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Default SupaNova Brandon Sanderson panel

This included a reading from Legion which I snipped, since it's already been released. If anyone would like to help check it, that would be great.

14 April 2012


Scott Sigler: Hi, this is Scott Sigler, the author of Infected, Contagious and Ancestor, and you are listening to the SupaNova podcast series!

Brandon: Everyone welcome Brandon Sanderson. [applause] Thanks guys. I—hey, I see a Doctor Horrible out there. Nice!—I usually like to, when I do something like this, do a reading of something you can't hear somewhere else, and so—something published. Unfortunately I can't read to you from A Memory of Light. Now you go "Awwwwww." I know. Harriet is doing a reading from that at JordanCon, and I can't read anything from it before we do the reading at JordanCon—it just didn't seem appropriate—and so, instead, I'm just going to read to you shortly from a novella I've been working on called Legion, and I'll do that for maybe ten minutes, and then after that I'll just do a Q&A. So are we all capable of hearing? Am I holding the mic in the right way? We're all good? Okay, great. Hey, Anika, can I get a water? I didn't bring one. I left one on my table? That might be....that's my handler. I'm going to run out of....ahem throat is going to need that. So I'm quickly going to, if you don't mind, sit down and read to you from this. Oh! They're right there. Wow, that was fast.

This is a fun story. This story came from me sitting around....uh, it's got a great history. I have a friend named Dan Wells who writes stories about people with deep psychological problems, and I was sitting and talking to him about deep psychological problems, and I started saying, "Hey, I got this great idea; you should write this story! Yada yada yada, yada yada yada yada yada..." and I kept telling about this great story he should write, and he said, "Go write it Brandon!"'s not something I had ever done before. It is a modern setting. It does have a science fiction twist, but it's way cool. So I went ahead and gave it a try, had this concept for it, and it actually kinda turned out. I liked it. So I went ahead and I am releasing it with a small press, 'cause it's just a novella, this summer. You can get it from them at Subterranean Press, if you're interested—they're doing preorders—but we'll also do it as an ebook release at the same time, so if you want the nice collector's hardcover that they're selling, Subterranean has those; if instead you just want to read the story and get it cheap, then you can get it on Amazon or any of those places; we'll probably even put it up on our website.

So, I will just start this; it's kind of a—like I said—shorter reading, and then we'll do the Q&A.

[cut reading]

Brandon: And I'm going to stop there. [applause] So, the story is about this guy who is a complete genius, but the way his mind works is, he will research a topic, learn everything about it very quickly, but the way his genius manifests is a new hallucination appears who is an expert in that thing, and he has to lean on and rely on all these hallucinations to get the jobs done that he wants to do, and they all have very distinctive, strange and odd personalities. In the book, for instance, in the story, he needs to learn a language, and so he spends a couple of hours just looking through a dictionary, and memorizes the language, but then an interpreter who is a hallucination appears for him to use, and he has to go through her in order to actually understand the language; it's how he fragments his mind. And the story is about a camera that can take pictures of the past that someone has invented, and he is actually hired to recover it after it after it's stolen.

So that's what Legion is. It's a very fun story about someone who is really, really kooky which, you know, is a lot of fun to write. So like I said, you can go to Subterranean Press, or wait for that to come out online. So we're gonna do a Question and Answer, and (to moderator) I can run that myself, if you want. You want to do it? Okay. Alright, so she's gonna run the microphone out to those ask me questions, so, what do you guys want to know? You can ask me pretty much anything, right here.

Q: Hi Brandon.

Brandon: Hi.

Q: I've read a bit online about how you have an overall storyline covering all of your novels, but I really don't know much about it. I was wondering if you could expand and explain.

Brandon: Okay. The overarching story of all of my novels. This warrants some backstory. If you weren't familiar, I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one. I spent a lot of time practicing and learning, and I love big epic grand series. However, you know, you can't grow up reading the Wheel of Time without loving big series, but advice I heard early on was, selling a big series is actually pretty hard from a new author and if you, for instance, spend your life and you write like six books in the same series, and you send off the first book to someone and they don't buy it, you can't really send them the second book because, you know, they've already rejected that, and so it's really putting all of your eggs into one basket, and that doesn't end up working out for some people. I didn't want to do that; I wanted to expand my chances, and so I wrote thirteen novels in different worlds, all with their own different magic systems and own characters. But secretly I loved the grand epic, and so I started connecting all these worlds during my unpublished era, and telling a hidden epic behind them all that I was setting up for.

Well, eventually I sold book number six, and embedded in book number six was a bunch of this stuff for the hidden epic, of course, and six is actually one of the ones where I first started doing this. My first five were kind of throwaway novels. It was six, seven, eight, and nine that were really involved in this. Six was Elantris; seven was a book called Dragonsteel; eight was a book called White Sand; and nine was a book called Mythwalker, which eventually became Warbreaker, which I eventually rewrote and released as Warbreaker. So that four-book sequence was very ingrained in this kind of hidden story behind the stories. When I started publishing these books, I just kept it going, the hidden story, the hidden epic.

Now one aspect of this was that I didn't want people to have to know all the books that came before to understand what was happening in any one of them. So, for instance, if you read these you don't need to know anything about the hidden epic. It is back there behind the scenes for some day when I actually write a series dedicated to it, that there will be all this foreshadowing, but it will never directly and in really important ways influence a given series. For instance, you don't have to have read Elantris to understand Mistborn even though technically they're sequels; Mistborn is technically a sequel to Elantris, just set on a different planet.

There is one character who has appeared in all of my novels, and several other characters who have jumped between novels. For instance there's a character from Elantris who is in The Way of Kings—one of the main characters from Elantris shows up in Way of Kings under hidden auspices, but it's pretty obvious; the fans found it really fast, those who were watching out for it—but that sort of thing. So, there is a story going on behind all of this that I will eventually tell, but what do you need to know about it right now? That all of these things are basically Easter eggs right now. None of them are dominating the storyline at all; it's just a bunch of cool Easter eggs that eventually will mean something to you. So the character to watch out for is called Hoid; it's a pseudonym he usually uses—pseudonym is I guess the wrong term; the alias he normally uses—and he's all over in the books, so if you watch out for him you'll see him.

Q: Hello. This question is in relation to Wheel of Time. How did you find taking over from another author and keep it consistent? Obviously there'd probably be some force of having to conform to a previous author's writing style, so that it keeps some sort of consistency, but how do you still own that work and keep it true to yourself?

Brandon: Right. You're asking the hardest question that I think I had to ask myself when I took on this project. How do I make sure....I didn't want the Wheel of Time to become about Brandon. At the same time I had to trust my storyteller instincts, which is the only way I knew how to tell the story, and it was a really difficult process to work out, and I kind of turned it into a give and take. There are certain things that I learned from Robert Jordan that I do very similar to him that I could then do in his style very well. There are other things that were unique to him that I just couldn't in any way mimic.

For instance, his action sequences come from a life spent partially as a soldier, and serving in Vietnam, actually being in firefights; that lends a certain type of narrative to a fight sequence. I haven't done any of that. I've just watched a bunch of kung fu films. If you read my action sequences, you're not going to feel like Robert Jordan's because there was no way to imitate him, and I felt that if I tried, I would just be parodying him, and so it was really a give and take. In some places I really tried hard to emulate what he would have done in his style, and in other places I have to say, there's just no way for me to do that; I have to approach it my way, and I took that on a case-by-case basis.

All in all, my main goal, which I've succeeded at in some places, and failed at in others, but my main goal was to make the characters feel like themselves, and that was my focus. Can I do this? I've said it before: no one can replace Robert Jordan. No one can get it a hundred percent right but him. I think I've been doing a fairly good job, but there are certainly mistakes I've made in trying to get those characters' souls to be the right souls, and that was my main goal, is to try and get that right.

Q: Have you chosen a flashback character for book two of Stormlight Archive yet?

Brandon: Yes. I have chosen to use Shallan as the flashback character for Stormlight Two. I feel that her narrative is the best one right here, and so I pretty much filled out the first five, 'cause Stormlight's in two five-book narratives, where we're going to anchor it with Kaladin is the first one and Dalinar is the last one, and then we'll use Shallan, Szeth is number three, and then probably Navani is number four. That's the one I haven't nailed down yet. It's either Navani or a character I can't tell you yet.

Q: I was just wondering how overwhelming it was when you first took on the job of taking up the reins of the Wheel of Time. How much was it overwhelming—the amount of detail and layering that Jordan had set up in order to continue on with finishing off the series?

Brandon: There are a couple of things that Robert Jordan did, like...there are many things he did better than I do, but there are two things that he did amazingly better than I do that have been really hard to try and approach. The first one is his mastery of description. I...prose is know, I do serviceable prose. I don't do beautiful prose in most cases. I occasionally can turn a phrase, but he could do beautiful prose in every paragraph, and that's just not one of my strengths. Pat Rothfuss is another one who can do that, if you're read Name of the Wind; it's just beautiful, every line. Robert Jordan I felt was like that, just absolute beauty.

The other thing that he was really good at was subtle foreshadowing across lots and lots of books. And it's not something I'd ever had to do before, unless you count my hidden epic, and I had never had to try and approach that level of subtlety, and it was a real challenge to try and catch all of those balls that he'd tossed in the air and he'd been keeping juggling. In fact, I would say, one of the most challenging parts, if not the most challenging part of this, was to keep track of all those subplots and make sure that I was not dropping too many of those balls. And you'll be able to see when you read the books which of those subplots were really important to me as a fan and which ones I was not as interested in, because some of those, I catch less deftly than others, and some of them I just snatch from the air and slam into this awesome sequence, and some of them I say, "Yeah, that's there."

And that's the danger of having a fan that does this. There were so many of those things. Fortunately, he left some good notes on a lot of them, and in some of them I was able to just slide in his scenes, and in others I had to decide how to catch that, and what to best do with it. But there's just so much. So much undercurrent going on through the whole books, through all of them, and so many little details in the notes that it's easy to get overwhelmed by it. Fortunately I have Team Jordan, Maria and Alan, to catch a lot of those things that I miss, but even with them there are things he was doing, that we don't even know what he was planning to do, that we just have to leave as is, and let it lie rather than trying to wrap it up poorly, because we don't know how he was doing to do it.

Q: Firstly, I want to applaud you for taking on the actual task, and also, one of the things you mentioned, I think it was on one of your blogs, that you have no intention of doing any spin-offs or anything like that, and I think that's really really great. But with the very recent runaway success of the Game of Thrones series, do you foresee something like Wheel of Time becoming a television series?

Brandon: Here's how we stand: Universal bought the rights to the Wheel of Time books. This has been a couple of years back now. It wasn't an option; as far as I know, it was a full buy-out, which means they sunk a lot of money into it. They have the future of the Wheel of Time in cinema in their hands unless they decide not to do anything with it, which they very well could decide. I have, from the beginning, said that I feel a television show would be the best way to faithfully adapt the Wheel of Time, and I've told that to them many times. That said, I do think it is possible to do a good Wheel of Time film. I wouldn't have thought that it was possible to do a good Lord of the Rings film, but someone did it. So it is possible, and I think that is still what, they're intending. I am kind of hoping that the runaway success of the Game of Thrones will persuade them that perhaps that would be a better way to do the Wheel of Time. What I actually pitched to them was not doing one season per book, but trying to do things like, you know, rather than doing one movie per book, do a season of a television show and condense like three books into it, which is still going to be a lot of condensing, but it becomes reasonable to then do a series of the whole book series if you do it that way, and that's still what I think would be the easiest. It doesn't mean it would be the best. They could have someone just knock it out of the park and do an awesome job with a Wheel of Time film series. Alright, who's next?

Q: I recently finished reading The Alloy of Law, which was a fantastic book by the way...

Brandon: Thank you.

Q: ...but I noticed towards the end you started creating overtones of a much larger story, and I was curious how you are going to follow up on that.

Brandon: I will do more books without Alloy of Law, with Wax and Wayne. I originally—I may have said this in the forward to Alloy of Law—I pitched the Mistborn series a three-book, as three sets of trilogies, past-present-future, and I do still intend to do that, but I am going to pick up some of the things that I did in Alloy of Law and keep going with those same characters for a little longer, the main reason being I really like how Alloy of Law balances Stormlight Archive. I love big epics, but I also love fast-paced kind of actiony books as well, and being able to do a little bit of both of that fulfills both sort of itches, scratches them both, and so I like having Alloy-of-Law-style books come out alongside larger epics.

So I will be—to answer the questions that are coming—next is the last Wheel of Time book, and pretty much everything I have is devoted to that book. I'm hoping to have revisions of that done by the end of June, and then can start on Stormlight 2 which is what I will do next. The Wheel of Time books is coming out in January. I had really hoped to have it out in November, but it proved unrealistic, and I'm too optimistic on these things sometimes, and Harriet wisely counseled that we need to slow down a bit and spend some more time on the revisions, which we are doing. The Stormlight book, if I'm really on the ball, will be next November-ish—not this one but a year from that—and then I would follow it really closely with another Alloy of Law book.

Q: Hi, good afternoon. You mentioned before that you really like the big epics, big fantasy epics, and I actually can sort of feel that in the way you tell your stories. I was just wondering, did that help or hinder when you were taking on somebody else's epic, as in Wheel of Time.

Brandon: I would hope that it helped. I assume that it helped, having loved big epics all along. You know, there's this thing that happens to you when you fall in love with a series like the Wheel of Time. I think a lot of George. R.R. Martin fans are going through it right now, which is where you have to make this happened for me actually right between books five and six on the Wheel of Time, where you make the decision, well, I have to be along with this for the long haul, and stop being frustrated about when books come out and things like that—because, you know, we all kind of go through that—and finally decide, I'm just going to read this wherever it takes me, because I love it so much. I love he's doing; I'm going to stop being frustrated, and I think that switchover in my head really helped me with the Wheel of Time books, because I stopped being, you know...people complained at like book ten, and things like that, and I wasn't there; I was just enjoying what I got, because I'd already made that switchover; I wasn't waiting so much for the ending as just enjoying the ride, and I think that helped me to kind of appreciate it for what it is, and falling in love with the big epic like that.

The other thing that's helping me loving things like the Wheel of Time is I think that those of us of my generation who got to read things like the Wheel of Time, and got to read Game of Thrones while it's coming out—A Song of Ice and Fire—are able to see what the masters of the genre are doing with the grand epics, and hopefully build upon what they have done, learn from them. I know Robert Jordan said several times that he feels there are mistakes he made in writing the Wheel of Time in the way he did; I think he actually, after the fact—um, James [Luckman], you can tell me if I'm wrong on this. Didn't he say he would have done book ten differently if he'd had to do it over again? [Luckers nods.] There are things to learn from what Robert Jordan has done. They have paved the way. Robert Jordan was really the first one to tell a grand epic on this scale, ever, in fantasy, and so being able to read that really I think helps you as a writer yourself to say, "Wow," you know, "someone has plowed through the snow, and so I can follow along behind and hopefully not make some of the wrong turns."

Q: With regards to the end of the Wheel of Time, when you started to receive all of the notes and information around what actually happened, did you look at that information and see where the story and say, "Yes! Absolutely this is the best possible ending for the Wheel of Time"? Or, as a fan, did you see possible alternate endings or ways you would have liked things to proceed differently, and if so, did that influence how you've written?

Brandon: Excellent question. I read the ending—Robert Jordan wrote it himself, the last chapter, and I have put that into the last book unchanged—I read it and I was deeply satisfied with it. That is the word I always use: satisfying. It was a satisfying ending. And I didn't read that and ever think, "No, we're going to change this." I don't think it ever needed it. What I did is I said, "That's my goal. That's my target. I have to get us there in a satisfying way to match this ending." And my goal all along is to live up to that ending. The nice thing is, being a creative person, there were certain holes. There were things that he, you know....I know where that last chapter is, but there are big gaps along the way, some places where I got to say...I get to do some things I've been looking forward to doing, looking forward to having happen in the Wheel of Time, and that was really a treat to be able to sit down with that outline and say, wow, there's a place here for the thing I've been waiting as a long time as a fan, he doesn't say either way. I can make it happen.

And so I got to do a lot of those sequences, and then there are a lot of ones he left instructions on as well, and so my goal has been to...always my default is, if Robert Jordan said it, don't change it. However, that said, you can't do a book like this without being willing to be flexible in your outline. I never wanted...never changed that ending and I never have, but there are things along the way, particularly when he would say, I'm thinking of doing this, or maybe this other thing that's opposite, and sometimes I'll choose between one of those two, and sometimes it's neither one and it has to be a third thing. In a creative process, you really have to be willing to do that; you always have to be willing to toss aside what you were planning to do when something better works for what you're building, so and that has been that process. And after the books are out, I hope to be able to be much more forthcoming about what those things were and show some of the notes, if Harriet will let me, and show how they were adapted. I'm not sure if she will let me. It's really her call. Her argument has been that she doesn't want people's last memory of Robert Jordan to be his unfinished things, which is a really solid argument, and so hopefully she'll let us see some of it, but I can talk more freely about this after the last book's out.

Q: Hi Brandon. I hope you're enjoying your stay here in Australia. Thanks for coming out.

Brandon: I am! No dropbears yet. [laughter] Look up and live.

Q: We're all really happy that you're answering a lot of these questions, cause obviously [?—38:59] answers, but can you answer one question that a lot of us have been arguing over, because we obviously started reading the books a couple of decades ago. The very first book. Was it ever going to be a standalone book, or did he always have this epic story in the background that he had a chance to run with because there's a lot of guys my age that are arguing over this and it would be great if you could answer the question for us.

Brandon: I can actually put this one to rest, because I have it from as close to the source as we can get right now which is Tom Doherty and Harriet. Tom Doherty is the CEO of Tor. Harriet is Robert Jordan's wife and editor. She discovered him and then married him; she was one of the great editors in the business. She edited Ender's Game—that was another of her books, a little book you may have heard of—so yeah, she did Ender's Game and Wheel of Time, the two biggest books for the publisher, The Eye of the World and Ender's Game were both her books, so this is a pretty stellar woman. So, I asked Tom Doherty about this, and Tom said, Okay, I can tell you the story of what happened. Robert Jordan had been doing the Conan books, and he'd been doing some of his own historical books, and he came in to Tom Doherty with a proposal for the Wheel of Time. Harriet actually stayed outside because by that time they were romantically involved—I'm not sure if they were married yet, but they were involved—and she was the editor; normally the editor is the person with whom you make these negotiations, but she recused herself from the process; she was a little bit biased.

And so Robert Jordan went in to the head of the company himself rather than going to the editor with his proposal. And Tor has a very homey feel—Tom Doherty is like our grandfather; he's the one that okays everything, and he's just this wonderful guy, so you can go in and just talk to the president of the company. So Jim goes in—Jim, by the way...James Rigney...everyone called him Jim, so that's how I've started to refer to him; I didn't actually know him, but that's how everyone talks about him so I've fallen into that—Jim goes in to talk to him, and Tom says, he looks at me and says, Okay, Jim has this proposal. He says "Tom, I want to do epic fantasy." And he's like, "Alright, alright. Well what's it about?" He's like, "I've got this great story. It starts with this young man who has the destiny of the world unloaded upon him. It's this young man who finds out he has to save the world, and he's probably going to die doing it." And the book starts in the Two Rivers, he talks about it, and then the book continues on, and then there's this Great Hunt, and then the book ends with him taking the sword that is not really a sword from a stone that is not really a stone, and that's the end of the first book. That was what Robert Jordan pitched as the first book of the Wheel of Time to Tom Doherty from his own mouth.

Tom looked at him and said, "That sounds like a really big story," because he went on and told him a lot of the other stuff, and he said, "That sounds huge. Why don't we..." And Jim said, "This is a trilogy; this is an epic fantasy trilogy." And Tom said, "Why don't I sign you as six books." And Jim looked at him and said, "No, no, no...I won't need six books." [laughter] "This is a trilogy; I can tell it in three." And Tom by then knew Jim really well, and knew he kind of tended to expand things, and said, "Let's do six books anyway, and if you don't end up needing all six books, then we can do some other series for the other three, but it feels like a big series; I want you to have the room to grow." When Tom told me this, he looked me in the eyes, and he said, "Brandon, I thought I was so smart. I thought I was signing for the whole series for sure by giving him double the length that he said he needed, and now we're at fourteen novels."

So, the original pitch was for a trilogy with the first book being what became the first three books. And that's all I know of it, but that was the original pitch. And he was already involved, as I understand it, deeply in writing that first book when he made the pitch. It wouldn't be years later till they released the book.

Q: G'day, how's it going?

Brandon: G'day! I dunno....I'm not supposed to really say that am I? It sounds really horrible from an American.

Q: [laughs] It's perfect.

Brandon: Yeah, I've been It's got an "oi" in it, apparently. Croikey?

Q: Crikey, mate. Just out of curiosity, which do you enjoy more, writing your own creations, or somehow writing somebody else's creations like the Wheel of Time and then working within those parameters?

Brandon: I would say, my own books with a caveat, and that caveat is the Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is not something I...I did not say yes to this because, for any other reason than a love for this series since I was a kid. And there are very few things I would have said yes to along these lines. I became a writer to tell my stories, but I studied Robert Jordan's works when learning how to be a writer. Rand, Perrin and Mat feel like my old high school buddies; they're the people I grew up with. I was one of these bookworms who sat in my room and read book, and those were my friends. And so, having the chance to help with this is a lot like, I's a lot like completing my master's last masterpiece, if that makes sense. It's a special thing. It's not a matter of enjoyment or not; it's a special honor, and boy has it been hard. It's way hard. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. It has been the hardest thing I've ever done career-wise, and it's been amazing for me as a writer. That said, I wouldn't say yes to this for anyone else. I wouldn't even say yes if, for some reason, Lucas were to come to me and want something like that. There's nothing really I would ever say yes to doing this same thing. That isn't to say I might know, I'll probably do other little novellas and things where I poke around and whatnot, but this project has meant a lot to me all my life, and so it was a thing I did because of what it was, and I don't know how to explain it other than that.

Moderator: We've unfortunately run out of time. I want everyone to give up the most massive applause. Brandon Sanderson!
Qui nos rodunt confundantur, et cum iustis non scribantur.

Last edited by Terez; 11-20-2012 at 07:20 PM.
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