ZWN is proud to present our first Forgotten Realms author, Richard Lee Byers, perhaps best known for his novels series The Year of Rogue Dragons, the Haunted Lands, Sembia and The Brotherhood of the Griffon, as well as author of several other fantasy and horror genre books that take place in the world of Magic: the Gathering, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion multiverse, the world of Warhammer, etc.
ZWN: When and why did you begin writing?
Richard Lee Byers: I started writing in the mid-eighties. I’d had notions about being a writer ever since I was a kid. But as an adult, I detoured into working in the mental-health field. I eventually burned out on that as many people do, and then I inherited a little money. I figured that if I was ever going to try to be a professional writer, that was the time. So I left my job and had at it.
ZWN: What’s the first thing you ever had published?
Richard Lee Byers: My first published piece was a short story in a small-press horror magazine.
ZWN: In The Forgotten Realms, how are you able to write world changing stories like The Year of Rogue Dragons and The Haunted Lands? Do you have to clear these stories with Wizards of the Coast? Do you often consult other authors?
Richard Lee Byers: As a general rule, it’s actually people at Wizards of the Coast who come up with the idea for the big, world-shaking stories. Then they ask a writer to tackle the concept. Now, the writer may end up adding significantly to the premise. For example, Wizards asked me to write a trilogy about a Rage of Dragons. But it was my idea this Rage would be different and worse than any that came before it and that in the course of coping with it, my heroes would find out what causes a Rage.
I don’t have occasion to consult with other authors (as opposed to my editor) very often. I have bothered Ed Greenwood a time or two.
ZWN: What do you enjoy about writing? More so, what do you enjoy about writing in the Forgotten Realms?
Richard Lee Byers: I enjoy writing because I like making up characters and tinkering with language. I enjoy working in the Forgotten Realms because it’s an interesting, richly detailed fantasy universe that lends itself to the kind of plot I enjoy. I also like it that there are a lot of readers who are already fans of the property and likely to take an interest in any novel set there, mine included. Over the course of my career, I’ve published a number of stories that I thought were good and then never heard a word from anybody about them. That doesn’t happen when you do a FR story. You may not like everything you end up hearing, but you will hear something.
ZWN: What’s it like getting to play around with awesome characters that weren’t created by you (such as Sammaster and Szass Tam)? Do you have to step lightly?
Richard Lee Byers: I wouldn’t call it stepping lightly. I make an honest effort to do my research and be consistent with what’s already established. But in addition to FR characters, I’ve written about Elric, Spider-Man, and the X-Men, and the experience has always been the same. For the duration, you feel like the character belongs to you, and you work with him the same way you would work with any character to tell the best story you can tell.
ZWN: You have a story in an upcoming zombie anthology titled Zombiesque, Can you tell us anything about that?
Richard Lee Byers: It’s set in a future where the zombie apocalypse has already been dealt with. Civilization has survived, and the virus that causes the zombie plague has been turned into a recreational drug.
ZWN: If you could write a zombie apocalypse novel set in the Forgotten Realms, which one character from the Realms would you want to write in there?
Richard Lee Byers: I suppose Szass Tam. There would be some reason why the great necromancer’s magic couldn’t control the new breed of zombie, and the story would unfold from there.
ZWN: Who’s your favorite character that you’ve come up with, it could be The Forgotten Realms or other?
Richard Lee Byers: That fluctuates a lot. I tend to think that whatever story I’m current writing or just finished is my best, and that a character from that work is my best character. I recently wrote an urban fantasy novel that my agent is shopping around, and if you’d asked me while I was working on it, I would have said the hero was my best character ever. But after I finished that one, I returned to the Forgotten Realms to write about Aoth, Gaedynn, Jhesrhi, and Khouryn, and then I fell back in love with them.
ZWN: Furthermore, where do you come up with such rich memorable characters like Dorn Graybrook the Half-Golem Fighter/Ranger (The Year of Rogue Dragons) & Aoth Fezim the Thayan Fighter/Wizard Griffon rider (The Brotherhood of the Griffon)?
Richard Lee Byers: I generally come up with a vague idea of the plot, then try to create characters who suit it well. Dorn happened because I knew I wanted to focus on a team of professional monster hunters, and I decided it would work well to have the leader be a guy who hated dragons. So then I had to figure out why he hated them. The character’s tragic history, freakish appearance, and surly personality all followed from that and a dip into the D&D sourcebooks.
Aoth happened partly because I knew I didn’t want viewpoint characters who thought of Thay as an evil, hellish land. I wanted characters who simply thought of it as home and would hate seeing it devastated by civil war and black magic. Aoth fit the bill. At the start of the story, while he’s a highly accomplished person, he’s also a pretty simple, contented fellow. (Of course, he changes as his world blows up around him.) Initially, if he’s troubled about anything, it’s that he looks like a commoner but comes from an aristocratic family. I wanted to make him just a bit of an outsider because I think it makes his move away from simply being a good, obedient soldier more credible. Besides, you have to do something to make your major characters stand out from the crowd. He becomes spellscarred in the way that he does because I needed some way to keep him alive and active throughout a story that spans a hundred years. He’s a griffon rider because I found out from one of the sourcebooks that Thay had griffon-riding soldiers, and I thought that was cool. He had to be some kind of Thayan soldier to play his part in the story I had in mind.
ZWN: You’re a professional fencer? How good are you? Can you beat Bruce Dickinson (from Iron Maiden)?
Richard Lee Byers: I’m definitely not a professional fencer. I don’t think America has professional fencers except for coaches, and I’m not one.
I was never a really good fencer, and I’m not as good now as I used to be. I’m getting older, and I don’t have as much time to practice. But I still win a bout now and then.
I have no idea if I could beat Bruce Dickinson? What weapon does he fence (I fence epee), and how good is he?
ZWN: So, you’ve got two more books coming out in The Brotherhood of the Griffon series and a story in Zombiesque, what else are you working on?
Richard Lee Byers: I already mentioned that I recently wrote an urban fantasy novel my agent is trying to sell. I’m currently working on an on-spec comic-book miniseries with an artist friend of mine. I’m supposed to write a short story for a small-press fantasy anthology between now and the end of July. A publisher other than WotC has expressed interest in seeing a proposal for game-related fiction. My editor at WotC and I have discussed what Forgotten Realms project will follow my current trilogy, so I should be tackling that by and by.
ZWN: As a gamer/Gamemaster, do Undead and in particularly zombies ever make it into your games?
Richard Lee Byers: I don’t think I could run a fantasy game without having the living dead show up occasionally. But the last campaign I ran (in theory, I still am running it, but I haven’t had time lately) was built around Lovecraftian concepts and monsters. The players would probably have been happy to see a bunch of zombies shamble onto the stage.
ZWN: Do you have a favorite author or book?
Richard Lee Byers: That’s a tough question because I admire so many. I really can’t narrow it down to just one book. I suppose my favorite writer is Fritz Leiber, who did brilliant work in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
ZWN: What was the last book you read?
Richard Lee Byers: It’s sad that my memory is so bad that I’m blanking on the answer to this question. I can tell you that I’m currently reading Deeper, by James A. Moore.
ZWN: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Richard Lee Byers: The last three writers I discovered and liked a lot are Simon R. Green, Charles Stross, and Matt Taibbi. I don’t think any of them is a “new” author anymore according to any sort of objective standard. But I hadn’t read them before, so they were new to me.
ZWN: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Richard Lee Byers: Don’t limit yourself with preconceived notions about what kind of writer you are and what sort of material you want to write. At least consider any opportunity that comes you way.
ZWN: Time for the standard ZWN questions.
ZWN: Do you have a favorite zombie book or movie?
Richard Lee Byers: World War Z is a really good book. Fido, 28 Days Later, and The Last Man on Earth are really good movies, but the original Night of the Living Dead is still the champ.
ZWN: Do you have a zombie survival plan and if so, would you care to share?
Richard Lee Byers: I don’t. I’ll have to wing it. I have friends who are gun enthusiasts, and I will probably try to team up with them.
ZWN: In dealing with zombies, what would be your weapon of choice?
Richard Lee Byers: A shotgun.
ZWN: Do you think zombies are overdone, or is there still room for growth there?
Richard Lee Byers: There are an awful lot of zombie stories that all employ essentially the same schtick. But it is still possible to come up with a variation on the theme.
ZWN: Who (or what) do you think is the best zombie hunter? They could be alive or dead, real or made up.
Richard Lee Byers: I believe Marvel Comics is about to do a miniseries where the Punisher fights zombies. I haven’t read it yet, but I imagine he shows considerable aptitude for the job.
ZWN: If you were a zombie, who would you eat first?
Richard Lee Byers: Someone lean yet juicy.
ZWN: Brains, yummy or gross?
Richard Lee Byers: Depends on the brain, I imagine.
ZWN: Thank you for your time Richard and long live Jivex!
Check out what Richard Lee Byers is up to at: http://www.richardleebyers.com/
You can buy his latest book, The Captive Flame (Brotherhood of the Griffon, Book 1) at bookstores now, or online at: https://www.amazon.com