The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the First Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a man drove on the coast of North Carolina. The man was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But he was a beginning.
The man drove inland in the murky hours that some say are still night and some call early morning, away from the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean and then into South Carolina. As the sun started to peak over the tree-line, his back was already to it, and he coursed ever inland towards that great hub city known as Atlanta. Here, the weather was calm, but a storm was brewing that would soon blanket the land in rain and thunder. The man paid little heed to these things, though, for he had found his shelter at the Crown Plaza Ravinia. He had found his shelter at JordanCon.
Day 1: Friday
So, despite having woken up at 2:30AM to drive six hours to Atlanta, I was an eager beaver and quickly jumped into my volunteer hours with the setup crew. There honestly was not much to do beyond figuring out exactly how to get the flags hung, and I am sad to say the best solution was not even my own. We had an extra flag left over, though, so we decided to drape it over the lectern. What flag was it, you ask? The Dragon Banner, or perhaps the Lion of Andor? Nah, we decided to put the three silver fish of Saldaea. Why that? ‘Cause I’m mean and wanted people to wonder, that’s why. Sadly, Jennifer Liang the Merciless (her badge actually said that) made us change it to the Hawk of Mayene, since that is tangentially related to the Seanchan, and this was, after all, the SeanCon Invasion.
So, after setup, I took part of the above photo, ran around and got the ball running on a few things for later, and then settled in for the opening ceremony. While doing this, I noticed in our program a “not finalized” cover for Towers of Midnight. I’m afraid I had no easy way to get it up so that you could see the detail, but I’m sure you’re all clever enough to go hunt one down. Jason Denzel of Dragonmount.com soon walked up to the lectern and started us off with a story. I am sure we all remember Jason’s trash-talk here on Tor.com over the Magic: The Gathering game he was going to have at the end of the The Gathering Storm signing tour, and then the subsequent beat-down Brandon gave him. Well, seems the truth of the matter was that Jason let Brandon win in exchange for the first chapters of Towers of Midnight, and that while he had promised to keep it secret, he was going to read them to us. Just as he was about to start, though, Alan Romanczuk, one of Robert Jordan’s assistants, led a squad of Theoryland.com brutes out to arrest Denzel for crimes against the fandom and dragged him, and the pages, away. I’m not going to even speculate on what they did to him or the pages, but, well . . . here’s a before and after shot. And yes, he might very well have been a zombie in the before.
Anyway, Matt Hatch took over the opening ceremony, where he and his loyal minion Frenzy introduced us to the guests and gave us an overview of what is to come, including the new Writers’ Track with Jana Oliver and David Wong, in addition to Brandon Sanderson, and Paul Stevens from Tor and Harriet McDougal (editor of The Wheel of Time, in case you’ve been living under a rock).
Near the end of the ceremony, Wilson Grooms (Jordan’s cousin-more-like-brother) presented Harriet with a gorgeous work of art done by the wonderful Seamas Gallagher. The art was done for this article (and can be seen in it, down low and to the right), and in the print version, it was the entire front of the paper. Yes, that is RJ handing the Dragon Banner to Brandon Sanderson (perhaps a younger Sanderson, but still).
After that, we had an Hour With Brandon Sanderson, and he did read us the first paragraph of chapter one from Towers of Midnight. I bet you can guess 99% of the words. But, for your hard-working brains to wrap around, the wind rose around the city of Imfarel. Yes, in Seanchan. Think on it and get back to me, eh?
Brandon then went on to talk about his upcoming novel, The Way of Kings, which is book one of a projected ten in the Stormlight Archive. Brandon explained that, as one would expect, any writer that is developing while reading Jordan would have a grand epic of some sort in the back of his head. The Way of Kings is his. He wrote a first draft of it a while ago. It was a behemoth of a book, and he had initially tried to get it published right after Elantris. His editor was not so sure that would be something he could do, especially as it was a super-ambitious project. So they shelved it and he moved on to Mistborn. But it was still there, waiting.
After The Gathering Storm was finished, two things happened. The first being that Brandon found he needed a break from The Wheel of Time to rejuvenate. The second was that Tom Doherty (the big boss of Tor) called him and said that they did not have a book from just Brandon Sanderson coming out this year and that he would like one. Brandon tried to protest, but Tom was persistent and said the six words one should probably never tell an author: “You can do whatever you want.” So, Brandon rewrote The Way of Kings entirely, using his since-refined skills to tighten it up (some, it is still nearly a thousand pages), and even managed to get Tom to call in an old favor with Michael Whelan to do the cover art.
Something to be warned of, though. Book Two of the Stormlight Archive is going to be a long time coming. Brandon is going to finish The Wheel of Time first before he goes back to that. He then intends to do two more Stormlight books, then some other single project, then two more, then a single, et cetera and so forth. So be ready for at least a small wait for a sequel to that.
We also got a few comments on Towers of Midnight, in particular the following: like most Robert Jordan book names, the meaning of “Towers of Midnight” is twofold—it is a real place or thing in the world, and it is also a metaphor for what is going on. So while the Towers are part of the Seanchan government, there will be other “Towers of Midnight” metaphorically speaking. He also informed us that the book is sitting around 310,000 words right now, and while he has some more to write, he expects the final draft will be right around that length too. As far as I can tell, he is still hopeful for the release, although it might (big might!) get moved back to November. He will try to make sure it doesn’t get bumped back to February, which is the next month something would come out since December and January are just bad months to release books.
Anyway, after that panel, I started my grand scheme. What is that scheme? Well, I’ll tell you now: I got one-on-one interviews with all of Team Jordan, as well as Larry Mondragon from Red Eagle Entertainment (the production company for the movies and video games). So, be on the look out for those posts in the coming days. And, remember, I am telling you that you are getting those posts, so as you read this, don’t panic. There is your warning.
So, I got Alan and Maria cornered and did a joint interview with them, which was fun. After that, I went to the “What an Editor Does” panel with Harriet and Paul Stevens. Funny thing, Harriet had a slide show she wanted to show, but there was no projector, nor did that have a computer that would easily display it (Alan had a MacBook, but it was a Powerpoint slide show and no one was willing to trust the reader he had). I ran to the front desk and got the projector on its way, and then went up and snagged my laptop. This seemed amazingly fitting, as you can tell from this picture of my laptop’s lid. (Yes, that is an older picture of the laptop, but it looks the same now, so shush).
The panel was really interesting, by the by. Harriet and Paul really took us into the editor side of things, and not just on the “why do they pick this book or that” or the “how we line-edit” processes. No, we got to see the scary worksheets they have to fill out explaining to Tom Doherty and marketing why Tor should buy the book, samples of manuscripts at various stages of production, and even the cover art summary letter that was sent to Darrell Sweet for The Fires of Heaven with some of the subsequent back and forth correspondence (which we are assured is not really all that common nowadays.) Some interesting things that were mentioned was how Tor actually expects to take a loss on a brand new author because they are in the business of building writers’ careers, not just making a quick buck on a single book. To this end, Tor actually tends to sign even their new authors with multi-book contracts.
After that panel I had my interview with Harriet out in the beautiful patio section behind the hotel, which was fun. After that, I went and poked my head into the sword-forms class, where people suddenly seemed to have a fixation on trying to beat the crap out of me, even though I wasn’t there to actually fight. I hadn’t even RickRoll’d them or anything! Some people, I swear.
We had the dinner break of the first day, and then I was drafted into the “Wheel of Time Interpretive Dance.” Said dance was a very loony and somewhat drunk retelling of The Eye of the World in fifteen or so minutes. And I do mean somewhat drunk; I was encouraged to take some shots of whiskey prior to us starting, as were many others. My roles in this loveliness were both Fain and Thom, and oddly enough, no one seemed to mind that both characters were wearing a yellow shawl. And yet, when the gal playing Nynaeve asked me to let her borrow my shawl for the encore performance there was an uproar about how it was not canonical, as Nynaeve wouldn’t be wearing a shawl yet. Also going on during the night was a Magic draft tourney with Brandon and the Texas Hold’em tourney for the Mayo Clinic charity, which actually raised $800 this year.
I hung around the room a bit afterwards, just chilling and chatting, until I was drafted in a goose-gander-switch-a-roo and found myself moderating a game of “Are You a Darkfriend?” If anyone wants the rules, I’ll tell them to you down in the comments. It was actually really fun as I got to make up stories about the villagers on the spot and stretch my creative muscle, but gorram it, people are addicted to that game. I was moderating until almost two in the morning and remember how I woke up at 2:30 to get there? Yeah. We finally stopped as I cried and whimpered, and I did not even have the energy to stay up and chat with Wilson some. I did get a raincheck for an interview, though. My bed was blissfully comfortable.
Day 2: Saturday
Blissfully comfortable for all of four hours, that is. The sun was barely up, but I was, and I got rather annoyed because I thought my coffee machine in the room was broken, although I later found out I was just slow on the uptake of how to use it. I pulled myself together and made my way down to work my shift at the registration desk. When I got there, they had already handed out 250 badges, and the shift ended at 11:30 with not too far from 300 sold. As I understand it, the convention actually did break the 300 mark by the end, although not by much. It was still a marked growth from last year. Anyway, working registration was not bad, as I was spending the time with fellow Wheel-freaks, including these ladies who made their allegiance well known.
I got off registration and dodged getting drafted for crowd control at the Brandon Sanderson signing so I could get mall-Japanese for lunch—my only meal of the day, I might add. I then hurried back and had my interview with Wilson, where he did two things he professed hating to do: talk about his cousin and do so at length. Actually, he hates neither of those things. The interview was fun.
After the interviews, I went to a panel entitled “Moiraine, ’nuff said.” It was an hour with the talented Jakob Ro, whose fan-site affiliation eludes me, but the man can run a mean discussion group. And poor Maria Simons was on the panel, with everyone eyeballing her, hoping for hints, and she sat there with a poker face made of stone. I am going to derail my re-cap here, somewhat, to talk a little more in depth about this panel.
Various ideas, theories, hopes, and what-have-you were thrown out about Moiraine, but there was one thing that caused some hot debate, and that was the accusation that Moiraine’s character has been cheapened by her being turned into a “Damsel in Distress.” This honestly irritates me, but there was a fairly strong backing to it. Why does it irritate me? Because she is not either of those things: a damsel or in distress. She is a woman, yes, but damsel implies an airhead whose only job is to be a love interest or MacGuffin. Also, while she is being held by the ‘Finn, there is no proof that she is in distress, per se. She orchestrated her own best chance at getting out via the letter to Thom and her foresight from the Rhuidean rings, and she went there willingly to save Rand. Phaw, I say. Phaw.
There was also some question on how she learned Balefire and after the panel I talked to Maria about it a little more hush-hush, in particular asking her if it was possible to learn weaves from text. The vague non-answer I got was not a RAFO, but Maria “feels” that one can get hints from text that could lead to one figuring it out. When I plied a little deeper, asking if there was a graphical means, perhaps, for weaves to be recorded, she declined from answering either way (but still not a full RAFO). I then left the panel and interviewed Red Eagle Entertainment. Twice. It was double-fun.
Next was technically a reading from Brandon Sanderson (labeled “Wheel of Time,” at that), but the programming changed a bit as Brandon had already read us all he could from the new book. Instead, we got a half hour of Q&A with Harriet and Alan followed by a reading from The Way of Kings. I instantly got my hand up and asked Harriet the same question I had just asked Maria, even prefacing that Maria had not RAFO’d me, but instead given me a vague-ish non-answer. Harriet’s reply was, “I can be very vague too when I want to be.” She then had Brandon give me a RAFO card, that I then had her sign after the panel. Another notable question that was RAFO’d by Harriet but not Alan was, “Is there anything that can be done with the True Power that cannot be done with the One Power?” Alan’s answer was: “You can get those cool spotted eyeballs”.
The back of the card reads: “Be Proud. You have earned an official R. A. F. O. (Read And Find Out) card! You received this for asking the right question at the wrong time. It might mean the answer spoils too much; it might mean that the answer would make people focus on the wrong things; or it might just be intended to keep you guessing. Regardless, it has been a pleasure to not answer you.”
Brandon then did his reading, where we got some feel for the scope and feel of the book. One can easily tell that Sanderson was heavily influenced by Robert Jordan. From the flair for description that is not flowery, but instead just real, to the vision presented even in the few pages he read us. He also spoke on the structure of the book some. It really has three prologues, for one, which if it was Robert Jordan would have just been one massive prologue, but he instead had a prelude (to the series), a prologue (to the book) and a first chapter from a point of view that never returns. So yeah, three prologues. He also says the book is built somewhat strangely, with several sections that follow two characters each broken up by “interludes”, which are just little short stories going on somewhere else in the world that kind of tie back into the action, but are told from points of view that aren’t part of the main narrative. Sheer madness, but I think Brandon can do it (and I have it on good faith that he has).
So, after the reading, I sat down and did my interview with Brandon (of which one commenter in the Path of Daggers part 1 reread, J. Dauro, actually got a picture). Yeah, I had an audience, but that actually just made it a little cooler. It was (wait for it) fun. I would just like to say here something that has been said before but that just needs repeated: Brandon is an amazing guy. When you have his attention, you have all of it, and he is really, truly engaged. I talked with him earlier at one point, and he actually started asking me questions about what I was doing here on Tor.com and what I was doing on my personal website, and I could tell he wasn’t just being polite. Blew me away. Oh, I also got a picture taken for a friend.
After the interview, I went ahead and got changed into my suit for the semi-formal ball that was going on that night, as I wanted to attend the Towers of Midnight panel that was happening during the dinner break. I came back down and got to see the better part of the costume contest, which was won by a very well done trolloc, head and height included, and also had a Greenman (height included), and some amazing Mats, Rands, Mins, Moiraines, Asha’man, Warders, and Aes Sedai. Oddly, I don’t think there was a single Perrin. Poor Perrin. Still, it amazes me how detailed these costumes can be, yet we still all recognize them. Just says something about how those details Jordan was fond of have really stuck with us.
The Towers of Midnight panel should have been subtitled “Maria says nothing.” She actually went in with a thick stack of RAFO cards and handed them out liberally. Jakob Ro was again moderating, though, and discussion amongst the audience was fine indeed. Also, Brandon poked his head and smiled as we talked. Finally we all turned to him, and he said that all he could say is that any characters you didn’t see much of in The Gathering Storm get more face time in Towers of Midnight. He then disappeared. What was somewhat sad, though, was that in the panel, almost no one really cared to talk about Perrin, and the few that did only got to in moments aside from the main discussion. People were far more interested in Mat and the Tower of Ghenjei, Lan and Malkier, The Black Tower (which someone claimed Brandon had mentioned at a signing that he didn’t know if it would make it into the book), and pretty well anyone but Perrin. As I said: poor Perrin.
Now, remember how I said the title was a metaphor, implying that some “Towering Midnight” would be present, too? Well, the panel was hit by a bubble of evil, in particular, located directly in the left inside pocket of my coat where the voice recorder for my interviews was sitting. I had been casual with handling it all weekend, keeping it in my jeans pocket or tossing it into my laptop bag, and yet as it sat in a fairly spacious pocket in my coat all by itself, it decided to erase ALL of the interviews as well as my voice-notes on what had happened in the con. I noticed this a few minutes before the panel ended as I felt suddenly compelled to pull it out and look at it. I left. I panicked. I raged. I spiraled into depression. The Dark One’s evil had found the most efficient way for a voice recorder to kill me.
After I rushed to my room to try futilely to type out anything I could remember from the interviews, I gave up and went down to the ball which was now starting. I saw Alan and his wife and told them what happened, and word started to get around. When I told Harriet, she asked if I wanted to re-do the interview, but I was so bummed that I declined, saying I’d just email Maria with the questions and she could send them out. I then got a wild hair and walked over to the silent auction. There were two major things on the block: one was an Advanced Bound Manuscript of The Way of Kings, and the other was Robert Jordan’s dragon-carved walking cane/staff. I call it a cane/staff because for him it was probably just a tall cane. For many people, it would be a staff. The book was tempting, but the cane/staff called to me. It took some back-of-the-room murmuring and talking between me and another fellow that was interested, but yes, I have a new friend. Say hello to Oliver, named by Wilson’s suggestion.
Going for the cane/staff must have been good karma, too, because I then chatted with an old acquaintance of Jordan’s, Marcia, who works in radio and broadcasting and gave me some very encouraging words. Something about what she said perked me back up, and I made the rounds and secured interview promises for the next day.
Aside from that, the Seanchan Homecoming Ball was pretty fun. Jendayi Bellydancing entertained us, there was an informal costume contest for the “Homecoming King and Queen,” a series of filked Wheel of Time songs (both lyrics and music original) that were highly entertaining, and a DJ that let people dance into the morning. The silent auction also raised $2,320 all told. I don’t really want to say how much of that was me, although the cane/staff was oddly the second highest bidded item. The book out-stripped it. I’d imagine this was because it started at a lower initial bid, so more people got invested faster. Oh, and apparently the DJ Rickroll’d the room for the last song (I was already gone). Still, everyone somehow managed to blame me. I’m innocent, I say!
The night wound down with me sitting around chatting with Paul and cradling my new friend in my arm, and I actually managed to fall into my bed around midnight, still worried over my lost ninety minutes of interviews but hopeful.
Day 3: Sunday
I woke up around seven, refreshed but tense, and managed to make myself some coffee. I then went down to the volunteer’s breakfast, where everyone drooled over my new friend. After the brunch, I went and found Wilson and the greater portion of the Family having breakfast, and I was invited to sit and join them. After some fun conversation, the “greater portion” took their leave and I reclaimed my interview with Wilson (despite Jason briefly interrupting and addressing me as “Mother” for how I was holding the staff and wearing my shawl).
Afterwards, I tagged along with Harriet to her room, where I managed to get her interview redone (and markedly better, I might add, which all of the interviews turned out to be) while she packed up. Note, by this time, I was coddling my recorder perhaps even more tenderly that I did either of my children when they were newborns. I left, already feeling cheerier, and then had to make a tough call: try to get the Maria and Alan interview jointly again when their schedules were not very endearing to the idea, or get separate ones. I decided at last to do separate ones, which I think will work out better as I was able to do some more tailored questions for each of them.
I spent the next two hours trying to figure out exactly how I was going to interview Brandon and Alan, both of whom were in panels and would be leaving nearly immediately after. There was a complex plan involving me trying to speed interview Alan then riding to the airport with Brandon, but the Pattern bent in my favor, and I managed to get the Brandon interview very satisfyingly done right before he left. Like, literally. We shook hands, then he got in the van and was gone. After that, I snagged Alan and finished his interview.
I then enjoyed a little downtime while Larry from Red Eagle was at lunch. Funny story, that, actually. I had seen Larry the night previous and he was ten sorts of cool with redoing the interview. All Sunday, though, I kept just missing him, or he’d have a free moment, but I was busy with one of the other interviews. I finally managed to get his at 3:30 as the convention was winding down, and again, it came out even better than the first run. We shook hands, and I then went and made my goodbyes. I am somewhat sad that I missed all the panels on Sunday, especially the one entitled “The Codex” that was about the encyclopedia, but I can tell you that it is going to be more of an actual encyclopedia than the “Big White Book.” Open the index, look up a word, and find the article on it. It won’t tie up every loose end, but from what I gather, they are planning on telling us quite a bit. I left, tired but happy. I pulled into my driveway back in Wilmington, NC around midnight, made sure the recorder was safe, then crashed.
As with last year, I am amazed by what has sprung forth from the Wheel of Time. Entire communities that use the books as a focus for charitable work, vast discussion and role-playing sites, and a fan base that could make the second year of this convention just as amazing a success as the first. The care, dedication, and fascination the fans, myself included, have with this series is a powerful testament, and I can only wish that Robert Jordan was still with us to see it today. But, I guess in a fashion, he is. So long as his works are loved, the Great Bard will always, at least in spirit, live on. Thank you, Age of Legends, for putting this on, and, wherever you are, thank you too, Robert Jordan.
Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, and Keeper of Oliver Cane-Staff. More of his ramblings and some of his short stories can be found at http://RichardFife.com.