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Friday, May 25, 2007

Interview with Patrick Rothfuss

Official Patrick Rothfuss Website
Patrick Rothfuss Blog
Buy “The Name of the WindHERE
Read an Excerpt HERE
Listen to a Patrick Rothfuss Podcast via Penguin HERE

If you follow any type of SF/Fantasy related blog, messageboard or zine, then I’m sure you’ve seen reviews (SFF World, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Neth Space, The Wertzone, Sandstorm Reviews, etc.) of “The Name of the Wind” or interviews (SFF World, Fantasybookspot, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist) with author Patrick Rothfuss. For those not in the know, “The Name of the Wind” is the impressive start to The Kingkiller Chronicles, an ambitious fantasy epic several years in the making. Not only is the book a contender for Best Fantasy Debut in 2007, but it could also be one of the year’s best fantasies period. Personally, I greatly enjoyedThe Name of the Wind” and was hoping for the opportunity to interview Mr. Rothfuss. Fortunately, despite being extremely busy with promoting his novel and his job as a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, Pat was more than happy to answer some questions for me. In short, Patrick Rothfuss is a pretty down-to-earth, likeable fellow with a great humor & attitude and the following interview reflects that. So, my utmost thanks to Mr. Rothfuss for his time and patience, and despite the Q&As already out there, I hope readers will learn something new about the voice behind “The Name of the Wind”…

Q: Your debut novel “The Name of the Wind” hit bookshelves on March 27, 2007. How does it feel to finally be a published author and all that it entails?

Patrick: It's undeniably cool, and utterly surreal.

While a lot of people have read the book over the last decade, they're usually people I know, at least in a friend-of-a-friend way. Now when people send me e-mails saying "I read your book and loved it," I think, just for a second, "Did Dale give them a copy? How do I know this person?"

Then I realize that they aren't reading one of my homemade copies that I printed up to get feedback, they actually went out and bought it. It's odd after all these years.

Q: The original uncorrected proofs weighed in over 900 pages, while the final version of the book is a shade under 700. Are you happy with the way the novel was edited or was there anything you wish would have stayed in the book? Can you shed any details on what was edited out?

Patrick: I have to clear up a misconception. I think the 900 page number was an estimate for the paperback, not the hardcover. Unfortunately that number got spread around, and we've been trying to clear up the mistake ever since.

So yeah. The book wasn't edited down 200 pages from the proof. That would have been intolerable. But that's not to say that things haven't been edited out over the years. I've cut whole scenes and sub-plots in order to speed up the story and streamline things.

I actually cut out the entire first chapter of the book, too. That was hard. It was a great chapter, did a lot of great world-building, introduced a lot of interesting concepts. But it was just too slow to start the book with. It's a shame, really. It had good stuff in it, but now it's lost because I can't just move it later in the book.

Q: What initially influenced you in starting this project?

Patrick: Well... in a general way I was influenced by all the books I'd read up until that point in my life, but I'm guessing you're looking for something more specific. Let me think....

I was heavily influenced by my first attempt at a novel. I started a fantasy novel back in high school, and.... well... it really sucked. It was a plotless, clichéd mess. When I sat down to write this book, I wanted to make something much, much better. I wanted to write something that was pretty much the opposite of that first novel.

Also, I read Cyrano De Bergerac, right before I started writing the book. Cyrano's character reminded me of some important things, namely, what it really means to be a tragic hero. You don't need a lot of the cliché fantasy trappings to have that cool character.

I also read Giacomo Casanova's memoirs soon after starting this project. That opened my eyes to how interesting an autobiography could be, provided the person telling it has a way with words and has lived a sufficiently adventurous life....

Q: You spent over seven years writing Kvothe’s story. What kept you motivated in writing the book?

Patrick: Actually, that seven years was just the first draft. I finished that in 1999. There was a lot of revision after that.

I don't know if I was ever particularly 'motivated' though. 'Motivated' implies that there was some compulsive force driving me to finish the story. That's not the case. If I'd been compulsive about it I would have finished a lot sooner. There were times when I didn't look at the book for months.

Q: So, if not motivation, then what factors helped you in seeing the project to its end?

Patrick: For one, I just really like to write. There's a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment I get from working on my book that I don't get from anything else. (In my brain I don't think of this as a series of books. I still think of it as "The Book.") If I get a page or two written before I go to bed, I spend the next day walking around in a good mood.

Another thing that kept me going was that I really liked the story. I liked building the world. I liked meeting the new characters and having them interact. It was fun. It still is.

It's work too, of course. A lot of work. But I wouldn't have stuck to it if I didn't enjoy that work.

Q: In what ways do you think you’ve improved as a writer since you first started your project?

Patrick: I can spell "necessary" the right way now. And I've stopped typing "loose" when I mean "lose."

It's hard to track the intangible stuff though. It's hard to say something like, "I'm 13.75 percent more lyrical and my verisimilitude is up eight points."

I can say that I seem to require less revision than I did back in the day. My writing comes out cleaner than it did years ago. Also, I get more writing done in an hour's time than I used to. That's nice.

Plus I understand plot much better than I did five years ago. A lot of the revisions I've been making in the last year have to do with plotting and pacing. I'm getting better at those parts of the craft.

Q: How did you feel when you finally completed the books?

Patrick: It's completed? When did that happen? Did I miss it?

Seriously though. It doesn't really feel any different to me. The story is still there, in my head. The characters are up there, moving around, living their lives.

Honestly, I don't know if it feels completed at all. It feels published, and that's pretty good. But complete....?

You know when you were a kid and you had your birthday and someone came up to you and said, "So, how does it feel to be eight years old?" Then you took a quick mental inventory and realized that you felt exactly the same as yesterday?

That's the process I've been going through for the last seven years or so. I wrote the story all the way through to the end in 1999 and thought to myself, "Well, it's finally done." Then two years later I revised it for the 50th time and sent it to my prospective agent and thought, "There, now it's REALLY done." Then I revise it more and send it to the editor. She buys it and I think, "Now it's done." Then I revise it again with her advice. Then I get ready for the galley copies. Then the copy editing. Then the proofs. It's a lot like birthdays. Eventually you just start to shrug them off, thinking to yourself. "Meh. The book is just one revision older."

Maybe I'll feel differently when all three books are in print. We'll see.

Q: Throughout “The Name of the Wind” you poke fun at a number of clichés that seem to populate a lot of fantasy novels. Yet, at the same time, it could be argued that your book possesses plenty of its own clichés. What are your thoughts on fantasy tropes in general and how did you balance what stereotypes you wanted to avoid with your novel and those that you included?

Patrick: Wow. This is a great question, and it really strikes to what I feel is the heart of the book.

About half a year ago, I had the chance to hear Peter S. Beagle speak on a panel at Worldcon. I've loved his book “The Last Unicorn” since approximately forever. I read it about once a year, and I used to despair at the fact that I'd never be able to write a book like it. I knew it was hopeless to even try.

Anyway, I was listening to Beagle answer a question on the panel, he said something along the lines of, "I'd never want to write the Last Unicorn again. It was excruciatingly hard, because I was writing a faerie tale while at the same time writing a spoof of a faerie tale."

I just sat there thunderstruck. I realized that's exactly what I had been doing for over a decade with my story. I was writing heroic fantasy, while at the same time I was satirizing heroic fantasy.

While telling his story, Kvothe makes it clear that he's not the storybook hero legends make him out to be. But at the same time, the reader sees that he's a hero nonetheless. He's just a hero of a different sort.

I twist and mock a lot of the tired fantasy cliches, but I'm using them too. (Kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer does with the tired old horror cliches.)

It was like someone had turned a light on in my head. I wish I would have heard Beagle say that years ago, it would have saved me years of revision.

And I also realized that without meaning too, I had accidentally written a book that was kind of like “The Last Unicorn”, though probably not in a way that anyone would ever recognize. That gave me a big warm fuzzy.

Q: So, the magic system in “The Name of the Wind” is pretty interesting, particularly Sympathy. Where did you get the idea for that?

Patrick: Part of it is based off old-fashioned science. Some of the laws of sympathy are pretty much the same as the laws of thermodynamics. I used to be a big science geek.

Another part of sympathy is based off the historical beliefs people had several hundred years ago. Back then there weren't magicians and scientists. There were just different sorts of people trying to understand the order of the world and through that understanding, manipulate it.

There were a lot of very interesting theories back then: things like the doctrine of signatures, the great chain of being, the Kabbalah. These weren't just crackpot theories either. These were brilliant minds constructing cohesive systems of belief. Hell, Isaac Newton was an alchemist. You've got to respect that a little.

Q: I also felt that there were a lot of different moral issues explored in the book that deals with everyday life (love, friendship, loss, coming-of-age, with power comes responsibility, etc.). Was there a particular message that you hoped readers would come away with after finishing “The Name of the Wind?”

Patrick: Good lord. Do I have a "With power comes responsibility theme in there?"

Q: LOL. Well, it's implied here and there. So, can you tell us more about that or any other themes that you might have been trying to explore with the book?

Patrick: Honestly. I wasn't trying to explore any themes. Seriously.

Over the years I've had hundreds of people read the book. (That's how I revise. I get feedback from people and then tinker with the story.) But years ago, maybe as many as six or seven, someone wrote a little note in the margin of their copy that said, "I think this is one of the major themes of the book."I remember thinking, "Huh. That's cool. Apparently I have themes."

My point is that I really don't think in those terms when I write. I'm not saying that there aren't themes. It's just that I don't sit down and say, "Okay, this book is going to be about man's inhumanity to man, and racism, and the tragedies of turtle pornography."

It's my opinion that if you're trying to tell a realistic story that centers around realistic characters, you can't help but touch on important issues. Those issues are what make us human.

But to go back to your original question. No I'm not really trying to push any of those issues on the reader. I don't want them to come away with a message or a moral. That's heavyhanded storytelling of the sort that I don't enjoy, so I don't indulge in it myself.

That said, if my story makes people think about those issues, then I'd be pretty happy.

Q: The Kingkiller Chronicles was written as one story, which has been broken up into a trilogy with the remaining two volumes to be released in the next two years. I’ve read that where the Kingkiller Chronicles focuses on Kvothe’s past, there will be a follow-up series that centers on current events. Can you give us any information about this?

Patrick: Hmmm.... No. I don't think so.

I specifically built my world to be big enough for many stories. So rest assured there will be other books after this trilogy is done.

But what those stories will be about? No. Telling that would give too much away. I'll keep my secrets for now...

Q: What about other future projects that you might be working on or are planning on working on soon?

Patrick: I've never done short stories, but lately I've had a few ideas for smaller stories set in the Kingkiller world. One of them in particular I think would make a great graphic novel, but I don't know anyone in the comic industry to collaborate with on it.

I have a not-for-children children's story that I'm working on with an illustrator friend. Sort of like Gaiman's Coraline but in a picture book format. We've been fiddling with that for a year or two, I'd love to see someone express an interest in publishing it.

Novel wise, I have an idea for an urban faerie tale set in the real world. That one's about three quarters finished in my head. About a month ago I also had someone suggest that I should write an humorous urban fantasy centering around college life. Ever since it was suggested, I'll admit the idea's been growing on me....

Q: For now, your debut is only available in North America. Can you give us any information regarding the overseas release?

Patrick: I'm pretty sure the UK version will be available around September. Same thing with the Dutch version, I know that version is pretty much done, because I've been working with the translator. Plus I got to see the cover of the Dutch version of the book. It looks super cool. I'll probably be posting up a picture of it on my website as soon as I can find my digital camera... We've also sold the foreign rights in Germany, France, Russia, Sweden and Israel. We’re up to nine right now. I really don't know when they will be coming out though.

Q: Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see books adapted into movies, comic books, television or other formats. Regarding your series, has there been interest or anything optioned for adaptation and if so, can you give us some details?

Patrick: I'd love to do a graphic novel version of it, but as I mentioned before, I don't have any connections in the comic book world. If anyone out there is interested....

And there is talk of movies. Fairly serious talk. But I don't know if I'm allowed to discuss that. I might screw things up if I start mentioning names.

Q: Let’s fantasize for a bit. How would you like to see the Kingkiller Chronicles adapted?

Patrick: Oh, that I can totally do.


Screenplay by Joss Whedon. I'd help of course. Mostly by bringing him coffee and stuff.

Denna would have to be Natalie Portman. She has the look, but more importantly, she has the acting chops to pull off what would probably be the most difficult character in the entire book.

I don't know who would play Kvothe..... That's a hard one.


I'd like to be the writer. But I'd need someone to help me out a bit with the technique of writing for the graphic novel format. How about... Grant Morrison. Hell, since I'm fantasizing, why don't I bring in Alan Moore too?

Artist. Perhaps J. H. Williams? I dunno. I'd have to think about that....

Video game: I'd like Bioware or Black Isle to develop it. It would be an RPG, of course.

Q: Are you interested in trying your hand at writing in a different medium?

Patrick: I'd love to take a stab at writing videogames. There are a lot of storytelling opportunities that really aren't being taken advantage of in that field. I'd like to experiment with telling a truly non-linear story. Most games follow a real railroad plot, no matter what you want, you're following their storyline to its unavoidable conclusion. I'd like to write a game where your character can follow any number of possible story arcs and sub-plots. Then, depending on their choices, the story could end in any number of ways.

Storytelling aside, I'd like to work with some of the videogame companies for the simple fact that they obviously need some sort of writer's help. I play videogames, and lately it's hard for me to enjoy them because I'm spending all my time cringing at the corny dialogue, thin characters, and glaring plot holes. Seriously, story is important folks…that means that you need to bring in a storyteller. Get on the stick.

Q: What are you currently reading?

Patrick: "The Doomsday Brunette" by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem. Humorous film-noir sci-fi. Fun stuff.

Q: Are there any up-and-coming novelists you would recommend checking out?

Patrick: I really enjoyed David Keck's "In the Eye of Heaven". It's a unique, gritty, dark age fantasy.

"Goblin Quest" by Jim C. Hines was good too. That one's more of a humorous fantasy.

And if you're into Y.A, you should check out Neddi Okorafor's "Zahrah the Windseeker". It's a mixture of sci-fi and fantasy with a strong young female protagonist, that's a real rarity these days. All the kids I know who have read it really loved it.

That includes me. I'm still a kid.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your readers?

Patrick: I'd like to thank the people who took a risk a new author and picked up the book. It's hard for a newbie author to get noticed. Double thanks for people who liked the book well enough to tell their friends about it. I really appreciate that.


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

Awesome interview. I totally can't wait to read Patrick Rothfuss' novel! It's sitting in my TBR pile and I think after that interview I'm gonna stick it up on top. Cool insight and funny.

Have a good weekend,


Robert said...

Reanimated. That's great that you enjoyed the interview and I hope you like the novel just as much. I think you will. Feel free to share your thoughts once your finished...

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