Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
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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Not hardly, Jack!
I meant: that it's a constant struggle.
None of it has been hard mentally, though getting inside the skins of the Forsaken and folks like Padan Fain required some effort. You have to really like your character unless that character is meant to be self-hating for some reason, which most people are not. Liking Padan Fain just isn't easy.
I've often read things later and thought I could have done better, but I always think I could do better if only I had another few months to do rewrites. Just a few more months, that's all. Deadline? Pub date? Never heard of them, sport. I've never looked at anything I wrote and hated it. Even the first things I wrote aren't too bad, really. I certainly know that I could do them better, now—I'd hope so, after all these years—but they aren't bad.
A sort of slenderized Burl Ives, with the same intelligent, probing eyes, ebullient manner, and faintly mischievous grin, Jordan, now in his 40s, is exploring the realm of fantasy after successful sojourns along a number of literary paths.
Judging by the review and the sales—his pen seems as formidable as a highwayman's blade, or a sorcerer's talisman.
Jordan, who also writes under the pseudonyms "Reagan O'Neal" and "Jackson O'Reilly," recently completed the second in a planned six-book fantasy series for Tor Books collectively entitled "The Wheel of Time." The first installment, The Eye of the World, was four years in the writing. It was released in February 1990 to broad acclaim, ascending the bestseller list. Volume two, The Great Hunt, was published this fall, with the third book tentatively scheduled for December 1991.
Crafting his stories in a highly visual style, Jordan joins a celebrated list of contemporary fantasists and science-fantasy authors composed of such names as Joan Vinge, Fred Saberhagen, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne Rice, Roger Zelazny and Donaldson.
But Jordan sees fantasy splitting into altogether too many lines to assay broad trends.
"In hard, technological science fiction, we've gotten away from a view of the eternal conflict between good and evil. Indeed, we see everything drifting through a shade of relativistic grey. While I agree that there are many ambiguous, grey issues, there is also good and evil. And the only areas of fiction in which the distinction is clearly delineated are fantasy and horror.
"There used to be this perception that science fiction had to be hard and technical and that people were mere window dressing to help communicate the science. Of course, this was rarely true of the best SF, which stood out for the very reason that it didn't follow the strict guidelines on what that sort of fiction should be. By contrast, people are central to fantasy. And although there is no magic in my books, no incantations, the 'wizards' still tap into the power that drives the universe."
Following military service, Jordan enrolled at The Citadel, earning a degree in physics in 1974. For a time, he toiled as a nuclear engineer for the Navy. He became a writer largely out of boredom with the works of authors he read during an extended hospital stay, recuperating from a severe knee injury.
His first book, Warriors of the Altaii, was fantasy. So was his dream of a publisher. A book contract signed by Jordan was rescinded, reputedly due to "excessive demands." Despite the setback, Jordan determined he would no longer work for anyone else, that he would henceforth write full time.
In a reversal of the path taken earlier by John Jakes, Jordan went from "generational sagas" to the fantastic. However, his first major commercial success came in 1980 with the historical novel The Fallon Blood. Eleven years later, Jordan has published works representative of many fields, including dance and theater criticism.
In the realm of fantasy writing, Jordan has been less influenced than simply entertained by such works as Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series and the horror writing of Stephen King.
He never reads fantasy when he is in the midst of writing it.
And Jordan is by any measure a voracious reader. There is something evocative of the drawing room about the man, what with his passion for pipe collecting, military history and the sedate, contemplative pursuit of chess, billiards and poker. Yet he is likewise an avid outdoorsman, having a particular relish for hunting, fishing, and sailing.
His approach to the process of writing is no less enthusiastic or studious.
"One description of the writing process I find apropos is that you start with a block of stone. Only you don't see the stone; you see a horse within the stone. As a sculptor, you would carve it out. A writer has to claw at it with his fingernails. It crumbles and fights all the way. You work and work on a leg and just can't get it right. Sometimes, you chew the leg off. Sometimes, you chew your own leg off. Sometimes, you sweat on the leg, hoping the salt will smooth it into the desired shape and contour. Then, reviewers come along and say they like or dislike the horse. Or critics say a horse is not what you intended at all.
"Alternatively, writing fiction is telling imaginative lies. You put them on paper and somebody pays you for it. Both these ideas are equally true. And if you encompass both, you can be a writer. But you also want people to like it and you hope that what you've written is more than just tripe with a sauce on it."
Jordan's mechanics are fundamental enough. He begins by supplying a foundation, layer by layer, erecting a general outline that is the story's scaffolding. Between the layers are inserted the roughs of characters and events that lend motive force to the tale.
His outline, which can run from 20 to 40 pages, rarely is adhered to in minute detail. It's still a formative sketch—lines of charcoal on a white surface.
"There's also a commercial consideration having to do with what publishers will accept. If I'd write a horror novel under the name Robert Jordan, publishers will accept. But if I went with a Robert Jordan mystery—that far out of genre—there would probably be a big fight over it, the kind of distraction I would just as soon avoid. Not that I haven't had my share of disagreements with editors and publishers.
"Beyond all that, I also enjoy the multiple identities."
"If you're lucky, people will be reading your books in 20 years after you're dead. If you're very lucky, they'll be reading them 50 years later, 100 years later if you're extraordinarily fortunate.
"The writer doesn't achieve immortality. Books do. And if people are reading and enjoying my books centuries from now, I couldn't be happier."
Thank you very much for the copy of The Chronicles. I was not aware that I had fans who followed my work so closely. It is a real pleasure to discover. I apologize for the delay in writing, but in addition to writing (which takes no small amount of time), I have been on a round-the-world promotional trip and a close family member had to have open heart surgery, both of which occupied me fully. I do not have access to Prodigy, but please keep me on your mailing list through Tor.
By the way, the capture of Yurian Stonebow did not "bring and end to the Trolloc Wars" (Guide to WoT). Yurian Stonebow "rose from the ashes of the Trolloc Wars." That is, he came along after the wars ended.
His first Conan novel he wrote because there was money offered. Having discovered that it was fun to write Conan, he wrote five more including the novelization of the second movie, and then spent a year convincing people that he was not going to write any more Conan...he was quite adamant on this point.
His first novel was accepted and then rejected, sold and then rights reverted to him...he says he will never publish it as it is not very good, but keeps it as it seems to be lucky for him.
He regards being taught to read at an early age and reading anything and everything he could get his hands on as being very important to his decision to write, and to what he writes and how he writes it...he writes Fantasy because it allows more straightforward discussion of good and evil than fiction set in the modern world.
(I got the impression that learning to read at age three is considered precocious in the USA...just another example of how far you colonials have fallen. :-) )
I have been a writer for seventeen years now, and have had a number of other books published (Westerns, international intrigue, historical fiction), as well as essays, dance review and theater criticism, but no other fantasy save the Conan novels. I've written only one piece of short fiction in my life, aside from school assignments, and it was never published. I will probably write in those other genres again from time to time; I enjoy them. I am working on something unconnected with The Wheel of Time, though I have not yet begun writing it. (Books percolate about in my head for a long time before anything goes onto paper.) It will be the next thing after The Wheel is complete. It will be fantasy, in a different universe than The Wheel.
My editor says it will be people's chance to see a society like the Seanchan Empire, but that is simply because most of the action will take place in a culture much like Seanchan. The main male character, who is shipwrecked there, comes from a place that might he considered a cross between Elizabethan England and the Italian city-states of the Renaissance with touches of the seventeenth century. I intend him to be a man in his thirties, a man of some experience and worldliness in his own culture (though this does him only occasional good where he finds himself), in contrast to Rand's innocence and naivete. The major female character is a noblewoman of the land where he is shipwrecked; by the law, whatever is cast up on the shores of her estates belongs to her: the ship, its cargo—its crew. Of course, a good many details will surely change between now and the commencement of writing (they always do), but that is the general form. No working title yet beyond Shipwreck. I expect to do the story in two or possibly three books.
Does evil need to be effective to be evil? And how do you define effectiveness? Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge managed to murder about 25-30% of Cambodia's population, destroy the country's agricultural and industrial base, fairly well wipe out the educated class inside the country (defined as anyone with an education beyond the ability to read; a good many of those went too, of course), and in general became so rabid that only China was willing to maintain any sort of contact with them, and that at arm's length. Their rabidity was the prime reason that they ended up losing the country. (though they are still around and still causing trouble.) In other words, they were extremely ineffective in attaining their goal, which was to seize Cambodia, remake it in the way Pol Pot wished (and still wishes), and export their brand of revolution abroad. Looking at the death toll, the cities emptied out (hospital patients were told they had one hour to leave or die; post-op patients, those still in the operating room, everybody), the murders of entire families down to infants because one member of the family was suspected of "counter-revolutionary" crimes, the mass executions (one method was for hundreds of people to be bound hand and foot, then bulldozed into graves alive; the bulldozers drove back and forth over these mass graves until attempts to dig out stopped)—given all of that, can you say that Khmer Rough's ineffectiveness made them less evil? Irrationality is more fearful than rationality (if we can use that term in this regard) because if you have brown hair and know that the serial killer out there is only killing blondes, you are safe, but if he is one of those following no easily discernible pattern, if every murder seems truly random, then it could be you who will be next. But "rationality" can have its terrors. What if that killer is only after brunettes named Carolyn? Stalin had the very rational goal (according to Communist dogma) of forcibly collectivizing all farmland in the Soviet Union. He was effective—all the land was collectivized—and to do it he murdered some thirty million small farmers who did not want to go along.
But are the Forsaken ineffective or irrational? Are they any more divided than any other group plotting to take over a country, a world, IBM? True, they plot to secure power for themselves. But I give you Stalin v. Trotsky and the entire history of the Soviet Union. I give you Thomas Jefferson v. Alexander Hamilton v. John Adams, and we will ignore such things as Jefferson's hounding of Aaron Burr (he tore up the Constitution to do it; double jeopardy, habeas corpus, the whole nine yards), or Horatio Gates' attempted military coup against Washington, with the support of a fair amount of the Continental Congress. We can also ignore Secretary of War Stanton's attempts to undermine Lincoln throughout the Civil War, the New England states' attempt to make a separate peace with England during the Revolution and their continued trading with the enemy (the British again) during the War of 1812, and... The list could go on forever, frankly, and take in every country. Human nature is to seize personal advantage, and when the situation is the one the Forsaken face (namely that one of them will be given the rule of the entire earth while the others are forever subordinate), they are going to maneuver and backstab like crazy. You yourself say "If ever there was the possibility that some alien force was going to invade this planet, half the countries would refuse to admit the problem, the other half would be fighting each other to figure out who will lead the countries into battle, etc." Even events like Rahvin or Sammael or Be'lal seizing a nation have a basis. What better way to hand over large chunks of land and people to the Dark One than to be ruler of those lands and people? The thing is that they are human. But aside from that, are you sure that you know what they are up to? All of them? Are you sure you know what the Dark One's own plans are? Now let's see about Rand and his dangers and his allies. Have you been skimming, my dear? What makes you think the Tairens, Cairhienin and Andorans are solidly behind him? They're plotting and scheming as hard as the Forsaken. Rand is the Dragon Reborn, but this is my country, and we don't need anybody, and so on. And then there are those who don't think he is the Dragon Reborn at all, just a puppet of Tar Valon. Most of the Aiel may be behind him, but the Shaido are still around, and the bleakness is still taking its toll, since not all Aiel can face up to what Rand has told them about themselves. What makes you think the Seanchan will fall in behind Rand? Have you seen any Seanchan volunteers showing up? Carolyn, half of these people are denying there is a problem, and half are trying to be big honcho themselves. Read again, Carolyn. The world Rand lives in is getting more frenzied and turbulent. Damned few are saying, "Lead, because you know best." A good many who are following are saying "Lead, because I'd rather follow you than have you call down lightning and burn me to a crisp!"
As for lack of challenge, I refer you again to the question about whether you really think you know what all the Forsaken are planning. Or what Padan Fain is up to. There is a flaw inherent in fiction, one that is overcome by suspension of disbelief. We do always know, somewhere in the back of our heads, that the hero is going to make it through as far as he needs to. After all, if Frodo buys the farm, the story is over, kids. The excitement comes in trying to figure out how he can possibly wiggle out, how he can possibly triumph.
In Rand's case, let's see what he still has stacked against him. The Cairhienin and Tairens are for the most part reluctant allies, and in many cases not even that. At the end of Fires, he has Caemlyn, but I don't see any Andoran nobles crowding around to hail him. Illian still belongs to Sammael. Pedron Niall is working to convince people Rand is a false Dragon, and the Prophet is alienating ten people for every one he convinces. Tarabon and Arad Doman are unholy messes; even if Rand manages to get in touch with all of the Dragonsworn—who are not organized beyond individual bands—he has two humongous civil wars to deal with. True, he can use the Aiel to suppress those, but he has to avoid men killing men too much; there are Trollocs waiting to spill out of the Blight eventually. We must always remember the Trollocs, Myrddraal etc; the last time they came out in force, it took over 300 years to beat them back, and the Last Battle doesn't give Rand anywhere near that. Altara and Murandy are so divided in any case that simply getting the king or queen on his side isn't going to work; remember that most people in those two countries give loyalty to a city or a local lord and only toss in their country as an afterthought. Davram Bashere thinks Tenobia will bring Saldaea to Rand, and that is possible since the Borderlands would be one place where everyone is aware of the Last Battle and the Prophecies, but even Bashere isn't willing to make any promises, not even for Saldaea much less the other Borderlands, and I haven't seen any Borderland rulers showing up to hand Rand the keys to the kingdom. Padan Fain is out there, able to feel Rand, and hating him because of what was done to him, Fain, to make him able to find Rand. The surviving Forsaken are out there and except for Sammael, nobody knows what they are up to or where they can be found. For that matter, who knows everything that Sammael is up to? Elaida, in the White Tower, thinks Rand has to be tightly controlled. The Salidar Aes Sedai are not simply ready to fall in and kiss his boots, either. Aes Sedai have been manipulating the world for more than three thousand years, guiding it, making sure it remembers the Dark One and Tarmon Gai'don as real threats, doing their best, as they see it, to prepare the world for the Dark One breaking free. Are they likely to simply step aside and hand over control to a farmboy, even if he is the Dragon Reborn? Even after Moiraine decided he had to be given his head, Siuan was reluctant, and Siuan was in Moiraine's little conspiracy from the beginning. And the Seanchan...The last we saw of their forces, they were commanded by a Darkfriend. As for the Sea Folk, do you know what their prophecy says about the Coramoor? Do you think working with them it will be any simpler than dealing with the Aiel, say?
Now, what and who does Rand have solidly in his camp? Perrin knows what is needed, but he's hardly happy about it. What he really wants is to settle down with Faile and be a blacksmith; everything else is a reluctant duty. Mat blew the Horn of Valere, but it's hidden in the Tower, and frankly, if he could figure some way to go away and spend the rest of his life carousing and chasing women, he would. He'll do what he has to do, but Light he doesn't want to. The Aiel are for Rand (less the Shaido, still a formidable force), but the Dragon Reborn and the Last Battle are no part of the Prophecy of Rhuidean. That is all wetlander stuff. Besides which, they are still suffering losses from bleakness, people throwing down their spears and leaving, people defecting to the Shaido or drifting back to the Waste because what Rand told them of their origins can't possibly be true and if it isn't then he can't be the Car'a'carn. Rand has declared an amnesty for men who can channel and is trying to gather them in; they, at least, should give their loyalty to him. But how many can he find? How much can he teach them in the time he has? How many will go mad before the Last Battle? There is still the taint on saidin, remember. For that matter, can Rand hang onto his own sanity? What effect will having a madman inside his head have? Can he stop Lews Therin from taking him over?
I know that was supposed to be a listing of what Rand has in his favor, but the fact is that he is walking the razor's edge, barely hanging onto his sanity and growing more paranoid all the time, barely hanging onto putative allies, most of whom would just as soon see him go away in the hope that then everything would be the way it was before he showed up, confronted by enemies on every side. In short he has challenges enough for ten men. I've had people write to say they can't see how Rand is going to untangle all of this and get humanity ready to face the Last Battle. What I say is, what you believe to be true is not always true. What you think is going to happen is not always going to happen. That has been demonstrated time and again in The Wheel of Time. You could call those two statements one of the themes of the books.
Hey, don't publish the picture Gerard gave you. Our house has no wrought-iron gates. Also, no renovation has been done here since the fix-up after Hurricane Hugo several years ago. I kid you not. Poor Gerard got the wrong house. I'm glad you don't intend to publish any address, whether or not it is mine. There are fans who write letters, and then there are fans who show up at the front door unannounced. I hate to be rude to people, but with the time I spend writing, I barely have time for a social life with my friends, and frankly, someone who has managed to track you down is going to think you have cheated them if you scribble your name in their book and say, "Now go away. I'm busy." Believe me.
Well, again, thanks for the letter, Carolyn. Do keep me abreast of what's happening with The Chronicles. I really would like to see copies, if it is possible for you to send them to me care of Tor Books.
Robert Jordan began writing after a pretty severe (the description grossed Erica out) knee injury kept him idle. He was in the government service at the time, and after using the time to write his first book, his boss thought he was faking the injury simply to write. Jordan was upset because his boss's boss believed that, and put in a resignation with two weeks notice. Upset that he was leaving, his boss asked him to stay, mentioning that he was needed on current projects. Jordan had cleaned up his desk and finished those however. The boss mentioned that he was needed on future projects. Jordan mentioned that he had submitted his resignation. The boss mentioned that if he quit Jordan would never be able to work in the government again. Jordan asked if he could have that in writing.
He says his wife disbelieves this ever happened, but Jordan swears it's true!
Jordan answered any spoilers about the story pretty much as follows. First question where this occurred is below:
What about Jain Farstrider? Will we see him again?
"If, by the end of the last page of the last book you haven't read any more about him, then I guess there was nothing more to say."
He mentioned that he isn't going to offer any windows into the story other than the text. If it's not readily apparent, then he isn't going to illuminate it further. Thus no mind-shattering revelations about the plot here!
Jordan said he didn't really know, as he is constantly writing and cutting parts. He writes from the beginning of the story to the end, and then cuts and edits large chunks, pulling together threads. He doesn't even think about a working title, but lets the story determine it.
He says there will be at least three more books, maybe four.
Jordan knows the very last part of the final book, but doesn't know how long it will be till he'll put it in.
One humorous story mentions the quote saying he will continue writing until the day the nails are put into his coffin. One elderly lady apparently told him that she was a lot closer to that than he was so he had better hurry up.
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!
How many books?—"I don't know. Two, maybe three, maybe four. I know the last scene. But after I write the last scene that is all there is for these characters." (No Eddings sequels) "Maybe a series in another Age."
What other books?—"More books planned than I have years to write them."
My dear fellow rasfwrjians, as (to the best of my knowledge) the only one of us to attend the signing at Science Fiction, Mysteries, and More on Thursday, I feel obliged to report what Jordan said there, and my impressions.
Robert Jordan was stockier, shorter, and better cushioned than I expected. He wore a wide brimmed hat and walked with a cane with a ram's horn like handle. Generally he was open and friendly. When he came in late he explained that it was because Princess Di was in New York to meet Bill Clinton to discuss Vince Foster's suicide. However he made repeated references to being worn out and overworked by Lord of Chaos.
He encouraged young writers to write and send out things continuously not to be discouraged by rejections, and to change something only when three editors suggest it.
At one point, RJ raised his voice to scold his wife, "No! No hints! They can figure it out!" She was grinning, apparently not chagrined at all. But she did stop saying any more at that point. This leads me to believe that Mr. Jordan enjoys immensely weaving the puzzle, as much as writing the book.
He repeatedly reassured us that we have all the clues we need to figure out who killed Asmodean.
Speaking of the Net, Jordan did say (as noted before) that he'd read the FAQ, and was both impressed and amused by it. We got a lot of stuff right, and a lot of stuff wrong. We also have based a lot of discussion on "facts" we deduced that were actually wrong.
He DID say that he had done some things in response to net.speculations. First, if we seemed to be getting too close to something he had intended to stay hidden for a while longer, he would tone it done in later books. And if we seemed to be going off on an incredible tangent (the "How could they think THAT?" sort of thing) he would correct it. In both cases, however, he only did this if it could be fitted unobtrusively into the book.
Naturally, he refused to provide specifics. I asked if the linking discussion on the Net had led to the glossary entry in Lord of Chaos (which discussed linking in some depth). He said no, the info about linking has been in his notes all along, but he had to cut it out of previous glossaries in order to save space.
Someone asked RJ, "Why the pseudonym?"
He replied, "What makes you think it's a pseudonym?" which the questioner followed with, "Well, I've that it is from a number of people." RJ finished with, "Well, yeah, I've heard all sorts of things from all sorts of people."
He said it was a ram's horn.
About the time the line was getting fairly long and the people a little restless, someone told RJ that he'd love to have a new WoT book out in February, then another in March, then another in April... RJ asked the crowd (aka "the lynch mob") to turn on this guy.
I also asked RJ what Tor thought about the length of his series in terms of the number of books in it.
RJ said that Tor has told him to write as many books as he wants/needs to, and that Tor has never asked him to "stretch" the series out into more (money-making) books. He also said that even if Tor pressured him, he wouldn't do it.
The second signing session of the day was local, just a short drive up a rainy, traffic filled highway. This one had a Q&A session also, same restrictions on autographs though (two hardcovers, no personalization per trip in line). RJ seemed like he wanted to get going quickly for an early trip to the next stop tomorrow, so I only went through the line once.
In the Q&A, everyone was using the same questions that are answered in just about every Q&A RJ does, or at least recently: about writing female POVs, about compiling his notes, how does he store all the info about the plots and characters, etc... He did give some new info/answers on a couple of topics. He did repeat the tidbit about writing additional side stories that was on Wotmania today. He mentioned that he hates Apple computers because the early versions were not compatible with each other :p He mentioned if a mini series is done on NBC, there might be other sequel series on showtime or sci-fi channel.
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... :(
The covers aren't as bad as we thought they were. The 'extra' character in The Eye of the World really was in the book, but was cut out later, because he had too little to do. His parts were distributed out to the other characters, but they never got around to cutting him from the cover.
Physics/Math background and how it affected his writing:
—only marginally useful
—Schrödinger's Cat and other Quantum Physics stuff helps with conceptualization of fantasy structure.
—His editor (also his wife) said that the physics and math was more important than he gave it credit for. ;)
4. I heard about the hoax. Thanks for the printout of the posting. I suppose whoever posted it thought this book—The Westing Game—had some influence on some part of my writing. I'll have to try finding it; it would help, of course, if I knew whether it was fiction or non-fiction, and who the author is. Or maybe it's part of the hoax, too. The Eddings War? The Grin Thingy War? The Lanfear Trials? Elucidate further, my dear. Sorry to hear of so many falling by the wayside.
A note: Taim, whether you mispronounce it as TAME or pronounce it correctly as tah-EEM, doesn't rhyme with the others. Isn't anyone required to write poetry in school anymore? Of course, that dates me to the Dark Ages by most peoples' view, but I can still knock off a fairly good sonnet, Elizabethan or later.
What do fans tell you they like so much about your writing?
The women like the women. I was told by a number of women who came to a signing several years ago that they were surprised to find out that I was a man. They thought no man could write women like that. And I like this because my editor used to say that I couldn't write women at all. I find this a very sweet revenge.
Do you remember when you conceived The Wheel of Time series?
The first thought that came to me was what would it be like, what would it really be like, to be tapped on the shoulder and told you were born to be the savior of mankind. And I then very quickly thought, what would happen if the savior of mankind really showed up and he was really there to save the world from impending doom, what would the real response of the world be? And after ten or twelve years of knocking around in my head, because I always give my books a long lead time, that turned into The Wheel of Time.
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.
I know where I'm going.
The reason Robert Jordan chose to write fantasy was its opportunities to build cultures and experiment with them, in a way and with a freedom to comment that is unachievable with a "realistic", domestically based world.
The story of TWoT evolved during a very long period, in part beginning in the middle of the seventies with the idea of the Breaking of the World, before he found the "final scene in the final book" and began to actually write The Eye of the World. The main impetus from the beginning was the notion of "men breaking the world" (my emphasis), and that men able to channel must be killed, controlled or stopped at all costs for 3,000 years. This led naturally to a society where women had great power and respect.
As an example of this, he puts forth Davram Bashere's reaction to Faile being a Hunter of the Horn. His initial negative response does not come from that Faile is a girl, but that she only is 17 years old. Her gender is irrelevant to the issue.
The interview then continued with the communication between the various characters, and Robert Jordan stated clearly that every person keeping a secret, or withholding information, has a good reason for it, even if it in many cases are very personal. He exemplified this with the relation between Birgitte, Elayne and Egwene, where everyone knew that all knew Birgitte's secret (or at least a large part of it), but due to Elayne giving her word, the situation could not be resolved. Robert Jordan also took this as an example of the very great significance on a person's word and on oaths that the people in TWoT places. A word given is something to be kept, at all costs, however the circumstances changes.
With the final scene in the final book (which he eloquently said did not have to be identical with Tarmon Gai'don), all major plot lines will be resolved, and most minor ones. Some minor plot lines would still be unresolved, as a way to let the world continue to live and breathe. The surviving characters would still have lives to go on with, even if more "boring" ones. Robert Jordan though stated clearly that if he was going to write another book(s) in the WoT universe (something he thought was not going to happen), it would be placed at least 1,000 years apart from the events in the current books. There would not be any spin-off stories, or stories written by other authors set in the WoT universe, either.
There is nothing he would have done basically different with hindsight in the writing of TWoT. Originally The Eye of the World was half as large as it was printed, but the later books have been written so "tight" from the start that it has been impossible to shorten them.
His writing technique with the WoT books he described as "simply stretch out and run".
Jordan's Writing Process
Jordan spoke a bit and answered a few questions about his writing process. He said that he originally thought the series would be three to four books. When he was negotiating a contract with Tom Doherty, he told Tom that he didn't know how long the series would be, but that he did know the ending. Jordan says that writers seldom get contracts under those circumstances, but Tom signed him one because he like Jordan's writing. The contract was for six books.
After Jordan wrote the first book, he increased his estimate to four to five books for the series. After the second, he thought it would be 5-6, then 7 or more, etc. Now he does not give any estimate of the length of the series and is upset that the jacket of Lord of Chaos suggested that the series would end with eight books. (Update: In an open letter sent courtesy of Tor Books, dated 19 May 1996, Jordan said that the series will comprise at least ten books.)
Jordan says that the idea for WoT came to him about ten years before he began writing. "What would it feel like to be tapped on the shoulder and told, 'Hey, you're the savior of the world?'" He began writing The Eye of the World four years before it was published (and I say that it shows).
Jordan has lots of notes for the series. He began by writing approximately ten pages (of notes) of history about each of the countries in his story, more for the places he was going to use first. Right now his notes fill more pages than his manuscripts, he says.
I started writing about eight years ago. The first thought occurred to me, oh, somewhere between 18 and 20 years ago. My books always bubble around in my head a long time before anything gets on paper. Actually, yeah, I guess it is about that.
The first idea that came to me, the first thought, was what is it really like to be the savior of mankind? What's it really like to be tapped on the shoulder and told you are the savior of mankind, and oh by the way, we expect you to go mad and die in order to fulfill prophecy and save everybody. That was the genesis.
Well, it's not all that hard in my head because I grew up in Charleston, which one writer once said makes Byzantium look simple. But I couldn't do it in a computer. I don't have the time to invest in that much effort on the computer simply to keep track of it.
There are a lot of layers—everything is an onion. And we're talking almost a four-dimensional onion here. Any particular point that you look at—almost any particular point—has layers to it. It's one of the interesting things to me, is how much can I layer things without making it too complicated. It's quite possible for somebody to read these books as pure adventure, and I actually have twelve-year-old fans who do that. I was surprised to find that I had twelve-year-old fans, but I do and they read it just like that. Other people spend quite a lot of time discussing the layering, and it's fun for me to do.
No, because when I'm with the character I do get into his head, quite intimately. Or her head. In an aside, the biggest compliment I've had in a way was paid to me when I was autographing for the second book. At two different signings, I had a woman approach me and say that she had lost a bet, or an argument in one case, because I was a man. They'd been sure that 'Robert Jordan' was a pseudonym for a woman because the women characters they thought were so well written that no man could do that.
But I do get into their heads. It's one of the reasons the books are as large as they are. There are that many layers and I cover that much territory and still get intimate, if you will, with each of the characters. Or at least each of the characters who is being a main character, or a viewpoint character at least, in that particular book.
No, it's a product of growing up with strong women. All of the women I knew growing up were quite strong. All of the men I knew growing up were quite strong because any of the weak men got shredded and thrown aside. So it made for a certain viewpoint, a certain outlook in life.
Aside from that, the basic premise of the books, that 3000 years before the time of the books the world was essentially destroyed. The details don't really matter in the context of this interview, except for the fact that that destruction was caused by men, members of the male sex. A world that has grown out of that has to have a great deal of power for women, especially when the world has spent the last 3000 years being afraid of any man who has the ability to channel the One Power. You have to have a world where women have power. That's the way it's going to evolve. It can't go any other way. It's only a question of how much power they have.
Not really. What I do is have certain main points that I know I'm going to touch on. But I am flexible in the order that I touch them, and I'm flexible in how to get from one to the next. Think of it as traveling cross country, and you know that you're going to go to mountain A, mountain B, mountain C, and mountain D. But maybe you'll go to mountain D first and mountain A second, and then you'll slide back to C. And in traveling from one mountain to another, you can take a lot of different paths.
It becomes a little bit more complex because you have to imagine this whole piece of terrain is only one layer, and you have another piece of terrain stacked above it, and another stacked above it, and another stacked above it, and another stacked above that. And which path is taken on the first level influences which path can be taken on the second level, which influences which path can be taken and which can't on the third level, and so forth on down the line. But still, the main points are fixed. It's only the paths between that flex.
It is one of the themes. We like to believe in the United States that we're a nation of great individualists. And we do have occasional great individualists. By and large, we are a nation of people who bond together in groups and are generally suspicious of anybody in any other group. It's always been a struggle for Americans, it seems to me, what group to belong to and how far to submerge ourselves in that group. How far do you retain your own thoughts, and how much do you go by received wisdom? Sometimes received wisdom is true, and sometimes it's not. And it's difficult sometimes to tell the true from the false.
So, that is all part of it, that struggle, which I play out again and again. Because I'm not trying to give answers here, I'm basically trying to tell a story. And if in telling a story, I can make a few people think about this or that and ask a few questions, I'm really not that interested in what answers they come up with as long as I can get them to ask the questions.
I've spoken to people in England and Australia who've read the book. I've had fan mail from Spain and Sweden. As a matter of fact, I've been invited to be the guest of honor at the Swedish national fantasy convention next year. With a very laudatory letter, I must say.
There's a very different view in the different countries. Everybody picks up different things. Somehow, and I don't know how, really—it's something I was trying for but I don't know how—I've managed to make resonances in each of these countries. But, it seems from the mail I've received that it's subtly different what resonances they pick up.
It's not only an ancient structure like that. It's in places like, oh, say a country that has a tradition of the common man born in the log cabin and rising to the White House. You know, anybody can be President. And in recent years, anybody has been.
It's an old tradition, and it's not just American. I've seen it in Japanese and Chinese mythology and African mythology. In Asia and Africa, more often the fellow who's the commoner who aspires to greatness gets punished for it by the gods. It is more—I should say, not exclusively—but more of a European and Middle-eastern tradition that the common man can challenge the gods, the entrenched powers, and conquer, or at least work out some sort of rapprochement.
And yeah, I work with that. I've tried to mine myths from every country and every continent. And reverse engineer them, of course. The Arthur myths, the Arthur legends, are easily recognizable in the books. I tried to hide them to some extent, but frankly Arthur is, I believe, the most recognizable legend in the United States. More people know about King Arthur than know about Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett or anything that we have out of our own culture. But the others—myths from Africa and the Middle East, Norse mythology, Chinese mythologies—those things I could bury more deeply, more easily, because they're not very much recognized here.
Well, more often they're trying to work out details of what I'm intending to do, and what I have meant by things that I've already written. I've been sent in some cases sheets of Frequently Asked Questions and the answers that have been deduced. The only thing is, they're right between 20 percent, and oh, 33 percent of the time. They're almost right maybe another 20 percent of the time, 25 percent. And the rest of the time, they've gotten off into an incredibly wild tangent that makes me wonder if I ought to re-read the books to figure out how they came up with this.
I do look at what they have said. And by that, I mean I look at it when somebody sends me a print-out. I'm not on the 'nets, normally. But sometimes people will send me a print-out of a couple of days of discussion, or a Frequently Asked Questions list, as I said. And I'll look at that, and it does give me some feedback.
There are things in the books that I have tried to bury very deeply. And if, from the discussion or from the questions, I can see that they're beginning to get close to something I want to keep buried, I know that I have to be more subtle from now on, that I haven't been subtle enough. Or, on the other hand, there are some times when I realize that they're spending a lot of time discussing something that I was certainly not trying to make obscure that I thought was perfectly obvious. Then it becomes plain to me that I've gone the opposite way. I didn't say enough about it for them to understand. So then I have to maybe reiterate a little bit.
But I certainly—I don't change the plots or anything like that. I'm certainly not going to alter the fates of major characters or anything of that sort, whether someone has figured out what that's going to be or not. I must say, they've not figured out very much of that accurately, but it's fun to see.
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.
He can be reached either by either email or snail mail through Tor in about the same amount of time. Tor prints out his emails and sends him the hard copies about every fortnight. They also send his snail mail biweekly. He does respond to them, but he gets backlogged at the end of writing a book.
Here is the rough time schedule for book eight. The manuscript should be turned in sometime in fall of 1997. Expect it to go on sale in spring of 1998. He worked 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 20 months, except for a couple days for each Thanksgiving and Christmas and a few single vacation days, to write A Crown of Swords. PNH, his wife, and everyone he knows told him he needs to slow down so he doesn't kill himself. Thus, PNH gave him 18 months to do the manuscript.His wife said he is the only author she allows to submit partial manuscripts for editing. She also does Morgan Llewelyn, the Bears and David Drake among others. She said she was starting to reduce the number of authors she edits since she is overloaded. She edited one of RJ's books before they ever dated, so their professional relationship was already established before they married. She feels that mutual respect for the other's work is what keeps the two relationships from interfering with each other.
Considering all the work you've been through already, you'll probably hate this question, but when can we expect the next book, and how many more do you expect?
Will you be writing any other books that are similar fantasy/fiction?
First, I expect to deliver the next book in the fall of next year, which means that it will probably be published in the spring of 1998.
I do not know how many more books there will be. There will be at least ten total, probably more...but the safest way to say that is to say "there will be a few more, not too many, and please god not as many as have already been written!"
Other books? Not until I finish the Wheel of Time. I am already working in my head on what I'll do after that. It is indeed a fantasy series. I have a long gestation period for my books. The Wheel of Time gestated for at least ten years before it appeared on paper, and Shipwreck seems to be doing at least that.
The only time I re-read is to check on something when I have to make sure of exactly what I said in a certain circumstance about a certain character or incident.
As far as the people I read, there are far too many to list...Tad Williams, Barry Hughhart, Ray Feist, it could be a very long list, but we'd be here quite a time listing authors.
Someone asked Jordan about the 'gars, and mentioned that he'd seen theories that Lanfear was one of the 'gars. I was expecting a RAFO, but RJ gave the guy a disgusted look, and said that "No, Osan'gar and Aran'gar are Aginor and Balthamel." The guy said (I'm paraphrasing here), "You're confirming this, and not hinting about it?" RJ replied (more paraphrasing), "I'm confirming. After all, it's pretty obvious in the books that it's those two. After all, that's what Aginor thought was so funny; Balthamel, the lecher, was stuck in a female body." Jordan then went on to give the standard disclaimer that a lot of the clues are already in the books, and reasonably intelligent people should be able to figure a lot of this out. His job, he said, was to make sure you're still guessing about some stuff at the end of the story.
It's fairly safe to say that this was Jordan's version of thwacking the guy with a clue stick...
Sometimes people have found things that are typos, and sometimes people have found a place where a change or correction that I had intended to be put into the book was not before it was published. I always try to get those corrected as soon as possible after they're found. And, while I don't like having them there, I'm glad when someone points one out to me.
As for inconsistencies, I'm afraid inconsistencies are a failure to read the books correctly. Every time somebody has come to me with an inconsistency, I have been able to point out in a return letter where their mistake was.
The descriptions come from years of reading history, sociology, cultural anthropology, almost anything I can put my hands on in any and every subject that caught my eye. Including religion and mythology, of course, necessities for a fantasy writer, though I went at them first simply because I wanted to. It all tumbles together in my head, and out comes what I write. I don't try to copy cultures or times, only to make cultures that are believable. I can't explain it any better than that.
I don't base characters on real people. With one exception, at least. Every major female character and some of the minor have at least a touch of my wife, Harriet. I won't tell her which bits in which women, though. After all, what if she didn't like it? She knows where I sleep.
He said the book-signing tour will run through November 22nd. He'll spend two days fishing in Canada, and then return home to Charleston for Thanksgiving. (He said he finds being on tour exhausting, and always spends the following several days doing nothing at all.) After Thanksgiving, he'll start in on the next volume.
Someone mentioned the Internet-based rumors about him suffering from heart attacks / other forms of poor health. I couldn't tell from his expression whether RJ was amused or annoyed: Probably both equally. He replied that he's in good health with a resting heart rate of 71 beats per minute and good cholesterol.
He told quite a few people that the series would be requiring a minimum of three more volumes, perhaps more—and pointed out that he'd had to find time to work on "New Spring" and the Guide, in addition to The Path of Daggers. He also pointed out that, so far, the books have always been published within a month of completion, which he called "instantaneous for the publishing world". He stressed that he wants to reach the end (the final scene that he worked out 15 years ago), and would like to be "as compact as possible". (He said "Don't laugh.")
—Four years to write The Eye of the World; the next five took 14-16 months each.
—A Crown of Swords took 22-23 months to write.
—The Guide to the Wheel of Time took 5-6 months; there was a lot of work he had to do on it that he didn't expect to need to do. I think he expected a few weeks of work from him directly, with it mostly being done by others.
—New Spring took 2-3 months.
—The Strike At Shayol Ghul was written from the perspective of a scholar trying to attract funding for a more complete version (i.e., grant money) and was his first piece of short fiction.
What if you were tapped on the shoulder and told you had to save the world?
What are the sources of myths? "Reverse-engineered" legends.
The game of "telephone". (He calls it "whisper").
Proud of the little things that slip up on you, like Callandor being "the Sword in the Stone."
The first work I wrote has never been published although it was bought and then rejected over a contract dispute by Dell within the space of two months. That was what convinced me I could write it. It was later sold to... Don Wollheim bought it as a fantasy novel. Later Jim Baen at Ace bought it as a science fiction novel unchanged from what it was before. And then Susan Allison came in and she didn't like it so I got it... got the rights reverted to me. It also resulted in me getting the Conan contracts and in me meeting my wife. So I decided this thing has major mojo going with it. Well it's also the fact that it glows in the dark. It'll never be published because I'm a better writer now than I was twenty odd years ago.
My first published novel, I had walked into a book store and I had been talking to the owner of the book store, the manager, the woman that managed it, about the fact that I wanted to write, that I was beginning to write. I talked to her about books and all sorts of things, just in the book shop, that was all. There was a kind of romance novel called a bodice-ripper by a woman named Mary Robbins, big displays up front. Bodice-ripper is a sort of softcore pornography for women set in historical settings. And the shop owner said, "Do you know she has made three million dollars on her first two books?" In those days three million dollars with two books was Stephen King territory. That was like the forty-five-million-dollar contracts you hear about today. This is the sort of thing made people go, "Oh God!" and made the front of Time magazine. And I said for that kind of money I'd write one of those things. Okay, throwaway line, rimshot, forget it. Except the next time I came into the store the woman said, "You know a woman came in here and she's come to Charleston to set up a major publishing house, set up a publishing house, and she only wants to publish lead titles." That's the big book that the publishing house puts out every month, the one they really push. And that's all she's going to publish. She'd run out of business cards, she didn't have any business cards but here, she wrote her name in pencil on this lined three by five index card. I thought, right, she's come to Charleston to set up a major publishing house? No, no, no, no. That's like going to Death Valley to set up a ski camp. And she's only going to publish leads, that's like saying you're only going to publish best sellers, as it seemed to me, as it seemed to me then. But she managed to do it and no business card. Three by five index card, lined, penciled in. Right. Okay. I stuck it in my pocket to be polite and I went away. A week or so later I found it in my office in the drawer where I kept my pipe and tobacco as I was loading my pipe. Shows how long ago it was. I thought all right, I've got ten minutes I'll give her a call. So I gave her a call and found out that she had been editor or director of Ace Books and had just celebrated being promoted to vice president by resigning. And suddenly with that bit of experience behind her I'd realized she didn't sound so much like a nut anymore. She said, "I understand you're writing a bodice-ripper," and not waiting to lose a thread I said, "Yeah, well it's already been shown." She said, "Well, okay. I understand that, I understand that. Well why don't you come over and read me it and talk to me about it. Show me something, talk to me."
So I made up an outline driving to her house. I talked to the woman in the bookstore about these books enough that I knew the basic format. Heroine loses her virginity in the first chapter. It is a circumstance that is not rape on technicality. That is, he, the guy has arranged for a tavern maid downstairs to come upstairs and snuggle into his bed. And Heroine for some phony boloney reason has decided to sneak into his room to try to steal something at the same time. And she tries to get him drunk so he... you know, it gets very complicated. Anyway on technicality he's not guilty but anyway, she then goes on to have a lot of sexual adventures in North Africa with Sheiks and Sultans, in China with the Mandarins, Bedouin raiders... the court of Napoleon and the court of Medici... And then at the end of it she's in great danger, she's rescued by this guy that turns out to be the guy who done her virginity in the first place and they get married. And everything is thus okay because she married the guy that took her virginity. All right, hooo, yeah. I tried writing this thing for a brief moment, I really did. And I couldn't hack it man. I got the plot right, I got the sex right but I read some of the books and they quivered. They were hysterical in the constant sense, that is every line quivered with emotion. And I couldn't quiver. I tried.
About a year after that she called me up. I quit my job as an engineer and she said, "I'd like to see anything you've written." And being a professional I tried to talk her out of it. Because I knew the things I had written were not what she wanted to publish. She said, "Anything you have written, I want to see it." I took it to her, the book... the first novel I had ever written and when I went to pick it up from her later I got into a discussion about history. The forty-five in England, the American Revolution, the roles of the Scots and the Irish in the American Revolution particularly in the south. The publisher heard this and after the other woman had gone away, she gave me back a manuscript, she said, "You write a book and we'll publish this, but you can write. And what I want you to do is give the outline of a historical saga, a generational saga." And I did. That became The Fallon Blood. And the woman's name was Harriet McDougal and we started dating while we were touring for this book after she published it. I mean we toured for the book and she would give me another contract because we weren't quite sure how it was going to sell. And, ahh, I started missing her. I started coming back, hanging around and asking her out and whatnot. And eventually I asked her to marry me. Then I got really nervous because I thought, 'Hang on...I just asked a woman to marry me, and she is my source of income!' So I very hurriedly sold the book somewhere else so she would not be my sole source of income. That's how my first novel got published and that's how I met my wife and that's only about ten minutes as much as you wanted to know.
The first book took four years. The next five books took, on average, 14 months. I finished Lord of Chaos in August 1994, handed the manuscript in, and in October, two months later, I was on tour for that book. I came back and said, 'There isn't time. I cannot write a book for you in time for you to publish it next fall.' I convinced them I couldn't do it, and it's lucky I did, because it turned out A Crown of Swords took almost two years, and so did The Path of Daggers.
There are things I am saying, things I am talking about, but I try not to make them obtrusive. The necessity to struggle against evil, the difficulty of identifying evil, how easy it is to go astray, are very simple questions. In modern mainstream fiction, if you discuss good and evil, you're castigated for being judgmental or for being old-fashioned. Originally this was a way of deciding which was the greater wrong—'It is wrong to steal, but my child is starving to death. Obviously, in that situation it is better to steal than to let my child die of hunger.' But today that has been transmogrified into a belief that anything goes, it's what you can get by with, and there is no real morality, no right, no wrong—it's simply what produces the Platonic definition of evil: 'a temporary disadvantage for the one perceiving evil.'
In fantasy, we can talk about right and wrong, and good and evil, and do it with a straight face. We can discuss morality or ethics, and believe that these things are important, where you cannot in mainstream fiction. It's part of the reason why I believe fantasy is perhaps the oldest form of literature in the world, at least in the western canon. You go back not simply to Beowulf but The Epic of Gilgamesh.
And it survives pervasively today. People in the field of science fiction and fantasy are willing to accept that the magic realists are fantasy writers, but to the world at large, 'Oh no, that's not fantasy, that's literature.' Yes it is fantasy. And a lot of other things, that are published as mainstream, really are fantasy but not identified as such. We really have quite a pervasive influence.
Where did the idea of the Wheel of Time come from?
If you mean simply the concept of time as a wheel, that comes from the Hindu religion, though many cultures have or had a cyclical view of the nature of time. If you mean the books, then the idea came from many things. From wondering what it really would be like to be tapped on the shoulder and told, "You were born to save mankind. And, by the way, you’re supposed to die in the end, it seems." I wondered what a world might be like where the feminist movement was never necessary simply because no one is surprised to see a woman as a judge or ruler, a wagon driver or a dock hand. There’s still some surprise at a woman as a soldier—a matter of upper body strength, and weapons that need upper body strength—but by and large, the question of a woman not being able to do a job just doesn’t arise. I wondered what it wold be like if the "wise outsider" arrived in a village and said, "You must follow me on a great quest," and the people there reacted the way people really react when a stranger shows up and offers to sell them beachfront property at incredibly low prices. I wondered about the source of legends, about how events are distorted by distance—either spatial or temporal—about how any real events that might have led to legends would probably be completely unrecognizable to us. This is getting entirely too involved, so let’s just say that the books grew out of forty-odd years of reading everything I could get my hands on in any and every subject that caught my interest.
When are you hoping to have Book Nine released (do you have a title and is it possible to know what it is)? Is it also possible to give us a teaser to what the next book will be about?
The next book will be called Winter's Heart. The good lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I expect to finish the writing by the end of May 2000, and my American and British publishers are planning to put it out in November 2000. As for teasers, read and find out. Though I expect Tor Books will post the prologue on their website, as they have done for the last few volumes.
Is it possible to know how many volumes the Wheel of Time will be?
Sigh! At least three more. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s still the case. When I started this, I really believed I could finish it all in four or five books. Maybe six, I said, but I didn’t think it would take that long. By the end of The Eye of the World, I was pretty sure it would have to be six, and by the end of The Great Hunt, I knew it would be more. I have known the last scene of the last book since before I began writing, so I know where I’m heading, but as to how long to get there, I am just putting my head down and writing as hard as I can. Two minutes left in the game, four points down, and we’ve got the ball on our own five-yard line; they’ve been covering the receivers like a blanket and cutting off the outside like pastrami in a cheap deli, so we’re going to do it the old-fashioned way, straight up the middle, pound it down their throats, and nobody slacks off unless he’s been dead a week and can prove it. If you know what I mean. If I can finish it in three more books, I will, but I can’t make any promises on that, just that I will reach the end as soon as I can.
If and when you start another series of books after the Wheel of Time series will you use some of the characters from that series?
No. Absolutely, positively, never under heaven! I have no plans ever to return to this universe once I reach the end. If I have such a compelling idea one day that I simply must go back, then I’ll shift the story so far in time that it might as will be a different universe. Anything else would be doing the same thing over again. For the next set of books, I will be in a completely different universe with different rules, different cultures, different people. I expect I will examine some of the same issues—the clash of cultures, the tide of change, the difficulty men and women alike have in figuring out the rules of the game—but I certainly don’t expect to chew my cud twice.
What inspired you to write?
I decided that I would write one day when I was five. I had finished From the Earth to the Moon, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and I stood them up on a table and sat staring at them with my chin on my knees—I was rather more limber, back then!—and decided that one day I would make stories like that. But by age seven or eight, it seemed to me that writers who made a living from writing all lived in Cuba or Italy or France, and at that age, I wasn’t sure about that big a move. I followed my second love, science and math, got my degree in physics and mathematics, and became an engineer. I didn’t try writing at fifteen or twenty, because I didn’t think I had enough experience; I had nothing to say. At thirty, I was injured, spent a month in the hospital, nearly died, and took four months to recuperate enough to return to my office. I decided it was time to put up or shut up about writing one day, and the rest followed.
Have any writers influenced you?
Yes, I think so. I believe that the major influences on my writing are Jane Austen, John D. MacDonald, Mark Twain, Louis L'Amour and Charles Dickens.
Do you read fantasy yourself: and are you aware of the other fantasy writers out there?
Do the events of the outside world (i.e. current affairs, politics and the like) affect what you write in your books?
They must filter in, to varying degrees. I follow the world news assiduously, and I can’t see how I could keep events in the world from affecting events in the books. But it happens when and as I choose. Refugees in Kosovo, ethnic cleansing, famine in Africa, civil wars, upheavals, floods, whatever—you might say I use those events to give authenticity to similar events in the books. I don’t like preaching, but I always hope my readers will think a little beyond the story, and I think that acquired authenticity helps.
What is the best thing about being Robert Jordan and the worst?
The best thing is that I get to put my daydreams down on paper and make a living from it! I’m not sure there is a downside. I suppose that people always want to know when the next book will be coming out—even when they are getting me to sign the latest book, which they have just purchased and haven’t even begun yet.
What does the future hold for you?
Well, I’d like to catch a thousand-pound black marlin, a thirty-pound brown trout, and a sixty-pound Atlantic salmon. I’d like to shoot a twenty-four point whitetail and a perfect round in sporting clays. I’d like to get another royal Flush in poker—I got one, once—finally learn how to play go beyond the basics. I’d like to learn to sky dive, and.... Oh. More writing, certainly, for as long as I can find a way to put words on paper. I used to keep notebooks of story ideas, until I realized that I wold need three or four lifetimes to write just the ideas already had. I would like to do different sorts of writing, too. History, stage-plays. I’ve been noodling around lately with the idea of musical composition, too, something I haven’t touched in many years. Given the way medicine advances, I might have lived little more than half my life so far, which means I have a few decades remaining. Not enough to do everything I want to do, but I think I can fill them up.
Oh, Lord. Almost anything. Half the books I read are nonfiction and it can be about anything under the sun. I'm just finishing up a book called Strange Victory, which is about the German defeat of France in 1940. What's fascinating about that is why it happened, because as the author points out, any time computers are allowed to run that scenario—the German invasion, the French defense—the French always win. The French had more tanks and the tanks were just as good. They had more men and the men were just as well trained. They had as many airplanes. Their airplanes were as good.
But what happened was, the French did a couple of things that were very wrong. One, they had a high dependence on advanced technology and the arrogance, if you will, that comes from that, that says that technology will win for us.
They relied on that, and the second thing that happened was that because they had suffered tremendous casualties in World War I, they were very reluctant to suffer casualties again. The politicians were and the country was. And the third thing was that because of the reluctance to suffer casualties, they made all of the decisions be reviewed in Paris. So they had a slow decision-making cycle. If you put those together, does it give you an image of anybody else in the world right now, maybe?
Anyway, the next book up is called The Code Book, and it's about development of codes and ciphers throughout history. As I said, I read about anything and everything... Whatever catches my eye.
Not one-to-one. Not for any given cultures. Well, the Aiel for instance, there are bits of Berber and Bedouin cultures. Zulu. Some things from the Japanese historical cultures. From the Apache Indians. Also from the Cheyenne. I put these things together and added in some things that I also wanted to be true about the culture beyond these real cultures.
Then I began to figure out if these things were true, what else had to be true and what things could not be true. That can be very simple. If you have a culture living in a land where water is scarce, well, obviously they value water. It's necessary for human survival. On the other hand, if they live in the middle of a waterless waste, dealing with crossing rivers or lakes is going to be difficult for them. They don't know how.
I can't pick three characters who are my favorites because my favorite is always whoever I am writing at the moment; that is, whoever is the point of view character for any given scene, I like that person and I like that person more than anyone else. I think that's a very basic human emotion. We like ourselves. And the reason that sacrificing yourself for someone else is such a big thing is because we do like ourselves very strongly. Now, if I don't like that character that I'm writing more than I like any of the others, then the character doesn't come out as being real.
There's something tainted in the writing. Something false.
Because I'm trying to get inside that character's skin, inside their head while I'm doing it. My wife will surprise the devil out of me. I'll come into the house with the day's writing, and before I've even said a word, she'll say to me, "Oh, you've been writing Padan Fain today, haven't you?"
And what's really frightening about it is one, I haven't said a word, and two, that even if it wasn't Padan Fain, it was somebody else that you really don't want to be alone with.
Before they saw me, they had assumed that Robert Jordan was the penname of a woman, because, they said, no man could write women that well.
Although I seem to remember an interesting bit here about you not wanting to meet him after he'd just written somebody like Hannibal Lector. Sometimes he'd come down for dinner and Harriet, without him having said a word, would say, "You've been writing Padan Fain again, haven't you?" And although it would not always be Padan Fain, it would be one of the non-pleasant characters.
When he writes he prefers not to read any fantasy as it distracts him; he starts editing other people's work. When he reads fantasy he likes books by: J.V. Jones, Robert Holdstock, Terry Pratchett, etc.
Before he started writing The Wheel of Time series he has written Conan nooks, a Romance novel, a Western novel and even ballet reviews (and much, much more...). One of the questions asked by the public was why he often repeats a lot of stuff in a very detailed way. Jordan said, "I hate minimalism. It is cheap. I write very cinematically. I want to paint a picture and when characters are involved I want to be sure the reader knows who it is."
If you want to be a writer, go be an accountant. If you want to write, write.
I know a lot of people who want to be a writer, and it's a very different thing from wanting to write.
It doesn't do any good to think about writing. It doesn't do any good to talk about writing. It doesn't do any good to go to cafés and sit there in your black turtle neck sweater with a coffee or beer and impress the girls with the fact that you are a writer, if what you have is the same three chapters sitting in a drawer that have been there for the last five years.
You write. You send it to a publisher. And when you've put it in the mail, you start writing again.
You send it to a publisher because the act of creation is not complete until you have an observer. It doesn't matter whether it's writing, or painting, or sculpting. If a painter sticks a painting in a closet, if a sculptor throws a drop cloth over the sculpture, the act of creation is not complete. Completion happens when you put it in front of an observer.
I don't think so many people want to write—I think people want to be writers. Dorothy Parker said, 'I love having written, but I hate writing.' I think it's the same with a lot of people. And everybody believes that they have a story in them—everyone wants to believe that they could do it if they wanted to.
They think they have a story, and maybe they do. But just because you have a story inside you, doesn't mean you can write it, any more than having a gallstone means you can pass it. I no longer believe that everybody can write. It's not that easy.
When parents ask me how they can encourage little Johnny's talent for writing, I say that no good writer had a Norman Rockwell childhood. It's a truthful answer. I look at all the good writers I know personally, the good painters, the good sculptors, and they all had unquiet, even unpleasant childhoods. I say, 'Look. I can't guarantee this won't turn your child into a psychotic—but the psychotic may be a writer.'
I learned to read when I was four. My parents would go out to gatherings of friends. Two, three or sometimes four nights a week there would be—I hesitate to call it a party—music and dancing, that was it.
My 16-year-old brother was sometimes stuck with babysitting the brat. He wanted to keep my hands out of his goldfish bowl and his terrarium, and keep my hands off his balsa wood planes. And he found that if he read to me and moved his finger along the line, I would sit beside him and stare at the page.
Now he was not about to read children's books: he was reading me fairly adult novels. I don't know when I made the connection between the words he was saying and the symbols on the page. But one night my parents came home, he stuck the book back on the shelf, and I wanted more. So I pulled the book down and struggled through to the end. 'White Fang': that was the first book I ever read, if you want to call it reading. I did get a sense of the story.
When my brother found out that I could do this, he started to supply me with books because that would keep me quiet. When he got guilty about letting me take books off my parents' shelves, he would bring me a book for a 10- or 12-year-old. My great uncles also supplied me with books, so I had a great clutch of pre-World War I boys' books.
I did think about writing when I was very little. But writers didn't seem to make a living in the United States as writers. All sorts of fellows wrote books but they all had something else they did for the money. That's the way it seemed. And those who did, lived in Cuba or the South of France or Italy. I might have been precocious but I wasn't so sure about moving to Italy. . .
Essentially I stayed in Vietnam until it was time to get out of the army. Then I went back to school and got my degrees: a Bachelor of Science in maths and one in physics.
I had everything lined up to go to graduate school for a doctorate in quantum optics: I was very interested in theoretical physics. But I was tired of school, and I wanted to get on with my life. The government at this point was recruiting engineers, physicists and others, who they then sent to a school to study nuclear engineering. So I became an engineer, and for a long time I designed procedures to test and overhaul reactors on United States naval vessels.
I had always said, 'One day I will write.' Then when I was 30 I was walking back from a dry dock to my office, and I had a fall and tore up my knee very severely. There were complications in the surgery, I nearly died, I spent a month in the hospital, and I spent three and a half months recuperating before I could walk well enough to go back to the office. During that time I reached burnout in reading. I remember picking up a book by an author I knew I liked, reading a few paragraphs and tossing it across the room and saying, 'Oh God, I could do better than that.' Then I thought, 'All right son, it's time to put up or shut up.'
And so I wrote my first novel. It has never been published although it's been bought by two publishers, and a lot of good came out of it, including meeting my wife.
I finished the novel within three and a half months, writing longhand on legal yellow pads. When I went back to work I typed it up in the evenings and made the changes, and sent it off to a publisher. The best I was hoping for was a letter saying, 'Not quite good enough but if you work at it you can get there.' I was very surprised to get an enthusiastic letter back offering to buy the novel. Then I tried to negotiate some minor points of the contract—I didn't have an agent—and I was equally shocked to get a letter back withdrawing the offer. (The publisher believed that a beginning writer should not quibble.)
It didn't matter, because I decided I would ignore the second letter. The first letter said I could write. There were things happening at work that I found very irritating. So I cleared my desk and I completed every project in the pipeline, and I laid down my resignation. 'You can't go!' I said, 'Read the resignation. I'm going.' I was told, 'If you do this, you'll never work for the United States government again.' I said, 'Could I have that in writing?'
My wife once said to me—when I'd been writing for ten or fifteen years—that I could always go back to being a nuclear engineer. And I said to her, 'Harriet, would you let someone who quit his job to go write fantasy anywhere near your nuclear reactor? I wouldn't!'
I leaped right into writing, and I know a lot of writers who have done that. Other people need to develop the facility.
I know as many different ways of writing as I know writers. To develop your own way of writing, read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Especially read what you want to write, and write what you like to read. . . because if you don't like to read it, you won't be able to write it.
I knew from the beginning how the story of 'The Wheel of Time' started, and I knew the last scene of the last book, I knew major scenes along the way, and I knew how I wanted my major characters to end up. But I underestimated the time it would take me to write the story, or overestimated how densely I could write. In the beginning I really thought I could do it in four or five books. By the end of the third I knew there wasn't a chance of finishing the story in six books, which led to confusion among fans. 'Oh you promised it would be finished in six!' They would like to have completion, and so would I.
On the computer are about two megabytes of notes on individual Aes Sedai, another two megabytes or so notes about Aes Sedai organization, the structure, the laws, the customs, their sexual relations. But the story itself is all up here in my head.
A lot of people are as fascinated with the individual characters as they are with the story. They talk to me about the characters as if they are people they know. I've tried to make them seem like real people—they're not perfect, they lie to one another sometimes, they try to put the best face on things even with friends. I've tried to make the world seem a place solid enough for people to visualize, not just a backdrop for the characters.
As soon as I realized I was going to be writing a lot from inside a woman's head, I wanted to write women that women thought were women. I thought getting myself into a woman's skin would be the hard thing.
Certainly I talk to my wife: she's my editor as well as my wife, so she's intimate with the books. Sometimes I'll ask her, 'Do you think this character would behave in this fashion?' I also read books written by women for women, I read magazines, and I eavesdrop on women sometimes. It's a low trick but it's the only way to find out how women talk when men aren't around.
One of the best compliments I got was very early, when I was touring for the 'Dragon Reborn'. Some women said that until they saw me they believed Robert Jordan was the pen name of a woman. I thought, 'All right, I did it!'
I've tried to write in layers. In addition I've tried to write each book so that every time you read it, you're standing in a different place, you're reading a slightly different book. And when you read the third book it shifts your position again. Things you thought were innocuous are important, and things you thought meant one thing, meant another.
Even if you do it unconsciously, you have to refer to religion if you're writing fantasy. You're stepping into the realm of the supernatural and so you're stepping into the realm of religion.
A few years ago I found myself thrown into the company of theoretical physicists on panels. I thought, 'I'm not going to be able to talk with these men because my knowledge of this field is 25 years out of date.' But I found that I could hold my own not by talking physics but by talking theology.
One of my themes is (and it's one reason I wrote the books as fantasies) there is good, there is evil, there is right, there is wrong—lit does exist. If you do that in a mainstream novel you are accused of being judgmental unless you've chosen the right political viewpoint.
Maybe it's not always easy to tell which is the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do. 'Good and evil—but relative to what?' This deconstructionism irritates the devil out of me. Situational ethics began as a way of making fine moral choices, but it's become this monster in so many people's minds: it now means there is no right, there is no wrong. 'Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.' That really doesn't work unless you intend to carry a gun all the time.
What I believe goes into my stories. I'm not trying to preach. I believe these things, but I'm trying to tell stories. All my characters of course believe things I don't believe.
To write, you have to have discipline. The discipline can vary. It depends on what other job you have. If you say, 'I'm going to write one hour a day seven days a week,' that's enough if you have another job. It's a commitment.
Maybe you'll say, 'I'm going to write one page that every day that I'm satisfied with. If I knock it out in ten minutes, I'll quit. If I have to sit there half a night, I'll stay with it.' If you do that, at the end of a year you've got 365 pages of manuscript and that is not a fat novel, but it's a novel.
For me, I write seven days a week, 8-10 hours a day, sometimes more. This is how I make my living. I don't have to go off to an office or a factory.
If my wife wants us to go somewhere for a day, that's fine. But there've been times when she's actually brought me down to the front porch where I've found a fishing guide waiting. She'll say, 'The man has already been paid to take you fishing. Go get in his truck. Go!'
No, he doesn't. He sometimes tries to clear up misconceptions that people have gotten. (He does admit that there have been times that he has made mistakes [put down a wrong eye-color (probably a reference to the Faile/Moiraine gaze at Perrin in The Dragon Reborn) / blinked and missed an editor's typo], but this is not what he's talking about.)
But he does try to use things that have been there a long time, and he likes to plant seeds, so that things don't fall out of the blue sky (the major reason I love WoT so much). Giving us the little tidbits of information that don't mean anything now, but that in three books will come around again. The question about how many of these seeds there are got RAFOd.
The standard 'Harriet saying you've been writing Padan Fain again, haven't you?' anecdote came along. [Now I remember that the character he mentioned actually writing was Semirhage.]
He again mentioned the list of writers: Holdstock, Powers, Ford, Friedman, Jones.
He likes George R.R. Martin's books, gave him a quote for his first book.
Well, I do... It's getting absorbed in the work, really, rather than getting absorbed in the world. I focus. When I used to play football, American football, we were calling it 'in the zone'. It's a total focus, so that eh... In football, American football, everybody else is suddenly moving half a step slower, almost as in slow motion. Peripheral vision extends. I can see facial twitches. I know who has the ball. I mean, I can see him, it's almost as if a faint glow comes up, but I can't hear the crowd. It's all dead silence, but I can hear the other players breathing, and ... it's a very strange situation.
You get in the zone with the writing and here I am at my desk. My computer, the monitor. And here is a window looking into the side-garden [waving to the left], and over there [waving to the right] is a glass-paint door, looking into the long-garden behind our house.
Now we have had heavy rainstorms and windstorms that drenched everything, that broke branches, were beating bamboo against this window [the left], there had to be bamboo hitting against this window, had broken branches down on the driveway over there [the right]. [...] and he never noticed any of it when in the zone with writing.
As of right now, what are your plans for supplemental books? Could you give us your plans in regards to the upcoming short novels, a second Illustrated Guide, etc.? Do you have any plans on when you might release them in relation to the upcoming books?
The first short novel is to be an expansion, or rather, re-writing, of New Spring. I had to crop and compress in order to fit the story that I wanted to tell into the required space for a novella, but this time, I intend to simply do it without regard to length. That isn't to say that it will be the length of the books in The Wheel of Time. I expect it to be about sixty thousand words, give or take. The other two short novels will be centered around two other events before the main story that I've often been asked about. How did Tam al'Thor end up back in the Two Rivers with his wife and the child, Rand? And, how did Moiraine arrive in the Two Rivers just in the nick? The intention is to release them in between the larger books of The Wheel.
As for supplemental books, the only thing I intend at present is a sort of Encyclopedia Wotiana based on the list I have giving every created word, every name, place, term, etc. That, of course, won't come until the cycle is completed. There wouldn't be any point doing it earlier. I won't say that there will never be anything else, because never has a way of coming back to bite you on the ankle. I once said that I would never do a prequel, yet that's what these short novels are, prequels, but I don't have any other plans. At present, anyway. And if anybody has any suggestions, please keep them to yourself. I am trying to move on, folks.
There is definitely a change in pace from the earlier books to the later ones. Does this reflect a change in style over the last decade, a change in the story's pacing, or something else? What would you say to the critics out there who think you've been doing this just to stretch the series out longer?
In the beginning, I was writing about a very few characters, relatively speaking, on a relatively constricted stage. They were, for the most part, people with very small experience and a very small world view. From the start I expected this to spread out to cover more people over a much wider stage, and for the characters to expand their world view. Nobody is a kid from the sticks any more! Plus which, a little time has to be spent on some side characters, and what might be considered side plots, because they are important to the development of the main plot lines, keys to why things happen in the way that they do. Writing it any other way would require what seems to me to be entirely too much deus ex machina. The things I want to happen not only have to happen, they have to happen in a way that is believable.
In each book, there was has been a widening of scope over the previous books, though I am beginning to narrow it down once again. To some extent, anyway. And, no, I am not trying to stretch it out. I have had the same difficulty with every book from the very beginning. Namely, I could not put into it the amount of the story that I wanted to. Believe me, I will finish WHEEL in as few books as I can while telling the story I want to tell. After all, this is a multi-volume novel. When you set out to run a marathon, it's twenty-six miles and change. Getting a good time over fifteen or twenty miles doesn't mean a thing. You have to reach the finish line, or you might as well not have started. I'd like to finish this race.
You have a very solid international fan base. When the books are translated, do you ever worry that maybe some of the story might be lost in translation?
Not really. The possibility of something being lost in translation is always there, and I have been told by some foreign readers that they buy the English language versions because the translation in their language is terrible. Then again, I've been told that some translations are excellent. And there are always the difficulties of conveying the author's intent versus a literal translation, and difference of meaning or nuance in some phrases from language to language, not to mention colloquialisms, Southernisms, invented words and the like. Worrying too hard about matters over which you have no control will earn you stomach ulcers, but it won't change a thing, so I smile when I hear of a good translation, and when I hear of a bad one, I go look at the goldfish and smoke a pipe.
Do current events and world politics, such as the tragedy on September 11th, ever end up influencing the events within the books? If so, what are some examples?
Only by accident. Any writing is always filtered through the writer, and whatever the writer lives through always changes the filters, but I don't consciously set out to mirror current events in any way.
How has writing such a successful series changed your life? As a result of that success, how has your life changed the story and your writing?
I have to steal an answer from Stephen King, here. I read it in an interview with him, and his answer seemed so obvious, so right, that I said, "But, of course!" The biggest change in my life, and the best thing about having a successful series, is that now I can buy any book I want. I don't have to wait for the paperback or haunt the remainder tables or plow through the second-hand bookstores. I can just buy it. Being able to travel is great, especially when there is fishing to go with it, but being able to buy the books is bloody neat!
As for my life changing the story: no, the story is still the story I set out to write God help me! more than fifteen years ago. My writing, of course, as distinct from the story, almost certainly has been changed by my life. No writer can be so isolated from life that what he lives through has no effect on his writing. Or if he can isolate himself, either his writing isn't worth reading or he himself is nuttier than a fruitcake! But I can't tell you how it has changed, except that I hope it has gotten better. After all this time, I would hope to God I've gotten at least a little better at it.
When you have the choice of many characters in a scene, how do you choose which character you will take the point of view from?
Choosing the POV character is a matter of choosing whose eyes are the best to see a scene. What do I want the reader to know in that scene? What do I want to leave them uncertain about? Since the POV character is the one whose thoughts you have access to, the easiest way to leave someone's motivations, reactions or future plans murky is to have someone else be the POV character. Or, if I want to set a certain tone, or to present events in a particular way, that influences the choice of POV character. Faile and Perrin, for example, will not see the same event in exactly the same way or react to it in the same way, nor will Min and Rand, or Nynaeve and Elayne and Egwene, or Rand and Perrin and Mat.
In a lot of ways WoT to this point could be viewed a series of trilogies—Rand coming to realize who and what he is, Rand rising to power, the Shadow striking back at Rand, and now (perhaps) we start moving toward the final showdown at Tarmon Gai'don. Is this a valid way of looking at WoT? And would this have an implication in terms of the series ending in twelve books?
No, it really isn't a valid way of looking at the books. From the beginning, I haven't thought in terms of trilogies, but in terms of one long novel. Longer than I had hoped, in truth. I tried from the start to structure things so that the books would not only bear re-reading, but so that re-reading a book after having read later volumes would mean that you saw what was happening in a slightly different way, yet with the first few books, I also tried to make each volume entirely self-contained (with varying degrees of success) so that anyone could pick up any book and start there. After all, I really had no way of predicting that the earlier books would remain in print, especially not all this time! Eventually, though, I decided that I could not waste time on explaining again what I had already explained. The Wheel of Time is one rather long novel. You really have to start with The Eye of the World, or you won't understand what is happening, why it is happening, or who these people are.
Do you ever feel like other fantasy writers are envious of the success that WoT has attained?
I shouldn't think so. I mean, I'm not jealous of Stephen King, and he has a lot more success than I do. So do a number of other writers. Some people sell fewer books than you do, and some people sell more. There really isn't any point in jealousy. You just keep trying to write the best book you can. Besides, remember that Moby Dick was both a commercial and a critical flop when it was first published. Anybody want to try naming the top ten sellers of that year? I didn't think so. Of course, I hope for the longevity of MobyDick (I don't think there is a writer who doesn't!) but I trust you get the point.
Well, in terms of history, I see some similarity to the writing of a fantasy novel and the writing of a history novel. In both cases you are presenting a world that is totally strange and alien to the reader. And if you don't believe that, read a good novel set three hundred years ago, one that really describes the life and you'll find very little recognizable in it.
So there is a great deal of similarity there. The major difference is that if you're writing a good historical novel you must place the historical events where they actually happened, not shift them about at your own convenience. In a fantasy novel you can shift history for your own convenience. It's a great...a great aid.
That's, that's a part of it. Another part of it is that I felt I could discuss things writing fantasy that I couldn't discuss writing in other genres, things that I would have to...sidestep.
There's a great deal of the struggle between good and evil. I'm trying to decide what is good, and what is evil, what's right, what is wrong, am I doing the right thing? Not by preaching; simply the characters keeping face with a situation or they're gonna make a decision; they don't know enough, don't have enough information, and they don't know what the results are going to be; oh they know what the results are gonna be and they're wrong. We'll give them that. At least wrong a lot of the times. And they have to blunder on and blunder through anyway, cause that's all there is to do.
But if I wrote about that, if I tried to say that there is a right, there is a wrong, there is good, there is evil, it's tough to tell the difference, but you really have to make the try. ... It's worth the effort to try. If I said that in a mainstream novel, it would be laughed out of town.
Jordan stated that the interviewers had misinterpreted what Terry said about masterpiece, because the definition of masterpiece was not the most magnificent work. The masterpiece is the proof that you have the skills to work alone, and he considered his first novel to be that.
The role of the editor is the first set of eyes, to tell you what you are too close to the book to see. The person who tells you that yes, you made a beautiful leg, and yes the it is perfectly, but you're ignoring the fact that it's longer than the other three legs on the table.
Oh, Rando, I'm really sorry about this, but Jordan overthrew your toh-toes argument.
Pratchett was talking about you having to take care in fantasy not to use words like 'sandwich', unless you had the sandwich guy appear in your story.
Jordan disagreed: the writer is simply translating... And their word for a bit of unidentifiable meat wrapped in between some...two slices of greasy bread would translate as 'sandwich.' But that's not what they call it at all, that's just what you call it in English.
The talk continued in the direction of fan fiction, with Jordan talking about stacks of paper he sometimes received. Sitting there I felt certain the female Dragon debate I'd given him was doomed, but listening to this again now, I have better hopes.
People occasionally send me various compilations of FAQs and things of that sort they've done about the books, or analyses of the books, and I will occasionally read that if I have time, but fan fiction, or other fiction, or 'I've read this book and would you please tell me what you think of it?' or stories, it gets returned to them.
I do not read it, I'm sorry. It's not because I think that anything is going to compete with my works, it's not, but it's because what Terry said, there are bozos out there.
I was accused in an anonymous letter to my publisher, of plagiarizing. That The Dragon Reborn was plagiarized. Now this infuriated me to such an extent that I'm going to incredible efforts to find out who'd written the damned letter. I knew it was a nutcase bozo somewhere, because I knew that every word was ripped out of the inside of my skull. And I'm going to find him, and push him into a corner, and beat him half to death with my walking stick [laughter], because he made me that mad, that he would make this accusation against me. And this was...in an anonymous letter, who is not making any effort, he's not trying to make any money out of it, he just wants to cause trouble.
There are guys out there who I know who said 'you know, I have this great idea' and the great idea they want to share with you is worth about as much as 'let's write a book about pilots' and the worst case is when they see something in the book and say, and they think that they can claim it was stolen from them. So I will not read fan fiction, I will not read anything that somebody sends to me. The only things I read are the books I buy.
The Wheel of Time has been called the best fantasy epic of all time, and you've been compared with legendary fantasist J.R.R. Tolkien. How do you deal with all this adulation?
I grin nervously a lot. It's very nice. But my high school football coach gave me one of the best pieces of advice that someone in my position can have. He said, "Saturday morning, you can read the newspaper and you can believe how good they say you are. Monday, when you come to practice, nobody knows your name, and you have one week to get ready for the only game you'll ever have to make a reputation." So it's very nice to look around and have people pat me on the back and say, "Oh, you're wonderful, you're great, you're tremendous," but I know the end of this. I go and sit in front of the computer, and nobody knows my name, and I have one book to try and make a reputation.
One of the things that sets you apart from many other fantasy authors is your command of plot. Your stories are intricate and full of hidden puzzles. How did you learn to write like that?
I don't know. I read. I never took a course in writing of any sort. The only literature courses I ever took in college were required courses, since my degrees were in physics and mathematics. I never wrote anything that wasn't required until I was 30. I knew that I wanted to write one day. I knew that from the age of 5. But that was someday, after I had a stable career. And then 30 came, and I sat down and started writing. Where any of it came from, I don't know. At that point, from 30 years of reading everything I could get my hands on.
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.
It seems that some of your readers don't think of your novels as fantasy so much as a really fine-grained history of a world that might have existed or might yet exist. Do you perceive your world as real?
I think that I have to. Any writer has to try and think of his world as real, because if he thinks of it as a construct, that's going to come across to the readers. It's very much like the question I'm often asked: who is my favorite character. It's whoever I'm writing at the moment. Even someone like Padan Fain or Semirhage. Most people like themselves, and if I don't like the character I'm writing, then it's going to come across to the reader that this character doesn't like himself or herself. My wife says she can tell when I've been writing Padan Fain or somebody like that when I come into the kitchen in the evening. I make myself see this as a real place when I'm working on it. That way it comes through, I hope, that I see more than I write.
Are there particular historical eras that influence your stories?
Well, to give you an example of the way these things work... the Aiel. They have some bits of Japanese in them. Also some bits of the Zulu, the Berbers, the Bedouin, the Northern Cheyenne, the Apache, and some things that I added in myself. They are in no way a copy of any of these cultures, because what I do is say, "If A is true, what else has to be true about this culture? If B is true, what else has to be true?" And so forth.
In this way I begin to construct a logic tree, and I begin to get out of this first set of maybe 10, maybe 30 things that I want to be true about this culture. I begin to get around an image of this culture, out of just this set of things, because these other things have to be true. Then you reach the interesting part, because this thing right here has to be true, because of these things up here. But, this thing right here has to be false, because of those things up there. Now, which way does it go, and why? You've just gotten one of the interesting things about the culture, one of the really interesting little quirks.
To me, that in itself is a fascinating thing—the design of a culture. So that's how the Aiel came about. There are no cultures that are a simple lift of Renaissance Italy or 9th-century Persia or anything else. All of them are constructs.
Are there any characters in the books that are based on historical figures?
No. The groups are sometimes in ways based on historical organizations. The Whitecloaks have a lot of, say, Teutonic Knights. The Aes Sedai organization comes from the way convents were organized between A.D. 1000 and 1800, a time when there was real political power behind convents.
There is one real-life individual who has contributed a lot. My wife has given me, involuntarily, at least one major character trait for all of the major female characters in the books. I'm very mean to her, I won't tell her which character traits I have taken.
The women characters in your books are really interesting, not at all the cardboard cutouts that appear so often in fantasy. Did you do that consciously?
In part. In this world, given the history that divides this world, women had to have real political power. But on the other hand, I simply consider women to be more interesting if there's more about them to be interesting. A real live Barbie might be a lot of fun for a weekend if you're 22, but after that there's not much to it. Empty calories.
They are complex women, strong women, the sort of women I've always found interesting. As my grandfather said, "Boy, would you rather hunt rabbits or leopards?" No choice there.
Is it ever hard for you to write?
No... it's hard for me not to write. I'm on tour, so I don't have time to write, but I have my computer with me because maybe I'll have time. Maybe. And the notion that I would have the time and not be able to work is horrifying.
What's your writing day like?
Breakfast, answer the mail, answer phone calls, then sit down and start writing. I don't stop until lunch. About six or seven in the evening I quit and go in for dinner. If the book is really going hot, I might work later. It's eight or nine hours of writing, usually, and I do that seven days a week. If I decide to take a day and go fishing, since I know I don't do that very often, I don't mind doing that.
What about people who have compared your books to the Koran or the Bible?
I'm writing stories. I'm not creating a religion. I'm not starting a movement. I hope they're good stories and that they're entertaining people, but they're still just stories.
Are you going to take a break before starting the next book?
Well, when I finish this tour, I will go home and have Thanksgiving, and then I'll start writing the next book. So I'll take a short break, then start on it.
You've said before that you know where this series is going to end.
I've known the last scene of the last book for 15 years. I could have written it easily 15 years ago, and it would be only changes in the wording, not in what happens, from that to now.
Uhm, no, there is no possibility that it will never end. I will wrap up all of the major storylines, I will wrap up some of the minor storylines. Other minor storylines will be left hanging, and I'm going to do worse than that. I am going to set a hook in the last scene of the last book, that will make some people who don't believe what I say, think that I am setting up a sequel. What I am doing, what I will be doing, is trying to leave you with a view of a world that is still alive. One hope that some fantasies have is that when you reach the end of the book, or you reach the end of the trilogy, all the characters' problems are solved. All of the things that they have been doing are neatly tied of in a bow, all of their world's problems have been solved. And there's no juice left, there's no life left. you think 'I ought to set this world on a shelf and put a bell-jar on top of it, to keep the dust off.
When I finish the Wheel of Time, I want to do it in such a way that you will think it's still out there somewhere, people still doing things. This story has been concluded, this set of stories has been concluded, but they're still alive.