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Interviews: An Interview with Brandon Sanderson - A Personal Touch

Summary:

Entries

10

Date

2008

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

Rebecca Cressman

Links

A Personal Touch

  • 1

    Rebecca Cressman

    This is A Personal Touch, a chance to check in with ordinary people making an extraordinary difference in the world. I'm Rebecca Cressman and today joining us is Brandon Sanderson. He is a best-selling author of fantasy literature, and someone who I would say has a wonderful imagination.

  • 2

    Rebecca Cressman

    Now Brandon, I know that you probably are asked this frequently, but when did you begin the creative writing process? Was it as a child?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well actually, I'm a little bit different than most authors. I didn't start as early as a lot of them. If you asked a lot of authors that question, they'll say, "Oh, I wrote my first book when I was in first grade, and ever since then I wanted to be a writer." Well, I didn't start off as a writer. I actually had a big period in my life where I didn't like to read, didn't like books at all. And it wasn't until I was in junior high and a teacher handed me a fantasy novel that it really all started.

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  • 3

    Rebecca Cressman

    I want to talk to you about that, because I have kind of read some of the things you have written about the role of fiction, and the role of fantasy, and how it is so essential to understanding humanity. I'm really intrigued by that. Obviously when we talk about the books that you have written we have Elantris, Mistborn the Trilogy, Alcatraz and the Evil Librarian, we will talk a little bit about those. I'm curious, fantasy captured your imagination; what is it that inspires you to begin writing your own...

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well you know there's that huge imaginative exercise. Fantasy—well all fiction really—is about taking you to a different place and letting you see through different people's eyes. I think fantasy can do things with fiction that nothing else can do. It can take you to a place no one has ever been, really. The book I read when I was in junior high was called Dragonsbane. And it's still a delightful book, I love it. What it was about was a middle-aged woman. And I wouldn't think that me as a fourteen year old boy would really read that book and get into it, but it was so well written.

    Rebecca Cressman

    And identify with its character. Sure.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes. And It was so imaginative, and it had just this wonderful world of dragons and all these things; and also a story about a middle-aged woman who is struggling kind of, to choose between how much time to spend with her family and how much time to spend on her magic. And it was fascinating to me even as a junior high kid that when I finished this book I felt like I kind of understood my mother better, and yet I had this wonderful romp in a fantasy world at the same time. I look back at that and say the emotions that these books can cause are something special, because it can give us this wonderful adventure, but also can make us really understand people we would never be able to understand otherwise.

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  • 4

    Rebecca Cressman

    Well it's interesting because fantasy is... There is fiction, which takes us sometimes through the stories of people whose lives aren't too different from ours. And then there is fantasy, which is a completely different world. And I think a lot of adults might not realize it, through fantasy, from what you are saying, you really do develop empathy and a greater understanding.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Oh yeah. I think so. In fact, fantasy I think can do it in some ways better. There are wonderful things that general fiction can do, too. But fantasy can really show... If you look at something like Lord of the Rings and a friendship developing between a dwarf and an elf in that series, the empathy it can teach you is: that people who are wildly different, different to the point that couldn't exist in our world, can be friends. Or seeing through their eyes, when you read this book and you feel like you understand them, I think it makes it harder for you to be racist, to be prejudiced. If you can see through the eyes of an elf and feel what it's like to be an elf, then maybe somebody who is racially different than you isn't quite so different at all.

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  • 5

    Rebecca Cressman

    Interestingly enough. Do you find that parents have a hard time connecting with adolescent's and children's love of fantasy? Do you find that...

    Brandon Sanderson

    You know, sometimes.

    Rebecca Cressman

    ...because it seems to be—I will go ahead and mention those two words: Harry Potter. He again opened the door to a whole generation of readers. And from there on, and there's been readers all along, but he captured worldwide attention, and parents are reading it with their kids. When you talk with adults about how to share the world of fantasy with children, what advice to do you give?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well there are a couple things I say. First off, there are plenty of adults, like myself, who love it as well. And I mentioned fantasy isn't just a kid's thing. But something about kids, they are willing to look at something not as a genre but as its story. You will notice that children's literature isn't shelved by what type of genre it is. The fantasy books are next door to the books about the Great Depression. And the kids will just read it if it is a good book no matter what. Now there are a lot of us who really get into the fantasy, and I have had parents come to me sometimes at my book signings and say, "My children only read this fantasy stuff. I'm fine with a little bit of it, but can't I get them to read some classics?" And I always tell them, "Don't worry, if they love reading... What you want from them when they are that age is to love reading, whatever it is they are reading. And if they truly fall in love with it, they will get into the classics. They will read broadly once they get a little bit older." It happened with me. I got into fantasy. I didn't want to touch anything that wasn't fantasy for a long time. Until I got to college and then I started to get into Jane Austen, and I started to get into Milton, and I started to get into some of these other things. I still love fantasy, but I had been taught by my reading experience to just love a good story and good literature. I have every confidence that if someone learns to love reading, they will end up reading all sorts of different things. One genre won't be able to satisfy them.

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  • 6

    Rebecca Cressman

    When I first emailed you, Brandon, I indicated to you that my sons are readers. One out of three is not so much an avid reader, but they were captivated by the book that probably gave you a national name, and that was Elantris. And in there, there were themes of a Utopia, and then the opposite. What happens when Utopia crashes, or there's the fault line, there's a crack in it? And then we go to Mistborn, and with your permission to sum up kind of shortly, it was, some said, "A revolution of a new generation against someone in power, and yet they don't even understand the consequences of what they are beginning." So there are underlying themes that you are hitting as you move forward in your writing. Are these themes that you set out, you think, "This is something that is important to me as an author and I want to explore it?" Or does it evolve through the characters that you develop?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's much more an evolution, the second one you mentioned. I'm not one of those who sits down and says, "I want to write a book about X." I don't go and inject any sort of philosophies or theories into my book. I sit down and say, "I want to write a book about this character. Well what's going to be important to this character? What's going to make them tick?" What makes them tick actually tends to be things that I am worried about, or I am concerned about, or I like to think about and so, the two do cross. You'll end up... In my fiction you will often find me exploring concepts and ideas that I am interested in, but that will be because my characters are interested in them.

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  • 7

    Rebecca Cressman

    Okay, I want to take us to one of your series right now that the children at school are being exposed to, and I'm thinking librarians around the nation are worried about the title, Alcatraz and the Evil Librarian.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians actually is what it's called. It is a story about a kid who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world.

    Rebecca Cressman

    So this is a juxtaposition of the typical look of a librarian who is quiet, unassuming, gently stacking books. And so you've kind of lifted the veil and said there's a whole underworld here.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes, well part of the... This book was written mostly on a whim by me. I came up with a first line. I was just sitting one day and it just popped in my head, sometimes this happens, and it was, "So there I was, tied to an alter made from outdated encyclopedias about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil librarians." I jotted that title down and thought, "Wow, I have got to write that story. I have no idea what that story is, but I have got to write it." So I jotted it down, and it sat there and stewed in my head and on my notebook for a long time. And meanwhile The Da Vinci Code was getting very big, and I picked up that book and read it. You know, I kind of have something against all these conspiracy theory books. I don't think that there are any groups out there that are just like the Illuminati secretly ruling the world or anything like that. And The Da Vinci Code took it so seriously that I started to hypothesize something ridiculous, as kind of a mockery of that. And so I thought, well what have I got here? I can tell a story about a secret group ruling the world that would be completely ridiculous. Of course it expanded far beyond there. I wanted to tell a story also about people who had really dumb magical powers that they learned to use for their advantage. And there's a whole lot more to it than just that one concept. But that's where it started, as kind of my look at a silly conspiracy theory book.

    Rebecca Cressman

    Well congratulations, because the talk of the middle school, the talk of the school community is that this is just capturing the imaginations of children.

    Brandon Sanderson

    It was a lot of fun to write.

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  • 8

    Rebecca Cressman

    Okay we've got to close our interview, but I've got to ask you about this. You were invited to do something which I would think would be very daunting, in that the Wheel of Time Series has been one of, well, the best selling fantasy series of all time. And the author passed away before completing the twelfth book and you received a phone call. How did you feel when you received a call saying, "Mr. Sanderson, we would like you to complete the novel."

    Brandon Sanderson

    It was completely dumbfounding. This was not something I applied for or asked for. I was a big fan of the series. I have been, pretty much, since I got into reading. The first book was released just a few months after I started reading fantasy for the first time, and I've been following it for almost twenty years now. When Mr. Jordan passed away, I, like most of the fans, was just... it was terrible, it was a tragedy. He was just an amazing writer. And then to be asked to work on this, to have the opportunity. It's bittersweet in a lot of ways, because I wish he were here to write it. But if he can't be here to write it then, since I've loved the books for so long, the next best thing is being able to write it myself. But when I first got that call I couldn't believe it, I couldn't think that it was real. I mean, I didn't even know how they had gotten my name, or who had suggested me or anything like that.

    Rebecca Cressman

    Well, I donít want to use the term fantasy, but it almost was a fantasy, wasn't it?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, it really was. Yeah, dream come true in a lot of ways, though I wish it could have happened under better circumstances.

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  • 9

    Rebecca Cressman

    Well Brandon, we are thrilled that we have a link to your website on ours so that we can continue to read your blogs, and see what other ongoing online publishings, and of course any paper publishings you are working on. I just want to thank you for your time today.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, thank you.

  • 10

    Rebecca Cressman

    And Iím Rebecca Cressman, and we want to thank you for joining us for this week's edition of A Personal Touch. Be sure to check your email next Saturday, to find out who else, like Brandon Sanderson, is making a difference in our world with "A Personal Touch."