On the Red Couch with Fantasy Novelist Brandon Sanderson

Jenn de la Vega / December 4, 2014

Brandon Sanderson was “anti-books” until an eighth grade teacher introduced him to fantasy novels. He went on to write seven novels during his undergraduate career at BYU while juggling the night shift at a hotel. After many rejections from publishers, he received a fateful phone call from fantasy book editor Moshe Feder of tor.com. It had been a year and a half after he submitted his manuscript for Elantris and he had almost given up.

Now he is known for his bestselling series Mistborn, co-hosting the podcast “Writing Excuses” and was chosen by Harriet McDougal to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, a seminal epic fantasy that heavily influenced Sanderson himself.

As part of our iBooks author series (iBooks powers much of our Books category), here’s what Sanderson had to say about his ongoing projects. Fantasy enthusiasts and aspiring novelists, take heed!

Publishing and distribution has really changed since you began writing in 1997. How did you adapt to a more digital world?
One thing that is very different is you can take a shorter piece, like a novella, and reach an audience much more quickly. With social media, it makes the business feel less lonely. Book length is less important, which is a big advantage for both readers and writers. For the longest time, you had to publish a book at a certain length. You can now tell the story that you want to tell and include color illustrations easily.

How did it feel to carry the torch and finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series?
It was a like becoming stepfather to several million people. Fortunately I was part of the fandom, so I understood it to an extent. Robert Jordan had been good at interacting with his readers. I had to bone up on my minutia of Wheel of Time and I was nowhere near as good at it. Otherwise, it was a deep honor to take over on this series. But it was so difficult, I don’t know if I would ever do anything like it again.

The Stormlight Archive will be 10 books long and your third in the series, Stones Unhallowed, is due out in 2016. How do you stay on top of it?
It’s on track for 2016. Those books take a lot of work to write. I found that they come out better if I take a break in between them, to let the ideas continue to flow. My plan is to do one every two years. I like to have a solid plan for every story I’m working on. Beyond that, I do have assistants whose jobs are to focus on continuity.

Allomancy is very tactile power in Mistborn. Did spending time outdoors or living in Utah inspire that?
It was definitely inspired by my time outdoors, but at the same time, great magic in a book will often be one that has a strong tactile sense to it. Some newer writers go wrong in their magic in fantasy books by making it cerebral. Giving that extra boost, where you make it easier to see yourself doing it, makes for a stronger story.

How do you personally encourage young writers?
I like dropping by schools. I, unlike a lot of writers, didn’t enjoy writing and reading when I was a teenager. It took a teacher, who focused on me as a person to get me excited about fantasy novels. I had such a wonderful experience that it changed my life. If I can reach that same age group and say, “You may be thinking that you hate books, the truth is that you probably haven’t found the right books yet.”

How did you get involved with the game Infinity Blade?
The guys who make the Infinity Blade games live down the street from me. They were big fans of my work. I’ve been a gamer all my life. It was me getting a chance to experiment with a new type of storytelling, while they were getting a chance to see first-hand how a writer goes about developing a story. Maybe someday I’ll have video games based on my books.

Do you play games? What have you played lately?
The last one that I played all the way through was Dark Souls 2. Lately I’ve been into a mobile game I found called Badland.

Any recommended reading from students you’ve taught?
Brian McClellan‘s Promise of Blood, Peggy Eddleman’s Sky Jumpers and Janci Patterson. I’m am lucky to have had these students in my classes because they are people I learn from.

Flip through this magazine for more about Brandon Sanderson and to see his titles on iBooks:

You can also watch some of Mr. Sanderson’s BYU lectures on Youtube!

~ jdlv is curating “Toolkit