Q: Now that you have completed The Soldier Son trilogy, are you satisfied with the way everything worked out? In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?
Oh, I’m still much too close to the book to have any thoughts like that yet. Ask me again in two or three years, and I might have a more interesting answer.
A quick response to the first question. I’m never ‘satisfied’ with any of my books. There is always the idea of the book I attempted to write versus the book I actually managed to create. In that, I think I’m like most writers. My best book is always the one I intend to write next, not the one I’m working on or the one that is just finished. The ‘next book’ is always the one that is going to be perfect.
Q: Will you be touring during the course of the summer to promote Renegade’s Magic? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
This summer, as in Summer 2007? No, not at all. I will be going to Japan for the first ever Worldcon to be held in Japan, but that’s not a ‘book tour’. Just me taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy an SF convention and then see a part of the world I’ve never visited. Other travel plans include France in 2008, for Imaginales at Epinal. And I’m desperately trying to arrange my schedule so I can go to Elf Fantasy Fair in the Netherlands next year. It’s hard to make the travel fit in with my writing schedule and my family life.
Q: While the fantasy genre is filled with long series, you have always stayed within the boundaries of a trilogy. Is there a reason for that? Would you consider writing something longer?
Well, I don’t think it’s strictly true that I’ve stayed within the bounds of a trilogy. The first three Hobb trilogies (The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders and The Tawny Man Trilogy) are all linked in terms of being in the same world and having character crossovers. In a way, it’s a nine book series.
And when I wrote as Lindholm, I wore a set of books about Ki and Vandien. Four of them, in an open-ended series.
However, as a writer, I like to have a destination. I like to plan things, to pace events and revelations, to think how at a certain point, the story will turn and change everything for the characters and the readers. If you are writing an endless series of stories about the same characters, you have to put up a magic umbrella to protect your characters from extreme disasters. Well, you don’t HAVE to, but most readers do expect that the protagonist will live to the end of the story. And if there is no end in sight, then it’s almost like a television series, where the reader knows that the cast will return in the next book. Having a destination allows me to let the story unfold naturally. The characters can grow and change.
I do like to write big stories, but I’ve learned that once you go beyond three books, the mythos can become really unwieldy, and the propensity for the writer to forget and then create inconsistencies increases. With every book you add to a tale, you are taking one more chance of having things go horribly wrong and spoiling everything. It’s kind of like a juggling act. Adding one pin too many can bring everything down in a terrible crash.
Q: What makes you decide between a third person narrative and the more personal first person narrative?
First person is more personal and in my opinion, it is the natural story telling voice. The ‘I’ is a voice that no one can argue with. The person was there, and unless he is a terrible liar, the reader at least starts out believing all he says. Think of Baron Munchausen, for instance. In the third person, those tales would lose at least half of their flavor.
Q: I ask because, inevitably, Nevare was often compared to Fitz. And as a somewhat stiff-necked young man who always tries to do the “right” thing, most readers were not able to relate to him the way they did with Fitz. Looking back, do you think that The Soldier Son would have worked better with a third person narrative? Had it been the case, you could have told portions of the story through the eyes of other POV characters such as Epiny, Spink, Gord, Amzil and Olikea.
I think the people who didn’t identify with Fitz may well connect with Nevare. I think that different stories and characters speak to different people. Why not a multiple point of view for this story? Well, so much of it is an internalized story for Nevare that I felt most comfortable staying with him and telling it from the point of view of the person most deeply meshed with the action. If I had ventured into the other points of view, I think the story would have become immense; there would have been too many threads to follow. Keeping a story under control and within limits can be very tricky. So the writer has to choose the point of view very carefully.
Q: What was your inspiration behind both the Plainsmen and the Specks? Native Americans come to mind, but was there more?
Actually, no, native Americans were not my focus for the Plainsmen or the Specks. Native Americans are definitely the product of our world and time; as such, you can’t simply transplant them to a fantasy world and have them work. The Plainsmen differed in many ways from the Native American people. Some were migratory herd folk, and others were hunters-and-gatherer, and some were unabashedly predators, such as the Kidona. The Specks had a culture that varied seasonally with their location.
I think that the peoples or tribes or countries of an imaginary place have to be products of that place, just as the individuals are. At least for me. I know that many writers create ‘alternative history’ and do it very well, but such is not my intention at all.
Q: What extensive research, if any, did the writing of the The Soldier Son entail?
I read about how cultures in conflict exchange information and cultural identity. War I think makes us mingle more than trade or peace do. Think of the British experience in India, and the huge cultural exchange that happened because of it. That was one area I read about, in two lovely little books. One was called Mr. Kipling’s Army, and the other was called Queen Victoria’s Little Wars. I highly recommend them.
I also read about such things as early firearms, how the US cavalry came to be, as well as the use of cavalry in other wars, the founding of military academies and how they are usually run, and road building. Things I had learned about convict workers when I visited Australia also came into play. All sorts of things. Some of these were dips into research rather than extensive studies, but all of them were interesting.
Q: In The Farseer, The Liveship Traders and The Tawny Man, you — deliberately or not — left a lot of things up in the air at the end, promising more to come. And yet, such is not the case with The Soldier Son trilogy. Was is meant to be more or less self-contained from the beginning?
I think the best place to end a story is where the next story would logically begin. So I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with you about the ending of the Soldier Son Trilogy. I think if I’d wanted to, I could have begun a chapter right after the ending and called it ‘Decisions.’ Without going into any spoilers, I think it’s easy to see that Nevare faces some huge choices, and it was not at all clear to me that he was locked into any set path. All of the characters are really on the stepping off point for big changes, which, of course, is a great place to begin any story. One can always imagine a ‘happily ever after’ ending following that last chapter. But I think it’s just as easy to imagine that their lives continue, unpredictable and eventful as always.
Q: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the younger Robin Hobb concerning her writing career?
Hm. Start sooner. And keep all the early stuff that I wrote rather than discarding it. Well, actually, I’m not sure of that second part.
This answer keys in to a discussion I was having with a friend earlier today. I was looking at the lives of people who are hugely successful. I don’t necessarily mean in a monetary way, but people who are doing what they love, in unique ways. And most of them showed signs of what they would be when they were in their teens. Now I did start writing in my teens, but I had heard from so many people that I couldn’t possibly make a living from writing fiction that I myself didn’t take my writing seriously. I did it ‘on the side’ rather than saying, ‘This is what I love and what I’m going to do with my life.’ So, to answer your question, I wish I had taken the plunge sooner and made a commitment to doing this with my life.
Q: You recently said that there were six different projects you were toying with in regards to your next novel/series. In a post that created a ripple of excitement among your fans, you said that you were considering returning to the Rainwilds and that you missed Kennit. Have you made a decision as to what you will be writing next? Say yes!
Yes, I’ve made a decision. And one book will be set in the Rainwilds. And that is as much as I’m going to say about it right now, mostly to avoid setting expectations up. I will say, clearly, that I’m not going to write the ‘next chapter’ of Liveship Traders or pick up the previous cast and just extend their lives.
The other projects remain viable and are things I’ll continue to work at on the side. Some of them are unfolding in very interesting ways. Some are more Lindholm than Hobb. All of them are things I want to write. I’ve just decided that the Rain Wild story will come first.
Q: Anything else you wish to share with your fans?
No, I think that sums it up nicely. Thanks again for this opportunity to put this discussion out to the readership.
Interview by Patrick