Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Brandon Sanderson - Author Interview


Hero Of Ages
Well of Ascension


website: www.brandonsanderson.com

> Pitch your latest novel.

My latest novel, coming out June 9th, is called Warbreaker. I'm a big fan of the stand alone epic form for fantasy--some of my favorite fantasy novels were of this style. (Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly comes to mind.)

My first novel, Elantris, was a stand alone, and I have always planned to return to the form on occasion. A stand alone can give things that a series can't. I'm particularly pleased to be releasing Warbreaker now, with a lot of attention on me for the Wheel of Time, as it will give people a chance to try out my work and see what kind of writer I am without them having to invest themselves into a large series.

Warbreaker is the story of an impending war between two kingdoms: Hallandren--a large, powerful land ruled by living gods known as The Returned--and Idris--a smaller kingdom in the nearby highlands, founded by the old royal family of Hallandren when they were forced to flee the kingdom. Idris doesn't have the influence or military of Hallandren, but it does contain the true royal line of the Hallandren people.

War is looming. Hallendren is tired of this smaller, rebel country controlling the highland passes and claiming the true right of rule. In a desperate attempt to stop an invasion, the king of Idris sends his daughter to marry the God King of the Hallandren people. And yet, there are clandestine forces within both kingdoms who are still pushing for war. Warbreaker is the story of the Returned gods, a princess from Idris in over her head, and a mysterious man with a sentient sword, tied to the magic of the Returned and the original division that shattered the two kingdoms in the first place.

> What are your favorite three books?

Hum... Dragonsbane, mentioned above, certainly has to be one. I'd also list The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

Boy. That's a tough one to answer. I could probably pick a favorite per book, but a favorite overall? Let's limit the question just to Warbreaker for now.

Lightsong is my favorite in the book. He's one of the Returned gods--once an ordinary man, he died in a heroic way (or so he is told) and was sent back to live again, his corpse awakening and growing to deific proportions and gaining divine beauty and grace. He doesn't remember his old life, and is worshipped by the Hallandren people. They believe that his dreams are prophecies of the future.

The thing is, he doesn't buy it. In a way, he's a god who doesn't believe in his own religion. Witty, flippant, and far less divine than everyone else thinks he should be, his plot revolves around an unusual plot hook--the divinity who challenges the culture of his own religious society. He was extremely fun to write.

> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

It was called White Sand, an epic fantasy novel. It took about three years to write, and it will never, NEVER be published. (Though maybe I'll use the ideas and write a new book.)

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

First chapter of Mistborn Two [Well of Ascension]. I'd never written a sequel before at that point--and it was a new experience to me. I'd done thirteen stand-alones or first novels during the days I was trying to break in. But never a sequel.

I had a real challenge figuring out what to repeat from the last book, how to balance reminders with the pacing of this book, and how to set up plots and concepts for the middle book of a trilogy.

Struggle is good. These are things I needed to learn. But man, was it hard.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan?

I once had a fan ask me, when signing their book, if I would mind drawing on the title page a picture of Snoopy (the comic character) holding a sword.

I did it, terribly. I STILL have no idea why they wanted that picture. ;) (I have also had requests to sign body parts, which is kind of odd. I've turned those down, I'm afraid.)

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

I would say World Fantasy in Montreal back in 2001 or so. I went with several good friends, and it was the convention where--finally--I made a book pitch to an editor that finally worked. It was 2:00 am at a hotel room party. Stuffy, crowded, exhausting. One of my friends had begun speaking with an editor at Tor, and brought me into the conversation. We had a blast, and I connected with the editor--Moshe Feder--quite well. I sent him a book the moment I got home.

He didn't get to it for eighteen months. But when he finally DID, he bought it immediately. Worldcon is in Montreal this year, and we're all planning a reunion.

> If you still have one, what’s your day job?

I'm one of the lucky ones who doesn't have a day job. I quit that the day I got my first advance check. (Which wasn't that much--but I was a single guy living in a friend's basement at the time, so it was enough.) Through the next few years, I picked up the occasional teaching job at the university to help pay the bills. (A class here and there.) I really consider myself going 'full time' in 2005, the year Elantris was released.

> What is your university degree in?

English, with a Master's in English: Creative writing emphasis.

> Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

Depends on your talents and skills. Good sf can take a lot more research and study, but if you're fond of that, it can be a lot of fun. Fantasy still requires research, but the research tends to be more broad-based, from what I've seen. You want to know a little about a lot of things to do proper worldbuiling and society building.

But in the long run, it's all about character, plot, and use of language. If you don't have these fundamentals, than you're going to struggle with any story. So in that way, I'd say they're equally difficult.

> When and where do you write?

I like to move around a lot. Different rooms of the house, depending on the day. So long as I have a comfy chair, couch, or bed, I'm fine. (I do have to have my laptop, though. I compose and think best on a laptop, I've found.)

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

Best thing: Getting paid for telling these stories. Like many authors, I spent years breaking in. I wrote books all of those years, and loved it--even though not a one got published. I'd still be writing them if I had never gotten published.

But it is extremely rewarding to be able to do this for a living, and know that people out there are reading my books and finding something in them that entertains, inspires, or makes them think.

Worst thing: Self-employment Tax and paying your own health insurance. Yuck.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your fist book published?

I didn't realize how little say authors would have in their covers--and rightly so. The cover is not an illustration of the book, it's a marketing tool. There are people whose entire job is to match cover artists with books so that the right people are attracted to that cover and pick up the novel.

Writers have a lot of thoughts about book covers, but we don't tend to look at it with the right marketing eye. We're more interested in making sure the characters are accurate--which isn't always as important as it feels to us.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Sure. A couple of things:

1) Learn to turn off your internal editor. You can always rewrite later. When you start into writing, the most important thing I think is to learn that you don't start off perfect. Let yourself make mistakes, and don't worry. Just keep writing and practicing.

2) Don't try to write too many viewpoints at first.

3) Try to blend familiar ideas with those that are original. In other words, don't try to do everything new--but also don't just retread old ground. The best stories have identifiable characters facing identifiable conflicts, but in different ways and different places.

4) Focus on CONCRETE details. Don't just describe how things look--add in occasional scents, sounds, and textures.

5) Finally, don't give up! It can take time to learn to write. Don't feel bad if your first book doesn't turn out like you want it--and even if it does, realize it may take years to get it published.

> Any tips against writers block?

Write. Don't make excuses, write. Yes, you're blocked--but unless that 'block' comes from broken fingers, you can still write. So do it. Then throw it away if it's crap and do it again. Then throw that away, if you must, and try again.

The only way to work through a problem, many times, is to write it wrong first--then go back and write it right. Don't let yourself get 'blocked' to the point that you just don't write anything. Doctors don't get Doctor's block, and carpenters don't get carpenter's block. Yes, writing is a creative, artistic field--but if you want to learn to be a professional, then you have to learn to work when you don't want to. That's just the way the world works.

You'll figure it out eventually, so long as you are writing--even if that writing is terrible. It's okay. Push through it, then fix it.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your fist novel or story?

I honestly didn't keep track. I should have. I can tell you this: I spent eight years being rejected and was working on my thirteenth book when I finally sold one. (The one I sold was my sixth.)

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