Last week, Wired published a profile of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, the guy behind the Mistborn series, The Stormlight Archive, the final three Wheel of Time books, and much more. Sanderson is one of the biggest names in fantasy publishing today, and we’d be shocked if his work didn’t end up on the screen — big, small, or both — very soon.
With Sanderson’s profile on the rise, Wired thought it was time to spotlight him, so it dispatched writer Jason Kehe to the Salt Lake City area. The result was…this, a condescending, priggish meltdown of an article that goes out of its way to sneer at Sanderson, his family, his work and his fans, even as Sanderson appears to have done nothing but offer Kehe honesty and hospitality.
The article is so needlessly mean that you need to read the full thing to believe it — like, I kept waiting for it to reveal itself as some kind of elaborate satire. Here’s a sample:
"He sits across from me in an empty restaurant, kind of lordly and sure of his insights, in a graphic T-shirt and ill-fitting blazer, which he says he wears because it makes him look professorial. It doesn’t. He isn’t. Unless the word means only: believing everything you say is worth saying. Sanderson talks a lot, but almost none of it is usable, quotable. I begin to think, This is what I drove all the way from San Francisco to the suburbs of Salt Lake City in the freezing-cold dead of winter for? For previously frozen dim sum and freeze-dried conversation? This must be why nobody writes about Brandon Sanderson.So, recklessly, I say what’s on my mind. I have to. His wife is there, his biggest fan, always his first reader, making polite comments. I don’t care. Maybe nobody writes about you, I say to Sanderson, because you don’t write very well."
The whole article is like this. Kehe attends a convention with Sanderson and paints his fans as smelly nerds. He needles Sanderson about his Mormon faith in a way that even I, as a person who can find plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize the Mormon church, found disrespectful and uncomfortable. It’s weird, wild stuff.
By the end of the article, it seems very clear that Kehe does not enjoy Sanderson’s work, is not comfortable with his fans, and does not vibe with Sanderson on a personal level. And all that’s fine; not everybody is gonna click with everybody. But his failure to set aside his feelings and find a way to write about an incredibly successful and influential author in a way that doesn’t reek of condescension is embarrassing and cringe-worthy.
Brandon Sanderson implores fans not to harass author of insulting profile. “Please leave him alone”
So what does Sanderson think about the article? He wrote about it at some length on Reddit. Check out part of his response below:
"Not sure how, or if, I should respond to the Wired article. I get that Jason, in writing it, felt incredibly conflicted about the fact that he finds me lame and boring. I’m baffled how he seemed to find every single person on his trip–my friends, my family, my fans–to be worthy of derision.But he also feels sincere in his attempt to try to understand. While he legitimately seems to dislike me and my writing, I don’t think that’s why he came to see me. He wasn’t looking for a hit piece–he was looking to explore the world through his writing. In that, he and I are the same, and I respect him for it, even if much of his tone seems quite dismissive of many people and ideas I care deeply about.The strangest part for me is how Jason says he had trouble finding the real me. He says he wants something true or genuine. But he had the genuine me all that time. He really did. What I said, apparently, wasn’t anything he found useful for writing an article. That doesn’t make it not genuine or true.I am not offended that the true me bores him. Honestly, I’m a guy who enjoys his job, loves his family, and is a little obsessive about his stories. There’s no hidden trauma. No skeletons in my closet. Just a guy trying to understand the world through story. That IS kind of boring, from an outsider’s perspective. I can see how it is difficult to write an article about me for that reason.But at the same time, I’m worried about the way he treats our entire community. I understand that he didn’t just talk about me, but about you. As has been happening to fantasy fans for years, the general attitude of anyone writing about us is that we should be ashamed for enjoying what we enjoy. In that, the tone feels like it was written during the 80s. “Look at these silly nerds, liking things! How dare they like things! Don’t they know the thing they like is dumb?”As a community, let’s take a deep breath. It’s all right. I appreciate you standing up for me, but please leave Jason alone. This might feel like an attack on us, on you, but it’s not. Jason wrote what he felt he needed–and as a writer, he is my colleague. Please show him respect. He should not be attacked for sharing his feelings. If we attack people for doing so, we make the world a worse place, because fewer people will be willing to be their authentic selves."
So Sanderson sounds a little thrown, but all in all, he’s taking things in stride, which is on brand. He assures his fans that, to him, none of them are “boring or lame” and ends with one last plea for civility:
"I do want to make it clear, again that I bear Jason no ill will. I like him. Please leave him alone. He seems to be a sincere man who tried very hard to find a story, discovered that there wasn’t one that interested him, then floundered in trying to figure out what he could say to make deadline. I respect him for trying his best to write what he obviously found a difficult article.He’s a person, remember, just like each of us.)"
And if the author himself can be gracious about this, then so can I, as can all the fans who may be tempted to put a potato in Kehe’s tailpipe or whatever. After all, Sanderson’s star is only going to keep rising. He’ll probably have more mud slung at him before his career is over. I just hope it’s of a higher quality than what Kehe flung.
Sorry. Gracious. Starting now.