Book Review: FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell

I was totally going to do this as a Waiting on Wednesday, because the book’s not out yet, but if I wait until next week I might forget (again), so HERE WE ARE.

You may have heard of a book that’s currently burning through the bookstore shelves called ELANOR & PARK? The CEO of my company was on Canada AM talking about it just this morning. I haven’t read it yet (OMG, SO MANY BOOKS), because I am trying to write PRAIRIE FIRE, but last week I saw the ARC of FANGIRL, Rowell’s forthcoming title, on the shelf and just could. not. resist.


You can’t see it on this version, but the one I had was subtitled The “Story” Of My Life, which is about 18 kinds of perfect for reasons that are [redacted for spoilers]

I found out about this book because I follow gingerhaze, who did the wonderful cover art, both on twitter and tumblr. I think it’s actually kind of fitting, because where better to find a book called FANGIRL than on a blog I started watching because of Broship of the Rings?

(This review, by the way, is probably going to be something of a Word Journey, because I’m not sure I can talk about it without talking about my own experiences in fandom. Which might be the point?)

Anyhoodle, FANGIRL is the story of Cath, aka magicath, who found the Simon Snow novels as a kid with her twin sister, and has never looked back.

The two of them did it all: fanfic, conventions, costumes for the movie premieres. Except now it’s time for college, and while Wren (Wrenagade) has mostly grown away from fandom, Cath is still holding on.

With the eighth (and final) Simon Snow book due out around finals, Cath has to balance her life in fandom with a surly roommate and her charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction 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 think I am going to have to review this on two levels, one as a writer-of-fanfic, and again as a reader-who-is-a-writer-of-fanfic. So…technically and emotionally, if you will.

I fell in love with FANGIRL pretty much as soon as I opened it and read the fake wikipedia entry for the Simon Snow books. And then it GOT EVEN BETTER, because the book was broken into chapters by excerpts from the novels themselves, as well as scholarly articles and Cath’s own fanfiction. Basically, it was nerd heaven, for me. And as if that wasn’t good enough, Cath’s fanfic shows IMPROVEMENT. Her early stuff is, well, like MY early stuff, and then she gets really good! And when she co-writes with Wren, her style is different. What I am saying, basically, is that Rowell’s attention to detail is beyond perfect.

There were also a lot of hilarious touches that I could relate to. Like struggling with kissing scenes when you write “in public”, and desperately trying to finish a story before the canon comes out and steps on all your dreams and plans, and the pitfalls and high points that come with being a BNF*.

Which leads me to my emotions. Because, lordy, did I have emotions.

So, so often in the “real world”, I am made to feel like less of a person for being a fan. Like it’s a waste of my time and talent. Like I should do “real” writing. Like I should grow up. Cath faces a lot of that, but rather than let it overwhelm her, she lets it help shape the kind of grown-up she wants to be. Her writing prof, who is basically doing that thing where she’s writing fanfiction without realizing that she is writing fanfiction, is both Cath’s biggest block and her biggest encouragement. It’s a position I could identify with all too well.

Cath also has a really, really fantastic supporting cast. I think Reagan (the surly roommate), might be my second favourite character in the whole book. Except for the surly part, she is exactly the kind of roommate I needed (and eventually got) in university. Wren is just a beautiful disaster. And Levi…

Levi should have his own paragraph, really. Except that everything I want to tell you about him is a spoiler. So just take these lines and hold them until the book comes out.

FANGIRL is exactly the kind of book I never, ever dreamed would get written. It takes a topic that’s almost trendy, but not very well understood, and it doesn’t even attempt to explain it. It’s strongest moments are some of the most difficult to describe. It made me laugh a lot, and then at the end I cried because Simon Snow was over, and I remember what that felt like. And then, just to really drive the point home, the book ended with one of the best examples of how to say “I love you” that I have ever come across in my entire life.

This isn’t the kind of book you have your mother read so that she can understand why you need to stay up until 3AM writing stories about characters who have three seconds of screentime together** having a complicated off-screen relationship. This is the kind of book you give to the other fans in your life. It’s something else to hold tight and love, and never apologize for, because it’s freaking beautiful. The writing, the story, the “story”, all of it.

Cath had the “story” of her life, and most of us have ours. FANGIRL is the story of how to make it all work together, and even more besides.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell will be released on September 10, 2013.




*Which, I hasten to say, I never was. I mean, I had followers and stuff, but nothing to Cath’s scale. Of course, I also don’t write about boys kissing (well, in popular fandoms, at least), so it’s to be expected.
**Or no screentime. Let’s be honest.

Going On An Adventure!

In lieu of an actual blog post, I thought I would tell you about the writing retreat I am about to head off on.

Our story begins some months ago, when I got an email from Natalie C. Parker asking me if, should she organize a writing retreat, I would like to go. This was, you may recall, about a month before I started querying THE STORY OF OWEN, and I was also unemployed, but I decided right then that I would make it happen.

And happen it has! I leave tomorrow, for a house in Texas where I’ll be staying with 21 other people. Some, like me, are awaiting our debuts. Some are established authors. A couple are New York Times Bestsellers.

To say that I am excited would be an understatement. I have no idea what is going to happen, or if I am going to get much work done (I have a list. It’s almost as exciting as the actual retreat). But between the list of attendees of whom I’m in awe and the list of attendees I’ve been dying to meet for a while now, I’m bouncing up and down like a kid at Christmas.


Brandy Allard, @BrandyAllard
Anna Carey, @AnnaCareyBooks
Rae Carson, @raecarson
Corinne Duyvis, @corinneduyvis
Sonia Gensler, @soniagensler
Tessa Gratton, @tessagratton
Bethany Hagen, @Bethany_Hagen
Tara Hudson, @thudsonwrites
Emily Kate Johnston, @ek_johnston
Michelle Krys, @michellekrys
Gretchen McNeil, @GretchenMcNeil
Myra McEntire, @MyraMcEntire
Amy Parker, @amychristinepar
Natalie C Parker, @nataliecparker
Amy Plum, @AmyPlumOhLaLa
Beth Revis, @bethrevis
Carrie Ryan, @carrieryan
Victoria Schwab, @veschwab
Amy Tintera, @amytintera
Kim Welchons, @Kim_Welchons
Stephanie Winkelhake, @StephieWink
Brenna Yovanoff, @brennayovanoff

SEE? *breathes into a paper bag*

The other exciting thing in my life is that I have just sent my (mostly) completely revisions to Editor Person. I mean, there’s one big change to attempt still, and presumably some tweaking because I had some questions, but generally speaking my Book Shaped Thing is much more Book Shaped now, and I am very, very pleased with it.

Right now, I have to pack. And quadruple check my travel documents. And set three alarms because it’s Lose An Hour Night, and I forget if my phone changes automatically*.

But mostly, things are good. And there are new things. That I hope to tell you, as soon as I can.



*I had this exact debate with myself in the fall, when the clocks went back, but I can’t remember the result.

Waiting on Wednesday

That awkward moment when you go back through you blog posts and realize that while you did promote THE ASHBORN BOY, you forgot to talk about how excited you are for Victoria Schwab’s THE ARCHIVED.


Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive. Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

Books and Histories and dead people? I’m so, so in. I love the idea of Histories being set up like that, of something that…might be able to move and talk for itself? I have no idea, but if the cover is anything to go by, we’re in for something creepy and fierce and bookish, and that sounds like something I will love.

THE ARCHIVED is available for pre-order, and will be released on January 22, 2013.

Waiting on Wednesday

I’m pleading exhaustion and skipping my Monday post altogether, but I think I have my head in the game enough to write a Waiting on Wednesday post, so LET’S DO THIS THING!

Today’s WoW book is THE GENERAL’S MISTRESS, by Jo Graham:

Admittedly, it doesn’t look like my usual fare. Except it’s about LOVE and MAGIC and GENERALLY BEING AWESOME during the Napoleonic era (ish). I got to test read this book when it was called something else, and when it was in another format, but I haven’t read this version and I’m not entirely sure what happens in it, so I can’t wait to find out.

Jo Graham has become one of my favourite writers since I started reading her stuff in 2010, and I am excited to go back into the Numinous World with her. I love trying to figure out who everyone is (true story: I am really bad at it! Except with Sigismund!), and even though I could easily look up what happened on wikipedia, Graham’s storytelling is so amazing that sometimes I forget stuff in her books happened in real life!

THE GENERAL’S MISTRESS comes out on October 23rd, and would be a great way to tide yourself over while you’re waiting for Les Miserableto come out in theatre. In the meantime, also check out Jo’s other books, particularly STEALING FIRE, which is beautiful, and THE RAVENS OF FALKENAU, which is…just stupendous (and $3.99 on ebook).

The world is a numinous place, for those who have eyes to see it…

Dating Advice From Maggie Stiefvater

I haven’t been to a lot of book events.

Part of this is because of geography. I grew up in a very small town, and the closest big bookstore was an hour away. Also, I didn’t realize that book events were a thing.

That changed in university. I was living two blocks from a Chapters, and one day there was a sign: AUTHOR SIGNING WITH TAMORA PIERCE AND J. FITZGERALD McCURDY! I was absolutely over the moon. I really liked JF-M’s books*, and my love of Tamora Pierce knows no bounds. So I got my boxed sets, and I went to the Chapters, and it was ABSOLUTELY PACKED.

Now, I have a slight fear of crowds, and also I was terrified at the idea of actually talking to Tamora Pierce, so I convinced myself to leave without even joining the line up**. So much for my first book event!

The next time I went to a book event, I had a year of working for Chapters under my belt, and I was also marginally less afraid of people. It was Cassie Clare and Holly Black, at Yorkdale. I got there an hour before it was scheduled to start, and the line-up took up the entire floor. I sat next to a lovely 14-year-old kid and his mother for three hours, unable to hear anything that was going on downstairs, and then at around 5PM, the line finally began to move.

We got downstairs by 5:30 (because they’d cleared the ground floor before they brought anyone else down), and there were Cassie and Holly. I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask, but when Cassie said “Oh, you’re from livejournal!” I completely blanked on what they were. She signed my book, and I stepped away to wait for the boy and his mum (we had decided to go for ice cream at about hour two***), and the boy held himself together much better than I did, asking very smart questions while Cassie signed.

At this point, Cassie and Holly had been there since 2 and it was almost 6. And yet both of them were still signing everything (which, at the time, was three books for Cassie and EIGHT, I think, for Holly), and they both talked to that boy like he was first person they had seen all day. I was very, very impressed.

On the drive home, I thought about my first book****.

The next book event I went to was the launch for R.J. Anderson’s WAYFARER, which was amusing because she invited me to her launch, didn’t tell me where it was, and I managed to find it anyway, because I knew the town where it was being held. I’ve been to a bunch of events with Rebecca since, both for her own books and for other authors. One of those people was MEGAN CREWE, whose THE WAY WE FALL is guaranteed to bring out your inner hypochondriac.

The other person is Maggie Stiefvater.

I missed Maggie and Tessa Gratton in the summer of 2011, because I was in Jordan. When Maggie announced her dates for Canada for THE RAVEN BOYS, I was determined to go, even though it was a Tuesday. Rebecca was on board, and we ended up with a whole carload of people.

Every book event I’ve ever been to is different. Sometimes it’s small, and you really get to talk to people. Sometimes it’s huge, and you bond with the people in line near you because you’re there for a long time. Usually, I’m by myself, but going with friends was way more fun. Plus, Maggie is really funny live.

Oh yes: dating advice.

There were a bunch of stories that Maggie told, some of which I knew from reading her blog (all of which were better spoken). But when someone asked who her favourite character in FOREVER was, she said:

“YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DATE HIM! You are not allowed. Don’t do it. Don’t date someone like that. Find a Sam.”

Everyone laughed, but I really thought it was worth saying. “The Bad Boy” gets so much credit in fiction, and it was nice to hear someone say “Girls, just, please, don’t.”*****

What I have learned from book events is not to have expectations. That way, whether they end with frozen yoghurt, a pizza party or a very much abashed retreat to the bus stop without even getting anything signed, you’ve still have had a good time. Remember, meeting the author is nice, but meeting the fans, those people you share this great Thing with, can sometimes be much, much better.

Someday, I will be that author. I can only hope that I turn out to be as well-spoken and attentive as the women I have seen. I certainly can’t say I haven’t seen good examples!




*They’re hard to find, but if you or your kids would be interested in fantasy set in Ottawa, it’s worth it. Also, there’s a hilarious side-story to the books, which involve the Library of Parliament getting trashed at one point. Shortly after the release, the ACTUAL Library was closed to reconstruction and a huge dome was put on it and everything. Apparently Jean Chretien got a lot of letters from concerned children, asking if dwarves were helping with the work.
**Don’t think I haven’t regretted this ever since. Because I definitely have.
***There wasn’t ice cream, but there was a Yogen-Fruz, so it wasn’t a complete wash.
****Completely unDrafted, so you know. I have the idea and some names, but that’s it.
*****Except way more articulate than that.

Waiting On Wednesday

Originally, this was going to be kind of a fluffy, vaguely sarcastic WoW entry, but then the internet happened, and it turns out I have opinions. Who knew?

Yeah, I’m excited for THE CASUAL VACANCY. I have no idea what it’s about, which is kind of great in this world of “you can find spoilers anywhere”, and I’m almost positive that I’m not going to love it, but gosh darn it, I am going to buy it tomorrow. That’s not really what this post is about, though. This post is about the person who is probably the MOST excited for THE CASUAL VACANCY.

That person? J.K. Rowling.

(Sidebar: I adore her. I really, really do. Not only has she written a bunch of books that helped define a large part of my college years, she’s also become fabulously wealthy and stayed possessed of common sense. She gave away so much money she dropped a tax bracket, for crying out loud, and should I ever have enough money to build that kind of tree house for my kids, I am totally building one for myself. So I love her. And I am so…HAPPY for her. And, you know, also angry, because people are mean.)

Thing is, she didn’t have to write this book. She could have just faded away (publicly, anyway: I believe Harry Potter is with us forever), but she decided she wasn’t done. She decided she had other stories to tell, and, so help her, she was going to write about British politics.

She could have done it under a pen name and avoided all the flack she’ll catch for daring to publish something that’s not Harry Potter. She would have avoided all the “graduated to adult lit” shenanigans that will undoubtedly ensue. She could have, just like she could have stopped paying British taxes all those years ago.

But she didn’t.

Say what you will about J.K. Rowling, the woman knows her damn path. And I admire her all the more for walking it. It doesn’t matter if THE CASUAL VACANCY is something you (yes, you) like. J.K. Rowling likes it, and she’s put herself in a position where she can get it published.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be the one who builds the display at work. And when the tills open, I’ll be one of the people in line. Congratulations, J.K. Rowling. You can write whatever you want. Well done.

To Group or Not To Group…

Way back in my post about THE CURIOSITIES (August 1! Don’t forget!), Samantha asked “Did you ever write short stories with a group of CPs, like the Merry Fates?” And I am going to attempt to answer that question today.

The short answer is no. I haven’t. After I discovered The Merry Fates, I did set out to write one short story a month for a year (and was mostly successful, except for November where I wrote a novel and December where I napped and made cookies. And also the part where two of them became novels, and were therefore never posted), but I did this mostly on my own. My crit partners were busy writing other things, and I was busy not having any idea what I was doing, and for the most part, it worked out pretty well.

What I have done, though, is written as part of a collective who all posted our stories on the internet for the others to read, critique, borrow from, occasionally steal and in more than one instance, just die completely from having read. I speak, of course, of fandom.

I’ve written in 31 fandoms, give or take, and with varying degrees of commitment*. I learned many things in each. I made some of my best friends (including 1/3 of When Fangirls Collide) in Stargate. I made some of my best writing connections and developments in Sanctuary. I tested the limits of worlds already made and pushed established characters as far as I thought was reasonable. And I had a lot of fun.

Fandom has burned a lot of people over the years, several of them very dear friends. I don’t think I was ever a big enough deal to worry about it, but as my book release date approaches, I’ll probably have to make some decisions. I’m hoping I can find some sort of happy medium. I’ve invested a lot, and received a lot in return, from fandom, and I’d hate to burn my bridges completely.

My original fic Crit Group is a shifting entity, mostly made up of people I met in fandom anyway. There are some people I read for who don’t read for me, and vice versa. There are people who get every chapter, the moment I’ve saved it. There are people who get the last draft before I start sending it out. There are people who cheer me on. There are people who bake me things. There are so many people. I am very grateful for that.

What I am really saying, or trying to, anyway, is that everyone’s crit/support/writing group is different. Also, in most cases it’s different even for the people who are in it. I cannot comprehend how people do this alone, but it works for some people. I’m not sure something like The Merry Fates would have worked for me. I practiced with tenses and weird settings writing Sanctuary ficlets. I learned to world build with SG-1. I got better at dialogue trying to duplicate the camaraderie on Firefly. That was my writing group.

But I do have those short stories. Some are better than others. And one of them, apparently, I forgot to post entirely once the contest I’d written it for was lapsed. So keep an eye out. In the meantime, I’m still fond of “Starry, Starry Night (Or How To Fall Upwards)” and “In Memoriam”.



*Alternatively, obsession.

You Drew Me A Map, Right? (Part II: You Can’t Get There From Here)

In which I (eventually) review MAPHEAD, by Ken Jennings.

I work at a large format bookstore. And I love it. Some people complain that it’s soulless and corporate, and sometimes they’re right, but mostly I love the idea of this ENORMOUS STORE that is mostly books*, and that you can walk in on almost any given day and find almost any given book**.

Of course, sometimes FINDING that book is hard. We do our best, but books invariably get shelved wrong. We are, I hasten to add, somewhat hobbled by the system. Alexander McCall Smith, for example, has titles that scan both as “McCall Smith” and “Smith”. Anne McCaffrey is split almost evenly between sci-fi and fantasy. And God help you if you’re looking for Arthur Conon Doyle***. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking just put the book in the right place. Except then it won’t be in the “right” place when you’re counting. It’s a vicious cycle.

Outside the fiction section, problems increase. Turkey and Russia scan in both Asia and Europe****. Books about the War of 1812 are in Military History and Canadian History. Even the book I am gradually working my way up to reviewing gets screwed over and consigned to the Community and Culture section, where genuinely interesting books go to die.

(This is because books in that section are not old enough to be history, not controversial enough to be poli-sci, not science-y enough to be science, not boring enough to be business, and, though thanks to Alanis Morissette I’m no longer sure is this is irony, BECAUSE THERE IS NO GEOGRAPHY SECTION.)

The fact that Ken Jennings’s MAPHEAD ended up in the Comm and Cul section is why it took me so long to find it. I mean, it’s in trade paperback now, which means it’s been out for a while. I was excited to see it, though, because I adore maps and also I have vague memories of Ken Jennings being legitimately witty on Jeopardy (he did do those interviews for a REALLY LONG TIME, after all), so I decided to give it a whirl. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, mostly because I don’t have TIME, but when I noticed that all of the chapter titles are very clever puns, I was pretty much sold.

Jennings’ doesn’t so much write about the history of maps as he write about why he loves them and how, in writing this book, he has come to understand how differently people love maps in different ways. In the “Age of the Geek”, this is not entirely news, but I have to be honest and say that I never get tired of seeing it. The reason I keep diverting into lengthy anecdotes about my own experience with maps is because Jennings does that himself in the book, and every story he tells makes the picture clearer.

I love maps because they show you how people thought, how they adapted, how they grew and how they learned to take advantage of their situation. I love big maps and small maps, but I am mostly drawn to maps of people. In this, I am very much an archaeologist. Maps of the ocean floor or Jupiter don’t really intrigue me that much, but I’ll stare forever at a map of a made-up place, because you can learn so much about the people who lived there*****. There’s a reason my proposed PhD thesis is about landscape use and defense.

I’ve lived in two very confusing towns, which I love because it means that my idea of where I am is tied to the shape of the city. I’ve lived in a grid, measured carefully and numbered in a way that makes no sense (and then renamed when we got 911 coverage). I’ve see the survey cheat lines from the air, and I’ve driven through Saskatchewan, down a straighter road than I thought was humanly possible.

I really, really enjoyed MAPHEAD, even though I keep talking about something else. It just made me THINK so much, about all my favourite maps and all my favourite stories and all the times I’ve rolled my eyes at my parents’ newfound inability to find ANYTHING without the friendly Australian who lives in their GPS telling them where it is. Jennings tells a detailed story, personal and technical and funny, and I even learned a few things along the way! It is, to put it bluntly, exactly the kind of book a person should write after they win a lot of money on Jeopardy!: brilliant, funny, full of information that is mostly useless, and oddly useful at the same time.

In closing, here is my favourite map story of the moment (probably because it involves a creature we used to comedic and heart-wrenching effect in the SANCTUARY fandom…): semi-intelligent slime mold proves efficiency of US Interstate system******.





*There is a growing “lifestyle” section, which is frustrating, but at least it’s pretty! And, most importantly, it keeps the bookstore alive, so I’m a fan.
**OH GOD, it’s funny when we sell out of something! People get SO ANNOYED! They’re all “But…you THE BOOK CABAL! You’re supposed to have EVERYTHING!” and I’m all “Trust me, you didn’t want to read Fifty Shades of Grey anyway! Read FIRE instead.”
***Two last names AND he’s split between three sections? THERE IS NO EASY WAY! Well, there is. But tell that to the guy who programs the computers and my co-workers and the “helpful” customers, all of whom keep putting THE LOST WORLD in the MYSTERY section!
****Remember how I mentioned Turkey and Russia earlier? Well it gets worse. The travel section is divided into Canadian (provinces in geographical order), American (states by region: NE, SE, NW, NE, which would be fine, except for the Mid-West), and then the other continents, divided alphabetically by country. Which, again, is fine. Because most people know that Berlin is in Germany, and therefore not shelved between Belgium and all the books about Prague. But when you get to places like The Amalfi Coast or books with more than one country/city, it gets kind of ridiculous. Also, just this morning I found out that Cyprus scans both as its own country in Europe AND as a Greek Territory…which might be fuel for an international incident of some kind.
*****Like, for example, the fact that neither Celeborn NOR Thranduil ever looked out a window.
******In hindsight, most of these footnotes could have been their own post…

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is an idea borrow from Jill at Breaking the Spine

Once upon a time, three authors got together for an experiment. They would write short fiction, sometimes based on a common prompt, and see what happened. In a nutshell, it worked. Great stories were written, and much fun was had by all (by which I mean both them and their readers). But, alas, all things must end, and so too are the Merry Fates. But they’re going out with a BANG. They have published an annotated collection of their favourite short stories, along with doodles, notes, diagrams and comments.

The CURIOSITIES is a collection of the weird and the wonderful, the beautiful and the bold, the glamorous and the gross. The stories range in length, style, topic and theme, but are linked by the fact that all three of Maggie, Tessa and Brenna have such wonderful insights and ways with their words.

THE CURIOSITIES comes out on August 1. It is available for pre-order right now. And also I am running a contest to give away an ARC.


To win an ARC of THE CURIOSITIES, comment on this post by asking a question. It can be about books, television, politics, cake decorating, or even me (Hello! I’m soon to be a published author! If by “soon” you mean “in 2014”!). Pretty much whatever tickles your fancy and I will do my best to answer it*. On JUNE 20, I will pick a name out of a hat, and that person will win the ARC. A North American mailing address is a must.



*For a certain value of “answer”. Sometimes I am silly.