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Old 10-17-2011, 12:57 AM
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Default Science and Society Podcast, 30 November 2009

This is a transcript of the Science and Society Podcast, an interview with Brandon Sanderson on November 30, 2009.

And I gotta say that (1) there is nothing to do with the so-called "mission" of the society in the interview, and (2) this interviewer's voice and mannerisms are really kinda annoying.


Science and Society Podcast
November 30, 2009

David: Hello, everyone and welcome to Science and Society – our world, our well-being, our future. I'm Dr. David Lenberg. The Science and Society mission is to promote and support the public understanding and awareness of science, and to promote and support math and science education. Please visit us online at scienceandsociety – all one word – .net.

Today's special guest is Brandon Sanderson, author of The Gathering Storm. The Gathering Storm, recently published by Tor Books, is book twelve of the Wheel of Time series, and the first of three novels to make up the conclusion. The final two novels will be released within the next three years.

Brandon Sanderson is the New York Times best-selling author of several critically acclaimed fantasy novels including the Mistborn trilogy and the recent Warbreaker. In five years, Brandon went from unknown college student to best-selling author to the writer chosen to complete Robert Jordan's #1 New York Times best-selling series. His first published book was Elantris, a terrific novel which won the Romantic Times award for best epic fantasy of 2005. Elantris was chosen by editors as the best fantasy or science fiction book of the year. Please welcome Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon: Thank you.

David: Brandon, thank you very much for being with us. Well, we've got plenty to talk about, so let's start with The Gathering Storm. This is brand new, I think it was released last week. Can you tell us how The Gathering Storm came to be?

Brandon: Well, The Gathering Storm is the first, as you said, in the sequence of novels completing the Wheel of Time. Wheel of Time is a huge long-running wonderful fantasy series that I began reading when I was 15 years old, written by an author named Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, and at that point I was just a fan. I was devastated, like many of us. He had fought a long battle with a rare blood disease, amyloidosis. And I, like most of the fans, just worried about what would happen to the series.

I didn't apply to finish it or to work on it or anything. I simply got a phone call one morning from his widow, who was also his editor. And she was wondering if I would be interested in working on the series. She had read a eulogy I'd written for Robert Jordan, and I'd come recommended to her as an author who was a big fan of the series, but also an author in his own right. And she read my book Mistborn and wanted me to finish the series. And so, it's really been a very surreal experience, spending many years reading these books and loving these books, and becoming an author myself in part because of how much I love these books. And then, being asked to finish them, it's been very strange, but also a very reverent process, because, you know, in a lot of ways, this is my hero's legacy I'm working on. So yeah, it's been great, and it's been daunting all at the same time.

David: Brandon, thank you. Can you tell us a bit more about the Wheel of Time series? The Gathering Storm is number twelve?

Brandon: Yes. The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy. If you're not familiar with epic fantasy, in that genre what we really try to do is, we try to tell historical novels that take place. . . we try to write historical novels that take place in worlds that don't exist, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Lord of the Rings is of course the classic example of a great epic fantasy. These are stories about the beginnings and endings of eras and ages. They're stories about people put through extreme pressures and into extreme situations. In fantasy, what we're really trying to do is, we're trying to explore the human experience by going places that regular fiction can't go because we have the freedom in this genre to ask the 'what ifs': what if this?, what if that?

And the Wheel of Time's big 'what if' is: what if you were told that you were the person who had to save the world? What if you were told that you would probably end up dying, but if you succeeded the world would continue to exist, and if you failed everything would end? And it follows one character, and then splits off from there. The first book, about the first half, is about a man named Rand, who's this person who's been told this. But it really becomes a sweeping epic that follows the lives of dozens of different characters as they're living through these experiences and dealing with them. And it's about their lives and their relationships, and really just digging down into the core of the types of emotions that people display during the most stressful moments that could possibly exist.

David: Wow. Wow, it sounds great. Now, I know that there are 30 million copies of the Wheel of Time that have been sold worldwide, so the series itself is a massive phenomenon. What's it like to come on board? You're a well-known author in your own right. What's it like to come on board and write a sequel in a series like this?

Brandon: You know, it's really like becoming stepfather to 30 million people at the same time. The fans, number one, have been great. And they know that before Robert Jordan passed away, he asked his wife to find somebody because he wanted the series completed. And so, everyone knows that this is according to his wishes, which I think helps a whole lot. But at the same time, I feel a deep responsibility to not make these books about me, but to make them about Robert Jordan and about the Wheel of Time. I mean, I was handed a lot of very fascinating notes. In some cases, Robert Jordan had completed scenes for the books. In other cases, he had dictated on his deathbed some scenes that were to happen. He had millions of words of notes about the world and the characters and the setting, and I've been given access to all of that and asked to put together these last concluding volumes.

He'd been promising people for years and years and years that he knew the last scene of the very last book. And he actually wrote that before he passed away, and I have that in my possession. And so my goal is really to get us there without screwing it up. To step out of the way, to let the characters be themselves, and to let the world continue and the story continue as people have loved for so many years. And make sure that. . . I don't want them to see Brandon, I want them to see the Wheel of Time. And so, that's been a real challenge, to get out of the way, so to speak.

David: Right, so it can be a seamless experience for the reader.

Brandon: That's my hope. I mean, I haven't been trying to mimic Robert Jordan's voice. I worried that if I tried to do that, it would come across as parody. You imagine a stand-up comedian getting up and doing their Jimmy Carter or whatever, and I worried that would be me doing my Robert Jordan. And so instead I've tried to adapt my style to the Wheel of Time. Having read it for so many years, I know how the Wheel of Time should feel. And so I don't sit and ask myself every sentence, what would Robert Jordan write? Because I can't do that, I can't replace him. Instead, I sit down and say, okay, how would I approach making this feel like the Wheel of Time? And so far, the response I've generally gotten from readers is, you know, if they pick up and they really study and they watch the first few pages they read, they'll say, you know, I can tell the difference. But once they get a little bit into it and start to feel the characters and the setting, and the plot takes a hold of them, they're able to just let that go and they don't notice it any more, and the rest of the book just feels right. And that's the best compliment I think I can get on this book.

David: Yep, Brandon, thank you. Is it correct that there are two more books to come and complete the series?

Brandon: Yes, Robert Jordan left. . . he'd been promising people a dramatic conclusion of around 2500 pages, which is unbindably large as one volume. And so, what we have in The Gathering Storm is me covering about a third of the notes that he left behind. It is a complete story in itself, it doesn't just stop in the middle. But I chose certain plot arcs and certain things that needed to be cleared up or needed to be dealt with before we could move on toward the ending. And I'm doing that and a volume that will hopefully come out by the end of next year called Towers of Midnight. And then there will be one concluding volume.

David: Wow. Sounds great. Now what happens to a reader and fan like myself who hasn't read any of the Wheel of Time? Can I just pick up The Gathering Storm and jump right in?

Brandon: Well, you know it's going to be a really challenging read for you if you do. I have known people who've done it. They say that the first half of the book is incredibly confusing, but by the second half they start to pick it up. I would recommend that people go to The Eye of the World, which is the first book in the series. I can wholeheartedly endorse these books, I've loved them for so long. But I think that if you're going to read mine, you probably want to start with The Eye of the World.

David: Sure, sure. So that's the first book in the series?

Brandon: It is the first book in the series, yes.

David: Well, in fact that book is sitting on my shelf and I'm going to take it down over the weekend. So, let's talk about Warbreaker. Was Warbreaker released earlier this year?

Brandon: It was. It was released in June, so I've really been on tour for both that and the Wheel of Time at the same time. Warbreaker is a book I wrote back in 2006. It is a stand-alone single volume epic fantasy. I wrote this before I was even aware that I would be asked to work on the Wheel of Time, and so it's kind of coincidental they've ended up coming out the same year. But that's because the Wheel of Time book which I wrote in 2008 got fast-tracked and came out as soon as they could get it through production, where the other one had been waiting in the queue for a little while.

And so Warbreaker is my solo work. It's about a number of things. Any good book, it's about more than one idea coming together. People always ask me, where do I get my ideas? Well, I find that it's hard to explain because you have to track down so many different ones to talk about where a book comes from. A lot of new or aspiring writers try to write a book with just one idea, and that never works for me. I've got to have a good dozen or so.

But what is Warbreaker about? It's about me reacting against other things I've written, in a lot of ways. The Mistborn trilogy, which you mentioned, is what I was best known for before the Wheel of Time. And it is a series about a group of thieves struggling in a world where evil has won. A lot of epic fantasy deals with the same concept: you know, a young unknown protagonist discovers he has a talent for magic or a destiny and goes on this quest to defeat the dark evil. It happened in Harry Potter, it happened in Lord of the Rings, it happened in The Eye of the World, some of my favorite books. And when it came time to write my own books and break in, I was wondering. . .you know, these stories have been done so well, I want to go other directions. And so Mistborn became the story of what happens if good loses. What happens if the dark lord wins? What happens if Harry Potter would have gotten to the end of that story and Voldemort would have killed him and taken over the world? Or what if Sauron had gotten that ring? And so that became the history of this book series, and the stories then are about a group of so-called rejects who aren't the prophesied heroes, who aren't following what's supposed to happen, who are working in this world to try and overthrow this empire. So it is a very. . .it's kind of a dark, oppressive series. I think it's very good. People find it very exciting and enjoyable. But there are certain themes: the darkness certainly is one, and the instigating a rebellion against an oppressive force, and these sort of things.

And when it came time to write Warbreaker, I wanted to try something different. I felt that I'd spent so long dealing with darkness, I wanted to use color instead as a focus. And so one of the themes became color and how color represents life, and the magic in the world is based around the concept of color. Beyond that, I'd been thinking for a long time that anarchy and setting up a rebellion and these sorts of things could actually be a lot easier than the concept of stopping a war. Starting one, in many ways, could be easier. And I wanted to tell a story about someone who's working against a ticking time bomb to try and stop two kingdoms which are just bent on going to war with one another because of different factions, and seeing if he could dig out what's really going on and get to the root of it, and stop it.

And that's part of the theme, but there are so many other things. In part, it's about an agnostic god who doesn't believe in the religion that worships him. It's about two sisters who have to exchange roles in life. It's about a sarcastic talking sword who really likes to kill people. I mean, there are a lot of things going on in this book.

David: I heard you say 'an agnostic god'.

Brandon: Yes. Yes, in this world, one of the things that happens is that a certain group of people with a certain magical powers. . . What will happen is, if someone dies in a way that's very heroic, according to the religion, they will be brought back to life and will have visions of the future. And these people are worshipped by one of the cultures, someone who has been brought back to life, and then asked to give them divinations and things like this. And one of these people, he has no memory of his past life. All he knows is that he woke up and everyone told that he had died in a very heroic way and that he was now a divine figure. And they asked him for interpretations and prophecies, and he doesn't believe in any of it. So while they're worshipping him, he's actually pretty agnostic himself. So it's kind of an interesting situation for someone to be in.

David: Uh-huh, uh-huh. . . it's a big idea. Brandon, thank you. You began writing when you were in college or high school?

Brandon: I began writing when I was in high school. I started my first book when I was fifteen. I never finished it. I began writing in college very seriously. Ended up writing thirteen novels before I sold one. I sold number six, which was Elantris that you had mentioned. And that was after eight or nine years of work writing, working the graveyard shift at a local hotel so that I could write full time while I was going to school full time and working full time. And that was a wonderful experience. You know, the job, when they interviewed me, they said, 'all we really want is someone to stay awake; can you stay awake?' And I said, yeah, as long as I can write books. And so from about midnight to 5 AM every night, I was there at the front desk writing books, just in case the building started on fire or some really late last minute check-in needed to come in, or something like that. And I wrote. . . I wrote probably ten books at that desk.

David: Wow. Wow, and then you'd sleep for two hours and then go to class.

Brandon: Yeah, I'd actually get off and go right to class around 8 AM and then get home and sleep, and then get up and go back to work. It was not very good for my social life. But I did get to meet lots of interesting people. Lots of fodder for books, working on a graveyard shift like that.

David: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Brandon, how do you find the wherewithal, the impetus within yourself, to keep writing when you're not selling?

Brandon: You know, that's a great question. Part of it was that I found that I really and truly enjoyed the creative process. People don't always play music because they want to make a living at it. You do it because it's inside of you. And the writing, it was inside of me. These stories had to come out. And the more I did it, the more it consumed me, the more it became just part of who I was. And so, I decided in the midst of it, yeah, I really wanted to be published. Yeah, I would love to do this for a living. And I still feel very, very blessed that I get to. At the same time, I felt that even if I would never get published, I would continue to do this for the rest of my life because it was simply something that was part of me. And I find that happens with a lot of writers.

David: This makes me think of Michelangelo. They said, you know, how do you do what you do? And he says, well I look at the block of stone, marble, and I can see what's in there.

Brandon: Yeah. That's really how it is. I mean, these things are bounced around in my head, and really if I didn't get them on the page, I might just go mad from them. I mean, I've gotta get them out.

David: Yeah, yeah, I got it. Brandon, thank you. So if someone is in high school or college, a person in their teens or twenties, and they think they might want to be a writer but they don't know how to begin or are concerned about the effort, you know, any of the concerns people have, what is your guidance?

Brandon: Number one, and most important, is just to keep doing it. Make good habits. Set aside a time, at least once a week, where you can spend some time writing and working on your craft. And don't worry about publishing. In fact, don't be afraid of being bad at it. A lot of people who begin writing, they assume because they’ve been taught writing, how to write, the actual physical mechanics of it, that storytelling will come to them naturally. And it will over time, but it's as hard to learn as maybe learning to play the piano or something like this. And most people don't expect to sit down and play the piano beautifully their first try. And in the same way, most people who sit down to write books aren't great their first try. So just remember to learn to fall in love with the process. I do have a podcast about writing. It's called Writing Excuses. You can go there and listen in, I've got some advice there. You can find that also linked through my website,

And Warbreaker, which we talked about, actually I released into the creative commons. When I published the hardcover, I released an electronic copy for free. So you can go to my website and actually download the PDF of Warbreaker completely for free to give a try if you want to try out my work and see what kind of writing I do.

David: That's great. That's a brilliant marketing strategy. And we've got just a minute or two left, Brandon. I'm wondering if you could say a bit more about being an author with books that are sold in stores and at the same time interfacing with new media.

Brandon: Well, you know, I think that a lot of industries are not approaching this in the right way. I think that, for instance, the music industry seems too scared of something that could build them a lot of fan base. And particularly in publishing, I feel that my readers are my patrons. And they could get the books for free if they wanted to, they could borrow them from friends, they could go get them from the library, these sorts of things. They support me, they choose to buy my books. And so, I don't feel afraid of giving out a free copy. I think it can only help. For instance, I don't want someone to buy one of my books, read it, and then hate it. I would much rather give them the free book, let them try me out, see what they think of it. And then, if they like my books, I feel that they will want to own them and will want to buy the new ones when they come out. And so, I think it could only help. And I love new media. I love using things like Facebook and Twitter to connect with my readers. Because as I said, my readers are my patrons. It's much like if you were living in the 19th century, you would have a wealthy patron often as an artist who would pay for your upkeep while you were creating art, just because they were a lover of the arts. Well, I feel that my readers are much the same thing. They love science fiction and fantasy, they love supporting artists, and it's because of them that I get to do this. And so I try to do whatever I can to connect with them. For instance, I release on my web site annotations of my books, where I go chapter by chapter and I do a discussion, sort of like a DVD director's commentary, on each chapter. Elantris has those up, and the Mistborn books have those up, where you could read a chapter in the book and then go find out why I wrote what I did, what was going through my mind when I wrote it, these sorts of things. And this is all to try and give as much of a bang for the buck, so to speak, on the books as possible, and to get as much of a connection between me and my readers as possible.

David: That's great. That's great, Brandon, thank you so much for your time, and thanks for a terrific conversation today.

Brandon: Well, thank you for having me on. This has been a wonderful interview.

David: You are very welcome. Our guest is Brandon Sanderson, author of the newly released The Gathering Storm, published by Tor Books. The Gathering Storm is Book Twelve in the renowned The Wheel of Time series. Thanks for being with us.
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Old 10-17-2011, 05:02 PM
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Default Wow, wow. Uh-huh, uh-huh... Interviewer

The interviewer was annoying enough just in print; glad I didn't have to see him or listen to him. Thanks for the transcript!

Or should I say thank you thank you.
One thing was sure. He was not what anyone thought. Those who believed they knew him were badly mistaken. He was transfigured, now. A force unto himself, and beyond any other power. They would all learn, eventually.
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