If the epic-fantasy genre seems suited only to people who play Magic: The Gathering and own Star Wars bedding, consider this: Robert Jordan's unfinished Wheel of Time series has sold more than 44 million copies. That's a lot of readers who were left on the edge of their seats when the author died in 2007—including Brandon Sanderson, the 33-year-old writer who was chosen by Jordan's widow to complete the series using the notes her husband left behind. Today, Sanderson is releasing the first of the three concluding volumes, A Memory of Light: The Gathering Storm (Tor, $30), and is facing expectations from fans who make a tween girl's passion for the Jonas brothers look like what it is: child's play. Ruth Baron
Details: What was the process of finishing the Wheel of Time like?
Brandon Sanderson: It's kind of like discovering an ancient vase that has been shattered. In some places you just have to polish off the pieces that you've found, but in other places there are pieces missing. It's a blend of using someone else's outline and also trusting my instincts a writer and a longtime reader of the series.
Details: Between churning out eight books of your own and completing the series, have you had the chance to read other fantasy authors?
Brandon Sanderson: Fantasy has had some problems with being too repetitive, in my opinion. I try to read what other people are doing—and say, How can I add to this rather than just recycle it? How can I stand on Tolkien's shoulders rather than stand tied to his kneecaps?
Details: Do you dress up for industry conventions such as Dragon Con?
Brandon Sanderson: I have never dressed up. Though I do like to say those are my people. There's this thing called the geek hierarchy—you can Google it. Furries, who dress up like animals, are down at the bottom. Then you've got the people in the costumes, and at the top, the science-fiction/fantasy writers. But the big joke is that we're all equally nerdy, just in different ways.
Details: And you participated in the first Jordan Con this year. What was that like?
Brandon Sanderson:: Imagine it as a big party thrown by his [Jordan's] friends and fans in his honor to talk about his impact on the world through his literature. Some books cause a big change in people's lives and some don't. Star Wars—people go crazy over Star Wars. And people do the same thing for the Wheel of Time.
Details: Who's your favorite character in the series?
Brandon Sanderson: When I first started reading, the character that drew me in was Rand. I was a teenage boy, Rand was a teenage boy, and I very much empathized with him on his classical hero's journey. Later, I really empathized with a character named Perrin, who was kind of quiet and sturdy. That's who I am in a lot of ways, particularly during that era in my life. And lately I've found myself liking characters who are a little bit older and more mature. Really, it's not the story of one or two characters, but of all of them together, and what it's like to live in this world during the end of days. It's the world-building—the strength and depth of these many characters—that has pulled people along for 20 years.
Details: Is there a revenge-of-the-nerds quality to being a best-selling author?
Brandon Sanderson: You know, I was a nerdy kid going through high school, and then I got to college and that all vanished. I mean, a lot of my good friends—when we were in high school, we would never have been able to hang out together because we were in such different cliques or whatever. Now, who cares? I'll make them watch the latest Star Trek movie and they'll make me watch, you know, the World Series, and we'll get along and enjoy each other's world and culture. So no, I really don't feel that.