Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
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.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
Logged In (0):
Newest Members:johnroserking, petermorris, johnadanbvv, AndrewHB, jofwu, Salemcat1, Dhakatimesnews, amazingz, Sasooner, Hasib123,
Oh, I don't know. I would say that I do feel pressure. An example of this is: before The Wheel of Time, I spent a decent amount of time on web forums, I would visit these forums and talk, and nobody really knew who I was; some of them would see I'm a writer but you know, there are lots of writers. So suddenly this happened, and everyone knew who I was, and every forum had a big long thread about me—I showed up on Slashdot, and all of these things. Suddenly, I'm very much in the focus and I found that I couldn't spend as much time on these forums, because if I did, all I wanted to do was argue with people, or sometimes just discuss and have good discussions, but I found that suddenly since it's about me it was so much more personal that it was very hard to let go of the web forums. So I just had to cut off ties to them, because otherwise I could spend all day just talking with the people who are posting on these threads.
And so that level of awareness, it is kind of surreal. I've actually been recognized on the street, in a city. I went to San Diego, randomly, and someone recognized me and said: "Are you Brandon Sanderson?" That's bizarre! They weren't there for my signings, they didn't know I was in town; they just passed me on the street!
So it is a little bit bizarre—now of course, as writers, we don't ever get really famous. Maybe once every couple of years someone will recognize me in the street, so it's not like I'm really a celebrity or anything, but it's still weird, and odd, to be able to post on a forum and people know who I am.
It is becoming...not a problem, but an issue I'm aware of. Basically, it means that instead of answering every person on Twitter/Facebook who contacts me, it means picking a little time each day and answering a handful of them. I feel bad about that, but I do want to maintain the interaction, so this seems the best way to do it.
I don't ever see myself becoming reclusive. I feel that in the sf/f community, a writer is part of a larger group of readers and thinkers. Those of us being paid to write are being directly supported by the community. I owe pretty much everything I have, including my ability to do what I love for so much of each day, to the readers.
Yes, a few, but they haven't really been that bad. Most are just awkward—but, having grown up as a sf/f nerd myself, I'm familiar with awkwardness. I have had people recognize me on the street, but only a handful of times.
Best story: I'm at the dentist, and I'm talking to the hygienist. One of the other hygienists—in the middle of working on some guy who has his mouth pried open by restraints—screams "Wait. You've got BRANDON SANDERSON over there?" She leaps up and leaves the poor fellow to come fangirl for a few minutes.
Being a writer, though, those moments are rare. My "fame" is really very low-key, unless I'm at a signing or the like.
Power Nine Magic Cards. I've always wanted them, and so I finally said, "You know, I had the #1 selling epic fantasy book in the world last year. I can probably afford these now..."
I'm not much of a spender, though, so it actually was kind of tough to get myself to do it. I love having them, though. (And yes, I'm a nerd. That chick from Gizmodo would TOTALLY have written something snide about me.)
Has your fame ever gotten you tail?
He's married and attended BYU. Something tells me he isn't in it for the ladies.
And that earns me downvotes? For asking a question? In an ASK ME ANYTHING thread?
Oh, don't worry about the downvoters. It's all cool.
I met my wife AFTER I published, and she did read Elantris (my only book out at the time) before agreeing to a second date with me. So...not my fame, but my writing ability, can be said to have been an influence.
Ha! You've done your homework, I see.
My own philosophy is to look at the author as beholden to the people who pay him/her—and that is the public! In the old days, an artist would be supported by a wealthy benefactor. Nowadays, it hasn't actually changed all that much. That wealthy benefactor is now a group made up of the public who buy books.
I LOVE writing. It's the most amazing job I think I could imagine. The fact that the people who pay for my books support me in this addiction of mine is very humbling. I can do this, day by day, because of the generosity and encouragement of my readers. I feel, then, that I owe them something. Great books, first off. But, beyond that, I think I owe them respect. That means not calling them names or getting angry at them, even if they didn't like a particular book of mine. They paid for it, they pay for my family to eat, they have a right to tell me what they think of the job I'm doing.
There are a lot of positives. Most of the time, it comes in the way of encouragement and suggestions. Knowing that people support you as a writer is very motivating. Beyond that, I think it helps the readers and aspiring writers to be able to interact with someone who is making a living at writing. It offers a more inclusive experience for them, and they can see the process more.
The negatives. . .well, mostly these come from me sticking my foot in my mouth. To be honest, having a blog is a little bit like walking around with a gun pointed at your own head. In books, I can get across the emotions, thoughts, and themes that I want because I can take the time and space I need. On the internet, most communication is much more brief, and without intonation and context, a lot of things can come out sounding a lot different from the way you intended them to!
I wrote one essay called "How Tolkien Ruined Fantasy" which was supposed to be a silly title, as the essay itself was about how great Tolkien's writing was, and how difficult it is to live up to his legacy. People read the title of the essay, however, and suddenly I was known on message boards as the guy who hated Tolkien!
In another essay, I talked about the mechanics and costs of hardbacks, and why publishers publish them. (You ask about this essay below, I see.) It came across, even though I tried very hard to avoid this, as me begging people to buy my hardbacks instead of my paperbacks. Suddenly, I was known as the guy who hated people who bought paperbacks! (Not my intention at all. I even give a free book away on my website. I don't hate people who read my books; I'm honored, even if they get them for free!)
You just have to watch yourself and realize that, despite your best intentions, some things just aren't going to work like you hope they will.
This is a tough one to answer because the honest truth is, I don't know. Without seeing into the minds of others, I can't really decide how I'm perceived. From what I've seen on blogs, and from what people have said to me, I THINK it's seen as a non-issue to most outside of LDS culture. Inside the culture, I think I pick up a few sales because people are curious what a fellow LDS guy is doing.
I'm not ashamed of it at all. My books DO tend to deal with religious topics, and my BYU connection is made in the bio on the flap of every book. However, my books aren't LDS except that my own background shapes my views on ethics and the nature of the universe.
Meaning a class about the WoT? I think that has happened already.
By the way, as many have noted, it appears that RJ, myself, and Wheel of Time were involved in a Jeopardy! clue yesterday.
I've got to ask you, and I know you've got to go to do another one. Where do you see this going? What would your best dream be for this to go, what you're doing now, your writing?
You know what? I just want to be telling these stories until the day I die. I want them to have to pry my forehead off the keyboard where, you know, I've typed a thousand pages of the space bar because I've just died and keeled over and head hit the keyboard. You know, I didn't get into this because I want fame. You shouldn't become a writer because of any of that. I became this because I wanted to be part of this community and I wanted to say something.
I've found that readers...it's a wonderful place to be because, really, your readers are like your colleagues. In a lot of other, sort of celebrity sort of things, an actor or something becomes this big flashy celebrity. That's not what happens with authors. When I meet my readers, they are my colleagues and we have a connection. They're supporting me in this. They're actually my patrons. It's kind of like the old days when you'd have a wealthy individual that supported an artist. Well, that's what they're doing for me, and they're part of this. I just want to be giving them stories that live up to their expectations.
How have things changed since you submitted Elantris to Tor?
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.
Last draft of A Memory of Light needs to be done soon. For today, I'm polishing off the last two new Rand scenes (of about eight) I'm adding to the book.
Any news on WoT? Know you're sick of that question. Sorry... :)
Well, other than the last Rand scene (which I'm writing right now) not much. Need to finish the final draft as soon as possible.
Comic-conning for the night done. (Had dinner with a Hollywood producer.) Now, for some more WoT editing!
You know, it IS okay to rest and play once in a while!
Ha. Not when we're past deadline on this book. I'll rest when it's done.
Working on A Memory of Light's final draft?
All right, WoT editing for the day done. This is going really well—the book is very nearly done. Just polishing, now.
Writing an epic series over many years will surely gather you many fans and many haters. In the case of Robert Jordan, it seems like bad reviews and fan backlash mounted up with each new volume as the series went on. Is that something you are concerned about? Do you try to figure out why people responded that way to that series and work to avoid a similar situation with your own, or do you just disregard the naysayers in general?
Of these things that you've asked me questions on, this is the one that I've spent the most time thinking about. It is an interesting phenomenon. Each Wheel of Time book sold more copies than the one before it, yet each one up through book ten got more and more negative reviews. They start out strong, then a few of the books have balanced numbers of reviews, and then they start to take a nosedive—even as the sales of the books go up and up.
The same thing has happened with my own books—as they have grown more popular, they've gotten worse and worse reviews. It's very interesting. You can watch a book like Elantris, which when it came out had more or less universal acclaim, partially I think based on expectations. People read it thinking, hey, there's this brand new author, it probably isn't that good—hey, this book isn't half bad! And then they go and write reviews on Amazon. There are a number of early reviews there that say, wow, this wasn't half bad! This new guy is someone to watch!
As you gain a reputation, more and more people pick you up by reputation—simply hearing "This is a great book" and picking it up, rather than looking into the book and deciding it's a book they will like. That's going to lead to more people picking up the book who it's just not a good match for. I think that certainly is part of it.
I do also think that there is epic series sprawl; there's a legitimate complaint against these series like the Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire. I think the fans still like the books, but they have complaints about how they're happening. George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan are really doing some new and unique things. Robert Jordan didn't get to read any ten-book epic fantasy series of that nature; he had to do it on his own without a model to follow. I think that as we go forward in the genre, hopefully we're picking up on things—we're standing on the shoulders of giants, and hopefully we will figure out how we can do this without necessarily sprawling quite so much, which I think is part of the problem. There's this push and pull in epic fantasy where we read epic fantasy because we love the depth of characterization and world building, and yet if the author does too much of that in every book, then we lose the ability to move forward in a central plot. That can be very frustrating.
I will say that when I was able to read the Wheel of Time from start to finish, having the complete story, that feeling that it wasn't going anywhere in places just wasn't there. That feeling came because you would wait two years for a book, and then when you finished it you'd have to wait two more years for the next book, and because of the nature of the epic series you're just getting a little tiny sliver of the story. So that part of it is just the nature of the beast, but I think we can do things to mitigate that, and I will certainly try.
Well I am a just the right kind of famous, which is only a little bit famous. I have a completely normal life, I don't have to worry about any sort of weirdness...
Getting mobbed by Paparazzi...
I get recognized like once a week. It's enough to make me feel cool, so it's the right amount of famous.
Thanks, Brent. And congrats on making just about everyone's "best books of 2012" list. You deserve it.
Jumped on the internet on the plane flight. Thought "I'll check my email quickly." Ten billion new emails. Oh, right. New book out . . .
Sorry, I was overly excited about the book. My bad.
Ha. No, it makes me feel loved. Thanks! Unless you sent them all. Then you are scaring me.
How do you handle that? Interns? You can't possibly read them all yourself.
I try to at least look all of them over. Most can be answered quickly with a pre-written email.
HUMBLEBRAG SOME MORE, BRANDON.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW? YOU'RE JUST A DIRTY SELL-OUT! SCALZIIIII!!!! :)
I am taking bets on the impending @scalzi and @BrandSanderson knife match.
Scalzi writes SF. He'd bring a laser rifle. This is why I only taunt him from 30k feet in the air.
IT'S A COHERENT BEAM, FANTASY BOY. ONLY THE CURVE OF THE EARTH WILL SAVE YOU NOW
. . . Did you just call me your "fantasy boy?" I don't quite know how to take that.
Wow. That was fast. :)
You weren't at the signing last night, were you?
Was doing the Colbert Report. :( And then I saw you posted the signed copies in the airport after I already flew back :(:(
Ha. Good. I'd hate to have you come & not have me recognize you. (Mark Tremonti did that to me.) PM if you want a signed copy.
I'll catch you at another one so I can bring all the other books I need signed :p
Sounds good! Thanks.
Passing through Atlanta? Signed copies of A Memory of Light at the Buckhead books in the middle of the B terminal. (Look in new releases, not sf/f.)
I think the UNSIGNED copies are going to be a rare collectible item!
Ha. I've signed around 5k copies so far. So you aren't far off. Don't you still hold the one-day world record, though?
I think Dave Wolverton broke my record, and then Howard Stern. But I still have my Guinness World Record certificate.
Hmm. Well I did do 9,400 in two days before the launch of Inheritance.
Next time have a Guinness official looking over your shoulder. I do NOT intend to break that record again.
Pretty sure Dave's got the record. Not sure on quantity.
One of the other comments that stuck out for me was his awareness of how tours could be difficult for rock stars, resulting in some of them drinking excessively, etc. He talked about the drop in energy that happens from when you're in front of several hundred appreciative, adoring fans (tens of thousands for rock stars) then going back to your hotel room and being by yourself. What a roller coaster ride.
Once Sanderson published Elantris in 2005, the floodgates were open. By 2013, he had published 14 novels, including the final three books in the epic Wheel of Time series, whose original author, Robert Jordan, died in 2007.
It was kind of a—I don't know—a fulfillment for me that I was doing the right thing. But it was also this great moment where I realized, hey, people do want to read those things that I was doing.
I'm glad I had the crisis, and came out of it, before I sold the book. I'm glad that I was able to make the decision that this was what I wanted to do, and commit myself to writing, even if I never sold anything. And then it was perfectly all right and awesome for me to get a really nice book deal with a big New York publisher, and become a best seller. I'm perfectly okay with that now that it's happened.
Man. Is this what it feels like to have finally made it? I feel like Weird Al just did a cover of one of my songs.
Honestly, I probably am.
It's pretty awesome to appear in a Penny Arcade strip, either way. And, to be honest, a major shock. I still haven't gotten over the surprise that comes from having random websites I visit suddenly mentioning me.
Next thing you know, Yahtzee will be comparing me to someone's testicles.
Brandon, you are a celebrity and Utah County claims you. How do you feel about that?
Oh, I feel pretty good about it. I passed a milestone recently where I realized I had lived in Utah County longer than anywhere else—which may not seem like much of a milestone to you, but for years I was from Nebraska, transplanted to Utah. Now, I am from Utah with my origins in Nebraska.
Though the celebrity part, I'm not 100 percent sure about. As a writer, we get to do this thing we love and it's about the stories. It's not about us. I don't write these to be a celebrity. I write these so that I can tell the stories I want to tell, so I like the focus to be on the books and less on me.
What's the most surprising thing a reader or reviewer has said about your work?
When you do something like I do, you live in a perpetual state of surprise. You spend years and years admiring the great authors who you've read and loved, and you dream of managing to pull it off yourself someday. When you do pull it off, you have a tendency to think, "Is this me they're talking about? Really?"
It's hard to pick out just one that is the most surprising. I would say that the things that struck me most were in the early days of my career, after I published Elantris. That book is about, in part, people who wounds continue to hurt, and the pain doesn't fade. Their bodies are broken; healing doesn't work on them any longer. I once got a very nice email, a year or so after it was published, from someone who was dealing with cancer, who thanked me for writing this book and said it was a metaphor for what it's like to deal with a chronic illness like cancer. Now, I hadn't gone into this book thinking, "I'm going to write a book about a metaphor for people with cancer," and yet, the poignancy and power of this letter really drove home to me the strength that a story can have for each individual reader, when they adapt it to their own circumstances. I would say that was something that left me in awe of this whole process.
Generosity and fame
Sanderson doesn't just create worlds in fiction; he also helps others create their own fictional worlds. With his friends Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler, Sanderson puts out the weekly (and Hugo Award-winning) Writing Excuses podcast. He also teaches one creative writing class at Brigham Young University each year.
In 1994, when Sanderson was a senior in High School in Nebraska, he went to a local science fiction fan convention called Andromeda One.
"The guest of honor was Katherine Kurtz, a great writer," he said. "She sat down with me when she heard I wanted to be a writer and she talked with me for about an hour on what to do."
Later, after Sanderson served a mission in Korea for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he took a class on science fiction and fantasy offered at BYU from author Dave Wolverton (who also writes as David Farland).
"Dave took a 'pay cut' to teach us," Sanderson said. "It was something he did to help us. Both of those situations were so incredibly helpful to me and so wonderfully useful that I basically got published because of things like this—authors spending their time. ... These chances I got were so useful to me that I think I would be remiss if I didn't do it myself."
But as successful as Sanderson has been, he tries to keep that success in perspective. Although huge lines and crowds will, if past events are any indication, gather for his book launch at midnight on March 4 at BYU Bookstore in Provo, fame isn't a motivator.
"Fortunately, writers don't get that famous; even famous writers don't get that famous," he said. "Like if you were to walk out on that street and say, 'Hey guys, Brandon Sanderson is in this room,' I can guarantee that nobody would care. There might be one person who might say, 'Hey, I've heard of that guy. Didn't he write those books?' Nobody would care. ... And so it is very easy to keep well-grounded as a writer."
How do you feel on being read and worshiped as one of the best writers in the world by people that don't even speak English?
Humbled, honestly. I don't know if "worshiped" is the right term, and I would hope that most people are focused on the stories, rather than on me. They're what matter. That said, it has been incredible to see the reception my work has received.