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Interviews: Author's Table Interview

Summary:

Entries

16

Date

2001

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

Rochelle O'Gorman

Links

audiobookcafe.com

  • 1

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Fantasy writer Robert Jordan recently published Winter's Heart, his ninth book in the Wheel of Time series. The Publishing Mills (in a joint effort with Books On Tape) released an unabridged audiobook version read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. Though Books on Tape has released his books in their entirety for the rental and library markets, his novels have only been available in an abridged format for the retail market.

    A highly decorated war hero, Jordan served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He is married to Tor Books executive editor Harriet McDougal. The couple lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

    Jordan said he works hard to complete his massive books, writing eight hours a day, six or seven days a week. An eclectic reader, he said he likes to relax by fly-fishing. The author spoke to Rochelle O'Gorman at the beginning of December, while he was on book tour.

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  • 2

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    I know you have used the pseudonyms Reagan O'Neal and Jackson O'Reilly in the past. Why?

    Robert Jordan

    To keep different genres separate. The other books were written before I began The Wheel of Time, and my publisher has re-issued them and insisted on doing them as "Robert Jordan writing as." But, I made them put the other pen name as large as possible on the cover so that they didn't do "ROBERT JORDAN writing as." As it was, I didn't want anybody to think that they were getting a new Robert Jordan novel, when what they were getting was a historical novel or a western that I wrote 15 or 20 years ago.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    You're not doing those anymore, then?

    Robert Jordan

    No. I'm not saying I won't ever do them again.

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  • 3

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Is this what you wanted to do when you were a kid?

    Robert Jordan

    I wanted to be a writer.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Why fantasy?

    Robert Jordan

    I'll tell you. I learned to read at a very early age.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    How old were you?

    Robert Jordan

    Four. I never read children's books. The first book I read by myself, the second half of it, at least, was White Fang. My older brother would read it to me when he was stuck babysitting and somehow or other I began making the connection between what was coming out of his mouth and the words on the page.

    And I do remember. It must have a weekend, because it was the day and my parents came back and my brother put the book on the shelf and took off. He always read to me what he wanted to read, usually not children's books. And I wanted to know the rest of it, so I got the book back down and worked my way through it. I didn't get all of the words, but I got enough to do the story.

    And I remember a particular incident when I was five, which is when I realized that I really wanted to be a writer. I had finished reading From the Earth to the Moon and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I put those three books on the table, standing up on end, and I sat in a chair with my feet on the chair and my chin on my knees and I looked at those books and said, "I'm going to do that one day. I'm going to write one day, make stories like that."

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    How did you get from there to the world of fantasy?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, the short version is that in fantasy you can write about things that you can't write about in mainstream fiction, or even in some other genres and still keep a straight face today. Right and wrong are taken to be simply two faces of one coin. It's simply a matter of looking in the same mirror, but you're standing at two different points, that there's no difference. And I believe that there is a difference.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    You mean in fiction today?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes, yes. In so much fiction it is a great effort to show just how many flaws the good guys have and just how many extenuating circumstances the bad guys had. They had terrible childhoods and were abused children and suddenly you find yourself feeling almost sympathetic toward someone who is out and out evil. I don't like that.

    I know too many people who had miserable childhoods—grew up in the slums and a ghetto and they did okay. They didn't come out bent. They didn't come out twisted, so I don't like that very much.

    I think it's hard to tell the difference between right and wrong. Sometimes a situation comes along and the only choice you have is between bad and worse. But I believe it's necessary to make the effort to try and find a difference. The other way it becomes very sloppy and it's very easy to just make your decision on the spur of the moment, without any thought about what you are doing. You never think that it's right or wrong, or you never even think about whether you are choosing between bad and worse. You're simply doing something for your own advantage.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    That attitude, however, is very much a reflection of society.

    Robert Jordan

    That is a reflection of society, and it is part of society that I reject. I believe that you have to make that choice. I'm not going to tell anybody what to think, I'm not going to tell anybody what to do or what wrong is, but I think you have to try to make that decision yourself. And it goes beyond simply what's good for me today.

    I don't preach in my books. I just have my characters face some hard choices and have difficulty making their decisions. It's not always easy. It's not always cut and dry, and when somebody does something that is just for their own temporary advantage, to get a quick payoff, it doesn't always turn out the way they like it.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Do you manage to get this philosophy into your work?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, I try to. I try to. Again, what I am doing basically is telling stories. But I like to have my characters in what amounts to real life situations. That is, making hard decisions and finding out that the easy answer is quite often the wrong one, and that very often the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do. It's just a matter of fitting it into the story. I'm not preaching. I just try to reflect these situations and these things in the story.

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  • 4

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    How long did it take you to formulate the Wheel of Time series before you started the first book? Had you had this ruminating in your mind?

    Robert Jordan

    Extending back to the first clear thought I had that I can say led into the Wheel of Time was maybe 10 years before I began writing. I'm not saying I knew 10 years before I began writing what it was going to be, or that I was actually on to something that would become the Wheel of Time.

    I thought I had a story set in my head, a set of stories, fixed. And when I began writing the Wheel of Time—The Eye of the World in particular—I realized I didn't have as much of it as clear as I thought I did. There were things that I needed to work on. So The Eye of the World took me four years to write. I guess you could say, in a way, it was about 14 years of development to get the thing set.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Did you ever think it was going to turn into this epic series?

    Robert Jordan

    No. The story is the same story that I set out to tell. I knew before I began writing what the story was. There were details of how it worked that I didn't have fixed that I thought I knew and suddenly realized I didn't. But, I knew the beginning and the end and the things that I wanted to happen in the middle. I literally could have written the last scene of the last book before I began writing The Eye of the World. The problem has been over-optimism.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    In what way?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, when I went to the publisher with this at Tor Books and I said, "Look, this isn't a trilogy that I'm talking about. It's going to be four or maybe five books." I said. "It could be six. I don't think so, but it could be." And I really believed that. But the over-optimism has been, "How much of the story can I get into one book?"

    With every book I start out thinking I can get more of the story into this book than I actually turn out to be able to. I suddenly realize that I have to stop here or I'm going to have to write another thousand pages to really make it fit together. Or I realize that I'm going to have to take some things and do them later or I'm going to write a 2,000-page hardback, which they really would have to sell to people with a shoulder strap.

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  • 5

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    I've heard that you're going to have 13 books in the series. Is that true?

    Robert Jordan

    I've heard that myself. I just put out the ninth book, Winter's Heart. And as I tell people, there are going to be at least three more books. Now, I say, "at least." I cannot see how to finish it in fewer than three, how to get to that final scene. If I can do it in three more, I will, but I'm not promising. I apologize to people about that. I'm really sorry. I never set out to write a mega-epic as far as the number of pages go.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Why would you possibly apologize? Obviously people want it.

    Robert Jordan

    Well, yes, I know but . . .

    I still love writing it as much as when I started. But in a way I also feel impatience with myself. Until I complete the Wheel of Time I haven't really done it, if you understand what I mean. It's like a football player takes the kickoff on the one and then runs to the opposing team's 20. Well, he didn't get the touchdown. If he stops there he hasn't finished it. You have to cross the goal line. And until I finish it I haven't crossed the goal line.

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  • 6

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    How did you end up doing writing the Conan books? You picked up what Robert Howard had done, right?

    Robert Jordan

    When Howard committed suicide he left everything to a woman who had been very good to his mother. Today there is a corporation called Conan Properties, which owns the rights to all the original Conan material, the copyrights and so forth. Now, when the first Conan movie was coming out my publisher bought the rights to do some Conan novels written by other people. At first I said no, and he asked me again and I said no because I was working on something else. Then he asked my wife to ask me.

    Now, at that time she was senior vice-president and editorial director for Tor Books. And she was also my editor on everything Tor published by me. So, the upshot of that was I said I'd do one. And I had fun doing it. So I agreed to do five more, plus the novelization of the second movie. But when I had done that I said, "Well, this has been fun, but good-bye."

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  • 7

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Let's talk about the Wheel of Time series. Does it appeal both to men and women the same?

    Robert Jordan

    It does. My English publisher commissioned a survey, and the managing director took us to dinner and said to me at the table, "We've discovered that your readership is perfectly spherical." I said, "What are you telling me? They're fat? What are you saying?"

    He said that apparently in England, my readership is evenly distributed according to age level. Evenly distributed according to income level. Evenly distributed according to educational level, according to political party, according to area of the country they live in. Every single category it was even distribution. He said we could not find a significant statistical bump anywhere.

    Now, there's no such survey for the United States. All I have is the fan mail and the people who show up at the signings. But I have 12 year old kids and I have people in their 80s. I have gangbangers and cops. I get letters from convicts. I have college students and doctors and housewives. I had teenage girls telling me things like, "You are sooo cool." I mean, good Lord, I felt like a rock star. I found that Sir Edmond Hillary is a fan of my books. I found that a high official in the Russian government hands my books out, telling people that they are not a manual of politics but a manual of the poetry of politics. There is no typical Robert Jordan reader.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Can you explain that? I don't think I've ever talked to another author who's told me that.

    Robert Jordan

    No. No, I can't. I try to write about people who seem like real people. When I need to make somebody do something in the stories, they do it for reasons that that person would do it, not simply because it's part of the story. I work very hard, when I am writing from a woman's point of view, to make that character seem like a woman, not like a woman written by a man.

    I was very pleased, years ago, when I was on tour for The Dragon Reborn, and Robert Jordan was not Robert Jordan, so to speak. He was just another fantasy writer out there, not somebody who made the New York Times (best seller lists) or anything like that. I had women come up to me then and say, "Until they saw me, they had thought Robert Jordan was the pen name of a woman, because said they didn't believe any man could write women that well." So I thought, "All right! Damn. I did it, I did it right."

    I try to make the people distinct in who they are, and as I said, "I work very hard on the women in particular, and I think that makes all of the characters real, or seem real." Now, that may turn out to be not at all the reason that people like the books, but it's the only reason I can think of. Except I think do think I tell a pretty good story.

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  • 8

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Do you have a favorite of your books?

    Robert Jordan

    The books that I am working on at the moment. Every book has been my favorite while I was writing it, and when I finish it, well, I'm done with that and it's another book that's a favorite. It's the same way with the characters. Whoever's point of view that I'm writing from is my favorite character right then, even if it's somebody nasty. Because to write from a character's point of view you have to be inside that character's head, inside their skin, and that means that you have to like them, because most people do like themselves. And if you don't like that character you're writing, if you really don't identify with that character for that time, then the character—I believe—comes across false.

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  • 9

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Winter's Heart came out unabridged, which is the first time your books have been unabridged for the retail market. Did you have any influence in that?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes I did. I very much wanted it to come out unabridged, because I have a first cousin once removed who is dyslexic and she could not manage to read the books very well, and she wanted to. So, I agitated to get an unabridged edition done from the very beginning. And I also pressed for there to be a man to read the male point of view sections and a woman to read the female point of view sections. At first I was told it was not necessary and that it was not done. And I said, "We'd like it done." Various people finally agreed with me.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    You must have heard the abridged versions.

    Robert Jordan

    Please don't get me off on that.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Oh, go ahead. This is my big bugaboo too.

    Robert Jordan

    I don't like abridged versions, and particularly with something as long as my own books. In the abridged versions as much as 90 percent of the book has to be cut out, so I don't like them. As a matter of fact, I made sure that no one could do an abridged version of this latest book. I still own those particular rights, specifically defined, and I do not intend to let anybody do it.

    I do not believe in abridgments. I think abridgments tell people that they are getting a dumbed down version of something. What people think they're getting is an easier or faster version, but what they are actually getting is the version for dummies.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Do you listen to many audiobooks?

    Robert Jordan

    Not to a great extent, sometimes in the evening. But most of the time I read the actual hardbacks. I read books before they ever hit the audio stage and I listen to music most of the time.

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  • 10

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Do you read much fantasy?

    Robert Jordan

    I read everything. At the moment I'm reading an Andrew Vachss novel. The book before that was called The Code Book, about the development of ciphers and codes. The book before that was called Strange Victory, about the defeat of France in 1940—something that I think should be required reading for every member of Congress and every single person in the Pentagon.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    So you're an eclectic reader?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes. Before that John Sanford and Patricia Cornwell and George Martin. I don't act as a tourist when I'm on (book) tour. I make my appearances, and in between time I put my feet up to rest them and I read.

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  • 11

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Is the Moiraine character going to come back?

    Robert Jordan

    Read and find out.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Okay, fine, be that way.

    Robert Jordan

    No, that's all right. It's one of the most frequently asked questions. RAFO (read and find out) is also the one of my most frequently given answer to things. Once Harriet asked me what I wanted for dinner and I told her to read and find out.

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  • 12

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    How do you keep track of everything? There are a lot of characters in your books, so what do you do? Do you keep a chart on the wall?

    Robert Jordan

    No. No. No. Mainly I do it in my head. I have voluminous notes on my computer. But I realize 95 percent of the time that when I go to the notes, it is actually to add in new things that I have decided to say or do about a character or a nation or a culture or an organization. These things can get huge.

    I do not usually go in to find out things. It's as if the act of having put the information into the file has helped me remember it. I don't say that it's 100 percent. I do have to sometimes go in and check to be sure about a particular character, somebody who's not a major character, exactly how did I spell her name? Or, did I say what color his eyes were?

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  • 13

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Do you think you're going to do any more prequel stories like the one you did in Legends?

    Robert Jordan

    No.

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    No?

    Robert Jordan

    Well, let me change that. Stories, maybe. But when I finish the Wheel of Time I have no intention of doing novels that are prequels or sequels. I'm going to go to another fantasy universe, another world, another set of characters, another set of cultures, another set of rules. I won't say that I'll never do something like that, but I have no plans to.

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  • 14

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Now, do you ever plan to do a book in the future where you will have one group of characters that will move throughout the story instead of breaking it down into different segments for each group?

    Robert Jordan

    It depends on how that particular story works. I don't have a set of rules that I follow for any particular story. I look at the story that I want to tell and decide how best to tell it.

    In this particular instance, especially since it's in part about the reader knowing more than the individual characters do in the story, I like to show things from different people's points of view so that we're not seeing someone with the same opinions always looking at what's happening. There are people with different opinions about everything under the sun who witness the events, take part in the event, and thus report them according to their own beliefs and prejudices.

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  • 15

    Rochelle O'Gorman

    Do you have something in mind for when you finish the Wheel of Time series?

    Robert Jordan

    Oh, yes. I've been thinking about it for six or seven years now. My working title for it is "Shipwreck." It is an entirely different universe, as I've said. Someone I told about this said its fantasy "Shogun." I wouldn't say that exactly, but if somebody needed a high concept version of it, I guess you could call it that.

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  • 16

    audiobookcafe

    Rochelle O'Gorman has been an entertainment critic for 17 years. She has covered movies, video, books and theater before finding her niche in audiobooks. Turning in her crown as queen of the B movies, she happily exchanged bad Mexican vampire flicks for her true love: literature. She listens to about 200 audiobooks a year as she cooks, showers, weaves, exercises and drives. Her biggest fear is that she will still hear voices once she turns off her tape player.

    O'Gorman's audiobook reviews can be found in the Boston Globe, New York Post, L.A. Times, Oregonian, Seattle Times, Hartford Courant and Book magazine. She still reviews videos for Pulse! magazine and is a chief contributor to the "Video Movie Guide," a yearly compendium. She and two insane cats share the hayloft of a 200-year-old barn on the East Coast.