Tuesday, 26 May 2009
The Name of the Author: Patrick Rothfuss
There are times when signings are just not what you expect.
When fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss posted on his blog that he was coming to the UK, both FP and I were inundated with requests – even before I’d picked up the phone to talk about an event.
Enter a writer whose effect on his fanbase was among the most powerful I’ve ever seen.
Upon first look, you half-expect Mister Rothfuss to be a real ale drinker, socks under his sandals and a chunky knit sweater; Gods know, he may even be filking before the evening is out. When he gets behind the signing counter, however, he proves that he has comedy, presence, vivacity and a kind of hearty sincerity that only an American can get away with.
He refuses to write random quotes in people’s books – here’s a man with a 250,000 word novel, written across 15 years, saying he can’t be brilliant ‘on the spur’. He cuddles random bloggers, pulls faces as his picture’s taken; he has an evil laugh and a wicked sense of humour – he’ll write relationship advice, he says, and if it’s anything like his writing advice, then I feel the owner of the book would be well-advised to follow it.
The air is warm, the queue is bubbling with enthusiasm, kept laughing by Pat’s quips. His readers are overwhelmed by him, gentle as he is – one couple love the book so much they ask him to dedicate it to ‘Anara’, their unborn child. And he returns their affection – this picture by Lucy Artiss captures one of the novel’s characters so vividly, you realise the remarkable relationship this writer has with his readers goes both ways.
We adjourn to the Phoenix for a Q&A – where he proves he’s not only writer, charismatic leader and agony uncle, he’s also stand-up comic. He starts on the masturbation of poetry (or was that the poetry of masturbation?) and the finer details of monkey-love… I’m sure Kvothe never told Chronicler anything like that.
Monkeys aside, he talks about the craft of writing – some wondrous insights, too many to list here. The difference between writing and editing and the poignant change in attitude that comes with publication – both from others, and from yourself. Suddenly, as we all discover at some point, it isn’t fun any more.
But you do it anyway – because you have to.
The thing that touches me is a simple one – one of the earliest ‘101’ pieces of advice any writer is given. No, not ‘face the cold page’ (though that was there too) but ‘write what you know’. Sod that, says Patrick Rothfuss, ‘write what you don’t’. What you know has become tarnished; you’ve seen it first thing in the morning, you’ve seen it dirty and broken down. What you don’t know is like the high-school crush you never got to snog – it’ll always be beautiful. Take that passion – that belief in its beauty – and write.
I had to ‘fess up that I hadn’t actually read ‘Name of the Wind’ – it’s been many years since I could read classic high fantasy without an autodump from my cynicism gland – but this is a writer who may yet make me change my mind.
His secret? ‘Don’t video me’, he says, ‘this is my front room, and you are all my friends’.
To coin a phrase – his name is Patrick Rothfuss. You may have heard of him.