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What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Raymond E. Feist

If you’ve been paying close attention, my dear inklings, you know that I’ve recently moved. What you might not know is that during the past week, I finally got all the books unpacked and shelved.


Well, I’ve shelved all the ones I’m keeping. In a masterful show of determination and strength of will, I sorted out three whole boxes of books that need a new home. At present, they await the husband’s check-through and approval, as I was helpful enough to sort out quite a few of his books, too. Tee hee.

So, in my sorting, I found two books that came with us from my To-Read Shelf. Rather than return them to said shelf, I chose to read them instead. These were Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master, the first two books in The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist.


I first read these two novels when I was sixteen or seventeen. Back then, most of my speculative fiction reads were sci-fi, thanks to my dad. The library at Cambrai Fritsch Kaserne (the American Army base) had a paperback exchange program, so he was always coming home with Niven, Asimov, and (most especially) Heinlein. I devoured them all, so when he showed up with Feist’s two Riftwar novels, I plunged into those, too.

Magic. Adventure. A youthful main character I could still relate to, only just out of childhood myself — and then look up to as he developed into a character of strength and integrity. More adventure. Cross-dimensional travel. Bizarre, colorful cultures — terribly appealing to a teen growing up “multi-culti” herself. Oh, and of course there was romance, too. Not enough to make me blush, but still. ; )

Feist’s novels had everything a budding fantasy fan could hope for…but strangely enough, I never re-read them until now. I never forgot them, though, and I always knew I would read them again one day. I only hoped that after the passage of time, I would enjoy them as much as I did at first read.


Dearest readers, I’ll be blunt: As I finished up my re-read of Magician: Apprentice Chapter One, I wondered if I was going to be able to finish the book.

The main character, Pug, felt disconnected even from his own action. The setting descriptions seemed like cardboard backdrops. There was telling instead of showing. POV swiched from one character to the next mid-scene. The narrator was both omniscient and limited, depending on the paragraph. “Said” was the rarest of the dialogue tags. And there were adverbs.


To my dismay, these sadnesses weren’t limited to Chapter One; nay, they continued as I got farther along in the story. My heart was broken. The magic was gone. “I used to think this was good?” thought I as I read.


I recalled two things I knew for certain:

One, Magician: Apprentice was Feist’s first novel — and I know what it’s like to publish a first novel. I know what goes into it, and I know what the author wants to take out of it after the book has been published.

(One-point-five, I will have a lot more control over what my first novel does than Feist ever had or will have over his, because my first novel was indie-published and his wasn’t. This makes me sad for traditionally published authors and angry at the traditional publishing institution.)

Two, I knew there was magic in here. Gone? Maybe. But if there was any shred of magic left for me to find, by all the gods of Midkemia I was going to find it.


I found it.

It wasn’t actually that hard, once I got over myself.

All the things I once loved about Feist’s novels were still there: the magic, the main character who got into my heart, the crazy adventures, the cool cross-dimensional stuff, the awesome world-building, and, yes, the romance. None of it was missing. None of it had disappeared.

It was all just buried under my pickiness. It was all buried under my forgetfulness.

What had I forgotten?

I’d forgotten how to sit back, relax, and just enjoy a good yarn.


Feist didn’t write this story so that I could pick it apart. He wrote this story to entertain. He says so himself in his foreword. He wrote the Riftwar novels intending to write a story that he would enjoy reading.

He wrote this story for readers. I was reading it as a writer — and when I read that way, I can become hypercritical to the point of no longer seeing the magic at all. Yes, it is possible to pick apart even the best fantasy story and turn it into dry academia.

Feist reminds me of how to read like a kid again. He reminds me to let the magic wash over me and transport me.

And that’s all a good story really needs to do.

And that’s WILAWriTWe.

4 Responses to “What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Raymond E. Feist”

  1. Joshua Unruh says:

    Herein you find a classic conundrum. Am I a writer or a reader? Am I ever all one or all the other anymore? I’ve been, to some extent, suffering from this all my life. As a history nerd, historical movies made me insane. They were never right, especially when they were good movies.

    Difficult, difficult indeed.

    • Josh, I’m there with ya. In high school, my upper level art class did a whole unit on Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. Ever since then, I am wholly incapable of looking at a column and *not* immediately ticking off in my head which type it is.

      In the same way, once Stephen King’s On Writing taught me to see adverbs, I couldn’t unsee them. If I want to be “just a reader,” it takes a huge amount of effort and concentration — almost enough that it’s not worth it, because it turns the reading into work.

  2. Pamela Davis says:

    I enjoyed this post because there are a few books on my shelves that I re-read nostalgically from time to time. What they gave me the first time I read them continues to give me a sense of wonder, of comfort, and reliability. I know I can turn to these comfort books and find the simple story I’m looking for every time. I don’t ever want to lose that ability to read just as a reader.

    • Pam, I never want to lose that ability, either! But, like I told Josh above, it takes a lot of work for me to “shut off” the writer part and let the little kid in me just enjoy the story!

      And I understand what you mean about “comfort books.” I have a few of those, too. They’re little universes neatly contained in rectangular pages…and they’re a relief to visit during those times when my own life seems so very uncontained! ; )

      Thanks for visiting me here, dearie!