We were done with Drizzt.
Or at least, we thought we were. After the Dark Elf Trilogy (bringing the number of novels featuring Drizzt and his friends to six), the editors at TSR and I agreed we had seen enough of the drow ranger. But we wanted to keep working together, since the combination had proven so successful (I actually had finished the last of the Dark Elf Trilogy, Sojourn, soon after The Halfling's Gem became my first New York Times best-seller).
Mary Kirchoff, TSR Books' executive editor, and my editor, Eric Severson, got together on a conference call and tried to figure out what might be next for me. They suggested I come up with a synopsis for a four-book series. Seeing an opportunity because of the scheduling (they were scheduling for the two years after Sojourn's release, and Sojourn was slated to come out early in the year), and being a fan of David Eddings's Belgariad five-book set, I suggested that I outline a series of not four, but five new novels, and that I place the heroes in a new (for me, at least) part of the Forgotten Realms setting.
Of course, this being TSR, I didn't have a lot of time to put those outlines together. I wasn't worried, though, because I had a main character clearly defined. I subscribe to the school of writing that believes that characters are more important than plot, so with my hero in mind, I figured the rest would just fall into place.
It did. My favorite AD&D player characters are First Edition monks. I love monks, mostly because they improve in so many ways as they acquire levels in the game. I didn't have any player characters in mind for the lead of my next series-I never (with the exception of Oliver deBurrows from my Crimson Shadow Trilogy) use characters I have roleplayed as characters in my novels-but I envisioned a man like David Carradine in the old Kung Fu television shows: a good and just man, trying to find the truth about himself, traveling the Realms and helping out where he could. I had recently finished the Bloodstone Lands sourcebook, and that area includes the Monastery of the Yellow Rose, which I had fleshed out quite a bit in the game product, so I figured I had a built-in home base.
The other reason a monk character appealed to me was the combat style. I had already gotten a reputation for choreographing pretty good battle scenes, and I thought that going from the twin-scimitar-wielding drow and the -warhammer-wielding barbarian to a character with an open-hand style would -create a new level of intimacy in the fighting scenes and a new battle choreography that, having been a nightclub bouncer for six years, I knew well.
By the time I called Mary and Eric back the following week, I was raring to go.
Two problems immediately arose. First, by TSR's estimation the Bloodstone Lands had been the setting for too many products, so my planned monastery was out. Second, we had entered Second Edition, in which monks had gone the way of demons and devils. While Mary and Eric liked the concept, they couldn't do a major five-book series featuring a class of character no longer part of the game. I wasn't happy, but such are the trials of professional writing.
I became even more unhappy when Mary told me that what they really wanted was a series about a cleric.
"A cleric?" I echoed incredulously.
"It'll be great."
"Yeah, right. Face it, the cleric is usually the guy who shows up last to the gaming table, a big, stupid smile on his face, saying, 'Hey, guys, I want to play. What's the party need?' To which everyone replies, 'We need healing. You're the priest. Shut up and sit down.' " (My apologies to any of you cleric-philes out there-actually, I've started running clerics almost every time I play.)
But still, the cleric back then (remember, this was pre-Faiths and Avatars and other such wonderful products) was not the most popular of AD&D classes.
I got off the phone, muttering more curses than an embarrassed dwarf and already missing my dear monk. Being a professional writer, though (whatever the heck that means), I took up my AD&D books and began studying the character class and the options the various gods left open to me. I found Deneir, a god of the Realms who gave great latitude for questioning to his followers. On a purely basic level, don't we all question our faith -repeatedly throughoutour lives?
Now it was beginning to click. Those little writer lights were going on in my head. Instead of worrying about a character class for a lead hero in the books, I began to consider a spiritual journey this guy might take. Thus Cadderly was born, a man who grows increasingly powerful within the church of Deneir but who believes that clerical magic is just another variation of wizardly magic, not some gift of a pantheon of gods. He's a priest who, throughout the first two, and most of the third, books in the series, is actually an agnostic.
He's a priest of Deneir, a priest of a god who allows, even favors, questioning.
I remember receiving a letter shortly after the series came out, which began, "I am a born-again Christian. . . ." I braced for the storm, not because I have anything against born-again Christians-certainly not!-but because Dungeons and Dragons has often been misunderstood by many fundamentalist religious groups. This letter, however, went on to explain to me that the writer completely identified with Cadderly's discovery of Deneir because his own spiritual journey had been exactly like that: a series of small discoveries leading to an overwhelming epiphany. I consider that among the highest compliments I've ever received as a writer, because that is exactly the type of journey I had envisioned for Cadderly, the type of journey that I, like so many others, have been taking for most of my adult life.
Looking back, I really loved writing this series, not only because of the profound spiritual side, but because of the humor of Ivan and Pikel Bouldershoulder (Chapter 11 of the second book, In Sylvan Shadows, remains my all-time favorite), the relationship of Cadderly and Danica, more mature than anything I had tried with Drizzt, and several intriguing villains: the battered and confused Kierkan Rufo, and my favorite of the series-one I believes rivals Artemis Entreri-Ghost.
Do I have regrets about the series? Of course-a writer always does. I still would have liked to write the Monk Quintet. My biggest regret, though, was that shortly after beginning the series, the call for more Drizzt, to TSR and to me, became overwhelming, and so I agreed to do another Drizzt book, The Legacy, and then another, Starless Night, and so on and so on. . . .
I'm not complaining about those books, not at all! The Legacy was my first hardcover, and my first New York Times best-selling hardcover at that, and it truly changed my life. Shortly after The Legacy came out, I began getting letters from readers who liked the early Cleric books but complained that Canticle, first of the series, was a bit slow. I knew what was going on, and there was nothing I could do about it. These readers, in picking up an R.A. Salvatore book, wanted to immediately find the level of familiarity with the new characters that they already enjoyed with the Companions of the Hall (Drizzt and company).
It's not fair to compare Canticle to the six novels with Drizzt that came before it. You have to compare it one-on-one to The Crystal Shard, ignoring the other Drizzt books. In that context, I believe it holds up quite well. Perhaps going back to Drizzt in the middle of the Cleric Quintet prevented the new story from getting the attention it deserved.
Almost all of those people I know who read the series through, who took the time to get to know Cadderly and Danica, Percival and the Bouldershoulders, were quite pleased with the result and consider this group friends. So maybe I'll deviate from Drizzt and his friends again in the Realms. Maybe I'll write that monk series I once planned.
Or maybe, with Danica, I already did.