Friday, March 18, 2011
Author Interview with Imogen Howson
I’m delighted to be interviewing Imogen Howson, who knows the world of romantic fiction from both a writer’s and publisher’s perspective. She writes romantic fantasy for adults and young adults as well as working as an editorial assistant for Samhain publishing.
Imogen, can you tell me how you first got started?
I told stories to myself—and my little sister—my whole childhood. But I started writing seriously when I was twenty, just after I got married. I didn’t really understand genre definitions at that point—I initially thought I was writing an epic fantasy. It wasn’t until I’d finished writing it that I realised the developing relationship was absolutely central to the whole book, and that what I’d actually written was a romance. So I joined the online writers’ community Romance Divas, then later on the RNA, and found my true place in the literary world!
Where is your favourite place to work?
I work at the computer in the corner of my kitchen. The coffee pot is within easy reach, and the cat comes and sits on my knee while I type. I also love to take Erica the red laptop and go out to write in coffee shops—Costa for preference, but McDonalds will do.
Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?
I write most days—I feel horrid and grumpy if I don’t manage it. My usual schedule is to write for two to three hours first thing, once my family has left the house for the day. I work from home as well—I’m an editorial assistant for Samhain Publishing—so after I’ve got my word count down for the day I get on with my "day job". And sometimes I have to do some housework too. But if I don’t write first thing, while I’m fresh and alert, and then have to try catching up later on it’s like getting blood out of a stone.
Which authors have most influenced your work?
I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula le Guin and Ray Bradbury, and my writing—fantasy and science fiction—has been heavily influenced by all those authors. The best compliments I’ve ever had on my books have been those which compared me to any of them. I’ve collected comparisons to Zimmer Bradley, le Guin and Bradbury so far and remain hopeful of the others!
How do you develop your characters?
As far as I’m concerned, developing characters is the oh-my-goodness hardest part of writing. Sometimes I basically cheat and use a real person as a starter template for a character, letting them evolve throughout the book so they’re hopefully not recognisable by the time I’m done with them. I also find I get to know characters if I just throw them onto the page and let them talk to each other, so my early drafts tend to contain unreasonable amounts of dialogue.
Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
Books and food! I love to cook, and I’ve been very pleased to find that there are plenty of recipe books as well as fiction available for the Kindle—I got mine in September and love it. My husband and I run the local church youth group on Fridays, which is a fab thing to be involved with, and I also love shopping, cooking or watching Buffy DVDs with my two teenage and nearly-teenage daughters. They’re super-cool and loads of fun. One of my favourite things is hanging out with good food, wine and friends—preferably ones I can talk books or writing with. And, lucky me, the annual RNA conference is pretty good for doing all those things.
Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so what is the special appeal for you?
In general, I’ve felt that once I’ve told a story, there’s no reason for me to return to those characters or that world. However, when my fantasy romance Heart of the Volcano was published, I felt there was a lot more to tell. The story of the romance of that book was happily complete, but the story of the wider world of the book wasn’t over yet. So I returned to that world in my latest release, Blood of the Volcano. I found new romantic leads, but I also found myself visiting the characters from the previous book, and discovering how their happy-ever-after was working out.
How do you promote your books?
Samhain Publishing, for whom I work and who also publishes my books, gives the advice that the best promotion for a book is another book. Authors often see sales of their first book jump with the release of subsequent books, as readers discover them for the first time then go looking for their backlist. So that’s what I’m concentrating on at the moment—which is nice, because it’s so much more fun writing book than promoting them.
I’m also trying out the effect of providing free reads. I have a free short romance set in the same world as my Volcano books available both from my website and from the self-publishing website Smashwords. It’s been getting a lot of downloads—it’s fascinating seeing the numbers climb—and I’m hoping having it available for free will attract new readers to my other books.
In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
The RNA is like a combined springboard, safety net and spider-web of useful connections. I’ve received so much encouragement just from being part of it—the conferences and chapter meetings leave me buzzing with a feeling of "I can do it". More specifically, my membership has led to me winning my first literary award—the 2008 Elizabeth Goudge Trophy—and to putting me in touch with other writers who’ve given me vital feedback on my work. Joining the RNA is, in my opinion, the single most useful thing any British romance writer can do.
Tell us about your latest book and how you got the idea for it.
My latest book, fantasy romance Blood of the Volcano, is the story of Maya, a temple maenad. When she’s sent to kill a runaway shape-shifter, whose unsanctioned, "unholy" powers condemn him to death, she ends up captured, helpless for the first time in her life, and forced to re-evaluate the rules she’s lived by.
The world of the Volcano books is heavily influenced by Greek mythology—something else I grew up reading. Maya is a maenad, an almost entirely insane, savage instrument of the god’s vengeance. I was interested in taking a heroine who’s had all her compassion wiped out of her, and forcing her into a place where she has to rediscover her humanity—and the vulnerability that comes with it.
In contrast to Maya, the hero of the book, Philos, is almost too human. As well as being a shape-shifter, he’s also an empath, and he has to fight to not give into that empathy, that compassion, so much that it makes him too vulnerable.
Thank you Imogen, and I wish you every success with your latest novel.
If you want to know more about Imogen and her writing, visit her website http://www.imogenhowson.com
Follow her blog at http://www.imogenhowson.com/blog and on twitter