The Dragonlance Nexus

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Jeff Crook

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Jeff Crook is the author of Dark Thane, a new novel that explores the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin after the events in the War of Souls series. He has also written Conundrum, The Thieves Guild and The Rose and the Skull and contributed to several anthologies. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us, especially now since the busy holidays have gotten underway. Tell us a little bit about yourself—something we can't find in the author's biography in the back of one of your novels.

Jeff Crook: Well, for one thing, I just became a father for the second time. My first offspring is almost 3 years old, and now I have a 3 week old at home, too. I used to dislike kids, so it really surprised me how much I enjoy being a father. Some of that might have crept into Dark Thane.

The arrival of the new offspring has seriously curtailed my gaming time. I've been playing D&D for quite a few years. I can't trace my lineage back to the original box set, but I did start out playing 1st edition. I began playing D&D with my wife (girlfriend at the time) and her friends, and up until a few months ago, we still played nearly every Saturday night. The offspring is being properly indoctrinated and has an uncanny knack for rolling unmodified 20s. He loves gaming nights, as he gets to sit at the table, roll dice, and eat chips and dip. What are you currently reading?

Crook: I'm usually reading several things at once. Right now, I am reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. Last January, I started a local writers group, and something that the members want to do is study bestsellers to try to understand what makes them bestsellers. DaVinci Code is our first study subject. I'm not finished with it yet, so I am witholding judgment, but so far I have yet to be surprised, as I have already researched many of the same subjects that Brown explores in this book. I think the book relies too much on the shock value of its subject matter, and since I'm not shocked by what I am reading, it probably isn't going to be as interesting to me. I also have a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so that keeps me pretty busy with my reading. And I have some books that I am reading for research. How did you first become involved in Dragonlance?

Crook: Sometime in the late eighties (I can't remember when), I purchased a copy of Dragons of Autumn Twilight from a used bookstore. I was there searching for additions to my Robert E. Howard collection. I saw the cover and liked the artwork, but the back cover copy is what really hooked me. At the time, I was writing an adventure for my D&D group to play. It was to be my first try at DMing. The plot of DoAT sounded almost exactly like the adventure that I was writing. So I had to buy it and see how close it was to my ideas. Needless to say, it was close, even down to the order in which the heroes encounter the different evil dragons. Having finished that one, I had to read the next one, and the next, and then the Legends, etc., etc. So you can say I was a fan. Big time.

I continued to play D&D and I began submitting adventures to DUNGEON Magazine. Eventually, they started to publish them. At the same time, I was writing fiction and I really wanted to become a Dragonlance writer. I developed a plot of how the story should go forward from the end of Legends and began writing stories setting up this plot. I sent several of these to Dragon magazine, with no success. Then, I received a manuscript back that was covered in red markings. Apparently, it had been passed on to a Dragonlance editor, who pointed out numerous conflicts with something called DoSF. At the time, I had no clue was DoSF was because it hadn't been published yet! When I found out, I knew I was getting close. But the really frustrating thing was how closely my own ideas paralleled what actually happened in Dragons of Summer Flame. By the way, that story was the first appearance of Morg and Wort Pinchpocket, the two kender from my story "The Great Gully Dwarf Climacteric..." in The Search for Magic.

To make a long story even longer, I eventually wrote a letter to Margaret Weis asking her some questions about Raistlin's early years (this was before her Soulforge came out). I also happened to mention that I had been published in DUNGEON magazine four times. She responded by inviting me to submit a story for the next anthology and putting me in contact with Janet Pack; I suppose I asked a really good question! Time passed and they filled the anthology without me. But then, something happened and they needed two more stories ASAP. I was told, if I could get a story to them in two weeks, they would consider it for the anthology. But the story had to be set after the Chaos War, and it had to deal with either a relic/artifact or an omen.

It just so happened that I already had a Dragonlance story written, one I had never sent to Dragon magazine. The time period was correct, and it dealt with an artifact. So I didn't even have to write a story, I just had to print it up and mail it. It was accepted, with revisions, and published in Relics and Omens ("The Restoration"). Who or what are the major influences on your writing?

Crook: Jeez, where to start? The first fantasy novel I ever read was Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian—bought it for a quarter at a garage sale when I was about nine years old. It's still in my top-ten list, by the way. So you can say he was a huge influence. Probably the strongest influence on my fantasy writing is Fritz Leiber, followed closely by Tolkien and then Ursula K. LeGuin, and T.H. White - you can probably see his influence in the haggis burial party chapters of Conundrum. Frank Herbert. And, of course, Margaret and Tracy. But I am also heavily influenced by authors like Faulkner, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, Camus, Barry Hannah, Isak Denisen. One of my favorite non-fiction writers is Peter Hathaway Capstick, who writes about big game hunting in Africa. And then there is T.E. Lawrence.

I am also influenced by poetry, as I started out as a poet. For brevity's sake, I'll only mention Wilfred Owen, whose influence cannot be ignored in the poems I wrote for Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls Vol 1. Dark Thane presents a non-traditional view of the various dwarven clans in the post-War of Souls era. What is the motivation behind this fundamental shift? Why do you think this occurred?

Crook: This was largely my own doing, as I was left to my own devices in this regard. I did this for a number of reasons. First of all, I felt that the dwarves couldn't just go back to what they were before the Chaos War. If you read Doug Niles' The Last Thane, he absolutely destroys Thorbardin, and thousands upon thousands of dwarves die or are disappeared by shadow wights. I didn't think they could just move back in and fire up the forges like nothing had happened. Then, Severus Stonehand leads most of the Daewar away, apparently back to Thoradin, further depleting their ranks. Since dwarves traditionally are slow breeders and marry for life, we're talking about a situation where they are on the brink of extinction—all it will need to push them over the edge is one more catastrophe. That catastrophe then appears in the form of the giant dragons like Malys and Beryl.

There are two ways to deal with this—you can withdraw into what you think is safe, but after what Doug did to Thorbardin during the Chaos War, the place isn't exactly safe. This would have been a huge trauma for the dwarven psyche. September 11th is the perfect example, but for the dwarves, it was like September 11th a thousand times over. So some of them would react in much the same way many people in America have reacted, by wanting to drawn into their shells, close the borders and push all foreigners out.

The other reaction is to realize how vulnerable you are and to reach out, to form alliances, and set aside your own petty differences that so consumed your lives before the tragedy. Maybe Tarn was a bit deluded, but he tried to bring all the dwarves together and show them that they are really one clan—he thought that was the only way they could survive. In doing this, he naturally attracted the support of those clans traditionally pushed to the outside, like the Klar, and earned the ire of those who benefited from the old caste system, like the Hylar. How did you come up with the title?

Crook: I didn't. Marketing came up with that title. All our titles were too long, they said. I think the real question is, who is the dark thane? Hmm. That's a good question. Very true, especially given the ending. Speaking of which, the book ends in a way that leaves so many questions unanswered. Are there plans for a sequel to the Dark Thane, or for further books following Tarn Bellowgranite?

Crook: I'm pretty sure there will be future books. I was asked to bring Thorbardin to a certain point to set things up for the post War of Souls era and make the situation ripe for future conflict. Future conflict means future stories, but I don't know yet how those stories will be told, whether it will remain just between Tarn and the other dwarves, or if the elves will become involved, or the plains people or the Solamnics or what. It really is wide open and can go almost any direction. We didn't really hear about the Neidar in Dark Thane. What are they up to, or is that a question best left for another novel?

Crook: The editors wanted to keep the focus of the book strictly on Thorbardin. I don't know what the Neidar are doing, but I am sure someone will tell us. I would seem natural for Tarn to form some sort of alliance with them. Post-War of Souls, the Dragonlance world has become one of major upheaval. Do you think that there is too much of that type of thing going on or do you believe it's ultimately good for the series?

Crook: I don't see how it could not be in upheaval, considering what happened. And yes, that's been happening a lot lately. But I think what you see post War of Souls is perhaps the best situation for storytelling that Dragonlance has had since before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. The Chronicles wrapped the story up with the world conflict basically resolved, then in Legends they went back in time to continue it and really wrap it up and tie it with a pretty bow. There weren't many things that could be done after that, except maybe another cataclysm, which is what happened in Summer Flame. Then the Dragon Purge comes along and War of Souls has to get the gods back to Krynn. Everything is up in the air now, which is the best place to start when you are telling a story. That's a really interesting take on it. There is a dwarf in Dark Thane that appears to be more than what he seems, a fact that is underscored by his appearance (and disappearance!) in the final scene. Is there anything you would like to tell us about this particular dwarf?

Crook: Only that his first name is an anagram, and his last name is a simile. In researching Dark Thane, what resources did you read, or who did you consult with, regarding the political, social, and economic structure of the various dwarven clans?

Crook: I could not write Dragonlance without The Atlas of Krynn. I read Doug Niles' The Last Thane three times. I read the pertinent chapters from the War of Souls more times than I can remember. I did a lot of research on the web, going to fan sites, and some of the people on a Yahoo email group provided some useful input. I also talked to some of the Dragonlance people at Sovereign Press. My 5th Age boxed set is about to fall apart. I really wanted to get my hands on the old 1st edition AD&D Thorbardin/Hammer of Kharas adventure, but I couldn't find a copy anywhere. I found all the other ones, but for some reason, that one appears to be rare. I'm not sure how much more we can ask about Dark Thane without spoiling the plot entirely, so a couple of more general questions. Of all the Dragonlance books you've written (Conundrum, Dark Thane, The Rose and the Skull, The Thieves' Guild, and as contributor several anthologies), which one is your favorite and why?

Crook: That is perhaps the hardest question so far. Until I wrote Dark Thane, I would probably have said Thieves' Guild. But I really poured my heart into Dark Thane, filling it with my own terrors and passions. I probably became closer to Tarn than I have to any character I've written. I love Conundrum because it was so much fun to write. And I love The Rose and the Skull because it is like my first born child, the first novel I ever wrote. But today, I'd have to say Dark Thane. It is definitely the best thing I've ever written. Which character of yours is your favorite or intrigues you the most?

Crook: I don't have a favorite because that wouldn't be fair to them. I like all the characters from Dark Thane and hated to kill so many of them off. I think Mog has the most potential for future stories. But even though I enjoyed these characters the most, as a whole, I think my favorite individual character is Cael Ironstaff from The Thieves' Guild, followed closely by Valian Escu from The Rose and the Skull. With regard to The Thieves' Guild: will you be writing any more novels involving Cael Ironstaff or his travels?

Crook: There are no future plans for Cael at this time. However, I can say that the great mystery of his ancestry can have two answers and both of them are possible. What new projects are you working on, Dragonlance or otherwise? Any future Dragonlance novels?

Crook: I don't have any Dragonlance projects at the moment. Right now, my major project is editing The Best of Memphis Anthology. I have a huge list of stories that I want to write, both novels and short fiction. I have several short stories written that need finishing. I have one finished novel being considered by publishers and another one that is not yet finished but will soon be (I hope). And I am working on getting a novel for the Kingdoms of Kalamar game. Anything else we should know or that you'd like to tell the fans?

Crook: Thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed my work, and to sites like that provide an arena for fans and authors to meet and talk about Krynn. Thanks for taking the time to do the interview with us!