Hannah Warren, author of books such as Casablanca, My Heart, talks about her approach to writing and her 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’ve written since the age I could hold a pen – which is a very long time ago – so I guess I’ve always been a writer. I suppose in my case it’s also a matter of the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My father was a well-known poet and novelist in the Dutch language so I grew up amidst books. In fact, the whole house was stacked with them; even in my own bedroom there were book cases with my dad’s volumes next to my copies of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Ivanhoe.
One of the jokes that went around in my family – and always made me cringe, so I guess that’s why I have to unburden myself from that youth trauma here and now – was that when I was learning to read, I spelled one of the titles in the book case across from my bed: “Poes je kin ver” (Push your chin far), which was what I made of Pushkin’s Verhalen (Pushkin’s Stories). I suppose I have to consider myself lucky for having been able to inhale world literature with every breath I took, but that was not how I felt at the time. I yearned for a ‘normal’ family like my girlfriends had, with cupboards full of cheap china ornaments and frilly, lace curtains, but alas all my parental house had on offer was antiques and book cases that reached to the heavens.
Tell me a little about your book.
Casablanca, My Heart started off as a bit of a joke. Years ago, I was a translator for Mills and Boons into Dutch and the idea brew to write such a romance myself. I’ve always loved light reads in between my serious reading, especially during summer holidays, so I thought why not? But as I started writing and certainly in the editing phase it became clear to me that I might not be accepted by say Harlequin as the book would probably be a notch too ambitious. That gave me serious worries at the time because I had no idea where it would fit in the market. I still have these fearful thoughts, I have to admit.
Anyway, Casablanca, My Heart was published on 6 June 2012 by Taylor Street Publishing and what is the book about…?
The leitmotiv is that fate may have other plans with us in our lives than we think possible.
The main character is bestselling author is Heather Simpson, who is married to artist, Luuk Routers, until a car accident leaves Luuk comatose. Two years later Heather takes a cruise to the Mediterranean, hoping to come to terms with the tragedy. The Moroccan playboy and aristocrat Ghalib Tourniquet, who is also on the ship, recognizes her. When they moor in Casablanca, Ghalib, who harbours his own dark secrets, brings her to his house and seduces her. That night, Luuk dies. Heather returns home, pregnant. Five years later, Heather runs briefly into Ghalib. Now, because of their daughter and Heather’s own feelings, she must discover what sort of man captured her heart so long before.
I loved writing the book, esp. writing it from both the male and the female perspective and in first person and present tense. However, I found out that was a difficult POV for a first-time book, so the next one will be in third person and past tense, which is a lot easier to write.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Oh this is the one question you shouldn’t ask or perhaps I shouldn’t answer? Your readers are going to run away in total dismay when they hear who my favourite authors are. You see, I am a total 19th century addict, the start of the modern novel as we know it: the Russians Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and first and foremost Tolstoy, who is my absolute hero; English authors such as George Elliot, the Brontë sisters and – of course- la grande dame of English literature: Jane Austen; French writers such as Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert. Yawn, yawn, I know. Well, you know I was spoiled right from birth, so blame it on my upbringing.
But I do read modern books especially from my writer pals on my Kindle and they inspire me to keep going as well.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I write in fits and starts. I try to write every day – at least 500 words – but lately my discipline has slackened, also due to an illness in the family. My personal record was 58,000 words in 20 days during NaNoWriMo in November 2011. This summer I want to get my act together again and write more but then again this irregular pattern has shown itself throughout my life so I am accustomed to it.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you published with an Indie publisher?
Yep, even sent out many queries as one of the professional editors, who had worked with me on my manuscript encouraged me to find an agent and be ‘discovered’ by one of the big publishing houses. Because of her, I believed I had to try that route but it ended up being the lowest months in my writing career. What a dreadful business: agenthood! Either they don’t reply at all, or after 6 months and never ever offer any substantial help in the way of what to do or where to go after their ‘no’. Definitely an obsolete branch! I already had the offer from my current publisher and he had patiently waited for me to give up my big fish fishing career. I’m very, very lucky to be under contract with Taylor Street Publishing and I wouldn’t want another publisher for the world.
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?
Good question, but haven’t given it a thought so far. I’m still awed that total strangers decide to buy my book and leave a comment. I’m in the luxurious position that I don’t have to live from the royalties but your question forces me to think about it. I know sales are going to be slow and perhaps it will not sell well this year, hopefully next year or perhaps when my next book is out, people may find their way to Casablanca, My Heart and start appreciating it. I am a bit handicapped living in Holland as an English-language author because I’d love to do book signings and get in touch with my readers. More than numbers of books sold, I think that would be my personal success measurement: being able to connect with readers.
How have you marketed your books?
Yes, I am in a large group of writer pals on FB, Twitter and Google+, Triberr. Also -of course- on the Taylor Street website where I engage in the forums. I write regular blogs on my own website, invite guest bloggers and have done dozens of author interviews. I do need to get into Goodreads more, as I believe that to be a treasure trove I haven’t fully discovered.
Since the book came out six weeks ago, I’m taking tentative steps on the marketing path, such as doing this interview. Excerpts of my book can be read on different sites and I’ve been on The Romance Reviews forum together with other Taylor Street authors. I must say, I find the marketing part very hard and I worry about it. I don’t know what to do to draw more readers to my work. I don’t believe that my writer friends are my target group per se, but finding potential readers is still a bit of a mystery to me.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
Not really, I suppose it is more a threat to publishers and self-pubbed authors but I have deliberately chosen not to worry myself about the outlets for my book. I have enough worries about marketing it. It is a pity that people in Holland cannot buy my book but they have to purchase it from amazon.de.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
I really, really hope to finish the first draft of what I call my magnum opus this summer. Some 15,000 words left. I’ve been working on this thriller for eight years now after it came to me in a dream, which is not unusual for a writer. Then there will be the endless editing rounds, as I am a relentless editor and it will certainly also be edited by a couple of professionals before I offer it to Taylor Street Publishing because I am a terrible perfectionist. Out by the end of this year would be nice but is probably not feasible.
The title of my psychological thriller is Prior to You. It’s a family saga that spans three generations and describes the downfall of two very disturbed family lines. The two main characters are a young dancer Jenna Kroon de Coligny and her foster brother Vincent van Son. Jenna struggles to overcome the problems in her life by revisiting the past, digging up the dark secrets and learning to lean on the love and wisdom of her psychiatrist ‘brother’. It is a book about the blood stains of revenge and filial bonds that surpass blood bonds. Yes, lots of blood.