My parents gave me a love for books at a young age; I grew up with the Hardy Boys and Goosebumps, and anything else I could get my hands on. It was more important to me than television. I realized early-on that I was an introvert, and although television provided an escape from reality, it didn’t allow the same retracted solitude as finding a quiet corner and sticking your nose in a book.
The series that had the biggest impact on me was The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I began the series around age 13, when only the first seven books were completed. I devoured them. They’re fantasy behemoths, each hundreds (and even thousands) of pages long. That didn’t stop me or even slow me down. I took The Eye of the World to school and read it in the back of class. The Great Hunt went with me on a family vacation to Belize. The Dragon Reborn was summer camp. It was as if I’d been dying of thirst all my life, and Jordan was the first to hand me a glass of water.
His worldbuilding was flawless in the beginning, the right amount of subtle detail and elaboration. Never overly explanatory, always doled out in moderate doses. The world was rich with culture and history, far surpassing Tolkien’s world, in my opinion. It was the kind of series I wish would never end.
Unfortunately, as the series grew, so did the detail. Some of the latter books languished in secondary storylines. Core characters went hundreds of pages without making an appearance. But I continued to read and continued to trust that it was the story Jordan wanted to tell.
Until he was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, a rare protein disease, in 2006. The median life expectancy was four years, but he assured fans that he intended to beat the statistics. At that point he had written 11 novels, and still had at least one remaining (which would end up being three).
He passed away less than a year later. He was 58.
This was a man I had never met, had never known but through his prose, and yet his death affected me. It was like losing a neighbor who used to invite you over after school and tell you stories. Along with other fans, I was selfishly disheartened that he had not finished the series, but on a deeper, more personal level, I felt loss.
Brandon Sanderson was able to pick up the series from his notes and finished it as well as anyone could, but it just wasn’t the same.
Robert Jordan was the first author that made me want to be a writer. I wanted to be a storyteller. I wanted to be a God, to create my owns worlds and characters, to make them live and love and die. The Wheel of Time, unlike any other series, showed me that was truly possible.
He still influences my writing, nearly a decade after his death. His ability to include subtle details into the story, brief glimpses at the world which allow the reader to fill in many of the blanks themselves, guides my keystrokes. Many readers will bemoan his tendency to include far too many details in his later books (I will never spend three pages describing horses, which Jordan was apt to do), but he was still a master at describing his world in the tiniest details as well.
That’s the writer I remember, and the writer I aspire to be.