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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One common theme in magic systems across fantasy is the use of artifacts to focus, increase or do something specific with the magic. Inclusion of artifacts is something you have avoided in your magic systems (although I will say I haven't missed them). Is there a reason for this? How has your writing changed with the 'forced' introduction of artifacts (i.e. finishing the Wheel of Time)? Do you plan on using artifacts in your own works after you finish the Wheel of Time?
I've not done artifacts for the same reason I've not yet done a lot of things—not because I don't want to, but because I like to keep the focus in a given book or books. There wasn't room for yet another extrapolation in that direction when writing the Mistborn books, and the magic system didn't really allow for it.
However, I think there is a lot of room to explore magic artifacts. I've long been wanting to do something that refines magic and uses technology based on it, in kind of a magic-punk sort of way. Kings, for instance, does use artifacts and magical items—very specific kinds, mind you, that are built into the framework of the magic system. But they're there. One of the big elements of this world will be the existence of Shardplate (magically enhanced, powered plate armor) and Shardblades (large, summonable swords designed to cut through steel and stone.)
This isn't really because of the WoT—I wrote the original draft of this book long before I was published, let alone working on the WoT—but I have always lilked the use of artifacts in the WoT world, and it has been fun to use some of them in that setting.
Is there any information about Way of Kings that you can give us at this time?
I've wanted to do a long epic for a while. I guess that's what comes from reading Jordan and the others while growing up. And so, way back in the late 90's—when I was experimenting with my style—I started working on ideas for a longer form series. I knew the real trick for me would be to do it in a way that it didn't feel stale after just a few books; there needed to be enough to the world, the magic, and the plot arcs that I (and hopefully readers) would keep interested in the series for such a long time.
What it gives me (the thing that I want in doing a longer epic) is the chance to grow characters across a larger number of books. Dig into their pasts, explore what makes them think the way they do, in ways that even a trilogy cannot. In Kings, I don't want to do a longer 'saga' style series, with each book having a new set of characters. I want this to be one overarching story.
One of the things that has itched at me for long time in my fantasy reading is the sense of loss that so many fantasy series have. I'm not complaining, mind you—I love these books. But it seems like a theme in a large number of fantasy books is the disappearance of magic and wonder from the world. In Tolkien, the Elves are leaving. In Jordan, technology is growing and perhaps beginning an age where it will overshadow magic. It's very present in Brooks, where the fantasy world is becoming our world. Even Eddings seemed to have it, with a sense that sorcerers are less common, and with things like the only Dragons dying, the gods leaving.
I've wanted to do a series, then, where the magic isn't going away—it's coming back. Where the world is becoming a more wondrous place. Where new races aren't vanishing, they're being discovered.
Obviously, I'm not the first to approach a fantasy this way. Maybe I'm reading too much into the other books, seeing something that isn't there. But the return of magic is one of the main concepts that is driving me.
Well, that and enormous swords and magical power armor.
The Southwest, particularly. My visits to places like Arches National Park, relatively close to where I live right now, certainly influenced me. More than that—and I've said this in numerous interviews before—I'm a fantasy reader foremost. Before I was a writer I was a reader, and I'm still a reader. As a reader, I grew a little bit annoyed with the generic setting that seemed to recur a lot in fantasy. I won't speak poorly of writers who used it very well—there are certain writers who used it extremely well—and yet a lot of other writers seemed to just take for granted that that's what you did. Which is not the way that I feel it should be done. I think that the genre could go many places it hasn't been before.
When I approached writing the Stormlight Archive—when I approached creating Roshar—I very consciously said, "I want to create something that feels new to me." I'm not the only one who does this, and I'm certainly not the one who does it best, but I wanted a world that was not medieval Europe. At all. I wanted a world that was its own thing. I started with the highstorms and went from there. To a person of our world, Roshar probably does look barren like a wasteland. But to the people living there, it's not a barren wasteland. This is a lush world full of life. It's just that what we equate with lush and full of life is not how that world defines it. In Roshar, a rock wall can be a lush, vibrant, and fertile place. It may look like a wasteland to us, but we're seeing through the eyes of someone who's used to Earth's flora and fauna. I've also said before in interviews that science fiction is very good at giving us new things. I don't see why fantasy shouldn't be as good at doing the same. Perhaps even better. So that's what was driving me to do what I did.
What's it feel like to finally have your baby released to the public? It's probably a very different feeling from any of your other book launches.
Are you more nervous than usual or have the positive ARC compliments made you feel fairly confident?
I'm more nervous than normal. It has been my baby for a long time, and I got Tor to invest so much into it, what with the cover, the interior art, the end pages, the really nice printing, and the sheer length of it. Tor would really rather not publish books of this length. The rest of the series will be shorter; I promised that to them. I do want to warn readers that the 400,000 word length is not going to be the standard for the series. They're probably going to be more like 300,000 words, which is what this one should have been, but I just couldn't get it down. It was right for the book for it to be this length.I'm worried about it for a couple of reasons. Number one, it is a departure for me in a couple of ways. I've been planning a big massive epic for a long time but I only wanted to have one or two big massive epics. My Adonalsium mythos couldn't support multiples of something this long and so a lot of my other books are much more fast-paced and I do wonder what readers are going to think of a much larger more epic story, because it is going to have a different feel. It's happened every time I've released a book though; Warbreaker felt very different from Mistborn, which felt very different from Elantris. Way of Kings feels very different from all of those as well so I'm worried that there are a lot of readers who are not going to like it as much. I hope that there are a lot of readers who are going to like it more, but we'll have to just see what people think of it.
Please explain the arches and symbols that are seen at the beginning of each chapter and why you decided to do them.
The arches and symbols are a series of arches and symbols at the beginnings of chapters.
There's an explanation for you. They rotate and change for every chapter. What they mean should be intuitively obvious to the casual observer, as Robert Jordan used to say.
I decided to use them because I wanted to have interesting things at the start of each chapter. These were done by Isaac. I originally sat down with Isaac and said, "I want to be able to build symbols at the beginning of my chapters. Something like in The Wheel of Time, which I really like, but I don't want to imitate them, I want to go somewhere different. I want to have different pieces that interlock together that form some stonework symbol that's at the beginning of every chapter." I also told him what I wanted the symbols to mean (among other things) and he actually transmogrified all that into an archway. I had originally been planning it to be some sort of inscribed rock stamp or something like a little relief at the beginning of each chapter, but he persuaded me that an archway with a different kind of symbol in the center [would be better]. So, they became arches through Isaac's working with the art and changing things and deciding what would look good visually.
Someone asked if it were hard to write Jasnah, an atheist character, for a devout Christian.
Brandon said he read a lot of atheist message boards for inspiration. Also, it sounded like he'd had the character in his head for a while, but hadn't found the right book to put it in—e.g. he said it would make no sense to put an atheist in a world where gods walk around (i.e. Warbreaker).
I made a comment about the role mythology plays in WoT, and if Brandon was planning on using any real world mythological parallels for the Stormlight Archive.
No, he said that while they play a huge role in WoT, that if he were to include mythological parallels in Stormlight, that they would be parallels of Roshar's own mythology. (So perhaps were going to see Kaladin/Dalinar paralleling the Heralds?)
So my question is, you're planning the Stormlight Archives as this big long ten book series and I think that obviously look at your work with the Wheel of Time the other big long epic series one of the issues that at least some fans perceive is that these series are at least perceived to sag or at least slow down at some point in the middle, people start to get very bogged down and it takes years for the next one to come out, is that something you're considering for your structuring of the Stormlight archives and what are you trying to do to address that?
Excellent question, it is actually something that I've very consciously thought about when designing this story. One of the reasons that I didn't release the Way of Kings when I wrote it back in 2002 is that I hadn't figured out this problem yet, and it's one of the reasons that I shelved the book and re-wrote it from scratch back a couple of years ago.
I really was conscious of it because I have an advantage over authors like George Martin and Robert Jordan, who have had these kinds of accusations levelled at them, in that I've read them! I've read Robert Jordan, and I can see he's kind of pushed his way in the snow for some of us to fall behind and see some of the things that he did even after he said "Boy, I think I might have done that differently." We can learn from that.
What I'm trying to do is -first off the Stormlight archive is divided in my head into 2 five book series, it is a 10 booker but it is divided into two big five book sequences. I do think that will give me more of a vision of a beginning, middle, and end for each of the sequences.
The other thing I'm doing is I consciously did some little thing in the books. One of the reasons we end up with sprawl in epic fantasy series is I think writers start writing side characters and getting really interested in them. The side characters are awesome, they let you see the breadth of the world and dabble in different places, so what I did is I let myself have the interludes in the Way of Kings (I will continue to do those in the future books) and I told myself I can write those interludes but those characters can't become main characters, those characters have to be just glimpses.
The other main thing that I'm doing is that each book in the Stormlight Archives is focused on a character that character gets flashbacks and we get into the back-story and that gives me a beginning middle and end and a thematic way to tie that story together, specifically to that character, which i hope will make each chara- each book feel more individual.
That's another part of the problem with the big long series; they start to blend. If the author starts to view some of them as blending then you stop having big climaxes at the ends of some of them and view them too blended together. This isn't a problem when the series is finished, I think that when the Wheel of Time can be read beginning to end straight through, a lot of this worry about middle-meandering is going to go away because you can see it as a whole. But certainly while you're releasing it, you get just these little glimpses that feel so short.
I feel that if I can take each book and apply it to one character give a deep flashback for each one and thematically tie it to them, each book will have its own identity and hopefully will avoid some of that. That's my goal, who knows if I'll be able to pull it off but it is my intention.
You seem to be pulling it off so far Brandon
Well I only have one book yet! I mean none of these, none of these series- they all started with great first books, in fact I feel that a lot of them are great all the way through but the sprawl issue doesn't usually start to hit til around book four is really where the, where the problems show up.
In reading the Way of Kings a very Ben Hur vibe can be felt from Kaladin., was this intentional and what other genres were your inspiration?
I wouldn’t say that I was specifically shooting for that vibe, certainly I am influenced by all the things around me, I was just looking to tell a really great story, and this is the story that came out. It was Kaladin's story in specific, it was - the genesis of the story was actually the Shattered Plains themselves, the area. I write fantasy and one of the reasons that I write fantasy is I want to tell stories about places that don’t exist, that maybe couldn’t exist in our world and so the geography of the shattered plains is sort of what appealed to me. I’d actually been planning this for many years and extrapolated from there, how would warfare be like in this place and then I extrapolated from there, what are they going to need, what types of troops. And Kaladin as a person was growing separately, and I just wanted the best place to put in- the place of most conflict and it ended up being that.
Plot-wise to be perfectly honest I was looking more at- when I was building this plot- underdog sports narratives. To be perfectly honest, I like to, when I look for inspiration in plotting sequences I like to look far afield to try and take things and pull them into my books so that we aren’t getting some of the same repeated dealings over and over again. But certainly historical works like the ones you mentioned are a big part of my make up as well.
Are the symbols going to be further explained throughout the series?
Yeah, you want me to- let me open this up *opens WoK* what she’s talking about are the symbols right here, this does relate to the magic and to the Knights Radiant. I will eventually explain what it is but for right now it’s just there to be interesting and to look at. It should be telling that one of them ended up on the front of the book, this is actually the same symbol as one of these, just done in a slightly different style. This is what we call in the books the glyphs, the writing system, they actually can be read phonetically, but they are also partially art.
The inspiration for these that I gave to the artist was the Arabic writing, where people actually, often take words and will do them as designs and these beautiful works of art, changing the words, and that’s what happened with the-you probably can’t see that very well- the embossing on this but that’s what happens with the writing system on this world and so the glyphs will usually will write them in the shape of something and that’s one of the glyphs written in the shape of a sword. So that will be explained eventually, it is something for the entire series, every book will have the same end pages like this so slowly over time you will understand that and I haven’t said anything at all about the one in the back, and I don’t intend to for quite a while.
Interesting. There will be Parshendi viewpoints in the second book, and you will be able to see a lot more of that.
Are Parshendi like a hive mind sort of culture?
They are not a hive mind. I thought people might assume that.
But because of the singing, it seems like...
There is a connection. It's more Union than Hivemind. You know about Jung?
Jung's philosophy was that all people are connected.
Oh, like the dream psychologist?
I believe that collective unconscious was one of his terms. So it's not hive mind, but there is—there's something the Parshendi can tap into.
With the singing?
Yeah, like with the singing, where one sings over here, and one sings over there, they are actually in beat with one another even if they start at different times. So there is something there, a connection.
All of the keeps in the Mistborn series are based on real structures I've visited. The mists are based on a trip to Idaho, were I drove through a fog bank at high speeds.
Warbreaker's setting was inspired, in part, by a visit to Hawaii.
Much of Roshar is inspired by tidal pools and coral reefs.
Just wanted to ask how you come up with all your different universes?
You know, it’s hard to say where specifically where they come from. You can point to certain ones and say, Mistborn, Mistborn came from me driving through a fog bank at 80 miles an hour and saying, “Wow that looks cool, can I use that?” And you can point at Warbreaker with me saying, “I’ve done this whole world of ash and I need to do something colorful, let’s build a color based magic system.” Way of Kings is definitely influenced by tidal pools and things like that. And so, each one’s different, it’s just things I see that I think will make interesting stories and settings.