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Old 12-17-2011, 05:56 PM
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Default Mythmaker Films Interview, November 2009

This is a transcript of a video produced by Mythmaker Films (and JR Burningham in particular) of a signing and interview conducted with Brandon in November 2009 during The Gathering Storm book tour. The interview is sort of interesting in that in weaves in little interludes of Brandon speaking, fan interviews, and signing questions from Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, CA, on November 17, 2009 with a sit-down interview conducted around the same time.

Most of the interview is about stuff we've heard before, of course, though there are some more specific comments from Brandon about Egwene's leadership, among other things. One of the things I learned: Brandon should avoid the use baseball metaphors in the future. lol.


Opening: Brandon reading at Vroman's (from The Gathering Storm Prologue): Renald Fanwar sat on his porch, warming the sturdy black oak chair crafted for him by his grandson two years before. He stared northward.

At the black and silver clouds.

He'd never seen their like before. They blanketed the entire horizon to the north, high in the sky. They weren't gray. They were black and silver. Dark, rumbling thunderheads, as dark as a root cellar at midnight.

Brandon: My story's a little bit different than a lot of people. I wasn't a reader when I was very young. In eighth grade, I had a teacher, Miss Reeder coincidentally, and she assigned me to do a book report. And I thought I was very smart because I went and I grabbed this book that I'd read when I was in second grade, one of the Three Investigators novels. They're like the Hardy Boys, but they're better. And I got that and I took it to her, and I said, "I'm going to read this book." And she said, "No you're not. You're in eighth grade, you've got to read a book for your age." And I said, "Well the books for my age are all boring." And she said, "Well you've been trying the wrong books."

She took me to the back of the room. . . you know, all these teachers have these old carts full of ratty paperbacks kids have spilled meatballs on and stuff and they're loaning out and sometimes getting back. And in this cart I dug out a copy of Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane. It does what fantasy can really really do, which is get you into the head of a character who's very different from yourself. So I read this book, it was wonderful–adventure, action, wonderful characters. And I got done with this book, and I felt like I understood my mother better. That's kind of weird, I mean, a fantasy novel about a dragonslayer. And yet, my mother who had been top of her class in accounting, graduated number one, had been offered a very prestigious scholarship and had chosen to have me instead. And she had always done some accounting and some raising of her children. And I got done with this book and I kind of thought, 'this character's like my mother'. And that was really strange to me: that I could read a novel that was so fun and adventurous, and yet feel like I understood the world better.

And that was the beginning of the end for me. Within one year's time from when I had read Dragonsbane then, I decided I wanted to be a writer, I started my first book, and I started writing it.

Interviewer at Vroman's: How awesome was it to actually sit down across from this guy and have dinner with us?
Stormleader: It was kind of surreal. It was kind of like a fantasy novel in itself, you know. I wasn't quite sure I was there. It was happening, it was nice.

During the era when I was trying to find my voice and find out what I was going to do as a writer, I felt that Robert Jordan had really captured the story of the hero's journey, the monomyth type epic fantasy, and done it about as well as it could be done. And so I started to look for things that I could add. This was very good for me to be doing, to be spending this time thinking about, not just retreading what had gone before, but really doing what some of the greats in the past had done.

One of the reasons I love the Wheel of Time is because I felt that when it came out, it best blended what was familiar about fantasy with a lot of new concepts. A lot of the books that were coming out were using the old familiar tropes: elves, even if they called them a different name, and dwarves, and even dragons, and these sorts of things. And then you came along to the Wheel of Time, which didn't use any of those things, or if it did, it twisted them completely on their head. No one knew what a dragon was, and a dragon was a person. And you know, the magic system having a logical approach to it rather than just being something that happened. And he really took the genre in a different direction. And I said, I have to do something like this. Not that I ever wanted to, or intend to, or think that I could be revolutionary in the genre in the way he was, but I wanted to add something. I wanted to take a step forward rather than taking the same steps that people had taken.

And so I began to ask myself what hadn't been done. And so you end up with me, Brandon, who…sometimes I look at myself as a post-modern fantasy writer. If you read the Mistborn trilogy, it's very much a post-modern fantasy epic. It's the fantasy epic for someone who's read all these great fantasy epics. And the story's kind of aware of all of those. It's the story of what happens if the dark lord wins? What happens if the prophecies are lies? What happens if all the things we assume about the standard fantasy epic all go horribly wrong?

I don't want to simply be someone. . . to be post-modern, you have to be a little bit deconstructionalist, which means you're relying on the very things that you're tearing apart. I think there's a level beyond that, which is actually adding something new, not just giving commentary on what's come before. But I do love the whole post-modern aspect. I love delving into that. It's something that I think can be unique to my generation because we've grown up reading all these epics, where the generation before us didn't.

Brandon at Vroman's: Like many of you, I was shocked when he passed away. I'd been following the blog, and he'd been very optimistic on his blog. He had this force of will, force of optimism. You know, even though he had a terrible disease, I was sure he would make it. And then he was gone. And it was a very strange moment for me to realize that because when he died, it was like my high school friends had all died at once. And I wondered and felt that that might be the end of it all. Um, yeah. . . little did I know.

About three weeks later, I got up in the morning at the bright hour of noon. I picked up my cell phone to check my voice mail, which is usually the first thing I do in the mornings. And I was just groggily. . . I turned it on and there's a voice mail from a number I don't recognize, and the voice comes on and says, and this is an exact quote:

"Hello, Brandon Sanderson. This is Harriet McDougal Rigney. I'm Robert Jordan's widow. I would like you to call me back. There's something I want to talk to you about."

I just about fell out of the couch, which is kind of hard to do, because. . . you know. . . yeah. I mean, I listened to that voice message three times in a row, and then nervously dialed the number back, and it rang, and it rang, and she didn't answer. So I nervously called my editor, and he didn't answer. And I nervously called my agent, who always answers, and he didn't answer. I eventually got smart and called up Tor, and got a hold of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who said, with kind of a smug tone, "Oh, that. Yeah, it's probably what you think it is. I'll have her call you back." And I'm sitting here thinking, "What do I think it is, Patrick? Tell me something!" And he wouldn't. And so, eventually Harriet called me and said, "Well, I'm putting together a short list of people. And I was wondering if you would be interested in completing the Wheel of Time."

That night after I'd said yes, I laid in bed that night unable to sleep because I was terrified by what I had just done in saying yes to this. Particularly because that night I came to realize something. Something very, very frightening. And what I realized was that I could not write as good a book as Robert Jordan would have written for the ending. I realized that nobody could. I couldn't replace him, and no one could. We should have had him to finish this series. And by saying yes, I had agreed to in small part to something at which I would fail, at least in part, because no one can replace Robert Jordan. As a fan and as a professional writer, I realized that the next best thing for me in having Robert Jordan complete the book was to do it myself because then I could know that it would not get screwed up. I realized that if I said no, and then someone else did it and did a poor job, it would be partially my fault. And that in taking up this project, I could bring them back. Robert Jordan had passed away, but that didn't mean that Rand and Egwene and Mat and Perrin and Avi and Cadsuane and everybody had to be gone. I could at least bring them back for everyone else. And I realized with a really powerful emotion that I needed to do this book. I had to do this book, because of all the people in the world, I would screw it up the least.

Brandon: A really great book of the length we're writing, of epic fantasy, isn't necessarily going to be bam, bam, bam, bam. What it's going to be is that it's going to go like this. . . (Brandon waves hands up and down). . . and give us the highs and lows and lulls and speedy fast past, and that's what really will pull you through.

Interviewer at Vroman's: Have you read it yet?
Fan: Yeah, I read it in about three days.
Interviewer: This is the question I should be asking everyone. How fast did you read it?
Another fan: Three days.
And another fan: Pretty much same thing, yeah.
Interviewer: You too, right?
Yet another fan: Yeah, I read like in two days after it came out.

Brandon: I plot backward. I start with a goal, and then I build an outline that gets me to that goal. And then I write forward. With the Wheel of Time books, I'm in a unique position because often I have that goal already stated in the notes, or it's a scene that Robert Jordan has written that I need to get to. The outline for the first two was very detailed, because Robert Jordan had all of these materials which I needed to weave into an outline. We say there was an outline. Really there was a list of scenes in no particular order, and I had to turn them into an outline. And I wanted to go over that with Maria and Harriet and make sure I wasn't screwing anything up.

Interviewer at Vroman's: How many times have you read the new book?
Stormleader: Twice. Just finished second time.
Interviewer: Wow. Two times, huh?
Stormleader: Two times.
Interviewer: Favorite scene?
Stormleader: Egwene. In the Tower, glowing with the Power. Hey, that rhymes.

Brandon: I go into books trying to present characters who are real. That said, some things in the real world that have influenced me are these questions of, what are you willing to sacrifice in the way of freedom in order to have security? I think that's a big theme recently in the Wheel of Time that Robert Jordan was dealing with, and that The Gathering Storm deals with a lot.

I was most fascinated with Egwene's progress as a leader through the entire series. And the things I was allowed to do because of what Jordan had done in Knife of Dreams and the set up in previous books, and then what was in the notes, was really exciting to me because she was able to come to encapsulate what a leader really is, I think. There are some great scenes in Gathering Storm that I got to be part of, where, you know, we've had Aes Sedai acting kind of as bullies, some of them. And we've had various people through various factions acting as bullies. And there has been this sense in the Wheel of Time that people believe that might makes right. And yet it doesn't, and the books imply that it doesn't. And Egwene is the first chance we've really got to see of someone with no might making an even better right.

Interviewer at Vroman's: Who's your favorite character?
Fan 1: Mat.
Fan 2: Mat.
Fan 3: Mine was always Mat.
Fan 4: Mat. Absolutely.
Fan 5: Mat Cauthon.
Fan 6: Egwene. . . Mat.
Fan 8: I'd have to say. . . Aviendha.

Brandon at Vroman's:
Writing Rand and Mat and Perrin and Egwene in particular was very natural to me. Aviendha was hard. I tried her early on in the process, which might have been a mistake because she thinks so differently. But I actually had to throw away two chapters of Aviendha that no one will ever see because she thinks like a Two Rivers folk, which is not the way Aviendha should think. I was disappointed in them, the first one I wrote. And anyway, I kept working on it till I got it right.

Interviewer: How does it feel when you have to write a scene for a character that you've really come to love where bad things happen to them?

Brandon: Oh, it can be excruciating. There are some excruciating Rand scenes in this book. Though, you know, the harder scenes to write are the ones where characters, not necessarily terrible things are happening to, but where they're depressed or muddled, or you know. In a lot of ways, the Rand scenes were painful to write, Gawyn's scenes were harder to write, because Gawyn is lost. And he doesn't know. . . he's struggling through things, and at least Rand is pointed in a direction. Maybe it's the wrong direction, but he's pointed in a direction and he's doing things. Gawyn doesn't know what he's doing, and that can be really tough.

Interviewer at Vroman's: Who's your favorite character?
Fan: Perrin. He's very very very self sacrificing to a fault. And I love the crap out of him for that one. So I'd have to say Perrin, for sure.

Brandon: Perrin is, of all the main characters, the furthest back in his arc, if that makes sense. Like, through the most recent books, he was growing and he was getting there, he was almost there. And then, he let himself be diverted from achieving these things that he needed to achieve. And I won't say whether he achieves them or not. Sometimes the arc is. . . at the end of the arc, they make the wrong decisions.

Interviewer at Vroman's: Who's best at dealing with women? Rand, Perrin, or Mat?
Fan 1: Perrin.
Fan 2: I think Mat.
Fan 3: Mat.
Fan 4: Oh, I like Mat, yeah.
Interviewer: Is he best with dealing with them, or are we just kind of hot for him?
Fan 4: Is there a difference?
Fan 5: He's obviously a bit of a rogue and a bit of a womanizer.
Fan 6: There's been a debate about that. Mat respects women, and he only goes after the women who are open to be chased after.
Brandon: (laughing) They're all terrible.

Brandon: I really felt I needed to knock this book out of the park. I couldn't just get a base run, I needed to nail it. And to do that, I put some of the most dynamic powerful scenes that I had access to together into the book. The next book is going to be very different in feel and tone because while this book was very focused, the next book we are going to be able to get back to a lot of the characters we haven't heard from. And I won't mention specifically who's going to be in the book, but some that could be. I mean, we haven't heard from Loial in a while, we haven't heard from Padan Fain, we haven't heard from Lan, we haven't heard from the Black Tower. I mean, there's a lot of stuff going on. . . I mean, Pevara, and Logain. . . so much going on that I intentionally didn't do because I wanted this book to be very focused. Next book, we're going to get to all that.

Interviewer: What was your first reaction when you actually saw the hardcover book with your name and Robert Jordan's together, and it was a reality?

Brandon: You know, it was a reverent moment. I just sat there and kind of stared at it for a while. It was awesome, it really was. I mean, what else can you say? It was awesome. A lot of people have asked about the signature of Robert Jordan on the title page. That was there because I actually asked Harriet if they would place it, because I knew I would feel weird signing the book without Robert Jordan's signature there. And so, if people get confused about that, I apologize. I didn't realize how realistic they would make it, but I wanted his signature there so it wasn't about me, so it could be about both of us. And him first, and then a little bit of Brandon Sanderson.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for any young writers out there who are trying to follow in your footsteps?

Brandon: Yeah. The reason I wrote so many books before I got published was not because I was a terrible writer, though at the beginning I was. It was because I loved writing, and I didn't want to stop writing to go do all this marketing stuff. And I think that actually helped me, because I got to spend a lot of time playing with my style and deciding what my impact on the genre would be. And it also taught me that even if I never got published, I would keep doing this for the rest of my life. I'd be writing a book every year. No matter what job I ended up in, that was just what I was going to do.

And so, if you don't love writing to that extent, it's going to be much harder for you to break in. And so I say, build good habits, write what you love. And make sure that you enjoy the process. Enjoy the busy work parts of it. I went to school freshman year as a chemist. I only changed to English when my sophomore year began. And one of the reasons I made the change is that the busy work part of chemistry, I didn't enjoy. While the busy work part of writing, I loved. So, love it. And then keep at it. Don't give up, just keep going.

Brandon: Robert Jordan once said. . . he said in an interview, I love this quote. . . he said, "I love it when my books make people ask questions. But I never want to give them the answers."
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