To kick off FMTP’s supernatural series, I’ll be sharing an interview with one of my favorite new authors, April White. I had the privilege of chatting with her a few weeks ago about her Immortal Descendants series, a supernatural time-travel series with a touch of romance. Not only does she do an excellent job of weaving in historical fact with fiction, but she’s also really adept at incorporating supernatural elements, especially at hinting at them early on. So I figured it was only fitting to share her pearls of wisdom and her latest book, Waging War, with all of you.
What inspired you to write about time travel, and was there any specific inspiration for this series?
Take a modern teenager who thinks she has life wired and drop her into a time and place she knows nothing about? That wasn’t a hard choice. I’ve always loved historical fiction that actually teaches the reader something factual, and the things I’ve read in those books stay with me a lot longer than history books ever have, so there was that, too.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Are there are any routines that you follow or any specific place that you prefer to write?
My writing process begins with conversations. My husband is a filmmaker who always listens to my story ideas as though he’s watching the movie, and my editor is also a very dear friend who will happily kick plot ideas around with me during evenings while we drink wine. I take several notes in a notebook with a collaged cover full of inspiring photos I collect as I’m gathering plot ideas, and then I start writing.
There are authors who plot every chapter and know exactly what’s going to happen, precisely when. I am not one of them. My writing style tends to be more seat-of-the-pants, and I often write myself into corners, which requires extreme creativity to emerge without gaping plot holes. But some of my favorite scenes happen in those moments, and I’ve surprised myself more than a few times with characters I wasn’t expecting to create. Ringo is one of those characters who sort of invented himself and then decided he’d like to hang out awhile. I’m so glad he did, because now he’s like the moral compass and voice of reason for Saira, and he helps really humanize Archer with his friendship.
My actual physical writing takes place on my bed. I usually wake up before 5 AM to get some writing done before my kids wake up, and after they go to school, I continue writing until they get home. At that point, homework time takes whatever patience and creativity I have left. When I can entice my boys to go on long dog walks with me, they always ask about what I’ve written that day, and talking to them helps refine ideas that I’ve been toying with. Which brings everything back around to conversations again.
What was the publishing process like for you? Do you feel there are particular advantages to publishing traditionally vs. self-publishing, or vice versa?
When I was twelve, I knew I wanted to write books, but I finally got the courage up to write AND FINISH Marking Time when independent publishing moved out of the realm of vanity presses and gained traction as a viable option. I did submit it to agents, and most resulted in either silence or a form rejection. The agents who rejected me nicely were actually incredibly helpful because they told me WHY they weren’t interested in representing my book. They loved the concept and the writing, but the YA market wouldn’t support books longer than 100k words (Marking Time ultimately weighed in at 140k) because teens “just don’t read.” I disagreed with that statement so heartily that I pulled indie publishing out of my back pocket, built a cover with my husband, taught myself formatting, and published a month later.
Now, after publishing four books, I can say with total certainty that I love the freedom, the control, and the opportunities independent publishing affords authors. I say this having never been traditionally published, so I know I’m biased, but I’ve also spoken to a lot of very successful indie and hybrid authors. Nearly all prefer having control of their release dates, covers, content, and price points. The amount of marketing we ALL have to do is the same regardless of who does the publishing.
How long did it take to complete the first draft for Waging War? Is there anything you would have done differently in the process?
It took about nine months to finish the first draft of Waging War, and yes, I would have done things differently. Changing Nature took three months to write (the first draft), and it shows in the pacing. It was much easier to write quickly because I was going so fast and I still remembered all the paths I’d set in motion in the beginning. For various, personal reasons, I stalled on Waging War. Some had to do with the story I was telling, because I needed to get it just right, and some were confidence-based (which sucks, and I don’t recommend it). When I finally got my stride back, I increased my pace, so everything moved faster.
With Cheating Death (book five), I still have the pressure of getting it just right, because there are so many plotlines from the previous four books to wrap up, but the writing isn’t as hard as it was for Waging War, so I’m anticipating a faster first draft.
Do you have plans to write other genres in the future?
Yes. I’m not entirely sure I’m done with this world yet though, and some ideas for spin-off series have been percolating.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? Any specific event that triggered it?
My dad took me with him to trek in the Himalayas when I was twelve years old, and my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Chandler, handed me a little black journal before I left. My only homework for the six weeks I was gone was to write in that journal every day. Because I knew my words would be read, I took extra care to add as many sights and sounds and smells and flavors as I could to my writing, and from the moment she handed the journal back to me with a heartfelt “thank you for sharing your journey with me,” I was hooked on storytelling.
We’ve seen all the characters in The Immortal Descendants series grow throughout the books, but Ringo stuck out in my mind in particular. Can you tell us about the process of writing him? Did you know the events he would face when you first started writing the series?
Ringo was an accident. My favorite accident, to be sure, but completely accidental nonetheless. When his role grew as Saira returned to 1888, I had to go back and add him to earlier scenes so he didn’t just appear from nowhere. Then, when readers reviewed Marking Time and talked about how much they loved Ringo, I realized I needed to carry him throughout the series.
Now he’s my favorite character to write because he gets to say all the cool stuff.
Is there anything you found particularly challenging about writing this book compared to the rest of the series?
I actively dislike cliffhangers, and yet I knew this book had to have one. I also have a real issue with characters who aren’t allowed to grow into themselves in what would be an organic way if they were real people, so I had to create a realistic progression for Saira and Archer’s relationship. So yes, those two things were challenging to write in Waging War.
At the end of Waging War, we see at least one major character’s life at stake. Are there any planned deaths in the next book?
Yes. Someone has to die.
Who are your favorite characters in the series and why?
I love Saira’s fierceness and fearlessness, and Archer’s honor and passion. I love Ringo’s wit and wisdom and the cheek he brings to the table when Saira gets too serious. Bas, the Moorish Vampire, makes me happy with his centuries-long studies of the world’s religions, and Millicent surprised me with her vulnerability and affection. Connor, the Wolf, is wise beyond his years and can still be a kid, and his little brother, Logan, is who Ringo would have been had he grown up with a family and Descendant skills.
Were there any characters who were annoying to write?
No. That would have been foolish. My rule as I read/edit every book is that if I find myself skipping over or skimming any scene or section, it’s gone. Because if I’m bored, readers will be too.
What was the easiest scene to write in Waging War? The hardest?
The easiest scene to write was the conversation Millicent had with Saira and Claire in the garden about the man she met after the war. I’m not sure why that was so easy to write—maybe because Millicent as a caring human being is such fun to explore after her previous beastliness.
The hardest scenes to write were Tom’s. He struggles with so much self-loathing, and it’s hard to keep him sympathetic when I just want to shake him and tell him to snap out of it.
You did an amazing job with researching your books and weaving in fact with fiction. What were your main methods of conducting research, and were there any unexpected facts you came across in the process?
Thank you—I love the real history in the books. My primary source for research is the Internet, and the rabbit holes to disappear into are endless. My favorite things to find are the historical tidbits that either aren’t corroborated anywhere else, or are contradicted in other works. Those become the mysteries that time travel exposes.
One of my favorite contradictions was in Tempting Fate—the place in the Tower of London where Lady Elizabeth Tudor was kept prisoner. The more I looked into it (even poking around as much as possible in person), the more it seemed like historian laziness to say her room was in the Bell Tower. It made much more historical sense that she would have been held in her mother’s apartments in the Royal Residence, especially given that Lady Jane Grey had just occupied those rooms, and she had much less status than Elizabeth had. It seems like such a little thing to obsess over, but because I was using blueprints, photos, and maps to determine the geography that Saira, Archer, and Ringo would have to navigate, it mattered.
In your opinion, what is the one most important thing that you've learned from your experience as a writer?
Marketing is vital, relationships are key, editors are as necessary as breathing, but it’s ALL ABOUT THE WRITING. Write what you want to read, and write the best book you can, because you WILL read it a hundred times (okay, maybe just twenty) before it goes to publication.
What advice do you have to for new/young writers looking to get published for the first time?
Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read things other people recommend. Find your style. Find your voice. Then pick a point of view, choose third person or first according to the story you want to tell, sit down, and write. And for the practical piece of advice—end your day’s writing on a cliffhanger in the plot, or in the middle of a scene if you know how it ends. It’ll be much easier to turn on the computer the next day and pick up where you left off.
How has having an online presence has made a difference in the success of your series?
I have had the great fortune to have become friends with some amazing authors, and in the independent community in particular, the support among authors and readers is pretty spectacular. Social media is key to that equation, and far more effective than doing one’s own marketing is sharing other authors’ works. Ad money can’t buy that kind of cross-promotion because it comes from a place of genuine admiration and friendship. So, that’s a long way of saying that an online presence is very important—but it should be a genuine, interactive presence rather than something designed to just push ads about books.
If you weren't a writer, what other occupation would you choose and why?
I’ve fallen into some pretty amazing jobs in my life, and I always tell students I talk to about reading and writing that every job is an opportunity to find a story, or meet characters you want to write about. If I had the skill to be a visual artist, I’d love to create beautiful things, or if I’d chosen a different educational/vocational path, I could have been an awesome archeologist. But all the roads I’ve traveled led to this, and I’m doing exactly what I love to do.
Have any specific people inspired you in your career?
My mom came to the U.S. from Germany with the equivalent of an 8th grade education, and she finished law school when I was thirteen. From that, I’ve always known I could do anything I set out to do.
What types of things do you do to improve your writing skills?
Read good books. There are times when I have to put down a book club selection because the writing isn’t great, or the characters are weak, because they negatively affect my own writing. And then there are those books that make you want to step up your game. Neil Gaiman writes those kinds of books.
What is your favorite quote about writing?
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” –Neil Gaiman
What is the hardest thing about being a writer? What is the most rewarding?
Writing is the hardest thing about being a writer—actually sitting down and making myself do it. That’s why early morning writing is so good for me; I don’t want to wake my family up, so I do all the work-avoidance tasks later in the day. The most rewarding thing about being a writer is when a reader cries, laughs out loud, or throws the book and immediately scrambles to pick it up so they can find out what happens next. The most rewarding thing is telling a story that matters.
What are your goals as an author for 2016?
I will publish Cheating Death, which means I will finish the Immortal Descendants series. And then I will plot the thing that comes next. My goals are all work goals, because those are the only things I really have control over.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?
Travel with my family; take long walks with my dog and kids; take photos of interesting things; have my friends over for food, wine, and deep conversations; and read great books.
When can we expect your next book?
I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve finished the first draft because, as Patrick Rothfuss said about rushing the work, “It’ll only be late once, but it’ll suck forever.”