Little Miss Mionie: Hi Fernwithy – thanks for doing an interview with Nightlock Recs!
FernWithy: Thanks for asking me! It's nice to say hello in a new fandom.
What drew you to the Hunger Games books in the first place? What do you love about them?
I'm a youth services librarian. For the longest time, I kind of yawned and said, "Yeah, whatever, those books sound kind of interesting, but they're never on the shelf and, yadda yadda yadda." Which, for the record, is the same thing I said about Harry Potter until I swallowed the first three books whole and had to have everything else immediately (alas, it was just before the three year summer). With HG, the first book didn't catch me quite as hard, but I kept hearing about how good Catching Fire was, then I heard rumors about Mockingjay that didn't make sense (they made much more sense in the context of the book), so I finally broke down and bought CF and MJ. And read them in a day.
As to what I love, it's what I love about so many of the fandoms I'm in -- how completely based it is on love. Not just the romantic kind (though this was the first romantic triangle that didn't irritate the heck out of me), but the love between sisters, the love between mentor and tribute, the love between friends. Another thing I really loved was the twist in MJ that the rebellion was now tied up with a really nasty counter-government, as bad as what they were trying to escape, and our point of view character was so caught up that we could only observe it at a sidelong glance.
Another thing I enjoy just about the fan writing part of it is how meta it is. If you've been around fandoms for a while, you get the response to the Hunger Games. You know people are writing tribute fic, and cosplaying in the arenas, and wondering who should play whom in the inevitable movie. And at the same time, it's a critique of it.
You’re quite a respected name in the Harry Potter fanfiction corner of the fandom, one of the few to win so many awards and to be housed at the Sugar Quill. So, what made you make the move to Hunger Games fanfiction?
I'd been writing HP fic for years, and I was starting feel like I was repeating myself. I was stalled out on my second James Potter novel (though I love the idea -- they played the Triwizard at Beauxbatons, and James went with the contingent but wasn't chosen... and someone is trying to sabotage it). I decided to quickly try a few HG short fics (starting with Peeta, my favourite), because the voice is so different, and it was so refreshing to change up the style and the vocabulary and the attitude that it was like getting a shot of straight caffeine to the brain. I did a quick succession of short fics, then decided to get my feet wet with the nine chapter "The Final Eight," which was Delly watching the Games from the time they were down to eight tributes until she gets Peeta re-socialized. Then I was going to switch to Peeta for Catching Fire, but he's on stage so much in canon that it would have been one long skirting around re-writing canon scenes. Then I struck on Haymitch, and I fell in love with his voice. I'm still in love with his voice.
What would you say are the positive and negative differences of the two fanfiction worlds, both in terms of fanfiction tropes and reception?
Obviously, with magic, there are a lot of places HP can go, where HG is kind of limited. Prophetic dreams, studied powers, etc. There's also a lot more sense of the past in HP, the connections that we know exist in canon. These are all around Harry, even when he doesn't ask about it. Katniss is disinterested in the past, and no one feels much need to share it with her. She has no idea about the history of her world or anyone in it, except the vaguest sweep of things. ("Yup, there was a big disaster. Everyone in the world is dead except us, and now there's a dictatorship and the Games. I need to catch dinner now, thanks.") This isn't a flaw. It's just a style of narration, and a very interesting one as a writer, because you kind of have to look around corners to see what's going on.
One thing I've noticed is that HG readers have seemed less prone to correcting me. There's a kind of editorial culture in HP fandom -- Britpicking, spell-checking, etc -- and I've gotten really dependent on reader comments at my blog for betas. All the sudden, I'm seeing silly typo mistakes and timeline gaffes sneaking in that I should have caught before I put stories into an archive. I need to look out for to/too mistakes and things like that a lot more.
The Narrow Path is the Haymitch-POV on Mockingjay, and it was a follow-up to the Haymitch-cam on Catching Fire, which was called The Golden Mean. I was originally going to switch voices again -- again, with Peeta; that never seems to work out for me! -- but by then, Haymitch's voice was completely stuck in my head, and I really wanted to have a closer look at Thirteen. (I did finally get a Peeta point of view on the time between CF and MJ in House of Cards, a pretty violent story about his time in the Capitol.) One of the main things I wanted to do with Narrow Path was to expand the last two chapters of MJ, and really get a look at what was going on right after the war, when Katniss was completely out of it. Most of part 3 (the final nine chapters) of Narrow Path is chapter 27 of Mockingjay. There were things I was uncomfortable with, even after Katniss precluded Coin's reign (to put it mildly), and I wanted to kind of get a look at Paylor and how the government was going to be formed and run.
How do you get into Haymitch’s character and portray his voice so well?
Woody Harrelson's intonations in the movie helped a lot in getting the rhythm of it. As to the character, I've spent a good deal of time around alcoholics in my life. I never met my grandfather (who died when I was one), but I've heard a lot about him, and in some ways, the way I do Haymitch is a tribute (so to speak) to him -- a man who's way too smart for his own good, constrained by circumstances, and given to extreme self-medicating.
Why did you decide to set the fic over the events of Mockingjay?
I’ve always liked alternate POV fics on canon events, just kind of hopping from head to head to see what's important to one person, while it's totally irrelevant to another. I did this in HP with OotP and HBP (Shifts, from Remus's POV and Shades, from Tonks's), and it's the way I started with the series here -- Delly observing the events of the last half of THG. It's often where I start out.
What has the reception been like to the Effie/Haymitch relationship?
Very muted. Which is fair, it's a pretty muted ship in my story -- Haymitch himself doesn't really know what's going on with it, though probably everyone in a thousand mile radius of him did. People have been glad they got together in the end. I think the whole ship is summed up, for me, in Haymitch realizing that there's nothing wrong with being in a relationship that comforts him without it being full of drama. Of course, not being full of drama generally means that there's not all that much to write about!
The AU scenes in the final chapters, with the main characters destroying the arenas, seemed very canon and very cathartic. A lot of authors write the arenas as being tourist hotspots in post-MJ fics. Is that what you’d hoped for in Mockingjay?
I dithered a little bit over whether or not to show it or have Haymitch involved in it (all Katniss tells us in the epilogue is that all the arenas were completely destroyed, not how it came about or who was involved in it), but when I was coming to the end, I realized I was just sort of circling around, not connecting the action to anything before it. Showing the destruction of the arenas was a way to take it full circle, to show that it was time for them to walk away, to leave the Games behind. That's why the last image before the epilogue is of the three main characters turning away from the burned out 74th arena. It's really over for them, and they can go on. I think that, yes, I might have liked to have seen more of a definitive closure to the Games plot, but, on the other hand, I kind of really like the minimalism of the end of MJ in Katniss's POV.
Your Post-MJ fic, “The Four Decisions”, follows in a growing genre of fics portraying Katniss and Peeta having children. What drew you to writing your own version?
One too many people making a comment along the line of "Peeta forced Katniss to have children when she didn't want to." In The Four Decisions, I wanted to get into how I read those events, which was that Katniss had been utterly and completely terrified of having children, but was finally able to let go of her fear. The four decisions of the title each involve whether or not to implant a five year birth control device. The first time, they're both terrified (and very young). The second time -- at five years -- Peeta's giving it serious thought, but Katniss is nowhere near ready, and is running away from herself as fast as she can. The third time -- ten years -- Katniss foolishly decides to just jump into it without addressing her fears. The final one, they've both grown up a lot, and they deal with the fear, and finally make a conscious decision on the subject. Then they have their first child.
What do you find appealing about writing canon-compliant, main character fics?
It's the challenge -- what could be happening in the background so unobtrusively that the regular POV character wouldn't notice, but would fit in well enough that it seems like of course that must be happening? (At least for the length of time the reader is reading.) The world building is a kind of reverse engineering. We know X is so about the canon world. What would cause it to be that way, and what other things would that give rise to? Basically, I'm a canon geek -- I'm deliriously happy with questions like how the District Twelve economy works (who shops at the bakery enough to keep the Mellarks in business???) and where each district would have to be. (Thirteen is pretty much stuck in central Ontario, near Barrie, since that's the only graphite mine in North America. A week's walk, at sixteen hours a day of walking, couldn't have D12 much south of Pittsburgh in Appalachia. Which fits the weather we see, so, hey.) Erm. Yeah. That's just where my brain tends to go.
Do you think you might branch out and write more alternate universe, minor character, fanon pairing stories?
I'm not much of a shipper one way or the other. If a romantic relationship seems to make sense in the plot, I'll try to make it work like any other plot element, but it's rarely a reason I sit down to write something. My take on AUs is sort of a jigsaw puzzle effect -- if I pull apart canon into its constituent pieces, what new shape can I make with them? I haven't really done a full one since I was writing in the Star Wars fandom (what if Amidala survived... and went to stand at Vader's side? I did that with my friends ami-padme and Alderaan21, and it's still one of my favorite things I've worked on.). If I did an HG AU, it would probably be along the lines of, What if Katniss never found out that Coin ordered the bombing? Would she have been genuinely behind a Capitol Games? Another one someone suggested, based on a fear I had Peeta have in Golden Mean, is that instead of the Quell of the victors, they Reaped a close relative of every victor -- and Katniss ended up having to mentor Prim, against tributes mentored by Peeta and Haymitch (as well as all fifty-six other victors). That tends to be my sort of AU -- what happens if I pull out this piece? Will everything come tumbling down, or will it just make a really scary new pattern?
Do you have any new fics in the pipeline?
I just started The End of the World, a Haymitch Quell fic. Mostly, I wanted to go back and actually spend some time with his girl and his family, and with Katniss and Peeta's parents. This one's coming a little more slowly. Eventually, I may go really far back and look at the Dark Days, or even before. The history of Panem really interests me. How did it come about after whatever disasters befell the world? What was it like before the first rebellion? Was it always a dictatorship, or was that a response to the district revolt?
What are some of your favourite fics that you’re reading at the moment?
I actually tend not to read much in a fandom I'm writing in -- I have a morbid fear of accidentally absorbing someone else's idea and thinking it's canon, only to find out that I've stolen it from another fan writer. I'm more likely to read nonfic, like the Mark Reads take on the series (I love Mark Reads), or various essays around the web. I'm obsessed with fan art, though, and have several favourite pictures at deviantart, like MiaSteingraeber's Peeta and JZXL's Katniss magazine covers (contrasting the rebel myth with the Capitol myth).
Before we go: do you have any things you’d like to let your readers know?
First, I want to thank my first constant reader in HG, ETNRL4L at Archive of Our Own. She pretty much single-handedly brought up my stats enough to get noticed there!
Okay, random fun facts. I do little short pieces that people ask for on my blog sometimes, so I have some future-fic.
I named Peeta and Katniss's kids Pearl and Charlie (Charlie is the real name I gave Caesar in House of Cards). Pearl is obsessed with Cinna's notebooks as a child, and ends up a fashion designer in reality, just as her mother pretended to want to be.
Jo and Gale never do get married, though by the time their son is thirteen, they've at least stopped pretending that they aren't dating.
In The Narrow Path, I have Peeta spend time helping Haymitch with the refugees... what isn't seen is that one of them is Snow and Caesar's granddaughter, Prisca, who he knowingly passes through under a fake name and sends on to live her own life in the districts. He does not tell anyone except Gale, who is not thrilled with him.
At the time of the epilogue, Delly Cartwright is mayor of District Twelve, and Gale is president.
Those are the only ones I can think of at the moment. :D
Thanks for talking to us, FernWithy!
Thanks for asking!
~ Little Miss Mionie