College Advice 12
What does the Cognitive Realm of this world [Lumar] look like? Please tell me it is just normal liquid water.
RAFO. It's a good guess.
What does the Cognitive Realm of this world [Lumar] look like? Please tell me it is just normal liquid water.
RAFO. It's a good guess.
How far apart on the timeline are the events of Tress of the Emerald Sea and Hoid's retelling of them? Could you give us positions of them relative to other Cosmere works?
He is telling this story within years or decades of the events, not within centuries.
Where this is in the actual Cosmere timeline, I will leave you to figure out, because I think that will be fun to figure out as you are reading.
Is Hoid telling the story uninterrupted? Or are there interruptions being edited out?
There are interruptions being edited out, because it'd be about twenty five hours of him talking. Imagine this across the course of several days. That's what I think it would probably be; maybe it's not twenty five. It could be, like, twelve or fifteen hours for a hundred thousand word book. Twelve or fifteen hours is a lot, even for Hoid. I think that there are interruptions, at the very least breaks, and things like that.
You mentioned that the Iriali were once on the planet, but with the twelve moons can we also assume that this is where the Thaylens get their 12-base number system and nautical skills?
RAFO. Excellent, excellent question.
People were looking for a clarification on the spelling of Lumar, if you know the spelling.
L-U-M-A-R. I mean, I guess we've canonized it now, huh.
Isaac named it, I said "Hey, come up with a good name for this."
I can tell you, kind of, the process if people want to know about that. I put together some different things. "What are things that have resonance with The Princess Bride?" was one of the things, and I gave Brandon some options in that direction.
Which I didn't like many of.
There was maybe one or two that felt like it. It was sort of in a way, not tuckerization, but sort of an homage to the roots of the story. Those weren't working, so we just went to: what are common root words for things in the story that make it feel that way, and that's where we came up with Lumar. It was a little more straightforward and simple than some of the other names of planets in the Cosmere, and we liked that it felt like it worked with the main character.
And also the fairy tale feel of it. Naming this planet something like Scadrial didn't feel right to me either, because where this planet came from and the story and things like that, plus this is likely to be the name... A lot of these names, like if you translate in world, a lot of the characters would call their planet "the planet," right? They are not going to name their planet. So when a person--in most of the books when I translate them talking about Roshar, I'm translating them referencing the planet or their word for it in their own individual language, which is going to be different in everybody's language, just for convenience sake. And we felt that the root words of this are what people would latch on to in-world, in-universe for calling this planet. The two words mashed together, are very, uh, yeah.
I guess if you're on Roshar, you wouldn't be technically digging in the earth, you'd be digging in the Roshar.
Yes. Well, they don't have a lot of earth, but you know. If you use the word earthquake, right? I have chosen that I will use the word earthquake on all these planets even though none of them are earth. That's just how I'm translating, just add that filter that someone's translated this into English, and they've chosen the best word for your understanding, and we think that Lumar covers what they in-world would call this and evokes the same feeling.
Can we expect to know who Hoid is telling the story to, when he's telling it, and roughly when the story is set relative to the rest of the Cosmere by the end of the book?
You will be able to answer a few of those things. I, right now in my draft, do not have it extraordinarily clear who he's talking to. I intend to make that more clear in revisions, but there is not a frame story device where we pop out and you see him telling the story. I actually sat down and talked with my team and said "do we want to add a frame story just to make this more clear?" And we all felt that the fun of reading it and realizing it was him was better than a frame story would be. And I like the story without the frame story in addition. So, you're not going to get an epilogue where you find out where he's been telling this particular story. You should be able to piece together a rough time period in Cosmere timeline by things that happen in the book.
Rain on the planet [Lumar]. How does this work?
It's in the book. That is actually a spoiler for the book, because there is a part where they deal with rain. It is in the book, they do talk about it. I did think about that, if you can believe it.
Will we be seeing an updated Cosmere star chart or system charts for these new words [from Secret Projects]?
I imagine that we'll eventually have a star chart that has these new worlds on it. I don't know when that will be, but it's something that's been in the back of my head.
Maybe if we ever get around to Arcanum Unbounded 2, but I need to write more short fiction that could go in that before we could do that. One fun thing is: if you look at the Kickstarter page, there's that nice illustration of Hoid--also done by Howard Lyon--and in the background you will see some stars. Hmm? The new ones aren't in there yet.
At least, not labeled yet. For people who don't know, I have a 3D model that a while back we said "okay, how many stars are in the Cosmere, what kind of a cluster is this?" And we talked to Peter and Brandon and we kind of brainstormed some things. So I built a 3D model that helped me create that first star chart and I have the main worlds like Roshar and Scadrial are named in there, but there are other ones that I just put in there in places to look good and try to figure out how would constellations work and things like that. So, we just have to go in there and name some of these if they're in the right spot. Or add them.
Isaac, do you plan on putting a map in every one of these four books?
I've thought about it when I read them. I thought about, "Okay, we could do maps in these." The truth of the matter is: we've given these to other artists to do what they want with it. And if the artist says "I want to do a map in here," we're going to let them do the map. This is something that I've had to start letting go of, I've been the map guy for so long, and there's just not time to do all the maps, even in the company.
Howard Lyon is doing the art for this first book [Tress of the Emerald Sea] and designing it. So, we're excited to have him on board.
If we do leatherbound editions of these [Secret Project] books, which we might, they're 10 years off. We want you to be getting Dragonsteel editions that you feel comfortable having just this nice collection on the shelf, but that also won't look out of place next to the other books.
Our endpapers are going to be probably--I'm pushing the artists more toward symbolic rather than illustrations on the endpapers. I'm thinking these books remind me of books from the early 1900's, not the stories themselves, but how we're presenting them so that they're kind of like these classical books that you would see in libraries. And that's kind of what I have in my head, so I think of very kind of classy endpapers. Each artist is going to do something different. So, I've told the artist, "Hey, if you come back to me and say you just want to do four full color illustrations for the endpaper, great." But I have told them sort of the scope of the project too, so we'll see what they'll do. We're in the middle of it, they're reading the books, they're brainstorming, they're sending me ideas.
The spores react to water with sudden growth, which is very similar to Dayside lichen. Is the lichen an aether, or significantly related to the aethers?
Read the book. That's a RAFO, but there are some clues in Secret Project One.
I am new to the concept of aethers and understand that they may have been introduced in the story. Can you please provide a broad overview of what the aethers are and the role they play in the Cosmere?
Sure. In a currently not canon but very close to canon book I wrote right before I wrote... There's, like, an era of semi-canon books I wrote. Elantris, Dragonsteel, Aether of Night, and White Sand. These are the four big Cosmere books I wrote before I got published. I guess Way of Kings Prime is in there, too. And so, we have slowly been canonizing versions of those worlds into the Cosmere. White Sand, we were able to take almost one-to-one straight across, with some tweaks, and bring it into the modern Cosmere; 'cause it was designed for the Cosmere. Elantris, obviously, got published in that form. There are a couple of them left. One of them is Dragonsteel, which is Hoid's origin story and the story of the Shattering. That will eventually be written.
And the other big one during that era that I wrote is a book called Aether of Night, which kind of pioneered the idea for me of the bond between a sapient piece of magic and a person. And what would happen in Aether of Night is that people would bond to a piece of some kind of primal substance, and it would bind into their hand, and then that would be a sapient thing that they could interact with, and then they could produce that aether. Like, if it was vines, they're able to produce from their hand an explosion of vines and do cool things with that. That was the core of their abilities. There was one rogue aether called the Aether of Night, which was doing weird things that are very similar to what's happening with the Midnight Mother on Roshar.
There was a story there. The story is OK. It's two decent stories that don't weave together very well, is the big problem with Aether of Night. It's as good as other books that I wrote during that era. Not quite as good as Way of Kings Prime or Elantris; maybe equivalent in quality to White Sand or Dragonsteel. And we let people read this one; I think I let the 17th Shard give this one away. We just gave it to them as a little way to get people involved over there. We will eventually release it, probably as Aether of Night (maybe) Prime; it depends if I name the new book Aether of Night.
But this is how they function. Very similar to the bond between spren and a person on Roshar, but with a different way of accessing their magic. Those are the aethers. And so, since I knew I was eventually going to be bringing them in (because the magic system worked), I have been foreshadowing it for quite a while. Like I said, Mraize has some chunks of aether, and we have people mention the aethers and things like that. They are part of the Cosmere. You will eventually get some books that really dig into what the aethers are and how they work.
How much have the aethers changed since Aether of Night?
The big change I made to the aethers, other than adding this other world... A couple things going on with the aethers.
First off, when you finally meet people who bear the aethers (which we're calling aetherbound, currently, and I like that term), you will find that, in order to differentiate them from things like seons and things like spren bonds and things like that, I've decided that one core aether bonds a lot of people, and it's one entity that you are all bonding with. So, if you meet five aetherbound who have bound to the Verdant aether, they are all bound to the same individual, at least on the core aether world. And that just adds a different nuance to it. There is lore and worldbuilding that is different that I will leave. There's a lot that's the same; there's a lot that's different that I'll leave to you to discover. I am working quite a bit on this planet for future projects (which, no, I haven't secretly been writing yet). But that's the big change.
And the other change is that I decided that aethers would be able to... I would have different things happening with them, different strains. In their own lore, they were not... the aethers themselves don't believe they were created by Adonalsium. And so they're, like, a different sort of thing, a different entity, so to speak. And this goes back, even, to way back when I tried to write them into Liar of Partinel, them predating things like the Shattering and what not, and it feels right for how I want to treat them.
Those are a few little tweaks that you will eventually get. But the basic mechanics of how they work is the same as they worked in Aether of Night. I think that one of the things that really worked in Aether of Night was the mechanics of the aethers. I thought they had a lot of interesting storytelling play, I thought that they did different things than some of the other magics that I was writing did. And they have remained solidly a part of my brain for how the Cosmere will proceed. And that's why you see Mraize having a chunk of an aether and things like that in his trophy case.
We know there are multiple planets with aethers, so do both of these worlds exist simultaneously? Or is this one an evolution of The Aether of Night's Vaeria?
They do both exist simultaneously; this one came from that one. The answer to both is "yes."
At JordanCon, you sharpie’d the aether planet onto my constellation chart and said you couldn’t canonize the planet name until you wrote the book. Having been revealed as a dirty rotten liar to my face, can you now reveal the name of the planet? Has it changed from the prior incarnations of the aether world due to new worldbuilding?
This is not the aether planet. Ha ha! There are aethers on this planet.
The planet where the aethers originate is a different planet in the Cosmere. This is a unique and different strain of the aethers that is doing something different. If you have read Aether of Night, the original aethers still act very similar to what's in Aether of Night. But these are different. You'll still see the same things, like roseite and stuff like that. You'll still see that they do the same things, but it's a different take on the same magic system.
Did we come up with a name for this planet yet?
We're calling it Lumar.
The whole twelve moons thing
Regardless, this is not the actual aether planet. So, yes, I'm not a dirty rotten liar about that specific thing.
I hope this is just one more tool in Brandon's arsenal for getting adaptations funded, and allowing him to be a big hand in what they look like. I mean... what studio can ignore the author of the largest kickstarter campaign of all time ?
This is a big point that I think is really relevant.
I've been holding out on adaptations, lately, until I can be absolutely certain the deal I'm getting gives me a lot of creative influence and power. Maybe not final cut, but more power than your average author--and certain assurances about what can't be changed narratively.
One of the goals for this kickstarter was, secretly, to make Hollywood pay attention. I had no idea how far we'd go, but what has happened here WILL make things over there easier--and will influence the strength of my negotiating position.
Man what are they even gonna do with all this money [from the Secret Project Kickstarter]
Don't get me wrong, this is a huge amount of money--and I'm blown away by all of this. But at LEAST half of that will be dedicated to printing and creating the various books and cool items we'll be shipping out. It might be more, depending on how shipping is accounted in that Kickstarter number. We don't charge any service charge for shipping, so all of that money passes straight through from you to paying to get the books/swag to you. I can't remember 100% how Kickstarter counts this in that final number, but I BELIEVE it's in that total. If so, all that money (which is a good percent of each purchase) passes straight through to the shipping people.
(A note to international people. I really do hear you about the outrageous shipping. We've actually been talking to other people who have successfully gotten things printed and shipped inside Europe, and we're going to figure this out. I can't promise it for this kickstarter, but we WILL get this right eventually for at least Europe--and try very hard for Canada and Australia as well.)
Anyway, from what's left, I'll pay my team--and then give them a healthy bonus, because without them, the kickstarter portion just can't happen. I'm not going to doing the art myself, nor am I going to be in a warehouse shipping all of this out. I want them to be enthusiastic when kickstarters happen, not dreading them. So we'll make sure they're taken care of and happy.
40% of what is left after THAT will be saved for taxes and other unforeseen potential problems.
I'll still be left with a nice chunk, don't get me wrong, and much of that will probably go toward building the community bookstore that me and my team have been wanting to do for years.
I will almost certainly buy myself a nice magic card or two as well. A few of my Alpha/Beta duals are still white bordered... :)
I've come to the mindset that there are two general ways to approach adaptation. One is to try to be very faithful to the actual text, and the other is to redo almost the entire thing for the new medium, while trying to keep the soul of it the same.
I've actually written treatments of Mistborn that do both of these. As an exercise, I did one more recently (for the screen) where I threw out every scene from the book and asked myself, "If I were doing what was absolutely best for a film, but telling the same story, how would I have written this?"
That treatment for that screenplay was very different from the book, while at the same time still being the book--same soul, same characters, same basic plot beats. But no actual scenes from the book except Vin/Elend on the balcony. Everything was approaching the story from a cinematic viewpoint--and I found that in a lot of cases, this new treatment was stronger.
There is, of course, a continuum between these extremes. But it taught me a lot about adaptation. And the Wheel of Time I saw tonight was absolutely worthy to be called the Wheel of Time, even though a lot of the scenes were new.
My perspective is, perhaps, skewed by my experiences. I tend to be someone who LIKES seeing film and television adaptations do new things. That doesn't prevent me from, as a producer on this, warning Rafe of places where I think the fans will prefer he stay closer to the source material. (Indeed, there are lots of places where I would prefer that he did.) But it does let me appreciate what he's doing, and how well it works. And a part of me likes that I can go and treat this as something new, rather than just a clone of something I've already read some two dozen times.
I have been lying to you. And it is time for me to admit the truth.
I know that what I'm about to say will disappoint some of you. Others will undoubtedly take joy in my forced admission here. But either way, I can no longer live with this secret.
The last few years have been hard for many of us. These are strange times. In particular, these last years have increased pressure on me in difficult ways, emotionally and mentally, to the point that I could no longer continue working on my series of books as I always had before. As this pressure mounted, something had to give. I thought I could handle it like I always had before, but that proved optimistic. And so, the time has come for me to admit the truth.
I've been lying to you. Over the last two years, I've acted with extreme irresponsibility.
Because I accidentally wrote an extra novel in secret!
I apologize. I couldn't help myself. We all respond to pressure in different ways; I, it might be said, responded characteristically. So how did this irresponsible event occur? Well, to explain that, I'm going to need to go into professor mode.
You see, 2019 was one of those years where I overscheduled myself. What I told you earlier was true; over these last years, 2019 in particular, I really was beginning to feel overwhelmed by everything I had to do. However, it wasn't the stories doing this. It was all the non-writing work, particular the traveling. That is what is truly exhausting. You see, I keep notes on what I do day-by-day, and I've outlined for you my 2019. This largest block is writing time; and I also do make sure to keep a good, healthy amount of work/life balance and time for my family. These other non-writing days are essential, as they are the days I do interviews, I write introductions, and answer work emails. This section in red: that's the one that's really glaring. I was on the road a third of my year. Four months, spent traveling, mostly going to conventions.
Now, I love seeing the world; which is why it's so difficult to say no when people ask if I want to visit. When you look at it this way, with a third of my time spent on the road, you can see maybe why I felt so overwhelmed. I had dreams, plans, ideas; but I couldn't write them because I was touring so much.
This was too much. I knew it was too much. But I was trapped in this cycle where I'd say no to traveling, then read the requests from fans and feel guilty that I wasn't going to see them. And I really do enjoy seeing the world. At least I did, before I started to get overwhelmed.
Eventually, it started to feel like a chore. Then 2020 hit, and the whole world changed. Suddenly, I couldn't travel, not even a little. I'd been planning to scale back, but scaling back in this context meant traveling eighty or ninety days, instead of over a hundred. Fewer days, yes, but not by a significant margin. Except, with the pandemic, that need to travel, indeed the option to travel, went away. Suddenly, I had time again.
This [novel] is the result. I start writing it as a gift for my wife, telling only her, letting her read the pages as I wrote them. The experience of writing a book in secret reminded me of the early days of my career, before I published, when I could write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. The process rejuvenated me, which is important, because, like a lot of you, I was feeling stressed in 2020. When I finished this, I presented it to my wife as a gift: her own secret book. She read it and told me, "You need to share this." So after two years of keeping it just to her and me, I'm telling you. That's my big secret.
Well. Maybe not the entire secret.
You see, the pandemic wasn't over, and writing that secret novel had been a ton of fun. So let's just say that one thing led to another, and a second secret novel materialized in early 2021. Longtime followers of this channel might remember me talking about one regret I've begun to have as I grow older. When I was younger, any new, fresh idea that came to me could end up becoming a novel. But the more I write, the more I lock myeslf into series. Which is great; I love my big series. I'm working on Stormlight now, which is as exciting as ever. I want my legacy to be the massive, interconnected universe that is the Cosmere. At the same time, I always saw myself doing standalone novels now and then, exploring the reaches of the Cosmere or other strange worlds. For a while, I managed to do this with novellas. But in recent years, with travel demands, I hadn't even been able to do those. I can sometimes write when traveling, but the more that I do, the more exhausted I get, which makes it tougher and tougher to be productive.
If you compare this [pie chart] average of the last two years to 2019, you can see a lot has changed. I did still travel, and I've also had more non-writing work days, on average. This is mostly the time I've invested into YouTube and into our Dragonsteel convention, things my team and I see as replacements for me visiting you all in person. Even with this, the significant drop in travel time has added to both my writing time and my family time.
If you leave me alone too long, I will start telling stories. It's a mathematical constant, as irrevocable as pi. And... what would you expect to happen? The best part was, nobody expected me to do anything with this time. No editors were scheduling books because of it. No fans were wondering what I was doing with it. Because for most of my professional career, I'd been traveling eighty to ninety, and sometimes a hundred and twenty days a year. Suddenly, I had time for all those other ideas. The ones that weren't planned as big, core series. The ones that I always wanted to be the spice of my career. I've always loved the idea of surprising you all now and then with some random Brandon Sanderson novel. I wanted my fans to consistently have the opportunity to get lost in something completely new, something surprising, different from what you'd seen from me before. This is the mindset that created The Emperor's Soul and Warbreaker.
This extra writing time has become very precious to me. Before 2020, I'd begun to let all these ideas just wither away, as there wasn't time for them. I'd begun to think that, as much as I loved the big series, they would consume the rest of my life. So, call this the silver lining of 2020. Life has been tough lately, but it has also restored to me something very precious.
And I might have gone a little overboard, because I've written five extra novels in the last two years.
Look, I know. Don't roll your eyes at me. You deal with isolation and quarantine in your way; I'll deal with it in mine. We all handle stress differently, okay?
Four of these are full-length novels of adult-oriented science fiction or fantasy. One is a middle grade story, written as a gift to my children, which I'll probably make as a graphic novel. We'll put that one aside for now, as I don't yet know how I'm going to present it to you. But that leaves us with four full-length novels. I wrote three of these as gifts for Emily, and one purely for myself. Three are in the Cosmere; one is something completely different.
I kept all five of these secret from my team until late last year. Then, I just left them on a table at our offices with the words "Top Secret" on the top of each one. The team had no idea. I'm a bit of a showman, if you can't tell, and this experience was a blast. I wanted to replicate that feeling for you in this video, which is why you might have to excuse my somewhat dramatic opening. I do apologize for that, but it's technically all true. I have been keeping a secret, and I think it will make some of you very happy, while others are just likely rolling their eyes at me.
So, as you might have figured out, this is written in Hoid/Wit’s voice. It’s a novel length Hoid story, like the Dog and the Dragon or Wandersail–except 100,000 words long. A few notes to make.
And speaking of the Princess Bride… that was actually a direct inspiration. This book came about because I showed the Princess Bride to my kids for the first time. I love that movie, and still do–as does my wife. But after the movie, we were chatting, and she made the observation that the princess from the film isn’t terribly… proactive. (To put it mildly.) The story is named after her, but she doesn’t actually DO anything.
She can’t even effectively hit a giant rat with a stick. The prompt for me, then, came when she asked, “Why did Buttercup just sit around after she heard her love had been taken by pirates? Wasn’t there anything she could have done?”
That’s where it started. It mixed with me wanting to find places to work in the Aethers (which are very relevant to the later cosmere) into a book somewhere. That, plus my love of the process of fluidization (where a granulated material, like sand, behaves somewhat like a liquid when air is forced through it.) I rammed these things together. A world where people sail upon powder or dust, instead of water. A way to start introducing the aethers to people as a cosmere magic. And the basic premise: What if Buttercup were more proactive?
The result is Tress of the Emerald Sea. A tale of pirates, dangerous spores, and (because Hoid is involved) occasional self-important monologues. It will be the first of the four books in our Year of Sanderson Kickstarter, and will ship to you January 2023.
Tress of the Emerald Sea
Chapter One: The Girl
In the middle of the ocean, there was a girl who lived upon a rock.
This was not an ocean like the one you have imagined.
Nor was the rock like the one you have imagined.
The girl, however, might be as you imagined–assuming you imagined her as thoughtful, soft-spoken, and overly fond of collecting cups.
Men often described the girl as having hair the color of wheat. Others would call it the color of flax, or occasionally the color of honey. The girl wondered why men so often used food to describe women’s features. There seemed to be a hunger to such men that was best avoided.
In her estimation, “light brown” was sufficiently descriptive–though the hue of her hair was not its most interesting trait. That would instead be her hair’s unruliness. Each morning, she heroically tamed it with brush and comb, then muzzled it with a ribbon and a tight braid. Yet still some strands always found way to escape–and would wave free in the wind, eagerly greeting everyone she passed.
The girl had been given the unfortunate name of Glorf upon her birth (don’t judge; it was a family name), but her wild hair earned her the name everyone knew her by: Tress. That moniker was, in Tress’s estimation, the most interesting thing about her.
Tress had been raised to possess a certain inalienable pragmatism. Such is a common failing among those who live on dour, lifeless islands from which they can never leave. When you are greeted each day by a black stone landscape, it influences your perspective on life.
The island was shaped vaguely like an old man’s crooked finger, emerging from the ocean to point toward the horizon. It was made entirely of barren black saltstone, and was large enough for a fair-sized town and a duke’s mansion. Though locals called the island the rock, its name on the maps was Diggen’s Point. Nobody remembered who Diggen was anymore, but he had obviously been a clever fellow, for he’d left the rock soon after naming it and had never returned.
In the evenings, Tress would often sit on her porch and sip salty tea from one of her favorite cups while looking out over the deep green ocean. As the sun set, she’d wonder about the people who visited the rock in their ships.
And yes, I did say the ocean was green. Also, it was not wet. We’re getting there.
As I said, none of the rock’s residents were allowed to leave. A king somewhere claimed the island, and he considered it vital for reasons that involved important military phrases like “strategic resupply” and “friendly anchorage” and “potential vacation home.”
Not that anybody in their right mind would consider the rock a tourist destination. The black saltstone rubbed off and got into everything. It also made most kinds of agriculture impossible, eventually tainting any soil moved to the town from off island. The only food the island grew came from compost vats.
While the rock did have important wells that brought water from a deep aquifer–something that visiting ships required–the equipment that worked the salt mines belched a constant stream of black smoke into the air.
In summary, the atmosphere was dismal, the ground wretched, and the views depressing. Oh, and have I mentioned the deadly spores?
Diggen’s Point lay near the Verdant Lunagree. Lunagrees, you should know, refer to the places where one of the twelve moons hang in the sky around Tress’s planet in oppressively low geosynchronous orbits. In other words, they never move. Big enough to fill a full third of the sky, one of the twelve is always visible, no matter where you travel. Dominating your view, like if you had a wart on your eyeball.
The locals worshipped those twelve moons as gods, which we can all agree is far more ridiculous than whatever it is you worship. However, it’s easy to see where the superstition began, considering the spores that the moons dropped upon the land.
They’d filter down from the lunagree, visible from the island some fifty or sixty miles away. That’s as close as you ever wanted to get to the lunagree–a great shimmering fountain of colorful motes, vibrant and exceedingly dangerous. The spores filled the world’s oceans, creating vast seas not of water, but of alien dust. Ships sailed that dust like ships sail water here, and you should not find that so unusual. How many other planets have you visited? Perhaps they all sail in oceans of pollen, and your home is the freakish one.
The spores were only dangerous if you got them wet. Which is rather a problem, considering the number of wet things that leak from human bodies, even when they’re healthy. The least bit of water would cause the spores to sprout explosively, and the results could range from uncomfortable to deadly. Breathe in a burst of verdant spores, for example, and your saliva would send vines growing up out your mouth–or, in more interesting cases, into your sinuses and out around your eyes.
The spores could be rendered inert by two things: salt or silver. Hence the reason why the locals didn’t terribly mind the savory taste of their water or their food. It meant they were safe, and they’d teach their children this ever so important rule: salt and silver halt the killer. An acceptable little poem, if you’re the sort of barbarian who enjoys slant rhymes.
Regardless, with the spores, the smoke, and the salt, one can perhaps see why the king needed a law requiring the population to remain on the rock. The place was so inhospitable, even the smog found it depressing. Ships visited periodically to do repairs, drop off waste for the compost vats, and take on new water. But each strictly obeyed the king’s rules: no locals were to be taken off of Diggen’s Point. Ever.
And so, Tress would sit on her steps in the evenings, watching ships sail toward the horizon. A column of spores would drop from the lunagree, and the sun would move out from behind the moon and creep toward the horizon. She’d sip salty tea from a cup with horses painted on it, and she’d think to herself, There’s a beauty to this, actually. I like it here. And I think I shall be fine to remain here all my life.
Chapter Two: The Groundskeeper
Perhaps you were surprised to read those last words. Tress wanted to stay on the rock? She liked it there?
Where was her sense of adventure? Her yearning for new lands, her wanderlust?
Well, this isn’t the part of the story where you ask questions. So kindly keep them inside. That said, you must understand that this a tale about people who are both what they seem and not what they seem. Simultaneously. A story of contradictions. Or in other words, it is a story about human beings.
In this case, Tress wasn’t your ordinary heroine–in that she was actually quite ordinary. In fact, Tress considered herself to be categorically boring. She liked her tea lukewarm. She went to bed on time. She loved her parents, occasionally squabbled with her little brother, and didn’t litter. She was fair at needlepoint and had a talent for baking, but had no other noteworthy skills.
She didn’t train at fencing in secret. She couldn’t talk to animals. She had no hidden royalty or deities in her lineage, though her great-grandmother Glorf had reportedly once waved at the king. That had been from atop the rock while he was sailing past many miles away, so Tress didn’t think it counted.
In short, Tress was just a normal girl. She knew this because the other girls would talk about how they weren’t like “everyone else,” and after a while Tress figured the group “everyone else” must include only her. The other girls were obviously right, as they all knew how to be unique–they were so good at it, in fact, that they’d do it together.
Instead of being fashionable or unique, Tress was pragmatic. She was generally more thoughtful than most people, but didn’t like to impose by asking for what she wanted. She’d remain quiet when the other girls were laughing or telling jokes about her. After all, they seemed to be having so much fun. It would be impolite to spoil that, and presumptive of her to request that they stop.
So she just listened. And sometimes the more boisterous youths talked of adventures in far-off oceans. Tress found those ideas frightening. How could she leave her parents and brother? Besides, she had her cup collection to bring the adventures to her.
Tress cherished her cups. As she grew into her teenage years, she began to collect ones from all across the twelve oceans: far-off lands where the spores were reportedly crimson, azure, or even golden. She had fine porcelain cups with painted glaze, some clay cups that felt rough beneath her fingers, and even wooden cups that looked rugged and well-used. She loved them all because of the way the brought the world to her. Whenever she sipped from one of the cups, she imagined she could taste far-off foods and drinks. In this, she thought she could understand the people who had crafted them.
Several of the sailors who frequently docked at Diggen’s Point knew of her fondness, and they sometimes brought cups for her. These were often battered and worn, but Tress didn’t mind. A cup with a chip or ding in it had a story, and she did love imagining those stories. She’d give the sailors pies in exchange for their gifts, the ingredients purchased with the pittance she earned scrubbing windows.
Each time Tress acquired a new cup, she brought it to Charlie to show it off.
Charlie claimed to be the groundskeeper at the duke’s mansion at the top of the rock, but Tress knew he was actually the duke’s son. You didn’t have to be pragmatic or thoughtful to realize that. Charlie’s hands were soft like a child’s, rather than callused, and he was better fed than anyone else in town. His hair was always cut neatly, and though he took his signet ring off when he saw her, it left a slightly lighter patch of skin, making it clear he often wore one–on the finger that marked a member of the nobility.
Besides, Tress wasn’t certain what “grounds” Charlie thought needed keeping. The mansion was, after all, on the rock. There had been a tree on the property once, but it had done the sensible thing and died a few years back. There were some potted plants though, which let him pretend.
Grey motes swirled in the wind by her feet as she climbed the path up to the mansion. Grey ones were dead–even the air around the rock was salty enough to kill spores–but she still held her breath as she hurried past. She turned left at the fork–the right path went to the mines–then wove up the switchbacks to the overhang.
Here the mansion squatted like a corpulent frog atop its lily. Tress wasn’t certain why the dukes liked it up here. They were closer to the smog, so maybe they liked the similarly tempered company. Climbing all this way was difficult–but considering how the duke’s family fit their clothing, perhaps they figured they could use the exercise.
Five solders watched the grounds–though only Snagu and Lead were on duty now–and they did their job well. After all, it had been a horribly long time since anyone in the duke’s family had died from the myriad of dangers a nobleman faced while living on the rock. (Those included boredom, stubbed toes, and choking on cobbler.)
She’d brought the soldiers pies, of course. As they ate, she considered showing the two men her new cup. It was made completely of tin, stamped with letters in a language that ran from up to down, instead of left to right. But no, she didn’t want to bother them.
They let her pass, even though it wasn’t her day to wash the mansion’s windows. She found Charlie around back, practicing with his fencing sword. When he saw her, he put it down and hurriedly took off his signet ring.
“Tress!” he said. “I thought you wouldn’t be by today!”
Having just turned seventeen, Charlie was just two months older than she was. He had an abundance of smiles, and she had identified each one. For instance, the wide-toothed one he gave her now said he was genuinely happy to have an excuse to be done with fencing practice. He wasn’t as fond of it as his father thought he should be.
“Swordplay, Charlie?” she asked. “Is that a gardener’s task?”
He picked up the thin dueling sword. “This? Oh, but it is for gardening.” He took a half-hearted swipe at one of the potted plants on the patio. The plant wasn’t quite dead yet, but the leaf Charlie split certainly wasn’t going to improve its chances.
“Gardening,” Tress said. “With a sword.”
“It’s how they do things on the royal island,” Charlie said. He swiped again. “There is always war there, you know. Even their gardeners have to go about armed, for protection. So if you consider, it’s natural they’d learn to trim plants with a sword. Don’t want to get ambushed when you’re unarmed.”
He wasn’t a particularly good liar, but that was part of what Tress liked about him. Charlie was genuine. He even lied in an authentic way. And considering how bad he was at making them, the lies couldn’t really be held against him. They were so obvious, they were better than many a person’s truths.
He swiped again in the vague direction of the plant, then looked at her and cocked an eyebrow. She shook her head. So he gave her his “you’ve caught me but I can’t admit it” grin and rammed his sword into the dirt of the pot, then plopped down on the low garden wall.
The sons of dukes were not supposed to plop. One might therefore consider Charlie to have been a young man of extraordinary talents.
Tress settled in next to him, basket in her lap.
“What did you bring me?” he said.
She took out a small meat pie. “Pigeon,” she said, “and carrots. With a thyme-seasoned gravy.”
“A noble combination,” he said.
“I think the duke’s son, if he were here, would disagree.”
“The duke’s son is only allowed to eat dishes that have some weird foreign accents over their letters,” Charlie said. “And he’s never allowed to stop sword practice to eat. So it is fortunate that I am not him.”
Charlie took a bite. She watched for the smile. And there it was–the smile of delight. She had spent an entire day in thought, considering what she could make with the ingredients that had been on sale in the port market.
“So, what else did you bring?” he asked.
“Charlie the gardener,” she said, “you have just received a very free pie, and now you assume to ask for more?”
“Assume?” he said around a mouthful of pie. He poked her basket with his free hand. “I know there’s more. Out with it.”
She grinned. To most she didn’t impose, but Charlie was different. She revealed the tin cup.
“Ahhh,” Charlie said, then put aside the pie and took the cup reverently in two hands. “Now this is special.”
“Do you know anything about that writing?” she asked, eager.
“It’s old Iriali,” he said. “They vanished, you know. The entire people: poof. Away they went, gone one day, their island left uninhabited. Now, that was three hundred years ago, so nobody alive has ever met one of them, but they supposedly had golden hair. Like yours, the color of sunlight.”
“My hair is not the color of sunlight, Charlie.”
“Your hair is the color of sunlight, if sunlight were light brown,” Charlie said. It might be said he had a way with words. In that his words often got away.
“I’d wager this cup has quite the history,” he said. “Forged for an Iriali nobleman the day before he–and his people–were taken by the gods. The cup was left on the table, to be collected by the poor fisherwoman who first arrived on the island and discovered the horror of an entire people gone. She passed the cup down to her grandson–who became a pirate, a deadrunner even. He eventually buried his ill-gotten treasure deep beneath the spores. Only to be recovered now, after eons in darkness, to find its way to your hands.” He held the cup up to catch the light.
Tress washed the mansion windows, and had heard Charlie’s parents speaking to him. They berated him for talking so much; they thought it silly and unbecoming of his station. They rarely let him finish.
While yes, he did ramble sometimes, she’d come to understand there was a reason why. It was because Charlie liked stories like Tress liked cups.
“Thank you, Charlie,” she whispered.
“For giving me what I want.”
He knew what she meant. It wasn’t cups or stories.
“Always,” he said, placing his hand on hers. “Always what you want, Tress. And you can always tell me what it is. I know you don’t usually do that, to others.”
A shout sounded from deep within the mansion. It was Charlie’s father, grousing. So far as she’d been able to tell, yelling at things was the duke’s one and only job on the island, and he took it very seriously.
Charlie glanced at the sounds and grew tense, his smile–unfortunately–fading. But when the shouts didn’t draw near, he looked back at the cup. The moment was gone, but another took its place, as they tend to do. Not as intimate, but still valuable because it was time with him.
“I like,” he said softly, “that you listen. Thank you, Tress.”
“I am fond of your stories,” she said, taking the cup and turning it over. “Do you think any of it is true?”
“It could be,” Charlie said. “That’s the great thing about stories. But look here, this writing? It says it did once belong to a king. His name is right here.”
“And you learned that language in…”
“…gardening school,” he said. “In case we had to read the warnings on the packaging of certain dangerous plants.”
“Like how you wear a lord’s doublet and hose…”
“…because it makes me an excellent decoy, should assassins arrive and try to kill the duke’s son.”
“As you’ve said. But why then do you take off your ring?”
“Uh…” He looked at his hand, then met her eyes. “Well, I guess I’d rather you not mistake me for someone else. Someone I don’t want to have to be.”
He smiled then, his timid smile. His “please go with me on this, Tress” smile. Because the son of a duke could not openly fraternize with the girl who washed the windows. A nobleman pretending to be a commoner though? Feigning low station so that he could visit with the people of his realm and learn about them? Why, that was expected. It happened in so many stories, it was practically an institution.
“That makes,” she said, “perfect sense.”
“Now then,” he said, going back to his pie. “Tell me about your day. I must hear about it.”
“I went browsing through the market for ingredients,” she said, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I purchased a pound of fish that Poloni thought was going bad, but it was actually the fish in the next barrel. So I got my fish for a steal.”
“Fascinating,” he said. “They just let you walk around? Nobody throws a fit when you visit? They don’t call their children out and make you shake their hands? Tell me more. Please, I want to know how you realized the fish wasn’t bad.”
With his prodding, she continued elucidating the mundane details of a boring life. He forced her to do it each time she visited. He, in turn, paid attention. That was the proof that his fondness for talking wasn’t a failing. He was equally good at listening. At least to her. Indeed, Charlie found her life interesting for some unfathomable reason.
As she talked, Tress felt warm. She often did when she visited–because she climbed up high and was close to the sun, so it was warmer up here. Obviously.
Except at the moment it was moonshadow, when the sun hid behind the moon and everything grew a few degrees cooler. And today she was growing tired of certain lies she told herself. Perhaps there was another reason she felt warm. It was there in Charlie’s smile, and she knew it would be in her own as well.
He didn’t listen to her only because he was fascinated by the lives of peasants.
She didn’t come visit only because she wanted to hear him tell stories.
In fact, on the deepest level it wasn’t about cups or stories at all. It was, instead, about gloves.
Chapter Three: The Duke
Tress had noticed that a nice pair of gloves made her daily work go so much better. Now, she meant the good kind of gloves, made of a soft leather that molded to your hands as you used them. The kind that–if you oiled them well and didn’t leave them out in the sun–didn’t ever grow stiff. The kind that were so comfortable, you went to wash your hands and were surprised to find you were still wearing them.
The perfect set of gloves was invaluable. And Charlie was like a good set of gloves. The longer she spent with him, the more right their time together felt. The brighter even the moonshadows seemed, and the easier her burdens felt. She did love interesting cups, but a part of that was because each one gave her an excuse to come and visit him.
The thing growing between them felt so good, so wonderful, that Tress was frightened to call it love. From the way the other youths talked, “love” was dangerous. Their love seemed to be about jealousy and insecurity. It was about passionate shouting matches and even more passionate reconciliations. It seemed less like a good pair of gloves, and more like a hot coal that would burn your hands.
Love had always frightened Tress. But when Charlie again put his hand on hers, she felt that heat. The fire she’d always feared. The coal was in there, after all, just contained–like in a good stove.
She wanted to leap into his heat, all logic discarded.
Charlie froze, his hand on hers. They’d touched many times before, of course, but this was different. This moment. This dream. He blushed, but let his hand linger. Then he finally took it back and ran it through his hair, grinning sheepishly. Of course, because he was himself, that didn’t spoil the moment–but instead made it more sweet.
Tress searched for the perfect thing to say. There were any number of lines that would have capitalized on the moment. She could have said, “Charlie, could you hold this for me while I walk around the grounds?” then offered her hand back to him.
She could have said, “Help, I can’t breathe. Staring at you has taken my breath away.”
She could even have said something completely insane, such as “I like you.”
Instead she said, “Huuhhh. Hands are warm.” She followed it with a half laugh that she choked on halfway through, exactly mimicking–by pure chance–the call of an elephant seal.
It might be said that Tress had a way with words. In that her words tended to get in her way.
In response, Charlie gave her a smile. A wonderful smile, more and more confident the longer it lasted. It was one she’d never seen before. And it said, “I think I love you, Tress, elephant seal notwithstanding.”
She smiled back at him. Then, over his shoulder she saw the duke standing in the window just behind. Tall and straight, the man wore military-style clothing that looked like it had been pinned to him by the various medals on the breast.
He was not smiling.
Indeed, she’d only seen him smile once, during the punishment of old Lotari–who had supposedly tried to sneak off the island by stowing away on a merchant ship. It seemed that it was the duke’s only smile–perhaps Charlie had used the entire family’s quota. Nevertheless, if the duke did have only one smile, he made up for it by somehow displaying far too many teeth.
That day, the duke faded back into the shadows of the house, but he seemed to be looming over Tress as she bade farewell to Charlie. On her way down the steps, she expected to hear shouting between them. Instead the mansion was silent, though it was an ominous kind of silence. The tense silence that came after you saw the lightning flash.
It chased her down the path and down the steps and around to her home, where she murmured something to her parents about being tired. She went to her room, and there waited for the silence to end. For the soldiers to knock, then demand to know why the girl who washed the windows had dared to touch the duke’s son.
When nothing like that came, she dared hope that she was reading too much into the duke’s expression. Then she remembered the duke’s singular smile. After that, worries nipped at her all night.
She finally rose early in the morning, wrestled her hair into a tail, then trudged to the market. Here, she’d sort through the day-old goods and near-spoiled ingredients for something she could afford. Despite the early hour, however, the market was abuzz with activity. Men swept dead spores off the path while people gathered in chattering knots.
Tress knew instantly that there was news. She braced herself, deciding nothing could be worse than the awful anticipation she’d suffered all night.
She was wrong.
The duke had sent a declaration: he and his family were going to leave the island that very day.
Chapter Four: The Son
Leave the island?
People didn’t leave the island.
Tress knew, logically, that wasn’t explicitly true. The duke left on occasion to report to the king. Plus, he’d earned all those fancy medals by killing people from a distant place where they looked slightly different. He’d apparently been very heroic during those wars; you could tell because a great number of his troops had died, while he lived.
In the past, the duke had never taken his family. This time though, they were going. “The ducal heir has come of age,” the proclamation announced, “and so we shall be presenting him for betrothal to the various princesses of the civilized seas.”
Now, Tress was a pragmatic young woman. And so she only thought about ripping her shopping basket to shreds in frustration. She merely deliberated whether it would be appropriate to swear at the top of her lungs. She barely considered marching up to the duke’s mansion to demand he change his mind.
Instead of these very impractical responses, she went about her shopping in a numb haze, using the familiar action to give her suddenly crumbling life a semblance of normalcy. She found some garlic she was certain she could salvage, several potatoes that hadn’t withered too badly, and even some grain where the weevils were large enough to pick out.
Once, she’d have been pleased with this haul. Today she couldn’t think of anything but Charlie.
It seemed so incredibly unfair. She’d only just acknowledged what she felt for him, and already everything was turning upside down? Yes, she’d been told to expect this pain. Love involved pain. But that was the salt in your tea–wasn’t there also supposed to be a dab of honey? Wasn’t there supposed to be–dared she wish–passion?
She was to receive all of the detriments of a romantic affair with none of the advantages.
Unfortunately, her practicality began to assert itself. So long as the two of them had been able to pretend, then the real world hadn’t been able to claim them. But the days of pretend were over.
What had she thought was going to happen? That the duke would let her marry his son? What did she think she could offer someone like Charlie? She was nothing when compared to a princess. I mean, think of how many cups they could afford!
In the pretend world, marriage was about love. In the real world, it was about politics. A word laden with a very large number of meanings, though most of them boiled down to: This is a matter for nobles–and begrudgingly the very rich–to discuss. Not peasants.
She finished her shopping and started up the path toward her home, where at least she could commiserate with her parents. Unfortunately, it seemed that the duke was wasting no time, for she saw a procession snaking down toward the docks.
She turned around and walked back, arriving just after the procession–which began to load the family’s things onto a merchant ship. Nobody was allowed to leave the island. Unless they were, instead, somebody. Tress worried she wouldn’t get a chance to speak with Charlie. Then she worried that she would, but he wouldn’t want to see her.
Mercifully, she caught him standing at the side of the crowd, searching out through the gathering people. The moment he spotted her, he immediately rushed over. “Tress! Oh, moons. I worried I wouldn’t find you in time.”
“I…” What did she say?
“Fair maiden,” he said, bowing. “I must take my leave.”
“Charlie,” she said softly. “Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. I know you.”
He grimaced. He was wearing a traveling coat and even a hat. He hated hats. “Tress,” he said, softer, “I’m afraid I’ve lied to you. You see…I’m not the groundskeeper. I’m…um…the duke’s son.”
“Amazing. Who would have thought that Charlie the gardener and Charles the duke’s heir would be the same person, considering they’re the same age, look the same, and wear the same clothing.”
“Er, yes. Are you angry at me?”
“Anger is in line right now,” Tress said. “It’s seventh down, sandwiched between confusion and fatigue.”
Behind, Charlie’s father and mother marched up onto the ship. Their servants followed with the last of the luggage.
Charlie looked down at his feet. “It seems I am to be married. To a princess of some nation or another. What do you think of that?”
“I…” What should she say? “I wish you well?”
He looked up and met her eyes. “Always, Tress. Remember?”
It was hard for her, but she found the words, hiding in the corner and trying to avoid her. “I wish,” she said, seizing hold of them, “that you wouldn’t do that. Get married. To someone else.”
“Oh?” he looked up. “Do you really?”
“I mean, I’m sure they are very nice. The princesses.”
“I believe it part of the job description,” Charlie said. “Like…have you heard of the things they do in stories? Resuscitate amphibians? Notice for people that their children have wet the bed? One would have to be rather kindly to do these services.”
“Yes,” Tress said. “I…” She took a deep breath. “I would still…rather you didn’t marry one of them.”
“Well then, I shan’t,” Charlie said.
“I don’t believe you have a choice, Charlie. Your father wants you married. It’s politics.”
“Ah, but you see, I have a secret weapon.” He took her hands and leaned in. Behind, his father moved up to the prow of the ship and looked down, scowling.
Charlie, however, smiled a lopsided smile. His “look how sneaky I am” smile. He used it when he wasn’t being very sneaky.
“What…kind of secret weapon, Charlie?” she asked.
“I can be incredibly boring.”
“That’s not a weapon.”
“It might not be one in a war, Tress,” he said. “But in courtship? It is as fine a weapon as the sharpest rapier. You know how I go on. And on. And on.”
“I like how you go on, Charlie. I don’t mind the on, either. I sometimes even enjoy the on.”
“You are a special case,” Charlie said. “You are…well, this is kind of silly…but you’re like a pair of gloves, Tress.”
“I am?” she said, choking up.
“Yes. No, don’t be offended. I mean, when I have to practice the sword, I wear these gloves and–”
“I understand,” she whispered.
From atop the ship, Charlie’s father scowled again, then shouted for him to be quick. Tress realized then that–like Charlie had different kinds of smiles–his father had different kinds of scowls. She didn’t much like what this one implied about her.
Charlie glanced up at his father, then squeezed her hands, looking back. “Listen, Tress. I promise you. I’m not going to get married. I’m going to go to those kingdoms, and I’m going to be so insufferably boring that none of the girls will have me.
“I’m not good at much. I’ve never scored even a single point against my father in sparring. I spill my soup at formal dinners. I talk so much, even my footman–who is paid to listen–comes up with creative reasons to interrupt me. The other day I was telling him about the story of the fish and the whale, and he pretended to stub his toe, and…”
The duke shouted again.
“I can do this, Tress,” Charlie insisted. “I will do this. At each stop, I’ll pick out a cup for you, all right? Once I’ve bored the current princess to death–and my father has decided we need to move on–I’ll send you the cup. As proof, you see.” He squeezed her hands. “I’ll do it, not just because you listen. Because you know me, Tress. You’ve always been able to see me when others don’t.”
He squeezed her hands one last time, then moved to finally respond to his father’s shouting. Tress held on, clinging to his hands. Unwilling to let it end.
Charlie looked back at her, giving her one last smile. And though he obviously tried to be confident, she knew his smiles. This was his uncertain one. His hopeful but worried one.
“You are my gloves too, Charlie,” Tress said to him.
After that, she had let go and let him jog up the plank. She’d imposed enough already. The duke forced his son below deck. The ship pushed back, slipping off the dead, grey spores nearest the rock into the true spore ocean. This began to shake and vibrate as the vents deep below on the ocean floor began send up bursts of air.
With this agitation, the spores became as liquid. Wind caught the ship’s sails and it struck out toward the horizon, leaving a wake of disturbed emerald dust behind it. Tress climbed up to her house, then watched from the cliff until the ship was the size of a cup. Then the size of a speck. Then it vanished.
After that, the waiting began.
They say that to wait is the most excruciating of life’s torments. “They” in this case refers to writers, who have nothing useful to do, so fill their time thinking of things to say. Any working person can tell you that having time to wait is a luxury.
Tress had windows to wash. Meals to cook. A little brother to watch. Her father never had recovered from his accident in the mines, and though he tried to help, he could barely walk. He helped Tress’s mother sew socks all day, which they sold to sailors, but with the expense of yarn they turned only a meager profit.
So Tress didn’t wait. She worked.
Still, it was an enormous relief when the first cup arrived. It was delivered by Hoid the cabin boy. (Yes, that’s me. What tipped you off? Was it perhaps the name?) A beautiful porcelain cup, without even a single chip in it. It came with a letter and a card with a little drawing: two gloved hands holding to one another.
The world brightened that day. Tress could almost imagine Charlie speaking as she read the letter, which detailed the affections of the first princess. With heroic monotony, he had listed the sounds his stomach made when he laid in various positions at night. As that hadn’t been quite enough, he’d apparently explained how kept his toenail clippings and gave them names. That had done it.
Fight on, my loquacious love, Tress thought as she scrubbed the mansion windows the next day, thinking of those words. Be brave, my mildly gross warrior.
The second cup was made of pure red glass, tall and thin, like it was meant to appear as if it contained more liquid than it did. Perhaps it was from a particularly stingy tavern. This princess he’d put off by explaining what he’d had for breakfast–using intricate detail, as he’d apparently counted the pieces of the scrambled egg and had categorized them by size.
The third cup was a good, solid pewter mug with heft to it. Perhaps it was from one of those places Charlie had made up, where people always needed to carry weapons. Tress was reasonably certain she could knock out an attacker by swinging this cup. The princess hadn’t been able to withstand an extended conversation about the benefits of various punctuation marks, including those he’d invented.
The fourth package didn’t have a letter with it, just a cup with a painted butterfly on it with a red ocean underneath. She found it odd that the butterfly wasn’t terrified of the spores, but maybe it was a prisoner butterfly, being forced to fly out over the ocean to its doom.
The fifth cup never arrived.
Tress tried to play it off, telling herself that it must have been interrupted in transit. After all, any number of dangerous things could happen to a ship sailing the spores. Pirates or…you know…spores.
But the months stretched long, each more tedious than the one before. Every time a ship arrived at the docks, Tress was there asking for mail.
She did this for months on end. Until an entire year had passed since Charlie had left.
And then, finally, a note. Not from Charlie, but from his father, sent to the entire town and not individually to her. The duke was returning to Diggen’s Point at long last, and he was bringing his wife, his heir…and his new daughter-in-law.
Chapter Five: The Bride
Tress sat upon her porch, leaning against her mother, watching the horizon. She held the last cup that Charlie had sent. The one with the suicidal butterfly.
Her lukewarm tea tasted of tears.
“It wasn’t very practical,” she whispered to her mother.
“Love rarely is,” her mother replied. She was a stout woman, with a cheerful kind of girth. Five years ago, she’d been thin as reeds. Then Tress had learned her mother was giving up a portion of her food to her children–from then on, Tress had taken over shopping and had made their money stretch further.
A ship appeared on the horizon.
“I’ve finally thought of what I should have said.” Tress pushed her hair out of her eyes. “When he left. I called him a glove. It isn’t so bad as it sounds. He’d just called me one, you see. I’ve had a year to think about it, and I realized I could have said something more.”
Her mother squeezed her shoulder as the ship drew inevitably closer.
“I should,” Tress whispered, “have said that I loved him.”
Her mother joined her as she marched, like a soldier on the front lines facing cannon fire, down to the docks to greet the ship. Her father, with his bad legs, stayed behind–which was good. Tress feared he’d make a scene from how he’d been grumbling about the duke and his son these last few months.
But Tress could not find it in herself to blame Charlie. It wasn’t his fault that he was the duke’s son. It could have happened to anyone, really.
A crowd had gathered. The duke’s letter said he wanted a celebration–and he was bringing food and wine. Whatever else the people thought of getting a new future duchess, they were not going to miss a chance at free alcohol. As it’s ever been, gifts are the secret to popularity. That and having the power to behead anyone who dislikes you.
Tress and her mother arrived at the back of the crowd, but Holmes the baker waved them up on his steps so they could see better. He was a kind man, always saving the ends of used loaves, then selling them to her for pennies.
So it was that Tress had a good view of the princess as she appeared on the deck. She was beautiful. Rosy cheeks, shimmering hair, delicate features. She was so perfect, the finest painter in the seas couldn’t have made improvements in doing her portrait.
Charlie had finally gotten to be part of a story. With effort, Tress was happy for him.
The duke appeared next, waving his hand so the people knew to cheer for him. “I present,” he shouted, “my heir!”
A young man stepped up onto the deck beside the princess. And it was most definitely not Charlie.
This young man was around the same age as Charlie, but he was six and a half feet tall and had a jaw so straight it made other men question if they were. He bulged with muscles–to the point that when he lifted his arm to wave, Tress swore she could hear seams on his shirt begging for mercy.
What under the twelve moons?
“After an unfortunate accident,” the duke proclaimed to the hushed crowd, “I was forced to adopt my nephew Dirk and appoint him as my new heir.” He gave a moment for the crowd to take that in. “He’s an excellent fencer,” the king continued, “and responds to questions with single-sentence answers. Sometimes using only one word! Also, he’s a war hero. He lost ten thousand men in the battle of lakeprivy.”
“Ten thousand?” Tress’s mother said. “My, that’s a lot.”
“We shall now celebrate Dirk’s marriage to the Princess of Dormancy!” the duke shouted, raising his hands high.
The crowd was quiet, still confused.
“I brought thirty kegs,” the duke shouted.
They cheered. And so, a party it was. The townspeople led the way up to the meeting hall. They remarked about the princess’s beauty and marveled that Dirk managed to balance so well while walking, considering his center of gravity must have been located somewhere around his upper sternum.
Tress’s mother said she’d get answers, and followed after. However, when Tress came out of her shock, she found Flik–one of the servants–waving for her from near the bottom of the gangplank. He was kindly man, though he had wide ears that looked as if they were waiting for just the right moment to bolt and fly away, taking to the skies to be with their kind.
“Flik?” she whispered. “What happened? An accident? Where is Charlie?”
Flik glanced up at the train of people walking to the feast hall. The duke and his family had joined them, and were far enough now that any scowls would lose potency due to wind resistance and gravitational drop.
“He wanted me to give you this,” Flik said, handing her a small sack. It tinkled as she took it. Inside where broken pieces of ceramic.
The fifth cup.
“He tried so hard, Miss Tress,” Flik whispered. “Oh, you should have seen the young master. He did everything he could to put those women off. He memorized eighty-seven different types of plywood and their uses. He told every princess he met, at length, about his childhood pets. He even talked about religion. I thought they had ’im at the fifth kingdom, as that princess was deaf, but the young master went and threw up on her at dinner.”
“He threw up?”
“Right in ’er lap, Miss Tress.” Flik looked both ways, then waved for her to follow as he made to carry some luggage off the docks, getting them to a more secluded location. “But his father got wise, Miss Tress. Figured out what the young master was doing. The duke got right mad. Right mad indeed.”
He gestured to the broken cup she was carrying in her sack.
“Yes, but what happened to Charlie?” Tress asked.
Flik looked away.
“Please,” Tress asked. “Where is he?”
“He sailed the Midnight Sea, Miss Tress,” he said. “Beneath Thanasmia’s own moon. The sorceress took him.”
Those names sent a chill through Tress. The Midnight Sea? The domain of the sorceress? “Why would he ever do such a thing?”
“Well, I right think it’s because his father forced him to,” Flik said. “The sorceress isn’t married, you know. And the king has long wanted to try to make her less of a threat. So…”
“He sent Charlie to try to marry the sorceress?”
Flik didn’t respond.
“No,” Tress said, realizing. “He sent Charlie to die.”
“I didn’t say anything like that,” Flik said, hurrying off. “If anyone asks, I didn’t say anything like that.”
Numb, Tress sat down on one of the dock pillars. She listened to the spores stirring, a sound like pouring sand. Even on an out-of-the-way island like hers they knew of the sorceress. She periodically sent ships in to raid the borders of the Verdant Sea, and it was incredibly difficult to fight her. Her stronghold lay somewhere hidden in the remote Midnight Sea, most dangerous of them all. And to get to it you had to cross the Crimson Sea, an unpopulated sea that was only slightly less deadly.
Finding out Charlie had been taken by her was basically like finding he’d been taken up to one of the moons. Tress couldn’t just take one man’s word. Not on something like this. She didn’t dare bother others with questions, but she listened as they talked in hushed tones to inquisitive dock workers, eager to get the ship unloaded so they could go join the party. They all got similar answers. Yes, Charlie had been sent to the Midnight Sea. Yes, the king knew–the duke and he had been together when the decision had been made. Well, certainly it must make sense, if the king thought of it. Someone had to try to stop the sorceress from raiding. And Charlie, of all people, was…errm…the obvious choice…for…reasons…
The implications horrified Tress. The duke and the king had realized Charlie was being difficult, and their solution had been to simply get rid of him. Dirk had been instated as heir within hours of word that Charlie’s ship had vanished.
In the eyes of the nobles, this was an elegant result. The duke got an heir he could finally be proud of. The king got an advantageous marriage alliance in Dirk’s bride from another kingdom. And the everyone got to blame another death on the sorceress, building public opinion toward another war.
After three days, Tress finally dared impose on Brunswick–the duke’s steward–with a begged plea for more information. As he liked her pies, he admitted that they’d received a ransom letter from the sorceress. But the duke, in his wisdom, had declared it to be a trick to lure more ships into the Sea of Night. The king had declared Charlie officially dead.
Days passed. Tress lived them in a daze, realizing nobody cared. They called it politics and moved on. Though the new heir had the intellect of a soggy piece of bread, he was popular, handsome, and very good at getting other people killed. While Charlie had been…well, Charlie.
Tress spent weeks gathering her courage, then went to ask the duke if he’d please pay the ransom. Such a bold move was difficult for her. She wasn’t a coward by any definition of the word, but imposing upon people…well, it just wasn’t something she did. But with her parents’ encouragement, she made the long trek and quietly made her request.
The duke, in turn, called her a “caramel-haired strumpet” and forbade her from washing windows anywhere in town. She was forced to begin making socks with her parents for greatly reduced pay.
As the weeks passed, Tress fell into a lethargy. She felt less like a mere human being, and more like a human who was merely being.
Life on the rock for everyone else returned to normal, easy as that. Nobody cared. Nobody was going to do anything.
Until it was, two months after the duke’s return, that Tress made her decision. There was somebody who cared. Naturally, it would be up to that person to do something. Tress couldn’t impose on anyone else.
She was going to have to go rescue Charlie herself.
My son Oliver, who was seven at the time (I believe; might have been eight), drew a picture of a robot frog and gave it to me. His name was Robog. And it was a really cute picture. And so I hung it up on my mirror in the bathroom and looked at it for months and months and months; as as I was brushing my teeth or shaving, I'm like, "There's Robog. What's Robog's story?"
And eventually, I sat down, and I wrote out a little bit of Robog's story. Actually, the kid who owned Robog as a toy. But, you know, Robog comes to life, because that's the type of story this is. And then I read it to Oliver and to Dallin, and they were just enamored with this idea that something they had drawn had inspired a story. And so they went, and they just did concept art, tons of concept art, and gave it to me, and they're like, "All right, incorporate this! Incorporate this! Use this!" And then other things that were in the story, they would read and be like, "I need to go draw that!" So they were illustrating this while I was writing chapters of it and reading to them at night. And it was a really fun experience.
The goal will be to give that concept art to a professional artist who will then use that as inspiration for doing the graphic novel of this. That's where that one came from. It's called Super Awesome Danger. The one that's not part of the Kickstarter is Super Awesome Danger.
How long did it take to write each book? Did they seem to be done faster than Rhythm of War and Skyward?
Yes. So, first books and standalones write faster. Particularly, they revise faster; that's the biggest part. They outline faster, and they revise faster. The longer and more complex a book gets, the more time it takes to make sure... Let me give you an example. Most of these... in fact, each of these is kind of just singular narrative. One of them has multiple viewpoints, but the other ones are single viewpoint books. Like a normal novel. When you write that way, you don't have to balance two perspectives' pacing. Balancing two perspectives' pacing actually increases the difficulty of a book quite a bit, because you don't wanna have lulls where three or four chapters of characters doing the same thing in their respective plotlines happens. You can do it with two, and you can contrast pretty well with two; but once you have three, if you have characters hitting the same kind of emotional beats, three chapters with three different characters, it gets tedious. You feel a monotony to that. And that's not an influence on how strong each of their individual stories are; each of their individual stories could be really strong. But suddenly, because they hit, a strange lull in conversation; everything becomes noticeable, and whatnot. So you have this added complexity of making sure that you are doing different things in different stories that create a pacing momentum, rather than a pacing speed bump. The more of that you do, the more complicated and difficult a book gets to write and revise.
So, these wrote more like Skyward One or Mistborn One. Even though Mistborn One had multiple viewpoints, the fact that I wasn't doing this and having to juggle taking a character arc from a previous book and expanding upon it in a way that felt nature... Like, expanding on a character arc is always harder than writing a new character with a character arc, because you don't want that character to, again, hit the same beats they hit before. You want them to grow, but you also don't want to ignore what's happened before with them.
So, these sorts of things are faster writes. And that, I don't think, has a dramatic influence on the quality comparison. I think single viewpoint books can be just as enjoyable. Some of the best books I've read recently are single viewpoint books. But it does mean that the complexity of interweaving viewpoints goes down, and the books just get faster to write. That's one of the reasons I could do these, rather than doing sequels to things that people are expecting and anticipating.
Any close calls in revealing your Secret [Projects] accidentally?
Yeah. There have been times where I've been on panels. I think there was one at the Mini-Con Dragonsteel Convention, several times where I caught myself almost mentioning a book. And on Intentionally Blank, that's the dangerous one, because Dan will say "Hey, you ever done something like this?" And I'll be like, in my head, "Yes I have; I did something like that very recently." And I'll have to talk around it. You'll be able to find places where I talked around, saying "There's this project that I want to write that is like this," which is one I've actually already written. Or "There's this project I've been thinking about, or working on. Outlining." Where actually I've written the book. Things like that.
Those were some close calls. And there is always the worry that when we send books out for early reads, that one of them will leak. And that would have spoiled this whole thing if one of the beta readers had accidentally allowed one of these to leak out into the wild. And it didn't happen, so good job.
Will these [Secret Project] novels be published traditionally for people who can't afford the subscription service?
Yes, we will eventually. The ebook and audio will be published very quickly next year, right around when the books come out. There will be traditional published editions for you eventually. We'll see how quickly we can get those to happen; again, the traditional published version of Dawnshard took about a year and change, about a year and three months. So going through traditional publishing is a lot slower. But that's just because they have to distribute these things to all the different bookstores, and whatnot. We will make that happen. But if you can't afford the Kickstarter, there will be ebooks and audiobooks of these, each, that you can kind of a la carte choose which ones you would want.
[Secret Project] Four's narrative is unlike anything I've ever done before and is polarizing in the way I plotted it because it is me leaning into one type of storytelling very much, and if you like that style of storytelling you will probably love this book, and if you do not like that style of storytelling, then this book is just going to be a little much, maybe.
Secret Project Two does something very odd in that it includes extensive excerpts from something else that I wrote. (It's not like I'm taking James Joyce and being like "And now we're quoting from Finnegans Wake." There's this separate written thing that is interwoven into Secret Project Two, which is very fun. You'll see what I mean when you read it.
Not to give you too many spoilers: Secret Project One probably has some of the most bizarre worldbuilding I've done in a book. Actually, I would say One, Three, and Four all have pretty out-there worldbuilding. All three of the Cosmere novels have worldbuilding a step beyond; it's more Stormlight worldbuilding and less... Setting-wise is what I'm talking about here, not magic system-wise. More like Stormlight, less like some of the other Cosmere novels that are playing it just a little closer to normal worldbuilding. I experimented more with worldbuilding; these worlds are... Let's just say that my science people, I'm giving them some headaches trying to figure out how to make some of this cosmology actually work. It's really cool, but... How does this work, Brandon? Well, we'll figure it out.
Little more extreme in some of the worldbuilding. Not as weird as some of the weird ones I throw at Dan on the podcast; not quite as weird as, like, Apocalypse Guard, which had an ocean in the sky. I'll figure that out someday.
These [Secret Projects] all have a different style of voice. One and Three are the most similar, but even they have... like, I did a different type of voice. To give you an example: one of them is in first person, and the other three in third person. But even the third persons are different from each other in the way I'm doing the third person. That's a little bit different: doing some things I haven't done before or I haven't done in a long while.
Are the books being released in the order you wrote them?
Yes, they are. We talked about this, and I thought about it; in the end, I decided it's more fun for you to see my evolution of how I'm viewing these, 'cause I kind of view these... They aren't a series. There's not really connections between them other than the fact that three are in the Cosmere, so there are some similarities. There are some similarities between Books One and Three, for instance; one big similarity, in particular.
But the way I view doing these... Like, the first one, I really wrote on a lark. I just, like, "I need something different in my life." And what I realized is I need to reclaim some time. The world has given me some extra time; I don't know how much of it I will have, but I need to take that time and spend it on myself, working on just being a storyteller. And so that one was very... I feel they're each experimental in some way, but One was me testing out, and just kind of going and seeing what happens.
And then Two was kind of, as I often do, is like, "Wow; that worked. I can really do this. I have this time. What's the cool thing I want to write that I would not have been able to write otherwise?" And that's why Two is not in the Cosmere. This is the book that, if this time had not appeared, I just never would have had a chance to write.
And then Secret Project Three was kind of the, "I know what I'm doing. I know what this all is. Let's try something that..." Like, I'd had time in my head to plan for that one, if that makes sense.
And then Four is a book that I was planning to write years from now that I really wanted to write, but wasn't sure that I would have the time in my life. And then when I got to it, and I'm like "I probably should be done with these Secret Projects," but then a little voice said "If you're done with the Secret Projects, you may never get to write this one that you've wanted to write," and it is a... I wouldn't say "essential" part of the Cosmere, otherwise it'd be in one of the mainline series, but it is a key part of a character in the Cosmere, a side character, that I've wanted to do for years, and the seeds have been set up in a different series for doing this, and I'm like "You know, I need to do this." And that's why I wrote that one, kind of for me. If I don't write this book now, this book is not going to maybe get written, and I want this story told.
They each kind of have their different feel to them, and I think that reading them through in order will give you that same sort of... You'll be able to sense me evolving how I'm viewing this set of projects.
Which of the four Secret Projects are you most anxious about announcing?
My favorite of the four is Secret Project Three. Anxious? I think that the first one is the one I'm the most anxious about, because it's going to kind of set the tone for the rest of them. I think it's the one that, once you hear what I'm doing with it, a light bulb will click on very quickly for what that book is. But Secret Project Three is my favorite of them.
Secret Project Three is also my wife's favorite, and it is also Peter's favorite. However, that's not universal. I think we had people liking each of them as their favorite among the staff reading them.
Will this [Secret Projects] impact Stormight Five's release date?
It should not. Spending a little extra time on The Lost Metal might. We're gonna have to see. I knew I was gonna probably end up spending January not working much on Stormlight. I didn't anticipate that it would take my February, also. But so far, that has not been Secret Project sort of stuff. That has just been... I really want to get Lost Metal right. So I've been doing revisions on that. It's not a hard rewrite, like Skyward Three was. There's just a lot I still want to do with that book, so I've been adding a bunch. It's gonna be longer than anticipated. So, we'll see.
Like I've said many times before, Stormlight Five is the one that I'm going to let slide if it needs to slide. My goal is to do these revisions in time that I wouldn't have had except for not traveling so much. And the revisions on each of these Secret Projects should be fairly easy. More difficult revisions come for books, generally, later in a series when there are a lot of complicated pieces to keep moving and character arcs to make sure flow from book to book, and that's what makes something like Lost Metal a little trickier. I've been going more between five to seven thousand words a day of revisions on that, and these ones will probably go ten to fifteen thousand words a day, if I were writing full time on them (which I won't), but they should go fairly quickly.
We have not chosen audiobook narrators [for the Secret Projects]. I would absolutely love for there to be a Reddit thread; maybe we can make one on r/Sanderson that says "Hey, tell us audiobook narrators that you really like that we haven't used before, and also let us know if there are ones we have used before that you want us to use more of."
I assume we will ask Michael and Kate to do at least one of these. But because these are all four very different-feeling books, my goal would probably be to use them on one of the books, and then use three other narrators for the other books. That's kind of where I am right now.
But you guys can influence that. You can push me to do different things, if you want me to. You may want to reserve judgement until you've heard some of the stories. That might be helpful. We can do that thread for each book, maybe. When Book One launches on Thursday, we can be like, "All right, suggest us some audiobook narrators." If you don't want to be spoiled on it, you can just pop into that thread, and we'll just make it Secret Project One rather than naming of the thing, and you can just nominate your favorite audiobook narrators, and that will be useful to us. That's something we're always interested in hearing from you all.
Are the new [Secret Project] Cosmere books open to new readers, or more Cosmere-aware because they are special?
All of these books are pretty open to new readers. In fact, I would say Secret Projects One, Two, and Three in particular are among the most open to new readers of books I've written. There are slight Cosmere-aware things that you will get from them. You will get lots of references. In fact, I shouldn't say slight: more than early books of mine, because there's more of the Cosmere to reference, now, that you know about. So you will get lots of cool inside references through both of those.
But the way the core narratives are designed, they are very good entry points to the Cosmere, particularly Secret Project One and Three, I would say. Secret Project Four is the one that is more requiring of some Cosmere knowledge. It is, again, written in a way that you don't need any, but it is the one that's focused on a character you've seen before, and that character's backstory is relevant, and you will get more out of it by having read some things.
Basically, if you have never read any of my books before, this is a safe Kickstarter to back. But it's also me allowing myself more references than I used to put in, shall we say. And you'll see, on Thursday, some of what I mean by that. Because Thursday will make it clear that there is at least one very big reference that is relevant.
Will you let us know what Cosmere books to read before?
Yes. Really, again, only Secret Project Four would really benefit from that. The rest of them, they'll be, but I can let you know. The other two will reference worldbuilding elements pretty consistently from around the Cosmere, here and there, but not in ways (hopefully) that are distracting.
I will say that Lost Metal is a little more Cosmere-aware than any book I've done before. So that's the one that I would say: be up to date on some of your other Cosmere series before you read, particularly one of the novellas in particular, shall we say. It is hard to talk around those. When Lost Metal comes out, for those who want to be spoiled a little bit more, I can mention which that is. But let's just say that if you have read Arcanum Unbounded, you have read the main reference point that you would want to know for Lost Metal.
Scouts will pole-vault across chasms where they cannot leap them. Bridge crews portage and push (lift! run! drop! push!) their bridges across.
The maximum chasm width a Sadeas bridge can cover is about 15', perhaps a bit more with the right staging. This doesn't sound like much, until you consider that the goal is to move an army. Even small gaps of as little as 3-5 feet need to be bridged when you're going to march a few thousand men and materiel across them and you don't wish to get held up.
During bridge assaults, multiple bridge crews are sent in at the same time in order to divide enemy response. Parshendi will fire at the crews with arrows, but they need to withstand covering fire at the same time (with little coverage of their own) and they are not carrying a wealth of arrows (fletching and shafts being hard to source on Roshar, especially without soulcasting) so they do run out of ammunition.
And still, running a bridge crew is considered a death sentence. It's incredibly dangerous, deadly work. And it is meant to be so, Sadeas uses it as a punitive threat for discipline in his own warcamp and considers the bridgemen to be human shields, absorbing arrows that might otherwise be shot at someone useful (by his standards).
The main advantage to a Sadeas bridge is speed of deployment. He can get his troops out and across the Plains faster than almost anyone else using any other method (Dalinar's siege-bridges are much safer for the troops and engineers, but they advance at a painfully slow pace). And this speed of action is of the greatest importance, when you consider that the goal of the Shattered Plains War is not the elimination of Parshendi, but the acquisition of gemhearts.
Are the maps you depict in the books drawn by in-world characters?
Yes, they are. A lot of them come from unnamed cartographers, and then Nazh goes to the world (usually at Khriss's behest) and goes and finds these things. I think occasionally Nazh has done his own maps, or he's drawn them based on maps that he's seen, but he's not principally a cartographer. He goes and finds things.
He's a grumpy secret agent, as how Isaac has described him.
He's an old grump.
Usually I'm think about who would be drawing this map, and for whom. In the new maps that we did for the Elantris tenth anniversary edition, the ones that are done for the Fjordell Empire, they were done by cartographers who are worried that if they don't do this right, they might lose their head or be thrown in prison or something like that, and so they artificially inflate, maybe, the landmass of the Empire, those sorts of things.
So I'm thinking about that, and then you can do fun things. 'Cause throughout history... I mean, maps have started wars. You draw a line on a map and you say "this is where one thing starts and another thing begins" and people dispute it. There was a whole thing about when Pakistan was separated from India, and somebody drew a line on a map and set a date and said "this is the time when Pakistan will be Pakistan and India will be India" and then, like, a million people died in the war that came after that. So I'm thinking about these things when I make the maps, because it's a relic of history on the worlds. It's a way to really flesh out more of the worldbuilding.
And you can find all kinds of little easter eggs in that regard in a lot of the maps that Isaac does and commissions.
That's sort of the working title. I'm still kind of in the back of my head thinking if we can find something that's White Sand and still has that same cadence so it feels like it... I mean, calling it The Arcanist is good because it will be Khriss's story. We follow Kenton in this one, I think the back half to this story would need to be Khriss going back to Darkside and figuring out what to do with the Emperor there and saving her town.
The status? I have a lot of notes for that.
He's writing Boatload of Mummies right now. So the status is: finish Boatload of Mummies, release Boatload of Mummies, decide what he wants to do next in the Cosmere. 'Cause Isaac's got the do-what-he-would-like-in-the-Cosmere ticket.
The one that I'm really excited and might wind up doing after this, and I'm not gonna give too much on it, but I love the title of it. But it would be set on Scadrial and be called Son of Bones. That's the one that I would really like to write after Boatload of Mummies if it turns out okay.
Been getting back into my book, writing Nicki Savage. I started reading it to Kara, and it got me out of a slump, 'cause it got me excited again.
Boatload of Mummies. That won't be on the front of the book, just the back of the book. It's basically Death on the Nile mixed with The Mummy mixed with King Kong with no King Kong set in the Mistborn universe with a side character that's mentioned in a newspaper.
You once said that you want to explore in your books how humans change in their behavior and personality when living several hundred or a thousand years. Many of these characters in your books go mad: for example, the Heralds or the Lord Ruler. But still, Hoid seems as "normal" as someone can be after such a long time. Is there any reason why he didn't become "mad"?
It's more that what happened to the others, something is wrong, if that makes sense. What's going with the Heralds, the supernatural madness of the Heralds is related to their specific situation. With the Lord Ruler, I don't think what happened to the Lord Ruler... His is a really interesting situation. I would say that it is not supernatural; it is his isolationist attitude, the pressures placed upon him, and things like that. It's a very normal type of mental... I don't want to call it mental illness, but you know what I mean. A conventional mental illness, if you will, exacerbated by extreme periods spent alone and isolating self. And that's where you get what happened to him.
How many future Cosmere books have you already decided the title for? Are you planning on having another title for Era Three and Four like Wax and Wayne?
This is a great question. I've decided a bunch of titles, but I don't really decide titles. Like, Dragonsteel will be called Dragonsteel, the series. I don't know if the first book is still going to be called Liar of Partinel or not; I have to write the book and figure it out. I'm less pleased with that title the more time I get from it. And what are various series gonna be called, and things like that. With Mistborn, it's really interesting because the publisher would like to just kind of do, not a full rebranding, but they don't want to go out big with Mistborn Eight and be like "The Eighth Book in a Series!" because they don't want to be intimidating to new readers. And they still worry that Wax and Wayne was a little too intimidating to readers of the original series. They want to find some way to market it in which it says, "This is just a cool new series from Brandon. By the way, it is in the Mistborn world." That's how they would like it to be marketed. So I don't know what we'll end up calling the series of it, if it'll have Mistborn in the series title, if it's not gonna have... No idea yet. That's all marketing stuff. If you're on this stream, it won't really matter to you, because you know what it is. But it's to the people that may not know what it is. If all things go well and we have a Mistborn film coming out in three years or whatever, and Tor has a brand-new Mistborn series in hand, what do they want to do with marketing that?
Do you regret setting the precedent that Stormlight books are as big as they are?
Nope. They are the length I want them to be, and I have always said to people these will be at the length that I want them to be. I view them as thousand-page epics: that's how I plot them, that's how I pace them, that's how I want them to be. If I changed my mind, I would let you all know, but I have never felt constrained by that. I have more felt constrained by the realities of publishing and how long I can get before the presses break.
And I'm much more comfortable with that now that I know I can do hundred-thousand word novels that are tight and things like Skyward or Bands of Mourning (instead of the new one, because the new one's 150), but the fact that I can do that and I can do novellas that are tight means that I can with confidence say that I'm writing the Stormlight books at the length they deserve to be, not at an artificially inflated length, if that makes sense.
Correct me if I'm wrong; I might be conflating stories. At one point, you had considered making each of the books three different books, right? Or breaking them up?
No. I plot them, in order to be able to put this all together, I plot them as three. Not as three different books, but as a trilogy intended to be read together without breaks between it. But that helps me conceptualize how to build it. The fifth one will not be built that way, though, as I was alluding to earlier. It will be built someway else, and I will tell you about that when we get closer to it and after I make sure that this structure is working.
Who will be the main interlude character in Stormlight Five?
Stormlight Five is Szeth as the main interlude character. Flashbacks of Szeth's childhood intermixed with Szeth in the modern day.
How many times have humans been created and/or evolved in the cosmere? We know it's at least two, but could it be more?
It could be more. And I won't put a definite number on it, because that would lock me into not being able to change my mind if I come up with a world where it makes sense.
A lot of things changed for certain characters between Warbreaker and Stormlight. Will we get any of that story in future Stormlight books, or do we have to wait until Nightblood?
You probably are gonna have to wait until Nightblood. There is a chance I'll do some Vasher stuff in Stormlight to catch you up. It's gonna depend on how long it takes to get to Nightblood, and various things like that. I have plans to find a place for some of this if I can't get to Nightblood in time. But most of it, I'm hoping, will be able to be in the Warbreaker sequel.
What Radiant Order would Khriss be in?
Khriss could fit into several different Radiant Orders. She's most obviously Elsecaller, but I don't want Elsecallers to be the only scholar Order. That's the thing to keep in mind; in fact, there could be a scholar in basically any Order.
The thing about the Orders is, I don't necessarily want the Knights Radiant Orders to be too restrictive. I don't want them to be Harry Potter houses, in other words. What do I mean by that? I don't want them to be too exclusive to anyone who would want to be in them. The number one thing that's going to determine what Order you would be in is what Order you would want to be in and whether you jive with the spren of that Order in the right way. And it's possible that you won't be able to just jive with the spren, and it wouldn't work out, but it's not like "All the brave ones go into this Order, and all the nerdy ones go into this Order." That's not how I want to run it. I want to kind of run these based on the Truths that you're speaking, the Oaths that you're speaking, what those mean to you, what you're trying to do. And some of those aren't going to be archetypal: the whole idea of protecting, or things like that.
I could make a pretty good argument for Khriss in Lightweaver. I could make a pretty good argument for Khriss in Truthwatcher. You could make good arguments for a good half the Orders for any given character, and that's how I want it to be.
When Raboniel said "For Ado's sake," was she referring to Ba-Ado-Mishram or Adonalsium?
Leatherbounds. Will Skyward be part of that?
There are plans to eventually do Skyward. Here's the thing: we have the rights. Reckoners, we don't have the rights on. So we would like to maybe do a Reckoners one, but we would have to go to the publisher and work out the rights. By the time we signed for Skyward, we knew this was a thing we loved to do, so we just included it in the contract. So Skyward is actually more likely than Steelheart, even though Steelheart came out first. Though I would like to do both of them eventually.
The primary Cosmere stories are our focus, and so it remains to be seen whether we will have the resources in-house to put together other books. We would like to. We are not promising them.
So far in the Cosmere we have seen different kinds of stories that fit a wide variety of genres across many different worlds. Was the Cosmere intentionally built specifically to be this open-ended sandbox that you can play in? Or is that something that happened more over time as you came up with more and more stories that you might be able to tell in there?
It's a little of both. You have to go back to the fact that, before I published, I write these thirteen novels and got very experienced at the idea of telling new worlds and new stories, and that's part of what excites me. And I built the Cosmere specifically to be able to tell different kinds of stories. Now, as I've matured as an author, there are stories that have occurred to me to tell that may not have occurred to me when I was younger, and I wouldn't have realized that I would want the space to tell. But I always was aware that this is something that I like to do and that the structure that I built should allow me that flexibility and freedom.
And I also am very aware, and have been from the beginning, that I didn't want to tell the same story over and over. In fact, once I wrote Dragonsteel (which, we'll release Dragonsteel Prime for the Words of Radiance Kickstarter; you guys'll be able to read it), it has more of a classic fantasy farmboy goes on an adventure story than I've generally done in my other books. And I wrote that, and the cosmerenauts or the lore keepers or the Arcanists who watch the things I've said know that the only book I abandoned out of those thirteen was book number nine, which was the book I started right after I wrote Dragonsteel. And I found myself writing kind of the same story again, another similar feel, similar vibe, of this kind of more classic fantasy tropes. And I actually abandoned it, and the main reason I did is I was like "I've done this story. I'm not going to do this story again. I don't want to be telling the same archetype over and over again." I do like taking a stab at an archetype, a lot of times, even if it's a well-worn one; I think that that's fun. But I don't want to be doing it over and over. I want to do it once really well and then move on. So that is why I think I could have even said early on that I would have known that sub-genre hopping was a thing taht I was going to be doing a lot of.
Is there a character in either the Stormlight or Mistborn series that you feel you underdeveloped and wished you had spent more time on?
Usually, when I run into situations like this, I just write a story about them. Are there characters I wish I had time to write more stories about? Yes. I wish, for instance, I had time to write more stories about all of Bridge Four. There are plenty of characters in Bridge Four that you just barely even get their names, because there's so many people to track. And there's, of course, Kaladin and the core team, but I would have liked to have been able to spend more time (and maybe someday I will) fleshing out more of those characters. There's that.
I think Dockson could have used a little more time in Mistborn, maybe, but that's something I would do with a short story. Though, there are things I might change going back, I don't think expanding anyone's story is something that I would do if I were to rewrite the books. That's my instinct.