Category Archives: Fanmail Q + A

Fanmail Q&A: Con Schedules

Dearest Patrick

I know you’ve hit San Diego Comic-Con the last couple years. Are you going to be doing it again? I finally got a badge for this year, but I haven’t had any luck discovering when/where your panels and signings are.

My boyfriend isn’t as lucky as me, and doesn’t have a badge. We live in the San Diego area though, are you don’t any events that *aren’t* at the convention? As much as I want to taunt him, he’ll be really sad if he misses your trip entirely.

Emily

Sorry about that, Emily. I normally like to post up my schedule earlier than this, but certain parts were only finalized just recently.

Here are my official events at the con itself

  • Thursday, July 18

1:45-2:45 pm – Ode to Nerds – Room 6A

3:14-4:14 – Group signing with Ode to Nerds Panel - Sails Pavilion, AA09

  • Sunday, July 21

3:00 pm – Signing in the autograph area – Sails Pavilion, AA06

I’ll also be hanging out at a couple booths in the dealer’s room because I think they’re cool and I like the people there.

Mysterious Galaxy – Booths 1119, 1121, and 1123

Geek Chic – Booths 4930 and 4932

Badali Jewelry – Booths 532 and 534

If you catch me at any one of these places, I will be obliged to give you my pot of gold. Or a hug. Or my signature. Or a surly poke in the eye.

It all depends on my blood sugar, really.

*     *     *

As for your boyfriend, Emily, I recommend taunting him a bit, just on general principals.

That said, I am doing a couple events that people can attend even if they don’t have a badge for ComicCon.

The coolest of these is wOOtstock.

  • Thursday, July 18th – 7:00 PM

First off, if you don’t know what w00tstock is… well… you’re really behind the curve. Let me explain….

No, there’s too much. Let me sum up:

wOOtstock is a great geeky joyfest. There’s music, stories, humor, skits, presentations, more music, more humor…

Honestly? It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved in.

These last two years, I’ve made appearances at wootstock, but I’ve always been a surprise guest.

But this year, I’m on the official list along with folks like Wil Wheaton, Garfunkel and Oats, Molly Lewis….

You can see more of the official names over here.

But what’s really cool about Wootstock is the guests that show up unannounced. There are a *lot* of these, because all manner of cool people are in town for Comic Con.

For example, last year just one of the surprise guests was Levar Burton, who showed up and sang the theme to Reading Rainbow with Wil. It was kinda awesome. I got misty.

And this year…. Man. Since I’m on the inside, I’ve heard some rumors of who might be showing up. It’s going to be awesome…

Anyway, I’ll be there on Thursday night, doing my small part in amongst the roiling sea of awesome geekery. I will also be making an announcement there. A special announcement.

And, after the show winds down, I’ll be hanging around afterwards with the rest of the cast, signing posters and anything else that people happen to have brought with them. So if you want to get some books signed, I’d be happy to do it there.

Wootstock 5.0 is at the Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave. Here’s the link to buy tickets, but I’d hurry – they’re very nearly sold out.

Also, a couple days after the convention, I’ll be doing a signing in San Diego.

  • Tuesday, July 23 – 7 PM

Mysterious Galaxy Books
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302,
San Diego, CA 92111
Facebook Event

*     *     *

Dear Lord Rothfuss, Master Namer, Grand Bard to the King

A few years ago, I attended Gencon, where you were guest of honor. I brought my copy of Name of the Wind (Which I had fallen in love with right off the shelf when it came out) to be signed by you. Unfortunately I never got to doing that because of first con overload and a fear of asking directions to things. I returned home to Maine with a regrettably unsigned book.

When Wise Man’s Fear came out, I was understandably excited therefore to learn that, while I couldn’t make any of your signings, Prairie Light in Iowa City, just south of Cornell where I was attending until this year, would have signed copies. I reserved one and happily purchased it, toting it around lovingly everywhere I went, completely absorbed in literary bliss as I read it. A lack of foresight would cause me to bring it to dinner and spill soy sauce on it. In my shame at damaging a prized treasure, and a book no less, I purchased a new, unsigned copy in repentance.

My questions for you are thus. Would it be at any time during this Gencon appropriate for me to ask you to sign them? If so, what would be the most appropriate time? I don’t want to be “that one guy” who interrupts your enjoyment of the con or unduly begs you to sign his books when you’d rather be doing something else. If you tell me you”d rather I didn’t ask you to sign them at any point during the con, I’ll respect that. I’ll probably stop by your booth and chat you up just because I’m a major fan, but I won’t push the issue. I just wanted to put the question out there to avoid possibly making an ass of myself at the convention itself.

Sincerely,
Shane

*     *     *

Dear Shane,

Generally speaking, when I’m at a convention, I’m there to make myself available. I spend a lot of time signing books, speaking on panels, etc etc.

So thanks for being careful and courteous, but generally speaking, if you find me at my booth, I’m there to sign books. Don’t be bashful.

Now, that said, there’s a big difference between me signing books at the booth, or at an autographing session, or after a reading. And… say… coming up to me in a restaurant. Or grabbing me in the hallway when I’m rushing somewhere. Or catching me in the bathroom.

Those situations, I’m generally less pleased to be asked for a signature.

Here’s my schedule for Gencon as it stands right now, that way you’ll have a much easier time catching me when I’m at the booth, doing a panel, etc.

GenCon Indy

Thursday, August 15th
12-1:45 Signing at the booth
2PM The Art of Storytelling – Moderator ICC Room 245
3PM Dynamic Characters ICC Room 245
5PM Literary Alchemy ICC Room 245

Friday, August 16th
10:30-11:45 Signing at the booth
7:30-9PM – An Evening with Pat Rothfuss – ICC Room 243

Saturday, August 17th
12 NOON Reading ICC room 244
2:00 – 4:00 pm: True Dungeon (Worldbuilders Auction)
4-6 Signing at the booth

Sunday, August 18
11-1 Signing at the booth
2-4  Signing at the booth

Two things:

1. If you really want the chance to hang out, ask me questions, hear my tells stories and read my stuff, come to the “Evening with Pat Rothfuss” event on Friday night.

2. You might also notice that up there in bold, I’m going do be doing a True Dungeon crawl with some of my author friends and some geeky fans, too.

Last year during Worldbuilders, we auctioned off most of the seats. But we left one open, and we’re auctioning it off now, along with a full pass to GenCon as well.

It’s going to be a good time. Here’s the link to the auction. (Note that it’s on the 17th, not the 7th. That was a typo.)

There will be more convention announcements soon, as well as other news.

And, believe it or not, we’re finally getting ready to post the results of the photo contest from *ages* ago. Seriously.

pat

Also posted in appearances, Wil Wheaton | By Pat20 Responses

Fanmail FAQ: The F Word.

Dear Pat,

Life got busy for me early on this year, and I fell behind reading your blog. But now that school’s started back up again, I’ve been able to catch up by reading back through the archives during my more boring lectures.

So I’ve got a couple of questions. Well…. honestly, I have a couple hundred questions I could ask you. But I’ll limit myself to two that came to me from a blog you wrote back in April.

You talked about going to see Cabin in the Woods. And in that blog you said:

“My plan is to go see it, preferably in the company of an attractive, easily startled young woman. That way, when the movie gets scary, she will cling to me desperately for comfort.”

This struck me as a little odd. In you’re biography, you describe yourself as a feminist. That doesn’t seem like a feminist sort of thing to say.

I’m not trying to pick a fight here, honest. I’m genuinely curious. One of my favorite things about your books is how you handle your female characters. They’re strong and smart and… well…. kinda real. They’re not generic stereotypes and helpless maids in need of saving. They’re not cliche.

So my questions are these:

1. Was Cabin in the Woods any good?

2. How do you reconcile being a feminist and at the same time wanting to have pretty young girls cling to you for comfort?

Sorry this e-mail is a long one. And I understand if you don’t have time to answer it. I know you’re busy.

A fan,

Alanna

*     *     *

Okay. First off Alanna, you really shouldn’t be reading my blog in class. I am a former teacher, you realize. I can’t condone that sort of behavior.

Second off, while I am busy. (So busy.) I enjoy answering questions like this. Especially when it gives me a chance to talk about two things I enjoy: Feminism and Joss Whedon.

  • 1. Was The Cabin in the Woods good?

It was was so, s0 good.

How good? Honestly, I think I enjoyed it more than the Avengers. And I enjoyed the hell out of the Avengers….

It was so good that I bought the DVD just a couple days after it came out and watched it with my friends when they’d come to visit. I think it’s the first time in two years that I’ve done that. (Have I mentioned the whole so busy thing? Yeah. I’m that busy.)

Don’t worry about it being your typical cliche horror movie. Joss Whedon is way too smart for that. And he does a good job with female characters too, in my opinion.

  • 2. How can I consider myself a feminist and still want women to cling to me?

Okay. Here we go.

First off, we have to leave aside a huge, in-depth discussion of what, specifically, feminism is. Because that’s a big, big topic. It’s a whole book’s worth, let alone a blog.

Suffice it to say that there are roughly as many types of feminism as there are feminists.

Which means it’s really complicated. And believe me, it leads to some really interesting discussions when feminists get together and talk.

(And I’m not being catty when I say that. Yeah sure. Sometimes when feminists get together they fight like Paglia and Steinem. But most of the time when I’ve gotten together with other like-minded folks to discuss the nature of feminism, the conversations have been rewarding and enlightening.)

If I were asked for a very general, simple definition of feminism….

Well, honestly, if someone asked me that, I’d probably avoid the question. Partly because I’d suspect them of wanting to start a fight, and also because because there is no simple definition. As I’ve said, it’s a pretty complicated thing.

But if I were pressed for a definition, I’d say something like this:

1. Feminism is the belief that women are as worth as much as men.

1a. (Corollary) This means women should be treated as fairly as men.

1b. (Corollary) This means women should be respected as much as men.

1c. (Corollary) This means women should have the same rights as men.

1d. (Corollary) Etc etc.

2. Feminism is the belief that women shouldn’t have to do things just because they’re women.

2a. (Corollary) Men shouldn’t have to do things just because they’re men.

3. Feminism is the belief that women shouldn’t have to *avoid* doing things just because they’re women.

3a. (Corollary) Men shouldn’t have to *avoid* doing things just because they’re men.

As an example:

#2 up there means that (to pick a trivial example) ladies shouldn’t feel obliged to shave their armpits just because of some fucked up societal pressures that started due to marketing campaigns back in 1915.

#3 means that if you *want* to shave your pits, that’s cool too. It’s not like you’re letting down all of womankind if you do.

A more serious example of this relates to raising kids.

#2 means that women shouldn’t feel obliged to be stay-at-home moms.

#3 means that if you want to be a stay-at-home mom, and it makes you happy, then you should feel free to do that. It doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist, and it doesn’t mean you’re an Uncle Tom. (Or an Aunt Tommasina, or whatever.)

The key, in my opinion, is that people in general (and women in particular) shouldn’t feel obliged to do things due to pointless, bullshitty cultural constraints. Including (and here’s where #3 comes into effect big time) the cultural constraints put on them by other feminists with differing viewpoints.

Other folks have different opinions. And there’s more to it than that, of course. I could go on and on. But this isn’t really the place for it, as your question relates mostly to how I reconcile my being a feminist with a sentiment that, to put it plainly, reeks of machismo.

My justification comes from 2a and 3a.

2a means that I don’t *have* to act like a big testosterone-y alpha-male protector of the wimmins.

3a means that, if I feel like it, I can indulge myself and play the part of the manly protector. If (and this is key) I’m not a dick about it.

Here’s the thing: It feels good to be a big tough protector sometimes. Other times it feels good being protected.

It’s like when you’re spooning. Sometimes you’re the big spoon, sometimes you’re the little spoon. They both can be nice.

Here’s the problem: there are precious few chances to be a big tough protector in our civilized society. And honestly, that’s a good thing.

But watching a scary movie, that’s different. When I’m sitting in the dark theater, and the woman sitting next to me screams and grabs at me, her fingernails digging into my chest. Sorry. My broad, *manly* chest. It fills a deep-seated gorilla-type need to occasionally feel like a big damn heroic protector.

Now I’m not saying that’s now I’d like to live my whole life, but that’s one of the best thing about horror movies – they’re not real life. They’re like emotional cardio. They give us the chance to be terrified in a consequence-free environment.

That’s the joy of all fiction, really: you get the benefit of experiencing something without the burden of having to actually experience it.

And you know what? I’m gonna be completely honest with you here. Occasionally, it’s nice to have an attractive young woman cling to you in a moment of pure animal terror.

I know this because I went to see the original Scream with two pretty young women back in the day. They sat on either side of me, and I got it in stereo. Simply put, it was awesome. They both grabbed me at the same time, one of them hiding her face in my shoulder. And at that moment, I felt like Batman, Malcom Reynolds, and the next avatar of Krishna all rolled up into one.

Part of me, the educated feminist part, feels like I should be apologetic for this. Like I should feel guilty about it.

But you know what? I’m really not. No one is harmed by this behavior.

So there you go, Alanna. I hope you like your answer. It got way longer than I’d planned. But isn’t that always just the way of things…

One last thing before I sign off. Let’s be civilized persons here in the comments, okay? That means polite discourse. You can disagree with me or other folks expressing opinions, but let’s not be dicks about it.

Right? Right.

Fair warning: undue assholery from any corner will be viewed with extreme scorn.

Love and Peace!

pat

Also posted in ethical conundra, Nathan Taylor Art, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat131 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: Convention Adventures

Pat,

I know you just did some touring around. You hit a bunch of conventions in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Seattle…

Why don’t you tell us about your trips? Not a lot of us can make it to your events, but we’d love to hear some cool stories from the road…

What was you’re favorite part of your travels?

Joe.

*     *     *

Joe,

The truth is, I always mean to write about my conventions/readings/adventures when I get back from them. Because honestly, something interesting always happens.

(What happens in Austin, stays in Austin.)

The problem is, when I get back from these things, I’m exhausted. Plus the travel has usually put me behind on a bunch of other projects. So I spend a couple days answering e-mail and trying to get caught up with things. By the time I *am* caught up, the convention has usually been over for a month. Or two. Or ten.

In fact, when I was at Gencon, someone asked me a question similar to yours. Except they asked about the book tour I did last year. 21 events in 21 days, all over the country.

“You never wrote about it on the blog,” she said.

“Oh sure I did,” I said.

“A little,” she said. “But not much at all. And I should know. I just recently found your blog and read the whole thing.”

“Wow,” I said. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I twisted my ankle so I couldn’t go hiking. It took me about three weeks and I kinda I read it all. The baby ducks. Your Aslan Story. The  Gaiman-Day unit of coolness…

I thought about it for a second, and realized that while I had *planned* to write blogs about some of my road adventures, I’d probably never gotten around to it.

Alternately, sometimes I start writing a blog, and never finish it because other things come up. I have a blog titled: “why people kill themselves in hotel rooms” that I’ve been trying to finish for more than a year now….

“So what was your favorite part of the tour?” she asked.”What was cool?”

I thought about it for a bit. Then told her the truth: There were a lot of cool things that happened. I met a lot of lovely readers. I got hugs and cookies and whiskey and knives…

And a plush unicorn Pegasus kitten.

I did a midnight reading in San Fransisco for the people that couldn’t fit into my earlier reading. Much to everyone’s surprise, more than 300 people showed up despite the ridiculously late hour.

My first signing was over 600 people. So many that I couldn’t take a picture of them all at once. So many that they filled two levels of the bookstore. I got to read in the Library of Congress. I met people that actually squeed with delight.

I met someone who had my name tattooed on her arm…

…which is a level of devotion that is equal parts flattering and terrifying. Especially given that book two wasn’t even out yet.

I got to do a reading at the Library of Congress. People dressed up in costumes….

But honestly? My favorite part came right at the end of the tour, when I met up with Sarah and Oot right at the end of the tour in Boston. I hadn’t seen them in a long while, and I missed Oot terribly.

Oot was barely a year an a half old at that point, so me being away for three weeks was a big deal. I got to see him at various points in the tour, but it was only for an hour or an evening at a time. And as I’ve made clear on the blog, when I’m away from him for a long period of time, I start to lose my shit. Around day five I become a wretched weepy thing, unable to go out in public without embarrassing myself.

It was even worse back then. He was so young. I was worried he wouldn’t remember me. Worried that he’d be shy of me….

So the first morning after the tour was over, we hung out in the hotel. We cuddled a little, and when he got bored with that, I asked him if he wanted to make a pillow fort.

He did. So we made a fort using the ridiculous number of pillows that those posh hotels feel obliged to put on your bed.

To all you parents out there. If you’re not making pillow forts with your kids, you’re really missing out. You don’t need a lot of pillows. Three or four is plenty. In some ways, it can be better without a lot of pillows, because then you can make yourself *part* of the fort. If your kid isn’t a big cuddler, you can get some clandestine snuggling that way.

Sarah and my dad went out for breakfast. Oot and I didn’t. We stayed in the hotel room and continued to made forts.

I told Oot that he better be careful, because there was a creature called the Goonch that would nibble his feet if they were hidden under the pillows. Then I would sneak my hand under the pillow and tickle him.

It has been more than a year since I started that little game, and it still hasn’t gotten old. Not for either of us.

He had a few plush toys with him, and I thought that maybe they would try to break into the fort. Add some drama to the game.

But Oot thought that if they wanted to come in the fort, that was fine by him. That made me unreasonably proud. No pointless antagonism. No warmongering. He just wanted to hang out in his fort with his friends.

So it went for about two hours, until Sarah and my dad got back from breakfast.

That was my favorite part of my book tour….

[Editorial note: I just searched my computer for an hour, looking for the pictures I know I took of little Oot in his pillow fort. I can't find them and it breaks my heart a little.

Instead, please accept this picture of comparable cuteness]

(Click to Embiggen the Cute.)

I know we’re all programmed to think our kids are cute, but seriously. Look at him.

And that hair. I can’t bring myself to cut it. He’s just too pretty. About 80% of the people who meet him think he’s a little girl because of it. But I love it. Plus  can’t help but feel that will probably be healthy for him in the long run. Maybe if folks think he’s a girl for another couple years he’ll be slower to absorb some of the gender bullshit that’s constantly fucking up our culture.

*     *     *

Anyway Joe, I hope that kinda answers your questions. For one, it’s not that I try to keep these stories secret, it’s just that I tend to be busy and forgetful.

For two, generally speaking, my favorite part of these adventures is coming home to my little boy.

Rest assured that I’ll be sharing at least one cool story from Gencon in the semi-near future. One that Scalzi has already mentioned on his blog.

In the meantime, here’s one cool thing that happened in Chicago.

I wore a tux:

Oot wore a tuxedo shirt. We were quite the dashing pair….

Later all,

pat

Also posted in book two, conventions, emo bullshit, fan coolness, Oot, Surreal enthusiasm, Tales from the Con | By Pat60 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: The Biggest Mistake

Pat,

I love your books, and I’ve been reading your blog for years, silently lurking. Not wanting to take up your time with a comment, let alone a letter.

But here’s the thing. After years of thinking about it. I’m actually starting to write.

Yeah. Surprise surprise. I’m looking for advice.

I know most of it I’ll have to learn on my own. And I know you don’t have time to tell me all the tricks of the trade you’ve learned over the years. But I was hoping you could tell me just one thing. Not something I should do. Something I should avoid. What’s the biggest mistake you see new writer’s make in fantasy?

If you can tell me what that mistake is, then hopefully I can skip that one and make other mistakes instead.

Love,

Jan

Awww…. free love.

Well Jan, the biggest mistake I see new writer’s make is the grocers’ apostrophe.

No, wait. Don’t cry. I’m just teasing a little. I mock because I love. I don’t hold minor grammatical goofs against people. I’m no Strongbad. Hell, I make the classic it’s/its mistake more than half the time.

Anyway, to the heart of the matter. Let me answer your question the way that I answer all questions, with a story.

Months ago, I was sitting around with Oot. He was just starting to get really verbal in those days. Whole sentences. Picking up words right and left.

More to the point of this story: he was just learning how to count.

So. We’re sitting around and I hold up a finger and say, “One….”

He knows where I’m going with this. Counting is a new thing, so he’s pretty exited about it.

“One…” I prompt him again.

He jumps on board this time. “…two. Three. Four! Five! SIX! EIGHT! TEN! SIX! THREE! SIX!

He gets really worked up after three. He makes little fists and waves around his arms enthusiastically. On a good day he’ll get all the way up to nine before he falls apart.

It’s perfectly natural, really. When you have a cool new piece of information to show off, you’re bound to get excited.

Later on in the day I come in and he’s reading a book with Sarah. It’s the last page in a big Richard Scarry book, and it has groups of things lined up, just for counting. One picture of a whale. Two pictures of walruses. Three pigs.

You get the idea.

Mom is coaching him with ladybugs and buttons. There’s lots of those, way more than ten.

I tag Sarah out so she can go do some stuff on her own, then I sit down with Oot.

I point to the book. “How many walruses are there?”

He looks at the page. “One…. Two….” He looks at the book seriously.

There’s a pause. A long pause. He furrows his brow.

“Two,” he says.

“Good job!” I say, completely earnest. This is big stuff. Cutting edge. I’m proud of him. He really thought it out. Didn’t just make a guess.

I point one line down on the page. “How many pigs?”

He looks at the three pigs. “One… two…. Three.”

But he doesn’t stop there. He’s on a roll now. “Four! Five! Six! SEVEN! TEN! SEVEN! MANY!” He finishes by throwing his arms up over his head triumphantly.

It’s cute as hell, really. But the fact is, he’s wrong. He got carried away.

And this, Jan, is the biggest problem I see most new fantasy authors make.

* * *

(Yeah. That’s a scene break. I’ve decided I can put a scene break in my blog if I feel like it.)

You see, one of the hardest parts about writing fantasy novels is describing things.

Now this problem isn’t unique to fantasy novels. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you have to describe things. That’s a given.

The problem is that in fantasy, there’s so much you have to describe.

If you write a novel set in the real world, you can assume your reader will have a certain baseline knowledge. They will know about Seattle and Paris. They will know what the internet is. They will (almost certainly) know who Robin Hood is. They’ll (probably) know who Don Quixote is. They’ll (maybe) know who Cyrano De Bergerac is.

But when you’re writing fantasy, especially secondary-world fantasy (By which I mean fantasy where the story takes place in a world other than our own) the reader doesn’t know anything about your world. They don’t know the cultures, religions, magic, or cities. The reader doesn’t know anything about the myths and legends of the world.

Now a lot of times, this is one of the major selling points of the book. A big payoff of secondary-world fantasy is the thrill of exploration. We get to see new countries, fantastic creatures, odd cultures, curious magics, etc etc.

And, honestly, this is one of the big perks of being a fantasy writer. We get to build castles in the sky, then show them off to people.

So here’s how it goes wrong.

1. You create something for your fantasy world: a creature, a culture, a myth, whatever.

2. You’re proud of your creation. You’re excited about it. You love it with a fierce love.

3. You need to describe this thing to your reader, because if they don’t understand how it works, your story won’t make sense.

(3b. Remember, the story is the real reason people are there. Story is everything. Story is god.)

4. So you start to explain how folks in the the Shire celebrate their birthdays. (This is important because one of the first major events of the book is a birthday party.) You talk about how hobbits give presents away at their parties instead of receiving them. (This is important because it ties into why Bilbo is going to hand over the ring to Frodo.)

Then you start talking about how some of these presents get passed back and forth, party after party. And how those items are actually called mathoms, and how there’s actually a museum full of mathoms at Michel Delving, which is in the Westfarthing of the shire, since, as you know, the Shire is composed of four sections which take their names from prominent families in the area, such as Tookland being named after the Tooks, who are among the largest and oldest of the Shire families, and in fact still held the title of Thain, which had been passed to them from the Oldbucks, and while the title was largely ceremonial these days due to the lack of Shire-moot in recent, peaceful times…. Four! Five! Six! SEVEN! TEN! SEVEN! MANY!

You see what happens? It’s easy for an author to get so caught up in the details of the world they created, that they go off the rails and give us more than is really necessary for the story.

Now it might seem like I’m picking on Tolkien a little bit here. But again I say: I mock because I love. I grew up reading Tolkien, and I mean that quite literally. I read the lord of the rings at least once a year through all my teenage years.

To his credit, Tolkien gave us one of the best traditions of our genre, that of elaborate, realistic worldbuilding.

Unfortunately, he also gave us the tradition of providing *way* too much information at the beginning of the story.

Tolkien is the cornerstone of modern fantasy. His impact on the genre is immeasurable. His arm has grown long….

Again, I love Tolkien. But the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the most egregious instances of info-dumping in existence. At best, it resembles the dry essay it was intended to resemble. At worst, it’s like reading Leviticus.

(Okay. Fine. It’s really more like reading Numbers. But you know what I mean…)

And yeah, you can argue that Leviticus is a chapter in the best-selling book of all time. But the key is that the bible doesn’t *start* with that chapter. The bible starts out with action. Right out of the gate you get you have magic, “Let there be light.” You get conflict. You get character development. You get a good antagonist, drama, betrayal, exile from paradise. That’s exciting stuff. Genesis really gets the story going. It sets the hook.

That’s why the bible sells so well. Only after you get involved in the plot does Moses start giving you the heavy worldbuilding in Numbers and Deuteronomy. He did that for a reason. If he’d started the bible with the info-dump, it would have been *way* too boring. No publisher would have printed it.

So how do you avoid falling into the trap of telling too much?

I wish I could give you a simple answer to this, Jen. But the truth is, I could teach a week-long class on this seemingly simple question. There are dozens of tricks and cheats. There are hundreds of ways to do it well, and thousands of ways to do it badly.

What makes this such a horrible problem is that “too much” is largely a matter of taste. Some readers really *do* want to read all the details of the ancient Shi-Ang dynasty, and how their government relied upon the use of telepathy crystals. Other readers just want you to hurry up and get to the part where the Lesbian Unicorn Sisterhood initiates apprentice Ayllisia into the secrets of the Eternal Kiss.

It’s also a matter of style. Some writers are better at making exposition engaging than others. Some worlds are more alien than others, requiring more explanation.

My personal philosophy is to err on the side of caution. Given the choice, I’d prefer to give too little description and leave you wanting more, rather than give a lot and risk you being bored.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of preaching “less is more” after writing a 400,000 word novel. Imagine how long it would have been if I hadn’t been consciously riding the brake.

In my opinion, Jen, the biggest thing is you can do to avoid this problem is to be aware that it *is* a problem.

Knowing is half the battle, and all that.

Verbosely yours,

pat

Later Edit: Yeah. I know the author of the e-mail was Jan, not Jen. I changed it as an oblique reference to the way that Strongbad would usually change/screw up the names of the people that wrote into him by the time he finished answering their questions.

See? That way we start and end the blog with a Strongbad reference, providing a sort of closure and narrative unity.

I can tell from the comments below that at least a few of you got it. But it’s clear the rest of you just thought I didn’t care enough to get her name right.

Just wanted to let you know that I’m not an insensitive asshole. No. I’m just prone to arcane referential douchery.

Also posted in I mock because I love, Oot, the craft of writing, Things my baby has taught me about writing | By Pat85 Responses

Concerning Anime

Pat,

After taking note that you’ve repeatedly referenced Cowboy Bebop, I’d like if you could include in a blog any favorite/recommended anime. I understand that you are busy or may not have enough interest in writing such a blog. Or may be hesitant to receive the potential fan outlash because you didn’t mention “insert anime name here” or haven’t seen “insert more different anime name here”.

But I would just like your opinion, as that is one of the primary reasons I read the blog – to learn more about the author. I’d like to think I’m not alone.

Until next time, fellow space cowboy!

Ben (Twin Cities, MN)

First off, Ben. I have to say I love the term “outlash.” It fills a good linguistic niche. It’s different from backlash. Outlash is less of a reaction, more of an upwelling of directionless vitriol. It’s less justified than backlash.

Off the top of my head, I’d say that roughly 27% of the internet is composed of outlash.

Here’s my utterly off-the-cuff top five Anime recommendations.

1. Last Airbender.

First off. We’re not talking about the movie. We’re talking about the animated series. I hear the movie sucked to such a degree that words cannot fully encompass it.

This series was absolutely brilliant. I could easily hold forth for an hour on the clever storytelling techniques they use. I’m looking forward to the day that little Oot is old enough so that I can watch it with him.

2. Princess Mononoke.

Out of fairness to all other anime, we’ll only include one Miyazaki title in this list. Though it’s hard to narrow it down, this one has to be my favorite. Probably because the translation and dub is absolutely first rate.

Normally I’m a subtitle guy. 99% of the time, I go for subtitle. But this is one of the rare cases where I really do like the dub more. It made me feel better when I learned that Neil Gaiman was in charge of anglicizing the screenplay for the English version.

3. Cowboy Bebop.

A true rarity. A brilliant Japanese Anime series that doesn’t turn to total bullshit at the end.

4. Trigun.

Piece and Love!

5. Akira.

Okay. You know that crack I made up there in #3 about anime turning into total bullshit at the end of the series/movie? This is the perfect example of that. The last 10 minutes of the movie are like a bad acid flashback.

But you know what? This still makes the top five despite the fact that the movie as a whole makes no goddamn sense. The music and cinematography are enough make up for the largely nonsensical story/plot/character conflict.

And believe me, that’s probably nothing you’ll ever hear me say again, that the cinematography alone makes something worth watching.

But in this one case it’s really true. Despite the fact that this is largely an action movie, I consider it a brilliant study in silence and stillness. If you’ve watched it closely, I’m sure you know what I mean.

*      *     *

Now before y’all start your anguished screeling that I didn’t include Inuyasha or Witchunter Robin or  whatever your favoritiest BFF anime of forever is. Keep in mind that I might not have seen it. If you look at the dates of the above titles, you’ll see that I’m not really on the cutting edge here. I haven’t watched hardly any TV at all in two years. I’ve heard of Bleach but never watched it. Same thing with Death Note. (I read it.)

Then again, it’s quite possible your favorite show simply didn’t flip my switch. I watched Full Metal Alchemist, and while parts of it were cool, as a whole it felt draggy and slow. Though it came highly recommended, Monster just bored me, and I quit watching halfway through.

So much of this is a matter of taste, you realize.

Honorable mentions:

  • Ninja Scroll. Subtitled. (I once watched it three times in a row.)
  • Anything by Miyazaki.
  • Lupin the Third.
  • All Purpose Cultural Cat-Girl Nuku Nuku. (Seriously. It was great.)
  • Cutey Honey. (Because you have to respect the concept.)
  • Paprika.
  • Millenium Actress. (A story about stories.)
  • Ghost in the Shell.

If any of y’all have some particular favorites, I’d love to hear about them. Not that I have much time for watching TV these days. But someday I hope to be able to veg out in front of the tube again….

pat

Also posted in recommendations, Things I Like | By Pat183 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: Worldbuilders

Hey Pat,

Are you doing Worldbuilders again this year? I understand if you don’t have time, what with your dad an all….

But I will say that I’ll miss it if you don’t do it again. I usually ask my family to donate a goat to your fundraiser for Christmas, that way it’s really like I’m getting a goat and a half.

If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know. I only live 40 minutes away from you, and I can help lift boxes if nothing else.

Worldbuilders fan since 2009,

Brad

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that this is the time of year when we typically kick off Worldbuilders.

Well… actually, we tend to start up Worldbuilders a little earlier than this, which explains why over the last couple weeks I’ve been getting a slurry of e-mail asking about it.

We’ll be officially launching the fundraiser next week, but before we pull the trigger on that, I thought I’d take this chance to answer a few of the questions people have been asking in their e-mail.

  • Are you still doing Worldbuilders?

Yes. Very yes.

  • When are you starting it?

The official launch will be next week.

  • What is Worldbuilders? (For those of you that are new to the blog.)

Back in 2008, I thought it would be fun to see if I could raise some money for Heifer International. So I posted up a blog and told people if they donated to Heifer International, I’d match their donations. What’s more, I’d give away some free books to the winners, lottery style.

I was kinda hoping I could raise 5000 dollars, but things quickly spiraled out of control. Other authors donated books, people spread the word, and by the end of the fundraiser, we’d managed to raise more than 100,000 dollars.

I decided to make the fundraiser a yearly thing. I got more organized, hired an assistant, and had a friend make up a logo:

We got an office, ran some auctions, started running an online store, and last year we finally became an official not-for-profit charity.

Over the last three years we’ve raised more than $500,000 for Heifer.

(You can peek at last year’s fundraiser over here if you like.)

  • What’s going to be new this year?

Lots of stuff. One of our big projects this year is the literary pin-up calendar I already mentioned on the blog.

We’ve also got more publishers donating than ever, so that means more books this year. So many books we’ve had to put up new shelves just to hold them all.

I’ve got fun interviews scheduled with folks we’ve we’ve never seen on the blog before.

And more cool rare books. Some of them we’ll be auctioning off, others we’ll be giving away lottery style.

On top of that, this year the fans have really stepped up, donating cool collectibles and things they’ve made with their own, lovely geeky hands. Some of those things we’ll be auctioning off, some we’ll be selling in the store.

  • Where can I donate?

Hold your horses, buckaroo. You can’t donate quite yet. Like I said, we haven’t officially started this year’s fundraiser.

But we will be starting soon.

Soon…

  • What can I do to help?

There are two main things Worldbuilders needs to succeed.

1. People willing to donate. (See above.)

2. People willing to spread the word.

That means for now, the best thing you can do is wait.

If you’re exceptionally eager, you can go digging around in the sofa cushions to gather funds or talk to your family about maybe doing an animal exchange as part of your holiday festivities.

But for the most part, you can help by staying tuned to the blog and preparing to tweet to your friends when we launch the fundraiser in about a week.

  • I *really* want to help. Are you sure I can’t do anything?

If you *really* want to help, and you feel like you have a skill/cool book/rare collectible/mutant power that would be helpful to the cause, you can drop a line to: worldbuilders.2011 [squiggly at-sign thinger] gmail.com

  • I know I can help. Seriously. How can I send you something?

If you’re an author, publisher, comic artist, etc and you’d like to donate some books to the fundraiser, we would absolutely love to have them.

You can mail them to:

Worldbuilders
PO BOX 186
Stevens Point, WI 54481

Three things:

1. If you’re the author, we’d love if you signed the books before sending them to us.

2. If you’re thinking of sending a collectible of some kind, please contact us first.

3. Please package the books carefully. It breaks my heart when books arrive damaged.

If you’re a journalist, blogger, webcomic-er, a celeb with a huge twitter following, or just someone who has a cool idea about how to spread the word, drop us a line at the aforementioned e-mail: worldbuilders.2011 [squiggly at-sign thinger] gmail.com.

Pretty much if you have any questions about the fundraiser, that’s the e-mail to use. You’ll get a response much more quickly than if you use the contact form on my website.

  • You asked me to donate books last year. Why haven’t you invited me this year?

I should have said this first: Worldbuilders isn’t an invitation-only party. There is no velvet rope. No bouncer at the door. We welcome any authors, any books. (Though I will admit we have a definite lean toward fantasy and sci-fi going on here…)

So if you’re an author/publisher I know, and I haven’t sent you an e-mail asking if you’d like to donate, it’s not because I’m snubbing you, or because I don’t want your books in the fundraiser.

No. Far from it. Of course I want your books in the fundraiser. It would fill me with joy to include them.

If you haven’t recieved a specific invite from me already, it’s probably because you’re way cooler than me, so I was embarrassed to bother you with an e-mail. Or it’s because I’m from the Midwest and asking for things makes me kinda uncomfortable. Or, you know, because with all the things going on in my life now, I’m kind of a disorganized idiot.

Seriously. If you don’t believe me, just look at this picture:

There. Anyone can see that I am clearly a fucking idiot. A person who wears this expression does not have the mental wherewithal to snub you or purposefully exclude you from any of his reindeer games. In fact, it’s quite possible that a person wearing this expression entirely lacks the capacity for intentionality, let alone rational thought.

That means if you haven’t recieved an invite from me, it was clearly an oversight firmly rooted in my own stupidity. Q.E.D.

So yeah. Books = Yes. Worldbuilders = Soon.

Me = Bed. I really shouldn’t be writing anything resembling a serious blog when I’m punchy like this.

Later space cowboys,

pat

Also posted in calling on the legions, FAQ, Worldbuilders 2011 | By Pat26 Responses

Fanmail FAQ: NaNoWriMo

Pat,

Do you know about National Novel Writing Month? I’ve tried it for three years now, though I’ve only ever managed to make 50,000 words one time back in 2009.

I was just wondering if you’d ever tried it. In some ways, it seems like it might be like your thing. But the more I thought about it, it seems like it might NOT be your thing. Your writing is really carefully put together, mythic and lyrical, so I could see how your style wouldn’t really lend itself to being able to write a whole 50,000 words in a single month.

So I guess I have two questions:

1. Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? (I’m guessing no, because I couldn’t find you on their website.)

2. Do you have any tips for keeping up this grueling writing pace? How do you stay motivated?

A fan,

Jake

For those of you who don’t know what Jake is talking about, National Novel Writing Month is when people who want to write get together in November and vow to get 50,000 words done on their novels in a single month.

I’ve actually known about it since the year 2000. I remember the date because one of my web-savvy friends caught wind of it. He knew I’d been working on a novel and thought I might be interested.

My immediate reaction was dismissive disdain.

You see, in November of 2000, I was in the midst of the most productive writing jag of my entire life. I’d been working on “The Book” off and on for over six years, and I was finally closing in on the end of huge arcing story that I’d started by writing, “My name is Kvothe” on a friend’s computer back in 1994.

At that time in my life, I’d been tracking my writing progress for a couple years. I was taking it seriously and held myself accountable for 1500 words or three hours of writing a day. Whichever came first.

I’d been keeping up that pace for the better part of a year. But as I closed in on the ending of my story, the writing got faster and faster. I could write for 10 or 12 hours at a stretch, day after day, and it came easy as breathing.

So when my friend brought NaNoWriMo to my attention, my thoughts were roughly along these lines:

“I laugh at your piddly 50,000 words! I am a golden god of writing! I’ve been doing this on my own for years! I don’t need some gimmicky bullshit for encouragement! I’m a *real* writer….”

Over the next couple weeks, I finished my draft and started revising. Several months later, I went to grad school. There, under the soul-crushing boot heel of academia, my vast torrent of creative output dwindled until it was a tiny trickle that resembled an an old man in Waiting for Godot trying to take a piss.

I spent the lion’s share of the next two years getting rejected by agents, revising The Book, then getting rejected by agents again. When someone pointed out NaNoWriMo a second time, I looked down my nose at it, thinking something along the lines of:

” Writing is something you do all the time, not just one month out of the year! Besides, it’s not the length of a book that matters. It’s how polished it is. I know that now because I’m a *real* writer.”

In 2005, a third friend mentioned NaNoWriMo to me. Again, I scoffed at it:

“I’ve been published in an anthology,” I thought to myself. “I have an agent. I’ve written a 500,000 word fantasy trilogy. I have nothing to prove. I write because I’m a writer, not because for one month out of the year it’s fashionable. I’m not doing this out of some desperate need for social approbation. I’m doing this because I’m a *real* writer.”

By 2008 The Name of the Wind had been on the shelves for a year, and I was woefully behind deadline for the second book. Some of my fans asked me if I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo. It came at a bad time, because I was feeling guilty for missing my deadline. So this time I didn’t merely scoff, I scorned:

“I’m a professional author now,” I thought. “I’ve sold a book. I’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list. I’m published in multiple countries. I don’t need to get into a circle and sing kumbaya. I don’t need to join a cult of newbies and wankers. I write because it’s my job. I’m a *real* writer.”

Now it’s 2011 and people are asking me about NaNoWriMo again. You’re not the only one, Jake.

I like to think I’m a little wiser than I was a few years ago. I’ve certainly learned a lot about writing. If nothing else, I’ve come to realize one single fact:

Anything that motivates you to write is a good thing.

For some people, having a writing group helps. Others take a class. Some people go out and get their MFA’s. Some people drink gin and smoke black tar heroin.

And for some people, NaNoWriMo provides a swift kick up the ass that helps them put pen to paper.

Everyone is different. Ultimately, what motivates a writer is a very personal thing. What works for me, Jake, might not work for you….

For example I’ve come to realize that I have a strong seam of contrarian in the bedrock of my personality. If someone says I can’t do something, a piece of my hind brain rears up and says, “the fuck I can’t!”

In the past this has led me into trouble. I’ve done all manner of stupid shit because someone’s dared presume I wouldn’t. Examples include making a naked snow angel, living for a week using nothing but my wits and three dollars, and eating an entire package of ranch seasoning. (Not ranch dressing, mind you. That would have been easy. I’m talking about the seasoning packet that you would use to make a pint of ranch dressing.)

I’ve mellowed somewhat in my old age, and these days the heavy-handed “I dare you…” taunts that used to set me off no longer have any power to sway me.

But your subtle implication that my writing style “wouldn’t really lend itself to being able to write a whole 50,000 words in a single month” made me raise my hackles a little bit.

“Who does this little punk think he is?” I found myself thinking. “Implying I can’t swing NaNoWriMo? You think I can’t be mythic and lyric AND write 50,000 words? The fuck I can’t!”

So. I’m going to participate this year. What’s more, I’m going to officially start now, on November 7th. That’s right, Jake, I’ve given you a week’s head start. You just try to stay ahead of me.

For more than a decade, I didn’t give NaNoWriMo a fair shot. More than that, I actively maligned it.

But never let it be said I can’t admit I’m wrong. I’m willing to eat my words. I’d make you eat your words too, Jake. But you know what? I’m going to eat them instead. I’m going to eat all the words I can get my hands on in this next month and turn them into mythic, lyric story that will break your heart.

And then I’m going to go update my wordcount on the profile I just created on the NaNoWriMo website.

Because I’m a real writer.

pat

Also posted in FAQ, My Iconoclastic Tendencies, the craft of writing | By Pat91 Responses
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