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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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I'm fairly sure he's done this before, but he said Aginor and Balthamel are Aran'gar and Osan'gar, and he also said that Terry Goodkind actually uses WOT as inspiration, instead of going to a historical source. He sounded serious.
Finally, he also recommended several authors, but said that the guy who wrote Cryptonomicon was really good.
I seem to feeling rather viperish today. I also hear that a certain writer, on hearing that I had heart problems, announced that his cardiologist, on holding his (the writer's) heart in his hands said that he could have been holding the heart of a sixteen year-old or some such. My cardiologist told me much the same thing, but I made him give it back. Ahem. A question occurs. What was wrong that anyone had their filthy fingers palping his actual heart. All my heart examinations have been via catheritazation or electrocardiogram or echocardiogram or the like. Only if they saw cause would anyone be sticking fingers into my chest must less fingering my heart. Some discrepancy there, eh?
On, well. Down, Simba! Down, Big Boy. That's what Harriet says when I get like this. Lets get on to something a little more pleasant.
Yes, yes, and I will say that the answer to the coming question is Read And Find Out. I like that answer. My wife once asked me what I wanted for dinner, and I told her 'Read And Find Out'. Three days before I had the nerve to go home.
Well the question was: but will you really write down concrete evidence to all the mysteries from your books, or will you just add a last bunch of hints in the next few books and 'call it a day'?
Read And Find Out.
Some things will be concrete evidence, some things will be hints and clues. I do not want to tell you what’s coming. If I would tell you everything what's coming, you'll start saying: "Oh gee, I knew that. I knew that. Yeah he's getting awfully boring. I'm gonna go and read Terry Goodkind..."
I like reading very widely, however my first love of sf/f basically holds the majority of my reading time. It kind of rubs me wrong when I hear of an author who doesn't read in their own genre. It feels like a doctor, not caring to stay up to date on what other doctors are doing.
My favorite living writer is Terry Pratchett. Most recently, I read a big chunk of the Hugo-nominated works this year so that I could vote intelligently on the awards.
Don't take it too seriously. Mostly, my aversion to Goodkind stems from two places. First, WoT fandom and SoT fandom on-line have had kind of a 'rival teams' type of thing going on. Much of it comes from this. It's like picking the Yankees or the Mets. (And there's nothing wrong with liking both. My editor goes to both teams, and Tor publishes both WoT and SoT.)
So, it's kind of a root for the home team (for me, the WoT) and not the rival. On the other side, Terry has been notoriously bad to work with in the publishing industry and has said some very divisive things to both other writers, and to fans. He kind of comes off as a jerk. (Then again, Orson Scott Card has had the same complaints leveled against him, and I enjoy his work.)
So, again, don't read too much into it. Wizard's First Rule was actually a very solid book, and though I didn't get into the second, I can see why people enjoy reading him.
Ha! You've done your homework, I see.
My own philosophy is to look at the author as beholden to the people who pay him/her—and that is the public! In the old days, an artist would be supported by a wealthy benefactor. Nowadays, it hasn't actually changed all that much. That wealthy benefactor is now a group made up of the public who buy books.
I LOVE writing. It's the most amazing job I think I could imagine. The fact that the people who pay for my books support me in this addiction of mine is very humbling. I can do this, day by day, because of the generosity and encouragement of my readers. I feel, then, that I owe them something. Great books, first off. But, beyond that, I think I owe them respect. That means not calling them names or getting angry at them, even if they didn't like a particular book of mine. They paid for it, they pay for my family to eat, they have a right to tell me what they think of the job I'm doing.
Let's flip the conceptual pancake a little bit in terms of collaboration, and let's think about the idea of you coming up with the concept, you creating the world, and then turning that over to other people to write short stories about.
Right. Yeah, I've considered that. I know that Eric Flint has had a lot of success with that, and created an entire community based around—what's it, the...1632? Is that the name? It's a number, so [?]—it's his big alternate history line where the community has essentially created a short story magazine based in this world almost without his involvement—he's of course been involved, but it's [?], and it's fascinating how the fans have jumped into this world and really created something where it's essentially sanctioned fanfic by Eric, which becomes canon because they all work together and create this story together. It's very interesting. I've considered doing that with novel ideas—and you see this happening sometimes with writers—I've got, now with the Wheel of Time that takes so much of my dedication and time—and, you know, rightly so; I want these books to be fantasticvI can't work on all the side projects I used to, which is a little bit sad to me, so I've considered getting some authors that I know and respect who are wanting to break in, writing out a 20,000-word outline and saying, "Okay, take this and make it 90,000 words; let's see what it turns into. I've considered doing that; I don't know if I'll ever actually do it, but I've considered seeing what that would do.
Well, it does have its roots in the old pulp publishing model, where the editor would assign a story concept or a character to a writer, and also, in the 60s there was a gentleman by the name of—and he's somebody I've been researching lately, so he's on my mind as I say this—his name was Lyle Kenyon Engel, and he was a gentleman who gave John Jakes one of his major breaks, and James Reasoner, who was a huge Western author—some of their breaks, and several other very well-known authors of mysteries and genre fiction—their breaks—but he was, in essence, a "book packager". He would come up with the concept; he would pitch the publisher, and say "We're going to create a series of books based around this central character. I will have my writers write it, but this is basically what you're going to get." You know, "Can we put you down for," you know, "this series of eight books, and then we'll go from there." You know, and then he would hire the writers to write for that. Being as you're, you know, in the Wheel of Time now, you know...tremendous opportunity...
The drawbacks are that you're working in somebody else's wheelhouse.
But is that really a drawback?
Well, for this particular project, no. But it's very specific. There are a couple of things going on here. First of all, I read Eye of the World in 1990 in paperback when it first came out and have been reading these books as they came out ever since. I read them through numerous times. One of my favorite authors of all time, if not my favorite author, is Robert Jordan. And so, the chance on the fanboy side...heh. To be perfectly honest, to work on this, to take this master who's inspired me, and then be part of it, is incredible.
I can hear the glee from here.
Yeah. It's amazing. I don't know that I would have said yes to anyone else, because of some of the limitations. Now, another limitation that I don't have to deal with in this that you do have to in other shared worlds is...Harriet, the editor and wife of Robert Jordan, handed me the project and essentially gave me carte blanche, said "Okay, this is your project now. You write this project as you feel you need to write it. Here are the notes." You know, "Don't throw out anything from the notes unless you've got a really good reason, but you're in charge." I'm not just the writer; I'm the project manager and the story developer and all these things wrapped up in one, which is what you're not if you're writing for something like Star Wars. You are one of many; you have to be micro-managed quite a bit, as I understand, when you're writing for one of these type of properties.
[Something about Wikipedia]
Yeah. I don't have to do that. Now I do have to make sure I'm being consistent with the world and things, but I've got lots of continuity experts in-house who can help me to make sure that that happens, but really, I've got creative control. The final say is with Harriet, but I've got a lot of creative power. And I'm using that to actually not use it very often. Whenever Robert Jordan has something in the notes, I'm using what he said—I'm not taking this and trying to make it my own—but it is incredibly liberating to work on a project like this and also have, at the same time, this creative control. So that's another aspect of it.
Now, the big limitation is, it doesn't belong to me—which is fine, for this project—but that's the thing you have to get into. Like, when that "book packager" is pitching a series of books, he's gonna own that story from the copyright, which makes me very wary as a writer. The other great thing about being an author as opposed to being in film, or being in television, or even being in music a lot of times is that you, as the writer, own the whole thing. You generally don't sign away characters, worlds, setting, or anything—it's all yours. You have complete control over your story. A publisher like Tor buys the rights generally to publish it in English in North America. That's what they do. They get to package it how they want, they have control over the art and things like that, but the words are mine, and I retain control. The copyright is mine, which is fantastically different than if you're working in the video game industry, for instance. If you're working for a company and you come up with this brilliant, wonderful story, and you've developed it, and you work on it, and you have this amazing video game come out, the company then owns rights to all that, and can do whatever they want with it. The same thing generally with comic books—not always, but a lot of the time—and, you know, what you get instead is a regular paycheck, which for an artist is a pretty nice thing, but you trade off on that creative control, and creative ownership. And in novels you still have that creative ownership. It's the only major entertainment medium where the creator retains ownership so wholly.
And so, that's the biggest thing that worries me about collaborations and things like that is, you know, who has ownership? This is the last, so-to-speak, line of defense in that. Some other industry executives' minds when they find out... If something gets really big like Harry Potter, Scholastic or Bloomsbury doesn't own that; J. K. Rowling does. And by the corporate-think, that's really ridiculous; they shouldn't be allowing that to happen. But for the artist, it's what's best for the series, I think, and the story, and it allows the artist to be in control. So, yeah. That's the big line of defense, and we are very, very wary in science fiction and fantasy in particular, about letting any sort of contract language slip in which would infringe on that.
One of the challenges of the translation of Terry Goodkind's novels to the television is the fact that, here you have of these long epic novels that advance, in Terry's case, a particular philosophic position, and you end up with a pretty good [?]—I'm not disparaging the show; I actually really like Legend of the Seeker—but it's very different to watch that kind of slapsticky, samurai-y moment in the middle of Terry Goodkind's story. So I know exactly what you're saying; I think it's a perfect example.
And just think if they'd been able to do Wizard's First Rule as a complete, one-season epic arc, rather than having to worry about slapstick and things like this.
Yeah. One of the functions of getting published like I did—taking as long as I did, and working how I did—when I was trying to break in—and even in those early years when I didn't know about breaking in—one of the things I did was pop frequently from project to project. I didn't write sequels. In fact, I haven't brought this up before, but when I sold Elantris, I was actually on my thirteenth novel. That's how far along I was in the process. Mistborn is my fourteenth, so you can read my sixth and my fourteenth. I felt that if I just sat and wrote sequels in the same world unpublished, number one it would be bad for me professionally because I can't really send book two to a bunch of editors, and say "Hey, look at this!" I can only send book one, so if I wrote six books and only had the first one as something that I could try and entice editors with, then I think it would have been to my detriment. Instead I wanted to have six different books—standalones, and beginnings of series—that I could be sending out, and if[?] I could immediately send them something else, and say "Hey, if there's something you liked in that one, maybe you'll look at this one and see that I'm getting better," or "Maybe you'll like this one better," things like that. That was my philosophy. So I got used to always writing a new setting, a new world, and a new magic each time I wrote a book.
Partially, also, though, as a writer, this wasn't just market-field, it was because I wanted to develop something that was my own. I mentioned it before—I think that writers should add to the genre, and I myself was a little bit annoyed with the genre in the late '90s and early 2000s. Maybe I've overstated some of the impact that the children's book had because of that, but I don't know. I was one of those that was like, "Really? Do I really need to read yet another book that is about a guy who lives out in the rural woods and discovers that he is the lost king and needs to go find this magical artifact so that he can save the world. Do I really need to read that again?" I mean, Tolkien did a great job of that, and you know what, Robert Jordan did a really good job of that, and you've got Terry Goodkind with...I mean, with so many people telling this story, do we really need another one? And I think the late 90s, at least for me, is when I finally got tired of it, and I'd read Robert Jordan, and I said, "Look, I don't think this can be done better. How can you tell me you can do it better than he's doing it? Why am I going to read your book?" And that influenced me a lot as a writer. When I was trying to break in, I actually tried writing a story like that, cause I felt like that's what everyone wrote, that's what got published, and I got a little ways into it and said, "I just...I can't feel it. What am I doing that's new? What am I adding?"
And so I was trying a lot of different things. I was trying to explore. Those first six novels of mine, in fact, were—well, the first five in particular—were very different. I wrote several science-fiction novels. I tried a cyberpunk, I tried a social science-fiction, I tried a comedy—I tried lots of different things, trying to find my voice, and at the end, when the dust settled, after doing that, I realized what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was kind of the postmodern epic, so to speak. The child of the 80s and 90s who is aware of what happened with the monomyth and all this stuff in science fiction and fantasy, and say "Yeah, what's next? What happens next? And how can I do something different? How can I do something new? Where can we take this genre?" New magic systems, different styles of plot. That's partially where Mistborn came from. Mistborn is the [?] which really doesn't work for books like it does for movies, so realize this isn't the only thing the book's about, but one of the big influences in me writing the book was the idea of me telling the story where the monomyth had happened. The monomyth meaning Joseph Campbell is here with the thousand vases, you know—young hero goes on a quest to defeat the great evil, and what if he failed? What if the Dark Lord won? What if Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter had said, "You're just a stupid kid!" and killed him, and taken over the world? What if Frodo had kept the ring, or Aragorn had kept the ring, or even Sauron had just gotten it back? What happens next? And that's where that trilogy came from.
Alcatraz is an interesting story because...Mistborn is the first book that I wrote knowing that it was going to get published. It was my fourteenth novel. Always before then, I'd always written just whatever I had felt like next, and it was the first time I had to consider, "Wow. Elantris is getting published. How do I follow it up? What do I do next?" Originally I'd planned to release next a book called The Way of Kings, which was number thirteen—the book I wrote right before Mistborn—and as I was revising Way of Kings, I had this deep-seated feeling that I wasn't ready for Way of Kings. I'd written the first book, and it didn't do yet what I wanted it to do. It was a massive war epic, and was very intricate, enormous world, and thirty magic systems...I mean, it was actually beyond my skill level at the time. And I said, "I need practice writing sequels before I start a massive epic like this." I'd never written a sequel before.
And that's when I sat down and outlined the Mistborn trilogy, wanting to write an entire trilogy straight through so that I could have beginning, middle and end done by the time the first one came out. And I actually was able to achieve that, as a side note; I had written Hero of Ages by the time The Final Empire, the first book, needed to be in for its final draft, and so I was able to—I think it comes through in the trilogy—I was able to make it completely internally consistent. You don't have the problems in that where you have...in some series where you get a little ways into it and then realize the author's just making stuff up, and trying to...and being self-contradictory, and things like that; I didn't want that to happen, and I think I needed to practice doing that with the training wheels, so to speak, of having them all done before the first one came out—before I tried launching into something where I would just have to trust my outline in order to do that, if that makes any sense at all.
So, I sat down and wrote the first two Mistborn books back-to-back. First draft done of Mistborn 1, sent off; started the first draft of Mistborn 2, and was revising Mistborn 1 as I was finishing Mistborn 2. I got done with Mistborn 2, and it was the hardest book I've ever written, partially because of the grueling hours I set for myself—I wanted to get these all done—but mostly because I'd never written a sequel before, and I was so used to doing something new with every book that I wrote, and so I had to train myself into writing sequels. And after I got done with Mistborn 2, and was trying to write Mistborn 3, I realized I need, just for my own creative process—the way I've trained myself—I have to do something completely different now. I have to take a break for a little while and just do something off-the-wall in order to reset all of those tumblers in my head, get back, and write the third Mistborn book, because otherwise I felt that I wouldn't be approaching it fresh enough. I wouldn't be approaching it having enough passion for it. I felt I would started it burned out, or at least burn out to the middle of it.
And so because of that, I sat down with that writing prompt: a one-sentence line that had come to me one time, just when I was hanging out with some friends, and I hurriedly typed into my phone, and said, "Huh, I should write that story one day." And the line was: "So, there I was, tied to an altar made from out-dated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians." And I wanted to do what—I sat down with this—I wanted to do something very different from the Mistborn books. Number one, I wanted to do something humorous. Number two, I wanted to play off of the very things that were in danger of becoming clichés to myself, if that makes sense, to keep myself fresh, to say "I need to go completely different directions so that I don't just become a cliché of myself". And so I wanted to do something very wacky with the magic system that I could never do in an epic fantasy book, because I want those to all feel consistent and scientific. And I wanted to do a first-person narrative instead of a third-person narrative, to do something different again, and I wanted to write for a younger audience. Mostly though, I just wanted to write something off-the-cuff, which was more like a stand-up routine version, or...not a stand-up routine. More like an improv. You know, it's not just joke after joke, but it's an improv story, starting with a kid who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world.
Partially, at this time, I'd also been reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, which has some fascinating aspects and some very annoying ones, the annoying aspects being, I don't like a lot of the cheap tricks he uses narratively to just pull you through the story, cause they get a little old, but beyond that, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe that the Catholic Church, or anyone, has these secret cabals. I mean, they make for great stories, but I don't think that it's there, and so I wanted to tell a silly conspiracy theory book, and so I picked librarians ruling the world. And so what Alcatraz became was a short—for me; 50,000 words—novel that talks about fiction in general. There's a lot of Alcatraz, the narrator, addressing the audience and talking about what literature does, and what authors do. There's a point where he goes off about how authors are sadists—because we want to put you through all these terrible emotions—and explains and talks about it in what is hopefully a humorous way, but kind of digs at the roots of what makes someone want to tell stories.
And there is a goofy magic system. Everyone in the books who belongs to the Smedry family—he's Alcatraz Smedry; it's a—anyway, they're the Freedom Fighters who resist the Librarians. They all have really dumb magic powers. It's kind of like a Mystery Man sort of thing, if you've seen that movie. Alcatraz's grandfather, who introduces himself near the beginning of the book, has the super-power...um, his super-magical power is that he can arrive late to appointments. Alcatraz in the book meets someone in the book who is really magically good—his power is that he's magically good at tripping. Another guy who is magically good at speaking gibberish. Alcatraz himself has the super-power of breaking things—he's really good at breaking stuff—and I just based these magic powers on silly, goofy things that me or my family do—being late to something is what my Mom always said—and then trying to twist them on their heads. You know, later in the book, Grandpa Smedry will arrive late to a bullet when someone shoots it at him, so it just barely misses him. You know...fun stuff like this, where I take preconceptions and turn them on their heads.
And that's where Alcatraz came from. I didn't write it saying "I'm going to publish this." I wrote it saying "I need [to write] this." I finished it; I sent it off to my agent, and said, "Surprise, I wrote a different book than you were expecting me to." And he wrote back, and said, "Wow, this is actually pretty good! You wrote it really fast—I can tell; it needs a lot of revision—but I think I could sell this, if you want to put the time into revising it." So over the next year or so, I did some revisions and some drafts and some work on it, and we sent it out, and lo and behold, it had nine publishers want it. Four of them got in a bidding war, and it went sky-high and turned out to be this wonderful thing that Dreamworks Animation actually optioned it before it even came out. And so, yeah. It took on this entire life of its own.
I sold to Scholastic four novels in a series. I have just finished the fourth one. There may be subsequent volumes, depending on things—particularly depending on if...um, when things calm down for me; the amount of work I have to do right now prohibitive for me entering into another Alcatraz contract; my attention really needs to be on the Wheel of Time at the moment—but, the third one is coming out in October; sometimes they appear on shelves a little bit early. They're a little bit tougher to find in hardcover than my other books because—I've been told, and maybe...I dunno—it seems that children's books...Scholastic likes to market directly to the schools and libraries, and that's their main method of doing it, at least with my books. They've sold as many that way as they have in bookstores, and the bookstores are kind of hit-or-miss on having a copy. Only about half of them get copies in, and so Amazon might be your best bet, or going to your local independent and asking them to order you a copy, and the paperbacks are generally easy to find, but the hardcovers are a little bit tough to find, but the first few chapters are on my website. If you're looking for something that's lighthearted—that's not ridiculous, but it's lighthearted—has some comedy to it, but really has me looking at the novels in the fantasy genre, in specific, from a postmodern view, just trying to break it down and see what it does, and telling a story with it, then you might enjoy the Alcatraz books.
Well, thank you for that answer.
Have you read the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind? Honest opinion?
It's pretty popular, I'm not sure but maybe at or beyond WoT levels, and I read it and wanted to tear my hair out by the end, can't believe I actually got that far. The first couple were ok, good even, then it started with the 30 page speaches and repetition and re-describing every character every time they were on screen as if he couldn't fill enough pages.
I read the first one and found it to be quite good, though I found the torture sequence somewhat oddly placed in relation to the rest of the plot. The second one did not grip me, and I did not continue reading the series.
Just finished Wizard's First Rule...
So as the title states, I just finished WFR for the first time. A friend of mine and I read it at the same time to kind of motivate each other to keep at it and finish it quickly. While I thought WFR was a good base story, that is a story that set the groundwork for possibly a great series, he thought it was entirely too predictable and is kind of on the fence about taking it further. I on the other hand would like to keep going. What are your thoughts on the series? Is it worth the read and time it takes to finish the 9 core books, plus possibly several others? If so should I make these books a priority or just casually complete the series?
TL;DR - Just finished WFR and am thinking of continuing, should I?
For everyone's amusement:
(Terry Goodkind on-line Q&A with fans, hosted by USAToday. I wish he hadn't taken the better one down off of his website, but this one still gives me a chuckle now and then.)