Interview with Patrick Rothfuss


Well-Known Member
Nov 4, 2008
Working with the Bare Bones of talent

Patrick Rothfuss had done 11 interviews in the 2 days previous to this one and generously allowed SFFChronicles to conduct yet another!

Pat, 13 years of writing and submitting, rejected by every known agent and publisher in the universe, there must have been times when you wanted to give up. What kept you going?

You know, actually I didn’t want to give up. When people say to me they want to be a fantasy novelist for a living, it doesn’t really strike me as a career, it doesn’t sound like an intelligent choice that you made for your life, more a choice you make from the heart. It’s sort of like saying “what’s your career plan?” “Oh, I’m going to win the lottery.”

The truth is, most people who start novels don’t finish them and most people who finish them don’t sell them and those that do don’t get to do it as a day job. And I knew that, I knew that pretty right from the off.

When people tend to expect publication and money and celebrity and that’s what their goal is, then anything less than that is going to feel like failure. I knew that I was never going to be published, so I was just writing, to write a good book that I loved, and because of that I did not experience disappointment and disillusionment.

So essentially, there wasn’t that goal in mind, but when you finally got ‘the deal’ how did that feel?

When it happens and people go “Oh! Overnight success! Patrick Rothfuss is getting printed, all those reviews and it came out of nowhere.” That’s not really it, because if all of this stuff had happened in a two week span it would have been overwhelming, but that’s not how it works.

What happens is you meet somebody and they say they can introduce you to somebody, and you meet that person and you send an email and you wait four or five days and then you talk to them some more and then send a piece of the manuscript and you wait another two weeks and the whole process is extraordinarily slow.

You know, I had the agent in 2002 and The Name of the Wind didn’t hit the shelf until 2007. So at what point did I go “Ye!” Well, it’s not like somebody shows up at your house with a big cheque, it’s more an ongoing process over a long period of time.

We know from your blog that you enjoy reading to Oot and Cutie Snoo, how important is the essence of oral storytelling? You’ve invoked it cleverly in the books, because Kvothe is speaking his story to Devan, was that a deliberate thing or by chance?

Most of what I do is fairly deliberate and that oral storytelling is part of that. We have literature and things get written down, and most of it is artificially induced, but the most natural form of storytelling is person to person. 99% of all storytelling that exists is verbal, and I don’t think that’s changed because of the internet for instance, it’s the most natural raw form of storytelling.

Given the beautiful monster that the Kingkiller Chronicles has become, if you could go back, what would you do differently? I don’t necessarily mean regrets, but what would give you the most pleasure to change?

You know, that’s an interesting question. Really, one of the benefits of being an obsessive reviser, almost to the point that it’s a mental disorder, is the fact that I managed to get everything pretty much exactly the way I want it.

And that’s also one of the benefits of writing really long books, that revision process. I get feedback from many of my Beta readers, my own input as well. I reread Name of the Wind a while back, trying to refresh my mind about some things that were going on and there were a few places where I went like: oh there’s word I could change, or tweak this little phrase, but that’s just fidgeting, it’s not something substantial or plot centred.

So I really have no regrets. Oh, there was one little thing: I made a trigonometry mistake in Kvothe’s admission interview and it was kinda silly and I was embarrassed that it had slipped past me, so yeah, I’d change that.

We’ve mentioned the internet, and here we are talking through the internet, there’s so much going on via the internet that’s good, but the downside for a writer can be that people may start to feel that they know you, that they somehow own you. We’ve seen posts on the blog where you’re saying if you’re at a conference with your family, then don’t approach you, but how difficult is for you personally when people seem to profess that ownership of you?

It’s tricky. You’ve said it works both ways and it’s good to remember that, because people like to think that they know me, which is okay, and the truth is there’s a big difference between the way my readers know me, and the way that I knew any of the authors I read when I was so much younger, like say, Robin Hobb, when I was reading her material.

The readers who read my blog and follow me on social media quite literally know more about the daily events of my life than maybe some of my long time real-world friends, they really do know me. Ownership is a little different, and the truth is, if you know someone and you like them, then that starts becoming a relationship and they feel like a friend.

My editor actually warned me of this, very early on, the internet was pretty new, and she gave me good advice. She said “you know, familiarity breeds contempt.” And that might be true, but I don’t know if it is true. In my experience familiarity breeds familiarity, with friends. I can back that up, and truthfully 99 plus per cent interaction with my readers has been delightful. They send me presents, they behave in a genteel and graceful and loving manner. They’re truly delightful.

You know, I have this charity and I say “come with me and let’s try and be wonderful people and improve the world” and they come along with me and they donate their hard-earned money and give their dollars for charity, which is amazing. Then there’s a slight slice of those people, who do feel they deserve, as though they’re entitled to, well... anything.

The truth is my children are entitled to certain things, my friends are entitled to certain things, my girlfriend is, my dad is entitled to certain things. My editor is contractually entitled to certain things (laughs) but the others are not. It tends to get a little irritating, here’s the problem, right?

Last night I was doing something for the charity, I was streaming a game and talking to people online, and I ordered a pizza – I’d not had a chance to eat that day – and I got up and took the pizza and the delivery driver said “Wow, I’ve never delivered pizza to somebody famous before. I really liked your books, when is the third one coming out?” And I sat back down and I have a really good microphone and everyone said “Did the pizza delivery guy just ask you about...?” And I went “yeah...” It’s truly inescapable, and here’s the problem: if you haven’t been published, or you’ve never had a brush with celebrity, it’s really hard to understand the genuine impact it might have on your life, where people do feel welcome to come up to you and talk to you when you’re having dinner. Or they’ll send you an email where they say “my boyfriend is your biggest fan and it would really mean the world to him if you would do this...” And I think ‘Oh, you know, this person wasn’t being mean, there’s no malice here, but the truth is, they don’t understand that if I do one tenth of what people ask me to do I would need two lives and I’d never get to sleep.’

So last night online I asked people: “What could I do to make this stream entertaining for everyone?” and they say stuff like: “invite Nathan Fillion to come and goof off” and I’m like “I don’t know Nathan Fillion” and they’re “go ask him to do this, it’s for charity, that’s okay” and it’s like they have no idea. Every day 250 people ask Nathan Fillion to do something, and the only reason he has any life at all is because he makes himself inaccessible, and that’s how we survive.

So, yes, it’s a weird thing, and what happens is, once you have two or three bad interactions, because those stick out in our minds so much more, and some jackal gets on the internet, you’re in a chat room on the internet and they come in when you’re trying to do something for charity and they go ‘blah, blah, blah,’ and it’s awful, and then what happens is the pizza guy shows up, and what otherwise might have been a kind of a nice quirky relationship means I end up flinching away from it. I’m like, “Jeez, are you going to get me to sign something?” I just want my pizza. I’m not here to be like some rare bird you get to check off in your book. Does that make any sense?

It makes perfect sense. I’m a bit ashamed to say, and I’ll leave this out of the interview, but I ambushed you in Reno (in 2011) trying to get you to sign my book, and you were very gracious. You said: “Hey, I remember you, you’re from England, of course I’ll sign it.” And then I felt awful because I made you late for a Kaffeekleitsch you were heading for.

I remember that exactly. No, you have to leave it in the interview, because the people who are gracious and kind and socially apt, they look at me like: ‘God, Rothfuss looks tired’ and they say: “you know, I’m not going to bug him, I’ll email, I’m not going to do whatever.” That’s exactly what I did. I went to see Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot and afterwards the person I was with said: “Do you want to go wait by the stage door?” and I’m like "He’s had a busy life and I can’t do much for him, and I’ll give him that eight seconds that he would otherwise spend signing a program for me."

But the thing is, when I’m at a Con, I’m specifically there to be available for people and a lot of times people will come up to me and say “I’m so sorry to ask...” and it is really okay. The problem is the people who aren’t socially aware, or aren’t graceful, they’re the ones that will genuinely claw at you, and they never tell themselves “no”. It’s this perennial problem that I’m still trying to figure out a way to fix it.

Have you thought of having three big bouncers, gargantuan bodyguards? They could be trained to let the gracious ones in, and stand in the way of those who can’t say “no” to themselves.

Yeah, a sort of walking velvet rope that follows me around everywhere I go? I’ve been trying to fix that problem. I can do a book signing, and sign 500 books, and then I wouldn’t mind hanging out with one or two interesting, well-spoken people for some conversation and food after the signing. But I can’t take everyone, and sometimes people will say: “Hey, hang out with us.”

It used to be easy when a hundred people showed up to a signing and somebody’d say “Do you want to grab a drink?” and I would, because the stakes were lower. If it were a little awkward I’d beg off after twenty minutes or so.

A lot of my readers are wonderful, lovely people and of course, why wouldn’t you want to spend time with lovely people? But sifting them out from people who just want to claw at you, that’s how it can seem sometimes, that they want to tear a piece off you and eat it.

So, Worldbuilders – up and running, doing its phenomenal roll out again, with so many people contributing, and we thank the internet for that. Last year, kissing Llamas... what can we expect for the late stretch goals this year?

The only reason that ended up last year was because I let people vote on it! It wasn’t really meant to be the cherry on top. We’ve got a bunch of lovely things happening – we’ve got authors singing and dancing, goofing off and playing video games.

Neil Gaiman is going to sing for us, I’m going to read a book to my little boy, some authors are coming together to read ‘Fox and Socks’. Well, reading as well as they are able to, and then screwing it up. Just generally people coming, having fun, goofing off and hoping to draw some attention to the fundraiser.

We have a whole host of them posted up currently, and others every day as more authors, celebrities, musicians approach us. Actually, I let this one out of the bag: due to a late night twitter conversation Will Wheaton and I and a few others are going to act out the TV show Drunk History – someone gets really drunk and then tries to describe a historical event and they shoot a video based on this person’s mashed-up recollection of how history works.

We’re going to play drunk Dungeons and Dragons, it’s going to be a beautiful train wreck, I’m so excited for that because Will is lovely and also the people we’re going to bring in – it’s going to be fabulous, just fabulous.

It sounds it! Did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, that Worldbuilders was going to be this phenomenally successful?

I didn’t think I was starting a charity when I initially did it. I was just goofing around on my blog, I had no idea people would show up in these numbers to support a charity. But once I started it, I couldn’t just walk away, because you’d feel awful. But no, it’s lovely even though this is the most terrifying part of my life because it’s so busy.

It’s exhausting, even though I have a great team of people helping out, and at the same time it’s my favourite time of year simply because of the way it happens. We’re currently (Saturday 21st November) standing at over $300,000 and we’re not even out of our second week. It gets bigger and better and more marvellous every year.

I think one thing that sets Worldbuilders apart from some other charities is that we get to see the human side, if you will, of so many famous people – as you say they goof off, and we enjoy that element tremendously.

You know, the sense of play is the thing that I’m very happy we’ve been able to build on these last couple of years. Whimsy is an undervalued commodity in this day and age. I’d like to bring more and more of that back.

I can see time is running down, so a few small questions. Felurian – would you agree with me that Salma Hayek could do a good job there?

You know... (sighs heavily) she’s undeniably beautiful, but I would probably say, because the key to Felurian isn’t that she looks young, but she has a child-like nature, an innocence about her, and I don’t know about Hayek being able to pull that off as an actress. I mean, she’s gorgeous, but I picture Felurian as more willowy. Hayek is voluptuous.

I have no idea who they would bring in for Felurian, I don’t have a dream cast in my mind for any of the characters. There are some actors that I love, but when I try to think of putting them in my movie it feels like I’m trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.

Will you have the same sort of control over those sort of elements for the movies? JK Rowling, rather like you, said “if you don’t do it right, I don’t want you to do it.” Will you have the same type of input?

All authors feel that way. The vast majority will feel ‘don’t do it if you’re not going to do it right’ but some feel ‘just go ahead and do it and give me the money, and I’ll keep writing the books’. Will I have absolute dictatorial control? Absolutely not. And truthfully that’s because if I did, I’d make a total hash of this movie.

I’ve never made a movie before, I’m not a casting director, I don’t know how to write a screenplay. I don’t understand the photography. So if they gave me control of those things, I could do nothing, I’d ruin it. (laughs) Would I hope they consult me and value my opinion in areas of story and character and world? Yes, and so far they have done that, and are extraordinarily considerate in that regard.

So, Episode VII? A new, new hope, do you think? Are you Star Wars or Star Trek?

I’m firmly both. I very much have been able to enjoy them both over the years. Although given the two I probably have more of an emotional connection to Star Trek. My mum used to watch it, I watched the new one with her, but well, the new Star Wars... A new, new hope is a great way to refer to it.

I think everyone really wants it to be good, and that’s all we know. I would love for it to be good, to go back to its mythic roots. I’d love for it to be a bit of a spaghetti western in space, which is what is was before, at the start. I’m hoping...but I’ve had my heart broke before...

Last question: Patriots or Vikings? (I meant to say Packers or Vikings...)

I will occasionally watch a foot ball game if friends are into it, and if I was going to choose I guess I’d go home state, which is the Green Bay Packers, and if I had to choose a 2nd place I’d go with the Vikings – they’re our territorial enemies, right across from us. If you’re going to root for someone, it’s your home team, and if not, your nearest enemy.

One very sneaky last, last question. Name of the wind was 250,000 words and Wise Man’s fear was 350,000, I think. Any idea what book three is heading towards, word-count wise?

Book two was close to 400,000, missed it by a hair. I don’t honestly think book three will be any longer than book two.

That’s a good place to leave it. Pat, thank you so much for your time, I know you’ve got an online Q&A to go to, and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. May Worldbuilders continue to grow as wonderfully as it always does and thank you for being so gracious. I’ll see you at a conference somewhere and be very genteel and ask you to sign my book.

You bet. Thank you so much.

Discuss the Kingkiller Chronicles on the Patrick Rothfuss forums.
Problem was he did another interview 2 days before mine, which asked half the questions I was going to use! But it was really enjoyable doing it, he's so laid back, it's like chatting with a good friend. :):)

And thanks are due to Brian, who has added all the pictures at the top, and formatted it so well. Good job, Brian!
Very nice job. Great interview!

When people tend to expect publication and money and celebrity and that’s what their goal is, then anything less than that is going to feel like failure. I knew that I was never going to be published, so I was just writing, to write a good book that I loved, and because of that I did not experience disappointment and disillusionment.

Wise, wise words. I shall add that to my inspiration board. :)
Interestingly enough, I was reading an interview with him from 2007, just before Name of the Wind was released, and he happened to mention that books 2 & 3 were already written and finished.

I wonder what changed?
Interestingly enough, I was reading an interview with him from 2007, just before Name of the Wind was released, and he happened to mention that books 2 & 3 were already written and finished.

I wonder what changed?

An editor... He originally wrote it all as one book - almost a million words, and then split it in three, so they were 'written', but as an obsessive self-editor, he began going over it again, along with Betsy Wolheim at the publishers. He credits her by saying 'if it wasn't for her this book wouldn't be in your hands. A similar book, but not this one'. In the original draft, Bast and Auri didn't exist, nor the Wayside locals who drink there, just Kvothe saying 'woe is me' and he realised that just didn't work, so set to...

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