The phone rings promptly at 12:30 p.m. On the other end of the line, loud alarms can be heard going off and robotic voices warn people not to use the elevators. At a hotel in Philadelphia, author Patrick Rothfuss is trying to talk, listen, and follow directions, but it isn’t easy.
“The warning system is going off,” the New York Times best-selling author said. “Can I give you a call back when this is resolved because I won’t be able to focus on any sort of intelligent response?” Thirty minutes later, Rothfuss calls back. “Sorry about that,” he said, as though he were the one responsible for setting off the alarm.
The Wisconsin native, who refers to himself as a typical Midwestern people pleaser, is in Philadelphia for two reasons: to attend this year’s PAX Unlimited convention, and to promote his Worldbuilders charity, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The latter is something very near and dear to his heart.
Lasting Change for Good in the World
For the last 10 years, Worldbuilders, a group created by Rothfuss along with other authors, gamers, publishers, and others in the geek community, has hosted a fundraiser for Heifer International, an organization that looks to help eradicate hunger and poverty around the world by providing livestock, agriculture, and the tools necessary for self-sufficiency.
Interestingly enough, according to Rothfuss, Worldbuilders was started by accident.
“Ten years ago, when for the first time I had money in my life, I was going to donate some to my favorite charity, which is Heifer International,” Rothfuss said. “I wrote a blog telling everyone ‘Hey, this is my favorite charity. I’ll match donations for the next month if anyone would like to join me.’”
At this point, Rothfuss’s first book in the ‘Kingkiller Chronicle’ series, ‘The Name of the Wind,’ had only been out for a year. He had no idea how many people were reading his blog, so he didn’t know what the response would be. He set the initial goal at $5,000.
“We hit that in about two and a half days,” Rothfuss said. “I said, ‘Well, I guess those are the people who read the blog and that’s it, right?’” He increased the goal to $7,500. “We hit that the next day.”
After going over the $10,000 threshold, Rothfuss had to have a discussion with his girlfriend. They had just bought a house, and Rothfuss had promised he’d match donations for a full month.
“So, people keep donating,” he said to his girlfriend. “I promised I’d match donations for a month. Are you OK with this? She said, ‘It’s your money. Do whatever you want.’”
Other authors started adding to the giveaways by donating signed books, manuscripts, limited edition or out-of-print books. What started out as Rothfuss “goofing around” turned into $58,000 worth of donations at the end of the month, which he matched, dollar for dollar.
“It was all of the money I had made off the book at that point, so I was broke,” Rothfuss said. “It was a really great thing and it showed me how much people are really good. People really wanted to do something good in the world and they wanted to be part of something good and they just wanted to help.”
Worldbuilders rallies “the geek community to bring about lasting change for good in the world,” Rothfuss said. Which is good because, in his eyes, there are a lot of less-than-reputable charities out there.
“I think the problem with the geek community, especially, is that geeks are really smart and, if you’re smart, you know that a lot of charities are scams or a lot of charities are inefficient or a lot of charities house dark underbellies,” Rothfuss said. “Not to talk shit about other places, but the Salvation Army discriminates against gays and transgender people, the Red Cross has all sorts of skeletons in its closet, and the United Way is horribly inefficient with its use of funds.”
Instead of having to do in-depth research on a charity, Rothfuss assures the geek community that Heifer International is above board.
“What Worldbuilders has become, we sort of rally their enthusiasm because geeks are enthusiastic people,” Rothfuss said. “And we say ‘Here is a charity and we have vetted them. You don’t have to trust this charity, but if you trust me, and if you trust Worldbuilders, and if you trust my team, trust me when I say this is the best way to do good in the world.’ That’s why we stick with Heifer because it’s an amazing charity and there’s nothing else like it.”
Over the last nine years, Worldbuilders has raised more than $7 million, and they look to add more to that during this fundraiser, which is going on now through Dec. 11. Through the website, you can donate or bid on items in the auction. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to Heifer International.
Playing with the Social Outcasts
Today, Rothfuss is known as a prolific gamer, but his heart belongs to Dungeons & Dragons. He can usually be found playing at most of the conventions he attends and is friends with celebrity geeks and players throughout the country.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case.
“I started playing way back in the fifth grade in 1982,” Rothfuss said. “I saw some kids in the gym. It was raining and so we couldn’t go outside for recess. And they had all these books and all these dice and figurines, and it looked really cool what they were doing.”
Rothfuss points out that people who play D&D today are “legitimate celebrities” and that millions of people watch videos of the players or download podcasts. But back in the 1980s, if you played D&D, people thought you were a sociopath or a devil worshipper.
“I had never seen this before, and this is the lowest rung on the social ladder,” Rothfuss said. “I walk over to these kids and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And they were like, ‘We’re playing a game.’ I said, ‘What is it called?’ ‘It’s called Dungeons and Dragons.’ So, I said, ‘Can I play with you?’ And they said, ‘NO!’
“That’s who I used to be. I was the kid who wasn’t cool enough to play D&D with the rest of the social outcasts. Nevertheless, I bought the books and I read them by myself and I ran games for myself, then eventually I had gotten to the point where I had made some friends and I would play D&D with them and it was amazing. It changed the way that I thought about stories. It taught me how to solve problems and it was formative in a lot of my friendships and relationships. It’s a big part of how I became the person I am today.”
While Rothfuss is not much of a TV watcher, preferring to spend his time reading or writing, he does have a soft spot for the popular animated show ‘Rick and Morty.’ So, when the comic book publisher IDW approached him about writing a Rick and Morty D&D comic series, they didn’t have to ask twice.
“I’ve said no to a lot of projects over the years,” Rothfuss said. “But I couldn’t say no to this one.”
To All the Fans on the Kingkiller Chronicle Subreddit …
On the popular social media website Reddit, the ‘Kingkiller Chronicle’ subreddit – a community for fans of the series – sits just shy of 53,000 people. Most of the people in the subreddit post theories about certain mysteries, ask questions, and discuss how Rothfuss will wrap up the series in the third book, ‘The Doors of Stone,’ which does not yet have a publish date. Although some fans assume Rothfuss spends time looking over the subreddit, he actually avoids the site.
“I don’t go to Reddit,” Rothfuss said. “I’ve done AMAs occasionally, but Reddit is one of the few tar pits of time-wasters on the internet that I’ve been able to successfully avoid.
“With that said, I know there are a lot of people out there who enjoy the books and I know there are a lot of people out there who enjoy the way I’ve written the books very deliberately, which is to say with a lot of mystery involved. There’s a lot of secrets in there. There’s a lot that is hidden and implied. It brings me a lot of joy that people are finding joy engaging in those elements of the story.”
As for people who keep asking him when the third book will be released, he said he’s not tired of the question, just bored with it.
“It’s sort of the way I feel when people ask me questions about my beard,” Rothfuss said. “I’m like, ‘Eh … is this what we’re going to do? Is this how we want to spend our time, talking about my beard? I think we both have better things to do.’”