In part two of our exclusive interview with fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson, we get some clues about his new books, plus updates on an upcoming Cosmere TV show and more. Sanderson, best known as the author of the Cosmere shared universe of fantasy novels, broke Kickstarter records earlier this month when he launched a Kickstarter for four “surprise novels” he wrote about the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday we published the first part of a long interview with Sanderson on the Kickstarter. In our second half, we dig a little deeper into the new books, and get an update on the Cosmere’s expansion into other media and its future travel schedule.
ComicBook.com: Let’s talk a bit about the books in your Kickstarter and how they fit into your bibliography. Three of these books are set in the Cosmere, and I’m curious how these projects fit into the meta-narrative you’ve built. Have they changed plans? Do they fill in gaps in your story? How does this fit into your grand scheme of things?
Brandon Sanderson: One of the books fills a gap. One of them is a story that I wanted to tell and intend to tell. The other two that are in the Cosmere are what I consider to be side stories that add variety and flavor to the Cosmere and things like that, but aren’t part of the main meta-narrative.
Secret Project One (Emerald Sea Tress) and 3 (Yumi and the painter of nightmares) are just really interesting side stories, but they don’t need to be part of the whole Cosmere story. Imagine, if you’re watching Marvel, you’ve got your big Avengers-related comic book series or movies and you’re cooking up the next Avengers storyline. They don’t do that much in the movies, but in the comics you’ll sometimes But in the comics you’ll sometimes have series about a really interesting character whose story is really interesting, but they’re not going to be a Avenger.
Most of my main Cosmere books are more along the lines of setting up these big crossovers. The Stormlight Archive, for example, is a great 10-book war epic. In some ways, it’s easier for people to access it, because it’s not about setting up something like that. They are stand-alone books. There are some crossover characters that readers of the Cosmere will recognize, but that’s more for exploring the Cosmere. We will see interesting worlds, interesting planets, interesting characters and readers can just enjoy the story. Now, Secret Project Four is much more focused on the larger events close to the narrative. It’s still more of a side story, but it’s pretty relevant.
When I first became an author, one of the things I wanted to do was post cohesive standalone stories so people could try me out without having to step into something big. And I think one of the reasons The Stormlight Archive is as great as it is, it’s because people got to try me on something like Warbreaker Where Elantris or even the original Born of the Mists trilogy that was over, right? You might read those books and think “Wow, that was a great ending. It’s able to tell a full story. Now I’m gonna jump into the 10-pound thing, knowing the trip will be worth it because not not going to fall apart in the end. I can trust Sanderson to tell a full story. And I wanted to do that throughout my career.
So, I know you are revealing more details about the books through your Kickstarter. But could you tease the potential crossover characters that will appear in these books? Clearly, Hoid (a character who has appeared in all of Sanderson’s Cosmere novels to date) is the focus of Secret Project One.
Sanderson: So Secret Project Four features a character from one of my books who never got his own book, who isn’t Hoid, who readers will recognize. This was a character who had points of view, but no book.
He’s not a main character, but he’s someone who has had points of view and is very connected to a main character. So that’s secret project four. And Secret Project One has at least one other character who’s been mentioned in a book before, but never appeared on screen, right? Stuff like that.
Personally, how do you keep track of all the views and details? I know George R. Martin used his Wiki, do you have something similar? Do you use Coppermind (a wiki page dedicated to Cosmere)?
Sanderson: I don’t need to rely on Coppermind very often. Once in a while, I’ll go there for a quick reference. But I have an internal continuity team that uses a Wiki actually built for me. I used to maintain it and then go back to my continuity editor.
I’m pretty good at it, but I’m not perfect. I will forget a lot of things. So that’s why I have this Wiki. I’m pretty good at scale. The smallest scale is where I’ll get a character’s eye color wrong and my team will happily figure it out. And I’ll swap things that I intended to do and confuse them.
I don’t do that anymore, but for years I used the wrong metals for people’s powers in Born of the Mists because the first draft had a certain set of metals. And then I changed it to overhaul to be something that worked better. But my fingers never remembered the revised metals and my editor had to come in and say, “Change all that. Brandon, you start over.” So I have a good team. I have a great team that keeps me straight on these things.
I only have a few minutes left, so I’m going to ask a few quick questions. I know you are a tabletop RPG or at least you were. There is a Mistborn TTRPG but are there any plans for additional games based on your work?
Sanderson: Yes the Adventure game born from the mists is still in print and we are exploring options to make it a Stormlight. One day, I’m sure it will happen. But as an RPG fan, there are some companies I’d love to work with that we want to keep approaching and seeing if they’re interested.
I also have several homebrews that I’ve built over my years as a DM that maybe I could one day hand over to someone who really knows what they’re doing, who could take my homebrew and do some a real system. One thing you will learn from making homebrew is that after playing it for a while you will learn how bad you really are at creating game mechanics and how much work it takes to create ones that are intuitive and fluid.
So, something else that I know you probably can’t answer…what about a Cosmere TV show? You have TV experience because you worked on Wheel of Time as a consultant, so when is the Cosmere TV show coming?
Inevitable one day, but no promise when.
So my last question is about your schedule. You said these books came about because of the COVID-19 pandemic when you had to cut back on your very courteous travel schedule. I don’t know anyone who does as much as you and who still manages to travel as much. It’s incredible. I swear I still expect a second Brandon to walk behind you. That’s the twist, you’re actually two.
Sanderson: It’s like Prestige. We were a clone from the start!
But these books, you were able to produce four other books in two years because you weren’t traveling. Does this change the way you approach travel? Obviously, interactions with fans are important. This is one of the main reasons why you were able to grow your brand through your fanbase. But at the same time, you were able to do a $30 million Kickstarter because you didn’t travel.
Sanderson: I will probably never return to such an exhaustive tour as I did. I’ll probably step it up from where I’ve been for the past two years, but I don’t see myself going back to that schedule. I think digital delivery via YouTube turned out to be much better. It’s easier for my health. More people can tune into one of my live streams if you count VODs than I will on an entire tour. And that’s just a weekly video. And so, yeah, I can’t hand-sign, but we were getting to the point where I can’t hand-sign people’s books on tour either.
I should give a presentation and then sign 100 books. Once you get to a certain point…I’ve done signings that 5,000 people have shown up for and I can sign a maximum, if I’m customizing people’s books, of 200 books per hour. So, we are talking about 25 to 50 hours for a book signing. And it’s really flattering, it’s great. It’s incredible. But I can’t do that anymore. And so, the tours were going to have to switch to being less personal anyway. So why not post them all on YouTube?
You can check out Sanderson’s Kickstarter here. The Kickstarter will remain open until the end of the month.