Rothfuss: Heya Brandon.
Sanderson: Hey there, Pat. Nice talking with you again.
Rothfuss: Thanks for being willing to do this. I know you're insanely busy these days.
Okay. Let me just jump right in here with a question. How long was Way of Kings? I heard a rumor that the ARC I read was 400,000 words long. It didn't really feel like it…
Sanderson: Let me see. I will open it right now and word
count it, so you have an exact number. It’s 386,470 words, though the
version you read was an advance manuscript, before I did my final 10%
tightening draft, which was 423,557 words.
I didn’t really want it to be that long. At that length we’re running
into problems with foreign publishers having to split it and all sorts
of issues with making the paperback have enough space. I didn’t set out
to write a thousand-page, 400,000-word book. It’s just what the novel
Rothfuss:Wise Man's Fear ended up being 395,000
words. And that's despite the fact that I've been pruning it back at
every opportunity for more than a year. I'd spend weeks trimming
superfluous words and phrases, extra lines of dialogue, slightly
redundant description until the book was 12,000 words shorter.
Then a month later I'd realize I needed to add a scene to bring better
resolution to a plot line. Then I'd add a couple paragraphs to clarify
some some character interaction. Then I'd expand an action scene to
improve tension. Suddenly the book's 8,000 words longer again.
Sanderson: Yeah, that’s exactly how it goes.
It’s very rare that I’m able to cut entire scenes. If I can cut entire
scenes that means there’s something fundamentally not working with the
sequence and I usually end up tossing the whole thing and rewriting it.
But trimming, or pruning as you described it, works very well with my
I can usually cut fifteen percent off just by nurturing the text,
pruning it, looking for the extraneous words and phrases. But I wonder
if in doing that there’s a tendency to compensate. There’s a concept in
dieting that if someone starts working out really hard, they start to
say, “Well, that means I can now eat more,” and you’ll find people
compensating for the extra calorie loss by eating more because they feel
they can. I wonder if we do that with our fiction. I mean, I will get
done with this big long trim and I’ll say, “Great, now I have the space
to do this extra thing that I really think the story needs,” and then
the story ends up going back to just as long.
Though at least in my case I can blame my editor too. He’s very good
with helping me with line edits, but where we perhaps fuel each other in
the wrong way is that he’ll say, “Ooh, it’d be awesome if you add
this,” or “This scene needs this,” or “Can you explain this?” And I say,
“Yes! I can explain that. I’d love to!” And then of course the book
gets longer and then we both have to go to Tom Doherty with our eyes
downward saying, “Um, the book is really long again, Tom. Sorry.”
I have a question for you, then. Did you always intend the Kingkiller Chronicle
to be three days split across three books? Or did you start writing it
as one book and then split it? What’s the real story behind that?
Rothfuss: Assuming I had any sort of plan at the beginning
is a big mistake. I just started writing. I didn't have a plan. I
didn't know what I was doing.
For years and years I just thought of it as The Book in my head. I've
always thought of it as one big story. Then, eventually I realized it
would need to be broken up into volumes.
I can't say why I picked three books except that three is a good number.
It's sort of the classic number. And while the story is working well in
this format, part of me wishes I'd broken it into smaller chunks. This
second book has so many plotlines. If I'd written this trilogy as say,
10 books, each one would be much shorter and self contained. More like
the Dresden Files.
That's pointless musing though. I'm sure if I'd written smaller volumes
right now I'd be thinking, "Oh! if only I'd written these as longer
books I could play more with interwoven plot lines…"
Sanderson: Yeah, it’s interesting you should mention this,
because what I keep getting told from a publishing side is that no one
ever wants me to cut the story. I never get that. People ask that of me
all the time, “Does your publisher want you to make the book shorter?”
Well, the publisher would really like the books to be shorter, but they
don’t want any of the story to be cut. I do sometimes wonder what we’re
doing, what we’re setting ourselves up for by writing books of this
length. Jim Butcher is able to reliably release a book every year or so
in his series, in part because he’s able to split the story into
manageable chunks. And you and I are not splitting our stories into very
manageable chunks. This happens a lot in series.
I look back at the Wheel of Time; Robert Jordan was able to
release books one a year for a period of time until the books were long
enough and he got through the backlog of writing he’d already done, and
suddenly he was not able to release a book every year because the books
were long and involved and took a lot of work. Well, when he stopped
releasing them every year all his fans complained, “What’s going on?
Suddenly you’re not releasing your books every year?” So he started
releasing them faster and shorter and they all started complaining that
the books were too short.
And so, starting our series with such long books does kind of put us in
this strange conundrum. And there are a lot of considerations people
don’t understand, like printing costs and the like. Has there been, on
your side, any sort of attempt on the publisher’s end to nudge
you—saying, “They don’t have to be this long. You can tell the story in
shorter chunks; don’t cut any story! But do it in shorter chunks”?
Because I’ve gotten a bit of that. Granted they’re always willing to let
me do what I want to do, but it’s kind of along the lines of, “We
wouldn’t mind, Brandon, if you did it in smaller chunks.”
Rothfuss: No, I don't get any of that. My publisher, DAW,
is really long-book friendly. Perhaps the most long-book friendly of all
the publishers out there. They published Tad Williams back before Big
Fat Fantasy was cool. They didn't bat an eye at The Name of the Wind being 250,000 words. That's a freedom that's rarely given to new authors for their very first book.
That said, I was a little worried about the length of book two. The
thing kept getting bigger and bigger. Finally I called Betsy and asked
if the length was going to be a problem.
At first she just laughed it off. But when I told her it was getting
REALLY long, she said, "Let me do some research." Two days later she
calls me back and tells me the longest paperback ever was about 420,000
words. So as long as I was under that, I would be fine.
All I could think was, "Shorter than the longest book ever? Sure, I think I can manage that."
My turn. Did you do the illustrations for Way of Kings?
Sanderson: Fortunately I haven’t done any of the illustrations in my books since the Aons in Elantris, and those were all redone in-house. I have very little talent with visual art, though for The Way of Kings
I did get to have a lot more influence on the art than many authors
might have been able to have. Irene at Tor was very good to work with;
she gave me some leeway that she really didn’t have to.
I worked very closely with the artists to get what I wanted. Some of the
pieces went through a half dozen or a dozen drafts as we explored and
tried to feel out what was in my head, and have the artist add to that
until we came to pieces that we were satisfied with. So it was a very
interesting process. It wasn’t simply “submit a description, get a piece
back.” It was “submit a vague description, talk to the artist on the
phone, get across what I’m trying to do, send lots of examples of other
art that’s like it, get some early drafts, nudge one direction or
another, keep working on it.” Some of these pieces took months to do.
Rothfuss: Do you mind if I ask a question you've probably been asked a bunch of times before?
Sanderson: I’ll happily respond, but as I’m responding I’m
going to try to think of the most boring question I can ask you.
Something you’ve answered a billion times, to get payback.
Rothfuss: Heh. Fair enough.
When I first heard that someone was continuing Jordan's Wheel of Time,
my first thought was, "Wow, that's a cool gig." Then my second thought
was, "I would not want that responsibility for all the money in the
How did you come to grips with that? Those are big shoes to fill….
Sanderson: My thoughts were all over the place. I do legitimately love the Wheel of Time
and have been reading it since I was a young man. If you look at my
early unpublished books, you’ll find they were deeply influenced by the Wheel of Time.
Amusingly so; looking back on it now, I see things I didn’t even notice
that I had done. So that love of the series was part of what was
bouncing around in my head.
I didn’t become a writer because I wanted to write in other people’s
worlds. I wanted to tell my own stories, and I was making a comfortable
living at my writing before this. For a lot of projects I would have
said no regardless of what they offered, so it had to be about more than
the money. Beyond that, there was this sense, as you expressed, of
“Wow, if I screw this up, I’m in serious trouble. People will find me
and burn my house down. Wheel of Time fans are hardcore.” I
struggled with this, and it almost caused me to say no. One writer I
know mentioned regarding this, or posted it somewhere, “This is a
thankless job. Anything that Sanderson gets right will be attributed to
Robert Jordan, and anything he gets wrong will condemn him.” I took all
those things into consideration.
But in the end, I felt I could do a good job on this, and that it could
be a sendoff I could give one of my favorite authors, someone who deeply
influenced me as a writer. And I felt that if I passed on it, someone
else would be found and would get to do it. The question that it came
down to for me was, “Knowing that someone who is not Robert Jordan is
going to do this, can you really pass and let anyone other than you do
it?” And the answer was that I couldn’t let someone else do it. I had to
do it. So I said yes.
Rothfuss: Okay. Your turn. Ask your payback question.
Sanderson: So, when’s book three going to be out? And
don’t you already have it written? Because I’ve heard you say before
that you already have it written. So what’s the holdup?
Rothfuss: Yeah. I've heard that one before. That's actually a pretty reasonable question.
Here's the deal:
In some ways, I do already have the trilogy written. I wrote all of Kvothe's story all the way to the end back in 2000.
So yeah. In some ways, the whole trilogy is finished.
But really it depends on what you mean by "Finished."
Back in 2000, I thought the story was pretty much done. I thought it was awesome. I thought it was ready to be published.
Since then, I've learned a lot about writing. A lot. When I recently
re-read the third book, I could see huge glaring mistakes that weren't
obvious to me before. That's a good thing.
The other problem is that the first two books of the series have changed
considerably since 2000. I've added characters and plotlines. I've
probably added, 250,000 words worth of new material since then. Back in
2000, Devi wasn't in the book. Neither was Auri. Neither was the
That's part of what took me so long with book two. I didn't just have to
write a sequel. That's would have been hard enough. I had to take a
book I'd already written, and re-write it so that it matched up with all
the changes I'd made to book one.
I think doing that is harder than starting from scratch. Re-writing the beginning section of The Wise Man's Fear
was really, really hard. But adding a 60,000 word subplot later in the
book was really easy, because I wasn't revising it, I was creating it
Book three is going to take a couple years because now I have to
integrate all the changes from TWO books when I'm re-writing. Luckily,
now I have a better idea how to do that. I'm a much better writer than I
was two years ago, and I'm actually looking forward to digging in and
starting on the project.
Sanderson: Some of these questions I’m pitching at you at
because I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but I want to have somewhere
I can point people when they complain to me, “Rothfuss already has the
book done and it’s not getting released! What’s up?” And I’m sure you’ve
answered these questions before, but they’re probably buried in your
blog or something like that.
I’ve heard that the frame story was added after the fact. Is that true?
Rothfuss: Yeah. The story originally started with the
Sentence. "My Name is Kvothe." There was no Waystone Inn. No Bast. No
Chronicler. Just him telling his story.
Admittedly, that was a very early draft. The book has obviously changed a lot since then.
I think part of the problem is that when I talk about revision, most
people assume I'm fixing comma splices and running spellcheck. No.
That's copyediting. That's proofreading.
When I'm doing revision, it's REVISION. I treat the book like it's a car
engine. I strip it down into all its component parts and make sure each
of them is doing exactly what it should. If it isn't, I fix it.
The problem, of course, is that if a part isn't working right, I can't
just order a new one out of a catalogue. I have to invent it myself and
then try to reassemble the rest of the engine around it. If it doesn't
work, I have to take it apart and start again.
Sanderson: It’s interesting to me, I find, in both books—I’m now reading Wise Man’s Fear—that
the frame story writing has a different feel of maturity about it. So
that’s why I was curious to know if the frame story stuff is new. I
actually think that some of the very strongest writing in the entire
series has been in the frame story.
It’s interesting that you should mention rewriting and changing as an
author. In some ways, these books that have been with us for so long are
much harder to work on than books that just occur to us or that we
start off brand new.
Rothfuss: I think you're absolutely right about that.
Writing that 60,000 word subplot was easy. It was integrating it into
the rest of the book that was hard.
Sanderson: In my history as a writer, The Way of Kingsis
a project I’ve been working on for years and years and years. But the
Mistborn trilogy was an idea I had, executed, and finished. These two
projects have been very different from one another to work on. With one,
I had a great idea, I built the world, I built the story, and I wrote
the three books straight through and released them. And with the other
story, I have all the “killing your darlings” sort of things that are
tough to deal with when you’ve been playing with a character since
you’re fifteen years old and now you’re finally sitting down to write
their story. It’s hard to manage the baggage of that many years and
weave out and cut out things that aren’t needed for the story despite
the fact that they’re integral to the character’s soul, to you having spent all this time on them.
That’s one of the reasons why I recommend to new writers not to
initially work on those stories that have been so close to you for so
long. I feel now that I’m practiced and established an author, I know
how to tell the best story out of all of this stuff I’ve been working on
since I was a kid. When I was a new author I don’t think I could have
done it. I think it would have turned into a fanboy session for my own
world that nobody else knows, which would have been a disaster.
Rothfuss: Yeah. It's relatively easy to take a pile of
lumber and turn it into a house. But a lot of what I've been doing (And a
lot of what it sounds like you had to do with Way of Kings) is
like building a house out of a different house. A house that you built
back before you knew what the hell you were really doing.
Sanderson: So my other question for you is kind of related to that. How has it been killing your darlings?
Rothfuss: It's been hard. Sometimes painfully hard. But I
haven't had to abandon any parts of the story that I loved. So in that
case it hasn't been an issue of killing my darlings, it's been more like
performing extensive reconstructive surgery. The book is stronger,
healthier, and prettier as a result. It will have a better life, and I
hope it lives longer because of it.
Sanderson: Would you recommend to people to start with a
project like this or should they try something smaller in scope? What do
you tell your students when you teach?
Rothfuss: I would absolutely recommend that people start with something simpler. Don't follow in my footsteps. I'm not a role model.
Plus, I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to tell a
simple story well. You can learn a lot doing that. There's nothing
wrong with writing a good, honest, 300 page novel.
When I started my book, I didn't know what I was getting into. I didn't
even know the word "metafiction" meant. As I result I bit off WAY more
than I could chew. Hell, it took me 12 years to chew it. That's not
really the best way to learn your craft. It's certinaly not the best way
to get published.
That said, I do recommend that people write the book that they really
want to write. The book that rides close to their heart. The book they
can't stop thinking about. If that book tends to be a little more
complicated than boy-meets-girl? A little longer than 300 pages? A
little genre bending? Well… go for it. If you fail you'll learn a lot.
And if you succeed, you'll hopefully have a story that's different and
Sanderson: Some writers say that our books are like our
children. But now both of us actually do have children. It’s pretty
weird, isn’t it? Being a daddy.
Rothfuss: Oh man, is it ever. How old are yours?
Sanderson: Three years old and one year old.
Rothfuss: Got any cute kid stories?
Sanderson: I’ve got tons of cute kid stories. One happened
today at lunch—I’m sure he’ll be embarrassed in ten years if I share
this, so that’s a good reason to share it.
We were sitting at lunch and just talking about whether policemen are
nice or mean. Because he’s suddenly got it in his head that policemen
pull you over—they’ll get you if you do certain things—and we’re trying
to explain to him, no, policemen are nice but their job is to keep us
safe and to keep us from doing things that they don’t want us to do.
Meanwhile, while we’re getting into this conversation, he does his
favorite three-year-old thing which is to start digging for gold in his
nose, to use a euphemism. He’s picking his nose quite voraciously, and
he freezes and pauses. I just said policemen stop us from doing things
we’re not supposed to do, and his mom is very constantly telling him
don’t pick your nose.
So he says, “Policeman will get me if I pick my boogers?” And we say,
“Um, well, no that’s not technically against the law, but you shouldn’t
do it.” And he says, “Policeman wants my boogers? He’ll take them?”
Because we’ve been talking about how they’ll take your car away, so he’s
suddenly afraid that since he’s not supposed to pick his nose that the
policemen will arrest him if he picks his nose and take his boogers
So there you go. There’s a wonderful cute kid story for you, or at least a disgusting one, somewhere in there
Rothfuss: Wow. I can't top that. Oot is still just on the cusp of talking.
Just tonight Oot brought me my winter boots and made it clear he wanted
to wear them. So I helped him put them on. He just stood there. They
were way too big for him to move his feet. But he stood there looking
really proud, like he was king of the world.
Sanderson: Pat, your life situation is really different now than when you wrote Name of the Wind. Has your changing life status made a difference in how you write?
Rothfuss: The most recent change for me has been coming to
grips with the whole working dad thing. And I've been having trouble
with it. With all the deadlines these last four months, there have been
some days where I only see Oot and Sarah for a half an hour.
Needless to say, when that happens three times in a week, it makes me
feel like a total ass. Like that stereotypical neglectful work-obsessed
absentee father. But the truth of the matter is, I'd already missed too
many deadlines. I couldn't miss this one. So for about two and a half
months I had to pick being a writer over being a dad. I'm trying to make
up for that now, but I still regret it.
Rothfuss: For me though, the biggest change between
writing book one and writing book two, is that I got a workspace that's
outside the house I live in. That really helped to improve my writing
output. I work best with quiet, distraction-free writing space. Making
sure there was no internet in the office was pivotal, too.
Sanderson: Even when I’m on a tight deadline, I make sure I
have an hour after I get up and an hour in the evening to play with my
son. And I take Sundays off from writing. It’s important for me to have
some time to recharge, to keep some perspective. I love writing and my
idea of a vacation from writing is to write something else, but any one
book will come and go. I can’t afford to miss being there for my family.
Rothfuss: I think I need to institute some sort of policy like that too.
What's your writing space like? Do you write at home, or do you have an office?
Sanderson: I don’t do the office thing. How shall I say
this? I became a writer so that I didn’t have to deal with the whole
office thing. I know some authors need an office and a writing space;
that’s great. But I just need my laptop and some music and I’m good
pretty much anywhere.
I tend to be a roving writer, meaning I pick a place and I stay there
for a few months, and then I get tired of it and I pick another place.
So I write all over the house. My favorite locations tend to be in front
of a fireplace with my feet up. I’ve actually stolen my wife’s easy
chair and moved it over in front of the fireplace in my bedroom—it’s a
gas fireplace, so I just turn it on. I’ve set up a light and a little
stand next to me, and I’ve been working here for a few months. But I
move around. It’s just basically laptop plus music. I don’t work at a
desk; I cannot do the desk thing. I’ll work lying on my bed, on a couch,
in an easy chair, in a beanbag chair, but not at a desk.
Rothfuss: You've been doing a ton of touring lately, and I'm about to start my first big tour. Any advice for me?
Sanderson: Oh boy. Number one: Even though you may want to
get work done while on tour, don’t plan on getting anything done. It is
exhausting. I’m constantly surprised at how exhausting touring can be.
And I’m not an introvert or an extrovert. I’m one of those hybrids in
between where I like spending time with people and being around people,
but once I do that, I need to go recharge. And it’s hard to find time to
recharge when on tour. For me that was the most exhausting part. On my
first big tour I did the thing where I met with fans beforehand and did
dinners with them, which was great—I love meeting the big Wheel of Time
fans and talking over dinner—but it just added on another hour and a
half on to me being around people and being exhausted all the time.
Eat healthily, even though it’s going to be hard because they will take
you out to eat every night. You know, they’re going to want to feed you
steak and pasta every night. Pack yourself with vegetables and fruit
because otherwise you will start feeling sick after a week of it.
Try and make sure you have time for you, for recharging, whatever it is
that you do to recharge. Don’t let them schedule an interview or a
dinner every minute of the day—which, on my tour, they did.
And one of the things I’ve learned is try to keep it to two weeks. They
put me on a four-week tour once, and that just laid me flat. I was
literally sick many of the days the last two weeks, just physically ill
and I can’t even explain why. I’m a hearty person! I don’t usually get
that sick. I can usually just keep on going, keep plugging away. I’m
known for being slow and steady in my writing and always working, always
having stuff done. But the tour was unlike anything else I’d ever
experienced. Try to keep it to two weeks and if they want more, do two
weeks and take a few weeks’ break and then do two more weeks. And eat
Rothfuss: Thanks much. I'll try to conserve my energy. I
do tend to go overboard when I'm at conventions. I'll do 14 hours of
panels and readings and signings. I'll have to rein that impulse in and
pace myself a bit.
Sanderson: We are both in an odd situation—for different
reasons and in different ways, but it’s somewhat similar in that five
years ago we were both unknowns, and right now our names tend to come up
very frequently when people are talking about fantasy. Looking at Pat
Rothfuss, you’re as much of a fantasy superstar to most people as George
R. R. Martin is. How does that feel?
Rothfuss: Heh. I think there's probably only a handful of
people that think of me as being on the same level as Martin. But I know
what you're talking about.
Mostly it feels weird to me. Good but weird. Mostly weird.
Sanderson: For me, when I go to a forum where people are
talking about fantasy, and they’re talking about me, that’s been a
surreal experience because just a few years ago I could participate in
forum discussions and no one knew who I was, but now the conversations
are partially about me. Reconciling that has been an interesting
experience for me, and I can only imagine it’s been even more so for you
because your career has skyrocketed faster than mine. The Wise Man’s Fear is probably the second most highly anticipated fantasy novel of the near future, right after A Dance with Dragons. How does it make you feel?
Rothfuss: That's easy to answer: Terrified.
That's another big piece of the reason that book two took so long. I was paralized with fear.
It's like this, if people read your first book and don't like it very
much. That's heartbreaking, but it provides some real motivation. You
think to yourself, "I'll show them! My next book will be even better!"
Then you knuckle down and work your ass off to produce something that
will really dazzle them.
But when someone e-mails you and says your book was the best they ever
read. Or that they read it with their kid who was sick with leukemia and
it brought them closer together. Or they tell you they're more excited
about your upcoming book than their own birthday….
I mean really. How the fuck and I supposed to deal with that? How am I
supposed to write anything ever again when the bar gets set so high?
Sanderson: I wondered if that was the case. It is strange
for me because you know, we had a similar quick rise to success—I mean,
you’ve been around for what? Three or four years? And I’ve been around
for five and when I was reading fantasy, when I getting into this genre,
it felt to me that most of the writers I’ve been reading have been
around forever. Now that’s not true because I was a young kid and what
being around forever meant to me then is different from what it really
means. But I was reading Anne McCaffrey, and in my perception Anne
McCaffrey had been around forever. She’d been writing for twenty
years. I’d been reading David Eddings and Terry Brooks and these are
people who had been writing for twelve years before I picked up their
books. And now my books are doing really well and I’ve only been around
for a few years and it feels to me like I don’t have the credibility
that I think I should have before I reach this level of recognition, if
that makes any sense.
I’m more impressed with people’s longevity in a field and having a
long-lasting impact. Aomeone like George R. R. Martin is hugely
impressive to me because he’s been around for forty years in the
business. He has slogged away hard and released book after book and
edited anthologies and worked in TV, and finally after all of
this work he gets this big best-selling series and it’s like, yes! You
finally get the recognition you deserve. You are a major inspiration and
success story, and you just stuck in there and stuck in there forever.
Then you get someone dopey like me and it’s like, whoop-dee-do, you
know, my third book hit the New York Times Bestseller List and
suddenly I’m hitting number one on the list, and it’s a weird experience
because in a way I don’t believe that I deserve it. Though I’m very
proud of my writing, I don’t feel I’ve put in the time to deserve the
success. I don’t know if that makes any sense or resonates at all.
Rothfuss: Yeah. You're singing my song again. I hit the
NYT Bestseller list with my first book. Everyone says, YAY! You're
brilliant! And I have to remind them, No, I just wrote one book. You
can't plot a graph with one point of data. I'm the flavor of the day. If
I write two good books, then you can call me a professional writer.
Until then, I'm a fluke.
So yeah. I completely know where you're coming from when you say you
feel like you haven't earned it the same way folks like Martin did. My
first book was a success. But it was a success because I got very, very
lucky. I got the right agent, then the right publisher. The audience was
ready for my sort of book. I was in the right place at the right time.
But that's not something you can repeat. You can't rely on luck. That's
where a lot of my stress came from after the first book came out.
Sanderson: How do you deal with it?
Rothfuss: That's easy to answer too: Badly.
For about a year I struggled to get any productive writing done.
Then, slowly, I started to get used to it. It was kinda like the
emotional and social equivolent of getting into a really hot bath. At
first it felt scalding hot, but now I've aclimated to it, and it feels
kinda nice. It's kinda relaxing, in fact.
I also engage in a daily regimen of not taking myself too seriously. My friends help with this, of course.
How about you? How do you deal with the stress of the sudden fame?
Sanderson: The writing group is very helpful. It’s nice to
have a writing group, who have been reading my book since the beginning
and to whom I’m nothing special so to speak. It is very good keeping
one down to earth.
Honestly, having a three-year-old and a one-year-old, being a daddy and
having a real life—a normal life—is also really helpful. It keeps you
down-to-earth. I mean, it’s hard to think of yourself as Number One New York Times Bestseller
when you’re elbow-deep in stinky diaper. Beyond that I do also try to
keep a perspective on this. Some people like to pretend that authors are
celebrities, but in my mind we’re not really celebrities because if you
walk up to the average person on the street and say “Who is Brandon
Sanderson?” or “Who is Pat Rothfuss?” or even “Who is George R. R.
Martin?” most of them are going to have no idea at all. Such a small
percentage of the population actually reads. And beyond that, there’s so
many books out there that if they are a reader the chance of them
having read your book is small. Everyone knows who Tom Cruise is, but
nobody’s going to know who I am. And that’s good for keeping
The other thing I do to keep perspective is to keep in mind that science
fiction and fantasy in particular as a fandom is very much a community.
In a lot of ways writers generally grow out of the fan community. Even
if they aren’t active in the fan community, they were fans first.
Something about that changes the way this all works. A lot of fans
rightly seem to act more like colleagues, which is a good way to see it.
It’s like the writers are the ones the rest of community supports to
produce material for the community. It’s less an idolization of
superstars and more of a, “Yeah, we’ll support you, and you create this
fiction for the good of the community.” It’s a patron-and-artist sort of
relationship. At least that's how I view it.
Rothfuss: I think that's healthy. From some of your
answers, I think you knew a lot about the community before you were
published. That probably helped ease your transition a bit. I never knew
much about that stuff until I was in the middle of it.
Sanderson: We’ve been talking a lot about our big projects, Wise Man’s Fear and Way of Kings,
and do you have any other side projects? Because I loved your
children’s book—in fact, for a fun story for those reading this: We got
in a big argument in my writing group about the meaning of Pat’s
children’s book and what was really happening behind the scenes. So I
used a little bit of colleague privilege and called him on the phone to
ask him his interpretation. And he was very much an author in that he
said, well, it could mean this, it could mean that—he gave a very good
answer where he gave us some of what the writer was thinking but left it
open to personal interpretation.
Do you have any other projects like the children’s book? Are we going to be seeing anything small between Wise Man’s Fear and the third book?
Rothfuss: Yeah. I'm absolutely going to doing some other smaller projects while I'm working on the third book. I loved writing The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle. It was fun. It didn't steal time away from working on my novel, it reminded me why I write in the first place.
I already have plans for the sequel to that book. I've got plans for a few short stories, too.
I also take time off after I finish a huge book to work on experimental
side projects and recharge my creative energy. Sometimes these projects
go somewhere, and sometimes they don’t. Last year after finishing Towers of Midnight
I took some time to work on an urban fantasy, and though I got over
halfway through it there was just something that wasn’t working, so I
set it aside.
Then I started what was going to be a Mistborn short story, and once I
was a few scenes in, it was really clicking. It ended up turning into a
short (for me) novel that I’m very happy with. Tor was also pleased to
hear about it since they weren’t going to have a book to release from me
in 2011, but now Mistborn: The Alloy of Law will come out in November. And now my writing battery is all charged up to start working on the Wheel of Time again.
It’s been great talking to you again, Pat. Will I see you at Worldcon in
Reno this August? We’re going to record some episodes of the Writing
Excuses podcast there, and we’d love to have you on as a guest again.
Rothfuss: I'll be there. And I'd love to do another Writing Excuses. I had a ton of fun with the first one.
Sanderson: Thanks, Pat. It’s been fun. I’m looking forward to posting my review of Wise Man’s Fear when the book comes out.