Tor.com Interview with Alan Romanczuk by Richard Fife Edit
12 May 2010
Alan Romanczuk can be called many things. He is the “Time Lord” of The Wheel of Time, keeping dates and “who was where when” straight in the notes, and he is also a man with whom I can have long, wonderful conversations about computers and technology. He was the first to find out about the Bubble of Evil that struck me and erased my first set of interviews, and he was so kind as to provide me the first glass of wine I had that night. Alan was very gracious to sit down with me, again, just before he left the convention for a vacation in Europe.
RF: When did you first meet Jim, and when did you get involved with The Wheel of Time?
AR: In 2001, I was hired on recommendation of Maria Simons, who had worked for Jim for years at that point. I had known Maria through our children going to the same school. Maria’s work had gotten to the point where she couldn’t keep doing the research for Jim—the continuity work, looking up obscure facts—because of all her other responsibilities. So, I was brought on to pretty much take on that aspect of what Maria had been doing.
I met Jim the day I came in. He was sitting at his desk and stood up, and we had a nice little chat about pipe smoking and fantasy, a little bit of this and that, and I then went upstairs to my little burrow in the back of the carriage house, where I’ve remained for many years.
RF: Do you have a particularly favorite scene in the books?
AR: My favorite scene is in the fourteenth book. About two-thirds of the way through, there is this fantastic scene . . . .
RF: I’m afraid I haven’t read that one yet.
AR: Well, the Last Battle will knock you dead. It will be great.
RF: They do say it will break the world.
AR: Or the bank, whichever comes first.
RF: So, in the published books?
AR: The published books? Ah. I don’t have a specifically favorite scene, but in the recent books that Jim had written, the one that comes to mind for me is when Perrin was at his wits end trying to find his wife and get information on Faile, and he goes to interrogate the captured Shaido they have staked out on the ground. Against all expectations, he chops off the man’s limb, and makes it very clear to him that he is not going to kill him, but make sure he is crippled for the rest of his life and will have to depend on others for his well being.
What is striking about that is not only the surprise in what happened to Perrin’s personality, but the fact that we see the depths of this man who had been operating at an almost emotionless state, or at least with a single, fixed purpose, which was saving his wife. We see him, the peace-loving blacksmith who, just through fate, is thrown into a position of leadership, suddenly do something that is completely out of character, or that we think is out of character, when in fact it is springing from his depths, something that needs to be done. So, in that scene, we see an inkling of Perrin becoming the person that he needs to be to take part in the Last Battle.
RF: (long pause) Sorry, I’m flabbergasted by that response. That is a very different interpretation that I’d heard of that before. Going to have to say that yours is probably the canonical one, though.
So, what was it like working with Robert Jordan?
AR: Working with Jim was a gas. We had the business relationship, where he’d throw a lot of questions at me and I’d throw a lot of answers back at him. I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Jim viewed the world, from what I could see at least. He didn’t do anything in small ways. Everything was in large bites, and everything on the table: not just the meat or just the starches. He ate it all, digested it, and it went into his databank. And everything came out of that.
So, it was just a lot of fun, even to the point of fixing his computer, because if one anti-virus program is good, then three or four running simultaneously is even better. (Note: he made a geek joke. That is why I really like this guy.)
So it was just a delight to see this mode of operation translated into writing the Wheel of Time as well. You take a single country, or a person from that country. They don’t have the characteristics of a single country in our life, but rather he is drawing from half a dozen or more cultures that we are familiar with, combining them in new ways, shaping them to produce a new being which at the same time draws from so many different elements in our life. So that was great.
And you know, the chats at the end of the day were also wonderful. I would bring him the stock market report on a daily basis and we would either commiserate or celebrate what had happened on that day. There was not a lot of just chit-chat. I tried to respect the time that he put into the books, but at the same time, I was really surprised that he would give as much time as he did instead of writing. If it were me, I’d lock the door and not let anyone in while I was writing, but he was often interrupted while working.
RF: So now you are working with Brandon. What is that like?
AR: Brandon’s a lot of fun. I am really amazed at the way he can create new worlds in his own right. He might not have the worldly experience that Jim did, being much younger. He never went through war as Jim had. He didn’t grow up in the South as Jim had. Yet he has been able to jump into this world and pick up where he needs to pick up and go with it. He has a really fresh mind, a lively mind. I see in Brandon his really childlike grasp of fantasy, which is wonderful. And I don’t mean childish, I mean childlike, with just an awe and just a total delight in forming new devices and plot twists and new types of characters and scenes. Yeah, it is a lot of fun. He is going to be a well-known author, if he is not already.
RF: So you are the chronology manager, or “Time Lord” of the Wheel of Time. What has it been like keeping the “what happened when” straight?
AR: It actually has not been that bad to date because Jim himself set up so many timelines as part of the series. It was fun going back in his files and finding literally dozens of timelines of what was going to happen. With his engineer’s mind, it was important for him to grasp where every single character was at any given time in the series, know how they were meshing at any specific time in order to allow them to come together as part of the story later on and not be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, it was really just a matter of seeing where he was going with things and how he had structured them and tapping into that and then just extending it. You know, the harder part now is that Jim is gone, and so we have to make sure that all these threads fit. You have to know how far a horse can travel in a day, and how far a cart can travel in a day, how far an army can travel in a day, and how many days they can keep that pace. “Oh, Mat has to be at such-and-such a place to be able to meet with this person who is coming in from a totally different area.” So there is a lot of taking out the ruler and looking at the map and seeing how many kilometers or miles are between point A and point B.
RF: On that note, do you have a more detailed map at your disposal?
AR: No, we’re really working what you see in the book.
RF: That is a very impressive feat. So, it has been twenty years since The Eye of the World. Looking back, has there been anything that surprised you that the fans clued in on, similar to Asmodean’s murder? Or perhaps anything they missed that you thought they should have been all over?
AR: One thing that strikes me is people’s perception of the Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is just a structural device: it has seven spokes which represent the seven Ages. The Wheel turns; people forget about the previous Age and a new Age is entered. It goes around seven times and it starts again from square one. Very similar patterns of events occur in each Age, but they are changed, just as two people can have very similar personalities but still be very different people in many other respects. The same way with the different Ages.
So the Wheel does not have a specific purpose. It does not have a motivation. It is not a conscious being. The Wheel is just there, operating as an organizing principle of the world. Jim played down the religious aspects of all this. There is a creator, but there is not even a notion that the creator is God. The creator, of course, is God, but it is the creator. And the creator is not given much of a personality in these books. The creator is a stand-back kind of entity, less so than the Dark One, which opposes the creator and everything the creator has created, which is mankind.
And so, that’s all I’m saying: don’t read too much into the Wheel of Time. I think the Wheel of Time is also drawn in part from the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is something that we are on. In creation, we are created in who knows what form, evolve through many, many lifetimes, until we no longer have to be on the wheel. We have reached our goal, which in Eastern Thought is being one with God, part of the infinite ocean. In Jim’s world, it is not so cut and dry. As far as we know, individuals stay on the Wheel of Time forever.
RF: Brandon has often said there is a “Big Thing” everyone has missed in books four through six. I know this is typically RAFO’d, but is there any hint at all you give us? (At this point the room we were in grows quiet and several people cock their heads, listening.)
RF: Well, at least it wasn’t a RAFO. But, without saying RAFO, who killed Asmodean?
AR: Is he dead?
RF: Oh . . . apparently not.
URL for interview: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/05/jordancon-interview-with-alan-romanczuk