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An Hour With Harriet

2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.

The Bell Tolls

2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."

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Old 09-12-2011, 07:50 AM
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Default BookExpo America 2009 interview

Video available here. Thanks to Terez for proofreading.

BookExpo America 2009 interview

Brandon: Knowing that there was an ending, and actually having read it...but knowing there was an ending changed the entire series for me. When I was reading through it, it sometimes... I can see how sometimes people might have trouble with some of the middle-late ones, not knowing particularly when it's going to end and when the next installment will even be out. And it sometimes gets hard—it's hard to wait two or three years for a book, and by then there's such a large cast of characters—keeping them all straight and keeping track of them all. But when it's done, it's a completely different experience.

Damon Cap: I think I agree with you there, because I think that's probably one of the reasons I was reading so much fantasy and books at that time, that those breaks made it difficult. Kind of like a television season hiatus. Like, you know, you have all these shows that get canceled because there is that long hiatus. I felt the same way. I kind of feel the same with Martin's stuff as well. So that kind of makes sense to me.

Brandon: With Jordan, a lot of us die-hard fans, we would have to read the whole series again every time a new one came out, which is how I got around to reading Eye of the World like nine times by the time I was working on this project. Because when I'd been younger, I'd been hardcore enough to do that. When I got older, I just didn't have the time, so I'd have to read the new one. And even I, having read the first ones that many times would get lost sometimes when a new one would come out. When Knife of Dreams comes out and I'm reading through it, I'm like trying to remember how this person is related to that person. It's a completely different experience reading through all of them knowing that they're done.

Damon Cap: So how do you feel now that you know the ending?

Brandon: The ending was great. I mean know. It's... I'm biased, because... I mean, what else am I going to say? But at the same time, I really did really enjoy the ending. It's fulfilling.

Damon Cap: Did the ending make you reminisce more about the other books? Did you feel those other books had a little more power behind them after reading the ending?

Brandon: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. He was a... He's a master of foreshadowing. He really is. It's not like certain other books where I don't want to name the authors, but you read book seven and you're like, "How did this happen? This isn't foreshadowed. You're just making this stuff up." I mean, I read the ending; he finished the ending before he passed away. And then I started the series and read it through again. And the things that were in there, foreshadowing that ending I read just blew me away. The detail, the level of detail in some of his foreshadowing. There are visions of scenes that people are having in the first few books which are scenes from the last book. Which is just amazing.

Damon Cap: I think that definitely is something that he was master of. How do you feel that writing this book changes what you would have done in your life? I know it was probably a very difficult decision, because it's such a great project. But how does this affect you as a writer?

Brandon: That's actually a great question. It was a difficult decision—it was the easiest difficult decision I've ever made. How about that? Because I made it in a snap. There's no way I was going to pass this up. But at the same time, making that decision made me realize... I knew when I was making it, that this would change my life forever. And it would change... I mean, I had to set aside a number of book projects that I've wanted to write. That just got cast aside, and I just didn't have time for it anymore. And I don't know if I will write those books; if I'll be able to write those books. It completely changed tracks—you know, you talk about a train being derailed—well, you know, I completely was thrown off-track to something completely different. It did change my career drastically.

Damon Cap: Do you feel like—and this is going to be a difficult question—but do you feel like that it's taken away a little bit of yourself? Do you feel like you're going to be typecast as that person that wrote Jordan's last book?

Brandon: I don't know. I don't think so. Partially because I plan to do this and be done. I don't plan to make a career of finishing other people's books. In fact, I would have said no to pretty much anyone else. The Wheel of Time was the foundational and formative epic fantasy series of my childhood. These were the books I was reading—Rand, and Perrin, and Mat, they were my friends that I had growing up. This wasn't something that I could say no to. Just from a kind of... I consider Robert Jordan a mentor. My hero in a lot of ways. There was no way I was going to say no. But I wouldn't have said yes to pretty much anyone else, and I don't plan to do other sorts of tie-in books. I've put my soul into this book. There is a piece of me in this. It's hard to explain. It's not like... I didn't treat it like I was given a work-for-hire project. It's not like I'm writing a Star Wars book, as fun as that would be, or something like this. I was given these notes and then essentially told by Harriet, "I want to see what you're doing, after you've done with it, but you have full license. Do what you feel you need to do to write this book." I was given essentially complete control. Now, Harriet—Robert Jordan's wife—she has complete control.

Damon Cap: The final say.

Brandon: Yeah, she has the final say. But she's an editor. And she didn't tell me how to write the book. She gave me the notes and said, "Go. Do what you need to do to make a great book." And so, this has become... It is a collaboration. It's a true collaboration, that's what they call it; I'm collaborating. And there were big holes that I had to fill in. Now, there are a lot of notes that he left behind and there's a lot—this is mostly his book—but there's a bit of me in it. And it's not just a work-for-hire. Which actually... It's good. I don't feel like I'm, I don't know, stepping in and just doing something. It's hard to explain. I don't know if that's making any sense at all.

Damon Cap: No, that's definitely makes sense.

Brandon: But I'm putting as much or more into this as I would put into one of my own books. And I don't feel like this would typecast me any more than writing my own books typecasts me as a person who writes Brandon Sanderson books. If that makes sense. You get typecast as yourself; it's impossible to not be typecast as yourself. So...yeah.

Damon Cap: So from the standpoint of notes, because I know there were a lot of notes involved in this book, and it was funny because Ringo was talking today, you know, we were talking about e-books and things like that. If you had a say, would you have written more? I know there is some sort of, you know… We talk about the three books. And there is some sort of... From a publishing standpoint, could you have written a book that was seven books? Did he leave enough notes, and do you feel like that maybe sometimes in the standard of e-books, some would like to have seen your rough drafts of the Jordan work, would that be of interest because of that?

Brandon: I think it's unlikely to see the rough drafts. Because I know that the team working on the Wheel of Time—Harriet and those—are somewhat more...skeptical is the wrong word. Robert Jordan didn't like to show his work to people until it was on the twelfth draft. Harriet didn't see it until it'd gone through twelve drafts. He was very... Didn't like to show unfinished work to people. That was just how he was. Different authors approach things different ways. With Warbreaker, my own book, I put the first draft on my web site. I do stuff like that. I work from a different kind of angle. I don't know what it is.

But I'm going to probably push to get her to let me publish the notes, or to publish a book talking that includes part of the notes along with a discussion of how I translated the notes to book. Something like that. I would like to do something like that. The call will be Harriet's. And I probably won't even talk about it with her until the book is done. 'Till, you know, we've got the Wheel of Time done. Then I might approach her and say, "Hey, would you mind if I did something like this? Would you be interested?" Because I think the fans would really like to see it.

Damon Cap: I think it would be definitely an interesting idea.

Brandon: You mentioned the three books. And, I mean... The Wheel of Time is huge. There's lots of different places we could go. They are not places that I think we're going to go. Because we don't want to see this turn into something... Not to say anything against the media properties, that's fine, but we don't want to see the Wheel of Time become that. Robert Jordan left notes on this book, which has become three, but it's become three that are collectively of the same length as the book he was going to write. That's the thing you have to remember with the split. He was writing an 800,000 word book, I'm writing an 800,000 word book—8 to 900,000 word book—Tor has decided to slice it up and release it in three segments. It's not like I've decided to write two extra books. I'm writing the one book and I'm allowing them to split it into three. I don't really have the call on it. But that's something different.

He did leave notes on a few other things. One was called the Outriggers, which he had talked about with his fans writing. He actually had a contract with Tor. I don't know what happened with those, but that was a trilogy that he had planned to write that he had notes for. And then he also had notes for two additional prequels. He had done... He had told Tor he wanted to do three of those; he wrote one of them called New Spring. There was going to be one that was focusing on Tam's story—that's Rand's father—and he was going to do one that was essentially the sequel to New Spring, with Moiraine, how she arrived at the—how she and Lan arrived in the Two Rivers. That sort of thing. And those were planned. There's a chance you'll see those. A chance. My suggestion to Harriet has been to, you know, to be very careful. We don't want to exploit the Wheel of Time to make it go on and on and on. And so, while you may see those books—I know Tom Doherty is pushing for them a lot—we're not going to go back and do the prequel about Lews Therin. We're not going to do a prequel about Artur Hawkwing. We're not going to... You're not going to see this—

Damon Cap: Shared world.

Brandon: —shared world sort of thing. And so, if Harriet asks me to do those, I probably will. Meaning the Outriggers or the prequels. Because I don't want anyone else to do them, if that makes any sense.

Damon Cap: Since you've taken over, it's a little bit now your baby.

Brandon: Yeah. But if we do those, there'll be years between. If that makes any sense.

Damon Cap: I think there has to be, yeah.

Brandon: I mean, I got into this because I want to write books. My own stories. And that's what I'm excited about, that's what I do, and I'm really having a blast doing that. And so...the Wheel of Time is an exception. It's a special thing, that I am really honored to be part of. But I don't want to make my career doing other people's books.

Damon Cap: And as you touch on that, your books that you've written yourself focus—let's not say heavily on religion, but your character has a religious foundation per se, and Jordan on the other end of the spectrum; there's really not that formalized sort of religion.

Brandon: Yeah, there's spirituality, but not religion.

Damon Cap: And how did you, as a writer that usually writes in that, you know… How did that make a difference for you? How did you have to approach it; did you have to make changes in the way that you write because of that?

Brandon: You know, that's not one specific thing that I felt I had to change a lot about. The truth is, for any given fantasy work you're working on, there are certain things that draw a lot of your attention, that you focus on, and certain things you don't. When I wrote my kids' series, there's no religion in those. That just wasn't important for the world-building and the setting for those books. And I've written other books where religion is very important. Religion fascinates me. I'm a religious person. And because of that, I feel that the misuse of religion can be one of the greatest evils in the world. And so, you see me delving into that sort of thing and just the different approaches on religion. You know, I love to deal with different types of religion and all that sort of stuff. But I think Robert Jordan's approach is very interesting. And I've always liked his approach to it. Like I said, there's a spirituality without a religion. And...the Wheel of Time, that's not an area that's focused on a lot. And so, it was a very easy transition for me. Different books, you spend your efforts on in different places.

On Elantris, I spent a long time on the languages. On Mistborn, I didn't. Because in Mistborn, it wasn't... The world just didn't revolve around the way that languages work. We had an all-oppressive dictator God King who had forced everyone to kind of adopt the same language. Beyond that, the books were taking place at the center capital of the world where everyone spoke the same language. So there weren't even... You know, there were little dialects here and there, but I didn't focus on language there. Whereas I did in Elantris. The same thing with different books, so...

Damon Cap: Yeah, and you've also made mention about that you feel like maybe there's not enough—now, let me make sure I'm quoting you correctly—there's not a lot of standalone fantasy, and Warbreaker was that standalone fantasy, and now you've gone to writing the Wheel of Time which is obviously not a standalone fantasy. What do you feel the difference is; like how do you get from a book which is all-encompassing, you know, a series of books like the Wheel of Time. And how do you as a writer say, "OK, I can still write that standalone fantasy that's going to have the same impact as, in the same—hopefully—same fan base as a longer series, a trilogy or, you know, obviously Wheel of Time is going to be twelve, thirteen, fourteen books."

Brandon: I do love big series. I mean, this is what... This is what got me into fantasy; these huge monster series. And so I think every fantasy author—not every, but most of us have a deep-seated love for the great big epic. And I've wanted to do one of those eventually myself. But at the same time, there are so many ideas I have, bouncing here and there, that I feel sometimes I just want to write a single book. This was particularly true when I broke in; my first book was a standalone, Elantris. And one of the reasons why I didn't write a sequel to that was, sometimes I, as a reader, got little bit annoyed when I would see a new author's book on the shelf, that I had never heard of, and it said, "book one of nine." Or something like this. And it threw me as a fantasy fan into a conundrum. I've never tried this author before. I don't know if I'm going to enjoy their books. If I try the first one, and I like it, I've just committed myself to spending the next twenty years reading these books and doing this. If I dislike it, then I've committed myself to never finding out what happened to all these characters that I've read about. You know, even if you don't like a book, you wonder what happens. And so it puts you in this position where it's hard to win. And so, I loved it when I could pick up a standalone by an author to try them out, to see if I liked their style. Tad Williams did this with Tailchaser's Song. And so when I first published, I wanted to do a standalone that people could pick my work up and say, "OK. This is what Brandon Sanderson's like." And I actually really like that I'm releasing Warbreaker right before the Wheel of Time, because there's that same opportunity. People can go pick up Warbreaker and can read a standalone, one volume book by me before they... So they can know what I'm like.

Damon Cap: Before they pick up that...

Brandon: Before they pick up that Wheel of Time book. They don't have to go and read a big long series of mine; they know they can pick up that one and get closure and resolution. I like both forms, quite a bit. I am going to do a big epic. It's probably gonna be called the Stormlight Archive. The first book's called The Way of Kings. I've mentioned it a little bit on my web site. And it's coming, and I've been planning it for years and years and years, like we tend to do; it's actually been going for about eight years. And so I am going to do that. But I've always wanted to be stopping and doing the standalones. In fact, I'll probably do one or two—or two or three—in the Stormlight Archive and then do a standalone somewhere else. And then do two or three and then do a standalone. Because something about that form really appeals to me as well. Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana is just a beautiful book that wouldn't be the same if it were a big series. Just that one standalone. And the book that got me into fantasy originally was Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. She eventually did some sequels to that many years later, but for many years it was a standalone. And I loved how it was a standalone, and… I liked that form. So I had planned to always be releasing some of those, every now and then.

Damon Cap: This is going to be a little bit of a morbid question, but if you were going to start this large epic, who would you say now you would want to finish it up based on your notes? If you had the chance, in this day and age...

Brandon: OK. Who am I going to give it to? If I kick the bucket, give it to Patrick Rothfuss. He'll probably be too busy, but I think he would do a great job. Let's see... Who else would I give the book to...? Well. Let's see. Oh, I know his name. Shadow in Summer...

Damon Cap: Daniel…

Brandon: Daniel Abraham. I like Daniel Abraham's writing a lot. He hasn't done the big, massive books, but I think he would do it justice.

Damon Cap: That's pretty fair.

Brandon: Yeah. There you go. One of those two guys.

Damon Cap: As you were doing the book, the Wheel of Time stuff, and you have all your notes and everything, was there any, like...funny stories? Was there anything when you go back and, obviously you have all these notes, you're dealing with a bunch of different people, and whenever you're doing any sort of artistic endeavor... Were there any sort of, like...

Brandon: I've got a good story for you. One time, I was trying to keep track of everyone who was with the character Perrin. You guys know Perrin. So Perrin's off doing this thing, and one of the biggest challenges of writing the Wheel of Time books was the sheer number of characters. Not the main characters—I know the main characters, they're my friends, I grew up with these people, I know them just like hanging out with my high school buddies—but keeping track of all the Aes Sedai, and the Wise Ones, and you know, the Asha'man, and all these various people that are all over the place and saying, "OK. Who is with Perrin and who is with Rand, and who is..."

Anyway. I sent an email off to Team Jordan. You know, Harriet and Maria and Alan who are the... They were two editorial assistants that worked directly with Robert Jordan. Maria and Alan. I think it was Alan I sent an email to, and I said, "Do you have just like a list of everybody? I can go compile one of my own, I'm planning to do it, but if you have one already that says, 'These are the people who are with Perrin.' If you've got something like that." And he said, "I found this thing in the notes buried several files in." And things like this. "Here. I found this. Maybe this is what you want." And he sent me this, and it was called "with Perrin." I thought, "OK. Perfect." I open up this file and it's actually not what I wanted. Instead it is dozens of names of people who haven't appeared in the books yet. These are all the names of all the Two Rivers folk who are with Perrin. Like there are two hundred or so. Just names. Listed off. That have never appeared in the books. Sometimes with their profession, and a little about them, and things like that. And it just blew my mind that there was all of this detail that Robert Jordan had put into this world that nobody sees—and he wasn't planning for them to see. He's not going to have a big list of names in the final book; he wasn't planning that. He just needed to know their names so that he knew that he had them. And this is the level of detail and world-building that Robert Jordan did. I got a big chuckle out of that. Just, list of names. Then I started stealing them like a thief so I had good names that he had come up with, that I could use in the books.

Damon Cap: Are you using them for other characters or using them for people…

Brandon: I'm mostly using them where he intended them to be. Because he had other lists of names for... As the book has progressed and I've discovered these little notes files... Because the notes, there are huge, massive amounts of notes. We say there are about two hundred manuscript pages of stuff done for Gathering...for A Memory of Light. The three books. But beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands of words worth of just background notes, of world-building notes, of things like that. When we say the notes for the book, we're talking about actual specifics to A Memory of Light. But there are hundreds of thousands of other notes; there's just too much for one person to even deal with. So I let the two assistants dig through that. And so once I found out that there were lists of names, I started getting those files so I could use his names in places where we had them. So that I would have to name fewer and fewer people. Because his naming conventions are very distinctive. And, you know, I don't think... I think if you were to read, you could probably tell which names are mine and which are his, because we name things differently. And I'm trying to use his wherever I can, just to give that right feel to the book.

Damon Cap: I know that we've talked about what the Dabel Brothers are doing, the comic book adaptation...

Brandon: Yeah, I just picked up a couple of them myself. They look gorgeous.

Damon Cap: Yeah, they did look really good. Is it more of a Harriet thing? I know we're also talking about the movie itself. Are you involved in that, have they been coming to you and asking you your opinion on things, or is that more of a Harriet...

Brandon: That's been mostly Maria. Maria's been handling that. Maria is the continuity expert on staff. And so she's been handling that. I suspect they will come to me when they reach these books more. But I've been so busy, that really it's been her and Jason from Dragonmount that have been consulting on those. And I've just not wanted to stick my nose into it because I've got so much on my plate already with these books. So that's mostly Maria. So if you want to ask about those, interview Maria.

Damon Cap: OK. Now, can we talk about the new epic fantasy that you want to do. Is there any story; have you released any of the information about what kind of story you want to do?

Brandon: I haven't, but I can tell you about it. I'm pretty open on these things. One of the ideas that made me want to write this book—a series; I'm calling it Stormlight Archive. I'm not sure if that will be the final series title. I don't know. These things always change. But I love that feel. Anyway, it's got a good feel to it. The Way of Kings... When I was growing up reading fantasy, and even still when I read fantasy, one thing kind of makes me sorrowful about the fantasy genre. Not that I dislike it, but it wakens sorrow in me, and that is, there tends to be a theme in fantasy that the magic is going away. Whether it's you read Tolkien, the elves are leaving. The world is becoming more like our world. This happens in Terry Brooks; this happens in David Eddings. This happens in a lot of these great fantasy series I grew up reading, and it still happens. The fantasy is this thing that's growing more rare. You know, it's the Last Wizard, the Last Unicorn, the last… These sorts of things. And there's a little bit of a sense of loss in me for that. And I really wanted to do a story which is about magic coming back. An epic fantasy about the return of magic to the world after a long period of it being gone. Which is kind of the opposite. There are no mentors around who are great, powerful magicians that can teach you how to use it, because nobody—nobody knows. It's been thousands of years. So I want to tell the story about the return of magic to the world, right about the time that it's time it's needed because of various things that are showing up. So, that's going to be one of the themes of this book; it's the return of magic.

Damon Cap: OK. I'll definitely be looking forward to that one. I actually... I think that's it. You've been absolutely wonderful.

Brandon: Well, thank you very much.

Last edited by sleepinghour; 09-28-2011 at 05:08 PM.
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