Interview with Voronica Whitney-Robinson
Given below is an interview conducted between the Scribes of Candlekeep and Voronica Whitney-Robinson. Voronica is the author of the Forgotten Realms novel from the Sembia Series: Sands of the Soul. This interview was carried out on 3rd January 2003 following the success of this novel. This material cannot be reproduced without permission.
Interview with Voronica Whitney-Robinson – Author of 'Sands of the Soul' (The Sembia Series, Book 6)
1. Did you base Tazi or any of the characters of Sands of the Soul on anyone in particular?
I was brought into the Sembia project when Kij Johnson was no longer able to participate as Tazi’s author. So a few of the characters, including Tazi, had already been fleshed out a bit. In fact, all the other stories had already been edited and Halls of Stormweather was close to going into print! But I do feel I put my stamp on them and I would like to think that Tazi and I share some of the same characteristics although she is more accomplished with a sword than I am.
Now, if you spell Ciredor’s name backwards and take a gander at the dedication in Sands of the Soul, you might see at least one character was based on someone special in my life…
2. Whos decision was it to take Tazi’s story out of Selgaunt?
The decision to take Tazi out of Selgaunt was all mine. After the events in The Price and Paul’s book, Shadow’s Witness, Tazi was not the girl she once was, for good or ill. She was, instead, a woman in pieces. I felt her story had to be about unification. Because Fannah had come from Calimport and Ciredor had purchased her there, Calimport was also a logical place for Tazi’s story to take her. I wanted her reunification to be a journey both spiritual and physical.
Many religions and philosophies believe in treks and meditations deep in the desert, where all a person’s outer trappings are stripped away, leaving behind only their core. The Calim was a perfect place for this to happen. And I wanted Tazi to be on her own to “save” herself. If she had remained in Selgaunt, the temptation would have been too great to have one or more of her very talented family members intercede or assist her. It was time for her to stand alone.
Lizz Baldwin was editing the book at the time and was very supportive of the idea, since the first section of the book was set in Selgaunt. When Phil Athans took over, he also liked the journey, so there we are.
3. How familiar are you with the Forgotten Realms and in particular Sembia and Calimshan?
I have to admit, I did a lot of cramming for these novels. Between my editor and myself, I have all the game products related to the stories I’ve been involved in and I’ve read through many of the other FR novels as well. I tried to stay true to the material that was already out there as the background for these projects.
What worked in my favour was that the Sembia series was meant to also be an entry point for new readers to join the campaign setting as well as established readers.
4. Do you have a personal interest in deserts\Egyptology and did you have to do any further research on the terrain\setting for the novel?
One of my minors in college was archaeology and I have always been fascinated by ancient civilizations.
I didn’t have to do much research for the desert, though. Off and on, I have lived on the African continent for almost four years. I spent three weeks alone, one summer, in the Sahara Desert, which I used as a model for the Calim. And I was even briefly lost in a sandstorm while I was there. Funny how terrifying it can be as a sighted person when those frames of reference no longer apply! Or when you walk thirty feet away from something and turn to find you have no idea where that thing was or where anything is, for that matter. Or to see a mirage of water so convincing, it shows up on film! Needless to say, that experience left a mark on me.
I also used parts of Marrakech when I was writing about Calimport, because they had a similar feel to me with their cramped marketplaces and colours and smells.
5. Who out of the other Sembia novelists did you most have to interact with for your novel?
Coming into the Halls of Stormweather so late in the game, I didn’t have any contact with the others initially except through Phil Athans, who edited that book. And the other authors were already on their way to firming up the plots for their various stand-alone novels at that point, so I had a bit of catching up to do.
In fact, Paul’s book helped push me in the direction my novel took as I did not find out until I was already working on the initial outline for Sands of the Soul that the events of his book had left Tazi gravely wounded. To put it mildly, I had a little re-vamping to do on my original plotline.
Paul and I have talked a bit about Tazi and Cale’s relationship and where it might/might not go and Dave Gross and I have chatted about Tazi when he initially started working on Lord of Stormweather, before Pride of the Lion was cancelled.
6. Fannah’s character was left very open ended, especially with the introduction of her mother in the Dark Bazaar, do you intend to write more on this character?
I did leave that one hanging! Fannah’s mother was also briefly (one or two lines at most) mentioned in The Price, Tazi’s first story. Even at that point, I knew she and Fannah had a much larger role to play in the Realms.
I have some ideas where I would like this one to go, but most of that will depend on how well Sands is received by the readers and if enough folks want to see more of Tazi and her associates.
7. Will we hear any more about Erevis’s feelings towards Tazi? There appears to be great scope for these two characters together.
Good question! The course of true love has never run smoothly and these two are no exception. Paul’s trilogy will definitely take Cale on a momentous journey and Tazi will have another one of her own as well later this year. Journeys have a way of affecting people. Only time will tell what might happen between these two. But then again, I believe the anticipation of a relationship between them is part of the readers avid interest.
8. What are you currently working on for WotC and the Realms?
Right now, I am knee deep in Crimson Gold. There are a few other ideas we are kicking around, but they largely depend on the readers interest in the characters I’ve been working with.
Outside of WotC, I have a game product coming out for Vampire: The Masquerade with White Wolf, as well as working on a Ravenloft product with them. I also have a few non-fiction pieces in development.
9. Can you give us any information on your novel of the Rogues series?
Unfortunately, for contractual reasons, there’s not much I can say now. The Rogues series is set to start later this year although I have seen varying orders of the book and varying release dates. As far as I know, Crimson is still set for release in December of this year.
What I can say is that this novel will feature Tazi, although it is not a Sembia novel, so don’t expect a lot of familiar faces from her home. The events of Lord of Stormweather will propel Tazi on another adventure where she will showcase more of her thieving abilities. As I am able to “leak” more info, I will post my shameless, self-promoting plugs for Crimson here at Candlekeep.
10. Did you know whilst writing Spectre of the Black Rose, that the Ravenloft campaign was at an end? Would you have liked to have continued to write for the Ravenloft setting?
I did know that it would be the last book of the line for WotC. I was very sad to see it come to an end, as I had a plotline for a book about a new race of semi-aquatic beings living in the Nocturnal Sea.
However, as I mentioned above, I am working on a Gazetteer for White Wolf that will focus on some familiar Ravenloft territory for me.
11. How did you get into being a writer, and how long have you been writing for WotC?
It wasn’t something I had consciously planned on. I had been writing stories for years for my own entertainment. In fact, when I left Africa, I had over twenty spiral bound notebooks full of stuff. But I started writing professionally first at my job as a marine biologist, mostly scientific papers, etc.
Back in the fall of 1998, a fellow comic book fanatic and childhood friend of mine, James Lowder, contacted me and brought me in with him to work on Spectre of the Black Rose. That was my first job with WotC, although now I also work with a few other publishers.
12. Do you play D&D and the Forgotten Realms campaign? If so, do you play or DM, how often and for how long have you been playing?
I haven’t sat down for a good game in many years. I started playing D & D back in the mid-80’s when I was a teenager and usually the only girl at the table. At that point, I enjoyed being a player more than a DM. I think if I were to seriously start up again, I would lean towards being a DM.
13. What is your favorite D&D character class and race?
If I had to pick one, it would be Human Rogues. I have always had a soft spot for people who relied on their physical abilities but were a little on the unlawful side. I find them to be resourceful, clever, resilient and occasionally even dark personalities. So many possibilities to work with!
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