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,
I see myself as part of a greater movement that is doing some new and interesting things. I'm certainly not the only one doing it, and I wouldn't even know if I'm at the forefront of it. I'm part of it. But. . . I can't help but be, I think, considering all I've read and what I've been part of. If you read the fantasy that's coming out right now, it feels different from what came before. And I think a lot of that is a reaction toward or against the epic journey, and we're saying, well what else can we explore? So, a lot of reaction against the classic, standard medieval setting.
We're also kind of stepping forward into a more modern era for our fantasy, things taking place in a more 1900s level of technology or 1800s level of technology. I feel that a lot of us, a lot of the authors during the '80s and '90s spent a lot of time exploring what Tolkien had revealed, particularly in epic fantasy which is my sub-genre, and saying, well what else can we do with this? But at the same time, telling these stories that were very classical in an archetypal sense. That ground has been explored by masters of the genre, and so we have to take a few steps outwards. And I'm part of it, I'm certainly not the only one.
We're the first generation of fantasy writers who really grew up reading a ton of fantasy because in the early days there wasn't as much. There were some great authors who were writing, Tolkien of course being one of them, but there were many others who were writing at that era. But, before the '60s and '70s there wasn't very much of it. There was the science fiction, and there was some fantasy mixed in there with the pulp and things, but our generation grew up reading the great epic fantasies of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. And because of that I've noticed my generation is. . . we're kind of these post-modern fantasy writers. We're building upon all these things that happened before, and now seeming like we want to explore different directions because of how well some of the authors like Robert Jordan covered the topics that they did.
The Southwest, particularly. My visits to places like Arches National Park, relatively close to where I live right now, certainly influenced me. More than that—and I've said this in numerous interviews before—I'm a fantasy reader foremost. Before I was a writer I was a reader, and I'm still a reader. As a reader, I grew a little bit annoyed with the generic setting that seemed to recur a lot in fantasy. I won't speak poorly of writers who used it very well—there are certain writers who used it extremely well—and yet a lot of other writers seemed to just take for granted that that's what you did. Which is not the way that I feel it should be done. I think that the genre could go many places it hasn't been before.
When I approached writing the Stormlight Archive—when I approached creating Roshar—I very consciously said, "I want to create something that feels new to me." I'm not the only one who does this, and I'm certainly not the one who does it best, but I wanted a world that was not medieval Europe. At all. I wanted a world that was its own thing. I started with the highstorms and went from there. To a person of our world, Roshar probably does look barren like a wasteland. But to the people living there, it's not a barren wasteland. This is a lush world full of life. It's just that what we equate with lush and full of life is not how that world defines it. In Roshar, a rock wall can be a lush, vibrant, and fertile place. It may look like a wasteland to us, but we're seeing through the eyes of someone who's used to Earth's flora and fauna. I've also said before in interviews that science fiction is very good at giving us new things. I don't see why fantasy shouldn't be as good at doing the same. Perhaps even better. So that's what was driving me to do what I did.
People have been asking me to expand on that essay, though it was written (originally) to be part of a series I did on writing The Way of Kings. I never had the time, however, and that was the only one that was fleshed out, so my assistant suggested it might be a good fit for a Scalzi guest blog. However, I do worry that some of the ideas are unformed, as it was written to come after several other essays I was planning.
The short answer to your first comment is a yes, you are right. The realization I came to while working on The Way of Kings was that I was so accustomed to writing self-aware fantasy in the Mistborn books that I was searching to do the same with Kings. While anyone can enjoy Mistborn (I hope) it works best as a series for those who are familiar with (and expecting) tropes of epic fantasy to come their direction. That allows me to play with conventions and use reader expectations in a delightful way. But it also means that if you don't know those conventions, the story loses a little of its impact.
But this is an interesting discussion as to the larger form of a novel. Is it okay, in an epic fantasy, to hang a gun on the mantle, then not fire it until book ten of the series written fifteen years later? Will people wait that long? Will it even be meaningful? My general instincts as a writer so far have been to make sure those guns are there, but to obscure them—or at least downplay them. People say this is so that I can be more surprising. But it's partially so that those weapons are there when I need them.
It often seems to me that so much in a book is about effective foreshadowing. This deserves more attention than we give it credit. When readers have problems with characters being inconsistent, you could say this is a foreshadowing problem—the changes, or potential for change, within the character has not been presented in the right way. When you have a deus ex machina ending, you could argue that the problem was not in the ending, but the lack of proper framework at the start. Some of the biggest problems in books that are otherwise technically sound come from the lack of proper groundwork.
In the case you mentioned, however, I think I would have cut the creature. Because you said it was slowing things down. There's an old rule of thumb in screenwriting that I've heard expressed in several ways, and think it works well applied to fiction. Don't save your best storytelling for the sequel. If your best storytelling isn't up front, you won't get a sequel. Of course, once you're done, you do need to come up with something as good or better for the sequel, otherwise it might not be worth writing.
For The Way of Kings, I've had to walk a very careful balance. I do have ten books planned, but I had to make sure I was putting my best foot forward for the first book. I had to hang guns for the later novels, but not make this story about them—otherwise readers would be unsatisfied to only get part of a story.
Question for you, then, Brent. Have you ever planned out a story to be a certain length, then ended up deciding there just wasn't enough there to justify it? I had trouble learning this balance as a younger writer, and some of my readers know that I wrote two failed books (one called Mistborn, the other called The Final Empire) in which neither one had enough material to form a novel. It wasn't until I combined the ideas and story together and wrote Mistborn: The Final Empire that everything worked.
I made a big change in my 20s. I started allowing myself to stop reading a book if I don't like it. I couldn't do that before; it was too hard. I had to keep going, even if the book wasn't working for me. Making that swap—only reading things that make me learn, grow, and keep me interested—helped more than anything else.
When I read an author, and blog or tweet about liking them, it's generally because I feel they're doing something in their writing better than I am, and they have taught me to be a better writer.
That is a really hard question to answer. Do you emphasize with the fantasy, or not? A really great story is going to be about awesome characters that you fall in love with. Beyond that, it's going to need a really great plot. You can't separate these things from writing a great fantasy, because while I think the worldbuilding needs to be really cool, if you have terrible characters and plot, it doesn't matter how good your worldbuilding is—you're not going to have a good story.
That said, the core of writing great fantasy as opposed to other fiction, assuming that you're already doing the plot and the character right, is to get down to that idea of the sense of wonder. What is wonderful about this place that would make people want to live there, or be fascinated by it? What's going to draw the imagination?
Fantasy is writing books that could not take place in our universe. For me, that's the dividing line. In science fiction there's the speculation: "This could take place here," or "This may be extrapolating science beyond what we know, but it could work." In fantasy we say, "No, this couldn't work in our ruleset, our laws of the universe." Really focusing on it is what makes the genre tick. So you have to do that well.
I've said that what I love about fantasy is that it can do anything any other genre can do, plus have that added sense of wonder. So I've wanted to explore different types of what fantasy can achieve. The steampunk movement is awesome for doing this. I don't actually consider this book to be steampunk, because the Victorian feel and steam technology aren't there, but it certainly is a cousin to what is happening in steampunk.
At its core, really what I've done is write a detective novel. A buddy detective novel set in an early 1900s industrial age equivalent, in a fantasy world where the epic fantasy that I wrote as a trilogy (Mistborn) has become the mythology for this new world. That concept excited me. What made me do it? The idea that I could, and that I hadn't really seen it done before. That's what fantasy is all about.
I think it's always been part of the mix. Dune, which is one of those hybrid fantasy/science fiction books, is all about this, and is—I would say—the great example of this. It's the foundation for a lot of modern science fiction and fantasy. A fantastic book, and it deals with the idea of how commerce affects a fantasy and science fiction world.
So I don't think it's a new trend, necessarily, but what is a new trend in fantasy is digging into nonstandard (for the genre) types of plots. Moving away from the quest narrative and focusing more on political intrigue, or focusing on the effects of different fantastical elements on a world and its economy. Basically, George R. R. Martin is going this way too, and he's been doing this for 15 years so I can't say that it's a new trend. But it certainly is an exciting direction for the fantasy genre.
My story's a little bit different than a lot of people. I wasn't a reader when I was very young. In eighth grade, I had a teacher, Miss Reeder coincidentally, and she assigned me to do a book report. And I thought I was very smart because I went and I grabbed this book that I'd read when I was in second grade, one of the Three Investigators novels. They're like the Hardy Boys, but they're better. And I got that and I took it to her, and I said, "I'm going to read this book." And she said, "No you're not. You're in eighth grade, you've got to read a book for your age." And I said, "Well the books for my age are all boring." And she said, "Well you've been trying the wrong books."
She took me to the back of the room. . . you know, all these teachers have these old carts full of ratty paperbacks kids have spilled meatballs on and stuff and they're loaning out and sometimes getting back. And in this cart I dug out a copy of Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane. It does what fantasy can really really do, which is get you into the head of a character who's very different from yourself. So I read this book, it was wonderful–adventure, action, wonderful characters. And I got done with this book, and I felt like I understood my mother better. That's kind of weird, I mean, a fantasy novel about a dragonslayer. And yet, my mother who had been top of her class in accounting, graduated number one, had been offered a very prestigious scholarship and had chosen to have me instead. And she had always done some accounting and some raising of her children. And I got done with this book and I kind of thought, 'this character's like my mother'. And that was really strange to me: that I could read a novel that was so fun and adventurous, and yet feel like I understood the world better.
And that was the beginning of the end for me. Within one year's time from when I had read Dragonsbane then, I decided I wanted to be a writer, I started my first book, and I started writing it.
During the era when I was trying to find my voice and find out what I was going to do as a writer, I felt that Robert Jordan had really captured the story of the hero's journey, the monomyth type epic fantasy, and done it about as well as it could be done. And so I started to look for things that I could add. This was very good for me to be doing, to be spending this time thinking about, not just retreading what had gone before, but really doing what some of the greats in the past had done.
One of the reasons I love the Wheel of Time is because I felt that when it came out, it best blended what was familiar about fantasy with a lot of new concepts. A lot of the books that were coming out were using the old familiar tropes: elves, even if they called them a different name, and dwarves, and even dragons, and these sorts of things. And then you came along to the Wheel of Time, which didn't use any of those things, or if it did, it twisted them completely on their head. No one knew what a dragon was, and a dragon was a person. And you know, the magic system having a logical approach to it rather than just being something that happened. And he really took the genre in a different direction. And I said, I have to do something like this. Not that I ever wanted to, or intend to, or think that I could be revolutionary in the genre in the way he was, but I wanted to add something. I wanted to take a step forward rather than taking the same steps that people had taken.
And so I began to ask myself what hadn't been done. And so you end up with me, Brandon, who...sometimes I look at myself as a postmodern fantasy writer. If you read the Mistborn trilogy, it's very much a postmodern fantasy epic. It's the fantasy epic for someone who's read all these great fantasy epics. And the story's kind of aware of all of those. It's the story of what happens if the dark lord wins? What happens if the prophecies are lies? What happens if all the things we assume about the standard fantasy epic all go horribly wrong?
I don't want to simply be someone. . . to be postmodern, you have to be a little bit deconstructionalist, which means you're relying on the very things that you're tearing apart. I think there's a level beyond that, which is actually adding something new, not just giving commentary on what's come before. But I do love the whole postmodern aspect. I love delving into that. It's something that I think can be unique to my generation because we've grown up reading all these epics, where the generation before us didn't.
A really great book of the length we're writing, of epic fantasy, isn't necessarily going to be bam, bam, bam, bam. What it's going to be is that it's going to go like this. . . (Brandon waves hands up and down). . . and give us the highs and lows and lulls and speedy fast past, and that's what really will pull you through.
This is, actually, a common question—one I get from LDS people as well as from New York, where they see an unusual number of fantasy authors coming from Utah. Utah readers also tend to buy more fantasy and sf books than a lot of other states. My guess is that there are many things coming together to cause these trends.
First off, I think LDS culture emphasizes learning and reading in general. We grow up reading from the scriptures, and our prophet speaks often about the importance of education. Because of this, I think that there are just a lot of very literate people in our culture—and that translates to more writers and more readers.
Beyond that, fantasy has a tradition of having strong values (two of the most foundational authors in the genre are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who both dealt a lot with good against evil and used Christian themes in their writing.) Because of this, fantasy attracts religious people, I think. Even something as generally un-religious as Harry Potter deals with the tradition of the good and the pure struggling against the corrupt and the evil.
Finally, I think that the LDS religion—despite what some detractors may say—is far more open and accepting of new thoughts and ideas than other religious cultures. To an LDS reader, the concept of other populated worlds isn't threatening.
That's a very astute question. Before we dig completely into what that means, I find myself wondering if it's even something I would like to be known for doing. Do I want to transcend my genre? I love fantasy. I love the things that made it what it is—the dragons, the quests, the stories of Hobbits and rings and all of that. Those stories are what made me into what I am.
Do I want to transcend those excellent authors? Could I even hope to? I don't think so. And yet, if I simply do the same things that they have done, I'm likely to do a poor job of it. Others have already covered a lot of those themes quite well.
And so, that presents a challenge for a new author. I want to add something new to the discussion, but I still want my novels to FEEL like fantasy. For me, I've done this by trying to expand the genre in new directions when it comes to the types of magic I put in my book, as well as develop some different kinds of plots.
I do want to do something new. However, I'm no LeGuin. I don't have the literary chops, honestly, to be about transcendence. I just want to tell the best darn story I can and have people love reading it.
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.
And, to end with a short one:
Two words: Hardcover books. Why? (Okay, technically that's three words.)
Hummm. I'm going to assume you did your homework VERY well, and are referring to an essay I wrote on this topic on my website. I believe I mentioned it above.
A little more background for the rest of you. In a short period of time, I got a lot of emails asking me why hardback books were so expensive. So, I decided to try and tackle this concept in an essay on my website. I tried very hard to explain that I don't mind if people buy my books in paperback, or check them out from the library. That's great! However you read them is fine with me. I feel honored that you're even doing so.
However, my HOPE is that in reading them, you end up hooked, and therefore buy the hardback of my next book. (Once again, I'm not offended if you don't! I had a LOT of trouble getting this concept across in the essay, judging by forum responses. It's very easy to misinterpret me on this fact, particularly since I wrote the essay very early in the morning, and I'm not sure how coherent it was.)
However, since you asked—as others have—hardbacks are very important to my genre. We don't sell in supermarkets very often, and even less often do we get into places like Sam's or Costco. That means we depend on the main bookstores, and the science fiction section sells a LOT less than other sections. (The romance section is 60% or so of the fiction market. Sf is around 6 or 7%.)
So, we depend on smaller sales of more expensive books to provide our income. That's our business model. (At least, or the big thick fantasy books like mine. There are people who do sf/f paperbacks with larger print runs and are very successful.) For me, though, hardbacks are essentially the only way I make money.
So, why we publish hardbacks is simple. Now, as to why you should buy hardbacks—or not—that's completely up to you. Some people simply prefer paperbacks because they are lighter and easier to read. That's fine! Don't feel guilty at all.
And, I'll leave it at that.
I'll comment on the [LDS] readers' reaction to murder and mayhem vs. curse words. I read lots of sf and fantasy throughout most of my teens and twenties, and still have a shelf full. I married a man who has filled bookshelves with fantasy novels. So I've seen a lot of the genre, though I don't read much of it anymore. I am very bothered by brutality and especially by violence against women. If you can create a world where magic works, why can't you create a world where women don't get raped? Bad language doesn't bother me, however.
But I don't write to the author and complain. I simply throw the book across the room and never read anything by that author again. My husband has recommended that I read a few of his fantasy books, and after several hit the wall (and one I threw away—he still doesn't know that but I am not having a book with a rape description that graphic in my house (Household Gods by Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarrand if you're curious about which one)) I have learned to ask him, "do the characters even talk about an intent to rape?" If he says yes, it goes back on the shelf. It surprises me how often he says yes to that question. Maybe his taste in fantasies runs to more violent fantasy novels then the stuff I used to read.
You've talked about how your experience at a job that gave you time to write on company time aided you and that you were able to write a good number of fantasy novels—writing, kind of, the 'bad' out of you, if you will—but I also wanted to know that, you know, for a period of time you volunteered and were editor-in-chief at the sci-fi and fantasy magazine at BYU, The Leading Edge, and obviously, as a magazine, the primary story being published in that is the short story, and I wanted to ask, how a) you thought that writing short stories and reading short stories helped you hone your craft, and b) what you think about kind of the dying outlet for burgeoning writers to have their short stories published.
Those are both excellent questions. Some interesting things are happening in the short fiction market, and it's in a very big position of transition right now. I've heard a lot of publishers talk about it, and there are people who are very optimistic, who they say, you know, "The short story form is not going to die. People like reading it. We just haven't yet found the new transmission method that is going to get them to people." But some things happened to the science fiction and fantasy market during the 70s and 80s that I think really changed the way fiction—particularly in our genre—reached its audience. I think the mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy to an extent—I mean, this is Geekerati Radio; we're talking mostly to geeks and geek topics—but you'll notice that since the 70s, progressively geek culture has invaded mainstream culture. Nowadays, if a fantasy or science fiction film comes out, the general public goes to see it and doesn't even think twice about it. That wasn't the case before Star Wars; it wasn't like that. And I think this mainstreaming that, this building on the whole gaming aspect, with RPGs and all this, where there was a larger...even those who weren't mainstream, who were the kind of the geek culture, like I was when I was growing up in the 80s, we had enclaves, because we had things we could do, and it was easier for us to create our little enclaves. The big science fiction conventions started because getting people who are interested in science fiction together to chat about science fiction was hard to do without the internet, without, some of...you know, podcasts, and things like this—it was very hard to find people with like interests, and so when you did, you all got together with these conventions. And for us, I think that there were more people that we could find, there were more activities...it was just...it was easier to be a geek in the 80s than it was in previous eras, and mixed on top of that, the paperback novel, in science fiction and fantasy, kind of came into its own, with the publishing houses like Del Rey and Tor and Ace in the 70s and 80s suddenly producing lines of science fiction and fantasy targeted an adult audience. What you saw is, really, the science fiction novel overtaking the short story. My generation didn't grow up reading short stories, in general; my fantasy grew up reading, in fantasy, you know: David Eddings, and Tad Williams, and Anne McCaffrey, and Barbary Hambly and these people who were writing the novels. And so, if you look at me, I didn't get into short stories until I had already long been a fan of the novel, which I think is backwards from the previous generation.
I got into short stories when I was in college, and it was partially because of the magazine. And the magazine did a lot of things for me. One of the things was that it was a nice—again—place where a lot of people with similar interests in me were congregating, and we were talking about fiction, and about science fiction and fantasy, and about what made good science fiction and fantasy, and we were able to read slush from around the world because it was a paying market, and writers, we are all desperate to get published, and so as long as something pays, we'll probably submit to it. So, The Leading Edge, though, being a BYU magazine, didn't actually publish BYU student stories. It existed more as a place to practice being an editor, so to speak; it exists as one of these things that is kind of like, not really a class, but an economist [?] club that is funded by the university to give people experience with editing and managing and learning [?] express and [?] programs, and so it's not actually student work that's getting published. You read a ton of terrible stories by authors, and boy, reading a ton of terrible stories teaches you a lot about what not to do. You start to see firsthand the clichés that show up over and over again. And, when you're that age—particularly older high school, younger college student—you're thinking that a lot of your ideas are new and original, until you read and discover that no, half of these stories are all wanting to tell these same ideas. If I had a dollar for every time we got a story that ended with "And, they turned out to be Adam and Eve"—that's a great cliché in the genre now. I had no clue, but I learned it firsthand by reading, you know, a dozen or two stories—so I guess if it were a dollar for each one, I would have enough money for pizza—but still, it was fairly common that we got stories like that. So, I really enjoyed that aspect of it, and it helped me as a writer, and it also taught me to love the short story genre, as we occasionally would come across these gems, and I had to feel like what an editor felt like, sifting through all of this, reading, you know, yet another story poorly written where Adam and Even turn out to...you know, the end of the story is that they're Adam and Eve and they found the Earth. Or, reading yet another poorly-done time travel story where someone kills his own father on accident, um, and that's...or, you know, ends up becoming Hitler, or one of these stereotypical things, reading one of these, and then sifting through that, and then a gem pops out—a beautifully-written story that says something meaningful, has engaging characters, really pulls you into a world and makes you feel like you're there—it like glows on the page after reading all of these things, and I understood, "Hey, this is what it's like to be an editor; this is what the editor is feeling when they're reading through the slush pile, and this is what I want them to feel when they hit my stories. So how can I do that? What do I really need to do in order to achieve it?"
What is going to happen to short fiction? I don't know. There are people who are much more expert than I at this sort of thing. I have been very curious at these free-distribution-on-the-web models that we've seen. The first big one was called Sci-Fiction; it was run by the Science Fiction Channel. And, it went..they actually eventually canceled it; they did it for a couple of years. I was hoping that an ad-supported model that was bringing renown to the Science Fiction Channel would be enough to pay for a short story, which really doesn't take—if you're cranking it on the internet—doesn't take a whole ton of resources. You pay the author, you pay someone to edit it, and you maybe get a little bit of art. This is what Tor.com is trying right now in order to draw people in, and I think it works wonderfully, but I don't see the numbers on it. Several pay subscription e-zines have come around too; Intergalactic Medicine Show by Orson Scott Card; Baen's Universe which just, actually, closed its doors unfortunately, and I was hoping that those would go along, but I think one of the problems with the internet is people...it's been established that, if it's on the internet, that it should be free, which...we haven't been able to get beyond that, and some things, the operating costs are just too high for it to be for free. So I don't think that the webcomic model—where you can, you know, print a webcomic and then have people come every day, read it, and then draw ad money and things like that—is going to work for short fiction, because short fiction is too long, and the costs are too big. I was hoping it would work. Maybe if there...but you would have to, like, print a page every day of a 70-page story, and I don't know if that would be enough to keep people coming back. So, I'll be very curious to see what happens. I enjoy reading it, but you know, I generally read my short fiction when it's recommended to me and I go pick up a specific issue, because a story I know in Asimov's happens to be really good, or an author I know happens to publish an Asimov—I see him on the front—or I pick up the Year's Best by Garner Dozois or David Hartwell, and just read what they have collected as the best science fiction and fantasy of the year.
So, I'm not an expert. I do hope that the genre—the medium—stays around, because it is a nice way as an author to practice, and to kind of do an apprenticeship. Once upon a time, if you wanted to break in, it was 'the main way' to break in, was to do short fiction for a while, get published in the good short fiction market, and then eventually, you know, an editor would come knocking and you would give them your novel idea. It doesn't actually work that way any more. It's still a potential way you can do it, but that's not the norm any more, I don't think; I think more people are getting published just off of their novels—straight submissions to agents or editors—than are getting published through a long apprenticeship in short story magazines, and that's certainly how it was for me. I didn't practice short stories until I was much older; I was much more practiced...even still I feel I'm a better novelist than I am a short story writer. I'm not terribly confident in my short story, though I do have one that you can read just on Tor.com for free—maybe you guys can throw that up in the liner notes, that people can click on and read—which has had a good response, but I think I'm primarily a novelist.
Now, you've talked briefly—I mean, jeez, you've got so much in that conversation that I'd like to jump off from...
Sorry, I'm very verbose, so feel free to cut in any time.
...involved in thing that you did, I mean...I was thinking earlier in your comments about how those who came to start reading science fiction and fantasy in the, you know, 80s, largely—in the post-Lin Carter boom of fantasy and science fiction that came out in the late 70s, early 80s...
There's a whole generation of people older than I am, and older than you are, who read that as short stories as they came out...
Yep. Yep, and I read it as a novel first; I'd never known it in short story form.
Right, and I'm in the same boat, and those even seem, you know, like short novels to me.
You know, those are the kind of books you read in an afternoon, where a Tad Williams novel is something that might take, you know, a weekend of, you know, devoted reading...
...ah, to get through the Bible-thin pages, and the massive length of the novel has become the norm—or an Ian Banks science fiction novel...
...which, you know, if you bought in hardback, you could probably, you know, put a hole in the floor when you set it down...
...it's so weighty. But, I wanted to, since you talked a little bit about internet distribution, and, you know, the kind of expectation of 'free', but also the interactivity on something that maybe, you're not using it as a means to actually distribute, but maybe to work and foment the product. You worked on your more recent Warbreaker novel through a kind of, we'll say, sausage-making process that, if people followed it on the internet, they could see the development of the novel before it was published.
Could you about that a little bit?
And kind of the impetus behind that and, you know, how you feel about the result of that process.
The impetus behind it was really watching how the internet worked with viral marketing and with really the self-made artists—the webcomic community, I pay a lot of attention to, because of how I think it's fascinating the way that this entire community of artists is building up and bypassing all middlemen, and just becoming...you know, I have several friends who are full-time cartoonists who can make their entire living posting webcomics through ad-supported and reader-supported—you know, either buying collections or donations and things like this—I thought that's fascinating. I don't think that it will work, as I said, with long-form or even short-form fiction because of the difference between the mediums, but I like looking at webcomics as a model just to see what's going on there. There's a science fiction author, Cory Doctorow, who's a very interesting author and has a lot of very fascinating things to say, a lot of them very, uh...very...aggressive, and certainly conversation-inspiring—how about that?—and one of the things he started doing, very high-profilely—he's one of the bloggers of Boing-Boing, so he's very high profile on the internet—is that he started posting the full text of his books online as he released them with his publisher. So, Cory Doctorow is releasing his books for free, and he has a famous quote, at least among writers, which says that, "As a new author, my biggest hindrance—the biggest thing I need to overcome—is obscurity."
And, so that's why he releases his books for free. He figures, get them out there, get as many people reading them as possible...and then that will make a name for him, and this sort of thing. Well, that scares a lot of the old guard. Giving it away for free is very frightening to them, and for legitimate reasons, but there was a whole blow-up in the Science Fiction Writers of America on this same topic, about a year or so ago—what you give away for free, and what you don't—and I said that Cory was right in a lot of the things that he was saying, particularly about obscurity. There are so many new authors out there. Who are you going to try, and how are you going to know if they're worth plopping this money down? It's the same sort of problem I have with albums. I don't want to try a new artist, because if I plop $10 down and then hate every track on the album...what's...what have I just, you know, done? I feel like I've wasted the money; I feel annoyed. So, I either wait till I get recommendations—and even then, a lot of times I'll buy an album, and then be like, "Man, I wish I'd gotten something else."—or I'll try the really popular songs, which may not be the songs on the album I like, which just puts you in all sorts of problems where, how do you know if you're going to like this artist or not?
Authors are the same way. You pick up a fantasy novel—a big, thick 600-page fantasy novel—you look at it, and you say, "You know, how am I gonna know if this guy's any good?" Am I gonna spend 30 bucks on a hardcover, or even, you know, 8 or 9 bucks on a paperback, you get home, and then you start reading this and you discover that this is just the wrong artist for me? So, I felt that the thing to do was to release a book for free. Being, just, I dunno...[cut] part of it was wanted to do the [?], try something I hadn't seen before, which was to write the book, and post the drafts online as I wrote them, chapter by chapter, perhaps hopefully to get a little publicity, where people would say, "Hey, he's letting us see the process!" Partially to, you know, to give something to my fans that they couldn't get from other books, which is being able to see the process firsthand, help out new writers, whatever...whatever it could do, I felt very good about the opportunity there, and posting chapters as I wrote them, always with the understanding that this would be the next book I published; I mean Tor had already said that they were going to publish it. It wasn't an experiment in that I wanted to see how it would turn out—I was pretty confident in the story, with the outline I had—but I wanted to experiment in showing readers drafts, letting them give me advice, essentially workshopping it with my readers as I wrote it, and see how that affected the process, and affected the story.
And so that's what I did, and actually I started posting drafts in 2006; it didn't come out until 2009, so it was a three-year process during which I finished the first draft after about a year of posting chapters, and then I did a revision, and then another revision, and they got to see these revisions, and I would post um...you can still find them on my website—brandonsanderson.com—you can still find all of these drafts, and comparisons between them using Microsoft Word's 'compare document' function, and some of these things, and...I think it was a very interesting process. Did it boost my sales? I don't know. Did it hurt my sales? I don't know. It was what it was, and it was a fun experiment; it's something I might do again in the future. Probably if I write a sequel to Warbreaker, I would approach it the same way. It's not something I plan to do with all of my books, partially because not all of my books do I want the rough drafts to be seen. Warbreaker, I was very...I had...I was very confident in the story I was telling, and sometimes, parts of the story you're very confident in, and parts of the story you know you're going to have to work out in drafts, and that's just how it is, and in other cases, it's better to build suspense for what's happening, and...so, there's just lots of different reasons to do things, but Warbreaker, being a standalone novel that I had a very solid outline for was something that I wanted to try this with, and once the Wheel of Time deal happened, which was just an enormous change in direction for my career, I was very glad I had a free novel on the internet, because then, people who had only heard of me because, "Who's this Brandon Sanderson guy? I've never heard of him before," could come to my website, download a free book, read something that I'd written, and say, "Okay," then at least they know who I am. They at least have an experience—and hopefully they enjoy the book, and it will put to ease some of their worries, even though Warbreaker isn't in the same style that I'm writing the Wheel of Time book in, it at least hopefully can show that I can construct a story and have compelling characters and have some interesting dialogue and these sorts of things that will maybe, hopefully, relax some of the Wheel of Time fans who are worried about the future of their favorite series. [chuckle in background]
Right, and it's good that you're working with Tor in a lot of this, because of course Tor is one of the publishers that's kind of renown for attempting to—I mean I don't know, I don't get to look at the numbers either, so I don't know what their success is—but really attempting to get readers to purchase their books, and to read their books, and then purchase follow-up books by, you know, almost using a 'first one is free' philosophy on the internet.
Yeah, Tor is very good at that. In fact the whole science fiction and fantasy market has been very good—as opposed to the music industry—in using the internet and viral sorts of things to their advantage rather than alienating their audience, which I appreciate very much.
Yeah, I mean, obviously the music industry has a disadvantage that the publishing industry in books doesn't suffer from, and that's the brevity of the item.
Yep, yep. Very easy to download a song, and...yeah.
And they have some additional obstacles, but it's, you know, one of the things that they've done extraordinarily poorly is handle any kind of PR, or any kind of the public debate as far as, you know, defending themselves I think against—you know, legitimately it's theft, taking music for free—but, you know, attacking twelve-year-olds...
Right. Or grandmothers, or things like that. Yeah, just a [?] way to approach it. You know, they're just a very different sort of situation. With audio, number one, downloading a song and listening to it, you get the very same experience listening to it that you would if you'd bought it, whereas downloading a book, it's not the same experience; reading it electronically for most of us is not the same experience as holding the book. And beyond that, publishing in today's market is actually kind of a niche thing; it's a niche market. Not entirely of course, but science fiction and fantasy, we are...we have...despite the explosion of science fiction and fantasy into the mainstream, I still think we are a small but significant player in publishing, if that makes sense. We have a small fanbase that is very loyal that buys lots of books, is generally how we approach it, and because of that loyal fanbase, that's really how science fiction and fantasy exists as a genre, because of people who are willing to buy the books when they can go to the library and get them for free, people who want to have the books themselves, to collect them, to share them, to loan them out. That's how this industry survives, hands down. And so, I mean...that's...Tor gets by. The reason Tor can exist as a publisher is because it produces nice, hardcover epic fantasy and science fiction books that readers want to own and have hardcover copies up to display on the shelves, with nice maps, with nice cover illustrations, which, you know, covers on science fiction and fantasy books have come a long way since the 60s and 70s. Just go back and look at some of these...and part of that is because the artists of course have gotten better—there's more money in it—but there's also this idea that we need to create a product that is just beautiful for your shelf, because that's how we exist as an industry. Romance novels don't exist on the same...in the same way; they exist in lots of volume of cheap copies being sold, and romance authors do very well with paperbacks—and some science fiction and fantasy authors do too, just different styles—but with epic fantasy, we really depend on those very nice, good-looking hardcovers, and so, we....giving away the book for free actually makes a lot of sense for us, because...the idea...we're selling for the people who want to have copies anyway, who could've gotten it for free from their friends, or by going to the library and getting it, or now downloading it, I mean...we have a very literate community; they know where to find the book for free online if they want to get them illegally, and we don't really go and target those websites and take them down, because you know what....it's not...the people who are buying our books are not the people who are...how should I say? If they're gonna get them for free, it doesn't discourage them from buying the book, generally. In fact they're more likely, I think, to buy the book if they read it for free first, and then like it, we're the types of people...I mean, we're the types of people who have 5,000 books in their basements, who if they love a book, go buy it in hardcover, and if they just merely like a book, we go buy it in paperback, and loan it around to all our friends still.
And so, that's who we're selling to, and that's who I think we'll continue to sell to. I don't think the book industry is threatened by the internet in the same way that the movie and music industry is, for various reasons, but I also don't think that we can...a lot of people say, 'get rid of the middle man'. I talked about the webcomic industry, and how they're able to just produce it all themselves. It doesn't work with novels. What I think readers don't realize is that most of the cost in a novel is not the printing. Most of what you're paying for when you're buying a book is the illustrator, is the copy-editor and the editor, and the layout and design team and all of this, which you really can't get rid of. Bypassing the middleman means you'd get a book that's unedited, and if you've read a book that's unedited, you'll realize why we have editors and typesetters and all of these people, and so, you know, the Kindle Revolution, if it ever happens—the ebook revolution or this sort of thing—will actually, I think, be a benefit to us, but I think people are going to be surprised that the prices don't come down as drastically as they would've thought, because of that, you know, $25 hardcover, you know, $5 of that is printing and shipping, but most of that is overhead for the publisher.
Yeah, Lord knows I read the unedited version of Stranger in a Strange Land, and I said, "Oh god, give me the edited version again."
You've spoken a lot about, I think, something that's really...kind of...beloved—a beloved topic of one of our panelists—and he's online and hasn't had a chance to talk yet this evening. Bill, I know you're very excited about internet promotion and the use of the internet as a distribution device, and kind of DIY publishing and promotion. Do you have a question for Brandon about how he went about it with Warbreaker, or just what his thoughts are on the industry in, kind of, extension of what he already mentioned?
Right. Hi Brandon, how're you doing?
Pretty good; thanks, Bill.
I just...I'm sorry I'm kind of late to the show today; I have been having a computer nervous breakdown, so...
Oh boy, I hate those. I've had a couple myself.
Yeah. I have been backing up some files and doing other things before I go into the major surgery. But I guess that leads me to my point, and I'm trying to back up your earlier point, [which] was, the genre community—fantasy, science fiction, horror, and so forth—we do have this collector mentality gene within our pool there. I know that if I see a book that's cheap, I will want to get the collector's edition.
You know, so the whole online thing is part of that revolution—it is part of that evolution, I guess—and I think that one aspect that Tor has been able to harness is the idea that they are, you know, putting out books online for free for people to get that 'taste', to get, you know, the free one and then go, "Oh yeah, I gotta have that for my collection." Now, do you see yourself ever doing something on your own—you know, you do have your book on your website as you said earlier, for free—but do you feel that for...you know, yourself, is there a print-on-demand book from you coming out in the future?
I could see a reason to do that. You know, I've kicked around concepts. It would never be one of my main books. What I might do is, you know, if people were interested in one of those early novels of mine, just to see how I've evolved as an author, and maybe print on demand my first or second book that if you just want the collector's copy, for the collectibility, say, "Hey, let's see what Brandon was like when he was a terrible writer," and I would have to make sure that they knew, "This is a terrible book. It's a terrible book by someone who eventually became a good writer, and so maybe you can see the evolution." That...I thought about collecting...one of the things I do for my books is I release annotations. This works like a director's commentary on a DVD; every chapter in my books—during the copy-edit phase, when I read through the book for the last time—I stop after each chapter and I write a few paragraphs about it—where it came from, maybe some history for the world and the characters, or what was going on in my life when I wrote that chapter, what inspired me to write that chapter, these sort of things—and then I post them at about [?] space of about two a week after the book comes out. And so, I think that's a really fun thing that you can only do with the internet, that ties into all this. I've considered collecting all of those and adding a little bit more bonus material, and then selling that as a print-on-demand book that people can just buy a copy for, you know, ten bucks through Lulu or something, that they can set on their shelf that then they can have all the annotations printed, that they can have their own annotated version of one of my books, that sort of thing, which I think would be a really fun thing to do.
So I see the potential for that. I see the potential for using this viral marketing—I don't know; there's a whole lot of exciting things going on with this. This all excites me; it doesn't scare me. And I think part of what's happening, um...Orson Scott Card, in one of the magazines he writes for just a couple of months ago, said that he believes fantasy is entering its Golden Age, which excites me because fantasy has lagged behind science fiction a little bit—quite a bit. For a while, science fiction was the big genre in our little spec-fic, underneath our spec-fic umbrella, which includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all of these other things. Science Fiction was dominant for a while; it really had some time to grow and to explore some ground, and I don't know that fantasy has done that yet. I think that, fantasy, the best is yet to come, so to speak. I think that, certainly we've had some fantastic writers—I'm a big proponent, obviously, of Robert Jordan; I think that he did some wonderful things with the genre—but I do think that there's a lot of space left in the genre, a lot of places to go, new things to be explored. The genre has only barely been explored. It seems like for a long time we were telling the same types of stories, essentially over and over, as we were trying it right, trying to figure it out, and I think readers got a little bit tired of those same stories. And this ties back into the whole marketing and internet thing, because the internet's going to give us an opportunity for some of those really explorational things to get out there and get some attention where they might not otherwise have done so, and I think this is going to spur the writers who, you know, the entire community, to have to stretch a little further, to be a little bit better.
I think it's the same thing that happened to the community, honestly, in the late 90s with the YA explosion. Young adults, and middle-grade, with Harry Potter becoming so high-profile, a lot of really great authors released some really powerful fantasy during that era. Phillip Pullman, Garth Nix, and J.K. Rowling herself—I love her books; I think she's a genius—and I think 'epic'—which we, I use that instead of 'adult fantasy' cause the term 'adult fantasy' just doesn't sound right when I tell people I write 'adult fantasy'; anyway, they get the wrong impression—so, I think during that era, 'epic' was forced to say, "Whoa, what are we doing? All this exciting stuff is happening in children's, and all of our readers are going to children's, because they're doing the exciting stuff where we're the same old stuff," and I think that forced a revolution in the epic fantasy genre, that we're still feeling it shaped because of that.
Yeah, nobody wants to keep on rereading Tolkien done over and over again.
Confidence, I don't know. I'm still sometimesâ€”you know how it isâ€”I mean, you worry. This sort of story is more beholden to the fans than it is to me. I don't own it. It's really theirs now, they've been following it for so long. But yeah, it certainly did have something to do with it.
I talk of it this way when I speak to Wheel of Time readers. I say, imagine a Venn diagram, all right. You've got this one circle that are just super huge Wheel of Time fans. And there are a lot of them out there, and I'll tell you, though I'm in that circle, I am not the biggest fan that exists. I have not dedicated hours and hours of my life to creating web sites dedicated to the Wheel of Time. I make heavy use of those web sites when I'm doing research and working on the books. But I haven't done that. There are people...if you would have found me before this happened, yes, I'd read all the books, in fact, I'd read most of them numerous times. But if you started firing trivia questions at me, you would have found very quickly that I would have hummed and hawed quite a bit. There are certainly larger fans.
And if you make another circle to the side of really great writers, I hope that I would be in that circle, but I'm not going to be the best writer you'll find by far. I mean, I'm in awe of some of the other writers in the fantasy community. George R. R. Martin, people like Terry Pratchett, are just pure geniuses and certainly are fantastic writers.
But if you put those two circles together, sitting right smack dab in the middle of pretty big Wheel of Time fans and pretty decent writers, is me. And I think that's what they were looking for, what Harriet was looking for, when choosing someone to work on this project. The Wheel of Timeâ€”eleven books plus prequelâ€”there's a lot of material there and they needed a book out fairly quickly, and so they needed somebody who was familiar with it already. But at the same time, if you just had a fanâ€”like you said, learning to write is a process that can take decades, it certainly takes years and years to write wellâ€”and they didn't have that time to train somebody to write that well. And so I kind of look at myself, and say well, in some ways it's amazing and somewhat strange to me that I got chosen. But in other ways, it's like I am the only person sitting there in the middle between those two circles, and so I was in some ways the only choice.
That's an excellent question—somebody's been reading my mind. First, I do want to say, thank you, guys, all, for reading the books; thank you for all you're doing supporting me as a writer. With this series, one of things I wanted to approach was...both of those concepts, actually. A lot of fantasy has the feel of magic's going away. Magic is dying. This goes back to Tolkien, with the idea that, you know, the elves are leaving and magic is going to leave the world, and that's always made me a little bit sad, that these books have this theme. And so I did want to write a book about the return of magic. But beyond that, I'm very fascinated with technology, and the development of technology, particularly as it relates to magic. And so this series is about the rediscovery of magic and how magic interacts with science, and the treating of magic in a scientific way on a large scale. You know, you see that in each of my books, with magic being treated scientifically, but I really wanted to do it in a way that changes the lives of everyone. The common people—magic changes their lives as much as technology changed the lives of the common people in the technological revolution we went under. And so that's what I'm going to try to approach in these books.
So how do I see the fantasy market going? Boy. You know...I'm really excited over what's happening in the fantasy genre right now. It feels like we're entering something of a golden age, where we are exploring the genre in new ways. I always talk about it as it seems like the generation after Tolkien was responding to Tolkien. Which is appropriate, because Tolkien was so awesome. And Tolkien changed the face of fantasy. And there were a lot of responses and perfecting of this type of story which I feel personally culminates in the Wheel of Time, which is kind of the majestic, best version of this sort of heroic arc story that was popular in the '70s and '80s. And then 1990, Robert Jordan starts the grand sort of culmination of them all. And after that, it felt like fantasy didn't quite know where to go. Certainly we had one branch that went into George R. R. Martin, which is kind of the new grittiness, which is great. There's a lot of cool things happening there, and that genre, the heroic gritty is still going strong. David Gemmell was a precursor to that, to what George R. R. Martin did, and certainly Moorcock and some of these also were doing it in the past. But there's a new wave of this.
But epic fantasy didn't seem to know what to do with itself, for a little while. And now we're recovering and we have new authors that seem to be approaching it in new ways and expanding. Epic fantasy can have wonderful, inventive worlds to the extent that no other genre can do. Science fiction can do great worlds, but we can add added levels of magic upon it, to give us this wholly original sort of thing. And hopefully we're seeing more people take more risks in their world-building and their narrative structure, like you see in Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or the Patrick Rothfuss books. The narratives are getting very interesting and the worlds are getting very interesting. I see in fifty years from now, people looking back and saying, "That's where fantasy hit the golden age." And I hope that's the case. I hope we continue to explore and to innovate and to just have fun with this.
Let's flip the conceptual pancake a little bit in terms of collaboration, and let's think about the idea of you coming up with the concept, you creating the world, and then turning that over to other people to write short stories about.
Right. Yeah, I've considered that. I know that Eric Flint has had a lot of success with that, and created an entire community based around—what's it, the...1632? Is that the name? It's a number, so [?]—it's his big alternate history line where the community has essentially created a short story magazine based in this world almost without his involvement—he's of course been involved, but it's [?], and it's fascinating how the fans have jumped into this world and really created something where it's essentially sanctioned fanfic by Eric, which becomes canon because they all work together and create this story together. It's very interesting. I've considered doing that with novel ideas—and you see this happening sometimes with writers—I've got, now with the Wheel of Time that takes so much of my dedication and time—and, you know, rightly so; I want these books to be fantasticvI can't work on all the side projects I used to, which is a little bit sad to me, so I've considered getting some authors that I know and respect who are wanting to break in, writing out a 20,000-word outline and saying, "Okay, take this and make it 90,000 words; let's see what it turns into. I've considered doing that; I don't know if I'll ever actually do it, but I've considered seeing what that would do.
Well, it does have its roots in the old pulp publishing model, where the editor would assign a story concept or a character to a writer, and also, in the 60s there was a gentleman by the name of—and he's somebody I've been researching lately, so he's on my mind as I say this—his name was Lyle Kenyon Engel, and he was a gentleman who gave John Jakes one of his major breaks, and James Reasoner, who was a huge Western author—some of their breaks, and several other very well-known authors of mysteries and genre fiction—their breaks—but he was, in essence, a "book packager". He would come up with the concept; he would pitch the publisher, and say "We're going to create a series of books based around this central character. I will have my writers write it, but this is basically what you're going to get." You know, "Can we put you down for," you know, "this series of eight books, and then we'll go from there." You know, and then he would hire the writers to write for that. Being as you're, you know, in the Wheel of Time now, you know...tremendous opportunity...
The drawbacks are that you're working in somebody else's wheelhouse.
But is that really a drawback?
Well, for this particular project, no. But it's very specific. There are a couple of things going on here. First of all, I read Eye of the World in 1990 in paperback when it first came out and have been reading these books as they came out ever since. I read them through numerous times. One of my favorite authors of all time, if not my favorite author, is Robert Jordan. And so, the chance on the fanboy side...heh. To be perfectly honest, to work on this, to take this master who's inspired me, and then be part of it, is incredible.
I can hear the glee from here.
Yeah. It's amazing. I don't know that I would have said yes to anyone else, because of some of the limitations. Now, another limitation that I don't have to deal with in this that you do have to in other shared worlds is...Harriet, the editor and wife of Robert Jordan, handed me the project and essentially gave me carte blanche, said "Okay, this is your project now. You write this project as you feel you need to write it. Here are the notes." You know, "Don't throw out anything from the notes unless you've got a really good reason, but you're in charge." I'm not just the writer; I'm the project manager and the story developer and all these things wrapped up in one, which is what you're not if you're writing for something like Star Wars. You are one of many; you have to be micro-managed quite a bit, as I understand, when you're writing for one of these type of properties.
[Something about Wikipedia]
Yeah. I don't have to do that. Now I do have to make sure I'm being consistent with the world and things, but I've got lots of continuity experts in-house who can help me to make sure that that happens, but really, I've got creative control. The final say is with Harriet, but I've got a lot of creative power. And I'm using that to actually not use it very often. Whenever Robert Jordan has something in the notes, I'm using what he said—I'm not taking this and trying to make it my own—but it is incredibly liberating to work on a project like this and also have, at the same time, this creative control. So that's another aspect of it.
Now, the big limitation is, it doesn't belong to me—which is fine, for this project—but that's the thing you have to get into. Like, when that "book packager" is pitching a series of books, he's gonna own that story from the copyright, which makes me very wary as a writer. The other great thing about being an author as opposed to being in film, or being in television, or even being in music a lot of times is that you, as the writer, own the whole thing. You generally don't sign away characters, worlds, setting, or anything—it's all yours. You have complete control over your story. A publisher like Tor buys the rights generally to publish it in English in North America. That's what they do. They get to package it how they want, they have control over the art and things like that, but the words are mine, and I retain control. The copyright is mine, which is fantastically different than if you're working in the video game industry, for instance. If you're working for a company and you come up with this brilliant, wonderful story, and you've developed it, and you work on it, and you have this amazing video game come out, the company then owns rights to all that, and can do whatever they want with it. The same thing generally with comic books—not always, but a lot of the time—and, you know, what you get instead is a regular paycheck, which for an artist is a pretty nice thing, but you trade off on that creative control, and creative ownership. And in novels you still have that creative ownership. It's the only major entertainment medium where the creator retains ownership so wholly.
And so, that's the biggest thing that worries me about collaborations and things like that is, you know, who has ownership? This is the last, so-to-speak, line of defense in that. Some other industry executives' minds when they find out... If something gets really big like Harry Potter, Scholastic or Bloomsbury doesn't own that; J. K. Rowling does. And by the corporate-think, that's really ridiculous; they shouldn't be allowing that to happen. But for the artist, it's what's best for the series, I think, and the story, and it allows the artist to be in control. So, yeah. That's the big line of defense, and we are very, very wary in science fiction and fantasy in particular, about letting any sort of contract language slip in which would infringe on that.
One of the challenges of the translation of Terry Goodkind's novels to the television is the fact that, here you have of these long epic novels that advance, in Terry's case, a particular philosophic position, and you end up with a pretty good [?]—I'm not disparaging the show; I actually really like Legend of the Seeker—but it's very different to watch that kind of slapsticky, samurai-y moment in the middle of Terry Goodkind's story. So I know exactly what you're saying; I think it's a perfect example.
And just think if they'd been able to do Wizard's First Rule as a complete, one-season epic arc, rather than having to worry about slapstick and things like this.
It's exciting, to be honest. The characters and setting to this world are so deep, so complex, so FASCINATING that it's going to be a worldbuilder's pleasure to look through the notes and begin work on the project. It will be hard, and it is certainly daunting, but it's also an amazing opportunity.
As you said, a lot of my work is a direct reaction to the fantasy I read when I was young. Not against it, really, but an attempt to build upon it and take the epic fantasy in new directions. Yet, I've always wanted my books to still FEEL like fantasy, and the Wheel of Time is part of what defines what feels like fantasy in our era.
A part of me has always wanted to deal with the classic fantasy themes, which is why Mistborn was about turning them on their heads. The chance to get right to the source and work with a series that defined those themes. . .it's just plain amazing.
Is every single one of these books worth reading? Regardless of 'personal preferences' or how I operate the flow chart?
I appear on this list twice, so perhaps that makes me biased. As much as I though the original poll was a little too weighted toward authors who have made a big splash recently (like myself), rather than those who have proven staying power, I see almost no misses on this list.
Now, the true answer to your question is going to be shaped by your own motives. Do you want to explore the genres and their roots? Are you as interested in investigating market trends as you are in looking at literary achievements? This list has both.
You said that this is throwing away personal preferences, so let me tell you why these books are worth your time. These are some of the most important and influential books in their respective genres. They will give you a good grasp on the foundations of modern sf/f, and they run the spectrum, offering a wide variety of writing and story types.
Looking just at the fantasy, we have everything from early sword and sorcery, to contemporary literary fantasy. Epic, quest, Arthurian, it really is a quite all-inclusive list. If you really want to understand fantasy and science fiction, this list will get you there quite well.
lol no, there is a lot of unremarkable genre pulp in there and some stuff that doesn't even measure up to the standards of genre pulp (yes Goodkind I'm talking about you).
I looked through your history, expecting a troll, but didn't find one. Many of your posts seem very thoughtful. That makes this post all the more baffling to me. "A Lot" of this list is "Unremarkable?" What would you consider remarkable, then?
George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Tolkien, LeGuin, Gaiman, Alan Moore, Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Clarke, Stephenson, MZB, Dan Simmons, Connie Willis, and Cormac McCarthy are "Unremarkable?"
Or are you turning your nose down at the bestsellers, like Brooks and Eddings? Can you really call books that have shaped a generation of writers and sold copies in the millions "Unremarkable?"
Snobbery is not disliking something. Disliking market fiction is just fine. It IS snobbery, however, to flippantly dismiss something that millions of others find remarkable because you either don't understand it, or don't take care to. Popularity is not an indication of quality, but most of these books have proven to not just be popular, but influential, genre-defining, and well worth reading.
To quote Stephen King, in his National Book Award speech: "What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?"
|I looked through your history, expecting a troll, but didn't find one. Many of your posts seem very thoughtful.
I never troll. People call what I do "trolling" when I don't sufficiently coddle them with unearned respect but that's bullshit on their part.
|Or are you turning your nose down at the bestsellers, like Brooks and Eddings? Can you really call books that have shaped a generation of writers and sold copies in the millions "Unremarkable?"
I've read a fair amount of Eddings so I'm pretty comfortable in calling his work unworthy of remark.
|Popularity is not an indication of quality, but most of these books have proven to not just be popular, but influential, genre-defining, and well worth reading.
I don't see how the Belgariad defines anything, it looked like the sheer condense essence of derivation to me when I read it and I can't imagine anyone being influenced by it to do anything but perpetuate cliche.
|To quote Stephen King, in his National Book Award speech: "What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?
Keeping in touch with mainstream culture is not without value, but there is stuff both more mainstream and of higher quality than the big turds on this chart like Goodkind and Anthony. Not to mention that reading a novel is a significant time investment—taking a couple of hours out of your day to watch a popular movie is one thing, but spending time you could have been reading Vonnegut on reading licensed D&D or Star Wars novels (or Twilight, which is more popular than either) is not good prioritization.
I think fantasy and religion can get along fine—and do in the works of many writers. Just like fantasy and atheism can get along fine, and fantasy and anything in between. It depends on the writer, their goals, and their relationship to their work.
I've said before that my religion is part of what has shaped who I am, and that in turn shapes my works. But that can mean very different things to different writers. Tolkien and Lewis were both deeply religious, and yet their spiritual sides manifest themselves very differently in their works.
I don't really balance my LDS faith and my writing, since neither are things that I DO. They are both things that I AM. And because of that, they are inexorably connected to my books, my self, and pretty much everything about me. That's not to say that I see books as a means of preaching my faith, or even my beliefs. I feel that kind of writing leads to an insincere story, regardless of how sincere the preaching (whether it be religious, political, or academic) itself is. One thing a great story can do is examine issues from many sides, as seen from the eyes of many different characters who believe different things. Those sides must all be strong, or the story fails for me.
Way back as early as when I was working on Well of Ascension, I mentioned to some readers that Mistborn was conceived as a trilogy of trilogies. The reason I wanted to do that was because I was fascinated by the idea of building a fantasy world, then showing it hundreds of years in the future when technology has advanced. Fantasy worlds rarely seem to get to have technological advancement. (The Wheel of Time, it should be noted, is a nice exception to this.)
I loved the idea of thinking about how a magic system, as established in a fantasy world, could change in purpose and use as it interacted with Technology. I loved the idea of a non-static fantasy world. Beyond that, I couldn't think of a major fantasy work that had done something like this—writing a complete series, then jumping ahead hundreds of years to show the same world, only in a more 20th century technology. Then jumping ahead again, and doing a science fiction series set in the same world. (Note that I'm pretty sure someone HAS done it; I'm certainly not the only one to think of this. I just hadn't read one that did it. And, whenever I consider something like that, it makes me want to do it myself.)
Anyway, that's all backstory. The story I'm working on right now, during my "Write whatever you want" break before starting A Memory of Light, isn't one of the three trilogies. It's a shorter work set between the Vin/Elend trilogy and the mid-20th century tech level trilogy. It takes place a few centuries after The Hero of Ages, where most technology (though not all) is somewhere close to 1910 on Earth. The advent of automobiles and widespread electricity. Plus Allomancers.
It involves a lawkeeper from the frontiers of the world who returns to the city to take over leadership of his house after the death of his uncle and cousin. He gets pulled into something he wasn't expecting. (And yes, it does show off some of the unexplored Allomantic powers.)
Whether you'll see more like this from me in the future really depends on how well the experience goes, and whether readers like it. It will be short—for me. Which is looking like around 60k words, at this point—so a short novel, rather than a short story.
Well, when you say that, you've obviously done an incredible job of keeping your ego out of it. I think it would be hard, honestly, when you've got people that adore you, yet you push away from that. That's very interesting about you. Tell me about growing up. What was it like growing up Brandon Sanderson?
Well, growing up Brandon Sanderson...I've later discovered that my story isn't unique. I'm not one of those people who's been writing books since the womb. You know, you'll talk to writers sometimes, and they'll say, 'Yeah, I was two years old and I composed my first epic.' And those people amaze me. But I wasn't one of them, I wasn't a reader. And this happens to a lot of boys, I've found, doing research about it now after the fact. When they hit about fourth or fifth grade, something happens and they stop reading. And that's what happened to me—stopped reading.
I didn't like books. People kept trying to give me books. And it seemed like they all tried to give me the same book. Which, you know, I think that there are different books for different people, and every book affects somebody. And the fact that I didn't like them doesn't mean they weren't perfect for someone else. But they were trying to give me books about boys who live in the wilderness with their pet dog, and then the dog dies, and it's traumatic and that's the end of the book. I read two or three of those and I'm like, 'Reading is boring. They're all about boys with dogs who die. And if their dog doesn't die, then their mother dies. And why are people giving me this stuff?'
And then I got to eighth grade, and in eighth grade I had a teacher—Mrs. Reader, coincidentally. I've since sent her several books as a thank you. But anyway, she's the first who kind of grabbed a hold of me and said, 'This kid can do more than he's doing.' And she wouldn't let me wiggle out of my book reports and things like I'd done in previous classes. She took me back to her little cart. You know how teachers have these carts of old ratty books that kids have been reading, and they've spilled spaghetti sauce on, and all these things. They all have these. She took me back and she pulled out one, and it was actually called Dragonsbane—it was an epic fantasy novel. She handed it to me and she said, 'Read this one. I think you'll like it.' And I hadn't really tried fantasy except for Tolkien, which as I said earlier, I tried too young for me. When you're a reluctant reader, Tolkien is really challenging, and it wasn't right for me. It had been several years since that, though.
And Dragonsbane, what it was is it was a story about a woman who was a witch. And she had been told when she was younger that she could be the greatest witch who'd ever lived. She was a natural prodigy. She could be amazing if she'd dedicate herself to her art. And yet at the same time, she was in love with a man and had had children with him, and was a mother. The story is actually about the last living dragonslayer, who is her husband, who's called on to kill a dragon when he's in his fifties—he's old, he's not the young man he used to be. And it's actually her story, and it's about her kind of trying to juggle her life between the magic, which is like her passion and her career, and her children.
And at the same time, my mother graduated first in her class in accounting, in an age when women didn't really go into accounting. She was the only one in her class. She had been offered numerous prestigious scholarships. And she had actually turned those down because she was pregnant with me, and she felt it important for a few years to just focus on me. And I read this epic fantasy novel and it had adventure, it had swords, it had dragons. And I got done with this book, and I felt like I understood my mother more.
And it blew my mind. It was so weird. I'd had this wonderful adventure. And yet, I understood my mother. I understood, because she had always walked that line. She had always been a mother, and she had worked very hard at her career. She was a very great accountant, and yet she had never quite dedicated herself fully to that because she felt that her family was important. And this woman was struggling with the same thing. It didn't give you answers. It didn't say, 'oh she should have done this, she should have done that.' It just showed her life. And that’s what I think really great fiction does, is it shows someone’s life, and it gives you a perspective on it.
And that's really what launched me into fantasy, was reading this and realizing I can have fun and adventure and magic and wonder. And the really good books can show me characters, too, characters who aren't like me. I mean, Tolkien did that. In a way, when you're reading Tolkien, in part you're reading about an elf and a dwarf who come from extremely different worlds, from you and from each other, who end up becoming friends. And it says something about racism and about prejudice, about how those characters come together that could only really be done in a fantasy book in that way. And this is what our genre does. It's metaphorical, and yet it's personal. And that's why I fell in love with it, and why I was poised, at age fifteen, to read Robert Jordan.
Okay, Brandon. Brandon, I'm going to interrupt you. Where does the heart come from? I find so many men, especially, disconnected from emotion and heart. How is it that you are so connected to your heart? I love this with the eulogy. And I'm going to tell you—I'm not a writer, I don't have your skills—but I wrote some blogs. I wrote one once called...I called it "The unanswered knock of love". And I ended up doing ten of them because women were writing, and women were writing, but not men about it. Tell me about your attachment to your heart, your connection.
Well, it's very interesting because I as a person—and my friends will say this—I'm not a terribly emotional person. I'm actually pretty even keeled. I don't generally feel negative emotions. I don't get angry, I don't do these things. Yet the thing that can get me is fiction. I think one of the reasons I've always been attached to fiction is the thing that will make me feel emotions is reading a good story, and that's one of the very few things that can do it. And one part of my fascination with writing, why I became a writer, is because it feels to me that when I'm reading someone's story, when I can see into their heart, that's what gets me that connection, and that's what actually gets me those emotions.
There are things that I don't think that I would ever feel as strongly if I hadn't felt them through fiction. And I don't know why that is. I don't know why I can connect on the page. Maybe it's because I was an introvert when I was young, and I discovered reading. You know, these characters in these books became my friends. I wasn't a popular kid—I was a nerd, I was a fantasy reader. Fantasy as a subculture hadn't gotten really big back then. I was kind of a loner, and I could find emotion and friends in these books. And it's always just meant so much to me that these writers were able to do this. People like Robert Jordan and Anne McCaffrey, and David Eddings, and my favorite fantasy writers.
I'm an avid Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader, but it seems all the authors my dad has introduced me to are dying off (Gordon R. Dickson for example) and as there is no rating system for book content, it's hard to find new authors that keep the sexual content to at least a PG-13 level. So far I've struck out with Old Man's War (while not graphic, the sexual content was rather high), George RR Martin, and Mercedes Lackey. So fellow saints, what have you found that's good?
Brandon Sanderson here, with a few suggestions.
Garth Nix is wonderful. If you haven't tried Sabriel, I suggest it.
Mary Robinette Kowal writes regency-style fantasy novels. I find them different, clever, and fun.
A Fire Upon the Deep is one of my all-time favorite SF books. I can't remember if there are content issues. I'm in a re-read right now, and it is as delightful as I remember it being. But something might come up that I didn't remember being there from a read last decade.
Tad Williams is wonderful, but very long-winded. (I happen to like how long-winded he is, but I should warn that is his style. Very little tends to happen at the start of one of his novels, as it's all set-up.)
L.E.Modessit Jr. writes epic fantasy after the older style—more slow-paced, lots of description. I find his books to be quite good, but they're not for everyone. They do tend to be very clean, though. (Same goes for Terry Brooks, who has a strong personal rule that he will never write, or cover blurb, something that is not clean. His books do feel a tad out dated these days, though.)
Other LDS author pals of mine who write mainstream sf/f: Shannon Hale, James Dasnher, Jessica Day George. All YA, all very good writers. Also, if you haven't read Eric James Stone's nebula-winning short piece "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made," look it up. I think he posted it free on his website. It's about an LDS branch president on a space station in the sun, trying to help beings made of plasma live the law of chastity. Really.
You have written essays about two of "Sanderson's Laws" thus far. Are there other laws?
Yeah, there are, but I haven't managed to get them pithy enough, which is why there are no essays about them. [Laughs.] Once they solidified in my mind and I can explain them in a way that's entertaining, I'll put them up. The essays are trying to explain my process in an interesting and entertaining way.
There is another one I'm trying to work on about how everything should be interconnected in a fantasy world. Let's go historical: Say everyone can change lead into gold. It doesn't just change making a few people wealthy. It changes the entire dynamic of the economy; it's going to change power balance for kingdoms and governments; the people who can do this will become resources and powerhouses. It changes everything.
In fantasy, one of the big things we need to do is explain the ramifications of making small changes. Figuring out how to reduce that to a pithy law is something I haven't figured out yet, but that will be Sanderson's Third Law, at length. We'll figure out how to do that eventually.
Which authors does Brandon currently love to read?
"I read a lot of Terry Pratchett. He's a legitimate genius and the books are different enough that I don't have to worry about any unconscious influence on my own writing. Guy Gavriel Kay is the best writer of fantasy today. I frequently read Robin Hobb novels. I love Vernor Vinge."
Do you think there is a "Brandon Sanderson's Guide to Fantasy Literature" in your future?
Umm...maybe. Honestly, if I were to do that, it would be a long way off. I still think there's a lot I need to learn about this whole process before I can put it down in words. There many people who have done a great job at that in the past. Stephen King's book is great. Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy is great. There are a lot of wonderful resources out there already, and it's one thing for me to get up and talk about my process, but I feel like it's different to write a "this is how you do it" book. I'd like to have a decade or two under my belt before I do that.
You have made a distinction between "hard" (defined) and "soft" (undefined) approaches to the use of magic in fantasy novels and suggest you ere more on the harder side. Why is that?
One reason is that it's just what I enjoyed reading. Many of the magic systems earlier in fantasy's history were very soft. There were wonderful stories there, but I felt that that ground had been tread very well. It wasn't until the '90s that I read people who were doing harder magic systems, and I really liked them; they clicked with me.
I have a bit of science background. I started in college as a biochemistry major before jumping ship to English, where I found things a lot more fun. What interests me about fantasy is not necessarily doing whatever you want but changing a few laws of physics and exploring the ramifications upon the people and upon the world itself. That fascinated me; it interests me.
It's one that that fantasy can do that no other genre can. We ask the "What if?" and I like to explore that. I've made kind of a name for myself doing that. I'm certainly not the only one, but a hallmark of my style is that I build a system of magic that doesn't ignore the laws of physics. I'm not a physicist, so there are going to be some flaws, but it's fantasy. At the end of the day, it is fantasy; it's not physics with a different name on it. We're doing something fantastical, but I do try and consider the scientific ramifications and write a story that explores those.
In one of your essays, you write that you like "mystery more than...mysticism" in your novels. Elaborate on that.
I, as a reader, like the tension that comes from "Can I figure it out?" That's one of the things that keeps me reading, "What's going on here? Can I figure it out?" The difference is that mysticism is something you can't figure out. That's alright for the stories that do it that way, but I prefer to be able to look at it and go, "OK, something is going wrong."
It goes back to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Many of his early stories about robots are about, "OK, these three laws are interacting in an interesting way." It's really a mystery—"Can you figure out what's going on here?" There's this wonderful pay off in reading where you go, "Wow, that just works so beautifully." That's one of the aspects of writing that I enjoy.
We're talking a lot about magic systems, but any time this topic comes up, I like to point out that any good story is about characters. Magic is what fantasy does uniquely. Certainly it's a hallmark of our genre, and we need to approach the setting in a cool way for our stories, but if you don't have cool characters, the story is going to fail, no matter how great the magic is.
My goal is to create a story that is an enjoyable read because the characters are enjoyable. Then, after that, I like to go with my magic system and try and make something you've never seen before. But no amount of world building is going to succeed if the characters are bland.
You have written extensively about the importance of innovation in fantasy novels. What is your take on the current state of innovation in the fantasy genre?
I think fantasy is pretty healthy right now. I've seen a lot of cool things being done. I think we've pushed past the part when it wasn't very healthy in the late '90s. I'm not even saying there weren't authors doing cool things there because there were, but it seemed like publishers kept pushing the same old and the exciting books were being downplayed. I was just fan back then, but from my perspective, that's created a lull in the genre. Recently, there's been a lot of cool stuff happening, and I'm excited about it. I think there are lots of cool places we can go.
Certainly, certainly. I mean, as an artist when you start working on your early works, you usually are very heavily influenced. And certainly my early works, my unpublished works—I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one, so it took me a little while to figure this all out—but my early works were very heavily influenced. I go back and look at my first novel I started as a teenager, and I'm basically kind of word-for-word copying him. And of course, later on you explore. And you take from what you've learned, and you try other styles, and you find your own style. Much of my style is deeply, heavily influenced by Robert Jordan, and in many ways I was reacting against some of the things I'd learned from Robert Jordan, trying new things. And what I eventually settled in as my style has pieces of that, pieces of other authors that I read during those foundational years, things that I felt were lacking in the genre that I wanted to explore and try out—all of this stuff mixed together in an amalgamation. But I would say Robert Jordan was probably the single greatest influence on my writing.
Yeah. I mean when we talk about style—style usually implies the idea of the tone and rhythm of the prose. I think what you're talking about the kind of elements that you bring into play as you create a fantasy. Because the actual styles of fantasy writers are not that different. I mean, there is a kind of clarity, a kind of unfussiness about prose—just getting the story down, saying it clearly without a lot of fancy footwork, if you know what I mean.
Yeah, there is that. Yeah, in a lot of what we're doing we try to write what's called Orwellian prose. George Orwell talked about this, where we try to make the prose a windowpane that you can look through and see the story on the other side, because really what we are is we're storytellers. You know, I don't think that's necessarily different from fantasy from other forms of popular fiction, but certainly fantasy does have its style. Though within it, it can be quite be quite varied. For instance, Robert Jordan was much more eloquent and beautiful at description than I personally am. And I tend to be much more direct and focused in my descriptions—a little minimalist—give a few little concrete details and then let the mind fill in the rest. And so, there are differences, but yes, compared to something like a more literary fiction, we certainly are far more Orwellian.
Yeah, that's actually been very interesting for me, because my love of fantasy causes me to seek out and create these, like, what we call secondary worlds, and it certainly leads me to a lot of interesting questions about my own faith and my own belief, and what parts of things that I believe are mythology, and what parts of things I believe are hard-core truths, and what is the line between those? Sometimes, do we tell ourselves stories that are meaningful on multiple levels? All of that sort of thing is fascinating to me, and you find me working that out in my fiction where I approach, you know, the nature of truth, and what does it mean...you know, capital T Truth and lower-case t truth. Very fascinating to me. I'm fascinated by religion; I'm fascinated by belief, and what causes us to believe and what causes myself to believe.
Alright, and we should mention the scale of your own work because it's prolific. There are four novellas, three standalone novels, four books in the Alcatraz series, four books in your Mistborn series, you've started a new series called The Stormlight Archive....can I just stay on this business of being a Mormon, because it's been pointed out that there are many science fiction and fantasy writers who are Mormons. Do you think that's right, that the Mormon writers are attracted to this as a genre?
You know, I've actually talked about this a lot with people, and everyone has their pet theory. It may just be that by being part of a kind of distinctive sub-group, we're noticeable, and so people make the connection. We may not have much of a higher percentage than anyone else. That might be true; I don't know if it is. It certainly does seem there's a lot of us. Orson Scott Card, Stephenie Meyer, myself, Shannon Hale....all of these people. We write fantastic stories. I can trace my involvement in it back to the fact that there is an author named Tracy Hickman who wrote Dragonlance and he was Mormon, and I read those books and loved them; I think that's the first time I experienced an LDS fantasy or science fiction author. I went to Brigham Young University, and there was a class there that was started by someone who just loved science fiction and fantasy and was teaching it, and a lot of us who are now writing it took that class, and maybe it's just the class. I don't know; I really don't know what it is. Maybe it's the focus on literacy in LDS culture, and—there is a very high focus on literacy; a lot of readers, a lot of writers—and so you find a lot of Mormon writers in all genres. My own pet theory is, for me, fantasy and science fiction was a safe counterculture. Growing up as a kid who basically wanted to be a good kid but also wanted to rebel a little bit—do something his parents didn't understand—I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I started reading fantasy novels, and I found myself in them when I read them—something distinctive, something imaginative, something new, but also something a little bit bizarre, and I like being a little bit bizarre.
(laughs) Yes, well that's a good thing to be in the world; I think "A Little Bit Bizarre" would be a great thing to put on your coat of arms, really. You know, rather than "Seek the Truth" or, you know, "Be Noble".
Here lies Brandon Sanderson: A Little Bit Bizarre.
I do; I teach a class.
...and, what are some of the typical mistakes you find writers in that class make?
Oh, there's a whole host of things we can talk about in this realm. I teach the class because I actually took the class when I was an undergraduate, and they were looking for a teacher—the teacher who was teaching it moved on—and I took it on because I didn't want them to cancel it. It's how to write science fiction and fantasy. And I would say that one of the big early issues with fantasy and science fiction writers is the infodump. They don't know how to balance those early pages, those early chapters, in making it interesting and exciting without dumping a whole bunch of worldbuilding on us, which is a real challenge because...we just had a panel on this here at the con; worldbuilding is what we read science fiction and fantasy for; it's the cool stuff; it's the cream that drives us to read this; it's what we love, and yet, throwing too much on us at the beginning can really stifle a book, and I would say that's a big rookie mistake.
Another big rookie mistake is assuming that all it takes is writing one book. Most authors, you know, you learn to write by writing. I like to use the metaphor lately of learning to hit a baseball with a baseball bat. You only learn to do that by practicing; you can't read about hitting a baseball and then go out and know how to do it. Certainly reading about it is going to help you with some things, and as you're swinging that baseball bat, the pros are not thinking about which muscles they're moving. They're not thinking about necessarily even their stance at that point; they've just done it so much and done it so well that they get to the point that they can do it, second nature. And that's what a writer wants to learn to do. And you do that by, at the beginning, you do think about your stance. You do think about your grip. You do work on these...you target certain things and you learn to extend the metaphor. You work on your prose or you work on your characters, or you specifically hone in on this, but at the end of the day, writing a lot and practicing is what's going to teach you to fix problems in your writing by instinct. And I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one. I don't think everyone has to do that, but I certainly think that your first job to do is to finish one novel, and then you need to start writing a second one.
Alright, thank you. The science fiction magazine at BYU: do you recommend your students participate in that?
I do. I actually offer extra credit for anyone who goes to the magazine and reads slush. I feel for a new writer, reading slush on a magazine can be really helpful because you see what some of the rookie mistakes are, being made by other people kind of in your same mode, your same skill set, and sometimes, when I did it as an aspiring writer, it taught me so much about what newer writers were doing, and things that I could avoid. It also helps to spend a little time around editors and see what's going through the minds of editors. Certainly a magazine is different from a book publication, but they share a lot of things, and it can be very helpful in teaching, so I suggest if there's a local fanzine—or a local semi-prozine, which is what the BYU magazine is, kind of, what the terminology is for it—go be a part; read some slush, and be part of the community, and see what other writers are doing.
Thank you. I think that's what Zach pictured in mind when he started Flying Island Press and Flagship was that very same...I think he was actually on that staff at BYU.
Oh, good! Good.
And I understand what you mean by reading a lot of slush, because we read a lot of slush.
I would hope that it helped. I assume that it helped, having loved big epics all along. You know, there's this thing that happens to you when you fall in love with a series like the Wheel of Time. I think a lot of George R.R. Martin fans are going through it right now, which is where you have to make this decision....it happened for me actually right between books five and six on the Wheel of Time, where you make the decision, well, I have to be along with this for the long haul, and stop being frustrated about when books come out and things like that—because, you know, we all kind of go through that—and finally decide, I'm just going to read this wherever it takes me, because I love it so much. I love he's doing; I'm going to stop being frustrated, and I think that switchover in my head really helped me with the Wheel of Time books, because I stopped being, you know...people complained at like book ten, and things like that, and I wasn't there; I was just enjoying what I got, because I'd already made that switchover; I wasn't waiting so much for the ending as just enjoying the ride, and I think that helped me to kind of appreciate it for what it is, and falling in love with the big epic like that.
The other thing that's helping me loving things like the Wheel of Time is I think that those of us of my generation who got to read things like the Wheel of Time, and got to read Game of Thrones while it's coming out—A Song of Ice and Fire—are able to see what the masters of the genre are doing with the grand epics, and hopefully build upon what they have done, learn from them. I know Robert Jordan said several times that he feels there are mistakes he made in writing the Wheel of Time in the way he did; I think he actually, after the fact—um, James [Luckman], you can tell me if I'm wrong on this. Didn't he say he would have done book ten differently if he'd had to do it over again? [Luckers nods.] There are things to learn from what Robert Jordan has done. They have paved the way. Robert Jordan was really the first one to tell a grand epic on this scale, ever, in fantasy, and so being able to read that really I think helps you as a writer yourself to say, "Wow," you know, "someone has plowed through the snow, and so I can follow along behind and hopefully not make some of the wrong turns."
Letting Magic be Magical
Some who have followed my website probably know how the concept of using magic in fantasy novels intrigues me. It's probably my favorite aspect of writing in this genre, and is what keeps me firmly fixed here. I'm not likely to wander to other types of books because I find the freedom and challenge of writing fantasy—of worldbuilding and designing new laws of physics—to be too compelling.
A while back, I started toying with a theory about how magic works in fantasy novels. It went something like this: The more you explain how a magic works, the less wonder there is to that magic—but the more chances you have to use the magic in solving problems. (I once summarized this as the humbly titled "Sanderson's First Law of Magic: Your ability to solve problems with the magic system in a book is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.")
I'm still toying with this theory. There are holes in it. For instance, it really should read something like "Your ability to solve problems with magic and NOT ANNOY YOUR READER is directly proportional to..." After all, you can do anything you want in a novel you're writing. You just risk alienating or annoying readers if you do certain things.
I've actually struggled with this concept in my own books. I want there to be a sense of wonder to the stories. Magic has to be magical. And yet, I love playing with science and physics, and writing blended science fiction fantasies where the magic feels in many ways like a classical-era science. In this way, every single book I've written has been a tiny bit steampunk, though the trappings of that are very hard to see. (I work very hard to give my books the FEEL of an epic fantasy, no matter what I'm borrowing or mixing from other genres.)
This is all harder than it looks. Sometimes, I feel I've erred a little too much on leaving a sense of wonder. (Questions about how the magic works for the characters and readers to explore.) When you do this the wrong way, you end up with Deus Ex Machina at times. And yet, explain too much, and the beautiful, magical feel of the fantasy world is gone.
I'm still playing with this balance. But I'm curious to know what you all think. What is your preference? Straight-up science based magic, or something more wondrous like Tolkien used? Do both work for you, if done right? Who approaches the different avenues the right way?
The Fantasy Series
I'm in the middle of an experiment. My newest book, Warbreaker, is a stand-alone epic fantasy, much as my first book Elantris was. Obviously, I'm not the only one to release stand-alones in this genre. There's a grand tradition of it, and some of my personal favorite books are stand-alones. I'm curious to see how readers react to me jumping away from a series and doing another stand-alone, as it's something I want to do fairly frequently.
And yet, though I don't let the sales choose what I write or publish, I do let them worry me. Really, releasing this book should be like releasing any other. I'm excited about it, I put my soul into it, and I think it represents some of the best writing I've ever done. And yet, at the same time, I know there's going to be less excitement about it from the readership than there was for the final Mistborn book. Stand alones tend to get reviewed more and better, they tend to make fans happy, and yet they just don't tend to sell as well. (I don't know for certain—I won't see numbers on the release week until next Wednesday.)
Ever since Tolkien had to split Lord of the Rings, there has been a strong tradition of the fantasy epic coming in installments. We fantasy readers like lots of worldbuiling, lots of depth of character, and lots of viewpoints. And yet, at the same time, it seems that we like to complain about the length of the series. We want them to be long—but we don't want them to be TOO long. The problem is, we all seem to have a different definition of what makes a series "too" long.
If you look at the figures, the Wheel of Time didn't start hitting #1 on the New York Times list until its eighth or ninth book. It took Goodkind longer, with Sword of Truth. I believe the eleventh book was the first to hit #1. Even while people were complaining about these series, they were buying more and more copies of them. Perhaps that's what was making them complain—they really wanted an ending, and were willing to read until they got to it. They just wished they could get the ending sooner.
Or maybe the ones complaining are just a vocal minority. Still, the genre's love of the huge series does worry me a little. The length of a story shouldn't be dependent upon what the market wants, but what the story itself demands. If I write a story that I feel takes one book, I want to (and will) release it as one book. If it takes three, I'll do three. If it takes ten, I'll do ten. I hope to have the flexibility to be doing a little from each of those piles during my career.
Yet even as it worries me, there's a piece of me—that fantasy novel lover who grew up as a teenager reading Eddings, Williams, and Jordan—that pushes me to do something BIG. Something grand in scope, something massive, long, intricate, and...well, epic.
So what are your thoughts? Short series? Stand alone? Big epics? Why do the long series sell so much better when people are vocally claiming they wish there were more stand alones and trilogies out there?
The Journey in Fantasy
I think it's easy to understand why the concept of the journey is so intriguing in fantasy novels. There are few things which separate our modern world from previous eras more than that of distance and travel. To us, all things are close. The other side of the world is less than a single day's plane trip away, and the other side of the country can be reached in a handful of hours. The oceans are no longer an ominous, month-long barrier to us, but instead a minor inconvenience. Telephones, the internet, and video conferencing have served to 'shrink' the world even more.
But in an era without machines, electricity, and powered flight, travel is far more daunting. It is dangerous and filled with mystery. An arduous journey makes for a visceral reminder that the world the characters live in is a very different place. It also allows for a lot of that world to be shown off, as different exotic locations are revealed. Plot wise, the journey is an excellent device because—assuming the reader is told the destination—one can follow along with the characters and feel a sense of completion and excitement as the destination approaches. (This is one reason why maps in fantasy novels are so useful.)
In the early days of the genre, the journey/quest was such parts of the story that it was assumed that every good fantasy book would have one. The works of David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, and many more (going back to Grandpa Tolkien himself) relied on the journey as a major device for their stories. One commenter in a previous post mentioned that they thought it difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine a fantasy story without a journey.
Well, I've actually written four of them without a journey (Mistborn Three had a small one at the start.) Oddly, when I first tried to write fantasy books, during my unpublished days, I found myself bored by the concept of yet another book that took place mostly in the wilderness or on a roadway visiting little towns along the way toward a destination. I wanted to write stories that took place AT the destination. That was what excited me. Some of my favorite books (like many of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books) involve no real 'journey' in the classical sense.
I think it's very possible to have a fantasy novel without a journey or quest. However, I must acknowledge the power of that storytelling mechanism. The early Robert Jordan books were essentially journey/quest stories. I know we touched on this a little bit during my first post, but I wanted to do one more specifically focused on this concept. (And I apologize for the lack of a post yesterday; I was asked to do one post during the weekends, and intended to do them Saturdays to give the whole weekend for discussion, but release week signings for Warbreaker kept me away longer than I expected.)
Guns and Words
I can still remember the first fantasy novel I read that used gunpowder. It was one of the Robin McKinley books, the Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown. I've mentioned before in one of these posts just how wrong that felt to me. And then, the fact that I felt it was wrong ALSO felt wrong to me. Shouldn't a fantasy author be allowed to play with any kind of technology and magic mix that they want? Shouldn't any time period be valid for creating the fantastic? And still, it felt wrong.
Interestingly, many fantasy characters are anachronistic themselves. At least as much so as guns. One standard aspect of fantasy fiction is the idea of the 'socially progressive yet technologically slowed' society. Some fantasy authors tiptoe around it. I don't. I admit it straight out—I'm writing about societies where people, for one reason or another, are more like people in our world socially, even if much of their technology hasn't caught up to ours yet. Perhaps I can get away with this a tad more than most as I have yet to write a fantasy that takes place in what I envision as a medieval society. Elantris and Warbreaker are Renaissance, Mistborn is 19th century. Only in all three cases, there is no gunpowder.
Perhaps this is my old bias influencing me. In the Mistborn novels, it's a world element and there's a very good reason why there's no gunpowder. In the other two, no explanation is given. I think it's reasonable to say that just because technology grew in a certain way in our world, it doesn't mean each and every world is going to follow the same path. And yet, at the same time, I doubt that adding gunpowder to either Elantris or Warbreaker would have changed the books in any great measure.
What are your thoughts on these topics? Does gunpowder ruin a fantasy immediately, or is it just another element of technology and world an author can play with? Does it bother you that fantasy characters sometimes talk and act like more modern people, or do you prefer it? (I happen to like this last one both ways. I enjoy reading a book—like Doomsday Book—where the author tries to accurately portray the way people thought in previous eras. But I have trouble relating to those characters, and that inhibits my ability to get into the characters' heads. And so I generally gravitate toward books where the characters are much easier to relate to, and feel more like people from our era.)
Talking about people taking chances with fantasy and pushing the genre in interesting places has me thinking about one of my favorite spec-fic subgenres: Steampunk.
I've been fascinated by the Steampunk (and its younger cousin gearpunk/springpunk/whatever you want to call it) since my early days enjoying the anime movies my brother would dig up here and there. (If you're lost as to what these are, might I point you to Wikipedia? They'll do a better job of explaining it there than I have time for here.)
There are a lot of interesting things going on in the sub-genre. Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan looks very well done, and the sub-genre as a whole seems to be enjoying a renaissance of books, stories, and visuals. (A lot of fantasy art lately has had a decidedly steampunk edge.) I actually wrote a very fun gearpunk story two years back—a full novel, actually, that I haven't had time to revise or do anything with. (The Wheel of Time has proven somewhat distracting to me lately....) It's called Scribbler. Maybe I'll get around to doing something with it eventually.
I have a lot of curiosities about this genre. What is it that draws us to it? Why do we love this classical use of technology, turned in to science fiction? Perhaps it captures that sense of exploration and wonder that used to exist to a larger extent in scientific discovery. Science is still exciting, but it's become something much more...technical these days. Back in the late 1800's early 1900's, there was a feel that science could not only solve all problems, but that it was something every day people could explore and understand. A lot of branches of science were relatively new, at least in the modern form, and there was a general excitement and enthusiasm to the process.
Now, science is something we study in school and take tests on. In general, even the common person has a grasp of basic scientific principles. What is happening is amazing, but at the same time, there's a density to it. Trying to figure out quantum physics or other areas where breakthroughs are happening can twist the brain in knots. Some of the wonder is gone. And so, we find ourselves looking back at times when science WAS magic to us, and we create stories that explore these eras.
Or maybe that's all just me waxing overly philosophical. What are your thoughts? Do you like Steampunk? Is it played out and over-done, or is it here to stay? Why haven't we had a really good steampunk live-action movie? (Note that I said a GOOD one. LXG and Wild Wild West do NOT count. Hellboy gets points for having some gearpunk elements, though.) Why does this subgenre fascinate us so?
The YA invasion
When I was in high school, I spent some time doing service at a local library. For the most part, this meant re-shelving books or looking through the stacks to make certain everything was in order. I remember being asked to shelve a copy of Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. I couldn't find the place in the computer where it was supposed to go, so asked the librarian. She told me I'd been looking in the wrong place—Dragonflight was shelved in Children's, not adult.
That's right. This award winning story, one of the best spec-fic books of all time, was shelved in Children's. That bothered me for reasons I couldn't quite define. It made me feel childish and annoyed at myself for feeling childish. What I was experiencing was something that a lot of literacy professionals have talked about recently—that teens HATE the idea of being thought of as children. (Who knew?)
There's nothing wrong with the children's section, and there's nothing wrong with shelving McCaffrey there. If her books are of interest to teens, then putting them where teens will find them is a good thing. (As a culture, though, I think we still have a tendency to look down on teen/middle grade/children's authors and books. To shelf something in children's still strikes many of us as something of an insult. I wonder why that is.)
Anyway, as the 90's passed, more and more 'teen' or 'YA' sections started appearing in bookstores and libraries in order to provide a place for teens to go find books without having to enter the dreaded children's section. About the same time, interestingly, fantasy fiction was invaded by a plethora of fantastic YA and middle grade fantasy novels. His Dark Materials has been brought up, so has Harry Potter. I'm partial to Garth Nix's work as well, and they're just the tip of a mound of very good, excellently worldbuilt fantasy novels that appeared in the late 90's and early 2000's.
As someone working in this genre, all of this leaves me to wonder and speculate. Did the increasing prominence of YA sections add to this explosion? Was it all the Harry Potter bubble? Or were people jumping ship from traditional epic to YA because epic was beginning to feel stale? Perhaps it was all of this.
I think it made the genre better. I think we've had to look at our sluggish beginnings in epic, and realize that two hundred pages of wandering around a castle before conflict appears may not be the best way to begin a story. We've had to become more creative in our worldbuilding, partially (I think) to compete with the elegance of YA competition. Probably, most epic authors don't even think about this, though I bet many of them have read Potter and the others. You can't help but react to, incorporate, and learn from what you read.
What do you all think? What are your favorite YA fantasy novels, and how do they compare to your favorite epic fantasy novels? Am I just searching for correlation where there is none, or is my speculation on to something?
More on Foreshadowing
Brent, I think you're absolutely right several places in there. (Though I feel like I should object on principle, so there's more conflict to our narrative. Good storytelling, and all that.)
Yes, there are things I can get away with now that I couldn't before—or ones I didn't try to get away with before. One big one is flashbacks. In my early years as a writer, published and unpublished, I stayed far away from flashbacks. Partially because I'd been told to do so, and partially because I'd seen them done poorly from a large number of other new writers. There are good reasons to stay away from them, and the advice is good. If you do flashbacks the wrong way, you'll break the flow of your narrative, risk undermining the tension of your story, confuse the reader, and basically make a big old mess.
Then Pat Rothfuss comes along and does a narrative-within-a-narrative where the entire book is basically flashback, and it works really well. I do know, however, that Pat had a lot of trouble selling that book of his to start. (Though admittedly, I'm not sure if that was the flashbacks or not. I seem to remember he added the frame story later in the process, and that the huge length of the book was what was scaring people away at first.)
I guess this brings us back to the first rule of writing: you can do whatever you want, if you do it well. Regardless, I decided—after some deliberation—that I'd use flashbacks as an extensive device in The Way of Kings and the rest of the series. None of these were in earlier drafts of the novel, however, because I knew that many readers (and editors) have a knee-jerk reaction against flashbacks because of how likely they are to screw things up. Now that I'm established, however, I feel that people will trust me when they see them.
(One thing I'm leaving out is that I think I'm a better writer now than I was before, and if I'd tried these flashbacks during earlier days, I'd likely have flubbed them.)
You talk about foreshadowing, and make some great points. One thing I think that I want to bring up is the idea of nesting reveals. I always try to have a nice spectrum of types of plot twists and revelations in the book. Some are easier to figure out, others more difficult. My experience has been that some readers want to try to guess what is going to happen, and others do not, but both appreciate a legitimate twist in the story. (One that was clearly foreshadowed, but not made obvious.) As so yes, there are going to be different types of readers, and some will see the foreshadowing that others will not. Some won't care at all if the story just twists unexpectedly (and without explanation) while others will consider it a put-downable offense.
In the spirit of tossing questions back and forth, then, let me ask you this: I just mentioned above that you can do anything in your writing if you do it well. Yet I've also talked a lot about the importance of foreshadowing. What do you think? Is it ever justified to have a total Deus Ex Machina? (For those who don't know, this refers to a major plot twist—usually involving the heroes/protagonists being rescued from danger unexpectedly—that is not explained or foreshadowed.) How might one do this well? Or is it an exception to my rule? Is my rule even really a good rule?
(Also, all, please forgive typos in this post. Just back from book tour after a long day traveling, and wanted to make sure I got this posted. But I'm kind of drooping here.)
Chapter Breaks and Pacing
I thought I'd do a post on pacing, chapter length, and pulling readers through a story. This is something I've been thinking about. Specifically, I’ve noticed at many authors in fantasy seem to be adopting a more thriller-style (genre, not the music video) of pacing. Shorter chapters, with cliffhanger endings that make for a quick turn to the next page.
Perhaps it's always been this way, and I'm just more sensitive to writing methodology now, as I'm a writer myself. But it does seem to be happening more. A good example are the Codex Alera books by Jim Butcher. But I've noticed some of it in your own books, Brent. It makes me wonder if this is a reaction, on our part as a genre, but the huge teen-fantasy bubble that happened surrounding Harry Potter. YA and middle grade also tend to be more quickly paced, more tight in this regard.
Oddly, I've found myself reacting against it. Not that I don't like this style of storytelling—in fact, I think it works very well. Jim's novel that I mentioned above was a real pleasure to read. Terry Pratchett does this in his books, and they're excellent. But I don't know if it matches every project and every story.
Conventional wisdom in writing is that you don't want the reader to stop and take a break, otherwise they might not return to the book. You always want to leave them hanging. And yet, I don't know if this kind of pacing works very well in the very long form novels. When I write my books these days, I WANT to give the reader some breathing room. Some time to step away from the book, if they want, and digest what has happened. I feel that if I pace them absolutely break-neck, the experience will be exhausting and draining across the long haul, and the book will end up unfulfilling.
Is this something you've ever thought about? Do you merely let pacing and chapter breaks happen? Readers, do you notice this? What do you think of it?
The Series as Form
The end-of-book introduction to the next novel is an interesting beast. I'm glad you brought it up. I actually feel about them the same way you do, it appears.
One of the challenges of writing a series is to make certain the reader is satisfied with the book they buy, even though it's part of a larger story. Readers seem to have a love/hate relationship with the series, at least in our genre. Stand alone books, as a rule of thumb, do not sell as well as series books. Mistborn outsold Elantris and Warbreaker, as an example, and the Wheel of Time books did not start reaching the top of the bestseller charts until the series was at its eighth or ninth volume.
And yet, the longer a series goes, the less pleased readers seem to be with it. If one looks at most series and compare reader reviews on something like Goodreads, the longer the series goes, the worse the reviews tend to get. It has happened for nearly every major fantasy series. (Pratchett is a shining exception.)
Is this because the writing is getting worse? That might be the cynical response. There are a number of complaints leveled against the longer series. That the author is getting lazy, or that they're so popular now they no longer get the editing they once did. Some critics think that series degradation happens because the author starts milking them—writing more in the series simply because they sell well.
I wonder if it's something else, however. Not a failing on the author's part, but a natural evolution based on the form of the series. Readers seem to want continuing characters and plotlines, but along with those come the need to juggle various sub-plots/storylines, and keep track of them across books. The cliffhanger endings that are really more "Hey, here's what we'll be dealing with in the next book" are another aspect of the series. I agree, true cliffhangers stink. But it feels very natural to have a section at the end of a book introducing some of the elements from the next book. This ties the series together.
But it's also something that could make readers gripe. (Especially if they have to wait another year or more to read what you're teasing them with.) Anyway, I love series. I love writing them and reading them. But I also like a nice stand alone for flavor now and then. (Which is why I'll continue to do them, regardless of sales comparisons.) However, it is interesting to me that the nature of the beast is such that the more you write in a world, the more people will simultaneously praise you and complain about that fact.
Magic and Wonder
Okay, wow. I don't want to put you on the spot, but... You think Jordan, LeGuin, GRRM, Brooks, Hobb, Erikson, Zelazny, and Donaldson ALL got WORSE the longer they wrote in a series? You think that they were strongest at worldbuilding, so the longer they went, the more the novelty wore off of their worlds, and there was much less left to hold the stories together? That it was not character or plot that made them good, but exploration of worlds?
This is...yes, let's just let this one die. Admittedly, perhaps you wouldn't count each on that list. (It seems, from what you’ve been mostly focused on Jordan without wanting to say it.) My argument will continue to be this: There have been stumbles, but I think it’s due to the nature of the form, not bad writing. We just haven’t explored the epic fantasy long enough to have figured out the ways around all the pitfalls. And if we do figure it out, it will be from the perspective given by standing upon the shoulders of the greats.
Anyway, on to Magic.
If you dissect the magic too much, do you risk it dying on the table? Certainly, you do. Any time you explain a magic, rather than allowing it to remain mysterious, you are trading some of the sense of wonder for something else. An ability for the reader to understand the world, and what the characters are capable of. If you give a character a magic box, and say that when it is opened, something magical will happen that's one thing. If you tell them what the magic box does when it is opened, that trades some of the sense of mystery and (a smaller bit) of the wonder in exchange for a plot point. Now the character can open the box consciously, and influence the world around him/her by what is in the box. Done cleverly, you've traded mystery for suspense, which do different things.
When you start explaining why the box works like it does, you also make a trade. You trade more of your sense of wonder in exchange for an ability for the character now to extrapolate. Maybe figure out how to make boxes of their own, or change what the box does when it is opened. You make the character less of a pawn in a scheme they cannot understand, and more of a (potentially) active participant in their destiny.
I'm certainly over-simplifying, and I don't want to understate the power of either side. A sense of wonder, mystery, and a smallness to the characters was essential for such works as The Lord of the Rings. If you'd known exactly what Gandalf could do, and why, it would have changed the experience. Instead, you are allowed to feel like Frodo and Sam, who are moving through a world of giants, both literally and figuratively.
However, there are always going to be trades in fiction. What is it you're trying to do? I tend to gravitate toward worlds where the science adheres to the scientific method. And so long as something is repeatable, it can be studied, understood, and relied upon. You don't have to understand the HOW, so long as you know the WHAT and a little of the WHY. What is going to happen when I open this box, and how can I change the effect?
Done really well (and I'm not certain if I do it really well, but I hope to someday get there) explaining can still preserve a measure of wonder. The classical scientists discovered, explained, and tried to understand science. But the more they learned, the more wondrous the world around them became, and the more answers there were to be found. I think it is important to establish that there IS more to be learned, that the answers haven't all been found.
Sanderson said many people regard fantasy novels as "not-good literature," or "escapism" but fantasy challenges human beings to "dream bigger, dream better."
"Fantasy is mental weightlifting for your imagination, to help you think better and think beyond what you would normally see," he said. "I like to view my job as bringing joy to people and hopefully encouraging them to dream bigger."
The writer said his satisfaction comes from knowing that his books are reaching "not just niche readers" but people who may not have read a lot of fantasy but are trying out the genre.
It is "extremely satisfying" to know that they have been translated into other languages, he said.
His novels have been praised for their impressive characters, plausible worlds and well thought out rule-based magic systems.
"The fact that readers are enjoying it says to me that they like a little bit of wonder, a little bit of imagination, but they also like it to make sense."
Because of this, Sanderson had a paternal pride for the series he saw become more and more popular and make it onto best-sellers lists. He even studied the series as a developing author to help his own writing as an upstart fantasy author at TOR publishing, the home of The Wheel of Time series.
When did you first start reading The Wheel of Time, and what were your initial impressions of the stories and the writing?
I still remember the first time I saw The Eye of the World on bookshelves, at age 15. I can almost feel that moment, standing and holding the book in my hands. I think the cover of Eye is the best [longtime series cover artist] Darryl Sweet has ever done—one of the best in fantasy. I loved the cover. The feel of the troop marching along, Lan and Moiraine proud and face forward. The cover screamed epic. I bought the book and loved it.
I still think Eye is one of the greatest fantasy books ever written. It signifies an era, the culmination of the epic quest genre which had been brewing since Tolkien initiated it in the '60s. The Wheel of Time dominated my reading during the '90s, influencing heavily my first few attempts at my own fantasy novels. I think it did that to pretty much all of us; even many of the most literarily snobbish of fantasy readers were youths when I was, and read The Eye of the World when I did.
The Wheel of Time has been a massive success over the past two decades. What kind of long standing influence do you see on the fantasy field from the series?
Robert Jordan was part of the generation of writers who grew up reading Tolkien and reacting to his books. I'm part of the next generation—the generation who grew up reading Robert Jordan and are reacting to his work. That generation is still growing—people today are still picking up The Eye of the World for the first time and getting engrossed in it. Then there are also beginning writers who are picking up my own work or the work of other writers from my generation such as Patrick Rothfuss and Brent Weeks, and reacting to what they read in our books, as we were reacting to Robert Jordan.
Each generation stands on the shoulders of the giants of the generation that came before, so in that way Robert Jordan's books will continue to influence the genre for decades or even centuries to come.
What are some newer authors that you would recommend?
A guy called Brandon Sanderson...
Um, boy let's see, how new is newer? Like, Rothfuss is not that new any more is he? Everybody's already figured out Rothfuss. Um...but I really like Daniel Abraham's work, and he's a little bit lesser known, and he's fantastic. I really like everything I've read by N.K. Jemisin. She writes these fantastic books—The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was the first one, and it's amazing. Slight content warning on that one, by the way, guys. But it was a gorgeous book, so those are books that I've enjoyed reading. I really like Mary's books, if you haven't read Mary Robinette Kowal. She is a friend, so I have to give that disclaimer, but her books are very awesome. They're like regency fantasy, so it's like Jane Austen with magic. And so I enjoy those...that's just a few.
And my current favorite living author is Terry Pratchett, which is not—yeah, he's been around for a while—but if you haven't read Terry Pratchett, you should read Terry Pratchett, but don't start at the beginning because he gets better with age. [laughter] I tried starting with the beginning in the 80s, and was like, "Oh, it was okay," and then later, seven years later, I tried another of his books, and it just blew me away. So I suggest either starting with Guards! Guards!, The Truth, or my most recent favorite, Going Postal. The end of Going Postal is awesome...[audio break]...and then Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Slight content warning on that one as well. Tigana is gorgeous, the best one-volume epic fantasy book I've ever read. And he's the guy who wrote The Silmarillion, so he did—what I'm doing with Robert Jordan, he did for Tolkien. He just didn't get any acknowledgement for it except for a thank you on the acknowledgements page.
There's a couple of things behind that. The first is that my mother graduated first in her class in Accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the entire Accounting department—that was in an era where that wasn't something that a lot of women did—and so I've had quite the role model in my life. But beyond that, it's kind of an interesting story. I discovered fantasy with a book I mentioned earlier, Dragonsbane. Wheel of Time was my [?], but I discovered Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, and my teacher got me to read this, and I came back to my teacher, and said, "People write books about dragons?" She's like, "Yeah, there's a lot of books about dragons; go read them."
And so I went to the card catalogue, which we had back then in the Stone Age [laughter], and I flipped to the next title in the card catalogue, and it was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery. And so I'm like, "Well, this has dragons; maybe this is good." And it was fantastic! If you've ever read Dragonflight, it's amazing! So I read through all of those in the school library, and I'm like, "Well, what else is there?" The next title in line was Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn, and so I read through all of those, which are also fantastic books, and one of the best magic systems in fantasy, in Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books.
And so I got done with those, and at that point, a friend came to me, who'd heard I discovered fantasy, and said, "Here, you'll like this book." It was by David Eddings. And I told him, "I don't think guys can write fantasy." [laughter] That was—honest to goodness—that's what I told him. I'm like, "I don't know if I want to read a guy writer; I don't think they can get it down." And so, I did end up reading Eddings, and enjoying Eddings, but my introduction to fantasy was through three women who have at times been called feminist writers—all three of them have worn that mantle—and that's still with me as part of what makes a good fantasy book, and I think that's just an influence.
My very first novel that I tried, which was not Elantris—White Sand—the female character turned out really bland, and I was really disappointed in myself, and I thought, "This is terrible." And it took me a long time to figure out—like, several books of work—what I was doing wrong. And what I was doing wrong—and I find this in a lot of new writers across the spectrum—is I was writing people—specifically "the Other"; people who are different from myself—I was putting them in their role, rather than making them a character, right? And this is an easy thing to do—like, you get into the head of your main character; they're often pretty much like you; you can write them; they're full of life; they've got lots of passions—and then, the woman is like the love interest, and the minority is the sidekick, right? Because that's....you know, how do you do that? And you stick these people in these roles, and then they only kind of march through their roles, and so while it's not insulting, the characters don't feel alive. It's like one person in a room full of cardboard cut-outs, like "Stereotypes Monthly" magazine. [laughter] And then your main character.
And women are just as bad at doing this as men, just doing the men in that way. And so it's just something, as a writer, you need to practice, is saying, "What would this character be doing if the plot hadn't gotten in their way?" Remember, they think they're the most important character in the story. They're the hero of their own story. What are their passions and desires aside from the plot? And how is this going to make them a real person? And you start asking yourselves questions like that, and suddenly the characters start to come alive, and start to not "fill the role." And you ask yourself, "Why can't they be in the role they're in?" And that makes a better character, always, than "Why should they be?"
Flop roles, too, if you find yourself falling into this, you say, "Okay, I've stuck—" You know, Robert Jordan kind of did this. The natural thing to do is to put the wise old man into the mentor—you know, the Obi Wan Kenobi, the Gandalf—role, and instead, Robert Jordan put a woman in that role, with Moiraine, and took the wise old man and made him a juggler. [laughter] And these two...you know, and suddenly by forcing these both into different roles, you've got...they're much more interesting characters. And you know, Thom is named after Merlin; he could have very easily been in that role, and instead he wasn't. And so, it made even the first Wheel of Time book so much better by making characters not be the standard stereotypical roles that you would expect for them to be in. So, there you go.
Also, stay away from tokenism. If you force yourself to put two people in from the same culture in your book, that will force you to make them more realistic as characters, because if you only put one in, you can be like, "Alright, their whole race and culture is defined by this person." And putting in multiples can help you to say, "Look, now they can't both just be defined by that." Anyway, I went off on a long diatribe about that; I'm sorry.
The Wheel of Time is probably the most important epic fantasy series of my generation. A lot of people from the generation before grew up reading Tolkien. Well, my generation grew up reading the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, and it was...it's very Tolkien-inspired, but it goes in its own direction, and basically, Robert Jordan—who started this series—once was asked, "What is the series about?" Well, it's now fourteen books and a prequel, so what is that about? But he had a really good answer. He said, "The story's about what it's like to be told that you have to save the world, and that you're probably going to die doing it, and you're just a normal person." And that's really where it starts; it starts with a young man who is told that he's this figure from prophecy, that he's going to have this whole world on his shoulders, and what does that do to a person? What is the life like once you've learned this? How do you figure out what you're supposed to do? You've just been told this... And it's really a character study about him and several other people, and the life they go through.
If I was being facetious, I would compare that to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Yeah, I suppose. Yeah, Buffy's very like that, because Buffy's like, you know, here's an ordinary person smashed into something extraordinary, and that's kind of the soul of what we do in speculative fiction. I like to say that what we do....um...a lot of people accuse fantasy of being backward-looking. I don't see that. Yes, we're dealing with kings and queens and magic and things like this, but what we're really trying to do, is we're trying to explore human nature in a controlled way. We're going to control—just like in a scientific experiment—we're going to control for a lot of things, and we're going to make this stable, and we're going to control the government, society, and these things, and then we're going to change a few really interesting things that could never be changed in our world. You know, if our world, you can't be told this is what's going to happen, you have to do this. We want to explore what that does to a person, and I find it a very forward-looking genre in that we're trying to explore what human nature is capable of doing, and what we would do under extreme circumstances.
Yes, yes. So, the main character, Rand. He is the one who's been told this, and he leaves in the first book, goes off, chased out of his home city by all of these, you know....different factions want him, and want to do things with him, and he left behind his father. They had a very nice relationship, and one of the things I wanted to do was kind of bring it full circle and have him and his father meet back up again. I wanted to do that; it felt like it would be a very touching thing. There was nothing in the notes either way to say if it could or couldn't happen, and so I went into and I said, "I really want to have a meeting between Rand and his father again; it's very important for me." It's very important plotwise, because you kind of look at the hero's journey and things like this, the return home was a very important part of it, but beyond that, you know, these are about characters; great stories are about great characters, and we love both of these characters; they needed to meet up again. And that was something that I got to do.
I have to say, if this was George R.R. Martin, he would have killed off Tam al'Thor.
Yes, yes. Yes, he probably would have forced Rand to kill Tam, or you know, he would have....yeah, George really likes his body counts. He likes killing people in very unexpected ways...
I mean, these two series are sort of parallel, in my mind. It's almost like, sort of, I don't even...Star Trek and Star Wars.
Yes. No, no...they are very similar. Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin were friends. In fact, Robert Jordan has a cover blurb on the first George R.R. Martin book, Game of Thrones. It says, you know, Robert Jordan recommending this book, and they were friends, and they kind of had parallel careers, and Robert Jordan is more on the kind of epic side, like Tolkien, with this sort of, you know, Grand Quest, and Martin is more what we call the heroic side, which is you know, gritty characters living in a really sometimes dark world, and fighting for survival, and there are two kind of archetypes in the fantasy genre that are both very important, and we've had them all along, and they're great writers in both traditions. They're kind of parallel in that way.
Do you have any advice for George R.R. Martin, because I know people are like, "Don't..." And it's horribly insensitive. People are like, "Please! We can't go through this again! Don't die in the middle!"
[laughs] Well, you know, I saw George last week. He seemed to be very healthy and nice. He was eating some Italian food at the time, so that may not be the....but I'm not one to speak; I like my Italian food too. No, George is awesome; I think he's going to be just fine. He's having the time of his life. He's got his show on, and things like that, so I think you guys are going to be fine. I think George is going to finish his series. He looks really excited, and he looks really good.
Why do you think people are drawn to "dark" stories?
One of the reasons that we read is for the sense of catharsis we get from seeing something go terribly wrong and watching people deal with it. It's just one of our basic needs where stories are concerned. From the beginning we have liked dark stories, starting with the oldest fairy tales and even earlier. They do serve a cautionary role, but there's also a fascination to them. What would we do if we were in those terrible circumstances? What will these characters do? In some ways dark stories are optimistic, because we get to see people struggling to deal with terrible situations and then hopefully coming out for the better.
What are your top 5 Dystopian lit recs and why?
These are in no particular order. 1984 has to be on the list; it was the first big dystopian book that I read, and it has shaped this genre, in a way. I would put up there The Giver as well, which most people count as dystopian; it's kind of an interesting blend of dystopian and other sub genres, but I enjoy it. Among more recent fiction, I would say Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner, for something very recent. Finally, another good classic—probably my favorite of all time is Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut.
How does your novel stand out from others in the genre?
That's an excellent question. This is a somewhat crowded genre recently. Of course, dystopian fiction has always been popular in the SF/fantasy field, but lately it's had quite a boom. I am the only one that I know of doing a superhero apocalypse. I wrote the book because one day I was driving down the road and someone cut me off in traffic, and I thought, "It's a good thing I'm not a supervillain, because I would totally blow up your car." The what-if for me on that was—what if someone could just blow up your car if you cut them off in traffic? How would that change the world? What would we do if people started getting super powers and just started taking whatever they wanted? Would we be able to stop them? What would happen if the government just declared them forces of nature, acts of God, something that can't be changed. It was an interesting enough premise that I wrote a book based around it, and that's where Steelheart came from. It's a premise that I haven't seen done before.
I first heard about Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles series from one of your blog posts and absolutely love it. Are there other writers or books that you think are flying under the radar that you'd recommend?
Some of my favorite authors are Anne McCaffrey (If you haven't read her books I don't know why you're reading mine. You need to go and read hers immediately!) I like Guy Gavriel Kay's works quite a bit. Tigana is a wonderful work. Melanie Rawn is a great author, I especially like her epic fantasy, I haven't read her urban fantasy but Dragon Prince is one of my favorite books of all time. And Terry Pratchett (start with the books in the middle of his career, not the beginning because his books get better and better as he goes along.)
And your Mistborn series, like you said, it is more serious. Tell us a little bit about the Mistborn series.
Okay. One of the things I felt that I wanted to do, when I finally did break in, was find some way that I could add to the genre, rather than re-treading the same ground. I felt that I wanted to try and look at the fantasy genre and do plots that hadn't been explored yet. And the Mistborn books are my attempt at doing that.
A lot of epic fantasy has this same sort of concept. This young protagonist, raised in the rural area goes on a quest to defeat the dark lord. And it's a wonderful, powerful story; it's the story that Tolkien used to an extent; it's certainly the story that Robert Jordan used, and you see it coming up over and over again in fantasy and I worried it had come up too many times. And so the Mistborn series came from me saying, "Well, what if he failed? What if this kid, this plucky protagonist, you know, went to save the world and it went all wrong?"
And it failed? Oh!
What if Frodo kept the ring? Or what if Sauron had killed him and taken the ring? What if Voldemort killed Harry Potter at the end of book seven? What happens? And the way that I approached this is saying, "Okay, that's happened. You've got your generic epic fantasy story that all happened, and the hero failed." Thousand years later, now what? And it focuses around a team of thieves who get together and decide, "Okay, the prophecies were lies, the hero didn't save us, the world is essentially enslaved. Let's try this our way." And their plot is to rob the dark lord silly, use the money they get to bribe his armies away from him, and over throw the empire. And that's Mistborn.
You know, Brandon, as you were talking about the Mistborn [series], you brought up some memories of my childhood. I don't remember what this series was, but I read this series that exactly was kind of like that: you know, the character is a normal person, he's great, throughout the series, but the very end, it doesn't all turn out right. He becomes evil and the series ends! And it haunted me. My whole life. And I still don't remember what the series was. I wish I would have remembered it, but . . . yeah, that's a very interesting concept and it doesn't happen very often.
I was tempted to actually do that. I felt that would have been too much of a downer. Which is why I jumped forward a thousand years and then used kind of flash backs to tell the story of what happened a thousand years ago, because it's not as clear cut as I've made it sound.
Well, that series I mentioned, I mean, that scarred me for life. [laughs] So I'm glad that you did a little different at the end there.
The other thing is I would have had to write it as a kind of more generic fantasy at the beginning and then take it other places, and I wasn't sure if I could do that because I don't know if my heart would have been in it, trying to write a fantasy that is more generic.
The other big thing I like to do with my books that I hope does something new and interesting is try to approach having interesting different types of magic. And I think the best fantasy books do this, and I wanted each book that people read of mine to have a new magic system. I like to write magic that feels like it could be a science, that in this world there's another branch of science that we don't have in our world, that if you explore and apply the scientific method to it, you can figure out how it works. And I tend to write stories where we've got people figuring out the magic. They're working in sort of a magical renaissance. That's the theme for my next series, The Way of Kings, which is what's going to be coming out next year, is the idea that we're living in a world where people are discovering the magic and bringing it back to the world and trying to figure out how it works and actually applying reason and science to it to get some hard numbers on what it can do and what it can't do.
Between churning out eight books of your own and completing the series, have you had the chance to read other fantasy authors?
Fantasy has had some problems with being too repetitive, in my opinion. I try to read what other people are doing—and say, How can I add to this rather than just recycle it? How can I stand on Tolkien's shoulders rather than stand tied to his kneecaps?
One of the many projects that you’re working on is a new children's fantasy series, book one of which just came out October 1, 2007 via Scholastic Press and is called Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians. Can you give us a rundown on how this idea was conceived, what kind of story readers can expect from it, your plans for the series, and why you chose Scholastic as the publisher?
Alcatraz actually started out as a freewrite. In the middle of writing the Mistborn series I needed a break, so I wrote down a silly sentence that had been tumbling around in my head, then just kept writing. It took me 16 days, and I wasn't really setting out to write anything in particular. I ended up with the completely looney first Alcatraz book. I wasn't even sure if it could be marketable, but I sent it to my agent, who suggested some small but significant changes, and then sent it out to children's publishers.
Once I realized it could go somewhere, it fit into my plans quite well. I knew I wanted to start a second series, because it is much easier to make a living as an author if you have two books coming out a year rather than one. I wanted to write something that was different enough from my epic fantasies that my readers wouldn't feel overwhelmed, but similar enough that those who liked my other books would still read it. I decided this meant writing either humor, science fiction, or young adult. I'd actually been reading a lot of YA, and was most excited about that idea, so when we decided to market Alcatraz as middle-grade, I was pleased. I immediately had all kinds of wacky ideas for the series.
As far as the writing, what are the differences between a children's fantasy and the books that you've already produced?
Obviously the biggest difference between a middle-grade fantasy like Alcatraz and the stuff I write for Tor is the length. Alcatraz is sixty thousand words long, while The Well of Ascension is two hundred fifty thousand. Writing the Alcatraz books is nice because I can do it relatively quickly, and they don't take themselves so seriously the way my epic fantasies do. I do find that I have to simplify things in order to write for kids—fewer viewpoint characters, simpler plot, etc. It is sometimes more satisfying to create an intricate story like I can do with my Tor fantasies. I'm actually really enjoying having the two types of books to write.
I want to talk to you about that, because I have kind of read some of the things you have written about the role of fiction, and the role of fantasy, and how it is so essential to understanding humanity. I'm really intrigued by that. Obviously when we talk about the books that you have written we have Elantris, Mistborn the Trilogy, Alcatraz and the Evil Librarian, we will talk a little bit about those. I'm curious, fantasy captured your imagination; what is it that inspires you to begin writing your own...
Well you know there's that huge imaginative exercise. Fantasy—well all fiction really—is about taking you to a different place and letting you see through different people's eyes. I think fantasy can do things with fiction that nothing else can do. It can take you to a place no one has ever been, really. The book I read when I was in junior high was called Dragonsbane. And it's still a delightful book, I love it. What it was about was a middle-aged woman. And I wouldn't think that me as a fourteen year old boy would really read that book and get into it, but it was so well written.
And identify with its character. Sure.
Yes. And It was so imaginative, and it had just this wonderful world of dragons and all these things; and also a story about a middle-aged woman who is struggling kind of, to choose between how much time to spend with her family and how much time to spend on her magic. And it was fascinating to me even as a junior high kid that when I finished this book I felt like I kind of understood my mother better, and yet I had this wonderful romp in a fantasy world at the same time. I look back at that and say the emotions that these books can cause are something special, because it can give us this wonderful adventure, but also can make us really understand people we would never be able to understand otherwise.
Well it's interesting because fantasy is... There is fiction, which takes us sometimes through the stories of people whose lives aren't too different from ours. And then there is fantasy, which is a completely different world. And I think a lot of adults might not realize it, through fantasy, from what you are saying, you really do develop empathy and a greater understanding.
Oh yeah. I think so. In fact, fantasy I think can do it in some ways better. There are wonderful things that general fiction can do, too. But fantasy can really show... If you look at something like Lord of the Rings and a friendship developing between a dwarf and an elf in that series, the empathy it can teach you is: that people who are wildly different, different to the point that couldn't exist in our world, can be friends. Or seeing through their eyes, when you read this book and you feel like you understand them, I think it makes it harder for you to be racist, to be prejudiced. If you can see through the eyes of an elf and feel what it's like to be an elf, then maybe somebody who is racially different than you isn't quite so different at all.
Interestingly enough. Do you find that parents have a hard time connecting with adolescent's and children's love of fantasy? Do you find that...
You know, sometimes.
...because it seems to be—I will go ahead and mention those two words: Harry Potter. He again opened the door to a whole generation of readers. And from there on, and there's been readers all along, but he captured worldwide attention, and parents are reading it with their kids. When you talk with adults about how to share the world of fantasy with children, what advice to do you give?
Well there are a couple things I say. First off, there are plenty of adults, like myself, who love it as well. And I mentioned fantasy isn't just a kid's thing. But something about kids, they are willing to look at something not as a genre but as its story. You will notice that children's literature isn't shelved by what type of genre it is. The fantasy books are next door to the books about the Great Depression. And the kids will just read it if it is a good book no matter what. Now there are a lot of us who really get into the fantasy, and I have had parents come to me sometimes at my book signings and say, "My children only read this fantasy stuff. I'm fine with a little bit of it, but can't I get them to read some classics?" And I always tell them, "Don't worry, if they love reading... What you want from them when they are that age is to love reading, whatever it is they are reading. And if they truly fall in love with it, they will get into the classics. They will read broadly once they get a little bit older." It happened with me. I got into fantasy. I didn't want to touch anything that wasn't fantasy for a long time. Until I got to college and then I started to get into Jane Austen, and I started to get into Milton, and I started to get into some of these other things. I still love fantasy, but I had been taught by my reading experience to just love a good story and good literature. I have every confidence that if someone learns to love reading, they will end up reading all sorts of different things. One genre won't be able to satisfy them.
I didn't write down specifics on anything that I hadn't heard discussed before in the reread or on Theoryland or that I didn't feel was new information. Here's a quick summary:
There were approximately 4 "process-type" questions;
There were 2 Mistborn questions and 1 Mistborn game question;
Harriet was asked a generic question about RJ;
There was one question that was RAFO'd (The Tuatha'an and the finding of the Song);
There was a question about Hoid and when he started appearing in Brandon's books (Brandon's 6th book, Elantris was listed as Hoid's first appearance; his next was in BWS's 7th book, Dragonsteel, then in his 8th book, White Sand);
Brandon recommended the works from authors Brian McClellan and Brent Weeks, and the novels A Fire Upon the Deep and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms;
Harriet told the story of how she heard about and ultimately selected Brandon to continue RJ's work;
Finally, Harriet read the "Wind" passage from A Memory of Light.
He explained how he first got interested in the fantasy genre (his first fantasy book was Dragonsbane). He then preceded to tell how he discovered The Eye of the World and how he became a fan of the series. BWS then described how he wanted to become a professional writer.
Although he is now a six-time best-selling author known for creating relatable characters, vivid settings, and unique magic systems, Sanderson was not a bred-in-the-womb writer. Like many adolescent boys, he avoided reading. But when his eighth-grade teacher convinced him to pick a book off her shelf, he chose Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly—because of its cool dragon cover.
"It was like the story of my mom, except in a fantasy world with dragons, and that was just awesome," Sanderson says. "It had all the action and adventure, and it had all the relate-ability."
Sanderson went on to read every fantasy book in his high school.
Brandon and Harriet arrived after their dinner with the library staff to rousing applause.
Brandon apologized for his voice because he'd be sucking on cough drops because, well, he's been touring. He recounted the story of his introduction to The Wheel of Time and fantasy in general. Brandon told the story (which I'm sure he's recounted at many of these signings and many interviews) of how Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly (a terrific novel recently re-released by Open Road Media in eBook) was gently forced upon him by his teacher named Mrs. Reader and Brandon was hooked on fantasy. Realizing he liked big books, he found The Eye of the World at his local comic/book/Magic store and was happy to finally have a series that was 'his' to share with his friends who were always sharing 'their' series with him. When Brandon mentioned submitting his novels for publication, the one novel he submitted directly to Tor rather than through his agent was the first published novel Elantris. Brandon recounted how he didn't let Joshua do his job and negotiate because he wanted to be published by Tor, specifically because they published The Wheel of Time. In 2005 Elantris was published.
Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be an author?
I did not, I was a teenager when I discovered fantasy novels, and I decided I wanted to do it then.
What up and coming fantasy writer would you read?
I really like Brent Weeks, but you probably already know about Brent. If you haven't read the Lightbringer books, they're wonderful. I like Brian McClellan, who has a new book coming out this year, it's his first. I would suggest that you keep an eye on him.
Hey there Brandon, thanks for doing another AMA!
Unpublished authors are often told that agents and publishers won't even look at a debut novel longer than 150k words. Your debut, Elantris, was considerably longer than that. How did you get your foot in the door? Was it just a query letter, or did you pitch the novel to someone at a convention/conference? If the former, would you mind sharing that query synopsis with us?
I pitched it at a convention. (World Fantasy Convention, which was in Montreal that year.) WFC does still tend to be one of the best places to meet editors/agents if you're interested in publishing with a mainstream publisher.
Elantris was 250k words, and I had a real rough time getting my foot in the door with it. The editor I met there let me pitch to him after we had a nice long conversation about the authors he was working on at the moment. Dan Wells, who was with me, also pitched and sent his book. His got read far more quickly than mine did. (His was far shorter.)
I waited eighteen months for a reply—so long, that I'd given up on the book. The editor said that every time he sat down to read slush, that enormous book intimidated him, so he picked something shorter to read. When he finally read Elantris, he only got two chapters in before he wanted to buy it—which is nice.
Editors have a love/hate relationship with huge books like this. The big ones do tend to drive the epic fantasy market, but they're more expensive to produce than the short ones, and therefore more risky to take a chance on. I would never suggest writing your books shorter than you feel is the right length, but do realize that both readers and editors will cock an eyebrow at you if the length goes too long. They expect more payoff for the increased size.
Digital formats, fortunately, are helping change this perception. Size (either direction) is no longer as limiting as it once was.
Thanks for the reply! I was actually at WFC this past year and you gave me great advice about going to the room parties. It was definitely an experience.
I waited eighteen months for a reply—so long, that I'd given up on the book.
You have no idea how much a relief it is to hear you say that. Thank you. Currently playing the waiting game on a book I submitted, and I was getting worried. But knowing that it took so long for someone to get back to you and that the answer was in the positive put my mind at rest a little.Thanks again, look forward to seeing you in Connecticut in July!
It's perfectly acceptable to send a polite email to an editor if they've had your book for a long time. Just say that you're curious if it's still being considered, or if there's a chance it has been lost. (Usually, six months is the time to send this.)
What does pitching a book look like? I'm familiar with how that would work in the movie business, but I'd never considered it in the publishing realm.
P.S. love all of your books.
Usually, this is the two or three sentence explanation of a book you'd put in a query letter. It focuses on one idea in the book, kind of the 'concept." Not that different from a Hollywood pitch, only a little less...uh...Hollywood.
For Elantris it was something like "The Prince of a kingdom catches a terrible magical disease, and is locked away in a prison city with everyone else who has the disease. He works to bring unity, hope, and perhaps a cure to the city."
On Saturday Tor.com posted an essay of mine entitled "Terry Pratchett's Discworld Might Be The Highest Form of Literature on the Planet." I've mentioned my love of Terry Pratchett a few times on the blog before, but in this essay I lay out my whole case.
First and foremost, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us!
You are an established (and highly respected and loved) author of adult fantasy (we are huge fans of your Mistborn books, The Way of Kings, and Warbreaker—excuse us while we fangirl a little bit). The Rithmatist, however, is a young adult title—what made you want to get into the YA space? Do you read YA fantasy novels?
First off, thank you very much! I really appreciate the fangirling. I do read quite a bit of YA fiction. In fact, during the era when I was trying to break into publishing—the late 90s and early 2000s—a lot of the really exciting things in sci-fi and fantasy were happening in YA and middle grade. Garth Nix, J.K. Rowling, Dianna Wynne Jones and others created some wonderfully imaginative writing during this time.
I dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn't written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can't do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don't feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.
Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you've got to wonder if they would've been shelved in the teen section in a later era.
Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis's works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.
So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.
What can your fans expect from The Rithmatist, as compared to your other adult novels? Was it easier or harder to write for a YA audience (or was there anything different about the writing process for this particular book)?
That's an excellent question! I wouldn't say it's either easier or harder. For me, a story grows in my mind till I just can't ignore it anymore, and I have to write it. That certainly happened with The Rithmatist.
As for what I did differently, there are a couple things. When I work on a teen book, I usually try to focus the viewpoints. That's one of the big distinctions for me between an epic fantasy that has teen characters—like the Mistborn books—and a book that I've specifically written for a teen audience. I usually focus on a single character—maybe two—so the narrative is a bit more streamlined.
The other big difference here is that I really wanted to write something with a sense of fantasy whimsy to it. I say whimsical, and it might be the right term, and yet it's not. For example, the magic system is one of the most rigorous and specific that I've written. I hope readers will find it as interesting as I do—with the defensive circles and the different types of lines.
With my epic fantasy books like The Way of Kings, for example, I looked at the size of the planet, its gravitation, its oxygen content—all the sorts of things that allow me to worldbuild with some scientific rigor. I consciously didn't want to do that with The Rithmatist. I replaced the United States with the United Isles, turning the country into an archipelago. I shrank the planet, and I did really weird things to the history of the world because I thought it would be fun. For example, I let Korea conquer the world, because I'm a fan of Korean history.
It's not like I'm sitting down and saying, "What is plausible?" I'm sitting down and saying, "What is awesome?" Then I write a story in which that awesomeness can shine. I let myself do that in my YA works more than in my adult works to give them a different feel. Writing this way allows me to exercise different muscles.
I believe that children and teens are better able to mode shift. When they pick up a book, they don't necessarily feel that it has to fit in one of the genre boxes. As an author, that allows you to do some interesting things in teen that are harder to do within an adult genre.
Do you read YA speculative fiction? Which books or authors are your favorites in the young readers category?
I've already mentioned a bunch of my favorites, but I could go on! I'm quite fond of Westerfeld's work. I think it's quite marvelous. I've read Terry Pratchett's teen books. If you've only read his adult work, you're really missing out. He is quite good. I've also enjoyed James Dashner's and Eva Ibbotson's books.
I got into a lot of the YA classics in the late 90s, well after everyone else had been into them. Things like The Giver by Lois Lowry and Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen. Jane Yolen has long been one of my favorite writers. There's just a lot of exciting things happening in YA, and I feel inspired by a lot of the works by those authors I've mentioned.
In addition to The Rithmatist, you've also ventured in the the Science Fiction realm with your short stories ("Defending Elysium" and "Firstborn"). We recently learned that you're creating a cool, limited edition tÃªte-bÃªche ("head-to-toe") bind-up format of these two novelettes, in the style of the groovy old school Ace Doubles. What made you want to create this particular type of print version of your novelettes? And, since these are science fiction, tell us a little bit about writing scifi and how that differs (or is similar to) fantasy.
We were looking at doing con exclusives, something I can take to conventions to make them a little more special for those who make the extra effort to come see me. Yet we didn't think it would be fair to my readers who can't make it to the consâ€”my readers in Sweden, for instanceâ€”if I took a story that was only available at cons. But "Firstborn" and "Defending Elysium" fit perfectly. Both stories have been out awhile, and both are free to read online. If you can't make it to the con, you can still read and enjoy these stories.
Singly, neither story was long enough to justify the price point required for us to go through all the effort to create a book. But both stories are science fiction, and both are novelettes, so doing an Ace Double-style book sounded like the way to go.
A lot of my short fiction comes out as science fiction. When I sit down to write something short, I've often wondered why a science fiction story pops out. Why do my longer works come out as epic fantasy? I've got lots of theories. They're armchair theories from Brandon the English major, not so much from Brandon the writer.
In science fiction, a lot of times the worldbuilding is easier to get across. Science fiction films have been such a part of our culture for so longâ€”and imagining the what-ifs of the future leaves you with more groundwork to build uponâ€”that in many ways there's more the reader immediately understands and accepts.
I've often said that great stories are about great characters first. But beyond that, science fiction stories are about ideas and fantasy stories are about the setting. I think that's why when I come up with a great idea story, I write it as science fiction. If I come up with some interesting setting element, like a great magic system, I write it as fantasy. I've found that getting across an interesting and complex magic system in a very short amount of time is extraordinarily hard, so it tends to work better for longer stories.
Despite the fact this his series takes up a lot of real estate on bookstore shelves, Robert Jordan is not a household name. Why is that?
Epic fantasy is a very challenging genre, I love it, but I'm aware it's a little harder to pick up. When you go to a bookstore and there's a series of 14 books, where one is bigger than three other books, that's not for everyone. But for those of us who read Epic, that big thick book is part why we love it. Not because it's thick, but because it's an entire world.
So, way back in 1990, I wandered into my local bookstore. It's called Cosmic Comics. It's a little tiny shop. I actually usually rode my bike there even though I was approaching 16. I couldn't legally drive . . . but I'll just say I rode my bike there. And every week I would go in, and I would see what new books were on the shelf.
To the right of me, right as I'd walk in, they had this little shelf—they sold science fiction and fantasy books, and comic books—I wasn't as interested in the comics books. I was there for the fantasy novels, and they had this thing where you'd buy ten and you get one free, which had me sold, right. Free book, right? So I would always plan and I would buy ten cheap ones and then find the really expensive thick one, which was like a dollar more, and get that one free. I thought—I'm the son of an accountant, so I thought I was getting away with something. And there on the shelf was a big book. A big book.
Now I always say, length of the book doesn't actually indicate its quality, but I had learned very early on as a fantasy reader that you wanted the big books because if you liked the book, you had that much more to love. If you got a short book and you fell in love with it, it was over before you knew it. And if you got a big book, you would say, well, by the time you fell in love with it you had this big book to read. And there was a big book.
I'm not your typical writer. I guess there are no typical writers. But a lot of writers I know—you'd ask them when they first started writing, they're like, 'oh yeah, I was six months old, started my first story. It was a war epic'. And you talk to writers and you know . . . all this stuff. I was what we call a reluctant reader. That's a literacy person term. I didn't it know back then—all I know is I didn't like books. All through the latter part of my grade school days and my first two years of middle school—seventh and eighth grade—I did not like books. In fact, I was convinced that books were boring. And people kept trying to get me to read books, and they would give me these books. And every one of these books would have like this boy who goes off and lives in the forest, and he has like this pet dog and his dog dies, and everyone's sad. And I read like three of these, and I'm like books are dumb, why is there . . . I don't like dogs. I'm a cat person. So I'm actually happy when the dogs die. I'm just joking–dogs are wonderful. My wife’s a dog person, so . . . But no, I just thought books were not for me.
Last part of my eighth grade year, I had a teacher—her name was Ms. Reeder, by coincidence. She was my English teacher, and she insisted that I read a book on her shelf. This is because I'd gotten really good at faking my way through book reports, and I was a clever little boy that realized you could find out what was in a book without reading it, and then write a very convincing book report.
And my teacher made me pick a book that she had read recently. There's a little stack of them—you know, like in these schools they have these racks of ratty paperbacks that like a hundred students have read, and there's like—yesterday's spaghetti is stained on one. But you know, every teacher has these things, and I had to pick one of these books. And so—she wouldn't let me get away with it this time, so dragging my feet went to the back of the classroom and browsed through these ratty books and came across this book with a dragon on the cover. Now, I had not tried a fantasy book since Lord of the Rings, which, if you give Lord of the Rings to a boy who's not really that good at reading, despite it being a brilliant novel, all it does is convince you that Lord of the Rings is a lot like Isaiah, right? You're like oh, I'm sure this is wonderful, but I'll let someone else tell me why.
And I had not finished Lord of the Rings. But I saw this and there was this dragon, and it also had a very attractive young woman on the cover, which I will admit helped quite a bit also. It was a Michael Whelan painting—he's a fantastic illustrator—it was Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, if any of you have read this. I highly recommend, it's a wonderful book. I picked this up even though it was a bit thicker than I perhaps had wanted. You know, I did the normal middle schooler thing looking for the shortest ones first. And I took this book home and read it, and it changed my life. This sounds stupid when I say it, I realize. It's a dopey little fantasy novel, right?
But it changed my life. There was something in there. The imagination, the realism of the characters mixed with this wonderful scenario. Dragonsbane is about a middle-aged woman who tries to convince her husband not to go slay a dragon. He did it when he was young and now there's another dragon, but now they're middle aged and you know they're probably like in their early 40s, but to me they were like ancient when I was reading this. And like, why should a 14-year-old boy connect, right, with this book about a middle-aged woman having a midlife crisis, which is what the book's about, but I loved it. It was amazing.
And I ran back to my teacher and I said, people write books about dragons? This is wonderful. She's like, yeah there's lots of them. There's this thing called the card catalog—you should go investigate this. And so I did. Now these . . . For the younger people in the audience, card catalogs were these things . . .
They were chiseled out of stone, actually, and you had to lug them open. And inside in caveman script, it would write the authors alphabetically and the titles alphabetically. We had two of them in my school. So I went to the title card catalog and said well, Dragonsbane was good. What's the next card after it? It was a book called Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. And I'm like well, this one has a dragon on the cover, and that looks like an attractive young woman also, so I will read that book. Lo and behold, Dragonflight is one of the best fantasy books ever written—Hugo award winning novel by one of the greatest names in the genre, also with this wonderful Michael Whelan cover. And so I read through everything they had of that. And the next one in line actually was Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn. Also with an attractive young woman on the cover—by coincidence, I'm sure.
And I became a fantasy addict. I read every fantasy book I could get my hands on. And it's kind of a funny story. That summer someone gave me a David Eddings novel, which some of you may have read. I actually was skeptical because I'm like, I don't know if a guy can write fantasy. Because I was reading Barbara Hambly and Anne McCaffrey at that point. But I gave David Eddings a chance, and David Eddings further got fantasy's hooks in me. And so by that fall, I was super fantasy addict man. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and was absolutely loving it.
And it I think it was—actually I've been telling this story wrong, because I think it was actually the following spring that Wheel of Time came out, because I think I would have been 14 there, turned 15. But whenever it was, I got Eye of the World. I remember when it came out in paperback, and I picked this book up, and it was a big book. And I had been searching for something. My friends had given me David Eddings. One of my friends was a huge Ray Feist fan. And everyone had their series that they followed that they were in love with. And everything I'd read—Thomas Covenant and Dragonriders and all these things—were series that were already established that people suggested to me, and I had not yet found my series to suggest to people.
And I was kind of searching for it, right? You know how that is. Fantasy had become my thing. I'm like, I want to be a fantasy hipster but I'm not, because everybody's giving me the books. Hipsters didn't exist back then, but that was the mindset. And I found this book and I’m like, all right, I'm going to give this one a try. And it was amazing. I loved this book, Eye of the World, and I remember distinctly getting done with it and thinking aha, I've found it. I'm going to be on the ground floor for this one. And then when this trilogy is done . . . [laughter] I'm going to be the one giving it to people and talking about how you should read this. But I remember when The Great Hunt came out—and my little bookstore did not get the hardcovers or trade paperbacks very often—but The Great Hunt came out in trade paperback. And I said aha, other people are figuring it out. Now the book is being released in trade paperback, it must be getting popular. And then The Dragon Reborn came out in hardcover. And I thought, I knew it—this is the series, it's taking off, and I was there first.
How many of you guys read the books in 1990, anyone here? That's a surprising number. Man, it's been a long road, hasn't it? You know, being a Wheel of Time fan is a really interesting experience. I don't know if any of you guys felt this, but it seems like everyone I talk to has like at least one period of extreme rage toward Robert Jordan.
It's weird isn't it? We love the series, we love him, and yet this is honest truth. My friend Micah and I, my roommate—he actually took my jacket photos, you can go look. It's Captain Demoux from the Mistborn books I named after him, Micah DeMoux. For years in the late 90s, early 2000s, any time someone said Robert Jordan's name—[to Harriet] I don't know if I told you this—we both raised our fists in the air and said, damn him! [laughter] In unison. He still does it. I can't do it anymore. But yeah, we did it in unison. It was like a thing for us because, you know, it's like this series is never ending. We love it, yet at the same time it's been ups and downs over the years, and the Wheel of Time has followed me through my career.
I hope you don't mind if I have a second question since . . .
Uh, it's the guys behind you that you gotta . . . they look like they're nice fellows.
Thank you. Jordan didn't plan 14 books certainly. As you said, you know, this trilogy will be good. And it's no secret that as an author . . . no author seems to be in complete control of their creation. It evolves. And he kept saying, no more than three more books, for like five books from the end. I think it appears like George R. R. Martin seems to be in a similar place, where, you know, there's this . . . [laughter, applause] Do you think that the experience of writing the end of Wheel of Time has given you a different perspective that will help you with Stormlight Archive? Or do you think that would never have been . . . Or do you think that your style, you know, did you always have it plotted out that it would never expand in that way?
It certainly could expand. It does happen to all authors, but authors do tend to fall into two general categories. George Martin has great terms for these, so I steal his. He calls them gardeners and architects.
Gardeners, which Robert Jordan was and George Martin is, they explore their story and more discover it as they go. Robert Jordan was actually a little bit like halfway between architect and gardener, because he would always have waypoints that he was writing toward, and he knew the ending and things like that. Stephen King is a complete gardener. He says he doesn't know where he's going. He just puts characters in interesting situations, and starts writing. And George R. R. Martin has said that he's a gardener.
I'm an architect. And an architect is someone who plots out things beforehand, and then writes them. But even being an architect the creative process is such that if while you're working on it, something better comes along, you have to be willing to knock down the blueprints that you have done, and build them up again.
That said, things have not expanded on me in the same way. People point to the last book being split into three, but I point to my very first blog post I made about it, where I said I was planning to write a single 800,000 word book. And instead I wrote one—it's about a million words. So I'm within a fairly close hit on what I initially . . . [laughter] Eh, 200,000 words, 20 percent, whatever. But yeah, I'm more like a 20 percent than expanse—does that make sense? And Stormlight is written out as ten books . . . and I honestly think that it will hit that: two five book arcs, for those who are wondering. I think it will hit that, but we'll see. I have never done something this long before on my own, so . . .
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.
When you've finished 12 novels and you haven't made a single dime, you really ought to, you know, have a long, hard look at what you're doing. And I did.
When I look back and say, what grabbed me? What was it? And I think it's partially the imagination, the sense of wonder. We as people like to go do this. We want to see new things. There’s an adventurous, exploratory sense inside of us. And fantasy books are about that: taking us to places that we haven't been, that we can't go. But our imaginations can.
Adjunct instructor and BYU alum Brandon Sanderson (BA ’00, MA ’05) harnessed his imagination to write 12 manuscripts filled with magical worlds and inspiring characters–but after six years of writing, not one book had been accepted for publication.
These books that I'd started writing—you know, after the first six. The first five I thought, you know, were just practice. But, books six through about nine, I really put a lot into those. I felt I was getting really good as a writer. I felt I knew what I was doing, and I felt I was writing really good books.
I was getting stacks and stacks of rejections. And people were telling me, "Why don't you be more like this writer over here?" "Why don't you be more like this writer over here?" "Your novels are too big. They're too long. We can't buy things that are this long. Write them shorter."
And I had to make the decision that, at the end of my life, if I had a hundred unpublished novels in the closet, would I be okay with that? Would I be okay with never selling anything? I decided I was going to write the biggest, baddest, most awesome book that I could. I was going to ignore everything that people were telling me.
At that time, really popular in fantasy was kind of very gritty and dark fantasy. And I said, no, that's not what I want to write. I'm going to write heroic fantasy—you know, stories like I want to read.
By coincidence, it was a few months after I'd finished that book—I hadn't sent it anywhere—that someone called me wanting to buy Elantris, the sixth book that I'd written—that I'd really had felt would be the book that broke me out, all those years ago.
Sanderson hit the New York Times best seller list six times in four years. With A Memory of Light, the 14th and final book in the Wheel of Time—delivered to a throng of die-hard fans at a BYU midnight release party in January 2013—Sanderson topped the list again.
Stories are about people; the stories aren't about the fantasy. When I read Tolkien, the story of Sam and Frodo and what they went through, and their determination, and Sam's loyalty—these are inspiring. This is what changes peoples' lives.
That's my goal in writing this. You know, people—real people—and the struggles they go through. And hopefully, by reading them, and having a fun time because it's an adventure, but at the same time, what should stay with you is the choices they make. And hopefully that will help the people who have read them to lead better lives.
How do you feel about modern fantasy? I'm not sure if it's down to religion, but I've noticed you never write sex, and thought you have action, it's never crossed into what I consider to be gory. Do you feel fantasy is going too far down the 'realistic grimdark' route?
I do prefer to both read and write things that are more reserved in these areas. What I like about fantasy, however, is that it is a very broad and expansive genre. It has room in it for everything. Some of these people are fantastic writers. For my own writing, I feel that I can both tackle interesting and complex issues while writing works that do not include graphic content. It is a personal decision, and an intentional one.
I know your Mormon faith is very important to you. In a lot of your books, religion plays a major role in the story. How important is it to you to include religion in your stories? Do you ever try to subtly influence your readers views on religion through your writing?
I tend to write about things that interest me. My religion is important to me, and so religion in general fascinates me. I find myself including it not as a requirement, but as an aspect of what I find interesting.
As nothing bothers me more than reading a book in which the person who believes like me is treated like an idiot, I try to be aware of peoples beliefs (or lack thereof) and explore the issue in multiple dimensions.
My intention in writing stories it to write great stories. Who I am, and what I find moral, is going to seep into it—I don't know that I'd want to stop that. However, I'm not trying to influence people specifically. I do try to present interesting ideas, but I let those be driven by the characters.
This is actually a harder question to answer than, at times, I've realized. I feel that people are given talents to enrich the lives of those around them, and I feel our job as people on this earth is to do our best to make life better for everyone involved. Can fantasy stories do that? I hope so. But I don't sit down to say "What am I going to teach people today?" I sit down and write, "What can I do that is awesome."
I guess I hope that increasing the awesomeness in the world will make people's lives better.
How have Eye of the World/Mistborn sales been ever since Game of Thrones hit it big? Has the interest in Game of Thrones garnered more exposure of the fantasy genre?
It's hard for me to answer this one because there are too many factors influencing my sales right now. New Wheel of Time books, for example. You'd be better finding if something that has been out for a while, but hasn't had new books in a little while, has done better. (Maybe something like the Belgariad or Thomas Covenant.)
Hey Brandon!!!! Here's my question, and I fully expect you'll never get to it, so no worries on that account.
We live in an era of instant gratification and fleeting interests. Relationships that once lasted a lifetime, such as marriages, sometimes come and go in years or even months. Readers' commitment to long range tales, such as the Wheel of Time, now often outlasts their commitments to spouses and careers. What do you think it is about these epic fantasies that draws people in and keeps them coming back for literally decades of their lives? Good luck on not wearing out your typing fingers on these questions!
Robin! Hey, hope you're having a cool AMA yourself today.
You ask a very interesting question, one I haven't thought nearly enough about. For me, the Wheel of Time was like the high school friend that stayed with me. As relationships drifted apart, as I stopped being able to see many of the people I knew back then, I could always come back to the Wheel of Time and find some of my old friends. Perhaps that has something to do with it.
There was also, of course, the sense of, "I have to know the ending." I know I've met more than one reader who expressed this as the reason they kept going all those years.
There's just something wonderful about the constant like this in our lives.
Mr. Sanderson! I just picked up Mistborn over the weekend. It'll be my first of yours. Planning on starting it as soon as I finish Pat Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear. Greatly looking forward to it.
Also, I'm a Utah local. I'd love to take a class from you at some point in the future (though I am not a BYU student).
Cool! Hope you enjoy the book. Wise Man's Fear is excellent. I'm jealous of the sheer beauty of Pat's narrative.
Between the banter that happens on Twitter and elsewhere it seems a large crop of the current fantasy writers seem to be quite friendly with each other. Do you feel connected to other fantasy writers in any way? What happens when you meet with other writers—do you gush over each others work, talk shop or just crack on about nothing in particular?
A lot of us went through the same era of reading books, and have many of the same influences. We also went through the publishing experience during a similar time.
So, when we meet at conventions or on signing tours, we tend to have a lot in common. A lot of these folks are a blast to chat with. I wouldn't name them friends, as I only see them once or twice a year. More colleagues whom I admire.
When we hang out, it's a combination of everything you mentioned. I tend to be a little more 'talk shop' focused than others.
Hey Brandon, thanks for doing this AMA! I am a huge fan of your writing, and love how you seem to understand that a good story does not have to be completely unique. What really irritates me about a lot of modern scifi is a lot of the new stories coming out seem to to try so hard for "uniqueness" that they literally do not copy anything that has been done before. When in fact by leaving out these "common" elements their story really suffers IMO. As a sucker for epic fantasy with great character development I thank you for putting books out that inspire me.
Lastly, have you ever considered writing a superhero-esque type book? I love the way you flesh out your characters, and I know it may be a little one dimensional for your tastes, but I feel you have a gift for taking something simple and making it complex, yet eloquent. (Also I know my grammar sucks so I hope you do not to cringe too much when/if you read this lol)
Everyone has their own "ideal" when it comes to the balance between the familiar and the innovative. My goal is almost always to walk right down the middle, some familiar tropes, some innovation. Those were the stories I enjoyed the most reading.
Regarding superheroes, as has been mentioned, watch for Steelheart. The premise is that people start gaining super-powers, but only evil people get them.
Thanks for reading!
Have you read the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind? Honest opinion?
It's pretty popular, I'm not sure but maybe at or beyond WoT levels, and I read it and wanted to tear my hair out by the end, can't believe I actually got that far. The first couple were ok, good even, then it started with the 30 page speaches and repetition and re-describing every character every time they were on screen as if he couldn't fill enough pages.
I read the first one and found it to be quite good, though I found the torture sequence somewhat oddly placed in relation to the rest of the plot. The second one did not grip me, and I did not continue reading the series.
I just saw the $2.99 Kindle deal for The Way of Kings and someone mentioned "it had a slow start."
I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I'm trying to get more into it. It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that every seemingly uber-popular Fantasy series out there has "a slow start". (LotR, Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, the Stormlight Archives, etc.)
But who cares if I'm right or wrong.
Are there any fantasy books or series out there that 'start REALLY FAST' and just don't slow down?
Writing a fantasy book that is fast in the way you say is not difficult—it's writing a fast-starting epic fantasy that is difficult. A good epic is often like a good piece of electronica music&mdsah;it's the slow build, the steady adding of complexity and worldbuilding that I find exciting about the genre.
That's not the only way to do it, I'm certain, but it is the route I took. The Way of Kings does indeed start slow. The slowness isn't caused by what I think you may be assuming, however. It's caused by multiple viewpoints arranged in a puzzle for which the final picture is not yet clearly obvious. There are plenty of action scenes in the first ten chapters of KINGS. There is a lot of motion and conflict. However, we don't get a viewpoint from the main character until chapter three, and don't come back to him until chapter five. This gives a real sense of "What is this book even about?" which, mixed with some very steep worldbuilding, slows the book down.
Contrast this to a traditionally fast book, like a thriller or mystery. You are presented with one character, and the conflict for that character is often clear in the first chapter. You know what the plot is going to be early on. There are some fantastic books written this way (Jim Butcher has been mentioned, and I think his Codex Alera books are a great example of someone doing a hybrid epic fantasy and thriller. They are some of the fastest epics I've read. But even they don't "Start really fast" like you say. I think you'll be hard pressed to find an epic that does. The examples will mostly be heroic or urban.)
I find that the slow build allows for far more explosive endings as all of the pieces come together. It is something I avoided doing to the extent that KINGS does it, however, until I already had a reputation as a writer.
I feel like starting slow and creating buildup is sort of the "classic" way to write fantasy, as that's the way Tolkien wrote. Could that be another reason so many fantasies are written this way? Are writers are saying, "This was good enough for Tolkien and it worked and people liked it, so I'm going to emulate his method."?
Edit: I should add that I usually like slow build-up and wasn't really critiquing them, but rather just wondering about them.
Tolkien certainly casts a long shadow. It's hard to separate anything we do in epic fantasy from his influences. Certainly, I'd say this is part of it.
In the end, most writers create things like they loved to read. Hopefully, we're adding to the tradition, rather than just replicating what has gone before.
I've just been told that I get to be the first one to teach a brand new Science Fiction & Fantasy elective at my High School. I am building this class from scratch and since the students will be responsible for getting the books themselves, I have pretty much free-reign for my book choices. Great, right? Absolutely! However, I want to expand my initial book search so I wanted to enlist the Hive Mind to help with this initial salvo.
This class is an elective for 10, 11, and 12 and meets 2 or 3 times a week. I haven't even begun the process of planning the structure of the class, but I'm thinking of doing about a novel every 3 weeks or so plus one choice novel a quarter. This is a semester course and I'm thinking of doing a quarter of fantasy and a quarter of science fiction.
My wheelhouse is primarily epic, series based, high fantasy (Malazan, Recluce, Pern, SoT). I'm not that familiar with standalone fantasy novels, and since this is a short class, I would like to probably focus on single novels (or maybe individual novels of a series that can stand alone).
I'm also much more familiar with the classic Sci-Fi canon (Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, Bova) but I'm not really well versed in current Sci-Fi.
I also am not very up-to-date on YA Sci-fi/Fantasy, so any suggestions along those lines would be greatly appreciated.
My request is the following: Please suggest books that would be great to use in a High School elective. At this point I'm not really concerned about Lexile scores so much as I am about quality and length. While I would love have the kids read a book like Reamde or Name of the Wind, those 1000 page tomes are a bit out of reach for my purposes.
Thanks in advance!
Don't neglect Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson, etc.
There are a lot of great SF & F books that are either in the public domain or available for free, legal e-book download either from Project Gutenberg, the Baen Free Library, or other sites.
H. Beam Piper's books are now public domain.
Cory Doctorow's Little Brother is available to read free on his website.
Drawing as much of your curriculum as possible from free books will be a kindness to students who might otherwise not be able to afford to take your class.
I hope you have fun with it!
I agree with this, particularly about Little Brother, which would be an excellent book for OP to consider. I also think, in line with the free books, that doing some short fiction would be good for the class and the readers. In my early SF classes, I remember the impact of some really great short fiction pieces—it allows you to have something to read quickly for class and have a discussion.
If I were doing a class like this, I'd break it up by topic or subgenre. For example, these two free short stories are among the best SF I've ever read.
Both are excellent because of their use of non-standard viewpoint. One is first person epistolary, the other done only through dialogue. You could do a great job in combining these as in-class reads for a given day (both take under 5 min to read) while working on a longer work that also uses viewpoint in an interesting way. (I'd suggest The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for this, but I'm not sure if the content is acceptable for the audience. Dracula is a great fallback for a classic with an interesting use of voice—and you could contrast it with Wikihistory in some very interesting ways.)
Another example would be to do dystopian, which is very big in YA because of the Hunger Games. Have them read Harrison Bergeron (my all-time favorite piece of short fiction) or something like the lottery, then read Little Brother or Uglies (both strong dystopian novels in recent years.)
For metaphoric fiction, look up Ponies. It's another excellent, very short piece that I think your students would really get.
In the Baen Free Library posted right above, you can find a free copy of 1632, one of the foundational works of alternate history. Niven's "All the Myriad Ways" might be a good match for that, or you could match it with Amber for multi-world connections. His Majesty's Dragon and the Yiddish Policeman's Union would fit really well here, as would some steampunk stories. (Hungry City Chronicles?)
Basically, I would pick a theme for every two weeks or so, get one central novel for that theme, then have a half dozen shorts to either read in-class or as additional homework. Give yourself a topic to dig into, not just a book to read.
Also, drop me a PM. I've got a whole stack of ARCs of Legion, one of my novellas, lying around. I could send them to you for your students.
Why are you tagged as a novice writer?
Heh. I picked the tag on a whim quite a while ago, and forgot it was there until this post. I felt like quite the novice at the time, surrounded in the field by giants like GRRM, Robin Hobb, and the like.
Maybe I'll change it once I hit the ten year mark. (2015 will make it ten years from the publication of my first book.) It seems to me that I really haven't been doing this very long. One of the things I keep reminding myself is that, in entertainment, there are a lot of flash-in-the-pan tastes of the week. I want to aspire toward more.
Why on Earth would you list Robin Hobb alongside yourself and GRRM?
I had the misfortune of reading her Soldier Son series while I was deployed, and I thought the entire concept of the story was terrible.
I looked at her website just now, and she's not much more prolific of a writer than yourself, so what constitutes her as a 'giant'?
**Tangent: Please develop your Stormlight series into something much more than a trilogy! With WoT completed, and GRRM writing at a snail's pace, I need another inspiring epic series to fill the void. Also, I commend your writing work-ethic. /fanboyrant end
I'll preface this by saying that I adore Robin's work. However, Soldier Son is divisive among her fanbase, and is not as widely loved as her Assassin's Apprentice series, which is where I suggest people begin.
That's beside the point. I chose her deliberately because of her story as a writer, which is similar to that of GRRM. Both toiled in relative obscurity for years and years as writers. Robin published under the name Megan Lindholm for a long time, and never found huge commercial success. She finally hit it big with Assassin's Apprentice, which was one of the bestselling epic fantasy trilogies of the 90's. In a similar way, GRRM wrote and published for decades before hitting it big with Game of Thrones.
These are the kinds of writers I admire, and one day wish to join. The writers who have been through the ups and downs, and who have continued to press forward. They didn't write their best work when they first broke in—they are doing it now, after years and years of growth, effort, and occasional failure.
As a side note, in 2006 I was nominated for the Campbell award for best new writer. I lost to John Scalzi, and was kind of down in the dumps. GRRM found me sitting on the side of a bed at a hotel party that night. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Don't worry, kid. I lost that damn award the first year it was offered." And he did—he lost it to Jerry Pournelle in 1973, two years before I was even born. GRRM handed me one of his famous "Hugo Loser" badges to wear with pride, gave me a pat on the shoulder, then continued on.
***As for the tangent, don't worry. I have big plans for Stormlight...
Wait, so you're published? Change your flair!
Ha, okay. Enough people have pointed it out, that I have officially done so. Flair changed. :)
Why, of all of the people in the internet, do you have 'Novice Writer' as your flair? I mean, I understand that you don't have the ungodly library of titles to your name that someone like David Weber or Piers Anthony does, but I think once you write more than 1 best seller you have to at least upgrade that to 'Professional Writer' or at least 'Journeyman Wordsmith' or something!
Also, I must give you many many many thanks for the way you handled completed the Wheel of Time series. I admit to being overcome with trepidation when I heard that you were going to be completing the series because while I really really really liked the Mistborn novels, then didn't seem quite in line with the feel of Jordan's universe. I was worried. But you handled the completion of a series that has been with me since middle school incredibly well and brought everything to a satisfactory conclusion in some an artful manner that it was never at any time obvious that Jordan himself wasn't penning every word.
I'm looking forward to more of your works in the future now more than ever.
See elsewhere in the thread why I chose that flair, but I've been persuaded that at this point, "novice writer" was strange enough on me to be out of place. So I've gone ahead and changed it.
Working on the Wheel of Time was one of the great pleasures of my life. Thanks for the kind words.
Just re-read everything by Douglas Adams, really love his writing style, especially in HHGTTG. Anyone know a similar author/book(s)?
Terry Pratchett is a fantasy writer known best for his Discworld series, I've heard him compared to Douglas Adams many times. Give him a shot if you haven't already, I would suggest starting with The Colour of Magic.
These two authors get compared a lot, for legitimate reasons. For what it's worth, here's a writer's look at them. Note that I'm going to use terms (Parody/Satire) that are subject to a lot of different definitions. I'll set my definitions of them specifically for this comment. Also, to get it out of the way, I personally prefer Pratchett—though I like both authors, and think that Adams has a higher level of 'genius' quality writing in his books.
When I look at Adams, I see a deep and meaningful satire of the human condition combined with a healthy dose of surrealism and a lot of absurd imagery. The books tend to involve less of a focus on plot or character and more on the ideas, the satire, and the surrealism. They make for tripy, yet intelligent, reads.
Pratchett began writing with more of a focus on parody—which I'll define here as spoofing a specific genre, along with its tropes and cliches. The more broad satire of the human condition was there, but it was placed behind a parody of fantasy novels. I think this is the reason you often see people suggesting that one skip the first few Pratchett books. They're great when you 'get' him and his writing, and some people enjoy them right off. But for some readers, the trappings of a fantasy parody novel (ala Bored of the Rings) strikes too close to something akin to "Scary Movie" rather than true satire, which (by these limited definitions) is more thoughtful and intellectual.
As Pratchett hits his groove in later books, he drops much (but not all) of the parody and replaces it with satire and, in many cases, a stronger plot and characters. You get sympathetic protagonists working toward important goals, mixed with some good, deep satire, some clever wit and puns, and still some good fantasy novel insider jokes.
When Pratchett is on, therefore, he's doing some of what Adams does. However, the books also often involve an interesting mystery of some sort. (This is particularly evident in the guards books.) Plot was always a problem with me for Adams—I loved reading them, but felt a little at sea, wishing I had more of a story to go along with the ideas. (This is why my favorite of his was Dirk Gently.)
Pratchett does sometimes hit pure brilliance, like Adams often did. The books are not as surreal, however. And you're often getting a hybrid dose of a mystery and a satire, which means that he can't do either as deeply as a single book dedicated to one of the two. For this reason, plot/characters end up feeling trite to some, and the satire isn't prevalent enough for others.
I still think you should give him a try. He is probably my favorite living fantasy author, and am often blown away by all the things he can pack into a single novel. (I suggest people start with The Truth, personally.)
Is it me, or is it very odd that the first two items on this list are books by authors who have multiple books out, none of which Shawn has read. You'd think that if he was so eager to read their work, he'd...I don't know, look up one of their other books?
That said, I'm quite eager for new Abraham novels. I've made no secret of the fact that I like his work.
So Song of Ice and Fire has hooked me into fantasy reading—what can you recommend?
What I particularly liked was the grittyness and adult themes, not to mention the epicness of the plot and story. I'm into the action and swordplay but not too much magic. Searching the threads there seems to be a lot to say for WoT and Mazalan but they seem very magic based. Any suggestions and some education to the genre much appreciated!
EDIT: Thanks a bunch everyone—great stuff—Gonna carry on with WoT for time being and lots of great options for after—Name of the Wind probs. Cheers everyone.
If you are looking more for swordplay than magic, then perhaps some historical fiction might be more up your street than out and out fantasy? I'm thinking here of Bernard Cornwell, whose Saxon Chronicles (start with The Last Kingdom) and Warlord Trilogy (about King Arthur; start with The Winter King) might suit nicely. For fantasy written for grown-ups, my favourites are Guy Gavriel Kay (his standalone novels set in an alternate Europe, such as Tigana or Last Light of The Sun, not the trite Summer Tree series) and Louis McMaster Bujold (start with The Curse of Chalion). These, like A Song of Ice and Fire, feature complex, believable characters with human motives, as opposed to the Good Guys vs The Dark Lord style of fantasy. They are as real and believable as ASOIAF, although the worlds they are set in are more overtly magical.
OP, listen to this person. They know exactly what they're talking about. Might I add that you try David Gemmell? (Think of his books as being much like the movie 300 in novel form.) Moorcock is the other I'd suggest.
I'll warn you, though, that Martin tends to be one of the few that does what you're talking about. Generally, in fantasy, epic tends to be equated with high magic. Gritty, real-world tends to be equated with shorter, fast-paced stories. It's not always that way, but it is a rule of thumb.
So, you'll find that epics like WoT, Name of the Wind, and Malazan are going to be high magic, while gritty, swordplay tales like Abercombie and Gemmell are going to be shorter and more self-contained. Guy Gavriel Kay tends to do epics in a single volume with a lot of 'grown up' storytelling, but there's not as much swordplay.
Maybe Codex Alera by Jim Butcher? (Mentioned by djduni.) It's more high magic, but the magic is focused on battle magic, and the pacing is much more of a swordplay story while the tale at length is an epic.
I have to ask: What are your top 5 fantasy novels?
Wow. That'll be a tough one—I'm not one to pick favorites. And, when pushed into it, I have a habit of changing 'favorites' with my mood. But I'll do my best, but I won't put them in any order.
- The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan. My favorite of the WoT books.
- Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay.
- Dragonsbane, Barbara Hambly (The book that got me into fantasy, so it has a very special place in my heart.)
- The Truth, Terry Pratchett (My favorite Pratchett.)
- Watchmen. (Can I count that?)
- Name of the Wind. (Hasn't been around long enough to see if it stands the test of time.)
As you can see, my 'favorites' slant strongly toward older books, but that's because I've read them more often, and because of the 'first' factor. (The Truth was my first Pratchett, Tigana my first Kay.) I very much enjoy Jim Butcher, among newer writers, among many others.
I think GRRM is a genius, and certainly one of the very best fantasy writers around. (Up there with Kay and Pratchett.) The reason he's not on the list is because he's just too brutal for me. I've said before that I admire him and think he's a great writer, but just can't take the level of grit he includes in his books. By the time I get done with one, I feel sick. Love his short stories, though.
Those were awesome—the title lettering was quite well done. But I must say that the Pern one was a little unfair. Or maybe it's just a pet peeve of mine. (Mary Sue accusations.)
Of course, Pat Rothfuss's way of responding to those might be the best. When asked if Kvothe is a Marty Stu, or whichever male incarnation you want to pick, he replied something along the lines of: "He sure is! I'd LOVE to be that guy. What's wrong with writing or reading books about people that you'd like to be?"
If we want our children to grow up smart, why do we send them mixed messages in cartoons saying that the villain is a genius and the hero beats them with brawn?
Asimov wrote an excellent essay on this very topic. In it, he spoke on the troubling history of the Sword and Sorcery genre, where a simple-minded, muscle-bound hero often would slay a crafty wizard. The essay, I believe, is called simply "Sword and Sorcery," and can be found in the collection titled MAGIC, which includes some of his fantasy stories and essays about fantasy.
Alas, Reddit, I couldn't find a copy of it on the internet for you to peruse.
Help me to remember the name of one of my childhood faves?
Today I was reminiscing over all of the books I read as a child, when one came to mind that I simply could not remember the name of. Here's what I remember about it (sorry I remember so little!):
- It is an adult fantasy/sci-fi novel
- It begins as a sci-fi; the protagonist lives in a strange futuristic world, has a hot robot woman friend, and competes in "the games" which are an important theme in the book. In this world, he is physically strong and dominates in "the games", but later in another mirror world he is mentally strong and has magical powers. This is when the book becomes more of a fantasy...
- I believe he is named "blue" in the magical world. There are also other colors signifying other 'wizards'—for lack of a better word. I really hope I am remembering this correctly, because my google searches for characters named Blue came up empty-handed.
- The book must not have been very popular. I have searched numerous top 100 sci-fi and fantasy lists for the title (which I would recognize upon seeing).
If anyone knows the name of his book it would be greatly appreciated! I absolutely love re-reading childhood favorites. =)
Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony. Split Infinity is the first book.
Wow, that was insanely fast. Are you more skilled in the use of Google than I am or have you read the books? =D Thanks so much.
I've read them. I'm also very interested in Piers as an individual. He did a lot of interacting with his fans, and he did it in an era when that was much more difficult than it is now. Now that I'm a writer myself, I'm learning how time consuming that can be. He still posts updates—he used to do them as newsletters, now they're on his website—which are very interesting reads and insights to the man himself.
The early Apprentice Adept books were written during what many consider his strongest era as a writer—the original is nestled right between the first Xanth book and the first Incarnations book. They were modestly popular, but you probably had trouble finding them because his writing career took a nose dive in the 90s. He's not talked about much these days. He blames this change on the whims of publishing; critics say it was due to him milking Xanth until it bled.
For myself, I found that I liked his books less and less as I grew older. I still can't say if that's due to changing taste on my part or decreasing quality on his. Still, I have a feeling that particular series will hold up better than most. Enjoy!
The first Tor book I read, probably like a lot of readers, was Ender's Game. That was also the first time I knew that Tor was a thing.
I read Ender's Game right after I became a fantasy and science fiction reader. It was right in that early day, before The Eye of the World was even out. And now we finally have the movie. This has been going on forever, right?
I remember back in the 90s, when I hadn't been published yet, writing books but still super fan boy, that one of my friends had an Ender's Game movie script. I don’t even know if it was the real script, but it passed around from hand to hand. We were all like, "We've read the script for the Ender's Game movie!" Now it’s fifteen years later, and it must have been just wildly different.
That's the first time I knew that Tor was a thing. I was like, "Hey, who's this publisher?" You have the best logo in publishing. I don't know if you feel that, but the little mountain...
That was all about visibility. I started out as a salesman, and we used to check stock. I wanted something you could see from a distance. If you have ten letters, they have to be small to fit on the spine of a paperback. If you have three letters with a handsome image, it fits in and you can do it big enough so it's visible. That was the idea behind Tor: mountain peak, small, nice looking, and just three letters.
That mountain peak, as a fantasy reader, actually meant "fantasy" to me. I'd see a lot of the logos, like—well, I'm fine with Bantam, but it's a chicken, right? Isn't that Bantam? I didn't see chicken and think, "Oooh, fantasy novel." With the Tor mountain peak, we've got the Dragonmount, we've got the Mines of Moria with the mounds... It's just so evocative of the genre. I'd see it and think, "Oh, fantasy novel." So that was very smart.
It was kind of lucky, because I didn't mean it especially for fantasy. I wanted it to be something handsome and visible and symbolic of the kind of things that we wanted to do. In the beginning we were planning to do history: past, present, and future. You know, starting with the prehistoric, which to me is science fiction, because it's an extrapolation from anthropology, rather than from physics going forward into the future. The far past leads you toward the present, and it leads you to a time when European civilization, which was industrial and much more advanced, met Stone Age North American. The same editors who are comfortable with "human meeting alien" are comfortable with the clash of such different civilizations.
I never heard it described that way. That's pretty cool.
Then, from the other end, we did near‑future science fiction. Other people began doing it and calling it techno‑thriller.
Right. The Michael Crichton sort of thing.
Yes. Michael Crichton was the beginning, really, and it sold better as a thriller.
If you look back at it, James Bond has always been slightly science fiction‑y, near future‑y science fiction. People who would think, "Oh, science fiction, I don't do that" would pick up a James Bond novel and read it.
That's how we created [Tor sister imprint] Forge. We were doing these near-future science fiction novels that weren't getting reviewed, because the people who'd review them were the thriller reviewers.
We had a book by Paul Erdman, not really a techno-thriller, more a financial thriller. The San Francisco Chronicle had always been very good to him, but they totally ignored this book. We contacted them and said, "Look, far be it from us to suggest who to review, but we were just kind of surprised that you would skip Paul Erdman, when you've always reviewed him so well in the past." And they said, "Oh, we would never skip Paul Erdman. Let us look into that." When they came back to us, they said, "Oh, we got the book from Tor and sent it to our science fiction reviewer. He put it aside as not for him." So that's why we made Forge.
I remember those little half books of The Eye of the World. I was already a fan by then, but those became collectors' items among the fans.
We gave away over a million of them. I figured anybody who read that couldn't stop.
Wow. A million of them? Really. That's a lot.
It was. It wasn't quite half of the novel. It was a natural break that Harriet agreed on.
It was Shadar Logoth, I seem to recall. Wow. A million. That's crazy. I mean, most authors don't have a million books in print, and Robert Jordan had a million of his promo books in print. That's just crazy. You did that right around the third book, wasn't it?
Yeah. The first book sold 40,000 trade paperbacks. We launched it as a trade paperback, because not many people were doing major promotions on trade paperbacks in those days. We ended up selling 40,000 of the trade.
Which is really good.
Which was very good, yeah. I had the hardest time with the sales force when, on the third book, I wanted to make the major promotion in hardcover. They said, "Well, you've got such a winner. Why would you want to change?"
See, as a reader, when I picked up The Eye of the World, I picked it up in mass market paperback. My bookstore first got it in mass market. I was just a new reader, and all the books that I had read up to that point had been series in progress that people handed to me, like David Eddings. Fantastic stuff, particularly for a teen boy. And Tad Williams, and Terry Brooks. I found the Dragonriders on my own and loved those, but it was already done. I was on the lookout for something to discover then. I didn't want to always just be handed something that everyone else loves. "Where's my series?"
When I saw The Eye of the World, I was on the lookout for big, thick books, because you got more bang for your buck. As a kid who didn't have a lot of pocket change, that was an important thing. So I bought The Eye of the World, and I read it, and I said, "There's something really special here. I think this is going to be mine."
Then my bookstore got the second one in trade paperback, and I said, "A‑ha! I've spotted it!" Because as a kid, that told me that this book was popular enough that my little bookstore was willing to order in the trade paperback. Then, when the third one came out in hardcover, I thought "He's made it, and I called it." I was like the Wheel of Time hipster, right? "From the get‑go, this is my series and I found it, and all you other people didn't see it in the beginning." Even still, I'll go on signings and ask, "Who picked it up in 1990?" and we'll get a cheer for those of us who waited 23 years for the series to end.
I remember coming to see you the very first time, when Elantris was just barely out. I've always been impressed, because I was a nobody and you had read my book. There can't be many other publishers of major companies who read as many of the books as you do. Why do you do that?
Well, if I've got an editor working for me, it's because I believe that that editor really has something to contribute. Moshe [Feder] was so enthusiastic about Elantris that I couldn't not read it. And when I read it, I loved it.
I think it's pretty clear we really loved what you were doing. I may be a little prejudiced as his publisher, but I think Robert Jordan really created one of the great epic fantasies of all time—a magnificent series, and you just finished it magnificently. We never could have turned it over to anybody that we didn't have tremendous confidence in, Brandon. We loved what you were doing. It said to us, "Yes, he can do this."
If you weren't the type of publisher who read all the books, you couldn't have fingered someone like you did with me. You couldn't have said, "Give him to Harriet." I remember she said she asked you to send her some of my books. And you said, "Well, I'll send you Mistborn instead of Elantris. I've read them both and Mistborn is a better novel."
Elantris is a first novel. The second novel's better. You knew to send her Mistborn, and it's that book that made her choose me. In a lot of ways, if you hadn't been on top of things, it may not have happened the way it did.
Well, Mistborn's really great. We thought of it as a trilogy, but then you wrote more.
Yeah, I'm in the Robert Jordan tradition, right?
You are. But, anyway, it's smaller scale than The Way of Kings. The Stormlight Archive is such a natural progression for you, I think. You've told me you picked up foreshadowing from Jordan.
Yep. One of the main things I learned from him.
If I recall, you said that you'd actually written the first draft of The Way of Kings in 2003, and that you had ideas for it way back to high school, and that when you and Moshe were talking about what to do after Elantris, you weren't completely happy with it.
It wasn't good enough yet. I had all these dreams, these aspirations of doing something big and momentous like the Wheel of Time, but I couldn't do it yet. I tried, and I couldn't. The problem was juggling the viewpoints, and the foreshadowing.
What I learned, when I was rereading the Wheel of Time to work on the series, was that Robert Jordan kept everything really quite focused for the early books of the series. He expanded it slowly. He didn't hit you in the face with twenty viewpoints.
We had something like a seventy viewpoint chapter in the last book. That's something you have to earn, across years of writing. You have to get the reader invested in the main characters. Without that investment in the main characters, I wouldn't have cared enough to pay attention to the side characters.
It was a matter of scale and scope and building upon itself, rather than just trying to start off with this massive book that gets everyone lost. That's one of the big things I did wrong in the original write. I had six main characters with full arcs and full viewpoints. It was too much. You couldn't really attach to any of them. In the revision I cut that down to three, which really focused the book. It let me give the passion and focus on these three characters, so that you felt it when you read the book.
Working on those Robert Jordan books did that for me. Writing The Gathering Storm in specific was like going to the gym and having to lift some really heavy weights you aren't used to. Either you get used to it or they crush you. I had to get used to it very quickly. That taught me a lot. I grew more that year than I had at any point in my writing career, except maybe the very first year I was writing.
When I look at the Stormlight Archive, you also like to jump around like George R. R. Martin. These are the two great epic novelists of our day, Martin and Jordan.
That's really one of George's big strengths: jumping to keep the pacing up. But even he didn't start with a lot of characters at the beginning of the first book. I've actually tried to learn from Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin and say, "Okay, what are the things they had to deal with? There are growing pains when you're creating a series this long. There are certain things that are difficult to do. What looks like it was difficult to do for them, and what can I learn from them?"
I often say that I had a big advantage over Robert Jordan: I've been able to read Robert Jordan, and he couldn't, at least not in the same way. Reading Robert Jordan showed me what happens when you create a big series. Nobody did this before him, right?
There were no massive epic fantasy series of that scope at the time. You have things that are episodic, like [Roger Zelazny's] Chronicles of Amber, which is fantastic, but it's thin little episodes. You have nice trilogies like Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. But you don’t have anything with the scope of the Wheel of Time.
I was able to watch and benefit from what Jordan did. After the fact, he said "You know, I don't think I would have done book ten the same way if I had it to do over again. I learned this and I learned that." Being able to pay attention to those things allows me to hopefully use that.
When I went into The Way of Kings, I saw what George R. R. Martin does, jumping to these other places and giving you a scope of the world. It makes it feel epic. But if you spend too much time on jumping to those places, you get distracted and can't focus.
So I did this thing where I would end a section of The Way of Kings and do what I call interludes, where we jump around the world. If this is the sort of thing that doesn't interest you, you can skip those interludes and go on to the next part, where we get back to the main characters. But there are these little stories in between each part, showing the scope: "Here's what's going on around the world, now we focus." You get distracted for a little bit, after a natural end point, then we come back to the main story.
That restrains me. It makes me say, "Okay, I can only put this many of these chapters in." It makes me keep my eyes on the main characters more. One of my main goals with writing this series is being able to juggle that. It's hard.
I think you’ve done a particularly great job of still having that broad, epic feel with fewer characters. You only have the three principals: Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar. Jordan had six, maybe eight depending on how you count them.
Steelheart is a young adult book. That shouldn't dismay adult readers though, as many of the bestselling stories in the last decade are from that genre. What is it about young adult that appeals to so many people? And do you think you achieve that with Steelheart?
I'm not sure if I can answer what it is about YA that appeals to so many people, but I can try to explain why the genre appeals to me. Part of it is the grand tradition of YA in science fiction and fantasy. Soon after I became addicted to sci-fi and fantasy, I was reading things like the Belgariad and The Sword of Shannara, which both have a very young adult feel to them. There's also something about the teenage years that involves discovering yourself. I was a teen when I found myself, when I discovered fantasy novels and writing. Those were the years when I transitioned from being the child I'd been to become the adult I am now. We all go through that, and there's something special about it that draws us back time and time again to that threshold. It's almost like the thresholds characters pass through in Cambellian myth, and the threshold between childhood and adulthood is a big one. Telling stories about that age, that transition, is exciting and fascinating. It helps me understand myself, so that's why I find myself doing it. I certainly hope I achieved that with Steelheart! But it's up to the readers to decide whether I've been able to. I think the book is fantastic, but who doesn't publish a book thinking it's fantastic?
How does your website fit into your work as a writer?
I want to do the things for my readers that I wish I had had as a reader, and the Internet gives us this wonderful opportunity to do them. We really couldn't connect with readers in the same way before. The other thing is that fantasy is a small-selling genre compared to some others. That may surprise people because it's so popular, but it's only popular among readers. It's not as popular among non-readers. Most people who buy books are buying either romance novels (most often because they buy only those kinds of books or they're grabbing something as they move through the airport) or they are buying a non-fiction book because it was suggested to them, and it tends to be the only book they buy that year. Because of all this, we fantasy authors depend on loyal readers who buy all of our books. We may have a smaller fan base, but our fans are much more dedicated, much more loyal. If fantasy readers really like an author, they will search out books by that author and read everything that they've produced. They will support you. They'll even buy the books in hardcover if they really like them. Because of things like this, I think it's appropriate to do a lot of outreach to readers—to give them a lot for their money. I mean, if someone buys one of my books in hardcover, that's almost thirty bucks they're spending, and I feel like I should do whatever I can to make that book the best experience for them possible.
My number one goal is always to write a really fantastic book. But I can give some added value by saying, "Here are chapter-by-chapter annotations," which are kind of like a director's commentary on a DVD; or if you're an aspiring writer yourself, "Here are some drafts so you can see how this book progressed and how I came up with the plot." All of these are things that I want to do to reward the people who are willing support me and actually go out and find my books. In a lot of ways, I think about it like this: in the past, for an artist to survive, they would have to have a wealthy patron. The patron would financially provide their living so that the artist could create this great art. We do a lot of the same things now, except the patron is the buying public. All the people that read my books are my patrons. It's because of them that I get to do what I love for a living. I feel indebted to them, and I want to make sure I give them everything to enhance their reading experience.
What are your opinions on the new, grittier R-rated wave of fantasy that has become very popular, probably spearheaded by GRRM, but with some very talented authors like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch following down that path?
I am always pleased to see the genre grow to include new and different things. Growing up, I often felt that epic fantasy in particular had the potential to be a genre with far more variety than it displayed.
Each of those you mention above are great writers. I admire much about them, such as GRRM's ability to characterize so powerfully in such a short time or Scott's amazing use of language and wit.
That said, I personally prefer fiction of a less graphic nature. I stopped reading Game of Thrones after the first book, not because I wasn't engaged, but because I felt cruddy after reading it. I agree that epic fantasy often had a problem being guys in white hats fighting guys in black, and shades of gray make for stronger stories. I like to think that can be done without extreme graphic content.
Then again, I'm kind of a boy scout, so take that as you will. In the end, I am glad the genre has room for both types of writers.
Are YA authors considered "inferior"?
I am very interested to know what the sub thinks about YA fantasy fiction. I have often wondered why (other than the obvious financial benefits) a talented author would choose to write in a style that is more easily digestible if they are capable of writing at a higher level. I imagine this may be a sensitive topic and don't mean to offend, but I always assumed that an author would write at as high a level as they possibly could. Upon reading some YA fiction (and quickly deciding that I hate it), it seems to me that the level of writing is very low. How can these authors be proud of these works? In my opinion, at least, selling a million copies of a book is not synonymous with good quality writing. Am I alone?
Well, this (including the discussion of my writing) was not what I was expecting to find when I opened this thread.
I must admit, one of the things I find most frustrating about discussions of literature in our culture is the need we all seem to have to polarize and demean. When it comes to artistic taste, it seems we can't simply enjoy something—we have to declare that what we enjoy is superior to the alternatives. That the piece we dislike is unchallenging and immature.
Enjoyment of art is about personal taste. This is as true for novels as it is for a painting on the wall. And yet, we seem unable to accept this, and assume that those who like the writing we do not must somehow be inferior.
I find this disappointing in the face of the constant attempts by the sf/f community to rebuff the literary elite who would dismiss, demean, and ignore our genres. We shout until we're blue in the face about the virtues of fantasy. (There several posts the front page right now, arguing about the power of a sense of wonder.) And yet, we're just as quick to do it to ourselves, deciding the thing that does not suit our particular taste must be worthless, written poorly, and created by those of inferior skill who are looking to cash in on a fad.
There is a difference between poor writing and writing that does not suit our personal tastes. I don't mean to say that we shouldn't criticize authors or try to hash out for ourselves what makes great writing great. I just wish that we, collectively as a genre, would spend less time talking about why the writers we don't like are crap.
OP, by the way, most of this isn't directed at you—but instead represents my frustration at how often topics like this become so argumentative. To you, I'd ask: Is a Pixar film less valuable because of its sometimes more straightforward themes and lack of brutal depictions? Perhaps ask what the creators of such films can accomplish through their medium that another story cannot and you will find why writing pieces for younger readers is sometimes so fulfilling for writers.
What are some books, or who are some authors, that you enjoy reading?
Terry Pratchett is brilliant, and I buy everything that he writes. If you haven't read him, you really need to do yourself a favor and pick him up. I also have to mention Guy Gavriel Kay. He's one of the great writers of the genre, and he's amazing. His writing is beautiful, interesting, fun, and exciting, but also lyrical.
How are you seeing the internet impact the industry?
One thing it's really changed is allowing authors to have a lot more direct interaction with fans, which is wonderful because we are directly supported by readers. Even though there are editors and people, there are very few middlemen even in fantasy, even in writing. To the point that, when you interact with me, what I mean is you're interacting with the content creator directly, which is fun. It's awesome. It allows me to actually get feedback from fans, to talk to fans, to thank the people who are supporting me. And like I said, there's very few layers between, but in the old days there was that buffer. You know, people used to send letters to the publisher, and then the publisher would send to the author, right? And granted, the publisher's not opening them and stuff. It's not like there's a big buffer there, but it's taking time, and there's just that step. And that step has vanished, which I like.
It is changing publishing. It's democratizing publishing. I really think this is a good thing for particularly our genre, where you will have a lot of things in sci-fi/fantasy that are not even the mainstream of sci-fi and fantasy. And sci-fi/fantasy alone is already not the mainstream. So when you go a couple niches down, you can find these things that a certain core audience would love, but it's very hard to market nationally. And this helps a lot more variety come into the genre. And that whole connecting directly with fans helps with people building a brand and breaking in, even if they aren't going traditional. The whole self-publishing has been a great boon, I think, specifically to science fiction and fantasy, in helping to add variety.
Ebooks mean that when I write 400,000 word novels, I don't have to apologize quite so much. Because people can buy it in ebook, and I say it weighs the same amount. So there is that. Otherwise, there are so many things changing.
Brian McClellan (the Powder Mage trilogy) was a student of yours. Why is it that you recommend his writing so frequently?
You know, when I read his very first story—he wrote this cool thing, I hope he posted it online somewhere—it was a novella he wrote for my class the first year. You get so many authors through the class that sometimes you start forgetting them–most of the time, honestly, I get so many. But once in a while, a person comes along and their writing is just amazing. And at that point, I shift from the mode of "I'm going to help you become a better writer" to the mode of "you're already doing all the stuff I'm talking about, you just need to know the business side now." And Brian was one of those. I can't take any credit for his writing because it was already awesome.
And he wrote this wonderful story about these paragons in the world. It was our world plus, where people get chosen as paragons as like a religion . . . it was so cool. There's like an ancient Greek paragon next to a Christian paragon that's based on kind of . . . anyway, it's great. You ought to have him post on it. It was the best thing I had had come through the class in a long while. It's a mixture of a lot of things. Mostly, I talk about the grand scale of being a fantasy writer is being able to, in the first few pages, get across a sense of character and world without dumping paragraphs of thick text on us. And that is the best—if someone can learn to do that, if you can pick it up and read it, and read a few pages and feel like you're in the world and character, but you haven't been dumped on—that's what Brian was doing. Also, the premise was awesome, the premise was great. But you know, it's that character voice. And it's weird because in fantasy, right, it's our magic systems and our worldbuilding that distinguishes us. But a great magic system and terrible writing is a bad book. And a weak magic system with great writing is a great book. And so even though this is what it's about, the skill that a writer really needs to learn is not the magic systems or not the worldbuilding—that's great. The skill is telling a powerful character in a different world from ourselves without making you feel like you're reading a history textbook. And Brian did that.
So, there you go . . . so you guys should read the book. I just finished it—I read it late. This is what a bad teacher I am, right? He gets published, I read the book a year later. It came out in April and I finished it in June, but he gave it to me . . . It's really just good, it's fun, it's great. So, I should have read that earlier. But Brent Weeks was on the ball, and he got a cover blurb. So yeah, Brent took care of us.
TIL Christopher Nolan has never had a movie rated as "rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes and his lowest rated movie is The Prestige at 75%
To be fair, The Prestige has a lot of WTFery towards the end.
That's why it was so great.
I think the WTFery in question is them suddenly "changing the rules" too late in the game. When telling a good story, you need to set the rules up early on. If you set new rules to late, it feels like a deus ex machina.
It's established early on that the world of The Prestige is like our world, science based. All magic tricks in the movie are based on logic and sound rational devices. Then 3/4 into the movie they use ACTUAL MAGIC masquerading as science.
No, they never used magic once. It was always science. Science fiction, yeah, but the movie was never set up to not be science fiction.
Interestingly, both sides on this have some pretty solid arguments if we go to the source material.
The novel the film is based on (and follows quite closely, in most regards) won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. It was packaged, marketed, and submitted to awards as a fantasy novel, implying magic.
The author, however, says he never considered it fantasy. To him, it was indeed science fiction, and seems a little bemused that it won the WFA.
Either way, I suggest the book to anyone who enjoyed the movie. It's an excellent read.
Did you know that the author lover the movie—he even loved all the changes stating he wished he had thought of them!
I found that really refreshing!
The most refreshing part is that the Nolans actually care about story. Collaboration like this—someone writing a story, someone else improving it—should lead to awesome films being made from awesome books. I've always thought that the film should be BETTER than the book, for that reason.
Unfortunately, the truth of our film system (and, more accurately, the money involved in making films) means that you rarely get geniuses improving on each others ideas, and instead usually get story by committee.
Anyway, it always does my heart good to hear of an author liking—instead of hating—an adaptation of his/her work. Thanks for sharing that.
This isn't a bad look at the issue, though I think one major point is missed: What type of story are you trying to tell?
Worldbuilding any element of a fantasy novel can overwhelm and distract. Yes, there are people who spend too long on their magic systems—just as there are people who spend too long on their linguistics, their geography, or their religions. "Too long" is hard to define, however.
It depends on the type of story you want to tell, the world elements that are important to the story and characters, and your preferences. I'd contend that LotR had a well-defined magic system for Tolkien, but he didn't include viewpoint characters who used the magic. Therefore, he didn't let the magic system steal the show. However, try to do a superhero story without a well defined magic system. It doesn't usually fit to treat it the same way.
Harry Potter also has a very strict magic system for a given book. The books do not have strong cohesion of magical principles—characters often 'forget' they have powers, or the like. However, what we're given in a book generally remains consistent through the book, and is important to climactic moments within that book. It's not the most strict of magic systems, but I feel it is more to it than the author is giving credit.
That said, this essay accurately defines some of the problems with focusing too much on your magic, particularly to the detriment of actual writing time.
What new book release are you most looking forward to in 2011?
The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
Currently reading both his books and Malazan depending on what I feel like reading.
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I've waited a long time for it. Hopefully it's as good as the first one.
I'm in the middle of it. So far, it's just as good.
Hah, is this Sanderson on reddit? If so, awesome.
It's me. Confirmed by my twitter account, which is verified.
That's just mean. and nice at the same time. Were you born with a heart full of neutrality?
Ha. Well, if it helps, I wasn't going to say anything, because I don't want to come off as bragging. But he/she did say they hoped it was as good as the first. Pat sent me a copy early, and as thanks, I think it's partially my duty to let people know how awesome it is. This trilogy is going to be one of the greats of our era.
I am aware that what follows is a flaw in my personality, but hey.
I only recently listened to an Orson Scott Card work (Xenocide). I enjoyed it well enough, but it wasn't until checking the author out on Wikipedia that I became aware of his religion. All of a sudden the book took on a whole new bent for me, and not in a positive way. My mind moved the religious undertones in the story from "slight dig at humanity" to "author is telling me the future isn't much different."
I know I'm wrong to shroud a work of fiction with the author's personal life, but it's where my mind went. And I've yet to pick up another Card novel even though I had intended to run right for Ender's Game.
And now Brandon Sanderson, when I'm halfway into Towers of Midnight? Crickey. I hope I can rise above my pettiness.
I wouldn't say "flaw" really. It IS interesting to me, however, that people have this reaction. It's not uncommon.
A reader can read the Wheel of Time, full of references to all kinds of religions and mythologies, knowing that Robert Jordan was a devout Christian and never think twice about it. They can read of books written by Jewish authors, see factors of Jewish culture and religion in them, and not assume the book is trying to convert them. They just see the Jewish references as an expression of the author's self.
Many read a book by a Mormon, however, and suddenly start reading all kinds of things into it. Perhaps it's the deviant nature (speaking in terms of relating it mainstream religious experiences in most western cultures) of the LDS faith. It's viewed with suspicion because of its outsider nature. Almost with a "they'll try to steal our children" sort of mentality. Or maybe it's the more aggressive nature of the religion when it comes to converts (men in white shirts knocking on the doors) that makes art by these authors be regarded in such a way.
It's quite natural, and I think more an expression of the culture at large than any personal flaw inside you yourself.
If it helps, I can promise that when I write fiction, I'm not trying to "say" anything. I'm trying to tell good stories. Now, if themes start to develop, I'll nurture them—but only in as much as they have direct relationship to the characters and their goals, motives, and directions. And while the characters may find what they believe are answers, I believe it's important for the text itself to NOT seek to give answers to questions like this, but to instead engage in an exploration of themes from multiple strong viewpoints.
tl;dr: Yes, I'm a Mormon, but I'm also a pretty normal dude who just wants to tell good stories. I'm not trying to slip anything into your water, I promise.
To be honest—flaw, failing, or interesting trait—my mind would have made a substitution regardless of the religion (or subset thereof) in question. Different substitutions would have been made—or not—but I can't speak to their nuances. This one is already in the books, so to speak.
You wouldn't call that a flaw, but I do. Shouldn't a work stand on its merit to the reader? Did I enjoy reading it? Yes? Great. I can't help feeling that applying prejudices against an author (of FICTION especially!) to the work is wrong. That's exactly what I did, however. I'm not proud of it. I wonder how often it happens—in both directions.
I don't feel that people are trying to shove things down my throat—in most fiction—but the prejudices of a non-fiction life sometimes get in the way of a great escape. And as with many aspects of society, all are likely wrong.
I hear you. It's actually not just religion. Since I've become part of the community, I've found out the personalities of some authors. It shouldn't change how I view their books, and yet...it does.
Having been on my side of it, I've sometimes raged. Then I've stopped to think "Well, how would you react if you found you were reading a book by a scientologist." Makes me freeze and think about things a little further.
Perhaps there's something to be said for learning nothing about the author of a work until after you've read it in its entirety.
Well considering Science Fiction and Fantasy are the foundations of their entire belief system they probably have a good jumping off point when it comes to fiction.
Ahem. This line comes up pretty much every time that this topic is mentioned. And trust me, it gets mentioned A LOT. Like, every time people find out I'm Mormon and I write fantasy novels, they throw this question at me. I kind of wonder if we're blowing a slight statistical deviation completely out of proportion, and the idea has taken on a life of its own.
However, armchair philosophy is fun. What's an English degree for, if not to make wild conjectures? So, I've got my own theories. You can't get asked this question as many times as I have without devising them.
As MeatSledge points out (in jest, but there's truth to it) basically any religious belief system will be treated like fantasy to an outsider. Particularly an atheist.
However, LDS theology takes a more 'pro-sf' view than some other religions. It is an active and mainstream belief in the religion that there are plenty of inhabited worlds out there. The belief that God is a transcendent (or simply very powerful) man is also a concept that science fiction has played with a lot. (The Swords books by Fred Saberhagen come to mind.) Things like Q and the like from Star Trek deal with this concept: At what point does a hyper-evolved being cross the line into becoming a god when viewed by common men?
My own theories about the LDS penchant for Fantasy/SF has more mundane roots. It has to do with the church's enormous focus on education and reading, and with the idea of 80's nerd and role playing culture being a "safe" counter-culture for imaginative LDS kids who also want to rebel against their parents somewhat.
In short: Yes, MeatSledge, I realize your comment was meant to be an insult. But there's some truth to it anyway. But I think articles like this are generally overblowing something small.
To be honest it was an insult wrapped in my actual thoughts. Not entirely teeth, but not all gum.
The first time I thought about this was way back in high school when my English teacher was Mormon had shelves of Fantasy magazine and every reading project was fantasy related.
It's certainly worth thinking about—things like this bear examination, as we get some real glimpses into what makes us tick.
Though, it occurs to me that those of us who believe the LDS faith could react a little less strongly to insinuations that our belief system is science fiction. I, for one, believe strongly in the power of science—and also accept God as real. The only way I see to reconcile that is to accept that God fits into science, and that what he does is grounded in science, even if we don't know all of the science yet.
So, while I don't think God is fiction, the relationship between my faith and sf shouldn't be insulting.
I think this quote in the article says it all: "Several people have speculated about why Mormons seem to be unusually represented in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Mormon scholar Terryl Givens points to Mormon theology as a possible source for the 'affinity' Mormons have with science fiction in particular and speculative fiction (defined as 'imaginative' or 'non-literary' fiction) in general."
It's not just the Mormons who base their belief system off of fantasy. The Bible is the world's shittiest fantasy novel, and the Quran isn't much better. Need I mention the Scientologists?
You're mistaking (probably intentionally) mythology for fantasy. But it does a disservice to conversations about the genre to do so.
In studying the genre, we have to make the distinction between books written for/by people who are presenting their stories as fact, and those who are intentionally creating a work of fiction. It's the only useful way to discuss, and understand, the fantasy genre.
You can call the Bible lies, if you wish, but not fantasy—as those who wrote it were writing stories they believed were true, and were writing them for people they hoped would believe they were true. To call it lies is also probably using the wrong word, even if you believe the book to be untrue, because the authors very likely believed the stories they wrote. To them, it was history. To you, then, it's not lies or fantasy—it's mythology and inaccurate history.
Mr. Sanderson, I might be doing a disservice to conversations about fantasy by denigrating the Bible as a fantasy novel written by committee that makes The Sword of Shannara look like Nobel prize-winning literature, but I do so not out of disrespect for fantasy or its study, but to mock religion. I'm not a sufficiently militant atheist to want to hijack the machinery of government and trample the First Amendment. I'm happy to call the Bible lies, but fundamentalists are used to being called liars. They're not used to being compared to Scientologists.
In the meantime, I'm surprised to see you on Reddit. I had just read Warbreaker, and am thinking of getting electronic editions of your Mistborn novels next time I get paid. I doubt I'll bother with your efforts to finish The Wheel of Time, but it's not your fault that a few pages of Nynaeve yanking her braid and bitching about men makes me yearn for the days when fantasy casts were sausagefests.
I do think it's a disservice to speak of the Bible as fiction, and not just to fantasy—but to religion as well. (Though, admittedly, I speak as a religious person, so my bias is manifest.) It's not really a straw man, but it is an intentional misrepresentation. It makes it difficult to discuss the thing as it really is.
The Bible isn't fiction, it's nonfiction. Same as an earnest treatise on alchemy written by a practitioner during the 1400s. Now, in your opinion, it's highly flawed nonfiction, without grounding in fact. But calling it fiction is to imply that the authors of the book were intentionally writing stories they knew were not true, and perhaps even were presenting them as not true, which is blatantly false.
And now...I've probably gone way too far in talking about something which wasn't intended to be taken quite as literally as I have. Sorry, I just end up thinking about things like this too much. Occupational hazard, I guess. For what it's worth, I understand that your stated purpose was mockery, which means I should probably just lighten up and stop blabbing.
Either way, thanks for reading.
Overlooked classics—recommend your favorites; no Jordan, Martin, Erikson, Tolkien, Sanderson, Rothfuss, etc.
Share the title, author and a short synopsis of some of your favorite overlooked fantasy books or series—as the title states, please refrain from adding comments recommending well known series.
Melanie Rawn Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies, if you haven't read them. Good character developments and good stories. These books led to a lot of escapist fantasies when I was a teenager and stupid younger adult and couldn't seem to get my life together for real.
These books changed the way I view fantasy and magic in novels. To this day, I think they are one of the greatest, under-rated fantasy series around.
Could someone write me...
a fucking depressing sci-fi-esque story?
EDIT: NOT a three sentence story. I've been bored and wanting to read something like this. Go ahead and write a decent length story. Not a novel or anything. Something that would take a few minutes... Er, please?
Some classics, in case you haven't read them:
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
The Ones who walk away from Omelas by UKLG
I'm thirsting for fantasy...
But I want something fresh and exciting. I am tired of reading the same homage to Tolkien in every book I look in. I'm tired of seeing the typical party of the brave warrior type, the silly rogue type, the smart magic user and so on. I'm tired of black cloaked villains that all have the same goal. I want to be plunged into a world of magic that I have never seen before.
I also don't want Urban or modern fantasy right now. I still do want something old about the story. I want there to be some dragons or maybe a nymph or two. I would love some Greek or Celtic or any type of mythological influence. But I still want it to be fresh. I want a book or series that decided to do something new with old formula. Can anyone suggest anything that might fit my needs?
Well, The Wheel of Time has strong connections to Norse Mythology.
Brandon Sanderson. Anything by him, really. I'd recommend Warbreaker for what you're looking for. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is also incredible. Both of these authors have amazing magic systems, and Sanderson's are different with every book.
Now, if you're looking for something completely anti-Tolkien read The Black Company by Glen Cook. Essentially there are no heroes, it's told from a human perspective. The characters feel real, no higher moral obligation (for the most part) to help others. Really strong Indian mythological influence in these books.
All my friends have been telling me to read Wheel of Time. I have the first novel from one of them but the writing is a bit too flowery for me. My friends tell me to stick with it so I will try.
I really do have to check out this Sanderson fellow, you're the second to suggest him. I have Rothfuss's book already and I'm simply waiting for the release of the second book to start the first. I'm terribly impatient when it comes for waiting for book so I only read series when at least two in the series are out.
I've never read anything with Indian mythological influence so The Black Company might be really refreshing for me. I'll have to add that to my to-read list as well.
Reply from that Sanderson guy here. Drop me a PM with your email, if you want, and I'll send you a PDF of the first Mistborn book.
However, looking at what you said above, I'm thinking you might want to try Jim Butcher's Codex Alera books. (Furies of the Calderon is the first.) It's fast-paced epic fantasy with a Roman feel. Also, look up Tigana by Guy Kay. It's my go-to suggestion for people who are looking for fantasy with a little more depth to it.
Sometimes it's lonely feeling like the only person who has absolutely no interest in fantasy and sci fi here. Enjoy your books.
You're not alone! Holla for literary fiction.
Sorry wasn't dissing. Just lamenting. Seriously enjoy them. Read what you love. It's a cool collection it just makes me sad when I see that many books in one place and then realise I probably wouldn't want to read any of them.
Its cool, I knew you weren't, and didn't mean for my statement to invoke sarcasm. I'm trying to get through The Way of Kings currently. Not sure why I'm reading my second biggest book so early, but ah well. Its decent.
Second longest? I demand to know which author wrote one longer. It's that Williams guy, isn't it. I need to have him eliminated.
(Joking. Otherland is awesome.)
Oh my. You need to tell me the correct pronunciation of Szeth, sir. And aye, the last book in the Otherland has around 150 extra pages.
P.S. Read up all the "lore" I could find on Adonalsium this morning. Psyched.
Closest to "Zeth" but really a split between "Seth" and "Zeth." Basically, how it is written with a very soft s at the front.
Out of curiosity, how many pages would tWoK come out to in mass mark paper back form?
It's hard to say, since publishers play with these things all the time. Notice Wise Man's Fear, which is shorter than The Way of Kings by a bit, but ended up 100 pages longer in hardcover as DAW decided to go with a larger font. I won't be surprised if Otherland ends up longer in the end, though. Tad likes his long books.
William's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series heralded the true beginning of my fantasy reading career. I was in Eighth grade, and I remember watching my bother read it, wondering with amazement at how he had the resolve to finish not just one large book, but four. I endeavored to be like him, so I started the first book shortly after he had finished it. I remember the first 200 pages were gruelingly slow, taking me nearly a month alone. Before this the largest books I've read were Harry Potter, so the transition from the fast-paced young adult lit. to adult lit. was devastating on my young mind. Only after I had gotten those 200 pages read, I started to get the feel of the story and where it was taking me. I began to feel comfortable with the length, and the next month I pushed out the last 3000 some pages. After finally finishing it I was devastated to leave the characters I was just beginning to know behind, but thus was my love for lengthy fantasy stories born.
I have not yet had to opportunity to read The Way of Kings, but if it in any way resembles what you achieved in Mistborn or Warbreaker, I feel I will enjoy it immensely. Keep doing what you do, love the work you've put out so far.
I have very fond memories of M, S, and T myself. I can actually place where I first saw the Dragonbone Chair on the shelf—funny, how I can do that with so many books that became important to me—at a bookstore. The paperback had that striking Whelan cover, with the open window on the front looking into colored end pages.
Unlike you young whippersnappers today, I had to wait out that trilogy. (Still have the third in hardcover.) Wonderful storytelling. It was one of the great building blocks in Epic Fantasy's earlier years. Before Martin, before Jordan, we had Williams. (And we still do, of course. I've enjoyed his newer writing too, but this trilogy is what I regard most fondly.)
Need a book recommendation
Ok, so I have hit a wall in regards to finding a new series to read, I've read quite a few and am looking for some recommendations.
Series I've read:
Wheel of Time
Name of the Wind + Wise Man's Fear
Night Angel Trilogy + Black Prism
Warded Man+Desert Spear
The Shannara Series
Sword of Truth Series
The Earthsea Cycle
Mistborn + The Way of Kings
The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone
Looking for recommendations along the lines of these series, Thanks.
Hmmm... Looks like you prefer epic fantasy, multi-volumes. Everything on there is 'high magic' except for ASOIF.
If you want me to pin down specific suggestions, I'll need to know what you like/don't. In general terms. Do you prefer the 'high magic' sorts of books, or did you find GRRM fresh and want something more like it? Did you prefer the more light-hearted, old-school fantasy like Eddings and Shannara? Did you prefer WoT's slow and careful pacing or Codex Alera's breakneck speeds?
Single-character dramas like Rothfuss and Farseer, or ensemble casts like Way of Kings? Quest narratives or political intrigue? Humor or romance?
Anyway, not knowing any of that, the closest I can come are the following:
Old School: Melanie Rawn, Sunrunner books.
Barbara Hambly, Darwarth series.
More like Wot:
Recluse books, Lee Modesitt
More like GRRM: Joe Abercrombie (as has been mentioned.)
New school: Steven Erickson's Malazan books. (Warning, he throws you right in, and it can take a little time to get your feet underneath you.)
Something different: Daniel Abraham (nice political intrigue fantasy series of four books.)
That is a tricky question.
Yes I prefer high magic as opposed to books like ASOIF.
No real preference between single character or ensemble casts as long as it is well written.
As far as style of fantasy I enjoyed Eddings and Brooks but I wouldn't put them on a top 5 of things Ive read, I prefer the books I read to have a society that I can come to understand, and in the cases of many of these series that is a magic based society. So on a scale of 1-10, 1 being "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" magic and 10 being Sanderson style magic where it is very logical within its own rules, I would put myself at a 9.
The pacing doesn't really matter that much to me, the only series I can think of that bothered me with its pacing was Codex Alera, I had to put down the book several times for me to digest what had just happened because I knew I would be hit with something else 10 pages later.
More Writing Excuses please, they are fun to listen to even if I don't write. Its nice to see what goes on behind the scene.
Okay, some stronger suggestions then.
1) Malazan. Lots of good magic floating around, and a challenging series with epic scope. HOWEVER the warning I gave you before holds. The first book throws you into the middle of a battle where people are dying, then flashes back to those same characters and gets you to the battle.
He doesn't really explain who they are or what's going on in the battle itself. The second book takes place (as I remember) on a different continent than the first, and features mostly different characters. That sort of thing can make the series difficult to get into. But the writing is rich and vibrant, and the scope fascinating.
2) Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books. I mention them because it's less likely that you'd have read them, as they're about 20 years old now. They are wonderful epic fantasy novels that should still be available as they were quite popular in their day. They're a bit more on the romantic side—meaning relationships become more important than battles, for the most part. However, the series has real depth and and a magic system that is purely awesome.
I'll see if I can dredge up something else from the back of my mind. I do think the Abraham books might appeal to you, but remember, they are somewhat sparse when it comes to action.
I'm wondering if you have an opinion/critique on the 'The Deed of Paksenarrion' series that I'm shamelessly pimping every time it seems like it would fit the reader?
I'm quite fond of it. I usually forget to mention it in conversations like these as my mind has it as military fantasy, along the lines of David Gemmell, and I sometimes forget that at its heart it's also a really great epic coming of age story.
So I finally read Ender's Game. Not really sure what the big deal is.
I found the book okay and easy to read, but not very interesting. There really wasn't much science in the fiction and I thought the whole thing was kind of silly and filled with juvenile revenge fantasies. I tried to start the Speaker of the Dead but stopped pretty quickly after reading that in 3000 years there will still be people who believe in the zombie Jesus fable not to mention that Portuguese will survive pretty much intact.
Also, I discovered separately that Orson Scott Card is batshit insane and I am very glad I borrowed the book from the library instead of buying it.
tl;dr Didn't think Ender's Game was very good and don't see what the hubbub is all about.
I've got enough comment karma that I can risk some downvotes. The reason for the "hubbub" is that most people read it at a young age (say 10 to 12). From a young boy's perspective, it is a book that can be identified with on a near mystical level. It creates an "aha" moment that someone actually gets the way they feel. But for someone reading it for the first time as an adult, it is really not a big deal.
That is the conclusion I have come to now as well. I am surprised that it won the awards it did though, presumably with adults voting in favor. Though if I had read it as a 10 year old, I imagine I would have identified greatly with the book, and not noticed most/all of the odd morality, as well as the thinly veiled pedo bear fantasy scenes.
The reason I finally read it now is that I came across a greatest SF novels list and Ender's Game came in at #1. I suppose there are many adults who still remember it very fondly from when they read it as children, but it still is something that I don't get.
It is one of the few books to win both the Hugo award and the Nebula award. (The two most prestigious science fiction book awards.) Yes, those were voted by adults; many of those votes would have come from the prominent science fiction writers of the day. (The Nebula, for instance, is voted on only by professional sf/fantasy writers.)
The reason to this has nothing to do with people having read it as children and being fond of it. I'm sorry. It is easy to dismiss a book you didn't care for for reasons such as the ones you speak of above, but I fear you stray into making an error of assumption—the assumption your taste will be like the taste of others.
There is nothing wrong with not liking Ender's Game. Acclaim like this is really just a stamp saying "There's a better chance that you'll like this than something else, but no promises." There are people who dislike Hamlet. There are people—intelligent people with good educations—who dislike the books you think are the greatest. This does not make you a fool, nor does it make them a fool. A great many things play into taste.
For what it's worth, the book is generally acclaimed for a couple of reasons. First, for giving an interesting look at what society might do to children by forcing maturity upon them too early, and by turning them into warriors. Second, because of a well played twist ending. Third, because of strength of narrative pacing.
Also, with relativistic travel in play, having linguistic enclaves thousands of years in the future isn't at all unreasonable, particularly with the stabilizing force modern communication has exerted on language shifts. Beyond that, these books are social science fiction—they aren't really trying to predict the future, no more than 1984 was trying to predict the future.
They are about exploring the human condition when different (and often extreme) pressures are placed upon them. Looking at how religion would deal with space travel and alien species is a way of writing about who we are.
I was inspired by just how imaginative it was. I had never read a fantasy book before and I loved the idea of another world that was so similar and yet so different from our own.
When you read that one book, was that where your inspiration started, or were you always—
I was always telling stories, but I didn't find fantasy, and myself in fantasy, until I read that book.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Wow! What a fantastic question! The problem is I think that everyone in my position is going to say dragon. Many of us got started in fantasy by reading books about dragons, so there's a special place for cool dragons in a fantasy writer's heart. For example, Anne McCaffrey's books are part of what pulled me into fantasy in the first place, so I'd have to take the cliched route and say dragons, but I would specifically pick her dragons.
Dragon is a go-to answer, but we've certainly had others. No question, dragons are an oldie, but a goodie. McCaffrey's dragons were far more user-friendly than Tolkien's Smaug and Glaurung.
What types of worlds do you create?
I create worlds that feel like our world, but not. I like the "but not." Fantasy is about the "but not," the "what is different, what couldn't be, but what do I maybe wished could be?" or "What do I wonder about?" There are things that come from my dreams and my imaginations and then I try to make them feel real.
When you are off in another world, how do you come down from it and relate to, say, your children, your wife and your students?
Writing is hard. You spend a day at work writing and at the end of it I feel tired. But stepping out of my room and transitioning out of that is not as difficult as it was once. Because it's time to be done and I've divided my life in such a way that when I pass out of the door, I'm transitioning out of the writing mind and into the family mind.
When I was younger, when I was just first married, these transitions were hard. But it was just a matter of practice. I feel that it's important to have my family ground me in real-life experiences, otherwise, I won't actually have anything to write about.
Fantasy is the genre of the imagination and it is only as imaginative as we have real-life experiences to explore. We take what we know and we expand upon it. People often say, "Write what you know." For fantasy, that applies to taking your real life experience and asking the "what ifs" about it.
Really, I think fantasy is a genre about the now, the things that we're worried about, the things we're concerned about, the things we wish could change in our world—these could become manifest in our fantasy stories. I don't think there's a fantasy book out there that isn't in some way an allegory for the author's own life experience.
Words of Radiance has been really well received. Do you think that's at all indicative of the epic fantasy genre opening up?
Opening up? I'm not sure. Yes there is—how should I say this? I love the epic fantasy genre. I grew up reading it and I absolutely love it. I want to be part of the conversation. I think there are places the genre can go. We haven't hit what epic fantasy is really capable of doing yet, and I feel that one of my passions is to be a part of this, to bring it along. So I want to push the world building a little bit further than it's been done before.
I think we did have a period, for whatever reason, where not a lot of epic fantasies were taking off. If you look, basically, from after Robin Hobb up to the emergence of Patrick Rothfuss, you really only had Steven Erikson. Now there's Jim Butcher's books, which were great, but he was really Urban Fantasy. So, I don't know if it was just the market saying "oh, we're saturated," or the writers were just not going where the fans wanted, but there were a lot of great books that just didn't take off.
I don't know what it is, but it seems like we're back in a place where epic fantasy is something taking off. And it's probably a mixture of us as writers evolving and having this history of reading while adding our own spin on it mixed with the genre kind of saying "hey we want some more this. We haven't had it in a while."
You had that essay on Tor.com where you talked about The Way of Kings, and I'm guessing Words of Radiance too, being your most honest work. Do you think it's important for other writers not to worry so much about the business side, and write what they want to write?
I can only speak from my own experience, which may be abnormal, but I really feel that the times where I worried too much about the market were the times I wrote my worst fiction. And the times where I wrote: "this is what I want to read—this is what I'm passionate about," I wrote my best fiction. And so that's what I would advise.
That being said, I was very steeped in this genre. You can say what I wanted to read was very naturally an outgrowth of what a lot of what the fandom wanted to read because I was one of them. That's why it worked for me. And I'm sure there are a number of people who are writing to their passion, and it just doesn't end up catching on. I wrote 13 books before I got published, and at the end of the day I decided I would rather keep writing and never publish than give up writing or go do something else. And if I reached the end of my life and had 70 unpublished novels, I'd still consider myself a successful writer. That decision has driven me ever since and it's worked out for me.
In a panel on mythology from earlier today, you talked about establishing folklore that isn't necessarily crucial to the plot—maybe ancillary—but that people read into it too much for clues. Do you find that to be, maybe not annoying, but distracting?
I don't think so, if it's the right book. I feel like if it's a big, thick, epic fantasy then it's partially about the immersive experience. Those sorts of things are important to consistently indicate to you as a reader that this world is big—this is a real world, we'll be living in this world for a while. But when you're doing something else, a more tightly paced urban fantasy for instance, fewer of those things should be put in because you're trying to pack much more in while trying to keep your narrative focused.
But at the same time, I kind of feel like not every character attribute should be part of the main plot. I mean, who we are certainly influences us, but sometimes a character just likes collecting stamps. It's just who we are. And if you're treating your setting like a character, there are going to be things about your setting that are like the stamp collecting, that are just part of it. And if you do it right, these things will feel like pieces of the world and readers won't be distracted.
You often talked about the influence that Robert Jordan had on you as a writer, so how do you feel about now being the same influence that RJ was to new young writers?
This is just amazing to me. I became a writer in the first place because reading the fantasy books that I love had such a profound effect on me emotionally that I said, "I have to learn how to do this. I have to." Now being able to talk to people and realize its working and inspiring another generation—and you know, people react against or toward me in the same way I'd react against or toward the things that came before —that's cool. You're part of something—part of something big. Part of this genre I love. It makes me really excited.
The two Stormlight books together weigh almost 6 pounds and take up 5 inches on a bookshelf. That's wider than two full collections of Shakespeare and about the same width as The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.
With eight more books planned for the series, Sanderson is just getting started.
"What I love about the epic fantasy genre is the chance to do something big—lots of characters across a long time," Sanderson said recently in an interview at Weller Book Works at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. "The scope you can cover in a book like this, in a series like this, is fun for me to deal with. You can really dig into characters and show them changing over a large period of time."
A sense of wonder
There is an aspect of fantasy that motivates Sanderson to create his worlds and that he thinks can also affect people in the real world.
"I want to give people a sense of wonder," he said, "and a vision of where the fantasy genre has gone that it hasn't gone before. I feel like the genre has a lot of potential that hasn't been explored or tapped. I want to be one of those who takes a few steps toward where it can go. To be my own paving stone in the path that is leading the genre toward bigger and better things."
And fantasy is tied into the imagination, which is tied into the shaping of the real world.
"Before the Wright brothers flew, flying was fantasy. Before the civil rights movement, people getting along together and the races being equal was a fantasy," he said. "Things change because we imagine a different world, a world that is not. And I think that imagination is one of the most important and defining aspects of human existence: our ability to imagine a world that is not."
Fantasy, in his mind, is an exploration of reality and capturing a vision of possibilities. In The Stormlight Archive and its second book, Words of Radiance, he hopes to create a work of art that will stand the test of time. But, he said, he can't do it on his own. Readers are needed to complete that work of art.
"The book isn't done until you've imagined what's happening in this book," he said. "I'm only giving you half of it—maybe it is more like 75 percent—but I'm only giving you part of it, and you have to do all the rest."
In that collaboration, he hopes there is a sense of wonder.
After journeying in Sanderson's compelling world, one emerges back into the real world. By making the trip, the reader may see, perhaps for the first time, the world in all its variety and with all its amazing characters and beauty. And that may be enough to make trees tremble in anticipation for a book as large as the imagination.
"I was a boy who just didn't like books," Sanderson says at this month's JordanCon, an annual convention in Atlanta celebrating the works of fantasy author Robert Jordan. "I had tried reading Tolkien, but if you’re not a good reader, Tolkien is really hard—he's fantastic, but he's dense."
For a fantasy writer known for penning doorstopper-length novels, this admission sounds almost blasphemous. Yet Sanderson, who has authored nearly 20 novels and hit #1 on The New York Times bestseller list last month with his latest, Words of Radiance, spent his youth avoiding books (especially ones with "shiny award stickers").
It wasn't until an eighth grade teacher handed him a copy of a Barbara Hambly novel that he fell in love with fantasy.
"After discovering [Dragonsbane], I said, 'I have to learn how to do this. There's something about this that is me,'" Sanderson says.
Beginning with books that simply had "Dragon" in the title, including Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight and Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince, he began to voraciously read.
"When I think of those days—those first early books that I read—there's an emotion I feel which is solely reserved for those early books discovering the fantasy genre," he says. "It's part elation, part an awakening sense of wonder, part a coming to an understanding of something in the world that I love, but not really knowing what it is or why."
Which current fantasy author(s) would you recommend to someone who has read all of the WoT books? (Well, besides for yourself.) :) I plan to read your books%mdash;I've heard great feedback from friends; but other than that, I have a hard time knowing who is 'good enough' to try out.
I very much like the following: Pat Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, N.K.Jemison, Robin Hobb, Steven Erickson, Guy Gavrial Kay, Naomi Novik. (And I don't have any idea which of those I spelled correctly and which I didn't.) But there are a ton of great authors out there. That's just the beginning of the list. One of my current favorites is Terry Pratchett, but his work is VERY different from the WoT.
Hello Brandon ! The fantasy universe is very fond of antiheroes lately, so I was surprised when I read your books with charismatic and inspiring lead characters, who, almost single-handedly, give faith to people and make them claim back their dignity. What is so compelling about creating characters such as Kaladin or Kelsier?
I find that the antihero angle is very well covered by other authors. I am fascinated by people who are trying to do what is right because most everyone I know is actually a good person—and a good person needing being forced to make unpleasant decisions is more interesting to me. The great books I read as a youth inspired me; I'd rather dwell on that kind of story than the opposite. (That said, it's great that the genre is big enough for both types of stories.)
It IS interesting to me that over the last twenty years, what I do has become the distinctive one.
I love stories in any medium, and I would love to tell one myself. But, I don't think I have anything in particular to say that hasn't been done a thousand times before. I invariably come across some story that already parallels my ideas. What makes a story worth telling even when its like has been done before?
The answer is simple: YOU are what makes your story worth telling. Harry Potter wasn't an original story, and yet told very well, it became an excellent series.
My suggestion to you is to ask what unique passions or life experiences you have that aren't found in the average fantasy book. This genre still has a lot of room to grow. A person passionate about sports could write a very different fantasy novel from one passionate about lawn care—assuming they take what they know and love and make us, as readers, come to know and love it as well.
How much do you use science to influence/guide your world building in what most people would identify as a fantasy setting?
I use it quite a bit, but as I'm writing fantasy, I go by the rule "do what is awesome first, then explain it." Meaning, I am looking to tell a certain kind of story, and while science is often a springboard into a magic, I will sometimes chose to do what I think makes the story better as opposed to what is scientifically rational. The way the metallic arts work with mass is one example.
What kind of college classes (not English courses) would best prepare someone for writing fantasy?
Whatever you're fascinated by! You can incorporate basically anything into a story. If you love numbers, study economics. If you like history, pick an area and type and become an expert. Whether it be law or botany, you will find a way to use it in your books.
I enjoyed my creative writing classes, but they don't tend to be as useful as gaining an expertise in an area, then letting that make your stories have a passion and weight to them.
Therein lies the joy, I think. We all like to discover a bit, even those of us who are outliners. I want to go a little bit sideways here and talk about your YA fiction.
First of all, what prompted you to go in that direction?
Well I read science fiction fantasy. Science fiction fantasy has a very long tradition with juveniles being part of it. We don't spend as much time distinguishing as some other genres do. I think it's a great thing that we now have the full-blown YA genre in bookstores.
When I was growing up, it didn't exist. In my local library, there was no YA section. I would look in the children's section or in the adult section and I actually found Anne McCaffrey [inaudible 00:04:57]. I asked the librarian about that. She's like, "Both groups like her." For me, it's what do they like? I put it where they like it.
If you go back to the Heinlein juveniles, if you look at Shannara by Terry Brooks, is this a juvenile, is it not, does it even really matter? I've always wanted to write for all age groups. Trying my hand at teenage protagonists in a story only about them was very natural to me. Mistborn is about a 16-year-old girl.
Why is it not YA? Because it's about a 16-year-old girl and other characters who are not and it runs the spectrum. The Rithmatist and Steelheart, which are my two primary YA series, are about focus on a character who is a teen dealing with their life, their problems. That becomes a teen book in today's parlance.
I think that as science fiction fans see writers, we transcend this, readership transcends this. It's just a convenient way for us to get a little bit more understanding of the story, what type of story to expect.