In late 2013, I first learned about the author Rainbow Rowell. At that time, I was following gingerhaze (aka Noelle Stevenson) on Tumblr. She had recently announced that she’d been commissioned to illustrate the jacket cover for Rainbow’s newest book Fangirl about an introverted uber-fangirl going to college for the first and navigating love, writing, and fandom. Initially, I wasn’t too interested as I am an ice-hearted Valkyrie bitch with limited emotional range, but eventually I decided to pick up the book, though more in support of Noelle than anything.
Fangirl changed my world. I’m not even kidding. Before Fangirl, I honestly didn’t appreciate how exciting and anticipatory a love story could be, and I had the half-formed notion that books needed to be at a certain elite and inscrutable level to be enjoyed. Yes, I was already a staunch fan of the humorists Jasper Fforde and Christopher Moore, but those were humor, filled with literary references, and occasionally ferreted away as “guilty pleasure.”
I feel no guilt about my love for Rainbow Rowell’s work. She writes what she wants to, choosing to defy categorization to publish young adult books, adult books, books on magical, time-traveling landlines, books about fangirls and fantasies, books with gay characters, books with diverse characters, books in unorthodox formats, books with men that fall madly in love with love, and books marketed so that you know the “big twist.” She approaches her work with honesty and humor, acknowledging what she does and doesn’t like, where she thinks she fudged it a bit, and how much she enjoys “guilty pleasures” like slash, fanfiction, fanart, and young adult novels. In the approximately two years since I first found her work, I’ve gained a great deal of confidence in my own ability to write, speak, and tell stories. She’s taught me that any story can be worthwhile, and I absolutely love her for it.
So when I heard that she would be a scant 90 minutes away in Cincinnati at the Books by the Banks book fest, it was a no-brainer that I would go. I even picked up her just-published book Carry On, which I hadn’t intended to buy, convinced as I was that I wouldn’t care for a full-length book on Simon Snow (which I was dead wrong about, but that’s a topic for another post). At that I time, I was making zombie cookies, so I busted out the icing and made her a pair of them as the undead Baz and Simon, the main characters from her books. I may have gone a touch overboard.
Rainbow is a pleasure to listen to. She had an hour-long panel during the day in which she discussed Chosen One stories, how she was spoofing the genre, how she writes male characters like Lincoln from Attachments, where Park and Eleanor (from Eleanor & Park) came from, and confirmed that the couple at the end of Landline were Cath and Levi (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Feel free to read the books. They’re amazing.). She was funny and congenial, encouraging us to keep reading and writing fanfiction and to honestly love what we love. I was able to ask her a question about how consciously she was riffing on Chosen One stories like Harry Potter (though I never said the name), and she had an amazing 15 minute answer that was funny and insightful. (I believe her words were, “You can say Harry Potter. I have an orphan boy on a train to a magical Wizarding school. I am screaming Harry Potter.” Another great line was, “I wrote this book for a very specific group of people. If you’re here, you know what your House is.”) I could have gladly listened to her panel all day.
Afterwards, she sat and signed books for us, agreeing to sign not only my copies of Fangirl and Carry On (and to congratulate me on my GRE score; I am a loser) but also my sister’s copies of Attachments, Eleanor & Park, and Landline. She happily took the cookies I gave her, inciting a month-long fear that they were actually terrible, took pictures with us, and gave us Carry On buttons. It was a quick signing, but she maintained her humor and good will, and, as it had been all day, her giant, curly hair was absolutely on point (My sister told her that she had “gorgeous mermaid hair.”). I may have turned a corner and freaked out just a smidge.
This meeting was the first time I’ve gotten to come face-to-face with an author whose worked I love so much. About two years ago, I’d gone to a reading by Barbara Kingsolver (another favorite though her books are more hit-or-miss for me), but I wasn’t filled with the same giddy excitement (I also didn’t actually get to meet her face-to-face.). There are just some authors whose work and personality mean so much to you that you cannot help but hinge your happiness on how the meeting goes. They could be dismissive or harried or a terrible public speaker. They could try to keep their fans at arm’s length. They might force you to buy books or pay for autographs. Rainbow didn’t do any of those things. Sure, she came to promote her book, but mostly it felt like she came to be with us, her fans, to say hello, to try to connect, and to let us know how much she thinks about us. It was everything I could have hoped for.
Thank you, Rainbow Rowell.