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For fantasy fans, Patrick Rothfuss is a man who needs no introduction. The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear have earned the Wisconsin author praise from critics and fans alike for his sophisticated storytelling and unique worldbuilding. Recently, Rothfuss was kind enough to take part in an email interview with Toonari Post in which he shared his views on everything from the perils of querying to his disdain for the Badger State’s controversial governor.
Toonari Post (TP): What helps you get into the ‘writing zone?’ For example, do you listen to a particular piece of music or drink a certain drink?
Patrick Rothfuss (PR): Caffeine helps a lot. That and a certain amount of isolation. No music. Silence.
TP: Could you briefly describe your journey from aspiring writer to published author?
PR: Not briefly, no. It took 14 years, after all. It was tangled trail of broken hearts and empty promises.
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s just a pretty boring story. Especially if I do it briefly.
TP: How did you find your agent?
PR: After two years of sending out query letters and failing to get an agent, I made friends with an author, who was nice enough to introduce me to his agent. That got my foot in the door.
TP: Do you have any advice for writers struggling with the dreaded query letter?
PR: My best advice would be to ask someone else for advice. I suck at query letters.
I’m not being modest. I was really profoundly bad at it. Like I said, I sent letters out for more than two years, and failed resoundingly all the while. You don’t want me to help you with that.
It’s kind of a shame, really. Writing a good query letter has very little to do with writing a good novel. But if you can’t write the one, it makes it really hard to get the other published.
TP: Why did you choose to go with a traditional publisher?
PR: Because I wanted people to read my books.
TP: Were you ever tempted to self-publish?
PR: Not really. Because, as I mentioned, I wanted people to read my books.
I know there’s a lot of talk about self-publishing right now. Everyone’s giddy with the possibilities. And I’ll admit that it looks good on paper: sell your books directly and keep a bigger chunk of the profit for yourself. No rejection letters. No hassle with agents. Sounds good, right?
Except nobody knows who you are. And nobody really cares. And your book is mostly crap because you haven’t had a substance-level editor give you feedback and make you revise it a couple of times. And your book is full of typos because you didn’t have a copy-editor read it. And the layout is ugly because you don’t know anything about layout…I’m sure you get the picture.
It’s like the query letter problem that I just mentioned, magnified a hundredfold. You might be good at telling a story, but that doesn’t mean you know anything about marketing. Or layout. Or editing. Or publicity. Or selling your books for foreign markets.
Even if you’re surprisingly good at one of those things, you’re still not going to be as good as a professional. You don’t know the tricks of the trade. You don’t know the right people to call. You don’t know what mistakes to avoid….
Everyone can point to a few examples of people that have done very well for themselves self-publishing. But honestly, those folks are lucky as lottery winners. They’re statistical anomalies. You want to publish with a publisher because a publisher knows how to publish a book. And you don’t. You really don’t.
TP: Reading your books, it’s hard not to be blown away by the amount of worldbuilding you’ve done. How do you keep all the details straight? Do you have any plans to release an official guide to the world of the Kingkiller Chronicles?
PR: I’ll probably do something like that eventually. Right now I have vague dreams of releasing it as a sourcebook for a table-top role-playing game.
TP: Music obviously plays a large role in Kvothe’s life, and you refer to (and occasionally quote from) various songs throughout the books. Have you ever thought about putting all those songs on a CD?
PR: That would be a ton of fun, but it would be a lot of work. I’d also need some serious musicians to help me pull it off. Real musicians with serious craft behind them. So far, nobody like that has dropped me an e-mail.
TP: The Cthaeh is one of the coolest creatures I’ve ever seen in a fantasy novel. What was the inspiration for it?
PR: I didn’t really base it off anything. I made it up. Y’know, out of my head.
That’s what I do. I make things up.
TP: If you could start the Kingkiller Chronicles anew, is there anything you’d do differently?
PR: Not really. The good thing about working on the books for 14 years before they hit the shelves is that I worked out most of the kinks long before they were published.
Barring a few tiny mistakes, I got everything pretty much exactly the way I wanted.
TP: If you were to study at the Arcanum, what would you study?
PR: Probably alchemy and naming. I think I’d make a better namer than Kvothe.
TP: Why do you think so many people in Academia turn up their noses at genre fiction?
PR: I think it’s mostly because they have sad little lives, and one of the rare tawdry joys they possess is looking down on other people. It’s sad, really.
TP: Do you see that changing eventually?
PR: Oh, sure. There’s a lot of folks in academia that don’t have their heads up their asses. You can take classes on the Lord of the Rings, Gaiman’s Sandman, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The smart folks are realizing that if you ignore modern culture, modern culture is going to ignore you right back. And when that happens, you’re going to have to sit all by your lonely self and wallow in your own obsolescence.
But if you open the door and realize things like the fact that Batman is occupying the same narrative space that Robin Hood used to fill 400 years ago, then you have the freedom to ignore the pointless “what is literature” discussion and just talk about stories.
That’s all that really matters in the end. Stories.
TP: What are three books that you think everyone should read?
PR: All Quiet on the Western Front. 1984. The Last Unicorn.
TP: What are the top three things on your ‘bucket list?’
PR: I’d love to get a chance to talk shop with Joss Whedon. That’s pretty high up there on the list.
The other two, well, they’re not the sort of thing you mention in polite conversation.
TP: What do you find most challenging about being an author?
PR: Coming to grips with being a bit of a celebrity. That’s not anything I ever expected to have to deal with in my life.
I mean, if you’re an actor, you know people are going to recognize you in a restaurant. If you’re a rock star, you know people are going to stop you on the street and ask you for your autograph. But as an author? That’s not something I was ready for.
TP: If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do?
PR: I’d be an unpublished author. Also probably a teacher.
TP: You’ve made no secret of your admiration for Joss Whedon. Have you read the comic continuations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? What do you think of them?
PR: They’re good. Joss is an excellent storyteller. It really doesn’t matter what medium he’s working in.
TP: Speaking as a native Badger, what is your favorite thing about Wisconsin?
PR: Right now my favorite thing is working to recall our absolute shitbag of a governor. He’s been screwing up my state for more than a year. I want him out.
For more information about Pat Rothfuss, check out his website.
Image Courtesy of Patrick Rothfuss