Annotations and Chronicles: The View from the Cubicle

“Novels? But we’re not book publishers!”

“We certainly could be. We’ve got the makings right here in the Dragonlance modules. All we need are good people to write them.”

And so it began.

It wasn’t really as easy as it sounds to make the powers-that-be agree to turn TSR into a book publisher. We had been publishing Endless Quest pick-a-path adventures very successfully for several years, but those same powers-that-be saw those books as logical extensions of games. Novels were another matter.

All right. Let’s put one tippy-toe into the more mainstream book-publishing business and see what happens.

Hmm, how to start?

We (basically, me, as head of the book department, and Margaret Weis, an experienced editor and writer of young adult books whom I had hired from Missouri a year or so before) started by looking beyond our familiar gamebook writers to experienced novelists. We did a great sales job on a number of writers we thought might be possibles and asked them to submit sample chapters. Some of them had no desire to do any such thing on spec. Several, though, thought the project had enough potential to be willing to take a chance. (And, no, we won’t tell you who they were.)

We held our communal breath (is that breaths?).

The samples came in. One stood out. We contracted that writer to take the story further.

Again we held our breaths. Not that we weren’t doing other things in the meantime. We edited great quantities of gamebooks, wrote several, tossed around the idea of creating pick-a-path adult romances (hey, this was the heyday of the Harlequin books!), and settled on Heartquest books for young girls (the girls loved them!).

And the manuscript came in. Margaret read it. I read it. Tracy read it, as did others who had their hands in the creation of Krynn. It was good, but . . . it just wasn’t quite right. Caramon and Raistlin didn’t quite come off. The feel of the Dragonlance world wasn’t quite there.

Unbeknownst (I’ve always wanted to use that word) to me, Margaret and Tracy went off on their own, exclaiming to each other, “We can do better than that!” Ah, if only there had been a recording fly on the wall during their discussions of the characters, the plot, the nuances, the settings — what annotations we would have had!

A few days later, Margaret kind of edged into my cubicle. Hemmed and hawwed (no relation to “HeeHaw”) a bit and then thrust some papers into my hand. She blurted out that she and Tracy had made an attempt at the first Dragonlance novel and would I read it.

Well, of course, I did, and, of course, it was good, and, of course, a new era was starting. But little did we dream that 15 years later we would be trying to remember just what had gone on and just who said what in those early days so that we could provide the world of readers who love the Dragonlance Chronicles with annotatable insights into their creation.


Fifteen years later, I had long since gone onto another kind of publishing (primarily juvenile nonfiction and true crime) and my cubicle has become a roomy office in my Victorian house. My son first experimented with cooking at age eight by trying Otik’s spiced potatoes. Margaret and Tracy had long since turned freelance and written scads more books, created more worlds, and made the New York Times best-seller lists with amazing frequency. The world inhabited by the twins, Tanis, Tas, Flint, and the inimitable Fizban had been described by many different writers in greater detail than anyone had dreamed. And suddenly it was time to look back at the creation process and add annotations to the original three volumes of Chronicles.

Fortunately, most of the people involved in the development of Tracy’s Dragonlance world were still available, often doing other things but willing to remember. One thing about having been associated with TSR in the early days is that those days are always remembered with fondness, astonishment (at our mere survival), and humor.

Michael Williams’s lyric poetry was part of the very first AD&D Dragonlance game module, and he had contributed to each of the novels. He was willing to share his thinking, as he remembered it. Harold Johnson, packrat that he is, still had virtually all the papers from the development process. Jeff Grubb, Doug Niles, and Roger Moore were, as always, willing to talk.

I contacted, compiled, and plowed through my own collection of great quantities of Dragonlance information. It was great fun reading the Chronicles again and remembering why I loved certain characters so much. However, I also had to read the books for something other than pleasure. Somewhere in the years gone by, the computer typesetting files of the novels had disappeared, probably when the company’s mainframes (AKA: Rocky and Bullwinkle) had been sold. So, to create The Annotated Chronicles, we had to scan the text of the novels, and guess who got to proofread it all? (In case you are wondering, optical character recognition has not yet been perfected! [But it is certainly getting there, compared to the first time I used it at TSR back in 1985.])

Now, in 2002, here I am annotating the annotated. Where will it end? Perhaps never, and won’t that be fun!

Just keep an eye out for white chicken feathers.

About Jean Blashfield Black

Managing editor, Young People's Science Encyclopedia, Childrens Press, Chicago, 1961-1964; juvenile editor, Thomas Nelson & Sons, London, 1964-1966; natural history editor, Paul Hamlyn Group, Ltd., London, 1966-1967; editor-in-chief Above and Beyond: Encyclopedia Aviation & Space Sciences, New Horizons Publications, Chicago, 1967-1969; editor-in-chief Young Student's Encyclopedia, Funk & Wagnalls, Xerox Education Publs., 1969-1972; editor, co-founder, Journal Aerospace Education, 1973-1976; editor, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Report to Educators, 1973-1976; managing editor book division, TSR, Inc., Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 1982-1988; senior editor, CrimeBooks, Inc., Wilmette, Illinois, 1989; president, founder, editor, B&B Public, Inc., Fontana, Wisconsin, 1989-1994.
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