Patrick Rothfuss: Bibliotheka-Phantastika-Fragen, gestellt von Memesis Virtualis, 14. Mai in Amsterdam
According to an interview with SFFWorld, TNOTW has been rejected by „at least 40-50 agents“. What would you like to tell them now?
(laughs) When the book finally did find an agent, that‘s what my mum wanted to do. She said „we‘re going to take a copy of the contract letter and mail it to all those people who didn‘t want the book“. And it was very nice that she wanted to that. My reaction was to tell her ,no, no, they were just doing their job…‘.
But honestly: I owe those people a lot of thanks because everytime it got rejected I went back and revised it, looked at it more closely. And the end product turned out much better than it would have been otherwise. So thank you!
The current trend in Fantasy seems to favor „grim & gritty“ or mass compatible novels like the „Twilight“ series. Your novel is quite the opposite of both – was it a challenge to write against those literary currents or did you plan that from the beginning?
I was trying to do something different. I was aiming for gritty, for realistic. It had to be a Fantasy world that had money, sewers, disease, as opposed to Tolkien‘s Fantasy which is a little bit cleaner. It‘s still real, just a different type of real. What I wanted to avoid were the things that had gotten stale and the stereotypes. But I wasn‘t specifically avoiding the grimness, though. Parts of the story are pretty grim, I think. There are many grim stories that I read which I couldn‘t really enjoy – they were too dark. So it had to be realistic, but at the same time I wanted it to be entertaining to read. An enjoyable stories with some dark edges.
Recently, quite a few eagerly awaited sequels have been postponed. (Pat chuckles) Would you say that publishers should actively communicate that really good books cannot be „produced“ on an annual basis by the same author?
We do live a society of mass production. If you want a shirt, you go to a store. And if they don‘t have one that fits you feel justifyably angry. Also, everything that is mass-produced is easier to market.
I admit that when I was growing I could always get the next book in the series every year.
And those were…?
The „Dragonlance“ books, Pierce Anthony‘s „Xanth“ novels. But every writer, every book is different. The best plans that a person might have can be obstructed by life. You can rush it, and I now authors who do it themselves or are rushed by their editors. But I think good publishers and editors are very aware of the fact that if you give an author the necessary time to produce a quality book, everyone will be happier in the long run. In the short run, there are some bruised feelings and problems.
The main reason I feel bad about taking so long is because I‘ve made my publisher‘s job harder. And my poor editor! She doesn‘t just get emails from readers, but also from the sales force, from foreign countries. From my film agent, who also wants to read the second book because he knows people who want to read it.
So my editor is a saint. She shelters me from all that.
At the same time publishing is a business, they have to produce a product and have to get books out every month. I really sympathize with them and I hope to be better in the future, now that I‘m more used to be a professional writer.
And was officially announcing TWMF‘s postponement a relief for you?
When I was growing up, there was no internet. There were probably places where you could find out something like that. But I never went to conventions, never was part of fandom. So, a book showed up when it showed up. But when you waited for it, then went to the bookstore and there wasn‘t a new „Dragonlance“ on the shelf, you‘d be disappointed. But it wasn‘t as if you would have expected that.
Now with my book, everybody knew it was coming out. There was even someone who emailed me, saying that it was due on his birthday… It was so awful and so I posted that announcement on my blog… And, yes, it was a great relief to finally get it out there. I had been planning it for months, actually. Because I was so busy working on the book it took me a week to write the announcement – it went through four drafts! People had a right to know, at the same time I knew some feelings would be hurt.
After the announcement I was so amazed at how gracious people have been. I received something like 400 emails, saying „take your time, we want a good book“. I didn‘t really expect that. Only one of them was saying „you‘re a dick, you suck“. (laughs)
A George R. R. Martin situation.
George Martin is a saint but he did get tetchy at people after a while. But it‘s not nearly as tetchy as I would be if I were him. And you know, people would email me and say we‘re behind you, you‘re not like George Martin. They don‘t realize that he and I are on the same team!
Book one has a stylistic tendency toward All Age. Will you develop your melodic sentence structure into a more adult style as the story moves on to Kvothe‘s adult life?
Absolutely. And I‘m hoping that my readers anticipate this. There is a world of difference between a story about a young boy and a story about a young man. Even though they might have fallen in love with that first book, I can‘t tell that story again.
We enjoy the familiar, it‘s always comfortable. What‘s coming up in „The Wise Man‘s Fear“ is a much different part of Kvothe‘s coming of age. A thirteen, fourteen year old boy isn‘t the same as a sixteen year old boy. Especially in this time period, he is effectively a man, he is forced into situations that are much more adult: There will be more violence, there will be sex.
Sex and High Fantasy seem to exclude each other in general. Won‘t it offend those readers who want it „clean“?
That is actually something I‘m a little bit anxious about. Especially in the US, a lot of High Fantasy readers are strangely prudish about sex. Maybe because we have been living in Tolkien‘s shadow. In his books, there is no money, no sex. Those things are mostly not part of the story. But I‘m telling a different story.
It is a story of a young man growing up – if that doesn‘t have any sex in it, it‘s just not real.
That would be a myth, then, wouldn‘t it?
Yes, it would be too mythic to be believable. Even Siegfried had sex.
Which episodes in book one were most fun to write, which were the toughest ones in that respect?
That‘s a good question… (thinks hard). The toughest ones to write were probably the ones with Denna. She is a very complex character, very difficult to portrait.
On the other side, the most fun ones to write were those with Ary, when she‘s up on the roof. She‘s so sweet and it‘s very easy to write her. There‘s something about where I feel that I got very lucky with her.
There is a part in book two where I would write a scene with her in it, and when later I come back and read it I would almost cry because she is so sweet. It‘s such a nice interaction between her and Kvothe, it‘s fun to write. But Ary isn‘t as big a part of the story as is Denna. Also, Kvothe‘s attachment to her isn‘t as big the one to Denna. Her character is troublesome to write and read because she has a troublesome life – I spent a lot of time managing to convey that in a subtle way.
What about the beginning? Seems like people either love it or hate it.
Yes, one of the hardest parts actually was the beginning. I struggled with that for literally eight years, writing and rewriting it. I‘m really satisfied with how the whole book turns out but it does have the flaw of a slow start. You have several beginnings: The introduction of the Waystone, the one with the troupe, then another one where the scenes keep shifting. That takes a lot of time but people seem to love this slow revelation of the world and the story of this person‘s life. Those who hate it all write the same thing, saying that this is a book where nothing happens. And they are right in a way – no sword fights, no goblin army striking…
I‘ve been struggling with book two in this respect as well. You need to re-introduce the readers to the world and don‘t want to bore by explaining everything again.
Talking with the people from BookSpotCentral you said about the „The Last Unicorn“: “In fact, that novel is probably the reason unicorn stories have become a little cliché. When someone writes something as dazzlingly brilliant as that novel, people want to imitate it. The result is a lot of less-than-brilliant knock-offs. Elves, Dwarves, Goblin army, cursed ring, evil sorcerer. Tolkien did it. It rocked. Let’s move on. Let’s do something new.” How hard is it for you to avoid such clichés? Did you accidentally slip into cliché sometimes?
I don‘t doubt that there are a few clichés in here, because it‘s something I think about a lot. So there are very few clichés that made it into the book accidentally.
There is a difficult distinction between a cliché, a stereotype and an archetype. A cliché is like a bad photocopy of a photocopy. A stereotype is like an embarrassing piece of war propaganda from old days. But an archetype is different, it‘s like the bone of certain old stories. It‘s the way archetypes are portraited that makes them stereotype or cliché. And that‘s very tricky and difficult to sort out the difference: Is what I‘m doing cliché or archetype? Or a cleverly hidden cliché? Or is it a stereotype I‘m twisting a little bit to make fun of it?
I think about that all the time so I can navigate through them successfully without disappointing the readers.
Do you discuss this brainwork a lot with Sarah (his girlfriend)? How deep is she in that world?
(giggles) Sarah actually is very smart. She is very much inside the world and she has read the series all the way to end. I get a lot of good critical feedback from her. For instance, she doesn‘t approve of some of the sentence structure I use because it‘s not grammatically correct. You see, I speak and write in a lot of sentence fragments, sometimes they are so long that they contain two full sentences.
The other day we were watching Battlestar Galactica and somebody got in trouble, brought up in front of a tribunal. Sarah looked at me and said „There‘s somebody going on the horns. too…. Did I just say that?“ It‘s what they say in the book, when you go in front of the master in the university. That‘s how much she‘s in the world. Happens to me, too.
To Pat‘s Fantasy Hotlist you said that the „tendency to over-explain and over-describe is one of the most common failings in fantasy. It’s an unfortunate piece of Tolkien’s legacy. Don’t get me wrong, Tolkien was a great worldbuilder, but he got a little caught up describing his world at times, at the expense of the overall story.“ Do you have the feeling that „show, don‘t tell“ is becoming sort of boundless?
Again a good question. When I took a creative writing class and kept on repeating this „show, don‘t tell“ I thought, well, shut up. They said it so many times, yet it is true. Sometimes you can even show by telling.
Can you give an example from the book?
In a lot of ways, when Kvothe is telling you something, he is describing something. When is talking about Tarbean, he is telling you about it. While he is telling you, I, as the author, am showing you the city. I‘m showing you Kvothe and, at the same time, I‘m showing you Kvothe‘s opionion of the city at the same time. So, in that piece of telling I‘m showing ypou three things.
Once I started to get my head around that, I realized that all the revelations of a book sort of unfold like a flower where you want to show one thing that implies twenty things. When Sarah and I were in Rome, she was excited about the Collosseum, the Vatican. I got excited about the cobblestones and said: Look, there‘s a cobblestone. It‘s shaped like a tooth so it holds in the ground. It shows there can‘t be any snow in Rome because otherwise it would buckle and upheave the street, it shows this, it shows that. It reveals so much about a culture. Like the way the talk in Rome, or drive in Rome… If you know the right to looking at it, it shows so much about a culture.
If you look deep enough at those fractal details, they spiral out and touch upon so many different aspects of a world. And if you‘re a good writer, it‘s not an issue of seeing it. It‘s an issue of choosing and presenting that detail which shows so much about your world.
On the other hand, of course, there still has to be the story which cannot be neglected. Otherwise you don‘t get things done. And otherwise it‘s slow: ultimately we are all drawn in by the appeal of story. Not plot, not character, not world, but story.
Could it be that you chose to portrait Kvothe as an unreliable narrator because of that or rather because you like to fib a little sometimes?
(laughs) There is a lot of discussion as to whether or not Kvothe is a reliable narrator. It‘s interesting for me to listen to because when I ask people „Do you trust Kvothe?“ they think a little and say „Well, mostly“. The fact that they have to stop and think about it shows that they trust him. If they didn‘t trust him they wouldn‘t have to stop and think about their answer, they would know right away.
We know that Kvothe is clever, that he is a liar and that he can manipulate people. But I think we know that he is good person and that he is good to us. He ends up being a liar, but he is our liar.
There will be more along that vein because this is a story about stories, the truth behind them. Expect more revelations and discussion about that in the next two books.
Which minor character is your favorite? And is the eternal student Manet alluding to your own extended and various studies?
(laughs again) A friend of mine read the book and said I was so much like Kvothe. Then I told her I‘m like Eludin, and she admitted that. So I told her that I‘m really like Manet and she saw that, too…
To assume that Manet is just there to represent a piece of me might lead people in the wrong direction. Truth is, however, left to my own devices I would still be going to college, taking every class that I could. And Manet is like that, so the fact that I know where he is coming from helps me describe him in a realistic way.
Actually, the way that Manet looks is the way that I look sometimes. Kind of disheveled and rumpled, you know.
Obviously, you have many interests: To BookSpotCentral you said that you have taken a class on Medieval drama and that it has helped shape the idea of a theater troupe in TNOTW. How much have those dramas influenced your writing, overall? Which of their themes do you find in the novel?
Oh, themes… To tell you the truth: I‘ve never ever thought about themes when writing this book. It just doesn‘t occur to me to think in those terms.
Regarding the world of the Four Corners: First off, it‘s not medieval. You have free travel, incredible trade, it‘s much more like our Renaissance. Yet historically and culture-wise, you still have to realize that my world is different.
In a world without any means of modern communication, information spreads by word of mouth, by travelling performers. And if one of them comes into to town, that is the best thing! New songs, new stories, news, everything. They wear bright colors, speak foreign languages, they‘ve been everywhere. Yet, they were on the lowest step of the social ladder.
Imagine you were living in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Could you think of a playwright „Sir Patrick“? Or would you rather live here and now?
I might have been a playwright but it was very hard getting published back then and you probably weren‘t very well off. Sometimes I get a little nostalgic but I do like the her and now. Clean water and antibiotics do have certain advantages. Cheap books, too.
Thanks for that, Pat, now let’s move on to multimedia…
Nicht verpassen: Morgen an dieser Stelle verneigt sich Patrick Rothfuss vor seinen deutschsprachigen Fans und verspricht seinen Besuch so bald wie möglich.