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Interview: Patrick Rothfuss By Alethea Kontis

The first time I saw Patrick Rothfuss, he appeared on my desk, cloaked all in black, with one of the largest post-it notes I’ve ever seen plastered to him. The novella-length sticky was handwritten from the publisher rep specifically to me, gushing about how this new guy was the greatest thing since sliced bread and would I pleasepleaseplease read The Name of the Wind and let them know what I thought? 

It’s not the first time a publisher has fawned over an author, but it is rare for a publisher to fawn over an SF/F author. I read the note again and said aloud the same thing I said when I picked up one of the TWO different versions of Patrick’s fabulous debut hardcover release:

Whippersnapper.

I decided I’d like to know a bit more about the wunderkind that is Patrick Rothfuss, so I invited him to meet me at a virtual café with the express purpose of discussing Life, The Universe, and Redheads. He ordered a white chocolate mocha with a shot of blackberry and a cinnamon bun. I ordered an iced vanilla chai and a d20. 

Alethea Kontis: Did you ever play D&D?

Patrick Rothfuss: Ah hell. My secret shame. Here’s the deal. I’ll answer this question if everyone who hasn’t role-played skips to the next question. Alright? 

These days when I roll play, I use Hero system. D&D will always have a special place in my heart, but the mechanics of Hero are much cleaner. They allow a lot more flexibility in character creation, and more versatility in the flavor of the game you want to run. You want to play an X-men game? Hero will let you do that. Want cyberpunk? Steampunk? Star Wars? High fantasy? A young arcanist seeking his fortune in the Four Corners? It’s all good in Hero. 

Over the years I’ve used the Hero system to field test elements of my world before I wrote them into the book. Someday I hope to do a Hero-system sourcebook for my world. Since I’ve already run a decade’s worth of games in my world, I already have the mechanics worked out. I think that would be a blast….

Check out their website if you’re curious.

AK: What character did you play?

PR: For the most part, I played wizards. I will even admit to playing a wild mage whose name was, in fact, Kvothe. But the similarity stops there. You can bet your ass that at no point in this series will Kvothe start running around casting Nahal’s Reckless Dweomer. 

AK: What was your opinion on thieves? (I was always a thief. Being a magic user took too much friggin’ time choosing spells.)

PR: I never played a thief. Which is kinda odd, as Kvothe actually is as much a thief as he is a Wizard. Not that he fits very well into the D&D paradigm at all… 

That’s one of the main failings of D & D in my opinion. The character creation process is not just limited, but rather unrealistic. Why can’t a Wizard learn how to pick a lock? Why can’t a thief learn some Hapkido? Things are better now in the newer editions, but they still aren’t really fluid enough to create the sort of character I really want to play. They can’t really create a character like Kvothe. That’s one of the main reasons I’m in love with hero system. It’s easy to make Kvothe there. It’s easy to make any character. 

AK: What do you suppose is the literary world’s fascination with redheads?

PR: I don’t think it’s just the literary world. All throughout history redheads have always been larger than life. Gilgamesh. Alexander the Great, Ghengis Kahn.  Napoleon, all redheads.  Even Jesus was rumored to have red hair, the deep color of wine. 

In Germanic and Egyptian cultures, redheads were rumored to have magic abilities, and occasionally, killed because of it. In ancient Greece redheads were thought to become vampires after they died. 

Almost every culture has some bizarre belief about redheads, but no matter what the specific detail, it’s usually tied to magic, power, charisma, and usually darker things as well. 

Sound like anyone you know? 

AK: Are you afraid of spiders?

PR: Not for the most part. Not the spiders we get up here in Wisconsin, anyway. 

I went down to Florida for a wedding once and while I was visiting the Weeki Wachee Mermaids, I saw a spider as big as my spread hand hanging out in a web between two trees. I swear this thing would have been big enough to kill and eat a kitten. 

That’s part of the reason I like Wisconsin. Five months of badass winter every year does a lot to keep the bugs in their place. 

AK: How’s your memory?

PR: It’s crap. Pure crap. Especially for names. I can’t remember anyone’s name. I remember the person, but not what I’m supposed to call them.

AK: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?

PR: Hmmm… I live kind of a strange life. You want to narrow it down for me? Care to ask about a particular subset of strangeness? 

AK: Okay, strangest thing profile: Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever slept?

PR: I can’t tell the story that would answer this honestly. The statute of limitations hasn’t expired yet. Ask me again in about… 19 months. 

AK: The strangest thing you’ve learned as an author?

PR: Female Hyenas have a penis. They give birth through it. 

AK: The strangest thing you’ve signed in a book?

PR: I actually wrote a blog about that. You can read it here.

AK: The strangest question you’ve ever been asked?

PR: Normally people write in and ask pretty reasonable questions. When’s book two coming out? Will you sign my copy if I send it to you? Will you read my manuscript? I answer those so often I should really put up an FAQ. 

But there are a handful of… different questions mixed in. So far the oddest one was from a girl who was coming to a family reunion in Wisconsin. She…  ah hell. Maybe I’ll just let you see it. 

so i know you are all “famous author” guy who is nominated for a Quill award, which is awesome, but you live in WI too and that is the subject here. I am at a family reunion right now staying in a cabin with like..20 family members 5 minutes outside of Oxford. So i kept seeing signs for Steven’s Point and i couldn’t figure out how i knew that name. then my uncle is talking about how “if you got about 20 minutes (leave room for embellishment) that way it is flat as can be.” anyway then i figured it out and decided to message you.

do u know of any sporting goods stores near here to get a soccer ball? i know that there is a wal mart supercenter in portage but we had to go there yesterday and i have this issue with going to wal mart too much, as do most people. anyway, i was going out on a limb. i doubt you play many sports, dont be offended

Yeah. Witness a little moment of my surreal life. 

AK: Hah! Okay, how about the strangest thing you’ve ever done to inspire yourself to write?

PR: Heh. Another question best answered by the blog I wrote on the subject. I don’t know if this counts at the strangest, but it’s certainly the most recent…http://www.patrickrothfuss.com/blog/2007/07/science.html

AK: Was it a conscious decision to make the chapters so short?

In general, I just let them be whatever length they needed to be. 

But it was a conscious decision to avoid being long-winded. Yes, I know, my book is over 650 pages. But you’ll notice that very little of that is the classic boggy description and narration that so many fantasy novels get mired in. God bless granddaddy Tolkien, but that’s one piece of his style that I wish people would stop emulating. Yes. The grass lush and inviting. We get it. Move on. 

AK: Your book is available in two different covers. Which is your favorite? What is your favorite cover of another author’s book?

PR: Hmmm. It’s hard for me to really pick one as a favorite, as I like them both for different reasons. 

Name - Kvothe.jpg

In terms of selling the book, this book tends to be double or nothing. People tend to love this cover, or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Also, I’ve always worried that it gives the wrong impression of the book. It looks vaguely romancy, and if people read my book looking for a classic fantasy romance, they’re not going to get it. 

You’ve got to admit though. This Kvothe is pretty hot. Also, the artist, Donato, did an incredible job with the detail work. Look at the pegbox of the lute and Kvothe’s hands. They’re gorgeous. I can barely draw a stick-figure, so someone with his amount of talent is effectively a magician to me. 

Name - Gargoyle.jpg

This one people refer to as “the Gargoyle cover” or “the angry stone man cover.” It’s a safer cover, by which I mean it doesn’t really turn anyone off. No 16 year old boy is going to shy away from it out of fear that someone will tease him for reading it in public. 

Other plusses include the fact that it’s atmospheric, mysterious, and in keeping with the title of the book. It’s also a little more mainstream looking, so people who don’t ordinarily go in for fantasy might be willing to give it a try. 

It also, quite by coincidence, looks more than a little bit like me. 

AK: Which science fascinates you most?

PR: I don’t think I could pick a favorite. I really dug chemistry in high school. And physics. But whenever I end up getting into something new I find it really interesting. I remember when I had to take Astronomy 101 as a GDR in college. I was pissed, of course, and I considered it a waste of my time. 

But that only lasted for about 20 minutes. As soon as I was in the class I couldn’t help be fascinated. Pretty much everything is interesting once you get into it. 

AK: What kind of a student were you in school?

PR: It depends. If you’re talking about completing homework and living up to my potential, then I was probably a bad student. But I was interested and polite, and I liked my teachers. I just wasn’t really motivated to impress anyone. 

I had mad scientist tendencies back in high school. Once in Physics we had to create a rube Goldberg machine machine. We were supposed to build a contraption using five or six simple machines. Mine had thirty eight. 

Needless to say, it was a disaster on a grand scale. When it failed for the third time in class I flew into a rage and destroyed it. Apparently the physics teacher still shows the videotape of that to his incoming students. 

AK: Trip “rolls sevens”—do you have a special knack for anything?

(Besides writing, of course…)

PR: Oh boy. The things I’m good at I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about in polite company. 

Let me think…. Oh. I have preternatural bargaining skills. I can sell anything to anyone.

I have also been told on several occasions by several different people that I am the best kisser in the world. 

AK: So, did you not get the memo about never starting your story in a bar?

PR: Oh please, that’s my most minor offense. If you’re going to take a dig at me, make it a good one. C’mon, I know you have it in you. 

AK: What’s next for you? And will it feature a bar and/or a redhead?

PR: Are you making me an offer?

AK: After the kissing comment, I just might. But answer this first: if you could be any superhero, who would you be?

PR: Hmmm….. Emma Frost? Sexy. Super tough. Mind control. Possibly evil….

Yeah. I think I’m going to go with Emma. 

Don’t read too much into that.

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