Naomi Novik: LibraryThing Author Interview
The Temeraire series has been compared to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, "but with dragons." What do you think of the comparison, and did O'Brian's series play a role in Temeraire's origins?
I'm actually the one who made the comparison originally; I think I told somebody that, it's sort of my one-line summary. I'm a huge, huge Aubrey-Maturin fan, and that was sort of the initial impetus for me. I'm a huge fan of both history and that period; I've read about a dozen Napoleon biographies just for fun, as well as Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, a couple of my favorite authors. And then I'd seen, shortly before I wrote Temeraire, the movie "The Far Side of the World," and I thought "All right this is great, I'll pick up the series" and I tore through the twenty-one books in the span of two weeks. The thing that it gave me was a desire to write a sort of adventure set in that time period, because what I had previously was the Jane Austen side of it and not the swashbuckling adventure side of the Age of Sail. I didn't quite have that central image, and that's what the Aubrey-Maturin series gave me. Trying to pull the two together is kind of where Temeraire came from.
You've written that there will be two more books in the Temeraire series. Did you have the whole series plotted out from the beginning, or has it taken shape over time? If the former, have you changed any major trajectories during the writing process?
I knew as I wrote the first book that I had more to say, and then I worked on the first three books in the series together, and by the time I was finished with the third one I knew the overarching subplot was going to be the thread of liberty, of dragons' rights, and the main plot was going to be the Napoleonic Wars. So that was going to be the sweep of the story that I was going to tell; within that, though, I've definitely adjusted a lot. I like to discover my plot as I go, so I don't actually have everything completely plotted out. At this point I'm getting pretty close to having the last details figured out, but not quite yet.
On your website, you offer a few "deleted scenes" from the Temeraire books, and you note there "I tend to write fast and revise heavily, and I cut liberally." Tell us a bit more about your writing process: when do you do most of your writing? Where? Do you compose in longhand, or use a computer?
I have no rules other than that I tend to change my rules fairly often. Each book has worked differently. My life has changed quite a lot over the course of writing the series—I have a new baby now, so I write from 9:30 to 4:30 because that's when I have child care. My natural state of writing is really more writing from 11 in the morning to 3 a.m.; that's my intuitive style. I do generally like to work at a fairly fast pace—when it's flowing I'm getting two to three thousand words a day. I still like to get the skeleton down and then polish it. My single biggest trick for when I need to focus and get productivity is to go somewhere where there isn't internet, so I'll go to a café with a laptop and just write there. It's actually getting increasingly hard to avoid the internet, though. I don't really write longhand unless I get stuck; if I get stuck, then what I do is grab a journal and start writing some longhand, and that loosens things up a bit. Once I've started, I like so much having the freedom to revise heavily and save different versions that I always really want to be on the computer.
I always enjoy reading in your author bio the number of computers you currently have in your house. How many is it now, and do you (and/or your husband) use them all?
Actually the number has inched slightly down. I used to build my own computers myself, but more recently I started doing more programming, and it was just much easier to switch to a Mac, so I don't built them anymore and just buy them. It's kind of sad. But now I have fewer because I no longer need the three previous computers that are hanging around to cannibalize for parts. I think the household is down to five.
Temeraire is something of a bibliophile himself (one of the many things I love about him). Have you thought about creating a list of his favorite books?
Oh that's a really good idea, I'm totally stealing it! I will, absolutely! [Watch for a Temarire LibraryThing account in the future!]
You probably hate getting asked this question, but I feel obligated: what's the status of Peter Jackson's Temeraire project? Can we look forward to seeing Laurence and Temeraire on the silver screen in the future?
You know, he's a little bit busy with a small side project, not particularly important or anything, "The Hobbit," but he's got the option on the series, all the books as I write them, so I'm hopeful that once the slate is cleared a little bit more, things will progress. No new information other than that it's still in the cards.
Anything you'd like to tell us about the next Temeraire volume (the eighth)? Have you selected a title yet? Any hint of where Laurence and Temeraire might be off to next?
My working title for it is "Luck and Palaces," and I suppose I can give a hint, which is that that is from a translation of poems by Wisława Szymborska, and the line is about the city of Kyoto. So that's my little hint. The other clue I will give is that it's the year 1812.
You're a founding board member at the Organization for Transformative Works, which provides an open-source archive of fanfiction and related resources. Tell us about your involved with the fanfiction movement, and how do you feel about the Temeraire fanfiction out there?
That's where I got my practice writing, actually. I started writing fanfic in 1994; I was in college at that time, and getting interested in computer science, and I got hooked onto the very early stages of the internet, before even Mosaic came out, and I started writing fanfic as a hobby, to have fun while I was programming and coding for my job. Then at a certain point I really started enjoying writing, and started writing longer things, and when the idea for Temeraire hit, I decided to give it a shot, and now I'm writing professionally and coding in my free time. But I still write fanfic, I love writing fanfic. I write probably equal amounts of fanfic and pro writing each year, although less the last couple years since the baby was born because that's been eating into my free time. To me, fanfic is all about play, it's all about exploring stories in more detail and game of "what if?", and I feel like it's a wonderful way to play with character voices, author voices, narrative twists, all sorts of things. And it's just fun, it's just a community kind of thing, where you can really connect to other people, and instead of having an argument in essay form where you say "Well, I think this could have happened in the story," you're having an argument in the form of the story.
I think the highest compliment that I can pay to a creator is wanting to write fanfic for their series, for something they've created, so when somebody writes fanfic for Temeraire, it makes my heart glow. I don't read it very much right now because I'm still in the middle of this big work in progress—once it's done, I feel like I'll really be able to go out there and enjoy, but Temeraire in fact is almost a single story for me; it's in different books but it's really a single story. It's not actually that I mind influence, but I'm not quite ready to read other stories yet. But I know it's there, and I get really excited when I see people writing it. It makes me happy!
Tell us about your own library: what sorts of books do you like to read? What are some of the books that have had the greatest influence on your own writing style?
My library's in a few different areas: I've got the science fiction and fantasy library, a lot of books that when I was growing up were sort of classified as "YA" even though I don't particularly think of them as YA, like Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip. These are some of my absolute favorite authors, authors I return to over and over. These days I have just enormous amounts of historical books: histories, biographies, primary sources from the various periods, because that's what I find most useful for getting an ear for how people would have talked, how people communicated in a given time, by reading stuff that was written in that period. Those are my two big areas right now, and then I have a giant stack of computer science books, which are not really so much light reading.
What have you read recently that you particularly enjoyed?
I've actually been reading Elizabeth Moon's sequels to the Paksennarion series. She did the Paksennarion trilogy and I read it many, many years ago and just loved it, and then my editor is one of her editors too, and I was talking to her and I said to tell [Elizabeth Moon] to write a sequel to Paksennarion and she said "She has!" So I've just been reading Kings of the North and Echoes of Betrayal, and that's been lots of fun. I recently read a fun dragon book called Seraphina, which is a YA book about a universe where dragons can take human form, and their brains also work differently from humans. That was quite a fun read, somebody taking a very different take on the Temeraire universe.
Last April you released your first graphic novel, Will Supervillains be on the Final? Are there more from this series on the way too? And do you have other projects in the pipeline as well?
Right now, honestly, I'm powering through books 8 and 9, I really want to try and finish the Temeraire series. So that's a little bit on hold, but I hope so there will be more Liberty Vocational books, and I'd like to work on some other graphic novel projects. But nothing immediate.
Thanks so much, Naomi!
—interview by Jeremy Dibbell
Books by Naomi Novik
His Majesty's Dragon (6363 copies)
Throne of Jade (3995 copies)
Black Powder War (3501 copies)
Uprooted (3400 copies)
Empire of Ivory (2899 copies)
Victory of Eagles (2143 copies)
Tongues of Serpents (1328 copies)
Spinning Silver (1301 copies)
Zombies vs. Unicorns (1074 copies)
Crucible of Gold (827 copies)
Blood of Tyrants (625 copies)
Temeraire: In the Service of the King (610 copies)
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (581 copies)
Warriors (494 copies)
Naked City (478 copies)
League of Dragons (406 copies)
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists (324 copies)
The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius (293 copies)
Unfettered: Tales by Masters of Fantasy (267 copies)
Fast Ships, Black Sails (266 copies)
The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (192 copies)
Galactic Empires (150 copies)
Wings of Fire (132 copies)
Golden Age and Other Stories (69 copies)
Space Opera (41 copies)
Unfettered II: New Tales by Masters of Fantasy (33 copies)
Year's Best Fantasy 9 (30 copies)
Unfettered III: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy (27 copies)
The Mythic Dream (27 copies)
Feast or Famine (25 copies)
Nebula Awards Showcase 2017 (21 copies)
Vici (Temeraire, #0.5) (17 copies)
The Mammoth Book of Warriors and Wizardry (13 copies)
Araminta, or the Wreck of the Amphidrake (6 copies)
Uncanny Magazine Issue 22: May/June 2018 (6 copies)
Uncanny Magazine: The Best of 2015 (6 copies)
Seven Years From Home (4 copies)
Uncanny: The Best of 2018 (2 copies)
The Temeraire Series Collection Set (His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Books 1-6) (2 copies)
His Majesty's Dragon [Extract] (2 copies)
In Favour with their Stars [short story] (2 copies)
Commonplaces (1 copies)
Priced To Sell (1 copies)
Apples (1 copies)
Lord Dunsany’s Teapot (1 copies)
Rocks Fall (short story) (1 copies)
Purity Test [Short Story] (1 copies)
Recent author interviews
Brad Stone (2017-03-22)
David Mitchell (2015-10-26)
Sharma Shields (2015-02-20)
Kara Cooney (2014-11-21)
Daniel M. Lavery (2014-10-22)
Gregory Maguire (2014-09-25)
Ann Leckie (2014-09-24)
Andy Weir (2014-08-18)
Matthew Thomas (2014-07-24)
Maximillian Potter (2014-07-24)
Alexi Zentner (2014-05-20)
Ian Doescher (2014-03-24)
Jeff Greenfield (2013-11-13)
Patrick Ness (2013-10-16)
Tom Standage (2013-10-16)
Samantha Shannon (2013-08-20)
Paul Collins (2013-07-24)
Travis McDade (2013-07-24)
Colum McCann (2013-05-22)
Jennifer McVeigh (2013-05-22)
About author interviews
Each month we feature a few exclusive interviews with authors in our "State of the Thing" newsletter. Know an author who might want to be interviewed? Find out more.