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Q&A With Rainbow Rowell On Her Newest, FANGIRL

Today marks the release of FANGIRL, Rainbow Rowell's third book, which several members of YA Highway have been freaking out about for months. It's Rowell's second YA after the heart-lifting-and-breaking ELEANOR & PARK, and though FANGIRL is generally lighter fare (warning: you will laugh out loud in public whilst reading), it's got her signature "truth, meet page" quality that will have you seeing your real, private self reflected in its pages.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .
But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

We're thrilled to host a Q&A with Rainbow to talk about FANGIRL, her own obsession with Harry Potter and its fanfiction, and Simon Snow, the Harry Potter-esque world she created for the book.

How long have you been aware of fanfiction, and fandom generally? Have you written any yourself?

Well, I think I've always been fannish ... I went to the first Star Wars Celebration, for example. And I wrote what I now realize was fanfiction when I was in junior high and high school. But the Internet really changed everything. I knew that people were posting fanfiction online, but I didn't really get it until a few years ago when the Harry Potter movies were coming to an end. I realized that I wasn't ready to let go of Harry. I needed MORE. So I sort of peeked through the door at some Potter fanfic -- then fell in. I INHALED IT. I still inhale it.

Did your fascination with the fandom community predate the idea for Fangirl? How did that story evolve?
For me, it wasn't so much fascination as identification. I know that if I had grown up with the Internet, I would have been writing fic and making friends in fandom. I'm so much more comfortable behind a computer than I am face-to-face, and so much more comfortable writing than talking. And I like to get excited and immerse myself in the things I love ...

So I started thinking about what I would be like if I were 16-, 18-, 20-years-old now. How would the Internet and fandom have affected me as a person and a writer? The Internet plays to so many of my strengths and weaknesses . . . That's really how the story started. A girl who's extremely successful online has to make her way, by herself, away from her computer. (I hate to say "in the real world" because the Internet and the connections we make there are real.)

How long did you research fandom for the book? When you were researching fanfiction, what fandom did you spend the most time exploring?
Well ... I didn't really do research. I read a lot of fanfiction and hung out on Tumblr -- because that's what I like to do. I guess I did read a lot about fandom; I felt like I'd missed the beginning of Internet fandom because it happened in my having-babies years -- and I wanted to catch up. Also I made friends in fandom who told me about their experiences.

What elements of fanfiction writing surprised you?
One thing that's interesting to me is the way girls and women relate to fandom differently than boys and men. (I'm generalizing.) And the way the Internet lets women fan how they please. You don't have to be the only girl at the comic book store, feeling embarrassed because you want to read more about the X-Men's relationships. You can write and read and draw what you want.

What do you think authors can learn from the intense, growing world of fanfiction, and how do you think that growing world has or will impact fiction?
What I love about fanfiction is the energy and chaos of it. Traditional publishing has so many rules about what's acceptable and what sells; even if you're a maverick, you're still always conscious of those rules. But fan writers write whatever they want. It makes you realize how many different ways there are to tell a story.

I know that the publishing world has traditionally been disdainful of fanfiction (like it's all written by weirdos and perverts). But I think that will change soon because this is what young writers are writing. I think more and more authors and editors will have grown up reading and writing it.

In FANGIRL, Cath writes fanfiction for a book series called Simon Snow that closely resembles Harry Potter; why not use Harry Potter and that series' characters? Did you know you wanted to create a new world for Cath to explore?
Well ... I didn't want to use Harry Potter because there would be copyright issues -- at the very least, I'd have to tread carefully -- but, also, I wouldn't be able to write the canon myself. By creating my own characters, I could write the canon and the fanfic and make them all do what I want. Also, Simon Snow himself doesn't resemble Harry Potter as much as the Simon Snow series takes up the same place in Cath's world as Harry Potter does in ours.

I tried to make the Simon Snow phenomenon enough like the Harry Potter phenomenon that Fangirl readers would immediately get what Cath was doing. And I used some similarities to make jokes or references. (They go to a magic school; Simon is an orphan; Simon follows Baz around the way that Harry follows Draco.) But the characters themselves, their plotlines and struggles are very much their own. (As much as any magical story can be original. This process made me realize how much of a pastiche Harry Potter is, too.)

How did you go about creating the Simon Snow universe? How much of Simon Snow did you write that is not included in the final book?
Hmmm ... I just started thinking about it. I knew I wanted Simon and Baz to be enemies, and I wanted Simon to be a classic, golden hero. I also wanted to play with the idea of vampires, so Baz became one. The story took shape the more that I wrote them. And the villain, the Insidious Humdrum, rose of out of the other characters.

I'm actually writing some Simon Snow now, and I spent about a week really thinking through the World of Mages, the Watford School and all of the supporting characters. I was surprised by how natural it felt -- and how much fun it was. 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.

To learn more about Rainbow, visit her website and for the love, check out her Tumblr!
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  1. I'm so excited for this book. I think it's such a relevant topic these days--fanfic and the devoted communities, and very cool how the author took her own experience and added to the story.

  2. I love the similarities to HP fandom world and the fans who immerse themselves into this world. I'm not one, but I know a few and they're great company. The story sounds fun and refreshing and humorous. I'm definitely picking up this book. Hopefully, people won't stare too much when I laugh out loud in public. =)

  3. Thanks for the interview! I adore both of Rainbow Rowell's books and can't wait to get my hands on this one!

  4. Terrific interview, Sarah and Rainbow! I enjoy learning about a writer's process. I loved Eleanor & Park so this one is going on my TBR list.

  5. Terrific interview, Sarah and Rainbow! I enjoy learning about a writer's process. I loved Eleanor & Park so this one is going on my TBR list.

  6. Terrific interview, Sarah and Rainbow! I enjoy learning about a writer's process. I loved Eleanor & Park so this one is going on my TBR list.

  7. This is awesome. As someone who was WAY into the Harry Potter fandom when I was younger, I am so excited to read this one! Congrats on the release :)

  8. I want to read this book so much! It sounds awesome and this was a really terrific interview. :) I think books like this are pretty exciting, because it sounds so different and fresh! I waaaants it.

  9. I LOVE THIS BOOK. It's just so great.


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Item Reviewed: Q&A With Rainbow Rowell On Her Newest, FANGIRL Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Unknown