Monday, January 07, 2013

Interview: Brandon Sanderson on The Wheel of Time and A Memory of Light

One advantage of having a blog like this is that over the years I’ve gotten to know a lot of people. And when the fan in me finishes reading a book I’ve been waiting almost 20 years to read, I know who I can email to possibly have a few questions answered. While, I suppose that this is an interview, it may be more helpful to view this simply as a conversation that I’m making public. These aren’t questions that I thought long and hard about and these aren’t questions that are designed to serve as a resource to fans, etc. These are simply some questions/reactions that I had while reading A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (my ‘non-spoiler’ review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), which I assume that you all know is the 14th and final book in The Wheel of Time (WOT) series. Ideally, this would have simply been an in-person conversation that I had with Brandon, but of course that wasn’t in the cards. So, they probably aren’t the questions you would have asked, but they were questions that I had.
Beware the spoilers! This short Q&A discusses A Memory of Light (AMOL) and there are spoilers in the questions and answers. Some of the spoilers discussed are pretty big reveals – the details may not be discussed, but a few significant events are revealed.
Thanks to Brandon and his assistant Peter for making this happen. Enjoy!
Neth Space: How much have ideas that you or other members of Team Jordan first saw in fans discussion influenced the book? Spoiler follow-up: Such as the tactical use of gateways?
Brandon: Tactical use of gateways is honestly all me. I hadn’t even played Portal before I wrote these books. I have since went back and played it, and they’re doing some of the same fun stuff. That was me from years and years ago as a guy who likes magic systems reading the Wheel of Time books and saying, “If I had gateways, this is what I would do.” In fact, I had built up some magic systems using things like gateways that I will never be able to use now, because I got handed the master magic system with gateways.
Team Jordan was somewhat uncomfortable with my use of gateways, in a lot of ways. They felt I was pushing them. But my response back was that I didn’t want to push the magic system in other ways; I didn’t want to be inventing a lot of new weaves. I didn’t want to be doing a lot of things like that, because I felt it would be taking the system too much in the directions I take the Brandon Sanderson systems. I really do like Robert Jordan’s magic system, but I wanted to take some of the specifics that had already been done, such as gateways, and say, “Here’s where you can extrapolate with them.”
As for other things that have been discussed in the fandom—I certainly wasn’t as big a part of the fandom as I am now, not anywhere near it. For instance, I didn’t care about Asmodean until I started talking to other Wheel of Time fans, and it was a big deal to them, and so it became a big deal to me. There are certain things that through fandom and talking to other fans you tend to rally around, that I kind of wanted. One was a reunion between Tam and Rand. There are other things like that, that for a long time we’d been waiting for and we’d talked to each other about, and we’d imagined what they’d be like. Those sorts of things did influence me; I had to be really careful not to be too influenced though. Being too influenced would lead me to put in lots of inside jokes, things like Narg—that would have been letting the fan in me run too wild. So I did have to rein that in.
It’s hard for me to separate the years of talking about the Wheel of Time with friends and reading about the Wheel of Time from what I eventually ended up doing in the books. Once I did start working on the books, I didn’t go plumbing through fan forums looking for things that should be included. I specifically stayed away from things like that, though I did suggest to Maria at times that she should watch and see what people were expecting, so that we would know what things we were not going to end up fulfilling, and could be prepared for them.

Neth Space: You have a tendency to break the 4th wall at times in your WOT writing. How did you come to this choice as it’s not a technique that Robert Jordan used? How have Team Jordan and fans of the series reacted to this?
Brandon: My answer is that I disagree with you. I don’t think any of those things break the fourth wall. Robert Jordan put fan names in the books; he named things in the books after streets in his hometown; he named characters after people he knew. That’s how he wrote these books, and it’s how I’ve written all of my books. It’s just how you get inspired as a writer. With Roedran, I honestly think that’s what Rand would think and say; it’s what he would come up with. It’s one of the big theories I felt was really what Rand would consider in-world. So I just have to disagree with you; I don’t think that any of this is breaking the fourth wall.

Neth Space: As I was reading AMOL there were many times where I was fairly overcome with emotion – which is not too common of a reading experience with me. To use a WOT phrase – laughter and tears. Sometimes I just had to set the book aside for few minutes to let the motion calm down. I’m not novelist, but through this blog and my day job I do write a fair amount. I’ve experienced that sense of pride, that sense of emotional overload that happens when the writing feels right, when my emotions for what I’m are writing cross over onto the pages themselves. I imagine that as you’ve written the final three WOT books you’ve experienced similar feelings. That you sometimes sit down to dinner with your family after writing and are overcome with your love for them as a result of what you had just written. That you have that urge to hug, love and be comforted as events from you’re writing stick with you. Assuming you can relate to this, please share a moment or two.
Brandon: Boy, that’s a hard one, because those are going to be personal moments. You describe it quite well, but it’s the sort of thing that happens with writing any series. The most personal moments for me honestly happened when I read the ending years ago. For me, the series has been finished already for all of that time. It has been an emotional experience, and I’m certain it will continue to be one.
You also have to remember that writing this was very draining, and that has kind of the opposite emotional effect. But I’m not a terribly emotional person. I’m not sure I can come up with anything specific other than that night sitting and reading the ending that Robert Jordan had written.
This is spoilery, but there’s also the moment when I wrote Egwene’s death scene—that was probably the most emotional scene I wrote. I finished it, and then it was like a “wow, so that just happened” sort of moment. I don’t know if I can describe it in the same way.
For you, reading the book, these moments are going to come like unexpected smacks to the face. For me, I spent five months working on the outline for this book specifically, after I had spent months outlining the other two books. So I knew what was coming, and that makes it a different experience.

Neth Space: Spoiler follow-up: What specific scenes in your writing proved to be the most memorable? What are a few of your favorites from the final three books in the series?
Brandon: Perrin forging his hammer is probably my favorite that I worked on extensively. My favorite that Jim worked on extensively would be Verin’s last scene. Rand atop Dragonmount at the end of The Gathering Storm is a pretty big one for me. In the last book, my favorite would have to be Lan’s charge right at the end, which is a scene that I worked out years ago, that I pointed a lot of things toward, and specifically in this book built a lot of things around. For a fun scene, getting Mat on the back of a raken was a pure joy for me to be able to do.
What other scenes really stand out to me? Robert Jordan’s last scene, which I’ve mentioned before, is a great one because it’s become the focus, for me, for the entire sequence that I have written. From the beginning, that was the ending that I was working toward. So I was very excited to be able to actually get there.
That’s just a few scenes; there are a lot of them in this book and the series.

EDIT: Thanks to the folks over at Macmillan Audio I have an audio sample from Chapter 3 to share with (no big spoilers). I love the audiobooks and have been using them as 're-reads' for years, so give it a shot.

1 comment:

Carl V. Anderson said...

The release today is a pretty major event in the SFF community. I'm excited for all the fans who (im)patiently waited for this day to come. Also very excited that despite his untimely death Jordan had written the ending and left some ideas as to how he wanted the series to play out. From everything I've read Sanderson has treated this project with great care and respect and reading about your emotional experience with the book bears that out. I'm excited that you were able to conduct this "interview" and send my thanks to Mr. Sanderson for his generosity in answering some questions for you. I enjoyed it.


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