Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

Interview with NY Times bestselling ‘Mistborn’ & ‘Steelheart’ author Brandon Sanderson

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Wikipedia gives a helpful summary of Brandon’s impressive writing career. “Sanderson published his first novel, Elantris, through Tor Books on April 21, 2005, to generally positive reviews. This was followed in 2006 by The Final Empire, the first book in his Mistborn fantasy trilogy, where “allomancers”, people who have the ability to ‘burn’ various metals and alloys after ingesting them can enhance senses and allow control over powerful supernatural forces. He followed up in 2007 with a sequel, The Well of Ascension.

Sanderson then released the children’s novel Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, about a boy named Alcatraz who has a unique gift: he’s very good at breaking things. He also has a group of evil librarians who are bent on taking over the world. In 2008 The Hero of Ages was published, and an Alcatraz sequel named Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones.

In 2009 Tor Books released Warbreaker, originally published on Sanderson’s website while writing the novel from 2006 to 2009. The same year a third Alcatraz book followed, titled Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia.

After Robert Jordan’s death in September 2007, Sanderson was selected by Harriet McDougal (Jordan’s widow) to complete the final book in Jordan’s epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time. McDougal asked him to complete the series after being deeply impressed by his first Mistborn novel. Tor Books made the announcement on December 7, 2007. After reviewing what needed to be done to wrap up the series, Sanderson and Tor announced on March 30, 2009 there would be a final three books instead of just one. The first of these, The Gathering Storm, was published October 27, 2009, and reached the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction.

In 2010 Sanderson released the first novel in a planned ten-book series called The Stormlight Archive, titled The Way of Kings. It reached number seven on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. Towers of Midnight, the second-to-last Wheel of Time book, was released just over a year after The Gathering Storm on November 2, 2010, also debuting at number one on the bestseller list. The fourth Alcatraz novel, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, was released a month later on December 1.

In October 2011, he released a novella ebook, Infinity Blade: Awakening, based on the action role-playing iOS video game Infinity Blade developed by Chair Entertainment and Epic Games. A stand alone sequel to the Mistborn trilogy, Mistborn: The Alloy of Law, was released in November 2011, where it debuted at #7 on the bestseller list.

On August 31, 2012, Sanderson released a science fiction novella entitled Legion. Another short work, The Emperor’s Soul, was published in October 2012. A few months later, on January 8, 2013, A Memory of Light was published, the final book in The Wheel of Time series. On May 14, 2013 Sanderson published the first in a new young adult series, titled The Rithmatist. Another YA book series began with the publication of Steelheart on September 24, 2013.”


I had the pleasure of meeting Brandon at a Mysterious Galaxy Books book signing. I am a huge fan of his Mistborn series. Brandon’s answers below are a transcription from audio he recorded specifically for this interview.

Tell us about your writing process.

I am an outliner. I like to have books with explosive endings, and to manage this—for me—I need to know what is going to happen in the story. I generally plot my books backward, starting my outline with the ending, then I work my way forward. When I write, I go the other direction.

Henry: Well, your technique works, even if it flips the Cheshire Cat’s advice on its head. Keep it up, sir!

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. — Alice in Wonderland

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Practice. Don’t worry about anything other than finding time to write—then spend that time on your stories. Publishing shouldn’t worry you; nothing should. Just practice.

Henry: Indeed, I cannot underscore enough the value of belonging to a good critique group. I would also offer up Brandon’s Laws (again from Wikipedia):

“Sanderson’s First Law is that “An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” While originally created as a rule for magic systems in fantasy novels, Sanderson has specified that this law need not apply just to fantasy, but is also applicable to science fiction. This Law was originally defined in Sanderson’s online essay “Sanderson’s First Law”. In the essay he qualifies the two extremes of design as being:

1. Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands. As a result, one can use this to solve conflict more easily as the capabilities are cleanly defined. Sanderson classifies this as “Hard Magic”. C.L. Wilson in her essay “Worldbuilding 101 – Making Magic” advocated this method of creation, stating, “…create your rules, then follow them.”

2. Magic/technology has unclear or vague rules, or none at all. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader, but the ability to solve problems without resorting to deus ex machina decreases. Sanderson classifies this as “Soft Magic”. Lawrence Watt-Evans specifically advised “The trick is to be a benevolent and consistent deity, not one who pulls miracles out of a hat as needed”

Sanderson’s Second Law is “Limitations > Powers”, that a character’s weaknesses are more interesting than his or her abilities. It was initially set down in Episode 14 of the podcast Writing Excuses. John Brown, likewise looked to Sanderson’s work in his own essay involving magic systems, noting “What are the ramifications and conflicts of using it?” Patricia Wrede likewise noted several issues on this topic ranging from magic suppressing other technologies, to how a magic might affect farming. In explaining the second law, Sanderson references the magic system of Superman, claiming that Superman’s powers are not what make him interesting, but his limits, specifically his vulnerability to kryptonite and the code of ethics he received from his parents.

Sanderson’s Third Law is that a writer should “Expand what you already have before you add something new.”

Sanderson’s Last Law is that a good magic system should be interconnected with the world around it. Sanderson points out that magic does not take place in a vacuum. It is related to the ecology, religion, economics, warfare, and politics of the world it inhabits. The job of the author is to think farther than the reader about the ramifications of the magic system. If magic can turn mud into diamonds, that has an effect on the value of diamonds. Sanderson states that readers of genre fiction are interested not just in the magic system but how the world and characters will be different because of the magic. “

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

What power I would choose depends on how rational my brain is that day. It makes the most sense to have Wolverine’s regenerative powers. At the same time, it’s not like I’m jumping off cliffs or getting into fights. So I probably wouldn’t do much with this power. But in the back of my mind, there’s a part of me that says, “Boy, would I really love to be able to fly!” Which is why a lot of the magic systems in my books wind up dealing with people having powers that let them soar in the air.

Henry: I would have bet big money you’d have chosen Allomancy as your superpower! For those unfortunate souls who haven’t yet read Mistborn, Allomancy allows people to “burn” (metabolize metals in the body for magical powers) ingested metals, thereby enhancing various physical and mental capacities. Burning iron enables the Allomancer to pull on metals. Burning steel enables pushing. Burning copper hides Allomancers from others, while burning bronze reveals them. Burning zinc enflames emotions, while burning brass dampens emotions. Burning tin enhances the senses, while burning pewter enhances strength and toughness.

Brandon’s Mistborn Allomancers cleverly use a combination of burning iron and steel to effectively fly. ‘Nuff said.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

First would be Robert Jordan, easily, because I would like to question him about the things he wanted to do with the Wheel of Time that he didn’t leave us notes on and get answers to the questions that he didn’t leave us answers for. Then I would pick Terry Pratchett because I’ve seen him at conventions and he seems like a blast. After that, probably Moses. I’d have to get an interpreter, but hanging out with Moses would be pretty awesome, and I would have a lot of questions for him as well.

Henry: Great choices (and what an honor for you to be chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s work). And kudos for remembering you’d need an interpreter for Moses. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to have Moses over for dinner, but not be able to converse with him? I’m guessing dinner would include matzoh and quail.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Wow! What a fantastic question! The problem is I think that everyone in my position is going to say dragon. Many of us got started in fantasy by reading books about dragons, so there’s a special place for cool dragons in a fantasy writer’s heart. For example, Anne McCaffrey’s books are part of what pulled me into fantasy in the first place, so I’d have to take the cliched route and say dragons, but I would specifically pick her dragons.

Henry: Dragon is a go-to answer, but we’ve certainly had others. No question, dragons are an oldie, but a goodie. McCaffrey’s dragons were far more user-friendly than Tolkien’s Smaug and Glaurung.

This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Author: Henry Herz

Children's book author

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