Menlo Park, CA CoT signing 11 January 2003 - report by Dan Olin
report posted at Dragonmount.com
January 11th, 2003. 6:30 PM, PST. Kepler's Books, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Mr. Jordan entered Kepler's Books, an independent local book store, at about 5:45 PM on Saturday, January 11th. I was perusing the bookstore when I recognized his voice as he walked from the entrance to the employee only area (I had just heard it via the recent interview referred to on dragonmount.com). After about 75 chairs, a signing table, and a Kepler's speaker podium were set up, Mr. Jordan was introduced at 6:25 PM. Limping slightly to the front with his cane and recognizable hat (is that Mat Cauthon's?), he pausing momentarily for effect, and suddenly burst into "Are you ready to rrrrrrumble? It's smack down Menlo Park!!" A few moments later, "First off... its Nynaeve. [laughter from the audience] Egwene. Seanchan. Cyndane. Saidin. Saidar..." etc., the normal pronunciations.
He then took several questions from the audience for approximately 25 minutes. I did not bring a tape recorder so my summary of his answers and any quotations here are not verbatim, and only include points of interest that I remember.
Mr. Jordan stated that the first book he ever read was White Fang, at age four. When given his library card at five, he joked that when the librarian introduced him to the children's section asking him if he would like to have The Velveteen Rabbit read to him, he replied, "What, are you kidding?"... promptly being labeled a smart aleck.
He found it very difficult to get access to adult reading, and would have to sneak out of the children's section, snag books, and bring them back to the children's section to hide them where he could access them without being pestered. No one ever checked the children's section for the adult books he had sequestered there. Jordan said he never read children's books until much older.
At age five he had three novels stacked on a table in his room (one of which included a Verne work) and he stated that at that moment he knew he would "make stories like that someday."
As to his daily writing habits, a long while ago he used to write for 25 or 30 hours straight, until absolutely exhausted (regardless of the time of day). Then he would sleep for 7 or 8 hours and return to the 25 or 30 hour cycle. However, he remarked that this schedule is not suitable for making his wife happy, so he switched to his current schedule, which goes something like: wake up, read the newspaper over breakfast, and begin writing at his computer (which he later told a person in line that it was a custom built, with a 17" flat screen monitor). He then writes for 8 to 10 hours, sometimes but not usually stopping for lunch. Then in the evening he would quit, help his wife prepare dinner, and start the whole process over again – 7 days a week. His change to this 8 to 10 hour day was in part motivated by his decision "that keeping his wife was far more important" than keeping the "optimum" writing schedule.
On the subject of relationships, he commented that "I know what women want. Because I am what women want. [laughter from the audience] Part palomino, part golden retriever." He then quickly howled like a dog and neighed like a horse, with more laughter.
He commented that in 2002 he took perhaps 5 days off of writing. In 2001 he was "lazy" and may have had up to 10 days off that year. He stated that he had originally thought that writing would be a relaxing job, in which he could retire to "the South of France and lie on the beach with three ladies in a red bikini, blue bikini, and yellow bikini to rub suntan oil upon me."
Regarding the intensity of his lifestyle, he reminded the audience that he used to be an engineer, but found this job much more demanding. To write successfully, he remarked, you really have to throw yourself into your work.
When asked if he keeps notes to remember all of the plotlines, he stated that he does not – he tracks them all in his head. This seems relatively plausible given that we know from other sources that his IQ is well over 160. When fleshing out the novel before beginning, he did state that he makes a summary or jots a few notes on what and where he wants to go with the book. However, he is always forced to leave out material – to make Crossroads of Twilight fully comprehensive, he required 1200 to 1300 pages, nearly twice the length of the final total.
One audience participant queried if he wrote down ideas that interested him for possible inclusion in future books, and where did he find all of his character names. He responded that he used to keep a journal of ideas for future projects, but stopped a number of years ago because to cover all of his current ideas along, he would have to live to be age 350. He bases his character names often on myth, giving the examples of "Al'Thor" and "Artur Hawkwing" being based on King Arthur of Arthurian legend. Other times he sees a name in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal that sounds intriguing when pronounced, and he merely changes the spelling slightly to incorporate that sound.
When asked "how many more books?", which of course met great laughter, he responded that he had started the process intending to have only five or six. Now on book 10, he remarked that he would complete the series in two more books if at all possible. If not, then three. He stated that no one wanted to complete the series more than he, because he has great number of ideas to work on after this project. He stated that one main idea has been percolating and stewing in his head for the last six or seven years. He went on to say that his next project will probably be a pair of trilogies (more laughter) – though he clarified that he would "beat the next story into submission" so it did in fact fit into six novels. He also stated that he may try a few "singletons" in the future as well.
An older gentlemen asked him how he met Tom Dougherty at Tor. With a relatively lengthy reply, Jordan stated that he published his first book, "a historical novel called The Fallon Blood," with Popham Press. The "Popham" comes from his chief publisher at the time, Harriet Popham McDougal. Soon, he was dating Harriet, and was eventually married. Harriet through some fashion sold her publishing business to Tom Dougherty, bringing along her new author husband who had sold some half-million copies in the mass market with The Fallon Blood. Jordan further commented that just about everything he wanted to write had appealed to Tom, and thus Tor has since bought most of Jordan's novels for publication.
He then retired to his signing table and began autographing away. I took up a position about 15 feet away so I could listen to some of his discourse with the audience. When signing the first book his ink ran out. At this point he seemed to panic somewhat. His host scrambled to find a solution, but Jordan stated repeatedly that he needed "his case." a black attaché-style pouch that apparently had ink replacements. Several fans quickly offered their own pens, but Jordan replied that he greatly preferred the "Census" pen as it had a cushioned section that made it much easier to hold the pen for hours at a time. Apparently growing somewhat uncomfortable, Mr. Jordan summoned his wife loudly by bellowing "Harriet!" into the crowd – disquieting some of the fans. Soon she appeared to soothe him and search the case. Apparently they had brought the wrong style of replacements. The issue was soon resolved and signing resumed.
Signing was limited to two hard-covers per person, though they were permitted to return to the end of the line for more signatures as time permitted. Personalizations were discouraged. Mr. Jordan allowed photos, though he called out that he had one rule: "Men must keep their clothes on."
One fan brought a British edition of Crossroads of Twilight to the signing table. Jordan happily signed, but became agitated as he described to the immediate audience that the British publishers had lied to him. "They told me that under no circumstance would they release the book before the American release date." Despite this pledge, however, his novel was released in late December rather than in January. He further commented "you only get one chance to lie to me." I suppose we will have to wait and see the ramifications of this British publishing error at the time of the next book's release. Jordan commented that "perhaps I will not even send them my manuscript until after the American audience already has their novels in print."
Later, I was sitting elsewhere in the bookstore further perusing, and noticed that Harriet, his wife, was seated reading through a book from the shelves. Several fans stopped by to obtain her signature next to Mr. Jordan's, to which she pleasantly assented. One individual asked her what she thought of the importance of book signings – did it really sell that many more books? She responded that book signing tours were really only profitable when you hit the really big leagues. Unless you are very popular author, you would often find only 5 or so people at the signing, which was very humbling to a writer.
In the case of this tour, the publisher was gunning for the number one spot on the New York Times list. To generate such a rating, it helped to have a big book signing tour. In nearly every location so far, a reporter had been present, which bolsters the appearance of popularity of the novel in the media's eyes. Additionally, the book signings give the author some human connection to his readers. Mrs. Rigney stated that writing is "one of the loneliest occupations, in which you stare at a white screen and make black things appear" all day long. Harriet further commented that BN.com had sold over 70,000 copies of Crossroads of Twilight on the first day of release.
A female fan spoke with her briefly, commenting that as a girl she felt somewhat underrepresented in the genre. Mrs. Rigney replied that one thing she appreciated about "The Wheel of Time" was the strong female characters. My own observations of the 100 person crowd was that at least a third were indeed female.
I briefly asked her how Mr. Jordan was enjoying his Porsche. She laughed and commented that he rarely had a chance to take it out, thought "it looked beautiful sitting in the garage." She stated that in two years it only had 1,400 miles on it.
I also commented that I frequented www.dragonmount.com. She recalled that DM.com personnel had been present at the previous days' San Jose signing, who were also working on a short film - which may now be "live action"? [Editor's note: No. At the San Jose book signing we had a camera and we're interviewing some people for a short video we're planning to put online. This was not related to the DM movie.)
With that, I thanked her for coming to Menlo Park and for sharing Mr. Jordan's time with the readers. Mr. Jordan concluded his session by signing approximately 40 of the store's novels to be included in Kepler's inventory – so if you stop by soon and look for the "signed by author" sticker on the dust jacket, you may have a signed first-edition of Crossroads of Twilight of your own for normal retail price.
My impressions of the experience were that Mr. and Mrs. Rigney were quite normal people (imagine that!), perhaps bordering slightly on the eccentric. Harriet seemed to have a slight British or New England accent, and you certainly could not tell that the couple must be remarkably wealthy. In addition to his wife, Jordan had a tall blond-haired woman traveling with him, who took photos for the fans, prepared the novels for signing, and was quick to assist Mr. Jordan with any need. [Editor's Note: Her name was Dolores and she was very helpful and kind with everyone in line. She is not from Tor Books but I believe is one of RJ's assistants] All in all, I had a great time speaking with other fans and listening to our revered author speak. Upon departure, I realized that not once that evening was the ubiquitous "RAFO" mentioned by Robert Jordan.
On a separate note- great thanks to Jason Denzel and the staff at Dragonmount.com for the long hours and excellent website. Keep up the good work!