Last month, even before he finished his hectic Towers of Midnight tour, Brandon Sanderson kindly agreed to answer some questions for us in an email interview. We got right to work on some fun and interesting questions – Copes helped to catalog issues that people were curious about from the forums – and narrowed the list down to some of the ones that seemed least likely to get RAFO’ed (a RAFO, in case you haven’t seen the term before, is an answer of “Read and find out”). We still cut it pretty close on a few of them, and we appreciate Brandon doing his best to tell us something without giving too much away! Click “more” to read the full interview (both questions and answers are free of major Way of Kings and Wheel of Time spoilers, for those still reading).
Hello from your fans at Stormblessed.com, and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us! And we’d also like to say, Congratulations on another NYT bestseller with Towers of Midnight! I think that is an endorsement from the Wheel of Time readership, and well-deserved, for your work on The Gathering Storm.
Q: In the blog exchange [this link shows the posts in chronological reverse order] you recently did with Brent Weeks on Bordersblog.com, the two of you talked for a few posts about how Chekhov’s Gun applies to epic fantasy. In your words, “Is it okay, in an epic fantasy, to hang a gun on the mantle, then not fire it until book ten of the series written fifteen years later. Will people wait that long? Will it even be meaningful? My general instincts as a writer so far have been to make sure those guns are there, but to obscure them – or at least downplay them.” Your novels are followed very closely by groups like TWG, and now 17th Shard and Stormblessed, and you’re familiar with the obsessiveness of Wheel of Time fans. There are more and more people out there who spend time between book releases poking at the metaphorical walls of your work, on a hunt for those guns you’ve obscured. Does this kind of scrutiny change anything for you?
A: Yes. I don’t generally change the guns that I’m hanging, but I have begun to hang more subtle guns for those who like to dig. I like to have a variety of secrets in my books, with a variety of difficulty levels in figuring them out. If you read one of the books I’ve written, like The Way of Kings, I would hope that it will meet everyone’s needs when it comes to discovering things. For those who really want to dig, there will be some really deep secrets that you can unearth, talk about, and theorize about and eventually be proven right. There will be things that the casual reader will figure out three pages before the answer is revealed, that you will have figured out ten chapters ahead of time. I like that variety because of the old adage–it’s hard to fool everybody all the time, but hopefully I can have enough different secrets that they will each fool a few people.
Q: The art featured in The Way of Kings is very striking and has been well-received by readers. Do you have any plans to include more art in your future books – other books as well as The Stormlight Archive? Or maybe as bonus content on your website?
A: There will be more art in future Stormlight Archive books. I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I think adding a visual aspect to novels helps create a more complete and immersive experience. You’ll notice that art has been important to one extent or another in all of my books. Elantris had its map and the Aons; Mistborn had its maps and the Steel Alphabet. The Rithmatist, when it comes out in 2012, will have extensive magic system diagrams with every chapter.
Including a map in a fantasy book has become a bit of a cliché ever since Tolkien did it. But if you go back and look at what Tolkien actually did, the map that was in the book was an in-world artifact–it was something the characters carried around with them and used. So I’ve approached the art in my books in a similar manner. Each piece represents something that is made and used by the people in the world of the books. I think that helps give a richer feel to the world I’m creating.
One thing you probably won’t see me doing in future novels is including character art. I want to leave exactly how characters look up to the imagination of the reader. But I’m a big fan of the sequential art storytelling form as well, so you’ll likely see me do some completely graphic novels in the future.
Q: You’ve mentioned that each of the smaller glyphs on the inside cover of the The Way of Kings represents a type of magic. Can you tell us how many of these types we’ve seen so far?
A: Remember that to get an order of the Knights Radiant you take two of the small glyphs and one of the large glyphs. The large glyph represents a concept or an ideal mixed with an essence, what they call the elements of this world, with two magics attached to it. You have seen the Windrunners, which is the first, top-right glyph, mixed with the two Surges–the forces in this world–attached to it. So you’ve seen pressure and gravitation as mixed together to form a Windrunner. You have seen one of the other Surges, which is Soulcasting–Transformation–though which other Surges that mixes with to form orders of the Knights Radiant I am not specifically going to say at this time. What else have you seen? Those are the only ones that are overt. But you have seen the effects of others.
Q: The spren are a really unique part of Roshar. Do you have rules for deciding what “gets” spren (wind, flames, glory, creation, life, death) and what doesn’t? Have you introduced most of the spren types, or will we see a lot of new ones as the series goes on?
A: You will find out much more about the spren as the series goes on. There are a lot of things that get spren where the spren are not noticeable, or they only occur in very rare circumstances or in certain regions, as Axies explains. So the phrase “There’s a spren for that” that I’ve seen popping around on the internet is actually fairly accurate. There’s a spren for quite a lot of things. I don’t want to delve too deeply into this until I’ve written more in the series and you begin to understand exactly what the spren are.
Q: Can all spren imprint on someone – like Syl has with Kaladin – or is this ability special to certain types of spren? (I just got a mental picture of a flamespren taking notice of the pyromaniac noble girl from the castle market exercise in your JordanCon talk. Not sure that would end well.)
A: It is special to certain types of spren. There you go, a non-RAFO.
Q: You’ve said that Shadesmar is the cognitive relam connecting all the worlds in the cosmere, and that Hoid is very good at using Shadesmar. Should we take this to mean Shadesmar is how he travels between the worlds? Do the other worlds have different ways of accessing Shadesmar than the way(s) the people of Roshar use?
Q: At the end of The Way of Kings, several key characters seem to be converging on the Shattered Plains. TWOK takes place mainly on the Plains and Kharbranth. Do you plan to spend much time in new locations in book 2?
A: Book 2 will begin with Shallan and Jasnah either very close to or arriving at the Shattered Plains.
Q: Everyone’s favorite Wheel of Time question has been answered – after Towers of Midnight, we now know who killed Asmodean. It doesn’t seem right to leave you without a WoT question, so in honor of Asmodean: What do you think would happen if Rand managed to hurl Padan Fain through the Bore into the Dark One’s prison?
A: The Dark One would spit him back out because he tastes bad.
In honor of Asmodean, I’ll say that there is a mysterious death in The Way of Kings that could use some resources devoted to it. I did not put it in there simply because of Asmodean, but as I thought about it after writing it, I said, “Oh wow, I wonder if people will pick up on that.” So there you go.
Thanks again to Brandon and his assistant, Peter Ahlstrom, for taking some time to talk with us before turning to A Memory of Light. And for our readers, wherever you are and whatever holidays you celebrate, we hope you’re having a great weekend, and that the year has been a good one for you!