Brandon Sanderson is a hard working guy. As you’re about to find out, his first published novel, Elantris is actually the 13th novel he wrote! 13! And who said that was an unlucky number? Clearly Sanderson is passionate about what he does (write Fantasy novels) and it shows in his work. Elantris, “was Brandon’s first published book. A stand-alone epic fantasy novel, the book won the Romantic Times award for best epic fantasy of 2005, was chosen by Barnes and Noble.com editors as the best fantasy or sf book of the year, and is forthcoming in fourteen languages (about half of which have been released as of September of 2007.)” (pulled from HERE) Needless to say the release of his two subsequent novels (the first and second book of a trilogy, respectively), The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension were met with eager anticipation by his fans.
Brandon is currently hard at work wrapping up the third novel in the Mistborn Trilogy and has just released his first children’s novel, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians!
Well, enough introductions, why don’t we take a look at what Brandon has to say!
Q. First off I’d like to congratulate you on the success of your novels, Elantris and Mistborn: The Final Empire and your nomination for a Campbell Award!
Thanks! Being nominated for the Campbell was a great honor, particularly when I look at the other authors that have been nominated during these two years. I’ve been really pleased at the reactions to my writing so far, and I’m excited to see what people think of the books I have coming out this year. (Mistborn: The Well of Ascension comes out from Tor this month, and Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians comes out with Scho-lastic in October.)
Q. Your first novel, Elantris, was well received by critics and fans alike, even earning you a mention from Robin Hobb as a new author to watch out for! What do you do to keep yourself grounded in what is undoubtedly an exciting time?
Honestly, I still can’t believe it sometimes when I see my books up there on the shelves with Robin Hobb’s, Orson Scott Card’s and others by my favorite authors. Reading their works helps me realize that I’ve still got a long way to go! On the whole, authors, even very popular authors, don’t have to deal with the type of celebrity hype of say, movie stars. When you only get a little recognition, it is easier, I think, not to let it go to your head!
Q. Stand alone novels are a rare occurrence is the Fantasy genre, an area of lit-erature that is typically filled with epic, multi-book series. What prompted you to begin your writing career with a stand alone, Elantris an why the change to a trilogy with Mistborn?
Two things influenced my decision to write Elantris as a stand alone novel. The first is the aspect that as a new author, I didn’t have a proven track record. I’d grown a little frustrated with new authors releasing first books in a trilogy when I didn’t know their writing well enough to trust whether or not I wanted to get bogged down in a huge series. So, I decided that I wanted my first book to be a stand alone–a self-contained epic fantasy story that could show off what I could do without expecting people to wait years and years to see if I could finish a story or not.
Q. Your web site mentions that Elantris was the sixth novel that you had written, yet the first to be published. What do you think it was about Elantris and the Mistborn novels that man-aged to capture the attention of a publisher in a way that the precluding novels did not?
My first five books were very experimental. I wrote a comedy, a science fiction, a bunch of different types of things trying to figure out what I was good at and what I wanted to do. When I wrote Elantris I knew I wanted it to be an epic fantasy, and I’d had some practice writing in that style. Also, my big hang-up with my earlier works was editing. I’d finish a project and be so excited about going on to the next project that I wouldn’t take the time necessary to make changes. By the time I wrote Elantris I’d learned how to revise, so when I sent it out it was a much more polished product. These two reasons, and the fact that it was a standalone, were what I think made Elantris sell when my earlier stuff did not. Mistborn was actually part of the two book deal in the contract I got for Elantris, so the publisher bought it sight unseen. Luckily, they liked it!
Q. Speaking of your web site, it’s obvious that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating a web site that is full and deep of exclusive content to please your fans. My personal favourite are the extensive notes, annotations and comments you’ve made on your novels. It’s fascinating to see the thoughts of the author as he ponders the same questions that I had as a reader. You’ve even got a whole novel up there on your web site for your fans to download and read! What is it that drove you to create such a rich web site?
The idea for the chapter annotations and deleted scenes is based on the bonus ma-terial that you can often find with movies on dvd. I really enjoyed learning more about the behind-the-scenes happenings in some of my favorite movies, and thought that readers might feel the same way about books.
Q. Breaking into the field as a writer is a tough task, can you give a little rundown on how your relationship with TOR developed?
One of the best things you can do as an aspiring writer is learn about editors who publish writing similar to yours, then attend conventions to meet people and make con-tacts. I met Moshe Feder, a consulting editor at Tor, at World Fantasy Convention in 2001. He agreed to take a look at my work, so I sent him the manuscript for Elantris, my 6th novel. I didn’t hear anything from Moshe, so I continued writing and submitting. Elantris sat on Moshe’s desk for eighteen months, but eventually he read it, and liked it! I’d moved, so my contact information was no longer correct, but with a little persistence, Moshe managed to track me down and make me an offer for Elantris.
Q. Eighteen months! That’s a long time to wait patiently, what can you recom-mend to aspiring novelists to help them avoid such a fate… but still get their book published!
I think a writer who has several works to send out, and is actively seeking multiple sources to which to send them, is more likely to get published. Be aware, though, that it is against industry protocol to send a complete manuscript to more than one editor or agent. You can send query letters or partial manuscripts to several sources, but if someone asks for a full manuscript, that person must accept or reject it before you send it to anyone else. It is important to know and follow the submission guidelines for the places to which you send manuscripts.
Q. Readers of Fantasy generally seem to like to lump authors into one of two fields: World Builders and Character writers. This is obviously a very black and white definition of the genre, but that being said, which into which side would you place yourself and what are your thoughts on the two in regards to writing a novel?
I think most people would put my writing in the field of the World Builders because many of the comments I receive center on the uniqueness of my magic systems. Hon-estly, I would rather not be lumped with either side! I try very hard in all of my books to create both interesting worlds and believable characters. If I had to choose just one, however, I would rather be on the side of the character writers because I think charac-ters make better stories than worlds do. In my opinion a good book is a balance be-tween character, setting, and plot with character being the most important of the three. You can have the coolest magic system in the world, but if readers don’t care about the characters who are using that magic system, the book won’t be very fun to read.
Q. As you mentioned, the systems of magic you create for your novels are particularly strong and well thought out. How much time do you spend fleshing these ideas out before you sit down and start writing the novel?
It’s hard to say because I am always thinking about ideas for books. Concepts for magic systems, characters, settings and such come to me all the time, so I try to write them down and keep them for future use. When I am actually ready to sit down and write a book, I spend a couple of weeks or so pre-writing. Some of this time is spent outlining the plot. Some is spent fleshing out the ideas for the magic system, and some thinking about character arcs. Then, of course, more details come as I write.
Q. Another of your complex creations are the Aons you created for Elantris. Where did the inspiration for this symbolic language come from? Did you create all of the designs yourself as you wrote the novel?
I spent two years in Korea as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. One aspect of Korea that particularly interested me was the written lan-guage. This interest in Asian writing systems later sparked the idea of Aons. The Aonic symbols at the beginning of each chapter of Elantris increase in complexity as you con-tinue through the book. I did create the designs myself, though luckily Tor had someone who could make them look better than my original messy sketches!
Q. Just taking a look at the names of your characters, it’s obvious that you put a lot of thought into the culture’s that inhabit your world and the naming structures that they would have in place (no randomly pulling from the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Big Ol’ List o’ Fan-tasy NamesÃ¢â‚¬Â). What is it about this aspect of world building that appeals to you so much?
A fantasy world can seem so much more full and interesting when it has many di-verse cultures, just like the real world does. I try to produce the feeling of a wide range of cultures in my fantasy settings by creating groups of names that sound culturally con-sistent.
Q. How did your experiences differ when writing Elantris as compared to writing Mistborn?
Elantris was my 6th novel. By the time I wrote Mistborn, my 13th, I’d figured out some things about writing and my own style that made me more effective. At least I’d like to think so! I wrote Elantris as a standalone, and I knew I wanted to make Mistborn the first of a trilogy. Even though I borrowed some ideas from my own earlier works, Mist-born was a more complex story and took more planning. I’d never written a trilogy be-fore, so it was a little difficult to figure out how to wrap up the story in the first book, while still setting things up for the other two.
Q. What of the things that most appeals to me about you as an author is that you’re also about to publish your children’s novel, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. What compelled you to write a children’s novel and how does it differ from writing a novel for adults?
Alcatraz actually started out as a freewrite. I’d been deep into the Mistborn books, and needed a break from their complexity and darkness. I decided to come up with something completely silly, so I wrote down a sentence that I’d thought of recently, and just started adding to it. When I finished I sent it to my agent, even though it was very different than what I’d written before. He suggested marketing it for kids, which we did, and it worked! In writing a children’s novel I have to keep things simpler and shorter than I do when writing for adults-fewer viewpoint characters, simpler plot construction, more straightforward language. I actually really enjoy the variety of doing both types of novels.
Q. Any parting words?
Thanks so much for doing this interview! It is fun to answer questions that are so well thought out.
Q. Well, Brandon, I wish you all the luck with the release of Mistborn: The Well of Ascension and Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me here at A Dribble of Ink!
Be sure to check out Brandon’s web site (HERE)! You’ll find a ton of interesting and exclusive content relating to his novels and, best of all, an entire novel that you can download and read… for free!