Brandon Sanderson on Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time
With the tragic passing of Robert Jordan last year, the world lost a writer who had become an iconic figure to his millions of fans. In the weeks following Jordan's death, many of those same fans understandably wondered how or if the fantasist's bestselling The Wheel of Time series would be completed. Then news came from Tor that Brandon Sanderson, a fantasy and children's book author, had accepted an offer to write a final volume called A Memory of Light, using Jordan's dictated notes about the plot. Sanderson had been working on his own Mistborn series and a follow-up to Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians. I recently talked to Sanderson via email about Jordan's legacy and about how he became involved with A Memory of Light, which is scheduled for release in 2009.
(Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson)
Amazon.com: How well did you know Robert Jordan?
Brandon Sanderson: I didn't know him at all. I saw him once at a convention--once--and didn't even realize who it was until someone told me. To me, Mr. Jordan still is--and will probably always be--something of a mythical figure.
Amazon.com: What about his fiction do you particularly enjoy?
Brandon Sanderson: Robert Jordan's genius, in my opinion, was in his ability to blend the familiar with the original. When I read his books, particularly during my younger years, they felt like fantasy to me without reading like the same fantasy books I'd read so many times before. By now, he has become his own archetype, but at that point he was just so much more fresh than anything I'd read before. To this day, I love his world-building and his ability to get deep inside a character's mind and show you who they are and how they feel. As I've grown older, I have come to appreciate his ability to work lavish description and extensive world building into his stories without breaking the narrative. Reading his books is a treat for both the senses and the mind.
Amazon.com: What are your impressions of Jordan as a person and a working professional?
Brandon Sanderson: One thing stands out to me. During those last weeks before his passing, Mr. Jordan spent a great deal of time dictating the plot of this book to those around him. He felt that he had promised an ending to his fans, and was dedicated to making certain this book got finished for them. This coincides with everything else I know of the man. He was always kind and generous during signings and tours. He always spoke highly of his readers and the people around him. He was selfless. His mind was focused on his family first, his readers second, and himself as a distant third.
Amazon.com: Was it a hard decision to finish Jordan's series? Can you tell us where you were when the offer came, and what your first thoughts were?
Brandon Sanderson: The initial decision was easy. I made it in a flash, the first time Mr. Jordan's wife asked if I would be interested in this project. (That offer came over the phone via two conversations--first, a preliminary call to see if I was interested. Second, an official call about a month later to offer me the project.) Since I'm a fan of the series, my initial instincts were "OF COURSE I want to be involved in this!" It wasn't until after I hung up the phone that the doubts began to rise. Who am I to finish this, the greatest fantasy epic of my generation? I can't fill Robert Jordan's shoes. Fortunately, I've now seen the quality of the material he left behind. That has quieted most of my doubts. The story is all here. It is his book. My job is to fill in a few holes and smooth out the prose.
Amazon.com: Jordan's fans, obviously, are pretty hardcore about his work. Are you aware of any reaction from them about you taking up the reins?
Brandon Sanderson: They've been very encouraging. Some few are negative, but the overwhelming majority of them are thankful that they'll be able to read the book. They seem to support Mr. Jordan's wife in her decision, even if the fans don't know me or my work. We all understand that I'm not Mr. Jordan. Nobody is claiming that I am. He's the one who should have finished this book. Unfortunately, we lost him, and there is nothing to be done besides see that his last work is completed. The goal of everyone working on this project is to do him proud.
Amazon.com: I know George R.R. Martin says that all of his plotting is in his head. With Jordan, do you have copious notes, prose fragments, outlines, or anything of that nature to act as a guide for the future books?
Brandon Sanderson: Yes indeed, thankfully. As I mentioned, Mr. Jordan dictated quite a bit of material. Beyond that, he had notes, thoughts, outlines, and a large chunk of written material comprising many of the most important scenes. Beyond that, his wife was also his editor at Tor. She is one of the best in the business and has been with him from the beginning of this project. She is very close to it, and understands the characters and world nearly as well as Mr. Jordan did. With these resources at hand, I'm increasingly confident that we can complete this book in a way that will be very, very close to the way that Mr. Jordan would have done it himself.
Amazon.com: How do you think working in Jordan's universe will impact your own work? And are you at all worried that it might come to define who you are as a writer?
Brandon Sanderson: I have had some small worries to this regard. I don't want my career to be that of the guy who rode Robert Jordan's success. I would prefer to make it on my own merit. But doing this project, for me, is not about my career or my book sales. (Though I think both will be influenced greatly.) This is about the unparalleled opportunity to have some small hand in an amazing series. There are some actors who, when they found out that Lucas was doing the new Star Wars movies, went out of their way to get bit parts in the films just for the sheer opportunity. They wanted to be part of something that has been so influential in their lives. While I didn't seek out this project, I feel much as those actors must. This is the defining cultural and literary phenomenon of my youth. I wasn't focused on movies, I was focused on the fantasy genre. I can think of no greater honor than to be able to help see Mr. Jordan's final vision for The Wheel of Time see publication. I don't care if this brands me in any way. This isn't the kind of opportunity you pass up.
Amazon.com: You've now got a children's series going. How has writing fiction for children been a different experience for you, either in process or execution?
Brandon Sanderson: My children's series came out of a desire to do something different. I love epic fantasy, but I needed a new kind of project to help keep my writing fresh and give me a break from the same style of narrative. Therefore, my children's books are an attempt to break completely from my old style and do something new. They're first person instead of third, quick and short rather than long and epic. They're humorous rather in tone rather than serious. The world-building is lighthearted. I love the children's fantasy market because it lets me do all of the above, but still tell the type of story that excites me: interesting magic and setting, deep characters, intricate plot.
Amazon.com: What are you currently working on, and what's your deadline for the Jordan book?
Brandon Sanderson: As of very recently, I'm done with my next two books both for Tor and Scholastic. That leaves an entire year open to work on A Memory of Light. I don't know how long it will take me, but that's how long I have to write it. (My deadline is in December.) Right now, I'm focusing on re-reading the entire Wheel of Time series through again with an eye for how the characters think and speak. I should start working on the text itself sometime in February. --JeffV