NORCROSS -- Brandon Sanderson picked up the first book in fantasy author Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" series when he was 15.
"It was actually the first month the book was released and I have been reading them ever since," said Sanderson, who went on to become a successful fantasy author in his own right.
But when Jordan died in 2007 after a year-and-a-half long battle with cardiac amyloidosis he had completed 11 of 12 projected books, leaving his bestselling series unfinished.
Following Jordan's death, Sanderson received a voice mail from Harriet McDougal, Jordan's widow and editor, asking if he would complete the final chapters in her husband's beloved saga.
"It was stupefying," Sanderson said, remembering the offer. "I didn't apply for this or anything. When Robert Jordan passed away, my thoughts were all fan thoughts, worry for his family, worry for his series, shock and surprise."
Although he accepted the request, Sanderson said the prospect of completing what Jordan had started was overwhelming and terrifying.
"It's not just that I grew up reading these books," Sanderson said, "I grew up with Robert Jordan as a mentor on how to write fantasy. He was in many ways a mentor to me even though I had never met him."
Jordan's final book, "A Memory of Light," on which he worked until his death, was divided into three volumes. Sanderson began working on "The Gathering Storm" in April 2008 after rereading the first 11 books in the series.
"I spent three months, January, February and March just rereading the series looking at it as a writer rather than just as a reader," he said. "I had never looked at them from that eye before. I had to walk a very odd balance in being a fan and a writer. I had to kind of chain up the fan and let the craftsperson take control."
In addition to the first 11 books, Jordan left behind a wealth of information and direction -- thoughts about characters and settings and scenes he had written, including the final scene in the series.
"He wrote on what felt important to him at the time," Sanderson said. "I think he knew his time was short and he wanted to make sure the most important parts were taken care of. It means the most important parts of the book were handled by him directly."
Jordan's beloved series was on his mind until the end.
"He dictated scenes on his death bed," Sanderson said. "One of the last things he did was tell his wife and assistants what needed to happen in the series before it could be finished."
Still, there were many holes left in the story.
"There's a lot to do, a lot of problem solving to be done and a lot of characters that need considerations that Robert Jordan didn't have time to give because he was focused on more important considerations," Sanderson said. "I have had enough freedom creatively to actually have an influence on the story.
"In many ways, it's like I'm restoring an old work of art we only have certain pieces of," he said. "My job is to put it all together, find out where all the pieces go and fill in the parts that are missing."
"The Gathering Storm," the first of the three volumes completing Jordan's series, was released Oct. 27. Sanderson has embarked on a tour promoting the book and will make a stop in Norcross today. He will be joined by Jordan's widow, McDougal.
Sanderson said fans who attend today's Meet the Author event, hosted by the Gwinnett County Public Library, can expect 30 to 45 minutes that will include a reading from the book and a brief Q&A session, which will be followed by a couple hours of signing.
In between his book appearances, Sanderson is working on the second of the three volumes completing Jordan's series, "Towers of Midnight."
"I feel the fans have been waiting so long on this ending," Sanderson said, "and since I have it in my hands I don't want them to wait any longer than necessary."