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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.

Jordan_robert      Brandonsanderson_3

(Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson) 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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


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I have been reading the Wheel of Time series since 1994 and have reread them several times. I agree that sometimes they seemed too repetitive and I would find myself skimming over paragraphs of descriptions to get to the action parts more quickly. But I love the story and could easily read it all again several more times. When I heard about Robert Jordan I was crushed. I am also not very patient when it comes to waiting for the next book to come out. I was very happy when I found out Brandon Sanderson was going to finish the story. I read Elantris and the first two Mistborn books and I enjoyed all of them very much. I am almost ready to read Elantris again and I just got book three of the Mistborn series. I think Brandon will do a wonderful job finishing the WoT and I look forward to reading more of his own works in the future.

Each of the first 7 books while being part of a much larger story arc were all self contained with their own minor story arc that closed with a climax finish. Path of Daggers and Crossroads of Twilight deviated from that style and ended with a cliff-hanger, to be continued type finish.

I remember reading those books the first time through and just not getting the same adrenaline rush as the previous books and the disappointment of coming to the last few pages and realizing that the book's story arc was not going to resolve. However upon re-reading the series it is clear that books 8 & 9 are meant to be read as a single book and likewise books 10 & 11 come together well. Even in the first 6 books there is lots of fiddling around and not so exciting stuff on the way to the book's climax. The last 4 books just felt crummy because of the wait in-between to read the other half of the book which, by that time, you had forgotten what had gone before. Read them one after another and they form a much more cohesive whole.

Mr Jordan is a terribly talented story teller, one of the very few I have come across with the ability to make his characters seem real and alive with their own thoughts and agendas as opposed to being simply puppets dancing on strings. At the end of Knife of Dreams there a number of plot pieces just quivering and waiting for things to fall into place, I find it hard to believe that an author of Mr Jordan's caliber wouldn't know exactly what he was doing, carefully guiding everything into place for the finale. Having read Mr Sanderson's mistborn I have no doubt that he is the right man to finish Jordan's masterpiece

To a point I would have to agree with J L in his/her previous statement about choosing Brandon Sanderson to finish the last book. They needed to pick someone who isn't quite successful, yet, nor developed enough from other series to have a static voice. That being said I don't think that he will fail at this endeavor.

After learning that Mr. Sanderson would be finishing the series I read ELANTRAIS, MISTBORN, and WELL OF ASCENSION. I can honestly tell you that after reading ELANTRAIS I was worried. I liked the storyline but it lacked character development. This however, was his first book (that I know of) and perhaps I was expecting to much and comparing him to much to Robert Jordan. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with Mistborn and Well of Ascension. Mr. Sanderson felt more like an author with the developed storyline and interesting magic base. He felt like something new, which was refreshing but I still am not so sure of his character development. I think that although the characters will already have enough growth behind them, Sanderson will still be put slightly to the test when we see the finished product, AMoL.

If you have ever visited Brandon Sanderson's blog page you should definitely read through his various statements about WoT, Robert Jordan and his current status of finishing AMoL. I visit it usually once, or twice a month and he provides some interesting insight on his re readings of all of the WoT books, etc.

The most important aspect that I find rewarding is I don't think it will be possible for Sanderson to ruin this last book. I believe that he will probably do this book more justice then any other author I can think of because he grew up reading them. For some of us we would eat, sleep and breath these books, and I think Mr. Sanderson was one of those people.

I have read Mistborn and have started Well of Ascension. While Sanderson's stories and ideas and plotlines are very good, I am afraid that his actual prose and writing style fall well short of the quality required to take after Robert Jordan. The best we can hope for is that he is able to mimic Jordan's very rich prose. A much better choice would have been Robin Hobb or George R. R. Martin although I suppose they are too successful themselves to take this on. I guess that is part of the reason they had to find someone still "struggling" and it shows.

To remove the personal ticks of the main(and not so main)charectors, would diminish who they are in the story. I agree that I get tired of Nynaeve claiming not to have a temper, but tugging her braid? Come on. It's who she is. Rand might as well stop visualizing the flame and void. I have to admit that when Nynaeve is in the tavern convincing others to meet Lan at Tarwin's Gap that I cried.
As for Brandon Sanderson finishing up the WOT, I found his Mistborn books a couple of months ago. I LOVED them. A new series. Great charecters. A young author. Replace Jordan? Of course not, but he is a very good writer in his own right. although I have to agree with Neil, another series we have to wait to get the next book! so lets toss the dice and see how this turns out.

I agree with Marc keep the ticks. Personally I think the person complaining about them was in love with his own verbage to the extent that he finds others intolerable. All that aside I have been reading Brandon's work and i believe from what i have read thus far that he was an excellent choice to finish the series.While i realize that noone can or even should be expected to fill Robert Jordans shoes it seems to me that Brandon will be a great fit. He has an eye for detail and a descriptive nature that i find compelling in his writing. This is the same thing that drew me into the wheel of time. One cannnot help but be drawn into RJ's world because of how real he made it feel and it is the so called "tics" that make it so believable.Good luck Brandon i cant wait too see how it all turns out.

Of all the writer's I've read by far , Robert Jordan has been the most amazing,period. Not because of his magnificent, almost supernatural ability the maintain continuity within a plotline,or 13!! major ones and some 27!! or so minor ones, but because, all in all, he embodies all the qualities of an Author. This MUST include the nagging tics the braid tugs, the never ending sniffing of Perrin, Mats spouting of the old tongue "time to toss the dice" or "where's my bloody luck?!". Also included are the never ceasing Aes Sedai machinations and politicing and puppetry. These are hallmarks of a great author. One who knows his characters as he knows himself. And can there be any doubt that RJ knew himself through and through right down to his most annoying personal habits (thanks to Harriet I'm sure :-) ). This, more than anything, is the reason I've read, re-read, and re-re-read this series. So, LONG LIVE THE DRAGON! Your passion persists even in life after. God bless Mr. Sanderson in this his most important work, helping RJ to finish well!

Life is full of tics and repetitions and is complex. That's what so great about these novels. They let you escape reality in a familiar way. There is never any complete closure in life or in death. The living go on, often feeling the ripples that the dead leave behind. Robert Jordan left such a ripple in my life. I have read and reread these books many times and will many times again, discovering something new every reading.

Like Adam, I chose to read Mistborn 1 and 2 after hearing that Brandon Sanderson would complete The Wheel of Time, my personal favorite fantasy series. And after being incredibly pleased with his style and voraciously reading through both Mistborn books, I have no doubt that Mr. Jordan's final book is in good hands. The only downside is that now I have another book to add to the list of those I am impatiently waiting for - the final Mistborn book.

Having read through all of the previous comments I have to say that I am stuck in between. When I read Steven's comment I thought "Yes, I too have felt there is too much repetition when the character is already so well established". But then reading the other comments I can understand the desire to keep these annoying tics, as much a signature of Jordans, as a storytelling device. Im reading through The Great Hunt now, maybe when I get to Winters Heart again and the plot slows down I will begin to feel the weight of the repetitive descriptions, but for now I relish in the minutia, the solid characters and even the annoying tics.

Since hearing the news I have read Brandon Sanderson's books. I don't think he will be known as the person that rode Robert Jordon's success for he is very creative in his own writing. I hope that writing this final book will help him with his own writing to be honest. Right now his books flow wonderfully and the stories are extremely creative but I feel like I could read these books to my children without any concern. I even offered Mistborn to my 11 year old to read and she told me some of her friends had read it. These are adult books but they don't get gritty enough. His fight scenes are too light in the escalation and I feel like love interests are more friends then actually love or are attracted to each other. I am glad to find a new author of Brandon's talent and creativity because i have a hard time finding new author's i enjoy and I hope he either become's more adult oriented or targets the Harry Potter genre that his stories would currently by so appropriate for.

Everything up to Lord of Chaos was genius. The ending of that book still gives me goose bumps, what with the kneeling of the Aes Sedai at Dumai's Wells. After that battle scene, Jordan seemed to hit a rut, like he'd hit a climax too early. How do you do the Last Battle after writing the final three chapters of LoC? It seemed like the last 5 books or so, he was recovering from the pace, stress, and sheer physical and emotional conflict of the first 6 books. Anyway, Nynaeve is annoying. The braid is annoying. But appropriately, I think. Is the world populated by perfect people? Frankly, I've got some colleagues that have habits just as annoying (popping fingers during meetings), and Nynaeve's braid pulling is all part of the character. Would I like the series as much if Nynaeve wasn't in it? Probably not. Conversely, the final chapters of the latest book were very good, and the scene where Nynaeve takes Lan to the Borderlands and manipulates him into riding to the Last Battle were genius. I love when Jordan takes a familiar character and looks at him or her through the eyes of an unfamiliar POV. The way that Nynaeve looks to the folks in the bar exposed her nobility of spirit in a new way. I'm also thinking of the way that Alliandre views Perrin, as a larger-than-life, intimidating man. I'd always thought of him as gentle giant. All the characters have a depth that Jordan was only beginning to plumb. It's a shame that he died too early to finish.

These "tics" as he describes him are in my opinion quite realistic. Jordan reminded us that his characters like real world people had annoying personal habits, and selfish flaws as well as unique culture traits however quirky they may seem to outsiders. To look down upon them is to fail to grasp their true depth. -Also, when going 18 months or longer between volumes a quick descriptor never hurt anyone.

One thing that made the biggest impact on me when i first started the series was that I felt like I was immersed in the Wheel of Time world. The level of detail is really quite astounding. Yes, sometimes the reading seems more a labor of love (particularly around Path of Daggers), but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Good luck to Mr. Sanderson. I look forward to reading your work.

Please KEEP the 'tics'. I wholeheartedly disagree with Steven who commented that these should be taken out.
KEEP the scene setting, KEEP the braid tugging, KEEP the descriptive fashion details. Please KEEP it all. It's what makes Robert Jordan's books identifiably "Robert Jordan's books".
The 'tics' are charming, and familiar and make the story feel like home. They're necessary.

I would agree with Mark, these "tics" make WoT what it is. I agree that the later books were a little slow, but during my 2nd time reading the series, they seemed a lot more enjoyable, and Knife Of Dreams really picked up the pace, setting up for an amazing final book.

I've been (not so) patiently awaiting the final book. I reread the series, but that only kept me help over for a couple months (I'm a slower reader). Various fantasy and Star Wars book are keeping me busy right now. I'm excited that Brandon Sanderson is finishing the series. I plan on picking up some of his books and reading those, and then reading Knife Of Dreams again before the final one comes out.

As an avid reader of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, I must say that those "tics" are what make it his. Would it really be Jordan's world if there wasn't a good braid tugging? There must be sniffing and snorting and of course Bela the Wonder Horse. These things are what make the story his. If I read the story without those tics, I would be very disappointed because it would not be anything like Mr. Jordan's world.

As for the pace of the past couple of books, they naturally slowed down because of the sheer volume of plotlines going in his very detailed world. In recent books, several plotlines have been resolved which in turn, freed up the pace some.

Overall, I look forward to this final installment and based upon my readings of Mr. Sanderson's books, I think he will do an awsome job.

Now I have ot have the patience to wait until 2009.

I agree with Sanderson, and with Mr. Jordan's many loyal fans, that an intricate, original, and intriguing gushed forth from Jordan's dazzling imagination . Like Tolkien's, at times this world almost seemed like it contained more than the readers could comfortably digest: too many cultures, too many costumes and characters, too much history, too many unresolved plot threads--a world that was literally bursting at its imaginary seams!

It would be appreciated, though (and this is intended as a respectful suggestion, not a complaint), if some of Jordan's "tics" could be avoided. The two biggest that have struck me--and in my reading of fan commentary, appear to have frustrated even the most faithful--were the plodding, minute-by-minute pace of the mid-to-late books and the repetitive resort to the same old "identifiers" for familiar characters and situations.

The pacing of the last couple of volumes improved somewhat over the four or five books before that, but one still had difficulty avoiding those niggling, nagging doubts: WHEN were we ever going to GET anywhere? How the heck, even before Jordan's sad final illness, were even the MAIN plotlines ever going to be resolved in OUR lifetimes?

Had Mr. Jordan (I use the pen-name because he chose to) continued to pump out massive volumes on the near-annual schedule of the first several, or if the newer volumes had seethed with the invention and breakneck plotting of those earlier volumes, maybe the (otherwise entirely understandable) slowdown in their production would not have proved so irksome.

Or, if the slower internal pacing of the mid-to-late volumes had been offset by a brisker drafting-polishing-publishing cycle, some of this controversy might have been more muted. But instead fandom was hammered by long weights for (comparatively) turgid tomes, in which some significant amount of the verbiage consisted of descriptions of costumes, national characters, and personal descriptors that felt rehashed and recycled from earlier volumes.

This leads into the second "tic" that one hopes to see downplayed or streamlined: thanks to Mr. Jordan's rich imagination, capacity to invent incident, and his detailed descriptions, persistent readers ALREADY firmly inhabit his world. We ALREADY possess a background familiarity with the incessant politicking of the White Tower, with the fashions and tendencies and physical types of the nations and cultures, and with the voices, habits, and personalities of all the major and many minor characters.

Yes, we may need a brief "stage-setting" reminder of how some minor princess, queen, or knight is related to the main plot-threads, or a brisk sketching-in of the history and fashions of the socio-cultural milieu from which such characters have emerged.

But what we DON'T need--please, please, pretty please!--is yet one more scene in which Nynaeve TUGS on her gosh-darn, light-forsaken BRAID!

Please resolve to remorselessly eliminate all such unnecessary "tics." They once served admirably to anchor the characters in Jordan's world, to enhance the verisimilitude of that world, to draw Jordan's readers into that world, and then to cement the connections between writer, reader, and artfully-woven web of words.

For the last many volumes, however, these too-often-repeated scenes and descriptors have instead worked to fray those crucial connections: injecting tedium, fueling frustration, and needlessly padding what might otherwise have been leaner and sleeker vessels of wonder.

Thanks for taking up this daunting challenge, co-author Brian and editor Harriet! I'm confident that Mr. Jordan has left us plenty of plot and substance to marvel over. There's absolutely no need--however tempting it might to pay deference to every quaver of Jordan's narrative "voice"--to attempt to accomodate yet more recycled verbiage or to try to capture every nano-second of every character's thought and movement, whether pertinent or not...

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