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R O B E R T   J O R D A N : The Name Behind the Wheel
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, March 2000)

Robert Jordan
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was born October 17, 1948 in Charleston, South Carolina. He served in the military, seeing action in Vietnam, from 1968 to 1970, and attended the military school The Citadel in South Carolina, graduating with a degree in physics in the mid-'70s.

His early novels, written as by Regan O'Neal, were historical family sagas beginning with The Fallon Blood (1980). A western Cheyenne Raiders, under pseudonym Jackson O'Reilly, came out in 1982. Under the name Robert Jordan, he did the 1982 novelization of the Conan movie, followed by six more ''Conan'' books. His first independent fantasy novel, The Eye of the World (1990), also written as by Robert Jordan, is the beginning of the ongoing ''Wheel of Time'' series. It was followed by The Great Hunt (1990), The Dragon Reborn (1991), The Shadow Rising (1992), The Fires of Heaven (1993), Lord of Chaos (1994), A Crown of Swords (1996), and The Path of Daggers (1998). The ninth volume, Winter's Heart is scheduled for later this year.

He is married to Tor executive editor Harriet McDougal. They live in Charleston, South Carolina.


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''I've never used my real name on a book. In the late '70s, I used to think I would write a novel about Vietnam, and put my name on that. I had decided I would put a different name on different types of books, different genres, simply to avoid confusion. People would know clearly, this is a fantasy novel, this is a science fiction novel, this is a western, this is a historical novel, and I would put my real name on any contemporary fiction I write. Well, I've never written any contemporary fiction, as it turns out. If I wrote that Vietnam novel now, it would be a historical novel, and I'm not sure anybody's really interested anymore. Vietnam is a long time in the past, almost 30 years ago,' and it struck me that 30 years after my father came home from the South Pacific, not only had men walked on the moon, but the manned space program was already dying. That's a long time! It gives you a little perspective.


''Right now I have fame, whatever you want to call it, but I'm not going to keep writing the same thing. I like fantasy, and I will write fantasy, but it's not all going to be 'The Wheel of Time'. I intend to change universe, rules, worlds, cultures, characters, everything, with the books I do when I finish 'The Wheel of Time'.

''I've known the last scene of the last 'Wheel' book since before I started writing the first book, and that's unchanged. I thought 'The Wheel of Time' was going to be five or six books. I didn't think they'd be this long. I was doing this like a historical novel, but I had more things to explain, things not readily apparent. In a normal historical novel, you can simply let some things go by because the reader of historical fiction knows these, or has the concept of them. But this is not the medieval period, not a fantasy with knights in shining armor. If you want to imagine what the period is, imagine it as the late 17th century without gunpowder. I had to do more explaining about cultural details, and that meant things got bigger than I had intended.

''The first book took four years. The next five books took, on average, 14 months. I finished Lord of Chaos in August 1994, handed the manuscript in, and in October, two months later, I was on tour for that book. I came back and said, 'There isn't time. I cannot write a book for you in time for you to publish it next fall.' I convinced them I couldn't do it, and it's lucky I did, because it turned out A Crown of Swords took almost two years, and so did The Path of Daggers.


''There are things I am saying, things I am talking about, but I try not to make them obtrusive. The necessity to struggle against evil, the difficulty of identifying evil, how easy it is to go astray, are very simple questions. In modern mainstream fiction, if you discuss good and evil, you're castigated for being judgmental or for being old-fashioned. Originally this was a way of deciding which was the greater wrong - 'It is wrong to steal, but my child is starving to death. Obviously, in that situation it is better to steal than to let my child die of hunger.' But today that has been transmogrified into a belief that anything goes, it's what you can get by with, and there is no real morality, no right, no wrong it's simply what produces the Platonic definition of evil: 'a temporary disadvantage for the one perceiving evil.'

''In fantasy, we can talk about right and wrong, and good and evil, and do it with a straight face. We can discuss morality or ethics, and believe that these things are important, where you cannot in mainstream fiction. It's part of the reason why I believe fantasy is perhaps the oldest form of literature in the world, at least in the western canon. You go back not simply to Beowulf but The Epic of Gilgamesh.

''And it survives pervasively today. People in the field of science fiction and fantasy are willing to accept that the magic realists are fantasy writers, but to the world at large, 'Oh no, that's not fantasy, that's literature.' Yes it is fantasy. And a lot of other things, that are published as mainstream, really are fantasy but not identified as such. We really have quite a pervasive influence.


''The new book, the ninth in 'The Wheel of Time', is Winter's Heart. I am aiming to finish it by May of 2000. If the publisher does what it normally does, Tor should have it out two months after I finish it. If they really want to be leisurely, they'll wait three months. The last three books they've had in the bookstore within 60 days after I handed them in. They give the book to their copy editor and she goes to her apartment, unplugs her telephone, stuffs sweat sox in her doorbell, and goes to the back of her apartment so she can't even hear anybody knocking on the door, and just works straight through to get this done. And Harriet and I go to New York and sit in a hotel room so we can get the copy-edited version back. We've got two laptops, and we're passing disks back and forth.

''I thought, when I was going to be a writer, maybe I'd go live in the south of France and write in the mornings, and then in the afternoons I'd go down and lie on the beach and have a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead in string bikinis come down and slide the scented oil all over me. Now I work 60 or 80 hours a week, and the only time I get near the beach is if my wife pokes me out of my study with a stick!''

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