From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Nine Tiger)
The following interview with Robert Jordan was taped on November 1, 1994 at ACT Studios in Arlington, Virginia for FAST FORWARD: CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE FICTION.
FAST FORWARD is a half-hour public access television program produced monthly and broadcast on cable systems in the Greater Washington, D.C. area, and on systems in Minnesota and New York City. Each program consists of book and media reviews, listings of upcoming area events of interest to fans of science fiction and fantasy, and an extended interview with an author, editor or artist. FAST FORWARD is a production of Da'Guys, Inc., in cooperation with Arlington Community Television, Channel 33.
Featured guests on FAST FORWARD in 1994 included Paula Volsky, Michael Swanwick, Brian Jacques, Lois McMaster Bujold and Josepha Sherman. The interview with Mr. Jordan starts off the 1995 series of broadcasts, airing during January on the D.C. area cable systems. Future 1995 programs will feature interviews with Tad Williams, Jane Yolen and Greg Bear. If you have any questions or comments, the producers can be reached at fstfwdcsf at aol.com.
We're back, and we're here with the author of THE WHEEL OF TIME fantasy series, Robert Jordan. Welcome back, sir.
- Thank you for having me.
When we talked last, you had just finished the third book in THE WHEEL OF TIME series, THE DRAGON REBORN.
Since then, on a regular basis, like clockwork, a novel of six to seven hundred pages has arrived at bookstores everywhere in October, the latest of which is LORD OF CHAOS. Now that's six. When we talked the last time you were here, you didn't have a definite number of volumes that the story was going to take to tell. At the time you had estimated six or seven -- it was very nebulous. We're at number six, and after having read the book, my impression was that it was going to take more than one more novel to complete this story.
- Oh, yes.
Do you have a feel for how much longer it will take? Any ideas?
- There will be several more books.
- There will be some more books. There will be a FEW more books. But not too many.
Not too many.
- I know the last scene of the last book, I've known it from the beginning, I just have to get there.
Well, let's talk about getting there. Let's talk about the process. Let's take a look at LORD OF CHAOS from the moment you start it.
- All right.
Because you are walking toward a final scene, and because you aren't sure how long it's going to take to get there, in terms of the events that are going to happen, the people that we are going to meet -- let's talk about how you wrote LORD OF CHAOS, and the discipline you placed upon yourself to generate this 700 page book. How did you go about putting this last novel together?
- Well, first off, along with knowing what the last scene is, there are certain events that I know I want to happen. Certain things that I want to happen, both in relationships between people, and in the world, if you will. I picked out some of those events to see if I could fit them in -- from the position everyone was in, the position the world was in at the end of the last book. I then began to roughly sketch out how I would get from one of those to the next. And then I sat down and began writing, in the beginning eight hours a day, five or six days a week. And -- I do my rewriting while I am doing the writing. When I hit the end, I only allow myself to give a final polish. I keep going back while I am writing and rewriting the previous stuff. By the end of the book I was doing twelve to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. I did that for the last five months of LORD OF CHAOS, except that I did take one week off to go fly fishing with some brothers and cousins and nephews up in the Big Horn and Yellowstone. It was terrific. It kept my brain from melting.
The more intense schedule -- was this a more difficult book to write and get to the end of, in terms of the amount of time you had to spend than some of the others in the series?
- No, not really. They're ALL like that. The only difficulty this time was that I perhaps went to the seven day a week and fourteen hour day a little sooner that I would normally. Partly that's because each of these books takes MORE than a year to write. The publisher likes to publish them once a year, though. With the result that with each book I've slipped a little bit more beyond the deadline, and I DON'T LIKE being beyond the deadline. So the further beyond the deadline I get, the more I want to put the pedal to the floor and get done.
Does having to put that much time in per day affect your focus, your ability to work? I mean, do you ever get the feeling when you turn something in that if you had another month to do it you could have put more of a "shine" on it, or are you satisfied with the product when it is turned in?
- I'm satisfied and I'm not satisfied. It doesn't have anything to do with the time. The effect of the time is that I have to work to disengage my mind so that I can go to sleep. I have to read somebody else who will engage my thoughts. Charles Dickens is always great for that. If I don't do that, I will lie there all night thinking about what I'm writing, sure that I will go to sleep in just a few minutes now, and then it gets light outside, and I haven't been to sleep yet. What happens is that I get this DESIRE to keep writing. Once upon a time, before I was married, I used to write for thirty hours at a stretch.
- And then I would sleep for nine or ten. I didn't do this all year round, it was just when I was working on a book. When I get going, I want to keep going. And about the other thing, I ALWAYS think I can make the book better. I'd probably spend five, six, ten years on a book if I was left to myself, trying to polish each phrase. So it's just as well I do have deadlines to bring me into the real world.
When you started this series, with EYE OF THE WORLD -- it came put in trade paperback, the second book came out in trade paperback, and then they started coming out, initial releases, in hard cover.
- They were in hard cover at the beginning, also.
For the library editions.
- Yes, and it was very small printings. The publisher did not even offer them to bookstores. And the publisher was frankly quite surprised when book stores found out about the hard covers and began ordering them. After all, it's a very fat book, a very EXPENSIVE book by an essentially unknown writer. They didn't think anybody but libraries would buy it.
Did you think it would be the kind of phenomenon it is? The last two have been on the best seller lists.
- Are you kidding?!
Did you have any idea it was going to have this kind of success?
- Of course not! I mean you hope for something like this. Nobody writes a book and hopes for a flop. And, all right, maybe if you write something you've turned out in a month just to get enough money to pay the rent, you're not hoping really, with any real thought of it making THE NEW YORK TIMES, say. But any book you write ordinarily, you hope it's going to be successful, and maybe in the back of your head there's some little dream that, "Yes this one, this one will make THE TIMES. And they'll invite me to Stockholm as well." You know, if your going to dream, why not dream? But practicality says, "Forget it Jack."
But there's additional pressure when you have this level of success. I recently plugged into the Internet -- late in my life, of course. But I'm there and I'm mostly lurking. You have an extremely intense following on the Net. You have your own board and discussion group for THE WHEEL OF TIME.
- So I've been told.
You have a group of incredibly dedicated fans who have labeled themselves "the Darkfriends."
- I've heard about that, too.
Which is a little strange, that they're identifying with the people your protagonists are struggling against.
- Well, some people think the snake has all the lines. (Sorry George).
And your work has undergone an INCREDIBLY intense analysis. I mean, you have people dissecting PARAGRAPHS, trying to find hidden meanings, trying to forecast future events. Trying to determine where you drew certain elements of the religions and the beliefs and the customs that you have presented in these six books.
- It's all part of the plan. (Laughs)
It's all part of the plan?
- Well, not really. Not that anybody would go into that depth of analysis. But I want to make the books as layered as possible, so that you could read them on the surface and have a good time, and no more than that. I have twelve year olds who write me fan letters, and I'm certain that's how they read the books. But I wanted layers beneath that, and layers beneath THAT, so that no matter how many times you read the books there would always be something new to find.
Does it ever present a challenge to you, or do you ever find it disconcerting when things that -- you have a progression of story, you have some events you want to happen. There are certain things that are foreshadowed -- sometimes specifically in dreams or in auras that are presented to particularly talented people. Are there ever times when people start making assumptions that certain things are going to happen that areeither totally wrong...
- Oh YES.
...or that you don't want them to know that much about what's going ahead that has resulted in a rethinking how you're going to present things? Has it had any effect on the writing itself?
- No. Not to any real extent. There are two things. One, occasionally I will find that the speculation is perhaps getting a little too close to something that I want to keep hidden for a while yet. So I try to become a little more subtle in talking about that. The other thing is that sometimes I discover that there's intense discussion over something that I assumed was quite obvious. I wasn't trying to hide anything at all, thought I was being quite straightforward, and I think, "Maybe I need to find a way to slip in something, a mention if it just happens to come up anyway, to let them know that this is the way that is supposed to be." It's simply a matter of how things come about, how it occurs with my work if it happens to come up.
One of the things I found particularly affecting in this latest book -- I enjoy the major characters, I've followed the major characters through six volumes. But there are certain scenes that really strike me as being very real and very personal. For example, in the middle of the book, Mat -- who has been sent on a particular mission by Rand -- meets a young boynamed Olver?
And their meeting, where as Mat is talking to him, Olver is showing him his possessions: his little cache of coins, the game his father has made for him, and his red hawk's feather and his turtle shell.
That was a very personal moment, that was a very real, very human moment.
- I try to make it so.
Which you don't see a lot in some fantasy. That one, and Rand's looking into the face of one of the maidens after she has died protecting him from an attack. Memorizing her face and name because he has vowed to memorize the face and name of all the maidens who had sworn to give their lives to protect him. Let's talk about that scene in particular, I'm curious about it. You had two tours in Vietnam, you've had military experience, you're a graduate of the Citadel. Does something like that particularly come out of the people you've met in the military and the kinds of personalities you met in the military, do you draw any of that kind of thing from that?
- Some of it. I suppose, actually, that particular thing came from the only time I was really shaken in combat in shooting at somebody, or shooting AT somebody. I had to, uh, I was shooting back at some people on a sampan and a woman came out and pulled up an AK-47, and I didn't hesitate about shooting her. But that stuck with me. I was raised in a very old-fashioned sort of way. You don't hurt women -- you don't DO that. That's the one thing that stuck with me for a long, long time.
And that resonates in Perrin's fighting his way toward Rand in the climatic scene in this battle. He basically refuses to think of them as males or females, because if he thought of the person in front of him, trying to kill him, as a female -- because there is a mixture of both in the group they are fighting -- he wouldn't be able to proceed, and he'd end up being killed. So he has to blank that out of his mind so he can be purely reactive. So it's almost a repeat of that.
- Yes, in a way it is. It's something that comes out of the way they think. And it fits with the society, as well, as it's been devised. Three thousand years ago men destroyed the world. In effect, O.K. it was the male Aes Sedai, but it was MEN that did it. For three thousand years the world has been afraid of men who can channel. You have that sort of history, and women are going to have power, women are going to have influence and prestige. There is not going to be the same sort of subjugation of women you find in other cultures in our world. Given that, and given the fact that men are, quite simply, stronger than women. There's no two ways about it, on the average man is stronger than woman.
We're talking physically stronger.
- Right. Physically stronger. It's going to be, in many cases, a very strong cultural prohibition against a man using that strength against a woman. It seemed to me to fit very well with the way the cultures are set up.
We had talked, a little bit, about your schedule and how much time you've had to put into the writing, especially the latter part of a cycle of completing a book. Do you have to think very carefully about taking time away from the writing in order to maintain the schedule you keep? I know there has been incredible interest in your book tour, which you are currently on. As a matter of fact, the reason you are here in Washington, D.C. is because the fans of Robert Jordan and THE WHEEL OF TIME in this area pitched such a fit...
- They burned a couple of embassies, I heard.
...on the Internet, that TOR added this to your already extensive tour schedule. Which allows you to be here, so we appreciate that very much -- thank you folks, for doing that. But does it make it difficult for you to do the other things you want to do in your life? Do you find yourself calculating more what it's costing you away from the book?
- Yes. My vacations are almost inevitably now a few DAYS tacked on to the end of a business trip. The fishing trip was an aberration of wild dimensions. I stuck with that despite various people saying, "Can you really do that, can you really take the time out?" I said, "I plan to get my brothers and cousins and nephews together. We're going to fly fish, we're going to fly fish, I don't CARE, we're going to FLY FISH, and catch some trout." But generally I have to think about things like that. I don't go to conventions very much anymore, I used to go to a lot of them, I don't have the time.
And that's why, of course, your time is so valuable when you are available to people around here. Well, WE'RE out of time, as a matter of fact. Mr. Jordan, thank you for being here. Tad Williams, when he was on this show, basically called his DRAGONBONE CHAIR TRILOGY the "story that ate my life", which it seems like THE WHEEL OF TIME, based on our discussion, is at least nibbling on the edges of this portion of your life. Which for our sakes, in terms of finding out what the end of the story will be, we hope won't be TOO much longer. And for your sake too, so that you can afford to take a couple of months to go fly fishing with your family.
- It would be nice, but if a book is worth doing, if it's worth wrestling down, it's always going to eat your life.
And on that note we say thank you very much.
Text of interview transcript: ftp://linuxmafia.com/pub/jordan/RJstuff/ff-interview.txt, which may be accessed from this link: http://www.ece.umd.edu/~dilli/WOT/WOTindex/interview.html.