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."
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I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was a big reader as a child, then fell away for a while. In third and fourth grade, my favorite series was the Three Investigators books, a mystery series. As I grew older, the books that other people gave me to read were realistic fiction–books that bored me out of my skull, so my reading habits dribbled off. By junior high I wasn’t reading anything new, until I had a wonderful English teacher who told me I couldn’t keep doing book reports on novels that were four grades below my reading level. Instead, she gave me her copy of Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had no idea books like that existed–it engaged my imagination like no other book ever had. At that point I started reading every fantasy book I could get my hands on, including The Eye of the World when it came out in paperback. I was hooked, and there was no going back. I even started writing some myself–on my website in the library section there’s a short story I wrote in high school for a writing contest at a local SF convention. It’s really not very good, but it took first place in the student division, and at the awards ceremony was one of the first times I can remember thinking, “Wow, maybe I can do this.”
My mother, however, thought I should study something more concrete and said I could keep writing on the side. I started college as a biochemistry major, but when I took two years off to serve a mission for my church I realized I didn’t miss chemistry at all and just wanted to write. On my off days I worked on what eventually became my first novel, and when I got back to school I changed my major to English and determined to become a professional author.
Honestly, I've lived with it all of my life. I've been called that since grade school. Heck, I sign my books with my initials. So no, it doesn't bother me.
Your stories are so in-depth and unique in the magical systems and religions. I was wondering if you have always, even through childhood, been creative with stories? Have some of the ideas in these books been something you created when young and then evolved into a story now? Have you always been interested in writing stories as you grew up? Did you have that notebook in class scribbling full of stories and ideas while sitting in class supposedly taking notes?
I've spoken before on the fact I didn't discover fantasy, and reading, until I was fourteen. (The book, if I haven't mentioned it on this forum yet, was Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.)
Before then, I was a daydreamer. I was always daydreaming—I was never in the room where I was supposed to be listening or studying. I was off somewhere else. Oddly, though, I didn't make the connection between this and writing until I was given that first fantasy novel.
When I read that book (and moved on to McCaffrey, as it was next in the card catalogue) I discovered something that blew my mind. Here were people who were taking what I did, sitting around and imagining stories, and they were making a living out of it.
I hit the ground running, so to speak. Started my first novel the next fall, began gobbling up fantasy books wherever I could find them, began writing notes and ideas in my notebooks instead of (as you guessed) the notes I was supposed to be taking.
Even after all this, though, I was persuaded that people couldn't make a living as an author. So I went to school my freshman year as a bio-chemist, on track for becoming a doctor. That lasted about one year of frustrating homework and classes spent daydreaming before I made the decision to try becoming a writer.
I've got tons of cute kid stories. One happened today at lunch—I'm sure he'll be embarrassed in ten years if I share this, so that's a good reason to share it.
We were sitting at lunch and just talking about whether policemen are nice or mean. Because he's suddenly got it in his head that policemen pull you over—they'll get you if you do certain things—and we're trying to explain to him, no, policemen are nice but their job is to keep us safe and to keep us from doing things that they don't want us to do.
Meanwhile, while we're getting into this conversation, he does his favorite three-year-old thing which is to start digging for gold in his nose, to use a euphemism. He's picking his nose quite voraciously, and he freezes and pauses. I just said policemen stop us from doing things we're not supposed to do, and his mom is very constantly telling him don't pick your nose.
So he says, "Policeman will get me if I pick my boogers?" And we say, "Um, well, no that's not technically against the law, but you shouldn't do it." And he says, "Policeman wants my boogers? He'll take them?" Because we've been talking about how they'll take your car away, so he's suddenly afraid that since he's not supposed to pick his nose that the policemen will arrest him if he picks his nose and take his boogers away.
So there you go. There's a wonderful cute kid story for you, or at least a disgusting one, somewhere in there.
Wow. I can't top that. Oot is still just on the cusp of talking.
Just tonight Oot brought me my winter boots and made it clear he wanted to wear them. So I helped him put them on. He just stood there. They were way too big for him to move his feet. But he stood there looking really proud, like he was king of the world.
The most recent change for me has been coming to grips with the whole working dad thing. And I've been having trouble with it. With all the deadlines these last four months, there have been some days where I only see Oot and Sarah for a half an hour.
Needless to say, when that happens three times in a week, it makes me feel like a total ass. Like that stereotypical neglectful work-obsessed absentee father. But the truth of the matter is, I'd already missed too many deadlines. I couldn't miss this one. So for about two and a half months I had to pick being a writer over being a dad. I'm trying to make up for that now, but I still regret it.
For me though, the biggest change between writing book one and writing book two, is that I got a workspace that's outside the house I live in. That really helped to improve my writing output. I work best with quiet, distraction-free writing space. Making sure there was no internet in the office was pivotal, too.
What's your writing space like? Do you write at home, or do you have an office?
I don't do the office thing. How shall I say this? I became a writer so that I didn't have to deal with the whole office thing. I know some authors need an office and a writing space; that's great. But I just need my laptop and some music and I'm good pretty much anywhere.
I tend to be a roving writer, meaning I pick a place and I stay there for a few months, and then I get tired of it and I pick another place. So I write all over the house. My favorite locations tend to be in front of a fireplace with my feet up. I've actually stolen my wife's easy chair and moved it over in front of the fireplace in my bedroom—it's a gas fireplace, so I just turn it on. I've set up a light and a little stand next to me, and I've been working here for a few months. But I move around. It's just basically laptop plus music. I don't work at a desk; I cannot do the desk thing. I'll work lying on my bed, on a couch, in an easy chair, in a beanbag chair, but not at a desk.
You've been doing a ton of touring lately, and I'm about to start my first big tour. Any advice for me?
Oh boy. Number one: Even though you may want to get work done while on tour, don't plan on getting anything done. It is exhausting. I'm constantly surprised at how exhausting touring can be. And I'm not an introvert or an extrovert. I'm one of those hybrids in between where I like spending time with people and being around people, but once I do that, I need to go recharge. And it's hard to find time to recharge when on tour. For me that was the most exhausting part. On my first big tour I did the thing where I met with fans beforehand and did dinners with them, which was great—I love meeting the big Wheel of Time fans and talking over dinner—but it just added on another hour and a half on to me being around people and being exhausted all the time.
Eat healthily, even though it's going to be hard because they will take you out to eat every night. You know, they're going to want to feed you steak and pasta every night. Pack yourself with vegetables and fruit because otherwise you will start feeling sick after a week of it.
Try and make sure you have time for you, for recharging, whatever it is that you do to recharge. Don't let them schedule an interview or a dinner every minute of the day—which, on my tour, they did.
And one of the things I've learned is try to keep it to two weeks. They put me on a four-week tour once, and that just laid me flat. I was literally sick many of the days the last two weeks, just physically ill and I can't even explain why. I'm a hearty person! I don't usually get that sick. I can usually just keep on going, keep plugging away. I'm known for being slow and steady in my writing and always working, always having stuff done. But the tour was unlike anything else I'd ever experienced. Try to keep it to two weeks and if they want more, do two weeks and take a few weeks' break and then do two more weeks. And eat right.
The Eternal Question: Mac or PC?
Gattica. The Fifth Element, actually, is up there too. The Prisoner of Azkaban movie. Empire Strikes Back. Sneakers. Jackie Chan's Operation Condor. (I know, I know.) The Emperor's New Groove. Star Trek: First Contact.
To be honest, that's probably not a great list. Those are the movies I watch over and over, but there are a lot of movies I love, but have only seen a few times. I'm not generally a 'watch it over again' type of guy, so it's hard to pick favorites. I come back to the genre films or things like Jackie Chan because they're quirky and rewatchable, but that doesn't actually mean they're my favorite—or that they've influenced me as much as other films. For instance, Lawrence of Arabia blew my mind, and The Sting influenced how I write quite a bit. But I've only ever seen those films once. But I do keep coming back to Gattica as one of the movies I think does what storytelling should do, when done perfectly right.
I put that progress bar up so that you can keep track of me, and because I feel that readers deserve to see how things are going on my books. It's just how I like to do things. But don't let it become too much of a crutch to you, an absolute indication that things are moving or not moving. I'm always working, and these last two months have been no exception. (Arrival of my second son notwithstanding—I sent out a newsletter about that, and if you didn't get it, you might want to drop me an email through the form on my website and ask to sign up. Be sure to let me know what city/state/country you live in so that I can let you know when I'll be stopping by on tour.) If you didn't get it, here are the details on Meatloaf's arrival:
A baby boy has come to the Sanderson family. Dallin Matthew was born on January 19th, weighing in at 9 lbs. 2 oz. He joins his two-year-old brother Joel as heir to Brandon's literary legacy. (Though Joel has only recently started speaking much English. He used to talk and talk and talk, but apparently in an alien language with inflections that sounded maddeningly familiar. Anyway, Joel's favorite word in English is "cars.")
Emily, Brandon's wife and business manager for Dragonsteel Entertainment (her official company title is "Queen"), is adjusting to being the mother of two boys. Joel is helping her out by learning not to throw things; I haven't seen him throw anything off the second-floor balcony in weeks!
Here's a link to some pictures of Dallin. (Photos by Faith Jennings.) Isn't he cute?
Was there any physical inspiration behind the Shattered Plains, which features so prominently in The Way of Kings? Too many visits to the Grand Canyon?
I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon once, but I do live in Utah, which has beautiful red rock formations and this wonderful, windblown stone formations scattered all across southern Utah. I’ve hiked there and spent a decent amount of time there. I would say that Roshar is partially inspired by that.
You're an avowed Magic: The Gathering lover. What is your color combo deck of choice? Also, preferred edition? I've always leaned towards Revised/Fourth as later editions focused on counters too much for my liking.
I would say Black/Blue/White is what you find me playing most often, and usually Blue/White. Favorite editions? I’m going to disagree about the focus on counters. They’ve actually taken counterspells down a notch or two in recent years, which is nice. Besides, I play casual games, where I don’t run into a lot of counterspell decks, land destruction decks, or card discard decks—you know, the “un-fun” decks. My favorites recently—I really like Eldrazi, the set they released this year, which I’ve had a blast with. Other than that, probably Ravnica and Time Spiral were my favorite of the recent sets.
I haven't bought any new decks in a few years so I just may have to check out Eldrazi.
You’ve obviously been indisposed the last few months with Towers of Midnight so I’m curious about what is on your nightstand to be read next?
There’s a big stack. Peter Orullian’s book, which Tor is releasing next year is one I’ve wanted to read for a while. Spellwright, which a lot of people really loved and I got to read. There are a couple of Pratchetts I still haven’t read. I’ve been slowly working my way through Jim Butcher’s books, which I think are fantastic. I’ve also started reading through Brent Weeks’ works. So there are a lot of things to read. I still want to finish The Hunger Games. There’s so much to read, but fortunately during my two-week tour there will be a plane ride every day. Hooray.
To go along with my other obsession what is your favorite type of hat?
I do have a fedora that I’m somewhat attached to, but I haven’t worn it in years. When I was a high school kid, I would wear my fedora around until I discovered that wearing a fedora was already cliché for a nerdy kid like myself, which I found annoying since I’d been doing it because I thought it was original. I still have that fedora, which sits in my closet, and someday perhaps I will wear it. But the problem is that Dan Wells, my friend who writes in my writing group and in my basement, already wears a hat around. So I would feel like I was just copying Dan. Maybe I need to get a fez or something.
My passion for fantasy comes from a teacher in eighth grade, when I was fourteen, who challenged me to read a book. I share this story a lot, but I think it's an important part of who I am. I didn't enjoy reading when I was younger. I didn't discover reading until I was given a fantasy novel. I had tried reading many other novels and had been bored by them. And it was the discovery of fantasy literature as a genre—the imagination, the power of it—that really changed me as a person and turned me into a writer.
I mean it's really bizarre: the book that I read was called Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. And this is an interesting thing, because when you know anything about literacy, there are certain things they say that you're supposed to give to boys. You're supposed to give them a book about a boy, and more specifically, about a boy who's two or three years older than them, not their age but not too old. And it's supposed to be very fast-paced, and it's supposed to be very adventuresome. That's what boys are supposed to like. Dragonsbane is about a middle-aged woman, who's the main protagonist. She is not going on fast adventures—actually she and her husband are pig farmers. And he is the last living dragonsbane, a man who has killed a dragon. A dragon has come to assault the kingdom, and someone goes off to find him. And it's a story of how unglamorous it is to kill a dragon; it's like butchering a cow, just a really big one. And she is a witch, and it's the story of her balancing her family life and her magic. She's been told that she could be the greatest witch who ever lived if she would just dedicate everything to it, but she doesn't want to because she has a family too.
And so here's this book about a middle-aged woman, who is trying to balance her career and her family life, and that's what I liked!
And I still look back at it as an academic and think: "Why did that work?" And actually it's an illustration of what I think is great about the fantasy genre. I feel that fantasy can do everything that any other genre can do, plus can have this added layer of world-building. And that forces you as a reader to put together a puzzle; what is the world, how do things work here? It's this wonderfully intellectual exercise and imagination exercise that a fantasy novel can give you, that other novels generally can’t.
And this novel worked for me, because of my own mother. My mother graduated first in her class in an accounting program. She was actually the only woman in the program; not a lot of women did that then. She got a very prestigious job offer, to go work for an accounting firm, and she turned it down because she wanted to have me, a kid. She still works as an accountant today, but at that time of her life she wanted to be a mother. And she has always balanced her career and her family.
And I read this book, which was about a man killing a dragon, and when I got done, I felt like I understood my mother better. That is weird, that is so weird, but that's what fantasy can do, because it can have this beautiful and wonderful intellectual creative side. It can be adventuresome, it can be fun and have a story about killing a dragon, but it can also deal with real people having real situations, that help you understand the world better. It can do all of these things and be fun at the same time, so why would anyone read anything else?
But that's what happened to me: I became a writer because of that book, and because of the books I discovered that summer: Anne McCaffrey, I mentioned Melanie Rawn, David Eddings, Tad Williams, and then Robert Jordan released later that year his first Wheel of Time book. Because of these authors I just fell in love with, I just wanted to be able to create those emotions in people, that they could create.
And so I started writing immediately. I'd found what was me.
In the eighth grade, I had an English teacher who pointed me toward Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. That book changed my life. When I first read it, I was amazed—I had no idea books like that existed. It engaged my imagination like no other book ever had, and it even helped me understand my own mother better, because the main character's conflicts gave me a perspective on what my mother went through when she chose to focus on her family rather than her career. The book was creative, it was fun, yet it helped me understand life. At that point I started reading every fantasy book I could get my hands on, including Robert Jordan's first Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World, when it came out in paperback. I was hooked, and as I read more and more books, my grades went up in school—I went from a low-end average student to someone who got top grades.
It didn't take reading many fantasy books before I decided writing them was what I wanted to do with my life. I started my first book when I was fifteen. It was horrible, but I just kept writing and writing until I actually got any good.
My ideas come from many different places, and all of my books combine ideas I came up with at different times. For example, I once ran into a fog bank while driving, and thought how it would be interesting to have a book set in a world of constant mist. But Mistborn didn't come together until at a different time I thought about a metal-based magic system, and another time was considering how I'd like to see a heist movie like Ocean's Eleven done as a fantasy novel. I also picture cinematic images like a Mistborn flying through the mist with mistcloak tassels fluttering in the air. Eventually these ideas bouncing around in my head coalesce into interesting combinations, and I start writing.
In elementary school, I wasn't much of a reader. In the third grade I fell in love with the Three Investigators books created by Robert Arthur, and I enjoyed them much more than the "meaningful" (boring) books people tried to get me to read for the next five years. So after that I hardly read anything until the eighth grade, when I had an English teacher who told me I couldn't do a report on a Three Investigators book and instead pointed me toward Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.
That book changed my life. When I first read it, I was amazed—I had no idea books like that existed. It engaged my imagination like no other book ever had, and it even helped me understand my own mother better, because the main character's conflicts gave me a perspective on what my mother went through when she chose to focus on her family rather than her career. The book was creative, it was fun, yet it helped me understand life. At that point I started reading every fantasy book I could get my hands on, including Robert Jordan's first Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World, when it came out in paperback. I was hooked, and as I read more and more books, my grades went up in school—I went from a low-end average student to someone who got top grades.
It didn't take reading many fantasy books before I decided writing them was what I wanted to do with my life. I started my first book when I was fifteen. It was horrible, but I just kept writing and writing until I actually got any good. I've been a writer full-time since 2004, but it would never have happened if not for Mrs. Reader handing me Dragonsbane.
Saw him once at a convention. Was too chicken to go meet him. Still feel stupid.
To be honest I was a little mad that Robert Jordan wasn't gonna finish WOT (actually make that a LOT mad) but I've kinda mellowed a bit :)
I'm there with you all the way. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but a good friend and I used to have a thing where we would shake our fists at the sky whenever Mr. Jordan's name was mentioned. (This was before he died.)
Mr. Sanderson honestly you wouldn't believe the fits I went through right after he died, but purely for selfish reasons: I wanted to know who killed Asmodean NAO!! :P
If you haven't heard, I DO know, and it WILL be in the books. Somewhere. I can't say if it will be in Towers of Midnight or not.
And lastly, Mi'chelle and I had an idea while conversing....Have you done firesides, and would you consider doing them?
It's an interesting idea. I honestly don't know. I think I could come up with something. (For those confused, it's an LDS church-group thingy.)
A bit left of center question. Are you a role player? I ask because on Writing Excuses I think I heard you mention it.
Yes, I am a role player. Have been since I discovered the TMNT RPG back when I was a young teen, and have been doing it pretty much ever since. When I play, I’m almost always some kind of magic user (duh). When I GM, I prefer to homebrew my own system.
Just a sudden question that popped into my head: Do you like Joss Whedon's work, specifically Firefly and Dr. Horrible?
I enjoyed Firefly quite a bit; I was actually among the (apparently small) group of people who watched it during its original broadcast run. I'm impressed with Joss's writing, though I'm not an enormous fan of his on the level of many of my friends.
I missed Dr. Horrible. Been meaning to watch that, actually...
There. Just added it to my Netflix queue.
I see this phantom cubical chasing me, over my shoulder. If I slow down, it catches me, and I have to go get a regular job and become an insurance salesman or something.
Hey now, I sell insurance, it's not that bad!
Ha. I knew someone would say this.
Let me put it this way—you're probably good at it. I'd be terrible. I'd be sitting and thinking of all the books I wanted to be writing all day. It would be miserable. Not because selling insurance is miserable, but because—for me—NOT writing would be.
Well, sometimes I have to just close the browser (and the like fifty tabs worth of material I've found on reddit) and turn off the internet for a little while... Sometimes it's done by setting daily goals for myself (wordcount wise) and not letting myself go do fun things—video games, etc.—until I've hit my wordcount.
Motivation isn't a huge problem for me. I keep coming back to the idea that writing, and telling stories, is what I like to do most in the world. Yes, it can be tough at times. It is work. But unless I'm writing each day and creating something, I feel like I just haven't accomplished anything.
What games do you play, xbox or PS3?
Both, but usually not online. I do it to unwind, and so getting yelled at by team-mates is not really high on my list, nor is the stress of being forced to compete against other players who have a LOT more time for such things.
Right now, playing the new Magic The Gathering game on Xbox and really liking it. Big improvement over the last one, which was okay.
Being a person who is, myself, religious, I am fascinated by religion and all of its different effects and mindsets. This is why you see me exploring religious characters, and those who are not religious, in my books. The different ways people look at these things are fascinating to me.
One of my core ideas when it comes to writing is that I feel I should express all sides of an issue, and try to do so well. I can't do every side in every book, but I try to be aware of my own biases. I think this actually has to do with my core religious nature—as one of my fundamental beliefs is that if something is right, it should be able to stand up to STRONG arguments opposing it, not just weak ones. Without strong opposition, there cannot be a discovery of truth.
I have received all kinds of criticism, from all sides. I have gotten emails from people who will not read my books because I am LDS, and from others who feel I am far too liberal in my writing, and should be advocating a certain view.
Usually, I don't pay much heed. The exception is with the Wheel of Time, where I try to be extra careful, as I don't want my own bias to take control of Mr. Jordan's series.
Your take on "Fantasy" is very unique, and honestly I want to know your inspiration for the "magic" of your worlds.
Mistborn Allomancy has the feel of good old Newtonian Physics, push pull and equal and opposite reactions.
Stormlight brings more laws of Physics into the realm of magic.
Do you have a background in Physics? Or is it just a source of inspiration for your worldbuilding?
I do have a science background (biochemstry, actually. Wish I'd picked physics.) I did move to English after a couple of semesters, as I decided I wanted to be a writer. But I've always been an armchair scientist.
My inspirations are a mix of authors (mentioned in other posts if you look) and my love of the era in human history when science was a wonder. If you look back at the early discoveries in science, there's this feel that it's a boundless frontier with a magic all its own. That fascinates me, and I love writing about similar things happening in worlds with physics that deviate from our own.
Has your fame ever gotten you tail?
He's married and attended BYU. Something tells me he isn't in it for the ladies.
And that earns me downvotes? For asking a question? In an ASK ME ANYTHING thread?
Oh, don't worry about the downvoters. It's all cool.
I met my wife AFTER I published, and she did read Elantris (my only book out at the time) before agreeing to a second date with me. So...not my fame, but my writing ability, can be said to have been an influence.
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.
Yeah. The reason I wrote so many books before I got published was not because I was a terrible writer, though at the beginning I was. It was because I loved writing, and I didn't want to stop writing to go do all this marketing stuff. And I think that actually helped me, because I got to spend a lot of time playing with my style and deciding what my impact on the genre would be. And it also taught me that even if I never got published, I would keep doing this for the rest of my life. I'd be writing a book every year. No matter what job I ended up in, that was just what I was going to do.
And so, if you don't love writing to that extent, it's going to be much harder for you to break in. And so I say, build good habits, write what you love. And make sure that you enjoy the process. Enjoy the busy work parts of it. I went to school freshman year as a chemist. I only changed to English when my sophomore year began. And one of the reasons I made the change is that the busy work part of chemistry, I didn't enjoy. While the busy work part of writing, I loved. So, love it. And then keep at it. Don't give up, just keep going.
It's been interesting! Officially, I'm a full time writer as of last year. For several years now, actually, I've been writing "full time," though I also teach at BYU occasionally. Last year was the first year, however, that my writing managed to provide what one might call a livable income. Obviously, I consider it the future!
The realities are that it's hard. Paying self-employment tax, mixed with having no insurance or retirement benefits, plus paying 15% off the top to an agent really changes things. Beyond that, you have to deal with the fact that you DON'T have a steady paycheck, and don't know how much money you'll make in a given year. One year, you can make 50k—the next, 15k.
However, I'll bet that anyone doing any job can come up with a list of grievances like that. The truth is that I love what I'm doing, and feel very, very fortunate to be able to make money at it. Hopefully, that will continue!
What do you do to keep yourself from burning out? What do you do to decompress?
I play with my Magic Cards. (Laughter) I go and sort them, I go build a deck.
Roll around in them.
No! I can’t do that! Then they get bent. (More Laughter) That’s basically what I do.
What are keys to balance family, writing career?
Good question. I had to make certain hours of the day "off limits" for writing, so that I didn't feel I was missing out on writing time. I could ALWAYS be working, but that's not good emotionally or for the family.
Otherwise, I try to make my writing time as effective as possible, so I don't feel that sense of "I didn't get anything done."
That one makes me unbalanced, as I feel anxious if I haven't gotten some good work done in a day.
Any suggestions for finding time to write for a full time dad with a full time non-writing job?
It depends on whether or not your day job is creatively draining. If it is writing/programming, etc (more)
You'll have a much harder time, as those jobs flex the same muscles as novel writing.
The people I've known who do it tend to get up an hour early, before their brain is worn out, and write then.
Basically, you'll have to give something up. Television, video games, golf, something. (But not family time.)
I'm not sure how free we are around here with spoilers regarding the Mistborn trilogy, so I'll try my best to avoid anything that will get me strung up.
The Mistborn trilogy left everything on the table, so to speak, with regards to the validity of a particular religion and its deitie(s). I worried the final scenario left no room for other religions to manifest in that world thereafter, and yet here we have Alloy of Law, which involved a few different religions (some of which we -the readers- know to be false) and somehow it seemed to work. My questions are:
1.What were some general challenges that you had to deal with when establishing the religious backdrop of the story?
2.Though you include brief examples of interaction with a deity in the novel, can you further explain some of the limits of that deity's ability to interact with the world in which the story takes place? The brief explanation in the novel seemed rushed. Then again, there didn't seem to be room for much philosophical debate during the awesome actions scenes.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to deal with questions like these.
You covered the biggest challenge. However, you have to remember that as a religious person, I do believe in God in our world--and we have a ton of religions, many of which are related and interpreting the same concepts and scriptures in many different ways.
As for this deity, you're right--this book didn't have the space for a lot of philosophy. However, I can get into it a little bit here. He does not interact partially because of his innate nature, which allows him to see many different sides of a lot of different debates and activities. On the other hand, I am a firm believer that the nature of free will demands people to actually be given opportunities to make decisions. Stopping them just before, ala Minority Report, doesn't cut it for me. So, the deity in question feels he must be very careful about direct involvement, instead letting people act and react--and letting choices be made.
That said, I want him to be involved. Just more in a "I give people the tools they need to accomplish goodness," rather than "I'll just step in and make sure everyone does everything right."
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve always wondered who “They” are, and if—by chance—they’ve never heard of Michael Whelan. Because my experience in life has been very different.
It’s been almost twenty years now since I first discovered Michael’s work. I was fourteen when it happened, and I was not a reader. I’d been handed a succession of novels about young boys living in the wilderness and taking care of their pet dogs. (Which would die by the end of the book.) I disliked reading with a passion. So, when my eighth-grade teacher assigned me to do a book report, I did everything I could to get out of it.
That failed. In fact, it failed so solidly that the teacher—unwilling to let me choose my own book to read, for fear I’d choose something not up my reading level—steered me to the back of the room, where she kept a group of ratty paperbacks to loan out to students. You probably know the type—ripped, stained by spaghetti sauce from cafeteria lunches, pages folded and worn. I was told I had to read one of these and had to do a book report on them—and she’d read them all, so she’d know if I tried to fake it.
Sullen and annoyed, I began to sift through the books. Most looked terrible. I resigned myself to another dead dog story, but then one of the books actually caught my eye. It had this vivid painting of a dragon standing in the mists, a woman held limply in its hand. Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. The painting was so beautiful, so realistic yet imaginative, that I snatched it up, actually a little eager to look through the pages. I ended up taking it home with me.
I read that book in one day. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever tried reading before. (I had never been introduced to fantasy novels.) Dragonsbane was amazing, challenging, imaginative, gripping, and beautiful all wrapped up in one. I remember a severe bout of disappointment upon finishing the book because I thought surely there couldn’t be anything else like it in the entire world.
Still, hopeful, I visited the school library the next day. I looked through the card catalog, and picked the next book—alphabetically by title—after Dragonsbane. It was called Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. I went and pulled it out, and was once again captivated by the cover. I took it home and read it.
My life changed. Now, we throw around sentences like that in writing, using them over and over again until they become as worn as the shoes of a traveling salesman—hardly capable of holding meaning any longer. But let me say it again. My life changed.
I devoured every Anne McCaffrey book in the school library. Suddenly, what I’d discovered in Dragonsbane wasn’t a single, freak event. There was a pattern. If two authors could do this, perhaps there were others. Hungry for more, I went to the bookstore and discovered there was an entire fantasy genre.
There were so many books. Which to choose? Dragons had treated me well so far, so I looked for some dragon books. And there, right on the shelf, was a beautiful book called Dragon Prince. I consumed it, and then everything else Melanie Rawn was writing.
What do these books all share? It wasn’t just the dragons; it was the covers. Each time, there was something dramatic and special about them. I now own prints of Dragonsbane and several of Melanie’s covers. All were painted by Michael Whelan.
By the time Tad Williams’ Dragonbone Chair came out, I could recognize Michael’s art on sight. And I also knew to trust it. It didn’t seem logical—you really shouldn’t be able to judge a book by its cover. But a Whelan cover became a seal of approval to me, a sign that the publisher trusted the book so much that they got the best person available to do the cover.
I can’t tell you all of the authors Whelan’s art led me to over the years: Patricia Mckillip, Joan D. Vinge, Stephen Donaldson, and even Asimov. (Yes, you read that right. I first picked up Asimov because Whelan had done the new Foundation covers.)
I remember when winter 1993 rolled around. My local bookseller noted to me that Whelan had a new art book coming out, one half dedicated to covers, one half dedicated to his fine art. It was the only thing I requested for Christmas, and my parents bought it for me despite the cost. I spent hours leafing through the wonderous, fantastic art. Those imagines sparked things in my mind. I was an author in embryo, absorbing, thinking, dreaming. One of the very first stories I ever wrote was a ‘fanfic’ based on Whelan’s Passage series of fine art prints.
The years have passed. There are other wonderful fantasy artists out there—and, in a way, the market has finally caught up to Whelan (much as the fantasy genre itself needed time to catch up to Tolkien.) I’ve been lucky to have some of those incredible artists paint covers for my books. But I’ve rarely felt as much excitement, wonder, and awe as I did the when I got to open an email and see the cover for The Way of Kings.
Irene Gallo (Tor’s art director) asked me to provide a quote about how I feel having a Whelan cover on one of my books. My editor, Moshe, noted “Surely you’ll mention how it’s a dream come true for both you and your editor.” But 'Dream come true' is another one of those phrases we use so often it has lost its meaning.
How do I really feel? Well, when I was a senior in high school, I was forced to take a life-planning class. In that class, we had to write down ten 'life goals' we wanted to achieve some day. #1 on my list, which I still have somewhere, was “Publish a book someday that is good enough to deserve a Michael Whelan cover.”
It has always been a deep-seated desire of mine to one day have a Whelan painting on one of my works. Without this man’s skill and vision, I might never have discovered the fantasy genre, and I might not be writing novels today.
You might say I’m a little bit pleased.
Well... I don't want to speak too much about the great beyond in the books, as in my opinion that level of cosmology is influenced by your own beliefs in the hereafter and in deity. Beyond that, I would rather not speak of what happens to the souls beyond the three Realms, as even Sazed doesn't know that.
Perhaps this will help, however. Like most of the leaders of soldiers in this series (Demoux, Wells, and Conrad included,) Goradel is based on and looks like one of my friends. In this case, it's Richard Gordon. He's read the book and cheered for his namesake's sacrifice and eventual victory. So the REAL Goradel knows. ;)
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've got to ask you. I'm going to ask you again. I guess it may be a little different, it may be the same. But what does it mean, then, to know—you're talking about being a little alone, lonely, disconnected, whatever as a child, or as a young person—now knowing that you're writing and you're giving a similar gift to others and that connection. You know what it meant to you, Brandon Sanderson, when you were young. What does it mean to now be the giver of that, or the connector of those? How would you respond?
I tell people if they really want to get to know me, read my fiction because I'm there in every character. And people say they read my books and they feel like they know me, and they kind of joke, 'Oh no, I don't really.' And I say, no, you do. It's there. If you're reading it, you're seeing me. And I remember when the first time I realized that I was doing what you just said—that I was doing for people what people had done for me—was when I started getting my first emails. And I had gotten one from someone who said to me, it was a young man, 'Your books are what made me start reading.' And it stomped me, it throws me, and it floored me, because I have trouble believing I belong on the shelf with all those writers that I grew up reading, because they're the masters and I'm just the journeyman. I got into this because of them. And that was the first moment where I froze, and I said, 'Oh, wow! It's happening. I mean, I'm part of this. It's a cycle. It's a circle. I'm giving back to what people gave to me.' It really was a strange and surreal moment, and I just sat and stared at the screen for a little while.
The Dedication I've always intended to dedicate my first published book to my mother. I poke a little fun at her here, since I can't resist. However, I really do owe a lot of who I am—and what I've accomplished—to her. When I was in elementary school, I had mediocre grades—and my test scores placed me as 'below average' on several occasions. Well, she was bound and determined to prove that I was 'gifted' despite those scores. She worked hard to get me to improve in school, and she was a prime motivator behind my reading habits.
That, obviously, did not happen. The big bad English monster took me in my sophomore year. However, my mother has always been supportive, and it was her sense of dedication, excellence, and assiduousness that forged my determined personality. Without that sense of self-determination, I would never have lasted in this field long enough to publish.
So, thank you mother. Thanks for being proud of me.
Anyway, you can see that there are a lot of names on this list. These are a great bunch of people—good critics, great fans, and many of them pretty good writers in their own right. Though at this point, only one of them has a professional novel publication (Rob Wells,) I'm sure that others will eventually join him. When they do, buy their books!
The top list of people includes my closest and most helpful writing groups. The first group, named 'Here there be dragons' actually started when I was writing ELANTRIS, and that was the first book the group dealt with. Though we didn't spend much time on ELANTRIS, I remember meeting in Ben's office in the BYU alumni house and chatting about the book's terrible title (see the title page annotation,) among other things. The founding members were Dan, Ben, me, and Nate. We added Peter a bit later on, and he went on to become an editor at Tokyopop. A couple of other people—Krista Olson, Alan Layton, and a few others—did short stints as dragons, but I ended up acknowledging them in other places on the list.
Of those three writing groups, only one is still going. The one with Alan Layton and Kaylynn ZoBell. We meet in Salt Lake every Friday night (yes, I know. That's the best thing we writers often have to do on Friday nights. . . .) Anyway, they're a great support and help to me.
Another interesting note is regarding my professors. I intend to dedicate a book some day to the teachers that have helped me over the years. It was a school teacher—the appropriately named Ms. Reader—who gave me my first fantasy book . I can think of few professions as noble as that of teacher, and I am deeply thankful to all of those who have helped me—not just the few names I had room to mention on this page.
I certainly didn't want this book to turn into a political statement about female-empowerment. I think that sort of thing has been overdone in fantasy—the woman in an oppressive masculine world seeking to prove that she can be just as cool as they are. However, I did have to deal with some cultural issues in ELANTRIS. There's no getting around the fact that Sarene is a strong female character, and I think it would be unrealistic not to address some of this issues this creates with the men around her.
I actually used several women I know as a model for Sarene. I've often heard women say that they feel like men find an assertive, intelligent woman threatening. I suspect that there some strong foundations for feelings like this, though I would hope the men in question form a small percentage of the population. Still, I do think that it is an issue.
In my own culture, people tend to get married early. This is partially due to the LDS Church's focus on families and marriage, and partially because I've lived mostly in the west and mid-west—where I think that the general attitude is more traditional than it is in big cities. Because of this, I've seen a number of people—many of them women—complain about how they feel excluded from society because they're still single. Sarene's own insecurity is related to the real emotions I've seen in some of my friends.
However, I do have to point out that some of the reactions Sarene gets aren't because she's female—they're just because she's bull-headed. She tends to give too much stock to the fact that she's a woman, assuming that the resistance she receives is simply based on gender. I think a man with her personality, however, would encounter many of the same problems. The way she pushes Roial into a corner in this chapter is a good example. In my mind, she handled things in the kitchen quite well—but not perfectly. She still has some things to learn, some maturing to do.
You'll notice the quick mention of the Widow's Trial in this chapter. This sub-plot was actually added later in the drafting process, and I had to come back and write these comments into this scene. It will become apparent why later on.
Though, you spoilers already know how it is used. I needed to get Sarene into Elantris somehow, and I wasn't certain how I was going to do it. Somewhere along the way I devised the idea of the Widow's Trial. In the end, it worked quite well, as it provided the means for Raoden to create New Elantris.
Shuden's comments on marriage early in this chapter have often earned me smiles and jibes from my friends. An author puts a little of himself into every character he crafts, and sometimes we find a particular character being our voice in one way or another. I'll admit, the way marriage is treated in this book does have a little bit of a connection to my own personal thoughts on the subject. It isn't that I'm avoiding the institution. . .I just find the formalities leading up to it to be a dreadful pain.
I had a bit of trouble in this book devising personalities for all of the noblemen who would be hanging around Sarene. Some of them, such as Shuden, don't get very much screen time, and so it was a challenge to make them interesting and distinctive. In the end, however—after several drafts—I had their characters down so well that when my agent suggested cutting one of them, I just couldn't do it. So, perhaps there are a few too many names—but this is a political intrigue book. Lots of people to keep track of is a good thing.
I've actually been called a 'square peg' before. I believe the line was "You're one of those creative types—you're a square peg, trying to fit into a round hole." I was twenty-two, and was getting let go from one of my first jobs. That's another story, though. Just note—apperantly, fantasy writers and 'creative types' don't make good librarians. Go figure.
Anyway, onto the chapter. Sarene is brought to task here a little bit at the beginning of it. I kind of like this scene—she might be a good leader, but she's more impulsive, and more emotional, than Raoden. This has its good effects, but it does mean she has a little bit more of a potential to brood.
By the way—Roial's observation that people who 'turn away from a religion' being its strongest opponents actually applies to a lot of things in life, I think. You'll find no opponent more bitter than the one who used to consider himself your friend.
By the way, I took the bit where Sarene judged Raoden's height from real-life experience. My friend, Annie Gorringe, always used to talk about how her near 6' height sometimes made it difficult for her to find men to date. Often, the first thing she'd do when she was interested in a man was judge his height compared to her own.
Watch out, folks. If you know an author, you have to watch your tongues. Anything you say is fair game to be used in a novel, as far as we're concerned.
It's a tie—best cheesy line from this chapter.
He half-smiled, his eyes unconvinced. Then, however, he regarded her with an unreadable expression. "Well, I suppose the time during your Trial wasn't a complete loss. I gained something very important during those weeks."
"The supplies?" Sarene asked.
"When I opened my eyes, I thought that time I had died for certain." (Remember, when this happened, Raoden was laying on his back. He oppened his eyes, and the first thing he would have seen was Sarene's face hovering above him.)
What can we learn from this? That people who are falling in love are utter cheese-heads.
Speaking of Raoden's honor and truth, I'd like to note something about assassination and killing in this book. As I've stated in earlier annotations, I wanted this book's conflict to be non-violence focused. I think that the characters in this book, therefore, represent a more mature philosophy regarding social problems—a philosophy that could only exist among a people who have spent so much of their lives not having to deal with death and war. A people who have a valid reason for seeing things more like people in a contemporary culture.
As my friend Alan likes to say, however, "Violence may not always be the best answer—but it's usually AN answer." Conflict and social commentary should be based on the characters and their beliefs, rather than forced expressions of the author's message. That doesn't mean that I don't let my personal views shade my writing—I think that level of self-removal would be impossible. However, I do think that the themes expressed in a book need to be reflective of the characters.
I like that I was able to write a novel where the characters came to the conclusion that they'd rather find a way to stop their opponents without resorting to hiring assassins. This, I think, is a noble way of viewing the world. However, the realist in me says that most people—and most situations—won't be so open to this kind of decision. It says something that after working so long on ELANTRIS, I promptly went and made my next heroine (the one from MISTBORN) an assassin herself. In her world, life is far more brutal—and these sorts of philosophical problems aren't as difficult to deal with. There, there is too much riding on the protagonists for them to worry about their methods. I think they're still good people. They just have a slightly different philosophy.
Okay, so I'm a prude. I'll admit that. I like my characters to be married before they have sex. Besides, Sarene is right—she deserves a wedding. She's waited since chapter two to have her big, princess's wedding. She deserves something official. So, Raoden and Sarene spend this night apart. Besides assuaging my moral sense of decency, it works much better for the plot to have them apart.
Notice that Raoden awakes here, much in the same way that he did in chapter one. I kind of wanted this chapter to call back to that one. Both chapters open with a slight sense of peace, followed by awful discovery. Both end with Raoden being cast into hell.
Now, I'd just like to note here that Raoden's just returning a favor. Sarene is the one who gave him the clue that led to his fixing the Aons, then finally restoring Elantris. Now that she's in danger, he gets to rescue her in turn. Just because someone finds themselves in danger or trouble does not mean that they themselves aren't competent.
There have been a number of interviews posted recently. First off, Suvudu put up a video where Christopher Paolini and I interviewed each other this past weekend at Comic-Con International in San Diego. (With a cameo by Robin Hobb.)
On Friday 13 I met Brandon to talk to him about his career and his novels. We chatted in the foyer of the Stamford Grand, a hotel in central Melbourne. The foyer has a lounge where we sat in plush chairs at a little side table, surprisingly secluded for a lobby section of a busy international hotel. Brandon was wearing jeans, a tee with a check shirt hanging open over the top and—wait for it—a brown suede folding akubra, or the Australian equivalent of a cowboy hat.
You notice I’m wearing my Akubra, just special for you guys. I don’t know if it looks good or if it makes me look like a total tourist, but I decided I would wear it.
I like it, personally. I think it looks good and they’re so practical.
It’s really practical. I mean, it folds up and stuff—it’s great. I like it.
Be careful about folding it up: my husband used to have one of them and the wire gets bent and it gets really hard to get back into shape.
Oh, okay. Don’t fold it too much is what you’re saying? Okay. I am kind of a hat person: I like hats. I brought my bowler with me to wear around but then I switched to the Akubra.
Yes, I figure I need a local hat. I forced my wife to buy one too.
So she's here too?
She was here in Perth and stayed for the first half of the tour, then she flew home. It gets a little bit wearying. I mean, I’m here for three weeks. She wanted to get home to the family. My mother was babysitting. Again, babysitting the kids for a week is great for Grandma, but after a week it does get a little—you know—so we didn’t want to wear out our welcome.
Babysitting privileges are very important.
Yes, they are, they are indeed.
How many kids do you have?
We have two, a little four-year-old boy and a little two-year-old boy.
So they’re a handful.
They are. They always say you get what is coming to you. I have a little brother who is two years younger than myself, and we were supposedly a handful at that age too. So now I get to know the joys. They’re wonderful, they’re delightful, but two little boys are just balls of energy. I wish you could find some way to plug in to them and harness that energy. You could probably power the whole city. They’re just always going somewhere, you turn around and they’ve climbed up four shelves trying to reach something you’ve put up there.
Yes, oh yes. I remember when my son was that age. It was so scary. What are their names?
Joel and Dallin. Dallin is a local name; you don’t hear it much outside the area but it’s very common in the West there. A lot of people seem confused by it—Dallin, where’d you get that?—but it’s fairly common. I don’t know what the original derivation is, I should look it up, but it’s one of those names that we see that we liked.
Because you just love writing so much.
It’s what I do. It’s who I am. During the years before, I worked the graveyard shift at a hotel so I could write while I was at work. I don’t know if I’d have been able to keep doing that at minimum wage, but maybe, I don’t know. I probably would have had to find a job where I could do some writing at work or that left me with writing brain space. I don’t know what I would have ended up doing. I do have a Masters, so maybe I would have gone on and taught English, I don’t know. I’m glad it worked out. I’m not really trained for anything else.
You were a missionary in Seoul.
Has this cross-cultural experience influenced your writing?
Yeah, it has, quite a bit. One of the things you notice is that once you go live in a different culture, it opens your eyes to the different ways people can think, and how varied it is. Learning a new language and being immersed in it really opens your eyes to how language can affect thought and thought process.
Beyond that, growing up as a white male American, I never had to be the outsider. Living in a culture where suddenly you are, even though I was a privileged minority, not an underprivileged minority—I don’t know if there is a place you can go in the world where a white male American is an underprivileged minority—but just being a minority changes things. I think my writing grew much stronger.
I would suggest to every American, particularly, that this is an experience that would be very good for them. We Americans do tend to be a little bit turned inward. In Europe you have to experience dual cultures and things like that. I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in the States it’s pretty easy to forget the rest of the world. That’s a criticism that is levelled against the States quite reasonably. Going among another culture, serving the people there and forgetting yourself for a while, is just a wonderful experience. Absolutely wonderful.
You teach creative writing at Brigham Young University, right?
Yeah, I got my master's degree there in English with a creative writing emphasis. While I was doing it, the teacher who was teaching the genre fiction-focused creative writing course wanted to retire. They came to me—I had a book deal at that point—and asked me if I wanted to take over the class. I've taught it these 10 years or so. It's the only class I teach. I wouldn't call myself a real professor, but I do have this one class I get to play with and have fun teaching as an adjunct every year.
They have. And there's a little bit of a wrinkle. This is starting to become public knowledge: Emily, my wife, is pregnant. (applause) Thank you. The unexpected baby is due the 22nd of January, and the book is coming out the 8th of January. So, we're gonna play it by ear; the bulk of the tour might be shifted until February. My goal right now is like, on the 8th, to go do like five or six signings, and then wait, and then do a bigger tour in February once the baby has come, and once we have mothers-in-law staying at the house or things like that. And so, probably...originally I was going to do the release party in Charleston, but Harriet said that since I’ve been doing them in Provo all this time, we have everything set up to handle all these people, and people camping out and things like that, and she said she would rather do that. So the release party will probably be there, and...
You’re talking about the midnight release?
The midnight release party. The midnight release party will probably be in Provo and then we’ll do a handful more dates, one of which will probably be in Charleston, across the next five days, and then we’ll put everything else off until February. And I don’t know where those handful of dates are going to be yet; it seems likely that we would try to do, like, one in San Diego, probably, and then one in New York and then one in Charleston, you know, try and hit everything, and then maybe one in Chicago, so it’s like, each region we’re at least doing one, is the goal. But we will be in Charleston, which is kind of close to you guys. I think it’s important that we do a signing in Charleston for the last book.
And Brandon will be at JordanCon in Atlanta...
Yes, I will be.
...So if you want to come see him in April, you can.
Yes, I will be there. Definitely, that will be my first con after all of this, so...depending on the fan reaction...(laughter) I may be there...
We may be there with some tar and some feathers...
Yeah, I may be there in armor, but I will be there, one way or another. So, there you go.
I had trouble deciding on the dedication for this book. I know a lot of awesome people who deserve the honor. My mother got the dedication of my first one—that was easy—but it was much more difficult to decide who got to go next.
I eventually decided on Beth Sanderson, my Paternal Grandmother. Both of my grandmothers are awesome people. I decided to use Beth for this one because she is one of the only fantasy fans in my immediate family. (The other being my little sister Lauren.)
I still remember Grandma Beth talking about the sf/f books that she'd read, trying to get me to read them. She taught junior high English, and I think she must have been great at the job. She is just truly a fun-loving person, always smiling despite the physical hardships she's gone through lately.
In addition, she's a little screwy—in a good way. Everyone says I must have inherited my strangeness from her.
So, this book is for you, grandma!
I do. I took over the class at Brigham Young University—it's just the one class; I only teach it once a year—but it felt important to me when the other author who was teaching it retired that it still continued going, because it had been part of what helped a lot of new writers in this genre get their start. And so I've been teaching it for eight or nine years now; I took it over right after the other author retired.
So that's one class a year, is it?
Yep, one class a year. I'm as little a professor as one can be and still perhaps have the title. One class a year, one night a week, and even then I miss it several times a semester because I'm off touring doing things like this. I actually missed my finals on Saturday; I had to have my TA go collect finals for me because I was in Australia.
I think you're a borderline professor. [laughter]
You know, I was in the story immediately, it was there, I pictured it—and then he says there are some that are good, that by working hard you can get better, and then there are some that just will be able to write no matter what they do. You have a master's degree in Creative Writing which is, I think, outside the norm of science fiction...
Yeah, there are certainly others. Honestly, my master's degree was a stalling tactic. I wanted to become a writer; I was writing very vigorously, and I wanted to get the degree. It certainly helped me, but more it was a, I did not want to face having to say, "I'm not going to be doing this" if that makes sense. And I felt a few extra years of school to spend more time....you know, schooling was wonderful for me, because it was a time during which I could just be a writer, and I could focus on my writing, and the classes I would take really helped me with my writing. I would try to focus on ones that would give me things to write about, and I wanted to extend that experience.
I also wanted to, initially, approach the idea of getting teaching jobs. I soon learned once I got my master's degree there's actually the economy there. If you want teaching jobs, you really have to focus on the things that will lead to teaching jobs, and sometimes that actually is not the writing. You have to part of, you know, the Graduate Student Associations, you have to be publishing in the right journals, and writing science fiction and fantasy was not going to get me there, and I had to make that choice very very early on where I said, well, I'm going to let my master's teach me to be a better writer, but I am not going to pursue teaching any more, because I just don't have the drive to do that. There are people that have as much passion for that as I have passion for writing my stories, and those are the people that should be teaching.
Now, I'll teach this one class—I really do enjoy it—but I don't want to do it full time. By the time I'm done with this one class every year, I'm like exhausted of teaching and done reading student work, and want to be done, and it takes me a whole year to recharge to do it again. And that says to me, you know, I have an interest in it but not a passion, a super passion for it. So yeah, I made that call. The master's degree was useful, mostly to keep me around other writers, to be involved with them, and a lot of my writing classes were actually just workshops, and they were workshops with other people who were writing very good stuff.
I have to say that, in listening to you on panels, I believe that that master's experience shows through. When other people are talking, I don't believe they are nearly as articulate in the things that they're saying.
Right, a lot of writers write by instinct, like I said before, and actually talking about writing is different from knowing how to do it. You know, there are a lot of writers who are really great writers—better writers than I am—that can't really vocalize why they do what they do, and I think that the study of it required me to look at it through those eyes, so that I can, which is very nice. It does make it more helpful when I'm trying to explain to people what I do, and hopefully that will help them.
Sanderson has a prominent place in the fantasy world, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. Although he's been gone since his college days, the 38-year-old tries to get back to Lincoln whenever possible, and he still identifies himself as a Husker.
"I always follow the Huskers," Sanderson said. "Nebraska is very close to my heart. When people ask if I caught the (BYU) game, I'll say 'no.' I usually follow the Huskers instead."
I'd be laying in a gutter somewhere, unable to produce anything valuable for society. [laughter] I don't know. I mean, I was always [?] My mom sent me to school to become a doctor, but that was never gonna happen. [laughter] I don't know. I mean, I went through my grad program—all the other grad students were doing all this work to go get PhDs and stuff, and I didn't do any of that. I was writing books, only. And if I hadn't sold a novel, then, I don't know. Maybe I'd be still working at the hotel, the graveyard shift I worked at for years, writing books overnight. I wanted to be a writer, and I put pretty much everything into it. I'd probably be teaching English at a community college somewhere, and still writing two books a year without anyone ever reading them.
And playing a lot of Magic the Gathering. [laughter, cheers]
My name is [?] from [?] Utah. This is for you, Brandon. In his book Maphead, your former roommate and Jeopardy! champion [Ken Jennings] said that he liked having you as a roommate because you made him look good for the ladies. Would you like to defend yourself in public? [laughter, applause]
Well, referencing Ken, the second-most-famous roommate that lived together during that time...[laughter, cheers, applause]...I would have to say that I didn't take any liberties in my books to take public potshots at him, because I'm more secure than that. [laughter, applause] Our other roommate is actually right here filming us—Earl [Cahill], who was our roommate...[?].
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.
Is there a revenge-of-the-nerds quality to being a best-selling author?
You know, I was a nerdy kid going through high school, and then I got to college and that all vanished. I mean, a lot of my good friends—when we were in high school, we would never have been able to hang out together because we were in such different cliques or whatever. Now, who cares? I'll make them watch the latest Star Trek movie and they'll make me watch, you know, the World Series, and we'll get along and enjoy each other's world and culture. So no, I really don't feel that.
I believe congratulations are in order :D You have a baby due out soon! How's it feel to almost be a father?
It's very exciting and I don't know really what to expect. I just hope he doesn't come while I'm on book tour.
Let's hope not ;) So do you have any last thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers?
Try reading Warbreaker if you haven't already. My goal is to get better with each book. I hope you stick with me during the process as I figure out what my style is!
Now Brandon, I know that you probably are asked this frequently, but when did you begin the creative writing process? Was it as a child?
Well actually, I'm a little bit different than most authors. I didn't start as early as a lot of them. If you asked a lot of authors that question, they'll say, "Oh, I wrote my first book when I was in first grade, and ever since then I wanted to be a writer." Well, I didn't start off as a writer. I actually had a big period in my life where I didn't like to read, didn't like books at all. And it wasn't until I was in junior high and a teacher handed me a fantasy novel that it really all started.
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.
That's awesome. I'm not going to keep you too much longer. And since you're not a drinker . . .
I'm not a drinker. That's a . . . yeah.
But you did tell me you had an alcohol-related story . . .
I kind of have one, and it's not about me.
We are still writers.
It's actually about . . . so this is your piece of trivia. I am Mormon, and I was roommates in college with another famous Mormon—Ken Jennings, who won all the Jeopardy! money.
Okay, all right.
This is my roommate from college. And so the only liquor story, you like . . . hey, liquor stuff. He, on Jeopardy!, kept flubbing all the liquor questions. 'Cause he's Mormon!
And so my friend Ken had to go memorize big lists of mixed drinks. So he's the most literate person in all sorts of alcohol that I know that's Mormon because he had to have all these questions for Jeopardy! And so he keeps buzzing in and winning these things. It's pretty amusing.
Were there Elders calling him with questions, "So Ken . . . is there something you need to be telling us?"
(laughs) Yeah, I don't know.
Or is it more like, "Ken, you tithe appropriately and we'll just never mention this again."
(laughs) Yeah, I don't know. You should have him on some time. He's an author, too. But, there's your piece of trivia: Brandon Sanderson, Ken Jennings—roommates.
There we go. That's as close as I can get for a liquor commentary out of a guy who said, "What flavor of water shall I discuss on your podcast?"
Yes, that's right. That's right.
As I'm sitting here drinking a Dasani because still I drank one of those jalapeno things, and it made my teeth sweat.
Those things look kind of cool.
They're very pretty.
Actually, I had some punch last night that tasted like Kool-Aid, except it was 85 degree Kool-Aid, and it was disgusting.
So no, you're really not missing that much, except for . . .
Yeah, except for the booze. Brandon, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
My favorite way to unwind is to gather together seven friends, and draft some Magic the Gathering. My personal nerd obsession.
Favorite set to draft?
Lately, Innistrad. Historically...original Ravnica block, I think. Hard to say.
Also love cubing.
My friends have built a cube with really high power density. It's just a blast to draft fresh and build a new singleton deck each time your play, isn't it?
It's awesome. I don't know why it took me so long to come around to trying it.
If you had a time machine, where would you travel to?
Learn Hebrew. Go listen to Jesus. Get free bread and fish. After that, forward in time to get myself a flying car.
Not to be "That Guy" (as I am also a fan of your works), but Jesus likely spoke Aramaic.
Ha. Well, that's probably the language of his sermons, so I guess I would need that one too. And probably Greek, just to be careful.
Man. Owning a time machine is tough work.
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.
It's a really interesting thing. When I got to college, I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I started reading the books that I loved as a youth and studying them and trying to figure out how to do writing. Because . . . I love my professors, but writing teachers don't actually teach you how to write. I don't know if any of you guys have taken writing classes, but they're like well, let's explore your inner voice. And I'm like, you're telling me I have to hear voices? Well, I already do but they're not telling me how to write. How do I write? How do I make a character cool? And teachers aren't really big on teaching you how to make characters cool. They like to teach you how to develop your style.
And so I started reading books, and I was actually very very disappointed because some of authors that I read—I won't mention names—but some of authors I read as a youth did not hold up when I was an adult. And they were perfect for me at the age, but as I tried to inspect them as an adult writer trying to develop my style, I didn't find the depth that I wanted to dig into that I thought would teach me how to write. Robert Jordan still did. In fact, Robert Jordan was the one that I would dig into and find how much I'd missed. I constantly tell a story about as a 15 year old reading these books, you know, there's this character Moiraine who's just like always keeping the boys down and not letting them . . . She's always giving them orders, and I was always like, Moiraine, just leave them alone, they need to go off and do cool things! And then I read the books as an adult and I'm studying them and I'm like, you stupid kids, listen to Moiraine!
There's this depth to Wheel of Time books that the various characters are all expressed on very different levels. And Moiraine has an entire story going on behind the scenes that you don't see because you don't see through her viewpoints. And there's a little subtlety and detail. I mean, maybe I'm dense, but I didn't get the whole thing with it being our world, and there . . . and who was it? Not Buzz Aldrin, um—
John Glenn being in the book referenced, and America and Russia and the Cold War being referenced in legend. I didn't get that stuff till I was in college, and I'm like how did it miss that? You know, it's like a smack to the face, right, the first time you realize that Egwene is Egwene al'Vere, which is Guinevere. And you know, I didn't get this as a kid, and building these things out and understanding them and seeing the depth of writing that he was capable of—the really wonderful sentences that evoke so much feeling, emotion, and description.
I started studying the Wheel of Time to learn how to write. It became my primary model, just on a prose level, of how to do this thing that no one could teach me how to do. I spent the next . . . I decided I wanted to be a writer—actually, I was serving mission for the LDS church in Korea. The reason is I . . . I really wanted to be a writer before then, but my mother convinced me that writers don't get scholarships, and that I should be a doctor instead. And so I actually applied to BYU—I grew up in Nebraska—to go be a chemistry major, because that got scholarships. And then I got into college and realized what they do to all those people who just said they want to be chemistry majors to get a scholarship, is they put them in a really hard chemistry class that other people don't have to take their freshman year to show you what chemistry is like.
And I then went to Korea and was so happy to be on a different continent from chemistry. I did not enjoy that freshman year, but I did spend a lot of that time writing. And I decided I missed writing so much, but I didn't miss chemistry, that I had made the wrong choice, and I decided to start writing a book on my days off during my missionary work, and I just started writing in a notebook. And I completely fell in love with the process. I'd known since a kid this is what I wanted to do, but that's the first time that it clicked for me, that what I loved to do should be my job, right? That I could spend eight hours working on a story and come out of it feeling awesome and have not missed that time at all. I get the same thing from a lot of my friends who are code monkeys. It kind of scratches the same itch—that you get into it, and you're creating something, and it's working, and it's clicking. And yes, it can be hard but you love it at the same time. That's what I wanted to do.
Over the course of the next eight years I wrote 13 novels, trying to break in. And I eventually sold Elantris, my sixth book. And I sold it to Tor books. And when I got an offer from Tor . . . It was funny, I called up my agent. He said, well, I want to take this and I want to shop it, because usually you can get a better offer if you have one offer from somebody. This is basic business philosophy, right? And you go to everyone else and say, well, we got this offer from this company, will you beat it? And I said no, you can't do that. And he's like, but we can get more money. And I said, Tor is Robert Jordan's publisher. [laughter] We're not going anywhere else. When you have an offer from the top you just take it, and I did. And he, to this . . . not to this day, because things have kind of changed in my career, but there were many years where he would say to me, you know, I still wish you'd let me taken that, I bet we could have, you know, got a bigger launch, and yada yada yada. And when I did start working on the Wheel of Time, I actually called him and I said, so do you still wish? And he's like ah, you know, ah . . .
Did you own Thriller by Michael Jackson in the 80s?
I did own Thriller, I can proudly say. Great album. I have a very distinct memory of my brother Jordan and I in the old house we had. I was younger than ten, and we were sitting at the kitchen table staring at a cassette player and listening to "Beat It". I remember the two of us just being in awe of this cool music. Mom walked in, tried to figure out what the lyrics were, and said, "What is this?" She was used to us listening to kids' music, and suddenly we'd discovered Michael Jackson! She was just kind of flabbergasted that her boys were growing up and discovering pop music. My brother went on to get the Thriller video for his birthday that year.
Have you ever seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Thoughts?
I haven't seen it. I'm sorry. My friend Dan Wells is much more of a horror movie buff than I am. That's a gap in my experience, I understand, but I was spending all that time reading fantasy novels instead of watching classic horror movies.
Do you feel your Mormonism is ever at odds with some of the hivemind aspects of Reddit? For example, Orson Scott Card is particularly reviled around here, though more for his personal views on what many consider to be a societal issue rather than a religious one.
I mostly hang out in places like /r/fantasy, /r/askhistorians, and /r/magicTCG. Things like foodforthought and truereddit also interest me. The smaller subreddits are a wonderful thing.
At times, I feel at odds with what I'm reading—which is just fine. If I only ever read things that are what I would say, I'm not learning anything new. Now, sometimes when you combine large groups and anonymity, you get some pretty caustic interactions. I avoid those. I don't feel reddit is any worse or better in this regard than other websites. But, then, I have RES and actively use it to manage things, so perhaps I don't see much of the worst of it.
Hey Brandon! Have you ever been in a fist fight?
Only a couple of times, both as a young man. Neither lasted beyond one or two fists being thrown in a very childish way. Almost more like slap-fests; not particularly manly.
Hey Brandon! Big fan, and a regular listener to the very insightful Writing Excuses. I recently took all your talk about making time to write to heart and have since found a way to juggle my career, life, and MBA study in order to write. Over the past 6 weeks, I've done about 50k words and still managed to stay on top of everything. So, I guess I'm saying thanks to you, Mary, Howard, and Dan for the kick in the butt I needed to get to writing!
I do have some questions however: What do you do to refill the creative well?
Congrats! Nice work.
Family is a big part of it for me. Also, times just listening to music and not writing anything down.
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.
I just wanted to say that Towers of Midnight saved my life. Literally. I figured that if I were going to kill myself, I should at least finish up this book. By the time I was done, I A) had gotten enough help that I no longer wanted to die and B) was really looking forward to the next one.
The characters of the Wheel of Time had been my oldest friends for half a lifetime. I couldn't just abandon them, you know?
Wow. I don't know what to say other than that. I'm glad you got the help you need, my friend. Depression is a pernicious beast. I wish you the best.
Thank you for sharing this, and I know exactly how you feel about the characters.
Most people believe that creative success is a pipe dream only achieved by people they don't know. They also don't embrace anything like it until it has been approved of by a mainstream gatekeeper. My favorite story illustrating this happened last year around this time. A waitress at our local diner overheard me and my buddies talking about movies, one of them being a movie I wrote. She was making small talk with me at the register and asked "So your movie, will it play at a theater here in Austin or something?" I said "Yes, several. It's on 2500 screens nationwide, and it should be on a number of them here." Her eyes lit up "Oh! you mean it's a real movie. I thought it was just, you know, an indie thing."
In their eyes you are not a writer, you are a dreamer, until proven otherwise.
Similar thing happened to me. A friend was having a party at her house, and I dropped by. She introduced me by saying, "This is Brandon. He's a writer."
One of her friends piped up immediately. "Oh, so he's unemployed."
This attitude in our society has always bothered me. As if mastering an art weren't hard enough, we have to deal with the derision of those who think we're fools for even trying.
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.
How did you become interested in being a writer?
My start as a writer can be traced back to when I was fourteen years old. I was not a very distinguished student, so to speak: Bs and Cs in all my classes. I really didn't have any direction, either; there was nothing I really loved to do. I was also what they call a "reluctant reader". My reading skills were not fantastic, so when I tried reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, it was just completely over my head, and I assumed that all fantasy novels were boring. It was a teacher who handed me the very first fantasy novel I ever really finished reading. The book was called Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, and it had this gorgeous Michael Whelan cover on it which immediately caught my eye. I read the book and absolutely fell in love with it. I became an avid reader, mostly of fantasy novels, over the next couple of years. Soon I began to think, "You know, somebody out there is making a living at this, and it seems like it's something that I would really enjoy doing." That's when I found some purpose and direction.
There were certain influences in my life, my mother primarily, who convinced me that being a writer was hard to do, and she was right. It's one of these jobs where not everybody who tries it actually makes it. She convinced me to go into chemistry during college because I had done well in the sciences all throughout high school, thinking I could write in my spare time and have a real, solid job. It wasn't terrible advice; I'm just not sure it was the right advice for me at that time. I served a mission and during that time I was very, very pleased to be on another continent, away from chemistry. I really missed writing, though, because I'd been doing it for fun all through that freshman year before I left. I actually started my first novel when I was fifteen, but it didn't go anywhere. It was rather derivative and all those things that you expect from the majority of novels written by guys in high school. Knowing I could actually produce something, though, gave me some encouragement. Of course I didn't show it to anybody. I hid it behind the painting in my room because I didn't want anyone to see the pages I'd printed out and make fun of me.
When I got back from my mission, I thought, "You know what? I'm going to give it a try." It sounds kind of stupid, but like I said, there are people that get to do this for a living, and I decided that I was never going to be happy unless I gave it a shot. So I changed my major to English because I assumed that's what you did if you wanted to be a writer. I've since learned that that's not the only way to go about it, but it did work for me. It gave me a much better grounding in the classics. I was able to take some creative writing classes too, as a part of my required credits. I got a job working the graveyard shift at a hotel, which was great for my writing because I was there most weeknights from 11 pm until 7 am, and the only requirements that they put me to were, "Just don't fall asleep. Do whatever you want, just don't fall asleep. We need you awake in case there's an emergency or if anyone comes in." I ended up spending a lot of my time working on novels during those early morning hours, and that's how I was able to pay for school, attend it full-time, and still have time for writing. I did that for about five years until I eventually decided that I would go back for a master's degree. It was sort of a way to delay having to make the inevitable decision of what I was really going to do with my life. My backup career then became working as an English professor, partially because I do enjoy teaching, and I enjoy scholarship on the academic level. My parents were worried about me, though. They were afraid that I was going to end up begging for beans on the side of the road, or whatever it is that starving artists do. At least being able to tell them that I was getting a master's degree was helpful. It was also nice to be part of a community of writers and to be able to see what other people were creating.
Hey Brandon, I'm a huge fan of your books and a result I've spent a disproportionate amount of time researching your stories and the Cosmere and as a result I doubt there's many questions I have that you can answer without revealing secrets you've been growing for a while so I'll ask who is your favorite James Bond?
Connery. When I was twelve or so, and had insomnia, I'd sneak down (past my mother) to my father's den and watch Connery Bond films with him. Still cherish those memories.
I always though Brosnan would be the greatest Bond ever—and then he was just TOO good. It felt like a parody. He was somehow just way over the top as bond. Craig has been a breath of fresh air story-wise, and I think his might be the best films in the series. But his films itch just slightly at me, as if they are failing to fully be "Bond" films, despite their excellence.
Did you always want to be a writer, or did you have other career aspirations?
No, I haven't always wanted to write. Unlike a lot of writers, I was not born as a novelist, and I wasn't writing as a kid. I actually didn't like books until I was a teenager. My eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Reader, gave me a fantasy novel, and it was in fantasy novels in which I discovered myself and came to love the idea of storytelling. That's when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I was fifteen, but I had no idea how to write. I just jumped into it and started practicing. I think that's the best way for someone to become a writer—you're a writer if you write. If you sit down and say, "I'm going to be a writer!" and you start writing, working on your fiction, you're a writer! If you want to break into publishing, the best thing to do is to practice your craft
What are some of your favorite activities outside of writing?
Most of my free time right now is consumed by playing with my three little boys, ages five, three, and less than a year. They are a handful, but also a delight. When I have a spare moment, my nerd obsession is the card game Magic: The Gathering.
IAmA 74-time Jeopardy! champion, Ken Jennings. I will not be answering in the form of a question.
I'll be here on and off today in case anyone wants to Ask Me Anything. Someone told me the questions here can be on any subject, within reason. Well, to me, "within reason" are the two lamest words in the English language, even worse than "miniature golf" or "Corbin Bernsen." So no such caveats apply here. Ask Me ANYTHING.
I've posted some proof of my identity on my blog: http://ken-jennings.com/blog/?p=2614
and on "Twitter," which I hear is very popular with the young people. http://twitter.com/kenjennings
Updated to add: You magnificent bastards! You brought down my blog!
Updated again to add: Okay, since there are only a few thousand unanswered questions now, I'm going to have to call this. (Also, I have to pick up my kids from school.)
But I'll be back, Reddit! When you least expect it! MWAH HA HA! Or, uh, when I have a new book to promote. One of those. Thanks for all the fun.
Updated posthumously to add: You can always ask further questions on the message boards at my site. You can sign up for my weekly email trivia quiz or even buy books there as well.[/whore]
I hear you had an awesome roommate when you lived in Utah who went on to write books and stuff. Why don't you tell us about how awesome he was?
I kid. (Only a little.) Okay, a serious question. How did it feel to beat Brad? I always felt you got the raw end of things during your previous meeting, coming in cold as you had to. In some ways, that free pass to the final round was a backhanded compliment.
Hey Brandon! I hope I'm allowed to out this comment as coming from bajillion-seller-of-nerd-fantasy books Brandon Sanderson.
Yeah, I felt like the buzzer gods were not smiling on me last time Brad kicked my butt. This would have been sweet, sweet revenge, if a supercomputer hadn't been raping me the entire time.
I wish I had something clever to say, but this is just an awesome development in an already great thread.
So, were you two really roommates? If so, how did you manage to keep all the women away from the shared living quarters of an aspiring fantasy author and a trivia nerd?
Yes, we were—just lucky chance. I moved into a place where he was already living. A duplex with five rooms, I think. It wasn't too long (six months or so?) before Ken got married to a girl two or three houses down. So you could say that we failed at keeping the women away...failed WITH STYLE.
And, if you want your head to spin, try going to dinner with Ken, his brother Nathan, and Earl (Ken's old friend and college bowl team-mate.) All three are geniuses, and it's a strange experience to be around them as they play off of one another. The literary allusions, pop culture references, and puns create a conflux of wit nearly dense enough to pull down small astral bodies.
Wow you roomed with Ken Jennings? Damn that is a cool bit of trivia. I apologize for this being an offensive or intrusive question, but did it have something to do with you both being Mormon or was that total coincidence?
Yeah, I was going to BYU at the time. Ken was finished, I believe. We had both come to Provo for school, though. (I'm from Nebraska originally.)
Wait...are you really Brandon Sanderson? Because if so I literally just finished reading Mistborn the other night. It totally made me cry.
Thank you for reading. I feel both guilty and proud to have made you cry.
Best of luck to you in your writing. Just keep at it. The secret to becoming a great writer is to first be a dedicated writer.
This is so sad, instead of wanting to ask the OP questions, I just want to ask Brandon Sanderson about the WoT series! I need to know what happens to Rand! Cmoooon! Get back to writing so I can spend my hard earned money on you! >.> P.S. All of my friends (including me) are graduating with our post grads this year and sharing the WoT has been one of the ways we keep in touch. If you could, I dunno, like send me a whats up or something, I would poop my pants, and then show it to them. But hey, that's just me.
I'll do an AMA eventually. One of these days. (I keep saying that.) Anyway, back to writing, as commanded.... :)
Sanderson and Jennings were roommates... Nerdgasm. Ken, do you read WoT?
Our other roommates were Brent Spiner, "Weird Al," Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, 5/6 of Monty Python, and the lightsaber kid from that one video.
There's got to be a sitcom pitch in here somewhere. Two semi-famous Mormons, living together, being nerds. Like Big Bang Theory, only with more green Jell-O. Glen Beck could play the evil apartment building owner who keeps trying to come up with crazy schemes to get us kicked out, since our apartment is rent controlled to 1870's prices as long as a pure descendant of Brigham Young lives in it.
Stephenie Meyer is our version of Wilson, only instead of standing behind a fence, she hides in the basement and gives cryptic, half-nonsense advice in exchange for bad poetry. Tom Cruise and Jon Travolta live in the rival Scientologist apartment building across the street, and are always trying to one-up us. Season finale: Cruise secretly joins the church of Inglip.
TIL that Mormons can be hilarious. Would never have guessed from the pantaloons or whatever those Mormon undies are called.
Wait. I'd have thought that wearing odd underwear would be an extra-special indication of hilariousness. I've been wearing it for the wrong reason all these years...
(They're actually called garments. And yes, they are a little odd. The Mormon equivalent of a turban, or a kippah, or what have you. They're basically just a T-shirt and knee-length boxers, though, so they're less strange than they probably sound.)
Good point. Have you ever seen the Mormon temple in Nauvoo, IL? I grew up in that county, it was kind of a big deal when it was first built.
I keep meaning to get there. I had relatives in the area when I was younger, so we'd make the drive up from Nebraska (where I grew up) to the area frequently. Haven't been back since the temple was re-built, though.
Brandon, you are a celebrity and Utah County claims you. How do you feel about that?
Oh, I feel pretty good about it. I passed a milestone recently where I realized I had lived in Utah County longer than anywhere else—which may not seem like much of a milestone to you, but for years I was from Nebraska, transplanted to Utah. Now, I am from Utah with my origins in Nebraska.
Though the celebrity part, I'm not 100 percent sure about. As a writer, we get to do this thing we love and it's about the stories. It's not about us. I don't write these to be a celebrity. I write these so that I can tell the stories I want to tell, so I like the focus to be on the books and less on me.
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.
What are you proudest of?
What I'm proudest of? That is an open-ended difficult question to answer. There are a lot of things that I'm proud of. More than proud, I'm thankful, honestly. I'm thankful that I get to do this. I'm thankful for the readers who support me. I'm very proud of all of my works in some ways and yet, at the end of the day, it's less about being proud of these things and more just supremely thankful that I get to do what I love for a living. That people enjoy experiencing it, that I get to do this thing that it is supremely creative that engages all of my faculties and gives me a zest for life and then, I actually get to do that for a living. I'm sometimes just in awe that it all comes together and works.