How did Spook die?
That's a RAFO. There's your card.
How did Spook die?
That's a RAFO. There's your card.
When can we get a Herald of War perspective?
You've gotten one really brief one. You really won't get them until starting around book six. So, you got a little bit left. Taln is a main character in the back five books, but he's only kinda just a tangential character in the first ones.
The black glass beads in Shadesmar on Roshar. If you could somehow get that material into the Physical Realm, would it hold stormlight?
So, that's a RAFO. Because getting stuff out of the Cognitive Realm into the Physical Realm is a different matter from taking stuff from the Physical Realm to the Cognitive.
Well, you don't have to weigh in on whether they could get it to the Physical Realm.
Still a RAFO!
With Adhesion you can use it to either create negative pressure and stick two things together, or you can manipulate to create pressure bubbles around you, like Kal did facing down the storm. Or say with Gravitation, you can either do a Basic Lashing and change the direction gravity is acting on something, or you can do a Reverse Lashing and change the-- and have something with its own gravity field. So I was wondering then, if that is possibly caused by Pushing and Pulling on Surges?
Yes, that is a legitimate interpretation.
Is Ingenuity a Shard?
Umm... *long pause* Maybe. *smiles slyly*
Did the Aimians want Aimia to be Scoured?
No. But, doesn't mean that they--some of them may have seen what happened as necessary. But certainly that was not a prevailing thing.
Do you need a perfect gemstone to imprison an Unmade or a powerful spren?
Yeah. Well, the stronger the spren, the better the gemstone needs to be. Those flaws in the crystal structure are going to lead to leaking if it's not. But an Unmade requires an extra-special level of perfection.
At JordanCon, you said that Gavilar's black sphere was something that, "It's what you expect it to be." Does that mean that it's holding an Unmade?
Not necessarily. Voidlight can be trapped like Stormlight can. Unmade can be trapped like spren can. Does not mean that the sphere has an Unmade.
Is there a feminine Alethi nickname that means gift or blessing?
Yes, but I'd have to go look at the dictionary.
Is that dictionary purchasable?
No, but if you email me, we can hunt through it and see what we can find.
Can we get a small, just a small tidbit or a reveal of what Marasi is going to be doing in The Lost Metal?
So, opening scene of The Lost Metal is her and Wayne. It's a couple of years later and Wax is basically retired to <a thing> and Wayne is her deputy now instead, mainly so she can keep him channeled in the right direction.
The Cognitive aspect of an object is the way that the object views itself and others view it. Say the Vessel of a Shard started to view their power in a somewhat different way than when they first got that power, and the people on the planet also start to view it that way. Would the intent/mandate of that Shard be altered by that changes?
Within some limitations, yes. Certain Shards--certain Vessels believe it can go further than others believe it can go. But there is at least some wiggle room there.
When you're sad, would a seon, especially when you're a kid, would it like nuzzle you and tell you nice things?
It would definitely tell you nice things. Seons barely have any weight to them, and touch, and so nuzzling is not a natural instinct, I would say, for them... But they will definitely comfort you.
Okay. So they're not born?
No, not really anymore. They were all created kind of around the same point.
I'm a geologist. I was wondering does Scadrial have tectonics the way Earth does?
Yes. Scadrial does have tectonics. Roshar doesn't. I think it's the only one I built that doesn't, because of some specific things. But yes, Scadrial tectonic.
*inaudible* also storing Stormlight. Did you decide the value of the gems first?
So I actually retrofitted it. What we looked at is how much food does it create, how much is that equivalency in our world, what factors do we need to change, and things like that. And we retrofitted how much things were worth. There's also a measurement in there of how much-- amount of Stormlight there is and how much that is worth, how much energy and work that can do.
I assign other people to do a lot of that these days. I say, "Here is the situation I want, run the math on this and come back and tell me how much I may use here or there."
Was Syl starting to bond with Tien before he died?
No, good question. But Tien was starting to bond a different spren.
I was suspecting that he was bonding a spren, but then Syl says, at one point, I think she was familiar with Kaladin's hometown, so I was like, maybe!
Good question, but no, he was going in a different direction.
Can you tell me--
If you store one type of Investiture in a nicrosilmind, for example, if you store Stormlight, could you retrieve it as another type?
It's possible. It's not quite as simple as you might think.
Will we be seeing more of Axies the Collector?
Yes, but briefly. Axies probably won't get another-- Maybe there'll be another interlude from Axies' viewpoint. Maybe. He's just around to have fun.
He told me he consults with several people who are well versed in psychology when he tries to portray anything along these lines. He did say (and this goes along with other statements already made) that his intention was not to have Shallan diagnosed with DID like Kaladin is with Depression. He did take some ideas from the disorder to use in the story, but he didn't intend for her to be set into a specific mental illness category. Like we said before, Brandon's focus was mainly on the magical consequences, which makes her case weird anyways.
What are the official colors of the Alethi Highprinces?
(From the internal Dragonsteel wiki)
Can you put the Cosmere books into [chronological] order?
Here is the order that I have publicly confirmed. There are obviously other books and stories fitting in there. For those, you’ll just need to RAFO.
Knowing that you have already stated that the Listeners aren't originally of Odium or of Cultivation. Is it possible that they could actually originally be of what opposes Adonalsium?
I'm going to have to RAFO your question; good question though.
I have a Reddit PM WOB that says the Terris were given Feruchemy as a gift, and that Brandon may get into how that occurred at some point.
It was more of a gift than an accident, but I do plan to someday dig into it more.
How do your fans react to your being a member of the Church?
It's hard to say because I think most of my fans don't care one way or the other. The vocal ones send me e-mails, though. Occasionally, I get messages from people who say, "Hey, I'm not a member of your faith, but it's cool that you have one, and thanks for writing, and I appreciate your books." I've also received more than several e-mails from LDS people who are very pleased with the books and happy to see an LDS writer who produces works they can enjoy. Sometimes I have received e-mails from people who are not proponents of the LDS faith who challenge me on my beliefs. I'm a debater, but not an arguer, though, and I think the difference is that as a debater, if I feel that my side has been presented adequately, I'm not going to feel bad if people disagree with me. So when I respond to e-mails like that, I say something along the lines of, "Hey, here's why I believe what I do. Here's what the basis of my faith is. Here's why I believe in this doctrine that you are challenging. You don't have to believe in it. Believe what you want. But this is my reasoning." I think I usually have pretty good logic and every time someone has responded to one of my reply e-mails, it's been positive. Most of the time, the person will send something back that says, "You know what, thanks for not actually getting into an argument. I was kind of in a bad mood when I sent that and thank you for being respectful." I think being respectful will get you much further than getting into arguments will. I have had universally good experiences with people reacting to my LDS faith, even on such charged topics.
Do you ever plan to write any works dealing with Mormon characters?
I've considered it. The thing, though, is that since I tend to write high fantasy, which entails other worlds that are completely unrelated to this one, there haven't been many opportunities to create one. I've been tempted a couple of times, and if I do end up doing it, it would probably be in a science fiction setting or more of an urban fantasy setting. Nothing is ruled out, though, except that I'm pretty soundly involved in the high fantasy epic genre right now. I haven't done it, but who knows if I will?
Are there any other projects that you're currently working on?
Right now I'm working on a children's series. It's a middle-grade series, a genre targeted at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. Even though it's marketed for that age group, I wrote it for anyone to read. It's a more humorous fantasy series about a kid named Alcatraz who discovers that librarians secretly rule the world. He's part of this family whose members all have really silly magical powers that they use to fight the librarians. For example, his grandpa's superpower is the ability to arrive late to appointments. They use these powers in fun and interesting ways to resist the librarians' control of the world. They are very fun books and have actually been optioned by DreamWorks for a movie. We're hoping that it ends up getting made. The website for the series is evillibrarians.com, and it should be going live in just a short period of time. It will feature a blog written by the evil librarians griping about Alcatraz and his family.
I also have a standalone book that will be released this summer called Warbreaker. I've posted all of the drafts for it on my website. That way people can download and read it, and then if they like it, they can go out and buy it when it's available. It's coming out in June in hardcover. After that, I'll be working on the final book for the Wheel of Time series, and from there I'll be starting a new multi-volume series called The Way of Kings.
Do you plan on writing any other books that feature allomancy?
It's possible. When I write a series, I imagine it in my head as a certain length, and I generally keep to it. But that doesn't mean that I won't revisit the world for new stories. The story of the characters in the Mistborn books is done; the trilogy is finished. If I were going to write more in this world, I would either go forward in time or backward in time, which unfortunately makes it so I'm not as likely to write one. Not that I would be opposed to approaching the Mistborn world in a new way and telling a series of new stories—there were still some holes in allomancy by the end of the books which were intentionally left there in case I did want to revisit it. So, it's definitely possible. But with The Wheel of Time on my plate, I can't promise when or if it will ever happen.
You mentioned that one of your most popular series is the Mistborn trilogy. How did those books come about?
The evolution of a novel is such a complicated, complex, and strange creative process that it's hard to step people through it. I don't think even I can fully comprehend it. But by the time I was writing the Mistborn books, I was in a different situation with my career. I'd sold Elantris by that point and the publisher was saying, "We want something else from you." Rather than taking one of the thirteen books that I'd written before, I wanted to write something new. I wanted to give people my newest and best work. At that point I had time to sit down and ask myself, "What do I want to be the hallmark of my career? What am I going to add to the genre?" I want to write fantasy that takes steps forward and lets me take the genre in some interesting direction. At first I wanted to play with some of the stereotypes of the genre. That's a dangerous thing, though, because, as any deconstructionalist will tell you, when you start playing with stereotypes, you start relying on something that you want to undermine, and that puts you on shaky ground. I was in danger of just becoming another cliché. A lot of times when people want to twist something in a new way, they don't twist it enough and end up becoming part of the cliché that they were trying to redefine. But I really did want to try this and went forward with it anyway.
A lot of fantasy relies heavily on the Campbellian Monomyth. This is the idea focusing on the hero's journey. Since the early days of fantasy, it's been a big part of the storytelling, and in my opinion it's become a little bit overused. The hero's journey is important as a description of what works in our minds as people—why we tell the stories we do. But when you take the hero's journey and say, "I'm going to make this a checklist of things I need to do to write a great fantasy novel," your story goes stale. You start to mimic rather than create. Because I'd seen a lot of that, I felt that one of the things I really wanted to do was to try to turn the hero's journey on its head. I had been looking at the Lord of the Rings movies and the Lord of the Rings books and the Harry Potter books, and I felt that because of their popularity and success, a lot of people were going to be using this paradigm even more—the unknown protagonist with a heart of gold and some noble heritage who goes on a quest to defeat the dark lord. So I thought to myself, "What if the dark lord won? What if Frodo got to the end in Lord of the Rings and Sauron said, 'Thanks for bringing my ring back. I really was looking for it,' and then killed him and took over the world? What if book seven of Harry Potter was Voldemort defeating Harry and winning?" I didn't feel that this story had ever really been approached in the way I was imagining it, and it became one idea that bounced around in my head for quite a while.
Another idea I had revolved around my love of the classic heist genre. Whether it's Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery or the movies Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job, there are these great stories that deal with a gang of specialists who are trying to pull off the ultimate heist. This is the kind of feat which requires them to all work together and use their talents. I hadn't ever read a fantasy book that dealt with that idea in a way that satisfied me or that really felt like it got it down. So that bounced in my head for a while as well.
One more of the ideas for the Mistborn series happened when I was driving home to see my mom. She lives in Idaho Falls, and after passing Tremonton on the I-15, I just went through this fog bank driving at seventy miles an hour. Even though my car was actually driving into the fog, it looked like the mist was moving around me instead of me moving through it. It was just this great image that I wrote down in my notebook years before I ended up writing Mistborn.
After a while, all these different ideas, like atoms, were bouncing around in my head and eventually started to run together to form molecules (the molecules being the story). Keep in mind, a good book is more than just one good idea. A good book is twelve or thirteen or fourteen great ideas that all play off of each other in ways that create even better ideas. There were my two original ideas—a gang of thieves in a fantasy world, and a story where the dark lord won—that ended up coming together and becoming the same story. Suddenly I had a world where the prophecies were wrong, the hero had failed, and a thousand years later a gang of thieves says, "Well, let's try this our way. Let's rob the dark lord silly and drive his armies away from him. Let's try to overthrow the empire." These are all the seeds of things that make bigger ideas.
After I outlined the book, it turned out to be quite bit longer than I expected, and I then began working through those parts that weren't fully developed yet, changing some things. I ended up downplaying the heist story in the final version of the book, despite the fact that it was a heist novel in one of my original concepts. But as I was writing it, I felt that if I was going to make it into a trilogy, I needed the story to have more of an epic scope. The heist was still there, and still the important part of the book, but it kind of became the setting for other, bigger things in the story, such as the epic coming-of-age of one of the characters, the interactions between the characters, and dealing with the rise and fall of the empire. But that happens in the process of writing. Sometimes the things that inspire you to begin a story in the first place eventually end up being the ones that are holding it back. Allomancy, the magic system in the book, was a separate idea that came about through these revisions.
I wrote the books in the trilogy straight through. I had the third one rough drafted by the time the first one had to be in its final form so that I could keep everything consistent and working together the way I wanted it to. I didn't want it to feel like I was just making it up as I went along, which I feel is one of the strengths of the series. I don't know if I'll ever be able to have that opportunity again in a series, but it certainly worked well for the Mistborn books.
Your books don't have overtly Mormon characters in them, but they do contain many recognizable Mormon elements—especially in book three of the Mistborn trilogy, The Hero of Ages. How do you feel that your faith has influenced your writing?
Being an author, the story is what is most important to me. Theme and message are really secondary. I don't go into a book saying, "I'm going to write a book about this." In other words, I don't want to preach with my books. What I want to do is have compelling, realistic characters who care about different things. Some care about religion, others don't. By writing compelling characters who care about issues, I realize that what the characters care about tends to be influenced by what I care about. As for my faith, it is what primarily influences me because it makes me interested in certain topics. For instance, religion does tend to be a theme in my books. Yet if you read Elantris, my first published work, the religious figure was the primary antagonist. People have asked me, "Brandon, you're religious—why are you painting religion so poorly in this book?" And my answer for them is that I'm not painting religion poorly. The misuse of religion is one of the things that scares me the most in life. Someone who is taking faith and twisting it and manipulating it is doing one of the most purely evil things that someone can do, in my opinion.
With the Mistborn books, I wasn't ever trying to be overtly LDS. Yet my values shape who I am and what I determine to be important. I then end up having characters who deal with these same things, and I think there are a lot of LDS things going on. But of course I think there are a lot of Buddhist things going on as well. I served my mission in Korea and have a lot of respect for the Buddhist religion. Because of that, I think some elements of Buddhism show up in my writing. Not because I set out to say, "Okay, I'm going to use Buddhism here," but because it seems to happen when I'm developing a character who cares about something. That's one of the tricks about being a writer.
One of my main goals is that any time I put a character in whose beliefs are different from mine, I want to make sure that I'm making them realistic, that I'm painting their ideas and philosophies as accurately as possible. I think it's important for all authors to make their characters actually feel real and not just portray them as talking heads who are there to learn a lesson. Another author, Robert Jordan, once said that he loved it when his books made people ask questions, but that he didn't want to give them the answers—he believed that they should come up with their own. That's what I try to do, too.
How does your website fit into your work as a writer?
I want to do the things for my readers that I wish I had had as a reader, and the Internet gives us this wonderful opportunity to do them. We really couldn't connect with readers in the same way before. The other thing is that fantasy is a small-selling genre compared to some others. That may surprise people because it's so popular, but it's only popular among readers. It's not as popular among non-readers. Most people who buy books are buying either romance novels (most often because they buy only those kinds of books or they're grabbing something as they move through the airport) or they are buying a non-fiction book because it was suggested to them, and it tends to be the only book they buy that year. Because of all this, we fantasy authors depend on loyal readers who buy all of our books. We may have a smaller fan base, but our fans are much more dedicated, much more loyal. If fantasy readers really like an author, they will search out books by that author and read everything that they've produced. They will support you. They'll even buy the books in hardcover if they really like them. Because of things like this, I think it's appropriate to do a lot of outreach to readers—to give them a lot for their money. I mean, if someone buys one of my books in hardcover, that's almost thirty bucks they're spending, and I feel like I should do whatever I can to make that book the best experience for them possible.
My number one goal is always to write a really fantastic book. But I can give some added value by saying, "Here are chapter-by-chapter annotations," which are kind of like a director's commentary on a DVD; or if you're an aspiring writer yourself, "Here are some drafts so you can see how this book progressed and how I came up with the plot." All of these are things that I want to do to reward the people who are willing support me and actually go out and find my books. In a lot of ways, I think about it like this: in the past, for an artist to survive, they would have to have a wealthy patron. The patron would financially provide their living so that the artist could create this great art. We do a lot of the same things now, except the patron is the buying public. All the people that read my books are my patrons. It's because of them that I get to do what I love for a living. I feel indebted to them, and I want to make sure I give them everything to enhance their reading experience.
You have many blog posts and podcasts about the writing process and getting published. Could you touch on a few of the core things would-be authors should do?
I would say that the first and most important thing for an author is to learn to write consistently. It's just so important. A lot of people say they want to be writers but don't actually write, or they just write here and there. You can't expect to be a master at something when you first try it. Even if you're pretty good at it, you're still not a master. So just write something. Write a book, edit it, start sending it off, and then immediately start writing something else. Give yourself time to learn to love the process and learn to become a professional, because if you really want this, then you need to act like one. The way you do that is you learn to make yourself write. You need to learn how to deal with writer's block, too. It happens to all of us and we all deal with it in different ways, but you have to find what works for you and how to get yourself to produce.
You don't need to be writing as fast as I did. I just absolutely love the process, and one of my big hang-ups early on was that I wouldn't edit my books. That's part of what took me so long. When I'd get done with a book, I'd say, "Yeah, I learned a lot from that; let me see what I can do now," then I was always excited about the next new idea. I always thought, "Oh the next one's going to be really good." But because of that mentality, I never gave the books that I did finish the credit or polish work that they deserved. It wasn't until I learned to start editing and revising that I got published. The first book I sold, Elantris, was actually the one that went through the largest number of revisions. Learn what works for you.
Another big thing I want to mention is that you shouldn't try to write just toward the market—write toward yourself. Write something that you would love to read. It's good to be aware of what's happening in the market and what types of stories are out there and who else is writing books like that so that you can better explain what you're writing. What you don't want to do is say to yourself, "Teenage girl vampire romances are selling really well—I'm going to write one of those," unless you happen to really love writing teenage girl vampire romances. If you write a good book, someone out there will want to read it, and someone will want to buy it and produce it for those people. Not all genres are as viable marketwise as others. But again, you can't just say, "This sells well, so I'm going to write it," unless you happen to really like what happens to sell well.
How did you get your start as a published author?
By this time, I had already written about twelve or thirteen novels, which I was trying to market for publishing. I was still working the graveyard shift at the hotel, and eventually one of the manuscripts that I'd sent somewhere got me a callback from an editor who had finally looked at my manuscript and wanted to buy it. I actually got the phone call as a voicemail. It was from an editor that I'd sent a book to eighteen months before. By that time I had pretty much given up on it; eighteen months is a lot longer than you expect for them to ever get back to you. You figure, "Okay, it's either lost or they didn't like it and just rejected it but forgot to send you a letter." It's a funny story, though. The one who gave it to the person who finally contacted me was actually an agent I had met and talked to at a convention. He said to me then, "Oh, you seem so nice," and later told me that it was because I was such a nice guy that he didn't want to just reject the book without looking at it. I guess that got me lots of points, because he sat on it for all those eighteen months before he eventually looked at it. But by then all my contact info was wrong, because during the time that I had sent the book out, I had moved and had AOL get rid of my e-mail address because I stopped paying for the service. I had also purchased a cell phone, so my phone number was no longer accurate. So this person, who would later become my editor, had to google me. He found my contact information on my BYU grad student page, which fortunately I had kept up-to-date, and when he called me, the voicemail said, "Hi, I don't know if this is the right Brandon Sanderson, but if it is, you sent me a manuscript about eighteen months ago, and I finally started looking at it last night. I got a few hundred pages into it, and I knew I had to call you and make sure it's still available, because I think I want to buy it."
I called him back, and then I called the agent that I had met, because it seemed like his editorial style matched mine. He handled the contract negotiations, and I became an author. I quit my graveyard shift job, taught freshman English composition in between to keep me going while we were waiting for the books to actually come out, and fortunately I've never had to go and get another real job. I've always worried I would have to.
How did you become interested in being a writer?
My start as a writer can be traced back to when I was fourteen years old. I was not a very distinguished student, so to speak: Bs and Cs in all my classes. I really didn't have any direction, either; there was nothing I really loved to do. I was also what they call a "reluctant reader". My reading skills were not fantastic, so when I tried reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, it was just completely over my head, and I assumed that all fantasy novels were boring. It was a teacher who handed me the very first fantasy novel I ever really finished reading. The book was called Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, and it had this gorgeous Michael Whelan cover on it which immediately caught my eye. I read the book and absolutely fell in love with it. I became an avid reader, mostly of fantasy novels, over the next couple of years. Soon I began to think, "You know, somebody out there is making a living at this, and it seems like it's something that I would really enjoy doing." That's when I found some purpose and direction.
There were certain influences in my life, my mother primarily, who convinced me that being a writer was hard to do, and she was right. It's one of these jobs where not everybody who tries it actually makes it. She convinced me to go into chemistry during college because I had done well in the sciences all throughout high school, thinking I could write in my spare time and have a real, solid job. It wasn't terrible advice; I'm just not sure it was the right advice for me at that time. I served a mission and during that time I was very, very pleased to be on another continent, away from chemistry. I really missed writing, though, because I'd been doing it for fun all through that freshman year before I left. I actually started my first novel when I was fifteen, but it didn't go anywhere. It was rather derivative and all those things that you expect from the majority of novels written by guys in high school. Knowing I could actually produce something, though, gave me some encouragement. Of course I didn't show it to anybody. I hid it behind the painting in my room because I didn't want anyone to see the pages I'd printed out and make fun of me.
When I got back from my mission, I thought, "You know what? I'm going to give it a try." It sounds kind of stupid, but like I said, there are people that get to do this for a living, and I decided that I was never going to be happy unless I gave it a shot. So I changed my major to English because I assumed that's what you did if you wanted to be a writer. I've since learned that that's not the only way to go about it, but it did work for me. It gave me a much better grounding in the classics. I was able to take some creative writing classes too, as a part of my required credits. I got a job working the graveyard shift at a hotel, which was great for my writing because I was there most weeknights from 11 pm until 7 am, and the only requirements that they put me to were, "Just don't fall asleep. Do whatever you want, just don't fall asleep. We need you awake in case there's an emergency or if anyone comes in." I ended up spending a lot of my time working on novels during those early morning hours, and that's how I was able to pay for school, attend it full-time, and still have time for writing. I did that for about five years until I eventually decided that I would go back for a master's degree. It was sort of a way to delay having to make the inevitable decision of what I was really going to do with my life. My backup career then became working as an English professor, partially because I do enjoy teaching, and I enjoy scholarship on the academic level. My parents were worried about me, though. They were afraid that I was going to end up begging for beans on the side of the road, or whatever it is that starving artists do. At least being able to tell them that I was getting a master's degree was helpful. It was also nice to be part of a community of writers and to be able to see what other people were creating.
From your experience teaching creative writing, what is some advice you give your students?
The biggest piece of advice I would give them is: You just gotta finish stuff. A lot of people want to be writers. And a lot of people have really great ideas. And get their great ideas together and say, "Wow! I think this could be a book." Then they start on it and for various reasons, they stop. One of the main reasons is they get discouraged because it's not turning out as they want it to turn out, or they get distracted by another really great idea they've just had, or they want to go back and keep revising this initial stuff that they've written. And you've got to finish. You won't understand how to be a writer until you actually finish a book. And you've got to remember that nobody starts off being perfect. And it's that process of writing books that aren't so good that teaches you how to write books that are good. No one expects to sit down and play the piano perfectly the first time. Yet a lot of people sit down and try to write the perfect book the first time. So, my biggest piece of advice to them is: Sit down, write, finish a book. And that will teach you how to write a good book.
And your Mistborn series, like you said, it is more serious. Tell us a little bit about the Mistborn series.
Okay. One of the things I felt that I wanted to do, when I finally did break in, was find some way that I could add to the genre, rather than re-treading the same ground. I felt that I wanted to try and look at the fantasy genre and do plots that hadn't been explored yet. And the Mistborn books are my attempt at doing that.
A lot of epic fantasy has this same sort of concept. This young protagonist, raised in the rural area goes on a quest to defeat the dark lord. And it's a wonderful, powerful story; it's the story that Tolkien used to an extent; it's certainly the story that Robert Jordan used, and you see it coming up over and over again in fantasy and I worried it had come up too many times. And so the Mistborn series came from me saying, "Well, what if he failed? What if this kid, this plucky protagonist, you know, went to save the world and it went all wrong?"
What if Frodo kept the ring? Or what if Sauron had killed him and taken the ring? What if Voldemort killed Harry Potter at the end of book seven? What happens? And the way that I approached this is saying, "Okay, that's happened. You've got your generic epic fantasy story that all happened, and the hero failed." Thousand years later, now what? And it focuses around a team of thieves who get together and decide, "Okay, the prophecies were lies, the hero didn't save us, the world is essentially enslaved. Let's try this our way." And their plot is to rob the dark lord silly, use the money they get to bribe his armies away from him, and over throw the empire. And that's Mistborn.
You know, Brandon, as you were talking about the Mistborn [series], you brought up some memories of my childhood. I don't remember what this series was, but I read this series that exactly was kind of like that: you know, the character is a normal person, he's great, throughout the series, but the very end, it doesn't all turn out right. He becomes evil and the series ends! And it haunted me. My whole life. And I still don't remember what the series was. I wish I would have remembered it, but . . . yeah, that's a very interesting concept and it doesn't happen very often.
I was tempted to actually do that. I felt that would have been too much of a downer. Which is why I jumped forward a thousand years and then used kind of flash backs to tell the story of what happened a thousand years ago, because it's not as clear cut as I've made it sound.
The other thing is I would have had to write it as a kind of more generic fantasy at the beginning and then take it other places, and I wasn't sure if I could do that because I don't know if my heart would have been in it, trying to write a fantasy that is more generic.
The other big thing I like to do with my books that I hope does something new and interesting is try to approach having interesting different types of magic. And I think the best fantasy books do this, and I wanted each book that people read of mine to have a new magic system. I like to write magic that feels like it could be a science, that in this world there's another branch of science that we don't have in our world, that if you explore and apply the scientific method to it, you can figure out how it works. And I tend to write stories where we've got people figuring out the magic. They're working in sort of a magical renaissance. That's the theme for my next series, The Way of Kings, which is what's going to be coming out next year, is the idea that we're living in a world where people are discovering the magic and bringing it back to the world and trying to figure out how it works and actually applying reason and science to it to get some hard numbers on what it can do and what it can't do.
Yeah! I know everybody is excited to talk about The Wheel of Time, but let's first talk, really quickly about your Mistborn and your Alcatraz series. 'Cause I think it's interesting to find out where you came from before you got into The Wheel of Time. From the title, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, I get the hint that it's little humorous. Tell us a little bit about that series.
Well, that series is targeted a little younger, but most of my fans of it are actually older people. It's a silly series about a kid who discovers that evil librarians secretly rule the world.
Yeah. Let me back up and kind of explain how I work as a writer. I spent many years trying to break in, as a lot of us do, and during that decades worth of time, about, I wrote 13 novels. I was working on my 13th novel when I sold my first novel which was Elantris.
A stand alone, epic fantasy. That was the sixth book I'd written. And then my next series was the Mistborn Trilogy, which you've mentioned. That was the first time where I had to sit down and write three books in the same world, which was actually pretty tough for me, to manage because I wasn't used to doing that. And after I'd written the second one, I needed to do something different. I needed to do something new. And so I jumped and wrote this book and in a lot of ways it was me riffing on what I do in my other fantasy books. You know, my epic fantasy, I think, takes itself very seriously as epic fantasy has to. And so I wanted to do something that poked some good-natured fun at that. And that's where Alcatraz came from.
Well, you do give a lot of advice, don't you? I mean you teach creative writing classes.
Do you still do that? Even with all this on your plate?
I still do it. But I only teach one class a year nowadays. So, it only lasts for about three months. But I feel a need to do that because it was in that class when I was an undergraduate, long ago, that I got the final bit of information I needed, it was the final kick in the pants, so to speak, to go get published.
It was taught by David Farland at the time who was just doing what I'm doing. He was a professional writer. He was just stepping in to teach the class for a few years. And he gave me real world publishing advice, gave the whole class real world publishing advice. A lot of creative writing classes are very touchy feely. That's a good thing; they'll talk about the feel of writing and how to grow a story and all of this stuff. But Dave was the first one that came in and said, "Look, you can do this for a living. I'm going to tell you how and we're going to talk about the nuts and bolts of creating a story." And that was wildly useful to me. And so I feel a need to go back, when I have the opportunity and explain to new writers, those same sorts of things.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve always wondered who “They” are, and if—by chance—they’ve never heard of Michael Whelan. Because my experience in life has been very different.
It’s been almost twenty years now since I first discovered Michael’s work. I was fourteen when it happened, and I was not a reader. I’d been handed a succession of novels about young boys living in the wilderness and taking care of their pet dogs. (Which would die by the end of the book.) I disliked reading with a passion. So, when my eighth-grade teacher assigned me to do a book report, I did everything I could to get out of it.
That failed. In fact, it failed so solidly that the teacher—unwilling to let me choose my own book to read, for fear I’d choose something not up my reading level—steered me to the back of the room, where she kept a group of ratty paperbacks to loan out to students. You probably know the type—ripped, stained by spaghetti sauce from cafeteria lunches, pages folded and worn. I was told I had to read one of these and had to do a book report on them—and she’d read them all, so she’d know if I tried to fake it.
Sullen and annoyed, I began to sift through the books. Most looked terrible. I resigned myself to another dead dog story, but then one of the books actually caught my eye. It had this vivid painting of a dragon standing in the mists, a woman held limply in its hand. Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. The painting was so beautiful, so realistic yet imaginative, that I snatched it up, actually a little eager to look through the pages. I ended up taking it home with me.
I read that book in one day. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever tried reading before. (I had never been introduced to fantasy novels.) Dragonsbane was amazing, challenging, imaginative, gripping, and beautiful all wrapped up in one. I remember a severe bout of disappointment upon finishing the book because I thought surely there couldn’t be anything else like it in the entire world.
Still, hopeful, I visited the school library the next day. I looked through the card catalog, and picked the next book—alphabetically by title—after Dragonsbane. It was called Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. I went and pulled it out, and was once again captivated by the cover. I took it home and read it.
My life changed. Now, we throw around sentences like that in writing, using them over and over again until they become as worn as the shoes of a traveling salesman—hardly capable of holding meaning any longer. But let me say it again. My life changed.
I devoured every Anne McCaffrey book in the school library. Suddenly, what I’d discovered in Dragonsbane wasn’t a single, freak event. There was a pattern. If two authors could do this, perhaps there were others. Hungry for more, I went to the bookstore and discovered there was an entire fantasy genre.
There were so many books. Which to choose? Dragons had treated me well so far, so I looked for some dragon books. And there, right on the shelf, was a beautiful book called Dragon Prince. I consumed it, and then everything else Melanie Rawn was writing.
What do these books all share? It wasn’t just the dragons; it was the covers. Each time, there was something dramatic and special about them. I now own prints of Dragonsbane and several of Melanie’s covers. All were painted by Michael Whelan.
By the time Tad Williams’ Dragonbone Chair came out, I could recognize Michael’s art on sight. And I also knew to trust it. It didn’t seem logical—you really shouldn’t be able to judge a book by its cover. But a Whelan cover became a seal of approval to me, a sign that the publisher trusted the book so much that they got the best person available to do the cover.
I can’t tell you all of the authors Whelan’s art led me to over the years: Patricia Mckillip, Joan D. Vinge, Stephen Donaldson, and even Asimov. (Yes, you read that right. I first picked up Asimov because Whelan had done the new Foundation covers.)
I remember when winter 1993 rolled around. My local bookseller noted to me that Whelan had a new art book coming out, one half dedicated to covers, one half dedicated to his fine art. It was the only thing I requested for Christmas, and my parents bought it for me despite the cost. I spent hours leafing through the wonderous, fantastic art. Those imagines sparked things in my mind. I was an author in embryo, absorbing, thinking, dreaming. One of the very first stories I ever wrote was a ‘fanfic’ based on Whelan’s Passage series of fine art prints.
The years have passed. There are other wonderful fantasy artists out there—and, in a way, the market has finally caught up to Whelan (much as the fantasy genre itself needed time to catch up to Tolkien.) I’ve been lucky to have some of those incredible artists paint covers for my books. But I’ve rarely felt as much excitement, wonder, and awe as I did the when I got to open an email and see the cover for The Way of Kings.
Irene Gallo (Tor’s art director) asked me to provide a quote about how I feel having a Whelan cover on one of my books. My editor, Moshe, noted “Surely you’ll mention how it’s a dream come true for both you and your editor.” But 'Dream come true' is another one of those phrases we use so often it has lost its meaning.
How do I really feel? Well, when I was a senior in high school, I was forced to take a life-planning class. In that class, we had to write down ten 'life goals' we wanted to achieve some day. #1 on my list, which I still have somewhere, was “Publish a book someday that is good enough to deserve a Michael Whelan cover.”
It has always been a deep-seated desire of mine to one day have a Whelan painting on one of my works. Without this man’s skill and vision, I might never have discovered the fantasy genre, and I might not be writing novels today.
You might say I’m a little bit pleased.
Regarding The Way of Kings, given the fact that the synopsis doesn't shed much light on what the tale is about, what can you tell us about the book and the rest of the Stormlight Archive sequence? You know, a little something to whet your fans' appetite!
I'm actually preparing a blog post on this. I've had a very tough time describing The Way of Kings. I've been working on this book for many, many years. Parts of it I can trace back 15, 17 years ago to my very early days as an aspiring writer in my teens. Beyond that, I'm planning a very large story that spans many books. So what this book is and means to me is a lot more extensive than with other books I've worked on.
Because of that it's really defied my ability to describe it. What can they expect? Well, it's about the length of Lord of Chaos. It will be much more epic and larger in scope than anything I have published so far on my own. There's a whole lot more worldbuilding to it—I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 words of worldbuilding notes, scattered across several documents, that I'm now coalescing into a wiki.
I don't know that this is new information, but the story of the Stormlight Archive revolves around ten orders of knights, each of whom had their own magics and abilities, who fell thousands of years ago for reasons no one understands. Some say they betrayed mankind, others say they were destroyed, others say they were charlatans all along.
The Stormlight Archive deals with the history of these knights, discovering what happened to them. It also deals, perhaps, with their redemption. Another big theme has to do with the onset of a magical industrial revolution, so to speak. Think of this as Renaissance-era technology where people are discovering how to harness magic and use it in practical ways. I've always wanted to do a story about the dawning of something like the Age of Legends in the Wheel of Time books.
After the WoT I made a decision to never read a series that is in progress. That's why I never read GRRM. Will I have that problem with the Stormlight Archive or will each book have very satisfying conclusions?
I try VERY hard to do that in all of my books. So hopefully, yes it will.
We <3 you, Brandon Sanderson! Now hurry and publish more books, lol!
Lol. Dana, I'm REALLY trying to publish as many as possible. Magic cards do help, though... In a more serious tone, I do offer to let people read my older books. So if you're starved for something, you can shoot and email through the website and ask for White Sand or Aether of Night. They're not up to my current standards, but they're okay. And if you're really interested in the larger story happening behind the scenes in my books, those two novels are important. Watch for the Wells of Power in Aether of Night, for example. There will be an Elantris sequel some day. Hopefully.
Which of your books was your favorite to write thus far, and why?
Each is different. The WoT books are the most challenging, the Alcatraz books the most fun. I think The Way of Kings was the most enthralling. Each have their high points.
What original magic system are you the most proud of?
Oh, boy. That's like asking someone's favorite child. I really like what I've got in The Way of Kings, but Mistborn's trio of magic systems have a tightness to them that is hard to match.
I like how your book covers mysteriously lead us into wrong conclusions about who characters are. Who comes up with that? You mostly, or does publisher have input??
Mostly, those are the publisher's deal. I generally have some input, but only a small input. The longer I go, the more I have to say. Often, I will suggest scenes, but it's up to the publisher/artist to decide. For example, the cover of Mistborn 3 was originally a concept cover for the cover of Mistborn One. Everyone liked it so much, they decided to tweak the sketch and do a full painting for Mistborn 3.
Brandon.....just how much sleep per night ARE you getting?
I do usually get 8 hours. My day goes like this: Get up, take my sons and play with them for an hour so Pemberly can nap. Work until 6 or 7. Eat dinner, hang with wife and kids. Back to work at 8 or 9, work until four. Sleep until noon.
What will happen to the fifth Alcatraz novel if Scholastic doesn't pick it up?
Well, I do want to write it, and Tor would publish it in a second—but I can't take time away from WoT right now. So MAYBE Tor will publish it. A lot depends on the film, which is being developed by Dreamworks Animation. The Dreamworks option runs out in December.
When did you get the idea to connect many of your different novels into one cosmere?
Long before Elantris was published. In '99, I'd say. Maybe '98.
You avoided using the traditional races of epic fantasy (elves, orcs, dwarves, etc.) instead giving the reader variations on humanity. Why did you avoid using the standard tropes, but still create significant physical deviations in your races?
A couple of reasons. Those are really two questions. Why did I avoid the standard tropes? Because I felt they had become a crutch in some cases, and in other cases they had just been overplayed and overdone by people who were very good writers and knew what they were doing. I certainly don't want to point any fingers at people like Stephen Donaldson who wrote brilliant books making use of some of the familiar tropes from Tolkien, but one of the things to remember is that when he did that they weren't familiar tropes. They were still fresh and new. The same can be said for Terry Brooks. I feel that some of these authors who came before did a fantastic job of approaching those races, and I also feel that we as a fantasy community have allowed Tolkien's worldbuilding to become too much of a crutch—in particular, Tolkien's storytelling in epic fantasy. And really, if we want to approach the heights of great storytelling and take it a few more steps so that we don't just copy what Tolkien did, we do what Tolkien did, which is look to the lore ourselves and build our own extrapolations.
But personally, why do I include the races that I include? I'm just looking for interesting things that complement the story that I'm telling. The races in The Way of Kings come directly into the story and the mystery of what's happened before. If you pay close attention to what the races are, it tells you something about what's going to happen in the future and what's happened in the past. It's very conscious. This is just me trying to explore. I feel that epic fantasy as a genre has not yet hit its golden age yet. If you look at science fiction as a genre, science fiction very quickly got into extrapolating very interesting and different sorts of things. Fantasy, particularly in the late '90s, feels like it hit a bit of a rut where the same old things were happening again and again. We saw the same stories being told, we saw the same races show up, we saw variations only in the names for those races. For me as a reader, it was a little bit frustrating because I read this and felt that fantasy should be the genre that should be able to do anything. It should be the most imaginative genre. It should not be the genre where you expect the same stories and the same creatures. This is playing into what I like as a reader and my own personal philosophies and hobby horses, but it really just comes down to what I think makes the best story.
You have stated elsewhere that your story is about a world recovering, a world that has fallen from the height of its power. Why did you choose to set your story in such a setting, what about it makes it an appealing place to write about?
Several things. There's a real challenge in this book because I did not want to go the path of The Wheel of Time in which there had been an Age of Legends that had fallen and that the characters were recapturing. Partially because Robert Jordan did it so well, and partially because a lot of fantasy seems to approach that concept. But I did want the idea of a past golden age, and balancing those two concepts was somewhat difficult. I eventually decided I wanted a golden age like existed in our world, such as the golden of Greece and Rome, where we look back at some of the cultural developments etc. and say, "Wow, those were really cool." And yet technologically, if you look at the world back then, it was much less advanced than it is now, though it was a time of very interesting scientific and philosophical growth in some areas. What we have in Roshar is that the Knights Radiant did exist, and were in a way a high point of honor among mankind, but then for various reasons they fell. The mystery of why they did and what happened is part of what makes the book work.
Why is this world appealing to write in? Well, I like writing my worlds like I write my characters, where at the beginning of the book you're not starting at the beginning or the end of the characters' lives; you're starting in the middle. Because when we meet people, their lives don't just start that day. Interesting things have happened before, and interesting things are to come. I want the world to be the same way. Interesting things have happened in the past, and interesting things are to come again. I want there to be a depth and a realism to the history. It's fascinating for me to write at this point because on the one hand, there are things to recapture in the past, but at the same time there are things that the people in the past never understood and could never do. The former heights of scientific reasoning didn't go at all as far as they could have gone. So there are new places to explore and there are things to recapture. In a lot of ways, this plays into my philosophy for storytelling. The greatest stories that I've loved are those that walk the balance between what we call the familiar and the strange. When a reader sits down and there are things that resonate with stories they've read before that they've loved, there's an experience of joy to that. At the same time, you want there to be things that are new to the story, that you're experiencing for the first time. In this world, that's what I'm looking for. There is that resonance from the past, but there's also a long way to go, a lot of interesting things to discover.
The sprite-like spren seems to be an odd addition to The Way of Kings. Understanding just when and how a spren appears and how and when people are able to notice them is the most confusing part of the novel. Could you elucidate the reasoning behind them, and how one might be able to predict their appearance?
The spren felt very natural to me. I didn't anticipate them being as controversial as they've become. I think part of the reason for this is that the people of the world take them as natural. They're just there, and everybody in this world is going to treat them as familiar. Asking them why a spren appears the way it does is a little like asking a layman in our world why sometimes the wind blows and sometimes it doesn't. If you walk outside, sometimes the wind will be blowing and sometimes it won't, and you just take that for granted. You don't ask why, you just say that it's windy or it's not windy. These characters in this world will say, "Oh, there are some fearspren; someone's scared," but sometimes they don't appear and sometimes they do. Some of the rationale around that will become more and more clear as the series progresses, but the reason it's not explained in this book is because the characters have just all grown up with these things all their lives. They don't necessarily ask those questions any more than most of us ask why a particular leaf falls off a branch when another one stays attached. It's just the natural process of the world. There are lots of reasons why they're there, but I don't think I can get into those without spoiling the series.
Your battle system involving bridges and plateaus is both complex and innovative. In writing these scenes, was a significant amount of research necessary, and did you encounter any difficulties when writing the sequences?
Yes to both questions. This is not going to be immediately obvious, but the big difficulty was in designing bridges that were mobile but also strong enough to support a cavalry charge. It took a lot of research and talk with my editor, looking at the engineering of it and the physics of the world to actually be able to create these things. I'm sure fans are going to try to diagram them out. That was one aspect of it: how were the bridges going to be set?
I approached this first from a "how would you actually fight on these plains?" direction. But also I wanted to evoke the concept of a terrible siege, with a man running with a ladder toward a wall. And yet that's been done so much. The Shattered Plains came from me wanting to do something new. I liked the idea of battles taking place in a situation that could never exist on our planet, what it would require, what it would take out of the people, and how it would naturally grow. And so I did a lot of reading about siege equipment. I did a lot of reading about weights of various woods, did a lot playing with the length, the span between the chasms, etc. One thing that people should know if they are trying to figure all this out is that Roshar has less gravity than Earth does. This is a natural outgrowth of my requirements both for the bridges and for the size of the creatures that appear in the book—of course they couldn't get that large even with the point-seven gravity that Roshar has, but we also have magical reasons they can grow the size they do. That's one factor to take into account.