Are the Shards drawn to each other?
Some are, some are not.
Are the Shards drawn to each other?
Some are, some are not.
How much self will do the Shards (the person, not the power associated) have, [is it complicated by having more pieces?]?
So they do have a lot of personal will power. They can do things. But the longer they hold the power, the more their will starts to align with that of the power. Resisting it can keep it from happening, but it will eventually happen. So yes and no. It depends on the individual, it depends on how long.
Is investiture finite? Hemalurgy and a Return's need to consume breath seems to show us that it can be destroyed. If it is finite, is the Cosmere's magic source doomed to the law of entropy?
Investiture can not be created or destroyed. It follows it's own version of the laws of Thermodynamics.
So what happens to the investiture that is lost when a person is spiked and the spike isn't set in the new person immediately? Does it return to the big pool of investiture in the sky like the power from wheel of time where if its not actively being used it returns to the source?
What happens to someone's body when it's not being used by a particular person? The system is built to work like that.
Vasher has shown us that he can substitue his need for Breath with another investiture (presumably Stormlight). To what extent is investiture interchangeable between magic systems?
Very interchangeable, but not always simple to apply.
Does investiture have a consistent form (regardless of magic system and its Physical form) in one of the other realms?
It's consistent in the Spiritual Realm. Location isn't particularly important there.
Quick question: I had a hard time "hearing" the Parshendi's singing in my head while reading The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. Are there any real world examples you drew from you could give me so we have a better idea of what they sound like to you?
It was tough, as I didn't want to constrain their language in English to a certain rhythm, as I felt it would be too gimmicky on the page. I used Hindu chants in my head, though, so that might help.
Are spren bound to Roshar or can they travel to other worlds? Could they do so if they were bound to someone that traveled to other worlds?
RAFO. Excellent question, though.
Can an Awakened form a nahel bond with a spren on Roshar?
Depends on the spren!
Where did the body Kelsier is using come from?
That’s actually a RAFO. You will find out about that, probably in a Secret History, if I get to it. Eventually, I’ll answer that question for people. I don’t want to answer it now, because it is something I could put into a book.
I just realized that his body, most of it was gone. The bones might still be around.
The bones were in use, and were in Hero of Ages. The bones had made an appearance. They were still around, but whether that’s what he’s using, I’ll leave.
I didn’t think putting a spike into his skull [...]
You’ll find that out eventually.
Thank you so much with all the work you guys have done with Writing Excuses. I’m just starting to get into your fiction, I haven’t read much yet, but Writing Excuses I’ve been listening to for a few years and it’s helped me a lot.
You can blame it on Katherine Kurtz, the fantasy/science fiction writer. I met her at a con when I was 18 and she sat down and chatted with me for like half an hour one-on-one about how to be a writer. And I’m like “Oh, that told me so much!”. I’d never gotten that sort of thing before, and it made me realize, becoming a writer is one of these weird things where you can’t learn it except from other writers. You can teach yourself to write, but actually getting published and how to approach problems when you run into them. So many people writer’s block, I feel, because they hit something, they don’t have personal experience dealing with it. Working through that on your own is just really hard, but if you can hear other author’s perspective, you can try those tools and find something that works for you.
Have you ever read 1491 by Charles C. Mann?
Yes, I have.
Did that inform [plans for The Aztlanian]…
That did inform, that was one of the main books I went to in my research where they’re like, you need to read this book. I read that book and I loved it. Even the book points out some people don’t agree with this hypothesis, but it feels right to me, so I’m running with that idea.
Even if the details weren’t totally clear in the archeological record, the story in it is just...
Is great. This is the idea that South America in particular but, Central America and parts of North America, were much more densely populated than we assumed and the introduction of diseases that the Europeans brought was more devastating than previous people had theorized. Which is really, really interesting, because it deals with this other idea of America Pox, right? Why did the Europeans not get a disease? Why is there no mythical America Pox that was given back to them? That’s a big question that people have. If you haven’t thought about it, you’re like “Hey, yeah!”. They were both isolated populations from one another, why was there no disease transfers? One of the big theories is that this goes back to animals. Most deadly diseases that we have transferred from animals to humans and they kill us because diseases don’t actually want to kill you. They want you to get sick enough to keep spreading the disease, as long as you have the disease, and if it kills you, it fails in that. Most of them, there are some that, you know. A lot of diseases that are deadly to us were not deadly to cattle, where they originated, and they jumped species. The argument is, and some disagree with this, but the argument is Europeans had these animals that they used. They moved them into the seas with them, they caught a whole bunch of these terrible diseases that wiped out big populations, but they got over it. And in North and Central and South America, they did not have as many animals living in close proximity to humans in large population centers, and so the diseases did not pass to humans, and there were no big deadly diseases for the Europeans to catch when they came over.
[says he got the term America Pox from CGP Grey, a Youtuber, who he likes watching and was clearly reading some of the same books]
It was mentioned that there are 16 gods in your Cosmere.
Depends on your definition of god.
Shards. Are the ten orders of the Knight Radiants related to specific gods? Because Honor, child of Honor-Kaladin
So all the magic on Roshar, all the surgebinding on Roshar, is going to have its roots in Honor and Cultivation. Um... There is some Odium influence too, but that’s mostly voidbinding, which is the map in the back of the first book.
I was wondering how much-
But, but even the powers, it’s, it’s really this sort of thing. What’s going in Stormlight is that people are accessing fundamental forces of creation and laws of the universe. They’re accessing them through the filter of Cultivation and Honor. So, that’s not to say, on another world you couldn’t have someone influence gravity. Honor doesn’t belong to gravity. But bonds, and how to deal with bonds, and things like this, is an Honor thing. So the way Honor accesses gravity is, you make a bond between yourself and either a thing or a direction or things like that and you go. So it’s filtered through Honor’s visual, and some of the magics lean more Honor and some them lean more Cultivation, as you can obviously see, in the way that they take place.
The question kind of rooted because, Wyndle in the short story is always saying that he’s a cultivationspren, he doesn’t like [...]. I kind of got the idea that each order had a different Shard.
That is a good thing to think, but that is not how it is. Some of them self-identify more in certain ways. Syl is an honorspren, that’s what they call a honorspren, they self-identify as the closest to Honor. Is that true? Well, I don’t know. For instance, you might talk to different spren, who are like, no, highspren are like “We’re the ones most like Honor. We are the ones that keep oaths the best. Those honorspren will let their people break their oaths if they think it’s for a good cause. That’s not Honor-like.” There would be disagreement.
Are you saying that the spren’s view of themself influences how they work?
Oh yeah, and humans’ view of them because spren are pieces of Investiture who have gained sapience, or sentience for the smaller spren, through human perception of those forces. For instance, whether or not Kaladin is keeping an oath is up to what Syl and Kaladin think is keeping that oath. It is not related to capital-T Truth, what is actually keeping the oath. Two windrunners can disagree on whether an oath has been kept or not.
[mentions the 20-page Stormlight Archive Companion someone was having him sign]
I want to do an updated version of this with more pictures in it. It turned out so cool. Tor was like, “We’re going to do this thing”, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, do this thing”, and then they printed it and I’m like, “This looks really cool and feels really cool”.
How did you choose Aztec culture as opposed to Mayan?
Because I like, I think it’s interesting. I’m really fascinated by the way that, in North America, Aztec culture was one of the closest things we had to an empire. Granted, the Mayans were similar too. This isn’t a good thing, but they were starting to be a colonial power in North America, they were just 100 years behind because, different people argue why. The argument of, they didn’t have good [not sure what he says here] animals like they had in Europe. Europe had access to horses and cows, and, particularly in North America, they didn’t have access to these beasts of burden. There’s also the argument that, through most of South America, the terrain was not really good for pulling carts and things like this. So no animals and not really good for the wheel makes communication between cultures difficult. Communications between cultures is what inspires technological progress most of the time. So suddenly, you have this, where they’re really advanced in some areas, like their mathematics and whatnot, but they don’t have the wheel. And that is so interesting, and the Aztec is really interesting. The idea that they came [...] they found Tenochitlan after leaving Aztlan and come to this place and they’re these people, and their god is the hummingbird and all this stuff and it’s just really cool mythology and culture, but all anyone knows about the Aztecs is, “Human sacrifice!”, right? That’s the thing everyone focuses on, when you’ve got this really deep and cool and rich culture as well. They didn’t even really sacrifice, according to most people, that many people, no more than in European wars, they would execute after you… but it’s got this really cool mythology around it. Anyway, it’s just a really cool culture, and being from North America it’s something I wanted to dig into and deal with. Plus you’ve got, this is kind of a minefield of stuff, but you’ve got this weird colonial thing going on that I wanted to play with. In the Rithmatist world, the Aztecs had unified into a colonial power and a lot of the North American tribes had unified beneath them. Some left happily, some not happily to fight against the chalkling threat. They got pushed all the way back, fighting and fighting and fighting, and then the Europeans come in, and they’re like, “Great, this continent that there’s nobody in!” and they’re like, “Hey no, that’s ours!”. So you’ve got this really, at least to me, interesting interaction between, cause there’s all these myths that perpetuated in the 1800’s that there weren’t that many people in North America when we came in. It was just basically empty. That was the myth they were telling themselves to justify the wholesale conquering and slaughter of the people. A lot of times I’m like, so what if they got there and these people had been killed in a big war? You’ve got this colonialism and this cool power to the south who’s like “No, you’re stealing our land” but they’re like “No, you guys weren’t here” and they’re like “No, we were fighting there”. It’s a really interesting thing to deal with, and it’s exciting to me, but boy is it a minefield. Let’s hope that I can do the second book without being too offensive to people. But that stuff is fascinating to me.
Do you think that the sensibility in terms of writing about Native American cultures has to do a lot with how times have changed, since you’ve written Rithmatist?
Oh yeah, definitely. Since I’ve written Rithmatist, my sensitivity to this has skyrocketed, I think everybody’s has. That’s a big part of when I went back to the book, and I thought in the sequel I was dealing with it sensitively and I’m like “Oh, no. I don’t think I’m approaching that sensitively at all”. That was part of the reason I had to drop it and revise it. Also, I just didn’t think it was doing cool enough things and whatnot. I’m glad I didn’t write it in 2008 when I’d been like“Aztecs are cool, let’s write a book that has Aztecs in it!”, instead of saying, “Let’s do more than Aztecs are cool, let’s make sure that we have actually done our research”, instead of just relying on it. There are some things you can rely on, like Kaladin in the Stormlight books. I know enough about field medicine and what it is like to be a surgeon in the pre-modern era that I could write a cool book where a guy was himself a surgeon in a pre-modern era, and then I just gave it to a field medic, someone who had actually been in battle, and said, “What did I get wrong?”. He’s like, “You got this, this, this wrong, fix those and it’s good”. I can do that. I can bluff my way through making Kaladin work and then find an expert to fix it. That’s what I would’ve done in 2008 if I’d written Rithmatist. I have a feeling it would’ve been so far off that I would’ve given it to them and they would’ve been like, “You can’t fix this. This is fundamental”. That’s a writing advice. There are a lot of things you can bluff your way through, if you get yourself like 50% of the way there and then find an expert to fix the really bad parts for you. But you have to be able to get far enough along that it’s fixable.
Sazed is my absolute favorite character in any book now. I love the way he talks and his passion for religion. I think that’s really really cool. (interrupted)
How did I come up with Sazed? Is that where you’re going?
Yeah, and the religion thing, because you have so many. Did you study religion?
I do study it. I do a lot of studying religion. It fascinates me. I’m religious, I want to know what people find sacred. The origin of the idea for Sazed was the idea of a missionary for all religions. I can actually point at the moment, though, but it comes from a goofy movie.
What goofy movie?
The goofy movie is the original Mummy with Brendan Fraser. There’s a moment where the dumb guy tries holding up a religious symbol and talking and nothing happens, so he pulls up a different one and he pulls out a different one. That moment actually spawned the, “What if that were serious? What if there was somebody who tried to match a religion to the individual?”. That spun me into Sazed, the whole concept of Sazed. You can trace the origins of this deep and important character to the dopey, evil sidekick in a Brendan Fraser movie.
In Alethkar, a lot of the consonant sounds are “C” sounds or “K’s”, like Kaladin. [Can’t hear the rest of the question here very well]
It’s just based on the rules I came up for it when I was designing it. They’re mostly semitic origins or middle eastern origins. Kholin is actually [pronounces it], but I don’t expect the audiobook narrators to do “chuh” every time they see a “kh”. The “k” is a “c” sound. That and the “j” are the only weird ones, for Alethi. In Tashikk, I can’t even do the Arabic glottal. The double “q” or the double “k” in the Azish often is that, but I can’t do it. Peter can.
If you draw a line of forbiddance on a piece of on a chalkboard that’s sitting on the ground and then hit that chalkboard, will the chalkboard move?
This is the number one question I get, actually. The answer is, it depends on the size of the line and the amount of power that’s been put into it. This is actually relating back to Cosmere physics. If you look at the Cosmere physics, you can see exactly what happens with the speed bubbles, it’s the same sort of principle. It’s based on perception. So putting a movable line, oftentimes you will just have trouble engaging the magic on something that’s not stable enough to be viewed as stable. Drawing it on a chalkboard and then turning it toward somebody actually wouldn’t work, because you wouldn’t be able to engage that line very easily with the way the magic works. And if you did, it would disrupt the line, and it would be gone. Treat whatever I do with speed bubbles as the rule for Rithmatist magic, until I write the second book. If I decide to take it in it’s own direction, I will let you guys know.
So North America being islands, was that just another bit of color?
Yeah. That was based around the idea of, I want to do this cool thing. I’m just going to do this cool thing. Peter did not have a chance to look at that and tell me if the physics of that planet work or not. But once we pulled it out of the Cosmere, we didn’t have to worry if the physics do.
I wasn’t sure if it was tied to history of the magic or?
No, I didn’t tie it to the history of the magic. I just said, I’m going to do a small planet and we’re just going to make it a big atoll. You’ll see the same things in Europe if we ever do a map of that, which we probably won’t, but South America you’ll see similar stuff.
In Mistborn, silver doesn’t play a role. But then in Shadows for Silence, silver does play a role...
It does. I still wanted silver to be part of the Cosmere.
But we’ll never see it in Scadrial?
It does not, as they understand currently, interact with Allomancy, with the three Metallurgic Arts. Silver does have a Cosmere role.
In our legal system, when you die in debt, your heirs don’t inherit your debt. Whatever assets you have go to pay off, and then your heirs are free. I take it in this universe that this isn’t the case? Or is it just that someone’s going to break the widow’s legs if she doesn’t pay?
I had the wife assume the debt of the couple in this.
He had borrowed the money in both of their names?
In this legal system, that counts. You are liable.
So she inherits his debts?
Yeah. But I would argue that the brother wouldn’t, if there were a brother, but the couple would.
And if she died, would Joel inherit the debt?
I would say probably not, that he would probably not, but I would have to look at it specifically in the situation. If the wife or the husband inherit from the other, then there’s a decent chance they might make the child, there are cultures through history that the children have been. I’m going to say yes, I’m going to say he would. If the wife is inheriting his debt, it’s so much easier a leap to say that children also do. So I’m going to say yes. I hadn’t thought about it specifically.
I was wondering about the economics of the Rithmatist. Obviously, the price levels are without a century of inflation. The cost of making those dollar coins, even in terms of their economics, it seems like it would cost more than a dollar to make a dollar coin.
We spend more to make some of our money, not dollars. The argument I make on that one is that a dollar built by them is added value. That is my feel on it. Producing it might take more money than it is worth, but by the time it’s done, it is worth that much more money. At least in my opinion.
What was it like switching to graphic novel format for White Sand?
The truth is, I didn’t really have to. We hired someone who’s specifically good at this, and I looked over his scripts, but I left the hard work to him. White Sand was already written, as you probably know. And I said, “This is good, but not good enough. Can you edit it in a way to make it good enough?” And we really liked what he came up with, so it was really his call. And then I kind of left the art to Isaac, who does all of my art stuff, to go over the art with the artist. I’m pleased with White Sand, with one caveat. I don’t think they got the worldbuilding right. If you’ve read the original novel, I don’t feel the worldbuilding I described in the novel quite made it, because the person doing the edit focused really on the dialogue, which is what we wanted him to do. But the artist didn’t get it quite well enough. We’re trying to fix that in the second volume. So there might be little things where you’re like, “Wow, the worldbuilding’s much more expansive in the second one”, so that’s why.
We know aluminum affects mental magic and emotional magic. Would it affect the hole in your soul that’s created by Hemalurgy? If you had an aluminum spike, would that make it easier, less easy, or no difference for Ruin to take control of you?
Aluminum resists Investiture generally, even when it’s not Invested itself.
(Brandon hems and haws a little so Ironeyes clarifies the question) Would an aluminum spike make it harder for a Soother to take control of you?
An aluminum spike would have no effect on a Soother’s ability. They wouldn’t see it there.
Did you make aluminum resistant to Allomancy so that you could do the tinfoil hats?
No, but once I did, I was like that’s a cool idea. I made aluminum resistant to it because I wanted something to be magically inert in the Cosmere. It was a happy accident.
At what point in making the Rithmatist magic system did the concept of the beauty of the drawings come in?
The beauty of the drawings is related to the idea of your perception influencing magic, which is a Cosmere rule. Giving things a mental order, the Cognitive aspect of it, it’s the same way that in Warbreaker, when you give an order to something you’ve Awakened with the magic, the way you perceive that order directly influences how it plays it out. I built this in because, number one, it’s better for philosophy if the answers aren’t, in some of these things, [internal?] answers where the author has said, “Truth is capital T Truth”, where the characters’ perceptions of truth allows for different people to believe different things and both be arguably right. Also because I wanted all the magic in the Cosmere to have some root in the Cognitive Realm. The idea of the magic there is, there’s a Spiritual thing which is kind of unknowable, kind of eternal, kind of all-places-one, there’s a Cognitive aspect, which is how you perceive it influences it, and then there’s the Physical world. The chalklings were built that way, how beautiful you perceive it as being, or the beings involved in this perceive it as being, will influence how well it works.
In the books, in Rithmatist, you state that the better drawn a shape is, or a creation is, that makes it more powerful. Would that mean that if you drew a cube, would that be more powerful than a square?
The complexity of it, and how people perceive, you could make an argument that there’s some people who would be like, “The perfect cube is so hard to draw that that is inspiring”, but the average people, if you said, ”Who’s going to win this battle: this cool knight that I drew, or this cube?”, they’d say the cool knight. So that sort of general perception plays a lot into how it works.
How do you go about designing your magical systems? Do you come up with all the rules at the beginning, or is it developing as you write?
It’s a little of both. I have some essays I’ve called Sanderson’s Laws, because I’m a humble guy. If you google those and find those, you can read some essays about how I write magic systems. The answer to your question directly is, oftentimes I’ll come up with something really cool. Hey, you draw on the ground with chalk and play magical Starcraft against each other. Tower defense with chalk. What are some basic rules? Let’s write the book, and as we’re writing I’m like, this question arises, this question arises. How would I answer that? Let’s build in answers to it. With the Rithmatist, I already had the foundations of Cosmere magic, so I could say, “How does this work? Well, it works like this.”
Are the glyphwards in Stormlight from Elantris?
No, the glyphwards are purely cultural. There are people who would say that they aren’t, even in-world, but that gets into theology and religion, whether there’s a definitive god and afterlife in the Cosmere or not, which I leave up to personal interpretation, in an effort to not undermine characters who believe spiritually different than I do.
[Can’t hear the actual question]
Elantris’s magic is location based because the primary source of the magic is located in the Cognitive Realm. Most of the worlds, the primary source of the magic is the Spiritual Realm, where all places are one. So for instance, Mistborn, you can go anywhere in the Cosmere and use the magic. Elantris, you can’t, because Devotion and Dominion were killed and their bodies were stuffed into the Cognitive Realm and the magic is being powered that way.
Going back to the technology issue, in some of your books, particularly the Mistborn books, you explain why technology hadn’t developed for thousands of years. [...] What’s happened to gunpowder and combustion? Why isn’t that there?
In Rithmatist the reason why we don’t use gunpowder and combustion is early on, people figured out how to wind springs into the aether, and if you can wind a spring into the aether you can get energy out of it. Basically the way we’ve got it working in the Rithmatist (I would have to dig out the exact notes, so be warned) but the way we have it working right now is if you wind a spring made the right way, you can wind it into the aetherial winds. And you can wind, and then twist it, and when you unwind it catches the aetherial winds and spins with it. So you can actually get more energy out than you put in if you wind it one direction, lock it, and then lock it into the aetherial winds and unwind it. It’s like hydropower, but it is unseen hydropower.
So my explanation is they learned how to do this, and because they had access to this easier source of energy, their experiments with gunpowder and combustion weren’t as…. You could still make gunpowder. You could go build a gun on the Rithmatist world, and it would work just fine. But since they’ve been focusing on this other line of technology and they can access this energy, everything’s gone that direction instead. And I kind of built on the idea of the difference engine and things like this. People were trying to make mechanical versions of computers and whatnot. And if they had found a way to get energy out of it, they might have gone this direction.
That said, I did not put the rigor into the science that I often do in the cosmere books. That comes in the revision stage when I give it to scientists and to my assistant Peter, who look at the actual science and raise some of the issues. So Rithmatist, I didn’t have to worry about that as much. In the cosmere I have to worry about things like redshift and breaking causality, and all of this stuff, and at least have in-world reasons why people don’t get irradiated by light when you speed up time, whereas in the Rithmatist I can say, “It’s a fun alternate history fantasy book. So we’ll just go with that and be internally consistent and not worry about the laws of thermodynamics quite as much.
Why’d you pick Nebraska?
I’m from Nebraska. I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and I thought, if I’m going to put in a place that’s a weird, crazy dangerous place, why not make it Nebraska? A lot of the defenses are named for people I knew in Nebraska. There’s an Osbourne defense. Anyone from Nebraska will be able to pick out where I got that. A lot of my friends, my parent’s friends growing up, I just named defenses after them. That’s where that came from, it’s got all this Nebraska stuff.
I was just wondering what your inspiration was for the setting, for the United Isles.
The United Isles. We call this historical fantasy, this is where you take a historical period and you fantasize it. I knew I was so divergent from our world that I wanted people immediately to know, complete alternate dimension. I wanted an easy early sign that when you read this, you weren’t going to be asking, “What happened in the War of 1812 in this?” I didn’t want you to be asking that, I wanted you to say, this is so different from our history that I can’t take anything for granted anymore. Which allows me to sweep away expectations and rebuild them in the way I want. You run into this all the time in fantasy, like, you ever want to write a book about vampires, everyone’s immediately going to bring to that world a lot of expectations. It’s much more important early on to sweep away expectations if you’re not going to fulfill them. So with Rithmatist, I was looking for a way to do this, and the idea of America as an [planet?] archipelago was really cool to me, and I also wanted to indicate that things were really bizarre. It’s a much smaller planet version of Earth, so I could put in time distances and say, you can take the train to London and it doesn’t take that long. In their terms it takes forever, for us it’s not that long. Smaller planet, denser core, everything’s islands. This is to say, I’m throwing out everything about our Earth and rebuilding a fantastical version of it.
Circle strength is based on curvature, so how can a scaled-up circle be strong, since the local curvature drops very low? Is the inside of a circle stronger than the outside?
Theoretically would be, yes. Scale is a big fun thing I have built into the outline of The Nebraskan, when and if I write it. This is about 1908, but it’s not an exact analogue, they’re like 1930’s equivalent, maybe a little bit more on some things. At that time, we were really learning to do math, mathematical projects on a large scale [...] so this is where I was pushing for this.
The Great Circle in Nebrask shows you can scale up defenses. Can you make also scale up and draw a Godzilla-sized chalkling?
Uh, this is theoretically possible (laughter). Yeah, yeah. Theoretically possible.
So, uh, we know that the charcoal creatures are afraid of coins.
So are the white chalk creatures, which I think are called Shadowblazes…
Are they also afraid of coins?
Are they also afraid of coins? To a much lesser extent. Um, I can give you guys some backstory on this. What’s going on here is that the place these things come from, um, linear structure and things like this are frightening to them, like they come from a non-linear location. Time does not move linearly where they come from. When they come into this world, structure and linear time progression, is bizarre to them. And there are some who have embraced it, and been like, “This is cool and different!” and there are others that are still terrified of it, as a representation of what is so alien from the world they came from. So that’s why we’ve got this whole clocks, and even structure, as a metaphor for, um, something that is terrifying to them.
Uh, Rithmatist started in the Cosmere. The magic shares a lot of its roots, then, in Cosmere magic worldbuilding. I split if off because I wrote the whole first book with it being in the Cosmere. I split it off, saying “No, I don’t want Earth to be in the Cosmere.” Even an alternate version of Earth. It just raises too many questions about the nature of Earth being involved in this. I want the Cosmere to be its own dwarf galaxy of which not even a dimension of Earth is involved. And when I made that decision, I broke Rithmatist off. That’s the only one I had written that didn’t belong, but it still has, so, it means that the magic is going to feel very familiar to you, uh, it’s going to feel like the magic of a, um, of the Cosmere. And Cosmere magic is based around, usually, human beings making a symbiotic bond with an entity made out of the magic. This is, kind of, one of the origins of Cosmere magic, and Rithmatist has, therefore, its roots in that. I’ve done some things since I’ve split it off in the outlines to distinguish it, but it’s going to have the same roots. So you’ll notice some things like that, that are similar.
Uh, before you split The Rithmatist from the Cosmere, did the Shadowblazes come from the Cognitive realm?
Yeah. Yeah, the Shadowblazes were in the Cognitive realm, they’re--you know, well, they’re more Spiritual realm. They were Spiritual realm, sorry. They were Spiritual realm entities that got pulled in, uh, to the Physical realm. And the Spiritual realm has no time, um, it exists independent of time and location, all times and all places are one, and so, uh, when something that’s from the Spiritual realm got pulled into the Physical realm, it was like, “This is so weird!” Um, and there are very few things in the Cosmere that exist only on the Spiritual realm, which was a really fun thing I could do with this book, was show that. Cause most things exist on all three realms. Um, so, yeah. So, yeah, I mean if you’ve got, if you’re a Cosmere, uh, theologian--not theologian, magic, uh, what do you call it? Uh, they call that, uh, I have a word for it in-world. But anyway, if you’re a realmatic theorist, you can kind of pick out how the Spiritual realm beings were related, originally, to the realmatic theory.
So the question I asked, at the beginning of this session, is: You used the definite article…
Who’s the Rithmatist?
Who’s the Rithmatist? So I imagined the Rithmatist more being a, um, a book like, let’s see if I can find an example of it. It’s not defining a person, um, it is, uh…
The role of the Rithmatist.
...trying to. Yeah, yeah. Like I’m trying to find… There’s books that are like this, where it’s just like, uh, it’s almost like you could call a series The Rithmatist, The Archive, the this, that sort of idea where the title is… Look, it was originally called Scribbler, um, and Tor suggested changing the title to something that highlighted the magic a little bit more and was a better fit, and I liked The Rithmatist as that, but it’s particularly because the future books could be The Aztlanian and The Nebraskan.
And they’ll fit, they’ll be right next to one another--no they won’t. Cause the doesn’t get catalogued.
Yes, exactly, but it felt like it was going to, uh, it just worked. But The Rithmatist more is like, you know, it’s not specifically any individual. I know there are other books that have this feel. But yeah, all right. What do you guys want to know from me? Go ahead.
When is the next book coming out?
The Rithmatist is the number one most requested sequel I get. This is probably because people know that I’m working on Stormlight, otherwise that would be the number one most requested. To understand, I have to tell you a story about where The Rithmatist came from. So after I finished Warbreaker, I very deliberately said, I want to write something else in the Cosmere, and maybe this is the time to write the backstory of a character named Hoid. So I sat down and tried to [...] write this book, which I called The Liar of Partinel. The book was a disaster. Sometimes even as a pro, books just don’t go well. I had a contract for it and everything. I was supposed to be writing this book, and then its sequel, and... big disaster. I finished the first book, I forced myself to finish it, but I had no desire to revise. It was just not what it needed to be. When I eventually write that story, people are going to be expecting a lot from it and it can’t be a half-hearted book, and it felt half-hearted.
So instead of [...] I told my editor, “oh yeah, I’ll be getting to that” and I wrote a [...] book, which was called Scribbler back then. Originally named Scribbler, and the origins for it were, the magic system is the start of this one, as you might be able to guess. I started doing these little drawings, which Ben McSweeney eventually re-drew to be a little bit better, but they started as my own drawing that we put between the chapters. But we started with those because I wanted to do something new with magic that I hadn’t done before. What I realized is that I never made a book where the magic was used to play games. We as human beings, we play games with everything. We turn anything into a game. This is a hallmark of humankind, we play with stuff. When we’re no longer killing each other, we come up with jousting, so we can make that a game. The idea of basically playing magical Starcraft on the ground around you was really interesting to me.
So I started doing all these drawings and writing this book without telling my editor or anybody I was writing this book. Wonderful experience. The book came out very very well, it just came together. It’s one of those books, you don’t expect it, I didn’t have long term plans, I hadn’t worked on an outline for years and years, I discovery wrote most of the book. About the time I had to go to my editor and tell him, “I’ve written a book on accident”, I think I sent you The Rithmatist, right Joshua?
I said I wrote this book on accident, right around that time, I got a phone call from Harriet McDougal, who’s Robert Jordan’s widow. She said, it’s a long story but it ended with me on the phone with her, because she’d left me a voicemail and I’d missed it, but I eventually got a hold of her, and she said, “Well I was just wondering if you would be willing to finish my husband’s series, the Wheel of Time”. To which I responded, “dakjs;dlfj;alkna;sdf” [verbal keyboard smash basically]. I really did. I wrote her an email the next saying, “Dear Harriet, I promise I’m not an idiot.” But the book that got left hanging was The Rithmatist. Liar of Partinel I was happy to shelve and do nothing with. It wasn’t a good book. Rithmatist was. But I knew that if I were stopping to do the Wheel of Time that I would not have the time to do a Rithmatist sequel for a while. Because my career so far had gone standalone, series, standalone, and then I was looking to do another series, which is why I tried Liar of Partinel.
Once I did Wheel of Time, I said now is the time to do Way of Kings, which I had been putting off for a while cause my skills weren’t capable. I tried it and it hadn’t worked and I was like, I need to get better as a writer. But I was pretty sure I could do it, so I sandwiched Way of Kings in between two Wheel of Time books. But then I had The Way of Kings going and people expecting those, which is a good thing I got started on it because it’s a long series. If I were still putting it off, we might have troubles when it actually came out. So eventually, Rithmatist, I need to release this book, it’s really good, people are going to like this. So I gave it to Tor and had them release it. But the problem is, when am I going to do a sequel? It had been a little side project in the first place that I’d done instead of writing something else.
I found time about 3 years ago. I took out my outline. My process often is, I will write a first book, then I will outline a series for it, then I will revise the first book to match the outline. I did this with Mistborn, I did it with the Reckoners, and I had gotten as far as outlining for the second book of The Rithmatist. I sat down to write it and I didn’t like the outline anymore. There were some things wrong with it. One, I had grown a lot as a writer. One, I don’t know if you guys discussed this, but the Rithmatist as a whole, it’s a great book but there’s a big danger zone in it. And that is, how do you treat indigenous people during the area of colonialism? There’s a big big minefield there, and the second book’s goal was to start dealing with that minefield, and I felt my outline for the second book did not do that respectfully. As I had grown as a writer, when I looked at the outline, and I was like, I cannot write this book because I’m not treating the original inhabitants of America’s cultures well enough. So I stopped and I read three books on Aztec culture. The second book is called The Aztlanian. Aztlan is the mythical origin of the Aztecs, it’s where their legends say they came from. If I’m dealing with real world mythology, that minefield grows so much bigger. You gotta do it right. This is something I wanted to do right. So I read a bunch of books. I rebuilt my outline, I felt really good about it, but there was no more time to write. I had a month or two left, so I wrote the fifth Alcatraz book instead. I can do those in a month or so, but this I knew was going to take three to four months, so I put it off again.
I’m still looking for a hole in my schedule. The new outline for The Aztlanian is very good, it’s solid, I feel like I’ve got a handle on how to write it in a sensitive way, because we don’t want to avoid difficult topics in science fiction and fantasy. If we do that, it’s just the same as it’s always been. But if you are going to touch on sensitive topics, you need to do it really well. I really like where it is now, but when am I going to write The Aztlanian? I don’t know yet. The answer to you is, when am I going to do this? I have to find a time between my mainline projects, which right now are Stormlight Archive for Tor, alternating with Mistborn novels, and for Random house it’s the Reckoners books and that sequence. In between one of those times, I will find some time to The Aztlanian, and I will do it, and I hope it will be awesome, but I don’t know when that is.
This is the book I’ve left hanging the most. Most everything else is a side project or it’s the Alcatraz books, which I’m making fun of people by taking a long long time, it’s intentional. If you haven’t read those books, they’re very different from everything else that I’ve done. The whole point is to make fun of the reader while the reader reads them. Every book plays some sort of dirty trick on the reader. The fifth book ends on a huge huge huge down note with the author, who’s Alcatraz, of the book saying “I’m not going to write any more, sorry guys”. But then there’s a little footnote at the end, one of the other characters like, “I’ll write the story so you get an actual ending.” Jokes like that on the reader, and the fact that it’s taking forever is part of the joke. Rithmatist is the one I actually feel bad about.
Do you ever get to travel? Does travel inform your experience? From that little vignette you did [the interlude reading at the monastery] did you go to Sinai or Kyoto for the monastery?
I travel a lot. I enjoy traveling. It’s a little hard on my schedule, as one might imagine. But I really do like it. That little vignette, I did go to Japan. On a trip to Taiwan, we stopped for a day in Japan to hike monasteries, specifically. We hiked the one that’s right next to the airport, outside the city. Then we went into downtown Tokyo and hiked one of the ones there. The coolest thing is, they have these big rocks that they inscribe quotes in, anciently, just piled on top of each other. I travel a lot, it does inform my writing a lot. Famously, the Emperor’s Soul came after I went to Taiwan one time. Snapshot came after a trip to Dubai. You can’t find as much Dubai in Snapshot as you can Taiwan in The Emperor’s Soul. I usually write one of my novellas as a response to a trip or just taking a break for a trip. That happened to Legion, it happened to most of the novellas.
Is there a question about the Stormlight Archives you’ve always wanted to answer but nobody has asked?
The answer is no, because everyone is so good at asking them. They ran out of those question 10 years ago. [Talks about the development of the Cosmere and Hoid. Talks about the development of Timewasters Guide and when people started to figure out the Cosmere stuff].
[Question about stacking magic systems against each other, who would win?]
[Works on magic systems within their own context, when comparing magic systems the situation matters more. Context matters]
At this point, a lot of your work has been optioned. I was wondering if you would be interested in some of it being a serious animated tv show? Maybe that might also work for Wheel of Time.
I would be totally on board except for one thing, that there is no market for it worldwide. There are markets in very small places, but so far every animated in the US and in large parts of the world as well has either been something like The Simpsons, which is comedy, which can work for adults and they’ll watch that, or it’s been child-focused with some hidden depth of themes like the Last Airbender, which is the quintessential example. If I could get a television show on one of my books as good as that, I’d love it, but nobody’s going to finance it, because there’s no audience for it unless it’s a children’s show. And there’s nothing wrong with being a children’s show, this is what Pixar has figured out how to do, it makes movies that everyone will love. But anytime someone even tries to make a teen focused one, it’s a huge disaster. Treasure Planet was an example of this, which is famous in Hollywood for being a disaster, even though it’s a fun movie. Until US audiences grow up in their treatment of animation, it’s not a realistic thing, because the cost-to-earnings… I can’t just say, okay guys, spend 50 millions dollars on this, I know it’ll only make 5, but it’ll be really cool. Maybe if your aunt is an executive at Netflix, you could tell her, and they could be on the forefront of this, but until then, we are looking at Netflix-style, complete season, Stranger Things-type stuff, or traditional feature film.
How is it that you’re able to write such real and strong women characters that are feminist in their own way but in very different ways from book to book? Is your wife your inspiration? Can you do a workshop for other male writers?
This is a huge compliment, thank you. It is something that I’ve worked on a long time. I would blame the authors I read getting into fantasy, Barbara Hambly, Melanie Rawn, Anne McCaffrey. They were the first three authors I read. I internalized some of the things they were talking about. I also do have some good models. My mother graduated first in her class in accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the accounting department. She’s currently the accountant for the city of Idaho Falls. So getting it wrong was a big deal to me, and I did get it wrong on my first few books. The unpublished ones, fortunately. What I realized was, it was a bigger problem than just doing the female characters wrong, though that was the biggest sign that I was doing something wrong. What was happening was I was writing people to roles in the story, rather than writing them as people having a role in the story. That sounds really simple, right? But once I realized people don’t see themselves as the plucky sidekick, usually, and people don’t see themselves as the romantic interest. People see themselves as a person who plays a part in someone else’s life, but plays a different part over here, and a different part over here. Those of us who are extraverts might be introverts in some situations where we don’t know very much. Those of us who are introverts might be extraverts when you put us in front of a room and tell us to do a reading, we’re like “Yeah! I can handle that!”. We all fulfill lots of different roles in different settings, in different people’s lives. Everybody has motivations and passions, and gender identity, racial factors, your upbringing, your culture, these are all parts of who you are, but when you let one of those things define you too much, you become a flat character, in fiction. [Talks for a minute about Lost, where the character who loses his son becomes a flat character because it comes to completely define the character. He’s talked about this before in his lectures so I’m not going to type it out]. When you’re writing people to just a role like that, you end up with these flat characters, you end up with people who don’t really live. And I think the first big revelation for me was that I was doing that. And this was particularly true of the female characters. When you start writing, it’s very normal to just write a protagonist who’s much like yourself and then writing people who aren’t like yourself like, this is this role, this is this role, and then boom. But there was something else I had to learn. There’s still lots of things for me to learn, but there was something else big that I had to learn. This was the problem that I’ve only recently begun reading essays about it, which is the natural inclination of someone is to first off write everyone as kind of a stereotype, and then you learn and you get better. But then the next inclination is to write the person who is different from ourselves as super super awesome. Just so that we’re not accidentally being sexist. And you’ll see this a lot too, this happens a lot with African Americans, in video games in particular. I was playing a video game once, and it’s a bunch of burly white guys who are awesome with guns and they’re killing stuff. And they talk about their friend, the black guy. You don’t know he’s black at the time. And then they get into trouble and they can’t save themselves. And the black guy bursts through the ceiling with guns blazing, mows down the enemies, says “Alright guys, go for it!”, and then runs off into the sunset. He’s like the coolest guy ever. He only stops short of doing a rap song for the end song, right? They don’t want to be racist, so he’s awesome, but he also doesn’t get a character arc. Everybody else has deep character arc and is messed up. They didn’t want to, and I understand this instinct, they didn’t want to make the black guy messed up because he’s the minority and they are so worried about screwing it up that instead they put him on a pedestal. You see guys do this with women, and you see women do this with the men characters. If you read a book, often the guy, by a female writer, the guy has very few faults, he’s just this guy, and the woman is this messed up, neurotic, interesting character. Same in reverse with the guys. The woman in the book ends up being the one who is very responsible, the one who’s like “We need to go do this”, the kick-ass “strong female character” [he literally says “quote-unquote” about strong female character] who just awesome, but doesn’t have a character arc and isn’t messed up in the ways that make people interesting. That’s another level, when you’re like, we have to make all the characters interesting, and all the characters messed up and individual, rather than even doing that level. And that one’s been even harder to internalize and figure out how to do.
Did Ambition ever have a Shardworld of their own?
[Repeats question] Meaning, did Ambition ever settle on a planet? I’ll RAFO that too.
What happens when you compound copper?
I’m going to RAFO that for now. I am dealing with the various interactions of the various magics slowly on purpose, to dole out information, so that I have cool stuff to talk about in future books.
So, Shai and forgers. She forges the emperor’s soul, then she got to track by practicing on [Gaotona], and it kind of held for a minute since he was close to the emperor, and that means it was right. So it was basically trial and error.
So even if she have a lot more time and a lot less information, she could’ve guessed?
Potentially, there’s a certain distance trial and error will take you; in a reasonable amount of time, there’s a certain distance that can take you.
And in an unreasonable amount of time?
Unreasonable, yes. You can just trial and error your way through a lot of things.
And by seeing it held on him for 24 hours of time, that means she got really close.
And when she was forging herself, she was basically forging lies.
She was forging lies, but she knew how to make them really plausible for herself. Plausibility is a really big part of it. Can you convince the soul to not just of yourself...
The decisions that she could have made?
Yeah. That they were realistic, that they were there, that she could have made these, that everything lines up in the past. It’s a little like programming.
So that’s why she could add a little bit to the emperor’s soul because that’s also plausible?
Could she have changed him more if she knew more about him?
Yes. She created a fake soul and put it in him, there are possibilities beyond what she did.
So she could’ve gotten a bit wrong if her trial and error made it plausible instead of what happened?
Now, at least in her perspective, what she did was create a fake soul and put it in him. What I haven’t answered is did she just take the soul that was lingering on the body and fill in the gaps? Or did she legitimately craft a new soul? That I’ll leave to the cosmere philosophers to talk about.
You said writing the sequel to The Rithmatist is really challenging. Why is that?
Because when I started work on it, it was pre-Wheel of Time. The series got preempted by Wheel of Time, so it’s been ten years now since I wrote the first book. And I held it off and didn’t publish it for like five years, because I knew, I wanted to be closer to publication when I did a sequel. But when I dove back into the sequel a few years ago, I just wasn’t pleased with my outline anymore. One of the real challenging aspects of The Rithmatist is dealing with real history, real cultures, the fact that we have a bunch of colonialists living in America and all of this stuff and what happened to the indigenous peoples, and handling that without sticking my foot in my mouth is also really tricky. So you mix those two things, and I want to be very careful. So instead of writing the book, I read three books on Aztec culture. But then I didn’t have time to write the book. Eventually I will get to it, but it’s got some trickiness because of that.
On the [star map, there are different systems.]
And there are constellations.
But who’s looking at these constellations?
So it is from a specific perspective, that Isaac will someday reveal. He drew this at my request; this is from a frame of reference. But we haven’t told you what it is. The best guess is that it’s Silverlight. I haven’t confirmed it, but it is the best guess. The second best guess is Yolen. There are a couple things that people have guessed, but I haven’t confirmed which it is.
If you could tell yourself 10 years ago any one thing, what would it be?
Ten years ago? Ten years ago, I’d say “Re-read the Wheel of Time. Start early”. I got the call in 2007, September, and this would 2007 in February, and I’d have six months in my re-read going. It took me about a year to re-read the whole series and take notes on it. That would’ve been six months faster, and everyone would’ve gotten… also the book I was working on is one I never published, so I could’ve just dropped that book.
So is it kind of surreal to you now, then, to be sort of like a [...] in the fantasy genre?
In the fantasy genre? Yes, I’ve kind of started to get over that. The real surreal stuff happened at the beginning, when I’m like, “I don’t deserve to be on a shelf with my favorite authors. I’m just this guy”. And then I kind of got used to that, and the rest has been easier than that initial “Why am I on the shelf with these folks?”. But you hit certain milestones where you’re like, book 3 of the Wheel of Time is when it really took off. None of you were back there then, you guys are all younger than me, but when we were reading them back then, books one and two were known fantasy quantities but not the dominant, and book three was where it was like, this is the dominant fantasy series. And I’m now releasing book three of my fantasy series. I have George Martin wayyyyyyy out beyond, I’m not going to take out that, but it is surreal to have my third book come out and to be selling so well and remembering, this is where Robert Jordan was at this point.
You’re making your own path, different than Robert Jordan though.
Yeah, I always say that I’m very famous with a very small group of people. Until you have a film or a television show, you will never become a real household name, and that’s fine. Even if you do, George is not so famous, he’s the most famous fantasy writer, right, unless you count Jo Rowling. George is not so famous that he can’t walk down the street. No author gets so famous, I’ve been hanging out with George and we’re walking down the street and somebody says “Hi George” and he gets an autograph. But he can sit and have dinner and people don’t bug him, there’s not paparazzi at the windows. Even the top epic fantasy writer doesn’t have to worry about that. It’s actually the best type of fame to have. You can go to a convention like this and meet with a lot of people who’s work you’ve inspired and things like that, and it’s perfect, and then you go have a normal life. [...] you be a normal person, and it’s just the right amount. [...] our faces aren’t known, and that is what is so nice about this. If you were to take my salary, I get paid very well even compared to a football star, a music star, or an actor, but nobody knows my face. And it’s mostly because a dedicated group is hardcore [...] to my stuff. That is, thank you guys. You’ve made me the best kind of famous, stealth famous. It’s pretty awesome.
How do you do it? (after saying he likes the characters and societies that Brandon writes)
Lots of practice. Lots of reading in the genre and loving the genre. A little bit of talent, a lot of loving the genre, and a lot of practice for a long time.
I haven’t read Mistborn, but I’ve read this one [Stormlight]. How do you come up with the culture, the society?
It depends on the book. Stormlight is my best series. If you haven’t tried Emperor’s Soul, it’s the other thing that I think is on Stormlight’s level, but it’s a short. What I’m looking to do with something like Stormlight is to say that the fantasy genre should be the most magical genre, right? Classically, science fiction has done a better job with the worldbuilding, and fantasy has tended to do a better job with things like characters and story. Not that there’s not science fiction that has great, you know, but usually science fiction’s been about the ideas and the interesting settings, but in fantasy we play it safe with the settings and try to do interesting characters. Which I’ve always thought, “Why do we do that? Why do we play it safe with our settings? Why don’t we have really bizarre, fantastical settings?”. So for years, even before I became a published author, I was searching for ones that would have one foot in science fiction. I want to do something magical as an origin, like the highstorm, you know, the physics of the highstorm don’t actually work, but we take it for assumed and then we try to extrapolate a realistic extrapolation of the world from that. That’s just what I’m doing, I’m trying to set up some sort fantastical setting or environment and then let science fiction take over and try and build how it would grow. On the cultures, usually I’m taking things I’ve learned about our culture and I am just trying to [...] a fantastical version. Sometimes when you do that you can say something interesting about human society, removed from the baggage of human society. There was a brief time in the pre-Victorian era where, for women, showing your ankle was more taboo than showing your chest. In fact, they would have pictures painted of them, noblewomen, in a state of what you’d call topless. Not a problem; a little risque, like what wearing a low-cut shirt is now, but no big deal. That’s bizarre to us, because, our society that’s not how it is. But if I put that in, in a fantasy book as a safehand, I can say, look, human beings do bizarre things as far as gender roles, socialization of gender, and what we find attractive. This should be very bizarre to you, but the reactions are normal. That disconnect is what helps build a fantastical society and lets me say a few things about our society, I hope in interesting ways.
What kind of qualities attract an inkspren?
Inkspren do not like how variable humans are. It’s a thing out of honor, and they like people who are logical and willing to think about their lives and not react as much by instinct.
They are looking more - the scholar is the perfect example, but a soldier who is very thoughtful and is not just rushing into battle could be chosen as well.
Where do the people in the Stormlight Archive get all their leather?
They have great farms of pigs. You notice, leather is usually called hogshide, but it’s all hog leather.
So with soulforging, are you able to soulforge yourself so that you die?
Uh, can you soulforge yourself to death? So, soulforging that requires large state changes of investiture and/or inputs of investiture are very difficult. However, killing yourself is not that hard, but basically you could - so, soulforging yourself so that you are already dead would a little bit harder, but soulforging yourself would be, yeah.
[background noise] and be able to check in the afterlife and then return -
No, because transfer of Investiture to and from the Beyond or even into the Cognitive Realm is going to require more investiture than a Forger pulls through, you can Forge yourself to death.
So I can kill myself but I can’t come back.
Yes. That would be one of those things where you kill yourself, your soul passes to the Beyond, your body when the forgery is broken comes back, and just dead.