Britbear’s Book Reviews welcomes Kirby Howell to today’s author spotlight with an author interview.
What would you do if you lived through the apocalypse? The real fight to survive comes after everyone else is gone.
A plague of epic proportion sweeps the globe, leaving less than one percent of the world’s population immune. Among the living is Autumn Winters, the teenage daughter of a famous actress. When Autumn’s parents don’t come home and the city is overtaken by a dangerous faction, she goes into hiding with a small group of underground survivors. They’re led by a mysterious young man who harbors an unearthly secret, and with whom Autumn feels a deep connection.
Autumn in the City of Angels is the first novel in a series, followed by Autumn in the Dark Meadows and Autumn in the City of Lights.
Buy Autumn in the City of Angels and Autumn in the Dark Meadows at Amazon.
You are my first set of co-writers writing under a single pen-name. What’s your writing process like?
Open communication is the key when you have two people. We like to joke that we have to be “on the same page” figuratively, but definitely not literally!
We usually spend a few weeks breaking the story, and after we’ve got a hold on the characters and the story we want to tell, we write an outline together, and try to make sure any tricky areas are well fleshed out. Other areas are left thinner to allow for the individual writer’s creative process. Then we divvy out sections. Though we’re the best of friends, we have very different personalities, so usually the parts that are calling to one of us to write isn’t calling to the other, so we’ve never had a problem dividing up the scenes to write. (Dana usually takes the scenes with heavy dialogue or politically driven scenes. Jessica enjoys writing romantic stuff, or the scenes with lots of internal thinking.) So we go away and write our sections, and then once we’re feeling good about what we have, we swap! Then we make notes and trade back. This allows the first person to take one more stab at their scenes before the other person begins their rewrites… which is the next phase. After we’ve both taken passes on each other’s work and cleaned up any errors we find, we start a beta process, and get notes from a host of readers. From there, we divvy up again, and the re-write/swapping process starts all over!
So basically we end up reading and re-writing each other a lot. But we have constant open communication during this process so that there aren’t any hurt feelings, and so that we’re both comfortable with any changes in the next phase. It’s a dance that breaks up most partnerships, but we both firmly believe that having each person’s input on every page makes the work stronger…and we’ve been writing this way together for 16 years.
The synergy between you sounds amazing. I read that both of you have degrees in Film and Scriptwriting. Why did you make the transition to writing fiction novels?
Most screenwriters are born of frustrated novelists, so there’s a lot of crossover between these worlds. The creative process, while not the medium, is also the same.
We’d always had the pipe dream of becoming novelists in the backs of our mind, but for several years, we were focused on the more immediate goal of TV writing. Then, during the recession, when over half of Hollywood was out of work, we found ourselves with more time than usual to write. We’d had an idea that felt too big to be a pilot script or a feature script. Jessica suggested we try our hand at prose, and from that the first Autumn novel was born.
I’ve often thought of marketing my novels as a screenplay to get the story out there, but never given it a try. Which of the two forms of writing do you enjoy most and why?
We enjoy both in their own ways. With scripts, you get the supreme pleasure of watching other artists interpret your ideas… actors, directors, editors, etc… but with a novel, it’s very different. It’s a direct conduit to your audience. So everything has to come from you and “live on the page” as they say. There won’t be actors coming in to bring words to life or editors to help pacing, etc… That’s intimidating, knowing that it all rests on your shoulders, but it’s also very rewarding when you feel like you’ve done your job. So for now, we’d probably have to pick the novel world.
Let’s talk a bit about your novels. What is your inspiration behind your Autumn Winters series?
That’s a tricky question. The seed of the idea came from one of Jessica’s dreams. But the inspiration for what it became? We’re not sure there’s a simple answer to that. Maybe it had to do with all of the media in our lives, be it novels we’ve read, and movies and TV shows that we’d consumed that informed what kind of stories we wanted to tell. Or maybe it was something within us the entire time, influenced by our close friends and family around us and our experiences as close friends for the past decade and a half.
Twitter describes the Autumn Winters series as YA Sci Fi Romance. What draws you to these genres?
We’ve always liked a bit of the fantastical, be it sci fi or fantasy. Dana grew up reading as much as she could get her hands on in that genre. Jessica enjoyed the fantasy genre when she was younger, but got the sci fi bug in college when she met Dana. And we realized that writing within this genre was just more fun for us!
As far as Young Adult goes… we genuinely love writing for teens. It was an important time for us as young readers, and we love the fact that there’s even more YA out there now and that it isn’t perceived as “nerdy” the way it was when we were teens. And if there’s anything we can do to contribute to that, we’re all in! We also love trying to sneak in some real science, or classic book recommendations in our novels in the hopes that they might spark an interest in our readers in other areas that we feel passionate about.
And finally, why romance? Why not! We love mixing genres, and the heightened emotions derived from a romance plot only helps readers connect with what they’re reading. And, besides, a little romance is fun to read!
Your Amazon bio says you work in television. Describe what you do in the television industry.
Well, between us both, we’ve held a lot of jobs on a number of different projects over the years, some you may have heard of and others you probably wouldn’t have! They say that long term employment in Hollywood is 6 months (for one project). As projects wrap, you move on to the next gig. So you tend to rack up quite a list of projects the longer you stay in the business. Instead of listing all the shows individually, how about we tell you where we began and where we are now?
Dana started out as a writers’ assistant on Desperate Housewives and Jessica used to work in casting for The Biggest Loser. Currently, Dana’s a producer on a show for Discovery ID and Jessica is an accountant for various TV shows.
How did you decide which excerpts to share on your web page?
Ah! Finally an easy question! We just put the first chapter of each book up. Easy peasy.
Who are your favourite authors and what attracts you to their work?
And now we’re back to the hard questions! This list could be endless. We’re both confessed book nerds and could happily spend months reading. But if we HAD to pick favorites, we suppose it’d be the following.
Douglas Adams: One of Dana’s all-time favorites. She’s read every word the man has ever written. His satire about the world around us is both amazingly insightful and absolutely hysterical. He was her father’s favorite author, and over the years, it became something they shared. It doesn’t get better than Douglas Adams.
Laura Ingalls Wilder: Jessica’s first memory of loving books involves Little House in the Big Woods and summer thunderstorms in Virginia. Her mom would read to her and her sister to distract them from being frightened of the thunder. She’s reread the entire Little House series probably once a year since then.
Jane Austen: Another of Dana’s all-time favorites. Her stories endure the test of time. It’s been proven time and again with modern adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, Emma, etc… The themes of personal freedom vs. restriction, what a woman’s place is within society, and women being true to themselves have always resonated with her.
Steven King: Jessica’s husband finally got her to read The Stand, which she’d been curious about for years, but hadn’t ever wanted to read because it was in the horror genre and “Jessica hates horror.” She listened to The Stand as an audiobook over the course of a month on her hour-long commute to work and fell in love. The characters, the extreme situations, and the fantastical elements lured her in and made her a fan instantly. She followed it up with 11/22/63, which immediately replaced The Stand as her favorite reading experience ever.
What’s next on your writing agenda?
We’re NEARLY done with the last book in The Autumn Series and are getting ready to throw ourselves into our next YA project: The Wayfarer, which is a story about a teenage girl running away from a bad foster situation. She stumbles through a hidden and magical passage and finds herself in a new and strange land. It’s Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the world about your writing and your books?
We LOVE working with schools and libraries to promote reading and literacy. If there are any teachers and/or librarians out there who’d like us to do a virtual Skype visit to talk about writing, our books, etc… don’t hesitate to reach out! Contact us via email! firstname.lastname@example.org
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About Kirby Howell