Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
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.
I couldn't do that same thing with this particular book because of the way the plot arcs work. It worked very well with Rothfuss' book—of course, I loved his books—but what he's got going on is sort of an episodic story where Kvothe does this and Kvothe does that and Kvothe does this. And you can kind of separate those as vignettes. With Way of Kings, what I was doing is...I've got three storylines for three separate characters who are each going through troubled times. And if we were to cut the book in half, for instance, you would get all of the set up, and all of the trouble, and none of the payoff. And so what'd happen is you'd have actually a really depressing first book, where nothing really good happens and people are in places that they...mentally, they haven't come to any decisions yet; they're struggling with problems. Essentially, you'd only get the first act; you'd get all of the setup and none of the payoff.
I see. The two books in front of you here, obviously being re-released... Which point is it that this cuts off at?
This cuts off... We decided we had a fairly good break point, because Shallan's storyline comes to...there's a resolution. And some decisions have been made, and it's kind of... We broke it right at the kind of middle point where people are deciding, you know, we've had these struggles, we've had these struggles; now we have some sort of promise of victory. But the victory or things haven't actually happened yet. And so I do strongly recommend that people read both books—have them both together to read together—because there is a certain poetry to the arcs that are built into this. The second half is lots of massive payoff for the first half. But we did find a decent break point. But conceptually it's one novel, even if you can break for a while and then pick up the second one. Conceptually, to me they are one.
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.)
I decided to become a writer when I was fourteen. Before then I actually hadn't been a big reader. I was actually one of those boys—a lot of young boys stop reading about the fourth grade age. It's apparently a trouble time. I didn't know that, but I stopped reading about that age. Fourth, fifth, sixth grade, not a big reader. Seventh grade, not a big reader. Eighth grade, I had a really wonderful English teacher, who got a fantasy novel into my hands. And before then, I just thought books were boring. Someone had tried to give me Tolkien, but Tolkien was just too hard for me. She gave me Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane, which I loved. Fell in love with fantasy books, discovered David Eddings, Terry Brooks over the summer. This was before Wheel of Time was even out. Just fell in love with reading and decided this was what I wanted to do for a living. Didn't really look back since then. Started my first book when I was fifteen. It was dreadful, but just kept writing and writing and writing.
A lot of my influences were the Wheel of Time books once they came out, absolutely loved. I would often study them, read them, and try and say, "What is Robert Jordan doing here?" I remember specifically looking at passages and saying, "Okay, what’s he doing, what's making this work?"
A lot of my other influences were, I'd say, Melanie Rawn, and Barbara Hambly, and Annie McCaffrey would be some of my big influences. I liked the sort of hybrid fantasy/science fictions—not the ones where a fantasy world meets a science fiction world—don't enjoy those as much. What I'm talking about is a fantasy book that treats its magic like a science. I loved, for instance, Melanie Rawn's magic system—really, really worked for me. When I discovered David Farland, his magic system really worked for me. I loved the Rune Lords magic. Those things, really, sort of jump out at me and sing to me, and I knew when I got published, if I got published some day, that's what I wanted to do.
I did know it was going to be a series. When I was writing Mistborn, it came because—well, I had sold Elantris, and my editor came to me and said, "What do you want to do next? Do you want to do an Elantris sequel?" And I said, well, I really like Elantris being a stand-alone. But I had this unique opportunity where the next book didn't have to be in for about two years. Sold Elantris in 2003; it was coming out in 2005. That meant my next book had to be turned in in 2005. Two years' time, I thought if I write really hard, I can finish an entire trilogy before the first one has to be turned in, which would let me write a whole series, and have it all work together and be internally consistent and all of these things. And so I did know it was a series from the beginning.
The ideas are varied, they came from all over the place. One of the ideas was the desire to tell a story about a world where the dark lord had won. I love the classic fantasy stories, but I think that it's been done really well, and doesn't need to be done any more. I think Robert Jordan nailed it. I think, even if you look—you've got Tad Williams, you've got Raymond Feist, you've got David Eddings, you've got Terry Brooks—all doing this hero's archetype journey. It's been done, it's been covered, what else can I do? And so, the story where the hero went on a quest, and then failed and the dark lord took over, that was a fascinating idea.
Another idea was my love of the heist genre, where you get a gang of specialists who each have a different power. I had never seen a fantasy book do that in the way I wanted to. There are some that do it, and do it well. But you know, where everyone had a different magic system, every person a different magic power, got together and did something. One of my favorite movies is the movie Sneakers—something like that, but with magic.
And those two ideas rammed together with an idea for a magic system that I'd been working on, and an idea for a character I'm working on, Vin's character. Those were all developed independently. All started to ram together. I explained, ideas are sometimes like atoms and when they ram into each other, you get a chemical reaction and they form molecules. Cool different things happen when ideas ram into each other, and that's where those came from.
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!
Well, it honestly depends on the book. It's not just a matter of length, it's also a matter of complexity. The more viewpoints I'm trying to balance, and the deeper the setting, the longer the book will take. Also, it depends on what you call 'writing' a book—do you include all drafts, or just the rough? What about the planning? Here are a few estimates based on some of my books, drafting and planning time included.
Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians (50k words, one viewpoint.) 2-3 months.
Elantris (200k words, three main viewpoints.) 6-8 months.
Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (250k words, 5 main viewpoints.) 8-10 months.
The Wheel of Time: The Gathering Storm (300k words. 21 viewpoints. Chunks outlined and written by Mr. Jordan already.) 16 months, pulling extra hours.
So . . . imagine if I HADN'T had outlines and materials left by Mr. Jordan. It would probably have taken around 2 years to write a book that length. (Which, actually, was about how long it took Mr. Jordan to write a lot of his books.)
Every author is different, however. Some write in bursts, some write slow and steady, a little each day. It's hard to judge exactly how long it will take you to write a book. There's no 'right' way to do it.
I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was a big reader as a child, then fell away for a while. In third and fourth grade, my favorite series was the Three Investigators books, a mystery series. As I grew older, the books that other people gave me to read were realistic fiction–books that bored me out of my skull, so my reading habits dribbled off. By junior high I wasn’t reading anything new, until I had a wonderful English teacher who told me I couldn’t keep doing book reports on novels that were four grades below my reading level. Instead, she gave me her copy of Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had no idea books like that existed–it engaged my imagination like no other book ever had. At that point I started reading every fantasy book I could get my hands on, including The Eye of the World when it came out in paperback. I was hooked, and there was no going back. I even started writing some myself–on my website in the library section there’s a short story I wrote in high school for a writing contest at a local SF convention. It’s really not very good, but it took first place in the student division, and at the awards ceremony was one of the first times I can remember thinking, “Wow, maybe I can do this.”
My mother, however, thought I should study something more concrete and said I could keep writing on the side. I started college as a biochemistry major, but when I took two years off to serve a mission for my church I realized I didn’t miss chemistry at all and just wanted to write. On my off days I worked on what eventually became my first novel, and when I got back to school I changed my major to English and determined to become a professional author.
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.
Thank you! During the early days of my career—before I got published—I found myself naturally creating a new magic system for each book I wrote. I'm not sure why I did this. I just found the process too involving, too interesting, to stop.
For Mistborn, I came to the book wanting several things. I wanted a great magic system that would enhance the graceful, martial-arts style fights. This was going to be a series of sneaking thieves, assassins, and night-time exploration. And so I developed the powers with a focus on that idea. What would make the thieving crew better at what they did? I based each power around an archetype of a thieving crew. The Thug, the Sneak, the Fast-talker, etc.
At the same time, I wanted to enhance the 'industrial revolution' feel of the novels through the magic system. I wanted something that felt like an industrial-age science, something that was a good hybrid of science and magic. I found myself drawn to Alchemy and its use of metals, then extrapolated from that to a way to release power locked inside of metal. Metabolism grew out of that. It felt natural. We metabolize food for energy; letting Allomancers metabolize metal had just the right blend of science and magic.
For Warbreaker, I was looking back a little further, shooting for a more Renaissance-era feel. And so, I extrapolated from the early beliefs that similarities created bonds. In other words, you could affect an object (in this case, bring an object to life) by creating a bond between it and yourself, letting it take on a semblance of your own life.
Moving beyond that was the idea of color as life. When a person dies, their color drains from them. The same happens when plants die. Vibrant color is a sign of life itself, and so I worked with this metaphor and the concept of Breath as life to develop the magic. In this case, I wanted magical powers that would work better 'in' society, meaning things that would enhance regular daily lives. Magical servants and soldiers, animated through arcane powers, worked better for this world than something more strictly fighting-based, like in Mistborn.
To further the above question by Nadine: How did you ever keep the unique power systems all straight and use them so well for your readers to understand?
The powers, to me, were just so fascinating, well developed, and unique on so many levels! I think with a lesser artist than yourself the powers might have been too much to take in, but I found them quite easy to follow and understand. Just amazing! You seriously are one of my favorite authors. I'll be in line for all of your books!
Thanks! It took a lot of practice. Keeping them straight for myself isn't so difficult—it's like keeping characters straight. The more I've written, the easier it's become.
What is more difficult is keeping it all straight for the readers. This can be tough. One of the challenges with fantasy is what we call the Learning Curve. It can be very daunting to pick up a book and find not only new characters, but an entirely new world, new physics, and a lot of new words and names.
I generally try to introduce this all at a gentle curve. In some books, like Warbreaker, starting with the magic system worked. But in Mistborn, I felt that it was complex enough—and the setting complex enough—that I needed to ease into the magic, and so I did it bit by bit, with Vin.
In all things, practice makes perfect. I have a whole pile of unpublished novels where I didn't do nearly as good a job of this. Even still, I think I have much to learn. In the end of Mistborn One and Warbreaker both I think I leave a little too much confusion about the capabilities of the magic.
I did leave it open. But that's partially because I feel that part of any good book is the indication that the characters continue to live, the world continues to turn. I want readers to be free to imagine futures for the characters and more stories in the world.
For Mistborn, I'm not planning—right now—to do any Spook books. I do have plans to do another trilogy set in the world, though it would take place hundreds of years later, once technology has caught up to what it should be. Essentially, think guns, cars, skyscrapers—and Allomancers.
In a recent (May 2009) interview you stated the following:
Q: What do you have planned after you finish Wheel of Time?
A: My next series will be The Way of Kings, which is the start of a big epic for me. I've plotted it as ten books. Fantasy writers, we get into this business because we love the big epics. We grow up reading Brooks and Jordan, and we get to the point where we say, "I want to do this myself."
This should tie you up for a good ten years after you finish The Wheel of Time. Does it mean that you are not going to write anymore one- or three-volume epic fantasy novels?
Can you give us some hints as to what The Way of Kings will be about?
I've told Tor that I want to release Kings on a schedule of two books, followed by one book in another setting, then two more Kings. The series of Kings has been named The Stormlight Archive. (The Way of Kings is the name of the first volume.)
So I should be doing plenty of shorter series in between. We'll see how busy this all keeps me. I think I'd go crazy if I weren't allowed to do new worlds every now and again.
But, then, Kings turned out very, very well. (The first book is complete as of yesterday.) What is it about? Well...I'm struggling to find words to explain it. I could easily give a one or two line pitch on my previous books, but the scope of what I'm trying with this novel is such that it defies my attempts to pin it down.
It happens in a world where hurricane-like storms crash over the land every few days. All of plant life and animal life has had to evolve to deal with this. Plants, for instance, have shells they can withdraw into before a storm. Even trees pull in their leaves and branches. There is no soil, just endless fields of rock.
According to the mythology of the world, mankind used to live in The Tranquiline Halls. Heaven. Well, a group of evil spirits known as the Voidbringers assaulted and captured heaven, casting out God and men. Men took root on Roshar, the world of storms, but the Voidbringers chased them there, trying to push them off of Roshar and into Damnation.
The voidbringers came against man a hundred by a hundred times, trying to destroy them or push them away. To help them cope, the Almighty gave men powerful suits of armor and mystical weapons, known as Shardblades. Led by ten angelic Heralds and ten orders of knights known as Radiants, men resisted the Voidbringers ten thousand times, finally winning and finding peace.
Or so the legends say. Today, the only remnants of those supposed battles are the Shardblades, the possession of which makes a man nearly invincible on the battlefield. The entire world, essentially, is at war with itself—and has been for centuries since the Radiants turned against mankind. Kings strive to win more Shardblades, each secretly wishing to be the one who will finally unite all of mankind under a single throne.
That's the backstory. Probably too much of it. (Sorry.) The book follows a young spearman forced into the army of a Shardbearer, led to war against an enemy he doesn't understand and doesn't really want to fight. It will deal with the truth of what happened deep in mankind's past. Why did the Radiants turn against mankind, and what happened to the magic they used to wield?
I've been working on this book for ten years now. Rather than making it easier to describe and explain, that has made it more daunting. I'm sure I'll get better at it as I revise and as people ask me more often. ;)
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.
September first has come (well, and passed, by now) and I'm pleased to say that I met my goals. If you were reading the blog a few months back, you might remember when I explained that I needed to divert a lot of attention this summer achieving a couple of goals. The rewrite of The Way of Kings and the first draft of the fourth Alcatraz book. I not only had contracts to fulfill, but I needed a break.
Well, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens is finished as of August 31st. There's some revising to do, but that can happen on the back-burner as focus shifts back to The Wheel of Time. The break has been good for me; doing something different, as I've often said, refreshes me and helps me get work done. Just like the first Alcatraz book was something I needed to do to distract me between Mistborn books, work on this one has helped me take a breath and step back from the Wheel of Time (which had been dominating my life for fifteen or sixteen months.)
It's time to move onward, however. I'm still waiting for a few bits of material from Charleston that I asked for, but that's all right since I think the thing I need to do now is re-read all of Knife of Dreams, and maybe spots of some previous books. I don't have the three months to dedicate to re-reading the entire series again, though I'm going to take the audiobooks on tour for plane rides.
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. . . .)
Okay. Let me just jump right in here with a question. How long was Way of Kings? I heard a rumor that the ARC I read was 400,000 words long. It didn't really feel like it...
Let me see. I will open it right now and word count it, so you have an exact number. It's 386,470 words, though the version you read was an advance manuscript, before I did my final 10% tightening draft, which was 423,557 words.
I didn't really want it to be that long. At that length we're running into problems with foreign publishers having to split it and all sorts of issues with making the paperback have enough space. I didn't set out to write a thousand-page, 400,000-word book. It's just what the novel demanded.
Wise Man's Fear ended up being 395,000 words. And that's despite the fact that I've been pruning it back at every opportunity for more than a year. I'd spend weeks trimming superfluous words and phrases, extra lines of dialogue, slightly redundant description until the book was 12,000 words shorter.
Then a month later I'd realize I needed to add a scene to bring better resolution to a plot line. Then I'd add a couple paragraphs to clarify some some character interaction. Then I'd expand an action scene to improve tension. Suddenly the book's 8,000 words longer again.
Yeah, that's exactly how it goes.
It's very rare that I'm able to cut entire scenes. If I can cut entire scenes that means there's something fundamentally not working with the sequence and I usually end up tossing the whole thing and rewriting it. But trimming, or pruning as you described it, works very well with my fiction.
I can usually cut fifteen percent off just by nurturing the text, pruning it, looking for the extraneous words and phrases. But I wonder if in doing that there's a tendency to compensate. There's a concept in dieting that if someone starts working out really hard, they start to say, "Well, that means I can now eat more," and you'll find people compensating for the extra calorie loss by eating more because they feel they can. I wonder if we do that with our fiction. I mean, I will get done with this big long trim and I'll say, "Great, now I have the space to do this extra thing that I really think the story needs," and then the story ends up going back to just as long.
Though at least in my case I can blame my editor too. He's very good with helping me with line edits, but where we perhaps fuel each other in the wrong way is that he'll say, "Ooh, it'd be awesome if you add this," or "This scene needs this," or "Can you explain this?" And I say, "Yes! I can explain that. I'd love to!" And then of course the book gets longer and then we both have to go to Tom Doherty with our eyes downward saying, "Um, the book is really long again, Tom. Sorry."
Brandon, how do you feel your identity and upbringing as a Mormon has affected your work?
Elantris, for instance, centers around a magic system that has essentially been broken because something in the world has changed—a "new revelation" if you will. And then Mistborn has at its core a set of holy writings that have been altered by an evil force.
These things seem decidely Mormon to me, or at least informed from a Mormon perspective. Do you feel that is the case?
I don't set out to put anything specifically Mormon into my books, but who I am definitely influences what I write and how I write it. I'm always curious at the things people dig out of my writing—neither of the two points you mention above are things that I was conscious of, though they certainly do make interesting points now that you look at them.
My goal in storytelling is first and foremost to be true to the characters—their passions, beliefs, and goals. No matter what those are. I'm not trying to make a point consciously ever in my writing—though I do think that good stories should raise questions and make readers think.
Who I am as a person heavily influences what I write, and I draw from everything I can find—whether it be LDS, Buddhist, Islamic, or Atheist. It's all jumbled up there in that head of mine, and comes out in different characters who are seeking different things.
In other words, I'm not setting out to be like C.S. Lewis and write parables of belief. I'm trying more what Tolkien did (not, of course, meaning to compare myself favorably with the master) in that I tell story and setting first, and let theme and meaning take care of itself.
Fiction doesn't really exist—certainly doesn't have power—until it is read. You create the story in your head when you read it, and so your interpretations (and your pronunciations on the names) are completely valid in your telling of the story. The things you come up with may be things I noticed and did intentionally, they may be subconscious additions on my part, or they may simply be a result of your interaction with the text. But all three are valid.
Assuming I had any sort of plan at the beginning is a big mistake. I just started writing. I didn't have a plan. I didn't know what I was doing.
For years and years I just thought of it as The Book in my head. I've always thought of it as one big story. Then, eventually I realized it would need to be broken up into volumes.
I can't say why I picked three books except that three is a good number. It's sort of the classic number. And while the story is working well in this format, part of me wishes I'd broken it into smaller chunks. This second book has so many plotlines. If I'd written this trilogy as say, 10 books, each one would be much shorter and self contained. More like the Dresden Files.
That's pointless musing though. I'm sure if I'd written smaller volumes right now I'd be thinking, "Oh! if only I'd written these as longer books I could play more with interwoven plot lines..."
Yeah, it's interesting you should mention this, because what I keep getting told from a publishing side is that no one ever wants me to cut the story. I never get that. People ask that of me all the time, "Does your publisher want you to make the book shorter?" Well, the publisher would really like the books to be shorter, but they don't want any of the story to be cut. I do sometimes wonder what we're doing, what we're setting ourselves up for by writing books of this length. Jim Butcher is able to reliably release a book every year or so in his series, in part because he's able to split the story into manageable chunks. And you and I are not splitting our stories into very manageable chunks. This happens a lot in series.
I look back at the Wheel of Time; Robert Jordan was able to release books one a year for a period of time until the books were long enough and he got through the backlog of writing he'd already done, and suddenly he was not able to release a book every year because the books were long and involved and took a lot of work. Well, when he stopped releasing them every year all his fans complained, "What's going on? Suddenly you're not releasing your books every year?" So he started releasing them faster and shorter and they all started complaining that the books were too short.
And so, starting our series with such long books does kind of put us in this strange conundrum. And there are a lot of considerations people don't understand, like printing costs and the like. Has there been, on your side, any sort of attempt on the publisher's end to nudge you—saying, "They don't have to be this long. You can tell the story in shorter chunks; don't cut any story! But do it in shorter chunks"? Because I've gotten a bit of that. Granted they're always willing to let me do what I want to do, but it's kind of along the lines of, "We wouldn't mind, Brandon, if you did it in smaller chunks.
No, I don't get any of that. My publisher, DAW, is really long-book friendly. Perhaps the most long-book friendly of all the publishers out there. They published Tad Williams back before Big Fat Fantasy was cool. They didn't bat an eye at The Name of the Wind being 250,000 words. That's a freedom that's rarely given to new authors for their very first book.
That said, I was a little worried about the length of book two. The thing kept getting bigger and bigger. Finally I called Betsy and asked if the length was going to be a problem.
At first she just laughed it off. But when I told her it was getting REALLY long, she said, "Let me do some research." Two days later she calls me back and tells me the longest paperback ever was about 420,000 words. So as long as I was under that, I would be fine.
All I could think was, "Shorter than the longest book ever? Sure, I think I can manage that."
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? ;)
Your stories are so in-depth and unique in the magical systems and religions. I was wondering if you have always, even through childhood, been creative with stories? Have some of the ideas in these books been something you created when young and then evolved into a story now? Have you always been interested in writing stories as you grew up? Did you have that notebook in class scribbling full of stories and ideas while sitting in class supposedly taking notes?
I've spoken before on the fact I didn't discover fantasy, and reading, until I was fourteen. (The book, if I haven't mentioned it on this forum yet, was Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.)
Before then, I was a daydreamer. I was always daydreaming—I was never in the room where I was supposed to be listening or studying. I was off somewhere else. Oddly, though, I didn't make the connection between this and writing until I was given that first fantasy novel.
When I read that book (and moved on to McCaffrey, as it was next in the card catalogue) I discovered something that blew my mind. Here were people who were taking what I did, sitting around and imagining stories, and they were making a living out of it.
I hit the ground running, so to speak. Started my first novel the next fall, began gobbling up fantasy books wherever I could find them, began writing notes and ideas in my notebooks instead of (as you guessed) the notes I was supposed to be taking.
Even after all this, though, I was persuaded that people couldn't make a living as an author. So I went to school my freshman year as a bio-chemist, on track for becoming a doctor. That lasted about one year of frustrating homework and classes spent daydreaming before I made the decision to try becoming a writer.
Is there any information about Way of Kings that you can give us at this time?
I've wanted to do a long epic for a while. I guess that's what comes from reading Jordan and the others while growing up. And so, way back in the late 90's—when I was experimenting with my style—I started working on ideas for a longer form series. I knew the real trick for me would be to do it in a way that it didn't feel stale after just a few books; there needed to be enough to the world, the magic, and the plot arcs that I (and hopefully readers) would keep interested in the series for such a long time.
What it gives me (the thing that I want in doing a longer epic) is the chance to grow characters across a larger number of books. Dig into their pasts, explore what makes them think the way they do, in ways that even a trilogy cannot. In Kings, I don't want to do a longer 'saga' style series, with each book having a new set of characters. I want this to be one overarching story.
One of the things that has itched at me for long time in my fantasy reading is the sense of loss that so many fantasy series have. I'm not complaining, mind you—I love these books. But it seems like a theme in a large number of fantasy books is the disappearance of magic and wonder from the world. In Tolkien, the Elves are leaving. In Jordan, technology is growing and perhaps beginning an age where it will overshadow magic. It's very present in Brooks, where the fantasy world is becoming our world. Even Eddings seemed to have it, with a sense that sorcerers are less common, and with things like the only Dragons dying, the gods leaving.
I've wanted to do a series, then, where the magic isn't going away—it's coming back. Where the world is becoming a more wondrous place. Where new races aren't vanishing, they're being discovered.
Obviously, I'm not the first to approach a fantasy this way. Maybe I'm reading too much into the other books, seeing something that isn't there. But the return of magic is one of the main concepts that is driving me.
Well, that and enormous swords and magical power armor.
Finally, do you have any advice for people that would like to write for a living?
First and foremost, don't give up. It can take a while. It takes time to master anything—whether it be writing, playing the piano, or brain surgery. People are willing to dedicate eight years or more to becoming a doctor. If you really want to be a writer, you need to be willing to dedicate the same amount of time and effort. Practice. Practice some more. Write a book, then write another, then write another. (I didn't sell my first, or my second, or my fifth. Elantris was my sixth book.)
Secondly, write what you love. Don't try and guess the market. Read the type of books you want to write, pay attention to what they do, and decide what it is you want to say and how you will add to the discussion. What makes your additions to the conversation unique? Write it because you feel it inside of you, not because it's what seems to be hot right now.
Finally, if I may make a plug, hop over to writingexcuses.com and listen to me and the others on our writing podcast talk about this sort of thing. ;)
When it comes to crazy plot twists, fascinating characters, magic systems, humor, religion, etc., what do you feel, for you, is the hardest part to get on paper or come up with?
I would say that the most difficult parts have to do with getting a character's internal conflicts (if they have them) right. Sometimes, this can take a lot of exploration. Sazed in Mistborn 3 took a LOT of work before I was satisfied.
Second hardest is getting the humor right, particularly witty style humor like in the Lightsong sections of Warbreaker. There are frequently times when I spend hours on a single line in sections like that.
How difficult was it to come up with new magic systems considering the wealth of fantasy out there with already established magic systems(that seems to just get re-used in different formats by various other authors)? Do you have more systems to be used in future novels? If so how do you go about envisioning them and creating the rules in the first place?
I've got a few very nifty ones reserved for the future. Don't worry; I'm not nearly out of ideas yet. And I'm constantly having new ones I don't have time to use.
There IS a lot of fantasy out there. And yet, I think there's a great deal of room left for exploration in magic. The frontiers of imagination are still rough-and-tumble, unexplored places, particularly in this genre. It seems that a lot of fantasy sticks very close to the same kinds of magic systems.
One of the things I've come to believe is that limitations are more important than powers in many cases. By not limiting themselves in what their characters can do, authors often don't have to really explore the extent of the powers they've created. If you are always handing your characters new powers, then they'll use the new and best—kind of like giving your teen a new car every year, rather than forcing them to test the limits of what that old junker will do. Often, those old cars will surprise you. Same thing for the magic. When you're constrained, as a writer, by the limits of the magic, it forces you to be more creative. And that can lead to better storytelling and a more fleshed out magic.
Now, don't take this as a condemnation of other books. As writers, we all choose different things to focus on in our stories, and we all try different things. Jordan's ability to use viewpoint, Martin's use of character, Pratchett's use of wit—these are things that far outshine anything I've been able to manage in my works so far.
But I do think that there is a great deal of unexplored ground still left to map out in some of these areas. (Specifically magic and setting.) A great magic system for me is one that has good limitations that force the characters to be creative, uses good visuals to make the scenes more engaging while written, and has ties to the culture of the world and the motivations of the viewpoint characters.
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.
My question is about writing, kind of.
As an author, you have achieved moderate success. People like you and have heard of you within the genre and you have established a relationship with your publishing company that lets you get a lot of books published.
This is the level of success I want as a writer and I am just wondering how financially viable this is. Like, can you write only or do you need a so-called day job? Are you able to support your family with your writing alone? That kind of thing.
Sorry if that is kind of a personal question. I've just always wondered how much money a writer makes once they've "made it".
I had a lot of questions like this myself during my days trying to break in. Everyone told me it wasn't possible to make a living as a writer—that, like an actor or a musician, I'd spend my life poor and obscure.
One of the big turning points came when I met and talked to a professional writer who had had modest success. Not a huge name, but a person who had done what you hope to do. Publish a book every year, never be a household name, but well-known enough in-genre that a large portion of the readers had seen his books on the shelves, though many still had no idea who he was. (The author was David Farland, by the way.)
I wish I could give you that same experience, though it's going to be harder while not face to face. The main tone of the meeting and his encouragement was this: IT IS POSSIBLE and YOU CAN DO IT!
Not everyone can make a living at writing. But it's very within reach, and for the dedicated author willing to practice and learn, it's not as difficult to make a living as many make it out to be.
I do make a living full time at this, and have for several years now. In the early years, it wasn't what many would call a 'good' income, but it was enough for me. Now, it is an excellent income. Not "Fly to Europe every week" income, but certainly "Take your friends out to eat once in a while" income.
A standard royalty for an author would be to 10-15% on a hardcover, and around 8% on a paperback. Usually, the percentage gets better the more copies you sell.
Now, books don't sell the huge numbers that people usually think they do. If you sell 2k hardcover copies in your first week, you can get on the NYT list. (Though it's not certain—it depends on what week it is and what other books came out. 3k is a pretty sure bet, though.)
Elantris—an obscure, but successful, book—sold about 10k copies in hardcover and around 14k copies its first year in paperback. I've actually sold increasing numbers each year in paperback, as I've become more well-known. But even if you pretend that I didn't, and this is what I'd earn on every book, you can see that for the dedicated writer, this could be viable as an income. About $3 per book hardcover and about $.60 paperback gets us around 39k income off the book. Minus agent fees and self-employment tax, that starts to look rather small. (Just under 30k). But you could live on that, if you had to. (Remember you can live anywhere you want as a writer, so you can pick someplace cheap.)
I'd consider 30k a year to do what I love an extremely good trade-off. Yes, your friends in computers will be making far more. But you get to be a writer.
The only caveat here is that I did indeed get very lucky with my placement at Tor. It's the successful hardcover release that makes the above scenario work. If you only had the paperback, and everyone who bought the hardcover bought that instead, you'd have to be selling around 60k copies to make it work. That's very possible, and I know a lot of midlist writers who do it.
Anyway, numbers shouldn't be what gets you into this business. If you have to tell stories, tell them. To be a writer, I feel you need to have such a love of the process that you'd write those books even if you never sold one. It's not about the money, and really shouldn't be. (And sorry to go on so long. I just feel it important to give aspiring writers the same kinds of help that I got.)
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.
What's the earliest that we'll be seeing more of Scribbler (I'd heard a bunch about it at TWG, and so I found the sample chapters on your site and now I'm REALLY wanting more of it, so I'd like to know when I should start looking again...)?
Sigh. I really want to do something with Scribbler, but I can't justify it right now. I'm doing the fourth Alcatraz because I can't put it off any longer because of contracts, and Kings because Tor really wants a solo Brandon book next year. But I can't justify working too much on a project that hasn't been sold and which—if published—would end up pulling me into another side trilogy. I have to leave the WoT with the space it needs and deserves. Until it is completed, I have to shelve side projects. That, unfortunately, includes Scribbler. For now.
There are some things in the works with it, and I'm very excited about the possibilities. But there's nothing tangible I can give you now. It's coming. Maybe sooner than I've made it sound, but best to be careful as nothing is set yet.
Hey Mr. Sanderson, I know that A Memory of Light should be finished in the next couple years (at the latest). I know that you tend to work on multiple projects. Unless you are planning to do another (totally) new project can we expect another Warbreaker, Elantris, or preferably Mistborn book as you release the ten Way of Kings books?
I do like to work on multiple projects. During those early unpublished years, I was always hopping from book to book, and it became habit for me. It really helps me keep fresh, allowing me to try new things and experiment with my style. One of the hardest thinks about working on the WoT has been the number of side projects I've had to set aside because of lack of time.
And so, with The Way of Kings series (aka The Stormlight Archive) I plan to do the books on a 2-to-1 ration. Meaning two Stormlight books, followed by one random side book. Generally, you should expect three books every two years from me, as that's been my speed. So there should still be a Stormlight book every year, though we'll see.
Some will be new things, others will be in current series. My current plans are to do an Elantris sequel in 2015, for instance, and I'd like to do the second (and final) Warbreaker book eventually.
Also, is there a common reality/universe throughout all of you works (WoT excluded)? The gods and magic system of your books you have mentioned as pieces of a larger source. I know I am mistaking the language a bit; it was a while ago that I read this. But Preservation and Ruin were linked and you referenced possible deities in Elantris, not to mention Austre. I know your magic systems are all well thought out and the rules have practical founding. With this in mind, I assume your deities and beings of power would have universally applied links and rules as well. I figure they all exist in the same multi-verse.
I am remaining mostly closed-lipped on this topic, as I don't want to spoil the story and discovery. There is a lot of discussion about it on my website. I can confirm what I've said earlier, that there is a common character appearing in the books, and that there is a single cosmology to all of the Shardworlds and their books (Elantris, Mistborn, Warbreaker, White Sand, Dragonsteel, The Silence Divine, etc. Those last three are unpublished, by the way.) There is also a connection between how the magic works in each book, as well as the fundamental metaphysics of the worlds.
In my history as a writer, The Way of Kings is a project I've been working on for years and years and years. But the Mistborn trilogy was an idea I had, executed, and finished. These two projects have been very different from one another to work on. With one, I had a great idea, I built the world, I built the story, and I wrote the three books straight through and released them. And with the other story, I have all the "killing your darlings" sort of things that are tough to deal with when you've been playing with a character since you're fifteen years old and now you're finally sitting down to write their story. It's hard to manage the baggage of that many years and weave out and cut out things that aren't needed for the story despite the fact that they're integral to the character's soul, to you having spent all this time on them.
That's one of the reasons why I recommend to new writers not to initially work on those stories that have been so close to you for so long. I feel now that I'm practiced and established an author, I know how to tell the best story out of all of this stuff I've been working on since I was a kid. When I was a new author I don't think I could have done it. I think it would have turned into a fanboy session for my own world that nobody else knows, which would have been a disaster.
The most recent change for me has been coming to grips with the whole working dad thing. And I've been having trouble with it. With all the deadlines these last four months, there have been some days where I only see Oot and Sarah for a half an hour.
Needless to say, when that happens three times in a week, it makes me feel like a total ass. Like that stereotypical neglectful work-obsessed absentee father. But the truth of the matter is, I'd already missed too many deadlines. I couldn't miss this one. So for about two and a half months I had to pick being a writer over being a dad. I'm trying to make up for that now, but I still regret it.
For me though, the biggest change between writing book one and writing book two, is that I got a workspace that's outside the house I live in. That really helped to improve my writing output. I work best with quiet, distraction-free writing space. Making sure there was no internet in the office was pivotal, too.
What's your writing space like? Do you write at home, or do you have an office?
I don't do the office thing. How shall I say this? I became a writer so that I didn't have to deal with the whole office thing. I know some authors need an office and a writing space; that's great. But I just need my laptop and some music and I'm good pretty much anywhere.
I tend to be a roving writer, meaning I pick a place and I stay there for a few months, and then I get tired of it and I pick another place. So I write all over the house. My favorite locations tend to be in front of a fireplace with my feet up. I've actually stolen my wife's easy chair and moved it over in front of the fireplace in my bedroom—it's a gas fireplace, so I just turn it on. I've set up a light and a little stand next to me, and I've been working here for a few months. But I move around. It's just basically laptop plus music. I don't work at a desk; I cannot do the desk thing. I'll work lying on my bed, on a couch, in an easy chair, in a beanbag chair, but not at a desk.
Heh. I think there's probably only a handful of people that think of me as being on the same level as Martin. But I know what you're talking about.
Mostly it feels weird to me. Good but weird. Mostly weird.
That's easy to answer: Terrified.
That's another big piece of the reason that book two took so long. I was paralyzed with fear.
It's like this, if people read your first book and don't like it very much, that's heartbreaking, but it provides some real motivation. You think to yourself, "I'll show them! My next book will be even better!" Then you knuckle down and work your ass off to produce something that will really dazzle them.
But when someone e-mails you and says your book was the best they ever read. Or that they read it with their kid who was sick with leukemia and it brought them closer together. Or they tell you they're more excited about your upcoming book than their own birthday...
I mean really. How the fuck and I supposed to deal with that? How am I supposed to write anything ever again when the bar gets set so high?
I wondered if that was the case. It is strange for me because you know, we had a similar quick rise to success—I mean, you've been around for what? Three or four years? And I've been around for five and when I was reading fantasy, when I getting into this genre, it felt to me that most of the writers I've been reading have been around forever. Now that's not true because I was a young kid and what being around forever meant to me then is different from what it really means. But I was reading Anne McCaffrey, and in my perception Anne McCaffrey had been around forever. She'd been writing for twenty years. I'd been reading David Eddings and Terry Brooks and these are people who had been writing for twelve years before I picked up their books. And now my books are doing really well and I've only been around for a few years and it feels to me like I don't have the credibility that I think I should have before I reach this level of recognition, if that makes any sense.
I'm more impressed with people's longevity in a field and having a long-lasting impact. Someone like George R. R. Martin is hugely impressive to me because he's been around for forty years in the business. He has slogged away hard and released book after book and edited anthologies and worked in TV, and finally after all of this work he gets this big best-selling series and it's like, yes! You finally get the recognition you deserve. You are a major inspiration and success story, and you just stuck in there and stuck in there forever. Then you get someone dopey like me and it's like, whoop-dee-do, you know, my third book hit the New York Times Bestseller List and suddenly I'm hitting number one on the list, and it's a weird experience because in a way I don't believe that I deserve it. Though I'm very proud of my writing, I don't feel I've put in the time to deserve the success. I don't know if that makes any sense or resonates at all.
Yeah. You're singing my song again. I hit the NYT Bestseller list with my first book. Everyone says, YAY! You're brilliant! And I have to remind them, No, I just wrote one book. You can't plot a graph with one point of data. I'm the flavor of the day. If I write two good books, then you can call me a professional writer. Until then, I'm a fluke.
So yeah. I completely know where you're coming from when you say you feel like you haven't earned it the same way folks like Martin did. My first book was a success. But it was a success because I got very, very lucky. I got the right agent, then the right publisher. The audience was ready for my sort of book. I was in the right place at the right time.
But that's not something you can repeat. You can't rely on luck. That's where a lot of my stress came from after the first book came out.
That's easy to answer too: Badly.
For about a year I struggled to get any productive writing done.
Then, slowly, I started to get used to it. It was kinda like the emotional and social equivalent of getting into a really hot bath. At first it felt scalding hot, but now I've acclimated to it, and it feels kinda nice. It's kinda relaxing, in fact.
I also engage in a daily regimen of not taking myself too seriously. My friends help with this, of course.
Welcome and it is great to know that you live not too far from me. My question is this. I know that Orson Scott Card taught some Comparative Science Fiction class at BYU. Did you every take it and if so how much influence did it have on your wanting to write? I have enjoyed all of your books and at family gatherings they do get discussed.
I actually never got to take a class from Mr. Card, though I have enjoyed his books quite a bit. From what I hear, he has excellent advice for writers, but he wasn't teaching any classes at BYU when I was there. I did take a class from David Farland, which was extremely helpful. By then I was already a very dedicated writer (I had just finished Elantris) but didn't know much about the business at all. Mr. Farland's class taught me a lot about the nuts and bolts of getting published, and one could say that I owe my eventual publication—and a lot of my success—to what he taught and how helpful he was in how he taught it. Excellent person and writer.
About research: What, if any, research for your novels have you done, and how did you do it?
The calling of a fiction writer, particularly a fantasy writer, is to know a little bit about a lot of things—just enough to be dangerous, so to speak. I tend to read survey books that talk about history—things that give overviews, such as the history of warfare, or the history of the sword, or navigation. That kind of thing. I would say I do a fair amount of research, but mostly it's an attempt to dump as much into my brain as possible for spawning stories and writing about things intelligently. For Mistborn, I researched canals, eunuchs, and London during the mid 1800's.
Is The Way of Kings your biggest work planned or do you have something on the shelf that's bigger?
Well...depends. Dragonsteel is plotted at seven books. And I plan two more trilogies, eventually, in the Mistborn world. But Kings was always planned and plotted to be the big war epic, focusing on large numbers of characters across a large number of books. Mistborn will span hundreds and hundreds of years, though, so it could be 'bigger' by some definitions. Dragonsteel also is in the running, but for reasons I can't really explain without giving away things I don't want to.
I'm feeling a little bewildered; I keep seeing references to "Hoid" throughout these boards and the twitter page, and I'm assuming this is a character who makes a short appearance in each book. If so, is there an actual story going on with him, or was he just someone put in as a sort of "Easter egg"?
I think I've covered this in responses I gave before getting to your question. My forums have a lot more information. (And a lot of guesses.)
If you were going to write a novel in a genre other than scifi/fantasy which genre do you think that you would write in?
Hmm... Perhaps a historical. Something I could really sink my teeth into. I could also see myself writing a mystery or a thriller.
The thing is, unless I'm under some kind of restriction, I know that any of those three would probably end up having fantasy or sf elements. It's just how I think.
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.
Did you know that he wrote 13 books before getting one of them published? Elantris was number six in that list, but he never gave up on his dream of being a writer. We also heard about how Harriet read Brandon’s eulogy for RJ and subsequent read of Mistborn. After two chapters, she was hooked and knew that he was the man to finish her husband’s series.
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.