Naomi Novik visited Arizona during the last Phoenix Comicon in July of this year. I was delighted when she agreed to make time for an interview.
I started by asking her how long she’d been writing. She started taking it seriously, as a hobby, in 1994 when she discovered the internet and Star Trek fanfic. She worked as a programmer at the time and found both activities to be very compatible, including her time working as a video-editor. Curiously, all three worked well together when she switched back and forth. She started writing full-time in 2004 when she wrote her debut novel “His Majesty’s Dragon” which has now become her career. Now she programs for a hobby… Just before she started “His Majesty’s Dragon” she was working on a computer game called “Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide;” she did design and program work. She couldn’t continue working in the gaming industry while living in Manhattan at that time; but she’d found that she enjoyed the designing and writing part so much, she decided to try writing a novel. The experience of working on a computer game, she related, really changed the way she approached writing and added the structure she needed to write a more lengthy piece. Prior to that, her writing was all short pieces which were more character-driven and emotional. The computer game design caused her to focus on plotting which turned out to be pretty handy.
How important is social media to her success? Hugely important; but, she confessed, she finds the need to ration herself as it’s hugely addictive. Naomi sees the internet as a negative influence in life; she thinks it gives the small minority of hate-filled people a louder voice than they would otherwise have. And yet, the internet is also fantastic in so many other ways; you can lose yourself in fun activities for hours. Naomi confessed herself to be a Tumblr and Twitter addict and has to ration that time. She also makes time to answer all her own email. She does have someone to help keep her Facebook page current but even with all that the writing has to come first, she stated emphatically.
Does she have a writing routine? Oh, yes, she replied. Mondays through Fridays she has childcare and she actually has an office to go into. She finds it to be very productive and frequently the day is gone all too soon. Can she write on more than one project at a time? As a matter of fact, she told me, she writes quite well on one thing when procrastinating on another. So when she gets stuck on a story that’s under contract, that’s when she does her best work on other stuff. That’s how her new story “Uprooted” got done when she got stuck in “Blood of Tyrants.”
What’s most important: plot, setting, characters? Characters, definitely. For her, characters are the foundation from which everything else flows. The plot and setting tend to work together rather organically and circle around the characters.
What is she working on right now? She’s very excited about her new book coming out in June 2015: “Uprooted.” It’s a standalone book and this is the direction she’s planning to go. She felt a bit of frustration while working on the Temeraire series because she can only produce one book a year and there’s all these ideas… She can actually write faster when writing a new idea than when working on a series. She found that, while she knew the overall arc of the Temeraire series, each book required quite a bit of effort to develop. She feels that her creativity was a little stifled and hopes that by focusing on standalone stories she can get through ten years of back-logged ideas. There is, of course, only one more Temeraire story to go. Naomi is about a quarter of the way through it as of this interview. She’s really excited about this one; she’s having a lot of fun throwing everything into this last book. The title will be “League of Dragons” which sounds to me like all the experiences of Temeraire and Lawrence are coming together in a final “solution.” There will always be, she assured me, room for short stories. And she’s working on a Temeraire fan-art book, hopefully to be published by Subterranean Press. It’s been a very, very long work-in-progress. This began as a fan-art contest and the five winners would each see a 1000-word story based on their art. But the book really needed a longer piece as an anchor. So, she got one piece of art with a “pride and prejudice” theme and that really resonated and that will be the longer anchor story.
With the whole future ahead of her, what’s next? Many, many things, she replied. There’s one she wants to work on that she thinks she’ll place in Renaissance Venice with an underlying steampunk aspect but with magic. It will involve the advent of a radically new mechanized technology which rapidly transforms the society. Sounds like a lot fun and more to look forward to from this talented author.