Naomi Novik and Christopher Paolini Talk About Their New Books, Old Inspirations, Dragons, and More!

Before these two fantastic authors released their newest novels to the world, they sat down and talked about everything from writing techniques to dragons. We sat in on an interview between Naomi Novik and Christopher Paolini as they discussed their respective books, A Deadly Education and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, while diving into their inspirations and processes, and of course, dragons.

Full transcript follows.

Christopher Paolini: Hey everyone, I’m extremely excited today to be talking with today none other than the awesome Naomi Novik. Thank you for participating in this conversation, Naomi!

Naomi Novik: It’s wonderful to chat, always fun!

Christopher Paolini: And we actually both have books coming out in September if I’m correct?

Naomi Novik: Yes, that’s right and this is your first one, right? Since the Inheritance series? Am I right?

Christopher Paolini: Yes, well I had a book of short stories…

Naomi Novik: Right!

Christopher Paolini: But the first full-sized novel and it’s a big epic space opera and you have coming out…?

Naomi Novik: A new trilogy that was originally supposed to be a duology and grew an extra book in the middle. It’s a magic school trilogy set in the Scholomance, which is an old folk legend that’s mentioned in Dracula—of a dark school where the students study dark arts and the last one out pays with their life. That’s the folk legend that sort of inspired it.

Christopher Paolini: Whoa, what a great setup. And the title of the first book is…

Naomi Novik: A Deadly Education.

Christopher Paolini: Awesome. I’m very much looking forward to reading it. I had an interesting experience with your work back when I was working on the last book of the Inheritance cycle, I had your first, His Majesty’s Dragon and I’d been wanting to read it because I heard such good things about it and, of course, it had dragons in it. I started reading it and I got three pages in and I was deep into editing my own novel full of dragons and such and said, “I cannot handle any more dragons.” And I put it down and had not read any of your books until last year when I read Uprooted. And I absolutely fell in love with it. I thought it was a fantastic book. I read it in one afternoon, one sitting.

Naomi Novik: That’s great, thank you. I’ve been in that place where you’re like (laughs) no more dragons, I cannot deal with dragons, and it’s funny because Uprooted actually happened because I was in such a place. I was supposed to be working on the eighth volume of the Temeraire series at that time and so I was procrastinating from it by writing a completely different kind of dragon—who isn’t actually a dragon but a wizard. And that’s basically what was impelling me, I was just like: I’ve had too much of my one series, of the one kind of dragon. Of course, there’s so many different kinds of dragons but you need a change once in a while. So yeah, I definitely find…I think it’s really good as a writer, as an artist to change things, to push things and that fatigue I think we experience as writers sometimes is a sign, right? It’s like, “Okay go out there, do the next thing.” And I like listening to that sign. Publishers are…not always as enthusiastic about it? But actually I’m being unfair because Random House has been pretty nice about letting me do something completely different every single time I show up.

Christopher Paolini: How do you balance that with the temptation to basically hop from new project to project and chase—

Naomi Novik: I don’t. (laughs)

Christopher Paolini: (Laughs) The thrill of the novel, the new and exciting and actual novel?

Naomi Novik: Right, I obviously sign a contract and there’s a little bit of a paper gun to my head. I feel like that’s the main way I make myself finish a project. But I guess it’s also, I don’t know, it’s also… Are you an outliner or discovery writer? Because I’m very much a discovery writer.

Christopher Paolini: I kinda suck at discovery writing. I’ve tried it. I tried it with a sci-fi book and I think the problem is when I’m under the stress of writing and creating at the same time I don’t always make the best creative decisions. So, if I can separate the two processes, my brain works with it better. So I do tend to do a lot of outlining, but that said, there are always discoveries that happen during the writing and they’re usually some of the best ones in course of the novel. If you’re a discovery writer, you’ve built fairly large series’ and stories. How do you manage to make all of that consistent and make it all work and actually have a structure when you’re building it as you go?

Naomi Novik: You know, it depends. For instance, with the Temeraire books, I had the very helpful constraint of history and I kind of had a rule for myself in Temeraire which was that I couldn’t make changes to history that I couldn’t sort of connect to Temeraire coming to the west. That was sort of my point because obviously I wanted to write these books set in a recognizable sort of regency Napoleonic era. And if you think about it, if dragons had always existed in the world the way the Temeraire series asks you to believe, than history should work completely different, society should look completely different, civilization should look completely different. If it exists at all because maybe the dragons ate us all! And that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell and I’m a big fan of telling just the story that you want to tell right in the movie. So, you know, I feel like that was one rule for myself. With Uprooted and Spinning Silver, they were standalone novels so that really helps because what I do is I find my way to the end and then I’m like, “Oh that’s what this book is about!” Then I go back and revise it all so it’s coherent and then when it gets published, I sit back and say “Yes, I knew all along…” (Christopher Paolini laughs) But with Scholomance, in fact, that’s why I said it was a dualogy that grew a third book. The plan was that they were gonna let me write both books, finish it completely and hand it over to them before I did any editing copy edits, or promo anything. And the fact that I realized after I finished the first book that I needed to write a third one, I needed to write another book in the middle, meant that I couldn’t quite do that. But I had written a lot of book two, like seventy percent of book two and the first chapter of book three before I essentially handed book one to production. So that made a big difference.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah. So when is book one coming out then?

Naomi Novik: Book one is September. This September. And then book two…I don’t actually know what the schedule is, but book 2 is due in October. I’ve already delivered the first draft.

Christopher Paolini: And do we have a release date for book one in September?

Naomi Novik: (smiling) September 29th!

Christopher Paolini: Before we started this conversation, you mentioned that under normal circumstances you’d go to an office, to work, right?

Naomi Novik: Yeah, I’ve got an office literally one block away, it’s just a little tiny studio apartment with a treadmill desk which has been extremely helpful. But you know right now my daughter’s obviously not in school, no camp no school, so it’s been harder to get work time in general, so now I’m basically holed up in my bedroom, in the corner of my bedroom.

Christopher Paolini: So as a general principle, you enjoy having a separate workplace for your writing instead of doing it where you live?

Naomi Novik: Yeah. I consciously decided to get a different space to work in when my daughter was born. Because she’s older now, she’s nine so she’s not a little kid anymore, but it’s still quite hard for a child to get the idea that your parent is physically present but somehow not available to you. I think that feels quite rejecting to a child and so I didn’t want to have that experience of the: “I can’t, I’m working.” And of course obviously there have been a handful of times as a writer you, I’m sure you’ve had this experience right, sometimes you do things at 7pm, you do things on the weekends, you do weird things like that. But for the most part I try to arrange it so that when I’m home she can come to me and interrupt me. And yeah, I think that is kind of the situation now, that she can come and interrupt me. And she may at some point! She is happily reading today, actually I just gave her Eragon today.

Christopher Paolini: Oh wow.

Naomi Novik: Because I was telling her that I was having a conversation with you and I’m like “You know what? I think you’re old enough?” So we pulled it off the shelf and gave it to her.

Christopher Paolini: Aw, well I hope she enjoys it.

Naomi Novik: Yes.

Christopher Paolini: So it sounds like you have a fairly regimented writing schedule or work schedule day-to-day then? (Naomi Novik shakes her head and Chris laughs)

Naomi Novik: No, no, I try every once in a while, I try but I just…life just keeps sort of nibbling at the edges. I’m in that sort of sandwich place where you’ve got parents, you’ve got home, you’ve got a child and there’s always some sort of errands that pop up and weird appointments and this and that. And I think that the pandemic has exacerbated this for a lot of people especially a lot of women with kids and it’s one of the things that I think it’s been an issue for almost all the women that I know with kids, even before this. And right now it’s just sort of like: “We want to all set the world on fire!” But it is what it is so we’re all trying to get through this. How about you? What is your routine? How has it changed? What have you been doing?

Christopher Paolini: I mean I was homeschooled. Grew up in the middle of nowhere Montana, and still live there as my home base so it feels a little odd to say this but really my life hasn’t changed at all. Maybe I don’t go into town quite as often. But, for me, it’s a bit fortunate and maybe selfish in the fact that I get to look at this and say “Well, this is normal”. And it of course is not normal. For example, I would be touring the U.S. and Europe and stuff for the new book when it comes out and instead, it’s going to be a virtual tour which I’m actually looking forward to because even if you get a really great event in person, you can only reach so many people in person. And with virtual events, you know, you do a video and it can get thousands of views, tens of thousands of views, maybe more if you’re lucky and you just can’t get that sort of reach in person. So I’m actually very curious to see how the virtual touring works. But in terms of schedule, it’s all based around on family life, based around my own sleep schedule, and just trying to be as productive as possible. So are you doing any virtual touring for…?

Naomi Novik: Yeah, we’re going to be doing some virtual events. We’re going to be trying this thing, virtual signings, where unfortunately I’ve had a separate issue which is what I have tendinitis in my hands since last year and I battle that—

Christopher Paolini: I battled that for a couple of years and it doesn’t help that I like writing my notes by hand with a fountain pen.

Naomi Novik: It also doesn’t help that I like to paint miniatures and also sew and all my hobbies involve using my hands, it’s really unfortunate. But yeah so I messed up my hands a bit and then now I’m keeping it under control but it means I can only sign about 25 pages a day as a regular thing. But it turns out that about 25 people is what you can do in an hour of a virtual signing. So what we’re going to do is do these bookstore events and then have a Zoom waiting room and do one-on-one brief chats with individual people where I sign a bookplate for them and send bookplates to the bookstore. Because you can’t do a signing and…I’m with you on the virtual events, right? I feel like that the power of the internet to be able to reach further, reach people on the other side of the world, reach people whose schedules and lives don’t allow. The internet is vastly more accessible in that spirit of making things reachable. And yet at the same time, I think a lot of the things that people like about an in-person event and in general in-person human contact is that sense of reality—you can’t quite get that personal contact with a writer. To be fair, I have to say this, I myself am an introvert who happily does not leave the house for long periods of time. And if left completely to my own devices if I don’t need to consult the needs of anybody else… I myself, I actually never went to signings as a kid. (Christopher Paolini laughs) I never went to author events. To me, authors didn’t really exist. Books existed, books were real and I sort of, I think I kind of, on one level to me authors were all dead authors. Not people who actually existed in the real world. And I was sort of confused when I first crossed that boundary and discovered “Oh wait. you can write a letter to an author? And they might write back?” and I was like “Sounds fake, but okay.” But I do think that’s what people who like to come to singings and author events often want and so we’re going to try doing that. What kind of virtual touring are you doing?

Christopher Paolini: Tor is publishing my new book and so they’re trying a couple of different things. What they’re doing is the first hundred people who register for any one of the events is gonna get a signed copy of the new book To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Registering basically means pre-ordering the book and then of course I’ll be doing live events with the people who’ve registered. And the reason we’re not doing sort of the in-person events with the zoom calls, well actually we are doing that with a couple of the people per event, I think, but it’s just the scale of things. So tor is having me sign cumulatively 24,000 tip and sheets and bookplates so—

Naomi Novik: Yeah, so be careful. Be careful.

Christopher Paolini: I’m almost through them actually.

Naomi Novik: But to be fair, the thing I do warn you is that it hit me after. I had something like 10,000 pages total to sign for Spinning Silver and I finished it and then I actually went back to writing on the next thing and all of a sudden like my hands were hurting every day. I also recommend—there’s an ice pack that’s very flexible, it’s meant to go around knees and things like that. Top-notch, really helps.

Christopher Paolini: I found some help too from actually switching to keyboards that are like, old school typewriter-style keyboards for my computer.

Naomi Novik: Hm.

Christopher Paolini: And for some reason, it forces me to use more weight of my hands than just the finger strength

Naomi Novik: And that makes sense!

Christopher Paolini: Yeah actually I can show you (shows Naomi Novik his typewriter keyboard)

Naomi Novik: Show me. Oh, it’s beautiful! I got one like a steampunk one for my husband which he doesn’t use. (Christopher Paolini laughs) I’m still in the Apple ecosystem but the tiny, the short keyboards work for me because you know it’s sort of like—Before I had the tendonitis in my hands I had RSI issues in my forearms so, you can’t win as a writer. I’m just glad that they fixed the keyboards on the MacBooks because that was a serious problem for me.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, I’ve held off upgrading my Mac for a while, my laptop’s actually a 2015 laptop but I’m going to be upgrading to the new one and I’m doing it now because they finally fixed the keys.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: So this stuff may seem boring to our audience but I’ll tell you when your livelihood—

Naomi Novik: It’s interesting! No, you’re wrong! (laughs) The minutiae of keyboards is the most important thing!

Christopher Paolini: It makes a difference though. Any repetitive activity…you start finding shortcuts and finding ways to reduce the strain and I mean even like singing. When I do large stock signings, if I have assistance in doing it, like if I’m at a warehouse or a bookstore, I’ll actually do them standing and have the books or the pages piled up so my elbow is resting on something. Basically I’m just swiveling my forearm and not even removing my wrist and I’m not moving my shoulder. It’s kind of ridiculous on one hand but it’s a way of protecting the body and protecting myself and you kind of have to.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, yeah and if you don’t your body will very soon tell you that you haven’t—you’ve done something bad. It’s just one of those things where I know that people like the signed copies and the publishers love the signed copies because obviously it’s great for sales and all that sort of professional stuff. But the problem is I need to be able to write the books. That’s the most important piece.

Christopher Paolini: And then there’s Kevin J. Anderson who just dictates all of his novels into his little recorder, and he does it while hiking too, which I find amazing.

Naomi Novik: I think that might actually be easier. I could do it hiking more easily than I could do it inside an apartment where I feel like I would be conscious of all the noise that would get picked up. Voice dictation is still not quite there yet, I’m just going to say.

Christopher Paolini: I tried it one time. My problem is that I fall into the trap of needing to hear the words flowing out of my mouth in a continual stream so I don’t get hung up on one thing or another. And as a result, I end up using a lot of filler phrases in order to give myself time to think about what to actually say next. So when transcribed, there’s still a lot of editing work that has to be done to get it to where it would have been on a first draft if I just wrote it with a keyboard so…

Naomi Novik: So I don’t know that I…sorry.

Christopher Paolini: Sorry, after you.

Naomi Novik: I was just going to say that you know, sometimes I talk scenes or dialogue out, often in the shower, but when I do that, it’s never sort of coherent. It’s not linear, like I talk lines over multiple times, sort of going back and forth. I go over it multiple times in sort of a refining process. And then, when I come out, I sit down and write it but very often, you know, the hands are not the mouth. It’s not the same. What actually comes out as I type, I don’t think out “And now I’m going to type out this line.” and then I type it. The brain is going straight to the hands. So I actually think it might be an interesting exercise to try doing like a short story or something, just dictating instead.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah. Well I know Henry James was dictating a lot of his books in the latter part of his career and that’s one of the reasons his prose style changed so dramatically, actually. It became a lot more verbose. You know, it’s interesting you mentioned hands. I heard a theory of intelligence one time that always stuck with me. The argument is that a large portion of our intelligence is actually in our hands if you think about it. Or at least how we express it. A lot of the ways we think of skill or intelligence, it’s via actual physical actions with our hands. Whether it’s playing a musical instrument or painting or writing, it’s what we do with our hands. And without them, it’s very hard to show that intelligence.

Naomi Novik: I mean that they’re our best tools, right? They’re really good tools.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, and I even find a difference between writing by hand with a pen versus a keyboard. It activates different parts of my brain.

Naomi Novik: Yeah! And I agree, like oftentimes if I’m stuck on a scene and I don’t know where it’s going next, going and writing by hand often creates a scene which then I have to bring back and type over and it changes in the typing over. But that’s okay. It does work. It does work definitely. In an interesting way.

Christopher Paolini: You mentioned, like standalone novels and stuff. Was that something you wanted to tackle after doing a big series just because it was a lot more self contained—

Naomi Novik: Oh yeah.

Christopher Paolini: …And just easy to tell one story and move onto something else without committing a decade of your life?

Naomi Novik: It’s partly the time but actually it’s fundamentally that I believe endings are really important. I have written, aside from the novels, I’ve written more than 500 fanfic stories.

Christopher Paolini: Wow.

Naomi Novik: And, you know, fandom loves serial works. Where you post one chapter and then you post the next chapter, just like Sherlock Holmes was all written, right? As serial works or Dickens or whatever. I”m not a serial writer at all. I need to finish the story and complete it and then post it as a whole. Because, very often, I lose interest if I’m just telling the story as I go. And also I find that it doesn’t give me the freedom to change what went before which gives you the ability to really stick an impressive landing. And, you know, when I was writing the final book of the Temeraire series—I feel an obligation to finish stories and I felt like I really wanted to finish the Temeraire series. But doing it when I had no control over literally eight-ninths of the story, eight-ninths of the story was gone, it was fixed and I wasn’t allowed to retcon things. I wasn’t allowed to… I mean obviously I could have in some sense, but I couldn’t allow myself to do that because I felt that that’s unfair, you know. I know there are a lot of people who care about canon in ways that I myself, don’t. (Christopher Paolini laughs) But I felt very strongly that I wanted to finish in a way that was satisfying, that made the whole thing feel like a complete story, my ideal ending. My ideal is that when a story ends, you look back at everything you’ve been told up to then and you say “Oh I’m gonna go back to the beginning and read the whole thing over now that I know where it’s going.” I will experience it in a different way that knowing the ending. The ending both feels right and satisfying and also organic to the work as a whole. I think that’s just really hard when you don’t have the power to just change the beginning of your story because I don’t really know where my stories are going. You know, I said it became a duology turned into a trilogy because I knew the entire time that I was writing book one what was going to happen at the end of it. And then I was about, I don’t know, 20,000 words from the end, more than 80 percent of the way there, and I woke up one morning and I had a bit of a scene in my head. And I got up and I wrote the scene and I was like “Well this is the end of this book and it is not where I thought I was going the entire time.” And as a writer when that happens to you I feel very strongly that you can’t throw that away that’s literally like the universe has just handed you—

Christopher Paolini: Mm-hm.

Naomi Novik: You don’t like, mess with the universe and I literally went back and edited a large chunk of the first book and, I called my agent who said “So, you know that contract we’ve got…what about a third book in there?”

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, well I remember reading some author ages ago saying…something I read when I started out and it really is true, which is you often don’t know what your story is about or you don’t even know what you have until you finish the first draft and you can look back over, um, you can look back over the whole manuscript and I say that even as an outliner. I mean—

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: With To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, I thought I knew what I was doing and I got the first draft done and I looked back on it and it turned out I didn’t know what I was doing. And then I did a couple of large revisions and I still didn’t know what I was doing and then I ended up having to do an almost page one rewrite on the book. Once I finally figured out what I actually was doing…I guess that’s what I was asking. When you’re starting a novel, how much you do you actually have in mind? Because what I’ve become convinced of for myself is that I need to know what type of story I’m trying to tell in order to funnel all my energies and technique into trying to accomplish whatever that is.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, no, I know nothing. I know the first— when I write a line and I know that line. And then I write—

Christopher Paolini: Wow.

Naomi Novik: And then I write the next line and it tells me a little bit about the first, you know that’s—

Christopher Paolini: Is that true for your characters also?

Naomi Novik: The characters tell me little bits about their world and then the things they say about the world…it tells me a little more about them and what they’re thinking and feeling and the situation that they’re in. And then the decision that I make about what they do. It changes their situation in some way and I have to decide how the world responds to their choices and that, and that process of accretion is what creates the characters and the world simultaneously for me.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: And the characters in the world are what generate the story and what generally happens is that as it picks up mass, as it starts going…it’s a snowball and it starts like this (Making hand motions to imitate a snowball) by the time it’s like this big, I’m starting to know what it is that I’m doing. I’m starting to see like “Oh I’m going down the hill in this direction”. But that doesn’t mean that the snowball couldn’t hit a pocket and suddenly grow three times in size and tip down the hill the other way. But I do feel that I’m constantly always trying to decide what my characters are going to do and respect that. And that leads me through each story. I do think with experience the more that I’ve written, the better that I’ve gotten at sort of seeing off in the distance and the things that I’m thinking about. The concerns that I have, the things that are happening to me personally in my life are clearly always coming into the work and but that’s never like a conscious thing. Like I never sit down to do something in a book—

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: I always am just finding my way through the book. Finding my way to the characters and whenever I have a choice I always choose the character. For instance, if I create a situation and I had this brilliant subplot all worked out and I was just trying to get my character into that subplot and I get to the moment where the character has to make a decision or do something that essentially kicks it off and I”m just like— and I’ve written the scene and I’m just: “Wait, no. In this scene this character would not go that way, this character would do this so totally different thing.” I will junk whatever my ideas were, I will throw the preconceived ideas overboard and go with the character. And obviously you can do that at different stages, right? You can do it in an outline. You can do it while you’re writing. You could do it in revision and it can happen at different points in time, but I do think that doing what is inherently right to the character is always the way to build a world and a plot that feels real, that feels believable. Because, surprisingly I’m writing in first person these days, a lot. And even when I write in third person, I write a tight third person. So I wanted you to be quite close to the experience of an individual character. Since you’re perceiving the world through that lens, through the lens of a particular person, if they aren’t real to you, then nothing can be real.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: Then it all starts to look like cardboard false fronts.

Christopher Paolini: Well you have to put the work in one way or another. Whether you do it on the front end, back end or in the middle, there’s no way around it basically. All of that definitely resonates an awful lot with me and there was one thing you said there and I’m trying to remember and I”m blanking because I wanted to touch back on it (laughs) I’ll remember in a second. Well, do you find that you’re returning, I mean with as many books as you’ve written at this point and stories in general, do you find that there are certain themes that you consciously or unconsciously continue to return to?

Naomi Novik: Oh yeah.

Christopher Paolini: Something in the story that really speaks to you.

Naomi Novik: I mean I’m always, I’m always interested in power and empowering balances in relationships where both parties have power and have to find ways of negotiating it. And when characters are in situations where they don’t have power, they want power. I think that’s politically that’s a certain preoccupation of mine but that’s also I think that it comes to the heart of a lot of the difficulties that we see in the world. And in association with that I’m interested in community, in connection, in relationships in the broad sense, not just romantic but in a sort of in the larger context of family and friendship. And the ways that community is built and the ways community can sometimes counteract power imbalances, that kind of thing. And those themes I see consistently in my work and sort of coming back over and over and not in a deliberate message sort of way. It’s more this is what happens, this is how power affects people and their lives and that’s, something that obviously is one of the wonderful things, right? About writing speculative fiction in general. I don’t know if this is your particular motivation, you have to tell me. My own motivation for speculative fiction that it gives me the power to write characters of my own devising who have massive agency in the world and have the flexibility to drastically alter the world and the sort of larger scale, the larger stage on which they’re acting. I like that partly because I like agency in my characters. There’s this trend in literary fiction, in realist fiction, that your characters aren’t allowed to kind of change anything in the world around them because if they could that’s totally unrealistic. And I don’t believe that and I believe in fact that’s a bad story to tell people. But anyway, that’s one of the things I love about speculative fiction.

Christopher Paolini: I think books in general, whether speculative fiction or otherwise are physical artifacts of the author’s private obsessions whatever they might be. And I agree with you about agency. That’s definitely something that I’ve had the same complaint with realistic fiction or literary fiction. At times the characterization may be gorgeous and the writing itself may be even more gorgeous but it that’s old complaint of, “but nothing happens”, right?

Naomi Novik: Right.

Christopher Paolini: And especially if you grow up reading speculative fiction that can be frustrating because you’re like “Well where’s the story? Where’s the story? Where’s the dragon? What’s gonna happen?” Firstly, personally, I find myself continually continuing to return to, I think, issues of transformation, personal transformation. Physical, mental, emotional. And there are a couple other themes that are always, you know sort of like: the relationship of the individual versus the society, the outsiders versus the non-outsiders, questions of power as you say. I know with the new book, one challenge I had to face because I had worked on the Inheritance cycle for so long and it’s a coming-of-age story. It’s an adolescent coming of age story and that in and of itself provides a natural structure for a story. When does that story end? It ends when the adolescence ends. It ends when the character essentially becomes an adult.

Naomi Novik: Right.

Christopher Paolini: Becomes mature…to a degree. As mature as a late teenager is going to get.

Naomi Novik: (laughing) Right.

Christopher Paolini: But then if you’re writing stories about adults, you don’t have that natural structure, it has to come from somewhere else. And that was a real learning experience of finding the story in a way I hadn’t done before. And I enjoyed it.

Naomi Novik: I love writing a good buildingsroman for just that reason, I mean I think almost all my stories have been that kind of coming of age. No, I guess not Temeraire, but Uprooted and Spinning Silver and A Deadly Education all are that kind of coming of age which partly is because I”m now thinking of my daughter coming of age in a way.

Christopher Paolini: Well it’s a universal experience because we have all either gone through adolescence or going through it or will go through it. Everyone’s lives have different circumstances so it’s very hard to compare someone’s life in New York City versus Montana or Venezeula or wherever else and of course class differences can compound that immeasurably. But physically we all go through adolescence, or the majority of us do, and I think that’s one of the reasons why things like Harry Potter and so many of these other stories that deal with that coming-of-age story resonate.

Naomi Novik: Yeah. Exactly. And so writing a wizard school book, one of the things I like about the trope, obviously Harry Potter is sort of the most famous, but the school trope in general in a lot of fiction is that rhythm of the school year is in all of us. In almost all of us, that rhythm of here’s the end of the year, which is a little bit artificial and yet very real. I think for most of us now, is that sense of the period and like now I’ve stopped being a third-grader, now I’m a fourth-grader. That’s a kind of very powerful sense of transition—

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: And advancement. I have a friend who likes to say that it’s good to give children the same experience multiple times because they measure themselves by it. They measure themselves by the things that used to be hard and now are easy. The shelf they couldn’t reach but now they can get it. The ride they couldn’t go on and now they can do it. That rhythm is another one of those things that I think lives in all of us and like adolescence is that sort of shared foundation that makes it possible to tell more powerful stories, you know? For your story to get kind of get at the id of the reader.

Christopher Paolini: That actually brings up the question I was trying to remember earlier which is: You’re talking about the importance of endings which I completely agree with you. One of my goals with Inheritance cycle back as a teenager was to make sure that it actually did have an ending compared with so many of the big fantasy series which had their initial couple of books and then those were successful and then they just kept writing and writing and writing. And while the books were often well written and enjoyable, there was no proper ending. And I wanted to make sure there was an actual ending, for me personally, that’s just my preference. But that said, there certainly is a large and storied storytelling tradition of these almost endless stories. And I think one example in the U.S. would be the comic book industry. Marvel and DC have been essentially running soap operas and adventure stories for the last what, 80 years or however long it’s been—

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: And you can find mythological examples as well. Some of the Indian mythological stories which are absolutely enormous—

Naomi Novik: My husband—

Christopher Paolini: There is that part of storytelling too.

Naomi Novik: I was just gonna say my husband is reading Don Quixote to our daughter this summer.

Christopher Paolini: Oh wow.

Naomi Novik: And they’re about 300 pages in and it’s all the same story. (Both laugh) The same story, just keeps going

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: And I’m sort of like when does something happen? When does something change and how much of this book you know the book is (making a scale with her hands) here and they’re here and it’s still going. (Christopher Paolini laughs) I’m with you. For me, I can’t write that way. I need there to be an ending.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah it feels like stuff just spins its wheels otherwise or the consequences are trivial because the main characters have plot armor. I think you could do it if you really were willing to sacrifice main characters at various points either to time or age or circumstances and say this really was the ending of their story and now we’re moving into a new phase. But then of course you risk losing your audience because the audience fell in love with whatever your story was to start with and now it’s become something completely different. Which could be an amazing artistic achievement but could be very hard to keep your audience with you.

Naomi Novik: I do think that’s probably the experience of a serial. I think that there’s probably quite a different experience of that hunger for the next piece and having to wait for the next piece is different. That is part of the pleasure, right?

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: And then you get the piece and it doesn’t even matter if it’s necessarily like part of a great coherent story. It’s feeding the hunger that you’ve lived within you. It’s being thirsty and getting the glass of water. It’s not that water has suddenly become vastly more exciting. It’s that you were thirsty for long enough that now you’re being satisfied. Your thirst is being quenched.

Christopher Paolini: And that’s something television does really well.

Naomi Novik: Well used to, right?

Christopher Paolini: (laughs) Used to?

Naomi Novik: Now it’s all binge-watching, right? I’ve been watching Avatar the Last Airbender with my daughter and I have friends who watched it live when it first came out and they had to wait a week between episodes. And in fact, my daughter was super upset when we say “No it’s bedtime we don’t have to get to the next episode today” and she’s like “But I have to know what happens.” and we’ll just be like “You have to wait till tomorrow.” People used to have to wait for a half a year between seasons.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah. I remember the midseason and end season cliffhangers with Star Trek: The Next Generation and, a spoiler alert, Captain Picard has been turned into a borg, what’s going to happen and now you have to wait six months.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, that’s brutal.

Christopher Paolini: It’s funny you mentioned Avatar because I really lucked out and the voice actress who read the audiobook for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars did Avatar Kyoshi.

Naomi Novik: Oh wow! Like Kyoshi warriors? You mean, Suki?

Christopher Paolini: No.

Naomi Novik: Oh no, Kyoshi the Avatar.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, she did her voice, Jennifer Hale. So we really lucked out getting her to read the audiobook.

Naomi Novik: Wow, that’s awesome!

Christopher Paolini: Her first audiobook, actually.

Naomi Novik: It’s cool.

Christopher Paolini: So do you have an audiobook with A Deadly Education also?

Naomi Novik: I do and now I don’t know if they’ve actually announced because I don’t (typing on her computer) I don’t want to spill anything if I’m not supposed to but I’m sure they’ve announced the–

Christopher Paolini: Have you ever narrated one of your own audiobooks?

Naomi Novik: It’s been posted. It’s Anisha Dadia. She’s the audiobook narrator.

Christopher Paolini: Ah.

Naomi Novik: And she was just perfect. It was kind of a tall order, right? Because she’s Welsh. My narrator is half-Welsh half Indian and grew up on a commune in Wales which has more of a sort of UK-ish accent. A more generic UK than what we think of as generic British accent here in the states. I’m sure my British friend would be like “No that’s not a thing.” But it’s received pronunciation or whatever. (The narrator) has lived for three years in an international boarding school and has studied Marathi since she was a small child. And how do how do you embody that? And she’s also really pissed off, so how do you embody that? I felt like that was really quite a tall order. We listened to a bunch of auditions. So it was very…

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, picking the right audiobook reader is tricky. It sounds like you got an awesome reader. I’m looking forward to hearing that.

Naomi Novik: Yeah. To be honest, it’s quite hard for me because I don’t have a commute and if I’m doing anything while I’m listening to audio, my brain and my ears turn off.

Christopher Paolini: Mm-hm.

Naomi Novik: If I’m typing, if I’m doing errands, the only way I can actually listen to an audiobook is if I literally sit myself in a chair and close my eyes and listen to the audiobook. And at that point I’m like, I could just be reading. (laughs) I could really be faster.

Christopher Paolini: I can listen to audiobooks while signing pages but that’s about it.

Naomi Novik: Mh-hm.

Christopher Paolini: Because that’s such a mindless exercise for me and also I read a lot faster than I listen or I read a lot faster than the readers read so I love hearing excerpts on occasion but no—

Naomi Novik: Like in commuting.

Christopher Paolini: Commuting would be great, but I just feel like I’m slogging through mud otherwise with audiobooks. And that’s not to put them down. They’re wonderful and I’m glad they exist and my family loves them and listens to them but for me personally it’s…I need an exercise or I need something to do where my brain can be on audio and everything else can just be automatic or it doesn’t work for me.

Naomi Novik: I bet if I were exercising, if I were like at a gym, I think. That’s where my friends who I know love them. But I have a treadmill desk so I’m walking while I’m actually writing.

Christopher Paolini: So I’m sure both of our fandoms would probably be absolutely outraged if I didn’t ask something along these lines which is: why dragons?

Naomi Novik: Why dragons, right. I know I’m like “What do you mean, why dragons?” (Christopher Paolini laughs) Dragons! That’s the answer. The answer is dragons. We’ve just showed my daughter Trogdor the burninator.

Christopher Paolini: Old school internet.

Naomi Novik: Trogodor was a man, no he was a dragon, no he was a dragon man, actually he was a dragon….I don’t remember exactly, but that’s how I feel! Dragons! Dragons man, dragons are cool.

Christopher Paolini: Was there any fiction or specific stories that really inspired your love of dragons or was it just general fantasy stuff?

Naomi Novik: They were just really quite…the hobbit, obviously. Hang on, wait right there. (Naomi Novik retrieves an older copy of The Hobbit) This is the advantage of being in your bedroom which is I have my childhood edition.

Christopher Paolini: Aw.

Naomi Novik: Which is falling apart, as you can see (Naovi Novik shows us a ripped page, then a page with a dragon illustration) There you go.

Christopher Paolini: Oh wow! So who illustrated that version of the hobbit?

Naomi Novik: This is from the Ralph Bakshi cartoon.

Christopher Paolini: Ah.

Naomi Novik: The illustrations are taken from the Ralph Bakshi cartoon which I’ve never actually seen and which I understand was disappointing to many people? But the art from it, the style of it is just amazing and so that particular image was really vivid to me. There’s also the Polish legend, one of the founding legends of Poland, one of the founding myths of Poland is about the Volvo dragon and so I grew up on that story and the Anne McCaffrey books. I got into Pern really quite early and I think I must’ve been my daughter’s age, like nine or ten…

Christopher Paolini: Wow.

Naomi Novik: And that’s where dragons become…the idea of riding the dragon, of becoming a dragon rider, she really creates this idea of that partnership and being able to have a dragon as your own and I think that’s viscerally delightful, right? I don’t know, you tell me. Why dragons for you?

Christopher Paolini: I mean, I completely agree. I mean Anne McCaffrey was certainly one of the foundational influences for me with dragons along with the hobbit. Dragon Singer, I think that was one of my favorite Anne McCaffrey books along with The White Dragon and you know, all of those. And I’d say Ursula Le Guin, you know the Wizard of Earthsea series, also Beowulf. And actually I’ll show you, I have to unplug my headphones, one second, (pulls out an old edition of the Hobbit) this is actually my childhood edition of the hobbit. Which is peeling and falling apart. I have a hardcover new version but this one was illustrated by Michael Haig and he did just a wonderful wonderful job with the illustrations. And the problem is that the illustrations sank into my brain so much as a kid (pointing at an illustration) like there are the giants throwing the rocks up in the misty mountains.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: It sank into my brain so much that when I saw the Hobbit films, I was like “No, that’s not what it looks like, that’s not what it should be. So and like you said, as a kid I had the same difficulty realizing that books were made.(Christopher Paolini picks up his cat) They didn’t just appear. (indicating cat) This is the cat, Chiara.

Naomi Novik: Oh hello!

Christopher Paolini: She likes to say hi. I didn’t realize books were made. I thought they just occurred. They magically appeared on the shelves. Learning that so much editing and work was required to actually produce a good book was something that took quite a few years to really sink into my head. And I actually, I don’t know about you but—

Naomi Novik: I’m sorry, I’m sorry but you were like a baby when you wrote your first book.

Christopher Paolini: I was gonna say maybe it’s because I started so young but I didn’t realize that just because a book needs editing before it gets published doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job, that’s just part of the process. And of course you learn a lot from that process or at least I did, especially because I was starting so young. And I think that’s important if any of our listeners or viewers are aspiring writers themselves is to realize that process is normal and it’s okay. And even if you get a page that’s covered in red ink, that’s okay as long as you can learn from it and grow and improve, you’re on the path to getting to where you want to go. And you shouldn’t feel discouraged.

Naomi Novik: Well, the thing is for me, in fact, I had quite a different experience and that coming from fandom, the critique is the fun part.

Christopher Paolini: (Laughing)

Naomi Novik: Because when I send a story to my beta readers, my first circle of beta readers and they read it and respond back to me and are like “This is all wrong, this is great, this is, you know” That’s the fun, that’s one of the great things about it.

Christopher Paolini: Ahhh.

Naomi Novik: One of the great things about fandom as a place to write is you know editorial comments are not, it’s not…here’s back to power issues, right? In fandom nobody can stop you publishing, posting whatever damn thing you want. You’re just there to please yourself and the only thing you’re doing is trying to make the story more pleasurable either for yourself or for your friends and so that’s all it was. It’s like being in a kitchen. You don’t get upset because somebody’s like “Taste this for me.” and they taste it and are like “It needs a little more salt or why don’t you add some more butter?” That’s the fun part. The fun part is having somebody taste it in the kitchen and then there’s the extra pleasure of, you put it on a nice plate and you serve it to the whole family and everybody’s like “Yay!” and you get to feel like, I have fed people well but the cooking is its own fun.

Christopher Paolini: So are you showing people your manuscripts, your stories, in progress?

Naomi Novik: Oh yeah, absolutely. I have friends who If they’re free, I”ll send them paragraphs at a time. (Christopher Paolini laughs) There are people who I just share my dropbox folder with them if they don’t get annoyed by the number of notifications. Like, “Naomi has edited this story 17 times today!” That’s the kind of thing where obviously, that has to be a relationship of extreme trust and you have to trust both their judgment and know that they understand that the work is in progress. But that’s what fandom gave me and so I would actually go further and say don’t just feel like you’re doing something wrong. Lean into it! Get the pleasure that there is to be had. That’s the fun. That’s the good stuff.

Christopher Paolini: That’s actually been my experience too. I used to write my manuscripts or write my first drafts and then show it to my early readers and the problem is it’s if you’re getting off on the wrong track somewhere, you’re committing too much time and energy to it at that point.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: I’ve sort of got over my nerves with that and I show people now early chapters, early chunks and I’m like okay, is this working? Am I even in the ballpark with this or do I need to revise or reassess. And that’s something I wish I’d started doing a lot sooner because it would have saved me a lot of heartache, I think.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, no it saves a lot of time.

Christopher Paolini: Exactly.

Naomi Novik: But the other piece I would also say is that I do think that you can’t save too much time. There’s a certain amount of…it takes time to become a good writer. Nobody in the world has ever written well without writing badly first. And I think that’s really critical to remember. You cannot write well without first writing badly. And everything you write can’t be the best thing you write. You know, it just can’t. And the thing is that you just have to write. And the same thing that will be the best thing you write for one person will not be the best thing you write for the other person. It’ll be the best thing you write for somebody else.

Christopher Paolini: The solutions you find for one project are not necessarily going to work for the next project.

Naomi Novik: Yeah absolutely. You, just as a writer, as an artist, any kind of art, any kind of work I think, in general, you have to do the work that you can do when you can do it. And there’s a lot of times when you can’t do a certain kind of work and when you have to tell a certain kind of story and if you try to force yourself to tell a different one just because it’s commercial or whatever. It’s not that you can’t do something. In the same way if you’re like you’re a potter and you’re throwing a vase or something. You can make something and you’ve got an order for ten vases and you’re like alright I’ve got to make the ten vases and you make them and they will be perfectly fine. They can still function. It’s a vase, right? But I don’t think, you yourself cannot grow as an artist doing that kind of work.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: You can be where you are as an artist. You can make a good, very attractive vase but you’re not going to get to the next level of skill. You’re not going to unlock the next level of achievement, right?

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: In a way, I think.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, and I think you have to produce volume in order to get better. I remember reading an article. It was something that was referenced the last year or the year before and it was this professor and it was pottery, since you brought up pottery that’s what reminded me. The professor ran an experiment one semester where one half of the class was told to produce, I think it was like, you know, the finest piece they could or the finest 10 pieces they could over the course of the semester and the other half was told they were going to be judged sheerly on the amount of volume they produced, all the number of pieces they produced of pottery over the course of the semester. And by the end of the semester, all of the best pieces had been produced by the half of the class that was doing the volume because they were getting the most practice.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: They weren’t getting hung up on their mistakes, they were learning from their mistakes and then consistently fixing them. I mean on the flip side, and this is, where, you know, you can fall down the rabbit hole of doubting yourself too much which is you can easily reach a certain level of skill or a certain level of proficiency and not improve. And that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: Maybe you can’t. Maybe there isn’t time or energy. But you can very easily get complacent and you certainly see that with artists. They get to a certain level and it really doesn’t change. It may be good, it may be perfectly fine, but it doesn’t really change.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: And personally I think I’d be disappointed within myself if I never at least tried new things and tried to push past my own personal boundaries. When I read Uprooted, when I started, I know I was literally in the first two or three pages and I looked over at my friend who was with me and I was like, “This is so good.” And the reason it was so good…and this is independent of story, independent of character, this is just sheer technical level writing, is that I could tell how much writing you’ve done in your career. It was like, there was no wobbles, there was no if ad, there was no weasel words. It was just like you were telling the story you wanted to tell. It was clean, it was clear, it was beautiful and it was just good writing as a result of clear thinking. And that clear thinking was just so well and so in evidence there. And it was a joy to read because, I’m sure you have this experience which is the more you write, the harder it becomes to read.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: Because of the experience you get critical of things and so when I read a book like yours, it’s like I can turn off that internal critic. After a certain point I’m like “Ah she knows what she’s doing. I can just read the book and enjoy the book! (Naomi Novik laughs) And that was almost like this mental relief and it was just so much fun. And that’s why I have Spinning Silver in my office and I’ve not read it yet. I’ve had a couple of people who tell me “Oh Spinning Silver is even better than Uprooted.” And then I have some other people who said “Oh no, Uprooted is better than Spinning Silver“, so it that’s subjective quality.

Naomi Novik: Yeah. And that’s the thing. Both of those books were the books that I had in me that I needed to write at the time. And that, I think, shows. I think that they are quite different from A Deadly Education and the Scholomance books in turn and that’s okay, you know? In a way you kinda can’t stay still, you have to be pushing. You have to be trying to get…I do think that the key. It’s the two things. It’s the volume, it’s the quantity of work and it also has to be an attempt, right? You have to be trying to do something that is hard. You have to be trying. It’s like if you’re lifting weights and you lift the same light weight over and over at a certain point you’re not going to keep getting better. You have to try the heavier weight.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: You have to still feel like you’re doing work. It still has to be hard.

Christopher Paolini: Well and that goes back to what you were saying about the advantages of moving on to self-contained projects instead of being trapped in, I don’t want to say trapped…

Naomi Novik: (nods in agreement) Not trapped, yeah.

Christopher Paolini: But working on a series. Because it’s very hard to get that growth in some ways even with with To Sleep because I worked on it for so long. I’m very proud of it and I think it represents a step forward for my craft and my career but I’m already so far beyond that in terms of what I have learned and what I want to do but I can’t show that until I do something new. When you’re in the one project you can still grow there but at a certain point you tap out on any one project and then you need something new.

Naomi Novik: Yeah and the other piece is, of course when you do a project that goes for so long. In fact I”m sure this must have been, I don’t know, I imagine it was quite hard on Inheritance, in that…The person who wrote book nine of Temearire was not the person who wrote book one of Temeraire.

Christopher Paolini: How many years were you working on the series?

Naomi Novik: I started writing Temeraire in 2004. So I think it was a total of 12 years from the moment that I started, literally put the first words to paper to the moment that I delivered book nine.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: And I had a child in that time period. My whole life…absolutely different. And I started a non-profit, built the Archive of Our Own”. All these things literally happened —

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: While I was writing Temeraire books! When you’re telling the story you want to…a long series, really becomes a collaboration between you and your past self. And the things that you thought you were doing at the start are not the things that you are doing at the end. And you need to try to both stay true to the original kind of vision because that’s what’s written into the original work as well as to who you are now and your hopefully expanded view of the universe.

Christopher Paolini: Of course that can be frustrating for readers who start reading a series and love how it starts and then they get four or five books in and they’re going “What happened to the writer that I loved? What happened to the story I love” And there’s no real solution for that, of course. Authors have to grow and change as human beings. You can’t just stick us in carbonite. Readers have to grow and change. And I”m sure all of our viewers have had the experience of picking up a book you loved as a child. You try reading it as an adult and you go “What did I love so much? or “I see what I loved but it doesn’t hold up for an adult reader.” And that’s an easy example of that sort of change.

Naomi Novik: And also vice-versa. The book that somebody tries to hand you as a child that you’re like “Huh?” and then you read it as an adult and you’re like “Ah!”

Christopher Paolini: I actually think it’s harder to find books as an adult to read, because like we were talking with the adolescents, as a child or as a teenager it’s easy to find books that speak very specifically to that experience that so many of us had or are having. But as an adult life experiences vary so drastically. There isn’t this one genre, one type of experience that we’re all having as adults. I’ve personally found it much harder to find books that sort of speak to my experience as an adult versus as an adolescent. Part of that could be put down to a failure of imagination because of course reading is the process of putting yourself in someone else’s mind or someone else’s life, but even so I think adult stories are a lot harder and a lot harder to find what perhaps you resonate with. Assuming it’s not just strictly wish fulfillment or escapism.

Naomi Novik: Yeah I think that part of the main thing is time. That we have less time.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: I do find it hard to read now. Partly just sort of a practical matter. In that when I’m done writing, reading is not necessarily the thing I am hungry for.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: Because I’ve been reading. I’m reading my own words as I write them down and obviously of course there’s the whole separate side of reading books for blurbs and things like that where it becomes a kind of professional…it gets attached to professionalility in a way that reading was not.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah.

Naomi Novik: That’s not what it was for me as a child. It was:cram 20 books into my brain at the same time which I see my daughter doing now. My daughter will listen to an audiobook and read a different book at the same time!

Christopher Paolini: Good grief.

Naomi Novik: Yes, I don’t understand how. I used to listen to music and read as a kid.

Christopher Paolini: Well, and there’s the whole issue of time. And I think also once you read a certain number of authors and certain number of stories, you want variety. And if just reading one author and reading all of their may or may not be something I’m interested in these days unless I truly fall in love with an author. Because it’s like okay, I get an idea of what this author is doing. Now I want to try this other author that I met at a convention or I’ve heard good things. That’s actually one reason my new book is also a standalone because it’s in a universe where I can tell more stories and I’m planning on telling more stories but it is a self-contained story because…I don’t know. If you can’t tell a complete story in 300,000 words, how many words do you need? (laughs) That was kind of a challenge for myself. Basically, write a whole series in one book, in essence and provide that satisfying experience.

Naomi Novik: Yeah.

Christopher Paolini: Also because asking someone to commit to a huge series of books is a huge commitment. I mean of course if people buy into that. If they commit, if they’re engaged, if they love the story and the characters then it’s a wonderful thing and I’ve been very fortunate to have that with my own work. But I don’t know. As both a reader and a writer, I’ve become increasingly attracted to the standalone for a whole host of reasons.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, I feel like standalones are good. I do feel like the control of the end is really quite important.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: And that control over the totality of the experience.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah, see, we actually write in almost opposite ways at least in terms of the initial setup because I don’t think I have ever started a book without knowing the final scene. Usually it’s not the inciting incident, usually it’s the final scene that gets me to write the story. I’ll get that image and usually with the image I’ll have some emotion attached with it. Usually a very strong emotion and then I look at it like, “Oh, that moves me. That’s so powerful. Now what do I have to do to justify that scene?” (laughs) Then it’s working backwards to figure out where the starting point is and what sort of architecture is needed for that final moment to make sense and to affect the audience in the way I hope it’ll affect them.

Naomi Novik: You’re doing the carrot, you’ve got the carrot hanging out in front of you and you have to get the carrot. to earn your way to the carrot.

Christopher Paolini: And it actually works to help me get through the story too because then I want to write that scene. That’s the payoff for me. I don’t know how this works for you, but when I finish a book, when I finish a story, even before editing, and this is a problem for me. When I finish it’s done in my brain.

Naomi Novik: Oh yeah.

Christopher Paolini: It’s like it’s purged from my mind at that point. My brain does not want to think about this anymore, it’s done. That’s out of me.

Naomi Novik: Yes. Fortunately I have transcended the mark where that happens for me. For fanfiction, it’s when I post it publicly. When it’s books, it’s when I send off a copy edit because they don’t let you make changes in the galleys. When they send me galleys, I’m 90 percent, just looking at, you know, the page layout.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: And sort of like, “Do I like the font? And whatever they use in between scene breaks and that’s it. I don’t look at the words, I can’t process the words because if I start actually reading it then I’ll be like “Oh I want to edit but I don’t want to edit, like a word, I want to rewrite paragraphs and sentences and I want to get in there” and you can’t anymore! At that point it’s over, it’s finished and it leaves my head. And that was another piece of difficulty with the Temaraire series. Where I had to rely on the fan wiki…

Christopher Paolini: Mhm.

Naomi Novik: To look up whether characters were dead or not because I didn’t—

Christopher Paolini: (laughs) And you don’t really want to reread your own books if you can help it.

Naomi Novik: The thing is for me that rereading my old books is like reading a book by somebody else.

Christopher Paolini: Mhm. I had the strangest experience with editing To Sleep in a Sea of Stars because normally I drop about 10 to 15 percent of the manuscript over the course of editing but I was working with new editors for this book and they actually had me add close to 30,000 words to the manuscript over the course of editing which was a unique experience for me. I think part of it is that when I wrote it coming from the fantasy side of things I was very much concerned with not info dumping. Really, really controlling the flow of information and it worked, but maybe it worked too well and so a lot of what I was asked to do was bring in more character back story, bring it a little bit more of how the universe, how the technology is working sort of thing without overloading the readers. And it made the book a lot richer and worked a lot better but that’s the first time in my life that editing a book even while trimming stuff, the manuscripts got longer.

Naomi Novik: Mine always get bigger.

Christopher Paolini: Really?

Naomi Novik: Always get bigger because there’s always stuff that I think is completely obvious and I”m just like “I’m not going to bother writing that boring part.” and you can tell! And then my editor and my betas are like “Um no. that’s not actually on the page. You left it off the page.” I was like, alright, I have to go in and write.

Christopher Paolini: So are we ever going to get any science fiction from you? One of these days?

Naomi Novik: I’ve written science fiction short stories. Quite a few. And I’m working on a science fiction game project right now.

Christopher Paolini: Ooooh.

Naomi Novik: That hopefully will appear at some point. But yeah, I don’t know if I would do a novel length. I never say never, but I really like history. I like fantasy that’s sort of dug into history. So I feel…I don’t know. I don’t know! The answer is I actually have no idea. Never say never. Because I don’t know. When I write the first line of the next book, it might be a sci-fi book. We’ll find out. I don’t know.

Christopher Paolini: Is there anything else you would like viewers to know?

Naomi Novik: I want to ask you. What are you working on now that you’ve finished this? Have you started work on the next thing? Do you usually have the next thing on deck?

Christopher Paolini: I have so many projects backed up that I need another twenty years of life to get through them so I’m actually very frustrated that To Sleep took so long and I’m very much looking forward to knocking out a couple of those. There were a number of years where I was not able to write at the speed and with the consistency that I wanted and fortunately that’s no longer the case and I’m hoping that the books now can start coming out on a more regular basis. The short story collection came out the beginning of last year. To Sleep is coming out this year. I had a free week about two weeks ago so I wrote about a 70-page present tense, second-person choose your own adventure sequel novella to To Sleep and that’s going to be paired with some fun graphics and stuff. We’re not quite sure how we’re gonna release that but that should be fun. And then I’m actually working on revisions on a short, short prequel novel that I wrote back in I want to say, 2013. And it didn’t quite work so I went on To Sleep and wrote that because that really needed to come out first and now I’m working on revising the shorter novel. And hopefully that won’t take me too long. And then after that I have an adult fantasy that I’ve had sort of looming in the back of my brain for over 10 years now, maybe 15 years and I really like to tackle that. And I also have another compilation of short stories set in the world of Eragon that Random House is eager to get and I also want to a full-length novel in the world of Eragon. So between all of these projects, as I’m sure you’ve discovered with family, time management is almost more important than any other skill as a professional as well as any professional, but especially as a professional author.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, I mean carving out writing time, right? That’s the challenge. It’s protecting the writing. The time to actually do the writing.

Christopher Paolini: I was up until three in the morning last night writing because I wasn’t able to get any time during the main part of the day. So not the healthiest of things to do but the writing got done.

Naomi Novik: My own natural sleep schedule is like 11a.m. to 3.a.m. and then go to sleep at three and wake up at eleven and no, I don’t get to have it anymore. Very sad.

Christopher Paolini: Yeah people think that authors can just set their own sleep schedules but it doesn’t always happen that way. So anyway I was going to ask: Is there anything else you would like viewers to know about your new book coming out and anything we haven’t talked about?

Naomi Novik: Let’s see, I’m trying to remember, what are the things? (Christopher Paolini laughs) So it’s called A Deadly Education.

Christopher Paolini: A Deadly Education.

Naomi Novik: And it’s coming out September 29th. And it’s the first book in the trilogy, it’s called lessons from the Scholomance. But I’m just calling it, it’s all be Scholomance in my head, these are just the Scholomance books. For some reason, bookstores and libraries want you to have an actual title on your book. (Christopher Paolini laughs) So this one’s called A Deadly Education and I guess the one other interesting, fun thing is that there’s a website at the where there’s some…I’m working on a little choose-your-own-adventure sort of game. Oh sorry, I shouldn’t say that. It’s like a pick your own path, pick your own ending, kind of style game…and you die. (Christopher Paolini laughs) So that’s what happens in the Scholomance.

Christopher Paolini: Is the website live or is going to be live?

Naomi Novik: It is! It’s up there and right now you can pre-order the book and see a piece, a little sort of teaser piece because I was supposed to be releasing parts of it every week this summer and I went and wrote a book instead. (Christopher Paolini laughs)

Christopher Paolini: Well, fortunately people will get another book from you then, sooner rather than later.

Naomi Novik: Yes.

Christopher Paolini: That’s always a good thing.

Naomi Novik: Yep.

Christopher Paolini: Awesome! Well I’m sure all of your fans are going to be looking forward to getting their hands on A Deadly Education. I’m looking forward to reading it as well. And my own novel, To Sleep, is coming out on September 15th and I’ll be doing a giant virtual tour for that so people can go sign up, pre-order, get some signed copies and I’m gonna be doing the events with a bunch of different authors and personalities so that’s gonna be a lot of fun also. And hopefully we’ll come up with some bad jokes on the spot to make people groan.

Naomi Novik: Excellent. That sounds good. Good to always have a roster of bad jokes.

Christopher Paolini: Exactly. I know we have Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson and Chuck Wendig and Scalzi and a couple other people so it’s quite the crew!

Naomi Novik: That’s good. That’s good.

Christopher Paolini: Well thank you so much for chatting with me about A Deadly Education and writing in general and all of that and dragons of course.

Naomi Novik: Yes, thank you so much and cheers! And always a pleasure and so much fun to do this.

Christopher Paolini: Yes we will have to do this again sometime when we both have books coming out in the same month.

Naomi Novik: Yeah, why not?

Christopher Paolini: Hopefully it won’t be ten years from now, right?

Naomi Novik: Yes, yes, exactly. That’s a plan. (laughs)

Christopher Paolini: Sounds awesome. Well thank you so much and again, everyone should check out your new book, A Deadly Education and of course I’m gonna against put out a shameless plug for my new one, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.

Naomi Novik: Yes! Congratulations.


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