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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Official Brandon Sanderson’s Website
Brandon Sanderson’s Blog
Order “The Well of Ascension
Order “Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Chapter One, Chapter Two + Chapter Three from “The Well of Ascension
Read Chapter One + Chapter Two From Alcatraz
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of The Well of Ascension

With his standalone debut novel “Elantris” and the current Mistborn trilogy, the second volume (The Well of Ascension) of which was recently released in August 2007, Brandon Sanderson has established himself as a writer to watch and has become one of my favorite new fantasy authors out there. So securing an interview was always a goal of mine. Unfortunately, Mr. Sanderson has quite the workload, finishing up the Mistborn trilogy, writing a new children’s fantasy series that just debuted (“Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians” — October 1, 2007), working on various other projects (Warbreaker, Dragonsteel, Scribbler, etc.), not to mention the book tour and a new addition to the family :D So, I was extremely grateful that Mr. Sanderson took the time to answer what questions he could and I hope that you’ll enjoy the following interview. And for more Q&A fun, be sure to check out A Dribble of Ink’s recent interview with Mr. Sanderson HERE. Thanks for reading and much love & respect:

Q: When I think about some of the bright new voices in fantasy and science fiction literature, Brandon Sanderson always comes to mind. Technically you’re not that new since you’ve just released your third and fourth novels with lots more to follow, but for those that may not be familiar with your work, can you just tell us a little about what inspired you to become a writer, how & why you ended up at Tor, and why readers might find your books worthwhile?

Brandon: After being a voracious reader as an elementary school student, I eventually got bored with the books people were handing me, and by Jr. High I didn’t read at all if I could help it. Luckily, a wonderful English teacher introduced me to the fantasy genre, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I read everything I could get my hands on, and even tried to write a fantasy novel when I was fifteen. It was a bit of a disaster, but when I tried again at 21 things went better. Though I started college as a bio-chem major, I soon realized that I enjoyed writing so much more than chemistry. I changed my major to English and dedicated myself to becoming an author. All through my undergraduate classes I worked nights as a hotel desk clerk because they let me write during my shift, and I could still go to school full time. I began to learn about marketing and publishing and sending my works to editors. I was writing my 13th novel when “Elantris”, my 6th novel was sold. I met my agent at the Nebula awards. He didn’t actually become my agent until I had a contract, though. I met my editor at the World Fantasy convention. Tor was my favorite publisher, and so I looked for Tor editors, and tried to get them to read my work…

Q: With your debut novel “Elantris” (2005) you made some noise with the intriguing storyline, imaginative magic system and the fact that it was a standalone book. What were the greatest challenges you faced in writing Mistborn, a series that follows the more traditional trilogy format, and in particular “The Well of Ascension”, which is the middle volume in the trilogy, oftentimes considered the weakest of the three? What about the positives of writing a series opposed to a standalone?

Brandon: Mistborn was difficult because it was the first trilogy I’d ever written. I want all my books to feel like standalones because I really like wrapping up a story satisfactorily in one volume, but with the Mistborn books I had to make sure the story was consistent across three volumes. “The Well of Ascension” was particularly difficult in that a second book in a series has to effectively recap what happened in the first book, without being too repetitive. Also, a second book has to end in such a way that it leaves readers wanting to read the third, but I’ve never liked big cliffhangers. I struggled with finding a balance in these two things with the second book. To me, the advantages to writing a trilogy are that I can develop characters further and get more in depth into the world. For example, I could develop three magic systems in Mistborn instead of just the one in "Elantris". People like to read about continuing characters, and it is fun for me to be able to expand on some of the side characters.

Q: In both “Elantris” and “Mistborn: The Final Empire” you pointedly made an effort to defy certain age-old, fantasy clich├ęs. What formulaic story elements did you try to redefine or avoid in the second volume of the Mistborn trilogy?

Brandon: In “The Well of Ascension” I focused on the concept of prophesy. So many fantasy stories involve the idea of an ancient, infallible, and comprehensible prophesy which guides the actions of the characters. In “The Well of Ascension” I wanted to show the dangers of relying only on prophesy to provide a guide for your life. I also wanted to turn on its head my own concept of optimism. Many fantasies, including “Elantris”, show that If you are just determined enough you will succeed. I wanted to deal with what happens if you believe in yourself and things go wrong anyway.

Q: Regarding “Elantris”, I read a while back that you had no intentions of writing any sequels, but then you had a change of heart. I know that you’ve been busy with a lot of other projects, but has there been any progress at all on a possible follow-up, or maybe ideas you could share on an “Elantris” sequel that have been bouncing around in your head?

Brandon: I doubt I will do a sequel that begins just after “Elantris” ends, at least not with the same characters and in the same place. There are lots of ideas I want to explore in the world of "Elantris", though. I might do something about the Seons, or focus on a different culture, or write about something that happens many years after the story of “Elantris”.

Q: One of the many projects that you’re working on is a new children’s fantasy series, book one of which just came out October 1, 2007 via Scholastic Press and is called “Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians”. Can you give us a rundown on how this idea was conceived, what kind of story readers can expect from it, your plans for the series, and why you chose Scholastic as the publisher?

Brandon: Alcatraz actually started out as a freewrite. In the middle of writing the Mistborn series I needed a break, so I wrote down a silly sentence that had been tumbling around in my head, then just kept writing. It took me 16 days, and I wasn’t really setting out to write anything in particular. I ended up with the completely looney first Alcatraz book. I wasn’t even sure if it could be marketable, but I sent it to my agent, who suggested some small but significant changes, and then sent it out to children’s publishers.

Once I realized it could go somewhere, it fit into my plans quite well. I knew I wanted to start a second series, because it is much easier to make a living as an author if you have two books coming out a year rather than one. I wanted to write something that was different enough from my epic fantasies that my readers wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, but similar enough that those who liked my other books would still read it. I decided this meant writing either humor, science fiction, or young adult. I’d actually been reading a lot of YA, and was most excited about that idea, so when we decided to market Alcatraz as middle-grade, I was pleased. I immediately had all kinds of wacky ideas for the series.

Q: As far as the writing, what are the differences between a children’s fantasy and the books that you’ve already produced?

Brandon: Obviously the biggest difference between a middle-grade fantasy like Alcatraz and the stuff I write for Tor is the length. Alcatraz is sixty thousand words long, while “The Well of Ascension” is two hundred fifty thousand. Writing the Alcatraz books is nice because I can do it relatively quickly, and they don’t take themselves so seriously the way my epic fantasies do. I do find that I have to simplify things in order to write for kids — fewer viewpoint characters, simpler plot, etc. It is sometimes more satisfying to create an intricate story like I can do with my Tor fantasies. I’m actually really enjoying having the two types of books to write.

Q: Moving on, another of your projects is the standalone fantasy novel “Warbreaker”. What’s cool about this book is that you’re offering it as a free download while you’re writing it, giving readers the opportunity to witness & provide feedback on the book as it evolves from its roughest stages to eventually, a final version and publication, all in the name of publicity. Personally, I love the concept and just wondered if you had any other innovative ways for authors & publishers to promote books, especially with newer writers?

Brandon: I like the multimedia idea. I’ve often wondered if offering a CD with a book might be good–an audio book with some of it read by the author, or music inspired by the story, or something like that. I post excerpts of different drafts of my books on my website, and readers, especially those who are aspiring writers themselves, seem to like that. I think there are many kinds of “bonus material” that writers could include with their books in the way of special features that are often included on the DVD versions of movies. This is what I try to do on my website with my annotations and deleted scenes.

Q: Cover art is another area that is very important to you and one of the highlights of your books has been the uniquely breathtaking artwork. That trend continues in “The Well of Ascension” as artist Jon Foster (“Mistborn: The Final Empire”) outdoes himself in what I think is the best cover yet. So, just wondering what your thoughts are on how the artwork for “The Well of Ascension” turned out, how it stacks up to the other books’ covers, and any other thoughts you may have on the topic?

Brandon: I really liked Jon Foster’s art. I think he captures movement and action well, which was excellent on the Mistborn covers. Foster’s covers almost look like stained glass pieces themselves, and with the sort of gothic cathedrals I had in mind for some of the scenes of “The Well of Ascension”, this was perfect. As far as my personal opinion, I like the cover of Well better than that of Final Empire, but not quite as much as the cover for Elantris. I have to say, though, that the image they’ve chosen for Mistborn 3 may make it my favorite cover yet.

Q: I believe congratulations are in order :D You have a baby due out soon! How’s it feel to almost be a father?

Brandon: It’s very exciting and I don’t know really what to expect. I just hope he doesn’t come while I’m on book tour.

Q: Let’s hope not ;) So do you have any last thoughts or comments that you’d like to share with your readers?

Brandon: Try reading “Warbreaker” if you haven’t already. My goal is to get better with each book. I hope you stick with me during the process as I figure out what my style is!


Chris, The Book Swede said...

I really liked this interview -- Brandon Sanderson is growing on me all the time.

I really liked his kind of laid-back attitude, and his ideas of providing book versions of extras and deleted scenes.

Also thought it was kind of cool, the way he set out to find an agent and publishers, etc at conventions =D

Still waiting for the books to come through the post!

Very nice interview.

The Book Swede

Katie said...

great interview, you asked all the right questions.

Robert said...

I'm glad you both liked the interview :) Due to time constraints Brandon was actually only able to answer about half of my questions, but it still turned out great I thought. If you like fantasy at all, then I'd definitely recommend picking up his books!

SQT said...

I have both Elantris and The Mistborn sitting on my shelf and I am dying to read them. It's times like this I regret having to prioritize my reading.


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