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Interview with Patrick Rothfuss: Author of "Name of the Wind"

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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.

Ummmmm…. Line?

LOL! Pat’s book "The Name of the Wind" was lauded as the best fantasy book/debut of 2007, winning:

Quill Award (2007)
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror

Best Books of the Year (2007)
Publishers Weekly
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror

It is currently #11 on the New York Times bestseller list for paperbacks!

Continue :)

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!

  • Temple

    A very insightful interview. It’s always nice to find an author who is a big fan of the genre they write. Too often they seem to just be half-assing it to crank out a book. I haven’t read this one but I surely will now. Thanks for the heads up. Oh and I’d like one of the nine books please?

  • http://www.MichaelHoffer.com Hoffer

    What a great, down-to-earth interview! I’ve been devouring the George R.R. Martin lately, and would love to read some of Rothfuss’ books (hint?). The ‘phoning it in’ answer sure resonates, though what seems to be worse is when certain authors really think they ARE writing something profound when it isn’t. Of course, I still end up reading them, so who’s to blame?

    Oh, and I’m glad you’ve decided to start interviewing people, since you’ve obviously been so lazy lately! ;)

  • Mauro

    His ideas about what makes fantasy books a good read makes me want to read his book, but I’d feel guilty about asking for one when I don’t usually post any comments here, so I used my Google skills to find out that the children’s book he mentions is most likely Dorrie the Little Witch (http://dorrie.jdfiles.org/).
    Now I don’t feel guilty anymore. Can I have one of his books?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003407126824 Richa

      Ok, I found a way I’ve changed the foztnise of the logo to 0.1em, it’s now so small it’s not really visible on the background. The menu looks fine now in both IE and Firefox. But maybe there is a cleaner’ way to do this

  • Jonas

    Great Interview. I absolutely loved the rant about cookie cutter fantasy cliches (Even if I tend to fall in to every one of them when Planing a D&D campaign).

    Oh and I would love to a Signed copy of his book, It sounds fantastic.

  • Linden

    Patrick sounds like an author who loves his craft and has a sense of peace and curiousity about the world. I love fantasy, and the books that have inspired him are long favourites of mine.

    Like Mauro, I’ve never posted before, but I’m going to take a page from Patrick’s book of life and feel guilt-free on this one. I’d love a copy of “The Name of the Wind”!

    Since it’s my first comment, I’m also going to add that I love your blog. I stumbled across it after watching the first episode of The Guild, and have been hooked on both ever since. Your approach to life is very inspiring!

  • James

    That’s a great interview – I can’t wait to see what he asked you in return. I have read very little fantasy recently because I ran into a stream of just awful writing – if you recommend this stuff, I’d love to check it out, and getting an autographed copy would probably be a bigmotivation to read it!

  • http://www.igeekrev.com Shawn Coons

    Since you recommended it to me after the interview…

  • http://whatistechnoagain.wordpress.com Stephanie

    Ohh, I want a copy! :D

  • Tim

    Thanks for the great interview!

    Am I caller number 9? I hope so! Would dig dig dig a copy of Pat’s book…. :-)

  • http://tk42one.blogspot.com/ TK42ONE

    Sure I’d love a copy! Even if it isn’t the Fabio cover!

  • Eric

    Felicia that was a beautiful interview. The best rank ever was sweet. I’ve read his book and find that he has moved up to one of my favorite fantasy authors even though he only has one. I’m becoming somewhat of an obsessed fan, bookmarking his blog and reading his every entry. He’s like somebody I could actually know as a real dude, but with an alter/badass fantasy novelist superego. I’d love one of his signed books. Much love.

  • http://worldofhiglet.blogspot.com/ worldofhiglet

    Argh! Am I too late for a book? I should have cut to the end and then commented! Never mind, it was worth taking time to read it through properly.

    Good to know that other people take years to finish writing and I really liked the ‘control freakery’ part – maybe screen writing is not for Patrick just yet!

    Looking forward to seeing his interview with you.

  • http://www.strangewindx.blogspot.com Xdpaul

    Man! I missed it by that much! What a great interview though. You are a regular Lois Lane!

  • Ben

    Sure, now all the lurkers decide to make a first post—-for a free signed book. Damn me for being so slow to check The Flog this afternoon.

  • Ben

    In my distraught moment of realizing I wasn’t the first 9 posters, I forgot to mention, cool interview. And btw, Patrick seems like a pretty cool dude!

    But dissing the whole “chosen one” cliche’? C’mon man, admit it, you love to hear, “Into every generation a Slayer is born…” :)

  • http://worldofhiglet.blogspot.com/ worldofhiglet

    Ben – hehe. I now realise I need to find a reliable way to handle my RSS feeds. I’m just not finding stuff out in time!

    And I’m sure Patrick exempts Buffy from the ‘chosen one’ cliches (though they did have unicorns, too, didn’t they, in the S7 ‘We are as gods’ fantasy scene with Andrew? Right, going to have to check that out later! Plus obviously all the ones Harmony had…).

  • http://collierdedward.blogspot.com/ collierdedward

    It is funny when decisions are made for you. I was at a local bookstore and reading the praise for this book and was tempted to scoop it up then. I decided to use restraint for once (argh!), but now I must purchase it immeaditly if not sooner.

    What a cool, down to earth writer. Thanks for taking the time to interview him. God I wish I was one of the 9!

    And I’m with Ben on the chosen one issue. It is a wonderful archetype, even if it can be overused…

  • http://www.strangewindx.blogspot.com Xdpaul

    P.S. Rothfuss isn’t thinking of Belladonna in Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson, is he?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003407158986 Khorshed

      yeah, that’s true, strangely engouh. anyways, found your blog on the BoB site, so just saying hi and wondering where in Yantai you are. i taught in muping district last summer, so that’s why i’m curious. i’m in a different part of china now, but it’s good to come across the name of a familiar place!

  • jaimo

    I don’t know if each of those comments counts as a request. Does just leaving a comment count as a request, or do you actually have to request it? In any case, I’m requesting a copy-just in case.

  • http://www.strangewindx.blogspot.com Xdpaul

    D’oh! I remember it now!!!!

    Dorrie the Little Witch!

    I’m an idiot!

    http://dorrie.jdfiles.org/

    Patricia Coombs. Ugh. I’m a complete fool for not remembering it right away.

  • http://www.restlessquill.blogspot.com Incubus Jax

    Shit! You guys always beat me to the good stuff. Damn work, can’t get anything worthwhile done. Crap, crap, crap. Oh well, at least I got to read the interview. Anything Felicia/Pat is like a prize anyway. ;)

    (please say you saved a copy for me… please!)

    Ah well. There’s always next time. ;)

  • http://www.myspace.com/shadowempiremusic Mia

    Damn, I’m too late! This is what I get for playing video games all afternoon BEFORE checking the Flog!

  • http://members.cox.net/rlckansas/frontpage.html Robert

    Good interview, Felicia. Always great to read what another author has to say, especially when it’s in a genre I write. I was surprised about the comment about people assuming fantasy equalled kid’s stuff. I knew Harry Potter was big, but I didn’t think it had that effect. Good to have that perspective, since I still have a fantasy novel of my own that I’m hoping to sell…

  • http://www.superdawg.com Ben

    I agree with the idea of a general misconception among civilians regarding the Fantasy genre being “simpleminded kiddy crap.”

    However, I don’t think its fair to say this is a literature centric phenomenon. For example, whenever I recommend Buffy (or even comic books, conveniently referred to as Graphic Novels in an attempt to help legitimize the art form when selling it) to a friend or family member, the initial response is mostly eye rolling…”Wizards, vampires, demons, that not really my thing.” (I always wonder, how does someone know they like or dislike something before they try it?)

    Calling any of this great entertainment, enjoyed by so many adults, “kid stuff” isn’t just dismissing the genre literally as kid stuff but borders on calling it inappropriate. Its like when the general population thinks of anything in the fantasy genre, it’s dismissed immediately and a mental picture appears of grown men in capes and wizard hats with wands running around.

    (btw, I don’t actually own a hat, cape and wand but I think its a valid lifestyle. ;) )

  • Felicia

    Temple, Hoffer, Mauro, Jonas, Linden, James, Sean, Stephanie, Tim, and TK421 are the recipients of the paperbacks, thank you all for your lovely comments!

    I will contact you early next week with your addresses and get you your books! (I’m going out of town this weekend and will do it as soon as I get back!)

    Judging from the response, I’ll try to arrange more of these in the future! Thank you again Patrick!!!

  • http://whatistechnoagain.wordpress.com Stephanie

    Hurray! This is awesome, thanks Felicia! I feel lucky. :) I just got an advanced copy of The Crystal Skull through LibraryThing.com’s Early Reviewers program a couple weeks ago, too. Yay for free books!

  • http://whatistechnoagain.wordpress.com Stephanie

    I just noticed: Isn’t that ten winners, though, Felicia, not nine?

  • Ryan

    I have just finished reading this book today, so it is apt timing to read a interview with him. I really liked the book, it reminding me of Robbin Hobbs work.

    Great questions too Felicia, what other books would you recommend as I liked this one.

    Ryan

  • http://www.wtfman.com Snall

    Some GOOD fantasy novels are written by Steven Erikson…or is that Erik Stevenson? Not great with names. Lots of big fat books by him floating around. (One series though) Be warned, complex with many characters.

  • Robert Sterner

    Man, I’m probably too late for the free books. Nice interview though.

  • http://www.feliciaday.net Felicia

    I actually miscounted what was in the box, I have 10 books! So, lucky…#10 :)

  • Ed

    Thank you Felicia for the great interview. You’re much prettier than your character on the Guild. I love some fantasy – Would you count Clan of the Cave Bear series as fantasy – or Harry Potter.

  • http://www.wtfman.com Snall

    Awww, I coulda went for one of those books…of course I have the hardcover already…but not SIGNED..evil internet.

  • LIoness

    I’d like to know a little more about the book although anyone willing to admit they like the Dorrie Books are ok with me!
    And Felicia, if you want to make it less obvious that you stole the cover from Amazon, may I suggest this website (wheich looks strangely familiar…)? ;)
    http://www.patrickrothfuss.com/content/index.asp

    Nice interview and I am always glad to hear abut new fantasy authors. Thanks.

  • edgar

    LIoness, I believe Felicia is also linking to Amazon to easily facilitate anyone’s desire to purchase the item in question.

    Plus, the “Search Inside” part of the image lets people know you can click on it… Imagine if it wasn’t clickable!

    We’re dealing with a GENIUS red-head… she may try to rule the world…

  • http://www.cythusly.com Tyler

    Wow, I liked that a lot. It felt very genuine, and that’s something you don’t see in most interviews!

  • Andrew

    Good words. Glad you and he could have this exchange… it’s a kind of a weird conversation about work, where both the people would be doing the other’s job if they could, but they don’t, because, well, they’re themselves.

    Speaking of fantasy, do you read China Mieville at all? Perdido Street Station, The Scar, the Iron Council? Rothfuss’ comments about needing to understand an entire culture to write about it sparked that. Mieville’s work is just saturated with his political studies degree.

  • http://floatingrunner.net floatingrunner

    woo… nice interview.. the book looks interesting too =)

    love the dresden files too

  • Jeff

    “Any clichés you can’t stand?” question, and Patrick’s response (especially the “dumb character” part), was great.

    A shame I didn’t check your blog earlier, but I’ll certainly try and pick up the paperback when I get the chance.

  • Aaron

    I’ve been doing my darnedest to get everyone I know to read that book. I even gave it as a wedding gift. I hope all those who wrote comments read it. Even the ones who don’t get a signed copy *sniff* :( I’m just sad I have to wait so long for the second one.

  • Anja

    Fantasy books must be the best genre of them all, it can be an epic adventure through so many places, you can fully use your imagination (Now I write this as an author..okay, not fully author, but who knows) It’s great to see such passion for reading, you’re writing a lot, noticing things in books many would not. I am glad I came over your blog. There are many of these I havn’t read, maybe I should try it out sometime.. for the moment I have too much to do, I barely have time to read in bed. Blah. Thank you for this, now I find it much eaiser as you have described the books so well!

    Have you tried out Septimus Heap? I recommend those books, great epic stories, dragons, magic, evil dude, wait I might think there are three evil dudes if I remember it right.

    By the way, the first book you described with such passion, made me remember a name I had forgotten yesterday. I had irritated myself for not remembering it.

    You gotta be a the savior of the day, now I can finnish my new Roleplay character cx (sorry, long comment there)

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