With my obsession with fantasy books, the opportunity to interview a successful author could not be passed up for The Flog! Patrick Rothfuss agreed to do an interview for me (And a mutual one with me will be posted on his site early next week.) He’s fascinatingly erudite and articulate. I hope everyone enjoys!
Give a brief lowdown on who you are and tell everyone about your book and a few of its successes.
I’m Pat Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind.
LOL! Pat’s book "The Name of the Wind" was lauded as the best fantasy book/debut of 2007, winning:
It is currently #11 on the New York Times bestseller list for paperbacks!
Tell us why you decided to write a fantasy novel.
Honestly, that’s a decision I can’t even remember making. Growing up, all I read was fantasy. So it just seemed natural to start writing it in high school. I did stories, some poems, and the beginning of a really awful novel based on a D&D campaign….
Then, later on when I was in college, I started writing the book that would eventually become The Name of the Wind.
What are some of the challenges of building a good fantasy world?
The biggest challenge, I think, is that you have you have to know a lot about a bunch of very diverse subjects: politics, economics, agriculture, sociology, religion, history, linguistics….
If you’re writing a book set in Paris and you want to know how much a house costs, or what their currency is called, or what sort of a government they have, you can just look it up on the internet.
But if you’re making your own world, you need to figure all of that out on your own. And it needs to make sense, or critical people like me will notice….
What books inspired your love of fantasy? Authors, characters?
Narnia was a big influence. And Pern. I read Tolkien too, of course.
Oh, and there were these picture books about a teenage witch who always had mis-matched socks. I haven’t thought about those for years. I think her name was… Dora? I loved those books, I wonder if I could still find them?
Hmm, I searched and couldn’t find them. Couldn’t be Miss Piggle Wiggle could it? Damn she was scary.
Nah. It was more lighthearted. She was cool, and kept getting into trouble by messing around with various types of magic that she wasn’t supposed to….
Do you have any rituals when you write? Do you outline?
I don’t outline. But I do have a little stone Buddha that sits on top of my computer. Sometimes, when the writing isn’t going well, I offer him something to eat. Like a cookie. Or a Dorito.
How do you plan out a 600 page book and not get intimidated?!
Well, saying that I planned it is rather generous. I just wrote at first. I didn’t start planning for years.
I think not knowing what the hell I was getting into was a big help. I didn’t know how much work writing a novel was going to be, so I just jumped in and started doing it.
What do you start with when you create a character? A personality trait? What they look like?
It really depends. Sometimes I have a "maybe it would be cool if" moment, and I base the character around that cool idea.
Sometimes I need a character to fill a specific role, like when I needed a loan shark for the book. In that case, I think about what the stereotype for that character would be. A big thick-bodied guy, thuggish but cunning, maybe cruel, maybe a sadist…. Then I do my best to make a realistic character that avoids that cliche. That’s how I got Devi….
What irritates you about the fantasy genre?
The biggest thing that irritates me is that so many people seem to believe that fantasy is just simpleminded kiddy crap. It’s bad enough when readers think this, but obviously some fantasy writers do too. Sometimes I pick up a new book and it’s obvious that the writer is just phoning it in. They don’t care about producing something worthwhile because fantasy is just silly bullshit about wizards and unicorns… right?
No. There is room in fantasy for real drama, human conflict, gorgeous language, truth, beauty, humor…. But readers need to demand it, and some of the authors out there need to quit half-assing it. They’re making the rest of us in the genre look bad.
Any clichés you can’t stand?
Any cliche bugs me to some extent… the whole list would take me hours to write. The loyal companion animal. The prophecy of the chosen one. Elves with bows. Gruff dwarves. People trying to destroy the world. "Evil."
Most of all, I hate dumb characters. It’s okay if your characters make mistakes, but they shouldn’t be stupid. I hate reading a book and thinking, "This person is too dumb to live. If this was the real world, they would kill themselves using a can opener or just wander into traffic and die."
Best Rant Ever.
Are you planning on branching out in the future to other kinds of writing?
I’m going to be doing a graphic novel version of my book before too long. That should be fun.
I also think it would be cool to take a stab at some screenplay writing at some point. Just to try it out.
What are your favorite movies? What movie would you love to have written?
Hmmmm…. I don’t know if it counts as a movie, but there was a series back in the 80’s called "The Storyteller." It was put out by the Henson company. The writing for that was brilliant, I’m re-watching it right now.
But movies…. Fight club was brilliantly written. Same thing with Pan’s Labyrinth.
Are you interested in exploring other genres?
Nah. Fantasy is where I live. I’m happy here.
Why do you think fantasy is so popular in book form but is more problematic when dealt with in movies and television?
I think part of the problem is that anything done in movies or television is collaborative. There’s a whole team of people working together, and any one of them has the potential to ruin the project. You can have a great script and great actors, but a bad director will ruin things. Or maybe the actors view it more as a comedy, the director sees it as a chick flick, and the producers see it as a drama. You can tell a story a bunch of different ways, but not all at the same time.
Look at Waterworld, for example. Was it a post-apocalyptic thriller? A drama? A comedy? An action move? It tried to be all of those, and so it ended up being a jumbled mess.
I remember hearing that in Hollywood, someone can go in and re-write 25% of your screenplay before they even have to list a person as a writer in the credits. Do you know if that’s true?
That is absolutely true. That’s why some writers get so mad when the script is criticized in movie reviews. I know big blockbuster movies would have 10-15 writers if they counted everyone who took a stab at a screenplay.
I couldn’t handle that. Seriously. I would lose my shit. All of it. I would be horrified to the point of shitlessness.
In the novel world, if my editor changes one word of my book without my permission. I’m well within my rights to freak the hell out. Now she can, and does, suggest changes. Sometimes she ever really firmly, vehemently suggests changes. But ultimately, it’s my book, so it’s my call. I have trouble imagining it any other way. I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to the book….
I think that’s why we have more brilliant fantasy novels than brilliant fantasy movies. Movies and TV are done by committee. But with a novel, it’s really just one person running the show. That allows for a clarity and unity of vision that’s pretty unique, artistically.
Do you have any general advice for someone who would like to write a fantasy novel?
Read a lot. Not only will it improve you as a human being, but it will keep you from looking like an idiot.
For example, after my book came out I was off doing a signing at a bookstore. Nobody knew who I was then, so I was just sitting around bored. So I picked up a book called Storm Front and started to read it.
(If you haven’t read the Dresden Files books, you really should. They’re great stories about a modern day wizard who is also a private investigator living in Chicago.)
On the first page I read what is written on his office door:
HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties or Other Entertainment
In my book, I had something very similar written on the side of a wagon.
ABENTHY: ARCANIST EXTRAORDINARY
Scribe. Dowser. Chemist. Dentist.
Rare Goods. All Alements Tended.
Lost Items Found. Anything Mended.
No Horoscopes. No Love Potions. No Malefaction.
Now I obviously didn’t rip off Jim Butcher. But parts of it are close enough so that it looks like I did. If I’d read his stuff earlier, I would have been able to tweak things so that I could avoid *looking* like I was stealing….
Leave us with two of your Guilty Pleasures. 😉
Boy that’s a tough one. Generally speaking I don’t feel guilty about anything I do. I once ate an entire cake. Does that count?
Sure, but that was only one!! Ok, how about: Perfect Patrick lazy Sunday. What do you do?
(I answered this one as if you asked, "Describe your perfect day…" because honestly, a lot of my days are lazy Sundays. And "I sit around in my underwear and play Puzzle Pirates just wouldn’t make that interesting an answer….)
Wake up without the alarm clock feeling refreshed. Crawl in bed with my lady friend for quality snuggle time. Walk to local coffee shop. Have spirited conversation with a lovely, sharp-tongued woman who secretly adores me. Come home and write 5000 words in Wise Man’s Fear. Lastly, I discover a friend has come to visit from out of town. We settle down to a late night of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, eating pistachios, and give each other backrubs.
Then, before I go to bed, I eat an entire cake.
Thank you so much!
And thank you. This was fun.
I have 9 Paperbacks of "The Name of The Wind" to give away as well! Please post in the comments that you’d like one and the first 9 will be contacted and sent a SIGNED copy!