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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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Good question, though not all of the forces involved could use gateways. (Rafo! Rafo!) Think of the ability to Travel in terms of moving troops via aircraft, and you will begin to get the picture. Even with the largest possible circles, there are limits to the size of gateways and thus limits to the front along which you can move troops out through it, the numbers you can commit simultaneously. Of course, you can use multiple gateways, but each is still only so large and can admit only so many soldiers at a time.
So-called front lines were very fluid, but you couldn't fling your forces in anywhere without regard to what would be surrounding them or how you were going to re-supply, reinforce or withdraw them. Although no one has shown it so far in the books, there are ways to interfere with the making of a gateway—and ways to defend against interference—so the battle would take place on many levels. Yes, any area you hold can be attacked by your enemy, and you can attack any area that he holds. (Part of the result was great destruction and a great fall-off in the ability to produce high tech items. By the time the Bore was sealed, soldiers were already much, much more likely to ride horses and carry swords than to ride armored vehicles or aircraft and carry shocklances, which had all become very rare.) But holding an area is not impossible so long as you can successfully disrupt your opponent's attempts to make gateways into it. Even if he manages to get those first soldiers in, if you can disrupt his ability to reinforce, re-supply or withdraw, it becomes another Dien Bien Phu for him. Of course, if you fail, then it becomes Gettysburg or Waterloo, a bloody fight that will be decisive for somebody. At least until the next "decisive" battle is fought. Remember, that designation is always given after the fact, by historians.
There were two plot related questions in the Q&A, both were RAFO'd: Did Aviendha's gateway in beginning of The Path of Daggers go back in time?
For Isabel, hi, cutey. Regarding the scene at Dumai's Wells, the places they had Traveled to were not in the safety of the wagon-circle, where they were, but beyond it, among the Shaido. As for Illian, I was too crude in reinforcing something I had established earlier and wanted to reinforce, i.e. that you do not need to know a spot at all to Travel from it if the place you want to travel to is only a short distance away.
Regarding Sharina, and other women who learn to channel at age, she will indeed grow younger in appearance. No, she will not achieve an Aes Sedai face without the Oath Rod, but where she has previously looked, say, sixty, she will look perhaps thirty-five, with accompanying changes in hair color. Think of it as analogous to slowing, which older women also do.
At the Cincinnati signing I asked Brandon a question concerning our favorite killing machine!
I asked Brandon since Shadowspawn die when they go through gateways was the gholam dead, or is it a construct?
I didn't push that response because someone constantly being hunted would invariably have a moment where they were unawares so it was not really a limitation for the gholam to hunt channelers who can Travel.
An obvious RAFO would we be seeing this particular gholam again? I did not ask it though.
Brandon said there are two things going on—ta'veren and the Fisher King prophecy which says the Dragon is tied directly to the land. He says it seems to Rand that more bad stuff was happening in The Gathering Storm but that this could be either just Rand's perception or what is really going on. We should remember that ta'veren is supposed to be 50/50—an extra equal amount of good and bad going on. He would not tell us at this point whether there was really more bad stuff happening in The Gathering Storm or whether its Rand's perception as there was purposefully very few viewpoints from Rand himself in Towers of Midnight. Like the third book The Dragon Reborn, Towers of Midnight is meant to step away from Rand and view him from the viewpoints of others.
Someone also asked if Rand's ta'veren nature would affect people on the other side of an open gateway. Brandon said that the Pattern considers that Rand is where he is and not on the other side of the gateway, so he would not affect a place just by having a gateway open there and not actually being there.
[The guy said True Power travel]
Yes. [Can't give you specifics of response, but he did say that it (True Power) was the reason for the difference in Traveling.]
He also got into his own approach to magic systems, which lead to questions about how much of a challenge he found the One Power and how he prepared himself to handle it (and yeah, he admits being a One Power fan). Brandon explained researching and analyzing the One Power was one of his main focuses during his pre-writing re-read of the series (the other was analyzing the characters' "voices". He also said RJ left a massive amount of notes about the One Power, some of it he's read (he couldn't read everything, he rather relied on Maria to find him the exact information he needed when he needed it). I think he's said that before—or RJ did—but RJ's notes for WOT are longer than the series itself and he always kept adding to them, from back story and history elements to world building tidbits to creating hundreds of characters he could use to sketches for possible scenes. It was Maria's job to index all of this so if he was writing a scene he wanted to use backstory elements or a new weave in, he could have her look first if this already existed in the notes and what of it had appeared in the series already—or if he didn't already have it and needed to create something from scratch.
Sanderson said he resisted creating new weaves (beside introducing those Jordan planned to introduce) for the most part. His contribution will rather be to have the characters figure out they can use weaves they know in new ways—turn them into weapon etc., and for this he looked for details in the previous books. He mentioned one specific example: after Knife of Dreams, he thought characters figured out gateways and deathgates can also be used to slice non-Shadowspawn up in battle.
We also discussed a bit the 21 levels list, which Brandon used a lot. Jordan did start it just the way he described it long ago, that is as a way to keep track of who defers to whom among minor players etc. However, as of now, this document's scope goes beyond this (and it's quite big). The document assigns a rank number to each Aes Sedai referring to the twenty-one levels system, and it lists their personal weaves if they have any, and who knows and have the skills to use which weave and to what extent, their strength in flows if details in the series have blocked this up etc. Brandon confirmed Jordan developed a similar ranking system for the Asha'man as well, but couldn't recall out of hand how many levels there were for them.
Tactical use of gateways is honestly all me. I hadn't even played Portal before I wrote these books. I have since went back and played it, and they're doing some of the same fun stuff. That was me from years and years ago as a guy who likes magic systems reading the Wheel of Time books and saying, "If I had gateways, this is what I would do." In fact, I had built up some magic systems using things like gateways that I will never be able to use now, because I got handed the master magic system with gateways.
Team Jordan was somewhat uncomfortable with my use of gateways, in a lot of ways. They felt I was pushing them. But my response back was that I didn't want to push the magic system in other ways; I didn't want to be inventing a lot of new weaves. I didn't want to be doing a lot of things like that, because I felt it would be taking the system too much in the directions I take the Brandon Sanderson systems. I really do like Robert Jordan's magic system, but I wanted to take some of the specifics that had already been done, such as gateways, and say, "Here's where you can extrapolate with them."
As for other things that have been discussed in the fandom—I certainly wasn't as big a part of the fandom as I am now, not anywhere near it. For instance, I didn't care about Asmodean until I started talking to other Wheel of Time fans, and it was a big deal to them, and so it became a big deal to me. There are certain things that through fandom and talking to other fans you tend to rally around, that I kind of wanted. One was a reunion between Tam and Rand. There are other things like that, that for a long time we'd been waiting for and we'd talked to each other about, and we'd imagined what they'd be like. Those sorts of things did influence me; I had to be really careful not to be too influenced though. Being too influenced would lead me to put in lots of inside jokes, things like Narg—that would have been letting the fan in me run too wild. So I did have to rein that in.
It’s hard for me to separate the years of talking about the Wheel of Time with friends and reading about the Wheel of Time from what I eventually ended up doing in the books. Once I did start working on the books, I didn't go plumbing through fan forums looking for things that should be included. I specifically stayed away from things like that, though I did suggest to Maria at times that she should watch and see what people were expecting, so that we would know what things we were not going to end up fulfilling, and could be prepared for them.
I really have always liked, obviously, his system, which is part of why I love the books. His system had this nice mix between the visual aspect—I really loved the weaving, and things like this—and it had some interesting ramifications on physics and whatnot, and I also liked a lot of the sense of mystery to it, in that they didn't know everything, which is one thing that I like, when a magic system—you know, I like to write very rule-based magic systems, but I feel that, if you know everything...I mean, we don't know everything about physics; we don't know everything about science, and so how can you know everything about the magic, which is the science of a certain world? That said, Jim generally was more flexible with himself on allowing himself to do different things with the magic. He had a more open-ended magic system, I would guess. A lot more weaves were created, and things like that, and I tend to make my magic systems more restrictive.
Because of this, growing into the books, I worried that, working in a system where I was uninhibited in that way, that I would just go completely bonkers. [laughter] And so, when I sat down to work in this system, I decided it was...when necessary I would develop new weaves, but that I would resist the urge, and that there had been so much developed by Jim so far that I would use weaves either in the books or from the notes whenever possible, and I would prefer to take those and try to go new places with them as opposed to developing lots of new and different weaves, which is why you see me doing things like pushing gateways a little bit further, because I thought there was a lot of room to explore there, or pushing what Perrin does in the wolf dream, and these sorts of things, because these are established systems that Jim created for me, and for all of us, and I felt there was so much room to move in those that I didn't need to go other places. There are some places in the books where a new weave was appropriate, and we did that, but I tried very hard to cap that, because I worried I would just do too much, if that makes any sense.
I really enjoyed working with it. In fact, the Wheel of Time...in a lot of ways, the Wheel of Time doing what it did had prevented me in my career from ever approaching doing those things, if that makes any sense. Because I loved the Wheel of Time, I didn't want to be repeating something that...I didn't want to be, you know, accused of just copying Robert Jordan. And so, because of that, you don't see me writing a lot of the types of things that he did, like you know I'd always wanted to do a dream world, but I never did a dream world because the Wheel of Time had done one so well. And then when I was able to work on this, I got to kind of do all of those things that I'd made off-limits to myself because Robert Jordan had done them already, and done them so well, and it was pretty awesome to be able to do that. It was one of my favorite parts about doing this, is all these things that were on my list of "Robert Jordan did this so don't do it," suddenly became things I could do. So... [applause]
And as a follow-up to that, I think that, instead of just being the magic system guy, I think that Brandon has every right to be the good, quality compelling character guy. So... [applause]
*vague spoiler warning*
An audience member had, years ago, asked RJ what would happen if an Aes Sedai balefired herself through a gateway, and was told by RJ that she should find a man, a woman, or a dog to love and she should get a life. (heavily paraphrased). The same audience member was present at the signing and asked if the scenario played out in A Memory of Light was done in response to her question.
BS said that he has avoided gateways and balefire in his series because that type of magic belonged to The Wheel of Time, but he himself has had many thoughts on the use of balefire and gateways. So no, the scenes from A Memory of Light were not a response to her, but BS's own story. The audience member also added that she did find a guy to love, had a daughter, named her Aviendha, and the crowd clapped.
...and I got that first RAFO part, which was then answered in this book. And I was wondering if that question that I gave to Robert Jordan so many years ago, and he gave that wonderful answer, was the reason [?] or was it...[?]
(laughs) You're dog girl. Yes, you are! I will say...there's an inside joke here. Once, this wonderful young woman asked Robert Jordan what would happen if you balefired yourself through a gateway, and what exactly did he say?
He said, "Young woman, I need you to go have an affair—with man, woman, or German Shepherd; it doesn't matter. Either way, you need to get a life." (laughter, applause)
Now, I, uh...(laughter continues)
I also happened to then, several years later, marry a man who also read, and this is our daughter Aviendha.
I don't have one either, and I'm worried...my big question was always about gateways, and when I began reading the series, as soon as I discovered them, I started to think about what would happen, cause I'm a magic system guy, right? And I'm like, "Oooh, what could you do with this? What could you do with this?" In fact, I started taking notes on what I could do, and they sat there in my notes file for years and years because I eventually started moving away from things I had seen done by other authors, and that meant, specifically the few things I was most interested in in the Wheel of Time. I didn't end up ever writing a magic system using. gateways and the World of Dreams, the way Robert Jordan had it. I avoided these things intentionally. And yet I had all these notes of things that I would like to have done, if I ever did a magic system with them.
Lo and behold, I got that opportunity, and so I found ways to....when I got the project, I didn't want to come in and make any sweeping changes—that wasn't my goal—but there are some places where I felt it appropriate to add some of my touch to the books, and one was with the gateways. I didn't want to be spending a lot of time doing anything with the magic system, you know—inventing a lot of new weaves, or anything like that—but I did want to expand some parts.
And so I actually....I went to Charleston, and we needed a new viewpoint character, specifically someone in the Black Tower—we hadn't had...we didn't have the right viewpoint character for the Black Tower—so I said, is there an Asha'man you guys think that I could take over, so to speak, and really flesh out and make into a more...you know, elevate a side character to a medium level character, which is something Robert Jordan frequently did in the series, and they came to the decision that Androl was the person that I should take, and I gave him the gateway Talent because I wanted to explore what happens with gateways.
And so, right there....we are all on the same wavelength; it wasn't necessarily me trying to answer your question. It was me answering questions to myself as a young man reading the series, wondering a lot about gateways. And so, Androl was a lot of fun.
In fact, there's another story there. At one point, I'm working on the series, and I get in the mail this envelope—it's a manila envelope from Charleston, and in it are a bunch of photocopied pages, and Harriet has written on the front of them: "Jim planned to use this somewhere. Can you fit it in?" And what it was was a detailed explanation from the viewpoint of a leatherworker about how one goes about using leather, and leatherworking. And this is the sort of detail, craftsman-style sort of things that Robert Jordan really liked to find places for that sort of detail in the books, and meanwhile, I've been sitting here trying to build a character for Androl, and I'm like, "Okay! I've got a place for it." And that's how Androl became a leatherworker, is from that stack of pages from Robert Jordan; it was just a photocopy of a leatherworker talking about their work.
So, there's some Androl stories. And so the answer is, it's half to you, but it's mostly to me (laughter). It's to both of us.
Did he get to include anything from his "Cool Stuff" list in the series?
A few things did end up in the book, but he won’t expand due to spoilers. He did say that he had ideas about gateways long before he was selected to finish the series. He wanted to include some of these ideas in his own work but he was too worried about copying Robert Jordan, so they just stayed in his file. He was able to pull these ideas out and use them with Androl in A Memory of Light.
How did reading The Wheel of Time inspire his magic systems?
The first influence was Robert Jordan's focus on human characters over fantastical ones. He felt that Jordan's concept of weaving was complex and interesting, as opposed to magic systems of authors such as David Eddings. With the Wheel of Time, the rules and restrictions on magic made characters more clever and interesting. He didn't want to modify the WoT magic system but he did explore two aspects of it using ideas he had as a teenager: the World of Dreams and gateways. He avoided adding new weaves because the series was coming to a close.
Androl and Pevara
In working on the Black Tower plot, one thing I realized early on was that I wanted a new viewpoint character to be involved. One reason was that we didn't have anyone to really show the lives of the everyday members of the Black Tower. It felt like a hole in the viewpoint mosaic for the series. In addition, each Wheel of Time book—almost without exception—has either introduced a new viewpoint character or added a great deal of depth to a character who had only seen minimal use before. As we were drawing near to the end of the series, I didn't want to expand this very far. However, I did want to add at least one character across the three books I was doing.
I went to Team Jordan with the suggestion that I could fulfill both of these purposes by using one of the rank-and-file members of the Black Tower, preferably someone who wasn't a full Asha'man and was something of a blank slate. They suggested Androl. The notes were silent regarding him, and while he had been around, he so far hadn't had the spotlight on him. He seemed the perfect character to dig into.
A few more things got spun into this sequence. One was my desire to expand the usage of gateways in the series. For years, as an aspiring writer, I imagined how I would use gateways if writing a book that included them. I went so far as to include in the Stormlight Archive a magic system built around a similar teleportation mechanic. Being able to work on the Wheel of Time was a thrill for many reasons, but one big one was that it let me play with one of my favorite magic systems and nudge it in a few new directions. I've said that I didn't want to make a large number of new weaves, but instead find ways to use established weaves in new ways. I also liked the idea of expanding on the system for people who have a specific talent in certain areas of the One Power.
Androl became my gateway expert. Another vital key in building him came from Harriet, who mailed me a long article about a leatherworker she found in Mr. Jordan's notes. She said, "He was planning to use this somewhere, but we don't know where."
One final piece for his storyline came during my rereads of the series, where I felt that at times the fandom had been too down on the Red Ajah. True, they had some serious problems with their leadership in the books, but their purpose was noble. I feel that many readers wanted to treat them as the Wheel of Time equivalent of Slytherin—the house of no-goods, with every member a various form of nasty. Robert Jordan himself worked to counteract this, adding a great deal of depth to the Ajah by introducing Pevara. She had long been one of my favorite side characters, and I wanted her to have a strong plot in the last books. Building a relationship between her and Androl felt very natural to me, as it not only allowed me to explore the bonding process, but also let me work a small romance into the last three books—another thing that was present in most Wheel of Time books. The ways I pushed the Androl/Pevara bond was also something of an exploration and experiment. Though this was suggested by the things Robert Jordan wrote, I did have some freedom in how to adapt it. I felt that paralleling the wolf bond made sense, with (of course) its own distinctions.
Finding a place to put the Pevara/Androl sequence into the books, however, proved difficult. Towers of Midnight was the book where we suffered the biggest time crunch. That was the novel where I'd plotted to put most of the Black Tower sequence, but in the end it didn't fit—partially because we just didn't have time for me to write it. So, while I did finish some chapters to put there, the soul of the sequence got pushed off to A Memory of Light, if I managed to find time for it.
I did find time—in part because of cutting the Perrin sequence. Losing those 17,000 words left an imbalance to the pacing of the final book. It needed a plot sequence with more specific tension to balance out the more sweeping sequences early in the book where characters plan, plot, and argue. I was able to expand Androl/Pevara to fit this hole, and to show a lot of things I really wanted to show in the books.
(laughs) So I had not played Portal at that point (laughter), which is actually very advantageous. I've told this story before, so I apologize if this is a repeat. Growing up reading the Wheel of Time and being a magic systems guy, certain aspects of the Wheel of Time magic system were very evocative to me. And I would list the two that were most interesting to me being the World of Dreams and portals themselves, gateways. These were two things that...you know when you... We've all done this, we've read these books. You put down the books and you keep dreaming, right? You keep thinking. And for me it was often what would I do if I were there, and devising aspects of the magic. I often inserted characters of my own into books I was reading as a kid, very frequently. I think I can trace back Hoid, one of my character's origins, to my always kind of saying, "Well there's a character behind the scenes who's doing all this."
And imagining what I would do with gateways...Actually, it's one of these things that I sat down and started devising a magic system based around for a book. And eventually I did all this work and decided I just can never write that book because it's too similar to Robert Jordan. As I've said many times, I wanted to be very conscious of staking my own claim in the fantasy genre in doing different things because I feel that one of the places that the genre went in the late 90s was very much trying to mimic and copy Robert Jordan, who did really awesome things and I felt had covered the area, right? And I said I don't like that this is where the genre is going. I want to be covering new ground, be doing new things.
And so reluctantly I kind of put aside some of those ideas, and then I got asked to work on the Wheel of Time. And I said, "Well, guess what I have in my little quiver back here, is a desire to really play with some of these magic systems." And so the meeting I did during my second visit to Charleston was in April or May of 2008, where we sat down. You guys remember that—we got out the butcher paper. I asked for butcher paper. We gotta see if we can dig those out. But I like sometimes to do visual outlining, and I took these big sheets of paper and wrote down character names and started making connections and building an outline. Wrote Team Jordan saying, "What if we did this? What if we did that?" It's where I threw out some of my weirdest ideas and I think terrified them, sometimes. Some things worked. Some things I threw out there, and there were like the whites you could see around their pupils. They're like, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" I'm like, "What if Perrin adopted the Way of the Leaf?" I remember Maria just flipping out about that. She's like, "Please, please don't do that!" [Looks at Maria:] Yeah, you remember that one, don't you? And throwing out all kinds of things because I feel that being brought on, one of the big dangers in working on the Wheel of Time books would be to play it too safe. Robert Jordan would have expanded the world, and the characters would have taken risks, and things like this. And one way we could fail is by not following his vision. But another way we could fail would be by creating bland books. And I think this is where a lot of media properties, like people who write on some big television movie—these books are really bland. Where they fail a lot is because they can't make any changes. They don't feel they can change the canon, they can't take chances, they can't push the stories In new directions, and the books often because of that will end up very bland. And I said we can't fall into that trap. We have to be willing to shake things up. We have to be willing to do things on the level of the things Robert Jordan did, where you know, look at Rand cleansing saidin and things like this. We have to be willing to do this.
(indecipherable)... One of the things I said I really want to do is, I said I want a character who has a Talent for gateways, because I love gateways and I want to play with them. And I also kind of want to add a new character—well, do a Robert Jordan and take a side character and make them more a main character for these last books because I feel he would have done that with somebody. It's what he does. And so, Androl was... I said, "Is there an Asha'man I can have?" And I think...was it Maria? It was either you or Alan said—I think it was you—who said, "What about Androl? We know almost nothing about him. How do you feel about him?" And I said, "That's perfect, exactly what I was looking for." And I took him. And so this is kind of a place where I was allowed to take some of what I like to do about fiction in the fantasy genre and play with it in a way that wouldn't dramatically change a main character, and which would allow me to push the magic system in some new and interesting directions without overwhelming and dominating it. One danger I felt for me was if I took the whole magic system and dealt with it, it would go too off the wall. But taking one little aspect and kind of doing what I love to do, and really explore the ramifications of what this would do to a world, was something that really excited me and I felt would allow me to have some fun, but not take over too much. And Androl filled that perfectly. I really am pleased with how he turned out. And all these things that I dreamed of as a kid: "Ooh, if I had gateways, here's what I'd do. Oh, I'd do this. I'd use them as a weapon. Ooh, bottom of the ocean—what do we do if we go to the bottom of the ocean?" You know, and things like this, and whatnot. And it was just a lot of fun.
So yes, that's what it was. And I give a lot of credit to Team Jordan for things like this. When I was doing this, I felt part of my job in these situations was to be the one pushing this toward that level of let's not play it safe. During this time, Maria and Alan kind of became the ones to say let's make sure we're not going too far. And that balance worked really well. They let me get away with on gateways a lot of stuff that I appreciate them letting me get away with. I know at some points, they were like, wow, I'm not sure if this is...yeah, this is a lot of gateways. I remember you [Maria] saying to me once, "This is a lot of gateways, Brandon." But I think in the end that push and pull between us ended up making the book very strong. And Androl became a really great character to add to the Wheel of Time canon, and so I'm very pleased with how that all turned out.