Meet Robin Hobb …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and prolific Robin Hobb  to drop by.

Robin at Supanova with Cinderella

Q: It was great to meet you at Supanova. As a best-selling fantasy author you must get invited to a lot of conventions. How do you juggle writing to meet deadlines with the pressure to attend these events?

Truthfully?  Usually, I just say, “No, thank you, I’ve a deadline.”

This year, I didn’t.  I went to Supanova and absolutely loved it.  I havenever seen a pop culture festival that treats its professional guests so well and with such thoughtfulness. And then I went on, to Trolls&Legendes in Belgium, and Imaginales in Epinal, France and to Etonnants Voyageurs in France.  And I had a wonderful time and met many people, but now I’m behind on a deadline.  So.  I think I need to go back to saying “No, thank you” to most of the invitations, and staying home and getting the books written.

Q: You started out writing as Megan Lindholm and even though your Robin Hobb books are really popular, you’ve continued to write under your original name. Have you come across readers who only read Robin or Megan’s books?

Most definitely.  The two pseudonyms have vastly different writing styles and also differ in choice of subject matter.  So I’m now getting notes from people who enjoyed one and not the other, or seeing posts about it on-line. And such letters and posts very much validate my decision to write under two different names. Readers do want to know what they are riding into when they open a book. On the other hand, I also hear from readers who enjoy the contrast and have enjoyed both sets of stories.  My best experience was with my French translator, Arnaud Mousnier-Lompre.  He was delighted with the Lindholm stories and told me that it was like translating a completely different writer.

Q: With two names and numerous trilogies/series under each name, (Robin Hobb: The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, Soldier Son trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles. Megan Lindholm: The Ki and Vandien Quartest, Tillu and Kerlew, as well as stand alone books), how do you keep all the worlds, characters and narrative threads straight in your mind? Do you have a giant cork board with flow charts? Do you only work on one series at a time?

OH, do I have to admit this?  When I re-read some of my earlier work, it’s like someone else wrote it.  Often I encounter minor characters I’ve forgotten completely, or plot twists that I don’t recognize as my own. I think that one book just crowds out what has gone before.  When I’m writing on a long book, or series of books, as I am now, I do have glossaries of characters and place names and even timelines for books that run for years and years.

My greatest fear is that I will contradict myself on some key point.

Q: In an interview at Shades of Sentience when asked how you create such believable minor characters you said: I try to remember that no one is a minor character in his or her own life. I love this sentiment. It made me laugh when I read it. Do you find your characters take on a life of their own?

Inevitably. And sometime a minor character, such as the Fool, refuses to take a back seat but jumps up into a major position. Then there are lesser characters, such as Hands, who really had his life twisted by events so far outside his control that I still feel bad about his very last encounter with Fitz.  Not that I could have done anything to change it.  He reacted as he did because he is Hands, and that was how Hands would have reacted. And that is the best part of characters taking on a life of their own. In some ways they make the writing easier.  In others, when they insist on doing something that is contrary to the outline . . . well, that is when the writing gets very interesting.

Q: In an interview  on Pat’s Hot List you talk about how you start out with one intention for the book and by the time you’ve written it, the book has veered in a different direction. Can I take it from this you are more of a Pantser than a Plotter? (For non-writers Pantsers just sit down and write, while Plotters plan).

Definitely flying through Story by the seat of my pants, with only a glance or two at the instruments and charts from time to time.  I get to land in some very interesting places that way, and sometimes I’m in completely uncharted territory, and wondering just as much as the reader might about exactly where I am bound.

Q: We’re around the same age. In an interview you speak of reading Fritz Lieber and learning from the terrible things he did to his characters. (He was one of my great inspirations when I first discovered fantasy). How do you feel the genre has changed since the 70s?

Oh, my Fritz Leiber.  How I loved that man’s characters and writing, and still do.

Since the 70’s, I think Fantasy has changed by finally being allowed the page space we need to fully enjoy plot, setting and characters.  I am still amazed at the talent of those writers who conveyed such strange settings and unique characters within such a tight word restriction.

Nowadays, too, there are far fewer restrictions on what we can write in terms of sex scenes, gender identity, race, violence and, well any other former taboo you can think of. And that isn’t always good, at least in my opinion.  Just because you can shock or brutalize the reader and get it published doesn’t mean that you should.  But in the stories that require it, where it’s there for a reason, we suddenly get fantasy and SF with great emotional depth to it.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I think there’s a difference between any two writers who write fantasy or sf or romance or poetry, and that that difference is far greater than can ever be explained by gender. In my opinion, yes, there are differences between

male and female writers.  But the spectrum of sexuality is so broad that it’s impossible to make any generalized statement about it.  “Men write about sex and women write about romance.”  That’s the sort of thing I hear, and I think it’s just silly. Which men, what woman?

And I really don’t understand the idea that fantasy is dominated by writers of one sex or the other. If you look at the book racks, I’d almost say there are more women writers of fantasy right now than men.  I don’t think I’ve ever made the sex of the writer part of the criteria for choosing a book in any genre.  When I was a younger reader, I could seldom tell you the name of the author of a book I’d just read.  I didn’t care about the author, only the story.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Oh, I think I accidentally already answered that!

If you look back through the history of our genre, you will see that yes, there were women who used men’s names or only initials as a way to conceal their gender. And at one time, doubtless it was harder for a woman to be published in SF.  But I think that barrier fell so long ago that it’s scarcely worth worrying about any more.

Now with that said, I’ll add that when I chose my pseudonym, Robin Hobb, I deliberately chose an androgynous name.  I knew I’d be writing at least the first three books from the first person view point of a young male, and so I chose to lower the threshold for ‘suspension of disbelief’ by using a name that left the gender of the writer in doubt.  But if I’d been writing a story told from the POV of an ultra-feminine woman, I’d probably have been tempted to choose a name that reflected that, as well.

I’d never want anyone to choose one of my books on the sole basis that I was female.  I’d feel really insulted if that was the only reason a reader picked up my book.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’d go home.  I’d want to be dropped off in the late 60’s by the mailbox on Davis Road, in December about 8 at night, when the darkness in Fairbanks, Alaska is absolute.  I’d want to walk down the lane with the snow crunching and squeaking under my boots and the birches arched down over it with the weight of snow on their bare branches. I’d want to see the lights through the trees and then finally see that log house again.  And all my dogs would start barking and they come racing through the snow to challenge me. And then they’d recognize me, and I’d get hit in the chest with 120 pounds of malemute and I’d be with my best friends ever again.

Follow Robin on Twitter: @robinhobb

Follow Robin on GoodReads.

See an interview with Robin Hobb on You Tube.

9 Comments

Filed under Characterisation, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Nourish the Writer, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

9 Responses to Meet Robin Hobb …

  1. Love your description of going home to your childhood. It really moved me!

  2. Great post. Seems like a lifetime ago I read my first Robin Hobb. Love the description of your dogs from the past. So cute.

  3. Awesome interview, and glad you liked the one I did with her too ^_^

  4. Could be that I am listening to Rachmaninov (the bit from Somewhere in Time) but the answer to the last question has me all tearing up. Thanks Rowena and thanks Robin for the Farseer trilogy that rekindled my love of fantasy.

  5. Sean, me too. It brought me back into the fold after years in the snobby literary wilderness. I guess after I left home (ie. wasn’t able to simply steal from my mother’s carefully selected bookshelf any more) I had my first taste of trying to find fantasy that moved me amongst the fantasy-by-numbers that surrounded it. And Assassin’s Apprentice was my eureka moment.

    Love that ‘Ship of Magic’ cover art, by the way. My favourite books have always led me to my favourite fantasy artists, from Michael Whelan’s cover of The Golden Key to Kinuko Craft’s cover of Wildwood Dancing. I discovered Stephen Youll by reading Robin Hobb books and I adore his covers.

    Thoraiya

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