While many authors started out as fans, few are as tapped in to modern fandom culture as Naomi Novik: A fanfic writer since 1994, she cofounded the Organization of Transformative Works (in 2007) as a way to help preserve fan work and protect its creators’ rights. As a professional writer, she’s known for the Temeraire series—which concludes in 2016 with the final novel, League of Dragons—and Uprooted, her inventive take on the “dragon kidnaps a lovely maiden” fantasy trope.
Novik recently took to Reddit’s r/YAwriters subreddit to discuss all things fantasy, fannish, and fresh. While she couldn’t divulge too many secrets about the forthcoming Uprooted movie adaptation, she did share exciting tidbits (“I’m working on ideas that might either turn into sequels or just story treatments, if things ever get so far as a second or third film”) and proved that she’s as involved in fandom as ever (“I read and write loads of fanfic still, just not in my own universes”). Read on for the highlights!
Beauty and Beastliness
freyalorelei: Can I ask what was the inspiration for Uprooted? As a Rumbeller in Once Upon a Time fandom, I couldn’t help but notice a few similarities between my ’ship and the main characters, and it greatly added to my enjoyment of the novel.
NN: Rumbelle was indeed one of the (many) inspirations for Uprooted (and more broadly the Beauty & the Beast fairy tale). What I really love about what OUAT did with Beauty & the Beast was making the Beast be, not a nice guy transformed into the appearance of a monster, but a monstrous person, someone with terrible power who uses it wrongly, who has divided himself from humanity—that is what makes him “beastly” and inhuman. I was dissatisfied that they didn’t ramp up Belle’s power sufficiently to match his, which made the relationship balance wrong for me, and I wanted a similar transformation of the “beauty” aspect, that it’s nothing to do with what she looks like or even that she loves him, it’s that she IS human and connected and rooted.
Uprooted Deleted Scenes
- was there anything left on the cutting room floor that you wish they’d kept in the novel? Like something especially funny or sweet or silly that was cut because of pacing/not fitting in anywhere?
- did your editor ever try to make you change the more complicated looking names to something easier? (I hope not!)
- what’s an unwritten fact about one of the characters? Something small and silly like “Marek secretly loves romance novels”.
NN: cutting room floor: My editor gives me a pretty free hand, so whenever anything gets cut, it’s because I cut it myself. I do sometimes find there are darlings that need to be killed because they don’t work–there were two things like that in Uprooted. At one point I had Agnieszka finding the cave of the Wawel dragon (the dragon is a famous legend from the founding of Poland, and the cave is an actual place you can visit at Wawel Castle in Krakow, which at the time had been turned into a brothel you could sneak down to from the palace grounds). But the scene just wasn’t working, it was a “tourist” scene that I realized I was only writing because I wanted to visit the cave, not because Agnieszka really would have gone there.
The other bit was I had Agnieszka meet Jadwiga Bach (one of the previous Dragon-Born girls) in Krak, which is an idea I liked very much, but in execution it again felt forced, something I was making happen that pushed out the plot of the novel in a way that didn’t really work.
names: my editor did ask about possibly changing Agnieszka in particular, and I tried at one point to use Nieshka for the cover copy. But it just didn’t work! Her name’s Agnieszka. (Again, though, this isn’t a kind of “make me” situation, though, which IMO would be quite different, I have a relationship with my editor where she can ask me to try anything, because I feel comfortable saying no and am very thick-skinned about feedback.
unwritten fact: Marek and Solya had hooked up in Solya’s room before Agnieszka got there. It’s not exactly unwritten, I just couldn’t find a way to make her notice it clearly enough–hazard of a first person narrator!
The Uprooted AU We’re All Dying For
rchoks: What would date night look like for Sarkan and Agnieska?
NN: hahaha, okay, it’s a modern idea, so if I yank them into the present day, I’d say it would look like Sarkan planning an elaborate romantic dinner as a surprise and Agnieszka not realizing there was a plan would show up late with her hair in a mess and knock over the flowers and he’d be wildly irritated and then she’d try to fix it, and probably they’d end up picnicking on the rug in the living room.
Fanfiction is More Than Training Wheels
triplesune: [W]hat would you say are the major differences between writing fanfiction and original work, and how does one develop the skills to transition to the latter?
In my mind I’ve always seen fanfiction as sort of training wheels, where the components (world, characters, background) are already given to you, and you can shuffle them around to tell the story you want. I’ve never really quite figured out the next stage, where I have to invent the whole thing from scratch! A lot of times I’m fearful of lacking originality, of showing my fandom roots. Did you ever have these difficulties?
NN: Break up the process until you’re comfortable with each step. Fanfic doesn’t preclude inventing characters or worldbuilding. Write fanfic where you create original characters for the source characters to interact with. Don’t care if some jerk calls it a Mary Sue, just write some original characters you have fun with. Write AU fanfic where you take the source characters and put them in completely different settings that you’ve either invented or researched. If you find this hard, start by taking the setting from some other fandom to start.
etc. Whatever piece you don’t feel is happening for you in your original fic, you can do that piece until you’re comfortable with it, get feedback from people, and work on it until you see you’re getting positive reader response.
More broadly, you know, just write the thing you can write now. The more you do that, the better your writing will get. I think you can’t care about showing fandom roots or lacking originality or for that matter about whether you’re writing fanfic or original work. You just have to care about telling good stories that you want to tell. I mean, obviously there is excellent reason to care, ie you can get paid for original work, but you can’t care about it while you’re making the art, or the art will suck.
Temeraire’s Fannish Origins
gvs2016: [D]id the Temeraire series start out as fanfiction? Or did fanfiction just get your creative juices flowing?
NN: [T]he Temeraire series didn’t literally start as fanfic, but it launched out of it, if that makes sense. I actually have never been able to file the serial numbers off a story I wrote as fanfic (and I have tried!). But once I finish a story and I’m happy with it and post it, I just really feel DONE with it in a way that makes it very hard for me to go back into it and change it in any way.
What happened with Temeraire was, I got into Aubrey/Maturin fandom and started writing fic, then started writing AU stories, and the AUs started getting longer and longer and more elaborate, until one day I started noodling a dragon-riding AU that kept not working as fanfic; the characters weren’t feeling like themselves and the relationship didn’t match, and and I didn’t actually want to FIX it, I wanted to keep going with MY characters, and that’s when I realized I was writing original fiction, so I scrapped it and started writing Temeraire.
The Joys of ’Shipping
geevelgee: Many people in Temeraire fandom (small and yet all very talented) are shipping Tharkay and Laurence together. Do you have any personal opinion on it? Or is it more of the “whatever the fans want it’s all good”? Also, do you ever read any of the fanfictions of Temeraire in general?
NN: I’m super happy that people ship Laurence and Tharkay (and Laurence and Granby, and any other pairings people like). IMO the existence of shipping says that I’m doing something right with the characters and their relationships.
laridaes: How does it feel to be ending a series, and is there anything you wish you could have done with the storyline that you had to let go? Do you anticipate maybe some small short stories set in that world, or is it truly time, sniff, to say goodbye? (and did you cry finishing the last book—I think I would’ve!)
NN: I’m very happy to have finished Temeraire—I think endings are really important to a story, and I always wanted to bring this one to a (hopefully satisfying) close. I haven’t cried, the thing is that finishing a book is such a drawn-out process—there’s the moment I wrote “The End” but then I went right back into revisions, and then I did some more revisions, and as we speak I’ve got the copyedits going, etc. I think I’m going to feel emotional when I’m actually holding the final book in my hands!
There’s so many places and cultures I would have liked to visit that I wasn’t able to make the plot go—North America and India in particular, although I’ve tried to give hints of things going on there. And there definitely will be short stories and possibly a graphic novel to come—I am currently finishing up the stories for the long-overdue Temeraire fanart contest book, and there may be others in future.
Keeping a Book Series Fresh
qrevolution: [D]o you have any advice for keeping a series feeling fresh from book to book?
NN: Keeping a series fresh is for me all about doing some new worldbuilding and letting the characters grow in each book. I am in it for that sense of discovery myself. The challenge is in balancing new worldbuilding with not undermining the old—this is something that I see going wrong a lot with long-running things like eg superhero comics. You give Superman yet another Awesome Power or yet another Most Horrible Villain, and by the time you get to the Silver Age he’s literally moving planets around and you have shoved yourself into a tiny storytelling corner where you’ve spent all the superlatives.
Read the rest of Novik’s AMA on Reddit!