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Interviews: Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Summary:

Entries

11

Date

Nov 5th, 2009

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

Matthew Peterson

Links

The Author Hour

  • 1

    Matthew Peterson

    My next guest is Brandon Sanderson, New York Times bestselling author of the Mistborn and Alcatraz series. He was chosen to complete the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Times series, which has sold over 50 million copies worldwide and spawned computer, trading-card and role-playing games; soundtracks; comic books; and numerous fan sites. Looks like you've got some big shoes to fill.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah.

    Matthew Peterson

    Thanks for being on the show today, Brandon.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Thanks for having me.

  • 2

    Matthew Peterson

    Now I did meet you a while back at a convention, I can't remember which one it was, maybe the World Science Fiction Convention and we were talking about the Wheel of Time and audiobooks and your podcasting.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Uh huh, okay.

    Brandon Sanderson

    But something interesting happened from that, and I just wanted to thank you, there's something that you did that you don't even know, you gave me some advice. At that time, I was in the middle of getting my rights back for my book, and I had an audiobook that was coming out. And you gave me some advice about how to get it onto Audible. [laughs] You probably don't even remember that.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well, I hope it was good advice.

    Matthew Peterson

    It was good. It worked. [laughs]

    Brandon Sanderson

    Oh, if it was good advice, then I take credit for it. If it was bad advice then it was my evil doppelganger.

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  • 3

    Matthew Peterson

    Yep. Well, you do give a lot of advice, don't you? I mean you teach creative writing classes.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Brandon Sanderson

    I do.

    Matthew Peterson

    Do you still do that? Even with all this on your plate?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I still do it. But I only teach one class a year nowadays. So, it only lasts for about three months. But I feel a need to do that because it was in that class when I was an undergraduate, long ago, that I got the final bit of information I needed, it was the final kick in the pants, so to speak, to go get published.

    Matthew Peterson

    Oh.

    Brandon Sanderson

    It was taught by David Farland at the time who was just doing what I'm doing. He was a professional writer. He was just stepping in to teach the class for a few years. And he gave me real world publishing advice, gave the whole class real world publishing advice. A lot of creative writing classes are very touchy feely. That's a good thing; they'll talk about the feel of writing and how to grow a story and all of this stuff. But Dave was the first one that came in and said, "Look, you can do this for a living. I'm going to tell you how and we're going to talk about the nuts and bolts of creating a story." And that was wildly useful to me. And so I feel a need to go back, when I have the opportunity and explain to new writers, those same sorts of things.

    Matthew Peterson

    Dave knows what heís talking about too. I mean, he did the Runelords.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yep, Mm hmm. Which is also a New York Times bestselling success now.

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  • 4

    Matthew Peterson

    Yeah! I know everybody is excited to talk about The Wheel of Time, but let's first talk, really quickly about your Mistborn and your Alcatraz series. 'Cause I think it's interesting to find out where you came from before you got into The Wheel of Time. From the title, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, I get the hint that it's little humorous. Tell us a little bit about that series.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well, that series is targeted a little younger, but most of my fans of it are actually older people. It's a silly series about a kid who discovers that evil librarians secretly rule the world.

    Matthew Peterson

    [laughs]

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah. Let me back up and kind of explain how I work as a writer. I spent many years trying to break in, as a lot of us do, and during that decades worth of time, about, I wrote 13 novels. I was working on my 13th novel when I sold my first novel which was Elantris.

    Matthew Peterson

    Oh.

    Brandon Sanderson

    A stand alone, epic fantasy. That was the sixth book I'd written. And then my next series was the Mistborn Trilogy, which you've mentioned. That was the first time where I had to sit down and write three books in the same world, which was actually pretty tough for me, to manage because I wasn't used to doing that. And after I'd written the second one, I needed to do something different. I needed to do something new. And so I jumped and wrote this book and in a lot of ways it was me riffing on what I do in my other fantasy books. You know, my epic fantasy, I think, takes itself very seriously as epic fantasy has to. And so I wanted to do something that poked some good-natured fun at that. And that's where Alcatraz came from.

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  • 5

    Matthew Peterson

    And your Mistborn series, like you said, it is more serious. Tell us a little bit about the Mistborn series.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Okay. One of the things I felt that I wanted to do, when I finally did break in, was find some way that I could add to the genre, rather than re-treading the same ground. I felt that I wanted to try and look at the fantasy genre and do plots that hadn't been explored yet. And the Mistborn books are my attempt at doing that.

    A lot of epic fantasy has this same sort of concept. This young protagonist, raised in the rural area goes on a quest to defeat the dark lord. And it's a wonderful, powerful story; it's the story that Tolkien used to an extent; it's certainly the story that Robert Jordan used, and you see it coming up over and over again in fantasy and I worried it had come up too many times. And so the Mistborn series came from me saying, "Well, what if he failed? What if this kid, this plucky protagonist, you know, went to save the world and it went all wrong?"

    Matthew Peterson

    And it failed? Oh!

    Brandon Sanderson

    What if Frodo kept the ring? Or what if Sauron had killed him and taken the ring? What if Voldemort killed Harry Potter at the end of book seven? What happens? And the way that I approached this is saying, "Okay, that's happened. You've got your generic epic fantasy story that all happened, and the hero failed." Thousand years later, now what? And it focuses around a team of thieves who get together and decide, "Okay, the prophecies were lies, the hero didn't save us, the world is essentially enslaved. Let's try this our way." And their plot is to rob the dark lord silly, use the money they get to bribe his armies away from him, and over throw the empire. And that's Mistborn.

    Matthew Peterson

    You know, Brandon, as you were talking about the Mistborn [series], you brought up some memories of my childhood. I don't remember what this series was, but I read this series that exactly was kind of like that: you know, the character is a normal person, he's great, throughout the series, but the very end, it doesn't all turn out right. He becomes evil and the series ends! And it haunted me. My whole life. And I still don't remember what the series was. I wish I would have remembered it, but . . . yeah, that's a very interesting concept and it doesn't happen very often.

    Brandon Sanderson

    I was tempted to actually do that. I felt that would have been too much of a downer. Which is why I jumped forward a thousand years and then used kind of flash backs to tell the story of what happened a thousand years ago, because it's not as clear cut as I've made it sound.

    Matthew Peterson

    Well, that series I mentioned, I mean, that scarred me for life. [laughs] So I'm glad that you did a little different at the end there.

    Brandon Sanderson

    The other thing is I would have had to write it as a kind of more generic fantasy at the beginning and then take it other places, and I wasn't sure if I could do that because I don't know if my heart would have been in it, trying to write a fantasy that is more generic.

    The other big thing I like to do with my books that I hope does something new and interesting is try to approach having interesting different types of magic. And I think the best fantasy books do this, and I wanted each book that people read of mine to have a new magic system. I like to write magic that feels like it could be a science, that in this world there's another branch of science that we don't have in our world, that if you explore and apply the scientific method to it, you can figure out how it works. And I tend to write stories where we've got people figuring out the magic. They're working in sort of a magical renaissance. That's the theme for my next series, The Way of Kings, which is what's going to be coming out next year, is the idea that we're living in a world where people are discovering the magic and bringing it back to the world and trying to figure out how it works and actually applying reason and science to it to get some hard numbers on what it can do and what it can't do.

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  • 6

    Matthew Peterson

    Well, your Mistborn series did bring attention to you. I mean, that's one of the reasons why you are writing the Wheel of Time series. Robert Jordan wrote the first one in 1990, it's called The Eye of the World. Eleven books later, he passed on, suddenly, and left millions and millions people with their mouths open like, "Well, what's next?" Tell us a little bit about how you jumped on board to complete the Wheel of Time series.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Okay. I got up in the morning one day in October of 2007, fumbled downstairs to my long commute to my couch, picked up my phone to see if anyone had called me. And lo and behold there was a message from someone I didn't know the number of. And so I picked up my phone and I listened to it and was completely dumbfounded and shocked to hear a message from Harriet Rigney, Robert Jordan's widow, asking me if I would call her because there's something she wants to talk to me about. To be perfectly honest, my response was something on the lines of, "Blah, blu, blahb".

    Matthew Peterson

    [laughs]

    Brandon Sanderson

    I mean I couldn't even talk. Well, turns out that I was well known at TOR as a big fan of the series. I had written, when Robert Jordan had passed away, a eulogy for him, that kind of explained how he had been such a big influence on my life and upon how I had decided to become a writer and why I even chose my publisher. And so that eulogy had ended up on Harriet's desk and she had read it and then called Tom Doherty the publisher, and asked him, "Is this one of your guys?" He's like, "Yeah, this guy's a good writer. You should look into his work; he's a possibility." And so that's how I got brought on. I've described it like being hit by a freight train that I wasn't expecting.

    Thatís the first I had heard of it. It was out of no where. At least as far as I was expecting it. So at that point, she requested some copies of the Mistborn books and she called me. Her initial call was a call to ask me if I'm interested before she did the work to search through my books and decide if she wanted to choose me. And so that initial phone call, when I finally got a hold of her. . . It was actually pretty hard to get a hold of her. She had left the house and I was just kind of running around in circles like a chicken with his head cut off because I didn't know what was going on and I was very tongue tied. And I eventually got a hold of her and she just said, "I want to see if you're interested before I do the work of reading one of your books and deciding." Well, to be perfectly honest, my response was something along the lines of "Blah ble blahh . . ."

    Matthew Peterson

    [laughs]

    Brandon Sanderson

    I mean, I couldn't even talk. I wrote her an email the next day that I sent care of Tom Doherty, that really essentially said, "Dear Harriet, I promise I'm not an idiot, even though I sounded like one."

    Matthew Peterson

    [laughs]

    Brandon Sanderson

    But she then sat down and read Mistborn, and it was about a month later. She read Mistborn. She considered some other people. She called me up and said, "Yes, I would like you to do this. Are you still interested?" And of course I was. It is one of those things that just happens unexpectedly.

    Matthew Peterson

    Just an amazing thing.

    Brandon Sanderson

    And it changes your life.

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  • 7

    Matthew Peterson

    Yeah. Well, I caught Tom Doherty at a convention a couple years ago. He was alone, which doesn't happen very often. So, I chatted to him a little bit about this. At that time it was one book, and he said, "Well, he's actually written like close to 1,000 pages so far, and he's only gotten like 1/3 into Jordan's notes. So, we might have to split the book into two." And then lo and behold, there's going to be three books.

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's an enormous amount of work and we feel that fans will enjoy it better, if we give it to them 1/3 at a time, for three years. As opposed to making them wait an extra three years and then get the whole thing.

    Yeah. What happened was. . . and I want to make this perfectly clear as I try to explain this. I've not expanded the size of the book at all. Robert Jordan, before he passed away, kept saying, "This book is going to be enormous. This book is going to be huge. They're going to have to sell a wagon with the bookstores, so you can get it out of the bookstore." And I took that to heart and was writing it as I felt he would have written it. He wanted this book to be enormous.

    And Tom Doherty and Harriet made the call, I left it up to them, that they were going to decide how it was going to be divided or if it was going to be divided or if they were going to be printing it as one. And what really happened is about January of this year, Tom and Harriet got together and they looked at what we had and they made the call for two reasons. One reason being, they felt that it was too large to publish as one book. Harriet had said to me, kind of in private, she said, "I don't think Jim could have done this in one book." I don't think he was planning to do this in one book. He maybe would have tried to get them to publish it as one book, but the realities of the publishing business . . . the larger reason I think that they did it because it was going to take me another two years to finish that one book if we were going to be publishing it as one. And they didn't feel that it was right to make the fans wait that long. It's already been four years since the last Wheel of Time book.

    And so the decision was made that they would take the first third, which I had finished already, and then have me work with it and edit it so that it was a single volume and it doesn't read like the first third of a story. The way I approached writing this made for some very natural break points. And they were going to publish that and then we would publish the second third and the third third. And it's really more about the fact that this just takes time. These things are enormously difficult to write, in a good way, but very, very hard, because of how much work it requires to get it right and how many pages there are. I mean the first third is going to be as long as an average Wheel of Time book.

    Matthew Peterson

    Oh, yeah.

    Brandon Sanderson

    And so you can imagine stacking three copies of Eye of the World on top of each other; that's how long Jim planned this book to be.

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  • 8

    Matthew Peterson

    Well, you've got so many things to tie up. And Robert Jordan, he knew that he was going to die. He knew that, and so he was writing as fast as he could. He got these notes. And you're working off of these notes, which is so great for the fan base, 'cause we get a feel for what Robert Jordan had in mind. I do have one question that everyone is asking me to ask you. [laughs] Are we going to find out who killed Asmodean?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes. He left notes about who killed Asmodean. To be included in the book. Harriet's decided where it goes. I can't tell you which of the three books it's going to appear in. But it is going to be in there and he did write the ending himself, of the entire thing.

    Matthew Peterson

    Oh, okay.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Which is just wonderful. It makes this book possible because I know what the ending is. He left a lot of material through the middle too, as well. But he left that ending. He'd been promising us for years that he knew the ending of the series. And he did. And he wrote it down. And so I'm really working towards the goal of getting to that ending and working with it in mind and so, yeah, you don't need to worry that the ending wonít be Robert Jordan's ending, because he wrote that himself.

    Matthew Peterson

    That is great to know. I didn't know that. Well, that is awesome.

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  • 9

    Matthew Peterson

    Well, Brandon, I've been so glad to speak with you. I know a lot of people are really excited. The first book is The Gathering Storm, next one: Towers of Midnight, and the third one: A Memory of Light. I've been speaking with Brandon Sanderson, New York Times bestselling author of the Mistborn and Alcatraz series, and now The Wheel of Time series. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Brandon.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, yeah. Thanks for having me.

  • 10

    Matthew Peterson

    Well, that's it for today. Be sure to check out www.TheAuthorHour.com for the bonus questions that didn't make it onto the live show. Next week I've got five popular authors who've written some of the most well-known, modern classics of our day: Anne Rice, Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Orson Scott Card. See ya next week!

  • 11

    Matthew Peterson

    Now for a bonus question: From your experience teaching creative writing, what is some advice you give your students?

    Brandon Sanderson

    The biggest piece of advice I would give them is: You just gotta finish stuff. A lot of people want to be writers. And a lot of people have really great ideas. And get their great ideas together and say, "Wow! I think this could be a book." Then they start on it and for various reasons, they stop. One of the main reasons is they get discouraged because it's not turning out as they want it to turn out, or they get distracted by another really great idea they've just had, or they want to go back and keep revising this initial stuff that they've written. And you've got to finish. You won't understand how to be a writer until you actually finish a book. And you've got to remember that nobody starts off being perfect. And it's that process of writing books that aren't so good that teaches you how to write books that are good. No one expects to sit down and play the piano perfectly the first time. Yet a lot of people sit down and try to write the perfect book the first time. So, my biggest piece of advice to them is: Sit down, write, finish a book. And that will teach you how to write a good book.

    Matthew Peterson

    Ah. That's some good advice.

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