This was actually written in response to post #38275 on the Robinhobb newsgroup at sff.net. Mark asked some excellent questions about the Farseer books in relation to the Soldier Son books. I found myself writing a much longer response than I usually did and going into detail on an area that I’ve avoided up to now. So I think I’ll put it up here as well.
You draw some interesting parallells between the trilogies. My first impulse was to dismiss them (No connection at all!) But as often happens, readers may see more clearly than the writer when common themes are touched upon in different books.
When I first wrote Farseer, at the end of Assassin’s Quest, I firmly believed that I was finished with Fitz. Some people found the ending sad or even tragic.
My personal feeling was that he had fulfilled his role as a hero, which demanded a certain, oh very well, ah, a high level of sacrifice. Because of my own personality, I saw the final scenes of him as peaceful and fulfilling. There he was, in the solitude he’d always craved, with his wolf. (It was definitely a happy ending for Nighteyes!)
It was over a year later that I began to feel twitches of writing more about Fitz. I don’t think I was trying to ‘fix’ the ending so much as that I’d realized the releasing of dragons would have a definite effect on things up in the Six Duchies. I knew where I was going with Liveship Traders. And I’d begun to have the feeling that there was more to Fitz’s story. A rough chapter or three convinced me I was right. But I set them aside to finish writing Liveships.
With Nevare, the ending was fairly clear to me from the beginning. As I’ve commented before, I think the most reasonable place to end a book is where the next story would begin. So, although on the surfae it looks as if Nevare has a ‘happily ever after’ there, I personally could see a lot of complications for what he had ahead of it. But it was a good place to say, ‘but this part of his life is now told.’ For me, it’s a satisfactory ending.
I think I will go ahead and admit that when I wrote Fool’s Fate, I thought that I would be returning to Fitz’s story. A few astute readers have written ‘Aha!’ letters to me about the line toward the end of the book where I spoke of how a minstrel may pause before he sweeps into the final chorus. And that was my intent, at the time. Fitz and Co. had exhausted me. I wanted to do something different for a time and give my own emotions a bit of recovery time. Because writing about Fitz and Co is emotionally draining for me. They are very intense tales to tell. I wanted to build up a head of steam again before going back to that world.
I have not, however, gone back to that world. I hope the following does not sound like a whine; I am sure there will be some who interpret it that way, but if I talk about this, then I guess I’ll just have to deal with that.
I received a LOT of negative feedback about the ending. Letters were sent to me and public posts were made saying that I had ‘copped out’ or ‘chickened out’.
Many of the letters and posts and yes, a lot of the fan fiction up on various sites tries to dictate that the story goes a certain way, i.e. that Fitz and the Fool run off together and live happily ever after.
To those who believe the Fool is male, having Fitz suddenly surrender his heterosexual preference doesn’t seem to matter. If I wrote a gay character and then had him convert to being straight so that some readers could enjoy a ‘happily ever after’ scenario, I think people would accuse me of having an agenda. After all, don’t we all believe that the ‘right’ girl could make a gay fellow go straight?
Of course we do! (Oh, and before someone happily quotes that sentence somewhere, please know that is a Sarcasm.) Yet going the other direction seems just fine to many readers who will bend, spindle and mutilate Fitz any way they need to in order to reach the ending they desire. I don’t understand that. I like him the way he is. Such a radical change doesn’t seem feasible to me. In fact, I’ll put that as a question to the heterosexual male readers here; how much would you have to love your friend to want to have sexual relations with him if he, too, were male? Think of your very best friend, your long term, since-elementary-school buddy and let me know if he fills you with lust when you think of him. Do you want to leave your girlfriend/wife and run off with him? Inquiring minds want to know. How likely is that scenario?
Now, if you talk to some people who believe the Fool is female, it all seems very simple to some of them. The Fool simply says, ‘by the way, I’m a girl’ and Fitz tosses Molly aside and takes up with the Fool. Now, knowing Fitz as I do, I don’t find that a likely scenario either. For all of his life, Molly and the stability of a home life is what he has clearly wanted. He loves Molly.
Neither of them are perfect people. But they do love one another, warts and all. So for me, as an author, to make him suddenly discard her and run off to follow the Fool (not to mention leaving his responsibilities in the Six Duchies)seems like it would put a real torque on a character I’ve spent years constructing.
Now why would I do that?
Irony point. At the end of Assassin’s Quest, I received a lot of feedback at the editorial stage and later from readers that Fitz should have gone home, married Molly, and somehow become King and lived happily ever after. That ending never felt right to me. Because my editors allowed me to have the ending I’d first visualized, the second part of Fitz’s story unfolded in a way that I felt was far more powerful and compelling than if I’d given in to the ‘color by numbers’ ending that was suggested.
I really wish that, at the end of Fool’s Fate, some of the more vocal readers had trusted me to know what I was doing as a story teller.
Anyway. The negative letters and reactions were very disheartening. The fan fiction I looked at (yes, I know I shouldn’t have looked deep discouragement can make a person do some self-destructive things) convinced me that some readers had completely missed what I was writing about. That was downright depressing, in every sense of that word. In some ways, I felt like a good part of the readership didn’t really want to know what I had envisioned for these characters. They weren’t interested in the things I was saying about friendship and love and identity and gender. Sometimes it seemed that they just wanted a book that ended with a torridly romantic sex scene. For a time, I felt that if I wrote the concluding books that I’d visualized, people simply would not accept them, just as they’d balked at the ends of Assassin’s Quest and Fool’s Fate.
And so I set the notes and ideas aside as not being compelling enough to sustain a readership facing a book very different from what they’d envisioned. Given a choice between writing books that ended falsely and writing books that many readers would feel ‘cheated’ them, I opted out of writing them at all. I decided I would not return to the Six Duchies unless I had a story that readers would find truly compelling. The conclusion I had visualized was, I thought, probably not it. Sometimes I took the ideas out and looked at them, but every time I put them away again.
In France, on a day when I was not feeling well during Imaginales, I skipped dinner one evening and spent 6 or 8 hours going over the ideas again. (France is a wonderful place for me. It’s one place where the readers I’ve encountered are very supportive of me as an ‘artist’ with a vision. Every time I’ve visited there, I’ve come away recharged.) Anyway, I wondered if using a different narrator so that readers saw the events from an outside perspective would make my story acceptable. I toyed with the ideas again, I put down some notes, and in my mind I roughed out the first two chapters. And then I came home and set them aside and went back to work on my current projects. Because I still have my doubts. Some of the readership obviously has doubts that I knew where I was going with this story. Their feedback was like being interrupted by someone ju
st as you get to the climax of a joke or story. (You know what I mean. Someone jumps up and goes, “Oh, I know how that one ends!” And then they blow the punchline by saying it the wrong way.And all you can do is walk away, because delivering the final line at that point is just lame.)
Even some of the editorial feedback I’ve received has been along the lines of ‘give them what they want.’ Unfortunately for all of us, I simply can’t write that way. I can’t force out an ending that seems illogical or untrue to the characters. I’ve tried writing ‘to order’ before. You know what happens to me? The characters simply sit down on the page and start playing 5 card stud and wait for me to start listening to them again. I can’t force Fitz or Fool into one of those sappy contrived endings. They just aren’t going there. And neither am I.
I’ve contracted for other books all the way through 2011. So I have plenty of time to ponder the wisdom of returning to Fitz’s voice and tale.
And all of that is a very roundabout way of saying that the end of Fool’s Fate wasn’t supposed to be the final ending of that tale. So, it doesn’t really reflect my philosophy on life. 🙂
As for dealing with loss in stories. I strongly feel that until people face a loss and deal with it, they cannot fully live their lives. I’m at a stage in my life now where, in my 50’s, a lot of my friends are finally facing and dealing with earlier blows. They’re talking about things that they’ve always blamed on other people, and finally taking some of the responsibility for them.
Divorces. Children that they left behind. Adventures they didn’t go on. Or peace that they squandered in search of adventure. Smoking too much dope. Never smoking dope. Everyone has regrets of some kind. Every choice you make in life shuts down an infinite number of other possiblities.
I’m seeing some friends now who have turned, faced their losses and regrets, evaluated and incorporated them into their lives, and moved on. They’ve become wise. (That isn’t a sarcasm.) In each of those books you mentioned, my heroes turned and faced losses they had endured. They recognized that one cannot make all choices. And they became better people. In some ways they were more whole for admitting what they had left behind.
Each time we make a choice, we leave a bit of ourselves behind. I never became a journalist and traveled to the hot spots in the world to report on them. I regret that. That part of myself never came to be. But I did other things and they were just as rich in a different way.
Wow. This is a really long post. And it’s 9:37 here and I still need to get my words done. I’m daring myself to post this. It talks about topics I’ve avoided and tap-danced around for a long time.
Once I press ‘post’ I may very well regret this. 🙂