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Interviews: BYU Magazine Interview: Writing of Epic Proportions

Summary:

Entries

10

Date

Jan 24th, 2013

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

Krista Holmes Hanby

Links

BYU Magazine

Theoryland

  • 1

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Despite battling hordes of rejections and criticisms, author Brandon Sanderson has garnered acclaim with his magical stories.

    Adjunct BYU English instructor Brandon W. Sanderson (BA ’00, MA ’05) began his writing career behind the front desk of a Provo hotel.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "It was pretty dead there from about midnight to 5, but they were required to have someone on staff," he explains of his post-mission job. "And so when I got hired I told my boss, 'I'm just going to write books all night,' and he replied, 'That's great. At least you won't sleep on the couch like the person before you."

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Squeezed between BYU homework and what little sleep he could muster, eight novels emerged over five years of Sanderson's graveyard writing.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "The first five were terrible," he says. "I once heard that your first five books are generally bad, and so I determined I would write six at the very least."

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Novel number six was Elantris, which sat on an editor's desk at Tor Books for an agonizing 18 months before Sanderson got a response. Little did the haggard student know then that in a mere eight years, he would publish not only Elantris (in 2005) but 12 more novels, including his acclaimed Mistborn series and the middle-grade Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series—as well as the final three books of The Wheel of Time, by epic-fantasy writer Robert Jordan.

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  • 2

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    When Jordan died of a rare blood disease in 2007, he left copious notes for concluding his renowned Wheel of Time series to Harriet McDougal Rigney, his wife and editor. Rigney searched for an author to finish her husband’s work and chose Sanderson after reading a heartfelt eulogy to Jordan from Sanderson's blog as well as his first Mistborn book.

    Harriet McDougal

    "The beautiful eulogy he wrote made me see the necessity of checking out his stuff," says Rigney. “Brandon's world—his characters and their situation—were all very clear to me. I saw that he could do it."

    Brandon Sanderson

    "Robert Jordan had this beautiful way of looking through someone's eyes, that when you were reading their viewpoint, you felt like you knew them," Sanderson says. "As an early writer, I would study that and say, 'How is he doing this?'"

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  • 3

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Although he is now a six-time best-selling author known for creating relatable characters, vivid settings, and unique magic systems, Sanderson was not a bred-in-the-womb writer. Like many adolescent boys, he avoided reading. But when his eighth-grade teacher convinced him to pick a book off her shelf, he chose Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly—because of its cool dragon cover.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "It was like the story of my mom, except in a fantasy world with dragons, and that was just awesome," Sanderson says. "It had all the action and adventure, and it had all the relate-ability."

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Sanderson went on to read every fantasy book in his high school.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "Fantasy gives us this imagination, this power, this wonder, alongside real human problems, and it mixes all these things together in a package that is fun and readable and interesting," he explains. "It grabbed me, and that's when I decided I was going to be a fantasy writer—and I started writing."

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  • 4

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Initially a biochemistry major at BYU, Sanderson served a mission in Korea, where his mission president allowed him to write stories on preparation day.

    "The most inspiring facet of Brandon and his work is that he understands thoroughly and profoundly how much writing is just that: work," says Ethan M. Sproat (BA '02, MA '08), a PhD candidate at Purdue who worked with Sanderson on BYU's student-run science fiction and fantasy magazine, The Leading Edge.

    Sanderson returned to BYU, changed his major to English, wrote a bunch of novels, got a host of rejection letters, applied for grad school (twice), and got rejected from just about every top writing program in the States—except BYU.

    Again and again Sanderson was told that his books would never sell because they were too long or too moral. But he was determined.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "At the end of the day if you told me, 'You will never get published,' I would have still written the books," he says. Halfway through his master’s program, he started work on The Way of Kings, which, he says, "I planned to be bigger and full of all the nobility and awesomeness that I wanted to see in epic fantasy. It was flying in the face of what everyone had told me. I wrote the biggest, coolest, epic-est book I could."

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Between working on The Wheel of Time and his other novels, Sanderson eventually finished the 1,007-pager, which debuted at no. 7 on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2010 and begins the anticipated 10-book saga The Stormlight Archive.

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  • 5

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Although Sanderson has emerged as a powerhouse in the genre, he always speaks of his success as a gift.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "There are a lot of writers who are better than I am who are not successful," he says. "It's a measure of luck, perseverance, and providence."

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    Perseverance in particular is a virtue he teaches to aspiring writers—both in his BYU fantasy and sci-fi writing class and in Writing Excuses, the weekly writing-advice podcast he cohosts.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "Sit in a chair and write," Sanderson says. "Ignore this thing they call writer's block. Doctors don't get doctor's block; your mechanic doesn't get mechanic's block. If you want to write great stories, learn to write when you don't feel like it. You have to write it poorly before you can write it well. So just be willing to write bad stories in order to learn to become better."

    Krista Holmes Hanby

    One of Sanderson's first students, new author Janci Patterson Olds (BA ’05, MA ’08), took Sanderson's lessons of tenacity to heart. "Brandon really believes that anyone who's willing to work hard can succeed," she says, "which makes him a fantastic teacher and writing mentor."

    For Sanderson, creating worlds is all in a day's work.

    Brandon Sanderson

    "I love this job," says the father of three. "You get up and do something different every day: you become a different character, you work on a different problem, you create something new. There's nothing as supremely satisfying to me as looking at nothing . . . and at the end having something—a story, this thing that is almost alive."

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  • 6

    Marie Curie

    Note that the posted article listed above is not the same as the video. The verbatim transcript of the video is given below.

  • 7

    Brandon Sanderson

    When you've finished 12 novels and you haven't made a single dime, you really ought to, you know, have a long, hard look at what you're doing. And I did.

    When I look back and say, what grabbed me? What was it? And I think it's partially the imagination, the sense of wonder. We as people like to go do this. We want to see new things. There’s an adventurous, exploratory sense inside of us. And fantasy books are about that: taking us to places that we haven't been, that we can't go. But our imaginations can.

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  • 8

    BYU Magazine

    Adjunct instructor and BYU alum Brandon Sanderson (BA ’00, MA ’05) harnessed his imagination to write 12 manuscripts filled with magical worlds and inspiring characters–but after six years of writing, not one book had been accepted for publication.

    Brandon Sanderson

    These books that I'd started writing—you know, after the first six. The first five I thought, you know, were just practice. But, books six through about nine, I really put a lot into those. I felt I was getting really good as a writer. I felt I knew what I was doing, and I felt I was writing really good books.

    I was getting stacks and stacks of rejections. And people were telling me, "Why don't you be more like this writer over here?" "Why don't you be more like this writer over here?" "Your novels are too big. They're too long. We can't buy things that are this long. Write them shorter."

    And I had to make the decision that, at the end of my life, if I had a hundred unpublished novels in the closet, would I be okay with that? Would I be okay with never selling anything? I decided I was going to write the biggest, baddest, most awesome book that I could. I was going to ignore everything that people were telling me.

    At that time, really popular in fantasy was kind of very gritty and dark fantasy. And I said, no, that's not what I want to write. I'm going to write heroic fantasy—you know, stories like I want to read.

    By coincidence, it was a few months after I'd finished that book—I hadn't sent it anywhere—that someone called me wanting to buy Elantris, the sixth book that I'd written—that I'd really had felt would be the book that broke me out, all those years ago.

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  • 9

    BYU Magazine

    Once Sanderson published Elantris in 2005, the floodgates were open. By 2013, he had published 14 novels, including the final three books in the epic Wheel of Time series, whose original author, Robert Jordan, died in 2007.

    Brandon Sanderson

    It was kind of a—I don't know—a fulfillment for me that I was doing the right thing. But it was also this great moment where I realized, hey, people do want to read those things that I was doing.

    I'm glad I had the crisis, and came out of it, before I sold the book. I'm glad that I was able to make the decision that this was what I wanted to do, and commit myself to writing, even if I never sold anything. And then it was perfectly all right and awesome for me to get a really nice book deal with a big New York publisher, and become a best seller. I'm perfectly okay with that now that it's happened.

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  • 10

    BYU Magazine

    Sanderson hit the New York Times best seller list six times in four years. With A Memory of Light, the 14th and final book in the Wheel of Time—delivered to a throng of die-hard fans at a BYU midnight release party in January 2013—Sanderson topped the list again.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Stories are about people; the stories aren't about the fantasy. When I read Tolkien, the story of Sam and Frodo and what they went through, and their determination, and Sam's loyalty—these are inspiring. This is what changes peoples' lives.

    That's my goal in writing this. You know, people—real people—and the struggles they go through. And hopefully, by reading them, and having a fun time because it's an adventure, but at the same time, what should stay with you is the choices they make. And hopefully that will help the people who have read them to lead better lives.

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