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By Patrick (2006-06-23)Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write THE SOLDIER SON trilogy in the first place?
Robin Hobb: My books usually are the result of several ideas colliding rather than a single idea sprouting up and taking root. I don't always know all the roots they come from, but in this case I'm aware of at least two of them. One was a portrait in the lobby of a hotel that I stayed in while I was in London. And the other was when we were driving past a French cemetery, with a tall stone wall with iron points on the top. I wondered, "Are we keeping something out or keeping something in?"
Q: Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
RH: I don't spend a lot of time thinking about this, to tell the truth. I write the stories that I want to tell, and I read the stories that appeal to me, and labels don't influence me much in either writing or reading. The 'greats' of any genre transcend genre walls. Terry Pratchett is his own category. So is Stephen King. If you write well enough, the public doesn't care what your roots are. They just want to read a good story. If I want to measure my popularity, then I'm more concerned about the people who walk into bookstores and libraries and walk out carrying one of my books than I am about a critical evaluation or review. I'm not disparaging critics and reviewers. They often have very good insights into books. I am saying that pleasing a critic or breaking out of a genre label isn't high on my list of ambitions. Writing a book you can't put down is. When I look at the bestseller lists, I see SF and fantasy holding down some very high positions. And many writers that hit that #1 spot have elements of fantasy or SF in them, even if the authors and reviewers don't label them as such. So I don't think that the tags matter all that much. I don't think readers go into a store looking for a 'respectable' book. Fiction is more about enjoyment and interest.
Q: Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters do you find the most unpredictable to write about?
RH: All of my characters are unpredictable. If they weren't, writing about them would be far too boring. Just like the friends I choose in real life. If I could predict everything about my characters from the very beginning, then my readers probably could, too. I enjoy writing much more when I don't know every little thing to start with. And I think readers enjoy books that can sometimes startle or surprise them.
Q: What made you choose to write an epic fantasy? Were there any perceived conventions you wanted to twist or break? Why do you think that epic fantasy has such a vast and fractured fanbase -- those who either rabidly support or denounce a particular author?
RH: I wanted to tell a story, and my stories tend to be rather big and sprawling. I don't think I made a conscious decision to tell an 'epic' story. As for questions about the readers supporting or denouncing a story . . . I'm afraid that doesn't come into it for me. When I sit down in front of the keyboard and screen, I'm focused on the story, and writing it in a way that I enjoy. I do want others to read and enjoy the stories, but I don't pay a great deal of attention to readers 'supporting or denouncing' a particular author. I'll admit I go by Amazon and sometimes look at the reader reviews, but they don't really have an impact on the creative process. For one thing, by the time those reviews are posted, it's too late to tailor the book to those readers. They either liked it or they didn't, and there's nothing I can do to change it either way. It's all in the past. Usually, they are talking about a book I wrote at least a year ago, even if it was published only a few days ago. So I don't think there is much point in dwelling on it.
I don't think I could write at all if I were focused on trying to please a particular set of readers. The story really dictates how it has to be told, I think. If I started bending, spindling and mutilating the story in an effort to make it appeal to a particular set of readers, I think I'd end up with a story I despised and one that no one else liked very much.