Let me tell you about my day on Thursday November 4. It was, in a word, awful. To begin, my alarm didn't go off, causing me to be late for work. Work, as a result, was slightly on the miserable side. In addition, it was cold and drizzling, and the traffic was a mess. Suffice it to say, I spent the better part of the bloody day in a fairly foul flaming mood.
Why am I telling you all this? Because when I say that the Towers of Midnight book signing was awesome enough for me to consider the day an amazing success, I want you to fully grasp my meaning. After a rough day at work, I headed straight into Dallas to help set up for the signing. There, I found my fellow Tower Guards already hard at work getting things ready and entertaining the small crowd that had already assembled with trivia questions. By the time the tables had turned and members of the crowd were offering up their own obscure trivia, I couldn't help but be in good spirits, and I think it was the same for everyone present. Being surrounded by people who are as geeky as you are (and I mean that in the best was possible!) and love this series as much as you do, and seeing the laughter in their eyes and the anticipation on their smiling faces... well, I defy anyone to be in any kind of a bad mood at that point.
Now let's move on to the good stuff. Most of you reading this were not privy to the conversation we in the Guard shared with Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal over dinner. Lucky you, I'm in a sharing mood, so I'll give you a brief rundown of what we said. Why brief? I understand that this is supposed to be spoiler free, so I don't want to give too much away. I feel though that I can at least share the main points, as long as I'm vague enough on plot points.
We all sat down for dinner, asking Harriet and Brandon about their travels this week. They informed us that it had been rough despite what sleep they had gotten, yet I was struck by how cheerful they both seemed. Both wore warm smiles and seemed fairly relaxed for all that they had been traveling across the country so much recently. Harriett informed us with a laugh that “life on tour is like being a Fed-Ex package”: Just tell her where to go and send her off. Fed-Exed or not, her eyes grew wide at the sight of a pizza laden with olives, while Brandon stated stoutly that he didn't like “green things” on his pizza as he reached for another slice of pepperoni.
Once we were settled to eat, we got to ask them any questions that were burning in our hearts. Again, I will avoid spoilers, and many of our questions were R.A.F.Oed (Read And Find Out!) but what we gleaned was quite interesting. We asked Brandon about his time working on the story, such as his greatest surprise from the last book, Gathering Storm. No one was surprised to hear that it was a certain scene involving Verin of the Brown Ajah, and while I won't go any further than that, I will add that he stated the scene in question was written entirely by Jordan before his passing.
We learned that Brandon's favorite scenes of the series turned out to be Rand at Rhuidean in Shadow Rising, followed closely by the climactic events in the Two Rivers in that same book. You know the ones I mean, and if you don't, go read! We learned that what Brandon liked about the magic system, and magic systems in general, is what the magic can't do. Think of the limitations on Traveling, and you'll understand.
Most interesting, in my opinion, we learned more about Brandon's thoughts on writing the series in general. He told us that most important was staying true to Jordan's notes and his vision. He wanted the characters to stay the same, so that if you liked Perrin (the girls all sighed at this point) or hated Cadsuane, you would continue to do so for the same reasons, until such time as the story might bring about any changes. Some things would change as he wrote, but Brandon's conscience would not let him deviate from Jordan's true vision of the story.
We wrapped up our private Q&A, got Brandon, Harriet and Bob Kluttz to sign all our books, then it was on to face the crowds of adoring fans.
Brandon and Harriet were met with a round of applause, which they accepted with gracious smiles and a friendly wave. It seemed obvious that they were as excited and pleased to be there as the rest of us. The crowd had swelled considerably; a buzz of excited conversation and a spark of anticipation filled the air. Wasting no time, the guests of honor took their seats at the head table and dove right in.
Brandon started the ball rolling, announcing that Harriet would do a brief reading, one that had been requested at the previous signing. He passed the microphone to Harriet, who, with a mischievous smile, claimed she was going to “chew the scenery.” She did not disappoint. She began to read from the prologue, specifically the excerpt from Padan Fain's point of view. Bad Guys can be fun to read, and Harriet seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself, narrating the twisted villain's vile exploits. Even in the middle of the reading, when our recording device (a phone) began to make several loud ringing sounds, she merely picked it up, passed it to Brandon with a wry smile (he passed it to us, looking bemused), and told the crowd, to peals of laughter, “This is not the Droid you're looking for!” before diving right back into her fun.
Harriet finished to tumultuous applause, and Brandon reclaimed the microphone for the Q&A. What follows is a transcript of the audience's questions and Brandon's and Harriet's responses. For space, I cannot put every single word, but I will write out the responses as fully as possible. (Anything in parentheses is my own.) For more details, look for the film footage, which should hopefully be posted here as well.
Q: I heard that Great Hunt was written first, before Eye of the World. Is this rumor or truth?
Harriet: It's rumor, not truth. He (Jordan, obviously) worked on The Eye of the World first; they came in order. He did work on The Eye of the World for four years before he ever gave me any of it. And, while he was writing The Great Hunt, he and I went out to lunch in the neighborhood deli, and he asked me what I thought the child-rearing practices of this desert people he had in mind, what they would be like. And if you remember, we just saw the first Aiel in a cage. But he was already working on how would Rand be brought up, you see, so he worked very far ahead in his thinking. But the way he wrote them was the way they were published.
Brandon: Let's avoid spoilers. (A lot of people hadn't read Gathering Storm yet, it seemed.) Can you talk around it?
Q: There's a certain character of the Brown Ajah—
Brandon: Now that's too much! Ask us in the line.
Q: Is there a scene planned with one of the Aiel Wise Ones as a damane?
Brandon: That will be a R.A.F.O., I'm afraid! But excellent question, nonetheless.
Q: Do you write the scenes in order?
Brandon: For very large epic fantasies, such as Towers of Midnight and Way of Kings, I actually approach it by viewpoint grouping, meaning I take all the characters who are together in the same location, or who are kind of together emotionally or things like that, and I will write them straight through until they run into people from other sequences. At that point, I'll usually stop and do the next one straight through, or I'll just skip those chapters and go on, depending on what's going on. I do it by group, and the reason for that is: juggling all of these characters in your head, and making sure I'm keeping every character true to themselves, it's kind of like I have to upload a bunch of stuff into my brain, and then wipe it clean and upload a bunch of other stuff for another sequence. So for instance, for this book, Perrin and Faile and everyone around them would have been written straight through, and then I jumped back and would've done Mat, and so forth.
Q: How are decisions made about breaking up the chapters?
Brandon: Usually, that's Harriet. I break the scenes, she decides what gets grouped together into a chapter, and she will often move the chapters around. She does quite a bit of that, tweaking it to try and figure out where the best balance is. I don't generally give her an initial (order) with a bunch of them. Well, she'll get them in viewpoint chunks first, and she'll be doing edits on those while I'm writing other viewpoint chunks, and then I'll stick them together in an initial, and she'll through and say, “No, this one needs to be here, and this one needs to be here, these three need to be one chapter.” That sort of thing.
Harriet: And if Brandon says, “No, I just can't get behind this one,” he wins! (Laughter from the crowd)
Brandon: There were a couple that I really like. There's a really, really great cliffhanger at the end of the first Mat chapter and I'm like, “Oh, that's such a great place to break a chapter; it'll make everyone turn to the next page!”
Q: Who is Bela really working for?
Harriet: (with a wicked grin on her face) Would you believe Bela is the Dark One? (much laughter followed that statement!)
Q: Have you finished the Mistborn novella?
Brandon: The Mistborn short story, that became a novella that became a short novel is 60,000 words long and is really looking like 70,000 words, which is about a third the length of one of my other novels. It's slow going while I'm on tour, but it will be done fairly soon. (He had a few other details about this, but I'll let you watch the recording for the specifics. Also, read Mistborn if you haven't yet!) If you weren't aware, between books, I generally take a few months off and just write something random, whatever strikes me. I can't have a contract for it. It has to be something completely unexpected to keep instincts sharp and my writing ability sharp. I'm starting on Memory of Light on January 1, but I've got these three months to do whatever occurs to me. Two months ago, I wrote a story about a pizza delivery man who turns into a necromancer. It was called Death by Pizza. (lots of laughter; although I hope he publishes this!) He was a good pizza delivery man, with good pizza, he was just a necromancer.
Q: Are there any characters in particular you find hard to write?
Brandon: There are several that I've had more trouble with than others, and in that case, I generally work on them quite a long time. Aviendha, when I first started writing her, was probably the most difficult to get the voice right. There are characters that I write that are more difficult to write than others for different reasons. For instance, Gawyn is kind of... frustrated with himself, and when you step into a character's viewpoint, you start to feel and think like them; that's the goal. And so, him being frustrated with himself and his purpose in life makes it hard to write his scenes, because you feel frustrated and things like that, and Harriet has a great story about that.
Harriet: One of the things that happens with a writer, which certainly happened with Jim (Jordan's real name, FYI), was he was often asked “what was his favorite character?” and he said, “whoever I'm writing today.” Because he understood that villains don't think they're villains. They are doing what the world or the devil or something outside has forced them to do. So they think of themselves as gallant victims, generally, while they're slitting somebody's throat. But I could tell when he'd been writing somebody awful. He'd come in the kitchen door at supper time and he'd slink around the walls! I said, “You've been writing Padan Fain today, haven't you?” “How did you know?!”
Q: Who's your favorite villain to write?
Brandon: It depends on the book. The scene that Harriet just read was a huge amount of fun to write, because Fain is just completely bonkers at this point. And so in this book I'd say that was, of the villain viewpoints, my favorite one to write.
Q: Can you do a Forsaken “Mwa-ha-ha”?
Brandon: MWA ha ha ha HA HA HAH HA HA HA!!!
Brandon's evil laugh brought a huge round of applause, and then it was time for the book signing to truly begin. Everyone lined up eagerly, awaiting his or her chance to talk with the people responsible for our favorite series.
Talking with the crowds, listening to them as they came up to speak with Brandon and Harriett, I began to get a feel for the assembled fans. They were diverse. They liked The Wheel of Time for different reasons. Some were old hands, some recent converts. Some were just getting the book for friends and family.
One person from Dallas who had been reading for ten years expounded on her love of the fashion and the spark of imagination they gave. Another pair of girls from Edgewood and Coppell, Texas told me about how the different story-lines sucked them in and they were never bored with any of them.
One person from Houston, a history student in college, described his love of the depth of the story and the world. Another college student explained that he was working on his doctorate and that Wheel of Time was the only pleasure reading he allowed himself. Yet another person in line told me he'd written his thesis on the series and had exchanged a wealth of correspondence with Jordan, seeking details to help write his paper.
One couple from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, fans from the beginning, had brought their three-week-old child last year, and another couple, fans for but a short time, informed us they had named their first son Lan.
One person said these books had gotten him to turn off the TV and to start reading. Another person told Sanderson that he made her want to write, and they discussed NaNoWriMo. Some people asked about his magic systems; some asked about playing Magic: the Gathering. Some people asked for pictures, to which Harriet and Brandon happily obliged.
Some were young, and had only read Sanderson's Alcatraz series; some were older and claimed a need to read the last three books six times through as they had done the previous stories.
A pair of ladies, dressed as Aiel Maidens, were just happy to be there.
Young and old, male and female, old fans and new, they came, and each person in line was as unique as the one before and after. And yet several things bound these people together. Each and every person offered Brandon and Harriet their thanks. They thanked them for continuing the series after Robert Jordan's death, and for keeping the books as good as they had ever been. They told Brandon and Harriet it was an honor to meet them. They treated the writer and editor with class, offering smiling faces and small stories of their love of the series, and received the same in turn from the pair. It was an experience such as you can only get when you are surrounded by those who share the same loves that you yourself hold so dear.
Several hours later, the signing was done, and a few hundred fans rushed home to begin reading their new books, despite the late hour and having work and school the next day. Don't deny it; you know you did. With a last group photo with their Texas Tower Guards, Brandon and Harriet departed, off to the next signing in Baltimore.
As I'm writing this, several thoughts come to mind. I know it gets said time and time again, but it really was an honor to get to meet with Brandon and Harriet, and I want to add my thanks. I think I speak for everyone reading this when I say that we all appreciate everything they have done for us, the fans. I think they were happy to meet with us and sign well over a thousand books, despite how stressful such tours can undoubtedly be. It shows a level of dedication to their readers, and I think we all owe them a huge amount of gratitude for the efforts and the sacrifices that they make, in addition to those of all their assistants, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting. It is clear to me that this is a series written by fantasy fans and for fantasy fans, and the level of dedication that has been shown for The Wheel of Time is nothing shy of remarkable.
I began reading the series in high school, when my best friend handed me Eye of the World and said, “Dude, read this.” I have been hooked ever since. Now, ten years later, I have gotten to be a very small part of making the series happen. That is, to coin the phrase, frickin' awesome. But it's not about one person; it's about all of us, and the book signing was a place for us all to be connected to these books. For those of us who were present, all united by our common love of what I consider to be the greatest fantasy series of our time, it was an amazing experience.
Thirteen books down, and one to go. Many people said they were eagerly anticipating A Memory of Light, book fourteen, next year, but would be sad to see the series end. Brandon said it was a bittersweet feeling gaining the chance to write the series but losing the chance to read it, for which we all must be grateful to him. In the same way, it will be very bittersweet for all of us to see the series come to an end.
But, as we all know, there are neither beginnings nor endings to The Wheel of Time, so I think it'll be just fine.
-from Dallas, Texas