Editorial | That One Author Who Avoided the Sophomore Slump

Not too long ago, I wrote a list of modern fantasy books that everyone should be reading.  I considered adding Patrick Rothfuss’s first book in the King Killer Chronicles, The Name of the Wind, to the list, but I simply couldn’t justify it.  The prose was acceptable but not outstanding, and the plot was interesting but not mesmerizing.  However, thanks to a friend’s urging, I stuck with it, and as I’ve read the second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, I find my opinion of Rothfuss’s merits as an author completely changing.  I think that Patrick Rothfuss is a modern author to be read and used as a model for both new writers and modern published authors–as well as being really cool to fans who accidentally bump into him at conventions and lose all their words.

Rothfuss signing his second book (via blog.patrickrothfuss.com)

Rothfuss signing his second book (via blog.patrickrothfuss.com)

Why do I say this?  Well, it’s quite simple.  He’s improving as he writes.  This might sound like something every writer would do—practice makes perfect, as the proverb goes—but it actually isn’t.  The average series author produces one amazing, fantastic, nearly perfect book that he or she has labored over for years, sometimes for decades.  Every word in the book is in the place the author wanted it after painstakingly mulling over the page.  Friends have had a chance to read it and critique or contribute, and he has probably received several rejection letters, forcing him to improve the book before submitting it again.  The book may be a smash hit, or at least it may seem so to the novice author.  Overjoyed, he is eager to sign the six book contract from his publisher.  He is about to be the next Tolkien!

Then suddenly deadlines loom.  There is nothing that kills creativity quite like a deadline.  Hours and days of writer’s block are suddenly the bane of his existence as he attempts to wring the next installment of his story from his brain.  While he was writing the first book, these blocks were frustrating, but not deadly.  Now they could cost him if they delay the book past the deadline.  He hurriedly rushes the first draft off to a single friend, who isn’t so great at critique and tells him it is a great book.  An editor takes a pass at it and kills most of the grammar mistakes and an occasional wayward plot point.  Then the author presents it to his fans.  Some will hate it vocally, but unfortunately, many book readers are undiscerning, and he gets enough five star reviews on Amazon to continue in his ill-advised journey to publish all seven books.  They get longer and longer, and the characters lose their way in journeys that have nothing to do with their personal development or the advancement of the story (I’m looking at you, G. R. R. Martin).

Such is the way of the ordinary, modern fantasy author.  I’ve seen this so many times that I’ve nearly given up entirely on books that are meant to be part of a series.  If the author wrote a single book and then decided to follow up on it, I’ll sometimes read the first one and ignore the rest.  However, this is not so with Rothfuss.

His second book is compelling and makes me eager to pick it up and see what is coming.  Suddenly, for the first time, I’m interested to know why the series is named The King Killer Chronicles.  I want to know what the secret of the Archives is.

I cannot recommend this series as a fantastic read, because I don’t think that it is.  What I can say is that it is a beautiful example of an author who learned from his mistakes in his first book and actually has improved.  Provided that Rothfuss doesn’t make the mistake of flipping off his fans, I’m on board for the wait for book three, Doors of Stone.

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