Rolling Six Duchies With Robin Hobb – Interview

My guest today is a name that has been a fixture in epic fantasy for more then a decade now, and an award nominated author even before that under the name Megan Lindholm. She is responsible for fan favorite series like the Farseer, Live Ship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies. This year she leaves the successful and familiar setting of the 6 Duchies and with her latest release, Shaman’s Crossing, introduces us to the Kingdom of Gernia, an all new canvas to kick off the The Soldier Son trilogy.

Today Robin Hobb touches on Shaman’s Crossing, Peter Jackson, why first is better than third, and her love for spoilers.

asassin's apprentice robin hobb

 I enjoyed Shaman’s Crossing and admittedly one of the chief reasons why is the departure from a medieval setting, a setting that is drastically different from what we have come accustomed to from you for a decade now.

How are you feeling exploring your new world? Are you finding it difficult and unfamiliar, or are the creative juices relishing new possibilities?

Robin Hobb — I always enjoy exploring new scenarios, and I think this one has a great deal of possibility. The higher technology level makes all sorts of things possible. I’ve never understood why magic had to be confined to a pre-technology era.

My first experiment with a non-standard story setting was Wizard of the Pigeons, a fantasy set in contemporary Seattle. It got me started on the idea of playing with magic in all sorts of settings and time frames. As always in any book, it’s the characters that make it for me, and I’m expecting great things of Nevare.

Did The Soldier Son trilogy exist conceptually only after you finished Fool’s Fate, or was this a story you have wanted to tell for some time?

Robin Hobb- The concept for Soldier Son has been rattling around in my mind for several years. Usually while I’m writing on one book or set of books, I’m researching the next one. I already know what I want to write after I’ve finished Soldier Son.

So while I’m working on books two and three of this trilogy, I’ll be gathering up the bits and pieces and making notes for the next book. It already exists as a file, with several rough scenes. If I waited until the current book was finished to begin working on the next one, I have to have a year off between books, or perhaps more.

Excluding Nevare (the POV character in Shaman’s Crossing), what character did you enjoy writing the most?

Robin Hobb — I enjoy all my characters. I think that if the writer doesn’t care, it shows, especially with villains. The fun part of writing is that you get to be all of your characters. So when I’m writing a character, at that moment, he or she is my favorite. They’re all enjoyable in different ways. Obviously, I don’t, in real life, share the world view of every one of my characters.

The trick is to get into that character and for that moment believe what the character believes and then think, ‘what would I do or say next?’ And then don’t flinch from it. If I’m trying to write from the point of view of someone who is a sexist, for example I can not write while smirking over my shoulder at the reader and saying, ‘see how ignorant this poor fool really is?’ I have to put my heart into it and write as if I truly shared that belief.

You are noted for your first person POV’s, although have written both first person and third person genre efforts, and have always stated you feel your strength is characterization. With that in mind, what made you decide that the first person POV was a viable format for you specifically even early on in your career — and what work(s) or author(s) showed you the possibilities of that format if applicable?

Robin Hobb — Real life story telling is almost always first person. And it really works. If it starts out saying, “My friend Joe saw a bear on his vacation’ you may or may not pay attention to my story. If you don’t know Joe, you may not care much.

But if I start out saying, “I was crouched on the streambank, trying to get the hook out of the trout’s mouth and I heard this noise and I looked up and I didn’t see anything at first, but something smelled really bad . . . “ Now I’ve got you. And when you are the reader and you have to say those words in your mind, then you are the character, experiencing it with him. You care. You connect.

 I read an interview by you where you discussed some work you enjoyed reading, and you brought up Nero Wolfe (a personal favorite of mine) by Rex Stout, along with John D. Macdonald works, various Sherlock Holmes stories, and author Robert B. Parker.

These are all noted detective/mystery works and writers, and I was wondering with the recent rise in cross genre work between either Fantasy/Science Fiction and Detective/Mystery works, if you have ever had any inclination to do the same — or perhaps write one outright?

Robin Hobb — Nope. I’m afraid my story telling ideas don’t come to me in that format. I think good mystery writers probably have puzzle box minds. I don’t. I do love a good mystery, but if you look at the ones I mention, you’ll see they are very much character driven.

It’s not just Travis McGee, it’s his buddy Meyer who makes those stories so good. If the characters are good, I’ll read anything. I think that fantasy and mystery are very good at developing characters that change over the years and through the books.

Regarding your work, presently you have become a fantasy fixture under the pen name Robin Hobb, which you wrote your last several and current series under. Yet Megan Lindholm is both a Hugo and Nebula nominated short story/novella author. Can we expect to see any work for you in this format — and do you still write short fiction?

Robin Hobb — I still write as Megan Lindholm. Short stories are a very difficult form for me. In the time it takes me to write and publish a short story, I can usually write three or four chapters of a book. And that gets right to the bones of the problem. Time. I have lots of ideas for novels and stories under both names, but only so many writing hours in each day. So, for now, the shorter works are shouldered aside by the novels.

I have lots of half finished, barely started, nearly finished and finished but not polished stories in my computer files. But taking the time to make them salable and ready for print is the hard part. The novel has a deadline. That’s why it gets done.

soldier son trilogy robin hobb

 I read a rather insightful collection of essays edited by Karen Haber, Meditations on Middle Earth, that you participated in, and in you spoke of the moment you finished reading The Lord of the Rings and the three thoughts that came to you:

“one was the simple unbelievable void of it’s over, there is no more to read.” “And I have never encountered anything like this. I’ll never find anything this good again.”

“in all my life I will never write anything as good as this. He’s done it; He’s achieved it. Is their any point in my trying?”

That said, what were your thoughts on Peter Jackson’s adaptation, and has their been any such possibilities with your own projects?

Robin Hobb — I respect his integrity as a film maker. He obviously put a lot of thought and heart into the movies. But, when all is said and done, that was Peter Jackson’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings.

That isn’t a put down. No movie is ever a book. It’s always about someone’s experience of reading a book. As an ‘experiencer’ of the books, I’d have made different choices if I were making a movie, but wouldn’t we all? I think to have created that visualization is an amazing achievement. I really enjoyed all three movies.

Regarding two of your most beloved characters, Fitz and the Fool, were their any direct, conscious “real life” inspirations for these characters?

Robin Hobb — When I began writing the books, my youngest son was about 15. He and his friends were in and out of the house, so I had a whole contingent of young men to observe. A lot of Fitz’s body language is based on how my son moved at that time, but that is physical posture more than anything. Fitz matured as my son and his friends did, so I had a rich source for taking bits and pieces of information.

That said, there is no one who is the sole model for any of my characters. Characters really have to be products of their own world, or they are not believable. You can’t take a 20th century girl with 20th century sensibilities, put her in a castle and have a solid story. I’ve never taken a friend and inserted him into a book. It just doesn’t work for me.

Recent message board “birds” tells us you are in possession of an advanced copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows — what other authors would you recommend fans of yours?

Robin Hobb — Martin definitely tops my list for fantasy right now. My list of authors to recommend has grown far too long; the problem is that I like writers all the way back to BC and up to the present. So where do you start? With Virgil? Choosing three at random: Steven Brust, Rudyard Kipling, Michael Marshall Smith. I do have a list of favorite writers up on my website. It’s fairly substantial.

The second book in The Soldier Son trilogy, Forest Mage is due out mid-2006. What can you tell reader of Shaman’s Crossing about where you intend to us and Nevare — something, perhaps a tidbit for salivating fans?

Robin Hobb — No, no, no!

You know I don’t do spoilers! Part of the joy of a book is coming to it unspoiled, and watching the tale unfold. I’d really prefer that readers experience my books that way. I work very had to keep spoilers off the book jacket copy and off my newsgroup. I will tell you that I don’t understand writers who give away bits of the plot in advance of the book. A book should be an experience that the reader has a page at a time.

This last Harry Potter was the second one I’ve read where on every page, I expected a major character to get killed. And that really influenced how I read the book. I would have much preferred not to know that at the beginning. It’s rather like my experience of Million Dollar Baby. I still haven’t seen the film and I probably won’t. Reviewers who said they ‘would not reveal the surprising twist at the end’ had already given away too much.

Why on earth did they have to say that? Have we forgotten what it’s like to open the pages of a book for the first time and fall into it, with no clue of where we may land? Shouldn’t we leave that intact for other readers who follow us weeks or even years after a book’s first release? Spoilers do keep people from reading.

Ask any child about The Wizard of Oz, and almost without exception, they’ll tell you they saw the movie, but never read the book. The same is true of The Jungle Book. Those of us who have actually read the books know that the text differs substantially from the movies. But those kids may never discover that.

So. No spoilers from me about Forest Mage, the next book in the Soldier Son trilogy. It would be very hard to say anything about it that wouldn’t be a major spoiler for anyone who hasn’t yet read Shaman’s Crossing. Besides, I’m still writing Forest Mage. With my luck, I’d tell you something that gets edited out before the book is actually printed, and people would end up forever wondering what on earth I was talking about.

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