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Interview: Brandon Sanderson on Towers of Midnight

Disclaimer: The following “written” answers are actually a transcription of verbal, tape-recorded answers from Mr. Sanderson.

John Ottinger: Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Will Mat’s character and storyline play a larger role in Towers of Midnight (TOM)? Have you addressed reviewer’s concerns about your interpretation of Mat Cauthon?

Brandon Sanderson: Mat will play a much larger role. For one thing, a lot of the material that Robert Jordan left for Mat takes place in this book rather than in THE GATHERING STORM. But I did take a long look at Mat. Whether I’ve addressed readers’ concerns about him is something I will leave up to the readers to decide. I’ve posted the book’s first chapter from Mat’s point of view on my website. Read that chapter and decide for yourself.

JO: After releasing The Gathering Storm (TGS) and getting reader responses, did you change anything about your approach to writing TOM?

BS: Mat was the main thing that I spent a lot of extra time on post-reviews. With most everything else, I kept doing what I had already been doing. The tricky part with TOM is that it was already going to feel like a very different book from TGS. So taking what people said about TGS and applying it to TOM could be dangerous because of the different tone and feel to the plot cycles of the books. So I had to write it as the best book I felt it could be, though the one main area that I took a second look at was Mat.

JO: In TOM, does Rand become more likable? In TGS Rand sometimes comes across as a very powerful, petulant child. Does the nobly heroic Rand of Eye of The World and The Great Hunt ever return?

BS: Read and find out. That’s all I can say on that one.

Editor’s Note: Read “Apple’s First” chapter one of TOM at Tor.com. It’s a good foreshadowing of the answer. (At the time I asked the question, chap 1 was not available to read yet.)

JO: You were simultaneously writing/polishing TOM and The Way of Kings, putting in 14 hour days. How were you able to keep TOM distinct and faithful to Jordan without blending in your original work?

BS: I have gotten very good at this over the years. For instance, during many years I would be working on something like one of the Mistborn books alongside one of the Alcatraz books. If you read those two, the tones are extremely different. One of the ways I keep things separate is that I generally only write new material for one project at a time. I can edit and revise one project, by taking what it needs to be and making it better, at the same time as I write new material for another project. One of the things you should keep in mind is that when I’m writing Wheel of Time books, the struggle is always–even if I’m not working on something else at the same time–to make sure that I’m remaining true to Robert Jordan’s vision of the characters rather than interpreting them myself. Which means that when it comes time to write a scene from a character’s viewpoint, before I write anything that day I generally read a chapter of Robert Jordan’s work from that character’s viewpoint, and I try to ingrain that in my head and get a resonance going, so that when I sit down to write I can keep the character’s voice straight.

Your question is a little bit like asking an artist, “How can you paint an impressionist painting one day, and then switch to realism the next day?” Well, they’re slightly different arts. Each expresses a painting in its own unique way, and it’s just what you do as an artist. It’s the same difficulty a writer has jumping between characters in a single book. How do I write Shallan in THE WAY OF KINGS and then jump and write Kaladin, and keep them from sounding like one another? It’s something you have to learn to do as a writer. Otherwise, your character voices will all blend together.

JO: Are there any “Easter Eggs” that the well-versed Wheel of Time reader might find contained in TOM, and can you name at least one?

BS: Oh boy. Well, one person’s Easter egg is another person’s very obvious thing. In chapter one, “Apples First,” in which a character from THE EYE OF THE WORLD shows up, I intended that to be more of an Easter egg and not tell people who that was. But Harriet asked for a big reminder near the end of the chapter of where the characters had met. So there are things like that, where characters return, but most of the time we have erred on the side of giving a little bit of an extra reminder of who these people are. If you look in Lan’s plotline, several characters from NEW SPRING make reappearances. The well-versed Wheel of Time reader is not even going to consider that an Easter egg, since it’s going to be pretty obvious to them, but to other people I think it will be surprising. Will there be an Easter egg on the level of THE GATHERING STORM’s reference to Plato? I’m sure that there are a few things like that embedded in there, as Robert Jordan always liked to embed references, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

JO: Since you are now one book removed from Jordan’s original composition, are you finding yourself having to be more original, since it is likely that you have less Jordan prepared material to work with?

BS: Actually, the balance is rather similar, because of the way I developed the books. Half of the prologue scenes that Robert Jordan worked on ended up in THE GATHERING STORM; half ended up in TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT. I’d say a third of the other material he worked on ended up in THE GATHERING STORM, and a third ended up in TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT. In both cases I’ve had one character’s plotline at the core of the book that was very well plotted out and worked on by Robert Jordan, and one plotline that to a greater extent I’ve had to add to of myself. That’s been the same in both books.

Working on A MEMORY OF LIGHT is going to be a different experience, because the greater amount of what Robert Jordan worked on is weighted toward the end of the book rather than all along one character viewpoint. But there will still be a lot of it there, and in that case I’m writing toward it. You have to remember that the way I write these books often is to take a viewpoint cluster, a group of characters, and write them through from the beginning of the book to the end of the book. Which means that I’ve already, even in THE GATHERING STORM, had to work on viewpoint lines for which there was less from Robert Jordan to use. So it’s been the same experience–it’s really divided by plotlines.

JO: Can readers expect more of the Forsaken to be destroyed in TOM?

BS: Read and find out.

JO: Do you consider Rand’s use of balefire to be a deus ex machina, as some of your critics have claimed?

BS: I haven’t read those criticisms. I’m kind of confused because I don’t see me using balefire in any more of a deus ex machina way than it has been used previously in the series. By the definition of the term, it’s not a deus ex machina as long as what’s possible and what someone can do has been foreshadowed. For example, at the end of book five when Rand goes to Caemlyn and brings Mat back to life using balefire, that would only be deus ex machina if the reader didn’t know ahead of time that it was possible. But once you have the ability to rewind time, some really funky plotting things can happen. There are certainly criticisms that can be leveled. But deus ex machina is the wrong term.

Editor’s Note: For more on these concepts, read Sanderson and Weeks dueling posts on the topic at Babel Clash.

JO: The title’s allusion in TGS was fairly self-evident. To what does the title of TOM refer?

BS: Like many of Robert Jordan’s titles, there is a metaphorical element and a concrete element. The title refers to both metaphorical events and an actual place. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

JO: In TGS there is much focus on the present moment in time, but part of the genius of Jordan was his historical background. Will the history of the WOT world have any effect on its future? (particularly the descendents of Artur Hawkwing?)

BS: Yes.

JO: The Trollocs, Myrdrall, and Ogier have all but disappeared from the tale. Will these other races of the world ever re-enter the narrative of WOT in any significant way?

BS: Yes.

JO: Anything else on your mind you like to say to potential readers of TOM?

BS: A few early reviewers have noticed that there is a spoiler in the glossary. There are always little spoilers in the glossary, so that’s nothing new. But in this case, it’s really best not to read the glossary until you’ve finished the book.

I hope readers enjoy the book. Check out the sample chapters–chapter one is available on Tor.com and chapter eight is available on my website.

Editor’s Note: Chapter 2 is now live at Tor.com.

JO: Thanks for answering my questions! I have loved all your work so far, no matter its intended audience, and am looking forward to much more.