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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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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 A book contract signed by Jordan was rescinded, reputedly due to "excessive demands."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.
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. :-) )
Yes, Regan O'Neal is my name for Historical Fiction. The first thing I ever wrote was Fantasy, at least I thought it was. It will never be published now because I'm a better writer now. I wrote this thing and I sent it to DAW books because I heard that DAW published first novels. So I sent it to DAW and got back a letter from Donald Wolheim that was exceedingly laudatory, and obviously he had written it at home and typed it himself because he had scratched out words and made changes in pen and his signature was cramped...and he made me an offer.
And I asked for some changes in the contract. Nothing very big. I asked for some changes in subsidiary rights that I never expected to be exercised because I wanted to establish that I wasn't going to accept just anything that was offered. But I didn't know enough about the industry to know if I was being offered a minuscule advance or a fairly good advance.
Yes. And I found out that he didn't like beginning writers to ask for changes. He thought that beginning writers should accept what was offered. So the result of my asking for the changes was that I got a letter back saying, "Dear Sir, in view of your contract demands we are withdrawing our offer. Sincerely, Donald A. Wolheim."
I looked at the two letters and I didn't know why I'd gotten the second, as I hadn't demanded anything. It was actually a very diffident letter, and I had ended by saying, "If any of these requests seem out of line, please let me know." Thus throwing away everything, but I knew that I had no real knowledge of publishing.
So, I decided to ignore the second letter because the first letter said; you can write.
That novel that I thought of as a Fantasy was later bought by Jim Baen while he was at Ace as a Science Fiction novel. You may know that Jim doesn't think very highly of fantasy, so he bought it as SF while DAW had bought it as Fantasy. Then Susan Allison came in to replace him when he went to TOR and she didn't like it, so I got the rights back and it's sat on the shelf all this time.
Its title was Warriors of the Altaii, and you will never see it, or know anything about it. I have not destroyed the manuscript, because it has powerful juju...but in my will I have provisions to have that manuscript burned. But until then I'm afraid to get rid of the juju that resides in it.
In a way that novel led to me meeting my wife, and it led to me getting my first novel published. Because she knew about that manuscript, when Tom Doherty got the rights to do the Conan novels, he needed the first one very fast so that it would come out the same time the movie came out. And he knew that I had once written a 98,000 word novel in 13 days.
So he thought I could write something fast, and he was right, and I liked it. It was fun writing something completely over the top, full of purple prose, and in a weak moment I agreed to do five more and the novelization of the second Conan movie.
I've decided that those things were very good discipline for me. I had to work with a character and a world that had already been created and yet find a way to say something new about the character and the world. That was a very good exercise.
Growing up, he'd often told about lining up I think Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Jack London, and thinking, "I want to write books."
He joined the Army in 1968 and served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.
He returned to begin college at The Citadel as a veteran student and took a job as a civilian nuclear engineer working for the United States Navy.
And it was during this time that he took a hard look at his life and decided to become a full-time writer.
He was in the hospital with a blood clot when he did the famous—the thing so many people talk about doing—he threw a book across the room and said, "I can do better than that." He wrote something called Warriors of the Altaii. I read it, and...no, it wasn't what I was interested in. But it showed he could do it. So I gave him a contract for a book that became The Fallon Blood. We'd been seeing a lot of each other. He brought a tiger claw from Vietnam to show my son. Will came running upstairs to my office one day and said, "Mom, he'll take me to see the Star Trek movie." And I said, "Can I come too?" And he said yes. And I guess that was our first date.
She edited Jim, and they fell in love, and they got married, and we all became friends.
By the time he was working on The Fallon Pride, he had already said to me and you both that he wanted to write a great epic fantasy.
Yep. He wanted to write everything. I remember you called and you'd gotten the rights from Conan Properties to do a Conan novel, but you wanted it in time for the first Conan movie. Not that it would be connected to the movie, but obviously to get a ride on it.
Jim Baen was working with us at the time. I said: "Why don't you ask Baen?" Jim said: "Baen doesn't like muscular fantasy, that's why." I remembered the first thing of Jim/Robert Jordan's that I ever saw, a manuscript called Warriors of the Altaii, which has still not been published. I think four or five contracts came out of that manuscript, including my own contract. A first novel is so dangerous because so many people start novels and never finish them, but I saw that he could indeed finish something. It was pretty muscular fantasy. I don't remember anything about it except the hero is shackled to a stone wall in a prison cell. The stone floor rumbles open and great tentacles emerge from it at the end of the chapter.
So I asked him about the Conan novel, and he said no. Three weeks later Doherty hadn't given up, and he called me and said: "I can't think who else would do." I went back to Jim and said please, and he finally said he'd do it. And then he liked it so much that he did six more.
He cut his teeth on those.
And then, after he stopped writing them, he edited a bunch of Conans. Once he had to take a plane somewhere and said: "Harriet, I forgot to write the sales copy for Conan the Whatever‑It‑Was", so I ended up having to write it, about Conan up against the thieving little wazir. I read as few pages as possible, you know, to get the hang of that thing. The sell line ended up being "Sell that Conan down, boys. Turn that Conan round. Rack that Conan round."
Those Conan books were fun, though. I never read his first novel [Warriors of the Altaii], but if it was like the Conan books, why didn't we ever publish it?
Well, because I sent it to [Jim] Baen at Ace. Baen bought it for Ace, so it was sold. But then he left Ace, and Susan Allison came in, and she didn't like it. Finally, after about a year he wrote her or called her and said: "Would you like me to do some stuff on it?" I don't know what she said, but Jim said, it's the women, and she said I'm so glad you understand. "Tell me what you want me to change and I'll be glad to do it."—another year goes by and nothing happens. I said: "Honey, I think you need to ask for the rights back." He did, and she gave him the rights back.
So, that manuscript got him a contract with me. It got him a contract with Ace. Before we ever met, he'd originally sent it to Donald Wollheim at DAW, who sent him a long single‑spaced letter with no margins, obviously written at home. Jim had been taking a course in business law of some kind, because he knew he wanted to write, so he wrote back and said: "Thank you so much, Mr. Wollheim, but I wondered if I could have a little more? Five percent of the movie rights?" Or maybe it was the foreign rights. Wollheim wrote him a one‑line letter back: "In view of your contract attitude, I withdraw my offer." So that's three contracts this book has given him.
But we didn't publish The Eye of the World until 1990, so why didn't we ever do Warriors of the Altaii? It would have seemed a natural fit while he was doing the Conans.
I don't know. We never thought of it. We were busy. I guess I'm embarrassed to say I think it maybe was sort of like a John Norman novel . . . not something you’d really want to build a career on.
Warriors of the Altaii needed a lot of work. At one point he decided it needed a rewrite, and I said: "Just don't." But old Warriors glows with a strange green light. All those contracts came slurping out of that book. It's the book that made me give him the historical contract. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. He could follow through. And he was a wild bird.