In what is probably A Dribble of Ink‘s biggest interview yet, we have one of the genre’s premier authors, Ms. Robin Hobb! Robin Hobb is the author of the acclaimed Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Trilogy, and Tawny Man Trilogy and this year will see the release of Renegade’s Magic, the final book in her fourth trilogy, The Soldier Son Trilogy, a fantastic series of book set in an all new world as compelling as any she has created before.
Enough with the introductions, though, and on to the goods!
Robin, first I would like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me here at A Dribble of Ink!
Q. Some readers may not be aware that Robin Hobb is actually a pseudonym and that you also write under the name Megan Lindholm. What I’m curious about is who Robin Hobb is to you and why her stories differ so much from Megan Lindholm’s?
The fantasy genre has many sub-genres. For example, there is sword-and-sorcery, epic fantasy, humorous fantasy, Young Adult fantasy, beast-fable and many other types of fantasy writing. When I began writing The Farseer Trilogy, I was moving into a different slice of the fantasy genre compared to what I had previously written as Megan Lindholm. So, to set the books apart, I chose a different pseudonym or byline. This is actually fairly common for genre writers. I know writers who have five or six different names, to keep their mysteries separate from their romances or horror book or fantasy books. When I write as Hobb, I tend to write longer, more detailed stories. Often they are more emotionally complex as well. The Lindholm writing style is not as leisurely. The subject matter usually differs quite a bit. If I write a contemporary story, itâ€™s very likely to be done as Lindholm, not Hobb.
Q. A lot of your work as Robin Hobb has been written from the First Person perspective, an unusual perspective to write from in the fantasy genre, what is it that draws you so much to first person narrative?
To me, the first person voice is the natural voice for the story teller. We use it often when we are telling family and friends what happened to day, or telling our children stories from our own childhoods. To me, itâ€™s a very comfortable voice and a good way to bring the reader quickly into the story. With first person, the reader gets to know the viewpoint character intimately because the reader is privy to the characters innermost thoughts and feelings.
Q. First person storytelling really allows both the reader and the author to get into the head of a character and know them on a level not allowed by third person narrative. When it came time to writer another trilogy using first person narrative, was it difficult to keep FitzChivalry’s (The main character of the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies) voice out of Nevare Burvelle’s (The main character of the Soldier’s Son trilogy) story?
Not at all. Fitz and Nevare are very different people. They see the world in different ways, they have different attitudes and each is shaped by his own time, family, culture and world view. In this particular way, writing first person isnâ€™t really different from writing in the third person. The character has to be an individual, regardless of whether the reader is seeing the word â€˜Iâ€™ or â€˜heâ€™.
Q. The Farseer trilogy was very well received and introduced a lot of people to first person storytelling in the fantasy genre, what prompted you to switch to third person for The Liveship Trilogy? How does writing in these two different perspectives affect your storytelling?
When a writer is using first person, the writer is limited to telling the reader what that character knows at that moment. And that can make it difficult to present the whole story. In Farseer, I coped with that by having little prologues at the beginning of each chapter that gave the reader additional information. Even so, it was a difficult task, and I often had to trust that the reader would make a leap and connect events even if Fitz was not seeing the connection.
In the Liveship books, I had a storyline where important events were occurring simultaneously in different places. Rather than limit the story to one personâ€™s experience of that time in that world, I decided to use third person and write from several points-of-view. This gives the reader different perspectives on the same event, as well as allowing the writer to tell what is happening in Bingtown and the Rain Wilds on the same day.
Q. One thing you’re best known for is your tendency to put your characters through very hard and depressing situations, really testing the strength of their character, is this something that you do intentionally or a product of the stories and characters taking a life of their own?
In all honesty, I donâ€™t think my characters endure anything that is more harrowing than, for example, the members of the Fellowship in the Lord of the Rings. Because I often use the first person, I think that the challenges are perceived as more harrowing or depressing. Take a character like Boromir, for instance, and imagine reading his tale from a first person viewpoint. Suddenly we would perceive his torment and his torn loyalties a lot more sharply than we do when we only see his actions. I can think of many fantasy tales where the heroes or heroines endure some truly awful experiences, but they seem lesser because the event is not dwelt on, and in some cases, it doesnâ€™t seem to have lingering effects or change the character in any way. I love Robert E. Howardâ€™s Conan tales, but Conan doesnâ€™t ever seem to take lasting trauma from anything, not even from being crucified. At the end of the story, he is the same strong, silent hero he is at the beginning. (Iâ€™m not decrying thatâ€”Conan is a different sort of hero and his stories are in a different slice of the genre. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d want to read about a deeply introspective Conan!)
When my characters get hurt, physically or emotionally, they acquire baggage and later on it may affect what they do. As the reader experiences the story, he drags that same baggage through the reading. So I donâ€™t think that I do exceptionally cruel things to my characters. I think it is that the character experiences them deeply and thus the reader feels those events more strongly.
Q. One of the strongest aspects of your novels is your ability to write equally compelling and believable male and female characters, something that few other authors are able to accomplish. Do you have a preference when it comes to writing from one perspective or another?
To me, it is about character. Gender is only one aspect of character. Usually, when a character steps onto my story stage, he or she comes complete with a name and a past and sometimes a bit of a future. I donâ€™t plan them out, saying, â€œWell, I need a female thief, about 25, left-handed, with red hair and a slight speech impediment that has made her shy most of her life.â€ Instead, someone named Kara steps out and says, â€œI have a story to tell you.â€ And there she is. And Kara may be ultrafeminine, or a tomboy, or a woman who resents the restraints on her sex, or a person who does not define herself in gender terms at all. And I write Kara as she is. I wouldnâ€™t say to her â€œExcuse me, youâ€™re going to be a guy named Karl because I like to write from a guyâ€™s point of view.â€ That would be taking the character and cutting him/her out with a cookie cutter. If you do that, you end up with a cookie-cutter character in a very predictable story.
Q. As a writer you seem to very much have embraced the Internet: you maintain your own personal web site, you run a very active Newsgroup on your web site and you seem to have accepted the blogging world as well. From the standpoint of a fan and a blogger I find this very impressive, so I have to ask: why is the Internet so important to you?
The Internet is a necessary evil. I cannot tell you how many times I have deeply and ardently wished that the whole thing would Just Go Away. Itâ€™s a distraction, and an interruption and tending to it eats up hours of what used to be my writing time! The Internet is like someone blasted a big hole in the wall of my office and decided to let the whole world parade past it while I was trying to write. I know I should not look in that direction. I know I need to get my writing done. But then the email dings or something chimes, and I take a peek. And suddenly itâ€™s three in the afternoon, and my character is still hanging in mid-sentence. Itâ€™s an awful invention.
That said, itâ€™s essential for a writer to have a website. I quickly realized that if I did not present myself on the Internet, others would put up their own websites, with their own ideas of who I was and what I thought about things. There are a lot of Robin Hobb sites out there, but having an â€˜officialâ€™ one lets people find a definitive answer to a Frequently Asked Question.
Email is a very mixed blessing. I had ambitions of being like Isaac Asimov. He used to say that he had answered the first letter from each of his readers. He could not always keep up a correspondence, but he sent back at least one response to each. I resolved I would do that with email and for several years, I did. But sometimes I would get 15 to 30 emails a day. Trying to reply to them ate all my writing time, and I didnâ€™t have enough time to say anything really significant in an email. So, my website at Robinhobb.com is my effort to make it easy for readers to get answers on general information. And my newsgroup allows readers to interact with me and with other readers on an informal basis. And my email is available as a final resort. I no longer promise to answer every email!
Blogging? Well, my current Rant on my website reflects my true feelings on blogging. I do have a myspace. My publisher set it up for me. And occasionally I do put up a blog there. But Iâ€™m very careful not to let it become a habit. My brain and my hands can only deal with so much writing per day. Every post, email and blog I do consumes some of the key presses my fingers can do before my hands are too tired or painful to go on. Iâ€™d rather write stories than email or blog.
So, I would say that the Internet isnâ€™t that â€˜importantâ€™ to me. Keeping up with it all is mostly a form of self defense.
Q. The upcoming release of Renegade’s Magic marks the completion of Nevare Burvelle’s story and the conclusion of the Soldier’s Son trilogy. Where do you go from here and what do you have planned next?
I actually have six different projects that Iâ€™m toying with. Iâ€™m waiting for one of them to suddenly start boiling and demand to be written. Right now, Iâ€™m enjoying all of them, but I donâ€™t think I can simultaneously write six books. When I have a clear decision about what Iâ€™m working on next, Iâ€™ll put it up on my newsgroup at sff.net.
Q. A Dribble of Ink is always on the lookout for some new authors who deserve a spot in the limelight, so I’m wondering if you can name any new or upcoming authors who have really caught your attention and who you feel are exciting additions to the fantasy genre!
Oh, letâ€™s see. I think you should definitely look at Patrick Rothfuss. And both my daughter and I are very impressed with a writer named Brandon Sanderson and his book Mistborn. I think both of them are worth more than a passing glance.
Q: Finally, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with A Dribble of Ink, I know you’re very busy! Any final words before we call this a wrap?
No, I think youâ€™ve covered it nicely. Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview. And now itâ€™s back to work for me!
For all those looking eagerly forward to Renegade’s Magic Robin has just posted a sample of it on her own web site! You can find it HERE. Just beware if you haven’t read the previous two book, Shaman’s Crossing and Forest Mage, as this chapter does contain spoilers for those two books.