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Brandon Sanderson
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Brandon Sanderson   Brandon Sanderson is the New York Times best-selling author of the Mistborn and Alcatraz series. He was chosen to complete the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Times series, which has sold over 50 million copies worldwide and spawned computer, trading-card and role-playing games, a soundtrack, comic books, and numerous fan sites.

Buy Brandon Sanderson's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
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This episode originally aired on 11/5/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Brandon Sanderson

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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it.

Matthew Peterson: Now for a bonus question: From your experience teaching creative writing, what is some advice you give your students?

Brandon Sanderson: The biggest piece of advice I would give them is: You just gotta finish stuff. A lot of people want to be writers. And a lot of people have really great ideas. And get their great ideas together and say, ďWow! I think this could be a book.Ē Then they start on it and for various reasons, they stop. One of the main reasons is they get discouraged because itís not turning out as they want it to turn out, or they get distracted by another really great idea theyíve just had, or they want to go back and keep revising this initial stuff that theyíve written. And youíve got to finish. You wonít understand how to be a writer until you actually finish a book. And youíve got to remember that nobody starts off being perfect. And itís that process of writing books that arenít so good that teaches you how to write books that are good. No one expects to sit down and play the piano perfectly the first time. Yet a lot of people sit down and try to write the perfect book the first time. So, my biggest piece of advice to them is: Sit down, write, finish a book. And that will teach you how to write a good book.

Matthew Peterson: Ah. Thatís some good advice.

Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it (you'll need to fast forward past the bonus questions).

Matthew Peterson: . . . and I just talked to Terry Brooks and he said, ďI really feel what Brandonís feeling right now.Ē You know, because Terry Brooks wrote a lot of books that were similar, in the vain of J. R. R. Tolkien, and so a lot of people thought of Terry Brooks as the modern day J. R. R. Tolkien and put him on that level. And so he felt like he had some big shoes to fill or to maintain. And now you do too, I said that at the beginning of this.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: [how get got the idea for Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians] Just based off of a line, a single sentence, to give me a . . . really a free write. That line was, ďSo there I was tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to be sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil librarians.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Brandon Sanderson: That had just popped into my head one day. I jotted it down, and I said, ďOkay, Iím going to take a month and Iím going to write on this and just do whatever comes to me.Ē To just do something that . . . it wasnít like I was saying, ďI am now going to publish childrenís fiction.Ē It was, ďI need to do something very different from what I was working on.Ē And so I wanted to be humorous. I wanted it to be targeted at a different audience. I did it in first person, instead of in third person.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: And during that time, because of the way I wrote, because I was just enjoying life as an unpublished writer . . . there are things you can do as an unpublished writer that you canít get away with as a published writer and one of those is to always be jumping from project to project and always searching for something newĖmuch harder to do when you have contracts and people saying, ďWell you promised us these books, when are you going to write them?Ē

Matthew Peterson: Youíve got the deadlines to meet.

Brandon Sanderson: Yeah. During that time, I could just write, different wild things as they occurred to me and I got used to that.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: One of the things I do in my epic fantasy books, I like to have very intricate, complex, and interesting magic systems. So for the Alcatraz books I came up with one that was ridiculous. In this world, everyone has really dumb magical powers, based on dumb things that I do. Like Alcatrazís grandfather is magically good at being late to appointments. Thatís his super power is being late to things.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Brandon Sanderson: Alcatraz breaks stuff, and you know, heís got a cousin whoís magically bad at dancing, and stuff like this.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Brandon Sanderson: And it became kind of a Mystery Men meets fantasy, meets my own twisted imagination, turning into this group trying to use their really wacky, looney magical powers to fight against the librarians. And so youíll have things like grandpa arriving late to bullets when people shoot at him. And stuff like that.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Brandon Sanderson: So, thatís really what that series is. Itís a silly conspiracy theory book about librarians ruling the world and this kid Alcatraz discovering heís part of a long heritage of freedom fighters who all have really dumb magic powers to fight the librarians.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Thatís funny.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: Itís not like I intended to come in and revolutionize the genre. Itís not something that I think someone can set out to do. But what you can and should set out to do is add to the genre. Take another step forward. There are really two things that I felt I could add to the genre. Of course, any great book, hopefully, is going to have great characters, great story telling, great setting.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: During the years when I was trying to break in . . . Iíve loved fantasy. Iíve loved it for many years. Iíve loved it since I discovered it when I was 14, and one of the things that was annoying me just a little bit as I was trying to break in is it felt like fantasy, that should be the most imaginative of all genres, was feeling stale to me. The new books that were getting published seemed like they were clones of books that had come out years ago, and in fact were kind of poor clones of books that had come out years ago. And I kept asking is there nothing else we can do? Why isnít the most imaginative genre out there being more imaginative? And not to say that I am the king of doing this and intending to revolutionize the genre . . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: A lot of epic fantasy has this same sort of concept. This young protagonist, raised in the rural area goes on a quest to defeat the dark lord. And itís a wonderful, powerful story; itís the story that Tolkien used to an extent; itís certainly the story that Robert Jordan used, and you see it coming up over and over again in fantasy and I worried it had come up too many times. And so the Mistborn series came from me saying, ďWell, what if he failed? What if this kid, this plucky protagonist, you know, went to save the world and it went all wrong?Ē

Matthew Peterson: And it failed? Oh!

Brandon Sanderson: What if Frodo kept the ring? Or what if Sauron had killed him and taken the ring? What if Voldemort killed Harry Potter at the end of book seven? What happens? And the way that I approached this is saying, ďOkay, thatís happened. Youíve got your generic epic fantasy story that all happened, and the hero failed.Ē Thousand years later, now what? And it focuses around a team of thieves who get together and decide, ďOkay, the prophecies were lies, the hero didnít save us, the world is essentially enslaved. Letís try this our way.Ē And their plot is to rob the dark lord silly, use the money they get to bribe his armies away from him, and over throw the empire. And thatís Mistborn.

Matthew Peterson: You know, Brandon, as you were talking about the Mistborn, you brought up some memories of my childhood. I donít remember what this series was, but I read this series that exactly was kind of like that: you know, the character is a normal person, heís great, throughout the series, but the very end, it doesnít all turn out right. He becomes evil and the series ends! And it haunted me. My whole life. And I still donít remember what the series was. I wish I would have remembered it, but . . . yeah, thatís a very interesting concept and it doesnít happen very often.

Brandon Sanderson: I was tempted to actually do that. I felt that would have been too much of a downer. Which is why I jumped forward a thousand years and then used kind of flash backs to tell the story of what happened a thousand years ago, because itís not as clear cut as Iíve made it sound.

Matthew Peterson: Well, that series I mentioned, I mean, that scarred me for life. [laughs] So Iím glad that you did a little different at the end there.

Brandon Sanderson: The other thing is I would have had to write it as a kind of more generic fantasy at the beginning and then take it other places, and I wasnít sure if I could do that because I donít know if my heart would have been in it, trying to write a fantasy that is more generic.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: The other big thing I like to do with my books that I hope does something new and interesting is try to approach having interesting different types of magic. And I think the best fantasy books do this, and I wanted each book that people read of mine to have a new magic system. I like to write magic that feels like it could be a science, that in this world thereís another branch of science that we donít have in our world, that if you explore and apply the scientific method to it, you can figure out how it works. And I tend to write stories where weíve got people figuring out the magic. Theyíre working in sort of a magical renaissance. Thatís the theme for my next series, The Way of Kings, which is whatís going to be coming out next year, is the idea that weíre living in a world where people are discovering the magic and bringing it back to the world and trying to figure out how it works and actually applying reason and science to it to get some hard numbers on what it can do and what it canít do.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: [being asked to continue The Wheel of Time] Thatís the first I had heard of it. It was out of no where. At least as far as I was expecting it. So at that point, she requested some copies of the Mistborn books and she called me. Her initial call was a call to ask me if Iím interested before she did the work to search through my books and decide if she wanted to choose me. And so that initial phone call, when I finally got a hold of her. . . It was actually pretty hard to get a hold of her. She had left the house and I was just kind of running around in circles like a chicken with his head cut off because I didnít know what was going on and I was very tongue tied. And I eventually got a hold of her and she just said, ďI want to see if youíre interested before I do the work of reading one of your books and deciding.Ē Well, to be perfectly honest, my response was something along the lines of ďBlah ble blahh . . .Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Brandon Sanderson: I mean, I couldnít even talk. I wrote her an email the next day that I sent care of Tom Doherty, that really essentially said, ďDear Harriet, I promise Iím not an idiot, even though I sounded like one.Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Brandon Sanderson: But she then sat down and read Mistborn, and it was about a month later. She read Mistborn. She considered some other people. She called me up and said, ďYes, I would like you to do this. Are you still interested?Ē And of course I was. It is one of those things that just happens unexpectedly.

Matthew Peterson: Just an amazing thing.

Brandon Sanderson: And it changes your life.

* * * * * * * * * *

Brandon Sanderson: [regarding splitting the last book into three books] Yeah. What happened was. . . and I want to make this perfectly clear as I try to explain this. Iíve not expanded the size of the book at all. Robert Jordan, before he passed away, kept saying, ďThis book is going to be enormous. This book is going to be huge. Theyíre going to have to sell a wagon with the bookstores, so you can get it out of the bookstore.Ē And I took that to heart and was writing it as I felt he would have written it. He wanted this book to be enormous.

And Tom Doherty and Harriet made the call, I left it up to them, that they were going to decide how it was going to be divided or if it was going to be divided or if they were going to be printing it as one. And what really happened is about January of this year, Tom and Harriet got together and they looked at what we had and they made the call for two reasons. One reason being, they felt that it was too large to publish as one book. Harriet had said to me, kind of in private, she said, ďI donít think Jim could have done this in one book.Ē I donít think he was planning to do this in one book. He maybe would have tried to get them to publish it as one book, but the realities of the publishing business . . . the larger reason I think that they did it because it was going to take me another two years to finish that one book if we were going to be publishing it as one. And they didnít feel that it was right to make the fans wait that long. Itís already been four years since the last Wheel of Time book.

And so the decision was made that they would take the first third, which I had finished already, and then have me work with it and edit it so that it was a single volume and it doesnít read like the first third of a story. The way I approached writing this made for some very natural break points. And they were going to publish that and then we would publish the second third and the third third. And itís really more about the fact that this just takes time. These things are enormously difficult to write, in a good way, but very, very hard, because of how much work it requires to get it right and how many pages there are. I mean the first third is going to be as long as an average Wheel of Time book.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

Brandon Sanderson: And so you can imagine stacking three copies of Eye of the World on top of each other; thatís how long Jim planned this book to be.

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