The Dragonlance Nexus

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Douglas Niles

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Douglas Niles, the author of numerous Dragonlance novels, including the Icewall trilogy, and specifically the third part in that series, Winterheim. Mr. Niles has also authored a number of the original Dragonlance role-playing modules. Nexus: How did you know you wanted to write when you were younger? Or is that career choice something that just happened?

Douglas Niles: I have always been interested in adventure stories. I was one of those kids who ran around outside and played Cowboys and Indians, Army, "Tarzan", and all sorts of impromptu games—I guess it would now be called "Live Action Role-Playing"? When I could read, I perused the same sort of books. And as soon as I could write for fun, I focused on adventure. I remember a short story, two pages long at the most, that I handed in in eighth grade—I had given it a very sad ending. I slyly watched the teacher read papers until she got to mine, and when she dabbed a handkerchief at her eye as she read the ending, I felt a stab of pride. (Sorry, Mrs. Fosbinder.) Ever since that moment, I have wanted to write stories that other people would read, and enjoy.

DL: What are some of your influences? What book(s) are on your bedside table right now?

DN: I am reading a remarkable novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay—a story of two young men who start up a comic book business in New York on the eve of WWII. My greatest influence in fantasy is without a doubt Professor Tolkien, though I owe a lot to Lloyd Alexander, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harry Turtledove, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

DL: Does Foryth Teel take over the Library of Palanthas after Bertrem's death?

DN: I would like to think so; that is certainly what Foryth is hoping will happen.

DL: Tell us a little bit about the Icewall Trilogy.

DN: This was a chance to take some real "terra incognita" in the world of Krynn and develop a landscape and population for a specific fantasy tale. The place was close enough to Ansalon to allow the inclusion of known races—most notably the Silvanesti elf, Kerrick Fallabrine—but unknown enough to allow the story to take any appropriate direction. One of the underlying themes of Dragonlance has always been "Evil will turn upon itself". I chose to mirror that theme with the opposite approach, perhaps a little more hopefully, with the idea that disparate cultures—several of them human, one of them a decaying remnant of the lost ogre civilization, and of course our elf providing a point of view from advanced Silvanesti—might actually find a way to meld their differences. Absent a great, over-arching villainy (such as Takhisis, or the Kingpriest of Istar) these varied populations actually learned that they had a great deal in common. There was a great deal of violence, treachery, and ambition that had to be overcome, but the trilogy is a story of individuals coming to grips with their own weaknesses and potentials. The three main characters—Moreen Bayguard, chiefwoman of the Arktos tribe; Grimwar Bane, king of the ogres; and Kerrick, the exiled elf—all come to this understanding through their interactions with each other.

DL: If given the opportunity, would you like to continue the story of the characters featured in the epilogue of Winterheim?

DN: This is one series, actually, where the characters really deserve to live happily ever after following the story. I would like to think that the utopian society created in the Icewall, circa 600 PC, would have lasted without any perilous threats until the Cataclysm. Nice for life, but not for adventure storytelling, so I probably would not be inclined to subject them to further perils. Of course, I would never say "never"...

DL: Was there any particular reason you were interested in the Icewall region? Did the choice of the time period cause any difficulties for you, or did that make it easier to write the novel?

DN: I have always enjoyed the Icewall region (from a writer's, not a tourist's, perspective, of course!). I wrote the orginal module, Dragons of Ice, set there (DL6), and sometime later wrote a short story that speculated about the oceanic nature of the place, pre-(first) cataclysm. I liked the geography—arctic environments have always intrigued me, and I have done a lot of reading about ice caps, icebergs, and so forth. The main limitation imposed by the time frame is that there could be no dragons in the story. Although I enjoy writing about dragons, this was no great hardship.

DL: Working on the Icewall trilogy, did you put a lot of consideration into how the trilogy is part of the history of the culture of the Ice Folk as found in your old module DL6? Could you give some examples?

DN: Actually, there was little cultural carryover between the Arktos and Highlanders and their later descendants, the Ice Folk. The latter culture is considerably more primitive and tribal than the earlier. Given the fact that the Icewall environment became dramatically more harsh after the Cataclysm, and that the Cataclysm wiped out the main population centers of both Arktos and Highlander, the suvivors of that catastrophe were forced, to a great extent, to create a civilization from scratch. They began at a low level of advancement, haven't progressed too far, yet.

DL: Where did you get the idea for the character of Coraltop Netfisher?

DN: I started out with the idea that I would like to add a kender or gully dwarf, simply for the idea that they can provide some really humourous conversational opportunities. (Kerrick, alone on his boat, did not engage in a lot of dialogue.) From that notion, I tried to think of a way to make my kender character unique. I hope you think that I succeeded! ;)

DL: You've done a lot with the dwarven race on Krynn. Do you have any particular affinity for the dwarves over the other races?

DN: Yes, ever since I read the part of Flint Fireforge in the first DL reader's theater productions at Gen Con, I have had a great fondness for Krynn's dwarves. When Mary Kirchoff and I wrote the novel Flint, The King, I learned more about this character. That enthusiasm led directly to my interpretation of Thorbardin, and class/race conflict among the dwarves, as portrayed in The Last Thane. On a side note, I am very proud of a race of my own invention, called "Diggers"; these are very dwarflike folks who play a prominent role in my Watershed trilogy.

DL: Some of the first Dragonlance products you worked on were the original Dragonlance modules (DL1-DL14). Were you a game designer or novelist first? What differences have you found in writing in both those mediums?

DN: Interesting question. I guess the best answer is that I wanted to be a novelist, and game design seemed to provide me a good avenue toward reaching that goal. In rough chronology: As a teenager, I wanted to be a writer; I also enjoyed playing wargames, such as the old Avalon Hill classics. After college I worked as a teacher, didn't really write or game for a few years, until I discovered D&D. Directly inspired by the campaigns I was running, I decided to write a fantasy novel for fun. Then I learned that TSR, Inc, was hiring designers. I had no published designs, but I did have this novel. I took it in as an example of my work, and was eventually hired to design games. When TSR went into novel publishing, I pestered management enough that I was given the chance to write the first Forgotten Realms novel. Darkwalker on Moonshae included many elements of my first, unpublished novel—as well as a lot of game-related additions.

I think novels are easier for me, personally, to write. I prefer the freedom of action that the author is allowed, as opposed to the designer who is constrained by a great many game-related requirements.

DL: Of the books you've written, what book (or series of books) is your favorite?

DN: I love my Dragonlance work, but I guess my favorite of my own fantasy series is "The Watershed Trilogy", published by Ace fantasy. I am very proud of the way that, in that tale, the geography of the world itself is a major player in the conflict and resolution. (It was inspired by a visit to Switzerland, when someone pointed out to me that Switzerland is the watershed of Europe, in that three rivers rise there. The Rhine, the Rhone, and the Danube all come out of that tiny country, and each of them flows to a different sea.) I also have a lot of good feeling about the alternate history novel Fox on the Rhine, that I wrote with Michael Dobson (a former colleague from TSR, who was also involved in the Dragonlance world). We killed Adolf Hitler in chapter 1 of that book, and who wouldn't get excited about a storyline like that?

DL: Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects, Dragonlance or otherwise?

DN: I have a new trilogy that I will be working on for Dragonlance, though—alas—the first book will not be out for a couple of years. In the meantime, I have completed (with Mike Dobson) a sequel to Fox on the Rhine, called Fox at the Front. I have also just wrapped up my second trilogy for Ace Fantasy, called "The Seven Circles".

DL: Thank you very much for taking the time to do the interview! We really appreciate it!