Interviewing Robin Hobb, Epic-Fantasy Best-Selling Author

Robin Hobb is the second pen name of novelist Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, born in California. Under her first pen name, Megan Lindholm, this popular author has produced plenty of best-selling works of contemporary fantasy, as well as science fiction. Her work is, in the words of the also widely famous author of the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series (Game of Thrones):

Fantasy as it ought to be written.George R. R. Martin

She has topped the New York Times lists of international best-selling fiction authors more than once, having written famous trilogies of epic traditional European Medieval Fantasy such as the Soldier Son Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, the Liveship Traders and The Farseer Trilogy, amongst other novels such as The Rain Wild’s chronicles and her collection of short stories, under both her pen names, titled The Inheritance & Other Stories.

SRM: Robin, thank you so much for taking on this interview, especially as busy as you are these days. Epic Fantasy has become, along with Supernatural and Sci-Fi Fantasy, one of the most sought reading genres by both online and offline readers worldwide. Has your publishing house noticed this upward trend on the sales of your already best-selling works, too?

ROBIN HOBB: Oh, by the time I get those numbers, they are usually outdated and I don’t pay much attention to them. Most publishing houses send out their royalty statements twice a year, in June and December. So I leave it up to my agent and publisher to worry about the numbers, and I undertake to worry about the writing. But I think that anyone must notice that television and the movies have come to be dominated by fantasy and SF, and when I scan the ‘new books’ rack at my library, there are those genres again.

You’re are known and widely praised for the complexity and richness of your characters, for example, in The Farseer Trilogy, the character of Fitz is one of the most beloved by your readers as the deeply flawed hero he is. But, is there a character out of these books with whom you feel most identified and if so, which one is it and why is there a special connection?

ROBIN HOBB: I feel very close to all my characters. Some of them, such as Fitz and the Fool, I’ve spent several decades of my life with. By the time you meet any character in any of my books, chances are I’ve spent a year or two with them. So I think it would be a great waste of time to linger with a character that I found boring or transparent.

I try to keep in mind that every character is the hero of his own story, that is, he brings his own past, his problems, his attitude and his hope for the future to the story. I try to work in at least a bit of all that for every character who is a named character in the book.

SRM: Everybody knows about the famous expression: “writer’s block”. What do you do to keep it at bay?

ROBIN HOBB: I have to be a professional and that doesn’t allow me to have writer’s block. There are certainly days when I don’t feel like writing, and then I just have to sit down and say, “This is the scene that comes next, and I know what has to happen, so start putting the words down on paper. It may not be brilliant or inspired, but it will certainly be fixable.” 

I think that is often what is at the base of “writer’s block”: The idea that the writing isn’t good or isn’t what you want it to be. Well, maybe not at that moment, but it’s a start for the next day. Every day, there are writer’s tasks to do, such as re-writing, or checking a galley, or other tasks that are not raw composition. And sometimes those are the things to do on a day when I don’t feel like writing.

SRM: The Live Ship Traders takes us into a magical journey of sentient objects, pirates, fantastic animals and family dynasties all set in a world in turmoil. The amount of research you must do prior every series must be considerable. Do you enjoy this process? Have you ever surprised yourself being thoroughly entertained by the process of discovering in itself, or do you just carry your research out as a necessary means to an end?

ROBIN HOBB: Often the research is what triggers the story in the first place. I may be looking up something specific for a story, discover a related fact or two and think, “Well, there’s a story idea right there.”

Generally speaking, I write stories about things that interest me, so chances are that half the research has been done just as part of my regular reading before I start in looking for specific things I need. I like to use people as sources so if I can find a person who will tell me about bee-keeping or navigating or whatever topic I’m researching, that will be my first choice. Diaries or other first person accounts are great if I’m trying to find out about an older technology. Children’s books are often a great place to start researching, because they often are salted with the most interesting facts, and illustrations, and in the back, the bibliography will be a great starting point for a more in depth study.

SRM: Talking about stumbling upon interesting topics in your everyday reading… In the Tawny Man Trilogy we can also find the sequel to both The Farseer and the LiveShip Traders books and once again, not only your characters surprise with the depth of their layers but also your mastery in developing plots of political intrigue shines through.

Do you get inspired by actual events or real characters of our everyday world affairs or do you draw mostly from past historical events for inspiration?

ROBIN HOBB:  Well, other than our current world and history, what else is there for a writer to draw on?  Writers can claim to make up their worlds and situations from sheer imagination, but really, where does that start? It all starts with what we know. We can invert a situation, or take a historical event and change the triggers to set it off in a different direction, but all writing inspiration has to come from our own world to begin with.

But I never take an actual event, recent or ancient, and then try to change the names, dates, etc and drop it into a book. My plots end up being more like a soup where I can’t really identify the original ingredients as separate historical or political events. The same is true for characters. 

I’m often asked if my characters are based on people I know. Well, again, where else can my inspiration come from? But I never take a person I know, change name and hair colour and insert into a book. It just wouldn’t work. Each character has to be the product of the imaginary world they exist in. Transplants are simply not believable.

SRM: The Rain Wild Chronicles revolve around the mythical creature of the Dragon and the quest to keep the last few of them safe from extinction, back in their homeland, from which the dragons seem to have an ancestral memory. Robin, do you think that this mythical creature could be our own ancestral memory from those who lived amongst surviving dinosaurs?

ROBIN HOBB:  Not sure about dinosaurs, but I think there could be mega-fauna that survived into human memory, and possibly in isolated geographical pockets. I wrote a story for warriors based on a Roman account of battling a giant snake  during the Punic Wars. Regulus finally killed it using siege machines to bomb it with rocks. ‘Feathered Serpents’ don’t seem so fanciful now that we know the connection between birds and dinosaurs.

For those who are interested, I recommend highly the book Natural History of Dragons by Karl P. N. Shuker. Many fascinating accounts of dragons and dragon-like beings from historical documents.

SRM: Thank you so much for that recommendation, Robin. Please, tell us a bit about your collection of short-stories titled The Inheritance.

ROBIN HOBB: The Inheritance is a story collection that spans most of my career. There are stories written as Megan Lindholm, including Hugo and Nebula finalists and stories written as Robin Hobb. There are only three Hobb stories versus seven Lindholm stories, but the word count is about the same.

One of the Hobb stories has never been published before, and two of the Lindholm stories are new. The styles between the two pseudonyms differ substantially. Each story has an all new introduction by me that places it within my career and tells a bit of why I wrote it.

SRM: Robin, which of your trilogies would you like to see, at some point, adapted to the screen, if any? And would you prefer it to be adapted to the silver screen as a film production of the likes of Lord of The Rings, or as a high quality major TV show such as George’s Game of Thrones?

ROBIN HOBB: Strange to say, perhaps, but I don’t give this a lot of thought. I don’t rate it high on the scale of ‘likely to happen’. Adapting books to film/screen is a tricky thing. It is, without a doubt, always an adaptation, and no matter the film maker, the story cannot be told the same way it is in the books. I’ve seen some wonderful adaptations. The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia movies immediately come to mind. But the movies and my reading of the books do not intersect in my mind. 

Uh, what was the question again?  Oh, yes. I don’t have any particular books/stories that I long to see adapted as movies or films. It could be fun, but it is way outside my field of expertise.

SRM:  Ah, you never know, with the right collaborators anything is possible… Again, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much and all the best with all your future writing.

Robin Hobb & George R. R. Martin > Double ration of awesomeness

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Interviewing John Ajvide Lindqvist, Best-Selling Author

Regarded as ‘the Swedish Stephen King’, Lindqvist’s first novel, Let the Right One In, considered the best modern vampire novel, also generated two hugely successful films, the Swedish of the same title, for which he also wrote the screenplay, and its U.S. adaptation: Let Me In.

After the vampiric Let the Right One In, it was the turn for the zombie subject, but Handling the Undead was unlike any other novel on this familiar monster.

The author, once again, surprised us with his original and intelligent perspective in a story in which spirituality, metaphysics and social discussion are  intertwined with his art for inducing heart-pounding dread.

His latest novels Harbour, Little Star and the short-stories collection, where we get to find out what happened to the protagonists of Let The Right One in, and titled Let The Old Dreams Die, are yet more examples of his supreme mastery at the horror/suspense genre.

SRM: John, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. You worked as a magician and a stand-up comedian for years. Could these have helped you develop your acute sense of observation and understanding of the human psyche even further? Is an audience the perfect psychology teacher?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: Not so sure about that, but it certainly has developed an audience awareness. I try to write in such a way that you can read my stories out loud. Also, my first reader is always my wife. I read 15-25 pages at the time out loud to her while writing, so I can get her input and also hear how the story sounds.

SRM: Nowadays you’re being frequently compared to Stephen King, but, when did you acquire your taste for writing horror? Has it always been a favourite genre of yours, also in your reading choices?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: Horror was the first thing I read that I chose for myself, when I was 13. I devoured horror books and movies up until I was about 17 (King included). I am not a big genre buff these days, but just in the last year I have started returning to reading quite a lot of horror.

SRM: In your widely famous novel Let the Right One In you set the tone for what has become one of your trademarks: your extraordinary ability to bring to light the wicked in the conventional or socially adapted, whilst revealing the vulnerability and virtue of the ‘monster’ and the ‘ maladjusted’, through passages of underlying dread and masterful tension. In your opinion, is the true ‘evil’ congenital or constructed?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: No idea, but I certainly feel that a story becomes much more interesting when you can identify or at least feel sympathy for the monster. A giant, mutated octopus can´t really do that for you. I tend to write in such a way that the line between the humans and the monsters become very thin, be they vampires, zombies or ghosts. I write about the monstrosity of humans and the humanity of monsters, so to speak.

SRM: Handling the Undead goes even deeper in psychological and sociological reflection, as this fabulous ‘twisted’ tale of ‘unusual zombies’ makes us think of what real love is, what being human means, and it also sharply cuts through society’s superficiality and prejudice, whilst effortlessly throwing in metaphysical questions about the true fabric and purpose of our soul. John, why do you think we tend to separate the spiritual from the inquisitive?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: While writing a story, I put myself in the frame of mind necessary for that story. In Handling the Undead that frame was a more spiritual, almost religious one than in my other books. But the only thing I wanted to do was to write a zombie story from the very basic concept that the zombies were not to be aggressive. It turned out that I needed a certain spiritual level to accomplish that. But I have no programme or purpose apart from the stories themselves.

SRM: With Harbour, what were you hoping to shake in the reader’s subconscious? What inspired you to create this particular story?

The fear of losing your child. I always have my own fears as a starting point, otherwise I would not be able to convey any horror or to cry and sweat like I do while writing certain passages. The inspiration for the story was when my own son got lost in the woods when he was five. How my fear of something bad happening to him gradually turned into a sort of certainty that he had disappeared, and actually disappeared. Like a puff of smoke, gone like he never had existed. It was terrible. He came back, thank God, but that feeling never really left me.

 That is indeed a horrifying thought to any parent, and luckily for you and your family was left at that, a thought.

John, you have also written short stories that have been published in successful collections, and not only you wrote the screenplay for the film based on your Let The Right One In novel but also the material for the television drama series Kommissionen and Reuter & Skoog. Do you adapt your creative and working process to the final format or do you have the same working habits, follow certain creativity rituals, regardless of whether you are writing for a novel or a screenplay?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: My working habits don´t change. I work short office hours no matter what I´m writing at that moment. As most writers, I don´t believe in inspiration, but in sitting out your hours at the desk. The starting images always just come, but then it´s sweat and tears to forge them into stories, screenplays or whatever.  

 Is there a particular trick to turn the curse inherent in worldwide success into just another source to draw inspiration from?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: Oh, I don´t really feel that since I very seldom leave home, and when I do I always bring my family or at least my wife. So in my case there is no curse, just better economic circumstances and a feeling that I am actually allowed to do what I do.

SRM: What’s the most cathartic to you during the process of writing: the process in itself or the euphoria derived from wrapping up the story?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: Planning. Before starting to write, that is. When all ends are still loose and everything can happen. I can get … well … cathartic moments when planning a story, when two images suddenly connect through a third image and things start to come together. That can be a joy.

SRM: Is now time for a well-deserved break or are you already itching to tackle your next project? What type of story would you love to see not only in a book but also on the big screen?

JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST: Next up is a monster of a book called ”X” that will take me a long time to write. Hopefully I will get to write the screenplays for all of my books. I like the process and I am proud of being part of the horror movie thing that meant so much to me when I was young. And still do, but in a different way.

SRM: I do hope that you write those screenplays, too, John, you did a magnificent job for the Let The Right One In film. Thank you again for participating in this interview.

Let The Right One In * Official UK Trailer

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