Patrick Rothfuss discusses his 2013 Fantasy Pin-Up Calendar

Patrick RothfussToday we welcome Patrick Rothfuss, author of THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE. You probably know about Pat’s Worldbuilders charity that raises money for Heifer International, but did you know that he and artist Lee Moyer created a 2013 Fantasy Pin-Up calendar to raise money for Worldbuilders? Pat sent me a copy of the calendar (and a copy for one of you!), and then we talked about it. We’d love to hear your thoughts. One commenter will get a calendar.

Kat Hooper: Many of your readers know about Worldbuilders, the organization you formed a few years ago to get speculative fiction readers, authors, and publishers involved in your favorite charity, Heifer International.

Patrick Rothfuss: Ah yes. My baby. Worldbuilders keeps getting bigger and better every year.

Can you update us on how effective we’ve been?

This year has been going really well. We’ve already raised $300,000 and we still have a week to go.

We’ve got a couple big donation incentives on the horizon, too. If we hit $400,000 before the end of the fundraiser, I’m going to donate an extra $100,000 to Heifer out of my own pocket. When we hit $450,000 Amber Benson has agreed to do something cool with me as a surprise for the donors. We’ll be announcing that on the blog soon.

Heifer InternationalCool! How much money has been raised so far though Worldbuilders?

Over the last four years we’ve raised over a million dollars for Heifer International. That’s not counting this year. If you count this year, we’re closer to 1.5 million.

Wow — that’s a lot of money! Have we changed the world?

Yeah. I think it’s safe to say we have.

Heifer can do a whole lot of good with just a little money. $120 can buy a goat for a family that doesn’t own very much at all. That goat can provide extra food for any children in the household: milk, full of calcium and protein. Just what kids need.

Plus the family can sell the extra milk for money. In most parts of the world, having a goat is like running a small business. The same is true for chickens and eggs. Or sheep and wool. Or access to clean water. Something like that will change the life of a family forever.

Given that Worldbuilders has raised enough money to buy 500 cows, 5000 goats, 10,000 hives of bees, and 20,000 flocks of baby chickens. Yeah, I think we’ve started to change the world. We’ve still got a lot of work to do though…

I know you have a young family at home, and we all want you to be sitting at your desk writing 24 hours per day, but have you had the time to visit a village that’s been helped by Heifer International?

The folks at Heifer have wanted me to visit one of their working sites for a long time. I’d love to go, too. There’s no substitute for seeing these thing first hand…. But you’re right, I’m really busy. I haven’t found time to do it yet.

If we reach our 500K step goal, I’m going to be heading out to Nepal with a couple other high profile geeks. We’ll see how things work firsthand, then report back to the geek community about what we’ve learned.

That sounds awesome. Who’s going?

We’ve got Photographer Extraordinaire Trey Radcliff onboard as well as Podcaster and Videtrix Veronica Belmont. It should be a good time….

From the 2012 Literary Pin-Up CalendarLast year you and artist Lee Moyer teamed up to publish a 2012 Literary Pin-Up Calendar for part of your annual Worldbuilders fund drive. How’d that happen?

Heh. Team-up kinda overstates things. We just stumbled into each other at a convention. We had a mutual friend and over dinner, he mentioned he was an artist.

He showed around some pictures of a literary pin-up calendar he’d been trying to sell for a couple years. I thought the pictures were charming and clever. So I said, “I run a book-centered charity. We could print it and make some money for a good cause at the same time.”

Then we did.

That’s the short version of the story, of course. I wrote the longer version over on my blog if anyone’s interested.

Well, it must have been successful because this year you decided to do another one.

To be completely honest, that year’s calendar ended up being a bit of a flop.

Oh. And why was that?

Part of it was that we didn’t know what we were doing, selling a calendar. And I got overexcited about the project, so I had too many printed and we had to pulp a bunch of them. Calendars don’t have a great shelf life.

So yeah. Worldbuilders made some money, which is good. And Lee made some money, which is good. And some people got a cool calendar, which is good. But I kinda took it in the shorts on that one. I paid for the printing and didn’t manage to recoup any of my money.

Ouch. So you decided that if at first you don’t succeed….

Lee and I had talked about doing a second calendar when we were working on the first one. It was just pipe dream talk, really….

But Neil Gaiman got hold of a copy of the calendar and liked it. And Lee asked him if he’d like to be in it next year. When Neil said “yes,” it suddenly meant the project wasn’t just doable, it had the potential to be something big.

I was nervous about doing it again. For multiple reasons. But it had the potential to bring in some good money for the charity. I didn’t want to say no to that.2013 Fantasy Pin Up Calendar

This year you’ve created a 2013 Fantasy Pin-Up Calendar and you’ve got these authors involved: Peter S. Beagle, Ray Bradbury, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Jacqueline Carey, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robin Hobb, N.K. Jemisin, George R.R. Martin, Terry Pratchett and, of course, yourself. Were there any authors you approached who didn’t want to be involved in a Fantasy Pin-Up calendar?

Of the nine people I personally invited, there was one who said, effectively. “No, thanks. But don’t hesitate to hit me up for other Worldbuilders stuff in the future.”

I knew it was because he didn’t want to be associated with a pin-up calendar. And honestly? I respected him for being very up front about it. I can totally see where he was coming from….

Well, yeah, me too because after I looked through the calendar (thanks for sending me one!) I thought I’d be a little embarrassed to hang this in my living room. Don’t you think it’s a little risqué?

Some of the pin-ups are rather risqué. But that’s the nature of a pin-up.

Truth be told, they’re no worse than your average billboard or cell phone commercial:

But I’ve got a husband, two teenage boys, and two little girls living in my house. If I hang a pin-up calendar on my wall, what message will I be sending to my kids?

Well… you are aware of the internet, right? Odds are your husband and your teenage boys have occasionally, purely by accident no doubt, seen naked women on the computer-webs.

Yeah, but they know that isn’t socially acceptable, which is why they haven’t told me and I don’t know about it. If I hang up this calendar, the message is that I condone what many people view as sexual objectification of women.

Yeah. There’s no way around that one. A pin-up is going to have some sexual objectification in there. We tried hard to mitigate the sexist elements of it. But still, it’s there.

I’m also concerned about my girls. Does this calendar reinforce the idea that they need to be skinny, scantily-clad and sexily-posed to be attractive? That kind of goes against what I’ve been teaching them, too.

I hear you. As a dad, I think about this stuff a lot too. I’m trying to keep my little boy from soaking up too much cultural poison.

I will say this though, we worked hard to fight against a lot of the negative stereotypes. All the models aren’t twiggy thin. And they aren’t vapid bimbos either.

I really don’t know a thing about pin-ups, so when I first saw Mercy’s, I didn’t understand what was going on with those red outlines. It wasn’t until I read Lee’s blog where he talked about the different artists he was emulating that I understood what he was doing.

Briggs Petty
Side by side, you can see that Lee’s turned things on their ear. Back in the day, a pin-up was a vapid sex kitten. Lee’s version is going so far against the classic conventions of the pin-up that it’s almost satire. Not high heels and a bow, but a tire-iron and a creeper. (Which, if you’re curious, is the name of that wheelie thing mechanics use to slide under cars.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying everyone should run out and buy the calendar. If I’d put out a puppies-and-kittens calendar, I wouldn’t be trying to convince you that puppies and kittens are somehow the morally correct calendar choice.

I’m just saying it’s out there, and it’s not just women in bikinis.

I agree that Lee’s artwork helps. Only one of the women looks like a bimbo — the Pratchett character. Is that supposed to be Tiffany Aching?

Oh god no. It’s not Tiffany. That would be horrible if that was supposed to be her.

Honestly, that’s the most misunderstood page in the calendar. When I first saw it, I thought it was supposed to be a female version of Rincewind.

It’s actually supposed to be a wizard that’s accidentally changed himself into a woman. Hence the look of surprise. It was Lee’s take on the classic ingénue type of pin-up.

Pratchett PinUp
OK, I get it. And I admit that the other women in the calendar look like they’d easily dispatch you if you tried anything untoward. I’m sensitive about this issue though because, unfortunately, SFF has had a bad reputation for being male-oriented and for portraying women as passive sex objects. For example, see this Conan cover. ConanYour calendar seems male-oriented, which doesn’t help SFF’s reputation. I like Lee Moyer’s art, and I love the idea of supporting Worldbuilders, but I really don’t want to experience any cognitive dissonance over a calendar. Help me here.

Sorry. I’ve got no help to give. I’ve got more than enough cognitive dissonance over being involved in producing it.

First and foremost, I decided to do this calendar because I thought it would be fun and people would enjoy it.

But… I’m involved with producing something inherently sexist. I feel bad about that.

On the other hand, we’re trying to turn a lot of the old sexist tropes on their ear. I feel good about that.

On the *other* other hand, the calendar perpetuates the objectification of women. I feel bad about that.

On the other *other* *OTHER* hand the money we raise is going to Heifer International, a profoundly feminist charity. Women will be able to feed their families because of this, their lives will be better. Their children will be healthier.

I spin round and round on the issue.

Almost all of science fiction and fantasy was written by men until fairly recently, but these days women make up a significant proportion of SFF authors. In fact, five of the twelve authors represented in your calendar are women. Did you purposely approach female writers?

Oh yes. That was very deliberate.

And nowadays women and girls can easily find role models in fantasy literature and these strong women are being written by both female and male authors. In your calendar I see Mercedes Thompson, Phédre no Delaunay, Malta Vestrit, Sookie Stackhouse, Cersei Lannister, and other women who are intelligent, powerful, and independent. I kind of like that. Did you specifically try to portray strong female characters, or did this just naturally happen because those are the kinds of characters that modern authors are writing?

I left the choice of characters up to the authors themselves. But your point is a good one, we’ve got a lot more strong women in fantasy than we did even ten years ago.

Do you think this change in the literature is caused by more women writing fantasy, more women reading fantasy, or the changes in sex roles in our culture?

Yes. Yes. And yes. All three.

Though honestly, women have always been reading fantasy. It’s a misconception that they only started turning out these last couple decades. My mom read fantasy: LORD OF THE RINGS and DUNE and PERN and Stranger in a Strange Land.

The readership isn’t a new thing. Our perception is a new thing.

Well, your mom sounds really cool, and we could argue about the perception vs. the reality of the history of women’s involvement in speculative fiction, but there’s no doubt that women’s roles have changed drastically in the world in general, and also in SFF, in the last few decades. I think this is reflected in the cover art, too. How do you feel about the way male characters are portrayed on the covers of many fantasy novels these days?

I’m pretty indifferent to it, honestly. The cover of a book is a marketing choice. It’s supposed to catch the eye and sell the book. This book is full of sexy. Should they put someone that looks like me on the cover?

Um….

No. That wouldn’t sell. The title of the book is not The Hobo King.

So when you see these at your bookstore, does it bother you that men are being “objectified?”

Not really. I mean, when you come right down to it, we *are* physical objects.

A better question might be, “Do I mind my gender being sexualized?”

Still, my answer would have to be, “Not much.” It bothers me a little that a cover like this (and the Conan one above) is perpetuating unrealistic body expectations for men. Even if I did nothing but work out for a year I couldn’t look like that…

That said, it’s not really a fair comparison. As a man, my situation is in no way equal to yours as a woman. They’re not even vaguely similar.

As a man, I am not viewed primarily as a sex object in our culture. I don’t have to deal with that every day of my life. I don’t have to worry about being harassed. Being raped. Being fired for dressing too sexy. Being fired for not being sexy enough. Not being hired in the first place because of my gender….

If I’d had to deal with that every day of my life, I’d probably feel a lot different when confronted about Chesty McStudlyAbs up there.

I think you’re right that women feel like we have to make up for the way our gender has been treated in the past (or currently in many parts of the world). We feel like we have to prove that we have other body parts of interest. At the same time I agree with you that Lee Moyer’s art suggests we can be both sexy and smart. In fact, my husband took a look at the calendar and loved the picture of Cersei Lannister. He said she looks “hot and formidable.”

She certainly does.

How did the female authors feel about participating in a pin-up calendar? Did they have a different response than the male authors did?

Their responses were about the same as the men. Some were in with no hesitation. Some were a little leery about the project. I should probably mention that the one author that said “Thanks but no thanks” was a man.

As for how they felt about it? I wouldn’t want to guess at that. I really liked what Nora Jemisin wrote on her blog a while back though. As for the others, we could ask them about it if you like….

OK. Let’s do that… Ladies?

Patty Briggs: Truthfully, I was intrigued from the start. I’ve always liked pin-ups — the best of them have a playfulness that lends itself quite well to a 2013 mentality. I talked with Patrick, briefly, and with Lee Moyer in a lot more detail about what would and wouldn’t work for Mercy. Even though I don’t think I used the word “objectification” once, we were all on the same page. In Lee’s capable hands, Mercy’s page is a celebration of strength and feminine grace with a nod to those old-time pin-up advertising calendars that every corner mechanic’s garage had pinned up on their wall and the “Rosie Riveter” posters of WWII. I am delighted with the results.

Charlaine Harris: I was troubled by the idea of a conventional pin-up calendar, but I also am a huge fan of Heifer. I agreed to do it if there were a male figure in my month, as well. Frankly, I think many more people would buy the calendar if there were more male figures in it. I think the sexuality of the female drawings is tasteful and fun, not salacious. That’s several disconnected thoughts, but those add up to what I pondered when I considered Pat’s proposal.

Jacqueline Carey: Given that one of the major themes in my Kushiel’s Legacy series is the sacred nature of sexuality, it’s no surprise that I thought the idea of a fantasy pin-up art calendar was a delightful one. To me, there’s something joyful and celebratory about the art form at its finest, rooted in the spirit of burlesque. I appreciate the underlying message implicit in the calendar project that books are sexy. That’s a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree!

Robin Hobb: Maybe I should begin by saying that when I was first approached, the hope was that I would allow The Fool to pose for the calendar. But you know, he just doesn’t do that sort of thing. Whereas Malta was delighted at the opportunity…

 

Ever since I was old enough to spin a paperback rack in a drugstore, I’ve loved fantasy cover art. Campy bug-eyed monsters abducting screeching scantily clad females. Iron thewed barbarian warriors brandishing unlikely weapons. Dragons, unicorns, rocket ships and astronauts. Fuzzy little aliens. Things with tentacles. Gotta love them all. And frankly, I see little difference between cover art and our pin-up calendar.

 

I’ll tell you one thing, and that is that Lee Moyer allowed me a lot of input on Malta. Ultimately, of course, I signed off on his artistic license and told him to paint his Malta. Because of course, every reader sees each of my characters through his or her own personal lens.

 

So, what is the morality involved with this? That we are looking at characters who are painted as very attractive in light of our current sexual and cultural mores? Well, when I as a teen was holding the paperback of a Tarzan novel, it wasn’t the ape that I was eyeing. Ditto for Conan the Barbarian. Look at the current representations of Sherlock Holmes, on television and in the movies. Dr. Who? Captain Kirk? All handsome men, but more because of what they do than how they look in a still shot. Handsome is as handsome does, is the old adage.

 

We all enjoy beefcake and/or cheesecake. I will freely admit that at sixty, I still enjoy looking at handsome young men. And handsome old men. When I’m out with either of my daughters, and men turn their heads to watch them pass, I don’t feel scandalized or insulted. Beauty captures the eye.

 

Lovely, scantily clad humans are sex objects only to people who objectify other human beings. And those people do that no matter how draped that person might be. In 1967, a Jesuit priest observed to our class that he really did not see the sense of a dress code, as an immodest girl cannot be made modest no matter how you drape her, and that a modest woman can be stripped of her garments but not her modesty. So there it is, for me. If you are looking at our calendar and seeing sex objects instead of fascinating characters, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And so are sex objects.

Good Lord, I love Robin Hobb with a powerful love. She’s always been one of my favorite authors, but the more I get to know her, the more she becomes one of my favorite people as well….

She just said what I’ve been trying to articulate for months. I agree with her wholeheartedly. We all like looking at pretty things, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that.

I like what Charlaine Harris said — there should be more men in the calendar. If this year’s calendar is a big success, I think you should think about doing a male pin-up calendar.

I have thought about it. In fact, I originally wanted this calendar to be half female and half male pin-ups.

That would have been a great way to make things fair. Objectify everybody equally, right? That’s a joke, sort of… but seriously, why didn’t you include male pin-ups?

Lee objected. Really strenuously objected.

I was thinking of the calendar as a cooler version of that cliché fantasy calendar we’ve all seen: generic wizards and dragons. I thought a fantasy pin-up calendar would be fun, and I wanted male and female models so we could have gender equity and give the calendar a broader appeal.

And as Robin mentioned, I was hoping to get the Fool in this year’s calendar too. That would have given us a gender queer element as well.

Lee on the other hand, viewed the calendar primarily as an exploration and homage of the pin-up as an art form. (He’s a huge aficionado, if you couldn’t tell.)

Oh, yes, fine examples of American culture.  :-/

*Shrugs* It would be a boring world if we all liked the same flavor ice cream.

When I pushed for men in the calendar, Lee pointed out that there wasn’t any tradition of male pin-ups to draw from.

So I pushed for more pin-ups with two figures, male *and* female. Lee again pointed out it wasn’t part of the pin-up tradition. That’s more of a pulp theme.

Lee also argued that pin-up enthusiasts would likely be turned off by the inclusion of men. He said we didn’t want to try and make everyone happy, and end up with a product that didn’t please anyone.

And he had a good point there. Would you honestly feel better about hanging up a pin-up calendar in your house if half of it was full of pictures that looked like nymph king up there?

At least then instead of just teaching the boys to see women as sex objects and the girls to be insecure about their body image, I’d also be teaching the girls to view men as sex objects and the boys to be insecure. That makes it even… I’m being sarcastic here, but okay, I understand that Lee, as an artist, was going for a particular concept and I can respect that.

What it came down to was this: Lee thought of the project as a pin-up calendar with a fantasy theme. I viewed it as a fantasy calendar with a pin-up theme. That led to some real friction in the planning stages.

In the end, I let Lee have his way because he was the one producing all the art. What’s more, I know from experience that artists do their best work when they’re enthusiastic about the project.

Do I regret not pushing harder for the inclusion of men? A bit. But the art *is* beautiful and the calendar has been selling well. We’ve been bringing in good money for Heifer International with it. I don’t know if it would have sold nearly as well if we’d done things my way….

Well, Pat, thanks for talking about it with me and thanks for sending me a calendar. I have enjoyed looking at it — for the art and the other cool stuff like authors’ birthdays and other significant fantasy events. But for those readers who don’t want to order a calendar, what else can they do to support Worldbuilders?

Sustainable Community Development Project for Chitwan, Nawalparasi and PalpaThe calendar is actually only a tiny part of Worldbuilders. It’s just one of the things we have for sale on our online store, the Tinker’s Packs.

But the best way you can support the cause is by donating directly to Heifer International on the Worldbuilders Team Page.

For every $10 you contribute to our team, you get a chance to win one of thousands of books donated by authors and publishers. A lot of them are signed, first editions, or otherwise cool….

We’re giving away a lot of books. If you donate $120, you’ve got about a 1 in 30 chance of winning something. Those are good odds.

Plus there’s that whole making the world a better place thing. That $120 is enough to buy a family a goat which feeds the children and provides income.

We’re also running some auctions right now, including signed books from Gaiman and Pratchett, and a bunch of signed, first-edition books that Charlaine Harris gave us from her personal library. If you’d like to see all the books that have been donated, or want more details about the fundraiser itself, you can head over to our main page.

Thanks for the lovely chat, Kat. Sorry to be so long-winded.

It was fun, Pat!

Readers, if you’d like a chance to win your own copy of the 2013 Fantasy Pin-Up Calendar, leave a comment below.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

View all posts by Kat Hooper

71 comments

  1. Thoughtful and very interesting interview. Thanks for the chance to win!

  2. Well, it took a LOT of dice, but Jamie W, if you live in the USA, you win the pin-up calendar. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

  3. “OK, I get it. And I admit that the other women in the calendar look like they’d easily dispatch you if you tried anything untoward. I’m sensitive about this issue though because, unfortunately, SFF has had a bad reputation for being male-oriented and for portraying women as passive sex objects. For example, see this Conan cover. ConanYour calendar seems male-oriented, which doesn’t help SFF’s reputation. I like Lee Moyer’s art, and I love the idea of supporting Worldbuilders, but I really don’t want to experience any cognitive dissonance over a calendar. Help me here.”

    Oh. My. God.

  4. loved the interview! art is art though, there is no right or wrong

  5. Great interview, and I enjoyed the discussion regarding the calendars pin-up art.

    Lee Meyer set out to create his version of the old pin-up calendar, which was always based around pictures of women involved in whatever activity the calendar was based on (auto shops/tools were a big one) — in this case that is women of fantasy literature.

    I just hope that the attack masses of the internet can take a deep breath and stop trying to find fault in every thing that exists. This was a creation of a certain art type that has existed for nearly a century. Not everything needs to be homogenized for mass consumption.

    And I’m not saying that you’re doing that Mrs. Hooper, as you mentioned in the comments there are people all over the various sites complaining about the topic. I’m quite glad that you both were able to ‘argue’ both sides of the topic without bringing in the anger that seems to have boiled up around this project.

    It’s a charity piece of artwork. I just wish people would stop attacking it and accept that it is a good thing that the artist and all the authors involved are doing.

  6. that conan cover is awesome, BTW.. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAAHA

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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