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    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1901 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    We are civilization's only hope

    I do wonder if this conversation with Grandpa Smedry took too long. I might have covered the same information too many times here. Both my agent and my editor, however, kept noting that we need to make certain there’s a feeling of tension here. We need to know why the sands are so dangerous, and we need to know that they have to be recovered immediately, lest the world suffer a dire fate.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1902 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Something massive crashed through the wall of my house

    Some notes on the chapter itself. First off, the car crashing into the room was one of the later edits to the book. Originally, I just had Alcatraz go with Grandpa Smedry in that scene when he looks out at the car on the curb.

    This scene–the original–bothered me for a couple of reasons. It seemed out of character, for one thing. I mean, why would Alcatraz go with the crazy old man? He didn’t believe Grandpa Smedry, and thought he was crazy. I needed more of a reason. On top of that, it seemed like the pacing of the book was just a bit too slow at this point. I needed something to increase the tension. So, poof. A gun (this guy was originally going to show up later), a car crashing through the wall, and an escape. I’m pleased with the changes.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1903 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Three

    Who To Blame

    There are two people you can blame for this book. (No, I’m not one of them. We authors never take responsibility for things like that.) They are Stacy Whitman and Heather Kirby, the women who worked on me for a period of several months to get me to start reading kids’ books. I’d always said that I wanted to get back into YA and middle grade (even if I wasn’t sure on the distinction then. Not sure if I am now, actually…). However, I’d just never gotten around to it.

    Well, these two–along with Ms. Fish–just kept recommending books to me. Eventually, I broke down and started reading them. (Though, if I trace it back to the real beginning, it was when my friends Faith and Nathan started reading the Lemony Snicket books to each other while they were engaged. I was the roommate who had to deal with them snuggling on the couch all the time…)

    Anyway, back around 2004 I started reading a lot of YA books. I found I liked them, and remembered a lot of the ones I’d enjoyed as a kid. The more I read, the more I realized that a lot of the really exciting fantasy worldbuilding was going on in the kids’ book world. I also realized that you can get away with my kind of humor in kids’ books much more easily than you can in adult books. (I’ve written one other comedy, but something just didn’t work about it. I now think that if I’d shot for a younger audience, it would have been far more successful.)

    All of that led to me writing Alcatraz during a short break between Mistborn books two and three. It was a quick write–took me sixteen work days–and was essentially an extended free write, intended to get something out of my system so I could get back to Mistborn. (Though at the same time, Alcatraz made for an excellent break from the Mistborn world, which is rather dark.)

    I didn’t expect much from the book. It was fun, but had been done more as a writing exercise than anything else. A way to clear my system of all the kids’ book ideas that came to me during my readings in the genre.

    Then Joshua and Steve–my agents–got hold of the book. They sold the heck out of it, and we discovered just how many people loved the concepts in it. We ended up getting a four-book deal from Scholastic, which tickled me pink. Not just because I got paid for a book I didn’t expect to earn a whole lot from–but because it let me write more books in the series! (These are a blast to work on.)

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1905 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    The Simpsons Did It

    I worried a little bit about having Grandpa Smedry and the other Free Kingdomers misunderstand American culture so much. They don’t quite get it. This is a fun plotting element, and it gives explanation for some of Alcatraz’s past (you’ll get this later) but it’s also worrying because it’s similar to something that was done in Harry Potter. (The Weasley father tries to do things like Muggles, but doesn’t ever quite get it right.)

    I almost cut this element from the book because of the similarity. Those of you who know me and my work probably already understand how much of a “Don’t do what I’ve seen done” reaction I have. If another author has done it, and I’m not parodying it or changing it enough to be unrecognizable, then I don’t want to put it in my books. Even if I knew nothing of the other author and their work.

    In this case, I didn’t cut it. I do happen to like Harry Potter, and have read all of the books, and so I was even more tempted to edit this out. However, in contemplating it, a certain episode of South Park came to mind. In the episode, one of the characters is constantly crying out “Simpsons did it!” to plot elements or ideas that the characters tried.

    The point in the episode was that the characters kept getting frustrated because all of their great ideas are things that the show The Simpsons had already done in one of their episodes. I can see the writers of South Park and their frustration in this episode, and see it as a reaction to times when people emailed them and posted on forums, chastising them for copying The Simpsons. The problem is, as the show points out, The Simpsons has pretty much done everything. The writers couldn’t afford to undermine their own show by trying to cut out every little thing they thought of that happened to be similar to something in another show.

    Harry Potter dominates the market right now. And the thing is, a lot of the things in Harry Potter weren’t invented first by Rowling. They’re staples of the genre, or ideas that have been done other times by other books. Rowling does them very well. However, if you try to cut out anything from your books that might hint at being similar to Harry Potter, you’re going to have a frustrating time.

    Yes, we need to innovate. Yes, I prefer books that are original. However, I’m already writing a book about a cult of evil librarians that rule the world and a boy with the magical power to break things. Neither are ideas I’ve ever seen before. I didn’t feel I needed to expunge everything that might reference another work. If I did, I worry that my novels would be so original that they’re inaccessible.

    Just my thoughts on the matter. Wow, that turned into an essay. I didn’t mean it to be one–it was more for my own benefit than for yours. But that’s what you have to deal with in these annotations. I’m even more free than I am in my books to write whatever the heck I want.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1906 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Alcatraz, My Boy!

    Here we get Grandpa Smedry, introduced for the first time. As I believe I mentioned earlier, I wanted this book to be a subtle satire of some of the books on the market in fantasy. Not a full-blown satire, of course–I don’t tend to like books like that. They’re forgettable. Instead, I wanted something that had its own world, magic, characters, and story–but something that also occasionally took a subtle shot at the fantasy establishment (of which my other books are a part).

    I love fantasy. However, what I loved about writing these books was that I could strip away some of the self-importance and seriousness. Standard epic fantasy, as a necessity of the genre, takes itself very seriously. These books don’t. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want the stories to have structural integrity or good storytelling; it just means that they can be a little more silly at times.

    All of this leads to why I wrote Grandpa Smedry the way I did. I wanted a wise old mentor character. We’ve seen plenty of the type–Belgarath, Gandalf, Dumbledore. However, I wanted to make him a total spaz. Hence Grandpa Smedry, who’s a great Oculator and a very competent person–but who is also a complete spaz, and who is sometimes his own worst enemy.

    His curses, by the way, are all the names of my favorite fantasy and science fiction authors. (In no particular order.) So, in this chapter he curses by Melanie Rawn’s name and Robin Hobb’s name, I believe. That’s only the beginning. [Assistant’s note: Terry Brooks and David Gemmell are also sworn by in this chapter.]

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1907 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Authorial Interruptions

    The style of these interruptions–we’ve got one at the beginning of each chapter–is intentional. I’m not shooting for brilliant humor, most of the time. I am the type of person who likes dumb humor. Groaners, you might say. That’s why I post Amphigory comics on my site. Bad puns, jokes that deserve rimshots, that kind of thing.

    So, what I tried to do with a lot of these inserts was have a final “pow” of a line that creates a jarring gap between the last bit of the humor and the reintroduction of the story. Instead of a smooth transition, in other words, I wanted a harsh one.

    I can’t quite explain why I like this so much in mixture with the humor. For one thing, I think it lets the reader keep the commentary and the story straight from one another. Also, I think it gives a stronger emphasis to the jokes–which, like the aforementioned rimshot, gives an unconscious clue to the reader that yes indeed, that was a joke. A lot of the humor in this book has to do with non sequiturs and the like, so making them stand out more seemed like a good instinct.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1908 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Two

    I'm A Writer

    In making this book first person, I gained one thing that is really cool. I was able to write the book such that the method of writing it proves–or tries to prove–what Alcatraz is trying to get people to believe about him. He says in the prologue that he’s not a nice person. Then he proves that by being mean to the reader through the way he writes the narrative.

    I really like the way this works in the book. It’s much better than the joke of having the third-person narrator actually be the subject of the novel. My literary love of postmodernism and self-awareness tingles marvelously at this aspect of the book. (And I do something similar in the sequel, which I’ve finished writing.) The book itself is a form of proof of what the character in the book claims.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1909 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Alcatraz's Self-Awareness

    The biggest change to this chapter was one I couldn’t talk about above. You see, in the original version of this book, Alcatraz was far more self-aware of the fact that he was intentionally driving his foster families away. In this chapter, he saw it as a game. Originally, he didn’t burn down the kitchen by accident–he did it on purpose to get the parents to send him away. He did this because the first few families sent him away after he got attached to him. So his goal with later foster parents was to push them away first before they could do it to him.

    Getting rid of this knowledge was one of the very first things that Anica suggested. You see, Alcatraz has such a great chance for character growth and revelation later on, when he’s in the prison, that having him be aware of what he was doing the whole time undermined what could have been a great scene.

    I agreed with this immediately, since I’d been thinking of doing the same cut. The edited manuscript, then, has him accidentally setting the drapes on fire, then not caring about it. I think that gives me a nice balance.

    However, the broken smoke alarm here is a reminder of the original draft. I left it in, implying that Alcatraz does partially know what he’s doing, even if he won’t admit it to himself. He broke the smoke alarm because he knew that by fixing dinner, he would likely start a fire. Grandpa Smedry hints at this later.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1912 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    The Revision Process

    As usual for my books, chapter one is the most revised chapter in the book. Getting the balance between humor, character, and plot establishment in this chapter was a bit tough. The first draft (which I’ll try to remember to post to my website so you can compare) was too long. As the book went through drafts, paragraphs were cut, trimming it down and trying to concentrate on what we really need.

    This was important for this book. I still worry that chapter one is one of the least funny. We don’t really get to the right voice and tone for the book until chapter two.

    I tried to fix this, but it proved impossible. The reader has to be acclimatized to the characters before I can do anything else in this book, and so I have to focus on Alcatraz’s strange power and the way he feels about life before I can get more wacky.

    Some of the cuts from this chapter include a fun line involving one of Alcatraz’s former foster mothers and cookies, a longer explanation of the postage stamp mystery, and a crack about Joan being a liberated woman. That last one was edited out so that I wouldn’t have as many women throwing things at me.

    Anica is a good editor, by the way. She knows how to write for kids. I’ve got a feel for how to do that, but I sometimes let my desire for a good line or quick joke overshadow the clarity of the book for the target age group. I do leave in some of my obscure jokes (as you’ll see when I make fun of Heisenberg), but Anica is great at pointing out phrases or words that just won’t work for the audience.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1913 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    I grew up in the Hushlands

    There was some confusion about the Hushlands vs. the Free Kingdoms in this book. Originally I called them the Inner World and the Outer World. Even when I wrote that, I knew it wouldn’t work–and it didn’t. They aren’t two different worlds, but different regions in the same world. Plus, people had a lot of trouble remembering which one was our civilization and which one was the fantasy kingdoms.

    After trying various names, I ended up with Hushlands (which was suggested by one of my friends, I believe). It seemed like a good mix with the Evil Librarians. I think Free Kingdoms and Hushlands are a lot easier to keep straight.

    I did worry a little bit about doing another “hidden world in this world” book. However, in writing fantasy, you really only have three options. There’s the high fantasy paradigm, where there is no connection to this world. (Like what I usually write.) Or you can do a fantasy alternate reality, where a lot of the things are the same, but some things are different. (This is what comic books generally do–it’s our world, plus fantastic elements that everyone knows and accepts.) I didn’t really want to do that, so I was left with number three: the urban fantasy “there’s a hidden fantasy world that nobody knows about” paradigm.

    I hope I can add something new to the genre. I’m not too worried, since I’m very confident in this book. Plus, there is enough satire and sarcasm in the book that–in part–I’m making fun of the genre.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1914 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter One

    So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.

    The first line here was the original inspiration for this book. I got that line before anything else. I still love it – particularly since it plays into the theme of this book by not really giving you any information on Alcatraz’s predicament. More on this in later annotations.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1915 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Author's Foreword

    This is probably a good place to talk about the shift from third person into first person.

    The book was originally written in the third person. There was a narrator telling us this story–someone listed as “Cecil G. Bagsworth the Third” on the title page. (Cecil, by the way, was invented by my friend Dan Wells as a humorous alter ego. I borrowed him for this as an inside joke, but eventually cut him–then put him back in as Alcatraz’s Free Kingdoms editor.)

    There was a joke inherent in the narrator guise for this book. As the novel progressed, you realized that the author of the book was indeed Alcatraz, who was writing it and talking about himself in the third person. This let me have all kinds of jokes where the narrator would exaggeratedly describe Alcatraz as being smart, witty, or handsome. It also let me get away with some very clever word plays.

    The problem is, it was too clever. Meaning that it was something I found funny, but that undermined the book. Since it was so convoluted and strange, it distracted from the story and the characters. It also felt a little bit too much like the Lemony Snicket narrator used in the A Series of Unfortunate Events books.

    Credit for getting me to change the book from third person to first person goes to my agent Joshua and his assistant Steve. Joshua was very firm on the need to swap out the third person narrator for a first person that would bring us closer to the character of Alcatraz, while at the same time give a more solid narrative reason for all of the diversions and asides in the book.

    Once I came around to this suggestion–which didn’t take much–I realized that I’d need a foreword to explain why Alcatraz was writing this book. Now that the ‘third person who is the first person’ mechanic was gone, I could create and use a backstory for why Alcatraz is writing his memoirs, which I ended up really liking (far more than what I lost) for what it let me do.

    This introduction not only lets me acclimatize readers to the difference between Librarian lands and the Free Kingdoms, but also lets me begin to establish the character of Alcatraz the failure–the person our hero will become. That gives some tension to the narrative, I think, as the reader wonders how Alcatraz ended up like that. This introduction gives a framework to the fictional publication to the book, giving us a story we can all–as readers–be part of: the resistance against the Librarians.

    Assistant Peter’s note: I’ve put up the original third person versions of the first two chapters. You may enjoy comparing them to the final versions.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1916 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson


    This book is for my father.

    It’s a tough call, to match all the people you want to honor with the right books. My mother got my first book, which was a good match for her because it was very easily appreciated by people who don’t read fantasy and sf. And, of course, she’s my mother–she deserved the first book.

    Next, I went for my grandmothers. I’m afraid that matching a book to my maternal grandmother was pretty much impossible. She’s not a fantasy reader, and though she loves me and reads my books out of solidarity, I know that she doesn’t really get them. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, is pretty much insane (in a good way), and she loves fantasy novels.

    The next book, however, needed to go to my father. I think this one is a good match for him. The boy in this book, Alcatraz, is about the same age that I was when I discovered fantasy novels–and the kid on the cover actually looks a lot like I did when I was that age. It’s a fun match, and the Brandon of that age owes a lot to his father.

    My father spoils people outrageously. That’s just one of his things. He takes care of us, and gives us what we need–and more. In my case, that was books. He fed my addiction, making sure I was always supplied with things to read. And, because of that, I ended up becoming a novelist.

    So thanks, Dad.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1917 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Half Title Page

    This will be my first book ever published that doesn’t have a map in it. There was never really talk of one. For reasons that will be explained in the book, I didn’t want to start with a map that might give away interesting plot elements about the geography of the world. However, any other kind of map–of the city or library–would just kind of be boring. So I didn’t intend to put one in.

    However, the lack of one is another highlight of something that my editor, Anica, kind of wanted with this book. She hesitated when I talked too much about titles that mentioned things like “The Sands of Rashid” because she didn’t envision the book being as much a straight-up fantasy as I did.

    This wasn’t a disagreement, more just a difference in viewpoints. I’m a fantasy writer–that’s what I do. I write epic fantasy books. This one, however, does take place in the “real” world, and Anica wanted to market it in a way that would–hopefully–pull in a larger, crossover audience. That’s another reason we went with the pulpy title. From the cover, you can tell that something cool is going on–we’ve got flying books and a kid wearing some strange glasses. However, it doesn’t scream “epic fantasy.” I was originally hoping for a feel more like the Edge Chronicles or Spiderwick, but this pulpy feel seems very different to me, and I like things that stand out. We’ll have to see how it goes over.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #1918 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Title Page

    Well, here’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing: the annotations for Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I’m looking at the proofs right now (January 2007), and have to say I’m impressed–and a little bit amazed–at the whirlwind (at least in publishing terms) history of this book.

    I’ll talk more about that later. For right now, however, perhaps hearing the various different titles that were proposed for the book will give you an idea of how crazy the life of the novel has been.

    One of the very first things I started with, when formulating this book in my head, was the name Alcatraz for a protagonist. At the very beginning, I was planning for Alcatraz to be the name of an adult private investigator in a wacky mystery series. He’d solve crimes by getting all of the clues wrong, and interpreting them in strange ways, but then end up catching the crook anyway.

    Yeah, I know. The story has come a long way. I never got very far in the Alcatraz detective story. I thought about it a few times, but then eventually discarded it. The name, however, stayed–and I eventually added Smedry as the surname. Now I had a pretty fun name–Alcatraz Smedry–but no story to go along with it.

    Eventually, as I’ll talk about, I drafted the first version of the novel you now hold. At that point, I named it:


    The Absolutely True–And in No Way Embellished–Tale of


    and the Sands of Rashid

    by Cecil G. Bagsworth the Third(a pen name of Stet Cannister)

    Based on a story.


    Whew! That’s a mouthful. I particularly liked the “Based on a story” crack. However, after my agent Joshua suggested switching the book to first person, I couldn’t keep this title anymore. So I had to come up with something else. By draft version 3.0, this book had come to be named Alcatraz Illuminated, book one of the Sands of Rashid.

    I liked the sound of this title, but it has some problems. Primarily, I was still imagining this book as a young adult book–and it took my editor at scholastic to suggest it be middle grade to really get the feel on target. However, Alcatraz Illuminated just didn’t seem like it would fit with a middle-grade audience. Plus, on paper without a cover illustration, it sounds like a documentary book about Alcatraz Island.

    So, once Scholastic had picked the book up, we started to talk about different potential titles. Early on, Anica established that we really needed to lose the Illuminated, and I agreed. We went through various rounds of emails with suggestions.

    • Alcatraz Smedry and the Sands of Rashid(This one had problems in that it just sounded too “Harry Potter” to me. Plus it just felt a little bland.)
    • The Completely True, and in No Way Exaggerated, Autobiography of Alcatraz Smedry(Harking back to the original title, but this felt too long.)
    • The Autobiography of Alcatraz Smedry, Librarian Slayer(He doesn’t really kill librarians, though.)
    • Alcatraz Smedry and the Incredibly Long, Exaggerated, and Somewhat Boring Fantasy Book Title(I kind of like this one still, but no one else took it seriously.)
    • Lenz-Wielder(If we wanted to go really fantasyish.)
    • The Utterly Unheroic Adventures of Alcatraz Smedry Versus the Evil Librarians(This is the one that stuck around the longest.)

    Eventually, we decided to simply go with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. It cut out a lot of the jokiness from the title, but it gave us what we wanted. Enough questions in the title to make people pick it up, with a good snappy feel to it. It got “Evil Librarians” in the title, which the marketing department really, really wanted. It got Alcatraz being used in a way that didn’t imply a documentary about the prison.

    The title does give the book a bit more of a pulp feel, which is just fine, since that kind of fits. We’ll have to see what the whole package looks like. I have seen the cover, and love it, so I think I’m going to be pleased.

    Assistant Peter’s note: I think Brandon forgot that he wrote these annotations. He seemed surprised when I mentioned that I had found them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that this is the only Alcatraz book that Brandon annotated. Enjoy.

    Defending Elysium Annotations ()
    #1919 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    It’s hard to dig back through my memory to the days when I wrote the rough draft of this story. What was going through my head?

    The story was written on a beach near Monterey California, and remains the only published piece of mine I did entirely in longhand before transcribing to the computer. I’d never been to Monterey before, and a friend was able to trade something he did at work for a week’s stay in a little condo-style hotel. We had two rooms and a very nice view over the city down toward the water.

    So I guess I was doing the whole bohemian thing. During these days, I hadn’t yet gotten published (this would have been late 2001 or early 2002). I had graduated from college, but had been rejected from all of the grad schools I’d applied for. I’d written about a dozen novels, and was annoyed with myself recently for not writing books that were true to what I wanted to be as a writer.

    The call regarding the sale of Elantris would not come for another year or so. I was working a graveyard shift at the hotel, renting a room in a friend’s basement for $300 a month, and spending all the time I could practicing my craft. (In part to delay thinking about what I was going to do with my life since my writing wasn’t selling and grad schools didn’t want me.)

    Over the next year, I would write a book called The Way of Kings, the best—yet most flawed—book I wrote during my unpublished years. A massive, beastly epic that was my symbolic discarding of any desire to chase the market or write anything that was not the type of writing I loved to read.

    That was my mind-set. I remember a couple of long afternoons sitting on the beach, listing to the waves and staring out over the ocean as I wrote. A good friend named Annie was there for most of it—you may know her as the woman that Sarene from Elantris was based on—writing in her journal. Micah (you may know him as Captain Demoux from the Mistborn books, and also as the official Brandon Sanderson jacket flap photographer) was in and out. Mostly he was off taking photos.

    I remember wanting to see if I could imbue a short story with the type of characterization and multiple plots that I liked in my epic fantasy. I had an idea for a character with a deep and interesting past, alongside a nice dissonant element (a secret agent working for the phone company). That, along with an interesting idea for an ending, grew into this story.

    Oddly, I was able to make this work in a short story the way I wanted, while writing shorter novels hadn’t worked for me. I chalk that one up to me starting to find the natural size for a story and writing it at that size. Ironically, the novels I’d written recently (Final Empire and Mistborn, the ideas for which would eventually be recycled into a single volume you know as Mistborn: The Final Empire) were ones that I’d tried intentionally to write “short.” And in doing that, I’d ended up filling each book with too few ideas for even their short length.

    With “Defending Elysium,” I took a short story (well, novelette) and filled it with as many ideas as I could pack into the space. The result is a very dense story (in plot, history, and world terms) that ended up satisfying all of the epic storytelling buttons I like having pushed.

    I ended up submitting this to The Leading Edge (the magazine I worked on) during one of my last months there. I did it under a pseudonym, a practice common for staff members, to get some feedback. (The Leading Edge gives feedback on all submissions. I didn’t intend to publish it there; I just wanted some honest opinions.) Turns out that one of my best friends read the story, then spent about an hour the following evening telling me about this great story he’d read out of the slush, and how he couldn’t believe that such an awesome story had ended up getting submitted to TLE just out of nowhere. (That gave me an inkling that the story might have some potential. . . .)

    That’s the background on the story. For those who like to dig deeper into the meaning and context of a story, perhaps that’s given you something to chew on. This was a melancholy time of my life—perhaps the time when I was most adrift—yet at the same time, it was one of the most artistically uninhibited times of my life. No contracts, no deadlines, no artificial rules imposed on myself. I had decided that the world could do whatever it wanted, and I would just write what I loved even if it never got published.

    So, of course, the following year this story got a Writers of the Future nod and Elantris got picked up by Tor.

    Perfect State Annotations ()
    #1920 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Consequences of the cut

    Cutting the last scene was not without costs to the story. For the longest time, after removing this scene, something about what remained bothered me. I had trouble placing what was wrong.

    The story went through editorial revisions and beta reads, none of which revealed what was bothering me. This process did convince me to add two scenes. The first was scene with the “paintball” fight in the noir city, which was intended to mix some action and worldbuilding in while revealing more of Kai’s personality. The second was the flashback scene where Kai and Melhi meet on the “neutral zone” battlefield, intended to introduce Melhi as more of a present threat in the story.

    Something was still bothering me, even after these additions. It took me time to figure out exactly what it was, and I was able to pinpoint it in the weeks leading up to the story’s publication. (Which was good, as it allowed me to make some last-minute changes. I’m still not sure if they fixed the problem, but we were satisfied with them.)

    The problem is this: removing the final scene hugely undermined Sophie as a character.

    The deleted scene provides for us two complete characters. We have Kai, who wants to retreat into his fantasy world and live there without ever being forced to think about the falsehood he’s living. He wants just enough artificial challenge to sate him, but doesn’t want to explore life outside of the perfect world prepared for him.

    As a contrast, we have Sophie, who refuses to live in the perfect world provided for her—and is so upset by it that she insists on trying to open the eyes of others in a violently destructive way. She tries to ruin their States, forcing them to confront the flaws in the system.

    Neither is an ideal character. Sophie is bold, but reckless. Determined, but cruel. Kai is heroic, but hides deep insecurities. He is kindly, but also willfully ignorant. Even obstinately so. Each of their admirable attributes brings out the flaws in the other.

    This works until the ending, with its reversal, which yanks the rug out from underneath the reader. Sophie’s death and the revelation that Kai has been played works narratively because it accomplishes what I like to term the “two-fold heist.” These are scenes that not only trick the character, but also trick the reader into feeling exactly what the character does. Not just through sympathy, but through personal experience.

    Let’s see if I can explain it directly. The goal of this scene is to show Kai acting heroically, then undermine that by showing that his heroism was manipulated. Hopefully (and not every scene works on every reader) at the same time, the reader feels cheated in having enjoyed a thrilling action sequence, only to find out that it was without merit or consequences.

    Usually, by the way, making readers feel things like this is kind of a bad idea. I feel it works in this sequence, however, and am actually rather proud of how it all plays out—character emotions, action, and theme all working together to reinforce a central concept.

    Unfortunately, this twist also does something troubling. With the twist, instead of being a self-motivated person bent on changing the mind of someone trapped by the establishment, Sophie becomes a pawn without agency, a robot used only to further Kai’s development.

    Realizing this left me with a difficult conundrum in the story. If we have an inkling that Sophie is Melhi too early, then the entire second half of the plot doesn’t work. But if we never know her as Melhi, then we’re left with an empty shell of a character, a direct contradiction to the person I’d planned for her to be.

    Now, superficially, I suppose it didn’t matter if Melhi/Sophi was a real character. As I said in the first annotation, the core of the story is about Kai being manipulated by forces outside his control.

    However, when a twist undermines character, I feel I’m in dangerous territory—straying into gimmicks instead of doing what I think makes lasting, powerful stories. The ultimate goal of this story is not in the twist, but in leading the reader on a more complex emotional journey. One of showing Kai being willing to accept change and look outward. His transformation is earned by his interaction with someone wildly different from himself, but also complex and fascinating. Making her shallow undermines the story deeply, as it then undermines his final journey.

    There’s also the sexism problem. Now, talking about sexism in storytelling opens a huge can of worms, but I think we have to dig into it here. You see, a certain sexism dominates Kai’s world. Sophie herself points it out on several occasions. Life has taught him that everyone, particularly women, only exist to further his own goals. He’s a kind man, don’t get me wrong. But he’s also deeply rooted in a system that has taught him to think about things in a very sexist way. If the story reinforces this by leaving Sophie as a robot—with less inherent will than even the Machineborn programs that surround Kai—then we’ve got a story that is not only insulting, it fails even as it seems to be successful.

    Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do have a tendency to do that. Either way, hopefully you now understand what I viewed as the problem with the story—and I probably described this at too great a length. As it stands, the annotation is probably going to be two-thirds talking about the problem, with only a fraction of that spent on the fix.

    I will say that I debated long on what that fix should be. Did I put the epilogue back in, despite having determined that it broke the narrative flow? Was there another way to hint to the reader that there was more going on with Melhi than they assumed?

    I dove into trying to give foreshadowing that “Melhi” was hiding something. I reworked the dialogue in the scene where Kai and Melhi meet in person, and I overemphasized that Melhi was hiding her true nature from him by meeting via a puppet. (Also foreshadowing that future puppets we meet might actually be Melhi herself.) I dropped several hints that Melhi was female, then changed the ending to have Wode outright say it.

    In the end, I was forced to confront the challenge that this story might not be able to go both ways. I could choose one of two things. I could either have the ending be telegraphed and ruined, while Sophie was left as a visibly strong character. Or I could have the ending work, while leaving Sophie as more of a mystery, hopefully picked up on by readers as they finished or thought about the story.

    The version we went with has Sophie being hinted as deeper, while preserving the ending. Even still, I’m not sure if Perfect State works better with or without the deleted scene. To be perfectly honest, I think the best way for it to work is actually for people to read the story first, think about it, then discover the deleted scene after they want to know more about what was going on.

    Even as I was releasing the story, I became confident that this was the proper “fix.” To offer the story, then to give the coda in the form of Sophie’s viewpoint later on. It’s the sort of thing that is much more viable in the era of ebooks and the internet.

    Either way, feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think. Does it work better with or without the deleted scene? Do you like having read the story, then discovered this later? Am I way overthinking what is (to most of you) just a lighthearted post-cyberpunk story with giant robots?

    Regardless, as always, thanks for reading.

    Perfect State Annotations ()
    #1921 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Why I cut the deleted scene

    This story began with the idea of taking some common tropes in science fiction—the brain in a jar, the Matrix-like virtual existence—and trying to flip them upside down. In every story I’ve seen with these tropes, they’re presented as terrible signs of a dystopian existence. I asked myself: What if putting people into a virtual existence turned out to be the right thing instead? What if this weren’t a dystopia, but a valid and workable system, with huge benefits for humankind?

    Kai’s and Sophie’s stories grew out of this. I loved the idea that putting people into simulated worlds might actually be the rational solution, instead of the terrifying one. An extreme, but possibly logical, extrapolation of expanding populations and limited resources. There are certain branches of philosophy that ask us to judge what is best for all of humankind. I think an argument could be made for this case.

    This is the first reason why I cut the deleted scene. It shifted the focus too much toward “Let’s escape the Matrix” instead of the theme of technology doing great things at the price of distancing us from human interaction.

    All that said, Sophie’s arguments in the story do have validity. One of my thematic goals for the story was to reinforce how the fakeness in Kai’s and Sophie’s lives undermines the very things they’ve built their personalities upon.

    For Kai, this is his heroism. The fact that there was never any actual danger for him meant that he was playing a video game on easy mode—all the while assuming he was on the most hardcore setting. This asks a question, however: if his heroism felt real to him, does it matter if he was never in danger? I’m not sure, but I found it one of the more intriguing elements of the story to contemplate.

    Sophie has a similar built-in conflict. Just like Kai’s heroism is undermined by his safety net, her revolutions and quests for human rights are undermined by the fact that she was fighting wars that had already been won in the real world. Her state was intentionally built without these things, just so she could earn them.

    And yet, does the fact that the conflict has been won before make her own struggle any less important and personal to her?

    She thinks it does. She thinks that the conscious decision of the Wode to put her into a world with fake problems and suffering is an unconscionable act. One that undermines any and all progress she could have made.

    I like that the deleted scene helps raise the stakes for questions like this. However, there’s a more important reason why I felt I needed to cut it. And that has to do with a problem I have noticed with my writing sometimes: The desire to have awesome twists just because they are unexpected.

    In early books, such as Elantris, this was a much more pervasive a problem for me. I was eventually persuaded by my editor and agent that I should cut some of the twists from that book. (There were several more twists in the ending; you can see the deleted scenes for Elantris elsewhere on my website.) I was piling on too many surprises, and each was losing its impact while at the same time diluting the story’s theme and message.

    I felt like this ending was one “Gotcha!” too many. I see this problem in other stories—often long, serialized works. The desire to keep things fresh by doing what the reader or viewer absolutely would never expect. Some of these twists completely undermine character growth and audience investment, all in the name of a sudden bang. Sometimes I worry that with twists, we writers need to be a little less preoccupied with whether or not we can do something, and a little more focused on whether it’s good for the story. (With apologies to Ian Malcolm.)

    A twist should be a natural outgrowth of the story and its goals. In Perfect State, I decided that my story was about Kai getting duped: duped by the Wode, then duped by Melhi. The twists in the published version contributed to this goal, giving in-story proof that his heroism could be manipulated, and that his existence had grown too comfortable.

    I worried that the extra epilogue would divert the story away from these ideas. And so, in the end, I cut it. (Though I’ll talk in the next annotation about some ramifications of this that still trouble me.)

    YouTube Livestream 1 ()
    #1922 Copy

    Adam Horne

    A few people have wondered if we're ever going to see time travel in the cosmere.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Time travel into the past is something that I decided very early in the life of the cosmere that I was not going to deal with. So people can time travel into the future, but we can do that right now - not very much, but if you go fast, you are time traveling into the future by laws of relativity, and it's easier to do that in the cosmere. There are a couple things for storytelling that really throw a lot of wrenches into your worldbuilding. One of them's time travel; as soon as you introduce time travel, it changes everything.

    Another one is bringing characters back from the dead, and since my very first cosmere book starts with someone being resurrected in chapter one, I knew that people coming back from the dead was not something I could have a hard fast rule against in the cosmere. Multiple books are based on the idea of people being resurrected; that's where Warbreaker and Elantris both come from, is that kind of idea.

    Since I knew I was going to be doing that one, the other two that I think that really mess with things in strange ways are alternate dimensions and time travel. And that's when I just said I'm going to put those both off-limits in the cosmere. You saw me doing alternate dimension stuff in Steelheart, in part because I won't let myself do it in the cosmere. I'm already playing with fire with the way that people can become cognitive shadows in the cosmere, and I don't want to have the other two messing up narratives and storylines and things on the level that they would. So no time travel into the past ever in the cosmere.

    The Dusty Wheel Interview ()
    #1923 Copy

    The Dusty Wheel

    Where does your favorite scene take place in this book [Rhythm of War]?

    Brandon Sanderson

    In this one it's in Part 4. It's a character who only has one viewpoint in Part 4. It is the ... Let's just say it's the chapter in this book where we get a story from Wit. We usually get one in every book - sometimes two - we get one in this book and it's the chapter that has his story.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1924 Copy


    Lol I had assumed it [a Shardblade from the Words of Radiance illustrations] was Oathbringer, it looks like massive and ends like a hook? I am intrigued, which one do you think it is?

    Ben McSweeney

    It's not a named Blade, just a random one that I designed it for the Shallan page. To my inifinte embarassment, it is often mistaken for Oathbringer just because of that spike on the tip, despite none of the other details matching.

    Oathbringer has a canon shape, though it's not often seen outside of merchandise which sourced their designs through Dragonsteel (like Badali jewelry). This bit of fan-art is off a bit in proportions, but gets it mostly right.

    Some image of the Blade should probably appear in the tenth anniversary edition of The Way of Kings, much as we now have a canon design for Nightblood which appears on the tenth anniversary cover of Warbreaker.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1925 Copy


    So I was looking back through the scene where Shallan and gang is hunting the Midnight Essence and they come across that room covered in art, and I noticed something.

    Shallan says there are murals that depict 10 kinds of spren and guesses they're for each Order. There's just one small issue. There's 12 Radiant spren. The Bondsmiths have 3 unique spren.

    The passage in question with the relevant portion bolded.

    Gorgeous, intricate pictures of the Heralds---made of thousands of tiles---adorned the ceiling, each in a circular panel.

    The art on the walls was more enigmatic. A solitary figure hovering above the ground before a large blue disc, arms stretched to the side as if to embrace it. Depictions of the Almighty in his traditional form as a cloud bursting with energy and light. A woman in the shape of a tree, hands spreading toward the sky and becoming branches. Who would have thought to find pagan symbols in the home of the Knights Radiant?

    Other murals depicted shapes that reminded her of Pattern, windspren...ten kinds of spren. One for each Order?

    So what do y'all think? Is there a representation of just one of the Bondsmith spren? Is it an abstract representstion of the idea of a Bondsmith spren? Is this a writing error and there was supposed to be 9, with the glowing cloud, tree woman, and figure in front of a circle intended to be the Bondsmith spren? Perhaps the Bondsmiths were supposed to be unrepresented?

    Brandon Sanderson

    If you were to see this picture, the painting of the three spren to make Bondsmiths were made to make it visually clear they're the same kind of spren--and they KIND OF are.

    The three you note above are not depicting the three spren of the Bondsmiths. One is depicting a perpendicularity, and the other two depicting Honor and Cultivation. These aren't the Bondsmith spren, but distinct and separate pieces of art.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1926 Copy


    Is The Apocalypse Guard going to be a standalone? I know you've talked about promising fewer sequels in your books now, but with Dan Wells co-authoring this one, I'm curious as to how you'll treat it.

    Brandon Sanderson

    If it works, and the collaboration is good, then I would be open to doing sequels. Dan is fun to work with.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1930 Copy


    How long is the book?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Rough draft is 450k words, so about 10% longer than The Way of Kings. However, the 5.0 draft is usually intended to trim about 10%, so I anticipate it ending up right at the length of the first book. Maybe between first and second.


    Did you intentionally make this one a bit shorter than Oathbringer, since the publisher had to tweak the printing of that one to fit it all into one volume, or is it just the length you always expected it to be?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I plot them all to end up around this length; Oathbringer just ended up needing a little extra. My goal is to have them all land somewhere between 400-440k.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1931 Copy


    And for when The Lost Metal?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Current schedule:

    1) Stormlight Novella next week.

    2) Finish drafts 4-5 of Book Four until July.

    3) In July, finish the Novella, do a revision of The Apocalypse Guard, which I think I might finally have figured out how to fix.

    4) August: Start either Skyward 3 or Wax and Wayne 4. Once that is done, finish the other one.

    5) Middle of Next year: Decide next project after those two are finished.

    6) Start Stormlight 5 January 2022, for Christmas 2023 release.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1932 Copy


    If you feel it would be inappropriate to release the leatherbound book [due to COVID-19] would you still consider releasing TWoK Prime?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yes, if I don't do the kickstarter, I will find another way to release TWOK prime--it would feel bad to yank it from people.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1933 Copy


    Will the novella you write be released with Rhythm of War or after? Is there an exact date or time range for release?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Goal is to release it this summer. If the Kickstarter happens, it will be part of that--something for people who want to participate, but who don't want to (or can't) shell out for an expensive leatherbound. If we don't do the Kickstarter, we'll probably release it on its own, as an ebook.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1935 Copy


    Would a Nalthian born off-world who didn't get a Breath have the standard amount or the slightly lower amount, which would make them distinct from other humans?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It's a RAFO right now, but mostly because of my time crunch on other projects--not because this is a bad question to be asking. It's actually an excellent one.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1937 Copy


    Could Dalinar lift stones of equivalent weight to the statue [in Thaylen City]? Assuming enough Stormlight. Or was that extra strength part of his Surges?

    Brandon Sanderson

    You are correct--Dalinar could not lift stones of equivalent weight in other circumstances.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1938 Copy


    Is Gavilar aware that the “two ambassadors” (one being called Nale) are Heralds? Or were they hiding their identities from him?

    Brandon Sanderson

    This will be soon answered. Suffice it to say that Gavilar knew much more than people thought he did.

    The Dusty Wheel Interview ()
    #1939 Copy

    The Dusty Wheel

    Everyone's here to find out more details about what's going on with the state of Sanderson. What can you tell the fans that you haven't said yet? How are things going, what's in process, and what can we expect?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I started the fourth draft of Rhythm of War today. This is the big beta read revision. I spent the last week taking a break from Rhythm of War and working on the novella that's going to go in between books 3 and 4 (theoretically, if I actually finish it). I did one of those between books 2 and 3, and I really liked it. But I only got two chapters of that done, about 10% of it. So, who knows how long it will take me to get that finished after this is done. I've got about two months of work to do this revision, and then one month left for the final polish, which will be June. Right now, just digging into that. Beta reads have given me a lot of useful feedback. A lot of things I'm changing are just slight tonal tweaks here and there, just to balance out.

    One of the things that happens, particularly with a Stormlight book, is: I write a lot of viewpoints separately and then interweave them, and that ends up creating generally some tonal problems here and there, and some pacing problems that just need to be smoothed out. Either chapters need to be rearranged, or the tone of a chapter needs to change, because I have too many heavy tone chapters in a row and one of them needs to be lightened up, or vice versa. Things like that.

    The Dusty Wheel

    Can you give the fans a hint, maybe, about character groupings? I know that's been a big question among the fans.

    Brandon Sanderson

    I'm not sure if I can give too much of a hint about that. What I can say is, start to make people's expectations: this is the Venli/Eshonai book. But really, it's the Venli/Eshonai flashbacks, and the main book is focusing a lot more on another character. This just naturally happened during the writing process; there was another character that ended up taking a lot of the time. It's not a person who has a flashback sequence in the books. So, you can theorize on who that would be; it's someone who does not have a flashback sequence, so it's not Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar, Szeth, Eshonai. But, really, it's this character's book, mixed with flashbacks for Venli/Eshonai. It really turned into that character's book a lot more than I was expecting, and it was one of those happy accidents where I really liked how it turned out. But fans who go into this expecting something that's as much Eshonai or Venli's book as the last book was Dalinar's book are probably going to be disappointed, because it's more of a split between these three characters. Venli/Eshonai in the flashbacks, and then someone else in the present.

    So, hardcore fans, expect another character to really be the focus of this book.

    The Dusty Wheel

    Do you have a favorite you've already announced that's in Rhythm of War that has been your favorite character to write in this book?

    Brandon Sanderson

    It has been this character that I'm not going to tell you who it is.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1940 Copy


    Have you decided it'll be Rysn or Rock for the novella [between Oathbringer and Rhythm of War]?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Rysn for this one, Rock for the one between four and five.


    Obviously not anytime soon since you have a busy schedule, but do you ever see yourself looping back to do a novella/short story between The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance? Maybe the Lopen story you mentioned? Or is it something that's not valuable now?

    Brandon Sanderson

    I do want to do this some day, for cohesion's sake. So I can see myself doing this. (Maybe in the stretch between Books Five and Six when I'm working on Mistborn Era Three?)


    Do you imagine that this possible Lopen novella would be an evolution of the King Lopen the First of Alethkar short story you've mentioned? Or would they be completely distinct? Or do you just not plan on writing that short story anymore?

    Brandon Sanderson

    That's what I have in the back of mind, but I would have to seriously consider what I'm going to do once the time arrives.

    Stormlight Book Four Updates ()
    #1941 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    First, to address the chull in the room. Will the pandemic change how we're rolling out the book? I get this question a lot, so I figured I should note that even the book were coming out next month, we would be very unlikely to delay its release. Books have enough digital/mail-order distribution that I have a hard time seeing this influencing th8ings. So don't worry.

    I AM a little uncertain about the Stormlight kickstarter in June/July. If we're entering a global recession, and a lot of people are losing their jobs, it feels like it might be a little tone deaf to say, "Hey, want to spend a lot of money on a luxury leatherbound book?" At the same time, I wouldn't want to delay the book for those who do want to buy it. We'll have to talk to my team and see what they think. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Anyway, let's get to the actual update! I have (as of Wednesday) finished the third draft of the book, incorporating my team's suggestions and those of my editor. We started the beta read a month or so ago, with me turning each part in to the beta readers as I finished it.

    To forestall the inevitable question--we are not looking for new beta readers at this time. Though we add a few new people to each book, to make sure we have a variety of responses, there are a LOT of people who want those slots--and I generally let Peter, my editorial director, handle the decisions. For now, I think he has all the help he needs.

    I still have two drafts to go. 4.0 is the big one, and I've allocated two months to do it. (April and May.) This involves me tweaking the book based on the feedback of my beta readers, who are a test audience. Though the book is in good shape at 3.0, judging on their responses, there are a few plot arcs that need subtle tweaks to work the way I want them to--and 4.0 will involve these changes.

    5.0 is the final polish, and I'll be spending June on that. This does leave me with a week+ right now to work on a novella, which I've begun outlining, to go between books three and four like Edgedancer went between two and three. That's less time than I wanted, as I had to take time out of the 3.0 to work on the Mistborn film screenplay. (Short version: I've seen enough bad screenplays based on my books that I figured I'd see if I could do better or not, and am slowly working my way through an extensive treatment.) So I'll likely only start the novella now, then finish it in July.

    As for how I've been weathering things here with the quarantine, really it hasn't effected me--other than to perhaps give me a little more time to work. (Since some of my publicity appearances have been canceled.) I already work from home, and other than needing to move my writing group and class to digital, I've pretty much been living my life as normal.

    The TL;DR of all of this is that we are still on schedule, beta reads indicate the book is mostly working as intended, and the release is still on target for November. Thanks for reading!

    YouTube Livestream 5 ()
    #1942 Copy

    Tanner Boyce

    I was hoping that you would talk about about the book you wanted to write about people getting magic powers from when they're sick.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Yeah, The Silence Divine. It would be a really great time to write this right now. In fact, someone wrote to me on Reddit and was like, "Hey, you gonna write this now?" The problem is, it is not a good time to write this because Stormlight Four is due July 1st, and I am needing to finish the third draft this week, and then launch into the fourth of five drafts.

    This story, I always get a ton of offers from people to help me out with it. Which I really do appreciate you guys doing that, because my immunology experience is kind of low, which is why I didn't actually write this story when I wanted to.

    So, this cool story about people who get a disease get magical talents while they have the disease and what-not, I will write this someday. This takes place on Ashyn, which is in the Rosharan system. And there is kind of deep lore stuff about the history of Roshar that Ashyn is related to, and I want to do that. And there's some fun inter-connectivity to the magics. I just haven't had the time, yet.

    If there are those who are watching who are very into immunology, I do have people offering to help me out. I certainly wouldn't say no to more offers of help, since some of you may have already written to me and said "I'll help out!" And that was on Reddit, which has a terrible message management system. So I'm usually good at copying and pasting usernames and/or emails of people into a file, but not always.

    Some day, I'll write this story. The trick is... viruses and bacterias are so different, I have to commit to one or the other. Or, I could do both, but then I'm gonna have to deal with that. And then there's the whole part of it, me wanting certain chronic diseases to have longer-lasting abilities, and I'm not sure if that will work. There's just all sorts of questions that I just need to sit down with a panel of experts and ask them my stupid questions and have them tell me what I'm doing wrong so we can actually make this work.

    I think it'll be great when I write it someday. The thing is, I have to finish this (Stormlight [Four]). And then, I really do want to have a novella in the Stormlight universe (probably not this one; something actually on Roshar) to do with the Kickstarter. Because a lot of people are fans and want to read new stuff, but do not have the means or the inclination to spend $200 on the leatherbound copy of The Way of Kings. And we would like to have something on there that people who want to spend less money can get all the swag, instead of buying this very beautiful but very expensive book, they could also just buy the novella. So I want to do something like Edgedancer that will take place between books three and four.

    General Twitter 2017 ()
    #1943 Copy

    Payden McRoberts

    So with the great map in Oathbringer, I was able to update my map of Roshar from space! Enjoy!

    As always, thanks to @BrandSanderson, @IzykStewart, and @PeterAhlstrom for making such an inspiring and awesome world.


    Peter Ahlstrom

    Did you use the one from the ebook? Also your equator is too high...

    Payden McRoberts (Part 1/Part 2)

    Yeah, I made a grid of 100 degrees latitude and 200 longitude, projected it into azimuthal equidistant, and wasn’t quite able to match it to the graticule in the ebook map. I got it as close as I could and assumed your projection was slightly different.



    Is the equator supposed to go through the top of Kadrix?

    Peter Ahlstrom

    Yes. Through the word Kadrix. I’m guessing the latitude the projection is centered on is a bit off.

    LTUE 2020 ()
    #1944 (not searchable) Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    As Lift hung from the ceiling, dangling precariously from a rope with one hand, reaching out with the other towards the basket, she was forced to acknowledge that stealing food just didn’t give her the same thrill as it once had. She continued to pretend, because she didn’t want her life to change. She hated change. Stealing people’s food was basically her thing. She’d been doing it for years, and she still did get a thrill when she saw their starvin' faces. They’d open a drawer and their chouta wrap was gone, or they’d pick up their plate and find it empty. They’d adopt the most sublime moment of cross-eyed panic and confusion. And then they’d smile and look to see where she was.

    They didn’t see her of course, she was way too good at hiding, but they’d look, and they seemed fond. You weren’t supposed to be fond when someone stole from you. Ruined the entire experience. Then there was this. She stretched a little further, fingers brushing the basket. She swung on her rope, stretched out and… there, she snatched the basket. She stuffed the handle between her teeth and scuttled back up the rope, vanishing into the hidden labyrinth of small tunnels that laced the ceilings and walls of the tower. Up here Wyndle waited, coiled up upon himself and making a face out of vines and crystal.

    “Oh!” he said, “A full basket! Let’s see what she left you this time.”

    “Ain't nobody leavin' me nothing,” Lift snapped. “I stole it, unfair and square. Also, hush. Someone might hear.”

    “They can’t hear me Mistress, I am…”

    “I hear you, so hush, whinyspren.” She crept away from the hole, pushing the basket ahead of her as she crawled through the small tunnel. The next intersection was a tight squeeze, but she could make herself slippery with Stormlight, so she got through. Two turns and a straight crawl later, they entered a small intersection of tunnels, where she’d left a sphere for light. The roof of the tunnel was a little higher here, letting her settle down with her back against the stone so she could inspect her prize. Wyndle came in on the ceiling, taking the shape of a growing vine that crept across the stone. He formed a face again right above her, looking down as she pulled open the basket and began rifling through it. Flatbreads and curry, sugared mashed beans, little jar with a cute face drawn on top, along with the Horneaters’ symbol for love. It looked like jam inside. Lift looked up at the ceiling and the blinking vine face hanging from it.

    “Alright,” she admitted, “maybe she left it out for me.”


    Starving stupid Horneater woman,” Lift grumbled, slathering jam on the flatbread. “Her dad knew how to make it look like an accident, leaving stuff out so I could take it. Let me storming pretend.”

    She stuffed the bread in her mouth. Damnation it was good. Only made the experience more humiliating.

    “I don’t see the problem, Mistress,” Wyndle said.

    “That’s 'cause you’re a dummyspren,” she said, then stuffed the rest of the flatbread into her mouth, talking around it. “Don’t <blahgruhbluhbluhluh>.”

    “I do too like fun in my life,” he said. “Last week I displayed the most beautiful art installation of chairs from around the tower. The others thought it quite majestic; they complimented the stools in particular.”

    Lift sighed, leaning back against the wall and just slumped there. Not really angry, not really sad, she was just… <blarglegorf>. Supremely <blarglegorf>.

    Storms. The wrap she wore underneath her shirt was really starting to itch today. “Come on,” she said, grabbing the basket and sphere and then moving on through the tower's innards.

    “Is it really so bad?” Wyndle said, following. “Cord likes you. That’s why she leaves things out for you”.

    “I’m not supposed to be liked,” Lift snapped. “I’m a shadow. A dangerous and unseen shadow moving mysteriously from place to place, never seen, always feared.”

    “A… shadow.”

    “Yes, a starvin' shadow alright?” She had had to squeeze through the next tunnel, too. Stupid, stupid, stupid. “This tower here, it's like a big old corpse, and I’m like blood, sneakin' around through its veins.”

    “Why would a corpse have blood in its veins?”

    “Fine, it’s not dead, it’s…sleepin', and we’re its stormin' blood, alright?”

    “I should think,” Wyndle said as she squeezed through another tight fit, “these air vents are more like intestines. So the allegory would make you more akin to, um, well… feces, I guess.”

    “Wyndle…” she said, pulling through.

    “Yes, Mistress?”

    “Maybe stop trying to help with my deezy metaphors, alright?”

    “Yes, alright.”

    Storming lamespren,” she muttered, getting to a section of air vents that were larger. She did like this tower. There were lots of places to hide and places to explore, particularly if you were a person of the smaller variety. Up here in this network of stone ventilation shafts, she found the occasional mink or other scavenger, but it was really just her domain. The adults were too big and the other children too frightened. Plus, she could glow when properly fed, and her awesomeness could get her through tight squeezes. When she'd first started exploring up here, there hadn’t been nearly as many of those as there were now. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

    They eventually reached her nest, an opening where four ventilation shafts met. Here, she'd piled up blankets, food stores, and some treasures. One of Dalinar’s knives she was absolutely sure he hadn't wanted her to steal. Some interesting shells. An old flute that Wyndle said looked strange to him. There were near a well where she could get all the water she wanted, but far enough away from population that she could talk without feeling like people could hear her.

    The previous nest she'd made before moving had let her listen in on echoes of people nearby, but they’d been able to hear her, as well. She’d heard them talking about the echoing in the ventilation shafts. "The spirit of the tower," they’d said. And that had been nifty at first, but then they’d started leaving out stuff for her, like she was like the stormin' Nightwatcher. And then she’d started to feel guilty. You can’t be takin' stuff from people who don’t have much to give. That was the first rule of not being a total and utter useless piece of chull dung.

    She munched on some stolen food from her basket, then sighed and got up. She stepped to the side wall, putting her back to it.

    “Come on,” she said, “Do it.”

    Wyndle moved up the wall. As always, he left a trail of vines behind him. Those would crumble and decay soon after, but for a short time could be used to mark something, like the height of a girl standing beside the wall. He moved across the wall atop her head, then she stepped back and marked the line with a more permanent one out of chalk.

    “That’s almost a full inch since last time,” she said.

    “I’m… sorry, Mistress.”

    She flopped down in her nest of blankets, wanting to curl up and cry. But she didn’t do that, because she wasn't storming weak. Instead, she took off her shirt, then undid the wrap around her chest and redid it tightly.

    “I’ll stop eating,” she said. “That’ll stunt my growth.”

    “You? Stop eating?”

    “I could do it!” She pulled the wrap tighter, then put her shirt back on. Then she just lay and stared up at the marks on the wall showing the progress of her height over the last eight months.

    “Mistress,” Wyndle said, curling up like an eel and raising a vine head beside her. He was getting better at making faces, and this one was one of her favorites. It had little vines that looked like mustaches. “Don’t you think it is time that you told me what exactly you asked the Nightwatcher?”

    “Doesn’t matter.” she said. “It was all lies. The boon, the promises. Lies, lies, lies.”

    “I have met the Nightwatcher,” Wyndle said. “She does not think the same way the rest of us do. Cultivation created her to be apart, to be separate from mankind, unconnected. She wanted to create a daughter whose shape and personality would not be influenced by the perceptions of humans. This makes the Nightwatcher less... well, human than a spren like myself. Still, I don’t believe her capable of lying. It isn’t something she could conceive of, I believe.”

    “She’s not the liar,” Lift said, closing her eyes. Storms, she’d made the wrap too tight; she could barely breathe. “It’s the other one, the one with the dress like leaves merging into the underbrush, hair like twigs, skin the color of deep brown stone.”

    “So, you saw Cultivation herself. That is rare.”

    Lift shrugged.

    “I had suspected it was true. Your situation is unique. Why, seeing into the Cognitive Realm even a little is an uncommon feature in a human, and turning food into Stormlight… well, you’re special, Lift”.

    “I didn’t want to be special.”

    “Says the girl who just earlier was comparing herself dramatically to a shadow.”

    “I just wanted what I asked for.”

    “Which was?”

    “Not important now.”

    “I rather think it is.”

    “I asked not to change,” Lift whispered, opening her eyes. “I said when everything else is going wrong, I want to be the same. I want to stay me, not become someone else.”

    “Those are the exact words you asked?”

    “Best I can remember.”

    “Hmm,” Wyndle said, snuggling down into his vines. “I believe the problem is how vague you were.”

    “I wasn’t vague! I told her, make me so I don’t grow up.”

    “That is not what you said, Mistress. And if I might be so bold, having spent a great deal of time around you, I should tell you that you are not an easy person to understand.”

    “I asked not to change, so why am I changing?”

    “You’re still you, just a bigger version.”

    She squeezed her eyes shut again.

    “Mistress. Lift. Will you tell me why this bothers you so much? Everyone grows, everyone changes.”

    “But I’m…I’m her little girl.”

    “Who’s little girl?” he asked gently. “Your mother?”

    Lift nodded. Stupid, sounded stupid and she was stupid. Mother was dead, that was that. Why hadn’t she said the right words? Why hadn’t Cultivation just understood? She was supposed to be some sort of starving god. It was her fault if a little girl came and begged for a promise that got deliberately misinterpreted and… and Lift liked who she was, who she had been. She wouldn’t be the same when she got older.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1947 Copy


    Did this [Joseon Dynasty's Way of Kings] influence you writing and the information for Way of Kings? If so, neat! What did you like about it that stuck in your brain?

    Brandon Sanderson

    Do, the Chinese character use here, did stick with me. It's not just used in Wangdo, as mentioned above, but Kumdo (the Way of the Sword) and in other similar applications. That did strike with me; I liked the flow of that on the page, and in my mind. Something like "The Way of the Sword" or "The way of the Kings" felt like it would make a great title. (And indeed, Sejong the great is one of the inspirations for Nohadon, author of The Way of Kings in the books. I did a big talk about Sejong on my book tour a few years ago.)

    I was reminded of this idea as a title in 2002 while reading "The Fall of the Kings" by Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner at a world fantasy convention. By then, I was working on Stormlight full time, and the title was just perfect--that's when I started inserting Nohadon into the history of the world.

    So yes, this is a direct inspiration. I probably wouldn't have been able to pull it off the top of my head now, almost twenty years after working on the initial outline, if someone hadn't posted this though--the memories didn't really spark until I saw the plate posted above. So I enjoyed seeing this posted.

    General Reddit 2020 ()
    #1950 Copy


    I'm really rather curious about your ideas on [Cosmere reading order]. I know you are a proponent of not needing a "reading order" but I mean specifically about the different reading order changing your perspective. Being more Cosmere-aware at some parts vs not having that awareness.

    Brandon Sanderson

    Don't have a lot of time to dig into this thread right now, I'm afraid. But in general, I like when people slowly discover the cosmere, as I think it adds more for people on subsequent reads. I like the idea that there are things you won't get the first time through, as sometimes (like when a new book in a series comes out) you may want to re-read to get up to speed. (I often did this with the WoT.) I like that if you've been reading further in the cosmere, it makes this re-read into a different experience.