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."
Logged In (0):
Newest Members:johnroserking, petermorris, johnadanbvv, AndrewHB, jofwu, Salemcat1, Dhakatimesnews, amazingz, Sasooner, Hasib123,
I'm making progress on these A Memory of Light edits, slowly but surely. It's a lot more time-consuming than other books I've edited for several reasons. First off, I've got a lot of input coming in from Charleston. I receive feedback on every chapter not just from Harriet, but from Alan and Maria as well. It's all very good advice, but it's like juggling three editors on the same project, each with different specialties. The sheer organization of it all can be daunting sometimes.
Recently—today and yesterday—I spent producing some new material for the first time in a while. One of the issues with revisions like this is that sometimes, Harriet and the others point out holes in the story which require new scenes to patch properly. As such, I've been 'spot writing' so to speak, crafting new scenes. Some are holes I knew were there and intended to patch, others were holes I left thinking that they would be all right—that readers would make the leap from one scene to another without the bridge scene. In one case, it's a scene I hadn't realized everyone would want to see, but they really do, so I've started work on it. I expect this to continue for the next few days, so you might see the main "A Memory of Light" progress bar inch up a few points. It's at 110% right now. (Which means 440k of completed manuscript, not counting some scenes that Mr. Jordan worked on that haven't yet happened in the chronology.)
The basic estimate for the final length remains the same as it has since about last summer. 750k words. I'll let you know if I think that needs to be revised, but I really won't be able to guess until I've completed more of the manuscript. As I've warned, also, keep an eye on Dragonmount and Tor.com for official announcements related to the Wheel of Time. I'd guess that something will pop up in the next several weeks.
This weekend I'll be in Atlanta for JordanCon. I'm expecting to be so busy with the convention that I didn't set up any kind of external signing. I'm still thinking of heading to Atlanta for DragonCon this year, though, and if I do, I'll try to do an off-site signing for those who are interested. However, if you really want something signed—or want to hear about A Memory of Light (including, I believe, an advance reading from The Gathering Storm) come by JordanCon. I think it's going to be very fun.
The Gathering Storm goes very well; I'm still working through last-stage revisions from Harriet, Alan, and Maria. I finished Alan's today and sent them off to him for commentary. Harriet's are almost all inputted, and I'm about 3/4 the way through Maria's. I should have this all wrapped up by the time JordanCon rolls around.
Harriet is a world class editor–she really is great at what she does. I’ve had several opportunities to meet with her in person–she, and Mr. Jordan’s staff, are awesome. His two assistants, Maria and Alan, are continuity experts and went through my completed manuscript pages fact checking and giving feedback on general issues as well. I had worried that having three editors on this project would make it more difficult to work on, but so far it’s simply been a big help. There is so much going on in this book and this world that having the extra sets of eyes is very helpful.
I’ve really enjoyed the process. At the beginning, after I read all the notes and explained to the team my feelings on the various outlines for the different characters, Harriet pretty much let me call the shots when it came to the actual drafting of the novel. As an editor, she works best when I provide material to her, then she works her magic to turn it from good to excellent. When I turned manuscript pages in, and she came back to me with line edits—where she goes through and tweaks the language of the book—it quickly became obvious what a pro she is and how much she loves this series. It’s truly an honor to work with her.
I've got a good story for you. One time, I was trying to keep track of everyone who was with the character Perrin. You guys know Perrin. So Perrin's off doing this thing, and one of the biggest challenges of writing the Wheel of Time books was the sheer number of characters. Not the main characters—I know the main characters, they're my friends, I grew up with these people, I know them just like hanging out with my high school buddies—but keeping track of all the Aes Sedai, and the Wise Ones, and you know, the Asha'man, and all these various people that are all over the place and saying, "OK. Who is with Perrin and who is with Rand, and who is..."
Anyway. I sent an email off to Team Jordan. You know, Harriet and Maria and Alan who are the... They were two editorial assistants that worked directly with Robert Jordan. Maria and Alan. I think it was Alan I sent an email to, and I said, "Do you have just like a list of everybody? I can go compile one of my own, I'm planning to do it, but if you have one already that says, 'These are the people who are with Perrin.' If you've got something like that." And he said, "I found this thing in the notes buried several files in." And things like this. "Here. I found this. Maybe this is what you want." And he sent me this, and it was called "with Perrin." I thought, "OK. Perfect." I open up this file and it's actually not what I wanted. Instead it is dozens of names of people who haven't appeared in the books yet. These are all the names of all the Two Rivers folk who are with Perrin. Like there are two hundred or so. Just names. Listed off. That have never appeared in the books. Sometimes with their profession, and a little about them, and things like that. And it just blew my mind that there was all of this detail that Robert Jordan had put into this world that nobody sees—and he wasn't planning for them to see. He's not going to have a big list of names in the final book; he wasn't planning that. He just needed to know their names so that he knew that he had them. And this is the level of detail and world-building that Robert Jordan did. I got a big chuckle out of that. Just, list of names. Then I started stealing them like a thief so I had good names that he had come up with, that I could use in the books.
Are you using them for other characters or using them for people...
I'm mostly using them where he intended them to be. Because he had other lists of names for... As the book has progressed and I've discovered these little notes files... Because the notes, there are huge, massive amounts of notes. We say there are about two hundred manuscript pages of stuff done for Gathering...for A Memory of Light. The three books. But beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands of words worth of just background notes, of world-building notes, of things like that. When we say the notes for the book, we're talking about actual specifics to A Memory of Light. But there are hundreds of thousands of other notes; there's just too much for one person to even deal with. So I let the two assistants dig through that. And so once I found out that there were lists of names, I started getting those files so I could use his names in places where we had them. So that I would have to name fewer and fewer people. Because his naming conventions are very distinctive. And, you know, I don't think... I think if you were to read, you could probably tell which names are mine and which are his, because we name things differently. And I'm trying to use his wherever I can, just to give that right feel to the book.
Heh. That's more or less it, but . . . let me tell you a story. One day, many years ago, I went into Jim's office. While there, I mentioned some problem that I was having (I have no idea what it was; it was that long ago). Jim immediately proceeded to give me chapter and verse on what to do. I answered that I was going to think about it more, and then went upstairs to my office. A few minutes passed, and then there was the booming "Maria!" from the bottom of the stairs. I went out, and he said that he was sorry for going all patriarchal on me, that I was a grown, capable woman and that I should do what I thought best. I hadn't even thought twice about it, but he was worried that he had overstepped his bounds. Therefore, I hesitate to call him a patriarch. He was our leader.
So we all worked together. It's a strange little group, sort of random, but not really. Harriet was at my wedding; she appears in some of the pictures taken. Jim may have been there (really, most of that day is a blur in my memory), but he was probably off writing. Marcia was once my husband's boss. She and I share the same birthday, and almost no one can tell us apart when we answer the phone. Alan's son went to the same school as my sons; I became friends with his wife before I ever met him, and he later coached my son's tennis team (It was at a tennis match that his wife suggested he might be interested in working with us). We're coworkers, yes, but we are friends too. We watch out for each other, and we've always joked that we're more like a family than a business. Dealing with Jim's illness brought us all even closer. We pulled together, and supported each other. And yes, it very much did help us when he died, and since.
How difficult has weaving Towers of Midnight around The Gathering Storm been? Is there a large amount of inter-connectivity? Do we cross back on any events in The Gathering Storm?
Yes, we do cross back on events in The Gathering Storm. The trickiest part was timeline. Robert Jordan had this innate ability to juggle timelines. This is not something he relied on Maria, Alan, or Harriet for; it was something he did on his own, just part of the genius of his brain. All of us are pretty new at this. I mean, I wrote Mistborn chronologically. There wasn’t any time juggling. There was time juggling to do in Elantris, but it was across the course of a single novel. It didn’t get as extensive. For the Wheel of Time, timeline things that Robert Jordan kept in his head are quite incredible, and I have to admit that I’m not as good at it as he was. Perhaps someday I will be able to get to that level, but for now I’m simply not. So working with the timeline has taken a lot of effort. I think we’ve got it so it all worked out. It took a lot of help. Maria, Alan, and others all worked together with me to get things arranged—some of our beta readers were extremely helpful in this—but there is a lot of juggling back and forth. You will see some events from different perspectives. It is not a complete jump back like book ten was. I would say that the book is mostly new material with a few glances at other things that are happening, but we’re moving forward; I’d say 60% of the book is taking place past what happened in The Gathering Storm. And then there’s one timeline in particular where we jump back and catch up—that’s Perrin’s timeline. But it was really challenging.
The evening began with the amusing sight of Brandon Sanderson piling various items of furniture on top of one another to create a home-made lectern for his laptop. Following a brief aside on the difference between a lectern and a podium (and how this plays into the editorial process), Brandon read from a novella he’s recently written. [Legion] Apparently, he started it on the flight back to the US the last time he came to the UK. He couldn’t work on the Wheel of Time since he was awaiting the outcome of some research on the notes. He went on to explain that Robert Jordan left a pile of notes roughly half Brandon’s height that his two researchers dip into when Brandon needs an answer to one of his questions. This is normally quick, but it can take several months to come up with a fully researched answer. The reading lasted about eight minutes and seemed to be from the beginning of the novella. I won’t spoil the concept, but it’s clever and deeply silly.
The evening then moved to a Q&A. Questions and answers are paraphrased from my notes and memory, so they won’t be absolutely word-for-word, but they shouldn’t be much different from the original conversation. I’ve included all the questions, not just the Wheel-related ones.
From dinner re: balefire philosophy:
Talked to Brandon at the Stormleader dinner last night. He had a few things to say on this topic:
1. The bruises on Min's neck were not an error. After consulting with Team Jordan, it was determined that indirect effects remain. Rand was the one who strangled Min, not Semirhage directly, so the bruises stayed.
2. Brandon knows of two ways to destroy cuendillar. But he would not confirm if the Domination Band that Rand was wearing was made from cuendillar. He said it was not relevant to what happened.
3. The bracelets did not disappear when Semirhage and Elza were balefired because they were not considered to be intrinsic to their person. It would be the same if someone was holding a book and was balefired, the book would drop to the floor.
I'm sorry I don't have more specific WoT posts for you—I know that Harriet prefers me to be more closed-mouthed. However...
Maria from Team Jordan has finished her revision notes for the entire book, as has Harriet herself. So we're only waiting on Alan's notes.
As he's playing "Great Captain" for me on A Memory of Light, his notes are vital—and he needs to be detailed. When I get them, I can finish revising.
Sooooo...there might be a sooner release date than the current for January?
It is possible, but I don't know how likely.
Darn, I need to haste to be ready for A Memory of Light once it releases. Is there gonna be a ebook version along with the physical book?
(Winces.) Harriet has a distrust of ebooks; she prefers to delay the release. It is her call. (Ebook is a few months later.)
Do we have chapter names yet? Or do you know how many chapters there will be? Or is that a secret?
No chapter names yet, as it won't be until this draft is finished that I settle on the number of chapters. Some are being combined.
I'm truly hoping this book is 1/3 battles/fights.
More than 1/3, I'd say...
Forgive me for not understanding, but what does this mean? Release date's not going to change, is it?
Probably not. It's just a progress update, so people know things are still moving behind-the-scenes.
How's The Stormlight Archive coming? I need more.
A Memory of Light comes first. I will get to the next Stormlight book soon, but not until A Memory of Light is done to my satisfaction.
So this means we will be reading the final volume sooner than first announced?
It is possible, but I don't know how likely. I still need to do two drafts, I feel. Then there are beta reads, then proofreads, then we need at least two months to get the books printed and shipped.
What does it take to be one of the beta readers?
Be one of the major members of fandom for years, and personally know Harriet. (Sorry.)
Team Jordan update: We’ve been getting a lot of questions about Brandon’s note that Harriet and I are finished with A Memory of Light, and Alan is almost finished. “Finished” here refers only to the first draft. The same day that I finished A Memory of Light, I started A Memory of Light (the second draft, or at least the portion of the second draft that Brandon has sent us). Harriet has already completed that section, and is ready to move on when we receive more. Alan should finish the first draft this week, and he will immediately begin again too. We’re not by any means truly finished with the book—we’re all working very hard, and we trust that Brandon is too. We want to get every detail right, and that takes time. Don't worry; it's worth waiting for.
He was given complete freedom to write, but that he was in constant contact with Maria and Alan about details. He compared it to a broken vase, much of it could be glued together but there were places where there were holes that needed to be filled in.
Maria interjected with the fact that there are well over 1200 files that are at least several sentences long and many many more that are shorter than that.
There was some back and forth with Harriet and Brandon about the writing/editing process. Harriet said a good editor never tells an author how to write. Brandon said that he actually writes the book for Harriet and it’s Harriet’s job to perfect it.
Harriet wins. Harriet always wins. Usually what happens is that there'll be...if Harriet says something, we just do it. The only time when there's questioning is when I disagree with Maria or Alan, and we both kind of make our arguments. We do these in-line edits with track changes in Microsoft Word; we'll have whole conversations there, where I'll say "This is why I think this character would do what they're doing," and Maria would come in and say, "This is why I think you're wrong and they wouldn't do this," and we'll have big discussions, and Harriet'll make the call, and then I'll do it as Harriet says, 'cause Harriet knows the characters better than anyone.
And so there are times when I've been overruled—it happens on every book—and there are times where Harriet said, "No, I think Brandon's right," and Maria and Alan—her superfans—disagree, but the way that fandom works, we all disagree on things. You'll find this, and I disagree with some people on how character interpretations will happen, and things like that. Some people, for instance, don't think my Talmanes is true to Jim's Talmanes. Things like that. That's the sort of thing we're arguing over. It's very rarely over main characters, but it's like, "Is Talmanes acting like Talmanes would?" And I read the character one way, and some people read the character another way, and I just have to go with my interpretation, and if Harriet says, "No, this isn't right," I revise it. If Harriet says, "No, this feels right to me," then we just go with it.
Was there ever a case where you and Maria and Alan had a difference of opinion and Harriet had a completely different take?
That all four of us had a different take? Yeah, that's happened; that's very rare but it has happened. We're trying to piece together something that's...there's always this consideration of "What would Jim do?" But there's also a consideration of Brandon as author, not knowing what Jim would do, what does Brandon think needs to happen narratively? And there are some things where I, reading the books as an author, say "This is where he was going." "No, he didn't say it in the notes." "No, it's nowhere in there; he doesn't make mention of it." "This is where he was going; my understanding of story structure, plotting and things, and I can say, you know, as sure as I can say anything, that this is what he was going to do." And, you know, sometimes Maria and Alan, they look at the notes and say, "No, that's not at all what he was going to do; look what the notes say." And I say, "No, that's not what they're saying," and we have arguments about that too.
There's lots of discussing going on. We're all very passionate about the Wheel of Time. It'd be like getting Jenn and Jason from Dragonmount and Matt from Theoryland together and hashing out what they think about where Demandred is, or something like that. There are gonna be lots of passionate discussions. I think, at the end of the day, that makes the book better, and the fact that we have kind of...Harriet tends to just...if she has a feeling, she lets us argue about it, and then she says, like...you know, 'cause she's the one that would sit at dinner and discuss the characters with Jim. None of us did that, and she did that for twenty years, so...yeah.
I've generally written most of the flap copies on all the books. The flap copy is what's on the inner side of the cover of the hardcover, on the dust jacket, the stuff that says "So-and-so..." I remember one of my favorite ones was when I went and..."Siuan Sanche is suspected of barn-burning, in her tattered straw hat." But I was writing the flap copy for The Dragon Reborn, and at the end of the flap copy, I said he is pulling the sword from the Stone... "You son of a gun, you've done it again!" (laughter) But I honestly hadn't figured out it was the sword in the stone. And it really did surprise me, even though I'd been all the way through it, and had edited it, and was writing that flap copy.
Do you have one Maria?
Yeah. It's not a huge one, but we were working on Knife of Dreams—I almost said Knife of Daggers, and I was like, "I know that's wrong." (laughter)—and I got to the part at the end, where Perrin whacks Rolan, and I went running downstairs..."Oh my god! You killed Rolan! I can't believe you killed Rolan!" And Robert Jordan says, "What? He was toast from the start!" (laughter)
Do you have one Alan?
No, I've pretty much nailed it all along. (laughter)
We all tell the truth, all the time.
One of the scenes I keep coming back to that very much impressed me was when Perrin cut off the limb of the captured Shaido, which was a scene...it was surprising, because this was a fellow who had been resisting his lower urges, if you will, all along, but his love for his wife was so great that we saw the degree to which he would push himself to save her, and it's the first inkling we had of what kind of stuff Perrin was made of, up to that point, I think.
Peter, do you have one?
When Demandred was revealed to be... (laughter) (applause)
That's not nice!
Um...sorry, I got nothing.
Well, the first thing is that Brandon writes, and...you could talk about that, Peter. I don't really know much about Brandon's writing process except that it tends to be at night. (laughter)
Well, for those who aren't aware, Brandon...(sigh)...Brandon tends to stay up until four o'clock in the morning writing, and then he gets up at noon. So he gets up at noon, and then he writes from about one to five, and then he is with the family until bedtime for the kids, and so from about...I guess he starts writing again at about eight, and then he keeps going until four. Some of you may be interested to know that he has a walking treadmill desk, so he does a lot of his writing standing up, walking on the treadmill (laughter) and when he's not at the treadmill, he's got multiple fireplaces around the house now, so he's usually in front of one of those.
Are they wood-burning, or gas, or what? (laughter) I love fireplaces!
Uh...they are gas fireplaces.
Yeah, those are fun. Then Brandon gives us the first draft, and some bits are rough, and some are polished. And we go through it with our three various combs. Mine is characters and prose. Maria is continuity. I am not. (laughter) And she's a wizard at that, and Alan is a military wizard. And notice it's...I guess sexist, to give him the boy's stuff. (laughter).
I get all the alcohol as well. (laughter).
That's just 'cause he's lucky.
And Alan does Old Tongue and geography as well, because I kinda stink at both of those.
And I just kind of lose my temper with the geography. (laughter) And then, we get this stuff, and with this book, we're doing a better...it is a better thing we are doing for our country this time. (laughter) We send our combined nit-picking to Brandon section by section, and right now he's had...what did I send you last week? Five?
Six! I'm in eight; so is Maria. (to Alan) Where are you?
Seven. And we'll wait until Alan has finished eight before it goes back to Brandon, so that he doesn't lose his mind, and nine is followed only by the epilogue, so we're almost through. And then Brandon will send it back and there will probably be more animated conversation (laughter), and this time it will include words from Brandon that sort of say, "But you said..." (laughter) And we'll work it out, and we hope to have it in New York June 15th, and that might seem like a long time for January 8th. Believe me, it's not. And it will...is Paul Stevens here? Yeah, hey Paul! This will save...if we can do it, it will save the coffee cart from adding Prozac and Gelusil in massive amounts, right?
But it might be...there is [?] [whispered conversation with Alan, something about June 15th]
Scary, isn't it? (laughter)
That's the goal.
It is in two months.
But, we don't think Brandon really needs to sleep. (laughter)
There are a couple of things that Robert Jordan did, like...there are many things he did better than I do, but there are two things that he did amazingly better than I do that have been really hard to try and approach. The first one is his mastery of description. I...prose is not....you know, I do serviceable prose. I don't do beautiful prose in most cases. I occasionally can turn a phrase, but he could do beautiful prose in every paragraph, and that's just not one of my strengths. Pat Rothfuss is another one who can do that, if you're read Name of the Wind; it's just beautiful, every line. Robert Jordan I felt was like that, just absolute beauty.
The other thing that he was really good at was subtle foreshadowing across lots and lots of books. And it's not something I'd ever had to do before, unless you count my hidden epic, and I had never had to try and approach that level of subtlety, and it was a real challenge to try and catch all of those balls that he'd tossed in the air and he'd been keeping juggling. In fact, I would say, one of the most challenging parts, if not the most challenging part of this, was to keep track of all those subplots and make sure that I was not dropping too many of those balls. And you'll be able to see when you read the books which of those subplots were really important to me as a fan and which ones I was not as interested in, because some of those, I catch less deftly than others, and some of them I just snatch from the air and slam into this awesome sequence, and some of them I say, "Yeah, that's there."
And that's the danger of having a fan that does this. There were so many of those things. Fortunately, he left some good notes on a lot of them, and in some of them I was able to just slide in his scenes, and in others I had to decide how to catch that, and what to best do with it. But there's just so much. So much undercurrent going on through the whole books, through all of them, and so many little details in the notes that it's easy to get overwhelmed by it. Fortunately I have Team Jordan, Maria and Alan, to catch a lot of those things that I miss, but even with them there are things he was doing, that we don't even know what he was planning to do, that we just have to leave as is, and let it lie rather than trying to wrap it up poorly, because we don't know how he was doing to do it.
What do you want to know about the process? I sometimes have to be vague about what I did and what RJ did, as Harriet prefers people to read the books and enjoy them without spending a lot of time trying to pick out the differences between our styles. I can try to answer a few questions if you pitch them at me, though.
I don't have any questions, I just wanted to thank you for all of your hard work and dedication that you have put into finishing this series.
I picked up this series about 10 or 12 years ago, and being in Randland helped me get through some tough times. I was very sad when Jordan died, and when Harriet made the announcement that you were going to finish the series, I must admit that I had my doubts.
So I figured I would take a look at your work, and picked up Mistborn. That book was awesome! So after finishing the trilogy, I was like "Ok, this guy can write, he is the perfect pick to finish WoT."
I wanted to jump in and start reading The Gathering Storm, but by that point it had been a while since I had read Knife of Dreams, so I went back and started at the beginning, and when I got to the books you wrote, I was very impressed.
There were so many good moments in The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, I don't know where to begin. The one that stands out the most in my mind is Mat's story at the end of Towers of Midnight.
Anyways, I'm really looking forward to the release of A Memory of Light. You rock, Brandon Sanderson!
tl;dr: Just wanted to let Sanderson know how much it means to me that he has done such a stellar job in completing one of the fantasy series that is near and dear to my heart.
It has been an honor.
I've read things before from you saying that you received a lot of written guidance as well as ideas that hadn't been fully fleshed out by Mr. Jordan to help you take the stories towards the conclusion he'd always had in mind.
Once you had worked through the stories that Mr. Jordan wanted to be told in your head and got down to writing, was there anything that you really wanted to include or thought would have a special level of awesomity but felt that you shouldn't because it went against (or would probably be against, under different circumstances) the ideas Jordan had?
For clarification, did you ever feel like a character should experience something that Mr. Jordan hadn't mentioned or had clearly discouraged? Or feel that something should happen that Mr. Jordan hadn't conceived or didn't want?
This is a good question. Yes, there are things I'd have done differently—but out of respect for Mr. Jordan's desires and the integrity of the series, I haven't done them. For example, I like to use magic in ways that Mr. Jordan didn't. You see me playing with this a little bit in my use of gateways. There are many things possible with weaves (particularly since you can tie them off) that I feel exploring would have changed the focus of the stories in ways I don't think Mr. Jordan would have wanted.
One thing that specifically came up once was me wanting to delve more into the Heroes of the Horn. The Wheel has always turned, and time is infinite. If people can occasionally be added to the Horn, that would mean that the number of people tied to the Horn is also infinite unless people get unbound as well as bound. I wanted to explore this idea—in conversation only, this isn't a plot point—but was persuaded by Team Jordan that RJ wanted nobody ever to be unbound, and that exploration in this direction would go against his vision for the world.
Thank you for your answer, I've never had the pleasure of interacting with you directly before, although I am making my through your series of lectures on YouTube (that I've always assumed you consented to?) which are truly very informative.
You mentioned that there are aspects of the world of the WoT that you would like to explore in ways that Mr Jordan wouldn't. Would you be interested in writing spin off books, perhaps with different characters set in the same universe/world? Regardless of your interest in doing something like that, would you ever be allowed to?
On a slightly related note, do you feel that there are any aspects (characters, magic, unexplored possibilities etc.) in the WoT series that have since influenced your other writings?
The main reason I haven't done things like this is because it's not my world, and I feel it should remain closer to RJ's vision. So, even if I were to do spin offs (which I don't think will happen) I would feel the same constraints. My goal has never to be to turn the Wheel of Time into something else; there is plenty of room in my own work to explore magic as I like to explore it. In the Wheel of Time, the magic is RJ's—and should remain true (as much as possible) to his vision.
I would say that RJ's work, and my experience on the WoT, has taught me a number of things. RJ was far more subtle in some of his plotting than I am, and I'd like to think that seeing that has helped me learn to be better in that area. I also like how wonderful his third person limited viewpoint can be, as proven by Mat. (See the other answer I gave.) The way he shaped a narrative to the character giving it is amazing, and has influenced me greatly.
Thanks again for the answer. I'm going to be far more conscious of Mat's narrative from now on with that answer!
Tactical use of gateways is honestly all me. I hadn't even played Portal before I wrote these books. I have since went back and played it, and they're doing some of the same fun stuff. That was me from years and years ago as a guy who likes magic systems reading the Wheel of Time books and saying, "If I had gateways, this is what I would do." In fact, I had built up some magic systems using things like gateways that I will never be able to use now, because I got handed the master magic system with gateways.
Team Jordan was somewhat uncomfortable with my use of gateways, in a lot of ways. They felt I was pushing them. But my response back was that I didn't want to push the magic system in other ways; I didn't want to be inventing a lot of new weaves. I didn't want to be doing a lot of things like that, because I felt it would be taking the system too much in the directions I take the Brandon Sanderson systems. I really do like Robert Jordan's magic system, but I wanted to take some of the specifics that had already been done, such as gateways, and say, "Here's where you can extrapolate with them."
As for other things that have been discussed in the fandom—I certainly wasn't as big a part of the fandom as I am now, not anywhere near it. For instance, I didn't care about Asmodean until I started talking to other Wheel of Time fans, and it was a big deal to them, and so it became a big deal to me. There are certain things that through fandom and talking to other fans you tend to rally around, that I kind of wanted. One was a reunion between Tam and Rand. There are other things like that, that for a long time we'd been waiting for and we'd talked to each other about, and we'd imagined what they'd be like. Those sorts of things did influence me; I had to be really careful not to be too influenced though. Being too influenced would lead me to put in lots of inside jokes, things like Narg—that would have been letting the fan in me run too wild. So I did have to rein that in.
It’s hard for me to separate the years of talking about the Wheel of Time with friends and reading about the Wheel of Time from what I eventually ended up doing in the books. Once I did start working on the books, I didn't go plumbing through fan forums looking for things that should be included. I specifically stayed away from things like that, though I did suggest to Maria at times that she should watch and see what people were expecting, so that we would know what things we were not going to end up fulfilling, and could be prepared for them.
How do you keep track of all those characters?
Lots of use of online resources. Also, Maria and Alan are invaluable assets for that. Brandon told a funny story about trying to figure out who was with Perrin, and Maria pulled out some notes from Robert Jordan that had a list of every single person from the Two Rivers that came with Perrin! Brandon also said he thinks there are more than 2800 named characters throughout the entire series.
Couple of the questions asked that I can remember:
I asked about the graphic novels, because I wasn't sure how far that project was going to go/how well-received it was for Harriet, but she seemed pleased enough with them. She said that there was a good team of people working on them and that they were working closely with Maria and Team Jordan.
(Brandon took a moment to point out that the bookstore also carried the graphic novels, and someone at the back found one on a shelf and held it up for demonstration.)
There are, what? What are we up to, like 2800 named characters in the Wheel of Time? [laughter] It's more than two thousand; it was more than two thousand when I started, and it was like 2400 or something like that when I started, and I've added a few. So, how can we keep track of all of these characters? That actually is when people ask me, what the hardest part about this was, I often say that that was the hardest part. It's not just keeping track of them, because actually keeping track of them is somewhat easy; there's lots of fan resources, which I use. The Encyclopaedia-WoT is my favorite, though tarvalon.net runs a very nice Wiki which goes more in-depth and things. And keeping track—that's the easy part. The harder part is, Robert Jordan gave them all voices, right? Everybody talked in their own way, and was their own person, and when, you know, Perrin is traveling with like three random Wise Ones, they're all individual personalities, and so before I could write a scene, I had to go back and remind myself, how each of these three people...what their attitudes were, and how they spoke, that sort of thing. It was very difficult.
I don't know if you—I mean, I tell this story; I don't know if you guys have heard this before—but the level of detail Robert Jordan went into in the worldbuilding...there was one point where I was working on Towers of Midnight, and I sent an email to Maria saying, "I can't keep track of who is with Perrin. Do you have just a list somewhere?" And I was really just meaning the Wise Ones, right? And, you know, named characters. Maria comes back and says, "Well I just dug this out of the notes; I hadn't seen it before. Maybe this will help. It's a file called 'With Perrin'". I went, "Oh, good." And I opened it up...no, that's not what it is; it is the names of all the Two Rivers folk who haven't been named in the books yet. [laughter] ...who are traveling with Perrin, and often a little bit about each of them, and a list of several dozen names of people who haven't been named yet. That's the level of detail we're talking about with this, and it was a challenge; it was a challenge on all of us.
Fortunately, we did have Maria and Alan, who we should mention—Alan Romanczuk, who is also one of the assistants and very good at this sort of thing, and I would focus my writing, particularly in first draft, on just getting the emotional content of a scene down, right? Get the narrative flow down, make sure it's working, and I would try to get all the voices of the characters right, but I wouldn't worry as much about continuity. I would then send it to Maria, and she would send back this thing with all of these notes saying, "Oh Brandon. Oh Brandon, you can't do this." "Oh Brandon, you killed her." "Oh Brandon..." You know, stuff like that. You see her shaking her head over each of these things. And then we would try and fix all of the problems caused by that, and that's kind of how it went.
Excellent question, and the answer is it developed over time. Specifically, after I read that ending, I started to reread the whole series—the first time I'd read the series knowing I was going to be part of the series which...you have to approach it very differently, knowing you're going to be a part of it. And I took all of those notes, and I reread the series, and I built an outline using Robert Jordan's scenes as touchstones. A lot of times when you're building an outline—even Robert Jordan who was more of a discovery writer, I heard from Harriet did it this way—you kind of plan your book like you would plan a road trip, where you know you're starting in D.C. and you're going to end in San Diego, and outlining for me is putting in between them all the road markers of places you're going to go, and so I laid down this map where I said, "Okay, here's a scene he wrote; let's go there. Here's another scene he wrote; then we'll go there. Here is another scene..." and I used those as my touchstones to get me across this map toward the ending.
And I then had places where there were gaps, where I didn't know what happened in between, and that's where I would fill it out. "This is what I'm going to do here..." And I actually did a lot of that with Harriet and Maria and Alan in Charleston where we sat down, and I actually got big sheets of butcher paper—because I can be a visual thinker at times—and I would start with a character and start writing down where I thought they should go, and pitch different things to them. And I usually had a couple of different ideas, and they'd say, "Oh, this feels right; this doesn't feel right," that sort of thing. And together, we hashed that all out for all three books, because they were one book in our head then. One very long book, but one book. [laughter] And I then took those sheets of butcher's paper and typed it all out into a big, massive outline, which then I used across the next five years, working on the books, as my data post, and I used that to point me toward that ending. And that's where it came from.
Oh, boy. So, the story is, I was a fan of the series—I picked the first one up when I was fifteen, and that was in 1990—and I'd been reading them all along; they are part of what inspired me to become a writer. I eventually broke into publishing myself in 2005, and two years later, Robert Jordan passed away without having finished the end of this series that I'd been following all along. And, like a lot of fans, I was heartbroken. I mean, we'd [inaudible] almost twenty years of following these characters. And one day, I got a call on the phone. I had not applied for this; I didn't know I was being considered. It was his wife. I didn't know her, but she had read my book—she had read my book Mistborn—and she had heard that I was a fan of the series, and had looked into some of the things I'd written, and then she just said, "Would you like to finish it?"
Now, this is a major best-selling series; I'm a newbie author with a couple of books out. It was like getting hit by a freight train. And there's all this continuity and all these characters....it was a massive undertaking. I was scared out of my wits, to be perfectly honest, but honestly, I almost said no because of that, but there was that piece of me—the fan—that said, "Look, if you say no to this, and someone else comes along, and they do a bad job, it's going to be your fault, Brandon." So my own conscience was like, "I gotta do this. If Robert Jordan can't do it, they're going to have somebody do it. I've gotta do it." So I threw myself into it, and you know, the most interesting thing is, how have I done it? Well, I've had great resources, and part of those are fan resources. What the internet allows us to do with Wikis and things like this is, the fans have gotten together and created these detailed outlines and chronologies and all of these things, which have just been wonderful. You don't expect that, you know, but the fans do a better job than we do, as writers, sometimes, of keeping track of all of these things, so I've relied on their resources.
I do think I've been able to do some fun things with the series, as a fan, that I've been wanting to do, from reading it since I was a kid, but that's actually a weird things because, as a fan coming on, I had to be careful. You don't always want to do what the inner fan wants you to do; otherwise it just becomes like a sequence of cameos and inside jokes. So I had to be very careful, but there are some things that I've been wanting to have happen, and the notes left a lot of room for me to explore. I did get to have a lot of creative involvement in it; it wasn't just an outline, which has been awesome. You know, if it had been mostly done, they would have been able to hire like a ghostwriter to clean it up, and they didn't have that. They needed an actual writer, and so there are lots of plots I got to construct, and as a fan, that's awesome.
But he did write the last chapter. He wrote it before he passed away. He was very dedicated to his fans—there's great stories—he was on his deathbed dictating, and I have those dictations where his cousin Wilson is sitting there with a tape recorder just listening to him, and I got all these things passed on to me. It was really an interesting process. I was actually handed about two hundred pages, what would become 2500. Yeah, 2500. It's multiple volumes; it got split into three books. But, got handed two hundred pages, and in these are scenes he wrote, dictations that he did, fragments of scenes he worked on, little comments he made, Q&As with his assistants where it says, "This is what's going to happen, this is going to happen..." I just describe it like, "Imagine there's this beautiful Ming vase, and someone puts it in a paper bag and smashes it up, dumps out half the pieces, hands it to you, and says, 'Alright. Build the vase exactly as it was going to be, as it was before.' " That's kind of been my job on this.
Let me start by saying that if they hadn't been happy, it wouldn't be in the book. But anything where you work with an editorial team, you'd show them a scene, and they may say that's great, or they may say that it doesn't feel right or wouldn't be a good fit for the story. And sometimes you'll say "I'll change it" or "let me finish this draft, and we'll see what it looks like at the end". As far as the gateways, I felt it wouldn't be realistic otherwise. I've wanted to do with gateways since I was a kid, doing things like I showed in the book. If I had them, what would I do with them? I asked this when I was a kid, so there was a lot that I wanted to do with gateways that were in my own notes that I wanted to do that I couldn't do in my own books, so I stayed away from things that the Wheel of Time had done. So when I got to write WoT I broke out those files. The gloves were off; it was time to do things that I wanted to do but didn't want to rip off the Wheel of Time. At the end of the day, I convinced them to do it. They kept saying "they're all over the place!" so I said "if you could use them, you'd use them a lot". I didn't intend it to be a shout out of any kind, it's things I've wanted to do with gateways for like 15 years. It wasn't a shout out to the fandom. It's been an interesting experience. A lot of people think that I just wrote what the fans thought, but it's things that I felt the characters and the world would do, and if the fans happened to have talked about it, it's because it's what I thought would happen. In fact, as I wrote the books, I read very little of the fandom in order to prevent those exact thoughts from taking root.
During and after the signing, we had the discussion with Brandon about Dannil Lewin. Originally, Dannil had actually gone with Rand, Perrin, and Mat from the Two Rivers on their journey, and played a major role in events of book 3 or 4. In the end, Harriet convinced RJ that it may be better without Dannil, so some of Dannil's comments in A Memory of Light are a shout out to that of sorts. Just a fun story I thought you all might find interesting.
(Prefaced his answer by reminding everyone to avoid spoiler questions, and made it clear that this one did not cross that line) When I began to work on the books, I felt that with each book, it seemed that Robert Jordan usually took a side character and made them more of a main character. As I was outlining the series, I decided I wanted to take a side character and make them into more of a main character, but there wasn't a specific person in the notes designated to do that with. But I felt that we really needed somebody at the Black Tower, because of all the things going on at that time in the notes, and we needed another viewpoint there.
During my second trip to Charleston, this would be April/May of 2008, we used big sheets of butcher paper, outlining what was going on with these as a visual aid. I wanted an Asha'man to have a sequence of major viewpoints. Maria and Alan, who were Robert Jordan's assistants, and are now Harriet's assistants, chatted about it a moment and said you should use Androl, because there's not a lot about him, he's pretty much a blank slate and you can go wherever you want with him, which was really exciting for me. I then pitched the Talent of gateways for him, and they liked that.
Shortly after I got home, I got in the mail a printout or photocopies, of magazine or book pages from Harriet about leatherworking, and she had written on it, "I know that Jim had planned to use this in the book somewhere, is there anywhere that you can fit it in". Well I'm developing this character, let's make him a leatherworker. So I used that in building the personality of who this character was, and in that way, there was some of Robert Jordan in the character, even though I was taking a blank slate and going my own way with him. And that's where Androl came from for the last three books.
I actually should probably do a few frequently asked questions as well. For those wondering, there is an encyclopedia in the works. (applause) This was something that Harriet's been working on for years, and (to Harriet) I'll just let you mention about it, if you would.
I started keeping a list of proper nouns with The Eye of the World. I didn't know what I was up against. (laughter) Because I began, just keeping the list, without any chapter references, with The Great Hunt I began adding chapter references, and every book since then has been combed through. The last book, we had an intern, and we said, "Yeah!" (laughter) "You can code the names, and please put in when they die, what chapter, if anybody dies."
So anyway, this thing has been in progress from the beginning, and it will take us a year to figure out exactly how to organize it, what to leave out, what to add in. As Brandon has said, there are 32? 38,000 pages of notes. The entire series is ten thousand pages, so there's a lot of stuff in the notes. Brandon tried to put it all into one document, and when it got to that far, his computer stopped counting, and then it crashed. (laughter) So there's a lot of material.
Yeah, it wasn't even funny. My poor little laptop's like, "What have you done to me?" (laughter) I thought, you know, because Harriet's often said, "Oh there's more notes than there are words in the entire series combined," and so I thought, "Oh, I'll find out exactly how many there are." No, I didn't find out how many there are; I just crashed my computer. But yeah, she has said that some of the things from the notes will end up in the encyclopedia, some tidbits and things that you don't already know, so that means I can still RAFO questions when you ask me. (laughter)
...and I got that first RAFO part, which was then answered in this book. And I was wondering if that question that I gave to Robert Jordan so many years ago, and he gave that wonderful answer, was the reason [?] or was it...[?]
(laughs) You're dog girl. Yes, you are! I will say...there's an inside joke here. Once, this wonderful young woman asked Robert Jordan what would happen if you balefired yourself through a gateway, and what exactly did he say?
He said, "Young woman, I need you to go have an affair—with man, woman, or German Shepherd; it doesn't matter. Either way, you need to get a life." (laughter, applause)
Now, I, uh...(laughter continues)
I also happened to then, several years later, marry a man who also read, and this is our daughter Aviendha.
I don't have one either, and I'm worried...my big question was always about gateways, and when I began reading the series, as soon as I discovered them, I started to think about what would happen, cause I'm a magic system guy, right? And I'm like, "Oooh, what could you do with this? What could you do with this?" In fact, I started taking notes on what I could do, and they sat there in my notes file for years and years because I eventually started moving away from things I had seen done by other authors, and that meant, specifically the few things I was most interested in in the Wheel of Time. I didn't end up ever writing a magic system using. gateways and the World of Dreams, the way Robert Jordan had it. I avoided these things intentionally. And yet I had all these notes of things that I would like to have done, if I ever did a magic system with them.
Lo and behold, I got that opportunity, and so I found ways to....when I got the project, I didn't want to come in and make any sweeping changes—that wasn't my goal—but there are some places where I felt it appropriate to add some of my touch to the books, and one was with the gateways. I didn't want to be spending a lot of time doing anything with the magic system, you know—inventing a lot of new weaves, or anything like that—but I did want to expand some parts.
And so I actually....I went to Charleston, and we needed a new viewpoint character, specifically someone in the Black Tower—we hadn't had...we didn't have the right viewpoint character for the Black Tower—so I said, is there an Asha'man you guys think that I could take over, so to speak, and really flesh out and make into a more...you know, elevate a side character to a medium level character, which is something Robert Jordan frequently did in the series, and they came to the decision that Androl was the person that I should take, and I gave him the gateway Talent because I wanted to explore what happens with gateways.
And so, right there....we are all on the same wavelength; it wasn't necessarily me trying to answer your question. It was me answering questions to myself as a young man reading the series, wondering a lot about gateways. And so, Androl was a lot of fun.
In fact, there's another story there. At one point, I'm working on the series, and I get in the mail this envelope—it's a manila envelope from Charleston, and in it are a bunch of photocopied pages, and Harriet has written on the front of them: "Jim planned to use this somewhere. Can you fit it in?" And what it was was a detailed explanation from the viewpoint of a leatherworker about how one goes about using leather, and leatherworking. And this is the sort of detail, craftsman-style sort of things that Robert Jordan really liked to find places for that sort of detail in the books, and meanwhile, I've been sitting here trying to build a character for Androl, and I'm like, "Okay! I've got a place for it." And that's how Androl became a leatherworker, is from that stack of pages from Robert Jordan; it was just a photocopy of a leatherworker talking about their work.
So, there's some Androl stories. And so the answer is, it's half to you, but it's mostly to me (laughter). It's to both of us.
The answer is a complicated one dealing with the creative process. One part of the answer is I had a lot longer to get ready for it than you did. In fact, I was building the outline from this out of Robert Jordan's notes.
We talked about the notes. I was handed two things by way of notes. One was a stack of 200 pages. And this is the writing Robert Jordan did for the last book, and including the Q&As he did with his assistants, where they would say, "Okay what's going to happen with this character?" And he would talk about it for a page or so, and they would actually just record that, and then they transcribed it for me. And so that's what those 200 pages were. And then there was a CD with all of this five million words of other stuff, which I would spend my time reading, but which would have taken me years and years and years to read through all the way. And so fortunately I had Maria and Alan working on that. It was real interesting because a lot of this is stuff like 'Chronology of events for Book 5', which there had been a lot of things like that, and then there'll be hidden little tidbits in there.
But anyway, I was building the outline by rereading the series, taking the 200 pages—because we knew those were the scenes that he wanted in the book—and out of those two things I build the outline for the 800,000 word novel that I was planning. (laughter) So I used that. And I got very—I got time to come to grips with what was going to happen in a lot of the books. I had years to come to grips with it. It doesn't mean it wasn't an emotional time when I wrote it. We don't talk a lot—intentionally—we don't talk a lot about what was Robert Jordan and what was me. We don't talk a lot about where he decided characters needed to go, and where I decided characters needed to go, and where Harriet decided on occasion. But there were some long phone calls, where I would call and say, "This needs to happen. This is going to be really painful, but this is what the book needs." And we would talk it over and decide how to work it in and where it would go and how it would come about. Some of those conversations were tear-jerkers, but the Last Battle doesn't happen without some tear-jerking moments.
But beyond that, of course, the idea that it was all coming to an end, right? That this was years and years and years of effort, and years and years and years of reading, coming to an end. And that was emotional in and of itself. So, I've now had six or seven months. It finished for me July/August-ish when I handed off the document to Maria, and she took over the copy edit, and the continuity—you know, tweaking little continuity things. From there on, I couldn't change anything—I could write to her and have her change things. That's when the book was done, to me. And I've had all that time to get used that idea, also, of the book being done. And so, yes it was emotional, but I had so much more time to deal with it than you did.
Who was the most challenging WoT character to write?
Mat was the most challenging, the second most was Aviendha. He explains that it is hard to write about someone so different than yourself and the Aiel culture seemed the most unique in the series. Of Rand's three women, Aviendha is Brandon's favorite. He recalls that after writing his first Aviendha scene, Harriet read it and then told him that it was a "picture perfect Elayne." Brandon went on to discuss how he has to write his way into his characters. Vin, in Mistborn, was originally a boy. Lots of his early work on The Gathering Storm was scrapped by Harriet because Brandon wasn't "there yet" with the characters.
He then goes on to discuss the volume of notes left by Robert Jordan. There are about 200 pages for A Memory of Light and then there is roughly 32,000 pages of other notes for the series, three times as large as the entire series put together. Brandon tells of how he tried to open it once and it crashed his computer because the file was so large. He also wants to commend the enormous efforts of Alan and Maria for their help in managing all of the details of the series.
I'm not sure what I can say here that will be all that interesting. While I was working on the outline for the book (what eventually became the books) Harriet found something she'd forgotten about until then. It was a photocopied stack of sheets from what appeared to be a magazine about craftsmanship. In it, a leatherworker went into depth about what he did in his art. Harriet had written across it "Jim planned to use this somewhere." We didn't know where.
Previously, in visiting Team Jordan, I'd suggested that I would enjoy having an Asha'man character who had previously been a side character that I could make into a main character. I wasn't planning to add any other characters in significant roles, but I did want an Asha'man to add some viewpoints in the Black Tower. Beyond that, I wanted as a storyteller to have a character I could use that had very little baggage, one I could develop fresh. It's something you will often find me doing in my own books, something Jim himself did, in expanding a side character in later books of a series.
They'd suggested Androl, who was basically a blank slate in the notes. I took him and made him my gateway-Talented Asha'man, and the leatherworking sequence seemed to work very well with how I'd been developing him. And that's how the Androl of these later three books came to be.
The second time through I made sure I was last in line. There was one guy who tried to be last until I convinced him I had more questions than he did. He was asking stuff on behalf of his friend David who was ill and couldn't be there. He video-recorded it and asked Brandon to address David personally because it would 'make his world'.
Robert Jordan...did he lay out all the war tactics for you, because he is a war historian, or was...
Actually, David, no he didn't; he didn't have an opportunity to do that. He indicated that it was supposed to be a big, long battle for the last book—basically all battle—but he didn't give us much of the tactics. There are a few things that he put in there, that he told us to do. But what we did is, we went to several experts that Harriet knows, and asked them for suggestions, and then we relied on Alan Romanczuk, who is part of Team Jordan, and we had him outline the battle tactics, which I then used to tell the story.
Okay, good. Thank you. And another question:
When you got his notes, were they digitized or was it a big stack of papers?
It was both. I got them in digital form—the bulk of it was in digital form—but they had printed off about 200 pages of them for me, which were ones that were relevant specifically to the last book, which turned into three.
Okay, and the final question is:
Are there any—and I'm sure you get this question a lot—are there any plans for any aspect of the Wheel of Time universe to keep going, maybe in another story?
No, we are not doing any more books. Robert Jordan specifically didn't want more books being written, so we feel it's best to both respect his wishes and stop while we're ahead. That doesn't preclude video games from being made, and so we perhaps may see films or video games or sort of things like that that will tell some of these other stories, but as for fiction, it is done. So, thank you for the questions, David, and thank you for reading.
A movie would be irritating, because it would just ruin it. They could never capture it.
Was Robert Jordan's original draft of that as bloody as the way it came out?
A lot of the deaths, he didn't write any of the actual death scenes, he just indicated who lived and died. I just upped the ante somewhat. I wasn't going to have the Last Battle come without substantial losses, and so, where he didn't instruct me, this person lives, I had some measure of, yeah. And so, I did up the body count. I know he was planning to kill off a number of characters, but he also, killing people, and letting them stay dead was not one of Jim's strong suits. He was very fond of his characters, and I know there were lots that he was planning to kill. I don't think that he would have killed as many as I, maybe. I don't know. It's what we felt the story needed, in talking to Harriet and Team Jordan. Maybe he would have. I did what I thought made the best story.
So there I was, sitting beside Robert Jordan's computer, looking at printouts of his notes, and feeling supremely overwhelmed. You might wonder what was in those notes. Well, in preparing to write this piece, I went to Harriet and (as I'd often promised fans) asked if it would be possible to release the notes, or to at least speak specifically about their contents. (I still someday want to do a series of blog posts where I take scenes from the notes, then compare them to scenes in the finished books, with a commentary on why I made the decisions to change them that I did.)
In response to my question, Harriet pointed out that work on the encyclopedia of the Wheel of Time is still in progress. She and Team Jordan haven't yet finished deciding what tidbits from the notes they want to include in the encyclopedia, and she thinks now is not the time to release them. (Or even for me to talk about specifics.)
Therefore, I can't talk about many specific scenes. Instead, then, I want to talk about the general process—which might be of more interest to many of you. You see, as I've explained before, the "notes" aren't what people assume. I was handed two hundred pages of material by Harriet, and this is what I read that first night. Those pages included:
Written sections by Robert Jordan: Robert Jordan was a "discovery"-type writer, meaning he tended to explore where he wanted his story to go by doing the actual writing. He didn't work from an outline. Harriet has explained that he had a few goalposts he was aiming for, big events he knew would happen somewhere in the story. He didn't know exactly how those would play out until he wrote them, but he knew what they were. Otherwise, he would write and explore, working his way toward his goalposts and discovering many parts of his story as he worked.
Robert Jordan was also not a linear writer. From what I can judge by the notes, he was one of the relatively more rare breed of writers who work on a scene as it interests them, no matter where it may be in the story. It seems like he'd often dig out a file and write a short time on it, then stick that file back into the notes. The next day, he'd work on a different place in the story. It's possible that as he started work on a book in earnest, however, he progressed in a more linear fashion. The largest chunk of actual writing he left behind was for the prologue of A Memory of Light, after all.
However, from what Harriet has told me, he did not show his notes to people, nor did he show them early drafts. Even Harriet often wouldn't get to see early drafts—she says what he gave her was often draft twelve or thirteen.
In the stack of notes I was given were all of the scenes he'd actually written for A Memory of Light. Together, these were about a hundred pages. I can't tell you everything that was in there, not yet. I can speak about the things I've said before, however. One thing in these notes was the ending. (This became the epilogue of A Memory of Light, though I did add a couple of scenes to it.) Another was his unfinished prologue. (I split this into three chunks to become the prologues for the three books, though I did add quite a few scenes to these prologues as well. Scenes he'd finished, mostly finished, or had a loose first draft of include: the farmer watching the clouds approach in The Gathering Storm, the scene with Rand seen through the eyes of a sul'dam from the prologue of The Gathering Storm, the scene with the Borderlanders on the top of the tower in Towers of Midnight, and the scene with Isam in the Blight at the start of A Memory of Light.)
Also included in this stack of scenes were a smattering of fragments, including the scene where Egwene gets a special visitor in The Gathering Storm. (Dress colors are discussed.) The scene in Towers of Midnight where two people get engaged. (The one that ends with a character finding a pot in the river—which is a piece I added.) And the scene at the Field of Merrilor inside the tent where someone unexpected arrives. (Much of that sequence was outlined in rough form.) I've tried to be vague as to not give spoilers.
Q&A sessions with Robert Jordan's assistants: Near the end, Mr. Jordan was too weak to work on the book directly—but he would do sessions with Maria, Alan, Harriet, or Wilson where he'd tell them about the book. They recorded some of these, and then transcribed them for me. Most of these focus on someone asking him, "What happens to so-and-so." He'd then talk about their place in the ending, and what happened to them after the last book. A lot of these focus on major plot structures. ("So tell me again what happens when Siuan sneaks into the White Tower to try to find Egwene.") Or, they focus on the climax of the final book. The bulk of this information gave me a general feeling for the ending itself, and a read on where people ended up after the books. A lot of the "How do they get from the end of Knife of Dreams to the climax of A Memory of Light?" wasn't discussed.
Selections from Robert Jordan's notes: As I've mentioned before, Robert Jordan's larger notes files are huge and have a haphazard organization. These are different from the notes I was given—the two hundred-page stack. My stack included the pages that Team Jordan thought most important to the writing of the book. They did also give me a CD, however, with everything on it—thousands and thousands of pages of materials.
Though you might be salivating over these, the bulk are not things many of you would find interesting. Each version of the glossaries is included, for example, so Mr. Jordan knew what they'd said about given characters in given books. (These are identical to the ones printed in the backs of the books.) There are notes for many of the books, things Mr. Jordan used while writing a given novel in the series, but much of this ended up in the books and would not offer any revelations to you. There is, however, a great deal of interesting worldbuilding, some of which ended up in the books—but there's also quite a bit here that will probably end up in the encyclopedia. There were also notes files on given characters, with the viewings/prophesies/etc. about them that needed to be fulfilled, along with notes on their attitude, things they needed to accomplish yet in the series, and sometimes background tidbits about their lives.
Maria and Alan had spent months meticulously combing through the notes and pulling out anything they thought I might need. This was the last chunk of my two hundred pages of notes, though I was free to spend time combing through the larger grouping of files—and I did this quite a bit.
To be continued.
At this point, I sat down with Team Jordan. In case you don't know the members of this group it includes:
Harriet: Robert Jordan's editor and widow. She discovered him as an aspiring writer in Charleston after moving there to raise her son from a previous marriage. (She didn't think NYC was the place to do it, and she had inherited the family home in Charleston.) She was encouraged by Robert Jordan's writing and started publishing his historical novels (she still worked for Tor, but telecommuted). Eventually they fell in love and were married. She edited all of the Wheel of Time books, as well as doing some other things. (For example, she is responsible for nearly all of the chapter titles in all of the books.)
Maria: Maria was hired on somewhere around book seven, I believe. At first, her work seemed to be more clerical—but over time, she impressed Robert Jordan and Harriet, and moved into a more editorial position. She'd maintain continuity for him, as well as work on his copyedits. These days, she is also in charge of making certain things like the Wheel of Time graphic novels are following the storyline and descriptions in the right way.
Alan: Alan came on later than Maria, but has still been there for years and years by this point. He helps with office work and is the resident timeline king. He also is a military history buff, and knows warfare quite well. He became my "Great Captain" for the last books. (Though he and I did butt heads quite a bit as I pushed for more drama and he pushed for more specific descriptions of tactics.)
Wilson: I don't know if he'd agree he was part of Team Jordan or not, but I view him as part. Wilson is Robert Jordan's cousin and close friend growing up—the cousin that was like a brother. Jovial and welcoming, he recently dressed up in a costume of me for a costume contest. He's been a cheerleader for Jim's work for years, and every time I felt daunted by this project, it seems I'd get a little note of encouragement or help from Wilson.
During this second Charleston visit, I sat down with Alan, Maria, and Harriet to outline my thoughts on where the last books should go. I asked for big sheets of butcher paper, and upon this I started writing down characters, plots, goals, and sequences as headings. Then, we brainstormed answers to holes. I often presented my (somewhat daring) plans for sequences Robert Jordan had not outlined. I think a lot of the things I suggested were surprising to Team Jordan—and made them worried.
My argument was this, however: Robert Jordan would not have kept the last book stale. He wouldn't have done everything as expected. He wouldn't have flatlined the character arcs, he wouldn't have stopped the worldbuilding. If we played this book safe, we'd end up with a bland climax to the series. Harriet agreed, and told me to proceed with some of these plans—but with the warning that as editor, she would read and see if I pulled off the sequences. If I did, they'd go in the books. If I didn't, we'd remove them.
This ended up working really well. It allowed me to exercise artistic freedom, driving the books in directions I felt they needed to go without limitations. Granted, I had a personal rule—I didn't contradict Robert Jordan's previous books, and if he had finished a scene in the notes, we were going to use it.
This might make it sound like I was trying to steer the books away from his vision. Nothing is further from the truth. In rereading his series, in getting close to his notes, I felt like I had a vision for the types of emotional beats Robert Jordan was striving for in the last book. These emotional beats required surprises, revelations, and transformations—I felt like I truly had the pulse of this series. My goal was to fulfill his vision. However, in order to do this, I needed to exercise my artistic muscles, as he would have exercised his own. I had to allow the creative writer in me to create, to tell stories.
It meant approaching these books as a writer, not a ghostwriter. Harriet understood this; she hired me rather than a ghostwriter because we had notes and fragments of scenes—not an almost-completed novel. However, she was also very right to tell me that she would act as a stabilizing force. Letting my creativity out of its proverbial Pandora's box meant walking a dangerous line, with things that were too "Brandon" potentially consuming the series. I didn't want to let this happen, and Harriet was the failsafe.
This is why some sequences, like the "River of Souls" sequence that became part of the Unfettered anthology, needed to be deleted from the books. It's not the only one. Others include a sequence where Perrin went into the Ways.
During the process of writing these books, all members of Team Jordan offered commentary on every aspect—but a certain specialization fell out naturally. Harriet did line edits and focused on character voice. (She famously told me, regarding one of my very early Aviendha scenes, "Brandon, you've written an almost perfect Elayne." It took me a few more tries to get that one right.) Maria would watch for continuity with other books. Alan would pin me down on timeline, troop movements, and tactics.
To be continued.
The Gathering Storm: What did I learn?
The obvious thing I learned has to do with juggling so many side plots. I'd attempted this level of complexity one time before in my life, the first draft of The Way of Kings. (Written in 2002–2003, this was very different from the version I published in 2010, which was rebuilt from the ground up and written from page one a second time.) The book had major problems, and I felt at the time they came from inexpert juggling of its multitude of viewpoints. I've since advised new writers that this is a potential trap—adding complexity by way of many viewpoints, when the book may not need it. Many great epics we love in the genre (The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire included) start with a small group of characters, many in the same location, before splitting into much larger experiences with expansive numbers of viewpoints.
I couldn't afford to be bad at this any longer. Fortunately, finishing the Mistborn trilogy had taught me a lot about juggling viewpoints. Approaching The Wheel of Time, I was better able to divide viewpoints, arrange them in a novel, and keep them in narrative rhythm with one another—so they complemented one another, rather than distracting or confusing the reader.
The other primary thing I feel I gained working on this book is a better understanding of my outlining process. Robert Jordan, as I said in previous installments, seems to have been more of a discovery writer than an outline writer—I'm the opposite. Working with The Gathering Storm forced me to take all of these notes and fragments of scenes and build a cohesive story from them. It worked surprisingly well. Somehow, my own process melded perfectly with the challenge of building a book from all of these parts. (That's not to say that the book itself was perfect—just that my process adapted very naturally to the challenge of outlining these novels.)
There are a lot of little things. Harriet's careful line edits taught me to be more specific in my word choice. The invaluable contributions of Alan and Maria taught me the importance of having assistants to help with projects this large, and showed me how to make the best use of that help. (It was something I started out bad at doing—my first few requests of Alan and Maria were to collect things I never ended up needing, for example.) I gained a new awe for the passion of Wheel of Time fandom, and feel I grew to understand them—particularly the very enthusiastic fans—a little better. This, in turn, has informed my interactions with my own readers.
I also learned that the way I do characters (which is the one part of the process I do more like a discovery writer) can betray me. As evidenced below.
Androl and Pevara
In working on the Black Tower plot, one thing I realized early on was that I wanted a new viewpoint character to be involved. One reason was that we didn't have anyone to really show the lives of the everyday members of the Black Tower. It felt like a hole in the viewpoint mosaic for the series. In addition, each Wheel of Time book—almost without exception—has either introduced a new viewpoint character or added a great deal of depth to a character who had only seen minimal use before. As we were drawing near to the end of the series, I didn't want to expand this very far. However, I did want to add at least one character across the three books I was doing.
I went to Team Jordan with the suggestion that I could fulfill both of these purposes by using one of the rank-and-file members of the Black Tower, preferably someone who wasn't a full Asha'man and was something of a blank slate. They suggested Androl. The notes were silent regarding him, and while he had been around, he so far hadn't had the spotlight on him. He seemed the perfect character to dig into.
A few more things got spun into this sequence. One was my desire to expand the usage of gateways in the series. For years, as an aspiring writer, I imagined how I would use gateways if writing a book that included them. I went so far as to include in the Stormlight Archive a magic system built around a similar teleportation mechanic. Being able to work on the Wheel of Time was a thrill for many reasons, but one big one was that it let me play with one of my favorite magic systems and nudge it in a few new directions. I've said that I didn't want to make a large number of new weaves, but instead find ways to use established weaves in new ways. I also liked the idea of expanding on the system for people who have a specific talent in certain areas of the One Power.
Androl became my gateway expert. Another vital key in building him came from Harriet, who mailed me a long article about a leatherworker she found in Mr. Jordan's notes. She said, "He was planning to use this somewhere, but we don't know where."
One final piece for his storyline came during my rereads of the series, where I felt that at times the fandom had been too down on the Red Ajah. True, they had some serious problems with their leadership in the books, but their purpose was noble. I feel that many readers wanted to treat them as the Wheel of Time equivalent of Slytherin—the house of no-goods, with every member a various form of nasty. Robert Jordan himself worked to counteract this, adding a great deal of depth to the Ajah by introducing Pevara. She had long been one of my favorite side characters, and I wanted her to have a strong plot in the last books. Building a relationship between her and Androl felt very natural to me, as it not only allowed me to explore the bonding process, but also let me work a small romance into the last three books—another thing that was present in most Wheel of Time books. The ways I pushed the Androl/Pevara bond was also something of an exploration and experiment. Though this was suggested by the things Robert Jordan wrote, I did have some freedom in how to adapt it. I felt that paralleling the wolf bond made sense, with (of course) its own distinctions.
Finding a place to put the Pevara/Androl sequence into the books, however, proved difficult. Towers of Midnight was the book where we suffered the biggest time crunch. That was the novel where I'd plotted to put most of the Black Tower sequence, but in the end it didn't fit—partially because we just didn't have time for me to write it. So, while I did finish some chapters to put there, the soul of the sequence got pushed off to A Memory of Light, if I managed to find time for it.
I did find time—in part because of cutting the Perrin sequence. Losing those 17,000 words left an imbalance to the pacing of the final book. It needed a plot sequence with more specific tension to balance out the more sweeping sequences early in the book where characters plan, plot, and argue. I was able to expand Androl/Pevara to fit this hole, and to show a lot of things I really wanted to show in the books.
Rand and Logain
I made a few interesting decisions with the Black Tower sequence. The first was to not involve Rand. Though it would have been a nice narrative balance to have Rand come save the Asha'man in contrast to them saving him in book six, I felt that Rand was riding to the rescue too often. The Black Tower was about to lose him permanently, and if its members could not face their problems on their own, then thematically they'd be left at the end of the series hampered and undermined. Beyond this, I believed that Rand's personality (as shown in earlier books) would push him to avoid being pulled into a potential trap at the Black Tower. His argument that he couldn't risk a confrontation is a good one. Androl and company had to face their problems on their own—save for the help of an Aes Sedai, another thing I felt to be thematically important.
Perhaps the most controversial decision (among Team Jordan) that I made with this sequence was to push Logain toward being a darker figure. Following his extended torture, I felt that Logain would emerge as a different person—though he'd always been somewhat dark. Some members of Team Jordan felt he was past that, and I disagreed. Logan was a false Dragon, gentled then healed, head of a group of men going insane who owed loyalty to Rand—but who rarely interacted with him. There is so much going on with this guy that he could have carried an entire series on his own.
I wanted him to wrestle with all of this. Logain's life ever since his capture way back when seemed to have been one of being shoved this way and then that. He needed to decide for himself what kind of Black Tower he was going to rule, if he was going to earn the honor of men as was promised. (And yes, this had not yet happened at the end of the series.) Logain, so far as I know, never once let go of power in the series—it was always ripped from his fingers. In this case, he was allowed to choose.
(laughs) So I had not played Portal at that point (laughter), which is actually very advantageous. I've told this story before, so I apologize if this is a repeat. Growing up reading the Wheel of Time and being a magic systems guy, certain aspects of the Wheel of Time magic system were very evocative to me. And I would list the two that were most interesting to me being the World of Dreams and portals themselves, gateways. These were two things that...you know when you... We've all done this, we've read these books. You put down the books and you keep dreaming, right? You keep thinking. And for me it was often what would I do if I were there, and devising aspects of the magic. I often inserted characters of my own into books I was reading as a kid, very frequently. I think I can trace back Hoid, one of my character's origins, to my always kind of saying, "Well there's a character behind the scenes who's doing all this."
And imagining what I would do with gateways...Actually, it's one of these things that I sat down and started devising a magic system based around for a book. And eventually I did all this work and decided I just can never write that book because it's too similar to Robert Jordan. As I've said many times, I wanted to be very conscious of staking my own claim in the fantasy genre in doing different things because I feel that one of the places that the genre went in the late 90s was very much trying to mimic and copy Robert Jordan, who did really awesome things and I felt had covered the area, right? And I said I don't like that this is where the genre is going. I want to be covering new ground, be doing new things.
And so reluctantly I kind of put aside some of those ideas, and then I got asked to work on the Wheel of Time. And I said, "Well, guess what I have in my little quiver back here, is a desire to really play with some of these magic systems." And so the meeting I did during my second visit to Charleston was in April or May of 2008, where we sat down. You guys remember that—we got out the butcher paper. I asked for butcher paper. We gotta see if we can dig those out. But I like sometimes to do visual outlining, and I took these big sheets of paper and wrote down character names and started making connections and building an outline. Wrote Team Jordan saying, "What if we did this? What if we did that?" It's where I threw out some of my weirdest ideas and I think terrified them, sometimes. Some things worked. Some things I threw out there, and there were like the whites you could see around their pupils. They're like, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" I'm like, "What if Perrin adopted the Way of the Leaf?" I remember Maria just flipping out about that. She's like, "Please, please don't do that!" [Looks at Maria:] Yeah, you remember that one, don't you? And throwing out all kinds of things because I feel that being brought on, one of the big dangers in working on the Wheel of Time books would be to play it too safe. Robert Jordan would have expanded the world, and the characters would have taken risks, and things like this. And one way we could fail is by not following his vision. But another way we could fail would be by creating bland books. And I think this is where a lot of media properties, like people who write on some big television movie—these books are really bland. Where they fail a lot is because they can't make any changes. They don't feel they can change the canon, they can't take chances, they can't push the stories In new directions, and the books often because of that will end up very bland. And I said we can't fall into that trap. We have to be willing to shake things up. We have to be willing to do things on the level of the things Robert Jordan did, where you know, look at Rand cleansing saidin and things like this. We have to be willing to do this.
(indecipherable)... One of the things I said I really want to do is, I said I want a character who has a Talent for gateways, because I love gateways and I want to play with them. And I also kind of want to add a new character—well, do a Robert Jordan and take a side character and make them more a main character for these last books because I feel he would have done that with somebody. It's what he does. And so, Androl was... I said, "Is there an Asha'man I can have?" And I think...was it Maria? It was either you or Alan said—I think it was you—who said, "What about Androl? We know almost nothing about him. How do you feel about him?" And I said, "That's perfect, exactly what I was looking for." And I took him. And so this is kind of a place where I was allowed to take some of what I like to do about fiction in the fantasy genre and play with it in a way that wouldn't dramatically change a main character, and which would allow me to push the magic system in some new and interesting directions without overwhelming and dominating it. One danger I felt for me was if I took the whole magic system and dealt with it, it would go too off the wall. But taking one little aspect and kind of doing what I love to do, and really explore the ramifications of what this would do to a world, was something that really excited me and I felt would allow me to have some fun, but not take over too much. And Androl filled that perfectly. I really am pleased with how he turned out. And all these things that I dreamed of as a kid: "Ooh, if I had gateways, here's what I'd do. Oh, I'd do this. I'd use them as a weapon. Ooh, bottom of the ocean—what do we do if we go to the bottom of the ocean?" You know, and things like this, and whatnot. And it was just a lot of fun.
So yes, that's what it was. And I give a lot of credit to Team Jordan for things like this. When I was doing this, I felt part of my job in these situations was to be the one pushing this toward that level of let's not play it safe. During this time, Maria and Alan kind of became the ones to say let's make sure we're not going too far. And that balance worked really well. They let me get away with on gateways a lot of stuff that I appreciate them letting me get away with. I know at some points, they were like, wow, I'm not sure if this is...yeah, this is a lot of gateways. I remember you [Maria] saying to me once, "This is a lot of gateways, Brandon." But I think in the end that push and pull between us ended up making the book very strong. And Androl became a really great character to add to the Wheel of Time canon, and so I'm very pleased with how that all turned out.