For Jordan, fantasy remains fertile fieldEdit

By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY

Posted 1/22/2003 9:15 PM

[Released on Jan. 7, Robert Jordan's Crossroads of Twilight immediately hit No. 1 on USA TODAY's best-selling books list.]

The "brag shelf" at Robert Jordan's Charleston, S.C., home has expanded to a huge bookcase, groaning with foreign-language editions. That's an occupational hazard when your fantasy best sellers have been translated into 24 languages. Jordan has 15 million books in print in North America alone. Book 10 of The Wheel of Time series hit stores Jan. 7: Crossroads of Twilight (Tor, $29.95) immediately hit No. 1 on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list last week. Set in a mythic land, the series explores the battle of good vs. evil and the looming threat of "the Dark One."

Jordan, 54, confesses he has thought about putting some foreign editions away. His wife, Harriet, will not hear of it. Jordan listens; she has been editing his work for longer than their 22-year marriage.

The South Carolina native dropped out of Clemson University after one year. ("I didn't know how to study.") He served two tours in Vietnam. Afterward, he attended The Citadel, becoming a nuclear engineer. A fall from a sub at the Charleston Naval Shipyard left him hospitalized for a month. His knee was rebuilt, and he suffered a near-fatal blood clot.

The avid reader decided it was time to try writing. "Life was too short," he says. He decided to quit his job after a bookstore manager pal told him that a famous bodice-ripper romance writer made $3 million on two books. Jordan decided to pump purple prose. But there was a problem. "I couldn't quiver," he says.

He met Harriet, a Manhattan editor who had moved home to Charleston. She told him he could write but to bag the bodice rippers, suggesting instead he write historical novels. He published several under the name Reagan O'Fallon.

Fantasy — "fiction based on the unreal" — is his true calling, however. "It touches on dreams and hope. No matter how dire the situation ... there is a presumption of things coming out all right."

There are an estimated 65,000 fan Web sites devoted to Jordan's work. But The Wheel of Time series has not been made into a film or miniseries. (In the 1980s, Jordan wrote a series about Conan the Destroyer of film fame. The character was first created in the 1930s by Robert E. Howard.) Jordan promises that he will write "at least" two more novels in The Wheel of Time series.

"What makes Jordan so popular, I think, is that everything he writes makes perfect sense," notes Swedish high school teacher Lars Jacobsson, 27, from Malmö. He has been a fan since 1995. "In most other fantasy books, there's always a point where you go, 'I don't buy that, that doesn't seem right.' In The Wheel of Time, that point has yet to come."

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