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Robin Hobb Interview – Part Two

This is part two of our interview with author Robin Hobb. You can read part one here.
Now back to the questions!

Robin HobbWe’ve got a guest question now from an author I believe you’re familiar with (at least, I saw your quote on his UK novel: Prince of Thorns), Mark Lawrence:

The first work of yours I read was the Soldier Son Trilogy. I really enjoyed it and was very impressed with the quality of the writing. The books put more on the shoulders of the protagonist than even Fitz sees and generate amounts of frustration that were perhaps past the comfort levels of some readers. The way in which the story concludes and the manner by which various critical issues are solved felt to me to be orthogonal to many of the genre’s tropes (that’s my new word – I discovered everyone else has been using it for years). To me this makes the trilogy quite ground breaking and has it delivering on the levels that many of the avant-garde, award-savvy bloggers cry out for. I’m surprised not to see this pointed out more often. What was your view of the trilogy’s reception (assuming you bother to look) and if it’s not like ranking your children – did you achieve what you wanted with those books?

Orthogonal . . . I had to look that up, Mark! So of course I’m not going to define it here. If I have to look it up, then everyone has to look it up!

Seriously, the Soldier Son story, like most of my books, started with unrelated bits of things. I was being driven across France on the way back to the airport, and I saw a cemetery on the hill with a very impressive fence around it, with pointy bits on the top of it. So I wondered, “What are we keeping out? Or are we keeping something in?” Later, at a hotel in London, in the lobby, there was an old painting of a very rotund gentlemen in a cavalry officer’s uniform. Several times that week, I waited in the lobby and wondered who he was. The people at the front desk had no information on the portrait. So I began to make things up about him. Somewhere in my brain, those two things collided.

One thing I learned from this story is that no fat hero will ever get the cover of the book. I was a bit saddened by that. I felt Nevare deserved the cover. The actual email feedback I received on the book was that a lot of readers did not want either a fat hero or anything approaching gunpowder in a fantasy. Which strikes me as a bit strange, since Steampunk is all about the cool ways that magic and technology might have intersected once upon a time.
The trilogy had a third strike against it, of course. That is, it was not about Fitz and the Fool. This seems to be a grave flaw in many of the books I’ve written since then as well.

Relating to this question: over the years, you’ve put poor Fitz through an awful lot, did you ever feel guilty when writing his character or did you find that you had to stop yourself from going too far?

Well, there is actually a reason why Fitz endures so many things and faces death so many times. It’s there in the plot line, so SPOILER…

Assassin’s Quest (cover)::Spoiler::

Are you really sure you want to know? Think about this. In all the myriad futures that the Fool can foresee, there is only one in which Fitz exists. So that means that in every other possible time path, Fitz either never existed or he died. In his effort to change the path of time, the Fool does things, over and over again, that drag Fitz out of death’s pathway. So, yes, there are many near brushes with death for him, and many other unpleasant experiences that could have led to death along the way.

Did I feel guilty? Nope. Follow the story, wherever it goes. You can’t turn back, you can’t turn aside and woe betide any writer who suddenly decides, “It was all just a dream.”

::End Spoiler::

Speaking of Fitz, we’ve seen several characters in other people’s work that come across as inspired by his good friend ‘the Fool’. Does this flatter you and, also, was the Fool based on anything else?

This question surprises me, because truly I haven’t seen that in other works! Was he directly based on anyone? Not deliberately. In the first outline for the trilogy, there was exactly one sentence that related to him. I visualized him as coming in, doing his song-and-dance in Assassin’s Apprentice, and then stepping off the stage. He had other plans, however.

I think there are similar ‘jester-fool-idiot/savant’ characters in many other stories. So I wasn’t breaking the mould when he stepped into my tale. He did torque the plot in many ways I didn’t expect and ultimately, the book was as much about him as it was about Fitz.

Would you prefer to use the Skill or the Wit? Which animal would you bond with?

Wit and wolf. Not even a breath of hesitation. Second choices? Raven or Crow. I’ve had some long-term relationships with canines with wolf heritage, and they have been extraordinary friends to me. I always have wished I could understand them as well as they seemed to understand me. We always act as if humans were the more intelligent ones. But my dog knows a lot more words in my language than I know in hers. She has been the one to make all the adaptations to living in my environment. Could I survive in the natural environment of a canine? Could I learn that many words and nuances? Well, I wish I had the Wit to know.

Blood of Dragons (cover)Just a couple more questions! Most importantly, though, I’d like to ask what your plans now that this series is finished? One thing we’ve heard a lot of people on our forums asking about is perhaps a prequel set in the glory days of the Elderlings…

I have a very busy year of travel ahead of me. Blood of Dragons launches on April 8th here in the US. I’ll be doing local events, and then visiting Minneapolis and Boston and Los Angeles. I’ll be guest of honor at Hypericon in Nashville, Tennessee, and dropping in on the Worldcon in Texas and doing a road trip to North Carolina for Book Marks. Oh, and I’ll be doing a UK book tour and visiting Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention. All of that happens before November. And I’m going to try to fit in a visit to Montana as well. All of this while Fred is opening a judo dojo in a little town called McKenna, Washington. So I think that’s going to keep me busy for a time.

And then, in 2014, I’m tremendously excited to visit Australia for a Supa-Nova or two. And then I am beyond honoured to be a guest at the 2014 Worldcon, Loncon, in London.

Finally, taking a backwards step from your own work: what type of evolution have you seen fantasy writing go through over the years and how would you describe today’s fantasy writing stylistically?

It seems to me that fantasy during my lifetime has been on a journey out of the nursery and back to the main stage of literature. There’s a lovely essay by JRR Tolkien (and I am sure there are many other essays on this topic) as to why ‘fairy tales’ and fantasy were first banished to be the province of children. The Lord of the Rings was a watershed event for me when I read it all those years ago; here was the book I’d been looking for all my life. This was fantasy that took itself seriously. There was no nodding and winking over my head to supposed adults in the room, no ‘happily ever after’ or pithy moral at the end. It didn’t apologize for being fantasy.

Ship of Magic (cover)I do feel that at the beginning of my writing career, I was still up against people who thought fantasy was silly and or childish. I remember leaving a convention in Seattle, going across the street for a meal and encountering a man at the restaurant who demanded, “Do you people really believe all that stuff? Dragons and magic and that stuff?” He seemed rather outraged by it.

But we have seen fantasy and SF claim justifiably strong sales and spots on the best seller lists. Fantasy seems to dominate the big budget movies now. I think it has always been the literature that let us step outside of our ordinary lives and consider very big questions, freed of the loyalties and pre-conceived ideas we bring to those questions in our own world.

Ultimately, all fiction is fantasy. But when we decide to write ‘fantasy’ we are writing fiction with no limitations. The reader has to be willing to let go of every safety line and unbuckle every seat belt, because we don’t have any limits on where we can take you.

I hope that never changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to reach out to readers! Very good questions here!

We would like to thank Robin for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. To learn more about Robin’s latest release, Blood of Dragons, or any of her other novels you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar xiagan says:

    Very cool questions and answers, thank you both! 🙂

  2. Avatar Tim says:

    The last answer was a perfect ending 😛

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