R.M.J. Hooper, author of The Secret of Crescent Grey, talks about his approach to writing and his plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I started writing in high school, but I’ve always been creative. I’m an artist and for the most part took the path of being a visual artist. I have a degree in animation and have been a professional caricature artist for over 13 years. I wrote poems, songs and plays in high school. I have of course been an avid reader and after a trip to London in 2004 and was captivated enough to write a novel incorporating the wonderful parks and shops, museums and different points of the city into the story.
Tell me a little about your book.
The book was envisioned as an epic hybrid, meaning something people can enjoy of all ages. I was inspired by books like Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, His Dark Materials by Phil Pullman, the Gideon series by Linda Buckley-Archer and others to write what I call a hybrid book. A series of novels where the story continues as if it were one large book that appeals to both kids and adults where the protagonists change and grow and the story gets more sophisticated as it goes. What I am looking to do with my series is to really take the main characters who are children and show a more reality-based journey from childhood to adolescence to adult within the background of fantasy and mystery and adventure.
The story is primarily seen through the eyes of the main character: Crescent Grey. I also love to play with conventions of the genre, just as in Disney films and Harry Potter and so many other books the main character is an orphan but to kind of make fun of that idea I have here living in an orphanage so really ALL the kids in the story are orphans. That’s me saying pretty much every kid in literature are either orphans or just have one parent or are products of a divorce – its just taking a device designed to get sympathy for the main character and saying yes it is a device.
The story is set in London with London playing a major role, every location is real. I’ve been to London several times for research and wanted to get all the detailed descriptions right. The orphanage itself is mostly made up, based on a real building I stuck it in a real neighborhood in an area of London called Chiswick on the West Side and if you go there you will see everything that’s described in the book. My orphanage is dark and dismal drawing inspiration from Oliver Twist with caricatures of adults as seen from a child of eleven’s perspective.
At first the main character is alone and often depressed and wonders why all these bad things keep happening to her, but slowly she gains friends and acceptance all the while a long ancient mystery connected to the orphanage happens around her. I have an affinity for creepy mansions and secret passageways and mystery so that’s all in there. Really its just a lot of fun and the journey the reader takes to care about the characters and be rewarded when something supernatural happens is well deserved if you stay with the book.
I wanted magic to be something special in my book, something rare and exciting not average. I want people to really get to know the characters and befriend them just like I do. And care in their struggles and highs and lows and in some cases morn in their deaths.
I love double meanings, hidden meanings, puzzles, rich character development, atmosphere, a tapestry of back story and really great villains. I also love fantasy and adventure cemented in real life and that’s exactly what The Secret of Crescent Grey is all about. Something that reads as familiar yet something new both at the same time. Something where the characters and story are a complete journey but that you’ve felt like you’ve known these characters your whole life even if you are reading the story for the very first time. Something when its all over is completely satisfying and yet when you do decide to pick it up and read again there’s so much to it that you couldn’t have remembered everything, and its like taking the journey for the very first time all over again.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
I love classic literature and you really can’t go wrong with the likes of Dickens, Jules Verne and Mark Twain. I’m very much inspired by Mark Twain and H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man is my favorite science fiction story. Also Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson speak to me as vivid and fresh today as when they were written. I think some characters and stories no matter what time period they were presented in are immortal and convey a universal truth and understanding about the human condition.
Piers Anthony, J.K. Rowling, Linda Buckley Archer, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown and George R.R. Martin are among my favorite contemporary authors. J.R.R. Tolkien is sort of an in-between, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are classics and undeniably intelligent prose, but if he belongs more now to classic literature or modern I don’t know. All I know is that he is great.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I get into modes, there are months where I write furiously and writing is all that I’m focused on, then there are months when I completely don’t write anything at all.
I am constantly thinking though and taking mental notes, but I don’t know if its a defense mechanism where my mind must have a rest period or if I’m just sometimes lazy, I’m not sure. But that seems be the norm for me.
I’m a more organic writer, I go and go and then when I feel I’ve hit a certain phase I go back and start working on my editing and correcting. I also have a friend who helps with corrections and suggestions who is an artist and writer in his own right.
I don’t say this number of hours or that number of words. I feel my way through it but I do like to keep at least 20 pages to a chapter. As a reader something I’ve gotten more recently in is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and I love how it’s all character points of view. Some chapters are only two pages while others are forty, depending on what’s going on with a particular character. That is a wonderful way to write, Maybe someday I will do a book like that, that also to me seems like a very natural-organic way of writing.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
Currently I’m self-published although reports are sometimes that’s a bad way to go. I don’t know, I wanted people to read my work. I wanted it in a finished form as soon as possible, that was my motivation but I am also very much hoping that I will get an agent and be published by a major publisher. I understand though that if I am then its very much likely that they will want to re-edit the book, so self-publishing at least gets my version out there. My only complaints on self-publishing are the limitations on book design and page count that is possible and marketing because my personal funds are limited, with an agent and publisher I wouldn’t have to worry about any of those things but then I would have to adhere to someone else’s notion of standards and control over both design and word count and editing and everything. That’s something very difficult for someone who is as all-around creative as I am to give up.
But I do think that taking suggestions, listening to others and changing things for the greater good of the book, characters and story is integral. I would just hope that working with a mainstream publisher they wouldn’t want to take cover, but would very much want my input as well.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
The wonderful thing about being picked up by a publisher is that the book would actually then be in bookstores. And I’m old fashioned about that – my goal is No. 1 to do writing full time and No. 2 to reach as wide of an audience as I can. That’s one reason I decided on this first book to be something that anyone can enjoy, the central characters are kids and the age level is 9 and up, but its detailed enough that anyone can enjoy it even adults. But I do measure success too on how well people receive my writing, everything else – making money, being able to write full-time is all wonderful but when it comes right down to it I think every writer or artist needs to know that people genuinely like what they do and want to see more. Even if you are penniless, there’s a level of satisfaction that can’t be replaced for those who have talent and those who are fooling themselves and should maybe find a different route for their creative outlet.
How have you marketed your books? Have you used Twitter and Facebook?
Yes on a lot of those counts and I still continue to do so. I’m considering going to e-book format soon, but haven’t yet done it. I also need to get back and focus more on the current published book and marketing and continue writing Part Two, I’m just trying to balance it with so much else going on. I need to lock myself up in a room for a year and just pump put pages….
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
Mainly I’m still working on Part Two of the series, my book is envisioned as a nine book series but since I’m self published at the moment and the page count is limited I actually had to break Book One up into parts. So what is currently available is Part One of Book One, and I am in the middle of writing Part Two. I was actually hoping to publish Part Two last year but got into a slump, one of my off modes…. I have a large section of Part Two finished – about half which is looking at 350-400 pages so far. Part one altogether had a total of 293 pages of actual story so Part Two alone is turning into quite a big book. And I’m looking at right around 900 pages for all of Book One/Volume One in the series which is huge for a children’s/YA novel.
I know some people and companies might think its just too much, and I know what writers like J.K. Rowling started small then grew and grew but I see that that stigma has been broken with books like Eragon. People keep telling me that my books are just way too big especially for children, but I say no book is too big so long as its written well and edited sensibly.
One thing I would like to see happen when I’m picked up by a publisher is to push each separately published part or act back into one volume so that the books are seen the way I originally envisioned them.