As the one year anniversary of my official involvement in the Wheel of Time series came and passed last week, I thought it might be interesting to do an update of the original interview I did with Dragonmount last December. Now that I’ve had a chance to re-read the series and write a good chunk of the last book, have my thoughts changed? I was as curious about this as anyone, so I decided to do a quick revisit to the interview, answering the questions again in order.
Note that I wrote this rather quickly. I assume you would all rather have me working on Book Twelve, as opposed to spending hours on blog posts. So when I had a few moments in the evening, I ran through the questions again. There are bound to be typos; please forgive them. (I hope I didn’t spell any character names wrong, but where my ability to spell is involved, you never can be too certain. I live and die by my spellchecker.)
This is intended to be lighthearted and informal. As always when I wrote blog posts, I did it in a conversational style. That’s part of what allows me to do posts as often as I do; they don’t require the same ‘piece’ of my writing mind that crafting novels does. I can relax, so to speak, and not worry about the lyricism of my words. Or even if I spelled them correctly. . . . ;)
Q: Congratulations on receiving this landmark opportunity. How are you feeling?
A: One year later, how am I feeling? Well, still a little stunned at times. It’s odd. It’s been a year. But even just earlier today, while at the gym, I had a moment where I stopped and thought. “Wait, how in the world did this happen? Out of all of the people who could have been chosen, did this really happen to me?”
It’s like winning the lottery, only better. First off, this isn’t the kind of opportunity you can buy with money. I’d trade a winning lottery ticket for the chance to work on this book. (Sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true.) Secondly, I didn’t get chosen at random. I was chosen, in part, because of my skill. Not to say that there aren’t others with a lot of skill in the field. But I wasn’t just picked out of a hat, either. I was picked because of my work. That feels great.
Q: The Big Question most fans probably have is: "Why Brandon Sanderson?" What are your thoughts on this?
A: I’ve thought a lot about this over the last year. I’ve spoken to Harriet and considered. I’ve come to discover a little more about the process behind how I was chosen.
Why me? I think foremost, because Harriet liked my work. But she’d also read the thoughts I’d written on Mr. Jordan’s passing. She knew I had been heavily influenced by the series that is The Wheel of Time. These aren’t just books. There’s something about them, something endearing and enduring. Something that draws people into fan communities and makes friends talk with friends about them. There are a lot of bestselling series out there, but there isn’t a single one in my knowledge that has prompted the level of passion from the readers that these have.
The fans have been waiting for a long, long time to get this book. I’ve been waiting a long, long time. I was a fan from the get-go; I read Eye of the World when it was first released. I think that in order to get this book done in a reasonable amount of time, they needed to pick someone who was already familiar with the series. Someone who knew their Aelfinn from their Eelfinn and who could explain Rand’s family tree. (At least on a good day. It still makes my brain get in a knot when I think about who Slayer is and how he relates to the various characters. . . .)
Q: How did you first get involved in this project? Were you approached by Tor and/or Harriet, or did you dust off your resume and send it to them for consideration?
A: I don’t have much to add that I didn’t answer last year. No resumes. I was caught completely off guard. I will say that when I first spoke to Harriet the day she called to ask me, I was so befuddled that I couldn’t speak straight. I actually sent her an email the next day which said, essentially, “Dear Harriet. I’m not an idiot. I promise. Sorry I sounded like one. . . .”
Q: What was your initial reaction when you read the outline Harriet put together for A MEMORY OF LIGHT?
This is a good one to answer now, since I HAVE read the outline (obviously.) Actually, there’s a good story here. When I first went to visit Harriet, I recall walking in the door and--even before eating--asking if I could have two things. The ending Jim wrote (he finished the last part of the book himself) and the answer to who killed Asmodean.
I wish it were possible for me to express just how much I enjoyed reading those final written words that Mr. Jordan left behind. I was satisfied. I think that’s the perfect word for it. Satisfied. It ends the way it should. Not, perhaps, the way I would have guessed--or even the way you have guessed. But it’s the RIGHT ending. I was very pleased.
And it made me sleep a lot more easily once I got to see that the ending was there, and that I wouldn’t have to do that part myself. I’m a ‘goal driven’ writer. I develop an outline for myself that generally focuses on my ending, and then my writing pushes me toward that goal. Already having the ending makes this book possible.
I guess the only other thing I’d like to note that I was feeling was this: Reverence. This is the last work of the master. It’s like holding a play penned by Shakespeare himself--one that nobody else has read, and that you get to perform for the first time.
Q: You've inherited a world that is on the verge of destruction, and a main character who is now crippled, partially insane, and probably now blind.
(Brandon’s interjection: Yup indeed! Lots of conflict. Just the way I like it. This is the stuff that great epics are made of. It looks like Jason cut this part of the question when he did the original post. Probably for space issues.)
Q Continued: You've said before in other interviews that your fantasy noels (Elantris, and the Mistborn series) were born in part by the notion of taking a typical fantasy concept and turning it on its head. For example, you said that while The Wheel of Time is about "peasants becoming kings", your Elantris book is about "Kings who become peasants." And one of the fundamental ideas behind the Mistborn series is the question: "What if the Dark One won?" Having explored those interesting ideas, what's it like to suddenly find yourself writing the ending of a massive series which in large part defined the fantasy genre that many readers are familiar with?
I think I covered this one last year as well as I could. I’ll add to my response that I think, in our hearts, every one of us fantasy authors wants to write this classic story. There’s a piece of us who wants to emulate our masters, to do as they did, because they brought us such delight and emotion at reading. That’s why many authors, when they first begin, tend to write works that feel heavily derivative.
Most of us never publish those novels. We move on, like a tottering child, searching for our own voice. Trying to find a way to bring those same emotions to people, but by telling our own stories. Our own way. It’s the correct way of things. Telling the exact same story over and over again is an exercise in futility.
But I get the chance to actually do that, to be part of this thing that nurtured me through those years when I was a quiet fantasy reader who spent more time in his room with his books than outside with living people. I get to write on this story, I get to be part of the master’s work. That’s very humbling.
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
With words, hopefully. I’m terrible at charades.
Ha ha. (Sorry.)
See last year’s response on this one.
Q: In what ways do you think you'll have to shift your writing style to match Robert Jordan's? Will you be trying to write in his "voice", or will you approach the novel with your own?
Last year I explained the theory; now I can talk about what it’s actually like. I think the blend I discussed is going very well. I’m writing through this draft as I would normally, with a focus on making the characters sound right. That’s most important to me right now, followed closely by making certain the plot flows well.
In revisions I’m being careful to enhance my descriptiveness and write the book in a way that feels correct for the Wheel of Time. This is going to take a lot of drafting--let me warn you readers, when you see that progress bar hit 100%, we’re still nowhere close to being finished.
However, I’m extremely pleased with how the book is going. I think the blend of my style with that of Mr. Jordan is proceeding very nicely. It’s going to be a fantastic book.
We know that Robert Jordan left extensive notes, as well as some audio tapes and actual written parts for this novel. We know your intent is to tell his story. Having seen the outline, how much of the actual plot (the plot points, character arcs, intrigue, etc) do you think you'll have to come up with on your own?
Another one I can answer now that I couldn’t before, as I hadn’t seen the notes.
However, it’s still a tough one to answer. How much do I have to make up? A lot in some places, very little in others. The interview mentioned an ‘outline’ above. That’s a little bit of an understatement regarding what was left. The things mentioned in this question itself are more accurate.
My goal is to retain as much of his own writing as possible, and then fill in the blanks myself. As I’ve promised Harriet not to talk about these things until the book is out, I feel I can’t give specifics right now. Know that there are large swaths of writing to do on my own, and yet even then I feel his hand on my shoulder. Every hole has an entry point and an exit point. I know where the characters are, and I know where they have to go. Sometimes it’s my choice on how to get them there. Sometimes there are notes, sometimes there are actual chunks of writing. Sometimes there isn’t anything but a quick notation in that character’s file explaining their final state at the end of the book.
But this is Robert Jordan’s book, not my own. I keep saying that, and I don’t want the readers to think I’m approaching it any other way. It’s his story, his writing, and his vision.
Which characters or plot threads are you most looking forward to writing?
I said Perrin last year. This year, I’m not sure I can claim that anymore. Not that my affection for Perrin has waned. I’ve simply spent too much time writing through the characters’ eyes.
One of the spectacular things about the Wheel of Time was the depth of characterization. No matter who’s eyes you were seeing through, they felt real and lively. To each character, they are the most important person in their own story.
As a writer, you can’t play favorites. At least not when you’re actually writing. When I sit down to write Egwene, she’s my favorite. When I sit down to write Rand, he’s my favorite. And when I sit down to write Perrin, he’s my favorite.
Through different points in the books, different characters are my ‘favorite’ to read about. Rand dominates my interest in books one and two, but I find myself leaning toward Perrin and then Aviendha in the next few books. Nynaeve’s story in the middle end, with the rescue by Lan, is a personal favorite. Matt takes center stage after that, and Egwene is my favorite to read in KNIFE OF DREAMS.
Are there any particular aspects of the book that you think will be especially challenging for you?
Last year I mentioned the depth of the worldbuilding, and this really has been a challenge. I know there are some of you out there who can name every single Aes Sedai, their Ajah and relative strength in the Power. But I’ve never been that kind of reader. I’ve loved these books, and I’ve been through them a number of times (currently, I’ve read EoTW nine times.) I know these characters--I know how to write them and how to think as them. But the side characters are a challenge to keep track of. I don’t have a trivia mind. I forget the names of my OWN side characters sometimes. I know who they are, but I can’t name them.
(Fortunately, I now know that Mr. Jordan himself had trouble sometimes keeping track of them all, which is why he had assistants to help him.)
Other than that, there have been a few characters that have been more difficult to get ‘right’ than other characters. The Aiel, for instance, are a challenge to make sound right. They’re such an interesting people, and they see the way in such a peculiar way. I’ve had to spend a lot of time working on making them sound right.
Q: What are some of your favorite scenes in the Wheel of Time series?
Last year, when I did this, I just listed a few off of the top of my head without turning to any reference websites. (Actually, that’s how I did the whole interview--I felt that readers need to see the real me, not the coached and scripted me.) That may have been the wrong choice, since there were those who seemed aghast that I couldn’t remember if Lan rescuing Nynaeve happened in book six or book seven. (Reference my general absent mindedness from the previous question.)
Well, you can rest assured that I’m now very aware that it happened in book six, right after the cleansing of Saidar and right before Perrin blew the Horn of Valere. Sorry for getting that wrong.
Anyway, I also mentioned the prologue to book one, some of the Perrin scenes in the later books (before the wife-vanishing incident), and the climax to the third book. (Though I think that last year I might have said Be'lal in a place where I meant Ba'alzamon. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any indignation over this slip up. Perhaps I didn’t look closely enough at the message boards--or, perhaps they never realized I made a mistake, since Be'lal was there at the end of Book Three. His scene just wasn’t the one I was thinking about. In truth, I was just trying to get across that I’ve always found the entire end of the third book--with the Stone, and Mat, and Rand, and the Aiel--to be a blast. Literally, in Mat’s case.)
I think a lot of the most memorable points in the books are the climaxes of the stories. Dumai’s Wells, Falme, etc. However as I consider it, probably my favorite sequence of scenes in the entire series is the one with Rand going through the ter’angreal at Rhuidean.
Q: I know you probably can't go too deeply into it, but are there any questions about the story you had as a fan that you will make sure get answered in this final novel?
A: I am still deeply interested in ascertaining the solution to the quandary regarding the character of Asmodean, most specifically the mystery surrounding the circumstances of his demise. ;)
I also mentioned Moiraine’s fate last year as being a big question I had. She’s always been a favorite of mine, and each time I read through the series, I’m left wondering about her. (Well, not anymore, since I’ve read the notes. But you know what I mean.)
I’ve been surprised to discover that a lot of readers take her survival for granted, but I’ve never done so. The letter gives some good clues that she might still be around, but it could also be some kind of trap by the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. The answers and gifts they give are truthful, yet there’s often a twisted logic to them as well, it seems.
I can’t say more here, I’m afraid, since I now know too much.
Q: Robert Jordan has talked many times about how he knew the last chapter of the last book very well. Are you able to tell us whether or not he wrote that chapter before he died, or will that be something you'll be putting to paper? If so, does that chapter in particular hold any particular challenge or significance for you?
A: I talked about this above. He did write down the last part of the book. I have it. It will appear in the final novel.
And now, just for fun:
Who's nastier: Moridin, or Padan Fain?
Still Moridin, by a long shot.
Your favorite Old Guy: Thom, or Noal?
Thom. Noal is nifty, but Thom has had a special place in my heart since the page where he saved Rand and Mat.
Coolest wife: Tuon, or Faile?
Still Tuon. Faile is fascinating because of her effect on Perrin, and I do enjoy writing about her. (I’m not in the ‘hate Faile’ camp. Come on, guys. It’s not HER fault that she got kidnapped for a couple of books. Besides, she really grows up a lot during her time in captivity.)
But you said coolest, so I have to answer honestly. Tuon.
Bigger trouble-maker: Mat or Nynaeve?
I’m actually leaning toward contradicting myself from last year on this one. I used to see Nynaeve as a big trouble maker, since I often empathized with the Perrin/Mat/Rand crowd. (I started reading these books as a teenage boy, and saw Nynaeve as a frustrating older sister.) However, on a re-read, I found myself empathizing with her quite often.
I’d still call her a trouble-maker, but not as big a one. Problem is, Mat isn’t much of one lately either. He’s a whole lot of fun--perhaps the character who is the most purely fun to write. I think he’s interesting and well-developed. But what kind of trouble has he been making lately? (Besides kidnapping the Seanchan almost-empress, of course. I guess that was a little bit of trouble. Particularly if you happen to be a Deathwatch Guard.)
I’m going to call it a draw.
Q: Who killed Asmodean? Come on, just tell us. Please. I won't tell Harriet you told me.
I answered this last year, but I was just joking. Now I’ve read the notes and I REALLY know who did it. Keep this as a secret between you and me, but it was Narg.
Q: Ok, if you won't tell us, will you tell us in A MEMORY OF LIGHT?
It will be there. I promise.
Q: Do you have a personal message for all the Wheel of Time fans?
Thank you for your support. The response has been fantastic. I get emails each day cheering me on.
Thank you for your understanding. I can’t replace the man you lost. But I’m doing my best to give you the book you’ve been waiting for.
And finally, thank you for your patience. I’m working hard, I promise. But this book is a HUGE undertaking, and will likely be three times the size of previous books I’ve written. Even considering the parts Mr. Jordan finished, there’s just a lot to do, and I don’t want to rush an imperfect product to production. We hope to have something for you in stores by November 2009. But if it takes longer, it takes longer.
Q: How should fans get in touch with you?
Same as before. Through my website. As always, thanks for reading.
And, for fun, an update of the relative lengths chart as of today:
AMOL Relative Length Chart: 12/17/2008
Alcatraz/Evil Librarians 60,400
New Spring 121,815
The Final Empire 214,752
The Path of Daggers 226,687
Winter's Heart 238,789
Hero of Ages 244,201
The Dragon Reborn 251,392
The Well of Ascension 252,739
The Great Hunt 267,078
Crossroads of Twilight 271,632
A Crown of Swords 295,028
The Eye of the World 305,902
Knife of Dreams 315,163
The Fires of Heaven 354,109
---A MEMORY OF LIGHT 384k So Far!---
Lord of Chaos 389,264
The Shadow Rising 393,823