Interviews - Ed Greenwood

Hey, Ed. I tend to start these things by setting some context for the reader. To that end, give us the cliff notes on your writing career. You know, number of books, languages, recognitions, achievements, etc. Talk yourself up!

Hoo, boy. Okay, I'm 51, and have just finished writing the First draft of Book #186 (I've published 184 books, and #185, ELMINSTER MUST DIE!, comes out early this August from Wizards of the Coast (in hardcover; the mass market edition won't hit until 2011, when #186 appears in boards, and so on). Much of that output has been Dungeons & Dragons game sourcebooks for a fantasy world setting, The Forgotten Realms, that I created back when I was 6 years old to write (bad) fantasy short stories in, very much in the style of Leiber's swords-and-sorcery tales.

I understand that it's fashionable to sneer at game writing, but I find game books much more work to write than fiction (imagine a fantasy novel written by a lawyer checking and reconciling every detail against a large body of already published work; that's why), and I must be fairly good at it, because I've won or co-won quite a few "allies" (Origins Awards, the Oscars of the gaming field, known as "Callies" because the trophy is a statuette of Calliope, the muse whose portfolio includes games), and was elected to the Academy of Adventure Gaming, Art & Design Hall of Fame in 2003. (I've also won a shelfload of other gaming awards, two Honorable Mentions in the long-running Year's Best Fantasy and Horror annual collections, and two Nebula Nominations that didn't make the final ballot. I've shared in a Stoker nomination, And been a judge for the World Fantasy Awards and for the Sunburst Awards, Canada's annual speculative fiction awards. Meh; enough bragging.) All of those books include around thirty novels and half a dozen collaborative novels. I've had two (brief) New York Times bestsellers, write only in English but have been published in something upwards of 30 languages worldwide, and have one novel, SPELLFIRE, that's sold close to a million copies (over 23 years, mind you). I've published pulp adventure tales, Sherlockians, Cthulhu Mythos tales, zombie and mad scientist horror tales, straight-ahead mystery short stories, space operas, sword-and-planet tales, and any number of fantasies of various flavors. Even poetry. I've also written literally hundreds of web columns and features, and magazine articles and columns. In short, I've been a busy boy, for the very good Reason that I like to eat, collect books, and own a house to house those books. :}
    
Geez, that sounds braggy. I hope it's what you wanted.
     
Yup, that'll do just fine. Now, before moving on, I want to probe (nice word, huh?) on this game writing thing. I have friends who do game writing and tie-in work, too. Why do you think there's often this turning up of the nose at such work? I find it curious.
    
I think it's just part of human nature (establish a pecking order, everyone who's insecure or sensitive about what they  do [sf and fantasy writers who get "put down" because they don't write  what others consider "great" or "serious" literature, turn around and  sneer at game writing so they can feel superior to SOMEone] denigrating  another group). Not saying it's right or pretty or even practical/useful in any way, just that it happens. Heck, I remember university professors who sneered at each other because of which translation of Beowulf "the other" preferred.
Sigh.
   
Sigh, indeed. I don't go in for that brand of sanctimonious high-mindedness, myself. But I do want to know, since you  seem to have done  both, what the differences are between writing game-relate fiction and "stand-alone" (if I may call it that) stuff.
   
When doing your own fiction, you have three parties to please: yourself, your editor, and the reader. (This IS a service industry, after all.) Most writers are happy if they can please themselves and find an editor who doesn't want to change their story into the  editor's story.
  
In game-related fiction, having such a free creative hand is rare indeed. Usually, the world setting is already established, with power groups, important characters, religions, ruling families, guilds...the works. A novel writer or freelance designer sometimes has an  entire plot dictated to them ("here's the story, now just write  it"), and almost always can't make major changes (killing off rulers or  major characters, or even altering them substantially with new titles or ranks, or loss of a  hand or eye, or new skills or attitudes) without express  permission. So even though it might make a satisfying ending to your story to  have the hero get the princess, you don't get to decide whether he will or  not (you can beg for this to happen, but someone else decides...and of  course can change their mind (perhaps SEVERAL TIMES) while you're writing  the book.
  
Also, fiction writers can suggest and hint and be fuzzy about details ("he certainly seemed strong and impressive") but game designers have to be very precise and specific (he has this much strength, and these particular spells). Even game fiction writers have to be very careful with terminology, and check their descriptions of, say, spells with the  game rules (so the lightning bolt they describe matches the  lightning bolt in the magic system already established for the world). That's why I liken game writers (of both fiction or what some gamers call "fluff," and "rules" or what some gamers call "crunch") to lawyers: everything must be checked against What Has Been Written Before, and almost always  checked for approval by bosses/game company employees/"handlers" for that brand or  line. Some see it as writing in a straitjacket, and some see it as a challenge (in the same way as, in the "good old days," some sf writers delighted in writing a story for a pulp sf magazine to match a piece of cover art the editor had already purchased, and showed to them, whereas other writers HATED such "assignments"/opportunities).
  
And lastly, almost all game writing is work-for-hire, and like comics writing (unless you start and write for your own comic), the writer doesn't own the characters they write about - - even if they create them. So you can create Darkdoom the Worldwrecking Mage, and kill him off in spectacular fashion at the end of your trilogy...only to watch a staff game designer resurrect him a month later, change his gender, race, motivations, and taste in capes, perhaps even badmouth your trilogy to the fans, and write a new sequence of adventures that undoes everything you built up  in your work. And there's literally nothing you can do about this. Except accept it, going in, operate on the "we're here for a good  time, not for a  long time" philosophy, and enjoy the moments you do get in the  saddle.
   
   
I think I have to now write the "Darkdoom the  Worldwrecking Mage" novel. How cool would that be?! Okay, on to new topics. A question in two parts: Who's your favorite "old school" fantasist? (And when I say that, I mean who didn't start writing in the last fifteen years.) And who's your favorite new fantasist?
   
   
Oooh, that's a toughie. On two grounds: I find it very hard to narrow myself down to "a" favorite, and I'm not sure where to draw the lines between old school and new school. So, of the dead guys: Lord Dunsany and Roger Zelazny, for very different reasons. With a nod to John Bellairs for THE FACE IN THE FROST and to Fritz Leiber. Of the old but not dead yet crew: Jack Vance. Of the slightly more recent writers: Terry Pratchett, Patricia
McKillip, Robin McKinley, and Guy Gavriel Kay. Not necessarily in that order, and with  vastly warying degrees per novel. I doubt many folks would call any of them "new" any more, either. :} Yet those are my first-rank, consistent faves.

I'd add three more writers to my faves: Spider Robinson from the living, and E.E. Doc Smith and Jon Bellairs, of the dead.

Okay, here we'll slide into some esoteric terrain, but I'm wondering what  (if any) changes you think have taken place in the genre  from old to new  schools, per above?
  

Well, REALLY old school, in North America, was sword-and-sorcery or sword-and-planet short stories written for the pulp magazines (Conan, Fafhrd & the Mouser, et al), plus a small "literary" stream (Dunsany, Eddison, and the Arthurian romances). Then came Tolkien (and a flood of imitators, plus the "talking animal books" that followed Watership Down). Which is about when the youthful me started buying books (early 1960s). The field continued to broaden (e.g. Vance's Dying Earth, and increasing numbers of crossover fantasy/sf titles), Lin Carter resurrected the classics for a new generation of readers (but still, Conan and Tolkien and those like them sold, and other fictiom, less so). Gradually, aided by increasing fantasy elements in movies (and RenFaires, and lots of other small developments, including increasing popularity of fantasy elements in Harlequin romances), fantasy drifted toward the mainstream. This resulted in a much broader and richer buffet for fantasy readers, as just about everything was tried (enter McKillip and McKinley and Tamora Pierce and others writing fantasy for female readers, and more and more vampire books, and eventually J.K. Rowling and the rise of childrens' fantasy to wide public notice). Recently, steampunk has risen, the Conan-style lone swaggering barbarian hero has waned (and then mutated into female hard-as-nails protagonist, the private eye recast as a sword-and-fists fantasy investigator), and Cthulhu and Musketeer-like fantasies have risen and fallen several times. I'm wildly oversimplifying here, but that's the view from this reader's/writer's/librarian's/bookbuyer's/bookseller's chair... I'm wary of giving my opinions of "what's hot and what's not" as opposed to trying to step back and just see all of the passing parade...
  
Actually, that's a helpful cliff-notes-like summary of the trends. Cool. Let's now talk more about you. Writing quirks. Most writers have a few. Whether rituals, superstitions, or just their unique approach. What can you tell us that's fun (and maybe embarrassing) about how you get the writing done.
       
Hmmm, writing quirks.

I honestly can't think of any lasting quirks, because my career has been one of constant change. As a child, writing in longhand, then typing on an old upright Underwood 8 (which I loved; the thing is as heavy as battle tank, mind you), some serviceable Olympias at school, and later an IBM Selectric at work and at various volunteer jobs (Royal Life Saving Society, a seniors' centre, etc.), which I hated. Libraries still use Selectrics to this day for some labels, though others are done with laser printers. I've been composing on Macs for as long as there have been Macs (this was a publishers' choice, not an IBM vs. Mac thing; the advance on my first novel for this publisher was a Mac rather than cash).

I've always had schooling and/or "day jobs" as well as writing, and long commutes, so my writing has been done around them, and the in-my-head bits during them. Which is why I'm quite happy doing "joe-jobs" (dull, repetitive tasks) at work; my mind is merrily humming along on stories, all the time.

I took a journalism degree NOT to become a journalist (though I've done that, as part of the schooling and since), but deliberately to make sure I could write under all conditions, not "my favourite" conditions.

In those days, a newsroom was a noisy, crowded place of ringing phones, the thunder of scores of typewriters, editors yelling out "this call's for you" and the latest news off the wire and who was now assigned to cover it...in short, NOT quiet time, or a cozy writing refuge, or anything near it. You were trying to compose sentences with people talking to you and expecting you to carry on your side of the conversation in a alert-thinking, no-hesitations manner, you were trying to dredge up memories of company names and incidents from decades past so you knew what to go look up in detail, and oh, yes: there was only one computer in the entire building, and it ran the "waxer" that typeset copy onto strips of paper that we would arrange on blank forms and wax ourselves (because the waxing part of the machine didn't work properly), to "compose" (later parlance: "lay out") the paper. This was, of course, well pre-Internet. A reporter's main tools were his feet, his pencil and paper, and a telephone.

Now, before this gets TOO "in my day, son" in tone, I hasten to add that I put myself through four years of this purely to train myself to write under any circumstances.

So I write on planes. In longhand, on paper I carry with me. No customs agents ever have a chance to ruin or confiscate my computers, or phones, or Blackberrys - - because I don't own the latter, I borrow a cellphone from my wife purely to keep in touch with her while commuting to and from the day job (and only she and the phone company know the number), and I never travel with computers. USB drives, yes, if a publisher requests it. Some may deem this a quirk, but it's simply the habit that fits my life right now; if things change, so will I.

I have come to prefer composing at the keyboard, and enjoy the power and flexibility (control over layout, fonts, margins, and the like) that electronic tools give the writer. I do a lot of work via e-mails (including submitting novels, because that's what the publishers involved want), I surf, and I Facebook.

Yet rather than spend hours daily gabbing or texting or Twittering on phones, I actually write books. :} These last few years, I've been writing two-and-a-half to three novels annually plus a dozen-some columns, a handful of feature articles, a handful of short stories, and some game writing pieces (or even co-written game books).

I don't have a favored spot for writing, other than "on my computer" (and there are 16 computers in the house, so that doesn't necessarily mean the same room), or favourite music (for some writing I prefer silence, and for other writing I may listen to almost anything, from native drum music to symphonic rock to medieval dance or chant to rags to symphonies). Every time I collaborate, I try to do it differently by asking my collaborator to decide how THEY want to do it and then agreeing to their method or choices as we go along . . . so I'm not sure that I can tell you my quirks. I don't mean I don't have any, so much as I haven't noticed any. Now, there are STATES OF MIND (lack of exhaustion and freedom from worrying about planning complex real-world arrangements, for example) that make for far more prductive writing sessions, yes.

I don't have a set time of day for writing, or a set amount of time, or a daily wordcount goal, or anything like that. I don't have TIME to ponder and set such things; I'm always so busy that it's "git 'er done" time, all the time.
I do have some tricks of the trade, though: it's faster to get back into a   project if you DON'T finish it neatly at the end of a chapter or topic, but take the extra five or ten minutes to get started on a new chapter or topic, and leave things "hanging." If you do get "blocked" (as in: writers' block), you'll fare much better if you have six or eight active projects on the go (as in: computer files started, so whenever you think of something, you can drop the new addition in . . . and whenever you bog down on something, just switch to another project BUT MAKE SURE you aren't doing this as a way of ducking a difficult bit of writing day after day).

Wheee. I've typed far more than you probably wanted, so I'll stop now. :}

Okay, so some of your books are tied to gaming worlds. Are you a gamer? RPGs and such? And if so, do you find that helps the fiction you write that is not tied to a gaming world?

I am indeed a gamer. Not a particularly active one, these days (I actually get in more games of Scrabble and chess with my granddaughter than anything else, carry on a few games of e-mail chess, and enjoy board games with family), though I have played many RPGs. I am NOT a competitive sort, and never "play to win." I'm there for the good company, not to analyze the rules to determine the "best way to play to come out on top." I don't gamble, because to me it seems like throwing money away without having fun doing so (I'm well aware that many others feel very differently). Over the years, I have probably added more monsters, magic items, rules, and concepts to various editions of the D&D game than any other person who's still alive - - and yes, it certainly DOES help my non-game-world fiction.  In three ways:

  1. Magic. Gamers always "think through" all details of how magic works, and game designers become constantly aware that magic needs to have limitations, the presence of magic has implications for how fictional inhabitants of the imagined world view and use magic, and that one should never "fudge things." Magic should never be a deus ex machina "just happen to have the fix we need here, up my sleeve." The "ways out" ALWAYS have to be explained before they're used. Implications of magic use (possible aging of magic wielders, changes wrought by spells) should be in the writer's mind even if they don't feature in the story being written. TANSTAAFL applies to magic just as it does to everything else.

 

  1. Fudging Things In General. Gamers ALWAYS want to know more; most of them devour the long appendices at the end of Tolkien's THE RETURN OF THE KING and say, "Well, it's a START, but..."As a result, worldbuilding details are never things to be neglected, and the writer who is also a gamer does the research (precisely how many shots does that sort of gun fire? How is it reloaded, exactly?) AND tends to make sure that traveling characters can make it from A to B realistically in the time given by the plot, fight scenes could really happen without gravity going on holiday or everybody suddenly having the eagle eyesight (or all the bad guys or cops or whomever unleashing all sorts of weaponry but somehow never hitting the heroes, or the villain who Has To Get Away Now So They Can Return In Chapter Thirteen). In short, gamer/writers get trained to make situations, plots, and plot devices/apparent coincidences "bulletproof."
  1. Pacing. Any experienced gamer has endured long, boring stretches of nothing much meaningful happening, and short periods of frenetic activity and overload. Although imparting this experience can be a literary goal, more often the fiction writer wants to pace his/her tale with certain sorts of scenes (the fight, the chase, the tense confrontation with authority, the love scene) located so as to give the reader a payoff rather than driving the reader into flinging the book across the room...or more often just closing it at bedtime, and never getting around to opening it again. In short, we need breathers but not flat spots. A gamer eventually learns the hard way, even if they've never "run" an adventure as the referee/Dungeon Master/Game Master, that long lulls are to be avoided, and it becomes almost instinctive. Non-gamer writers learn this too, of course, but some of them (especially in "gadget" or "idea"-based sf that doesn't feature disasters) take longer with their learning (and readers suffer).

 

Please don't take this as any sort of assertion that gamer-writers are better than non-gamer-writers. We're all individuals whose successes vary from day to day and even time of day to time of day, let alone project. I'm merely speaking from my experience that gaming pushes these helpful tendencies on gamers, given experience enough, and it can benefit the writing they produce (both game material and fiction).

Let's talk about magic systems for a second, since you mention it above. How important, in your opinion, is it that this is all worked out to the nth degree? I might liken it to the difference between hard SF and soft SF, where the former is that the science is all figure out and "works;" where with the later, it's more a given that the science works so that either more time can be spent on character, etc, or that the book as a whole doesn't groan under unnecessary detail. (Note: I'm not saying I'm for one way or the other, just askin'. :))

I think it's almost always a mistake (except in magical "locked room" mysteries like some of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy tales, where the point or resolution of the story hinges on magical details) for the writer to try to impart every last detail and mechanic of the magic system the writer's worked out to the reader.

However, except insofar as working out every last detail becomes a procrastination trap that keeps the writer from writing fiction, the magic system SHOULD be worked out. The "basics" and limitations, at least, enough to build a plot on and force the writer to resist the "magic can do it all" deus ex machina temptation. Overtired as well as lazy writers can pull a "magic resolves it" in a minor way, even without intending to, if the plot of the story isn't matched to the limitations and "rules" of the magic, and the reader isn't made aware of that.

Again, rubbing the reader's nose in "See? Every last detail of this LOVELY magic system I've worked out! Revel in its superiority, appreciate its elegance, note the clever drawbacks and limitations!" is fatal - - but it sure helps the writer to craft a better tale if they've "thought through" the magic system, its nomenclature and its limitations. This isn't just key to avoiding all-powerful archwizards, it's the key to drawing sequels demanded by a publisher out of a "finished" story, without everything seeming artificially "tacked on." The writer who leaves loose ends, because they've done their homework on a magic system, can readily open out new stories that seem to flow naturally from what's come before.

Magic should never rule plot, or be a substitute for plot. Working out a setting's magic system can guard against that happening, however unconsciously.

All right, let's shift gears again. One of my standard questions--and one of my favorites--comes from a conversation I had with David Morrell a few years back. He's got some very interesting ideas on the degree to which fiction is autobiographical. I know for me, in hindsight, I see more credence to this than I thought I might. What are your thoughts, relative to your own work?

As to my own work being autobiographical: well, yes and no. :} A big "NO" of course for any sf or fantasy writer: we can't cast spells that work, turn into dragons, design or repair honest-to-gosh spaceships that have faster-than-light drive, jaunt around stellar empires or even solar systems, have swordfights with gods, and so on.

But "yes" in that, from a very young age, I have tried to experience all sorts of things (sunsets, swimming naked in icy rivers, exploring caves, riding horses, hang-gliding, fighting with swords and spears, wearing armor and galloping in it, going aloft in a balloon, hiking, paddling canoes, dressing in drag, acting onstage, playing musical instruments, singing (classical/religious), altering garments, building rustic furniture and doing plumbing, wiring, horse-shoeing, blade-forging, cooking over a fire (and making the fire), and so on and on...so I could write about it better, having experienced it.

I think this is important for exclusively fantasy, sf, and horror writers as well as mainstream writers, because faced with the task of making the unreal seem real, the more touches of real-seeming detail (Poo-Bah's "artistic versimilitude") we can  bring to our story and incorporate where the story will benefit from them, the better.
However, I don't carry this to the extreme of "write only about what you know," and believing (as many academics like to do, even to the ludicrous extreme of telling living writers that they're unaware of what they were/are truly feeling, and only academics can "see" or decree that, not mere writers) that every single word, thought, or viewpoint a character utters MUST be a view held by the writers. Nor is my writing cartharsis or any sort of "working out my own views" or "fixing my own muddled head." I tend to bring opposing views into every story, because I don't want my story conflicts to be brutish Grog-eat-wolf-cuz-Grog-hungry affairs or mindless hatred ("A Montagu! A Capulet!"), I want them to be rooted in well-rounded characters whose aims or wants happen to clash. SOME revenge/feuding/hatred/racial revulsion (and of course in sf and fantasy, it's not usually "racial" among humans of different skin hues or cultures, but truly between very different intelligent species) is fine, yes, but not every last instance of it.

I can't cast a fireball, but from having watched stage magicians and mystics going into trances, and walked through a blazing fire, helped fight a forest fire, and watched firefighters battle a real raging building blaze, I can better imagine and describe a fireball.

But I don't have to murder someone to write about a murder. Or take exquisite revenge on someone, to write about a character taking exquisite revenge. And so on . . .

So, as a musician, I always gotta know a few music things. First, do you write in silence, or, perhaps, do play any certain music to inspire you?

The music thing varies for everyone. I always play music (specific cuts of all different sorts, from medieval to grunge rock, and show tune belters to New Age "atmospheric") to inspire me, yes, but I've found that while I can play it for plotting time and game design time, I should write fiction in silence.

This doesn't affect other writers the same way, of course, but for me, there's a danger in playing music whilst crafting fiction: sad or scary or triumphant or tranquil moods induced by the appropriate music will fool me into thinking I've incorporated that into my prose, only to discover later, when re-reading in silent surroundings, that my prose is instead sparse or flat or spartan: my brain thought I was conveying feelings to the reader that the music was giving me.

The exception, for me, is music played as "drownout." If an annoying ambient sound (repeated construction hammering or machinery, lawnmowing, shrill vacuuming, "back up beeps" from trucks, etc.) is intruding on my concentration (not something that happens often at home, where I write in a country basement, but quite frequent on visits back to the city, or in airports), certain sorts of music work well to counteract those noises, and let me get on with writing.

My druthers, however, is silence. I didn't begin my career that way, some thirty-plus and more than a hundred books ago, but over the years have drifted into a preference for silence over music. Because I've enjoyed and functioned capably under both, I'm well aware that "your mileage may vary" for other writers.

(My own background was hopelessly inept piano playing and bad rock guitar in my youth, but passable choral singing, both religious/classical and secular. I don't have perfect pitch, but I can harmonize, hold my own voice in complex choral singing [though throat surgery has ruined my once-Paul-Robeson-like bass], and improvise/arrange, compose lyrics acceptably to a professional standard. As a listener, I have VERY eclectic tastes.)

Well, you give me the perfect leap-point for one of my standards Q's: Name some of your favorite artists/bands. And, I do need to know the best concert you ever attended. Feel free to admit if you were pumping a fist of devil horns.

Oh, dear. Here we go...

Genesis (early, with Peter Gabriel...and Peter Gabriel, solo) Jethro Tull Rush (my high school rock band; no, really) April Wine (earliest frequent touring rock band to repeatedly tour local venues when I was young) The Master Singers Bonzo Dog Doodah Band Flanders & Swann The Limeliters Stan Rogers Kate & Anna McGarrigle ELO The Guess Who King Crimson Michael Oldfield Steeleye Span (and Maddy Prior, solo) Loreena McKennitt The Beatles The Kipper Family Roy Wood Tangerine Dream Barenaked Ladies Yes (Fragile era) Tom Lehrer Anna Russell Walter/Wendy Carlos Howard Shore Sparks Pink Floyd Led Zeppelin Noel Coward SOME Leonard Cohen Quartetto Gelato ...and so on; I've lots more. :} . . . . . and the best large concert (as opposed to intimate sessions in very small clubs, like the Rolling Stones playing the El Mocambo in Toronto) would have to be a live fourth of July outdoors telethon hosted by Jerry Lewis at a National Scout Jamboree in a National Park in Pennsylvania, which had about forty acts, large and small (Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, the Carpenters, the Jefferson Starship, etc. etc.) and culminated in fireworks punctuated by U.S. Army artillery performing the 1812 Overture with two orchestras. Overload/awesome...

If I had to pick up a small club session, it would Stan Rogers live in a coffeehouse that seated about 40 people, about 30 years ago.

And if it's one I participated in, it would be a Gilbert & Sullivan massed choral presentation in Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, about 20 years back.

Although for sheer excitement if not sound (because the Royal Albert Hall has this horrible "sounds bounce around-echo-delay" acoustic flaw), it would have to be one of the Last Night of the Proms hosted by Andrew Davis with the Royal Philharmonic and EVERYONE singing along, even outside in the park, one hot night in London almost 40 years ago.

Please bear in mind that on any given day, my answers to these will shift somewhat. :} [My answers here have been a little shy on the classical/medieval, being as these don't fit the "band" label so well.]

Okay, then, Ed, last Q for you. Maybe you've been asked this before, but do give it a moment of thought, please. What's that one question  that you don't ever seem to be asked, whether about craft, the  business, or your own work, that you're always anticipating or would like to be asked, but that just hasn't found its way into your interviews yet. So, I guess, in some ways, on the final question your get to interview yourself.

Okay, the question I never get that I'd most like to be asked is: if I could change publishing (the business) overnight to be whatever I wanted it to be, what would I want it to be?

And I'm still working on my answer, and perhaps always will be. However, I've made a start.
I think I would move to shatter the distribution system that developed in North America during Prohibition, and outlaw "pay for display" or whatever term you'd like to call it by.

I'd also outlaw (somehow) ownership of bookstores by large conglomerates, and outlaw chains over a certain size, to encourage independent bookstores. Online ordering and shipping of books would have to be through a bookstore except in remote areas (more than 30 miles to the nearest bookstore, plus overseas citizens such as embassies, consulates, serving military, etc.), and in return bookstores would have to order a certain number of physical books (not more than one copy of each title if they didn't want to, but to stop them becoming mere "order desks").

I would encourage bookstores to have coffee shops, etc. as tenants (again, no large chains allowed, to avoid the tenant dictating things to the bookstore), and nudge publishers towards having storytellers/good readers to do readings (authors if they want to and are good readers, but only if) around North American libraries and bookstores, and to do half-hour local-channel "about books" television shows. (With any faith-based books or commentary by law having to be balanced with equal coverage for other faiths.) And I'd like government agencies to stamp out/block offshore/shut down rapidshare and bit torrent sites that pirate books with the same enthusiasm that they "war on drugs." Fast, hard, no excuses, just pull plugs. If you're posting fiction, you should have to post clearly that you hold the copyright (and really do so).

Publishers should go back to having salesmen/reps who travel to stores to SHOW them forthcoming books, not just shove catalogues at the store staff and "push" a few titles they've been paid to push.

Why all this? (Some of the above may be foolish/bad/can't go back to it, and I may not have mentioned more important changes to make, above.) What am I trying to move North America towards?

I want everyone reading for pleasure, not just to get a job or fix their lawnmower or pass that test. And I want them reading physical books and magazines and comics, not "e" versions (except in special circumstances, such as people with impairments, where the e-version can be augmented with changeable font sizes, read-aloud, etc.). Leave the net space for e-mail converse, online ACCURATE fast-update encylopedias, and the inevitable porn. :} And I'd like everyone's life to have some "relax and quiet breather" time to sit down and read in. Lounges in many workplaces seemed to vanish with indoor smoking. Quiet spaces everywhere seem to be vanishing.

(Hey, I'm well aware that I'm dreaming. I know full well that doing half of this would require dictatorial powers that no American would countenance [except for military/security reasons, which they somehow do already without really admitting it]. Canadians would moan and complain but go along with most of these changes like they moan and complain and go along with everything else. :}) Oh, yes: and I want governments to overhaul copyright laws by consulting with WRITERS and ARTISTS, NOT publishers and conglomerates. And I want anyone who tries to ignore copyrights or steal copyrights (Google, I'm looking at you) or tries to control access to books (Amazon and Chapters/Indigo, I'm looking in your directions) for any reason, to be slapped down. Hard. If they need an attitude adjustment and do it again or try some sneaky roundabout way of getting around the agreement, the government should step in with hobnailed boots and shut them down/split them up. If freedom of speech means anything as a democratic principle, it's time to give that freedom to writers and speakers and artists, not just to the lawyers of whatever corporation can sue fastest and has the deepest pockets for legal wrangling. (If a large corporation or Net pirate swipes someone's copyright, the government should act, not leave it to the poor, starving "someone.") I realize I'm much too old to be naive enough to think any of this will be brought about...but hey, I can still dream. It's what fantasy/sf writers DO.

Indeed it is. Don’t stop dreamin’, Ed. And thanks for the time.