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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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Jul 2nd, 2011
I couldn't do that same thing with this particular book because of the way the plot arcs work. It worked very well with Rothfuss' book—of course, I loved his books—but what he's got going on is sort of an episodic story where Kvothe does this and Kvothe does that and Kvothe does this. And you can kind of separate those as vignettes. With Way of Kings, what I was doing is...I've got three storylines for three separate characters who are each going through troubled times. And if we were to cut the book in half, for instance, you would get all of the set up, and all of the trouble, and none of the payoff. And so what'd happen is you'd have actually a really depressing first book, where nothing really good happens and people are in places that they...mentally, they haven't come to any decisions yet; they're struggling with problems. Essentially, you'd only get the first act; you'd get all of the setup and none of the payoff.
I see. The two books in front of you here, obviously being re-released... Which point is it that this cuts off at?
This cuts off... We decided we had a fairly good break point, because Shallan's storyline comes to...there's a resolution. And some decisions have been made, and it's kind of... We broke it right at the kind of middle point where people are deciding, you know, we've had these struggles, we've had these struggles; now we have some sort of promise of victory. But the victory or things haven't actually happened yet. And so I do strongly recommend that people read both books—have them both together to read together—because there is a certain poetry to the arcs that are built into this. The second half is lots of massive payoff for the first half. But we did find a decent break point. But conceptually it's one novel, even if you can break for a while and then pick up the second one. Conceptually, to me they are one.
That is correct; it's going to be ten books. Ten is a holy number in the series. It's related to the Order of Knights Radiant and the number of magic systems and things like this. So ten books.
Is the 1000-page format something that's going to continue throughout the series?
Each of the books will be medium long. I'm not sure...you know, I can't tell you exactly how long they will be. Instinctively, looking at my outline, I feel that the first is probably one of the longest in the series, which is a bad way to do it, honestly. You really want to have the first ones be the quick pow, and the middle ones get to be the thick, meaty ones. But I'm expecting... This one was about 400,000 words; I'm expecting them all to be around 300,000 words. There may be some that go a little bit longer. It'll depend on the book and how many characters I decide to deal with in that book, and the plot structure of the books.
That's an excellent question—somebody's been reading my mind. First, I do want to say, thank you, guys, all, for reading the books; thank you for all you're doing supporting me as a writer. With this series, one of things I wanted to approach was...both of those concepts, actually. A lot of fantasy has the feel of magic's going away. Magic is dying. This goes back to Tolkien, with the idea that, you know, the elves are leaving and magic is going to leave the world, and that's always made me a little bit sad, that these books have this theme. And so I did want to write a book about the return of magic. But beyond that, I'm very fascinated with technology, and the development of technology, particularly as it relates to magic. And so this series is about the rediscovery of magic and how magic interacts with science, and the treating of magic in a scientific way on a large scale. You know, you see that in each of my books, with magic being treated scientifically, but I really wanted to do it in a way that changes the lives of everyone. The common people—magic changes their lives as much as technology changed the lives of the common people in the technological revolution we went under. And so that's what I'm going to try to approach in these books.
You have met almost all of them. Let me do a count... Let's see. The main characters in the book areï¿½in the seriesï¿½Kaladin, and Dalinar, Adolin, Jasnah, Shallan, and Navani, whom you all met in this book and most of them had viewpoints. Szeth, Taravangian, and Taln. And one of the other Heralds; I'm not going to tell you who that is. But I think you've met...you have, I'm sure, met that person; I know he's in there. And so, I think you've met them all, basically. Taln is the person who shows up in the epilogue.
Why are so many Alethi point of views used as opposed to others? This was basically one of the changes I made as I was working on the series. I originally had planned to show all of these viewpoints, from all across the world, and I found that, when...the original time I tried this book, that since people's plots weren't interwoven together, the book was very difficult to read. Because people weren't connected to one another, emotionally and spiritually. And so because of that, when I rewrote the book, when I started again, I made sure to put Dalinar and Kaladin and Adolin in proximity of one another. So that this story...their stories would play off of each other. And so you would have a consistent storyline.
That said, we do have...you know, those three are all Alethi. But Shallan is not, and Szeth is not. And those two have fairly significant parts in this book. Most of the characters will be Alethi for that reason, that their stories are tied together. But you will....see, this is one of the reasons why, with this book, once I pulled everything back and was telling Alethi stories, I felt I needed to show the breadth of the world, and that's where the interludes came from, was me wanting to jump around the world and show all these different other characters and cultures, but shown in bite-sized portions so you didn't get overwhelmed with all of these different characters, that you knew when you go to an interlude, you can read this person and then you can kind of forget about them. You don't have to follow who they are, because they're there to show you the breadth of the world and what's going on, but not necessarily to show you...to go on a big distracting tangent.
I see. Excellent.
This was all me. In fact, the publisher was kind of skeptical, because it's not something you see in epic fantasy. And publishers, you know, they have this weird sort of mix inside of them—they want to do what's been successful in the past. And yet, unless you innovate a little bit, you won't continue to be successful. And that's a hard balance. And to Tor's credit, they decided that what I was pitching on this book with all these illustrations was in the right direction. That it would be evolving, and it would help with the sense of immersion, rather than fight against it. But they really worried it would feel like a graphic novel. There's nothing wrong with graphic novels, but we don't want the audience to get the wrong opinion of the story.
And one thing I was very careful to do is I don't illustrate the characters. I want the characters to be how you imagine them, and I don't want to give you a picture of them. So these illustrations I really wanted to be in-world illustrations done by someone...done by Shallan. And this was something I've wanted to do for a while, and I felt was integral and important to the book. And that without it, the book wouldn't work as well because Roshar is a pretty weird place. It's got some pretty bizarre feelings to it, and I wanted to give some illustrations to help the reader get a real sense this is a real place. So that was me. I'm glad that people are enjoying them; we did dedicate quite a bit of work making them all come across—there are four illustrators that worked on the book. And so...yeah.
That's Alloy of Law. Alloy of Law takes place several hundred years following the events of Hero of Ages. This was always the plan with the Mistborn series; I pitched it to my editor as a sequence of series set in the same world with an evolution of technology, which is not something I'd seen done very much in fantasy books—letting the technology process and seeing how magic interacts with it. Alloy of Law is the story of a man named Waxillium who has spent the last twenty years living out in the Roughs being a lawman. And his uncle dies, and we find out that Waxillium is actually the heir to his house. And back in the city of Elendel, they've got this sort of half lordship, half elected body that leads the government, and he has inherited a seat in this body and responsibility for thousands of people who work in his house. And so he has to leave the life of a lawman and come back to the city—which is patterned after 1910 New York—and live among, you know, the elite of the city. And yet he's kind of an unpolished sort of guy, having been out in the Roughs all this time. And it's his story, trying to make sense of this world. It's also a mystery; it's a very fast-paced sort of mystery, kind of... Imagine it this way, as I have been describing it lately. Imagine the Sherlock Holmes story. Now replace Sherlock Holmes with Clint Eastwood and add magic. And that's what you've got.
The Mistborn RPG game is a go, for sure. We've got cover art, they're trying to release it by GenCon—which is a big gaming convention this year—and have it available for purchase by fall. It is certainly happening; it's 100% now. The film—the producers have finished the screenplay, which is quite good; I'm very pleased with it. And they are pitching the film in Hollywood right now. We don't know what will happen, what will come of it, but they are pitching it in Hollywood right now.
Letting go of the original trilogy will be kind of hard. But in some ways, it'll have to. Because the original trilogy has become the mythology and lore of the world, which is really fun to work with as a writer. Beyond that, there are continuing characters. There was always planned to be continuing characters. I can't say much without giving spoilers, but there are characters from the original trilogy appearing in this book, several of them. Some of them are hidden. You're going to have to search and figure out who's who. Some of them are less hidden.
In the future, the second trilogy's going to be one that deals with a... By this point, in the world—and Alloy of Law is the same case—there are no Mistborn anymore. There are only Mistings, for various reasons that I don't want to give spoilers on, but there are Mistings. The second trilogy happens in a modern setting when we get to that. Alloy of Law is in an industrial setting. In the modern setting, there we will be doing a story eventually about a Mistborn serial killer and a SWAT team of Allomancers who... We're talking people with machine guns and, you know, Navy SEAL Allomancers whose job it is to hunt down Allomancer criminals, and then they'll reveal something, um...unexpected, how about that.
Five epic fantasy series I recommend people to read. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is my go-to recommendation; I think it's one of the most brilliant standalone epic fantasies ever written. Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books are nowadays a little less known than they used to be, and I think that they are fantastic and people should read them. I really enjoyed Jim Butcher's Codex Alera books, and I would heartily recommend them to any reader of fantasy. Let's see. Other great epic fantasies...there are so many. I just finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin, and I really, really enjoyed that. I think I can recommend that one whole-heartedly; it's a Hugo Award nominee, so I'm not the only one that's really enjoying that. And fifth...let's see. Let's pick one more. Well, you know, I can recommend Pat Rothfuss, but you've all already read that. I can recommend Brent Weeks, but you've already read that. Let's see if I can find something you haven't all already read, that I think is great. Um... Well. I mean, I mention Dragonsbane all the time, and so people have already heard that recommendation from me, but that's a fantastic book. I absolutely, highly, strongly recommend that you read Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly if you haven't.
This was the first, one of the first fantasy books...
First fantasy book I ever read, and the book that turned me into a fantasy writer, just simply because it was the one that...you know, it was the first. And I still very much love that book. So...I think that's a good list.
That's a good list.
Those are always the ones I recommend, though. And so...it's hard to think of new things, because you guys all read so much, you are already aware of all of them, but there you are.
That's an excellent question, and there are different viewpoints on this. For instance, I remember talking to John Scalzi, and he said, "You know, when I wanted to publish, I went and looked and saw what was cool, what was selling. And I went and I wrote my own take on some of that." And that worked fantastically well for him. And I think for me part of the problem was—now, one thing I'll add as a caveat to this: yes, write from the heart, but make sure you are reading widely. Read widely what you want to write, but also read a lot of things from varying different genres and whatnot.
I just found that if I tried to anticipate what people wanted, rather than writing what I wanted, I wrote terrible books. And when I gave no care to what people wanted and only gave care to what I thought made a fantastic book, I did a good job. And this might have to do with the fact that I was just bad at judging what people wanted. That could be it. But probably it has more to do with the fact that I naturally write... A lot of my books added a big, long epic length. And what people kept telling me is, you need to write shorter books. You need to write books like so-and-so. Or like so-and-so. And that was wrong advice for me. I didn't need to write books like so-and-so, or like so-and-so. I didn't need to write books like George R. R. Martin, as fantastic a writer as he is. I didn't need to write books like him; I needed to write books like me. And that's what worked for me.
Different writers will have different things that work for them. And certainly I can write...I can write things that...like for instance, I write on the Wheel of Time. And in those cases, I'm taking very...I'm taking a lot of pain to make sure that what I'm writing fits with the genre, with the stories that have come before, and what the readers expect these stories to be like. And so I can do it. But I love doing it on the Wheel of Time. And I don't know what the difference is between doing it there on the Wheel of Time and those early days that I spent trying to write toward the market and having a horrible experience.
For me, I need complete creative freedom; otherwise my books have no life to them. And even with the Wheel of Time, Harriet is giving me complete creative freedom to do whatever I think needs to be done to tell great stories. And I think I thrive in that situation. If I instead had come into the Wheel of Time and they would have said, "You have to do this exactly, this exactly, this exactly, this exactly," I think I would have done a poor job. I would have been the wrong author. But that's not what they wanted; they wanted someone they could turn it over to, who would really take ownership of it. In a small part; of course it doesn't belong to me, but you know what I mean. I take real pride and say, "I'm going to do this the best way that I know how." And not just write a book and be done with it, but say, "No, this is..." I can't even explain the difference. This is me now. The Wheel of Time, I am inexorably linked to it, and my soul is linked to it. And those aren't those books I wrote for these people. Those are books that I am deeply, deeply, emotionally involved in. And I can only, I think, do that because I've reading them for so long since I was a kid.
That's an excellent question that's going to be very difficult to answer. I will say on my speed that I'm not a really fast writer; I'm a persistent writer. I don't take time off. I just write, and I write every day. And that piles up. I think I'm just very fortunate—I have an advantage over a lot of authors in that I don't get writer's block. I don't necessarily write any faster than those authors, but I don't stop; I just keep going. And if you write ten pages a day—which is about what I do, which is not a ton—a lot of authors produce ten pages a day when they're writing, then they hit hang ups, they hit writer's block and things; and that doesn't happen to me, certainly not very often. And so I just write consistently, and I just love to do this, and so... But that's not an indication of quality really, in either way. One of the things I found becoming a writer is some books go fast, some books go slowly. And the reader can't usually tell because a lot of good quality books happen really fast and a lot of good quality books happen very slowly. If you look at Pat Rothfuss' books, Wise Man's Fear took us years to get and is a fantastic book worth every moment of the wait. But some of the great classics like... A Christmas Carol is a famous one—took only a few days to write. And that's happened with various books and classics through history, so we don't really...yeah. Speed is one thing.
What makes a book ready? For me, a lot of whether a book is going to be ready or not comes in, 'Can I fix the problems?' 'Cause every book has problems when I write them. I do write very... I write my drafts beginning to end, pretty quick drafts. And then I need to spend a great deal of time tweaking them, fixing them, going over them again. I write my books much like a sculptor might create a sculpture. And we start...you know, the first pass over doesn't make it look much like a fix; you're just chopping off chunks. And then you refine, and then you refine, and then finally you're sanding. Get these little tiny imperfections out. And that's how I write. My first pass through is...I'm laying down character, dialogue, and plot. I'm not doing description. And in a lot of cases, I'm not doing—for instance, I'm doing a lot of telling rather than showing, because I'm getting on the page what needs to happen. And then I need to go back and take out huge chunks of, you know, people standing up and monologuing. Instead make this actually interesting. If that makes sense. So you get the whole story in the first draft, but it would be boring. And the first draft also often introduces lots of big problems. And when I do my revisions, I need to fix those problems. Primarily, can I get the characters right? Almost every time I write a book, one of the characters, there's something wrong with them. And I need to finish the book before I can figure out what it is that's wrong with them. And the book is ready when I've got them right. At that point, it's a matter of polishing, and the polishing, though it takes time, is easy. No, it's not easy... That's the wrong term. The polishing is expected; it can be done. If I take the right amount of time, I will polish it correctly. But...it's those pieces right before that need to be fixed.
Yes. I certainly would. If I were far enough along in it. If happened tomorrow, it were only one book in. At that point, I'd say, "You know what? Scrap the project. Don't make people... You know, don't..." I don't have enough notoriety for it to happen. But let's say I got seven books in and there were three books left. At that point I would say, "Definitely, it needs to be finished." I do keep very good notes. And so, basically, I would trust my editor to find somebody, and I would want them to work very closely with my assistant Peter who has known me for many years and is very... He's the one that knows the most about my books and my worlds, aside from myself. And there are lots of very talented authors. There are plenty of authors who are even more talented, you know...more talented than I am, certainly. Plenty of authors. And so, finding the right one, I would leave that up to editors and people like that. I mean, most people that I would want, that I would pick, are too popular in their own right to want to go write this dopey guy's books. I think Brent Weeks and I write very similarly, and I think he would be a fantastic choice, but there are plenty of authors out there that I think could do the job if I left the right notes.
Thank you. Again, a great answer there by Brandon.
So how do I see the fantasy market going? Boy. You know...I'm really excited over what's happening in the fantasy genre right now. It feels like we're entering something of a golden age, where we are exploring the genre in new ways. I always talk about it as it seems like the generation after Tolkien was responding to Tolkien. Which is appropriate, because Tolkien was so awesome. And Tolkien changed the face of fantasy. And there were a lot of responses and perfecting of this type of story which I feel personally culminates in the Wheel of Time, which is kind of the majestic, best version of this sort of heroic arc story that was popular in the '70s and '80s. And then 1990, Robert Jordan starts the grand sort of culmination of them all. And after that, it felt like fantasy didn't quite know where to go. Certainly we had one branch that went into George R. R. Martin, which is kind of the new grittiness, which is great. There's a lot of cool things happening there, and that genre, the heroic gritty is still going strong. David Gemmell was a precursor to that, to what George R. R. Martin did, and certainly Moorcock and some of these also were doing it in the past. But there's a new wave of this.
But epic fantasy didn't seem to know what to do with itself, for a little while. And now we're recovering and we have new authors that seem to be approaching it in new ways and expanding. Epic fantasy can have wonderful, inventive worlds to the extent that no other genre can do. Science fiction can do great worlds, but we can add added levels of magic upon it, to give us this wholly original sort of thing. And hopefully we're seeing more people take more risks in their world-building and their narrative structure, like you see in Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or the Patrick Rothfuss books. The narratives are getting very interesting and the worlds are getting very interesting. I see in fifty years from now, people looking back and saying, "That's where fantasy hit the golden age." And I hope that's the case. I hope we continue to explore and to innovate and to just have fun with this.