Rainbow Rowell: An Exclusive Interview on Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell: An Exclusive Interview on Fangirl

Hi Rainbow! Thanks for speaking to us. Which character did you “meet” in your head first and what significance did they have for you then?

I imagined Cath first, but I imagined her with her sister and father. I usually start a book by thinking of the characters and how they’re connected.

I was reading a lot of fanfiction at the time, and I was trying to imagine what my teen years would have been like if I’d had access to the Internet and fandom. I would have been writing and sharing fanfiction, for certain. My life might have been so different.

Aside from Cath, who was your favourite character to write?

Levi was my favorite character to write, by far. He wasn’t like any character I’d written before. He was so cheerful and accepting — he made me really happy, whenever he was in a scene.

Why did you decide to set Fangirl when Cath and Wren are moving away to university? What is it about the university environment that made it a poignant time in their lives?

I think it’s the true coming-of-age moment for many of us. Moving away, being independent. I remember people talking about how you could start over at university and have a whole new life. I didn’t want to start over! I liked the friends I had in high school, I liked the person I was. I think Cath and Wren are both deciding what aspects of childhood they want to leave behind — and what they want to hold onto more tightly than ever.

Cath’s social anxiety impacts upon almost everything she does. How did you get to the heart of that issue?

It came very naturally to me because I have social anxiety myself. I didn’t think of it as Cath’s defining characteristic — but you’re right, it does affect almost everything.

As I was writing Fangirl, I was thinking about how the Internet is both a gift and a curse to someone with social anxiety. It makes so many things easier. I feel like I can express myself better online, and I’m much braver about sending an email than picking up the phone. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I’m so comfortable online that face-to-face interactions are even more difficult than they were in my pre-Internet life.

The twin’s father suffers from bipolar disorder and so we experience what it is like for the family members of those with mental health problems, as well as the one suffering. Why did you decide to take this perspective?

Hmm. That was always a part of Art’s character for me. I have friends and and family who are like Art. I’m like Art in some ways. So it felt very natural to write a story with characters whose brains don’t function the way we expect them to.

Was it a challenge to distinguish between writing your story and writing the fanfiction parts of Fangirl? Did you enjoy one more than the other?

I was definitely worried about writing the fanfiction parts — because I’d never written fantasy before. I thought I might sound like … like someone doing a funny voice or a bad impression. Like someone trying to write fantasy.

But then it was so much fun to write those scenes! I’ve been a fantasy reader my whole life. So experimenting with fantasy style and tropes, it really felt like playing. I immediately wanted to do more.

Cath’s professor gives her an F for submitting a fanfic story for a class assignment as she considers it to be plagiarism. Do you think fanfiction is still largely misunderstood?

Yeah, of course. And largely maligned. I think that online fandom is a world dominated by young women — and young women don’t get even basic respect in our culture. So people come to the concept of fanfiction with a lot of cynicism and disdain.

And then, also, fandom really is a complicated, constantly changing thing. It’s hard to define even when you’re in the middle of it. For Professor Piper, it’s just too far out of her world. As I was writing her arguments against writing fanfiction, I could see her perspective. She’s not all wrong.

The word “escapism” is often thrown around when discussing fandom. Is that a word you think is relevant?

I suppose it’s different for everyone, but it’s very relevant for me. All fiction is about escape for me. Whether I’m reading or writing it. It’s about leaving my world and disappearing into another one, one where I’m not even a character.

Did you always intend to write a follow-up novel about Simon and Baz – Carry On – or did you just fall in love with them while writing Fangirl?

It wasn’t the plan to do a whole book, even as I started writing it. I thought I was just writing a short story. Like, bonus material. And then, yes, I was so in love with them, especially Baz, that I couldn’t stop! The story kept getting bigger and more complex, and then it became my thickest book yet.

I think, after Fangirl, I’d already created the world of Carry On: the main characters, the villain, the system of magic. I already felt attached to everyone. I couldn’t just let them sit there.

Fandom is quite personal to everyone, how much research into it did you carry out and did you learn anything new along the way?

I did some research about the early years of Internet fanfiction, because I missed those. But most of my research wasn’t research. It was me getting really into fanfiction, and devouring as much of it as I could, and then deciding to write a book.

What has it been like to meet fans who have found such a strong connection with the book?

Oh, it’s really wonderful! Fangirl was my favorite book to write. I wrote it really quickly, and I was immersed in it. I was just really happy inside of it. And it’s still the book of mine that I most enjoy going back to.

So, when I meet someone who’s connected to the book, it’s like we’re sharing this really happy, personal thing.

Have you seen any particularly great fan art or fanfiction based on your characters? How does it feel to see your characters taken in new directions?

I mean, I don’t want to overuse the word “wonderful,” but it really is. To think that someone was inspired by my book to create art of their own. It’s such a compliment. (You can see some of the Fangirl fan art here

How did you first discover fanfiction? What did you like (or dislike?) about it?

I started with Harry Potter fanfiction. I was already a published author when I started, and I think that part of what I loved was all the risk-taking and freedom. Fan writers don’t have any rules. They aren’t locked into traditional structure. I liked that romance was so much a part of the stories. I loved that there were queer romances. I loved how joyful the writers were about their work.

What are you a fangirl for?

Right now? Everything and nothing particular. I still love Harry Potter and Star Wars and Twilight and Sherlock and the X-Men, but I’m not in a staying-up-all-night-reading-fic place at the moment.

What was your favourite scene/moment/quote in the book?

I love the Levi scenes, I can’t help myself. I love when Cath is describing him, his face, his eyebrows — “She wanted to make an honest woman of his chin.”

Are there any people or authors who particularly inspire you to write?

Ha! Whenever anyone asks that question, I think, NOPE. Great authors don’t inspire me to write; they inspire me to read. I’m always forcing myself to write when I’d rather be reading.


Quickfire Round…

What was your favourite book as a teenager?

Oh, that’s impossible to say. I never have one favorite. I loved Watership Down though, and The World According to Garp.

Who is your favourite author?

Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Dave Duncan, Marian Keyes

What is your favourite book of all time?

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾; Neverwhere

What is your favourite book that you’ve read recently?

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Is there a book that you wish you wrote?

Nope. If I wrote it, it wouldn’t be the same.

What is your favourite book to film adaptation?

About a Boy by Nick Hornby

Which character from a book would you have as your best friend?

Luna Lovegood

Which character from a book would you have as your boyfriend?

Jamie Fraser

What do you love about reading?

Escaping.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Building a world and spending time there.

eBooks or paper books?

Paper.