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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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I've long been an insomniac. I think.
Insomnia is a hard one to pin down for me. I'm sure that there is an official definition somewhere in the psychologist's handbook. I just define it as "Those times when I want to sleep but I can't." However, it seems to me that a lot of those times happen when I'm trying to go to bed at what other people call a 'normal' time. I'll lie in bed for hours, just thinking or daydreaming. (Er, nightdreaming.)
Most of my life, this hasn't been much of a problem. In fact, I think it's led to a lot of the habits that turned me into a writer. Plus, if I'm having A LOT of trouble sleeping, I get up and do something else until I'm tired. That can take hours, but since I don't have a day job, I can sleep in if I want. No big deal.
The longer I've done this, the more I've realized that I rarely get insomnia if I'm consistently going to bed later at night, like around three or for am. Perhaps it's the regularity of the schedule.. Or, maybe the hour is important, and my body just likes to sleep from four to noon instead of normal hours.
The problem with this all is that it can be very difficult to get things done if get onto a schedule where you're sleeping seven to three, particularly if you have a family (which I now do.) My sickness last week (which I'm over with; thanks for all your good wishes) immediately sent me into a sleep during the day, be up at night schedule. Didn't get back on a slightly normal one again until today, when I managed to get up at 12:30. I spent most of last week either feeling really sick or feeling like I hadn't gotten anything done in FOREVER. So it was that somehow I managed to do a full-blown rewrite of ALCATRAZ 3, which was on my plate still (note the percentage bars on the website.) I'm happy to have managed to clear that away, though I do have to admit that I haven't gotten as deep into the Wheel of Time yet as I'd like to.
My worry is that, when I start A Memory of Light in the next month or two, I want to be DEEPLY entrenched in Mr. Jordan's world again. More and more lately, that's meant getting everything else taken care of completely. I want to be able to read WoT in a way that will bend my style toward Mr. Jordan's—but, with that as my goal, I don't want to be thinking about other books of mine during that time, lest I let them be influenced too much by Mr. Jordan's way of writing. (Not that it would be bad for me to learn a few things from Mr. Jordan. I just don't want to do it unintentionally. Writers have the danger of letting their styles imitate directly what they're reading at the time, and while I intend to do this on purpose with A Memory of Light, it would be wrong to do this to my other works.)
So, the second point of this whole rant? I'm about fifteen percent through a 4.0 rewrite of Warbreaker, which is the very last thing on my 'to do' list alongside writing A Memory of Light. I'm really digging the changes to the text so far, though I don't know if they're big enough for most readers to notice. Anyway, I should have 4.0 ready for download by the end of the week. Then, I'll start doing updates on my thoughts of WoT as I read it through some of the books for what I believe is the eighth or ninth time.
New Annotations tomorrow, I promise.
First, I'll be teaching at BYU's Writers for Young Readers conference this summer. They suggested I post a link, and I thought it would be a good idea. I think my session is filled up, but there might be other authors you can work with. Conferences like this one are expensive, but can really give you a leg up if you're wanting to break into publishing.
Secondly, Amazon has put up the cover art for Mistborn 3, which is nifty. It's still odd that the promotional Mistborn 1 and Mistborn 2 paperbacks still have no cover art posted, but whatever.
Finally, here is an amusing Librarian reaction to Alcatraz. If you haven't read the book, then you might want to know that this is tongue in cheek. All part of the joke. Which reminds me, I really need to get around to posting some of the Alcatraz concept art I commissioned from the talented Shawn Boyles. I keep intending to use these things on EvilLibrarians.com, which I own, but I never can find the time. Here's one he did of Alcatraz. alcatraz_color
Fifthly, I've finished the revision of A Memory of Light Part One, which tops out at around 250,000 words. I then sent that chunk off to Harriet for review. A lot of you have emailed to ask me what she thought of what I'd written so far. Well, this is the first sizable chunk of writing she's seen on the book, so the honest truth is that I don't know yet! I'm nervous, as can be expected. It could be months before she gets back on those pages, though. 250k is a LOT of writing. In a lot of genres, that alone would be nearly three books worth of material. Here, it's just one portion of the novel.
Sixthly, that means it's time for me to zip on over and finish the two other edits I need to do this year. I warned you about these back in June. One is the Warbreaker Copyedit, the other is the Alcatraz Three final draft. I dove into Alcatraz last night, and the revision is going very quick and easy. I suspect that I'll be done with it by the end of the week, or early next week at the latest. The Warbreaker edit will take a tad longer, but I plan to be done with it by the time I leave on tour. That leaves me with two and a half months to finish the other 150k of A Memory of Light and meet my goal of 400k by December. It's doable, but will be close, with the book tour distracting me. Keep an eye on the website to watch and see if I make it!
Anyway, back to Alcatraz News, I did want to point out that the Paperback of Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians should begin appearing in stores sometime soon. The official release date is November 1st, so I'll do more posts on it later. However, Scholastic has been known to ship books as much as a month early, so you might see this one on shelves pretty soon.
Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones (book two of the series) is coming out November 1st as well. People have been asking me when I'll post sample chapters, and the answer is later in October. I'm pretty focused on Mistborn Three right now, but Alcatraz will get his day in the sun too. In fact, here's a fun picture for you:
Yes, indeed, that is the wonderful Kaytoo cosplaying an Evil Librarian at MountainCon. She even has kittens with her. (Part of the great kitten conspiracy.) Thanks, Lorna! I think this is the first time I've run into a cosplayer from one of my books at a convention.
Anyway, for you Wheel of Time readers waiting for me to turn full attention back to A Memory of Light, this copyedit is the last big thing that I had on my plate. I still have to do an Alcatraz 3 copyedit in February or so, but it will be very short. I'm polishing off the last few bits of the Warbreaker copy edit now. The only question now—and it IS a big question—is how much I'll be able to work on A Memory of Light during book tour. I'm hoping to get back to 10k a week by writing in the car during Dave's turns driving or during points when I'm in the hotel waiting for a signing later in the night. We shall see! I'm going to give it my best shot.
As always, folks, thanks for reading! And please consider picking up a copy of Hero of Ages this week. ;)
Sorry for the long time between updates! Touring always leaves me beat. So this post is probably going to be kind of long as I cover all of the things that need to be posted here.
First off, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones is now officially out! It's a tad hard to find, as most bookstores only got one or two copies, but it's out there. If you are a fan of fast paced, humorous adventure fiction, please consider picking up a copy! Really, I think you'll find yourself surprised by how much you enjoy the Alcatraz books. A lot of my epic fantasy readers are hesitant, but there's a lot more going on in these than the covers and/or genre may imply.
Anyway, if you are thinking of getting a copy, might I suggest contacting the bookstore Mysterious Galaxy? I know they have plenty of copies, and I believe they have some signed first editions they are selling for cover price. They're a great store and will be happy to ship you copies of both Alcatraz books. (I suggest calling before ordering to make sure you get a signed copy.)
Next, Elantris is finally out on Audiobook! You can find it at Audible, Amazon, or the publisher's website. We've been waiting for a long time to get one of my epic fantasy books out on audio, and I know a lot of you have asked about it, so here you go! (And the cover is pretty cool, I must say.)
Third, I'll be signing in the Seattle area the next three days. If you live over in that direction, consider stopping by to see me! We'll have books to sign and I should be doing a reading at several of the signings. (I know I'll be doing one at the University Bookstore.) Most of my readings have been from Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, though sometimes I dip into other projects. (I can't read from A Memory of Light, though—unless it's the first few lines of chapter one, which are always the same . . . )
It is . . . it's very different. My children's series was written on a whim. I wanted to try something that was very different from my style because I wanted to take a break. I wanted to try something new. It came in between Mistborn 2 and 3. After I'd written the first two books straight through, I realized I needed a break to cleanse my palate, otherwise I'd be burned out on Mistborn 3 when I started it. And didn't want to be burned out, I wanted to be excited and energetic about it. And so, I took a break and wrote a short, several hundred page book about a kid who discovers that librarians rule the world. And it was for fun, I wasn't doing it for market reasons. People say, why did you decide to publish in children's? I decided to publish in children's because I wrote a book that I loved and said, hey I could actually publish this. I'm an author now, I do this for a living. So I sent it to my agent, and he said he really just loved it. And so, he took it to book auction, and it sold actually for a ridiculous amount of money. But it was done just for the fun of it.
And so, when I'm writing for children, I do not write down. I don't think that's appropriate. But I do change my style. I keep things more snappy. And you know, children are more forgiving. Epic fantasy has to be very internally consistent and very logical, and I love that about the genre. But children don't care if you genre bend a little bit more, or if you're a little bit more tongue-in-cheek. And, I was able to write a book that just didn't take itself quite so seriously. The Alcatraz books are funny. I think they're hilarious, they're meant to be fun. It's my take on one of my very rule-based magic systems done in a light-hearted way. It's about people who have really ridiculous magical powers, like Alcatraz's grandfather. His magical superpower is the ability to arrive late to appointments. And his cousin's magically good at tripping. And it's about them taking these magic abilities and twisting them, and using them in cool ways. Like his grandpa will arrive late to bullets, and his cousin will trip to make really great distractions, and these sorts of things. It's very fun. But the difference is, more light-heated, more fast-paced.
Well, it honestly depends on the book. It's not just a matter of length, it's also a matter of complexity. The more viewpoints I'm trying to balance, and the deeper the setting, the longer the book will take. Also, it depends on what you call 'writing' a book—do you include all drafts, or just the rough? What about the planning? Here are a few estimates based on some of my books, drafting and planning time included.
Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians (50k words, one viewpoint.) 2-3 months.
Elantris (200k words, three main viewpoints.) 6-8 months.
Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (250k words, 5 main viewpoints.) 8-10 months.
The Wheel of Time: The Gathering Storm (300k words. 21 viewpoints. Chunks outlined and written by Mr. Jordan already.) 16 months, pulling extra hours.
So . . . imagine if I HADN'T had outlines and materials left by Mr. Jordan. It would probably have taken around 2 years to write a book that length. (Which, actually, was about how long it took Mr. Jordan to write a lot of his books.)
Every author is different, however. Some write in bursts, some write slow and steady, a little each day. It's hard to judge exactly how long it will take you to write a book. There's no 'right' way to do it.
A few quick items. Hero of Ages has won the Romantic Times editor's choice award. Huzzah! I wasn't certain if I could announce this, but it looks like the magazine has shipped, so I think I can say it now. I'm deeply honored. The Romantic Times has done a very good job reaching across genre lines and honoring books they think deserve praise, regardless of their genre.
In similar news, I can't remember if I mentioned it or not, but Hero has also been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award. This is an honor for two reasons—first, because Mr. Gemmell himself was such a fantastic author. But also because this is a reader-voted award, which means that you all took the time to stop by and give me a nominating vote. That means a lot to me. Thank you so much! I believe that the final winner is also chosen by a vote from readers, so if you feel so inclined, you can vote for Hero to win. You don't even have to register to do so.
Finally, I have a small stock of copies of the Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians hardcover on hand, and that is getting hard to find in stores, so I thought I'd offer them for sale and personalization. I'll probably do another post on this later, going more in-depth, but if you haven't tried Alcatraz, this would be the perfect chance.
PROJECT TWO: ALCATRAZ FOUR
I committed to Scholastic for four books, and I will need to (sometime) think about writing the final volume. Book Three is turned in and coming out this fall. Usually, I write these two years ahead. So I turned in Book Three in fall of 2007, then didn't turn one in Fall of 2008, since I was working so hard on A Memory of Light. But I hate not doing what I say I'll do, and I will need to write this book sometime. Scholastic probably won't start bugging me about it until July or August. But it will have to be turned in by the end of the year or I'll be in breach of contract.
So just a warning to all of you WoT fans out there—I'm sorry, I've put Alcatraz off for much longer than I should. You'll see me take a break this fall for a month or so and work on the final Alcatraz book. My goal is to be writing this in September/October when(hopefully) I will have a rough draft done of Shifting Winds. That way, I can work on new Alcatraz material while using the other half of my brain for editing on WoT. This shouldn't be a problem at all. Normally, I'm working on two books at once—I'll be writing new material on one, then will be editing another. Writing and editing take different types of attention, and I can usually only write new material for four to six hours a day. I can use the other hours for revisions on another book.
So, that's it, right? I think I've talked about everything. Now, some of you may be wondering what this means. Is there going to be no solo Brandon Sanderson book released in 2010?
As early as last summer, Tom Doherty began asking me if there was any way I could get Tor a novel for a 2010 release. He doesn't like going years without releases, and he worried that my readers would feel dropped in favor of the Wheel of Time readers. Plus, he really wants to see something more from me.
When he first mentioned it, I laughed. He was asking me, essentially, to finish the entire Wheel of Time book by spring of 2009, then write him a solo book by fall 2009. Even then, I knew it wasn't going to happen. A Memory of Light was too big a project.
However, now that A Memory of Light has been split, Tom has asked more and more often about getting a Brandon Sanderson solo book to release between the WoT books. He's very worried about there being a period of three years during which I don't release anything of my own. And so, with his questions, he got me thinking. Was there anything I would feel comfortable releasing? Liar turned out poorly, Scibbler isn't epic enough, Warbreaker 2 isn't written. What else is there?
The answer was simple. The Way of Kings.
The Way of Kings was the book I had just finished when I first got offered a book deal for Elantris. I originally signed a deal for Elantris and for Kings. (And because of that, you can still find an Amazon entry for Kings—which has some amusing reviews posted by readers with too much time on their hands. Note that the book was never released, so these are all just made-up amusing reviews.)
Yes, the original contract was for Kings—but I decided that Kings needed to be put off. Kings is a great book, perhaps the best I've ever written. But it just didn't FEEL right to release after Elantris. The Way of Kings is a massive war epic of legends, mythology, and magical revolution. It's intricate, complex, and was a bit daunting for me when I thought about readying it for publication. Just to give you an idea, Mistborn has three magic systems, Kings has well over twenty. Mistborn has six main viewpoint characters across the trilogy; Kings has dozens. I wrote about 30k of background material for Mistborn. Background material for Kings is over 300k.
Difference in scope is only one of the reasons Kings wasn't the right follow-up to Elantris. After a stand-alone novel, I felt that I wanted to publish a trilogy, perhaps two, before I offered my readers the first of a big, multi-volume epic. I also worried that the initial draft of Kings just wasn't good enough—because my skill wasn't up to making it good enough.
Working on the WHEEL OF TIME has forced me to grow immensely as a writer, however. Over the last year, the more I thought about it, the more I itched to dive in and do a revision of The Way of Kings. If I could effectively use all I've learned, I might be able to make the book become what I want it to be. And so, I told Tom about Kings, and he eagerly offered me a new contract for it. I've warned him that it might not be ready in time to come out next year, but I'm going to give it a try.
Kings needs a solid rewrite. I've been tweaking it over the years, worldbuilding the setting and so forth. I've been planning, working on, and revising this book for eight years. I think that if I do a rewrite now with my current writing abilities, it would turn out very, very well.
The thing is, I can't be certain. Maybe it won't work as I want. Maybe I will just have too many things on my mind. Maybe I'm not up to doing this book yet. But, because of the pleading of Tom, my readers, and (most importantly) my own heart, I'm going to give it a try.
As I said above, writing and revising take different parts of the brain. I can only write new material for a certain number of hours a day, usually around four or six. But I can revise all day long. Perhaps it's the difference between mental heavy lifting and mental long-distance running. Either way, in order to give this a try, I've hired a full-time assistant, Peter Ahlstrom, to do all the things in a day that normally take my time away from writing/revising. Usually, when I'm not revising, the 'non-writing' hours of the day are spent doing all kinds of tasks associated with being self-employed. Peter is going to be handling all of this, theoretically freeing up a few hours each day during which I can revise The Way of Kings.
This will not take my time away from writing Shifting Winds. If it starts to look like it will delay that book, I will stop working on Kings—not because of any criticism I may get from readers, but because I feel a debt to Mr. Jordan and this project I have agreed to do. I like to keep my promises.
I explain all this because I want you WoT readers to understand that I do have a life beyond the Wheel of Time. I have obligations, both to publishers and to myself. I feel very strongly that the time has come for me to show readers what I've been working on behind the scenes for many years. And so, on my blog I will spend time talking about projects other than the WHEEL OF TIME.
I like to be open. I like you to be able to see what I'm doing, and so I feel I should be up-front with you about what I plan. I've shelved a lot of books for THE WHEEL OF TIME, and rightly so. But there are two projects I WILL be spending time on this year—Alcatraz 4 and The Way of Kings. I plan to add progress bars for each of them, and link the titles here so those who come to my site later can read this explanation.
Sorry to be long winded . . . again. Occupational hazard.
I love epic fantasy, but I’m of the generation who grew up reading Robert Jordan and Tad Williams and are now trying to say, what else can we do with the genre? I want to write books that feel like the great epic fantasies of the past that you’ve read, but don’t use the same, familiar stories. In Mistborn, for example, the idea was to turn the standard fantasy story on its head–what if the prophesied hero failed and the Dark Lord took over and has ruled the known world for the last thousand years? My books are also known for their spectacular, interesting magic systems that are very rule based and almost a science unto themselves. But of course none of that matters without characters whose motivations you can understand and who you can care about as a reader. In Elantris I have three very different main viewpoint characters, and readers are fairly evenly divided on who’s their favorite–in writing as in anything else, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, but I’m happy that my books have shown so many different people a character they can relate to and root for.
Between writing Mistborn 2 and Mistborn 3, I wanted to try something new, and my series of humorous middle-grade novels beginning with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians was the result. I love epic fantasy, and don’t intend to ever stop writing it. However, sometimes we all need a diversion toward something more lighthearted. If you want to get a taste of what my writing is like, because Alcatraz is so different from my other books I recommend that unless you’re between the ages of ten and thirteen you start with the first Mistborn book—or Elantris or Warbreaker. Mistborn is a good entry point for people who like trilogies and series (and the writing is better in Mistborn than in Elantris; I can see how much I have improved over the years). The other two are good entry points for people who prefer standalones–and Warbreaker is available for free on my website (as well as coming out in hardcover in North America from Tor next month), so it may be the most convenient starting point of all.
Well, now that The Way of Kings rewrite is finished, I've moved on to the next thing on my plate: Alcatraz Book Four. (And if you're wondering why the heck I'm working on this instead of on WoT 13, I did a blog post warning about all this earlier in the summer.)
I was planning on putting off Alcatraz until September/October, but over the summer I realized that I needed to do it in July. It's time for a break. I've been working on the WoT straight since January 2008. Eighteen months is the longest I've ever spent on the same project, and I'm feeling that I need to step back from it for a short time and let my mind recharge. So I won't be doing any new WoT material for the next month or so. (Though I will be working on outlines and plans for the next sections.)
You can track the progress on Alcatraz via the progress bars. My goal right now is to be done with Alcatraz by the time I'm back from Worldcon, and be through with the new outlines for WoT 13 by September 1st. The book is almost 2/3 done, so things still look good for getting it in by January.
It's kind of interesting, sometimes, to step back and look at the process of how this writing thing all works for me. I think that my early years of writing have had a lot to do with how I now write. People talk about my productivity sometimes. I think a lot of it has to do with how I jump from project to project to stay fresh. The first Alcatraz book came from me needing to do something new between books two and three of Mistborn, and over the last few years, they've been wonderful opportunities to renew myself.
Perhaps I've got writing ADD. (Of course, I don't know if you can call it that, since I generally stick to a project for six or eight months before hopping to a new one.) But I think this all goes back to the fact that I wrote thirteen different books (most of them in different worlds) during my unpublished days. I always hopped to something new every few months, and that kept me excited about writing.
On Friday I talked about this coming Saturday's release party for Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia. Be sure to read the entry if you missed it. Now, some of you are more interested in the release of The Gathering Storm that's coming up at the end of this month (though if you haven't read any Alcatraz, you're missing out). I recently found out about an alternative to the event I'll be doing at the BYU bookstore. If all you want is to get the book right away, standing in line for hours isn't your idea of fun, and you don't care about meeting me or getting my signature in the book (I understand, who cares about that Brandon Sanderson guy? You just want to know what happens to [insert character name here] ASAP!), the Provo Waldenbooks is also going to be open at midnight with plenty of copies on hand. They've put details up on Facebook. I'm going to be on the other side of town, of course, but the Provo Waldenbooks has hosted a couple of my release parties in the past, and it's a great place to buy books. (I won't make it to that store on this tour but am sure to stop by there sometime after I get back.) I imagine it will be a more relaxed way to get your hands on the book than the official release party—at which I still hope to see as many of you as possible. (By the way, the Dragonmount folks have put up Facebook calendar items for every stop of my tour, including the official release party. You can go add yourself to the events you're attending, if you like to do that sort of thing.) I haven't heard about any other special events or midnight openings at non-tour sites coinciding with the book's release, but if I do find out about any others I'll let you know.
I mentioned this on Twitter and Facebook earlier, but Tor.com is sponsoring a giveaway of The Eye of the World and Mistborn 1 over at SF Signal. If you already have both books (and I assume a large percentage of you do), they at least make great gifts. Check it out. The deadline is Monday the 12th at midnight.
Is it possible that there could be more than four Alcatraz books, or will the story conclude there?
I pitched the series at six books, but only signed on for four at first. And so, while I'll be fulfilling my four book contract (happily) I don't know that I'll have time to write an Alcatraz book in 2010 (for 2011 release). I may have to let it stop at four for now, as to not take time away from the Wheel of Time. We'll see how I feel once I've finished all three of those, and we'll see how interested readers are in the books. But there's certainly a possibility.
When is the next Alcatraz book coming out?
Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia is in stores October 1st (though Scholastic often ships early, so you might find it as early as September 1st.) Book four—Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens—is being written now and will come out the following October.
My last question shouldn't be as hard to answer and that is: Who is in charge of the Mistborn movie you mentioned at the #tweettheauthor?
Thank you so much, I love your books!
It is a small production studio, so nobody you'd recognize. The producer is a fan of the Mistborn books who has some credentials in independent films, and who has impressed me with his treatment of the books and his determination to make the film. This individual is starting a production company to focus on the film. We're in the contract stages now, and once that is done, I can be more specific.
It's not like the Alcatraz movie, which was optioned directly by a studio. Because of that, the Mistborn movie is probably a lot less likely to happen—but, the hands it is in are quite good. Anything having to do with Hollywood is a long-shot in the first place, so (after meeting with the producer) I decided that I'd rather take the slightly more unlikely chance in exchange for the opportunity to work with someone I felt understood the books.
PART TWO: BUFFERS AND MY WRITING SPEED
Because of this, and because of my writing style, I need a little bit of a break before I tackle it. I pushed myself very hard to get both Towers of Midnight and The Way of Kings ready for publication this year. Even then, it was only possible because I had written a sizable chunk of Towers of Midnight while working on The Gathering Storm AND because I'd already finished an early version of The Way of Kings.
People have mentioned before that I am somewhat prolific. Some of this is an illusion. For a while now, I've been warning people that we've been chewing through my buffer at a frightening rate. Once upon a time, I would turn in a book three years before it was scheduled to come out. This gave me a lot of wiggle room. If a book wasn't working, I could shelve it and think about it, then get back to it. Working that far ahead prevents most big crunches.
However, the books I've been working on lately were a little more high profile than previous ones—and high-profile books get released when they get turned in, not three years later. So, though I took eighteen months finishing The Gathering Storm, it looked like I finished it very quickly. (I turned it in during the summer of 2009, and it came out in the fall of 2009. Warbreaker came out that same year, though I'd turned it in back in 2006.) The very long write of that book was invisible to a lot of readers because books I'd written years before continued to come out while I was working on it.
The buffer is gone now. I'll talk more about that later. However, I want to mention something else that helps me be productive—and that's allowing myself deviations to keep myself interested. I've told people before that I wrote the Alcatraz books to give me a break between Mistborn novels. If I'm able to refresh myself on other projects, I don't get burned out on the big epics. (Which are my true love, but can be very demanding on me mentally.)
How much pre-writing do you do for each book?
He wrote 50k words backstory for Mistborn, and 200k words backstory for The Way of Kings. It takes about 8 months to write a novel. Though it only took a month to write Alcatraz, which was a parody of conspiracies, and included bad super-powers, an anti-epic fantasy (and that a possible movie from Dreamworks was in the works at the time).
Yes, it is. I actually wrote Alcatraz between Mistborn books two and three. I had just finished book two, and I wanted to push in and do book three, but I was feeling a little exhausted, almost a little burnt out, and I didn't want to start the final book feeling burnt out. And so, not telling anybody what I was doing, I took some time off, and I wanted to do something very different to encourage myself to grow as an artist, to explore different types of writing. Like I said normally I'm an architect, and I wanted to do a more gardener-type book. For Alcatraz I started with a few premises that I found amusing and interesting and I built a book out of them, as I went. It turned out very well—a lot of my projects that I experiment with, I actually don't publish because they don't turn out very well. I only take the ones that really turn out well and publish them.
So for every Alcatraz, there's two or three other novels that just kind of nose-dived. That doesn't happen with my epic fantasies because I spend so long planning them and getting them ready that I know, before I start, how they're going to turn out.
But anyway, Alcatraz was a light-hearted, fun—but hopefully still interesting and intriguing—story for me to write, about a young man who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world!
As I stated in a blog post in the early fall, I took the months of September–December inclusive off from major projects. I do this to give myself some breathing room creatively and work on projects I don't have a contract for. I also like to do writing exercises, try new things, and generally relax and let myself be creative without deadlines or expectations.
Sometimes the projects I work on during times like this turn out really well. Sometimes they flop hardcore. Often it's something in between. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians came from a session like this, and it has been very successful. Some other stories written during times like these have never seen the light of day. Others (most notably Scribbler, which has been renamed The Rithmatist) need to sit for a while and let me stew on them before I decide to revise them and get them into publishable shape.
The first thing that developed from this session was an urban fantasy about a necromancer who runs a pizza joint. It was listed on my sidebar as "Untitled Urban Fantasy Project" or something like that. This book was fun to write, and it was interesting to explore something in an our-world setting. The beginning was great, but it ran out of steam halfway through, and I never ended up finishing it. I might do something with it someday, but for now I've set it aside. The title for this one ended up being Death by Pizza. Maybe I'll post some chapters for you.
When I originally wrote Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, I put that in there partially as a throwaway joke. Melerand is one of the main kingdoms in Dragonsteel, and I thought it would be amusing for them to be speaking that language somehow filtered into this world. By the end of the book I decided that Alcatraz could not be anywhere in the same continuity as Dragonsteel and that I was probably wrong for including that. Though there are other jokes in there relating to my other books—it's much like the scene where Quentin speaks in Spook's dialect. Those were just jokes, inside references to my other books.
Remember that Alcatraz was written as a writing experiment, not as something that I was intending to publish. As the series grew more serious to me, meaning that I developed what I actually wanted to happen—which with me usually happens as I write book two of a series, when I sit down and build an arc for the entire series—I "realified" Alcatraz's world a little bit, if that makes sense, made it its own substantial thing. So at that point it wasn't appropriate for them to be speaking Melerandian anymore.
Book 5, I'm going to wait and see what happens with the movie deal. By the way, DreamWorks did not renew their option, so it's back on the market. We'll see what happens. I also want to see what happens with Scholastic. They so far have not asked for a fifth book. If there is no activity by about this time next year, I will look into writing the fifth book and either just releasing an ebook or selling it to Tor or something like that. The fifth book will come.
And by the way, this is from me, Brandon, and not from Alcatraz: The fifth book is the one that includes the altar scene. I'm more trustworthy than Alcatraz is. That scene is in the fifth book.
There was no one specific inspiration; it was a combination of different ideas bouncing around in my head for years and other ideas that I tried in earlier books that didn't work out. One idea does not make a book or a series, but ideas in interesting combinations makes a book. With Mistborn, one idea came while I was driving one day and entered a heavy fog bank: this started me thinking about a world shrouded in mist. Later I started thinking that a heist plot such as in movies like Ocean's Eleven would make a good fantasy story. I started thinking about different kinds of metal being used as magical batteries for different types of power. And I had a cinematic image of someone leaping through the air in a mistcloak. All these things combined to make a book.
I wrote all three Mistborn books before the first one was released, so I was able to go back and alter things in the first book to keep everything consistent with the last book. And it was indeed exhausting. I've found that from time to time in order to recharge my mental batteries, I need to take a break and write something else instead. So after writing The Well of Ascension and before starting to write The Hero of Ages, I took some time off from the series and wrote a fun experimental project instead. I didn't really know where it was going or what I would ever do with it, but it turned into the first Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians book, which was completely different from the Mistborn books that had been occupying my life for months. I found that when I was finished writing that side project, my mind was refreshed and I was ready to tackle the Mistborn world again. So ever since then I've made it a habit to take breaks to write experimental short projects that don't necessarily have to go anywhere. Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't and I shelve them. But it keeps me fresh.
Cuthbert gave Brandon packs of Magic cards in Italian and Brandon had him sign one of the cards, which was neat.
Other things we discussed included the Mistborn movie (Brandon has seen a screenplay and it was pretty good, but the project is not for sure going to be made). Dreamworks Animation has the rights to Alcatraz and Red Eagle has the rights to Wheel of Time.
There was an April Fools joke at one point that Lindsay Lohan was going to play Vin in the movie by Brandon's friend Dan Wells who does the Writing Excuses podcast for aspiring writers with Brandon. If you haven't listened to their podcast yet you should, its quite entertaining even for people who have no desire to become writers. Brandon mentioned that maybe about 50% of the audience is listening just for fun and may not have an actual desire to become professional authors.
Finally, Brandon told us that he is likely coming back to Europe next year. He wants to get to the UK very much and will likely go to the Imaginales d'epinal convention which is in March. He said that he generally has more time at conventions to do things like play Magic than at signings as there are events over multiple days, parties, etc...
Is the world of Alcatraz part of this whole system or is that completely different since targeted to different readers?
Alcatraz is NOT part of this system. The Alcatraz books (indeed, most of the Young Adult books I've planned or written) need to be off on their own.
As of doing this interview, the last book of the Wheel of Time is nearly done, but boy, that's a big "nearly." There's so much work to do with the last chunk of this book that it's feeling pretty overwhelming right now. My goal is to have a revised manuscript in to Harriet by January 1st. When it comes out will depend on how long it takes to edit it.
The second Stormlight Archive book is in the planning stages; I should go right into writing that starting January 1st, with it coming out hopefully around a year after that, maybe March 2013. That's a long wait since The Way of Kings was released, and I hate to make people wait that much, but I plan to write the third book fairly soon thereafter.
Alcatraz is on hold until I decide what to do with the series. I will write one more book in that eventually. The Rithmatist is exciting; it's fun; but I also don't want to have too many balls up in the air that people are reading and having to keep track of. So I keep delaying it with Tor, saying we shouldn't release it until I'm sure I can commit to getting the trilogy done in a reasonable amount of time.
Other than that, I have a few random side projects in the works that should be coming your direction. I always have random side projects in the works, but none of those are ready for announcement yet.
Ha! As for casting choices, I would direct curious parties to the threads on my forums about this topic. I can't really say who I'd pick, since it takes so long to make a movie. And, to be honest, I have trouble imagining ANY actor in my character roles. They are who they are in my head! An actor wouldn't be them to me.
Not that I wouldn't sell movie rights. Actually, we've had a few nibbles from various producers. As you've said, fantasy is hot. However, it's also very expensive to make a fantasy movie, so producers are wary about the projects they pick up. My kids' series, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, which starts this October with Scholastic, is probably the most likely to be made in the near future.
Mistborn was good. Elantris was better, I think. I have a pretty low tolerance for sex and gore in novels and neither of these bothered me. Both were very interesting fantasy that actually spent some time thinking about new ways a world could work.
Oh Frank, Mistborn is much better than Elantris, but then I'm prejudiced against zombies. And as an added bonus, Mistborn had the best cover art ever—that unusual angle, so intriguing, and not contra the text as book covers so often are. In fact, after I finished the book I could see, in retrospect, that the cover depicts an important plot point at the end of the book—what a fabulous Easter egg is that!
It's fun that my oldest child is now old enough to pass my books too. We both love Mistborn. No undue influence from the woman who houses and feeds her, I assume. She wrote one of her big literature projects on Mistborn this year.
How long before is the game going to be? I remember you saying it was going to be before Final Empire, but I was wondering how long before?
I sold Legion, which is a novella I wrote, to Lionsgate, for a television pilot. We will see if they will actually do it or not. That’s a modern day thriller I wrote. It’s a novella. I’ll release it next summer or something. It’s short, but it was meant for a pitch for a television show. So that’s coming out, and we’ll hope that they actually film that. We did sign deals on that, and since there’s Lionsgate, which is a big studio, behind that, there’s a production house attached to it, and it will go much faster.
Other than that, there’s the Wheel of Time, which keeps slowly moving forward. It is moving forward, but really slowly. And Alcatraz is basically dead in the water right now. The option lapsed in June, and no one else has snatched it up, so it’s now been six months, and that one’s pretty much dead in the water. Which is sad. We got really close on that one.
Will you still write the fifth book?
Yes, I will write the fifth book. Just the movie is dead in the water.
What’s the future for the Alcatraz books?
I am actually in negotiations right now to bring the Alcatraz books to Tor, because we want to recover them, and rerelease them. So it’s kind of in a little bit of a limbo until I can get it to Tor, they were at Scholastic, and we’re in negotiations. There’s some things that I very much like about Scholastic, but at this point we’re kind of want to have all of my books at the same publisher, so if we do that, we will do a rerelease with new covers, then I will do the last book.
How can you rerelease a book with a new cover when sometimes you have references in the book to the covers? [Alcatraz made reference to the cover]
Then I can just add a little addendum to say that the rereleased cover makes sense.
In this week's Writing Excuses podcast episode, Dan, Mary, Howard, and I talk about brevity.
Since all the chapters of my abandoned novel Mythwalker have now been uploaded, it's time to start dishing out something else for your weekly bonus content. So my assistant has put up the first annotation for Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. This one talks about the process of coming up with the title for the book, with the various (and often ridiculously long) options that were considered.
If you're not familiar with my book annotations, think of them as the director's commentary on a special edition DVD. On your second read-through of a book, you may be interested to hear what I have to say about each chapter. Currently I have completed annotations for Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy, and Warbreaker. Check them all out. (Spoilers from later in the book than the current chapter are hidden.)
My assistant also uploaded another Twitter posts archive.
Yeah. One of the functions of getting published like I did—taking as long as I did, and working how I did—when I was trying to break in—and even in those early years when I didn't know about breaking in—one of the things I did was pop frequently from project to project. I didn't write sequels. In fact, I haven't brought this up before, but when I sold Elantris, I was actually on my thirteenth novel. That's how far along I was in the process. Mistborn is my fourteenth, so you can read my sixth and my fourteenth. I felt that if I just sat and wrote sequels in the same world unpublished, number one it would be bad for me professionally because I can't really send book two to a bunch of editors, and say "Hey, look at this!" I can only send book one, so if I wrote six books and only had the first one as something that I could try and entice editors with, then I think it would have been to my detriment. Instead I wanted to have six different books—standalones, and beginnings of series—that I could be sending out, and if[?] I could immediately send them something else, and say "Hey, if there's something you liked in that one, maybe you'll look at this one and see that I'm getting better," or "Maybe you'll like this one better," things like that. That was my philosophy. So I got used to always writing a new setting, a new world, and a new magic each time I wrote a book.
Partially, also, though, as a writer, this wasn't just market-field, it was because I wanted to develop something that was my own. I mentioned it before—I think that writers should add to the genre, and I myself was a little bit annoyed with the genre in the late '90s and early 2000s. Maybe I've overstated some of the impact that the children's book had because of that, but I don't know. I was one of those that was like, "Really? Do I really need to read yet another book that is about a guy who lives out in the rural woods and discovers that he is the lost king and needs to go find this magical artifact so that he can save the world. Do I really need to read that again?" I mean, Tolkien did a great job of that, and you know what, Robert Jordan did a really good job of that, and you've got Terry Goodkind with...I mean, with so many people telling this story, do we really need another one? And I think the late 90s, at least for me, is when I finally got tired of it, and I'd read Robert Jordan, and I said, "Look, I don't think this can be done better. How can you tell me you can do it better than he's doing it? Why am I going to read your book?" And that influenced me a lot as a writer. When I was trying to break in, I actually tried writing a story like that, cause I felt like that's what everyone wrote, that's what got published, and I got a little ways into it and said, "I just...I can't feel it. What am I doing that's new? What am I adding?"
And so I was trying a lot of different things. I was trying to explore. Those first six novels of mine, in fact, were—well, the first five in particular—were very different. I wrote several science-fiction novels. I tried a cyberpunk, I tried a social science-fiction, I tried a comedy—I tried lots of different things, trying to find my voice, and at the end, when the dust settled, after doing that, I realized what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was kind of the postmodern epic, so to speak. The child of the 80s and 90s who is aware of what happened with the monomyth and all this stuff in science fiction and fantasy, and say "Yeah, what's next? What happens next? And how can I do something different? How can I do something new? Where can we take this genre?" New magic systems, different styles of plot. That's partially where Mistborn came from. Mistborn is the [?] which really doesn't work for books like it does for movies, so realize this isn't the only thing the book's about, but one of the big influences in me writing the book was the idea of me telling the story where the monomyth had happened. The monomyth meaning Joseph Campbell is here with the thousand vases, you know—young hero goes on a quest to defeat the great evil, and what if he failed? What if the Dark Lord won? What if Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter had said, "You're just a stupid kid!" and killed him, and taken over the world? What if Frodo had kept the ring, or Aragorn had kept the ring, or even Sauron had just gotten it back? What happens next? And that's where that trilogy came from.
Alcatraz is an interesting story because...Mistborn is the first book that I wrote knowing that it was going to get published. It was my fourteenth novel. Always before then, I'd always written just whatever I had felt like next, and it was the first time I had to consider, "Wow. Elantris is getting published. How do I follow it up? What do I do next?" Originally I'd planned to release next a book called The Way of Kings, which was number thirteen—the book I wrote right before Mistborn—and as I was revising Way of Kings, I had this deep-seated feeling that I wasn't ready for Way of Kings. I'd written the first book, and it didn't do yet what I wanted it to do. It was a massive war epic, and was very intricate, enormous world, and thirty magic systems...I mean, it was actually beyond my skill level at the time. And I said, "I need practice writing sequels before I start a massive epic like this." I'd never written a sequel before.
And that's when I sat down and outlined the Mistborn trilogy, wanting to write an entire trilogy straight through so that I could have beginning, middle and end done by the time the first one came out. And I actually was able to achieve that, as a side note; I had written Hero of Ages by the time The Final Empire, the first book, needed to be in for its final draft, and so I was able to—I think it comes through in the trilogy—I was able to make it completely internally consistent. You don't have the problems in that where you have...in some series where you get a little ways into it and then realize the author's just making stuff up, and trying to...and being self-contradictory, and things like that; I didn't want that to happen, and I think I needed to practice doing that with the training wheels, so to speak, of having them all done before the first one came out—before I tried launching into something where I would just have to trust my outline in order to do that, if that makes any sense at all.
So, I sat down and wrote the first two Mistborn books back-to-back. First draft done of Mistborn 1, sent off; started the first draft of Mistborn 2, and was revising Mistborn 1 as I was finishing Mistborn 2. I got done with Mistborn 2, and it was the hardest book I've ever written, partially because of the grueling hours I set for myself—I wanted to get these all done—but mostly because I'd never written a sequel before, and I was so used to doing something new with every book that I wrote, and so I had to train myself into writing sequels. And after I got done with Mistborn 2, and was trying to write Mistborn 3, I realized I need, just for my own creative process—the way I've trained myself—I have to do something completely different now. I have to take a break for a little while and just do something off-the-wall in order to reset all of those tumblers in my head, get back, and write the third Mistborn book, because otherwise I felt that I wouldn't be approaching it fresh enough. I wouldn't be approaching it having enough passion for it. I felt I would started it burned out, or at least burn out to the middle of it.
And so because of that, I sat down with that writing prompt: a one-sentence line that had come to me one time, just when I was hanging out with some friends, and I hurriedly typed into my phone, and said, "Huh, I should write that story one day." And the line was: "So, there I was, tied to an altar made from out-dated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians." And I wanted to do what—I sat down with this—I wanted to do something very different from the Mistborn books. Number one, I wanted to do something humorous. Number two, I wanted to play off of the very things that were in danger of becoming clichés to myself, if that makes sense, to keep myself fresh, to say "I need to go completely different directions so that I don't just become a cliché of myself". And so I wanted to do something very wacky with the magic system that I could never do in an epic fantasy book, because I want those to all feel consistent and scientific. And I wanted to do a first-person narrative instead of a third-person narrative, to do something different again, and I wanted to write for a younger audience. Mostly though, I just wanted to write something off-the-cuff, which was more like a stand-up routine version, or...not a stand-up routine. More like an improv. You know, it's not just joke after joke, but it's an improv story, starting with a kid who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world.
Partially, at this time, I'd also been reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, which has some fascinating aspects and some very annoying ones, the annoying aspects being, I don't like a lot of the cheap tricks he uses narratively to just pull you through the story, cause they get a little old, but beyond that, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe that the Catholic Church, or anyone, has these secret cabals. I mean, they make for great stories, but I don't think that it's there, and so I wanted to tell a silly conspiracy theory book, and so I picked librarians ruling the world. And so what Alcatraz became was a short—for me; 50,000 words—novel that talks about fiction in general. There's a lot of Alcatraz, the narrator, addressing the audience and talking about what literature does, and what authors do. There's a point where he goes off about how authors are sadists—because we want to put you through all these terrible emotions—and explains and talks about it in what is hopefully a humorous way, but kind of digs at the roots of what makes someone want to tell stories.
And there is a goofy magic system. Everyone in the books who belongs to the Smedry family—he's Alcatraz Smedry; it's a—anyway, they're the Freedom Fighters who resist the Librarians. They all have really dumb magic powers. It's kind of like a Mystery Man sort of thing, if you've seen that movie. Alcatraz's grandfather, who introduces himself near the beginning of the book, has the super-power...um, his super-magical power is that he can arrive late to appointments. Alcatraz in the book meets someone in the book who is really magically good—his power is that he's magically good at tripping. Another guy who is magically good at speaking gibberish. Alcatraz himself has the super-power of breaking things—he's really good at breaking stuff—and I just based these magic powers on silly, goofy things that me or my family do—being late to something is what my Mom always said—and then trying to twist them on their heads. You know, later in the book, Grandpa Smedry will arrive late to a bullet when someone shoots it at him, so it just barely misses him. You know...fun stuff like this, where I take preconceptions and turn them on their heads.
And that's where Alcatraz came from. I didn't write it saying "I'm going to publish this." I wrote it saying "I need [to write] this." I finished it; I sent it off to my agent, and said, "Surprise, I wrote a different book than you were expecting me to." And he wrote back, and said, "Wow, this is actually pretty good! You wrote it really fast—I can tell; it needs a lot of revision—but I think I could sell this, if you want to put the time into revising it." So over the next year or so, I did some revisions and some drafts and some work on it, and we sent it out, and lo and behold, it had nine publishers want it. Four of them got in a bidding war, and it went sky-high and turned out to be this wonderful thing that Dreamworks Animation actually optioned it before it even came out. And so, yeah. It took on this entire life of its own.
I sold to Scholastic four novels in a series. I have just finished the fourth one. There may be subsequent volumes, depending on things—particularly depending on if...um, when things calm down for me; the amount of work I have to do right now prohibitive for me entering into another Alcatraz contract; my attention really needs to be on the Wheel of Time at the moment—but, the third one is coming out in October; sometimes they appear on shelves a little bit early. They're a little bit tougher to find in hardcover than my other books because—I've been told, and maybe...I dunno—it seems that children's books...Scholastic likes to market directly to the schools and libraries, and that's their main method of doing it, at least with my books. They've sold as many that way as they have in bookstores, and the bookstores are kind of hit-or-miss on having a copy. Only about half of them get copies in, and so Amazon might be your best bet, or going to your local independent and asking them to order you a copy, and the paperbacks are generally easy to find, but the hardcovers are a little bit tough to find, but the first few chapters are on my website. If you're looking for something that's lighthearted—that's not ridiculous, but it's lighthearted—has some comedy to it, but really has me looking at the novels in the fantasy genre, in specific, from a postmodern view, just trying to break it down and see what it does, and telling a story with it, then you might enjoy the Alcatraz books.
Well, thank you for that answer.
This essay I just posted:
Started as a blog post for this thread, talking about the old books I wrote to give context to my previous post. It outgrew the length of a proper forum post, so I put it on the site instead. But this might help you understand some of my history as a writer, not to mention explain the origin of all these old books Ookla that references all the time.
I remembered a thread from ages ago in which Brandon posted a list of the books he'd written, I looked it up when I realised it wasn't in the article, and I figured you guys might be interested too, so here it is.
1) White Sand Prime (My first Fantasy Novel)
2) Star's End (Short, alien-relations sf novel.)
3) Lord Mastrell (Sequel to White Sand Prime)
4) Knight Life (Fantasy comedy.)
5) The Sixth Incarnation of Pandora (Far future sf involving immortal warriors)
6) Elantris (You have to buy this one!)
7) Dragonsteel (My most standard epic fantasy
8) White Sand (Complete rewrite of the first attempt)
9) Mythwalker (Unfinished at about 600 pages. Another more standard epic fantasy.)
10) Aether of Night (Stand-Alone fantasy. A little like Elantris.)
11) Mistborn Prime (Eventually stole this world.)
12) Final Empire Prime (Cannibalized for book 14 as well.)
13) The Way of Kings (Fantasy War epic. Coming in 2008 or 2009)
14) Mistborn: The Final Empire (Coming June 2006)
15) Mistborn: The Well of Ascension (Early 2007)
16) Alcatraz Initiated (YA Fantasy. Being shopped to publishers)
17) Mistborn: Hero of Ages (Unfinished. Coming late 2007)
18) Dark One (Unfinished. YA fantasy)
19) Untitled Aether Project (Two sample chapters only.)
Thanks for posting that. Note that I can never quite remember which was first, Aether or Mistborn Prime. I always feel that Aether should be first, since it wasn't as bad as the two primes, but thinking back I think that the essay is more accurate and I wrote it between them.
This would be the new list:
1) White Sand Prime (My first Fantasy Novel)
2) Star's End (Short, alien-relations sf novel.)
3) Lord Mastrell (Sequel to White Sand Prime)
4) Knight Life (Fantasy comedy.)
5) The Sixth Incarnation of Pandora (Far future sf involving immortal warriors)
6) Elantris (First Published)
7) Dragonsteel (My most standard epic, other than the not-very-good Final Empire prime.)
8 ) White Sand (Complete rewrite of the first attempt, turned out much better.)
9) Mythwalker (Unfinished at about 600 pages. Another more standard epic fantasy.)
10) Aether of Night (Stand-Alone fantasy. A little like Elantris.)
11) Mistborn Prime (Shorter fantasy, didn't turn out so well.)
12) Final Empire Prime (Shorter fantasy, didn't turn out so well.)
13) The Way of Kings Prime (Fantasy War epic.)
14) Mistborn: The Final Empire (Came out 2006)
15) Mistborn: The Well of Ascension (Came out 2007)
16) Alcatraz Verus the Evil Librarians (Came out 2007)
17) Mistborn: Hero of Ages (Came out 2008)
18) Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones (Came out 2008)
19) Warbreaker (Comes out June 2009)
20) Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (November 2009ish)
21) A Memory of Light (November 2009ish. Working on it now. Might be split into two.)
22) The Way of Kings Book One (2010ish. Not started yet.)
23) Alcatraz Four (2010. Not started yet)
Will elements of your untitled Aether project be worked into the Dragonsteel series?
The Silence Divine (Working title. Stand alone Epic Fantasy. Unwritten.)These titles are news to me. You described two potential YA or middle-grade books to me and Karen when you came out to Book Expo, plus Dark One, but now I can't remember the plots except they were cool (and that one of them involved superheroes). Are they among this list? Also, is that really Harbringer or is it supposed to be Harbinger?
Steelheart (YA Science Fiction. Unwritten)
I Hate Dragons (Middle Grade fantasy. Maybe an Alcatraz follow up. Unwritten.)
Zek Harbringer, Destroyer of Worlds (Middle Grade Sf. Maybe an Alcatraz follow up. Unwritten.)
Bah! That's what I get for typing so quickly. Yes, Harbinger. It should be "Zeek" too. Short for Ezekiel.
Steelheart would be the superhero one, though that's a working title, since I'm not sure if it's trademarked or not. Haven't had much time for thinking about any of these books lately.
Brandon, here you said Alcatraz 4 is called Alcatraz vs. The Dark Talent; is that still the working title? Also, you mentioned Dragonsteel: The Lightweaver of Rens, but now you say The Liar of Partinel is a standalone. Change of plans? (I know you can't get back to Dragonsteel for a while.)
The Alcatraz titles are in flux because I need to know if Scholastic wants the fifth one or not. (They only bought four.) Dark Talent will be one of them for certain.
The Liar of Partinel was part of a two-part story told hundreds of years before the Dragonsteel epic. However, since I've dropped plans to go with Liar anytime soon—A Memory of Light has priority, followed by Way of Kings—I don't know what I'll end up doing with the second book, or if I'll ever even write it. I was planning on not calling either of these "Dragonsteel" in print, actually, and just letting people connect the two series on their own. It wouldn't be hard to do, but I didn't want the first actual book in the main storyline to be launched by Tor as "Book Three" since there would be such a large gap of time.
The newest Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians annotation covers chapter two and talks about how The Simpsons already did everything.
In this week's Writing Excuses podcast episode, Dan, Howard, Mary, and I cover these questions from Twitter in a rapid-fire fashion:
* What do you do if you don't like your characters?
* How do you keep your plot on track?
* Is it better to use real locations in an Urban Fantasy?
* What do you do about plot holes?
* How do you know if you should abandon a story and move on to something else?
* How do you ensure the answers to mysteries are satisfying?
* What are some language-level mistakes that mark writing as amateurish?
* What should a scene consist of?
* What kind of bacon is best?
* Why is Schlock, who looks like a pile of poo, lovable instead of disgusting?
The most recent Writing Excuses episode features David Brin talking with Dan and Mary at the World Fantasy convention about the importance of criticism.
The Hugo Awards nomination deadline is the end of this week. If you're already a member of the 2011, 2012, or 2013 Worldcons, be sure to get your nomination form submitted. I talked about this two months ago, but I and my Writing Excuses partners have various works that are eligible, particularly Writing Excuses Season Six in the Best Related Work category.
There's a new Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians annotation up. This one covers chapter three.
In the most recent Writing Excuses podcast episode, Howard, Mary, and I talk about writing the omniscient viewpoint. (Dan wasn't there; he was off saving his son from ninjas or something like that.)
The newest Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians annotation discusses my use of prison names, the setting, and Bastille. And I'm very pleased to announce that the audiobook for Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones is finally available. The other two audiobooks will follow within a few months. Rutabaga.
This week's episode of Writing Excuses features Mary, Howard, and I talking about Man vs. Nature. If you're as confused about that as Howard was, it's one of the basic narrative conflict archetypes (along with Man vs. Man and Man vs. Self). Check it out.
There's also a new Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians annotation up. This one covers chapter six.
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn of Bull Spec interviewed me for Audible SF/F about audiobooks.
This is the last week to vote on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award (the poll closes March 31st). The Alloy of Law has been nominated, but you should vote for the book you want to win, of course.
The most recent Alacatraz Versus the Evil Librarians annotation covers chapter eight. It explains why elevators are more primitive than stairs, and talks about the hidden continents that the Librarians don't want you to know about.
There's a new ALCATRAZ VERSUS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS annotation on the site. There are only three left after this one, which mentions that the end of a book is the best and worst part, among other things. My assistant has also uploaded another Twitter posts archive.
I bought the rights back from the publisher, I didn't like how they were being handled. That was February I think, and they have a six month sell off period till the rights officially reverted. So what's six months after February? We basically just got them officially back. And so I'm looking for trying to squeeze that in sometime next year.
That's the one I want you to finish the most.
And once I get it done, I will probably just post it on my website for a digital download or something like that, just for the people who want it. Then we'll worry about how to get a print edition.
I actually have several that I want to do. My schedule's very packed; actually my next YA books are not humor; they're more adventurous. Well, I've got one that's more epic fantasy-ish, and one that's more adventurous. I do want to finish out the Alcatraz series; I actually bought it back from Scholastic, and bringing it to Tor, and then I'm going to finish it off. I also have a book I've wanted to write forever called "Zeke Harbinger, Destroyer of Worlds" which is about a young man who, whenever he visits a planet—it's a science fiction—for whatever reason the planet ends up blowing up. It's not really his fault, but there's like a nuclear catastrophe on one, or things like that—don't worry, people are getting evacuated—but whenever goes to a planet it blows up, and that's kind of his...the series is about, you know, each book you visit a planet, and for some reason it ends up exploding. So, you know, I have silly things like that that I want to do. "Mulholland Homebrew's Sinister Shop of Secret Pets", a little fantasy story about a girl who accidentally apprentices herself to a guy who runs a fantasy pet shop. You know, stuff like that. Weird things, it's what goes through my head. We'll see if I actually end up writing it.
Well, that's nice.
I'll try to sum up a few other things I remember:
We talked about if he laughed when fans were guessing who wrote what and getting it way wrong. He said the story he could tell about that was someone looking at the chapter titles to tGS and saying they could tell that Brandon wrote those when of course Harriet has named all the chapters since the start.
He was disappointed that DKS couldn't finished the last cover even though he really thinks Whelan is the best fantasy artist around. He likened it to the same as it being too bad that he had to finish the series instead of RJ.
He talked some more about how he felt Mat was the hardest character to get write because he's pretty complicated. His thoughts don't always match up with his actions and it was hard to strike the right tone.
He knows that his action sequences don't sound like RJ's. He said he just doesn't have the real world experience that RJ did as a combat soldier so he just writes them as the best action scenes that he can.
He said Perrin was his favorite character so one of his goals was to redeem the character a bit and make him awesome again.
I asked about his Alcatraz books and he said there will be one more but it's not high on the priority list and will be several years. He also said the Scholastic distribution wasn't great and he's working on buying back the rights and bringing the series to TOR for wider distribution and ebook release.
Stuff like that. Nothing that hasn't been covered before.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the many projects that you’re working on is a new children's fantasy series, book one of which just came out October 1, 2007 via Scholastic Press and is called Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians. Can you give us a rundown on how this idea was conceived, what kind of story readers can expect from it, your plans for the series, and why you chose Scholastic as the publisher?
Alcatraz actually started out as a freewrite. In the middle of writing the Mistborn series I needed a break, so I wrote down a silly sentence that had been tumbling around in my head, then just kept writing. It took me 16 days, and I wasn't really setting out to write anything in particular. I ended up with the completely looney first Alcatraz book. I wasn't even sure if it could be marketable, but I sent it to my agent, who suggested some small but significant changes, and then sent it out to children's publishers.
Once I realized it could go somewhere, it fit into my plans quite well. I knew I wanted to start a second series, because it is much easier to make a living as an author if you have two books coming out a year rather than one. I wanted to write something that was different enough from my epic fantasies that my readers wouldn't feel overwhelmed, but similar enough that those who liked my other books would still read it. I decided this meant writing either humor, science fiction, or young adult. I'd actually been reading a lot of YA, and was most excited about that idea, so when we decided to market Alcatraz as middle-grade, I was pleased. I immediately had all kinds of wacky ideas for the series.
As far as the writing, what are the differences between a children's fantasy and the books that you've already produced?
Obviously the biggest difference between a middle-grade fantasy like Alcatraz and the stuff I write for Tor is the length. Alcatraz is sixty thousand words long, while The Well of Ascension is two hundred fifty thousand. Writing the Alcatraz books is nice because I can do it relatively quickly, and they don't take themselves so seriously the way my epic fantasies do. I do find that I have to simplify things in order to write for kids—fewer viewpoint characters, simpler plot, etc. It is sometimes more satisfying to create an intricate story like I can do with my Tor fantasies. I'm actually really enjoying having the two types of books to write.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a lot of fun to write.
I don't have a report. I brought my 3 year old and was focused on keeping her happy, so I didn't take notes. Off the top of my head, two days later, I remember some things:
The publisher for the Alcatraz series wasn't taking the books in the direction BS wanted, so he recently bought-back the rights to the series and plans to continue writing according to his own plan.
All right, I have to call on Mr. Brent Weeks, because he . . .
Because he is who he is.
He knows many assassins, I hear. (laughter) So if I don't call on him, I could be in trouble.
So I hear the Stormlight Archive is supposed to be ten books. So does that mean 15 or 20? (laughter)
Stormlight Archive is supposed to be ten books. I'm hoping it will be ten books. It is two sequences of five, so you can ask me after the first five-book sequence where I am in my original outline. It should stay pretty close to that, I hope. I don't know. I used to be able to say everything stayed the same length I wanted it to be, but then my Wheel of Time book got split into three, so I can't say that any more.
Two years between books?
Yeah, two years between books. They're very thick and involved, and I want to be doing other things as well. I like to jump projects—it's what keeps me fresh. It's what allows me to keep on doing this productively, and if I get stuck in one thing, no matter how much I love it, I find that I get less and less excited about it as time passes. But if I finish one book and skip to something else—like an Alcatraz book—for a little while and then jump back, I find my enthusiasm has come back to the beginning, where it was. And so I do a lot of jumping between projects.
Will you be finishing the Alcatraz series?
I will soon be finishing the series. I had to buy the rights back. I didn't like how the publisher was treating the series. I got the rights back on January 1st. It's been a bit of a break, but I will finish it.
Someone in the crowd asked about a possible Alcatraz 5, to which Sanderson responded that he'd actually started working on an outline for it and a few chapters, but it had been slow going because he had to buy back the rights for the book. Sanderson then proceeded to read an intro to one of his chapters that he refers to as an epigraph which was pretty funny.
BOOKS YOU WILL SEE SOON: (The books that are done.)
The Rithmatist (once named Scribbler): Summer 2013
Steelheart: Fall 2013 or spring 2014.
BOOKS YOU WILL SEE SOMEWHAT SOON: (Working on right now.)
Stormlight 2: Hopefully Fall 2013.
Shadows of Self (New Wax and Wayne): 2014
Alcatraz 5: I own the rights again now, and hope to write this book sometime in the near future.
Stormlight 3: Goal is to write this soon after Stormlight 2
Steelheart and Rithmatist Sequels: I will probably try to do one of each of these between Stormlight 2 and 3.
Elantris 2: I'd still love to do a sequel for 2015, the 10th anniversary of the book's release.
Warbreaker 2: Long ways off.
Dark One: Unlikely any time soon.
The King's Necromancer: Unlikely any time soon.
I Hate Dragons: Unlikely any time soon.
Death By Pizza: Turned out mediocre. Won't be released anytime soon.
The Silence Divine: Will be written someday.
White Sand: Will be written someday.
Mistborn modern trilogy: Will be written during the gap between Stormlight 5 and 6.
The Liar of Partinel Didn't turn out well. Scraped.
Dragonsteel: Won't be written until Stormlight is done.
Not a lot of changes from back then, except that Steelheart got finished and Rithmatist got a release date for certain.
I did not like how they were treated by the publisher. And this has got a lot of different arguments and reasons for it. I lost my editor after the first book and I didn't feel like the new editor really got the books. And the second cover was awful and the sales on the series after the first book were mediocre. Anyway I bought the books back from my publisher, from Scholastic.
They got a sell-off period and I actually found out that it isn't until January 1st that their sell-off period ends, or I guess December 31st. So as of January 1st, I own the rights again. The UK is releasing an omnibus edition of all four together. And then I will eventually write the fifth book, at some future date, maybe this year after I finish with Stormlight 2. I really got to keep my eye on Stormlight 2 for a while. So, the answer is, kind of- stuff might happen. I mean, we will probably will, at least, release ebooks of them in the early part of next year, so they can be found. And there's also the omnibus edition, which I told the UK they could sell over here if they wanted to, so you can order it and things like that.
He is not in all of my shorter stories. In fact, he is not in any book that references Earth. So if there's a reference to Earth- most of my science fiction has referential stuff to Earth, Alcatraz is like this. He's not in anything like that. He's not in the Wheel of Time. It would not have been appropriate for me to seed something like that into a Wheel of Time book. So he's not in Steelheart or the other children works that I've done. But he is in all my epic fantasies.
Now my main question actually, which magic systems, if any, does he have access to?
That's an excellent question. He is familiar with very many of them, and lots that you haven't seen yet.
First and foremost, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us!
You are an established (and highly respected and loved) author of adult fantasy (we are huge fans of your Mistborn books, The Way of Kings, and Warbreaker—excuse us while we fangirl a little bit). The Rithmatist, however, is a young adult title—what made you want to get into the YA space? Do you read YA fantasy novels?
First off, thank you very much! I really appreciate the fangirling. I do read quite a bit of YA fiction. In fact, during the era when I was trying to break into publishing—the late 90s and early 2000s—a lot of the really exciting things in sci-fi and fantasy were happening in YA and middle grade. Garth Nix, J.K. Rowling, Dianna Wynne Jones and others created some wonderfully imaginative writing during this time.
I dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn't written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can't do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don't feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.
Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you've got to wonder if they would've been shelved in the teen section in a later era.
Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis's works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.
So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.
Are there any other projects that you're currently working on?
Right now I'm working on a children's series. It's a middle-grade series, a genre targeted at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. Even though it's marketed for that age group, I wrote it for anyone to read. It's a more humorous fantasy series about a kid named Alcatraz who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world. He's part of this family whose members all have really silly magical powers that they use to fight the librarians. For example, his grandpa's superpower is the ability to arrive late to appointments. They use these powers in fun and interesting ways to resist the librarians' control of the world. They are very fun books and have actually been optioned by DreamWorks for a movie. We're hoping that it ends up getting made. The website for the series is evillibrarians.com, and it should be going live in just a short period of time. It will feature a blog written by the evil librarians griping about Alcatraz and his family.
I also have a standalone book that will be released this summer called Warbreaker. I've posted all of the drafts for it on my website. That way people can download and read it, and then if they like it, they can go out and buy it when it's available. It's coming out in June in hardcover. After that, I'll be working on the final book for the Wheel of Time series, and from there I'll be starting a new multi-volume series called The Way of Kings.
Do you think "movie potential" for your book is an important factor in the YA market?
I know this applies across the board, but many YA books are being given the book-to-movie treatment nowadays. As YA is an emerging market, it feels like many stories are lined up for their movie adaptation before they even hit the shelves.
Do you think that "movie potential" is more important for YA books? Do you think the YA market is being used as a vessel to more easily find big-bucks action movies?
I don't think that "movie potential" is more important for YA books, because movie deals are SO nebulous, and everyone in the business is very aware of that. Movie deals are often rather small, and remember, a movie deal =/= a movie, and movie deals are different from book deals in a few key ways: typically, with a book deal, you get an advance and then royalties when your advance earns out. With a movie deal, you get paid at each stage. They buy the rights; you get a small amount of money (and sometimes we're talking VERY small—like, maybe you could buy a used car small). They decide to buy a script, you get some money. They take the script into development, you get some money. They produce it, you get some money. So, movie deals CAN be lucrative—if they actually make the movie. But if they JUST buy the rights...not so much.
Now compare the number of books that have movie deals versus the number of books that are actually made into movies. Sure—there have been a lot of movies from YA books, but there are a LOT more without.
If I had the choice between just selling movie rights and selling to a larger foreign country, such as Germany or England or Brazil, I'd rather sell foreign. For most authors, foreign deals are far, far more lucrative than selling movie rights. (Exception: some high profile deals, movie rights sales that turn into movies.)
TL: DR: movie rights aren't important enough, nor are they guaranteed, to make writing a book for a movie worth it.
There ARE a lot of YA books-to-movies right now—I think this is more a reflection of the movie market, though, than the book market.
I think you are correct—that thinking of the movie potential isn't worth the effort—but for a different reason.
My experience is that the author can't do much to make film deals happen. Of the deals I've done for my books, in only one case was I able to go out and shop a property and sell it. The other four times, everyone ignored our attempts to sell the books for film—until someone came to us. My impression of Hollywood has been that they want to find it on their own, not have you go to them pitching it.
Every one of my five deals has been an option agreement. For those who aren't aware, an option is kind of like a lease on a property. You do a big deal, but the producer/studio doesn't have to pay out the entire amount at first—instead they make an option payment, which is often somewhere around 5-10% of the buyout price. That lets them reserve the rights for a period (usually 12-18 months) where you can't sell it to anyone else. They usually have two chances to renew the option, and often the option money paid is deductible from the final buyout price if they decide to exercise their option to purchase.
The vast majority of film deals I hear about from friends are deals like this, with very few films actually being made. But that doesn't mean they can't be lucrative. If the buyout is 10k and you're getting 1k every 18mo...sure, that's not much. If the buyout is 500k, and you're getting 50k every 18mo though, it can make a nice supplemental income.
However, bethrevis is right—translation deals are far more plentiful, and far more reliable. Beyond that, I'd suggest that developing a story for its film potential can draw your attention away from writing the book the way it needs to be written.
Will we see a new Alcatraz Book anytime soon?
I have finished Alcatraz 5, but I don't know what the publication schedule for it will be. I think Tor wants to re-release the first four before doing five.
I was especially intrigued by Alcatraz's super power. I have to ask, was the super power of being able to break anything based on your own kids?
I didn't have kids when I wrote Alcatraz versus The Evil Librarians. It's more based on my mother who was really not that great with electronics and seems to be able to mess things up in a really bizarre and interesting way a lot of the time. Though, being late to things, which is Grandpa Smedry's super power, he’s magically late to appointments. That's based on me. I'm pretty good at being late.
Because the fourth book had the lowest distribution and was not printed in paperback. And so.. but the reprints of those -- the new ones that Tor is doing -- I’ve seen the covers and they’re awesome. They’re the first time I’ve gotten good covers on an Alcatraz book. So I’m very excited about those.
You did like [name]’s covers?
No I thought they were terrible. The first one wasn’t bad. I was ok with the first one. But they got progressively worse I felt.