Famed fantasy author R. A. Salvatore is coming to the Mark Twain House & Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 9. He is known not only for his impressive list of best-selling sci-fi fantasy books, including "The Two Swords," but also for one of his most popular story characters, dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden. He also has been accused of being the guy who killed off popular Star Wars character Chewbacca in his book "Vector Prime," the first novel in the "Star Wars: The New Jedi Order" series. Besides his books, Salvatore also wrote for video games, including "Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone."
The 56-year-old father and grandfather and Massachusetts resident, who has sold more than 15 million copies of his books in the United States, 22 of them landing on the New York Times best-seller list, took time off from writing and playing ball recently to "Spill the Beans" with Java.
Q: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why … or are you?
A: I'm not. I've said many times I would want to be Drizzt, the dark elf. I wish I had the courage to be him but I don't think I would want to live in the existence most fantasy characters live in. He stands for good and justice constantly. I have a mission. I don't think might means right. I am for might for the right thing. I can get on a soapbox here. It frustrates me that the hero is a guy with the biggest gun, not the biggest heart. I believe in honesty and justice and all those things. I made a hero who will make the right choices even if they are hard choices. And it has resonated with so many people who agree. They want to follow their conscience.
Q: What sustains the idea of fantasy?
A: There is something intriguing about it all. Fantasy captures the whole beauty of having something that science can't explain, I am a logical science guy, but I like the idea that there are things that can't be rationally explained. I find it comforting. In a fantasy novel war without guilt, you don't have to be humanized because the characters aren't human. You can have adventures without guilt or the horror part because it's not real, and you are not killing other people. In the battles, you are generally killing monsters, and who doesn't want to kill the monster living under the bed? And in fantasy, more so than in science fiction, one man or woman can make a difference in the world by picking up a sword and slaying the dragon and being a hero. Fantasy is the classic hero's journey.
Q: Besides books, you have quite the career in writing for video games. Seems like it has become the ultimate fantasy experience, no?
A: Computer graphics and the power behind it make it so easy to be playing a video game and suspend disbelief. It looks so real and you have propelled fantasy onto the big screen and it becomes real. You can accept the magic, the dragons and the dark elves that have the heart of a human. You can become immersed in the story.
Q: How is writing for video games versus a book different?
A: It's different, but a fun transition back and forth. When I am writing a novel, I am giving you characters that are walking down the street and the reader is seeing the world through their eyes. In a video, the person playing the game is the most important person. In video, you are giving people a world where they can write their own stories.
Q: I understand that you are a gamer. What's wrong with your real life?
A: I am really not a video gamer anymore, I've drifted away. Now the game I play the most is softball, even though I am older than almost everyone in the league.
A: Yeah. I was pitcher until I got a blood clot, but now I play second base because there's less chance of taking a line drive.
Q: One of your most well-known writing sins is the death of Chewbacca in "Vector Prime." I mean, you killed Chewie. Really, what were you thinking?
A: George Lucas killed Chewie. I just delivered the final blow. It wasn't my idea and I got death threats after Chewie was killed. It was pretty intense. For three years after, every time I saw something flash I thought it was some kids with a light saber coming after me. But Disney has brought Chewie back so I'm off the hook now.
Q: Do you get joy from your writing?
A: Every day I get emails or private messages on Facebook from people who have cancer, soldiers coming home and having a hard time, kids with no friends, situations like that. In my books, they find strength, escapism, fun. Whether you are writing romance or science fiction or political commentary or fiction, if you are a writer and doing it right, you are lucky to be let in the lives of other people. If I can make someone's life better, even if it is getting them to read a book for the first time in a long while, I feel like I am leaving the world a little better. And that is a pretty charmed existence.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on the third book in the Homecoming series and a second one in the Maestro series. I sit and write each day until I feel satisfied, although the books never leave me. I am always thinking about them.
Q: What do you think Mark Twain would like about your writing?
A: I think he would hate it, although I love his work. I am looking forward to touring his house in Hartford.
Q: What books do you cherish?
A: "The Hobbit'' and "Lord of the Rings'' trilogy got me back into reading. "A Canticle for Leibowitz'' is a favorite. James Joyce's "The Dead," "Slaughterhouse Five,'' "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King, some stories by James Hanson are all favorites. My favorite poetry is the romantics, Wordsworth and Keats. They were the first ones who really wrote about the common man and woman, that everyday people matter, and that's a theme in my books. I grew up knowing I was no better than me and I am no less than anyone else.
Q: You're a dad and grandpa; books or videos for kiddos?
A: Everything in moderation, I agree there are lots of kids with their face plugged into a screen, but at the same time for the kid going to kindergarten, he or she better know how to handle a computer and tablet inside and out by high school graduation or he or she will not be getting a job.
Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: I am loud. I'm Italian, the youngest of 7 and I'm big but buff at 250 pounds. I was a bouncer in college and a weightlifter my whole life.
Q: When was the last time you got choked up?
A: Within the last week probably, when my grandson started kindergarten.
Tickets to see R. A. Salvatore at the Mark Twain House & Museum, 351 Farmington Ave., Hartford, Wednesday, Sept. 9 are $25 for the general public and $20 for MTH&M members. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. Information: marktwainhouse.org; 860-247-0998.