An Open Letter to Terry Goodkind

Introduction: I feel like I need to add an explanation as to why I wrote this. I love fantasy, both reading it and writing it. I started reading Goodkind’s books years ago and while I initially enjoyed them, before long they started to grate on my nerves, for many reasons that I won’t go into here (that’s a blog post on its own). So I stopped reading them, but thought some day to return.

Then I read the 2003 USA Today interview with Goodkind, which he followed up with an author Q&A that he had posted on his website a couple of years later (it’s down now, and unfortunately has not been reprinted in full anywhere else) (it’s been archived here) that reiterated the same points and attitude that showed in the initial interview. After that I simply could not stomach the idea of reading another word he wrote.

What he did goes beyond mere jerkass behavior and enters into an uncharted area of egotism that verges on bullying. He didn’t just make himself sound like much more than he was (by this time I knew his works to be standard fantasy with some bludgeoning preaching on the side; nothing new, nothing inspiring), he had to tear down the entire genre and those writing within it. The genre that made him famous, the genre that his fans liked to read. The genre that I loved. I felt a little dirty knowing that I’d ever enjoyed reading him.

So just recently when I came across his attempts to deflect criticism on reddit, I thought maybe he would own up to his douchebaggery, let us know he’d learned and grown since then and maybe we could all put this behind us.

Instead, what I found was double-talk and further arrogance, a bit of revisionist history and goalpost-moving by him on his behalf, and…that was it. It seemed like people were willing to let him just get away with it.

None of the responses pointed out his hypocrisy. None of them pointed out how he said one thing then but another now, or how he makes claims today that simply can’t be true if the claims he made back in 2003 and since had any truth to them.

So, I had to respond. I’m two years too late, and I don’t care. I cannot let Terry’s two-facedness stand. So, without further ado, here is my response to his defense:

Terry, how on earth did I miss your half-hearted attempt to defend yourself on reddit from the horde of internet users who hate you? Well, a response is absolutely required, and I have yet to see one that really underscores the hypocrisy and double-talk you engage in while attempting to save face. So, here’s my response, point by point.

I have yet to see a single photo of this man that doesn’t make him look like he’s begging to be punched in the face. Google it if you don’t believe me.

“The First Quote: “First of all, I don’t write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It’s either about magic or a world-building. I don’t do either.”

This one comes up frequently. And almost always brought about by detractors that have already decided they don’t like my books and/or they disagree with my philosophy. ”

Almost always, Terry? Really? In fact, it seems like most of the time the people who bring it up are former fans who loved your books until they read that quote.

“Occasionally, this quote even gets rehashed by other authors that like taking public stabs at their peers (presumably to feel a little bigger).”

Actually, Terry, the author I have witnessed taking public stabs the most often is you. You don’t name any names; you don’t have to. You paint the whole genre and everyone writing within it (aside from yourself) as “tired”, “empty”, writing books that are “plotless and [have] no story”. These authors that have attacked you by name since then were striking back, not just taking pleasure in public stabs at their peers. Their goal was NOT to make themselves feel bigger, but entirely to let you know that your behavior was distinctly not okay. They had, and have, every right to be offended. What you said was pure dickishness. And part of you clearly knows it.

“Rarest of all, it gets brought up by people that have read the books, enjoyed them, and idly wonder why I would say such a thing.”

Rarest of all. Shocking disconnect with reality. I literally have only seen these quotes (other than in their original context) on message boards where people who have read and either used to or still do love your books talk about the quotes and what they mean. An astounding majority have stated that their appreciation of the books was already minimal, but now gone completely because of the quotes. Some of your cultists tried to defend the statements while others said they’d keep reading because they liked the books, even if they now hated you personally. But regardless of reactions, the people I’ve seen talk the most about this are your readers, not “haters” or other authors.

Of course, you’ve tried to write off everybody who once liked your books and now doesn’t as “not fans” but “a note wrapped around a brick thrown through a window.”

I’m going to address that here: yes, some of these people either didn’t read your books or read one or two and didn’t like them. I, and many others, started off liking them but gradually realized how bad they were. You unfairly lump two distinctly different groups of people together. You behave as if it is impossible to hate your books on a pure quality level. No, we have to hate your message and their success. This is the height of arrogance on your part, and since you don’t address it in your response, I must conclude you still feel that way about people who once liked your books and now don’t.

“Here is the net of it; I fumbled with my words and the message I had intended to be clear was not.”

And you call yourself a writer. Terry, writers communicate. Even at the worst of times, they don’t usually tear into the genre they write in and declare that “most” works within it are “about magic and world-building” and thus are “plotless and [have] no story”.

“Most people that read the quote probably get it.”

This dragon is absolutely in the story. Know what her name is? Scarlet. I am not making that up.

Again, not from what I have witnessed. If anything, this quote probably turned many, many readers against you based on what I read in online discussions. And it’s pretty hard to mistake the meaning of what you said then, which isn’t what you’re saying now. You said, bald-faced, that you don’t write fantasy, but you write about important human themes of deep philosophical reach, which you implied no other fantasy author is doing. That makes your work so much better than, and so different from, mere fantasy, as most fantasy is plotless and has no story. What’s worse, when given an opportunity to clarify your remarks a couple of years later, you doubled down on it, talking endlessly about how while your books contain magic it’s not the defining characteristic while it is the defining characteristic of fantasy novels or whining about how mean and nasty Tor Books was to you for putting a dragon on the cover of your first book (as if your story did not feature a dragon), for releasing it under their fantasy label, and how it was “bigotry” to consign you to the midden heap that is (in your mind) fantasy.

“I want people to read my books as stories about the human spirit. I want people to approach my books as human stories that exceed the general conception of what most fantasy novels represent (particularly what most fantasy novels represented at the time when I gave that quote).”

If you were winning any goodwill from me with your half-assed walking back of your original statement, you undo it here. First, plenty of fantasy writers, both before you hit the scene and after, have written about the human spirit. In fact, it’s one of fantasy’s dominant themes. And your writing is a very standard example of what fantasy was offering at the time you were published, which is WHY you were published. Also, I agree that at the time, fantasy’s conception in the general public was lacking. Most people did think it was “about” magic, world-building, faeries, elves, dwarves and dragons and little else. But you chose to write in that genre and then you chose to reinforce that misconception by literally saying that’s all other fantasy is! All but the stuff you wrote!

If you want me to believe that you were trying to open a door and show people what good fantasy actually was, and how much there was, you could have said something like what you said above; “What I wish to do with my books is show readers who typically don’t like and won’t read fantasy due to misconceptions what fantasy can be when it’s written with heart and focused on the human spirit.” While I definitely disagree that you wrote anything like that, at the very least a quote like that uplifts the genre and those writing in it and, most importantly, it doesn’t make you look like an arrogant dick.

“I don’t want someone to walk into a store, pick up one of my books, read the classification (‘Fantasy’) and then immediately assume dragons, orcs, elves, wizards, and so on.”

So, in response to that simply dreadful thought, you decided to tell the world that all other fantasy aside from what you wrote is exactly that (and again, you’ve got wizards and dragons in your books!). Why not say something to that affect: “Today fantasy gets a not-entirely-deserved bad rap. People assume it’s all dragons, orcs, elves, wizards, and so on. I sincerely hope that my novels will show them that fantasy can be so much more than that. In fact, many of my peers like Robert Jordan and George RR Martin leave out elves, dwarves, etc. altogether and focus on the characters.”

“You could liken this to a musician that struggles with typifying their genre of music or a director that sighs every time a reporter catalogues their work into a dusty genre bin. It’s all a bit groan-worthy, I know.”

Groan-worthy is how you describe your smear campaign against the genre you chose to write in and the other authors writing in it.

“Keep in mind the context of when this quote was offered.”

Terry, it was offered in 2003. You’d been on the scene for just under a decade and your ninth novel had just been released.

You act like this quote came from the early 90’s when you were first published. When you made this quote, authors like George RR Martin, Tad Williams, Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Steven Erikson, Matthew Stover, China Meiville, Trudi Canavan, Jacqueline Carey, Garth Nix, Greg Keyes, Jonathan Stroud and Chris Wooding were already doing great things with their works and helping fantasy take impressive leaps forward. Wizard’s First Rule did well because it was exactly what fantasy publishers were looking for at the time; you introduced precisely zero new ideas and content and essentially just aped what was popular then. That was why you did so well. These other guys I named might not have enjoyed the immediate success you did, but that’s because new, creative ideas often take a while to catch on. Well, catch on they have, and many of the authors I just named have now outstripped you, sales-wise and otherwise, several times over.

“Fantasy has been on an incredible rise in just this last decade.”

Nice of you to acknowledge that. Too bad you contradict yourself even now.

“When I did the interview, there were only a handful of breakout fantasy authors (I had just become one of them).”

See, at the time, you insisted that all fantasy was the product of uninspired hacks producing by-rote re-workings of the same-old-same-old; Tolkien clones, RPG writers, not an original thought among them. Supposedly that’s what set you apart. Now you say that you were one of a handful of breakouts. This much is true, but this is the first time I’ve heard you acknowledge that you weren’t the only break-out.

I listed above a partial list of writers who were enjoying, at the very least, critical success and later sales success. And I did not include writers from well before your time who had done inventive, interesting things with fantasy and were being re-discovered thanks to the fantasy boom of the 90’s that you enjoyed, including Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett, Stephen R. Donaldson, Jonathan Carroll, Gene Wolfe, James Blaylock, David Gemmell and Glen Cook.

“Fantasy was not the cauldron of creativity it is today. Far from it.”

Again, by 2003 it absolutely was. People were slow in recognizing it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. You seem to define success in writing as success in sales, likely because you enjoyed sales success. Indeed, your cultists on the internet often fall back on the idea that because your novels sold well, they must be truly great stuff. To that I say only this: Eragon, The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey. High sales figures do NOT equal quality, nor does the public necessarily flock to pick something up solely because of how brilliant it is. You’re right that it has to stand out, but what makes it stand out is often what makes it crap. Eragon stood out because of the age of the author. The Da Vinci Code stood out because of the author’s outrageous claims about its authenticity (which turned out to be made up). Twilight stood out because vampire romance literature was at its peak and it featured a female character bland enough that teenage girls could self-insert and pretend Edward Cullen was their boyfriend. Fifty Shades stood out due to the explicit content.

In your case, what made you stand out was that while your books were exactly what the fantasy genre wanted more of at the time, you were able to deliver massive tomes in the heroic fantasy genre like clockwork, with no long waits, and unlike a lot of fantasy works at the time, yours were fast-paced and not over-burdened with plot.

“There had only been a few successful fantasy movies, almost nothing on TV, very few major stars were willing to take on title roles, fantasy scripts were some of the lowest selling commodities in Hollywood, publishers would routinely reject fantasy on receipt, etc.”

So now we’re defining success as whether or not fantasy was doing well in Hollywood? Really, Terry? Fantasy has always been, and will always be, a niche market and Hollywood tends to avoid those like the plague. Because of this, fantasy movies were usually given small budgets, despite needing larger than average budgets to look even half-way credible, had hack writers and directors assigned to them because they were cheap, and were marketed to children if they were marketed at all. Because they weren’t children’s movies, kids didn’t beg their parents to see it, so they failed.

Goodkind hated this series as much as you did, but not for the same reasons.

And as far as all that, well, the show based on your books was hardly the first fantasy show on television, and it suffered had poor ratings, poor reviews and was cancelled after two seasons, so really, you can’t suggest that you were the one who turned things around there. Not to mention that by the time Legend of the Seeker first aired, three VERY successful film franchises had been birthed out of well-loved fantasy novels. And that started in 2001. A decade later, another series based on the novels of one of your peers did extremely well, and still is.

Based on posters alone, which one would YOU watch?

Also, that last comment makes me shake my head. Publishers usually have specialized branches. Macmillan has Tor, Penguin has Roc, etc. These guys do fantasy. That’s all they do. The statement “publishers would routinely reject fantasy on receipt” implies that fantasy had an extra struggle to being published. If it did, it was only because of how many people were trying to break into writing it. The publishers were definitely there, and looking for other fantasy books, and chief among them was the one that signed you on.

“The context of this quote was truly from a different time. It was before the nerds — us — took over the world.”

Dude, you are SO not one of us.

“At the time of the interview, fantasy overall was regarded very poorly (and mostly deservedly at that).”

The first part of your sentence I would agree with. The second part is pure bullshit. Again, I remind you that the interview took place in 2003. Significant progress had been made in fantasy writing by then. Authors had introduced material that made yours look like the trite, derivative hack-work that it was. The poor regard fantasy was suffering was mainly thanks to Hollywood portraying fantasy readers as pathetic virginal dweebs living in their parents’ basements and playing D&D, unable to function in the world at large. It was hard to shake this image, and you definitely hurt matters rather than helped with your insistence that you didn’t write fantasy and that most fantasy is about magic and world-building, tired, empty, bereft of thought, plotless and with no story.

“As an author writing in the genre, I was frustrated by the massive amount of prejudice found in stores, publishers, Hollywood, mainstream news, and even the general public.”

So you chose to reinforce this negative stereotype, possibly holding fantasy back even further. I have news for you, Terry, every author writing in the genre back then was frustrated at not being taken seriously. None of them decided they had to tear down the genre and their writing peers in order to help their own public perception. And none of them pretended to have never read fantasy.

“…We [you, me, other authors] have come a long way since then.”

No thanks to you. In fact, I’m not sure how far you’ve come, and in fact other authors have come a long way because they are more creative and better communicators than you.

“Those contextual excuses aside, I was not clear enough with my own words and I accept responsibility for the confusion.”

Oh, fuck you, Terry. It’s clear you’ve learned nothing except that you made a lot of people angry. This whole section reads like you trying to save face by implying you never felt the way you felt then and obviously still feel today. To wit:

“I still do believe most fantasy is one-dimensional (as I am sure most of you do too).”

You’re just determined to undo any goodwill this back-handed apology might have gained you, aren’t you? After all that about how fantasy has made great strides since that interview (though, again I must point out that those strides were already happening well before then), you again double down on this idea that most fantasy is one-dimensional.

“I think people would agree the vast majority of fantasy stories printed every year are either about magic or world-building and not much else.”

The vast majority. Sigh. Make up your damned mind, Terry, has fantasy come a long way or is it still trapped in the mire of being one-dimensional? Why attempt to clarify your initial quote if you’re just gonna end up saying the same thing?

“The same is true for movies and television.”

Here, I will agree. But we’re not talking about movies or television.

“And of course I still do want my stories to be looked at as something more than ‘just fantasy’. Specifically, I have always wanted people to approach my books knowing and believing that they are about to read stories about humanity, our spirit, our fight and our love.”

Once more, I will state that I think you ultimately failed, but even if you had succeeded, the fact is that a great majority of fantasy writers write about humanity, our spirit, our fight and our love, and a great many do it far better than you. When you say you still want your stories to be looked at as something more than “just fantasy”, you fail to realize that few if any fantasy novelists start out hoping to write “just fantasy”. They all want to try something that sets them apart. Many fail, some succeed, and you absolutely count among the failures. Don’t believe me? Just read what your online defenders have to say. Most of them love your books because they are familiar (as in, full-on standard fantasy) and easy to read.

“I concede my quote appears to take a step backwards and step on the toes of my beloved genre”

Your “beloved” genre that is, according to you, 99% one-dimensional?

“…but I also hope most people would recognize I have written now 16 books based in a fantasy world. In fact, I have only written fantasy stories to this point.”

Now, here, you actually do win some points from me because you finally acknowledge that you are, in fact, a fantasy writer after spending well over a decade denying that. But ultimately, it’s too little, too late, and it comes couched in strenuous denials that you said what you said and reiterations of the more asinine statements you’ve made.

In fact, later on, well after this initial interview, you complained that being labeled as fantasy was “bigotry” and that now, whatever you write is going to be racked in fantasy, something that clearly rankled you. You hated being thought of as a fantasy writer, and not only because of how it was perceived, but because of how you perceived it. I repeat; no other fantasy author felt it was worth slagging their own genre in order to look cool. Just you.

“You can safely assume the guy that has written more than 4.25 million words in the genre, probably has a deeply rooted love for it, however awkwardly I may stumble when trying to explain it.”

Terry, something you don’t acknowledge here is the umpteen times you’ve openly said you have never read fantasy, nor do you have any interest in starting. I often wondered over the years how you could make blanket, sweeping statements about what other fantasy authors were doing while simultaneously stating that you don’t read them. I always figured you had to be lying about never reading fantasy, and now I know that you were, but you can’t express a deeply rooted love for something you spent well over a decade claiming you never even read (and yet are confident you are leaps and bounds better than) and not expect us to call bullshit on it.

“It is outrageous to think that I am somehow a ‘fantasy-hater’. Incredibly I have been called that and more, even a few times in this thread. Pause and think. Could that possibly ring true?”

Outrageous, you say? Here are some un-retouched quotes from you:

“There are those who focus exclusively on this least important element -magic – simply because people I don’t know, despite my strenuous objections at the time, insisted on placing a red dragon on the cover of my work, and because of that, and who published the book, I was racked in bookstores as fantasy. As a result, in the minds of some readers I am for all time to be labeled as a “fantasy” author. So I must now follow some unstated laws of writing – I must know my place – because I’ve been mindlessly labeled a “fantasy” author? That, my friends, is bigotry.”

–I’m not sure what made you think being racked as fantasy meant you need to “know your place” or that there were “unstated laws of writing”; you can write however you want, even if you choose to write fantasy. This quote shows more than anything the disdain you had for the genre based on its worst stereotypes. Not a fantasy hater? Please.

“Translation: Will you please change that way you think and write, stop using your mind, stop being an individual and instead start writing books like every other hackneyed Tolkien clone on the fantasy shelves. Answer: NO. The Premise of this question and all that it entails is beneath contempt. To say that I view this notion with indignity hardly begins to cover it. What you are seeing with my novels is something unique. They are not like all the other fantasy books. A tiny group of fantasy fans happens to like things the way they are and only wants more of the same. These few do not under any circumstances; want anything to change or anything that requires thought. They want everything to stay static and simplistic. For these reasons (and others), these people do not like what I write and they never will. They even hate that my books exist, that I write things that dare to uplift and inspire.”

–This was in response to someone asking if you’ll write a non-fiction book examining your beliefs so that you stop shoehorning them into your books at the expense of story and character. At no point did she imply that she wants you to change your beliefs. She was expressing, as many others have, an irritation at how you stop your story dead so that your character(s) can deliver an umpteen-page filibuster on your views with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. Plenty of writers insert their views, but good writers can make it a seamless part of the story.

“Rather than simply reading and enjoying the many books available that they like, they spend their time railing against the one author who is different. What I have done with my work has irrevocably changed the face of fantasy. In so doing I’ve raised the standards. I have not only injected thought into a tired empty genre, but, more importantly, I’ve transcended it showing what more it can be-and in so doing spread my readership to completely new groups who don’t like and won’t ready typical fantasy. Agents and editors are screaming for more books like mine. They can’t find any-for 3 reasons. One, copying innovation is an impossibility. Two, individually cannot be copied. They don’t grasp the essence of my work. What they end up with are authors who imitate some of the nonessential elements unique to my books, believing they must be the secret to success, much as my publishers at first believe that it was the red dragon that defined my work. Why are editors trying to get more books like mine? Because any one of my backlist sells more copies in a month than most fantasy authors’ books sell in their entire run. NAKED EMPIRE has been on the NY Times list for two months now. Far more importantly, I break genre lines and draw my ever growing sales from the much larger pool of general fiction readers who embrace my books.”

So yes, Terry, it “rings true” that you hate fantasy, all right. You’re the cook in Wendy’s that insists on being called “Chef” and constantly talks about how what you’re doing is so much better than what the other cooks are doing, all while producing bland, scorched beef. Not to mention the sheer number of times you’ve insisted that you don’t read fantasy and never will. Maybe it’s less “fantasy hater” and more “literature snob” but still, the shoe more than fits.

“It is a little ironic; I only wanted to break preconceptions about my work and here we are, many years later, I’ve inadvertently provided the sorely needed ammunition for others to create new misconceptions.”

Again, nice of you to admit that. Yeah, if what you wanted was to make people understand that you, and others in the genre, weren’t just making RPG campaigns in written form or re-telling Tolkien, you spectacularly failed at that and instead completely confirmed (though falsely) that all fantasy, except your books, naturally, was just that.

“In my own stubborn, faulty, artistic-or-what-have-you-way, I have only ever asked that you see my stories as human.”

You failed at that, too. One of the chief complaints readers have with you is that your characters don’t behave like real people, and fall victim to the “Mary-Sue” trap. Look that up if you don’t know what it means.

“I’m proud to write fantasy, to have made a good living as a fantasy author, and to have millions of fantasy fans across the world. I always have been and always will.”

Says the guy who spent nearly two decades saying, and is essentially still saying, that fantasy is a crap genre and his stuff is the only part of it worth reading, to the point where it’s not even fantasy.

The Second Quote: “What I have done with my work has irrevocably changed the face of fantasy. In so doing I’ve raised the standards. I have not only injected thought into a tired empty genre, but, more importantly, I’ve transcended it showing what more it can be-and in so doing spread my readership to completely new groups who don’t like and wont ready typical fantasy. Agents and editors are screaming for more books like mine…”

“A few of my words appear to have been changed (not by the original poster, but presumably sometime over the last many years from when that quote first appeared).”

Dude, I’ve read the original transcript. That’s what you said. I’ve never seen it put differently. Please, enlighten us as to what you really were trying to say.

“That said, it generally speaks to the note I wrote on my website and it mirrors the breath of what my agents and publishers have always said.”

Or double down on it. Whatever.

“Again, context. WIZARD’S FIRST RULE shattered records. At the time (possibly even still today) it was the largest purchase of a fantasy work by an unknown author. It had one of the largest first edition print runs in fantasy history and it shattered expectations on every level of publishing.”

And, to all that, I say, congratulations. It really is a grand achievement. But it’s also easily explained.

“The reason, I believe, is that the book defied what was commonly known as fantasy at the time. It helped forge new opportunities for readers that had discarded most fantasy whole-mass.”

Ah…no. The reason was that fantasy was experiencing a renaissance at the time, one that began well before you entered the scene. Writers like Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, CS Friedman, Katharine Kerr, Mercedes Lackey, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Melanie Rawn and numerous others produced new material (or had old material re-released and/or rediscovered) that, while they varied in quality, benefited from publishers who truly cared and marketed them very well. You were one of many swept along in the wave that was created by this, and the authors I named above who enjoyed great success after you benefited as well. Robert Jordan, for good or ill, was the major best-seller that opened the floodgates. What most publishers were looking for at the time was the next Robert Jordan, and that turned out to be you.

One thing I must point out is that, as this obnoxious quote shows, you believed that your success was due to your grand vision and brilliance. Look at what you said; “copying innovation is an impossibility” and “they don’t grasp the essence of my work.”

I’m gonna be blunt with you, Terry. Your work is a very standard, stereotypical example of what you get in fantasy novels. It includes nearly every cliche, barring elves and dwarves. You’ve got the stalwart hero with the big magic sword, the sexy, powerful love interest, the cantankerous wizard, magic, monsters, some meager, incomplete but nonetheless very present world-building (that sure ain’t a real world!), prophecy, et al. Your characters are static Mary-Sues that don’t behave like real people and would stick out like a sore thumb in any setting but this one (I would argue they stick out pretty badly even in the world created for them). Your themes are only present when you stop your story so that Richard or Kahlan can sermonize. There’s nothing deep or challenging about your works. You have literally done nothing that hasn’t been done hundreds of times before. The only possible exception is the fact that you’ve created a sociopathic pair of “heroes” that are constantly referred to as gentle, pure, good, etc., clearly meant as role-models for the reader, even as they commit crimes as bad or worse than the villains.

There is no essence to grasp with your work. The whole thing feels like fan fiction from start to finish. However, at the time publishing companies wanted the next Robert Jordan, and you fit the bill. As your books were well-marketed, fast paced and didn’t require much thought to “get it”, they sold like hot cakes.

“I wasn’t the first…”

Now you are admitting you weren’t the first. What kept you from acknowledging that little factoid then? Read what you said; the one author who is different. What you have done with your work. Agents are screaming for more books like yours, but they can’t find any, because, to boil down your remarks, you are the only one doing what you do in the fantasy genre. Sorry, but where does “I wasn’t the first” fit in with this towering arrogance? At the time, you claimed not just to be the first, but the only.

“I’ll certainly not be the last, but for whatever reason (luck, timing, marketing, and the story), WFR did move the needle and it broke a lot of new ground.”

I love when these tiny moments of honesty slip through. For once you’re not crediting your brilliance and innovation for your success. You are giving credit where credit is due; luck that you happened to write a novel that was exactly what fantasy publishers were looking for at the time, timing that you got it looked at by people who had the ability to get it on shelves before it became passe, marketing, as Tor marketed the shit out of your books and made you a household name overnight, the story…not so much. Sorry, maybe you aren’t being 100% honest here.

“While there were some paths in place before, we paved roads. And now there are highways.”

Still more truth. See, you know what’s actually the case, here, Terry. It’s too bad you spent years tearing others down, all while claiming you trampled the pathways and built the roads entirely by yourself.

“The rest of the books in the series continued to do the same. In spite of what a few people in this forum claim, my best selling books have been from the end of the series; Chainfire and Confessor. Readers did not leave the series “in droves” as was suggested. Last Summer, I self-published The First Confessor and without a major advertising campaign and without publisher or book store support, we smashed expectations again.”

Actually, while the reddit commenters might have been a tad overzealous about readers abandoning the series in droves, it cannot be denied that your books aren’t selling nearly as well these days, and I include your new books, too. Sure, the “final” volumes of your series sold very well upon initial release, but once they weren’t “new releases” anymore, the public promptly quit caring about your books.

I can hear you getting ready to suggest that it’s because they’re older now, so naturally, sales have fallen. To that I say Tolkien’s books are several decades older than yours. He’s still outselling you. Robert Jordan’s series is five years older than yours. He still outsells you.

Now THIS series really did irrevocably change the face of fantasy.

George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books are just slightly younger than your series. He outsells you greatly. True, his sales were rejuvenated by their being a TV series based on his books but…wasn’t there a TV series based on your books, too? Didn’t it air first?

Also, there are still massive fan bases for all these series. There are multiple online communities for each. People to this day discuss these works ad nauseum. I can’t seem to find many, if any, online communities dedicated to the Sword of Truth series. You had an official message board, as I recall, but where is it now?

When I read online discussions of your works, the only “fans” you seem to have left are of the “I can’t believe I actually read them all” or “I can’t believe I used to like them” variety, mixed in with a few “guilty pleasure” fans and those to whom you introduced fantasy, and therefore have a soft spot for you. A large majority are in the “I read them, hated them, and will never read them again” category, including yours truly.

One thing that I’m sure kept people reading was that fantasy readers are notorious for feeling like they have to finish any series they start, even if they realize several books in that it’s become a chore. They also pride themselves on being “completists” that need to have every book in a series, including novellas and prequels. Once they’ve spent money, they feel obligated to stick with it and usually get excited that a series they’re reading is coming to a conclusion.

Chainfire was a book that took a while to come out and was supposedly the first in a “new” trilogy while Confessor was the “last” book in your series. Once it was over, your sales went way down and nothing you’ve written since then has come close to capturing the sales figures you once enjoyed, unlike men like Martin, Jordan and Tolkien. For that matter, going by the adage that no publicity is bad publicity, and you started making these remarks in 2003 and again in 2005, sales might very well have been boosted by people wanting to know if the asshole who brags on himself constantly and says he’s not writing fantasy can back that up at all.

Also, do you not realize that once you’ve become a best selling author, your name alone sells a book? As evidence, I offer The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith”, which sold poorly despite great reviews until it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was in fact a pseudonym for JK Rowling. Then sales took off.

Tor’s marketing campaign helped you become a best-seller, but now, thanks to your status, you could shit into a photocopier and mail your results to any publisher, and it would sell. The First Confessor did not need a major advertising campaign to “smash expectations.” All it needed was your name on the cover. Not to mention, it’s not hard to “smash expectations” in the self-publishing market. They’re all very low, so for an established “name” author to self-publish, well of course it’s going to do better than your average self-publish job. I’m not sure “smashing expectations” is applicable here, though. Expectations of whom? You? Whatever small house you used? You’re comparing yourself to small-time writers who have never enjoyed mainstream success, or in most cases, any success at all. Any author who had become a best-seller through Big Six publishing is going to do crazy well if they self-publish, at least by the standards of the self-publishing industry.

“I’m not the only one, but my work has changed the face of fantasy and it did propel the entire fantasy publishing world into new heights (my publisher Tor included). We paved the way for a lot of other authors to live far more comfortably today.”

What a fatuous, douchey way of saying “I was one of the many authors that benefited from a rise in appreciation for fantasy that helped other authors enter the genre and do amazing things with it. I’m proud to have been part of it and I’m proud of what I see going on with it today.” See? That’s how non-dicks do it. And it in no way diminishes your contribution to the genre.

Something must be said now. I’ve been dancing around it but this is a point you seem to be confused on. Back in 2003, when you were making grandiose, assholish claims about your work, your premise, as your quotes state above, was that you were producing work of never-before-seen quality and innovation, work that broke down the genre barrier and became something more and greater than fantasy because it was just so brilliant. Your claim to have “irrevocably changed the face of fantasy” and “raised the standards” was in regards to the quality of the work you were producing vs. the tired, empty old hacks that were writing fantasy alongside you. Now you seem to think that you were referring to your sales changing publishing practices, breaking down genre barriers thanks to smart marketing, a large influx of new authors, etc.

That last is true, but you can’t take credit for it. That was all Tor’s work; you remember, the ones you lambasted for putting a dragon on the cover of your book and labeling it fantasy. The first part is plainly false; there was no inventiveness or groundbreaking quality to what you wrote. You were perceived by all as the next

The man who made it possible for Terry Goodkind to be a published author. And we will never forgive him for it.

Robert Jordan. That’s the beginning and the end of it. Robert Jordan already broke down all the barriers you claim to have broken, and even he didn’t do it alone. He was just the one who did it most successfully. Any raised standards or irrevocable changes made in fantasy were made by people who came before you and paved the way for you. The fantasy boom of the 90’s had been building since the late 80’s. You came along in 1994 as one of the earliest beneficiaries of the genre opening up to new authors.

“It is absolutely true, then and now, agents and editors are still screaming for work like that.”

Noooo, no it is not. Then, maybe, but not now. For that matter, you still seem to be implying that you were the trailblazer here. That before you, fantasy was struggling but then it took off, all thanks to you.

Let me break it down for you: back then, they were looking for more Robert Jordans, not more Terry Goodkinds. You were one of the new Jordans, possibly the first of that new breed, and the most successful. But he came first, he outsold you then and he outsells you now.

Nowadays, if someone tried to break into the game with “Hey, here’s my thousand-page epic fantasy in which people spend inordinate amounts of time journeying from place to place” they’d get nowhere, because it’s been done to death.

Another thing I must address; you claim that no first time author in this genre ever managed to be a runaway success. First, I’m not sure how true that is, but even if it is true, the fact is that in the 90’s, fantasy publishers were on the lookout for first-time writers and, if anything, your status in that regard might be why they poured so much money into marketing for you. To this day, being able to promote an “exciting new voice in fantasy” is much more desirable to them than “20th novel by well-worn writer who’s retreading the same ground yet again.”

“Of course they are also now screaming for 50 Shades sex novels and children’s books.”

And another moment of clarity. If you listened to these earlier and more often in life, I wouldn’t hate you so much. Can you admit that if trash like 50 Shades, and the ones I mentioned earlier, sold well that your sales might not at all be related to your quality?

“All of that said, the overall tone of the second quote is cringe-worthy. Although altered a bit here, I was speaking to my fans and my readers directly, on my website, and absolutely feeling a surge of success from all of the people that were benefiting from the work we did and the new roads that we paved. Simply put, I was speaking with bravado and ‘preaching to the choir’. It was a lofty, exciting moment. It was also brash.”

It was dickish. It was douchey. It was unthinkably arrogant and probably lost you a lot of fans. You also were not preaching to the choir as the quote came after plenty of your fans asked questions that made it clear they were getting sick of your preachiness, your long-winded hammering of your beliefs and wanted you to get back to the story you’d abandoned so that you could use your characters as a mouthpiece for your views (and no, the views themselves weren’t the problem; your hi-jacking of your own story in order to focus on them was). The very question asked, the response to which I reprinted in full above, was “Will you, Mr. TG, actually ever go write a non-fiction book exploring fully your ideals and philosophy, getting it out of your system. So that it’s not being presented in the next book at the expense of the actual story?”

That was one example among many that should have told you how irritated you were making your fans. And your response was angry and bitter, not just explanatory. If you weren’t angry, why would you use a term like “beneath contempt”?

“In the end, many people would probably appreciate if I was a bit softer heeled and tempered my voice a bit.”

And didn’t make broad, subjective claims about the high quality of your work while taking a piss on the genre that made you a success and the other writers writing it it, many of which were and still are far more successful than you.

“Unfortunately that is not one of my strengths. I speak determinately [sic], I speak in broad strokes, and sometimes I make mistakes doing it.”

In other words, you’re a total dick.

“But please know, I love my work, my fans, my readers, and everyone that has ever picked up a book and sparked their imagination and pushed themselves to be something more than they already are.”

So why the years of disdain heaped upon them? Where’s your apology to the other writers you have smeared and continue to smear? What do you have to say to the idea that you spent years dismissing fantasy and claiming you’d never read it and never would but now you claim it’s a beloved genre to you?

In conclusion, Terry, old boy, I want to leave you with this thought: Forget about your sales. Stop using them as a shield against criticism, a way to reassure yourself that you’re a brilliant trail-blazer. A large percentage of the books that are universally considered the greatest of all time, regardless of genre, didn’t sell well in their day. Books that are ahead of their time or truly groundbreaking often don’t. That might not be a hard and fast rule, but plenty of authors we regard as giants of literature today suffered from poor to middling sales while they were active and many died broke. Meanwhile, as even you point out, much of what does sell is crap. Truly great stuff often starts out selling fair to middling at best and then, once it catches on, becomes a best seller, sometimes taking more than a decade.

Your constant hyping of your sales figures is not impressive. You’ve been around for just over twenty years and there are already signs that readers are leaving you behind. Your initial sales were likely little more than a flash in the pan. History is your judge and I don’t think history is going to look kindly on you, both because of your attitude and because what you’ve produced is now considered sub-par and in no way groundbreaking or game-changing.


3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Terry Goodkind

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s