In 2007, fantasy readers were mesmerized by Patrick Rothfuss's expansive and electrifying debut novel, The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss continued his Kingkiller Chronicles with The Wise Man's Fear (2011) and an associated novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (2014).
Now, on the tenth anniversary of The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss has released a hardcover edition of the book with additional gorgeous art and extensive appendices.
Rothfuss began his book tour in Seattle, where I got the chance to sit down with him and talk about the new illustrated edition, the pressure of thousands of readers waiting for his next book, and the revelations that have come from working with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Patrick Rothfuss: In many ways it’s been in process since I started it, since the appendices are part of the world that I created long before the book was ever published. Codifying and finalizing some of the details in the appendices—most of that process started this year. We’ve already done things like made replica coinage, and so I knew what those looked like. For the calendar, I’d already roughed out what a calendar page looked like long ago, and I use it to keep track of how time passes in my world. So a lot of that work had been done a long time ago, but that was mostly for me. Putting it out there for the whole world and sort of finalizing it and nailing it down…that’s a bit of a nerve-racking process because once it’s out there, I don’t really get to fiddle with it anymore.
But it’s still an expansive of world, right? You can keep adding to it.
I think “expansive” is a fair description of it, yes.
How did you go about working on the illustrations?
There were actually a couple of illustrators. There’s Dan Dos Santos, who I talked with at the beginning of the project and then touched based with at various points during the project. The person that did the maps with me and illustrated the appendices, I worked with very closely because I’ve done many, many projects with him. His name is Nate Taylor. He did the original maps for the books way back in the day, to say nothing of the illustrations for The Slow Regard of Silent Things. And we collaborated together on our not-for-children picture books, the Princess and Mr. Wiffle books. Nate and I have done a bunch of stuff together, and he’s my go-to guy when I need something illustrated. He always surprises me with how versatile he is. He had the unenviable job of drawing things with no photo referent where I wanted it to look realistic. He had nothing to draw from. But he could still do it wrong. He could draw it but I would say, “No, it doesn’t actually look like that.” And then he says, “Well, what does it look like?” and I’m like, “Well, that…but different.” He is a saint for putting up with me over all these years.
Yes, I would imagine it would be hard to try to get into your mind and figure out what you’re actually thinking and put that on paper.
Yes, and Nate is very good at it. The reason I keep going back to Nate is that when Nate adds a little flourish, 90 percent of the time it’s something I wish I had thought of myself. And he really loves the world and he really knows it inside out. And he’s very tolerant of my pickiness, so it’s a very good partnership. We will be doing more stuff in the future. We’re talking about a comic. It’s just an issue of when or where we put that out.
Speaking of comics, comics artists and writers often refer to themselves as “creators.” What you’ve created has now expanded so far off of the page. Do still think of yourself immediately as a writer? Or do you think you’re moving into “creator” territory?
Oh, I don’t worry so much about what I’m called. There’s probably a long road of misery if you obsess too much about that sort of thing. Am I a “content creator”? That’s just a gross term.
[Laughs] “Content creator” is so terrible.
I think “writer” is pretty all-encompassing. And I’m proud of being a writer. I don’t feel the need to gild that lily at all and claim to be a “creator” or an “executive story editor” or something like that.
You’re working with Lin-Manuel Miranda on developing your books for the screen. Can you tell me what stage that’s in?
Nope. Lin is working with me and with Lionsgate in order to develop the books for movies and television and videogames. He is a super-fan. He loves my stuff. I love his stuff. I have an incredible amount of respect for him. For Lin, I would use the word “creator,” because he does more things than just write. He also composes, and he is a performer. But it’s a delight. It’s a delight getting the excuse to just spend time with him or work together on a project.
What brings you joy from writing?
Boy, that’s a tricky one. Joy has not been a priority in my life for a while. I’m sorry if that’s a very depressing thing to say, but I’d rather be honest than paint you some broad, colorful, bullshittery picture.
The raw truth of it is that I was probably happier before I was ever published. I am not the sort of person who has ever sought out or enjoyed responsibility, but I’m from the Midwest and I come from a Germanic family, and that means I take responsibility and duty very seriously. So when suddenly I had a platform to speak from, and many people who loved these books, there’s a burden of responsibility there. It’s a very fortunate burden in some ways, but I spent fourteen years writing these books purely for the love of it. And then when you have to do something, it really changes your brain chemistry. A lot of people don’t understand my context until you say, “Do you like having sex?” And everyone’s like, “Yeah, everybody likes having sex, for the most part.” And then you say, “Oh, okay. Imagine getting paid for it, and now you have to do it on stage.” Suddenly the thing that I spent so long doing as a hobby and a labor of love…Well, now I have to a contract. I owe people a book.
And then there’s just life. Life gets in the way. I love my charity that I run, but it’s a burden of responsibility, too. I would not give those things up for the world, because the charity does bring me joy. But all the things required to support it are a lot of work.
I don’t mean to say that this is entirely without joy. I am joyful when people find joy in my books. Some of the most honest and pure joys that I’ve had from the experience of being published is getting to meet genuinely lovely people. And some of them have been my readers, and some of them have been fellow professionals. I’ve gotten to meet really lovely authors who I’ve admired for years. And occasionally there’s somebody who’s legit famous, who it turns out that they like my books, too. So then I get to hang out with Lin-Manuel Miranda just a little bit. There’s genuine joy in that.
I remember watching Lin host Saturday Night Live. And he was having so much fun. It was obvious that he was just over the moon, and he was delighted, and he was goofing off and he was having such fun. And I remember thinking, “He’s enjoying this so much more than I ever could.” And then I thought, “You know, my life is pretty good too. Why don’t I enjoy more of it?” And I thought, “Why don’t I do that? Why aren’t I like that? Maybe I can be more like that.” And I try.
My constant quest is to try to be a little more joyful and follow his example, rather than be dour and diligent and plodding, like my Germanic upbringing encourages me to be.
I know a couple of authors have their secret projects that they write. They’re under contract, they know they have to get their book out, but they have a secret crazy thing that they spend a little time on it. But to your point, there’s no joy in having pressure on you, even if it’s to do something you like.
Yeah. Everyone knows this—but psychologists have terms for it—that when anyone is pressured or pushed into doing something, we rebel. Our minds actively resist that. Luckily, my editor has supported me. She saw me just tearing myself up, physically and psychologically, before Wise Man’s Fear came out, and she’s like, “We need to take more time.” And she gave me more time. And so the second book…I’m very proud of. Otherwise, that would have been the end of my career, because it would have come out late and bad if I’d had any other editor.
It doesn’t help either that the world is such a hot goddamn mess right now. Just last night [on October 9] we launched a charity for Puerto Rico because our government is shitting its pants. You can quote me on that one. It’s shitting its pants in terms of providing essential services for that part of our country. And so on two hours of sleep, the day before my book tour starts, I’m on the phone with my team at Worldbuilders, and I’m like, “We have to do something.” And so we did. And I love being able to help but it kind of sucks being able to help. It’s so awful to say! [Laughs] But if you can help, you should help. And if you should help and you don’t help, you’re an asshole. And I’m constantly trying to find that line in my life between taking care of myself and taking care of the world. And I’m bad at it so far.
If your charity, Worldbuilders, is now helping Puerto Rico on the spur of the moment, what does Worldbuilders normally do?
Traditionally we focus on supporting Heifer International, which works all over the world in dozens of countries, including the U.S., to promote sustainable agriculture and education. It gives people the tools so that they can help themselves. They provide baby chicks so that a family can have eggs to eat and chickens, or a goat so that a family can have milk that the kids can drink and the family can sell. It’s effectively like giving a family a small business that then gives birth to other small businesses. And they’re amazingly effective about eliminating poverty and hunger all over the world. And so we focus on several big fundraisers every year, the biggest of which is right around the holidays. I think we’ve raised more than $6 million for Heifer International so far, not counting other things that we’ve done, like helping Syrian refugees or supporting First Book or working with Puerto Rico.
“Take care of my bear...”
I got excited. I thought for a moment, “Patrick Rothfuss has a bear?!”
Let’s start that as an urban legend about me:
Yes, the reason why I still live in small-town Wisconsin is because it provides amply wooded acreage for my bear sanctuary.
I’m sure you travel with your bear, too.
Well, it’s hard. If I’m going on a long trip, I can’t take the bear. Sometimes it shows up at events with me, but by and large, they are happier at home.
Here’s another one: “If you could speak the name of something, what would it be?” …And do you get this question all the time?
I do get this question all the time. I’d pick my own name.
“What would produce better liquor: chemistry or alchemy?”
Well, it depends on what you mean by “better.” I would say there’s a third option there, and it’s artistry. People who really care about their alcohol, like “Oh, this whiskey is so peaty with an afterfinish of burnt phonebook and marmot.” People who enjoy things on that level…it’s not really about the chemistry so much as about a certain level of artistry either in producing this stuff or in bullshitting about it on a label. But you could produce extraordinarily interesting alcohols with alchemy primarily because they would not be limited by the effect produced just by alcohol.
The final question from Facebook is “Does it feel like it’s been ten years?”
In some ways no, and in other ways yes. The time really does burn by when all of these things are going on. But no, no, it doesn’t. There was an episode of Buffy where somebody dies. They’re talking about death, and Amber Benson’s character, Tara, says, “It happened to me, too.” And someone else says, “What was it like? Was it fast, or was it slow?” And she goes, “It was fast. And slow.”
What do you read to relax?
These days I read a lot of comics. A lot of comics. It engages a different part of my brain. I came to comics very late. There’s a lot of good stories happening there that I very much enjoy. Gail Simone is doing some wonderful stuff, and Matt Fraction, and Kelly DeConnick. Just so many good stories out there.
Did you read Bitch Planet?
Oh, yes. Worldbuilders and our associated store produces merchandise for Bitch Planet. It’s another thing that we do, because Worldbuilders knows that authors could really use a secondary revenue stream, but they don’t want to spend all of their time with bubble mailers in their living room. We produce merchandise and we give these creators a better piece of the action than they would get anywhere else. We ship stuff out for them so the fans get cool, well-produced things that are not going to be some cheap plastic that’s going to fall apart in two months. And all of the other revenue goes to support Worldbuilders, the charity. That’s actually something that’s brought me a great deal joy over the years, too—the fact that we’ve been able to team up with people like that and then help them, help the charity, help people, help the fans…It’s one of those wonderful, everyone wins situations.
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