Naomi Novik as Unknowing Mentor and oh yeah Fanfiction

Posted by on July 11, 2018 in What Pooks is Reading | 4 comments

Readers, you know I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of Naomi Novik’s newest fantasy novel, Spinning Silver, the not-a-sequel yet-same-universe-ish Eastern European historical fantasy world she first inhabited in the much lauded and loved Uprooted [which I have recommended before if you want to check the categories in the sidebar].

I’m listening to the audiobook now and need I say, I am loving it? It’s not the same forest and world of Agnieszka and her Dragon, the dragon who “does not really eat the girls he takes, no matter what they might say outside [her] valley…” because… oh, just read the first page. You may be as intrigued and enchanted as I was.

And yet it feels like it is the same earth and the same time period, this time perhaps inspired by Russia instead of Poland? I’ll correct this if I’m wrong. I think Russia was implied by the text but I’m listening and will have to wait until I own the hardcover book to reread for that kind of detail.

It’s going to be a beautiful book on my library shelf, as well as one I enjoyed enough to buy in print after listening to it as an audiobook.

I have mentioned my library before. Long story short: My first Kindle changed my reading life and I gave away and sold boxes of books that if I reread, I’d happily do so on Kindle so I could easily carry them all with me and choose from my vast library and also adjust the font style and size to meet my eyes’ needs of the day. I did not stop buying books. I continue to buy research books because I need them in print. And now I have a library of special, beautiful, curated books.

These are the books I want–no need–to possess and caress.

So yes it’s not unusual for me to listen to an audiobook and then buy it, usually in hardcover, so I can see them as constant reminders of books I love. This may be for sentimental reasons. The fact that a book is beautiful can be enough to make me keep it, even if I’ve owned it for twenty years and still haven’t read it and have a feeling I might never do so.

It’s beautiful. That’s enough.

So maybe not so short a story?

But anyway I will try to remember to come back and correct if I discover it’s not Russia, or if somebody tells me in comments. After I buy the hardcover.

Okay, so what am I talking about, Naomi Novik as mentor? I knew she was a fanfic writer who found her voice and wanted to write her own worlds and people [and dragons]. I knew she’d posted the first book, Temeraire, on a private LiveJournal account–chapter by chapter–and let a select group of fanfic readers and writers who had volunteered to follow along react to it, chapter by chapter, just as if it were fanfiction.

This, my friends, is one way fanfiction can be rewarding in a way that original fiction rarely is. Because it is posted chapter by chapter and readers can leave comments, you see readers reacting to each element, plot twist, character revelation–you see the squeees of delight, the gasps of rapture, the cries of horror, the pulling-out-of-hair-in-distress, along with occasional begging, “Where is the next chapter???”

You also get criticism, sometimes brutal.

As I am writing these days I write each element, plot twist, character revelation with that reaction in mind, almost seeing the comments, anticipating them, fretting over them. But it is the nature of published novels that reviewers and readers don’t react in such detail, so it all remains in my imagination, and in silent wonderings, like “What did they think when this happened?”

The closest I’ve come is when @chrysoulatzavales live-tweeted while reading with all sorts of breathless, agonized, omg-wonderful reactions. [Loves Chrysoula!]

And a few reviews on Goodreads where the reader simply wrote omgomgomg at  79% [example, not actual place in book] and I could figure out what part of the book it was in.

Are authors supposed to admit they are this needy and curious?

Okay, so. Mentor. Maybe at this point, example? Yet another of several examples, most that I knew in real life, of professional writers who write fanfiction, whether they began there or whether they discovered it as pro writers. [Heck, one extremely successful television writer received her first introduction to fanfiction when, while still writing novels, her editor sent her a link and said, “Here. Read this. Then write it from his point of view.”

The editor had written X-Files fanfiction, an event told from Scully’s pov.

My friend did so, had a ball doing it, and in doing so discovered a new writing escape–writing that was for the sheer joy of it, without needing someone else’s approval to get it out there, without worrying about “Is this marketable?” It didn’t matter.

She still reads and writes fanfiction on occasion when the mood strikes.

Many authors–like Naomi Novik–are quite public about their fanfic history though not all reveal the penname they used.

These were all things that were constantly on my mind when I was writing my fanfic epic and wondering if I was crazy, and knowing that even if I was, it was a divine insanity and I loved it.

But now, this morning? Naomi Novik is a mentor. Why? Because of this article published on the occasion of Spinning Silver’s publication.

She discussed problems with procrastination. [pooks is looking shifty here]

And the tricks she plays on herself to defeat it. [pooks is looking skeptically intrigued here]

And one of them she mentioned is a website, a game:

Habitica. That’s a pretty aggressive site that helps you form habits. It is sort of gamified. You have a tiny pixelated avatar, and you get gold pieces to buy armor, and you go on quests and fight monsters. It’s adorable.

Guess who immediately flew to that website, created an avatar, and immediately gave myself a quest, one that I decided to do a year ago and yet never managed to do even once. And now?

I have already done it once.

I am so accomplished.

See?  Naomi is my mentor! She is leading me to more productive writing and stuff!

Oh, the new habit?

My brain doesn’t visualize things very well and also words don’t necessarily stick around very well. I decided to start writing down or somehow marking for later every wonderful description that I read in somebody else’s work. A direct quote, because my goal isn’t to copy [and if it’s not a direct quote I might not remember what I wrote is the description and what I might have added to it for my own later thought].

I repeat. I never did it once. I never thought to do it once.

The same thing happened today.  I heard a wonderfully visual and visceral turn of phrase, a description, in Spinning Silver. And I thought to myself, ooooh. I like that. I should write that down or  something.

But kept listening instead.

And then when I was writing his article and linking to Naomi’s interview I saw that reference to Habitica again and–

The rest is history.

I am rocking that habit.

I was close enough to the quote that I could back up and retrieve it, rewinding a couple of times to get it right.

“I did not really need Magretta to tell me that love had caught my father like an unwilling fish, and having slipped the hook he had been glad to forget he had ever been on it in the first place.”

What that tells us about 16-year-old young woman [for she is of marriageable age and thus truly a woman]. Does she pine for love with romantic fantasies? No, instead she sees it as a hazard, a trap. And that unwilling fish, that hook–

I love it.

I have saved one quote. I also marked it on Goodreads. I love looking at books and seeing what quotes other readers found significant enough to post.

So far my books have, oh, what a coincidence!



And I love it to pieces, that quote, even if it is not something I would ever have imagined somebody singling out to quote on Goodreads. Especially because, actually.

“a scrawny, ill-dressed man slamming a filthy girl against the rough wall of a building, one hand tearing at her skirt, pulling it higher as his other hand fondled his own rigid dandilolly.”
Patricia Burroughs, This Crumbling Pageant

There is some irony about that word dandilolly which I haven’t shared yet and won’t now since this is already long!

I am not satisfied with saving only one descriptive quote, however. I am adding another. Since I seem to be the only one impressed enough to add it to Goodreads, I shall do that, too.

“The Dragon’s tower is a long way in the other direction, a piece of chalk stuck in the base of the western mountains.”

Simple, almost stark, and yet vivid. It would take me three times as many words to try and get the same information out. So yes, this will be a good habit to continue. To admire and learn from the kinds of turns of phrase that often elude me.

Do you see how much I rock? I have done my new habit twice!

I have gained gold. [pooks rubbing hands together]


Finally, in Naomi’s interview I read these words, words I could have written myself because they describe me and how I write [and don’t write] so well.

I am not a very good nonfiction writer…. [With fiction] you are making up lies to tell people something true. I am good at that. The problem is, I am not so good at just trying to tell the truth straight out. Truth is too complicated. Truth is too big. I can’t find the one true thing I am trying to say.

Naomi Novik, Goodreads Interview

I can’t find the one true thing I am trying to say.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

As for her continuing relationship with fanfiction, when asked who is her first reader when she is writing, she says her husband is. But then…

I have also built up a posse of beta readers in fandom. Those are the same people who read my fan fiction and are the same people I turn to when I am writing pro[fessionally]. For me it is all the same. The pro stuff is just literally the stuff I can publish commercially without going to ten lawyers. But creatively, it is all the same.

I have two close friends who read Uprooted with me as I was writing it. I have a really good friend who is a rabbi who was reading for me and giving me feedback. That is the magic of the Fannish Community. [snipped] And it is people for whom I do the reverse; I edit their fan fiction. It is a reciprocal relationship.

Hmm. Have I been spelling fanfiction/fan fiction wrong?

Sorry, squirrel!

So. I’m reading/listening to Spinning Silver and loving it. Maybe her fairy tale retellings appeal to you?  Maybe you’ve read them already?

And finally, one last quote to save and savour, and those who have read my fanfic and The Fury Triad might see not only why I love it, but why several people sent me links to Uprooted when it was first published and told me, “You have to read this! It’s so much like..” Not naming whom it is like because spoiler! And, spoiler! So, yeah. Keep that detail to yourself, please? LOL!

But this? Is wonderful.

“You intolerable lunatic,” he snarled at me, and then he caught my face between his hands and kissed me.”320 likes

No wonder it’s the most ‘liked’ quote from the book.

Now. I have to get back to writing, so I can earn more time reading Spinning Silver and finding even more about Naomi Novik’s fantasies to adore.

Also I will soon upload the next in my “how Harry Potter and its Fanfic influenced The Fury Triad” series which began here if you missed it.

Next up? Hermione vs Persephone.


  1. Great post.

    You are one of my mentors–I even managed 1k last night. Getting back into the groove.

    • I looked up the “d” term and found a lot of archaic equivalent terms in a book called AN ENCYCLOPEDIA of SWEARING… by Geoffrey Hughes.

      It also seems to span a few languages

      • It’s a wonderful word even though I misused it. Oops.

    • Feels great, doesn’t it?

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