Can Rainbow Rowell’s next book Carry On be described as fanfiction if she’s writing about the magical adventures of her fictional characters’ favorite fictional characters? (She did create the mage-in-training roommates Simon Snow and Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Pitch for her novel Fangirl, but as the stars of various fanfics.) And while she created a fantasy world detailed enough for her protagonist to write fanfic in, how does she make that fantasy world stand on its own?
Rowell answered these and other tricky questions in a new interview with Time, in which she discussed which fantasy tropes she embraced or discarded while writing Carry On, and why we should all thank the Harry Potter generation.
While Carry On will be Rowell’s fourth book, it’s her first fantasy. Having always been a reader while she worked her newspaper job (which inspired her first novel, Attachments), Rowell never believed that she could actually write fantasy. But “when I wrote Fangirl,” she explained, “writing the Simon Snow parts were my favorite parts, and they came really easily. Nobody said, ‘This fantasy part sucks!’ So I thought, ‘Maybe I could do this.’”
In Fangirl, Simon Snow is a Harry Potter analog, but if Harry and a Draco/Snape/vampire hybrid were roommates and fell in love. But clearly Rowell is expanding that world and bringing in new elements that strengthen the worldbuilding she already started to establish in the prior book.
Time asked if Rowell created Carry On out of unused Simon Snow segments from Fangirl, but she explained that she basically started from scratch:
They didn’t really make it into the book. The Simon Snow I was writing in Fangirl was a different Simon Snow. When I was writing as [fictional Simon Snow author] Gemma T. Leslie, I envisioned this feeling of British children’s literature and had a very traditional middle-grade voice. When I was writing Cath, it was more of what a talented teenage girl writing romantic fantasy would do. Neither of those voices are me. When I started writing my own Simon Snow, it was more what I would do with this character.
This ties in to Rowell’s reasoning that Carry On is its own standalone novel, not fanfiction. Of course, she likely would not have been able to write in the Simon Snow world if it hadn’t been introduced through the lens of fanfiction, for which she credits a certain boy wizard:
When I wrote Fangirl I had to explain what fanfiction was to a lot of people, and I don’t have to explain that much [today]. That will continue because the Harry Potter generation is growing up. The Harry Potter generation is the generation where fanfiction really became a big deal. Even if you weren’t writing fanfiction yourself, you know it’s there, you’re just much more fluent in the internet.
During the process of worldbuilding, Rowell seemed cognizant of what fantasy tropes were universal versus what might too much resemble other works in the genre:
Anything goes, but you also don’t want your world and your magic to be just like someone else’s. I would think, what sort of magical things are community property, that every fantasy story has? And what is too much like that book I read in sixth grade? I would get stuck and have to remind myself that I don’t really know how the magic works in my favorite fantasy stories. I don’t really know how the Force works, and when George Lucas tried to explain it to me, that was very disappointing. I get really confused if I talk specifically about the magic in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I try not to get too bogged down about how it works. It’s magic! There’s no rational explanation to magic! I just tried to be consistent. When it breaks down is when you break your own rules.
Simon Snow and Rainbow Rowell fans will have to wait until October to see how magic manifests (and how much is actually explained) in Carry On. In the meantime, check out the entire interview; it’s a great read.
Fan art: c-parks via RedBubble