Flurries of Words (FLOW) recently caught up with best-selling indie author, Imogen Rose of the YA Portal and Bonfire Chronicles series fame. With her books now being released in German, French and other languages, we asked Imogen about her phenomenal success and the experiences that led up to them...
FLOW: How were you inspired to write the time travelling Portal series? Were you a fan of Stephen Hawking? Quantum Leap? How did you come up with the hook phrase 'meet me two years ago'?
ROSE: Portal is pretty much my autobiography, apart from the portal bit. :-) A while after I moved to the U.S., my mother died, and during the time that followed, I reflected heavily on my life and the decisions I had made, wishing that I could turn back time and redo some of them. The hook phase just came to me as I was writing the story.
FLOW: I see you have a PhD in immunology. How did graduate school and the experience of having a PhD influence your writing? Have those experiences found their way into your books (say maybe in Arizona's mother)? Should we call you Dr. Rose? ;-)
ROSE: I was very lucky to end up working on my thesis under a professor who pretty much left me to work on my own and allowed me to use the resources of the department to explore and investigate the paths the results of my experiments pointed me to. I was allowed to use my imagination develop assays and hypotheses. The writing-up part of my doctoral thesis was a means to an end in getting my degree. The experiences I had at graduate school and later as a mother have definitely played a very big part in how I view the world and have found their way into my books. I am Dr. Rose, but I preferred to be called Imogen. :-)
FLOW: Although the answer may seem obvious to some, others may wonder: What made you decide to leave behind a career in immunology to write? What, if anything, do you miss about the career you left behind? Why?
ROSE: When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my husband was offered a job in New Jersey, and we decided to move here from London. After my daughter was born, her love for my made-up rambling stories eventually caused me to write one down for her, and my writing career blossomed from there. I do miss the camaraderie of working with a bunch of interesting, fun people, but other that, I don’t miss a thing. I can’t think of anything more awesome than being able to sit back and let my imagination take over, writing it all down into books.
FLOW: Since you were writing for your daughter, how did you put her in the stories? Does she still influence your work? Are there any other key influences?
ROSE: I am very much influenced by the people around me, and pieces of their personalities appear in some of my characters. My younger daughter, Lauren, is very much the Ella from Portal, and later the inspiration for Faustine. I’m not saying she’s a little demon, though she can be a bit naughty! One day while she was doing homework, I snapped a picture of her, and that photo inspired the whole story. It’s how the Bonfire Chronicles was born. That picture of her was used on the front cover of the book.
FLOW: I also see that you've emigrated from Sweden to England to the US. How have you adapted to the various culture shocks? Can you tell us how this comes out in your work? How were you able to so convincingly write an American teenager?
ROSE: I adapt very easily, probably because I moved a lot as a child. Writing from an American perspective has been a challenge. I grew up learning Swedish English, and this tends to come out in my writing at times.
FLOW: I imagine that gave you a lot of insight into teen angst--being moved around so much. How has that found its way into your books?
Although I moved a lot, I’ve never seen that as a negative, more of an adventure and an opportunity to make new friends. I wish I’d had access to Facebook as a teen so I could have kept in touch with all the amazing people I met along the way, but have unfortunately lost contact with over the years. Having two daughters, I do have first-hand experience with pre-teen/teen angst, though.
FLOW: You have quite a following in YA. Given the chance, what alternate genres might you like to explore? Any chance you might take on any of those? Would you use a pen name?
ROSE: I actually love writing YA fiction and can’t imagine writing in any other genre at the moment. That’s not to say that I won’t try it, but for now, I am happy living in my teen imagination. I don’t think I would use a pen name unless I decided to write in a field that was totally inappropriate for my current audience.
FLOW: Like immunology? ;-) Speaking of that, do your former colleagues know what you are doing now? How about your friends and other family members? Have they read your books? What do they think of them?
ROSE: My colleagues from London are really proud of me. My younger daughter is proud of me as well, but my teen is embarrassed. J
FLOW: What was one of the most surprising things you learned while publishing your books?
ROSE: I was surprised to find myself to be a competent businesswoman. For me, Indie publishing is 10% writing and 90% marketing. I didn’t have any business experience (I come from a science background) and was faced with having to run my own publishing company, where my success was not just dependent on my writing, but also a product of successful marketing.
FLOW: What do you do when you get writer's block?
ROSE: The only time I experienced writers block was when I sat down to try to plan my latest book (Integration). It lasted a few minutes and was a frightening experience. It was as if all my characters suddenly went into hiding. I generally find it easy to just let them take over, which they always do, except for that one time.
FLOW: Which book is your favorite and why?
ROSE: My latest book is always my favorite because I always stop at a point where I am desperate to start again. The characters are so strong in my imagination that I live and breathe them. Just a few days ago, I was shocked by what happens next for Cordelia and can’t wait to find out more. Having said that, I have a very special place in my heart for the Portal Chronicles, as that story is very close to me and who I am.
FLOW: What are you usually doing (as in daily activity) when you come up with the most story plots and twists? Is there usually a situation or activity that stimulates your imagination more than others?
ROSE: Yes... it’s either when I am in a semi-sleep, just about to get up in the mornings, or when I am in the shower.
FLOW: How long does it take for a character to appear on a page? Like do you think/dream and immediately write about them or do they kinda hang out in your head until they are needed in a story?
ROSE: They simmer, I guess somewhat unconsciously, and then suddenly appear as I’m typing. It’s difficult to describe. I really just don’t know what happens from page to page, or who will appear.
FLOW: So what is next on your plate in terms of writing? Any and all spoilers would be greatly appreciated. :-)
ROSE: I’m in the process of writing the fifth book in the Portal Chronicles at the moment. I am also getting my books translated into German, Spanish, French, and Japanese, which I am very excited about. The German edition of Portal was just published a few weeks ago.
FLOW: Do you hear from your readers? What kinds of questions do they ask?
ROSE: I am very lucky to hear from my readers on almost a daily basis. I mostly get asked about forthcoming release dates and advice on what order they should read my books.
FLOW: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
ROSE: I do, but I have been sworn to silence!
FLOW: Thank you so much for talking to us. :-)
Imogen's Books are available everywhere. Here are a few links to get you started...
FAUSTINE (Bonfire Chronicles)