Amazon Romance expert Lena Cohen spoke with author H.W. Ward about her latest release Stripped, her writing process, and more.
Lena Cohen: Congratulations
on all the success you’ve had to date. What originally inspired you? Is there
an author, or maybe a book, that inspired you to start writing?
HW: I had written
a lot when I was younger and I went the traditional route but nothing panned
out. Then I had ten years where I did nothing. When you have toddlers and life
and school, and I had started working on my masters, there’s no time for anything.
At some point I just went “I’m going to write again.” I decided to see how long
it would take me to write a book. So I came up with the Demon
Kissedidea and just wrote it.
It went a lot faster than I thought it was going to.
LC: Was it
difficult to pick it back up after having not done it for a while?
HW: No, my masters
and undergraduate are in theology and so I was writing a lot for that. My books
are actually written the same way you write sermons which is really weird. That
influenced it a lot. I remember talking to the first agent I had about Demon
Kissedbecause of the way
that it started out. It was written like a sermon because that’s what I’d been
fascinating. Is your current writing a departure for you?
HW: It is and it
isn’t. I have a lot of empathy towards the human condition. Life is hard and
that’s what a lot of my books have in them. In everything I’ve written there’s
a redemption theme. It doesn’t matter how badly you screw up your life, you’re
LC: You’ve been extremely successful with
self-publishing your work. What made you decide to self-publish?
HW: I’m a control
freak. I had gone the traditional route and got an agent fairly quickly. Demon
Kissed was my debut book and, after I got further and further into the
process, I just realized that it wasn’t for me. I decided to self-publish it at
that point. The first couple of series I did were young adult paranormal
romance, and I shot the covers on those. So I got to do the photography as well.
That was really appealing to me.
LC: Are you a
photographer as well?
HW: Yeah, before
I started writing I had a photography boutique for about six years so I was
already familiar with business and marketing. Once I realized I could put the
photography with the book, I was like, “that’s awesome.”
LC: Is that one
of the biggest things you wanted to have control over?
HW: The cover was
really important and, with the business experience that I had, I already had a
lot of marketing experience so the traditional publishing route seemed kind of
lopsided to me. It may not to somebody else but with my background it just
didn’t make sense for me.
LC: Since you are
shooting the cover, do you picture the cover as you’re writing? Do you have a
sense for what you want the face of the book to look like?
HW: I had a clear
picture for the characters in the Demon Kissed and Bane series so I shot those locally.
I actually modeled the characters to look like those models, so when I went
back later and shot them it lined up well.
LC: So you found
the talent first?
HW: Yeah. There
were two really great young ladies I had worked with before and I knew they’d
want to do the cover shoot. An interesting thing happened on that shoot. For the
Bane cover, the model was wearing a
jacket when we were shooting, which is weird because I live in Abilene,
Texas so it’s like 100 degrees. The world that they were supposed to be
in was originally hot with climate control problems, but she just had this
really cool jacket and I wanted it on the cover, so I shifted the whole world
and made it cold. So the shoot influenced the book.
LC: How much does
the way the talent looks influence how you write your characters?
HW: A lot. I
usually have a pretty clear picture of who they are. They’re like an imaginary
person that lives in my head; then I write about them and how they’d interact
and relate to stuff. It’s really important when I’m doing the covers that the
person has that vibe.
LC: Well it’s
clear in your writing that you’re incredibly invested in character development.
Is that typically your starting point when writing?
HW: I usually
have a general idea of what it’s going to be about and I’ll have a couple of
the main characters – who I think they are, how they are relating to each other,
what their main problems are, and basically try to make them mirror life a
little bit more. Life’s hard. I think the characters should reflect that.
LC: Could you
talk a bit about using college-aged characters in romance? I’m curious if using
college-age characters provides a little more freedom in allowing characters to
make mistakes in their life?
HW: Yeah, I think
even if you’re not in college, when you’re in that age group you’re trying to
figure out who you are, where you fit in, what you should do, and what you
shouldn’t do. We were so poor at that age because we were trying to go to
school. It’s just rough. I think that their lives have different aspects,
different forms of conflict going on than young adult characters. It’s not that
teens don’t have a lot of conflict but it’s a different subset, you know, where
they’re dealing with parents and school. Once you’re out in the world and it is
sink or swim, it’s a lot harder. I just relate a whole lot.
LC: It’s ripe for
HW: Yeah, and
it’s just non-stop conflict and learning to deal with things. Once you’re
college-aged, you may start to lose a family member or your financial situation
may suddenly change. You may have thought you had a good grip on everything,
and all of a sudden you don’t. From being in college myself, I met all sorts of
different people from different stages of life and different backgrounds. You
might be going to school with some kid that’s going to inherit a few million
bucks when he graduates, and then the girl that’s working her butt off doing
five jobs just trying to keep her head above water. So college is one of those
places where different socio-economic groups are actually together and it’s a
little weird because real life is not really like that. Afterward people tend
to gravitate out of those groups so you kind of have a different hodge-podge of
people at that point which makes it a lot more interesting to write about.
LC: So it sounds
like your experiences, or maybe the experiences of people you’ve known, have
influenced your storylines. Is that accurate to say?
HW: Some things,
yes, definitely my own personal experience and maybe a mannerism here or there
of a friend. I do have people around me that are the inspiration for some of
the things that the characters are doing. It’s funny because sometimes people
say, “nobody would do that in real life” and it’s like “I did that” or I know
someone who did.
LC: Your new
release Stripped features the 3rd Ferro brother, Jonathan. Are you able
to share a bit about what fans of Damaged and The Arrangement might be able to
HW: Jonathan is
completely different than Sean and Peter. He’s a nice guy; he just does
everything wrong. I don’t know how else to put it. Peter, Sean, Sydney, Avery,
and all the characters from the other series are included. This book actually
picks up on the storyline after Damaged 2 so readers will get to see
what’s going on with Peter and Sydney. Fans keep asking if there will be a
Damaged 3, but Stripped is really the continuation
of the story.
LC: Do you see a
continuation beyond Stripped with these characters or is
it too soon to say?
HW: It’s hard to
say but maybe with some of them. I have a lot of people asking if there are
going to be spin offs and what’s going to happen with the characters in The Arrangementor side characters in the series. The Arrangement series is
fan-driven, and so readers have a lot of input on what goes on there. When fans
ask for more, I write more. They are typically released every three weeks or
so. I know a lot of people don’t know that. I keep telling everybody but the
fan base has gotten so big that everybody doesn’t hear it.
LC: How is it fan
driven? How are you getting that feedback?
HW: From the Facebook
page and through email. I had originally planned on it being a mini-series and
when I went to go write the fourth book, which was going to be the last book, I
said to myself, “these characters are so screwed up, I can keep going.” So I
asked fans “do you want more?” and they enthusiastically said “yes, yes!” so I
just kept going. I’ve asked a couple times now and every time I’ve asked,
they’ve voted to continue. I also sometimes get feedback on the series. I had
written a section that was a love scene that was kind of dark and intense. My editor
almost had a stroke and told me “you should tone that down.” So I asked fans
what they wanted me to do “should I tone it down or should I leave it the way
it is?” They voted to leave it, and they all loved it because it was all dark
and crazy and intense.
LC: It seems like
that is one of the benefits of self-publishing is the ability to have that
interaction and make those choices based on your fan base.
HW: Yeah, I’ve
not done anything like that with the other books and readers really didn’t expect
to be able to have any input. Some of readers don’t want to know, but most of
them are like ‘no, she can’t do it!’ or “you need to leave that, don’t take
that out” so it’s totally different. It’s fun and fast and kind of like flying
by the seat of your pants. It’s good.
LC: Well thank
you very much!
HW: Thank you!
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