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Robin Hobb Interview – Part One

Robin HobbI’m happy to announce that the amazingly talented Robin Hobb has taken time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for Fantasy-Faction! Robin is the author of the recently completed Rain Wild Chronicles, along with a host of other series including: The Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, Soldier Son Trilogy, and many more. You can read more about her in our author spotlight, but for now, let’s begin the interview!

Firstly, Robin, I’d just like to say what an honour it is to have you on Fantasy-Faction. Hopefully I’m getting my facts right here, but I believe I’m correct in saying that you’re the only author reviewed by Fantasy-Faction to have earned 10/10 star reviews for books in two separate series, which is quite an achievement seeing as how rare it is we give 10/10 reviews at all!

Many thanks for those kind words!

Anyway, before I push you too deep a shade of red, I’ll push on with my questions! 🙂

Firstly, I would like to ask you about your pen-name: Robin Hobb. I read a few years back a really in-depth interview where you spoke about how and why you chose the name in the first place. I’m wondering now, years later, if you’ve ever looked back and kicked yourself – thinking ‘ah, I wish I had chosen that name instead’. And, to expand upon this question, let us say Robin Hobb was taken back in 1995, what would be your alternative?

Oh, that’s a tough question. It took several weeks for me to come up with Robin Hobb. I still think a short name that will land in the middle of the shelf is important, but not as important as it once was. I’m saddened that brick-and-mortar bookstores enjoy less traffic these days. I suppose I could go the deceptive route, with something like Georgia R. Martine, hoping that I’d get lots of sloppy spellers finding me via the search engines instead of George RR Martin — you know I’m joking, right?

I think it would depend a lot on what I was launching, and how I wanted to separate it from what I’d written before. Rowel Spur. Edek Axe. Ella Prod. Calendula Mahogany. Cedar Chimes. You can probably ferret out which slices of the fantasy genre each name would be for. Verde Hail. R.D. Carter. The problem with this game is that it’s too much fun.

Essentially, the writer is given the opportunity to invent a character and then wear that character around in real life. I mean, Robin Hobb has a separate wardrobe, different perfume selection and earrings that don’t belong to me. I suppose that’s as close as I ever get to costuming.

The Dragon Keeper (cover)Moving straight on to your latest series then, for someone who hasn’t yet had the chance to pick up The Rain Wild books, what would you say to entice them to try them out and give them a feeling as to what they can expect?

I try to write books that I would like to read. So there are always ingredients in my books that I truly enjoy when I encounter them elsewhere. Ancient hidden cities with mysterious clues to what might have happened there. Non-human intelligent species. Flawed characters. Physical adventure, but layers of intrigue to go with it. Grit and guts. Romance, of course. And somewhere, a chance to think about some of the big questions of life outside of this world’s frame of reference. A good stir of vengeance or delayed justice is always fun. But above all, characters that I’d like to have as friends, or characters that I’d like to be for a time. That my partial shopping list of what I want to find in what I read.

Dragons are really, really popular in fantasy and have always featured either as major plot points or characters within your work. Firstly, why do you think dragons are so popular in fantasy literature and secondly, what is it that attracted you to include them in your work as a writer?

I like to think of dragons as a competitor species. We act just like dragons, but when dragons do it, we find it horrifying. “Let’s build a big hoard of wealth and squat on it. Let’s go devour people’s children. When pesky little people object, just trample over the top of them. We’re dragons, after all.” So my enjoyment in writing dragons is imagining how humanity would react to a top of the food chain predator competitor. Dragons wouldn’t play by human rules. After all, birds don’t really care if you claim to own your back yard or garden. I don’t think any winged intelligent species would see territorial claims the way we do. So, basically, writing dragons is a lot of fun.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who weren’t too sure about the Rain Wild characters at first. I guess this is ‘the Fitz effect’ as I call it, but by the second and certainly the third book, those same people came back to me saying that the characters had REALLY grown on them and that they felt just as close to these characters as they did Fitz and company. Does the success of your previous work and fans’ love for characters such as Fitz ever feel like a hindrance to your current work in terms of you trying to do new things and tell new stories as an author?

Assassin’s Apprentice (cover)I think there is always a certain level of reader distrust when the writer says, “Well, I’d like to write about someone else someplace else now.” After all the reader has invested a great deal of time in getting to know this setting and these characters, and now the writer is asking him to try something entirely new. It’s like taking away the breakfast cereal you’ve always enjoyed and putting down a big bowl of oatmeal with raisins and saying, “Try this, it’s really good!” Even if you were ready to take a chance on that first box of cereal, it’s hard to risk it all on the new bowl of oatmeal. I completely understand that.

As a reader, I’m often guilty of exactly the same thing. Don’t invent a new detective; I want six more books about the one I know, and I want to watch his relationship with his buddy and his girlfriend unfold some more. Those sorts of series are very comfortable, sort of like the old daytime soap operas were. Pick one up and tune in and you knew what you were getting.

But as a reader, I can also tell you how sad it is for me when the new book in a series suddenly tasted exactly like the previous four books. I’ve had the horrid experience of picking up the new book and not being able to find my place in it because, oh dear, I feel like I’ve already read this book six times. That’s a terrible feeling when you’re the reader. Can you imagine how it would feel if you were the writer? Thinking, “Oh, dear, we can’t have this character get married because then he won’t be the handsome eligible bachelor. Better have her fall down the steps and break her neck right after the wedding, so at the end of the book he can be single and morose again. And can fall in love in the next book! Again! Oh, wait. Didn’t I use that ‘fall down the steps’ in the last book? Maybe she needs to be bitten by a poisonous snake.”

I just don’t want to be that writer. Any more than you want to be that reader.

Now that this series, The Rain Wild, has reached its climax, what are your thoughts on it as a completed quartet? How did the writing process compare to your earlier series?

Blood of Dragons (cover)Total failure on my part if we are talking about my original goal!

As you may know, I have written a number of books in this world, and they are all connected in one way or another. That can be a bit daunting for a new reader. If I tell you, “Here is a book to read, and if you like it, you’ll probably want to read the next eight books,” some people will set the first book down. So I set out to write a standalone novel set in that world, something a new reader could pick up and enjoy, and then decide if he wanted to make a nine book commitment to reading my work.

But the manuscript got much too long and I was late turning it in, and so we had to divide it into two volumes. That was Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven. I took a year away from the world to work on my story collection The Inheritance. But I was myself intrigued with Kelsingra and what more might be discovered there. So again I thought I would write a single volume to sum up that part of the tale. Well. This time I turned it in on time, but again, it was much too long. And thus we had City of Dragons and Blood of Dragons. I do think the four volumes tell a nice arc of story. But I hope that never again happens to one of my books!

Your worldbuilding and characters are so very, very vivid. In fact, if I had to pick my favourite aspect of your writing it is this ability you have to really make characters and scenes feel real. Do you base things such as the Liveships on experience? I.e. have you been out to sea? Are the giant rivers in the Rain Wild based on somewhere you’ve travelled or is it all through textual research?

Oh, I truly wish I could have done all the things I’ve written about. Most of those adventures, I’ve had a small taste and then done a lot of research. I have been on board a lot of ships, with Fred, mostly in Alaskan waters. For the Liveships, I wanted the smells and sensations of a sailing vessel, and so I booked some time on The Adventuress and the Lady Washington, two local tall ships. And then I began to read. I like primary documents when I can get them, diaries, journals and things of that sort. Then I like to find well researched and foot-noted books written on whatever topic I am covering.

I still have a bit of distrust for information gleaned from the internet. I’m a library person at heart. And the best part of researching is always when you find that tiny seed of information that will grow into a full plot line in the next book.

Part two of our interview with author Robin Hobb is up now! Also check out some of our reviews of her work below:

Assassin’s Apprentice
Assassin’s Quest
The Dragon Keeper
Dragon Haven
City of Dragons

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8 Comments

  1. DanH says:

    Great catch for the site and cracking interview too, Marc. Now must investigate this Fitz character…

  2. Lisa says:

    Great interview! Looking forward to part 2 on Monday!

  3. xiagan says:

    What Lisa said!
    I only read AA yet, but certainly plan to read more of her. 🙂

  4. Dominic Stevens says:

    I had totally forgotten that Blood of Dragons is due out this month, so having read this interview I went onto Amazon to order a copy. Isn’t it a good thing that fantasy faction posted this interview reminding me to purchase her new book. you could say this interview led directly to a sale for Robin Hobb.

  5. […] researched some interviews she did. In particular, the final question in this (http://fantasy-faction.com/2013/robin-hobb-interview) helps shed light on how she gets her fiction to feel so real. She does her research on how things […]

  6. […] Oh, and if you want more Robin Hobb, you can read our interview with the bestselling author here […]

  7. Veronica Brooks says:

    I’ve read pretty much everything Robin has written but particularly the Rain Wild Chronicles. I’d love to read more about the beginnings though; thoroughly enjoyed the Elderkings – any chance of more on the early days?

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