Quint interviews Temeraire author Naomi Novik about Peter Jackson, dream casting and Book 4!!!
Published at: Jan. 8, 2007, 5:04 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my lengthy interview with Naomi Novik, author of the great TEMERAIRE series, which Peter Jackson has optioned. I interviewed Jackson about the option (Click here to read that interview!) right when it was announced and shortly after that I was on the phone with Naomi Novik herself.
A little history here... I was sent an advance copy of the first book in the Temeraire series, HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON, by a friend of mine named Charles in New York. I didn't realize it until this interview, even though I've met Charles in person and talked with him a great deal via email, that Charles is married to Naomi. I read the book and was really surprised how much I liked it. It takes a lot for me to get into a fantasy book for some reason, but I was drawn into this story immediately.
I reviewed the book for the site almost one year ago (Click here to read that review!) and thought it was going to be this obscure fantasy book that nobody but myself and a core group of dragon nerds would dig. It came as a complete surprise to me when Peter Jackson announced he bought the rights to the series back in September. He not only bought the property, but he told me he was very much leaning towards directing them as well as producing and scripting.
When I interviewed Novik, it was within days of the announcement and she was obviously very giddy, even over the bad telephone connection we shared. You can feel that in the interview itself. She's a geek through and through and is reacting just as any one of us would if we were to be in her place.
If you don't know a thing about the Temeraire books there are a few plot points covered in the interview, but nothing that'd ruin your experience. A starter for those who haven't found the books yet: The setting is the Napoleonic Wars, but in a world where Britain and France are fighting not just sea and ground battles, but aerial battles as well. Dragons exist, though rare, in this world and they very well might turn the tide of the battle for either side. The Temeraire series focuses on a ship's captain who begrudgingly becomes the Captain of a dragon that could very well win the war for Britain.
We go over her thoughts about Peter Jackson, her dreams of the movie, the inspiration for the books and even some fantasy casting! There's also some goodies in there about the fourth book in the Temeraire series as well as news about future rereleases of the first 3! Enjoy the interview!!!
QUINT: First of all, congratulations on everything. I've been going through your Live Journal responses and reading all the ecstatic support.
NAOMI NAVIK: Thank you! Yeah, it's been pretty amazing.
QUINT: How did you first hear from Peter Jackson?
NAOMI NOVIK: You know, it's literally been something like 8 months now, so I'm trying to think... The way that it happened was that much earlier on my agent said something like they were trying to get it to Peter and that Peter was reading it. Like I said in the article, I didn't quite believe it. Then, I think, it was February or so when my agent called and said he wanted all 3 books.
That's one of those moments where I sort of just went, "Wow! I don't actually believe this is happening!"
QUINT: I was reading how you were inspired by JRR Tolkien and that led you to try your hand at writing, then your very first book not only gets released, but Peter Jackson options the film rights.
NAOMI NOVIK: It really does sort of seem like a bit of a charmed experienced, definitely. I've heard all these... You know, when you actually sit down and write a novel and then you start trying to sell it, everybody immediately cautions you. "Now, don't expect an answer fast, expect it to take awhile, start working on something else," and really that just never happened anywhere along the way. I'm still waiting for all the headaches I've been warned about to happen. It's been unbelievable.
QUINT: Yeah, aren't you supposed to pay your dues first? Didn't Stephen King have to work a night job as a laundryman while writing Carrie?
NAOMI NOVIK: Uh-huh! I certainly did not have to put in my dues that way. I'm just as happy not to, quite frankly! (laughs) I've been writing fan fiction for about 10 years. The rule that I've heard is that you have to write for 10 years or a million words of crap before actually get to start writing stuff that's good. Fortunately, since I started in fan fiction, none of my crap is actually published. I got to come out with this original thing that looks like I suddenly burst out of the firmament. It's a great way to build a reputation!
QUINT: What was the very first time that you actually heard from Peter's camp directly?
NAOMI NOVIK: Directly... I think it was after we already agreed on the deal. Peter's manager, Ken Kamins... do you know Ken?
NAOMI NOVIK: He was actually coming out to New York, which is where I live, and he was really nice and, finally, after some torturous negotiations, hammered out the agreement we all went out to dinner. And while we were at dinner, he sort of got a phone call and he was like, "I've got to take this. Sorry." We were, "Of course! Go right ahead!" and then he turns and hands me the phone and it's Peter, Fran and Philippa (Boyens) on the phone from New Zealand. I just sat there in the restaurant and tried not to blither at them too much, like a hysterical fangirl even though I am, in fact, a big fangirl, basically. That's what I wanted to do, but hopefully I did not make too much of an ass out of myself.
QUINT: Have you met them in person, yet?
NAOMI NOVIK: No, I have not. I haven't had a chance to go out there and they haven't been over here in the intervening time.
QUINT: You should definitely go to Wellington. It's a beautiful city.
NAOMI NOVIK: I would love to go to New Zealand anyway. You were just out there, right?
QUINT: Yeah, I was. I love it there. It's so laid back, even by Austin's standards. I've never lived in New York, but I've spent some time there and I can only imagine what kind of culture shock it'd be for you.
NAOMI NOVIK: (laughs) Yeah, New York is not what you would call laid back!
QUINT: Now you have a good excuse to go out there!
NAOMI NOVIK: Yes, I really do. I am hoping to get out there. I have actually been traveling a lot more the last couple years since I started doing research for the books. My exciting trip this summer was to Africa, actually, which was pretty amazing. Just one of these spectacular experiences just going out there.
QUINT: I've never been. Africa scares me a little bit. Too many things that can eat me there.
NAOMI NOVIK: You know, it scared me, too, until I actually started looking into it and then went. Oddly, I was expecting to be more alarmed by the safari, but ended up finding the cities, like Cape Town and Johannesburg... it turns out that, unfortunately, the crime rates there are so high because unemployment is terrible and so forth... the cities actually feel much more dangerous than being out in the countryside, which was just unbelievable. Getting out there at night... there's literally no light. All the lights go off and you actually look up and go, "Hey! There are stars here!" What an interesting concept! Because Manhattan... you don't really see stars so much.
QUINT: Were you approached about the rights to the Temeraire series before Peter or was he the first?
NAOMI NOVIK: No, Peter was the first, I think. My agents felt that they wanted to get the books to one person at a time rather than doing a sort of an auction. I don't know all the details of who they went to and how far along the books got with everyone, but I believe Peter was... I mean, they said Peter's name and I was like, "Yeah, right. If you can get him, well of course!" I think any fantasy author would just dream of that. Obviously, they tried, but I don't know that any of us actually thought that would happen.
Then, Lucas Foster, I think, helped them get the books to Peter and that was the first offer that we got. At that point it was just, "Yes!" basically. I mean, who in their right mind would turn that down? And I am in my right mind! (laughs)
I've emailed back and forth with Philippa and they're incredibly nice and, I assume, incredibly busy. Meanwhile, of course, this year... all three books basically came out this year, in March, April and May. So, that was happening literally in the middle of this whole process, so you can imagine it's a little hectic for me trying to do publicity and trying to stay on top of what's going. With these things, you basically, as far as I know, hand it off to the lawyers and say, "Now you guys fight over it!"
From the very beginning, I knew I wanted them to have, I wanted Peter to have it and he wanted it, so I sort of knocked on wood and hoped that basic thing would be enough. Sure enough, it came through.
QUINT: Do you have any... I don't mean to say that I think he's going to mess it up, but do you have any concerns about your novels being turned into films, just in the translation?
NAOMI NOVIK: No. To be honest, I am not one of those people who is incredibly protective in the sense that I feel that I've got the novels. I've written them. I'm proud of my work and I'm thrilled that people enjoy them. I feel that I'm not somebody who feels like if the movies are bad... even before we got to the point where Peter had made the offer and it was all, "What if somebody took them and wanted to make them into a movie?" I never felt that if the movies were bad that they would diminish the books. I have seen bad movies for many books that I love.
So, I never was all that concerned about it in that sense. Then it's simply just sort of the opportunity costs of a bad movie knocking out the chance for seeing a good one. Then once Peter made the offer and has said that they want to do the screenplay... You know, somebody who adapted Tolkien wants to work on my book! Really, you can't ask for more than that as an author, I don't think. And who I personally feel did a spectacular job on the movies, which I adore.
I'm not at all concerned. Once it was Peter, I really felt completely happy in saying, "Yes, just put it in his hands! I'd love a consult on the screenplay, but if they don't want my input, I'm frankly completely comfortable trusting them." That's really how I felt.
Peter, Fran and Philippa were really wonderful in saying to me that they were open to input. If it gets to that stage, knock on wood, I can't imagine anything more wonderful than to have a chance to work with people like this. I don't see there's any bad. I think there's a lot of things that go into making a movie and a lot of variables that can make it harder, more or less successful, and in the end... when you're lucky enough, as I have been, to get the right people and such amazing people to work on it, you really can't complain anymore. That's as good a starting point as you can get and at that point it's sort of up to fate.
QUINT: Having said that, if you read the script when they finished and they left out that one thing, what would be that one thing you'd fight to have included? In other words, what is the one thing you want to see visually represented the most?
NAOMI NOVIK: Let me answer that question rather than what I would fight to include because I know myself when you're revising you have to murder your darlings and sometimes there can be something that you adore and would not want to lose, but you realize that, unfortunately the way the structure is working you have to lose it.
I think the core of the books to me is Laurence and Temeraire and that friendship. Their bond. If you lose that, you lose something really key in the books.
One thing, I have to confess, that I think will be a challenge to achieve technically, and I'm hoping that if anybody can do it, these guys can, is that... My dragons speak. It's tricky to think of how to do that in such a way that it feels natural and organic to people who are watching it and yet you don't have dragons mouths moving in this sort of silly way that it look like crocodiles with lips. That's an example of something that I think will be a major challenge to put in, but is pretty important to the books. Hopefully that works out.
Another thing that I don't think there's any danger of being lost, is the idea of dragons having crews, not just a single rider. The sense that I really try to convey in the books that the dragons wear these harnesses and are rigged out almost as a sailing ship might be rigged out. And you've got aviators and officers and ground crews, fairly large numbers of people moving around on the dragon in flight, which I'm really excited to see and think will be a lot of fun.
QUINT: To me, that's very much like seeing those WW2 bomber movies, except on the outside now. In these movies you always see the hectic interiors with all the people constantly running around, loading guns, running from station to station, arming bombs, stuff like that. Also with the bi-plane fighting era, where you had mechanics that were always on the wings of the planes, hooked to harnesses. I really like that and my feeling from my interview with Peter is that the historical aspect of the story is the biggest draw for him. I mean, you know his work. He likes to keep a certain kind of reality in order to sell the fantasy.
NAOMI NOVIK: Yes, yes. Exactly. That it feels real when you're watching it. It doesn't feel sort of airbrushed away. Right.
QUINT: I know that you're probably not going to have too much input on this part, but I'm rather curious as to what your ideal cast for the first book would be.
NAOMI NOVIK: Uh-huh! (laughs)
QUINT: You might not want to talk about it, but I know if it was me, I'd have plugged in people for the characters.
NAOMI NOVIK: Yes! That mental casting game is just so tempting and so much fun. I don't know if I would be indiscrete to say it, but I can tell you a funny story.
I was finally allowed to tell my friends (about the deal with Peter Jackson). Basically, the only people who have known about this were my husband and my parents and my sister. You know Charles, right? Charles Ardai (who runs Hard Case Crime)?
QUINT: Yes, I do. He's the one who turned me on to your books at the beginning of the year.
NAOMI NOVIK: So, Charles basically said, "You shouldn't have told your parents and your sister" almost. So, yesterday (when they announced the deal) was the first day that I got to tell my friends and one of them was actually with me and she called her husband and told him. He misheard her on the phone and thought she said, "Hugh Jackman," (instead of Peter Jackson). They had this one-sided conversation that I was completely confused by until they figured out that he misheard.
Then he said, "Hugh Jackman should be the voice of Temeraire! He'd be the dragon from Oz!" I just thought that was hysterical.
Actually, I can completely see Hugh Jackman as Laurence. I could go for that. I'm a big fan of his.
Certainly, writing the books, I will confess that I was highly inspired by Russell Crowe's performance in MASTER & COMMANDER.
QUINT: Just speaking as a fan, when I was reading the books I couldn't avoid the image of Crowe as Laurence. I guess it was really the only point of comparison I had for the kind of Napoleonic ship captain. But I know that wouldn't work in the films because I really wasn't seeing Russell Crowe as Laurence in my head, but Jack Aubrey playing Will Laurence.
NAOMI NOVIK: Yeah! It's interesting for me because I love the Patrick O'Brian books and Russell Crowe in the movie was not how I saw Jack myself, mentally. He made the role his own. I think he's one of the greatest actors working and I adore that movie, so I would sort of say specifically that Russell Crowe's performance, rather than Jack Aubrey, was sort of the seed of Laurence in my head. He then became a lot more sort of duty-bound and a little more rigid as a character. He became his own person in my head as I sort of settled into him. That was certainly the visual inspiration.
I don't know if he'd want to do it again. He's done the Napoleonic era, so I don't know if adding a dragon would be enough to make it new for him. (laughs)
I suspect... I actually have no idea, but they did such a wonderful job casting relative unknowns in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies. Also, I have to say, in KING KONG, I thought the casting there... they had a few stars, but they used them in the right places. The casting, I think, has been consistently terrific in all his movies, so I really would not say there's a particular star that I want so much as I want that same casting team! That's who I want.
QUINT: What about the voice casting for the dragons? Once again, one of the few points of reference film-wise I can point to is DRAGONHEART and as much as I love Sean Connery, the voice of the dragon was very distracting in that movie.
NAOMI NOVIK: Right. Was that one... I know there has been a dragon movie where the dragon's mouth was sort of lip-synced.
QUINT: Yeah, that was DRAGONHEART.
NAOMI NOVIK: I have to admit that I am not a big fan of that movie. Honestly, I think that's going to be the big challenge in terms of bringing it to the screen. I don't know if I'd necessarily want the dragon's jaws moving much at all... But in terms of voices, I feel that liberates yourself in a lot of ways because you don't have to worry about what the actor looks like. Hopefully that means they have an even better range of options.
I can imagine them doing something with effects on the voices to make them sound different, to make them sound non-human, in a way.
QUINT: I think that'd be pretty cool. I'd love for whomever they cast as the voice of Temeraire to be just recognizable as being the voice of Temeraire. Even if it's an actor we know, as long as it's not somebody with such a distinctive voice, like Connery.
NAOMI NOVIK: Exactly. Exactly. And I think that's the usual reasoning behind the casting of unknowns in general, that you want the audience to think of the character first and not the star. I do think that this movie, like LORD OF THE RINGS, the idea is to let the story and the concept and the universe really take center stage, as opposed to it being a star vehicle. That's another reason why I was very happy to have this project be picked up by a director, as opposed to being attached to a star, which I know is one other way that projects frequently go in Hollywood. I think that would have been hard in this case.
QUINT: Do you know if you're going to be involved at all in any of the design work on the film?
NAOMI NOVIK: Basically, I will be as involved as they would like me to be. This is a team that I trust, that has done so much amazing stuff that I don't feel the need to push myself in. I'm probably the most eager fangirl around to see what they produce. It would be lovely to get a chance, and I hope I will get a chance, to see some of this as it goes on and give input.
I've already had the chance to work with some amazing artists, just on the book art. Dominic Harman has done nearly all the covers for all my books. For the third book, THE BLACK POWDER WAR, he designed the dragon on the cover, at my request. I said, "Why don't you design the dragon, make it look exciting, and then I'll put that dragon in the book!" I love having that kind of freedom to go back and forth and let an artist play and come up with their own versions.
I think once you start translating to the visual and physical movement obviously things will have to change, but then it's fun to try to bring that back in, which is something that I'm really looking forward to.
QUINT: You're working on the fourth book now, right?
NAOMI NOVIK: Yeah. That is correct.
QUINT: And I'd imagine that since you went to Africa that Africa will play a part in the novel.
NAOMI NOVIK: Yep. In the fourth book they will be visiting Africa. That should be coming out... actually, the schedule for that is changing a little bit with Del Ray. They're going to bring it out in the Fall and the fifth book is coming out in hardcover in Spring 2008.
QUINT: Nice. That was one of my criticisms when I reviewed the first book... the UK gets a beautiful hardcover edition, but we're stuck with paperbacks here.
NAOMI NOVIK: Yes, I know! I don't know if you've seen the UK hardcover for the 2nd book, THRONE OF JADE, which is honestly... even though I say it myself, I can honestly say it's one of the most beautiful hardcovers I've seen ever. I have it and I occasionally touch it and pet it because it's so shiny!
But at the same time, it's a different order of magnitude, really, in the number of people who have read it. HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON is just going back to press just now and is breaking 100,000 copies in this country and that's because of mass market (paperback), because they made a big push for it and got it out there.
QUINT: And all that's going to rocket up now that Peter's announced he's picked up the rights.
NAOMI NOVIK: Oh yeah. I know they're going to be doing a box set of the three books and at some point doing a hardcover omnibus edition. There's been a hardcover out here in the US from the Science Fiction Book Club already.
QUINT: I think it's a good idea to go hardcover with the series. It kind of gives it the appearance of something that should be considered more by the readers out there.
NAOMI NOVIK: I certainly would not mind at all if they felt like putting all the books out in hardcover. I would not object in the least, but I can't criticize because they did so well. And in a lot of ways it's easier to launch in mass market. You know what they did here was they brought the three books out one after another. It's great, it was really eye-catching. The second and third books both got a nice boost and boosted the sales of the first one, so it sort of really created this nice feedback loop that worked wonderfully to my advantage.
In fact, in a lot of ways is the one negative sometimes is you don't get a lot of review attention if you're coming out in mass market, but the publicity people did a great job and we were fortunate enough to get a lot of attention anyways, so I really can't complain. Of course, I'm not complaining because I get the nice boxes of hardcovers from the UK shipped over to me, so have my author copies! (laughs) I know a lot of people who have ordered them off of Amazon.co.uk. I just got the Dutch edition, actually. All three just came out in the Netherlands. It's just so much fun to look at my book and open it and not be able to read a single word! (laughs)
QUINT: The books seem to have gotten darker as they've gone on, are we in for some dark times with the next two books?
NAOMI NOVIK: In some ways, I feel like I've been learning on the fly about this universe. I do think that once I decided to go down the road of exploring the implications of dragon servitude, starting in THRONE OF JADE, it inevitably becomes more serious. In some ways it also parallels Temeraire getting more mature and getting older while Laurence is having his horizons forcibly broadened beyond those of a man of his time.
Those two things, I think, lend themselves to possibly darker themes. To some extent.
Lois McMaster Bujold, who is one of my favorite writers, likes to say that the way she plots is she comes up with characters and then thinks of the absolute worst things she can do to them. In a way, that's sort of what the ending for BLACK POWDER WAR, the third book, is about. Which is basically letting Napoleon win a lot more than he was able to historically and putting him in a stronger position, which puts the British in a worse position, which makes life more difficult for my heroes. I do think that actually leads to a more interesting and compelling story because when the characters care, and if you care about the characters, then you care, too. That's certainly part of it.
Most people, I think, have probably read the spoilers at the end of Book 3 for Book 4, so it's not a huge spoiler to say that there's a dragon plague out there, which is a looming threat that Laurence and Temeraire are going to have to deal with. And I'm not shy about killing off characters, so there's a reasonably high body count. This is, historically, a time where a lot of people are getting killed and you'd expect people to be dying of ordinary things. There's no antibiotics, there's no particularly great knowledge of medicine. You know, you get a scratch, it gets septic and you're dead. That's part of the reality of this time period.
QUINT: And it's also war.
NAOMI NOVIK: Right! Apart from the fact that occasionally cannonballs get shot at your head. I do think that it's part of making the war feel real and keeping the fantasy grounded in this historical reality. At the same time, I want to keep the fun and the more action and excitement of it. I have a great deal of fun writing that part and I think a lot of people enjoy that and the sort of more humorous side of the dragons and interactions between the dragons and humans and how they frequently misunderstand one another.
QUINT: Do you see TEMERAIRE continuing as a series indefinitely or do you plan to stop after a certain number of books?
NAOMI NOVIK: I've agreed on another 3 books with Del Ray, which will take us up through Book 6. I have ideas, fairly clear outlines in my head, for those 3 books. I haven't really thought far beyond that. I would not continue the series if I didn't have particular ideas that I still wanted to explore just to continue it. But there are all sorts of things that I would like to explore, that I've dropped little hints about in the earlier books... things like the Incas. I'd love to get to visit them. Explore the Colonies, explore Australia, in this universe. There's, of course, India and a possible return to China.
So, there's all these ideas that I have, which are largely structured in terms of how dragons and humans interact differently in different parts of the world. That's one thing that I've been having a lot of fun exploring.
I do believe in making each book fairly stand alone. Obviously there are limitations because I want it to feel organic, I want it to feel like the continuing life of Laurence and Temeraire, but at the same time I kind of like to wrap up one major plot within each book and have it be self-contained within that book so that it's not impossible to pick them up out of order. At least that it's not impossible to re-read them out of order. In that way, I feel I'm taking as my model the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. Every once in a while he'd abandon his characters in the middle of a desert island somewhere between one book and the next, but for the most part each book was a separate adventure. When I re-read them, I can pick up a book in the middle of the stack and just jump right in and get back into it very quickly without necessarily feeling like I'm missing a lot of back story and plot.
QUINT: Do you think at any point you'll want to set Temeraire aside at all and pursue other ideas?
NAOMI NOVIK: Yes. In fact, I'm working on some other things, to some extent simultaneously. After Book 5 goes to hardcover, I will be moving to a more one Temeraire book a year schedule, then probably doing a second book on something different. Possibly doing a different series or just doing a standalone novel in-between. I think changing things up that way is a good thing and is something that I need to do for myself as a writer, just to keep things fresh.
QUINT: Would you like to keep exploring fantasy?
NAOMI NOVIK: Fantasy and Science Fiction are where I grew up in, in a way. That's really my first love. I'd like to play around with some different kinds of fantasy, not just historical fantasy. I'm thinking about an urban fantasy set in New York and some more Science Fictional stuff. None of the other projects that I'm working on right now are at a stage where they're under contract or anything, so it's more what I'm sort of playing with just now while my editor pokes me to finish Book 4 as quickly as possible.
QUINT: You said the dates are shifting, but when do you expect Book 4 out again?
NAOMI NOVIK: Book 4, I believe, will be in the Fall of 2007. Just before that comes out, the box set would come out, about one month before. Then, after that, it will probably be in March or April of 2008 for Book 5 in hardcover.
QUINT: That's about all I have for you! I'm very much looking forward to reading the next installment and seeing what those Kiwis come up with.
NAOMI NOVIK: Thank you! I'm, obviously, very much looking forward to whatever happens with the movies. It's great inspiration for me. That kind of affirmation, knowing that somebody really believes in the property that much is just so encouraging as a writer. It really gets me wildly excited to keep going!
There you have it, squirts. Hope you enjoyed the interview. I really think this could be a great series. My only worry is that the abortion of a film, ERAGON, doesn't trip up this production. I've heard some chatter about Weta's involvement in that film being so last minute that there's some who are embarrassed to have their name on it.
The story is unique and if Jackson is still passionate about bringing this one to the big screen, I can think of no better person to do it.
I'm in a bit of a pre-Sundance rush right now, so hopefully you'll see some good stuff that's been in the pipelines for a long while appear over the next week. I have to make sure I have enough clothes so I don't end up a Quintcicle in Park City and I'm still trying to lock down accommodations! Yikes!
Anyway, good stuff is on the way. 'Til then this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu!