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Interviews: Locus Magazine Interview

Summary:

Entries

7

Date

Mar, 2006

Type

Verbatim

Links

Locus Online

  • 1

    Locus Magazine

    This back issue (August 2006) can be purchased here.



    James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was born in Charleston, South Carolina, two tours in Vietnam for the US Army, and graduated military college The Citadel with a degree in physics.

    First novel The Fallon Blood (1980), a historical novel written under the pseudonym Reagan O'Neal, was followed by western Cheyenne Raiders, written as by Jackson O'Reilly, in 1982. His first book as Robert Jordan, Conan the Invincible, appeared in 1982, followed by five more original Conan novels and the novelization of the second Conan movie. The first fantasy novel set in a world of his own creation was The Eye of the World (1990), the start of his wildly popular epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time. Other books in the series are The Great Hunt (1990); The Dragon Reborn (1991); The Shadow Rising (1992); The Fires of Heaven (1993); Lord of Chaos (1994); A Crown of Swords (1996); The Path of Daggers (1998); Winter's Heart (2000); Crossroads of Twilight (2003); and Knife of Dreams (2005). The concluding volume, tentatively titled A Memory of Light, is forthcoming. He also wrote a prequel set in the same world, New Spring: The Novel (2004). He plans to write at least two other prequel novels once the main sequence is finished. Illustrated guide The World of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, co-written with Teresa Patterson, appeared in 1998.

    Rigney is married to Tor editor Harriet McDougal. They live in Charleston, South Carolina.

  • 2

    Robert Jordan

    Before I start a book I always sit down and try to think how much of the story I can put into it. The outline is in my head until I sit down and start doing what I call a ramble, which is figuring how to put in the bits and pieces. In the beginning, I thought The Wheel of Time was six books and I'd be finished in six years. I actually write quite fast. The first Conan novel I did took 24 days. (I wrote seven Conan books—for my sins—but they paid the bills for a number of years.) For my Western, I was under severe time constraints in the contract so it was 98,000 words in 21 days—a killer of a schedule, especially since I was not working on a computer then, just using an IBM Correcting Selectric!

    I started The Wheel of Time knowing how it began and how it all ended. I could have written the last scene of the last book 20 years ago—the wording would be different, but what happened would be the same. When I was asked to describe the series in six words, I said, 'Cultures clash, worlds change—cope. I know it's only five, but I hate to be wordy.' What I intended to do was a reverse-engineered mythology to change the characters in the first set of scenes into the characters in the last set of scenes, a bunch of innocent country folk changed into people who are not innocent at all. I wanted these boys to be Candides as much as possible, to be full of 'Golly, gee whiz!' at everything they saw once they got out of their home village. Later they could never go back as the same person to the same place they'd known.

    But I'd sit down and figure I could get so much into a story, then begin writing and realize halfway in that I wasn't even halfway through the ramble. I'd have to see how I could rework things and put off some of the story until later. It took me four years to write The Eye of the World, and I still couldn't get as much of the story into it as I wanted; same with The Great Hunt. I finally reached a point where I won't have to do that. For Knife of Dreams I thought, "I've got to get all of that into one book: it's the penultimate volume!" And I did. Well, with one exception, but that's OK. That one exception would probably have added 300 pages to the book but I see how to put it in the last volume in fewer.

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  • 3

    Robert Jordan

    I have talked before about turning the logic of physics into being a fantasy writer. The first part of it is a simple paradigm that you're given as an undergraduate: Schroedinger's Cat. An engineer says, "Well, we can't know if the cat is alive or dead. You open the box to find out." A physicist says (if he has the right frame of mind for quantum physics), "The cat is both alive and dead, and will be fixed in one state or the other when you open the box." If you can really wrap your mind around that, you're ready to write fantasy!

    I browse mythology, but I think if you've studied it too closely there is a tendency to be too grounded in it—an unwillingness to start twisting things and bending things too far. In physics, you expect it to twist and bend and you say, "How does this work? What can I come up with? Hmmm. I wonder how far this thing will bend?" At one time I really did want to get a doctorate in quantum optics but that was a long time ago, so I have not kept up with the literature at all (though I do like the whole notion of the particles, powers, and forces). Occasionally I've been stuck on a panel with physicists—I don't know why they do this to me, since I'm 30 years out of date! Most of the time I'm wondering what the hell they're talking about, but I've discovered a way that I can hold my own: I don't think about discussing physics; I discuss theology, and they think I'm discussing physics! That again says to me, physics is a great grounding for writing fantasy.

    Then there's the moral element. In fantasy you're allowed to have at least some dividing line between good and evil, right and wrong. I really believe people want that. In so much of literature there's total moral ambiguity: good is not merely the flip side of evil, it's on the same side of the coin. Quite often you can't tell the difference between the two. If you want to talk about good and evil in mainstream literature, you do it with a nudge and a wink to show that you're really joking, but in fantasy you can say, 'This is right, this is wrong; this is good, this is evil.' OK, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but it's worth the effort to try.

    Sometimes you're going to make the wrong call, but that doesn't mean you suddenly have to go on living and try to make the right call the next time, being aware that you have a belly button and that means you're going to make mistakes, sometimes big ones.

    Nobody has ever gotten up one morning and said, 'I am a villain' or 'I will be a villain.' What they say is 'I want power.' Serial killers want power, and so do rapists and a lot of other villains, but let’s stick with one sort as an example. You want power and you convince yourself that your being in power will be the best for everyone. That is the way most politicians work. But then there are the guys who say, 'I want power, and if I can convince them that it's the best for everyone, all to the good. I don't give a good goddamn whether it is or not, as long as it's good for me.' He doesn't think he's a villain; he's just trying to do the best he can for himself. But he's on the road to villainy. Unfortunately, so are some of the guys who said, 'This is going to be for the best for all the people involved.' If you do what you believe is the best thing in the world and the result is you deliver millions of people into slavery, as Lenin did in Russia, are you a villain? Yes, you are.

    A fellow in Russia, a politician who's a fan of my books, was asking me a lot of questions because he gives them to his friends. He said, "I tell them these are not a manual of politics; they are a manual of the poetry of politics." I'd never thought of them that way. But there's this scale: at one end is total purity in your beliefs, at the other what your enemies believe and are willing to do. Sometimes you can maintain total purity and still defeat your enemies—or win out over them, if you wish to use a less aggressive term. (It still means kick their butts into next week.) But sometimes you can't. If holding onto purity means that the other guys are going to win, then what is your purity worth? So you move just enough to counter them, but now you've danced onto that slippery slope of necessary evil.

    And it is necessary, that's the unfortunate thing. The world is not a textbook study—it's uncomfortably real. And that's where you have to start dancing very hard to make sure you don't swing so far over that your victory is no different from their victory. Often the media just give excuses: "He had a terrible childhood, so the fact that he killed 47 women with an ax is not totally to be held against him." Simplistic, true, but not far off the money really except in scale. I don't believe that many people are purely good, and most of those are ineffectual. We all contain shades of gray. But how dark is that gray? I used to pride myself on being a cynic until somebody said to me, "Oh, a cynic is just a failed romantic." These days being a cynic is too lazy an option.

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  • 4

    Robert Jordan

    I've been asked why there's no organized religion in my books. (My fans ask me questions about everything!) The main point of organized religion is our gathering together in one place to undergo rituals, reaffirm our own belief, and testify to others that we believe, thus strengthening their belief and our own. But in a world where miracles are a daily occurrence, where anybody walking down the street could see the Hand of God lifting up dead men from the grave, suddenly organized religion becomes less important. This manifestation of the Creator as something they may be able to see on any day at any given hour, anywhere. Still, my character Rand is a messiah figure, prophesied to save mankind and to die for it.

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  • 5

    Robert Jordan

    I had a rough outline of a little over 3,000 years of history before I started writing the Wheel of Time books, enough to make me feel like it was a real world where I could drop in casual mentions of historical events. Where I come from, if you want to say something was a long time ago you say it was 'Before Second Manassas'—it's a historical tag that everyone in Charleston understands. I wanted to be able to do that sort of thing with history in the world of The Wheel of Time.

    The history began as a rough sketch with major points inked in. As I went along, I would sometimes look at the chart and say, "If this happened here and this happened there, something like this would probably happen here." It begins to create a real pattern of history. The readers picked up on it, realizing that there's more to the world than just what's happening in the story. The first time I got a letter asking about something like that, I thought, "God, this guy must be a fruitloop! He's talking about this as if it were real." But then it hit me. "Wait a minute, idiot. This is what you want them to feel, isn't it?" So I answered his question. A few times I've had to be fast on my feet, because I hadn't figured out something in the history that was very minor.

    DragonCon has a track that follows my books, and one of the things they asked me to do was hand out the prizes at the trivia contest. In the final round these two women were up there answering questions I probably couldn't have answered without my notes. But they were just popping out the answers, ding ding ding. I never expected this incredible depth of study.

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  • 6

    Robert Jordan

    The Encyclopedia's already been published [BWB], but we have the raw notes. To keep track of what I've written, I have all sorts of "Remember" files. Every nation has a file listing culture, customs, everything about that country I might need to know plus every character who has been mentioned as a native of that country, all the information that's been given about him or her in the books, even some things that haven't been used yet. There's a file for everyone: named and unnamed, living, dead, historical, whatever! "Who Is Where" is a file that lists, country by country, the last place every character in the book was seen. "ABC" (which used to be called "The Glossary") has every word or term or name I've created including every word in the Old Tongue. If I printed out all the "Remember" files, they'd be somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 pages—but there are limits! They would probably be insanely boring for most people, but I want to make sure I remember what I created on the fly.

    Tor has set up a website with a Question and Answer of the week. And Jason Denzel at Dragonmount.com set up a blog for me. When I'm not touring I'll post maybe once every week or two. I haven't been flamed yet on my site and trolls haven't shown up, but I don't know that I expect them to. My fans are generally pretty nice, polite people. In their discussion groups they say who they hate and what they hate about what I've written—that's OK; if I can create somebody powerful enough that people really hate them, I'm doing my job even if I didn't mean for them to be hated. The characters don't have lives of their own, though. Whatever my readers may think, I'm an Old Testament God with my fist in the middle of my characters' lives: I created them and they do what I want, when I want them to! I do figure out why they're behaving that way, as if they werereal people, and that helps the reader believe in them.

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  • 7

    Robert Jordan

    After Knife of Dreams, there's going to be one more main-sequence Wheel of Time novel, working title A Memory of Light. It may be a 2,000-page hardcover that you'll need a luggage cart and a back brace to get out of the store. (I think I could get Tor to issue them with a shoulder strap embossed with the Tor logo, since I've already forced them to expand the edges of paperback technology to nearly a thousand pages!) Well, it probably won't be that long, but if I'm going to make it a coherent novel it's all got to be in one volume. The major storylines will all be tied up, along with some of the secondary, and even some of the tertiary, but others will be left hanging. I'm doing that deliberately, because I believe it will give the feel of a world that's still out there alive and kicking, with things still going on. I've always hated reaching the end of a trilogy and finding all of the characters', all the country's, all the world's, problems are solved. It's this neat resolution of everything, and that never happens in real life.

    I originally thought I was signing up for a 10 or 15K run, and somewhere along the line I found out it was a marathon. So yes, I would like to cross the finish line on this thing and get on to what's next. I'm not that old, and I've got a lot of writing left. There are two more short prequel novels to be done at some point, but aside from that, I have said I would never write again in this universe unless I get a really great idea—which would have to be an idea that would support two or three of what I call "outrigger" novels, not part of the main storyline. Well, I may have had one! But I'll have to set it aside for a year or two because I've already signed contracts for an unrelated trilogy called Infinity of Heaven, which I'm very excited about. I've been poking that idea around in my head for 10 or 12 years.

    I've also thought about doing a book set during the Vietnam War, but Jim Rigney will probably never write the Vietnam book. If I did, it would be history now, and I decided a long time ago that Rigney was going to be or contemporary fiction, and my name for historical novels is Reagan O'Neill. Maybe Jim Rigney will never become a writer!

    There have been some computer games and comics, and a movie based on The Eye of the World is still in the works (with contracts that allow me a lot of involvement), but nobody else is ever going to write Wheel of Time books. For after I die, I've purchased an insurance policy with a couple of guys who have a kneecap concession in the southeastern United States, and they have rights to expand this concession should it be desired. For a very small fee, they have guaranteed that they will crack the kneecaps of anybody who writes in my universe, and nail them to the floor!

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