New Robin Hobb interview

With The Dragon Keeper (Canada, USA, Europe) already out in the UK and about to be released in North America, and with Dragon Haven (Canada, USA, Europe) to be published in the near future, the time was right for a new Q&A with Robin Hobb!

If you have yet to discover this wonderful author, be sure to read the three series which led to this latest duology:

The Farseer trilogy

- Assassin's Apprentice (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Royal Assassin (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Assassin's Quest (Canada, USA, Europe)

The Liveship Traders trilogy

- Ship of Magic (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Mad Ship (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Ship of Destiny (Canada, USA, Europe)

The Tawny Man trilogy

- Fool's Errand (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Golden Fool (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Fool's Fate (Canada, USA, Europe)

*** Please remember that anything purchased via the Amazon links (used or new) throughout December will help raise funds for Breast Cancer Research.


- How well-received as THE DRAGON KEEPER been thus far?

Well, the writer is always the last to know, Patrick! :) Because of how I work, I don’t deliberately seek out a lot of reviews and read them, and I don’t seek out numbers. I don’t think it would be a helpful behavior to me as a writer. As a writer, all I can really control is how much effort I put into writing the stories, and how much time I put in on them. So, once they are launched, generally speaking, I let them fly and begin on the next project.

So far, The Dragon Keeper is in print only in the UK and Australia and the Netherlands. A quick peek at shows that it has a four star rating based on 35 reviews. It’s number 1126 in book sales there, but #1 for their fantasy and SF book sales. What does that mean, exactly? Well, your guess is as good as mine! But it sounds pretty good to me.

- Was there a reason for the long delay between the UK and the North American release dates?

I have two different publishing houses for books in the English language, so they are not bound by the same schedule at all. Editors place books in the publishing schedules at certain times when they feel they will do best. Obviously, a Christmas book will not fare well if it’s released in February, for example. Nor would a publishing house want to put out four major releases in the same month. I trust my editors and publishers to do what is wisest for all of us. Dragon Keeper will come out in mid-January, and the second half, Dragon Haven will come out just a few months later, meaning that the wait between books will be much shorter for US readers.

- With the original novel being split into two installments due to size issues, THE DRAGON KEEPER ended up being, essentially, the introduction to the tale. Were some readers put off by the fact that there is no resolution with the "to be continued" ending?

I think that most readers bought the book knowing that it was the first half of a tale. It’s stated pretty obviously in any number of places! I believe that fantasy readers especially are well accustomed to the idea of a story that is spread out over several volumes. Some will buy the book but wait until both volumes are out to start reading it. Others will read the first book and then read the second when it appears. And there are always readers who wait until the full tale is in print before they buy any of them. I haven’t received any angry letters about how it was divided.. The ones I have received that say ‘I can hardly wait!’ are very gratifying to me as a writer.

- In one of our previous interviews, you mentioned that you're never fully satisfied with any of your books, that there is always the idea of the book you attempted to write versus the book that you actually managed to create. Looking back, give us an example of something that didn't quite work out the way you envisioned it. Given the chance, is there anything you would change in any of your novels?

It’s hard to put my finger on a definite example, and even harder to share an example without creating a major spoiler for the book. It’s more like a feeling for the kind of book I intend to write. And by the end of it, it always feels different that what I had initially expected. Sometimes a character plays less of a role than I expected. Or more. The Fool in the Farseer books was intended at first to be a bit player, one that didn’t necessarily appear after the first book. So that would be the most obvious example I could state. In the first outlines of the book, Verity was a much less sympathetic character; so that would be another one.

- You have said that, as a writer, you like to have a destination. You 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. Still, would you say that the journey is sometimes as important, or more important, than the destination?

Well, of course. Look at a book. Of all the pages between the cover, how many are the journey, and how many are the destination? If I were only writing destinations, the book would just be a summary and telling what the ending is, rather like Cliff Notes. There would be no emotional impact. If the reader doesn’t have time to get to know the character, none of the events will have an emotional impact. The reader will hear about the experience, but not share it. Think about your experience of four years of high school. Your graduation or ‘destination’ probably didn’t touch at all on learning how to drive or having a girlfriend dump you or struggling with a class. You have to be there for the journey, or the end means nothing at all to you.

- We once discussed what you felt was your strength as a writer. By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

I am repetitive. If there is a crucial piece of information, I tend to remind the reader too often. Which is better than mentioning it once on page 6, and then trotting it out on page 497 as a pivotal plot point. Luckily for me and for the readers, my editor does a search and destroy on most of those redundancies. But I am also guilty of over-using my favorite phrases. It’s not so bad as it once was. At one point in my career, at the end of a book, I would go through it page by page looking for the phrase ‘it was as if’. It’s a weak construction but oh so handy! I think every writer I know has a few of those.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to this facet of a novel, and what do you think of the various covers that grace your books?

Hm. Cover art is a hot topic lately? I must be hanging out on the wrong newsgroups! But I am very pleased to say that I’ve had some of the most extraordinary covers and artists that any writer can dream of having. Michael Whalen. John Howe. Kinuko Y. Craft on my early Lindholm books. A wonderful Hungarian artist who signs his works as Max. Jackie Morris. Okay, there are definitely too many to list and I’m being too lazy to look up the correct spelling of names right now! I think I have links to a lot of them on my site if you want to visit there. There are certain pieces of covers that just make me smile. The Fool’s hand on the spine of the Whalen cover for Assassin’s Apprentice. The Robin Hobb logo from John Howe. The way Fitz’s wrist is bent on the Hungarian cover by Max. The hidden dragons on Howe’s cover for Assassin’s Quest. Well, just too many good things, and it all just keeps getting better. Jackie Morris actually gave me the original art from one of my UK covers! How do you say thank you for something like that? Unique and amazing!

- You have been writing novels for over two decades. What has changed the most in the fantasy/science fiction genres since you began your career?

Oh, I think it's the obvious thing. I'm using a computer instead of a typewriter. I still have some carbon paper around here somewhere for making my back up copy, but my grandkids don't even know what it is. No more pulling the paper out of the machine and setting it aside if there are more thant 3 typos on the page. No more hitting 'return' and having the carriage hit my coffee cup and send it flying off the desk. It's hard to remember that for years and years, that was how I wrote. I had a Smith Coronamatic that I dearly loved. It was a very faithful little donkey. In my early years of writing, I can remember resetting the ribbon so that the keys would strike in a different stripe on it so I could go a bit longer before I bought a new ribbon.

We've gained a lot and I wouldn't go back to writing like that.

And I just realized that I misread your question. What has changed in the genres? Oh, too much to tell. Most of the changes come in waves, and it seems that one no sooner passes than we are lifted up and drenched by the next one. Steampunk seems to be the rising tide now. Some writers seem adept at adapting and producing really wonderful work that celebrates the latest styles and topics of writing. I'm afraid I've never been good at that. I certainly don't disdain those who can! But envy won't get me where they can go. All I can do is write my own tales as best as I can in my own way and hope people still enjoy reading them.

- What's the progress report on your forthcoming short story collection? Any tentative title or release date?

I should be working on it right now! I have some introductions left to write. I'm trying to make each introduction as interesting as the story that follows it. I think my editors will let me know if I've succeeded at all in that. And I'm still hammering at a Hobb story that refused to end as I expected it, but went off in another direction entirely. Which means that the first 25 pages have to be written to match the ending. I don't mind. It's rather fun to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

- Do you have a different approach when it comes to writing novels and short fiction?

I think that Lindholm stories come much more easily to me than Hobb ones when I am attempting to write short. I could easily fill another collection with all the waiting Lindholm stories that are finished, half finished or lined up ready to be written. But writing a shorter Hobb story is more difficult. They always seem to have all sorts of characters and plot lines dangling over the edges of the page. It's really hard to trim them off and keep the tale short.

- Once the short story collection is finished, have you given any thought about what project you'll be tackling next?

I have several ideas. One is fairly strong right now, but I'm not going to write about it here. My experience is that if I talk or write too much about a book before I start actually writing it, it deflates. The fun goes out of it and when I actually start writing, I feel like it's a story I've told already. So. For now, I'll just say that I have a very solid idea and it seems to be acquiring a good head of steam.

- Anything else you wish to share with your fans?

Well, here we are in early December and heading into the holiday season. So I'll wish everyone well and hope that they all have a joyous holiday, regardless of which one they celebrate. For me, it is Advent followed by Christmas. So it's a very busy time around here. A book still to wrap up, and shopping and decorating and baking to do. Then comes January and Rustycon here in the Pacific Northwest. I'll hope to see some readers there. If anyone is interested in keeping up with me on a more day to day basis, they can visit the robin-hobb livejournal, or come by my newsgroup on

9 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

"In the first outlines of the book, Verity was a much less sympathetic character"

That boggles my mind. Aside from the Fool, Verity is one of the most interesting/complex secondary characters she has EVER done. In my opinion. The ending to the Farseer Trilogy still leaves me shaking whenever I read it.

The Ginger Darlings said...

It was a great privelege to work on cover art for all of these books and the Dragon Haven is fantastic. First time I have seen the cover is on this site.
Jackie Morris

Unknown said...

Thank you for the excellent interview with Robin Hobb! And thank you to Robin for sharing here today. I love reading Robin's novels and am looking forward to reading this installment. Happy Holidays to Robin too.
All the best,

Ken from Langley, BC said...

Great work Pat and thanks to Robin for taking the time to answer the questions. Its always fun to get a little insight into an authors thoughts.

D-man said...

Thanks for sharing this interview Pat! Can't wait to read Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven :)

Unknown said...

A very enjoyable interview. I am a big fan of everything of Hobb's apart from the Soldier Son trilogy and of a good chunk of Lindholm, too.
However, I have to point out another weakness of Ms. Hobb's writing - the endings. Ending of the Farseer trilogy was perfect IMHO - poignant yet hopeful.

But since then, there is way too much schmaltz and saccharine in the endings, which is a great pity. The Tawny Man ending in particular...

And while the excellent "Dragon Keeper" does add some believability to the perfect (and thus predictable and boring) happy end of Lifeship Traders, the tendency to end a story on a perfect high note and then to find out in the sequel that everything became even worse in the interim is something that already irritated me by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Here is to hoping that finale of the Dragon Haven is more along the line of the Farseer ending than that of the other Hobb series or American movies ;).

Mike Toot said...

Thank you to Robin and Pat for a great interview! Looking forward to reading the new series when it his US shores, or at least Ballard bookstores.... :)

Catherine said...

I think I might die before the next book comes out. I need to read it NOW!!!! Dragon Keepers was amazing.

Hofan Ciao 可凡 said...

I think what makes Hobb's novels fascinating is that you can actually see that Verity was a much less sympathetic character than he turned out. So there's a real sense of discovery -- wow, if you dig deeper, this character is much more than you thought he would be. I really get the sense here that the characters become shaped by their experiences.