Fantasy Author Patrick Rothfuss shares the spoils of success

By Austin Bailey, World Ark senior editor
Photos by Russell Powell

Goats are Patrick Rothfuss’ favorite of the animals Heifer International provides. He got to spend some time with goats during a visit to Heifer Ranch.
Goats are Patrick Rothfuss’ favorite of the animals Heifer International provides. He got to spend some time with goats during a visit to Heifer Ranch.

Fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss’ insatiable fans know he’s a brilliant writer.

“He’s a frigging fantasy wizard—GE-NI-OUS!!!!” wrote one fan on Goodreads, a social media site. George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones, wrote in a review that “[Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear] was worth the wait. I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one. He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy.”

But his goat-milking skills are less widely known.

He put those farming skills to use recently when he came to the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark., with a handful of co-workers and fans to learn more about the organization to which he and his readers have donated nearly $2 million. He maintains his dedication to Heifer even as he crafts The Doors of Stone, the much-awaited third and final installment of the Kingkiller Chronicle, and tends to his beloved 3-year-old son. Rothfuss also runs Worldbuilders, the nonprofit he formed to help raise and distribute funds.

Rothfuss became a philanthropist shortly after he published his first book and, armed with a robust checking account for the first time ever, made the epic miscalculation of offering to match a month’s worth of his fans’ donations to Heifer. “Heifer helps people become self-reliant. As someone who has just recently become self-reliant, I know what a nice feeling that is,” he pitched in a blog post.

Rothfuss was surprised, concerned, then ultimately delighted when his community of fans flooded him with $55,000, forcing him to drain his bank account to meet his promise. It wasn’t as devastating as you might guess.

Rothfuss works with his team to build a fire during a program at Heifer Ranch that allows participants to experience the challenges people living in poverty must overcome every day.
Rothfuss works with his team to build a fire during a program at Heifer Ranch that allows participants to experience the challenges people living in poverty must overcome every day.

“I’d been poor before, but I’d never been poor for a good reason,” he said.

Giving became a habit, and an expensive one. Raising money, finding sponsors, sending out signed manuscripts and other prizes to donors, opening an online store from which all proceeds would go to charity: All of this takes time and money. Rothfuss had to launch a nonprofit and hire a staff to get it all done.

“I could have built a castle with the money I put into Heifer and Worldbuilders, but you know, what am I going to do with a castle?” he said.

Um, yodel from the parapets? Threaten the neighbors with catapults? Host lively medieval-style feasts? But never mind that, we’re happy to invest the money in Heifer families worldwide working hard to build their own dreams of success.

We’re also happy to have Rothfuss as a “geek glitterati” ambassador for Heifer’s work. For a writer who dwells in a fantasy world colored by dark threats and epic struggles, Rothfuss is a super upbeat guy. He said Heifer’s approach of helping small-scale farmers achieve their goals resonated with him because of its focus on what is possible, rather than what is wrong.

A burly, bearded self-proclaimed feminist, the author said he’s particularly dedicated to supporting the women Heifer works with around the world.

“Women do two-thirds of the world’s work and make 10 percent of the world’s wages,” he said. “You don’t need an advanced maths degree to figure out that that is a crap statistic.”

Purchase the 2014 Worldbuilders calendar from Shop@Heifer.
Purchase the 2014 Worldbuilders calendar from Shop@Heifer.


He also likes Heifer’s Cornerstone of Passing on the Gift, which obligates every person who receives an animal or other gift from Heifer to pass on a similar gift to others in need. It’s a practice he describes in a way only a bestselling fantasy author could. Your gift, he said, “explodes endlessly into the future.”

Rothfuss will certainly be setting off plenty more of these endless explosions. Worldbuilders is cranking away, with multiple fundraisers planned and lots of new projects, including the sale of a Heifer-themed 2014 calendar.

Find out more about Rothfuss’ work with Heifer on his blog, patrickrothfuss.com, and at Worldbuilders.org.