how deep do you go, and what do you find, when you go so deep?

ANNA

I first came across Rose Lerner in AnimeJune’s review of A Lily Among Thorns. (I defy anyone to read that review and not want to read the book immediately.) I started following Rose on twitter, which is evidently my default response to discovering authors I admire. Rose wrote in an interview about what makes a couple romantic, and being deep in Harry Potter fandom at the time, I piped up to say that Harry and Draco were the most romantic pairing ever.

I wasn’t sure this was a thing I should be saying aloud, but I couldn’t help letting my love of them spill over. And Rose’s reply was something like, “Right? RIGHT? Let’s talk about this sometime.”

So we did.

Then I read Rose’s books, one directly after the other. Her writing is a delight – something cool and lovely to the brain. (Highlighted in my Kindle: ‘She felt as if she were a neat page in a ledger and he’d spilled ink across her. She could feel it spreading over her skin, soaking in, making her messy and vivid and irrevocably destroyed.’)

The thing I love most about Rose’s books, though, is how real her characters are. The middle-class mother who wants her daughter to marry well but, good lord, isn’t going to force her into an unhappy marriage. The gentleman-chemist whose uncle will not understand his aspirations to work in trade. And Rose’s post today goes some way to explaining why her characters have this quality.

I should also note quickly that Rose’s books were previously published through Dorchester, who are no longer operating. The bad news is, this means you can’t access her books for the moment. The very good news is that Rose is writing a new book, and is looking for a home for her backlist with a new publisher. I’ll be tweeting about it as soon as there’s more news.

***

ROSE

Anna asked me to talk about being fannish, and how that affects my writing process.

That isn’t exactly what she said. She said “how deeply you go into the things that appeal to you–characters and people and ideas.” To me, though, that’s inextricably tied up with being fannish.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines “fandom”:

Fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices (a fandom); this is what differentiates “fannish” (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest.

To me, fannishness is a personality type more than anything else. The essence of fannishness is a certain type of bottomless enthusiasm. When I am interested in something, there are no limits to my interest. The deeper I go, the more fascinated I become, whether it’s watching twenty Tom Hiddleston interviews in a row, researching a novel, or spending an entire hour with a friend casting Sunset Boulevard remakes.

At the 2011 Beau Monde (the Regency RWA chapter) Conference, Mary Jo Putney said that, “Regency England is a shared world fantasy, like Star Wars or Star Trek.” I am in love with that quote because Regency England is probably my longest running continuous fandom: I started reading stacks and stacks of Regency romances at age 12 and I haven’t stopped since. I started writing them at 17 and I love them more every day.

That’s the thing about fannishness: the love builds and builds on itself, and the more I think about it and read about it and talk to fellow fans about it, the bigger it grows and the bigger it wants to grow, the hungrier it is. The best part of fannishness is that moment when I’ve built up my love so high, I don’t understand how it can physically fit inside my body…but I know that soon it will be even bigger. Fannishness is like getting to fall in love, over and over again–sometimes with a celebrity or a character, sometimes with a story or a world or an idea or an author.

I want people to feel that way about my books. I want to write books that someone could feel that way about. And I want to write books that stand up to that kind of intense scrutiny.

Because fannishness is about love, but there’s a corollary: when you think about a story that much, you notice things about it that a non-fannish reader or viewer might not. And if you’re part of a community centered around your fandom, you talk to other people who also notice things, and you all share what you notice. Some of those things are amazing hidden treasures. Some are horrible hidden flaws.

All fans have seen what can happen when the creator of a show or a book puts less thought into world-building, plot construction, or character arcs than the fannish audience does. All fans carry rage in their hearts from stories that hurt them, stories that destroyed characters or worlds or narratives they loved, without giving that destruction the weight it deserved. I am still angry, Smallville! I am still angry, J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedon, the Battlestar Galactica finale.

It isn’t even that I wasn’t happy with where those stories went. It’s that I don’t believe those stories were constructed in a way that respected how incredibly emotionally invested many people were in them, or respected that those people were not always invested in exactly the same aspects of them as their writers. Deathly Hallows was not constructed to be entirely satisfying if, for example, you related to Pansy Parkinson personally rather than symbolically, if you thought of her as a complete personality behind the page rather than a construct representing “girls who were mean to me in high school.”

Obviously there are fans who do not feel this way about the stories I’ve named! Some fans loved the Battlestar Galactica finale! My friends, though, went into a rage-filled, ranting mourning that lasted about a week.

Being in fandom and talking to other fans made me aware in a way I never was before that everyone reads a story differently. Everyone focuses on something different. Everyone has a favorite character and every character is someone’s favorite. Many someones, in fact.

(It’s funny and a little sad to me how sometimes, people who aren’t active participants in fandom don’t realize this. I once skimmed a book of Harry Potter fan letters from children in a bookstore and saw variants on this theme over and over again: “Dear Professor Snape/Tom Riddle/Seamus Finnegan, I am your only fan.” I PROMISE YOU, KID, YOU ARE NOT.)

I’m not saying I want every character I love to have a happy ending. But I do want every character I love to have a story that means something.

I don’t love every character in stories that I read, of course. But I try my best to love every last character I write, and for the most part, I do. (The few characters I’ve written that I dislike as people, I regard as not-quite-successful artistically.) I try my best to write so that no matter which character is your favorite, even if you’ve fallen hopelessly in love with the hero’s little sister or the sweet-shop salesgirl or the villain, you’ll feel that I gave them a fair shake.

It’s a conscious priority for me to write so that no matter where in the story the reader emotionally invests, she’ll feel satisfied at the end of the book. I really, really hope that on closer examination, my books yield more treasures than flaws.

Note: every comment puts your name in the hat!

Comments 18 Responses

  1. Pingback: the list | diary of a(n accidental) housewife

  2. Merrian

    It is interesting to think about the things we do such as book reviewing and twittering as fandom work and that following a series is being part of a shared world fantasy even without the trappings of Harry Potter-esque cosplay. Thinking now I wonder if Andre Norton’s Witchworld books were my first fannish reading?

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I think Rose is spot-on when she says “fannish” is a personality trait – but I think it’s also something strongly linked to childhood, that some people “grow out of” and others don’t. Adults tend to find that kind of rampant enthusiasm – about anything – vaguely embarrassing. (You’ll notice that even I was coy, asking Rose to write about fannishness. Fannishness is what I meant, but I somehow felt embarrassed to say it.)

      So when I think about the feeling of fannishness, it very much ties into how I felt reading the Faraway Tree books, or the horse series Jinny. There was this excitement, this fervour. The worlds of those books were full and magical and when I wasn’t reading them I was going around in a daze, feeling them. It was the same reason I started writing as a kid – this need to get some of those feelings out of me because they were too many and too much.

      For me, twitter and reviewing aren’t of themselves fannish, though it’s a very intriguing idea what exactly they are. They can certainly be part of – and a significant part of – fandom.

      1. Merrian

        Absolutely yes to that daze and feeling them and wanting more and then searching for things that would give me a similar feeling. It is also why I am ambivalent about re-reading things that I read as a teen because those original feelings and what happened when I read and what the books did for me are things I don’t want to lose in the cold light of my adult years

    2. Rose Lerner

      I’m not sure I can even trace back my first fandom…I remember my sister and I watching Disney movies over and over and re-enacting them (sometimes with different endings), and writing and illustrating Duck Tales stories with her when I was 7 or 8…probably my first fandom I was in alone was Ivanhoe. My mom read me the book when I was 9, and she actually had to forbid me to talk about it at the dinner table for a few months because I talked about NOTHING ELSE. The sequel I wrote to that was my first longform writing, a year later. It’s interesting what Anna says about children being inherently fannish, because I’ve always thought of all that as a sign that I was born this way, rather than something everyone did and some other people grew out of, but maybe she’s right! I have a friend who used to play Star Trek on the playground with her classmates (she was Beverly Crusher) and I doubt ALL of them grew up to write fanfic…

      Tell me about the Witchworld books, I never read them! How were you fannish about them?

      1. Merrian

        Andre Norton was a YA SF and fantasy writer at her peak in the 60s & 70s. The first Witchworld book is actually quite noirish and has echoes of books like The Ipcress File in it’s tone and lone hero. The hero of the first book, Simon is a black-marketer and criminal on the run.

        This gives a list of the 30 something books in the series. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_World

        I liked the premise of the Witchworld books because they are about characters whose worlds are turned upside down and they have to find the hero in themselves and reach out and claim their lives (while also fighting evil). These are ancient worlds with remnants of old civilisations and I liked that sense of forgotten/half-remembered pasts written into the land itself and how part of the stories was always about learning to read and connect with this past; you can’t solve the present and move forward into your future without dealing with the past in other words.

        The early books dealing with Estcarp and war against the witches are very much about women and women’s power as well as the magic and mystery. It is interesting that a YA title/series begins with an older hero and heroine too.

        As for my fanishness; I made maps and dictionaries of beasts and peoples and used character names in my school work e.g. writing case studies. I also looked up costume history books and looked for outfits that matched the clothing descriptions and then drew those and sometimes made things.

        In rural Australia, pre internet it was hard to get books so I made careful lists of the series and how they connected and always looked out for them. I think the key fannish thing is holding the stories constantly in mind and relating things seen and experienced in the real world or my non-fiction reading to the books. I know I started reading history and mythology in parallel at this time.

        I should add that I watch Meerkat Manor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meerkat_Manor not only for Bill Nighy’s wonderful narration but because of Andre Norton’s BeastMaster books http://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/the-beast-master-andre-norton/

      2. anna cowan Post author

        I love that image of you as a kid, just unable to contain your love for all things Ivanhoe. Your comment about fannishness/childhood makes me realise that of course I’ve just assumed my childhood = all of childhood ever. Which is, uh, probably not the case. :-)

        1. Rose Lerner

          I was pretty obsessed! I crushed hard on Brian de Bois-Guilbert. To this day whenever I hear the word “Templar” I think of him.

          I’d love to see an interview study done on kids and adults to investigate further!

  3. bleu

    Oh, wow.
    This post is really touching. My eyes were tearing up at the end. This is *such* a great mindset. I admire Rose’s attitude. Really, who could *not* love her from her comments alone?

    The thing about entering a fandom is… it changes you. And I am not certain the change is always for the good.
    You say being fannish is something inherent to children but not adults. And maybe this is better (in some sense) because as a child your personality is not yet fully formed and and gliches in one direction or another can easily be forgotten – they don’t leave such an impact.
    For me, I was never a very fannish child. I was not easily enraptured. I preferred adult company before other childrens’. I lived the stories I thought up and sprent hours on them, feeling every detail, as I expect, all children do. The thing is, I never lost this trait. It was just less obvious I had wandered of, so to say.
    But then I entered HP Fandom and became a fan, if mostly a rather silent one. What it did to me was scare my imaginative child away. It’s not that I don’t have ideas anymore. It’s not even that they are dull. But it feels as if they are, because go about them so rational. As if they are something coming from the outside. They don’t longer feel like a part of me. It’s as if I have spent all my emotions within my four Fandom years and for all that Fandom and reading FF has taught me, I wish they had never happend.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      So passionate and articulate, I know! :-)

      I just want to say, knowing you’re still in your very early twenties, that I wouldn’t feel too discouraged at this point. I stopped writing through my teens and early twenties, and have only really taken it up again in the last few years. I think you undergo a huge change at that time (as we always are, I suppose). My mind and emotions were much more consumed by my outer life, by where I was headed, what I was doing – and just by the people I was spending time with, etc. I feel like I’m coming to know myself in a new way – part of heading into my 30s – and this gives me a new confidence and interest that reconnects to my pure interest as a kid. It’s work though – much more work than it was as a kid. 95% of writing is a slog, and then there are the moments of pure joy. We’re never children again!

      That may have got a little deep, but I just wanted to give you a sense that what you feel now isn’t forever, and that it isn’t bad.

      And welcome to the new blog!

    2. Rose Lerner

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      I think it’s natural for creative enthusiasm to wax and wane…I know how frustrating and upsetting that can be when it feels like the spark is gone. Ugh, it’s the worst! I don’t want to jump all over you with advice since this stuff is so subjective and personal, so please feel free to not even read the rest of this comment. But based on my own experience, I’d say give it time. Sometimes it’s just like a relationship, sometimes you feel really close and in tune with the person/community/fandom, sometimes it all feels so boring and played out. Maybe you just need space for a few months, or maybe your next big fandom is waiting for you around the corner…

      It might also be worth thinking about whether anything non-writing-related in your life could be draining you. When I feel uninspired creatively it’s sometimes got nothing to do with writing and everything to do with my personal life, but I don’t seem to make the connection for EVER and then suddenly it feels so obvious–of COURSE, I’m stressed about my dad and that’s why I haven’t written anything in two weeks!, or whatever.

      Good luck!

  4. Gemma McLuckie

    I have never heard of fannish, but so appreciate the concept. I became a fan in the 1970s of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series — and fannish about the Tudor era. She led me to read so much about the times (fiction and non-fiction) and it still influences my reading choices. I am fascinated by the politics, personalities, clothing, daily living of 16th Century English and Scots. I am so grateful that one author gave me so much intellectual and emotional satisfaction, not only through her characters and words but through the curiosity they prompted. I needed to know more! And when I knew more, I gained so much more from the six books.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Um, WELCOME TO MY BLOG. I’m just about to start book 6 of my first read-through of Niccolo. I read Lymond last year and it 1) destroyed me for all other books for a good year; 2) completely changed the book I was writing, and every book I will ever write; and 3) means I will forever be trying to write Lymond, and forever failing (but probably happy in the attempt). Dunnett is just on another plane.

    2. Rose Lerner

      I’ve only read the first Lymond book (I loved it, but I actually didn’t adore it quite as much as some of the books I’ve read that I’ve heard were influenced by Lymond…IIRC Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, the Vicky Bliss mysteries…I loved Lymond himself but wasn’t as into in the other POV characters). You’re making me want to get the second one and dive back in, though!

      1. anna cowan Post author

        I’m going to have to check out these other books. I sometimes suspect when a writer is influenced by Dunnett (made total sense when I read a fangirl essay by Jo Beverley). I was going to do a Lymond spiel, but Cat just did one over on the post about tension, which I’ll copy here. She introduced me to Dunnett.

        “Dunnett is amazing. Her first series is Lymond, and it’s definitely where you should start. People tend to be more fannish about Lymond than Niccolo because his character is the Ur-Romantic Hero, of a particular archetype. If you love Lymond, you’ll love Lymond [chronicles]. It is her first series, though, and it does have all the fingerprints of her learning still on it, despite the bravura writing, some imperfectly drawn characters, some wonky structural shapes (blasphemy). Niccolo is her mature work of staggering genius that is on another plane of writerly reality, but you should probably read it second, not the least because it is a prequel to Lymond that relies on some knowledge of Lymond-verse to enjoy to its fullest effect.”

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