In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Patrick Rothfuss is the author of the fantasy trilogy The Kingkiller Chronicle, with two of the three novels—The Name Of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear—out and a third on the way. Rothfuss’ work also appears in the George R.R. Martin-edited anthology Rogues, and last year he wrote the delightful novella The Slow Regard Of Silent Things. When he’s not writing and blogging about life in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, he organizes the nonprofit charity Worldbuilders, which sells and auctions cool stuff collected from the fantasy author/geek community and donates the proceeds to Heifer International. Worldbuilder’s second Indigogo campaign starts today, with prizes ranging from items from Paul And Storm and Vi Hart to games from Mayfair Games and a spot on a JoCo cruise ship.
Patrick Rothfuss: The truth is I’ve worked a lot of things people would consider shitty jobs but I’ve never really hated any of them. I’ve been a bus boy, and it feels like I should say that touching people’s half-eaten food was awful. But it wasn’t. I worked at Taco Bell, and I enjoyed it. I worked as a janitor at hospital and I found out that I really enjoyed dry mopping. I could happily dry mop for eight hours. It’s almost a Zen experience.
I guess I really enjoy work to a purpose. Maybe that makes me kind of strange. In some ways—and this is going to sound awful—it could be that writing is the worst job that I’ve ever had. Because it’s so much more important to me and there’s so much more opportunity for failure and I have so many people depending on me. In some ways it’s the most satisfying, the most gratifying, and the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. But I actually would say it’s probably the worst job I’ve ever had too. That’s interesting—I’d never considered that before.
The A.V. Club: What did you do at Taco Bell?
PR: Everything. I was very low in the totem pole. I worked the line, made the tacos, I used a guacamole gun.
AVC: Guacamole gun?
PR: It’s like big caulk gun the guacamole comes out of.
I’d also clean up the dining room, sweep and mop, and clean the bathrooms.
PR: As a writer, I first felt successful before I was published. Getting published was validation, but as a writer I felt most successful when I’d given somebody copy of my manuscript to read and I came home at 2 in the morning and it was raining and the person was sitting on my porch because they needed the next piece of the book. And that’s the point in which I felt, “Okay, I’m finally getting right. I’m finally getting this book to the point where it’s good enough.”
PR: I’m absolutely a Dr. Horrible type. The world is a mess and I just need to rule it. I would absolutely be a benevolent tyrant. I would get control of everything and straighten everybody’s shit out. I know how to make everyone better and if people could just let me I could do that. It’s not actually a big stretch personality-wise for me, it’s just the fact that I don’t actually have a volcano liar.
PR: It depends on who you ask. I was, depending on your perspective, either a very cute, precocious kid, or a real pain-in-the-ass, know-it-all kid. My mom lost track of me at the zoo one time and when she found me I was standing next to a guy and his daughter explaining to both of them—the guy had made the mistake of saying that the camels with two humps were camels and the ones with one hump were llamas, and apparently I was explaining the difference between dromedary and bactrian camels. I think I was about 4 or 5.
AVC: Speaking of llamas, last time we spoke, it looked like you were going to kiss a llama. Did that happen?
PR: It did. It actually turned ito a huge adventure because we hit that stretch goal about three days before the end of the fundraiser. I think it was three-quarters of a million dollars. And so… [Laughs.] The problem is, it turns out llamas can be really vicious animals. Like people use them as guard animals on their farms. A llama will quite literally beat the hell out of other wild animals and other animals avoid them. So I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into. We found a place in northern Wisconsin that actually did—it was a little bed and breakfast and they had a bunch of llamas and their gig was “come and kiss a llama.” So I’m like, great, sign me up. It’s about four hours away but you know, it’s for charity, for a good cause. And so, the problem is, I had to do it right then because we’d just crossed this thing and I needed to do it before the end of the fundraiser. So I drive 200 miles in an ice storm so I can get up there before the light fades, in November, so we can get these pictures. And I’m thinking, “I am going to die. This is how I will die.” It will say, “Budding novelist Patrick Rothfuss died before his third book came out because he was doing a stunt for charity going to kiss a llama.” It was perilous. But the llamas were lovely.
PR: I can’t think of any I had when I was younger, like posters on the wall and stuff like that. I have a ton now that I’m older. [Laughs.] So it’s a bit of a delayed development thing there. Maybe Robin Williams. I did actually have a Mork & Mindy poster on my door as a child, so yeah, I’d say Robin Williams. Or Mork, rather.
PR: I actually just had to answer this question. I’m doing a podcast pretty soon and they asked what they should use to play me in.
AVC: So what was it?
PR: Well, I was going to pick “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana. It’s this huge, overblown, operatic thing. But I’m really not that fancy, so I ended up picking a track of music off the Firefly soundtrack.
AVC: That’s great.
PR: Yeah, and it’s actually much more me—a little more folksy, a little more sci-fi fantasy.
AVC: Do you remember which song?
PR: It doesn’t have a name because it’s just instrumental. It’s the track where the Reavers chase them at the end of the pilot episode. If you listen to it you hear it and you’re like, “This makes me tense and I don’t know why.”
PR: That’s a good question. Today I woke up, checked Twitter—almost immediately in that order, because I have a sickness—and then I’ve done email, mostly trying to work out a deal with Jim Butcher so that we can produce a shirt based off his Dresden Files books for our fundraiser. Jim’s a lovely, lovely guy and he’s supported Worldbuilders in the past, so we’re desperately trying to throw this deal together in like two days so that we can design some shirts and show them off before the fundraiser. And he has been so lovely and so responsive and so has his agent, which is truly kind of her, because you know, she doesn’t get a percentage of the charity that he’s offering us. They’re both just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
AVC: This one might not work as well for authors.
PR: Not so much. But people jokingly say Brian Blessed. He’s in Flash Gordon and Black Adder. He was a huge Shakespearian actor. If you ever Google him up, you’ll see Brian Blessed is basically me except 20 percent bigger in every direction including volume and amplitude. He’s got the curly wild hair and the great bushy beard. He’s built like a barrel. And if you see pictures of him it’s like wow, yeah, he looked like me, better, 50 years before I was on the scene.
PR: I can sell anything to anyone. That is actually my superpower. I am really good at negotiating and persuading. If I were to fall into a vat of nuclear waste and one of my talents were to rear up above the others that would probably be the one. I find great joy in making a deal. Honestly, it’s a little dangerous and a power like that has the tendency to throw you into the supervillian camp, and so I try to point those things toward my charity. I try to sell people on the concept of being better people and making the world a better place. [Laughs.] What else am I good at? I’m good at moving couches. I make a surprisingly good Alfredo sauce.
AVC: Do you have a trick to that? Is it a recipe or a technique?
PR: It’s—the way I cook it’s more like mad science. There’s a lot of inspiration and dramatic failure with the occasional gorgeous success.
I’m pretty good at putting up drywall and I’m an excellent kisser. That’s pretty much all of my skills right there.
PR: I’m not officially a collector, but I have a strange attraction and a weakness for keys and coins. Old keys and interesting coins. And I can’t justify it in any way. They just really appeal to me in some transrational way. I see them and I need them and it doesn’t matter if I already have a bunch of these old iron skeleton keys. If I see another one I want it. So I suppose that does put me in the collector realm there.
AVS: It’s very Auri of you.
PR: [Laughs.] I think that’s absolutely a characteristic we share. And it probably made it a little easier for me to write Auri. As a matter of fact as I stand here and I look around at my shelves it’s like, yep, there’s just a bunch of keys on there. They’re not organized, they’re not in cases or labeled or anything like that. It’s just… [Sighs.] That’s why I don’t think I fall into realm of normal collector. I just kind of want these things. It’s a pure dragon impulse. In a different age I’d put them in a huge pile and sleep on them.
PR: I think—see, it’s the issue of, do I pick something that is really interesting? Or do I pick something that would be my favorite, so I could go out with a comfort food? If I was more of a thrill seeker I’d probably pick—you know they have that blowfish sushi, where it’s like one in 25 is supposed to poison you and kill you? But I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard people talk about it, and apparently if you get one that doesn’t kill you it tastes like snot anyway. I don’t see the point in that.
I would probably go for—I’d be perfectly happy with ramen. [Laughs.] I’ve lived so much of my life on ramen. I don’t have a terribly well-developed palate. I mean, I put some herbs in it. I put some spices in it. I make a good ramen. Very non-standard. Honestly, I think I’d enjoy that as much as anything else. If I’m going out on a meal I’d prefer to go out as myself. And I’m very much a ramen person. Maybe I’d have a microwaved burrito too.
AVC: What kind of ramen and which spices?
PR: I’d go with chicken Maruchan ramen. So that’s the flavor and the brand. I’m a Maruchan ramen guy. And it depends on mood but typically I use the ramen as a starter and what I really do is I make a big soup out of it. So I would put in basil, parsley, cilantro, sea salt, pepper, and a lot of garlic, even if it’s just for me–and especially if I’m fighting off a cold like I am now— I would not hesitate to put eight to 10 cloves of garlic in. I would also probably throw in some cheese tortellini. I throw out about half the noodles, and put in some cheese tortellini, and I put in some dried bird chilies to make it spicier.
AVC: Bird chilies?
PR: Yeah, they’re tiny little things about the size of a pencil lead.
And a little mustard. Dry ground mustard.
AVC: Sounds good.
PR: Yeah, as you can see, the ramen is really just a stepping-off point for the kind of soup that I like to make.
12. Bonus question from Kristin Bauer Van Straten: Would you rather be owned by a Pam, a vampire on True Blood, or by Maleficent? And why?
AVC: She plays Pam on True Blood and Maleficent in Once Upon A Time.
PR: That’s a really hard one. For me especially, because I was going to jump on vampire right away because, you know, depending on the vampire, it’s sexy. It’s kind of—bit on the neck, there’s an implication of a lot of erotic things going on if you’re owned by a vampire. But Maleficent—that implies that I’d get to go experience some serious fairy-tale stuff. And Maleficent actually wasn’t the bad guy. Actually, I can totally be on board with Maleficent, who maybe has a bit of a temper but is ultimately right. Yeah, I’ll go the “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” I’m going to go away with the fairies. Absolutely.
AVC: What 12th question do you want to ask the next person?
PR: What I’d love to know is, what thing have you done that has made you most proud of yourself as a human being?
AVC: Do you have an answer for this?
PR: I do. For me it’s—and it’s a drum that I end up beating on a fair amount—it’s not the charity Worldbuilders itself, although I’ve put a lot of work into that. But what has made me most proud—the things that I’ve done that I feel the most pride about—is helping people care about making the world better. And Worldbuilders is a big part of that. A lot of people say to me, “I’ve never given to charity before and I did and I can’t believe how good it feels.” And for me, I’m like “Yes, now you know,” because you never know until you try, and then you’re like, “This will make someone’s life better for ever.” And once you get a taste of that—and it fills up your chest—you can never go back and be the same person again.
So once you realize how good that feels, it’s like the best kind of drug. The first one’s free, to help you in the door. And that first one is easy, and once you get that first hit you think, “What can I do in my everyday life?” And then before you know it you’re just being nicer to people, you’re looking for ways to help folks, you’re leading baby ducks to the river when they hatch and it’s a traffic-y day. I firmly believe that we’re all good people, but sometimes it’s hard to understand how to do good. So that’s what’s made me really proud about Worldbuilders—not really just the money we’ve made, but helping people realize that it is easy to do good.