A couple of weeks ago I asked everyone to ask Pat questions without spoilers, and we asked a ridiculous number of questions and I split them into the different schools of the University and he has answered… lots and lots of them. And there are some really exciting answers—well, answers that I‘m really excited about. Well done everyone who had a question picked!
The first part of this “admissions interview” is being posted on his blog, and the second part is here, below the cut. (I’m going to be on a train all day tomorrow, heading south to the Nebulas, so that link is just to his blog generally for now. When I have internet again and the interview is posted, I’ll edit and link directly to it.) [Update: The link now goes directly to part one of the interview.]
Abbreviations: NW = The Name of the Wind. WMF = The Wise Man’s Fear. DT = Day Three, the forthcoming final volume. K = Kvothe or Kote when I can’t figure out what to call him and I’m feeling Kafkaesque. MT: Myr Tariniel. D = Denna
Before we begin, I wanted to link to this picture, which I saw in Portland in January. It’s not exactly Kvothe, but it’s called “The Moon’s Four Strings” and it just seems amazingly relevant to this re-read and I wanted to share it with you.
First: Pat talks about spoilers
Hmmmm . You see, the thing is, even a relatively innocuous question like this could be considered a spoiler to some people.
Let me give you an example. I’m going to assume you’re all solid geeks, and that you’ve already gone to see The Avengers.
(I’m going to talk about the movie, so consider this your spoiler alert.)
You know in the trailer for The Avengers where they show the Hulk catching Iron Man out of the air? That’s a spoiler.
Why? Here’s why.
There I am, watching the movie, and Tony Stark is flying off into space to jam a nuke up the ass of some aliens. Good times. High stakes. Big adventure. Then his HUD starts to get all crackly.
And they’ve already established Tony as being the selfish guy who’s ripe for a transformational moment, ready to become the self-sacrificing hero. He’s just called his girlfriend to say goodbye.
And I think, “Oh shit. This is Joss Whedon directing this. He’s at the helm. He wouldn’t . Fuck. No. Of course he would. Joss would totally kill off Tony Stark .”
Except that moment of honest dread only lasts a microsecond because I’ve seen in the trailer that the Hulk grabs Iron Man out of the air and slides down the building.
So I know he’s not going to snuff it. I’m robbed of my dramatic tension.
So I’ll answer this question, and give away a little piece of advance knowledge to the folks that hunger for such things.
But here’s what we’re going to do. Let’s move this question WAAAAAY down to the end of the interview. We’ll have all the tiny potential spoilers tucked away safely down there. Because I know some of you are like me, and you like your stories pure.
Does that sound fair?
What are the three things that a trefoil compass tracks?
They track three different precise points (three specific set locations) located throughout the four corners. Using the orientation of the three needles (and some fairly tricky trigonometry) you can determine exactly where you are.
Is there a way of repairing a Ramston steel blade once it has been broken?
Well, you could. But it wouldn’t be a really good blade afterwards. No more than if you had a really high-quality knife in this world (Like a real katana or some Toledo steel) then broke it and repaired it.
Sygaldry: Explain why it is – or is not – a form of “written” magic.
It is. Because it’s, um, written down. With runes and such.
History (including linguistics)
You’ve mentioned that your worldbuilding extends to dead religions. What can you tell us about them?
Hmmm . Not much.
For one, some of that stuff I might want to keep for future stories.
But more importantly, without any context any description I gave you would read like an essay. Sure I could explain some of the lost pagan rites from Vint. But without context and narrative, our ability to care about such things is dramatically reduced.
That’s why we need stories.
How can Auri know the way to Kvothe’s room? It’s never been mentioned that they ever talk about it.
1. Do you think that simply because I don’t mention something in the book it doesn’t happen? If that’s the case, then most of my characters really need to take a piss .
2. Why would Kvothe have to mention where he lives to Auri? Don’t you think she’s capable of finding things out for herself?
For how long was Elodin the Chancellor?
Not long. Less than two years.
What happened to Sovoy?
He lives on a farm out in the country now. He’s happy there. He has pleny of room to run and play.
What is your favorite item that Auri gives Kvothe?
Where and when did Tak originate?
There are two answers to this question.
1. Stevens Point, WI. 2010-present.
2. Modeg, more roughly 2000 years BCE.
Why was Caluptena burned?
Those guys were total dicks. They had it coming.
What are the lyrics to The Pontifex Always Ranks Under a Queen?
Heh. I really shouldn’t say. We’re in mixed company here. Children could read this.
What’s the significance of wearing rings on the right vs the left hand?
There are clues to this in the books themselves.
More I will not say.
Do the names Edema Ruh and Adem relate to the Hebrew “adamah” meaning “red” and “earth”?
“Believe me not; and yet I lie not; I confess nothing, yet I deny nothing.”
What does el’the literally mean?
That’s coming up in book three.
Are the 3 words (a) Aerueh (where tinkers find polished horns, mentioned once in NoW), (b) Arueh (where fine dark ink is made, mentioned 3 times in WMF) and (c) Aeruh (the word Haliax uses to command the air to bind Selitos, in NoW) connected in any way (other than being spelled similarly)?
Ah hell. That’s a typo. A and B should be the same thing. They’re referring to a place.
I’ll have to fix that in the later editions of the book.
Does Baron Greyfallow’s family name originate from a bird (a grey fallow), a deer (also a grey fallow), or perhaps the place called Fallow (where red and white wine Is made)?
Would Kilvin and Wil likely be portrayed by black actors if there were a screen version?
I don’t know why this one is listed under “Medica” but yes, absolutely.
(Jo: It’s in Medica because it’s physical information. It might not be good logic, but it was my logic.)
Is there any significance to the fact that Simmon looks like Tempi, i.e. that Simmon looks like an Adem?
They don’t look that similar. Sim just has sandy hair. (A lot of folks do.) The Adem are fairer complected and, generally speaking, shorter than Sim.
Please explain the Adem concept of “anger.”
Please explain the concept of justice. Or wei-wu-wei. Or weltschmerz. Or toska.
Some concepts are complex and ephemeral, too difficult to pin precisely with words. When these concepts come from an alien culture, understanding them is exponentially more difficult.
Keep in mind that I’m not saying, “I won’t explain it.” What I’m saying here is that, “I have already explained it, and it is hard to grasp.”
If you were to translate it into English, what word would you use?
“Anger” is the English translation. “Vaevin” is the Ademic term.
What are the ages of the various Masters at the University?
They range from Mature, to Old, to Very Old. Except for Elodin. He’s Not-That-Old.
Are the Adem right about how childbirth occurs or is the rest of the world with their man mothers theory correct? (or, possibly more interestingly, are they both correct?)
“In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”
Have you read about the Trobriand Islanders, the matriarchal society whose diet serves as birth control for the population?
Did you deliberately choose recessive traits for the Adem people’s general appearance?
Yup. Because I’m awesome.
What is Kvothe’s recipe for metheglin?
Kvothe doesn’t make metheglin. I do.
What is a thaum?
It is a unit of energy. Like a BTU, a Calorie.
What are the properties of copper that make it suitable for Elodin’s cell and Taborlin’s blade?
How does alchemy work?
It involves the manipulation of an object’s inherent principles. You have to evoke them, then factor .
Ah. It’s really technical. And face it. You don’t know anything about alchemy.
When you’re writing do you generally craft out the intricacies of the plot in your head/in an outline beforehand and work your way towards them, or do the various complexities more often evolve out of the constant rewrites?
The later. I’m more organic.
What system(s) do you use to keep track of all the details as you write—spreadsheet, timeline, multiple tabs, index cards, hypertext, some ungodly combination of the above, something I haven’t thought of? You clearly have impressive organizational powers and I’m interested in the techniques you use to apply them; information on detail-herding would be really neat.
I use my brain. Sometimes I write down some notes. On paper. Usually with a pen.
Does the existence of a huge online community absolutely desperate to know where Caluptena is and how a trefoil compass works affect your writing?
It definitely adds a bit of pressure. And by “a bit” I mean a lot. A whole lot.
After you’ve finished the third book, what areas of this world are you interested in exploring?
I don’t see why I have to wait. I’m writing a few shorter pieces right now that explore some pieces of the world. Modeg, most notably.
Are you planning more books in this world?
Have you ever read Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland or the Fantasy Tropes on TV Tropes? If so, were you ever deliberately evoking or subverting certain cliches or tropes in the series?
I’ve heard of Jones’ Guide, and wandered briefly through TV Tropes once or twice.
Your “if so” is troubling to me though. It implies that I’d only be bothered by those things after someone else pointed them out to me.
Just for the record, I’m perfectly capable of iconoclasm under my own power, thank you very much.
After the third book is released, is there any chance of opening up the translator forum?
Hmm .. I don’t know. I doubt it. It’s there to provide a safe haven to my translators as much as to protect my secrets. I don’t want to reveal their posts without their permission.
What was the trickiest bit of WMF to get right?
The beginning. I bet I spent an entire year trying to figure out how to make the opening section work properly.
Given that they seem to be giving you A Lot Of Pages per book, how worried should we be about book-creep, in the sense where George R.R. Martin wound up writing an entire extra book between the books he’d already planned? That is, do you think this is going to fit into three, or is there a possibility of overspill?
A musical sound track would be so awesome. Have any musicians approached you with the idea?
I wish. I’d love to do a CD of music people made about/for the book. That would be a ton of fun .
Please explain the currency system.
Which one? There’s five I can think of off the top of my head.
I’ll be doing a blog about this before too long. If all goes well, we might even have a widget that allows you to do conversions between the different currency systems.
Y’know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
How does the voting of the University council work? When vote totals are announced, there’s usually a half-vote in there. Does the chancellor have an extra half- or full-vote, which he can split?
The Chancellor has a vote and a half. This was designed to prevent ties.
(Jo: GBrell, you were right!)
Why are there no other scholarship students at the University? It seems that, status conscious as the whole civilization is, the members of the Arcanum at least understand that ability doesn’t always follow bloodlines. Why have they not come up with some way to let students in who aren’t rich?
What are you, some sort of communist?
I kid, I kid.
Seriously though. This isn’t Hogwarts. The University isn’t out scouring the land for magical orphans so it can give them magic cloaks and rooms full of money.
The question you should be asking is, “Why would the University want to go out of their way to let students in who aren’t rich?”
To put it frankly, what’s in it for them? Not much.
What’s the population (roughly) of the Four Corners?
The census numbers are woefully out of date, I’m afraid. Like, three hundred years out of date. Nobody has bothered trying to make a comprehensive count since the Aturan Empire collapsed.
You have three spades in your hand. And there have been five spades played. How many spades is that?
I’m pretty sure it’s eight spades.
SLIGHTLY SPOILISH SECTION
Can you tell us about any locations we haven’t seen yet which we’ll be visiting on D3?
I suppose it doesn’t hurt to say that Kvothe will be visiting Renere, the three part city.
(Jo: I am so excited. He’s going to Renere! And it’s on the map! And there’s a king there!)
What were the Mender heresies (mentioned by Lorren near the end of WMF)? Are they related to “Menda” who is “Tehlu, son of “? Is Trapis a disciple of a schism variant of Tehlinism? Is there any relationship between Menda, the Mender heresies and the “menders” we see in the story, Tinkers?
It was night again. I was answering a question, and it was a question of four parts.
Let’s break it up.
1. It was a religious schism in the Tehlin church. Kinda like Arian Christianity back in the day.
2. Very nice. Good catch.
3. Yeah. I don’t know how the hell you figured that out, but yeah. He totally is. Bonus points to you.
4. Hmmmm ..
How does Lorren know about Arliden?
Arliden had a productive career as a songwriter, not to mention that he had a fairly high profile gig as the lead trouper in Greyfallow’s Men.
As such, we wrote a lot of songs, many of which were recorded and attributed to him. But there are a lot of songs in the archives that have been collected and aren’t attributed to anyone. Lorren was going to ask Kvothe for his assistance catalouging these before Kvothe had his hissy-fit at the end of Chapter 36.
There. That’s a little secret nobody knew before. See? I’m not total a-hole about keeping things to myself.
Jo: I’d like to thank Pat for being so awesome and answering so many questions, and I’d like to thank all of you for asking such good questions.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula nominated Among Others. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.