Warning: Never-ending wall of text. Also, Fangirl…

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Warning: Never-ending wall of text. Also, Fangirl spoilers.




confession: i think having cath and wren’s mom leave on 9-11 (that 9-11) was a lazy way to really try to gut-punch the target audience.

her leaving on any day would have been devastating and horrible and traumatizing to cath, wren, and art, but putting it on 9-11 immediately makes everyone sympathize that much more with the scenario.

sub in any holiday and you get the same effect. it didn’t have to be 9-11 to get the point across…

Interesting point.

I do think it pays off with the inclusion of the lone plane in the sky in Cath’s original piece at the end of the book, though, don’t you? (We’ve gotten that far in reblogbookclub, right? I can talk about that now without spoiling most people?)

If it were a holiday, as you mention, what would you have used at the end of the book in place of that as a signifier that something is incredibly wrong and ultimately broken, not just in Cath’s home but also in her world?

Now that I’m finally caught up (shame on me!), I can properly respond to this!

I think you’re right, in that it ties into her original piece at the end (and someone else was right in saying that it was probably an easy way to explain why adults weren’t taking more/faster notice of their problems at the time), but you can make symbolism out of anything.

Say they had their huge fight on Christmas: The lights blinked on next door – then three houses down, then at the brick house with the pool, then where the red shutters clashed with the blue roof – every house in the neighborhood began to shine through the yelling, until theirs was the only house on the block that hadn’t turned their Christmas lights on yet.

Say it was Easter: Her sister stepped on another egg, crunching then squelching, as they somberly walked the yard, dutifully trying to collect green eggs that matched green grass. Hands clasped, neither could see their spoils through the yelling behind closed doors. Crunch. Squelch. She stepped on one this time, her sister squeezing her hand when she heard the soft sniffle that escaped.

It could have been Arbor Day: Lightning had struck the weeping willow – the one they’d planted three years ago almost to the day – the crack of branches sending them rushing down the dark hallway into the safe cover of their parents’ bed – there was enough room for the both of them to snuggle into dad’s side. In the morning, they found him on the couch, jumping on him when he hadn’t woken before their stomachs. Now, out on the porch and snuggled together once more, they listened to the thunder and lightning roll through their home and watched the broken branches sway in the breeze.

I pulled a Cath and just wrote downhill, but I think you get the idea here…

I don’t think the decision to have Laura leave shortly after 9/11 was arbitrary. I think it made sense in terms of her character. And I think the way Cath talks about the date, and about her mother’s leaving then, was not just a ploy for cheap sentiment. I think it reveals a lot about Cath and Laura, and does it in a way that another date would not have.

Unlike Cath (and unlike a lot of Fangirl’s readers, probably), I didn’t experience 9/11 as a child, but as an adult with children of my own. One of my memories of that day is of my 10-year-old daughter asking me why it was such a big deal that those buildings fell down. “Because,” I told her, “when they fell down they were full of people.” She hadn’t thought of that before I told her.

A child of that age (or the slightly younger age Cath would have been) is not responsible for processing an event like 9/11 in terms of its larger significance, at least not right away. For my daughter, as for Cath, 9/11 was something she experienced not in terms of tragic events playing out far away, but in terms of what was going on in her immediate vicinity: The adults in her life acting strangely, and the impact those actions had on her.

As an adult, and especially as a parent, the experience of 9/11 was very different. The need to deal with the event, to try to make sense of it and find an appropriate response, felt like an immediate, overwhelming imperative. How to explain what had happened to my child? How to keep her safe in a world newly revealed to contain such dangers?

When you first look at your child, there is a crushing sense of being ill-prepared for the responsibility. It’s not just an intellectual response. It’s a visceral gut reaction. This impossibly helpless, vulnerable, and precious thing is wholly dependent on you. There’s no backstop. There’s only you.

It’s terrifying.

The events of 9/11 dredged up all those feelings and amplified them. I don’t agree with the choice Laura made, but I sympathize with the feelings that drove her to make it. Her character seemed real to me in that moment, her decision to change her life by acting on the belief (long held) that she was not prepared to be a parent a believable one.

I think there may be a fundamental divide between those who experienced 9/11 as adults and those who experienced it as children. As a member of the first group, I would never think to mention it in the same breath as Christmas or Easter or Arbor Day. It’s not a holiday. It’s not an annual observance like those others. It was a singular event.

That we mark the day each year is a sign of our lingering need to try to make sense of it, because collectively we’re still traumatized. That people who were children on 9/11 might see it more as just another day that rolls around each year with its particular observances is actually kind of comforting. It reminds me that since they were children when it happened, they may have been insulated from some of its emotional effects.

The way Cath thinks about it is interesting:

Cath still found this incredibly embarrassing; it was like their mom was so self-centered, she couldn’t be trusted not to desecrate a national tragedy with her own issues.

That Cath spares no thought for the people who died that day, or for what Laura must have gone through to reach the decision she did, is a perfectly normal and age-appropriate response for an 8-year-old. It’s also understandable that as Cath grew into a teenager she developed a deep sense of betrayal and resentment over her abandonment. Her criticism of her mother in the passage above is ironic, though, because in a sense Cath is doing the same thing she accuses Laura of doing: being so self-centered as to elevate her personal issues above any appreciation of the larger significance of that day.

Her resentment of her mother is a burden Cath carries, one she’s not interested in leaving behind. Even as she learns to move beyond her other fears and blockages into adulthood, that one remains, largely unresolved. I think it’s interesting that Rainbow leaves Cath in that place, and that she commented recently on Tumblr that she doesn’t believe Cath ever does reconcile with Laura. In all three of Rainbow’s novels there’s a protagonist who has a problematic relationship with his or her mother. (It’s less-obvious in Attachments, but I think it’s there if you look for it.) For it to keep showing up makes me wonder if Rainbow is drawing on personal experience.

Regardless, the relationships Rainbow writes between her protagonists and their mothers ring true to me, and I thought the use of 9/11 as the instigating event in Fangirl made a lot of sense.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/63178910896.

Reblog Book Club: Some Thoughts on Quotes

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Reblog Book Club: Some Thoughts on Quotes:


“To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.” – Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

When I read this quote I paused for a moment. Did I agree with this? Not quite, I decided. But not in a oh-my-gosh-that-is-so-stupid disagree. More of a…

The thing is, this line shows Cath reflecting on what she’d previously decided. It’s not necessarily what she still thinks now. Her thinking is evolving.

The whole point of Cath’s climactic struggle over the timing of completing Carry On, Simon, the whole point of the book, really, is Cath’s having to make exactly that choice, between the fantasy world and the real one.

I think the line is supposed to be problematic, because her younger self’s view about what it means to be a true nerd, with the fantasy world always winning out, is increasingly in conflict with the demands of adulthood.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/63002666995.

Rats. One result, but not the one I was hoping for.

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Rats. One result, but not the one I was hoping for.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/62882723240.

To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional…

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.

— Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/62849337959.

Tolkien and Fangirl

Monday, September 30th, 2013

I’ve mentioned before how some parts of Fangirl remind me of Tolkien. I know it’s a silly comparison; they’re apples and oranges. But this is about my response to the book, not anyone else’s. LOTR was my Harry Potter. It was the fantasy world I wanted to live in growing up, then followed into online fandom when the movies happened. So maybe I couldn’t help being reminded of it by Fangirl.

Anyway, I was. One similarity I noticed was the multi-layered nature of the story, and the way I responded to it. (I’m sure there’s a better term for what I’m describing, but I don’t know what it is.) On first reading, the songs and poems in LOTR bothered me with how they slowed things down, interrupting the main narrative. I was impatient. I wanted to skip them. On some of my umpteen readings, especially early on, I actually did skip them.

Fangirl’s extended quotations from the Simon Snow novels, and the fanfiction based on them, felt the same way to me. At least on my first reading, I wanted so badly to find out what was going to happen next that I felt frustrated with Simon and Baz for getting in the way. I wanted to skip those parts (though I didn’t).

But then an interesting thing happened. Just as with Tolkien, I found on subsequent readings (I’m on my third reading of Fangirl, plus some bunnyhops through my favorite parts) that the extra material really added to my enjoyment. There was so much more to the world in those extra passages. There was all this room for speculation: Fleshing out the Simon Snow novels from the excerpts, analyzing the departures from canon Cath and Wren made in their fanfiction and the differences in the fic they wrote together versus what Cath wrote alone, and then the excerpt from Cath’s story. All of it was related, interwoven with and commenting on the main story, and just like Tolkien’s songs and poems, they made the world more complete, more real, because like the real world, there were all these deeper layers to dig through.

Rainbow isn’t Tolkien, and Tolkien isn’t Rainbow. Their strengths and weaknesses are in different areas. But as Tolkien was to landscape, Rainbow is to characters. In completely different ways, each of them has imagined and conveyed a world that feels so real that it hurts that it’s not.

I want to live in that world.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/62792888027.

caseylikesstuff: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole…

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013


Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life – and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. 

Reading. Rereading. Handing out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. 

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from the fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. 

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I must be honest here: It’s been more than a month since I picked up or finished a book. However, Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, has restored my faith in the written word. Sometimes, it takes a book like this to kick me in the ass. To make me search for books that could even compare. 

I loved this book. I’m a sucker for anything even remotely romantic, so to be honest, the blossoming relationship between Cath and Levi was really the only thing important to me. Of course, I cared about her relationship with her sister and her father and less with her mother, but I knew that once she could invest herself in Levi, he could put her mind at ease and keep her grounded. 

I’ve also previously read Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and I loved making a Cath to Eleanor versus a Park to Levi comparison. Eleanor and Cath are similar in that they are shy and different and don’t really care to make friends. And I’m not really sure if Park and Levi are that similar. 

While I loved what Park did for Eleanor, I adored and almost idolized the affection that Levi shared with Cath. Both loves were important, but Levi shines the brightest. 

Like Cath, I too kind of fell in love with Levi and at one point even had to remind myself that he wasn’t real and, that at times, he was an unrealistic character. Yet, I loved him anyway. He was sweet and endlessly, unabashedly caring. I fell for him with every word that Rowell wrote. 

All day at work today, I could think of nothing but this story and these characters. During my breaks, I immediately rushed to a table and opened to the words I had read last. Even before I finished, I realized that these characters, Cath and Levi, were ones that I would miss dearly once I flipped over that last page. And I was very correct. 

It’s true. As Tolkien was to landscapes, Rainbow is to characters. They’re so real it hurts.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/62309638495.

Can you please address your decision to have Harry Potter exist in the Fangirl universe? I’m sure there are reasons behind and and I’d love to hear them.

Monday, September 23rd, 2013
So, Simon Snow, the character whom Cath writes fanfiction about, pretty obviously takes up the same place in her world as Harry Potter does in ours.
Simon is a very different character from Harry, but the Simon Snow phenomenon is definitely an analog for the Harry Potter fan experience. 
Here’s how Harry Potter is introduced in Fangirl — Cath is explaining slash to Levi, specifically why she ships Simon with his antagonist, Baz. And Levi says:
“I don’t know. It’s hard for me to get my head around. It’s like hearing that Harry Potter is gay. Or Encyclopedia Brown.”
My intention with that line was, one, to be funny. And two, to wink at the reader. Because anyone who tries to explain a slash relationship outside of fandom will inevitably hear, “But Harry Potter can’t be gay!”Or, “But Captain Kirk can’t be gay!”
This was me looking at the reader, winking, and saying, “Yep. That’s what I’m doing here.”
I thought a bit about how Harry and Simon could co-exist in Cath’s world, then decided it would be like Star Wars/Star Trek, ‘N Sync/Backstreet Boys or Marvel/DC …
Mostly, I figured people wouldn’t take the line very literally; they’d just wink back at me and move on. 
That said, this line was something I asked my editor, agent and beta reader about during copy edits. (I start questioning everything during copy edits.) I asked them all if the line bothered them, whether it gave them Simon/Harry dissonance. And they all said no — that they really liked that line, and that I was over-thinking it.
I pay a lot of attention to consistency and continuity in my books (I checked every reference in my first book, Attachments, to make sure they were accurate to 1999), so it drives me crazy that this line is driving anyone crazy. I hate that it’s a distraction.
The Harry Potter reference doesn’t bother me, personally, but the fact that it bothers other people makes me want to change it in the book. I’m actually going to talk to my editor about whether it’s even possible to change it.

Also, I’m going to make Greedo shoot first.


Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/62135419090.

The world in Fangirl

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

From the beginning, Fangirl lets you know that the book’s world is really close to, but not quite the same as, our own:

The Simon Snow Series
From Encyclowikia, the people’s encyclopedia

This article is about the children’s book series. For other uses, See Simon Snow (disambiguation).

Because Internet fandom plays such an important role in the story, Rainbow has created a fictionalized book series with a huge online following for Cath to be a fan of. By about the fourth line of page one, I was pretty sure that:

  • Encyclowikia is Wikipedia
  • Gemma T. Leslie is J. K. Rowling
  • Simon Snow is Harry Potter

Because the fictionalized analogs are so close to their real-world counterparts, it makes it easy to understand Cath’s backstory. But then in chapter 12, when Cath is reading her fanfiction to Levi and they’re discussing the Simon/Baz pairing, I read this line:

“I don’t know,” Levi said. “It’s hard for me to get my head around. It’s like hearing that Harry Potter is gay.”

It’s just a passing mention that isn’t discussed or repeated. But it really surprised me (and surprised other readers, too; I’ve seen it mentioned at least three times in reblogbookclub posts).

Whoa. Harry Potter exists in this world.

Harry Potter apparently is well-known enough in-world for Cath to know what Levi is talking about. Presumably Cath’s Harry Potter is more or less the same as our own. But that means that in the world of Fangirl there are two hugely popular seven-book series about a young orphan who goes to a British boarding school for magicians where he is viewed as a super-important potential savior against the forces of evil. And that just seems… weird.

I realize there have been knock-off series in our world that follow the Harry Potter format. But the Simon Snow stories follow the Harry Potter format really closely. The Simon Snow books were each published about four years later than the corresponding Harry Potter books. According to Wikipedia, the Harry Potter series has sold roughly 450 million copies as of today; according to Encyclowikia, the Simon Snow series had sold more than 380 million copies as of August 2011. Both Harry (at least in our world) and Simon (in Cath’s world) have spawned blockbuster movie franchises.

It’s hard for me to imagine that in Cath’s world, Gemma T. Leslie is viewed as a great author, rather than someone whose work is really derivative of J. K. Rowling. It’s also hard for me to imagine how that fact wouldn’t come up in the course of Cath’s chapter 11 discussion between Cath and Professor Piper, given that the whole point of that discussion was Gemma T. Leslie and the nature of original work, plagiarism, and fanfiction.

The more I think about it, the harder it is for me to explain Harry’s presence in Cath’s world. But I’ve given it a shot. One explanation I thought of right away was: Maybe it’s a mistake. Since Simon is clearly a stand-in for Harry, maybe Rainbow just goofed at and typed “Harry Potter” when she meant to type “Simon Snow”, and for some reason no one caught it. But no: That doesn’t work with the line as delivered by Levi. It couldn’t have been intended that he’d say “Simon Snow” there; he’s comparing Harry Potter to Simon.

Or maybe the Harry Potter mention was a joke that was meant to be taken out, but was accidentally left in. But that doesn’t work either. The rest of the book (along with Rainbow’s other writing) is too good, too thoughtful and well-edited, for me to think they just missed something that significant. It must be there on purpose.

The likeliest explanation, I think, is that it was meant as a bit of an in-joke by Rainbow for fellow Harry Potter fans, a way of mentioning, if only in passing, the boy wizard who was so important to the online fandom at the core of the story. It’s true that it’s a little awkward if you think about the in-world implications, but it’s just a quick, throwaway line. And besides, there are ways you can make it work if you really want to.

Maybe the Harry Potter of Cath’s world is actually really different than our Harry Potter. Maybe he’s a macho action hero, more like Rambo or Jack Bauer than a boy wizard (which kind of works with Levi’s line, if you assume he was making a joke). Or maybe he’s the Harry we know, but in Cath’s world the Harry Potter books never caught on, and J. K. Rowling only wrote the first one before moving on to other endeavors. It eventually got made into a low-budget movie that Levi just happened to see, so he mentions Harry Potter in that line, but actually Cath has no idea what he’s talking about, and just doesn’t say anything out of politeness. Or it could be something else. The point is, you can explain Harry’s presence if you really want to.

Cath’s world is fiction, after all. It’s Rainbow’s book, and if she wants to populate it with Harry Potter and Simon Snow, that’s her prerogative. On some level, too, it’s kind of ridiculous of me to make a big deal about it, especially since my argument, boiled down, is that by including the real Harry Potter from our world in her fictional world, Rainbow is somehow making that world seem less real, rather than more.

But nerd that I am, I can’t help wondering. And maybe that’s the point of Harry’s inclusion: To make the reader think about what his presence means, to populate the made-up world with interesting enigmas, to layer the correspondences and meanings one layer deeper. Our world has enigmas and layers; why not the fictional world inhabited by Cath? Tolkien wrote about that in explaining his choice to include Bombadil in FOTR; maybe Harry is meant to serve a similar purpose in Fangirl.

I’d like to know the answer. I’d also like to know what was on Eleanor’s postcard. But until or unless Rainbow choses to answer those questions, I’m perfectly happy just thinking about them myself.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/61896796990.

The email from Amazon telling me the download was ready came at…

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

The email from Amazon telling me the download was ready came at 12:27 this morning, but I was already asleep. Then I needed to help get William up and off to school, and have my own breakfast, but finally I was able to settle back into bed and start reading. I’d already read the first chapter in the preview, but I read it again, and kept going.

It struck me again, the way it did the first time: Why begin with a fictionalized but unmistakable faux-Wikipedia entry? And a fictionalized but unmistakable Harry Potter? Why lampshade the unreality of the world like that? Isn’t that going to get in the way? Isn’t it going to make it harder for me to believe in the world, to invest in the characters? Isn’t it—

And then it was real. Now it’s 90 minutes later and I’m on page 81 and dammit it’s time for work. But I’ve got a good idea what I’m going to be doing at 2:00 tomorrow morning.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/60851870598.