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Interviews: Macmillan Interview at Book Expo America





May, 2009




New York, NY


Book Expo America


Marie Curie




  • 1

    Marie Curie

    This is a transcript of a interview with Brandon Sanderson by Macmillan Audio. It took place during Book Expo America 2009, which was held in May 2009 in New York City.
  • 2


    Hi, Brandon.

    Brandon Sanderson



    And we're here at Book Expo America. And I wanted to ask you a few questions about your upcoming book, The Gathering Storm.


    Yes, of course.
  • 3


    I know fans of the series have a lot of questions about how you ended up being the writer for this.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Oh, yeah. A lot of people are curious about how I ended up writing these books. It's actually...I'm a little bit curious myself, to be perfectly honest. The first I heard that I was being considered for it was when I received a phone call. I got up in the morning, I went downstairs and checked my voice mail. Out of the blue, there was a voice mail from someone who said, "Hi, Brandon Sanderson. This is Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan's widow. I want you to call me back. There's something I want to talk to you about." Which...I mean, I assumed had to be a joke from my friends, right? I mean, I'd been reading the Wheel of Time books since I was a kid. I picked up the first one when I was fifteen. First week of its publication I had a copy of that and had been reading them ever since.

    And when Robert Jordan passed away, I was grief stricken like everyone else. We thought he was doing fine. His most recent blog post which I'd read know, he was very optimistic he was going to pull through. And then when we found out that he'd passed away, we weren't sure how to react. And now here was his wife calling me. I hadn't applied for this or anything. I later found out that she had read some words I'd posted on my web site about what Robert Jordan had meant to me. And she had really been touched by those, and had asked for a copy of one my books, Mistborn, from Tom Doherty, the publisher at Tor. And he'd sent her one and she'd read that. And based off of that, that's why she wanted to talk to me.

    So I called her back and actually, she didn't answer—she was out getting a massage. So, I'm kind of at my wit's end going crazy, what's going on. I called my agent, who also didn't answer, which is very rare for him, so it was quite the odd coincidence. So I called my editor, and he didn't answer—not so rare for him, but... So nobody—my wife wasn't there, I didn't know what was going on. Finally, I got a hold of someone at Tor, who then got a hold of Tom, who got a hold a Harriet, who called me back. And indeed, it was just her asking if I was interested in finishing the Wheel of Time, taking the materials that Robert Jordan left behind and making the last book out of it.

    I was dumbfounded, honestly, when I was talking to her. I was unable to even pronounce words because I was so shocked. I actually...I wrote her a letter the next day, sent it via Tor, an email which said, "Dear Harriet, I'm not an idiot, I promise," because I really just stuttered and slurred. But of course, I really was excited. I wanted to do this. I mean, for an author...I got into writing partially because of Robert Jordan, by reading his books when I was young. I actually studied his novels to learn how to write a book. I considered him a mentor in many ways, even though I'd never met him. I mean, I'd seen him. I'd gone to events where he'd been, but I never even talked to him. And so, the next best thing to having him be able to finish this, in my mind, was for me to be able to work on it because I knew and loved the series.

    And the characters from these books are like old friends. You know, I was one of these kind of quiet reading kids when I was in high school. I did have some friends, but my closest friends were the friends that I had in my books that I read. And Mat and Perrin and Nynaeve, Egwene, these people, these are my friends from childhood that I grew up. These are my high school buddies in many ways. Being able to go back to this as the writer...I couldn't even express how daunting, yet exciting, that felt to me. And so afterward, I did write Harriet a letter. She took about a month making a decision, thinking about me and thinking about other authors. And then, she called me back—this would be November of 2007—she called me back and said, "I really want you to do it." And by December, we had a contract, and I was in Charleston picking up the notes and materials. And that's what I've been doing ever since, is working on this.


  • 4


    And when you started to work on the book, did you have to really go back and study the Wheel of Time books? Even though you knew them so well.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah. I had read Wheel of Time—I'd read the first book eight times, as I recall. And you know, I would re-read the series when a new one would come out often. And so, I had a good reading knowledge of the series, but that's very different from writing it. And so, January to March of 2008, I re-read the entire series, taking notes as the writer. A very strange process, I'll be honest, because half of me was reading this as a reader and a fan of the series. And as a reader and a fan—at least this is what I do—you have to extrapolate: "Oh, what if this happens? Oh, will this happen? Oh, could this happen?" There was the other half of my brain that was saying, "Wait a minute. You're the writer now, Brandon. What if this happens? Well, you know what will happen, and if it wasn't in the notes, you can decide if it's appropriate for it to happen." And so the two pieces of my brain were having a very interesting dialog, where the author side was saying, "That's not appropriate to the story even though you really want it." Or saying, "Oh yeah, we could do this." And the fan and the author coming together and saying, "Yay, we can do this," and then to allow for it, or there's a scene where we could do this, or even sometimes, he actually said do this scene, so I could anticipate knowing it was coming when no one else could. A very, very odd experience, but a very wonderful experience at the same time.


  • 5


    And I know this is actually going to be not one final book, but three. And why is that?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes, three. The split was decided by Tom, the publisher, and Harriet, who's not only Robert Jordan's wife but his editor for many years. They met know, they got married because of the books, so she's been editing him for many many, years. Robert Jordan had been saying that this book would be big. He'd been saying it would be huge. In fact, he jokingly said they're going to have to sell carts to carry it on when you walk out of the store—it was going to be that big. We're looking at a book that was probably planned at eight hundred, nine hundred thousand words. Which, to give you relevance, a lot of books are around a hundred thousand words. That's a good normal size for many genres. Wheel of Time books, average is about three hundred thousand words. And we're talking about an outline for a nine hundred thousand word novel.

    And I tried to write it as one. In fact, my goal was: I approached this as one novel, that's what he wanted, and I sat down and started writing. But the shear scope of that nine hundred thousand words—three times as long as a regular Wheel of Time book—was so large. And Tom Doherty started warning me pretty early, "Look, I know Jim said that this was going to be one book, but I'm telling you what I would have told him, that it's just not feasible to be publishing it as one book." Tom seriously believes that even Robert Jordan—even if he'd been around, it would have been three books.

    Tom tells the story...he loves to talk about these things. Robert Jordan came in and pitched a trilogy to him. The Wheel of Time was supposed to be three books. Well, it's now been eleven books and a prequel, and a lot of times the scope of this thing, it takes a lot of work. And I don't want to cut any corners. I don't want to just slap together an ending. I want to give it the time it deserves, and the characters are all over the place, and they're slowly working back together for this conclusion, but it just wasn't right to try and just ram it together like that.

    So I was going to write it the length that he was planning to write it. I'm still writing it the length that he was planning to write it. I'm not expanding it. I'm not contracting it. I'm writing it that length. And the realities of the publishing industry are that it needs to be three books at that length. I'm still hoping to convince people to publish it as a one-volume nice hardcover omnibus at the end, but that may be unfeasible. Tom keeps saying, "Boy, I just don't know if that's possible, Brandon." So, we'll wait and see. I'm going to keep pushing for it. But for right now, it is one book in my head, but it is going to be released in three volumes, hopefully fairly quickly.


  • 6


    How did it affect your other...? You write your own books, obviously, separate from this. How did continuing his series—did it have any effect on your own writing?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, it did, actually. Completing his series had a dramatic effect on my own writing. For one thing, I had to shelve a lot of projects I was working on, because this took precedence. But at the same time, I've had to go back to the master's work and really look at how he constructed stories. I think I've learned a lot. Writing this first third of A Memory of Light has been the most challenging thing I've ever done in my entire life. There's nothing to compare with it. It's like, you know, I was a runner used to going and doing the 500-meter dash and now I had to do a marathon. And it's forced me to stretch in a lot of different ways. And because of that, I think I've grown a lot as a writer, and I don't look at my own writing quite the same way any more.