The Way of Kings looks to be your largest book to date, but it also might be the longest in gestation with even having an old Amazon page from when it was first contracted where people have written all kinds of lovely things. Can you tell us a little bit about its history?
The Way of Kings, like any of my books, is an amalgamation of ideas that work together and fascinate me, hopefully creating something larger than the pieces; the whole is greater than the parts. Ideas for it began back when I was in high school and starting my very first book. The Shattered Plains first appeared in a novel I wrote back in 2000. The Way of Kings as a novel was first written in 2003; I now call that book The Way of Kings Prime. I wrote that book because I was frustrated with my own writing process. That was during my unpublished days, and I had been writing books that I wasn't pleased with—I've got an entire essay on that on my website. Eventually I decided, "I'm tired of trying to write what other people tell me will sell. I'm going to write the coolest, biggest, baddest, nastiest, most awesome fantasy epic I can conceive, and pull out all the stops and grab all the cool ideas that I've been putting off for a while."
So I wrote this massive book. And then, unexpectedly, I sold a different book—one that had been sitting on an editor's desk for eighteen months. That was Elantris—then Moshe Feder called me up and wanted to buy it, and that threw chaos into my whole worldview.
Here I thought I would never get published, and I was just writing for myself, but now someone wants one of my old books that I thought would never sell. Then Moshe asked me what I was working on at the time, and I sent him The Way of Kings. Which he was very surprised to get, because it was twice as long as Elantris, and it was extremely big and sprawling and epic. It scared the daylights out of him. He wasn't sure what to do with it. He called me up and said, "I don't know what we can do with this. Can we split this into multiple books? I don't know if I can convince the publisher to publish this massive novel."
At the same time—and I've said this numerous times before--I wasn't a hundred percent pleased with The Way of Kings because I didn't have the skill yet to write it. So we shelved it, and I wrote the Mistborn trilogy, which I pitched to him very soon afterward—it may have even been on the same phone call—which I was very excited about at the time. I'm very pleased with how that turned out, but it was a little bit smaller in scope. In some ways it was me practicing and learning how to write a series.
And then the Wheel of Time dropped on me like a truckload of bricks out of nowhere, and I was forced to swim in the deep water and learn how to become a much better writer so I could finish such a wonderful series. During that process I learned a lot about writing.
Tor started asking me what my next book was going to be and if there was any way I could get them something to put out between Wheel of Time books, so I pitched them The Way of Kings. Then I sat down and wrote it. I wrote it from scratch again; I didn't take anything from the 2003 version of the book other than my memories of what had worked and what hadn't. I reached back and grabbed the Shattered Plains out of that other book that I had written; I reached back and grabbed another few cool ideas that had been bounding around in my head since I'd been a kid. I poured everything into this book, everything that I had, all of my best ideas, to try to make the fantasy opus that I had always wanted to write. That's where it came from. That's the history. I don't know yet if I've been successful, and I won't know for many years, until we see whether it stands the test of time.