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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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Red Ajah: not all lesbians—just manhaters. RJ knows non-manhating lesbians. Not based at all on Agnes Scott girls. Based on some girls he knew as a child.
All women in Randland—based on his wife. "Does she tug her hair?" "No. Mine."
I didn't read all of the conversations you had about it on Twitter and Facebook, and I didn't really have gender roles in mind so much as other things. I understand what you're saying about how his world requires certain gender imbalances—I addressed that sort of offhandedly in my post by saying that the 'in practice' roles in WoT are often not what you would theoretically expect considering the circumstances. And while RJ often made comparisons to various time periods in the real world in reference to technology in particular, I'm not talking about that—I'm talking about the theoretical result of the history of the WoT world. Many of the gender imbalances are logical, but many are not, which is why they don't feel realistic at all to many readers.
The main problem I had with your comments is that you said that anyone who accused RJ of sexism for whatever reason was 'blatantly wrong'. You sort of trivialize those things that we are 'left with' after cutting away the complex and subjective debate over gender roles, but those things we are left with are so pervasive in the novels that they give an overall impression of an old-fashioned and often casually sexist man behind the curtain. This is a big turn-off for some people, and while I feel that those who cannot overlook it are missing out on one of the greatest stories of all time, I understand that it is a legitimate complaint.
As for the female nudity...just no. :p I mean, I know you read all the interviews at one point. 'No Male Nudity' (NMN) was not quite as popular as RAFO, but it was definitely one of his favorite stock answers (especially in reference to movie questions—it was his 'one rule') for a good few years. He was pretty blatant about his preferences there, and while I'm sure he had several cultural influences in mind, in the end it's pretty clear that he just enjoyed writing about naked women more than he enjoyed writing about naked men.
I agree that it's wrong to judge RJ as a person anachronistically, but at the same time, I think it's wrong to make such a blanket statement about the veracity of our claims of sexism in WoT. It's there, and it's real. I agree that some people take the criticism too far without considering certain things—I've had these debates (on non-WoT forums especially) many times over the years—but it seems to me more constructive to criticize the exaggerations, or to criticize each argument on its own merits, than to denounce any and all claims of sexism in WoT in one fell swoop.
I had this scene from The Fires of Heaven in mind, and it sums up many tweets I made on the subject which were omitted:
Moiraine, seeming slight and small beside the others, also looked unruffled, although sweat rolled down her pale nudity and slicked her dark hair to her scalp, with a regal refusal to acknowledge that she had no clothes on. The Wise Ones were using slim, curved pieces of bronze, called staera, to scrape off sweat and the day's dirt.
Aviendha was squatting sweatily beside the big black kettle of hot, sooty rocks in the middle of the tent, carefully using a pair of tongs to move a last stone from a smaller kettle to the larger. That done, she sprinkled water onto the rocks from a gourd, adding to the steam. If she let the steam fall too far, she would be spoken to sharply at the very least. The next time the Wise Ones met in the sweat tent, it would be Egwene's turn to tend the rocks.
Egwene cautiously sat down cross-legged next to Bair—instead of layered rugs, there was only rocky ground, unpleasantly hot, lumpy and damp—and realized with a shock that Aviendha had been switched, and recently. When the Aiel woman gingerly took her own place, beside Egwene, she did so with a face as stony as the ground, but a face that could not hide her flinch.
To call these descriptions 'gratuitous' is, of course, only in comparison to RJ's (incredibly rare) treatments of male nudity (and not in comparison to, say, GRRM).
I was wrong about the film distinction, though I do believe there is an older report somewhere mentioning this that I am missing. However, there is a 'no male nudity' tag for all the times RJ mentioned it at signings; it was a running joke for him.
Re: Parallels between Rand's early arc and being gay...[from The Great Hunt]
"No, I can't. I mean . . . I didn't do it on purpose. It just happened. I don't want to—to channel the Power. I won't ever do it again. I swear it."
"You don't want to," the Amyrlin Seat said. "Well, that's wise of you. And foolish, too. Some can be taught to channel; most cannot. A few, though, have the seed in them at birth. Sooner or later, they wield the One Power whether they want to or not, as surely as roe makes fish. You will continue to channel, boy. You can't help it. And you had better learn to channel, learn to control it, or you will not live long enough to go mad. The One Power kills those who cannot control its flow."
"How am I supposed to learn?" he demanded. Moiraine and Verin just sat there, unruffled, watching him. Like spiders. "How? Moiraine claims she can't teach me anything, and I don't know how to learn, or what. I don't want to, anyway. I want to stop. Can't you understand that? To stop!"—Chapter 8, 'The Dragon Reborn'
That desperation is something I remember. Then this...
He paused, frowning, thinking things through. Finally, he said quietly, "Rand, can you channel?" Mat gave a strangled gasp. Rand let the banner drop; he hesitated only a moment before nodding wearily. "I did not ask for it. I don't want it. But. . . . But I do not think I know how to stop it."
Mat hesitated, looking sideways at Rand. "Look, I know you came along to help me, and I am grateful. I really am. But you just are not the same anymore. You understand that, don't you?" He waited as if he expected an answer. None came. Finally he vanished into the trees, back toward the camp.—Chapter 11, 'Glimmers of the Pattern'
Potent scenes. Especially Mat's last lines. *shrug*
What do fans tell you they like so much about your writing?
The women like the women. I was told by a number of women who came to a signing several years ago that they were surprised to find out that I was a man. They thought no man could write women like that. And I like this because my editor used to say that I couldn't write women at all. I find this a very sweet revenge.
The story of TWoT evolved during a very long period, in part beginning in the middle of the seventies with the idea of the Breaking of the World, before he found the "final scene in the final book" and began to actually write The Eye of the World. The main impetus from the beginning was the notion of "men breaking the world" (my emphasis), and that men able to channel must be killed, controlled or stopped at all costs for 3,000 years. This led naturally to a society where women had great power and respect.
As an example of this, he puts forth Davram Bashere's reaction to Faile being a Hunter of the Horn. His initial negative response does not come from that Faile is a girl, but that she only is 17 years old. Her gender is irrelevant to the issue.
Not all Red Ajah are misandrists. Jordan said that not all members of the Red Ajah are rabid men-haters, but pointed out that they will tend to develop a dislike/distrust for men as part of their job. To be Red Ajah means that your primary mission is to capture and gentle channeling males, so all men become potential enemies. After having this outlook for several decades, it will be hard to have a normal relationship with men.
My Comment: Something that I would personally like to add to this discussion is that all Aes Sedai believe in the importance of stopping male channelers, but the Reds are those who consider it more important than anything else they can do with their talents. This will tend to attract women who dislike men.
No, because when I'm with the character I do get into his head, quite intimately. Or her head. In an aside, the biggest compliment I've had in a way was paid to me when I was autographing for the second book. At two different signings, I had a woman approach me and say that she had lost a bet, or an argument in one case, because I was a man. They'd been sure that 'Robert Jordan' was a pseudonym for a woman because the women characters they thought were so well written that no man could do that.
But I do get into their heads. It's one of the reasons the books are as large as they are. There are that many layers and I cover that much territory and still get intimate, if you will, with each of the characters. Or at least each of the characters who is being a main character, or a viewpoint character at least, in that particular book.
No, it's a product of growing up with strong women. All of the women I knew growing up were quite strong. All of the men I knew growing up were quite strong because any of the weak men got shredded and thrown aside. So it made for a certain viewpoint, a certain outlook in life.
Aside from that, the basic premise of the books, that 3000 years before the time of the books the world was essentially destroyed. The details don't really matter in the context of this interview, except for the fact that that destruction was caused by men, members of the male sex. A world that has grown out of that has to have a great deal of power for women, especially when the world has spent the last 3000 years being afraid of any man who has the ability to channel the One Power. You have to have a world where women have power. That's the way it's going to evolve. It can't go any other way. It's only a question of how much power they have.
Vietnam/Rand's "No Kill Woman" Thing
RJ vividly described an experience he had in Vietnam where he killed a female Viet Cong. He said he simply spotted a figure holding a weapon and fired on it, then "acquired the next target." He then realized that he had killed a woman—the first (and I believe only) time he's done that. This provides an obvious basis for Rand's "Achilles' Heel." (I thought he should have offed both the Tower Aes Sedai in the beginning of A Crown of Swords and Lanfear earlier, but I'm rude like that.)
The answer was "Yes, among other things."...
...Another interesting point that may just be my interpretation of things, is that someone asked if Lanfear had been raped as well, right on top of the Moghedien question, and he answered right away with a "No". It could be any number of explanations, but it seemed to me that it was a given that Cyndane was Lanfear from the context of the conversation.
Like I said, just my interpretation.
Someone else who was paying more attention could fill in here.
The first is that the reason The Path of Daggers seems short is that Jordan could not go any farther without writing a whole lot more. The stage it seems, is once again set. Another interesting thing was Jordan asking Hawk if she was into leather, and if she was "top, bottom, or switch".
Dirty old man, indeed.
Where did the idea of the Wheel of Time come from?
If you mean simply the concept of time as a wheel, that comes from the Hindu religion, though many cultures have or had a cyclical view of the nature of time. If you mean the books, then the idea came from many things. From wondering what it really would be like to be tapped on the shoulder and told, "You were born to save mankind. And, by the way, you’re supposed to die in the end, it seems." I wondered what a world might be like where the feminist movement was never necessary simply because no one is surprised to see a woman as a judge or ruler, a wagon driver or a dock hand. There’s still some surprise at a woman as a soldier—a matter of upper body strength, and weapons that need upper body strength—but by and large, the question of a woman not being able to do a job just doesn’t arise. I wondered what it wold be like if the "wise outsider" arrived in a village and said, "You must follow me on a great quest," and the people there reacted the way people really react when a stranger shows up and offers to sell them beachfront property at incredibly low prices. I wondered about the source of legends, about how events are distorted by distance—either spatial or temporal—about how any real events that might have led to legends would probably be completely unrecognizable to us. This is getting entirely too involved, so let’s just say that the books grew out of forty-odd years of reading everything I could get my hands on in any and every subject that caught my interest.
Before they saw me, they had assumed that Robert Jordan was the penname of a woman, because, they said, no man could write women that well.
Although I seem to remember an interesting bit here about you not wanting to meet him after he'd just written somebody like Hannibal Lector. Sometimes he'd come down for dinner and Harriet, without him having said a word, would say, "You've been writing Padan Fain again, haven't you?" And although it would not always be Padan Fain, it would be one of the non-pleasant characters.
The women characters in your books are really interesting, not at all the cardboard cutouts that appear so often in fantasy. Did you do that consciously?
In part. In this world, given the history that divides this world, women had to have real political power. But on the other hand, I simply consider women to be more interesting if there's more about them to be interesting. A real live Barbie might be a lot of fun for a weekend if you're 22, but after that there's not much to it. Empty calories.
They are complex women, strong women, the sort of women I've always found interesting. As my grandfather said, "Boy, would you rather hunt rabbits or leopards?" No choice there.
So will the male-female duality be resolved? Or is this a "read and find-out" question?
Read and find out. What I consider the major story lines will be resolved. There will be a number of minor story lines that will not be resolved, for the simple reason that there is no point to any real world where everything is resolved. That's always something that has irritated me about some novels—that you reach a point at the end of the book, and everyone's problems have now been solved, and all of the world's problems have been solved. I get the feeling I could put these characters and this world on a shelf and put a bell jar over them and go away. There's nothing left there alive.
That's the way it's going to be. I even intend to set a small hook in the last scene.
Ah, but you're not gonna have that sort of switch. In this Age, how can you have a switch? One of the things for instance in the Age that I wrote. One of the things...For instance, I've been accused by some people of ignoring the feminist struggle. Well, there is no feminist struggle in this world, because there is no need for one. No one says a woman can't do this because she is a woman. A woman wants to be a blacksmith, she can learn to be a blacksmith, and she becomes a blacksmith, or a merchant or a wagon driver, or a worker on the docks, or wherever else. All of that took place, took place a long time ago. And they're very good at it. That sets the whole reasons why this should come about. Three thousand years ago the world was destroyed, by men. There is one group that has survived for that three thousand years, one organization that has managed to stick together for three thousand years, and have a great influence on history, and that is a group of women.
Okay, so you just don't have, you just don't have it. To have a reversal of roles means... absolutely nothing.
No. And if I had she would lie to me. A woman is as likely to tell the truth about that as men are to tell them, and if you think about how many of that you would tell anyone on god's green earth about that. And if you come upon that teaspoon of liquified truth you would tell, know that that is five times the truth that she would tell you.
No, what I do is, I eavesdrop. [laughter] One time when he was younger and eavesdropping on women, he received Veritas. He knew everything there was to know about women. And it turned his hair completely white, and beyond, so that most of it is dark again, except for that piece in his beard there, plus it also erased all knowledge he had gained straight from his head.
We get close up in line and I can start hearing things, but nothing of importance. A lady—clearly a fan—in front of me must have asked him about the female characters in his books:
His reply is that his whole family is filled with very strong women...
"All of the men in my family are strong, because the women in my family would kill and eat the weak ones."
Now, I am going to take a very...Oh, I have one announcement. Later on, during the signing here, some of you are going to want to take pictures of me. That's fine. Some of you are hoping to get pictures taken with me. That's fine. I have only one rule for photographs: Guys have to keep their clothes on. [crowd laughs loudly] Okay? Okay? Okay. Now, I will take a few questions. I'm going to start on this side [his right] and work around, and just a very few questions so we can get to the signing cause I think this store closes at ten o'clock.
Um, anybody, come on, aren't there any curious women out there at all? You women never ask questions here? [RJ laughs slightly]
[editor's note—RJ repeated the first several questions on the mic so everyone can hear, so I'm going to deviate somewhat and just present the info in a Q&A format.]
No, the women in my books are not obnoxious. The women in my books are strong. I grew up in a family where all of the men were strong, and the reason is the women in my family killed and ate the weak ones.
When I was a boy, just old enough to be starting to date in a fumbling way, I complained something about girls. And my father said to me, "Would you rather hunt leopards or would you rather hunt rabbits? Which is going to be more fun?" And I decided I'd rather hunt leopards.
He said that men were like fish that had been removed from the tank placed on the ground. The idea was that a cat (a woman) watches the fish and often has no interest if the fish does not struggle enough before dying. The cats enjoy watching the fish flounder and flap around. But if the fish stopped, the cat loses interest. So Robert looked seriously at Brad and Bob and I (the only men present) and said, "Keep flopping and they won't lose interest. Always keep flapping!"
It was a little silly of course, but it sounded as if it came right out of the books. One of Thom's sayings, maybe.
"The biggest single political power in their world is the great city of Tar Valon, home to the White Tower, which is the headquarters of the Aes Sedai, women who can tap into the power that drives the universe and turns the Wheel of Time, the One Power."
Men are not able to manipulate the power like women can, the dual nature of the power is often too much for them. "Men can't do that safely. A man who channels the One Power, which has a male half, saidin, and a female half, saidar, will eventually go mad and die," Jordan explained. "Only until he dies, he's a madman who can do horrific things with the Power. The fly in the buttermilk is this. Prophecy says that a boychild will be born who is humanity's only chance to win the Last Battle, when the Dark One breaks free of the prison where he was confined by the Creator at the moment of creation. And that boychild will be able to channel the One Power."
After the Breaking, men were viewed as destroyers. Also, almost all the male leadership of the world were Aes Sedai who were now dead. Add to that the dominant political force in the world for three thousand years being the all female White Tower. It's a natural consequence for women to be more dominant than not in the rest of the world.
A side note—he brought up the story thread where he introduced a misogynist (Agni Neres, the boat captain on the trip from Samara to Salidar). Instead of being angered by his attitudes, Elayne and Nynaeve are puzzled and can't understand him at all.
Tam and I went over to the Q&A. As we're crossing the street from the Mariott to the Hyatt, this guy goes:
Man: "Whoa there. Where's your badge?"
Tamyrlin: "Well, he lost it earlier."
Man: "Can't let you in without a badge, sir."
Camel: "But I lost it, man. I paid for it and everything."
Man: "Well, did you report it?"
Man: "Do you have a hotel key?"
Camel: "Yeah, to the Travelodge down the street."
Man: "Let me see it." I showed it to him. "Okay, you've got a hotel key, go on."
So we went into the Q&A, and I watched everyone ask questions. At Isabel's first question, RJ said "Come up here and ask me closer." cause he couldn't understand her. So she went up there and showed him our huge list of questions. I got a picture. He read one of them and answered it. Then Tam asked a question and basically got RAFO'd, and he came back and sat down. I suggested a question to him, and he says, "Go ask it, man." So I got in line. And waited. Finally:
Camel: "I know a lot of questions have been asked and I was wondering if either of you knew of a question we haven't asked that you think we should have asked already, and what would that be?"
So I sat down, suitably embarrassed. Tam and WSB thought it was hilarious that he thought my name was Jack. (Hint: it's not). After that, we went over to the mall and grabbed a bite to eat. I got a picture of Tinkerbell. It was cool. Walking back to the hotel, I took a picture of some Cobra guys solely to stop up traffic in the hallway. Mwahahaha.
Well, I don't know, it is a combination of things. I gave this recently, so it is probably already on the net. How did I come up with the division of the One Power, the male and female half? I had seen a novel, there are a lot now, but this was the first I had seen like this. Young woman wants to be whatever it was, a magician, whatever, but she can't because she is a woman, and women aren't allowed to do that so she is going to struggle through it.
I thought it was interesting, one of the earlier novels of the feminist struggle, and all that. I put it back, because it didn't seem something I cared to read, but I thought about it because the thought that occurred to me is okay, that's real easy, women aren't allowed to do this, it is historically based or grounded at least, what if it was men who couldn't, now how would that be, as my wife points out to me, we have the upper body strength, and she is convinced all of the inequities in the world vis a vis gender, are subject to the fact that we have all the upper body strength, and I am sorry about that baby, I ain't giving it up. So, how could there be a situation where men were not allowed to do this, and it does not somehow get itself reversed over time, add into this I wanted a near gender equal world as I could, and how could I have a situation where women could maintain gender equality?
Okay, now I split men and women, have different sources of power and the male source of power is tainted. Okay, you've gotta stop men and at the same time, out of this beginning came the division of the One Power, the White Tower existing as the political center of power for three thousand years, false dragon, the destruction of the world by men, false dragons arising periodically to remind humanity exactly why men can't be allowed to channel and why the White Tower must remain the center of political power. A lot of stuff came out of that one notion.
For Infested Templar, two women linking have slightly less of saidar available to them than the two women would have individually. But it can be used much, much more precisely, and therefore more effectively, than they could manage working merely as partners. The reduction also occurs for men entering a circle. One man in a circle means that only the amount of saidin that he can handle, less the reduction for being in a circle, is available. Men can be much stronger than women in the pure quantity of the Power that they can channel, but on a practical level, women are much more deft in their weaving and that means the strongest possible woman can do just about anything that the strongest possible man could, and to the same degree.
And finally, the Old Tongue is written in a script that has more letters than the English alphabet, some representing diphthongs. That script will be in the Encyclopedia that Harriet will do, along with 950 or so words of the Old Tongue derived from what is called Basic English, the 950 words necessary to carry on a understandable conversation. Some words I dropped as essentially unnecessary to the books—electricity, for example—while others—such as sword and names of birds and animals—I had to add. The total might come nearer 1000 words by now.
For Alys Kinch, the Healing of stilling must be done by the other gender to be fully effective. A woman Healing a woman or a man Healing a man results in less than full restoration. It all ties into that theme I keep harping on. Men and women have to work together to be their most effective. And while the weave used by Flinn for Healing is not exactly that used by Nynaeve, either would use the same weave on a man or a woman.
If I seem to be posting a lot, it's because the tour is coming up. I want to get in some of these things before I go away and the blog goes on hiatus. We'll be flying to New York on Saturday to take care of some business before the tour begins, on Tuesday. I'm a little worried about the first signing, I'll admit. I know I can pull a good evening crowd in NYC; I've done it before. But 12:30 on a Tuesday? That's the slot where they put politicians, movies stars and celebrities. Yes, I'm a little concerned.
I will try to post again tomorrow or Friday, but I can't guarantee. We've been housing relatives from New Orleans, you see. My younger brother Reynolds has already gone back and begun teaching high school again, and his son Rey, a NO cop who was at the precinct they dubbed Fort Apache until he was told off to drive a sick officer to Shreveport for medical aid, has also returned to duty after fighting off bronchitis. Rey's wife Heather, who has a masters in disaster relief management, is hoping to head back today or tomorrow with infant son David, while Reynolds' wife Barbara Gay will be heading back tomorrow or the next day with son Jim III. Can you spell hectic? I knew that you could.
Well, let's get on with it. By the way, I don't favor women in my answers. I just answer what seem like interesting questions where answering won't give away too much.
For Mark A, there are plenty of reasons for men and women to have a certain degree of distrust, though the fact that many Aes Sedai have Warders and good relationships with them shows that it isn't all mistrust. How much trust do most men and women have for the opposite gender here and now? I trust Harriet with my life, but look at how most people are. Look at most women's views of men, and most men's views of women. There is a lot of distrust right there. As for the Forsaken, they don't trust anybody. Gender doesn't enter into it.
For jofraz, I have gay and lesbian characters in my books, but the only time it has really come into the open is with the Aes Sedai because I haven't been inside the heads of any other characters who are either gay or bi. For the most part, in this world such things are taken as a matter of course. Remember, Cadsuane is surprised that Shalon and Ailil were so hot to hide that they had been sharing a bed even knowing how prim and proper Cairhienin are on the surface. Well, for many it is just on the surface.
For Anonymous-George, long ago I saw one of the first, I believe, novels about a young woman who wasn't allowed to use magic or whatever because she was a woman, and the thought occurred to me as to how it might go if men were the ones who were denied the right to do magic. Or whatever. I hate using the word magic. From that long ago thought grew the One Power divided into saidin and saidar with the male half tainted and the reasons for and results of it being tainted. Now in most of these societies—Far Madding is the obvious exception—I did not and do not view them as matriarchal. I attempted to design societies that were as near gender balanced as to rights, responsibilities and power as I could manage. It doesn't all work perfectly. People have bellybuttons. If you want to see someone who always behaves logically, never tells small lies or conceals the truth in order to put the best face for themselves on events, and never, ever tries to take advantage of any situation whatsoever, then look for somebody without a bellybutton. The real surprise to me was that while I was designing these gender balanced societies, people were seeing matriarchies.
He answered NO and then proceeded to say that he tries very hard to get into the character he's writing about. He mentioned that sometimes when he's helping Harriet prepare dinner she'll go, "Have you been writing about Padan Fain today?" He said she's usually spot on, though it might not be Padan Fain but Semirhage, or Graendal or someone of that ilk.
He then told a story about how when he was a little boy (I didn't catch the age but I would guess 5 or younger) a neighbor woman went to pick him up. He mentioned that he had noticed the way the dress shifted with her movements and how unlike it was with his mother and how the perfume this woman was wearing was different than his mothers, and when this woman went to pick him up she slipped a bit and his "face got buried in her busom" and he felt a bit light headed. (big laugh) The woman laughed and called him precocious. He then said that ever since that day he's paid special attention to women. He said that he's paid so much attention to women that he now has an insight into how they react. This is why he has tried to create a gender equal environment in WoT.
He said that he plans to finish the two planned prequels "eventually" (he didn't expound on what that meant) and then he said something very surprising to me.
He said that he is considering TWO OR THREE SIDE NOVELS! Stories that suggested themselves to him. I was thinking, "WAY COOL"!
He then went on to talk about "Infinity of Heaven" a bit. Saying that the society portrayed there would be horizontally and vertically stratified, a la the Seanchan, but even stricter. His writing style will stay the same and he won't change the male vs. female viewpoint expressed in WoT.
Before he started signing, he said that we could take as many pictures as we liked under two conditions: 1) NO male nudity and 2) Don’t show too much of his bald spot. (That worked for me as I had no intention of the first and I have a bald spot, too.) My wife and I got our books signed and took pictures with Mr. Jordan. He talked to us for about three minutes as our teenage daughter was with us and hasn’t gotten into the series. He told her that she might like to try it because of the strong female characters. He said all the men in his family are very strong because if they weren’t the women would eat them up.
After about a dozen questions, he stopped and informed us that every person thus far to ask a question was male and he was tired of answering questions from guys. He knew that there had to be some woman there who read the series and wasn't there getting her lazy boyfriend's books signed because he wouldn't get off the couch.
It did take a few moments for a woman to speak up, but speak up she did.
Laughter reigned for a time, but RJ, as always, was waiting for her. He proceeded to tell how he needed a literary device to show the strength of the women who would inhabit the tower; something that when seen from far off on the horizon would inspire awe. He thought about making the home of the Aes Sedai a large, black hole in the ground, but since that is something you would almost fall into as you walked up to it, it just did not have the same power as a tower.
Then he rhetorically asked her if she had actually read any of his books and seen the women in them. She explained that yes, she had and she used the term she did, since she was quoting from the prologue of Knife of Dreams. He said he knew the quote, he did write it after all, but again, had she actually read the books to see what power the women in the books did wield? Much laughter ensued at the good-natured banter between him and the audience.
He confirmed that he's due to start working on "Infinity of Heaven" next. The next series will be set in a different universe, with different rules. He acknowledged that it would still have his main theme: "Men and women misunderstanding each other."
He also stated that he hopes to get better. One day he's sure to make it. To this proclamation a gent up front called out "you're great", to which he replied: "Thank you, thank you, yes, I thank you and my mother thanks you."
(for kcf) On the large scale, the gender relationships in the Wheel grew from the very beginnings of the books, really. I recall seeing a paperback book back in the 70s, a fantasy novel about a young woman who wasn't allowed to become a magician of whatever sort it was because she was a woman. The notion struck me as interesting, since it was the first fantasy novel with that theme that I had ever seen, but what really stuck with me was this. That novel was a simple reflection of the then-current mundane world, but what about if it were men who were not allowed to become whatever it was? Now that would be an interesting twist, and unexpected. Why would that be, and how could it be enforced? As Harriet has often pointed out, many of the world's gender inequalities stem from superior male upper body strength. (To which I usually say, "Oh, dear! Isn't that awful and unfair!" While pulling off my shirt and flexing my biceps, to be sure.) From that genesis grew the division of the One Power into a male and a female half with the male half tainted, giving a reason why men not only would not be allowed to become Aes Sedai, as they were not then called, but must not be allowed even to channel, again as it was not then called. From that, and from the history that I was even then beginning to put together for this world, though I didn't realize it then, came the result of 3000+ plus years when men who can wield the ultimate power, the One Power, are to be feared and hated above all things, when the only safety from such men comes from the one stable center of political, and other, power for those 3000+ years, a female center of power. The view I then had was a world with a sort of gender equality. Not the matriarchy that some envision—Far Madding is the only true matriarchy in the lot—but gender equality as it might work out given various things that seem to be hard-wired into male and female brains. The result is what you see.
"It was my suggestion in the first place," Jordan admitted, "that we have a male and a female actor to do this, a woman to read the female point of view and a man to read the male point of view. And we lucked out in that they both do voices as well. So it is as close as I can come to having an ensemble doing the reading."
In addition, Jordan's Western novel, Cheyenne Raiders, available as a digital download from Books on Tape, is read by Michael Kramer.
For Egwene, yes, I read Ray and Janny's Empire Trilogy and enjoyed it. Harriet has been the editor from the beginning with these books, but she has never been a co-writer is any sense or I would have credited it. My women come from observation of women in the world around me ranging back to my family. You see, I started early. When I was no more than three or four my mother gave a garden party, and a friend of hers picked me up. It didn't feel like being picked up by mother or by a baby sitter. I remember feeling her soft summer dress slide against her skin. I recall the soft, floral scent of her perfume. My mother might have worn that perfume, but this woman did not smell as all like mother.
She bent to set me down, and her grip on me slipped. Now her dress was one of those summer dresses that buttoned up the front, and as her grip slipped, I slid down, burying my face in her cleavage. My head seemed about to burst with the scent of her. Then she had me upright again, and she laughed, and ruffled my hair, and called me precocious. Which I recall because I ran off to learn what it meant.
After that, I looked around at the boys and girls my age. When we were dressed differently, we were very different, but if we were all dressed alike, in khakis or cut-offs for crabbing or to help with the shrimping, there wasn't much difference at all in how we looked or acted. The thing was, I could see me growing into my father, but I could not see any of the girls growing into that woman who had picked me up. So I began studying these strange creatures. I'll say nothing of methodologies. I have spent more than one night being harried across the rooftops by a mob of women carrying torches and pitchforks. We say nothing of sickles, of whatever size. We will not speak of those.
In any event, along the way I came to some small understanding of a small part of what makes women tick, and this has allowed me to write women that women find to be real.
For a fan of rolan_dcs, no characters in my books are based on any real people, living or dead. With the possible exception of myself, anyway. And the bits I took from Harriet for various female characters.
By the by, I've seen a lot of comment, apparently from men, that my female characters are unrealistic. That's because women are, for the most part, consummate actresses who allow men to see exactly what they intend men to see. Get behind the veil sometimes, boys, and your hair will turn white. I've been there, and mine went white and didn't stop there; a great deal of it actually turned dark again, the shock to my system was so great. Believe me, I mild it down so as not to scare any males into mental breakdowns.
In my early years writing, it was hard. I finally got it right in Elantris. It was harder to write from other cultures, especially Aviendha and Tuon. It took three tries to get Aviendha right..."Aiel are weird."
Brandon describes Mat dealing with Tuon leaving as Mat having his feet knocked out from under him and says that in Robert Jordan's notes it says specifically that "Mat refuses to become husbandly".
No, it was a surprise because I really pretty much had to have it that way. If he told me about it ahead of time, I would look at it on the page and think, "I've heard this stuff, before. This isn't fresh," forgetting that it was he who told me.
But we did go out for lunch once, towards the end of The Eye of the World, and he said, "I want to talk to you about some people who are turning up in the series," and I said OK. He wanted to discuss the Aiel and how it would happen if a Maiden had a child. Well, you know the Aiel don't even appear until book three except for the guy in the cage. So, he was planning that far ahead, and he wanted to bounce it off of me.
And at the end, he was concerned about a young woman's reaction to her mother's love affair, and did that read true to me as a woman. He would do that very occasionally; his women were great. In fact, in an early signing, there were some women in shawls who came up to him and said, "You're Robert Jordan? We were sure that was the pseudonym of a woman, 'cause your women are so well written." That pleased him to no end. He loved that.
It was very hard for me at first. I did it poorly. It really bothered me because I have two sisters that I studied a lot, and I would ask them, "read this and tell me what you think." I'd look for their opinions; that was part of it. Then there's my mother. She graduated valedictorian of her college class in accounting in a time when she was the only woman in the entire program. So, I have had good role models; that is one thing.
But for another, I saw it as something I was weak at early on, before I got published, and it bothered me so much that it became something that I focused on and worked on really hard because I wanted it to become a strength. And the real change happened when I stopped treating characters like roles in a book and I started treating them like people. Each character sees themselves as the hero in the story in their own way, and so I started looking at that thought. The early women I'd put in a book, I'd put them in there only to be a romantic interest, and that was a bad way to do it. Instead, I make them their own character. Every character starts with their own desires and goals, and nobody just starts when the book starts. They are already in existence.
My passion for fantasy comes from a teacher in eighth grade, when I was fourteen, who challenged me to read a book. I share this story a lot, but I think it's an important part of who I am. I didn't enjoy reading when I was younger. I didn't discover reading until I was given a fantasy novel. I had tried reading many other novels and had been bored by them. And it was the discovery of fantasy literature as a genre—the imagination, the power of it—that really changed me as a person and turned me into a writer.
I mean it's really bizarre: the book that I read was called Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. And this is an interesting thing, because when you know anything about literacy, there are certain things they say that you're supposed to give to boys. You're supposed to give them a book about a boy, and more specifically, about a boy who's two or three years older than them, not their age but not too old. And it's supposed to be very fast-paced, and it's supposed to be very adventuresome. That's what boys are supposed to like. Dragonsbane is about a middle-aged woman, who's the main protagonist. She is not going on fast adventures—actually she and her husband are pig farmers. And he is the last living dragonsbane, a man who has killed a dragon. A dragon has come to assault the kingdom, and someone goes off to find him. And it's a story of how unglamorous it is to kill a dragon; it's like butchering a cow, just a really big one. And she is a witch, and it's the story of her balancing her family life and her magic. She's been told that she could be the greatest witch who ever lived if she would just dedicate everything to it, but she doesn't want to because she has a family too.
And so here's this book about a middle-aged woman, who is trying to balance her career and her family life, and that's what I liked!
And I still look back at it as an academic and think: "Why did that work?" And actually it's an illustration of what I think is great about the fantasy genre. I feel that fantasy can do everything that any other genre can do, plus can have this added layer of world-building. And that forces you as a reader to put together a puzzle; what is the world, how do things work here? It's this wonderfully intellectual exercise and imagination exercise that a fantasy novel can give you, that other novels generally can’t.
And this novel worked for me, because of my own mother. My mother graduated first in her class in an accounting program. She was actually the only woman in the program; not a lot of women did that then. She got a very prestigious job offer, to go work for an accounting firm, and she turned it down because she wanted to have me, a kid. She still works as an accountant today, but at that time of her life she wanted to be a mother. And she has always balanced her career and her family.
And I read this book, which was about a man killing a dragon, and when I got done, I felt like I understood my mother better. That is weird, that is so weird, but that's what fantasy can do, because it can have this beautiful and wonderful intellectual creative side. It can be adventuresome, it can be fun and have a story about killing a dragon, but it can also deal with real people having real situations, that help you understand the world better. It can do all of these things and be fun at the same time, so why would anyone read anything else?
But that's what happened to me: I became a writer because of that book, and because of the books I discovered that summer: Anne McCaffrey, I mentioned Melanie Rawn, David Eddings, Tad Williams, and then Robert Jordan released later that year his first Wheel of Time book. Because of these authors I just fell in love with, I just wanted to be able to create those emotions in people, that they could create.
And so I started writing immediately. I'd found what was me.
Tell me a bit about the idea of the One Power.
In these books there is the One Power, which comes from the True Source. And the One Power is what turns the Wheel of Time, the power that drives the universe. And the conceit is, is the One Power actually consists of two quite separate halves that work with each other and against one another to produce the driving force of the universe. Men can tap into one side, women can tap into the other. A man can't teach a woman how to use the male half, or how to use the female half for that matter, and she can't teach him.
Female Dragon..NO when a female hero is needed she is one of the ones bound to the Wheel. Jordan did mention a name but I didn't hear it. But he did say the Dragon is never female.
Let's try and clear some of this up... I can't remember the exact question, but from what I read in this thread, it doesn't matter (I haven't read the Female Dragon thread). RJ said that, no, it is not possible to have a female Dragon. If the wheel needs a female Dragon, then it would weave in *insert female Dragon name here*. Probably because of the blank faces he was getting he then added, you can find her in the scene where Mat blows the Horn...
He also said that a soul ready to be reborn cannot change gender, therefor the Dragon is ALWAYS male.
It does. My English publisher commissioned a survey, and the managing director took us to dinner and said to me at the table, "We've discovered that your readership is perfectly spherical." I said, "What are you telling me? They're fat? What are you saying?"
He said that apparently in England, my readership is evenly distributed according to age level. Evenly distributed according to income level. Evenly distributed according to educational level, according to political party, according to area of the country they live in. Every single category it was even distribution. He said we could not find a significant statistical bump anywhere.
Now, there's no such survey for the United States. All I have is the fan mail and the people who show up at the signings. But I have 12 year old kids and I have people in their 80s. I have gangbangers and cops. I get letters from convicts. I have college students and doctors and housewives. I had teenage girls telling me things like, "You are sooo cool." I mean, good Lord, I felt like a rock star. I found that Sir Edmond Hillary is a fan of my books. I found that a high official in the Russian government hands my books out, telling people that they are not a manual of politics but a manual of the poetry of politics. There is no typical Robert Jordan reader.
Can you explain that? I don't think I've ever talked to another author who's told me that.
No. No, I can't. I try to write about people who seem like real people. When I need to make somebody do something in the stories, they do it for reasons that that person would do it, not simply because it's part of the story. I work very hard, when I am writing from a woman's point of view, to make that character seem like a woman, not like a woman written by a man.
I was very pleased, years ago, when I was on tour for The Dragon Reborn, and Robert Jordan was not Robert Jordan, so to speak. He was just another fantasy writer out there, not somebody who made the New York Times (best seller lists) or anything like that. I had women come up to me then and say, "Until they saw me, they had thought Robert Jordan was the pen name of a woman, because said they didn't believe any man could write women that well." So I thought, "All right! Damn. I did it, I did it right."
I try to make the people distinct in who they are, and as I said, "I work very hard on the women in particular, and I think that makes all of the characters real, or seem real." Now, that may turn out to be not at all the reason that people like the books, but it's the only reason I can think of. Except I think do think I tell a pretty good story.
His answer to that question was that that's how it really is. Men and women think too differently to really understand each other; that's a biological impossibility. His books simply reflect this fact.
However, I never asked why the main characters all have a mental age of thirteen. But as I said, a sympathetic Southern gentleman he is. (Though his wife was even nicer.)
Guess I will get things started. Thanks for visiting Brandon! You write such wonderful, believable female heroines, who are your role models and influences?
Apologies for my late arrival, folks. I'll try to answer a couple questions per day, and I'll answer everything that gets asked up through the end of the month, though it may take me a while!
Writing believable female heroines — I should probably back up and point out that I wasn't always good at this. In fact, in the first few books I wrote before Elantris I was terrible at it. That disconcerted me because it was something I wanted to make a strength in my writing. This is partially due to the fact that so many of my favorite fantasy novels growing up, when I first discovered fantasy, were from female writers with really strong female protagonists. So there was a piece of my mind that said having strong female protagonists is a big part of fantasy. I don't know how common that viewpoint is, but because those were the people whose books I read—writers like Anne McCaffrey, Melanie Rawn, and Barbara Hambly—I wanted to be able to do that in my own fiction. Even beyond that you want every character you write to be believable, and it's been a habitual problem of men writing women and women writing men that we just can't quite get it right, so I knew it was going to be something I'd have to work hard at.
I took inspiration from women I know, starting with my mother, who graduated top of her class in accounting in an era where she was the only woman in her accounting program. She has always been a strong influence on me. I also have two younger sisters who were a lot of help, but there were several friends in particular who gave me direct assistance. Annie Gorringe (who was a good friend when I was an undergraduate — and still is) and Janci Patterson were people I sat down to interview and talk to in my quest to be able to write female characters who didn't suck. I would say specifically that Sarene from Elantris has a lot of Annie in her, and Vin from Mistborn has a lot of Janci in her. In Warbreaker, Siri and Vivenna don't really have specific influences but are the result of so much time working at writing female characters that it's something I'm now comfortable with. (Their personalities arose out of what I wanted to do with their story, which was my take on the classic tale of sisters whose roles get reversed.) It's very gratifying to hear that readers like my female characters and that the time I spent learning to write them has paid off.
How do Kandra decide gender? Is it just intellectual? Or are there subtle physical differences?
Kandra have a specific gender that is associated with scent- you can tell if a kandra is a boy or girl depending on how they smell. There is more to it than that. They also know who they are attracted to.
Does being female alter the spiritual overlays on a person, so that a Hemalurgically imbued spike would need to be placed differently than in a male body?
No. In fact, there are female inquisitors in the huge fight when Vin goes blasting through them, but he felt like bringing that out would have been distracting.
—Talked about some of his medals and how he got them.
—Again talked about people writing in his world and this time made another reference to "breaking something".
—Talked about some of his reference material he has made such as a listing of all of the Aes Sedai. Said that alone takes up an entire floppy disk.
—And the funniest thing of the night was when a friend of mine asked him about the *sniffs* RJ said that "a women can put more in a single sniff than a guy can in a 'Yo Mutha!'"
That was funny. RJ actually said 'Yo Mutha!'
Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Charleston?
Photo by Jim Rigney
Yeah, it was hot! I had relatives all over the place, so there was a wonderful sense of extended family. There were many notions about what girls should and shouldn't do—that was not so hot—but that was very ingrained. I was a late-born child—my mother was forty-two when I was born—so her attitudes were those of an earlier generation. And mostly, I got along...it was a happy childhood.
What was it that girls could and couldn't do? What comes to mind when you think about that?
Well, it was more...I was raised to "marry well", meaning money. And actually not money nearly so much as land, and proper blue blood, which in this case meant Confederate...and not much idea at all of a woman making independent money, unless it was as an artist or a writer. But there were no jobs; you could be a secretary. Wonderful. But that was not what I was raised to do.
You said you had family, so siblings? How many siblings?
I had one sibling, a full sister who was twenty years older than me, and she was the only one.
And she's since passed away?
Yeah, she has gone. And she was very good to me.
Yeah? What's your favorite memory of her?
Oh gosh, a lot. I loved her Christmas presents. She lived in Chattanooga, not in Charleston; she married when I was three. She was just a nice, younger woman in my life, and with my mother being that much older, she was a friend.
So did you have any nieces and nephews through her?
Yes, a niece and a nephew.
And they are still...
No, the nephew's dead, and the niece lives outside of Charleston. She has two sons.
What was it like to be a female student at Harvard in the age of Harvard-Radcliffe?
That's an interesting question. I thought, "Oh, I dunno, it just was." When you're doing it, in your own experience, it's just sort of there. It was indeed second-class citizenship, but I was very lucky to be there, all at the same time.
Did you sense that?
Yeah, both! "Boy, I'm glad to be there", and, "Boy they look down their noses at me." And the president of Radcliffe spoke to the freshman class that I later joined—I transferred in; I went as a sophomore, but I've heard about this—but he said, "Well, we know that the men are here to get bachelor's degrees, but you are here to get the MRS. Let the men...let your husband buy the house for you, and you raise the children."
What was the general response from women?
I don't know. That was what he said to the incoming freshmen of Radcliffe; I was not present that day. Actually, the experience of my mother's family after the Civil War was kind of useful, because so many men had been killed, but the women really had to root hog or die. And it was...I think it's why mother picked up a hammer. Nobody's going to do it for you; do it.
Did you feel like you were a part of that change, to a place like Harvard-Radcliffe?
No. I was just there.
How did you feel about opportunities for women? Did you feel like there were going to be more at the time?
No. It was just—"hmm!" There were no opportunities. When I got home from college, I spent a year at home, getting engaged and unengaged, behaving generally badly. I had a job, and it paid me $42.50 a week. I was assistant archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society. My Uncle Sam, who I loved dearly, shoehorned me into this. There were two employees—the archivist, and the assistant archivist—and we cut the paper, to make a carbon copy, in half for short letters, because that was thriftier—position it behind the carbon copy, type very carefully—and the archivist was a woman. I thought partly because I could see that the job opportunities for me in Charleston were essentially nil, and also because I was behaving badly, and I saw no sign of stopping this, that I had better go to New York to find work, and my bad behavior would be less noticeable. I mean, I had three engagements that year; this is not what was expected behavior. So I did go to New York. Some guy I met at work, actually, said he would give me a letter to the head of copyeditors at at John Wiley & Sons, and I ended up going to work there.
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.
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.
Is RJ trying to insinuate that the Red Ajah is made up of lesbians?
Someone (Erica?) asked this question at the first Atlanta Signing.
Jordan said that he doesn't know how this idea caught on. The Red Ajah does have women who hate men, but not all do. He went on to say that its a bad logical jump to say that just because a woman hates men means that she is a lesbian.
He then went on to say that he had a lesbian friend and they went out together looking for women and made a good team that way. (Erica, do you remember when this was? I have an idea that he meant over in Vietnam.)
My impression is that RJ is not in the slightest bigoted about lesbians. He does have theories about female vs male roles in the army though, but that is a different topic.
I'll be reading a new section from A Memory of Light at Dragon*Con. My complete schedule is here.
Tor dot com has posted the excerpt from A Memory of Light that I'm reading today.
A little disgusted that you included a throwaway line about Tylin raping Mat. Still buying the book though. Probably twice.
Hard to ignore that it happened, returning to the city as he was.
... you re-awakened the Mat/Tylin sexual assault vs. super funny joke fury. Ahh the indignant fandom. *sighs*
*sighs in agreement*
I feel the same way about all the characters saying "you go Tylin" in A Crown of Swords, too.
It is one of the WoT's most controversial sequences, to be sure.
The three excerpts of A Memory of Light that have been released so far: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/04/a-memory-of-light-prologue-excerpt http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/07/read-an-excerpt-from-chapter-one-of-a-memory-of-light http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/09/a-memory-of-light-chapter-11-excerpt
I know what it's like to be in the middle of a battle and I know what it's like to have somebody try and kill you... I can put that in. There's a balance between the moments when you can look back and say that was a magnificent thing and when you say, 'What the hell is going on here?' In the aftermath you're so relieved you're still alive that you can walk among the dead laughing, and people who haven't been there will say that's insanity. It's not; it's the sort of thing that happens...
Which presumably makes it easier to understand characters' motivations in combat?
I try to get into their heads. Sometimes it's difficult—it's hard for me to imagine being a five-foot three female, but I work at it and think I've done a fairly effective job. When I was touring for The Dragon Reborn a group of women told me I'd settled an argument they'd been having about whether Robert Jordan was a pen name for a woman!
But I can get into anyone's head—I'll walk out of my study and my wife will say, 'Been into someone nasty today, haven't you?'
Hello. My name is Brigitte Reed; I'm from Kearns, Utah, and I just wanted to say that I started reading the series when I was thirteen, and I was in the 8th grade, and so I've been reading it over...about fourteen years, and it's the best series I've ever read, and I'm so thankful to you, Harriet, for being willing to give it over to Brandon so that he could finish it for us.
And I actually have a question for Maria, and this is a question that I asked Brandon in November that he didn't know the answer to. [laughter] So he told me to email him, and he would email you. But I wanted to know if the women in Randland shaved. [laughter]
I thought I had answered this one somewhere along the line. Um...not really. [laughter] This is...I went digging around in the notes, and...basically, in the...the razors the men shave with are just not really good for shaving legs...so, it would be dangerous. Also, we see how they brush their teeth in the Wheel of Time, and we see men shaving, and a lot of things. And I think if they did, at some point Jim would have had a woman with her leg outstretched, shaving.... [laughter] You know? So, I am reasonably certain they did not.
Thank you very much.
But I think, in the thousands of years since the Breaking, there's been a certain amount of blessed evolution, so that women no longer have hair on their legs. [applause, cheers]
That was my other thought. [laughter]
Hi, I'm Heather; I am from Lehi, Utah. The last time we came to the booksigning two years ago, I was also very pregnant, and I gave birth 24 hours later. [laughter] So cross your fingers!
But my question is...I have not been a Wheel of Time fan as long as my husband—he introduced me to them after we were married—and I know that the female characters get a lot of hate from the fans sometimes, cause...well, I've always loved them; I thought they were really well-developed, and I really love the woman's world that's been developed in the series, too; you at least see Elayne's midwife appointments, and we see a lot of other things, and the women's magic is almost exclusively through the books until Rand comes along and kinds of makes things for the guys better again.
So, how...I don't know how to phrase this, but how did Robert Jordan write about women so well, because a lot of times I feel like he hits the nail right on the head. Did you really influence that, Harriet, or...was he just a sensitive guy? [laughter]
I did not consciously influence it. At a very early signing in California, a group of women came in, in long skirts, and they had on kind of shawls, and long hair, and they went up to him at the signing table—there were three or four of them—and they said, "Well, this settles an argument." And he was looking up at them, and he said, "About what?" And they said, "We felt that Robert Jordan must be the nom de plume of a woman writer, because who could write women that well?" And he said, "Well, I'm not." [laughter] Looking up through his beard. [laughter]
But he, with the first book I think it was, Tor sent down a fan letter, and very sillily, had taken it out of the envelope, and it was a hand-written letter from a woman in Florida, who said, "You have answered the question that Freud was afraid of: 'What do women want?' They want power, just like men." [laughter, applause] And I think maybe that's what made his women so good.
Good luck, and I hope you get home safely this time! [laughter]
There's a couple of things behind that. The first is that my mother graduated first in her class in Accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the entire Accounting department—that was in an era where that wasn't something that a lot of women did—and so I've had quite the role model in my life. But beyond that, it's kind of an interesting story. I discovered fantasy with a book I mentioned earlier, Dragonsbane. Wheel of Time was my [?], but I discovered Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, and my teacher got me to read this, and I came back to my teacher, and said, "People write books about dragons?" She's like, "Yeah, there's a lot of books about dragons; go read them."
And so I went to the card catalogue, which we had back then in the Stone Age [laughter], and I flipped to the next title in the card catalogue, and it was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery. And so I'm like, "Well, this has dragons; maybe this is good." And it was fantastic! If you've ever read Dragonflight, it's amazing! So I read through all of those in the school library, and I'm like, "Well, what else is there?" The next title in line was Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn, and so I read through all of those, which are also fantastic books, and one of the best magic systems in fantasy, in Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books.
And so I got done with those, and at that point, a friend came to me, who'd heard I discovered fantasy, and said, "Here, you'll like this book." It was by David Eddings. And I told him, "I don't think guys can write fantasy." [laughter] That was—honest to goodness—that's what I told him. I'm like, "I don't know if I want to read a guy writer; I don't think they can get it down." And so, I did end up reading Eddings, and enjoying Eddings, but my introduction to fantasy was through three women who have at times been called feminist writers—all three of them have worn that mantle—and that's still with me as part of what makes a good fantasy book, and I think that's just an influence.
My very first novel that I tried, which was not Elantris—White Sand—the female character turned out really bland, and I was really disappointed in myself, and I thought, "This is terrible." And it took me a long time to figure out—like, several books of work—what I was doing wrong. And what I was doing wrong—and I find this in a lot of new writers across the spectrum—is I was writing people—specifically "the Other"; people who are different from myself—I was putting them in their role, rather than making them a character, right? And this is an easy thing to do—like, you get into the head of your main character; they're often pretty much like you; you can write them; they're full of life; they've got lots of passions—and then, the woman is like the love interest, and the minority is the sidekick, right? Because that's....you know, how do you do that? And you stick these people in these roles, and then they only kind of march through their roles, and so while it's not insulting, the characters don't feel alive. It's like one person in a room full of cardboard cut-outs, like "Stereotypes Monthly" magazine. [laughter] And then your main character.
And women are just as bad at doing this as men, just doing the men in that way. And so it's just something, as a writer, you need to practice, is saying, "What would this character be doing if the plot hadn't gotten in their way?" Remember, they think they're the most important character in the story. They're the hero of their own story. What are their passions and desires aside from the plot? And how is this going to make them a real person? And you start asking yourselves questions like that, and suddenly the characters start to come alive, and start to not "fill the role." And you ask yourself, "Why can't they be in the role they're in?" And that makes a better character, always, than "Why should they be?"
Flop roles, too, if you find yourself falling into this, you say, "Okay, I've stuck—" You know, Robert Jordan kind of did this. The natural thing to do is to put the wise old man into the mentor—you know, the Obi Wan Kenobi, the Gandalf—role, and instead, Robert Jordan put a woman in that role, with Moiraine, and took the wise old man and made him a juggler. [laughter] And these two...you know, and suddenly by forcing these both into different roles, you've got...they're much more interesting characters. And you know, Thom is named after Merlin; he could have very easily been in that role, and instead he wasn't. And so, it made even the first Wheel of Time book so much better by making characters not be the standard stereotypical roles that you would expect for them to be in. So, there you go.
Also, stay away from tokenism. If you force yourself to put two people in from the same culture in your book, that will force you to make them more realistic as characters, because if you only put one in, you can be like, "Alright, their whole race and culture is defined by this person." And putting in multiples can help you to say, "Look, now they can't both just be defined by that." Anyway, I went off on a long diatribe about that; I'm sorry.
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.
In all of your other books, you write strong, layered female characters—what can we expect from The Rithmatist in the protagonist/heroine department?
I often worry about falling into the trap of making female characters strong by not making them feminine. In Mistborn, Vin is strong in part because of how good of a warrior she is, and that's fine. There are plenty of women like that, who can hold their own in a fight. But in The Rithmatist, one of the things I wanted to do was write a female character who is more girly, so to speak. I wanted to make her a strong protagonist in a way that does not undermine her femininity. I hope that I've managed to approach that with Melody in The Rithmatist.
I've got a non-Brandon-specific question. I just happened to think about one thing about authors: When do you decide if the character is male or female?
1. Did it happen to one of your characters that you changed the gender pretty late?
2. What is important when choosing the gender?
3. So why did you make Vin female and not male, for example? Is it much easier to write a male character as a male?
Personally, I don't like books where a woman is very physically strong. I don't know, I'm strange. gotta admit I stopped reading Mistborn after the first book due to it. As I said, I'm strange...Still love your books and I never was looking forward to a book as much as I am looking for followup of Way of Kings. (Not even Harry Potter LOL!)
1. Vin, in Mistborn, started as a boy. I wrote about one chapter of Mistborn with her as a guy, then changed. However, another character by that name had existed in one of my unpublished books as a boy.
2. This is hard to answer, as characters are very organic things for me. I don't plan them nearly as much as I do plots or settings. I go with my gut when writing them. I can't say why some "feel" right as male and other "feel" right as female. I write it and see if it works. If their voice is right, I go with it.
3. As mentioned, Vin swapped genders. It had to do with my writing instincts, her dynamic with the other characters, her backstory, and just WHO she is. I'm sorry that I'm not being very specific. Characters are hard to explain.
Hi, I'm a male writer writing fantasy at the moment with a female perspective character. I'm having trouble with the tone whenever my character bumps up against barriers women have to deal with in my universe. I don't want to beat my audience over the head with gender issues or come off as preachy, especially as I'm still new to writing a female character.
My question is, when you were writing your female characters, especially Vin who jumped out at me as a natural but strong female protagonist in a male character dominated genre, did you find her voice came from your previous writing experience, or did you consult much with other authors and/or women you knew? I keep feeling like I should consult some female friends on how I'm writing her, but I don't want to lose my own voice in doing so.
Also, I love your novels. I find fantasy is a genre filled with characters who feel like tropes or someone's DnD character, while your characters jump off the page and walk around. If you have any general tips for writing a realistic person, that would be great. If not, just thanks for writing such great people.
I do consult with others. I think it's vital, particularly when writing 'the other' so to speak. Someone who is different from yourself in some fundamental way.
At the same time, every character should be different from yourself in some fundamental way. And, beyond that, there's a trap in thinking "My character has to think like a woman." No, your character has to think like herself. That's an important distinction to make. For every generalization, grouping, or stereotype out there, you can find many, many people who break that mold.
I actually focus on personality, wants, and needs first. Gender is a part of the character as a concept, and it informs how I write the person—but it is secondary to their passions, goals, and temperament.
I'd say write the character first, then consult with your female friends. Let them read the character in the context of her story, and get a read on it. So long as the character is strong and individual, you should be fine. Some pointers will undoubtedly help, of course.
The best way I've found to make someone realistic is to separate them from the plot and ask yourself who they are, and what they'd be doing, if the plot had never come along and swallowed them up.