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Home | Interview Database

Interviews: TorForge Hero of Ages Interview

Summary:

Entries

10

Date

Oct 20th, 2008

Type

Verbatim

TourCon

Hero of Ages

Reporter

Zas

Links

TorForge

  • 1

    Kurkistan

    The questions were cut from the interview, so I guessed what the questions were from Brandon's answers.
  • 2

    Tor Forge

    Please tell us a little about yourself.

    Brandon Sanderson

    My name is Brandon Sanderson; I’m the author of the Mistborn trilogy, the latest book of which is the Hero of Ages. Go check out brandonsanderson.com for sample chapters and annotations of my work and all sorts of fun things.

  • 3

    Tor Forge

    How did you get discovered as a writer?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well every writer has their own story of how they got discovered; and I’ve heard it said in the business that it never happens the same way twice. For me, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about 21. About that time, someone told me that your first five books are generally terrible. Which, for some people, might have been very discouraging, but for me I thought “Well that’s great, I don’t have to be good at this for quite a while. I can just write and enjoy it.” So I just started writing.

    I started writing the ideas that were in my head. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I was exploring: I tried writing several different books in several different genres. I actually wrote five books. Different: one was a humor piece, one was a science fiction, one was a fantasy—I really liked the fantasy book. It was my favorite, it’s what I’d read a lot. When it came time to write that sixth book, I still had in the back of my head that “Your first five books are terrible” and I have now hit my sixth book. This one’s gotta’ be the one. So I sat down and wrote a book called Elantris, which was based on an idea that I’d been working on for a while. I got done with that book and I said “This is the one; this is going to do it.” It was a standalone epic fantasy novel that I was really, really excited about.

    And then I started sending it out, and I started getting rejected. That can be kind of discouraging. You always hear that every writer goes through a host of rejections before they get published, but it’s still hard to go through it, particularly when you think that this book is the one. But I kept writing. I never stopped, even though I had a book that I thought really was the book that would do it. I continued to work on novels: I didn’t really do much with those first five because I considered them practice novels. I continued sending Elantris out while I was writing other things. Well eventually I started to do some networking, started going to the conventions, started really learning the business side of it, and started just sending books out to editors by name rather than just by company.

    At a convention, I met a guy named Moshe Feder who I really connected with. He was an editor at Tor, the books that he worked on in the past were authors that I loved, their works, and he and I had a very similar philosophy about books. So I asked him if I could send him a novel and he said “Sure.” So when I got home, I took Elantris—which had then been rejected a number of times—and I said “Okay, let me give this a really good revision, and I’m going to send it to this guy and keep my fingers crossed.” I sent it to him and... didn’t hear back. Didn’t hear back. Heard nothing, months passed. Eventually, I sent him and email saying “Hey, did you get this?” and he said “Yeah, I got it, but it’s really long, it’s really ambitious, and that’s not a bad thing, but it might take me awhile to get to it: I’m just not sure.” And so months passed. Months more passed. I assumed it was just gone, that I had no chance on that one, and I continued working on other books.

    And then, 18 months after I’d sent that book out, I got home—I was in grad school at that point—got home from school, checked my voicemail, and there was a phone call from a guy called Moshe Feder. A voicemail, he said “hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but you sent me a book a long time ago, in fact so long ago that your email address has now changed: it bounced when I tried to send you an email, and your phone number had changed: I got a disconnected phone number, and your address had changed: so my letters came back returned. So I Googled you and I found your grad student page: I hope this is the right Brandon Sanderson, because if it is, I want to buy your book.” And so I immediately called him back, but that’s essentially how the story, essentially how it went. Thank goodness for Google and thank goodness that I decided to put my phone number up on my student page at college, because otherwise, who knows what would have happened.

    Every hotel desk clerk you meet probably has a book or a screenplay on the side, that starving artist sort of thing, you really, really dream about it, but you never are sure if it’s actually going to happen. I got that phone call finally. I honestly just about dropped the phone and collapsed to the floor. It was a voicemail that I got, actually, I didn’t talk to the editor until afterward, and I got that voicemail and my immediate thought was “Oh, this can’t be happening, this is one of my friends that’s called me to try and trick me, or he doesn’t really want to buy the book, he just wants to reject it in a really nice way.” My agent later told me, “No, people don’t call you to reject you, they send you a letter to reject you, and they call you to accept you.”

    And so I called him back and I couldn’t believe it was happening. I talked to him for a good two hours, just about the book. He had actually only gotten a couple hundred pages into the manuscript. When he finally picked up the manuscript, it had been 18 months since I’d sent it to him. He finally picked it up and started reading, he said he read all night and got just a couple hundred pages into it before calling me, just wanting to make sure that it was still available, because he wanted to buy it. So I spent the next week with my head in the clouds, just completely befuddled by the fact that it was actually happening.

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  • 4

    Tor Forge

    Tell me about Elantris.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Elantris is an interesting book. In epic fantasy, it’s usually all about the big series. And I like big series. I love reading books where you can read book after book about the same character. But I also love the concept of the standalone. I particularly think that a single book that wraps up its entire plot-line is its own special art. I thought that, breaking in with my very first book, the thing I would want to do most is have it be a standalone so that people could give me a chance and try one of my books without having to get into something really big. They could try a single book and know how I would plot, how I can do a climax and bring things to an end. So it’s different in that it is a standalone, and there aren’t sequels to it: I later did a trilogy set in a different world, but this is a standalone. It also is interesting in that it doesn’t follow some of the standard cliché plots of the fantasy genre: There’s no quest, there’s no young hero searching for a magical object. It’s something different.

    Elantris is the story of a magical city, “City of the Gods” it was called amongst these people. What would happen is, in this kingdom, there was this force that no one understands, but it would randomly choose people and grant them divine powers. Their skin started to glow; they could draw ruins in the air that would do these powerful magics. Once you were chosen by this force, you became one of the gods of these people, you move to the city of Elantris, which was the capital, and from there you would rule with all the other Elantrians, as they would call them: there were hundreds of them.

    Well, the book is unique in that that’s not the story. The story starts ten years before the book actually start, and something goes wrong. The magic stops working. All these people, who had these divine powers, they lost them all. They caught this sort of “magical leprosy,” this disease, that turned them all into these poor wretches. They lost all their powers, and the kingdom just about collapsed. Imagine what would happen if not only your ruling class, but the divine gods of your religion, just suddenly were cast down: to a person, they all lost their abilities, just became the lowest of the low. So the common people and the merchant class took all of these people who were their gods, frightened that what they have might be catching, and they locked them in the city of Elantris and just tried to forget about them, turned it into a big prison city.

    Well this force keeps picking people, and now it curses them with this disease. The book is about the crown prince of this kingdom, who catches this disease: whatever it is, the force chooses him and turns him into one of these poor wretches, this terrible disease. His own father covers up what happened, throws him into the city with all of these people who used to be gods. It’s the story of him trying to survive in there while also trying to figure out what happened ten years ago: where did the magic go? What when wrong? It’s his story and the story of his fianceé, who is living outside in the new capital city: she’s trying to figure out what happened to him because of the big cover up. So it’s political intrigue on her part: searching for what happened to him, trying to keep an invading force from conquering, and he is on the inside just trying to discover the secrets of what happened.

    This is kind of a different story for the fantasy world. Instead of being about a peasant who becomes a king, it’s about a king who essentially becomes less than a peasant, becomes less than a beggar. His own religion says that he’s now damned for eternity, he’s lost his soul. It’s kind of the story of what it means to be a king or to be a pauper, what does it mean when everything turns against you? How do you see yourself in the world now? Can you be happy as one of these poor wretches or do you have to just give in to your fate?

    It did very well, went through three hardcover printings—sold in I think fourteen languages—I was just incredibly excited about how much people have enjoyed it because it was a little bit risky, I thought, in a genre populated by the big twelve-book epic, to release a stand-alone. But we’ve been very pleased with how it was received.

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  • 5

    Tor Forge

    Tell me about Mistborn

    Brandon Sanderson

    The Mistborn trilogy was the series I released following Elantris. I knew I wanted to follow up with something a little bit longer. Elantris was a standalone, and I wanted to try my hand at a series. I had made a name for myself, with Elantris, for being someone who does something different with fantasy: doesn’t do the same sort of things. Still, I want my books to feel like fantasy, I want them to give you that same feeling of epic wonder that you get in a good fantasy series. I just don’t want to do the same stories that have been done a lot.

    And so with this, the inspiration really came from two places. I love the fantasy genre, I read a lot of fantasy books, I love the classics—Tolkien—I love the Harry Potter and the Robert Jordan books. These books all kind of share one similar plot element, which is kind of about the young hero, who goes on a quest to defeat the Dark Lord, which a lot of my classic favorites in fantasy deal with. I thought “Is there something different I can add to this?” I was actually watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies, watching Frodo go on his quest to fight Sauron and defeat the Dark Lord, and I thought about Harry Potter with Voldemort and all of these and I thought “You know, these Dark Lords always get taken down by these peasant kids. What happens if the Dark Lord wins? What happens if the peasant hero loses?”

    That idea kicked around in my head for a long time, and I began to think of this story where there had been this young hero, who’d gathered an unlikely band of followers, and they’d gone traipsing off on a quest to defeat the great evil, and they lost: the Dark Lord took over the world, and began to rule. That’s kind of a depressing story: I didn’t to start, I didn’t want that to be the whole story, but that was a beginning.

    The other seed for this story was my love for the Heist genre. I love the old Mission Impossible TV show, where you’ve got a gang of specialists who can each do something really unique, and they get together and try and pull off something impossible. I have often wondered: why don’t I see more of this in fantasy? It would be a great way to apply the genre—each person in our team could have a different magical power.

    These two ideas rammed together, and I began to conceive this story of a world where the hero had lost, and now, a thousand years later, we’ve got this gang of thieves who say “okay the Peasant Hero, he didn't save us. the Prophecies, they were all bunk. We're now ruled by this terrible dark emperor—let’s do this our way. Let's rob the guy silly, bribe his armies away from him, and overthrow the empire. “And so it’s kind of a different take on the same story, and that’s what I did, and it turned out to be kind of a mix between Lord of the Rings and Ocean’s Eleven and a kung-fu epic and a little bit of My Fair Lady thrown in there for good measure. It’s kind of its own unique thing.

    Well Mistborn, the series is a trilogy, and the progression from Book 1 to Book 2 is interesting in that, when I was originally conceiving this trilogy, this series, one of the things I wanted to do is tell the story of what happens once the heroes have already won. I wanted to start where the story usually ends because one of the things I like to do is try and turn the genre on its head, do new things with the genre. When I was planning the series, I decided that the story of the heroes winning is a great story, and that’s one that I wanted to tell. So I actually backed up by a book and started with Book 1, telling the story of the fight against the evil empire by a gang of thieves, trying to rip off the Dark Lord himself. But Book 2 then starts where my original concept had been. What now? I won’t tell you how Book 1 ends, but we’ve got the heroes having done something pretty spectacular, it’s where most books usually end, most series usually end. Book 2 takes up there and says “What now? What do you do now that you’ve pulled off this great accomplishment?" It leads me to some really interesting places, I think, in the series, because I get to tackle things that most people haven’t covered. Most series are done by now. It lets me forge some new ground in the fantasy genre.

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  • 6

    Tor Forge

    How did Vin and Elend change during the course of the story?

    Brandon Sanderson

    This story, the series is about them, it’s about progression. I talk about the plot for books, for instance, the Mistborn series is about a group of thieves taking out a Dark Lord, but books, for me, are about character. Action is only as interesting as it happens to people you care about, in my opinion, and a setting is only as fascinating as characters’ ability to interact with it. The progression, who characters become, is really where I think fiction can shine. In a different medium, you just don’t have the time to do what we do, and we can show across a span of years how someone starts as a street urchin and ends up as a queen. You can show this and you can show the internal changes, and the struggles inside of them that leads to this.

    The story, about, for Vin and Elend is the story of them coming to accept each other’s different worlds. Vin starts as a street urchin, and she understands that life. Elend starts off as a nobleman, and he understands that life. As they start to interact and begin to have romantic interest in one another, their two worlds sort of collide and start sucking each other into each other’s worlds. Vin’s progress is learning that there is a part of her that can survive in this world of nobility, and of balls, and of political intrigue. But Elend, just as much, needs to understand that there’s a need to be able to survive “on the street,” a need to be able to take care of yourself rather than being pampered. It’s a role-reversal for the two of them, how it works as the series progresses.

    Hero of Ages is the third and final book of the Mistborn Trilogy. One of the things I love about this book is that it is the ending. I like to end things. I don’t want to leave people hanging. I like my stories to come to a conclusion. I promised people at the beginning, when I was writing this series, that it would be three books: and I would give them a dramatic, powerful ending. Endings are my favorite part, honestly, of novels. In a given novel, I love telling you the ending, and Book 3 is kind of a book that is an ending itself. The entire book is an ending. It’s a big climax: it’s exciting, and it’s powerful, and it fulfills things that have been building in the series for three books now. I was able to write the trilogy straight through when I was preparing, and so I had Book 3 drafted before Book 1 even went to press, which allowed me to really make these three novels cohesive. I have seeds in the very first few paragraphs of Book 1 to things that become climactic powerful moments in the end of book 3. Book 3 is just an overload of action and excitement and character climaxes and just an amazing, just, romp through this series. I’m really excited about people being able to finally read it because I’ve been waiting for quite a while to make good on the promises I made at the beginning.

    The great thing about Book 3 is that I'm introducing a completely new magic system. Each book has had its own. We'll start talking about Hemalurgy, and Steel Inquisitors, and where they come from. A lot of the origins of things that people have been wondering about since Book 1. The last 200 pages are just some of my favorite writing that I’ve ever been able to write because I was able to bring things to a head and to a close. I hope you enjoy it.

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  • 7

    Tor Forge

    What was it like to get the nod for The Wheel of Time?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Well, in 2007, one of my favorite authors of all time, Robert Jordan, sadly passed away, long before his time was due. We were all, the whole community was struck by the tragedy. I've been reading his books since I was 15. The first one came out in paperback, I can remember when I walked into a store and saw this new book on the shelf, and thought it's amazing, and it's big and it's thick, and I was just getting into fantasy books, and I said "Wow, there's something about that book." I picked up a copy and read it, and just was hooked forever; it was, Eye of the World was the name of it. Over the next 18 years, I read this series, of 11 books and the prequels, as they came out. Right when they came out, I’d get the new one and read back through the whole series and read them again. It’s the great fantasy epic of my era. People before me read Tolkien, I read Robert Jordan. I eventually got into Tolkien, but Robert Jordan is what, part of what propelled me into being a fantasy novelist myself. I absolutely loved these books, and I was waiting, with everyone else for Book 12 because it was going to be the last one. And then Mr. Jordan passed away.

    Robert Jordan was one of my great inspirations; I looked at him as “my master,” in a way when it came to teaching me how to write. I would study his books when I was just a teenager, thinking about, someday, I would like to write fantasy novels myself. I would get them out and I would read them, and I would look at them and I would see how he would plot, and how it would do character and how he did viewpoint, and all these things, even though I never met him, I kind of look at him as something of a father-figure, I think the whole fantasy genre did. When he passed away, we all felt a little bit orphaned.

    I assumed that Tor would have someone picked to work on it: I figured that it would someday come out. I never thought that it would be me. I got up one morning, and there was a voicemail on my phone. This was actually the second time this had happened to me because when I first sold my very first book, I found out via voicemail. I’m glad I have a cellphone with voicemail on it because I answered this voicemail and it was Harriet Rigney, Robert Jordan's wife, longtime editor of his books. She called and said she had something she wanted to talk to me about. I had no clue that anyone was even considering me, so I called her back and lo and behold, she wanted me to complete the twelfth book of the Wheel of Time.

    This is the sort of thing that you don’t even dream about working on because you can’t even conceive it. It’s the series you’ve been reading since you were 15, and now you’ve been called and asked to work with the master, take his notes, the things that he has written, and put them together and write the last book. So my next project, after Well of Ascension*, we actually have another standalone of mine called Warbreaker coming out in the spring, and then that fall will be Book 12 of the Wheel of Time. Which I am now working on quite extensively, spending quite a bit of time on, it's going to be a big, great book, and he actually wrote most of the last portion himself, but I'm working on putting together all the notes, and writing the holes and following what’s left, what’s in the outline, and just making this book. That’s what’s going to come out, should be, we hope, fall or winter of 2009: I’m not exactly sure yet because I haven’t finished the novel. But that’s what’s next, and so exciting to consider, so exciting to work on it. This is just the most amazing project I’ve ever been a part of.

    The soul of the whole book is there, but the whole writing isn’t there. He left an outline, and there are whole in the outline, there are things that I need to put together, but at the same time he left 12 books worth of material, 11 books and 1 prequel's worth of material, pushing towards this last one, and all that weight is kind of like a mountain, pushing for what's going to happen. He was so good at foreshadowing, so good at plotting, that it's all there, even in the things that aren't there specifically in the outline. So people ask me, "How much of this book is yours, how much of it is Robert Jordan's?" My answer is, well it’s all Robert Jordan’s, it’s all his.

    In a way, I look at myself as the journeyman craftsman. If the master has trained you, if the master has come up with the patterns for whatever it is that you are working on, and the apprentice comes along and finishes a chair the master has worked on, it’s the master’s work, even if the apprentice helped out. I’m really the apprentice, or the journeyman in this case. Even though there’s a lot I get to do, a lot of work I have to do, there are a lot of scenes I get to come up with and write on my own, it’s his book. My goal in writing is so that no one can tell where my work begins and his ends and vice versa. I want it to just be a joy and a delight to read and I don’t want people to be sitting there thinking “How much did Brandon write? How much did Robert Jordan write?” Just read the book and enjoy it because it’s all his book, even the parts that I may have to come up with on my own. I don’t think that anyone could actually fill Robert Jordan’s shoes. He’s the greatest writer of my time, I believe, he’s the greatest writer of epic fantasy that we’ve had since Tolkien, and I can’t be him: I can’t fill his shoes. Without the outline material he’d left behind, without his assistance and his wife, who was his editor for so long, there’s no way I could do this.

    But, at the same time, it’s just amazing to be able to look at what he had left behind and see into his mind in a way that, I think, no one else gets to. I get to see a work that is unfinished, yet he’s left enough that I can imagine the book as it would have been when it was finished, and I can see the process. It’s really an unrivaled opportunity. I can’t think of anything that’s quite like it. The chance to just work and look through the notes and the materials, to gather them and say “What was he doing with this? Where did he really want this to go? How can I take this character who he’s been building to a climax for eleven books and say ‘how am I going to take this character and fulfill their character arc?’ How do I apply the notes? How do I take the chunks that he actually wrote and weave them in so that my own writing and his writing meld together and produce a Wheel of Time book that everyone is going to be excited about?”

    Beyond that, I think he’s watching and saying “Okay, what are you gonna’ do Brandon? What’s gonna’ happen?” And I want to do something that he’d be proud of. I think it’s both the greatest and most frightening opportunity anyone could ever be given in this business, but it sure is a lot of fun to work on. It’s been probably the most fun I’ve had working ever, to just be able to do this.

    He was a very positive, upbeat man. Extremely good natured. Everyone who talks about him talks about just how kindly and upbeat and positive he always was. Right up to the end, he was on his official blog, to people, saying “I’m going to beat this.” He had a degenerative blood disease—very rare—and he said “I’m going to beat this. I’m going to be around for another twenty years writing books” I think that positive mindset really helped him, but, near the end, he began to make provisions for the last book.

    I spoke with his wife and with his cousin about those days, just trying to get into his mindset. Really what impressed me most was that he wanted to make sure that the fans were taken care of. He knew how many people were waiting for this book, and his fans were so dear to him, that near the end he wanted to make sure that we knew everything that we needed to in order to finish the book. He wanted to make sure that his wife had the materials and the tools she needed so that she could find somebody. Near the end, he wanted her to go and find someone to finish the last book so that it would come out, so that the fans could finally read all of this. I think he knew that he wouldn’t be able to finish it himself. It was very hard for him to face, but he made sure he had what we needed to so that we could all read the book.

    His wife Harriet is just the most amazing person. Before I even met her, I had three independent sources, that I really trust, contact me and say “Brandon, she is the best editor in this business. There is nobody quite like Harriet.” Just having worked with her for the past six months, I agree with that. She is amazing. She knows this series and these books like nobody else. I’m convinced she knows them as well as Robert Jordan himself knew them. She and he, she’s been working on them since the beginning. Since the first pitch to Tor, she’s been involved. She knows these characters like we know our best friends and our family members, and she has been a shepherd of this project ever since the beginning.

    Working with her has been amazing: the next best thing to having Mr. Jordan himself here to write this book is having Harriet to be able to guide and take care of the project, and say “No, this character’s not quite right”, or “You’ve got this one dead on”, or “Let’s make sure that it feels right.” There are things that Harriet knows that no one else knows, at least I hope I know most of it now—she’s written down a lot of things—but even still, I’ll be working on a section and she’ll say “Oh, you need to know this” or “This character needs to do this.” She really does have a wealth of information just inside of that head of hers that’s been working on this for twenty years. She really is close to this project, and she understands it.

    Footnote

    *We assume he means Hero of Ages here, since that's what this interview is about.

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  • 8

    Tor Forge

    How have things changed since you submitted Elantris to Tor?

    Brandon Sanderson

    For one thing, I’m a full-time writer, which is just wonderful. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing, and now I actually, I have time to work on projects and on side-projects: I get to do this full-time. Beyond that, I get to be part of the community. The science fiction and fantasy community is amazing. Everyone is so helpful, all the other writers: I’m just amazed at how kind they are, how willing to help out the newbie.

    My life has changed drastically. There are people who know me that I’ve never met; there are a lot of them. I get dozens of emails from them every week. I feel a strange sense of responsibility, honestly, to the community now because the relationship between writer and reader is an interesting one. It’s a participatory art. Whatever I write on the page, it doesn’t come alive until the reader reads it and imagines it. The book becomes theirs at that point; the characters become who they imagine them to be.

    I feel a responsibility to the people who are reading the books and supporting me. Maybe in the same way that, in the olden days, you would have the performer who would be on the streets getting paid just by the kindness of those passing along the way, in fact you still see that quite a bit. I feel like I’m the same way. I’m employed, I make a living, and I get to do these wonderful things, come up with these stories and work on them because of the readers’ willingness to support me. That means that I feel that I need to produce the best stories that I can for them, not just dust off an old book that I wrote ten years ago, but always be giving them my best work. It’s a strange sense of just weight of responsibility to make sure that I am producing things that people are enjoying.

    I’m always doing my best work. That’s different. I used to just write for myself, now I write for everyone who enjoys my books.

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  • 9

    Tor Forge

    What do you have to say to aspiring writers?

    Brandon Sanderson

    One question I get a lot from readers is “how do I write books myself?” So I started up a podcast called Writing Excuses in which two writing friends of mine and I get together and we just talk through various aspects of writing in a very fast-paced, enjoyable way. If people want to write books themselves, I suggest Writing Excuses to them. You just find it at writingexcuses.com or through my website.

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  • 10

    Tor Forge

    What can we find on your website?

    Brandon Sanderson

    One of the things I’m really excited about in entertainment these days is the behind-the-scenes look you get on the DVD extras when you buy a movie, when you hear the director’s commentary, see “making of” videos. I wanted to try to do some of that for my books, so on my own website, I started doing annotations of my books. I’d read a chapter from one of my books and write how I thought when I came up with that chapter, the ideas in it. I started posting those on my website and they’ve been enormously successful, kind of like a director’s commentary for my book. I try to make my website the behind-the-scenes DVD extra for my books. So if you have questions about what I was thinking when I wrote a particular chapter, you can go to my website, brandonsanderson.com, and you can look up all sorts of fun things: sample chapters of new books I’m working on, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on there.

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