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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The Narrow Road Between Desires by Patrick Rothfuss. Image courtesy of DAW Books.
The Narrow Road Between Desires by Patrick Rothfuss. Image courtesy of DAW Books. /

DR: I enjoyed the original Lighting Tree, which I read back when the Rogues anthology first came out…but The Narrow Road Between Desires to me is a much more meaningful story. It feels like it’s something deeper than just a day in the life of Kvothe’s Fae companion, which is what the original kind of felt like. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about your process for how you approached this story. Did you intend to rework it into something with deeper meanings, with maybe some deeper implications for Bast, or did that just happen organically?

PR: Again, here’s the answer I know that I should give that would make me look cool, which is I knew that I had more to say. You know, I just knew…there were such depths that I wasn’t able to explore before I had developed my craft. Nah.

What it was is, a bunch of things have prevented me from getting some stuff published that everybody, including me—me more than anyone in a lot of ways—[wants] published. And not just the third book, but other projects. I wrote a big chunk of a novel and then I’m like, I should stop and go do something else, and now I wish I hadn’t, wish I’d finished that. The graphic novel I’ve got almost done with Nate Taylor, The Boy That Loves the Moon.

And so I’m like, it’s been so long…I really want to get a book out, you know? My publisher wouldn’t cry [either] like, “Hey, can you do your job so we can do our job and then people get to read a story?” I mean, one of the things was DAW lost its home. Like DAW is no longer with Penguin now, DAW is with Astra. And if you think that didn’t influence when we could put books out then boy, that’s a whole different story. Maybe link to an article out there because I haven’t talked about that publicly yet.

But I’m like, I wanna start getting some books out and I want [to coordinate with] the new people I’m working with, with Betsy, my editor over at Astra. And I’m like, hey, let’s get some stuff out there and let’s figure out how we work together. I wanna get back in the game. And the best way to get back in the game is probably not the immense iceberg of a conclusion to my opus or whatever fantasy monstrosity. And I thought, you know what would be easy? Nobody remembers this anthology. People don’t read anthologies. I like that story and people loved Slow Regard, which focused on a secondary character. Why don’t we give Lightning Tree the Slow Regard treatment? I’ll have Nate Taylor illustrate it. I’ll tidy up the language, I’ll write an author’s note. We put in some pictures and then there’s a thing to publish and we work on our process. I kind of get back in the swing of things. I get to publish again. And then once the wheels are spinning, I’ll keep moving forward and publishing stuff. Everybody wins and it’s easy. It’s already done. It’s a good story.

And so then, I’m like…I’m just gonna take a pass, and I’ll tidy up some of the language if anything catches my eye, and then we can officially say “author’s preferred text” or some vaguely BS-y thing like that. And instead, I added like 15,000 words and rewrote half of what was already there. And instead of “Hey, Nate, will you do me like a dozen, maybe 20 illustrations”…he did more than 45. Like all those chapter headers.

DR: I love the chapter headers. They’re some of my favorite pieces of art in the book.

PR: Poor Nate. That that came towards the end. [I kept adding ideas to them] and suddenly every chapter header is a bespoke piece of art that required several other little pieces of art. But Nate is a saint, and he killed it.

And so [then] what happened is as I was reading it, [I found places that needed to be expanded]. And I’d been thinking about the Embrils for literally years. You know, because every culture has its own fortune telling. And so I’m like, oh my god, of course, this belongs in there. But honestly, I added some things and I expanded some things and I moved some things but similarly, nothing happens in this book that didn’t happen in the other one. Like the summary of these two books is almost the same except they’re vastly different, you know?

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Image: DAW Books.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Image: DAW Books. /

Tolkien said I wrote this story from the beginning to the ending, and then once I knew what it was about I wrote it from the ending to the beginning. And actually I know what that’s like because I did a draft of what I used to think of as “the book,” which is Kvothe’s story. And then I went back and [had to figure out how] to turn it into books? You know, it’s way too big. And then I spent like another seven years working on Name of the Wind as the front chunk of that. [Then I had to make it] make sense all the way back to the beginning and work all these threads so that it plays out in the right way.

With Lightning Tree it was the same way. For something in an anthology, I was really proud of it, but as something that was just gonna stand on its own, I realized that I hadn’t written it [that way]. Now it feels more like a discreet thing unto itself, like Slow Regard, whereas the original Lightning Tree was okay for an anthology, but I wouldn’t have felt good with it by itself.