Roger Zelazny's Road to Amber

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* I suppose most science fiction writers expect to be asked by fans, "Where do you get your ideas from?" Those writers who anticipate the question probably have an answer ready.

I'm sure you know what Harlan Ellison has said about it. His glib response: "I get my ideas from Schenectady."

I think a better question to ask is, "What ideas do you draw on to help you in deciding the direction your story will take?" Roger Zelazny told about the way he came up with a story idea that became somewhat significant to his Amber novels. When he was working on Nine Princes in Amber, he wanted to come up with some simple plot device to introduce all of Corwin's brothers and sisters in one place so the reader could refer back to it as each character shows up. Roger figured that Corwin could walk through an art gallery of sorts in the Westchester home of his sister Flora, looking at their portraits on the walls and describing them. But it seemed rather awkward to have Corwin walk through this room and note these paintings. That's when Roger thought to use Tarot-like cards that the character would find hidden in a desk. He has said that he's had a long-time interest in the Tarot, and that's why he thought of using cards. The thing is, people don't just have pictures of their family drawn up on Tarot cards. The y had to have some purpose within the story. That's when Roger began to realize these cards could be used as a means of communication and transportation. With that, the whole process of our discovery that there were parallel worlds involved, and that Corwin and his family could cross between them, opened up to him. What Roger was doing, very simply, was using an idea from his reservoir of knowledge to solve a practical problem in plotting his story. And this solution became absolutely central to his Amber novels.

In talking to you about Roger Zelazny, I want to share with you my impressions of him, discuss things he said about himself, and talk about some of the ideas that come out in his writing. And I'd like to do this by focusing on the series of works that he's been most closely associated with: the Amber universe.

I remember quite clearly the first time I met Roger. It was in November of 1982 when he invited me to his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That was the first extensive interview I did with him, spending two hours a day for five days. Many of the areas we spoke about that week found their way into my literary biography Roger Zelazny published in 1986 by Crossroad/Ungar/Continuum as part of their Recognitions Series of science fiction authors.

Since that time, I interviewed Roger on several occasions. In fact, it was during my 1985 interview of him at Necronomicon in Tampa, Florida, that I suggested the writing of an encyclopedia of Amber. He was so enthusiastic about the prospect that he introduced me to his editor at Avon Books. As a result, I was given a book contract, spent the next eight years writing it with Roger as consultant, and Avon published The Complete Amber Sourcebook in 1996. As I worked on the sourcebook, Roger reviewed each section and contributed details that do not appear anywhere in his novels. For instance, Roger told me that Corwin had obtained his sword Grayswandir from the Phantom Smith of Tir-na Nog'th, a character who is never mentioned in The Chronicles of Amber.

Although the Amber novels and short stories form only a small portion of Roger's literary output, I see his vision of Amber as encompassing his entire professional career. He had begun putting down his ideas about that remarkable world in the mid-1960s when he began his career. In the 1970s, he was so closely identified with the first five novels in the series that he filed to incorporate himself under the title The Amber Corporation. The Chronicles of Amber, as the first series was called, was such a success that he decided to return to Amber with the publication of a new series of books about Merlin, the son of Corwin, published from 1985 to 1993. …