Brandon Sanderson enthralled the crowd in the Westin Atlanta Ballroom on Sunday afternoon as he read an excerpt from A Memory of Light, the final installment in the Wheel of Time series, due out from Tor Books on January 8, 2013. The excerpt, featuring the indomitable Matt, had the crowd laughing and cheering Sanderson’s deft use of humor, particularly when it came to Matt’s evolving cover story and wry internal dialogue. When the reading came to an end, the audience burst into thunderous applause, ample proof of their whole-hearted appreciation. For fans unable to attend the panel, don’t fret. Sanderson promised that the excerpt will be posted on Tor.com very soon.
During the question and answer session that followed, Sanderson spoke of taking the things that Robert Jordan had developed and using them to their full potential—like gateways, for instance. Details? RAFO (read and find out).
Sanderson acknowledged having learned several things from Jordan’s writing, including effective use of viewpoints and foreshadowing. The grand skill, Sanderson explained, is the ability to portray a character’s personality just by the way they describe a room. Surprisingly, Sanderson found Matt the hardest character to write. “He’s not just a trickster,” Sanderson said, “he’s an untrustworthy narrator…the things he says are not really the way he sees the world.”
Sanderson described some scenes from each of the last three books that were mostly written by Jordan, including the farmer on the doorstep watching the storm. In The Gathering Storm, Rand was written more by Sanderson, and Egwene was written more by Jordan. In A Memory of Light, a scene where Egwene has an unexpected meeting in the Tower was written by Jordan.
When Sanderson was asked if he would like to be on a short list of authors under consideration to finish the Wheel of Time series, he described his initial uncertainty. Although he had said yes, he said that he lay in bed that night terrified and wondering if he should back out. “I knew I would fail,” he told the audience. “And I have failed. Only Robert Jordan could write the book.” But he decided that if he declined, “someone else might screw it up worse than I would screw it up.” Since he wanted someone who really cared about the books to finish them, he decided that he really wanted to be the one to do it.
Sanderson showed a touching humility when he spoke of having to fill the late Robert Jordan’s shoes. He praised Jordan’s engaging and beautiful prose, the gritty sense of realism he infused in his action sequences, and his expert and subtle use of foreshadowing. “At the end of the day,” Sanderson said, “I know I can’t replace him.” And yet Sanderson admits that one of his strengths is writing powerful endings and wrapping things up.
As for his opinion of the long-awaited ending to the Wheel of Time series, “there’s a certain serenity to it,” Sanderson assured the crowd. “It’s him again. I think it’s beautiful…wonderful…and I think you’re really going to enjoy it.”