The au­thor with two nov­els com­ing out in the space of three months…

SFX - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Kevin Nixon

hello, Bran­don San­der­son!

how do you write your­self back into a book when you’ve had to take time out to com­plete an­other project? This was a prob­lem Bran­don San­der­son hit when, af­ter break­ing off from Shad­ows Of Self to com­plete his work fin­ish­ing Robert Jor­dan’s Wheel Of Time se­quence, he re­turned to a novel set in his own Mist­born uni­verse. San­der­son had lost mo­men­tum. His so­lu­tion was to start writ­ing the se­quel, Bands Of Mourn­ing, “to get my­self back in to the char­ac­ters”. Things went well, so well that he kept go­ing un­til he’d fin­ished the book. He then went back to com­plete Mourn­ing’s pre­de­ces­sor, Shad­ows Of Self.

“This was feel­ing really good, [I thought] ‘I’m go­ing to get ahead,’” San­der­son re­mem­bers. “Ex­cept [my pub­lish­ers] got the books and, ‘Well, we’ll just pub­lish th­ese three months apart, this is great.’ I called my agent and com­plained, and he said, ‘You can’t hand them a plate full of money and say, by the way, you can’t use it un­til next year.’”

Sit­ting in a cen­tral Lon­don ho­tel, San­der­son laughs as he tells this story against him­self. Then again, there were def­i­nite up­sides to this sit­u­a­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, work­ing in this un­usual way changed San­der­son’s per­spec­tive on one of his main char­ac­ters, Marasi.

In the steam­punk-tinged nov­els, she’s one of the side­kicks to a no­ble-born law­man, Wax Ladrian, a man with a huge ca­pac­ity for cre­at­ing chaos. Mar­sai ad­mires Wax to the point of hero wor­ship, but there are con­tra­dic­tions here. “It’s this weird push and pull with her be­ing in his shadow, but also be­ing his minder at the same time,” says San­der­son.

This isn’t al­ways easy, as the af­ter­math of one in­ci­dent re­veals. “[She thinks] ‘I’m so glad that he stopped the crim­i­nal, but there are build­ings on fire, there are peo­ple who got shot.’ It’s like the af­ter­math of when the su­per­hero comes to town,” says San­der­son.

best laid plans

For many writ­ers, al­ter­ing a char­ac­ter’s tra­jec­tory af­ter writ­ing such a scene wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be a big deal. San­der­son, though, de­scribes him­self, us­ing Ge­orge RR Martin’s ter­mi­nol­ogy, as an “ar­chi­tect” – some­one who does a lot of plan­ning, rather than a “gar­dener”, a writer who starts work and sees what de­vel­ops.

Just how much of an ar­chi­tect is ev­i­dent in the way San­der­son’s books re­late to each other. The Mist­born se­quence, for in­stance, be­gan with an epic fan­tasy tril­ogy. Ahead, San­der­son hints, lie an ur­ban fan­tasy tril­ogy and science fic­tion nov­els, with “magic con­tin­u­ing through as the thread”. And if that sounds grand, most of his fic­tion is set in a uni­verse called the Cos­mere, a kind of hid­den epic that will even­tu­ally run to 30-plus nov­els.

As to what first in­spired this de­sign work, San­der­son re­mem­bers read­ing Bar­bara Ham­bly’s Dragons­bane (1985) as a teenager. “I was try­ing to read other things and they were mostly about boys my age,” he says. “And I joke that I read three books where they have a pet dog, and you just know the dog’s go­ing to die. I’m like, ‘Why am I read­ing th­ese books about kids lead­ing bor­ing lives like mine whose pets die?’”

dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive

The ap­peal of Dragons­bane wasn’t just in its fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments, but in it be­ing about a pow­er­ful witch “choos­ing be­tween her ca­reer and her fam­ily”. The book made San­der­son see his own mother, an ac­coun­tant, in a new light. “It’s this weird thing where I looked through some­one else’s eyes and the world opened up to me,” he says.

Pretty soon, San­der­son was not only read­ing fan­tasy, but writ­ing it too. At univer­sity, though, he stud­ied chem­istry, in part be­cause his mother pushed him to­wards be­ing a doc­tor. “The arts are not some­thing she really un­der­stood,” says San­der­son. “She said, ‘You know how doc­tors all go and pay golf all the time? They have so much free time to play golf, you could just write books.’”

But the “busy work” of chem­istry, was some­thing he found mis­er­able. Re­lief came when San­der­son, a Mor­mon, went to Korea to do mis­sion­ary work. “I spent two years over there so happy to be away from chem­istry,” he says. The ex­pe­ri­ence was valu­able in other ways too. “Learn­ing an­other cul­ture and lan­guage,” he says, “I’ll tell you, if you want to be a fan­tasy writer, there’s prob­a­bly noth­ing bet­ter than to go and see first hand how dif­fer­ently peo­ple can think, yet still be peo­ple.”

Re­turn­ing to the US, he car­ried on study­ing, but also got a grave­yard shift job in a ho­tel, where he had time to write. Thir­teen books in, his sixth novel, Elantris (2005), sold. By this time, he says, “I was al­ready a work­ing pro­fes­sional.”

Not that be­ing pro­fes­sional was the point. San­der­son says he can imag­ine an­other life where he wrote all his life and never found suc­cess, but dropped dead at the age of 95 leav­ing a cup­board full of un­pub­lished manuscripts. “[I thought] ‘I’ll be more of a suc­cess as that per­son who wrote 50 un­pub­lished nov­els, I’ll have en­joyed my life more than if I just give up now and never write an­other one,’” he says. “That was the risk I was will­ing to take.”

The Bands Of Mourn­ing is pub­lished on 28 Jan­uary.

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