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Rainbow Rowell on tapping into her own demons for any way the wind blows

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Rainbow Rowell had the kind of YA debut that most writers dream of. In 2012 and 2013, she published two novels, Aliénor & Parc and Fangirl, which cemented his reputation as a writer uniquely gifted at writing emotionally propulsive contemporary teenage stories about intelligent, sensitive young women and the very nice boys who love them. Fangirl, about a freshman named Cath and her hugely popular Harry Potter-inspired fan fiction not only struck a chord with her readers, but also set Nebraska-based Rowell on a surprising path to publishing his own magical fiction, poking holes in JK Rowling’s stories long before it was popular to do so. Carry on – the story of Simon Snow (a British boy with magical powers, which may sound familiar) and his roommate, rival and eventual Malfoy wizarding school boyfriend, Baz – was published in 2015, and the Rowell’s loyal readers don’t quite know what to do with it.

What they couldn’t know was that Rowell wrote the story of Simon Snow when he was gravely ill. During a recent phone call with Vanity Fair, she revealed that she thought Carry on could be his last book. Never. The prolific Rowell took a long hiatus from writing and eventually learned that she had an undiagnosed thyroid disorder that drained her energy. As she recovered from the tumor removal, she started working on other projects, which meant there were four years left until Simon Snow’s second book, Capricious son, debuted in 2019. But by those intervening years, Simon, Baz and their classmates Penelope Bunce and Agatha Wellbelove had found their audience. Capricious son was a resounding success. Rowell quickly delivered on his promise that readers wouldn’t have to wait another four years and Simon Snow’s third and final (for now) book hits bookstores this Tuesday.

While the first book was an apparent Harry Potter riff, and the second book took Snow and his classmates from the Watford School of Magicks on a road trip adventure across America, Either way the wind is blowing is a much more personal and intimate story that finds the characters frequently encamped and locked in their homes battling with their personal demons. In other words, it’s a book Rowell clearly wrote during the pandemic. In addition to his health, Rowell has been through other personal storms, including a new controversy over his previous job and an unrelated Twitter hiatus in 2019. Partly struggling with his own commotion in the pages on Either way the wind is blowing, Rowell delivers his most deeply moving story to date. And that means something.

All of the same fun traps from Simon Snow’s first two books are also here, including the clever vanity that magic is found in repeating common phrases or words – hence the familiar sounding book titles. Simon, Baz and the others also face the rise of a charismatic new chosen one who rushes to fill the void left by snow without magic. Rowell spoke with Vanity Fair about writing her own anxieties through the lens of Simon and Baz and what exactly she thinks about happy endings. There are no significant spoilers here, but if you’d rather get into Either way the wind is blowing not knowing whatever about what’s to come, maybe it’s best to keep that until you’ve read the book.

Let’s start with your decision that this is the third and final book in the Simon Snow series. How final do you feel about it these days?

When i wrote Carry on, that was right before I was diagnosed for something that I have been sick with for a long time. i got to the end of Carry on really feel like this is it. Maybe it’s even my last book because I was really not well. Then I found out what was wrong with me and had a little more hope that I would feel better. People kept asking me on social media, are Simon and Baz happy? Well, no, how could you think they would be happy? They just went through this really tough thing. They killed the bad guy.

When you are out of danger, you can deal with your trauma. When I was in a place in my life where I had a little bit of distance, I was like, oh my God, I really need to help Simon get through this. Yes Carry on is it unboxing and dissecting the chosen one story, then there really should be unboxing and dissection of the happy ending. So I quickly traced the next two books in my head because I thought it would take at least two books to see Simon go through some sort of recovery after the happy ending.

Okay that’s why it’s three pounds, but what about only three books?

I really feel energized by everything I’ve written over the past two years. I feel like I have a lot of other things I could write about now. I’m really done with [Simon and Baz] at moment. I have written so many words and pages about them. But I would never say I will never write about them again. I think it’s likely that I will be able to see them again someday. But this story is over. If I had to come back to them, it won’t resume the next day.

I think Simon’s trauma and his attempt to deal with it is the most compelling aspect of the second and third books. You and i have spoken before about your desire to subvert the Chosen One narrative, but has your attitude to these kinds of stories changed during the writing of this trilogy?

When I started to Carry on I was more cynical that the Chosen One stories were falsely inspiring. Now I’m in a place where I can feel inspired by a Chosen One story again. I don’t think they’re real, but I can see why we need them. It was partly during the pro-democracy protests in China that I listened to a This American life episode where some activists spoke of the importance to them of the Harry Potter stories. It reminded me why I love them too. Not specifically Harry Potter, but all of them. I think you pick your favorite stories, don’t you, but that doesn’t mean you stop loving them.


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