Hannah Howe - Writing Bestselling Mysteries
Best-selling author, Hannah Howe, was sitting at her desk, scribbling notes trying to write a mystery when Sam Smith came to her. This character truly came alive and halfway through the book, Howe realized that this was going to be a series. Twelve books later, the Sam Smith Mystery Series is a bestseller on Amazon and a favorite in the genre for many readers. As our Author of the Day, Howe tells us more about Sam's character, how her background in psychology influences her work and gives us more insights in the creation of Sam's Song, the first book in the series.
Please give us a short introduction to what Sam’s Song is about.
Sam's Song is a mystery, but the book is also about Sam. The Sam Smith Mystery Series charts Sam's development as a person. In Sam's Song, Sam is working out of a rundown office, unsure about herself and struggling to make ends meet. As the story develops, Sam gains confidence in herself; she takes the first steps on the road to becoming an assured woman running a successful detective agency.
Your series combines psychological mysteries with humor and romance – why do you take this approach?
First and foremost, I'm a romantic - romance makes the world go round - so my series had to include a strong romantic thread. My stories feature adult themes. Although I do not describe violence, etc graphically my stories do include dark elements, so I felt that humor was necessary to add balance. Also, to combat her difficult childhood, Sam developed a strong sense of humor and as the narrator she displays that to the reader. The physiological element is the starting point for all my stories - I develop the mysteries from a psychological base because I'm interested in people's motivations and the effect crime has on individuals.
Tell us more about Sam Smith. Who is she and how was her character conceived in your mind?
Sam's conception. I was sitting sideways at my desk scribbling notes on a notepad. I can picture the scene now. I knew that I wanted to write a mystery story, but I was struggling to find a narrator. I looked up and Sam said, "Why don't you write about me?" I don't believe in ghosts, or anything fanciful, but this was a magical moment. Everything about Sam came to me in a finger click - her name, looks, personality, background, occupation, location...in that instant she became real to me. In regard to her background, Sam was brought up in a single parent home, by her alcoholic mother. Although Sam's mother loved her, when drunk she would lash out occasionally. Obviously, these beatings went a long way to forming Sam's outlook on life. She could have become bitter and angry, but instead she set out to help people the best she could. Sam is a woman who believes in keeping her word, and in loyalty. She empathizes strongly with the underdog, and this empathy underpins the series.
You have a background in psychology – how does this influence your writing?
My psychological background provides the basis for the stories. As I mentioned earlier, each story starts life from a psychological perspective, usually based on observational experience. My stories are based on real life issues, but I do not base my characters on real people. Reviewers have noted that although I deal with 'heavy' subject matter, my stories are a light read. This is a deliberate policy on my part - I am a storyteller, I want readers to enter Sam's world, feel entertained and enjoy the stories.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I'm a chess addict, I have been since childhood. I can play the game to a reasonable level. My next book, book eleven in the series, is called Mind Games and this book focuses on a young female chess player, though you do not need to know anything about chess to understand the story. Mind Games is about the many aspects of love and, like all of my books, is an emotional story.
Why did you bring Sam’s ex, Dan back into her life for this book?
After Sam's mother died, Sam drifted into a relationship with Dan. Outwardly charming, Dan soon became violent towards Sam. You must remember that for Sam violence was a 'normal' part of life - Sam's Song = Love Hurts. However, after four years of domestic violence Sam found the strength to walk out. This was the first step on her road to empowerment. With Sam's Song, the reader needed to witness Dan first hand, hence his involvement in the story.
Your characters are very relatable – how do you pull this off?
Thank you, I am deeply honoured by your words. Before I write, I create all the main characters in great detail. Once I have a dozen main characters I allow them to tell the story. At that point, I'm a typist, listening to their words. I create the characters, but my characters write the stories. I intercede as editor, but as my stories develop my characters must have their say. Reviewers have noted that my books are character-driven novels, which is pleasing for me, as an author.
Do you plot out your books before you start writing?
I do. I start with a premise and theme for the stories. Then I develop the characters. Then I plot each chapter out on a sheet of A3 paper. I make detailed notes about plotlines, locations, etc. During the writing process new ideas will present themselves, so I will make minor changes. That said, most of the time I will know the closing line of the book before I write the first.
Your book keeps readers hooked throughout. What is your secret to keeping things fast-paced and riveting?
I try not to waste any words in a Sam Smith story. Also, each chapter must move the story forward in some way. My natural writing style is similar to Robert B Parker's and I have learned a great deal about my craft from reading his books. "Dont bore the reader", is my maxim; leave the reader wanting more, not less.
Did you know from the start that this was going to be a series? How does the next book in the series tie in with Sam’s Song?
About halfway through Sam's Song I realized the potential for a series. Book two, Love and Bullets, continues straight after Sam's Song, though the two books contain stand-alone stories. The rest of the series follows in real time, at approximately three monthly intervals.
Tell us more about your journey as an author. How much has your life changed since you published your very first book?
Before writing Sam's Song I wrote six novels for my own amusement. These novels remain unpublished. Sam's Song was not offered to a mainstream publisher because I did not want to become involved in the publishing industry to that extent. Instead, I publish my books through a small, independent publisher and this gives me greater artistic control. Along the way I've met many wonderful authors, who have been generous with their time and advice, and established strong friendships. I've learned a lot about the technical aspects of publishing, and formed valuable bonds with designers, printers and people like yourself.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Writing for me is a habit. I am very disciplined. I don't wait for the muse to appear. Instead, at the appointed time every day, six days a week, I sit at my desk and write a chapter. Each day, I find the blank page intimidating, but that feeling turns to exhilaration when the words start to flow.
What are you working on right now?
I usually work on three stories at the same time. At the moment, I'm editing Mind Games for publication in June, collaborating with my narrator, Suzan Lynn Lorraine on the audio book of Secrets and Lies, the sixth audio book in the series, while researching background material for book twelve, Digging in the Dirt. I have a notebook full of ideas, including outlines for books thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, so I add notes to them from time to time.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Readers can visit my website, http://hannah-howe.com, and keep up to date with my books from there. I'm on Twitter, @samsauthor, and I have a Facebook account. Readers can also follow me through my Amazon page https://www.amazon.com/Hannah-Howe/e/B00OK7E24E. Authors love to hear from their readers, so please feel free to contact me through my website.
A closing word of thanks, if I may, to my readers - your support is greatly appreciated and valued - and to Many Books for publishing this interview. The writing community of authors, readers, printers, publishers and promoters is a special one, and it's a great thrill to be a part of that community.