2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Brandon Sanderson

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

The votes are in for 2014, and the winners have been announced– and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with Brandon Sanderson, who appears TWICE on this year’s list, for his books The Rithmatist and Steelheart.

You’ve been writing for years, why turn towards YA?
I dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn’t written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can’t do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don’t feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.

Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you’ve got to wonder if they would’ve been shelved in the teen section in a later era.

Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis’s works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.

So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.

How did it feel to have 2 books on the Top Ten list this year?
I’m honored and grateful that teens are enjoying my books.

What’s the best writing advice you can give to those during NaNoWriMo?
I’ve actually done a few NaNoWriMo pep talks addressing this very thing, but in a nutshell, my best advice is to just keep at it. The best thing I learned from the two years I did NaNoWriMo prior to my getting a publishing contract is the importance of consistency. Just sitting down, setting a goal, and writing those words day after day. Here’s a few links expanding on that advice.

What are you reading now?
I do a lot of listening to audiobooks these days because I find they fit well into my busy schedule of writing, touring, and spending time with my family. Recently I’ve been listening to Robin Hobb’s latest fantasy Fool’s Assassin. She is not only one of my favorite fantasy authors but one of the best writers in the genre today.

What super power would you choose?
What power I would choose depends on how rational my brain is that day. It makes the most sense to have Wolverine’s regenerative powers. At the same time, it’s not like I’m jumping off cliffs or getting into fights. So I probably wouldn’t do much with this power.

But in the back of my mind, there’s a part of me that says, “Boy, would I really love to be able to fly!” Which is why a lot of the magic systems in my books wind up dealing with people having powers that let them soar in the air.

Would you be an Epic or an average teen?
I would probably have to say an average teen. I wrote David to be able to sympathize with the average person who is up against powers that are seemingly beyond their control. If I gained Epic powers, I worry that I would use them for the wrong reasons, which is part of the idea that inspired me to write Steelheart.

Would you like to be a Rithmatist?
I’m a logical person, so if I lived in the world of The Rithmatist, I’d be drawn to a magic like that. But in their world no one gets to choose whether they’re a Rithmatist or not, so maybe it’s better to live in our world, where I can choose to be a writer and don’t have to rely on the whims of a magic system.

If could create any kind of chalkling creature – what would it be?
I think that everyone in my position is going to say dragon. Many of us got started in fantasy by reading books about dragons, so there’s a special place for cool dragons in a fantasy writer’s heart. For example, Anne McCaffrey’s books are part of what pulled me into fantasy in the first place, so I’d have to take the cliché route and say dragons.

Please note that Brandon’s words are a transcription from audio recorded specifically for these interviews.

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Everblaze by Shannon Messenger