Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Robin Hobb interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 3, 2009

Robin Hobb is a fantasy writer who has more than ten novels to her credit. She’s currently at work on a two-part story, called The Rain Wilds Chronicles. Here she discusses these new books, recounts, rather fondly, her memories of second-hand gaming, what being a writing mother has been like, and how she unwinds these days by battling a few acres of farm land while dual-wielding a machete and weed burner.

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Author’s website:

Would you mind talking a little bit about your new series, The Rain Wilds Chronicles, and telling us when we can expect the first book to come out?

dragon keeper2The Rain Wilds Chronicles is a book in two parts. I far exceeded my word limit in the manuscript, so rather than cut the story, we divided it into two volumes. The first is Dragon Keeper, appearing in January of 2010 and the second will be Dragon Haven. That one will come out in April or May of 2010.

Dragon Keeper returns to the setting of the Liveship Traders trilogy, the Rain Wilds. A problem faces the Rain Wild Traders. The dragons that hatched on the grounds at the base of the tree-dwelling city are growing rapidly. Malformed by too late of a migration, they are unable to feed themselves and are irritable and dangerous creatures. Dragon Keeper is the tale of how the city intends both to solve their problem with the dragons and be rid of some ‘non-productive’ citizens. An eccentric wife of a wealthy Bingtown Trader and a river captain become part of the expedition. But there are rumors that the Duke of Chalced would pay richly for ‘dragon parts’ that may halt or reverse his aging. So the expedition may face more dangers than just the acid river and the wild country that surrounds it.

And Dragon Haven will, of course, finish the tale of their quest/ banishment.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I spent most of my childhood reading, and my favorite reading has always had fantastic elements. Books of mythology, Mary Poppins, the Oz books, books of fairy tales, anything that had an element of magic or wonder fed the hunger. As a teenager, I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and my reading was never the same. It was the first time I’d seen fantasy takem so seriously and in such a detailed and adult manner. It validated fantasy for me and I suddenly knew that was what I wanted to write.

There wasn’t a lot of fantasy of that sort that was easily available to me at the time. I think Peter S. Beagle was the next writer that really resonated for me, and then Fritz Leiber and his tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser came my way. Once I had found those, I was able to back track and discover Conan the Barbarian, and Doc Savage and all the rest of the pulp. I was onto the mother lode, and read everything I could get my hands on. Fantasy is a very wide genre; for me, in includes SF and mythology and beast fable.

We are so spoiled now, with a vast supply of fantasy and SF every month. I remember when it was much easier to be ‘well read’ in our genre. Now there is no way to keep up with it all. It remains my favorite genre, but I also enjoy mysteries, mostly detective or police procedural. Add fantasy to either of those, and I’m very happy.

What are you reading these days?

My current read is Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, a steam punk novel set in an alternate Seattle in the Gold Rush days. The backdrop for this tale is an alternate Seattle that has suffered a great calamity that has altered their history substantially from ours. I already recommend it.

What has particularly impressed you about this book?

Her research. Her steam punk Seattle is built on the Seattle that did exist at the time. Gritty is probably a word that has been over-used, so I’ll say that her technique gives a very solid and real feel to the city and what it might be like in that alternate history.

I’ve been in your basement. Well, I’ve seen a picture of your basement at any rate, and I can just make out the corner of a Risk box. So, I have to ask, are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I grew up with the very old board games, such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue, as well as strategy games such as Battleship, Risk, Go, and chess. They were fun but other than Clue, they didn’t really have much in the way of role-playing. My kids were the ones who first discovered Dungeons and Dragons and brought them home. We still have a lower book shelf full of boxes of the old gaming modules. And of course we fondly recall the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were out about then, too.

I started the kids out with me as DM for the first canned adventures that came with the modules, but they quickly surpassed me. Our house became gaming central for my son and his friends, but my mom-role was largely to provide provender for the gamers. I loved ‘auditing’ the games and watching how seriously they took designing the dungeons and painting the figurines and all of the side ventures that went into gaming.

baldur's gateFor my youngest child, born in the early 90’s, gaming came in the form of floppies and then disks and game consoles, and finally online stuff. She still retreats to Baldur’s Gate to replay a favorite section if a day has gone very badly in real life. Some games are very much a comfort zone for her and for her friends. For a time there, when Pokemon was hot, I had a gaggle of neighborhood kids that I walked down to the local card store every Wednesday night. And that was a lot of fun for me. I recall one fellow who created the All Digglett deck, and proved that you could actually win with it, under the right circumstances! The kids collected the badges and had all the paraphernalia . . . I was actually sad to see it fade. Other card games came after that, but they weren’t really aimed at my daughter. Not even Magic held her for long.

So, most of my gaming experience has been of the second-hand variety. With so much on-line gaming, I do miss the rolling dice and table top games that used to bring the teenagers into my home. Now they play on line.

Have you by chance ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

I think that early on I realized that gaming, online worlds and even the Internet connection presented a very real danger to me as a writer! Seriously. I can handle one obsession at a time, and writing is a career where the obsessive parts of it are actually very helpful to me. Online gaming presents a very strong lure to me. After a couple of very small trials, I realized that it would be an ‘all or nothing’ occupation for me. And I do mean an ‘occupation’ as in something that would occupy all my life and time. At that time, with work and a family and a small farm to take care of, I had precious little ‘free’ time. I knew I could give it to gaming, or to writing. I made a conscious decision that I had to play in my own world inside my own head. So, I still feel a lot of envy when I walk past my daughter’s desk and see all this cool stuff happening on her monitor. But I have to keep walking and sit at my own desk and start piling up the words on the screen instead. I don’t think I could game and still find the time to put out a big hardback every year.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

The effect has been a rather indirect one. At the time I was writing Assassin’s Apprentice, my son was about 15 and heavily into his games. Even if the session was not at my house, the whole scenario and action was recounted when he came home. The big thing was that it directed a flow of teenage boys through my home, guys of all different kinds. I think that Fitz’s character development and his interactions with others owe a lot to there being a lot of live research material available at the time. It also gave me a pool of young men to bounce ideas off. And it let me see what sort of characters and situations were riveting and which ones were marched past quickly.

Everything is grist for the writing mill.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

The grind is what I mentioned above. It’s looking at wonderful fascinating pastimes and saying, “If I start that, it will eat into my writing time.” It’s not just gaming. I really envy writers who manage to crochet or costume or have amazing hobbies in photography or rock climbing. I need to write every day, rain or shine, regardless of what distractions are tempting me. Every days, I need to get the words on the page (or the pixels on the screen.) By keeping that discipline, I can then say when the day is done, “Now I can put my attention where I want it.” But most often that means doing something with family, often grandchildren. There simply are never enough hours in the day.

But the grind is also what I love about it. I do it all myself and there is such a tremendous satisfaction in the moment that those last words are typed.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Setting my own hours. When my kids were younger, it was wonderful to be a ‘stay at home’ mom who also have a career that was about as profitable as a part time or minimum wage job. That’s a pragmatic answer.

The other answer is that I love what I do, and I can make a living at it. Is there any bigger blessing in life? Having worked in restaurants and retail and door-to-door surveys and all sorts of other jobs, I will tell you that getting up and spending the day with my characters is an extreme pleasure. Every aspect of the story, every decision is mine. Yes, an obsession. J

When do you find time to write?

Well, I’m a full time writer these days, so it’s a 6AM to 11PM job on the days I want it to be.

When I was younger and working outside the home and having kids, it was harder. Some things, such as gaming and watching idle television, simply had to go. I still had favorite TV shows, for example, but I couldn’t sit down and just channel surf all evening. Dinner over, dishes done, kids on homework, me on the word processor. When they were really small, a notebook (paper kind!) was my best friend. Sit on a bench at the playground or on the floor by the bathtub and write. Write on the bus, while waiting at the doctor’s office, while the kids were at the roller rink . . . you can get a lot of words that way. And when you type it all in at the end of the day, it’s a revision and elaboration process that multiplies those words.

I also had and have a messy house and a jungly yard. We all make choices about what is important in our lives. And once we know what is important, that is where we put our time.

How do you tend to escape these days?

dragon havenI have a few acres and a rotting old house down in the McKenna, Washington area. There’s a pond and always endless physical work to be done. I battle the blackberry canes with a machete and a weed burner. I’ve got a lot of birds and wildlife down there. In the summer, my husband offers free judo clinics and overnight camps for our judoka down there, and that is great fun. A lot of the kids have never been to an overnight camp or out to the countryside, so to them it seems extremely wild while to me it’s merely rural. We have fruit trees and grape vines and deer (yum). And solitude. I don’t enjoy the constant noise of my suburban home. Leaf blowers make me homicidal. If you ever hear of a serial killer wiping out people who are using a 12 horsepower leaf blower at 6 AM to move three leaves, come knocking at my door. Because I spend so much time here in the basement in front of my keyboard and screen, I love it when I can go outside and work all day and wind up dirty and exhausted. But then you stand up on the road, and look at what you’ve accomplished that day, be it tree planting or ditch digging, and you can actually SEE what you changed. That’s such a wonderful sensation.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Start today. Write. Finish what you start. Submit what you finish. Repeat. Don’t get caught up in the ‘someday I’m going to do that’ trap. Don’t blog and tell yourself that it puts you on the road to being a published fiction writer. It just makes you a blogger. Get your stories down on paper now. Don’t wait. The stories that you can and would write today are irreplaceable. The story you will write at 15 can’t wait until you are 30. It won’t be the same story. It will be gone. Don’t write a lot of stuff in other people’s worlds. You are not a cookie press pushing out dough into a pre-set shape. You’re a writer. If you don’t write your own characters and worlds now, today, no one ever will.

If you don’t write them now, your characters will shrivel up and die, unknown, unread, unmourned, and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!

(Isn’t guilt a wonderful motivator?)

You wake up to a wonderful world where your Elderlings universe has been made into an MMO. What character would you play and why?

Oh, too late for that! I’m a writer. I get to be all my characters, every day. I also get to be the cinematographer, the producer, the set designer, the costumer, the dialogue coach . . . I get to be all of it all the time.

In a way, I guess, I’m running a single player, all expenses paid, no special effects budget limit, no memory limit game all the time. And so far, I’ve never had to buy more memory or a faster processor! Not even a graphics card!

And I do keep a log of it for all the rest of you.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Do what you love.

5 Responses to “Reading the text: Robin Hobb interview”

  1. […] Obsessive hobbies such as video games can kill the ability of a writer to produce their books, fantasy master Robin Hobb has warned in a new interview. […]

  2. RKCharron said

    Excellent interview!

  3. […] Robin Hobb in an interview at Grinding to Valhalla […]

  4. Tim said

    Great interview!

  5. […] Robin Hobb in an interview at Grinding to Valhalla […]

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