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Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell

"When I write and edit, I hum along to the sentences because they have melodies. I want them to flow so that it’s harder to stop reading than to finish the book."

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Talking with Rainbow Rowell

Overwhelmed by the experience of bringing out a first book, author Rainbow Rowell didn’t listen to her adult novel, ATTACHMENTS. And she was nervous about hearing her first young adult book, ELEANOR & PARK, as well. She knew her tendency to be critical from the days she wrote radio ads. “I was infamous for never liking them,” she says. “They would hit the beats wrong and sound cheesy.”

The sound of her books is crucial to the popular author, who describes herself as “a very out-loud writer. When I write and edit, I hum along to the sentences because they have melodies. I want them to flow so that it’s harder to stop reading than to finish the book. It’s gotten much worse because now I write all the time, and I always vocalize. Everyone at my Starbucks is probably asking, ‘Why is that lady humming to herself?’” Possibly embarrassing, but this technique helps explain the musicality, spot-on dialogue, and engaging narrative drive of her books.

Finally, Rowell had gotten so many comments on Twitter and in emails that she decided to give the ELEANOR & PARK audio a try--and she couldn’t stop listening. “The production is so thoughtful that it turned me into a proponent. I tweet and blog about it; it’s something I’ve become proud of. They picked up where I left off and brought so much to it.”

Both Rowell’s YA audios have two narrators, a choice that makes perfect sense for the unique structures of her books. ELEANOR & PARK has alternating characters, and fantasy snippets are interspersed in the realistic plot of FANGIRL. Dual narration seemed a good solution since she was somewhat worried about how her books would work without the visual cues.

The author was involved in selecting the narrators. At first, she wasn’t happy with the selection of voices for Park. “When people read the book, they tell me they have a crush on Park,” she says. Sunil Malhotra made her swoon. And she’s particularly struck by Rebecca Lowman’s portrayal of Eleanor’s vulnerability. “It would be easy to read her as snarky and hard. She’s so mean sometimes, but it’s because she’s got a shell around her. With Rebecca’s reading I get tearful because I can hear the shell and why Eleanor has it. A less talented actress could have made Eleanor sound cartoonish.” Cath, the main character of FANGIRL, also hides her vulnerability with snark. “When it came time to find a narrator for FANGIRL, I asked for Rebecca again because I trust her so much,” Rowell says. “I’d love it if Rebecca were the voice of all my books.”

Like Eleanor and Cath, Rowell has a crush on both YA male protagonists, Park and Levi. “My agent, who reads my stuff first and is not a romantic, said ‘I think you have to cut some of this Levi.’ I listened to everything he said except about cutting Levi. When my editor bought the book, the first thing she said was ‘I’m dangerously in love with Levi.’”

Rowell’s fans are fortunate she loves her characters. A reader of primarily fantasy and fanfiction, she’s not done with her fantasy characters, Simon and Baz. And because she originally envisioned ELEANOR & PARK as two books, there’s hope we’ll be hearing about them again, too.--Susie Wilde

© AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

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Photo by Augusten Burroughs 

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