As first reported here (a michaellivingston.com exclusive!), a few weeks ago I gave a speech honoring the literary legacy of James Oliver Rigney, Jr, known to most of the world as Robert Jordan, on the occasion of his induction into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. It was a true honor, and the speech seemed to go well (video available here): Harriet Rigney, Jim’s beloved wife and talented editor, shocked me to the core soon afterward by publicly inviting me to join in a panel discussion about Jim’s work to be held at The Citadel library as part of the dedication of a permanent exhibition honoring him. The other participants would be the esteemed writer David Drake and none other than Brandon Sanderson, the lucky man she’d chosen to complete the final volume in Jim’s epic Wheel of Time series.
That event was last night.
If I’ve been quiet around here these past few days, I confess it has much to do with knowing this panel discussion was coming up. The whole thing, as you might expect, was a bit daunting. David Drake, after all, is, well, David Drake. Brandon Sanderson was no small fish before all this happened (Elantris is a remarkable first novel), but he’s certainly a big fish now. And me? A minnow. The grime on the rocks. Maybe, just maybe, a crayfish hiding under them.
To make things worse, I wasn’t sure just what I was supposed to do. I’d asked for clarification from a couple folks — do I prepare a speech? will we take turns? is it a free for all? — but no one gave me much to go on. It’ll be a panel discussion, I kept hearing. Everyone but me knew seemed to know exactly what this meant.
In the end, I just typed up some hasty notes, re-read some assorted bits of Jim’s works, and hoped for the best.
Well, it went splendidly. The place was pretty much packed, with a good mix of cadets and civilians, and David and Brandon were quite welcoming to this local yokel in their midst. Plus, I didn’t pass out once … not even after Harriet had me “start things off” — which I found somewhat difficult since I wasn’t yet sure what the thing was we were doing. But all’s well that ends well, as they say. The discussion was lively, with a good give-and-take between panelists and audience. I didn’t feel too terribly out of place.
After it was done, Harriet surprised me again (I’m not complaining!) by inviting me to join her and some guests for dinner at one of the finer restaurants in town. There were ten of us all told. In addition to myself, Harriet, Brandon, and David, we were joined by Jim’s wonderful brother/cousin Wilson, Jim’s two assistants Maria and Alan (both of whom are helping Brandon in his tasks now), and a few other guests.
Well, the dinner was incredible, even if I felt a bit wide-eyed throughout the evening. Terrific conversation and excellent food shared over fine spirits is a great way to pass the time, I think, even if I couldn’t drag out too many secrets about what’s coming in Book 12 (not that I tried very hard).
Plus, Tor Books picked up the tab. Can’t beat that.
Actually, you can: it appears I have a standing invitation to tour Jim’s office — which is more or less just as he left it. And when I mentioned my interest in academic matters focusing on Jim, both Alan and Maria offered their help on answering any questions they can about him and his work.
It’s all quite extraordinary. I’m sure I’ll wake up soon.