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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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If you could be from any nation in Randland, which one and why?
Malkier, I think. Though others ask me this question, and I think my answer changes. I just think the Malkieri are awesome.
My question for Brandon would be:
What kind of mental "retooling" does it take for him to work on an already established world/storyline like Wheel of Time since this is someone else's work?
Also, were there there a lot of notes or material left by Mr. Jordan to work from?
I thought about this quite a lot during the months when I was reading the Wheel of Time again straight through, trying to figure out how I would approach writing the final book. Obviously, this project wasn't going to be like anything I'd done before. I couldn't just approach it as I did one of my solo novels. And yet, it felt like trying to match Robert Jordan's style exactly would have made me lapse into parody.
A lot of the mental 'retooling' I did focused on getting inside the characters' heads. I decided that if I could make the characters sound right, the book would FEEL right, even if some of the writing itself was different. I also decided that I would adapt my style to fit the project. I became more descriptive, for one, and wrote viewpoint with the more intimate, in-head narrative style that Mr. Jordan used. Neither of these were attempts to match how he wrote exactly, but more me trying to match my style to The Wheel of Time, if that makes any sense.
In answer to the second question, he left LOTS of notes behind. He wrote complete scenes in places, dictated other scenes, left piles of notes and materials. The prologue was almost all completed by him (that will be split half in this book, half in the next.) The ending scenes were written by him as well. In the middle, there are a lot of scene outlines as well.
That's not to say there wasn't A LOT of work to do. The actual number of completed scenes was low, and in some places, there was no direction at all what to do. But his fingerprints are all over this novel. My goal was not to write a Brandon Sanderson book, but a Wheel of Time book. I want this novel (well, these three novels, now) to be his, not mine.
Here's the news I promised you! I have been asked to finish the last book of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Press Release follows!
We'd really like news of this to get out to the fans so that they know we're working on the book. Mr. Jordan left detailed notes, and readers need not fear. The Wheel of Time will continue to turn.
There is an interview with me over at Dragonmount explaining things in more detail.
Please visit my forums for a discussion of this event and places we're getting the word out.
Also, know that my Livejournal has comments enabled, if you want to leave me a note.
Tor Books announced today that novelist Brandon Sanderson has been chosen to finish writing the final novel in Robert Jordan's bestselling Wheel of Time fantasy series. Jordan—described by some as Tolkien's heir—died Sept. 16 from a rare blood disease. The new novel, A Memory of Light, will be the 12th and final book in the fantasy series which has sold more than 14 million copies in North America and more than 30 million copies worldwide. The last four books in the series were all #1 New York Times bestsellers.
Harriet Popham Rigney, Jordan's widow and editor, chose Sanderson to complete A Memory of Light—which Jordan worked on almost daily for the last few months of his life—and will edit it. Rigney said some scenes from the book were completed by Jordan before his death, and some exist in draft form. "He left copious notes and hours of audio recordings," she said. He also revealed details about the end of the series to close members of his family.
Sanderson, who acknowledged Jordan as an inspiration to him as a writer, has established a loyal fan base as the author of three fantasy novels: Elantris, Mistborn and The Well of Ascension (Tor), as well as a YA novel, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Scholastic Press). Sanderson said, "I'm both extremely excited and daunted by this opportunity. There is only one man who could have done this book the way it deserved to be written, and we lost him in September. However, I promise to do my very best to remain true to Mr. Jordan's vision and produce the book we have all been waiting to read."
A Memory of Light is scheduled for publication in fall 2009.
I have been getting a lot of email—a LOT—these last few weeks. As I've said, I really appreciate it when people write me, and the overwhelming majority of it has been positive. I've been getting a number of questions over and over, however, and thought I'd better begin a FAQ to go in hand with the interview over at Dragonmount.
I'll will probably expand this as the months pass. I've answered some of these already, and others are obvious. My goal is to make this comprehensive (eventually). Once I have time, I will try to put this in HTML with all the questions at the top linked to answers below.
I have to be honest. I'm not Mr. Jordan. He's the master, and I'm just a journeyman. He's one of the greatest fantasy authors the genre has ever known. I can't hope to write with his skill and power at this stage in my career—and I think there are very, very few writers who could.
Fortunately, I don't have to do this on my own. I have seen the notes, as I mentioned above, and I find them very reassuring. Let me put forth a metaphor for you.
Pretend you have purchased an expensive violin from a master craftsman. It probably wouldn't surprise you to discover that one of the craftsman's apprentices helped create that violin. The master may have had the apprentice sand, or apply varnish, or perhaps shape some of the less important pieces of wood. In fact, if you looked at the violin before master craftsman handed it off to his apprentice, it might just look like a pile of wood to you, and not an instrument at all.
However, the master craftsman did the most important parts. He shaped the heart of the violin, crafting the pieces which would produce the beautiful sound. He came up with the design for the violin, as well as the procedures and processes used in creating his violins. It's not surprising that some other hands were involved in the busywork of following those procedures and designs, once the most important work was done. And so, even though the apprentice helped, the violin can proudly bear the master's signature and stamp.
It's the same with this book. What I've been given may not look like a novel to you, but it excites me because I can see the book Mr. Jordan was creating. All of the important chunks are there in such detail that I feel like I've read the completed novel, and not just an outline. Yes, there is still quite a bit of work to be done. Many of the less important scenes are there only as a framework of a few sentences. However, Mr. Jordan left behind the design of this book. I am convinced that between myself, his wife (who was his editor), and his assistants, we can complete this book to be very, very close to the way he would have done.
This is one of the reasons that reading the material made me feel so relieved. While there are huge chunks that I need to write, there is always an explanation of what needs to be revealed, and what needs to be left for the reader to decide on their own. I will not be making any of these decisions on my own, but will instead be following Mr. Jordan's wishes regarding the plotting.
He ties up some very important plot points. Others, he leaves without explicit explanation. That was his way, and is one of the things that makes these books so wonderful. You don't need to worry, then, that I will try to explain too much or that I will leave out too much. I will do as the master instructed.
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.
The latest Warbreaker revision is finished. I'm glad to have this one off my plate; I hadn't realized how anxious I was getting about this book until I sat down and worked on it. It's now been a year and a half since I finished it, and I worried that I was letting it dangle, pushing it off time and time again and not giving it the attention it deserves. This is partly due to the fact that I'm not sure if it will get a sequel anytime soon.
In the past, I've said that I was planning to write the sequel. (Tentatively titled Nightblood, though I worry that's too horror-sounding.) The problem is, I now have A Memory of Light on my plate, and it is going to need a LOT of attention. The question is, do I want to have Warbreaker come out in the spring of 2009, A Memory of Light come out in the fall of 2009, then have a sequel to a two-book series be my follow-up to that?
It seems to me that I'm in a unique position. A lot of fantasy authors dream of being able to launch something BIG. An epic series which will get a powerful marketing push and a lot of attention. It seems to make far more sense to me to launch a brand new series the year after A Memory of Light, rather than putting out an ambiguous sequel which ends a two-book series.
As promised, here is the newest draft of Warbreaker; this is version 4.0. (Or, well, 4.2 since I tweaked a few things yesterday.)
If you've been waiting to read Warbreaker, I would like to note that I will—indeed—begin posting HTML pages of the chapters, making for easier reading. This will happen at a rate of one a week for about a year. Also, I soon intend to have a PDF of the entire 4.0 up for download. (Right now, all I have is the word document.) If anyone feels like making a PDF and sending it to me—or feels like sticking it into any of the various ebook formats—I'd happily include those here for download as well. As always, you can find the current and previous Warbreaker drafts in the book's portal on my website.
In this draft, I read through doing mostly medium-level fixes. Some character tweaks, some better world explanations, some pacing work. I've now sent this to my editor, who will print it off and make line-by-line notations on it as he reads through it. 5.0, then, will be the draft where I incorporate these changes. Somewhere around 6.0, I'll go through looking for smaller changes mentioned on my forums by readers. Right now, I've been making larger changes that have been suggested and that I agree with, but I haven't done many smaller, paragraph-by-paragraph edits.
This marks the turning of my full attention to A Memory of Light, and I will be doing updates relating to my read-through of the series in the coming days.
I'm going to start posting my impressions of the Wheel of Time books as I read through them again. This will just be me blogging my reactions as a reader and my thoughts as I approach the humbling task of finishing the Wheel of Time Book Twelve. As a reminder, I've read these books before, but it has now been some six or seven years since I've read through the entire series from the beginning. It used to be my habit to read through them all when a new one came out, but life got too busy and the series too long for me to do that with the later books.
There won't be any spoilers of Book Twelve in these, though there will be spoilers to the book I'm currently reading. So, if you're not familiar with the Wheel of Time but are planning to read the books, you might want to skip these posts.
Doing this makes me just a little wary. I like connecting with readers and offering posts like this to give you an insight into an author's mind and into the process. I feel that you, as the fans, have a great deal of ownership and stake in this project, as it is because of you that the Wheel of Time was so successful.
However, I don't want my posts to serve as a catalyst to panic regarding my handling of Book Twelve. For instance, if I write that certain character is kind of bugging me in a scene, I worry that people will think that I'm making a criticism of Mr. Jordan's writing or that I'm criticizing that character in specific. I'm not doing either. I think Mr. Jordan's writing is fantastic—even as I read through again, I'm struck by how well he was able to weave so many different ideas together. I really do have a sincere affection for all of these characters—I've grown up with them, as many of you have, and they feel like siblings to me. Just as a sibling can be annoying, I feel that a character can be annoying. It doesn't mean I intend to cut them from Book Twelve or give them any less screen time.
I thought, then, that I would make this post as an introduction. None of my posts over the next few months are intended to give any foreshadowing of book twelve. Please don't panic if I seem to be interpreting a character's motivations differently from how you view them. The materials Mr. Jordan left are quite extensive, and the final book's plot and characterizations were set by him. My goal with that book will be to as invisible as possible, and certainly don't intend to insert any of my own themes, agendas, or philosophies into it.
I will collect these blog posts in a list, and you'll be able to find them on the A Memory of Light section of my website, once we add it.
I'm hoping to be able to do more than one post per book, but I'd already started The Eye of the World when I finally got time to write this. I'll probably only do one post for the first book, then, which is a tragedy, since it has long been one of my favorites of the series. I also feel that it will be VERY important to writing Book Twelve. The Wheel turns; ages become new again and ideas return. I feel that the last book of the series should have numerous hearkenings back to this first book; that will give a sense of closure to this section of the Pattern and fit with the motif of the Wheel's turning.
That's just my gut instinct, and I'm not promising anything specific or even referencing material from the Twelfth Book. I'm only speaking of my general feelings as a writer, but Mr. Jordan's notes are far more important than any of my instincts.
As I read through this first book again, I was shocked by how well he had foreshadowed the later books in the series. This is the first time I'm reading WHEEL OF TIME all the way through as a professional novelist. I see things differently than I once did. I know how difficult it is to foreshadow across an entire series, and am frankly astounded by how well Mr. Jordan laid the groundwork for his future books. Min's prophesies are one great example, but equally potent is Mr. Jordan's use of mythology and story as a means of preparing the reader for events such as the Great Hunt, future interactions with the Aiel (and the People's relationship with them), and the coming of the Seanchan.
I've now completed my re-read of the first six WoT books. Perhaps it is my mind seeking organization where there is none, but I see these six books as having a rather interesting division. The first three each focus around a central event—the hunt for the horn, for instance, or the fall of the Stone. The second three change the direction of the series, moving to a much more complicated story. Each of these three middle books seem to contain a much larger number of plots, goals, and character motivations. These middle three, the second trilogy if you will, blend together far more than the first three did. It's like they all form one large book, with the lines between them far more blurred.
I'm not sure if this is the way Mr. Jordan plotted them, or if it's simply the way the series evolved. Perhaps I'm just seeing something where there is none. However, as a writer, this division interests me. I find that as a reader, I am much more satisfied with reading these middle books, though I didn't by any means dislike the early ones. A series this long could not have lasted by telling stories only about one or two characters. Series that do such always feel like they have flat characterization to me. You can only focus so long on one character before you have to begin recycling motivations or pushing their character development into the realm of the ridiculous. By expanding the series beyond what it appeared at first—a simple hero's journey—Mr. Jordan created something more lasting.
However, he also took a great risk in changing the series (either intentionally or by natural evolution) as he did. A great many writers do the easy thing, telling the same story over and over with different names on the front, having the same few characters go through the exact same stories over and over. That's comfortable for readers, but it does not challenge genre, and it is not the substance of greatness (in my opinion.) Instead of doing that, Mr. Jordan took a chance on expanding the plots of dozens of side characters, crafting a series that was about much more than it seemed at first. All three of these middle books blended together, but each one still felt distinct to me. The story is moving, progressing, growing—and the characters are much different people at the end than they were at the beginning.
Perhaps I should focus more on what specifically happened in Lord of Chaos that I liked, but as the one who must—however insufficiently—continue Mr. Jordan's legacy, I find myself looking more at the whole than at the minutia. That, of courses, is important as well. But I think for me to be successful in completing this final book, I need to understand—really understand—what made this series great. I might not be able to write the exact words Mr. Jordan would have, but if I can get the SOUL of the book right, then that will not matter.
Other than that, my life has been rather serene lately. My job (so to speak) for these few weeks is to read books—and not just any books, but ones I have loved since I was a youth. That's rather remarkable to me still. It has been a very peaceful experience, though the stress of trying to finish a book that millions of people are waiting to read looms back there inside of me as well. Completing this work is going to be like no other project of which I've been a part. Always, writing and reading were similar—yet separated—activities for me. While writing, I am fully in "creation" mode. While reading, I'm in "experience" mode. Yet here, with the task of writing Book Twelve laid before me, creating and experiencing become muddled. For once, when I read a work and think "oh, I wish that this would happen" it is possible to MAKE it happen. However, I know that I must hold myself to the rigors of character and story, doing only what is functionally appropriate for the story. Still, there is hope. If I want a face-to-face meeting between certain characters, there is a chance that it will fit with the plot. If I wish for a certain world aspect to get a little more explanation, then there is opportunity for that.
This project is not 'mine' for it is much larger than me. And yet, I've always said that the strength of novels as an entertainment medium—as opposed to movies or other forms of expression—is that a novel can better reflect the vision of a single person. That can be good or it can be bad. However, in no other popular entertainment form can one person reasonably be in charge of every aspect and piece to the degree that one finds in novels. This leads to a completeness of vision in the medium, I think. My job in this case isn't to create that vision, but to 'catch' the same vision that Mr. Jordan had, then shepherd the final project so that it best reflects what he would have wished of the book. I feel that it's very important for the integrity of the book that it not have a schizophrenic vision—mine voice must blend with Mr. Jordan's, so that different passages will not fight with one another or stand out. The story comes first, the experience that the reader has.
So, I read and find myself saying "I wonder if I could make this particular thing happen?" That is followed with "is that what Mr. Jordan would do?" Finally, I come around to "What is best for the story?" And I think that last one stands the most tall.
It's a good question. As many of you may know, I have progress bars on the front of my website showing how far I've gotten on whatever project I'm currently engaged in. I've got one now listing how far along I am in my re-read of the series. (Finished Crossroads of Twilight, by the way, and am now reading New Spring.)
Will I do this for Book 12? I'm planning to, but with a few caveats. The thing is, it's hard for me to judge how long this project will take. It's unlike any book I've ever worked on. With my own novels, I've gotten to the point where I can sit down and plot them and know roughly how long they will be before I start. (I generally shoot for about 200k words in length for my epics, 50k for Middle Grade books, 80-90k for a YA novel.)
I don't know how long A Memory of Light is going to be, though. That's going to present a problem for running a progress bar of how far along I am. (The current program we have is percentage based, and I won't know what percentage is done if I don't know how long the novel is going to end up being.)
Right now, my goal for the book is 300k minimum. Looking at the material Mr. Jordan left behind and the story that needs to be told, that's a realistic size to start with. This wouldn't make the book the shortest in the series, though it wouldn't be the longest either. It would be right in the middle.
I'm expecting it to go longer than that, to be honest. Mr. Jordan himself often said of this book that it would be as long as it had to be, even if Tor had to invent a new binding for it! From what I've seen of the material, I don't think that's going to be necessary—I think he was responding to worries of the fans that he wouldn't tie the novel up in one volume. From his outline, writings, and other work on the project it looks to me that he was planning it to be in the 300-400k range.
So, I'll probably start the progress bar assuming the book will be 300k long, then update it later when I have a better idea of its length. I will be needing to go and touch up the sections that Mr. Jordan wrote. (They are in rough draft from. As I've mentioned, I intend to leave them as pristine as is possible for the novel, with as minor editing as is possible while still maintaining the integrity of the novel.) Therefore, I'll start the bar at 0%, and once a section of pages is touched up or written by me, I'll update accordingly.
Whew. It's surprising how busy things are, considering that it's the slow season (my books generally come out in the falls) for me. Mixed with the fact that I'm not writing right now, just reading, one would think that I wouldn't feel so busy. The thing is, when writing, I can really only do a certain amount in a day. Like a lot of authors I know, I kind of have a cap (it's between 2k words and 4k words, depending on the day and the book.) Once I hit that, my writing reserve is low, and I have to stop for the day and let my subconscious work out how I'm going to write the next section. What that means is that I can generally get up, write for half of the day, and be done—and then have time to do email, blog posts, and other business items.
When I'm reading, though, there's nothing to stop me from just reading straight through all hours of the day, as opposed to stopping and doing other work. That, mixed with the urgency I feel to get to work on actual pages of AMoL, has made me keep reading and pushing long after I would have stopped for the day if I were writing. Ah, well.
Anyway, I didn't intend this to be an extended defense of the book, but that's what it came out to be. It's now been over a week since I finished it, and while there is much more I could write, I think it's time to let the blog post end for now. The big news is that I'm done with my read through. In fact, I officially began writing on Book Twelve this afternoon.
There was a powerful moment there for me when I got to write those words "The Wheel of Time turns. . . ." Mr. Jordan, despite his preparations for the book, didn't actually write those words that have started each book in the series. I guess he figured he didn't need to, since they've been the same since book one. He knew that his time might come soon, so he focused on more important scenes.
That left me being able to write the opening paragraph to chapter one. (Though, of course, there will be a prologue. While those words won't start the book, I decided that they would be the way that I started work on it.)
It has begun.
People ask me if working on this book is surreal. Before, I always said yes, but I don't think it really hit me HOW strange this is until these last few days.
Yesterday evening, I pulled out the electronic versions of the novels that Mr. Jordan's assistant sent with me when I left Charleston. I combined them all into a single word document to use in searching. (It clocks in at 9,300 pages and about 3 million words, if you're curious.) Using Microsoft Word's search features, I can call up all sorts of useful information from the entire series at the touch of a few keys. (By the way, thanks for sending those electronic files, Alan! You thought of this a full three months before I ended up needing them. I guess that's the sign of an excellent assistant.)
In compiling this document and setting a few bookmarks at important points (mostly the beginning of each book) I hesitated at the copyright statement of A Crown of Swords. He's a book I read over ten years ago, a book by an author I idolized. A distant and unapproachable figure, a hero himself, the one spearheading the epic fantasy movement of my era. And now I have a copy of the original file he typed and I'm working on finishing his last book.
That, my friends, seems to DEFINE the word surreal to me.
I was shocked the first time the people at Tor called this a collaboration. By publishing terms, I guess that's indeed what it is—a collaboration, where two authors work on a single novel. But to me, the term just felt strange. Collaborating with Robert Jordan seemed to set me too high in the process. I'm finishing the Master's work for him, since he is unable to. I kind of feel like Sam, carrying Frodo the last few paces up the mountain. Robert Jordan did all the work; for most of these twenty years, I've only been an observer. I'm just glad I could be here to help for the last stretch when I was needed.
For those of you who wondered, I HAVE read Knife of Dreams and New Spring, but I haven't yet posted blog reactions to them. I read faster than I could keep up on the blog. (I've often noted that I'm really not that great a blogger.) I'll post reactions to these books as I go. For now, I need to get back to Book Twelve.
Now, a response to New Spring.
As I mentioned, I've finished reading through the entire WoT series again and have moved on to actually working on Book Twelve. (Two chapters writing are done as of right now, by the way. Neither were chapters that Mr. Jordan left any actual prose for, as I'm practicing with writing particular characters, and want to get a feel for writing them. I'm writing them and sending them to the experts in Charleston for feedback as I adapt my style to writing in the Wheel of Time world.) Anyway, I'm behind on these blog posts, and so while I read New Spring a few weeks back now, I'm only now doing a response for it.
I've said before that I think Mr. Jordan's greatest strength as a writer was his ability to do viewpoint with such power. His second-greatest strength was probably his ability to plot on the large scale, planning for things that weren't going to happen for several books, leaving foreshadowing for novels that wouldn't be written for years. As part of that, he knew what happened in the past with his characters to a far greater extent than I think most writers do.
New Spring seems to me an experiment in showing off these strengths. Here we have two characters from the main series shown many years before. I am impressed at how well Mr. Jordan was able to make these characters feel twenty years younger, yet at the same time show them being the same people. Both Moiraine and Siuan exemplified this, and it was interesting to read from a writer's viewpoint, as I was aware of how tough this must have been to pull off.
What happens itself is less interesting only in that we already know most of it. (The classic problem with prequels, after all, is that you generally already know how it will end.) While I enjoy a good prequel, the feeling is different than it is for a main-line story. Reading a book like New Spring is more of a fan experience for me, as I get to see how Lan and Moiraine met, and we get a record of the infamous river dunking. Despite what the cover says, I wouldn't say this is the "New starting point" for the Wheel of Time. That's why I read it here, when it was written, rather than when it occurred in the series chronologically. Half of the fun of this book comes from having read the other books in the series first.
It was strange to read a book from Robert Jordan that was only 120k long, though. I remember when I first saw it, years ago. I thought "Man, that's barely a short story!" 120k. Barely a short story. That would be a LONG book in many genres. Here, it's tiny. (Like many of you probably did, I can remember being annoyed at getting a prequel instead of the next novel in the series. Now I'm happy to have it, though, as it's one of our only glimpses into the world pre-Rand.)
Anyway, it was great seeing Siuan being a punk. I think her character in this added the most to my understanding of the series as a whole. Lan was pretty much Lan, and while Moiraine was interesting, I found myself liking Siuan more. Perhaps because I really enjoy her storyline in the main series.
As you might have noticed, things have been a tad dead here this week. That's because I've been out here in Charleston visiting Robert Jordan's house. Harriet, Alan, Maria, and I have been working on things for Book Twelve, and there was also a panel at The Citadel (where Mr. Jordan went to college) about Mr. Jordan and his effect on the fantasy genre. Harriet wanted me to be part of it, and I was very happy to do so. (David Drake also flew in to sit on the panel. I know it was video taped; I don't know if it will get posted anywhere. If it does, I'll try to get a link up here for you all.)
Regardless, it's been a busy few days. I flew out on Monday and have to be back on Thursday to teach my class. However, we've put our time to very good use, working out the outline for Book Twelve. (There were some holes in the plot and questions about characters we needed to work through.) Maria put it best with some of these holes: It's like we're putting together a jigsaw. We need to sift through Mr. Jordan's notes and figure out what he wanted to have happen, then figure out the best way to make it happen.
This, of course, is only for the sections that are more ambiguous. We're doing our best to make certain this book has as much of Mr. Jordan in it as possible.
Just a few notes on the way out the door here. 1) I blogged about The Name of the Wind last week, thinking I'd be able to get a copy of book two this week. Looks like my information was out-dated! I was going off of the DAW catalogue I picked up at a trade show last year, and that information was reinforced by the release date of Book Two as presented by the Amazon data aggregating website I use. (Titlez.) Both said book two was out this week. Only, I forgot to watch Pat's own blog, because he admitted a few months back that the book had to be pushed back because of family issues. It's a bummer, but it looks like Pat has been through the wringer lately, and my heart certainly goes out to him. Looks like Book Two will be out next April, but that's no reason not to go grab the brand spanking new paperback of book one.
2) There's a new Writing Excuses podcast this week. It was posted on Monday, and we're continuing to do this every Monday. Just a little reminder!
3) Those of you from forums where I am occasionally known to haunt may have noticed a lack of posts from me recently. I haven't simply turned to my lurking ways, unfortunately. I'm swamped with A Memory of Light, and have had to scale back on my forum visitations. I think this is going to be a busy year, and I need every spare moment I can to work on this book and to try (ha ha) to keep up on my email. So, I'm sorry to all you wonderful folks—no offense or anything like that. Just too busy to visit. I'll try to still make appearances on my own forums, though. (Note if you haven't seen the Allomancy conversations going on there, you're missing out. Also, you guys in those discussions are crazy. Fun, but crazy.)
4) There is no number four.
I think that's everything for now. Annotations and Warbreaker should get posted on Friday after I get back and recover from Thursday. (Six hours of travel followed by a three hour class. What fun . . . )
Well, I'm back from my trip to Charleston. We got some really good work done and I'm excited to get back to writing. Expect that percentage bar to go up a couple more points this week. Just so that you know, I've decided to use 400k as the wordcount basis for the progress bar. I'm still not sure how long the book will be—it could be longer than that, it could be shorter—but that seemed an appropriate base line. I'll be able to tell you more as the process continues.
Look for a Knife of Dreams blog post soon, as well as some regular updates. For now, a couple of links.
Well, after about a month of procrastination, I'm finally getting around to doing the final blog post in my series of "Wheel of Time read through" responses. Thanks to all of those who emailed me reminding me I'd never gotten around to writing a post about Book Eleven. Also, those of you at LJ, it looks like my blog-posting software skipped updating the post I did earlier in the week, so here's a link to it on my own website. You didn't miss much, just a little update explaining that I was done with the grading last week and had moved on to continuing A Memory of Light. (Also, forgive any typos in the following. I wrote it really fast, since I've still got a thousand words or so of A Memory of Light I need to get done tonight.)
I find several things curious about Knife of Dreams. First, the pacing. This is the first book I remember feeling was moving directly toward an ending of the series. We resolve Elayne's plot to a large measure, Mat and Tuon get married, and Perrin rescues his wife. Those three things all complete major, multi-book arcs and set us up for Book Twelve. I've gotten some emails from somewhat snide readers who claim that they don't believe Mr. Jordan was planning to end the series with Book Twelve, but even if I hadn't seen the notes (which DO prove this book was to be the last) I would have believed in good faith that the ending was coming. Though I enjoy the more lethargic pacing of the previous couple books, Book Eleven's more breakneck resolution of concepts was also refreshing, if only as proof that an ending WAS coming.
I'm not sure if Mr. Jordan is responding to comments on Book Ten by doing so much in Book Eleven. My instinct says that he wasn't. None of these plot resolutions felt rushed; they were simply all paced in such a way that book ten ended up being the 'middle' book in a lot of ways. It wasn't introducing new plots and it wasn't resolving them. It was, however, building for what happened in this book.
It was strange reading Knife of Dreams this time as I felt a little like it is directed specifically at me. This book was, in a metaphorical sense, the 'pitch' toward me. It's the lead-in, and it was pitched quit well, directly on line. It's my job to hit that perfect pitch and send it flying.
I posted that other email I got that was somewhat negative, but the overwhelming majority are very encouraging and thoughtful. I got one piece recently from a reader named Matt which got me thinking. It relates to A Memory of Light, and so I figured I'd answer it here.
Brandon—My name is Matt, and I have been following your blog posts and website since you were announced as the writer for A Memory of Light. A question to ask occurred to me today that I don't think I ever saw in any of your interviews/posts about being selected to write the book. As a fan, is a part of you disappointed to read the ending of the story the way you did, that is through RJ's notes and not after reading an entire book?
Excellent question! My answer follows:
It was indeed a different experience to read through the outline and materials, with the holes and occasional vague sections, rather than reading a complete novel. A little bit of me is regretful. Of all the readers and fans out there, I'm one of the few who won't be able to experience this book for the first time in its complete form. Mr. Jordan's assistants and wife have probably been in that boat for years!
And yet, I am a writer, and I don't look at an outline the same way that a regular reader might. The closest approximation I can make is to origami masters. If you go and look at their websites, they will often release 'patterns' that go with a new piece of origami they've developed. The pattern is just a sheet of paper with lines on it. I look at that, and all I see are lines. But to another origami master, that pattern reveals the exact method used to create the piece. They can look at the pattern and see the finished product.
This outline was kind of like that for me, particularly since the ending was the most complete section. I could look at it, and my mind filled in the gaps, adding the foreshadowings and character climaxes that had come before, taking the hints and the outline chunks that Mr. Jordan wrote and putting them all together. It didn't feel like reading a complete book, but I felt like I could SEE that complete book as he would have written it, and that has become my guide in writing it myself.
(I might also note at the end here that one thing I forgot to include in my email to him is that while I didn't get to read the final book like you all will, I DID get to find out what happened at the end of the series a good two years ahead of anyone else!)
I got an email from a reader that I thought I'd share. (The email itself has been trimmed quite a bit.)
I personally don't care if it takes you 10 years to finish A Memory of Light, time is not really important. Finishing the book as close to RJ's vision as possible is. You seem to be spreading yourself very thin while writing one of the most important pieces of literature in modern history (that might be an exaggeration, but not to me, or many others).
I understand that this book isn't your life's work, and that you have many of your own creations that need attention, but please don't lose track of the importance of this project.
I was glad to get this email, as it gave me a chance to explain myself. I worried about June all the way back in January when I started this project—I knew that I was going to have to take several weeks off for the Writers for Young Readers and eventually do edits on Warbreaker and the Alcatraz books. (Though I was hoping to put them off a little longer.)
My response (again, cut down) was:
I just want to reassure you not to worry. I'm spread a whole lot less thin than it may seem. Actually, it's been refreshing how much time I've been able to spend writing these last few months.
One of the things you learn quickly about being an author is the more successful you become, the less time you actually have to write. You just have to take all of these things—book tours, signings, publicity—in stride. Fortunately, since I am an author full time, I can do almost all of that and still put in fifty or sixty hour weeks working. If you'll notice the percentage bar on my website, I've completed 100k of writing since I started in March. That's over 30k a month, which is an incredible clip. Most books out there are under 100k long. Now, that's only a small dent in this particular book, true, but what that should tell you is that I've had a LOT of writing time these last few months.
I've done WoT virtually exclusively for a good six months now, and it's not unexpected that I would have to take a few weeks to get some editing done on other projects. Don't worry, though, I'm treating this particular work with quite a bit of respect.
Expanding on that idea, I think it's interesting to point out just how much of a compulsive writer I am. It's what I love to do, and I spend quite a bit of my time doing it. Pretty much my whole life revolves around what I'm writing—any spare moments focus on planning, and when I take time off to relax, I generally just spend it writing. This actually worries some people who know me, who think I might need more balance in my life. I know they might have a point. (Hence my insistence to myself that I have a hobby, such as the Magic card game.)
All of the other things—signings, conferences, writing groups—are also things I do to take time off from writing. Even if you love it as much as I do, breaks are important. Without them, you tend to rush plots and stories. Taking a week or two off after the completion of important plot sections like I just got done with in A Memory of Light actually helps the writing of the next section. Like the cracker between two tastes of cheese.
Anyway, I just wanted to assure everyone. All of the 'other' things I do aren't taking much time away from this book that we all want to see done as soon as possible. (While still maintaining the writing quality, of course.) It's good that I have these things in life. Trust me on this one. ;)
I do promise, however, that I've set aside REAL distractions. Namely, other books I want to write. (My readers know that I 'accidentally' write books that my editors aren't expecting. None of those for me this year.) Also, I haven't let myself play Halo 3 yet, since I know that will pretty much wipe out a week or two on its own. . . .
That's a great question, one I'd actually never been asked. So, here's my response:
Who would I have had write it? Well, I'm torn. There are a lot of great authors out there.
I think George R. R. Martin could have done it—he's probably the most skilled epic fantasy writer on the market right now. But I don't know that his style matches Mr. Jordan's very well. I'm sure he could adapt, but I think his fans would have been angry if he'd taken the project. After all, there's a long gap of time between his recent novels.
David Farland is an excellent writer of fantasy. I think he could have done it. The same goes for L.E. Modesitt Jr. Other possibilities would be Robin Hobb or Patrick Rothfuss. (Of course, those are just a list of some of my favorite fantasy authors, so maybe I'm answering the question in the wrong way.)
In the end, I'd probably have chosen Tad Williams. I think that he'd have been a great match for the series, and I'm a fan of his work.
I think I'll add this part for the blog post. It's not the same question, but some have asked similar ones, so I figured I'd get to it here.
Some think that Harriet should have just finished it herself, or perhaps published the notes as-is. I don't think either of these options would have been good ones. Harriet is one of the most well-respected editors in the business, but editing is a very different skill from writing. I think she'll have MORE of an influence on this book (making it feel like it should) by editing it, just as she edited the previous volumes.
And publishing the notes . . . well, as an author, I don't know if I can explain exactly how uncomfortable this would make me. It would be like displaying compromising pictures of a person against their will. I show my unfinished books to people, but only in controlled circumstances. To display Robert Jordan's unfinished work like that instead of the final book would, I think, have been very unfulfilling to fans and against the master's own will.
Perhaps once the finished product is out there, Harriet will decide to release the notes in some form. (Actually, I'm hoping that she will.) That will be different. People will already have been able to experience the end of the series, and Mr. Jordan's vision, in a complete way. Releasing them before—or instead of the book itself—would have been a very wrong move, I think.
Recently, I've been reading interviews that Mr. Jordan did before he died. (Thank you to those who have sent these to me.) I had already read some of the questions and answers, but others were fresh to me. I'm very interested in his comments as I want to make extra certain I don't miss-step and contradict anything he said in an interview, even if that information didn't appear in the books or the notes for the final volume.
I've found a lot of his answers very interesting. Among the more tragic are the ones that came when people asked him what would happen to his series if he died before it was finished. It kind of twists my heart a little bit each time I read a question like that, knowing what eventually happened.
In response to most of these situations, Mr. Jordan was joking and whimsical. Common responses were along the lines of "You'd better hope that doesn't happen, otherwise you'll never get to see that last ending I've been planning all these years!" He often indicated that he'd leave instructions to have all of his notes burned and his disc drives wiped, then reformatted six or seven times so that nobody would ever know how the story came out.
Humorous tone set aside, I see something in these responses. Inside, I think the concept of anyone else working on the Wheel of Time was very painful for Mr. Jordan. I really think that early on, he was against the idea of anyone else finishing the last book, should he die.
However, Harriet has talked to me of the last days before his death, and I also have transcripts of the final dictations he made. Transcripts that talk about what should happen, how people should end up, and how the ending should be written. The tone of these writings and of what Harriet talked about is very different from his earlier comments. It's humbling to see how he changed, instead becoming determined—insistent, even—that the last book be finished after he passed away. Harriet mentioned to me that he didn't want to select someone himself. That thought was too hard for him. I can understand why.
In the end, I see this as his last gift to all of us. As an artist, I can completely understand why he wouldn't want someone else to work on his world and his books. And if he had actually decided to leave instructions for the final book not to be completed, I am sure—very sure—that Harriet would have seen to it that his will was followed. But that wasn't what he decided. He demanded that this book be written. Even though I know that the idea brought him pain.
This was his final sacrifice and gift for you all—the decision to give us the last scenes and instructions for the book, rather than taking that knowledge to the grave with him. From what I've heard of the last months of his life, I know that he spent a surprising amount of time giving dictations, telling about places that nobody else knew existed, and explaining how the characters were to end up.
There are a fair number of people who are against this project happening in any form. They don't make up the bulk of the fan community; in fact, they seem like a very, very small percentage. There are others who aren't opposed to the book being finished in general, but who are opposed to me specifically working on it—though this group is even smaller than the first. Either way, I can sincerely understand both complaints. It seems to me that the Robert Jordan of five years ago would have been in the first group himself!
I have repeatedly acknowledged that I can't replace him. But he wanted this book done, and I'm increasingly confident that I'm the best choice for this project. There are plenty of fantasy authors out there who are better writers than I am—George Martin, Tad Williams, Neil Gaiman, and Robin Hobb all come to mind, among others—but I don't know of another author publishing in fantasy right now who has been as close to these books and these characters as I have been over the last eighteen years.
Knowing that Mr. Jordan was distressed about the concept of anyone finishing the books makes me even more determined to write a book that he would have been—that he will be—proud of. He loved you all very much. Those who complained about the time he took to finish books, or the length of the series, did not know the man at all. He did not write this series to the length he did because of money; he did not 'artificially inflate' the Wheel of Time because of any external pressures. He wrote this series the way he did because he loved it, and because he knew that we loved it.
And I think that's why he chose to have this novel completed. In the end, your good was more important to him than his own good. What grander summary could be made of a man's life than that?
This book is going to be beautiful. I promise you that.
The death of Robert Jordan wasn’t an opportunity. It was a tragedy.
Elise talks about how she saw Brandon’s blog post eulogizing Jim, and it immediately struck her that she needed to print it out. She gave it to Harriet, saying, “You have to read this.” Later that day she saw Harriet reading the post out loud to others of Jim’s friends. [I spoke with Elise right after the panel, and she added lots of fascinating details. I looked around to see if she’s shared her telling of this story anywhere online, but didn’t find anything. I hope that she will share it sometime, because it’s a great story from a fascinating woman.]
Brandon got a voicemail from Harriet that said, “Please call me back. I want to talk to you about something.” Brandon called back and couldn’t catch Harriet at home for several hours. He called Tor, and Moshe wasn’t in, but he got in touch with Patrick. Patrick said, “It’s what you probably think it is. I’ll make sure Harriet calls you back.”
Harriet did call back, and she told Brandon that she was considering several writers to finish the last book of the Wheel of Time and wanted to know if he was interested in being considered. Brandon’s first reaction was to think, “Only Robert Jordan can write this book.” His second thought was, “If somebody else is going to write it, I want it to be me.” Up until this point, Brandon had been worried about who was going to finish the series—as a lot of fans were worrying. Brandon knew that as a fan of the series, he would write it with the needs of the series in mind and not try to take it his own direction.
Tom [at the panel] says that the pick of who to finish the series was Harriet’s pick and no one but her should make it. But in this case he agrees with her choice of Brandon. Harriet told him that Brandon was her first choice for the job.
Brandon explains that he is writing the book according to viewpoint cluster. There are several groups of characters who follow their own plotlines until toward the end of the book—at the three-quarter or 80% mark—all the groups meet up. Brandon’s writing the book one viewpoint cluster at a time. The first cluster he focused on was Rand’s, with Rand, Nynaeve, Min, etc. Brandon has finished writing this viewpoint cluster from the beginning of the book up until that meet-up point. Now he’s working on the Perrin, Faile, Galad cluster. After this he’ll move on to Egwene and the White Tower, then Mat and Thom, and then he’ll work on a more unconnected cluster of viewpoints that aren’t as closely connected to each other, such as Elayne’s story and what’s going on with the Black Tower, etc. Then when all the viewpoints are all gathered together at the same place, Brandon will write the last part of the story up to and including the part that Jim wrote. For each group of characters there are detailed notes on who’s there and what secrets can be revealed.
Including what Brandon has been writing during this trip (he even wrote in the car while his wife drove), he’s written almost 200,000 words so far.
“200,000?” Tom breaks in. “You told me yesterday you were a third done!” Everyone in the room does the math.
Brandon says the goal is not to leave out anything that Jim has written. As much of what he has written will make it into print as physically possible. Any manuscript words that Jim has written will go in the book. If Jim said that something has to happen, it will happen.
Tom says, “It’s sounding more and more like two volumes.”
This was Jim Rigney’s dying request: “Take care of the fans. Find someone to finish the book.”
If the book does end up needing to get split, Brandon would prefer for the first half to be released in October 2009 and the second in November 2009, with a leatherbound special edition of the complete book.
Tom says, “I do not believe it’s physically possible to bind in one book.” [I’m interpreting this as a reaction to the possibility of the book being 600,000 words, and also not ruling out a special edition.]
Brandon says, “By the way, Jim was not artificially inflating the series. He was writing what he loved.”
Last week marked one year since Mr. Jordan's passing. I wrote out something to post, but I just didn't like it, so decided to scrap the idea. That was partially because I think I'd rather commemorate Mr. Jordan on a different day, such as his birthday next month or perhaps the publication date of The Eye of the World, rather than focusing too much on the day of his passing.
However, after thinking about it over the weekend while at MountainCon, I decided that I really did need to post something, if only a link back to the essay I wrote back in July about his passing. It's probably the best I could do on this topic, and what follows below is just a tangential musing, more related to me than to him. It's related to thoughts that have been tickling my mind recently.
A year ago, I assumed that Mr. Jordan had already exerted every bit of influence over my career that he was going to. During my youth, his books significantly shaped the writer I would become. Publishing with Tor became my personal holy grail, in a lot of ways, because of his presence there. His power for sales in the fantasy market (which pushed the genre with mainstream readers and also helped establish the fantasy hardcover as a viable publishing option even for midlist authors) changed how people buy books in our genre. Finally, his success at Tor allowed them to have the money to take chances on newer authors, such as myself.
When you weigh all of those things, I think you'll find that my career—even before last year's events—was dominated rather heavily by the Wheel of Time and Mr. Jordan himself. But with his passing, I assumed that no more such influence would come.
I guess you could say that I was wrong.
From this point on, I doubt more than a passing mention will be made of me any my writing without Robert Jordan's name appearing as well. Any article, essay, or encyclopedia entry about me will list my work on the Wheel of Time as one of the most important events of my career. Twenty years from now, I will be doing conventions related to the Wheel of Time. It's entirely possible that my career as a whole could end up as a footnote to that of Robert Jordan.
Does this bother me? To be honest, it doesn't. I knew all of this before I accepted the project, and if I'd worried about it, I'd just have done the book without official credit. But that wouldn't have been fair, either to myself or the fans. They deserve to know what they are getting, and deserve to understand that someone other than Mr. Jordan worked on this book. They deserve to know exactly who was involved.
Beyond that, a man could do much worse than be known as that guy who was involved in the last Wheel of Time book. A series like this one doesn't come along but once a generation, and it's humbling to be part of it.
Yes, I hope to be able to make my own mark on the genre. I hope that I can earn my own way onto the bestseller lists and into the hearts of readers. But in the end, if I'm like so many other good—but ephemeral—midlist authors, I'm not going to consider my career a failure. I'll have told the stories that I want, and I'll have worked in a job I love for my entire life. Who can really ask for more than that?
But it's nice to know that, either way, I'll have been involved in something lasting, something people will still be reading a century from now. The Wheel of Time has changed a lot of people's lives. Mine most of all. And I'm very thankful for the chance to work on this novel, and for the willingness of the readers to accept me in as one of them. So, I guess my thoughts upon the one year mark turn toward you—I've found that Mr. Jordan's greatest legacy is in the quality of fan that he inspired. You do him proud.
Annotations coming soon. Thank you all for reading.
p.s. Plaid Ajah: Yes. (Inside joke.)
As the one year anniversary of my official involvement in the Wheel of Time series came and passed last week, I thought it might be interesting to do an update of the original interview I did with Dragonmount last December. Now that I've had a chance to re-read the series and write a good chunk of the last book, have my thoughts changed? I was as curious about this as anyone, so I decided to do a quick revisit to the interview, answering the questions again in order.
Note that I wrote this rather quickly. I assume you would all rather have me working on Book Twelve, as opposed to spending hours on blog posts. So when I had a few moments in the evening, I ran through the questions again. There are bound to be typos; please forgive them. (I hope I didn't spell any character names wrong, but where my ability to spell is involved, you never can be too certain. I live and die by my spellchecker.)
This is intended to be lighthearted and informal. As always when I wrote blog posts, I did it in a conversational style. That's part of what allows me to do posts as often as I do; they don't require the same 'piece' of my writing mind that crafting novels does. I can relax, so to speak, and not worry about the lyricism of my words. Or even if I spelled them correctly. . . . ;)
One year later, how am I feeling? Well, still a little stunned at times. It's odd. It's been a year. But even just earlier today, while at the gym, I had a moment where I stopped and thought. "Wait, how in the world did this happen? Out of all of the people who could have been chosen, did this really happen to me?"
It's like winning the lottery, only better. First off, this isn't the kind of opportunity you can buy with money. I'd trade a winning lottery ticket for the chance to work on this book. (Sounds like hyperbole, but it's true.) Secondly, I didn't get chosen at random. I was chosen, in part, because of my skill. Not to say that there aren't others with a lot of skill in the field. But I wasn't just picked out of a hat, either. I was picked because of my work. That feels great.
I've thought a lot about this over the last year. I've spoken to Harriet and considered. I've come to discover a little more about the process behind how I was chosen.
Why me? I think foremost, because Harriet liked my work. But she'd also read the thoughts I'd written on Mr. Jordan's passing. She knew I had been heavily influenced by the series that is The Wheel of Time. These aren't just books. There's something about them, something endearing and enduring. Something that draws people into fan communities and makes friends talk with friends about them. There are a lot of bestselling series out there, but there isn't a single one in my knowledge that has prompted the level of passion from the readers that these have.
The fans have been waiting for a long, long time to get this book. I've been waiting a long, long time. I was a fan from the get-go; I read The Eye of the World when it was first released. I think that in order to get this book done in a reasonable amount of time, they needed to pick someone who was already familiar with the series. Someone who knew their Aelfinn from their Eelfinn and who could explain Rand's family tree. (At least on a good day. It still makes my brain get in a knot when I think about who Slayer is and how he relates to the various characters. . . .)
This is a good one to answer now, since I HAVE read the outline (obviously.) Actually, there's a good story here. When I first went to visit Harriet, I recall walking in the door and—even before eating—asking if I could have two things. The ending Jim wrote (he finished the last part of the book himself) and the answer to who killed Asmodean.
I wish it were possible for me to express just how much I enjoyed reading those final written words that Mr. Jordan left behind. I was satisfied. I think that's the perfect word for it. Satisfied. It ends the way it should. Not, perhaps, the way I would have guessed—or even the way you have guessed. But it's the RIGHT ending. I was very pleased.
And it made me sleep a lot more easily once I got to see that the ending was there, and that I wouldn't have to do that part myself. I'm a 'goal driven' writer. I develop an outline for myself that generally focuses on my ending, and then my writing pushes me toward that goal. Already having the ending makes this book possible.
I guess the only other thing I'd like to note that I was feeling was this: Reverence. This is the last work of the master. It's like holding a play penned by Shakespeare himself—one that nobody else has read, and that you get to perform for the first time.
I think I covered this one last year as well as I could. I'll add to my response that I think, in our hearts, every one of us fantasy authors wants to write this classic story. There's a piece of us who wants to emulate our masters, to do as they did, because they brought us such delight and emotion at reading. That's why many authors, when they first begin, tend to write works that feel heavily derivative.
Most of us never publish those novels. We move on, like a tottering child, searching for our own voice. Trying to find a way to bring those same emotions to people, but by telling our own stories. Our own way. It's the correct way of things. Telling the exact same story over and over again is an exercise in futility.
But I get the chance to actually do that, to be part of this thing that nurtured me through those years when I was a quiet fantasy reader who spent more time in his room with his books than outside with living people. I get to write on this story, I get to be part of the master's work. That's very humbling.
Also, many of you have asked if I'd gotten a response from Harriet on the pages I turned in. I have, but it's not that exciting to hear about. You see, I wanted to remained focused on finishing the book, and I know that if I start getting revision notes, it will draw my focus back to the parts I've already written. I can't afford that distraction unless the parts I've written are so terrible that we need to rethink how I'm approaching this book. So, I have asked to not get any revision notes until I've at least hit the 400k mark. All I wanted to know was "Should I keep going, or are there big troubles?" The response was an enthusiastic keep going.
This book is going to take a LOT of revision. I know ahead of time that there are going to be big swaths that will need to be rewritten. But as long as what I'm turning in is pleasing enough to be workable, it's important to keep moving forward. I'm like that in writing; I like to have a rough draft to work on, rather than turning my attention back to previous sections before finishing. I need to keep momentum up. So, honestly, you know as much as I do at this point. She's pleased, but undoubtedly has large revision requests.
Last year I explained the theory; now I can talk about what it's actually like. I think the blend I discussed is going very well. I'm writing through this draft as I would normally, with a focus on making the characters sound right. That's most important to me right now, followed closely by making certain the plot flows well.
In revisions I'm being careful to enhance my descriptiveness and write the book in a way that feels correct for the Wheel of Time. This is going to take a lot of drafting—let me warn you readers, when you see that progress bar hit 100%, we're still nowhere close to being finished.
However, I'm extremely pleased with how the book is going. I think the blend of my style with that of Mr. Jordan is proceeding very nicely. It's going to be a fantastic book.
Another one I can answer now that I couldn't before, as I hadn't seen the notes.
However, it's still a tough one to answer. How much do I have to make up? A lot in some places, very little in others. The interview mentioned an 'outline' above. That's a little bit of an understatement regarding what was left. The things mentioned in this question itself are more accurate.
My goal is to retain as much of his own writing as possible, and then fill in the blanks myself. As I've promised Harriet not to talk about these things until the book is out, I feel I can't give specifics right now. Know that there are large swaths of writing to do on my own, and yet even then I feel his hand on my shoulder. Every hole has an entry point and an exit point. I know where the characters are, and I know where they have to go. Sometimes it's my choice on how to get them there. Sometimes there are notes, sometimes there are actual chunks of writing. Sometimes there isn't anything but a quick notation in that character's file explaining their final state at the end of the book.
But this is Robert Jordan's book, not my own. I keep saying that, and I don't want the readers to think I'm approaching it any other way. It's his story, his writing, and his vision.
I said Perrin last year. This year, I'm not sure I can claim that any more. Not that my affection for Perrin has waned. I've simply spent too much time writing through the characters' eyes.
One of the spectacular things about the Wheel of Time was the depth of characterization. No matter who's eyes you were seeing through, they felt real and lively. To each character, they are the most important person in their own story.
As a writer, you can't play favorites. At least not when you're actually writing. When I sit down to write Egwene, she's my favorite. When I sit down to write Rand, he's my favorite. And when I sit down to write Perrin, he's my favorite.
Through different points in the books, different characters are my 'favorite' to read about. Rand dominates my interest in books one and two, but I find myself leaning toward Perrin and then Aviendha in the next few books. Nynaeve's story in the middle end, with the rescue by Lan, is a personal favorite. Mat takes center stage after that, and Egwene is my favorite to read in Knife of Dreams.
Last year I mentioned the depth of the worldbuilding, and this really has been a challenge. I know there are some of you out there who can name every single Aes Sedai, their Ajah and relative strength in the Power. But I've never been that kind of reader. I've loved these books, and I've been through them a number of times (currently, I've read The Eye of the World nine times.) I know these characters—I know how to write them and how to think as them. But the side characters are a challenge to keep track of. I don't have a trivia mind. I forget the names of my OWN side characters sometimes. I know who they are, but I can't name them.
(Fortunately, I now know that Mr. Jordan himself had trouble sometimes keeping track of them all, which is why he had assistants to help him.)
Other than that, there have been a few characters that have been more difficult to get 'right' than other characters. The Aiel, for instance, are a challenge to make sound right. They're such an interesting people, and they see the way in such a peculiar way. I've had to spend a lot of time working on making them sound right.
I honestly didn't know what to expect, so I have trouble answering this question, though many people ask it of me at signings. Let me tell you this: Writing this book is difficult. It's the good kind of difficult, the kind that makes you stretch and improve in leaps and bounds, but it is TOUGH. Keeping track of all of the side character and sub-plots is a real challenge, and trying to stay true to the soul of the Wheel of Time while adapting my own style to something appropriate for this book has been even more of one.
I'm loving working on it. There are many who think it might be easier to write this book than one of my own (since there is an outline and the worldbuilding is done.) However, I think that it's much, much more difficult. When it comes time to use a side character, I can't simply make up their personality and fit them into the plot—I have to research how they've thought, talked, and acted in the past, then incorporate that. I have to be careful what I add as I can't contradict the plotting from books past. And beyond that, there is a huge level of expectation and hope resting upon this novel. My own, that of Harriet, and that of all of you readers who have been waiting for almost twenty years to read.
This all makes the book tough to write. But, as I said, it's the good kind of tough. I started writing fantasy in the first place because I think it's one of the most challenging genres to write in, and the prospect of working on this book still excites me.
I am still deeply interested in ascertaining the solution to the quandry regarding the character of Asmodean, most specifically the mystery surrounding the circumstances of his demise. ;)
I also mentioned Moiraine's fate last year as being a big question I had. She's always been a favorite of mine, and each time I read through the series, I'm left wondering about her. (Well, not any more, since I've read the notes. But you know what I mean.)
I've been surprised to discover that a lot of readers take her survival for granted, but I've never done so. The letter gives some good clues that she might still be around, but it could also be some kind of trap by the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. The answers and gifts they give are truthful, yet there's often a twisted logic to them as well, it seems.
I can't say more here, I'm afraid, since I now know too much.
"I'll be perfectly honest: When I heard the news, my first thought was of the big loss of someone extraordinary," recalled Sanderson. "My second thought was . . . he was working on the last book, would we ever get to see it?"
His sentiment was echoed by many on "Wheel of Time" fan sites across the Internet, and soon Sanderson found himself becoming a topic on those sites.
"I'm relatively unknown as an author; I've only been published for a couple of years," Sanderson said. "I did not know I was being considered."
Indeed, the most prominent question on fan sites such as seemed to be: Who is Brandon Sanderson?
That question was met head-on by Sanderson as he began interacting with "Wheel of Time" fans both live and on the Web, and taking the time to introduce himself to those who were still new to his work.
"Overall, I'm absolutely thrilled that Brandon is the man for the job," exclaimed Jason Denzel, site founder of Dragonmount.com. "It's as if they picked the most talented fan they could find and handed him the series to finish."
As confident as Denzel and the rest of the fans on his website have become in Sanderson, they admit that there remains a trickle of skepticism.
"The thing that we haven't seen yet, and whether or not it can be pulled off, is if this book is going to feel like someone else wrote it or as if Robert Jordan wrote it himself," said Denzel. "Our biggest worry is whether or not it's going to have the feel of the rest of the series."
Thank you for your support. The response has been fantastic. I get emails each day cheering me on.
Thank you for your understanding. I can't replace the man you lost. But I'm doing my best to give you the book you've been waiting for.
And finally, thank you for your patience. I'm working hard, I promise. But this book is a HUGE undertaking, and will likely be three times the size of previous books I've written. Even considering the parts Mr. Jordan finished, there's just a lot to do, and I don't want to rush an imperfect product to production. We hope to have something for you in stores by November 2009. But if it takes longer, it takes longer.
One reader emailed me, noticing that the A Memory of Light progress bar has been zipping up quite quickly lately. They were wondering if I'd hit a section where Mr. Jordan had done more writing. (I can't find the actual email right now, it's buried in the inbox.) The answer, my astute reader, is yes. I've hit a section where Mr. Jordan did more work before he passed away than he did on other sections. Much of it here is in outline form or dictation form, and so I'm having to do a lot of the physical construction of the chapters, but having a detailed outline makes the process move much more quickly. That's part of why I felt I could leave 20% to be done in December and still feel I could meet my self-imposed deadline.
We're getting much, much closer to my goal, by the way. Over 350k done so far, with less than 50k to go. Another reason it's going to well is that I was forced to spend much of the last two months doing other things. I still got some writing done, as you probably saw with the progress bar updates, but with all of the traveling I did, I had to work hard to simply get the 10k minimum goal I set for myself in a week. Now that I'm back, I'm eager to get back to work.
This is how it often happens with me. I started writing books because . . . well, I like writing books. It's what I love to do, and those who know me will tell you that I'd probably spend sixteen hours a day working on my books if life would let me. October/November is always hard for me, since the touring keeps me from writing. It's great to tour and meet the readers, and I think it's an important part of the writing business. It helps keep me grounded and in touch with those who read my works. If I DID spend sixteen hours a day writing, with no contact with the world around me, I think my writing would become more and more insular and less relatable. (Pemberly and Limebaby's jobs, in part, are to constantly remind me that there are things to write ABOUT by making me get out of my basement and experience them.)
Now, how about some Reader Mail:
I read your post about splitting A Memory of Light and thought your reasoning was very sound. It seems obvious that you care very much about putting out something of quality. I'm concerned though, that you won't end up changing what you write based on reader's reactions to the first book. How do you make sure the book/volumes you end up writing at 800k a year or so from now isn't different from the book you would have written if you had just done the whole thing in one big chunk?
Excellent question. The answer is simple, yet may not be very satisfying. Honestly, I don't know if the book will turn out differently.
It's rarely fruitful to second-guess decisions based on what might happen in the future. Every novel I read, every review that comes out, every day spent pondering . . . these things all influence my writing. Each day we make hundreds of decisions that nudge us in this direction or that. Scenes are influenced directly by events that occur in my life.
Would Mistborn Three have been a different book if I hadn't stopped and written something else between it and Mistborn Two? Probably. Would it have been better or worse? I don't know. Will A Memory of Light Three be different because A Memory of Light One will be released before it comes out? Perhaps. Will it be better or worse? I don't know.
I can say this. The second chunk should be done before the first comes out. And the third chunk saw a lot of work by Mr. Jordan before he passed away. So the structure isn't going to change, regardless. An author also has to learn not to let reviews or reader reactions influence him/her TOO much. Writing is a very solitary art, and the writer learns to trust their instincts. One of the early lessons to learn in writing is that feedback is good, but must be held at arm's length.
If anything, knowing that there is one part out for readers to enjoy will take some of the pressure off of me and, hopefully, allow me to work more smoothly on the next two sections. Thanks for the question!
Harriet is a world class editor–she really is great at what she does. I’ve had several opportunities to meet with her in person–she, and Mr. Jordan’s staff, are awesome. His two assistants, Maria and Alan, are continuity experts and went through my completed manuscript pages fact checking and giving feedback on general issues as well. I had worried that having three editors on this project would make it more difficult to work on, but so far it’s simply been a big help. There is so much going on in this book and this world that having the extra sets of eyes is very helpful.
I’ve really enjoyed the process. At the beginning, after I read all the notes and explained to the team my feelings on the various outlines for the different characters, Harriet pretty much let me call the shots when it came to the actual drafting of the novel. As an editor, she works best when I provide material to her, then she works her magic to turn it from good to excellent. When I turned manuscript pages in, and she came back to me with line edits—where she goes through and tweaks the language of the book—it quickly became obvious what a pro she is and how much she loves this series. It’s truly an honor to work with her.
That's actually a great question. It was a difficult decision—it was the easiest difficult decision I've ever made. How about that? Because I made it in a snap. There's no way I was going to pass this up. But at the same time, making that decision made me realize... I knew when I was making it, that this would change my life forever. And it would change... I mean, I had to set aside a number of book projects that I've wanted to write. That just got cast aside, and I just didn't have time for it anymore. And I don't know if I will write those books; if I'll be able to write those books. It completely changed tracks—you know, you talk about a train being derailed—well, you know, I completely was thrown off-track to something completely different. It did change my career drastically.
Do you feel like—and this is going to be a difficult question—but do you feel like that it's taken away a little bit of yourself? Do you feel like you're going to be typecast as that person that wrote Jordan's last book?
I don't know. I don't think so. Partially because I plan to do this and be done. I don't plan to make a career of finishing other people's books. In fact, I would have said no to pretty much anyone else. The Wheel of Time was the foundational and formative epic fantasy series of my childhood. These were the books I was reading—Rand, and Perrin, and Mat, they were my friends that I had growing up. This wasn't something that I could say no to. Just from a kind of... I consider Robert Jordan a mentor. My hero in a lot of ways. There was no way I was going to say no. But I wouldn't have said yes to pretty much anyone else, and I don't plan to do other sorts of tie-in books. I've put my soul into this book. There is a piece of me in this. It's hard to explain. It's not like... I didn't treat it like I was given a work-for-hire project. It's not like I'm writing a Star Wars book, as fun as that would be, or something like this. I was given these notes and then essentially told by Harriet, "I want to see what you're doing, after you've done with it, but you have full license. Do what you feel you need to do to write this book." I was given essentially complete control. Now, Harriet—Robert Jordan's wife—she has complete control.
The final say.
Yeah, she has the final say. But she's an editor. And she didn't tell me how to write the book. She gave me the notes and said, "Go. Do what you need to do to make a great book." And so, this has become... It is a collaboration. It's a true collaboration, that's what they call it; I'm collaborating. And there were big holes that I had to fill in. Now, there are a lot of notes that he left behind and there's a lot—this is mostly his book—but there's a bit of me in it. And it's not just a work-for-hire. Which actually... It's good. I don't feel like I'm, I don't know, stepping in and just doing something. It's hard to explain. I don't know if that's making any sense at all.
No, that's definitely makes sense.
But I'm putting as much or more into this as I would put into one of my own books. And I don't feel like this would typecast me any more than writing my own books typecasts me as a person who writes Brandon Sanderson books. If that makes sense. You get typecast as yourself; it's impossible to not be typecast as yourself. So...yeah.
I think it's unlikely to see the rough drafts. Because I know that the team working on the Wheel of Time—Harriet and those—are somewhat more...skeptical is the wrong word. Robert Jordan didn't like to show his work to people until it was on the twelfth draft. Harriet didn't see it until it'd gone through twelve drafts. He was very...Didn't like to show unfinished work to people. That was just how he was. Different authors approach things different ways. With Warbreaker, my own book, I put the first draft on my web site. I do stuff like that. I work from a different kind of angle. I don't know what it is.
But I'm going to probably push to get her to let me publish the notes, or to publish a book talking that includes part of the notes along with a discussion of how I translated the notes to book. Something like that. I would like to do something like that. The call will be Harriet's. And I probably won't even talk about it with her until the book is done. 'Till, you know, we've got the Wheel of Time done. Then I might approach her and say, "Hey, would you mind if I did something like this? Would you be interested?" Because I think the fans would really like to see it.
I think it would be definitely an interesting idea.
You mentioned the three books. And, I mean...The Wheel of Time is huge. There's lots of different places we could go. They are not places that I think we're going to go. Because we don't want to see this turn into something...Not to say anything against the media properties, that's fine, but we don't want to see the Wheel of Time become that. Robert Jordan left notes on this book, which has become three, but it's become three that are collectively of the same length as the book he was going to write. That's the thing you have to remember with the split. He was writing an 800,000 word book, I'm writing an 800,000 word book—8 to 900,000 word book—Tor has decided to slice it up and release it in three segments. It's not like I've decided to write two extra books. I'm writing the one book and I'm allowing them to split it into three. I don't really have the call on it. But that's something different.
He did leave notes on a few other things. One was called the Outriggers, which he had talked about with his fans writing. He actually had a contract with Tor. I don't know what happened with those, but that was a trilogy that he had planned to write that he had notes for. And then he also had notes for two additional prequels. He had done... He had told Tor he wanted to do three of those; he wrote one of them called New Spring. There was going to be one that was focusing on Tam's story—that's Rand's father—and he was going to do one that was essentially the sequel to New Spring, with Moiraine, how she arrived at the—how she and Lan arrived in the Two Rivers. That sort of thing. And those were planned. There's a chance you'll see those. A chance. My suggestion to Harriet has been to, you know, to be very careful. We don't want to exploit the Wheel of Time to make it go on and on and on. And so, while you may see those books—I know Tom Doherty is pushing for them a lot—we're not going to go back and do the prequel about Lews Therin. We're not going to do a prequel about Artur Hawkwing. We're not going to... You're not going to see this—
—shared world sort of thing. And so, if Harriet asks me to do those, I probably will. Meaning the Outriggers or the prequels. Because I don't want anyone else to do them, if that makes any sense.
Since you've taken over, it's a little bit now your baby.
Yeah. But if we do those, there'll be years between. If that makes any sense.
I think there has to be, yeah.
I mean, I got into this because I want to write books. My own stories. And that's what I'm excited about, that's what I do, and I'm really having a blast doing that. And so...the Wheel of Time is an exception. It's a special thing, that I am really honored to be part of. But I don't want to make my career doing other people's books.
Yeah, there's spirituality, but not religion.
And how did you, as a writer that usually writes in that, you know… How did that make a difference for you? How did you have to approach it; did you have to make changes in the way that you write because of that?
You know, that's not one specific thing that I felt I had to change a lot about. The truth is, for any given fantasy work you're working on, there are certain things that draw a lot of your attention, that you focus on, and certain things you don't. When I wrote my kids' series, there's no religion in those. That just wasn't important for the world-building and the setting for those books. And I've written other books where religion is very important. Religion fascinates me. I'm a religious person. And because of that, I feel that the misuse of religion can be one of the greatest evils in the world. And so, you see me delving into that sort of thing and just the different approaches on religion. You know, I love to deal with different types of religion and all that sort of stuff. But I think Robert Jordan's approach is very interesting. And I've always liked his approach to it. Like I said, there's a spirituality without a religion. And...the Wheel of Time, that's not an area that's focused on a lot. And so, it was a very easy transition for me. Different books, you spend your efforts on in different places.
On Elantris, I spent a long time on the languages. On Mistborn, I didn't. Because in Mistborn, it wasn't... The world just didn't revolve around the way that languages work. We had an all-oppressive dictator God King who had forced everyone to kind of adopt the same language. Beyond that, the books were taking place at the center capital of the world where everyone spoke the same language. So there weren't even... You know, there were little dialects here and there, but I didn't focus on language there. Whereas I did in Elantris. The same thing with different books, so...
I've got a good story for you. One time, I was trying to keep track of everyone who was with the character Perrin. You guys know Perrin. So Perrin's off doing this thing, and one of the biggest challenges of writing the Wheel of Time books was the sheer number of characters. Not the main characters—I know the main characters, they're my friends, I grew up with these people, I know them just like hanging out with my high school buddies—but keeping track of all the Aes Sedai, and the Wise Ones, and you know, the Asha'man, and all these various people that are all over the place and saying, "OK. Who is with Perrin and who is with Rand, and who is..."
Anyway. I sent an email off to Team Jordan. You know, Harriet and Maria and Alan who are the... They were two editorial assistants that worked directly with Robert Jordan. Maria and Alan. I think it was Alan I sent an email to, and I said, "Do you have just like a list of everybody? I can go compile one of my own, I'm planning to do it, but if you have one already that says, 'These are the people who are with Perrin.' If you've got something like that." And he said, "I found this thing in the notes buried several files in." And things like this. "Here. I found this. Maybe this is what you want." And he sent me this, and it was called "with Perrin." I thought, "OK. Perfect." I open up this file and it's actually not what I wanted. Instead it is dozens of names of people who haven't appeared in the books yet. These are all the names of all the Two Rivers folk who are with Perrin. Like there are two hundred or so. Just names. Listed off. That have never appeared in the books. Sometimes with their profession, and a little about them, and things like that. And it just blew my mind that there was all of this detail that Robert Jordan had put into this world that nobody sees—and he wasn't planning for them to see. He's not going to have a big list of names in the final book; he wasn't planning that. He just needed to know their names so that he knew that he had them. And this is the level of detail and world-building that Robert Jordan did. I got a big chuckle out of that. Just, list of names. Then I started stealing them like a thief so I had good names that he had come up with, that I could use in the books.
Are you using them for other characters or using them for people...
I'm mostly using them where he intended them to be. Because he had other lists of names for... As the book has progressed and I've discovered these little notes files... Because the notes, there are huge, massive amounts of notes. We say there are about two hundred manuscript pages of stuff done for Gathering...for A Memory of Light. The three books. But beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands of words worth of just background notes, of world-building notes, of things like that. When we say the notes for the book, we're talking about actual specifics to A Memory of Light. But there are hundreds of thousands of other notes; there's just too much for one person to even deal with. So I let the two assistants dig through that. And so once I found out that there were lists of names, I started getting those files so I could use his names in places where we had them. So that I would have to name fewer and fewer people. Because his naming conventions are very distinctive. And, you know, I don't think... I think if you were to read, you could probably tell which names are mine and which are his, because we name things differently. And I'm trying to use his wherever I can, just to give that right feel to the book.
They are right to worry, and I don't blame them at all. They have no assurance whatsoever that I won't ruin their book—the past has proven, I think, that series get ruined more than they get saved when a new author steps in.
I hope, very sincerely, to be in the second category, the one who saves a series rather than kills it. But only November will offer any proof other than my word, and I fully expect people to worry right up until they've read the novel.
The only preparation a person could really have for something like this was to be a lifelong fan. I think this book is good. I think it is VERY good. I'm not worried any more myself, though I was quite worried when I began.
What can I offer fans right now? Only the promise that the book has had Harriet and Mr. Jordan's assistants working from the beginning to make certain I didn't screw it up. Beyond that, I've made it my first priority to stay true to his wishes and notes, and not deviate unless there is a very, very good reason.
(The only times I've 'deviated' was in to offer more explanation or depth to a scene. I haven't cut anything he wanted to be in the book, save for a few places where he contradicted himself. I.E. There were some scenes where he said "I'm thinking of doing this or this" or "I'm thinking of doing this, but I don't know." In those places, I've made the final call.)
All I can ask is this. Give me a chance. Read the book. After that, we'll talk.
(The most stressful part is probably the realization that no matter what I do, I won't be able to please everyone. Robert Jordan couldn't do that himself. So I will fail some of you. But I hope to please the vast majority of you.)
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.
Recently, I've found myself thinking a lot about the years when I was simply another Wheel of Time fan. This is likely due to the coming release of The Gathering Storm, which will be the first WoT book that I don't get to experience with the rest of the world as it is released. That puts me in a strange position.
Actually, a lot of things about this project put me in a strange position. I've become the most direct face of the Wheel of Time, with my blogging and appearances. Because of that I find myself (by design) being an advocate for the series, rather than a commentator on the series. There's a distinction there. It's no longer my place, for instance, to offer criticism on the cover art. Perhaps some would call it two-faced of me to avoid discussion of things in the series that perhaps deserve criticism; I just feel that it is my job to stand in Mr. Jordan's place, as best I can, and be respectful of his memory and the responsibility I've been given.
Still, despite this, I do find myself remembering the days when I was just a fan. I went through all of the typical WoT fandom emotions. There were times when I tore through the books, rereading them voraciously, loving every page. And yes—though I don't now talk about it often—there were times when I was annoyed with the WoT. The speed at which the series was released, the quirks of Mr. Jordan's language, the times he focused on a side character I didn't want to read about.
There would be times when I would reread through all the books—taking months and months—in order to read a new volume that just came out. And then the next one would take just long enough to come out that I'd have forgotten the details of the books. I'd feel mentally fatigued and think, "What do I do? Do I spend all of that time reading again, or do I try to read the new one without a refresher on who is who, and perhaps lose some important threads?" During those times, I would think, "Why am I subjecting myself to this? This series is overhyped."
And then I'd read the books and remember what I'd forgotten. Not just the names and plot threads; the love and the thrill of a purely majestic epic fantasy.
The Wheel of Time is one of the few series I read a lot when I was younger that made the transition to adulthood with me. Other authors—good authors—weren't able to write for both the youthful Brandon and the adult Brandon. But Jordan could do it. There is something very special about these books. I think you'll find it again when you dig back into the Wheel of Time for what is happening in October, whether you decide to read the entire series (I suggest at least reading Knife of Dreams again) or just grab The Gathering Storm.
Still, I guess I'm posting about this to say, "I understand. I don't feel it's right for me to agree with you most of the time when you complain. But I do understand. I've been there." I understand that some are annoyed at there being three books instead of one, I understand that some are excited about getting three books, and I understand that most of you probably feel both annoyed and excited at the same time. (This series does that to people.) I understand what it's like to defend the Wheel of Time vigorously to friends, but then find yourself saying, "I think I'll wait to read the rest of them until the thing is finally done" to other friends later in the week. I've been there. I have a friend who—each time Mr. Jordan's name was mentioned—used to raise his fist to the sky and curse. Partially in jest, partially to express his fascination and frustration at the same time. I empathized with him a lot.
But I've read the ending now. It works. It fits. A journey like this one hinges a lot on the destination. And that destination turned out to be everything I wanted it to be.
Some of you haven't ever felt these feelings; you've loved the WoT the entire time, and haven't felt a bit of frustration. Some of you have only recently discovered the series, and wonder what the fuss and frustration is about in those of us who have been reading for nearly twenty years now. To you who are like I was, I just say this. Give yourself a chance to discover the books again, and you'll remember what this is all about.
Anyway, I like to be very up-front with readers about what is going on. Waiting for novels can get frustrating because of how long the process takes, and because . . . well, it's an artistic endeavor that relies on the creative output of (usually) a single person. We artists can be flakey.
Or, put more appropriately, the artistic and creative process can be erratic. I don't think George R. R. Martin is flakey, for instance. An artist has to know their process, and work within its bounds. It takes him years to write a book; that's just how it goes. That's pretty good, considering the genius of his prose. If he wants quality, he has to have the freedom to work as he needs to. Writing books is not like building widgets. Forcing it doesn't work.
Coaxing it, however, can be effective. For me, taking a break to do something different—like the Alcatraz books—has proven essential. I don't think it slows down my other books; in fact, it speeds them up, as it keeps my creative process working. Other writers call me prolific. That's only because my diversions (Like Warbreaker or Alcatraz) have so far been successful as publishable projects, where taking four months off to go golfing wouldn't be. But, that's a tangent.
Anyway, I don't think forcing the process can work. However, I think being open about what is happening with readers—giving them transparency and a concrete view on what I'm doing—can be very helpful. When I take a diversion, you'll know what I'm doing, and the progress bars (hopefully) will show you exactly what I'm doing and when.
For now, A Memory of Light 2 (we'll see what it ends up being named; I've chosen what I like for the title, but the final decision isn't mine) stands at having about two hundred thousand words written. There is about 100k left to go. (A little over that.) My goal is to have that done by January 1st, to put us in the same place next year as we were this year for having a book ready by the fall.
The caveat for all of this, however, is what I mentioned above. It can't be forced, only coaxed. I won't release a WoT book just to be releasing a WoT book. This is the end of the greatest epic fantasy series of my generation. It needs to be treated very carefully. If I have to take more time on it, I will—regardless of the screaming from publisher or readers. But I don't anticipate that happening. It looks good so far.
I had not heard of Brandon until. . . it was the week of my husband's death. A friend was visiting. She put in front of me a print-out, and it was the eulogy for Robert Jordan that Brandon had posted on his web site. Brandon's eulogy was really beautiful, and very loving. And I thought, gosh, this guy. . . he knows what the series is all about.
And I got on the phone, called Tom Doherty and said, "Send me one of Sanderson's books." And he's a bit darker than Robert Jordan, but the series, as everyone knows, is heading towards Tarmon Gai'don, which is the battle with the Dark One that will decide the fate of the world. Tom said, "Okay, I'll go for that. We'll go for Brandon."
You made it clear that you would love to do this. And that was wonderful. That's what I needed to hear.
The next thing was for me to fly to Charleston. Harriet drives me to her house. You know, I'm fanboying all of this. And you said, "Do you want some dinner?" And my response was, "No, I want the ending. I want the ending and I want to know who killed Asmodean."
And you're like, "Oh, all right. Well, here it is." And you handed me that, and kind of waved me into the den, I guess it is, or the sitting room. "Head over there, go ahead, go for it."
And so I was over there poring over the materials. And I flipped right to the ending and read because Robert Jordan had always said, "I have the ending in mind". And all the readers, all the fans had known this. And we’d listen to interviews and he'd been saying for years, "I know the ending. The last scene is in my head." And so I got to read that last scene before dinner.
Then I retreated to my cave, and crawled in.
Finally, progress on Towers of Midnight is continuing at a fair pace. As always, there are sections that turn out beautifully and sections that don't. (The latter get thrown away and rewritten, the former get kept and rewritten. That's just how this goes.) I'm feeling very good about my deadlines on this one. It's going to be tight, but I think you'll get it next year as planned.
One of the things I felt could be improved on from The Gathering Storm is my use of names. Robert Jordan had a distinctive way of using names, and I think that some of my names for the book didn't quite hit the right mark. We're talking about very minor things—people who are named and don't appear, or maybe who speak one line or another. Anyone more major than that generally had a name already (or if they didn't, I pulled a name from one of Mr. Jordan's unused names files).
The thing is, a good epic fantasy like this uses dozens and dozens of new names in a book. I wanted to take a stab at approaching the naming in the way Mr. Jordan did. During my very first ride with Harriet, coming back from the airport two years ago to her home in Charleston, I remember her talking about some of Mr. Jordan's names. One came from a street we passed, another from a person he knew, and another from a word he saw on a sign. His goal was to hint at our world far in the future—or perhaps far in the past—by giving occasional hints to our world through legend, story, song, and name. Hence we get names like Thom or Artur, which are direct adaptations of names from our world.
Therefore, for Towers of Midnight I've been using a list of names from our world as inspiration. I chose the list of donors for the charity event that TarValon.net did last spring, and I've been posting the names on Twitter and Facebook as I choose them. So if you're curious about this, you can watch and see who gets chosen. I'm certain someone out there is keeping a list of them all as well. (I've got one here, and may post it eventually.)
I don't want to make it seem like I'm playing favorites or soliciting praise in order to get people into the Wheel of Time, and so for now I'm using this list ONLY. If we decide to do another charity event, I'll let you know. If you don't want to find out about the names, I won't post them here on the blog, but those who do wish to know can follow along. Remember, these are very small characters, often just mentioned by name but not seen. I'm adapting all the names, so the name I post is not what will appear in the book—it's just the inspiration for what will appear.
Still, I think it will make some people very happy and will allow me to try a method that Robert Jordan used in making these books. Perhaps it wasn't so conscious for him as it is for me, but one of my duties in writing these novels is to try—to the best of my abilities—to maintain the proper feel of the Wheel of Time. I think this will help. We'll see; I've got Harriet and Team Jordan backing me up, and so if any of the names stand out to them, they'll vanish and get replaced with something more appropriate.
(And, as I've said before, remember that the Wheel of Time turns, and people are constantly spun in and out of the Pattern. Those who are alive today could very well live again during the Third Age, and so it's not so odd at all for people who loved these books during our time to get pulled into Rand's ta'veren web and spun out again during the events of the Last Battle. . . .)
Brandon, with you being a writer specialized in cool and unique magic systems, how was it to use and write with the magic system in Wheel of Time? Hard or easy? Did you have to come up with new weaves, or did Jordan already have unmentioned weaves written down somewhere? And how did it work for you to write channeling battles?
Well, the Wheel of Time magic system was one of those that inspired me to make magic systems the way I do. I've long loved the magic in Mr. Jordan's books, and think he does a very good job of walking the line between having it feel scientific and still feel wondrous. He does tend to go a little bit further toward wonder—as opposed to science—but that has a great number of advantages for his story.
In answer, I've come up with just a few new weaves, but mostly I wanted to use his weaves in new ways. I think there's a lot of room to explore the use of weaves and how people interact with the magic. Don't expect a LOT of this though. The focus is on the characters and the Last Battle at this point, but there were a few places where (mostly in throw-away, background moments) I was able to explore the magic a tad. I actually found it one of the easier things in the book, though I DID have to keep looking up how specific weaves were created. It gets confusing, particularly since men and women often do the weaves differently.
As for channeling battles...well, I can't really tell you if there are any of those in the book without giving anything away, now can I? So we'll have to RAFO that. ;)
You have stated in your blog that Mistborn had three magic systems (Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemurology) and also that The Way of Kings will have upwards of 20. For comparison, how many magic systems would you say the Wheel of Time series has? Two (One Power and the True Power)? How do you classify other abilities (not necessarily related to the One Power or True Power) such as Dreamwalking, viewing the Pattern, Wolfbrother-hoodness, and changing 'luck' or chance? Would you classify these abilities as a magic system in and of themselves? Has your chance to see the background material Robert Jordan left changed how you view these abilities?
This kind of gets sticky, as it's all up to semantics. Really, you could say that Mistborn had a different magic system for each type of Misting. But at the same time, you could argue that something like X-Men—with huge numbers of powers—all falls under the same blanked 'magic system.' And take Hemalurgy in Mistborn 3—is it a new magic system, or just a reinterpretation of Allomancy and Feruchemy?
So what do I mean by twenty or thirty magic systems in Kings? Hard to say, as I don't want to give spoilers. I have groupings of abilities that have to deal with a certain theme. Transformation, Travel, Pressure and Gravity, that sort of thing. By one way of counting, there are thirty of these—though by another way of grouping them together, there are closer to ten.
Anyway, I'd say that the Wheel of Time has a fair number of Magic systems. The biggest one would be the One Power/True Power, which is more of a blanket "Large" magic system kind of like Allomancy being a blanket for sixteen powers—only the WoT magic system is far larger. I'd count what Perrin/Egwene do in Tel'aran'rhiod as a different magic system. What Mat does as something else, the Talents one can have with the Power something else. Though I'd group all of the Foretelling/Viewing powers into one.
Sounds like a topic for a paper, actually. Any of you academics out there feel like writing one?
Let's just say that The Wheel of Time has a smaller number of larger magic systems, and I tend to use a larger number of smaller magic systems. Confusing enough? ;)
Brandon, you are noted for your fairly concise epic novels. But I am curious about how the final volume of The Wheel of Time, which was envisioned by Robert Jordan as a final and single book, got to be so long? Not just a little longer but incredibly longer (possibly over 900,000 words).
1. Did Robert Jordan totally miscalculate the size his final book? Or didn't he get too far writing it and had no idea of how long it would be?
2. Is it including every note Jordan had on the subject because no one is sure what he really wanted to use?
3. Is it being turned into a self-contained trilogy because a lot of people (like me) haven't read the entire 11 book series (or by now have forgotten the story), and it has to include some back-story?
I've wondered this myself, actually, in some form. As a long time reader of the series, when he began saying it would be one book, I was very curious how he'd pull it off. And then I saw the notes, and I was left scratching my head a little bit.
It's not option three—I was doing a little bit more of this, but Harriet requested that I scale it back. Her opinion (and it was Robert Jordan's opinion) is that the series is much too long to spend time recapping in every book. She was right, and I trimmed a lot of it.
#2 might have some influence here. Robert Jordan could have chosen to cut out characters and leave out scenes he had in the notes; it doesn't feel right for me to do that.
But I think, overall, it's something that you didn't mention at all. Robert Jordan knew this was going to be a BIG book. He began promising it would be the last, but also that it would be so big that readers would need a cart to get it out of the store. I think he was planning a single, massive book at 800k words or so.
But he DID want it to be one book—partially, I suspect, because he knew his time was short. He wanted to get it done. If he hadn't been sick, however, I don't think he would have started calling this the last book.
Harriet has told me on several occasions that she didn't think he would have done it in one book, if he'd been given the freedom to approach the writing how he wanted. In the end, there is SO much to do that it was going to end up like this no matter what. Unless I crammed it all in and forgot about a lot of the characters.
Would Robert Jordan have been able to do it in one book? Really? I don't know. I think that, if he'd lived, he might have worked some magic and gotten it done in one 400 or 500k volume. But I feel the need to be very careful and not ruin this series by strangulation. It's not going to go on forever, but it does need a little room to breathe.
Do you mind if I ask a question you've probably been asked a bunch of times before?
Heh. Fair enough.
When I first heard that someone was continuing Jordan's Wheel of Time, my first thought was, "Wow, that's a cool gig." Then my second thought was, "I would not want that responsibility for all the money in the world."
How did you come to grips with that? Those are big shoes to fill...
My thoughts were all over the place. I do legitimately love the Wheel of Time and have been reading it since I was a young man. If you look at my early unpublished books, you'll find they were deeply influenced by the Wheel of Time. Amusingly so; looking back on it now, I see things I didn't even notice that I had done. So that love of the series was part of what was bouncing around in my head.
I didn't become a writer because I wanted to write in other people's worlds. I wanted to tell my own stories, and I was making a comfortable living at my writing before this. For a lot of projects I would have said no regardless of what they offered, so it had to be about more than the money. Beyond that, there was this sense, as you expressed, of "Wow, if I screw this up, I'm in serious trouble. People will find me and burn my house down. Wheel of Time fans are hardcore." I struggled with this, and it almost caused me to say no. One writer I know mentioned regarding this, or posted it somewhere, "This is a thankless job. Anything that Sanderson gets right will be attributed to Robert Jordan, and anything he gets wrong will condemn him." I took all those things into consideration.
But in the end, I felt I could do a good job on this, and that it could be a sendoff I could give one of my favorite authors, someone who deeply influenced me as a writer. And I felt that if I passed on it, someone else would be found and would get to do it. The question that it came down to for me was, "Knowing that someone who is not Robert Jordan is going to do this, can you really pass and let anyone other than you do it?" And the answer was that I couldn't let someone else do it. I had to do it. So I said yes.
Other information that we gleaned from dinner included learning that Aviendha is the favorite out of the three in Rand’s “harem.” Hopefully we’ll get to see more of Pevara being awesome, but that could possibly appear in a novella on Brandon’s web page that will fill in some missing holes. But no promises! And one last interesting fact, in order to get the Illianer and Taraboner accents right, he wrote the book then went back and did a search for all the characters of those nations and then worked on their crazy accents.
Some other info that we learned during the Q&A included finding out that the most rewarding part of writing The Gathering Storm for Brandon was working with Harriet. It took 18 months of 14 hour days (although that includes a chunk of Towers of Midnight) to finish the book. The Two Rivers and Andoran characters were the easiest for him to write, while the Aiel and Seanchan were the hardest.
If you didn't hear the news, we got a call on Wednesday informing us that The Gathering Storm had hit the number one spot on the New York Times hardcover Best Seller list. This was accompanied by hitting number one on the independent bookseller's list and being the bestselling hardcover fiction book at Barnes & Noble and at Borders. (And at the last one, I believe, we were the overall #1 book regardless of genre, which is impressive.) We did, in fact, knock Dan Brown out of the #1 spot—by a wide margin.
How do I feel? Relieved. When I first began this project, my largest fear by far was that I would disappoint the fans. As I have stated before, I consider this your book and not mine. That doesn't mean I'm writing it to please the fans specifically—I'm writing these novels to be the best blasted books that they can be, narratively, structurally, and characterizationally. (Is that a word?) My goal is not to produce fan moments, per se, but to produce the best story possible, if that distinction makes any sense.
Either way, the last four Wheel of Time books had all hit #1, and I worried a lot that it would be on my watch where we failed to do so. It is a testament to the beloved nature of the series, mixed with the ardor of the readers, that we have weathered a change in authors without a dip. We actually outsold Knife of Dreams' first week, which is amazing.
The thing is, I don't feel I can take much—if any—credit for this. The reason this book turned out as well as it did (and thank you all for your kind emails, posts, and reviews) was because of the work Robert Jordan did before he passed away. He literally lay on his deathbead dictating scenes for you, too weak to write. He loved his readers dearly, and those of you lucky enough to meet him know that he was a truly kind and generous man.
Beyond that, the strength of this book is directly tied to the excellent storytelling that came before it. It doesn't take much experience with construction to realize that the foundation of a building is far more important—structurally—than the roof. Robert Jordan's skill with worldbuilding, characterization, and plotting was amazing. Working on these books has only increased my respect for his abilities.
None of you ran out to get the book because of me. My job was, and continues to be, to stay out of the way and let you enjoy the story that Robert Jordan wanted you to have. I am honored and humbled that so many of you have enjoyed the book. Thank you for what you have done in giving me a chance to prove myself to you.
Somewhere, Robert Jordan is smiling.
In my early years writing, it was hard. I finally got it right in Elantris. It was harder to write from other cultures, especially Aviendha and Tuon. It took three tries to get Aviendha right..."Aiel are weird."
Brandon describes Mat dealing with Tuon leaving as Mat having his feet knocked out from under him and says that in Robert Jordan's notes it says specifically that "Mat refuses to become husbandly".
It's actually not as simple as either of those options. The notes range in how detailed they are. In some places, he finished complete scenes, which is great. He finished several complete scenes, which will be scattered through the three books, including the ending itself.
In a number of places he gave dictations. Over his last few months, he spent a lot of time dictating to the family things that should happen. These are very interesting scenes in that they read kind of like a screenplay, because they transcribe the dictations. It's a lot of the dialogue, but it's him saying what should happen instead of actually writing it out. "And then, Egwene says this, and then he says this, and then this happens." And so the description isn't there, but the dialogue and the blocking all are. As I said, like a screenplay.
In other places, there are fragments of scenes, where he wrote a couple of paragraphs, and then another couple of paragraphs. And just like a shattered plate, there are pieces missing. In other places, there are sentences he's written, "and then this happens"—where "this" is a sequence of four chapters' worth of events. In other places, he left a paragraph or two, and in some places there’s just a big hole. There're characters here and there, and then there are a lot of really detailed notes for the ending, saying where everyone ends up, who lives and who dies—it's very detailed, and is where I think the bulk of the material is. But sometimes, we'll know where someone is at the end of Knife of Dreams, and then at the ending he says that person is doing something else, but the intervening space is a big hole.
Yes! That's one of the reasons why we felt we needed to split the books. It was partially because the outline detailed so many things for us to do, and Robert Jordan had been saying for some time that it was going to be an enormous book. And part of the reason also was that I needed some legwork—time to set up all of these things that were going to happen. If you look at the end of Knife of Dreams, you've got characters scattered to the far reaches of the world, and we know—we've all known as fans for a while—that they're going to have to gather back together for the Last Battle. It's got to come, but they're still scattered all over the place. He started to draw them back together at the end of Knife of Dreams, but we really needed a staging book to bring some of these things back together, and to accomplish some of the goals he had set forth. That's really what The Gathering Storm is: it's focusing on several of the main characters who need to be in a certain place, both spiritually and physically. As characters they need to be in a certain place mentally, in who they are, and physically they need to arrive in certain destinations, and so I focus a lot on that.
In many ways, it's a more personal book, in that it's more focused on several of the big main characters.
Robert Jordan dropped a bomb at the end of Knife of Dreams, with what Semirhage was saying about or to Rand, talking about his level of stability. I remember as a reader, going through as a kid—I think Robert Jordan blindsided me with Lews Therin, because I'd been told that "Rand will go mad, Rand will go mad," but I didn't accept that voice as Rand going mad. I accepted that as another person, inside of Rand's head, and not a delusion or anything like that. Across the course of the books, Robert Jordan brought together this thing that he'd promised: "No, look, this guy is just going crazy. Yes, he's seeing part of his past life, but he's going insane. It's the immense pressure that's doing this." In looking through the notes, and seeing what Rand has to go through, it's hard not to sympathize with the poor guy.
Robert Jordan once said in an interview, when someone tried to get him to boil down the series to its core—he first said, you can't boil down this series. I wrote it as long as I did because that's how long I needed to tell the story, and so boiling it down doesn't work. But he finally did say this: At its essence, this series is about what it's like to be told that you need to save the world, and that it's probably going to cost your life. Even all of the other characters, you could say that that is a theme for them, too. Egwene has had to give up the life that she'd assumed that she was going to live, and to adopt this other life in the name of the greater good. And that's happening to everybody. Kings and queens are being cast down, and people who thought that their lives were just going to be normal and stable, and that's all they really wanted, are being forced to take upon themselves these mantles of responsibility. And Rand is at the very heart of that. Rand is the center, the example for all of them of what they're having to go through, and it's the worst for him.
I commented on the Dragonmount forums when I found this interview that it seemed that Brandon had accidentally confirmed construct theory in this interview, and that I suspected someone on Team Jordan had said something to him about it, resulting in the vaguer answers that followed on the book tour. Luckers emailed Brandon and got this response:
Feel free to post this response from me.
"I stand by everything I said in those interviews; I did not make any miss-steps. However, there is one big misinterpretation. Terez says that I was asked by Team Jordan to be more secretive. That's not the case. There was one time when Harriet asked me to be more secretive, but that was in regards to spoilers about Towers of Midnight when I was working on it, and she felt (rightly) that I was hinting about too many things that would come in the book.
I have not settled, and do not intend to settle, this debate except in regard to the things placed specifically in the books. The Geekdad interview response is primarily talking about my own reactions as a reader the first time I read specific scenes, long before I saw what was in the notes. At that point, as a fan, my view of the books shifted.
Those views may have shifted again while looking at the notes. I have not said, and will continue not to say, what was in them on this point. There are clues in the text. That is always the way it has been, and I think that is sufficient for this conversation. However, I can explicitly say there was no "Team Jordan order of silence" on this particular point. In fact, there have been few (or none) of those except in regards to spoiling surprises for the books not yet in print. I prefer to keep it that way, which is why I generally ask interviewers to run my interviews past Team Jordan for clarification, and so that they know what I'm saying and can steer me if I do happen to stray into areas best left quiet."
Of course, the bolded bits (emphasis mine) are still telling, and there must have been some reason why he decided to be less open about his feelings after this point.
It was a theme for the book. And, giving no spoilers, we have known for a while that Cadsuane and the Wise Ones have been saying that Rand needs to learn to laugh and cry again. That was their big concern. The idea of laughter as a theme was an interesting one to consider.
I mean, there's never one main theme for a book, particularly one this long. And so when you sit down to look at it, you want to have a lot of different threads, kind of like the threads in the Pattern, weaving together to make the tapestry of a story. One of those was the idea of laughter and how different people found enjoyment and amusement. We have the twisted laughter of the Forsaken and we have the genuine laughter of some of the characters, and we have one character, Rand, who can no longer laugh—he is incapable of doing it, even of laughing in wryness. And so I could approach it from those three different directions. We've got the terrible laughter and the full, joyful laughter, and poor Rand's silence in the middle. I thought that highlighting it in other people would only make his excruciating inability to feel all the more obvious, all the more of a smack in the face.
That was in my mind, certainly. The Wheel of Time has always actually had quite an interesting relationship with political allegory. There was an article in the New York Times [I think this one—JBJ] a number of years ago talking about the Wheel of Time as a manifestation of interesting things that were happening in the world, which I think is fascinating. One of the reasons we like fantasy as writers is because fantasy is, at its very core, inherently representative. It is metaphorical. It is fantastical. It's wonderful to be able to write something that is so fantastical and use the threads of true personality, of characterization, of people that you sympathize with, to anchor it in the real world at the same time. So that was running through my mind. I didn't sit down and say, "I'm going to write a political allegory." And yet these concepts were so big in our culture at the time that they did influence me. In these scenes—it's even more interesting because I was working with direct comments from Robert Jordan in his notes mixed with things that had been said about Rand previously and trying to show both sides of the situation.
Robert Jordan had an interesting quote on this once. The interviewer asked him, "What are you trying to say with your stories? What are you trying to teach?" Robert Jordan took exception to that, and said: I am not trying specifically to teach anything. What he said, and the exact quote is something along these lines: "I love it when my books ask questions, but I don't want to give the answers. The answers are yours. My job is to ask the questions." And I see that. For many years I've thought that was a brilliant and poignant thing to say, and have used that as a guide in my own writing. I don't want to give you answers. I want to raise issues and have characters struggle with them, because that's what people do, and that's what we [as writers] do. But I'm not sitting down to say, I am going to tell you what is right and what is wrong. I'm going to show you that there are characters who have a belief in what is right and what is wrong, and you can agree or disagree with them. But, like real people, they have views on these issues. I'm not trying to say anything specific; I'm only reacting, I think, in part to what we're all saying, part of the cultural dialogue.
Right: It's like breathing. It's not like I sat down and said, "oh, I should mention the blogs." It's just what I do, because it's there—it's hard to say why or why not, because it's obvious that you should do it.
It is true that Robert Jordan was of a different age. I've tried to respect that, particularly because Harriet is of that era, too, and she's very worried about spoilers on the internet and so forth—and I think rightly so. I might be a little too open, or a little too free with some of these things. I've tried to run more of a balance, and to give fewer spoilers. To talk about the process with people, but not tell people what's going to happen, or what specifically is going on with the plot.
No, but I'd like to.
We're in a little better shape. Jim actually finished scenes. We have a lot more to work with. He wrote the end himself! He left landmarks to follow from here to the end. Not specific details, just "strong stuff" to get us to the end.
"There are no characters that we don't know how they end up."
He talked about his love of reading, and mentioned going into his local bookstore and seeing The Eye of the World for the first time. He had to come back and get it a week later because he was broke. He mentioned how RJ and the WoT is the reason he chose to become a writer.
He then talked about perusing the internet one day and finding out about RJ dying, how it was like finding out all his childhood friends had died at one time. He talked about the eulogy he wrote for RJ. How he came down stairs one morning (noon) and got the message from Harriet asking to talk to him. He finally decided to write the books because he could not think of another person who was a huge fan who had studied the story as much as he has and was also a published writer. He talked about flying to meet Harriet at her house, she invited him in with an offer of food, and asked him what she could get him. He said "the ending of the book and who killed Asmodean". I too have read this many times before but the impact of hearing it was phenomenal.
There are about 50,000 words of secondary plots that Sanderson wants to include in Towers of Midnight. He's just not sure all of it will get into the book. If something gets cut, he'd like to get to his fans on his website.
This lead to quite a bit of discussion about Towers of Midnight. It will be a very different book from The Gathering Storm. The Gathering Storm was very intentionally focused. Brandon felt strongly that a 'hit' wasn't good enough, that The Gathering Storm needed to be a home run. (At the table, we all thought it was a home run.) Towers of Midnight will need to catch up many plot threads and will be much less focused. This will have its problems and it will be a big struggle to find the right balance—they aren't there yet in the writing process. Brandon mentioned a few plots as examples which strongly suggests they will be in Towers of Midnight—Loial, Lan, Fain, Taim, Logain, Elayne, if Mat does what fans think he will, etc.
Sanderson says, "Like most fans of the series, I was just shocked and saddened that Jim Rigney wasn't going to be there to finish it himself." He adds, "About a month after his passing, I woke up one morning and found that I had a voicemail. I listened to it, and it said, 'Hello, Brandon Sanderson, this is Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan's widow. I'd like you to call me back. I've got something I want to talk to you about.'"
Sanderson wasn't sure how to take it at first. The author was certain that someone was playing a joke on him. Then he started to shake nervously at the thought that it might not be a prank. "When I got hold of her, I found out that she was looking at me as one of the candidates to finish The Wheel of Time. I hadn't applied for this or anything like that."
Even though Sanderson had never met Rigney, he considered him a mentor. "I had read a lot of his books when I was trying to decide how to write myself, and he strongly influenced what I produced. But I didn't know him personally, and that's what dumbfounded me when I got the phone call," recalls Sanderson. "I was absolutely stunned. I'm afraid I stammered a bit when I told her I would be honored to be considered; in fact, a while after I got off the phone I sent her an e-mail that started, 'Dear Harriet, I promise I'm not an idiot.'"
Sanderson felt honored and overwhelmed at the same time. Although he was a respected and prolific fantasy writer with a growing career, his name on a Wheel of Time book would introduce him to hordes of new readers and send him to the top of the best-seller lists for weeks. But he would have to take time off from his own ambitious epics, and he faced a huge challenge: To be true to Jordan's work while retaining his own distinctive style.
Sanderson wrestled with the question for a long time before deciding that he would concentrate on keeping the character voices authentic and consistent. "We don't want these stories to become about Brandon," he says, "but in the same way, the original Wheel of Time books ... weren't about Jim. They were about the story and the characters. As long as I can make the characters feel right and do the story the right way, I think it will turn out all right."
Sanderson made it his "prime directive" to make sure the characters sounded like their old selves. "My second rule was that if Jim said it, the default is to do it as he said, to put it in as he said. And then rule No. 3 is that I can contradict rule No. 2 if it's necessary for the storytelling."
By considering these three rules, Sanderson ensured that Rigney's story was told consistently. "I'm continually going back and reading Jim's original notes and his previous books," says the author, "balancing that with looking at what I think he was trying to do, what he said he was trying to do, and what would make the best story. In some cases I trust my instincts as a writer, and in other cases I just say, 'This is what Jim said. We're doing it.' I can't really tell you where I draw the line, when I do one or the other. Oftentimes when the situation comes up, I'll write to Harriet and her assistants and say, 'What do you think?'"
McDougal's association had its own complications. As the book progressed, she would send her reactions to Sanderson. These didn't always equate with his own ideas or those of Simons and Romanczuk. "I've learned not to do that horrible thing to Brandon," she says. "Three different people were giving him different reactions. We weren't all on the same page."
Nevertheless, Sanderson pushed on, producing hundreds of thousands of words in a matter of months. He knew that if he succeeded, he would be set for life. If he dropped the ball, he'd disappoint a legion of fans. He felt that it was his job to please as many of them as possible, because this was as much their project as his. Without their intense desire to see the saga completed, there would be no sequel.
The new novel, The Gathering Storm, follows central characters Rand al'Thor and Egwene al'Vere. Rand prepares for the Last Battle while Egwene attempts to reunite the inhabitants of the White Tower under her rule. An attack by Seanchan forces is inevitable. Both protagonists try to piece together the fragmented factions around them in preparation for the great conflict to come.
One million copies of the book were printed for its launch on Oct. 27, 2009. It shot to the top of The New York Times best-seller list, with sales encouraged by a 25-city book tour. Sanderson thought he'd feel out of place and disoriented at the first signing. Rigney's printed "autograph" was included in the book because Sanderson "felt that it would seem really strange to be signing a Wheel of Time book without his signature also there." Sanderson didn't feel as overwhelmed as he expected. "I guess that's because I had just spent 18 months to two years living in this world and living in these books."
He'd poured so much blood and sweat into The Gathering Storm that he'd earned the right to be a part of its promotion. "I still don't claim the book as my own," he says. "The book is Jim's. And yet there's a whole lot of me in there, and because of that, it felt right in a way. I didn't think that it ever would."
"Harriet's a trooper," says Sanderson. "I tried to be as respectful as was possible, letting her take the lead." At some of the signings, if McDougal was present, he would ask her to do the reading. "That was really fun," he says. "Harriet was in control, though there were some hard times for her. Most of them came during the process of working on the book. When it was time to go out and promote the book, I think she just put her best face forward, and I didn't really see any of the troubles that I'm sure she was feeling."
Sanderson acknowledges what a terrible thing it is to lose someone close to you, "yet at the same time, Jim's writing was part of what drew them together in the first place. So I think I saw her finding a bit of solace in it."
The Wheel of Time fans are very vocal and some diehards were resistant to reading a new book with a different authorial voice. But the tone and characters were so consistent with the early novels that the response was generally positive.
"I don't think you can find a fan reception about anything that is all positive," Sanderson reflects. "I've certainly never seen one. Not everyone liked the book, but not everyone liked Jim's books. Heck, not everyone likes Hamlet. That's just the way we are as people. There is no way to please everyone."
The writer knows it's important to listen to the fans. "There are some one-star reviews out there, [but feedback] has been overwhelmingly positive. I very much appreciate hearing that I'm on the right course. I hope I can make the next two books turn out as well."
Harriet in particular was very up front about a topic that I imagine they thought to be a bit sensitive, though obvious if you think about it. Which was the... hm, not sure what word to use here. Caution? Admonition? Caveat? Not sure. Let's go with "forewarning"—forewarning that Book 12 (and 13, and 14) are not "Robert Jordan" books. They are "Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson" books.
As Brandon put it, if they had wanted someone to slavishly imitate Jordan's prose and style and try to make it seem like it was actually Jordan writing, they could have done that (or tried, as Brandon was of the opinion that not even a skilled ghostwriter would have been really successful at mimicking Jordan's voice), but that was not what Harriet and Tom wanted. They wanted (and I'm paraphrasing here a little) to finish the series in a way that honored Jordan's vision without insulting his memory by, essentially, pretending he hadn't passed on. Which is something that I personally can completely get behind; the "ghostwriter" option strikes me as nothing less than ghoulish, so good on Team Jordan for not going that route. Brandon's aim in writing, therefore, has been to capture the feel of the Wheel of Time (and keeping everything that Jordan actually wrote before he died intact) while still bringing his own experience and voice to the table. In other words, he's in there too.
Which I imagine is going to anger some people, and I'm telling those people right now: deal. Of course ideally we would have preferred to have the finale of the Wheel of Time as written by Robert Jordan and Robert Jordan alone, but we can't have that, and that's no one's fault, least of all Harriet et al. I can't encapsulate everything they said at this panel about it without going on for a hundred years (and this is thing is already frighteningly long), but if you want my take on it, after hearing what they had to say (and having read Brandon's previously published novels) I am at the very least deeply curious to see the result. Take it for what it's worth, but I think it's going to be pretty damn cool. You can think I drank the Koolaid or whatever, and there's certainly the possibility that I am wrong, and that's fine, but if you insist on pissing and moaning about something that for all intents and purposes was unavoidable (not to mention the best solution available anyway), I really have no sympathy. Put up or shut up.
(Well, come on, I couldn't have a whole blog post go by without saying something incendiary!)
In some ways, and in some ways it has also been very nice. I am a writer who works from an outline. What I generally do when I build an outline is I find focal, important scenes, and I build them in my head and I don't write them yet, but I build towards them. Well, in this case, a lot of those important focal scenes, Robert Jordan has outlined or written himself. So, I've actually been able to build an outline out of his notes that works very much the way that I work on outlines anyway.
The notes themselves are very interesting to work with. They are so very varied, so to speak. There is just so much there. In some cases we have scenes that he wrote. In some cases we have scenes that he talks about and his assistants wrote down what he said about them. In some cases, we have interviews that he did with his assistants through the years when he was sick, where he was just talking about the last book and they were asking questions. He dictated some scenes on his death bed. In other cases, we have things that his assistants remember him saying that they just wrote down after he passed away, everything they could remember. Other cases we have outlines that he was working from for the book. And this is just all in a big jumble that was handed to me, not in really any order, and they just said, "put this in order, do what you need to do." They gave me the tools to write the book and left me to write it, working through all of these things.
Normally, I have a lot of alpha readers on my books. These are people that, once I finish a novel, I let them look at it and give me a reader response. In the case of the Wheel of Time books, most of those were not available to me. We have to keep it quite tightly under wraps and not show it to a lot of people. So, it is nice having multiple editors, both in the form of people who directly edit the book such as Harriet, Alan, and Maria, and also people like Tom Doherty, who has given me some good advice. My normal editor, Moshe Feder, did a read through on this book, and my agent did as well. All of them are giving advice.
I am immediately juggling Alan, Maria, and Harriet's comments. I'd send a chapter in and then be working on the next one, and that chapter would come back three times with three different sets of revisions on it. That got really challenging to juggle. There was one time when I was flying on a plane to an event for Tor, and I had three separate paper sets of a chapter printed out along with electronic commentary by them on the chapters. So, I was juggling four files and three sets of paper on the same pages, trying to get this all inputted and changed. It got . . . well, it was a juggling act.
No, it's not surprising that the fan response has not been 100% positive—in fact, if it were, that would be kind of suspicious. Sometime, look up Hamlet on Amazon and read the one-star reviews. If people can't agree on Hamlet, they're not going to agree on my books.
As for the less-than-positive reactions, they range from completely useless to very helpful. But it's dangerous to look at reviews of any sort while I'm writing. As writers we tend to focus on the negative and ignore the positive. It's just human nature. Beyond that, a writer has to walk a very tight line between keeping an audience in mind and following their own artistic vision for a work.
Now, these books are different in that—as I've mentioned before—I feel more beholden to the fan community than I otherwise might. These books belong to them more than they do to me. But I learned early on in my writing career that if I tried to do everything for everyone, the writing process would fail. So, it's more useful for me (on things like this book) to have people close to me watch the reviews/reactions and pass issues on to me when there seems to a consensus of opinions. Those are the types of things I find it important to keep in mind when writing.
In the end, however, there is one opinion on these books that matters the most. That is Harriet's opinion. I look to her for guidance on characters, tone, and plotting. I will continue to do so. I think her hand on the book, mixed with Robert Jordan's notes, were the main reason the novel turned out so well.
That was a difficult thing to get over. Actually, the time when it hit me the strongest was when I was first offered this project. I was tempted to say no for that very reason, because I knew that no matter what I did, it would not be the same as what could have been. I've said this a number of times, and I hope it doesn't come across as false modesty or anything, but I still really don't believe the books can be as good written by me as they could have written by Robert Jordan.
So that was my main consideration for potentially saying no. In the end, I decided if I did say no—and someone else got the book and screwed it up—it would be partially my fault. I honestly and sincerely believe that I am the person who can do these books the best now that Robert Jordan is gone. I would rather he be here to write them, but that isn't possible. Therefore, I want to do it myself. At least I know they're in the hands of someone who cares about the series.
I do wish I'd had was more time to polish the book. There was no more time; that book had to come out last year. The drafting process was so quick—I did 17 drafts of that book across the space of just a short number of months. Anytime you do a draft, artifacts show up. You say the wrong thing, or you're thinking about one scene while writing another, and shift the tone the wrong direction. Or you just delete a word here or insert the wrong word.
If I have one feeling about weaknesses the book has, it's that there are a few little rough edges that I would like to have smoothed out. We're catching a lot of those for the paperback release.
I've had to balance those things, for sure. I spoke a little of this above; it's a lesson I've had to learn as a writer across my career, not just with the Wheel of Time books.
The best stories—stories the fans are going to like more in the end—are the ones where the author stays true to his or her vision. That's not always what the fans say they're going to want.
This is particularly poignant with me, because I am a fan on this series. I had to balance letting the fan inside me say, "Ooh, ooh, I want to see this, I want to see this," with what was going to make the best story. I had to preserve Robert Jordan's original vision for the books, while adding what I could add to the narrative. I couldn't, therefore, dally too much with fan satisfaction moments.
For instance, I intentionally kept cameos from minor characters to a minimum. The little voices inside my head screaming, "Ooh, wouldn't it be cool if?"—I had to be very careful about those. When the time came to divide the book, the balance of which characters got major viewpoints in this volume really came down to the narratives I felt would go well alongside one another.
Note that if there are missing characters in The Gathering Storm, you will likely find them in Towers of Midnight. I didn't think who got cut and who didn't get cut was a really large-scale issue. It just came down to what made the best story.
The reason I divided the book the way I did was because of the way that I felt the themes would play well with one another. Towers of Midnight certainly has its own themes, and you will be able to notice them. There will be some carryover. But it's going to be a different book. We need to expand and look wider about the world to catch up with other characters we haven't seen for a while. And there are quite a number of them.
So, it's a yes and a no. The themes will be there, but there will be a lot more going on around them, so they'll be diluted in favor of scope. I've had to be careful not to make Towers of Midnight simply a "jump back in time and catch up" book. I don't want to do that. It does move forward.
Rand and Egwene will be there. But the themes are going to be different because of the different mix. We are going to see a lot more of Perrin, and we are going to see a lot more of Mat. And what's going on in their plotlines will influence theme in a different way.
Well, for this entire interview, I've tiptoed around one issue: the fan reaction to Mat in The Gathering Storm.
You kindly didn't ask directly, though I did sense that you were trying to get at it. And your own comments about The Gathering Storm are among those I did read. I know what you've said about Mat.
It's curious. I've gotten around 1500 emails about The Gathering Storm so far. (Of those, by the way, only one person didn't like the book. I'm not arrogant enough to assume that person is the only one—I'm guessing that most who didn't like the book didn't feel the need to email me and chew me out for it.)
Of those 1500, only a handful mention Mat. However, he IS the one brought up the most often. Oddly, it's almost exactly divided between people saying, "I love how you did Mat, he's my favorite part of the book," and people saying, "I loved everything about the book, except Mat didn't feel right."
That has been very interesting to me. One thing this does for me is that it actually relieves a big burden off my back, because it means that I did everybody else right. It also means that Mat is noticeably different to a small number of people. Was this done intentionally? No, it was not. I worked on Mat like I worked on all the rest of the characters, and I feel as close to Mat as I feel to the rest of the characters. I asked Harriet, and she said, "You did Mat perfectly. Don't change him."
So...where does that leave us? I'm not sure. I do realize that my sense of humor is slightly different from Robert Jordan's sense of humor. And perhaps if I had to do it again, I wouldn't lead with the monologue from Mat that I used, because that's where the difference is most obvious. A person's sense of humor is like their thumbprint. And I'm not sure that I could ever replicate Robert Jordan's thumbprint when it comes to that, and it never has been my goal to replicate him exactly.
I think that in the narrative, though—the places aside from the monologues—Mat is still Mat. Of course, Mat had some really big things happen to him in Knife of Dreams, things that have shaken him and the way he sees the world. But at his core, he's still the same person.
However, if you were worried about him, it should help you to know that the large bulk of the Mat sequences Robert Jordan wrote are in Towers of Midnight. There is a lot more Robert Jordan Mat to come. So maybe it's not really an issue at all.
But that's how I was reading him, and perhaps other people read him differently. And my particular biases on the character were manifest. Does that make sense? That's how I've always seen him.
But, one thing that I have to warn Wheel of Time readers... In me you get some interesting things writing the Wheel of Time book. What you get, which I hope is an advantage is someone who has read the books through multiple times, who's read The Eye of the World nine times, who is a very deep, big fan of the series. But what you're also getting hand-in-hand with that is someone who starting reading the Wheel of Time when he was fourteen...and on occasion has used his line edit privileges not for good.
Like, there are certain things that are embedded in my imagination that I have not realized until working on these books that I was wrong all along, one of which you may notice in The Gathering Storm was the length of the bridges into Tar Valon. Which, I had a conception of them, and I didn't look it up because I'm like, 'oh, I know what that looks like,' and so I started describing it and nobody called me on it, and then it comes out and fans are like, 'these are like a mile long, you can't really see the other side, you know, in the way you described it.' And I looked at it and then I read the Big White Book, I'm like, "Holy crap, these bridges are a mile long!" That's enormous! That's not how I imagined it at all. But that's how it is if you look at the maps.
These are some of these things where if I even had an inkling that it would be wrong, I would have questioned it. And in other cases, you'll get things like Talmanes, where I have always been reading him a certain way. And in my head, I'm like, this guy is way...you know, Mat's just not noticing the smirk that this man has in his eyes. That's how I've always read him, and so when I write him that comes out. Is that how Robert Jordan intended it? Well, I'll leave you to decide whether he had the line, 'he actually has a smirk inside,' or if it's just all along me reading him this way that makes me write him that way.
But does that give you some examples of understanding? This is one of the things, the issues we kind of slightly have to deal with me writing the Wheel of Time books is, you know, you can get some advantages. Mat, and Rand, and Perrin, and Egwene...these are my high school friends. I feel like I know these better than I know most of the friends I know in my life right now because I've known these people longer. Really, I mean, you know. You get that, and so hopefully their voices are very close to what Robert Jordan was writing them as, but you also get the preconceptions.
The first one you've already read. It occurs in The Gathering Storm, and it involves someone's backside. Which is not, you know, it's very appropriate to the Wheel of Time, but I don't generally write spankings into my books. And so, I actually said, "I have to write a spanking scene?!?" All right, make it the best spanking scene ever!
The other scene has not come up yet so I can't tell you what it is. It was just a "wow." It was kind of that, "How did I miss that?" in part, and also a "I really need to make this really work really well." And anyway, I can tell you about that next year.
I've already talked about it a little bit—one of the things is learning how to approach the middle books, specifically how to use the form to enhance the novel as a whole. One of the big things I've learned from Robert Jordan recently is foreshadowing.
I used to think I was good at it until I really sat down and studied what he was doing. Another thing I think I've learned a ton about from him is viewpoint; excellent use of viewpoint is one of the ways to keep all your characters distinct. In addition, juggling so many plots, etc., all of these things have forced me to grow as a writer and have helped me quite a bit with writing The Way of Kings.
The biggest difference is that in The Gathering Storm I took two tight narratives and built them both to an enormous crescendo. In Towers of Midnight I had to make each chapter have more of an impact. In Towers of Midnight there are these amazing scenes, chapter after chapter—BAM BAM BAM, this incredible scene you've been waiting for, this other incredible scene you've been waiting for, this majestic scene you've been waiting for—but at the same time we're showing the scope around the world. Now, the book has one of those tight narratives that builds to an enormous crescendo that I'm very pleased with. But a lot of the rest of the book is this sequence and that sequence and this sequence and that sequence, so it's a very different book. Book twelve felt more like books one, two, and three to me. Book thirteen feels like books four, five, and six. This expands the vision and goes back to places we've been before.
It was a wonderful process. I actually think that Towers of Midnight is a better Wheel of Time book than The Gathering Storm was. But it made for a much more difficult write, because tying all of these elements together was a big challenge. Tying two narratives together is challenging, but then suddenly when you have eight narratives and have to make sure that they thematically work together, and all of that, is that much more of a challenge.
We'll see what readers think. In these books I am particularly beholden to the Wheel of Time fans. I feel these books are for them. So I won't really know if I've been successful until they read it. But I feel very pleased with the book.
I thought it would be much harder to get the characters' voices down. That was the part I worried about, and if you read my early interviews, I talk a lot about that. And surprisingly, it was not nearly as difficult as I thought. There are certainly a few characters I struggled with more than others. But in this book, Towers of Midnight, I think our character voices are spot-on. That actually comes from Jason from Dragonmount's interpretation of it—he said that he believes it's really just on. And that makes me feel good.
What has been harder has been keeping track of everyone. I thought I was steeped in Wheel of Time lore before I started these books. No, I wasn't. When people on tour asked me questions I realized how ignorant I am, despite having written and studied as much as I have. I know a lot—it's like I've got a Master's degree in the Wheel of Time, but there are people out there with postdoc experience who are completely showing me up at every step of the way. Keeping track of everything is a real challenge. I've described before the way I approach this. Essentially, when I get ready to write a scene from a character's viewpoint, I dump everything into my head that I need, and I try to write all of those scenes in the book for that character while maintaining all of that knowledge. Then I dump it out and get everything ready for another character. That's the only way I can do it, because there's just so much to hold on to.
I have gotten very good at this over the years. For instance, during many years I would be working on something like one of the Mistborn books alongside one of the Alcatraz books. If you read those two, the tones are extremely different. One of the ways I keep things separate is that I generally only write new material for one project at a time. I can edit and revise one project, by taking what it needs to be and making it better, at the same time as I write new material for another project. One of the things you should keep in mind is that when I'm writing Wheel of Time books, the struggle is always—even if I'm not working on something else at the same time—to make sure that I'm remaining true to Robert Jordan's vision of the characters rather than interpreting them myself. Which means that when it comes time to write a scene from a character's viewpoint, before I write anything that day I generally read a chapter of Robert Jordan's work from that character's viewpoint, and I try to ingrain that in my head and get a resonance going, so that when I sit down to write I can keep the character's voice straight.
Your question is a little bit like asking an artist, "How can you paint an impressionist painting one day, and then switch to realism the next day?" Well, they're slightly different arts. Each expresses a painting in its own unique way, and it's just what you do as an artist. It's the same difficulty a writer has jumping between characters in a single book. How do I write Shallan in The Way of Kings and then jump and write Kaladin, and keep them from sounding like one another? It's something you have to learn to do as a writer. Otherwise, your character voices will all blend together.
With The Way of Kings out, I think it’s safe to say your other works are more than holding their own, but were you concerned in the early days about the Wheel overshadowing your other stories? Are you happy with the Wheel Fandom’s response to your other writing?
Yes, to the last question. I am happy with the response. Though I do want to make the caveat that in my mind, the Wheel of Time fandom is not my fandom. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I mean that I don’t have any assumption that people who read the Wheel of Time books are going to like or even read my own work. I’m flattered when they give my books a chance, but people have asked me this question a lot and I do think that over the long haul there’s a pretty good chance that I’m going to stay overshadowed by the Wheel of Time. And that’s not a bad thing. In the case of something like this series—which has been a monumental influence, has sold so many copies, and is just such a dominant factor in the genre—I don’t think you can help but be overshadowed by it a bit. But I knew that when I took the project on in the first place. Being a footnote to the Wheel of Time is still a position of great honor. It’s been an honor to be involved.
I write my own books. I enjoy writing them. It’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life, and I’m flattered that they’ve had the success that they have, and that people enjoy them. I don’t sit up nights thinking, “Am I only going to be known as the guy who finished the Wheel of Time?” People are reading my stories, and beyond that I get to be a writer for a living. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. In all of those regards I’m insanely lucky. You’ve got to remember that I spent years and years and years writing books without anyone reading them other than my close friends. I wrote thirteen novels that way, and was completely satisfied. Sure, I wanted to get published, but it was telling the stories that was the most satisfying part. And if I had continued to do only that, then I still would have been completely satisfied. So anything beyond that is icing on the cake.
Actually, the balance is rather similar, because of the way I developed the books. Half of the prologue scenes that Robert Jordan worked on ended up in The Gathering Storm; half ended up in Towers of Midnight. I'd say a third of the other material he worked on ended up in The Gathering Storm, and a third ended up in Towers of Midnight. In both cases I've had one character's plotline at the core of the book that was very well plotted out and worked on by Robert Jordan, and one plotline that to a greater extent I've had to add to of myself. That's been the same in both books.
Working on A Memory of Light is going to be a different experience, because the greater amount of what Robert Jordan worked on is weighted toward the end of the book rather than all along one character viewpoint. But there will still be a lot of it there, and in that case I'm writing toward it. You have to remember that the way I write these books often is to take a viewpoint cluster, a group of characters, and write them through from the beginning of the book to the end of the book. Which means that I've already, even in The Gathering Storm, had to work on viewpoint lines for which there was less from Robert Jordan to use. So it's been the same experience—it's really divided by plotlines.
How difficult has weaving Towers of Midnight around The Gathering Storm been? Is there a large amount of inter-connectivity? Do we cross back on any events in The Gathering Storm?
Yes, we do cross back on events in The Gathering Storm. The trickiest part was timeline. Robert Jordan had this innate ability to juggle timelines. This is not something he relied on Maria, Alan, or Harriet for; it was something he did on his own, just part of the genius of his brain. All of us are pretty new at this. I mean, I wrote Mistborn chronologically. There wasn’t any time juggling. There was time juggling to do in Elantris, but it was across the course of a single novel. It didn’t get as extensive. For the Wheel of Time, timeline things that Robert Jordan kept in his head are quite incredible, and I have to admit that I’m not as good at it as he was. Perhaps someday I will be able to get to that level, but for now I’m simply not. So working with the timeline has taken a lot of effort. I think we’ve got it so it all worked out. It took a lot of help. Maria, Alan, and others all worked together with me to get things arranged—some of our beta readers were extremely helpful in this—but there is a lot of juggling back and forth. You will see some events from different perspectives. It is not a complete jump back like book ten was. I would say that the book is mostly new material with a few glances at other things that are happening, but we’re moving forward; I’d say 60% of the book is taking place past what happened in The Gathering Storm. And then there’s one timeline in particular where we jump back and catch up—that’s Perrin’s timeline. But it was really challenging.
I found "Veins of Gold" and "A Fount of Power" to be two of the most epic and intense climaxes in the series. In your opinion are the two climaxes of Towers of Midnight similarly epic?
The climaxes in the book are epic. One thing you have to remember in Towers of Midnight is that there is not as narrow a focus as there was in The Gathering Storm. So we’re dealing with more characters in many different places, which means that instead of as in the previous book where we could dedicate a good third of the pages directly to Rand—maybe even more—and build to one majestic, powerful climax, I’m not doing that as much in this book. Instead of twenty chapters from one character, you’ll get ten, and building to each climax will narratively depend on your love for the characters and your experience from the previous books. I think there are some wonderful climaxes that are a long time in coming. Are they on the level of The Gathering Storm? I’m really going to have to let people decide that for themselves.
Defining what makes something epic is so hard even for an epic fantasy writer. One definition of epic can be what we just talked about—a big, massive build across a huge number of chapters to something enormously earth-shattering. But you can also look at epic as a dozen different characters seen across a dozen different plots building toward one event—each of their pieces is smaller, yet builds to something larger. Those are both good definitions. Towers of Midnight is more like the latter definition. The Gathering Storm is more like the former definition.
I thought Rand’s arc in The Gathering Storm was brilliant—starting to get better then—bang! Cuendillar Rand, and finally "Veins of Gold". Was it difficult to write? Can you give us some insight into how you stayed in the mind of a madman?
It was difficult to write. I’ve said before that I view a lot of these characters as my high school friends, people I grew up with. Facilitating Rand going through these extremely painful and sometimes revelatory moments was not easy emotionally, and yet there’s an excitement and a power to writing emotional scenes where things are coming together. So I would say it’s actually more difficult to write a character like Gawyn, who’s frustrated and struggling with not knowing what he’s doing, than someone like Rand who always has a direction—even if that direction is straight down, as it was in places. He’s always moving. So because of that, Rand was in many ways easier to write than other characters were. Yet at the same time it was painful to write. That doesn’t really answer your question, but maybe it does give some insight, as you asked.
Following that is probably a good time to ask: Were you scared by the rabid nature of the fans? We do be crazy.
I was very scared. Heh heh. For one thing, I was really scared that I would pronounce things wrong and get raked over the coals for that. I also knew how passionate people are about this—and they have a right to be—so I feared I would be vilified for my faults. Because I do have faults. I’ve been very up-front with people that I don’t consider myself as good a writer as Robert Jordan, particularly at the height of his writing abilities working on these books. And so that was a real concern for me. I talked about that last year on tour quite a bit, which anyone who saw my presentation about the books would remember. Screwing this up would mean hatred on huge levels from a large number of people. So I just took that as extra motivation to not screw it up. Or at least to screw it up less than any other person could have, since Robert Jordan was no longer here to do it right.
PART ONE: WHEEL OF TIME BOOKS PUBLICATION TIMELINE
I posted earlier that Towers of Midnight is done, turned in, and ready for a November Second release. I'm feeling pretty good (though a little frazzled) at managing to get it in on deadline, by the promised date I gave you all in the blog post I made regarding splitting the novels. I stand by what I said there. I'm not expanding the outline left to me; I'm telling the same story I would have, even if the book hadn't been split. The order of chapters will be different in some cases, but nothing will be deleted or added.
Current projections are for the final book, A Memory of Light, to be about the length of the other two. (Around three hundred thousand words, or eight hundred pages in hardcover.) There are some who are hoping for it to be huge, the biggest in the series, but I will write it at the length it needs to be. I've finished two books, and have done two-thirds of the outline. So that gives a good indication that the final chunk will be the same length as the other two.
However, I do have to acknowledge that this is going to be the hardest chunk, for several reasons. The number of plots to be dealt with, the number of characters that need to be balanced, the sheer tactics and logistics of the Last Battle . . . there is a lot going on in this book, and it will be orders of magnitude more difficult than the previous two novels.
He spoke about magic system creation and that he had a science background that inspired him in creating Allomancy which has a scientific basis, and elements of chemistry, biology and physics. He also mentioned a podcast he is a part of, Writing Excuses, and that one episode was about creating magic systems.
Brandon stated he is not trying to imitate Robert Jordan's voice, but rather adapt his own voice to the Wheel of Time to write descriptions, "untrustworthy" character viewpoints, etc., to feel right for WOT. Tor did not want a ghost writer/imitator to write the last book (at the time it was still one volume). He wants to release a companion volume showing what RJ wrote and what Brandon wrote or changed.
He mentioned that RJ wrote the ending first, then the prologue, then middle parts of A Memory of Light.
Did the ending of WOT bum you out?
No, it didn't, but it helped since that is how Brandon generally writes, which is to write the ending and use an outline. However, Brandon doesn't get to read A Memory of Light like a regular fan, which was a little disappointing since he is writing it (counter-balanced by the fact that he knows the ending before anyone else).
He did say that when he first went to Charleston that before eating dinner, he insisted on finding out who killed Asmodean, and how WOT ended!
Are there release dates for the two Memory of Light volumes?
No dates available yet, but A Memory of Light won't fit in one volume due to the binding not being able to hold the anticipated 800k words.
Will there be prequels or books about the Age of Legends?
Brandon stated he didn't want WOT to be like Star Wars with books telling scattered stories, but would like to do the prequels that RJ planned about Tam and Moiraine, and possibly the outriggers about Mat and Tuon as well (but not the other planned series, Infinity of Heaven).
He did mention the forthcoming WOT encyclopedia, and how extensive RJ's notes were—when he asked for a file on Perrin, he got notes that included 50 people from the Two Rivers who never even appeared in the books.
Jordan had been the big fantasy sensation of the 90s. His mega-series The Wheel Of Time began as a five-book cycle, then was expanded to a projected 12 books on the back of massive sales and critical acclaim. Each individual book was vast. The gaps between books slowly got longer and longer as Jordan struggled with gargantuan plot machinery, a cast of thousands and failing health.
He died in 2007, still working on the final volume, and McDougal, having been impressed by the Mistborn books, phoned Sanderson and asked whether he would be interested in finishing off the series from Jordan's notes.
In some ways it was easier, and in some ways it was harder. It was easier because I was more familiar in the world, and I was more confident, because The Gathering Storm had received quite a bit of accolade.
At the same time, Towers of Midnight is in many ways a more difficult story to write, because for The Gathering Storm, I picked several important characters and I focused on them and kept the narrative very tight and focused. For Towers of Midnight I couldn't do that; I had to get back to everyone else, I had to widen my focus. And in this case I had to juggle far more characters, which made it a much more challenging book to write, technically.
I do a lot of notes and plans; I'm what we call an outliner. George R. R. Martin talks about writers and says that you tend to be either what he calls an architect or a gardener. And an architect is one who plans out everything ahead of time for their book, whereas a gardener is one who nurtures a novel and sees where it goes. Stephen King is known as very much a gardener. I'm an architect in most ways, and I like to have a nice outline; I like to know where I'm going. Though of course as a writer, you can never stick to your outline one hundred percent. You have to have the freedom to change as the story develops, and as the characters grow, if they become people who wouldn't do what's in the outline, you have to be able to throw the outline away and build a story that follows the characters.
Right. With my own novels, it was very different in that. First of all, with the Wheel of Time, I really do feel that I'm in debt to the fans; I'm writing these books for the fans. But the series belongs to them, and the series doesn’t belong to me. With my own books, I really don't look toward what the fans are going to say; I follow my own artistic integrity and say: "I'm going to write the book that, as an artist, I feel needs to be written."
But with the Wheel of Time I felt that I needed to consider the fans more, if that makes any sense. And in a lot of ways, the reviews on The Gathering Storm are more important to me, because if I wrote something the fans didn't like, then I was failing. Whereas if I write something artistically that I know people may not like as much, that won't be as popular, but that I feel artistically for myself important to release, I can be okay with bad reviews. So, I paid a lot more attention to them, and I wanted to see what the fans thought I was doing well and what they thought I was doing poorly. And I wanted to be able to respond to that.
In reverse order: The editorial mistakes were basically because of the fast turnaround time between when I finished the book and when it was put out. We're working to get those fixed for the ebook and paperback editions, but really, deadlines are to blame there, which is one reason we're slowing down for the next book.
What you're seeing with the surprises, as you described them, is that not all of those are mine; I'm writing some of them that Robert Jordan left instructions on how to write, and the way I plot and reveal is going to be manifest in the way that I approach it.
In response to your first question, I'm given complete creative freedom in these books. Partially because Harriet trusts me, and partially because that's what a writer needs in order to be able to write a book like this. That said, I've mentioned before that I feel a strong compulsion to try to do the books as close to the way Robert Jordan would have as I can, taking into account my own writing style. I'm not trying to make these Brandon Sanderson books; I'm trying to make them Wheel of Time/Robert Jordan books, but I'm also not trying to imitate him since that would turn out as a bad parody. In the end, I'm allowed to do whatever I feel needs to be done to achieve the storytelling the story demands. I do have to convince Harriet, Maria, and Alan that it's the right thing to do. And in some cases that's an easy thing to do, and in some cases it's a harder thing to do. But in all cases I get to write it first and then let them read it. And if I don't manage to pull it off, then I say, "Well, let's try something different."
I know it's premature to discuss this, but I am entertaining fond hopes that after you finish A Memory of Light, you will publish a WoT companion, which will include things like:
—All the notes and details and backstory which never got put into the novels.
—Deleted chapters, or longer draft versions of scenes which had to be edited down.
—An account of the writing process as you experienced it, with perhaps an outline of the books showing how much of each part was yours and how much RJ's, and the difficult decisions you had to make at each point.
—Alternative chapters or scenes which were discarded.
—Answers to any issues which are still disputed by fandom after the last book.
I know this is premature, but I was hoping you could at least tell us if 1) Is this something you, personally, would be willing to do? 2) Is there any chance of it actually happening?
Excellent question. I've spoken on this a little bit before. It is something I'd be willing to do; in fact, it's something I want to do.
I don't want to say that the chances of it happening are poor, but one thing you have to understand is that Harriet is very careful and cautious with Robert Jordan's legacy, and rightly so. You may have heard, for instance, that at the first JordanCon she allowed us to play the tape of him dictating a scene from the prologue of The Gathering Storm, but she asked for it not to be recorded, and she doesn't really want it to be played again. It was just that one time for that special event. People asked her why, and her response was that she didn't want people to remember Robert Jordan in his weakest hours. I think that is a very valid point.
So the decision will be Harriet's. I haven't even approached her about this yet, because I don't think it's the appropriate time. But once the series is done and we've had some time away from it, I will ask her if it's all right if I do something like this.
It would include a lot of the things you mention. Specifically what I want to do is talk about the writing process and the difficult decisions that you mention, some of the scenes that didn't end up in the books, some of the things that Robert Jordan had written as potential scenes. I've mentioned before that in his notes he would often have comments where he says, "I will either do this, or this," and sometimes the options are very contradictory. He had not yet decided between them, and I ended up being the one who decided which one we were going to do. So I would include those and some of the actual notes.
The reason Harriet may not want this to happen is that if his final publication is unfinished notes, that might make her uncomfortable. I certainly intend to make a plea for the importance of this from a scholarly standpoint, that people might be able to have access to this, and also so that the notes are there for people who don't like my interpretation of things, so they can see exactly what Robert Jordan had to say. I'm really hoping we can do it, but let's wait until the series is done and then I'll approach Harriet about it.
I've said myself that I could never replace him—Robert Jordan should have been the one to finish the series. My main goal in writing the books has been not to imitate him, but to stay true to the souls of the characters. I think of it as taking over as director for a few scenes of a movie while maintaining the same actors and script. I can be proud of my role as director, but ultimately the end result still belongs to Robert Jordan—and to his fans. Part of me is sad that now I can't just be one of them; I didn't get to rush out and buy and read a new Robert Jordan book this past November like they did.
When I was first offered the project, the fact that I could never write these books as well as Robert Jordan would have written them tempted me to decline. I knew that no matter what I did, it would not be the same as what could have been. I don't believe the books could be as good written by anyone else as they could have written by Robert Jordan. And so that was the main consideration for potentially saying no. But in the end, I decided if I did say no, and someone else got the book and screwed it up, that it would be partially my fault.
I honestly and sincerely believe that I am the person who can do these books the best now that Robert Jordan is gone. I would rather he be here to write them, but if he can't be here to write them, I want to do it myself because at least I know they're in the hands of someone who has been reading them for decades and who sincerely cares about the series.
One of the tricks of working with this is, I basically have five editors, with Harriet at the top, and then there's Maria and Alan right below. And then Moshe my editor is giving us reads...because we can't use my normal alpha readers for this, which are my writing group, because they'd all have to be part of the NDA and that's just too many people. And so instead we brought on Moshe to just give me an alpha read, a dry alpha read. And then my agent also gives me dry alpha reads, because they all are interested professionals and part of the NDA and things like that.
But basically, even looking only at Harriet, Maria, and Alan, what would happen is on The Gathering Storm, I would send in some scenes, and then I would start working on the next ones. And I would get deep into the next ones, and then some papers would come. I'm like, oh revisions. So I'd go back and start doing revision. And then another group of papers would come from another one of them that had revisions that were different. And then another group of papers would come that were a third group of revisions. And in some cases, they've all caught the same typo, but then I have to end up searching for it three times because I can't remember if I've changed that typo or not. And then I can't find it. I'm like, oh I guess that's one I caught, but really sometimes I didn't catch it, I'm just on the wrong page or something. Anyway, I have three sets of paper all from different people making different revisions, and sometimes they disagree with one another on what should be changed, and they're not seeing each other's revisions.
Meanwhile, I'm on tour trying to fly around and carry all of these. You should have seen me on the airplane one of these days where revisions were needed the next day, and I'm flying on a six-hour flight in coach. And I'm cuddled like this between two people in the middle seat, with six hundred pages around me, trying to find all three pages that are editing the same section, and realizing that one's in my suitcase. This was absolutely a nightmare to do.
And so this time, I'm like, let's go all digital, I'll have them all on my computer, it will be so much easier. But Harriet had never done digital revisions before. None of you had, I don't think. And so the idea was we would have one person do a revision, and then they would hand the file off, and that person could go through and a revision and add their comments, and then the next person would be able to do it. And that would have been wonderful in a perfect world. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for that because we were so crunched for time. And so what would happen is they all would be working on their own machine because they all needed to be reading at the same time, they couldn't wait for the other person. And so then they would all three send me documents digitally, which is easier to work with than trying to dig out all fifty pages of each. But at the same time, then I have four documents: my document, and three documents with revisions in it, from different versions of Word or Wordperfect or Open Office or whatever it is. I basically would just send them all to Peter (Peter Ahlstrom, Brandon's assistant) and say, "Peter, meld these somehow."
Peter deserves kudos.
I would like to say, at the beginning of the editing process on the last book, Brandon was 7 feet, 3 inches tall.
That's a very writerly question. This is from a writer himself. [Brandon asks if question needs repeating.] Jason's just wondering, since the characters have now changed through Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, when I'm now writing them, how much do I rely on who they were in the previous books and how much do I rely on who they are now? This is actually a very good question, probably a better question than most of you know. It comes at it from a writer's perspective, because this is something I consciously have had to think about. Because as I was writing Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, characters need a character progression. And I actually had to make the decision early on, if I'm actually going to progress these characters, they're going to have to evolve from being what they were. And that was scary to me, because who they were are who Robert Jordan meant them to be, and yet he would have evolved them. And if we didn't evolve them and they remained static, then it would've felt wrong. It would have been safer, but it would have felt wrong. The books would not have been slam dunks because Robert Jordan had them on arcs and they would have suddenly flatlined. And as a writer when I was working, I realized that this was going to have to happen.
And I'm not even sure if I can answer how I'm approaching it because it's such a complex swirl of things in my head. Part of it is, a person will change but their voice doesn't change dramatically. Their voice remains the same but their maturity and their experiences change, and so maybe how they react to something may change, but who they are at their core doesn't. I can still read the previous Wheel of Times and get their voice in mind, but I now have to incorporate for some of them major changes and moments that have happened in their lives. Fortunately, I have a large base of material to work from, and these characters have been in different emotional states at different times. It's like you can build . . . they're on a gradual swing of an arc, but everybody's more like this because that's how characters are. You're up one moment, down the next, up, down, and hopefully you're going on this nice character arc where you've got basic overarching growth. But, at the same time, you're going to be dipping sometimes, and regressing sometimes, and sometimes you're going to be on highs. And so I can look at the characters at their highs to see what has now become the baseline, so to speak, and I can look at them as sometimes who they were for the troughs. Everybody is in a lot of different places a lot of different times. That's part of it. But part of it is I really feel that I know the soul of these characters now. Growing up reading them, then working on them as a writer. . . I've said this before, I am much more of a gardener when it comes to character. I don't plan my characters nearly as much because I don't know who a character is till I write through their eyes, till I write through their viewpoint and see through their eyes and see who they are, and at that point I can't describe to people, I just know them. It's an instinctive thing. For me with a plot, I can construct a plot and tell you exactly how I'm constructing a plot, and how I'm building in climaxes, and how I'm building in foreshadowing, and all of this stuff. I can talk about worldbuilding. But when it comes to characters, it's that glimmer, that glowing piece that is their soul, that I can't describe but I just know when I see it. And that's what I rely upon.
My thoughts were all over the place. I do legitimately love the Wheel of Time and have been reading it since I was a young man. If you look at my early unpublished books, you'll find they were deeply influenced by the Wheel of Time. Amusingly so; looking back on it now, I see things I didn't even notice that I had done. So that love of the series was part of what was bouncing around in my head.
I didn't become a writer because I wanted to write in other people's worlds. I wanted to tell my own stories, and I was making a comfortable living at my writing before this. For a lot of projects I would have said no regardless of what they offered, so it had to be about more than the money. Beyond that, there was this sense of "Wow, if I screw this up, I'm in serious trouble. People will find me and burn my house down. Wheel of Time fans are hardcore." I struggled with this, and it almost caused me to say no. One writer I know mentioned regarding this, or posted it somewhere, "This is a thankless job. Anything that Sanderson gets right will be attributed to Robert Jordan, and anything he gets wrong will condemn him." I took all those things into consideration.
But in the end, I felt I could do a good job on this, and that it could be a sendoff I could give one of my favorite authors, someone who deeply influenced me as a writer. And I felt that if I passed on it, someone else would be found and would get to do it. The question that it came down to for me was, "Knowing that someone who is not Robert Jordan is going to do this, can you really pass and let anyone other than you do it?" And the answer was that I couldn't let someone else do it. I had to do it. So I said yes.
Perrin was the easiest, for the same reasons as I called him my favorite above. Mat was the hardest for me to write, because his humor is so different from my own.
The ending has already been written by Robert Jordan, and as a reader I found it extremely satisfying when I reached it. And so I feel very confident that the ending of the next book is going to be what everyone has been hoping for and wanting—without being exactly what they expect. I think the ending that Robert Jordan wrote is just wonderful. But in another respect I'm a bit sad, because I won't get to experience the ending for the first time when a new Wheel of Time book comes out in the bookstores like everyone else will.
If you do a search online you can find a few words that Robert Jordan said about the closing sentence of the Wheel of Time before he passed away. It's out there in an interview. I won't say whether it's going to stay that way or not, because essentially what he says is "This is what it would be if I wrote it right now, but it often changes" and things like that. He wrote it, not me, so I don't feel right giving a spoiler on that. But if you look around, the interview is out there where he said some words on it.
Ha. I can't see into Mr. Jordan's mind, though I can say that he was fond of using the writer's device of character-identifying traits. You'll find that if you hang out with certain people, and listen to their linguistic patterns, often they will repeat individual words and phrases all the time. (I know one guy who uses the word "Brilliant!" every other sentence.)
This may be the case where life is more annoying than fiction should be, however. I'll keep the comment in mind. You can pay me in heaps of Magic cards, preferably from the alpha/beta era.
That's a done deal. I have a ridiculous amount of cards remaining from the alpha/beta era that have been sitting and collecting dust since I ran out of money in the 8th grade. I know that they would absolutely love a new home.
Ha. I was really joking. Please. Don't give me any really expensive cards. I'd feel too guilty. If you do have some, I'd at least insist on giving you fair-market value in trades for books.
Ya I also feel like the the word adroit/maladroit were used a shit ton in the Mistborn series. Maybe I just noticed it so much because I had never heard those words before reading those books.
Nah. I overused them. Didn't notice it until they were in print, and I added them (and some other words) to my "Be careful; you overuse these."
Every author does this, but some are better at keeping an eye on it than I am. Hence my 'kill list.'
I'm not just filling in holes. At the same time, I'm trying hard to keep anything RJ said in mind, and trying to make the book fit his vision.
It's a tough balance. There is a lot of work to be done, depending on the character in question. For example, for The Gathering Storm, he left a lot on Egwene, but less on Rand. In Towers of Midnight, a lot on Mat, less on Perrin. He left a lot of notes on how everyone should end up after the Last Battle, but often didn't say how they'd get there.
One of the things I've been impressed by is this: Harriet and Tor could have hired a ghost writer and pretended that RJ finished the book before he died. People would have believed them. However, while a ghost writer could have imitated RJ's voice, Harriet felt she wanted a fantasy novelist to do it. First, to be honest to the fans. Second, because there was enough work to be done that the person couldn't just connect dots, but would actually have to build parts of the story.
She gave me complete creative freedom to do what needed to be done, with the understanding that she would edit. (If you don't know, Harriet is one of the 'greats' in sf/f editing. She edited Ender's Game, for example, and may of the big fantasy and sf authors during the 70s and 80s. She discovered RJ, edited him, then married him.)
So, when I go wrong, she is there to push me the right direction. It's hard to answer a question of how much is me, and how much is RJ. His fingers are on every scene, as I'm trying to match the character voices (but not his writing style exactly) and get them right. Most scenes come from at least a comment in the notes here or there, and for some, he left a paragraph or two explanation. For others, he wrote the entire thing.
For some, I'm building it from the ground up, taking where the character was at the end of Knife of Dreams and giving them a story that earns them the ending RJ mentioned for them.
I felt, reading it, that Robert Jordan's ending was deeply satisfying. I liked it a lot. It is also weird to know that, to one extent, it's all over.
I realize this is an older thread, but I just wanted to say how pleased I am to see this comment. Before I found WoT I never thought I'd enjoy reading. I grew up with this series, and I'm so happy to hear the ending is a good one.
I am a huge fan of your work; especially Mistborn and The Way of Kings. Thanks for doing the AMA :D.
My pleasure. Thank you for reading.
It's hard to separate these days. However, I got to huge boosts. When the announcement was made, all of my books jumped up to having 'first week' sales again. Most entertainment mediums follow the same slope. Huge first week sales, then a tapering off on a steady curve. (Sleeper hits and new books by first time authors don't follow this.)
When The Gathering Storm came out, I got another big boost, which was again a kind of 'First week' sales thing—though in that case, the bigger boost came around Christmas. It seemed that people bought The Gathering Storm, read it, thought about it, then asked for one of my books for Christmas.
In the long run, it's going to be very hard—as I said—to separate how many readers tried me out because of the Wheel of Time. As books take on lives of their own (as Mistborn did) they gain a readership through word of mouth. However, how much of that 'taking on a life of its own' happened because of the initial WoT boosts?
Now: Whoever I'm writing.
Before I started: Perrin, Aviendha, Tuon, Mat, Rand, Tam.
As I understand, if you are 'spun out' you do not respond to the call of the Horn. So no Cain showing up if it is sounded again, as he's been spun out.
As you understand it? Isn't your understanding more or less canon at this point?
No, it's not his world or book series. He can misunderstand something just as well as the next guy.
Not saying he did here, but just 'cuz he's finishing the series doesn't mean, for example, he can retcon or change anything or do "whatever he wants or thinks".
No of course not. But if there are two ways to understand something (that RJ has written) wouldn't it be up to Sanderson to decide which of those he believes to be right?
So if he thinks that when he's spun out he wont respond to the Horn, no one can ever prove him wrong (there are nothing in the books to contradict this), so wouldn't his understanding be the "right" one?
Here's the thing. There are three million+ words of notes, and RJ changed his mind about a lot of things as he wrote, explored, and made decisions. (He talked about this being his process. He saw the Wheel of Time as an organic thing.) So any time I speak on an issue like this, there's the chance that Maria (his assistant) will come to me and say "Actually, Brandon, he changed his mind on that. Look here for the revision." Half the time, it's something he mentioned in passing to her, Harriet, or Alan and isn't even written down.
So...on things I think I know, but haven't confirmed with Team Jordan yet, I usually add some wiggle room. My knowledge is far from absolute. Fortunately, everything in the books I write gets fact-checked a half dozen times. (Even then, some of my mistakes slip through.)
Of course I'm very pleased at the reception of The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, because when I first started working on this, I had visions of Wheel of Time fans burning down my house.
(Laughs.) Well, Wheel of Time fans are very hardcore! I actually received a number of very politely phrased threats, with a little smiley at the end. You know, you're just not sure how to take the "I'm very glad someone's finishing this. By the way, if you screw it up I'll burn your house down. Smile smile, wink wink, we're all behind you!" So the fans can be really daunting, and working on this was really daunting for me, since I've been reading these books since I was a kid. But I'm very pleased to not have had my house burned down.
I'm still very aware of the mistakes I make, and I'm also very aware that this is not my series; this is not me, it doesn't belong to me. And every time I make one of these mistakes, it reinforces the idea that these are Robert Jordan's books, and I'm a last-minute pinch hitter. I'm not someone who sauntered in to take it over and make it his own.
So am I pleased? Yes I am, but at the same time there's still that sense that I'm doing something that I wish didn't need to be done, which leaves it as a very weird situation still. I'm very happy that, in general, people have liked the books, and I am sad to have failed those who felt that they don't work, because there are those who my efforts are not going to be enough for. But overall, the reception has been very positive.
But I wouldn't say I'm confident; I don't think this is the sort of thing I can be confident about. Though I suppose I can be; I'm confident that I was the right choice, that if someone was going to have to do this, that I was the right one to pick. And I'm confident in the storytelling choices I made, yet at the same time I know that I don’t 100% belong here.
So it's a very hard question for me to answer for those reasons, but I hope that what I'm doing and what I'm striving to do with this last book will get the story to the closest way that Robert Jordan would have done if he were here. And I just hope we can all get the ending we want to read.
I was approached. I didn't know I was being considered until Harriet called me on the phone. The hardest part was putting aside all of the quirky little side projects I was working on. I decided I could still go forward with some of my main projects (The Way of Kings as an example) but would set aside the smaller things. It was tough. It was worth it, but tough.
I'll still get to them someday.
Much harder than my own novels. I have to be very careful to keep the character voices done his way, and keeping track of all of the side characters...wow. I write about about half speed on the wot as on my own books. Part of this is the great amount of reading/research I must do before writing a scene.
If asked to do the same for another author, would you do it again?
I don't think I'd do it for anyone else. I said yes to RJ because I'd been reading the books since childhood, and was up to date on the series. I was also a good match. For example, I love Pratchett, but I'm a horrible match for his style. GRRM is a genius, but I'd be a bad match there too. Hopefully, neither author needs anyone to finish for them.
I once would have said yes to a Star Wars book. Now, I've been too displeased by (and critical of) Lucas's treatment of the prequels to ever do that.
Oh, a medium amount. Most were mad at the start, but my post about why we split calmed many. Reading The Gathering Storm calmed many more.
Glad to hear they understood!
I think, reading The Gathering Storm, people could see just how much still has to be done in these books. So they understood I couldn't fit it all in one volume.
I'd say it's split between a couple of things. First: Keeping track of all of the characters. (Like remembering which Aes Sedai are with which main character, and which members of the Black Tower are which rank.) Got one of those wrong in the book, by the way. Second: Making sure everyone's voice (the characters) is correct. That's the most important thing, and I spent a lot of time on it.
Brandon, is the hardest part of writing the WoT keeping up with the 12,000 and some odd major and minor characters?
You got it exactly. That is TOUGH. Obviously, I can keep track of the mains. But those minor characters...It takes a LOT of work to make sure I'm getting them all.
It shows, I guess the best compliment I can give is that half way through The Gathering Storm I forgot that Jordan hadn't written it.
I take it as a great compliment when people say that, while reading The Gathering Storm, they forgot Mr. Jordan hadn't written it.
I find it EXTREMELY humorous that there are at LEAST two separate charaters (maybe three I think) that have my given name or a variant thereof. :P
What is it?
Because of the nature of RJ's notes and writing process, there are a lot of things I can (and was told I should) change. Harriet didn't say specifically "Change this." She told me "Jim (RJ) would not have done it exactly like this. You do what you think is best for the story first—that is your primary charge. Don't feel completely beholden to his notes, but respect his story."
That's kind of how I've done it. If the notes say something that I feel needs to change, I change it, but try to be respectful. An example is Egwene's dinner with Elaida. RJ had this planned as a single event. I split it into two chapters, separated by further discovery by Egwene and growth to earn the second half of the dinner.
There are many things like that. Places where RJ said "I'm going to do this, or maybe I'll do this, or maybe neither." I choose what fits for the story. It's usually one of the two, sometimes neither one works. I can be more specific once the last book is out.
That said, I wasn't particularly hip on writing Cadsuane spanking Semirhage. There was no good reason to change it, though. Jim had outlined the scene, and it was in line with the characters.
Have you ever considered writing a book (or something) about the writing of the WoT?
I'd like to hear more about the process of compiling Jordan's notes and filling in the gaps. I'd also be really interested in seeing the manuscripts you started with from him and the final product.
Yes, I do feel that desire to get on to Stormlight 2. However, this is not a new feeling. In every book—at about the 50% mark or so—I want to be moving on to the next book. By then, I've already done a lot of the exciting things in worldbuilding and discovering characters, but I'm not yet to the exciting ending.
This is a challenge for a lot of writers. I know Neil Gaiman has spoken on it before. I have trained myself to remain focused on the project at hand.
Do you ever take breaks away from A Memory of Light and go over notes and ideas for the next installment of the Stormlight Archive?
Yes, I do take breaks and outline other projects (specifically Stormlight.) But not for long.
For a lot of books, I go faster and faster as I approach the ending.
My goal for this one is to be done November 8th, when I go on tour. That means doing about 5% a week, or 15k words. At six days a week, that's very doable. Assuming I don't do any more day-long reddit AMAs...
Fast speed for me is 4k a day. Slow is about 1.5k.
Well, The Gathering Storm is the first, as you said, in the sequence of novels completing the Wheel of Time. Wheel of Time is a huge long-running wonderful fantasy series that I began reading when I was 15 years old, written by an author named Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, and at that point I was just a fan. I was devastated, like many of us. He had fought a long battle with a rare blood disease, amyloidosis. And I, like most of the fans, just worried about what would happen to the series.
I didn't apply to finish it or to work on it or anything. I simply got a phone call one morning from his widow, who was also his editor. And she was wondering if I would be interested in working on the series. She had read a eulogy I'd written for Robert Jordan, and I'd come recommended to her as an author who was a big fan of the series, but also an author in his own right. And she read my book Mistborn and wanted me to finish the series. And so, it's really been a very surreal experience, spending many years reading these books and loving these books, and becoming an author myself in part because of how much I love these books. And then, being asked to finish them, it's been very strange, but also a very reverent process, because, you know, in a lot of ways, this is my hero's legacy I'm working on. So yeah, it's been great, and it's been daunting all at the same time.
Yes. The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy. If you're not familiar with epic fantasy, in that genre what we really try to do is, we try to tell historical novels that take place. . . we try to write historical novels that take place in worlds that don't exist, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Lord of the Rings is of course the classic example of a great epic fantasy. These are stories about the beginnings and endings of eras and ages. They're stories about people put through extreme pressures and into extreme situations. In fantasy, what we're really trying to do is, we're trying to explore the human experience by going places that regular fiction can't go because we have the freedom in this genre to ask the 'what ifs': what if this?, what if that?
And the Wheel of Time's big 'what if' is: what if you were told that you were the person who had to save the world? What if you were told that you would probably end up dying, but if you succeeded the world would continue to exist, and if you failed everything would end? And it follows one character, and then splits off from there. The first book, about the first half, is about a man named Rand, who's this person who's been told this. But it really becomes a sweeping epic that follows the lives of dozens of different characters as they're living through these experiences and dealing with them. And it's about their lives and their relationships, and really just digging down into the core of the types of emotions that people display during the most stressful moments that could possibly exist.
You know, it's really like becoming stepfather to 30 million people at the same time. The fans, number one, have been great. And they know that before Robert Jordan passed away, he asked his wife to find somebody because he wanted the series completed. And so, everyone knows that this is according to his wishes, which I think helps a whole lot. But at the same time, I feel a deep responsibility to not make these books about me, but to make them about Robert Jordan and about the Wheel of Time. I mean, I was handed a lot of very fascinating notes. In some cases, Robert Jordan had completed scenes for the books. In other cases, he had dictated on his deathbed some scenes that were to happen. He had millions of words of notes about the world and the characters and the setting, and I've been given access to all of that and asked to put together these last concluding volumes.
He'd been promising people for years and years and years that he knew the last scene of the very last book. And he actually wrote that before he passed away, and I have that in my possession. And so my goal is really to get us there without screwing it up. To step out of the way, to let the characters be themselves, and to let the world continue and the story continue as people have loved for so many years. And make sure that. . . I don't want them to see Brandon, I want them to see the Wheel of Time. And so, that's been a real challenge, to get out of the way, so to speak.
Will the material written for A Memory of Light by Jordan remain intact in the published novel or will you rewrite it to match your on style of writing?
I am leaving it as intact as possible. In some places, a paragraph at the beginning or end of a section has to be changed to streamline it into the rest of the narrative. In others, line edits have to be done (mostly by Harriet) to fix the language. (Nothing we have from him is in more than a rough draft form.)
But where I can, I'm not changing anything. Because of this, readers who look very closely might be able to tell where I wrote and where he wrote. But I don't think it is noticeable without detailed scrutiny.
I suggest to readers that they read the book straight through the first time without trying to pick out which piece was written by which author. I'm hoping to get permission to speak more specifically about how it was all divided once the three books are all out. Then, you can know for certain. But for now, I would prefer (and I'm certain Mr. Jordan would prefer) that you see through the prose and enjoy the story.
WOT question: Did you go through ALL the notes from RJ on the Wheel of Time (if that is even humanly possible) or just those related to A Memory of Light?
Mr. Jordan left behind notes for the series which, word-length wise, is in EXCESS of the length of the written novels. That was just too much for me to handle. I've used Mr. Jordan's assistants for fetching information from these reserves, and have focused most of my efforts on the notes specifically left for A Memory of Light. The Guide has been very helpful. But mostly, if I need to know something from the notes, I send Maria and Alan searching while I work on the actual prose.
WOT questions: Will all three A Memory of Light books feature Rand, Mat, and Perrin?
Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: They will all three appear in all three books, but it will not be equally balanced. Some characters will be more of a focus in some of the books, and other will be more of a focus in others. This is particularly true of the first two volumes, where I had to juggle which characters would be a focus in one, and which will be a focus in the other.
I tried to keep story arcs contained in a single book. We'll get glimpses from some of the characters in the first book, with a more complete story arc in the second book. And we'll get story arcs in the first book from some characters, followed by glimpses in the second.
The split actually turned out really well. I think I managed to get a balance working where characters don't vanish for entire volumes, but we still get to have complete character arcs.
Also, who was your favorite character to write? And don't say Bela.
It's really, really hard for me to answer this, since when I'm in a character's head, that character is the most important in the book. They're all my favorite when I'm writing them—that's just the way it has to be as a writer.
It is also hard to answer without giving spoilers that I'm not certain I want to give. For instance, some characters were interesting to write for different reasons. In some places, I was expanding on things Mr. Jordan left behind, in other places I was trying to piece together what I think he would have done based on the momentum of the books. In some places, I was writing based mostly on my instincts as a writer. I was doing a lot of different things with a lot of different characters, getting a balance of action, drama, and fun. Which is my favorite among all of that? It depends on what I'm feeling like that day.
If really pressed on it, I'll probably say that going into this, my favorite thing that I anticipated would be finally (after all of this time) writing Rand's character through the end of the series. Like many, I was initially hooked into this all by his story, and—regardless of other favorites at different points in the series—who he is as a person is vitally important for driving these last books.
I'm not English and I hope you won't mind too much the grammar and spelling errors left here and there.
As many, I'm a huge fan of the Wheel of Time series, I can't say why it appeals to me so much but it just feels so epic, so detailed, so grand, I wonder how can anyone not love it.
I'm also really eager to read the end of the saga, and I must say that I'm really happy with your decision to split the book in three and cover all that is left to be answered.
Knowing you will finish Robert Jordan's book I was curious to read your previous works and see if I will like or love them as I do with WoT.
I must say that I found them quite enjoying and yet, and I beg you not to be offended by my impressions, I could not find the epic feeling I love so much in WoT.
I find your characters to be very practical which is great in a way but for me it takes away the epic feeling, the unknown, the maybe, the what if.
So finally reaching my question, if it's not too silly, do you plan to make the characters react, speak and think, as they do in your books or will you follow a more Jordan's way of doing?
I think the thing you’re talking about is something very intentional on my part, related to the fact that I wanted my books (particularly the ones I did at the beginning of my career) to be more self contained. Elantris, Warbreaker, and even Mistborn exist (in my mind) as a kind of 'calling card' to readers. Something that says "I want to show you that I can tell a story, so that you'll trust me—eventually—when I do something much larger in scope, something where the pay-offs aren't as immediate."
I love the self-contained fantasy epic form. However, one of the things I felt that those books needed was cohesion. I had to make my magic very, very tight.
Unknowns are great, and they DO lend to the epic feel of a story. One of the things that the WoT has over my books (beyond Mr. Jordan's fantastic storytelling ability) is the sheer power of scope. The magic is far from being understood, and it's larger—and vaster—than the characters can understand. There's a vast wealth of history and world—not to mention numerous machinations by dozens of different groups and secret cabals—making the characters (particularly at the beginning) feel very small compared to it all.
I think that's the sense of what you're talking about. It has to do with the characters, and it has to do with the magic. But it also has to do with the scope. You don't always get an immediate pay-off in the WoT books. Some threads hang through books, finally getting revealed or resolved long after they were introduced.
I'm not trying to imitate Mr. Jordan. Instead, I'm trying to adapt myself to the Wheel of Time. (If that makes any sense at all.) In other words, I want to maintain this feel, and write these books appropriate to the Wheel of Time. I don't want these volumes to feel like Brandon Sanderson books; I want them to feel like Wheel of Time books.
But artists in any medium learn to work with different styles and forms. Many of the things that seem like natural voice in a novel are conscious choices we make, as we work to create a certain feel for a novel. If you read and compare my Alcatraz books to my Epics, you'll see what I mean. Even the Mistborn novels have a different feel from the stand-alones. (And Mistborn 2 and 3 have a different feel from number one.)
So, the end answer is this. Yes, I'm trying very hard to maintain what it is you love about the Wheel of Time, rather than trying to force the Wheel of Time into a different box or style.
You’re very talented at taking seemingly mundane or unusual things and creating magic systems around them, like color in Warbreaker, metals in Mistborn, and light in The Way of Kings. Can you explain how you decide what to use for a magical system in a book, and your process for building a coherent system once the initial concept has been decided?
First of all, I’m looking for something that fits the book that I’m writing. So for instance, in Mistborn, I was looking for powers that would enhance what thieves could do. I was also looking for something that had one foot in alchemy, in that kind of “coming-of-age magic into science” way. Alchemy is a great example because it’s a blend of science and magic… well, really, a blend of science and superstition, because the magic part doesn’t work. So something resonates there.
I’m also looking for interesting ways to ground [the magic] in our world, and using something mundane is a great way to do that. Magic is naturally fantastical, and so if I can instead use something normal, and then make it fantastical, it immediately creates a sort of… ease of understanding. Burning metals sounds so weird, but it was chosen for that same reason, because we gain a lot of our energy through metabolism. We eat something, we turn the sugars into energy, boom. So that’s actually a very natural feeling. When I started writing out some sample things, it felt surprisingly natural, that people eat metal and gain powers, even though it sounds so weird. It’s because of this kind of natural biology. So I’m looking for that.
Once I have a magic system, I look for really great limitations. Limitations really make a magic system work better. Wheel of Time is a great example. Having a magic system where you can weave all these threads is awesome. Having a magic system where you do that, and then it drives you mad, is even better. It creates plot hooks, it creates drama, it creates challenge. [That limitation] is brilliant, I think it is one of the most brilliant ever made, especially because it also changes your characters. It has a deep influence on your character arcs, so you can tie it into character.
Beyond that (and this is kind of pulling back the curtain a little bit), there is no specific defined place where someone goes mad, so you can actually stretch it out and use it when you need it. It doesn’t constrain you too much. Like if your magic system’s limitation is, “When you use this magic, you have to use the head of one of your grandparents.” (laughs) You can use that magic four times! It’s limited, but also very constrained. Going mad is not as constrained. There’s a spectrum there - you can use it when you need it. So I’m looking for cool limitations that will work that way, in ways that I can use to force the characters to be creative. A good limitation will force you to be creative, and your characters to be creative. Pushing and pulling metals is basically telekinesis, right? But by making it center of mass, you can only pull directly towards yourself or push directly away from yourself... Number one: it’s vector science. It has one foot in sciences. Number two: it feels very natural to us because this is how we manipulate force ourselves. Number three: it limits things so much that it forces creativity upon the characters. There’s that sweet spot, where they can be creative and do cool things, where it doesn’t become too limited, but it also keeps you from having too much power in the hands of the characters, so they are still being challenged. I’m looking for all that, and on top of that I want to have good sensory ways to use magic.
I don’t want to have two wizards staring at each other, and then be like “and they stared at each other very deeply! And then they stared harder!” I don’t want it all to be internal, which is where the lines for the metals came from. You see something, you push it forward. The pulses that some of the allomancers use, they’ll hear. I wanted sensory applications.
The evening began with the amusing sight of Brandon Sanderson piling various items of furniture on top of one another to create a home-made lectern for his laptop. Following a brief aside on the difference between a lectern and a podium (and how this plays into the editorial process), Brandon read from a novella he’s recently written. [Legion] Apparently, he started it on the flight back to the US the last time he came to the UK. He couldn’t work on the Wheel of Time since he was awaiting the outcome of some research on the notes. He went on to explain that Robert Jordan left a pile of notes roughly half Brandon’s height that his two researchers dip into when Brandon needs an answer to one of his questions. This is normally quick, but it can take several months to come up with a fully researched answer. The reading lasted about eight minutes and seemed to be from the beginning of the novella. I won’t spoil the concept, but it’s clever and deeply silly.
The evening then moved to a Q&A. Questions and answers are paraphrased from my notes and memory, so they won’t be absolutely word-for-word, but they shouldn’t be much different from the original conversation. I’ve included all the questions, not just the Wheel-related ones.