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Spotlight on Brandon Sanderson

And get his newest book, 'Tress of the Emerald Sea'

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • April 05, 2023

Since 2005, sci-fi and fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has churned out an astonishing volume of work in the form of bestselling novels, short stories, and graphic novels. He is best known for his series centering around his Cosmere fictional universe, most notably the Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archive. He has also written a number of young adult and children's series including The Reckoners, the Skyward series, and the Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series. Here are seven fascinating facts about the author.

1. He raised more than $40M in his 2022 Kickstarter campaign to distribute four "surprise novels" to fans.

I tried for years to get New York publishers to do things differently, and they just weren’t willing to. So I’m doing it my way.

Last year, Sanderson made international headlines for raising more than $40 million in a Kickstarter campaign (doubling the previous crowdfunding record) to self-publish four secret books and deliver them directly to fans. The campaign's "surprise novels" are four books he has said he "accidentally" wrote in 2021. The first of these is his newest book, Tress of the Emerald Sea, now available to the general public. Set in the Cosmere universe, the rollicking, riveting tale has drawn comparisons to The Princess Bride. The other three titles included in this campaign are:

2. His office is thirty feet below ground.

George R. R. Martin bought an old movie theater. Jim Butcher bought a LARPing castle. I built an underground supervillain lair.

When Sanderson and his wife bought their northern Utah home in 2008, he noticed an empty lot next door. The following year, he bought that lot and began planning for his elaborate underground office. Eleven years later, he broke ground on the space, once he was able to wrangle the needed permissions from his town.

A long marble staircase connects the underground lair to his home. It is lined with stained glass windows depicting scenes and covers from his popular books like Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and The Well of Ascension. He insisted on twenty-foot ceilings to keep it "epic." Ornate dark wood paneled walls surround a huge cylindrical aquarium featuring colorful saltwater fish in a larger gathering area he calls his "Adventurer's Club." There is also a luxe 28-seat movie theater with a state-of-the-art sound system.

3. As a youth, he wasn't much of a reader.

I wish books like Sabriel or Harry Potter had been more available to teens when I was looking for something to love.

Becoming a writer wasn't a given for the young Sanderson who, in eighth grade, thought he might have outgrown reading. Then a teacher handed him Dragonsbane, the first in a series by Barbara Hambly. The story fascinated him, with its "engaging worldbuilding, wondrous exploration, and . . . well, dragons!" In this short personal essay, he called this his "eureka moment." When he went to college, he initially chose to major in biochemistry, but little by little, writing took over as his passion and eventually he changed his course to creative writing.

4. The first twelve books he wrote were all rejected by publishers.

It's easy to believe in something when you win all the time. The losses are what define a man's faith.

While he was still an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University, Sanderson took a part-time job working night shifts at the front desk of a hotel, where he could write between midnight and 5 a.m. Over the next five years, he wrote twelve full-length novels but was unable to get any attention from publishers until one day in 2003 when an editor at Macmillan found one of his manuscripts and got in touch with him. In 2005, he published his debut novel, Elantris, hailed by Orson Scott Card as "the finest novel of fantasy to be written in many years."

5. He's known as the inventor of the concept of "hard" and "soft" magic.

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.

As a writer and a teacher of creative writing, Sanderson has popularized the idea of categorizing magic systems as either hard or soft magic. The terms fall on either side of a spectrum, so that many fictional fantasy worlds may have examples of both. Hard magic follows specific rules. The magic is controlled by limits and these limits are explained to the reader. An example of this is seen in Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist series, in which alchemists use defined formulas to transmute matter from one form into another.

Soft magic systems are more mystical, never fully understood, surprising the reader, and sometimes even the characters who are wielding said magic. Think of Daenerys's transformation into the mother of dragons in Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

6. His college roommate was Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame.

Do not let your assumptions about a culture block your ability to perceive the individual, or you will fail.

In 2000, Sanderson moved into the BYU housing duplex occupied by Ken Jennings. Of course neither one had become famous yet, but Jennings would go on to win 74 episodes of Jeopardy, setting the record for the highest number of winnings on a game show and eventually take up the helm as one of the regular hosts after Alex Trebek's passing. In his memoir Maphead, Jennings affectionately teases his wildly successful former roommate, saying, "it was a pleasant surprise not to be the nerdiest guy in the apartment for a change."

7. He was tapped by Robert Jordan's widow to finish The Wheel of Time series.

Strength does not make one capable of rule; it makes one capable of service.

Although he started publishing books in 2005, Sanderson's popularity really soared when Harriet McDougal, the wife and editor of author Robert Jordan, chose Sanderson to complete the final books in Jordan's fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Deeply impressed by his first Mistborn novel, The Final Empire, she reached out to him. After reviewing what was necessary to complete the series, Sanderson broke it into three final books: The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light.

Brandon Sanderson's fans are legion and his multifaceted legacy is growing. It's been a lot of fun getting to know this iconic author a bit better and we're excited to get a look at his upcoming "surprise novels."

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