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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Writing an epic series over many years will surely gather you many fans and many haters. In the case of Robert Jordan, it seems like bad reviews and fan backlash mounted up with each new volume as the series went on. Is that something you are concerned about? Do you try to figure out why people responded that way to that series and work to avoid a similar situation with your own, or do you just disregard the naysayers in general?
Of these things that you've asked me questions on, this is the one that I've spent the most time thinking about. It is an interesting phenomenon. Each Wheel of Time book sold more copies than the one before it, yet each one up through book ten got more and more negative reviews. They start out strong, then a few of the books have balanced numbers of reviews, and then they start to take a nosedive—even as the sales of the books go up and up.
The same thing has happened with my own books—as they have grown more popular, they've gotten worse and worse reviews. It's very interesting. You can watch a book like Elantris, which when it came out had more or less universal acclaim, partially I think based on expectations. People read it thinking, hey, there's this brand new author, it probably isn't that good—hey, this book isn't half bad! And then they go and write reviews on Amazon. There are a number of early reviews there that say, wow, this wasn't half bad! This new guy is someone to watch!
As you gain a reputation, more and more people pick you up by reputation—simply hearing "This is a great book" and picking it up, rather than looking into the book and deciding it's a book they will like. That's going to lead to more people picking up the book who it's just not a good match for. I think that certainly is part of it.
I do also think that there is epic series sprawl; there's a legitimate complaint against these series like the Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire. I think the fans still like the books, but they have complaints about how they're happening. George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan are really doing some new and unique things. Robert Jordan didn't get to read any ten-book epic fantasy series of that nature; he had to do it on his own without a model to follow. I think that as we go forward in the genre, hopefully we're picking up on things—we're standing on the shoulders of giants, and hopefully we will figure out how we can do this without necessarily sprawling quite so much, which I think is part of the problem. There's this push and pull in epic fantasy where we read epic fantasy because we love the depth of characterization and world building, and yet if the author does too much of that in every book, then we lose the ability to move forward in a central plot. That can be very frustrating.
I will say that when I was able to read the Wheel of Time from start to finish, having the complete story, that feeling that it wasn't going anywhere in places just wasn't there. That feeling came because you would wait two years for a book, and then when you finished it you'd have to wait two more years for the next book, and because of the nature of the epic series you're just getting a little tiny sliver of the story. So that part of it is just the nature of the beast, but I think we can do things to mitigate that, and I will certainly try.
Where are you planning to take us with your writing next?
[musingly] Next, where am I planning to take you? Certainly I want to try and do the Stormlight Archive, the Way of Kings series, in a way that I hope is just awesome. I have an advantage over people like Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin in that Iíve read Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin. The big epic fantasy series is a real challenge: to do a longer series and have it work. Have it not sag during the middle, in places. To have all the characters and the narrative remain tight. Having learnt the lessons of the great writers who have come before me, I think I can try this in a new way. So Iím really eager to give it a shot. Recently a writer did it in a way that it looks like the best itís ever been done, which was Steven Erickson. I havenít finished his series yet but, from the fan reaction and from what Iíve read of it, he seemed to get around that. I think there are great things we can still do with the epic fantasy genre. I want to try and explore them, I want to find what the great things we can do with the genre are and try to take us there.
I would hope that it helped. I assume that it helped, having loved big epics all along. You know, there's this thing that happens to you when you fall in love with a series like the Wheel of Time. I think a lot of George R.R. Martin fans are going through it right now, which is where you have to make this decision....it happened for me actually right between books five and six on the Wheel of Time, where you make the decision, well, I have to be along with this for the long haul, and stop being frustrated about when books come out and things like thatóbecause, you know, we all kind of go through thatóand finally decide, I'm just going to read this wherever it takes me, because I love it so much. I love he's doing; I'm going to stop being frustrated, and I think that switchover in my head really helped me with the Wheel of Time books, because I stopped being, you know...people complained at like book ten, and things like that, and I wasn't there; I was just enjoying what I got, because I'd already made that switchover; I wasn't waiting so much for the ending as just enjoying the ride, and I think that helped me to kind of appreciate it for what it is, and falling in love with the big epic like that.
The other thing that's helping me loving things like the Wheel of Time is I think that those of us of my generation who got to read things like the Wheel of Time, and got to read Game of Thrones while it's coming outóA Song of Ice and Fireóare able to see what the masters of the genre are doing with the grand epics, and hopefully build upon what they have done, learn from them. I know Robert Jordan said several times that he feels there are mistakes he made in writing the Wheel of Time in the way he did; I think he actually, after the factóum, James [Luckman], you can tell me if I'm wrong on this. Didn't he say he would have done book ten differently if he'd had to do it over again? [Luckers nods.] There are things to learn from what Robert Jordan has done. They have paved the way. Robert Jordan was really the first one to tell a grand epic on this scale, ever, in fantasy, and so being able to read that really I think helps you as a writer yourself to say, "Wow," you know, "someone has plowed through the snow, and so I can follow along behind and hopefully not make some of the wrong turns."
All right, I have to call on Mr. Brent Weeks, because he . . .
Because he is who he is.
He knows many assassins, I hear. (laughter) So if I don't call on him, I could be in trouble.
So I hear the Stormlight Archive is supposed to be ten books. So does that mean 15 or 20? (laughter)
Stormlight Archive is supposed to be ten books. I'm hoping it will be ten books. It is two sequences of five, so you can ask me after the first five-book sequence where I am in my original outline. It should stay pretty close to that, I hope. I don't know. I used to be able to say everything stayed the same length I wanted it to be, but then my Wheel of Time book got split into three, so I can't say that any more.
Two years between books?
Yeah, two years between books. They're very thick and involved, and I want to be doing other things as well. I like to jump projects—it's what keeps me fresh. It's what allows me to keep on doing this productively, and if I get stuck in one thing, no matter how much I love it, I find that I get less and less excited about it as time passes. But if I finish one book and skip to something else—like an Alcatraz book—for a little while and then jump back, I find my enthusiasm has come back to the beginning, where it was. And so I do a lot of jumping between projects.