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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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Ok, the first question is, why did you change the main character's name to "Kaladin" in the final draft?
Excellent question. I see you're stealing all of my annotation questions that I would ask myself. For those of you who don't know, the character's original name was Merin. The change was a very hard decision because the history of Way of Kings goes back so far. You know, I started writing about and working on Merin as a character in the year 2000, so he'd been around for almost a decade in my head as who he was.
A couple of things sparked the change. Number one, I'd never really been pleased with the name. I had been doggedly attached to it, despite the fact that all of my alpha readers on the original Way of Kings—Way of Kings Prime we'll call it now—said, "This sounds like a girl's name." I'm like, "Well...you know, sometimes in different cultures names sound like girls' names. I've recently discovered that Bilbo and Frodo's actual names are "Bilba" and "Froda". Those are their actual names; that's what they say in-world and in the appendices. Tolkien in one of his appendices said, "I English-ized them to make them sound more more masculine for the 'translation' of the Lord of the Rings books, but they would actually call themselves Bilba and Froda." So, anyway, Merin sounded a little bit feminine, but still I dug in my heels.
One of the concepts for the new Way of Kings is Kaladin's arc as a character. In Way of Kings Prime he makes a decision very early in the book, and in The Way of Kings I wanted to have him make the opposite decision. There's a big decision that comes to him and it's almost like these two books are branching paths from that moment in a lot of ways. And so it's going to be a very interesting process when I eventually let people read Way of Kings Prime, which I won't right now because it has spoilers for the rest of the series, but you can see how all the characters go in different directions from that moment and they also change slightly. It's like an alternate world version of the book you're reading.
So, point number two was that I started to feel he's changed so much as a person I can no longer think of him as the same character. Point number three was that, as I am now working on The Wheel of Time, having a character whose name sounded a lot like Perrin started to be problem to me. Particularly since in Way of Kings Prime Merin was not the main character but in this Way of Kings he is. Way of Kings Prime was much more evenly divided between the characters, but in the published book he gets essentially double the space, and so he becomes the main character. I felt I wanted the main character of this book to have a much stronger, perhaps a little more mythic name. I tried lots and lots of names before I eventually settled on "Kaladin".
Kaladin does sound like a much more powerful a name.
Yeah, it's a much better name. I'm very happy we did it, but we changed it on like the last draft, so it was very surprising to my editor and to my writing group when all of a sudden he changed to a different name.
In reading the Way of Kings a very Ben Hur vibe can be felt from Kaladin., was this intentional and what other genres were your inspiration?
I wouldn’t say that I was specifically shooting for that vibe, certainly I am influenced by all the things around me, I was just looking to tell a really great story, and this is the story that came out. It was Kaladin's story in specific, it was - the genesis of the story was actually the Shattered Plains themselves, the area. I write fantasy and one of the reasons that I write fantasy is I want to tell stories about places that don’t exist, that maybe couldn’t exist in our world and so the geography of the shattered plains is sort of what appealed to me. I’d actually been planning this for many years and extrapolated from there, how would warfare be like in this place and then I extrapolated from there, what are they going to need, what types of troops. And Kaladin as a person was growing separately, and I just wanted the best place to put in- the place of most conflict and it ended up being that.
Plot-wise to be perfectly honest I was looking more at- when I was building this plot- underdog sports narratives. To be perfectly honest, I like to, when I look for inspiration in plotting sequences I like to look far afield to try and take things and pull them into my books so that we aren’t getting some of the same repeated dealings over and over again. But certainly historical works like the ones you mentioned are a big part of my make up as well.
Was Kaladin supposed to be Originally with the bridge crew or was that something that just built from while you were writing?
It’s actually built at the planning, it was not originally, in fact I did an entire draft of the Way of Kings, in 2003, so seven years ago, the version of the Way of Kings I wrote then didn’t have him as a member of the bridge crews at all. In fact the Shattered Plains weren’t even in Roshar at that point. They were something I’d been developing for another series and when it came time to do this version of this draft I hadn’t exactly been pleased with the one I wrote in 2003, I wanted to do the book again, actually tossed all that and started from scratch.
I was looking for a really strong visual setting location for Kaladin's story to take place. I was building him separately as the soldier, and the surgeon, with both two sides of him warring within him at this part. This part of this book for me is about the contrast between the sides of, different sides of people, people who have different things pulling on their insides trying to wreck them, so I was looking for a great setting location and the Shattered Plains through various- actually doing artwork, some of the concept art for the world. I was working with an artist, just to give myself a better visual handle on things. The Shattered Plains appealed to me, it worked and so I built it in and it all kinda came together.
I brought my friend Dick for company since it was roughly a five-hour drive one way. I think I have mentioned him before; he and I have been friends for more than ten years, though I used to be closer to his brother whom I lived and worked with in Baton Rouge for about six months (along with Hoda, who actually made it to Elder at Theoryland but is probably remembered by few).
Dick and I didn't see each other for several years, and then I happened to go to his house one day (this was after RJ died) and I noticed A Crown of Swords on his coffee table. He was reading it for the first time, and he had no idea any of his friends had read it, so I told him and Hoda and I had read it and that I had more than read it (insert long explanation of Theoryland here). So between that and the fact that he told me he played Tetris Attack (the only video game I love), he and I started hanging out regularly. He finished the series in time to read Towers of Midnight when it came out. Then he started reading Brandon's books, and has decided to name his as-yet-unborn son Kaladin, which resulted in a funny moment (paraphrased):
(Brandon is signing Dick's book which is addressed to Kaladin.)
(Says something appreciative.)
I told Peter about that, and he said "That's like the tenth Kaladin I've heard of." (Okay, so I exaggerated; I think he actually said fifth.)
*sighs* That sounds like the kind of thing Peter would say...
(to Dick) Yeah, Peter is not as unfailingly courteous as Brandon...
...which is why I like him.
I finally got to ask a question about the Stormlight Archive that Windrunner17 and Chaos helped me with which was: "Why Can Kaladin Surgebind with any gem type but Jasnah and Shallan need specific types?"
A lot of that will be explained as the series comes along. It is really the difference between Soulcasting and the other forms of Surgebinding. It's more a quirk of Soulcasting than it is something that is different about about Kaladin. So you've kind of got it reversed a little bit though; Soulcasting has this additional restriction that the other ones don't.
Is Kaladin naturally stronger than Szeth in using Stormlight? Szeth can only hold onto it for a few minutes, but Kaladin has been shown to hold onto it for much longer. Or does it have to do with Kaladin having a spren?
Ah, so you all noticed that, did you. :) Glad you did. I have like a dozen things I nearly posted here, but all of them spoil a scene in Words of Radiance. So I'll just zip it for now.
So what’s going on here is, for Stormlight 2 I needed a lullaby in-world. And poetry is not my forte. However, my father-in-law is a semi-professional singer/songwriter. He’s released a couple of albums, they’re just local, he does stuff like that. So, I asked him to compose a lullaby that I just left blanks in the story from. And he actually turned it in just like a couple of days ago. And it’s quite good and it fits in.
So, what I’ve been doing lately is writing on Stormlight 2. And Stormlight 2, if you’re unaware with what’s going on in the Stormlight series, I conceived the series as ten volumes, two five book arcs, with each volume focusing on a character by giving them a flashback sequence. So if you’ve read the first one, Kaladin, one of the main characters, there’s a sequence of flashbacks that kind of inform how he came to be where he is at the start of the book. And I intended that for each of the ten primary characters because I kind of began them all in the middle of their stories, which is what happens when you’re writing a book. The beginning of a story is not the beginning of a book. It’s impossible to tell the beginning of a story because there’s always something more that could come before. So you start with people who have passions, who have lives, who have things going on and then I wanted to use these sequences to bring you back up to where they were when they started.
Why does he do that?
Because when Kaladin was there and they were touching it, they actually heard the spren that was inside of it.
So it wasn't Syl that he heard, it was —
It was the sword's spren. That Kaladin was touching it — when a Knight Radiant touches it — you'll see when other Knights Radiant pick up sword, they can hear the screaming.
She did not, it was actually Syl. But he was in the process of breaking the bond, and so she was able to get some stormlight to him, but that is what really — Like you can imagine, this bond was really a strain for her to use at that point, so it was her, but doing what she did just about destroyed her, which is why you don't hear from her after that.
Is healing a universal stormlight power then?
Yes, within reason. Some are better at it, but it is a universal power.
With Dalinar, as a bondsmith, what does that mean his power-?
That is a good question! That is going to be an [RAFO card].
Perception is a very important part of how these things all work, and remember, the Honorblades work differently from everything else. Everything was based upon them. Why don’t you read and find out what’s going on there, but remember, the characters’ perception is very important.
So then that’s why at one point Shallan requires ten heartbeats and now she doesn’t.
Right, just like—it’s the exact same reason why Kaladin’s forehead wounds don’t heal, because he views himself as need—as having those, somewhere deep inside of him, and that can’t heal until that goes away. And it’s the same reason why in Warbreaker, when you bring something to life your intention, rather than really what you say, is what matters. It’s all about perception.
Angrier, and my question is, why did you write him that way?
He has always been angry. In the first book, he is focused on saving his men and now that his men are safe, all of those emotions—if you go look at him from the first nine chapters of Way of Kings, he's that way there, it's when he becomes focused on saving his men he has something to drive him and it kind of subsumes these things, but once they're safe all these things he hasn't dealt with came back out.
The Stormlight Archive already has that feeling of an "epic" tale, not just in the size of the novels and the rich world building but the story too. Do you have any idea how long the book series might go on for?
Yes. I conceived The Stormlight Archive as a series dealing with ten characters, where each book took one of the characters and delved deeply into their past and their psychology. Granted, the other characters will appear, as Kaladin is a big part of Words of Radiance even though this volume could be described as Shallan's book. Since I have those ten characters, and there are ten orders of Knights Radiant, I built a ten-book series with two five-book arcs: five books and then a break, followed by another five books.
What was your inspiration for Kaladin? Do you plan any European signings—we will be trilled to have you here!
I was just there last week! :) (In spain and the UK.)
Kaladin was inspired originally by reading about surgeons in the middle ages.
Because a lot of the healing in the cosmere works on principles of expectation and how you envision yourself.
So Kaladin has accepted the scars.
And Lopen never accepted the one arm. It's one of these ties when I built the magic systems that I wanted certain threads to run through them, so when I eventually have them being used in the same books, there will be consistency among them, so they won't feel like everything's just thrown together. So, the intention and expectation, for instance, in Warbreaker. What you want to have happen, the expectation, the way you are thinking about things, all that influences what actually happens. Very important for most of the cosmere magics.
That's a hard question, I can't pick a favorite character. Dalinar is what I normally say, just because I've been working on him the longest. Honestly, I don't know. It's whoever I'm working on at the time.
Dalinar is a good character, I like Kaladin a lot too.
Kaladin has really worked out well. It's interesting because Kaladin-- the first time I wrote The Way of Kings, in 2002, did not work and I had to rip him out and try a completely different personality and things for him. So it's cool to see it finally working.
It just seems to me that the Weepings feel very close to Cultivation.
The primary thing you're noticing -- and I'm not going to say there's not any magical influence -- but the primary thing you're noticing is that Kaladin has season affective disorder and Shallan likes the rain. That's the primary thing you're noticing. I like the rain--my wife hates it. My wife gets depressed when it rains and I love when it rains.
So the Shard wouldn’t be able to heal…?
Well, the Shard...Like, here’s the thing we have to get at with this, what we’re getting at, which is the question of, for instance, is Kaladin’s depression a flaw in him that needs to be healed? And that is a question for philosophers. There are certainly people in the Cosmere and outside the Cosmere that say yes, this needs to be healed, but what about somebody who’s...say, someone who is autistic, and their mind just works in a different way, and this way allows a certain bond to happen that couldn’t otherwise happen? Is that a flaw, or - is it a bug or a feature, to speak in coding terms? Is what’s up with Kaladin a bug or a feature? I know that my wife would probably get rid of her depression if she could, but it’s also fundamental in how she sees the world and who she is, would that change her into a different person? And things like this. So, I want you when you discuss this, to be very careful about treating mental illness as a flaw as opposed to an aspect of a human personality that allows certain different things to happen. Does that make sense? [Applause]
The way I was sort of thinking, was, could Odium say, “Oh, I’m just going to fix this” and then [...]?
Right, right, yeah. If he - if there was - that is possible, but it would be hard to do without the consent of the person, but that is possible. You can fix somebody in a way that they didn’t want to be fixed, and it would ruin things.