On Wednesday, January 9, 2013 in Chicago, we were lucky enough to have Brandon, Harriet, and Maria come to visit us, chat, answer questions, and of course sign A Memory of Light. For so many, it was a bittersweet moment, knowing that something we have been a part of for so long is now over. That said, this was an incredibly successful, simply wonderful event, and one in which I am incredibly proud to have taken part.
With this signing taking place at the beginning of the tour only the day after release, it made things more interesting in a lot of ways. Of the Memory Keepers, I was only one to have finished the book upon arrival. Some had not yet even started. The group of Memory Keepers we had was also incredibly diverse, coming from all over. One came all the way from St. Louis, another from Milwaukee, and another from Indiana to go along with those who were closer. We had lots of different backgrounds, working experiences, and different experiences in reading The Wheel of Time. One first read the books in Turkish, some had only started recently, while some of us have been reading for over twenty years. They were all great to work with, and made the entire experience more enjoyable for me.
The event started for me when the other Memory Keepers began to trickle in around 3:00 p.m. By 5:30, four of the seven had arrived. We were expecting Brandon, Harriet, and Maria at 6:00, but Harriet and Maria decided to arrive a bit earlier (at 5:30), which ended up being an incredible gift for us. When the Barnes & Noble CRM told us that Harriet had arrived, I felt my heart start beating a little faster, and I remembered what it was like to be genuinely nervous for the first time in quite a while. I was about to meet the woman that helped guide the creation of one of my favorite things in the world! We met her at the top of the stairs, and then escorted her and Maria to the room where we would get to hang out. For the next hour and a half, that’s what we did. We really just hung out. There was a little talk about the book, but not much, since most people hadn’t finished reading yet. Harriet asked if any had finished, and when I said I had, she asked for my opinion. I gave it openly and honestly, telling her of my love for this book, as well as the entire series. I expressed my gratitude to her, Brandon, Maria, and of course forever to Robert Jordan, for what they brought to us. But most of the time, we just talked about life. Harriet talked about South Carolina. We heard stories about their lives there, about the “Night Hell Froze Over” as Harriet called it, and so much more. Brandon talked about what Magic decks he likes to play. We literally talked about the weather, comparing Chicago to Charleston. In so many ways I find myself grateful that we were so early and that most people hadn’t finished reading yet. If they had, the entire time would have been spent discussing specifics of the book. Instead, we were able to spend time with these three incredible and amazing people who have touched our lives, and to do so just as regular people, as friends, sitting around the table and trading stories. It was mesmerizing.
Q: How do you keep track of all those characters?
A: Lots of use of online resources. Also, Maria and Alan are invaluable assets for that. Brandon told a funny story about trying to figure out who was with Perrin, and Maria pulled out some notes from Robert Jordan that had a list of every single person from the Two Rivers that came with Perrin! Brandon also said he thinks there are more than 2800 named characters throughout the entire series.
Q: Is there a character you took in a different direction from what Jordan had intended?
A: In terms of a character, and what would happen to them ultimately, no, not really. However, there were times when some things had to be adjusted, specifically some plot points, in order to make the narrative as a whole flow better. Brandon did mention that he wanted a character that he felt was his own, which he got to do the most development on. That character became Androl. A lot of what Androl did were things which Jordan said had to happen. Brandon picked Androl to do them, and gave the character his own touch more than any other.
Q: Did Brandon insert a character in the story based on himself?
A: No. He did however mention two items, one for Robert Jordan, one for him. In the ter'angreal cache found in Ebou Dar, there is a man with a beard statue. The power of the item is to be like an easily movable library. [MY NOTE: We see this in AMoL.] This was Robert Jordan. Brandon then told the story of how he got his sword, with the dragon scabbard, while in Mr. Jordan's home in South Carolina, and meeting with Wilson. That sword appears in the book, and is the one which Rand gives to Tam in AMoL. So Brandon's sword is in the book, but not Brandon himself.
Q: [side note: One person almost got himself lynched by asking a somewhat spoilery question, regardless of what people had been instructed...] Some characters die in AMoL. How do you choose which characters to kill and which to keep alive?
A: [My note: Brandon tried to keep this out of spoilers and make it more general about writing and dealing with killing characters off in general.] In this book, Robert Jordan had left very specific instructions regarding the fates of some characters. He left a lot of notes, and some of those determined their fate. In general, characters have to be allowed to take risks in order to create a compelling story. There has to be a real danger for them, or the characters fall flat. Sometimes, that means characters are going to die. (Brandon added a nice bit that made the crowd laugh: "Which character can I kill off that will really piss everyone off and which no one expects?")
Q: We know the Aes Sedai don't use a lot of the ter'angreal they have in their possession in the manner in which they are meant to be used. Specifically, what are the correct uses for the ter'angreal used to raise a novice to Accepted and an Accepted to Aes Sedai?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Who was the Aiel woman that Aviendha met on her trip to Rhuidean?
A: Nakomi. Also, RAFO, there's a hint in AMoL. (Later in the evening, he said that hint can be found between the chapter "The Last Battle" and the end of the book. He also said she came from deep in Jordan's notes, and he did not feel like he could give more information than that. Also, she might be explained in the encyclopedia, but no promises regarding that.)
Q: How much was already completed when you took over the series?
A: Brandon referred to what Tom Doherty had previously said on the issue. He said there were about 200 pages when he took over. Also, the Epilogue in AMoL was almost entirely written by Jordan with Brandon trying to bring everything else to that point.
Q: How was the Old Tongue created?
A: Harriet: Jim had books on almost every language in the world in his study. He drew inspiration from those. Maria: A lot of it comes from those and at the same time a lot was just his own creativity in adapting that into this world which he has created.
Q: In a charity drive, a lot of people were chosen to have their names inserted into AMoL; specifically, we were told a large group would consist of these people. Who are they in the book?
A: The Dragonsworn. Aes Sedai have joined this group, and many others. That's where they were added.
Q: Harriet: How did you choose Brandon to finish this series?
A: A friend had provided the eulogy which Brandon wrote for Robert Jordan on his website, and it was moving. So, Harriet called Tom Doherty and asked for one of Brandon's books. He sent her the first Mistborn book. She then told how she can't stop reading a book, can't fall asleep if she starts, if she doesn't know yet if those characters are "in good hands". After 47 pages, she fell asleep, not because she was bored, but because she knew that Brandon's characters were in good hands. She called Tom Doherty and told him this was the man to finish The Wheel of Time.
There was just the one semi-spoiler question, and Brandon did a masterful job of side-stepping it.
After the Q&A, it was a rush to get people in line and start the signing. With that many people, we knew it was going to take a lot of time and work to make things run smoothly. Thankfully, the staff at Barnes & Noble was very well organized, and we were able to help with flapping book covers and taking pictures for people, as well as moving through the crowd, talking with people, getting to know them, and sharing our love for this world.
Tor had also very kindly provided us and the store with lots of great swag to give away. We wanted to come up with something that would be fair to everyone, while not being totally random. We decided on a trivia contest. Ticket numbers were drawn, and those people had a chance to answer a trivia question and win a messenger bag, iPhone case, and a paperback copy of The Way of Kings. Some thought some of our questions were too difficult, but when it was all said and done, all the prizes were given out, and those who won them seemed pleased not only with having gotten something extra, but also satisfied at having been able to answer their question. After the giveaways were done, a group of ten or fifteen people hung out and wanted me to go through more trivia with them. This was one of the coolest parts of the evening for me. I was brought back to my days at Dragon*Con just going through random pieces of WoT trivia with a group of people just as deeply passionate about it as I am.
As the line continued to shrink and the clock drew closer to midnight, we all withdrew together to the signing area. We had more discussions with fans about the series, making certain to keep the conversation spoiler-free. Brandon talked about the other things he has coming out, including Steelheart, and the new Stormlight Archive book (due in November!). We named the AMAZING Trolloc doll he was given (Narg Jr.) and congratulated him on the upcoming birth of his third child. We watched people come through the line with nearly thirty books to be signed (this was at the end, when Brandon would sign any number), and the joy on their faces was great.
I’d like to close with something one of the other Memory Keepers sent to me. It was very touching and a feeling that I personally share:
“I am not the oldest of the series, or the youngest one. I wasn’t the first to read it and sure as sky I won’t be the last. What I am is your average Wheel of Time fan. And I had a bittersweet taste in my mouth after the event. I didn’t know what it was at first but it was a realization that I was with hundreds of people who waited just as I waited for this day, to finally get closure to a story that we love so much, to finally finish what I have started nine years ago. And during all that time, never once I needed a fake smile. I was happy. The drive home, however, was sad for the very same reason. Knowing that this was it. Wheel of Time. No more. In the Wheel of Time there are no beginnings or endings, but this is an end.”