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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Good question, though not all of the forces involved could use gateways. (Rafo! Rafo!) Think of the ability to Travel in terms of moving troops via aircraft, and you will begin to get the picture. Even with the largest possible circles, there are limits to the size of gateways and thus limits to the front along which you can move troops out through it, the numbers you can commit simultaneously. Of course, you can use multiple gateways, but each is still only so large and can admit only so many soldiers at a time.
So-called front lines were very fluid, but you couldn't fling your forces in anywhere without regard to what would be surrounding them or how you were going to re-supply, reinforce or withdraw them. Although no one has shown it so far in the books, there are ways to interfere with the making of a gateway—and ways to defend against interference—so the battle would take place on many levels. Yes, any area you hold can be attacked by your enemy, and you can attack any area that he holds. (Part of the result was great destruction and a great fall-off in the ability to produce high tech items. By the time the Bore was sealed, soldiers were already much, much more likely to ride horses and carry swords than to ride armored vehicles or aircraft and carry shocklances, which had all become very rare.) But holding an area is not impossible so long as you can successfully disrupt your opponent's attempts to make gateways into it. Even if he manages to get those first soldiers in, if you can disrupt his ability to reinforce, re-supply or withdraw, it becomes another Dien Bien Phu for him. Of course, if you fail, then it becomes Gettysburg or Waterloo, a bloody fight that will be decisive for somebody. At least until the next "decisive" battle is fought. Remember, that designation is always given after the fact, by historians.
On why the combat scenes are not more involved: Because in combat things never really are clear. Also they are not really important.
Well, that's all I can really think of at the moment... I'm sure Erica will have some to say too, or more details on the above. I'll add more after tomorrow's signing at Oxford Books!
May the Wheel keep turning!
Language—It is planned. Based on Russian, Chinese and a bit of Spanish with a lot of Gaelic thrown in.
Cultures of influence—he's real big on Chinese history right now.
Why the swords?—As in Japan, gunpowder is suppressed so martial arts are developed and are based on the sword and on agricultural implements.
About skill comparisons between main character swordsmen:
"Read the book." About the forms used: I was curious, so I asked if he had studied the sword fighting arts or just researched. It's research, and the forms come from Japanese sword fighting and some European fencing, before the advent of well-designed and well-made guns made swords obsolete. He mentioned one book in particular, but I can't remember the title... :(
Jordan's books have been called a combination of Robin Hood and Stephen King. He manages to create characters that seem real, perhaps because he uses many of his own personal experiences in the telling of these epic stories. Do you ever use your experiences in Vietnam in your stories?
Yes, indirectly. I know what it's like to have somebody trying to kill you. I know what it's like to try to kill somebody. And I know what it's like to actually kill somebody. These things I think help with writing about people being in danger, [or] especially if it's in danger of violence ... which happens occasionally in my books.
Actually, all that really helped me with is that I know what it's like to have somebody trying to kill you. I know what it's like to have a lot of people trying to kill you. And I also know what's it like to kill somebody. These things come through, so I've been told by people who are veterans of whether Vietnam, or of Korea, or combat anywhere—Desert Storm; I had a lot of fan letters from guys who were there.
As far as the Machiavellian part, as I said I grew up in a family of Byzantine complexity, in a city where there has always been a great deal of Byzantine plotting. The court of Byzantium never had anything on Charleston for either plotting or blood feuds. It came as mother's milk to me.
At this point the Bolen guy shoos me away. I lurk for a while but people are asking spedly [?] questions [should have printed the FAQ].
I did learn that in addition to the card game and computer game and clothing line there will be a line of museum quality replica weapons. Someone asked excitedly about the SCA and RJ said that these would be real weapons since he didn't like play war [which is understandable]. Then I left.
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.)
You have been awarded with the Bronze Star and other awards in Vietnam. Would you care to tell us how one or all of those awards came about?
(*sigh*) Everyone knows about one way of winning a medal. That is, to see something which needs to be done and to consciously do it at the risk of your life. I never did this. Relatively few people do, which is why we mark out those who do as heroes.
But at other times, you can realize that you are going to die in a very few minutes, except that if you do something incredibly stupid, you might just have a small chance of living. And against all reason, it works. Or you take a step without thinking, and then it's too late to turn back, maybe because turning back is just as dangerous as going on, or even more dangerous, or maybe because you know that you will have to look in the shaving mirror, and that every time you do, you will remember that you turned back. So you keep going. Or perhaps it's because you are with your friends, and you have to back their play, even if it's crazy, because they're your friends, because they've backed your play, even when it was crazy.
I was with a group of men who had a certain air about them, and if you didn't have it when you joined them, you soon absorbed it. A plaque in our day room read: Anybody can dance with the Devil's daughter, but we tell her old man to his face. At a time like that, in a place like that, you're all young and crazy, and if you've been there long enough, you know you're going to die. Not from old age; next month, next week, tomorrow. Now, maybe. It's going to happen, so what does it matter? In the end, for most of us, the medals boiled down to managing not to die. If you're alive when the higher-ups think you should be dead, it discombobulates their brains, so they hang a bit of something on you to balance things in their own heads. That's how it happened for me. That is why I am not I repeat, not! a hero. I just managed to stay alive. And I even managed to get sane again. Reasonably sane, anyway.
There are a lot of battles, wars, and great conflicts in your books. Did your military experiences influence that part of your writing?
To some extent, but mainly the thing that comes out of my experiences in the military is that I know what it's like when someone is trying to kill you. And I know that being in a battle is confusion. You know what you can see; you don't know what is happening beyond your sight. That's what comes from the military. To tell you the truth, the battles aren't nearly as interesting as the people. I like the interactions of the people—the character development, the way people play off one another.
He served all over Vietnam. When asked, he rattled off about 15 or 20 different places. The only ones I caught were the delta and the rubber plantation. He was a gunner. He said he wanted to be a point, but his eyesight wasn't good enough.
He was in the Army, and he talked about how the Air Force is full of slackers. He went to an Air Force base once and he was driving a car that had Admiral's stars on it (his dad's?) When he pulled up to the guard at the base entrance, the guy was about to give him a typical lazy Air Force salute, then saw the stars on the bumper of the car, and levitated a couple of feet off the ground. He asked the guard where the hospital was and got directions. When he got to the hospital, people were running in all directions, doctors were hyperventilating, running around holding paper bags over their mouths, and the place was chaos, all because there was a two-star on the base, and nobody knew who he was because the idiot at the gate didn't think to ask.
I wish we didn't have to do it, but I think it's the best chance we have for making some sort of turnaround in the Arab world. That means forcing a settlement to the Palestinian question. Iraq, before Saddam took over was the most secular and educated nation, and it is the one that has the best chance, despite the difficulties, of moving into something we would recognize as democracy.
If that could be done, it might mitigate, to a great extent, a lot of the street hatred of the west. It really is hatred. We let women think, we let them drive cars, we let them get jobs...we tolerate Jews...we do all of these things that are nasty...and we are nasty ourselves. There's a great deal of hatred that stems from something that we in the US haven't seen since the Civil War, and possibly not even then. It's something that the Western World really hasn't seen in the last three of four hundred years.
It's a hate of the other, because they are the other...and not like me, therefore we will kill them.
Yes, by merely being here we threaten them. An expert was asked after 9/11 what we could do to wipe out these people's hatred of us...and he paused a moment and then answered, "We could move off the planet."
It's something we need to be concerned about. You may say, why do we care if a third world nation has a few A-Bombs, but you know, the Soviet Union was a third world nation. Once the wall came down, we realized we were looking at a Third World Nation...that had held the world in the Cold War for all that time simply because they had nuclear weapons.
I don't even want to think about a world in which North Korea and Saddam Hussein have nuclear weapons. Both of those governments have people which would be quite willing to use these things.
During the course of the meal, we eventually got on the topic of his time in Vietnam. What he revealed to us was deeply personal, disturbing, and moving. Although I will not comment on the specifics (it's his story to tell, not mine), I can say that it was the first time ever that I truly saw and felt the very essence of his books before me. In the days to come Melissa and Brad and I would talk about how it was during these stories that we saw Perrin, and Mat, and Rand in his eyes. We understood where their sad reluctance for war comes from. Their sense of duty.
A few years ago, Robert Jordan talked about some of these same topics in an interview that he did with Dragonmount and Wotmania. Go here to read it. The part about Vietnam is about halfway down. It's one thing to read it and a whole other thing to hear him tell it. I think war in general is like that. I wouldn't know, because I have never served time in the military. But I have the deepest respect for those who do.
The dynamic duo has returned from the Mayo with mostly good, but certainly mixed results. Amyloidal deposits are measured as monoclonal free light chain fragments. There are "good and bad" light chains. The good news is that the ratio of good to bad has definitely improved. The mixed news is that both numbers were up. We are ecstatic that the news is positive, but would have liked the offending Lambda light chains to have stayed level or decreased in number. Overall though guys, this is very good news.
The computer has been relocated from the office to the house and RJ was working, some. Not right now though guys. In preparation for the trip, the docs pulled him off of Lasix, a diuretic, which resulted in a gain of almost 12 pounds in three days. At the Mayo, he went back on the Lasix and dropped 5 pounds in 2 days. Then the Lasix was stopped for the trip back home and a gain of 7 pounds was achieved. Through it all, RJ figures he has about 20 to 25 pounds of excess water on him at the moment. The extra weight was causing the difficulty in sleeping he described to you before. Result: the docs have him back on the Lasix to get rid of the water weight and have enforced strict rest. Sorry, no writing, not even on the blog at the moment. He is reading your posts however.
He hit me with something on the phone today that I never knew about. Like many soldiers, he had a nickname while serving in Vietnam. RJ overheard a group discussing something and one said they should ask Ganesh what to do. He walked into the discussion and asked who this Ganesh was. "You.", they told him. You see, RJ was considered a good luck charm by those he served with. He and the crews he served with always made it back. It got to where pilots would ask for him by name for their crew. Ganesh is the Hindu Lord of Good Fortune. RJ referred to Ganesh as the Remover of Obstacles. To this day, he has no idea who gave him the name. I still consider him my good luck charm. Heck, he brought Harriet into my life. A man can't get any luckier than that. Truth be known, both of us married above our station. Bitter truth guys, we all do.
To Sue fighting the same menace, prayers go both ways. Stay the course.
To Johannes in Sweden, when RJ recovers and revisits your beautiful country, hopefully you'll get the chance to chat with him about both his worlds.
To Jennifer Sedai, Harriet is all you said and more. Elegant, intelligent, a worker not a watcher, interesting and interested, a friend to all, a hell of a cook, a gardener extraordinaire, unpretentious, the defender and provider of those in need, tough, tender and above all, REAL. My life is better for having her in it. Know I'm not speaking out of turn, RJ's is too.
To all of you who've asked me to pass on your love to them both, done and will continue. Please don't stop. Long live the Dragon and his Queen!
Brother-Cousin, 4th of 3
I think I need to put a few things straight about this whole shooting down an rpg in flight thing. First off, it definitely comes under do not try this at home even if you ARE an expert. Expert is defined as anyone who has tried it once and is still breathing. You see, there aren't many reasons to try such a thing. But when looking right shows certain death coming hotfoot, and looking left shows a crack in the wall that you couldn't scrape though one time in a million...one in ten million...you instinctively make a dive for the crack. Now I was very lucky. Very lucky. I just happened to be laying down suppression not very far from Mr. NVA when he took his shot, so I only has a small arc to cover. Just a quick shift of the wrist. Still, a lot of luck involved. When the pilot asked what happened, I just said an rpg went off prematurely. I figured he wouldn't believe what happened. Even some guys who saw it all from other choppers didn't believe. I heard a lot of "You know, it almost looked like you shot that thing out of the air" and "You were really lucky that thing went off prematurely. I never heard of that happening before."
Now there's the matter of actually seeing the rpg in flight. That came from being in the Zone. An RPG is a rocket propelled grenade, and it is fast, fast, fast. I've heard a lot of athletes and sportscasters talk about being in the Zone, but I think most of them simply mean they played their A-game. But they weren't in the Zone, because in the Zone, you don't make mistakes. None. I discovered this playing baseball and basketball and later football. You can't always get there, certainly not at will, but when you do.... What happens is that while you are moving at normal speed, everybody else, everything else, is moving in slow motion. Passes float like they were drifting through honey. You have all the time in the world to position yourself. And your vision improves, sharpens. The quarterback has carried out a perfect bootleg. Everybody thinks that fullback coming up the middle has the ball. But even if you didn't catch the motion when the QB tucked the ball behind his leg, you spot that tiny sliver of ball that just barely shows, and you're right there to meet him when he reaches the line. Maybe you drop him for a loss before he can get his pass off. In the Zone. That's the only reason I could make this play.
On another note, I was riding an M-60 on a pintle mount, not a .50 cal. We only had a limited number of Ma-deuces, and we had to be careful not to let any IG inspectors see them because we weren't authorized to have any at all. Don't know whether I could have done it with a .50, frankly. A matter of just that much more weight to swing, that much more inertia to overcome. It was damned close even with a 60.
It depends on what I was trying for in the various different books. For instance, in Mistborn, I wanted the battle sequences to be very personal. One-on-one, allomantic fights, or one-on-small group.
As a novelist, feel that I need to approach action sequences differently from how movies approach them. In a film you can watch Jackie Chan going through this marvelous fifteen-minute blow-by-blow fight, but I think that in fiction the same thing written out descriptively would get very boring. I can't compete with movies in that regard. So I try to make my action sequences character-driven and problem-solving-driven, as well as how the magic system works. I look at what resources the character has, what they are trying to achieve, who they are and how that influences their actions.
For The Way of Kings it was a little bit different in that I was trying to do large-scale warfare, and in that case I needed to look to historical accounts and research and read up on how actual battles played out. Something that gave me a bit of leeway was setting the battles in scenery like the Shattered Plains. One of the reasons I did that is because it's fantastical scenery that couldn't exist in our world, at least not in the same way, and it therefore allows me to exercise my fantasy worldbuilder muscles as well as my historical warfare muscles, such as they are. Putting all of that together let me create scenes that are hopefully unlike anything others have written or that my readers have read.
(Mumbled conversation ensues between Alan and Brandon and something about battles...)
—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!'
I flew in a helicopter as a gunner. Then I was a Sergeant and trained recruits.
On sorties, it most likely became necessary to shoot?
Yes ... But understand, on assignment you usually do not see people—you open fire as soon as you notice any movement, and do not think about it being a person. Otherwise, it is impossible—this is war, and the morals of a military person are other than those of a civilian: for a Commander the main thing is to perform his mission and save his soldiers. Reflection in the middle of a fight is dangerous—you will be killed before long.
Were you ever wounded?
Fortunately, no. A couple of times hurt ... Once, during a hard landing I knocked out teeth on the back of the pilot's seat in front of me. And another time a tiny splinter hit me in the eye. At first I didn’t notice anything and felt no pain, but then the blood flowed. Then the piece was drawn out with a magnet ...
Thus, the "Purple Heart" among your military decorations, right?
No—don’t even suggest such a thing! But there is a Distinguished Flying Cross for service, Bronze Star, and two Vietnamese Crosses for bravery.
Yeah, the bouquet* on a blazer really makes an impression ...
After military service I entered the Citadel—The Military College of South Carolina. Despite its name, it is, in fact, a university. At the Citadel I received a degree in physics and worked as a nuclear engineer for the Navy. Doesn’t it seem to you that that a fantasy author having an education in physics is somewhat out of the ordinary?
I would not say that. I know several Russian science fiction authors with an education in the natural sciences that have been successfully working in the fantasy genre ... By the way, we now come to how the writer emerged from the engineer.
Well, maybe there is more prosaic level—the abundance of free time. After an unfortunate accident I found myself in a hospital bed with a lot of time, and I read everything I wanted. And one day I thought that could well try to write myself. Having started writing in 1977, I’m determined to do so right up my dying day.
And why fantasy? Why not works about, say, the Vietnam War, which would seem more logical?
In my opinion, fantasy allows you to create new cultures, experiment with them, and apply a freedom to them that is impossible in the real world. Fantasy enables a brighter, clearer portrayal of the struggle between good and evil, allows you to speak more freely about what is right and what is not, and no one can say that your opinion doesn’t fit with what is generally accepted. And I think one of the cornerstones of fantasy is the belief that any obstacle can be overcome, and that if things did not work out today, they will tomorrow. Also in today's world fantasy concerns itself with myth, directing us to the deep layers of the human soul, and teaches people to believe in miracles ... The popularity of this literary genre is to a large extent determined by humankind’s aspirations for Justice...
As for books about war ... I have a desire to write about the Vietnam War, about my comrades, and I hope that God will give me this opportunity. And for myself, I decided that this book will be released under my real name—James Oliver Rigney, Jr. ...
I come from South Carolina, USA, and our memories of the 130 kilometer strip of destruction left by the Yankees—General Sherman—are as fresh as if it occurred yesterday, not one hundred thirty-five years ago. Yet throughout history both war itself has changed, and its perception by the participants and the civilian population. Let's start with the fact that most of the past wars were strictly localized.
Yes, people knew what war is like. They knew that if war came through their area, then it would destroy their homes, farms, villages and towns. They knew that war brings with it the robbers and marauders. And that death is not waiting for as many soldiers as it is civilians. But five kilometers from the battlefield people hardly felt by its effects. As a result of the battle the trade routes might have changed; another king might take control of the throne; the army could bring with it disease, but in essence, five kilometers was a sufficient distance for a relatively safe existence. The outcome of the battle between York and Lancaster had no significant effect on the lives of individual men or women if they were not directly involved in the conflict and did not lie directly in the path of the army.
This was the main feature of the perception of war, from the Greeks and Romans and ending in the XVII-XVIII centuries.
Yes, at the time of Napoleon, in my opinion, arose the first approximation of what could be considered "national wars." When almost the entire nation is drawn into the affair, or even entire nations, a large amount of people are drafted for military service and an attempt is made to subject industry and agriculture to the interests of the military. When movement by rail was invented, it became possible to quickly transfer a large number of soldiers from one place to another, and snow and dirt become a tactical question, not a strategic one. The same thing happened at sea. The fleet was no longer dependent on the wind and was able to sail, wherever and whenever the admiral wanted. Agricultural development has allowed a much smaller amount of farmers to feed a much larger group of people. Add to that the trains and ships for transporting goods, and the army, being on a campaign, gets everything it needs.
Of course, this is accompanied by a change in the perception of people concerning what you can expect and what is permissible in war. For centuries, looting remained an intrinsic right of a soldier during the campaign. The people mourned the losses, but no one believed that the soldiers had stepped over the line of what was allowed. However, over the centuries following the Napoleonic wars, the notion arose that civilians and civilian property cannot be touched. Of course, neither robbery nor looting has disappeared, but people, at least civilians, have come to believe that the war is a military affair and should not affect them.
Yes, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan were very, very important for the participants. But these wars have been completely localized. Their effect was local, if you don’t count the political changes in the participating countries. Speaking at the global level, the two generations have grown up, and only a small fraction of them have direct combat experience. Most of those who remember the Second World War, who saw it with own eyes, have died. Changes in people's perception of war is incredible. We in the West...
You continue to divide the world into East and West?
Yes, but while maintaining the terminology I have added to this idea another concept. In the days of my youth the United States and Western Europe were called the West and the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union were the East. I grew up in suspense, because I knew that the day could start with a large tank battle between East and West, or that nuclear missiles could be dropped on cities in both areas. I do not think I need to say how happy I was when the danger had passed, but I should clarify that today, when I think and speak of "the West", I am including Russia in this concept. We were allies before we became enemies, and I very much hope that in future we will stand beside you, and you will stand with us.
As I said, we in the West have undergone radical changes in our perception of war. In the U.S. there is a very vociferous minority which believes that any future conflict MUST occur without any losses on our side. I repeat: without any losses. Moreover, every war must take place with MINIMAL losses to the enemy! This belief has reached the point that an extensive research program has been initiated to develop weapons that can destroy the enemy's ability to fight, but without harming his personal well-being. Thus, the nature of future wars comes from the civilian’s understanding of what they should be.
I have already told you about William Tecumseh Sherman, the general, for whom I have little love, but I cannot deny his acute powers of observation and language. During the Franco-Prussian War, he became a columnist and completely shocked the Prussians with sharpness of his stories. He was probably infuriated that the Prussians meticulously and heartily reopened what the armies of the North and the South had opened a decade earlier. So, during this war, Sherman noted: "The war adds to hell—he said—and there is no way to avoid it." To forget this is dangerous, as you may encounter with those who have not forgotten.
Dreams of a bloodless war must be accompanied by a formulation of the rules of combat, rules which must be carried out "humane" war. But we have seen and see people who do not follow any rules, and will fight based on their own rules. Osama bin Laden and his ilk create bombs, that kill hundreds of innocent people, give them the chance and they will blow up the bomb, killing thousands and millions. They will take hostages and order and perform assassinations. To appeal to them or to encourage them to join the "civilized people" is by definition useless.
In addition, the rules are always changing. Sometimes they are changing under the influence of forces that are not under our control.
Climate change in the future makes me more than worried, even if one considers only the favorable scenario. If we consider the worst, then I’m terrified. They can be avoided, but... The nations of the Third World demand exclusive rights in the fight against global warming, because, if you follow their logic, everything that happens is a conspiracy against them personally, and they should have a chance to become equal to the developed world. If our leaders grant them these rights, in the coming century, China will be the main polluter of the environment and the major contributor to global warming on Earth, but who can stop them? So the climate becomes a wild card in the total war game. Which of the nations will suddenly discover that they have too little land to feed themselves, and decide to take land from their neighbors? Which nation, upset by the changes in climate that have been caused by the attempt to become equal with the civilized world, will go down the ancient path of resolving internal conflict, i.e. foreign war?
We believe that we can limit the future of war—the length, the amount of bloodshed, the site of action—but can we really? Can we at least know where the next war will come from, or who will be our new enemy? Today in the heart of Africa, in Congo, there are seven tribes and the three rebel groups engaged in what many call the "First World War in Africa." The United Nations are trying to stop the conflict, but without visible results. You can try to believe that this war is far away or that it involves only a third world country or that this war doesn’t affect us, but history has seen cases, where a miniscule conflict turned into a large-scale war. The fire of the First World War started from a single spark, but who could believe that everything starts with the Serbian attempt to gain independence from Austria-Hungary? Any "reasonable" person of that time would say that this is not enough to spark the fire.
We do not know, and we cannot know. Today, many of the nations, even terrorist organizations, are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The nuclear missile that will destroy Washington, DC, and Moscow can be launched from a place which no one ever considers a real threat. Pneumonia, anthrax or Ebola could devastate our country, and the source will be a country that no one would ever consider to be a powerful enemy.
Features of war have changed as much as the crossbow gave way to a musket, and rifle replaced the musket. A clumsy, almost useless aircraft in 1914 turned into a fighter jet and an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2000. But there is something that has not changed. I usually end my discussion on this topic with three quotations. One I mentioned in our conversation, but it's worth repeating.
"War is hell, and there is no way to avoid it."—General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865
"War—it will not play fair. I am not here to teach you to play fair; I'm here to teach you how to win."—Master Sergeant Maxwell Ritter, U.S. Army, 1968
"As long as minds grasp the philosophy and the passion burning in their hearts, there will be war."
The last battle strategy and body count were in RJ's notes, the specifics not. So he did specify who'd die but not how. Help was gotten from Bernard Cornwell. (woohoo!)
RJ set up the whole layout of the battle, who would be where and who would not make it out but he kept insisting that he'd write the Last Battle on the fly, so to speak. Apparently Bernard Cornwell lives kind of close to their place so one day Harriet asked him over for coffee and he had a few good pointers for the battle (which I personally think is great because his battle-style has a very similar immediacy in scale as RJ displayed in Dumai's Wells and while I also think that BS writes good battles, he's better at the one-on-one type things and not so good with the massive event that the Last Battle would be).
What was it like to be the daughter of a Navy admiral—and you said Commandant, also—what was that like?
Well, I didn't have a whole lot of experience of that, because he retired when I was about six. He would say, "Clear the decks!" (laughter) There was another admiral in the extended family, and they kept running into each other because they got out of the Academy at the same time, so they'd end up at Coronado, more or less, and Uncle Benny was at Pearl Harbor too, and his stuff can be read online—his memoir of the attack—and he was prone to say "Late hammocks this morning!" And the children knew what it meant, but I didn't have that—"late hammocks" means you don't have to get out of bed at the usual time—but these guys sort of didn't notice they weren't hammocks; they were actually beds. And there was a floor, not a deck!
My father had a very hard decade, really; he had an older brother who died of tuberculosis during the war; the family big house—he was a Yankee, and it was in Ossining, New York, site of another Big House—but the big house burned down during World War II, so here he is, watching the world fall apart, and fighting across the Pacific, and at home everything is pretty much falling apart, too. I think he had struggles with depression...and, he was old when I was born—he was probably close to fifty—so what do you do with a rugrat? (laughter)
What do you recollect, then, most about that? What is it about your father from when you knew him—
Distance, sorry to say.
And you think that was a product of what you just said?
It was a very hard time for him. He was decent to me. I mean, he fed me and clothed me, and never abused me, but it was not what you call a warm relationship.
"Uncle Benny" was Robert Bentham Simons II—I'm married to his grandson, Robert Bentham Simons IV, and mother of his great-grandson, Robert Bentham Simons V. Harriet's aunt married his brother Albert. He was the captain of the USS Raleigh at Pearl Harbor.
Yeah, the battle scenes were the toughest part of A Memory of Light, definitely. At least the toughest for me, because it's not necessarily something I naturally excel at. I think I'm okay at it. I've read a lot of books...but I've read a lot of books. I haven't done it. Fortunately, Alan Romanczuk has done it. He was a soldier and Jim was a soldier, so I'm really relying a lot on him for getting it to feel right. You know, my book learning only gets me so far in the way that tactics are done and the way a battlefield plays out. So, that's been one of the big slow-downs for this. The other big slow-down for this has been just making sure we get everything in there. There are a lot of things that need to go in the book and there are some things that aren't going to make it. Jim said that certain things don't get resolved, and there are certain things we just didn't have time for and we said, "Okay, this just doesn't get resolved." And I'm sorry about that. He warned you, I will warn you: there are some non-resolutions.
I don't know how other people would feel about that, but I kind of enjoy that. To me, that's where a fandom would go. We can continue to speculate and wonder and think about.
Yeah, it gives us something to talk about. We can ride that or like ten years at least. (laughter)
JordanCon will be good for a while. We'll have a lot of talking panels on that one.
I will try to keep them quiet. There are two deleted scenes from the book that actually covered very interesting things. And after the books are out I will give you guys some hints and then you can spend the next ten years deciding what was in them.
Yeah, we'll ask you some really weird questions over the next ten years. We used to do that to Robert Jordan. We'd ask him very oblique questions, hinting at the thing we really wanted to know, because we were like doing process of elimination, and logic trees and...yeah, he caught on.
The skinhead look seems to meet with a good bit of approval. Should I adopt that? Get the salamander tattoo and arrive at signings on a Harley. Fat Boy or Soft Tail? Not one of those new ones that try to look like a BMW, though. Maybe I should just go for a Japanese crotch rocket and blow into town at 200 mph. Well, even those need a little work to hit 200, but they'll leave a Harley in the dust for sure. No hate mail, please. I love Harleys, but I needed to go really fast, I'd be riding Japanese or Italian if stock.
Some of you seem a little confused over what I mean by a salamander. My walking stick for black tie has a silver head which most people think is simply a lizard with malachite eyes. Only close observation will show that the lower half of the lizard is actually flames. The salamander, the lizard that lives in fire. The ancients believed that asbestos was salamander skin, that salamanders were fire elementals, and even that salamanders were the guardians of the gates of hell. In any case, they have always been seen as symbols of survival under adverse conditions, able to walk through the fires of hell unharmed. Of course, a group of us were going to get salamander tattoos during an R&R in Hong Kong. I was too drunk to make the appointment, and I was the only one who made it back to the world, but I figure that was coincidence.
For Doctor, I've pretty much settled on channeling, if that is the proper word, myself. It seems to work. Although that first day, at lunch, I did slip briefly into Brando from Apocalypse Now, and I must say that afterward we could carry on a pleasant conversation at our table without any bother from brainless chatter from tables around us. I may keep that one in reserve.
That's about it for now.
Remember guys, Illegitimei no carborundum!
As I starting moving towards Mr. Jordan, I prepared my books to be signed, by turning to the title/author page. I had with me: Knife of DreamsNew Spring: The Novel, Lord of Chaos, and issues one and two of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: New Spring comic book. My plan was to go around the line 3 times in order to get them all signed. I chose New Spring: The Novel and Knife of Dreams for the first pass through.
As I got close, I heard Mr. Jordan answering other people's questions. Mentions of "Aes Sedai" and "Seanchan" whispered through the air, though I couldn't hear much more than those. When I rounded a corner and was in sight of Mr. Jordan, (only 3 people in front of me), I got to hear more conversation.
One gentleman told Mr. Jordan that his books are being read by our troops overseas. Mr. Jordan seemed pleased about that, and mentioned that he tried to go across to the Mideast to appear with the USO, but no dice (from what little I heard).
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?'
Somewhat inevitably, perhaps, Jordan ended up being compared to fantasy's other master—J.R.R. Tolkein, of Lord of the Rings fame. And from a powerful source, too.
"Jordan has come to dominate the world that Tolkien began to reveal..." crowed the New York Times. Perhaps it was his battle scenes, which portray a realism that only one who has experienced battle—Tolkien in the World Wars and Jordan in Vietnam—can truly contemplate, although Jordan says he reached further back for his sources.
My goal in the Wheel of Time was not to put my own fingerprint on it. I wanted to finish Robert Jordan's series as close to the soul of the series as he would do, and yet I realized as part of the process quickly that I couldn't imitate him, and that I would have to make it a little bit my own—it would have to be a collaboration—and that's a necessary evil. I really do wish that Robert Jordan were here to finish the books the way that they should have been finished, but there are certain things that he does that I can't do. For instance, he was in Vietnam. He was a soldier. He understood battle in a way that I never will. I instead have watched a whole lot of Hong Kong action films, you know, things like that, and so the way I approach an action sequence is very different from him, and the way I look at magic is a little bit different from the way he looked at magic. That's one thing that is different [between] us. So, the action sequences, things like that. My goal has been to make the characters still feel like themselves, but you will see my fingerprint on things: the way I treat some of the worldbuilding and the action sequences are the two big ones.
Right. You're asking the hardest question that I think I had to ask myself when I took on this project. How do I make sure....I didn't want the Wheel of Time to become about Brandon. At the same time I had to trust my storyteller instincts, which is the only way I knew how to tell the story, and it was a really difficult process to work out, and I kind of turned it into a give and take. There are certain things that I learned from Robert Jordan that I do very similar to him that I could then do in his style very well. There are other things that were unique to him that I just couldn't in any way mimic.
For instance, his action sequences come from a life spent partially as a soldier, and serving in Vietnam, actually being in firefights; that lends a certain type of narrative to a fight sequence. I haven't done any of that. I've just watched a bunch of kung fu films. If you read my action sequences, you're not going to feel like Robert Jordan's because there was no way to imitate him, and I felt that if I tried, I would just be parodying him, and so it was really a give and take. In some places I really tried hard to emulate what he would have done in his style, and in other places I have to say, there's just no way for me to do that; I have to approach it my way, and I took that on a case-by-case basis.
All in all, my main goal, which I've succeeded at in some places, and failed at in others, but my main goal was to make the characters feel like themselves, and that was my focus. Can I do this? I've said it before: no one can replace Robert Jordan. No one can get it a hundred percent right but him. I think I've been doing a fairly good job, but there are certainly mistakes I've made in trying to get those characters' souls to be the right souls, and that was my main goal, is to try and get that right.
On every visit abroad, Sanderson said, he takes notes and tries to write down a story that inspired him, to be used as a "seed" for later stories.
For example, an exhibit of necklaces and armors made out of coins that he saw nine years ago in the Middle East inspired him to create "coin armors" for the characters in his new book A Memory of Light, which is scheduled to be launched in fall this year.
With Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight complete, Brandon Sanderson had to face his greatest challenge yet—writing the final battle in A Memory of Light.
A Memory of Light was a challenge for a number of reasons. There is a lot of warfare in this book—more so than all of the others—which needed to be realistic, and the tactics needed to be sound. And these were the sorts of things that Robert Jordan was extremely good at doing—he was a military historian. I don't have his background, so I had to rely a lot on the notes, and on Team Jordan. You want the story to be focused on the characters—it has to be a personal story. How to balance that, how to tell the story of these wars in a series which is primarily concerned with the characters was a real push back and forth with the text, trying to massage it and edit and work it to the point that it would convey their stories but still be true to the tactics that would make this all come together.
There's been huge enthusiasm. People have been waiting for this for a long time. If they once dipped into it, they wouldn't be able to put it down.
And in January, they will finally get the full story—the final volume of the Wheel of Time. The end of an Age has arrived. The Dark One is almost free. The Wheel of Time hangs in the balance, and prophecy must be fulfilled. The Last Battle begins January 8th.
Although I think you're right—we are getting into kind of details, but I do want to come back to the worldbuilding a little bit later in the conversation. But without giving too much away about the final book–there's a lot of fighting because, you know, it is the Last Battle, right?
And I know that your husband had a military background. Can you talk about that, and how it may have influenced his writing?
Yes, he served two tours in Vietnam, in the Army. He was a helicopter door gunner.
And a Citadel graduate, right?
Yes, he was. He went to The Citadel as a Veteran student, and loved that institution and the Army with–with all his heart, you might say. A friend of his said to me once, "Some people take off the uniform, and that's that. Other people, the uniform sinks right into their skin." And my dear husband was one of the latter.
And it really shows in the books. There's a lot of tactics, a lot of military strategy.
Yes, it does. The New York Times said at one point that the books reflect the last 30 years of American experience, including war, in the way that Tolkien's book reflected the last 30 years of the English experience when he was writing during World War II, that Robert Jordan's battle scenes are pretty wonderful.
That's an interesting parallel to Tolkien actually.
The New York Times' article on Tolkien and Jordan, published in 1996, can be read here.
Are there bits in it where you were aware that it felt like your writing rather than him?
Yes, there are some. For example, Robert Jordan was a Vietnam veteran: he'd been in real battle. My battle training has been watching cinema and reading great books. So my perspective on fight scenes is very different from his. I can't get that authenticity 100%, and if I try too hard it's going to feel fake. I have to do the action sequences like I do action sequences. So it'll flow like cinema rather than having the chaos and insanity of real battle.
The Memory of Light tactics were the things I was most worried about getting right. RJ was more a military historian than me and he was a soldier, so we went looking for help. Harriet knows a man named Bernard Cornwell who writes a lot of military fiction, so he helped us, and Alan Romanczuk is a war historian, who was able to help us a lot. He built the battle plan for the entire war, as far as troop movements and the tactical portion of the Last Battle. Connecting them and making it meld into the story with the characters was my job. We went rounds about "this is tactically sound" or "no it's not", so Alan was a big help making it believable. I did research, but my feeling is that I can get to 70–80% of knowledge on a subject pretty quickly through a month or two of research, but getting that last 20% is something that takes 10 years of work. My goal is to get to 70–80, and then give it to someone who knows their stuff and have them help me from there.
The names of the people Brandon referenced here were probably butchered. I was just trying to keep up with him so I could record the main parts of his response instead of focusing on the names of his references. [Fixed—Terez]
Also of interest to WoT fans and aspiring writers, both: one fan asked, given the lack of majorly epic-scale battles in Brandon's other work, how he approached the near endless warfare that makes up the bulk of A Memory of Light.
The answer: research, research, research, and lots of help from experts. Brandon asserts (and I can believe) that he can get himself to about 80% expert on just about any topic in the course of writing prep, but his lack of personal experience with warfare (reminding us of Mr. Jordan's service in Vietnam) put him at a disadvantage in accurately conveying what needed to be conveyed in the last battle. Military buffs and armchair historians came to the rescue (including Team Jordan member Alan Romanczuk), outlining a series of strategies and tactics based on real-world battles that Brandon used as a guide. However, Tarmon Gai'don being on a somewhat different scale than we're used to in our Age, both metrically and dramatically, there was a lot of back-and-forth between Brandon and the battle guys about amping up the drama without sacrificing realism—inserting twists and character moments to make us cheer or weep.
The last book had a lot of military action in it. Did you have to do a lot of research for that?
Yes we did. And I relied a lot on some experts that we know to give me a lot of help on that.
Did you have any Air Force consultation with the to'raken scenes at all?
That was in mind. We had a lot of military experts help us out with these books. I relied on them a lot.
So this is another one of those places where it required a lot of push and pull between us. This is something that Robert Jordan had more talent for than I have. He was a military tactician and military historian, and I am not. I am an action movie buff, and a Chinese Kung Fu movie buff. And I love vibrant, engaging visual action sequences. And large scale battle tactics are something I usually go to other people to use as resource on. And so on this one, we made Alan Romanczuk our Great Captain who was going to define our tactics....(indecipherable)...There was a lot of conflict between he and myself—good-natured, but sometimes heated—because I kept pushing toward more cinematic and more character focused. And he kept pushing toward more realism and more focus on the tactics. And that was a lot of push and pull between us. We did go to some people starting out to ask for advice on what we should use as patterns for this. And we got some great advice there on which real historical battles would make great models for us to follow. We felt that was one of the things that we should do is rather than try to come up with this from scratch, we really should use something which happened in our world as a patten because that would help us from making any big blunders. And then Alan would say, "This is what the tactics would be here." And I'm like, "That's not dramatic enough. This is what needs to happen to make the story go." He'd be like, "That violates these rules of tactics." And I'm like, "All right. What can we do in between these two that is still dramatic and still tactically sound?" And we went back and forth a lot on that.