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Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
#1 Copy

Michael M. Jones

One thing we tend to expect in YA is the presence of romance. There's no real sign of it in Skyward, though. Was this your intention from the start, or did the characters just not work out that way?

Brandon Sanderson

It was more the characters. In my first draft, I tried to shoehorn a romance in. I like romance; you'll find them in my adult books. But here, it didn’t fit the characters or the theme, and it felt inappropriate. This is a very traumatic time for Spensa, who's focused in every way on becoming a pilot and finding out the secrets of her past, and romance just didn't work. So I revised in the direction the characters demanded.

The obvious pairing was Spensa and Jerkface. That’s where I was trying to go, but it felt like a cheesy romance in the middle of an action-adventure story about finding out who you really are, and about going into battle, and all of that stress and pressure. Maybe someday I'll release the deleted scenes and people can see how poorly it worked.

Skyward Seattle signing ()
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Questioner

How does the destructor blast for a Poco not destroy its own shield?

Brandon Sanderson

In Skyward, I have the shields work directionally, the same way a lot of science fiction does. Like you could fly out of a hangar bay that has a shield on it, but you can't fly back into it unless they change the frequency and stuff like that. That's how those are working for me. They will let things not come in but will let things go out... It's Sci-Fi technology that's kind of an old stand-by for how shields work and I just kind of rely on that one.

Skyward Seattle signing ()
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Questioner

So Skyward, do you consider it science fiction or science fantasy?

Brandon Sanderson

I consider it-- Is Skyward science fiction or science fantasy?

I generally separate the plot archetypes in my head from the genre trappings, and a lot of times people have plot archetypes that are science fiction. I do a lot of science fiction plot archetypes with fantasy settings. That's what Elantris is, right? The plot archetype is about information and researching information and coming to a scientific understanding of something that happened in the past so you can use it to fix the future; science fiction plot archetype fantasy setting for Elantris.

Skyward's backwards, right? It's the fantasy plot archetype. It is the the coming of age struggle against society through use of a fantastical boon to prove yourself, right? Very kind of classic fantasy thing but the trappings are science fiction. So I don't know that I look at these things the same way. Like, Stormlight, the Bridge Four sequence is an underdog sports story with fantasy trappings. That's the plot archetype...

As a writer, where I would shelve it? I would shelve it in science fiction because the trappings are usually-- And because of that. I would shelve Star Wars as science fiction, even though Star Wars is very much mystical, fantastical plot archetypes going on. Shelve it with where the genre trappings are, that's just for our sanity right? So we can know what box to put things in. Just for ease of discussing it and things like that. Nothing ever matches either genre trapping or plot archetype. It's just there for us to be able to have the framework to talk about it. 

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
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OrangeJedi

She noticed that the race in Skyward that the people are fighting are Krell, and that there are krell in Sixth of the Dusk.

Brandon Sanderson

That is not a direct connection. It's just, the Krell are a race of aliens from Forbidden Planet, one of my favorite classic science fiction movies, and I'm just doing it in Skyward as an homage to that. Krell in Sixth of the Dusk is just me looking for a thing that sounds like the right name for the thing.

OrangeJedi

So they're completely unrelated?

Brandon Sanderson

Completely unrelated. Other than the fact that I've watched Forbidden Planet, like, six times.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Govir

An actual Skyward question: Were you inspired by the anime Gurren Lagann at all for this? That anime starts out with humans living in caves and being attacked in order to keep their population down. The cave dwelling and constant attacks is the only connection so far that I see (the rest of the anime gets pretty crazy and I don't think you'd go that far).

Brandon Sanderson

I'm afraid I haven't seen Gurren Lagann, which is probably an oversight--a lot of people talk about it being great.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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NotOJebus

Okay so Brandon, I've gotta ask, Rig's last name is McCaffrey. I thought, oh haha, nice McCaffrey reference.

Then I got thinking.

So Skyward is a story about a girl and her starship (dragon) who join a group to help defend their planet, which is made up of separate caverns (Holds) after humanity crashed (colonized) their world, and who has to defend said peoples from an enemy that periodically comes from the sky called the Krell (Thread).

Let's just assume the world takes place in the DE universe and that Spensa and Co will eventually work out how to psychically teleport and... Brandon... Is Skyward just a sci fi retelling of the Dragonriders of Pern...

Brandon Sanderson

The White Dragon (along with Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen) are direct inspirations for Skyward. And Rodge's last name is a nod to Anne McCaffrey.

I wouldn't say it's only a sci-fi retelling of these stories. But the plot archetype that inspired me is the "boy and his dragon" story. (Including Eragon and How to train your Dragon as well.) I've always wanted to do a story like this, but wanted to find a way to put my own spin (heh heh) on the story.

You'll see how they diverge as the story progresses. But much as Mistborn was inspired by heist stories, this one was inspired by dragon egg stories.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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kakarotoks

As for Skyward, you said before that you got stuck because you weren't liking it, then you finally figured out how to fix it, will you write a blog post after release about how it was before and what needed to be changed to make it fit your standard?

Brandon Sanderson

Did I say that about Skyward? I got stuck on Apocalypse Guard, and pulled it for that reason. I don't believe I had any big issues with Skyward that weren't up to standards, just normal revision issues. The biggest hurdle came long before writing the book, as I was trying to figure out ways to approach this plot archetype in a way that wouldn't simply be a rehash of what people have done before.

Read For Pixels 2018 ()
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CrazyRioter

Have you ever considered writing more female friendships?

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, you know, that's something that I noticed, right? That's another one of these things we do a bad job of in fiction. Particularly female friendships. Like, you see the bromances happening a lot, particularly in fantasy, but we tend to see-- particularly written by men-- a lot of the "one woman among a large cast of men", and this sort of thing. And certainly that's not to say that there aren't women who have a lot of friends who are male. But it is certainly something I think we get wrong a lot in fantasy. And it's one of those kind of things you don't notice. But I have noticed it about my fiction, that I'm really good at guy friendships, and I have kind of ignored female friendships. I actually took a stab at doing a better job of this in Skyward. So you can tell me if I've done a better job of it or not with this book.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Jesse Estabrook

When it said Spensa’s father was shot down by his own flight, was it supposed to be fleet? I suppose that since there are so many errors, that this is not an example of the actual final release. Will there be further changes so that we will need to re-read all of these preview chapters all over again, once the edited final product is released?

Brandon Sanderson

Any errors in here are only proofreading errors--I've turned the book over to these teams, and won't be making any more story changes. So don't worry. You won't miss anything, other than a little spelling here and there. Though I did mean "flight" instead of "fleet" as they tend to use small squad tactics as pilots, and call these groups "flights."

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
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Michael M. Jones

What was your inspiration for Skyward?

Brandon Sanderson

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved the quintessential "boy and his dragon story." My favorite is Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood. It was one of the very first fantasy books I ever read, and it left a lasting impression on me. But there was also Anne McCaffrey’s The White Dragon, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and the How to Train Your Dragon film series. I love this archetype of story, and I’ve always wanted to do one, but I held off until I could find a new direction in which to approach it. Eventually, it drifted away from "a boy and his dragon" towards "a girl and her spaceship."

About four years ago, I hit on this idea, but I only had the framework. I still needed setting, characters, things that would really make me excited about the entire story. As a writer, it’s always about digging down deep into what I love about certain stories—what are the essential elements, what are the concepts that thrill me, and can I build those back up into something new? The more I built this back up, the more excited I became.

For most things, like worldbuilding and plots, I do outlines. But characters develop by instinct, as their voices emerge. The character of Spensa came to me almost fully formed. I was intrigued and enthralled by the idea of this girl who had been raised on stories from our world, the myths and legends, even ones we know are fiction like Conan the Barbarian. She sees herself as the latest in a long line of warriors, except her actual job is hunting rats and selling them for meat on the street. She has this idea of who she should be, what her destiny is, but in real life she’s just barely getting by. Characters come out of conflict, and hers is the contrast between what her life is like and what she thinks it should be, the difference between perception and experience.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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MS-07B-3

Skyward question! The light line is mentioned as using two fingers to shoot it out. Are they the middle two fingers, and was this inspired by any jovial community arachnid folk?

Brandon Sanderson

First draft didn't have specific controls to shoot it out, and during revisions, I thought, "Oh, what the heck. It's not a big part of the story anyway." So yes. :)

Publishers Weekly Q & A ()
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Michael M. Jones

What kind of research did you do?

Brandon Sanderson

Mainly, it was about fighter pilots and what they go through, what g-force feels like, stuff like that. I'm indebted to a couple of real-life fighter pilots for helping me to get it right. Also, I had to research what it's like to live in societies where the machine of war grinds people up out of necessity to keep the country alive, what it does to them. I took inspiration from real-world regimes to create an amalgamation, which still doesn't go as far as it could have. I just included subtle markers to the reader to suggest the sort of stress they live under.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Questioner

Is there anything in particular that majorly influenced the path that Skyward took at any point?

Brandon Sanderson

There's a big reveal at the ending that, once I came up with it, made me really excited to write the book - but you'll have to read it to find out.

Skyward Denver signing ()
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Questioner

Callsigns. Did you come up with those yourself?

Brandon Sanderson

I did. The callsigns in the back of all the beta readers, they came up with their own. But I came up with all the callsigns. One of the things I was trying to do, I tried to make the callsigns start with the same sound as their real names. And that was what be guidance was so that it would be easier to keep everyone straight.

Berlin signing ()
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Questioner

I think [my class] enjoy [Skyward] because you have space fights for boys, and for the girls you have a female protagonist. We wondered if this was your intention for choosing a female protagonist?

Brandon Sanderson

No, it really wasn't. My intention for choosing a female protagonist was, she was the character I was most interested about writing in this world. I do try to make sure I have a balance, kind of in vague terms. But mostly I'm like, "Who is the character that this story matches best?" And Spensa, she was raised on Conan books, and she wants to be a warrior like that. And she's very different, she's very weird, in the sort of weird way I like to write people. And she's just somebody that I was kind of bursting at the seams to tell her story and to get her into a book.

The original idea for Skyward came from my love of stories about boys and dragons. There's this classic story that gets told. Kid finds a dragon egg, and then they hatch the dragon egg in secret and become this dragon rider. It's the story of How to Train Your Dragon. (Not a dragon egg, but he finds a dragon.) It's the story of Eragon. It's the story of one of my favorite books of all time, Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen. There's just a ton of this type of story. And one of the things I like to do is isolate a story's archetype, kind of try to break it down to "Why do I love it? What makes it work?" And then try to build it up in a new and different way.

Stormlight, the Bridge Four sequence, I built off of an underdog sports story. Like, if you've seen Hoosiers or Miracle or any of these stories about an underdog sports team who takes on the world. That sort of archetype became the Bridge Four sequence. And Skyward came from the kid and his dragon stories. And that was the seed of it. But Spensa was always going to be the protagonist of that. She was just a character I knew I needed to write.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

In Skyward, what is your callsign? And what was the process for creating so many callsigns?

Brandon Sanderson

My callsign is Mr. Prolific. That probably wouldn't work as a good callsign, but it was my callsign way back when I was in my writing group, my first writing group with my friends.

The process was, actually, I wanted to pick a callsign that used the same sound as their real name, to help people keep them straight. Because you basically have a double number of names in the book. So same letter or same sound, creating it. And I just started with that letter or sound. And then I wanted them each to feel distinctive. If they're all, like, initials. Or they're all one-syllable names, it can be really easy to mix them up. So I wanted some that were two or three syllables. Some that, they wanted to reinforce who the character was sometimes, things like that. That's where I went on that.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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SquishyMouth

How would you say Skyward compares to, say, Mistborn in terms of completion? By the end of The Final Empire you give us enough answers to leave us satisfied with just the first book, but the trilogy as a whole works without feeling like the story is stitched together - will the Skyward series have the same feel, or will the ending of book one immediately call for the next book?

Brandon Sanderson

The ending of Mistborn is one of the standards (in terms of how stand-alone the book feels, yet with promises of where we're going) that I try to achieve. I'd say that Skyward doesn't quite feel as stand-alone by the end as Mistborn or Steelheart, but more so than TWoK did.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

For Jerkface... Was he supposed to stay a jerk, or did you want him to...

Brandon Sanderson

I planned out his arc. I tried very hard to evoke Malfoy, Crabbe, and... Goyle. I tried very hard to evoke that, and then try to pull the rug out from underneath that. Whether I was successful or not, depends on your interpretation, but he was always supposed to be.

And the real fun and twist to this book is, Spensa's kind of the bully, but she presents him as the bully. And hopefully, as you read, you're like, "Wait a minute..."

Tel Aviv Signing ()
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Questioner

Can cytonic people potentially use all the abilities from Defending Elysium?

Brandon Sanderson

Potentially, yes. So mindblades and things like that. Mostly, I'm kind of pushing people into specialties a little bit more, like I've done with something like Mistborn where you're generally better at one thing than another. So you may see some divisions of powers, but they're all capable of it.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

Why didn't Spensa just go home to get food, instead of just having to hunt?

Brandon Sanderson

Well, there's a couple of reasons. Number one, she's kind of independent and strong-headed, and doesn't want to admit that she can't do it. And number two, she needed that time to work on M-Bot. If she were going down and coming back up, she wouldn't have the time. But she would set snares for rats, which she could check in the off-time, which meant that it saved her a lot of time eating only rats.

SpoCon 2013 ()
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Questioner

You recently announced in your blog post a new Cosmere short story called Skyward. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit?

Brandon Sanderson

Skyward is the working title. I've talked a little about it before in my class, so if you watch my videos, I talk about it a little bit in there. It will be a teen novel in the cosmere. It is science fiction era.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

Did you know Hurl's fate before you started writing it all?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, I built that all out in the outline... I needed somebody who was the image of Spensa who went the wrong way, as kind of like a model for what she would see herself in. And part of the inspiration for Skyward is Top Gun, which has that as a major theme. So it was a very natural sort of thing to weave into the story as I was going.

Skyward release party ()
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Questioner

What made you want to write Skyward?

Brandon Sanderson

Skyward is a weird book in that it is a science fiction book based on a fantasy idea. Some of my favorite books when I was growing up were stories about a boy who finds a dragon egg or a dragon, and raises the dragon and then flies on the dragon, all sorts of fun stuff happens. And I've always wanted to do one of these stories. One of the very first books I ever read in fantasy was Dragonsblood by Jane Yolen, which I just reread so I could write a little review of it. And it's great. One of my favorite books of all time is The White Dragon, by Anne McCaffrey. And you'll find some Anne McCaffrey references in this book, you won't have to look that hard. But the idea was I wanted to do one of these books, but I never felt like I could give a good spin to it. And it is when I combined it with some other worldbuilding I had done in a science fiction universe and changed it from "a boy and his dragon" to "a girl and her spaceship" that the story really started to connect, because the worldbuilding that I had built for this galactic science fiction really clicked with this story. And that was kind of the breakthrough that I made, was combining these two things together.

So, Skyward came from me wanting to write a story about a dragon. It just turns out the dragon is a spaceship with a really weird AI.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

In this book [Skyward], you have a little bit of telepathy and teleportation. So, was that magic?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, absolutely.

Questioner

So it's fantasy and sci-fi?

Brandon Sanderson

What it is is, sci-fi trappings. But my science in this is pure magic.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Jofwu

I'm really hooked by the "girl and her dragon" idea. Were there any fun or interesting things you were able to explore by virtue of replacing the dragon with a spaceship? That is, it's easy to imagine the fun similarities, but I'm curious if there were any notable differences introduced by that swap.

Brandon Sanderson

Hm... Well, normally in the dragon egg story, a trope is that the dragon needs to learn how to fly/fight and the trainer needs to learn with them.

Here, the ship knows how to fly--but is busted up. So there's a lot of fun in the story relating to how exactly to get parts for the ship--which leads to a completely different style of storytelling.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

On Skyward, I love the Graphic Audio adaptations. Do you know if there's any plans to do a Graphic Audio recording on Skyward at this time?

Brandon Sanderson

There's not plans right now. I'm trying to talk Random House into it. I guess it would be Audible into it, 'cause they have the audio rights. They haven't let us do the Reckoners. It's tough because Audible bought the rights directly, and Graphic Audio is a direct competitor. Whereas with the Stormlight books, MacMillian audio is not the same. So, we'll try.

Oathbringer release party ()
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Brandon Sanderson

I talked a bit about it, in the Write About Dragons lectures at BYU, I just had the idea. I realized that a lot of my favorite stories were kind of like these boy-with-a-dragon-egg stories, right? One of my favorite stories of all time is Dragon's Blood, by Jane Yolen. Just, absolutely amazing book. And I thought, that's the kind of story I like, but it's been done to death. But then I thought, hey, I can do a different version of that. So, this story, basic premise is How To Train Your Dragon, but instead it's a girl who finds a spaceship, and goes to Top Gun school. So, it's like a mashup between Top Gun and Ender's Game and How To Train Your Dragon with an old broken down spaceship with a really weird personality. And I'm going to read you the prologue of this, which happens when the main character is rather young.

Skyward Atlanta signing ()
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Questioner

Back to the callsigns. Did you come up with Jorgen's name first, or did you come up with his callsign first?

Brandon Sanderson

The callsign was first. And then the name followed out of some of the linguistics I was using... Yeah, the callsign was first.

Starsight Release Party ()
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Questioner

For the light-lances, where do they get their power from?

Brandon Sanderson

They come from the same sort of place that everything's getting their power. You know, little micro-engines that are basically fantasy-ish. They're super advanced hyper-engines. I think I worked something out where they using <inaudible> in some way. They're like Brandon's versions of Asimov watches with atomic power. They're just fantastically far-future power sources. Otherwise, we couldn't make any of this work. Like, the whole shell around Detritus and stuff. We needed a cheap and powerful energy source.

Questioner

Exactly. They're just like little bitty things.

Brandon Sanderson

They're basically fantasy novels with spaceships.