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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Melissa, I think we have members from another forum joining us and they have information that we don't have. Maybe even advanced book information, like we know nothing about The Way of Kings and only heard about the book recently and know nothing of its content.
Could some of you newcomers introduce yourselves (maybe on our "Introduce Yourself" thread and not clutter up this one) and tell us where you are from? We love the information you are bringing and introducing on this thread but we are confused.
I posted on my website that I'd be doing this, and I don't often have time to interact on forums. (They are a delightful way to interact with readers, but have proven a HUGE time-sink for me in the past. As you might have noticed, I tend to write—and respond—in depth when people ask questions of me.) So I only appear on forums occasionally. Hence the involvement of those from my forums looking for some answers to questions.
Some backstory might help you all. I began writing in earnest in 1997. During those years, I shared the books I wrote with a group of friends. This group worked with me on The Leading Edge, a science fiction fanzine/semiprozine at BYU. Eventually, once we graduated, we founded the Timewaster's Guide, partially as a forum where we could hang out. (Tage and Ookla from the TWG forums—aka Ben and Peter—are among them, and are still very good friends of mine. Another easter egg is to watch how Ben Olsen and Peter Ahlstrom are treated in the acknowledgements of many of my books.)
The overarching story and theme of my books, what I wanted to accomplish as a writer, and how I approached the fantasy genre, all took shape during this time. These readers read many of my most important, and influential (on me as a writer) novels while in draft form. The biggest three of these during this era were White Sand, Dragonsteel, and Elantris. (On the tail end, I wrote—but never finished—the foundations of what years later became Warbreaker.)
The next era of my unpublished writing was when I worked on the worlds, stories, and themes that eventually became Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and a book called the Aether of Night. Many of my writing group friends have read these books, including the first draft of Kings (which is very, very different from the current draft.)
Anyway, these unpublished books are NOT canon yet. I don't canonize a novel until I publish it. But some of the hidden themes (including Hoid and Adonalsium) of my books are present in these novels. (Dragonsteel and Aether of Night are particularly connected—though of the unpublished Shardworld books, White Sand is probably the best written.) Again, none of this is canon yet. (For instance, I've taken chunks out of Dragonsteel to use in the revision of The Way of Kings.) However, these old books do contain clues that aren't available to the average reader.
Dragonsteel can be ordered through inter-library loan through the university library system. There are only four or five copies in existence. The BYU library has one (the book was my honor's thesis.) I believe the honors department has one. My thesis chair has one. (And maybe the committee has one, I can't remember.) I've got one in my basement. And I believe Ben's sister may have sneaked a copy out of the trash when I was cleaning out old manuscripts. (That might be White Sand.)
I do have intentions of rewriting these books and publishing them eventually. They each have pieces of the story. (Though I may decide to shift certain themes from one series to another as I eventually write and publish them.) I've been known to email White Sand or Aether of Night to readers who email and ask. (Though it does make me cringe a little to do so. In many of these books, I was experimenting with magic, theme, and narrative style—some experiments were a success, some were failures.)
Dragonsteel is frozen; I don't send it out any longer, as to not spoil the parts of The Way of Kings that I decided fit better in that world. So the only way to get it now is to borrow it from BYU. I've been told that Dragonsteel is the only undergraduate BYU honor's thesis ever to have been be read so often that it needed to be rebound. (A dubious honor, I'm not sure how I feel about so many people reading a book of mine that is that mediocre.)
[to fan whose book he's signing] So who's this book for?
For my friend at BYU-I.
My sister goes to BYU-I. She's 24? She just graduated.
What's her major?
Secondary Education with a Science Focus. In fact, I think she's doing her student teaching this semester.
So you were originally a Chemistry major, right?
I was. And I really liked all the concepts, but the math killed me. The math was so hard, and I didn't enjoy the busywork of it, and that was a big deciding factor for me. I wanted to do something that I enjoyed the busy work. And you know, no one likes everything. There are times in writing where it's hard. And you get up in the morning and you'd rather just play video games instead of work, but it doesn't matter what you're going to do, that's going to happen, but all in all, even the little stuff in writing I love, so I switched to trying to be a writer. And it worked out for me eventually.
The class you teach at BYU, is that only for graduate students?
No, it's open to anyone, but grad students get to register first. And because of that, they tend to grab a lot of the seats. I do add a lot on the first day. What I usually do is I ask people how much they've written, and the people who have done the most writing will probably benefit the most from the class, so I let them have a place. So if you go to BYU, are you at BYU right now?
I'm at BYU-I, but I'm probably going to transfer. But he wants to take it. What's the title of the class? Brandon: How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy. English 318. If you want to get in the class, take a year, write a book or two, and then when I say, who's written the most books, most people have not written any. And so if you've written one or two, your chances of getting the slot in the class go drastically up.
Maybe children books.
Yeah. They can be children's books. Not picture books. Picture books are too easy. [laughter] Well, not easy. But easy to write poorly.
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]
I do; I teach a class.
...and, what are some of the typical mistakes you find writers in that class make?
Oh, there's a whole host of things we can talk about in this realm. I teach the class because I actually took the class when I was an undergraduate, and they were looking for a teacher—the teacher who was teaching it moved on—and I took it on because I didn't want them to cancel it. It's how to write science fiction and fantasy. And I would say that one of the big early issues with fantasy and science fiction writers is the infodump. They don't know how to balance those early pages, those early chapters, in making it interesting and exciting without dumping a whole bunch of worldbuilding on us, which is a real challenge because...we just had a panel on this here at the con; worldbuilding is what we read science fiction and fantasy for; it's the cool stuff; it's the cream that drives us to read this; it's what we love, and yet, throwing too much on us at the beginning can really stifle a book, and I would say that's a big rookie mistake.
Another big rookie mistake is assuming that all it takes is writing one book. Most authors, you know, you learn to write by writing. I like to use the metaphor lately of learning to hit a baseball with a baseball bat. You only learn to do that by practicing; you can't read about hitting a baseball and then go out and know how to do it. Certainly reading about it is going to help you with some things, and as you're swinging that baseball bat, the pros are not thinking about which muscles they're moving. They're not thinking about necessarily even their stance at that point; they've just done it so much and done it so well that they get to the point that they can do it, second nature. And that's what a writer wants to learn to do. And you do that by, at the beginning, you do think about your stance. You do think about your grip. You do work on these...you target certain things and you learn to extend the metaphor. You work on your prose or you work on your characters, or you specifically hone in on this, but at the end of the day, writing a lot and practicing is what's going to teach you to fix problems in your writing by instinct. And I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one. I don't think everyone has to do that, but I certainly think that your first job to do is to finish one novel, and then you need to start writing a second one.
Alright, thank you. The science fiction magazine at BYU: do you recommend your students participate in that?
I do. I actually offer extra credit for anyone who goes to the magazine and reads slush. I feel for a new writer, reading slush on a magazine can be really helpful because you see what some of the rookie mistakes are, being made by other people kind of in your same mode, your same skill set, and sometimes, when I did it as an aspiring writer, it taught me so much about what newer writers were doing, and things that I could avoid. It also helps to spend a little time around editors and see what's going through the minds of editors. Certainly a magazine is different from a book publication, but they share a lot of things, and it can be very helpful in teaching, so I suggest if there's a local fanzine—or a local semi-prozine, which is what the BYU magazine is, kind of, what the terminology is for it—go be a part; read some slush, and be part of the community, and see what other writers are doing.
Thank you. I think that's what Zach pictured in mind when he started Flying Island Press and Flagship was that very same...I think he was actually on that staff at BYU.
Oh, good! Good.
And I understand what you mean by reading a lot of slush, because we read a lot of slush.
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.
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]
He's referenced in The Emperor’s Soul, but he got cut from the book. I actually wrote the scene with him in it, but it didn't fit so we had to cut it.
Are we ever going to get his origin story, or learn more about him?
Yes, we definitely will learn more about him. A book that has more of him is Dragonsteel, which I wrote when I was undergraduate as my honors thesis. It's not his origin story, but it's one he's mostly part of. We will find out everything, and get the complete story for him. It will happen eventually.
Well, I look forward to reading more about him... He's an interesting character.
Yep. Well, you do give a lot of advice, don't you? I mean you teach creative writing classes.
Do you still do that? Even with all this on your plate?
I still do it. But I only teach one class a year nowadays. So, it only lasts for about three months. But I feel a need to do that because it was in that class when I was an undergraduate, long ago, that I got the final bit of information I needed, it was the final kick in the pants, so to speak, to go get published.
It was taught by David Farland at the time who was just doing what I'm doing. He was a professional writer. He was just stepping in to teach the class for a few years. And he gave me real world publishing advice, gave the whole class real world publishing advice. A lot of creative writing classes are very touchy feely. That's a good thing; they'll talk about the feel of writing and how to grow a story and all of this stuff. But Dave was the first one that came in and said, "Look, you can do this for a living. I'm going to tell you how and we're going to talk about the nuts and bolts of creating a story." And that was wildly useful to me. And so I feel a need to go back, when I have the opportunity and explain to new writers, those same sorts of things.
Dave knows what he’s talking about too. I mean, he did the Runelords.
Yep, Mm hmm. Which is also a New York Times bestselling success now.
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.
Mr. Sanderson, I noticed that Utah seems to be producing a lot of writers lately, You, Dan Wells, and Larry Correia come to mind offhand. Do you have any insight as to why Utah has been producing a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy writers?
You know, a lot of people ask this. I think it has to do with the fact that once a community gets started, they lift each other up. For instance, I gave Dan the contact info for my editor. Larry Correia, when he was publishing, got some help from some people locally. And what happens is you see people kind of helping each other out. It started with Orson Scott Card, way back when. And that started a class at Brigham Young University, it was 'How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy', which I took. And it's not that there's any sort of inside club or thing, it's just that, you see people being successful. It becomes more possible for you. And, like for instance, I took this class, it was taught by Dave Farland, who writes the Runelords, which is a fantasy series. It's quite good. And I was able to say, How do you do this thing, how do you get published? He's like, oh, here’s some advice. Go forth and meet editors and things. So, I think it has to do with this idea. if you go back, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were in the same writing group. It just starts a sort of community thing, where it becomes a viable, possible thing. Like, I grew up in Nebraska. I didn't know any writers in Nebraska. I didn't know anyone who was a published science fiction/fantasy writer. There weren't conventions in Lincoln, and things like that. But when I moved to Utah suddenly there's a bunch of writing conventions. You've got a ton of them around here too. And things like that. That sort of community is just really helpful for helping writers along. I think that's got a lot to do with it.
MFA in Creative Writing grad school—need recommendation
I'm looking at getting my MFA in creative writing, and I write speculative fiction, which appears to be undervalued by the academy. Does anyone know of any good schools that have speculative fiction writers on the faculty, or somewhere that it might be appreciated? I know it's a bit late to be applying, but I've already sent out most of the applications I intended to—just wondering if there's somewhere else I should be looking.
Also, anyone out there gotten this degree and loved/hated their university? I'd like to hear from you as well.
PS—My goal is to teach writing at a university. I'm quite aware that having a degree won't necessarily make me a better writer (although I expect that the years of dedicated writing will have that effect.)
PPS—I know that Brandon Sanderson teaches at BYU, but it looks like he teaches undergrads, and only one class every so often.
Best of luck to you. I submitted Elantris (about three years before I sold it) as my sample writing to a large number of university MFA programs. Some were top tier: Columbia, NYU, UC Irvine, University of Utah, Iowa, UVA. There was a smattering of second and third tier as well. Twelve to fifteen total, I recall. I got rejected from every single one.
Now, part of this was my fault. I had a chip on my shoulder about fantasy, and still kind of do. I didn't manifest it in my letter of intent, however, so that wasn't the problem. However, I ALSO didn't do some of the things you're supposed to do for grad programs. (Which is find someone at the university you specifically want to work with, and explain in the application why.)
The problem was, I couldn't find anyone at any of the programs that admitted to reading sf/f, let alone writing it. So...I'm not sure where that leaves us. I've heard stories now and then of an MFA program or two that do have a sf/f writer on staff. (Ursula, Gene Wolfe, and Cory Doctorow have all done guest lecturer stints, I think. Gene might teach full time.) I hear the UK is more friendly toward fantasy and sf among the literary community.
I'm really hoping that someone here can post some better information for you about where to look, but I thought I'd let you know my story.
Could you tell me anything about the program at BYU? I know it's new, but do you think it's any good? I'm sort of fond of my beard, but I have to be realistic about where I'm more likely to get in :)
Well, it's easier to get into—but it's not terribly high ranked. Universities tend to specialize, particularly regionally, and the University of Utah has an excellent program and tends to draw the best applicants. So BYU, while fair, has a focus in other areas.
I enjoyed my program, and I think it's kinder to fantasy/sf than others—however, with jobs teaching creative writing being so tight these days, I'd shoot for the top first and work down. The nice thing about BYU is that they did finally bump their degree up to the MFA from an MA. (They only had the MA when I went.) I think with a BYU MFA, though, you'd probably have to go on to get a PhD in creative writing to land a good job. (As opposed to getting one from Utah or Iowa, which alone could be enough.)
The thing is, publications (particularly in top literary journals) trump any schooling when it comes to jobs in creative writing. That and networking.
I had no clue who he was till recently. His class offers specialized instruction twice a week. He basically helps you write a novel? However his class requires an application. I think I'm going to try and get in!
Be sure to take the audit/lecture course if you don't get into the main course. Taking that once gives you an advantage if you apply again next year. (At least, that's how I've instructed my assistant to proceed, as he is the one who reviews the applications.)
Brian McClellan (the Powder Mage trilogy) was a student of yours. Why is it that you recommend his writing so frequently?
You know, when I read his very first story—he wrote this cool thing, I hope he posted it online somewhere—it was a novella he wrote for my class the first year. You get so many authors through the class that sometimes you start forgetting them–most of the time, honestly, I get so many. But once in a while, a person comes along and their writing is just amazing. And at that point, I shift from the mode of "I'm going to help you become a better writer" to the mode of "you're already doing all the stuff I'm talking about, you just need to know the business side now." And Brian was one of those. I can't take any credit for his writing because it was already awesome.
And he wrote this wonderful story about these paragons in the world. It was our world plus, where people get chosen as paragons as like a religion . . . it was so cool. There's like an ancient Greek paragon next to a Christian paragon that's based on kind of . . . anyway, it's great. You ought to have him post on it. It was the best thing I had had come through the class in a long while. It's a mixture of a lot of things. Mostly, I talk about the grand scale of being a fantasy writer is being able to, in the first few pages, get across a sense of character and world without dumping paragraphs of thick text on us. And that is the best—if someone can learn to do that, if you can pick it up and read it, and read a few pages and feel like you're in the world and character, but you haven't been dumped on—that's what Brian was doing. Also, the premise was awesome, the premise was great. But you know, it's that character voice. And it's weird because in fantasy, right, it's our magic systems and our worldbuilding that distinguishes us. But a great magic system and terrible writing is a bad book. And a weak magic system with great writing is a great book. And so even though this is what it's about, the skill that a writer really needs to learn is not the magic systems or not the worldbuilding—that's great. The skill is telling a powerful character in a different world from ourselves without making you feel like you're reading a history textbook. And Brian did that.
So, there you go . . . so you guys should read the book. I just finished it—I read it late. This is what a bad teacher I am, right? He gets published, I read the book a year later. It came out in April and I finished it in June, but he gave it to me . . . It's really just good, it's fun, it's great. So, I should have read that earlier. But Brent Weeks was on the ball, and he got a cover blurb. So yeah, Brent took care of us.
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.
What do you think of the BYU signing for Words of Radiance? Are crowds different from location to location of your signings and appearances?
Yeah. Provo has always been my biggest signing area from my very first book, Elantris. The biggest of the signings I've had was the one at the Waldenbooks, there in the Towne Centre Mall. Ever since then, I think, teaching at BYU, being a BYU alum (has helped) with crowds always being biggest in Provo.
But places I've gone repeatedly, there are these great bastions of fandom for me. Portland is always enormous and San Diego is always really good. These are places I've been going for years and years, but it's always the BYU signing that's the big one. We cap out often at 1,000 people at these signings which is very large for a book signing.
Do you still teach fantasy/sci-fi classes at BYU?
Yes, I still do. The BYU English department has been great to work with. I only teach once a year during the winter semester and only the one class.
Generosity and fame
Sanderson doesn't just create worlds in fiction; he also helps others create their own fictional worlds. With his friends Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler, Sanderson puts out the weekly (and Hugo Award-winning) Writing Excuses podcast. He also teaches one creative writing class at Brigham Young University each year.
In 1994, when Sanderson was a senior in High School in Nebraska, he went to a local science fiction fan convention called Andromeda One.
"The guest of honor was Katherine Kurtz, a great writer," he said. "She sat down with me when she heard I wanted to be a writer and she talked with me for about an hour on what to do."
Later, after Sanderson served a mission in Korea for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he took a class on science fiction and fantasy offered at BYU from author Dave Wolverton (who also writes as David Farland).
"Dave took a 'pay cut' to teach us," Sanderson said. "It was something he did to help us. Both of those situations were so incredibly helpful to me and so wonderfully useful that I basically got published because of things like this—authors spending their time. ... These chances I got were so useful to me that I think I would be remiss if I didn't do it myself."
But as successful as Sanderson has been, he tries to keep that success in perspective. Although huge lines and crowds will, if past events are any indication, gather for his book launch at midnight on March 4 at BYU Bookstore in Provo, fame isn't a motivator.
"Fortunately, writers don't get that famous; even famous writers don't get that famous," he said. "Like if you were to walk out on that street and say, 'Hey guys, Brandon Sanderson is in this room,' I can guarantee that nobody would care. There might be one person who might say, 'Hey, I've heard of that guy. Didn't he write those books?' Nobody would care. ... And so it is very easy to keep well-grounded as a writer."
Well, it’s good to put yourself in your own writing in ways people don’t quite expect. That, I’m sure, is not what they were thinking of you. We’ve touched on some of your series, and they’re big books. You’re writing novellas on top of that. You finished “The Wheel of Time”. You’re doing all of these things. Where do you find the time to teach?
I only teach one class, one semester a year, and it's one night a week. Teaching from 5 until 8, one night a week, one semester a year, is really not a big time commitment. It is something that I enjoy. It gets me out of the house. When someone else might go bowling or go watch the game, I go teach my class.
You're teaching writing.
I am, how to write science fiction fantasy, the lectures of which are posted online.
Oh, wonderful. What is the one thing that you hope your students will take away from your classes?
I hope that they will learn that being a writer is about training yourself to write great books. It is not about having written a great book. Too many people look at this not as the process of becoming a writer, but as an event of writing a single book. That's not how it works in the arts.
You want to be a person who can write great books. You want to train yourself to do that. The way to do that is by writing bad books at first. You practice, you write, you experiment, you learn your style. At the end of doing that for years, you figure out what you're doing, to an extent.
I don't think any of us actually believe we know completely what we're going. The writers really just need to practice. If they will practice and sit down and write, they will learn way more than I can teach them.
Do you find yourself still evolving, still learning?
Oh, yes, of course. I don't think there is a writer who doesn't think that. That's what we do.