Books by Robin Hobb
- Assassin's Apprentice (1995)
- Royal Assassin (1996)
- Assassin's Quest (1997)
- Ship of Magic (1998)
- Mad Ship (1999)
Books by Megan Lindholm
- Harpy's Flight (1983)
- The Windsingers (1984)
- The Limbreth Gate (1984)
- Wizard of the Pigeons (1986)
- The Reindeer People (1988)
- Wolf's Brother (1988)
- Luck of the Wheels (1989)
- Cloven Hooves (1991)
- Alien Earth (1992)
- Gypsy (1992) with Steven Brust
Hobb is cheerfully evasive about her professional dual personality: though not cagey. "It's an open secret," she says of her other identity; Megan Lindholm.
When the writer known as Robin Hobb was a child she, "perceived the ocean as a big barrier. Something that keeps you in." This might surprise readers of Hobb's epic Liveship Traders series, where the ocean -- albeit an imaginary one on a fantasy world of Hobb's creation -- is so central to the plot and movement of the stories. Hobb's understanding of the sea and the way it moves in our lives is both passionate and convincing. "If Patrick O'Brian were to turn to writing fantasy," wrote Booklist, "he might produce something like this." Heady praise for the landlubber kid raised in Washington state and Alaska.
Hobb credits at least some of her understanding of the sea to her husband, Fred. "To him it is the unlimited highway that leads in all directions. When we were first married he wondered why you'd need to own land because when you have a boat all of the beaches in the world belong to you. That's a very different reality."
It was a reality that Hobb came to appreciate.
Liveship, Hobb says now, came to her at least in part through "living with a sailor," as well as spending many summers on board throughout their marriage. "All the ships that he's been on over the years have had different personalities and different ways of affecting their crew. And he's been on some ships that were absolutely wonderful, and some that were really frightening ships." It wasn't a big leap, says Robin, to thinking of a ship, "being actually alive and having its own personality. I think that it's a fairly old concept. When you look back and you see the figureheads, you see that there's always been the concept there that it's made of wood but it has a life of its own."
The statement is, in many ways, pure Hobb. Soft and carefully spoken and modest almost beyond propriety, it would be easy to underestimate this woman. If you didn't know better. If you hadn't read her books or seen the excitement in the eyes of her fans or read the reviews of her work. At 47, Hobb has risen practically to the pinnacle of her genre. Though even this fact might escape her: Hobb doesn't comb the trades for reviews.
"I just write them," Hobb says of her books. "Sometimes months go by before the number of anything sinks through." Hobb avoids reviews for a couple of very good reasons: by the time the review of a book comes out, she says, she's already hard at work on the next and -- more importantly to her -- reviews can influence her writing in ways she wishes to avoid: good and bad. "It's always seemed to me that a really good review can make you a little bit too cocky. And a really bad one can make you feel, 'Well, I'm going to have to fix that in this next book.' And you can fix something that's just hit one really verbal or vocal reader in a certain way."
Part of this concern comes from the fact that Hobb is usually working on a series of books and therefor when the reviews of book one are coming out, the rest of the series is still very much a work in progress. "For most contracts you write the first one, it's submitted then comes out in hardback and then by the time the second one is all finished and comes out in hardback, the first one comes out in paperback." A cycle Hobb enjoys, but sometimes finds tedious. "In a way, I wish there was a way you could write all three books and then release them. There's always a little thing that you really wish you could go back and tweak in the first book or just emphasize or de-emphasize this character a little bit."
Hobb has been writing "a book a year for the last 15 years," though only the last five have been under this name. Hobb is cheerfully evasive about her professional dual personality: though not cagey. "It's an open secret," she says of her other identity; Megan Lindholm. Megan also writes "fantasy, but with a little grittier edge." Hobb says that, for a while, her second persona was a closely held secret, but no longer. And Megan still writes. "I still do some short stories as Megan Lindholm. And I'm looking forward to finishing the book I'm currently working on and taking a month or two and doing a backlog of stories that I've been holding on to. To me there's a definite line that these are stories that I'll write as Megan Lindholm. They're not Robin Hobb short stories."
Hobb's voice is, she feels, stronger and more prone to living large. "Megan is sometimes more playful. Sometimes sillier. Robin Hobb writes very epic fantasies and that's where I'm comfortable with that."
The creation of Robin Hobb was almost like the creation of one of the writer's own characters. "I think that when you write fiction you're always creating a character and then writing from that point of view and doing the dialog in that character's voice," says Hobb. "So to step back from it one step further and say, 'And now I'll create this other character, this other layer in between.' And that's this person who, I think, is much more adventurous than I am in my day-to-day life. So this voice who writes this book is just another layer of fiction."
The fiction is quite complete. Hobb will admit that Lindholm was her birth name, but the Megan was more fiction and she uses her married name in her daily life. But the pen names did more than shield her life from private scrutiny, they gave Hobb the freedom of a new voice. "It helped me achieve a mindset to write a different type of book. Initially I thought it wouldn't make that big of a difference, but I found that it really did. It gave me a lot more freedom in a very strange way."
Keeping her own life separate was, perhaps, not so far from her mind. Hobb is a deeply private person. Not reclusive, but with a mom's natural caution for the welfare of her offspring and the necessity of distance from adoring fans when raising healthy youngsters. Hobb's children are 28, 23, 20 and seven. Her youngest daughter was a late though welcome addition. "It was quite a reality check. Changed all of the plans that we thought we had. I always thought, 'When the kids move out of the house, I'll do this and I'll do that.' And suddenly I'm baking cookies for the PTA again. But it's been fun. I think the second time around it's a lot easier to deal with."
A youngster in the house hasn't been curtailing Hobb's writing. Hobb says she has an idea for yet another series, "but I'm not ready to talk about it yet. It's still kind of up in the air and forming. It's one of those things where if you start talking about it, it sounds really stupid."
Stupid is one adjective that's difficult to imagine being attributed to one of Hobb's creations. For instance, the sea creatures Hobb has developed for the Liveship series are vivid and real, a compliment Hobb takes graciously, and not without pride. "I'm having a fun time with them. I like biological justifications. If I'm going to do it, it has to read true. It's always kind of fun to say, 'Hey: if you had this animal or this other species, how would it have evolved?' Creating an animal is more than just... you can't just take a cat and put wings on it." | May 1999
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of Death was the Other Woman.