It was a joint event with Novik and epic fantasy writer Eldon Thompson, who was new to me. Novik kicked off the event by reading a short story set in the Temeraire universe about the first dragon to be tamed in the West (it's going to be published in an anthology of dragon stories). Thompson read from his latest book, and then the two of them gave a good hour of Q&A. They talked about the differences in their writing styles, and how they both got started in writing -- Novik got her start in fanfiction, but her first professional writing job was on the team that wrote the game Neverwinter Nights! -- and how they've benefitted in different ways from the experience of other writers. Thompson is also a screenwriter, and his latest project was an adaptation of The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, which was pretty exciting to hear. He admitted that it was his favorite book when he was nine; I was a bit older, probably around 14, but still. Naturally the first question was a request for an update on the films that Peter Jackson is planning to make of the Temeraire series, and she said that doesn't know the status, and in fact isn't going to be involved in the process at all. She trusts Peter Jackson to do it right, and I have to admit that it's hard to blame her.
Probably the most interesting question of the night came from a woman who's really into historical fiction set during the Napoleonic Wars. She commented that this is the first story she's ever read that has the feeling that Napoleon might actually win, and she asked Novik to talk about that. At which point Naomi Novik admitted to being a huge Napoleon fangirl, which I think helps add some insight into why she's writing in this time period and how she's treated the character. She made the point that Napoleon was brilliant, but he didn't have "an editor" -- someone who would stand up to him, who could tell him if they thought he was making mistakes or overreaching. But in her universe, he has Lien. And as soon as she mentioned that, I saw where she was going: Lien is his editor. And that's a large part of the reason why things are going differently in Temeraire's world than in our universe. Really interesting observation.
I got to ask a question about the character of Laurence (and in the course of that I mentioned that he's one of my favorite things about the stories, how strong a character he is and how well he holds everything together) and what inspired him. She said that she had just watched the Master and Commander movie and then proceeded to read all the books in two weeks, and although Laurence isn't really based on the main character of that series, she was inspired to create a proper British sea captain as her central character. He helps ground the books in their time, and he's also discovering what's really different about his world (the society of the dragons and their captains) at the same time as the reader. And I totally agree with that -- I think the reader identifies much more with Laurence because the world of the dragon corps is just as alien to him as it is for us.
The issue of fanfiction versus profiction came up, of course. Novik had two comments for anyone interested in making the switch: first, to write AU for practice in world-building, and second, to fall in love with your characters. Which I'd never really heard stated before, but it makes a lot of sense: most fanfic writers are attached to their characters, and it could be difficult to sustain interest in writing origfic if you don't have that same drive. Thompson (who has clearly never been involved in fandom) brought up the old "training wheels" analogy (paraphrased, the idea that writing fanfic is a way of getting started in writing, because you have the world and the characters as training wheels, but eventually you get tired of it and want to ride the bike on your own), but Novik disagreed with him. First she pointed out that there are plenty of people who are happy to only ever write fanfic and have no need to turn pro, or write origfic. Then she made another analogy: she said it's like playing music. You start out playing music written by other people, then you start making jazz riffs, and then maybe you move on to your own original compositions, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to play covers sometimes. A new comparison to me, but one that really felt right.
Then I got my books signed (and I was too tongue-tied to thank her for spearheading OTW, which I had planned to do, oh well), and then I came home, and then I immediately sat down to type this up because I didn't want to forget anything.
I need to see about going to more readings; I almost never do, and it's such fun to get that kind of insight into writers' ideas and their processes. And of course there's the fannish glow, which still hasn't worn off. Fun stuff.
ETA: Oh, one more thing. She's only under contract for one more book right now, but she thinks the series will go to about nine. And yes, we will get to North America eventually.