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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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As for other books I've written, let's see...I ghost-wrote a novel, an international thriller that shall remain nameless. Well, not a bad book, but it is generally believed that somebody else wrote it, so we'll let it go at that. I wrote what I consider I guess a Western, although it was set in the 1830s and 40s; there was only one major character who was not a Cheyenne Indian. It has been reissued—five or six years ago, I think it was—in hardcover as a novel of the Western experience, and it was received quite nicely. And I wrote three historical novels, the first set during the American Revolution, following the same family. I had intended to do a Southern arc of history. The general arc of history that is studied in the United States and recognized is the move out of New England—Pennsylvania and New York—into the Ohio valley, and from there west to California, but there was a southern arc, which was the move out of Virginia and the Carolinas into Louisiana and Mississippi, and from there into Texas, and from there through New Mexico and Arizona into California. And I wanted to follow that in a series of novels that I originally intended to go from the American Revolution through the Vietnam War, but I'll tell you the truth...I got tired of them. They were doing nicely, but I just got tired of them and said, "I want to do something else."
"It was my suggestion in the first place," Jordan admitted, "that we have a male and a female actor to do this, a woman to read the female point of view and a man to read the male point of view. And we lucked out in that they both do voices as well. So it is as close as I can come to having an ensemble doing the reading."
In addition, Jordan's Western novel, Cheyenne Raiders, available as a digital download from Books on Tape, is read by Michael Kramer.
Before I start a book I always sit down and try to think how much of the story I can put into it. The outline is in my head until I sit down and start doing what I call a ramble, which is figuring how to put in the bits and pieces. In the beginning, I thought The Wheel of Time was six books and I'd be finished in six years. I actually write quite fast. The first Conan novel I did took 24 days. (I wrote seven Conan books—for my sins—but they paid the bills for a number of years.) For my Western, I was under severe time constraints in the contract so it was 98,000 words in 21 days—a killer of a schedule, especially since I was not working on a computer then, just using an IBM Correcting Selectric!
I started The Wheel of Time knowing how it began and how it all ended. I could have written the last scene of the last book 20 years ago—the wording would be different, but what happened would be the same. When I was asked to describe the series in six words, I said, 'Cultures clash, worlds change—cope. I know it's only five, but I hate to be wordy.' What I intended to do was a reverse-engineered mythology to change the characters in the first set of scenes into the characters in the last set of scenes, a bunch of innocent country folk changed into people who are not innocent at all. I wanted these boys to be Candides as much as possible, to be full of 'Golly, gee whiz!' at everything they saw once they got out of their home village. Later they could never go back as the same person to the same place they'd known.
But I'd sit down and figure I could get so much into a story, then begin writing and realize halfway in that I wasn't even halfway through the ramble. I'd have to see how I could rework things and put off some of the story until later. It took me four years to write The Eye of the World, and I still couldn't get as much of the story into it as I wanted; same with The Great Hunt. I finally reached a point where I won't have to do that. For Knife of Dreams I thought, "I've got to get all of that into one book: it's the penultimate volume!" And I did. Well, with one exception, but that's OK. That one exception would probably have added 300 pages to the book but I see how to put it in the last volume in fewer.
To keep different genres separate. The other books were written before I began The Wheel of Time, and my publisher has re-issued them and insisted on doing them as "Robert Jordan writing as." But, I made them put the other pen name as large as possible on the cover so that they didn't do "ROBERT JORDAN writing as." As it was, I didn't want anybody to think that they were getting a new Robert Jordan novel, when what they were getting was a historical novel or a western that I wrote 15 or 20 years ago.
You're not doing those anymore, then?
No. I'm not saying I won't ever do them again.
Thank you! I'm also glad for the chance to visit your beautiful city. I’ve been to not a few places, but this is my first time in Russia. Many thanks to the organizers of the Wanderer Fantasy Convention who invited me to St. Petersburg. And my special thanks to them for the opportunity to visit Peterhof and admire its magnificent fountains. Fountains have fascinated me since childhood ...
What is the proper way to address you?—Mr. Robert Jordan? Or Mr. James Rigney ... Or in some other way?
Call me, as we do it in America, just James.
Or Robert? ...
Robert is fine too. I'm used to it. I’m often addressed exactly so in meetings with readers.
By the way, how many names does the multifaceted James Oliver Rigney, Jr. have?
Not very many, but also not a few. Under the pseudonym Reagan O'Neal the historical novels The Fallon Blood, The Fallon Legacy and The Fallon Pride were published. The events in them takes place during the American Revolution, around my hometown of Charleston. The name Jackson O'Reilly is on the cover of the western Cheyenne Raiders. My critical pieces on theater and dance I signed Chang Lung. And under the pseudonym Robert Jordan the novels of the Conan series and the The Wheel of Time series were published.
I've edited every single one of his books except for his Cheyenne Raiders. An agent said to me once, "What if he gave you a real piece of [crap]?" And I said, "But he never would!" Tom Doherty called me; he had gotten the rights to do a Conan the Barbarian novel. And I said, "Well, Jim could do it." And he liked doing it so much, he ended up writing seven of them.
He was using a new name. As you know, Jim used pen names.
Over the next decade, Rigney wrote under many pen names: Jackson O'Reilly, Reagan O'Neal, and of course, Robert Jordan.
J.O.R.—That was his initials, and I guess the rest just grew because, the way his mind worked, he'd be working on current stuff, but on the back burner, things were cooking away.
Jim said that he had just dreamed to write a big fantasy.
He said his first thought was just, how would it be to be told that you are going to be the savior of the world, but you're going to go mad and kill everyone you love in the process?
We bought the book in the mid-80s.
It was four years of actual work, with words on paper, before he finished The Eye of the World.
God, I fell in love with it. I read it, you know, and I said, you know, boy, this is big. This is the first thing I thought could sell like Tolkien.
The New York Times called Robert Jordan the American heir to Tolkien.
Pretty strong statement for the times.
In a matter of three books, Robert Jordan had developed an international following.
Robert Jordan was a genius. He kept so much in his head. He had so much depth and wealth of worldbuilding for this series, it's mind-boggling. We've got somewhere around three million plus words of text. The notes are just as big.
There are very few things to which people had been willing to give this enormous commitment.