Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Evening with Brandon Sanderson

On Monday night, November 16th, I got to spend the evening with Brandon Sanderson. Of course it wasn’t only my evening – it was my evening along with 5 other Storm Leaders, a handful of bookstore and library employees, a professional media escort, and about 250 other fans. Now there is an official Arizona Storm Leader report at Dragonmount that I encourage you to read (I'll link it when it goes live) – this post is separate, this post is dedicated to my experience over the evening, and I’ll warn you now, it’s lengthy and more than a bit about my own relation to The Wheel of Time. Also, I’ve got a collection of detailed, spoiler-ridden questions and answers about The Wheel of Time and The Gathering Storm (my review) that I include at the end of this post along with videos of the evening from fellow Storm Leaders and a great slide show prepared by a particularly creative Arizona Storm Leader.

I’ve been a fan of The Wheel of Time since about 1994 when it was first recommended to me by a cousin – I lost endless hours in my dorm room devouring these books. When I finished all the books the available at that time, I read them again. I was hooked – I anxiously awaited the next books in the series, re-reading all or part of the series prior to each new release. Some of my earliest forays on to the internet were to find out information about these books where I discovered the infamous
WOTFAQ developed by Leigh Butler and some early message boards and user groups.

As the release of Winter’s Heart approached, something changed – occasional forays to the internet become near-daily affairs. I became a regular lurker on the early forums of many websites, but it was Wotmania that I kept coming back to (sadly, Wotmania closed earlier this year). Lurking eventually led to posting and active discussion. I became one of those internet geeks spending hours talking about books on-line and writing up well-researched theories full of supporting evidence and references. Eventually I began to hang out at the OF Section to seek out other books I may like while I waited for the next Wheel of Time novel. Before long I was a well-respected member and I became an admin on the OF Section. Not long after that, I decided to start a blog. I’ve said it elsewhere before, but I’ll say it again, the existence of this blog is a direct result of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Along with thousands of other fans, I was shocked by the death Robert Jordan. This isn’t the place to eulogize (
I’ve done that already), but it hit me hard. This was a man I admired and really owed a lot to in the way my own life has turned out. Mourning with everyone else, I was also increasingly anxious about the fate of my beloved Wheel of Time. As so many others likely experienced, it was a conflicted time – there was the premature death of a man I admired greatly, yet I couldn’t help but wonder on the fate of the books he wrote. Rumors and speculation began to multiply about just what that fate would be.

Then it was announced that Brandon Sanderson would be finishing the series. By this time, I wasn’t overly surprised – you see I had read
Sanderson’s own eulogy and at the time I distinctly thought ‘this is the guy who will finish the series’. By this time I was already a fairly well-known blogger, so I was familiar with Brandon – heck, I’d even exchanged a couple emails and interacted on message boards with him. But I hadn’t yet read any of his books. So, along with legions of other fans of The Wheel of Time, I read Sanderson’s books to get a feel for the man who would finish the books.

I read the Mistborn Trilogy, and
I liked it. It was clear to me that Sanderson was a writer who was already making himself well-known. Of course, taking on The Wheel of Time rapidly made him a much more well-known author, but I’m confident he’d have gotten there on his own right given time. I was also confident that he was a writer who should be able to finish The Wheel of Time.

But, as time went on, it became clear the Sanderson brought much more to the table than just his writing pedigree. You see, Sanderson was a fan. He read Eye of the World when it first came out. He also re-read the series before every release. Rand, Perrin, Mat, Egwene, and all the others weren’t just characters in the book – they were long-time friends. Brandon’s first foray on to the internet was to visit the old Wheel of Time usernet group. He lurked on the message boards, he once saw Robert Jordan at a convention but was too star-struck to go talk to him. Brandon was a fan, and a fan I could relate to.

Brandon was more that just a writer with the skills to finish The Wheel of Time. Brandon was more than a great guy humble enough to pull this off. Brandon was a fan. Many people may be one or even two of the above, but few could be all three – and Brandon is clearly the top of that list. Those that have followed along as I have, those that have read his books and now The Gathering Storm, his first contribution to The Wheel of Time, now know that Brandon was the right choice.

Why have I gone through such lengths to introduce my evening spent with Brandon? I need you to understand just what it means to me – on Monday night I wasn’t a blogger who got to meet yet another author, I wasn’t going to just some book signing. I was a fan having a dream fulfilled. I can only lament that I never had a similar experience with Robert Jordan, and I simply can’t adequately express all that this opportunity meant to me.

Before I go any further, I need to thank Brandon,
Tor, and Dragonmount for the opportunity. Dragonmount and Tor were the organizing forces and Tor went above and beyond a normal book tour with this one (heck, they bought us dinner). But above all, I want to thank Brandon. This is a guy who’s been on tour for 4 weeks – that’s 4 weeks away from his pregnant wife, that’s 4 weeks away from his 2-year old son who doesn’t understand why his daddy isn’t home, that’s 4 weeks of eating restaurant food, that’s 4 weeks of going to an airport, through security, and on a plane everyday (in cold and flu season no less), that’s 4 weeks of signing hundreds of books every night, that’s 4 weeks of meeting, greeting and talking with complete strangers every night. The toll is showing on Brandon – he’s exhausted and he misses his family. Don’t get me wrong, he clearly loves the opportunity and is having a great time with it all. But we fans should know and appreciate the sacrifice he’s making for us – and we need to make that appreciation known.

My day started with me visiting a used bookstore with a few months worth (boxes) of books to trade-in for store credit. It’s not really the beginning of my day, nor is it the end of day, but it is a beginning. With some of the trade credit, I decided to finally start accumulating the Wheel of Time audio books, figuring this is the only realistic way I’ll get to do a re-read anytime soon. Next I visited a comic shop – I needed to get Brandon some Magic cards for his upcoming battle with Jason of Dragonmount. Knowing nothing of the game, I sorted through a box of used cards and picked out a few dozen that seemed pretty cool. I was already wearing my Storm Leader t-shirt and the guy at the checkout told me ‘cool shirt – I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s really cool’.

I got to the signing location pretty early to set-up, easily being the first there. I took the time for a nice walk in the beautiful weather, locating the restaurant where we would have dinner and picking up some caffeine for the long night ahead (it was 8 hours later that I finally left). When I got back to the auditorium, several of the other Storm Leaders had arrived – I passed out shirts and we worked at getting the computers hooked up for the live-feed and getting the lighting right (Storm Leader Mahesh was in charge – Brandon later pointed out that we should all call him M’hael). We also got a preview of the excellent slide show (embedded below) that Storm Leader Megan put together – it’s long, but well worth it (I wish I were so creative). Copies of the live-feed from the event are also embedded – much of the Q&A, interviews with fans, the whole quiz event hosted by Storm Leader Maureen (whom Brandon called Moiraine), and some of Brandon signing books and answering questions are all there.

The Links below are to recordings of what were at one time live feeds of the signing.

Somehow an hour flew buy and it was time for us to walk over to the restaurant. We all got settled (I made sure that the 2 open seats were on either side of me, forcing Brandon into my presence) and took a few pictures. This is when Brandon slipped in the door. We excitedly introduced ourselves – when I said ‘Ken’, he looked at me and said ‘Neth’. At this point I joking exclaimed to the group ‘he’s heard of me’. This kicked off the first conversation of the evening – a bit about blogging and how Brandon generally doesn’t read negative reviews because they get him down and he doesn’t want that affecting his writing. The context was his reading a discussion on a certain message board by certain well-known blogger-reviewer who seemed to not care too much for The Gathering Storm. Afterwards, introductions continued.

The restaurant was Indian food, and Brandon took charge. A little of this, a little of that and next thing we knew he had ordered a lot of food for a family-style meal. He then said that this time was for us and that we should take advantage. The others were still a bit hesitant, but I immediately got out my list of questions and started grilling him (in a good natured way of course). We had a great time talking back and forth about lots of stuff – the others slowly gained confidence and it wasn’t long before everyone was fully engaged. The Q&A at the end of this report covers much of what was discussed. There were also a few ‘off the record’ discussions and quite a bit about writing in general.

The hour and a half literally flew by and ended all too soon. On the short walk back I continued talking with Brandon and took the time to give him the Magic cards I had picked up. He was very thankful as he eagerly flipped through them to see if in my ignorance I had somehow managed to pick a good card or two.

Back at the library auditorium Brandon met the bookstore and library people and quickly helped organize things. We all had duties to do. A bit later the event began with Brandon talking about things as he’s done elsewhere and reading from the opening section of the prologue. Questions were asked and answers given (which I also cover in my discussion at the end). And yet another hour passed by incredibly quickly. I estimate about 150 people at the start with a steadily growing audience (one bookstore employee said the final count of the evening was about 240 with many people showing up late and getting in line).

Now it was time to sign – the Storm Leaders dispersed to their duties. M’hael Mahesh re-situated the live-feed and helped clear out the auditorium, Moiraine Maureen entertained the crowd, Ted helped out everywhere he could, Matt gathered names for Brandon’s email list and handed out bumper stickers, Megan took pictures, and I sat next to Brandon, prepping books and stuffing promo material (no where near as glamorous as it may seem). Though it was constant work, I wanted to hear what others asked and how Brandon answered. It was all I could do not to jump in at times and join the discussion, but no one was there to seem me, so I (mostly) resisted. Eventually I switched out with Matt – after 2+ hours I needed a break, but Brandon was still going strong.

After the final raffle for a prize that amazingly went to the first person to show up that afternoon things cleared out and it was time to sign Storm Leader books, take a few pictures and then sign stock. The night ended with me walking out with Brandon, asking a final bunch of questions. Brandon was happy to answer a few more. He also said that he was really happy when he found out I was one of the Storm Leaders – wow, I’m still amazed when an author has heard of me. Brandon got into the media escorts car (who had been waiting rather impatiently) and was gone to what he said would be an even longer day in LA (I later learned that he had an appointment with the Wheel of Time movie people).

I was exhausted, my head was full and buzzing, and it took me forever to fall asleep as I replayed events of the evening. Wow, but the wheel keeps turning.

OK, on to the Q&A. Warning: These include major spoilers to all Wheel of Time books and The Gathering Storm in particular. If you don't want to be spoiled, stop now and go no further. The questions and answers are not exact, but I was taking notes (not that I can read my chicken scratch). I will also include my own commentary and interpretation. Brandon very much wants to be forthcoming with answers – he doesn’t seem to like RAFO (Read And Find Out for the unitiated). Mostly it would be something like ‘I can’t answer that, but I will say …’ Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask many spoilery questions about The Gathering Storm because one Storm Leader hadn’t finished yet – this means that my craving for more info about Verin, the Black Ajah and such was not meant to be. The questions below are what I intended to ask – I didn’t necessarily ask them word for word as written. Also, I’ve already posted this in discussion forums, so there is quite a bit of discussion already out there.

Q: Have any characters we’ve seen been converted to the Shadow via the 13 Myrddraal/13 channelers method? Has this method been used at the Black Tower?

A: RAFO (wow the first question and I got RAFO’d). But he did go on to say that this is a ‘gun on the mantle’, which refers to an old saying that ‘when you put a gun on the mantle in the first act, it needs to be used by the third’

My interpretation: More on this will come in Towers of Midnight.

Q: What’s up with Rand’s sword? Was it Lews Therin Telamon’s?

A: There are some really good theories out there on the message boards and I don’t have anything to add on this.

I followed up on where it was found, basically ‘In water, under a statue, not near Falme’

Q: Did Graendal use compulsion on Rodel Ituralde when they met previously in Lord of Chaos? Is it still there?

A: MAFO. (Maria And Find Out)

This lead to quite a bit of discussion. Basically, Graendal pretty much uses compulsion on everyone she interacts with. He also asked if it had been revealed that King Alsalam’s letters were revealed to be fake. I went into a discussion at
The 13th Depository forums and Dominic’s interpretation in particular. Brandon seemed to like it. He also said that if Ituralde was compulsed, that it’s still there – Rand’s ta’vern does not have the power to break compulsion. And he said that it’s certain that Ituralde was under the influence of Graendal.

My interpretation: He was compulsed. It’s still there, but since Alsalam is dead, it most likely doesn’t matter anymore.

Q: Please tell me all you can about the potential novella that fills in holes? What holes? Who? Where will it be published if written? Is this material that you really wanted to include in Towers of Midnight or The Gathering Storm but just couldn’t fit in? How does this match up with your feeling about not writing other stuff in the Wheel of Time world?

A: There are about 50,000 words of secondary plots that Sanderson wants to include in Towers of Midnight. He’s just not sure all of it will get into the book. If something gets cut, he’d like to get to his fans on his website.

This lead to quite a bit of discussion about Towers of Midnight. It will be a very different book that The Gathering Storm. The Gathering Storm was very intentionally focused. Brandon felt strongly that a ‘hit’ wasn’t good enough, that The Gathering Storm needed to be a home run. (At the table, we all thought it was a home run). Towers of Midnight will need to catch up many plot threads and will be much less focused. This will have its problems and it will be a big struggle to find the right balance – they aren’t there yet in the writing process. Brandon mentioned a few plots as examples which strongly suggests they will be in Towers of Midnight – Loial, Lan, Fain, Taim, Logain, Elayne, if Mat does what fans think he will, etc.

My impression is that the novella will actually be a series of prologue-like scenes that just don’t make it into the final book.

This also lead to lots of discussion on the Encyclopedia. It will include lots of spoilery stuff that doesn’t make it into the books. But, there are several examples in the notes where Robert Jordan specifically says that certain plots will not be revealed. Someone asked about Merilille Ceandevin – the Aes Sedai in Caemlyn who ran away with a Sea Folk apprentice. It was implied that this may be a thread that goes unresolved.

Q: Can you clear up the timeline issues? How do Mat, Perrin, Rand, and Egwene all match up in the timeline?

A: The Gathering Storm begins sometime in April. It ends around the end of June/beginning of July. However, Perrin advanced very little – only about 2 weeks. Mat advanced a bit more, but was still about a month behind Rand and Egwene (this gets an astrix as a MAFO), but Mat traveled to Caemlyn about 30 days before the end of the book – he emphasized 30 days and asked if I understood the significance of that – I said that I do. (Interpretation: Mat will wait in Caemlyn for the full 30 days without opening Verin’s letter – but I still think he’ll open it eventually).

Tuon’s timeline jumps around the most. In Knife of Dreams she ended about a month ahead of everyone else. There were probably (MAFO) about 2 weeks between her meeting with Rand and the launch of the attack on the White Tower.

Q: How does Nynaeve compare with Semirhage in One Power strength?

A: I’m pretty sure she’s stronger, but they are very close. Robert Jordan has a list of all the channeler’s strengths. On that list, only 6 people are stronger than Nynaeve. It’s such a rare event that pretty much anytime we meet someone stronger than her, it’s explicitly said. There are two One Power strength scales – an ‘old’ and a ‘new’. Nynaeve was the top of the female list for the ‘old’ list. Six are stronger on the ‘new’ list.

Brandon was pretty certain that Nynaeve is stronger than Mesaana, who isn’t particularly strong in forsaken terms.

Brandon was very open and willing to talk about this issue – people who care about these things should ask at every opportunity.

Q: Tell me what you can about Laras’ back-story. Is she an agent of the Kin?

A: Basically RAFO. Laras is in New Spring (which I didn’t recall).

This lead to a fair amount of discussion about backstories – he doesn’t want to spoil something that could be revealed. So, I followed up with something like ‘presumably, if the prequels are written, we’ll learn more of Laras’. Brandon said yes, presumably.

Q: Are there any circumstances of death that could prevent the Dark One from resurrecting someone (other than balefire)?

A: Yes, but I’m not going to tell you what.

This lead to a fair amount of discussion about balefire and such. At one point, Brandon said ‘all forsaken other than Sammael who haven’t come back were balefired’. I immediately jumped on this and asked if that included Asmodean – Brandon said that he wasn’t talking about Asmodean (we all didn’t even want to go there), but this is further evidence of Brandon slipping hints that Asmodean was balefired. This lead to a small debate about Osan’gar – I didn’t think he was balefired, everyone else at the table thought he was. (note, after checking the books, Osan’gar wasn’t balefired – he was blown to bits as he prepared a balefire weave)

Brandon also said that the Dark One would have liked very much to transmigrate Sammael but didn’t. Apparently, since he died by Mashadar, Sammael was either unable to be transmigrated or it would have been a very bad idea. Basically, Mashadar tainted Sammael’s thread somehow.

It was also mentioned that balefire does not mean that someone can’t be reborn into the patter. I was very surprised by this and hadn’t heard it before, but apparently Brandon has said it in previous Q&A’s. Brandon said he was also surprised but that Maria was very insistent about this – so if the Dragon Reborn was balefired, he could still be reborn.

Q: Did Rand directly have the Dark One’s permission to channel the True Power?

A: It’s very difficult (but not impossible) to channel the True Power without the Dark One’s direct permission.

This lead to lots of discussion about the whole Semirhage death scene. Basically, she felt betrayed by the Dark One, and Brandon says she’s a very astute person. Brandon also said that Moridin and the Dark One are on the same page with most things and that Moridin is the most trustworthy forsaken for the Dark One.

My interpretation is that Rand channeled the True Power through the link with Moridin, but this was not discussed. Also it was strongly implied that idea that Dark One served Semirhage up on a platter for Rand to balefire is true.

Q: You mention that Shaidar Haran has quite a few limitations on his power. Can you give us a few concrete examples of these limitations?

A: Shaidar Haran needs a minion to most of his work for him. Elza was essential to Shaidar Haran in getting things done.

This lead to lots of discussion about swearing to the shadow – basically, it’s a very bad idea and you forfeit some very basic protections when you do. Shaidar Haran has special power over those that swear to the Dark One, and the forsaken in particular. I asked about Alviarin’s special mark, and he said Shaidar Haran has similar power over her. The implication is that there are lots of ramifications for swearing to the Dark One. Brandon mentioned that this makes Verin all the more remarkable.

Q: Where did Cyndane’s new body come from?

A: Where have any of the new bodies come from? He then mentioned that it’s not confirmed who Cyndane is, though he didn’t refute me when we all said that it’s pretty certain.

I asked about her strength in the One Power – Brandon says she’s very, very weak. This surprised me since I didn’t think she was that weak.

This was clarified at the Pasadena and by Brandon directly on Twitter – Brandon says that Cyndane is weakened, but not weak. In the context of our conversation, he clearly thought Cyndane is weaker than Nynaeve. I think the breakdown in communication and interpretation occurred because Brandon is trying to discuss Cyndane’s strength without outright confirming that she’s Lanfear reborn, which is very difficult. He also indicated that Maria corrected his thoughts on Cyndane, apparently Brandon thought she was weaker than she actually is.

Q: Whatever happened to the kidnapped King of Illian – Matin Stepanos?

A: He’s still in the White Tower. Brandon thought about mentioning him a few times, but it just didn’t work out. It was implied that we’ll see further mention of this in Towers of Midnight.

A few other interesting notes from my discussion and the general Q&A.

-There are over 4,000,000 words of notes

- Verin’s revelations will have ramifications throughout the last two books. Brandon is surprised that more people haven’t been asking about this.

- Maria and Peter lurk on lots of message boards to keep in touch with the what the fans are talking and theorizing about (Hi guys). They occasionally talk to Brandon about stuff, especially when they feel it’s something Brandon should know about. But Brandon generally keeps his distance so as not to influence his writing.

- His goal is 2000 words a day, but it doesn’t work like that. Some days are much more, others much less.

- Robert Jordan left detailed descriptions of people after the Last Battle (make of that what you will)

- Hinderstap is a re-imagining of the old ‘Stone Soup’ folk tale

- Michael Whelan will do the cover for the first Way of Kings book (which will be released in August or September, 2010).

- Darryl K. Sweet will do the covers for Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light. Tor will re-release the series with new cover art after it’s done. (Lots of discussion on this one at various times, but we’ll leave it off the record).

- For Towers of Midnight, expect a shorter tour – 2 weeks, with another 2 week tour for the Way of Kings.

- Towers of Midnight refers to the actual Towers of Midnight in Seanchan, but it also refers to other towers. At one point his working title was ‘The Three Towers’ (yes and intentional riff on the Lord of the Rings, but it was never going to be the real title). I (and most others) interpret this to mean that the Towers of Midnight will deal heavily with the Seanchan, the White Tower and the Black Tower – my own belief (much inspired by Dominic of
The Thirteenth Depository) is that Caemlyn will be caught square in the middle of this conflict and be completely destroyed.


Drew said...

Well, since I had quite a few theories that Tarmon Gaidon would not be fought on a traditional battlefield (I think this will happen afterwards - The Great Battle won, but the world not done with battle and all that), I'm quite happy he clarified Verin's statement.

Linda said...

Nice report Ken. :)

I think the three Towers are White, Black and Ghenjei.

Gosh, the Battle of Camlann finally happening. It's been so many years since I wrote the Place Names article that pointed out Caemlyn was Camlann.

Neth said...

Thanks Linda

Yeah, the ToG is probably going to come into play as well. Brandon has confiremed that ToM refers to the physical towers in Seanchan but also to other towers on a metaphorical level - he talks to the White and Black Towers after that with no mention of ToG. Of course herefurses to confirm that Mat and company will go there - though at the same time he certainly hints that it's quite possible.

Todd said...

Wow, it's hard to believe he's still out there touring. I was lucky enough to make it to the BYU midnight release party, and that feels like forever ago. I'm completely convinced he is the right man for the job.

Sounds like a fun night though. The Storm Leaders I saw sure looked busy, but then again, they did get to go to dinner with Brandon while I was freezing outside the bookstore.

Now I'm getting excited for Towers of Midnight.

bloggeratf said...

Good stuff. We asked pretty much the same questions at the NYC signing. At the bookstore during the Q&A someone asked if the sword was Arthur Hawkings (Destiny?). The person got RAFOed in an interesting way which seemed to suggest that it might indeed have been.

Mahesh said...

Great recap!
I finally made it here to read it...
I had a great experience at the signing.

About ToM, my first thought after reading tGS was "WOW!"; quickly followed by, "Another year now..." :(

Mahesh (M'hael?)

RobB said...

Sounds like you had a spectacular evening Ken, good for you.

RobB said... there any way of finding out what music was used in that presentation on the YouTube video?

Neth said...

Rob, it was a great time.

Here is the music list that was used:

-David Maslanka: A Child's Garden of Dreams, movement II
-David Maslanka: A Child's Garden of Dreams, movement V
-Bartok: Hungarian Sketches
-Holst: The Planets, Mars
-Beethoven: Symphony #9 in D minor, op 125, "Choral" - Allegro ma non troppo, un Poco Maestoso
-Bartok: Roumanian Folk Dances (They have it spelled "Roumanian" on the track listing)

RobB said...

Thanks Ken!

Rashkavar said...

The comment about balefire not precluding rebirth seems very strange to me. In the prologue of Lord of Chaos, the Dark One tells Demandred explicitly "THE CHOSEN DWINDLE, DEMANDRED....RAHVIN DEAD IN HIS PRIDE. HE SERVED WELL, YET EVEN I CANNOT SAVE HIM FROM BALEFIRE. EVEN I CANNOT STEP OUTSIDE OF TIME."

I can think of two explanations for this discrepancy: One - Brandon and Maria are referring to the standard cycle of rebirth (Lews Therin->Rand, etc). Two, the Father of Lies is living up to his name and not even telling his most enigmatic Chosen the truth.

(That sequence also suggests that from the Dark One's perspective, Asmodean was no longer Chosen, thus was allowed to die. It also says "WHO BETRAYS ME SHALL DIE THE FINAL DEATH," which may indicate that something worse than Balefire happened to Asmodean. Perhaps akin to killing a wolf in the Dream meaning they aren't reborn. We do know it's not just dead wolves that are held in Tel'aran'rhiod awaiting rebirth, (not that there's much similarity between the Heroes of the Horn and Asmodean).


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