A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a review copy of the new novel from Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl.
Released on September 10th, Fangirl tells the story of introvert and obsessive fangirl Cath Avery’s first year away at college.
Rowell deftly handles the ups and downs of that freshman year, the people you meet, and the new things that try desperately to pull you away from the old with varying levels of success. At Cath’s side is her twin sister Wren, her new and sometimes scary roommate, and a boy so outgoing she can hardly think straight around him. Whether you’re heading off to a college campus yourself this fall, or are long gone from the hallowed halls of education, Cath’s journey will touch something inside you.
As a rabid fangirl of many things in my own life, I had a lot of fun reading about Cath and her never-dying love of the Simon Snow fandom, a world that will remind you of Harry Potter and Twilight and all the teenage literary obsessions from the last decade. I wanted to dive into her fan fiction and give them a read.
Thanks to the wonders and joys of the internet, I had a chance to chat with Rowell this last week in advance of the book’s release. Here are a few of my questions and her answers.
I love that your novel addresses a whole host of issues we face as college freshman – family problems, love, academic problems. Can you talk a little bit about how you chose the challenges that Cath would face in her first year?
Thank you! It’s always really hard for me to explain why I made specific choices in a book – because so much of that is subconscious. When I start writing, my brain gives me sort of a snapshot of the main characters. So I knew from the beginning that Cath was a college freshman. And a twin. And a fangirl. And an introvert.
And then I imagined what a person like that would go through when she left home for the first time . . .
So much happens your freshman year of college. You’re defining yourself in a new context, away from your family and childhood friends. You can reinvent yourself if you want to. Cath doesn’t want to, but she doesn’t have much a choice.
Also, I think I set the story during Cath’s freshman year because I’ve always really loved school year stories. Like Dead Poets Society. Or Harry Potter. I love the way characters arrive in the fall, the seasons change, the world freezes up – and then when spring breaks, everyone has become something new.
That’s another thing I didn’t consciously think through. But I’ve noticed that there’s often a character in my books who looks just like a sibling or parent. (There are actually two sets of lookalikes in Fangirl.) I think it’s because I have my own issues with family and identity. I look a lot like my mom – I mean, a lot — and I think that was hard for me, growing up. I always felt like she expected me to be like her, too. Writing books is a great way to untangle all the knots in your head.
Were you inspired by any of your own friends and family for the characters you wrote about? Did you have a roommate so different you meshed or were some of these the visions of people you wish you’d met?
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. And I had a fiction writing professor whom I used as inspiration for Professor Piper. 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.
Were you a big fan of Harry Potter? I’m getting a distinctly Harry Potter fandom vibe from the Snow-verse.
Oh yeah, I was a huge Harry Potter fan. I still am. That’s how I got into fan fiction. When the movie series ended, I collapsed onto the Internet; I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to those characters.
What does fandom mean to you?
For me, fandom is falling love with something, and then making that love a part of your life. So it’s not just watching Doctor Who and loving it. It’s going online and talking about it, and making art about it, and writing your own stories – or appreciating everyone else’s art and stories. It’s being a part of a community. It’s exulting in the things that you love.
What fandoms have you been the most active in? Do you love fanfiction? Would it be weird to see fanfiction of your own story?
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.
Right now I’m all about BBC Sherlock. Which means I’m reading a ton of fanfiction and reblogging gorgeous fan art on Tumblr. That’s how I participate. (My social anxiety extends to the Internet; I very rarely join a conversation.)
Do you think you will write another story about Cath or do you feel like her story is now finished?
Not about, Cath, no. I feel like she’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.
Make sure you pick up Fangirl as soon as possible!
Featured image via RainbowRowell.com and drawn by GingerHaze (Possibly the coolest young lady comic artist on the interwebs)