Author A.G. Howard shares her inspiration and enthusiasm for her newest novel RoseBlood, as well as the reasons why fans of The Phantom of the Opera (also known as “Phans”) won’t be able to put it down.
1. I read your author’s note in the back of the book that explains that a Phan theory is what inspired you to write this novel. Being a huge Phan, did you have any urge to write a retelling before encountering the theory? What was it about the theory that really grabbed you?
Yes, even before I read the Phan theory, I was captivated by the tragic, dangerous, and often sardonically humorous anti-hero, Erik — having discovered Gaston Leroux’s masterpiece in high school. In fact, I’d been contemplating a Phantom retelling even before I wrote Splintered. I’d seen other adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera — a lot of them actually — and one prequel that I adored (Phantom by Susan Kay) but not many spin-offs or continuations.
I knew I wanted to make it modern and contemporary to set it apart, while still retaining the gothic elements of the original. All I needed was a way to explain the Phantom’s longevity…how he had survived so many years. That Phan theory I stumbled upon online offered a unique otherworldly possibility that would allow me to twist and twine the original backstory into the here and now. After that idea was sparked, I knew one day I would give Erik a modern stage on which to perform to see what horrors he might stir up.
2. You also mentioned in your author’s note that you meticulously researched all of the lore and history that factors into ‘RoseBlood’. What was the oddest or most interesting thing that you learned while researching for your novel?
My favorite discovery was how seamlessly the real life soprano — Christina Nilsson — fit into Phantom lore. But, the most interesting things to stumble upon were Phantom conspiracy theories online. There are so many coincidences and historical facts that link the original story to our reality. One of the most fascinating articles can be found here: http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/08/26/unmasking-the-parisian-phantom-of-the-opera/
3. Which specific aspects of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ lore did you know you wanted or needed to include from the book’s inception? Were there any aspects that you wanted to specifically leave out or modify?
Much like I did with my Alice in Wonderland spin, I tried to highlight Phantom elements that were well known in popular culture whether you’ve read the original or not, so any reader would be able to dive in without feeling completely lost. In Splintered, we have the drink that shrinks you, the tea party, the Mad Hatter, the ocean of tears, the hookah smoking caterpillar. In RoseBlood, we have the mask, the music, the mirrors, and the underground lair beneath the opera house that appears to be haunted by a seemingly omniscient phantasmal presence. I also wanted to stay very true to Erik’s original characterization and history while expanding upon it.
The most important element I modified was the Phantom’s death from the original. It was pivotal he never died so my spin-off could live.
4. ‘RoseBlood’ is a very visceral and dramatic name for a school as well as a novel. What inspired it?
Just like my prose is very visual, so is my epiphany process. I often get book ideas from something I see. It can either be a poster, a picture, a movie, or a grouping of words that look interesting to my eye that sparks my muse. The same is true of my titles. With RoseBlood, there were two pictures that inspired the school’s name/ book title.
Years before I even starting writing the book, I was googling Gothic phantom and masquerade images, and these popped up during the search. Both pictures caught my eye because three things united them: blood, roses/thorns, and masks. Somehow these elements meshed together in my mind as RoseBlood. I loved the way it sounded and looked, as well as how it felt: the myriad emotions evoked by the marriage of those two words. Dark, disturbing, haunting, and visceral. From that point on, I knew that if I ever wrote my Phantom retelling, RoseBlood would be the title.
Only later when I started planning out the story did I realize it would also be the name of the boarding school. I couldn’t find the attributions for the image on the right, but if you like the black and white drawing, check out the artist’s online gallery. She does beautiful work.
5. There are essentially three different lores tied together in this novel, but they all tie together so well. What was your writing process like in trying to weave these three separate threads together while still trying to have the story unfold gradually?
I’m a very organic writer, so essentially, I just follow along as the tale plays out. For Splintered I needed a bit of a road map because of the riddles and “tests” Alyssa has to solve and achieve along the way. But for RoseBlood, I followed my usual routine. I made a skeleton outline…nothing more than a two page synopsis. Then I got to know the characters inside and out. For each book I write, that’s the most important preparation. It’s crucial that I intimately know the stars of the story before starting the journey, because they’re going to be my guides.
Once I had reacquainted Erik (his story and history) and got to know Rune and Thorn, I researched everything I could about the different otherworldly elements involved to help shape the world in my mind. After that, I let my characters out to play. At that point, I knew everyone’s backstories and how they would fit together before their lives even began to intertwine on the page. I just didn’t know exactly what paths they would take to intersect in the telling. That’s where trusting the characters and going along for the ride comes in.
6. Interestingly, the novel isn’t just told from two different character perspectives but two different types of narration as well (with Rune’s perspective being in first person and Thorn’s in third). What made you decide to not only include two perspectives but also write them in two different narrative voices?
This was actually a combination of two things. Part of it was personal style; I read and dabbled in both romances and fantasies while first learning to write many years ago, and I realized then it was easier for me to get into the mindset of a male character and keep the authenticity of his voice if I wrote him in third person POV. It was also a conscious choice for this particular book.
To make Thorn seem guarded and make his motives hazier, I needed his narrative to be in third person which is a bit more distancing to a reader. And the past tense was so his routines and actions would feel illusory and mysterious when compared to Rune’s immediate present tense reality. Thorn’s an intriguing character with one of the most fascinating backstories in the book (second only to the Phantom). I couldn’t have him stealing the show too early on, so I needed the reader to feel more connected to Rune from the get-go. This is accomplished by giving her the first person present POV, which in turn makes her scenes feel more in-the-moment and her routines more ordinary (in the beginning, at least), and results in her character feeling more relatable and open.
Seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has the voice of an opera angel. The only problem? She has a mysterious affliction linked to her singing that has transformed her natural talent into a physically draining compulsion. In hopes that formal instruction will help her overcome her issue, Rune’s mother sends her to RoseBlood, a French performing arts boarding school that’s located in an opera house said to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.
Unbeknownst to Rune, two mysterious figures at RoseBlood know all about her affliction and have set a dangerous plan in motion that relies on it (as well as the dark secret she’s been hiding). All is going according to plan until Thorn, one of the mysterious figures at RoseBlood, discovers an other-worldly connection to Rune and begins to fall in love with her.
As everything begins to come to a head, Thorn needs to decide what’s more important to him: the love of his life or his relationship with the phantom who has been living in the opera house for over a century (and who just so happens to be the only father he’s ever known).
RoseBlood by A.G. Howard is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble (the B&N edition has extra special content you won’t find anywhere else, just sayin’), and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!