diumenge, 24 de maig del 2015

Brandon Sanderson: “Nothing awesome has happened without imagination”

Brandon Sanderson.                                        Photo: Anna Guxens.

Si quereis leer la entrevista traducida en castellano lo podéis hacer aquí.
If we had to describe Brandon Sanderson (Nebraska, 1975) with a word, this would be prolific. He isn’t forty years old yet but he has already written several sagas, namely Mistborn, Reckoners, Alcatraz and Stormlight Archive, although most of them remain still unfinished. “I started writing standalones, but they were secretly a big long epic”, confesses Sanderson. Moreover, it is very easy to see he takes his work very seriously since he uses every instant to write something, either if it is in a plane or between interviews. In fact, we find him with a little notebook in his hand, lest he can progress in his work before we get to the appointment.

Despite knowing Sanderson for his big Mistborn epic, he tells us he started working on The Stormlight Archive back when he was a teenager and he actually doesn’t know yet for which saga he will be remembered by. However, Sanderson hasn’t only delighted us with his genuine work, since he had the immense privilege to conclude Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time when he passed away in 2007. “When they offered me the assignment I was stunned, amazed and horrified, all at the same time”, says Sanderson, although he quickly adds that putting the full stop to the saga was a little bittersweet since he felt he would like to keep writing about Jordan’s world and characters.

Adria’s News interviews Brandon Sanderson, one of the biggest fantasy writers of our time who is also a big superhero fan (preferring DC over Marvel). His wish, seeing his work turned into videogames.


You wrote a story on the flight home from France in the summer of 2011. Have you written any story while on air, this time?
On the way here, I actually slept. It’s easier for me to write a story on the flight home, because on the way here I want to leave in the night, sleep, and then wake up in the morning and be adjusted, but when I fly home, I kind of want to do the opposite. I want to stay awake and then go to sleep when I get there to help with the jetlag. My plan is to work on something on the way home, we’ll see. I’ve done it from France and I did it from Taiwan, so I need to do one from Spain! [Laugh].

You are quite young and the Mistborn series is very popular. Do you thing it’ll be your biggest saga and the one you’ll be remembered by?
I’m not sure. The Mistborn certainly is my best selling so far, though The Stormlight Archive is catching up. I think it will probably be one of those two. Every author tends to get known by one main thing and I am not sure exactly what it’ll be for me yet, but I think there’s a good bet.  Plus, I intend to keep writing Mistborn books too through the course of my career, so it’ll remain around a bit longer, we’ll see! It’s really up to the fans, not to me.

Both in the Reckoners and the Mistborn series, several people are able to earn some special powers. Is this an influence of superheroes? Are you a fan of Marvel and DC?
I am. I’m fascinated by what would happen if normal people were given divine powers, right? And I take it different directions in different series, but I think that one of the cores of fantasy genre is “what do we human beings do with extraordinary abilities?” It’s the same in the superhero genre; it’s a thing they share together and it’s something that I’m fascinated by. I’m quite a fan. I was wearing my Iron Man T-shirt yesterday. Today is more of a Star Wars day, so I’m wearing a T-shirt according to that.  

Fantasy “Stories shouldn’t be about the magic, but about the people”

Brandon Sanderson.                                                     Photo: Anna Guxens.

You talk a lot about slaves. Why are you so interested in this topic?
I think that dealing with how people in different cultures react to terrible things, like slavery, and how people deal with the burdens of such pressures illustrates or illuminates, I should say, the human spirit. And what we are looking to do in fiction is to explore the human experience. That’s really what it is. When we write a book, what we wanna do is to take someone who is completely different than ourselves and tell a story about them, and when I read a book, one of the main reasons I read is I want to see what happens when people are put in extraordinary circumstances. This is one of those things that were fascinating as a concept to me: dealing with this in the fantasy world. And one of the strengths of fantasy also is the ability to take something that has a lot of emotional weight to it and put it into something like fantasy, where we can kind of strip away some of really passionate feelings and deal with them in their own isolated way so we can explore. Tolkien dealt with racism, but he used elves and dwarfs. And it doesn’t mean that racism is not an important thing to talk about, but when you kind of strip away what’s going on in our world, you can isolate it and maybe help people understand it a little more.

You were a missionary in South Korea and in your books religion is quite important. Do you want to transmit values with your books?
I feel like, as a religious person, one of the most purely terrifying things is misusing religion, but also as a person of faith I feel that my job is to try to explore things from all different viewpoints. I think what bothers me most in a story is when I find a person that believes like me and they’re the idiot, right? They are only one-layer characters and I feel like my job in writing fiction is to look at all sides, because that’s when we can understand one another, when we look at things on different sides. So, for me, religion, I want to explore it in all the senses, I want to explore what it is to be an atheist, what it is to be agnostic, what it is to be strongly faithful, what it is to be half way in between… How the crises affect us, and these things are all part of the human experience and I experience and learn reading about people and putting characters in that way.

In the Mistborn saga, religion is both something that can inspire and help people and something that control and use people for a benefit. In our world, which one is the predominant?
I think the religion used in a bright way is one of the most inspirational things in the world, and yet all the most powerful things that exist in our world they use to be the things that are most easy to corrupt for the wrong reasons. I mean, if you look at it, human spirit that drives to do something, is one of the most awesome things about us; it is what drives us to create art, and to create all great works, but the same drive, twisted inside of us… Nobody was ever oppressed by a lazy person; no lazy person’s has created genocide; no lazy person has created marvelous work of art, either. It’s the same spirit that can be turned to good or ill. The more powerful something is the more evil it can be or the nobler it can be.

Insensitivity “What bothers me most in a story is when I find a person that believes like me and they’re the idiot”

Brandon Sanderson.            Photo: Anna Guxens.

Mistborn: Shadows of Self will be out in Fall 2014. Is the second book of a trilogy set after the first one? Would you recommend reading firstly the original one or doesn’t matter because they stand separate?
I think that they can, if they want to. In fact, I’ve had emails from people who read the second and they had a very interesting different experience, so yes, I think it is possible.

I was imagining the Mistborn books more like a videogame than a movie or TV show. What about you?
I would love to see a videogame made. I’ve been a gamer all my life, so and I can’t deny the influences it had upon me, being a gamer. The thing I love about fiction is the stuff it can do that the videogame can’t do. I like that genre but books are my first love, so I’m just I’m gonna write the best books I can and hopefully someone will come along and make some good videogames.

Do you want to see a movie or a TV show of your work?
I’m certainly willing to let someone else, but since I haven’t practice screenplays, I don’t thing I would make a good enough one to do it justice. I would like to find somebody who could translate.

You finished Robert Jordan’s Weel of Time. I know you were a fan of the series, but did you meet him beforehand?
I saw him once in a convention. He walked by, and that’s it. I never actually met him. I was too embarrassed to go up and shake his hand; I wish I had, now. I never met him; it was his wife [Harriet McDougal] who chose me after he passed away.

So what did you feel when Harriet McDougal picked you to finish the series?
It was crazy. It just was a phone call. I wasn’t expecting it, but she asked me if I would finish The Weel of Time. I was stunned, amazed and horrified, all at the same time.

Books “I’ve got too many open-ended series so I need to be careful not to start more”

Brandon Sanderson.                                                       Photo: Anna Guxens.

I know Robert Jordan left some notes. Was it difficult to follow them or were they very straight forward to the point?
It was a mix. He wrote an epilogue, which was a very big help, because I knew where he was going, but he didn’t write the climax or the actual ending. He wrote some big character moments, but others he wrote nothing. There is a character called Perrin [Aybara] in The Wheel of Time, and Perrin he didn’t leave any notes except for a little note for what happens to him after the series is done, and so I had all the space with nothing to do with Perrin. Egwene [al’Vere], another main character, he’d plot it out an arch, and he’d done major scenes, and he gave an explicit structure, and what to do in various points in her arch through the books, so it was easier.

Will you write something else in Robert Jordan’s world?
I would love to, except for one thing. I think he wouldn’t want me to. He was very uncomfortable with people writing in his world and he only reluctantly agreed to let the ending be done before he passed away he asked her wife to find someone. And so since I don’t think he wouldn’t want me to, I don’t think it’s right to, so we are not going to do anymore. It’s time to let it be done, but there is a bit of regret there from my part. I’ve loved these characters since I was a kid and now, being not able to do any more stories for them is a little bittersweet.

You have a book series that started with Alcatraz versus the evil librarians. Do you think librarians are evil people? Have you ever had a bad experience?
Well, mostly I’m poking fun of them. I did get fired from a library once. I worked there for three months, but this wasn’t about that. I think that librarians like to make fun of themselves and I was sitting around one day thinking what is the funniest thing I can think of, and the image that came to my head was a little old lady librarian with glasses and a shawl standing behind the bookshop and having a battle axe underneath ready to grab in case somebody walked off with the wrong book. That was hilarious to me so, that’s where the series came from.

Recognition “Every author tends to get known by one main thing and I am not sure exactly what it’ll be for me yet”

Brandon Sanderson.              Photo: Anna Guxens.

Nearly all your work is in a series. Is because you like to tell long stories? Why not more standalone novels?
It really just depends on the mood I’m in. I’ve moved a lot of my standalones to novellas these days, because I just don’t have as much time to do as much as I want to. The Emperor’s Soul is a good example of this. Instead of writing a standalone novel I’ve moved it to a novella and it worked really well at that length. So I see myself doing a few more like that until I can finish up some of these series. I feel like I’ve got too many open-ended series so I need to be careful not to start more.
Because you still have to publish more books from The Stormlight Archive, the Rithmatist series, the Reckoners series and the Mistborn series. How can you manage not becoming mad with so many series open?
I hop around a lot. That’s how I stay fresh and creative: working on different projects at the same time. But I do think I need to close some of these loops. I’ve written the last Alcatraz book, so that series is done. The last one is not out yet, but I turned it, so at least I closed off this series, and I’m planning to write the last Reckoners book this fall [he is referring to Fall 2014], and that would close two of them. Mistborn and Stormlight aren’t gonna end for a long time. Even for Mistborn, once I finish this trilogy, there’ll be more. And Stormlight is ten books, but I can wrap some of these other ones: I want to wrap the Rithmatist next. Then, all of my kid’s series will be done. Reckoners is more adult, but Alcatraz and Rithmatist would be done. And then, with the Reckoners done, I’ll have more things closed off. I feel I have too many things open right now…

The Stormlight Archive is planned as a ten book series. How can you know it so early on?
I did a lot of planning on that series. It’s a series I’ve been working on since I was a teenager and the structure is built around the idea of ten characters. Each book has a flashback sequence for that character and focuses a bit on their life, so I know I’m done once I’ve done these ten characters.

Wheel of Time “I saw Robert Jordan once but I was too embarrassed to go up and shake his hand”

Brandon Sanderson.                                                       Photo: Anna Guxens.

So you know which character will be the main one in each of them?
Yes, I do know. For those who are fans of the Stormlight, book three would be on Szeth, the assassin in white, book four would be Eshonai, and book five would be Dalinar.

You won the UPC award. UPC is one of the universities in my region, Catalonia. What can you tell me about that experience?
That was pretty awesome. It was great. I really liked Barcelona and I didn’t know a lot about European science fiction and fantasy fandom when I was younger and breaking in, and so being able to come… I actually came to Barcelona first before I won the UPC award, found out about the award and then started visiting Spain and France, and that’s when I submitted to the UPC award, because I was able to understand a little bit more about what was going on here, and how exciting the European fantasy fandom was.

You did a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I know these programs are quite popular in the US, but we don’t have anything similar in Spain, in general. Do you think a writer needs to study how to write?
I do thing a writer should study those, but they don’t need to do it at university; you can do this on your own. It’s helpful the university because you can have a teacher who can guide you, but is more a mentorship. Sitting in a classroom and listening to someone talk about writing can only take you a little bit of the distance. Having a mentor who can help you out can help you more, but at the end of the day, the greatest work is you practicing. In this stuff you can get on your own, despite this taking a bit longer if you are by yourself, so I would say don’t worry if you don’t have degree, if people out there that are reading this wanna be writers the only thing they need to do is practice. And the Internet, and the advent of being able to publish online is really democratized the publishing industry a lot. Is a lot more open to new authors, so I say go for it.

Multi-tasking “I stay fresh and creative working on different projects at the same time”

Brandon Sanderson and interviewer Adrià Guxens.        Photo: Anna Guxens.

How did you come up with the idea of set all your works in a fictional universe called Cosmere?
There were certain specific inspirations I can point to. Isaac Asimov later in his life connected his robot series and his Foundation series, which as a kid, reading them, blew my mind. They are happening in the same universe! Michael Moorcock also did some of this, so the idea of a connected universe is certainly not something I came up with. My spin on it is that I feel a very few authors have done this from the beginning. They kind of go back and try to link things together while when I was writing these books I said: “What if I came up of a fundamental rules for magic and then show the different interpretations of magic on different worlds and how different people work with them”. That was really exciting to me. Doing this from the gig go, kind of inspired by Asimov and Moorcock in moving forward, and so the idea was this: there was a story behind the story. Part of the reason for this was also as I was writing as a new writer I realized if I wrote a trilogy and book one didn’t sell, I couldn’t sell book two. You couldn’t go to an editor who rejected book one and sell them book two. But if you took them a different book one or a different standalone, you could say: “I know you’d liked this, but not enough to buy it, would you like to read this one?” They would usually say yes. And so what I wanted to be doing was writing first books and see which one took off, but I also like epic series and so hiding an epic behind the scenes for all of these different books that was writing was a way that I could, as we say in English, ‘have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too’. I could be doing standalones, which I think that would break me in faster, but also writing secretly a big long epic.

You have three writing laws. Which one is the most important? [Law 1: “An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic”; Law 2: "Limitations > Powers”  (or in other words, a character's weaknesses are more interesting than his or her abilities) and Law 3: "Expand what you already have before you add something new."]
Actually, rule number zero, which is the one I haven’t written an essay. Rule number zero is: “Always air on the side of what’s awesome”, which means always pick what’s awesome. You have to remember when you’re writing you want to write an engaging, powerful, fun story and my rules for magic are to help me do that, not to undermine that. Can’t become about the magic, it has to be about the people, so I have to keep in mind “let’s do what’s awesome and let’s make sure the laws are helping that, rather than becoming the means themselves”.

Becoming a writer “Having a mentor can help in your writing, but at the end of the day, it is you practicing”

Brandon Sanderson.                                                        Photo: Anna Guxens.

Don’t you think that nowadays a lot of authors use magic like a joker they can throw whenever in order to solve any situation?
That happens too much and that’s what the first law says, which is basically: “Do good for shadowing. Don’t use your magic to solve your problems. Build yourself good rules for your magic and make your characters solve their problems with the tools they have instead”. But at the same time, Harry Potter kind of ignores that law, and Harry Potter books are fantastic. And so she [J.K. Rowling] is erring in the side of awesome and that’s trumping everything else. Now, I think those books might have been a little stronger if they had been more consistent, but at the end of the day, she sold four hundred million books or whatever and she’s written this fantastic series, so I can’t point at her and say: “You should have done this!” Instead, I should be saying: “What did you do? Give me your clue!”

Do you think there is still a bad preconception regarding fantasy and science fiction?
I do think there is. I think that it is lessening, but there is a prejudice, and there are two main prejudices: one is from the literary community; those who are writing, what we call in English “literary fiction”. They look at fantasy and consider it frivolous. On the other hand, you have this sort of people who don’t read very much or looking at it and saying “it’s not real, therefore, it’s not important”. Both of these prejudices are wrong. The people haven’t good intentions when they are talking about it, they just don’t understand the importance of imagination. And what I’d like to say is nothing awesome has happened without imagination. You can go to the Wright Brothers, the first people to create an airplane, and say: “This is a fantasy flying in the air”, an if you don’t have the creativity and imagination to imagine a different world, you are never gonna do anything wonderful.

What do we have to change to make people accept this?
I think that if they would just take the chance to experience it! And this is why I think Harry Potter is changing this, The Lord of the Rings movies… If they sit down and they read the Harry Potter books and they say: “Wow! This helps me imagining, this gives me a different feeling!” If we could just acknowledge feelings are important… It seems like we focus so much on thoughts. How thoughtful is it, how thought provoking, not how much emotion does it inspire. And I think inspiring emotion is as important as inspiring thought, but in our society we have this ‘emotion is bad’ sort of thing going on. I think that if we just would acknowledge it’s good to feel, then, we are OK!

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Challenge “I think inspiring emotion is as important as inspiring thought”

Brandon Sanderson.              Photo: Anna Guxens.

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1 comentari:

  1. Merci Adriá, muy interesante. Sanderson es mi escritor de fantasia contemporaneo favorito, y su Stormlight Archives es en mi opinion la obra por la que sera recordado.