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Plague of Spells
Spotlight Interview

The horizon was on fire.

Raidon Kane emerges from the Spellplague with a sapphire tattoo burned into his flesh, strange supernatural powers, and eleven missing years.

The world had ended. How could he forget that?

His daughter is dead. His home has been destroyed. His life is empty save for one thing.

Everything faded to blue, then to nothing.


Wizards of the Coast: Plague of Spells is the first book in the Abolethic Sovereignty; both the title of this book and the series inspire a number of questions, but let's start with the book. How does the novel deal with the notorious Spellplague? And how might the protagonist's sapphire tattoo factor in?

Bruce R Cordell: In the novel, we sit on Raidon Kane's shoulder as he experiences the advent of the Spellplague in one of the areas worst hit -- the area right around Starmantle on the Dragon Coast. Raidon is caught up with everything and everyone else, running headlong toward salvation that doesn't exist. Matter, magic, reality unzip all around him. His aberration-fighting artifact, the Seal of the Cerulean Sign, is branded onto his chest, becoming a uniquely potent spellscar.

Wizards: As for the protagonist, Raidon Kane: If he were a PC, how might he introduce himself to his next party? Who is he, and -- as a character out for revenge -- who (or what) is hunting after?

BRC: "I am Raidon Kane. I hunt the things that hide beneath the façade of normalcy, that slither out of places that should-not-be, wearing masks of flesh and illusion. Few remain who know enough to defend Faerûn from this threat. I am one."

Wizards: As for the series, the Abolethic Sovereignty: How do the aboleths feature within Plague of Spells, and how do you envision their role throughout the entire series (aside from that of slimy, tentacled monsters)?

BRC: Well, the series being named what it is, I guess I can't be coy about the fact that aboleths have a part to play. Essentially, this first book sets the stage for an event that one particular lineage of aboleths have long waited upon. As the trilogy plays out, we'll see to what extent this lineage succeeds, and to what extent their agenda is… delayed.

Wizards: You helped create Lords of Madness, the 3.5 sourcebook dealing with aberrations, including aboleths. How might 4E aboleths compare with their previous incarnations -- they seem to have come a long way from The Forbidden City! (And what keeps drawing you to the creepy, often psionically-focused, side of things?)

BRC: As this trilogy will make clear, aboleths can came in many more horrible shapes and with many more terrible abilities than the few that have been so far catalogued in bestiaries. These creatures are alien, and the trilogy will show this in a few startling and perhaps unsettling ways. The characters who come up against this hidden force, including Raidon but introducing other lead characters, like Anusha and Japheth, will find themselves challenged in ways they could never have earlier imagined.

I guess I'm drawn to these sorts of themes because, by their nature, "Lovecraftian" threats can never be fully described or analyzed. Which always makes them capable of providing mystery and suspense. I like to be surprised in a story, and these themes seem to naturally provide for that possibility.

Wizards: When the 4E Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide released, changes were made to the Sea of Falling Stars with mention made of the Abolethic Sovereignty. How might Plague of Spells (and following books in the series) flesh out the aboleths' role in the world -- and their new place in the world as well, Xxiphu?

BRC: The trilogy (beginning with Plague of Spells, continuing with City of Torment, and concluding in Key of Stars) explains just how Xxiphu came to be, and just what its presence over the Sea of Fallen Stars actually portends.

Wizards: What can you tell us about why the aboleths, denizens of the Underdark, have now moved to the surface of the Realms? They may wish to bend the world to their will, but what entices them to actually live here? As aquatic creatures, do you feel that aboleths are limited in how they can be used within both the game itself as well as within a novel; or, to put it another way, how do you deal with the challenges of fully utilizing an aquatic nemesis?

BRC: The aboleths of Xxiphu are not the aquatic creatures of older editions. They are not bound to the water, or even the earth. Their ancient lore gives them a mastery of the sky, and places beyond. Xxiphu is a promise, or a warning, depending on whose side you take, or how much or an pessimist or optimist you are...

Wizards: On a somewhat related note, H.P. Lovecraft never actually wrote from the perspective of Cthullu; will Plague of Spells offer any scenes from the aboleths' point of view, and if so, how do you write from the perspective of such an utterly alien being?

BRC: As far as writing from the point of view of an aboleth… their "minds" are not sentient like yours or mine, at least those of Xxiphu. It would be impossible to write from their perspective because they don't really have one.

Wizards: What relationship exists between the RPG Story Team and the novel writers; that is, are there areas of the Realms that the RPG Team would like to see developed in novels, or as an author are you free to explore the Realms however you choose, with details crafted in your stories then incorporated back into the RPG? What areas of the Realms are you interested in exploring further?

BRC: Novelists currently working on any of our shared world lines can submit story ideas to the book department through their editors. The lead for a given shared world determines, based on a raft of criteria and resources (that could include the RPG story team, but not necessarily), whether the idea is one that will go forward. Alternately, the lead of a given world sometimes determines the broad outlines of a novel strategy and pitch it to potential authors.

Certainly as a member of the RPG story team, I do have more chances to write FR game material I'd like to see covered (in D&DI, usually). However, I doubt I have any greater likelihood of exploring an area of the Realms I'd like to see covered in a novel than any established out of house author. For instance, the offer to write about the Abolethic Sovereignty came from the book department to me, not the other way around.

Wizards: Your other novels -- Stardeep, Lady of Poison, Darkvision -- were self-contained, though they may have been set within the context of a larger series. With Plague of Spells, you're now writing an entire series. How did you take the next step from individual novel to entire series? How different is the writing process in terms of the proposal, the planning, the outlines do you have the entire series mapped out already, and to what extent?

BRC: It was a conceptual step, and slightly frightening when the opportunity was given me. Basically, I had two outlines to write out the outset -- a broad, 3 book arc, and the chapter-by-chapter outline for book 1.

Now, as I am beginning to write the 2nd draft of book 2, the third book I had originally planed (in the 3 book arc) is hardly anything like I had first conceived. New characters have appeared, new motivations have intruded, and unexpected plot twists and character developments have moved things in ways that are more interesting. So, not a bad problem to have.

I'll be writing the chapter-by-chapter outline for book 3 in February.

Wizards: From a 3-book series, let's conclude by asking about your beginnings: How did you get your start in Wizards Books -- do you remember your very first proposal? And any final advice for other authors?

BRC: I got my start by offering to write a pick-a-path novel for a Hasbro property that was on the verge of being turned into a multi-media extravaganza, including a Cartoon Network series.

I wrote about a third of that novel before the deal with the Cartoon Network fell through. Based on what the editors in the book department saw in that pick-a-path novel, they next asked me to be one of the T.H. Lains for the Dungeons & Dragons series of short novels. They were happy enough with Oath of Nerull that they gave me an opportunity to write Lady of Poison, my first novel published with my own name. (In the life of a novelist, there are many firsts.)

It is important that an author always try to learn more about writing, plotting, and characterization. To that end, an author must have the humility and wisdom to listen to his or her editor. I've had the incredible good fortune of working with an editor who has a fabulous command of all these elements. My editor provides feedback with each first draft that is both specific to the draft, but that also touches on larger issues of the craft. Having that kind of editor, and knowing enough to pay attention to and incorporate said feedback going forward, has served me well.

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