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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Jan 10th, 2011
You asked and now Brandon Sanderson answers. Below the cut, you'll find answers to the many, many questions you posted here on Tor.com back in December, touching subjects ranging from the Wheel of Time to The Stormlight Archive to Dragonsteel and more.
A few hundred questions ended up being sent, so a big thank you goes out to Brandon for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down and answer as many as possible. (If you don't see your question, most likely it's still in the queue.) An equally big thanks goes out to Peter Ahlstrom for his organizational help!
I know it's premature to discuss this, but I am entertaining fond hopes that after you finish A Memory of Light, you will publish a WoT companion, which will include things like:
—All the notes and details and backstory which never got put into the novels.
—Deleted chapters, or longer draft versions of scenes which had to be edited down.
—An account of the writing process as you experienced it, with perhaps an outline of the books showing how much of each part was yours and how much RJ's, and the difficult decisions you had to make at each point.
—Alternative chapters or scenes which were discarded.
—Answers to any issues which are still disputed by fandom after the last book.
I know this is premature, but I was hoping you could at least tell us if 1) Is this something you, personally, would be willing to do? 2) Is there any chance of it actually happening?
Excellent question. I've spoken on this a little bit before. It is something I'd be willing to do; in fact, it's something I want to do.
I don't want to say that the chances of it happening are poor, but one thing you have to understand is that Harriet is very careful and cautious with Robert Jordan's legacy, and rightly so. You may have heard, for instance, that at the first JordanCon she allowed us to play the tape of him dictating a scene from the prologue of The Gathering Storm, but she asked for it not to be recorded, and she doesn't really want it to be played again. It was just that one time for that special event. People asked her why, and her response was that she didn't want people to remember Robert Jordan in his weakest hours. I think that is a very valid point.
So the decision will be Harriet's. I haven't even approached her about this yet, because I don't think it's the appropriate time. But once the series is done and we've had some time away from it, I will ask her if it's all right if I do something like this.
It would include a lot of the things you mention. Specifically what I want to do is talk about the writing process and the difficult decisions that you mention, some of the scenes that didn't end up in the books, some of the things that Robert Jordan had written as potential scenes. I've mentioned before that in his notes he would often have comments where he says, "I will either do this, or this," and sometimes the options are very contradictory. He had not yet decided between them, and I ended up being the one who decided which one we were going to do. So I would include those and some of the actual notes.
The reason Harriet may not want this to happen is that if his final publication is unfinished notes, that might make her uncomfortable. I certainly intend to make a plea for the importance of this from a scholarly standpoint, that people might be able to have access to this, and also so that the notes are there for people who don't like my interpretation of things, so they can see exactly what Robert Jordan had to say. I'm really hoping we can do it, but let's wait until the series is done and then I'll approach Harriet about it.
No, not really. Most of my plans for the Stormlight Archive go back years and years to before I was working on the Wheel of Time. I would say that the The Gathering Storm/Towers of Midnight character split happened because of the book split, less than any real planning on my part. I had the character arcs and decided which ones would fit well together if I was only going to be releasing one batch of them at a time.
So the answer is no, but with the caveat that with the way my mind works, it may have been working in the same way in both cases.
I wrote a blog post on this back in October.
After I finish A Memory of Light, my major novel publishing schedule will be Stormlight Archive books two years in a row, followed by something else the next year. This pattern should continue until the series is finished. That doesn't count shorter exploratory side projects like Alcatraz or The Rithmatist (formerly called Scribbler), which comes out in 2012. I'll do one or two of those every year when I take a break after finishing a major novel, and not all of them will get polished to publication standards. Those deviations are largely to keep me from burning out.
When I originally wrote Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, I put that in there partially as a throwaway joke. Melerand is one of the main kingdoms in Dragonsteel, and I thought it would be amusing for them to be speaking that language somehow filtered into this world. By the end of the book I decided that Alcatraz could not be anywhere in the same continuity as Dragonsteel and that I was probably wrong for including that. Though there are other jokes in there relating to my other books—it's much like the scene where Quentin speaks in Spook's dialect. Those were just jokes, inside references to my other books.
Remember that Alcatraz was written as a writing experiment, not as something that I was intending to publish. As the series grew more serious to me, meaning that I developed what I actually wanted to happen—which with me usually happens as I write book two of a series, when I sit down and build an arc for the entire series—I "realified" Alcatraz's world a little bit, if that makes sense, made it its own substantial thing. So at that point it wasn't appropriate for them to be speaking Melerandian anymore.
Book 5, I'm going to wait and see what happens with the movie deal. By the way, DreamWorks did not renew their option, so it's back on the market. We'll see what happens. I also want to see what happens with Scholastic. They so far have not asked for a fifth book. If there is no activity by about this time next year, I will look into writing the fifth book and either just releasing an ebook or selling it to Tor or something like that. The fifth book will come.
And by the way, this is from me, Brandon, and not from Alcatraz: The fifth book is the one that includes the altar scene. I'm more trustworthy than Alcatraz is. That scene is in the fifth book.
I confirmed in the Warbreaker annotations that Clod is Arsteel.
Clod is more self-aware than most Lifeless. There is something left of Arsteel within Clod. The Breaths that Vasher gave him when he killed him do have an effect on this.
I started doing this early in my career before I got published, when I felt that writing sequels was not a good use of my time. Just look at the hypothetical; if I'm trying to get published and I write three books in the same, if an editor rejects book one, he or she is not going to want to see book two. But if an editor rejects book one but is optimistic about my writing, I can send them a book from another series and they can look at that.
During my unpublished days I wrote thirteen books, only one of which was a sequel. So I had twelve new worlds, or at least twelve new books—some of them were reexaminations of worlds. But I wanted to be writing big epics. This is what I always wanted to do; something like the Wheel of Time. So I began plotting a large, massive series where all these books were connected, so I could kind of "stealth" have a large series without the editors knowing I was sending them books from the same series. It was mostly just a thing for me, to help me do the writing I wanted to be doing. And then when publication came I continued to do that, and told the story behind the story.
I originally plotted an arc of around 36 books. The total has varied between 32 and 36; 32 would work better for the nature of the universe, but the question is whether I can fit everything into 32 books. I won't say whether Dragonsteel will be the last or not.
Both good questions. I've spoken before of the big changes that happened when I wrote The Way of Kings 2.0. One of them was bringing in the Shattered Plains. The problem was that there was a big hole in Kaladin's storyline, because in the original manuscript of The Way of Kings (major spoiler), he accepted the Shardblade. That was the prologue of the book; Kaladin—then known as Merin—saved Elhokar's life. They tried to take the Shardblade away from him, and Dalinar insisted that he be given it. So Merin was made a Shardbearer in the very first scenes of the book. And from that point, his character never worked. So in doing the second version of the book, I decided that no, we've got to build more into this, we've got to dig deeper, and he has to make the opposite decision, which is where the entire framework of him turning down the Shardblade and then being betrayed all came from. The problem was then what was he going to do? I knew I wanted him to have therefore ended up sold into slavery and have terrible things happen to him, but I couldn't figure out what Kaladin was going to do and was unable to write the book until I mashed in the Shattered Plains and said, "Ah, that was what he needed to be doing all along."
I really don't know what I'll do in Dragonsteel without that now. The problem is that it was the part of Dragonsteel that worked, but it was the part that was most at odds with the story in Dragonsteel. The story that I wanted to tell was the first half of the book, which is the more boring part. Hopefully as a better writer now I can make that part more interesting, but that was the core of what Dragonsteel was. The Shattered Plains was always just going to be a small diversion, but when I wrote it it was fascinating, and I ended up pouring tons of effort and time into it. In many ways it was a distraction, a deviation, a beautiful darling. So for a long time I've been thinking, "I can't kill my darling, because that's the most exciting part of the book." Yet it was at odds with what the story of the book was originally intended to be. I wasn't as good at controlling my stories back then, making them come out to have the tone I wanted. Anyway, we'll have to approach that when I actually write Dragonsteel.
I mention this in one of the Well of Ascension annotations.
After I came up with the idea and had Sazed mention it, my desire to explore it more was one of the initial motivations for Warbreaker's setting.
The answer to your question is yes and no. There are shadows.
Wow, that's putting me on the spot. There are many different aspects I like about a lot of different maps. I love how the map in The Hobbit is the map the characters carry around. That struck me when I read that book. I really liked how David Eddings' books had a big map and then a zoom-in for every section when the characters would go there. But I wouldn't call either of those my favorite fantasy map.
The main Wheel of Time map is certainly one of the prettiest. But the best I've probably seen is the one from Leviathan. That one kind of blew me away.
That's an issue that I feel I should speak about delicately, because it's one of those charged issues that can create a lot of division. But my basic feeling is that a character should not be any more or less sympathetic, or more or less evil, or anything like that, because of sexual orientation or because of basic beliefs or philosophy on things like religion. So there are gay characters in my books, though so far they have been side characters. I don't make a big deal of it, because I tend not to make a big deal of the sexuality of side characters in general. For instance, in The Way of Kings, Drehy, a member of Bridge Four, is gay. He's based on a good friend of mine who is gay. There is a lesbian character in Alloy of Law; again I don't make a big deal of it though it's a little more obvious.
Basically, I just try to write characters and try to have different makeups of characters. I feel gay characters should be included, and I'm annoyed that sometimes there seems to be an association between including gay characters and using that as a means of making them seem like a reprehensible character. You may know what I'm talking about; I've seen it in books before and it bugs me. Just like it bugs me if an author makes a character religious and the tone of the book implies, "Well, obviously, religious people are all idiots, so I'm not going to make this character actively an idiot, I'm just going to represent them as being religious," which by the tone of the book indicates that they're an idiot. That's not to say that there can't be social structures like religions that will push people toward doing things that are questionable or morally reprehensible—there can, of course, and it will happen—but I'm talking about the individuals. I don't know that I have strong feelings on the subject other than that I think people should be represented as people.
I wrote a bit more about the subject in my essay on Dumbledore.