View Full Version : Book Banter Interview, November 2008

Marie Curie 7
10-02-2011, 12:24 AM
BookBanter Interview with Brandon Sanderson
November 8, 2008

This is a transcription of an interview with Brandon in November 2008 by Alex Telander of BookBanter (http://www.bookbanter.net/episodes.html#bb002).

Highlight of the interview: Brandon compared the confluence of ideas that led to a book with chemical reactions. :)


Alex C. Telander: Welcome to Episode 2 of BookBanter. I'm your host, Alex C. Telander. And in this episode, it's all things Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson is the author of Elantris and the now New York Times best-selling Mistborn series. The concluding book in the trilogy recently came out, called Hero of Ages. He is also the author who has been chosen to complete the final volume in Robert Jordan's best-selling Wheel of Time series.

I was able to see Brandon Sanderson recently at a reading on his Hero of Ages book tour, and I was also able to get an exclusive interview with him. So on the podcast today we will have that interview in its entirety, followed by some details and facts about the last book in the Wheel of Time series that Sanderson is currently working on, called A Memory of Light.

And then we will conclude the podcast with two book reviews on Sanderson's books, Elantris and the first book in the Mistborn trilogy, Mistborn: The Final Empire. So now let's get to the interview which Brandon Sanderson kindly allowed, which took place just after his reading with David Farland on November 1st.


Alex: Okay. First off, thanks for doing this.

Brandon: Yeah, no problem.

Alex: So my first question here, what made you decide to become a writer? Who were your influences?

Brandon: I decided to become a writer when I was fourteen. Before then I actually hadn't been a big reader. I was actually one of those boys – a lot of young boys stop reading about the fourth grade age. It's apparently a trouble time. I didn't know that, but I stopped reading about that age. Fourth, fifth, sixth grade, not a big reader. Seventh grade, not a big reader. Eighth grade, I had a really wonderful English teacher, who got a fantasy novel into my hands. And before then, I just thought books were boring. Someone had tried to give me Tolkien, but Tolkien was just too hard for me. She gave me Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane, which I loved. Fell in love with fantasy books, discovered David Eddings, Terry Brooks over the summer. This was before Wheel of Time was even out. Just fell in love with reading and decided this was what I wanted to do for a living. Didn't really look back since then. Started my first book when I was fifteen. It was dreadful, but just kept writing and writing and writing.

A lot of my influences were the Wheel of Time books once they came out, absolutely loved. I would often study them, read them, and try and say, "What is Robert Jordan doing here?" I remember specifically looking at passages and saying, "Okay, what’s he doing, what's making this work?"

A lot of my other influences were, I'd say, Melanie Rawn, and Barbara Hambly, and Annie McCaffrey would be some of my big influences. I liked the sort of hybrid fantasy/science fictions – not the ones where a fantasy world meets a science fiction world – don't enjoy those as much. What I'm talking about is a fantasy book that treats its magic like a science. I loved, for instance, Melanie Rawn's magic system – really, really worked for me. When I discovered David Farland, his magic system really worked for me. I loved the Rune Lords magic. Those things, really, sort of jump out at me and sing to me, and I knew when I got published, if I got published some day, that's what I wanted to do.

Alex: Okay, great. What was the beginning spark that gave you the idea for Elantris?

Brandon: The beginning spark was reading, actually, about people in the olden days who would be quarantined together because of their disease.

Alex: The plague and stuff like that?

Brandon: Yeah, locked in a building because of the plague, or even leper colonies – forced to live only among other people with their same disease – and that would probably be the seed that made me want to write a book. Now, I put it in a fantasy world because I wanted to tell a story about a magical disease. It actually started more as an 'undeath' sort of thing, and then evolved into a magical hybrid between leprosy and undeath that people could catch, and the story of what it's like to have to live with this disease. Almost a little bit of wanting to tell to a story that was a put together the mystery, the pieces, of what made the disease take in the first place. Maybe a magical version of Andromeda Strain, or something like this.

Alex: Right, right. Yeah, that's what I like about it, because you go straight in the beginning, you're in the guy's head, and he's trying to figure out what is going on and not taking the answer of we've got it and we're doomed sort of thing.

Alex: How did you come up with the idea for the Mistborn series, and did you know it was going to be a series from the start?

Brandon: I did know it was going to be a series. When I was writing Mistborn, it came because – well, I had sold Elantris, and my editor came to me and said, "What do you want to do next? Do you want to do an Elantris sequel?" And I said, well, I really like Elantris being a stand-alone. But I had this unique opportunity where the next book didn't have to be in for about two years. Sold Elantris in 2003; it was coming out in 2005. That meant my next book had to be turned in in 2005. Two years' time, I thought if I write really hard, I can finish an entire trilogy before the first one has to be turned in, which would let me write a whole series, and have it all work together and be internally consistent and all of these things. And so I did know it was a series from the beginning.

The ideas are varied, they came from all over the place. One of the ideas was the desire to tell a story about a world where the dark lord had won. I love the classic fantasy stories, but I think that it's been done really well, and doesn't need to be done any more. I think Robert Jordan nailed it. I think, even if you look – you've got Tad Williams, you've got Raymond Feist, you've got David Eddings, you've got Terry Brooks – all doing this hero's archetype journey. It's been done, it's been covered, what else can I do? And so, the story where the hero went on a quest, and then failed and the dark lord took over, that was a fascinating idea.

Another idea was my love of the heist genre, where you get a gang of specialists who each have a different power. I had never seen a fantasy book do that in the way I wanted to. There are some that do it, and do it well. But you know, where everyone had a different magic system, every person a different magic power, got together and did something. One of my favorite movies is the movie Sneakers – something like that, but with magic.

And those two ideas rammed together with an idea for a magic system that I'd been working on, and an idea for a character I'm working on, Vin's character. Those were all developed independently. All started to ram together. I explained, ideas are sometimes like atoms and when they ram into each other, you get a chemical reaction and they form molecules. Cool different things happen when ideas ram into each other, and that's where those came from.

Alex: Do you think there's ever going to be any more stories or future books set in the Mistborn world?

Brandon: I always know what happens in the futures of the worlds in my stories. I don't always write those books. I think there probably will be, but they would take place hundreds of years after this trilogy, or hundreds of years before. It would be great separation of time and space. It would be more books set in the world, not a continuation of the characters or sequels. I won't do that for a while. One of the authors who I really respect is Orson Scott Card. I like that he's able to do such different things, and new things, and he's not locked into. . . even though he keeps writing Ender's books, in between, you'll have all sorts of different, cool things. And I really respect that. I would rather do that than be someone who's writing in only one setting. And so, while you probably will see more Mistborn books, it's when I'm excited about them. I want to do something else for a while.

Alex: It's a great honor to be chosen to complete Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

Brandon: Yes, it is.

Alex: How were you chosen?

Brandon: How was I chosen? I got up one morning, and there was a voicemail on my phone from someone that said, "Hello, Brandon Sanderson. This is Harriet Rigney, Robert Jordan's widow. I'd like you to call me. I have something I want to discuss with you."

Alex: Had you ever met her before or anything?

Brandon: I'd never met her before. I had seen Robert Jordan once at a convention, been too embarrassed to go up and talk to him. I had not applied, or asked my agent to apply, or anything like this. I was known at Tor as a big fan of the series. I had also written on my web site some thoughts about what Robert Jordan's books had meant in my life. But none of it was really an attempt. . . I assumed somebody had already been chosen.

Alex: Right. Do you know if you were the only one on the list?

Brandon: I know there were others on the list. I am not at liberty to say who they were. But, that first call was just a 'would you be willing?' And so I said, yes, of course. Well, what I actually said was, "aabbl, aabbbl, aabbbl. . ." I actually sent her an email the next day saying, "Dear Harriet, I'm not an idiot. I promise." I was just so surprised. And so, she then read Mistborn. She later told me, she said, "I got just 50 pages into it and I knew." But then she kept reading to make sure. She thought about it for about a month, she called me back. As I understand, she didn't ever look at any of the other people who were being considered, she just went with me. She really, really liked Mistborn.

Alex: That's pretty great! And then, A Memory of Light is due out next fall. You said, was it November, I think?

Brandon: November's the goal. November is the goal. Understand that there are a whole lot of different factors going into this. It will depend on how much editing it takes, how quickly I'm able to get the characters right. I'm going to work on it, I'm working on it more than full time. I'm pulling big long hours, I'm trying to get this done as soon as possible. But, it also has to be the best book.

Alex: Right. So that's going to be back and forth with you and Harriet, right?

Brandon: Yeah, back and forth with me and Harriet. I will have the rough draft done probably by December. Right now it's October. But how long it takes to get the rough draft polished and perfected, that's the uncertain quality here. And so, the goal will be November.

Alex: Okay. And you also have a children's series. How different is it to write for children?

Brandon: It is . . . it's very different. My children's series was written on a whim. I wanted to try something that was very different from my style because I wanted to take a break. I wanted to try something new. It came in between Mistborn 2 and 3. After I'd written the first two books straight through, I realized I needed a break to cleanse my palate, otherwise I'd be burned out on Mistborn 3 when I started it. And didn't want to be burned out, I wanted to be excited and energetic about it. And so, I took a break and wrote a short, several hundred page book about a kid who discovers that librarians rule the world. And it was for fun, I wasn't doing it for market reasons. People say, why did you decide to publish in children's? I decided to publish in children's because I wrote a book that I loved and said, hey I could actually publish this. I'm an author now, I do this for a living. So I sent it to my agent, and he said he really just loved it. And so, he took it to book auction, and it sold actually for a ridiculous amount of money. But it was done just for the fun of it.

And so, when I'm writing for children, I do not write down. I don't think that's appropriate. But I do change my style. I keep things more snappy. And you know, children are more forgiving. Epic fantasy has to be very internally consistent and very logical, and I love that about the genre. But children don't care if you genre bend a little bit more, or if you're a little bit more tongue-in-cheek. And, I was able to write a book that just didn't take itself quite so seriously. The Alcatraz books are funny. I think they're hilarious, they're meant to be fun. It's my take on one of my very rule-based magic systems done in a light-hearted way. It's about people who have really ridiculous magical powers, like Alcatraz's grandfather. His magical superpower is the ability to arrive late to appointments. And his cousin's magically good at tripping. And it's about them taking these magic abilities and twisting them, and using them in cool ways. Like his grandpa will arrive late to bullets, and his cousin will trip to make really great distractions, and these sorts of things. It's very fun. But the difference is, more light-heated, more fast-paced.

Alex: And I know you mentioned that this one, the children's series, has been optioned, you said, by Dreamworks?

Brandon: It has been. Optioned by Dreamworks Animation.

Alex: And, how about any of your other books?

Brandon: I've had offers on Mistborn, actually offers on Mistborn and on Elantris, that we have turned down. We're searching for the right project to do it. If I get the right – meaning somebody that I really think could make it – the people who offered on it before, I didn't think could actually make the movie. We had the feeling they were just trying to snatch up rights to keep a hold of them, and then hopefully it would get big and they could resell them later. They didn't seem like they were serious about making a movie. Fortunately, I'm in the position in life where I just don’t have to take the money. If someone offers me money, I can actually afford to say no. And in this case, I said no. With Dreamworks, it's a great company. They've done the Shrek movies, Kung Fu Panda. It was a great director, the director who directed Over the Hedge. And the producer was one of the producers on the Lemony Snicket movie. And I just thought, these guys can actually make a movie, they can make a good one. So we said yes.

Alex: Do you have any interest in writing possibly for TV?

Brandon: Hobbyist interest. They're such different skills. I would probably tackle a screenplay before I did – what do you call it for television? – a teleplay because I'm more used to the single form like a novel rather than the serial form. But, I could see myself doing some screenplays in the future, but I would have to do a lot of practice and a lot of research. I wouldn't expect them to be very good at the beginning.

Alex: So what's your writing schedule like? And do you ever give yourself a day off?

Brandon: Do I ever give myself a day off? Usually, if I give myself a day off, it's because I've been just killing myself going and doing book signings and things like that. I write to relax. That's what I do for fun. If I go on vacation, I usually want to go on vacation to get away from everyone and everything so I can write. It's just what I love to do. My writing schedule is usually. . . most writers write twenty-four hours a day. I write twenty-four hours a day. If I go to the gym, I'm thinking about what's happening with my next book. If I'm going to bed, I'm planning for the next day. When I get up, check my email, start writing. Most days, usually, formally I write from about noon until four. And then I'll hang out with my family and do other stuff until about ten, and I'll start writing from about ten to midnight – no, from about ten until 4am. And then I'll get up about noon. So yeah, sleep from about four until noon.

Alex: Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?

Brandon: Yeah, yeah, a couple things. First one is, read a lot. Read a lot in the genre you want to be published in. If you want to write short stories, read short stories. If you want to write novels, read novels. Read in the genre, but also read widely. But nothing is more frustrating than someone who says "I want to publish fantasy novels" who's never read any. Find out what other people are doing that's exciting and try and add something to it.

The other thing is, just write. Know that you don't have to be perfect when you start. Nobody sits down and expects to be able to play the piano the first time. But a lot of writers, it seems, get frustrated when they try to write their first book that it's not capturing the vision in their head. So, don't be afraid to be bad at it long enough to get good at it. Just sit down and start writing. Turn off your internal editor. Understand that your first book's not going to be very good and that's just fine. Practice writing it 'cause that's how you learn to write. Do it consistently. Set a time every day or every week where you write. Consistently keep that goal. Work on your books. Don't let yourself write a first chapter, throw it away and write another one, and then throw it away and write another one. Force yourself to finish.

Alex: What do you like to read in your spare time?

Brandon: Whatever ends up in my hands. Sometimes nonfiction, sometimes fiction. I still, I mean, I love fantasy. I've been reading a lot of children's lately. Favorite author right now who's still publishing is probably Terry Pratchett. But favorite historical writers have been Robert Jordan, I really like Les Miserables, it's one of my favorite books of all time. I actually really like Melville. A lot of people don't, but I really like Melville.

Alex: I like Moby Dick, yeah.

Brandon: Not just Moby Dick, but all of it. Billy Budd and other stuff, too, just fun to read. So, whatever I end up reading.

Alex: Do you have any hobbies?

Brandon: Yeah, yeah. It's actually a little bit embarrassing. I play Magic: The Gathering, which is kind of the nerdiest game ever invented.

Alex: Well, that's not too surprising. George R. R. Martin started as a dungeon master.

Brandon: I do role play a little bit, but Magic's probably my hobby. I actually decided a few years back that I needed a hobby. I had to have one because otherwise I would write all the time. And I needed something to balance out my life, so I dug out my cards from my youth and started playing again, got my friends back into it. And we do it mostly as a social thing. It's really fun, though. So, there's my hobby. Somewhat, obviously, self-hatingly, but yeah.

Alex: Well, I know Christopher Paolini makes swords . . . [not clear] . . . and stuff like that.

Brandon: I was on tour here and someone actually gave me a couple of cards. Yeah, it brings out my complete inner geek when someone shows up and says, "Here's some cards for you." I'm like, "Oh . . . I can't believe it, cards!"

Alex: That's great. So how is it that you and David Farland keep doing the book tours together?

Brandon: We live about four hours apart. And he is my former teacher in sort of an Obi-wan Kenobi/Qui-gon Jinn sort of way. Hopefully not in an Anakin Skywalker sort of way. But I was the Padawan, I took one of his classes early on. We just get along really well. And I think that the publisher knows they can send us on tour together and we can take care of ourselves.

Alex: And have fun together?

Brandon: Yeah, and have fun, and keep each other company. And it's pretty economical because we'll share a hotel room, we'll share a car ride. Tour is . . . every year when we've asked, hey can we tour? They'll say yes because they know all of those things.

Alex: Okay. And then for the last question here tonight, what's your favorite TV show?

Brandon: Daily Show, Jon Stewart. I used to watch it with Craig Kilborn and think it was the coolest thing ever. And then like, you know, Jon Stewart came along, and I'm like, who's this hoser? And then he made the show like about forty times better.

Alex: That's how I get my news, usually.

Brandon: So yeah, I love The Daily Show.

Alex: Okay. All right, well thank you very much again.


Alex: And there you have my interview with Brandon Sanderson, who is just a great guy. And now we move on to some facts and details he gave away during the Q&A session after his reading about A Memory of Light, the last book in the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series that he's currently working on.

Now, while A Memory of Light is considered one whole book by Sanderson, it will likely be very long and divided into two volumes. If you go to his blog at brandonsanderson.com, you can see how he's doing with his updated word count for A Memory of Light. He plans on making it into two books, with the first one due out next November, followed by possibly the second book coming out in the following March, 2010.

It will be up to Robert Jordan's wife, Harriet Rigney, as to whether Sanderson will be doing the prequels to the Wheel of Time series, the first one of which was New Spring. Sanderson says there's about a fifty percent chance of this happening.

Sanderson will also ask Tor, his publisher, to do a companion book after A Memory of Light is published which will explain how Sanderson wrote the book, which parts were his, which were Robert Jordan's, and where the two met. He also hopes to include a CD with the book of dictations made by Jordan just before he died.

So we have A Memory of Light due out next November 2009, with the second part due out possibly in March 2010.


[The podcast concluded with book reviews of Brandon's books that were not transcribed.]