Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Gathering Storm signing

As if I wasn't busy enough with opening a new library, last week I also had the opportunity to volunteer at a book signing for The Gathering Storm by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan, so even though my plate is pretty full these days, I jumped at the chance.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series was very close to completion on his death, just over two years ago. When he passed on, his widow, Harriet McDougal selected fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. Sanderson is the author of the Mistborn Chronicles, Elantris, Warbreaker and the Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians middle-grade fiction series. Sanderson has now completed the third to last book of the Wheel of Time and was just finishing his four week tour as he came to the Los Angeles.

Myself and the other volunteers met Brandon Sanderson for dinner at a Roy's Hawaiian fusion restaurant across the street from Vroman's Bookstore. It was a pleasant evening, with temperatures in the mid to high 60's. As soon as our food arrived, Brandon requested a salt shaker. (He is notoriously fond of salt.) Someone asked if now that he was a father, if Brandon would ever end up writing things inspired by his son. He said, "No," because he'd heard that M. Night Shyamalan had written Lady in the Water based on a story for his children. We ended up talking about Shamalayan for a while. And Brandon said he felt that because his first few twist endings had gone so well, it seemed like Shyamalan was putting in a twist to everything, whether it needed one or not. He said he hoped that The Last Airbender, Shyamalan's current project would be successful for him. We didn't spend the whole night talking about Shyamalan, however.

Several of us asked Brandon what the status was on Robert Jordan's prequel novels, or Outrigger novels, and if those would ever be completed. Brandon responded by telling us that Harriet has said, "You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. And know when to walk away." And as to what that means, is anyone's guess. I asked Sanderson if there was any news on his Alcatraz series, and he said he'd completed the fourth book in the series and that a lot of major plotlines have been resolved. There's still plenty of questions left unanswered. It's possible he might return to it. But, for now, he has completed his contract on the Alcatraz books. He was much more excited about his upcoming projects. He said he might do a second trilogy set in the Mistborn world, taking place at least a hundred years after the events of the first trilogy. It would be urban fantasy, with magic and guns. He didn't use the word "steampunk" but that's how it sounded to me. He told us a little bit about his new Way of Kings series, which sounds like truly mega-epic fantasy, in a magic-rich environment with characters who wear powerful magic-imbued plate armor.

After dinner, we reconvened at the bookstore where we met with the store representative, who along with Brandon, outlined what everyone's roles would be for the evening. The store seemed a little underprepared -- they clearly weren't expecting the crowd of over 150 fans who gathered, and they sold out of nearly everything. Then again, Brandon wasn't number one on the New York Times bestseller list when he first booked the signing, either! Our store liaison explained that the store closed at 9 pm, and when Brandon told her that he'd never completed a signing before 10:30, she looked a little crestfallen, but quickly went about getting clearance for the store to stay open a little later.

The waiting crowd

The Storm Leaders handed out bumper stickers along with a Wheel of Time quiz and word search game to the crowd. A big shout-out to super-fan Bryan who'd snagged a front row seat and started the celebratory mood by saying, "On behalf of everyone, can I just say... Whoooo!" and let out an earth-shaking roar of appreciation, which was roundly applauded. Brandon said, "Can I get you to do that at every signing? That was awesome!"

Sanderson started out by explaining that he was nearing the end of a massive four-week tour, and apologized if he sounded a little "loopy". He then proceeded to give a wonderfully engaging talk, and answered a brief Q and A. A number of fans have probably heard the story of how he wanted to work with Tor publishing, because that was where Robert Jordan was published, and he shared that with the audience. He read from the prologue of The Gathering Storm, a passage that he said was nearly pure Jordan. During the Q and A session, he gave a couple of RAFOs.* Moraine? RAFO. Asmodean? RAFO. Someone in the audience asked "If a channeler opened a gateway, would it be possible for them to balefire themselves? What would happen?" Brandon said that he had heard Robert Jordan give a more ribald answer to that same question once, (RJ had responded something to the effect of, "You need to get laid.") but for Sanderson's part, all he could say was RAFO, as there's certain to be plenty of balefire at the Last Battle in the upcoming finale.

Before the signing, a signed poster and several Wheel of Time comic books were raffled off.

During the signing, I noticed that Brandon took a moment to chat with each and every person who stood in line. By the end of the night, his signature resembled a stylized loop more than anything else, but his energy and attention for the attendees never wavered.

With one of his youngest fans, an Alcatraz reader.

I spent nearly three hours canvassing the crowd of over 150 of the people who turned out for the signing. What struck me the most was the diversity of the group. There were fans who'd been reading Wheel of Time for over 15 years. There were a number of people who'd started the series about 6 months ago, and raced through the whole set to get caught up. There were even a few people who had just started reading WoT that night! I talked to a lot of Mistborn and Elantris fans who were new to the Wheel of Time, and a lot of Wheel of Time fans who were going back and enjoying Sanderson's epic fantasy novels. There were Alcatraz fans both young and old. People came from all over the Southland, but the person who traveled the longest flew down from Sacramento. Another person in line was from Houston. Parents really appreciated Brandon's announcement that people with young children, and those in wheelchairs, should feel free to come up to the start of the line. The way Brandon announced this reminded me of pre-flight boarding -- no doubt it something he has a lot of experience with, considering all the traveling he's been doing this month!

Chatting up the crowd

We gifted Brandon with a care basket, including cough drops, salty snacks and a set of blue foil Magic cards. At just after 10 pm, we gathered outside of the bookstore, for a picture, before Brandon headed back to his hotel and on to Seattle the next day.

*Read and Find Out

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