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Interviews: SciFi Now Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Summary:

Entries

10

Date

Oct 29th, 2010

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

James Rundle

Links

SciFiNow

  • 1

    James Rundle

    The new custodian of the Wheel Of Time series talks exclusively to SciFiNow.

    With the next book in the Wheel Of Time series, Towers Of Midnight, being published on 2 November 2010, SciFiNow had the chance to talk to Brandon Sanderson. Following the passing of the original author of the series, Robert Jordan, Sanderson was invited by Jordan's widow to conclude the series, which has spanned over 20 years and will consist of 14 novels by the time it's finished. Sanderson spoke to us about Towers Of Midnight, writing for a series he's followed since he was a boy, and gave us an update on when to expect the final novel, A Memory Of Light.

  • 2

    James Rundle

    You're midway through your concluding trilogy in Robert Jordan's The Wheel Of Time. Can you tell us a little bit about the latest novel, Towers Of Midnight?

    Brandon Sanderson

    This is the second of the three books. What happened was, about two years back I'd planned to write the last book as just one book. And it was getting rather large, and the publisher was getting rather scared, so he talked to Harriet—Robert Jordan's widow—and they discussed it, talked to me and said 'Would there be natural break points if we were to publish this as three volumes?' We weren't expanding it at all, I was to write it in the same length, but they'd do it as three. There were actually natural break points; the first volume that we published, The Gathering Storm, was a very focused narrative—I'd written several plotlines for several of the main characters. They're very tense narratives taking them to some very important moments in their lives. It worked very well to break the book after that. What the second one does—it's actually a little more true to form for the Wheel Of Time series because we expand vision and scope in this novel. This is the novel where we reach out, and instead of having that very focused, narrow visual edge to the last book, which worked very well. But there are hundreds of characters in this series, and some of them had to—for the last book to work—the focus had to be shifted away from them. In this book, we're opening the world back up, looking at what’s going on around the world in all of these different narratives instead of having primarily two main focuses, we're looking at everybody again. This is the penultimate book. We're ramping up for the ending, essentially of the world in these books; this has everybody turning their eyes towards that and it all coming together. It's very large, it's very, I guess, epic is the word that you'd use for what's going on.

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  • 3

    James Rundle

    As you say, there are hundreds of characters; it's an intricately detailed fantasy world. How hard was it to immerse yourself in that when you came to write them, to get a handle on these characters and what's going on around them?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, that was probably the most difficult part of this. I've read the Wheel Of Time since I was a kid, I started reading when I was 15, so I was very familiar with a lot of things in the book—I thought I was extremely familiar—but then I started working on it and realized that there's a depth to this that, in just reading it, I hadn't seen. I've read the book multiple times, I was a fan, but there are literally thousands of characters in these books. I think there are over 2,000 named characters. As a reader, you grab hold of the ones that you like, and if some come on stage that you're not so interested in, they pass and it's okay, you don't have to fixate on them very much. As the writer I have to learn all of these different voices. All the different interactions and passions and narratives, and goals and motives of all these different characters. There are a great number that I didn't have to do that with because they're small, they're named but don't influence the plot. But there are dozens of them that do influence the plot, that I had to learn. The difficult part is when I sit down to write a scene, when I write my own books I can just simply write it and do no wrong. But for these I have to do a lot of research for every scene, going back in the books and saying okay, this minor character, how do they talk? What is the voice? What do they want? All these things, it can be very demanding.

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  • 4

    James Rundle

    So how much do you have to work off from what Robert Jordan left behind?

    Brandon Sanderson

    There's a lot of notes. It really depends on the scene. In some scenes he actually dictated or wrote complete scenes. In other places he left very detailed instructions. And in other places, he brings one character into play and then doesn't mention them for hundreds and hundreds of pages and then they're in another place having done something that he hasn't mentioned. It's because he wasn't a linear writer, he was one of these very creative types that just seized upon moments and wrote those moments. I ended up getting this massive pile of notes where certain scenes were done, and they were all over the place time-wise, whatever he'd been passionate about what he'd been working on, and other things that he just hadn't gotten to yet. But there are these huge lists of questions and answers between him and his assistants, which is really what makes this possible, because they ask him a lot of questions—what happens to this character? Okay, what's this character doing? Those sort of things that I have a lot of one-line and two-line answers to that can help me draw these things together.

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  • 5

    James Rundle

    As you said, you're a fan of the series, and there are thousands more around the world. Is there an added pressure when writing them, or do you just have to blank it out and do the best that you can?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Certainly, I do the best that I can. There is added pressure. Again, when I write my own books, I'm not beholden to anybody. I write it, and if it doesn't work out, or if it's not my best book, that's actually okay because I like to try lots of different things. I like to be bouncing around and experimenting with things. But with the Wheel Of Time books, that's not appropriate, I am beholden to people, I am beholden to all of these fans that you've mentioned. It's not appropriate to just take this series and go wherever I feel. I have to take this series and be true to Robert Jordan's vision, while being true to myself as a writer, while also making sure that I'm being very respectful to the fans, to the all of the people who have been following the series for 20 years. They rightfully have a stake and a passion in the series, and it's a lot different from writing a standalone novel. I do feel a lot of pressure—the series belongs to the fans much more than it belongs to me.

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  • 6

    James Rundle

    And there's another book after this one—A Memory Of Light. Is your involvement in the series going to finish after that?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I would say it's very likely that will be the end. A lot of people have questions about this, because Robert Jordan had talked about several other books relating to The Wheel Of Time before he passed away—prequel novels, and a trilogy of three books set in the Wheel Of Time world along with several of the characters, but not part of the main continuity, the main story. A lot of people ask about these books, they ask Harriet—Robert Jordan's widow—but the thing is, we really both feel, Harriet and I, that we don't want to exploit Robert Jordan's legacy. To use a metaphor that may be a little obvious, it's like we've been given the One Ring, and we have to let go eventually. The longer we hold on, the harder it will be to let go, and the more we start doing those books, the easier it will be to do reams of stories, and we just don't want that to happen. I've said before that the beauty of a piece of art is in its completion, in many ways. If it's not allowed to be completed, then the beauty of it won't be able to stand as a monument to what Robert Jordan achieved. So my instinct right now is to say that no, there won't be any more. If Harriet decides to do those other five books, and really wants to, then I would probably say yes if she asked me. I love the series, I'm passionate about it, but I'll leave that up to her, and I certainly wouldn't do anything beyond those. We've spoken about it, and I said that we have to be really careful or we'll start and keep going and going, and that's her feeling too.

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  • 7

    James Rundle

    Sure, but how have you found writing in the series? Being a fan, it must be quite a remarkable experience to be able to do this.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, it's been wonderful. It's been amazing, and surreal. Surreal is a really good word for it because I grew up reading these books—these characters are like my high school friends. Being asked to write these books—and I didn't apply for this, I was just asked totally unexpectedly. She just called me on the phone, I hadn't met Robert Jordan and I didn't know that I was being considered. I was considered because I was both a writer in my own right, and a somewhat loudly professed fan of the series. But I hadn't ever considered it, you know? It's so weird—Robert Jordan is still this mythical figure to me. He's this magnificent, almost non-human person, a hero, a Greek god sort of figure—when I was growing up I'd say, "That is what I want to be someday". I would love to be one tenth of what Robert Jordan is, and it was a driving force for me becoming a writer, my love and respect for this amazing writer. And now I'm working on the series. Part of my brain just slips out every day, running around in circles saying, "I can't believe we're doing this! I can't believe we're doing this!" And that's partially out of fear, partially out of pure excitement. I don't know many people who get an opportunity like this, it doesn't happen. It's like Lucas asking you to direct a Star Wars movie, and the closest thing that I can think of, coming back to Tolkien, is the people who were asked to finish The Silmarillion—Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay working on that, that's the closest thing that I can think of to what I've been asked to do. It's just an amazing honor.

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  • 8

    James Rundle

    And have you had to put your own series on hold while working on The Wheel Of Time, or are you working on both?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I put mostly everything on hold. Certainly, a lot of stuff I write as a writer is in between books—I like to switch things up to keep myself from being burned out. I'm a compulsive writer, I love to do this. I write a lot because it's my passion but I do have to switch it up. So after the first one, after The Gathering Storm, I took a break and I wrote something else. It's a book that I've been working on for some 15 years by that point, it's called The Way Of Kings. It was something that I needed to do at that time. And now that I've finished Towers Of Midnight, I'm taking a short break and I'm writing something else. It's going to be much smaller, not an epic. It's just something to refresh myself for a couple of months before I go into A Memory Of Light. So yes and no. I have put a lot of things on hold, and that was kind of difficult, but at the same time the way that I am as a writer, I couldn't just work on one thing for three or four years straight. I had to stop and do side projects to keep me fresh. So you will occasionally see things, for instance The Way Of Kings, which is the start of a new series, my own massive epic so to speak. But you won't see the sequel for that until after A Memory Of Light is done, because I can't justify stopping long enough when this needs to be done.

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  • 9

    James Rundle

    So is A Memory Of Light still tentatively scheduled for 2011?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's scheduled for next year, yes. I'm going to start working on it in January. One thing that's going to slow me down, though, and I have to warn fans of this, is that it's now been three years since I've read the series straight through. I read it straight through when I started, but it's been three years now, so come January I have to re-read the series. I'm starting to forget things and that's not good, so that'll slow me down by three months or so. My expectation is that it'll push the book back by three months. If I started it in January, I could have it done and out by November, but I just don't feel right about that, so more likely you're going to see it in February.

    James Rundle

    In 2012?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes. There's still a chance you'll see it in November, but I have to re-read the series, and I want to take my time with the last one. You'll probably see it in spring 2012.

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  • 10

    James Rundle

    Towers Of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, is published on 2 November 2010 through Orbit.

    Buy Towers Of Midnight from Amazon.