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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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Here's a quote for you:
The Feast of Fools
Celebrated in Tammaz (in Arad Doman and the Borderlands) or Saven (everywhere else), the exact day varying according to locality. A day in which all order is deliberately inverted; the high perform lowly tasks (running errands, serving at table, etc.) while the low do no work and give orders to their usual superiors. In many villages and towns the most foolish person is given a title such as the Lord/Lady of Unreason/Misrule/Chaos or the King/Queen of Fools. Not an honor sought, but for that one day everyone has to obey whatever orders, however foolish, are given by the chosen one. (Called the Festival of Unreason in Saldaea; the Festival of Fools in Kandor; Foolday in Baerlon and the Two Rivers.)
Nynaeve can be very irrational at times, and I don't think it's a matter of distorted perception. A perfect example from her own point of view, in Lord of Chaos: 'Fire and Spirit' (one of Harriet's lovely double-meanings):
Unable to look at Elayne, she started walking again. "You had every right to laugh. I... " She swallowed hard. "I made a complete fool of myself." She had. A few sips, Theodrin said; a cup. And she emptied the pitcher. If you were going to fail, better to have some other reason than that you just could not do it. "You should have sent for that bucket and dunked my head until I could recite The Great Hunt of the Horn without a mistake." She risked a glance from the corner of her eye. Small spots of color rested in Elayne’s cheeks. So there had been mention of a bucket.
"It could happen to anyone," the other woman said simply.
Nynaeve felt her own cheeks heating. When it had happened to Elayne, she had dunked the girl to wash away the wine. "You should have done whatever you needed to... to sober me."
It was quite the oddest argument Nynaeve could remember, with her insisting she had been a total fool and deserved whatever came of it, while Elayne made excuse after excuse for her. Nynaeve did not understand why it felt so refreshing, taking all the blame on herself that way. She could not recall ever doing that before, not without hedging as far as she was able. She very nearly got angry with Elayne for not agreeing that she had been a childish buffoon. It lasted until they reached the small thatched house on the edge of the village where Logain was kept.
"If you don’t stop this," Elayne said finally, "I vow I’ll send for a bucket of water right this instant."
Nynaeve opened her mouth, then closed it again. Even in this newfound euphoria of admitting she had been wrong, that was going too far. Feeling this good, she could not face Logain. Feeling this good, it would be useless anyway, without Moghedien and the bracelet she definitely felt too fine to put on.
And of course, all that was to justify the rough treatment she gave Elayne in Tanchico.
I didn't read all of the conversations you had about it on Twitter and Facebook, and I didn't really have gender roles in mind so much as other things. I understand what you're saying about how his world requires certain gender imbalances—I addressed that sort of offhandedly in my post by saying that the 'in practice' roles in WoT are often not what you would theoretically expect considering the circumstances. And while RJ often made comparisons to various time periods in the real world in reference to technology in particular, I'm not talking about that—I'm talking about the theoretical result of the history of the WoT world. Many of the gender imbalances are logical, but many are not, which is why they don't feel realistic at all to many readers.
The main problem I had with your comments is that you said that anyone who accused RJ of sexism for whatever reason was 'blatantly wrong'. You sort of trivialize those things that we are 'left with' after cutting away the complex and subjective debate over gender roles, but those things we are left with are so pervasive in the novels that they give an overall impression of an old-fashioned and often casually sexist man behind the curtain. This is a big turn-off for some people, and while I feel that those who cannot overlook it are missing out on one of the greatest stories of all time, I understand that it is a legitimate complaint.
As for the female nudity...just no. :p I mean, I know you read all the interviews at one point. 'No Male Nudity' (NMN) was not quite as popular as RAFO, but it was definitely one of his favorite stock answers (especially in reference to movie questions—it was his 'one rule') for a good few years. He was pretty blatant about his preferences there, and while I'm sure he had several cultural influences in mind, in the end it's pretty clear that he just enjoyed writing about naked women more than he enjoyed writing about naked men.
I agree that it's wrong to judge RJ as a person anachronistically, but at the same time, I think it's wrong to make such a blanket statement about the veracity of our claims of sexism in WoT. It's there, and it's real. I agree that some people take the criticism too far without considering certain things—I've had these debates (on non-WoT forums especially) many times over the years—but it seems to me more constructive to criticize the exaggerations, or to criticize each argument on its own merits, than to denounce any and all claims of sexism in WoT in one fell swoop.
I had this scene from The Fires of Heaven in mind, and it sums up many tweets I made on the subject which were omitted:
Moiraine, seeming slight and small beside the others, also looked unruffled, although sweat rolled down her pale nudity and slicked her dark hair to her scalp, with a regal refusal to acknowledge that she had no clothes on. The Wise Ones were using slim, curved pieces of bronze, called staera, to scrape off sweat and the day's dirt.
Aviendha was squatting sweatily beside the big black kettle of hot, sooty rocks in the middle of the tent, carefully using a pair of tongs to move a last stone from a smaller kettle to the larger. That done, she sprinkled water onto the rocks from a gourd, adding to the steam. If she let the steam fall too far, she would be spoken to sharply at the very least. The next time the Wise Ones met in the sweat tent, it would be Egwene's turn to tend the rocks.
Egwene cautiously sat down cross-legged next to Bair—instead of layered rugs, there was only rocky ground, unpleasantly hot, lumpy and damp—and realized with a shock that Aviendha had been switched, and recently. When the Aiel woman gingerly took her own place, beside Egwene, she did so with a face as stony as the ground, but a face that could not hide her flinch.
To call these descriptions 'gratuitous' is, of course, only in comparison to RJ's (incredibly rare) treatments of male nudity (and not in comparison to, say, GRRM).
I was wrong about the film distinction, though I do believe there is an older report somewhere mentioning this that I am missing. However, there is a 'no male nudity' tag for all the times RJ mentioned it at signings; it was a running joke for him.
Re: Parallels between Rand's early arc and being gay...[from The Great Hunt]
"No, I can't. I mean . . . I didn't do it on purpose. It just happened. I don't want to—to channel the Power. I won't ever do it again. I swear it."
"You don't want to," the Amyrlin Seat said. "Well, that's wise of you. And foolish, too. Some can be taught to channel; most cannot. A few, though, have the seed in them at birth. Sooner or later, they wield the One Power whether they want to or not, as surely as roe makes fish. You will continue to channel, boy. You can't help it. And you had better learn to channel, learn to control it, or you will not live long enough to go mad. The One Power kills those who cannot control its flow."
"How am I supposed to learn?" he demanded. Moiraine and Verin just sat there, unruffled, watching him. Like spiders. "How? Moiraine claims she can't teach me anything, and I don't know how to learn, or what. I don't want to, anyway. I want to stop. Can't you understand that? To stop!"—Chapter 8, 'The Dragon Reborn'
That desperation is something I remember. Then this...
He paused, frowning, thinking things through. Finally, he said quietly, "Rand, can you channel?" Mat gave a strangled gasp. Rand let the banner drop; he hesitated only a moment before nodding wearily. "I did not ask for it. I don't want it. But. . . . But I do not think I know how to stop it."
Mat hesitated, looking sideways at Rand. "Look, I know you came along to help me, and I am grateful. I really am. But you just are not the same anymore. You understand that, don't you?" He waited as if he expected an answer. None came. Finally he vanished into the trees, back toward the camp.—Chapter 11, 'Glimmers of the Pattern'
Potent scenes. Especially Mat's last lines. *shrug*
Heya. So. Kind of harsh question—you are reported to have inferred recently that the Black Ajah and Nynaeve etc. ability to...
...to be solid and channel properly during the Dream Battle in Towers of Midnight has an explanation. Is this true? I struggle...
... to believe that given the text and my communications with Maria, and was wondering if it was misquoted?
Aight. Literally as I posted the above to Brandon, Maria replied with that this whole issue is a Read and Find Out issue. I'm a douche.
Did anyone check out the ebook to see if any changes have been made to that scene?
Don't think so... been chatting with Maria about it and she's not indicated any changes.
Look for an email soon; there were changes. I'm having a difficult day; I didn't think that you might not have seen an ebook.
The differences were found and posted at Theoryland.
I found the bit with Luckers after I'd done the 2011 Tweets. By date, it fits here best, but the context is not necessarily significant; I can't insert entries anywhere but at the end of an 'interview' page, but I can edit previous entries, so here it is.
I've long been an insomniac. I think.
Insomnia is a hard one to pin down for me. I'm sure that there is an official definition somewhere in the psychologist's handbook. I just define it as "Those times when I want to sleep but I can't." However, it seems to me that a lot of those times happen when I'm trying to go to bed at what other people call a 'normal' time. I'll lie in bed for hours, just thinking or daydreaming. (Er, nightdreaming.)
Most of my life, this hasn't been much of a problem. In fact, I think it's led to a lot of the habits that turned me into a writer. Plus, if I'm having A LOT of trouble sleeping, I get up and do something else until I'm tired. That can take hours, but since I don't have a day job, I can sleep in if I want. No big deal.
The longer I've done this, the more I've realized that I rarely get insomnia if I'm consistently going to bed later at night, like around three or for am. Perhaps it's the regularity of the schedule.. Or, maybe the hour is important, and my body just likes to sleep from four to noon instead of normal hours.
The problem with this all is that it can be very difficult to get things done if get onto a schedule where you're sleeping seven to three, particularly if you have a family (which I now do.) My sickness last week (which I'm over with; thanks for all your good wishes) immediately sent me into a sleep during the day, be up at night schedule. Didn't get back on a slightly normal one again until today, when I managed to get up at 12:30. I spent most of last week either feeling really sick or feeling like I hadn't gotten anything done in FOREVER. So it was that somehow I managed to do a full-blown rewrite of ALCATRAZ 3, which was on my plate still (note the percentage bars on the website.) I'm happy to have managed to clear that away, though I do have to admit that I haven't gotten as deep into the Wheel of Time yet as I'd like to.
My worry is that, when I start A Memory of Light in the next month or two, I want to be DEEPLY entrenched in Mr. Jordan's world again. More and more lately, that's meant getting everything else taken care of completely. I want to be able to read WoT in a way that will bend my style toward Mr. Jordan's—but, with that as my goal, I don't want to be thinking about other books of mine during that time, lest I let them be influenced too much by Mr. Jordan's way of writing. (Not that it would be bad for me to learn a few things from Mr. Jordan. I just don't want to do it unintentionally. Writers have the danger of letting their styles imitate directly what they're reading at the time, and while I intend to do this on purpose with A Memory of Light, it would be wrong to do this to my other works.)
So, the second point of this whole rant? I'm about fifteen percent through a 4.0 rewrite of Warbreaker, which is the very last thing on my 'to do' list alongside writing A Memory of Light. I'm really digging the changes to the text so far, though I don't know if they're big enough for most readers to notice. Anyway, I should have 4.0 ready for download by the end of the week. Then, I'll start doing updates on my thoughts of WoT as I read it through some of the books for what I believe is the eighth or ninth time.
New Annotations tomorrow, I promise.
I'm going to start posting my impressions of the Wheel of Time books as I read through them again. This will just be me blogging my reactions as a reader and my thoughts as I approach the humbling task of finishing the Wheel of Time Book Twelve. As a reminder, I've read these books before, but it has now been some six or seven years since I've read through the entire series from the beginning. It used to be my habit to read through them all when a new one came out, but life got too busy and the series too long for me to do that with the later books.
There won't be any spoilers of Book Twelve in these, though there will be spoilers to the book I'm currently reading. So, if you're not familiar with the Wheel of Time but are planning to read the books, you might want to skip these posts.
Doing this makes me just a little wary. I like connecting with readers and offering posts like this to give you an insight into an author's mind and into the process. I feel that you, as the fans, have a great deal of ownership and stake in this project, as it is because of you that the Wheel of Time was so successful.
However, I don't want my posts to serve as a catalyst to panic regarding my handling of Book Twelve. For instance, if I write that certain character is kind of bugging me in a scene, I worry that people will think that I'm making a criticism of Mr. Jordan's writing or that I'm criticizing that character in specific. I'm not doing either. I think Mr. Jordan's writing is fantastic—even as I read through again, I'm struck by how well he was able to weave so many different ideas together. I really do have a sincere affection for all of these characters—I've grown up with them, as many of you have, and they feel like siblings to me. Just as a sibling can be annoying, I feel that a character can be annoying. It doesn't mean I intend to cut them from Book Twelve or give them any less screen time.
I thought, then, that I would make this post as an introduction. None of my posts over the next few months are intended to give any foreshadowing of book twelve. Please don't panic if I seem to be interpreting a character's motivations differently from how you view them. The materials Mr. Jordan left are quite extensive, and the final book's plot and characterizations were set by him. My goal with that book will be to as invisible as possible, and certainly don't intend to insert any of my own themes, agendas, or philosophies into it.
I will collect these blog posts in a list, and you'll be able to find them on the A Memory of Light section of my website, once we add it.
I'm hoping to be able to do more than one post per book, but I'd already started The Eye of the World when I finally got time to write this. I'll probably only do one post for the first book, then, which is a tragedy, since it has long been one of my favorites of the series. I also feel that it will be VERY important to writing Book Twelve. The Wheel turns; ages become new again and ideas return. I feel that the last book of the series should have numerous hearkenings back to this first book; that will give a sense of closure to this section of the Pattern and fit with the motif of the Wheel's turning.
That's just my gut instinct, and I'm not promising anything specific or even referencing material from the Twelfth Book. I'm only speaking of my general feelings as a writer, but Mr. Jordan's notes are far more important than any of my instincts.
As I read through this first book again, I was shocked by how well he had foreshadowed the later books in the series. This is the first time I'm reading WHEEL OF TIME all the way through as a professional novelist. I see things differently than I once did. I know how difficult it is to foreshadow across an entire series, and am frankly astounded by how well Mr. Jordan laid the groundwork for his future books. Min's prophesies are one great example, but equally potent is Mr. Jordan's use of mythology and story as a means of preparing the reader for events such as the Great Hunt, future interactions with the Aiel (and the People's relationship with them), and the coming of the Seanchan.
As I read, I also found myself having a very odd reaction. You see, when I first read these books, I was a teenage boy. It's not odd, then, that I would empathize with Rand, Mat, and Perrin. Each previous time I read through the series, my major sympathies focused on them. I remember being frustrated by how much Nynaeve and Moiraine kept them out of the loop, ordering them around and not telling them anything.
Now I'm older. It has been years since I've read through these early books. Strangely—almost traitorously—I find myself looking on Rand, Mat, and Perrin as . . . well, reckless teenagers. I'm still very affectionate toward them and interested in their stories. Yet, every time they do something dumb (like run off in Shadar Logoth without telling anyone) I find myself wanting to scream at them "You wool-headed fools!"
Instead I find that . . . brace yourselves . . . Nynaeve is my favorite character in this book. I always found her annoying in a bossy-older-sister kind of way before. Now, she's the character closest to me in age, and I can see her motivations and feel for her plight. In my opinion, she's one of the most heroic people in this book, as she left the Two Rivers on her own (despite the recent attack) and tracked the others out further than she'd ever been before. Rand and the other boys have no choice but to do as told, buy Nynaeve could have gone home at any time. Instead, she stayed—all because of her determination to help protect those from the Two Rivers. She's trapped between the boys thinking she's bossy, but Moiraine treating her practically like a child. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.) She's got it rough, but she keeps on going.
I have to say, I'm impressed again with Mr. Jordan. It's hard to write these posts without sounding like a base sycophant. Yet, if you're an aspiring author, might I suggest that what he did here is something to study? He's managed to craft a book which not only appeals to the teenage readers who see themselves in Egwene or one of the boys, he's inserted characters who think and feel in a way that appeals to other audiences as well. I suspect this is part of why the books work so well. Perhaps after aging a little more and raising children of my own, I will find myself thinking more like Moiraine. (Though, to be honest, she's always been one of my favorite characters. Still is.)
So, there you have it. Brandon's favorite character of this book: Nynaeve. And I still think that's really strange. Next week, I'll give my reactions to The Great Hunt.
I'm very interested in the way that Mr. Jordan expanded the viewpoints in this book. Here is where we first begin to see the scope of this story, in my opinion, as we start to get viewpoints from Moiraine, Fain, and numerous others. This is one of the things I've always liked about Mr. Jordan's writing—in fact, it may have been one of his greatest talents. His ability to craft a very intense, well-written, and engaging third-person-limited viewpoint. If there's one thing I could pick to learn from his writing, it would be how to do such a good third limited.
I'm about halfway through the read right now, and like how quickly-paced this book is moving. Sometimes, readers get down on Jordan for his pacing, but I've found that these first books move at a real clip. I think the shifting viewpoints in this book is how I prefer it; I remember that later, he starts to divide the books in chunks, having a large section from one viewpoint, then moving to another viewpoint for a long time. We'll have to see how I feel about that when I get to it, but for now, I like having short chapters moving from viewpoint to viewpoint so I never lose track of anyone for too long.
I mentioned before that I see things differently as I read these books through for the sixth or seventh time. I'm a writer myself now, and I look at the books from that standpoint. I can still enjoy them as a reader, but I think I enjoy different things as well. For instance, I love the sheer weight of conflict Mr. Jordan gave to his characters. I often say that stories are about conflict—characters are made interesting by conflict and a setting comes alive via the pressure points where different aspects of culture grind against each other. If you're an aspiring author, take note of the excellent variety of conflicts Rand has shown during the first book and a half:
1) Servants of the Dark One chasing him.
2) The Dark One himself (kind of) appearing in Rand's dreams.
3) Rand's worry about his identity and whether or not Tam is really his father.
4) Rand's worry about his relationship and love for Egwene
5) His tension between Mat and Perrin in Book Two.
6) His worry about everyone calling him a lord.
7) His frustration that the White Tower is trying to control him.
8) The danger of channeling and his place as the Dragon Reborn
And that's just a few of them. There's a reason why this story has been so successful and has been able to carry so many books. Conflict. There's no shortage of it here. Anyway, I'm still enjoying Nynaeve's character, though I wish she'd get over her anger at Moiraine. In most things, Nynaeve is clever, but she's got a hole in her vision when it comes to Moiraine.
Now, on to the read-through. I'm far into Book Three, but I thought I'd stop and give some more reflections on The Great Hunt. I know that this book is the favorite of a lot of readers, and as I re-read it, I can certainly remember why. The ending was fast-paced and dramatic and contained several of my favorite scenes from the series.
One of these is the experience of using the Portal Stone and letting us see all of the different lives Rand could have lived. I loved the variety of the scene and the power of ending each one with the Dark One's words. I win again. . . .
I thought that would be my favorite scene of the book until I hit the climax with the horn sounding and the Dragon Reborn riding to battle beneath his banner. As many of you know, I am an endings guy. A great ending makes a book for me, while a weak ending can really ruin a story. This ending was a great one—plenty of powerful imagery and good conflicts.
There's one interesting that happened when I was reading this book. I remembered and anticipated a lot of the moments in this book, one of the most important being Egwene's capture by the Seanchan. The strange thing is, I kept waiting and waiting for the event, and it never came. I'd remembered with detail the chapters and chapters of torture she'd gone through as one of the leashed ones.
Finally, I reached the last fifth of the book and the capture came along. I was surprised to see that the time I'd remembered as filling 'chapters and chapters' was really only about thirty pages worth of material.
This says a lot, I think, about the depth of the conflict in those thirty pages. What Egwene went through was traumatic enough for her that it left a strong impression on me. The fact that Mr. Jordan was able to do that in just a few chapters says a lot for his ability to give depth and power to a scene.
I've mentioned that it's sometimes hard for me to remember which events happen in which book. Obviously, I knew going into this one that I'd be reading about the fall of the Stone of Tear—the cover gives a handy hint on that. However, some of what I'd THOUGHT happened here—the pages and pages of Egwene being held by the Seanchan, the training of the three in the White Tower—all was covered in the last book. (Man, he packed a lot into The Great Hunt.) And now, it turns out that another big event (Rand using the lightning to clear the Stone of Shadowspawn) is actually in the next book.
So, I went into this one a little bit confused, trying to remember what exactly happened in Book Three. About a hundred pages into it, I suddenly remembered. This is the one where Rand disappears.
As if in foreshadowing of future books in the series, where side characters become main characters, this is the book where we only get brief glimpses of Rand. I remember being annoyed by this when I was younger. Oddly—this is another change between my young self and my older self—I didn't feel that any more. I've grown, over the years, to see the WHEEL OF TIME less as Rand's story, and more of the story of the end of an age. It's the story of the entire world and the people in it, not just the story of one person. And so, I actually enjoyed reading the different viewpoints, which allowed me to get to know the world and setting better. Perhaps that's just the writer in me knowing that in another month or so, I'm going to have to write in this setting, and so anything that shows me more viewpoints, more characters, and more places is going to be well appreciated.
All admit to a slight longing, however. Not for more Rand viewpoints specifically, but a longing to know him better. The man whom we read about at the beginning of this book has changed a lot since the end of the second book. That progress, that change, is trapped between books, lost to us. A friend recently explained to me that Mr. Jordan looked at Rand's changes during this book as a metaphor for the way he himself changed during his years in Vietnam. That same friend suggested that maybe showing those changes explicitly might have been too close to home for Mr. Jordan. I'd never heard that before, but it makes a whole lot of sense.
My only other complaint about this books is Moiraine. She's always been one of my favorites, but she got on my nerves here. It's okay to push around Mat—he deserves it. Rand is fair game too; he can blow up cities. He needs direction. But why does she have to pick on Perrin? He doesn't deserve it.And, speaking of Perrin, my favorite moment in this book came when Perrin entered the blacksmith's shop near the end and worked the forges. Something about the beauty of the writing there, mixed with Perrin's inner turmoil of the surrounding chapters, worked for me. It was one of the most amazing moments in the series so far for me, and reminded me why I like Perrin as a character so much.
This book is long—huge, actually. I'm curious to know if it's the longest of Mr. Jordan's books by wordcount. (Does anyone have a list of the wordcounts of all the books?) However, it didn't feel long to me, since we have so many characters to watch and follow. I've heard some people complain about the number of characters in the WoT books, but this is what makes the series work so well, in my opinion. You can justify a 400,000 word novel if you're letting us follow so many different viewpoints and storylines.
The best part of this book for me, hands down, were the scenes where Rand gets to experience the history of the Aiel and the Traveling People. This actually illustrates what I was trying to say in the previous paragraph, but didn't quite get around to. These books work because no matter whose viewpoint you are in, Mr. Jordan is able to make them feel alive and real, and is able to make their motivations rational. (If, sometimes, evil.) These scenes in the past are a great example. We've never met these people, and yet they were as interesting to read for me as the main characters.
I think this is the jump readers need to make to really enjoy this series. They can't get so attached to Rand, Mat, Egwene, and Perrin that they aren't willing to experience the powerful characterizations of other people in the world. Those who can't make this jump tend to complain about the series loosing focus. Those who do make the jump get a story with more complexity and depth than you find in some of the other fantasy series, which stick to the more traditional plot structures and characterizations.
My second favorite parts of this book come with Perrin and Faile. Faile is often cited as one of people's least favorite characters, but again, I think this comes from not understanding what is going on. She's annoying at the beginning—she really is. She's childish and petulant. That's great: it means she has room to grow. And I think she does. This book starts off with her and Perrin having, in my opinion, a very immature relationship. By the end they've grown together and both have matured. Perrin by learning to be a leader, Faile by learning to work with him rather than just trying to hard to get him to let her be in charge. I think that's an important lesson that a young noblewoman like her needed to learn.
First off, I'll be at Life the Universe and Everything this weekend. (That's BYU's science fiction convention.) I'll post my schedule below. Know that I'll be doing a signing on Friday the 15th. 3.00 at the BYU bookstore, and everyone is invited, even if you're not attending the con. (I'm pretty sure it will be in the bookstore. If you don't find me there, ask around.) As always, LTUE has free admittance to the public, and since both Orson Scott Card and Gail Carson Levine are going to be there, it should be quite the convention. I should also have a few copies of the Mistborn and Elantris hardcovers for sale with me, if you wanted to grab one without having to pay the shipping. Check the bookstore first, however, as they sometimes have remainder hardcovers they sell for six or seven bucks. (Though they do have a remainder mark, which mine don't.)
My Panel Schedule:
Thursday 10:00: Using history and folklore to enrich your world (M)
Friday 9:00: Dialogue (M)
Friday 2:00: Realities of NY Publishing
Friday 5:00: Putting Romance in your Novel
Saturday 9;00: Researching unusual subjects
Saturday 10:00: LDS Beliefs & SF&F (M)
NOTE: MY BOOK SIGNING IS ON FRIDAY AT 3:00, not on Thursday as originally planned.
Also, as it's Wednesday, I've posted a new HTML chapter of Warbreaker. I've also posted a new annotation for Mistborn: The Well of Ascension.
Thank you for all of your comments and responses to the bookplates idea. I'll mull it over and let you know what I intend to do. For now, I've got to focus on reading Lord of Chaos. (I finished Book Five last night—I'll do a blog post on it tomorrow or Friday.)
Here are a few short responses to The Fires of Heaven. This isn't very long, I'm afraid. I finished the book last week and am now much of the way through Lord of Chaos. The demands of the convention, however, kept me from being able to do a response to book five until now. (And forgive me if I spell any names wrong below. I wrote this rather quickly. I think I got them all right, but didn't have time to check them all.)
As I've said before, reading through the WHEEL OF TIME this time, now that I'm a writer, has been very interesting. It seems to me that this series—particularly staring with Books four and five—were always intended to be read straight through as one. Though there are climaxes in each book, I also get a sense that each ending isn't really the end and each beginning isn't really the beginning. (Which, of course, is part of the overarching theme of the series in the first place.) I like how the books blend together, each having their own theme, but each also feeling like a continuation of what came before.
Book five has a lot of very interesting events. I'm curious how Egwene's character is changing, in particular, and I find myself empathizing with her less and less—but find myself liking Nynaeve and Elayne (not to mention Aviendha) quite a bit more. Nynaeve, in particular, is growing quite quickly as a character as she realizes she can't use hatred of Moiraine as a motivation, and shifts more toward her desires to heal and protect. It is interesting to me that Perrin disappears in this book, much as Rand disappeared in Book Three. The series really begins to expand here, moving more and more toward an exploration of a wide variety of characters.
Reading and expecting this to happen, I find myself very interested in what is happening with the "side" characters. I use quotes because if there's one thing this series has taught me, it's that there aren't really side characters and main characters in this series. It's about everyone. True, the ta'veren form the focus for what is happening to the others, but Siuan and Morgase's stories are in many ways as important to the pattern as those of Egwene and Elayne. My second favorite storyline in this one, actually, was indeed Siuan's story. We've had a lot of tales in this series about common people becoming important. It's nice to see that reversed and look at the lives of important people who are suddenly forced to become common.
My favorite storyline in this book, however, is Mat's. He finally starts to shine. Almost against his will, it seems—which makes it all the more interesting. Those moments in the battle near the end where he keeps trying to escape, but ends up unable to abandon the soldiers were quite powerful and meaningful. I find it interesting—as many others have noted—that the final fight between Mat and Couladin happens off-screen. This seems an indication to me that Mr. Jordan felt that the affect of conflict upon the characters was more important than the conflict itself. Getting to sit with Mat as he works through in his head what had just happened proved for a very interesting scene, and allowed us flashbacks to the fight with Couladin itself. Obviously, this isn't a plot structure to use all of the time, but I felt that it was quite adeptly employed here.
I'm eagerly awaiting the moment when the Wise Ones discover that Egwene isn't a full Aes Sedai. She needs to be brought down a notch or two.
I've now completed my re-read of the first six WoT books. Perhaps it is my mind seeking organization where there is none, but I see these six books as having a rather interesting division. The first three each focus around a central event—the hunt for the horn, for instance, or the fall of the Stone. The second three change the direction of the series, moving to a much more complicated story. Each of these three middle books seem to contain a much larger number of plots, goals, and character motivations. These middle three, the second trilogy if you will, blend together far more than the first three did. It's like they all form one large book, with the lines between them far more blurred.
I'm not sure if this is the way Mr. Jordan plotted them, or if it's simply the way the series evolved. Perhaps I'm just seeing something where there is none. However, as a writer, this division interests me. I find that as a reader, I am much more satisfied with reading these middle books, though I didn't by any means dislike the early ones. A series this long could not have lasted by telling stories only about one or two characters. Series that do such always feel like they have flat characterization to me. You can only focus so long on one character before you have to begin recycling motivations or pushing their character development into the realm of the ridiculous. By expanding the series beyond what it appeared at first—a simple hero's journey—Mr. Jordan created something more lasting.
However, he also took a great risk in changing the series (either intentionally or by natural evolution) as he did. A great many writers do the easy thing, telling the same story over and over with different names on the front, having the same few characters go through the exact same stories over and over. That's comfortable for readers, but it does not challenge genre, and it is not the substance of greatness (in my opinion.) Instead of doing that, Mr. Jordan took a chance on expanding the plots of dozens of side characters, crafting a series that was about much more than it seemed at first. All three of these middle books blended together, but each one still felt distinct to me. The story is moving, progressing, growing—and the characters are much different people at the end than they were at the beginning.
Perhaps I should focus more on what specifically happened in Lord of Chaos that I liked, but as the one who must—however insufficiently—continue Mr. Jordan's legacy, I find myself looking more at the whole than at the minutia. That, of courses, is important as well. But I think for me to be successful in completing this final book, I need to understand—really understand—what made this series great. I might not be able to write the exact words Mr. Jordan would have, but if I can get the SOUL of the book right, then that will not matter.
Anyway, as for Book Six, it was a powerful read. Lews Therin was my favorite character of the book—his interactions with Rand are wonderful. We are left wondering just how much is insanity and how much is another man's soul in Rand's head. Each conversation gives us information about the setting, personality about Rand, and tension for the plot as we wonder about his sanity. Not to mention the occasional laugh at the exchanges, sorrow regarding Therin's tragedy, and a sense of mystery as Rand tries to find out just how much he can interact with Therin. Masterfully done.
A second response comes with the ending. It's sometimes easy to skip over this ending in light of the dramatic occurrences at the end of Books two and three, and yet I found this to be one of the most tense of the entire series. It was very well foreshadowed and marvelously executed.
Other than that, my life has been rather serene lately. My job (so to speak) for these few weeks is to read books—and not just any books, but ones I have loved since I was a youth. That's rather remarkable to me still. It has been a very peaceful experience, though the stress of trying to finish a book that millions of people are waiting to read looms back there inside of me as well. Completing this work is going to be like no other project of which I've been a part. Always, writing and reading were similar—yet separated—activities for me. While writing, I am fully in "creation" mode. While reading, I'm in "experience" mode. Yet here, with the task of writing Book Twelve laid before me, creating and experiencing become muddled. For once, when I read a work and think "oh, I wish that this would happen" it is possible to MAKE it happen. However, I know that I must hold myself to the rigors of character and story, doing only what is functionally appropriate for the story. Still, there is hope. If I want a face-to-face meeting between certain characters, there is a chance that it will fit with the plot. If I wish for a certain world aspect to get a little more explanation, then there is opportunity for that.
This project is not 'mine' for it is much larger than me. And yet, I've always said that the strength of novels as an entertainment medium—as opposed to movies or other forms of expression—is that a novel can better reflect the vision of a single person. That can be good or it can be bad. However, in no other popular entertainment form can one person reasonably be in charge of every aspect and piece to the degree that one finds in novels. This leads to a completeness of vision in the medium, I think. My job in this case isn't to create that vision, but to 'catch' the same vision that Mr. Jordan had, then shepherd the final project so that it best reflects what he would have wished of the book. I feel that it's very important for the integrity of the book that it not have a schizophrenic vision—mine voice must blend with Mr. Jordan's, so that different passages will not fight with one another or stand out. The story comes first, the experience that the reader has.
So, I read and find myself saying "I wonder if I could make this particular thing happen?" That is followed with "is that what Mr. Jordan would do?" Finally, I come around to "What is best for the story?" And I think that last one stands the most tall.
I have finished The Path of Daggers, but I still haven't done a blog post on A Crown of Swords, so we'll do that one first.
One of the things I went into this series wondering was if I could pick out why some readers grew frustrated with the series around books seven and eight. I went into this book during this particular read-through expecting it to be one of the weaker ones in the series, and yet, I found it to be one of my favorites.
Those of you who read my initial Dragonmount interview will recall that the scene in this book where Nynaeve overcomes her Block at the bottom of the river, while Lan races to save her, is one of my very favorite in the entire series. I felt that the foreshadowing of the events here worked perfectly, and the character growth for Nynaeve over the last few books has continued to grow her as one of my favorite (if not my very favorite) viewpoints to read.
Rand's character progression is also deftly handled, though he is going the other direction, in many ways. He is becoming harder and harder as he suffers more and more (the beatings in the last book didn't help either.) Part of me wonders if this character progression, which I find marvelously done, is part of what drove readers to complain about these later books. If that is the case, then they are missing one of the great aspects of the series, in my opinion. Rand is particularly heroic in how he faces so many difficult challenges, being beaten up physically and mentally, yet continues on despite it and even retains a large measure of his inner nobility.
I object to complaints about pacing. I thing the pacing across the series has been even, and I certainly didn't find this book to be any slower than previous volumes. However, perhaps that's because I'm able to read these all through without any wait in-between. One thing that is happening is that as the series grows longer, the viewpoints per character grow less and less frequent. There are enough main characters with important plots that we can't spend an entire book focusing on just two or three of them like we did during the early books.
This series, as I've said before, is meant to be read straight through. I think, perhaps, that waiting two years for this book and then only getting a tiny slice of the overall story might be what caused complaints from readers. It's not that the writing quality went down (I think it goes up as the series continues) or that the pacing grew slower. I think that the problem is readers not grasping the entire vision of the story, which is difficult to do when you don't know how many books there will be or how long it will be until they are done.
I point as a counterweight to these complaints that when you CAN read the entire series straight through, the viewpoints work so well together that the books become an even greater masterpiece. The story is so complex and interconnected that you can often get your payoffs chapters and chapters away from the places where they are introduced. But they're all the more sweet for the complexity and delicate touch.
Anyway, that's all I can really say here, as this one and The Path of Daggers are quite well blended together in my head now. (As I think they were meant to be.) I'm on to Book Nine tomorrow. I should begin work on Book Twelve before the end of the month at this rate.
I found this volume a very quick read. Perhaps that's because of its slightly shorter length, but I also think it's because I'm settling into the newer system Mr. Jordan had for changing viewpoints. We've slid into the "Large chunk from a viewpoint, then very little from them for a long while" system. With novels this complex and lengthy, there are really only two ways to handle the viewpoints. The first is to switch very quickly, like George R. R. Martin prefers. This gets you a sense of fast pacing and lets you keep readers informed about characters by coming back to them frequently, but never for very long. The other is to do big swaths from one viewpoint. This slows the feel of the pacing, but you don't have to worry as much about readers keeping track of everyone, since you have time in each viewpoint to give lots of reminders about what is going on, then leave that viewpoint long enough that it doesn't matter how much readers remember—you can just remind them when you come back. A middle ground between these two extremes would probably be possible, but I'd worry about readers being able to follow what is going on, since you never stay long enough to give reminders, but you don't come back quickly enough to count on them simply remembering.
Jordan's middle books followed the quick-moving method, but he's eased into the longer swath method here, which I think was a wise move. In truth, what we're doing in these later books is reading six or seven DIFFERENT books, but reading them in a serialized method.
I think that with readers, expectation is a big deal. If you go into these later books expecting to read a book which focuses on a couple of main characters, you might be annoyed. However, I'm expecting an engaging epic which shows me a lot of different smaller stories combining to make the larger one. In that, I'm very satisfied. I think Jordan did a marvelous job with these. (Though, I do remember Book Ten maybe going just a tad father than I like with the numbers of side viewpoints.)
Two things to note on this book in specific. First off, I love how the sections with Rand push him into his wild attack against the Seanchan. It shows how powerful and dangerous Rand is, yet at the same time gets across that he's still vulnerable and capable of being defeated. I've been waiting and waiting for him to use Callandor again and it was very fulfilling to see him pull it here, then have trouble using it. This is, as I recall, the first book which ends by Rand suffering a defeat. (Even if the Seanchan don't think they won either.)
Secondly, I'm reminded of how annoying the Sea Folk are. They seem to be a burr in the side of pretty much every group of major characters from here to Book Eleven. That's nice, in a frustrating way. It's less that they themselves are annoying and that they represent a kind of impotence to the White Tower. I'm a little bit sad, personally, to see the Aes Sedai growing less and less in control as all of these other groups of channeling women show up and seem to have it together far more than the White Tower. (However, I wonder if this is just due to the fact that we see a lot more through Aes Sedai viewpoints. Perhaps the other groups wouldn't seem so 'together' if we saw as much from their eyes.) It also presents a lot more room for growth, which is nice for the narrative. The Aes Sedai have to pull themselves together and become what they were in lore in order to face the dark days that are coming. I just wish that so many of my favorite characters weren't getting bullied so often by the Sea Folk or the Kin.
(Or, maybe this is all due to the fact that I think the Sea Folk totally took advantage of the whole Bowl of Winds thing. If they hadn't helped, the entire world might have starved and dried up. But instead of doing the honorable thing and helping in order to fight the Dark One and save lives, they insisted on an outrageous deal. They got to keep one of the most powerful artifacts in the world, AND got a whole bunch of privileges over the White Tower. They should be ashamed of themselves. Of course, on their side, if you CAN get away with it, then why not?)
Also, one more note. I was really glad to read Winter's Heart and get Mat back! (If you're following along, I've actually finished Winter's Heart and am now reading Crossroads. I hope to finish both that and New Spring by the end of the week.)
Now, a response to WoT Book Nine. As fans, we waited a long time for this book: The book where saidin was to be cleansed. True, we've waited longer for the final book in the series, but I remember this one providing a very nice sense that the series WAS indeed moving. The cleansing of the One Power really did deserve its own book, and the battle at the end was a nice focal climax, tying together several different characters and plot lines into a single awesome event.
I often wondered, when reading the early books as a youth, if saidin WOULD get cleansed. I worried that the end of the series would come and the taint would still be in force, leaving the Asha'man to deal with being hunted and gentled. As both a reader and a writer I found it immensely fulfilling to get this book, as I knew this event would change the series drastically. That's exciting because of the possibilities it opens up—possibilities for conflict and storytelling. How will the Aes Sedai, and the world, react to the realty that men channeling is no longer a terrible thing? I think the fact that we didn't get to see this reaction in Book Ten (as hoped) lead to a lot of the disgruntlement people felt with that particular volume.
However, we're here to talk about Book Nine. Reading it as an author and the one who is going to help complete this series, I see things differently now. I love how the events of cleansing the male half of the power drive this book. By having Rand announce up front what he intends to do, Mr. Jordan creates an expectation and a kind of narrative 'time bomb' for the readers. Will it happen? Won't it happen? This is very different from what authors normally do—my first instinct, for instance, would have been to keep Rand's plan a secret for a large chunk of the book, then have a dramatic reveal.
Yet, that would have had a much different effect, narratively, and I like how Mr. Jordan did it here. The plotting method I mentioned above would work for the first or second book of a series, but for book nine, I see the initial declaration as a move of honesty on Mr. Jordan's part. In a way, it's saying this: "Look, I know you've followed this series for a long, long time. I'm here to promise you that something incredible is going to happen here in this book." The joy for us as readers turns from trying to guess the plot to instead anticipation of what we hope will come at the end. Instead of "What will Rand do?" (A mystery plot) we get a "Will he succeed?" (an action adventure plot.) That made this book immensely satisfying, and allowed him to use Rand's plans as a focus for the entire book.
The other item I'd like to note here is that we get Mat back, which is very nice. As I've often said in these reaction pieces, I feel that this series is much larger than just one character—even Rand. The pleasure of the books lies in watching the interweaving and growth of the various participants. That said, Mat is a nice counter-balancing force for the stories, and he adds a lot to them. An edge of humor, a feeling of a guy who is still—somehow—an underdog rather than a powerful political or militaristic force unto himself. The three male leads work very well together, and when we have a book with all three of them, I think it helps the pacing and flow a lot. Perrin can be deliberate and thoughtful, Mat spontaneous and glib, and Rand almost more of a force of nature than a person.
Anyway, I finished off New Spring today and will begin Book Eleven this evening.
Whew. It's surprising how busy things are, considering that it's the slow season (my books generally come out in the falls) for me. Mixed with the fact that I'm not writing right now, just reading, one would think that I wouldn't feel so busy. The thing is, when writing, I can really only do a certain amount in a day. Like a lot of authors I know, I kind of have a cap (it's between 2k words and 4k words, depending on the day and the book.) Once I hit that, my writing reserve is low, and I have to stop for the day and let my subconscious work out how I'm going to write the next section. What that means is that I can generally get up, write for half of the day, and be done—and then have time to do email, blog posts, and other business items.
When I'm reading, though, there's nothing to stop me from just reading straight through all hours of the day, as opposed to stopping and doing other work. That, mixed with the urgency I feel to get to work on actual pages of AMoL, has made me keep reading and pushing long after I would have stopped for the day if I were writing. Ah, well.
All right, I have to establish something before I get into my discussion of this book. First off, I've never been one who complained about the length of these books or the lack of motion in them. Like many fans who feel as I do, I would go along with others in conversations, giving a non-committal grunt when they lapsed into bashing the Wheel of Time for having grown too slow. But inside, I always thought "I think they're still as fun to read as they always were. Beyond that, why are you reading them if you always complain about them?" Anyway, it often wouldn't be worth arguing to me. (I still would sometimes on forums, however, and soon learned that that wouldn't get me anywhere.)
Now I'm the person who has become the visible face for the Wheel of Time series, and now it IS my job—in my opinion—to defend them. So, I want to talk about Book Ten and say straight out that I really do think it's as enjoyable as the rest of the books in the series. (By my own admission above, however, I am biased. I'm both a long-time fan of the series and the person working on book twelve.)
I know that readers feel that this book was too slow. The novel has one and a half stars on Amazon (and one star is the lowest possible.) I realize this, logically, but I have trouble seeing it myself. Perhaps people's complaints with this book has to do with the sense of narrative style. Mr. Jordan chose to jump back in time and show the timeframe in Book Nine over and over again from different viewpoints. However, this has always been one of the features of the series, and I—as a writer—was very interested in the format of this book. Rand's cleansing of the taint formed a wonderful focus around which everything in this book could revolve, much in the way that he as a person pulls at threads in the Pattern and forces them to weave around him.
I particularly enjoyed Mat's sections in this book. I find myself growing more and more interested in his plot, and am picking him as my favorite character of late. I really enjoy his interactions with Tuon, and they have an interesting relationship, as both know that they're fated to marry. (Or, at least, he knows and she's very suspicious.) As a side note, however, I feel that the covers for this one and book nine are reversed. Book Nine was more important to Mat, and this book is more important to Perrin. Yet the covers imply the opposite. I digress.
In truth, I have a lot of trouble understanding what people found boring about this book, yet at the same time exciting about Book Ten. The two—like all of the recent books in the series—very much seem to be chapters in a much longer book, all blending together and flowing as one. Perhaps it comes from us not being able to actually SEE characters react to the cleansing, as they don't know what happened yet—they only know that something big happened. But, then, that's an issue in book ten—and the complaints in reviews rarely, if ever, mention this item. In the end, I guess it has to come down to people's dislike of the Perrin/Faile plot. (But, once again, Perrin has always been one of my favorites, if not my favorite, characters in the book. So, his sequences are always fun for me.)
This plot is interesting because it offers Perrin a chance to change in a different direction—and, I think, in an important direction. His wife's imprisonment forces him to face some of the darkness in himself, and it is what finally spurs him to give up the axe. Those are important events—he needs to be forced to admit that he has begun to like fighting and killing. Confronting that aspect of himself is what will give him the strength to lead into Book Twelve.
Anyway, I didn't intend this to be an extended defense of the book, but that's what it came out to be. It's now been over a week since I finished it, and while there is much more I could write, I think it's time to let the blog post end for now. The big news is that I'm done with my read through. In fact, I officially began writing on Book Twelve this afternoon.
There was a powerful moment there for me when I got to write those words "The Wheel of Time turns. . . ." Mr. Jordan, despite his preparations for the book, didn't actually write those words that have started each book in the series. I guess he figured he didn't need to, since they've been the same since book one. He knew that his time might come soon, so he focused on more important scenes.
That left me being able to write the opening paragraph to chapter one. (Though, of course, there will be a prologue. While those words won't start the book, I decided that they would be the way that I started work on it.)
It has begun.
People ask me if working on this book is surreal. Before, I always said yes, but I don't think it really hit me HOW strange this is until these last few days.
Yesterday evening, I pulled out the electronic versions of the novels that Mr. Jordan's assistant sent with me when I left Charleston. I combined them all into a single word document to use in searching. (It clocks in at 9,300 pages and about 3 million words, if you're curious.) Using Microsoft Word's search features, I can call up all sorts of useful information from the entire series at the touch of a few keys. (By the way, thanks for sending those electronic files, Alan! You thought of this a full three months before I ended up needing them. I guess that's the sign of an excellent assistant.)
In compiling this document and setting a few bookmarks at important points (mostly the beginning of each book) I hesitated at the copyright statement of A Crown of Swords. He's a book I read over ten years ago, a book by an author I idolized. A distant and unapproachable figure, a hero himself, the one spearheading the epic fantasy movement of my era. And now I have a copy of the original file he typed and I'm working on finishing his last book.
That, my friends, seems to DEFINE the word surreal to me.
I was shocked the first time the people at Tor called this a collaboration. By publishing terms, I guess that's indeed what it is—a collaboration, where two authors work on a single novel. But to me, the term just felt strange. Collaborating with Robert Jordan seemed to set me too high in the process. I'm finishing the Master's work for him, since he is unable to. I kind of feel like Sam, carrying Frodo the last few paces up the mountain. Robert Jordan did all the work; for most of these twenty years, I've only been an observer. I'm just glad I could be here to help for the last stretch when I was needed.
For those of you who wondered, I HAVE read Knife of Dreams and New Spring, but I haven't yet posted blog reactions to them. I read faster than I could keep up on the blog. (I've often noted that I'm really not that great a blogger.) I'll post reactions to these books as I go. For now, I need to get back to Book Twelve.
Here's our weekly (kind of) update of an HTML Warbreaker chapter and a Mistborn 2 Annotation! Those of you who are reading the annotations, I hope to eventually be able to get back to doing two of these a week, but I want to post responses to New Spring and Knife of Dreams first.
Now, a response to New Spring.
As I mentioned, I've finished reading through the entire WoT series again and have moved on to actually working on Book Twelve. (Two chapters writing are done as of right now, by the way. Neither were chapters that Mr. Jordan left any actual prose for, as I'm practicing with writing particular characters, and want to get a feel for writing them. I'm writing them and sending them to the experts in Charleston for feedback as I adapt my style to writing in the Wheel of Time world.) Anyway, I'm behind on these blog posts, and so while I read New Spring a few weeks back now, I'm only now doing a response for it.
I've said before that I think Mr. Jordan's greatest strength as a writer was his ability to do viewpoint with such power. His second-greatest strength was probably his ability to plot on the large scale, planning for things that weren't going to happen for several books, leaving foreshadowing for novels that wouldn't be written for years. As part of that, he knew what happened in the past with his characters to a far greater extent than I think most writers do.
New Spring seems to me an experiment in showing off these strengths. Here we have two characters from the main series shown many years before. I am impressed at how well Mr. Jordan was able to make these characters feel twenty years younger, yet at the same time show them being the same people. Both Moiraine and Siuan exemplified this, and it was interesting to read from a writer's viewpoint, as I was aware of how tough this must have been to pull off.
What happens itself is less interesting only in that we already know most of it. (The classic problem with prequels, after all, is that you generally already know how it will end.) While I enjoy a good prequel, the feeling is different than it is for a main-line story. Reading a book like New Spring is more of a fan experience for me, as I get to see how Lan and Moiraine met, and we get a record of the infamous river dunking. Despite what the cover says, I wouldn't say this is the "New starting point" for the Wheel of Time. That's why I read it here, when it was written, rather than when it occurred in the series chronologically. Half of the fun of this book comes from having read the other books in the series first.
It was strange to read a book from Robert Jordan that was only 120k long, though. I remember when I first saw it, years ago. I thought "Man, that's barely a short story!" 120k. Barely a short story. That would be a LONG book in many genres. Here, it's tiny. (Like many of you probably did, I can remember being annoyed at getting a prequel instead of the next novel in the series. Now I'm happy to have it, though, as it's one of our only glimpses into the world pre-Rand.)
Anyway, it was great seeing Siuan being a punk. I think her character in this added the most to my understanding of the series as a whole. Lan was pretty much Lan, and while Moiraine was interesting, I found myself liking Siuan more. Perhaps because I really enjoy her storyline in the main series.
Well, I'm back from my trip to Charleston. We got some really good work done and I'm excited to get back to writing. Expect that percentage bar to go up a couple more points this week. Just so that you know, I've decided to use 400k as the wordcount basis for the progress bar. I'm still not sure how long the book will be—it could be longer than that, it could be shorter—but that seemed an appropriate base line. I'll be able to tell you more as the process continues.
Look for a Knife of Dreams blog post soon, as well as some regular updates. For now, a couple of links.
Well, after about a month of procrastination, I'm finally getting around to doing the final blog post in my series of "Wheel of Time read through" responses. Thanks to all of those who emailed me reminding me I'd never gotten around to writing a post about Book Eleven. Also, those of you at LJ, it looks like my blog-posting software skipped updating the post I did earlier in the week, so here's a link to it on my own website. You didn't miss much, just a little update explaining that I was done with the grading last week and had moved on to continuing A Memory of Light. (Also, forgive any typos in the following. I wrote it really fast, since I've still got a thousand words or so of A Memory of Light I need to get done tonight.)
I find several things curious about Knife of Dreams. First, the pacing. This is the first book I remember feeling was moving directly toward an ending of the series. We resolve Elayne's plot to a large measure, Mat and Tuon get married, and Perrin rescues his wife. Those three things all complete major, multi-book arcs and set us up for Book Twelve. I've gotten some emails from somewhat snide readers who claim that they don't believe Mr. Jordan was planning to end the series with Book Twelve, but even if I hadn't seen the notes (which DO prove this book was to be the last) I would have believed in good faith that the ending was coming. Though I enjoy the more lethargic pacing of the previous couple books, Book Eleven's more breakneck resolution of concepts was also refreshing, if only as proof that an ending WAS coming.
I'm not sure if Mr. Jordan is responding to comments on Book Ten by doing so much in Book Eleven. My instinct says that he wasn't. None of these plot resolutions felt rushed; they were simply all paced in such a way that book ten ended up being the 'middle' book in a lot of ways. It wasn't introducing new plots and it wasn't resolving them. It was, however, building for what happened in this book.
It was strange reading Knife of Dreams this time as I felt a little like it is directed specifically at me. This book was, in a metaphorical sense, the 'pitch' toward me. It's the lead-in, and it was pitched quit well, directly on line. It's my job to hit that perfect pitch and send it flying.
In the way of more specific responses to the book, I was very curious to discover that my favorite character for this volume was Egwene. I found it very compelling to read about her now that her power base has been completely removed from her. I remember the end of the previous volume, where she gets captured, thinking "Not again!" (Not that she'd been captured before, but after all the times Rand has been through that, I wasn't sure I wanted to read it again.)
However, reading Book Eleven, I reversed my opinion. One sure-fire way to make a strong plot is to put a strong character into a position of weakness. In essence, the only thing she has as an advantage IS her strength, and she uses it to great effectiveness in this book. I believe this is the first place where she convinced me that she really is the Amyrlin.
Mat and Tuon were fun to read, as always. Mat has been a real treat in these last books, and I enjoyed reading through again and looking to see what clues there are about Moiraine. (Though it's less mysterious to me now that I have the materials for Book Twelve.) It was good to finally get some resolution with Perrin, though I feel there is still a lot of emotional conflict there to work out. Beyond that, I guess the only response I'll give is that I think this book has my favorite of the prologues. The fight between Galad and Valda was superb.
I'll try to post some annotations/Warbreaker chapters Saturday.
I finally got around to collecting links to all of the blog posts I did about the various books in the Wheel of Time. I've fixed up the page, and will soon be making the gemstone on the Wheel of Time Portal point to this. I thought I'd post the list below for all of you who are interested.
In early 2008, Brandon re-read the entire series again in preparation to beginning work on A Memory of Light. Each time he finished one of the books, he made a blog post relating some of his thoughts and impressions of the book. As you read through these, there are a few important things to remember.
1) This was not Brandon's first time through the series. He'd read many of the earlier books many times. He had been a fan of the series since its early days.
2) These blog posts are not meant to be exhaustive. They're not reviews, nor does he touch on every topic important to a given book. Really, this was done just as a way to keep readers updated on his progress.
3) He was giving reader response in these posts, not usually talking as the author of the final book of the series. That means (as he says in the introduction) if he finds a character annoying in one place, you don't have to worry that he hates that character or won't give them their due space in Book Twelve. Sometimes, writers want the reader to be annoyed with characters! Brandon loves each and every one of the characters in these books, and intends to treat them all with respect. (Also, he was very careful not to give clues about what is going on in Book Twelve in these posts.)
4) Remember, Brandon is very fond of the Wheel of Time series. He approached these blog posts as one who loves the books and who is working on the final one. In other words, don't come looking for complaints about the series, because you won't find them here.
5) Finally, remember that these were quickly-written blog entries. (And, again not official reviews or essays.) That distinction means that Brandon didn't spend a lot of time editing the content. They will have typos and errors, and the language isn't quite as smooth as it could be.
That said, enjoy!
Introduction to the Blog Posts
Book One: The Eye of the World
Book Two: The Great Hunt (Blog Post One) (Blog Post Two)
Book Three: The Dragon Reborn
Book Four: The Shadow Rising
Book Five: The Fires of Heaven
Book Six: Lord of Chaos
Book Seven: A Crown of Swords
Book Eight: The Path of Daggers
Book Nine: Winter's Heart
Book Ten: Crossroads of Twilight
Book Eleven: Knife of Dreams
Prequel: New Spring
Note, you can also search for all blog posts with the Wheel of Time as a tag.
I managed to get through my re-read of Knife of Dreams earlier in the week, with a focus on certain characters I'm writing on right now, and so I've found time to get a few thousand words in on the rough draft. Our percentage bar ticked up by 1% for the first time in a couple of weeks.
Remember, each of those percents means 4k words, which for a lot of writers is an entire week's worth of writing. I have a goal of 10 during good weeks, but these last few weeks I've felt very good when I've managed half of that. Usually on tour, I don't write at all. It's just too grueling to be driving to a new city each day, signing and meeting people, then spending the days visiting other bookstores and signing the books on the shelves.
Anyway, we're still inching away toward my goal of being to 400k words by the end of December.
Knowing that there was an ending, and actually having read it...but knowing there was an ending changed the entire series for me. When I was reading through it, it sometimes... I can see how sometimes people might have trouble with some of the middle-late ones, not knowing particularly when it's going to end and when the next installment will even be out. And it sometimes gets hard—it's hard to wait two or three years for a book, and by then there's such a large cast of characters—keeping them all straight and keeping track of them all. But when it's done, it's a completely different experience.
I think I agree with you there, because I think that's probably one of the reasons I was reading so much fantasy and books at that time, that those breaks made it difficult. Kind of like a television season hiatus. Like, you know, you have all these shows that get canceled because there is that long hiatus. I felt the same way. I kind of feel the same with Martin's stuff as well. So that kind of makes sense to me.
With Jordan, a lot of us die-hard fans, we would have to read the whole series again every time a new one came out, which is how I got around to reading The Eye of the World like nine times by the time I was working on this project. Because when I'd been younger, I'd been hardcore enough to do that. When I got older, I just didn't have the time, so I'd have to read the new one. And even I, having read the first ones that many times would get lost sometimes when a new one would come out. When Knife of Dreams comes out and I'm reading through it, I'm like trying to remember how this person is related to that person. It's a completely different experience reading through all of them knowing that they're done.
Though, oddly, I'm thinking I'm going to have to do another re-read of the entire WoT here pretty soon. It's been over a year since I finished the last read-through. (Whew. Hard to believe I've been at this a year and a half already.)
In a small bit of WoT news (and in answer to a lot of emails I've been getting) I've been lobbying to Harriet for the chance to keep A Memory of Light for the final volume of the WoT. If you don't remember the backstory, we were planning all three of these final books to collectively be known as A Memory of Light. Each would have the title A Memory of Light with a subtitle. (Gathering clouds for the first one, which became The Gathering Storm.) Well, now that we can't use this idea (for various reasons) and the first third is coming out as simply The Gathering Storm I want to use A Memory of Light for the final of the three. I think it's a beautiful title, and it is something that Mr. Jordan left for us.
Harriet seems agreeable, though nothing official has been set yet. Really, we need to get on the ball and choose a title for the second book. I'm working on that. (Though if you're passionate about the topic, you can feel free to email me.)
September first has come (well, and passed, by now) and I'm pleased to say that I met my goals. If you were reading the blog a few months back, you might remember when I explained that I needed to divert a lot of attention this summer achieving a couple of goals. The rewrite of The Way of Kings and the first draft of the fourth Alcatraz book. I not only had contracts to fulfill, but I needed a break.
Well, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens is finished as of August 31st. There's some revising to do, but that can happen on the back-burner as focus shifts back to The Wheel of Time. The break has been good for me; doing something different, as I've often said, refreshes me and helps me get work done. Just like the first Alcatraz book was something I needed to do to distract me between Mistborn books, work on this one has helped me take a breath and step back from the Wheel of Time (which had been dominating my life for fifteen or sixteen months.)
It's time to move onward, however. I'm still waiting for a few bits of material from Charleston that I asked for, but that's all right since I think the thing I need to do now is re-read all of Knife of Dreams, and maybe spots of some previous books. I don't have the three months to dedicate to re-reading the entire series again, though I'm going to take the audiobooks on tour for plane rides.
PART THREE: WARNINGS
And so, we're entering the "refresh and work on side projects" stage of the writing process. I did this after The Gathering Storm, and I really need it now. I am therefore taking time off between now and January first. I get to write anything I want. It will probably be bizarre and unexpected; things that keep me fresh, things I haven't tried before.
I ask your forbearance. I do believe that as a writer who has begun series, it is my responsibility to see that the other pieces of the story are written in a timely manner. However—and it may seem odd—I need to work on these other things to keep my next Wheel of Time and Stormlight installments good. It's how my process works.
So, that's the first warning. I'm taking a break for three months. The second warning is that I can't promise I'll hit the final deadline on the Wheel of Time series. (The last one was supposed to be out in November 2011.) The problem is this: starting January, it will have been three years since I read the Wheel of Time series start to finish. That's too long. I'm starting to forget things. I won't feel comfortable starting the final book until I've done another re-read, and this is going to slow me down by three or four months. It's an unexpected delay I didn't fit into my original projections of how long it would take me to write the books.
If I miss the deadline (which is more likely than not) it won't be by much. A few months, likely the same amount of time it takes me to do the re-read. But it is what must be done. So, I'd suggest that we set MARCH 2012 as the expected date of A Memory of Light. I suspect there will be some grumbling about this, but I feel I should let you know now, rather than later. It won't be an enormous delay, however. If my previous track record earns me anything, I hope it is the benefit of the doubt when it comes to me promising the release dates of books. I won't leave you hanging too long.
I did. I had been chosen in part because I was a fan, and I had read most of the books multiple times. When I was offered the project, I knew that I needed to re-read from scratch. And so, from January 2008 to about April 1st, I re-read the entire series, taking notes. And the weird thing to me now is that it's almost been three years since that. So I'm actually going to do that again, starting in January 2011; I'm going to read through straight again before I write the final chunk.
I'm starting to forget things, and that's disturbing. You know, of all the people out there I can't forget characters and what's going on. So I need to do that again.
(Mumbled conversation ensues between Alan and Brandon and something about battles...)
The first is the depth of the setting. Though I've read these books several times, there is just SO MUCH to wrap your head around. Sitting here and thinking, I'm getting names mixed up and trying to remember just who is alive and who is dead. Obviously, I'm going to have to read the series through a few more times to get it all down, and I'm certainly glad for the Internet and the resources fans have created. I suspect you'll find me on Dragonmount occasionally asking for someone to look up an obscure fact or name for me!
The other item of particular challenge is the worry that I'll disappoint the fans. I am confident in my writing, but. . .wow. This is like being the final man at bat in the last inning of the World Series—I'm the guy who has to step up and either strike out get a hit to win. All of my training, practice, and studies are coming to a head.
I don't want to be the guy who ruined The Wheel of Time. I'll work very hard to make sure that doesn't happen.
Two things: First, how to juggle a large number of plotlines and viewpoints. (Something I'd failed at in drafts of unpublished books during my earlier years as a writer.) I couldn't afford not to do this well.
Second, I believe I learned a lot about character viewpoint and narrative. (Most of this came from reading Mr. Jordan's books with a much more detailed eye than I'd done in recent years.)
It's been an interesting experience. So far as I know, I'm the only person in the world to have ever read through—beginning to end—the Wheel of Time, starting with Book One and continuing through until I reached the final scenes Robert Jordan wrote before he passed away. (Maria might have done it, but I don't think so—she pretty much has the books memorized by now, and seems to spot-read more than she reads straight through.)
This is an experience others will start having in the coming years, and perhaps they'll agree with me that it DOES change the series. First off, you gain a better appreciation for Robert Jordan's ability to foreshadow. Second, the slow parts don't seem so slow any longer, particularly as you see books seven through fourteen as being one large novel.
Tor dot com put up another of my Wheel of Time musings, this one on The Shadow Rising.
Hey, Do you know where I can get a Towers of Midnight dust jacket? I ordered the book used and it didn't come with one. :(
I can probably mail you one if you drop me an email. I've got a few extra.
Sitting in Starbucks & a guy here is reading The Great Hunt for the very first time. Pretty cool after all these years...
Was the "innocent" foreshadowing in early The Great Hunt—that you mentioned on Twitter when you were doing your reread—do you remember that?
Yeah, I do remember it, and people have asked me this, and I can't remember what it was! (crosstalk)
And you don't remember what it was. And then there's the one in The Dragon Reborn Chapter 27.
Yeah. Oh, I can probably remember that one.
Can I email you about those two?
Yeah, you can email me about that one, because I can find that one. Because I know which one that one was, but I can't remember the other one. I feel so bad! It's like...
Well, was it Leane and Perrin, with the crown and the High Chant?
Like, she said something about, "Next the blacksmith is gonna be wearing a crown and speaking in High Chant..."
Ohhhhh, yeah! I bet it's that one, because...yeah.....
It's kind of an innocent foreshadowing....
...No, you're right.
I think you kind of avoided my question, and then you later kind of...
Yeah, I think it's that one, because it's Perrin becoming king.
Which finally happened in this book.