August 3rd, 2006
Nominations for the Orion Awards are now open!
Cover art by AgiVega for her fic "The Aztec Incident"
There are advantages to interviewing famous fandom goers over the internet. For one thing you have an opportunity to meet someone who is inaccessible, and for a second you don't have to get out of your pyjamas before you start. The disadvantage is ten intervening timezones and bleary eyes, leaving me clutching at instant coffee as a lifeline against 5am.
But it was worth it.
AgiVega, for those who have been living under a fandom rock for the last two years, is the author of the phenomenally successful duology Artemis Fowl: The Aztec Incident, and its sequel, Artemis Fowl: The Sword of God. An author, a fanartist, Hungarian, and the oldest member of fandom at twenty-five, Agi is not your average Arty Fowl fan.
In the five years Agi has been writing fanfiction she has written novels in the Star Wars, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Bartimaeus Trilogy fandoms. A diverse calling, perhaps, but as Agi says, "they're all adventurous and full of imagination," so her fandoms, past and present, have a lot in common.
It is easy to get distracted when chatting with someone new and interesting - at one point we confuse ourselves over whether stinkworms are covered in ears or noses - but once we get back on track we jump into the meaty questions of Aztec Incident in a face off against The Sword of God.
Both of Agi's novels are immensely popular, with Aztec having 1185 reviews to its 144 000 words, and Sword trailing with 980 reviews for an impressive 155 000.
However, they are very different as Agi tells me. "I like the Aztec Incident a little more than Sword of God, because it's a 'more fun' like story - it's more lighthearted than Sword. The readers too think so. However, I'm proud of Sword too, because it's more in-depth than Aztec, it deals more with emotions (I'm not talking about romantic love here, but about any other kind of love, and the feeling of loss and despair...). So I'd say Aztec is more like an adventure movie written on paper, and Sword is more like a drama, a more mature story."
The Aztec Incident, which deals in everything from test tube genii to profound sacrifice, is set against the love story of Artemis and Holly. While being attacked by jaguars and mosquitoes in the jungles of South America, Holly and Artemis journey towards a series of ancient trials, the ultimate goal being to reach their son and his kidnappers. It's an inventive plot, and executed wonderfully.
With a firm basis in Aztec history and mythology, ("At least, if I can believe a book like The Angry Aztecs, by Terry Deary," says Agi), Aztec Incident is rather unusual, standing out from a sea of half-researched ideas. When asked why she used Aztec history, she responds, "I wanted the story to take place in an exotic location, as many of my earlier [Harry Potter] fics had exotic locations such as Egypt, India, Russia and Greece. I've always loved the mythology of Central and South America, so I chose the Aztecs as my new 'victims'."
She also had no qualms when it came to adapting and modifying the mythology when it was convenient for the story, just like Eoin Colfer did with Irish fairy myths in Artemis Fowl. "I usually told my readers that 'this and this part comes from mythology, but this and this part was made up by me'. I hope that was enough for them to be able to see what's true and what's not."
The Sword of God complements Aztec, continuing the romance and adventures, but exchanging jaguars for time paradoxes to intriguing effect. "The grandfather paradox was dark and grim in Sword, and resulted in evil things." Despite this dour tone the fic begins with a wedding, and has many light hearted moments along the way, before ending in a way that you'll have to read the novel to discover. My personal favourite moment was when Holly journeyed to a Star Wars convention, with various fans insisting she could pass for Mara Jade (which, for those unfamiliar with Star Wars, is a clever parallel between the Holly/Artemis situation, and the adversaries-turned-couple romance between Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker). For Agi, though, "the most fun part of the time travel was when Arty and Co. were 'lost in time' due to the calendar forgery and ended up three hundred years earlier than they intended to."
Patrick, the genetically engineered biological child of Holly and Artemis introduced in Aztec comes into his own in Sword, receiving the Best Original Character Award in the 2001-2005 Orion Awards. "If you're writing about a canon character's child, it doesn't hurt if the child resembles its parents in one way or another. And naturally, the character needs to be at least a bit three-dimensional. I hope I managed that with Patrick. In Aztec he was only like Artemis, but in Sword I decided to expand on his character and show his Holly-like self as well, and the readers loved that."
On the matters of genre classification, however, Agi gets a little riled up. "'Action/adventure' as a category does annoy me. My fics are mostly adventure and romance fics, but by no means action fics. I've always envied male fanfic writers (especially in the Harry Potter fandom) who manage to write long and breath-taking action scenes... however, THEIR fics usually lack emotions."
With AgiVega it is hard to separate romance from adventure, so the duology can be read by die-hard Artemis/Holly fans, or by those looking for an adventurous extension to AF canon. Agi's presentation of A/H doesn't have to be 'got' before you start reading, even though Agi believes Artemis and Holly "complete each other. Artemis needs a girl with a strong personality and a lethal fist to keep deflating his big ego. As for Holly... dunno why SHE would need Arty... because of his natural charm that none of the fairy males possess?"
My favourite moment of the interview comes, however, when we talk about Hungary (and Agi's home city of Budapest, which doubled as a location in Sword), because I get a tingle down my spine as she paints an eloquent picture of her home in my mind. "What do I love about my home country? It's a very hard question. I couldn't say I know whole Hungary well, far from it. But I know Budapest, and I love the view you can get of it from the Gellért hill or from the Castle of Buda. My mother always says that Budapest is one of the 'best situated' capitals when it comes to the view: river Danube flows through it, there's a nice hill on its bank, there are some huge and beautiful buildings on both banks of the Danube... You've got to see Budapest from either the Gellért hill or from the Castle of Buda. It's a sight you'll never forget."
It is in that moment when I am truly impressed by AgiVega as an author. She writes in English rather than her first language, Hungarian, and finds it just as easy to depict Mexico or Egypt as it is to write scenes set in Budapest. "I know Budapest as I live here, but what I loved about writing about the Mexican jungle is that I needed to use more imagination for that, I had to make up the scenery, while in Budapest it's all there, there's nothing left to make up."
Facing the challenges of writing in English, she sees only the advantages. "It is definitely challenging, but I'd say I've come a long way, and suffered a lot due to 'having to' write in English, but it payed off, because my vocabulary grew a lot, my style got smoother, and thanks to ffnet, I gathered a huge 'fan base' - people who followed me from the HP fandom into the AF one, and from the AF one into the Bartimaeus one. Had I written my fics in Hungarian, I wouldn't have so many friends from so many countries, and my English wouldn't be as good as it is now."
To the ridiculous question of "Why do you write?" she answers, "To express myself. And simply because I feel the need to. The need to write an AF fic was so strong that I couldn't fight it down."
Unfortunately for Artemis Fowl fans her urges that can't be fought down have shifted towards the fandom of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud, where she's tackling another romantic adventure novel. She does try to entice me over to her latest fandom through a brief introduction. "Take an obnoxious, extremely self-confident djinny, who's even more fun than Genie in Disney's Aladdin. Also, take a twelve-year-old boy who's the perfect mixture of Anakin Skywalker, Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. Now make them confront each other, and you get a humorous, adventurous, 'undownputtable' book. It's magic, there's no other term for it. And for AF fangirls: there's no way you won't like Nathaniel, the young boy in the trilogy. He's probably the sexiest male character ever made up."
At this point in the interview she attempts to run, fearing the wrath of those who will shout 'there's no male book character sexier than Arty!'. We cannot blame her for caution.
However, she may not be leaving the AF ficcing arena for good. "I'm not completely leaving the fandom, I'm just not planning to write any more AF fics right now. It doesn't mean that I will surely never ever write another one (we'll see if TLC inspires at least a one-shot...). However, I doubt if I'll write another novel-length fic in the AF fandom. I like trying out new fandoms, that's why I've moved to the Barty one. Besides, I don't think I could write another good and long A/H after my duology... but short fics are not out of the question."
But if you are lying in wait for Agi's first original novel, you should brush up on your Hungarian. "I hope some day I'm going to have an original idea for an original novel, and if I do, I'm going to write it in Hungarian, as I doubt if I could get an English publisher while I'm living in Hungary, and also, I doubt if I could EVER write as well in English as in Hungarian. My only hope is to get a Hungarian publisher, even if that way I can't hope to become famous internationally, as barely any Hungarian authors do. But I'd be perfectly happy to be published in Hungary and be loved by my fellow countrymen."
Of course, retelling what most people already know doesn't enlighten us to Agi's writing style or motivations, and so, with a moderate amount of envy I ask the question: "Is writing a novel all at once an act of persistence, or an act of love?"
And her answer is simple. "An act of persistence."
She follows that with advice for new (and old) ficcers. She dismisses concerns of characterisation ("stick to canon characters characters and dont change them too much") and lends me "the only advice I can give": "Write out your fics before you start to publish it on any site. I usually write complicated plots, and I can't afford to make plot holes. Had I started to publish a fic before it was ready, I might realise later that 'there's this problem in chapter 2 that should be changed now, but it's up on the web already, so how can I go back to change it now?' So, if you aren't a hundred percent sure how you want to end your fic, then don't start publishing it before it's finished."
She leaves on a positive note, as it nears midnight in Budapest. "To my 'fans': thank you very much for your support from the beginning of Aztec Incident till the end of Sword of God! It meant a lot, and it felt wonderful to be loved so much by the readers." With euphemistic hugs and kisses for her readers she says goodnight. And so ends the journey of a fandom legend.