Brandon Sanderson fantasy author talks to Nalini Haynes of Dark Matter. This interview is available in MP3 at the bottom of this page and in text just below.
Internationally renowned award-winning author Brandon Sanderson toured Australia recently. After his appearance at SwanCon, the Western Australian SF convention, as Guest of Honour, Brandon made an appearance at Supanova in Melbourne. On Friday 13 I met Brandon to talk to him about his career and his novels. We chatted in the foyer of the Stamford Grand, a hotel in central Melbourne. The foyer has a lounge where we sat in plush chairs at a little side table, surprisingly secluded for a lobby section of a busy international hotel. Brandon was wearing jeans, a tee with a check shirt hanging open over the top and – wait for it – a brown suede folding akubra, or the Australian equivalent of a cowboy hat.
Brandon: You notice I’m wearing my Akubra, just special for you guys. I don’t know if it looks good or if it makes me look like a total tourist, but I decided I would wear it.
Nalini: I like it, personally. I think it looks good and they’re so practical.
Brandon: It’s really practical. I mean, it folds up and stuff – it’s great. I like it.
Nalini: Be careful about folding it up: my husband used to have one of them and the wire gets bent and it gets really hard to get back into shape.
Brandon: Oh, okay. Don’t fold it too much is what you’re saying? Okay. I am kind of a hat person: I like hats. I brought my bowler with me to wear around but then I switched to the Akubra.
Nalini: Very nice.
Brandon: Yes, I figure I need a local hat. I forced my wife to buy one too.
Nalini: So she’s here too?
Brandon: She was here in Perth and stayed for the first half of the tour, then she flew home. It gets a little bit wearying. I mean, I’m here for three weeks. She wanted to get home to the family. My mother was babysitting. Again, babysitting the kids for a week is great for Grandma, but after a week it does get a little – you know – so we didn’t want to wear out our welcome.
Nalini: Babysitting privileges are very important.
Brandon: Yes, they are, they are indeed.
Nalini: How many kids do you have?
Brandon: We have two, a little four-year-old boy and a little two-year-old boy.
Nalini: So they’re a handful.
Brandon: They are. They always say you get what is coming to you. I have a little brother who is two years younger than myself, and we were supposedly a handful at that age too. So now I get to know the joys. They’re wonderful, they’re delightful, but two little boys are just balls of energy. I wish you could find some way to plug in to them and harness that energy. You could probably power the whole city. They’re just always going somewhere, you turn around and they’ve climbed up four shelves trying to reach something you’ve put up there.
Nalini: Yes, oh yes. I remember when my son was that age. It was so scary. What are their names?
Brandon: Joel and Dallin. Dallin is a local name; you don’t hear it much outside the area but it’s very common in the West there. A lot of people seem confused by it – Dallin, where’d you get that? – but it’s fairly common. I don’t know what the original derivation is, I should look it up, but it’s one of those names that we see that we liked.
Nalini: What stories have influenced you in your writing other than Wheel of Time?
Brandon: Other than Wheel of Time? A lot of stories have influenced me. I’m both a writer and scholar – I have a Masters in English. When you’re writing, you aren’t really thinking about those things that they talked about in college. But after the fact, sometimes you’ll sit down and say ‘hmmm, what are my influences?’ and pull out the whole English professor thing.
Specifically in fantasy, there were three women who really influence me: Anne McCaffrey, Melanie Rawn and Barbara Hambly. These were the first authors I discovered in fantasy. I wasn’t a reader before I discovered fantasy, with Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. It just so happens that these three authors were the ones that my high school library had and the books were shelved next to each other because they all started with ‘Dragon’. That’s how I found fantasy, by going from Dragonsbane to Dragonflight to Dragon Prince.
Eventually I read everything these women had produced. I see a lot of influence. Melanie Rawn, for instance, had a very interesting rule-based magic system in her Sunrunner series, which I’ve always loved. Looking externally, it has had a deep influence on how I do magic. Anne McCaffrey’s method of doing sequels – you’ll notice when you read my books often I haven’t done any really truly continuous sequels. I finish a book and then, in the Mistborn series, there’s a period of a year in between, or in other sequels they’re about different characters: we’re jumping hundreds of years. That’s an Anne McCaffrey thing. Again I’m seeing this after the fact, looking externally, but I haven’t done, yet, any true sequels after the Robert Jordan method where we go right into the next book. I plan to do that with Way of Kings but I haven’t, yet. So those are certainly deep influences.
Someone came to me the other day and said, ‘Why are there always ballroom sequences in your books? You always have balls. You’ve got ninjas, you’ve got fighting and you’ve got these ballroom scenes.’ I realise it’s probably because I just really, really like things like classic Jane Austen novels, novels of manners. I have a deep love of that sort of thing and I end up incorporating it into my books. Now, granted, they’re separated by action sequences, but I’m very influenced. Another classic that has influenced me are Les Misérables. I am deeply influenced by Les Mis as my favourite classic.
Nalini: You’re very philosophical in your writing. I’m currently reading Warbreaker: I’m finding a lot of philosophy is coming out there.
Brandon: Yes. I was a philosophy minor in college.
Nalini: Do you think that’s linked to Les Misérables?
Brandon: I think so. Certainly I love that book, I’ve read it a number of times. What I love about Les Misérables is that Victor Hugo had this brilliant way of characterising both heroes and villains so that they felt very, very real to you. Then there is this true heroism in the everyday things they did. More than, I think, epic fantasy has. We need to learn this better. Some of the true heroism is in the little heroisms. We deal with saving the world, and I love doing that – I write epic fantasy. But some of the most heroic moments in fiction and in real life are not about saving the world, they’re about the little sacrifices that people make. I think that those are, in some ways, a more true and more real and more honest way of telling stories. So I try to let myself be influenced by stories that do a good job at that.
Nalini: Joss Whedon in Angel: Angel says something about nothing that we do has meaning, so the smallest thing that we do has the most incredible meaning because we’re not doing it for a reward. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Brandon: That sounds good to me. I’ve never actually watched Angel. I love Firefly but I came to Joss Whedon late: when Buffy was on I was a poor college student without access to a television and cable so I kind of missed that whole Buffy thing. It wasn’t until Firefly that I got into Joss’s work.
Nalini: That’s something we have in common. I got into Firefly and then from that –
Brandon: You got into Buffy and Angel?
Brandon: I keep meaning to. My friends are all Buffy addicts, they say ‘you’ve got to watch this, you’ve got to watch this!’ and I say: ‘Where’s the tiiime?’ There’s something like six seasons of that and six seasons of Angel. But someday.
Nalini: Seven seasons of Buffy, five of Angel. You’ve been nominated for and have won several awards, but what kept you going before this kind of affirmation?
Brandon: The hardest point for me was when I was trying to break in. I wrote thirteen novels before I sold one.
Nalini: Wow. Congratulations for persevering.
Brandon: I say that to people and sometimes my editors shake their heads and say, ‘Don’t tell people that; they’ll think that you’re awful.’
[When typing up the interview, I got the giggles. When Brandon says ‘awful’ it sounds like ‘offal’ to me, which seems both apropos and descriptive.]
Brandon: I was not very good at this when I started. I think a lot of authors do that. I’ve come to realise that the thing holding me back for a lot of years was the unwillingness to revise. I was one of those authors who like to write a book, be done with it and move on. Then I would say, ‘Oh, I’ll write the next one really well.’ I liked writing. I really enjoyed that process, but there were some tough years in there, particularly after I started feeling that I was writing things that were really good, that were publishable, that were quite solid and I still kept getting rejections. People kept telling me the books I was writing were too long, I kept sending in these big massive epic fantasies.
[I pull my complete copy of Way of Kings forward]
Brandon: Yes. They kept saying these were too big and people aren’t really buying epic fantasy now… this is what the editors were saying.
Nalini: So that’s a fashion thing in the industry.
Brandon: Yeah. Mm-hm. I don’t know if they were right or not, but that’s what they were saying. So I decided to try writing what I felt the market was doing, and started chasing the market a little bit. I failed at that: I wrote a couple of books that were just awful. That’s the point when I really had my moment of ‘why am I doing this? What am I doing here?’ This was in 2001, maybe early 2002.
I kind of had to make the decision that I was doing this for me. I was writing books because I loved books; I was doing it because I loved writing. I was going to write the type of book that I wanted to write. I had to decide I didn’t care if I didn’t get published. I decided I would keep writing books until I died, even if I ended up with seventy-five novels unpublished. I actually made that decision.
The next book I wrote was The Way of Kings, throwing away all the stuff that people said to me. They tell me my books are too long, and I wrote a book that was twice as long as any book I had written before. They were telling me my books were too expensive, so I wrote one with thirty interior illustrations.
While I was working on Way of Kings I actually sold my sixth book, which was Elantris, one of the ones I had written in the era when I really felt I was doing good work, before I decided to try chasing the market. At that point it was like: ‘Oh, I just sold one of those!’ It actually worked out for me, but it was about eighteen months after I made that decision, that I eventually sold a book in 2003. Since then I’ve had the conviction that I do this because I love it. I haven’t had to have the affirmation to push me along, but it’s great that people do enjoy my books. I certainly wouldn’t be making a living at it if people didn’t enjoy it, but I’d still be writing.
Nalini: Because you just love writing so much.
Brandon: It’s what I do. It’s who I am. During the years before, I worked the graveyard shift at a hotel so I could write while I was at work. I don’t know if I’d have been able to keep doing that at minimum wage, but maybe, I don’t know. I probably would have had to find a job where I could do some writing at work or that left me with writing brain space. I don’t know what I would have ended up doing. I do have a Masters, so maybe I would have gone on and taught English, I don’t know. I’m glad it worked out. I’m not really trained for anything else.
Nalini: Does the Masters of English help these days with revision now that you have got to the point where you are revising?
Brandon: To be perfectly honest, I love my Masters degree – I’m glad I did it – but it’s like 2% help where practice is 98%. You don’t need schooling to become a writer; you need practice. Practice and good feedback. Granted, in the Masters degree I met a couple of people who gave me good feedback, but I met many outside who gave me good feedback as well. For those writers out there: really, practice, practice, practice.
You can learn as much from a good book about writing – like Stephen King’s On Writing or something – as you can learn in a college course. Most college courses are ‘write a book and workshop it.’ You can do that on your own. I did enjoy my Masters degree. It was fun to get help learning about the philosophy of writing, but you don’t need to know the philosophy of writing in order to write. You need to know the philosophy of writing to write about writing.
Nalini: Do you feel any added pressure after winning all of those awards?
Brandon: Yes and no. I feel more indebted to the readers. The awards are nice but it is more that I don’t want to disappoint the readers. Awards are a reflection of that, so it really is more of the same thing. With the Wheel of Time books, I have a readership to whom I owe a lot. Those books don’t belong to me; they belong to the fans. I want those books to be as good as they can be, so the fans get what they’ve been waiting for all these years. With my own books I feel very excited about being able to do this for a living. There are a lot of writers who want to do this for a living; it’s like I owe the community to make good on this chance that I’ve been given, and do the best work I can, and to keep at it, because there are so many who would like to be doing what I’m doing.
Nalini: How does it feel to finish a series of which you are such a fan?
Brandon: Bittersweet. Definitely bittersweet. I followed this for so many years that it’s been a big part of my life for many, many years, so ending it is really, really weird. I can remember picking up that first Wheel of Time book when it came out in 1990: this is after I’d spent a summer discovering fantasy novels. The first paperback of the Wheel of Time was that Fall I believe, and it’s been with me ever since. It’s really the only series I’ve followed all the way along, so it’s really weird. On the one hand I’m like stepfather to millions of people. On the other hand it’s just me the fan trying to make sure that this thing is as wonderful as I want it to be as a fan. All those things together are a huge amount of pressure.
Nalini: I heard you were supposed to write one book but it turned into three.
Brandon: Yeah. The length of what of I was writing hasn’t changed. Robert Jordan was saying that the last book would be so big that they’d need a wheelbarrow to get it out of bookstores. I just wrote it at that length. The publisher and Robert Jordan’s widow decided that it should be three books and so we did split it. But the whole time I’ve just been riding along on the outline as I developed it and as I was given it. There is really not much of a story there, it’s just that they decided to slice it and I said go ahead.
Nalini: I heard a few years back that the new author was supposed to have actually met Robert Jordan while he was in hospital?
Brandon: No, I did not. I saw him once at a convention, just as a fan and that’s it. I never met him for real. I didn’t know him. I was chosen because his wife was his editor; before he passed away he asked her to find somebody to finish his series. Since she was an editor, he felt she could handle this. She chose me based on my works. I didn’t know I was being considered; I didn’t apply for it. She read Mistborn and called me.
Brandon: As an aside to that, I was known as a fan of his work, which is why she went to read mine. She was looking for somebody who had, vocally, said they liked the Wheel of Time who was also a writer.
Nalini: I read your eulogy on the website. It was very much ‘wow and I hope it gets finished’. A reader asked what it was like reading the Wheel of Time drafts and not being able to discuss the story with your fellow fans.
Brandon: You know, I’m usually pretty open, as a writer. If you look at my blog I talk about what I’m working on, but I can’t do that with the Wheel of Time. That has been a little bit hard for me, to be more closed mouthed. It is a project that requires some closed-mouthedness; the fans are really dedicated. If you say one word, they’ll parse that word, figure out what you meant by it, and spend hours discussing it, so you’ve really got to be on your toes. Fortunately I’ve been able to discuss it with my wife who was included in the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and with Robert Jordan’s two assistants. I do have people to talk to about it. It hasn’t been as hard as having to be on my toes, making sure I haven’t said the wrong thing lest I give a clue as to what is going to happen.
Nalini: A reader also asked how does it feel knowing that a generation of readers are literally holding their collective breath and waiting?
Brandon: It makes pressure, but it certainly feels daunting to think of things like that, because there’s a lot riding on this book. It had better be good; I’m working my best to make sure that it is.
Nalini: That leads beautifully into the next reader question: are you worried that fans will want to throw you into Shayol Ghul for the Dark One to feast upon?
Brandon: Yes and no. The ending of the actual book Robert Jordan wrote himself, so I can at least depend on that, being, you know –
Nalini: True to the original.
Brandon: True to the original. Years ago now, when I first read the end, I felt very satisfied by it as a fan. I think that ending is good. My job is to get us there without screwing up in between. Hopefully they won’t want to throw me in. I mean, this is the last battle and there are some casualties… Even so I’m hoping that doesn’t cause them to want to throw me into the pit. I do the best I can, and hope.
Nalini: Have you felt torn between writing your own original work and finishing Robert Jordan’s legacy?
Brandon: No, because when I agreed to this, in my mind was the knowledge that I was going to have to set aside some projects in order to work on this. That was part of the decision process for me. It’s not to say that there hasn’t been a sacrifice, because there has been, but it was one I went into knowing that I was going to make one, and that I was going to be dedicated. So there wasn’t as much feeling being torn because, originally starting off, I had to say, ‘Okay, this book, this book and this book, I’m setting aside. I will try to find time for The Way of Kings,’ and I did find time for that, but I had to set aside a bunch of other projects. There’s one book I wrote in 2007 that I haven’t had time to revise yet, some little things like that I did set aside.
I knew the Wheel of Time was going to be a majorly large project. I didn’t know it was going to take quite as long as it has. I’m getting a little bit antsy to get back to a few of the things I set aside, but that’s only because now I’ve got the last book done and I’m in revisions, and I’m always antsy during revisions to move on. That’s just how I am: I talked about that earlier. The revision process is my least favourite process of the whole thing. I am eager to move on now that I actually have the whole book done, but it can’t be done yet. I have to do more drafts – we’re at draft number five right now. I do twelve drafts on Wheel of Time books.
Nalini: Wow, that’s a lot, especially with the size of those books. What would you like to share with readers about your works?
Brandon: To the fans: I’m just delighted that you guys enjoy what I’m doing, and thank you all for supporting me. The response to my books in Australia has just been amazing. Deep thanks for reading and for sticking with me. I do a lot of weird things and I do that intentionally because I feel the fantasy genre has a lot of room left to grow and explore. I love what has come before, but it seems like during the 80s and 90s, fantasy really narrowed in on one major type of fantasy, at least the very popular fantasies.
I think we have a big explosion of possibility coming. George R. R. Martin has started that: he’s taken fantasy in a different direction, really blending some historical with some gritty realism and some epic fantasy all together; he does some really fascinating things. I think that is only one of the ways of approaching fantasy that lots of people are now doing in their books. I’m really excited about the fantasy genre.
Recently I was happy to write Mistborn, which is kind of a modernist take on fantasy where it was kind of a little bit self-aware. Now jumping ahead with Alloy of Law and doing fantasy: this is a fantasy book where the epic fantasy trilogy became the foundation for a more urban fantasy trilogy set with a more modern technology. I love doing that: I love seeing where I can take the genre, and people are sticking with me.
I appreciate that there was a time back in the 80s where if you put guns in your fantasy nobody read it. There was kind of a rule: no guns. It’s dangerous to do something different… Not dangerous, but it’s a little bit worrisome when you do this as an author. Will people follow you along rather than sticking to one series and doing it as one big massive epic? They have stuck with me, so I appreciate it.
Nalini: Each of these books has a strong theme of religious tolerance and acceptance of others: how does that relate to your personal faith?
Brandon: I am a religious person. I am LDS, Mormon. I am fascinated by religion in all its different aspects. My religious nature meshes with my storyteller’s nature. The storyteller in me seeks to explore as many different ways of thinking as possible in my fiction.
One of the ways that I explore the world is by saying: let’s take this person who believes like me and this person who believes very differently from me, and let them have a conversation and see what grows out of it. In a lot of ways fiction is about trying to see through as many different eyes as possible, at least for me, so you find these explorations.
Mixed with that is, being a religious person, I think the misuse of religion for the wrong purposes is one of the most purely evil things that can exist in the world. Actually I think the atheists and I would agree on that. I also find myself exploring that; what happens when you misuse religion for the wrong purposes. Like I said, I am a philosopher at heart, and so being able to look at these different philosophies of life is very interesting to me. Religion, religious tolerance, religious intolerance in characters is what I’m trying to show: how the world works through their eyes.
Nalini: You’re showing all the colours of the rainbow.
Brandon: I try. I try very hard. As a writer you have to try to make an argument for someone – whether it’s an argument where you believe their view personally or you don’t – your characters have to be true to themselves. You have to be able to make the argument strong enough that someone who holds that view dearly, reading the book says, ‘Yes, that’s my argument, that’s how I would make it.’ That’s tough but I think it’s vital. Nothing ruins a book for me more than someone who expresses my viewpoint in a book and I find them making a weak argument, not making the argument the way I would, just so that they can be taught a lesson. That ruins the story for me. It is no longer a story; it’s preaching. If you’re going to have characters who are strong, they need to espouse strong beliefs and express them strongly in a way that is not lukewarm. I believe that, so I try hard.
Nalini: I am currently reading Warbreaker and I am loving what Vivenna is going through, questioning herself and her motivations.
Brandon: Thank you, I appreciate that. That book, in my mind, the English professor version, is a book about reversals. Different people have to fulfil roles that they didn’t expect they would have to fulfil. Characters that you don’t expect doing things – the twists and turns are about reversing people’s roles in the plot. Hopefully that theme works for you as you finish the book.
Nalini: Yes, I’m very close. [Shows Brandon the bookmark in Warbreaker]
Brandon: Oh, wow, so you’ve hit most of them already.
Nalini: I was trying to get it finished before the interview, but I’m getting there.
Brandon: It’s all right. Yeah.
Nalini: You were a missionary in Seoul.
Brandon: I was.
Nalini: Has this cross-cultural experience influenced your writing?
Brandon: Yeah, it has, quite a bit. One of the things you notice is that once you go live in a different culture, it opens your eyes to the different ways people can think, and how varied it is. Learning a new language and being immersed in it really opens your eyes to how language can affect thought and thought process.
Beyond that, growing up as a white male American, I never had to be the outsider. Living in a culture where suddenly you are, even though I was a privileged minority, not an underprivileged minority – I don’t know if there is a place you can go in the world where a white male American is an underprivileged minority – but just being a minority changes things. I think my writing grew much stronger.
I would suggest to every American, particularly, that this is an experience that would be very good for them. We Americans do tend to be a little bit turned inward. In Europe you have to experience dual cultures and things like that. I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in the States it’s pretty easy to forget the rest of the world. That’s a criticism that is levelled against the States quite reasonably. Going among another culture, serving the people there and forgetting yourself for a while, is just a wonderful experience. Absolutely wonderful.
Nalini: You released Warbreaker by instalments on the Internet.
Brandon: Yes, I did.
Nalini: The 21st century equivalent of Charles Dickens’ serial publications, except yours were free. Later you edited these chapters, releasing documents comparing the drafts so people can see the changes. What was this process like?
Brandon: It did send my agent and editor into a bit of a panic. Fortunately I wasn’t very popular as a writer back then; well, not unpopular, but I didn’t have my current notoriety. I was doing all right; my books were selling fine; but I had not hit top gear as a fantasy writer yet. So me doing this did not send them into as much of a panic as it would have if I did that now. I still intend to do it again, but don’t tell them that. It was cool because it was something I hadn’t seen done before. The Web offers us the opportunity to do things like this. I thought I’d give it a try, and so I released it. They use the term crowdsourcing now; I was crowdsourcing my feedback.
Instead of using a writing group, which I normally do, I released it to the fans to see what their reaction was. That’s dangerous because, as a writer, you have to learn to read between the lines when people are giving feedback rather than doing everything everyone suggests you. If you do everything everyone suggests to you, your book will be schizophrenic; it’s going to go all over the place. Some people will want one thing from it; some people will want another. You just can’t write to fan demands, otherwise you won’t have a cohesive story. But it was fun to see the responses and, as a writer, if you can pick between the lines and see the legitimate problems and fix those in drafts, it can be a very big help and it can be fun. I think it did help, and it gave the fan base something.
One thing they don’t talk a lot about in New York but one thing that is absolutely true is that fantasy and science fiction readers are very tech savvy. Every person who buys one of my books could get that book for free if they wanted to. They know how to find it, even if it is not just the library: finding it online. Every one of them can pirate the books. There is nothing we can do to stop that; in fact we should stop jumping up and down about it as much we do. Anytime I want to check, it takes me thirty seconds online to find a free copy of one of my books. Every person who is buying one of my books is doing it because they want to support me as a writer. So I want to do things to give back to those readers, to say: ‘I acknowledge that you are doing this, you are supporting me. You’re not just reading, you’re supporting me as a writer.’
In a lot of ways it takes us back to this interesting image of Dickens, because during that era a lot of writers, in order to be an artist, would have a patron. That was how you became an artist in an earlier era. Now we are kind of moving back toward that model: the readers are our patrons; they choose to give us money. They don’t just read us, they choose to support us. So I try to do things like Warbreaker. The annotations of my books are another way I try to do this. I try to go chapter by chapter and write an annotation, an extra like a behind-the-scenes DVD commentary, if you will, on my books. And for anyone reading this interview, Warbreaker is still available for free on my website: the actual published version. DRM free, just download it. And once you read it you can compare it to the first draft. I do this as a thank you to all the readers who support me in this.
Nalini: Some characters are there for you to hate, do you find that fans want you to change that character?
Brendan: Reader feedback is an interesting thing. I’ll use the Wheel of Time as a model. When I took the Wheel of Time, I was a fan and reader. There were certain things that the super fan in me wanted to see happen and I had to say, ‘No, wait a minute. That would take the book into the ridiculous.’ If I put in all the cameos and brought back the characters with just the lines all the fans would love, I would risk turning the book into a comedy. With all the callouts and sendups, it turns into Shrek, which is just one huge pop culture extravaganza. That’s not what we want to do, not what we want to write. When fans are often asking for these things, they are not really asking for them.
I think there are certain things, as a fan, that you do want: great moments, huge payoffs that were a long time coming; after waiting so many many years there are things you want to have come together, a climax you want to read – these are important. So walking that line is difficult, and working on the Wheel of Time has taught me how to do it better. Characters the fans love to hate – you get a sense of when you want to make sure they are in the fans’ face plenty, and when you want to back off.
Nalini: When are the sequels for Way of Kings and Alloy of Law coming out?
Brandon: I am working on revisions for the last Wheel of Time novel, and I have a number of revisions to do; I’m planning to be done with that around July. At that point I will write the sequel to Way of Kings. I feel very bad that people have to wait so long for the second book, but I plan to be much quicker in the future. And I plan to alternate a Way of Kings book and a Mistborn book after that.
Nalini: I have been told that Way of Kings has been set in the same universe as Mistborn?
Brandon: It is. All of my epic fantasies have been set in the same universe.
Nalini: Are they on different planets?
Brandon: They are different planets, but there is a character who is in every one of them. The same character is in Warbreaker and in Mistborn. There are other characters who appear here and there and cross between the books.
Nalini: Who is the character?
Brandon: In Warbreaker he is the storyteller, Hoid, with the dust, and he’s the King’s Wit from Way of Kings. If you read Mistborn, he is named Hoid in each of those as well. In Alloy of Law and Well of Ascension, he is not named but is only there to be picked out by description, but in the others he’s named. I did this because, during those early days writing books, I wrote thirteen, as I said earlier.
I love the big epics. You can’t be a Wheel of Time fan without loving big epics. I wanted to tell a big epic, but early on it seemed to me that writing a whole bunch of books in the same series was a bad way to break in. If an editor rejects the first one, you can’t really send in the second one.
So, while hunting editors, I wrote thirteen books that were all different worlds, different settings. I started having characters sneakily move between them, to be building, setting the stage for a grand epic that I would tell later on, behind the scenes. So from the get go, from Elantris, this was all planned because this is something I been doing in my books since then.
Nalini: Are you planning to revise these books that haven’t been published and to reinvent them, so to speak?
Brandon: if I do, I will write them from scratch. That’s what I did with Way of Kings when it came time to actually publish it – I sat down and wrote from page one to the end again, and threw away what I’d done just because my skills as a writer have gotten better. There is one book in that era – I guess there are two – that I will do for sure. But I will write them over from scratch. I always want to be releasing new stuff; I don’t want to – as my agent puts it – pull a novel out of the trunk and say, ‘Here, read this.’ But they are part of this grand story that I’m telling, so we will get to them.
The thing about it to remember is that I want each of my stories, series and books to stand on their own. Even though there is this behind-the-scenes story, that won’t come to the forefront unless I do a story dedicated entirely to it. I don’t want you to have to have read Mistborn to read Way of Kings. They’re the Easter eggs; they’re all going to be Easter eggs unless I write a series all about them. In which case you’ll be brought up to speed very quickly, because the series will be out about them: you won’t have to read everything to understand that series.
Nalini: That sounds great. Where are you planning to take us with your writing next?
Brandon: [musingly] Next, where am I planning to take you? Certainly I want to try and do the Stormlight Archive, the Way of Kings series, in a way that I hope is just awesome. I have an advantage over people like Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin in that I’ve read Robert Jordan and George R .R. Martin. The big epic fantasy series is a real challenge: to do a longer series and have it work. Have it not sag during the middle, in places. To have all the characters and the narrative remain tight. Having learnt the lessons of the great writers who have come before me, I think I can try this in a new way. So I’m really eager to give it a shot. Recently a writer did it in a way that it looks like the best it’s ever been done, which was Steven Erickson. I haven’t finished his series yet but, from the fan reaction and from what I’ve read of it, he seemed to get around that. I think there are great things we can still do with the epic fantasy genre. I want to try and explore them, I want to find what the great things we can do with the genre are and try to take us there.
Nalini: Sounds good. From your tweets I gather you’re a Magic player.
Brandon: I am.
Nalini: Is this one of the things that you do to de-role?
Brandon: It is. I have found it is also a wonderful thing to do with readers. I don’t want all of my interaction with my readers to just be: they hand me a book, I sign it and I hand it back, thank you, have a nice day. I want there to be something I can actually do with them, so that they can relax and so that I can relax. Magic is something I’ve played since about the same time I got into fantasy books. It’s something I’ve allowed to be my hobby, because you need hobbies, you can’t just spend all the time writing. So it’s my hobby and I let myself spend time with my fans doing it, and I have a blast doing so.
Nalini: Are you going to be playing Magic in Melbourne?
Brandon: I don’t know what the format at Supanova is. I want to try to find a time that I can, but I have to go and see what Supanova is like. I think there are breaks and things between signings – I don’t know. I am going to bring my cards. I’ll send out a tweet if I think there’s going to be time to play, but I don’t know if there are tables – never having done it before – I don’t want to make any promises. I don’t want to step on any toes or throw a crinkle into any plans. Probably I’ll go tomorrow (Saturday) and see how it is, and then if there is time on Sunday, I’ll try to find the time to play.
[Following Brandon on Twitter revealed that he found the time and the tables, he sent out tweets letting fans know that he was playing Magic on both Saturday and Sunday of Supanova.]
Nalini: What does the future hold for you?
Brandon: Keep writing books, keep telling stories. Now that I have finished the Wheel of Time, I can get back to a bunch of these little side stories that I’ve been wanting to do. This year I am releasing two novellas in published form.
Nalini: Emperor’s –
Brandon: Emperor’s Soul – you wanted to say Emperor’s New Groove, didn’t you?
Nalini: NO! What I am visualising is the cover of the book, which kind of looks a bit like pen and ink drawing, it’s gorgeous. I was going to say Emperor’s Ink, getting the artwork and the title confused.
Brandon: Yes. Often when I do a big trip, I kind of try to absorb everything from the culture and spit out a novella. That’s what I did in Taiwan. The Emperor’s Soul came from my trip to Taiwan. I actually have one that I’m absorbing that’s built – growing – from Australia. If I can work drop bears into a book and actually make them not silly I am totally going to do it. These novellas are both ones that I did that for: Legion and The Emperor’s Soul. Legion comes out in June, and The Emperor’s Soul in November, I think.
So that’s something I can be releasing since I didn’t have time to write a novel. It’s something I can give the readers, so hopefully people will enjoy those. They are both quite good – I think, if I may say so for myself – as novellas go.
I’m not a great short fiction writer; I’m trying to learn how to be a great short fiction writer. A step toward it is to be a novella writer first. I can use those novel writing skills. So those are coming out. From there, I will write the second Stormlight book, and I will write the sequel to Alloy of Law. After that I will probably just let myself do anything. I will take time off and say, ‘Brandon, you don’t have to write anything specific, just see where you go,’ and I’ll write something crazy. After that I’ll come back and do more of the other stuff I’m supposed to do.
Nalini: Is there anything you’d like to say to fans?
Brandon: Just thank you. Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you enjoy what’s comin’ atcha!
Nalini: Thank you for talking to Dark Matter.
Brandon: Yeah. Thank you.