Brandon Sanderson’s career as author of epic fantasy has taken him from a creative writing class at BYU to multiple entries on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Now an active author, he is passing on his professional experience by teaching the same class in which he was once a student.
“It was taught by David Farland, who is a fantasy novelist,” Sanderson said. “Before that it had been taught by ‘Doc’ Smith, whom many of us regard quite highly in the fantasy and science fiction community here in Utah Valley.”
In addition to his classes and writing for fun, Sanderson joined the student-edited writing magazine at BYU called “The Leading Edge” as a student.
“’The Leading Edge’ is fun because it’s completely run by students,” Sanderson said. “It was more useful, honestly, than most of my classes, and one of the more useful courses I took career-wise, even though it wasn’t a course.”
While working on these projects, Sanderson befriended Dan Wells, another student who would go on to be a professional author.
“We used the class to kind of identify each other as very serious writers who wanted to be doing this professionally,” Sanderson said. “Together we said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a writing group and really look at doing this as pros?’”
Sanderson and Wells invited another to join their group; Peter Ahlstrom, an aspiring editor and now Sanderson’s assistant.
“Brandon was looking for an assistant, and so he hired me,” Ahlstrom said. “He wasn’t sure at first how much work he was going to give me, but it turned out there was just more and more work, so pretty soon it became full time.”
Sanderson keeps in touch with another fellow author, Janci Patterson, who worked as Sanderson’s TA after she took his class at BYU.
“He really believed that anybody can reproduce the kind of success that he’s had,” Patterson said. “So he’s very willing to tell you the real story and everything, share his experiences. As he built a name in the industry and had more and more experiences, it was better, because he had more things to share.”
With Sanderson’s experience came new opportunities. For example, when epic fantasy author Robert Jordan passed away before finishing his 12-volume The Wheel of Time fantasy series, his editor and wife, Harriet McDougal, approached Sanderson about completing the series from Jordan’s notes.
“Professionally, it’s certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, writing The Wheel of Time books and trying to get them right,” Sanderson said. “I tried to keep Robert Jordan’s vision clear and not let myself overwhelm the books, but at the same time, I’m my own writer, and I’m going to have my impact on the book.”
The offer made Sanderson postpone his own 10-book fantasy series, The Stormlight Archive, which released its second installment in March this year and is only one of several works he has published in the past few years.
“You can’t be just like Brandon; nobody can be,” Patterson said. “He’s a machine. But his influence has helped a lot of people become the best writers they can be.”
While Sanderson has branched out into other genres recently, he said he plans to keep writing primarily epic fantasy.
“I will do whatever I’m excited about,” Sanderson said. “However, epic fantasy is my first love, and if there’s something that I want to be known for in the future, it will be my epic fantasy.”
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a teacher at BYU, Sanderson’s religious beliefs naturally influence much of his work.
“What my personal morality is does play a large part in what I find heroic,” Sanderson said. “It makes me want to explore it and approach it in different ways and try to do what I can to look at the human experience in all of its different varieties.”
Tying his work and his faith together has made an impact on his daily life, not just in his writing.
“Brandon very much put his faith first, and his priesthood duty first,” Patterson said. “Back in college he would read his scriptures right before he wrote, if he knew he was going to write, because then he knew he would get that done.”
In order to get published, Sanderson recommends that prospective authors practice by writing multiple works instead of revisiting a single story.
“That works once in a while, but talk to professional writers and you’ll find they wrote a number of books,” Sanderson said. “They just kept practicing and kept writing until they were able to consistently produce fiction that people wanted to read.”
Sanderson is optimistic about the professional climate of the publishing world, believing anyone stands a good chance at becoming a successful author.
“This is a very exciting time in publishing,” Sanderson said. “The democratization of publishing through self-publishing has really offered some new opportunities. It’s an exciting time; it’s a wonderful time, and I say go for it. You can do it.”