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A Conversation With Patrick Rothfuss
An interview with Dustin Kenall
April 2008

© Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1973. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1999 with a B.A. in English, returning two years later to teach. After completing an extremely long fantasy novel called The Song of Flame and Thunder, Rothfuss submitted it to several publishing companies, but it was rejected. Finally, DAW Books bought it and split it into a three-volume series entitled The Kingkiller Chronicle, the first installment of which, The Name of the Wind, was published in March 2007.

Patrick Rothfuss Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One)
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One)
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One)

Last year, The Name of the Wind, the first book of a trilogy from debut novelist Patrick Rothfuss, garnered acclaim from fantasy fans, critics, and general readers alike. Along with a Quill award, it captured first place in SF Site's Reader's 2007 Best of the Year. That captured Patrick's attention, and he graciously offered to participate in an interview. Like Kvothe, the larger-than-life protagonist of The Name of the Wind, Patrick is a snappy raconteur.

When you were a university student writing The Name of the Wind, who was your audience?

Honestly, I didn't think much about who I was writing for when I started writing. I just knew I wanted to write something new, and good, and different than the standard cliché fantasy crap.

I do remember that fairly early on someone pointed out that I used the word "alloy" and "counterpoint" in the same sentence. That person pointed out that some people wouldn't actually know what an alloy was. I made a conscious decision right then that my book was written for people who either knew what that word meant, or were willing to look it up.

I've always assumed my audience is clever. That means I don't dumb down my language or over-explain things as if they're idiots. I get tired of that as a reader, so I don't do it in my own writing.

Did you imagine that it would achieve the success, both popular and critical, that it has to date?
Oh hell no. For more than a decade I worked on the book knowing I was more likely to be hit by a bus than get published.

What's your motivation? When Philip Pullman was asked why he became a fiction writer, he answered that he wanted to write stories better than the ones he read.
I think a lot of authors would agree with that, myself included. Though I actually prefer the way that Peter S. Beagle said it when I heard him talk on a panel a couple years ago. He said, "I think we write the books we wish we could read."

When I heard him say that, it was like someone struck a bell in my chest. I thought, "Yes! That's it exactly! That's what I've been doing!"

There's a vein of joyousness that runs through The Name of the Wind. Was the book a pleasure to write or was it a slog?
It was both, of course. I've been sick to death of the book at various points over the years. And I've hated it. But for the most part, I love it. It's like my child.

In my opinion, writing a book is like a relationship. Some people are one-night stand writers: they only do free verse poems with no revisions. Some people aren't good with commitment, and after that first big argument or disappointment, they quit -- those are the people who start novel after novel but never get more than 20 pages in.

Finishing a novel is a lot like making a long-term relationship work, you can't give up just because you get into a snit, or because some prettier story idea comes and shakes its ass in your face. You have to stick with it, work out your problems, have long talks, and, occasionally, get the hell away from each other so you don't go crazy.

The Name of the Wind is your debut work. Is there anything in retrospect that you'd change?
There are few typos, and one or two tiny inconsistencies that nobody but me will ever notice. (They deal with the very fine points of the world I've created.) Other than that, I'm very happy with it. That's the plus side to revising your book for a decade, by the time it comes out, you've worked out most of the kinks.

Anything you're particularly proud of?
So many things.... Authors are always like new parents who want to talk about their babies.

But if I was going to pick one in particular that I'm irrationally fond of, I'd pick Auri. She's a relatively new addition to the book. And from the feedback I've received so far, it's nice to see that my readers like her character as much as I do....

Are there any writers or styles of fantasy/writing that you find tiresome or overrated?
Heh. I like that question, but I can't answer it publicly. It's really bad form to publicly bag on someone's writing. It's one of the first lessons that I learned as a professional writer.

The problem is this. If I point at Joe Wetherson's book, Unicorns and Rainbows, and I say that it sucks, sucks, sucks. I haven't just insulted him. In a way, I've also insulted anyone who liked his book. And I've insulted his editor, his publisher, his agent.... I might want to work with those people in the future.

But you can ask me in person sometime. I'm not bashful at all when it's off the record.

What are you reading now?
Acacia by David Anthony Durham. I feel guilty that it's taken me so long to get around to reading his book, because I met him at a convention a couple months ago and he's a really, really cool guy. I'm only a few chapters in so far, but I'm really liking it so far...

Would you like to continue exploring the Kingkiller world or move onto something new? There's certainly a readership for more of the same -- see the Dune and Foundation ad infinitum serials -- but I've always felt the promise of the new and wonderful more compelling than the lure of the comfortably familiar and good.
There's definitely room for more stories in the Four Corners. I specifically made the world bigger than the story so I'd have room to go back and play there in the future.

But I do have a few other ideas rolling around in my head. One of them is a modern day faerie tale. The other is a satirical urban fantasy set in a college town. Sex, violence and sarcasm. I'd have a lot of fun writing that one....

What other literary forms would you like to try your hand at? Plays, novellas, stand-alone smaller-than-door-stopping novels?
I'm going to adapt the book into a graphic novel pretty soon. That will be fun, and I'll see if I have a knack for that sort of writing....

I'd also like to write for video games. I find the potential for non-linear stories really interesting, and videogames are the best venue for those. Plus I'm good with dialogue, and that's key in a lot of games.

One of the notable aspects of The Name of the Wind is your use of short chapters, in which you display a facility for quickly establishing scenes and then concluding them with impeccable timing. The short story would seem a natural fit with that talent.
You'd think that wouldn't you? [laughs]

Since the book has been really successful, so suddenly I've got some name recognition. That means people keep asking me to contribute stories to their anthologies. When that happens I have to admit that I don't have any stories laying around. If they get pushy, I have to admit that I haven't tried to write a short story in... what? 20 years?

Do you have any opinion on sci-fi novelist David Brin's critique of epic fantasy as a reactionary literary form welded to an atavistic values system?
Hmmm.... I don't really have any opinion. But that's mostly due to the fact that I don't know what the word "atavistic" means off the top of my head.

Sure I could go look it up and pretend to be all smart. Then I could go look up Brin's theory on the incredible, edible interweb. That way I would look all savvy and clued-in.

But honestly, I don't want to. I've read Brin's stuff, and he strikes me as a smart guy, but the fact remains that when a sci-fi author makes a "critique" of epic fantasy, odds are he's not handing out warm fuzzies.

So if I did look it up, odds are it would just piss me off. If he was right, it would probably only piss me off more. Why? Because nobody beats up my little brother but me.

Then, all frothy with indignation, I'd feel obliged to make some sort of case demonstrating how Sci-fi is just as guilty of wankery in another direction. Or I'd try to debunk his theory, or I'd showing that while it might be true in some cases, there are a lot of good authors who blah blah blah....

Too much work. I'm tired just thinking about it. I'd rather put that energy into working on my next book. I'll save my frothy rage and indignation for problems in the real world, like unjust government actions, corporate fuckery, and dogs and cats living together.

What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Strengths: I'm good with character. I'm an obsessive worldbuilder. I like language. And, as you said, I write a good, tight scene.

Weaknesses: Some people might think that I like language a little too much. If you don't love words to some degree, I'm probably not the author for you. Also, I don't tend to write standard connect-the-dots plot. That turns some people off.

I found Kvothe, the mythic hero-figure at the center of The Name of the Wind, reminiscent of a number of New Wave fantasy creations: larger-than-life characters such as Lord tegeus-Cromis from M. John Harrison's Viriconium, Moorcock's Elric, Fritz Leiber's Fafyrd and the Grey Mouser, as well as many of the heroes that David Gemmell loved to model. Did you fashion Kvothe in dialogue with these characters, either as a critique or an homage?
Good guess, but I'm afraid not. I've never read any of those, actually....

Well... that's not entirely true. I did read the first two Elric books a long while ago. I remember that I liked the first one pretty well, but all I remember now is that Elric had a ring with a stone that had something moving around inside it. I thought that was cool. Then I read the second book and was totally thrown off. Suddenly it was like a D&D adventure. They're fighting a living house? What?

I know, I know. They get better. They're awesome. I'll go back and get them under my belt eventually. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Gemmell is the other exception. After my book came out, I had a bunch of people e-mail me and say things like, "You're my favorite author after Gemmell," or "I'm so glad I found you because Gemmell is gone now." So I picked up his first couple books and really liked them. Good stuff, but I only read it after my book was already out.

What kind of music, film, and television do you gravitate to? I noticed you cited The Crow in another interview. Did you ever see Dark City by the same director? Roger Ebert thought it was the best movie of 1998, but it slipped beneath most viewers' radars.
I actually just watched Dark City yesterday, not for the first time. I think it was a good movie, maybe even a great movie: Clever, atmospheric, subtle.... That said, it did have it's problems....

In music, I like lyrics and good vocals, in that order. Paul Simon. The Decemberists. Barenaked Ladies. John Coulton. Tenacious D. Imogen Heap. They Might Be Giants.

Movies: I'm all over the place.

TV: Anything by Joss Whedon, of course. I've also stumbled onto Monk lately; I'm enjoying that. The Office. Avatar: The Last Airbender. Battlestar Galactica. Red Dwarf....

As someone who, like your perpetual University student Manet, took his time before leaving a setting surrounded by books and ideas, what have you found more fulfilling: the pleasure and insight of reading great novels or the satisfaction of writing your own?
Apples and oranges, my friend. Except even more so. More like apples and dumptrucks: they're incomparable. It's like asking, "which do like better: eating or talking?" I can't imagine a life without both. I need both to survive.

The paperback edition of The Name of the Wind was recently released, and a sequel, Wise Man's Fear, is due early next year. If you can't wait that long to get more of Patrick, by all means check up on him at his website:

Copyright © 2008 Dustin Kenall

Dustin Kenall is a lawyer working and blogging in DC. Accordingly, if at any given moment he's not reading or writing, it's probably because he's unconscious. His blog,, is always wide awake, though.

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