Book Talk,  Bookish Things

Thoughts on the Rothfuss Editor Upset

As some of you may have heard, particularly if you follow Daniel Greene on YouTube, Patrick Rothfuss’ editor made a controversial statement about The Door of Stone a couple of months ago. I’ve been meaning to share my thoughts, and my scheduled is finally light today, so let’s discuss.

Back Story

For those who are unfamiliar, Patrick Rothfuss is an American author famous for absolutely taking off with his debut high fantasy novel The Name of the Wind, published in 2007. This is book one of what is meant to be the King Killer Chronicles trilogy, which itself is meant to be just the introduction to a rich and vast literary universe. The Name of the Wind is written from two points in time, Kvothe’s present hiding in plain sight as tavern owner Kote, and Kvothe’s past, starting just before the loss of his Ruh troupe and family and following him into his studies at the university. A scribe known as Chronicler has discovered him, and Kvothe agrees to share his story if Chronicler will stay for three days and hear the whole thing at once. This book is what Kvothe shares on the first day, The Wise Man’s Fear is what he shares on the second day, and The Door of Stone will be what he shares on the third day. This means that not only are we currently left on a cliffhanger in terms of finding out how Kvothe became Kote, book two ends in the same way book one did, with Kvothe going off to bed and Chronicler wishing they would work through the night so he could be on his way (as he’s already late for his meeting with the king.)

Rothfuss has been praised as this generation’s Tolkein. His world is vast and complex, his magic systems are well defined, and his characters are so captivating. The Name of the Wind absolutely deserves all of the awards and acclaim it got. The Wise Man’s Fear fell far short of everyone’s expectations, but as it’s meant to be book two of three, we’re all hoping it’s just “middle book syndrome” and that The Door of Stone will be better.

The Wise Man’s Fear, book two, was published in 2011. That was just four years after book one, so most of us fans expected book three to hit the shelves sometime around 2015. Nearly a decade later, we’re still waiting. Many joke that he’s playing chicken with George R. R. Martin, another famously slow writer, and some have begun calling the two existing novels a duology.

Rothfuss has also published a novella in the world, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (2014), two “not for kids” bedtime stories The Thing Beneath the Bed (2010) and The Dark of Deep Below (2013), and several short stories (none since 2013.)

So as you can see, he has published nothing at all since 2014, nothing in this world since 2013, and no full-length novels since 2011.

Why is this such a huge deal? Two reasons.

First, Rothfuss bragged that the entire trilogy was already written and just needed edits whenever he was interviewed after the publication of The Name of the Wind. He made it seem like we would have the whole trilogy within a couple of years. In fact, the original timeline was book two in 2008 and book three in 2009.

Second, Rothfuss handles his eager fans poorly. If anyone asks about book three when he posts on social media or live streams (both of which he does frequently), they’re likely to be treated to a lengthy rant about harassment and being ungrateful and how he owes his readers nothing. (I’ll touch on that last point later on.)

What the Editor Said & How Reddit Responded

In a Facebook post that has since been deleted (but had already been saved and discussed at length on Reddit, nothing is ever deleted on the internet) editor Betsy Wollheim said that she has yet to read a single word of The Door of Stone (book three.) This was late August or early September 2020. She also commented that Rothfuss no longer communicates with her in a timely manner, doesn’t provide updates on progress, and seems to have lost interest in writing altogether. That last bit was what got her in trouble and we all suspect that’s why the original post is gone.

It (Doors of Stone) will be the last book in Kvothe’s backstory, but Pat originally wanted to write more in this world. I don’t know what he wants to do now. Or even if he wants to write at all.

Betsy Wollheim

The online book world has continued this discussion though, particularly on Reddit, and there has been a lot of comparison to Martin, a lot of speculation on why Rothfuss hasn’t produced the third book yet, and a lot of discussion on ethics and obligations in publishing.

George R. R. Martin has provided public updates on his progress with The Winds of Winter (book six in the A Song of Ice and Fire series) as recently as July 2020. Rothfuss? Rothfuss put out a photo of a “nearly complete” draft of book three, which was apparently with his beta readers at that point, in 2013. That’s it. The only times we’ve heard him talk about book three since have been when he’s tearing down the latest fan bold enough to ask about it.

Speculation abounds as to what’s keeping him from writing. We know Patrick Rothfuss is very involved in charity work, particularly Worldbuilders which I’ve donated to myself in the past, and he’s constantly contributing to side projects in the blogging and game commentary spheres. There were supposed to be films and a prequel TV series in the works for the King Killer world, but both projects fell through and are currently sitting on the back burner with Lionsgate, the current rights option holder, until such time that they produce something or the rights revert.

Rothfuss has made minimal information statements (understandable) about family bereavement trauma issues and also claims that poor mental health has slowed him down.

Reddit users have little patience for Rothfuss’ excuses, mostly because of his attitude toward fans who ask, and his complete lack of communication about his schedule or progress. Reddit also seems in agreement that his publisher DAW have been significantly disadvantaged. Those who are complaining about the now 11 years overdue (based on original schedule) third book who aren’t brave enough to pester Rothfuss himself (or already tried that and got burned) have been directing their complaints at the publisher. It’s also very likely that Rothfuss already received an advance on book three long ago, likely a hefty one based on the success of book one, and they would probably like to recoup their investment.

Another theory being discussed is that Rothfuss has come to realize through rewrites that book three is such a massive tome it won’t ever be published as a single volume, but publishing what was meant to be a trilogy as a tetralogy would break the structure (opening and closing with the start and end of a day in the present.) He doesn’t want to or can’t shave it down to anything near the length of The Wise Man’s Fear, and that’s why it’s not done. Of course, the discussion then continues with people pointing out all the different ways Chronicler could ask to stay longer, or Kvothe could convince him to stay, as one or both realize three days isn’t long enough. There have even been tongue in cheek title suggestions, such as “The Destroyed Quill,” which I love. People have also pointed out that the contents of the existing books don’t fit within their respective days anyway, seeing as the audiobooks are just shy of 24 hours and 43 hours long respectively, and the storytelling takes place between breakfast time and a reasonable bedtime, interrupted by Kvothe’s tavern owner duties as Kote. Everyone chiming in would eagerly celebrate this turning into a longer series, and DAW would stand to earn more from the increase in instant bestseller titles to release. Literally the only person distressed by the idea of expanding the trilogy into a longer series, if this is indeed the case, is Rothfuss himself.

Of course, there are also jokes that since he’s “the author who tricked everyone into reading a million-word prologue” (article at Tor here), he’s actually been spending all this time writing a dozen or more future books in the world so he can drop them all 6 months apart immediately after the excitement of the long-awaited release of book three starts to fade.

There has also long since been speculation on whether or not the publisher would ask someone else to finish the series, à la Wheel of Time. The fans want Sanderson. If I could suggest someone else it would be Gaiman. Rothfuss would likely will it to Butcher. Spectulating on this, however, is pointless. It’s extremely unlikely that someone else would be finishing The King Killer Chronciles for Rothfuss before his death, and unless that happens tragically early, none of those other authors are likely to be writing when the time comes to make such a decision. If Rothfuss is not the author who will finish his series, then I propose that the author chosen has not yet been published on their own and is not yet known.

My Thoughts

The Name of the Wind is one of my favourite books ever written. It’s one of the few lengthy books I’ve read more than twice. It’s the prologue I read to people to convince them that fantasy is still worth reading, that this is an author to watch, or to show them what truly good writing is. Aspects of this book have inspired characters and abandoned projects in my own backlog. I spent a semester in an intro to screen writing class delivering scenes about a young man named Sirikor who I based on what I imagine Chronicler was like in his younger years, and at one point I had a novel planned out. It was going to be called “The Known World.” I used to name things in games after Rothfuss’ characters and settings. (I definitely had star dressage horses in a simulation game named Kvothe, Rothfuss, Lanre, Chandrian, Denna, Auri and Eolian, and at one point I had a stable named after Tarbean.)

In short, I’m a big fan, and I want to read the rest of the story.

But at this point I’m doubtful that we’ll ever get it.

Does Rothfuss owe us, the fans, anything? No. He is not in our debt. We have not sponsored the completion of the series and been stiffed on the deal. Anything we the fans have paid for has been delivered because we are consumers buying finished products. True, the fans made him in the sense that without the fans book two and all his side projects would never have seen the light of day, but that does not mean we are owed anything further.

Does the publisher owe us anything? No. And they don’t owe him anything. If anyone owes anybody anything where the publisher is concerned, it’s Rothfuss owing to the publisher. As mentioned, he has likely already been paid for book three, and it was likely a large check.

Did the editor, Betsy Wollheim, do anything wrong? I don’t know. She may have violated legal agreements with DAW or with Rothfuss, and not all of her statement was neutral and kind, but she’s also not out there spreading lies, and she’s not trying to destroy his career. She said herself that if book three ever lands on her desk she will be immediately forgiving, she will feel lucky, and she will drop everything to read it right away. That doesn’t sound like someone who was being malicious to me. It sounds like someone who has been deeply invested in a great thing was caught lamenting her disappointment in the apparent disappearance of that thing.

What feels wrong to me about this situation is how Rothfuss has handled himself. He has been abusive and toxic toward his fans. He has shown that he thinks far too highly of himself on many occasions. For example, see this Reddit thread responding to a stream where Rothfuss accidentally left the draft up on his computer and leaked an inconsequential page. Instead of saying “oops,” closing it quietly and moving on, or instead of not caring and leaving it up as a treat to his loyal fans, he ranted about feeling raped (his actual words) by the exposure of this briefest snippet of his unfinished work. On another occasion, he had a pizza delivered during a live stream and when he returned to frame with his food he ranted about “the f****** pizza guy” who dared asked about book three after complimenting him on book two. Any time anyone in the comment section on anything Rothfuss is involved in mentions book three he immediately lumps everyone in chat together and rants about ungrateful leeches who aren’t owed anything.

What he fails to acknowledge for himself is that the fans are only there in his streams because we want updates on his work. He’s not famous for being a gamer and we’re not a gaming audience. He’s not famous as the guy who interviews Jim Butcher, and we’re not tuning in to a Rothfuss channel for Butcher night. We ask about his wife and kids because we’re human. We support his charity work because we were going to support charity anyway so why not pick the one the author we like is talking about. What we’re showing up for is updates, teasers, picking the brain of the man who wrote our favourite characters and interviewing his characters through him. But he doesn’t want to do that and f*** anyone who asks for it.

I’d like to amend my earlier statement about Rothfuss owing us something. Does he owe us books? No. Does he owe us anything? Yes. He owes us an apology. He owes us a change in his attitude in future streams and appearances, or he needs to go away and stop interacting.

He also owes himself something. A lot of things, really. He owes himself kindness, forgiveness, and permission to write whatever the story has become no matter what that means for the original plan. He owes himself the opportunity to deal with the anger and self-loathing he clearly has bottled up. He probably owes that to his wife and kids, too. He owes his editor and his publisher communication at the very least, if not a manuscript.

I’m concerned for him because this is not the picture of a man whose life is going in the right direction, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m just a fan who’s never met him in person. It’s not my place to try to help even if I knew how, and we all know trying to reach out wouldn’t end well anyway. So this leaves me sitting here hoping that one day I will read the conclusion of Kvothe’s story while knowing I’ll probably never ready a Rothfuss book again. This leaves me frustrated knowing that I’m not owed a book three no matter how I feel that I am. This leaves me stewing over stories like this for three months past prime relevance before I actually voice my opinion on it because there aren’t enough words to express the trainwreck that has taken place.

Martin will finish A Song of Ice and Fire or will it to a trusted friend with extensive notes and skeletal draft chapters to work from. Sanderson will write the equivalent of Martin’s life work 20 times over. Rothfuss? I sincerely doubt Rothfuss will ever finish The King Killer Chronciles, and I won’t be surprise, just disappointed.

Jenna is the artist/illustrator and author behind Westveil Publishing and its sub-banner platforms Jenna Gets Creative and The Westveil Archives. She live in Newfoundland, Canada with her husband, daughter, and feline overlords.

5 Comments

  • David Greenberg

    I hesitate to dump on the author of one of your favorite books, but I’m convinced that the reason the third book has not been and probably will never be released is that Rothfuss never knew where he wanted to take his story. I remember reading Name of the Wind and being mesmerized by the first 300 pages. Great prose, intricate magic system, and a fresh take on the hero’s journey. But I was shocked that once Kvothe gets to the university, it’s 500 pages of the plot not moving in any direction at all. We have that sequence where Kvothe goes to the secluded town in search of clues about the Chanting, but the conclusion of that whole sequence does not bring Kvothe any closer towards achieving his goal and doesn’t feel relevant to the overall plot. From reading NotW I really got the impression that Rothfuss had an idea of how he wanted to set up a story, but really has never figured out either his middle or his end.

    • Jenna Rideout

      You make an excellent point. TNotW was definitely the sort of book that’s ideal for readers who like to just spend time with the characters, the people who never finish open world games because they’re exploring the world. Nothing significant (plotwise) happens after he gets to the university. That’s understandable when you consider it the start of a much bigger story, but book one really doesn’t have a complete arc of its own.

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