View Full Version : Galley Table Podcast

11-21-2012, 02:06 PM
9 July 2012


You're listening to the Galley Table podcast from flyingislandpress.com, where we talk about science fiction, fantasy, writing, reading, watching stuff, and an occasional random question just to make it interesting.

Hello. Instead of our normal Galley Table, this week we bring you a special interview, this one with Brandon Sanderson by our very own Phillip [?] Carroll. Phillip had the chance to go to BayCon 2012—for those people on the west coast, that's the same weekend as BaltiCon—and he got a chance to talk to Brandon Sanderson about his projects, the future, the past, and a lot of things in between. So enjoy.

Phillip: But here are the questions that I asked my buddies to send in here. My daughter actually—I'll ask her question first in case we run out of time—Waxillian? Why Waxillian?

Brandon: Oh, that's a great question. The thing about Waxillian's name is, a lot of people don't like it. I actually love it, but that happens a lot in my books; I'll do something I love that I kind of know other people are going to be annoyed by. The Wax books came, actually....as I was designing the books, I was figuring the characters, and the pun Wax and Wayne struck me, and I thought, "I can't do that; that's too lame a pun." But the characters adopted those name before I could even do anything about it, and I actually tried changing the names, and it didn't work. You know how sometimes, organically, it just happens, and you're like, "I gotta go with this." And so I didn't want to actually just named them Wax and Wayne; I wanted Wax to be short for something, and it fits very well into the Mistborn universe, because all the characters tend to have nicknames that—you know, there was Clubs and Ham and Breeze in the last series—and I wanted a name that fit with that, and so Wax worked really well, but I wanted it to be short for something, and so I started looking at period names, things like William that worked and I actually ended up picking Waxillian because it also has a metallurgic sound and I figured names in this culture in the Mistborn world where metals are so important to the magic, you might have people named after metals; you might have names that sound like metals intentionally because of that resonance. At the end of the day I just really ended up liking it. It is a bizarre name.

Phillip: Thank you. The Alloy of Law was the first book of yours that I listened to—I don't have a chance to read; it's like you; it's limited time, and at work I can listen—and I really enjoyed that and handed it on to my daughter who loved it as well. Can we look forward to the second book?

Brandon: Yes, there will be more with those characters; I really enjoyed doing that one, and so I will be doing more. There is the trilogy before, of course, which is more epic fantasy, and this is a little bit more a detective novel, but yeah, I plan to do some more.

Phillip: Do you have any idea when that next one will be?

Brandon: I really can't say because there is so much that I've got going on. Finishing the last Wheel of Time is really a big priority to me right now, and then the second Stormlight Archive is a very big priority also. And so, I will do the second Alloy of Law book—I've given it the title Shadows of Self; I've got some plotting and things done for it—but I can't promise a time.

Phillip: Okay, thank you. That was one of my other questions that Zach sent in was, The Way of Kings. That's the one you just mentioned, you're doing the second book? Because I'm listening to the Mistborn trilogy right now; I just started on The Final Empire, and I'm loving that. Again, through Audible. I'm through the first third of it, and I'm having a good time. But that was Zach's second question.

Brandon: When is the second book going to be out?

Phillip: Yeah.

Brandon: I will be starting that as soon as the Wheel of Time book is done to my satisfaction. That's looking like maybe July, and then I will write the second book, as long as it takes. A book like that doesn't come fast. The way I'm a faster writer: I'm imagining eight months to ten months for the initial draft, and then it will depend on how long it takes to revise based on my editor's feedback and how long Tor feels they want to wait. I am guessing next fall.

Phillip: Okay. Zach says, the year that he read that book, by far, it was the best book he had read that year.

Brandon: Oh, well I appreciate hearing that.

Phillip: He's a big fan. When I told him that—they're all at Balticon, and I'm here at BayCon, and when they found out you were going to be here, he just went all fanboy on us. He says, he mentions that you teach a class at BYU...

Brandon: I do; I teach a class.

Phillip: ...and, what are some of the typical mistakes you find writers in that class make?

Brandon: Oh, there's a whole host of things we can talk about in this realm. I teach the class because I actually took the class when I was an undergraduate, and they were looking for a teacher—the teacher who was teaching it moved on—and I took it on because I didn't want them to cancel it. It's how to write science fiction and fantasy. And I would say that one of the big early issues with fantasy and science fiction writers is the infodump. They don't know how to balance those early pages, those early chapters, in making it interesting and exciting without dumping a whole bunch of worldbuilding on us, which is a real challenge because...we just had a panel on this here at the con; worldbuilding is what we read science fiction and fantasy for; it's the cool stuff; it's the cream that drives us to read this; it's what we love, and yet, throwing too much on us at the beginning can really stifle a book, and I would say that's a big rookie mistake.

Another big rookie mistake is assuming that all it takes is writing one book. Most authors, you know, you learn to write by writing. I like to use the metaphor lately of learning to hit a baseball with a baseball bat. You only learn to do that by practicing; you can't read about hitting a baseball and then go out and know how to do it. Certainly reading about it is going to help you with some things, and as you're swinging that baseball bat, the pros are not thinking about which muscles they're moving. They're not thinking about necessarily even their stance at that point; they've just done it so much and done it so well that they get to the point that they can do it, second nature. And that's what a writer wants to learn to do. And you do that by, at the beginning, you do think about your stance. You do think about your grip. You do work on these...you target certain things and you learn to extend the metaphor. You work on your prose or you work on your characters, or you specifically hone in on this, but at the end of the day, writing a lot and practicing is what's going to teach you to fix problems in your writing by instinct. And I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one. I don't think everyone has to do that, but I certainly think that your first job to do is to finish one novel, and then you need to start writing a second one.

Phillip: Alright, thank you. The science fiction magazine at BYU: do you recommend your students participate in that?

Brandon: I do. I actually offer extra credit for anyone who goes to the magazine and reads slush. I feel for a new writer, reading slush on a magazine can be really helpful because you see what some of the rookie mistakes are, being made by other people kind of in your same mode, your same skill set, and sometimes, when I did it as an aspiring writer, it taught me so much about what newer writers were doing, and things that I could avoid. It also helps to spend a little time around editors and see what's going through the minds of editors. Certainly a magazine is different from a book publication, but they share a lot of things, and it can be very helpful in teaching, so I suggest if there's a local fanzine—or a local semi-prozine, which is what the BYU magazine is, kind of, what the terminology is for it—go be a part; read some slush, and be part of the community, and see what other writers are doing.

Phillip: Thank you. I think that's what Zach pictured in mind when he started Flying Island Press and Flagship was that very same...I think he was actually on that staff at BYU.

Brandon: Oh, good! Good.

Phillip: And I understand what you mean by reading a lot of slush, because we read a lot of slush. One other question Zach's wife had is, do you plan on doing any more YA humor books like Alcatraz?

Brandon: I actually have several that I want to do. My schedule's very packed; actually my next YA books are not humor; they're more adventurous. Well, I've got one that's more epic fantasy-ish, and one that's more adventurous. I do want to finish out the Alcatraz series; I actually bought it back from Scholastic, and bringing it to Tor, and then I'm going to finish it off. I also have a book I've wanted to write forever called "Zeke Harbinger, Destroyer of Worlds" which is about a young man who, whenever he visits a planet—it's a science fiction—for whatever reason the planet ends up blowing up. It's not really his fault, but there's like a nuclear catastrophe on one, or things like that—don't worry, people are getting evacuated—but whenever goes to a planet it blows up, and that's kind of his...the series is about, you know, each book you visit a planet, and for some reason it ends up exploding. So, you know, I have silly things like that that I want to do. "Mulholland Homebrew's Sinister Shop of Secret Pets", a little fantasy story about a girl who accidentally apprentices herself to a guy who runs a fantasy pet shop. You know, stuff like that. Weird things, it's what goes through my head. We'll see if I actually end up writing it.

Phillip: Well, that's nice. I think Zach designed Flagship around his beliefs. Our goal is to have stories that are uplifting, that are a positive nature. You know, there's a dark side to everything, but we want it coming out as a positive experience, or outlook on mankind. He mentions that Dave Farland says you need to make moral choices about what you write, and what you advocate in your books. Do you feel like you have that opinion as well? Do you feel like your religion flows over into your writing at all at any point?

Brandon: Yes and no. I don't go into books with a message. At the same time, I like to read about heroism, and I like to read about moral choices. I like to read about all spectrums of moral choice, honestly. I like to approach an issue and say, you know there's going to be five or six valid points on this same issue, and everyone is going to think that their side is the moral side, and I want, in my books, each one to have a legitimate ground to stand on. I don't want to be picking a side necessarily; I want to be offering the item up for discussion. I think that true morality is making you think and consider your actions as opposed to just doing them, and I think there's a real strong morality to forcing you to see other perspectives and other sides. So I would say that I like my fiction to be moral but from that definition of moral. I dont' look at my fiction as necessarily teaching people which way to act, though I do think about it a lot. I think about what my role is as someone who is writing fiction that people are reading and experiencing, and what influence I have over them, and what responsibility that affects upon me. These are all very important things that I think about quite a bit. At the end of the day I want to tell a great story about characters you care about, who sometimes think differently than you do.

Phillip: Okay. Stephen King in his book On Writing says that there are some greats—and honestly when I started Alloy of Law, I thought, "This is great."

Brandon: Thank you!

Phillip: You know, I was in the story immediately, it was there, I pictured it—and then he says there are some that are good, that by working hard you can get better, and then there are some that just will be able to write no matter what they do. You have a master's degree in Creative Writing which is, I think, outside the norm of science fiction...

Brandon: Yeah, there are certainly others. Honestly, my master's degree was a stalling tactic. I wanted to become a writer; I was writing very vigorously, and I wanted to get the degree. It certainly helped me, but more it was a, I did not want to face having to say, "I'm not going to be doing this" if that makes sense. And I felt a few extra years of school to spend more time....you know, schooling was wonderful for me, because it was a time during which I could just be a writer, and I could focus on my writing, and the classes I would take really helped me with my writing. I would try to focus on ones that would give me things to write about, and I wanted to extend that experience.

I also wanted to, initially, approach the idea of getting teaching jobs. I soon learned once I got my master's degree there's actually the economy there. If you want teaching jobs, you really have to focus on the things that will lead to teaching jobs, and sometimes that actually is not the writing. You have to part of, you know, the Graduate Student Associations, you have to be publishing in the right journals, and writing science fiction and fantasy was not going to get me there, and I had to make that choice very very early on where I said, well, I'm going to let my master's teach me to be a better writer, but I am not going to pursue teaching any more, because I just don't have the drive to do that. There are people that have as much passion for that as I have passion for writing my stories, and those are the people that should be teaching.

Now, I'll teach this one class—I really do enjoy it—but I don't want to do it full time. By the time I'm done with this one class every year, I'm like exhausted of teaching and done reading student work, and want to be done, and it takes me a whole year to recharge to do it again. And that says to me, you know, I have an interest in it but not a passion, a super passion for it. So yeah, I made that call. The master's degree was useful, mostly to keep me around other writers, to be involved with them, and a lot of my writing classes were actually just workshops, and they were workshops with other people who were writing very good stuff.

Phillip: I have to say that, in listening to you on panels, I believe that that master's experience shows through. When other people are talking, I don't believe they are nearly as articulate in the things that they're saying.

Brandon: Right, a lot of writers write by instinct, like I said before, and actually talking about writing is different from knowing how to do it. You know, there are a lot of writers who are really great writers—better writers than I am—that can't really vocalize why they do what they do, and I think that the study of it required me to look at it through those eyes, so that I can, which is very nice. It does make it more helpful when I'm trying to explain to people what I do, and hopefully that will help them.

Phillip: Okay. One of the—probably the last question that was brought was, how has your own...have you placed your own footprint, or fingerprint, on the Wheel of Time? And I think you brought it up here, in this last panel about worldbuilding, with the cannons.

Brandon: My goal in the Wheel of Time was not to put my own fingerprint on it. I wanted to finish Robert Jordan's series as close to the soul of the series as he would do, and yet I realized as part of the process quickly that I couldn't imitate him, and that I would have to make it a little bit my own—it would have to be a collaboration—and that's a necessary evil. I really do wish that Robert Jordan were here to finish the books the way that they should have been finished, but there are certain things that he does that I can't do. For instance, he was in Vietnam. He was a soldier. He understood battle in a way that I never will. I instead have watched a whole lot of Hong Kong action films, you know, things like that, and so the way I approach an action sequence is very different from him, and the way I look at magic is a little bit different from the way he looked at magic. That's one thing that is different [between] us. So, the action sequences, things like that. My goal has been to make the characters still feel like themselves, but you will see my fingerprint on things: the way I treat some of the worldbuilding and the action sequences are the two big ones.

Phillip: Okay, great. I have a personal question of my own. I'm LDS as well. After attending this meeting on worldbuilding, the primary problem is my faith that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, because he really had six years to work on it, and I think that he had the ability to put that book together himself...

Brandon: You know, yeah, a lot of people talk about there's no way that he could have done it. Being a fantasy writer myself, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that he could have written it himself, and I think basing your testimony, in the church, based on a concept like that is the wrong way to go. It is the wrong way to go, basing your testimony on, "Well, it's obviously impossible that he wrote it, therefore it must be true..." That's actually a bad logical way to look at the church.

I look at the church through eyes of faith, and my testimony is based solely on the fact that I believe God has spoken to me. I ask him, I say, "Is this what you want me to do," and I felt that testimony; I felt that burning inside, and for me, you know what, honestly, it doesn't happen that often for me. It's not like, you know, some people, they go to church, and every time it's like...no. I can point to three distinct points in my life where I felt that testimony, and other times I felt a good comfort, but there are three things where I said it was, you know, knock me down, this is true, that....and it wasn't even necessarily focused on the church. One was that I should be a writer, and one that I should be marrying my wife. The other one is very personal, so I won't mention that one, but those two moments I felt a powerful, powerful presence, and it came down to one of two things for me: either this is confirmation bias, which I assume you know about—either it's confirmation bias or it's the truth, and because if there is a God, he's not going to let me have this moment thinking that there....that, you know, this isn't going to be a lie. Either God is real and I'm feeling these sorts of confirmation...it really became that dichotomy for me, feeling those two things.

And from there, I just try to do the best I can. This faith has worked very well for me; I have not received any necessarily, moments saying "don't do this." There are lots of things in any religion—LDS faith is not alone in this—there are lots of things in any religion that are going to raise some eyebrows. You say, look, there's some logical holes here, and it doesn't matter which religion you're talking about; there's gonna be those. And because I've had those moments, those are what I have based, fundamentally, my faith upon, and honestly, for me, it's a choice between atheistic humanism, which has some very valid points, and the faith that I have now, and I only...you know, it's very Cartesian. Descartes, you know, "I think, therefore I am." I have to rely on my senses and my emotions, and feeling what I felt, if I say, "That's just confirmation bias," for me that means that I can't really rely on my senses, and I don't really want to go that way. I want to rely on what I have felt, and you know, on a more lofty scale I think there's more to it than all of this, than just this world. I think there's gotta be.

And that's, you know...who knows? Maybe the secular humanistic approach is right, and I have no problem with the secular humanists; I don't think that there's this....you know, these are generally sincere people who are interested in finding truth, but you know what, I believe that I can follow the scientific method for my faith. I can say, "Is this true?" I can pray. I can feel a confirmation, and it's repeatable. It's, every time I've wanted it, I've felt it. That's enough for me to go forward in faith right now. So, that's my version of a comment to you. I don't mind if you post that—I really don't; it's okay—but you know, I think we just do the best we can, and we soldier forward.

Phillip: Alright, thank you very much. Thanks for talking to me.

Brandon: Yeah, thank you.