Friday, March 26, 2010

Pat Rothfuss Signing

On Tuesday I drove down to Maryland(3 hour trip) to see Patrick Rothfuss at a Barnes and Noble in Frederick, Maryland. He gave a reading, an author Q and A, and did a signing. The following are my impressions and notes on the experience. I've tried my best to stay as close as possible to what he said. If there are any errors or misquotes they are neither willful nor malicious. I didn't want to openly take notes because I would miss most of what he said and diminish my enjoyment. As you will no doubt glean from what follows:
1) I had a great time.
2) The experience was a unique opportunity to learn and gain insight from a master craftsman.
3) Rothfuss genuinely loves and appreciates his fans and enjoys talking about his work, the writing process, and the fantasy genre in general.
I had arrived early, and taken a seat in the common area. The reading was scheduled for 7. At 6 I had my choice of seats. By 615 the most of the seats had filled. By 630 it was already standing room only.
At about 7 Pat arrived. He wore a blue sun tshirt and jeans. He made his way to the front and set down his bookbag. He greeted the crowd then took out some folders containing his readings.
He looked tired. His face was ashy. You could tell he had spent a long time on the road and the readings and trip were wearing. But his tiredness never became impatience or crankiness. He was genial with crowd and had an ease in front of the room that I suspect comes from years as a teacher. And being one of the few lucky individuals on the planet who actually enjoys his job.
Once his caffiene arrived he became more animated. He cautioned the crowd to please turn off the cellphones for each other's sake. He said that if a phone goes off while he is speaking it will distract him, but more importantly it will also very much piss off the crowd, who will not take kindly to such interruptions. And it worked. Not one cellphone went off the entire time.
Shortly after this Oot and Sara arrived. Sara wore Oot in a baby carrier with Oot facing out. A collective "aaahhh," went up from the crowd. Which was well merited because Oot is adorable.
His dad took him out and it was obvious how fond he was of his little boy. He kissed him, held him, then held him up to the crowd facing them. Some babies might have been frightened. Not Oot. The most radiant, happy, ear to ear smile lit Oot's face. I've never seen a baby laugh like that. He was so animated the crowd loved him. He loved the crowd.
Pat then gave him back to Sara and said he would wait until about 715 to begin. He was chronically late in the past so he would allow the stragglers to come in before he started. We could have a brief informal question and answer period.
The questions started. I think the very first one was: Where the hell did Kvothe come from?

Pat smiled then said there were two sources and the first he still clearly remembers to this day. He was reading Cyrano de Bergerac and cried through the last twenty pages. He said this amazing, moving character had him weeping for hours. And he immediately thought why hasn't there been a character like this in a fantasy setting? He later that day wrote the first words "My name is Kvothe."
The second he said came from reading Cassanova's memoirs. He talked about how he read the memoirs fervently. He was in awe of the man and his experiences. And that found its way to Kvothe as well.
But he had a problem. Although Cassanova's life had been interesting, it had not had a plot or a story. And as a novelist that was where he needed to invent.
He then talked about how his strength as a writer was in characters (and I would add world building, dialogue and choice of syntax) but that the structure of a book, the plot, did not come easily for him, and this was one of the things he had to work hard at. Personally, I couldn't tell he from his books that plot is not a strong point. If he had to put extra effort into the plotting of a book, it certainly didn't show. The narrative does flow smoothly.
More questions were asked about writing in general. One person said how do you know when your work is ready to be sent out? Pat said generally there are two rules to follow. First, if you think your work needs more revision, it probably does. Second, if you don't think your work needs more revision, it probably does.
Someone then asked how do you know when its finished?
Pat said Your editor will tell you.
He talked about his first attempt at fantasy novel, with the cliché'd barbarians etc, and then said he sent it out and realized later that most of the story consisted of dialogue, flashbacks and the characters generally didn't do anything except go from tavern to tavern.
And then in a humorous anecdote he described how he sent it to Neil Gaiman's agent who sent it back and he was enraged. He said he raved about how the agent hand't understood his brilliance when he received the rejection letter. Then after he took a second look he thought it over and took the advice.
At this time it was about 715 so Pat decided to do a reading. I think the first reading was a piece he wrote for his humor column about keeping giunea pigs in his dorm room. The piece was hilarious and it led to Pat talking about the role of ambiguity in writing. If the piece were completely true, or completely false, it would lose some of its power.
Then he asked the crowd if it wanted another humor column or the first page of The Wise Man's Fear. Of course Wise Man's Fear won out. It starts in the Waystone Inn, and like a musical motif touches on the themes of The Name of the Wind and puts some variations on them. All I can say is beautiful prose.
He then talked about the work he did on The Wise Man's Fear. He said he had spoken to his agent about the book's length. It had "grown in the telling." She had reassured him not to worry that it would be fine, regardless of how long it ended up. He asked her what the ceiling was for word count. She said let her do some research. She came back with a number, which she quoted as being the word count of the longest novel ever published in one book: James Clavell's Shogun. I don’t remember the word count exactly but I think it was over 400,000. She said they would try to publish under that. But that gave him quite a bit of room to work with.
I think the entire audience collectively salivated. This book we've been waiting years for was that much closer. And more significantly, for myself at least, one piercing anxiey was alleviated. I was worried about losing whole sections of the book in the editing process. The fact that its going to be this huge, and the editors and publishers are ok with that, was reassuring. I had the feeling they are not going to take this book and make it sellable(by which I mean strip it down). They believe in Pat's writing and are going to publish the novel in the form that he sees fit, however long that may be.
Think about it: a book about Kvothe the size of Shogun. WOW!!
Ok fanboy, that's enough. Calm down.
He then talked about the fantasy genre and certain cliché's or tropes he had wanted to avoid. But he said its not that easy. He said if you look at The Name of the Wind you can still spot them and asked the crowd to name a few(and here the traces of Pat the teacher came out which were pretty cool. He seems very much like the professor you have who is not a career academic, but a part time lecturer, but is fun and you learn from just because he loves the material so much and doesn't care about academic reputation). The orphan, the bully, the evil characters…he said they are there but there is something added or taken away or described that puts a new spin on them. He said that was the challenge he had in writing them. You can't avoid some things, but you can tell them in a new way.
This led into a discussion of other aspects of fantasy. He said think of wizards. What makes a wizard really powerful? Its not his ability to do magic, although that is important. He said its because of what he knows. He knows more than you can see. He illustrated what he meant by three examples: Gandalf, Merlin, and Moses. He said each of them uses magic, if at all, sparingly. But they are important to the story and characters because of what they know.
He read one more piece, a poem he wrote for Sarah. Which of course the audience loved and was actually very good. Then a few more questions. Someone asked how he felt about Kvothe doing battle with a god-lion-king. He laughed and said he enjoyed the whole Suvudu battle royale. He had even written something he posted on how he imagined the battle would go.
Then it was time for the signing. I had instant respect for the man because his first thought was of his fans and their long commutes at such a late hour. He asked the audience to allow the people who just want the book signed to come up to the front, and those who wanted longer writings in the book to go to the back. He talked and conversed with his fans and took as much time talking as they wanted. I think the store must have stayed open an extra hour or so.
He also asked that fans sign a copy of his book and feel free to write whatever they felt in it to him.
When I handed him my copy I realized something very important. My copy is old, a first edition hardback with Kvothe on the front. It is weathered, a little bit frayed and slightly dogeared. I have written annotations and comments in it. I have read it three times and counting my students it has to have been read at least fifteen times in total.
And I thought: what a great gift to give an author. His own book, that has obviously been much loved and much read.
That's pretty much all I remember. My hope is that when The Wise Man's Fear comes out he will do a coast to coast signing. His fans will certainly be legion. He was very gentlemanly and polite. He took the time put real thought in his answers to questions rather than cite cliché's because he was tired and wanted to go.
In fact, wouldn't it be cool if authors published at the same time and did a fantasy version of lollapalooza? Had outdoor readings interspersed with music performances? Maybe four or five authors on tour? Im not talking arena sized but still can you imagine if Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, George R R Martin, and Brandon Sanderson toured together?
If I made any mistakes in the above quotes or descriptions please don't hesitate to point them out and I will gladly correct them. My intention was to put something about how important the experience was for me and how enjoyable.
If you get the chance to see him, go. Lots of fun.
Now, if I could only get that review of The Last Light of the Sun finished.

No comments:

Post a Comment