Wolfheart Interview with Author Richard A. Knaak

As Wolfheart storms into bookstores, we catch up with it's author, Richard A. Knaak to talk about the Worgen, the Alliance and how it feels to have someone else kill your characters.

The latest World of Warcraft novel, Wolfheart, is now hitting bookstores everywhere. Focusing on a turf war between the Night Elves and the Orcs, the book sees the return of some much loved characters including Jarod Shadowsong and his sister Maiev, as well as a closer look into the mind of Varian Wrynn and his relationship with the Worgen of Gilneas. Last week, we sat down to talk to it's author, fantasy writer Richard A. Knaak about the writing process, what it's like to work with Blizzard's loremasters and how he feels about his losing one of his favourite characters.

Ten Ton Hammer: So how did you start about writing World of Warcraft books for Blizzard?

Richard A Knaak: In the beginning they actually approached me; IÂ’d written several things in the past, including for a series called Dragonlance and they were very familiar with my work, especially The Legend of Huma. Apparently, several of the people at Blizzard had grown up reading my work and so, basically, IÂ’d raised my own employers! They asked me if IÂ’d be willing to do some novels in the worlds that they were working with, Warcraft and Diablo. I went and took a look at those worlds and they were so rich in depth and I was happy to do something in them. Ever since then weÂ’ve had a really good experience with each other.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you pitch an idea to them or do they come to you?

Richard: What happens is, usually, they will pick a subject that they want to write about that’s going to be important to the game and they’ll ask me if it’s something I’d be interested in and it usually is. They give me a notion of what they’re looking for and then I come back with a synopsis that expands on all of that. Then they go through it and will pick up on things that I’ve done and say “Yes, we want to expand on those.” They’ll also suggest other things which come up from what they’ve seen and this’ll go back and forth a few times until we hammer out a synopsis that we both feel very, very happy about. There are about three or four people who I normally deal with on that end, who are very good and dedicated to the storylines.

Ten Ton Hammer: Would you say Blizzard give you free reign then?

Richard: I would say for a work for hire situation, which is what this is, IÂ’d say they give me very good reign. I always like to stay true to what they want and we have an excellent lore staff but things do get missed now and then, you canÂ’t help that. But they try to be very careful with things and stay on top of it at all times. Sometimes there are changes which have to be made because the game has expanded so much from Orcs and Humans. Sometimes there are routes they want to go but didnÂ’t realise they wanted to originally so we do what we can to make sure everything fits together and flows nicely.

Ten Ton Hammer: So how long did it take you to write Wolfheart?

Richard: IÂ’m usually working on a couple of different projects at the same time because, obviously, itÂ’s going to take them quite a bit of time, especially when I have to pass things through them. If I had to condense it down, probably anywhere from four to eight months, while IÂ’m working on other things at the same time. Then thereÂ’s the editing process that they do as well. Blizzard are very particular and theyÂ’ve actually found little things, even towards the end of the editing process. So, all the way to the very end weÂ’re adjusting things and tweaking for peopleÂ’s enjoyment.

Ten Ton Hammer: WhatÂ’s your favourite part of Wolfheart?

Richard: There were several things Blizzard wanted to introduce in it and I was happy to do that because I like all the different directions that they wanted the story to have. I really liked working with Varian, IÂ’ve followed him in the other storylines and heÂ’s a very fascinating character. It was nice to be able to delve into him. I also liked working with the Horde because I play both sides in the game and these are not just black and white, itÂ’s not a villains and heroes situation. Both sides have their points that theyÂ’re shooting for and need to find their place in the world but it makes for a better story that way. If thereÂ’s one personal favourite thing, it would have to be that I was able to bring back Jarod Shadowsong because I created him for War of the Ancients and he became a favourite of many people. Then he disappeared and I also wanted to know what had happened to him. IÂ’m sure there are elements to his story over those ten thousand years or so that people are gonna learn eventually but I happy to bring him back.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do you feel about KrasusÂ’ demise in Christie GoldenÂ’s Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects?

Richard: I am sorry to see him go, he was one of my favourite creations and BlizzardÂ’s also. But I understand why they wanted to do it and the decision was in BlizzardÂ’s hands. I respect that and I respect Christie had to do it. I must admit though, I wouldÂ’ve liked to have done it myself but IÂ’m not so selfish that I couldnÂ’t seen how important it was to that storyline.

Ten Ton Hammer: YouÂ’re quite a keen player then?

Richard: IÂ’m currently trying a Worgen Mage and seeing how he works out. I like Gilneas, that psuedo-Victorian look to it. IÂ’ve been to England a few times and of the first books I read was the Sherlock Holmes stories so I always like to go back to that time period. Gilneas is one of my favourite starting points now.

Ten Ton Hammer: You and Christie Golden are almost writing these books in tandem, both of you taking different view points on the current lore.

Richard: ThatÂ’s the way Blizzard wants it. We donÂ’t actually have contact with each other on these projects but because weÂ’re coordinating through Blizzard, they sent whatever material is significant to each one of us. That was they can make sure everything is cohesive and mostly I deal with the story lead, Mick Neilson, whose known for having written some of the WoW comic book stuff and his team co-ordinate everything. Then, of course, thereÂ’s the lore people, follow through. TheyÂ’re constantly scouring the text for anything theyÂ’ve missed but thatÂ’s the best way. We both focus in on Blizzard and that way thereÂ’s one person constantly checking on stuff.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you ever feel sad, creating these characters like Krasus and Rhonin and then, almost, giving them away?

Richard: IÂ’m used to that. Like I said, my first publication was Dragonlance and The Legend of Huma is one of my most well known books from that series. Huma was a character only vaguely mentioned and I actually fleshed him out and people really enjoyed the book. IÂ’m used to working in other peopleÂ’s worlds and I enjoy them. I understand that these characters are not mine, of course theyÂ’re corporationalised and I have no problem with that. IÂ’ve written for Conan, for Dragonlance and a couple of other projects and itÂ’s just as enjoyable as writing my own novels.

Ten Ton Hammer: WolfheartÂ’s main focus seems to be on a turf war between the Night Elves and the Orcs. Was this an interesting subject to focus on for you?

Richard: That whatÂ’s important about the Warcraft world, itÂ’s not just epic fantasy, to really enjoy it you have to come down to those situations and appreciate what these characters are going through on both sides. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to show some of the growing conflict between and give and idea of why theyÂ’re doing what theyÂ’re doing. I especially enjoyed being able to lead the characters into the climax, I always enjoy a good battle scene. I thought it was a very appropriate ending for what we were working on with this storyline. Although there are some storylines in there which are leading to different situations, particularly the stuff going on in Darnassus.

Ten Ton Hammer: Yeah it does seem odd to think of these immortal creatures now reduced to mortality and dying of actual old age.

Richard: It is kind of odd. When they first old me they were going to be doing that. I’m like “Okay, that’s quite a shift.” But I think it’s actually going to make them even more enjoyable because your character’s no long the immortal, high and mighty ones. Now they’re going to have to cope with something that the Orcs, Humans and Dwarves have been used to. Old age and death. I think we’re going to be seeing a few more things happening to them while we’re off dealing with Varian and all the other situations in there. I think it’s going to humanise them, for lack of a better of word.

Ten Ton Hammer: And how did you feel about bringing Maiev back into the storyline.

Richard: Yeah, thereÂ’s a lot of interest in her. IÂ’m actually pleased and I understand why they wanted to go the route theyÂ’re going and why sheÂ’s being brought back into the storyline. I think, if you look closely, youÂ’ll see why sheÂ’s doing what sheÂ’s doing. I think it makes sense if you really think about who she is. Her contact with her brother will make it interesting for people whoÂ’ve not read Wolfheart and will also give some indication of what she does following this book.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do you feel about seeing your characters move from paper into the game.

Richard: Oh thatÂ’s fun! I love seeing them bring in Rhonin and Krasus. In the manga, I created a character called Trag Highmountain and heÂ’s now in Northrend. TragÂ’s actually a character IÂ’d really like to come back too, to see how heÂ’s coping with his existence. ItÂ’s really fun to see that heÂ’s in the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: If you could only have one character in all of WoW, which would you say is the one which resonates most with you as a writer and a player.

Richard: Malfurion would be one of them. IÂ’ve watched him grow up since the War of the Ancients but, actually, Varian was lots of fun to work with. IÂ’d love to go back to Trag Highmountain. The characters IÂ’ve dealt with, I guess IÂ’m a little more personal with them.

Ten Ton Hammer: The lore is the one thing people love about WoW. Everyone basically wants to be that person who writes the lore, especially with the Global Writing Contest Blizzard does each year. So, what advice do you have for someone who wants to be you and follow in your footsteps?

Richard: I would say the biggest thing is to keep writing and keep practising. Obviously, itÂ’s important in this case to know the lore and play the game. Just try to think about not just the game aspects of the storyline but what drives the characters.

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