Ed Robertson: Kvothe often contrasts his
life story to the way things work in fables or
myths. Was this to help ground the fantasy elements
of the novel?
Patrick Rothfuss: Hmmmm..... I might have
to pass on this question. I can't think of anything
interesting to say. It's a good question, it's
just really, really big.
Ed: Take the "dragons" in the story. What
led you to get into them as flesh-and-blood animals
rather than a more conventional monster?
Patrick Rothfuss: What would an animal
be made of if not flesh and blood? Pixie dust
and happy thoughts? No thanks. I prefer something
with a circulatory system. Honestly, I think a
better question would be to ask other writers
why they insist on asking us to believe implausible
stories about huge flying lizards that violate
the square cube law and seem to have a Freudian
fixation on princesses. You know how people divide
science fiction into two camps: hard and soft?
Hard sci-fi is where everything is backed by actual
math. The science is sound. Soft sci-fi is just
a lot of handwaving and technical-sounding terms
that don't mean anything. I divide fantasy into
the same two groups: hard and soft. Hard fantasy
is realistic. The worlds feel stable, solid, and
internally consistent. Tolkien, Feist, Gaiman,
and Pratchett are good at this. Pullman, Powers,
and McCaffrey, too. While all their worlds are
different, they are cohesive and make sense within
themselves. Soft fantasy worlds have a much looser
cause-and-effect relationship. Alchemists can
turn lead into gold and nobody wonders about how
it will impact the currency system. Someone waves
a wand and turns an elephant into a mouse and
nobody worries about conservation of mass. And
you can drop a ten ton flying carnivore into an
ecosystem and not be bothered with how, exactly
it manages to survive while eating only princesses.
Don't get me wrong, hard and soft fantasy stories
can both be good. But you need to know which camp
you're in. I'm into realism. I'm a hard fantasy
Ed: Did you work out Kvothe's real story
first, or the legends around him?
Patrick Rothfuss: A little of both, actually.
Sometimes the legend came first, sometimes the
real adventure. Sometimes they developed hand-in-hand.
It's kinda like the chicken-and-the-egg thing.
Except that isn't really a good analogy, as neither
chickens or eggs have hands.... Alright. I've
stopped making sense. Next question.
Ed: Did your years at UWSP (University
of Wisconsin, Stevens Point) give you the background
for all the period detail? Was there much research
Patrick Rothfuss: Yeah. I took classes
about feudal Japan and Greek philosophy. I studied
ancient warfare and anthropology and early goddess
religions. I read up on Sumerian mythology and
bunraku puppet theatre and psychopharmacology.
I loved college. I wish I was still taking classes
instead of teaching them. I think the best part
of being an author is that I get to learn about
anything I want and explain it away as research.
I want to learn how to pick locks, swordfight,
throw pottery – it's all research. It's like the
curious person's version of James Bond's license
to kill. I've got a license to learn.
Ed: Once you've found out how something
happened or worked in the real world, do you feel
at all bound for your world to follow that? How
much room for invention is there?
Patrick Rothfuss: I don't feel beholden
to follow the real world at all. The important
thing is to know WHY things turned out the way
they did. You need to understand the reasons for
events, or at least be able to make reasonable
guesses about them. Take something like the black
death. If my world is struck with a horrible plague
that kills a third of the population, will it
lead to the same social and economic change that
Europe experienced? No. Of course not. But knowing
the changes Europe went through will help me make
good choices when I decide what path history takes
in my world.
Ed: Your blog mentions you'd finished
the first draft of the Kingkiller Chronicles in
1999. What was the time between then and The
Name of the Wind's publication like?
Patrick Rothfuss: Parts of it were really
frustrating. The two years of rejection were frustrating
because I knew I wasn't making any headway at
all. I was just sucking at writing a query letter.
Later, after I finally hooked up with my agent,
things were frustrating on a different level.
I needed to learn new things about writing. I
needed to know how to perform on demand.
Ed: As a
teenager, Kvothe bounces between moments of shining
confidence and overwhelmed failure, something
that's familiar to anyone who remembers those
years. What are the difficulties of writing about
a kid without sounding like an adult trying to
sound like a kid?
Patrick Rothfuss:That's really the writer's ultimate
dilemma. How do I write a female character without
sounding like a guy trying to sound like a woman?
How do I write from the perspective of a musician,
or a magician, or a racist, or a poet without
it coming across as tissue thin and artificial?
Compared to some of the above, writing from a
teen's perspective is easy as pie. At least I've
actually been a teen. I've never been a woman,
or an ethnic minority, or a weary old man. If
anything, writing from the perspective of a child
is probably easier for me. When I was a kid everyone
thought I was so clever and precocious. Now that
I'm adult, everyone thinks that I'm kinda odd
and childish. I don't know if this means that
I'm regressing, or if I've always been about sixteen
years old in my head and I'm holding steady at
that mental altitude.
Ed: Everyone's been a teen, but the list
of artists who really get them is practically
limited to JD Salinger and Judd Apatow. It's kind
of intense but flighty – how do you capture that
without trivializing the age? You sound naturally
curious; do you think that jibes with the way
they can pick up an interest, absorb it, then
move right along to the next one?
Patrick Rothfuss: That's a possibility,
I suppose. But again, that implies that I'm able
to write like a teen because I think like a teen.
I hope I'm not trapped like that. A real writer
has to be more versatile. I believe a writer's
most important skill lies in being able to see
things from different perspectives. Not just the
shallow stuff. I'm not talking about walking a
mile in some guy's shoes. I'm talking about getting
in behind his eyes, riding around in his head,
wearing his skin. How did he sleep last night?
Are his eyes scratchy? What does the inside of
his mouth taste like? Is he afraid of the dark?
When was the last time someone gave him a hug?
If you're really sunk down deep into a character,
you know these things. Or at the very least you
can make good guesses. Sometimes when I get up
after writing, I'm surprised at how my body feels.
Suddenly I'm not a lanky, hungry young boy any
more. It's no fun putting on ten years and fifty
pounds all of a sudden. Other times, I get up
and I'm pleasantly surprised that I'm not a weary
innkeeper, hopeless, with bones that feel like
they're made of lead. I really sink into the characters
that I write. Settings, too. Sometimes I go outside
after a long stretch of writing and I'm surprised
it's not raining. Or that it's daylight. Or that
it's not the middle of winter. I don't know if
that level of immersion is normal, but it's now
I do things. I like it. It works well for me.
Ed: For all the tragedy of the book, there's
an equal amount of humor, which is rare in epics.
Is that something you try to focus on?
Patrick Rothfuss: I don't focus on it
specifically, but I don't skirt away either. Humor
is important. If you're going to tell any sort
of realistic story, you're going to have to have
humor in it, because people are funny. Clever
people especially. If you're going to have a book
full of clever people and nobody ever jokes, it's
just not going to ring true to the reader. That
said, humor writing is the hardest kind of writing
there is. I say this as someone who's written
a humor column for the local paper for over a
decade. Humor is hard, hard, hard. And if you
fail with humor, you don't fail halfway. You drop
the ball humor-wise and everyone notices. The
other thing humor is important for is pacing.
If your whole book is just drama drama drama,
it's going to wear down the reader. You also run
the risk of getting melodramatic and pretentious.
We need time to relax and enjoy ourselves too,
no matter how dark the story. The occasional humorous
moment helps with that. That's one of the things
that Joss Whedon excels at in his storytelling.
Ed: Any significance to the English spelling
of "grey" in the book?
Patrick Rothfuss: I just like it better.
Grey spelled with an "a" looks weird to me. It
Ed: You've said there will be more books
in this world after the original trilogy's printed.
Is your current interest mainly in writing fantasy?
Patrick Rothfuss: Yeah. That's where my
heart lies. It's what I grew up reading and it's
what I like reading these days too. That said,
I might go somewhere else for a vacation someday.
Maybe explore the different corners of the genre.
This series is heroic/epic fantasy, but I think
I could have fun writing a humorous urban fantasy.
I have an idea for a modern-day faerie tale too.
A lot will depend a lot on how I'm feeling as
I finish up the trilogy.
Ed: Talking about genre can be tricky
– it's almost unfair to shoehorn The Name of
the Wind into one category – but what is it
that draws you to fantasy?
Patrick Rothfuss: It's a genre that allows
me to create anything I want. That, in turn, allows
me to explore any sort of idea I'm curious about.
I love it because Fantasy is a genre that asks,
"What if...?" That's my favorite question.