On Thursday, I spoke to Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller Chronicle series.
Since so many of the big names in fantasy and science fiction were in London last week for Worldcon, I took the opportunity to speak to some of them. First up, Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller Chronicle series.
The first book in the series, The Name of the Wind, introduces us to Kvothe, and is divided into two timelines. We meet Kvothe as Kote, a quiet innkeeper, who keeps his identity hidden until he saves a man, known as the Chronicler, from some spider-like creatures. Kvothe agrees to telling his story, which he says will take three days. The narrative then turns to first person, as Kvothe begins his story with his childhood.
From the Edema Ruh, a group of travelling performers, to Abenthy, who trains Kvothe in science and sympathy, to the tragedy that ripped his young life apart and forced him to the streets, to the fortune that landed him a place in the University, The Name of the Wind tells the tale of a young, sometimes reckless, yet extremely endearing man, who seems to constantly find himself in trouble.
Rothfuss doesn’t just evoke an amazing magical world, but he also includes the science behind the magic, which makes for a fascinating read. The older Kvothe (Kote) seems like a completely different character to young Kvothe – he’s mysterious, intelligent, unknown. The second novel, The Wise Man’s Fear, was released in 2011, and The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a novella set in the same world, will be released this October.
According to George RR Martin, The Wise Man’s Fear “was worth the wait. I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one. He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy.” I don’t think you need a better recommendation than that.
Through contacting the wonderful Sophie Calder, I managed to set up an interview with Rothfuss at Orion House in Leceister Square. Upon entering the building, I immediately felt under-dressed, and I rushed to hide my tattoos. I was shown into an office, where I set up my papers, and tried to look professional. But once Rothfuss walked in, I knew I was in good company.
Rothfuss was born in Wisconsin, initially studying chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He spent the next nine years at university, jumping from major to major and taking semesters off, before finally graduating with an English major. During this time, he had been working on “The Book”, which he then tried to sell to publishers while he taught part-time at Stevens Point. He disguised a chapter of The Book as a short story and won the Writers of the Future competition in 2002. This put him into contact with all the right people, and after deciding to split The Book into three installments, DAW agreed to publish it. In 2007, The Name of the Wind was published to great acclaim, winning the Quill Award and making the New York Times Bestseller list.
I wanted to know why he decided to write “The Book” in the first place.
I get asked that a fair amount, and I suppose for some people, they have a moment in their life when they think, oh I wanna be a writer.. They’d read something and it changed their life.. I never had that. I just liked reading books, and I played around with writing stories, and I never thought, oh I’d like to do it as a living, because I knew the odds were not good.
I then asked Rothfuss where he gets his ideas from, to which he replied:
The generic answer to that is, the same place as everyone – there’s a warehouse in Poughkeepsie. In some ways that is the best question to ask, it is the only important question, but it’s utterly unanswerable.
Well. Alright then. What about Kvothe?
He I did deliberately create. I knew that, if people did not like him, if he was not a compelling character, it was not going to work out well.
Rothfuss read Cyrano de Bergerac, and was blown away by the amazing character:
This character was proud and powerful and arrogant and articulate and broken and sad.. I remember reading the last third of the play on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, and just weeping.. Then I thought, Jesus, okay, I gotta get on with my life.
After reading ‘like 5000 fantasy novels’, Rothfuss decided he wanted to write a story that could have the same emotional impact on someone else. He also read Casanova’s Memoirs, which he described as a fascinating, incredible story, with no fantasy elements in it at all.
But if I’m gonna write a fantasy novel, why wouldn’t I want him to be a magician, a wizard, a powerful arcane thing of some sort? People like Gandalf, Moses.. What makes these people cool isn’t their magic actually; what makes them cool is that they know things about the world. And so I put those things together and added a few other elements, and Kvothe kind of grew out of that.
His advice to aspiring writers is, simply, to live somewhere cheap.‘It’s not the advice you want as a new writer, but it’s the best advice you’ll get.’ There’s no point in struggling to pay for the roof over your head, working crazy hours, and having no time to write. Oh, and back up your files obsessively.
Rothfuss wished he knew how to write query letters and synopses, but he also wishes he could take what he knows now about writing back ten years, and save himself all of the work.
The big thing that I’ve learned in the last few years has been my craft, the writing itself. You can’t take it in a pill form, you can’t read a book on writing and steal someone else’s craft.
His novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, will be released this October, and Rothfuss is also working on other things. He has a standalone novel coming out ‘before too terribly long’, about a new character showing off a different piece of the world. He’s also been working on illustrations for his novels, which took more time than he anticipated.
I always want to know what writers are reading, if they have the time.
I always have time to read, I’ve given up most TV and movies, but I always have time to read. If I don’t read, my mood is very very bad, and things grind to a halt inside me.
Rothfuss is currently reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.
This is so fucking good, it is irritatingly good. I hope Catheryanne is here and I will buy her lunch, and I will curse her for writing something so marvellous.. It’s wonderful. It’s one of those books that I wish I could have written, but I know I could not have written it. I’m looking forward to my boy getting old enough so I can read this to him, which is in some ways the best compliment I can give to a book.
Meeting Patrick was an absolute pleasure. I’m so honoured that he managed to fit me into his busy schedule. I look forward to reading anything else he releases.
Now Worldcon is over, Rothfuss will be back in the US for PAX Prime, from August 29 until September 1 in Seattle. For more information, check out his website. Patrick’s novels are available on Lovereading.co.uk, the UK’s No1 book recommendation site.