View Full Version : Louie b. Free Radio Show - Interview with Brandon - 3 Nov 2009

Marie Curie 7
03-12-2012, 07:08 PM
This is a transcript of an interview with Brandon on the Louie b. Free Radio Show from 3 November 2009 (http://www.vindy.com/louie-free/archives/2009/nov/03/).

(Note that the segments with Brandon begin at 3:03:14. Also, there are three parts of the show listed on the web site, and only Part One works; however, that includes the entire interview with Brandon.)


Louie: Ladies and gentlemen, back with the Louie Free show, brain food from the heartland.

Louie: Just a little bit ago, I was talking about Brandon Sanderson, I was talking about The Gathering Storm, and I'm honored to have on with me Brandon Sanderson, author of the new book, The Gathering Storm. Brandon, welcome.

Brandon: Yeah, thank you Louie. Thanks for having me on.

Louie: Thank you for coming on. Please tell us about yourself.

Brandon: Well, I am a thirty-four year old guy who picked up a fantasy novel called The Eye of the World when I was fifteen, so about nineteen years ago, and fell in love with it. It was one of the books that made me decide that I wanted to become a writer. So I spent the next few years writing books, finished my first one when I was twenty-one, so after a few years, and really just decided I wanted to do it. Got a job working a graveyard shift at a hotel so I'd have time to write while I was putting myself through school, and wrote thirteen novels over the next eight years – about two a year or so, most of them at the graveyard shift. And eventually sold my sixth novel to TOR Books, which was my favorite publisher. It was the publisher of that original book that had gotten me wanting to become a writer, The Eye of the World, which was written by an author named Robert Jordan. He wrote a series called the Wheel of Time, which I followed through all of these years and part of again what made me into a writer, and I ended up at his same publisher.

Well, in 2007, he passed away, while working on the ending of his series. And like a lot of fans, I was devastated. And this was my hero. This was the person whose books I'd studied when trying to figure out how to become a writer. I didn't know him, I'd never met him, I'd seen at a convention once, but that was the most. About a month later, out of the blue, his wife called me on the phone – I didn't even know that I was being considered for this – and asked me to complete the series for him.

Louie: Oh, tell me about that call. What do you remember about the call? You gotta tell. . . oh, wow. What a story. . . tell me. . . sorry.

Brandon: Yeah, it was a really surreal experience. I actually got it as a voice mail. When I woke up in the morning, you know, you're groggy eyed. I'm two hours behind New York, the East Coast. Harriet, his wife, had called me. I was listening to my voice mails, you know, normal stuff, and there's just one there that says, "Hello, Brandon Sanderson. This is Harriet McDougal, the widow of Robert Jordan. I would like you to call me back. There's something I want to talk to you about."

Louie: And what are you thinking it is at the time, did you know?

Brandon: I had no idea what to think. I mean, I had posted a eulogy to Robert Jordan on my web site, one of many who did that just because he meant so much to so many of us.

Louie: And. . . I'm sorry, brandonsanderson.com. We've got links up at Louie Free Show to brandonsanderson.com. Go ahead, I'm sorry.

Brandon: Yeah, yeah. You can read that original eulogy. I'm going to post a new link to it because a lot of people are coming by looking for it. Anyway, I posted that, and she had read that. A friend had given it to her because it had touched them. Harriet, his wife, is also his editor. There's a wonderful story there. I mean, she discovered Robert Jordan as a writer first, and then while working on the books together they fell in love and got married. And so, she'd been involved in his books from the beginning. But anyway, she had called me up to find out if I was interested in completing the Wheel of Time. I just assumed she'd read my eulogy and she wanted to call me to talk to me about that. . . I don't know what I'm thinking. I tried to call her back, but she didn't answer because she was actually out. It had been several hours since her call.

Louie: Now, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute . . . Brandon, were you freaking out, not being able to reach her?

Brandon: I was freaking out. My wife says. . . she says I was more nervous that day than on our wedding day.

Louie: (cackles loudly)

Brandon: Yeah. . .she's just a little bit bitter about that. But you know, I replied I had six months to get ready for the wedding. This just came out of nowhere, dropped on me like a ton of bricks. So I'm sitting there kind of running around in circles. I call my editor and he doesn't respond, he's not in. I call my agent and he's not in. And so I go up and talk to my wife and I'm just talking a mile a minute. You know, I'm a fast talker, anyway, so you can imagine me that excited. It was just crazy. I eventually got a hold of her by calling up the publisher and saying, "Uh. . . I just got a call from Robert Jordan's widow." So they're like, "Oh yeah. We've been trying to get a hold of you all day. Okay, we'll get her to call you back." She said she just wanted to see if I was interested. She thought I was a potential prospect. She wanted to read my books first, but before even doing that she wanted to make sure I was interested. And I wasn't sure how to respond, to be perfectly honest. I mean, I didn't think, and I still don't think, anyone could replace Robert Jordan. He was an author like we don't get very often.

Louie: Okay, but hold on, hold on. I'm sorry, hold on a sec. . . let me ask. Here you are, here you are. It's kind of like. . .you grew up on his nourishment for your brain – your brain food, if you don't mind. You grow up on this, you love this guy, I mean, you're freaked out he passes away, so there's not going to be more. You get a call from his wife slash life partner slash editor and she says, "Brandon, we want you to carry on the legacy of this guy that has been a 'small g' god to you." Correct? Is that a fair assessment?

Brandon: Yeah, oh yeah. That's a very fair assessment. That's the situation I'm in. I was so tongue-tied, Louie, that I don't think I was able to even speak two words together. I wrote her an email the next day that said, "Dear Harriet. I promise I'm not an idiot, even though I sounded like one." I took that whole night thinking about it. And eventually what I came up with was that I didn't think anyone could replace him, I didn't think I could replace him. I did not think that I could write as good a book as Robert Jordan could have, and I still don't think anyone could have written as good a book, because he should be here to write this book.

But I came to a decision that night. I realized if someone was going to write this book, I wanted it to be me. If it couldn't be Robert Jordan, I wanted it to be in the hands of somebody who loved and revered the series. I'd read some of the books eight times at that point. I'd reread most of the series all the way through often when a new book would come out. I knew that at least then it would be in the hands of someone who wouldn't take it and run off with it and make it their own, but would have tried to make it see his vision and be his story. And I'd made that decision, I realized, yes, I do want to do this. It's a tragedy that we lost him, but if I'm doing it, then I know it won't be screwed up. And so that's when I wrote her the email and said, "Harriet, I'm sorry I sounded like an idiot. I do want to do this, and these are the reasons."

Louie: She had to know that you were going to be. . . I mean, she had to know that whoever she called and obviously called the right person. Again, the results. . . the book, now available everywhere. If you camped out, you've already got yours. If you don't, you can have it. Please buy it at your local independent bookseller when you are able to. The Gathering Storm. It is The Gathering Storm. And it's Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's name obviously prominent on the book. Gathering Storm. . . available everywhere. It is available at your independent bookseller. It is available in your neighborhood. Please, before you buy – I hope you don't mind this, Brandon – before you go to buy it online, buy it from a store where your neighbors and the people in your community are going to benefit.

Brandon: Can I give a shout-out to an independent bookstore in your market?

Louie: Yeah please, go ahead. Yes, you can.

Brandon: I think you cover Pittsburgh, right?

Louie: Well, we're in northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania. Absolutely, go ahead.

Brandon: Okay. Because there's a store in Pittsburgh that I love, the Joseph-Beth Booksellers there.

Louie: Oh yeah. Well, there's also one in the Cleveland area. Yeah, there's a few of them around. Go ahead.

Brandon: I love the Jo-Beth Booksellers. They are amazing people, and they've been supporters of my books from the beginning. You know, the thing you get at an indy bookstore like that is you get people who love the books, who aren't just working a job, who are working a job they love. They go there on purpose. And they read the books. The manager in the Pittsburgh Jo-Beth contacted me just out of the blue based on my own books, my Mistborn series, just saying, "I love these books. We want to do a big display on them. And would you just tell us some of the books that you've loved in your life so that we can put up the display with it?" And she took a picture of it and sent it to me. Wonderful store.

Louie: Oh god, that's great. And again, when you buy, you keep those stores alive, folks. Think of how many stores that you always loved, wherever you are, that are gone now. And then you thought, afterwards, you know what, I should have gone there more, maybe I shouldn't have ordered online, and I always knew that was important in my community, and now they're gone. And the way to keep them is to patronize them. And as I say, even if you don't have a real independent bookstore, if it's a Barnes and Noble or a Borders that's in your community, you still want to hold onto those.

Brandon: Right. Yeah, you do. I mean, I bought all my books growing up at a little independent science fiction and fantasy bookseller. I actually bought Eye of the World, the Robert Jordan book, at this bookstore.

Louie: Hey, tell me about that. . . tell me, tell me. Brandon Sanderson, tell me about the first book you bought – the first Robert Jordan book.

Brandon: Well, I walked in the door to this bookstore – I would go there once a week because I knew when new books came out, they came out on Tuesdays – and I would walk in, and there was the new release day. And these people knew books – they only carried science fiction and fantasy, which is what I loved. And they knew how to get the right books in the hands of a little teenage guy who was just devouring them. I discovered fantasy one year before.

And I remember walking in, and there featured displayed prominently was this big thick paperback of Eye of the World – I can just visualize it – and that's the first book in the Wheel of Time. And it was big, and it was thick. And I loved big thick books because I knew that there was immersion there. I didn't want something to be over quickly like a snap. I mean, that's what you get in a movie or something like that. In a book, I want to be immersed. I want to be able to dig my teeth in and really get to know people in the world. So I looked for the big ones. It wasn't necessarily an indication of quality, but I knew that if I found one I loved and it was big, I'd be able to spend a lot of time there. And this one was huge.

And I remember buying that book, and just really getting sucked in, like nothing I'd read before. I mean, the generation before me read Tolkien. I hadn't read Tolkien. I'd tried Tolkien when I was too young and it had been too hard for me. It had been years since I tried Tolkien, but I grew up on The Eye of the World. This was the fantasy epic of the Wheel of Time for my generation, but I later read Tolkien and loved it.

Louie: I'm glad you say that, because again, you know, I'm an aging flower child, so that ought to tell you a lot. And you know, Tolkien – that was where it was at – Lord of the Rings. A now a lot of people – a new generation, after the movie came out – have gone back to read that. And you know, it was a different time, obviously. And I'm glad you brought up Tolkien because many talk about this as the new Tolkien – kind of like if you liked Tolkien, you're going to love Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. How do you feel about that?

Brandon: You're going to love the Wheel of Time. I've read a lot of fantasy, a lot of fantasy. I've read a lot of things – I like to read widely now that I'm older. I think it's important to read widely and to be sampling lots of different stuff, particularly viewpoints you don't agree with so you can see what people are saying and listen to them. I think that's really what has to happen. But anyway, I love fantasy, I've read a lot of it. And no one got it right like Robert Jordan got it right. Meaning, Tolkien did something amazing. He blew our minds, is really what happened. There hadn't been anything like Tolkien. There'd been fantasy, but never epic fantasy, with the real world that just feels like it's got a history and a lore and everything together – never been anything like that before. And a lot of people tried to imitate Tolkien, and what they did is they copied him. They copied the tropes. They used the same types of races, the same type of story, and yet they didn't get the core of it right, in my opinion. Not until Robert Jordan, where he did the lore and the mythology, and it was all his own. He wasn't copying Tolkien, and yet he was using the process that Tolkien did.

I mean, a part of the genius of these books, the Wheel of Time, is this idea of the circular nature of time. The idea is that the world of the Wheel of Time is actually our world in the future and in the deep past, because ages come and pass. And so, in the Wheel of Time books, you'll find references to things like a man who flew to the moon in the belly of an eagle, which is a reference to Buzz Aldrin, and things like this. Our history has become their mythology. And yet the things they're living through are the foundation for some of our mythology. There's a character who's – you can see, if you really research it – Robert Jordan is using Odin and Loki as mythology that this person is starting, as in when our time comes around again this person was the foundation of what became the Odin and Loki mythology. And so, it's fascinating how he's interweaving our world becoming their world, which is becoming our world – just wonderful sort of philosophical use of mythology. But of course, the real core is the characters. It's not about philosophy, it's about characters that you love and you care about as they live through all of this.

Louie: I'm talking with Brandon Sanderson. The new book, The Gathering Storm, available everywhere – everywhere – online. Brandon Sanderson's website is brandonsanderson.com, and there's an awful lot there and we've got links up at louiefreeshow.com, or go directly to brandonsanderson.com. We'll be back with much more on the Louie b. Free Radio Show, brain food from the heartland, right after this.

(Break between segments of the interview)

Louie: Folks, we're able to keep Brandon Sanderson for another segment and I'm delighted, Brandon. I want to thank you for accommodating us with some extra time.

Brandon: Oh no, thank you, Louie. This has been a really great interview, so I wanted to stay.

Louie: Thank you, thank you. Thank you for what you were saying off-air, too. It really means the world to me. The Gathering Storm is the name of the book. You know, I'm looking at some of the early emails, and you've got obviously a ton of fans around the world. Tell me what's it like when you know that you've got people that are literally camping out to get an early copy of The Gathering Storm. I mean, that has just got to be incredible. What's that like for you?

Brandon: It is. It's an honor, honestly. But, you know, the thing to keep in mind: they're not camping out for me. This isn't about me. This is about the Wheel of Time. This is about Robert Jordan's books. And really, what I'm doing on this book is I'm trying to be as invisible as possible. I don't want them to see Brandon Sanderson. If they see too much Brandon Sanderson, then I've failed. I want them to see the story and see the characters.

You know, I can't replace Robert Jordan. I've said that from the beginning. I'm not trying to imitate his voice. I don't think it would be right. I mean, I have flashes in my mind of stand-up comedians doing parodies, when I've thought about trying to imitate him. And it would come off as hokey, I think. But instead what I'm trying to do is to stay true to the series and the characters, and adapt my style to fit it. And so, the best emails I've gotten from people are people who've emailed me and say, 'You know what? When I started reading, I could tell. I could tell just slightly that it was different. But by the end of the first chapter, I was sucked in, and it didn't matter. I couldn't see it any more because you did the story right and you did the characters right.' And that's what I'm looking to see.

Louie: Well, when you say that, you've obviously done an incredible job of keeping your ego out of it. I think it would be hard, honestly, when you've got people that adore you, yet you push away from that. That's very interesting about you. Tell me about growing up. What was it like growing up Brandon Sanderson?

Brandon: Well, growing up Brandon Sanderson . . . I've later discovered that my story isn't unique. I'm not one of those people who's been writing books since the womb. You know, you'll talk to writers sometimes, and they'll say, 'Yeah, I was two years old and I composed my first epic.' And those people amaze me. But I wasn't one of them, I wasn't a reader. And this happens to a lot of boys, I've found, doing research about it now after the fact. When they hit about fourth or fifth grade, something happens and they stop reading. And that's what happened to me – stopped reading.

I didn't like books. People kept trying to give me books. And it seemed like they all tried to give me the same book. Which, you know, I think that there are different books for different people, and every book affects somebody. And the fact that I didn't like them doesn't mean they weren't perfect for someone else. But they were trying to give me books about boys who live in the wilderness with their pet dog, and then the dog dies, and it's traumatic and that's the end of the book. I read two or three of those and I'm like, 'Reading is boring. They're all about boys with dogs who die. And if their dog doesn't die, then their mother dies. And why are people giving me this stuff?'

And then I got to eighth grade, and in eighth grade I had a teacher – Mrs. Reader, coincidentally. I've since sent her several books as a thank you. But anyway, she's the first who kind of grabbed a hold of me and said, 'This kid can do more than he's doing.' And she wouldn't let me wiggle out of my book reports and things like I'd done in previous classes. She took me back to her little cart. You know how teachers have these carts of old ratty books that kids have been reading, and they've spilled spaghetti sauce on, and all these things. They all have these. She took me back and she pulled out one, and it was actually called Dragonsbane – it was an epic fantasy novel. She handed it to me and she said, 'Read this one. I think you'll like it.' And I hadn't really tried fantasy except for Tolkien, which as I said earlier, I tried too young for me. When you're a reluctant reader, Tolkien is really challenging, and it wasn't right for me. It had been several years since that, though.

And Dragonsbane, what it was is it was a story about a woman who was a witch. And she had been told when she was younger that she could be the greatest witch who'd ever lived. She was a natural prodigy. She could be amazing if she'd dedicate herself to her art. And yet at the same time, she was in love with a man and had had children with him, and was a mother. The story is actually about the last living dragonslayer, who is her husband, who's called on to kill a dragon when he's in his fifties – he's old, he's not the young man he used to be. And it's actually her story, and it's about her kind of trying to juggle her life between the magic, which is like her passion and her career, and her children.

And at the same time, my mother graduated first in her class in accounting, in an age when women didn't really go into accounting. She was the only one in her class. She had been offered numerous prestigious scholarships. And she had actually turned those down because she was pregnant with me, and she felt it important for a few years to just focus on me. And I read this epic fantasy novel and it had adventure, it had swords, it had dragons. And I got done with this book, and I felt like I understood my mother more.

Louie: Wow!

Brandon: And it blew my mind. It was so weird. I'd had this wonderful adventure. And yet, I understood my mother. I understood, because she had always walked that line. She had always been a mother, and she had worked very hard at her career. She was a very great accountant, and yet she had never quite dedicated herself fully to that because she felt that her family was important. And this woman was struggling with the same thing. It didn't give you answers. It didn't say, 'oh she should have done this, she should have done that.' It just showed her life. And that’s what I think really great fiction does, is it shows someone’s life, and it gives you a perspective on it.

And that's really what launched me into fantasy, was reading this and realizing I can have fun and adventure and magic and wonder. And the really good books can show me characters, too, characters who aren't like me. I mean, Tolkien did that. In a way, when you're reading Tolkien, in part you're reading about an elf and a dwarf who come from extremely different worlds, from you and from each other, who end up becoming friends. And it says something about racism and about prejudice, about how those characters come together that could only really be done in a fantasy book in that way. And this is what our genre does. It's metaphorical, and yet it's personal. And that's why I fell in love with it, and why I was poised, at age fifteen, to read Robert Jordan.

Louie: Let me ask you this, Brandon Sanderson, if we can. The blog post, the one that you wrote after Robert Jordan passed away: "You showed me what it was to have vision and scope." Tell me a little bit about that post.

Brandon: When he passed away, I didn't know how to respond. My very first impression was I knew that he and Harriet, his editor, were married and I felt just terrible for her. And then I felt terrible – and this is selfish – but I felt terrible that I hadn't gone and met him. I'd seen him at that one convention and the fact that I hadn't walked up and shaken his hand and said how much he meant to me. And I, at the same time, sat there thinking, 'Man, everyone in fantasy who's an author is probably going to start chasing this project,' and that made me feel sick. And so, it actually took me three or four days to get my feelings down on paper, or on screen at least. I composed a number of things and I tossed them, and I kind of struggled with it. And I eventually came up with this short, little eulogy. It's not really that long. You can find it on my web site just by clicking on my Wheel of Time link.

Louie: Okay now, I want to know. I'm getting people that are saying specifically. I want to put it up if you don't mind. Is it at the blog? Is it at . . . ? I'm looking at the Wheel of Time link . . . I mean, I'm looking at the . . . Wheel of Time portal?

Brandon: Yeah, click on the portal. And then just on the left, there's a little link that says 'Robert Jordan Eulogy'.

Louie: Oh, I see it. I see it. Okay, okay. And I will put a direct link up to that. And again, it's brandonsanderson.com. I'm sorry, Brandon. Go ahead.

Brandon: Yeah, a direct link to that would be great. If people wonder why I spelled 'eulogy' wrong, it was a long running thing on my web site, so I know that it's spelled wrong. It had to do with essays that I was writing.

But anyway, so I wrote this, and I talked just about picking up Eye of the World for the first time, and why I had chosen TOR when they had come to me and I'd finally had a book offer. After writing thirteen novels, I sold my sixth one. And after having them finally come to me and say, 'Yes, we'll publish you.' Actually, my agent said, 'You know we could probably, now that we have an offer, go somewhere else and try and bid it up,' and things like this. And I said no. I said no, this is TOR This is Robert Jordan's publisher. No, we're not going to do that. I was where I wanted to be. And I kind of wrote about that. I just wrote about what he'd meant in my life. It was just something from the heart. I never expected it to be seen by that many people.

Louie: Okay, Brandon. Brandon, I'm going to interrupt you. Where does the heart come from? I find so many men, especially, disconnected from emotion and heart. How is it that you are so connected to your heart? I love this with the eulogy. And I'm going to tell you – I'm not a writer, I don't have your skills – but I wrote some blogs. I wrote one once called . . . I called it 'The unanswered knock of love'. And I ended up doing ten of them because women were writing, and women were writing, but not men about it. Tell me about your attachment to your heart, your connection.

Brandon: Well, it's very interesting because I as a person – and my friends will say this – I'm not a terribly emotional person. I’m actually pretty even keeled. I don't generally feel negative emotions. I don't get angry, I don't do these things. Yet the thing that can get me is fiction. I think one of the reasons I've always been attached to fiction is the thing that will make me feel emotions is reading a good story, and that's one of the very few things that can do it. And one part of my fascination with writing, why I became a writer, is because it feels to me that when I'm reading someone's story, when I can see into their heart, that's what gets me that connection, and that's what actually gets me those emotions.

There are things that I don't think that I would ever feel as strongly if I hadn't felt them through fiction. And I don't know why that is. I don't know why I can connect on the page. Maybe it's because I was an introvert when I was young, and I discovered reading. You know, these characters in these books became my friends. I wasn't a popular kid – I was a nerd, I was a fantasy reader. Fantasy as a subculture hadn't gotten really big back then. I was kind of a loner, and I could find emotion and friends in these books. And it's always just meant so much to me that these writers were able to do this. People like Robert Jordan and Anne McCaffrey, and David Eddings, and my favorite fantasy writers.

Louie: I've got to ask you. I'm going to ask you again. I guess it may be a little different, it may be the same. But what does it mean, then, to know – you're talking about being a little alone, lonely, disconnected, whatever as a child, or as a young person – now knowing that you're writing and you're giving a similar gift to others and that connection. You know what it meant to you, Brandon Sanderson, when you were young. What does it mean to now be the giver of that, or the connector of those? How would you respond?

Brandon: I tell people if they really want to get to know me, read my fiction because I'm there in every character. And people say they read my books and they feel like they know me, and they kind of joke, 'Oh no, I don't really.' And I say, no, you do. It's there. If you're reading it, you're seeing me. And I remember when the first time I realized that I was doing what you just said – that I was doing for people what people had done for me – was when I started getting my first emails. And I had gotten one from someone who said to me, it was a young man, 'Your books are what made me start reading.' And it stomped me, it throws me, and it floored me, because I have trouble believing I belong on the shelf with all those writers that I grew up reading, because they're the masters and I'm just the journeyman. I got into this because of them. And that was the first moment where I froze, and I said, 'Oh, wow! It's happening. I mean, I'm part of this. It's a cycle. It's a circle. I'm giving back to what people gave to me.' It really was a strange and surreal moment, and I just sat and stared at the screen for a little while.

Louie: I've got to ask you, and I know you've got to go to do another one. Where do you see this going? What would your best dream be for this to go, what you're doing now, your writing?

Brandon: You know what? I just want to be telling these stories until the day I die. I want them to have to pry my forehead off the keyboard where, you know, I've typed a thousand pages of the space bar because I've just died and keeled over and head hit the keyboard. You know, I didn't get into this because I want fame. You shouldn't become a writer because of any of that. I became this because I wanted to be part of this community and I wanted to say something.

I've found that readers . . . it's a wonderful place to be because, really, your readers are like your colleagues. In a lot of other, sort of celebrity sort of things, an actor or something becomes this big flashy celebrity. That's not what happens with authors. When I meet my readers, they are my colleagues and we have a connection. They're supporting me in this. They're actually my patrons. It's kind of like the old days when you'd have a wealthy individual that supported an artist. Well, that's what they're doing for me, and they're part of this. I just want to be giving them stories that live up to their expectations.

Louie: Brandon Sanderson, believe me, I wish we had more time. Maybe we can talk again.

Brandon: I would love to talk again.

Louie: Really? You are an amazing, amazing guy. You know, obviously you are such a giver of a wonderful gift to so many, and now to millions. The success of The Gathering Storm is indicative of that. Again, I know you've got to go, so I will make this brief, but I just want to thank you. Thank you so much for all your time today.

Brandon: Oh no, no. Thank you. This has been one of the best interviews I have ever done, hands down. Thank you, Louie.

Louie: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.