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By Rob H. Bedford & Patrick St-Denis (2007-03-26)
Author Web site
Without giving anything away, what can you tell us about your debut, The Name of the Wind?
That's a dangerous question. It's like going up to a new mother and saying, "So, how's the baby doing?" You know her eyes are going to glaze over and she's going to start bubbling over with excited mom news. "The baby did this. The baby said that...."
That's the sort of question you're asking me here. Are you sure you want to go down that road? If you're not careful, I might start pulling photos out of my wallet....
- Perhaps you could just give a spoiler-free synopsis of the novel? Something potential readers could read and be intrigued...
To tell you the truth, I can't summarize my book to save my life. I really, really suck at it. That particular deficiency is probably why I had so much trouble getting an agent back in the day.
If people want to read intriguing synopses, they can go check out what the reviewers and other authors have said about it. They do a better job than I can. I'm just not wired for it.
- What can readers expect from the two sequels and the trilogy that will follow this one?
Well.... I've already written them. So you won't have to wait forever for them to come out. They'll be released on a regular schedule. One per year.
You can also expect the second book to be written with the same degree of care and detail as this first one. You know the sophomore slump? When a writer's second novel is weaker because they're suddenly forced to write under deadline? I don't have to worry about that because my next two novels are already good to go.
- Any tentative titles at this juncture?
I'm thinking of The Wise Man's Fear for book two, and The Doors of Stone for book three. That's pure speculation, mind you. Things change, and if something better gets suggested, we'll go with that.
- The Name of the Wind being your debut, can you tell us a little bit more about the road that you followed to see this manuscript published? I know that it was Kevin J. Anderson who originally put you in touch with Matt Bialer, who became your literary agent.
That's the end of the story, really.
Before that I worked on the story for about seven years. Just me. Then I spent about two years getting rejected by every agent in the known universe. Apparently I can write a quarter-million word fantasy novel, but a decent one-page query letter is beyond me.
Then I won the Writers of the Future contest and met Kevin Anderson. Kevin to Matt. Matt to Betsy Wollheim at DAW, my fabulous editor. Happily ever after.
- Pat, as many fans are aspiring writers, could you perhaps elaborate a bit more on this? This will undoubtedly interest a lot of people.
If you really think folks will find it interesting, sure I'll tell it. But it's a long story, for those of you who don't care, I highly advise that you skip down to the next question:
Okay. I won the Writers of the Future contest, and if that happens, one of the things they do is fly you out to California and treat you to a week's worth of writers' workshops run by various Big-Name authors. In my year we were lucky enough to have Tim Powers running ours. Not only is he a great author, but he's a great teacher on top of it. Those two don't often go together.
Anyway, one day Kevin Anderson comes out and does an afternoon's workshop. He talks about some of his experiences as a writer, some of his philosophy, some of his tricks. Good stuff.
Later on that evening, I wander down to the lobby of the hotel and see him standing there, holding a graphic novel. He smiles and waves and I wander over.
"What's that?" I ask, nodding at the book he's holding.
"Research," he says. "I've got some comic projects coming up, so I figured I should do some reading to see what's on the market right now."
"Well you can't go wrong with Alan Moore," I said.
He agreed, then we talked about Watchmen for a bit. Then we talked about some other comics. Then we talked about what we liked and didn't like. After about five or ten minutes we were still standing in the hotel lobby having friendly geek talk. Kevin says, "I was actually going to go find a place to hang out before dinner. You want to go get a beer?"
Now here's the thing. I don't drink. I don't have a thing against it. I just don't dig it. Caffeine is my real drug of choice. Alcohol has very little effect on me, and what little effect it does have, I really don't enjoy. Plus, I don't like the taste.
So I said, "Yeah. I'd love to go get a beer."
So we went off to the bar and hung out and talked for a couple hours about books. About what we liked and didn't, and what projects Kevin was working on. The man is all over in the publishing world, and always has about three dozen irons in the fire at any one point.
What I didn't do was fall to the floor and clutch at his legs, begging, "Please! I've written a fantasy trilogy and it's really good! I can't get anyone to look at it. I need to get my foot in the door! HELP MEEEE!!!"
That's what I felt like, of course. I'd worked on the trilogy for a decade, and in the past two years I'd been rejected by at least 40-50 agents. I was frustrated as hell. But you don't want to be that clingy, desperate, mewling fanboy. That's not cool.
Aside from making you look like a spaz, it's really counterproductive too. It's like when you haven't had a date in a long time and you get really lonely. All you want is someone to love, but every woman you approach can see the desperation rolling off you like heat-shimmer off summer blacktop. It makes them so uncomfortable they don't want to even be near you, let alone play at snugglebunnies.
I knew that professional authors must have to deal with desperate newbies all the time, and I didn't want to be that guy. So I just hung out and enjoyed his company. He had a bunch of great stories about the publishing world, and I could learn a lot just by listening to him talk about the scene and how he practices his craft.
After half an hour or so there was an opportunity for me to casually mention that I'd already finished a trilogy, so I did. He asked a couple of questions about it, and asked what sort of luck I was having shopping it around. So I told him the truth: I sucked at summarizing/pitching my own book. He gave me some pointers, and we joked about it.
Then the conversation moved on. Of course, I was hoping he'd say something like, "You seem like a nice guy, why don't you give Bantam a call and tell them I sent you."
But he didn't. Later that weekend I hung out with him at a couple of the group dinners and during the award ceremony. We're both good talkers, so it was fun. Good conversation. I got my award, got to see the anthology with my first published story in it, then packed up and flew back home to Wisconsin.
When I got back, there was an e-mail from him saying,
I read your story on the plane home. You're an incredible writer. I know you've written a trilogy. You should really show it to my agent. Is the first book ready to show around? (Hint: your answer to this question is "yes, of course it's ready." And if it's not ready, you work your ass off over the weekend and you get it ready.)
You see? He knew what I was hoping for, but he didn't have any idea what sort of a writer I was. And he also knew what it was like to be a spooked new writer who finally gets the chance to show his novel off. That's why he wrote that parenthetical to me.
So I e-mailed him back and said, verbatim, "Yes, of course it's ready." Then I worked my ass off over the weekend and mailed it off to his agent on Monday.
And Matt eventually accepted me as a client. Then, eventually, we sold it.
But that, as they say, is another story.
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
- Brevity? In a 600+ page novel?
Heh. Yeah. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true. There's a reason everyone comments on the book being such a quick read. It's long, but it's tight. There isn't a lot of wasted space. I don't engage in long, tedious bouts of description or big chunks of explanation. It's efficient.
I think the tendency to over-explain and over describe is one of the most common failings in fantasy. It's an unfortunate piece of Tolkien's legacy. Don't get me wrong, Tolkien was a great worldbuilder, but he got a little caught up describing his world at times, at the expense of the overall story. I love the Lord of the Rings, but those first two hundred pages are kinda slow.
My early drafts of the novel had the same problem, of course. When you're just starting out and you're really proud of the world you've made, you want to share ALL of it with people. However, over the years I've streamlined the book. I probably have a 100,000 words I've trimmed out of this book alone. Sometimes it's whole chapters and scenes. Sometimes it's just snipping a few unnecessary words out of a sentence. But the goal is always the same, make the book clearer, cleaner, faster.
- Kvothe is an incredibly genuine character. Was The Name of the Wind always Kvothe's story?
Absolutely. I knew from the very beginning that the story was going to center around him.
When you read a fantasy novel part of the fun is getting to explore a new world. Everyone knows that. But I believe the same is true about characters. You can explore interesting people in the same way that you explore a town or a culture.
A lot of great stories are like this. Don Quixote is about the adventure, but it's also about the man. Same thing with Cyrano de Bergerac, or Hamlet. If you're looking for something more modern, any one of Robin Hobb's books. Her worlds are richly detailed, sensible and real, but so are her characters. Either one of those is rare, but to get them both in the same writer is near-miraculous. That's why Hobb's books are so great.
Character is half the reason we read. We're excited because of the plot, but we care because of the characters.
Patrick Rothfuss, Rob H. Bedford, Patrick fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com