Terry Brooks on The Black Elfstone and concluding his Shannara series
Terry Brooks has been spinning his tales of Shannara since 1977 — but with a new quadrilogy, titled The Fall of Shannara, he’s bringing the beloved series to a close. Brooks spoke with EW about why he’s decided to end his epic saga after four decades. Read on to see what he has to say — and check out our cover reveal for the first of these last books, The Black Elfstone (out June 13, 2017), below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to end the series now?
TERRY BROOKS: Well, my original plan was to live forever, but I’m discovering that’s probably not going to happen, and I don’t want to be one of those authors whose series, after going on such a long time, gets written by somebody else at the end. So I decided it was time to at least write the ending, because I’ve had it in mind for many, many years.
That was my next question! You already know what’s going in the final chapter?
I’ve got it in my head how I want the series to end — I know the emotional impact I want it to have. I started out with some concepts about the way science and magic work, where they were flip sides of the same coin. They would basically operate with the same rules, and you would learn that, just like science, magic could work for the better of people, or it could be bad, it could be used poorly. And the world, as I see it, is cyclical: History repeats itself. So there would be this war between the two, and each of them would become, at various times, more popular with the people. Now I’ll show you what happens when the two meet yet again! Will one prove to be dominant, or will there be a resolution of some sort between the two?
Do you work from outlines, or do you just decide on the ending and then let the story take whatever path it wants to get there?
I used to be very dogmatic about the ways I put stories together. I outlined everything. But about 20 years ago, I got really tired of that. I thought, “I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m going to know who my characters are and have a good feel for them, and I’m going to know where the story is going and what the ending’s going to be, but I’m not going to know what happens in between. I’m just going to start writing and see what happens.” The more you do this, the more comfortable you are with it. So these days, less outlining and a little more intuitiveness.
Do you write every day?
Pretty much. I don’t feel like I have to, and of course I don’t always. Sometimes [my wife and I] just take off and travel somewhere. In the beginning I wrote all the time, because I was afraid I would lose whatever thread I had if I let go. But now, I know what it takes to get a book done. I write one every year, and I’m always working a year ahead. The book for next year [The Black Elfstone] is done. I’m a little more than halfway through the book for 2018.
That’s the second book in this quadrilogy?
Yes it is. I’m having a good time with it, but I’m also mindful of the fact that it needs to be special, because it’s the end! There are writers out there who do not know how to end a book, and I don’t want to fall into that group. I really feel like the ending needs to be the strongest thing.
So are you doing anything different this time around to make sure it’s as strong as possible?
I’m trying to harken back a bit to the beginning — to the Sword, the Elfstone, and the Wishsong — and using that as a touchstone for some of the scenes, characters, and creatures. It’s sort of a gift back to the readers for sticking with me for this much time. But other than that, I’m just trying to make it what I’ve always tried to make it: A page-turner. [A book] that, if you go to bed and you have to get up for work at 6AM, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to keep reading. That’s my first rule: Don’t ever let the reader put it down.
You just want everyone to show up for work with a headache.
I do! I want their spouses and children to all disappear. I just feel like that’s what you try to give an audience. You can think of practically everything that’s out there. Look at Game of Thrones, for example. That’s why George Martin does so well. Readers want that out of body, out of life experience when they get into a book.
How do you feel about ending this? Is it a relief, or is it bittersweet?
I’ve never done this for any reason other than the fact that I really like it. I like writing in this world, and I’ve taken a long time to develop it. But I’m kind of ready to let go of it. I would like to not have the anticipation of having to do the next series. And I’m doing some other things, of course, so it’s probably time.
These books will be the chronological end of the series. But you might not be done with Shannara, right?
If I want to go back and fill in some gaps that I left along the way, or write more stories about a particular character, I can —but I’m not under any obligation to do it if I don’t want to.
You talked about servicing your longtime readers a little bit with this conclusion. How much do you let what the fans want to happen affect what you write?
Let’s say you asked 100 fans. 99 of them would say, “He never listens to anything we say!” The other one would say, “Well, I think once he might have considered something.” I tell everybody that my report cards all said right at the top, in big, bold letters: “Does not play well with others.” I listen to what they say, but I kind of go my own way. I always finish a book and know what the next book is going to be. The story you’re telling tells you what needs to happen next.
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