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.
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.
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