Q & A with Rainbow Rowell
If you haven't read these books, they are amazing: romantic and bittersweet, laugh out loud funny but realistic and honest and filled with quirky characters you will fall in love with. Rowell's latest YA offering, Fangirl introduces us to Cath, writer of "Simon Snow" fan fiction extraordinaire, and adjusting to life at college without her best friend and twin sister by her side for the first time.
That said, here are some of my Qs and Rainbow Rowell's As:
1. Simon Snow is such an integral part of Fangirl, but this fantasy world is miles apart from the sometimes harsh reality of Cath's own world and problems. Did you write the Simon Snow episodes separately or at the same time you were writing Fangirl. Did you enjoy writing about Simon Snow, or did you find it difficult to separate the two worlds... and do you see yourself publishing a straight up fantasy story in the future?
RR: Even though I've always written realistic stories, I've always read more science fiction and fantasy. Writing the Fangirl story-within-a-story let me play in that world – and I was surprised by how much I loved it!
I wrote all the Simon Snow stuff separately, in big chunks, then edited or rewrote them at the end so that they worked within the larger framework of the novel. At first I was worried about keeping the voices separate – mine, Cath’s fanfiction throughout the years, Gemma T. Leslie’s canon – but it all happened pretty naturally.
And it made me feel much more confident about writing fantasy. I’m actually working on a fantasy now.
2. Cath defines a nerd as someone who prefers fictional worlds to real ones. If you could live in a fictional world, which one would it be? Did you draw on real life inspiration for this novel? Have you ever written fan fiction? Would you describe yourself as a fangirl?
RR: Oh … I think it would have to be J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World … I get lost in that world now.
And yeah, I’d definitely call myself a fangirl. I’ve always had fannish tendencies. If I like something, I probably love it; and if I love it, I can’t get enough. When I was younger – pre-online fandom – I went crazy for Star Wars, the Beatles, Wham! and the X-Men. I even wrote fanfiction that mashed up those things, though I never would have called it “fanfiction” then.
I was inspired to write Fangirl after reading a lot (a lot) of Harry Potter fanfiction. I kept thinking about how different my teen years would have been if I’d had access to fanficton and fandom. I feel like it would have changed everything for me – in good ways and bad.
3. Fangirl did a wonderful job of portraying the realities of mental illness and what it can do to a family, and how they deal with it day to day. Did you do any research specifically around this topic?
RR: Thank you. Cath’s dad talks about being manic in the book (I think of him as having bipolar disorder), and Cath herself has some pretty serious social anxiety. I mostly wrote about these things from my own experience and from the experiences of people close to me -- though I did do some additional research, specifically into bipolar disorder, as I went along.
Something that was important to me as I was writing these characters was that their mental illness not be the reason they were in the book, or the thing that defined them. And I didn’t want to try to portray a universal experience; every person and every family has a different path through these situations.
4. I read both Eleanor & Park and Fangirl in almost one sitting. I literally couldn't put them down. I think what I love so much are the great characterizations and the slow way the relationships develop over time, and sometimes change unexpectedly. Cath and Wren are portrayed at times as polar opposites, even more so now they are in college. Are you more like Cath or Wren? I'm partial to Reagan, who is hilariously mean, but who was your favourite character to write?
RR: Well, there’s a lot of me in Cath. I was terrified to leave home for college. I had decided not to, actually – then a friend from high school said she’d be my roommate. Cath’s social anxiety, her fear of change, her desire to escape into fiction – those are all mine.
Reagan was fun to write – because she has no fear. But my favorite character in this book (from any of my books) is Levi. And he came out of nowhere. I challenged myself to write someone who wasn’t anything like the characters I’d written so far – someone who was extroverted and charismatic – and I ended up with Levi.
5. What's next? Your novels are amazing because they seem to crossover young adult and adult audiences. Are there any plans for a sequel to Fangirl in the works, featuring a more mature Levi and Cath or perhaps Eleanor and Park? How do you feel about fanfiction
being written about your own books?
RR: I’ve got an adult novel coming in July 2014 called Landline. It’s about a woman who gets an unusual opportunity to save her marriage. But saving her marriage might mean making sure it never happened. There’s a little bit of sci-fi to the story, which is a first for me.
And no, there are no plans to write a sequel to Fangirl. I feel like Cath’s in a good place now. (Fly away, Cath!) But I’d love to write more about Simon and Baz, the characters from Cath’s fanfiction. I have my own take on their story.
I love that people write fanfiction for my books. It’s incredible to know that they’re connecting to my stories — and connecting in a way that’s inspiring them to make their own art and tell their own stories. I don’t read any of the fan fiction because I’m not quite done with my characters, and I want to keep my headcanon straight. But I love to look at fan art. You can check out some of the fan art here on Pinterest.