The rest of the my 2007 interview with Patrick Rothfuss — before he published his first novel, The Name of the Wind — where he discusses the joys of getting published, blogging, reaching out to fans, and what he learned from reading between five and ten thousand fantasy books.
Here is part 1 of the interview.
You seem to be getting pretty good reviews. That must be a good feeling.
It is. Been getting some very, very, very flattering reviews . . . (pauses) Even movies – if there’s something you go out and you watch it and you like it, kind of the base level is you leave and you go “Eh, that was okay.” And then if it’s a little bit better than that you go, “That was cool.” But then at a certain point it gets good enough where it’s like as soon as you leave the movie theater or you finish the book, you feel like you want to go tell someone about it. And I think I’ve been fortunate enough that a lot of people’s reactions have been high enough up where they like it enough where they feel like they want to tell somebody about it.
And that’s how we’ve gotten a lot of these author quotes and a lot of these reviews is by people really loving it. Like bookstore owners – a guy read a copy of the book, and he liked it so much he wanted to order 100 copies, and he had them all sent to my house so I could sign them. He wanted me to sign one to him, and that’s very flattering to have someone that deals with books all the time like your book so much. That’s incredibly flattering.
How’s it feel to have your work analyzed and picked apart, especially after 14 years?
It’s a little . . . it’s nerve wracking. It’s my baby, and I’ve really worked hard on it. I know people will not like parts of it. You can’t make everyone happy. If you try to make a novel that’s going to please everyone, it’s going to be just bland crap. So I pretty much decided that I was going to do it my way, and if people liked it they liked it. If people hated it they’re probably going to really hate it, but I was okay with that. Luckily more people seem to be liking it than hating it.
Do you like having the blog and website and being able to communicate with the fans?
It is really nice. I didn’t expect it to actually be as big as it is. The publisher – a bunch of people in Penguin – actually ended up reading the book, which is a real rarity because a big publisher publishes like 10,000 books a year. And so the people selling those books, they just don’t have the time to do their jobs and actually read them. But a few people started reading it – they printed up advance copies – and some of the head sales people read it and liked it enough, and like one guy went around to everyone and said, “You want to read this book because you want to be able to say to people I was in it at the beginning. Because 10 years down the read people will be talking about this like they talk about Lord of the Rings and you want to be able say I read it in the galley form.”
So he was like a missionary. Everybody ended up reading the book. Everybody ended up liking it. And so everybody at Penguin got really excited, and they put some money into promoting it. They paid for an actual honest-to-god website, you know, designed by web designers, and then I had to come up with a bunch of content for it, which was so much work when I was in the middle of editing and everything. People have been kind of liking the blogs. Someone just emailed me today actually and said, it’s so refreshing to find somebody who . . . I don’t know if you can print this in the paper, but he said it’s nice to find an author talking about his book who didn’t sound like a total cock — who’s like so full of himself and saying that he’s awesome. He goes, “It seems like you’re a really cool guy, and you’re excited about your book, and you’re not a dick. It’s nice to meet person like that.”
It seems to be going well. A lot of people have been sending messages or saying when can you come and sign in my town. I’ve heard such great things about your book. So hopefully, if those people can get kind of get organized, my publisher might end up putting me on a little bit of a tour. That usually doesn’t happen for a person’s first book.
Are you going to keep continue the blog?
Oh, yeah. It’s cool because somebody . . . I remember what it was like being an author — being a writer rather — here in central Wisconsin, and I didn’t have any pro-writer friends. I didn’t know anyone in the industry. So I had no one I could ask questions of. I wanted to write, but I had no one to clue me in. A sixteen year old girl wrote me from New York and she says, I read a review of your book on this site, and it sounds really cool and she asked me a question. How can I not answer that question? I know what it’s like to be that kid. So rather than just send her an email, I thought why not make it available to everyone who might be interested – just in case. People seem to be liking it so far.
Does this book mean something different then, even though you’re sort of already a published author?
This is totally different. Now I can actually say that I’m an author and not feel like a poser. Yeah, this novel is an entirely different animal than anything I’ve done before. I’ve had poems published or people read me in the school paper, but . . . yeah, this is a whole different animal.
When’s the rest of the trilogy coming out?
Well, luckily I’ve already written it all. That’s what took me 14 years. The second book will be coming out in a year, probably pretty close to exactly a year. So people won’t have to wait terribly long. I know how much I hated that growing up. You reading the book, and you’re excited, and then four years go by. And you’re like is this person ever going to come back to these characters that I love? Where’s the next piece? So they’ll have the next piece soon.
So you didn’t plan on this being a trilogy?
Originally I didn’t plan anything. All I had was this character – this cool idea for a character I wanted to write about. So I started writing this story and eventually it got to be . . . I’m like, how long is a novel? How many words is it? I went and I tried to ask people and nobody knew. I didn’t know any writer people who could answer that question. And this was pre-internet so I really couldn’t just go and find out from some author’s website. So I just kept writing and writing and eventually I knew that it had to be more than a novel’s worth, but I hadn’t hit the end yet so I just kept going, and I got to the end. Then I wrote it all backwards to make sure it all fit together, and then I went through and I wrote it all forwards again to make sure I took out all the crap that wasn’t necessary. Then I tweaked it and tweaked it. I’ve rewritten this thing a 100 times. Every time it gets . . .
Does it have anything from what you started in high school?
No. No. I threw that book away. That’s like locked in a box somewhere. No one will ever see that. No. No cat-man samurai. No dwarf and barbarian swords in this book. That would be too hokey. Too hokey. I’ve got that out of the system.
So now that you’re mostly done with writing the trilogy are you working on anything new?
Yup. I’m working on revising the second book so it will be ready for publication. I’ve got a really cool idea for like an urban fairy tale set in Madison. Big city, um, sort of like what if fairies were real, and they didn’t go away, and they’re sort of working around the edges of society. And where better for old forgotten fairies to like hang out than a city like Madison. Right in the middle of a huge forest. All of Wisconsin is a forest. Like 45% of our state is still covered in forest.
Somebody suggested – they met me first as a fantasy novelist and then they read the College Survival Guide – and they said, “You are funny. You have to write an urban fantasy set in college with the same tone — the same sarcastic, funny, deranged character. And I think that’s a good idea. But I am also thinking of the next trilogy as well. All these characters have more things to do after this first trilogy is done.
So you’re going to try to stay in the same world?
I like the world. I spent a long time building it. It always pissed me off when an author created a place I loved and a bunch of characters that I loved, and then they just walk away from it. Your like, “Hey, these are my friends, how dare you just leave them withering on the vine.” So yeah, I’ll definitely be coming back to the world.
Will you do the new trilogy before doing the Madison story?
That’s hard. Part of it depends on what people want more. Part of it depends on which one ends up being more done. If I get really inspired to write one and it’s done, maybe it will come out first.
Are you excited about going on book signings? Are you nervous about that?
I’ve been a teacher for a long time so getting up in front of a group of people and talking isn’t that hard for me. I love chatting about writing. I love talking about books with people who are interested in books. I’m looking forward to that. They’re not going to be touring me around a lot. If a bookstore owner is really excited sometimes the publisher will pay for me to go and do a signing there. But generally for an author’s first book that really doesn’t happen because no one really knows him well enough yet. But I am hitting a couple of conventions and speaking at a couple of panels. Doing stuff like that.
Are there any books or authors that interest you?
I’ve got to ask . . . actually, let me go and get something to drink so you’ll be able to hear me . . . [sitting back down a few minutes later] . . . I’m always tripped up by that question because I don’t really know what people mean by influenced. Sometimes I read a book and go, “This is the coolest book ever, but I know I could never write a book like that.” I want to write a book as good as that, but I don’t know if I’m really influenced by it. I’m kind of influenced by – I’ve read like five or ten thousand fantasy novels – and I’m kind of influenced by all of them. Some authors I like more than others, but I wasn’t really trying to emulate anyone. I was trying to pointedly not emulate anyone. If you find a different word other than influence and ask that question I could probably give you a straight answer.
I was wondering what made you want to write that type of book, with those types of ideas. There wasn’t anyone you wanted to emulate in a way?
(thinking) Well . . . Joan Binge [note: I can’t find this book, so maybe I have the name wrong] wrote a book called Scion, and I remember reading about it – it’s about a young boy alone on the streets. It was written in first person. I remember reading it and really loving that character and feeling so bad for him because his life was just so hard. I mean I cried during that book. I wanted to make the reader feel that same way. So I suppose that might be the closest that there is to something that I really did want to emulate – some of that emotion that she had. Roger Zelazny has an incredible way with words, and so I wanted to be able to write words as good as he did. I didn’t want to write like he did. I just wanted to do it as well as he did. So there have been people like that.
We finish the interview by talking of a few upcoming events (which happened in 2007 so they’re not included here).
For more check out Patrick Rothfuss’s blog. If you like author blogs, his is one of the best I’ve read.