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The Wise Man's Fear: An Interview with Patrick Rothfuss


How do you follow up a run-away bestselling heroic fantasy novel that catapults you into the spotlight and earns raves from readers hungry for the next Lord of the Rings? If you’re Patrick Rothfuss you spend the next four years carefully perfecting the sequel while publishing a dark “not-for-children” book in the interim.

A certified Best of the Month selection, The Wise Man’s Fear picks up where Rothfuss’s hugely successful The Name of the Wind left off. Rothfuss’s hero, the youth Kvothe, is cast out of his familiar university environs due to a rivalry with a powerful noble. Penniless and alone, Kvothe travels to a far-distant city, only to become embroiled in court intrigues and even more exciting adventures than related in the first volume. Rothfuss’ commitment to telling the story of one man’s journey through life, set against a backdrop of a truly epic fantasy setting, will richly reward readers who enjoy the work of writers like George R.R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson.

Omni interviewed Rothfuss recently via email to talk about the new novel. Do you mind telling Omni readers where you are right now, while answering these questions?

Patrick Rothfuss: Right now I am sitting in a leather armchair in my private study. I'm wearing a silk smoking jacket and drinking cognac while dictating these answers to my personal assistants. It’s been four years since the first volume of the Kingkiller Chronicle came out. Was that kind of interval always part of the plan?

Rothfuss: You're assuming I had a plan. I really didn't. The Name of the Wind was my very first book. That means I'd never written as my full time job before. I'd never written a book to a deadline. I had no idea what I was doing. At first, I was sure I could get the book out in a year. But that was my ignorance and inexperience talking. I had no idea the amount of revision I needed to do to get the second book ready for publication. Has your own perception of your fiction changed as a result of the huge success of the first book?

Rothfuss: My perception of my writing hasn't changed that much. But my perception of my audience has changed a lot. When I was writing the first book, I was writing to an imaginary audience. But there's nothing hypothetical about my readers now. I've met hundreds of them, and I've received e-mail from thousands more. It raises the stakes a lot. Sometimes I've feel like I'm trying to write with a quarter-million people looking over my shoulder. Are there any particular reader reactions that surprised, amused, or horrified you?

Rothfuss: Ninety-nine point nine percent of my interactions with my readers have been delightful. By and large, they're thoughtful, generous, kind people. What's surprised me more than anything is the variety of folks who have read the book. I've been contacted by soldiers who read my book while they were stationed in Afghanistan. I've had ten-year-old girls from Brazil send me letters. I'm amazed at the different people that have enjoyed the book. Their enthusiasm is surprising too. One couple named their baby after a character in my book. Dozens of people have e-mailed me to tell me the dreams they've had about me. It's cool, but strange. Very strange. Dreams aside, how much personal space do you need as a writer?

Rothfuss: Ideally? About 75 feet. That’s the standard answer. So what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in the last four years?

Rothfuss: I tried to make more time for writing by cutting things out of my life. Book two wasn't getting done as quickly as I wanted, so I started trimming. I quit teaching fencing. I quit being advisor to the college feminists. I quit going to bi-weekly game nights with my friends. I had more time to write, but I didn't get more writing done. I got less exercise, had less fun, had less social interaction. I would go days in a row without leaving the house. It wasn't good for me. Not only was it unhealthy on a lot of different levels, but I actually started to resent the book, like it was a jealous spouse that was demanding all my time. That's not how you want to feel about your book. You want to love it. You want to be full of joy when you write it.

Rothfuss-wise Now that The Wise Man’s Fear is finished and published, what do you think makes it different from the first book?

Rothfuss: We see a lot more of the world in the second book. It's got more action. More romance. More excitement. Kvothe is older now, which means he can get into more serious trouble. From a craft point of view, what did you learn?

Rothfuss: So much. More than I could ever hope to tell someone in a short interview. Big things. Many big things. Just last month I taught a writing class at the university. It was a winter class, and the schedule was crazy. Classes were three and a half hours long, eight days in a row. But at the end of every class, all I could think was, "Damn, we didn't have nearly enough time today. There's so much more to talk about." What influence of other writers do you think some readers might be surprised by?

Rothfuss: I was strongly influenced by [the poet] Gwendolyn Brooks... not many folks would guess that off the top of their heads. You’re usually categorized under the term “heroic fantasy.” Have you read Leo Grin’s recent essay at Big Hollywood decrying modern heroic fantasy? Any thoughts about it?

Rothfuss: I'm blissfully unaware of most of what happens in the blogging community. I just don't read blogs. Even the ones I really enjoy, like Neil Gaiman's and John Scalzi's, I only peek at once in a rare while. Strangely enough, though, someone just brought this particular discussion to my attention. They sent me a long email, including a lot of links to other blogs that are continuing the discussion.

I'm insanely busy right now, so I only glimpsed and skimmed a few of the posts. But off the cuff, I'd have to say that Grin is doing the same thing that people have been doing for hundreds of years. He's decrying the death of his beloved art form. This isn't a new hobby. Folk have been doing it for centuries. When Homer wrote the Odyssey, some of his contemporaries probably pitched a hissy fit because it had too much sex in it. Or not enough sex. Or not the right kind of sex. It's just curmudgeonly behavior. Fear of change. Love of the familiar. Same old song, slightly different tune. And, finally, did you realize that you destroyed the last of all that was good and decent in me with your not-for-children’s book The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed? Is this a common result?

Rothfuss: Heh. I've heard similar things in the past. I gave a copy to [Hugo and Nebula Award winner] Paolo Bacigalupi at a recent convention. I think his exact words were, “This book wounded my soul.” Personally, I'd like to see that as a blurb on the cover of the next edition.


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