Monday, October 23, 2017

Twenty Questions with Rose Estes

In 1983 I was given a few Endless Quest books for my birthday. Already voraciously consuming anything Dungeons & Dragons related I could find, these were a great gift. The idea of a book where you could make story choices and change the outcome was a great concept. After all this was the very spirit of the game, where the players are crafting the story at the table together.

For me the Endless Quest books were just another reason to love D&D in the 1980s. I poured over each of them dozens of times, trying every possible outcome. My young imagination was on fire and these little books were fueling it. Now so many years later I have passed the books onto my own children, who similarly have enjoyed them.

Rose Estes was the creator of the Endless Quest series, and a name that will always be dear to me. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rose recently, and would like to share it below.

Twenty Questions with Rose Estes

Grand DM: What was it like working at TSR Hobbies in the 1980s?

Rose Estes: Working for TSR in the early 1980's was very, very exciting. You knew that you were part of something important and that it was headed nowhere but UP! You never knew what was going to happen from one day to the next, but it was only going to be good in the long (and definitely in the short) run. You had the sense of being on a fast-moving train and all that you could do was hold on tight. It was exhilarating and every morning one wondered and looked forward to: "what will happen today?!"

Grand DM: Did you ever have a chance to interface with Gary Gygax?

Rose Estes: In the early 80's Gary's office was only a few doors down the hall and everyone interacted. Gary was obviously leader of the pack, but he was available to all.

Grand DM: I read my first Endless Quest book in 1983. As a young Dungeons & Dragons player, those stories really resonated with me. Could you tell us how the Endless Quest books came about?

Rose Estes: Well, in 1982 I took a leave of absence to travel with friends who were part of a tent circus, I figured that it would make for interesting newspaper articles. I had been with them for only a few weeks when we set up in Decorah, Iowa and went to town to do some laundry. There was a bookcase and books that one could borrow or buy and I picked up one of R.A. Montgomery's Choose Your Own Adventure books. I realized instantly that the books would be the perfect method of explaining D&D to both adults and kids. It had been my job to try to explain the game to adults, most of whom disapproved of the game without understanding it. So, I cut short my trip and called a friend to come and get me.

When I returned I tried my best to convince the powers that be that TSR should do a Choose Your Own Adventure type of book. But the idea met with little interest despite my many attempts to convince them otherwise. Finally, annoyed that I kept on about the idea I was told that if I thought it was a good idea, I should write it myself.

The thought had never occurred to me. I had worked as a journalist, but had never written or even envisioned writing fiction. But I was so aggravated that I did just that, I went home and wrote the first of what would become the Endless Quest series, "Return to Brookmere." I wrote it longhand on legal pads.

Eventually, the project was introduced at a Random House TSR sales meeting in Puerto Rico in January of 1982. The upshot was that Random House was very familiar with Montgomery's series and agreed that it was a perfect vehicle for introducing D&D to a wider audience. I was tasked with writing three more books in the next three months which I did, all in long hand on legal pads.

Grand DM: Return to Brookmere is a personal favorite of mine. So much that I have often included the “Ruins of Brookmere” in my own D&D campaigns. I was curious what your inspiration for that story may have been?

Rose Estes: "Return to Brookmere" was actually the first book, not "Dungeon of Dread." I had lived in the tiny town (pop. 16) of Brookmere high in the mountains of British Columbia, 400 miles north of Vancouver, B.C. for two years in the late 60's and had always hoped to return. But I never did. So, I suppose subconsciously, it was my way of paying homage to a brief, idyllic time in my life.

Larry Elmore cover for Return to Brookmere

Grand DM: Of all the Endless Quest books you authored, which one are you most proud of?

Rose Estes: Oddly, I have no particular favorite in the series. You have to understand, I had no background in writing, not in journalism or in fiction. I never had any writing classes of any sort and what I wrote came out of my own head, I can't blame anyone else for it. So, being thrust into fiction with no time to think, plan or even worry about it, I just wrote the books as quickly as I could to keep up with the demanding publication schedule. Each of them, I would later realize, was a learning experience and I did my best to adapt to the needs of the stories.

Fortunately, set up as they were, call and response, so to speak, the story-line and choices dictated what needed to be written, as good as an outline or a blueprint and drove the story from beginning to end. I could not have intentionally created a better teaching tool. I learned from each and every book and so, gradually, my skills improved. I had no time to be fearful or to wonder what the heck I thought I was doing pretending to be an author and writing books! Some years I wrote as many as five books, it was a hectic pace and obviously, it changed my life.

Grand DM:  I’ve heard that you were not a D&D player and it surprised me. It certainly did not seem to affect your ability to create very thematic stories. What was your secret?

Rose Estes: I think this is the most important question you've asked. No, I never played the game. I was drawn by the stories but had little to absolutely no interest in all of the dice rolling which seemed tedious and worse, interrupted the flow of the narrative. I realize this is heresy, but so be it.

Few things in my life have had as major an influence on my life and creating the person I am than reading, so, despite my lack of formal training, I am first and foremost, a storyteller and that was always the impetus behind the books. Obviously, the game created the framework and provided both the background and the characters/creatures/action and the E.Q.'s could not have existed without D&D. So, if there's a secret, that's it.

Grand DM: Over the years, there has been some controversy over the Greyhawk: Endless Quest books. I know they were published after Gary’s departure from TSR. Fans complain they were not true to the source material. Could you share with us some background and your thoughts on that?

Rose Estes: I'm not surprised that there has been controversy over the Greyhawks and if I could go back in time, I would apologize to Gary and his fans for what I did to his much loved world of Greyhawk. Writing E.Q.'s was far, far different that writing a serious novel. I had myself, left TSR and was dealing with the financial vagaries that are the due of a writer. When I was offered the Greyhawk series, I was not in a position financially to say no, but unfortunately, I didn't have the skills to do them justice.

The first two Greyhawks that I wrote embarrass me to this day. Frankly, they were awful. And yet, they are the real launching pad for the writer I've become. I cut my teeth on them and left them much the worse for being gnawed upon. I apologize wholeheartedly to anyone I disappointed. But, I think that by the time I got to books 6, 7 and 8, they and I had much improved. Unfortunately, most people had stopped reading them.

Grand DM:  I know you stopped writing for a period of ten years because of a terrible motor vehicle accident. Have you recovered from your injuries?

Rose Estes: It's very strange the way life works. Yes, the accident was a game changer. I sustained a closed head injury that killed the part of the brain that retrieves vocabulary. Isn't that ironically bizarre?  But, because I had a large vocabulary pre-accident, it might have seemed that nothing was wrong, I could still carry on an intelligent conversation, but it completely altered the way that I thought.

Before the accident I used to have to beg friends like Jim Ward for plots. Post-accident, my head overflowed with plots, ideas of all sorts gushing forth 24/7 and the problem became how to manage and live with my chaotic brain and all that it spewed out. Early days it all but overwhelmed me.

I MUST mention that I might not have survived as a writer had it not been for my longtime partner Tom Wham who helped me write and finish books that were in the works and during this period of time, and Bill Fawcett who gave me work and all but supported me at times. I owe them both a huge debt of gratitude. Over the intervening years, my brain and I have reached somewhat of a truce. It grudgingly allows itself to be caged when I have to concentrate on life and in turn, I allow it to run rampant after I'm done working. It's a strange existence being both jailer and prisoner contained in the same body.

So yes, with caveats, I have recovered. I began writing again in 2004 and wrote three books of nonfiction on the evolution and development of various dog breeds. Writing nonfiction is easier than writing fiction.

1982 Endless Quest Ad

Grand DM: Dungeons and Dragons is now enjoying what many consider to be, mainstream popularity. Obviously social media and shows such as Game of Thrones have brought in new fans. Will we see any more writing projects from you that are fantasy related?

Rose Estes: Several years ago, I was contacted by Ryan Schifferin (through Facebook!) who offered me the opportunity to write a story using characters of his creation. It was great fun and I gained a lot of confidence in doing so. Then, this year, I wrote a story for an anthology called Sisterhood of the Blade for Jonathan Thompson and Ed Greenwood, who were kind to invite me to be a part of their project.

I have not contacted any of the main stream publishers whom I wrote for, nor do I have an agent, so I am just feeling my way forward. I'm currently writing a digital E.Q. type book for Randy Price's company 2 Kings.

I do have several plots that are swimming around and demanding loudly that they be written, but I am having trouble constraining them to short formats like E.Q.'s, they all aspire to be novels. Not sure what will happen there.

Grand DM: The Endless Quest books were translated into 28 languages and have sold over 16 million copies. That is really a stunning accomplishment. If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be, and why?

Rose Estes: Advice to my younger self.....I wish I could have told myself to relax and enjoy the moment more than being so focused on plans for the future. But I probably wouldn't have listened.

Grand DM: At the end of Inside the Actor’s Studio, James Lipton has a list of interview questions. He always credits them to French novelist Marcel Proust (1871–1922). I would like to ask you those questions.

Rose Estes: Sounds good.

Grand DM: What is your favorite word?

Rose Estes:  I've always been fascinated by the fact that in the Chinese language, disaster and opportunity are the same word. Since my life has often been defined by both, I'd have to say that is my favorite word.

Grand DM: What is your least favorite word?

Rose Estes: I have several words that are my least favorites, all equally disliked: Li Berry (instead of library, and I admit to disliking people who can't be bothered to say it correctly. SMIRK (frequently over-used and used incorrectly). Amazing! Awesome! It would me everything to me! All are totally overused words and phrases and have become all but meaningless.

Grand DM: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Rose Estes: Creative turn ons: Beauty. New thoughts, generally gained from television or books that explode in my brain and consume me. Emotionally: music and interaction with animals. Spiritually, music, watching the ocean which is at my doorstep and the night sky.

Grand DM: What turns you off?

Rose Estes:  Being told that I can't do something. Intentional meanness of spirit.

Grand DM: What is your favorite curse word?

Rose Estes:  I rarely curse, I'd rather find words that mean what I think.

Grand DM: What sound or noise do you love?

Rose Estes: Music, a cat's purr.

Grand DM: What sound or noise do you hate?

Rose Estes: The sounds of politics for personal gain, greed, destruction of all that is good that so many have strived for, cruelty, ignorance, racial division.

Grand DM: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Rose Estes: When my late husband Gary Hauser, was diagnosed with cancer in 2006,  I took over running his gallery, thinking it would only be until he recovered and returned. Unfortunately, that never happened. As I'd never even thought of having such a business, I was at a loss. His advice was for me to follow my passions. Which I did with his full support. It has enabled me to explore and collect some of the most interesting objects from around the world, which seem to delight and resonate with large numbers of interesting people. The objects and the people allow me, at this late date in my life, to vicariously travel the world. The sculpting of animals is simply a private passion.

Grand DM: What profession would you not like to do?

Rose Estes: I would hate and be incapable of working with anything mathematical, analytical or rigidly formatted.

Grand DM: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Rose Estes: “Well done, you made a difference in children's/animal's lives."