Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, out today, follows Cath, identical twin, homebody, and celebrated author of the Simon Snow fanfic (based on an invented, Harry Potter-esque series) that’s made her internet-famous. Shy Cath’s attempts to navigate her freshman year of college are further complicated by her twin’s transformation into partying undergrad, her writing prof’s demands that she leave Simon Snow behind…and her frequent encounters with the maddeningly sexy Levi. Rowell’s previous books include Attachments and the stellar YA novel Eleanor & Park. Here’s Rowell on where she can and cannot write:
People like to ask writers where they write.
This question always make me nervous, because I don’t have a cute or cool or impressive answer. (I worry that people might like my books less when they find out where I wrote them.)
And lately this question actually makes me anxious—because my not-very impressive writing routine has fallen apart. I don’t even have a lame place to write anymore.
Here’s the deal:
I wrote all four of my books at Starbucks.
At the same Starbucks, sitting in the same chair. A squashy gray velvet one with a 22-by-27 inch seat, 12-inch-high arms, and an 18-inch back . . . I measured it before they hauled it away.
My Starbucks—the only place I’ve ever successfully written fiction—redecorated earlier this year.
“You should ask if you can buy your chair,” my husband said when I told him the renovation was coming.
“That’s disgusting,” I replied. “Think of all the people who sat in that chair.”
“It seems like mostly you just sat in that chair.”
I decided to let the chair go. The timing seemed right. I’d been thinking about establishing a new writing routine anyway. I started writing fiction full-time this year, and was tired of driving across town just to work at a coffee shop.
I mean, my favorite Starbucks is nice—Omaha Starbucks stores tend to be friendlier than big-city ones, and the baristas are especially lovely at mine—but it’s still a Starbucks. I have to take my laptop with me when I go to the bathroom. And I don’t even drink coffee anymore; I gave it up two years ago.
So my plan was to buy myself a new chair, a better chair, one that a thousand strangers hadn’t gotten their cooties on. Then I’d put it in the spare bedroom upstairs and have a home office for the first time ever. Like a real author.
That was my plan.
It almost immediately went awry.
Basically I turned into Goldilocks at the three bears’ house. But instead of there being three bear chairs for me to try out, there was an endless row of them—all of them too big or too small, or too soft, or too close to the ground.
At some point, I took a measuring tape to the Nebraska Furniture Mart, the largest home furnishing store in North America, and sat in roughly half a million chairs, pretending to type.
This wasn’t just a few days of chair shopping; this has been my summer.
I shop for chairs. I think about chairs. I try to write at my kitchen table or up in my lonely new home office. I drift from coffee shop to coffee shop.
My house is too quiet for writing except for when it’s too loud, and every other place is just wrong. The sun is too bright. The people are too chatty. The baristas never smile.
I feel like some sort of fiction-writing hobo, jumping trains and always hoping I’ll find a good place to start a fire in the next town. And I keep having these panicky episodes where I corner my husband and rant at him: “I don’t have anywhere to write! I can’t write! I don’t have a place to write!”
“I’ll help you however I can,” he says. “How can I help you?”
And I say, “Go back in time and steal my Starbucks.”
And he says, “How else can I help you?”
Finally, a few weeks ago, we used my Starbucks measurements to special-order a chair. It’s not made of gold or anything, but it will still be the most expensive piece of furniture in our house. If it ever gets here. (What if it gets here and it’s no good?)
In the meantime, I still have to write.
So when I’m really desperate or on deadline, and I can’t make it work anywhere else, I get in my car and drive out to my old Starbucks . . .
The new chairs are hideous. They’re vinyl and narrow and clumped in weird groups. And everything else here is different and bad. (Except the baristas. They’re still lovely.)
But what am I supposed to do? This is where I write.
So this is where you’ll find me.