Big Fantasy

March 10th, 2007

I’d like to add a new title to the lists of new fantasy, that may well become classic: The Name of the Wind, Day One in the KingKiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss, coming out this month from DAW.

I don’t work for DAW. But DAW did send me the galleys to this novel last fall. The story and characters pleased and interested me very much. It was so pleasing that, daunted by the pile of pages, and with so much to do with our New Orleans book, over a continuous period of nights before bed, I read the whole thing and was sorry when it was finished, and wanted the next installment now. I wouldn’t even allow Vaquero to do his usual ‘read Constance to sleep,’ because I gave that time of the night to this novel.

The Name of the Wind presents a new voice and imagination at play in this Big Fantasy sandbox. The author has a deep comprehension of the fantasy tropes, and what their purpose are, and how to best employ them for the weave and exposure of his story, and when. These are Big Fantasy tropes, though the Quest Fantasy ones are not included, at least not in this first volume. (I particularly noticed this, since I, personally, am not an admirer of Quest Fantasy generally, unless it it LOTR.)

FYI — a sense of what I will and do read, in terms of Big Fantasy, here’s a short list of authors I admire:

Kit Kerr, Kate Elliott, Jacqueline Carey (particularly her “LOTR Upside Down” GODSLAYER duology), Robin Hobb, GRRM.

I don’t read that many Big Fantasy novels these days, having not as much time, but The Name of the Wind left me eager for the next installment. Thus if you like the authors mentioned in the previous paragraphy, you probably will like reading Patrick Rothfuss too.

I don’t even like “Prologues.” But –here’s a sample from The Name of the Wind’s prologue. I was caught, just as Peter S. said he’d been, and predicted I would be too.

[ It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn's sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music ... but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained. ]

Writers and editors will generally agree that describing something in terms of negatives, particularly starting a large narrative with negatives, is a no-no. But this is an example where the author uses the very reasons that negatives are no-nos for his own purposes, which is to get the reader to understand that things are not right, that things are not well, that things are not normal here in the Waystone Inn. It also, from the second statement connects (the lack of) wind to the title the novel.

Love, C.

24 Responses to “Big Fantasy”

  1. mary osmanskion 10 Mar 2007 at 11:10 pm

    So Rothfuss is genuinely a new fantasy writer, and not a case of a pen name for someone with another writerly name we would know?

  2. James Engeon 11 Mar 2007 at 3:40 am

    Here's his bio.

  3. Constance Ashon 11 Mar 2007 at 9:58 am

    I’m going by what Peter said, when he first told me about this novel they’d found, and then offered to send me the galleys. This wasn’t at an sf/f event, but at cry-in-yr-beer party for an editor leaving the Voice after having the job for about a hundred years.

    Here’s a bit of a bio and photo from his Writers of the Future contest photo — which appears to have been taken some ago, judging by the photo on the jacket of the current novel.

    Love, C.

  4. kateelliotton 11 Mar 2007 at 12:15 pm

    I’ve met Patrick Rothfuss. He is a really nice guy. Plus he was genuinely kind to my daughter, so naturally he gets full points from me. I haven’t read the novel yet.

  5. rhi.roseon 11 Mar 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Oh yeah! I remember Patrick. He’s very cool!

  6. Constance Ashon 11 Mar 2007 at 2:46 pm

    It’s so nice to hear nice things about a writer of a book one liked so much!

    Love, C.

  7. Katharine Kerron 11 Mar 2007 at 6:40 pm

    O for world enough and time! (I still haven’t seen all 3 “Lord of the Rings” movies, that’s how behind I am.)

    Constance, I believe you implicitly when you say the book was good, but I really don’t think that negative description works. To me it seems affected. Different tastes and all that.

    Kit

  8. Sean S.on 11 Mar 2007 at 7:44 pm

    I got to meet and chat w/ Patrick last Friday…very nice guy to talk to, and I’m looking forward to reading his book.

    Even if it is 900 pages ;).

  9. Seleneon 12 Mar 2007 at 9:58 am

    It’s nice to see that there are still some BFFs (big fat fantasies) published from new authors, since practically every agent seems to be saying that anything above 120K is a no-no in these days.

  10. Stacyon 12 Mar 2007 at 11:23 am

    I was under the impression, due to the note in DAW’s submission guidelines stating they want 80,000 words or more, that they are specifically looking for Big Fantasy. Is this not correct?

  11. kateelliotton 12 Mar 2007 at 11:59 am

    A couple of early morning (pre coffee) observations (with which others may agree or disagree):

    1) every publisher hopes to find the Next Big Thing. If that’s BFF, good. If it isn’t, that’s fine, too. It’s just that for a while it seemed like most of the Next Big Things were BFF, so they were looking in particular for BFF.

    2) big costs paper. If you can sell at a large enough volume to somewhat absorb those paper costs, the publisher will still publish big books (see: Neal Stephenson). otherwise, they want shorter.

    3) while BFF is not a dead sub genre by any means, if you look in your big box bookstores you’ll see tons of urban fantasy paranormal (post-Buffy) novels, media tie ins, and then a mix of other things (including BFF). but books do seem overall shorter these days, with a snappier pace.

    4) however, that doesn’t mean that a new author of BFF can’t get published, just that they’re going to be running the numbers very very carefully to see if they can make a profit given the page count.

    I hope that was coherent, as I am still blinking the muzzy sleep from my eyes.

  12. Constance Ashon 12 Mar 2007 at 11:59 am

    As I said, I know some of the DAW people in social contexts, but I don’t work for them. However, one might guess as with any other publisher they are looking for anything that in their minds ‘works.’ And what that means in their own minds, well only your book can answer whether it works or not.

    I know, I know, I know! Frustrating! Agents are supposed to help with this, to a degree, anyway.

    However, going by our own experience in the last few years, publishers are finding that bookstores are leery of carrying very large books by writers not already well known, unless the publishers pay a fee to place them. For one thing the books, due to size, may well be priced higher than the chains want to carry. I KNOW for certain this true for histories and so on, and if the chains don’t carry your book, your chances for sales are steeply reduced.

    Love, C.

  13. Constance Ashon 12 Mar 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Kit — It may well have been the music connection, with an inn — meaning, of course — BAR, the sort of place where Vaquero and I — and Peter too, in an earlier version of his life — have spent so many hours …. You know the role that bars/clubs play in the lives of musicians. :)

    Love, C.

  14. Debbie Whiteon 12 Mar 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Okay, now I’m confused. From what I’ve read, 80,000 words works out to about 200 mass market paperback pages. That would mean that 120,000 words was about 300 pages. To me, that sounds like standard fantasy size, not BFF size. I’ve also read that less than 80,000 words is hard to sell. Is this information incorrect or am I just misunderstanding the definition of BBF?

  15. Constance Ashon 12 Mar 2007 at 6:06 pm

    My first novel, The Horsegirl, came out almost exactly at 80,000 words — a bit over. That’s what the contract stated it was to be. When published as a mm it was 232 densely packed, small font pp. I just checked to make sure. A larger font and more margin space would have been nice, but it ain’t gonna happen.

    In any case, the novel would NOT have been better if this novel had been longer. It was as long as it should have been, and I’d conceived of it that way from the beginning.

    However, if part of your confusion is caused by the title of this topic, the title is Big Fantasy, not BFF — which to me are two different things. Big Fantasy means large in scope. Big Fat Fantasy to me just means, well, large. Overstuffed. Literally too big for its britches. Desperately needs drastic cutting down, but didn’t get it.

    I love Big Fantasy, actually.

    My own little novels were not Big Fantasy.

    I really like standalones too. :)

    Love, C.

  16. Marie Brennanon 12 Mar 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Debbie –

    My own novels are about 100K, and run 400 or so pages. Page count depends on typesetting, which is why publishers talk about word count instead. 80-120K is “normal” range; shorter than 80K is rare in adult fantasy (more common in romance, I think, and YA; maybe mystery, too), while longer than 120K means the books start looking like your Robert Jordans, Terry Goodkinds, and George R. R. Martins. I don’t know the actual wordcounts for them, but I think they go above 200K.

  17. Carol Bergon 12 Mar 2007 at 11:35 pm

    My books run 135K-180K, most near 170K. These turn out to be 450-550 pages.

    Yes, some readers prefer shorter books, but there’s still a lot of love for more complex stories – see George RR etc. And yes, paper is an issue, but a dollar more will usually fix that. Reliable sources tell me that the chain bookstores are actually exerting the pressure for shorter novels, not because of reader preference, but because of shelf space consideration. They prefer ten shorter novels for 7.99 each (or 15.99 each) to seven BFs at the same price. The “current preference” I’ve been hearing runs to the 120K length, not so short as 80K. I don’t think anyone would call 120K Big with a capital ‘B’.

    I DO think that people have less patience for excess verbiage nowadays. If you’re going to write a big book, it should be a big story. Write tight.

    Carol

  18. Seleneon 13 Mar 2007 at 2:37 am

    This has all been very informative. Thanks everyone!

  19. Pat Rothfusson 13 Mar 2007 at 2:45 am

    Wow. This is a great place. I wish I would have found it years ago….

    Thanks for the lovely review, Constance. I like the fact that you didn’t spend all your time trying to summarize the book. That’s a bit rare from what I’ve seen in my recent crash-course in reviews.

    I like the distinction people are drawing here between Big Fantasy, and Fat Fantasy. One is epic, the other is pudgy.

    I’m also a big fan of tight writing. I know that sounds strange coming from someone who has written such a mammoth book, but I like to think that my book is pretty lean word-wise. It’s this leanness that helps my book read quickly and easily. I once had someone read the whole thing in a single day and come back to my house demanding the next piece of story….

    In regard to the whole what publishers want thread, I can tell a story….

    An early editor who loved the book made an offer on it years ago. She wanted to buy it, and when I asked her if the length was going to be an issue, she said. “Oh no.”

    “Are you sure?” I asked.

    “It’s a quick read,” she said easily. “Why, do you ask? How long is it?”

    “210,000 words,” I said.

    At first she wouldn’t believe it. Then she insisted that we’d have to cut it down to 165,000 so they could hit a price point for the books. She was a good editor and a cool person, but needless to say, I was horrified. When that publisher made an offer on the book (my first offer ever) we politely declined.

    Later on when I talked with Betsy at DAW, I asked her if the length would be a problem.

    “How long is it?” she asked.

    “210,000 words,” I said. “And I’m having trouble with the ending right now, I need to add some things to bring it all to proper closure.”

    Betsy just shrugged it off, explaining that her company once actually milled a special type of paper in order to print one of Tad William’s longer books.

    We ended up signing on with Betsy at Daw, and she was true to her word. As a result this first novel of mine comes in at slightly over 250,000 words. I like to think they’re good words, and necessary for the most part.

    Sorry for the long post. (Notice a trend?) I just wanted to chime in on the discussion and say hello.

    Hello.

    Also, I have to say as cool as this place seems, I probably won’t be able to hang around and participate as much as I’d like. My website just went live and I’ve promised people that I’d start blogging there regularly, so people can come somewhere central to ask questions and read my rambly thoughts.

    Nice to meet y’all, however briefly.

    pat

  20. Constance Ashon 13 Mar 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Hi, Patrick! Wow, this is a surprise. Ah, you couldn’t have found us long ago, because long ago we were not here. Congratulations on your book, and what looks like a terrific launch too.

    But to clear up something — this wasn’t a review, or, certainly, not intended as one. Rather a heads up to like-minded friends, to let them know I’d found something I liked and thought they’d like it as well. For me, Deep Genre is hopefully like the conversations we always want to have at conventions but so seldom get because we’re all usually running in different directions at the same time. And though Vaquero and I are constantly engaged in ongoing conversation about the subjects we share, and he is deeply sympathetic to these passions of mine for genre, he doesn’t share these interests. So Deep Genre fills a big hole in my heart.

    Love, C.

  21. Stacyon 13 Mar 2007 at 1:58 pm

    This post is fantastic for a little wannabe like myself – like Selene said, thanks so much for all this information. Gotta go check out Pat’s website now!

  22. Katharine Kerron 14 Mar 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Don’t forget that publishers talk about “trends” and “price points” and the like because they, like the people who make movies and TV shows, live and die at the whim of the General Public. You really cannot predict what “the people” want, because one of the things they want is Novelty. A trend can change overnight, and it takes a long time to get a book/movie/TVshow into production and finished and out. There is a high level of anxiety in all these fields, therefore.

  23. Lois Tiltonon 14 Mar 2007 at 3:32 pm

    A lot of these rules and guidelines serve mostly as the templates for rejections – which excuse shall I employ?

    They don’t apply at all to the works the editors actually want.

  24. Constance Ashon 14 Mar 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Well, to a degree, well, it depends on.

    When we went around to indie bookstores re a book they should be interested in, they just shook their heads at the price.

    If there was any book they’d carry with that price it was going to be Clinton’s autobiography — and that was a stretch.

    In the meantime, now it’s in trade, the box stores are carrying it, because the price has dropped into the range they accept.

    Love, C.

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