With the rise of social media and the ever-increasing demand from fans for contact with the creators they love, there is a new era of creator upon us. This kind of creator interacts with their fans from day one. They know what they love, what the in-jokes are, and what areas of the fandom don’t belong to them.
This does not suit all creators. (Suzanne Collins, of The Hunger Games fame, is notorious for her lack of social media presence.) But for Lauren James, this kind of creator-audience relationship works just fine.
“I think that fandom is now so mainstream that it would take a very oblivious author not to know about it these days,” said James, who found inspiration for her new novel The Next Together on the blogging platform Tumblr.
The Next Together follows Kate and Matthew, soulmates who are being born and born again in different eras and times, separated again and again, always hoping the next together will be different. The story is told through intertwining timeless, jumping from lives in a medieval Scotland to lives over twenty years in the future, with found documents woven between – snippets of journals, diary entries, blog posts, all carefully dated with notes by an unknown mysterious monitoring presence.
“Fanfiction AUs [alternate universes]were a big inspiration for the multiple timelines of The Next Together – I love reading about my favourite characters in different situations, and seeing how the same core relationships play out in a variety of ways because of their environment. I wanted to explore that in a novel.”
That inspiration led to James keeping Kate and Matt almost identical in every era, though their situations varied wildly. They have the same faces and the same accents; they always stem from the same place, and always end up with similar interests to their previous incarnations.
Add that James’ fascination with Nature versus Nurture – the idea that somebody with unchanging personality traits could change because of their upbringing – and the reincarnation of Kate and Matt became set in stone.
“Kate and Matt are the same people, but sometimes they are equals and sometimes they aren’t,” said James. “In one timeline Matthew is Katherine’s servant, in another the opposite is true. This allows a lot of variety in their relationships development, but at the same time I wanted to make sure I kept an element of continuity throughout the book, so that the book felt like it all tied together, rather than being a collection of stories about separate people.”
Writing the same characters in multiple timelines wasn’t easy, particularly with James building her own extensive canon rather than playing in a pre-existing one like fanfiction writers do. She began with the modern timeline and began to bounce around whenever she hit a plothole. Having the multiple storylines forced her to keep writing.
But when it came time to edit, things became complicated. What plotlines had she finished? What ones had she decided to remove from an earlier draft? The book features time travel elements – did the interweaving stories even make sense?
Eventually, “I printed out the manuscript and sat on the floor with a pair of scissors, rearranging scenes like I was attempting the most complicated jigsaw puzzle in the world,” said James.
But the vigorous work has paid off for James. She was awarded an Arts Council Grant earlier this year, which gifts her the funding to write full time for her next three books. The next, The Last Beginning, will continue the story of Kate and Matt while introducing new characters, including a lesbian couple.
Some of those new characters already have fan theories about them – incredible, given that The Next Together releases officially in the U.K. and Australia tomorrow. But James was transparent about her story from the beginning, posting updates on her Tumblr as she wrote. Other aspiring writers, friends, and fans flocked around her account, excited for every snippet she would post – and cheering when she landed the book deal.
“For me, people loving my characters and creating fanfiction or gifsets has been one of the biggest joys of writing so far. It’s incredible that something I created exists in other people’s heads too!”
James encourages her fans as much as she can for somebody whose book hasn’t officially released yet. She’s posted daily behind-the-scenes posts leading up to her release, from excerpts to the how-to of the book cover’s creation. She’s congregated all the posts on The Next Together into an easy-to-search catalog on her blog. This includes the opening chapter re-written from Matt’s point-of-view and fanfictions of her own book, including crossover fanfiction with Kate and Matt in the Harry Potter universe.
Fandom inspires James every day, and she doesn’t plan to remove herself from it anytime soon.
“I do a lot of brainstorming on Tumblr, often based on text posts like this, which is the most perfect thing to come across on your dash when you’re struggling for inspiration. I think the online community is a brilliantly creative place. In particular, fanfiction is training a huge generation of writers better than any Creative Writing course could – and it’s all based on enthusiasm and enjoyment, which is just incredible! Fourteen year old girls in the One Direction or ‘Teen Wolf’ fandom are often dismissed as silly, but they are voluntarily spending their time writing. That is such a wonderful thing that it makes my heart happy just thinking about it.”