The Big Idea: Christopher Rowe

There’s a very special joy when you, as an adult, do something that, when you were a kid, you said that you were going to do when you grew up. With his debut novel Sandstorm, Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee Christoper Rowe has done just that — and, in a nod to being an actual adult, has done so on many of his own creative terms. Here he is to give you all the details.


Okay, everybody roll initiative.

You either know what that means (in which case, you might have unconsciously reached for your luckiest twenty-sided die), or you don’t, in which case I’m happy to tell you that you don’t need to know in order to read and enjoy Sandstorm. See, this is a novel set in Wizards of the Coast’s Forgotten Realms setting, which means (a) it’s a “work-for-hire” book, (b) it’s set in a fantasy universe in which literally hundreds of other works have been set, and (c) yep, it’s a Dungeons & Dragons novel.

But none of that makes any difference really, unless you’re already a fan of the setting, in which case I’ll happily claim that I did a careful and respectful job with the setting that is so beloved by many, and which many fantastic writers, artists, and game designers have contributed to over the past two or three decades.

If you’re not already a fan of the setting, if, in fact, you’re just a teensy bit wary of dipping a toe in a pool that can seem pretty crowded with some pretty scary looking monsters, then you need to know more. You need to know the Big Idea, or rather, the Big Ideas.

First, I want to tell you why I wrote this book, which I wrote, ultimately, out of love. (Did he just say “love”? He did!) When I was around fourteen years old, having steeped myself in worlds of fantasy ranging from Hyboria to Middle-Earth to Shannara to Melinboné to Dragonlance to, yes and most especially, the Forgotten Realms, I decided that the coolest, biggest, awesomest idea I had ever had was that one day I would grow up and write a Forgotten Realms book myself. The road I took to get to that point was long and crooked. If I’m known for anything at all it’s as a writer of quirky fantasy stories like “Another Word for Map is Faith” and quirky science fiction stories like “The Voluntary State” and quirky slipstreamish stories like “The Force Acting on the Displaced Body.” It took some unusual and unlikely circumstances for me to find myself realizing that long-buried dream in the form of pitching a Realms novel to Wizards of the Coast.

But that’s where I found myself, and after just a bit of editorial to-and-fro, I set out on the journey that ended with the publication of my first novel. Having told you why I wrote this particular book (childhood dream, love of the setting, see above), let me briefly tell you how I wrote it, because people always seem unaccountably interested when they hear about my working methodology. How I did it was this. Once I got things thoroughly underway with the composition stage of the first draft, I sat down at my desk every day and typed eight to ten pages (sometimes more, once thirty) on my trusty green Smith-Corona Sterling 12 manual typewriter. (Did he just say “manual typewriter”? He did!) Second and subsequent drafts were accomplished by what have come to be the more traditional means of electrical-powered devices and particles and protons and all that gee-whiz gimmickry we all get up to these days.

Finally, I’ll tell you the answer to the question that most people ask when they ask about books. What’s it about?

Well, not to sound too flip, but it’s about characters. Or as I call them—as I think about them—people. Pretty strange people some of them; there’s a bibliophile assassin with the head of a crow and a pair of mute twins, sisters less than four feet high, who act as circus acrobats when they’re not acting as agents for that assassin. There are genies and minotaurs and evil priests, not to mention a jackal-headed woman who is a terrible bartender but (it’s hinted, anyway) a creditable poet in the epic vein. There’s a creature called a wyvern that looks like a two-legged dragon and acts like my dog Emma. There are powerful wizards, and clowns with crossbows. There’s an extraordinarily mean old woman who might have been a natural philosopher if she wasn’t a gladiator, and speaking of gladiators, there’s the hero of the book, a young man who’s been terribly used by the world named Cephas.

These people are—all of them, from principles to bit players, the heroes and villains alike—shackled in one way or another, sometimes quite literally, sometimes figuratively, and often, most tragically, both. The book is about people who are trying to break their shackles, and about other people who are doing whatever they can to prevent that. It’s a story about freedom, and about how freedom is a complicated, multi-faceted thing that can’t be simply won or simply earned or simply anything, because there’s nothing simple about it.

It’s a story about a gladiator slave named Cephas, and his friends and his enemies, and how hard it is to tell those apart, sometimes. That’s what it’s about—at least, that’s what it’s about to me.

And it’s about time I leave you to read it for yourself, which I hope you will, with as much joy as I wrote it.


Sandstorm: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read the first chapter (pdf link). Visit Rowe’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.


14 Comments on “The Big Idea: Christopher Rowe”

  1. I have never read a Forgotten Realms novel, but someone tells me Christopher Rowe’s written a Forgotten Realms novel, and that’s it: I have to read Christopher Rowe’s Forgotten Realms novel.

  2. The Realms are second only to Dragon Lance when it comes to my favorite DnD settings. Is this book set in the new 4th edition Realms or in the widely used 3.5 version? <– I get geek street cred for that question, right?

  3. I don’t read a lot of D&D novels, but I have read a few. Like most series (this, ST, SW, etc.), they are really hit or miss, and often miss. I have found it does depend on the author; just because they share a setting, the writing does not have to be good (even for fluff). However, this post does make this one sound interesting. The idea of a bibliophile assassin is already appealing. Adding to my TBR list to take a chance on it.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  4. Chris, my rogue got a 27. Who can I sneak attack?

    Seriously, I think it’s awesome a Forgotten Realms book was selected for The Big Idea.

  5. I hope there are Harpers and Red Wizards. Those are two of my favorite FR orginizations.

  6. Keri, you’ve got a clear shot at Scalzi but he’s got a massive bonus to AC right now due to caffeine deprivation making him all crazy.

    Jeff, no Harpers or Red Wizards, I’m afraid, but there is the finest circus in all the Forgotten Realms.

  7. Congrats Christopher! Some of the DnD novels have been real treasures, such as the Justicar and Escalla novels (at least those ones were treasures for me). I hope yours is counted amongst those. I may have to pick this up at some point, mostly for the biblophile assassin. The only drawback I can see is the words “4th Edition”, which has absolutely nothing to do with you or your writing. I just really don’t like 4th Edition DnD.

  8. “There’s a bibliophile assassin with the head of a crow and a pair of mute twins, sisters less than four feet high, who act as circus acrobats when they’re not acting as agents for that assassin”.

    Everyone has mentioned that the assassin is a bibliophile; but s/he also has the head of a crow, people! Cool.

  9. Christopher @8

    But if it’s a sneak attack, his DEX bonus isn’t counted!

    (I used to love me some Forgotten Realms. Had probably 70 of them back when I was a teenager.)

  10. A twenty sided die? Sheesh! In my day we rolled a six. And we liked it that way.

  11. The world is named Cephas? And the young man who was terribly used – what’s HIS name?

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