By Jeffe Kennedy
A couple of weeks ago I was privileged beyond belief to hear one of my longtime heroes speak – fantasy writer Stephen R. Donaldson. He read and discussed his lifetime of work at Bubonicon.
I also got to be a guest author at the same event, making it all that much more tingly.
I started reading Donaldson when I was an adolescent and voraciously consumed anything fantasy. Well, really, any books at all. But I was tremendously keen on Anne McCaffrey, who I’d discovered on the library shelf. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that my family members must have gone into bookstores and said what I liked, and the savvy booksellers said things like, “Here, buy her the Thomas Covenant trilogy.” (Which is as many as he’d written back then.)
This was a bit scattershot because, as any of you know who’ve read both that series and The Dragonriders of Pern, there’s quite a large gulf between the two. In fact, I really struggled with Thomas Covenant. I just hated the protagonist and had a hard time understanding the story. This was long before the interwebz and nobody else I knew read those books, so it was only many years later that I found out that everyone struggled with disliking that protagonist. And that the books had very likely been too advanced for even my precocious 12 year old brain.
Then I discovered Mordant’s Need. I’d grown up a bit and, best of all, the protagonist was a woman. Not many fantasy and sci fi books had women as central characters back then. I know because I searched most of them out. Even the prolific Anne McCaffrey couldn’t write as fast as I could read. I branched into other genres and discovered romance, which always featured strong focus on the female characters. But the two Mordant’s Need books, The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, gave me a very interesting, believable heroine and all the thrilling worldbuilding of the best fantasy.
I got to tell Stephen Donaldson this very thing, face to face, lo these many years later. And he smiled, being a delightful person and replied, “I always thought I should have gotten more credit for that.”
Indeed he should.
He also talked some about what it’s like to end an epic series. The Thomas Covenant Chronicles finally wound up at ten books. He gave this terrific analogy of how it felt, as if he’d been gutted. That, on one level, he knew he’d finished, but he also went about in a daze for a long time, unable to fully process that fact. The reality of it only hit him much later, when he started functioning as a human being again.
Only he said it much better.
It made me feel much better, because – in my own small way – that’s exactly what I’ve gone through in finishing up my own covenant books. Rogue’s Paradise, the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy, comes out September 8. And it feels like this very strange concatenation of events that I met Donaldson at this time, with my series having this completely unintentional name-parallel to his, as it’s culminating what has easily been a ten-year journey.
From writing the first book, Rogue’s Pawn, which was the first novel I ever wrote, which took years and tears to sell, which finally came out in July of 2012, to this moment – seeing the final book hit the shelves – feels like the conclusion of a long journey.
One I have very mixed feelings about.
Because, here I sit, thinking that maybe I’m not done with that world. That, though finishing that third book left me hollowed out and like the walking dead for some time, I want to do more with my characters and that world.
I understand how Donaldson ended up writing ten of them.
And I only hope I should be so lucky and maybe live up to the example set by my hero.