Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brandon Sanderson in New York City

Monday night, I went into New York City to go to Brandon Sanderson’s book signing. A combination of more people than last time and a smaller venue led to a more cramped feel with ghastly waits, but I’m still happy I went. Now, I think signed books are decently snazzy and all, but the main reason these events are cool for me is to put a face to a name and, especially, to hear the talk/Q&A. I’m not doing a word for word recreation here (my memory’s not that good, I didn’t take notes, and, besides, that’d be totally unnecessary), but I’ll try and get the gist of all of it.

The questions got off to a spoilery start, as the first half dozen were all RAFO’d, as Sanderson put it. Those included: Do we see Verin in Towers of Midnight? Do we see a 13 channeler conversion in Towers of Midnight? Who are the Red Veil dudes at the end? Etc, etc, etc.

After that, we get into some questions with actual answers, though the first proved obnoxious as hell. A man asked why the old tongue sounds more formal when Mat speaks it in the early books than when he does in the later. Sanderson said that the difference was caused by Mat’s familiarity with the tongue. But no, that’s not good enough, because the asker doesn’t buy that. Uh…what? It’s the guy writing it with the series’ creators notes. He knows the Objective Truth here, and, if you don’t like it, that’s just unfortunate, because it’s Correct.

Anyway, the asker’s reasoning was that the earlier segment was Germanic in its structure, the later French. Sanderson then spoke of all fantasy novels inherently being in translation and the difference in formality and base being the way to obtain the effect that the original had, whether the original was actually changing from German to French or not. He then went off on the subject of fantasy puns, which he said require some fancy meta footwork, because, really, if it’s a pun in our language it’s pretty unlikely in theirs as well. At this point, Alan (one of Jordan’s assistants and, evidently, the resident Old Tongue expert) then picked apart and stomped on the asker’s arguments using his far superior knowledge of said Old tongue. In short, it’s a fluid language that has depths we haven’t seen yet, which will be revealed in the house-sized Wheel of Time encyclopedia coming after A Memory of Light.

The most interesting question of the evening was how Sanderson finds it to work from the outline of another. As anyone who reads Sanderson’s blog or listens to Writing Excuses knows, he’s an outliner. Those outlines are, it seems, organized, not in a strict chronological progression, but rather as a succession of major events, with the connective tissue added later. In many cases, this was the form that Jordan’s notes took, with the central scenes often written or at least alluded to and with the gaps between them left dark. There were a select few Jordan planned events that Sanderson altered – mostly things that were set down indefinitely: “maybe I’ll do this. Or this. Or neither,” as Sanderson paraphrased – but he stuck to the outline the vast majority of the time.

For the scenes that were not in any way planned, Sanderson brainstormed a large number of possibilities, ranging from the obvious to the out there, and then took the one that he thought best – often in the form of an already written scene – to “Team Jordan” to get there opinion. Occasionally, he had to axe the idea, though he managed to sway them a majority of the time. There were two main “eyebrow raises” in his planning for the first two books of his series-capping trilogy, one of which made it into the books and worked, the other of which was dumped. As to what any of the eyebrow raisers – major or minor – were, Sanderson declined to reveal, due to not wanting us to pick apart the books by author, though he did say that he’d speak more freely after A Memory of Light.

There was a question about whether it’s possible for there to be female ta’veren and, if so, whether Egewene was one. The answer to the first is yes, but, as to the second, there are no female ta’veren in the main storyline, so Egwene’s out as a candidate.

Finally (though I’m totally improving the order, here) there was a very sensible question about the total lack of communication in the series: Why do the three men always banish the visions immediately upon their appearance rather than, you know, using them as the incredibly useful tool that they are? Sanderson said that the three are all a bit shell shocked about where they are and that all of them – even Mat, though to a lesser degree for him – still wish they were back in the Two Rivers, so they rid themselves of the reminders of their importance (the visions) as fast as they can without really thinking about the consequences. To me, that answer sort of reeks of plot convenience (Rand got over his wah, wah, wish I was a farmboy thing six thousand pages ago), but ah well.

When I was getting my book signed, I asked the only non-Wheel of Time question I heard that evening: “What’s the connection between the three planned Mistborn trilogies and the short novel in that world? Is there going to be some kind of overarching plot?” He said that there would be a large scale plot that unified the series, but that it’s not going to be something initially obvious, and that, though we’ve seen elements of it, it’s unlikely we could ever really guess what it is.

So, all in all, it was a good evening, even if I had to wait an inordinately long time, and fail an inordinately large amount of trivia, before I could have my forty-five seconds with Sanderson. Oh, and I’ve now got signed copies of Mistborn, Way of Kings, and Towers of Midnight, to go along with my Gathering Storm, Elantris, and Warbreaker from the last signing he did here.

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