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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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There is nothing he would have done basically different with hindsight in the writing of TWoT. Originally The Eye of the World was half as large as it was printed, but the later books have been written so "tight" from the start that it has been impossible to shorten them.
His writing technique with the WoT books he described as "simply stretch out and run".
He can be reached either by either email or snail mail through Tor in about the same amount of time. Tor prints out his emails and sends him the hard copies about every fortnight. They also send his snail mail biweekly. He does respond to them, but he gets backlogged at the end of writing a book.
Here is the rough time schedule for book eight. The manuscript should be turned in sometime in fall of 1997. Expect it to go on sale in spring of 1998. He worked 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 20 months, except for a couple days for each Thanksgiving and Christmas and a few single vacation days, to write A Crown of Swords. PNH, his wife, and everyone he knows told him he needs to slow down so he doesn't kill himself. Thus, PNH gave him 18 months to do the manuscript.His wife said he is the only author she allows to submit partial manuscripts for editing. She also does Morgan Llewelyn, the Bears and David Drake among others. She said she was starting to reduce the number of authors she edits since she is overloaded. She edited one of RJ's books before they ever dated, so their professional relationship was already established before they married. She feels that mutual respect for the other's work is what keeps the two relationships from interfering with each other.
He spoke a bit about writing methods, and mentioned one: "In late, out early."
He mentioned that he doesn't like editing.
He wrote a few practice books, and a lot of back story for The Way of Kings, about 200k words.
He wanted to do a short series first alone with some stand-alone novels before writing an epic series.
He usually writes from 12AM to 4AM.
He learned about being chosen to finish WOT from a voicemail from Harriet, who picked him after reading Mistborn. Finishing A Memory of Light is now his focus.
Are you an audiobooks listener? And if so, what sorts of books do you listen to?
You've talked about how your experience at a job that gave you time to write on company time aided you and that you were able to write a good number of fantasy novels—writing, kind of, the 'bad' out of you, if you will—but I also wanted to know that, you know, for a period of time you volunteered and were editor-in-chief at the sci-fi and fantasy magazine at BYU, The Leading Edge, and obviously, as a magazine, the primary story being published in that is the short story, and I wanted to ask, how a) you thought that writing short stories and reading short stories helped you hone your craft, and b) what you think about kind of the dying outlet for burgeoning writers to have their short stories published.
Those are both excellent questions. Some interesting things are happening in the short fiction market, and it's in a very big position of transition right now. I've heard a lot of publishers talk about it, and there are people who are very optimistic, who they say, you know, "The short story form is not going to die. People like reading it. We just haven't yet found the new transmission method that is going to get them to people." But some things happened to the science fiction and fantasy market during the 70s and 80s that I think really changed the way fiction—particularly in our genre—reached its audience. I think the mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy to an extent—I mean, this is Geekerati Radio; we're talking mostly to geeks and geek topics—but you'll notice that since the 70s, progressively geek culture has invaded mainstream culture. Nowadays, if a fantasy or science fiction film comes out, the general public goes to see it and doesn't even think twice about it. That wasn't the case before Star Wars; it wasn't like that. And I think this mainstreaming that, this building on the whole gaming aspect, with RPGs and all this, where there was a larger...even those who weren't mainstream, who were the kind of the geek culture, like I was when I was growing up in the 80s, we had enclaves, because we had things we could do, and it was easier for us to create our little enclaves. The big science fiction conventions started because getting people who are interested in science fiction together to chat about science fiction was hard to do without the internet, without, some of...you know, podcasts, and things like this—it was very hard to find people with like interests, and so when you did, you all got together with these conventions. And for us, I think that there were more people that we could find, there were more activities...it was just...it was easier to be a geek in the 80s than it was in previous eras, and mixed on top of that, the paperback novel, in science fiction and fantasy, kind of came into its own, with the publishing houses like Del Rey and Tor and Ace in the 70s and 80s suddenly producing lines of science fiction and fantasy targeted an adult audience. What you saw is, really, the science fiction novel overtaking the short story. My generation didn't grow up reading short stories, in general; my fantasy grew up reading, in fantasy, you know: David Eddings, and Tad Williams, and Anne McCaffrey, and Barbary Hambly and these people who were writing the novels. And so, if you look at me, I didn't get into short stories until I had already long been a fan of the novel, which I think is backwards from the previous generation.
I got into short stories when I was in college, and it was partially because of the magazine. And the magazine did a lot of things for me. One of the things was that it was a nice—again—place where a lot of people with similar interests in me were congregating, and we were talking about fiction, and about science fiction and fantasy, and about what made good science fiction and fantasy, and we were able to read slush from around the world because it was a paying market, and writers, we are all desperate to get published, and so as long as something pays, we'll probably submit to it. So, The Leading Edge, though, being a BYU magazine, didn't actually publish BYU student stories. It existed more as a place to practice being an editor, so to speak; it exists as one of these things that is kind of like, not really a class, but an economist [?] club that is funded by the university to give people experience with editing and managing and learning [?] express and [?] programs, and so it's not actually student work that's getting published. You read a ton of terrible stories by authors, and boy, reading a ton of terrible stories teaches you a lot about what not to do. You start to see firsthand the clichés that show up over and over again. And, when you're that age—particularly older high school, younger college student—you're thinking that a lot of your ideas are new and original, until you read and discover that no, half of these stories are all wanting to tell these same ideas. If I had a dollar for every time we got a story that ended with "And, they turned out to be Adam and Eve"—that's a great cliché in the genre now. I had no clue, but I learned it firsthand by reading, you know, a dozen or two stories—so I guess if it were a dollar for each one, I would have enough money for pizza—but still, it was fairly common that we got stories like that. So, I really enjoyed that aspect of it, and it helped me as a writer, and it also taught me to love the short story genre, as we occasionally would come across these gems, and I had to feel like what an editor felt like, sifting through all of this, reading, you know, yet another story poorly written where Adam and Even turn out to...you know, the end of the story is that they're Adam and Eve and they found the Earth. Or, reading yet another poorly-done time travel story where someone kills his own father on accident, um, and that's...or, you know, ends up becoming Hitler, or one of these stereotypical things, reading one of these, and then sifting through that, and then a gem pops out—a beautifully-written story that says something meaningful, has engaging characters, really pulls you into a world and makes you feel like you're there—it like glows on the page after reading all of these things, and I understood, "Hey, this is what it's like to be an editor; this is what the editor is feeling when they're reading through the slush pile, and this is what I want them to feel when they hit my stories. So how can I do that? What do I really need to do in order to achieve it?"
What is going to happen to short fiction? I don't know. There are people who are much more expert than I at this sort of thing. I have been very curious at these free-distribution-on-the-web models that we've seen. The first big one was called Sci-Fiction; it was run by the Science Fiction Channel. And, it went..they actually eventually canceled it; they did it for a couple of years. I was hoping that an ad-supported model that was bringing renown to the Science Fiction Channel would be enough to pay for a short story, which really doesn't take—if you're cranking it on the internet—doesn't take a whole ton of resources. You pay the author, you pay someone to edit it, and you maybe get a little bit of art. This is what Tor.com is trying right now in order to draw people in, and I think it works wonderfully, but I don't see the numbers on it. Several pay subscription e-zines have come around too; Intergalactic Medicine Show by Orson Scott Card; Baen's Universe which just, actually, closed its doors unfortunately, and I was hoping that those would go along, but I think one of the problems with the internet is people...it's been established that, if it's on the internet, that it should be free, which...we haven't been able to get beyond that, and some things, the operating costs are just too high for it to be for free. So I don't think that the webcomic model—where you can, you know, print a webcomic and then have people come every day, read it, and then draw ad money and things like that—is going to work for short fiction, because short fiction is too long, and the costs are too big. I was hoping it would work. Maybe if there...but you would have to, like, print a page every day of a 70-page story, and I don't know if that would be enough to keep people coming back. So, I'll be very curious to see what happens. I enjoy reading it, but you know, I generally read my short fiction when it's recommended to me and I go pick up a specific issue, because a story I know in Asimov's happens to be really good, or an author I know happens to publish an Asimov—I see him on the front—or I pick up the Year's Best by Garner Dozois or David Hartwell, and just read what they have collected as the best science fiction and fantasy of the year.
So, I'm not an expert. I do hope that the genre—the medium—stays around, because it is a nice way as an author to practice, and to kind of do an apprenticeship. Once upon a time, if you wanted to break in, it was 'the main way' to break in, was to do short fiction for a while, get published in the good short fiction market, and then eventually, you know, an editor would come knocking and you would give them your novel idea. It doesn't actually work that way any more. It's still a potential way you can do it, but that's not the norm any more, I don't think; I think more people are getting published just off of their novels—straight submissions to agents or editors—than are getting published through a long apprenticeship in short story magazines, and that's certainly how it was for me. I didn't practice short stories until I was much older; I was much more practiced...even still I feel I'm a better novelist than I am a short story writer. I'm not terribly confident in my short story, though I do have one that you can read just on Tor.com for free—maybe you guys can throw that up in the liner notes, that people can click on and read—which has had a good response, but I think I'm primarily a novelist.
...I gotta be honest, the cover for The Eye of the World was what got me into the books in the first place.
What really sucks is that I found out that the larger than normal paperback I have been rereading all this time was the first issue for The Eye of the World. I thought there was a hardcover version. So all this time I have been beating the crap out of a rare first edition. Boy do I feel special.... kinda like the time I found out my sister traded all my first run Uncanny X-Mens for my cousin's ... er "collection" of Archie comics.... kinda like the time... gah...
Been lurking since The Beginning. Although I haven't had the time or the mental capacity/creativity, most days, to contribute in any significant fashion. Although hopefully I can find some more time in the future to do more than Lurk....
However, to all the new posters, regulars and alumni—I'm appreciative of the hours and hours of entertainment you've provided; Kudos to all!
Just a heads up to Sub, that the first printing of the oversize paperback isn't overly valuable (50-150 $) pending condition, and they show up on ebay on a regular basis—but still something worth looking after carefully.
If I've managed this properly—my avatar will have a picture of what I believe is the first bound version of The Eye of the World that I rescued from ebay a couple of years ago (maybe tnh can/will comment). Read the red fine print, if/when you can ... it's really cool.
Edited: for coherency. Deleted a sentence as my avatar showed up as planned. And add—you can't see it well in the picture/avatar, but there is printing along the top of book that reads "Harriet's marked up copy"—no trolling. This book contains some hand written edits by Mrs. Jordan (and someone else whom I have yet to identify although there is a fairly obvious choice), and includes a 3-page letter to tnh from Mrs. Jordan. As I understand it, the advance reading copy was created from this version, as were the final hardcover (yes Sub there was a limited hardcover printing) and oversize softcover both originally printed in February 1990.
How the devil did that production copy wind up on eBay? With, for all love, my correspondence with Harriet still tucked inside? (Is that the letter where we were going back and forth about Nancy Weisenfeld's copyedit, and Jim Rigney's preferred style of ellipses? It's been a long time.)
Did the person who sold it say anything about it?
I'd love to see large high-resolution photos of all those materials, including samples of the interior markup, and all three pages of the letter. I can recognize the handwriting of most of the people that could have marked up the pages, so there's a good chance that I can either identify the person or rule out some possibilities.
I'd very much prefer that you mail me pictures of the letter, rather than posting them somewhere. My email address is on the front page of my weblog, Making Light.
What you have there isn't the first bound edition. It's either a bound galley or a bound manuscript copy—I should remember which, but I don't. Tom Doherty did so much fiddling with the marketing and format of that book that it spent close to a year in production, rather than the normal nine months, and at times drove our department to distraction.
If it's typeset, it's a bound galley. If it's reproduced from the manuscript pages, it's a bound manuscript. Both can be referred to as "advance copies."
Anyway, the advance copies with the plain light-blue cover were superseded by the massive printing of ARCs with the four-color Darryl Sweet cover. An ARC (Advance Reading Copy) is basically a bound galley with a four-color cover that's usually an early version of the cover that will appear on the book. The Tor booth at the ABA that year had so many copies of it that they could have built Vauban-style fortifications out of them. Printing such a large and lavish ARC in such quantities was a gamble for Tor, which back then was a smaller and poorer company.
Is the thing you're referring to as "the first printing of the oversize paperback" the ARC? Check and see whether it has a price printed anywhere on the cover. If not, it's an ARC. IIRC, the ARC also featured the interim state of the cover in which the author of one of the cover quotes was erroneously identified as "Gordon R. R. Dickson."
Thanks for the info, greatly appreciated!
I will email pictures in the next 24 hours along with what history I know or have deduced. I agree with you that the letter shouldn't be made public without necessary approvals. The "discussion" you mentioned sounds...interesting...but the contents of this letter are more mundane and simply include info on book formatting, layout and listing of the chapter icons (I've scanned a copy of it too).
While not clear in my avatar, the book looks grey in real life (although if there was a light blue one, that would be interesting as well). I acquired a second one, without markups, that is identical to that pictured, and it is grey as well.
I know the ARC well, as at one point I had five of the things from various bundled purchases I made (the exterior cover of the ARC is the same artwork that is now found on the inside flap, and the inside cover of the ARC is the same artwork that now appears on the current cover). I just picked up one of the ARCs and on the back has a quote attributed to George R Dickson—is that what you were referring to? (Been so long since I'd picked it up that I'd completely forgot that I had the matching bookmark, and postcard inside, a pleasant surprise). I've since donated one to Jason Denzel and one to Jennifer Liang, for helping make a waking nightmare of a trip to the Gathering Storm signing in Charleston end on an awesome note.
In referring to the "oversize paperback"—it is a softcover book with the dimensions of approximately 6" x 9" (matching the size of the arc as well as the other proofs/galleys/bound manuscripts that I have). On this version, the exterior artwork and inside flap match what is currently on shelves everywhere. There are prices (both Canadian and US, etc) and ISBN # listing.
From your perspective—is there a difference between a galley, bound manuscript, or proof? Just curious, as I have various versions of almost all those written by RJ (have never seen a proof/galley/manuscript for Crown of Swords despite hours and hours of searching).
Okay, this is funny. I've been able to confirm that what Kafmerchant has is a one-of-a-kind artifact from the production of the first edition of The Eye of the World. The line written in red ink at the top edge of the cover that says "Harriet's marked-up copy" is in my handwriting.
Question for those in the know: is the written content in the WoT ARCs or galley copies any different from the retail version? Any changed lines or new/missing parts?
I own a few ARCs of other books, and they don't seem any different from the retail version (as far as I can tell), but reviewers were asked to make sure any quoted text matched with the final version.
For the various versions that I have of this series, the results are all over the place; here are few examples:
A lot of the pre-publication versions I have such as The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Fires of Heaven, Winter's Heart and Knife of Dreams have no obvious noticeable differences from the retail versions (although I haven't read through each in great detail so as to not damage them).
The galley for The Shadow Rising has a prologue of approximately 1.5 pages that was integrated into the first chapter of the finished book.
The advance version (2-book set) for Lord of Chaos has line edits, handwritten notes including some chapter titles written in and notes of what icon is to be used for certain chapters.
For The Path of Daggers, the book I have is labeled as an advance uncorrected bound manuscript that includes tons of changes: many, many line edits, actual chapter revision numbers, and in one spot, a chapter was moved to a different sequence in the book, and that's just what I noticed scanning through it quickly a few years ago.
My intention always has been, if/whenever I get the time to do a detailed review of each book, but that maybe just a pipe dream as I own a small business that consumes my life.
I started discussing some of this with Bob Kluttz of Encyclopaedia-Wot a few years ago in order to try get some info posted on-line, but I don't have the time to do the work nor the space or skills to post the info.
Hope this helps a little.
Kafmerchant@323—I admit your posts were glazing my eyes over as I'm not much of a collector, being broke all the time and whatnot. But that is an amazing bit of info about The Shadow Rising. I've always found the approach to be rather odd in comparison to the rest of the series. Not only is there no prologue, but the wind hangs around for quite a bit, and what he did at the beginning of Chapter 9 is pretty unique too. I'm going to put this whole conversation in the interview database, just for that tidbit. If you'd like to post reviews of each book one day, I would put them all in there. It's designed to be a database of all non-canon canon, so to speak, which is of course usually in the form of interviews, hence the name. But there are exceptions.
There are so many small but interesting things in my WoT collection that I'd really like to share with anyone who is interested (including books of course, but also have promo literature, and marketing materials such as posters, bookmarks, WoT "postcards" etc . The risk is that I'm seen as just showing off when my intent is far from it.
An example of promo literature is from a letter dated 15 Aug 1990 included with the Great Hunt galley, from Eleanor Lang (Tor publicist) that states that The Eye of the World "...was the first volume in The Wheel of Time, a six part series to be published by Tor Books." The print run for The Great Hunt is stated as 200,000 copies in this letter.
Just to clarify that the The Shadow Rising prologue in the advance uncorrected proof was called, "Seeds of Shadow" and started approximately halfway down the page and ended on the next page with just a single paragraph on that second page. The next (first) chapter was simply called "Seeds".
While searching for something tonight I've found some items that may be of interest to you—I assume you have copies of the audio of the Budapest interviews? Do you have the 2003 Toronto audio file? Also found a word file with a list of interviews starting with Starlog in 1991, followed by letters by Carolyn Fusinato and ending with blog posts/interviews somewhere in 2006 with lots in between (the word file is 2M in size)? I may also have a couple of old floppies, somewhere, with various old interviews and other miscellaneous files from the mid-late 90s although not sure if I can find anything that can read it...or if my memory of what may actually be on them is correct.
I'll keep the offer to post additional content in mind for the future.
I also found what I was looking for—a list, in excel, of chapter revision numbers and titles from the Path of Daggers manuscript—do you want this? And if so, where should I send it (gmail account)?
Tor and Harriet have set the release date for A Memory of Light. Again. While I've been working on the book, this has happened a half dozen times, with varying levels of publicity surrounding the date.
This time we're saying January 8th. How likely is this one? Well, honestly, I don't know. Seems like it's the most firm of the lot. However, you've got to understand a couple of things.
First off, I don't set release dates, particularly not on these books. I pick my deadlines, then work to meet them. Tor and Harriet decide when the book is going to come out, judging by editing requirements, market factors, and the workings of the publishing machine. I didn't find out this one had been set as this day until long after the fact. So please, complaining to me . . . well, it's just not going to do anything but distract me from working on the book.
Secondly, Harriet is very, VERY worried about getting this book right. It's the last book in the series. There are no chances to change things after this, and revising a book like this takes time. Harriet would probably prefer even more space than this publication date gives us. She also isn't capable of pulling the long hours she might once have pulled. (And she shouldn't be expected to.)
It's not all on Harriet, though, not by a mile. I turned in a 360,000-word book. That's 20% longer than what they wanted, and that means each step of editing and production will require 20% more time than they had set aside. In addition, while I've set my own deadlines, I've come right up against them and (in a few cases) tiptoed across. For example, instead of sending a revised book at the end of December, I only had a first draft. That's the length pushing me back and making me revise expectations.
I realize that all you care about is getting your book, and this sounds like a lot of excuses. But here's the thing. You'll get the book when Harriet is ready to give it to you. Not before. If this were just me, I could work a big pile of 16-hour days and get it to you in the fall. But it's not just me, and beyond that, the last time I did that (on Towers of Midnight, which went through eleven drafts) we ended up with a pile of typos and wore Harriet out so much she said she didn't recover for well over six months.
I sincerely thought that we'd be releasing the book this fall. January 8th was a surprise to me when they told me. However, Harriet picked the last possible week the book could reasonably come out, because she wants as much time as possible to edit it.
I still think it's very possible that all will go smoothly and Harriet will push the book up. It happened with The Gathering Storm, I believe, though that was only pushed up by a week. However, for now, we just have to assume January 8th is when it's coming out.
Harriet was asked about the change in the publication date for A Memory of Light from November 2012 to January 2013.
She noted that the publication date previously set by Tor was November 27, 2012, which falls after Thanksgiving. Upon seeing that release date, Harriet felt that it would be too late for substantial marketing and sales for the holiday season, and probably more importantly, she felt strongly that she didn't want to rush this final book in any way. Therefore, it was decided to move the release date to January 8, 2013, which will provide extra time for editing but still falls within the Year of the Dragon.
Peter first spoke in general terms about Brandon's writing routine. He said that Brandon typically gets up around noon, writes from about 1-4pm, spends time with family and stuff, then goes back to writing from about 8pm-4am, and finally sleeps from about 4am to noon. Rinse, cycle, repeat. Peter also said that Brandon has a treadmill desk, and he frequently works at that when he's home or by one of the fireplaces he has in his house. Harriet then noted that she loves fireplaces and wanted to know whether Brandon's were wood-burning or gas. Peter said they're gas fireplaces.
Then Harriet described the editing process for A Memory of Light. She said that Brandon has completed the first draft (as was previously reported). Team Jordan is currently working on reviewing the first draft and making suggestions for corrections and edits. They have divided the manuscript into 9 sections plus the epilogue for editing purposes; Team Jordan has sent the edits for parts 1-6 to Brandon and are currently working on edits for the later sections. [Brandon recently tweeted that he is about halfway done with the second draft, and it is going well so far.]
With regard to the editing duties, Harriet primarily oversees the characterizations and prose, Maria deals with continuity issues, and Alan deals with military stuff, geography, and the timeline. Harriet also said that she and Brandon have had some "animated" conversations about whether or not to cut some specific scenes.
After all the suggested edits for the first draft are sent to Brandon and he has made the revisions, then presumably Team Jordan will review the second draft and provide another round of suggestions for revisions. The beta reader phase has to be fit in there somewhere, too. Ultimately, Harriet said that the goal for getting a final draft to Tor is June 15, 2012. That should give Tor plenty of time to get the book out by January 2013.
What was it like to be a part of the burgeoning sff field through the 70s and 80s?
Well, I don't know that it was 'burgeoning' so much. It was just...it had been big; it was an established field, and it was fun.
What made it so fun?
Writers are fun. Publishing is fun.
Did you take a particular interest in science fiction, or was it coincidental?
No. When Ace came along, in fact, I thought, "Hmm. How 'bout this." Because I hadn't really done anything, and I looked at who I liked reading in the field—which I did—and the funny thing was, I mostly liked the women writers.
And did you find more female writers in sff?
No, not so many. Judith Merril was there, a wonderful anthologizer. Anne McCaffrey had some early stuff out, but a lot of the guys still had women characters who...who made coffee, you know. They weren't very exciting. Well, I saw that on my own personal bookshelves, there were a number of people I liked, and I kind of, I guess with personal interest I sort of moseyed in from horror, just because I liked it.
How long did you work at John Wiley & Sons?
Seven...seven lean years! It's funny the way the...to come back.
When exactly did you graduate?
And when did you marry?
And your first husband was...?
Ed McDougal, and I married him in 1964. And Will, my son, was born in 1968, and I left Ed in 1970, at which point the women's movement had begun to take on steam.
And you met him in New York?
Was he also in the same industry?
No. He worked at Equitable Life Insurance.
And after 1970, when is it that you met Jim?
I think I met him in '78? Yeah. I moved back to Charleston in '77, so...'78, '79, something like that.
So in that break between '70 and '78, were you still in New York at that time? You said you had seven lean years; where were you working during that period of time?
Then I moved into trade publishing, which was a lot more fun. I started at Harcourt Brace, where I worked on the first textbook of science fiction ever published. We had a wonderful big editor named Mr. Pullen, and it was his project, and I said, "Can I work on it? Please, please?" And I did; it was fun. And from there, I went to World Publishing, and I've forgotten what they hired me to do...oh, run the copyeditors. And then it was...having one paroxysm after another. And they put me in charge of children's books, having fired a very distinguished children's book department, and it was nuts, which is of course a wonderful learning opportunity. And from there, I went freelance for a while, living in downtown Brooklyn, and realizing Will was, actually, turning four—I didn't have any health insurance, and neither did he, and maybe it was time to stop doing freelance and get a corporate job. And somebody had just left Grosset & Dunlap, and I said, "Well, who's replacing you?" and he said, "I can't even recommend that job to a friend, Harriet." I said, "Nevertheless..." and went and interviewed and got it, and that was where I met Tom Doherty, when I was hired as editor for Tempo Books. But then I began to get angry, because not long after I started working, the President of Grosset said in my presence, "Thank God we've got her instead of Dummy _____!" who was my friend I was replacing, and he had been making fifteen thousand a year, and I was making eleven. "Let me see if I can fight to get a raise to twelve," because I was paying six thousand for child care. Daycare just didn't exist back then. And I began to get pissed off.
What did you do?
I put my head down and worked. (laughter) And began to think about how I could get out, and it finally came...what did happen? It was a big mess of family stuff and all, but I could move back to Charleston if I could figure out how to make a buck, and I'd met a guy named Richard Gallen who had been general counsel at Dell, and he had figured out how to tax shelter books, and needed books to tax shelter—there's nothing crooked about this—so he said, "You find the books; I'll give you the money to pay the advance, and see if we can't make money together," and I said, "I'm sorry, I can't; my monthly nut's too high, and I have a child to support, and no help from Ed. None, nada." But the chance to live in the house in Charleston...my sister's child—you don't want to know; it was a real can of bait—and I called Dick and said, "Is your offer still good?" And he said, "Yeah, I'll meet you for lunch tomorrow, and bring a contract." And he did; it was double-spaced, one page. I signed it, and armed with that—and I think I had two thousand dollars in the bank—off Will and I went to Charleston! So it was a pretty wild adventure, but it worked. It had some real poor moments, I'll tell you that.
When you went to Harvard, did you have any idea that you wanted to be an editor at that time?
Not really. I knew I didn't want to be a teacher, and that seemed to be the only other possibility. I started at Wellesley; they had a major at the time that nobody else, as far as I know, did; it was called International Relations, and it was very structured—languages, poli-sci, history; I forget, but not a free moment—and I wanted to be...I thought that looked good, because I had read a comic strip for some time called Steve Canyon, and there was a character in Steve Canyon named Copper Calhoun. She always wore a satin evening dress, even in the daytime, and she smoked cigarettes in a long holder, and she had her own jet, and a multinational corporation. And she wanted Steve Canyon, who—like a fool—preferred some blonde in a gingham dress, but I thought I could fix that. And I think, "That looks good. I would like that."
I got to Wellesley, and every freshman was given an upperclassman. First thing was, they said, "Well, you have to wear a beanie." And I said "What? A beanie? You want me to wear a beanie?" And I was talking to my big sister, and she said, "Have you thought about a major?" And I said, "Yes, I want to major in International Relations," and she said, "That's a wonderful major!" And I said, "Yeah, I thought it looked good." And she said, "They can always use interpreters at the UN!"
That's not what you saw...
Not at all! And I thought, "If that's so..." And I was dating Harvard boys, who had a lot of freedom around their majors, and I liked that, and I thought, "Well, that dream of being Copper Calhoun is obviously not going to work, so I might as well just settle down and major in English so I can read my way through four years, because after that, it'll be no rest for the wicked, and I will have to work my fingers to the bone to support myself one way or another." So, pretty much that's what I did, and that's why I transferred.
It's interesting you went for International Relations, and in the end you switched over to English, and this has all come about because—that was probably a huge moment—that would have been a very different life, if you'd have gone the International Relations route.
Yeah, I'd have been an interpreter at the UN! I did have a good economics teacher at Wellesley; her name Mary Jane Latsis, and she and a friend of hers who was a lawyer wrote some mysteries under the name Emma Lathen, which were very good. Each one—their detective was a trust officer in a Manhattan bank—and each one investigated a different business, so there's one about the oil industry, and things like that. And I got interested in her after I'd left—she was a good teacher, (whisper) but she'd been in the CIA! I was checking her out on Wikipedia, and it said she was an attorney. "No she wasn't; she was an economist!" It was the other half of Lathen that was the lawyer. But that was a nice experience at Wellesley.
So, you have partnered with Tom Doherty on sff books for a long time...
Yeah, I met him at Grosset & Dunlap.
...to Ace Books, and obviously to Tor. Can you tell us when exactly you started working with him, and a little about the key to your successful business relationship? So, what is it that meshed you and Tom together?
(pause) I'm not sure. It was just a good partnership.
And how did you end up at Ace Books together?
Grosset corporately bought Charter Communications, which was Ace's business identity, and asked Tom to be publisher and me to be editor in chief. Or they told us to.
And remind me...Tempo to Grosset & Dunlap...and did you leave? That's when you went back to Charleston?
After Ace. And Tom was founding Tor.
At the time you left?
When you told him you were leaving, did he try to get you to stay in the area?
Oh yeah. He wasn't too happy about it.
And you guys stayed in contact I'm assuming, after you'd gone?
Yeah, and Grosset was in the hands, at this point—very soon thereafter I think it fell into the hands—of one of the worst CEOs known to the publishing industry, Beverly Sills' brother-in-law. His name was Something-Or-Other Sills. I never worked with him, but he was really not good. And one sign of it is that he fired Tom Doherty—you don't fire Tom Doherty if you have any sense—so Dick Gallen called me and said this had happened, and he was thinking about seeing if he and Tom couldn't make some money together, and what would I think about that, and I said, "Do it!" And that's the very tiny seed that grew into Tor. And then Tom wanted me to be editorial director, and I said, "Well, Tom..." And he said, "I don't care where you live. Just edit." And that worked.
So after you had left the home, obviously your mother couldn't stop you from going to the drugstores to pick up those comics later on. What authors did you read in that genre?
Well, I loved Stephen King, of course, and Ramsey Campbell. K.W. Jeter and I worked on some of his stuff, and he gave me credit for turning him around for horror, that that was what he should be writing. I haven't read any in a while. Tomorrow I'll wake up remembering lots of other names. And I also came out of childhood with a real love for cartoons and comics. My best friend's mother was very cute, and when I was nine, she would say now, "Explain this cartoon in The New Yorker to me." So I had this tremendous ego boo about cartoons. And I did edit cartoons—cartoon collections—at Tempo, and I loved that.
What were your favorite strips?
Well I loved Hagar the Horrible, which was new at that point, and Tempo had Beetle Bailey—that was the one that sold best and I paid the most for—and I liked the guy who was selling rights to King Features. At one point, we had a lunch that lasted a long time, and he called me the next morning. He said, "Harriet, did I leave a package with you at lunch?" And I said, "No, I'm sorry John; you didn't." And we were talking later, and I said, "Did you find that package you lost?" He said, "Yeah, I left it at my bookie's." (laughter) So anyway, then along comes the sell piece for Hagar the Horrible, to pitch the strip, and I called up—and I was supposed to go through a rigamarole getting approval for what I bought, and how much I was to spend—and I just called this guy up, and said, "John, I'll pay you what I'm paying for Beetle." And then I said I'd done it. Fire me; I don't care. And of course it was wonderful. And so Dik Browne came and called on me, and I said, "Oh hi, how nice to meet you!" And he said, "Well, nice to meet you! I have come to take you out!" And he took me to a wonderful—The Palm restaurant which was covered with drawings by cartoonists, that is they scrawled all over the plaster. It was fun, and I love cartoons.
Yeah, I do. I do.
I grew up on cartoons, and Hagar the Horrible.
It's wonderful. Chris Browne isn't as good as his father was. It's okay, but not what it was.
I'm partial to Calvin and Hobbes.
Yes! Absolutely. Bloom County?
My kids don't have the same appreciation any more, for cartoons. It's a different world. I mean, it's probably my fault, for not offering it to them...
What, for not locking them in cages? (laughter) Times change.
Yeah, that's right. I mean, cartoons are different; they're 24/7 now, and we don't get a weekly newspaper...it's not the same.
I like Pearls Before Swine. Do you get that? It's a newspaper strip. It's funny.
No. I'll have to look it up.
We know you worked on Ender's Game and The Black Company books. Can you tell us some other books you worked on that we might have heard of?
No, I can tell you some writers I worked with—David Drake, Fred Saberhagen, Whitley Strieber...just guys. Lots of guys.
How much influence did you have over the prose—voice and tone—at the time of The Eye of the World?
Some, but not major. The first book of his that was published was The Fallon Blood, and it was enormous, and for some reason, it had to be cut. It was going to be published at Ace, and I guess they were just blanching at production costs, and I said, "Well can't we get rid of some of these battles?" And he said, "Harriet, I wounded Michael Fallon, and sent him off to Georgia to recuperate to get rid of a hundred battles. I mean, we really can't; there's no way we can take out any of them." I went, "Oh." So, I said, "There's nothing for it, then; we'll have to take out three lines on every page." And that's what we did.
And did you work together on those lines?
Yeah. And a friend asked me to go out to dinner with her and the guy she was dating, although her divorce wasn't final—she wanted me to be a "beard", if you've heard the expression—and I said, "If you help with the snopake!" So we're all on there doing this...but Jim said my nature as an editor...he said, "Harriet, if you were editing Charles Dickens, you would have said, 'Now Charles, you can have "bah", or you can have "humbug", but you can't have both!'" (laughter) And I think it's pretty true.
Did that relationship of editing go on through the entire Wheel of Time? In other words, were there all these times you would sit down in The Shadow Rising, and say, "Jim...okay, three lines; we gotta cut three lines out of these."
He'd pretty much learned to do it himself by then, and certainly in The Eye, I would say, "Well, this can go," and he'd say, "Well Harriet, in the fourth book, um..." (laughter) I didn't really realize what I was up against. (whine) "But Harriet, in the third book...in the fifth book...these things have got to be there." (meek voice) "Okay, okay." And he'd learned...he was tightening up his prose by then, a lot. And actually, as the series went on, it got to be...I did almost no pencil-work, and I thought, "Well, man, he's learned everything I had to teach him. He probably needs a new editor now who could put him through new hoops!"
What is one major thing you taught Jim about prose, and something you think that helped him become a better writer?
Tight. Write tight. Tighten up. And I think, even editing The Fallon Blood was very good for his prose. It was a vicious small-scale kind of cut, cut, cut. Don't use two adjectives where one will do, and if you can do without any adjectives at all, it's best. Nouns and verbs are where the strength in the writing is.
I finished the final revision on A Memory of Light early in the morning Saturday, then sent it off to Team Jordan. And I was done. Team Jordan will handle the copyedits and proofreads; I might have a chime-in now and then on how a passage should be tweaked or how a continuity issue should be addressed, but essentially, my involvement as a writer in the Wheel of Time has come to an end.
Now, that doesn't mean my involvement with Wheel of Time fandom is over. I'll have my appearance at Dragon*Con this year, as well as the tour in January for A Memory of Light. Beyond that, I intend to frequently attend JordanCon and be available to WoT fans for years, even decades, to come. I intend to talk a great deal about the experience of writing these books, perhaps even post some blog entries about the subject.
But the writing is done. I'm still a little in shock about that.
Honestly, I don't remember. [laughter] I'll be straight up honest with you, I designed the Aons—When I designed the Aons, they all had things like that. Like "Oh, that's what this will be," but I was not as good about taking notes of things then. I didn't have the wiki that I now have.
What I would give for one hour with that wiki.
I didn't have all of that stuff, so I can say "Yeah, that's going to be valuable metals", and canonize it that way, but I don't remember what I was actually thinking when I designed it. It was my first time doing anything like that, like [?] sort of thing. I hadn't ever done anything like that before, so I was just flying by the seat of my pants.
In fact, there's a fun story about that, a story I don't think I told during the annotations, I might have. Originally, I wrote it, and used all the Aons as like little things about characters' personalities.
Like Rao is spirit, and Ene (eenee) is wit. Well, all the other ones were things like that, to the point that the traitor character, his Aon's the one that meant Betrayal. Like this, all the characters have little things like that. And then my editor saw it and said "Ah. Do you really want to give away everyone's personality? And who's going to name their kid Betrayal? And I was like "That was really stupid Brandon, why did you do that?" But at the time, I didn't know if I was going to have a dictionary in the back or anything, and so I had to go back and rename almost all of them. I left Rao and Ene, but I renamed almost all the—renamed the wrong word. I shifted all the meanings and things like this so that everyone would have a name that would make sense that you would name a person. And none of them meant anything more than what they actually mean.
Since Robert Jordan wrote the last scene, that actually made this whole project mountains easier. I had a target to shoot at. While I didn't have a ton of written material from Robert Jordan that I could actually put in—there are about 200 pages worth of scenes and notes that needed to become somewhere around 2,500 pages [Books 12-14 by Sanderson total 2,556 pages]—a lot of those 200 pages were summaries of scenes he wanted. Robert Jordan wrote by instinct. He was what we called a discovery writer, so what was handed to me was a big pile of half-finished scenes or paragraphs where he wrote, "Well, I am either going to do this, this, or this. I was thinking of this, but it could be this." Yes, cracking an ending is hard, and the Wheel of Time had a lot of loose threads. My job was to take all those threads and weave them into an ending, which was a real challenge.
When I was handed this project by Harriet [Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan's wife and editor], she handed it to me as a collaborator, not as a ghost writer. It's not like building a shelf from Ikea, which is good, because otherwise my creativity wouldn't have been engaged. She handed me full creative control for the first draft, and then we went into the editing phase where we really worked on it to make sure that it fit her vision and Robert Jordan's vision for the series. But going into it, nothing was off-limits. So I wrote them like I write any novel. Nothing is taken for granted, nothing is sacrosanct.
A lot of people are asking what it feels like to be done. That's an odd question to consider for a couple of reasons. In some ways, the Wheel of Time was "done" for me when I read Robert Jordan's last scene back in 2007. The work wasn't done, of course, and I had a very long road ahead of me. And yet, I'd read the ending. We managed to get it into the final book virtually unchanged, with only a few minor tweaks here and there. The sequence (it is more than one scene) that I am referring to most of the time when I talk about this encompasses the entire epilogue of A Memory of Light. Once you get there, you can know you're reading Robert Jordan's words, though of course there are other scenes scattered through the book that he worked on too.
So that was one ending, for me. Another came in January of last year, when I finished the rough draft of this book. Still, there was a great deal of work to do, but I was "done" after a fashion. From there, I transitioned from writing a new Wheel of Time book to doing revisions—and for the last time ever.
Another ending came for me when I handed the book over to Maria from Team Jordan to handle all of the final tweaks from the proofreads and copyedits. That happened late last summer, and with some regret, I stepped away from the Wheel of Time. Like a parent (though a step-parent in this case) waving farewell to a child as they leave the home, I no longer had responsibility for this book in the same way. I was done.
And yet, I wasn't. This month and next I'll be touring for the Wheel of Time. That will probably be the final ending, seeing all of you and sharing in your mixed joy and regret at the finale of this series. Over twenty-three years ago now, I picked up The Eye of the World for the first time, and my life changed. A lot of you have similar stories.
I know how you feel. I've been feeling it for five years now, ever since I read that last scene. There is no glossary in this last Wheel of Time book. We wanted to leave you with the memory of that scene, as Robert Jordan wrote it, for your final impression of the Wheel of Time.
I'm happy I can finally share that scene with you. After five years of waiting, I can talk about it with others and reminisce without having to worry about what I'm spoiling. I hope to chat with as many of you as possible in the upcoming months. For those who can't make it, I'll post some responses to frequently asked questions below.
May you always find water and shade.
January 8th, 2013
Man, it feels good to be writing again. Revision (which I spent most of last year doing) is very important. But the writing is what I love.
About a year ago I turned in the rough draft of A Memory of Light. It was VERY rough. Took eight months of hard work to get it into shape.
Either my hand was cramping up or I missed a segue, but somehow a discussion of Brandon's writing style commenced.
He stated that he works from an outline, and that Robert Jordan grew and nurtured scenes over time. Brandon did not try to imitate Robert Jordan's writing style, and left the blending of the two writing styles up to Harriet. Harriet was Tor Books' original editor, discovering Mr. Rigney and editing the two best-selling series in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Harriet was in charge of blending the voices together.
How do you get to be an editor for an author like RJ?
I started a long time ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth! Worked my way up.
Harriet was already an established editor when she met RJ; it was RJ who was just starting out as an author. See Theoryland's interview with Harriet for more details.
One book, but it was a big mother of a book. [laughter] It was a book called The Fallon Blood, which was his first published novel, an historical novel of Charleston during the American Revolution. [inaudible] So we cut it, and it was taking up three lines a page. I said, can't we kill some of these battles? And he said, "Harriet, I've already avoided..."—I've forgotten what it was—"...fifty of the Revolutionary battles by sending the hero off wounded to Georgia to recover. I really can't cut any more." Okay, so we did all that, worked together, and then at publication time, the book was being distributed by Ace Books, where I'd been editorial director, and the director of publicity quit in the month of publication. So I drove him down to Savannah where he had one of the famous booksignings that beginning authors run into—you go to the bookstore, and they have one of your book. [laughter] [inaudible]
And so, we had done a number of things like that, and he had befriended my son, who was then eleven. And one afternoon, he'd come in [inaudible] And Will came running up to me where I was working at my desk, and he said, "Mom, he says he wants to take me to see the Star Trek movie. Can I go?" He said, "Huh, huh? Can I go?" And I said, "Well, let me come downstairs with you," and I said, "Can I come too?" [laughter]
How many books was this originally supposed to be? I don't think it was fourteen, right?
It wasn't . . . it was six.
So what was your role? I know you picked the chapter titles, but describe for our listeners your role in sort of the creation and editing of the series.
Well, in The Eye of the World in particular, in the beginning there were four boys leaving the village, but one of them didn't have anything to do. And my husband said, "Well, I had plans for him for the fourth book." And I said, “If you bore people, then there never will be a fourth book. Cut that boring kid out.” So he did.
Yes, that's right. The original cover art—the kind of brownish cover art that was on the inside cover—does show four, which is rather ghostly.
And another thing . . . Nynaeve . . . I helped him develop her by saying, "Why on earth is she always riding up there to talk to Moiraine? She doesn't seem to have anything to talk about." And I said, "Maybe she's trying to show her that she knows her way around herbal remedies." So a major piece of Nynaeve's character slid into place with that.
Oh, that she was the Healer and the Wisdom.
Yes, the village Wisdom—for people who haven't read the books, we're getting into some detail—but you might be interested that the village the main characters come from has a mayor and a Council, who are all men. But the village Wisdom (laughs) is the wise woman of the village, and generally represents the power of women. It's a very egalitarian world as far as gender is concerned.
I did notice that, yeah.
What's next for you? I mean, you are a professional editor. Is it time to relax, or do you have new projects?
Well, I do have a project. I have a neighbor who is completing a new translation of The Iliad. And that will probably be my swan song as an editor. And I did buy an embroidery kit, which I sort of haven't opened. Maybe I'm not really cut out to sit around doing embroidery. I did, when I quit smoking a long time ago.
You could make a Dragon banner.
(laughs) Yeah, that would be a thought.
Yeah, I can totally talk about this. So, "River of Souls" is about a specific character, and in the drafting process this is not something I actually pitched to Harriet early on, but in the later meetings I got together with them and pitched something which was a deviation from things Robert Jordan had said. Harriet told me from the get-go, Look you've got the notes, you've got the outline, you've got to be a writer, not a transcriber. Robert Jordan would not have kept this the way it is, that's not how we work, and in a lot of places he said I'm thinking of doing this, OR this, and you'll have to decide which of those to do, or to do a third.
And so I pitched one of these kind of audacious sequences to her; sometimes these work, sometimes they don't. It's the sort of thing you need to do to create fiction, that I feel is daring, and you need to take these chances. But a lot of times you don't know if it's going to work until the book is done, and you can look at it together. And this was taking place in a region of the Wheel of Time world that Robert Jordan said I really don't think we're ever going to visit. Which is the part that was deviated, by doing this sequence. And it's not that long, only about 7,000 words, so it's like a novelette. I sent it to Harriet, and she said "I really like this, but we're going to cut it". The reason being, that it broke up the flow of the novel, and it was introducing too many new elements at the beginning of the volume that was supposed to be wrapping up elements. And those who do storytelling know that can be a really dangerous thing to do.
That was the reason. It was a big additional segment, and this is not what you call a slim volume anyway. So as a reader, it was not fun. Not that there was anything wrong with the sequence, but it was not what my antennae said we needed. We needed to get on with it.
Yes, instead of going sideways, when we needed to go forward.
Harriet was an absolute gem. She is a very sweet lady and she smiled nearly the whole night long. She just seemed genuinely proud of the work her husband and her were able to accomplish and graciously answered all questions, and even checked on our Memory Keeper Aviendha several times to see if she needed anything (since she was stuck between Brandon and Harriet the whole night). Harriet also thanked more than one employee for working with books and was glad to sign any books she worked on which included Ender's Game and The Way of Kings (guest editor). Even though she started to look a little tired she still smiled and stayed until each of those nearly 400 people got through to get their books signed before leaving (probably 10:00 PM).
One more note on Harriet. When the Aes Sedai in the below picture came through Harriet noticed her nail polish. She said she loved the color, leaned back and proceeded to kick her shoe off then lifted a toenail painted with a similar color and said, "the color's called 'Rage'" with a mischievous grin.
Well, I gave him a contract for what proved to be his first published book. It was a historical novel called The Fallon Blood, and Tor Books has reissued it, and it says in huge letters on the front: "Robert Jordan writing as Reagan O'Neill," and of course it was James Oliver Rigney writing as Robert Jordan writing as... (laughter) It was very good, but he kept delivering it, and the manuscript was getting like this (gesture). It covered the American Revolution in South Carolina. He wanted to do what John Jakes had done for the northern sweep of American history, so it was getting bigger and bigger, and I said, "Well, Jim, couldn't we cut some battles?" And he said, "Harriet, that's why I sent Michael Fallon wounded to Georgia to recuperate. I've already skipped twenty-five battles. We can't cut any more." (laughter)
And I said, "Well, then the only thing is we'll have to cut three lines a page," because my distribution agreement—it was my own imprint; this was before Tor came into being—was kind of fierce. So we....well, I'll tell you, I had a friend who needed a beard. She was seeing a gentleman who wasn't quite as divorced as he should have been..." (laughter) "...and you all know what a beard is? I would be the third person at their lunch table, so that no one would say, "Oh, she's having a thing with this guy." And I said, "I'll do it, as long as you come help with the snopake." So we sat around my dinner table, and this was so long ago, great swooping pencil-lines and snopake over the worst. It would be...[?]...It was a mess!"
But we did all of that before we ever went out on a date; we went all the way through publication. And that means the professional relationship was older than the romantic relationship, and it sort of...it worked! Somebody said to me later, "Yeah, well what would you do if he gave you a piece of [expletive]." And I said, "Well you know, he never would!" If he was writing a midlist book, it wouldn't be [expletive], it would be good midlist, and it wasn't about games; it was about the book, always. So that's how we did it, and it worked. (applause)
When editing both Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, were there any scenes that needed to be cut because they were "too ridiculous"?
No, for either of them. They are fabulous storytellers and did not show her ridiculous scenes. One scene of Brandon's she cut for pacing reasons. She did have some disagreements with Robert Jordan, different opinions. Some scenes that he absolutely loved, she did not like, and vice versa. She emphasized the importance of having your editor as a trusted first reader.
Brandon mentions Dannil, the fourth Two Rivers boy, and Harriet explains that he was cut because he had nothing to do in The Eye of the World and he was boring. Robert Jordan said that he had big plans for him in the fourth book, and Harriet's response was that if you bore your readers now, there won't be a fourth book. Later, Robert Jordan admitted "how easily he [Dannil] unzipped out of the book."
Did Robert Jordan have a favorite character?
Yes—the one that he was writing that day. She said that some days after writing he would come into the kitchen slouching and sidling up against the wall, and she would say, "Have you been writing Padan Fain today?" She went on to say that he always wrote from "a position of love" for every character.
Brandon tells about one of the editing notes that he received from Harriet which read "Padan Fain needs more crazy."
Could you elaborate on some of your recent comments about the difficulty of writing shorter books?
One of Brandon's favorite stories is "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, and it's only five pages long, but he has struggled with writing shorter works. He's tried, but he has felt bad at it and it's not something he's ever been trained in. He realized that he was trying to write shorter fiction for the wrong reasons—he was doing it for New York and not because he wanted to do it. He feels that his best short work is Emperor's Soul.
He goes on to praise Harriet for her remarkable career, specifically pointing out her role in Ender's Game and Eye of the World, two of the greats in sci-fi/fantasy. Harriet modestly says, "I put my shoes on one foot at a time."
Who was the most challenging WoT character to write?
Mat was the most challenging, the second most was Aviendha. He explains that it is hard to write about someone so different than yourself and the Aiel culture seemed the most unique in the series. Of Rand's three women, Aviendha is Brandon's favorite. He recalls that after writing his first Aviendha scene, Harriet read it and then told him that it was a "picture perfect Elayne." Brandon went on to discuss how he has to write his way into his characters. Vin, in Mistborn, was originally a boy. Lots of his early work on The Gathering Storm was scrapped by Harriet because Brandon wasn't "there yet" with the characters.
He then goes on to discuss the volume of notes left by Robert Jordan. There are about 200 pages for A Memory of Light and then there is roughly 32,000 pages of other notes for the series, three times as large as the entire series put together. Brandon tells of how he tried to open it once and it crashed his computer because the file was so large. He also wants to commend the enormous efforts of Alan and Maria for their help in managing all of the details of the series.
HM was asked how, as an editor, it was to work with BWS? Also how was working with BWS different from other authors and RJ?
She stated that by the middle of the series, she would give RJ "curb-side edits" (her phrase) or if there was a "big problem." With BWS, it was a new author, but these were old characters. One of them told the story that she made the same edit for both RJ and BWS (
he noticed that she is wearing...). Also, either BWS or HM told the story of the Aviendha/Elayne edit comment (that the Aviendha that BWS wrote was a great Elayne).
And what was the biggest challenge of keeping your own voice in the mix, while staying consistent with Jordan's voice from the books before?
Yeah, that was a big challenge. Fortunately, I had Harriet for that. Harriet was the editor on all of the Wheel of Time books, and was able to point out all those inconsistencies, along with a lot of line-editing to smooth over the issues between what I had written and what Robert Jordan had written, things like that. One of the reasons why this project was even feasible was because Harriet was involved.
Questions were asked about the difference between editing Jordan and editing Brandon.
Harriet responded that it worked well and Brandon's insightful answer was that it was not as problematic as one might think. Specifically, Harriet knows more about the characters and world of The Wheel of Time than anybody in the world, so Brandon felt that freed him up a bit in order to flow through the story more easily.
The funniest bit of the Q&A was when a fan asked Harriet how she and Jim got along, since it seemed like she might be kind of a heavy-handed editor. Harriet acted quite taken aback, to the audience's amusement.
At this point, Brandon jumped in and said, "You don't have to press very hard with a scalpel to make someone bleed."
Fans enjoyed hearing Harriet's ongoing affectionate jokes about "Jim".
I don't know how much you know about Harriet, but she was the one who discovered Robert Jordan.
He was lying around loose at the time.
Harriet is one of the most awarded editors in science fiction and fantasy, and has been throughout her career. She edited Ender's Game, she discovered Robert Jordan and WoT, and the she married Jordan to make sure her editorial advice got taken.
Well, there were other reasons, too.
It's kind of neat sitting here in this office, looking across Madison Square at the building where we first worked together at Tempo, back in the olden days, 1970. We started together there. I was Publisher, Harriet was Editor-in-Chief, and we had a lot of fun. We began doing fantasy and science fiction in that line, and Harriet was of course the one doing it. We did so well that Grosset bought [SFF imprint] Ace for us to play with. Harriet became the editorial director of Ace, and we experienced tremendous growth there.
Tremendous growth. I remember when you went to your first science fiction convention, all happy you had a nice company, planning to do wonders for science fiction—as in fact you have. When you said hello to the first people you saw in the lobby, they stood up and said: "Hi, we're the Science Fiction Writers of America grievance committee, and we're going to audit your books."
Oh, I remember that so well.
I think you came up clean.
Actually, we did come up clean. We'd just bought Ace that week. We were behind because Ace was behind. Our editor in charge of science fiction back then, Pat LoBrutto, understated the situation. He said to me: "You know, we've got a little bit of an image problem. It would really help if you would come out to the World Science Fiction Convention." It was in Kansas City, so I said, "Sure, Pat, if it'll help, obviously, I'll come."
As soon as we came in, these two guys recognized Pat. They didn't recognize me yet. One of them said: "I'm Andy Offutt, I'm president of the Science Fiction Writers of America." The other one said, in a very loud voice: "And I'm Jerry Pournelle. I'm chair of the grievance committee, and we want to audit your books."
Well, Jerry had been in the field artillery. His hearing was bad, and he talked loud enough to hear himself. That meant everybody in the whole lobby could hear. Everyone kind of turned en masse to look at us. One person in the group of fans pointed at me and said: "That must be Ace. They're the people who screwed Andre Norton."
Now, we loved Andre Norton. Harriet had already bought her books at Tempo. We had published her there. But Ace had been in financial trouble, and they were behind on their royalties. What a way to be introduced to the World Science Fiction Convention.
I was so glad I wasn't there.
I came home and went to Grosset immediately. I said "Boy, the first thing we do is pay all these royalties," and we did. That kind of annoyed Jerry Pournelle, because by the time he got there and did his audit, we didn't owe him anything, so he couldn't charge us for the cost of the audit. It's a long time ago, and Jerry may remember it a little differently, but I remember it pretty clearly, and that's how I remember it.
It was an interesting time.
The very first book we published at Tor was actually Forerunner by Andre Norton.
You went to Florida and said: "Please, I've never asked you for a favor, but I want one now."
It was neat, because Harriet was quite into woman's rights. She got a real kick out of the fact that, in the science fiction field that was so heavily male in those days, the first Tor book was by a woman.
I never thought of that. That's great.
Even though she was deep in purdah writing as Andre. But she had first published at the age of, what was it, seventeen? Very early.
I looked it up later. Her first book was published in 1934, the year before I was born. She was great. She was a lovely person and a lovely storyteller. Of course, by the time of Forerunner everybody knew she was a woman, but I guess back in 1934 when she was starting to get published, they just didn't think women wrote science fiction.
Tom and I were just discussing yesterday that we were doing "telecommuting" before it was even a term.
She was the first one.
I had already moved back to Charleston when he was starting Tor. He asked me if I would be the editorial director. He said: "I'm not asking you to move back, I'm just asking you to edit." And I said okay.
She's the best editor I've ever worked with.
Oh, thank you.
You know, I've worked with a lot of them, as Publisher, as Vice President of Sales at Simon and Schuster, at Grosset and Dunlap. Harriet's the best. I just couldn't do without her and, you know, just because she was in Charleston wasn't going to stop us from working together.
Well, thank you, Tom. A week ago in Provo [at the first A Memory of Light signing event on January 8th, 2013] I walked into the high school auditorium where everybody was gathered for a pre‑event, before the book went on sale at Midnight. [Dragonmount.com Founder] Jason Denzel introduced me in lavish terms, using words like "wonderful". The crowd, which was wall‑to‑wall, gave me a standing ovation and moved me almost to the point of tears. They just weren't stopping. I began speaking over them and said: "Thank you very much. Thank you for the lovely introduction, Jason, but I don't think all those words are true. I'm here to tell you I put on my shoes one foot at a time, just the way you do." I actually got them to sit down.
Just to comment apropos of what I was saying earlier about this talented lady: we just got the Indie bestseller list in. Robert Jordan's A Memory of Light is number one, okay? But another book Harriet acquired, Ender's Game, is number seven on the mass market list. This novel was published in '85. Now, how many books from '85 are in the top ten bestsellers?
This is a year for Ender's Game if ever I saw one.
Well, we're ahead of publicity. It's just starting. It's on the bestseller list now. It was last year too. Seventeen times, if you count the extended bestseller list of the Times.
Wow, that's amazing.
Yeah. And Harriet's mentioned in the novel's acknowledgments. Scott [Orson Scott Card] talks about what a great editor she is, too. So there are other people with exactly the same opinion.
Back at Tempo, I had a wonderful secretary. He had interviewed with Tom, who sent him down to me. Tom was planning to hire him, but he wanted to be sure I could work with him. Once I interviewed him, I called Tom to say I wanted him.
He was a guy named Howard Ashman. He later went on to write Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. He was just wonderful. While he was with Tempo, he did a little series of fairy stories that had black‑and‑white outline drawings every other page. You could paint them with water and vague colors would come up.
Howard cut his teeth on retelling fairy tales with those little things. He had a background in children's theater, which he'd done in Baltimore. I later ran into him at Pinnacle when Tor had just barely started. All of a sudden there was Howard, spreading out galleys on the floor. He was eking out a dreadful living doing freelance proofreading. He showed me some lyrics for the show he was working on, and that was "Someplace That's Green". I said: "Howard, I don't know lyrics, but it looks okay to me." He was a special feature of those days, just a wonderful guy.
And I couldn't get him a raise. Grosset wouldn't ante up a raise for him, and he quit. I asked him to come for a walk and said: "I'm so sorry. Please, stay another two months and I'll get you the money." And he said: "Harriet, no. If I had the money I would just buy a sofa, and then I'd be in trouble. It's time for me to go and chase the theater." And so he did.
I never heard that story.
Well, he'd been waiting six months for that raise. Jim Frenkel was also editing under my direction at Tempo at that time. I could not seem to get them the bonuses they deserved. So I decided, all right, I was getting a bonus, I'd split it with them. In late January I called them into the office and said: "I couldn't get you bonuses, but I am going to split my bonus with you. Here it is." I opened it in front of them, but it was the withholding. One of my numerous times of making a fool of myself. But I did split the bonus with them when I finally got it, because they were great. Starting Tor was one dickens of an adventure.
Another great—and profitable—thing Harriet did for us was cartoons. She brought some great cartoons over to Tempo. In 1980, the very first year, we wouldn't actually have shipped any books, because it takes a while to get things organized and written. We'd just started incorporating late in '79. To get books out in 1980 would have been a challenge, but King Features had two movies that year: Flash Gordon and Popeye. We hadn't come up with the Tor imprint yet, but we rushed out tie‑ins for those movies, both in comic form and in novelization.
Harum‑scarum. Conan with one hand and Popeye with the other. As the years went by, Tor grew and grew and grew. From my point of view, there came a year when Jim [James Oliver Rigney Jr., AKA Robert Jordan] was beginning to make some real money. I was commuting up to Tor for one week a month, every month. I had a TRS-80 machine with tape storage, and it would record the entire inventory of Tor books so nicely, but then I could never unload it when I got up here. It was a pretty miserable system. Then there came a year where I thought: "This is the year I could either add a third stress medication, or I could stop being editorial director of Tor." It was time to do that.
I hated every time she ever cut back. I understood, but I didn't like it.
Well, I was doing a lot of editing. Heather Wood told me once, when she was working here, that I was editing a quarter of the hardcover list, which meant I was also handling a quarter of the paperback list because of the previous releases. It was a lot. But it was a great ride.
(To Irene Gallo) That was her problem for doing the best books.
I don't know about that. But I loved working with Michael and Kathy Gear, Father Greeley, Carol Nelson Douglas. All manner of creature. Lots and lots of them.
Yeah. Andy [Greeley]'s books used to make the bestseller list back when you were editing him. That was fun. He came to us first with science fiction, right? Then we did a fantasy, with your editing. He loved your editing. We ended up doing all of his books.
I really loved working with him.
You must have some stories like mine about Jerry Pournelle. What kind of crazy things happened to you in your early days? You were editing Fred Saberhagen, David Drake, people like that.
They were just great to work with. Nobody was yelling and screaming down the phone at me.
Fred's Swords, the first three Books of Swords were bestsellers for us, too.
They were good. I used to tease Fred about his day job as a pitcher in the professional baseball world. I think he'd heard that maybe too many times. "There was a Saberhagen pitching." "Saberhagen pitches shutout" and so on.
The first Robert Jordan novel Harriet published personally, we did as a joint venture under the imprint and the company Popham Press. Popham is her maiden name.
Well, it was distributed by Ace.
It was distributed by it, yes. I was Publisher of Ace at the time.
What was the title of that book?
His first published book is called The Fallon Blood. It's a novel that covers the American Revolution in the South. At the time, I thought: "If I have to look at one more book about the Civil War, I'll just throw up. I've had it with crinoline. There are too many. Margaret Mitchell did it once and for all. Let's go for the Revolution instead." So he did—the revolution in Charleston, South Carolina, in particular.
He followed that with The Fallon Pride, which covered the War of 1812, and The Fallon Legacy, which took the Fallons into the brand new Republic of Texas. At that point distribution dried up, otherwise he could have just gone on. He had a dream in which a man is holding Michael Fallon's sword, standing next to the grave of the Fallon who has died in the Vietnam conflict, and I thought, oh, boy. Anyway, with those books he wanted to write the Southern sweep of American history, in the way that John Jakes wrote the Northern sweep. Taking people across the continent. And they were good.
I would like to the point out something to the fans. Every single book Robert Jordan wrote begins with the wind. "The English wind blew the dust into Michael Fallon's face on his Irish road." That was the beginning of The Fallon Blood. The Fallon Pride begins, "The August winds scorched across Tripoli harbor." There is always a wind. I think it was very conscious that he was breathing life into his characters. Breath and wind have the same root, I think, at least in Hebrew.
By the time he was working on The Fallon Pride, he had already said to me and you both that he wanted to write a great epic fantasy.
Yep. He wanted to write everything. I remember you called and you'd gotten the rights from Conan Properties to do a Conan novel, but you wanted it in time for the first Conan movie. Not that it would be connected to the movie, but obviously to get a ride on it.
Jim Baen was working with us at the time. I said: "Why don't you ask Baen?" Jim said: "Baen doesn't like muscular fantasy, that's why." I remembered the first thing of Jim/Robert Jordan's that I ever saw, a manuscript called Warriors of the Altaii, which has still not been published. I think four or five contracts came out of that manuscript, including my own contract. A first novel is so dangerous because so many people start novels and never finish them, but I saw that he could indeed finish something. It was pretty muscular fantasy. I don't remember anything about it except the hero is shackled to a stone wall in a prison cell. The stone floor rumbles open and great tentacles emerge from it at the end of the chapter.
So I asked him about the Conan novel, and he said no. Three weeks later Doherty hadn't given up, and he called me and said: "I can't think who else would do." I went back to Jim and said please, and he finally said he'd do it. And then he liked it so much that he did six more.
He cut his teeth on those.
And then, after he stopped writing them, he edited a bunch of Conans. Once he had to take a plane somewhere and said: "Harriet, I forgot to write the sales copy for Conan the Whatever‑It‑Was", so I ended up having to write it, about Conan up against the thieving little wazir. I read as few pages as possible, you know, to get the hang of that thing. The sell line ended up being "Sell that Conan down, boys. Turn that Conan round. Rack that Conan round."
Those Conan books were fun, though. I never read his first novel [Warriors of the Altaii], but if it was like the Conan books, why didn't we ever publish it?
Well, because I sent it to [Jim] Baen at Ace. Baen bought it for Ace, so it was sold. But then he left Ace, and Susan Allison came in, and she didn't like it. Finally, after about a year he wrote her or called her and said: "Would you like me to do some stuff on it?" I don't know what she said, but Jim said, it's the women, and she said I'm so glad you understand. "Tell me what you want me to change and I'll be glad to do it."—another year goes by and nothing happens. I said: "Honey, I think you need to ask for the rights back." He did, and she gave him the rights back.
So, that manuscript got him a contract with me. It got him a contract with Ace. Before we ever met, he'd originally sent it to Donald Wollheim at DAW, who sent him a long single‑spaced letter with no margins, obviously written at home. Jim had been taking a course in business law of some kind, because he knew he wanted to write, so he wrote back and said: "Thank you so much, Mr. Wollheim, but I wondered if I could have a little more? Five percent of the movie rights?" Or maybe it was the foreign rights. Wollheim wrote him a one‑line letter back: "In view of your contract attitude, I withdraw my offer." So that's three contracts this book has given him.
But we didn't publish The Eye of the World until 1990, so why didn't we ever do Warriors of the Altaii? It would have seemed a natural fit while he was doing the Conans.
I don't know. We never thought of it. We were busy. I guess I'm embarrassed to say I think it maybe was sort of like a John Norman novel . . . not something you’d really want to build a career on.
Warriors of the Altaii needed a lot of work. At one point he decided it needed a rewrite, and I said: "Just don't." But old Warriors glows with a strange green light. All those contracts came slurping out of that book. It's the book that made me give him the historical contract. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. He could follow through. And he was a wild bird.
I think he'd only actually written two Conans when he decided to write The Wheel of Time. We talked about it a lot in '83. I remember talking about it quite a bit before we did the contract in '84. I thought The Fallon Blood was going to be a standalone and that there was only going to be the one book on the Southern sweep of history. It ended up being three. We began talking about an epic fantasy: one book, then maybe three books like The Lord of the Rings. I just didn't believe it would get done in three books, because by then I knew how Jim liked to tell a story. So we did the contract in early '84. He was doing Conan books well beyond when we began talking about that in '83. When did the first Conan book ship? '81?
Oh, I don't remember. Maybe the movie you were hoping to plan your timing around was the second Conan movie?
I think it was. I think it was later because we were already pretty far along in the planning of The Wheel of Time, and this was related. It just seemed natural for him to be doing that, too.
I like the Fallon books. I like the Conans he wrote. But when I read The Eye of the World, I just thought, boy, this is just wonderful. This is special.
Harriet and I decided we were going to make this a bestseller. We did it in trade paper because we were afraid we couldn't get enough out of a fat hardcover book. Trade paper wasn't anywhere near as big then as it is now, but we thought that's good, too, because it will call attention to itself. It'll be different. So we did it in trade paper and sold 40,000 copies, which was huge for trade paper in those days, for the first of a fantasy series.
When I called you the first time, I was about halfway through reading the partials Jim was handing me. I said: "Tom, you've got to read this one." He said: "Yeah, why?" [To Irene Gallo] You know Tom. I replied: "Because either I've fallen into the wife trap after seven years of marriage, or this book is wonderful." I sent it to Tom, and you didn't just go the whole hog, you did the whole hog and all the piglets. A truly magnificent job of publishing.
Oh, we had so much fun with that. You know, it's funny. People think that, when you get a success like that, you don't want to mess with it. The second book doubled the sales of the first in trade paper. So when we got to the third book, we decided to do it in hardcover, and sales just screamed. People asked: "Why would you do that? Look how wonderfully it's growing where it is." And that was our first book to hit the bestseller list.
Yeah, it hit the New York Times, not high up, but it did. And from then on, always up. How about you, Irene? You've been working on the covers for a lot of years.
It's hard to say. I came on in '93, when Maria [Mellili, former Art Director for Tor Books] was here. It was already the big book of the year. Many of the cover decisions were set. My earliest memories were that the production schedules were set by hours, not days.
There would always be four different versions of the production schedule, based on what day it came in. Contingency plans on top of contingency plans.
For one of the books, Jim and I stayed at the Murray Hill Hotel, with twin laptops. He'd do a chapter and give it to me, I'd read and edit it, and then I'd bring a disk in. I had a terrific carryall I'd bought at the Morgan Library, but it was not up to carrying my laptop and gave up the ghost in the middle. That was, I think, the craziest.
I remember Jeff Dreyfus, our production manager at the time, spent the days walking back and forth from the office to the hotel.
And Jim ended up having to stay up here to proofread. It was going to take a week or more, and I had to go back and deal with stuff at home. That's funny about the production schedules by hour, though. I'd never heard that.
They would set up four of them: if it comes on Monday, it's this, but if it comes in late Tuesday, it's this.
But hey, you know, it worked. We did a book each year, and each book built. By the time we got to the fourth book, we were selling the first book in mass market paperback. It was hooking people and bringing them in. Then the next book would grow, because people wouldn't want to wait.
A Memory of Light was the biggest first day we've ever had.
Which is something.
Yep. Harriet's agent, Nat Sobel, just sent us an e‑mail saying it's number one in England, too, right now. They said it outsold the one behind it four‑to‑one.
It's so nice that missing Christmas didn't hurt. I really worried about that, but we just needed the time to comb its hair.
It had to be done right. It's just too important not to do it right. Rushing wouldn't work for this.
For an architect, should a book be written as a complete work, which you then break into chapters? Or should I be focusing on writing chapter by chapter from the start?
Also, what order should revision be done in, what do you work on first? Punctuation and grammar, trimming, pacing, characters? What do you find usually gives the biggest pay-off first?
1) Both methods have worked for me in the past, so I don't know if there is a "Should" here. I think that early on, visualizing the book as a sequence of chapters which achieve certain goals is a useful way to finish your first few novels. It helps with the step-by-step method of getting it done. I use something more organic now, however.
2) My method is this:
Revision One: Fix continuity, big problems.
Revision Two: Make the language more active, get rid of repetition.
Revision Three: Fix problems mentioned by alpha readers (so long as I agree with them.)
Revision Four: Cut 15%
Revisions 5-7: Beta reader issues, more editorial fixes, more of all above.
However, in those early chapters, the biggest payoff is going to come from making certain character voice is solid and that the language isn't dull. (Trim info-dumps, get rid of passive constructions, that sort of thing.)
Met Brandon Sanderson and Harriet today.
I found out a fact I didn't previously know while there and that was that Harriet also edited Ender's Game, as well as The Way of Kings.
Just a small side note, but Harriet was a guest editor on The Way of Kings. Brandon's normal editor Moshe did edit the book as normal.
I couldn't believe when I heard that Harriet edited Ender's Game, as I loved that book growing up.
Yeah I was surprised. Two of my personal favorites, WOT and Ender's Game. If she had done Dune too she would be a god.
For me, editing/redrafting is a vastly more intimidating process than writing the initial draft. I can recognize things that need to be altered or fixed, but once I begin that process, I feel that I have difficulty focusing the elements into a cohesive whole. How do you manage taming all the threads?
I keep telling myself that if I don't fix it in this draft, I can do another one, and that's okay. So narrowing down my drafting goals to something manageable each time helps a lot. Also, giving myself specific goals. If a character needs to be revised, I look for every scene with that character and make the revisions. I don't always read the whole book, I go and fix that character. Then, when I next read the book, I can watch for continuity with the fixes.
It doesn't need to be done all at once. Be like a sculptor, going through, slowly working the shape out of the stone pass by pass.
I've seen thrift store advance reader copies before. Fun to have in the collection.
Are you interested enough to read the whole thing and tell us what changed between the advance and the mass market copy?
If you really want to know this sort of thing, I posted one of my novels (Warbreaker) on my website in each of its incarnations. You can compare the last draft version with the printed version. In fact, you can just plug them both into Microsoft Word and have it "Compare documents" and it will highlight any changes.
Link to Warbreaker
I think it's great that you respond to this sort of post—thanks for that—it really makes me happy to be around in this day and age where the authors really interact with their fan base.
EDIT: question—on the back of the book it says "9-copy floor display (November 2011; $224.91)". What does that mean? Does that mean 9 copies of the first edition hard cover and a floor display for that amount? Just wondering.
Wow! Slow to getting back to you, aren't I? Sorry about that.
This means that if a store wants one of those nifty floor displays that they put in bookstore sometimes, they can buy one from the publisher. The prince there is the retail prince, I believe. They'd actually buy it wholesale, for about half the cost listed. (Though I don't know a ton about the marketing side, so I could be wrong.)
The Retail Prince, noblest of all retailers.
What aspect of the creative process do you find most challenging?
I am not naturally inclined toward revision, but revision is vital. My first drafts, while fairly clean because I do a lot of planning and outlining, are still quite a distance from being fantastic. Sometimes they're good, but they're not really good. The first draft might get a book's quality to ninety percent of what it needs to be, but getting that last ten percent takes just as long as the first ninety. To this day, forcing myself to sit down and take something that I know is working pretty well, and instead try to make it really good, is hard for me. My mind always wants to be creating something new.