As many of you may know, I’ve had something of a campaign going for several years to ensure that on the day I finally met the author that over the past few years had gradually displaced Stephen King as my favorite, he would recognize my name. I referred to it as My Diabolical Plan and it grew into something I never expected, thanks to my network of internet friends (all of whom I met through Dragonmount.com‘s Wheel of Time mailing list) that are able to go to many more Cons and book signings than I am able to attend.
It started simply enough, with me half-jokingly asking one such friend to tell Brandon Sanderson that “Paige from New Mexico says, ‘What’s up?!'” I believe that first request was to my good friend Melissa, aka Kiara. Said request was put forth nearly 3 years ago when she was going to be at a signing in Ohio for the 12th Wheel of Time book, The Gathering Storm. IIRC, she was a Storm Leader for her local signing and so (along with her husband Josh) would have most likely been the first of my group of close online friends to meet Brandon since he’d signed on to finish Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series.
I’m sorry to say that I’d not yet heard of Brandon when it was announced nearly 5 years ago that Harriet Rigney, the widow of James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (aka Robert Jordan) had chosen an author to finish her husband’s incredibly popular series. When that announcement came, a lot of WoT fans, myself included, picked up Brandon’s first books (Elantris and Mistborn: The Final Empire) to make sure ‘this guy’ was suitable for the daunting task before him. Heh… I’m kidding, but not really. Of course, reading those first books showed us all what a fantastic author he was and his fandom was augmented dramatically. Harriet had chosen wisely. We… I never should have doubted. My sincere apologies, Brandon.
I’ve bought and read (in multiple formats) everything that Brandon has published since those first two novels that I have come to love. I’ve read and re-read them all, and listened to the audio books, and re-listened to the audio books. I’m captivated by the elaborate worlds he builds. I’m fascinated by the incredible magic systems he creates. I’m mesmerized by the complex and interesting characters that he introduces me to, characters that I quickly come to care about as much as I care about my beloved Wheel of Time characters.
I’ve taken to pre-ordering each of Brandon’s books–signed, personalized, and sometimes numbered–from Sam Weller’s Booksellers, a bookstore that’s supported Brandon since his first books were published. I highly recommend them for any future books of Brandon’s… they have excellent customer service and their books arrive beautifully packaged and in perfect shape, unlike some books I’ve received recently from another source. *cough*Donald M. Grant*cough*
The first author signature I ever acquired in a book was Brandon’s, via his website and through Sam Weller’s. I’ve since, thanks to this past weekend, had them all signed… all hardcovers but for those first two paperbacks I picked up at a Dark Friend Social trip to a bookstore in Indiana, a couple of weeks after learning about Brandon finishing The Wheel of Time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, blathering on as I’m wont to do, not unlike a certain Aes Sedai that I love. So back to My Diabolical Plan. Over the past few years, I have requested of several other friends the same thing I asked of Kia: that when attending a Con or a book signing to see Brandon, they tell him that “Paige from New Mexico says, ‘What’s up?!'” I know that Brandon meets thousands of fans and really, who would expect him to remember my name? I had the faint hope that between the unique wording and the fact that multiple people from Ohio to Georgia and from California to Australia were giving him the exact same message, then when I finally got to meet him in person, he would recognize my name.
So thank you to everyone that I asked to do this for me, even if you didn’t get the chance to do it. Thank you Kia! Thank you Josh, for the awesome WoT art that you created with a pen during a signing which you then had Brandon (and Harriet!!) sign before sending to me! Thank you Tiff! Thank you Jessica! Thank you Joanna! Thank you Matt! I also need to thank Anthony, who I also met on the mailing list but is in a rather different circle than the one which contains all of these other names… you didn’t fully understand my plan yet you approached Brandon at JordanCon in 2010 and said the thing. And I appreciate it!
If I have neglected to mention anyone else that has done this for me, please smack me around (just a bit, though) and demand that I include your name! My own efforts toward My Diabolical Plan were to request a couple of personalized books through Sam Weller’s over the past couple of years in hopes that the added repetition of “Paige from New Mexico” and “What’s up!” might help to cement my name in Brandon’s amazing mind. I’m obviously willing to bet on long odds. The upside of doing so is that the pay off, if it ever comes, is exponentially greater.
Update: I had it gently pointed out to me (no smacking around!) that at the same signing during which my friend Josh drew Mat Cauthon and had it signed by both Brandon and Harriet, that another friend at the same signing, a super-awesome friend by the name of Justin (and he is seriously super-awesome, did you see me mention that he didn’t smack me around at all?), told Brandon the thing and then actually had Brandon personalize his own book thusly: ‘Justin, tell Paige from New Mexico, “S’up!”‘ Holy shit, right?!
Now, I’ve known for years that Justin was a cool guy because back when he was still a member of that Wheel of Time mailing list (where I met him virtually, we’ll hopefully consummate our years long friendship with a hug sometime soon), he volunteered to be my Keeper when the other members chose me to be Amyrlin. We didn’t actually role play on the list, not seriously, but we did play around and act silly and Justin was one of ‘my peeps’.
So dude… thanks. Very much. You rock. Literally. ;o)
Update #2: I had another good friend point out to me this morning that I had neglected to mention her contribution to My Diabolical Plan. So yeah, my friend jeandiata has said the thing to Brandon twice! When at signings both for The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, IIRC. I also met jeandiata through the Wheel of Time mailing list and I think it’s going on something like 7 or 8 years since we first met virtually. We met in real life around Christmastime in 2007 at the aforementioned Dark Friend Social where I picked up Brandon’s first two books in paperback, so we’ve already consummated our virtual friendship with a real one! Of course, this was just after Brandon was chosen to finish the WoT so my friends and I discussed him a lot at that get-together! So, jd… my apologies for omitting you! Double thank you, honey!!
Update #3: Yeah, I forgot another one! I got a virtual smack-down yesterday via Google Talk from another good friend that I also initially met on Dragonmount.com’s Wheel of Time mailing list. Oh, yes, I did finally get smacked down! Howard wasn’t as oh-shucks-you-forgot-li’l-ole’-me! gentle in his reminder as were Justin and jeandiata. :o) Which is cool, I deserved the smackage!
So… Howard met Brandon at, IIRC, a WoT signing in Omaha and he not only said the thing, he also had Brandon sign an Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians book plate for me. Yay! So my sincere apologies to H for forgetting him, too… and my eternal admiration and thanks for his willing and enthusiastic participation in My Diabolical Plan!
To make a long story longer, My Diabolical Plan was a success. When Brandon was in Melbourne, Australia in April of this year for Supanova, I had another friend of mine relay the same message. When Matt, my friend and faithful Warder these past 8 years, sent me a text message to tell me that he had told Brandon the thing–and that Brandon had recognized my name!–I knew that he would be the last friend I would ask to do this for me. I had planned to attend a signing for A Memory of Light after the release of the final WoT book early next January and at that time, I’d see if my long odds paid off.
To my delight, I learned shortly after the Supanova in Melbourne that in August, Brandon would be attending a small Con here in Albuquerque, New Mexico which is only a couple of hours north of the small town in which I live. As I’ve relayed to many people, I nearly exploded upon hearing that news. I was going to get to meet him some FOUR months earlier than I’d planned! I conned my 17 year old daughter Rachel into attending with me and I invited Angie, my friend and fellow WoT fan from Albuquerque to join us. I hurriedly booked a hotel room and purchased weekend passes. I anticipated. I fretted. I counted the months, the weeks, the days. It was a little bit ridiculous, to be honest.
I didn’t care.
I was finally going to meet Brandon Sanderson. After 5 years of growing to love his writing, after 5 years of admiring him more and more, not only for his dedication to his work and to his own fans, but for his unwavering dedication to The Wheel of Time and to Robert Jordan’s legacy and loyal fans, I was going to finally meet him.
If I may digress a bit, because that’s something I rarely do and I ask you to indulge me, I’d like to expound a bit on the subject of Brandon finishing The Wheel of Time. He was, as I’ve learned over the ‘net these past years and as was relayed by him in person over this past weekend, rather terrified of taking on the task of finishing this epic series. Terrified that he’d screw it up. As he told us in one of his lectures at Bubonicon 44, he thought long and hard on whether or not he should accept the offer. He didn’t want to blunder the job and be responsible for screwing it up. Finally, realizing that if he declined and somebody else took the job–and somebody else would take the job–and then they screwed it up, he would still be responsible for screwing it up. So, thank the Light, he took on the formidable task of finishing the last Wheel of Time ‘book’, figuring that at least he could do his best to screw it up as little as possible.
In my not so humble opinion, there was no screwing up at all. There were different writing styles, sure. There were a few inconsistencies, mostly regarding characters, that I saw a lot of whiny about on the internet. I simply did not care. We were getting an ending. WE WERE GETTING AN ENDING! I honestly don’t feel that any supposed Wheel of Time fan that gripes about either how Brandon has “botched” the series (Light, but that makes me bristle!), or about the fact that Brandon ended up writing three books instead of one (though he essentially wrote it as, and does consider it to be, one gigantic book), or about “how long it’s taking” has the slightest inkling of how damned grateful they should be that they’re getting an ending at all.
The author died before he could finish this epic series that he considered his opus. He knew that he was going to die. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to finish the series himself. To ensure that his fans would see Rand face the Dark One at the Last Battle, Robert Jordan labored long and hard to complete certain scenes and to outline others. He wrote what he could and when he became too ill to write, he dictated audio notes. He tasked his wife with finding an author to complete the series the way he wanted it completed. He did that for us! For his fans!
Even now, nearly 5 years after his death (which occurred on my 37th birthday), it brings me to tears to consider how much of his dwindling energy Mr. Jordan spent to get as much done as he possibly could. He cared about his fans a great deal, I think, to go to the lengths that he did to ensure that we would see the ending to his series that he had always wanted us to see. I will be forever grateful for his efforts to finish sharing his story with us. Thank you Mr. Jordan, from the bottom of my heart.
Further, I personally feel that Harriet is a bloody genius for choosing Brandon to finish this series. I’m sure that there are many other capable authors that might have done a fine job, but Brandon is such a huge fan of the series and has taken such painstaking care to ensure that it’s done as true to Robert Jordan’s vision as possible, that I really think that it was meant to be that he finish it. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. Thank you Harriet, for choosing Brandon… thank you so very much.
Lastly, I think that Brandon has gone well above and far beyond in executing the finale we’ve all been waiting for. He expected to write one book and even though he feels that he’s truly written one book, it was so massive as to require being split into three books. The couple of years(ish) that was most likely expected to complete said one book, has turned into nearly five years.
During this extended period, Brandon has worked on and published many of his own books (many, many books!), he has taught a creative writing class at his alma mater BYU, and he has become a father. Twice. Well, technically his first child was born just before Harriet asked him to complete the WoT, but what’s a few weeks, eh? What it comes down to, is that Brandon is a really busy guy, without taking into account the time he’s invested in The Wheel of Time. I don’t know when the man has had time to sleep! Brandon… thank you, thank you, thank you.
Okay, was that too much of a digression? Well… yes, yes it was. My apologies for keeping you, but not really. I’ve said all of these things many times before and I’ll say them all many times again if I feel the need. What’s happened with this series is pretty phenomenal and as fans, we should all be grateful to all parties involved.
So… back to Bubonicon 44, which took place this weekend in Albuquerque. I donned my Great Serpent ring and my dream ter’angreal and drove up Interstate 25 Friday afternoon with my daughter. The adrenaline was already pumping and I think I was actually thrumming with anticipation.
We arrived too late to make the Opening Ceremony though we were there in plenty of time to meet Angie and to catch the first panel that featured Brandon as a panelist. We attended every single panel that he was on throughout the course of the weekend, as well as a reading/Q&A (after which I was too chicken to approach him, to my daughter’s disappointment, or perhaps it was disgust!), and a couple of signings.
Happily, I wasn’t frozen with terror when introducing myself to Brandon’s assistant, Peter Ahlstrom after Brandon’s reading/Q&A on Saturday. We had interacted on Facebook for some time prior to the Con and so I felt a bit more comfortable (though still quite nervous!) when approaching him to chat for a few moments. He was very friendly and Rachel, Angie and I enjoyed a nice conversation with him (which included some great tidbits about Brandon!) before we headed out to scarf down our 2nd and last meal of the day before our full evening signing/panel schedule. It was such a pleasure meeting you this weekend, Peter!
It was at the first of Brandon’s two signings that I finally introduced myself to him as “Paige from New Mexico”. Yes, he recognized my name. No, I did not faint as some of my friends teasingly (or maybe not so teasingly) suggested I might do.
Before I met Brandon, he had been rather larger than life in my mind. He’s this incredibly talented author whose words had the ability to fill many a solitary hour with mysterious mists, rotting magical cities, deadly storm-blasted landscapes, and the unique and interesting characters that occupied each of these settings. Those characters employed fascinating magic systems that had me re-reading scenes, chapters, entire books… so that I might better learn and understand them. When you place someone on a pedestal in your mind, it makes it extremely difficult to approach that pedestal and introduce yourself to that person. You don’t want to impose, you don’t want to interfere… you especially don’t want to be overlooked or dismissed.
But within moments of first speaking to Brandon, I was able to reconcile the person sitting in front of me with that incredibly talented author on the pedestal in my mind. He was just a guy. Just an incredibly friendly guy who was engaging, easy to talk to and quite funny, though I had already known that from his writing. But he was just a guy… a guy who happened to also be that aforementioned incredibly talented author.
Rachel and Angie were also very impressed at how approachable Brandon was during the Con. Of course, I’d heard about his outgoing personality. I’d been told how great he was to talk to and hang out with. For years, I’ve followed him on Twitter and Facebook, and have kept up with his blog on his website. I’ve seen how fan-friendly he can be, how forthcoming he is with information about his writing process and progress. But it’s different when you experience it firsthand. It’s different when that pedestal that seemed so solid and daunting and bloody huge in your mind, begins to shimmer like a mirage as you approach, and then it’s gone and you see what’s real and not what was imagined.
Brandon is real. I was very impressed with how easy he was with his fans and with his peers. He was respectful to (and respected by) everyone and he was very flexible in regards to fan requests for signings and pictures. He was also very gracious with fans, he accepted gifts and answered questions with equal enthusiasm. I wish I’d recorded the Con Toastmaster’s (Michael Cassutt) speech that introduced Brandon as the Con’s Guest of Honor. It was spot on and much more eloquent than what I’ve managed.
I know I’ve rambled (and rambled and rambled) but if you know me well enough to understand what a big deal it was for me to finally meet this author who ousted the former #1 Author on my extensive bookshelves (edged you out, Steve… I’m sorry for that, but we’ll always have Boulder, and Midworld, say true), then you’ll know why this blog entry didn’t just summarize the few brief moments I spent with Brandon over the course of this weekend. This was huge for me.
The icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, the one thing that just tied a bow around this weekend? I raised my hand to ask a question during his last panel today and Brandon pointed at me and said, “Paige from New Mexico”.