Brandon Sanderson is an award-winning author renowned for the intricate and immersive worlds he creates, and for his highly detailed systems of magic. Recently, he has brought those talents to YA with the publication of his first teen novel, The Rithmatist.
Brandon kindly answered our questions AND sent us two signed copies of his book to give away! Leave your name and contact info in the comments to enter the draw (we won’t publish your details). The answers below were transcribed from audio recorded for this interview.
Q: This is your first teen novel, although you are well known for your adult science fiction and the Alcatraz series for middle grade readers. What motivated you to write for a YA audience?
A: I do read quite a bit of YA fiction. In fact, during the era when I was trying to break into publishing—the late 90s and early 2000s—a lot of the really exciting things in sci-fi and fantasy were happening in YA and middle grade. Garth Nix, J.K. Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones and others created some wonderfully imaginative writing during this time.
I dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn’t written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can’t do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don’t feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.
Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you’ve got to wonder if they would’ve been shelved in the teen section in a later era.
Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis’s works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.
So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.
Q: I imagine this is a bit like asking a parent to pick a favourite child, but your projects have varied from standalone fantasy (Elantris, Warbreaker), to epic series set in intricate worlds (Mistborn), to novellas (Legion), to writing for children and teens (Alcatraz, The Rithmatist), to finishing Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time series – which of these projects did you find most difficult, and which was most rewarding?
A: When I’m done with one project, I want to do something very different to refresh myself. This is the reason I write such varied things. It keeps me excited as a writer because each project has its own measure of things that interest me and obstacles that challenge me.
The most difficult project was finishing the Wheel of Time. Stepping into someone else’s shoes—particularly someone I respected so much—and taking over a long-running series was a real challenge. Writing those books was the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my career.
The most rewarding project was the release of The Way of Kings. It was my pet project. I’d worked on it in one form or another basically since I was a teen. Finally being able to release that in its finished form was a very fulfilling experience as an artist.
Q: In The Rithmatist, the female protagonist, Melody, has been chosen as a Rithmatist, which is a great honour but also something that she really struggles with. I think that many youth feel this kind of pressure - to be special, or to excel at something that they didn’t necessarily choose - and then feel as though they aren’t measuring up. Was it a conscious decision to have Melody deal with that issue, or a natural extension of her character?
A: This part of Melody’s character was intentional. Being a square peg in a round hole and parental and societal expectations are things I think about a lot. Your teen years are when these things come crashing down around you. Often books have a character who is the chosen one, who is naturally gifted and talented, but what happens if you get chosen and whoever chose you was wrong, and you just aren’t any good at it? That was an interesting conflict that felt very real to life. When I figured out this aspect of Melody, she really came to life as a character.
Remember to leave your name and contact info in the comments for a chance to win a signed copy of The Rithmatist, and check back next week for the second part of this interview!