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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Things I learned from Rothfuss

Pat Rothfuss is a good guy.

He's undoubtedly a generous and socially conscious person, as evidenced by Worldbuilders, the charity he founded which raises money for Heifer International every year, and which most recently matched donations to aid Syrian refugees. But while generosity and social conscience can be assessed by a person's deeds, to be good is a personal judgement of the beholder.

So, my assessment of Pat Rothfuss as a good guy is my very personal opinion, born out of two hours spent in his company, with my son and four hundred other people in the spectacular Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. It is certainly a biased opinion, as I've loved Pat's books, laughed at his podcasts, and discussed in detail his D&D character's penchant for chandeliers with my son.

But bias is just a theoretical inclination until personal evidence can be gathered in support of a story. And in two hours with Pat Rothfuss, these are the things I learned:

1. His sense of humor is inclusive. No one is a target, and everyone can find something true in the laughter. It's a little like I imagine the writers' rooms on Sherlock and West Wing were, with fiercely quick wit that keeps a person on their toes, and makes you feel smarter by association.

2. He appreciates people. It was hot in that bookstore, with four hundred sweaty fans, some of whom, like my son and I, had been there for hours before the event began. Pat acknowledged the front row people for their endurance, and signed their books first. When he spoke, he connected with the audience, made eye contact, held it, listened carefully, and saw people. And despite the heat, despite the crowd, and despite the lateness of the hour, when it was time to sign books, he was all in.

3. He understands people. Before the event began, he suggested we think about questions we might want to ask, then made sure cards were handed out to anyone who may not be comfortable asking their question out loud. That's understanding the introverts. Later, when it was time to line up for the book signing, he asked the group to let the parents with kids cut the line so they could get home. His fans are real people with real lives, and he gets it.

4. He is generous with his stories. He warned us that Q&A was a misnomer in his case - questions could be asked, but in return he'd likely tell a story that might have a little something to do with the question, but maybe not. His stories were honest pieces of his life and his experience - often funny, and always authentic. He shared his historic lack of game with women, and how nervous he gets when he talks to Neil Gaiman. He shared, and people connected with him.

5. He has opinions and he's honest. Questions about a writer's process and writer's block were asked, and Pat didn't pull punches. Writer's block doesn't exist, he said. Plumbers don't get plumber's block - they get up, and they go to work. If they have a broken leg, they do what they need to fix it, and then they go back to work. Writers might have something that needs fixing emotionally, and since they write with their brains, it's a valid thing. But there's no such thing as writer's block. If you're a writer, you write. That's your work, so you do it.

My twelve-year-old son had a question about Pat's advice to a first-time Dungeons and Dragons game master, which he wrote down on a slip of paper and signed. Throughout the evening, Pat occasionally pulled a slip of paper to find a question (not about his beard) to answer. The first question he pulled was my son's, and Pat answered it directly to Connor, complete with a personal anecdote, a practical guide, and a piece of advice about letting other players be game master too. It makes them better players, he said, and it's more fun for everyone. I could feel Connor smiling with his whole body because Pat had acknowledged him in a way that made him feel seen, heard, and understood.

It was an wonderful evening for both of us. My son's first signed book carries with it the memory of a funny, generous, honest man who appreciated his question, and really got him. And as we floated out of The Last Bookstore with our personalized books, and our giddy memories, Connor turned to me and said. "Mom, Pat Rothfuss is a really good guy."