diumenge, 12 d’abril de 2015

Patrick Rothfuss: “I doodled ‘Kvothe’ in a notebook in high school calculus”

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                                                      Photo: Anna Guxens.


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When I see Patrick Rothfuss (Madison, 1973) for the first time I can’t help feeling for a second like the Chronicler, avid to know the story of this writer that has seduced with his prose several generations all over the world. The fact that we meet in the Hotel Palacio de Ferrera of Avilés instead of the Waystone Inn or that we don’t have three days to talk about his literary universe but less than an hour doesn’t really matter since talking with Patrick Rothfuss it is so interesting itself that it is not hard to forget everything and let yourself flow with his witty answers that are, in a way, like little stories themselves.

“It’s been a weird couple of years”, says Rothfuss when I congratulate him for the success of his work, The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy, of which he has already published the first two volumes: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. They’ve definitely had to be crazy as he has not only been writing the third and last book of the series, but also found time to prepare for the recording of his first audiobook, collect funds for social causes, he has two kids, he has given the green light to turn his books into a television show and has published no less than two more books: The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle and The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a spin-off centered around Auri’s character.
Adria’s News interviews Patrick Rothfuss, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest fantasy writers of today, at the Celsius 232 Festival in order to ask about how Kvothe’s character was born, to know if Rothfuss was more like Hemme or Elodin during his university professor years and to see what he has planned to write once he finishes The Kingkiller Chronicle. However, Rothfuss tells me that for a while he had the habit of telling one lie in every interview just because he was getting really bored. We hope this is not the case.

The Name of the Wind is your first book and it’s a huge best seller. How is meeting success so early on in your career?
Well, I heard George R.R. Martin say in an interview: “I wrote for 40 years, so that I can be an overnight success”, you know? And it’s not really true with him, because people who read in the genre, of course they’d known about George R.R. Martin for a while, but for me, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s about being published. I started writing this book back in 1994, you know? So I wrote down for 14 years and then I was published. Did it happen fast? Yes. It is a ridiculous amount of success? Yes. And if it had happened all in six months it would have just crushed me, but there is a little thing, and then you get used to it. And then, a couple months later, you get another piece of news; and then, another couple of months later, you get something else... And the other thing is, being a successful writer isn’t like being a movie star. You don’t get recognized on the street… But yes, it’s been a weird couple of years.

I heard you reading The Adventures of the Princes and Mr. Whiffle in Barcelona. Since The Kingkiller Chronicle is also told like an oral story, I have to ask you if you feel more like a storyteller or like a writer.
I don’t know about “what I feel like”, but I am a storyteller. You’ll learn that as this interview goes on. It’s really hard for me to just answer a question. I always tell a little story. And I think I make a pretty good writer because I am a storyteller, most of what I am good at has to do with telling stories, involving people in the chair. It’s mostly telling stories there, too. It’s the story of how this world’s improves someone’s life. Even on social media, a little tweet is a story. It’s just a very different kind of story.

This is interesting, because there actually was this micro tweet contest prior to this festival that wanted to incentivize people’s creativity. In fact, you brought up the prompt: “I saw the smoke a mile from the top of the hill. Not to much, but people said Vaed was not precisely a big city…” I’d like to know how would you continue it in a tweet, too.
I didn’t have to! [Laugh] Well, and the truth is it’s been really crazy for me these last couple of months because I’ve had a deadline, another deadline, and another deadline, finishing up this book. And in the US I am reading my own audiobook for the very first time, so I’ve been getting ready for that, and we are doing illustrations for the Auri book, so I’m working with my friend and illustrator. I’ve never done that before! And it’s all in a very tight deadline, so I’ve been very busy, and we just did another fundraiser, and I’ve got two kids, and I’ve been planning this trip... All came at the same time. So when they said: “Can you give us a beginning of a story in a tweet?” I said yes, but I did not know that the context was to finish the story in a tweet. I thought people were going to pick the first couple of lines and then write their own stories, so that’s not a good beginning to a two-sentence story, so I feel bad about people trying to go with that.

Struggle “I have a lot of trouble putting titles on my books”

Photo: Anna Guxens.

Why did you decided to have each book of The Kingkiller Chronicle start and finish in the same way? With the three silences…
That’s a fair question, but you won’t have an interesting answer, or rather it would be an interesting answer to a few particular people. It would almost be talking like computer coding. They’d say, “How do you code this?” And there’s a few computer coders out there that might want hearing me talk about closure of story and shape of things, but it’s very fiddly stuff. It’s not that I wanna hide that from you, but that’s a boring story.

Let’s move on, then. There are a lot of tales and songs within your story. How do you work with them? Is more you say: “I need a tale here, let’s think about it” or like “I have a tale, let’s put into my story”, somewhere…
In some ways it doesn’t really matter if I came of the book first or the opposite. The purpose of it is always to make the world richer, which is the same reason that I put most things in the book, but it’s not just that. Think about this world. You could understand the economy, you could understand who is in power… Look at the hotel we are in. You can understand the history of this place: it was a monastery, and it was a castle, and then they renovated now to a hotel. And you could learn all about this town, but you wouldn’t really be able to say that you could understand this city, or the people in this city if you didn’t know what movies they watched. You just couldn’t understand that. I mean, honestly, you can’t understand people today if you don’t understand that like 70% of them have smartphones. That’s how people communicate.

So it’s about expanding the world in all the levels possible…
Yes, but it’s not just about expanding it, but making it clear what they lives would really be like. These days we watch Buffy, the Vampire Slayer if we are sane, good-minded people, but back in the day, there was no cable, there was no radio. What did you do? You listen to songs that people sing; you listen to stories that your friends tell in the bar. Why? Because they are your friends, but also because there isn’t anything else. This is the only information that have about the world, and that is almost impossible for people today to understand, because now somebody can write an article in Indonesia and you can read it in Iowa in ten minutes. If somebody doesn’t know something, they can look on Wikipedia. For most people, imagining living in a world where big parts of history simply aren’t know, where you can hear about a war and all you know is just pure rumor, it’s alien for almost everyone who is living in most of the first world today.

Illustrated books “Just because something has pictures doesn’t mean it is for kids”

In your books names are very important. Then, I have to ask why you picked up Kvothe?
[Laugh]. That’s an embarrassing story. I doodled it in a notebook in high school calculus. I was just drawing letters and I spelled Kvothe. I went, “That’s an interesting name!” And it stayed in my head. Years later, when I was in college and I started writing the story I picked Kvothe [Laugh].

Talking about names, the trilogy was first called The Song of Flame and Thunder. Did you change it because of the similarity of A Song of Ice and Fire?
Yes, I did. And that was the title way back in 1994. I changed it because of Martin’s thing and also because it was not a particularly good title [Laugh]. It had many, many titles over the years. I have a lot of trouble putting titles on my books.

There’s one book left but there are a lot of things yet to be. Kvothe has to kill a king, steal a princess, talk to Gods… Are you sure there won’t be a fourth book?
Three books. Three books.

In the end of The Wise Man’s Fear Kvothe says: “I’d better stop telling the story because things get darker”. Will the last be the darkest one, then?
I don’t talk about what’s coming in the book. At first, I was thinking, “How much I can tell? How much I can share?” And I realize, “Nothing”, because I got a lot of very smart fans. At one point I did an interview and I was talking about my revision process. And I said that I had added Auri, at one point. And so people went online and said, “There was no Auri in the first draft, so it means she can’t be important in the story”. And I thought, “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

Stardom “Being a successful writer isn’t like being a movie star”


Photo: Anna Guxens.

That’s speculating too much, maybe…
It’s fair to speculate and I do love the fact that they do speculate, but sometimes they get a piece of information and they assume a bunch of things, and I am worried about ruining people’s experience of the story. I did an interview in England. See? All my answers are stories…

I like that!
I was in England and they said, “Give us a little teaser!” And I said, “I don’t do that. You really wanna know?” And they said, “Yes, I don’t mind spoilers” So I went ahead. “Kvothe dies. That’s the end” I mean, it ends on a down note. And she looked at me, and she is like, “Really?” and I said “No, I am not gonna tell you anything about the third book, because you have to read it!” [Laugh] The thing is any little thing that I say could be taken the wrong way and you only get one chance to read something for the first time and I don’t wanna spoil anyone’s chance to read this and enjoy it in their own way the first time.

Then I won’t ask who is Master Ash…
Exactly, exactly! [Laugh]

It’s interesting what you say, because we can see this in your books too. Kvothe tells a lot of stories of himself. Some are true, some are false; he sometimes is seen as a hero, other times as a demon… That’s the power of stories, rumors and speculations, but what was really the purpose of using this kind of meta-literature?
I wouldn’t say what’s the purpose of having all these stories. That assumes I have an ulterior motive, like I want you to realize there’s a moral or achieve some effect, but truthfully, in most important ways, the story is the purpose. The story isn’t what I am using to get to the purpose; the story itself is the purpose. I guess in that respect I might be different from some writers.

Quotes “Any little thing that I say in an interview could be taken the wrong way”

In April 2006, you said in an interview that in The Wise Man’s Fear we’d know more about why Kvothe is called the Kingkiller, but I don’t have the sense I know more of this aspect, I’m afraid…
I need to see exactly what that interview was and what the question was, and the context was. Also, for a while I had the habit of telling one lie at every interview just because I was getting really bored [Laugh]. And I would usually say at the end of the interview I told one lie. Feel free to figure out which is by yourself. But I need to see that in context to explain, especially if it was back in 2006, since it is before The Name of the Wind came out, so I wouldn’t trust this information at all...

I assume you don’t know yet when the last book will be released…
If we had a date, I would happily share it with you.

New Regency Productions and 20th Century Fox TV will turn your book into a TV show. What can you tell us about this?
There’s a screenwriter involved who I really enjoy, who is a great writer, and who is a proper geek for the books [we assume he is talking about Eric Heisserer, the lead screenwriter back in July 2014, when the interview has held, but who has now given up the project]. A producer just came in who also is a big fan of the books and really understands why they’re good. So having those two people involved is wonderful and makes me feel better about the project. Am I hopeful? Yes, but I am also a realist from way back. That’s how I managed to work on the book for 14 years and stay sane. The secret was I didn’t think, “I’m gonna get this published”. I knew that the odds said I wouldn’t get it published. I mean, most people’s don’t get their books published and most people’s books don’t get make into TV shows either, even if you sell them, and even if you have a couple of people who you really like at the team. So I’m hopeful, but the smart money says it won’t happen.

Music “I would dearly love to be able to play guitar”

Photo: Anna Guxens.

At one point you said you wanted Natalie Portman to be Denna, although maybe now she is already a bit old for the part. Do you have an actor to play Kvothe in mind or any other characters?
Yes, I did imagine her as Denna, a while ago. But, you know? There are actors that I like but it’s had for me to think of them in these particular roles just because they are good actors. I mean, Edward Norton is an amazing actor, Nathan Fillion… I love Nathan Fillion, but whom would he play? There is a real art to casting. I could pick some, but I don’t do that very much and I don’t have any ideas who would be a good Kvothe. For that one I would like to see somebody who had like honest to good acting experience, not someone who is just pretty…

Maybe a stage actor, especially since Kvothe is quite related to the theatre himself.
Yes, a stage actor, yes! [Laugh]. And it would be nicer if he could play a little bit of a musical instrument. Expecting him to really be able to play, no, but he needs to be able to portray a real musician, which is something really hard to sell if you are not one. That would be nice.

Really hard to sell, but I bought the musical parts you wrote, being a musician myself…
[Laugh]. That makes me proud!

However, you are not a musician, so I wanted to know which instrument would you like to play?
If I could choose one, I’d pick guitar. That’s easy to see in the book. I would dearly love to be able to play guitar. I tried a couple of times but it did not come easy…

Poetry “You need to love something to make fun of it properly”

Kvothe is not very fond of poetry. Do you hate it too?
You’ll see it a lot of times, authors would be quoted on Goodreads or online something one of their characters said in a book, and that’s really dangerous. If a character says something, that’s not me saying that, and truth is I’ve read a lot of poetry back in the day. You need to kind of love something to make fun of it properly.

Is the Kingkiller Chronicle autobiographical in any sense?
No. Kvothe and I share some characteristics and that’s a good example of how someone can look at the information and just draw an assumption that is so, so long. When they go, “Oh, Pat Rothfuss went to college for 12 years, and Kvothe...” I wrote most of the first university part when I had only been at college for two years. And by the time I was in college for eight years, I was doing other stuff and writing other parts of the book.

It’s interesting because you first studied chemical engineering and clinical psychology before majoring in English. I feel I can see them three in your work in the way you describe all the sympathy matters, the emotional moments and the development of the different languages…
Languages are faked. Tolkien created real languages. I faked them. I’m not like Tolkien in that. I have a vocabulary, but I don’t understand how grammar works so, as you can tell if I try to speak any Spanish, I have words and I go, “word, word, word, word, word”, but they don’t fit together in any pretty way.

Leaving languages apart, I thing one of the strongest points of your books is how you depict emotions. I don’t know if the study of clinical psychology helped or not, but I could really connect to Kvothe’s emotional journey…
Thank you. But I actually think it is a logical fallacy; it’s false caused. There’s a bunch of logical fallacies. One of them is like when two things happen and you go, “Ah! These two things happened, so this one made this one!” But the truth is I am very interested in people, and thus, I studied phycology, and because I am very interested in people, I also like to write about people, or rather then I think about people and then I write about people. And so those all stamp from this common cause; it is kind of invisible, but it make sense like you’d want to arrange this like one made the other. But no, I don’t actually think that studying psychology is a good way to try to really understand people. You can understand humanity, but a person is a very different thing.

Writing “If your plucky young hero goes off and saves the world, what do you do in the second book?”

Photo: Anna Guxens.

You also are a university Professor.
I have been… Not anymore.

What kind of Professor were you? More like Hemme, like Elodin?
More like Elodin... [Laugh]. I was either a very good professor or a bad professor, depending on whom you asked. There was nobody in the middle. They all really liked me, or they though that I was awful.

Kvothe is often afraid of not being able to pay university fees. Is this a protest for the high costs of enrolling at United States universities?
No. I don’t proselytize so much. I don’t want to preach about something in the book. What happens in a lot of fantasy novels is that at the end of the first novel your plucky young hero goes off and saves the world, and then what do you do in the second book? You’ve already saved the world! You can’t threaten the world again and again! What happens is that if you have already saved the world and destroyed whatever huge evil there is, how do you threaten the character, and how do you bring intention to the story after that? How do you make the reader nervous? That’s what happens in a lot of fantasy books, so I thought I don’t want this character to become so powerful, I want to tell a small story.

Make it human…
Exactly, make it human, make him a real person, and so anyone who has ever in life had not enough money knows that this is a big deal, and I mean, these days it’s bad enough, but you go back a couple hundred years, and it was a huge deal. There was nobility, the laws were not the same for everyone and there was no middle class... So I wanted to bring that in as a reasonable threat that hopefully people could emphasize with, cause it’s a little closer to our own experience.

Teaching “I was either a very good professor or a bad professor, depending on whom you asked”


A different thing about your book compared to others is the inclusion of interludes. How do you work with them in terms of when to throw them and what to put in them?
[Thinks for a while] Everything is in service to the story. That’s the easy useless answer. And then like what do they do in the story, there it starts to get technical. If the people that are going to be reading this interview are writers, I can talk about some of those particulars, but it’s gonna be about as interesting as hearing how to clean a carburetor. It’ll end up being a little technical, but honestly, I don’t know if I can in a tight way explain that in an interesting way.

I’ve read you have already written the three installments of The Kingkiller Chronicle, but I assume if you haven’t published the third one yet is because you want to do more revision, right?
It’s not ready. So I wrote a draft of all three. Have you done any writing?

Yes.
Like novels?

Yes.
So I suppose you had a first draft once.

Yes, and I rewrote the whole thing from zero a couple of times.
There you go. But imagine doing that a hundred times. Plus it is a really big story. And again, in the first version of this there was no Inn, there was no Bast, and in a later version, there was no Auri, there was no Devi, he didn’t borrow money... I go in to add tension, I go in to emphasize character, and I go in to add action and remove things out so the pacing is better. And everyone says, “If you have written the whole story why don’t you publish the last book right away?” Those people don’t know anything about writing. And the other part of it is that it was done pretty much as well as I could do in the year 2000. But the first two books have changed so much; also, I am a much, much better writer now, so I have to bring the level of the writing up to what I am capable of.

Opinion “If a character says something, that’s not me saying that”

Photo: Anna Guxens.

You also have The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which is not published yet [remember the interview is held in July 2014], and The Lightning Tree, which is unavailable for Spanish readers yet. Are they completely standalone stories or will they give us hints of the ending of your saga?
The Lightning Tree can stand by itself. Someone can come in, read that and enjoy it without reading any of the other books. You’ll get a bit more out of it if you have, though. With The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I actually wrote an author’s note at the beginning of the book, which says, “You might not want to buy this book if you never read my other books”. It would not make sense. If you are curious about Auri, if you are curious about the Underthing, if you want to read some sort of a different story, a strange story, then it is a story for you. But if you are looking for more of Kvothe’s story, it’s not that. This is about Auri.

You say The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle is not a book for children…
Have you read it?

Not yet.
You can answer this question yourself if you read the book. You can flip through it in a couple of minutes. Just because something has pictures doesn’t mean it is for kids.

Sure, you just have to look at Miyazaki’s movies, like Spirited Away
Absolutely. It’s a wonderful movie!

TV Show “For Kvothe’s character I don’t want someone who is just pretty”

At the beginning of the interview you said you had just send a manuscript of something. Was it a story with illustrations too?
Well. It’s gonna be a completely different thing. The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle is a picture book: a picture, one line of text. This is a lot of text with a few illustrations, and illustrations are nothing like the ones you can find in The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle.

If this interview were a tale, or a story, how would you conclude it?
Well… It’s not! [Laugh]. Mostly because a story has a narrative line, a story has a beginning and ending, and when I write an interview, I can do that, I have an arch and I can mention things and build up. That’s why I tell little stories as an answer for each question. Each answer might have a little arch, might be a little story in itself, but the overall thing, the technical term for that would be a picaresque. In the narrative frame it’s a series of things happening as somebody travels. And that’s what an interview is like. It’s not a narrative arch. On the contrary, it’s more like wandering around and getting interesting things, and those stories usually don’t just end by somebody actually stopping [Laugh].

Then, I will carry on for one more question. After The Kingkiller Chronicle will you keep writing in the same world, picking secondary characters as the new main ones, or will you move towards something completely different?
That’s so far away! After The Kingkiller Chronicle my project will be to have a long nap. But to plan beyond that would be borrowing trouble, because then, in five years, someone would say: “You did an interview in 2014 and you said…” No, no, no, no! [Laugh].

Future “After The Kingkiller Chronicle my project will be to have a long nap”


Rothfuss with the interviewer, Adrià Guxens.                Photo: Anna Guxens.


1 comentari:

  1. Gracias, Adria! Great interview.

    I met Pat at a conference. He is an amazingly nice guy!

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