What inspired you to write about immortality in Elantris?
Honestly, it was zombie stories. I wondered what it would actually feel like.
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Where did you get the idea of the Elantris magic system?
The drawing glyphs is based on Korean and Chinese writing systems. I'm Mormon, I served a mission in Korea for two years, loved the writing system and the language. It was part of what inspired me to do that. There is this really cool thing where in Korea they used Chinese characters to write for a long time and they are very difficult to learn because you just have to memorize them and there was a great king, named Sejong, who said, "My people are being mostly illiterate because this is so hard and we don't even speak Chinese, we are not Chinese. We use their characters, can we develop a language, a writing system that will allow us to do this" and his scholars got together and devised Korean which is a way to phonetically write Chinese characters kind of? It's their own thing. You write them in little groups to make little Chinese characters, it's the coolest thing ever. But you can write most Korean things, not everything, most you can write as a Chinese character or as a phonetic Korean construction of three letters that create that Chinese character sound and I liked that idea and it spun me into the idea of the Aons and the Aonic language and things like that.
Elend in the Mists after Vin Leaves
I wanted to include a reference to mistwraiths in this book. They're a minor world element, but aspects of their origins are a piece of the puzzle that gets explained further. . .in book three.
The mists are indeed coming earlier in the day, and they are staying later in the mornings. They're getting stronger, you might say. Elend doesn't know this, but some of the very outer parts of the empire already have mists lingering almost to the afternoon. The answers to why are coming. . .in book three.
The mist spirit doesn't want Elend to go to Luthadel. And yes, it was using Allomancy on him. (Influencing his emotions, as it's done several places through this book.) It doesn't work very well. The thing doesn't have much of a mind remaining. The answer to why. . .yes, you guessed it. Book three.
As you can tell, I'm using this last section of the book to set up The Hero of Ages. I didn't want to do this–I wanted all three books to stand well on their own. However, the events in the third book are just too large to deal with in one novel, so they spilled over into the end of this one. I actually began foreshadowing a lot of these things in book one–they were just easier to hide then.
By the way, the scene where Elend stands there, looking into the darkness, hearing leaves rustle and thinking how frightening it is. . .well, that's a scene from my life. Nothing big, but one night I was just walking past a darkened backyard and I heard rustling like that. I stood for a while, looking into that darkness, realizing just how creepy it was to stand in shadowed light and stare into the void without knowing what was back there. I had to put that in a book.
<Where do your inspiration comes from?>
It's very different based on the book. Is there a specific... like, ask me a specific *inaudible*.
Way of Kings.
First idea was Dalinar which is: brother of king who... the king gets assassinated and the nephew is a bad king and where does that leave you? The second idea was storms shaping the world. Spren were based on Shinto Kami, the Shinto religion. Kaladin was based on the conflict between a surgeon learning *inaudible*. Different ideas for different things.
Do you get any of yours [inspiration from mythology]? Like I know you mentioned sciences and physics.
Yeah a lot of science and physics is where it's coming from. A lot of, I mean, having lived in Korea for two years, and speaking Korean, a lot of my linguistics come from Korean, and the idea of Spren comes from Asian mythology: the idea that everything has a soul. So that's an inspiration.
I want to look into ancient Asian culture, and it sound like something to do.
There's that. I would bet that the three kingdoms stuff has some influence on me, and Sun Tzu's Art of War has been an influence on me, and things like that.
Were any aspects of Elantrsi at all biographical? In my case, at least, my writing is often unintentionally reflective of my own experiences. Is this the case for you as well?
Every book is a little autobiographical. You can’t separate yourself from your work, though I try not to include intentional messages in my writing. (That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to my books having meaning; it just means that I don’t tent to approach them with the idea “I want to teach something in this book.”)
Each of the characters is a little autobiographical, something that is most noticeable to me in retrospect. Raoden represents my belief in the power of optimism. I’m an optimist. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I am. And so, a hero like Raoden often grows to represent my beliefs. His conflict–that of being cast into the most horrific place in the kingdom–is an outgrowth of me trying to devise the most hopeless situation I could, and then make the conflict for my character the attempt to retain hopeful in the face of that.
Sarene represents an amalgamation of several people I knew in my life, most notably Annie Gorringe, a friend of mine in college. Not that Sarene acts just like her, of course–but that some of the conflicts in Annie’s life, mixed with some of her personality quirks, inspired me to develop a character that ended up in my book.
Hrathen is as much a piece of me as Raoden. I served a mission for the LDS church, and while I did so, I thought often about the ‘right’ way to share one’s beliefs mixed with the ‘wrong’ way. It seemed to me that focusing on the beauty of your message, mixed with the needs of the individuals you met, was the way to go. When you start to preach just to be preaching–or to convert not because of your concern for those around you, but because you want to seem more powerful–you risk beating the life out of your own message. You also get in trouble when you focus on putting other religions down (or challenging others on their beliefs) instead of just talking about what makes you believe like you do.
So, in a way, Hrathen represents my fears of what I could have become–a warning to myself, if you will.
I chose to use Shallan as my other main character in Part One, rather than Dalinar, because I felt her sequence better offset Kaladin's. He was going to some very dark places, and her sequence is a little lighter.
She is the only "new" main character in this book. Kaladin (under a different name) was in Way of Kings Prime, and Dalinar was there virtually unchanged from how he is now. The character in Shallan's place, however, never panned out. That left me with work to do in order to replace Jasnah's ward.
Shallan grew out of my desire to have an artist character to do the sketches in the book. Those were things I'd wanted to do forever, but hadn't had the means to accomplish when writing the first version of the book. I now had the contacts and resources to do these drawings, like from the sketchbook of a natural historian such as Darwin.
One of the things that interests me about scientists in earlier eras is how broad their knowledge base was. You really could just be a "scientist" and that would mean that you had studied everything. Now, we need to specialize more, and our foundations seem to be less and less generalized. A physicist may not pay attention to sociology at all.
Classical scholars were different. You were expected to know languages, natural science, physical science, and theology all as if they were really one study. Shallan is my stab at writing someone like this.
The High Priest Tells Siri She Needs to Produce an Heir
Note that in a previous section where I said that I couldn't delve as deeply into Siri's plot in this book as I could have in one where there was only one viewpoint character, I didn't mean that I didn't intend to give her a lot of political intrigue and plot twisting. I only meant that I decided it was best to keep things a little more focused for her, rather than adding a lot of subplots.
I've been wanting to do a story like this one, with a woman sent to marriage in a politically hostile country, since I wrote Elantris—where Sarene arrived and found out her wedding couldn't happen. Again, this is an attempt to turn in a new direction for me, but the inspiration is the same. Sarene arrived and found that her fiancé had died and the court didn't care about her. Siri arrives and does get married, then has far too many people paying attention to her.
Is Slowswift an Allomancer?
No. Slowswift is a cameo for Grandpa Tolkien.
I know you went on mission in Korea, as did I, did anything come from that?
Yeah, quite a number of things have been influenced by it. I'd say the biggest influence is Elantris, the writing system is based on the idea of Korean and Chinese mixed together. But Asian philosophy, like the kami and things like that are also common in Korea, that belief that everything has a soul. So yeah it's had a huge influence on me, just the way I worldbuild-- I mean just the fact, I don't know if you've read The Way of Kings… I don't know if you know but everyone's Asian, right? Like Szeth, the white dude, is the one that looks weird them. And that's just because-- It was partially influenced by that.
I have a question in regards to the soulstamps… When Shai is creating it she blows flakes off of it. Are those flakes able to be enchanted and do they have any power?
Do the flakes that Shai blows off the front of the soulstamp have any hidden power? The answer is, no. I'm sorry, nice theory. The blowing off is actually just related directly to my experience. Soulstamps come from--
I lived in Korea for two years as a Mormon missionary, and then I went back to Taiwan to visit because there's a huge Brandon Sanderson fan base in Taiwan. For those who don't know, what happened is the publisher who got The Emperor's Sou-- No, no, the publisher who got Mistborn in Taiwan, published it the same month or so that Hunger Games came out, and everyone who was looking for-- read The Hunger Games wanted something like it ended up buying Mistborn. So actually-- *laughter* It's one of those things over here, like The Maze Runner or one of these other YA dystopians are what took off in the kind of halo of The Hunger Games. Over there, Mistborn was in the halo of The Hunger Games. It actually sold about as well in Taiwan which is-- So we just sold tons of copies in Taiwan. So I went back and it was really fun-- by the way you can go to my timeline on Facebook and whatever, and here, people like to ask questions. A lot of the superfans like to have a question and things like that. There, the superfans like to get pictures. And so there are like 5,000 pictures of me and teenage schoolgirls *laughter over Brandon* just all over Facebook from that period. But I went and visited the palace museum.
And anyway, I remembered a time in Korea where I'd seen someone carving these and he would do a little of this and blow it off, do a little bit and blow it off. Kind of the old-school carver. Now most days it's actually-- they're actually made by machines. You load in a design, you lock in your little tojong into the machine, and it goes and it will carve it out to look like the little computer design. But you see occasionally old school people carving them hand-- That's why I made it do that, because I'd actually seen someone carving one. There is not supposed to be any hidden magical meaning, other than the fact the stone that they're using is a traditional type of stone, which may or may not have Invested properties.
Yeah, I figured I hadn't given Alan a cameo, and I wanted to. So, I named a mountain [in Mistborn: The Final Empire] after Morag.
How did you come up with The Stormlight Archive's gem magic/technology?
One of the things to keep in mind is I that developed this book before Mistborn was published. I do wonder if sometimes people are going to say, "Oh, he did metals before, and now he's doing crystals." But the thoughts arose quite independently in my head. You may know that there is a unifying theory of magic for all of my worlds--a behind-the-scenes rationale. Like a lot of people believe there's unifying theory of physics, I have a unifying theory of magic that I try to work within in order to build my worlds. As an armchair scientist, believing in a unifying theory helps me. I'm always looking for interesting ways that magic can be transferred, and interesting ways that people can become users of magic. I don't want just to fall into expected methodologies. If you look at a lot of fantasy--and this is what I did in Mistborn so it's certainly not bad; or if it is, I'm part of the problem--a lot of magic is just something you're born with. You're born with this special power that is either genetic or placed upon you by fate, or something like that. In my books I want interesting and different ways of doing that. That's why in Warbreaker the magic is simply the ability to accumulate life force from other people, and anyone who does that becomes a practitioner of magic.
In The Way of Kings, I was looking for some sort of reservoir. Essentially, I wanted magical batteries, because I wanted to take this series toward developing a magical technology. The first book only hints at this, in some of the art and some of the things that are happening. There's a point where one character's fireplace gets replaced with a magical device that creates heat. And he's kind of sad, thinking something like, "I liked my hearth, but now I can touch this and it creates heat, which is still a good thing." But we're seeing the advent of this age, and therefore I wanted something that would work with a more mystical magic inside of a person and that could also form the basis for a mechanical magic. That was one aspect of it. Another big aspect is that I always like to have a visual representation, something in my magic to show that it's not all just happening abstractly but that you can see happen. I loved the imagery of glowing gemstones. When I wrote Mistborn I used Burning metals--metabolizing metals--because it's a natural process and it's an easy connection to make. Even though it's odd in some ways, it's natural in other ways; metabolizing food is how we all get our energy. The idea of a glowing object, illuminated and full of light, is a natural connection for the mind to make: This is a power source; this is a source of natural energy. And since I was working with the highstorms, I wanted some way that you could trap the energy of the storm and use it. The gemstones were an outgrowth of that.
Was Roshar mythos inspired by Shinto or Japanese mythology?
Yes, it was. There is definitely a large part of Asian mythology, specifically Korean. So less Shinto and more Korean but there's a deep relationship there, and I lived in Korea for two years as an LDS missionary.
This short story actually has a very interesting backstory.
If we flash back to January 2006, we find me having been dating Pemberly (her real name is Emily, but she goes by Pemberly online) for about two months. Our relationship was still quite new, and we weren't exclusive yet. (Though I wanted to be. I was pretty sure I wanted to marry her by that point.)
Well, at one of our dates, Pemberly told me an amazing story. It seems that one of her eighth grade students—a girl named Matisse—had done a book report on Elantris. Now, Matisse didn't know that her teacher was dating me. She didn't even know that Pemberly knew me. It was just one of those bizarre coincidences that happens just to prove to us all that the world is a funny place.
Now, when I say book report, that doesn't get across the scope of what Matisse did. Being a clever, creative girl, she went the extra mile. Instead of a simple write-up on the book, she did a Dragonology-style book on Elantris. This thing is amazing; it has sketches and bios of the characters, strips of Elantrian cloth stapled in as examples, little pouches filled with materials from the books, all of that. A total multisensory experience dedicated to the novel, all handmade. Pemberly showed it to me, and it was honestly just about the coolest, must humbling thing I'd ever seen. Matisse had obviously loved the book very much.
That set me thinking of something I could do as a thank-you surprise to Matisse, who still didn't know that her teacher was dating one of her favorite authors. I'd had this idea itching in the back of my head.
So, I'm entering a portion of my current book [Mistborn] where I have to devise a lot of names. Anyone want a Cameo? I could throw in something close to your name, or perhaps a version of one of your usernames, if you wish. Firstcomers get speaking parts.
Well, Lord Rian Strobe just got added to the book. He's even got a line! (He asks a young lady to dance.)
OutKast: Elariel is a good fantasy name--won't have any problems with that.
Tekiel: Can probably use that one straight-up, if you want.
Okay, 'House Erikeller' just got mentioned as one of the major noble houses in the book. They probably won't have a big part, but they are weapons merchants, which I thought you might appreciate.
Gemm, I didn't so much as give you a character as base an entire cultural dialect off of your language patterns. They're a bunch of underground street punks who like to speak in a slang that (intentionally) confuses everyone else. There is a character in the book from that culture, though he's a few years younger than you.
Well, House Elariel and the Lady Stace Whiten just got cameos. House Elariel throws a party that some characters attend; Lady Whiten is a young woman that is supposedly one of characters' dates, but he ditches her. (Sorry. He's kind of like that.)
Okay, busy night.
First off, House Tekiel showed up in the book. In connection with that, I managed to work in House Geffenry and House Izenry.
My favorite for the night, however, is the appearance of Lord Charleir Entrone. He shows up only as a corpse, having been stabbed in the back while in a drunken stupor, but he has a reputation of being a twisted connoisseur of underground bloodfight gambling.
In The Rithmatist, you mention that Joel actually sneaks into the classroom, is that a spin-off of what you did?
I actually had a teacher once ask, "Who are you?" One of them actually picked me out. Fortunately, that was one that my roommate was going to, so I was able to [pretend I was just there with him].
Will you tell us a little about the sword from Warbreaker?
Nightblood is a weapon that I devised. He is partially inspired by my love of Michael Moorcock's writing. He was built into the cosmere using many of the foundational cosmere magic system things that exist on multiple worlds.
Lightsong's Climactic Scene, with His Vision of the Boat
Lightsong's vision and eventual death in this chapter are another of the big focus scenes. In fact, I'd say that this little scene here is my absolute favorite in the book. It's hard to explain why, but I get a chill whenever I read it. It's the chill of something you planned that turned out even better than you expected. (As opposed to the planning for the Siri/altar image, which turned out poorly and so had to be cut.)
I worked hard to bring this scene in my head to fruition. No other section of the book has been tweaked more in drafting—everything from changing it so Lightsong grabs the God King's hand as opposed to his foot, to reworking the imagery of the ocean. (That imagery, by the way, came from my honeymoon while standing on the cruise ship at night and staring into the churning white froth above deep black water.)
Many people on my forums called this event ahead of time—Lightsong healing the God King. I'm fine with that. It did seem like a very obvious setup. One character with powers he cannot use until healed, another with the power to heal someone one time. Sometimes it's okay to give people what they expect—particularly when the result is this scene. I hope they didn't expect it to be as powerful as it is (assuming readers like the scene as much as I do). I want this one to be very moving.
It's the final fulfillment of Lightsong's character. Note that even in the end, his sarcasm and irony come through. He told Siri not to depend on him because he would let her down. Well, Lightsong, you're a better man than you wanted us to believe. There's a reason why so many are willing to rely upon you.
So, where did you get the name Roshar from?
I have no idea. It's been twenty years that I've been calling it that. I don't know what my specific inspiration was. It's just one of those words that just felt right.
What was your inspiration for Wit, or who?
Hmm. You know, the closest thing I've been able to say is the court jester from King Lear, he's one of my favorite literary characters. But I'm not sure if I can, you know, if I can point to anyone specific other than that.
How did you come up with the geography on Roshar?
The geography on Roshar was developed as a natural outgrowth of the highstorm, which was the first concept for Roshar, which was inspired by the storm of Jupiter, which was me wanting to tell a story about a world with a continual magical storm. And then I built the ecology and all of these things up from that. Roshar had to grow up--I had to find a mechanism by which stone was deposited by rain, because I felt that the constant weathering over that long of a time would leave no continents. So the crem was my kind of scientific-with-one-foot-in-magic hack on keeping the continent. So the continent does drift. They don't have plate tectonics. The continent actually moves as it gets weathered on the east and gets pushed that direction over millennia of time.
The Kandra were my favorite part of the Mistborn series. What was your inspiration for them?
For the kandra, I started with the idea that a thieving crew would need a good "inside man" type, who could do costumes. None of the powers fit this, but I knew I also wanted to foreshadow Hemalurgy. From there, developing them was an organic process digging deeply into the history and worldbuilding I was doing.
The idea of the wolfhound kandra appealed to me a great deal before even starting the first book, and was where I targeted my plotting after it struck me.
Talking Horses that Talk about Their Feelings
A fun story about this chapters beings by me admitting that I didn't come up with the "TenSoon digests a horse" trick at first. I tried writing this scene with Sazed clinging to TenSoon's wolfhound back as they ran to the south. It was awkward to describe, even more awkward to imagine, and it never worked that well.
Eventually, while working on a solution to the problem of getting Sazed south to the Homeland, I realized that TenSoon could just digest another body and use that. Easy fix, and one that fit marvelously with the magic and setting.
This intersects another story relating to my friend Nate Hatfield, one of the guys in my writing group. He's a big fan of Dinosaur Comics, a webcomic that often deals with philosophy or literary criticism. Years ago, he brought a comic to the group where one of the characters in the comic strip complains that fantasy books are all about talking horses that talk about their feelings.
All through the writing of book two of Mistborn, Nate took delight in the Vin/TenSoon scenes as they were about a talking dog who talks about his feelings. He never let me live that connection down.
And then, almost just for him, I had TenSoon take on the body of a horse for a few chapters. I doubt I'll ever hear that end of that one. At least he didn't end up saying much about his feelings. ;)
Is Re-Shephir related at all to the Midnight Essence in Aether of Night?
Yes. It's me, like-- Related in that Aether of Night isn't canon, and I really liked how that worked in the cosmere, and I ported it to this instead. So that's like--
So you're not gonna write Aether of Night?
Aether of Night, I might eventually write, but the Mid--
It may be different?
What influenced the creation of the writing system in Warbreaker?
I'd been writing a lot of kind of grungy books, Mistborn and Elantris are both sort of grimy, and my editor pointed that out and suggested I write something colorful.
Where did you get the idea of a world ravaged by fierce storms?
The original seed of an idea was the storm of Jupiter, this massive persistent storm. Of course, that's a gas giant. The physics are very different. But I remember one day staring at a picture of Jupiter and thinking about a storm that circled the world that was massively powerful. That was one of those seeds that stuck in my brain. This sort of thing happened over months and years until that seed grew and developed and mixed with other things I was thinking of, and the result was Roshar.
This is a question I was wondering when you did Steelheart. When you were developing the story did you ever think of what kind of Epic you would be?
*laughs* Uh, no, I didn't really. My-- The Alcatraz books were kind of focused on dumb things I do. Steelheart I was really just kind of looking at comic book lore, and dealing with, you know, tropes from comic books.
But in that car, where you thought, "If I had super powers..."
Oh yeah, that's true!
What were you going to do to that car?
I was gonna blow up the car.
So there's your answer.
Yeah, blow up the car, yeah.
Captain Goradel, by the way, is named after my friend Richard Gordon.
We've seen some hints of the over-arching cosmere story arc, what was the inspiration behind that story originally?
I had an idea for a book when I was fifteen and just getting into fantasy novels—just getting into meaning, reading everything I could get my hands on and diving in face first—and I developed that idea over the next few years. I started writing and realized I was just no good as a writer yet. Which was okay, it wasn't a big deal to me. I realized this story was beyond my ability to approach, it was a vast, enormous story. And so, years later when I was writing Elantris I thought "Well let's just pretend I wrote that book and it was awesome and it's the prelude to what's going on here." That expanded into something much larger and much greater.
I've mentioned before, part of my inspiration for this was the fact that one of my favorite writers, Asimov, later decided to connect two of his main story universes, the Robot books and the Foundation books. It was really cool when he did it and I felt what would happen if I started doing something like this from the get go. I've known several authors who do it at the end of their careers—well I guess Stephen King's not even at the end of his career, in the middle of his career—saying let me tie a bunch of these things together. What if I seeded all of this from the get go and use this story, this awesome story, that I wasn't able to write when I was younger as a foundation for it.
Where did you get the idea for the gemhearts.
So, I wanted-- in the books, I wanted there to be an economic component to the magic, like, something that was based on the money in the world. And I knew I wanted to use the gemstones, but I also knew they would be used up really quickly by the magic, with Soulcasting. So, I built something into the creatures of the world, so that we could renew the gemstones, so they wouldn't all just be gone after a few hundred years.
By the way, I took the bit where Sarene judged Raoden's height from real-life experience. My friend, Annie Gorringe, always used to talk about how her near 6' height sometimes made it difficult for her to find men to date. Often, the first thing she'd do when she was interested in a man was judge his height compared to her own.
Watch out, folks. If you know an author, you have to watch your tongues. Anything you say is fair game to be used in a novel, as far as we're concerned.
In the summer of 2010, my wife and I visited New York. My editor, Moshe, is a life-long New Yorker and a repository of details and facts. (I've found this is a common thing in a lot of editors; they tend to be the type to pay attention to details.) The result of this was him towing us all over the city, telling us little tidbits about this building or that one.
Well, one of the stories he told us was about the early days of skyscrapers, and how people would race to build the highest building. He talked about some of the famous rivalries; I think that's the first time I began to envision a cool Allomantic fight taking place in the heights of an unfinished skyscraper. Five months or so later, I wrote this scene.
Hoid has… a lot of things influencing that. I liked the Robots story in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, I wanted to have a character that moved behind the scenes of each story like that.
How often do your dreams ever influence your books?
Once in awhile.
Once in awhile.
Yup. […] writer you have a cool dream […] something there […] Usually there’s not but once in awhile there really is something and it turns around in your head and eventually ends up in the books.
Chapter Thirty-Four - Part Two
Kelsier saving Elend in this chapter was indeed something of a homage to Les Miserables. It is one of my favorite classics, and Elend's own character—with his group of idealistic noble friends—was partially inspired by Marius and his cohorts. I wasn't originally going to have Elend in this scene, but I decided to throw him in and give Kelsier the opportunity to save him, partially as an inside reference to the story that inspired him, and partially to let Kelsier do something truly selfless as a final send-off before he died.
Vivenna Visits the Idrian Slums
Vivenna probably should have expected what she would find here. She knows that the slumlords, who are Idrians, run whorehouses and illegal fighting leagues. However, she deluded herself into assuming that they employ Hallandren whores or that the fights aren't all that bad.
I think this would be a hard thing to come to grips with. It's happened repeatedly throughout history—a poorer segment travels to a new country and becomes part of the lower, working class. In Korea, they were always complaining about people from Burma coming in and stealing their jobs. I remember hearing the Japanese saying the same thing about Koreans. I've heard Americans complain about all three. Things like this have far less to do with culture or race and far more to do with relative economic standing and fluency with the language/culture.
Knowing it happens, however, wouldn't make it any easier to find your own people in such a state, I think.
Notice that the Idrians here often wear dark clothing. This is partially to hold to their old ways of avoiding colors, but they tend to wear clothes that are black and dark instead of light. (Though there are some who follow the more traditional way.) However, by wearing these dark colors, they completely defeat the original stated purpose of dull clothing—that of removing color to keep Awakeners from using their art.
I was actually going to ask where you came up with the idea of Hoid?
Hoid is inspired by my desire to tell a story that spans other stories. I would say the origins of that are probably Asimov, when he made the Robots books and the Foundation books tie together. Something like that. Maybe Michael Moorcock, he had a similar sort of cross-world thing. I was reading both of them a lot right when I started coming up with that. So I would say, that's the origin of it. Stephen King has done it, but I didn't know he'd done it. I hadn't been reading him as much.
What do you base the codes on, from The Stormlight books? Do you have anything specific--
I don't have anything specific. It's kind like a general-- lot's of different things, looking at bushido and knightly code and things like this and just kind of building my own out of it. The words "Life before death" were like one of the first things I thought of for the book and I'm like "I gotta use that. It's going in there." And eventually it grew out of that.
The painter dude that Shallan had the book from... Was that Hoid?
The Oilsworn? No, that is a little tuckerization for Dan dos Santos, who did the American cover of Warbreaker, and did several of our interior arts in here [Oathbringer], the fashion pages. He's one of my favorite artists.
What was the main inspiration for Elantris?
My main inspiration for Elantris was reading in the New Testament, actually, about lepers and leper colonies, and wanting to write a story about a magical leper colony. And that's where the idea for the people who got this disease, and the city, and everything like that.
Hoid waxes poetic on the idea that the more people expect, the more difficult it becomes for the artist. This is more the critic in me having noticed that my own expectations for a piece play dramatically into how much I enjoy it. Some of my best experiences at the cinema have been films where I had no idea what to expect. The Sixth Sense was like this for me. I had never heard of the film, my friends dragged me to it, they said it's a horror and I said "I'm not sure if I want to watch a slasher pic, but I think it's going to be terrible but whatever." And I watched it and it was a great movie and I came out of it saying, "Wow, I did not expect that." And yet something like The Dark Knight Returns, which is a fantastic film, well done. Yet the second film was so good that I went into the third film and it wasn't quite as good as the second film and I came out and said, "Eh." Where it is a great film and yet my expectations-- It's unfair to the artist but it is the way I think a lot of us work. That our expectations do play a lot into how our experience is for the story. A lot of things when I go into things like that, I'm not trying to let the author speak so much as I'm trying to say what would someone who analyzes art like a critic in my analyzes art what would be an observation they would make. Hoid is not me and he does not voice necessarily my personal opinions, but he is an artist and a critic and so he notices some of the things I notice.
So there's a line in Secret History that references, like, a mythical string that shows the way home in the maze of Ishathon. Is that an intentional reference to--
Yes, yes, so here's one thing I do in the cosmere, because my senior course was in folklore, I had a really good folklore teacher-- So you should all thank Dr. Thursby for this. One of the things I learned in folklore-- I don't know if you guys have studied this, but it's really interesting-- Societies come up with the same myths. Right? They do! You'll find-- The biggest one is the Cinderella myth. There's a version of Cinderella in almost every culture, and it's shocking how they hit the same beats. And so my folkloristic inclinations lead me to say that certain stories that I know are common, whether it's the string that leads you out, or breadcrumbs-- different people use different things-- But these stories exist. Mythical mazes, you will find stories about. And so that's not meant to be anything more than for the folklorists to say "Ah! I recognize this, Roshar has some of the same myths, and the same versions, that we have."
One of your characters wishes for and is given capacity... That is one of my favorite concepts of all the books that I read of yours. Can you talk about the inspiration for that gift of limited and maximum capacity?
To not give spoilers, there is a character in The Stormlight Archive who has asked the Old Magic, which is a force that kind of has references in things like The Monkey's Paw and what-not, a force that doesn't always give you things exactly the way you want them. And I built, by the way, the Old Magic into The Stormlight Archive because I felt that at a certain point, while I love to do these rule-based magic systems, I wanted there to be a contrast to it... It's kinda like this idea that, yes, modern science and things have explained a lot of stuff, but there's something primal, perhaps, in the past, I don't actually know. But that idea that there's a primal magic that doesn't really adhere to the rules, we can't anticipate it, was really, I felt, vital for me to include so that I didn't overexplain everything in the books.
So, there's a person who asked for capacity. It wanted to be, let's say, strong enough to lift (it's not actually strength, but it's more of an emotional thing) what was coming. That, I feel like, is a very real thing to wish for, right? I have frequently, like... people say "What would you wish for," and I say "The ability to fly," because I would love to be able to fly. But really, if I sit and think about it, capacity, ability, the capacity to hold all of this stuff in my head, would probably be the sort of thing that I would wish for. So this character, in some ways, is giving wish fulfillment for me, because that's what I would maybe ask for if given the opportunity, but even that kind of turns on its head because the Old Magic just doesn't get people in the way that people think they should be gotten.
I just finished Rithmatist, so just a general question, where did the idea come from?
The Rithmatist began as the magic system as you probably could guess. I wanted to do an interesting magic system that people played a game with. Because I have used most of my magic… You’ll read in these, that they’re kind of martial arts based, warfare based, things like that. I’m like, people play games with everything. Why do I have no games-- magic systems with games. So it kind of just spun out of that.
Newcago was a HUGE surprise for me. I expected to see Chicago, but roughed up in a dystopian way. Instead you took a major city we all know, and made it completely new and interactive. The catacombs, in particular were really interesting to me. Did you base Newcago's catacombs off of a "real" place?
Newcago's catacombs were actually based more off of mid-eighties cyberpunk stories where you've often got this sort of techie underground, and I love that visual. I intentionally didn't want to take Steelheart in a dystopian direction, even though it technically is a dystopia. I just feel that the whole "wasted world" dystopia has been done so well by so many writers that I wanted to have something that felt new and different.
When I gave Steelheart this sort of Midas power to turn Chicago into metal, I thought it would be cool to have these catacombs dug underneath it because the visual was so different and cool. The catacombs I've visited in various cities are, of course, awesome, but really I'm looking back at those cyberpunk books.
If you've read the book, then you probably won't be surprised to find that a partial inspiration for it was the Sherlock Holmes stories. Of course, you'd have to search pretty far to find any kind of detective story that isn't somehow influenced by good Mister Holmes. This story, however, is more consciously inspired along those lines. I purposely developed a mysterious (almost even magical) series of robberies along the lines of what you see in the Holmes stories. The technological era is similar as well.
Of course, the characters are much different—even down to the character roles and dynamics. I wanted Wax to be a thinker, but more of a lawman than an eccentric. Wayne has enough eccentricity for three characters. I wanted the way that Wax approached solving a problem like this to be more methodical, more like a lawman who has grown accustomed to doing things on his own—but who has procedures he follows.
Beyond that, I wanted Wax to be solid. Many people are going to prefer Wayne for obvious reasons, but I prefer this story to be about Wax. (I'll talk more about Wayne's origins later.) Wax's solidity helps anchor the story, I feel. Perhaps I find him more interesting than others will, but the different parts of him that are warring inside create for a stronger dynamic than some of the other characters, who are more static.