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WesternSFA
A Chat with Patrick Rothfuss
by Catherine Book
March 10, 2013
Patrick Rothfuss has but two published books to his name so his fame would seem to be a bit disproportionate.  His signing lines at the 2013 Tucson Book Festival were the second longest lines of the weekend – at just about every one of his signings.  One line was so long, the ones left standing followed Patrick, as an orderly group, down the street to his next scheduled signing and continued standing in line.  A friend of mine told me his prose was beautiful.  An awful lot of people have nice things to say about him including the estimable Ursula K. Le Guin.  And, without having read his books myself, I was intrigued enough to want to interview him.

So, the first thing I wanted to know was:  how does he account for his phenomenal fanbase?  His very quick response was – his fans are all lovely people.  But, he thought, it is probably really his blog and facebook.  He is very forthcoming with details about his life – he has very few filters, he confessed – which gives his fans a real opportunity to get to know him.  He thinks they have a real connection to him that would never have been possible before the internet.  As he put it – he doesn’t know them but they know him; and, after all, they have a ‘friend’ in common – his book.

Patrick wrote the typical ‘high school’ book, put it aside with some disappointment, tried poetry for a while, and then got an itch and began his “The Name of the Wind” around 1994 although it didn’t publish until 2007.  His second book published in 2011 and he’s deep into the third book with no projected pub date.  Apparently, Patrick suffers from a bit of perfectionism and hasn’t quite perfected that last book yet.  I asked him how he begins writing – an outline or linearly.  He fussed over the answer while finally trying to describe that he couldn’t really answer – it would be, he tried to illustrate, as if I asked how he interacts with people.  It’s possible to give an answer, but not simply.  It’s a vast, weird skillset that can’t be summed up easily.

Does he need a particular environment to write?  He likes a long stretch of time to write, quiet and uninterrupted.  He writes at night a lot.  But he can also write just about anywhere.  He thinks that some writers fool themselves into thinking they need some special mojo to be able to write.  Which means they have a built-in excuse when they can’t produce because they don’t have their special cuppa tea or something disrupted their routine.  It’s not that Patrick doesn’t have his own little quirks but he likes to think he‘s realistic.  It’s part of developing your craft, he explained, that you know your own limitations and ignore the ‘fake’ limitations.

I wondered what was important to him – setting, plot, characters?  Naw, he said – that’s a false division.  Each is important; it would be like choosing a favorite child.  So, I pressed him and asked in what he felt he was strongest.  Language, he replied most decisively.  He enjoys language and takes a lot of time getting it just right.  He admitted he puts in a ridiculous amount of time in revision of his language.  He speculated that a lot of readers might say they like something about his book – plot, character, pace, etc. – but what really drew them in was the prose.  Does he research his books?  Mostly, he says, he’s just curious all the time about everything.  And maybe it will be useful someday.  And since he writes in fantasy, it’s not necessary to travel to a locale; after all, he wrote a whole fantasy book without leaving Wisconsin.

When I asked him if he worked on more than one project at a time, he replied that it’s actually essential to him.  He’s found that if he works too long on one thing, it starts to feel burdensome and he’s not as productive as he could be.  Whereas, if he has multiple projects, he can work on the one that excites him most and when he returns to the other, he’s fresh and ready to work.   And different projects take different skills – such as working with an illustrator, or writing comics; moving between those skills also keeps him sharp.  I then wanted to know if he was under any contract for any comics right now.  He answered no, but he is working on a sequel to a story he wrote that he characterizes as Calvin & Hobbes Meet Edward Gorey.  He’s having fun working with the illustrator and hopes to find a market for it.

Short stories are one thing that Patrick hasn’t yet mastered.  He has trouble finding a way to stop at a short-story length without continuing into novel length.  But he’s learning from the failures so it’s only a matter of time before that’s on his resume, too.

On his website he once commented that he could write in the Kingkiller Chronicles world forever.  So I wondered if he had other ideas he’d like to work on that were not in that universe.  He admitted he has an idea for an urban fantasy but that’s all it is right now.  He’s sure it would be a fun, short novel but that’s not even on the radar right now.

Patrick used to teach at a university but had to put it aside when his novels took off.  Recently he had an opportunity to teach a creative writing course when someone went off on a sabbatical.  He said it was rather off-the-cuff and he had a lot of fun.  He loves to talk about writing.

Does he like going to science fiction/fantasy conventions?  Oh yes, he answered.  Since writing does tend to be an isolated activity it’s good to get out and interact with fans, talk to other writers, and, of course, talk about writing on panels.  And, he will finally get out to the Phoenix ComiCon – 2014, I think.  Keep checking his website to find opportunities to meet Patrick, I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting him as much as I did.  Thanks, Patrick.

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