Lunch with Robert Jordan
In my first appearance at Comic-Con as a published author, I found myself on a discussion panel about writing fight scenes, headlined by none other than the legendary author of The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan. I’d seen R.J. on a panel the year before, so I knew the man had quite the commanding presence. Sure enough, with just one question from the moderator (“What life experience do you have that enables you to write believable fight scenes?”), R.J. stunned the crowd into silence. His response was that he had been in Vietnam. He therefore knew what it felt like to kill a man. He knew what it felt like to kill so many that he lost count. How on earth was I to follow that? The first thing that had come to my mind were the mock lightsaber battles I’d had with my brothers when we were kids. Fortunately, after a “let’s everyone say wow and take a deep breath” moment, James Clemens was able to liven things up by talking about the punishment he endured while growing up with older sisters. By the time my turn came, the mood was a little less somber. I spoke of my experience playing football, and how, especially as a quarterback, angry opponents are constantly trying to bury you. Still a far cry from Vietnam, I admitted. But R.J. chimed in with, “I love quarterbacks. As a defensive end, I liked to have them for lunch.” Playing along, I said, “Yeah, but there’s not a lot of meat on their bones,” to which R.J. responded, “You just have to use a lot of barbeque sauce.” Serious as the guy could be, he had a sense of humor, too.
After the panel, the authors in attendance did a group signing. I ended up sitting next to R.J. As a result, I had the pleasure of listening to story after story while he signed books for a small legion of readers. When the signing hour was up, his wife Harriet approached, and asked about lunch. I was about to be on my way when R.J. invited me to join them. For a moment, I considered declining. I hadn’t been to the gym yet that day, and had planned on going during the lunch hour. But then I looked over at my friend Kevin, who happened to be standing there, and who is the most devoted fan of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time that I know. Seeing the look on Kevin’s face, I realized that if I said “no,” he would never forgive me. Besides, who knew when I might get another opportunity to have lunch with Robert Jordan?
So off we went—Harriet, R.J., Kevin, and I—across the street to the McCormick and Schmick’s restaurant at the Omni Hotel. Kevin was like a kid in a candy store, asking R.J. all sorts of questions without coming across at all like the incredibly geeky fan boy he considers himself to be. And I had the honor of receiving all kinds of advice about the publishing industry from a couple of its most celebrated veterans. That R.J. and Harriet would spend that sort of time to educate a newcomer was truly humbling. Although the stories I’d heard about R.J. prior to this were not all flattering, I found the man to be a kind, knowledgeable, and generous individual. He even went so far as to pick up the lunch tab.
But what truly made this such a special moment, in hindsight, was that it proved to be R.J.’s last visit to Comic-Con—maybe even his last major promotional event ever. He had recently undergone a full battery of tests that pronounced him fit as an ox, and, in San Diego, he was happily putting to rest all manner of false rumors about his ailing health. Nevertheless, it was only a few months later that he was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis. I understand he spent the next year and a half undergoing a grueling set of debilitating treatments, all the while trying to maintain his strength, spirits, and writing schedule. He was convinced he could beat the odds, and I think anyone who had ever met him would have been hesitant to bet against him. But eighteen months after being diagnosed, Robert Jordan (James Oliver Rigney, Jr.) passed away. A great many tributes have been written about him, and I certainly wouldn’t be so presumptuous or disrespectful as to scribble one out here. I just want to say that he gave me an experience I’ll never forget, or be able to thank him for. May he rest in peace.