Patrick Rothfuss talks new Kingkiller novella The Narrow Road Between Desires

Patrick Rothfuss talks The Narrow Road Between Desires. Cover image: DAW Books
Patrick Rothfuss talks The Narrow Road Between Desires. Cover image: DAW Books /
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Today is a big day for The Kingkiller Chronicle: author Patrick Rothfuss is releasing his first new entry in the series in nearly a decade. No, before you blow up our comments, it isn’t The Doors of Stone, the long-awaited third novel in his trilogy. It isn’t even technically a brand new story. The Narrow Road Between Desires is an expansion on one of Rothfuss’ previously hard-to-find novellas, The Lightning Tree, about Kvothe’s Fae protégé Bast. The Narrow Road Between Desires brings a new level of detail and richness to the novella.

The Lightning Tree was originally released as part of an anthology with an all star line-up of authors called Rogues, edited by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin and15-time Hugo Award-winning editor Gardner Dozois. That version was published the same year as Rothfuss’ Kingkiller novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and as it turns out, there are some surprising connections between the two. The Narrow Road Between Desires tracks a whimsical and moving day in the life of Bast, replete with more than 40 gorgeous illustrations by Nate Taylor, the same illustrator who worked on The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Rothfuss about The Narrow Road Between Desires. We discussed never-before-revealed details about how he published the original Lightning Tree novella, why it warranted “The Slow Regard treatment,” and how he breathed new life into Bast’s story for this updated edition. And yes, we talked a little bit about The Doors of Stone.

You can watch the full spoiler-free interview below, or continue on for a mega-size written transcription of the highlights. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

DANIEL ROMAN for WinterIsComing: The Narrow Road Between Desires is the first new release in The Kingkiller Chronicle world since The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which came out in 2014. We’re gonna get into the details about The Lightning Tree in a second, since this is a reimagining of that story which you had previously written…but I wanted to start off by asking: how are you feeling with your release date for this first new installment in the series coming up?

PATRICK ROTHFUSS: I’ll give you the answer I wish I could give you, which is what I consider the Hollywood answer. Like you always see these interviews and no matter what the person is asked, it’s like, “So what was it like working on this movie?” And they’re like, “This was a dream come true! These people are my new family! I have never known love or satisfaction before working with director so-and-so.” Because God help you, if you ever imply a slightly negative thing, you will never work in this town again. You’ll be marked as a troublemaker.

Similarly…the problem is, there’s no team. So my version of that, it’s like, “Hey, so you got a new book coming out.” And what you want to hear is, “Man, I’m just so excited…to show my art to the world. I’m so proud of it. I’m so happy.” And it’s not that that’s not true. It’s that…god, I’m old and shattered and a ruined human being. And there have been times where…I was happy to put the book out, and I’m like, this is good and people get to read it and I know there are people out there that want to read a thing by me…and this is a thing by me, so then they will be happy. But it’s also hard to not think that instead of everyone being like, “Yay, a new book. Thank you.” Instead, they’re gonna be like, “Eh, this isn’t what we want,” you know? And it’s sort of like if you make dinner for your kids and you work on it all night and they’re like “You said we could have McDonald’s.”

So I’m really mixed. I am excited about it. There’s parts of it that I’m really excited about, I’m really proud of…and the illustrations Nate did and all of it. If I think about that, I get excited about that. It’s just that after more than a decade of every time, I’m like, “Here’s a cute picture of my child” on Twitter and somebody’s like, “Why are you not doing the thing I want?” I’m nothing but a human flinch now. So I wish I could be only the excitement…but I’m not as much of the flinch as I could be, so yeah…[that’s] a little good. Yeah.

DR: The original version of this story was called The Lightning Tree, and that was published the same year as The Slow Regard of Silent Things. It was in the Rogues anthology, which was edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Can you walk me through the process for why you decided to revisit this story about Bast, from inception to how you pitched this to your publisher and then got into the actual work of reimagining it?

PR: You know…reimagining is as fair [a thing to say] as anything. I don’t know what I would call it other than that. The Lightning Tree got its start because I was invited into an anthology that was before Rogues [because] Gardner Dozois—like king of modern anthology—and Martin were teaming up to do some of these anthologies. And I had just been published a couple of years and I got invited and I said no, and it broke my heart because this was the cool kids. This was like Neil Gaiman, all of the authors I’ve either always read or like my new fancy people I’ve met once or twice at a con. And I get to hang out with these people in the anthology…and I had to say no. And I knew it was the responsible thing to do because I was working on The Wise Man’s Fear and that was behind and that was a nightmare. It was sad and scary and it was bad, because I really screwed up by not being as honest…I didn’t know what I was doing. And so I wasn’t as straightforward with my publisher as I should have been. I honestly thought [it was] mostly done, I’ll do it in a year…and I was wrong.

But so I had to say no. And I felt like a kid stuck practicing his violin when everyone else is outside, like catching frogs or I don’t know whatever kids do. And so then Rogues came around and I’m like Wise Man’s Fear is out. Now I get to hang out with the cool kids. This is my treat to myself.

And the first thing…it’s about rogues and I always want to do the different thing. So I’m like, I know there’s gonna be con men, I know there’s gonna be thieves. I know all the tropes, like I’ve lived my life in the fantasy genre. And I’m like, “What about Auri? What about a trickster rogue?” So I started writing a story about Auri, thinking that she would be a cool counterpoint to the archetype of rogue. And I started writing it, and it didn’t turn out like that…and it’s like, oh…okay…so this is a book where nothing happens and nobody talks and I don’t even know if it’s a book, and it’s certainly not a short story.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. Image: DAW Books.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. Image: DAW Books. /

DR: Was that The Slow Regard of Silent Things?

PR: That eventually turned into Slow Regard. And I wasted a lot of time on that. And again, it wasn’t wasted overall because I love Slow Regard, and a lot of people have told me it’s their favorite thing that I’ve done or it’s the first thing of mine that they read. It has a very special place in my heart…but I was supposed to be writing a short story, not an unpublishable novel length vignette-experimental-what-the-fuck. Because I had to put a story into this anthology.

And then I’m like…oh, I’ve got the story of Laniel Young-Again. I was working on that as a novel, can I take part of it? And here’s the thing. At that point, I was torn between…I am horrible as a professional, because I know I already had a reputation of missing my deadlines and whatever. But also I know that a lot of people [were] really excited about my stuff and they wanted a story from me. And so [a tiny] part of me had the beginning of that terrible thing that ruins people where it’s like, “I bet I could just give them something out of this half finished novel that I had to lay aside. They’ll just be happy because they’re getting a Pat Rothfuss story.” And so I took a chunk [that] had a bit of an arc out of the novel that I’d started to write and then again, I’d stopped to go work on, you know, the stuff I should do. And I sent it in and George was like…”You know, I don’t think this is the story, because it kind of doesn’t have like…a beginning, a middle, an end. It kind of doesn’t do what a story does. Kind of seems like kind of the beginning of a thing…that you got…but it’s not a thing by itself.”

And for one, I’m like f***, I was so obvious. Two, I’m like, dude, he could have just said like, yeah sure. Because he doesn’t need to wait longer for another thing. He doesn’t want more work. But instead he’s like, I don’t think this is right for the anthology. And I don’t think it’s really the thing that we should put in the anthology, like it’s not a story. And I was like, okay, so I can’t pull that shit. And again, I was only thinking it [a little]. But if I had done that once, oh god, I might have tried to get away with it again and again.

It turns out I wasn’t the last one to turn my stuff in, but it felt like I was because I was past where I said I would. I’m like, “What am I gonna do?” So then I’m like, “Bast!” Everything I write with Bast is easy and fun and everyone loves Bast. And literally anything he does is gonna be rogue-like because that’s his whole deal. And so from beginning to turning in the draft, one month I wrote Lightning Tree. Which was originally called Bast’s Day, the worst title ever.

But beginning to end—and then of course, I did a copy edit later—it’s like 20,000 words. And so a finished 20,000 words for me in a month is lightning fast, ha ha ha. And that’s how Lightning Tree came to be. And George Martin really impressed me with the fact that like, he wasn’t going to take the easy way out. He was gonna actually call me on my bullshit and I really respected him for that and I still do. And as a result I got to do this story. I felt proud of it and then I moved on with my life.