Rainbow Rowell on How Simon Snow Got His Own Book, Carry On

Photo by Augusten Burroughs

Photo by Augusten Burroughs

Rainbow Rowell fans got the best holiday gift ever last December, when Rowell announced she was writing a spinoff novel about her fictional fantasy creation Simon Snow, first introduced as the hero of a beloved series in her 2013 novel Fangirl. Protag Cath obsessed over Simon, his magical world of mages, and his possibly evil roommate, Baz, writing them into a fanfic love story that appeared, along with chapters of the “real” Simon Snow series (by the fictional Gemma T. Leslie) throughout Cath’s contemporary story.

And in just two weeks, we get to read Rowell’s version of Simon Snow’s tale: Carry On, about the “worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen,” his brilliant best friend, his absent mentor, and, of course, his Baz. Here’s Rowell on how the book came to be.

Simon Snow wasn’t supposed to get his own book.

I created Simon as a narrative device in my book Fangirl. I wanted the main character of that book, Cath, to write fanfiction about a popular fantasy hero—and I didn’t want to borrow somebody else’s hero (I wanted someone I could have fun with), so I made up a hero of my own.

Simon was meant to be an everyman chosen one, with all the usual chosen one problems: A wise mentor. A confusing prophecy. The burden of saving the world.

He only existed in Fangirl when Cath and her favorite author wrote about him, and he only existed as a truly supporting character, to help me tell Cath’s story.

Simon was a prop, not a protagonist. A painting on the wall inside of a real painting…

Until I finished Fangirl and set it aside—or tried to.

Then I could practically feel Simon trying to climb out of its pages.

His nemesis, Baz, was even worse. Baz, a self-and-everyone-else-loathing teenage vampire, had been my favorite character to write in Fangirl, and now I was thinking about how I’d never have the chance to write him again. I felt like I hadn’t even gotten to write Baz the first time; I’d only gotten to write him secondhand through Cath and other characters.

My typing fingers were itching to get at Baz and Simon and the World of Mages. I’d already laid so much of the groundwork. I defined the magic, I cast all the characters, I came up with a creepy villain. And it was all just sitting there, going to waste.

I decided to dip back into the World of Mages, just once, for a short story. I thought it could come out at the same time as Fangirl—as bonus material—and tell the story of how Simon and Baz fell in love.

Did I mention that Simon and Baz are in love?

In Fangirl, that’s the thrust of Cath’s fanfiction: how to hook up two characters who hate each other in canon. As the presiding author, I was always on Cath’s side. I rooted for Simon and Baz to fall in love as hard as she did.

And now I wanted a crack at that story. I felt like maybe I could do a better job with it.

(Yes, I just admitted to thinking I’m a better writer than a character whom I created and did all the writing for. Because writing fiction does weird things to your brain.)

I started writing the Baz-and-Simon story after I finished my adult book Landline. It was going to be about 10,000 words.

Then it was going to be 30,000 words.

Then I sent a very worried email to my literary agent, saying that if I wrote about Simon and Baz at all, it was going to have to be a whole book, probably the longest book I’ve written, with the most characters and the most narrators.

I didn’t want to just write about how Simon and Baz fell in love; I wanted to write Simon’s whole story—or at least one meaty chapter.

I’ve spent my whole reading life devouring and obsessing over chosen one stories. I realized that I had a lot to say about them. That I had a lot to say about Simon, specifically.

Simon’s a terrible chosen one. Baz calls him “the worst chosen one to ever be chosen.”

Simon wants to be the guy who bears the unbearable power – he wants to be Frodo with the ring, Harry Potter shrugging off curses, and Luke targeting the Death Star. But mostly he just knocks things down and indiscriminately blows them up.

His mentor doesn’t have time for him. His best friend doesn’t know how to help him. His girlfriend doesn’t want anything to do with him.

Simon’s all prophecy, no progress. And on top of everything else, he’s about to fall in love with the worst possible person. Or maybe he’s always been in love with the worst possible person. That sounds like exactly his brand of disaster.

So.

That’s how Simon Snow got his own book.

Because he showed me how much I wanted to write about him. And because I felt like I owed him his own story. It wouldn’t have been right to leave him in Fangirl, never getting the ending that Cath and I wanted for him.

Carry On hits shelves October 6, and is available for pre-order now.

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