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View Full Version : Geekerati Podcast, September 2009


Terez
02-26-2012, 04:07 AM
CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Good evening, and welcome to Geekerati. You're online with Christian Lindke, Eric Leidel, and our special guest this evening, Brandon Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy author who exploded onto the fantasy/science fiction scene in 2005 with his novel Elantris. He's followed it up with a trilogy of Mistborn novels, a mid-grade youth fiction series based on a character called Alcatraz; the first book in that series is called Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians, and an online writing-experiment-turned-published-novel called Warbreaker, in addition to being selected to work on the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan's big epic fantasy series. If you can hold on for one second, I will wave to my daughter so that she'll cheer up a little bit, and hopefully we'll be okay. One of the things about having twins and having to isolate oneself from them when you're doing a podcast is if they wander in and see that you are [?], they are less than pleased. Good evening, Brandon. And welcome to Geekerati.

[B]BRANDON SANDERSON
Thank you Christian. I'm happy to be here.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Well, I think that I'd like to start at the beginning and then come to more recent projects that you've been working on and that's to look a little bit at how you came to be a published science fiction/fantasy author. I did not mention this in your introduction, but you did initially study writing in college and worked long and hard to become a writer. If you could describe that process for us, the process of getting your first novel, Elantris, published.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Alright. It's funny because Elantris...it's my first published novel; it's not actually my first novel. The story starts quite a long time before that, and the longer I've been in this business, the more I've found that this seems to be the rule rather than the exception. A lot of writers spend years and years writing books before they get published. Elantris was my sixth novel, and my story starts like a lot of stories, with an ignorant kid who enjoyed telling stories and writing books and having no idea really what he was really doing.

I went to college my freshman year as a biochemistry major, actually, partially at my parent's encouraging, because 'authors don't make money' was the conventional wisdom, which a lot of us hear, and so I was going to be a doctor, which was, you know, the wrong place for me. But, I was under the impression—I had no idea how to do this writing thing, and even taking a few creative writing classes...they don't really talk about the business side of things, the actual 'how do you do this; how do you break in'—and so I was completely ignorant.

My sophomore year, I realized after one year of trying hard at the biochemistry that I loved the concepts and I was terrible at the busywork; in fact I dreaded the busywork, and if you dread the busywork—the day-to-day work that you are going to have to do in a career—that's probably not the right career for you, whereas with writing, I loved the busywork, the busywork of just working on new stories and plugging away at them, and so I changed to English cause I thought that's what you had to do. I didn't actually know what you had to do—I had no clue—but I figured that was a good place to start. So I changed my major to English and just started going.

One of the things I did—which I think was actually the smartest thing I did at the time—was get a job where I could write while I was at work; it was a desk job at a hotel minding the desk overnight, with the boss telling me during the interview, "Yeah, as long as you stay awake we don't mind...we don't care what you do. Between about midnight and five all we really want is to have someone there in case the building burns down, or in case someone calls and wants towels." It was actually required by the Best Western rules that they have someone on desk, so it was actually perfect for me, and I spent five years working that job, going to school during day, then sleeping in the evenings, and then going to work overnight, and writing all night. It was a wonderful experience. It was kinda was like my own little writers' enclave where I was able to practice my art and try different things, and ignorantly I had the advantage of not knowing how bad I was when I began. This is something I've noticed with authors: When you get going when you're younger, you are don't how terrible you are as a writer, and that's a good thing. Older writers a lot of times will be very critical of themselves, because they've read so much and they have so much more experience with writing that when they start working on their works, it's sometimes very hard for them. They aren't willing to...or it's too hard for them to suck at it long enough to become good at it, so to speak. I didn't have that problem because I had no clue how bad I was.

And I am...like I said, I did that for five years: writing books and slowly, very slowly, learning about the business, realizing how you have to submit manuscripts, realizing where to...how to go about creating a query letter, and these sorts of things. And the real breakthrough, it came my senior year—I took quite a number of years to get through college; I think it was five at the end—so I guess it would be after four years, during my fourth year of writing books at the graveyard shift, I took a class from a published author who had come in to just teach couple of classes for the fun of it—it was actually David Farland, who is a fantasy writer who is local to my area—and what he talked about was the business aspect of it, the real nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of this industry, which nobody tells you about. You never find out about, in most of your creative writing classes—which, you know, they're great classes; they'll talk to you a lot about the craft of writing, and maybe the art of writing, but they won't tell you about the business—and it was because of him that I realized, "Wow," you know, "if I want to get published, one of the things I'm gonna have to do is network," and I never realized that networking would be important for an author. But who you know, the editors you know, that sort of thing, can help you out a lot. And so I started attending the conventions—[?] the literary conventions. And so, WorldCon, World Fantasy Convention, NASFIC...some of these things that you can go to, and editors will attend, and you can hear advice from them, you can meet them, and that sort of thing.

So I started doing that. It's not a silver bullet; it won't get everyone published, but what it does is it partially trained me to think like a professional, and partially allowed me to get advice from people who really knew what they were doing. I spent...oh, three years, four years doing that, eventually graduated with my bachelor's degree, having no idea what to do with it, because I wasn't really prepared for anything by it except for writing books, so I applied to a bunch of MFA programs, got turned down from all of them—they didn't really appreciate [?] fantasy novels—and the next year I applied to a whole bunch more, got into a master's degree—not an MFA—at BYU where I had attended my undergraduate, and got rejected from everywhere else, and so happily went to get that master's degree, partially as a stalling tactic, to be perfectly honest. My dad was dreadfully afraid that, you know, that their poor son was going to be a hobo, and "Oh, why didn't he go into being a doctor like we told him", and so I went back to school to appease them and to stall my life and, you know, to stall myself, give me a few more years to work on it.

And about a year into it, Elantris—which had been my sixth book, as I said—I finally got a call back from an editor that I'd met at World Fantasy Convention, I think in 2003, that I got the call back. It was eighteen months after I'd submitted it. Actually, I had given up on the submission. It was the Tor, whom I love; it's a publisher I wanted to be with. I was a big fan of the Wheel of Time books; I wanted to be with that same publisher, but Tor is also notorious for having an enormous slush pile, and things get lost into that void fairly frequently. They are one of the few publishers out there who will take manuscripts from unknowns, which opens the floodgates to tons of manuscripts coming in, and they do their best with it, but they get easily overwhelmed. I had sent to them before, and I never heard back, and so this time I assumed I would never hear back, [?] in person. And then I got a voicemail one morning; got up, and checked my voicemail, and lo and behold, there was an editor in New York, Moshe Feder, who left me a voicemail that said something along these lines: "Hello; I hope this is the right Brandon Sanderson, because you submitted me a book eighteen months ago, and now it's been so long that your email address is bouncing, your snail-mail address isn't good any more, and your phone number's changed, so we're not sure how to get ahold of you, but we googled you, we got a grad student page at BYU. We assume this is the right person; if it is, call us back, because we want to buy your book." And that's how it happened. I guess the moral of this story is: leave a forwarding address, if you are sending manuscripts off to publishers in New York.

But, it just happened from there, and the years that I spent as an unpublished writer really—just practicing my craft and not worrying about publishing—served me really well. Elantris is by no means the greatest fantasy book ever written, but I do think that I was able to hit the ground running, so to speak, because it wasn't my first novel. It doesn't, I hope, in many respects read like a first novel; I had five other books under my belt by that time, and I got a lot of my terrible ideas and terrible storytelling out of the way, and so I was very aware of what I wanted to do as an author, and where I wanted to make my statement and how I wanted to add to the genre. All of these things, I had...right then, I knew what I was doing as soon as I sold, so I was able to be focused a little more, I think.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
You've talked about how your experience at a job that gave you time to write on company time aided you and that you were able to write a good number of fantasy novels—writing, kind of, the 'bad' out of you, if you will—but I also wanted to know that, you know, for a period of time you volunteered and were editor-in-chief at the sci-fi and fantasy magazine at BYU, The Leading Edge, and obviously, as a magazine, the primary story being published in that is the short story, and I wanted to ask, how a) you thought that writing short stories and reading short stories helped you hone your craft, and b) what you think about kind of the dying outlet for burgeoning writers to have their short stories published.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Those are both excellent questions. Some interesting things are happening in the short fiction market, and it's in a very big position of transition right now. I've heard a lot of publishers talk about it, and there are people who are very optimistic, who they say, you know, "The short story form is not going to die. People like reading it. We just haven't yet found the new transmission method that is going to get them to people." But some things happened to the science fiction and fantasy market during the 70s and 80s that I think really changed the way fiction—particularly in our genre—reached its audience. I think the mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy to an extent—I mean, this is Geekerati Radio; we're talking mostly to geeks and geek topics—but you'll notice that since the 70s, progressively geek culture has invaded mainstream culture. Nowadays, if a fantasy or science fiction film comes out, the general public goes to see it and doesn't even think twice about it. That wasn't the case before Star Wars; it wasn't like that. And I think this mainstreaming that, this building on the whole gaming aspect, with RPGs and all this, where there was a larger...even those who weren't mainstream, who were the kind of the geek culture, like I was when I was growing up in the 80s, we had enclaves, because we had things we could do, and it was easier for us to create our little enclaves. The big science fiction conventions started because getting people who are interested in science fiction together to chat about science fiction was hard to do without the internet, without, some of...you know, podcasts, and things like this—it was very hard to find people with like interests, and so when you did, you all got together with these conventions. And for us, I think that there were more people that we could find, there were more activities...it was just...it was easier to be a geek in the 80s than it was in previous eras, and mixed on top of that, the paperback novel, in science fiction and fantasy, kind of came into its own, with the publishing houses like Del Rey and Tor and Ace in the 70s and 80s suddenly producing lines of science fiction and fantasy targeted an adult audience. What you saw is, really, the science fiction novel overtaking the short story. My generation didn't grow up reading short stories, in general; my fantasy grew up reading, in fantasy, you know: David Eddings, and Tad Williams, and Anne McCaffrey, and Barbary Hambly and these people who were writing the novels. And so, if you look at me, I didn't get into short stories until I had already long been a fan of the novel, which I think is backwards from the previous generation.

I got into short stories when I was in college, and it was partially because of the magazine. And the magazine did a lot of things for me. One of the things was that it was a nice—again—place where a lot of people with similar interests in me were congregating, and we were talking about fiction, and about science fiction and fantasy, and about what made good science fiction and fantasy, and we were able to read slush from around the world because it was a paying market, and writers, we are all desperate to get published, and so as long as something pays, we'll probably submit to it. So, The Leading Edge, though, being a BYU magazine, didn't actually publish BYU student stories. It existed more as a place to practice being an editor, so to speak; it exists as one of these things that is kind of like, not really a class, but an economist [?] club that is funded by the university to give people experience with editing and managing and learning [?] express and [?] programs, and so it's not actually student work that's getting published. You read a ton of terrible stories by authors, and boy, reading a ton of terrible stories teaches you a lot about what not to do. You start to see firsthand the clichés that show up over and over again. And, when you're that age—particularly older high school, younger college student—you're thinking that a lot of your ideas are new and original, until you read and discover that no, half of these stories are all wanting to tell these same ideas. If I had a dollar for every time we got a story that ended with "And, they turned out to be Adam and Eve"—that's a great cliché in the genre now. I had no clue, but I learned it firsthand by reading, you know, a dozen or two stories—so I guess if it were a dollar for each one, I would have enough money for pizza—but still, it was fairly common that we got stories like that. So, I really enjoyed that aspect of it, and it helped me as a writer, and it also taught me to love the short story genre, as we occasionally would come across these gems, and I had to feel like what an editor felt like, sifting through all of this, reading, you know, yet another story poorly written where Adam and Even turn out to...you know, the end of the story is that they're Adam and Eve and they found the Earth. Or, reading yet another poorly-done time travel story where someone kills his own father on accident, um, and that's...or, you know, ends up becoming Hitler, or one of these stereotypical things, reading one of these, and then sifting through that, and then a gem pops out—a beautifully-written story that says something meaningful, has engaging characters, really pulls you into a world and makes you feel like you're there—it like glows on the page after reading all of these things, and I understood, "Hey, this is what it's like to be an editor; this is what the editor is feeling when they're reading through the slush pile, and this is what I want them to feel when they hit my stories. So how can I do that? What do I really need to do in order to achieve it?"

What is going to happen to short fiction? I don't know. There are people who are much more expert than I at this sort of thing. I have been very curious at these free-distribution-on-the-web models that we've seen. The first big one was called Sci-Fiction; it was run by the Science Fiction Channel. And, it went..they actually eventually canceled it; they did it for a couple of years. I was hoping that an ad-supported model that was bringing renown to the Science Fiction Channel would be enough to pay for a short story, which really doesn't take—if you're cranking it on the internet—doesn't take a whole ton of resources. You pay the author, you pay someone to edit it, and you maybe get a little bit of art. This is what Tor.com is trying right now in order to draw people in, and I think it works wonderfully, but I don't see the numbers on it. Several pay subscription e-zines have come around too; Intergalactic Medicine Show by Orson Scott Card; Baen's Universe which just, actually, closed its doors unfortunately, and I was hoping that those would go along, but I think one of the problems with the internet is people...it's been established that, if it's on the internet, that it should be free, which...we haven't been able to get beyond that, and some things, the operating costs are just too high for it to be for free. So I don't think that the webcomic model—where you can, you know, print a webcomic and then have people come every day, read it, and then draw ad money and things like that—is going to work for short fiction, because short fiction is too long, and the costs are too big. I was hoping it would work. Maybe if there...but you would have to, like, print a page every day of a 70-page story, and I don't know if that would be enough to keep people coming back. So, I'll be very curious to see what happens. I enjoy reading it, but you know, I generally read my short fiction when it's recommended to me and I go pick up a specific issue, because a story I know in Asimov's happens to be really good, or an author I know happens to publish an Asimov—I see him on the front—or I pick up the Year's Best by Garner Dozois or David Hartwell, and just read what they have collected as the best science fiction and fantasy of the year.

So, I'm not an expert. I do hope that the genre—the medium—stays around, because it is a nice way as an author to practice, and to kind of do an apprenticeship. Once upon a time, if you wanted to break in, it was 'the main way' to break in, was to do short fiction for a while, get published in the good short fiction market, and then eventually, you know, an editor would come knocking and you would give them your novel idea. It doesn't actually work that way any more. It's still a potential way you can do it, but that's not the norm any more, I don't think; I think more people are getting published just off of their novels—straight submissions to agents or editors—than are getting published through a long apprenticeship in short story magazines, and that's certainly how it was for me. I didn't practice short stories until I was much older; I was much more practiced...even still I feel I'm a better novelist than I am a short story writer. I'm not terribly confident in my short story, though I do have one that you can read just on Tor.com for free—maybe you guys can throw that up in the liner notes, that people can click on and read—which has had a good response, but I think I'm primarily a novelist.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Now, you've talked briefly—I mean, jeez, you've got so much in that conversation that I'd like to jump off from...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Sorry, I'm very verbose, so feel free to cut in any time.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
...involved in thing that you did, I mean...I was thinking earlier in your comments about how those who came to start reading science fiction and fantasy in the, you know, 80s, largely—in the post-Lin Carter boom of fantasy and science fiction that came out in the late 70s, early 80s...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Mmhmm.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
...being primarily people who read novels rather than short stories—and the first thing that hit my mind is that, you know, kind of one of the seminal works of science fiction, right—Asimov's Foundation—

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yep.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
There's a whole generation of people older than I am, and older than you are, who read that as short stories as they came out...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yep. Yep, and I read it as a novel first; I'd never known it in short story form.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Right, and I'm in the same boat, and those even seem, you know, like short novels to me.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yep.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
You know, those are the kind of books you read in an afternoon, where a Tad Williams novel is something that might take, you know, a weekend of, you know, devoted reading...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yup.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
...ah, to get through the Bible-thin pages, and the massive length of the novel has become the norm—or an Ian Banks science fiction novel...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yup.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
...which, you know, if you bought in hardback, you could probably, you know, put a hole in the floor when you set it down...

BRANDON SANDERSON
[laughs] Yeah.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
...it's so weighty. But, I wanted to, since you talked a little bit about internet distribution, and, you know, the kind of expectation of 'free', but also the interactivity on something that maybe, you're not using it as a means to actually distribute, but maybe to work and foment the product. You worked on your more recent Warbreaker novel through a kind of, we'll say, sausage-making process that, if people followed it on the internet, they could see the development of the novel before it was published.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yes.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Could you about that a little bit?

BRANDON SANDERSON
Sure.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
And kind of the impetus behind that and, you know, how you feel about the result of that process.

BRANDON SANDERSON
The impetus behind it was really watching how the internet worked with viral marketing and with really the self-made artists—the webcomic community, I pay a lot of attention to, because of how I think it's fascinating the way that this entire community of artists is building up and bypassing all middlemen, and just becoming...you know, I have several friends who are full-time cartoonists who can make their entire living posting webcomics through ad-supported and reader-supported—you know, either buying collections or donations and things like this—I thought that's fascinating. I don't think that it will work, as I said, with long-form or even short-form fiction because of the difference between the mediums, but I like looking at webcomics as a model just to see what's going on there. There's a science fiction author, Cory Doctorow, who's a very interesting author and has a lot of very fascinating things to say, a lot of them very, uh...very...aggressive, and certainly conversation-inspiring—how about that?—and one of the things he started doing, very high-profilely—he's one of the bloggers of Boing-Boing, so he's very high profile on the internet—is that he started posting the full text of his books online as he released them with his publisher. So, Cory Doctorow is releasing his books for free, and he has a famous quote, at least among writers, which says that, "As a new author, my biggest hindrance—the biggest thing I need to overcome—is obscurity."

And, so that's why he releases his books for free. He figures, get them out there, get as many people reading them as possible...and then that will make a name for him, and this sort of thing. Well, that scares a lot of the old guard. Giving it away for free is very frightening to them, and for legitimate reasons, but there was a whole blow-up in the Science Fiction Writers of America on this same topic, about a year or so ago—what you give away for free, and what you don't—and I said that Cory was right in a lot of the things that he was saying, particularly about obscurity. There are so many new authors out there. Who are you going to try, and how are you going to know if they're worth plopping this money down? It's the same sort of problem I have with albums. I don't want to try a new artist, because if I plop $10 down and then hate every track on the album...what's...what have I just, you know, done? I feel like I've wasted the money; I feel annoyed. So, I either wait till I get recommendations—and even then, a lot of times I'll buy an album, and then be like, "Man, I wish I'd gotten something else."—or I'll try the really popular songs, which may not be the songs on the album I like, which just puts you in all sorts of problems where, how do you know if you're going to like this artist or not?

Authors are the same way. You pick up a fantasy novel—a big, thick 600-page fantasy novel—you look at it, and you say, "You know, how am I gonna know if this guy's any good?" Am I gonna spend 30 bucks on a hardcover, or even, you know, 8 or 9 bucks on a paperback, you get home, and then you start reading this and you discover that this is just the wrong artist for me? So, I felt that the thing to do was to release a book for free. Being, just, I dunno...[cut] part of it was wanted to do the [?], try something I hadn't seen before, which was to write the book, and post the drafts online as I wrote them, chapter by chapter, perhaps hopefully to get a little publicity, where people would say, "Hey, he's letting us see the process!" Partially to, you know, to give something to my fans that they couldn't get from other books, which is being able to see the process firsthand, help out new writers, whatever...whatever it could do, I felt very good about the opportunity there, and posting chapters as I wrote them, always with the understanding that this would be the next book I published; I mean Tor had already said that they were going to publish it. It wasn't an experiment in that I wanted to see how it would turn out—I was pretty confident in the story, with the outline I had—but I wanted to experiment in showing readers drafts, letting them give me advice, essentially workshopping it with my readers as I wrote it, and see how that affected the process, and affected the story.

And so that's what I did, and actually I started posting drafts in 2006; it didn't come out until 2009, so it was a three-year process during which I finished the first draft after about a year of posting chapters, and then I did a revision, and then another revision, and they got to see these revisions, and I would post um...you can still find them on my website—brandonsanderson.com—you can still find all of these drafts, and comparisons between them using Microsoft Word's 'compare document' function, and some of these things, and...I think it was a very interesting process. Did it boost my sales? I don't know. Did it hurt my sales? I don't know. It was what it was, and it was a fun experiment; it's something I might do again in the future. Probably if I write a sequel to Warbreaker, I would approach it the same way. It's not something I plan to do with all of my books, partially because not all of my books do I want the rough drafts to be seen. Warbreaker, I was very...I had...I was very confident in the story I was telling, and sometimes, parts of the story you're very confident in, and parts of the story you know you're going to have to work out in drafts, and that's just how it is, and in other cases, it's better to build suspense for what's happening, and...so, there's just lots of different reasons to do things, but Warbreaker, being a standalone novel that I had a very solid outline for was something that I wanted to try this with, and once the Wheel of Time deal happened, which was just an enormous change in direction for my career, I was very glad I had a free novel on the internet, because then, people who had only heard of me because, "Who's this Brandon Sanderson guy? I've never heard of him before," could come to my website, download a free book, read something that I'd written, and say, "Okay," then at least they know who I am. They at least have an experience—and hopefully they enjoy the book, and it will put to ease some of their worries, even though Warbreaker isn't in the same style that I'm writing the Wheel of Time book in, it at least hopefully can show that I can construct a story and have compelling characters and have some interesting dialogue and these sorts of things that will maybe, hopefully, relax some of the Wheel of Time fans who are worried about the future of their favorite series. [chuckle in background]

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Right, and it's good that you're working with Tor in a lot of this, because of course Tor is one of the publishers that's kind of renown for attempting to—I mean I don't know, I don't get to look at the numbers either, so I don't know what their success is—but really attempting to get readers to purchase their books, and to read their books, and then purchase follow-up books by, you know, almost using a 'first one is free' philosophy on the internet.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yeah, Tor is very good at that. In fact the whole science fiction and fantasy market has been very good—as opposed to the music industry—in using the internet and viral sorts of things to their advantage rather than alienating their audience, which I appreciate very much.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Yeah, I mean, obviously the music industry has a disadvantage that the publishing industry in books doesn't suffer from, and that's the brevity of the item.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yep, yep. Very easy to download a song, and...yeah.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
And they have some additional obstacles, but it's, you know, one of the things that they've done extraordinarily poorly is handle any kind of PR, or any kind of the public debate as far as, you know, defending themselves I think against—you know, legitimately it's theft, taking music for free—but, you know, attacking twelve-year-olds...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Right. Or grandmothers, or things like that. Yeah, just a [?] way to approach it. You know, they're just a very different sort of situation. With audio, number one, downloading a song and listening to it, you get the very same experience listening to it that you would if you'd bought it, whereas downloading a book, it's not the same experience; reading it electronically for most of us is not the same experience as holding the book. And beyond that, publishing in today's market is actually kind of a niche thing; it's a niche market. Not entirely of course, but science fiction and fantasy, we are...we have...despite the explosion of science fiction and fantasy into the mainstream, I still think we are a small but significant player in publishing, if that makes sense. We have a small fanbase that is very loyal that buys lots of books, is generally how we approach it, and because of that loyal fanbase, that's really how science fiction and fantasy exists as a genre, because of people who are willing to buy the books when they can go to the library and get them for free, people who want to have the books themselves, to collect them, to share them, to loan them out. That's how this industry survives, hands down. And so, I mean...that's...Tor gets by. The reason Tor can exist as a publisher is because it produces nice, hardcover epic fantasy and science fiction books that readers want to own and have hardcover copies up to display on the shelves, with nice maps, with nice cover illustrations, which, you know, covers on science fiction and fantasy books have come a long way since the 60s and 70s. Just go back and look at some of these...and part of that is because the artists of course have gotten better—there's more money in it—but there's also this idea that we need to create a product that is just beautiful for your shelf, because that's how we exist as an industry. Romance novels don't exist on the same...in the same way; they exist in lots of volume of cheap copies being sold, and romance authors do very well with paperbacks—and some science fiction and fantasy authors do too, just different styles—but with epic fantasy, we really depend on those very nice, good-looking hardcovers, and so, we....giving away the book for free actually makes a lot of sense for us, because...the idea...we're selling for the people who want to have copies anyway, who could've gotten it for free from their friends, or by going to the library and getting it, or now downloading it, I mean...we have a very literate community; they know where to find the book for free online if they want to get them illegally, and we don't really go and target those websites and take them down, because you know what....it's not...the people who are buying our books are not the people who are...how should I say? If they're gonna get them for free, it doesn't discourage them from buying the book, generally. In fact they're more likely, I think, to buy the book if they read it for free first, and then like it, we're the types of people...I mean, we're the types of people who have 5,000 books in their basements, who if they love a book, go buy it in hardcover, and if they just merely like a book, we go buy it in paperback, and loan it around to all our friends still.

And so, that's who we're selling to, and that's who I think we'll continue to sell to. I don't think the book industry is threatened by the internet in the same way that the movie and music industry is, for various reasons, but I also don't think that we can...a lot of people say, 'get rid of the middle man'. I talked about the webcomic industry, and how they're able to just produce it all themselves. It doesn't work with novels. What I think readers don't realize is that most of the cost in a novel is not the printing. Most of what you're paying for when you're buying a book is the illustrator, is the copy-editor and the editor, and the layout and design team and all of this, which you really can't get rid of. Bypassing the middleman means you'd get a book that's unedited, and if you've read a book that's unedited, you'll realize why we have editors and typesetters and all of these people, and so, you know, the Kindle Revolution, if it ever happens—the ebook revolution or this sort of thing—will actually, I think, be a benefit to us, but I think people are going to be surprised that the prices don't come down as drastically as they would've thought, because of that, you know, $25 hardcover, you know, $5 of that is printing and shipping, but most of that is overhead for the publisher.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Yeah, Lord knows I read the unedited version of Stranger in a Strange Land, and I said, "Oh god, give me the edited version again."

BRANDON SANDERSON
[laughs] Yeah.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
You've spoken a lot about, I think, something that's really...kind of...beloved—a beloved topic of one of our panelists—and he's online and hasn't had a chance to talk yet this evening. Bill, I know you're very excited about internet promotion and the use of the internet as a distribution device, and kind of DIY publishing and promotion. Do you have a question for Brandon about how he went about it with Warbreaker, or just what his thoughts are on the industry in, kind of, extension of what he already mentioned?

BILL CUNNINGHAM
Right. Hi Brandon, how're you doing?

BRANDON SANDERSON
Pretty good; thanks, Bill.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
I just...I'm sorry I'm kind of late to the show today; I have been having a computer nervous breakdown, so...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Oh boy, I hate those. I've had a couple myself.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
Yeah. I have been backing up some files and doing other things before I go into the major surgery. But I guess that leads me to my point, and I'm trying to back up your earlier point, [which] was, the genre community—fantasy, science fiction, horror, and so forth—we do have this collector mentality gene within our pool there. I know that if I see a book that's cheap, I will want to get the collector's edition.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Right.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
You know, so the whole online thing is part of that revolution—it is part of that evolution, I guess—and I think that one aspect that Tor has been able to harness is the idea that they are, you know, putting out books online for free for people to get that 'taste', to get, you know, the free one and then go, "Oh yeah, I gotta have that for my collection." Now, do you see yourself ever doing something on your own—you know, you do have your book on your website as you said earlier, for free—but do you feel that for...you know, yourself, is there a print-on-demand book from you coming out in the future?

BRANDON SANDERSON
I could see a reason to do that. You know, I've kicked around concepts. It would never be one of my main books. What I might do is, you know, if people were interested in one of those early novels of mine, just to see how I've evolved as an author, and maybe print on demand my first or second book that if you just want the collector's copy, for the collectibility, say, "Hey, let's see what Brandon was like when he was a terrible writer," and I would have to make sure that they knew, "This is a terrible book. It's a terrible book by someone who eventually became a good writer, and so maybe you can see the evolution." That...I thought about collecting...one of the things I do for my books is I release annotations. This works like a director's commentary on a DVD; every chapter in my books—during the copy-edit phase, when I read through the book for the last time—I stop after each chapter and I write a few paragraphs about it—where it came from, maybe some history for the world and the characters, or what was going on in my life when I wrote that chapter, what inspired me to write that chapter, these sort of things—and then I post them at about [?] space of about two a week after the book comes out. And so, I think that's a really fun thing that you can only do with the internet, that ties into all this. I've considered collecting all of those and adding a little bit more bonus material, and then selling that as a print-on-demand book that people can just buy a copy for, you know, ten bucks through Lulu or something, that they can set on their shelf that then they can have all the annotations printed, that they can have their own annotated version of one of my books, that sort of thing, which I think would be a really fun thing to do.

So I see the potential for that. I see the potential for using this viral marketing—I don't know; there's a whole lot of exciting things going on with this. This all excites me; it doesn't scare me. And I think part of what's happening, um...Orson Scott Card, in one of the magazines he writes for just a couple of months ago, said that he believes fantasy is entering its Golden Age, which excites me because fantasy has lagged behind science fiction a little bit—quite a bit. For a while, science fiction was the big genre in our little spec-fic, underneath our spec-fic umbrella, which includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all of these other things. Science Fiction was dominant for a while; it really had some time to grow and to explore some ground, and I don't know that fantasy has done that yet. I think that, fantasy, the best is yet to come, so to speak. I think that, certainly we've had some fantastic writers—I'm a big proponent, obviously, of Robert Jordan; I think that he did some wonderful things with the genre—but I do think that there's a lot of space left in the genre, a lot of places to go, new things to be explored. The genre has only barely been explored. It seems like for a long time we were telling the same types of stories, essentially over and over, as we were trying it right, trying to figure it out, and I think readers got a little bit tired of those same stories. And this ties back into the whole marketing and internet thing, because the internet's going to give us an opportunity for some of those really explorational things to get out there and get some attention where they might not otherwise have done so, and I think this is going to spur the writers who, you know, the entire community, to have to stretch a little further, to be a little bit better.

I think it's the same thing that happened to the community, honestly, in the late 90s with the YA explosion. Young adults, and middle-grade, with Harry Potter becoming so high-profile, a lot of really great authors released some really powerful fantasy during that era. Phillip Pullman, Garth Nix, and J.K. Rowling herself—I love her books; I think she's a genius—and I think 'epic'—which we, I use that instead of 'adult fantasy' cause the term 'adult fantasy' just doesn't sound right when I tell people I write 'adult fantasy'; anyway, they get the wrong impression—so, I think during that era, 'epic' was forced to say, "Whoa, what are we doing? All this exciting stuff is happening in children's, and all of our readers are going to children's, because they're doing the exciting stuff where we're the same old stuff," and I think that forced a revolution in the epic fantasy genre, that we're still feeling it shaped because of that.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
Yeah, nobody wants to keep on rereading Tolkien done over and over again.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yeah. Right.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
So, in that regard, you know, thinking about the tools of the internet, the possibilities of harnessing so many different voices via a social network, or so on, how do you feel about the concept of shared worlds and collaborative writing?

BRANDON SANDERSON
Um, it's interesting. I think you can do some very different things with the internet that you couldn't have done before. Everyone I've talked to who's collaborated on a book has told me that collaborating is twice the work for half the money. And some people's minds work pretty well that way; they work as a team. I mean, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven obviously work very well as a team; some of their greatest fiction came when they worked together, and the internet can allow for some of that, but I'm also skeptical at the same time because I've seen...I don't know. One of the things that's great about novels, that you don't get in other story-telling mediums—particularly you don't get in television or movies, which is our dominant story-telling medium right now—is a single person's vision, and that has its own foibles, and it has its own benefits, but when you read one of my books, you are reading my vision for a story. I may have gotten feedback on it, I may have had an editor tell me, "Hey, you should do this; you should do that," but every word that gets changed is changed by me. Everything that happens is done by me. And reading about the movie industry, there's some great movies that come out, but they're hugely collaborative works, and it seems that sometimes that so many people getting their fingers in the pie makes a movie end up losing some of its magic and vision.

Of course not always—there are fantastic films—but some time if you want to have an interesting time, read the essay "Building the Bomb" by Terry Rossio. Terry Rossio is a famous screenwriter—he did the Pirates of the Caribbean movies; he did the Aladdin screenplay with his writing partner together—and he wrote a series of essays talking about the process, and this one is now like ten years old, but it talks about the creation of the Puppetmasters movie, the classic Heinlein novel turned into a movie—I think it's The Puppetmasters; it's one of the Heinlein scripts—but he loved the book, and he adapted it, and it goes through, step-by-step, how the life got torn out of that script because of the different people who wanted to be part of the project, not for artistic reasons, but because they wanted their names attached to it, or they wanted this person involved, or they wanted that, and it can kinda scare you sometimes what happens. I'm shocked that the artists in Hollywood—the screenwriters and the visionary directors and cinematographers, and people—are actually able to get anything artistic created, considering how much they have to go through.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
We aren't. We don't. I'm in Hollywood, so...

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
That's one of the things that makes, I think, television, right now, a little bit better when it comes to writing than film is, it goes through fewer collaborative bubbles.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Television's gotten great lately, comparing what we had in the 90s to what you have right now...Wow. It's night and day.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
Yeah. Let's flip the conceptual pancake a little bit in terms of collaboration, and let's think about the idea of you coming up with the concept, you creating the world, and then turning that over to other people to write short stories about.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Right. Yeah, I've considered that. I know that Eric Flint has had a lot of success with that, and created an entire community based around—what's it, the...1632? Is that the name? It's a number, so [?]—it's his big alternate history line where the community has essentially created a short story magazine based in this world almost without his involvement—he's of course been involved, but it's [?], and it's fascinating how the fans have jumped into this world and really created something where it's essentially sanctioned fanfic by Eric, which becomes canon because they all work together and create this story together. It's very interesting. I've considered doing that with novel ideas—and you see this happening sometimes with writers—I've got, now with the Wheel of Time that takes so much of my dedication and time—and, you know, rightly so; I want these books to be fantastic—I can't work on all the side projects I used to, which is a little bit sad to me, so I've considered getting some authors that I know and respect who are wanting to break in, writing out a 20,000-word outline and saying, "Okay, take this and make it 90,000 words; let's see what it turns into. I've considered doing that; I don't know if I'll ever actually do it, but I've considered seeing what that would do.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
Well, it does have its roots in the old pulp publishing model, where the editor would assign a story concept or a character to a writer, and also, in the 60s there was a gentleman by the name of—and he's somebody I've been researching lately, so he's on my mind as I say this—his name was Lyle Kenyon Engel, and he was a gentleman who gave John Jakes one of his major breaks, and James Reasoner, who was a huge Western author—some of their breaks, and several other very well-known authors of mysteries and genre fiction—their breaks—but he was, in essence, a "book packager". He would come up with the concept; he would pitch the publisher, and say "We're going to create a series of books based around this central character. I will have my writers write it, but this is basically what you're going to get." You know, "Can we put you down for," you know, "this series of eight books, and then we'll go from there." You know, and then he would hire the writers to write for that. Being as you're, you know, in the Wheel of Time now, you know...tremendous opportunity...

BRANDON SANDERSON
Mmhmm.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
The drawbacks are that you're working in somebody else's wheelhouse.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yep.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
But is that really a drawback?

BRANDON SANDERSON
Well, for this particular project, no. But it's very specific. There are a couple of things going on here. First of all, I read Eye of the World in 1990 in paperback when it first came out and have been reading these books as they came out ever since. I read them through numerous times. One of my favorite authors of all time, if not my favorite author, is Robert Jordan. And so, the chance on the fanboy side...heh. To be perfectly honest, to work on this, to take this master who's inspired me, and then be part of it, is incredible.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
I can hear the glee from here.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yeah. It's amazing. I don't know that I would have said yes to anyone else, because of some of the limitations. Now, another limitation that I don't have to deal with in this that you do have to in other shared worlds is...Harriet, the editor and wife of Robert Jordan, handed me the project and essentially gave me carte blanche, said "Okay, this is your project now. You write this project as you feel you need to write it. Here are the notes." You know, "Don't throw out anything from the notes unless you've got a really good reason, but you're in charge." I'm not just the writer; I'm the project manager and the story developer and all these things wrapped up in one, which is what you're not if you're writing for something like Star Wars. You are one of many; you have to be micro-managed quite a bit, as I understand, when you're writing for one of these type of properties.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
[Something about Wikipedia]

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yeah. I don't have to do that. Now I do have to make sure I'm being consistent with the world and things, but I've got lots of continuity experts in-house who can help me to make sure that that happens, but really, I've got creative control. The final say is with Harriet, but I've got a lot of creative power. And I'm using that to actually not use it very often. Whenever Robert Jordan has something in the notes, I'm using what he said—I'm not taking this and trying to make it my own—but it is incredibly liberating to work on a project like this and also have, at the same time, this creative control. So that's another aspect of it.

Now, the big limitation is, it doesn't belong to me—which is fine, for this project—but that's the thing you have to get into. Like, when that "book packager" is pitching a series of books, he's gonna own that story from the copyright, which makes me very wary as a writer. The other great thing about being an author as opposed to being in film, or being in television, or even being in music a lot of times is that you, as the writer, own the whole thing. You generally don't sign away characters, worlds, setting, or anything—it's all yours. You have complete control over your story. A publisher like Tor buys the rights generally to publish it in English in North America. That's what they do. They get to package it how they want, they have control over the art and things like that, but the words are mine, and I retain control. The copyright is mine, which is fantastically different than if you're working in the video game industry, for instance. If you're working for a company and you come up with this brilliant, wonderful story, and you've developed it, and you work on it, and you have this amazing video game come out, the company then owns rights to all that, and can do whatever they want with it. The same thing generally with comic books—not always, but a lot of the time—and, you know, what you get instead is a regular paycheck, which for an artist is a pretty nice thing, but you trade off on that creative control, and creative ownership. And in novels you still have that creative ownership. It's the only major entertainment medium where the creator retains ownership so wholly.

And so, that's the biggest thing that worries me about collaborations and things like that is, you know, who has ownership? This is the last, so-to-speak, line of defense in that. Some other industry executives' minds when they find out... If something gets really big like Harry Potter, Scholastic or Bloomsbury doesn't own that; J. K. Rowling does. And by the corporate-think, that's really ridiculous; they shouldn't be allowing that to happen. But for the artist, it's what's best for the series, I think, and the story, and it allows the artist to be in control. So, yeah. That's the big line of defense, and we are very, very wary in science fiction and fantasy in particular, about letting any sort of contract language slip in which would infringe on that.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
[crosstalk] Now I want to let Eric, who's been very quiet here, ask a question, and then you can do a follow-up there, Bill, immediately.

ERIC
Okay, I wanted to ask a sort of typical Geekerati Radio question, and I'll sort of preface it with, "Apart from the Wheel of Time, what is it that you really just geek out about? Is there some sort of possession that you have that is just the ultimate geek item?"

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yes. Okay. Alright guys...Magic cards. I geek the [swallows word]...I geek way out over Magic cards. I mean, holy cow, you wouldn't think that these stupid pieces of cardboard would be able to have the power over me that they do. But I love the things. I love hoarding them; I love collecting them; I love having full sets of things; I love playing with them. It's incredibly geeky, but I am a Magic junkie. I've been playing it ever since revised edition went national, and just rue the day that I wasn't aware of it when I...so I could get in during unlimited, and....yeah. The other thing is a do roleplay quite a bit. I do play a wide variety of role-playing games. I'm not as big into it as some of my friends, but I do enjoy it, and right now I do it about twice a month. There are two nights a month that I go and roleplay. We do a homebrew system created by me and run by me, which is pretty wacky, but um...yeah. And I am a movie buff. I do generally prefer the movie form to television; just the medium. Television, as you pointed out, is quite good right now, and there are shows that I'm quite impressed with, but I like the story-telling medium of the film generally because of the way I get a complete story. I don't like how American television encourages the episodic nature and the eternal cliffhangers....TV show producers never knowing when they're going to get canceled and when they're not going to be, not able to create arcs for their entire series because of that really bugs me, and so I wish that we could somehow get over that and do something more like is done in some other countries where the miniseries format is much more popular, and you can know that you've got 24 episodes across two years, and you can tell a complete story, and you know you won't get canceled, and you can do some of these grand storytelling arcs, because television should be an even better format than film for the types of stories that I love, the type of grand epics, but you don't get that. What you get is television people trying to make these great stories, but always having to put in all of these things to, you know, for them to satisfy needs now, rather than being able to build to the great climaxes, because they always have to worry about being canceled.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
One of the challenges of the translation of Terry Goodkind's novels to the television is the fact that, here you have of these long epic novels that advance, in Terry's case, a particular philosophic position, and you end up with a pretty good [?]—I'm not disparaging the show; I actually really like Legend of the Seeker—but it's very different to watch that kind of slapsticky, samurai-y moment in the middle of Terry Goodkind's story. So I know exactly what you're saying; I think it's a perfect example.

BRANDON SANDERSON
And just think if they'd been able to do Wizard's First Rule as a complete, one-season epic arc, rather than having to worry about slapstick and things like this. How much time do we have left? I don't even know what time it is.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Well, we are in what we normally call the after-show; we've gone beyond the hour, but we have some allotted time. From my perspective, and I'm the host number, I'm running slim on time because it's getting to be my daughter's bedtime, but I do believe the show will continue without me. That's been the case in the past, has it not Bill?

BILL CUNNINGHAM
I believe so, yeah.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Um...

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
So, we have a two-hour block allotted that we can record, and if you—I mean, obviously I'm not saying "stay here for two hours"—but if you have further things that you want to say and run on even beyond my personal availability in talking with Bill and Eric, you do have that time.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Okay. I have time. I will need to get going fairly soon, but I've got time for a few more questions.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Well, how about we just finish with one question. You've talked a bit about your involvement in the Wheel of Time, and I really didn't want this show to focus overly much on that, because I was certain that you, as a writer, have been overly inundated about your involvement in that because so many fantasy fans are excited about that. I really didn't get to ask as many questions as I wanted to— and I'm not going to take you this way—about your system for developing the kind of intricate magic systems in your two series that I've read, or the one series and the one standalone—Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy—cause I'm kind of geeking out about those almost in the way that you are with Robert Jordan—maybe not quite to that extent, but maybe to someone that you've read more recently—but I'm very excited about the novels, and I highly recommend them to those of you out there listening. Brandon's got a very good voice, and it's really nice to find a new fantasy author who isn't telling you the same story you've read fifty times, but is very much within the milieu. But I did want to ask about Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians, your midgrade series. I have not read them, but I have to say—the only thing I've read is the opening sentence which you posted on your website, and I already want to purchase all the books that are available. Your next one comes out in October. Can you tell us briefly what the inspiration was to do them?

BRANDON SANDERSON
Yeah. One of the functions of getting published like I did—taking as long as I did, and working how I did—when I was trying to break in—and even in those early years when I didn't know about breaking in—one of the things I did was pop frequently from project to project. I didn't write sequels. In fact, I haven't brought this up before, but when I sold Elantris, I was actually on my thirteenth novel. That's how far along I was in the process. Mistborn is my fourteenth, so you can read my sixth and my fourteenth. I felt that if I just sat and wrote sequels in the same world unpublished, number one it would be bad for me professionally because I can't really send book two to a bunch of editors, and say "Hey, look at this!" I can only send book one, so if I wrote six books and only had the first one as something that I could try and entice editors with, then I think it would have been to my detriment. Instead I wanted to have six different books—standalones, and beginnings of series—that I could be sending out, and if[?] I could immediately send them something else, and say "Hey, if there's something you liked in that one, maybe you'll look at this one and see that I'm getting better," or "Maybe you'll like this one better," things like that. That was my philosophy. So I got used to always writing a new setting, a new world, and a new magic each time I wrote a book.

Partially, also, though, as a writer, this wasn't just market-field, it was because I wanted to develop something that was my own. I mentioned it before—I think that writers should add to the genre, and I myself was a little bit annoyed with the genre in the late '90s and early 2000s. Maybe I've overstated some of the impact that the children's book had because of that, but I don't know. I was one of those that was like, "Really? Do I really need to read yet another book that is about a guy who lives out in the rural woods and discovers that he is the lost king and needs to go find this magical artifact so that he can save the world. Do I really need to read that again?" I mean, Tolkien did a great job of that, and you know what, Robert Jordan did a really good job of that, and you've got Terry Goodkind with...I mean, with so many people telling this story, do we really need another one? And I think the late 90s, at least for me, is when I finally got tired of it, and I'd read Robert Jordan, and I said, "Look, I don't think this can be done better. How can you tell me you can do it better than he's doing it? Why am I going to read your book?" And that influenced me a lot as a writer. When I was trying to break in, I actually tried writing a story like that, cause I felt like that's what everyone wrote, that's what got published, and I got a little ways into it and said, "I just...I can't feel it. What am I doing that's new? What am I adding?"

And so I was trying a lot of different things. I was trying to explore. Those first six novels of mine, in fact, were—well, the first five in particular—were very different. I wrote several science-fiction novels. I tried a cyberpunk, I tried a social science-fiction, I tried a comedy—I tried lots of different things, trying to find my voice, and at the end, when the dust settled, after doing that, I realized what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was kind of the postmodern epic, so to speak. The child of the 80s and 90s who is aware of what happened with the monomyth and all this stuff in science fiction and fantasy, and say "Yeah, what's next? What happens next? And how can I do something different? How can I do something new? Where can we take this genre?" New magic systems, different styles of plot. That's partially where Mistborn came from. Mistborn is the [?] which really doesn't work for books like it does for movies, so realize this isn't the only thing the book's about, but one of the big influences in me writing the book was the idea of me telling the story where the monomyth had happened. The monomyth meaning Joseph Campbell is here with the thousand vases, you know—young hero goes on a quest to defeat the great evil, and what if he failed? What if the Dark Lord won? What if Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter had said, "You're just a stupid kid!" and killed him, and taken over the world? What if Frodo had kept the ring, or Aragorn had kept the ring, or even Sauron had just gotten it back? What happens next? And that's where that trilogy came from.

Alcatraz is an interesting story because...Mistborn is the first book that I wrote knowing that it was going to get published. It was my fourteenth novel. Always before then, I'd always written just whatever I had felt like next, and it was the first time I had to consider, "Wow. Elantris is getting published. How do I follow it up? What do I do next?" Originally I'd planned to release next a book called The Way of Kings, which was number thirteen—the book I wrote right before Mistborn—and as I was revising Way of Kings, I had this deep-seated feeling that I wasn't ready for Way of Kings. I'd written the first book, and it didn't do yet what I wanted it to do. It was a massive war epic, and was very intricate, enormous world, and thirty magic systems...I mean, it was actually beyond my skill level at the time. And I said, "I need practice writing sequels before I start a massive epic like this." I'd never written a sequel before.

And that's when I sat down and outlined the Mistborn trilogy, wanting to write an entire trilogy straight through so that I could have beginning, middle and end done by the time the first one came out. And I actually was able to achieve that, as a side note; I had written Hero of Ages by the time The Final Empire, the first book, needed to be in for its final draft, and so I was able to—I think it comes through in the trilogy—I was able to make it completely internally consistent. You don't have the problems in that where you have...in some series where you get a little ways into it and then realize the author's just making stuff up, and trying to...and being self-contradictory, and things like that; I didn't want that to happen, and I think I needed to practice doing that with the training wheels, so to speak, of having them all done before the first one came out—before I tried launching into something where I would just have to trust my outline in order to do that, if that makes any sense at all.

So, I sat down and wrote the first two Mistborn books back-to-back. First draft done of Mistborn 1, sent off; started the first draft of Mistborn 2, and was revising Mistborn 1 as I was finishing Mistborn 2. I got done with Mistborn 2, and it was the hardest book I've ever written, partially because of the grueling hours I set for myself—I wanted to get these all done—but mostly because I'd never written a sequel before, and I was so used to doing something new with every book that I wrote, and so I had to train myself into writing sequels. And after I got done with Mistborn 2, and was trying to write Mistborn 3, I realized I need, just for my own creative process—the way I've trained myself—I have to do something completely different now. I have to take a break for a little while and just do something off-the-wall in order to reset all of those tumblers in my head, get back, and write the third Mistborn book, because otherwise I felt that I wouldn't be approaching it fresh enough. I wouldn't be approaching it having enough passion for it. I felt I would started it burned out, or at least burn out to the middle of it.

And so because of that, I sat down with that writing prompt: a one-sentence line that had come to me one time, just when I was hanging out with some friends, and I hurriedly typed into my phone, and said, "Huh, I should write that story one day." And the line was: "So, there I was, tied to an altar made from out-dated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians." And I wanted to do what—I sat down with this—I wanted to do something very different from the Mistborn books. Number one, I wanted to do something humorous. Number two, I wanted to play off of the very things that were in danger of becoming clichés to myself, if that makes sense, to keep myself fresh, to say "I need to go completely different directions so that I don't just become a cliché of myself". And so I wanted to do something very wacky with the magic system that I could never do in an epic fantasy book, because I want those to all feel consistent and scientific. And I wanted to do a first-person narrative instead of a third-person narrative, to do something different again, and I wanted to write for a younger audience. Mostly though, I just wanted to write something off-the-cuff, which was more like a stand-up routine version, or...not a stand-up routine. More like an improv. You know, it's not just joke after joke, but it's an improv story, starting with a kid who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world.

Partially, at this time, I'd also been reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, which has some fascinating aspects and some very annoying ones, the annoying aspects being, I don't like a lot of the cheap tricks he uses narratively to just pull you through the story, cause they get a little old, but beyond that, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe that the Catholic Church, or anyone, has these secret cabals. I mean, they make for great stories, but I don't think that it's there, and so I wanted to tell a silly conspiracy theory book, and so I picked librarians ruling the world. And so what Alcatraz became was a short—for me; 50,000 words—novel that talks about fiction in general. There's a lot of Alcatraz, the narrator, addressing the audience and talking about what literature does, and what authors do. There's a point where he goes off about how authors are sadists—because we want to put you through all these terrible emotions—and explains and talks about it in what is hopefully a humorous way, but kind of digs at the roots of what makes someone want to tell stories.

And there is a goofy magic system. Everyone in the books who belongs to the Smedry family—he's Alcatraz Smedry; it's a—anyway, they're the Freedom Fighters who resist the Librarians. They all have really dumb magic powers. It's kind of like a Mystery Man sort of thing, if you've seen that movie. Alcatraz's grandfather, who introduces himself near the beginning of the book, has the super-power...um, his super-magical power is that he can arrive late to appointments. Alcatraz in the book meets someone in the book who is really magically good—his power is that he's magically good at tripping. Another guy who is magically good at speaking gibberish. Alcatraz himself has the super-power of breaking things—he's really good at breaking stuff—and I just based these magic powers on silly, goofy things that me or my family do—being late to something is what my Mom always said—and then trying to twist them on their heads. You know, later in the book, Grandpa Smedry will arrive late to a bullet when someone shoots it at him, so it just barely misses him. You know...fun stuff like this, where I take preconceptions and turn them on their heads.

And that's where Alcatraz came from. I didn't write it saying "I'm going to publish this." I wrote it saying "I need [to write] this." I finished it; I sent it off to my agent, and said, "Surprise, I wrote a different book than you were expecting me to." And he wrote back, and said, "Wow, this is actually pretty good! You wrote it really fast—I can tell; it needs a lot of revision—but I think I could sell this, if you want to put the time into revising it." So over the next year or so, I did some revisions and some drafts and some work on it, and we sent it out, and lo and behold, it had nine publishers want it. Four of them got in a bidding war, and it went sky-high and turned out to be this wonderful thing that Dreamworks Animation actually optioned it before it even came out. And so, yeah. It took on this entire life of its own.

I sold to Scholastic four novels in a series. I have just finished the fourth one. There may be subsequent volumes, depending on things—particularly depending on if...um, when things calm down for me; the amount of work I have to do right now prohibitive for me entering into another Alcatraz contract; my attention really needs to be on the Wheel of Time at the moment—but, the third one is coming out in October; sometimes they appear on shelves a little bit early. They're a little bit tougher to find in hardcover than my other books because—I've been told, and maybe...I dunno—it seems that children's books...Scholastic likes to market directly to the schools and libraries, and that's their main method of doing it, at least with my books. They've sold as many that way as they have in bookstores, and the bookstores are kind of hit-or-miss on having a copy. Only about half of them get copies in, and so Amazon might be your best bet, or going to your local independent and asking them to order you a copy, and the paperbacks are generally easy to find, but the hardcovers are a little bit tough to find, but the first few chapters are on my website. If you're looking for something that's lighthearted—that's not ridiculous, but it's lighthearted—has some comedy to it, but really has me looking at the novels in the fantasy genre, in specific, from a postmodern view, just trying to break it down and see what it does, and telling a story with it, then you might enjoy the Alcatraz books.

BILL CUNNINGHAM
Cool.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Well, thank you for that answer. I'm going to have to sign out for the evening; I think this is a good place to wrap up. Next week we should have, as our guest, Professor Scott Nokes. He's our popular medievalist expert from Troy University. He's going to be talking about the most recent "Tolkien" endbook to come out, which is the book in which Tolkien's son published Professor Tolkien's two new Lays of the sagas of Sigurd and Gudrun, so they're kind of his version of Nibelungenlied, written in a poetic format in the style of the old Norse Eddas but in a modern language. So it does have an interesting appeal, and we'll talk about what that means for popular medievalism, and things of that nature. I want to thank Brandon for joining us this evening. Thank you very much for being on our show, Brandon.

BRANDON SANDERSON
Ah, no problem; thanks for having me!

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
And to let you know that if you ever do decide to release your home-brew rules for your RPG as a lulu, that I'll likely purchase them. (laughs)

BRANDON SANDERSON
I've actually considered it, so we'll see. We'll see if I ever have the time to write all of this up. It's pretty screwy.

CHRISTIAN LINDKE
Sure, yeah. It might be interesting to see. But thank you. This is Christian Lindke signing out. I'd also like to thank Bill and Eric for joining us this evening, and I will see you all next week. Have a great, geek-filled week.
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I think it took about as long for me to transcribe this as it did for Brandon to write A Memory of Light. Just saying.