Hey guys, Luckers here. With the assistance of the amazing Peter Ahlstrom, I was able to conduct an interview with Brandon Sanderson. Thanks go also to Maria, who put me in touch with them. Enjoy!
James - When you first started work on the Wheel of Time what was the first thing you looked up in the notes/material?
Brandon - Asmodean’s killer. After that, I read the ending.
James - Did the notes squash/support any of your theories/ideas of where the books were going? Are you able to tell us what or how?
Brandon - Yes. It did both. Some things were supported, some things were squashed, and some things I just didn’t have any personal theories on. I can’t speak of many of them. I’m trying to remember which ones were in THE GATHERING STORM that I can talk about. I did think that there was a good chance--or at least I hoped and theorized--that Elaida would end up as a damane. And I was very happy to see that. I was taken completely by surprise by the Verin revelation. Most of the things that were squashed happen in the next two books, so I can’t really talk about them. And it’s very hard to look back and say, “What were my theories, and what did I think about things?” because it’s been three years now since I first looked at the notes and I already have all of that in my head.
Oh, I can tell you one thing that was squashed. To be perfectly honest, I’d always secretly suspected that Asmodean was still around, and that was totally squashed. So there you go. Part of me always thought, “Oh, Robert Jordan isn’t telling us because Asmodean is around; he’s doing something,” but no, he’s just dead. He’s totally dead. But you know, I think Robert Jordan had even confirmed that and I hadn’t seen the interviews until after I started working on the series. I’m pretty sure that somewhere out there is a Robert Jordan confirmation, a “He’s toast” comment.
James - With the Way of Kings out, I think it’s safe to say your other works are more than holding their own, but were you concerned in the early days about the Wheel overshadowing your other stories? Are you happy with the Wheel Fandom’s response to your other writing?
Brandon - Yes, to the last question. I am happy with the response. Though I do want to make the caveat that in my mind, the Wheel of Time fandom is not my fandom. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I mean that I don’t have any assumption that people who read the Wheel of Time books are going to like or even read my own work. I’m flattered when they give my books a chance, but people have asked me this question a lot and I do think that over the long haul there’s a pretty good chance that I’m going to stay overshadowed by the Wheel of Time. And that’s not a bad thing. In the case of something like this series--which has been a monumental influence, has sold so many copies, and is just such a dominant factor in the genre--I don’t think you can help but be overshadowed by it a bit. But I knew that when I took the project on in the first place. Being a footnote to the Wheel of Time is still a position of great honor. It’s been an honor to be involved.
I write my own books. I enjoy writing them. It’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life, and I’m flattered that they’ve had the success that they have, and that people enjoy them. I don’t sit up nights thinking, “Am I only going to be known as the guy who finished the Wheel of Time?” People are reading my stories, and beyond that I get to be a writer for a living. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. In all of those regards I’m insanely lucky. You’ve got to remember that I spent years and years and years writing books without anyone reading them other than my close friends. I wrote thirteen novels that way, and was completely satisfied. Sure, I wanted to get published, but it was telling the stories that was the most satisfying part. And if I had continued to do only that, then I still would have been completely satisfied. So anything beyond that is icing on the cake.
James - How difficult has weaving Towers of Midnight around the Gathering Storm been? Is there a large amount of interconnectivity? Do we cross back on any events in tGS?
Brandon - Yes, we do cross back on events in THE GATHERING STORM. The trickiest part was timeline. Robert Jordan had this innate ability to juggle timelines. This is not something he relied on Maria, Alan, or Harriet for; it was something he did on his own, just part of the genius of his brain. All of us are pretty new at this. I mean, I wrote MISTBORN chronologically. There wasn’t any time juggling. There was time juggling to do in ELANTRIS, but it was across the course of a single novel. It didn’t get as extensive. For the Wheel of Time, timeline things that Robert Jordan kept in his head are quite incredible, and I have to admit that I’m not as good at it as he was. Perhaps someday I will be able to get to that level, but for now I’m simply not. So working with the timeline has taken a lot of effort. I think we’ve got it so it all worked out. It took a lot of help. Maria, Alan, and others all worked together with me to get things arranged--some of our beta readers were extremely helpful in this--but there is a lot of juggling back and forth. You will see some events from different perspectives. It is not a complete jump back like book ten was. I would say that the book is mostly new material with a few glances at other things that are happening, but we’re moving forward; I’d say 60% of the book is taking place past what happened in THE GATHERING STORM. And then there’s one timeline in particular where we jump back and catch up--that’s Perrin’s timeline. But it was really challenging.
James - You spoke during the signing tour of perhaps having some material of Pevara being awesome on your website—is that still on the table? If it is, would it be pre- or post-Towers of Midnight?
Brandon - That suggestion came about because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fit it in. In the end I decided to get three or four chapters of it into TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT. So it is there. I haven’t yet decided whether the rest of that story will happen on screen in A MEMORY OF LIGHT or whether it will have to happen off screen. The outline is all there, but I’m still not sure what I’ll have time for and what will work with the pacing.
Posting something on my website is not something that I could just do offhandedly. If I were going to do it it would take a lot of talking to Harriet and Tor and getting permission. So that was really only a longshot contingency plan. Will it happen? I don’t know. We’ll have to see what gets into A MEMORY OF LIGHT. I’m pleased with the parts I was able to fit into TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, which means there’s a good chance I’ll be able to fit the rest into A MEMORY OF LIGHT.
James - I found Veins of Gold and Fount of Power to be two of the most epic and intense climaxes in the series. In your opinion are the two climaxes of Towers of Midnight similarly epic?
Brandon - The climaxes in the book are epic. One thing you have to remember in TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT is that there is not as narrow a focus as there was in THE GATHERING STORM. So we’re dealing with more characters in many different places, which means that instead of as in the previous book where we could dedicate a good third of the pages directly to Rand--maybe even more--and build to one majestic, powerful climax, I’m not doing that as much in this book. Instead of twenty chapters from one character, you’ll get ten, and building to each climax will narratively depend on your love for the characters and your experience from the previous books. I think there are some wonderful climaxes that are a long time in coming. Are they on the level of THE GATHERING STORM? I’m really going to have to let people decide that for themselves.
Defining what makes something epic is so hard even for an epic fantasy writer. One definition of epic can be what we just talked about--a big, massive build across a huge number of chapters to something enormously earth-shattering. But you can also look at epic as a dozen different characters seen across a dozen different plots building toward one event--each of their pieces is smaller, yet builds to something larger. Those are both good definitions. TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT is more like the latter definition. THE GATHERING STORM is more like the former definition.
James - I thought Rand’s arc in tGS was brilliant—starting to get better then—bang! Cuendillar Rand, and finally Veins of Gold. Was it difficult to write? Can you give us some insight into how you stayed in the mind of a madman?
Brandon - It was difficult to write. I’ve said before that I view a lot of these characters as my high school friends, people I grew up with. Facilitating Rand going through these extremely painful and sometimes revelatory moments was not easy emotionally, and yet there’s an excitement and a power to writing emotional scenes where things are coming together. So I would say it’s actually more difficult to write a character like Gawyn, who’s frustrated and struggling with not knowing what he’s doing, than someone like Rand who always has a direction--even if that direction is straight down, as it was in places. He’s always moving. So because of that, Rand was in many ways easier to write than other characters were. Yet at the same time it was painful to write. That doesn’t really answer your question, but maybe it does give some insight, as you asked.
James - Also, did Agelmar give Hurin a hug when he got back from meeting Rand?
Brandon - Um, I don’t know if Shienarans are really hugging types. But Hurin seems like he might be the hugging type, so maybe.
[Luckers comment: I can’t actually believe he answered this :D]
James - Following that is probably a good time to ask: Were you scared by the rabid nature of the fans? We do be crazy.
Brandon - I was very scared. Heh heh. For one thing, I was really scared that I would pronounce things wrong and get raked over the coals for that. I also knew how passionate people are about this--and they have a right to be--so I feared I would be vilified for my faults. Because I do have faults. I’ve been very up-front with people that I don’t consider myself as good a writer as Robert Jordan, particularly at the height of his writing abilities working on these books. And so that was a real concern for me. I talked about that last year on tour quite a bit, which anyone who saw my presentation about the books would remember. Screwing this up would mean hatred on huge levels from a large number of people. So I just took that as extra motivation to not screw it up. Or at least to screw it up less than any other person could have, since Robert Jordan was no longer here to do it right.
James - What’s the funniest/oddest thing a fan has ever suggested to you, or asked you about the series?
Brandon - There was a fan who came up to me completely seriously and said, “I know the secret. Don’t worry. I know it’s going to happen. I won’t tell people. I just want you to know that I know. I know that Mat is actually the Dragon Reborn and not Rand. I know this is going to come out in one of the next books, and everyone else will be surprised, but it’s all laid out right there, and here are the facts of why Mat is the Dragon Reborn.” And I blinked and said, “Oh, well, that’s an interesting hypothesis,” and then thought, I hope you’re not terribly disappointed when you find out you’ve been wrong all these years.
James - Cadsuane seems more than any other to be a character people either love or hate to great degrees, and I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on her as a character, and her role in the story?
Brandon - The fact that people are so passionate about her means that Robert Jordan wrote her the right way.
James - Will Verin face punishment from the Dark One for what she did? (Also, wow for that scene. Just plain flat out wow!)
Brandon - Well, I can’t claim very much credit for that scene.
Will Verin face punishment from the Dark One? It will all depend on whether he can get his mitts on her or not.
James - What is your favourite aspect of the series?
Brandon - As I’ve read each book at different times in my life, my answer to this has changed significantly. So I guess that as I think about it now, my favorite aspect would be how the books change and grow with you as you age. I’ve said before that many of the other books I started reading as a teenager just didn’t age as well. And that’s okay. They were brilliant for the time when I read them, and they were written for who I was when I read them. The fact that they have a much narrower focus does not mean that they are bad books. But as I grew up and became more proficient at understanding stories, and my tastes in stories changed, the Wheel of Time changed with me. The fact that the Wheel of Time has such a breadth and depth to it, that it can work for so many different people in so many different walks of life, is a great monument to Robert Jordan’s ability to write.
James - What is your favourite plot-line, and why?
Brandon - It’s hard to define what a plotline is. I’ve said before that my favorite little chunk in the series is when Rand went into Rhuidean, because I love the nonlinear storytelling, the weaving of past and present, the ability to tell us who current people are by showing their ancestors. I think it’s just a beautiful, wonderful sequence. But I don’t know if that counts as a plotline.
Maybe Perrin’s defense of the Two Rivers would be my favorite plotline in the series, because it has really great underdog story to it. At that point in the series, Rand is moving mountains, so to speak, and changing the world, yet this plotline focuses narrowly on real people--everyday people--and their struggles and how they’re fighting and changing. So I really enjoy that one.
James - Got any fun anecdotes from behind the scenes of Team Jordan for us?
Brandon - Other than Butt Trollocs? <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/BrandonSandrson/status/21040716125">http://twitter.com/BrandonSandrson/status/21040716125</a>
I don’t know. They’re fun people. Alan makes really really bad puns a lot of the time, which is quite amusing. Watching their commentary on the drafts as we’re passing them back and forth (and they’re writing out their thoughts and responding to each other’s thoughts) can be a hoot and can be frustrating at the same time.
James - Now. Asmodean. I require you answer this question fully and truthfully without any Aes Sedai skittering about. Did Vin kill him?
Brandon - Ha ha ha ha! No, it was not Vin. Now Hoid on the other hand... (No, I’m just joking.)
Thanks Brandon for doing this, and Peter and Maria for helping it to happen. Much appreciated!