Recent entries interview with Isaac Stewart ()
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    Drew McCaffrey

    Going hand-in-hand with the maps is the character Nazh, who annotates many of the in-universe maps. How much of Nazh was your idea? What about him appeals to you?

    Isaac Stewart

    The story behind Nazh is, I was in Brandon’s writing group when we were workshopping The Rithmatist. And there’s a character named Nalizar in that book. I could never remember his name, so I kept calling him Nazrilof. So it became this running gag with Brandon, like… “Nalizar and Nazh are different people. Nazh is your alter ego, Isaac, and Nalizar is a character in The Rithmatist.”

    When we got to The Alloy of Law, Brandon and I were firmly in the camp of including maps that are artifacts from the world. And we thought, where are they getting these? And who’s labeling them? Diana Wynne Jones wrote a book called The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and there’s a map in the front that basically says that if a location is labeled on the map, then by golly you’re gonna go to the place during the course of the story. Fantasy maps have gotten this reputation of being kind of spoilery.

    So when we got to the map of Elendel, we were looking at it, thinking if we only labeled the places that were necessary for the story, then we’re falling into this trope of fantasy. So how can we subvert this a bit? So, if the novel is compiled by Khriss, presumably, then maybe she has somebody who goes and gets the maps and labels them for her with pertinent information. It might still feel a little like “these labeled things are the important parts” but at least there’s an in-world reason why that is. That allowed us to develop a character around that. Brandon said, “Why don’t we have Nazh do this?” to which I agreed, and Brandon said, “Isaac, welcome to the Cosmere.”

    Since then, Nazh’s role has grown into basically a sidekick for Khriss. Now, when working with Nazh, we think of him as a grumpy James Bond.

    YouTube Livestream 7 ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    You wanna know a cool story, guys? When I was just, like, fourteen, maybe twelve, we went to Jackson Hole and you [Brandon's dad] bought me my first ring. I don't wear a lot of jewelry, but you bought me a ring that had a big topaz in it. (Big for my age.) And when I started writing my very first book, I named a character Topaz. Which is still one of Hoid's aliases, that's where his first name came from, was the topaz that my father bought for me.

    If any of you have read Dragonsteel (someday, I'll let everyone read it), that's why he's named Topaz in that. Well, he had a topaz, that's where he got it in-world. But name came from my father buying me a ring that was a really cool looking ring that I always kind of thought about and then named a character after.

    Adam Horne

    People want to know if you still have the ring.

    Brandon Sanderson

    I do not still have the ring. I wish that I did. We had a rough time where we moved from Nebraska to Idaho, and a lot of things got lost. A lot of my items (I was not there, I was in Korea at the time) got carefully and delicately packed up my brother, who was very, very kind. But somewhere in that, the ring didn't make that transfer.

    YouTube Livestream 6 ()
    #1353 Copy


    Your original five-part Tor pitch when they first signed you. You posted three on the blog way back in the day: Elantris, Mistborn, and Oathshards. What were the other two? And can we see 'em?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Oathshards... is that what I called Stormlight Archive, before it was Stormlight Archive? It probably was. That might have been what I pitched them as the name of the series. I only vaguely remember that.

    What else did I pitch to Tor? We're stretching back 20 years now. I have no idea. I literally have no idea. It was probably Dragonsteel, would be my guess. And probably White Sand. It would've been two other cosmere books, so the only other one is Aether of Night. And I didn't really have any other big cosmere books planned in my head, other than those, at that point. I've since added the Threnody novel, but that's a newer thing. So, probably that. Man, I have no idea.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1354 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson


    Again, I hope you enjoyed reading this book. Seriously, I think it was one of the most fun books I’ve ever written. It was as obsessive a task as I’ve ever participated in–I sat, working furiously and writing pretty much every day for sixteen days until it was done.

    Since then, people have called it brilliant, meaningful, silly, and all kinds of wonderful words. However, for me, it’s just something that I had to write. It still means a lot to me that people are so willing to read my books. Thank you.

    Brandon Sanderson

    The Alcatraz ProjectBook One: July 2005-January 2007

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Untold millions screamed out in pain.

    The last page was one of the jokes that I gleefully entered. I know that a lot of people out there love to look at the endings of books and see how things turn out, if only to reassure themselves that nobody dies.

    That’s a horrible habit, I must say. We authors hate it when people look at our endings without reading what led up to them. It gives us shivers to even contemplate. Drama becomes melodrama without proper emotional investment. If I’d wanted the ending first, I’d have written it that way.

    Wait. I did.

    Either way, I put this in so that you’d be chastised. So there! Ha! Hum.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    I came for you, as promised.

    And, of course, I had to end with a lead-in to the next book, along with a final potshot at Harry Potter. You were all thinking it, weren’t you? You were worried I was just going to leave him there.

    I’ll admit, that’s how I originally wrote the ending–not to be like Harry Potter, but because I really wanted Alcatraz to get back and read the note from his father. However, after I wrote the ending, I was dissatisfied with it. There needed to be something more, something to make it seem less cliché. I didn’t want to end in the same way I’ve always mocked the Harry Potter books for ending. That’s when I decided, “Hey, why not go ahead and make fun of that ending?”

    So, here we have a fitting ending to the book. I hope you enjoyed it.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Alcatraz, everything we do is about seeing!

    We end off here with some final talk of morals from Grandpa Smedry. I know that we’ve had a lot of lessons in this book, which is kind of an irony built in by me complaining so much about meaningful books.

    However, I like it when things fit. I like it when things come together. And things came together really well in this book. The final conversations here round out the ideas, concepts, and themes of the novel.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    You understand the lies the Librarians are teaching.

    Grandpa’s explanation for why Alcatraz was left to grow up in America is mostly true. As far as Grandpa knows, it’s completely true. The Free Kingdoms do need more people who understand the way that the Hushlands work.

    I took the way that Grandpa and the others don’t understand America from my time in Korea. Even the most fluent Koreans I met still had an accent, and the Americans who lived there never quite understood the way that Korean culture works. It’s all too different. Not a reason not to try, of course, but I think that the exaggerations in this book aren’t as much of an exaggeration as you might think.

    Anyway, there are other things going on, of course. Having Alcatraz grow up in America was a decision Attica and Shasta made together, and both had various reasons for wanting it to happen.

    Either way, I think–personally–that the Sheldons have been much better parents to Alcatraz than his biological parents ever were or will be.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    What do we do now?

    This is a nice, fun denouement. Alcatraz’s guard is down now, and he’s finally to the point where he can ask serious questions about his family–and Grandpa Smedry is willing to answer.

    I hope that the Ms. Fletcher reveal was a nice one, though with the amount of foreshadowing I laid down on that one, I won’t be surprised if you got it early. I mean, come on. Can you really have a book about orphans without at least wondering when one of the parents will show up in the text?

    This series is really about Alcatraz and his experiences with his parents. Book two is essentially a quest to find Attica.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Twenty

    All right. It's true. I lied to you.

    I really am going to get to that scene with the altar. I promise. It’s not a gimmick. Or, uh, it’s not just a gimmick. You’ll find out more in book two, but let’s just say that an Oculator’s blood mixed with glass when you forge a lens will make it so that anyone–not just Oculators–can activate it.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Alcatraz The Leader

    This chapter is important because of how it gives rounding to Alcatraz’s character arc. We see him acting decisively here–making decisions, leading the group even though his grandfather is there. He is a natural leader, when he can get over his hangups.

    However, one short experience isn’t enough to change him completely. He’s still got a lot to learn. As a nod to this, he breaks the sword by accident when leaving. It’s a metaphoric indication that he has only taken the first step in his journey.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    The Lenses Of Rashid

    I hope the secret with the Forgotten Language wasn’t too obvious. I realize it’s not the most clever twist in the book, since the Forgotten Language was simply hanging out in the narrative, not doing anything useful. Careful readers might have realized that it had to do something in the book, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it up so often. It’s not a big jump to figure out that the Lenses of Rashid will let you translate things.

    However, here’s one thing I bet you didn’t know. The word Rashid refers to an actual place. It’s a harbor city in Egypt, made famous for a certain rock discovered there. In English, we actually pronounce Rashid differently–we say “Rosetta.” So, yes, the Sands of Rashid–and therefore the Lenses of Rashid–are named after the Rosetta Stone, which was the famous stone discovered that helped people finally translate Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Nineteen

    What do mockingbirds have to do with that, anyway?

    To make it clear, I actually like To Kill a Mockingbird. However, it was one of the books that people gave me when I was younger that was wrong for me at the time. It’s good to read classics, and it’s good to read outside of the genres you usually prefer. If you like fantasy a lot, try a historical or a mystery once in a while–I think you’ll be surprised.

    The problem with To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t that it’s a bad book–it’s that I was given it, then told it was the type of book I should love because of blah blah blah. When I actually read it, I did like it–but I felt insulted that I was told I had to like it. And I like a lot of my favorite fantasy novels about ten or twenty times more than To Kill a Mockingbird–and I think they’re better written, too. So there.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Fire over the inheritance!

    You’ll notice I was sure to foreshadow that the Firebringer’s Lens had a definite front and back. (In the scene where it was on the floor, shooting into the air.) That way, it could be made to shoot the wrong direction.

    I always hate it when heroes win by accident. It seems a common theme in children’s books, for some reason. I love the Harry Potter books, but it seems that Harry succeeds a little too often by luck or accident, not because he’s clever or determined or anything else.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Oculator's Duel

    It’s always fun when you can have two wizards battle it out. I was never pleased with the scene of Gandalf and Saruman fighting in the Lord of the Rings movies. It just didn’t feel like a wizard battle to me.

    The trick is, I’ve never seen that sort of thing depicted well in a movie. I don’t know why, but the special effects never work. It comes off looking dumb. (The same thing happened in Willow.)

    I want it to be tense, to have power flowing–but the real effort has to be internal. Having wizards being pushed against walls and things just seems undignified. I would rather it be a battle of wills than a battle of walls.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    This is what I was always meant to be.

    I wanted to have a moment in this book where Alcatraz decided, truly, that he wanted to accept all of these strange things that were happening to him. I wanted to give him a moment like I had when I discovered fantasy novels and figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

    This scene with him staring at the Lenses is his moment. Not everyone has one–a lot of people just stumble into what they do for their lives, or they do lots of things. However, I feel very thankful that I had such a moment to direct me in life.

    Alcatraz has now decided. He’s going to put up with all of this craziness. He’s going to accept it. Others aren’t accountable for him–he’s made the decision, and this isn’t against his will. He’s now a participant in the silliness of these novels by choice.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1371 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Eighteen

    The ending of a book is both the best and worst part to read.

    This is very true. I loathe and love endings. I remember still that some of the most sweet experiences in reading happened when I was in high school, and was nearing the end of one of my favorite books. Then, I would be done, and realize it would be another whole year before the next book came out. That infuriated me.

    It kind of puts me in a tough place as a writer. I’m now putting people through this same sort of thing. I guess that’s why I figure I’m darned if I do, and darned if I don’t, so I might as well make people as annoyed with this book as possible.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Grandpa Smedry Rescued

    We finally get Grandpa Smedry back. One of the tough things about this series is that I don’t want to use him too much. Even though he’s a loon, he is the one who knows what is going on, and he’s rather powerful. He could easily overshadow Alcatraz, and that’s why I split them up.

    But now the team is back together, and they have an objective. These last three chapters are going to be fun.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1373 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Primitive doesn't always mean useless.

    The other big thing in this chapter that I wanted to mention is the editorial about why Sing’s guns are useful. Some early readers had difficulty understanding, if swords were so advanced, why they should care about Sing’s guns. I felt it important, then, to point out that weapons are still weapons.

    I’ve intentionally reversed things in this book. Guns have taken the place of swords, and swords the place of guns. This is a time-tested tradition in the fantasy genre–just look at Star Wars. We all like swords. They have a stylish coolness; we think of them as more elegant, more heroic, than a pistol.

    However, the thing I want to mention here is that a weapon is still a weapon. A knife or sword can easily kill you in the real world. In the same way, a gun in the Alcatrazworld is very dangerous–even if they’re not used as often.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Seventeen

    I didn't take the opportunity to point out anything at the beginning of this chapter.

    This editorial–the one I put in the middle of the chapter, rather than at the beginning–was one of those inspired directly by readers. A lot of the fan mail I get mentions that a reader was kept up late by one of my books. I always take this as a compliment, and I’m pretty sure it’s usually intended as one. People want me to know that my book was good enough for them to lose sleep over, and after all, I consider the opportunity cost of sleep to be far greater than the mere cost of money spent on a book.

    So, it’s a real honor. How do I respond? By making fun of people who end up reading Alcatraz late at night. 🙂 I sincerely hope that people run across this chapter early in the morning and think, “Ah! I can’t believe it!” Not only will it be really funny, but it might give a more personal connection to the book. I wrote this in my basement years before you ended up reading it, but if I can guess a little bit of what you’re feeling and doing, it brings the book closer to you.

    My editor, by the way, didn’t really like the “Whoever put in that last cliffhanger” aside. (She liked a lot of the humor, by the way. I only point out the ones that she suggested cutting.) I kept it, even though it’s a bit of an awkward joke. Mostly, I wanted to give you a hint of how I was feeling as I wrote this. I was, indeed, staying up far later than I should have, working on one more chapter before I went to sleep. I thought that readers might appreciate knowing this.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1375 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Motivating Alcatraz

    Grandpa Smedry getting stabbed in the leg, and Quentin having been beaten, get back to some of the things I talked about before when Alcatraz was being tortured. I didn’t want to make this book too graphic, but there are some things I couldn’t avoid. It’s tough to have a lighthearted novel in which dangerous things can also happen. I hope I walked that line all right. (And I know there is a lot out there that is far more dark than this. I’m just wanting the balance to feel right for this book.)

    In this case, I felt I needed to push Alcatraz to actually come up with a plan that worked. Against the Alivened, it was basically an accident that he won. His passions took over, and he did what was natural. As he himself says, “I didn’t mean to do that.”

    Here, I’m forcing him to plan and think. Unfortunately, his first choice–while being funny–was rather unproductive. I did mention that the dinosaurs would come back, though.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1376 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Sixteen

    Obscure References

    Chapter Sixteen is the chapter for random obscure references and jokes. Perhaps I did this unconsciously, rather than having more full-blown asides (though my editor did cut one about soy sauce and ninjas from the next chapter–I’m serious) because I wanted things to move quickly.

    Anyway, here’s a list of the references, if you didn’t get them all. First off, we have the Heisenberg joke–he’s the guy who is famous for his teachings and discoveries about the uncertain location of electrons. The wordplay with him is so twisted that I have trouble working it out, but it still makes me chuckle. This is probably the one that remained in the book that my editor likes the least–she tried to cut it three times.

    The “British people are all well-mannered dinosaurs” crack also almost got cut, but I decided to keep it. It breaks the fourth wall a bit–essentially, it’s me admitting that I made dinosaurs act like proper, stereotypical Brits just for the heck of it. It’s a self-aware parody of the stereotype, which means that sentence could undermine the cohesion of the worldbuilding. But, well, the worldbuilding is all there to let us have fun anyway.

    Let’s see…others. The dinosaur talking about the “C” section of the library is a reference to Michael Crichton, who wrote Jurassic Park (and Jurassic Park Two, which starred a character who had died in the first book, but who was so popular in the movie that they resurrected him in book two by simply saying, “Oh, you were mistaken. His wounds weren’t as bad as they looked”).

    Grandpa Smedry saying “I’ll go for a walk” is a reference to Monty Python, of course, and Quentin’s “Wasing not of wasing is” is a reference to Spook from my own Mistborn series.

    Did I get them all?

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1377 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Cantaloupe, fluttering paper makes a duck.

    We’ve hit what people like to call the Brandon Avalanche. That’s the part of my books where things really pick up, and the ending comes in a tumbling, fast-paced explosion.

    The avalanche is getting less and less noticeable in my later books. It’s still there, but I’m better at pacing things over an entire book now, and I don’t have as many plot twists stuffed into the short endings as I used to. I think this way is better, but I do still try to have the endings give a bang to the reader. Things do pick up, and things start to resolve–like the cantaloupe thing.

    We’ll keep the pace going fairly quickly from now on. Though, of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t stop for stupid tangents–such as, well, the stupid tangent about being stupid. Again, this is me having fun with the form of a book, rather than just the content.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1378 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    The Broken Alivened

    The Alivened creature here–the one Alcatraz breaks–will probably be making a return in one of the later books. Not book two, however. Perhaps book three. I left him alive to sew a seed, which I could then harvest later, if I decided to.

    As for romance novels making Alivened creatures angry and stupid…I jest. Please forgive me. I know there are very good romance novels out there that are quite witty. (The Regency subgenre, in particular, is filled with cleverness.) However, I couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the genre. It’s so big and dominating that sometimes we writers just can’t help ourselves.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1379 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Fifteen


    Heh. I was working on this chapter, and I wondered, “Could I be lucky enough to discover that there’s a city out there named Moron?” And indeed there were a lot of them that I found. Most were in South America, however, and had an accent on the o. Same goes for the one in Mongolia. I figured that using any of those without the accents would be cheating, so I decided to go with the one in Switzerland.

    I enjoy this intro. Technically, it’s probably the best written of all of them. Neat, concise, with a good word play twist at the end. Unfortunately, it gives me yet another reason to preach to you all. That’s good, in a way, since this book is kind of about that sort of thing. It’s a piece that Alcatraz is using politically, to give him the reputation he wants. That means lots of soapboxing.

    Of course, that could just be my excuse for wanting to rant about lots of random subjects.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Fourteen

    And here the action picks up again.

    I love me a good action scene. There’s something very fun about constructing action on the page. Partially, I think, because it’s tough to do. In a movie, you can make the visuals happen the way you want to. However, in a book, you have a real fine balance to walk. You want people to be able to imagine the action, but at the same time you can’t include too much, because every bit you include slows the action by a proportional amount.

    This action scene is my favorite in the book. True, there aren’t a lot to choose from here–it’s not like Mistborn, where there are more fights. However, this one really works for me for a couple of reasons. First off, we’ve just had a lull in the book with lots of interesting–but not very fast-paced–things happening. Second, we get a good character climax in the middle of this scene. Third, there’s a real sense of danger here.

    Again, it’s nice that the first few things Alcatraz tries don’t work. It’s a frustrating metaphor for his life that he has so much trouble. It seems that the harder he tries, the worse things turn out for him. That’s just perception, of course–effort is rarely wasted in my opinion, even if all it does is improve you as a person and your ability to work. However, as Alcatraz sees things, he often gets beaten down when he tries. So he’s stopped trying.

    Up until here. The fact that he doesn’t just give in is the show of what I told you in the last few chapters–it is supposed to reinforce that he really is changing. That he does care. And that caring is now driving him to channel his Talent.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    The Limits Of Alcatraz's Power

    How much could Alcatraz break, if he really set his mind to it? I liked asking this question here because it’s going to be a theme of the entire series. I’ll answer it, eventually. For now, let us say that Alcatraz doesn’t understand his own power.

    Note here, by the way, that he mentions that he broke his family’s hearts. His power is far more abstract that simply being able to break objects that he touches.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Breaking Out Of The Cell

    Alcatraz fails to break out of here the first few times he tries. I’ve always been a believer of making things tough. Too many stories, in my opinion, have the villains acting in a stupid way. If the heroes can only win because the bad guys are idiots, then where’s the fun in that? (Big problem with 80s cartoons, I’m afraid. Even as a kid, I watched them and said, “Come on! Let Destro lead, not Cobra Commander! Let’s have a challenge here!”)

    Ahem. Quick geek-out moment there.

    Anyway, I figured that the Librarians would be aware of how Alcatraz and company might break out of the prison. True, they had to rile up the guard to get out–and that depended on the guard reacting in a foolish way–but people do make mistakes, particularly when they’re annoyed. I like that the prison–the part of keeping them captive that was prepared ahead of time–worked like it’s supposed to. It was human error in the passion of the moment, mixed with Alcatraz’s ability to be downright infuriating (a talent nearly worthy of magical powers), that was enough to get them out.

    Of course, all this necessitates the villains running off and leaving the heroes in prison. However, try to look at it from their viewpoint. How important/dangerous are Alcatraz, Bastille, and Sing? Wouldn’t you rather keep an eye on the real threat–the centuries-old master wizard with a mysterious objective?

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1385 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Thirteen

    And I spent fourteen years in prison, where I obtained the learning of a gentleman and discovered the location of a buried treasure.

    Yes, that’s a Count of Monte Cristo joke in the introduction here. No, things didn’t pass that quickly in that book, but the years did fly by. (If anything can be said to fly by in it. I like the book, but man, it’s a beast.)

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Interrogation And Torture

    “Foolish, foolish Alcatraz” is a nod to Jeff Smith’s Bone. Give it a read, if you haven’t.

    Also of note is Sing’s comment when Alcatraz is talking to Ms. Fletcher. Sing notes that Alcatraz is a little bit snide. That quip, for some reason, has been a favorite of readers ever since the first draft. I’m not completely sure why. Yes, it’s fun, but it seems to have gotten undue attention as a laugher. Sometimes you just can’t judge what will work for people and what won’t–or what will work really, really well.

    And since I’m talking about little things here, let me mention Grandpa Smedry. Of course he shows up late, after Alcatraz gets tortured.

    I worried that having the main character get tortured like this might be too graphic for a children’s book–but then I remembered some of the things I’ve read in children’s books lately. It seems to me that you shouldn’t pull punches because of the audience. There are words I change to make the vocabulary work for the age group, and some types of humor don’t work as well, but I don’t like talking down to anyone, even babies who can’t speak yet. Successful novels are ones that treat their readers with respect, regardless of age.

    Alcatraz needed to go through this (and I know, it’s not really that graphic). It’s what the story needed. Heroes do get themselves into trouble. If standing up for people were easy, what would be the point of bravery?

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    I hadn't even noticed - my glasses were gone.

    Alcatraz doesn’t notice that he’s missing his Oculator’s Lenses. This is a big deal to me, metaphorically, even though it’s barely mentioned. He hasn’t grown into them yet.

    However, more important than that is the discussion he has with Bastille about being an Oculator. These are some of the issues we’ll get into with her character later, but remember–this series is about using what you have and making the best of it. Sure, it would be better for Bastille if she were an Oculator, but that’s not an option for her.

    However, what she does have is severe stubbornness. This comes out as she explains how long she tried to become an Oculator. She would have known from the beginning that it was impossible, but she still tried.

    Her stubbornness is what she has to make use of. (Oh, and the Popsicle thing is one of my favorite little explanations in the book.)

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Twelve

    The Alcatraz Smedry you think you know is a farce.

    And now we get the cynical side of Alcatraz’s character growth. It was an interesting experiment, writing this book from the perspective of someone looking back. I knew what I wanted to have happened in Alcatraz’s life (remember, when I changed the book to first person, I’d done a lot more worldbuilding and planning for the series than I had when I originally wrote it). And I knew where he would end up by the time he was older. (I peg the narrator at about eighteen years old.)

    So I knew that he’d look at some of these events–such as Alcatraz learning to be a leader–with a sneer. I had to get that across without undermining the power of the actual event, which is why I’ve worked so hard to make the narrator seem a little untrustworthy. You see how he reacts to his young self, but hopefully you don’t see the young Alcatraz in the same way.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    She single-handedly ended the drought in Kalbreeze during the fourth-third century.

    By the way, the fourth-third century thing is intentional. They keep track of years a little differently in the Free Kingdoms. There are certain epochs of time. So the first-first century would be kind of like our A.D. 0-100, but the first-third century would be like A.D. 200-300. On the other hand, the second-third century is more like A.D. 1200-1300. (Though the dates are a little off–they’re not analogous. The first-third century is more like 2000 B.C. our time. More in later books.)

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    Brandon Sanderson

    I made them hate me. On purpose.

    This chapter was the one where I really started to delve into character. It just might be my favorite in the book. Now, maybe, you can see why I had to take out the self-awareness at the beginning of the book. This chapter has real power because Alcatraz is being forced to admit uncomfortable things about himself.

    From the very get-go, my goal in this book was to write something funny that also had a strong character with a good character arc. That’s why I started the first chapter with Alcatraz burning down the kitchen. He was a solid character in my mind–a combination of a lot of different sides. The kid who wanted to be loved, the sarcastic teenager who pushed people away, the cynical older teen who is writing these books. He’s a guy who’s been through a lot, and I hoped that with this chapter (and the next) I could show some depth in a book that otherwise might be dismissible as a simple farce.

    We also start to get into Bastille’s character here, though a lot of what I’m going to do with her is reserved for later. In my mind, this series is about her almost as much as it is about Alcatraz.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    The something hard I was lying on turned out to be the ground.

    There’s a small Douglas Adams nod in here, by the way. That’s what the “No, it didn’t want to be my friend” crack is about with the ground. My editor tried to cut it, since she didn’t get it, but I insisted that it remain. Maybe nobody will get it, but it makes me laugh–and sometimes, that’s what humor is all about.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Eleven

    Authors like to torture people.

    If I had to pick, this would be my second-favorite rant. The mousetrap one is fun, but this one actually says something. It offers commentary. Even if it is ridiculous.

    I’ve wondered about this concept. Why, exactly, do authors do what they do? Why do I write books, and why do I get a thrill every time I see a character in as much pain as I put Alcatraz through in this chapter?

    I acknowledge that I’m probably not a sadist. It’s more that I love seeing good character development. Books are about emotion, and I get the greatest satisfaction from a story when people become so attached to the character that they feel like they know them. Then, when something bad happens, it’s heartwrenching, and the book gains meaning. Not because of what it says or its grand philosophy, but because it means something to that reader at that moment.

    And when there are victories, they really feel like victories. Nothing is better than that.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    They named prisons after us.

    Here we get the reason why everyone has prison names. I figured this makes sense, in the twisted reasoning of this book. Alcatraz the First is a famous hero in the Free Kingdoms. So, what do the Librarians do? They make sure everyone in the Hushlands associates the name Alcatraz with something base.

    It was fun when I actually managed to work out a reason behind the loony choice of my hero’s name.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    It was a person I had known for my entire life: Ms. Fletcher

    The Ms. Fletcher scene has some interesting things to note. First off, if you figured out before Alcatraz that the person whose footprints he was following had to be Ms. Fletcher, you’re not alone. I realize this isn’t the biggest twist ever. However, there’s more going on here than you might suspect.

    Particularly with the fact that she lost her keys. That’s important. You’ll find out in book two why. Also, there’s more about her footprints that will be answered later in this book.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Character Growth

    And, speaking of character, another of the fun themes of this book comes out in this chapter. One of my points is to show all of these wondrous, incredible things–then relate them to Alcatraz and his growth as a character. From the very beginning, the narrator has tied the two together. For instance, the reason Alcatraz begins believing that Grandpa Smedry is his grandfather is because he’s seen so much that is insane, the idea of this man being his grandfather doesn’t seem so out of place.

    This character, Alcatraz, has some things he needs to learn. We’ll get into them in the next chapter. However, all of the craziness–even the implausibility–happening in this book is a foreshadowing of the ability he has to change the most incredible thing of all–his own mind.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Ten

    Are you annoyed with me yet?

    This beginning is exactly what I like about the form of this book. Here, I can go on and on about how you shouldn’t separate readers from the payoff of cliffhangers–all the while keeping you from getting the payoff of the cliffhanger at the end of the previous chapter.

    This whole theme started with that first line, and my desire not to get right back to Alcatraz on the altar. As I thought about it, I realized there were a lot of ways I could play with the form of a fantasy novel–or any novel–while at the same time following that form. This became almost as fun for me as character or setting.

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    Brandon Sanderson


    There are some jokes in this book that I don’t expect anyone to get. There are others that are just for a select group.

    If you didn’t notice, I spelled pterodactyl differently every time I put it in this chapter. There are a good half dozen or more places where it’s misspelled, each time in a new way.

    I put this in not because I expected the average reader to notice, but because it gave me glee to think of the proofreaders, editors, and spelling-minded people who read the book trying to correct each instance–then groaning when they discovered that I’d done it on purpose. (Evil laughter.)

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Worldbuilding After The Fact

    That said, this chapter has some of the strongest historical worldbuilding in the book. This information–about Silimatics, the Incarna, and Biblioden the Scrivener–was all added to the book later as I developed it. The thing about a big free write like I did is that it just . . . well, wasn’t publishable.

    Once I had a draft of the book, I knew that it would need stronger worldbuilding if I was going to make a series out of it. I needed a history for the Librarians, and motivations for what they were doing. So I did a lot my brainstorming for this book afterI wrote it, which was kind of an odd experience.