Hes
the one who had most of the contact with the game writers
and producers. Its 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 weve
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.
- 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.
- 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. Shes more
villainous in the work of the others. Conversely, I
thought the Crane were real villains much of the time I
Its only when the clans assemble in the end that I
tried to give all sides of the story. Characters I
didnt previously like -- such as Hoturi -- became
sympathetic to me in the end. Its hard to
hate someone when youve 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
SS - Coordinating with continuity and
the other authors can be very tricky -- and at times it
was frustrating. Thats 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 dont know anything about that because
all that is handled by the sales & marketing
departments of WOTC. Most of the stores Ive
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 Ive done on the
series, its really up to the publisher what happens
- 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.
Its important that any division of rights is
spelled out and known by both parties before beginning
any collaboration. Id recommend letting
lawyers handle it.
- 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. (Dont
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
And make sure that you
have good agreement on whos doing what, and a good
person (usually an editor) to sort things out and settle
- Are there any plans in the future for more novel series
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
If people like the series,
or like my work on the series, they should let the
- I thank you for taking the time answer my questions.
Good luck to you with your future projects.
Youre 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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