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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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Hawk found a way to get RJ's attention. Brandish a whip. You see, RJ IS a dirty old man.
That was it for Saturday. On Sunday was the reading. He read a piece from A Crown of Swords. (I'll put it in a separate post, to avoid spoiling anybody even a bit. It wasn't a very plot-intensive bit, though. Fewer spoilers than the Prologue has!) It was a Mat bit. After the reading, he talked about Mat as a character a bit.
Anyway, Mat has indeed had far and away more MPS experience than our other young heroes, and intends to get much much more. I believe the quote was something like "The world is full of beautiful women, and Mat wants to romp barefoot though them all. (or was that with them all. same thing.) He's slept with lots of women; he's slept with women old enough to be his mother..."
Also, Mat makes the Aes Sedai nervous.
Sigh, and if RJ had shown all of this "on-screen," y'all wouldn't be complaining about the lack of explicit sex in TWOT!!! (And the books would read like The Fallon Blood.)
The South Carolina native dropped out of Clemson University after one year. ("I didn't know how to study.") He served two tours in Vietnam. Afterward, he attended The Citadel, becoming a nuclear engineer. A fall from a sub at the Charleston Naval Shipyard left him hospitalized for a month. His knee was rebuilt, and he suffered a near-fatal blood clot.
The avid reader decided it was time to try writing. "Life was too short," he says. He decided to quit his job after a bookstore manager pal told him that a famous bodice-ripper romance writer made $3 million on two books. Jordan decided to pump purple prose. But there was a problem. "I couldn't quiver," he says.
He met Harriet, a Manhattan editor who had moved home to Charleston. She told him he could write but to bag the bodice-rippers, suggesting instead he write historical novels. He published several under the name Reagan O'Neal.
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."
Moshe starts off the panel asking Tom to talk about how The Wheel of Time got started. Tom says that the story begins with Harriet. Tom was publisher of the Tempo imprint for Grosset & Dunlap back in the ’70s, and Harriet was his top editor. They did so well with Tempo that Grosset & Dunlap went out and bought SF publisher Ace for them to run. Their success continued at Ace, and Tom brought in an editor named Jim Baen to work under Harriet. Sales volume doubled.
Soon after this, though, Harriet’s parents died and she inherited the family house in downtown Charleston—with a 500-square-foot walled garden, a gardener, a maid, and a cook who had been with the family for years. “Harriet is a Southern Princess,” Tom says. Harriet was divorced and wanted to go home to Charleston to raise her son. Tom didn’t want to lose her as an editor, so Popham Press was created. Harriet acquired and edited books down in Charleston, and production and marketing were done by Ace under a profit-sharing agreement. “It was telecommuting before the word was invented,” Tom says.
Harriet met Jim Rigney in a local bookstore there in Charleston. Jim was an engineer in atomic submarines who had been injured, and while he was recuperating, he was writing. The bookstore owner knew Harriet was an editor, and he thought the two of them should meet, so he introduced them.
Jim wrote a book called The Fallon Blood to romanticize a part of U.S. history he felt had been overlooked in popular culture—the Southern role in the Revolutionary War (Swamp Fox, etc.). He decided that he would publish his books under pseudonyms, and use a different one for each series. He used the name Reagan O’Neal for the Fallon books.
Then Grosset & Dunlap started having problems and they brought in a “financial guy” to run the company. He decided that they should only publish bestsellers. This is part of the reason Tom left to found Tor Books. The opportunity came up for Tor to publish some Conan novels, one of which would be a novelization of the Conan the Destroyer movie. Jim Rigney was interested in doing the book and some other Conan novels, and the pseudonym he picked for them was Robert Jordan. He also took over editing some sword & sorcery books for Tor.
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.
Before starting the saga of Randland, as it is known to fans, he wrote a historical series called "The Fallon Chronicles" and serialized several "Conan the Barbarian" novels. There are things Jordan wants to write afterwards, too.
But "Wheel" comes first.
"I've been warned that if I died before I finished the books, they were going to desecrate my grave," he said with a laugh.
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.
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.
Growing up, he'd often told about lining up I think Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Jack London, and thinking, "I want to write books."
He joined the Army in 1968 and served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.
He returned to begin college at The Citadel as a veteran student and took a job as a civilian nuclear engineer working for the United States Navy.
And it was during this time that he took a hard look at his life and decided to become a full-time writer.
He was in the hospital with a blood clot when he did the famous—the thing so many people talk about doing—he threw a book across the room and said, "I can do better than that." He wrote something called Warriors of the Altaii. I read it, and...no, it wasn't what I was interested in. But it showed he could do it. So I gave him a contract for a book that became The Fallon Blood. We'd been seeing a lot of each other. He brought a tiger claw from Vietnam to show my son. Will came running upstairs to my office one day and said, "Mom, he'll take me to see the Star Trek movie." And I said, "Can I come too?" And he said yes. And I guess that was our first date.
She edited Jim, and they fell in love, and they got married, and we all became friends.
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]
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)
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.
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.
So after Ender's Game, the second Tor book that I can remember reading was The Eye of the World and the other Wheel of Time books. There were all these rumors out there about how many books it was planned to be and what it was originally pitched as. Tom, I think we need to hear it from your mouth: the first-hand witness of that pitch when James Rigney came in. Was it this office right here?
Well, actually we'd already done three books with him. The Fallon Blood, The Fallon Pride, and The Fallon Legacy. He did them under a different pen name.
Right. Reagan O'Neal.
They had started out to be one book. He was going to do a big historical novel of the American Revolution, but it ended up being three fat books.
When he came in and said he wanted to do a big epic fantasy novel, we said, "Well, a big epic fantasy?" He said, "Well, maybe it'll be a trilogy." So I suggested a six book contract, and when he said no I said "Okay, you know if you finish it in three, we'll just do a different trilogy." He said, "Well, all right, if you insist."
Didn't you tell me that, when he gave the pitch on the first book, it really ended where the third book now ends, with the sword that's not a sword being taken from the stone that's not a stone?
Well, he didn't actually, no. He didn't give me a very detailed outline, but I didn't really need one because he'd done such a great job with the Fallon trilogy and Harriet [McDougal, Robert Jordan's widow and editor] was sold on it. Harriet had edited the Fallon trilogy.
Right. She tells the story that she called you after reading the few chapters of The Eye of the World that she'd read and said, "You need to look into this thing, because either I've fallen into the wife trap after all these years, or this is the best thing I've ever read." [Note: Harriet McDougal told the same story during her conversation with Tom Doherty.]
I don't remember her saying that, but she did call me and say, "Hey, this is special." And I read it, and it was special. We did some things with those books that were pretty major for a small, independent company.