Naomi Novik Interview

Naomi Novik's Temeraire has taken the UK by storm, it appears, and it will be released next month in North America with the title His Majesty's Dragon. The buzz surrounding this new series is quite strong, and I'm expecting an advance reading copy of the first volume any day now.

Meanwhile, the author has been kind enough to answer a few questions. Check this out, for Naomi Novik could be, at least according to some, one of the best new talents in the fantasy genre.

- For the benefit of those of us new to your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of the story that is Temeraire/His Majesty's Dragon.

I can do better than that; there's an excerpt of the first chapter of the book available online:

There will also be samplers available at several upcoming sff conventions, including the New York Comic-Con this February and San Diego Comic-Con in July.

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

I have a deep affection for my own characters, which I try to share with the reader; I think a writer can't hope to engage her audience if she isn't herself deeply engaged with the work. I've also surprised myself, writing the Temeraire books, by discovering a real taste for battle scenes -- not something I would have expected to enjoy as much as I do, but there's a great deal of fun both in working out where to have action scenes to advance the overall work, and then coming up with twists and turns to make them interesting in their own right.

- What author makes you shake your head in admiration? Which authors have had the most influence on you?

I recently had one of those head-shaking moments reading Michael Chabon's The Final Solution; he performs a sort of virtuoso balancing act in his prose, staying just shy of too ornate, which I would love to one day master.

Patrick O'Brian has been a tremendous influence on my work; it's not too much to say that his Aubrey/Maturin series was the inspiration for the Temeraire series.

- Were you given a reason as to why the title of the first volume would be different in the UK and in North America? Was it just a question of putting the word "dragon" in the title?

The marketing folks at Del Rey came back with some useful feedback from various major buyers, who felt the title wasn't accessible enough -- and partly that's because the US launch is in mass-market, which means a much larger print run. So my US editor Betsy Mitchell asked me to come up with a new one, and His Majesty's Dragon was my choice. If I had to choose, I do like Temeraire a bit better, but I think His Majesty's Dragon also successfully evokes the setting, so it wasn't a tremendous wrench.

- Have foreign rights to the series been sold? If so, in which languages?

Yes indeed -- so far, foreign rights have been sold to HarperCollins in the UK, Random House Germany, De Boekerij in Holland, Santillana in Spain, and most recently to AST in Russia. Any forthcoming editions will be announced on my website.

- Now that this first trilogy is completed and will be published by the end of the spring, what current projects are you working on? What will be the next book/series to be published, and when can we expect that?

I am in fact already at work on the fourth book of the Temeraire series, which is tentatively slated to be out in the US in Spring 2007. I have a few other writing projects in train, but they are too amorphous to go into detail yet.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

I have to say first that I reject the idea that bestsellers can't also be "good" books, and vice versa. For me, part of the measure of a truly great book is that it is read and loved by many people, whether emotionally or thoughtfully, and that it satisfies on both levels.

If I were forced to choose, though, I would take the New York Times bestseller -- on a practical level, that kind of success opens many doors for creativity; but aside from that, much of the joy for me in writing is to share my work with many readers, to be part of a larger conversation.

- The advance praise and the critics have created a very positive buzz surrounding the release of Temeraire. How happy are you about that? Are you afraid that this might raise readers' expectations too high?

Oh, no, it's a tremendous and unalloyed pleasure to hear so many people have enjoyed the book. Of course I hope not to send any reader away disappointed, but I don't worry about backlash in a practical sense, because my feeling is, if a book is successful enough to have a backlash, you really can't complain.

As a general rule, I do try to stay open to critical as well as positive feedback, whether it comes privately from my excellent editors and first readers, or in reviews and comments from readers; I think that's the only way to keep learning and growing as a writer, which I hope to continue doing.

- Temeraire is the living proof that the internet can provide a lot of exposure for a book. Do you feel that most publishers don't yet understand the full potential of this tool, in terms of exploiting the wealth of fantasy-related websites, message boards, and blogs?

I'm not sure that it's necessarily that the publishers don't understand as that it's not as effective a tool for every author -- I think you need to already have an online presence and to enjoy communicating online for its own sake, not just because you have something to promote.

- How long did it take to write the entire trilogy? Were there any difficulties to get it published?

I began His Majesty's Dragon in January of 2004, and the galley pages of Black Powder War, the third volume, have arrived in my hands this very day, so almost two years exactly from start to finish.

I have a wonderful agent, Cynthia Manson, who is also a personal friend, and she sent the start of the book to Del Rey while I was still polishing my final draft, and I got the news they wanted it and two sequels before I had entirely finished. (Admittedly, this is partly because I am never really done with a book until it is pried out of my hands and sent off to production, and sometimes not then.)

- What current fantasy authors do you read and enjoy? Are there any lesser known or new writers you'd like to tell us more about?

I've recently been reading so much non-fiction for research that I've had an embarrassingly little amount of time for reading anything else -- for the first time in my life, I have a shelf full of books waiting to be read.

Among the small handful of fantasy books I've had time to read recently and enjoyed very much were Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness, a really fun YA fantasy set between NYC and Sydney, and Martha Wells's The Wizard Hunters, the sequel to which is taunting me from the shelf. Elizabeth Wein's A Coalition of Lions is on there waiting also, as well as Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw, and a Diana Wynne Jones short-story collection, Minor Arcana. Just the other day, I was killing some time between appointments in a Borders and picked up an older novel by Sharon Shinn to do it with, but I would rather recommend her more recent Samaria novels -- I enjoy those tremendously.

- Will there be a promo tour this spring? If so, what cities are currently on the itinerary?

Rather than doing a traditional book tour, I'll be attending a series of SFF conventions: Boskone (Boston, MA), New York Comic-Con (New York, NY) in February, Lunacon (Hasbrouck Heights, NJ) in March, Balticon (Baltimore, MD) in May, San Diego Comic-Con (San Diego, CA) in July, and Worldcon (Los Angeles, CA) in August.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you the best of luck with the North American release of His Majesty's Dragon and continued success with the rest of the series.

Thanks so much!

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