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Interviews: Dragonmount Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Summary:

Entries

22

Date

Dec 8th, 2007

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

Jason Denzel

Links

Dragonmount

  • 1

    Jason Denzel

    In the short time in between when Brandon Sanderson signed a deal with Tor and Harriet to complete A Memory of Light, and when that news was announced, I had the privilege to be able to talk to Brandon and ask him some questions over email. At the time of this interview, Brandon was preparing to fly out to Robert Jordan's home in Charleston, South Carolina to meet Harriet and become fully immersed in the world of The Wheel of Time.
  • 2

    Jason Denzel

    Congratulations on receiving this landmark opportunity. How are you feeling?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Honestly? I'm feeling daunted. And still a little sad. There was only one person who could have written this book the way it was supposed to be written, and he is gone now. I think I'll do a good job (to be honest, I think I'll do a great job) but I can't do the job he would have done. Nobody can.

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  • 3

    Jason Denzel

    The Big Question most fans probably have is: "Why Brandon Sanderson?" What are your thoughts on this?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well. . . there are a lot of ways to answer that. First, I'll note that I'm still reeling about this news myself. I stop occasionally and think "Wait, am I REALLY doing this?" It seems incredible to me, so I can understand why fans might think "Brandon Sanderson, why him?"

    The first way I could answer that question is by giving a list of my writing credentials. I know how to write fantasy books. I understand how to plot over a long epic book, and my novels have been very well received by both reviewers and fantasy fans. I write epics after the flair of the Wheel of Time, yet my books (I hope) aren't just a copies of what Robert Jordan and others have written. I think that's important. I've read fantasy since I was a kid, and I understand what made these books great.

    However, I'm not sure if credentials are main reason I was chosen for this project.

    A second answer to that question might be this: "Why Brandon Sanderson? Because he's as much a fan of the series as you are." I've been with The Wheel of Time since the paperback release of The Eye of the World back when I was fifteen years old. I've read the early books of the series through six or seven times now. I'm the guy who was in the right position to help out on this project: I have both the skill to accomplish the task and a deep love of the series.

    Again, though, I'm not sure if that's the right answer.

    The right answer, then, is probably this third one: "Why Brandon Sanderson? Because he's the one Harriet chose."

    Harriet was given full authority over this matter. It was her decision. While others gave her some suggestions, she's now the ultimate authority over anything relating to The Wheel of Time. She read my book Mistborn, and from doing so picked me to write A Memory of Light. (And I think that leads right into the next question.)

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  • 4

    Jason Denzel

    How did you first get involved in this project? Were you approached by Tor and/or Harriet, or did you dust off your resume and send it to them for consideration?

    Brandon Sanderson

    When I heard that Mr. Jordan had passed away, I was deeply saddened. Like everyone else, I was waiting for the final book—and last I had heard, he was doing better and was confident that he'd be able to pull through.

    After I got over the shock of his death, I did think "Wow. I wish I could help out on this project somehow." I loved the books, and if someone was going to be involved in finishing the series, I wanted to be there. However, I didn't feel it was appropriate to solicit work on it. There are a couple of reasons why.

    1) I figured that Harriet, Tom, and the people at Tor would be busy grieving as I was, and it just didn't feel right to me to respond to Mr. Jordan's death with a play for the series. As I noted in the essay I wrote about his passing, with Mr. Jordan's death, the fantasy community suddenly changed. There would be time for thinking about the final book later. For now, it was time to think about what this man had meant to the genre and its readers.
    2) I assumed that there was a good chance someone had already been chosen to work on the project. I trusted that Harriet and Tom Doherty knew what they were doing, and would see that the book got written in good time.

    So, I didn't send in a request—or even a question—about the future of The Wheel of Time. I was dumbfounded and honored when—a month or so after the death—Harriet called me on the phone to inquire if I was interested. I got the impression that she was calling several authors (I don't know how many) and making sure that they were willing before she invested the time in reading their work.

    About a month later (this would be around mid November) she called me again and said that she had been touched by the writing of Mistborn, and had decided she wanted me for the project immediately. However, she'd made certain to take time and think about the decision before offering it to me officially. At that time, she made the offer—and I accepted. (With great excitement.)

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  • 5

    Jason Denzel

    What was your initial reaction when you read the outline Harriet put together for A Memory of Light?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I actually haven't seen it yet. All I know is that there IS an outline, as well as some other material that Mr. Jordan gave via dictation. I'm flying out to sort through it and speak with Harriet, and will probably be there when this interview goes public on Monday the 10th.

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  • 6

    Jason Denzel

    You've said before in other interviews that your fantasy novels (Elantris, and the Mistborn series) were born in part by the notion of taking a typical fantasy concept and turning it on its head. For example, you said that while The Wheel of Time is about "peasants becoming kings", your Elantris book is about "Kings who become peasants." And one of the fundamental ideas behind the Mistborn series is the question: "What if the Dark One won?" Having explored those interesting ideas, what's it like to suddenly find yourself writing the ending of a massive series which in large part defined the fantasy genre that many readers are familiar with?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's exciting, to be honest. The characters and setting to this world are so deep, so complex, so FASCINATING that it's going to be a worldbuilder's pleasure to look through the notes and begin work on the project. It will be hard, and it is certainly daunting, but it's also an amazing opportunity.

    As you said, a lot of my work is a direct reaction to the fantasy I read when I was young. Not against it, really, but an attempt to build upon it and take the epic fantasy in new directions. Yet, I've always wanted my books to still FEEL like fantasy, and the Wheel of Time is part of what defines what feels like fantasy in our era.

    A part of me has always wanted to deal with the classic fantasy themes, which is why Mistborn was about turning them on their heads. The chance to get right to the source and work with a series that defined those themes. . .it's just plain amazing.

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  • 7

    Jason Denzel

    How would you describe your writing style?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Three things make a fantasy epic work for me. 1) A complex plot with plenty of twists and turns that comes to an explosive climax. 2) An imaginative magic system and setting that feels both real and wondrous at the same time. 3) Deeply personal characters dealing with issues that transcend genre. (This is the most important one.)

    I approach my writing from that above philosophy. I am probably best known for my magic and my settings, where I try very hard to give the reader a unique and different experience, one they haven't gotten from other fantasy books. I am also known for my endings, where I try very hard for well-foreshadowed—yet still surprising—twists and climaxes.

    However, magic is only as interesting as the characters who use it. A plot is only gripping for me if I care about the characters. Danger and action sequences mean nothing if we don't CARE about the people who might be hurt or killed.

    Robert Jordan, through his writing, taught me that. Characters first, everything else second.

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  • 8

    Jason Denzel

    In what ways do you think you'll have to shift your writing style to match Robert Jordan's? Will you be trying to write in his "voice", or will you approach the novel with your own?

    Brandon Sanderson

    To attempt an exact copy of his style would, I think, be the wrong move. If I did it poorly, it would feel like an awkward parody. Yet, at the same time, there are some very important reasons people love these books. Depth of setting, detailed descriptions, and complex and lengthy characterizations are all hallmarks of Mr. Jordan's style.

    So, I think it will need to be a balance. I intend to be more detailed in my descriptions and linger a little bit longer on side characters than I do in my own work. However, I am not Robert Jordan, and the fans know that. Every author is different, and I think that my style will indeed influence how the text and ideas are presented.

    Tor could have hired a ghost writer to do this book, and then could have released it under Mr. Jordan's name only, pretending that the book was nearly finished by the time of Mr. Jordan's death. I think it is to their credit that they didn't. Readers deserve to know what they are getting. My goal will be to stay true to the themes, characters, concepts, and general stylistic choices that made these books so successful without trying to mimic the smaller details of his style.

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  • 9

    Jason Denzel

    We know that Robert Jordan left extensive notes, as well as some audio tapes and actual written parts for this novel. We know your intent is to tell his story. Having seen the outline, how much of the actual plot (the plot points, character arcs, intrigue, etc) do you think you'll have to come up with on your own?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I honestly don't know yet. (As mentioned above.) I think we should probably do another interview about this in the coming months, as I will have a better idea.

    However, know that I intend to use EVERY BIT of actual written text from Mr. Jordan, and in intend to follow those outlines as exactly as possible. I've been told that there is a substantial amount that I will have to come up with, but I will always have a guide—if only a few lines or dictated explanations.

    And, as I understand it, the notes about the ending are very detailed—I think the last chapter may even have been written in full. If that's the case, then I'll be very happy. I would much rather be the guy who writes the middle fifty chapters of this book than have to be the one who writes the last five.

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  • 10

    Jason Denzel

    Which characters or plot threads are you most looking forward to writing?

    Brandon Sanderson

    The Wheel of Time turns. The most exciting thing for me will be to tie the events of this last book back to those of the first book, as I think that is what this story is all about. On a more personal note, Perrin has always been a favorite of mine. I think his story is the one I'm most looking forward to resolving.

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  • 11

    Jason Denzel

    Are there any particular aspects of the book that you think will be especially challenging for you?

    Brandon Sanderson

    The first is the depth of the setting. Though I've read these books several times, there is just SO MUCH to wrap your head around. Sitting here and thinking, I'm getting names mixed up and trying to remember just who is alive and who is dead. Obviously, I'm going to have to read the series through a few more times to get it all down, and I'm certainly glad for the Internet and the resources fans have created. I suspect you'll find me on Dragonmount occasionally asking for someone to look up an obscure fact or name for me!

    The other item of particular challenge is the worry that I'll disappoint the fans. I am confident in my writing, but. . .wow. This is like being the final man at bat in the last inning of the World Series—I'm the guy who has to step up and either strike out get a hit to win. All of my training, practice, and studies are coming to a head.

    I don't want to be the guy who ruined The Wheel of Time. I'll work very hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

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  • 12

    Jason Denzel

    What are some of your favorite scenes in The Wheel of Time series?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's probably a cliché to say so, but my favorite is still that opening scene of The Eye of the World—that's what grabbed me as a fifteen year old boy and said "You NEED to read this book!" Lews Therin standing over the body of his wife while he calls for her, after being driven insane. . . wow.

    Though, that one's probably too obvious. There are a lot of others to choose from. The fight between Rand and Be'lal at the end of The Dragon Reborn was just plain cool. Another of my favorites is the scene where Lan rescues Nynaeve after that whole Moghedien-balefire incident. (I can't even remember which book that is right now.) Oh, and pretty much anything with Perrin in the later books. Not to mention the cleansing of saidin.

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  • 13

    Jason Denzel

    I know you probably can't go too deeply into it, but are there any questions about the story you had as a fan that you will make sure get answered in this final novel?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah. Who the flip killed Asmodean? And, beyond that, what's up with Moiraine? Is she alive or not?

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  • 14

    Jason Denzel

    Robert Jordan has talked many times about how he knew the last chapter of the last book very well. Are you able to tell us whether or not he wrote that chapter before he died, or will that be something you'll be putting to paper? If so, does that chapter in particular hold any particular challenge or significance for you?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I spoke of this above, actually. I don't know for absolute certain, and I'm not sure how much I could say if I did know. However, what I've heard indicates that of all the parts of the book, the ending is the one that is the nearest to completed, if not done itself.

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  • 15

    Jason Denzel

    And now, just for fun:

    Who's nastier: Moridin, or Padan Fain?

    Brandon Sanderson

    No contest: Moridin. You can't really top Ishamael when it comes to nastiness, particularly if his opponent is just a little Darkfriend weasel. Yeah, Padan Fain facilitated the attack on Emond's Field and all that, but he's still just a weasel.

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  • 16

    Jason Denzel

    Your favorite Old Guy: Thom, or Noal?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Hum. . . Thom. He's more interesting to me. Plus, he has that cool mustache. Old guys should have cool drooping mustaches.

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  • 17

    Jason Denzel

    Coolest wife: Tuon, or Faile?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Coolest? Tuon. Most whiny and frustrating, yet strangely interesting? Faile.

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  • 18

    Jason Denzel

    Bigger trouble-maker: Mat or Nynaeve?

    Brandon Sanderson

    You're kidding, right? Nynaeve. That girl causes more problems than the Dark One himself. (Okay, not really, but still. . . .)

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  • 19

    Jason Denzel

    Who killed Asmodean? Come on, just tell us. Please. I won't tell Harriet you told me.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Okay, okay. You've got a right to know. I'll tell just you.

    It was Bela.

    JASON DENZEL

    Ok, if you won't tell us, will you tell us in A Memory of Light?

    BRANDON SANDERSON

    I certainly intend to! I hope he left notes on it.

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  • 20

    Jason Denzel

    Do you have a personal message for all the Wheel of Time fans?

    Brandon Sanderson

    This will not be my book. This book belongs to you, to Harriet, and to Mr. Jordan. It is an honor to be able to help, and I will dedicate all that I have to making the book one that Mr. Jordan himself would be pleased with.

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  • 21

    Jason Denzel

    How should fans get in touch with you?

    Brandon Sanderson

    www.brandonsanderson.com is my website. If they want to check out my books and see what they're all about, they can visit and read sample chapters. I even have a free ebook for download there. There is an email link on the front page, and anyone is free to contact me. Know that I'm contractually obligated to not reveal any plot points of this book, and so I won't be able to give them any hints or clues about the upcoming novel.

    I read all of my mail, and I try to respond to all of it. Readers can also find me via my forums, also linked from my website. My blog updates regularly, and is mirrored to my Livejournal (where comments are enabled) and to my Facebook.

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  • 22

    Jason Denzel

    Brandon, I'm sure I speak for all the Wheel of Time fans out there when I say thank you very much for being willing to help finish this series we all love so dearly. We wish you all the best, and we hope you'll find some time in your busy writing schedule to drop in at the various fan sites to say hi. You have a legion of fans cheering you on. As Moiraine told Rand in her final (ahem) words to him ... "You will do well."

    Brandon Sanderson

    Thank you, Jason. I'm going to do my best on this, I promise. I'm actually a registered member of Dragonmount, and have even posted on occasion—though mostly I just lurk. (And I've done so for years.)

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