May 25 2016 11:59 AM

Fantasy author Terry Brooks finds inspiration in diverse literature

Author Terry Brooks has written the great American novel — more than 35 variations of it, actually — in his groundbreaking career as a fantasy writer.

“I steal from everyone,” he told City Pulse by phone from his home in Seattle.

That group includes William Faulkner, whose work Brooks studied intensely in college. He even wrote his senior thesis on the celebrated author. Brooks likes to work in a “Faulknerian twist” into his fantasy novels, “where secrets destroy a family, and having a moral template destroys you.”

His most recent fantasy novel, “The Sorcerer’s Daughter,” includes this twist, as well as kidnapping, epic chases, nasty magic, grueling battle scenes, glorious and terrifying monsters and a tender love story. The book, which hit bookstores just last week, also borrows generously from Sherlock Holmes, Indian myths, the Grimm brothers, James Bond and even Shakespeare.

“Fantasy stories go a long way back, and they are all variations of one another,” Brooks said. “It’s all in how your voice tells those stories and uses plot lines and characters.”

Brooks, 72, also cites two life experiences that have influenced his writing: his childhood and his short-lived law career.

“As a child I was always living in my head, thinking stories up,” he said. “I would make my friends play the stories out.”

His favorite location for such roleplaying was along the Rock River in Sterling, Ill., where he grew up. He returned to the area after college to practice law.

“It was a really honorable job, but by the end, I was pretty well disenchanted,” he said.

But the experience provided some valuable lessons in discipline and organization skills. It also allowed him to practice his story telling.

“You can use words any way you want,” Brooks said. “Whoever tells the best story when you go to court wins.”

Although Brooks was successfully balancing writing and law careers, he felt stagnated. So he uprooted himself and moved out to the Pacific Northwest.

“It saved my career,” he said. “I began travelling and experiencing and getting exposure to different places and ideas.”

He points to his novels, which now draw influences from places like Hawaii and Europe.

“Corn fields were not provocative,” he said.

When Brooks was growing up in Illinois, there was very little fantasy literature available. He recalls reading “Tarzan” books and John Carter pulp stories when he was young. He points to the U.S. re-publication of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in the 1960s as fantasy’s rebirth, and he credits the recent “Harry Potter” phenomena as moving the genre into the mainstream.

“Harry Potter made the world safe for fantasy,” he said.

Movies and television have also contributed to the genre’s recent resurgence and success. MTV television show “The Shannara Chronicles,” which is based on Brooks’ fantasy novels, was just renewed for a second season.

“The TV show is free advertising,” Brooks said. “I’m a book guy, and it sells books.”

The success of the fantasy genre, Brooks said, has allowed a variety of different voices to emerge.

“I’m not a ‘Game of Thrones’ guy, where nothing gets better — ever,” Brooks said. “My books, although dark, have a sense of optimism to them. I’m also a romantic.”

Brooks enjoys using nature imagery, especially water and trees. He attributes that to growing up near a river and living on one now. In “The Sorcerer’s Daughter” trees become phantasmagorical demons whose roots strangle their victims.

The trees kill some of the heroes and heroines, but they also save others from a beast who wants to kill them.

Brooks likes to have his characters delve into philosophical issues, like what constitutes evil.

“The demons are just like us,” he said. “In fact, they are us.”

Terry Brooks Author talk and book signing

7 p.m. Thursday, June 2 FREE* Schuler Books & Music (Eastwood Towne Center location) 2820 Towne Center Blvd., Lansing (517) 316-7495,

*This is a ticketed event. Tickets are free with purchase of “The Sorcerer’s Daughter” while supplies last.