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Interview de Robin Hobb V.O.

Interview de Robin Hobb V.O.

ActuSF : Let's start with what is probably the most conventional question : Do you remember how was born the idea of the Royal Assassin and the Fitz character? Did you think at the beginning that the cycle would be so long ?
Robin Hobb : I had the seed of the idea in my desk drawer for many years before I began writing it. Before I started using a computer, if I had a good idea for a story, I would write it down on a piece of paper and put it in my desk drawer. So, many years ago, I tore the flap off an envelope and wrote on it, “What if magic was addictive, and that addiction was totally destructive?” That was the idea that became the Skill, but I didn’t know where it would lead or who my characters would be. So, it waited a long time. Then, it collided with another idea. I wanted to write a fantasy that used many of fantasy’s clichés, such as the humble stableboy who is actually a prince, hereditary magic, ancient heroes rising to fight again . . . so many wonderful ideas to use again. Those two ideas came together in the Farseer Trilogy. I never suspected that the story would expand beyond a single set of three books!

ActuSF : Is it difficult to cut-off from a character that you have followed for such a long time ? Did you feel it necessary to go on to something else?
Robin Hobb : Sometimes I think of Fitz and the Fool, or Althea or Brashen or Kennit, and it is like thinking of old friends who have moved far away. I do wonder what happened next and sometimes feel like I know there is more to the story. At the same time, there are dozens of other stories in my head, and hundreds of other characters waiting to tell their tales. I cannot write them all, of course, but the lure of new worlds is very strong.
Also, it can be very frightening to think of continuing a story that already spans several books. As a writer, I worry that I may spoil what has gone before by writing a bad book, or that I may make a mistake and contradict some rule of magic or natural order of that world. Nonetheless, I do miss writing about those characters.

ActuSF : For some authors, the characters are true friends coming to them to tell their adventures. What about you? Which relationship do you have with Fitz?
Robin Hobb : I think I write the friends I would like to have. That makes me sound very pathetic, doesn’t it? But I’ll explain that because I spend so much time with my characters, they have to be people I could love. Even the worst villains have to have something in them that attracts me to them. So I feel a very personal link to my characters. I do feel as if they exist apart from me in some way; they make decisions I would never make and dare things I would not dare. I enjoy their company. I think the characters are what keep me writing.

ActuSF : Some readers say that you are very hard with your characters. Some are speaking about sadism. Is it because in the dramas are born the greatest stories?
Robin Hobb : Things have to happen to characters, or we do not have a story. And if the reader can say, “Well, nothing TOO terrible will happen to this character because he is the main character and has to have the happy ending,” then much of the suspense of a book is lost. If only little things are going wrong for a character, how interesting is his tale? Would you want to read a whole book about someone who lost his car keys, or had his horse go lame on a journey? If a character has big problems to solve, then chances are that he will have a large and dangerous adventure doing it.

ActuSF : The next paragraph has ‘spoilers’ for Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, so if you haven’t finished those books, you might want to skip what comes next!
Robin Hobb : Terrible things do happen to Fitz, over and over in those books. But very early in the story, the Fool tells him that of all the futures he has ever glimpsed, Fitz survives in only one of them. That means that in all other possible futures, he dies! If the Fool’s task is to keep Fitz alive, it means that over and over again, Fitz will nearly die if the Fool does not intervene. So of course bad things happen to Fitz! It is part of his fate, and why the Fool has come so far to intervene in his life.

ActuSF : You spent more than one decade with the Farseers. What are the feelings that these characters inspire to you in particular?
Robin Hobb : I miss writing about that world and those characters. They definitely feel like friends who have departed on a long trip. I think about them and wonder what they are doing now, and I wish them well. When I think back over the years I spent with them, it is like remembering some wonderful place I went when I was a child. There is the same fondness for a very good memory.

ActuSF : Will we read new stories about the fool?
Robin Hobb : I do not know at this time. I would not want to write anything more about those characters unless it was an extraordinary story. So I will wait for an amazing inspiration before I ever attempt it.

ActuSF : After writing such a long story, what was your first feeling when it was finished? "At last!" ? : -) How do you find the energy to begin a new story?
Robin Hobb : The ‘next story’ always starts pushing on me before the current book is finished. I almost always know what I’m going to write next, or at least know which of my many ideas are my favorites. Even now, at the very beginning of a new book, I know what idea I want to write down after this. In English, we joke that writers are people who can’t ‘not write.’ This kind of story telling does become something of an obsession. So, while I am very tired at the end of a book and am glad to have time away from the keyboard and screen, there is a part of my mind that is already collecting bits of dialogue and choice scenery for the next book. I never really stop writing.

ActuSF : In France, there is currently a project to adapt Royal Assassin books into comic strips. Do you work with Laurent Sieurac? What is your feeling about his work?
Robin Hobb : Laurent Sieurac does beautiful work. I’m not extensively familiar with it, because I am not well informed about graphic novels at all. I’ve looked at samples of his creations on the internet and been very impressed. We are not working directly together, nor have I ever met Laurent Sieurac. To my way of thinking, his work will be a reflection of his experience of my story. I do not think that a book can be adapted exactly to any other medium. I think that when an author gives permission for his work to be translated into another medium, the author has to trust the vision of the other artist rather than trying to stand at his elbow and whisper advice. For example, if you look at the different cover art I’ve received for my books, you will see that each cover represents an individual artist as much as it does my story. And I think that is wonderful.

ActuSF : Was it difficult to exist as a woman in the very male world of authors?
Robin Hobb : I have never experienced the world of authors as being an exlusive or even ‘mostly male’ place. On the contrary, all of my editors since my career began have been women. All the male editors and writers I have encountered during my career have been courteous, supportive and interesting people. So there has been no difficulty but only enjoyment of some fascinating minds. (Perhaps I have been very lucky? J)

ActuSF : Do you think that being a woman has influenced your work?
Robin Hobb : I think that every writer is influenced by who he is. We all have gender, race, age, nationality, education, religion and so many other factors inside us. No one can write in a way that is immune from who we are. But I do not think I write in a way that is excessively female. Writers have to put on the skins of their characters and try to be their characters as they write from those points of view.

ActuSF : What attracts you in fantasy when you write? Is it for you the ideal framework for your stories?
Robin Hobb : I love fantasy because it is a very free genre. Anything can happen. It is also a genre where one can tell a very big story. Fantasy is not limited by geography or even time. One can tell a story that spans a hundred years or write of events that change the world in a few seconds. But in an even larger way, fantasy can look at humanity in a way that dispenses with our pre-conceived notions of nationality or culture or boundary. When we read a well written fantasy, I am not a US citizen and you are not French, and I am not a 55 year old woman or someone’s mother or sister. Instead, I become the viewpoint character and see the world through that lens. Because of that, I can see issues from a different perspective and evaluate them independently of my own life. It’s very freeing for the reader and writer.

ActuSF : Your fantasy does not make use of the elves or other species. There is also very few magic. Your work deals much more with the real mediaeval universe. Is this necessary for you?

Robin Hobb : I enjoy fantasy that has very strong roots. So, when I am writing, I try to give my fantasy the sort of structure that I enjoy when I am reading. Sometime in the future, I may very well write a story that has elves or trolls or mermaids. I don’t put that limit on myself. When I write, I try to make the ‘real’ part of my world very accurate, so that the reader can believe in it more strongly. If the real part is accurate, then I think it is easier for the reader to accept the magical parts as well. The magic in my world is often ‘bone deep.’ It is so much a part of the world that the inhabitants of my world simply accept it, just as we accept such wonders as cellphones and aspirin.

ActuSF : What is your relationship with your readers? Aren't your fans sometimes too invading?
Robin Hobb : I really enjoy talking to my readers. I have a Robin Hobb newsgroup at sff.net where people can visit to talk with me and with other readers. We talk about everything from sports to civil rights to great recipes. I used to receive a lot of email and I would try to answer it. But it reached a point where I was spending more time answering email than I was writing books. So I removed my email address from my website and instead put up a link to my newsgroup. That has worked very well for me, as I can answer a simple question once, and everyone can read it there. I have not felt too ‘invaded’ by my readers. I have had a few just come by and knock on my door, but they were very pleasant people and I didn’t mind at all.

ActuSF : The style of Megan Lindholm and the one of Robin Hobb are really different. Why do you need these two identities to express yourself as an author?
Robin Hobb : The two styles are different, as you noted, and I think that each style lends itself to telling a particular type of story. Robin Hobb can be rather verbose. There is more emotional depth, a lot more description, and more exploration of detail. All those things make the style very suited to long and complicated books. Megan Lindholm’s style is more sparse and brisk. It’s a good style for a short story, especially one set in the modern world where I do not have to pause and explain what a latte is or that a Chevrolet is a car.

ActuSF : You have just finished The Soldier Son, a novel which speaks in particular about obesity. Is it a subject that is important for you, personally?
Robin Hobb : I have been fortunate in that nature gave me a body type that does not gain weight easily. However, I watched my mother struggle with her weight for years, and several of my friends deal with obesity every day of their lives. It hurts to hear them mocked or dismissed as ‘greedy and lazy’ when I know that is not the case. Research is finally showing that there are many factors in weight gain. Given identical diets, stressed people gain more weight than relaxed people. There has also been some evidence now of a viral connection to obesity. There is definitely a virus that can cause laboratory rats to gain more weight than uninfected rats on the same diet. Given that in the US, we are having an obesity epidemic, and that other countries such as Australia are also seeing a rise in the percentage of obese people, it seemed like a good topic to think about in a fantasy setting.

ActuSF : In France "Retour au Pays" (Homecoming) has just been republished. Do you intend to dig a little in the past of the Six Duchies and to answer some questions still pending about the ancients?
Robin Hobb : I do. And this answer leads directly to the answer to your next question, so let us just skip down to that!

ActuSF : Apparently, you are working on Rain Wild. Can you tell us a little more about this novel?
Robin Hobb : I don’t want to say too much about the Rain Wild novel, as it is still in the planning stage, and my books often change direction as I am plotting them. I will say that it takes place in the Rain Wilds, the story occurs after the events in The Tawny Man, and that right now I plan it to be a single volume story. It is NOT a direct continuation of the adventures of any of the main characters from the previous books. It will uncover a lot about the history of dragons and elderlings. I hope readers will enjoy discovering that history as much as I am.

ActuSF : What are your projects?
Robin Hobb : My main project is, of course, the Rain Wild book. I’m also working on compiling an anthology of Hobb and Lindholm stories to be published in one volume. It will include some new stories from both names as well as some older work. On my own time, I’m playing with a Christmas book for young readers. That is coming along slowly as I don’t have an exclusive focus on it. And I’m trying to remodel an old house and keep my garden from turning into.

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