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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When Robert Jordan's parents couldn't find a babysitter, they would utilize the services of his redoubtable older brother, who read to his four-year-old sibling from a rich varied repertoire of Mark Twain, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the like.
The common thread was a zestful, sometimes wry imagination. And Jordan was an exceedingly quick study.
Following military service, Jordan enrolled at The Citadel, earning a degree in physics in 1974. For a time, he toiled as a nuclear engineer for the Navy. He became a writer largely out of boredom with the works of authors he read during an extended hospital stay, recuperating from a severe knee injury.
His first book, Warriors of the Altaii, was fantasy. So was his dream of a publisher. A book contract signed by Jordan was rescinded, reputedly due to "excessive demands." Despite the setback, Jordan determined he would no longer work for anyone else, that he would henceforth write full time.
In a reversal of the path taken earlier by John Jakes, Jordan went from "generational sagas" to the fantastic. However, his first major commercial success came in 1980 with the historical novel The Fallon Blood. Eleven years later, Jordan has published works representative of many fields, including dance and theater criticism.
Jordan's mechanics are fundamental enough. He begins by supplying a foundation, layer by layer, erecting a general outline that is the story's scaffolding. Between the layers are inserted the roughs of characters and events that lend motive force to the tale.
His outline, which can run from 20 to 40 pages, rarely is adhered to in minute detail. It's still a formative sketch—lines of charcoal on a white surface.
Hey, don't publish the picture Gerard gave you. Our house has no wrought-iron gates. Also, no renovation has been done here since the fix-up after Hurricane Hugo several years ago. I kid you not. Poor Gerard got the wrong house. I'm glad you don't intend to publish any address, whether or not it is mine. There are fans who write letters, and then there are fans who show up at the front door unannounced. I hate to be rude to people, but with the time I spend writing, I barely have time for a social life with my friends, and frankly, someone who has managed to track you down is going to think you have cheated them if you scribble your name in their book and say, "Now go away. I'm busy." Believe me.
Well, again, thanks for the letter, Carolyn. Do keep me abreast of what's happening with The Chronicles. I really would like to see copies, if it is possible for you to send them to me care of Tor Books.
Robert Jordan began writing after a pretty severe (the description grossed Erica out) knee injury kept him idle. He was in the government service at the time, and after using the time to write his first book, his boss thought he was faking the injury simply to write. Jordan was upset because his boss's boss believed that, and put in a resignation with two weeks notice. Upset that he was leaving, his boss asked him to stay, mentioning that he was needed on current projects. Jordan had cleaned up his desk and finished those however. The boss mentioned that he was needed on future projects. Jordan mentioned that he had submitted his resignation. The boss mentioned that if he quit Jordan would never be able to work in the government again. Jordan asked if he could have that in writing.
He says his wife disbelieves this ever happened, but Jordan swears it's true!
My dear fellow rasfwrjians, as (to the best of my knowledge) the only one of us to attend the signing at Science Fiction, Mysteries, and More on Thursday, I feel obliged to report what Jordan said there, and my impressions.
Robert Jordan was stockier, shorter, and better cushioned than I expected. He wore a wide brimmed hat and walked with a cane with a ram's horn like handle. Generally he was open and friendly. When he came in late he explained that it was because Princess Di was in New York to meet Bill Clinton to discuss Vince Foster's suicide. However he made repeated references to being worn out and overworked by Lord of Chaos.
Yes, there were a couple signings (well one, anyway) with 30 or 40 fans, and I am ashamed to say it was a blessing. I can remember when 30-40 fans made me grin with pleasure, but after signings with 200-300 people, each with 3 or 4 books, and a tight schedule to get to the next signing, 30 or 40 seemed like a rest.
New York decides where I go on tour, as I think I've told you. Sometimes they make odd choices; they once planned to send me to Phoenix so I could visit my brother, only he lives in Tucson, he couldn't dump the classes he teaches to come to Phoenix, and we had just seen each other on a fishing trip a few weeks before anyway. It is possible for fans to get places added. (Within reason, anyway; I was told if I had gone to all the stores that wanted me on the last tour, I'd have been out for six months!) Anyway, both Washington, D.C. and Toronto were added to the last tour because of fan complaints about being excluded. They made enough noise, apparently, that Tor decided I should go.
I think I got the December and February Chronicles. I think I did. My wife sometimes wonders how I can keep the plots straight when I can't remember which day to put out the garbage. I tell her it's an acquired skill, but I don't say which bit is the skill.
Majority rules, my dear? You should know that I am neither Democrat nor Republican; I am a monarchist. For the church for the laws, for the king, for the cause! For Charles, King of England, and Rupart of the Rhine! Ah, for the chance to re-fight Malvern Hill. God send this crumb well down!
Ah, me. To do evil without doing wrong. What about the law of unintended consequences? An example, partly fictive, but possible. We have passed laws protecting harp seals. The result so far, an explosion in the harp seal population, an explosion in the orca population (they feed on harp seals, among others) and a sharp decline in commercial fishing in those waters (orcas and harp seals both like to eat the same fish that people do). Nothing evil so far, just fishermen and cannery workers out of work and some fishing towns in depressions, but here is the fictive yet possible part.
Population explosions frequently result in waves of disease, quite often new and deadlier strains of something that has been around in the population with less effect for some time. As witness AIDS, Ebola, Zaire and the Devil's own litany of others, these things can be devastating. So, postulate that the explosion in harp seal population results in the appearance of a virus among the seals—call it Seal Ebola—and the next thing you know there aren't any harp seals left at all. (Some of these things do seem to come close to 100% lethality, and if you only have 90%, which is the rate among humans with Zaire, I think, you are left with 10% of the population weakened and in no shape to escape orcas or sharks and with systems weakened to where they would be easy prey for other illnesses that they usually shake off.)
Worst case. Seal Ebola does not only infect harp seals. After all, most diseases that affect one part of a species will affect the rest. So seals vanish. All of them. Or maybe it's the orca explosion, and all the whales and dolphins that are wasted. The ecology of the oceans is thrown into a tailspin from which it might never recover. Now, will future generations record what we did as evil? If they use out present manner of viewing history—holding everyone in history to the standards of our time, usually more tightly than we hold most of our own populations, holding them to account as if they had our knowledge and lived in a world with our moral views, and condemning those ancestors who fail to measure up—if thy use that method, they certainly will. Would what we did be evil? I don't know. An act taken with the purest of intentions that resulted in the death of an entire species. The result could not be called other than evil, but does that make the cause evil? Now more than ever, I regret that Robert Marks, an old friend, died some years ago. This is the kind of question that would make him want to open a bottle of good brandy and discuss it for hours.
"No man is an island, but every one a part of the main. Therefore, send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." John Donne.
Don't worry about grinning over the fate of the poor string bean. I have heard people express the belief from the heart. Not from the brain, though; I think that they lacked that particular organ. Then there is the group of rather vocal people who believe that human beings have no more rights than any other animal ("a boy is a cat is a dog is a rat"), though they generally express it by saying that animals should have the same rights as people. To vote, perhaps? To hold elective office? We already see enough jackasses in public office.
Don't worry too greatly about how much of what you said there that you actually believe. The purpose of the sort of discourse you engaged in is not so much to express belief as to explore ideas and possibilities. you say, if this, then maybe that, and if both things, then this other should follow. None of that is saying that you necessarily believe in any of the points, though it can lead to belief in various things. It is a good way to reason out what you do believe in. Much better than simply taking someone else's word for it. That is fine for 1 + 1 = 2, but not so good on points of morality, ethics, philosophy, or whether monarchist feudalism would function better than the mish-mosh of corruption, self-interest and idiocy we are saddled with at present.
In the end, I believe that we ourselves define what is good or evil. Several hundred years ago, slavery was seen as good and right. I don't mean just black slavery; there were white slaves in Europe—and slaves in Asia, Africa and just about everywhere else—for thousands of years before the first black slave was brought to America. Helping a slave escape was theft of property at best and an abomination in the eyes of God—or the gods—at worst. Time passes, and our views alter significantly.
If an Avatar of Pure Good appeared and told us that in order for Good and Light to triumph over Evil and Darkness, the human race must be extinguished, I think we would decide that old Av was sliding us the long con. And I think we would be right to. Not only as a matter of species survival—any species that is ready to slit its collective throats for whatever cause should go ahead and do it now; it isn't up to survival in a universe that, if not malignant (I do not believe that), is certainly neither benign, compassionate nor caring—but also because I would seriously doubt the Good- and Light-hood of whoever/whatever made such a pronouncement. The Devil can quote scripture, and all that.
Jordan's books have been called a combination of Robin Hood and Stephen King. He manages to create characters that seem real, perhaps because he uses many of his own personal experiences in the telling of these epic stories. Do you ever use your experiences in Vietnam in your stories?
Yes, indirectly. I know what it's like to have somebody trying to kill you. I know what it's like to try to kill somebody. And I know what it's like to actually kill somebody. These things I think help with writing about people being in danger, [or] especially if it's in danger of violence ... which happens occasionally in my books.
Actually, if everybody was like me, I'd probably start carrying a gun. But then, they probably would too. Sigh. Good God! I just thought of something. Women with beards! No, no, much better if I am the only me.
Slayer was a typo. It should have been Stayer.
His impression of Sweden was: "Very nice, but a little cold for the season" (the temperature in Stockholm sunk 10°C during the weekend compared with the previous week).
The biggest fish he has ever caught was a 12", 980 lbs tigershark, even though he had some help. He claimed he had on one occasion caught a tigershark bigger than the boat, but let it go. The audience saw with suspicion at this statement.
No, it's a product of growing up with strong women. All of the women I knew growing up were quite strong. All of the men I knew growing up were quite strong because any of the weak men got shredded and thrown aside. So it made for a certain viewpoint, a certain outlook in life.
Aside from that, the basic premise of the books, that 3000 years before the time of the books the world was essentially destroyed. The details don't really matter in the context of this interview, except for the fact that that destruction was caused by men, members of the male sex. A world that has grown out of that has to have a great deal of power for women, especially when the world has spent the last 3000 years being afraid of any man who has the ability to channel the One Power. You have to have a world where women have power. That's the way it's going to evolve. It can't go any other way. It's only a question of how much power they have.
Actually, all that really helped me with is that I know what it's like to have somebody trying to kill you. I know what it's like to have a lot of people trying to kill you. And I also know what's it like to kill somebody. These things come through, so I've been told by people who are veterans of whether Vietnam, or of Korea, or combat anywhere—Desert Storm; I had a lot of fan letters from guys who were there.
As far as the Machiavellian part, as I said I grew up in a family of Byzantine complexity, in a city where there has always been a great deal of Byzantine plotting. The court of Byzantium never had anything on Charleston for either plotting or blood feuds. It came as mother's milk to me.
He can be reached either by either email or snail mail through Tor in about the same amount of time. Tor prints out his emails and sends him the hard copies about every fortnight. They also send his snail mail biweekly. He does respond to them, but he gets backlogged at the end of writing a book.
Here is the rough time schedule for book eight. The manuscript should be turned in sometime in fall of 1997. Expect it to go on sale in spring of 1998. He worked 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 20 months, except for a couple days for each Thanksgiving and Christmas and a few single vacation days, to write A Crown of Swords. PNH, his wife, and everyone he knows told him he needs to slow down so he doesn't kill himself. Thus, PNH gave him 18 months to do the manuscript.His wife said he is the only author she allows to submit partial manuscripts for editing. She also does Morgan Llewelyn, the Bears and David Drake among others. She said she was starting to reduce the number of authors she edits since she is overloaded. She edited one of RJ's books before they ever dated, so their professional relationship was already established before they married. She feels that mutual respect for the other's work is what keeps the two relationships from interfering with each other.
Vietnam/Rand's "No Kill Woman" Thing
RJ vividly described an experience he had in Vietnam where he killed a female Viet Cong. He said he simply spotted a figure holding a weapon and fired on it, then "acquired the next target." He then realized that he had killed a woman—the first (and I believe only) time he's done that. This provides an obvious basis for Rand's "Achilles' Heel." (I thought he should have offed both the Tower Aes Sedai in the beginning of A Crown of Swords and Lanfear earlier, but I'm rude like that.)
It seems Jordan learned to read by having his father read to him constantly (when he was being read to, he wasn't messing around with expensive "toys" that broke easily). They started out with children's books, until Dad found out that it didn't matter whether Jordan really understood or not, and started reading books that Dad wanted to read instead. This went on for a while, until the night Dad put a book away before it was finished, so Jordan grabbed it and struggled through it on his own, figuring out what he didn't understand through context. (The Maltese Falcon was mentioned, but I don't recall how, other than as one of the books that he liked.)
When Jordan was six, he got a library card—like "the keys to the city". The librarians didn't want to let him out of the kids section, so he learned tricks. If you shelved books in the reading room, they would stay there, so you could pick them up again later, whether they belonged there or not. And kids could go to the reference section. "I discovered the encyclopedia."
The library at the time was in a mansion—the "Miskelle house", I think. He spelled it for me (without being asked; by that time there had been more than one comment about the lunatic scribbling notes on everything), but my notes were rather cramped by that time.
"Reading is like breathing. If you take it away, first I become antsy, then violent."
The first work I wrote has never been published although it was bought and then rejected over a contract dispute by Dell within the space of two months. That was what convinced me I could write it. It was later sold to... Don Wollheim bought it as a fantasy novel. Later Jim Baen at Ace bought it as a science fiction novel unchanged from what it was before. And then Susan Allison came in and she didn't like it so I got it... got the rights reverted to me. It also resulted in me getting the Conan contracts and in me meeting my wife. So I decided this thing has major mojo going with it. Well it's also the fact that it glows in the dark. It'll never be published because I'm a better writer now than I was twenty odd years ago.
My first published novel, I had walked into a book store and I had been talking to the owner of the book store, the manager, the woman that managed it, about the fact that I wanted to write, that I was beginning to write. I talked to her about books and all sorts of things, just in the book shop, that was all. There was a kind of romance novel called a bodice-ripper by a woman named Mary Robbins, big displays up front. Bodice-ripper is a sort of softcore pornography for women set in historical settings. And the shop owner said, "Do you know she has made three million dollars on her first two books?" In those days three million dollars with two books was Stephen King territory. That was like the forty-five-million-dollar contracts you hear about today. This is the sort of thing made people go, "Oh God!" and made the front of Time magazine. And I said for that kind of money I'd write one of those things. Okay, throwaway line, rimshot, forget it. Except the next time I came into the store the woman said, "You know a woman came in here and she's come to Charleston to set up a major publishing house, set up a publishing house, and she only wants to publish lead titles." That's the big book that the publishing house puts out every month, the one they really push. And that's all she's going to publish. She'd run out of business cards, she didn't have any business cards but here, she wrote her name in pencil on this lined three by five index card. I thought, right, she's come to Charleston to set up a major publishing house? No, no, no, no. That's like going to Death Valley to set up a ski camp. And she's only going to publish leads, that's like saying you're only going to publish best sellers, as it seemed to me, as it seemed to me then. But she managed to do it and no business card. Three by five index card, lined, penciled in. Right. Okay. I stuck it in my pocket to be polite and I went away. A week or so later I found it in my office in the drawer where I kept my pipe and tobacco as I was loading my pipe. Shows how long ago it was. I thought all right, I've got ten minutes I'll give her a call. So I gave her a call and found out that she had been editor or director of Ace Books and had just celebrated being promoted to vice president by resigning. And suddenly with that bit of experience behind her I'd realized she didn't sound so much like a nut anymore. She said, "I understand you're writing a bodice-ripper," and not waiting to lose a thread I said, "Yeah, well it's already been shown." She said, "Well, okay. I understand that, I understand that. Well why don't you come over and read me it and talk to me about it. Show me something, talk to me."
So I made up an outline driving to her house. I talked to the woman in the bookstore about these books enough that I knew the basic format. Heroine loses her virginity in the first chapter. It is a circumstance that is not rape on technicality. That is, he, the guy has arranged for a tavern maid downstairs to come upstairs and snuggle into his bed. And Heroine for some phony boloney reason has decided to sneak into his room to try to steal something at the same time. And she tries to get him drunk so he... you know, it gets very complicated. Anyway on technicality he's not guilty but anyway, she then goes on to have a lot of sexual adventures in North Africa with Sheiks and Sultans, in China with the Mandarins, Bedouin raiders... the court of Napoleon and the court of Medici... And then at the end of it she's in great danger, she's rescued by this guy that turns out to be the guy who done her virginity in the first place and they get married. And everything is thus okay because she married the guy that took her virginity. All right, hooo, yeah. I tried writing this thing for a brief moment, I really did. And I couldn't hack it man. I got the plot right, I got the sex right but I read some of the books and they quivered. They were hysterical in the constant sense, that is every line quivered with emotion. And I couldn't quiver. I tried.
About a year after that she called me up. I quit my job as an engineer and she said, "I'd like to see anything you've written." And being a professional I tried to talk her out of it. Because I knew the things I had written were not what she wanted to publish. She said, "Anything you have written, I want to see it." I took it to her, the book... the first novel I had ever written and when I went to pick it up from her later I got into a discussion about history. The forty-five in England, the American Revolution, the roles of the Scots and the Irish in the American Revolution particularly in the south. The publisher heard this and after the other woman had gone away, she gave me back a manuscript, she said, "You write a book and we'll publish this, but you can write. And what I want you to do is give the outline of a historical saga, a generational saga." And I did. That became The Fallon Blood. And the woman's name was Harriet McDougal and we started dating while we were touring for this book after she published it. I mean we toured for the book and she would give me another contract because we weren't quite sure how it was going to sell. And, ahh, I started missing her. I started coming back, hanging around and asking her out and whatnot. And eventually I asked her to marry me. Then I got really nervous because I thought, 'Hang on...I just asked a woman to marry me, and she is my source of income!' So I very hurriedly sold the book somewhere else so she would not be my sole source of income. That's how my first novel got published and that's how I met my wife and that's only about ten minutes as much as you wanted to know.
Did you enjoy your time in New Zealand and will you be back?
I enjoyed my visit to New Zealand tremendously, and I certainly hope to return. New Zealand is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and on top of that, I hope to return at the right time of year to do some serious trout fishing.
What inspired you to write?
I decided that I would write one day when I was five. I had finished From the Earth to the Moon, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and I stood them up on a table and sat staring at them with my chin on my knees—I was rather more limber, back then!—and decided that one day I would make stories like that. But by age seven or eight, it seemed to me that writers who made a living from writing all lived in Cuba or Italy or France, and at that age, I wasn’t sure about that big a move. I followed my second love, science and math, got my degree in physics and mathematics, and became an engineer. I didn’t try writing at fifteen or twenty, because I didn’t think I had enough experience; I had nothing to say. At thirty, I was injured, spent a month in the hospital, nearly died, and took four months to recuperate enough to return to my office. I decided it was time to put up or shut up about writing one day, and the rest followed.
What does the future hold for you?
Well, I’d like to catch a thousand-pound black marlin, a thirty-pound brown trout, and a sixty-pound Atlantic salmon. I’d like to shoot a twenty-four point whitetail and a perfect round in sporting clays. I’d like to get another royal Flush in poker—I got one, once—finally learn how to play go beyond the basics. I’d like to learn to sky dive, and.... Oh. More writing, certainly, for as long as I can find a way to put words on paper. I used to keep notebooks of story ideas, until I realized that I wold need three or four lifetimes to write just the ideas already had. I would like to do different sorts of writing, too. History, stage-plays. I’ve been noodling around lately with the idea of musical composition, too, something I haven’t touched in many years. Given the way medicine advances, I might have lived little more than half my life so far, which means I have a few decades remaining. Not enough to do everything I want to do, but I think I can fill them up.
—Pulled up in a black stretch limo with police escort (one car).
—Opened up with the same exact intro as Raleigh.
—As I had him sign the 'Faces of Fantasy' book he was talking about the picture. He said that the photographer came in and saw his chair and that he was actually on his way to a "black tie affair and she had to have me in my tux". Then he said "ya know, I wasn't trying to be all suave you know."
My parents were not rich, not poor. My father was a police officer. When he was a captain, he resigned and went to work for the ports authority until he had to retire early for a disability.
He was a man with an eidetic or photographic memory. A card sharp—loved to play bridge, poker, anything. You could take a deck of cards face down and riffle it once in front of him, and then he would call the cards in order before you dealt the card.
He began to teach me poker when I was very young—when I had to sit on three encyclopaedias to see over the edge of the table. I was allowed to sit in on exactly three hands of poker when the game was in our house. No provisions made for taking it easy on the kid! My father staked me to the wagers. He would eat the losses, and the agreement was that I had to split any winnings with him. I did manage to win a couple of hands during that time! I certainly learned to play poker, I'll tell you. I miss him greatly.
My mother was very beautiful. She looked like Ava Gardner's sister—the prettier one. She was a housewife. The only job she ever had was in World War II when everyone was employed—she did something then in defense.
The added strain began when my mother had her first nervous breakdown, when I was eight. Those continued at regular intervals, necessitating her being hospitalized. I think that these two things—the fact that I was a precocious little monster in some ways, and that my mother had nervous breakdowns—in my case that was enough childhood stress to improve my chances as a writer, looking back at it rather coldly.
I learned to read when I was four. My parents would go out to gatherings of friends. Two, three or sometimes four nights a week there would be—I hesitate to call it a party—music and dancing, that was it.
My 16-year-old brother was sometimes stuck with babysitting the brat. He wanted to keep my hands out of his goldfish bowl and his terrarium, and keep my hands off his balsa wood planes. And he found that if he read to me and moved his finger along the line, I would sit beside him and stare at the page.
Now he was not about to read children's books: he was reading me fairly adult novels. I don't know when I made the connection between the words he was saying and the symbols on the page. But one night my parents came home, he stuck the book back on the shelf, and I wanted more. So I pulled the book down and struggled through to the end. 'White Fang': that was the first book I ever read, if you want to call it reading. I did get a sense of the story.
When my brother found out that I could do this, he started to supply me with books because that would keep me quiet. When he got guilty about letting me take books off my parents' shelves, he would bring me a book for a 10- or 12-year-old. My great uncles also supplied me with books, so I had a great clutch of pre-World War I boys' books.
I did think about writing when I was very little. But writers didn't seem to make a living in the United States as writers. All sorts of fellows wrote books but they all had something else they did for the money. That's the way it seemed. And those who did, lived in Cuba or the South of France or Italy. I might have been precocious but I wasn't so sure about moving to Italy. . .
School was very strange. The teachers finally discovered what was wrong when I was in the third grade, and tried to move me ahead three levels into the sixth grade. My parents said no.
By and large I found school boring. Most of the time I could do a solid B, B+, perhaps an A, without studying. And since I was an athlete, that was considered sterling! Shot and discus, track and field, American football, basketball, baseball—I was good at everything.
As for writing, I thought again about doing that, at 10 and 16 and 20. I said, 'It would be a useless exercise. What am I supposed to write about? I haven't seen enough of life, so anything I write is going to be empty.'
I went to university and discovered that trying to carry a very heavy load in academic subjects and play football, I needed to know how to study. And that was something I had never learned how to do, so I floundered quite badly. At the end of a year at university I went into the army and went to Vietnam.
I've always been a military history buff. But when I was in Vietnam I wasn't thinking history or strategy: I was thinking staying alive, and occasionally taking an R&R to Australia where I'd go to the beach and drink a lot of beer and try to meet a schoolteacher on vacation.
I sort of knew in a way what to expect because military service has always been a family tradition. All my brothers, my father and my uncles, my grandfather and my great uncles went into the military—'some enlisted, most as officers, some made careers, some did not. But you did your basic service and if there was any shooting going on, you went where the guns were.
Essentially I stayed in Vietnam until it was time to get out of the army. Then I went back to school and got my degrees: a Bachelor of Science in maths and one in physics.
I had everything lined up to go to graduate school for a doctorate in quantum optics: I was very interested in theoretical physics. But I was tired of school, and I wanted to get on with my life. The government at this point was recruiting engineers, physicists and others, who they then sent to a school to study nuclear engineering. So I became an engineer, and for a long time I designed procedures to test and overhaul reactors on United States naval vessels.
I had always said, 'One day I will write.' Then when I was 30 I was walking back from a dry dock to my office, and I had a fall and tore up my knee very severely. There were complications in the surgery, I nearly died, I spent a month in the hospital, and I spent three and a half months recuperating before I could walk well enough to go back to the office. During that time I reached burnout in reading. I remember picking up a book by an author I knew I liked, reading a few paragraphs and tossing it across the room and saying, 'Oh God, I could do better than that.' Then I thought, 'All right son, it's time to put up or shut up.'
And so I wrote my first novel. It has never been published although it's been bought by two publishers, and a lot of good came out of it, including meeting my wife.
I finished the novel within three and a half months, writing longhand on legal yellow pads. When I went back to work I typed it up in the evenings and made the changes, and sent it off to a publisher. The best I was hoping for was a letter saying, 'Not quite good enough but if you work at it you can get there.' I was very surprised to get an enthusiastic letter back offering to buy the novel. Then I tried to negotiate some minor points of the contract—I didn't have an agent—and I was equally shocked to get a letter back withdrawing the offer. (The publisher believed that a beginning writer should not quibble.)
It didn't matter, because I decided I would ignore the second letter. The first letter said I could write. There were things happening at work that I found very irritating. So I cleared my desk and I completed every project in the pipeline, and I laid down my resignation. 'You can't go!' I said, 'Read the resignation. I'm going.' I was told, 'If you do this, you'll never work for the United States government again.' I said, 'Could I have that in writing?'
My wife once said to me—when I'd been writing for ten or fifteen years—that I could always go back to being a nuclear engineer. And I said to her, 'Harriet, would you let someone who quit his job to go write fantasy anywhere near your nuclear reactor? I wouldn't!'
I leaped right into writing, and I know a lot of writers who have done that. Other people need to develop the facility.
I know as many different ways of writing as I know writers. To develop your own way of writing, read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Especially read what you want to write, and write what you like to read. . . because if you don't like to read it, you won't be able to write it.
As soon as I realized I was going to be writing a lot from inside a woman's head, I wanted to write women that women thought were women. I thought getting myself into a woman's skin would be the hard thing.
Certainly I talk to my wife: she's my editor as well as my wife, so she's intimate with the books. Sometimes I'll ask her, 'Do you think this character would behave in this fashion?' I also read books written by women for women, I read magazines, and I eavesdrop on women sometimes. It's a low trick but it's the only way to find out how women talk when men aren't around.
One of the best compliments I got was very early, when I was touring for the 'Dragon Reborn'. Some women said that until they saw me they believed Robert Jordan was the pen name of a woman. I thought, 'All right, I did it!'
I've tried to write in layers. In addition I've tried to write each book so that every time you read it, you're standing in a different place, you're reading a slightly different book. And when you read the third book it shifts your position again. Things you thought were innocuous are important, and things you thought meant one thing, meant another.
Even if you do it unconsciously, you have to refer to religion if you're writing fantasy. You're stepping into the realm of the supernatural and so you're stepping into the realm of religion.
A few years ago I found myself thrown into the company of theoretical physicists on panels. I thought, 'I'm not going to be able to talk with these men because my knowledge of this field is 25 years out of date.' But I found that I could hold my own not by talking physics but by talking theology.
One of my themes is (and it's one reason I wrote the books as fantasies) there is good, there is evil, there is right, there is wrong—lit does exist. If you do that in a mainstream novel you are accused of being judgmental unless you've chosen the right political viewpoint.
Maybe it's not always easy to tell which is the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do. 'Good and evil—but relative to what?' This deconstructionism irritates the devil out of me. Situational ethics began as a way of making fine moral choices, but it's become this monster in so many people's minds: it now means there is no right, there is no wrong. 'Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.' That really doesn't work unless you intend to carry a gun all the time.
What I believe goes into my stories. I'm not trying to preach. I believe these things, but I'm trying to tell stories. All my characters of course believe things I don't believe.
I just see my life continuing until it ends. I intend to live! Most people exist. They simply do the job, go home, go to sleep, get up, go to work, go home, go to sleep. And it's understandable if you have a factory job—you can get very tired, you don't want to live. I'm lucky.
I know my life is going to end.
I was 19 when I realized I was going to die for sure. On my first tour in Vietnam, the helicopter I was in blew up and threw me into the jungle. I got up and ran back through the lines of an NVA ambush—I didn1t know it was there—I just knew the other chopper was in that direction.
This knowledge changes your view of the world. I think it gives you a certain maturity. Perhaps maturity is the knowledge that everything is going to change, that neither you nor anything you see is going to go on forever.
Well, I do... It's getting absorbed in the work, really, rather than getting absorbed in the world. I focus. When I used to play football, American football, we were calling it 'in the zone'. It's a total focus, so that eh... In football, American football, everybody else is suddenly moving half a step slower, almost as in slow motion. Peripheral vision extends. I can see facial twitches. I know who has the ball. I mean, I can see him, it's almost as if a faint glow comes up, but I can't hear the crowd. It's all dead silence, but I can hear the other players breathing, and ... it's a very strange situation.
You get in the zone with the writing and here I am at my desk. My computer, the monitor. And here is a window looking into the side-garden [waving to the left], and over there [waving to the right] is a glass-paint door, looking into the long-garden behind our house.
Now we have had heavy rainstorms and windstorms that drenched everything, that broke branches, were beating bamboo against this window [the left], there had to be bamboo hitting against this window, had broken branches down on the driveway over there [the right]. [...] and he never noticed any of it when in the zone with writing.
Do current events and world politics, such as the tragedy on September 11th, ever end up influencing the events within the books? If so, what are some examples?
Only by accident. Any writing is always filtered through the writer, and whatever the writer lives through always changes the filters, but I don't consciously set out to mirror current events in any way.
You have been awarded with the Bronze Star and other awards in Vietnam. Would you care to tell us how one or all of those awards came about?
(*sigh*) Everyone knows about one way of winning a medal. That is, to see something which needs to be done and to consciously do it at the risk of your life. I never did this. Relatively few people do, which is why we mark out those who do as heroes.
But at other times, you can realize that you are going to die in a very few minutes, except that if you do something incredibly stupid, you might just have a small chance of living. And against all reason, it works. Or you take a step without thinking, and then it's too late to turn back, maybe because turning back is just as dangerous as going on, or even more dangerous, or maybe because you know that you will have to look in the shaving mirror, and that every time you do, you will remember that you turned back. So you keep going. Or perhaps it's because you are with your friends, and you have to back their play, even if it's crazy, because they're your friends, because they've backed your play, even when it was crazy.
I was with a group of men who had a certain air about them, and if you didn't have it when you joined them, you soon absorbed it. A plaque in our day room read: Anybody can dance with the Devil's daughter, but we tell her old man to his face. At a time like that, in a place like that, you're all young and crazy, and if you've been there long enough, you know you're going to die. Not from old age; next month, next week, tomorrow. Now, maybe. It's going to happen, so what does it matter? In the end, for most of us, the medals boiled down to managing not to die. If you're alive when the higher-ups think you should be dead, it discombobulates their brains, so they hang a bit of something on you to balance things in their own heads. That's how it happened for me. That is why I am not I repeat, not! a hero. I just managed to stay alive. And I even managed to get sane again. Reasonably sane, anyway.
If a gateway opened in front of you leading to your world in the books, would you and Harriet step through knowing that you could return to our "real" world? What if you couldn't come back? (If you do go, please finish the series first!)
Harriet might. She's the adventurous one, and sometimes (nobody will tell her I said this, right?) sometimes she has more courage than sense. The ONLY reason that I'd go through would be to get her back. She can get into some hairy situations without me there. She LIKES getting into hairy situations. The world I write about is fun to write about, and I suppose fun to read about, but there are many places I find interesting to read about that I'd never want to go near. A man could get killed in a place like that! In fact, I think I'll go smoke a pipe and look at the goldfish until I can stop thinking about it.
How has writing such a successful series changed your life? As a result of that success, how has your life changed the story and your writing?
I have to steal an answer from Stephen King, here. I read it in an interview with him, and his answer seemed so obvious, so right, that I said, "But, of course!" The biggest change in my life, and the best thing about having a successful series, is that now I can buy any book I want. I don't have to wait for the paperback or haunt the remainder tables or plow through the second-hand bookstores. I can just buy it. Being able to travel is great, especially when there is fishing to go with it, but being able to buy the books is bloody neat!
As for my life changing the story: no, the story is still the story I set out to write God help me! more than fifteen years ago. My writing, of course, as distinct from the story, almost certainly has been changed by my life. No writer can be so isolated from life that what he lives through has no effect on his writing. Or if he can isolate himself, either his writing isn't worth reading or he himself is nuttier than a fruitcake! But I can't tell you how it has changed, except that I hope it has gotten better. After all this time, I would hope to God I've gotten at least a little better at it.
The signing began, and all 300 people rushed forward. Heavy press there, luckily I was close to the authors, so out soon again.
Just before getting to Jordan, I heard a question about him once having trouble with his arm or something, and how he got over that.
The Wheel of Time has been called the best fantasy epic of all time, and you've been compared with legendary fantasist J.R.R. Tolkien. How do you deal with all this adulation?
I grin nervously a lot. It's very nice. But my high school football coach gave me one of the best pieces of advice that someone in my position can have. He said, "Saturday morning, you can read the newspaper and you can believe how good they say you are. Monday, when you come to practice, nobody knows your name, and you have one week to get ready for the only game you'll ever have to make a reputation." So it's very nice to look around and have people pat me on the back and say, "Oh, you're wonderful, you're great, you're tremendous," but I know the end of this. I go and sit in front of the computer, and nobody knows my name, and I have one book to try and make a reputation.
There are a lot of battles, wars, and great conflicts in your books. Did your military experiences influence that part of your writing?
To some extent, but mainly the thing that comes out of my experiences in the military is that I know what it's like when someone is trying to kill you. And I know that being in a battle is confusion. You know what you can see; you don't know what is happening beyond your sight. That's what comes from the military. To tell you the truth, the battles aren't nearly as interesting as the people. I like the interactions of the people—the character development, the way people play off one another.
Then he looked very closely at the card I had him sign...
Me: It's supposed to be Graendal.
Yeah, well, it is...I just never knew that Graendal had nipple-rings, that's all. Now for once, it's just a thing I hadn't realized about a character in my book, that's all.
I see fantasy writers sometimes at conventions. And no, we don't sit around talking about fantasy. We sit around drinking beer, talking about contracts, mainly. And John M. Ford comes to visit me almost every Christmas, he's a close friend of me, uhm, almost as long as I've been married. [I think that was what he said.] And no, we don't talk about fantasy either. We talk about other writers, and contracts. When...has his book finished, that sort of thing.
Mr. Jordan stated that the first book he ever read was White Fang, at age four. When given his library card at five, he joked that when the librarian introduced him to the children's section asking him if he would like to have The Velveteen Rabbit read to him, he replied, "What, are you kidding?"... promptly being labeled a smart-aleck.
He found it very difficult to get access to adult reading, and would have to sneak out of the children's section, snag books, and bring them back to the children's section to hide them where he could access them without being pestered. No one ever checked the children's section for the adult books he had sequestered there. Jordan said he never read children's books until much older.
At age five he had three novels stacked on a table in his room (one of which included a Verne work) and he stated that at that moment he knew he would "make stories like that someday."
On the subject of relationships, he commented that "I know what women want. Because I am what women want. [laughter from the audience] Part palomino, part golden retriever." He then quickly howled like a dog and neighed like a horse, with more laughter.
He commented that in 2002 he took perhaps five days off of writing. In 2001 he was "lazy" and may have had up to ten days off that year. He stated that he had originally thought that writing would be a relaxing job, in which he could retire to "the South of France and lie on the beach with three ladies in a red bikini, blue bikini, and yellow bikini to rub suntan oil upon me."
Regarding the intensity of his lifestyle, he reminded the audience that he used to be an engineer, but found this job much more demanding. "To write successfully," he remarked, "you really have to throw yourself into your work."
We get close up in line and I can start hearing things, but nothing of importance. A lady—clearly a fan—in front of me must have asked him about the female characters in his books:
His reply is that his whole family is filled with very strong women...
"All of the men in my family are strong, because the women in my family would kill and eat the weak ones."
He said that he had only read one children's book—something about a pig, I think—and that the first book he ever read was the second half of White Fang. His brother had started reading it to him, and he wanted to finish it himself. He talked about a book that came out in the 40s which he said was the first bodice-ripper, and that he read it when he was five. He said that he was confused for quite a while after that and got in trouble for calling girls "wench". A while after that he got his first library card. He was disappointed to find out that he was supposed to stay in the children's section of the library, and that the librarian wanted to read The Velveteen Rabbit to him. He made a habit of sneaking into the adult section, grabbing a book at random, and taking it back to a reading room in the children's section. He found that if the book wasn't any good, he could leave it on the table there, and it would get returned to its proper place, but if he liked it, he would put it in the shelves of the reading room, and it would stay there until he was done with it.
Someone asked what he's reading right now, and he said Salt, which is, I guess, actually all about salt. There were other questions like that and he recommended the fantasy of C.S. Friedman, John M. Ford, and Guy Gavriel Kay. He also recommended the essays of Montaigne and Guns, Germs, and Steel.
He served all over Vietnam. When asked, he rattled off about 15 or 20 different places. The only ones I caught were the delta and the rubber plantation. He was a gunner. He said he wanted to be a point, but his eyesight wasn't good enough.
He was in the Army, and he talked about how the Air Force is full of slackers. He went to an Air Force base once and he was driving a car that had Admiral's stars on it (his dad's?) When he pulled up to the guard at the base entrance, the guy was about to give him a typical lazy Air Force salute, then saw the stars on the bumper of the car, and levitated a couple of feet off the ground. He asked the guard where the hospital was and got directions. When he got to the hospital, people were running in all directions, doctors were hyperventilating, running around holding paper bags over their mouths, and the place was chaos, all because there was a two-star on the base, and nobody knew who he was because the idiot at the gate didn't think to ask.
(when he signed my book): Who is you favorite character, if you have one?
Well, my favorite character is whoever I am writing about for the moment, but I will tell you which characters I relate to. When I was growing up, I tried to be like Lan. Physically, and partly behavior, I was like Perrin, and behavior wise, I was like Mat. If he had a Harley, I'm sure he would ride one too (chuckles). My wife thinks that I'm "Loial to the life", but I don't see were she gets that.
(I also heard him talk about speeding in Maine.)
The South Carolina native dropped out of Clemson University after one year. ("I didn't know how to study.") He served two tours in Vietnam. Afterward, he attended The Citadel, becoming a nuclear engineer. A fall from a sub at the Charleston Naval Shipyard left him hospitalized for a month. His knee was rebuilt, and he suffered a near-fatal blood clot.
The avid reader decided it was time to try writing. "Life was too short," he says. He decided to quit his job after a bookstore manager pal told him that a famous bodice-ripper romance writer made $3 million on two books. Jordan decided to pump purple prose. But there was a problem. "I couldn't quiver," he says.
He met Harriet, a Manhattan editor who had moved home to Charleston. She told him he could write but to bag the bodice-rippers, suggesting instead he write historical novels. He published several under the name Reagan O'Neal.
Not quite a couple, only nine days, and it more than makes up for it. It's fun. I've had a couple of crowds of over 600, and several from 500 to 300, so believe me, I get a lot of company on the road.
Oh yes. She was the founding editorial director of Tom Doherty associates, which publishes TOR books. Before that she had been promoted to Vice President, and celebrated that by resigning to set up her own imprint which was distributed by Grosset and Dunlap. My first novel to be published was published by her imprint.
When that book was done I began to miss her...so we began dating.
Then I asked her to marry me...but I very got Neanderthal and got cold feet. She was my publisher and my editor and how could I marry her? So I hurriedly sold some things elsewhere and then it was all right. She's still my editor. She's cut back now, and I'm the only author she edits. We used to spend a week a month in New York so she could do editorial work, and she decided she didn't want to do that anymore but she still edited people. Then a couple of years ago she cut that because of the tours for my books, and I want her to come with me, 'cause I'd go stone crazy spending a month on the road alone in hotels every night.
Yes. they have to be able to do express laundry and have 24-hour room service because I often don't get to eat until I get back to the hotel at one in the morning and I wanted to be able to get my favorite comfort food, Spaghetti Bolognese, which is really just spaghetti with a very simple tomato meat sauce.
Anyway, she gave up her last writers, she was editing Father Andrew Greeley and Mike and Cathy Greer, and I'd started to sell books in translation and my European publishers started asking me to come to do tours in Sweden and Norway and Holland and Russia and Great Britain. So she decided it wouldn't be fair to the authors to go incommunicado on them for a month at a time.
No, not really. It's so quick after the books. The last five books it's been two months between me handing in the manuscripts and me being on tour.
I just have time to catch my breath after stopping writing and to go outside blinking a little because I'm unused to being in the daylight. Last year I figured out that I took five days off all year. The rest of the time I wrote. Two of those were days to go fishing, and there was a wedding, and I can't remember what the fifth one was...
I wish we didn't have to do it, but I think it's the best chance we have for making some sort of turnaround in the Arab world. That means forcing a settlement to the Palestinian question. Iraq, before Saddam took over was the most secular and educated nation, and it is the one that has the best chance, despite the difficulties, of moving into something we would recognize as democracy.
If that could be done, it might mitigate, to a great extent, a lot of the street hatred of the west. It really is hatred. We let women think, we let them drive cars, we let them get jobs...we tolerate Jews...we do all of these things that are nasty...and we are nasty ourselves. There's a great deal of hatred that stems from something that we in the US haven't seen since the Civil War, and possibly not even then. It's something that the Western World really hasn't seen in the last three of four hundred years.
It's a hate of the other, because they are the other...and not like me, therefore we will kill them.
Yes, by merely being here we threaten them. An expert was asked after 9/11 what we could do to wipe out these people's hatred of us...and he paused a moment and then answered, "We could move off the planet."
It's something we need to be concerned about. You may say, why do we care if a third world nation has a few A-Bombs, but you know, the Soviet Union was a third world nation. Once the wall came down, we realized we were looking at a Third World Nation...that had held the world in the Cold War for all that time simply because they had nuclear weapons.
I don't even want to think about a world in which North Korea and Saddam Hussein have nuclear weapons. Both of those governments have people which would be quite willing to use these things.
I didn't stay for the whole thing but caught most of it. I may be at tonight's signing in Bailey's Crossroads (someone who's out of town asked me to take her books in and I didn't have time get them all signed this afternoon), and if so, I'll post something about it later this evening.
His is a vivid daydream, alive on paper. Not an alternate reality.
For those who suspect Robert Jordan is so consumed by his books, so immersed in their universe that the fanciful has more substance than the tangible, be assured this is not the case.
He still takes out the garbage. And no fictional creations attend him as he does so.
The books of his "Wheel of Time" fantasy cycle may possess prodigious detail, and characters who seem to breathe on the page, but the author recognizes the warp and woof of the real quite well, thank you, and embraces the knowledge that, in time, the party will come to an end.
The Charleston native is as grounded as one of the most successful writers in the world can be. Hyperbole? Do millions read your books with the same fervor accorded Tolkien? Do 500 people a day show up for your book signings, from Sacramento to Sydney? Are your novels translated into 20 languages? Are you the standard-bearer for a major publishing company? Are there thousands of Web sites devoted in whole or in part to discussing your work?
We thought not.
Thanks for the Happy Birthday greeting. There won't be any fishing today—we're a little betwixt and between here on things biting; October is too late in the year for some, too early for others—but it's been a great birthday so far. Lots of neat presents from various people. And I'll only work half a day, since Harriet is taking me to see Mystic River and then out to supper at my favorite Thai restaurant. All in all, a lazy but enjoyable day.
Have fun, RJ!
Many years ago, when I was young, I smoked cigarettes and I decided to quit smoking cigarettes about 35 years ago, I guess. And that was easy enough, but after about six months of not smoking, I realized that I had become so used to having a cigarette in my hands that my hands felt awkward and I was always fiddling with things.
I bought my first pipe and I trained myself not to inhale, and it was, in the beginning, just to have something to hold in my hand.
FRIDAY 23 July 2004
Things went even more smoothly on Friday.
Les Dabel picked them up again and I met them at the curb. RJ was in a great mood and had a smile on his face pretty often. This time we went right to the autograph area where a table had been setup for him to sign books. The Dabel Brothers and their team were all there. There were other celebrities nearby: I think Stan Lee was over at the next table signing photos of himself.
RJ signed books for about an hour. Again, he was able to personalize most of them, and there were few enough people where he was able to sign as many as they brought. One guy had 12 or 13 things for him to sign: all ten WoT novels, plus the Guide, some promo items I had sent out, and even some copies of Jordan's other books.
After the signing was over, Harriet and RJ had some lunch plans. I met up with them a few hours later when it was time for the second panel discussion. This one was entitled "Painting the Big Picture—Speculative Fiction on a grand scale".
During this discussion, RJ was much more talkative. He spoke quite frequently, at length at times. He cracked several jokes. He talked about many things he's talked about before: how he writes seven days a week, sometimes misses lunch, how Harriet can tell when he's been writing Padan Fain, how when we goes fishing and they aren't biting he feels like he should still be writing instead, and how he is the OLD TESTAMENT GOD in the lives of his characters.
Afterwards, I met up with him and Harriet and escorted them over to the final book signing of the weekend. It was by far the most popular one, and so I suggested that people just have two books signed per trip through the line. (If you were somebody in line with more than two books, sorry!! That rule always bugged me whenever I went to book signings, but now I see why they do it.) In the end, everyone had time to get all of their books signed. The few people who had brought suitcases of books (yes, suitcases!) were patient enough to just wait until the end, and then RJ signed all of their stuff.
After the signing, the Dabels took them back to their hotel and I went to go watch the special The Return of the King footage from the Extended Edition DVD. :)
He said that men were like fish that had been removed from the tank placed on the ground. The idea was that a cat (a woman) watches the fish and often has no interest if the fish does not struggle enough before dying. The cats enjoy watching the fish flounder and flap around. But if the fish stopped, the cat loses interest. So Robert looked seriously at Brad and Bob and I (the only men present) and said, "Keep flopping and they won't lose interest. Always keep flapping!"
It was a little silly of course, but it sounded as if it came right out of the books. One of Thom's sayings, maybe.
Indeed. Looking good, RJ!
More information about the School for the Building Arts can be found via the link below. Please take a moment and learn a little about their organization.
Overall, Robert Jordan summed these pictures up best:
His answer was a description of his bookshelf at home, which begins at the left side with the Christian Bible, continues into more Judeo-Christian texts, then picks up with the Quran, with books on Hindusim (I got the sense he was referring to the Bhagavad-Gita, but would need to check with him to be sure), Buddhist texts, and then what he called various "discourses" on world religion and spiritual philosophy.
In short—RJ is a student of world relgion, which explains much of the religious diversity of his work, not just in terms of the many cultures of his world but in terms of the underlying metaphysical structure of his universe.
By the way, Robert Jordan also sent me an email recently further describing his book collection.
The bookshelf I spoke of is one bookcase that holds my books on religion. There are a couple of others for mythology, and a great many covering nonfiction and fiction. At present, the total collection is around thirteen thousand volumes in my study. That's the carriage house behind what is colloquially called "the big house" in Charleston, the main dwelling, whether it is all that big or not; books in the big house aren't part of this total since most of them are Harriet's, and she doesn't catalog her books. I'm trying to pare that number down because I don't have enough room. Unfortunately, as fast as I can give books away, I buy more. Oh, well.
During the course of the meal, we eventually got on the topic of his time in Vietnam. What he revealed to us was deeply personal, disturbing, and moving. Although I will not comment on the specifics (it's his story to tell, not mine), I can say that it was the first time ever that I truly saw and felt the very essence of his books before me. In the days to come Melissa and Brad and I would talk about how it was during these stories that we saw Perrin, and Mat, and Rand in his eyes. We understood where their sad reluctance for war comes from. Their sense of duty.
A few years ago, Robert Jordan talked about some of these same topics in an interview that he did with Dragonmount and Wotmania. Go here to read it. The part about Vietnam is about halfway down. It's one thing to read it and a whole other thing to hear him tell it. I think war in general is like that. I wouldn't know, because I have never served time in the military. But I have the deepest respect for those who do.
"I learned to read early—I was reading Jules Verne and Mark Twain at five—and my Uncles went into their attics and gave me not only their old "boys' books," things like Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy and The Flying Midshipmen, but also old comics they had from the '30s and '40s. For a while, I had a fairly valuable collection, though I didn't know it then. None of the really rare items, but some that would have fetched nice prices. Though I have to admit that after all these years, I can't recall the issue numbers. I bought, too, choosing carefully because my allowance only stretched so far. My own purchases were pretty far ranging. For example, I liked Batman and Scrooge McDuck about equally. In any case, that ended when I went away to college.
"I came home for the first time to find out that my mother had given all of the comics and boys' books to various children because 'surely I didn't want those old things any more.' There's no way you can go to a ten-year old and tell him you want him to give back the comics he was just given. I mean, they weren't that valuable. But I still followed comics, and later graphic novels, which didn't exist when I was in college. It was really intermittent—'Howard the Duck,' Chaykin's 'American Flagg,' a few others that I still have—until Frank Miller got his hands on Batman. That brought me back on board, and I've been there ever since. I'm pretty choosy, partly as a matter of time—most of my reading is print—but when I see something that's new and interesting, I leap on it. And I buy compilations of older works that I recall fondly, too, for myself and as gifts. My wife doesn't know it, but she was a fan of Plastic Man as a girl, and she's getting six hardcover volumes of 'Plastic Man' compilations as soon they're delivered."
There were no startling plot revelations from Jordan this time. The only questions asked were personal or repeats of questions asked at Dragon*Con or previous interviews, so I don't need to repeat much of it.
There is only one book left in the series but it will be a doozy. He will fight to prevent it from being "George R.R. Martined," or split for publication. He plans to do a signing in Anchorage, Alaska for Knife of Dreams, but it will be during the salmon season so he can do some serious fishing while there.
I noticed in browsing the other day that someone wondered whether my cold was part of my "cancer." I want to quash that one before it turns into a rumor. I do not have cancer. I did have a cold that had me sick as a dog for three days, but not cancer. I've been undergoing a thorough checkup since finishing Knife of Dreams, with every sort of test you can imagine, and believe me, if there was any suspicion of such a thing, I would know.
This should be confirmation that I do lurk upon occasion, on several sites. At the moment, working only half days on the new book—that will continue until the tour begins; after the tour, it is back to full days—I have time to do that more often than when I am writing all day. Then I can only drop by once in a while for a a few minutes to scan through the thread headers and see if anyone else has figured out who killed Asmodean—some of you have, but I won't say who—or whether some incredible rumor has begun growing like a fungus. But I am not a member at any site, so forget about the possibility that I make posts.
Take care, guys. And remember—no cancer.
For elementfwwe, what keeps me going is that I enjoy what am doing. Think about it. I can make a living doing what I enjoy more than anything except sex.
I don't pattern characters after real people, but I do sometimes lift part of a real person for a character. I will say that a character in Knife of Dreams, Charlz Guybon, is named after a man whose wife won an auction for naming rights after I agreed to be part of a fund raiser for an English charity that works with victims of torture. She sent me his description, which I used. As I've often said, each of my major female characters has at least one element drawn from Harriet. And I won't tell her which parts of which characters came from her. That despite the fact that, as she likes to point out, she knows where I sleep. She did figure out that she is Semirhage when the garbage doesn't get to the curb on time, though.
As for my idol, that is my father, now deceased. He was a wonderful man, with a rich life. I'll try to paint a small picture. He got his first car, a Model A, at the age of thirteen because he had the habit of hitching rides with bootleggers in the Tennessee mountains, and after he was in a wreck where the driver ran off and my father told the police who had been chasing them that he had been driving, his father decided to put an end to the hitching. He was a noted middleweight boxer in the 1930s, rising in the rankings, but stopped after he badly injured another man in the ring. He was a veteran of WWII who spent a lot of time behind the Japanese lines, a quiet, gentle man who taught me to rebuild automobile engines, to hunt and fish. He told stories over the campfire when we were out hunting or fishing, thus starting me on the road to storytelling myself. He never said a word about me stealing shotgun shells from his stock so a known bootlegger and poacher would take me into the woods with him. Well, I didn't know about the poaching until later. But Junior knew more about the woods than anybody else I've ever met. My father was a poker shark with a photographic memory who allowed me to sit in for three hands whenever the weekly game was at our house, even when I was young enough to need to sit on three encyclopedias to be able to get my arms on the table. He staked me, he ate the losses, and we split any winnings I had. I did win one of those hands while sitting on stacked up Encyclopedia Americanas. He told my brothers and me that he had few requirements of us. Be honest. Keep your word always. Try to do better with your life than he had done with his. And whatever you decided to be, whether it was a college professor or an auto mechanic, be the best at it that you could manage to be. Yes, he was, and is, my idol.
Tam and I went over to the Q&A. As we're crossing the street from the Mariott to the Hyatt, this guy goes:
Man: "Whoa there. Where's your badge?"
Tamyrlin: "Well, he lost it earlier."
Man: "Can't let you in without a badge, sir."
Camel: "But I lost it, man. I paid for it and everything."
Man: "Well, did you report it?"
Man: "Do you have a hotel key?"
Camel: "Yeah, to the Travelodge down the street."
Man: "Let me see it." I showed it to him. "Okay, you've got a hotel key, go on."
So we went into the Q&A, and I watched everyone ask questions. At Isabel's first question, RJ said "Come up here and ask me closer." cause he couldn't understand her. So she went up there and showed him our huge list of questions. I got a picture. He read one of them and answered it. Then Tam asked a question and basically got RAFO'd, and he came back and sat down. I suggested a question to him, and he says, "Go ask it, man." So I got in line. And waited. Finally:
Camel: "I know a lot of questions have been asked and I was wondering if either of you knew of a question we haven't asked that you think we should have asked already, and what would that be?"
So I sat down, suitably embarrassed. Tam and WSB thought it was hilarious that he thought my name was Jack. (Hint: it's not). After that, we went over to the mall and grabbed a bite to eat. I got a picture of Tinkerbell. It was cool. Walking back to the hotel, I took a picture of some Cobra guys solely to stop up traffic in the hallway. Mwahahaha.
Um, when I was much younger, before I met Harriet, I had two girlfriends simultaneously, who arranged my dating schedule between them, who was going to date me on which night. They chipped in together to buy me birthday presents and Christmas presents. You know, they just sort of shared me between them, you know. And they had been friends before, and I am not quite sure whether or not they made the decision they were both going to date me or not, on their own, before they first met me, it just came about. But I figured if I could manage two, surely Rand could manage three. Besides there are mythological reasons to have these three women involved with him.
As far as my view on this, with Harriet, I have many more than three women, there are so many facets to her personality she quite often makes me dizzy, I am quite satisfied there. About how she feels about this, I suspect you want her answer, I seem to remember her saying to me, you do remember this is fantasy right? And I think it was an accident she was holding a carving knife to my throat, just coincidence, but I am not sure.
For Kamanile, I didn't put the whole onus for failing to see the gasp moment on the fans. If you read my post, I said that either I had failed completely in making you have the same sense of realness in the books that I do when writing or else.... I do think there is a hardening to many people, though, through being inundated with images of hurricane victims, tsunami victims, people starving because of famines, suicide bombing sites etc. There was a time that the splattered blood of a suicide bomb site would have been considered too graphic and violent for the evening news. Now, it is an appropriate thing to show while people are having dinner. It won't spoil too many appetites. I noticed one or two posts of comments to spoiler reviews where the gasp moment was revealed and some people seemed to find it funny. That's somebody who probably makes Darfur jokes.
For Marigan at Wotmania, and anyone else who might be wondering, not only do I not have cancer at present, I have never had cancer. Never. That was one of those rumors that float around without a shred of truth to them, thank God. I understand that I have been dead or near dead several times according to the rumors. I was run down by a bus once, so I recall hearing. Not true.
For the poster at Dragonmount who thinks I'm "whipped," boy do you have the wrong end of the stick. The smelly end, in fact. I might in truth be described as a top in occasional remission, following on Marigan's theme. I do tend to let the women in my life have their own way most of the time. After all, how often does it really matter? In any enduring relationship, you have to choose the hills on which you are ready to die. At least if you expect it to endure. Besides, it has advantages. (I don't mind making this public, since Harriet has heard it before and doesn't believe it. Read on and see why she doesn't believe.) The women I have let have their own way have always done their best to make my life pleasant, which is very nice indeed. And just at the point where contempt might start creeping in because I seemingly am such a pushover, something inevitably comes up to which I say, not yes, but no. The result of this sudden shock is that all of her dendrites uncurl simultaneously, resulting in short-term physical paralysis and amnesia. (Yes, it also works with Harriet, AKA Wonder Woman.) By the time she remembers how to walk again, by the time she remembers her own name, everything has been adjusted as I wish, and all she is left with is the vague realization that something happened and matters are not quite as she would wish, but she can't see how to recover the situation. Additionally, she is left with the impression that I was somehow involved in this, which puts shadows of darkness and danger around me all over again, thus dispelling any chances of contempt forming, and we are back happily to me saying yes and her making my life pleasant. Plus being darkly dangerous adds to your level of being interesting, you see. Just because you don't ride a Harley any more doesn't mean your soul can't fire up the Fat Boy now and again. Even women who deny it find a certain fascination there. If you don't believe, just watch her eyes dilate the next time a Harley rumbles past.
Take care, guys.
No, I'm not going to reveal what the "gasp" moment is. I certainly won't be putting any spoilers here. But I have read the reviews, both spoiler and non-spoiler. For those who have read the book and believe you have identified the "gasp" moment, congratulations. For those who have read the book and still don't know what the "gasp" moment is, my sympathies. I mean that in all truth. You failed to see something that really should have made you gasp. I think I am fairly hardened, but occasionally something happens that makes me mutter, "Where are you, God? Are you sleeping? Are you blind?" This is fiction, but even so, I had to pause a couple of times in writing about it. Of course, I get deeply immersed in my work so that it becomes real to me while I am writing, but I hope to pull the reader into that level of realness, too. Either I failed completely in this instance, or some of you have become way too hardened. Too much on the evening news, I suppose. It's just today's hurricane, today's tsunami, today's Armageddon. I wonder what's coming up at eleven?
I see a number of posts about that, and I find them a little surprising. Anybody out there ever read about the internal workings of the Third Reich or the reasons why the Nazis made some of their major, and often disastrous decisions? It was a zoo. A madhouse! Just for an example, even in the last days, they were sidelining trains carrying desperately needed supplies to the front in order to use the engines to transport more people to the death camps! And yet they came within a whisker or two of winning. There are hundreds of counterfactuals—the historian's name for alternate histories—showing how the Nazis could have won outright as late as Normandy, at least to the extent of hanging onto Germany and quite possibly France, or pulled out a tie as late as the Battle of the Bulge. The internal workings of the Soviet Union under Lenin, Stalin (even more so) and most of their successors often made the Nazis look almost sensible, yet Stalin did manage to defeat the Nazis, though largely with the inadvertent help of the Nazis themselves. And his successors, frequently making decisions in nearly buffoon-like fashion, came very close to pulling out a victory over the Western democracies. Henry Kissinger actually saw his position as negotiating the best second-place position he could for the United States vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and the inevitable triumph of communism. True fact. You can look it up. Both Kissinger's feelings and the view of many intelligent people on this side of the Iron Curtain that we were fighting a losing battle are a matter of record. I lived through a lot of that, took part in some of the skirmishing, and I'll tell you, it was a damned close run thing.
For Crowl Rife, the last movie I saw in a theater was Junebug. It has some truly sad parts, but Harriet and I laughed through most of it. Then she took a couple of her friends to see it, and they thought it was the most depressing thing they had ever seen. Go figure.
If I seem to be posting a lot, it's because the tour is coming up. I want to get in some of these things before I go away and the blog goes on hiatus. We'll be flying to New York on Saturday to take care of some business before the tour begins, on Tuesday. I'm a little worried about the first signing, I'll admit. I know I can pull a good evening crowd in NYC; I've done it before. But 12:30 on a Tuesday? That's the slot where they put politicians, movies stars and celebrities. Yes, I'm a little concerned.
I will try to post again tomorrow or Friday, but I can't guarantee. We've been housing relatives from New Orleans, you see. My younger brother Reynolds has already gone back and begun teaching high school again, and his son Rey, a NO cop who was at the precinct they dubbed Fort Apache until he was told off to drive a sick officer to Shreveport for medical aid, has also returned to duty after fighting off bronchitis. Rey's wife Heather, who has a masters in disaster relief management, is hoping to head back today or tomorrow with infant son David, while Reynolds' wife Barbara Gay will be heading back tomorrow or the next day with son Jim III. Can you spell hectic? I knew that you could.
Well, let's get on with it. By the way, I don't favor women in my answers. I just answer what seem like interesting questions where answering won't give away too much.
For Mark A, there are plenty of reasons for men and women to have a certain degree of distrust, though the fact that many Aes Sedai have Warders and good relationships with them shows that it isn't all mistrust. How much trust do most men and women have for the opposite gender here and now? I trust Harriet with my life, but look at how most people are. Look at most women's views of men, and most men's views of women. There is a lot of distrust right there. As for the Forsaken, they don't trust anybody. Gender doesn't enter into it.
For Anonymous—Carter, you won't take over too much of my time. As I have said before, once I return from the tour, it is back to full days writing, which means maybe an hour a week of lurking, and I will be doing no more than one post to the blog a week. Almost certainly not as long as this one, I'm afraid, but I think you'd rather have the book in a reasonable length of time. I hope that will be enough to keep you all satisfied after I've gone on this recent splurge. As to how I find time for everything including daily life, there is Harriet, and a housekeeper who does the shopping and dry cleaner runs and the like, Harriet's assistant Stuart who helps keep her head above water, and my assistant Maria who does the same for me. And then there is Kelly, the handyman, for heavy lifting. All together, they leave most of my time free for writing. I'm ashamed to admit that I go to the grocery store so seldom now that about every second visit I have to ask where to find items.
For Ben, I'm glad you have a school-sanctioned WoT club at Alfred. (I do use WoT once in a while. Sometimes, though, it just seems to me that it should be tWoT. No big deal either way.) As an aside, my goddaughter, Jessica Jones, got her degree in ceramics from Alfred. You might be able to find out a little about her there. After she left and studied at Xian (I hope I have the spelling right), she began being referred to as Jones of China. She studied with a man who had been designated a "living treasure" by the government, and she was the only non-Chinese ceramist invited to display her work in a national show just before she came home.
For Rory, I really don't think that I'll do any novels, short or otherwise, about the War of the Shadow. The outcome is already known, and it ain't good for our side.
As for coming to Australia, you'll have to get onto the Australian publisher and bombard them with requests for me. I've been to Oz twice since the books began, both times at the behest of the publisher, though we added some vacation to the business. As an aside, I almost was born in Australia. My father liked Australia so much that my parents planned to emigrate after WWII, but my mother became pregnant with me, and she was concerned about emigrating under those circumstances—I believe wartime rationing was still in effect in Oz—so one way and another the move never happened. But almost.
RJ's answer, "No" but he then said that there is at least one character trait of Harriet's in each of the main female characters. He gave the joke of Harriet is Semirhage when the garbage doesn't get taken out to the curb.
He then went on to talk about the male characters and himself. When he was growing up he most wanted to be someone like Lan. Rand exhibits many of the feelings he felt growing up. He was big for his age like Perrin, and learned to be careful around others as he might accidentally hurt someone. Most of his fights were with three or more kids.
He said that Harriet insists he's Loial "down to his toenails". He said he had no idea why, he doesn't even have tufted ears. (big laugh) Someone then shouted out "Mat?" "Mat is me as a teenager and into my early twenties". (bigger laugh)
One of my favorite parts of the evening was when a question pointed him at who he felt he most resembled and someone in the audience suggested Loial because "he was a big teddy-bear" (yes, you may surmise this was posed by a woman...). He laughed at that and said that an old girlfriend used to call him a "teddy-bear but knew that he wasn't because she had seen the shadow of the man walking next to her and it more resembled a grizzly-bear..." He enjoyed the memory...
Never said who he felt closest to but did say, again, that it depended on who he was writing that day... He said he hated it when he came into her room and his wife would say, "You've been writing Padan Fain today!" Needless to say, he implied he wasn't popular on those days!
I was also pleased to hear him say that Lan had been modeled after his father. If only we could all be that type of father!
I have talked before about turning the logic of physics into being a fantasy writer. The first part of it is a simple paradigm that you're given as an undergraduate: Schroedinger's Cat. An engineer says, "Well, we can't know if the cat is alive or dead. You open the box to find out." A physicist says (if he has the right frame of mind for quantum physics), "The cat is both alive and dead, and will be fixed in one state or the other when you open the box." If you can really wrap your mind around that, you're ready to write fantasy!
I browse mythology, but I think if you've studied it too closely there is a tendency to be too grounded in it—an unwillingness to start twisting things and bending things too far. In physics, you expect it to twist and bend and you say, "How does this work? What can I come up with? Hmmm. I wonder how far this thing will bend?" At one time I really did want to get a doctorate in quantum optics but that was a long time ago, so I have not kept up with the literature at all (though I do like the whole notion of the particles, powers, and forces). Occasionally I've been stuck on a panel with physicists—I don't know why they do this to me, since I'm 30 years out of date! Most of the time I'm wondering what the hell they're talking about, but I've discovered a way that I can hold my own: I don't think about discussing physics; I discuss theology, and they think I'm discussing physics! That again says to me, physics is a great grounding for writing fantasy.
Then there's the moral element. In fantasy you're allowed to have at least some dividing line between good and evil, right and wrong. I really believe people want that. In so much of literature there's total moral ambiguity: good is not merely the flip side of evil, it's on the same side of the coin. Quite often you can't tell the difference between the two. If you want to talk about good and evil in mainstream literature, you do it with a nudge and a wink to show that you're really joking, but in fantasy you can say, 'This is right, this is wrong; this is good, this is evil.' OK, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but it's worth the effort to try.
Sometimes you're going to make the wrong call, but that doesn't mean you suddenly have to go on living and try to make the right call the next time, being aware that you have a belly button and that means you're going to make mistakes, sometimes big ones.
Nobody has ever gotten up one morning and said, 'I am a villain' or 'I will be a villain.' What they say is 'I want power.' Serial killers want power, and so do rapists and a lot of other villains, but let’s stick with one sort as an example. You want power and you convince yourself that your being in power will be the best for everyone. That is the way most politicians work. But then there are the guys who say, 'I want power, and if I can convince them that it's the best for everyone, all to the good. I don't give a good goddamn whether it is or not, as long as it's good for me.' He doesn't think he's a villain; he's just trying to do the best he can for himself. But he's on the road to villainy. Unfortunately, so are some of the guys who said, 'This is going to be for the best for all the people involved.' If you do what you believe is the best thing in the world and the result is you deliver millions of people into slavery, as Lenin did in Russia, are you a villain? Yes, you are.
A fellow in Russia, a politician who's a fan of my books, was asking me a lot of questions because he gives them to his friends. He said, "I tell them these are not a manual of politics; they are a manual of the poetry of politics." I'd never thought of them that way. But there's this scale: at one end is total purity in your beliefs, at the other what your enemies believe and are willing to do. Sometimes you can maintain total purity and still defeat your enemies—or win out over them, if you wish to use a less aggressive term. (It still means kick their butts into next week.) But sometimes you can't. If holding onto purity means that the other guys are going to win, then what is your purity worth? So you move just enough to counter them, but now you've danced onto that slippery slope of necessary evil.
And it is necessary, that's the unfortunate thing. The world is not a textbook study—it's uncomfortably real. And that's where you have to start dancing very hard to make sure you don't swing so far over that your victory is no different from their victory. Often the media just give excuses: "He had a terrible childhood, so the fact that he killed 47 women with an ax is not totally to be held against him." Simplistic, true, but not far off the money really except in scale. I don't believe that many people are purely good, and most of those are ineffectual. We all contain shades of gray. But how dark is that gray? I used to pride myself on being a cynic until somebody said to me, "Oh, a cynic is just a failed romantic." These days being a cynic is too lazy an option.
I have been diagnosed with amyloidosis. That is a rare blood disease which affects only 8 people out of a million each year, and those 8 per million are divided among 22 distinct forms of amyloidosis. They are distinct enough that while some have no treatment at all, for the others, the treatment that works on one will have no effect whatsoever on any of the rest. An amyloid is a misshapen or misfolded protein that can be produced by various parts of the body and which may deposit in other parts of the body (nerves or organs) with varying effects. (As a small oddity, amyloids are associated with a wide list of diseases ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to Alzheimer's. There's no current evidence of cause and effect, and none of these is considered any form of amyloidosis, but the amyloids are always there. So it is entirely possible that research on amyloids may one day lead to cures for Alzheimer's and the Lord knows what else. I've offered to be a literary poster boy for the Mayo Amyloidosis Program, and the May PR Department, at least, seems very interested. Plus, I've discovered a number of fans in various positions at the clinic, so maybe they'll help out.)
Now in my case, what I have is primary amyloidosis with cardiomyapathy. That means that some (only about 5% at present) of my bone marrow is producing amyloids which are depositing in the wall of my heart, causing it to thicken and stiffen. Untreated, it would eventually make my heart unable to function any longer and I would have a median life expectancy of one year from diagnosis. Fortunately, I am set up for treatment, which expands my median life expectancy to four years. This does NOT mean I have four years to live. For those who've forgotten their freshman or pre-freshman (high school or junior high) math, a median means half the numbers fall above that value and half fall below. It is NOT an average.
In any case, I intend to live considerably longer than that. Everybody knows or has heard of someone who was told they had five years to live, only that was twenty years ago and here they guy is, still around and kicking. I mean to beat him. I sat down and figured out how long it would take me to write all of the books I currently have in mind, without adding anything new and without trying rush anything. The figure I came up with was thirty years. Now, I'm fifty-seven, so anyone my age hoping for another thirty years is asking for a fair bit, but I don't care. That is my minimum goal. I am going to finish those books, all of them, and that is that.
My treatment starts in about 2 weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where they have seen and treated more cases like mine than anywhere else in the US. Basically, it boils down to this. They will harvest a good quantity of my bone marrow stem cells from my blood. These aren't the stem cells that have Bush and Cheney in a swivet; they can only grow into bone marrow, and only into my bone marrow at that. Then will follow two days of intense chemotherapy to kill off all of my bone marrow, since there is no way at present to target just the misbehaving 5%. Once this is done, they will re-implant my bmsc to begin rebuilding my bone marrow and immune system, which will of course go south with the bone marrow. Depending on how long it takes me to recuperate sufficiently, 6 to 8 weeks after checking in, I can come home. I will have a fifty-fifty chance of some good result (25% chance of remission; 25% chance of some reduction in amyloid production), a 35-40% chance of no result, and a 10-15% chance of fatality. Believe me, that's a Hell of a lot better than staring down the barrel of a one-year median. If I get less than full remission, my doctor already, she says, has several therapies in mind, though I suspect we will heading into experimental territory. If that is where this takes me, however, so be it. I have thirty more years worth of books to write even if I can keep from thinking of any more, and I don't intend to let this thing get in my way.
Jim Rigney/Robert Jordan
Well, guys, the letter in Locus is indeed from me. I had hoped to be a little more focused with this and get a post up here before anything came out in Locus, or anywhere else public, so you would get it first, but I flat forgot that Charles has his on-line version of Locus now, too. Sorry about that.
Don't get too upset, guys. Worse comes to worst, I will finish A Memory of Light, so the main story arc, at least, will be completed. And frankly, as I said, I intend to beat this thing. Anything can be beaten with the right attitude, and my attitude is, I have too many books to write yet for me to just lie down. Don't have time for it. Besides, I promised Harriet I'd be around for our 50th, and that means another 25 years from this month right there. Can't break a promise to Harriet, now can I?
I had intended to go on with a few answers to questions when I made this post (I see some interesting ones), but that will have to wait, I'm afraid. I have a few other things to get done first. Maybe I'll be able to get that up this afternoon or tomorrow. No promises, though. Before I go to Mayo, though, I promise. And updates from the Mayo as I can manage.
Oh, yes. When the hair goes, with the chemo—as it is very likely to do—I'll post some before and after shots, just so people showing up in Seattle and Anchorage won't think we've run in a ringer. Yes, I plan to keeping those signings in late June. The chemo and recuperation should be finished by mid-to-late May, so I can make it. Hey, there will be big salmon running in Alaska at that time, and I never passed up a chance at big fish in my life.
Again, sorry that you got the news in such a raggedy fashion. I really did mean to handle things more smoothly.
Take care, guys. Until the next time.
All my best,
I've received some further acknowledgements of donations to the Mayo Amyloidosis Research in my name, and I'd just like to thank Ms Joanna Stampfel, Ms Lelon White, Mr. Ryan Kelly, Gospodin Dzmitry Ludzik, Mr. Steven Rowell, and Ms. Krisztina Radnoti. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Also, many thanks to all of you who have posted about your own experiences with severe illness and chemo. Chemo treatments are all different, but I appreciate your posts. You are all fighters, or you wouldn't still be here.
Well, I got the stem cells transplant yesterday, and so far all seems to be going well. I essentially have no immune system right now and have to wear a mask whenever I leave the hotel room, but I actually feel pretty good. Of course, they told me that would be the case. In 4 or 5 days, when my white blood cells count hits bottom, I'll start to bottom out myself. Doctor Hayman suggested I might get sick enough that I wouldn't want to dress any further than sweat clothes, but I won't give in that far. I brought along almost every French cuff shirt I have, plus a dozen pairs of cuff links and a dozen pairs of braces, and I mean to look as sharp as I can every day no matter how I feel. When the disease pushes, I push back.
Don't worry that I'll be keeping you up to date on exactly how sick I get or anything of that nature. I'd have to be a lot sicker than I am to do that.
I received some additional acknowledgments from the Mayo of people who have sent money in honor of James O. Rigney, so here goes. My deepest thanks to Mr. Michael Nemeth, Mr. Ryan Tibbetts, Mr. Steven Odden and Mr. Spencer Martin. I really can't say how much this means to me.
One thing I should point out is that you won't receive an acknowledgement, and you won't get one either, not from me, if you send money in honor of Robert Jordan. Their patient is James O. Rigney, and they don't have a clue in the world who Robert Jordan is. Well, most don't.
Now, just a few tidbits, since there really isn't much happening here. I'm reading an old Tom Sharpe novel, Ancestral Vices, while waiting for a cousin to arrive for a visit, and the book is hilarious.
Well, the appetite is beginning to slip, and last night was miserable. I wasn't sick, per se, but I felt as if I were about to become sick shortly and I couldn't sleep worth a damn. Oh, well. I'm still doing pretty well. I managed a good (if bland) supper last night and a decent breakfast this morning. I am beginning to look around for any possible sources of calories I can get down for the future. That does mean anything, dark chocolate bars, ice cream, peanut M&Ms, anything. I'm not looking forward to it. The last time I got sick enough to be on this sort of diet, I lost 13 pounds in ten days. I mean, I like peanut M&Ms, but how many of the bloody things can you eat?
For Egwene, yes, I read Ray and Janny's Empire Trilogy and enjoyed it. Harriet has been the editor from the beginning with these books, but she has never been a co-writer is any sense or I would have credited it. My women come from observation of women in the world around me ranging back to my family. You see, I started early. When I was no more than three or four my mother gave a garden party, and a friend of hers picked me up. It didn't feel like being picked up by mother or by a baby sitter. I remember feeling her soft summer dress slide against her skin. I recall the soft, floral scent of her perfume. My mother might have worn that perfume, but this woman did not smell as all like mother.
She bent to set me down, and her grip on me slipped. Now her dress was one of those summer dresses that buttoned up the front, and as her grip slipped, I slid down, burying my face in her cleavage. My head seemed about to burst with the scent of her. Then she had me upright again, and she laughed, and ruffled my hair, and called me precocious. Which I recall because I ran off to learn what it meant.
After that, I looked around at the boys and girls my age. When we were dressed differently, we were very different, but if we were all dressed alike, in khakis or cut-offs for crabbing or to help with the shrimping, there wasn't much difference at all in how we looked or acted. The thing was, I could see me growing into my father, but I could not see any of the girls growing into that woman who had picked me up. So I began studying these strange creatures. I'll say nothing of methodologies. I have spent more than one night being harried across the rooftops by a mob of women carrying torches and pitchforks. We say nothing of sickles, of whatever size. We will not speak of those.
In any event, along the way I came to some small understanding of a small part of what makes women tick, and this has allowed me to write women that women find to be real.
For Steakley, if you're still hanging around, contact email@example.com, and he'll give you a direct e-mail to me. Mike Ford is arriving today, and there are some others in line, but you'd be most welcome for a few days later on. Chattacon, now. That was long ago when the world was green, now wasn't it? As I recall, I handed your clothes over to the young woman behind the front desk at the same time that I reported the possible presence of a naked and very drunk (remember that Lone Star belt buckle, about the size of a Mack Truck tire?) exceedingly drunk Texan wandering the halls of the hotel. I did learn that the Chattanooga PD had a tranquilizer-gun team for dealing with bears and the like that got into the city, and it seemed to be that you certainly qualified, but she was ratcheted to a whole new level. At least I was able to talk her out of calling the SWAT; she had been told about the previous night, John. That sort of word spreads. Neither police departments nor fire departments nor municipal zoos keep quiet in circumstances like those. She took the garments using tongs, as I remember. I thought she had returned to them to you the next morning, though that might have been a different morning and the young lady from the night before. Ah, yes; the good old days of youthful innocence, when unicorn horn went for a dollar a pound.
Harriet just leaned over my shoulder to read and said, "Huh! You were never innocent, sport. And you were smuggling unicorns."
For Chris Dalby, I wouldn't think of playing tricks on the staff here. At least, not beyond occasionally, when someone asks me to spell my name for identification purposes, spelling it R-i-c-h-a-r-d N-i-x-o-n or the like. No more than that. These guys are trying to keep me alive.
And for David Litwin, I've been in Montreal before on tour, and expect that sooner or later I'll be there again.
Some of you don't like my striped shirt, and some don't like the braces but you'll have to get used to both, boys and girls; I like stripes, this simple red-and-white isn't even close to one of the full-bore stripes. With French cuffs. As for the braces, I adopted those some 20 years ago. A tailor in London was marking up the waist of a pair of trousers when I commented on the fact that I had trouble with trousers sliding down...and off "Sir has no shelf," he replied, and I realized he was right. I have very little behind. Hence the braces. Though I will admit that I have to go get these trousers taken up. When I bought them, I weighed approximately 30 pounds more than I do now.
I am sleeping about 20 hours a day, and feeling ready to go back to sleep as soon as I wake, but I feel good enough to try bringing you all up to speed on how things have gone. Some of this will be repeat work, so bear with me. Those who've been there can consider it a recap with maybe a little extra that wasn't there before. No jokes in here, or not very many. Just the straight ski-nay.
For Alessandra, amyloidosis of my sort means a heart transplant is really out of the question. The amyloids would just start depositing in the new heart and eventually wreck it, too. I don't think I could even get approved for a transplant for that very reason. Anyway, I intend to beat this thing, not just dodge it.
For a number of people who have pointed out the advances made lately, especially in Australia with fighting the amyloids related to Alzheimer's, those amyloids are quite different in type and location from mine. Some of the work crosses over, and some does not. As to whether these discoveries will have any effect for me long-term, we'll just have to wait and see.
Mario Plateau asks how can we deal with death, and Anne asks whether I am afraid of death. You deal with death the way you deal with breathing, or with air. Death is a natural and inevitable end. We all come to it eventually. I'm not eager for death, certainly, and I intend to fight it, but neither am I afraid of death. I made my accommodations with death a long ago, when I was a young man. Face to face with it, however, I have discovered a fear that never occurred to me all those years ago. When I die, Harriet will be left to deal with the aftermath. God, I'd give anything to spare her that. If I needed a reason to fight, that would be reason enough by itself.
Take care, guys. More soon.
Hi, guys. I was going to put up a regular post here today, but that is going to have to wait a few days. You see, Mike Ford died last night. To you, he was John M. Ford, two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, including for "Winter Solstice Camelot Station", the only poem ever to win the short fiction award. Or maybe you're a Star Trek Fan and remember his Star Trek novels, such as How Much for the Just Planet? (the only flat-out comedy among all the Trek novels, I think) or The Final Reflection, the only (to that time, anyway) Trek novel done from a Klingon point of view. What he was, frankly, was one of the best poets working in the English language and THE best writer working in the United States bar none. That ain't hyperbole, Jack, That was pure fact. And I only limit it to the States because I figure I'd better give the rest of the world the benefit of the doubt. They might have slipped in somebody as good. I don't follow their stuff closely enough to be sure. Somebody as good, maybe. But nobody better.
More importantly to me, though, he was my brother. He shared not even so much blood with me as Wilson, but Mike was still my brother. I don't say things like that lightly. Maybe not blood of my blood, but bone of my bone, and a son and brother of this house. For thirty years he came to Charleston to spend Christmas with Harriet and me, and sometimes Thanksgiving and maybe Easter. He was coming home for Christmas again. We'd made plans.
Christ, I miss him.
Sorry, Mike. I know you'd have preferred some clever repartee and a quip or three, but my quipper seems to be busted.
Well, I've been offline for a while, but I thought you had the news pretty well from Wilson, plus I needed to rest up, frankly, having had a stretch of in the hospital, then out of the hospital, in and then out, in again, and this time out on a Saturday so I could get on a plane on Sunday, have my tests done at the Mayo on Monday, talk with the doctors on Tuesday, then drive to Minneapolis to speak at Mike Ford's Memorial service. Frankly, I got home in some ways stronger than when I left, but in others, well, I was ready to lie down and sleep as long as I could get by without having an ice cube slid down my back. I really needed some rest, in my own bed not a hospital or hotel bed. And every time I've thought about posting here the last week or so, I just couldn't find the energy to do more the most cursory sort of entry, likely dull-witted with weariness at that, and I thought you deserved more than that.
You might find a small interest that I codified a list of things to be done once I have regained (1) over-all strength, (2) hand-eye coordination, and (3) some degree of balance. I am convinced that I will recover these things—the strength seems the easiest—and have even agreed, after some urging from Harriet, to submit my hands and feet to acupuncture! Go figure. Me, the Great Skeptic! Well, she's a cousin of sorts, through marriage—it can get complicated in Charleston—and she is fully qualified and all of that.
Anyway, the list.
1) Purchase Harley. I already have this picked out, as I think I've told you, and though Harriet SAYS she won't mind riding postillion, I'm figuring a sidecar is my future, too. That's okay. But not quite as soon as I hoped. It won't be under the Christmas tree this year. Maybe next.
2) Sky diving qualification. I'm not talking buddy-jumping strapped to some guy's belly like a kangaroo trying to escape from it's mother's pouch. I mean to take the whole nine yards so that I can walk into any place where such a thing is possible, rent a chute, rent a plane to take me up, and go jump, no questions asked. Wilson says we are too old, and my knees are too bad, for this sort of thing, but the thing is that having achieved that qualification, I doubt that I will ever use it. I will have done it, however, and that will be enough. When I was young, before my first tour in the Nam, I volunteered to airborne. I got turned down on account of bad eyes, and that is something I have regretted ever since. That I've held on that regret so long indicated something to me, because I have always operated on Lan's rule, bury your dead and ride on. I don't hold onto regrets. This one remains, however. So I will try to lay it to rest once and for all. Besides, I WANT to jump out of the bloody plane!
3) Take up ball-room dancing lessons with Harriet. Funny, after saying that I don't hold onto regrets, that I should come to this one straight away. You see, before I began having nerve problems with my feet and loss of balance, I was a pretty good dancer. Good enough to have 20-something guys complimenting me on my moves and women of various ages cutting in on Harriet to dance with me. It was also neat to be addressed on the street, sometimes by women I could swear I never met in my life, with cries of "Hello, dancer!" Well, I want that back. And, since I am completely untrained—I grew up poor; there was no childhood dance class in my background—I want to take the lessons because I want some dances, the tango, the rumba, the cha-cha, that you just can't fake. And not that Dancing with the Stars baloney, either. That is strangely entertaining, one might say weirdly entertaining, much like a train wreck involving Borat and Rush Limbaugh in clown makeup, but in most cases, the dances they do have no resemblance whatsoever to the dances they claim to be. Let them take their so-called tango to Argentina. And see if they can get out of the country alive. Anyhow, #3, dance lessons.
And 4) Take up golf. This something I had just begun to get into when things when blooey in general. You need balance to make a good swing, and I found out I have a pretty good natural talent for the game. My drives are straight—in two rounds with Wilson and his son, Jonathon, both golf fiends—I lost fewer balls than either of them, and if the length of my drives has been somewhat erratic, I was beginning to get that straightened out. I figure if I can get the occasional but not uncommon 200 yard plus drive without golf shoes, which means no proper swing, I can match and top and that with the shoes and with practice. It only needs the balance back a little. And you know, it's fun reading the greens for puts. I got a few tips from a pro who was earning some extra money by caddying at a club where I'd won a round in charity auction, and he had some wonderful tips for that.
So there you have it. Oh, finishing A Memory of Light, of course, and getting started on Mat and Tuon, and some others, five to ten years after the Last Battle. Those go without saying. Not a bad plan for the coming year, eh? And fishing. I'd like to call Billy Glenn and run up to Cape Romain, where the beaches are so pristine you can walk for miles without seeing a footprint not your own, where the truly big redfish, 40-pound, 50-pound, 60-pound, are cruising down the coast in the surf, too big to keep, of course, but great fun to catch and release, using circle hooks for survival of fish, and if a little time goes by without a redfish, then a 6 or 7-foot blacktip shark is sure to grab hold, leaping like a bloody tarpon. It's a great day's fun, with the wind cutting in directly off the Atlantic and nothing but water between you and Portugal. But Thanksgiving is almost here, and Christmas is acoming in, Lud sing God damn, with lots of house guests for each and also in between. No time for fishing. Unless I sink to trying an ultralight fly rod in the goldfish pond. I don't think that would play well with Harriet. Besides, there's no real way to get a decent backcast. I know. I've checked, and believe me, I can find a backcast in a china closet if one is to be found.
I think I need to put a few things straight about this whole shooting down an rpg in flight thing. First off, it definitely comes under do not try this at home even if you ARE an expert. Expert is defined as anyone who has tried it once and is still breathing. You see, there aren't many reasons to try such a thing. But when looking right shows certain death coming hotfoot, and looking left shows a crack in the wall that you couldn't scrape though one time in a million...one in ten million...you instinctively make a dive for the crack. Now I was very lucky. Very lucky. I just happened to be laying down suppression not very far from Mr. NVA when he took his shot, so I only has a small arc to cover. Just a quick shift of the wrist. Still, a lot of luck involved. When the pilot asked what happened, I just said an rpg went off prematurely. I figured he wouldn't believe what happened. Even some guys who saw it all from other choppers didn't believe. I heard a lot of "You know, it almost looked like you shot that thing out of the air" and "You were really lucky that thing went off prematurely. I never heard of that happening before."
Now there's the matter of actually seeing the rpg in flight. That came from being in the Zone. An RPG is a rocket propelled grenade, and it is fast, fast, fast. I've heard a lot of athletes and sportscasters talk about being in the Zone, but I think most of them simply mean they played their A-game. But they weren't in the Zone, because in the Zone, you don't make mistakes. None. I discovered this playing baseball and basketball and later football. You can't always get there, certainly not at will, but when you do.... What happens is that while you are moving at normal speed, everybody else, everything else, is moving in slow motion. Passes float like they were drifting through honey. You have all the time in the world to position yourself. And your vision improves, sharpens. The quarterback has carried out a perfect bootleg. Everybody thinks that fullback coming up the middle has the ball. But even if you didn't catch the motion when the QB tucked the ball behind his leg, you spot that tiny sliver of ball that just barely shows, and you're right there to meet him when he reaches the line. Maybe you drop him for a loss before he can get his pass off. In the Zone. That's the only reason I could make this play.
On another note, I was riding an M-60 on a pintle mount, not a .50 cal. We only had a limited number of Ma-deuces, and we had to be careful not to let any IG inspectors see them because we weren't authorized to have any at all. Don't know whether I could have done it with a .50, frankly. A matter of just that much more weight to swing, that much more inertia to overcome. It was damned close even with a 60.
[The next piece of conversation was between RJ and a guy from Russia. He started off asking how he liked Russia (since RJ went there before), and this whooooole thing got rolling. For the first part, I’ll just say that RJ has met some rather dangerous Russian mafia types (heh). Robert Jordan, a white-knuckled translator ready to wet himself, and a Godfather-type guy. “How do you know what you know?” Interesting picture there.
Second part: What everyone wants to know: RJ’s drinking habits.
When he was in Russia, he was surprised by the drinking there. Everyone says that Russians can and do drink a lot, he said, but he was amused that people kept telling HIM to slow down and eat before drinking. The man can handle a good deal. I mean, ****, he said vodka was like mother’s milk.
“When I was young, when I really used to drink”—Imagine if you will, the Creator himself, sitting at a table with a bunch of drunken buddies. There’s $4700 dollars on the table. Yes, this is a drinking game. At any point, someone can say ‘stand’. The drinkers have to stand up, hold their hands above their heads, spin around three times, and sit back down. If you become unable to do that, you lose. After TWO QUARTS of Russian vodka, everyone else is floored, and our man wins. Not only that, but he drags his drunken friend back to their room. He mentioned that he didn’t get undressed for bed that night (as if admitting some weakness from the alcohol).
He used to know all of 7 words of useful Russian, most of them curses (he repeated two of them, to the amusement of the guy he was talking to).]
I'll tell you. I learned to read at a very early age.
How old were you?
Four. I never read children's books. The first book I read by myself, the second half of it, at least, was White Fang. My older brother would read it to me when he was stuck babysitting and somehow or other I began making the connection between what was coming out of his mouth and the words on the page.
And I do remember. It must have a weekend, because it was the day and my parents came back and my brother put the book on the shelf and took off. He always read to me what he wanted to read, usually not children's books. And I wanted to know the rest of it, so I got the book back down and worked my way through it. I didn't get all of the words, but I got enough to do the story.
And I remember a particular incident when I was five, which is when I realized that I really wanted to be a writer. I had finished reading From the Earth to the Moon and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I put those three books on the table, standing up on end, and I sat in a chair with my feet on the chair and my chin on my knees and I looked at those books and said, "I'm going to do that one day. I'm going to write one day, make stories like that."
How did you get from there to the world of fantasy?
Well, the short version is that in fantasy you can write about things that you can't write about in mainstream fiction, or even in some other genres and still keep a straight face today. Right and wrong are taken to be simply two faces of one coin. It's simply a matter of looking in the same mirror, but you're standing at two different points, that there's no difference. And I believe that there is a difference.
You mean in fiction today?
Yes, yes. In so much fiction it is a great effort to show just how many flaws the good guys have and just how many extenuating circumstances the bad guys had. They had terrible childhoods and were abused children and suddenly you find yourself feeling almost sympathetic toward someone who is out and out evil. I don't like that.
I know too many people who had miserable childhoods—grew up in the slums and a ghetto and they did okay. They didn't come out bent. They didn't come out twisted, so I don't like that very much.
I think it's hard to tell the difference between right and wrong. Sometimes a situation comes along and the only choice you have is between bad and worse. But I believe it's necessary to make the effort to try and find a difference. The other way it becomes very sloppy and it's very easy to just make your decision on the spur of the moment, without any thought about what you are doing. You never think that it's right or wrong, or you never even think about whether you are choosing between bad and worse. You're simply doing something for your own advantage.
That attitude, however, is very much a reflection of society.
That is a reflection of society, and it is part of society that I reject. I believe that you have to make that choice. I'm not going to tell anybody what to think, I'm not going to tell anybody what to do or what wrong is, but I think you have to try to make that decision yourself. And it goes beyond simply what's good for me today.
I don't preach in my books. I just have my characters face some hard choices and have difficulty making their decisions. It's not always easy. It's not always cut and dry, and when somebody does something that is just for their own temporary advantage, to get a quick payoff, it doesn't always turn out the way they like it.
Do you manage to get this philosophy into your work?
Well, I try to. I try to. Again, what I am doing basically is telling stories. But I like to have my characters in what amounts to real life situations. That is, making hard decisions and finding out that the easy answer is quite often the wrong one, and that very often the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do. It's just a matter of fitting it into the story. I'm not preaching. I just try to reflect these situations and these things in the story.
RJ responded by saying that he, himself, found Perrin kind of boring, and he didn't understand why people liked him so much. But what really surprised him was that the most popular guy was Mat, the guy he had thought would be the most hated.
RJ then went into a minute-long tirade about how nice guys never get girls. He said that, while the girl might think she wants the good guy, she will always end up driving off with the guy in the Harley. Yes, he said Harley.
The third prequel would tell the story of how Lan and Moraine reach the Two Rivers and find the three ta’veren.
Also at Turin Jordan said that he has serious health problems .... if I remember correctly he was involved in a traffic accident and had a narrow escape (and this is why he now walks with a cane).
In addition, our Jordan also fought in Vietnam.
Thank you! I'm also glad for the chance to visit your beautiful city. I’ve been to not a few places, but this is my first time in Russia. Many thanks to the organizers of the Wanderer Fantasy Convention who invited me to St. Petersburg. And my special thanks to them for the opportunity to visit Peterhof and admire its magnificent fountains. Fountains have fascinated me since childhood ...
What is the proper way to address you?—Mr. Robert Jordan? Or Mr. James Rigney ... Or in some other way?
Call me, as we do it in America, just James.
Or Robert? ...
Robert is fine too. I'm used to it. I’m often addressed exactly so in meetings with readers.
By the way, how many names does the multifaceted James Oliver Rigney, Jr. have?
Not very many, but also not a few. Under the pseudonym Reagan O'Neal the historical novels The Fallon Blood, The Fallon Legacy and The Fallon Pride were published. The events in them takes place during the American Revolution, around my hometown of Charleston. The name Jackson O'Reilly is on the cover of the western Cheyenne Raiders. My critical pieces on theater and dance I signed Chang Lung. And under the pseudonym Robert Jordan the novels of the Conan series and the The Wheel of Time series were published.
I was born in 1948 in Charleston, South Carolina, where I live now, in a house built in 1797. My home town is famous because of the shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor during the Civil War between the North and South. My brother, older than me by twelve years, instilled in me an appreciation for books . And when our parents left him to the nanny, he read to me, not children’s books, but those that interested him—Mark Twain, HG Wells, Jules Verne. Along with Twain, my favorite writers became Louis Lamour, Charles Dickens, John W. McDonald. In the years 1968-1970, I served in the Army.
I flew in a helicopter as a gunner. Then I was a Sergeant and trained recruits.
On sorties, it most likely became necessary to shoot?
Yes ... But understand, on assignment you usually do not see people—you open fire as soon as you notice any movement, and do not think about it being a person. Otherwise, it is impossible—this is war, and the morals of a military person are other than those of a civilian: for a Commander the main thing is to perform his mission and save his soldiers. Reflection in the middle of a fight is dangerous—you will be killed before long.
Were you ever wounded?
Fortunately, no. A couple of times hurt ... Once, during a hard landing I knocked out teeth on the back of the pilot's seat in front of me. And another time a tiny splinter hit me in the eye. At first I didn’t notice anything and felt no pain, but then the blood flowed. Then the piece was drawn out with a magnet ...
Thus, the "Purple Heart" among your military decorations, right?
No—don’t even suggest such a thing! But there is a Distinguished Flying Cross for service, Bronze Star, and two Vietnamese Crosses for bravery.
Yeah, the bouquet* on a blazer really makes an impression ...
After military service I entered the Citadel—The Military College of South Carolina. Despite its name, it is, in fact, a university. At the Citadel I received a degree in physics and worked as a nuclear engineer for the Navy. Doesn’t it seem to you that that a fantasy author having an education in physics is somewhat out of the ordinary?
I would not say that. I know several Russian science fiction authors with an education in the natural sciences that have been successfully working in the fantasy genre ... By the way, we now come to how the writer emerged from the engineer.
Well, maybe there is more prosaic level—the abundance of free time. After an unfortunate accident I found myself in a hospital bed with a lot of time, and I read everything I wanted. And one day I thought that could well try to write myself. Having started writing in 1977, I’m determined to do so right up my dying day.
And why fantasy? Why not works about, say, the Vietnam War, which would seem more logical?
In my opinion, fantasy allows you to create new cultures, experiment with them, and apply a freedom to them that is impossible in the real world. Fantasy enables a brighter, clearer portrayal of the struggle between good and evil, allows you to speak more freely about what is right and what is not, and no one can say that your opinion doesn’t fit with what is generally accepted. And I think one of the cornerstones of fantasy is the belief that any obstacle can be overcome, and that if things did not work out today, they will tomorrow. Also in today's world fantasy concerns itself with myth, directing us to the deep layers of the human soul, and teaches people to believe in miracles ... The popularity of this literary genre is to a large extent determined by humankind’s aspirations for Justice...
As for books about war ... I have a desire to write about the Vietnam War, about my comrades, and I hope that God will give me this opportunity. And for myself, I decided that this book will be released under my real name—James Oliver Rigney, Jr. ...
No, the reason is simple. Once I put on a hat and my wife noticed that the hat worked well for me. I have worn them ever since. I like it.
All of your nine Wheel of Time books have a dedication—they are dedicated to Harriet ...
Yes, to my wife, Harriet McDougal, the light of my life. Like me, she has a connection to the Navy—her father was an admiral, and as far as literature, fantasy—she worked about thirteen years as an editor at the publishing house TOR. Then she became my first and most faithful reader and the first editor of my books. I am very grateful to her for help and support. By the way, Sergei Berezhnoi told me that you Takhir, took part in the translation of the entire Wheel of Time in Russian! So you can be called in some way my co-author! I am truly glad! Let me shake your hand.
Thank you, James! We will wait for your new books.
Thank you for your letter. I am glad you like The Wheel of Time, and hope that you will enjoy the future volumes, too. I am currently at work on book eight, which does not yet have a title, and I am scheduled to deliver it to my publisher in the fall of 1997. Both my editor and my publisher feel that I have been working much too hard over the past ten years—especially the last six—and that I need to slow down if I am not to fall over.
Thanks again for writing.
With best wishes,
RJ: mls [<—this means Maria put it together... hehe!]
The skinhead look seems to meet with a good bit of approval. Should I adopt that? Get the salamander tattoo and arrive at signings on a Harley. Fat Boy or Soft Tail? Not one of those new ones that try to look like a BMW, though. Maybe I should just go for a Japanese crotch rocket and blow into town at 200 mph. Well, even those need a little work to hit 200, but they'll leave a Harley in the dust for sure. No hate mail, please. I love Harleys, but I needed to go really fast, I'd be riding Japanese or Italian if stock.
Some of you seem a little confused over what I mean by a salamander. My walking stick for black tie has a silver head which most people think is simply a lizard with malachite eyes. Only close observation will show that the lower half of the lizard is actually flames. The salamander, the lizard that lives in fire. The ancients believed that asbestos was salamander skin, that salamanders were fire elementals, and even that salamanders were the guardians of the gates of hell. In any case, they have always been seen as symbols of survival under adverse conditions, able to walk through the fires of hell unharmed. Of course, a group of us were going to get salamander tattoos during an R&R in Hong Kong. I was too drunk to make the appointment, and I was the only one who made it back to the world, but I figure that was coincidence.
For Rachel, the phoenix is the female symbol of power in Chinese cosmology as the dragon is of male power, so a phoenix wouldn't do for me. Although there is a phoenix among the symbols carved into my Chinese chair, which you may have seen in Faces of Fantasy and elsewhere.
Deadsy, a backflap and footies? Never in life, my dear. Nor in death, for that matter. Also, chains and leather are so fifties, so post-Terminator, so rough trade. Not my look at all. I think I'll go a different route.
An aside. When I speak of so many million stem cells, that refers to that number per kilogram of body mass.
For Child of Lir, most hospitals by far in the US do not have wifi or first run movies. The Mayo Clinic is most definitely top drawer.
For Doctor, I've pretty much settled on channeling, if that is the proper word, myself. It seems to work. Although that first day, at lunch, I did slip briefly into Brando from Apocalypse Now, and I must say that afterward we could carry on a pleasant conversation at our table without any bother from brainless chatter from tables around us. I may keep that one in reserve.
That's about it for now.
Remember guys, Illegitimei no carborundum!
For Roxinos, you are exactly right. The correct phrase is Illegitimei non carborundum, and I can only blame inattention and a small keyboard on my laptop. Yes, I know that keyboards are so cheap I can buy one when I'm traveling and toss it when I head home, but it still makes one more thing to look after.
For NaClH2O, I like the idea of an Indian—my father rode one a long time back, and a fellow down the street has a magnificent red one—but I'm not sure Harriet would approve of a sidecar. I think she'll want her own bike. Lacquered in appropriate Wonder Woman colors and motif to suit her, I'd say.
I see that Deadsy is deep in discussion of my underwear again. Child, child.... Oh, well. A few words for your shell-like ear, Deadsy. Plain black or plain white, pure cotton or pure silk, but never red,or blue or any of those other suggestions. Those are for toyboys and pimps.
See you around, guys. And the last word for the day is, so far, so good. In fact, splendid.
My cousin Wilson came down last weekend, and we went up to the big Harley shop on Dorchester Road, the one where a floor about twice the size of a basketball court is covered with new machines. The walls climb and climb and climb, and all the way up, six or seven up, they're lined with glass-fronted shelves that are full of classic Harleys, antique Harleys, you name it. Okay; they have a few Indians and the like up there, but we are talking 98% Harley here, and gorgeous. Stone cold gorgeous. And that's before you go back into the area where the mechanics work, which is about half again as large.
I'm leaning toward a Fat Boy with a Black Denim paint job (as close to matte-black as you are likely to get) and a blacked-out engine (almost no chrome showing at all!). The balance is sweet, and if I get the backroom boys to work over the engine a bit, she'll dig in and climb for the stars, I'm betting. This is the machine you ride into town sliding down the razor's edge of midnight. By the time they know you've been there, it's too late. If anybody asks you, RJ's done been here and gone. Apologies to Josh White.
Harriet's fighting me on this one. Which is to say, she hasn't said one word against the bike, but.... Those of you who are married to smart women know how this routine works. Luckily, she hasn't made this a hill. (A man who expects a long relationship needs to chose carefully the hills on which he is willing to die.) We'll have to see how it works out. Time is on my side. It will be August or September earliest before I am strong enough to actually ride. By that time, she'll assume she's won just because I've gone silent.
I will, however, be in Seattle and in Anchorage as promised, so don't worry about that. I'll post a few "boiled egg" pictures in a day or two, though I have considered them long and hard. I don't think anybody will tell me how good I look or how cool or anything like that. This is one ugly dude, boys and girls. Stone ugly. Harriet can lie all she wants to.
Well, I'm out of here for now, guys.
We had a really great day together this past Saturday. Our dearest Harriet insisted that the boys needed to visit the local Harley shop to procure do rags for our chrome domes. RJ entered the showroom of gleaming road-ready American icons with a thunderous, "Holy Mamma! We're in Church!" Stopped people dead where they stood he did. Janet, my love and shade of my heart, found a camouflage do rag which the Vietnam Vet thought fit him most nicely. Then she happened upon a black rag with a luminescent blue pattern on it. She showed it to me and I announced that they were dragons. RJ's head popped from around the opposite side of the display and he queried quite like we were still adolescents, "Dragons?" Two left the shop and were soon upon our heads. Oh we did kick tires and discuss at length the merits of this or that bike. I longed for the Classic mid life comfort bike, bedecked of faring, chrome, CD player, et al. RJ offered that I might as well be riding in a car. In the end I think we were both eyeing the Soft Tail. But our favorite was the Fat Boy in a very stealthy new matte paint, Black Denim.
All the rattling about the Do Rags is for a reason. You, his loyal fans and supporters, know that this world that you so love has sprung from that amazing mind of his. Rand, for all his heroics is but a figment of my dear brother's imagination. RJ on the other hand, is now and has always been the Dragon. Seeing him wearing his dragon bedecked do rag only refocused me to that fact. When he called me with the news of the disease, he announced with calm resolve that it was there and that it was fatal. He also vowed to beat it. Heroes do that you know. He has shared the amyloid ordeal most openly with you all. Read between the lines of his postings and you will see that this was no small struggle. While he is setting all manner of records for an amyloid patient, we have yet to learn if the amyloids are truly gone for good. Time will tell. Pray, as I do, that they are. Dr. Hayman is truly of the Yellow Ajah. But, the medical treatments required to vanquish this unseen enemy damned near kills the patient. Thusly, RJ is back from near-death and reborn to us. Fantasy is just that. Reality is much more inspiring. I am here to proclaim loudly to all of you that my brother-cousin, my confidant, my friend, is indeed the Dragon Reborn. Long live the Dragon!
The first symptoms I am aware of occurred last Memorial Day. I was on my way to a charity fund raiser when I suddenly felt light-headed. I was afraid that if I did not stop, I would fall over, but since I was crossing an asphalt parking lot and didn't want to fall on the hot asphalt, I decided to keep going until I reached the grass on the other side of the street. I got there, but along the way, buildings began to glow white and everyone I could see acquired a nimbus. I made it inside, paid our entry fee (total elapsed time about 1 minute) and sat down for a while until I could join the festivities. A weird occurrence, but I paid it no further attention.
Exactly one week later I was in the lobby of the theater showing Spamalot, five minutes to curtain. I went light-headed, and then I went blind. This lasted for about 3 to 5 seconds. [The blindness has not reoccurred, but I have not driven since. Three seconds of blindness at 80 is nothing I want to fool around with.] A lot of people (exclusively women) have asked why I didn't go to the ER. The men I have talked to, including every male doctor, has understood. On the one hand, a night waiting in an ER and on the other, five minutes to curtain for Spamalot, original cast. A no brainer.
Still, on getting home, I went to my doctor, and she set up a full neurological work-up, a full cardio work-up, a full pulmonary work-up, everything she could think of. I aced them all. The techs started frisking me on the possibility that I was sneaking in a ringer. No ringer, but golden test scores.
Then I went on tour for Knife of Dreams. I came home expecting to be five or six pounds up from where I started (3 meals a day in restaurants for five weeks), but I was nine pounds up. My cardio man put me in a Halter Monitor, which you wear 24 hours a day and which records pulse rate, blood pressure, and a mini-EKG. This showed that I had an irregular heart-beat with roughly 1.5 second gaps plus low blood pressure. When low blood pressure combined with a downward spike in the BP, the result was light-headedness.
The doctor told me to load salt, and it was a good thing that he did. First off, I put on 15 pounds in 2 weeks. Then I had an episode of light-headedness while seated, which had never happened before. Harriet insisted on calling the doctor, who said to meet him at the University Hospital immediately. I was check in with what turned out to be congestive heart failure, a buildup of fluid around the heart. Once I was put on lasix, I lost 35 pounds in ten days. I also was seen by Doctor Zile, the head of the cardio department, because my cardio man had just gone on vacation. It turned out that he was med-school buddies with a man named Gertz, who is the #1 man in the world on amyloids. The result of that was that I was tested for amyloids (bingo!) and aimed at the Mayo Clinic.
Now, we're going to skip over a few things in here—my first mini-dose of chemo, two hospitalizations with dehydration, fever and chills so bad that it was taking me three or four attempts to grasp my reading glasses, etc. The reason I've taken you step by step this far is that I got my first symptoms in May, my first diagnosis in December, and a confirmation of that diagnosis in January. That isn't just fast, in the world of amyloidosis, it is blindingly fast. Many people take 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years to get to that diagnosis. I intend to start a small foundation aimed at educating GPs primarily. At the Mayo, they say that by the time they get an amyloidosis patient, said patient has been beaten up within an inch of his or her life. It shouldn't be that way. I got lucky, but it shouldn't depend on luck.
Okay. Back to the rendition.
After roughly a week of testing to see whether I was a viable candidate, they decided that I was. Then I began bone marrow stem cell collection. I was able to collect 9 million ml/kilogram of body mass, which I though was very low. They will do a transplant with a few as 3 million per kg body mass, but they don't like going below 4, and they will not, can not, go below 2. I had been hoping to hit at least 12 million and preferably 16 million or even 20. Not until it was over did they tell me that people with amyloidosis often have trouble harvesting 4 million, and some can't make the 2 million.
After this came two days of chemo. The drug used is melphalan. The old fashioned name is mustard gas. Yeah; same-same World War I. On each of those two days they give you just short of a lethal dose of mustard gas. There is nothing haphazard about this. They calculate exactly what it will take to kill you and stop just short of it.
This is the point where I got my hair cut the first time. You see, movies notwithstanding, if your hair does fall out, it comes in chunks and patches, not smooth sheets. I figured I'd keep control of what I could keep control of and had the barber do me with a razor.
On the third day, called Day 0, you get back some bone marrow stem cells. Your appetite has already gone away by this time, but you haven't really noticed it because you've been hooked up to an aphaeresis machine for stripping out the stem cells. If you were a non-amyloid patient, they would give you more injections of growth factor, they same stuff they gave you to make you produce extra stem cells in the first places. Not if you are an amyloidosis patient, in which case the growth factor can make you put on 30 to 40 pounds of fluid in a day, in which case you are hauled off for congestive heart failure. This while your blood numbers (white blood cell counts, platelet counts, red blood cell counts etc) are headed through the floor. Not a good thing, as they say.
I've said that your appetite goes away during this, but this isn't a matter of just hunting for what you'd really like to eat. You don't want to eat anything. Nothing. Your favorite food? Forget it. You try to force something down, try to get some calories down. Protein powder, whatever, you choke it down. Only it still isn't enough.
I went to the Mayo weighing 240 pounds, and that was 6 pounds lower than my trainer and I had established as my dry bottom weight. This morning I weighed 217 for the second morning running, and I am ecstatic. I didn't loose anything.
I'm very grateful to those of you who sent Harriet a care package. More grateful than I can say. She showed it around, laughing sometimes. And sometimes crying. You see, she's still afraid she could lose me. We won't know whether any of the treatment did any good for at least six months, and probably not for a year. Until then, we hang on and fight. Her as much as me. She's my whole corner team, cut man and all. Leaving the Mayo wasn't the bell to end the fight. That was the end of Round Five, and Liston made it a nasty one. (I've alluded to it earlier, and I'll let it go at that,) But I beat him back, got inside his rhythm by the end of the round. Is he ahead on points? Am I? I don't know. I just know we're fighting by the old rules. None of this 12 round kiddy stuff.
"Welcome to the Garden, Ladies and Gentlemen, for at least fifteen rounds of cham-pi-on-ship boxing. By prior agreement, this fight cannot end in a draw. The match will continue until one opponent either cannot come out of his corner to answer the bell or cannot answer to the mark by the count of ten."
(And we got one of Marciano's old refs, so don't worry it's going to be stopped on cuts. This guy figures if you step into the ring, you expect to bleed.)
Anyway. The pictures are not for life-style options. When I can grow the hair back, I will. The goatee may stay, but not the shaved head. The tattoo, maybe. The Harley? Oh, yeah, I'm pretty serious about that. Harriet seems to leaning to riding postillion.
Well, that about wraps it up for now. I'll be back to you in a few days.
Take care, guys.
All my best,
So yes, I was disappointed. However, I would NOT let my disappointment sully my chance to exchange a few words with this excellent author. I welcomed him to New York, and then told him I hoped he'd had a nice weekend here, even though it did nothing but rain.
He said he always liked New York; he'd taken in a show, had some nice meals, and visited his godson in New Jersey. "That's good, I'm sure it's nice to be able to see family on these things," I said. Then, I once again wished him enjoyment on his tour, and I left.
I know what it's like to be in the middle of a battle and I know what it's like to have somebody try and kill you... I can put that in. There's a balance between the moments when you can look back and say that was a magnificent thing and when you say, 'What the hell is going on here?' In the aftermath you're so relieved you're still alive that you can walk among the dead laughing, and people who haven't been there will say that's insanity. It's not; it's the sort of thing that happens...
Which presumably makes it easier to understand characters' motivations in combat?
I try to get into their heads. Sometimes it's difficult—it's hard for me to imagine being a five-foot three female, but I work at it and think I've done a fairly effective job. When I was touring for The Dragon Reborn a group of women told me I'd settled an argument they'd been having about whether Robert Jordan was a pen name for a woman!
But I can get into anyone's head—I'll walk out of my study and my wife will say, 'Been into someone nasty today, haven't you?'
Robert Jordan scores big with his tenth Wheel Of Time novel—but is he really Tolkien's heir?
Robert Jordan has lived his whole life in Charleston, as did his forefathers. It is his home, and he is very attached to it. He and his wife (and editor) Harriet have considered a host of other cities, many with brighter lights than our own, but they always come back to Jordan's roots.
Another thing that sets Jordan apart from Tolkien is an ever-present sense of hope—something that has kept readers reading for 7,000 pages and will keep them reading 'til the end of the series, which Jordan says will take a minimum of two more books. No matter how bad the odds are against his characters, no matter that the world draws ever closer to its final battle with the Dark One, Jordan slips in enough events to stop readers from becoming fatalistic.
Tolkien, on the other hand, was a profound fatalist himself. And, indeed, while his characters did, for the most part, achieve their ends, there is a sense of bittersweetness that pervades his works. His attitude is evident even in his relationships with the young children he left at home while off fighting World War II (and dreaming up his master work). Speaking metaphorically of the war with the Germans, he wrote his youngest son Christopher, saying, "We are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. ... The War is not over (and the one that is or the part of it, has largely been lost.) But it is of course wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on; and it is no good growing faint."
It would be hard to picture Jordan announcing that wars are always lost to a young child; instead, he has a childlike sense of wonder and enjoyment of the world around him that his predecessor lacked.
Growing up, he'd often told about lining up I think Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Jack London, and thinking, "I want to write books."
He joined the Army in 1968 and served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.
He returned to begin college at The Citadel as a veteran student and took a job as a civilian nuclear engineer working for the United States Navy.
And it was during this time that he took a hard look at his life and decided to become a full-time writer.
He was in the hospital with a blood clot when he did the famous—the thing so many people talk about doing—he threw a book across the room and said, "I can do better than that." He wrote something called Warriors of the Altaii. I read it, and...no, it wasn't what I was interested in. But it showed he could do it. So I gave him a contract for a book that became The Fallon Blood. We'd been seeing a lot of each other. He brought a tiger claw from Vietnam to show my son. Will came running upstairs to my office one day and said, "Mom, he'll take me to see the Star Trek movie." And I said, "Can I come too?" And he said yes. And I guess that was our first date.
She edited Jim, and they fell in love, and they got married, and we all became friends.
I haven't played any of them, but my family and friends who have tried them gave them good reviews. I rarely play games, truth to tell; I tend to play chess on my machine.
Have you had any experience with role playing games?
Back when my son was little [Editor's note: he is 34 now], we played with his friends and I was the storyteller.
How long did that last?
About three years.