An Interview Between Terry Brooks and Patrick Rothfuss
It’s a freak of nature occurrence, lightning striking the same hapless blade of grass or a diamond born in the world’s deepest rough. But one of those times begins today!
Terry Brooks and Patrick Rothfuss are no strangers to talent or success. The debut novels for both writers published to fanfare, word of mouth spreading until both became bestsellers in their respective release years. The Sword of Shannara is one of the most important books in the genre, a story that forced editors and publishers in 1977 to recognize that readers wanted more of the epic fantasy presented by J.R.R. Tolkien. Without the success of Sword, many writers working today would not have a section in the bookstore to publish within.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is one of those special books that only come around every other decade, a whirlwind of prose and story genius that meld into an unforgettable tale that leaves readers yearning for more. Few people can argue that Kvothe Kingkiller is one of the most fully realized characters in the genre’s history, the story of his life entrancing the Chronicler and fantasy fans alike. It is for that reason Patrick has gained a worldwide following and changed forever how we view storytelling.
It should not be a surprise then that both authors are friends. They’ve met, had lunch together, and keep in contact via email.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Sword of Shannara, both wanted to do something special. They decided to interview one another! The interview is split into four parts, to be featured on both writers’ respective blogs!
So let’s get to it! Part I!
Pat: What books did you read when you were growing up?
Terry: You name it, I read it. Even Clara Barton. Even Nancy Drew. Dog and horse stories. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. I read everything in science fiction in my middle grade years, back when you could do that because there wasn’t that much. But not fantasy because boys in the 40s and 50s mostly read science fiction and there wasn’t much fantasy after Burrows and L. Frank Baum. Tolkien didn’t surface in the U.S. until the 60s. Also read a whole lot of European adventure stories. All this before getting to classical literature in my high school and college years. I read all the time. Geeky, loner-type kid.
How about you? Your reading choices were probably different than mine given our difference in age. Or were they?
Pat: Truth is, my mom had a lot of trouble getting me away from picture books. I remember thinking, “Why would someone want to read a book that was just words?”
Eventually I read Narnia. Then Pern. Then Tolkien. Then I read a lot of Piers Anthony because there was a lot of it to read. I was reasonably voracious, and probably read about a book a day between the ages of 13-18. For me though, I stuck almost exclusively to fantasy and Sci-fi because I had the option.
I don’t think I got around to your stuff until I was in the sixth or seventh grade. I remember picking up Elfstones and being amazed that a book could be so big….
Terry: If you had one thing to do over again in your career as a writer, what would it be?
Pat: Boy, that’s a hard one for me. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far in my career.
True, it took me 14 years to get my book published. I suppose a lot of people would wish they could go back and change that. Do something to speed up that process. But not me. Those were some of the best days of my life. I had a great time being an unpublished author. There was no pressure, just the joy of creation.
Terry: There’s nothing to compare to writing and publishing that first book. You can’t live the dream twice. What happens after that is you have to write a second book, and now the pressure is on. Everyone who loved the first book, from your publisher to your readers, expects you to do it again. The bigger the success of the book, the greater the expectations for another. That’s a lot of pressure. You think back to the good old days where the only expectations were your own.
Pat: Yeah. That’s exactly it. I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels that way.
Now that I’m thinking of it though, there is something I wish I’d done differently. Back in 2005, Worldcon was in Glasgow. I hadn’t sold The Name of the Wind yet, but I had an agent, and I was going to conventions to get a feel for the publishing world. Networking. Rubbing elbows. That sort of thing.
I wanted to use that convention as an excuse to see Scotland and England. And I wanted to take my mom along, because I knew she’d enjoy the trip.
But we talked ourselves out of it. It would have been expensive. And we were both busy. We decided not to go, saying, “We can always do it later…”
But we didn’t get a later. She died in 2007. I really wish I would have gone.
That’s probably the closest thing I have to a career-related regret at this point. I’m still pretty green though. Give me a couple years and I’ll probably have all sorts of regrets.
How about you? Anything you wish you could go back and do a little differently?
Terry: I might have saved a couple of marriages if I hadn’t been quite so anal about writing the books. It took me a long time to learn how to balance writing and life in a way that allowed me to let both share the same space.
I might have quit practicing law earlier, too. I kept at it after Sword for nine more years, telling myself I needed at least 3 bestsellers and money in the bank. I was worried that quitting would give me too much free time and I would end up wasting it instead of making use of every spare minute. I think now that was probably silly.
Pat: I made the opposite mistake, actually. Less than a year after NOTW came out, I trimmed a lot of things out of my life to make room for more writing. I quit coaching fencing. I quit advising a bunch of campus groups. I quit hanging out with my friends as much.
I thought it was the responsible thing to do. But in retrospect, it was a big mistake. It wrecked my social ecosystem to such an extent that I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong.
Terry: Talk a little about your life as a writer and teacher, of balancing the two careers. I think you still teach, don’t you? How long do you think you can sustain both?
Pat: Heh. It turns out I couldn’t balance them very well at all. I left my consistent teaching gig behind late in the fall of 2007, about a semester-and-a-half after my book came out.
That second job wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d been a ditch digger or something. But being a teacher uses the same brain muscles as writing, after grading 50 freshman English essays in a weekend, I just wasn’t getting much writing done.
Of course, now that I know you were being a lawyer and still writing…. I feel pretty sissy for saying that.
I do miss the teaching though. These days I get my fix when I talk about writing on panels at conventions. That’s all the fun without the responsibility of grading papers.
Do you ever miss the lawyering? I’ll admit, I didn’t know that was something you used to do…
Terry: I don’t talk about it a whole lot. The therapy afterwards was pretty brutal. Judy-Lynn del Rey once said to me, “Do you know how unusual it is for a lawyer to write fantasy, Brooks?” (She always called me Brooks). I said, “Believe me, it’s a short putt.” Anyway, I enjoyed it for about 10 years, but the last 7 were something of a slog. I was ready to leave and give writing the same amount of attention I gave practicing law. But I think I am practiced out, so I don’t miss it anymore.
More soon! Stay tuned!