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Interviews: Radio Dead Air Interview

Summary:

Entries

17

Date

Sep, 2005

Type

Verbatim

Location

Atlanta, GA

TourCon

DragonCon

Reporter

Ross

Links

Theoryland

Radio Dead Air

  • 1

    Ross

    Hello, this is Ross, with Nash Bozard's Radio Dead Air, and I have here for interviewee, Robert Jordan, noted author, and his editor and wife, Harriet McDougal.

    Robert Jordan

    Hi.
  • 2

    Ross

    I should probably ask a question first: If you can't tell, this is my first weekend to be doing these interviews, and I've enjoyed it immensely. You've been interviewed by many different people about the Wheel of Time series and the like. What thing would you tell anyone approaching your series for the first time about it?

    Robert Jordan

    Start with a book called The Eye of the World, because if you start anywhere else, you will get twenty pages, and say, "I don't understand who these people are. I don't know what they're doing or why they're doing it," and you will throw the book down in disgust and frustration. And you can find The Eye of the World at any bookstore, but if you can't find it, they'll order it for you.

    Ross

    That makes sense.

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  • 3

    Ross

    One of the things I've noticed is that you're very good at characterization. You often have many different characters doing different things at one time which, as a reader, it's fun to keep track of all that sort of thing happening. How do you keep track of so many characters at once?

    Robert Jordan

    I'm a genius? [laughter] I mean, that's one possible answer. I just do it; I don't know. I keep a few notes, but mainly for minor characters, about who was where last, what last time we saw them. That's because I've got literally hundreds of minor characters in these books, and it's difficult for me to keep straight where some of them were, the last time we saw these fellas.

    Ross

    That makes sense.

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  • 4

    Ross

    What influences you and your writing? Can you pinpoint anything in particular?

    Robert Jordan

    I believe the major influences on my writing style were Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Louis L'Amour, Robert Heinlein, and John D. MacDonald. They also happen to be my favorite authors of all time, but I believe they probably had the biggest influences.

    Ross

    Sounds like very notable influences.

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  • 5

    Ross

    Your earliest books seemed like they were a little bit larger, I guess, than your more recent books? How has your writing style changed over time with your ten different novels in the series?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, in the series, I'm not certain that the style has changed so much, but the amount of ground covered. In some of the earlier books, frankly, I was writing so many hours a day that I was killing myself. Even my publisher—by the time I reached Lord of Chaos, which was the longest of the books—I handed that in, and my publisher said to me, "You don't look well. You need to take more time before handing in the next book. What about two years instead of one?" And see, now I have breakfast, read the newspaper over breakfast, go to my desk, and generally forgetting to stop for lunch, I write until six in the afternoon when I stop to go in the house and help my wife to get dinner on the table, and I do that seven days a week. There was a time when I got up in the morning and had breakfast and went to work, and I didn't eat lunch, and I wound knock of at...oh, eight or nine o'clock at night, and sometimes I didn't knock off then, and I would do that seven days a week, and that's how I was able to write the longer books in the shorter period of time. But now, it doesn't quite work that way. I cut the books at what seems to me a natural length for that book. Some of the later books could have been a bit longer, but there are also time constraints in getting the book published. When the fans say, "Give us the book, give us the book, give us the book," my publisher says, "We gotta give 'em the book."

    Ross

    That makes sense, and it seems also that, in the earlier books, you had to establish the world.

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  • 6

    Ross

    When you write, do you have a particular room in the house to study, or an office?

    Robert Jordan

    I have what I call my office; frankly it's a three-bedroom apartment in the carriage house behind our house, and the carriage house is divided into two apartments; I have the larger of the two. The walls are lined with bookshelves containing about fourteen thousand volumes at the moment. I keep trying to cull those and get them down, and unfortunately I keep buying more books. I have to steal this answer from Stephen King. He was asked, what is the best thing about having money? The best thing about having money is that I can buy any book I want as soon as it comes out. I don't have to wait for it to appear in paperback; I don't have to wait for it to appear on a remaindered table; I can buy it now, and that's terrific, and unfortunately I do buy it now. So I have fourteen thousand books and going, despite constantly giving away books.

    Ross

    I can sympathize. I have a couple thousand, and I live in a one bedroom apartment, and as it is I keep trying to find out ways I can cut back. I'm not quite sure how to get it set up.

    Robert Jordan

    There is no way.

    Ross

    You may be right.

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  • 7

    Ross

    When you first came up with the Wheel of Time series, how would you describe it? Almost like a post-apocalyptic, but long time past type thing.

    Robert Jordan

    Well, it's post-apocalyptic in that the world was essentially destroyed—a much more advanced civilization was essentially destroyed three thousand years ago—and there have been, in the intervening three thousand years, there have been two major wars, or actually series of wars that came so close together that they are linked in the way that the Hundred Years War is considered one...or they call it one war historically, but actually it lasted a hundred and thirteen years. It was a whole bunch of different wars in different countries, and some many keep dropping out and joining in...those two series of wars in themselves were civilization-destroying, so what you have now at three thousand years after the destruction, the higher civilization is a civilization that is about 1690 or 1700 in technological sophistication, with one difference: gunpowder is a secret held by the Illuminator's Guild, the people who make fireworks. Nobody else knows how to make fireworks—knows how to make gunpowder—and nobody has any idea of using it as a weapon.

    Ross

    Which changes everything pretty much drastically. I remember the [?] in the first book, and I was like, "Oh cool!" as I read my way through it, because it had very ...different than some of the other books of that ilk that I've read in the past, but I liked it very much.

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  • 8

    Ross

    What other books have you written besides the Wheel of Time series? That's the one I'm most familiar with.

    Robert Jordan

    Well, many years ago, for my sins, I wrote seven Conan novels, ah, novels of Conan the Barbarian. I had been asked to do those because 1) my publisher got the chance to do the Conan novels, 2) the first Conan movie was coming out soon, and he wanted the novel fast, 3) he knew that I had once written a 98,000-word novel in thirteen days—well, it was remarkable, but I already had it all laid out in my head and all the research when I started that one—and I said yes to the one, and had so much fun doing that one that in a weak moment I said yes to six more. You know, they kept the wolf from the door for a few years, and that was good, and I also learned some lessons about writing within constraints. When you're trying to find something original to do or say in a world that has been created by somebody else, using a character who has been created by somebody else, it's difficult, and you have to stretch some muscles to be able to do that. I think I actually grew as a writer doing that, by that exercise. I have written...Conan was originally created by Robert Howard in the 1930s. Howard was, as a short story writer, one of the richest men in his West Texas town. When his father died, he promised his father he would take care of his mother. When his mother died, he committed suicide. Now, the reason he committed suicide, frankly, I think was the fact that it was West Texas in the Depression, and I can hardly imagine a bleaker place, and Howard himself firmly believed in reincarnation, and I think he just decided he was going to see what came next.

    As for other books I've written, let's see...I ghost-wrote a novel, an international thriller that shall remain nameless. Well, not a bad book, but it is generally believed that somebody else wrote it, so we'll let it go at that. I wrote what I consider I guess a Western, although it was set in the 1830s and 40s; there was only one major character who was not a Cheyenne Indian. It has been reissued—five or six years ago, I think it was—in hardcover as a novel of the Western experience, and it was received quite nicely. And I wrote three historical novels, the first set during the American Revolution, following the same family. I had intended to do a Southern arc of history. The general arc of history that is studied in the United States and recognized is the move out of New England—Pennsylvania and New York—into the Ohio valley, and from there west to California, but there was a southern arc, which was the move out of Virginia and the Carolinas into Louisiana and Mississippi, and from there into Texas, and from there through New Mexico and Arizona into California. And I wanted to follow that in a series of novels that I originally intended to go from the American Revolution through the Vietnam War, but I'll tell you the truth...I got tired of them. They were doing nicely, but I just got tired of them and said, "I want to do something else."

    Ross

    I can sympathize. Some day I hope somebody does something very similar that also tracks the settlers as they came through Knox Landing, along with the Scottish/Irish settlers up there in northern Alabama, because you had of course Mobile, three hundred years old in the south, in southern Alabama [?].

    Robert Jordan

    I had gotten as far as the late 1820s or early 1830s and the family I was tracing, I'd reached as far as Texas, and you could see revolution on the horizon, but it had not arrived yet.

    Ross

    [?] That sounds wonderful, and if you ever get inspired to write that again, that would be great.

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  • 9

    Ross

    What can you tell me, as a husband-and-wife team, what can you tell me about the collaboration between an author and an editor?

    Robert Jordan

    It's not really a collaboration, at least not in our case. I write the stuff. She looks it over, and she says to me, "You can do..." She'll do brackets and say, "You didn't convince me here. I don't believe what you say has happened, or what you say this person said, I don't believe it. Make me believe it." Or she'll bracket a section and say, just "You can do better than this." And there's not so much of her actually doing cutting or suggesting different wording—that doesn't happen very often now—but a good bit of, you know, "Do better." That sort of thing.

    Harriet McDougal Rigney

    And, it isn't a collaboration, but we do...I think the key is that each of us respects the other's work.

    Robert Jordan

    And trusts the other.

    Harriet McDougal Rigney

    Yes. And it's an older relationship than the romantic relationship. We had been editor and writer working together for two years before we ever went out on a date. So we kind of bonded in that way before we bonded in a romantic way.

    Ross

    That's great to hear; I think that's really wonderful.

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  • 10

    Ross

    Where are you both from?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, we both grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. We live in a house that was bought by her grandmother in the 1920s because she had been widowed, and she thought this house was small and manageable, and that house that she'd lived in was too big for a widow. And people laugh when we tell them that, and we laugh bitterly, because it's not a small house, and it's a handful to keep up with.

    Harriet McDougal Rigney

    We paint it one side at a time.

    Robert Jordan

    Well, because painting all four sides of the house at once is a major expense. Major, maaaaajor.

    Harriet McDougal Rigney

    And it's [?], so it has to be painted every now and again, particularly since they took the lead out of house paint. It doesn't stick any more the way it used to.

    Ross

    I remember the houses of Charleston, when I lived in Columbia, SC, and that is a beautiful area.

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  • 11

    Ross

    What things would you let people know? I know Charleston was one of the old major ports in the South. Is there anything about that area of the South you'd let people know?

    Robert Jordan

    Oh, a number of things. At the time of the American Revolution, Charleston was the richest city in North America. The city of Charleston, when the port of Boston was closed by the British—one of the major turning points of the American Revolution—the city of Charleston sent more food and more money to the city of Boston than all of New England and New York combined. The fall of Charleston in 1780 to the British was the worst defeat that would be suffered by an American army until the fall of Corregidor in 1942. Approximately one quarter of the battles of the American Revolution were fought inside the state of South Carolina. One quarter. And we did not have the typical, 'a quarter of the people are for the revolution, a quarter of the people are against the revolution, the others just wish it would go away'.

    Now, we invented partisan warfare, we invented guerrilla warfare, we had war to the knife. We chose a side, or you were considered by both sides to belong to the other side. And the war went on so long that at the end of it...people think Yorktown and the surrender was the end of it. It wasn't; the war in the Carolinas went on for another year, and some men were so tired that General William Moultrie—who had held Charleston as a Colonel against the first British assault, and thus insured the passage of the Declaration of Independence—with fighting still going on told the state legislature, "I'm tired. I'm going home. I've fought long enough." When mad Anthony Wayne appeared to bring relief to Charleston, William Moultrie asking him a biting question. He said, "What took you so long?"

    So, there's that, and there's also the fact, on the dark side, that almost all of the slaves who were brought in trade to North America and United States through Africa came through the port of Charleston. Sullivan's Island, outside of Charleston, could be called 'The Black Ellis Island'. It certainly needs to be remembered. It also should be remembered that Charleston, during the Civil War, withstood a siege that ranks with the siege of Stalingrad, or Leningrad in WWII—that is, nearly three years of being under constant bombardment. When the war was over...I've seen photographs of Charleston at the end of the Civil War, and it struck me because they reminded me very much of the photographs of Berlin at the end of WWII. And with that, I think I've told you about as much about the history of Charleston as you need to know, and a lot more than you're going to use.

    Question

    Possibly so. But I know that [?] good chances for a run, [?] so I suspect it might make its way on there.

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  • 12

    Ross

    What sort of influences do you find—not just in fiction and things like that—but, as you do your research, what sort of things influence what you write?

    Robert Jordan

    All sorts of things. Quite fascinating, I read a book called Salt, which was an actual history of salt. Fascinating book; a subject that I would not have thought would have been fascinating, but it was interesting enough that I picked up the book and read it in a night and a half, and a salt town appeared in one of the books. It was interesting enough that I said, "I'm going to have this salt town, and this next town you come to is going to be that."

    Ross

    Isn't that in book ten?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes. Crossroads of Twilight includes a visit to a town where salt is produced. And other things pop in. I needed a way for some characters to get from one place to another sort of stealthily; I wanted them to be able to move without being noticed much. And I just happened to go to a thing called the Circus Flora, which was a recreation of a 19th Century American traveling circus, a small one-ring circus. And I was fascinated by it, and as a result of going to that show, Valan Luca's traveling show appeared, the original version, which was in effect a small-time circus. It became something much larger later as he earned money and built it up, but in the start, it was a small-time circus with a few acts and a few animals, and it was a way for these characters to be able to move from one place to another because nobody noticed them; they were looking at the show.

    Ross

    I do like it when influences like that make their way in. And can you point to it and say, "Oh, maybe it's squeezed out of history," or something like that, or you see something similar in a favorite author, and it's like, "Oh, that's very cool to see that sort of thing brought in."

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  • 13

    Ross

    Let's see...what sort of music do you listen to? Do you listen to music when you write?

    Robert Jordan

    I listen to music when I write. In the time that I'm doing my email and taking phone calls, I listen to jazz, I might listen to rock, I might listen to reggae, it might be rap, it might be some third world music. There's some good sort of jazz fusion stuff—I'm not sure what exactly you'd call it—coming out of various north African nations, and I have some Latin nations...a lot of different stuff. I just grab something at random, and tuck a couple of CDs in there, or a CD to cover that. Then when I began writing, it pulls down classical music of various kinds, very few vocals unless it's in a foreign language. Carmina Burana works well, because it's in Latin...and maybe other things, Japanese drums, Chinese flute...you know, that can get into that mix, it doesn't interfere. I can't write to the jazz or the rock. I can't write to vocals that I understand. I get into a focus when I am writing so that I am absolutely, totally, 100% focused on that writing.

    I have a window on the right side of my desk that looks out over what we call the side garden. If I turn my head slightly to the left, I'm looking at a door that's made up of little glass panes looking out into what we call the long garden—that's where the driveway runs through the back to the garage—and I can remember a day when I got up and walked outside into the long garden, and I looked around, and it amazed me, because not only was everything wet...there were branches that were drooping and dripping water, I mean they were so heavy with water that some branches were drooping. There were broken branches as much as two inches in diameter, I think there was one that was as much as three inches in diameter, lying in the driveway. We'd had a major rainstorm—a major windstorm—and I hadn't known it. I was that tight into the work, that I didn't hear the wind, I didn't hear the rain, I didn't see any of it. It was just the work, and I didn't know it till I went outside.

    Ross

    In a sense, I wonder if that's why readers again so easily get that suspension of everything as they lose themselves in the work as a reader.

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  • 14

    Ross

    What other sort of things do you have coming up?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, the major thing is the twelfth and last book of the Wheel of Time, and there will be two further prequels written at some time—I don't know when—but the twelfth book will be the last book. I do not have a title for it yet; I generally don't have a title until I'm somewhere into the book, maybe halfway through it, maybe even more. It will be the final book, if I have to make it a 1500-page novel that people need to use a luggage cart to take out of the store, this will be the end of it. And another thing...at this time, I have no plans other than those two prequels, to return to the world of the Wheel of Time. I have told the story I intended to tell, and unless I came up with another story that I considered of comparable worth, or at least very significant worth, I would not go back into that universe. It would just be covering the same ground, telling people the same thing over again. There's no way I'm going to have stories about Elayne's children or, you know, this isn't gonna happen.

    Ross

    I was going to ask you about that, and that's good to hear.

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  • 15

    Ross

    What do you see yourself doing next? Do you have any ideas?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes. I will be helping out my wife a little bit on a project that she will be doing—she's already signed the contract for it—she will be the major writer on an encyclopedia of the Wheel of Time. And then, when we've gotten that out of the way—actually, before we've gotten that out of the way—I will begin work on a trilogy called Infinity of Heaven set in a different world, in a completely different universe. There will be a different magic analog—not the One Power; not magic either, but a different magic analog—and the closest linking to the Wheel of Time will be that in one of the books—not the first one; it was at first intended to be the first book—but in one of the books we will encounter a society that will be as close to the Seanchan Empire as it is possible to get without being the Seanchan Empire, except that it is even more rigidly stratified, both horizontally and vertically, than the Seanchan Empire, which if people actually look, they'll realize has a very porous stratification; it's a place where it's possible to move from the lowest level to the highest, short of becoming the Empress.

    ROSS

    Excellent, I look forward to seeing it then.

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  • 16

    Ross

    Is there anything else you have as a kind of word for the listeners?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes. Knife of Dreams, my new book, will be going on sale 11 October at bookstores across the country.

    Ross

    Good. I'm looking forward to it; that looks very good.
  • 17

    Ross

    Well thank you all very much for your time; I greatly appreciate it. Again this is Ross with Nash Bozard's Radio Dead Air, and we've just been interviewing Robert Jordan and Harriet McDougal, his wife, who make up a writer and author team well-known to many of Nash's readers...uh, listeners. Readers/listeners...why do I keep making that mistake?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, you called us also a writer-author team.

    Ross

    Oh, god.

    Robert Jordan

    We're a writer-editor team.

    Ross

    Oh, NO! Sorry!

    Robert Jordan

    It's okay; you can edit it.

    Harriet McDougal Rigney

    We knew what you meant.

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