Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Meeting Patrick Rothfuss




Last night I went with Lionel Spiegel to meet Patrick Rothfuss, who was speaking at a Borders in Northern Virginia. For those of you who are not familiar with him, Rothfuss is one of the leading fantasy writers today. My only hesitation in putting him in the league of Tolkien as one of the greatest fantasy writers ever is that he has only written one book so far, the Name of the Wind. I will say that Rothfuss' Kvothe is the most interesting lead character in a fantasy since Thomas Covenant. Fantasy is a genre that usually focuses on building interesting worlds, populated by odd side characters to take over the story, leaving the main character trapped in the role of hero. It is Rothfuss' gift as a writer that can create a world as interesting as he does with so many great side characters and still have them play second to Kvothe.

I went to the bookstore simply for the pleasure of meeting a man whose work I so admired in the flesh and to hear him talk about his work, perhaps even to catch an unguarded slip as to what is going to happen in his next book, Wise Man's Fear, which fans have been waiting three years now for. What I was completely unprepared for was how much fun Rothfuss was in person as he mixed responding to questions with reading various pieces of his, including a pathologically hilarious gerbil story and yes the prologue of his next book. Writing is a solitary task and one has no reason to expect authors, even those who can create personable characters, to have it themselves. Watching Rothfuss, I was struck by the fact even if he lacked the romance cover long red hair of Kvothe, (in fact the original cover for the book was dropped because it looked too much like a romance novel) here was Kvothe, with all of his wit and charm, in the flesh. Even if I am unable to convince you to try reading a nearly 700 page work of fantasy, I would still recommend, if you have the chance, going to see Rothfuss on his book tour. He is worth it all for himself and if I cannot convince you to read him, seeing him perform might.

I will be circumspect as to what Rothfuss spoke about as he asked at the beginning that there be no video recordings for fear that something could come off the wrong way and end up on Youtube. (The speech was an adult affair, though hardly smut for smut's sake, and not for children, even if Name of the Wind is perfectly fine.) There were a few things that I think should be alright and worth mentioning. Rothfuss spoke passionately about the value of fantasy as speaking its own truth even as a work of fiction. He challenged the assembled group of, assumingly, fantasy lovers, as to what meant more to them, Narnia or Peru. (Asking forgiveness from my friend who studies Early Modern Peru, I must confess that I raised my hand for the former.) I asked him what he would advise aspiring fantasy writers as to how to avoid the trap of rewriting Tolkien and turning out clichés. (Another of Rothfuss' strengths is how he took a story with a hero going to magic school to learn to be a wizard that could have so easily turned into a cliché and made it stand on its own as something clearly within the fantasy tradition and yet so original.) His advice was to start off at the age of twelve and read a fantasy book a day. (At least that is what he did.) If you understand the genre you can work with it, know what has already been done and avoid repeating it.

If I have talked about how talented Rothfuss is, I would end by noting what a nice person he is as well. After speaking, he posed for a picture with the entire crowd and stayed to sign books. It was close to an hour by the time I got to him and there were still plenty of people behind me. These are people who have already bought the book and will likely buy the sequel no matter what. Rothfuss has nothing to gain, particularly as he does have better things, like his newborn son and the mother of child, to deal with.

I went back and forth as to whether to bring my copy to be signed. I picked it up off a library used pile. In the end I agreed to bring it; Rothfuss was a fellow follower of the vow of poverty known as graduate school and I do have Wise Man's Fear on pre-order whenever it comes out. Rothfuss was kind enough to sign it to Izgad. (It is easier to say and remember than Benzion.)

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