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Behind the Scenes

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, January 1998)
Robin Hobb
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Robin Hobb's literary debut was the 1985 novel Assassin's Apprentice, first of a trilogy that continued with Royal Assassin (1996) and Assassin's Quest (1997). Hobb is a pen name chosen by Megan Lindholm to relaunch her career with a new type of fantasy for her. Under her own name she published a number of novels, including her first, Harpy's Flight (1983), first of several in the ''Windsingers'' series; Wizard of the Pigeons (1986); and her one SF novel to date, Alien Earth (1992). The Robin Hobb books were well received as the work of a ''new'' author, and outsold her earlier books. The latest volume reached the Barnes & Noble bestseller lists.

''I was doing very well as Megan Lindholm in terms of getting good reviews, but my sales were not very satisfactory. And that means your advances aren't very satisfactory. A lot of the ordering done by the larger bookstores is on the basis of past sales performance, and if you sell 17 and the books are available in lots of 15, they're going to order 15 the next time. So of course your sales are going to decrease, rather than increase, as time goes by. Rather than have the new books ordered on the basis of my past sales as Megan Lindholm, taking a new name kind of erased that part.''

''This series also had a number of years to incubate before I started writing it. It came from a question written on a scrap of paper that I kept in my top desk drawer: 'What if magic were addictive? And what if the addiction was destructive or degenerative?' From there, almost everything developed. A very common concept in fantasy is that power or magic has to be paid for in some way. So the idea that it would possibly be physically degenerative or an addiction where, very much like The Lord of the Rings, you start out wanting to use this ring to do good things for people, and gradually it takes you over, is a very old idea. For me, that was the germ that gradually grew into this whole thing. That and the temptation I think every fantasy writer has, to see if you can take every single one of the genre's clichés – dragons and elves and wizards and bastard princes and hereditary magic – !!and free them up and make them work again. And I think I worked a fair number in there!''

''The second set of three books I'm working on, 'The Liveship Traders' – I don't really want to call it a trilogy – unfolds that world even further, in ways I view as a necessary relationship. I don't think you can be in the same world and write three stories that don't somehow tie into the other three books. But every book is something new. Simply because you're writing in the same world, I don't think you should be confined to writing the same type of book or the same characters. Obviously, mainstream writers who write in our so-called reality don't feel like they're writing the same book simply because of writing reality-based novels. That should be true of fantasy as well.''

''Any writer who has ever sat through a signing can tell you some people come up and have a hundred questions, and other people come up and you can suddenly see that when they get right up there to get their book signed, they're not really sure why they came or if they want to meet you as a person, because then that makes everything they enjoyed in this book unreal, and in some ways possibly invalidates their enjoyment. It's like going to a play and becoming very deeply involved in it, and then when they come out and take that final bow, and you realize they're actors – or a puppet show, and somebody suddenly steps out from behind and you realize they're the force behind this. I don't know if that's a good thing, to step out too far from behind the scenery.''

''You know that Megan Lindholm is a pseudonym also, right? Somebody told me that was because I have no attachment to my real name. In some senses, it's not a pseudonym, because it's my maiden name, but it's a step away from day-to-day life. My legal name is Margaret Ogden. At home, I'm 'Mommy,' and outsiders call me 'Ruth's mommy.'''

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.