My Author, My Life Edit
Hannah Clark, 12.01.06, 12:00 PM ET
There are readers, and then there are fans. Readers offer condolences when a favorite author falls ill. Fans offer bone marrow.
Robert Jordan, author of the best-selling Wheel of Time series, has fans. And if you want to understand them, take a look at his blog. Since last spring, when he announced he had a rare blood disease called amyloidosis, Jordan, 58, has been chronicling his life-and-death struggle online. Whenever he's well enough to write, he thanks the fans who sent care packages, and those who donated to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., where he is being treated. Then there's this: "For Jaime Platt and her sister, your offer touches me deeply. They were able to harvest enough of my own bone marrow stem cells that I don't need marrow donation from elsewhere, but thank you very much. That was a kind and generous offer."
And you thought Harry Potter fans were enthusiastic?
Jordan's readers are offering help because they've developed a close connection with him through his books. They're also desperately hoping he lives to finish the series. Wheel of Time is like Lord of the Rings on steroids. Since Jordan launched the series in 1990, he's added another ten books, and more than 14 million copies have sold. Fans are patiently waiting for book No. 12, A Memory of Light, which Jordan promises will be the last, even if it reaches 2,000 pages. "I've told people you might need a forklift to get it out the door," says Jordan, speaking by phone from his home in South Carolina.
But there is, of course, an elephant in the room. Amyloidosis has no cure. Untreated, the average patient lives only 12 months after diagnosis, says Dennis Krysmalski, founder and CEO of the Amyloidosis Support Network. With treatment, patients survive an average of four years.
Jordan's fans are full of sympathy, but also fright of a more personal and perhaps selfish kind. His readers have been following the lives of Rand, Egwene, Elayne, Mat, Nynaeve and Perrin for more than 16 years. Fans have shared their concerns on Web sites like Dragonmount, Theoryland and WOTmania. "Of course you wouldn't ever wish a possibly terminal disease on anyone," wrote one poster, codman25. "But what happens if he doesn't finish the book?"
It's a dangerous question. Most fans avoid posting such sentiments for fear of appearing tactless. Posters like codman25 are often chastised as insensitive by others who claim to care only for the well-being of Jordan and his family. Jordan himself chuckles at these exchanges. He doesn't mind if fans worry about his ability to finish the series. "I hope I finish the books too," he says.
In the Internet age, fans can engage with a book long after they've finished it. They go online, meet other fans and participate in role-playing games. There's even a Web site profiling couples who have met and married because of the series. (One happy couple, Amber and Markku of Espoo, Finland, met in a "clan" devoted to the Wheel of Time board game.) Rabid Jordan fans know all about Harriet, his wife and editor, and they even sent her care packages when they learned he was ill.
Jordan's connection with his fans has grown even stronger since he began blogging about his illness. He has commented on his flat "behind" and opined on the virtues of Tabasco sauce. When readers asked his thoughts on death, however, Jordan, a Vietnam veteran and former atomic engineer, became more philosophical. "You deal with death the way you deal with breathing, or with air," he wrote. "Death is a natural and inevitable end." In other words, as he has written in all 11 books, "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass."
Jordan plans to live another 30 years--long enough, he says to finish all the books that are in his head right now. That will require a large dose of luck, and so far, his luck has been mixed. The new drug he's taking seems to be working well. Still, he can write for two hours a day at most, compared with eight or nine hours in healthier times. At this rate, he'll submit the final book in 2008 for publication in 2009, says Tom Doherty, president of Tor Books, Jordan's publisher.
If he gets better, he'll write faster. No one wants to talk about the alternative. If he dies, could someone else finish the series? Authors like V.C. Andrews and Mario Puzo have posthumously passed along their series to other writers. Still, some fans worry that another author, even Harriet, wouldn't be true to Jordan's voice. Jordan, however, is open to the idea. "I'm getting out notes, so if the worst actually happens, someone could finish A Memory of Light and have it end the way I want it to end," he says. "But I hope to be around to actually finish it myself."
The decision, Jordan says, will be left to Harriet and Doherty, who has been a close friend and colleague for years. But Doherty isn't ready to address that possibility. "I'm not prepared to concede that that's going to happen," Doherty says. "I'm working on the belief that he's going to beat this thing. Who else can tell this story?"