Category Archives: the man behind the curtain

Thoughts on Pratchett – [Part 1]

Earlier this year, when I was in Germany on tour, Terry Pratchett died.

It didn’t come as a complete shock. We’ve known for ages that he was sick. We’ve had years to brace for the inevitable impact.

Even so, it hit me surprisingly hard. I hadn’t expected that.

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

Terry Pratchett – Facing Extinction

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

The fact remains that his work (and a few of the things I knew about him) had a huge impact on me.

So… yeah. It hit me kinda hard.

If you’re in your 20′s and 30′s and reading this blog on the interweb, it may be hard for you to understand that our opinions about authors used to come almost entirely from reading their books. Even after the internet crawled gasping onto the devonian shore of the 1990′s things like social media and author blogs simply didn’t exist in any meaningful way.

As a result, one of my first exposures to Terry Pratchett as a person was in an interview in the Onion back in 1995. Just to give you an idea of the time frame. That was back when you could pick up a copy of The Onion printed on paper. What’s more, it available *only* on paper, and even then, you could only get it in my home town of Madison, WI.

What Pratchett said in that interview had a big effect on me, as I’d been working on my own novel for a couple years at that point.

It took some digging (as I said, this was published pre-internet) but here’s the interview:

O: What’s with the big-ass hat?

Pratchett: Ah… That’s the hat I wear. I don’t know, it… It… That hat, or types like it, I’ve worn for years and years. Because I bought one, and I liked it. And then people started taking photographs of me in it, and now, certainly in the UK, it’s almost a case of if I don’t turn up in my hat people don’t know who I am. So maybe I could just send this hat to signings. I just like hats. I like Australian book tours, because Australians are really, I mean that is the big hat country, Australia.

O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P:  (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.

I’m looking forward to buying myself a cheese hat.

O: Back to the hat.

P: Let’s go back to the hat… Everybody needs an edge, and if the hat gives you an edge, why not wear a hat? When you get started writing, you’re one of the crowd. If the hat helps, I’ll wear a hat— I’ll wear two hats! In fact, I’m definitely going to buy a cheese hat before I leave here. We’ve never heard of them in the UK, and I can see it as being the latest thing in fashion.

Okay, you can turn the tape back off again.

I actually remember where I was when I read that. Right now, twenty years later, I remember where I was sitting as I held the paper and read it.

I’m not going to be cliche and say it changed my life.

You know what? I am. I’m going to say it. It changed my life.

Remember what year this was. It was 1995. This was before Harry Potter was written. Before Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere.

Pixar has just released its first movie. There was no Matrix. No Sixth Sense. No Lord of The Rings movies. Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy were a decade away.

There was no Game of Thrones on HBO. Hell, there wasn’t even Legend of the Seeker. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was 2 years away, and even more years from being recognized as brilliant television, rather than silly fluff with vampires.

I had been writing my fantasy novel for about two years, and while I loved fantasy, I knew deep down, it was something I should feel ashamed of. Fantasy novels were the books I read as a kid, and people picked on me for it. There were no classes on the subject at the University. I knew deep down in my bones that no matter how much I happened to love fantasy, it was all silly bullshit.

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

That’s NOW. If you weren’t around back then, you really can’t begin to understand how much worse it was. When I told people I was working on a fantasy novel, a lot of people wouldn’t even really know what I was talking about.

I would say, “I’m writing a fantasy novel” and people would look at me with earnest confusion and concern in their eyes, and they would say, “Why?”

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

*     *     *

I’ve got more to say on this, but this blog is already really long. And I’m leaving for PAX in the morning, so I’ll save the rest for next week

Be good to each other everyone,

pat

Also posted in emo bullshit, European Adventures, Fantasy, Stories about stories., the longest fucking blog ever, travel abroad | By Pat71 Responses

So I was planning this whole other blog….

It was one of those end-of-year things. I was going to muse about 2013, share some photos and pieces of news I never got around to posting. Maybe talk about a few books I liked….

I even had a title for the blog, I was going to call it “New Year’s Resignations.” Which is probably the best title I’ve come up with all year.

I’ll write that blog eventually. Probably. I had some things to say, and until I write them down they won’t leave me alone.

But I’m not going to write that blog today. I can’t.

I was going through my backlog of fanmail today. Trying to play catch-up, as always. And a reader had sent me…

Ah, I’ll just show you:

Mr. Rothfuss,

There is a song by a woman named Dar Williams that always makes me think of you and Worldbuilders. I thought I would share it with you, if you have time to listen to it – just in case you haven’t come across her before. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of things you have said about Worldbuilders, and your most recent blog post about First Book made me think of the last verse, so I had to finally send the link. If you have 3 minutes for it, I think you will really like it.

S.

Generally speaking, if someone sends me an interesting link, I’ll follow it.

So I did. And I listened to the song. And I was doing pretty well until the last verse, which hit me so hard that I felt like there’s been a hole blown straight through me.

It’s a good song, I’ll link it here for you:

After listening to that, I don’t really feel much like writing a pensive blog, the main theme of which is that I wish I were a better father, a more reliable friend, a more  professional writer…. Overall, I wish I was… well… I wish I was the sort of person had his shit together.  Because, generally speaking, I really don’t.

No. After listening to that song, I decided to forgo a vaguely emo retrospective blog.

Instead, I’d just like to thank all of you.

I’d like to thank you for reading what I write. I’d like to thank you for tuning into the blog. I’d like to thank you for being graceful and kind.

I’d like to thank you for making Worldbuilders awesome. For helping out with First Book.

Thank you for making the world a better place. You make me hopeful for humanity.

That’s better than what I’d planned to write today.

That’s how I’d like to end the year.

Fondly,

pat

Also posted in blogging | By Pat47 Responses

Why I Love My Editor….

Back in January, I mentioned on the blog that I thought my editor really deserved a Hugo nomination.

Imagine my delight when the list of Hugo nominees for 2012 came out, and there she was on the short list of nominees: Betsy Wollheim.

Weeks later, I was surprised to discover that in the 30+ years Betsy has been an editor, this is the first time she’s ever made it onto the shortlist.

It was more than a little startling to me. I mean, Betsy is Editor-in-Chief at DAW, one of the few publishers I knew about before I gave a damn about getting published. She’s never been nominated?

I think part of the reason she’s been overlooked is that while DAW is a great publisher, it’s not one of the hulking monoliths in the business. In fact, DAW is one of the very, very rare publishers that’s still privately owned. Betsy’s dad started it back in 1971. The “W” in DAW stands for Wollheim.

The other part of the reason I think Betsy’s never been nominated is that she’s not a big self-promoter.

I get that. Being from the Midwest, I’m not a big fan of self-promotion myself.

Now before people get their knickers in a twist and go pointing out that I have at times been a big old self-promoting whore, let me clarify.

Yes. I do promotion. Doing promotion is, unfortunately, a big part of being a published author.

So yeah. I do signings. I do readings. I run the blog. I go to conventions, sit on panels, and talk about writing.

But, generally speaking, that’s about as far as I’m comfortable going. I make myself visible in the hope that if someone finds me interesting, then they’ll be tempted to pick up one of my books.

What I *don’t* do is run around trying to sell people my book. Neither do I try to convince people that I’m awesome. I try to *be* awesome, and hope that people will notice.

Maybe that’s a fine line, but I’m more than willing to draw it in the sand.

Similarly, Betsy does promotion. Of course she does. It’s even *more* part of her job than it is mine. She promotes books. She promotes her authors. She promotes DAW.

But, generally speaking, she doesn’t promote herself.

So I’m going to put in a good word for her.

And I’m going to do it the same way I do everything, by telling a little story…

*     *     *

Back in the late summer of 2007, I was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown and I didn’t even know it.

On the surface, things were great. The Name of the Wind was getting really amazing review. Sales were good. Foreign countries were buying the translation rights. I had grown-up money for the first time in my life, and I used it to buy a house with my girlfriend.

In fact, things were so great, that I didn’t realize what a mess I was.

I’d been doing every bit of promotion that came my way. All sorts of conventions. Every interview somebody asked me to do. Readings and signings all over the place.

And whenever people asked about book two, I told them the same thing: that I already had a good solid draft, and that it would be out in a year.

This is in 2007, mind you.

When I finally sat down to work on the book, I realized the draft was *much * rougher than I remembered. The truth was, I’d been focusing all my energy on Name of the Wind for years while book two just sat their gathering dust. It was pretty shabby when I took a close look at it.

So I realized I had a lot of work to do. I quit my job teaching. I quit teaching fencing at the YMCA. I quit advising the College Feminists.

I kinda quit everything except for writing.

Aside from the roughness of the draft, my other problem was the fact that I’d never written to a deadline before. I was going from 14 years of being a hobby writer, straight into being a bestseller, and it was a huge mental adjustment. I was also a bit of an emotional wreck because my mom had died just a few months before the book came out.

And I’m not just saying that. I remember one night when I was writing frantically, I felt a pain in my chest and a numbness in my left arm.

My first thought was kinda surprised:  “I’m having a heart attack.”

My second thought was one of relief: “If I have a heart attack, nobody can blame me if the book is late.”

Seriously. That was my immediate thought. Not, “Oh shit, I’m gonna die!” Not, “I should call 911.” Not even, “Oh man, I’m never going to be able to cross ‘catgirl threeway’ off my bucket list.”

(In my opinion, it would be a shame if I never got to use this pic in a blog)

Anyway, my point is that when you’re *glad* to have a heart attack, something’s going wrong in your head.

I don’t tell Betsy about any of this, of course. Because I’m a newbie and I’m scared to death that I’m going to ruin my big chance with my for-real publisher. So I keep telling her everything is fine, and she keeps asking to see the draft of book two.

But I put her off again and again. Another month. Another two weeks. Four more days….

Eventually she says she *needs* it. Seriously. Now.

So I send it to her. It’s a mess. The beginning 100 pages are just a tangle.

Just to make it clear how different it was from the finished version:

1. The manuscript I gave Betsy was 150,000 words shorter than the eventual print version of the book.

2. Vashet didn’t exist. At all.  Bredon didn’t exist. At all.

3. There was no Adem hand talk. No tak. No ring rituals in Severen.

4. There are whole chapters that were nothing more than this:

Chapter 31: [need title]

(Something happens with Ambrose here.)

That’s how bad parts of it were.

So anyway, I send it off to Betsy, nervous as hell. She calls me a couple days later, real concern in her voice, and says, “Pat, this is really rough….”

I say, “Yeah. I know. But I can do it. I can put in the hours.”

Betsy says, “It’s going to be a *lot* of work. There are some real problems in here. Some parts are really skimpy.”

I say, “Yeah. I’m making good progress though. I’ve got my new workspace set up and everything.”

She says, “Book two has to be really solid, you know. People have high expectations. It’s really going to determine the course of your career.”

I say, “I promised book two would be out in a year. I just need to knuckle down and write hard for the next five months. No breaks. I can do it.”

She says, “That’s not really how your process works though. You’re a reviser. You like to get feedback from your readers and tinker with things. There won’t be any time for that if you’re still drafting the book now….”

I say, “I promised though. And I’ve scheduled it out. I’ve been writing 14 hours a day, and so long as I can keep that up….”

She says, “I really don’t think you can make this book as good as it needs to be.”

I say, “I can. I know I can do it.”

She says, “I’m pulling the book out of the production schedule.”

I’m stunned into silence, just standing there in my kitchen. I suddenly feel… good. Like someone had been standing on my chest and they just got off. “You can do that?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she says, “I’m pulling it. You can’t disappoint people with the second book.”

I say, “Oh thank god.”

*     *     *

I’m paraphrasing a bit, of course.

After that she gave me the space I needed to figure out what the hell I was doing. Time to get my head together. When I gave her the much better draft of the book, she argued with me about some of the bad choices I’d made, and we hammered them out together.

In a nutshell, she saved my career. Probably saved my relationship and my mental health, too.

Needless to say, I think the world of her. She’s an editor that really cares about her authors.

Last year in April, she had her first #1 New York Times Bestseller. (Me)

Last year in October, one of her authors won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. (Nnedi Okorafor.)

And now, after 30 years in the business, she’s just had her first Hugo nomination.

Betsy has my vote. And if you’re eligible, I’m sure she’d like to have yours too.

She’d never say so herself, though. That’s why I’m saying it for her.

Later Space Cowboys….

pat

 

 

Also posted in awards, My checkered past, my terrible wrath, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat37 Responses

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not the sort of person who makes new year’s resolutions.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever made any new year’s resolutions. Ever.

But yesterday, I wandered onto goodreads and fired up this little “reading challenge” widget they have. There’s not much to it. You set a goal for how many books you want to read over the course of the year, then this thing tracks your progress.

Last year I tried it on a whim and made my goal of 150 books even though I was sloppy about keeping track. This year I decided to shoot for 250, which is probably closer to what I actually read in a year.

Ever since I fired up that silly little widget, I’ve been thinking about new year’s resolutions. Which is odd, because, like I said, I don’t typically go in for that sort of thing.

Philosophically, the concept of making a resolution has never made much sense to me. It seems to me that if you really want to do something, you should just fucking do it. Resolving to do it is sort of a bullshit intermediary step. If I’m hungry, I don’t *resolve* to go eat lunch. I just find food and put it in my mouth. Simple. Problem solved.

So why am I thinking about New Year’s Resolutions?

I think the main reason is that I had a really great New Years. Some friends came to visit. We played board games, did some tabletop role-playing, and just hung out.

It was the most fun I’ve had in ages. And after everyone went home, I felt good. Not just happy, but physically and emotionally healthy. I felt like a million dollars.

No. I felt better than that. I felt like a second season of Firefly.

Seriously. A full 22 episode season. I felt that good.

Ever since then, I’ve been rolling it around in my head. 2011 was a pretty good year for me. Book two was finally published. The Wise Man’s Fear hit #1 on the New York Times. I met Terry Pratchett, got to perform at Wootstock, and attended some very cool conventions.

(Speaking of conventions. I’m Guest of Honor at Confusion later this month. You should swing on by if you can. Jim Hines is going to be there, as is Joe Abercrombie, Peter V. Brett, Brent Weeks….

Holy shit. Robin Hobb is going to be there too. I didn’t know that until I just checked their website. How awesome is that?)

But anyway, yeah. 2011 was my first official signing tour. I met thousands of my readers all over the country. (Though I realize now, as I go looking for a link, that I never got around to blogging about that. I probably should at some point.)

For now, a picture will suffice. Here’s a shot I took from the podium at my first signing of the tour in Seattle.

(They were a great crowd.)

If you look at the highlight reel of 2011, it looks like I’m living the dream.

I’ve actually had people say that to me over this last year: “Congratulations! You’re living the dream!”

I know they’re just excited for me. But whenever I hear that, I think, “Whose dream? I don’t ever remember dreaming this….”

Now don’t get be wrong. Parts of this year have been profoundly cool. I love conventions. I love talking about writing and hanging out with readers. I love getting to meet authors that I’ve been reading my whole life.

But the fact remains that a lot of times, after going to a convention I feel exhausted and hammered flat on both sides.

On the other hand, after hanging out with my friends on New Years, I feel like I could lift a truck over my head with one hand, then go write for ten hours straight.

Looking back over these last couple years, I realize that most of my close friends left town back in 2007, just as my first book was getting published. They were getting jobs in other parts of the country, going to grad school, joining Americorp….

I missed them, of course, but I was plenty busy getting used to the whole published-author life. I started writing this blog. I signed up for Facebook. I did some signings, started attending conventions….

At the same time, I quit teaching at the University. Quit coaching fencing. Quit acting as advisor to the College Feminists.

When I look at things with the clarity of hindsight, it’s blindingly obvious what the end result of all this is: I’m suffering from a rather specialized sort of social isolation. The sort of isolation where I can go online at any point and interact with 10,000 people.

I never thought of it like this before, but hanging out with friends is psychologically healthy. Facebook and blogging and going to conventions is the social equivalent of eating Pringles. It’s fun. It’s tasty. It’s relatively harmless in moderation. But if you eat nothing *but* Pringles, you die.

Similarly, lack of genuine hanging out with real friends must lead to a sort of psychological scurvy.

This is the situation I’ve accidentally backed into.It wasn’t until I hung out with my old friends again that I realized how much I missed that. How much some part of me was starving.

So. Over these last couple days I’ve been thinking about my life. I’ve been thinking about the difference between things I do that are fun, and things I do that actually make me happy.

For example, playing some stupid flash game on my computer might be fun, but playing board games with my friends makes me happy.

Or, for another example, it might be fun to do a reading at a convention, but hanging out with little Oot makes me happy.

The difference seems to be this. If something is merely fun, it’s mostly enjoyable while you’re doing it. Something that makes you happy is different. It’s enjoyable afterwards, too. Minesweeper and cocaine are fun (reportingly.) But talking with Oot about ducks or watching Buffy with friends make me happy.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that fun doesn’t have its place. I plan on playing the hell out of Skyrim when I have the chance.

What I’m saying is that my priorities have gotten seriously out of alignment. These days, flying to San Diego for a convention don’t just feel easy, it seems like a  professionally responsible for me to do. At the same time, driving down to Madison to hang out with friends, have dinner, and watch Avenue Q seems like an extravigant and impractical use of my time.

That’s some fucked up mental arithmetic.

So, in an effort to de-kink my thinkings, I’ve decided to make some changes to my life.

In fact, I’ve done more than merely *decide* to do these things. I’ve built up bad habits in these last years, and it’s going to take some effort to break them. So I’m going to *resolve* to do them.

Here they are:

1. I’m going to hang out with Oot at least two hours every day. I’m going to make it a priority, rather than something I try to fit in around the edges of the other stuff I have going on in my life.

2. I’m going to do my damnedest to hang out with my friends at least twice a month for the express purpose of playing games, hanging out, watching movies, and just generally dicking around.

3. I’m going to start exercising at least three times a week. Because, y’know, I don’t really want to die from author-related sitting-on-my-ass-ness.

At this point, the righteous self-improvement impulse starts to gather steam and I’m tempted to continue adding things. Turning this into a laundry list of me-betterment that include things like, “pet more fluffy kittens,” “smell even better,” and “floss regularly.”

But no. I’d rather pick three important things and actually do them, rather than list 50 things then get frustrated and quit after a month.

Why am I posting these things here on the blog?

The simple answer is because… well… writing things out helps me figure out where exactly my head is on a particular subject.

In fact, I just now realize that’s a lot of the reason I bother with the blog. If my friends still lived in town, I’d hang out with them and chat about this stuff in my living room, using them as a sort of sounding board. But since they don’t, I kinda hang out in my head with y’all and write blogs.

Which, now that I’m thinking about it, might be kinda crazy behavior.

The other reason I’m posting this up here is because I know myself pretty well. I’m prideful. If I make a public declaration like this, I’m much more likely to follow through with it.

Lastly, I figured I might as well post my musings up here with the hope they might be interesting/helpful to anyone else who is having trouble adjusting to this whole living life as a grown-up thing. I was really good at being a broke, mouthy, irreverent college student. But this being-an-adult shit can be really hard sometimes….

Feel free to post up your own resolutions in the comments. Especially if you’re like me, and think that going public might help you keep them.

Keep on tranglin,

pat

Also posted in meeting famous people, musings, social networking, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat96 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: Why does it take so long to translate the book?

Greatings Mr. Rothfuss,

My name is Daniella, and I´m a big fan of yours although i´ve only read The name of the wind wich brings me to my question, why does it takes so long that the wise man”s fear is published in spanish?

you see, I´m from México, and my english is not all that well, so, I can´t read it in english, besides, I think a book is more enjoyable in your own native language, anyway, all I want is to be able to read it I hope it comes out soon please Mr. Rothfuss do not forget your Spanish-speaking fans.

Daniella, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know when my book will be out in Mexico.

I know it sounds silly to say, but I don’t know the exact dates my books are published in a lot of countries. The Wise Man’s Fear is being translated into about 30 languages, and I don’t keep track of them all very closely. I only know it’s coming out in Spain on November 3rd because it says so at the end of the trailer I posted up last week.

But I’ll tell you what. I’ll look into it, and I’ll see if I can get an estimated time of publication for book two in all the different countries, then I’ll post it up here in the blog, link it in the FAQ, and update it whenever I get news from some of my publishers.

Sound fair?

In the meantime, Mondadori, my Spanish publisher, has set up a page for the book in… well… Spanish. It could be the information you’re looking for is over there.

As for your second question… well, you’re not the only one who is curious about that.

Pat,

I am one of your many fans in Spain and I am perishing out of waiting for your book. I love the first one! Can you please say when the second does come out in my country?

I would read your English copy but my English is not enough to read your book. Why must the translating be so long?

I know it is a big book. But it is months now. I know, it is not so long. But I am 17, and it seems a long time for me.

Would you please answer me back? Please?

Maria,

Maria and Daniella and dozens of others have e-mailed me, asking this question.

So here we go.

There are several reasons it’s taking a long time to The Wise Man’s Fear.

  • Translating things is really hard.

I’ve talked about this in a previous blog, but it really bears repeating.

So I repeat. Translating things is really hard.

  • The Wise Man’s Fear is very, very long.

Obscenely long. Almost 400,000 words long.

How long is 400,000 words?

Well, if you mashed together the first three Harry Potter books, then threw in The Hunger Games, too. It still would still be less than 400,000 words long.

Yeah. The Wise Man’s Fear is long. Really, really, long.

  • My books are a pain in the ass to translate.

Why? Well….

1. My names.

Names are important things. And real names, names that actually exist in the world, don’t make a lot of literal sense. This is because real names tend to accrete and evolve over time.

I work hard to create real-seeming names for things in my world. Names that give a strong impression without actually saying anything. Names like Mincet lane, and Cricklet, and Downings.

These real-seeming (but in reality made-up) names sound really good in English, but they’re a huge pain to translate.

2. I have an odd turn of phrase.

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to make a lot of anormal word usements.

Take, for example, the very first page of the book when I say, “It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”

How do you translate that?

It’s the sort of thing that, if taken literally, makes absolutely no sense at all. Flowers, with rare exception, do not make sound. Sounds are not sentient, so they can’t be patient.

Stuff like this is a bitch to translate.

3. I rely heavily on implication in my writing.

Or, to put it another way, I try to imply more than I explain.

I do this intentionally, as I believe it makes for a more engaging reading experience. While he’s narrating, Kvothe rarely says something clear-cut and expository like, “Wilem obviously thought I was a fucking idiot.”

Instead, Kvothe describes what Wilem says and does. Maybe Wil makes a sarcastic comment. Maybe he looks disproving. Maybe he raises an eyebrow.

If I do my job right, it should be abundantly clear what Wil thinks of Kvothe. Best of all, it has more of an effect on the reader because you see it and know it for yourself, rather than having it poked down your throat by a narrator.

But it’s a delicate thing. And it’s hard to translate.

Because  I’m aware that my book is a pain in the ass. I try to make myself available to the translators. Since I have over thirty, I’ve set up a forum where they can all come, ask questions, and read the answers that I’ve posted up in the past.

Last night, for example, I answered about 20 new question on there. So far, there’s about 300 question-and-answer threads. The FAQ we’ve compiled is more than 60 pages long.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that comes up fairly regularly in the forum:
[Fair warning: What follows involves a discussion of some minor events very early on in book two. There's really nothing spoilerish in there. Nothing is given away. But still, if you haven't read it yet, and you're an absolute non-spoiler purist, I thought I'd warn you.]

*     *     *

Dear Pat:

In the middle of page 47, during the exchange between Kvothe and Kellin, it reads:

“Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.”

Just a few lines below, you can find:

“You’re too kind,” I said, and gave her a much more earnest bow than the one I had given to Kellin. She rolled her eyes at me this time.”

That made me wonder if, in the first sentence, maybe it was meant to be “Denna rolled her eyes at him” instead.

Thanks,

Gab

_____________________

Gab,

Ah. This is just an issue of ambiguity in the language.

In the first line, the “at me” means that she rolled her eyes with the intention of Kvothe seeing her do it.

In the second line, “at me” means “because of me” AND that she had the intention of Kvothe seeing her do it.

I didn’t abbreviate the first use to “Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes.” Because the implication there is that Denna is just being bitchy at Kellin and Kvothe sees it accidentally. That implies that Denna really doesn’t like Kellin and she’s hiding it from Kellin.

But “Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.” makes it clear that Denna is doing this for Kvothe’s benefit. The interaction is between Kvothe and Denna. She’s effectively engaging in clandestine communication with Kvothe, saying, in effect, “Yeah, he’s full of himself. But what are you going to do?”

Technically, she’s rolling her eyes *at* Kellin *to* Kvothe. But that reads so poorly that it almost doesn’t make any sense.

Does that help?

pat

_____________________

Yes, it does, thank you.

I’ll try to use two different prepositions or to reword one of the sentences a bit to reflect this.

Thanks,

Gab

*     *     *

Now on the surface, this might seem like a small thing. But it has fairly big implications.

It’s just a small piece of body language. And it can be clarified with a different preposition or two. Just a couple words.

(A couple words out of the 400,000 you need to translate the whole book, mind you.)

But if it’s done wrong, the whole scene takes on a different feel.

Written one way, Denna is sharing a private joke with Kvothe. It shows a connection between them.

What’s more, it shows that Denna knows the guy is a bit of an ass, but it’s not that big a deal. Since she’s making fun of it, it’s obviously nothing too serious. It shows that Denna has her eyes open, and, ultimately, that she’s in control of the situation.

Lastly, it shows her relationship with Kvothe is much more intimate than with this other guy. First, because she’s engaging in some clandestine communication with Kvothe. But more importantly, when Kvothe is a bit of an ass and she rolls her eyes at him, she lets Kvothe see it. That shows that she trusts Kvothe more than she trusts Kellin. She’s teasing him, and it shows that she considers Kvothe a friend.

(Did I mention the whole implication thing? That I kinda do a lot of it? Yeah.)

If the scene is written the other way: if Denna rolls her eyes at Kellin and Kvothe just happens to see it, that’s an entirely different type of interaction.

That implies that Denna really doesn’t like Kellin. It shows Denna being passive-aggressive and implies that she’s two-faced and spiteful.

Even worse, it could imply that Denna is afraid of Kellin. That, in turn, implies a whole lot. If Denna is on the arm of a rich man that she hates and fears, that paints a really horrible picture of her life.

Witness the double edged sword of implication. When it works, it’s great. But it can go dangerously astray at times.

And, of course, all of this is made ten times more important because this is Denna’s first scene in the book. The impression she makes on the reader now will carry forward through the whole book.

And you know what I just realized? Now that I think of it. All of the important things Denna communicates in that first scene are done non-verbally.

So what’s your point, Rothfuss?

I said it before, and I’ll say it again.

Translation is tricky.

pat

P.S. Signings in MI, this weekend. Just in case you hadn’t heard.

Also posted in naming, the craft of writing, The difference between 'slim' and 'slender', translation | By Pat85 Responses

Everyone Hates Their Job Sometimes…

Here’s the truth. Sometimes I hate writing this fucking book.

I know this isn’t something most of you want to hear. You want to hear that it’s going well. (Which is it.) You also want to hear that I love every moment of writing it. It’s my baby, right? You have to love your baby…

Well, yes. But technically I’ve been working on this trilogy since 1994. The book is more like a teenager in some ways. You love a teenager too, but you can also be angry with a teenager. And sick of its endless shit.

The problem is this. People want to believe that being a published writer is a beautiful, happily-ever-after, candy mountain place where all your dreams come true.

Unfortunately, that’s bullshit.

This is a part of something I’ve come to think of as The Myth of the Author. I’m not going to get into the details right now. That’s a blog for a whole different day. But the gist of my theory is that, in general, people think of writers as a different sort of person. And by extension, writing is a different sort of work. It’s strange and wonderful. It’s a mystic process. It can’t be quantified. It’s not chemistry, it’s alchemy.

While some of that is true, this belief makes it really difficult for me to bitch about my job.

For example, if a doctor wrote a blog saying. “Fuck! sometimes I hate being a doctor…” People would read it and say, “Yeah man. I can see where you’re coming from. Long hours. Tons of responsibility. People expect a lot out of you. That’s a rough gig.”

On the other hand, if I come on here and bitch about my job. People will be disappointed. Irritated even.

Why would people be irritated? For several reasons.

Reason #1: It’s irritating when people complain about having a simple job.


Of course, writing a novel isn’t simple. Anyone that’s ever tried writing one knows this. The problem is, a lot of people haven’t tried. They assume writing is easy because, technically, anyone can do it.

To illustrate my point: Just as I was getting published, I met one of the big, A-list fantasy authors. (Who will remain nameless here.)

He told me the story of the time he’d met a doctor at a party. When the author mentioned that he wrote for a living, the doctor said: “Yeah, I was going to write a novel. But I just don’t seem to have the time.”

The author got a irritated just telling me this story. “When you say something like that,” he said. “It’s like saying being a writer doesn’t take any skill. It’s something anyone can do. But only a very slim percentage of the population can write well enough to make a living at it. It’s like going up to a doctor and saying, ‘yeah. My appendix was inflamed. I was going to take it out myself, but I didn’t really have the time.’”

Newbie writer that I was, I simply enjoyed the story, privately thinking that surely *my* readers would never be so foolish to assume that. And even if they did, I wouldn’t mind that much…

Fast forward to earlier this year, when I got the following e-mail:

Hi Patrick,

I’m a librarian, former teacher. I just read your book, very good. But, boy do you have a problem. Finishing tasks?? Why isn’t your editor doing a better job of guiding you? Here’s my quick recommendation: stop going to conventions. Your first book is a great hit, you don’t need any more marketing there. Sit down and decide where to END the second part. You don’t need to write any more. If book two is anything like book one, it is basically chronological. You’re done with book two!! Stop in a logical place, smooth out the transitions, and begin obsessing about book three. Good luck.

For those of you who have been reading the blog for a while, this is the letter I was thinking about mocking Waaaay back in May.

Re-reading it now, most of my irritation has faded. But my profound sensation of *What the Fuck* is still as strong as ever.

Let’s not even deal with the first half of the letter. Let’s ignore the fact that this woman isn’t a publicist, an editor, or my personal life-coach. Let’s jump straight to how she explains how I should write my book:

Oh. I need to sit down. I see. I need to know where to END it. I hadn’t thought of that.

And chronological order? Brilliant! Up until this point I’d been arranging all the chapters by length.

I mean seriously. You people do know that I have to make the entire book up, right? I’m not just cribbing it out of Kvothe’s biography, right?

Right?

And I lack the words to express my stupification at the offhand advice that I should just “smooth out the transitions.”

That’s not true. I do have the words. They go like this: “If this is the sort of advice you used to give your students when you were a teacher, thank you for not being a teacher any more.”

I counted yesterday. Do you know book two has eighteen fucking plotlines? Six entirely distinct settings, each with their own casts of characters? How exactly to I smooth that out? Do you think I just go down to the writing store, buy some fucking transition putty, and slather it on?

Okay. I lied. I guess I’m still irritated.

Truth is, I know that this letter comes from a place of love. This person is genuinely trying to help me. Deep in her heart of hearts, this woman believes she knows how to write a novel. The answers are so obvious. It seems simple to her…

This is why some folks will get irritated if I complain about my job. Because they think writing is simple.

But it isn’t. Nobody’s job is as simple as it looks from the outside.

Reason #2: It’s not cool to complain about your dream job.

I’m well aware of the fact that, I’m living the dream. A lot of people want to be published. They want it so bad they can taste it. They’d give anything…

I know this because that’s how I used to feel.

I’m lucky: I got published. What’s more, I’m one of the few writers that gets to write full time. Even better, I’ve gone international, and people all over the world are waiting for the next book.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t hate my job sometimes.

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. Ron Jeremy probably calls in sick some days because he just can’t stand the thought of getting another blowjob. I don’t doubt that Mike and Jerry over at Penny Arcade occasionally wake up in the morning and think, “Fuck, I’ve got to play more fucking video games today.”

That’s just the way of the world. Everyone hates their own job sometimes. It’s an inalienable right, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.

Reason #3: The Myth of the Author.

People want to believe that the act of creation is a magical thing. When I write, I am like some beardy old-word god, hewing the book from some raw piece of literary firmament. When I write, the muse is like a lithe, naked woman, sitting on my lap with her tongue in my ear.

(This would make a great bookjacket photo.)

And you want to know the truth? Sometimes it’s exactly like that. Sometimes when I write, I’m so full of adrenaline that I could lift up a truck. I can feel my my tripartite soul burning in my chest like molten gold.

But sometimes it sucks. Just like any job. I get bored revising the same chapters over and over. My back hurts from hunching over the keyboard. I am so tired of fucking spellcheck. Do you know how long it takes to run spellcheck on 350,000 words?

I’m tired of trying to juggle everything: the plotlines, the character arcs, the realistic depiction of a fantastic world, the pacing, the word choice, the tension, the tone, the stories-within-stories. Half of it would be easy, but getting everything right at once? It’s like trying to play cat’s cradle in n-dimensional space.

The truth is, sometimes I’m so sick of sitting in front of this computer I could shit bile.

There. That’s all. I’m not quitting. I’m not even taking the night off. I just needed to vent.

Thanks for being here. Remember to tip your waitress. I’ll be here all week.

pat

Also posted in BJ Hiorns Art, fanmail, Rage, Things I didn't know about publishing | By Pat285 Responses

Terminal

I’ve done so much flying in this last month that all the airport terminals have blurred together in my memory.

So while I can’t remember exactly where this happened, I know it was down by the baggage claim, relaxing and participating in my second favorite sport: watching people.

It was a slightly out-of-the-way corner of the terminal with a light scattering of folks who were waiting for their luggage too. Standing off to the side was a young mom with a couple little kids in tow.

She was obviously tired, and was doing her best to keep an eye on her kids while at the same time making sure that her luggage wasn’t molested by terrorists, gypsies, communists, or whatever flavor of bad guy homeland security is trying to frighten us with this week.

The kids were having a great time. The little girl was just wandering, staying close to mom and looking at stuff. But the little boy had invented a game. He would build up to a run, then flop down and slide across the smooth floor on his belly.

It was obviously a lot of fun, and adding to his enjoyment was the fact that his mom didn’t want him to do it. She stopped him once, but then he got out of arm’s reach and she couldn’t catch him without leaving her daughter and the luggage behind.

I should make it clear that the baggage claim area was far from bustling. It was quiet, and the kid wasn’t getting in anyone’s way. Neither was he wandering very far afield. He stayed in mom’s line of vision. He wasn’t being naughty, he was just being a kid.

Mom wasn’t being needlessly strident about it, either. She didn’t get all huffy or shriek qt him. And while she wasn’t happy that he wasn’t listening, she didn’t view this as a major challenge to her authority. She was just trying to do her job, which is to say she wanted to keep him from hurting himself, being a nuisance, and getting his clothes dirty.

She tried to corral him as best she could, but he ignored and avoided her, run-flopping all over the place. I was tempted to try it myself. It looked like a good time. However, the square-cube ratio is harsh on adults, and I worried that if I flopped onto the ground, I would rupture something vital in my guts. Plus I expect airport security would have tazered me for being a deviant.

So, because I was living vicariously through his exploits, I was watching him when he flopped harder than he meant to. It wasn’t a bad fall, but he bumped his head a little and lay there for half a second, hurt, angry, and confused. Then started to cry, picked himself up, and ran over to his mom.

Now this is the fulcrum of the story. The point at which it could pivot one way or another. The young mom could have cussed him out. But she didn’t. She didn’t shout or say, “I told you so,” or try to turn it into some sort of moral lesson. She picked him up, hugged him, and nuzzled her face against his head to make him feel better. And it worked.

That’s what moms are for. They give us good advice and we ignore it, running around like tiny Visigoths. Then we fuck up, hurt ourselves, and come running back so that they can make everything okay again.

It was a sweet thing to see. And honestly, it broke my heart.

Some of you know that my mom died not too long ago. I don’t talk about it very much, but the fact is, I think about her all the time.

Whenever I think too hard about it, I become uncertain about what I should or shouldn’t post here on the blog. Generally speaking, when I think something might be of interest to my readers (like an interview, or an appearance at a convention) I post it up. The same is true when I think of a funny story or a good piece of advice.

Part of the reason I haven’t written much about my mom is because I worry it will come across as maudlin, and I assume that people come to the blog to be entertained, not depressed.

On the other hand, if this blog is supposed to be a little window into my life, not writing about her at all feels dishonest. If the things I write here are supposed to reflect my real thoughts and emotions, how can I not mention her?

I get the feeling that I’m going to spend the rest of my life thinking of questions that only she could answer. Like how she kept the rabbits from destroying her garden even though she didn’t use a fence. The truth is, when she died it was like someone burned down a library, cut off one of my legs, and took away half of my laughing. Some days are okay. But other days I don’t know if I’ll ever be smart, or steady, or happy in the same way again.

But the thing I really miss is that she loved me like nobody else ever could. I grew up my whole life surrounded by that constant, unobtrusive, unquestioning affection. It has a lot to do with the sort of person I am today. That doesn’t mean she didn’t call me on my bullshit, or make fun of me, or point out when I was being a dick. But the love was always there, indifferent to my Visigoth behavior. Unconditional.

When you grow up surrounded by something like that, you don’t notice it consciously. It’s like the humidity in the air. You don’t even notice when it’s gone, either, except that something is different. Something isn’t right. Then you start realizing that you’re thirsty all the time, and you can’t figure out why you’re constantly tired, or getting nosebleeds.

Then, eventually, you realize the problem is that the air is too dry. Only then can you take some steps to try and get some moisture back into your life. Only then can you start trying to make adjustments so things can feel, at least a little bit, like they used to.

I think that’s the point I’ve finally reached. I’ve discovered that my life is drier than I’d like, and I’m trying to figure out what I can do about it.

So I think I’m going to start mentioning my mom on here from time to time. Not a lot, probably, but some. It’s a shame you can’t meet her, but I suppose the next best thing is you getting to know her through some stories.

I’ve turned the comments off for today, because I’m not looking for sympathy or consolation. Similarly, if you know me, don’t feel obliged to send me an e-mail, trying to cheer me up and gently dancing around the question of how I’m doing. How am I? I’m fine. Sad? Yes. Melancholy? Sure. But also fine.

I mean it. Few things are as irritating to me as someone trying to cheer me up when I’m in a perfectly good bad mood.

Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll continue spilling out the convention stories that I’ve built up over the last month. Hint: catgirls will be featured prominently.

Fondly,

pat

Also posted in day in the life, emo bullshit, mom | By PatLeave a comment
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