In honor of latest release, DRAGON KEEPER, Robin Hobb graciously agreed to a Q&A with SciFiChick.com. AND one lucky reader who comments below will win a limited edition dragon figurine! (Details below.)
Can you talk a bit about DRAGON KEEPER in your own words?
I’ve taken a rather long vacation from the Cursed Shores, and the world that contains the Farseer, Liveship Trader and Tawny Man trilogies. This is my return! I intended to write a stand alone novel that would serve as a nice introduction to the world for new readers. Unfortunately (or perhaps not!) I got carried away and the manuscript became too long to publish as one book. So, Dragon Keeper is volume one of The Rain Wilds Chronicles. Volume two, Dragon Haven, will follow it in May of 2010, so there won’t be too long a wait between the books. Chronologically, Dragon Keeper occurs after the events in The Tawny Man trilogy. The Rain Wild Traders are finding that living up to their bargain with the dragon Tintaglia is harder than they expected. The dragons they expected to hatch and fly away are instead still lingering, dependent on humans as they are unable to hunt for themselves. Having a horde of intelligent and aggressive dragons on the edges of one’s city can present more than a few problems. So, Keepers are hired, along with a liveship barge and his captain, to escort the dragons up and river and away. But to where?
What brought about the decision to divide DRAGON KEEPER and DRAGON HAVEN into two separate books? What was your reaction?
It was my fault. Quite simply, I got involved in the stories, I liked the characters and I started investigating too many side issues and plotlines. So, the book grew, and I found myself going back and adding material to the beginning, so that the actions of the characters made sense to the reader. But as I added more back story, the book manuscript grew longer and longer. So, when I submitted it, (late, I am sorry to say!) it was too long both for the time allowed to edit it and to put it out as a single book. So we had to make it volume one and two. My reaction to it? “I need more self discipline!!!”
The book chronicles two strong female characters – Alise and Thymara. Why are their journeys such important tales to tell?
What? Only two? Ah, sharper than a serpent’s tooth is, um, something or other. Yes, the tale does follow Alise and Thymara, but I think that Sedric’s thread and Leftrin’s are just as important. As it Sintara’s. As are all characters in novels, their journey is one of self-discovery as well as one that involves learning what happens when you have to not only care for but survive caring for an arrogant meat-eating creature that considers itself your superior. I think that each character has practiced deception in his or her life and each comes face to face with the consequences of the behavior. For me, how the characters’ lives interweave, how they change in response to one another, how they grow and change is as big a part of the tale as how the dragons and their keepers learn to survive and interact as they journey through a hostile environment to a legendary and perhaps mythical sanctuary. Along the way, I’ve greatly enjoyed expanding what the readers know about the Rain Wilds, Elderlings, the ancient civilization that predated not only Bingtown but Buckkeep, and how that history affected the two current cities that I’ve written about. So I think it’s a good simmering stew of a story, with something for everyone.
Of course, dragons play a major part in your stories. What inspires you most about these creatures?
I think humanity is a lonely intelligence. I’m not the first SF/fantasy reader to ponder this. I look at our relationship to our pets, and projects such as SETI. We listen to whales and try to understand their song. We reach out to apes with sign language. As a species, we reach out in all directions. So it’s wonderful to play ‘what if’ with questions about how humanity would change if we had to share our world with another sentient species. What would happen to us if we had to admit, completely, that elephants have a culture and whales are intelligent and perhaps we don’t have the right to run this planet as if we were the only important inhabitants. And so I play with dragons, dragons that treat us exactly as we’ve treated the species that share our habitat.
I don’t want this to sound as if I’m writing ecological allegories or ‘message’ books. I’m not. To be, it’s always about dumping lots of disparate ingredients into a pot and stirring it up and seeing what sort of a story bubbles up. Given humans and dragons, equally aggressive and arrogant, in one world, I see an infinity of story possibilities. Dragon Keeper only explores one possible story line.
Why do you think dragon lore and stories have become so popular with readers?
Dragons in different cultures have played different roles. They can be sources of wisdom, symbols of the power of nature, ravenous maiden-devouring beasts or a natural force that batters humanity. Or a dozen other roles. I think we are, as I mentioned before, a lonely species. So tales of sharing our world with another intelligence are interesting to us. But I also think that we are attracted to creatures of power, be it malicious or benevolent. For quite a while now, we’ve seen tales of vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, dragons, unicorns and other powerful, unworldly creatures interacting with humans. Often romance becomes an aspect of the tale. There are also issues of loyalty to explore in these stories. Fantasy gives us a great playground for exploring relationships between individuals with unequal levels of power. The vampire who chooses not to prey on the helpless girl, or the powerful dragon who becomes a servant of a warrior to help win a greater battle, for example. I think people have always been fascinated by tales of such partnerships.
Can you give any spoilers about your next book DRAGON HAVEN coming in May?
Spoilers? ME? Heavens, no! I find nothing more frustrating than reading a ‘review’ that gives away the final twist of the plot. I think movie reviews are particularly horrible that way! But, while I won’t say a word about characters or plot, I will say that Dragon Haven will, as the second half of the tale, be more fast paced than Dragon Keeper. They are two parts of one book, and with all the scene setting and character introduction accomplished in the first half, the second half is free to rocket on.
What do you do when you’re not writing? In your spare time?
What do you mean with that peculiar phrase ‘spare time’?
Seriously, that is in short supply around here. Right now, we are doing a major ‘remodel’ on the old house that I bought right after I sold my first book to Ace. The down payment was my advance. It was a long, low structure that had begun life as a chicken barn, but had been converted into a house when the old farmhouse burned down in the 1930’s and the owners had no choice but to move into the chicken house. We lived in it for about fifteen years on a mend and make-do basis, and then loaned it out to people for about another dozen years. Now we are finally doing the demolition and rebuild. It’s a bit like an archaeological dig as the old walls are torn out. So that’s my major project. Side projects include painting and re-doing a bedroom in our Tacoma house, trying to keep the yard up, and half a dozen writing side projects. Last week, I went straight from a Dragon Keeper signing, did a quick change of clothes, and spent the afternoon pulling nails out of a bunch of cedar planks that we intend to salvage and use again in the house. I actually love those kinds of tasks. It gives me time to let my mind wander through plot lines while I’m out in the fresh air and accomplishing something.
Do you read much fantasy from other authors? What books do you enjoy?
Fantasy and SF remain my favorite genres, with mysteries coming in a very close second. I subscribe to Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I think some of the most exciting work in our genres is done in the shorter length categories, and it’s a great way to spot up and coming writers. The tale I am most excited about right now is A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin. Unlike some of his readers, I’m willing to wait however long it takes. I’d rather he held true to his vision and did it right than rushed it. It’s a great story, and if you haven’t started it yet, I recommend it highly. I enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s work, especially Mistborn. Watch for Blake Charlton’s Spell Wright to come out soon. Kate Elliott is a pleasure, as is Australian writer Fiona McIntosh. I was greatly saddened by the recent death of Robert Parker. I guess some part of me believed there would always be yet another Parker book to read.
How did you celebrate the release of DRAGON KEEPER?
I’m afraid that, like so many milestones in my life, I was already focused on the next thing I wanted to do!
I’ve really enjoyed the signings and readings I’ve done for Dragon Keeper. As some readers may know, it came out in July 2009 in the UK, so I made a trip there to visit and to do readings and signings. And we tacked a family vacation onto the end of my PR trip and I think that was the best thing we’ve done in a long time. We took our time wandering about London, and then fellow writer Terie Garrison treated us to a trip down to Stonehenge. That was magnificent, but I’ll admit that we next went to Avebury, and I think that impressed me more than any castle, palace or cathedral I’ve ever visited. So that would have been my major celebration of Dragon Keeper.
By the time a book is actually published, the writing is often a year or more behind me. So it seems like a completely different event from that moment of saying (usually to myself, in a dim basement office at three in the morning or so) “There. It’s done.” When I first finish the manuscript of a book, there is a 24 hour period of absolutely loving it. I wander through the house, chortling to myself as I wonder how on earth the place ever got so untidy. Unfortunately, that is often followed by two weeks of discovering everything I did wrong and having to fix it. But that 24 hours of ‘There. It’s done!’ are the perfect reward for a year of writing.
Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
As always, my deepest and most heartfelt thanks to my readers, who let me do what I love for a living!
Win a limited edition, numbered (0719) “A Bunch of Bloomin’ Dragons” figurine from The Whimsical World of Pocket Dragons, signed by Real Musgrave!
To enter, simply leave a comment below with a valid email address. (Email address will be used to notify winner and gather mailing address only.) US residents only, please. Winner will be chosen from entries below on February 15th.