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Default Dragon Page Interview, 24 May 2010

This is a transcript of an interview with Brandon for the Dragon Page Cover to Cover podcast, May 24, 2010.

Highlight of the podcast: Brandon calls Theoryland a really psycho Wheel of Time web site!

Originally Posted by Brandon
...there's a lot of very good Wheel of Time web sites out there. For those looking for a good community, Dragonmount is a great place to go to just be part of a community. There's some more recent ones, like Thirteenth Depository, which have some very interesting things going on. The really psycho one is a place called Theoryland, in which people get around and argue their weird and wacky theories about what's going to happen in the books. And that can be very interesting from my standpoint, knowing what's going to happen in the books, going there and seeing what people are thinking, and hoping for, and wondering about.


Dragon Page Cover to Cover, Episode 409A

Announcer: From the Draco Vista Studios in Phoenix, Arizona. Unlocking secrets of writing, conversing with masters of the craft, and just having a lot of fun, it's the Dragon Page, Cover to Cover.

[Skipped a whole bunch of discussion unrelated to the interview with Brandon . . . ]

MRM: And welcome back to more Dragon Page Cover to Cover. I'm Michael R. Mennenga.

MS: And I'm Michael Stackpole.

MRM: And joining us on the phone is Mr. Brandon Sanderson. He's doing a lot of things. And I'm just going to introduce him that way and let him tell you all about it, 'cause there’s a ton of stuff that we've got to get to. Welcome to the show, Brandon.

Brandon: Thanks, Mike.

MRM: Well, first off, we've got to talk about the Wheel of Time, because that's like really, really, really cool.

Brandon: It is really, really, really cool. I'm still a little bit in awe, a little bit surprised every day when I get up and I start working on the Wheel of Time books. I've mentioned this before on interviews, but I started reading the books when I was fifteen, been following them all along. And so, I'm thirty-five this year. And so twenty years of my life, I've been reading these books, and now I'm actually writing on them. It's a really surreal experience.

MRM: It's like the ultimate fanfic wet dream, you know. (laughs)

Brandon: Yeah. I mean, it totally is. There's really no way to describe this. It would be like a science fiction fan getting called by J. J. Abrams and asked, “Hey would you be interested in working on the next Star Trek movie?” Or you know, something like that. It's unreal.

MRM: So now, this thing is coming out in December? Or, when is this out?

Brandon: November is what we're looking at. What happened is, the final notes that Robert Jordan left behind, at his widow's direction. . . His widow, Harriet, was actually his editor. She discovered him as a writer first, and then she married him. She's still very heavily involved, and she's my editor on the project. She decided to take the notes and split them into three novels. So the first one came out last November, and the next one comes out this November, and then there will be a final volume, either next year or the year after that.

MRM: Wow. Now, I know when I was doing Star Wars stuff, I really tried to be cool and everything like that. There were only a couple of moments where I totally freaked out and kind of geeked out, in thinking about that. How have you been handling that? And when you've had that geek-out moment, what was it?

Brandon: There's a bunch of different things that I've geeked out about. It happened to me the other day when something that I was reading in research for the book – one of the novels, I was looking through a passage – for me, reading a story can take me back in the way that a lot people's sense will take them back to a place, you know how it is. Reading this scene, I suddenly saw myself in my bedroom as a sixteen-year-old boy reading the book for the first time, and I remembered it distinctly. And I remembered sitting and reading this scene and thinking, 'oh, I wonder what will happen?' And I not only know what happens now, I get to be involved in it. Those sorts of geek-out moments are what happened to me when suddenly my brain runs face-first into memories of being the little fantasy nerd reading books in his bedroom. And it's actually been kind of a hard process in some ways because – and I'm sure you know about this, Mike – you can't always just do the fanboy thing. If you do, then the story is not going to come off as genuine. You can't have every other page be a cameo by this character or that character. In fact, you have to be very, very sparing with that sort of thing, because otherwise the story – it's just not going to feel right, it's going to feel like a parody of itself. And that's been an interesting process, splitting my mind and saying, okay what does the fan want, and what can I give him, and what am I not allowed to give him?

MRM: You know, that's a very interesting point. And I think it's one of those things. . . I remember when I first started working on some Star Wars comics, and I'll just use this as a preface to get you to comment. I was talking with Ryder Windham who was editor at Dark Horse at the time, and we were talking about a variety of projects. And one of the things that he said is that he really didn't like hiring fans to write projects. He would rather take a writer and turn them into a fan to work on the project than it was to take a fan and try and train him to be a writer. Do you think the fact that you've got your writing chops, the fact that you've got your own books that are very well received and beloved, gives you the confidence to be able to sit there and say, okay now I get to play with this stuff that without which I wouldn't have gotten where I was?

Brandon: Confidence, I don't know. I'm still sometimes – you know how it is – I mean, you worry. This sort of story is more beholden to the fans than it is to me. I don't own it. It's really theirs now, they've been following it for so long. But yeah, it certainly did have something to do with it. I talk of it this way when I speak to Wheel of Time readers. I say, imagine a Venn diagram, all right. You've got this one circle that are just super huge Wheel of Time fans. And there are a lot of them out there, and I'll tell you, though I'm in that circle, I am not the biggest fan that exists. I have not dedicated hours and hours of my life to creating web sites dedicated to the Wheel of Time. I make heavy use of those web sites when I'm doing research and working on the books. But I haven't done that. There are people . . . if you would have found me before this happened, yes, I'd read all the books, in fact, I'd read most of them numerous times. But if you started firing trivia questions at me, you would have found very quickly that I would have hummed and hawed quite a bit. There are certainly larger fans. And if you make another circle to the side of really great writers, I hope that I would be in that circle, but I'm not going to be the best writer you'll find by far. I mean, I'm in awe of some of the other writers in the fantasy community. George R. R. Martin, people like Terry Pratchett, are just pure geniuses and certainly are fantastic writers.

But if you put those two circles together, sitting right smack dab in the middle of pretty big Wheel of Time fans and pretty decent writers, is me. And I think that's what they were looking for, what Harriet was looking for, when choosing someone to work on this project. The Wheel of Time – eleven books plus prequel – there's a lot of material there and they needed a book out fairly quickly, and so they needed somebody who was familiar with it already. But at the same time, if you just had a fan – like you said, learning to write is a process that can take decades, it certainly takes years and years to write well – and they didn't have that time to train somebody to write that well. And so I kind of look at myself, and say well, in some ways it's amazing and somewhat strange to me that I got chosen. But in other ways, it's like I am the only person sitting there in the middle between those two circles, and so I was in some ways the only choice.

MS: Very well said, actually.

MRM: Oh yeah, and I had similar feelings when I got the X-Wing books. What I'd like you to talk about if you can is, what was the experience like having gone through the books as a fan and then having to go back through as a writer, now using this as core material? What were the changes that went on and the things that went on in your head as you were suddenly approaching this not as fun and games any more, but as actual work?

Brandon: Right. Yeah, I did a read through of the entire series right after I was offered the project. The first thing I did was sit down with my notebook to re-read everything. And those were some of the strangest months of my life. It took me three months to re-read, taking notes, because I was making that reconciliation. I was looking at it now as a writer. And in one way, I was trying to make the decision at that point how much I was going to try to imitate Robert Jordan's style. You know, I had looked at Robert Jordan through the eyes of a writer before. I'd looked at his work because I was a big fan, and I was wanting to write myself, and so I spent time analyzing his work. But now, as a professional writer, I looked at it very differently. And looking at this, I had to decide: am I going to try to imitate his voice? How can I make a book that I write feel like a Wheel of Time book, while at the same time not sounding like a parody of Robert Jordan? How can I do this? That was a big aspect of it. But another aspect of it was kind of what you mentioned there, where I was reading through, and I was having to approach it in a completely different tack. To give an example of this, there were many times when I was reading along, and that fan inside me would say, 'oh I wish this would happen.' And then I would stop, and I would say, 'well, I can make that happen if I want it to.'

MRM: (laughter) Exactly.

Brandon: Right. But then the question becomes, is it appropriate in the story? Is it gonna make a better story? Just because the fan wants it, is it right to do? And so, working on this book, I have to say, it's been one of the hardest experiences in my life, working on this trilogy, and one of the most rewarding. And it's taught me so much. I mean, there are two thousand named characters in the Wheel of Time with whom I have to be intimately familiar. I have to keep track of all of this stuff, and all of these plot lines. There are several dozen different plot lines. And these are not small books – 400,000 word novels, several of them are. And so, keeping all of this in the air and becoming essentially an expert on all of it has taught me a great deal about plotting as an epic fantasy writer. It's, I think, just made me a better writer overall.

MS: Yeah, I can see that, because it is a huge undertaking. I mean, the series is just gigantic. You said that you're using online sources and fan sites, and so forth, just kind of research. I guess you'd absolutely have to. There'd be no way to do this otherwise. Have you got any shout-outs to some of the better ones? Or do they know that you're reading?

Brandon: Oh yeah. There are several very good ones. The one I use most extensively is a place called Encyclopaedia WoT. The 'encyclopaedia' is spelled kind of the ancient way, with an extra 'a' in there somewhere. But anyway, Encyclopaedia WoT, what it's done is it's simply an index. It is an index of every character's appearance and which chapters they're in, with a short summary of that chapter. And that has been invaluable, because you'll have these moments, where you're like, okay I remember these two characters met, what did they say to each other? You can go to those characters' index, find where they are, and then I can go read those scenes from Robert Jordan’s books. And so, it's very useful. also has some very extensive sort of wiki-style articles about the Wheel of Time world that I've used for reference in various instances to help me along. So, those two in particular, but there's a lot of very good Wheel of Time web sites out there. For those looking for a good community, Dragonmount is a great place to go to just be part of a community. There's some more recent ones, like Thirteenth Depository, which have some very interesting things going on. The really psycho one is a place called Theoryland, in which people get around and argue their weird and wacky theories about what's going to happen in the books. And that can be very interesting from my standpoint, knowing what's going to happen in the books, going there and seeing what people are thinking, and hoping for, and wondering about.

MS: Right, right. That's awesome. That was actually going to be one of my next questions is: what do you think the fans are really wanting out of this trilogy, and have you been addressing some of that, or are you just going your own route?

Brandon: Well, as a fan myself, I've been. . . how shall I say? It's important to listen fan response, but it's important not to be driven by it. And that's a very fine line to walk because, as we said, what the fan wants isn't necessarily what will make the best story. Sometimes you have to do things that, you know, they're going to be angry about, but in the long run will like more. And fortunately, I have very extensive notes from Robert Jordan, outlines and these sorts of things to use. I'm not just coming up with it all myself. There are big holes, things that I have a lot more freedom on, and there are other places where he wrote down what needs to happen, and I'm following that because it's what's appropriate to do. So, I am looking at fan expectations, but more it's to help guide how I present things and less about making me decide what to present, if that makes any sense.

MRM: No, that makes perfect sense. So, aside from Wheel of Time, what else are you doing?

MS: Well actually, we have the thing to talk about. And I have to throw this out here. Writing Excuses is your podcast, and I absolutely love the tagline. The podcast tagline is: “Fifteen minutes long because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart.” I think it's brilliant. (laughter)

MRM: I would argue that the last part is not true, but. . .

Brandon: That was done by Howard Tayler, who's a science fiction cartoonist. He runs Schlock Mercenary, the web comic. Very, very charming guy, and knows a lot. Our podcast is a writing podcast. It's for aspiring writers who are interested in the writing process. We spend fifteen minutes each week talking about a writing topic and are hopefully amusing along the way. Mostly that's Howard and Dan. I'm kind of the straight man, but yeah, it's very fun. That's definitely one of the things I'm involved in.

The other thing that I would mention is I do have another book coming up this year other than the Wheel of Time book, which is called The Way of Kings. Which is very interesting in that. . . working on the Wheel of Time has taught me a whole lot about writing, and there is a book I had been working on of my own for about ten years now that hadn't ever worked. I hadn't been able to get it right. And after writing The Gathering Storm, the first of the Wheel of Time books, the changes it required in me as a writer started to make things click. And so last summer, I went and I took several months off from the Wheel of Time and I did a revision – actually, a complete rewrite, a start from scratch – on this book, which is the start of a large epic of my own. And it finally worked, it all came together. And so Tor is publishing that novel in August – August 17th – The Way of Kings, which, you know, I'm very excited about. It's something that's been part of my life for a very long time, and it's now working, and everything is coming together. So I'm quite excited about it.

MS: Excellent, excellent.

Brandon: Did I say I'm excited about it?

MRM: Yes, you sound excited. You definitely sound excited. So, did you ever expect your career to get to this point, or by this route, when you were first starting out?

Brandon: Not at all, not at all. I mean, these are the sorts of things you can't anticipate. When you're first starting out, at least for me. . . I actually wrote thirteen novels before I got published. Coincidentally, the thirteenth of those novels was The Way of Kings, the first version of it. I sold book number six, which was Elantris. Which actually. . . you guys had me on about a month after Elantris came out. I think it was one of my very first interviews. I sold my sixth book. And you know, during that time, publishing alone becomes this mythological thing that you're not sure if it will ever even happen. The fact that that happened, and now I've had this incredible success and been able to be part of a fantasy series that's been dear to me for so many years, I mean, this is the sort of stuff that if I were to write this sort of thing happening to a character in a book, no one would believe it even in a fantasy novel.

MRM: (laughter) Well, I tell you, that is absolutely awesome, and we really appreciate your time today, but unfortunately we are completely out of time. We're waiting on pins and needles, can't wait to see how this series wraps up.

MS: And we're absolutely glad that you've got all this success. This is absolutely great.

MRM: It is. It really is.

Brandon: Thank you so much, guys. Thank you for having me on again.

MRM: You bet, not a problem. Wish you the best of luck, man.
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