Oathbringer, Book 3 of The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson
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Interview with Laura Kehoe
My current project is a fantasy novel, with portals and magic, and possibly dragons. I have just finished the general outline, so it will be a bit before the book is anywhere close to ready. But I think it could turn out really cool!
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
Sort of. I started publishing books before I was married, so I used my maiden name. Even though my real last name is different now, I didn’t want to confuse anyone by changing my author name, so I stuck with Kehoe.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I love seeing what other creative minds come up with, especially when it comes to world-building. It’s so much fun to see what other crazy, exciting ideas are out there in the world.
One of the things I like the least, however, is when characters are flat and uninteresting. If I don’t care about any of the characters, no matter how good the plot and world-building are, I most likely won’t like the book.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I do feel like I was “born to write.” Ever since I learned how to form cohesive sentences, I have been making up stories for myself and, later on, for other people.
Where did the idea of your story come from?
My books, Royal Thief and Redemption, were inspired from a mix of a couple different stories. The biggest influences were Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series and Les Misérables.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
It’s definitely a mix of both! When I talk to my non-writer friends and mention that my characters have minds of their own, my friends think I’m crazy! But it’s true that sometimes you can’t help following where a character leads you.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Reviews are incredibly important! I know a lot of people don’t get that, but to them I would say that reviews are the best way for other readers to learn about a book. Some sites, like Amazon, will give priority to books with a certain number of reviews, but even if that’s not the case, a review can give potential readers a glimpse into what exactly the book is like. They really are one of the most important tools a writer can have.
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
I think one of the worse mistakes an author can make is writing a book they hate. Sometimes authors will write a book they aren’t interested in, but that they think readers will want to read, or are encouraged to write a book for some other reason. But I think in most cases, the author’s disinterest or dislike shows through in their book. And if they don’t like the book, how can a reader be expected to?
Do you have any advice for new authors?
I’m by no means an expert on writing, but one of the best pieces of advice I ever received is keep writing. What I mean is, even when you feel stuck, or when you can’t think of anything good to write, just write something. First drafts are supposed to be kind of bad. You can always edit things later when you go back through your work.
I know it’s cliché, but I’m going to have to go with Middle Earth. Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamt of traipsing through The Shire, exploring the magical forests of Lothlórien, and just going all over that land. It all seems so magical.
I’d go just to hang out with Eowyn.
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
There are a lot of superpowers and magic abilities I wish I had! But I think the one I want the most is invisibility. I think it would be so fun to just watch people go about their lives without anyone judging me for staring too long at complete strangers. (I promise I’m not a stalker). Plus then I could get some quality, uninterrupted reading time without trouble!
What is your Hogwarts House and why?
I’m not at all embarrassed to say I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this question! I have waffled between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but I think I lean more towards Hufflepuff.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
That’s such a tough one! I have always loved dragons and aliens, but if I had to choose one above the other, I have to go with dragons.
Your Book Idea Does (Not!) Suck
But. Did you know that you can actually generate story ideas at will?
The process tends to be a little different for each author. But it exists. Career authors, or anyone who wants to write more than a handful of original stories, need to be able to generate story ideas at will.
But how do you do that? How do you "tame the muse"?
Here are some ideas.
Creativity Begets Creativity
Recently, many people will ask these questions, like, "What if Harry Potter was sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor," and stop right there. They'll write a fanfic story about that. Which is totally fine, and as both a reader and writer of fanfiction I'm not in any position to argue this. But if you want to be a professional author--that is, someone who gets paid for writing original stories--then you're going to have to get original.
Let's take that Harry Potter idea and break it down. The idea is that there's a new kid on the block--we'll call him Barry--who's going to a fantastical world that separates people into groups. Each group has its own stereotype: the brave ones, the smart ones, the nice ones, and the evil ones. Obviously it's a lot more complicated than that (and as a Huffleclaw, I have a few choice words about how "awesome" and "good" Gryffindors are supposed to be), but that's the impression Barry and the readers are getting, at least in the first book. Note that in this story, you don't need four groups. We can have three, seven, twenty, whatever.
So what happens if Barry ends up in the "evil" group, rather than the "good" group like he wanted, like everyone around him expected? You get a hell of a lot of character development is what you get.
The world-building is completely up in the air. It could be a magic school, but everyone's going to see it as a Hogwarts knock-off, so maybe avoid that. Instead, we could make it a superhero academy, or a science fiction setting where the school is in outer space, or, if you really want the fantasy school setting, a school of werewolves (werepuppies!), or demon-hunters, or whatever.
The story itself would focus on Barry, who now has to interact with people he initially thought of as jerks but turn out to actually be pretty awesome, proving that the "evil" house is really not evil, just stereotyped. He'll probably have to save the world, since this is a YA novel. And confront some parts of himself that he'd really rather not examine, like his tendency to let his ambition cloud his friendships, or how he feels he always has to be in charge even to the detriment of others.
Basically, you ask a question of a story that you really like, and then create new characters and worlds to answer that question. The story will then write itself.
Turn Your History Geek On
Studying history is a good idea for a variety of reasons, especially for writers, but it can also be a wellspring of inspiration. Especially when you take in ancient religious beliefs and mythologies. What if the ancient Aztec gods were real, and pissed at the recent lack of blood sacrifices? Can you create a space empire modeled after Imperial China? Maybe model one of your characters after an unknown or overlooked historical figure.
And it's not just history. Science--especially biology--is another really great source of inspiration. Creatures of the deep blue sea are the stuff of nightmares, so stick them in a horror setting! Take a crack at paleontology to see what extinct animals you can dust off and use in a fantasy world. Hell, there's even a bestselling series out right now that's basically Game of Thrones with dinosaurs.
The internet also has an endless stream of art, which in and of itself can be turned into a writing prompt. This can be for a full-blown story or just a basic writing exercise to get the juices flowing. (See last week's "Rustic Pursuits" for an example.) But google something like "dragon art" or "post-apocalyptic setting," choose an image, and write a story about what that image is about.
Don't Sweat It. (Seriously, Don't.)
Your story idea may be the most ridiculous idea ever. But story ideas are really just the start. It's all in the development and execution of that idea that a writer's skill is judged.
Sci-Fi Author Jeannette Bedard
This was the first line of the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. I think I was about ten at the time and the story was about a wizard in his tower working on potions. This wasn't my first foray into imaginary worlds, just the first one I wrote down--sadly, I don't have a copy now.
As long as I can remember, my imagination has been swimming with stories—almost always set in a fantastical world (futuristic or fantasy) filled with adventure. But, I've never considered myself much of a writer, being mildly dyslexic and a non-linear thinker.
A few years later, when I was in high school, I started mulling over a new story idea and I started writing it down. The story was military science fiction – a genre I’d never read any books in at the time. At that point in my life, I don’t think I’d even read any science fiction then either beyond A Wrinkle in Time. But, I kept at it, taking the manuscript with me to university—two years later it was done.
I don’t remember the full plot of my book, just snippets of a post-apocalyptic Earth, space ship battles and a futuristic prison. My original idea included pegaus-style horses with wings, but couldn’t come up with any reasonable explanation of how they could possible generate enough lift to get off the ground so I edited them out. The title was Twilight– chosen over a decade before that title was linked to vampiric romance.
I still have a copy of this one. The stack of printed pages are thick enough to be roughly 70,000 words, an okay length for a novel. I’ve been debating if I should read it or not. Over the years after that, I wrote two more novels that are still stashed (un-read) in binders on my shelf along with notebooks full of ideas.
To my surprise, when I started grad school in a mathy, science discipline, the first piece of advice my supervisor gave me was to start writing--and he wanted to see my early drafts. I handed in a potential thesis chapter right away with my non-linear thoughts and taciturn writing on full display.
He was brutally honest about the state of my writing, but he was also clear that the mechanics of writing could be learned. He pointed out that writing about science is an exercise in storytelling (or at least it should be) and that the only way to become a good storyteller was to practice.
After our conversation, I walked out his office and started a blog (Tangent Ramblings) to write about science. I didn't think I had more than a half-dozen posts in me—that was in 2011 and I've been writing posts ever since. I think I'm up over 300 now.
Fast forward a few years, and I realized I liked the mechanics of telling as story, and I was getting better at it.
Then I read The Martian, which I enjoyed greatly. It was the first science fiction I’d read in years and it set gears into motion in my head pondering my own fiction again. This is the scenario I started with:
You are in an atmospheric suit on an alien world and there’s a leak in it. Alarms are blaring as your bubble of breathable air is bleeding away. Slap a patch on the leak and you’d be good to go. Mark Watney managed it – but you’re not this lucky. What if the suit was also covered in mud? How would you find the leak then? Muddy gloves wouldn’t get far in cleaning the suit off. But it still could be worse, what if the mud was about to freeze? What if you’re completely alone?
Ideas flowed from there and grew into an entire novel. This time, I didn't put the book on the shelf after the first draft. Instead, I kept working on it. First by dissecting its structure, morphing my non-linear thoughts into a logically flowing story. I shared it with as many people who would read it and incorporated their feedback.
Three years later, I bit my lip and released the completed novel to the world--Day 115 on an Alien World. The book is widely available both in ebook and print format and I've been amazed at the all the positive feedback! Here's my favourite review so far (from Amazon): “I'm a sucker for well-written sci-fi adventure novels, and boy, did this one deliver!”
I think I can declare myself officially bitten by the writing bug as book 2 in the series (Far Side of the Moon) is also now out and book 3, Abandoned Ships; Hijacked Minds, is in its final stages on track to be released early summer.
I'm still debating if I dare to read my first novel. Perhaps someday I'll make up my mind—until then it'll remain stashed on my shelf.
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Edgedancer, a novella by Brandon Sanderson
(Book 2.5 of The Stormlight Archive.
Book 1 is The Way of Kings.
Book 2 is Words of Radiance.)
Three years ago, Lift asked a goddess to stop her from growing older--a wish she believed was granted. Now, in Edgedancer, the barely teenage nascent Knight Radiant finds that time stands still for no one. Although the young Azish emperor granted her safe haven from an executioner she knows only as Darkness, court life is suffocating the free-spirited Lift, who can't help heading to Yeddaw when she hears the relentless Darkness is there hunting people like her with budding powers. The downtrodden in Yeddaw have no champion, and Lift knows she must seize this awesome responsibility.
No Spoilers (Promise!)
Unlike all the other books in The Stormlight Archive, Edgedancer is a huge departure from form in that it focuses exclusively on one character, with no detours or side-stories. It's actually kind of nice. Simple in a way this series isn't. And the character Sanderson chose--Lift--is phenomenal. She's extremely whacky, impulsive, and doesn't care about any kind of rules or structure. But she's also kind and compassionate, doing her best to keep people safe even as she goes to great lengths not to get attached to anything or anyone.
If you're reading The Stormlight Archive and are wondering who the hell this Lift character is, she's the thief who can turn Slick, has an obsession with food, and her spren Wyndle is the one that's made out of vines. If you're still drawing a blank, the short story that she first appeared in in Words of Radiance--where she helps a bunch of other thieves break into the Azish palace and ends up accidentally making one of them the new emperor--acts as the prologue to Edgedancer, so you get a nice refresher.
That's one of the things that's a downside to Sanderson's work. This series is incredible, the world-building is insane, and there's so much going on. Too much. More than once I've come across a name or place or concept that we've seen before, and it's supposed to be this big reveal, but I'll be drawing a complete blank because the thing was last seen a thousand pages ago and I have no idea what's going on. When book four comes out, I'm probably going to have to re-read the first three books to have half a chance of keeping everything straight.
Also in Edgedancer, Sanderson touches on mental health. Lift gets some food at an orphanage in the city of Yeddaw and befriends one of the other kids, who has a cognitive disability because of head trauma (i.e. head smacked bad, make brain sad). This is something I've noticed Sanderson doing more and more of, which is really good. Mostly. So far, every physical disability that's popped up--lack of limbs, paralysis, head trauma, etc.--has been fixed via magic. That's kind of a bummer, because we have people running on walls and flying and whatnot, and I would've loved to see a guy in a tricked-out wheelchair doing that, or a deaf bridgeman teaching everyone sign language so all the Windrunners can communicate in the sky, or someone with chronic pain calling the shots at a war meeting. Stuff like that. But no; magic glowing light fixes all that before it can become plot-relevant.
However, mental health has been handled better and more realistically; that is, it doesn't get a quick fix like a missing limb in this world. Kaladin still has seasonal depression, which is a pretty big deal considering the fact that he's one of the main characters. One of the men of Bridge Four is revealed to be an addict who keeps falling off the wagon. Shallan...probably should be more messed up than she is, but her development in light of her abusive family life is pretty true to form.
Anyway. Back to Edgedancer. According to Sanderson, this was more of a fun side-quest than anything else, as he loves the character of Lift and wanted to explore her more in depth. But in the main series, she barely pops up, and when she does it's after most of her character development. So basically, this was an author just having fun showing us the backstory of a minor character in a great series. And it shows. It's probably not critical to read this book to understand the series as a whole, but it's definitely worth the read.
Interview with Jordanna Max Brodsky
Like so many people, my first exposure to mythology came with D’Aulaires Greek Myths when I was a kid. One of the last pages shows a nighttime scene of broken columns and toppled statues and reads, “All things must come to an end. So too did the reign of the Olympians.” I always found that heartbreaking. But the beauty of writing is that you can create the world you want, not the one you have, so I decided to imagine a universe in which the gods hadn’t all died out after all. That became the Olympus Bound series.
Once you start writing about mythology, it’s hard to stop. Most fantasy authors have to construct their worlds from scratch, but myth provides settings, costumes, ancient languages, poetry, legends, and religions. I didn’t need to invent places like Nunavut or Iceland or Athens—I could actually visit them. Yet, myths that exist in so many different versions that there’s plenty of room to find your own stories as well.
The gods themselves, whether or Inuit or Norse or Greek, are quite different from our amorphous modern conceptions of the divine. They’re capable of supernatural feats but still profoundly human: full of rage, despair, love, jealousy, and laughter. It’s a fascinating paradox, the same one that draws us to superhero movies. At the same time, there’s a reason humanity has retold myths for so long. They touch on themes as compelling today as they were a thousand years ago: loyalty and betrayal, metamorphoses and murder, family and exile.
Can you tell us about what you’re currently working on?
I’m experiencing an authorial evolution. The Olympus Bound series is contemporary fantasy, a Percy-Jackson-for-adults thriller about the Greek goddess Artemis in the modern day. The Wolf in the Whale moved into historical fantasy, exploring both Inuit and Norse myth in their ancient context. Now I’m embarking on my first purely historical fiction project, with no fantasy in sight. But I’m still focusing on the challenges that women face when they defy their culture’s norms. The new book is set during the Civil War, and it follows an Irish immigrant who disguises her gender to enlist in the Union Army. It’s inspired by the true stories of hundreds of women who did the same thing, the vast majority of whom have been forgotten by history.
There are unfortunately very, very few SFF stories that star a trans/non-binary character. Was making Omat, the main character in The Wolf in the Whale, trans/non-binary a conscious decision to combat this, or was it just a natural happenstance?
Omat’s gender was actually one of the reasons I chose to write about Inuit culture in the first place. In the historical record, most of the conflicts during the Viking expeditions to North America occurred between Norsemen and the Beothuk Indians. There’s only a brief reference in one saga to a group who were likely Inuit. But that one evocative verse led me to start researching Inuit culture, and as soon as I learned about their conception of what scholars call the “Third Sex,” I knew I had my protagonist. It’s an identity that is not exactly the same as what we call transgender. Instead, Inuit children in traditional culture possess the name-soul of an ancestor. In rare occasions, the child was then raised in that ancestor’s gender, even if it didn’t correlate to their biological sex. This is something decided at birth by the shaman and the community, not an understanding that the child themselves comes to at some point later in life.
To me, The Wolf in the Whale is more a story about an individual who wants to defy gender roles—the same way strong women have been doing forever—than it is about being specifically transgender. Perhaps gender non-binary is a more appropriate term for my protagonist, as Omat definitely lives in both genders, but it, too, implies a modern conception that isn’t entirely applicable to this ancient story. At the end of the day, I simply hope that The Wolf in the Whale can serve as yet another reminder that our understanding of gender and sexuality is infinitely varied and constantly evolving.
Inuit and Norse mythology are two things that usually don’t mix. Why did you decide to bring them together in The Wolf in the Whale?
I’m always fascinated by the forgotten moments in history. Too often, we only learn the same few fundamental stories in school—America’s founding myths, you might say—and we forget that other cultures lived in this land long before our own. Few people even remember that the Norse “discovered” America five hundred years before Columbus. Even fewer know that one of the leaders of those Norse expeditions was a woman—Leif Eriksson’s sister, Freydis Eriksdottir. And almost no one talks about the fact that the Norse settlement eventually failed in part because the indigenous people, including Inuit hunters, successfully fought them off.
Once I knew I wanted to write about the Norse and the Inuit, pairing their mythologies seemed only natural. Because both cultures evolved in similar maritime Arctic environments, their stories have some striking similarities. Both see the Sun as female and the Moon as male, an inversion of the Classical tropes. And both are full of ravens, wolves, and sea monsters. One fought with iron, the other with bone and slate, but these two parallel cultures make both well-matched adversaries and surprising allies.
You’ve done a lot of traveling in order to research for your stories. What are some of the favorite places you’ve visited?
For pure, unadulterated pleasure, I’d have to pick Crete, which I visited when researching Artemis’s ancient sacred sites for The Immortals and the Olympus Bound series. It’s hard to beat crystalline lagoons, pine-scented gorges, and the original Labyrinth.
But for sheer awe, I’d go with Nunavut in subarctic Canada, where I traveled last year for The Wolf in the Whale. Granted, the temperature was near forty below with the wind chill, but watching the Northern Lights shimmer overhead in a psychedelic ballet of orange and purple and green made me forget the cold. I learned things on that trip that I didn’t realize I didn’t know. The Internet can show you how to construct an iglu, but it’s not until I actually snowmobiled onto the sea ice to build one with an Inuit elder that I appreciated the view from inside—like a perfect spiraled sea shell, with each snow block limned in sunlight. I’d watched half a dozen videos on lighting a traditional Inuit oil lamp, but never smelled the nutty, soothing scent of the burning moss wick, nor known the pleasure of staring into the steady mountain peaks of flame.
The Wolf in the Whale examines sexual violence, but not just from the survivor’s side, it also explores the guilt and impact of the perpetrators of sexual violence. Why is that?
I know many readers would prefer not to read about sexual violence, and I completely respect that position. For this particular book, however, I wanted to acknowledge that sexual violence was (and is) very much a part of many women’s lives—especially in the medieval world when their bodies and rights were even less valued than they are today. The fundamental Inuit myth I explore in the book—the formation of the Sun and the Moon—centers on an incestuous rape, so sexual violence necessarily plays a role in the larger story.
When creating my male Viking protagonist, I definitely toyed with the idea of making him a pure soul who completely defied the stereotype of a raping marauder. But it simply didn’t ring true. Not all Norsemen were Vikings (a point I make clear in the book), but those that were certainly showed little mercy to the villages they attacked. They regularly took women as slaves and concubines. To ignore that fact was to ignore reality. So I decided the more interesting choice was to try to understand how a culture can teach a man to be a predator—and then to explore how he can come back from that.
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
The ability to type for more than two hours at a time. Since writing my thesis in college, I’ve been plagued by tendonitis in my hands and wrists, making typing for long periods quite painful. I would write far faster if I could write for longer each day. So a note for aspiring authors: get yourself an ergonomic typing setup and keep stretching! You don’t want to wind up like me!
Who in your life has truly inspired you?
Juliet Marillier. Her Daughter of the Forest is what made me become a writer in the first place. I found that book so profoundly engrossing and emotionally gut-wrenching that I knew I had to try my hand at creating a world that could do the same for other readers.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Definitely aliens. Dragons and zombies, I’m afraid, just don’t exist. The fact that aliens actually might makes them infinitely more fascinating to me. I prefer to work reality into my fantasy. Also, since there’s nothing to say that aliens can’t take the form of zombies or dragons, you can have your cake and eat it too!
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The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!